Clown R&R

I’m in the middle of my tuna melt when Wendy tells me she’s got a woman on the line with a clown stuck in her window well. Great.   

“Can I call her after my break?” I say with a mouth full of moist tuna.

To which Wendy says, “I’m really sorry but she sounds like hysterics.”

Wendy’s big for her age, her age being about 55—or 20 years my senior—and big being residual body mass from her college rugby days.

I put the rest of my lunch in foil.

“You still have a little on your” Wendy says while rubbing at my chin with a Kleenex. Wendy’s husband passed away suddenly last Christmas time, but she’s abbreviated the five stages of grief, more or less.

“Thanks,” I say with a feeling of loneliness.

 

We have a script we’re supposed to follow here beginning with: “Thank you for calling Clown Removal and Rehabilitation, this is Dennis speaking.”

The voice on the end says: “My head aches like heck, dear.”

“I would be more than happy to assist you with this issue,” I say while sticking to my prompt sheet.

This woman, Susan or Linda—it’s been a while since the first call—claims the sound of my voice has intense therapeutic and relaxation benefits for her. She’s been calling since the spring when Rob pulled a dead clown from one of those big glue traps—which, as is company policy, we do not endorse nor recommend.

This weekly exchange has become a cute little routine for us. Placating Susan/Linda also beats doing the Observational Data Reports or working on the email server—two things Mr. Larsen—director of operations for the southwest region—once said I have a high aptitude for.

“Can you read the FAQs again?” Susan/Linda says. These are her favorite.

“I’d be happy to.”

I start somewhere in the middle: “The majority of clown bites result in minor swelling and redness around the bite area and typically subside within 48 hours.”

“Perfect,” she says, “don’t stop.” So I read to her for the next approx. 30 minutes and she listens, silently but for a few moans and sighs and unintelligible rustles. Midway through the Clown Myths, Rumors and Urban Legends section Rob walks in still donning his SC-R&R Gas Pack.

Rob’s got these “Rob’s 10 Rules of Life While Living Life at Work” with Rule #1 being ‘Always speak your mind especially in a professional setting.’

He starts going on about how this jackwagon—his words—confused him for a clown and shot him with a hunting bow. This is classic Rob.

I shoo my hand at him while pointing to the phone in my ear, but he seems to misinterpret this as a directive to talk louder and faster, which is not helping Susan/Linda’s headache. Then he shows me his left quad, which definitely has an arrow lodged in it.

“Jesus,” I say.

“It’s pretty much numb by now, but listen, you got to yank it out for me,” Rob pleads and props his leg up on my keyboard, “I’m going to look away. Don’t tell me when you’re going to do it.”

On the phone Susan/Linda asks if I’m still there. I tell her to give me a minute.

“I’m losing blood fast here.”

“Okay, alright.” I set the phone down and grab the end of the arrow.

“Wait,” Rob says, “Are your hands clean?”

But I’ve seemed to have already pulled it out.

We both kind of stare at the arrow in my hand for a while.

Finally Rob says, “This. Cannot be talked about,” and hops off my desk. “They’d axe me for sure. First thing I need to do is destroy this.” He snaps the arrow in two. “Now I shall have a snack.” He starts digging through my candy/cookie drawer.

I’ve all but forgotten about Susan/Linda and find the phone on the floor, the line dead. I consider pressing redial but ultimately slam the phone in the cradle, with a bit more force than I intended.

Rob kind of stares at me. “Did Wide Back eat all the Chewy Chips Ahoy?”

Wide Back is Wendy.

 

 

At 4:58pm I clock out, buckle the buckle on my helmet and head out the door hoping to avoid Wendy, who unfortunately is already waiting by air conditioning unit where I lock my bike.

“Hi there,” she says. I’m just close enough to where I can’t turn around and pretend I don’t see her.

“Wendy,” I say and act like I’m in some sort of hurry.

She tells me it’s Thirsty Thursday, though I’ve told her upteenmillion times I don’t drink since my DUI.

“I got fifty dollars in singles.” This is the voice of quiet desperation.

I try to avoid eye contact.

“We could go to Great Alaskan Bush Company.”

“Sorry,” I say as I saddle my Huffy, “Mom gets antsy if I don’t come home right away.” And I peddle off as fast as I can.

 

‘Antsy’ for my mom is her pretending for the last two months that dad is dead. Doctor said it’s early onset Dementia. Doctor also said to hide all weapon-like objects, so ixnay the steak knives, scissors, etc.

Tonight I walk into the kitchen and mom is having one of her episodes, this time about the plastic sporks.

“Money’s tight,” I tell her as we sit down to eat, “and people will pay good money for cutlery.”

“I wish your father would have left us something worth selling. Instead of just a body.”

Dad is seated to the right of mom at the table. He looks over at me and says, “Whatever makes her happy,” then sporks a piece of porkchop into his mouth.

“Denny.” My mom looks at me. “I never got to tell you, but I think you taking this job to stop these clowns was a good thing of you.”

In this moment I almost think she’s snapped out of it—that this women is much more my mom and much less the thing eating her brain.

            “God knows your damn father couldn’t stop them.”

I read somewhere that we are hurt most by the ones we love. I don’t want this to be the lasting memory of my mom: that she thought dad was killed by a gang of clowns.

In bed I block out my mom and Wendy and think about Susan/Linda. I only have a voice to go off of and my imagination isn’t great, so I end up with a hazy mental image of my ex-girlfriend from community college, a redhead who was a tattoo artist and renaissance fairs enthusiast. I imagine reading Susan/Linda/my ex-girlfriend something with slightly more literary merit than the Clown R&R webpages and blog. Maybe Beowolf and/or Lolita. I’ve never read either but figure they must be more romantic than “10 Fail Safe Tips for De-Clowning Your Car, Boat or RV.” In an ideal world they’d actual pay me extra for writing those click-bait lists instead of folding them under the umbrella of ‘corporate property produced during employee’s term of employment.’ I would use this money to take Susan/Linda out for surf n turf followed by a nightcap at her place.

          I get close to climaxing there in my bed when Rob’s stupid arrow pops into my head. I can hear him yelling out in pain. And Susan/Linda inside the phone saying hello? Are you there? That puts the kibosh on that. I let a Sleepy Time tablet dissolve on my tongue and I’m out in a few minutes.

 

 

I spend majority Friday playing Angry Oxcart Driver hoping Susan/Linda will call. I make it all the way to the Cambodia map where you have to carry .5 metric tons of shafted and milled rice grain on several poorly maintained bridges and unpaved paths around Angkor Wat. You have to do this under the allotted time or else the barter, Phanith, will refuse to pay the previously negotiated price. If you fail the mission you return to your village without enough rice to feed your malnourished family. I only get three carts, because it’s the beta version, and one of my children dies of starvation. I clock out at five without a call from Susan/Linda.

It’s against company policy to bring a work laptop home so without Angry Oxcart Driver I decide there’s no better time than this weekend to test out an idea I have: convincing mom that dad is a ghost. I hope it will trigger some repressed memories i.e., their wedding day, my birth, or that one vacation to the Keys.

Dad says it’s worth a shot, and we start with him walking in front of mom while she watches Antique Roadshow.

“Wait,” I say next to her on the couch, “did you see that?”

“The vase?” she says, “Your piece of shit uncle broke a vase like that when we were kids.”

Dad sits down next to me and asks if I have any other bright ideas.

Then mom turns off the TV and says, “Denny. I want to go to the cemetery.”

So we go to the cemetery, which is about a quarter mile on the bike path cutting through our backyard. There’s like this hill half way there and when we get to the top we find a clown squatting in the middle of the path. It’s young, maybe a few months old, and holding its one arm awkwardly.

“He’s hurt,” I say.

Before you can bat an eye mom kicks the baby clown square in the jaw.

“You son of a bitch” she yells. The clown goes down right away, out cold.

Dad and I just look at each other, completely shocked.

But that’s not the end.

Mom continues to kick the knocked-out/possibly dead clown yelling: “Give. Me. Back. My. Husband.”

Then a pair of joggers come by—this like Swedish Olympian couple. They stop and take in the situation: a family of three—that is, us—blocking the cemetery bike path, and the mom kicking an unconscious clown and shouting for it to resurrect her dead husband.

So that’s my weekend in a nutshell.

 

Monday morning rolls around and Rob has exercised one of his two allotted sick days, which means I’m doing field calls.

I’m barely on my second cup of coffee when Wendy sends me out to West End to retrieve a clown from a tree. “Apparently this Rottweiler chased it up an old Elm,” she says, and then adds a “Be careful hun.” I ignore this as I grab Rob’s C-R&R Gas Pack.

The company field van is this white Chevy cargo with no windows. The inside smells like Rob, which is to say greasy fries and spearmint—the smell of the C-R&R Gas, which, as our proprietary research indicates, clowns have an irresistible affinity for.

I drive really slow to kill time and when I arrive at the address, this dumpy two-step ranch with blue windows, there’s neither an old Elm nor a Rottweiler to be found. I try calling Wendy but she doesn’t answer; I figure she’s on another call or eating or both, so I leave the pack in the van and mosey to the front door.

This women in a long t-shirt with wet hair answers. On field calls we have a script that goes: “Happy day sir/ma’am, I’m here to safely eradicate this premise of clowns, could you please direct me to the infestation,” which I say word-for-word.

“Hey stranger,” the woman says, and I realize I’m face-to-face with the real Susan/Lisa.

“Wow,” I say, “It’s you.”

“Me.” She flips her hair gently and as she does, her shirt lifts up to reveal more of her legs.

She props open her screen door and invites me inside.

            I follow her into the kitchen where she was drinking of the bottle of a beer. “You want one?” she asked while already popping the top. What would you do in this situation?

For the next twenty-five or so minutes we have sex on her living room futon. She doesn’t take off her t-shirt, which I’m okay with. She even provides a condom, and I make a point of stopping in the middle of it all to thank her for that. I also make a point of kissing her thighs a lot. I get a lot of saliva on them, and she tells me I don’t have to go any higher. I listen. When we’re finished she offers me a cigarette and excuses her self to go pee.

I feel like this must be love. I don’t know what else you could possibly call it. She was a beautiful woman and I admire her stack of magazines next to the futon while she’s away. The name on the addresses is neither Susan nor Linda, but Todman. One name.

“I could read one of these to you,” I say when she gets back. There could be nothing more romantic than me reading to her while she rests her head in my lap, even with wet hair, and we smoke her cigarette.

But then she says, “Oh I’m through with that. Now I have this compulsion to have sex all the time. It helps a lot.”

I’m still sitting on the futon while she stands, telling me this.

“And, like, if you hadn’t come, I would have called the pizza guy.”

I hold myself together long enough to make it to the van, but not inside the van. Because waiting for me outside the van is a group of clowns. Seven clowns. All fourteen eyes looking at me, and what do you know, I’ve left the gas pack in the van.

Gone from my mind is everything I’ve read on our website re: this scenario. I can think only of my dear mom kicking that one baby clown. And the color of her rage. Pink with misplaced hatred, a confusion. I go in fists clenched.

I pow one right in the kisser and my mind dislodges itself from my corporal body. It goes to the memory of me and mom and dad sharing pink cotton candy at the fair. The blue sky, our joy. Clear as day. My fists hit another clown and I’m back in our old mini van, the three of us singing the Bee Gees after my baseball game. I can hear my dad out of tune. I can feel my seat belt.

I plunk and plunk and plunk them all in their faces until it’s just me standing in the middle of the street with all these zonked-out clowns. And it’s over. I’m breathing heavy and I can taste blood on the inside of my bit lip. And there’s no image in my mind.  

 

 

Kevin Sterne is a writer and journalist based in Chicago. He writes about beer and music for Substream Magazine. He is also the editor of LeFawn Magazine. His work has appeared or will appear in Drunk Monkeys, Mash Tun Journal, Praxis Magazine, Down in the Dirt Magazine, Word Eater, and The Tangential among many others. Kevinattended Joliet Junior College. Find him on the dark web at kevinsterne.com, on Twitter @kevinsterne or down a pseudoscience rabbit hole. 

New Video + Single From Elbows!

From Indiecurrent

“‘Oatmeal’ is the intro song to the EP. A lot of my favorite albums have intros that are essentially sound collages, pasting together samples pulled from various sources. I thought that would be a fitting introduction to an introductory EP, with the samples on here setting up themes for the rest of project. The video was shot by filmmaker, and close-collaborator, Nnamdi Simon. The idea was to capture the daily process of making a song, starting with breakfast, catching an idea, and eventually making your way to the studio.”

***

 

Max Schieble, or Elbows, is a Brooklyn-based psych jazz/hip hop songwriter, vocalist, and producer. Get the pretzels. Now living in New York, he is currently eating between one and thirteen waffles. He's also Potluck's Art Guy.

Drifting

 

Due to an unfortunate accident I’ve been drifting through space for hundreds of years. Space is an openness, an unknowable gap. In a moment, this all will end.

 

I was a young man, perhaps in my early thirties, when the company assigned me to a system of telescopes orbiting Earth called the ASTRO-2. It monitored classified information which was never revealed to me. Its observatory required mission and payload specialists to control operations. I was paired with astronaut Mark Pine to upgrade its Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope which gathered imagery in the spectral range 1200 to 3100 Å. This was my first assignment in space.

 

On March 2, 2195, I held my wife and hugged my parents for the last time. A crew composed of Mark, myself, and four others launched into space and remained in Earth’s orbit for eighteen days.

 

Due to the classified nature of our work, we faced an intense and continuous pressure to focus. Space greeted us with a welcoming embrace to reflect, but we had neither the time or the energy to do so. The six of us were kept in the confines of an observable pod that felt like a coffin. The claustrophobic conditions made me ill. Since escape was impossible, I often curled up in the corner of the pod like a child, desperately hiding from the environment around me. The program stressed the decapitation of emotional offspring. Focus was perfection, perfection was necessary for success, success was necessary for further funding, and further funding was necessary for the continuation of the space program. The space program needed to continue, and that’s that.  

 

We approached the ASTRO-2 on March 20th, 2195. The others began the secondary mission goal to observe unique and classified astronomical targets over the next 60 days. Mark and I set off to begin the upgrade work on a Spacelab pallet in the payload bay of the shuttle where the telescope was mounted.

 

As we walked along the catwalk toward the pallet, a massive object cannoned into our shuttle. Mark moved with impeccable speed and confidence to strap himself to a steel beam in the payload bay. I followed suit, connecting to the same piece of support. His focus in those critical seconds saved our lives. I braced myself on the platform and called into the deck to check on the rest of the crew. Before they could reply, another object collided with the opposite end of the shuttle, tearing the station in two. Our platform pirouetted, flipped, and ejected the two of us into space. The whole sequence blurred together in an unformed shape in my mind. I have a hard time remembering how any of it occurred, only that it did.

 

Mark and I gathered ourselves along the beam of the payload bay. We were isolated. I grabbed ahold of him, fortunate for his company. We surveyed the increasingly distant accident, searching for signs of the rest of the crew. They weren’t prepared for ejection and were unlikely to be wearing their suits. Our hope for finding them slowly dissolved into the disappearing debris of the wreckage.

 

Despite our isolation, the first few days were exhausting. We stayed sensitive for signs of rescue, taking turns keeping an attentive watch across our perimeter.

 

Our suits were built to protect us from the relentless chill, collecting micrometeorites and using temperature change to generate life-sustaining energy in perpetuity. The suits are similar to the life-cycle sustainment chambers on Earth that elderly people enter in the last days of their lives. They were tanks, armorized with radiation generated by subatomic particles. They were capable of keeping us alive for thousands of years.

 

The suits, however, did not protect me from the bare exposure of openness. Without boundaries, I quickly lost the tangible realities of my psychological universe. Shapes, colors, and movements were abstract and limitless in space. The cleanest definitions left were lines drawn by the blindingly sharp plastics, glass, and fabric of our suits. Mark proved to be the last stable platform under my crumbling consciousness.

 

Three months after the accident, we lost hope for rescue and disconnected ourselves from the broken portion of the shuttle we had attached to. We connected together and remained that way for two hundred and twenty-six solar years.

 

We used to wonder if anyone at home was working on retrieving us -- the two lost astronauts. Generations of people had came into and blinked back out of existence since the accident. Had we been written into the chronicles of history as lost heroes? Were we the subject of explorers not yet born when the accident had happened? Did anyone even notice?

 

I have long lost track of our approximate location, and Mark and I decided to disable the date and time from our systems HUDs. We stopped thinking about the baby explorers. We just drifted out there, silently encompassed in ethereal blackness. There was only us.

 

In the absence of the comms system hub of the shuttle, we were not able to talk to each other. Neither of us knew sign language, so over the course of a few decades, we developed our own methods of communication. We first read lips and created signs. Our fingers deliberately formed our emotions, sensations, and conscious thoughts. I’d watch my signs form in front of me while Mark did the same, conveying and processing simultaneously. Our brains slowed to adapt to this way of communicating, thinking and conveying in lock-step. The signs consolidated and dropped off over time. We eventually expressed ourselves through eye contact, unbounded by the constraints of physical movement. Our emotions were ephemeral and delicate, conveyed in their most elemental and honest form. I became intimate with what made him afraid, excited, interested, and depressed. We used what was left of our decayed physical energy to cling together. We understood one another deeper than two people could on Earth.

 

I lost memory of others close to me at home. The faces of my wife, parents, and friends became distorted, suffocated by the vacuum of time and space.

 

Long exposure to isolation took my sense of self as well. I was a floating piece of consciousness. Mark was the last vital element, the only occupant that remained. He consumed each emotion, sensation, and thought that passed through me. His breath was my breath. Loss of the self gave birth to the boundless existence and potential of each other. There was no longer a prevailing frontier to separate us.

 

I surveyed every blemish on his skin. I anticipated each subtle movement he made before he made it. I knew the constellations of the hair follicles on his face. I memorized the patterns of his eyes underneath his eyelids as he slept. I watched them slow, waiting for the opening of his lashes so I could drift into the array of colors underneath. They were the galaxies surrounding me, each a black hole radiating a fiery orange, green, and yellow before drowning in a cold, dark blue. They were no longer pieces of Mark alone, they were pieces of me.

 

One moment, like countless others before it, I watched Mark wake from sleep. He stretched and yawned. We planned to pick up remembering illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Mark was signing fire when a small object flashed into view. I signaled for him to look, but we hadn’t developed a sign for “urgency.” Like a pickpocket in a train station, it brushed against his hip. His legs shot to the side, turning him perpendicular to myself. The counterforce between the collision and our clip disconnected our suits.

 

I found the boundaries of my body. Starting at my core, my tendons, muscles, bones, and skin came to life. Hard knots formed in my arms and legs. They burned my torpid muscles, branding me with their density and leaving me with the coordination of an infant.

 

I turned parallel with Mark and strained to grab ahold of him. My galaxy, consciousness, and humanity. Disconnected. He reached for me and I reached back. Our fingertips brushed.

 

The two of us began a slow, futile drift apart.

 

I couldn’t breathe.

 

As he drifted away I compartmentalized the elements of my world - his face, his skin, his eyes, their colors. I kept them assembled.

 

My determination to focus on him as he faded from view was all encompassing. I had to hold the observation. I would not miss a moment. I did what I could to distinguish his features and sign to him that everything would be alright. The pain of concentration branded my eyes. Nothing was more important than holding on. Every hour that passed killed another piece of him and another piece of me.

 

After a few days he was a tiny spec of matter against blackness. My breath slowed to not disrupt my concentration. I feared a lapse would cause him to disappear altogether, a lost child’s balloon touching the clouds. The burning duration of that time was poison.

 

I watched, and he was gone, and I was alone.

 

I searched the blackness, waiting for him to reappear. I searched for the object that collided with him, determined for retribution. I screamed in the closed-off shell of my helmet.

 

Someone had thrown me in a windowless cell and left me to die. For the first time in many lifetimes, I could sense myself as an individual again. All that remained was hollow pain, like a dry socket after a pulled tooth. My aching, decrepit muscles sagged off my bones like laundry on a clothesline. My vision softened, lining the hard blackness with velvet. My mouth was arid, dried of salivation. I was a crater, formed and abandoned.

 

The openness was agonizing, but I held out hope that with enough discipline and attention, a reflection of love could emerge. As I moved through space over the course of another lifetime, I searched for signs of life and love, for signs of Mark. I drifted through weather patterns on gas giants that pulsed to the same rhythm as his eyes while he slept. I passed through nebulas that matched the colors of those eyes, reaching out and touching the dazzling particles of orange, green, yellow, and blue that surrounded me. He was the omnipresent antimatter outside the scope of my comprehension.

 

A nova played out our separation from one another. He was a white dwarf, fading from view. I concentrated on him until every piece of light was suffocated by darkness.

 

I remained in that darkness for a long time.

 

At some point, everything subtly changed. A small warmth brushed against me. I regained awareness of the space beyond my suit, like a hallway light outside my bedroom door. I felt the tips of my fingers and toes. The soft cotton inside of the suit warmed my skin. I waved my arms and legs through the weightless vacuum of space. It disoriented me. I felt useless and feeble. I didn’t deserve to exist.

 

I examined the suit for the first time in hundreds of solar years. I studied the harsh definition of the fabric. It pierced through my senses. The tech attached to me was foreign, forged by a species I no longer recognized. The seams connecting the suit felt warn, strained from use beyond their intent. I noticed a tear along my left leg. It may have been there all along.

 

I fumbled at it with my restored coordination. The frayed strands of neoprene left on the broken seam held strong, dutifully performing their duties. I spent waking days applying pressure at each until they gave up -- popping, fraying, and floating in the vacuum like a sea anemone. One by one, I vanquished my resilient foes. As I got close to the bottom of the tear, my suit bombarded me with an explosion of alarms and orange lights. My senses overloaded. I clutched at the sides of my helmet, screaming in silence at humanity’s last attempt to contact me. I strained to tear at the last few seams, begging for the vacuum to flood in and pull the screeching cells of my body into space.

 

The alarms cut and the orange lights stopped flashing. The universe was still again. I quivered, unsure if I were dead, but my plaintive muscles responded -- it wasn’t over. My suit had repaired itself at the tear, clotting and scabbing its exterior with glycerol and rubber latex.

 

Defeat.

 

My body was a husk carrying an impossible death. I curled up like a child and fell asleep. Searching for hope in the stars was over. The only thing left was loss, growing inside me like a dark patch of mold on a soft lemon. Resigning myself to a deep sleep was the closest thing I was allowed to death. When my body attempted to creak into consciousness, I stubbornly willed it back away from the brink. My determination exhausted it and I slept for a long time.

 

Something again brushed me in a warm embrace, gently whispering of life. I stirred, half awake, half asleep, and for the first time, I dreamed.

 

I was wearing a sweater and blue jeans, lying in darkness. I reached around and felt a bottle. Wine? I grabbed a piece of something spongy and smelled it. Rich. I put it in my mouth. Cheese. I touched what I was laying on. Soft. I felt someone next to me. A picnic. They moved close, touched me, and the world exploded with light. Mark. He smiled. We were in the middle of a dark field. We laid on a black velvet blanket next to a basket and a spread of fruits, cheeses, crackers, and wine. The grass around us was made of thin strands of black licorice. Mark broke off a piece and ate it. I did as well. The sweetness filled my senses. I grabbed another. We nibbled on licorice for a few minutes until an alarm went off. Mark straightened up and put his finger to his mouth, urging me to stay silent. He was uncomfortable. I reached out to console him and he swatted my hand away. Something terrified him. His head violently cocked to the side. His mouth and eyes opened wide. He cast his attention toward the picnic basket on the corner of our blanket. He mouthed something awful. I couldn’t hear him. I rushed toward the basket but it snapped shut before I could look inside. I tried to open it, but it didn’t budge. I stood up and strained to pry it. It cracked like a sewer cap. I used the rest of my adrenaline to flip the lid open, tumbling to the ground as it gave way. I sat up and Mark ripped me back down to the blanket, hovering over the top of me. His gaping mouth and eyes filled with smoke. I pushed him aside, peered into the basket, and saw a small piece of space debris. The object that disconnected us. As soon as I realized what it was, it shot into the sky. Mark lost his grip on me and shot into space as well. I tried to watch him, but he was gone too quickly. The light around me extinguished.

 

I feel awake now, warmer than before. Something outside continues to wrap me in its embrace, pulling me toward it. I peel open my eyes and take in a blurry white light.

 

As I restore myself, my captor emerges and space feels alive. It is enormous and all encompassing. It is the brightest light I’ve ever seen, and my eyes are seared with its magnificence. It swirls and radiates, buzzing with life. A living, breathing star.

 

It’s him.

 

He warms my blood. His flares reach to me, and I reach back. We’re still far apart, but I can feel his pull as I accelerate toward him. I am warm.

 

I pass through a small asteroid belt, and space debris pelts my suit, tossing me around. Enormous asteroids observe as I flail through their front. I wave. Something hits the glass on my helmet and cracks its outer shell. I lose my bearings, but I’m not drifting anymore. I know the direction I’m headed.

 

I clear the belt and the star unthinkably doubles in size. The fractured glass on my helmet spreads its light like a chandelier.

 

The heat is agonizing. The latex repair on my left leg sizzles.

 

I move faster, and he begins to consume me. I’m no longer alone.

 

I close my eyes and learn prayer. Lift me from this place. Return me to where I have already visited. I open my eyes and ask the star for benediction.

 

His pull is uncontrollable and aggressive. As I hurdle toward him, distant stars blur and fade from my vision in a dizzying spiral. Faster. My vision fails. Faster. It’s so hot. Faster.

 

The moment passes.

 

Joe Glocke is a writer living in Seattle, WA with his fiancee, dog, and cat. He writes character-driven science fiction. By day, he works as a Program Manager at Microsoft. 

Most of What I Write is Meaningless, But I Write It Just to Reach You

The August before I turned ten, Ugo ran away and did not come back. He warned me of this leavetaking by disguising it as a simple and temporary relocation.

We were sitting on a bench outside of an ice cream parlor when he told me. “Abelie, honeysuckle” he said. “I have to tell you something. I’m moving. To California. Next week. But only for a little while.”

I knew then that he didn’t plan on returning. He only spoke in such short, dire sentences, dusted off the affectionate “honeysuckle” when he was delivering bad news: “Honeysuckle, please. Listen. We cannot go to the zoo today.” “Honeysuckle, darling. I think it’s about time I told you. There is no Santa Claus.” “Abelie, honeysuckle. I have to talk to you. Lupo was sick. While you were visiting Nonno and Nonna, we drove him away. To a farm. He will be happy there.” “There is no more baby sister. In Mama’s belly. I’m sorry, honeysuckle. I know you wanted her.”

I dropped my hands into my lap. Sweet strawberry ice cream ran down the side of the cone and dr ipped through my fingers, oozing between my thighs. “Next week?” I repeated. “But my birthday’s in a month,” I said, as if he did not know.

“I’m sorry, honeysuckle.”
“So you’re not moving,” I said skeptically, “so much as...going on a little trip.”
Ugo looked uneasy. “Um. Yes. Right. A trip. I’ll be back before you know it.”
“Mmhm,” I said with a note of finality. “Okay, Ugo.”
“Now, who is Ugo? Just because I’m going to California doesn’t mean I’m no longer your Papi.” I wasn’t so sure. Suddenly, my stomach hurt. I dropped my ice cream and it formed a wet, fragrant heap in the grass. I started to cry.

That spring, my mother had calmly and quietly asked Ugo for a divorce. That summer, he’d moved out of the house he’d shared with my mother and me and took a stuffy one-bedroom apartment with dirty wall-to-wall carpeting where I spent Wednesday nights and alternating weekends. In the apartment, Ugo and I said little to each other. This was not to say there was not an intimate bond between us: instead of words, we used music to fill the apartment. Ugo had an old Victrola player and The Beatles’s White Album in very good shape. We used to sit at the garage-sale dining table with the fake wood grain and the fat, milky-white water stains with our hands folded and our eyes down, listening to the record wind and whir. We let the sounds of the songs fill up the rooms, slide through the slats in the venetian blinds, soak up the sunlight that seemed perverse and mocking in such a desperate place.

Once, memorably, Ugo danced to “Back In The USSR.” He kicked his long, thin legs in the air like a marionette controlled by a shaky-handed alcoholic, jumping wildly, landing perilously. When he danced, he was serious. He kept his arms rigid, fisted, at his sides. His eyes and mouth were unsmiling.

“This is how I used to see my Papi dance,” Ugo said. I nodded. I looked away.

Another time, “Rocky Raccoon” came on and Ugo held my hands and picked me just up off the floor, placing my feet on top of his. He took wide steps and waltzed me around the room and I laughed until he suddenly stopped. I was too big to play like that, he said harshly, with a kind of impatient anger in his voice, as if the dance had been my idea. The last of my laughter echoed through the empty house. Ugo stepped away from me and beheld me. There were several feet between us. Our stance was two lovers fighting. He retreated from the room into the kitchen, and I heard the crisp crack of a bottle opening, the tumble of liquor into the bottom of a glass. I turned to the mirror on the mantel and listened to the song play out in a shimmering shower of ragtime piano. I looked into my own eyes with dread, wondering how I had ended up his daughter. Wondering how our family had become so fragmented. Knowing that I was perhaps the only one Ugo had left in the world. Knowing that maybe I was doomed.

For I was young, but still I understood that I was more similar, on a fundamental, almost existential plane, to silent and stoic Ugo than I was to virtually anyone else in my life. That mirror told the truth: when I looked at me, I saw him. We had the same long limbs and high cheekbones, same eyes and fine hair, so black it was almost blue. But beyond this superficial similarity, when I turned away from the mirror I could see the deepening darkness inside of him; the sadness, the departure, the withdrawal. I wanted to point to the darkness, to look at it, to say, Yes. To say, I see. I recognize. I own.

He drove me home to my mother’s house the next day. As he idled in the driveway, I could see my mother waiting for me on the porch. I could see her short blonde hair, in the bob style she’d had since I could remember; the bright pink collar of her linen shirt. She saw me see her and smiled more brightly. I could almost hear the silver bracelets she wore jingle as they fell down her arm when she waved. I unbuckled my seatbelt and put my hand on the door handle. As if reflexively, Ugo locked the doors with a decisive click.

“It’s not three-thirty yet,” he said. “Your mother wanted you back at three thirty.”
I looked dubiously at the flat black numbers on the dashboard. “It’s three twenty-eight,” I said. “A little more time,” said Ugo. “A little more time. Please.”
That night, my mother played the Indigo Girls as she cooked us grilled eggplant and tomatoes.

“Your favorite food,” she said, “to welcome you home.” Every time I returned from Ugo’s house, my mother insisted on making grilled eggplant: I ate the dish at least twice a week. It was hardly “my favorite;” I was ten years old, and no ten-year-old I know loves grilled eggplant. I resented my mother for doing this, for making things up about me that she imagined were true. Still, I loved the colors of the vegetables she grew in our garden, the scent and sound of garlic and oil sizzling in a pan, the sound of her little voice underneath the crashing cacophony of the Indigo Girl’s “Fugitive.” “Now it's coming to you, the lessons I've learned won't do you any good: you've got to get burned” she sang. I stood at the sink next to her and washed the soft tomatoes for her to peel.

During dinner, she told me about the weekend she’d had without me––the vintage picnic blanket she picked up at a garage sale, the movie she’d seen with her girlfriends as I swirled the tough strips of eggplant through the watery sauce.

“What did you and your father get up to?” she asked, restraint and caution balanced but poorly masked in her voice. I didn’t say anything. “Now, Abelie! she exclaimed sharply. “So secretive!” My eyes immediately filled with tears, whether from the acidity of her tone or the exhaustion that typically followed my weekends with my father I don’t recall. At ten, I was desperate for my mother’s approval and hated it when she criticized me––especially when she was right. I was so taciturn when the subject of her ex-husband was brought up because I was afraid of how I felt about him and me, and afraid for him! She thought I was protecting him from her contempt. She didn’t know how much I wanted to be her child! To have her energy, her distinct femininity, her vegetable garden, her collection of vintage linens. How much I wanted not to be irreversibly Ugo’s child: odd, dark, foreign, afraid. When I returned to my mother’s home at the end of my weekends at Ugo’s, it felt like I was arriving at a place, to a person, that would never end, never abandon; while when in Ugo’s apartment, I was weirdly and prematurely aware that this, us, would not last. That it would all be over startlingly soon. That I was haunting my father in the last weeks before he ran away for good; to observe him in the hole he’d dug for himself and to figure out how to avoid falling into a similar one myself.

For Ugo was not an ungenerous man. When he left me, he left me with me almost all I have: my name, my feeling of always apart, the way I look, think, speak, act, feel. When he left me, he left behind his dusty, lonely apartment, his records, his player, his empty bottles. When he left me, he told me he’d return for Christmas, but we both knew that he would never come back to that apartment where I learned how to love men and music in the way that each demands to be loved; where I began to unwrap Ugo song by song, line by line.

As much as I knew how his final departure from me would break my heart, I knew that he was broken worse, that Ugo was something less than fully a man and losing more and more of himself every day, losing to loss itself, this not-wholeness, this vacancy, this wanting. By the time he ran away, I was the only thing he had left. I knew that as much as I dreaded those nights and weekends in the musty, dusky, lonely apartment, he lived almost solely for them. Unlike all the others he’d disappeared from, I was his daughter and so I had to love him, to share with him, to commune. I was the only one left, and as much as I knew that all I had was his, I knew that in a different way, all that Ugo had––his unbearably empty home, his old record player, his aging body, the White Album, me, all of those things that he left behind in Ohio when he ran away forever––I had given him, too.

The White Album is the common name of The Beatles’s formally self-titled ninth studio album, released in November, 1968. The album’s lyrics are largely satirical, alluding not only to the turbulent, uneven political climate of the late 1960s but to the tension that was by that time starting to build within the band less than six months before their breakup. Perhaps in order to subvert this tension, the band and their producers conceived The White Album as a radical departure from the band’s previous releases: the album’s cover is artless, just a vacant white square with the band’s name embossed left of center while previous albums, most notably Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, had whimsical, colorful cover art, and the genres explored in the album include British blues, transcendentalist folk, and ska. Thus, The White Album is wildly idiosyncratic, and it received distinctly mixed reviews from critics upon release, though it is now considered one of the best and most influential albums of all time and has sold more copies than any other Beatles album. The twenty-first century music journalism publication Pitchfork says that the White Album is “sprawling, overflowing with ideas and excess...not only a monument to unbridled creativity but a rock archetype.”

It took Ugo nearly a month to get to California as he slowly made his way through the Midwest, stopping in nowhere towns for days-long binges, passing drunken nights in sodium-light drive-in motels or in the back of the car that carried him away. When he reached the coast, he was taken in by his well-married sister, my aunt, in Santa Cruz. In those years, my aunt was still sending my mother letters with hundred-dollar bills stuffed into the bottom of the envelope and news of Ugo’s rapid unravelling between apologies for how he’d left us. When she got these letters, my mother would fold them, unread, into an old moth-eaten tablecloth which she’d shove into the back of a closet for me to pillage and pour over late at night, when she was at work. He never stayed in one place for long, my aunt said. He always went back to her.

In California, Ugo’s spiral shortened as he finally succumbed to the the prying, needling fingers of disease, of alcoholism and unchecked anhedonia that had been reaching out to him for years. He slipped off of his medication, picked at his skin until it bled, spoke to the voices he and no one else could hear, believed things that shouldn’t be believed. The walrus was Paul. For awhile, I heard from Ugo infrequently. He sent me birthday cards, intermittently, throughout the year, always on days that were not my birthday. On the cheap-paper envelopes he surely stole from some copy shop or postal station, heavy fingerprints showed near the creases, and the seals smelt sour. I would open the letters slowly, running my fingers slowly over the weak strip of adhesive, where he’d sealed the letter closed with his drunken spit. Inside the cards, always pastel-colored, hideously cheesy pieces of little-girl dreamworld nostalgia, in his hasty, spindly script, moving in and out of coherence, he’d frequently change tense, person, even language: Abelie, Honeysuckle. I’m working for a vet. If I saved enough money, I’m going to move in down the street from Venice Beach and out of Auntie Agata’s house, with her six big dogs, woof woof woof woof woof woof, floppy ears, comi i cani della strada, and her husband Drake who looks like a dog. Mi manchi. Ti amo. Mi dispiace.

When I went to college, I hung a photo of Ugo on the cinderblock wall of my dorm room. This was the only photo, of family or otherwise, I hung when I was decorating. In the picture, Ugo sits on the gray concrete bird-shit-stained steps of the fountain outside of the Plaza Hotel in New York City. He wears round, gold-framed glasses and a short-sleeved button-down shirt in a rather dubious plaid pattern that incorporates a few too many shades of pink. He is smiling, and his teeth are square and very white. He is so young it breaks my heart.

On the back of the picture, I wrote my favorite line from “Fugitive:”
“I said, remember this as how it should be.”
Early that semester, I left a party with Peter, who lived upstairs. We walked through the campus in the rain as it slowly waned to nothing. When we came to the bookstore, its lights off and doors shuttered, so late at night, we sat down on its stoop, which was the same gray as the fountain in front of the Plaza in the picture. We talked for hours, and it was revealed that we had almost everything in common: we both went to Catholic schools, loved James Joyce, smoked American Spirits in spite of ourselves, had no siblings and nurses for mothers. He asked me what I wanted to do.

I didn’t answer for a while. “Music journalism,” I finally said. Peter laughed. “What?” I asked. “Nothing. Just––you want to be a music journalist. I want to be a musician.”
“My father is a musician,” I said, and though this was hardly true, it was one of my favorite ways of endlessly exoticizing Ugo, remembering him as he should be, not as he is. A larger part of me than I cared to acknowledge still childishly wished that if I believe it, it must be true. Truth be told, I’d had no clue what he did or where he did it since the not-birthday cards stopped when I moved to college.

Peter smiled easily. “What does he play?” Records, I thought. “Guitar,” I said. Again, the smile. “I play guitar.”
Of course you do, I thought. Of course.

“Where do you want to go?” he asked, shortly thereafter.
“Home,” I said. “We can go home.”
He laughed. “Okay,” he said. We stood up from the stoop and began walking toward our dorm. “I meant, though, where do you want to go, when this is all done, and we’re out of here?”
“I’m not sure,” I said. This was true. “London, maybe.”
“London,” he said. “A good place for a music journalist, probably. So is California. That’s where I want to go. Maybe you’ll come with me?”


I smiled. “No,” I said simply, and I took his hand as we moved over slick, rain-battered streets toward our new home.

When we reached Peter’s room, I sat on his bed and looked around at his bare walls as he began

to roll a joint. He had hung no photos of his father. He had hung no photos at all. The room quickly filled up with the smell of marijuana which lingered thickly in the humidity of the after-rain in the late summer and after he’d taken a hit he passed the joint to me, turning away to put a record on the tabletop player that sat on the edge of his bare desk. He slid a record out of a sleek square envelope, set it on the turnable, lifted the arm, and dropped the needle onto the disk. I closed my eyes and let the taste of the smoke in the haze rest gently on my tongue, waiting to hear the opening chords of the record, so familiar.

It was The Beatles. The White Album. “Dear Prudence.” Peter noted my instant recognition. “I always play past ‘Back In The USSR,’” he said. “It’s nothing but a stupid novelty song.” I made a small noise that barely acknowledged the depth of my disagreement.
“Airplane noises,” he said.

When he kissed me, that night, he kissed me slowly, heavily, in the smoke-choked room; his hand wet and warm on the top of my thigh. Slowly, each song melted into the next in the way of a truly timeless album until we could hear nothing but the soft, respiratory sounds of the record’s empty, endless, pointless loops.


“Julia” is the final song of the White Album’s A side and the last one to be written for the album.

It’s widely considered one of John Lennon’s best and most haunting compositions. The lyrics are tangled and dense, recalling lines from Kahlil Gibran and Alice in Wonderland, but the song’s most significant inspiration is the eponymous Julia, Lennon’s mother. Julia was an evasive woman, absent for much of her son’s childhood, who encouraged him in his love of music: Lennon’s half-sister recalled fondly mother and son “jiving” around the living room to Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” on Lennon’s infrequent visits. The song was written after Julia was killed in a car accident involving a drunk-driving off-duty policeman. It is said that the night she died, Lennon had a dream that he and his mother were standing on a beach, holding hands; this sweet dream inspires much of the song’s oceanic imagery. Of her death, Lennon said only that he’d lost her twice: once, when she left him, as a child, and again when she died. For this reason, Pitchfork calls “Julia” “a piece of “painful autobiography.” “Julia” was recorded at Trident Studios in London on October 13, 1968, exactly twenty-eight years to the day before I was born.

It happened a week after my twenty-first birthday. It happened in his sleep. He had lost his housing and was again sleeping in the bed she kept warm for him in my now-divorced Auntie Agata’s house. It was one of her then-seven dogs that found Ugo, still and breathless, early the next morning. When Agata woke up at sunrise to walk the dogs along the pier, she found the dog curled up beside him in his deathbed. She called me moments later. On the east coast, it was still early morning, still dark, when my eyes snapped open at the ringing of the phone. Somehow I knew.

“Auntie Agata,” I said when I picked up. “ Cosa sta succedendo.” It had been almost a decade since I’d spoken Italian, and I’d barely been fluent before then, but still, the words rolled off my tongue automatically that night, in the middle of the night.

I listened to her short-winded weeping, clutching a sheet around my bare body. I felt Peter start to stir beside me, and by the time I got my Auntie off the phone he was fully awake, his eyes wide and very white in the moonlit room as he gazed at me with a concern that I knew wasn’t inauthentic. I settled back in next to him, so close that our stomachs touched and our eyes were inches apart and we breathed together, like a machine: I breathed out, he breathed in.

“What happened,” Peter said.
“My father died,” I said. “In his sleep.”
“My God,” he said.
“I know,” I said.
After that, we were silent for a little. On the road behind the house, I heard a car pass. “Can you do something for me?” I asked.
“Anything,” he said.
“Leave?”


Peter told me he loved me a month after we met. We were perilously high and lying on our backs on a blanket on the lawn outside our buildings, our legs and fingers and breathing tangled together. “I think it’s easy to feel like that when you’ve smoked this much marijuana in such a short amount of time,” I said, squinting.
“I’m serious,” Peter said indignantly. “I love you. I’m in love with you.”
I could only laugh. He sat up and pulled me with him. I looked into his bulbous pupils. “Stop laughing! Abelie, I’m serious. I know that I both love and am in love with you because I have never met anyone who’s so much like me before.”

I stopped laughing, suddenly acrimonious. “Do you think that’s what love is?” I demanded. “Being the same? Having a few things in common? Liking the same authors, the same music?”

“Yes,” he said. “Isn’t it? Isn’t that what love is?”
“No,” I said. “Love is showing up. Being there.” My anger was wasting my good high.
“Okay,” Peter said seriously. “If that’s what you think love is. Then that is what I will do. Be. For you. I’m not lying to you, Abelie.”


I laid back on the blanket. “Okay,” I said. “Okay.” He laid back beside me. We did not touch, we did not speak, for awhile. Slowly, my anger at what I perceived as Peter’s alarming misunderstanding of the meaning of love waned and was replaced by an encroaching apprehension. When I looked over at him, he was looking at me. All at once, I was terrified.

After a year or so I figured that I did love him back, though not nearly with the force or urgency with which he loved me: Peter always seemed like he was ready to get married. He wanted to move into an off-campus apartment with me for the first semester of our junior year and go abroad together in the following semester. I was able to circumvent both plans: I insisted that we get separate apartments and convinced him to stay at school and finish taking his music classes while I took my semester in London. This was how it worked: he was eager and I was trepidacious, though what I asked for, he always gave me. The night Ugo died, after I asked him to leave, he stayed away for a week while I sat silently in my pristine loneliness in a meditative state. Then, I called him and asked if he would drive me to the airport.

“When we met, you told me you wanted to someday go to California,” I said. “Yes.”
“And I told you I wouldn’t go with you.”
“Yes,” he said again, wearily, as if it made him sad to remember.

“What I wanted to tell you was that I would never go to California because California is the place where people ran when they ran away from me, and I knew too many runaways to ever want to become one myself. But today, I need to go to California. For the last time. And I need to go alone. And I need you to take me.”

“Okay,” he said. Within fifteen minutes, his car was idling outside my apartment, and he was carrying my single suitcase out the front door.

On the ride to the airport, I told Peter that we couldn’t be together anymore. I studied his face for traces of reaction but detected none. I was predictable to him. He had seen this coming.

“It’s not your fault,” I said.
“Sure,” he said, and repositioned his hands on the wheel.
“Listen. It’s not,” I said. “But it’s not my fault either.”
“Tell me how that works, then, if it’s no one’s fault.”
“Well.” I said, and then I was quiet for a while. I had said these words to myself so many times that when they came out they came out sounding stale. “It works like this: since I lost my father the first time I’ve had to stop thinking in terms of what is forgivable and what is not. At the end of most days, I am not certain that anything my father did was truly unforgivable, and even if he did, I’m not sure it matters. After all, the word that’s supposed to precede love is unconditional, right?”

Peter glanced away from the road, raising his eyebrows at me. “Maybe,” he said. I knew he didn’t understand, and perhaps had never understood.

“The only thing I’m certain that he is gone, and that he can’t come back. I’ve been practicing being a girl without a father since I was ten. And now I am one. But I don’t think all that practice will make it any easier. Because I still wonder, who is a girl without a father? Who is afraid that one day the love may stop, may cease to flow both ways, or even flow at all? Who knows that nothing lasts but hopes that nothing ends?”

“What are you saying to me?” he asked.

“Me,” I say. “I am saying that this girl is me. I decided to think of it less like when he died my father no longer loved me, but that he still loved me, urgently, and no longer knew how to tell me just how much.”

“Abelie,” he said, as if my name were a sentence. We drove the rest of the way in silence. When we reached the airport, even inside the car, we could hear the vacuum-like sounds of planes taking off, as in the beginning of “Back in the USSR.” Peter slowed the car and waited for me to get out.

I unbuckled my seatbelt and turned to him so that he could not avoid looking at me any longer.

“Listen,” I said. “In a way, I feel like you and me grew up together. I love you very much. Very, very much. More than I have ever really been able to say. You are unquestionably my best friend.”

“Okay,” he said, and he sounded unconvinced. This was fine. I did not need to convince him.

“But sometimes. No matter how much you love someone. Even if you love someone unconditionally. It just doesn’t work out. It just doesn’t. For no real reason. And it’s sad. But it is. Just so. Remember freshman year, on the lawn? When we talked about what love is. As it turns out, Peter. Love isn’t having so much in common with someone, but maybe it isn’t showing up for them, either”

He turned away and looked out the window to the vast sky, which was streaked with the exhaust trails of departed planes and the color of carsickness. “Then what is, it, then?”

“I don’t know,” I said. I placed one hand on the door handle. I leaned forward so that my mouth was just shavings of a second away from his cheek, but I didn’t kiss him. I just let him hear my breathing, and then I got out of the car. I retrieved my suitcase from the trunk. I walked towards the airport and the automatic doors parted to greet me. I didn’t look back.

On the plane, I opened the book into which I’d tucked the picture of Ugo from my wall. For the longest time, I ignored the smears of shit on the fountain and the clash of the various pinks in Ugo’s shirt. I looked only at his eyes. After all that time it still alarmed me when I looked into them that his eyes were my eyes. Now I know what it’s like, I thought, to leave someone whom you love, who is desperately in love with you. And for no reason at all. I turned the picture over and read the words I’d written:

“I said, remember this as how it should be.”

“I'm harboring a fugitive, a defector of a kind, and she lives in my soul, drinks of my wine, and I'd give my last breath to keep us alive. Are they coming for us, with cameras or guns? We don't know which but we gotta run. And you say, this is not what I bargained for.

So hide yourself for me, all for me.
We swore to ourselves we'd go to the end of the world, but I got caught up in whirl and the twirl of it all. A day in the sun, dancing alone, baby, I'm so sorry. Now it's coming to you, the lessons I've learned won't do you any good: you've got to get burned. The curse and the blessing they're one and the same, baby, it's all such a treacherous gain.

Hide yourself from me. I said, hide yourself from me, all for me.

I stood without clothes, danced in the sand. I was aching with freedom and kissing the damned. I said, remember this as how it should be.

Baby, I said, it's all in our hands got to learn to respect what we don't understand. We are fortunate ones, fortunate ones, I swear.

So hide yourself for me. I will hide myself for you, all for you.

I stood without clothes, danced in the sand. I was aching with freedom, kissing the damned. I said, remember this as how it should be."

***

Charlotte Freccia is a second-year student of English, Creative Writing, and Women's and Gender Studies at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, where she also enjoys an associateship with the Kenyon Review. She is a winner of the Philip Wolcott Timberlake Award and has recently published poetry in Zaum Magazine and creative nonfiction in Newfound. Her short story "Baby Teeth" was published by POTLUCK in June 2016. 

DAY FIVE: Poems by Andrew Brenza

round/plain

lichen  
on bollard
to planet  
plant it
face up
little worlds
whatever
strange
stranger makes
of it yours
a body
round as
plain 

Andrew Brenza is the author of three chapbooks, 21 Skies (Shirt Pocket Press, 2015), And Then (forthcoming from Grey Book Press), and 8 Skies (forthcoming from Beard of Bees Press). His first full-length collection, Gossamer Lid, was recently published by Trembling Pillow Press. 

DAY FOUR: Poems by Andrew Brenza

weed eater/flay

string become bladethresher
bed of mint                 wracked-raw  
burst                 a fragrant      
moment       movement  the air is full
of submission      frightened by 

 

Andrew Brenza is the author of three chapbooks, 21 Skies (Shirt Pocket Press, 2015), And Then (forthcoming from Grey Book Press), and 8 Skies (forthcoming from Beard of Bees Press). His first full-length collection, Gossamer Lid, was recently published by Trembling Pillow Press. 

DAY THREE: Poems by Andrew Brenza

mind flank/a tree

is a grinding
mouthful

of violate breath
sniping-stale  

mechanical-raw
a geared wetness

toward witness
molars glued

to anywhere
a gas-sagged  

peopled- 
less thought 

Andrew Brenza is the author of three chapbooks, 21 Skies (Shirt Pocket Press, 2015), And Then (forthcoming from Grey Book Press), and 8 Skies (forthcoming from Beard of Bees Press). His first full-length collection, Gossamer Lid, was recently published by Trembling Pillow Press. 

DAY TWO: Poems by Andrew Brenza

commute/commute

a frigate's spiral ascension into...
call it work call it shaken call it please

and oh god who cares all that half-brain asleep between wulst and worsted signals
it's day down here

or radios in the johnsonian sense
to be asleep and flying

sometimes for years
it means that it means

and we on our helixed way...
call it shirk call it waken call it whatever oh god please

Andrew Brenza is the author of three chapbooks, 21 Skies (Shirt Pocket Press, 2015), And Then (forthcoming from Grey Book Press), and 8 Skies (forthcoming from Beard of Bees Press). His first full-length collection, Gossamer Lid, was recently published by Trembling Pillow Press. 

DAY ONE: Poems by Andrew Brenza

blue lobsters/your eyes

I dream of blue lobsters as in  
I am looking in your eyes

Somewhere space is silhouetting
Your body I want it

To be a gentleness
Your breath giving shape

Around you yours your hands
In whatever movement

quiet clouds of jellyfish
Pulse the silence of your proliferations therein

 

 

Andrew Brenza is the author of three chapbooks, 21 Skies (Shirt Pocket Press, 2015), And Then (forthcoming from Grey Book Press), and 8 Skies (forthcoming from Beard of Bees Press). His first full-length collection, Gossamer Lid, was recently published by Trembling Pillow Press. 

Three Poems


In Which The Monster Has Wings Made of Forest:
 

In other worlds, an angel looks like this:
eagle wings a shiver of thorns and shoulder blades spring loaded,
dirt orbiting above the head, Jupiter’s lost ring.
              Unfortunately for you, this isn’t that kind of world.
Shirtless and posing, you are the January cover boy for Freaks Catalog.
You know degenerates slobber over these photos in horrible perversion,
your unwanted body with no master and no god.

You tried to pluck them once,
with pliers and your teeth gripping a wet washcloth,
nonmagic wings made of hemlock and thistle and vine,
with every tweeze they bubbled and leaked topsoil, pollen,
sap running off your elbows.
Later, you would know this as a practice of pruning,
of self-punishment, of white-flag to your misery.
When you dream, they’re made of porcelain.
When you dream, you aim the shotgun perfectly,
and they shatter. And you’re alone,
intact,
shirtless and a vessel in which nothing limps.
Finally.

 

 

 

I’m Not Sick When I’m Sleeping:
 

I greet a dog I think I know and find it newly-mutilated, lean tight stitching across its back, a fresh pink stump where a front leg used to be. My mother says this is the 3rd iteration of the same dog, the one who just won’t stay alive for her. The boy from my 10th grade fling is there, pine tree tall, and we fuck sitting upright on the couch in his stone castle, Victorian, his quiet moans rumbling my body. Afterwards, I waltz into the fridge: smoked salmon, capers, a thin sliver of lemon, into my mouth with the thrill of all things bizarre and deserved.

This is the point I realize I am dreaming:
Not the misplaced castle,
not the dying dogs
or my 15-year-old body heaving with
an ancient unfamiliar joy,
not the fragmented way
time and place fall into my lap,
inconsiderate how only dreams
can be. It’s the food—
delicate, intentional, instinctual.
The untempered thrill of the salt,
the vinegar bite,
the guilt that doesn’t fit in the room,
can’t even find the door,
doesn’t know how to spell the name it gave me.
Imagine that kind of distance from what raised you.
Imagine the ropes that always tether,
a pulp of loose end fibers with all the shackles gone.
In the dream I eat from no plate
and there is no shame. In the dream
taste is its own god and I know how
to pray.
Nothing desperate.
I don’t think about being
thin because I don’t have a body,
just a sense of smell,
a lit firework,
and 10 hands,
ready to grab onto anything
that wants to see me light.

 

 

 

9 Years Old, November 1988, Okenfenokee Swamp with Daddy:
 

The good body incapable of milk.
Wonders, womb just for kindling?
Just a molten bowl, just a blood offering?
But all the wit in the world won’t bring her a baby. It’s been 9 years.
I was a strange shock, 14 and Daddy Tried Whiskey For The First Time.
Heave Heave Heave and I arrived, white as a cotton bud.
Now the swamp steams. The switchgrass rigid and still.
“After you,” Mama said, “You’d think Georgia never saw wind.”
Harder to be good here then it is to drunk fuck and shoot blind,
but I try. I do.
Counts for nothing when the moon ripens and the peaches fall plump and ready,
all the country men out for their trouble.
Daddy brings in an alligator twice as long as me,
muddy scaled and snowglobe hard eyes
instructs me slice muzzle to tail.
My cut’s a little crooked and the hot blood runs to my elbows.
The skin isn’t as tough as it looks
and he wraps it around his arm in one long strip, a party boa,
pulls like ribbon and There She Is, pink and naked below us, hide-free, a prize to claim:
he killed it, he stripped it naked, and she’s perfect for a purse, for a pair of shoes, for a
sacrifice to some nameless and unfussy God.
Later, in the swamp-tent, Daddy moves over me naked and vast as night and There She
Is, My Baby, My Baby,
a field of new poppies: meaning sleep, meaning peace, meaning death.
I’m praying for all three but they don’t come.
The bright Georgia moon, the cicadas screaming me awake.
Those are lucky bugs. Only singing on the hottest days.
98 degrees and the dirge is strong. We’re talking death-songs.
We’re talking newly dead. Me and the gator. Pretty pink. Leaking milk.

 

 

 

Effy Fritz is a poet and scientist from Brooklyn who believes the most important aspect of poetry is the act of deliberate word choice. Her work has been featured on MTV, Button Poetry, and decomP, among other places. She holds a BSc in Neuroscience and is currently immersed in immunological research at the University of Pennsylvania.

They Came Like Hollywood

All of this will happen, more or less. Unfortunately, this is the saddest story I have ever heard. I will do my best to recount the events pre-coming and post-coming, but I had the story, bit by bit, from various survivors, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story. But a story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead. A story, like time, is not a line but a dimension, like the dimensions of space.

I have never begun a novel with more misgiving.

I have never begun a novel. I still have not.

If I am out of my mind, it's all right with me. Granted: I am an inmate of a what might be called a metaphysical hospital; my keeper is watching me, he never lets me out of his sight; there's a peephole in the door, and my keeper's eye is the shade of brown that can never see through a blue-eyed type like me.

Who I am doesn't matter so much anymore, but call me Ishmael, but in a sense, I am Jacob Horner. I am an invisible man. Pre-coming, I was the shadow of the waxwing slain by the false azure in the windowpane. Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.

I am from earth. I am an American, Chicago born—Chicago, that somber city—and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent. But my history doesn't matter anymore because the past is a foreign country; you do things differently there, on Earth, where you are now.

This is your future history, written in a dimension I can’t even begin to think about how to articulate in any earthly language or equation.

Pre-coming, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, depending on your respective perspectives, which goes without saying, but it’s too late for that now. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the noun of nouns, it was the etcetera of etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, it was the winter of despair.

That day, the winter sun shone, having no alternative, on nothing new. Then: a screaming came across the sky and the sky above the city was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. It was like so, but wasn’t. The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army of what you would probably classify as aliens, according to the The History of Earth, stretched out across the sky. It was the day my grandmother exploded. We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall. For some, it was a pleasure to burn. Those of the old belief that taught to be born again first you have to die. For others, it wasn’t. Most were killed, many were taken, eventually.

***

Jared DiMaggio is a graduate student at the University of South Florida.

Crash Test

It’s not until I’m drinking in Vanessa and Alex’s room that I remember what day it is. The alarm clock by Alex’s bed reads 9:49, and the second I glance at it, I know that I fucked up. Eight years ago today, Angie’s brother stole their father’s gun and blew his brains out in their backyard. I was right there when she found out. Eight years ago today, Angie and I walked home from school and found an ambulance pulled up beside her front lawn. We saw the front door hanging open and her brother’s body wrapped neatly in a body bag, a police officer standing over it. We saw blood pooled in the grass, rinsing the lawn in a red that glistened in the afternoon sun. Not that I think about it often. But once I remember, a weight swells in my stomach and my mind goes a thousand different places. 

At the moment of my realization, Vanessa is doing my hair, wrapping long strands of it around her hot pink curling iron. She drinks gin mixed with blue Gatorade. When I realize what today is, a little twitch runs through me and I can feel my scalp tug against the curling iron’s grip.

“You okay?” she goes.

“Fine,” I say back. 

Tonight marks the first full week I’ve spent at college. I’m going out, same as last weekend, with a group of girls from my floor. They’re all from different parts of Massachusetts, but they all dress alike and snap their gum the same exact way. My roommate is like this--a girl named Jessica. She has waist-length blonde hair and a color-coordinated closet. Right now she’s sitting at the other desk in Vanessa and Alex’s room, dusting her eyelids in a shimmery rose-colored powder. Vanessa is shorter than the rest, with a round, generous face and kind eyes. Alex is quiet, like me, and even though she’s wearing a top with criss-crossed fabric across the cleavage and a skintight skirt, I can tell she wishes she were in something else. 

Once Vanessa releases the final strand of my hair from her curler, I step out. In the hallway, I lean against the cinderblock wall and call Angie. Drops of sweat roll down my back, under Jessica’s borrowed top. The carpet feels warm underneath my toes. The phone rings and rings until it finally goes to voicemail. “Serena?” I hear the girls call from behind the door. I hang up without saying anything. 

“Where did you go?” they ask when I come back into the room.

“Oh, nowhere. I was gonna call my mom back, but she didn’t pick up.”

Alex nods, then goes to her dresser drawer and pulls out a bottle of peach Smirnoff.  

“It’s time!” she says, giggling. The other girls cheer in excitement but I only muster a halfhearted smile. My phone burns in my pocket and I can’t unhinge my mind from thoughts of Angie. Angie, weeping at her brother’s funeral. Angie scribbling test answers onto the skin of her thigh in physics class. Angie rolling a joint in the half-dark of her bedroom, our knees touching on the carpet. Angie swearing me to secrecy before showing me all the perfume and underwear she shoplifted from Victoria’s Secret. Angie in church back when our families went every Sunday, knees knocking together in the pews. Angie and I falling asleep on the hill behind my house, watching the stars.

We pass the bottle around until it’s gone. I want my throat to stop burning more than anything, but I take my turn each time and try to mask my wincing. Once the bottle is empty, the room takes on a hazy quality and I start to laugh, for no reason.

 

Once, in middle school, Angie and I memorized all the characters in Greek mythology. We checked out beautifully illustrated books from the library and pretended to be different people. I found cloth-and-wire butterfly wings and we took turns acting out the Flight of Icarus. Tonight, that’s how I feel again, my cheeks shimmering with makeup, my hair perfectly curled: like I’m a character, some sort of god flying far away from everything I’ve known. There have always been girls and drinks and parties but now I’m swallowed in the belly of it all and I don’t know how I got here, I don’t know where I’m going to go. 

We leave Vanessa and Alex’s dorm and head out for the night. I’m wearing a shirt I borrowed from Jessica. It’s cream-colored and made from crushed velvet. When I saw it in a pile of clothes on her bed I picked it up and touched it without thinking. She saw me admiring it and offered to lend it to me. I can’t remember the last time I wore something so beautiful in my life. My hair is curled into soft waves and I’m in wedge heels. When we step outside, I try to hide my shiver.

The party we’re headed to is across campus. We walk there in rows of two. I’m towards the back, following the lead of Jessica. Jessica’s older sister is in a sorority, which officially means she knows more than the rest of us. When we get to the party she leads the way as we wedge through a mass of bodies waiting outside a tall gate. There are frat brothers sitting on top of the fenceposts like watchguards, shouting things out, trying to placate the waiting crowd. Jessica tugs the pant leg of one of the brothers, a pale guy with a squashed-in looking face. “I’m Allison’s sister. Allison Martsen.” He makes a face of deep concentration, then nods slowly. “Okay. Okay. I can let you guys in.”

We duck through the narrow entrance and find ourselves in the backyard of an enormous house. It’s crawling with people, music pouring out from inside. I hold Vanessa’s hand as we snake our way in. Vanessa gave me a water bottle full of vodka and I pull it out from my purse. I take one long sip, and then another. All the other girls surround me on the dance floor. A wave of heat encompasses the whole room. It smells like skin and sweat and beer, the slickness of bodies pressed too close. We dance through countless songs. At the end of each one I go into my purse and take another sip of vodka. After not long, things start seeming softer. I lose Jessica in the crowd. I can only see Alex and Vanessa from the corner of my eye, and then I lose them all. I sway to the music, barely noticing when a guy comes up behind me and wraps his hands around my waist. They’re the hands of a man, not a boy, big-boned and veiny. The person behind me is tall and muscular. I can’t see his face, but we dance with my ass against his crotch and it’s almost like he’s not there. Like I’m just dancing against the collective body heat of the room, and not a real person. But then he slips one of his big man hands under Jessica’s white velvet shirt and gives my boob a squeeze. I cry out instinctively, not that anyone can hear, and I elbow him off of me.

Outside, cool air settles all around me and I breathe, in and out and in again. Beads of sweat run down my forehead. Without looking, I can tell my makeup has started to run. I pull out my phone and try calling Angie again. It’s not quite midnight yet and I know she’s still awake. 

Music still throbs from inside the frat house but I push my phone against my ear until I hear the dialtone start ringing. On the third ring, she picks up.

“Angie?” I go.

“Serena, what’s up?” her voice sounds bubbly, but it’s hard to hear over the background noise on her end. 

“I’m sorry I didn’t text you earlier. Or call.”

“Why are you apologliz--oh. Yeah. Matt.” Her voice goes flat when she says her dead brother’s name. I can feel my stomach filling up with rocks. “It’s okay, Serena. We’re both busy.”

“You’re right. I still feel guilty though. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine Serena. Really. We’re in college now--you don’t have to take care of me.” 

“Sorry,” I go.

“Don’t be sorry. It’s just...I think it’s time we made other friends. There’s more than just each other.”

“You’re right.” I say. “You’re totally right.” Angie is quiet, and I hear laughter leaking into our conversation from her end of the phone. 

“I’ll let you go, Serena--” Angie goes.

“Wait.” I say. “Angie...do you remember the story of the flight of Icarus?”

“The flight of what?” a staticky sound flows out from underneath her voice. The distance between us feels real and tangible, like we’re speaking through tin cans and not cell phones.

“The flight of Icarus. The Greek myth, where he burns off his wings ‘cause he flies too close to the sun.”

“I don’t think I remember.”

“Oh. Well that’s fine. It was like, seventh grade. I didn’t expect you to.”

“Alright. Look--Serena, I have to go. My friends want to leave. We’re going out.”

“Goodbye, Angie. Have fun.”
“Bye Serena. You too.”

I stand with my back to the wall of the frat for I don’t know how long. Tears well in my eyes but don’t fall down my face. I think of Angie; my best friend. I close my eyes and imagine us in seventh grade, trying to tie cherry stems into knots with our tongues. I imagine us fourteen and dressing up in our mothers’ makeup, teaching ourselves how to shave our legs. I imagine Angie the way I always will, the brave one, the leader. Never afraid to take a risk. To test the limit of what she could and couldn’t do.

The back door swings open and a crowd of people rush out. The flow lasts several minutes. People are shouting, frantic to find others in their groups. “Cops!” a guy shouts, over and over. I join the masses, knowing there’s no chance of finding the other girls. I walk across campus, back to my dorm. Once I’m far enough from the frat, the night regains its peacefulness. A full moon glows above me like a lighthouse and guides me the whole way back.

That night, I dream that everybody I love is on an airplane and I’m the pilot. My mom and dad and brother and grandparents are standing in line beside a hole in the side of the plane, where one of the doors has been ripped off. They have parachutes. I know if they jump they will make it back home. Angie stands behind them but with no parachute. Just a black dress and eye makeup, her hair straight and shiny down her back. I’m leaving, I’m leaving she says, her voice teetering on the edge of laughter. Once I get off this plane I’ll be gone.

One by one, my family jumps out of the plane. Five parachutes expand below, stark white against clear blue, and it’s just me and Angie. I don’t want this anymore. I want to see what Matt saw. I want to see what’s on the other side.

I try to speak but my voice doesn’t work. In the dream, my throat swells and my eyes water, but I steer the plane the entire time. I keep my eyes on the sky before me and when Angie jumps, silent as an exit wound, I keep flying. In the dream, it’s all I can do.

When I wake up the next morning, light rushes into my eyes. My head hurts, which is no surprise. In the dorms across the street, someone has strung a clothesline from one window to another. I study how it sways in the wind, white clothing waving like flags against the blue.

 

Greta Wilensky is college freshman at UMass Amherst majoring in English. Greta has been writing for five years and my work has been published in Winter Tangerine Review, Bartleby Snopes, Alexandra Quarterly, Duende, Gone Lawn and a handful of other magazines. Greta was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Dunede Journal.

Geography

The summer thunderstorm rolled over Manhattan like an invading army. It had been sunny all day, the air thick with smog and heat. Then the high hammerhead clouds rose like tanks on the horizon, the wind picked up, fat drops of rain fell like bullets. I watched from my office window as the clouds calmed into the stillness of a June night, as the air took on a new, dry clarity. As I walked to the bar to meet Hugh, little piles of sticks and fallen leaves littered the street, puddles mirrored the fading sky. Inside, the thumpawhump of Kylie Minogue and a wash of green and red light over the sticky tables and stools. Hugh sat texting as I walked in. I gave a limp-wristed wave, he looked up at me through tortoiseshell glasses and smiled.

“Hi, stranger,” he said, standing to hug me. I'd forgotten the distinctive quality of his voice, like paint on glass — quiet, blurred, tinged with a barely-audible accent. His short tan coat still had a couple drops of water snaking down the treated cotton. A thin mustache sat on his upper lip. His face was round and his head was square; bright pupils glinted out from droopy eyes.

"I need a drink," I said, smoothing down my hair, almost out of breath from his sudden presence, the quick walk. At the bar, leaning in to flirt with the guy pouring my beer, I cocked my head around and watched him text. We'd met at a party, become friends, gone out a few times: to an Almodòvar movie and some bookstores and a piece of performance art in a loft in Queens where a whippet-thin woman rolled on the floor groaning and smoking cigarettes and changing the radio station. Then, we'd drifted apart. Now, he was moving back to Korea. His work visa was expiring. He’d quit his job, and couldn't or wouldn't find another within the scope of his field of study: geography.

I grabbed the beer and went back to the table, perching on the high stool, splaying my legs out in front of me, trying not to pose. "So what's new," I asked. 

"Well," he said, "I've been seeing someone. An art student, lives in Hong Kong. Younger than me.”

“Fantastic! How much younger?" I laughed. 

"Well, pedophilia is the next frontier of social activism." He waited a moment, let the joke land. "No, he's 22. But he looks 16.” 

"What's that? Six years? Seven?" 

"Seven, yeah.” We were the same age.

The song changed to some vintage Britney; absurdly, a pack of bears at the next table argued about whether it was from Blackout or Circus. "It's funny," he said. “Until now I’ve always had crushes on people who are older but not too much — maybe three or four years? This other guy Mike was my biggest crush of the last year. He's 32. Moved from Korea the same time I did, is a photographer like I am." 

"Dating a mirror," I said. "Boyfriend twins."

"Anyway," he said, "it never worked out. Does that make it less gross?"  

"Marginally," I said. "Or grosser, if you want to go the unrequited-love-of-my-life route." 

He smiled. "Harry's helping with that."

"Oh," I said. "The magical boyfriend has a name." I didn’t realize it was catty until I heard it. 

"Yeah," he said. "Let me show you." He felt in his pocket for his phone. As he flipped through pictures I stared into my drink, little Britneys dancing on my ice cubes, reflections from the screen above our table. 

"Here he is," he said, pushing his phone across. In the photo, Hugh sat on a bed looking dolefully out from underneath the brim of a baseball cap. Harry leaned cockeyed into the frame. He was slim, young-looking, had bleached hair.

"Cute," I said, and imagined the scene after the photo. The phone tossed aside, Harry pushing Hugh down onto the bed. 

He took the phone back. "And you said you've been seeing someone too?" 

"Yeah," I said. "This furniture maker, Zachary. It's been really great." I took out my phone and showed him a picture.

"Awwww," Hugh said. “He looks sweet. I feel like furniture makers can't be evil."

"I try not to date evil people," I said. 

“It’s not always possible,” he said, handing me back my phone. "So how'd you two meet?" 

I looked up sheepishly. "On Grindr," I said. 

"Same," he said, and we both laughed. "But it's different in Korea." 

"Oh sure," I said. “Yeah. I guess in Korea it's mostly people looking for deep intellectual connections, a few dozen red roses, and long walks on the beach." 

He winced. ”It's just that most Korean gays are on Jack'd. Grindr is mostly expats. Hooking up with expats in Korea makes me feel more at home.”

"So you're going for long-distance?” I asked.

"We're being realistic. Keeping it open. But we're exclusive on the highest level." Hugh's idiomatic quirks enhanced meaning rather than obscuring it.

“It’s weird,” I said, “that we’ve both somehow found these people who can embrace us with the whole bag of shit on the side." 

"I like to tell myself I don't have the bag of shit even as I spend my life ruffling through it and showing off its contents." 

"The power of denial.” Seeing Hugh again I remembered how still he always sat and envied his calmness. I constantly tap my feet, splay myself across chairs, expand inelegantly to fit available space. Sitting on the bar stool, I crossed and uncrossed my legs, watched as some drag queens in half-makeup carried bulging gym bags behind the bar to the dressing rooms. 

"Cheap thrills," he said, "but fun, isn't it? I have to piss.” He got up, I pulled out my phone and flipped through the few pictures I had of Zachary. There he was in his shop, there he was on the street posing with his truck. I found my favorite photo, one I'd taken surreptitiously when he was nestled into my lap on the couch. He sat in profile, looking into the light from an out-of-frame window, his hair grazing the skin under his ears. He said he was trying to grow it long enough to have a top-knot, just for one day.

Hugh sat down again, tripping a little on the descent. "Can't go ten minutes without looking at lover boy?" The music stopped. A drag queen – 7 feet and 300 pounds in heels and wig –walked regally towards a mic and announced the start of bingo to groans and cheers. I motioned at the door. Hugh nodded, we grabbed our bags and went for the exit. 

It was last light. The wind had picked up, high clouds blew past quickly, not too many people were out. We turned right down Sixth, mourning a departed Mexican restaurant we’d gone to as students where you could drink with over-the-hill drag queens until five in the morning. At a red light, I dashed across and Hugh stayed on the other side. 

"Why'd you wait?" I asked a few seconds later, after the light had changed and he'd joined me.

"I'm saving these little leaps so I can take a big one."

"Like what?” I asked.

“Like getting married or something."

I'd been to three weddings in the past year, there were two invites awaiting RSVP. "What's 'married?'" I asked. "I heard it's something lesbians do involving golden retrievers and imported babies." 

"It's like driving, I think," he said. "You take lessons and then get a permit of some kind." 

Some cabs went streaking by. I looked down at the new World Trade Center. All the lights were on: you could see which floors were already divided into offices and which were still empty.

“I can’t imagine being married," I said. "Maybe ever." 

"I can," said Hugh, staring up at the building too. He had a way of knowing where you were looking, and looking there. "I guess I think it's a useful lie?" 

We found ourselves stopped at a red light on the corner of Canal and 6th next to a little triangular park carved out between intersecting street grids. I gestured at a bench. "Let's sit for a while," I said. His subway entrance was approaching, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. "I like the wind." 

"So do I," he said, sitting down. "I love this area." He gestured at the vacant buildings, the cars streaming from wide avenues into the Holland Tunnel. 

We were facing a tall tower hotel across the street. About ten floors up, in the last of a horizontal strip of windows, a light went on and the shades opened.

"Oh," said Hugh. "This is interesting." 

It was a man: young, slim, close-cropped brown hair, wearing only pajama bottoms tied at the waist. He yawned, stretched his arms up revealing little tufts of hair underneath, ran his hands over his smooth chest.

"He's in good shape!" said Hugh. 

The man picked up a cell phone and dialed. 

"Whither goest thou, America," I said, "in thy shiny car in the night." 

"You prick," said Hugh, and punched me lightly on the left shoulder. I felt the weight of his fist there, the warmth it left.

The man turned and leaned his back against the window, holding the phone with his left arm and gesturing with his right. Then he walked back into the hidden recesses of the room. 

"Booo," I said. "Come ba-ack." 

The park was spotlit. I looked behind us, out of our pool of light and into the darkness. I realized I'd put my arm across the back of the bench, almost around Hugh's shoulders, without thinking. I didn't pull it back. 

"Is he coming back?" Hugh asked. "Probably not.”

Then the man was there again, running his hands across his waist, still talking on the phone, staring out over us towards the Hudson. 

"We should go up there," Hugh said. "Count the floors, find the room." A couple of women passed by, one clutching at the hem of her skirt in the wind. "I wonder which one of us he'd kill first?” 

I thought about it for a minute. "Well," I said, "Is it before or after we all have sex?" 

"After, after, of course," Hugh said. "He's got to get rid of his shame by killing one of us, because he didn't know he was even a faggot until we came along." 

I laughed. "The conversion team." 

"So who would he kill first?" 

The man stretched again, stomach flat and taut as a snare drum. My belly spilled forward a bit as I sat, so did Hugh's. "I'm not sure," I said. "Depends on who's faster to the door to call for help after he brings out the meat cleaver.”

"He'd kill me first," said Hugh, “I just decided that I'd let him, to let you go." 

"A noble act!" I said, laughing. 

"A hypothetical one," he said. "This dream is the only time I'd be nice." A pause as a plastic bag blew by beneath our feet. "Plus, I'd be ready to die after sex with him, in that hotel room. That's all I need from life." I felt him settle into me, his side pressing into mine and then quickly pulling back.

I looked up at the window. The man had gone and the shade was pulled down. 

"Maybe he saw us," said Hugh. 

"There's lots of reasons we could be here. Just enjoying the night."

"The hell there are," he said. "Poor guy's just trying to finish a phone call.”

We sat there watching windows in the wind for another minute. I realized Hugh was leaving in three weeks, then he'd be in Korea until who knows when. 

"I should go home," I said, and stood up. "I'm cold."

"Yeah," he said. "This is too Rear Window." He stood and stretched in an imitation of the man. I poked his stomach through his coat, he doubled forward and danced back a couple steps.

"Does that make you Grace Kelly, or is that me?" I smiled. 

"Neither," he said. "Neither, you bastard. Don't touch me again." He laughed. "We’re both Jimmy Stewart. Grace Kelly…that's what Harry and – what's his name?" 

"Zachary," I said. "Zach." I hadn't yet decided what to call him. 

"That's what they're for. Left to our own devices, this is where we end up."

Saying goodbye at the top of the stairs to the subway, he turned and came in for a hug. We held on for a long time, when he pulled away he put his hands on my arms and rubbed them quickly. “You're cold," he said. I looked through his glasses into his small brown eyes. He leaned in, smiling, then let go of my arms and pushed me back with a light tap. "This is my stop," he said. “I’m going home.”

A few months later, his forced departure seemed like good luck. There had been a mass shooting at a gay bar, an election, some riots, some violent suppressions of the riots. I kept trying to stay in touch with Hugh, but it was difficult. I’d write, he’d answer weeks later, then I’d forget. One day, waiting for Zachary to get home so we could make dinner, I went to Hugh’s blog and started reading, hoping I’d learn something to ask about in an email. It was all in Korean; I had to Google translate as I read, knowing how much he’d hate having his carefully-chosen words mutilated. One post was about Korean radical feminists hoping men’s dicks would get waxed off with their pubic hair. Another, about what was going on in my country. This was the last thing that I read before the door opened: “The United States for me was savior and conqueror, ESL teacher and fagbasher, luxury product and Marxist seminar. How do you keep the United States straight in your mind? The United States was a gay bar for me, and at the same time it was a gun that killed everyone inside.”  

 

to Keith S. Kim.

 

Ben Miller is a writer and researcher in Berlin, at work on new fiction and a history of queer identity formation between interwar Germany and postwar California. Fiction, essays, and criticism have recently been published in Slate, Jacobin, The Open Bar at Tin House, Pelican Bomb, Lambda Literary, and OutHistory. He tweets @benwritesthings, www.benwritesthings.com/.

Think Twice

From Okayplayer:

"For a few years I was in the passenger seat of this on-again/off-again relationship, never being the one to make the call whether it was on or off. This song was my way of taking the stand that I never could bring myself to take in reality, and say, hey, really make up your mind this time."

 

***

Max Schieble, or Elbows, is a Brooklyn-based psych jazz/hip hop songwriter, vocalist, and producer. Get the pretzels. Now living in New York, he is currently eating between one and thirteen waffles. He's also Potluck's Art Guy.

Windows

In Antignano, the southernmost neighbourhood of Leghorn, lived a young girl called Amalia.

Amalia was only eight years old, but she already understood why her mother didn’t like her to lean over the window on the sea.

The window on the sea. How many stories and poems, more or less beautiful but always stuffed with sighs and murmurs, could you find with a quick research on Google? You know the answer: there are infinite.

But at the time when Amalia loved leaning from that big window with slightly chipped white shutters, Google didn’t exist. Amalia was born at the beginning of the fifties, and I’ve never known her except from seeing her pictures. My grandmother told me only some tiny bits of her story. I always try to ask for more, but she just flinches and changes subject.

That’s why I’m going to tell it my way. My aunt needs to be remembered.

***

I don’t know whether Amalia could be defined exactly as a cute girl. She had a very high forehead, with thin, pitch black eyebrows over beautiful dark eyes. Her nose was small and straight, and her  mouth was slightly crooked in a foxy smirk.

In the morning, she had breakfast with her sister and her mother, who read the newspaper and sipped her tea. Right after finishing her milk, Amalia would slip away in her room. She hoped the crime news would keep her mother’s eyes on the newspaper enough to let her run to the window, open it cautiously and finally look out, over the sea. Then her room, which usually smelled of the old withered flowers that the maid used to bring in every week, would fill with the salty sea smell.

Amalia would try to breathe in the scent, exposing herself to the libeccio that whipped her hair. She felt the salt sizzling on her skin while the sun hit her like waves on the cliffs.

After a while, afraid that her mother would find her, she would close the shutters and finally smell her own skin.

She used to sink her nose in the hollow between the arm and the forearm, and she felt the essence of the sun on her soft epidermis.  

Her mother was a stark woman, with dark hair accurately fashioned into a bun and a pearl necklace that was too tight around her neck. She didn’t like her daughter’s pastime. And, to go back to what I was saying just a few lines ago, Amalia was too smart for her age to really think that her intransigent mother was simply afraid that the girl could lean a little too much. She had already understood that her mother wasn’t bothered by the tragic image of the beloved daughter falling from the fourth floor of Villa Rosetta, the family cottage with light green walls.

The girl, pushing herself out towards Leghorn’s seaside, felt the black velvet dress going up her skinny legs wrapped in white stockings. When she really wanted to expose her pale little face to the sun, she knew she let half-view of her panties, under the rolled-up hem of her dress, and that was really a dishonour her mother couldn’t bear, even if the room was totally empty. And even if someone had been there, anyway, they would have unlikely been interested in a eight-year-old girl’s pants.

But Amalia knew her mother.

Of course, I only heard about her. I listented patiently to all the stories about her. Every Sunday, she would drag Amalia to the church, where the priest would try his best to turn the girl’s crooked smile into a gloomy expression of remorse. No one knew the reasons for that remorse, given her young age, but of course the priest could have explained it better than me.

During the mass, Amalia kept her eyes down. Her mother watched her with an always controlled expression of pride as the girl followed the old priest slowly towards the altar. The black curls would fall on the collar of her white tunic, even though her mother and the maid had tried to fix them accurately with some horrendous metal hair clips, which Amalia hated deeply.

The smell of the white tunic (which was always a bit yellowed on the hems and under the armpits), wasn’t like the sea’s at all. It always made Amalia feel like she had been imprisoned for more than an hour in a cage lined with sweat and mothballs – a sensation that, needless to say, the girl couldn’t stand.

On Sunday evening, when she was back home at lunch, and her mother told her to finish off the roast meat on her plate, Amalia kept on smelling the scent of that awful tunic, the candles’ wax, the cold stone of the church. She never managed to eat the whole lunch, while her sister finished everything and even polished off the plate with a slice of bread.

Amalia, instead, as soon as the mother would retire to her room and switch on the radio, would run and open her beloved window.

***

Amalia’s pictures get more interesting as time passes. They’re small, yellowed, of course black and white. Her hair, though, jumps out of the photographs as musk curls on the dark stone. Her face gets gaunter, the chin sharper, her eyes are blacker and blacker. Her eyebrows arch elegantly under the white forehead as her new beauty emerges slowly, evolving through the pictures year after year, gradually freeing her from her childish expressions.

She kept leaning over the window of her room even after the day her mother had found her and grabbed her beautiful black curls, pulling her back. Amalia realised that her mother’s long fingers could become even more evil enemies than the metal clips she used to arrange her wild hair every Sunday morning. But the sea didn’t lose its appeal, even during her adolescence. She basked in the salty smell of her skin, snuggled in her white sheets on hot summer nights.

As she grew up, she found out that every time she would open a window in a closed place, she felt an almost physical pang of pleasure. She enjoyed the cool and clean air that came in a gust of wind, stroking her face or raising her skirt. So she never stopped leaning over. At school, whenever the teacher decided that her classroom needed to be refreshed and opened the window, a beautiful smile appeared on Amalia’s pale face. And when the girl finally moved to a house in Borgo Pinti, Florence, to study classics, she filled the breaks from her study of Ancient Greek with long reflections at the window.

From there she would smoke a cigarette, watching the Florentines hurrying on the cobblestones of the narrow alley. Of course, it wasn’t like seeing the sea of her beloved Livorno, nor could she breathe in the salty smell and feel it on her skin for hours, but it was fine. The pleasure of the air on her face and shoulders reminded her of running towards the prohibited, when her tiny hands would pop the lock of the shutters, and she would listen carefully to sense her mother’s quick steps in the hallway.

Amalia had started dressing entirely in black. She didn’t wear anything colourful, or, worse, white as the old altar-girl tunic. She said black looked good with her hair, and she had learnt an important lesson from her mother: if she dressed entirely in black, including her underwear, she could have leant over the window as much as she wanted. She wouldn’t have to worry that her clothes would go up her hips and the contrast between her clothes and her underwear would catch other people’s attention.

She always thought about it when leaning over, even if there was no one around.

***

The day everything changed, Amalia was sitting on a cherry-coloured pillow on the wooden floor of her Florentine house. The turquoise curtains were sliding slightly on the white walls. Every gust of the summer breeze made them gather.

Amalia had decided to have a party for her birthday. She was turning twenty-two. Her classmates had been drinking red wine and smoking pot all night, as she had started to do as well since the beginning of her studies at Uni.

No one had felt like going home yet, when Gesila came in.

He was with Walter and Mauro, two of Amalia’s classmates. He was unexpected. She didn’t know him. He was a tall guy, with dark hair, almost as black as hers. He was wearing a camel-coloured shirt, open down to his chest. Amalia didn’t get whether his arrival had provoked the silence or if everyone had kept on talking, laughing and smoking and she hadn’t noticed. She didn’t hear anything for a couple of seconds. She just watched him. His smirk was cutting the air.

As he closed the door behind him, a sudden gust of wind had come from the window, arousing a tremor in the turquoise curtains, which blew dangerously towards the dark candles on the floor.

Without faltering, Gesila headed towards the carpet where everyone was sitting. He didn’t sit down. His inquisitive gaze scrutinized all the women in front of him. When he spotted Amalia, for a second, every girl around her disappeared. His killer eyes had stuck with hers: they stayed like this, motionless yet wild, and she held her breath. She felt his gaze on her, sliding over her skin as the sea foam on the shore. He was undressing her. He was a virtuoso. The girl had a sensation as though the strap of her black dress was falling down off her shoulder, and she turned abruptly to check. It was alright.

It was at that point that Celeste, one of her classmates, got up to greet the three guys. Amalia remained on the pillow and caught another of Gesila’s glances. His eyes had nailed her to the floor.

They stared at each other again for a few seconds.

That night, they slept together.

***

My grandmother told me everything she could about her sister. She had never known exactly what really happened in that room.

But I think I know.

She said Gesila didn’t need a word to take Amalia to bed. If this is true, he must have been very good to have done it without even opening his mouth. Still, it seems like it really went like this. He didn’t say a word, he didn’t ask her name or where she was from. He hadn’t even brought a bottle of wine to make up for having snuck in uninvited.

He held out his hand. I don’t know whether people noticed and the two of them just went out of the room in silence, or if the others kept on laughing and smoking pot, handing glasses of Tuscan wine to each other. I have no idea, it’s a detail I’ve never known of.

This is everything I know for sure, from what I’ve been told over the years. My family don’t like to talk in detail about what happened next, but this is what I have come to believe.

But I can imagine how it went. I can assume Gesila guided her to her room and pushed her against the wall, looking at her with his smirk and his pitch black killer eyes.

Something tells me that Gesila locked the door.

And something else tells me that Amalia didn’t notice it because she was too busy opening the big window of her room, from which she usually watched the passers-by.

Gesila approached her slowly. He grabbed her wrists and pushed her towards the eaves. Amalia felt his Adam’s apple as she brushed her lips against his neck and he tilted his head back, closing his eyes.

My grandmother rarely cries when she talks about her sister. They couldn’t have been more different. She was blonde, always wearing pearls and dressing white as her mother wanted, keeping her straight hair fixed in a bun. She had thin, well-designed lips. And then there was Amalia, her sister, completely black, as one of those women in Giovanni Verga’s novels.

That night, my grandmother was sitting on a pillow, next to the cherry-coloured one that Amalia had left on the floor. She was drinking a glass of wine and just saw her sister and the unknown guy heading together towards her room. .

Gesila was a great kisser. I know he was. He was one of those who grabs your wrists, your neck, your face. They stroke them, holding them tightly. They know what to do. And I am sure Amalia must have felt on top of the world, being with such an attractive and fascinating guy in a room in Florence, in summer, when she was just turning 22. The window was open, and even if she couldn’t smell the salty sea scent that she loved, I like to think that she was happy with the scent of incense and smoked meat coming from the nearby apartments.

If all that hadn’t happened, my great aunt would have probably become one of those emancipated women, like the protagonists of Anais Nin’s stories. She would have been capable of going to her lover’s place (never her husband’s) with a wine bottle in one hand. She would wear pointed boots, a long coat and nothing else under it. She would have had an adventurous life and she would have just partially remembered the times when her mother used to tighten her beautiful black curls in awful buns.

She would have laughed, traveled, loved intensely and spent the end of her life breathing the salty sea smell of her city, sitting on Antignano’s steps, smoking slim and long cigarettes and not giving a damn about getting cancer.

But that night Gesila touched her white, long neck with his nose. Amalia sighed many times, as her trembling fingers slid over his chest. Gesila sank his hands in her pale behind. It was full and soft. She felt his erection against her thigh and spread her legs to embrace it, as their sighs got intense.

Gesila knew what to do. It wasn’t a surprise that he was good, from the moment he had come in and stripped her with his gaze she had no doubt he would be.

She raised her dress up her thighs and hips, as all her clothes did everytime she leant over the window.

Gesila untied her garters, and Amalia was unsurprised at how he could be so natural and swift in his moves. She just let herself go to his kisses, stopping only to look at his black eyes, feeling filled with him even if she hadn’t undressed him yet.

He was the one who did it. He held her nape with his hand and unfastened his belt with the other. His trousers fell on the ground. Amalia didn’t see him pull off his underwear, but she felt him inside her. She let out a deep sigh and he smirked. Amalia didn’t seem to notice – or care. He put his right hand on her lips, pushing inside her as her eyes closed in a flash of rapture.

Then Gesila grabbed her behind with both his hands and lifted her. Amalia couldn’t help moaning. He was strong. With his trousers around his ankles, he slowly approached the window. Hot and sticky air was coming in. Amalia didn’t feel any wind on her face.

Gesila put her delicately on the eaves, then forced her legs wider. Amalia lost her balance for a second, but he held her steadily. He was getting excited and pushing her to the brink, floors over the heads of people walking on the street. Amalia didn’t hear the voices nor care that someone could look from the window of the facing building and see her naked back. Gesila was kissing her neck, nailing her hands to the parapet.

If she had fallen, she would have gone right to that hell her mother had long talked about during her adolescence, when Amalia had started questioning her habit to drag her to mass every Sunday. It was the inferno where all those who went to bed with a stranger at a party were going to. An hell where Gesila was pushing her towards, moaning and digging his nails into her flesh until it hurt.

Gesila sighed hoarsely in her ears. The pale, wide forehead of the girl was shining with sweat, and the heat of Florentine August was burning her temples. She felt the humidity sticking to her skin like a web, but she liked it. Under her there was only the infernal nothing.  

A delicate gust of wind hit the black curls on her back, whipping round onto her full cheeks. Gesila felt a flash of bliss and suddenly wasn’t holding her.

I don’t want to imagine this scene. I can write non-stop about my great aunt having sex with a stranger, but I can’t go on telling you about her falling from the fourth floor, as her mother had predicted long before.

In my imagination, she’s not a eight-year-old girl that leans over a window with the white and chipped shutters of Villa Rosetta. There are no light green walls that smell of sea. The Amalia in the window that I like to imagine is a woman with long, black hair and alluring eyes, with fishnets and untied garters, pushing herself out over the inferno.

I like to imagine her as ironical, almost happy with falling from one of the places she liked most, one of her guilty pleasures, in that mythical, unique way.

But she probably spent those last seconds with an expression of pure terror on her face, with tears in her eyes, as if she knew she shouldn’t have died, not that early, not like that.  

Under her, Florence was burning.

***

Rachele Salvini comes from Livorno, Italy, but she has studied in Florence, Oslo, New York, and London. She is a MA graduate in Creative Writing and writes both in English and Italian. Her stories in English have been published on paper on The Machinery and online on The Fem Lit Mag, Cultured Vultures, Five2One, The Wells Street Journal, and Slasher Monster Mag. She is moving to Oklahoma to pursue a PhD in English and Creative Writing in August. 


 

10 Years, 10 Cities

Taken in various locations across Spain.

The creator of 10 Cities/10 Years, Joseph Lyttleton, is a proponent of slow travel who aims to reflect varied perspectives in his writing and photography. He currently lives in Brooklyn but will be leaving soon. His travel writing and photography can be seen at 10cities10years.com. His incoherent thoughts can be read @10cities10years

waves

when you are surrounded by strong women and you are lonely, remember that you are one too. one day, when anabella corran in the 5th grade told you that you were nothing, you marched home from the bus stop dry-mouthed and stomping, beats on the asphalt carried up through your kneecaps and tickling your spine. you said, “i will not be pushed over any longer”. and then later, in the postscript of the postcard you would mail your sister (even though your address was the same), you wrote “one day i will build a great sandcastle with grains wedged into my fingernails, and i will spend the whole day picking them out and laughing”. you have not bought your own dorm set of tarot cards yet, but the ones at home are water-damaged and honest, which is more than you can say of any boy you have met here. and the loneliness comes in waves and reminds you of the time your mother used to chase you around the house, and the hole you cut in your window screen “in case there’s a fire”, and the coffee shop back home with dragonflies dangling from the ceiling. please remember that you are worth more than the straight girls say you’re worth. you are the discs like dipping hills dripping down your spine, and the warm blanket you have wrapped yourself in straight out of the dryer.

 

Sarah Dauer is a 19-year-old queer Jewish poet from New Jersey going to school in Western Mass. Her work has also been featured in Vagabond City and Yellow Chair Review. For bagel related content follow her on twitter @lameearthpers0n

Day Five: Capricorn Season

Laying in your bed
Phil collins loudly playing
This purple light you have turned on
To make it feel calmer
Does the opposite
You pass around the smallest bowl known to man
The bed isn’t really all that comfortable,
Or more accurately, it’s unmemorable.
She’s here, which is inexplicable.
She seems to be a friend of yours
It isn’t snowing but it just did
It’s midnight
You’re recording this thing,
She is contributing nothing.
Your bedroom is really warm
And you have a bidet,
Two new pieces of information

Change the color of the lights with a remote
Purple switches to a light green
You click away, putting on big headphones,
A professional
Seeing like you this is so new
Working so hard
Laughing in your
Space
Adjusting your light blue jeans
With your cock
Just slightly visible

Now she’s complaining
About people who use the word
Bitch
Who is going to tell her
About all the people dying in the world
Who is going to tell her
That her boyfriend would be annoyed that she
Is in his bedroom with us
Who is going to tell her
That i’m here to make you my boyfriend

You say you’re drunk after just one beer
How embarrassing
You have this whole set up
Foam padding
A professional mic
Software
Keyboards
You seem to know what you’re doing
At least, where music is concerned
Your taste in cis poets seems awful
Do you like that blonde poet just because
You want to fuck her?
If so
I’m exhausted
And I really should be getting home.
Have fun with her
And her overalls

Happy belated birthday
I’ll drunk text you soon.

Jo Barchi is a writer from Rhode Island. They currently live in Chicago where they work in an ice cream shop. They are an editor at Ghost City Press. Their work has appeared in Shabby Dollhouse, and elsewhere.

Day Four: Sagittarius Season

I’m on coke and I can’t stop
Masturbating
And by masturbating I mean not
Texting you back

And by not texting you back I mean
Not being texted back but really I am horny
I almost called you on my way home
But that wouldn’t do anything
I want it to I don’t want to scare you
I just want you to come back

Brown eyes
Dark hair
East coast
Bad taste in
Good kisser
Almost available
Nearly emotionally
Perfectly physically

Holding me in the kitchen
Making pasta
Watching me make pasta
Offering to help, standing to the side
Sitting on the floor
Before we got a kitchen table
the music
I put on
You love
Kissing to swedish post punk

Closing the door
For the chance
To kiss more
It was so cold
That week we
Spent together

Going to the art institute
To stare and laugh so much
I don’t feel bad about this
How you ghosted me
But I would like to apologize
For not eating for 11 hours
The course of
Our second date

 

Jo Barchi is a writer from Rhode Island. They currently live in Chicago where they work in an ice cream shop. They are an editor at Ghost City Press. Their work has appeared in Shabby Dollhouse, and elsewhere.

Day Three: Libra Season

First you fuck me against a door and then it’s in a bar bathroom and i’m drunk and I fall on the sidewalk and i’m laughing and you’re so angry with me. You shove a sprig of lavender up my pussy and take me from behind in a BP bathroom on Ashland. One fuck after another. You are tireless, ever since you found out you can make me cum twice in 10 minutes, once will never be enough. Your cum mixes with the lavender, it’s a spell or whatever. You fuck me in the dressing room of a nameless clothing store and i don’t cry afterwards or buy anything. You finger me in the back of an uberpool for five minutes but we are both too drunk and tired so you stop. I massage your back in the bath when you're on ecstasy and I think it might turn into fucking, but it never does. This is a dream. I haven’t let you fuck me yet. I’ll probably cry after the first time, and every other time after.

 

Jo Barchi is a writer from Rhode Island. They currently live in Chicago where they work in an ice cream shop. They are an editor at Ghost City Press. Their work has appeared in Shabby Dollhouse, and elsewhere.