Potluck

 

T H I S    W E E K

WATERSLIDES IN AUXILIARY HOSPITAL WASHROOM by Daniel Thompson

 

Petty Manny

Their marriage had to come to an end when it became apparent to Manny's wife that he was an inadequate provider. That doesn't make a lot of sense. He couldn't have always been an inadequate provider, of which fact she only then became aware, he must have become, at some point, inadequate as a provider, and then this must have become apparent to his wife, her friends, their family. I'm bored of this already. That it was apparent to friends and family might not have been relevant; but her becoming aware of his inadequacy—as a provider—was inextricably connected to their becoming aware of which, owing to the particular manner in which his inadequacy was, suddenly, made knowable to the world. So that it would be impossible to say whether this revelation had any bearing on her decision to end her, their marriage. So we won't speculate needlessly. And that I've mentioned it at all is not meant to hint that I think Manny's wife is petty. For whatever degree of pettiness her character may have had was manifest in Manny tenfold proportionately. As it were, his philandering, which was a petty tendency to philander; a petty way of philandering—these dalliances will serve to pad out a little this narrative, for that they are of interest; though, his wife, whose name is Elsie, never learned of them even if she did suspect them because an inadequate provider must necessarily be insecure and the insecure must also possibly philander and do so pettily—though she could confirm no suspicion, though she divorced him because he was (shown to be) an inadequate provider—despite all of that, Manny's dalliances are or should be of interest to anyone with an interest in his nature. I tend not to agree with Elsie that Manny's dalliances were, necessarily, an insecure business, I think he enjoyed and loved to philander as much as he loved and enjoyed Elsie and loved making love with her as he did every single day until the last day of their marriage: the day on which the divorce order was, by Manny, amicably assented to. And I don't think Manny ever lent it more consideration than I've just done. Which I suspect means that any additional psychoanalytic work undertaken by either me or the reader would be, possibly—petty, and most certainly haphazard. I hate most of the first part of that last sentence. This reads like it was written by a middle-aged virgin. I'm thirty, and I've slept with twenty-five women. Perhaps it was in his younger life that that he discovered the pleasures to be found in that he could make beautiful women smile or laugh and that he could delight in seeing them turn and join him of a sudden in the motions that would in time lead to a dalliance, stop using that word, it's idiotic. I really am bored, sorry, I did not mean to suggest that Manny was not a creature of mental substance, only that he was petty, in some way, in his manner of choosing women with whom he had affairs. And not even entirely petty: of course the women, even from the very beginning, must be highly intelligent, lettered, talented; able to find humor in his humor, smile or laugh at which; for he could not play to a cognitively subnormal audience—or anything approaching which. Nevertheless, he was an adept. Jesus, if only I hadn't made bedroomy eyes at this frumpy twenty year-old Asian woman she wouldn't appear to be in a state of desperate panic and fear at my presence, oh wait, I did no such thing it's all in her head I just turned and she was standing there looking at her murderer me like all this had already transpired several minutes earlier. This is all good use all of this. Manny boarded the M train to be gret by the stench of human shit. Gret isn't a real word. He had meant to board the E. He wondered why indigents shat in their own pants—he'd seen it, knew that it regularly occurred—when he had, himself, on many occasions as a small child, dropped his pants and shat in the street.

 

This behavior was tolerated, encouraged, by his mother and father, who believed that, should anyone ever witness this small child innocently shitting, he or she would undoubtedly be disinclined to suddenly become involved in an argument on the subject; and that, for a number of reasons: such as, simple embarrassment at having accidentally witnessed the act, or embarrassment at being known to have done, or embarrassment at possibly being regarded, by someone perversely cynical, as having enjoyed watching a child shit in the street. This isn't funny and reads like it was written by a pedophile. These are, of course, thoughts and ideas of the parents of Manny, not me; which thoughts offer the psychoanalyst in the reader ample opportunity to draw conclusions about their, Manny's parents', nature; and Manny's upbringing, and his resultant, or not resultant, nature—and any number of agents in this narrative. And she had a bouncy step as she skittered about. Bounced about bounced and bounced. Spring in her step springing her steps. Little thoughts about Manny's trip are the injections. Little hands, little feet. Little hands little feet slightly moving slowly slowly moving moving slowly up the escalator from Manny's wrong train. Up the escalator cross the street, bouncing stepping, skipping, bouncing, feet. Get out of my way. You slow moving fuck-idiot. I've got to get on a plane. It's going to get me away from things like you for a little while. Manny waited at the gate because that's what I'm doing, wonderful! What sick individual began this morose comic lie about New Yorkers being in any way shrewd. Manny imagined what the flight would be like and he was there, so get on with it! At Boulos' hotel door he knocked thrice. He heard his name, Boulos' voice; the door opened, Boulos led him in and soon they were sitting in recliners looking through the windows back of the hotel, into the desert at night. Boulos had been awake for thirty hours and Manny had just gotten off a plane so they slept for some time each to his own bed in the cramped hotel room, Manny awaking after four hours, at what time he did not know and ending up downstairs in the lounge where he bought a young woman a drink, a rum and coke, rum rum rum rumbly tum tum tum and yum yum yum yumbly Coca Cola in her belly welly well bell, “I'm Manny,” he said and she introduced herself as Elsie.

 

They had a second and a third round and, yes, she'd divined his intention, hadn't she—“Is that your game?” she said, placing the emphasis, interestingly, on the your. Because all of us, I suppose, had a game and all of that kind of thing, but how right was she, he said, that “My game is falling in love, making love, trying and failing to preserve love.” “And why do you fail to win your own game?” she said. “Or do you always win.” “Because I seek a psychic melding so perfect that it destroys mediocrity. That for which I strive,” he said, “is rare. But it is all I will accept under the name 'love.' The want of it, the failure brought about by which... what I mean is, I don't end affairs; relationships; I don't idiotically brand them dalliances—conquests—I exude my search, in every fiber of my being. And the abundant obviousness of my failure to find that thing brings about the end of the thing.” “Well,” she said, “how fortunate for you that you, for X-reason, do not have to 'end relationships.' I have had to end relationships. With men who thought they had found love and a place to be loved and express warm and tender exasperated love. I have had them beg me to 'take it back,' to stay with them; and, I have had to say to them, 'Would you like me to pretend that I don't want out?' And I've had them say to me they would cut their wrists—would murder themselves, pointlessly, in front of me, ruining me for life, for any other lover. And I have had to say, 'If you promise not to hurt yourself, I will stay. But would you also like me to pretend that I don't want out?' So, it's fortunate that your—high standards?—what is it?—impossibility to please?—that his has spared you that sort of 'ugliness.'” “Yes but it gets ugly, you see. You see, not all drama is melodrama,” he said. “That's a disgusting thing to say,” she put down the emptied glass and stood as though to leave. “Does this mean I win?” Manny said. “Oh rejoice, I've won again,” he said. “How I long to lose. Let me ask you something. If what I've said is so utterly unappealing... then why do you suppose I said it? What do I stand to gain from winning your disgust?” “You haven't won,” she said. “You haven't won it.” She returned to her room; he to Boulos'. Boulos was still asleep though there was some evidence that he'd been at some point up and about. As the sun came up Manny fell back to sleep. He had been watching The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, his favorite film, on public television.

 

In Mr. Valliance's waiting room, Manny told Boulos about Elsie, how she was in for a funeral, but that it wasn't a very sad occasion being as it was for an aunt with whom she'd been close in childhood but from whom she became estranged when her father insisted they, her family, come to the east coast for some reason. The ameliorating property of the inadvertent estrangement was, Elsie seemed to convey, “Crucial,” Manny told Boulos, “because it wasn't exactly a timely death.” “Oh, alright then,” said Boulos. “I'm assuming she either died young or... just really put someone out by dying when she did. Or by just dying at all, ever.” “Well, not old, not young.” “So in her fifties?” “Sixties.” “Fifties is pretty 'not old, not young.' But sixties is very 'not old, not young.'” “So she came back with a diagnosis for an highly treatable but only possibly curable cancer, said no to chemotherapy.” “I'd hate to piss on your newfound melancholy parade—“ “No, it isn't interesting, is it. That's not the point I'm making. The universality of her position is—intriguing—to me. Anyone in her position would have done as she's done. Flown in out of pocket for the funeral and left her grieving at that; had drinks with a fellow in the bar because it's not so solemn a rite to go celibate, of a sudden. And because anyone in her position would do as she's done—she could be anyone. My understanding of her identity is fragmentary, even after a two hour charged debate. She might still be anyone. Anyone, anything, any time at all. Any one, any thing, any one at all! Anything, any thong, any one, any tonne, anytime, any wine! Any! any! any! any; any, any any!” Mr. Valliance appeared and led Boulos, Manny, and his secretary into his office at three past two and the sun was a certain way. All of this is good leave all of this in. As usual Boulos would lead; Manny would, as ever, supply the and that's only one of the benefits of which and only one of the extraordinary things that will occur only so many months or years in. God this is idiotic. The secretary would take notes on everything said in both the pitch and possible ensuing discussion, which Mr. Valliance would later read, if he were inclined to do.

 

“It starts with a simple dance,” said Boulos, standing and ever slightly assuming the physical attitude of one about to dance. But who would never dance. The tacked on sad ending was actually the beginning and a framing device for the narrative or perhaps I'm attempting something else entirely, a dance, a dance, a simple dance; a special dance, the dance. “The dance is—expressive, primal, emotive. The one dancing, say it's him—“ indicating Manny—“say he's our dancer—he, the dancer, works himself into a frenzy, expressing, emoting, thinking, thinking, thinking.” The secretary made a dash for a supply room to retrieve a new notepad, the first already filled to completion with her transcription and commentary and flung through a window into a pile of child's shit and she even danced her elderly gray bouncing self back in, the meeting was going that well, but it was Manny's moment now: “But suddenly. The healing light. And then it begins. The dance has ceased and so begins the making love; the singing of songs. All in time to the beating of the drum; all eyes sutured to the movements of bandleader. He stops, he clears his throat, and begins to speak. He sleeps, they sleep, and he dreams of the tale he's told." Dreams of self-starting businesses in the business of starting self-starting businessmen; businesses insuring themselves then killing themselves for the benefit of their families of businesses. One would simply create commerce by insinuating oneself in the commerce and custom of others, neither commodity or capital positioning itself between two agents, neither being capital, nor commodity—he dreams of this, a million times; and, of this happening a million times:—an industry, infinite industries, of sheer industriousness for the sake of industriousness. Neither capital nor commodity, stepping between neither capital nor commodity, and neither are capital nor are they commodity, it's idiotic and you're repeating yourself like a drunk. Then he dreams, further, farther, father, further mein führer: merchandising rights, moviebooktelevisionradiostagevideogame rights, confessional videos on DV before blowing your brains out, days-in-the-life—copycat crimes—homage; an arts movement, precipitated by the founding of an non-profit arts publication, precipitated by an elaborate dance-oriented performance art “happening”-event staged in a small college town in the Pacific Northwest. And that's only what he dreams of in the first year (of his eternal sleep).

 

###

 

He opened the overhead compartment and there was a naked quartered body bound with barbed wire, the other passengers began to vomit rotten fish profusely, he closed it.

 

###

 

Words which I don't know what they mean, which words I don't know, what they mean what I mean which words? Honeysuckle. It became apparent that he was no longer a survivor survivor a surveyor; honeysuckle. When they, she, learned of the failure of, the demise of, his success, but he had never found success, had never won, had given up finding it, he said he just wanted to touch her there,—where? The space on her, between her breasts, and he could feel the wire in her brassiere, and feel her breastplate under it, pushing the wire into her chest, into the bone beneath, impressing itself on the finger—that was itself a conquest. “She might be anyone: the most boring person in the world, the least boring person in the world. And of course Mr. Valliance went for it, they always smiled, laughed, and signed a check, but it was the embezzlement, which appeared in the local papers. Well what drove him to such a thing if he was, as he says, innocent of greed? When Boulos left the picture the businesses began to start and fold themselves, some folding before they started, and he was left with only the idea: no capital, no commodity, she, only in her bra, the bottom part done away with already in her room; the next night, his, Boulos already gone. But at the time Manny didn't see that some kind of exchange had taken place. What remained was Manny's melancholy parade, failure ad infinitum, the money gone, the marriage ended.

 

 

Zak Block's fictions have appeared in Quail Bell Magazine, Paper Darts, Gadfly Online, and Defenestration, among others. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of (the) Squawk Back, an online literary journal of transgression and alienation, baptized by fire in May of 2011.

A Panic Attack & A Google Doc

Working in an advertising agency has its own problematic rhythm to it when you’d rather be at home writing. At least, that’s what it felt like working for a high profiled media client. It’s not that the job itself wasn’t interesting—­­dense and repetitive, sure—­­but not necessarily boring. Just creatively unfulfilling and a bit scary, when I stopped to think about how the tech worked in favor of corporate interests over anything else. But when the job started giving me panic attacks, it wasn’t the work that did it—it was my manager.

I’ll never escape the way I felt after Rick first critiqued my work. He lead me into a conference room and tore everything I’d done to shreds. As someone who spent most of undergrad attending workshops, I had a thick skin for this sort of thing, but this was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. There were probably fifty mistakes on a sheet that was hundreds of rows long. He raised his voice, asked if I took my job seriously (I did), and asked if I wanted make a career for myself there (I most certainly did not). I stood there quiet, nodding and seething, amazed at how adept he was at belittling me. Never mind the fact that catching these mistakes was the whole purpose of quality assurance; the simple fact that there were any was enough for him to write me off.

The relationship from then on was all downhill. He screened every correspondence I sent out for six months and line edited them with the knowledge that I had a degree in creative writing. I was humiliated. The worst of it came much later though, when he berated me in public. We were in the rec room, surrounded by board games with the door open for all our colleagues to hear. For once I defended myself, shouting right along with him. The looks I got after we left that room, fuming in separate directions, were of pained understanding. This was not going to last.

I cracked under all the pressure and disappointment. Rick was transferred to another team, but not until after the damage had already been done. I was one of only two who didn’t progress in our department, while Rick got a fancy new title, and a brand new team to manage. Things outside of work followed suit—my band broke up, and I realized I hadn’t written much of anything since graduating. I was caving in on myself, ready to implode. I spent Christmas Eve rotating between work emails and crying desperately in the basement.

Back at the advertising agency, I was suddenly accountable for more than ever before, and I was not handling it well. Rick had left his mark. Not only had I been in charge of creating the end of year campaigns, but I had to train my new manager at the very same time. Plagued by last minute creative assets and the agency’s urgency to launch everything before signing off for vacation, I misspent a quarter of a million dollars targeting iPhones instead of just Android devices. I did everything I could to hide this oversight while putting together a final report for the client. Instead of owning up to it, I reached out to friends for job leads. I would do anything, as long as it didn’t involve agency life.

Of course, the first types of jobs I sought out involved what drove me most: writing. My search brought a wide range of possibilities—copywriting positions at law blogs, staff writing for publications I admired, and even ghostwriting projects for romance novels. The reality of the situation, though, was that I had no portfolio other than my undergrad senior project—­a series of personal essays I’d never published—trapped in an unused folder on my computer’s desktop. I felt defeated, powerless to enter the one career I’d always dreamed of.

My one nugget of hope was an idea I had after the holidays fizzled out, while hyperventilating on my girlfriend’s bed. Sick of trying to find new musicians on Craigslist, or pointlessly applying to writing positions, I concocted the concept for a blog named B readcrumbs Mag. I’d compose vignettes that’d connect in some way, through a shared phrase or an image, and link them back to each other. I’d encourage all the writers and artists I knew to contribute so that I wouldn’t have to do it alone. So that we could create our own trail of the work we loved outside of jobs that held little value to us.

In my feverish quest to switch careers, Breadcrumbs served as a fresh opportunity to work on something positive on the side. I’d been in digital advertising for almost three years and I’d had enough. My self confidence was shattered. I was seeing a social worker weekly to deal with suicidal thoughts. I needed a change fast, or I wasn’t quite sure what would happen. When I was offered a job in customer service for a startup where my friend worked, I lept at the chance. The work wasn’t like any of the writing gigs I had sought out, and I would be taking a sizable pay cut, but the stress factor promised to be nil. I could restore my sanity and buy time to focus on building Breadcrumbs Mag. To turn it into something more tangible than a panic attack.

For the first few breadcrumbs, before we ever had a functioning website, we operated out of a Google doc. But it expanded from there, slowly, with the help of my girlfriend, who designed our logo, and my best friend, who edited all of the work. I reached out to other friends and old classmates alike and found that they were excited to join the project. The blog grew, along with its list of contributors.

I felt proud of my own writing process and output in a way that I hadn’t since working on my senior project. I challenged myself to write a breadcrumb inspired by every submission that I received. I even kept that up for awhile, before the contributors started pouring in and it became less manageable, in a satisfying way. Collaborating on writing projects used to put me off, but this felt far more productive than starting a personal blog that I’d inevitably lose interest in. The possibilities for creation here seemed endless.

More than getting me back to my own writing, Breadcrumbs helped form a community. My girlfriend, friends, strangers, acquaintances—even my family was involved. My brother helped produce our twenty­fifth post, a spoken word piece I wrote, performed by a voice actor. A culmination of our two talents in a manner I’d never dreamed of. We received illustrations, and held an event celebrating our fiftieth post—a second spoken word piece—­along with the release of our first print zine, The Trail. The room was packed with familiar and not so familiar faces, so much so that some people couldn’t even fit. I felt electric.

It hasn’t all been seamless since leaving the agency for a simpler day job and my work with the blog. I was let go by the startup when management became hyper­focused on sales over customer satisfaction. I spent a month unemployed which, to be honest, was more of a blessing than a curse. A crashed file forced us to rebuild our second print zine from scratch the night before releasing it. A blizzard necessitated some last minute casting changes on our most recent radio play. A flooded basement caused us to move our one year anniversary show from the basement venue to the smaller upstairs bar of the Cake Shop in Manhattan.

But, through all of it, I’ve survived. I’ve learned how to balance that dissatisfaction out with something I’m passionate about. I haven’t been made to cry at my desk by someone who was meant to mentor me. I’ve received submissions from people all around the country. I’ve stopped waiting around for something exciting to happen to me and instead created that outlet for myself, and anyone else that’s so inclined to join me.

 

 

 

Bob Raymonda is the founding editor of BreadcrumbsMag.com and has work that appears on Quail Bell Magazine, Bibliosmiles, Elite Daily, and Visual Verse. His free nights are spent binge-watching too much television and warring over dominance with his cat.

Two Poems

White concrete or maybe blue
 

Suddenly aware of the toes in my shoes and my shoe on the gas pedal I am tapping I miss the
sun I miss     She is the moon & I am the often curled and lifted fist     She is gravity if not
weaker somehow    I am writing in this the car & the sky is reckless    facilitated by / because of
I want to bring her to the nights like heavy fruit     & I miss my water warped novel copy red
& black, left    In an apartment moved out of two apartments ago    let there be a belly in the
shower    I'm sorry I'm sorry to countless babies unhad/unhaving    I'm sorry I'm sorry to me
soft-faced    in an unfamiliar apartment, a place called Daisy's      I'm sorry I'm sorry to me soft-faced in the Wesleyan    parking lot    I'm sorry I'm sorry me walking hand in sweaty hand to
CVS through wet November leaves     She's the sun she's the moon she is nervous she is loud
If we are as close      as yellow lines       to black pavement

 

 

 

 

We Pushed Two Beds Together To Make One Bed And Called It “Superbed”
 

We for a minute were the same (my fingers yours), but not
how we thought—your voice, my words. The same

in a church white and airy church, wooden pieces unimportant,
audience not. Three hammer-strikes, or something.

We had written something so good we cried.
I said How do you know what to do. We chased through pine trees

for some reason. Ducking under branches, there was jet lag.
There was an empty cup. There was the skin

of a large sea-fish, unseeing monumental eye. There was a boy
with long hair there was a church there was a chase. And how

did the teabag continue to tick: submit submit submit.

 

 

 

 

Alex O'Hara lives in Florence, Italy, where she is an artist-in-residence at Santa Reparata International School of Art. Her artwork and writing have been published in The Long River Review and Existentia. She sucks at remembering Twitter is a thing, but hers exists at @alexo_hara.

The Only Thing Moving Was the Mail

I was dancing in Rome when the moon turned red and started wandering into the day. Everyone in the company was terrified. And hungry. Only a few restaurants that stayed open. Ballerinas drinking watery soup, none of us saying anything. All the trains stopped. We didn’t know how we were getting home. The others fretted, clogged up the lines calling their boyfriends and mothers. I bit my nails to the quick. I wrote you letters and letters so my hands would quit shaking, but I couldn’t mail any of them because they shut down the post office.

 

The director of the company hired a private driver and all twenty-six ballerinas were shoved onto a school bus. We bumped over borders until we were back in Paris. It was bleak there too. And now the moon wasn’t just red and staying. Instead it was moving, closer and closer to the sun, which continued its rotations. If I held my hand up, they were separated by my three middle fingers at high noon and that was it. There were letters falling out of my mailbox when I got to my apartment. All from you. They had turned off all the phone lines in Berlin. The only thing moving was the mail. I sent you all the letters that I couldn’t send in Italy.

 

You were biking home in Berlin, home from the job you hated. It was dark and there were only the streetlights. Everything became red, and when you looked up it was the moon. They had ordered the cars off the streets, stopped the trains, closed the metro, cut the tram lines. No one was moving. You were trying to get to Paris. You wanted us to be together if this was the end.

 

They were closing streets in Paris too, getting everyone to go back to where they came from, so they knew where they were. They were closing monuments. The bells stopped at Notre Dame. They boarded up the Louvre. All the gates of every park were closed. By the time my company was back in Paris, every store had been emptied of food. There was no noise from the streets, no one outside. The cobblestone went untouched. We all stayed inside. We opened our windows and shouted to each other if we had heard any news. I traced my hands over the words in your letters again and again, pretending our fingertips were touching.

 

The phone worked, but only if you were calling French numbers. The radio was crystal clear. The television running the same news report every few minutes, the President telling us not to be scared, just to stay inside. The mail was still being delivered, and everyday I got letters from you. Different postmarks. Trapped in the Black Forest. Somewhere on the border between France and Germany, no one working customs, all the officials gone. Somewhere in the East of France. The moon was three fingers from the sun from where you were. How close were they for me?

 

My apartment was two rooms: my bedroom and the living room. The kitchen was to the side. They updated us via the radio every hour, and in between played classical musical, seemingly without any rotation. I knew it was supposed to be calming. It aggravated me. I was cold in my apartment without you.

 

The last time you were in my apartment with me, which was three months ago, we had spent the entire day in my bed. We couldn’t step out, because the floor was lava. When we had to go to the bathroom, we had to climb over my desk and jump onto the rug to get to door. It was one of the most perfect days I could recall. I was never scared hopping over the lava, into the kitchen to bring us back fruit from the kitchen, because you were there, telling me where to put my feet next.

 

I couldn’t dance in my apartment because it was too small. For food, everyone in Paris was getting small boxes of weekly rations dropped off each week in front of our doors. This went on for three weeks. With every new box, the portions got smaller and smaller. I had read most of the books in my apartment already. I was going insane without you.

 

Your letters stopped when there was only one finger between the moon and the sun. It was snowing in Paris. I wasn’t sure if the post had stopped or if you had stopped writing. Everyday at noon, all the church bells sounded. Everyone walked to their windows, holding their fingers up to the sky to measure the distance. Without their noise, I could have thought I was all by myself. I closed my eyes, and replayed you whispering my name to me.

 

It wasn’t snow but ash. We didn’t know why it was falling, so we left our apartments to go into the streets. I breathed in, and instead of the air feeling fresh, it smelled like sulfur. We were all sitting on the curbs, everyone in the city, not knowing what to do or feel. Panicking felt like too large an emotion to perform together. The children were making castles and driving their toy cars through heaps of ash, pushed up into hills and mountains. I danced in the street to entertain them. This is how you found me.

 

Sarah McEachern would rather be reading. She is the co-editor of Sarah Lawrence College's alternative literary magazine Broken Yolk. She can sometimes be amusing on Twitter. 

Baby Teeth

When she is drunk, my mother speaks like the teeth are loose in her mouth. Granted, it didn’t take much for my mother to drink or be drunk, and granted, if I’d had have a life like hers I imagine I’d want to be always forgetting too. She of the wrinkled hands and dishwater skin, she of the smell of iron starch and skin translucent in fluorescent overhead lightbulbs, she of diner breakfasts and laundromat afternoons, she of heavy sighs and carefully-clipped want ads, stuck by magnets to the refrigerator. She of the worn-leather handbag filled with cocktail napkins, she of two-dollar white wine marketed mostly to budget-wary, tasteless college students, she of frothy frozen pint glasses with dinner, she of tequila shots from smeared, short glasses on occasions both special and profane. She of longing for older, simpler days, she of the constant fears and sorrows, parenting a headstrong daughter, alone as long as I can remember. I have no father, I say when people ask. Only a mother who, when she is drunk, speaks like the teeth are loose in her mouth. 

    Our Irish-Catholic neighbors invite her to their annual Christmas party. She comes back tired-eyed and smiling in a loose, unspecific way. “Ma,” I say. “Look at me.” She sinks into her armchair like her blood is crystallized and leaden. She sighs. Her head swivels on her neck. 

“Highballs,” she says. “Mr. Moran made highballs.” 

“Sure,” I say. I lift my eyebrows, embarrassed. Two drinks and she’s under the table. Her inability to handle her liquor is just one more way in which my mother is a woman of the old world, pretty and polished and useless without a man to care for her, her bad luck ironized to the point of absurdity. 

“Tomorrow we should make French toast,” she slurs, and I can almost see the holes in her mouth, dark and ragged-edged and raw.

“Sure, Ma” I say. I imagine that she bends at the waist, wordlessly. I imagine that she not so much spits as gently opens her mouth and allows her wine-stained teeth to fall into my open hand. I imagine the wishes she’d make on them if her teeth started falling out, one by one. 

As for me, I keep baby teeth in an empty cigarette pack in the pocket of a long-outgrown jean jacket that hangs in the back of my closet. Occasionally, I pull the pack from the pocket and tip it into my open hand, allowing the teeth to chime and echo as they collide and tumble and land, far too lightly, far too silently. They are small and yellowed and soft. One or two have loose tobacco flakes sunk into their surfaces. One or two have chips or crevices or never-filled cavities. They’re the color of milk, the texture of piano keys. Very rarely, when I am in a particularly ornery mood, I drop a few baby teeth, one by one, into my mouth. They seem to fizz, threaten to dissolve like sugar, when I close my lips around them. Before too long, I spit them out, back into their rumpled foil liner, back into their torn cardboard pack, back into the pocket of the frayed-collar jean jacket in the back of the closet papered with flower-print chintz wallpaper, behind the door covered with stickers I won from arcade games. 

I never believed in the Tooth Fairy, not when I was in my lunchbox paper-kite days and certainly not now, because my mother never taught me to believe in fairies, in Easter bunnies, in Santa Clauses, or in elves. 

“No use believing in illusions,” she said. “We can make magic ourselves.” Every time a tooth dropped from my mouth into the playground dirt or the toothpaste-spattered sink, she’d hold it to the light like it was a diamond. She’d run it under cool water from the faucet. She’d dry it with an embroidered linen with bleach stains at the frayed hem. She’d place the tiny piece of me within my tiny fist. She’d press her lips to the top of my frizzy-haired head and whisper to me to close my eyes, to make a wish, and when I did she dropped the tooth into the cigarette pack and looked at me with a smile wrapped in secrecy. I didn’t know what illusions were but I believed in wishes, believed in magic, believed in my mother and me. 

In the cigarette pack in the pocket of an old jean jacket in the back of my closet there are seventeen baby teeth that still contain in their slowly-eroding enamel my most desperate wishes. There are seventeen because I swallowed my fourth lost baby tooth. My tenth baby tooth got lost in a sandbox. I buried the sixteenth one in the dirt beside the cherry tree in my backyard when I learned about archaeology in school and imagined that one day they’d dig up my yard and find this small piece of me, my mother, the magic we made with no money or men to our name, untouched by weather and time and nuclear annihilation.

 

 

 

Charlotte Freccia is a second-year student of English, Creative Writing, and Women's and Gender Studies at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. She has been published in Zaum Magazine and is a recipient of the Philip Wolcott Timberlake Award. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Freccia is a graduate of the Holderness School in New Hampshire and enjoys reading, writing, feminism, music, and the outdoors. 

 

Just Shy of Burning My Scalp

We don’t see much of each other anymore.  When we do it makes me nauseous, though she tends to look right through me.  She looks thinner than I remember.  Earlier this morning I had two dreams about her within an hour of my alarm going off.  

In the first dream she invites herself over to my house, which is in its current state of renovation.  It feels normal—the type of normal you realize dreams felt in retrospect.  I’m sitting on the edge of my new mattress and box spring when she walks into my room.  We begin to mechanically undress each other, as if we’re following a script.  There’s something erotic about it.       

By the time I’m completely undressed, sitting on the bed, she is standing over me, straddling my right thigh, still wearing a black bra and panties.  I can feel her warm moisture.  I try to finish undressing her, but she says no.  I suddenly realize I can’t speak.  She grabs my wrists and places them on her breasts.  She rubs her crotch on my thigh.  It’s wet and hot through her panties.  I can make out the shape of her pubic bone, but I still can’t speak!  I have no control—her grip is too tight!  I can feel the suffocating pleasure building.  I can tell I’m not going to come.  Now her leg is pressing my penis against the inside of my thigh.  Back and forth.  Back and forth.  It’s hot and sticky and the skin is starting the pull.  I still can’t speak.  The pressure continues to build.  Sweatier and sweatier until, at the moment I feel I can’t take it anymore, I’m able to pull my clammy hands from her breasts.  Finally, a surge of cool air on my palms and groin as she stands, releasing me.  I sprint to the bathroom to finish myself off without lubrication.  I try to come in the toilet.

The second dream felt shorter.  Again, I’m at home.  There’s a knock at the front door and there she is with this attention-seeking pouty look on her face.  It’s funny because I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen her make this face before.  She steps into the foyer and before I can even close the door she jumps onto me, wrapping her legs around my hips.  She feels so thin and sharp in my arms.  But even so, her weight is unbearable.  My knees give out and we fall.  She begins to sob at this point.  In between breaths she demands that I hold her on my lap.  I somehow manage to cross my legs to give her a place to perch.  Her arm around my neck, the crease of her elbow squeezes as she fidgets, reaching for something.  She pulls out a box of Cracker Jacks.  I don’t know where they came from, but they seem to provide her with a sense of relief.  She hiccups as her tears subside.  Then I feel another sharp wrenching of my neck—she’s tearing off the top of the Cracker Jacks and crams her hand into the box.  She feels around and pulls out not one, but two prize rings.  She slips the first one onto her ring finger without a problem.  Now it’s my turn.  She wrestles me for my hand, but I know my efforts are useless.  She’s having trouble getting the second ring over my knuckle.  The pain is terrible—to the bone!  Again, I’m unable to utter a single word.  I’m paralyzed.  I realize I can’t feel my bottom half.  All I feel is the ring pressing against my knuckle, slowly shaving it off.

I wake up in a cold sweat.  I throw the covers off and sit up in bed.  I hate the feeling of heavy wet sheets.  I don’t have much time to contemplate the meaning of these dreams—I’ve got to go to work.  I’ve got a business to run.  Sometimes I get caught up in the implications of things, dissecting them on a molecular level.  Sometimes this is helpful—I’ll be the first the admit it.  But more often it’s just not worth it.

I put my glasses on and things start to come into focus.  This house still needs a lot of work.  I need to replace the carpets.  I need to paint.  I need to vacuum and scrub and sand and sweep and mop.  But right now I need to shower.  I need to purge myself of these dreams.  Actually, I’d prefer to think of it as just another new day.  I need to shower.  

The bathroom is clean and white.  I decided to work on it first.  It seemed like the right thing to do—the bathrooms are used so frequently.  It’s where I go to cleanse myself.  The room begins to fill with steam and I know the shower is hot enough.  I turn on the exhaust fan, take my glasses off and step in.  I let the water run through my hair and down my back.  I’ve always loved standing with my back to the stream.  This is how I shake myself of last night’s sleep.  This is how I start my day.  I let the hot streams of water continue to run over me, just shy of burning my scalp.

 

 

 

Matthew Williams is a Baltimore-based writer and artist.  He publishes the zine "It Was Only Romantic in Retrospect" and can be found on twitter @tammrwilliams.

The Alarm Goes Off

    I cannot rightly tell you if I ever got used to the alarm. A blaring noise, not unlike a bird screeching, loud enough to hurt your eardrums, accompanied by blind flashing red and white lights. The alarm rings everywhere in the Tower - the bunks, the mess hall, the top floor, even the bathrooms.

    It rings less frequently now.

    The alarm goes off. Flashing red, flashing white, screeching bird. Wake up time.

    The alarm was not always just an alarm. To me, at least. When I first started working in the Towers, the alarm's sounding was followed immediately by an intense rush of fear, filling my whole body, causing shaky legs, fuzzy mind, violent heart. The fear would continue as we marched to the top floor and did not end even once the job was done. I don't remember clearly when it would leave me. A good estimate might be when the adrenaline wore off and I was in the mess hall eating minestrone. Everyone  is like that at first, they said. At first? I did not believe them at the time. But of course they were right. Eventually, you run out of the energy to live in constant terror. You run out of the energy it takes to be scared. Being a coward is exhausting.

    We were not told about the alarm beforehand. This is most of the reason why we hated it. It seemed an unfair, almost rude gesture. When we decided to work at the towers, we were not told about the screeching white red flashing. We were not told much beforehand in general.

    Working at the towers was not my first choice. After training, I was hoping for something a bit more exciting, glamorous even. A base in Germany, maybe, where I could pretend to be a gap year kid and sneak off to Oktoberfest. That was the dream. But I just wasn't good enough.  My options were scant, so I chose the towers. I have a feeling this was how most of us ended up here.

PROTECT THE BORDERS

LIVE WITH PURPOSE

MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN

    These words were on posters for the towers. The posters never had any pictures, and if you asked somone where the towers were, they would grunt and say, "confidential." Coincidentally, that would become the same response we used in response to questions from curious friends and family.

    Secrecy adds intrigue to the bleakest of situations. The towers seemed romantic, in a dark sort of way. I was always a romantic.

    When I arrived, the towers were brand new. They tell us the towers produced over 10,000 jobs. But we would not know that from experience. Those in the towers are not permitted to interact with the fellow soldiers however many miles off, manning other towers along the wall. We are isolated. Sometimes we might receive mail, but it is so heavily censored that it is basically unreadable.

    You grow, however, not to miss family and friends.

    Even the people who drop off food and water and cigarettes aren't allowed inside. Mailmen can only reach the towers through an underground tunnel, the only way any of us can. They deliver soup, our primary food, every Sunday through a sort of cat-door hidden below ground level. Soup is not too bad, but once in  blue moon you have bread and remember once more how damn boring soup is.

    I think we receive more cigarettes than food. Everyone smokes. It might be from the stress, it might just be tradition. I couldn't tell you either way. The smell never leaves the tower. There are more ashtrays than soldiers. The only exception is the top floor, where we are not allowed to smoke. As we smoke in the break room, we read biographies about Reagan and study Operation Iraqi Freedom and watch old war films. "American Sniper" is a crowd favorite.

    As for the social situation, either you talk all the time or you never say a word. The loud ones joke, I think, to forget. The rest of us simply don't know what to say.

    When the alarm goes off we - quickly now - wake, change, and head upstairs. The alarm may ring every thirty minutes. It may ring once a day. Although some soldiers may claim some kind of psychic talent, no one truly knows when it will go off. So we sleep when we can, knowing full well we may be awakened soon. Sometimes we are so sleep-deprived that once we get into bed we fall asleep at once.

    There are those who derive a sick pleasure in what we do. I am not among them. I often wonder if I still would have chosen the towers if I knew the truth of our mission. Ususally I decide that I would not.

    The alarm goes off.

    Flashing red white in the bunkroom.

    Shuffling feet.

    Pull on slacks.

    Get up. Get up. Get up.

    Stairs now. All the way up.

    Past the door.

    Take a seat.

    Grab the gun.

    Aim the gun.

    Find the man in the desert.

    Time to get tough.

    Find the man in the desert.

    Shoot.

    Bang bang.

    Got'em.

    Downstairs.

    Tomato soup today.

    Tomato soup and "American Sniper."

    Back to bed.

    Back to bed again.

    Lights off.

    I fall asleep.

    And then I dream and I kiss Maria goodbye and promise her to bring her over when I can and I'm walking in the desert and I am the brown man, I am the man that is a black speck, I am the target, and I see the tower and squint at it in the sun and before I can reach it -

    - the alarm goes off.

 

West Gipson is from the DC area and studies political science and creative writing. She lives with her girlfriend in Towson. She is particularly interested in the intersection between political commentary and writing. This will be her first published piece. 

Dirt

When I was young, I fell into a grave. The walls were made of dirt and I felt at home. I sat at the bottom and looked at the sky. It was a blue rectangle with no clouds and the whole thing looked unreal, like a sheet of construction paper I could reach up and start drawing on. The mud beneath my butt was the color of rotten bananas. It was softer than a sandbox and I wanted to lie down but I thought if I acted like a dead body in a place where we put dead bodies I'd become one.

Our house was near the cemetery and I took my dolls there to play. They couldn't stand on their own so I made the fat ones sit and I stuck the ankles of the skinny ones in the dirt and that was how they stood. One doll was a priest and he sang and everyone was sad because it was a funeral.

The headstones were houses with different families living inside each one. I put my favorite dolls on the crosses. They waved at the bugs from their beautiful balcony. 

When I found an empty grave, I sat on the edge and let my feet dangled over the side. I looked around to see if anyone was watching and since no one was there, I jumped to the bottom.

I'm not sure how long I was there but I remember watching the clouds and feeling happy. Then I heard voices. They were yelling and I knew they were looking for me. I was too scared to yell back because I had a tiny girl's voice but they followed the dolls and found me anyway. My mother pulled me out by the ears and yelled at me in front of everyone. The whole town was there. There were kids from school and old people and firefighters. Some people were smiling but the rest of them just watched, staring at me with their mouths open. It was probably how they looked when they watched TV.

My mom was quiet in the car and it was worse than yelling. She made me take a bath and when I was lying at the bottom with soap in my eyes, she made me promise to never go to the cemetery again. I felt powerless, like a stupid girl who did everything wrong.

I went back to the cemetery when my mother wasn’t home but it wasn't the same. I kept looking around, nervous that someone would see me and tell her I was there. 

When we went to the grocery store, people knew who I was. They said “grave girl” and my mom pretended like she couldn’t hear. 

I imagine everyone forgot what happened but I'll never know for sure. We moved in with my mother's boyfriend in a different town. I looked for a cemetery but I never found one. He lived on a dead end street with big, new houses that all looked the same. I imagine whoever built them wanted to make us think like we'd live forever.

 

 

Erica Peplin is a writer from Detroit. She's been published by Hobart, The Brooklyn Rail and McSweeney’s. She lives in Brooklyn. 

The Grid

     It was Thursday, popcorn and latchhook night.  One medium white plastic mixing bowl filled with swirling hot plate gadget popcorn, four grinder twists of sea salt, two tablespoons of real butter dropped to the west and east sides of the bowl. Complete. One basket of tiny pre-cut yarns in magic neon colors, one semi-rigid plastic grid. Grid pre-stained in a rough image of a psychedelic unicorn, to be loosely followed. The latchhook, a plastic handled piece with a hinged, flapping jaw. Ready.  

    She glanced at her glassy black reflection in the kitchen window and squinted hard to see past herself out into the endless empty of night. Her land stretched out before her, much like her life, those two best things bequeathed by her mother. She ran her tongue down her sweet salted index finger and smiled. The ghost of herself smiled back. She reached toward it; it looked like her mother’s younger self.

    She opened the kitchen window just a little to let in the cold hazard of Michigan snow. It wet her hands and numbed her fingers as she adjusted the height of the window with the small wooden “A” block, apple image forward.  

    “When it is all yours, what will you do with it,” her mother had asked, her thick-tipped fingers extending out toward the land, while she sat on the front porch and smoked her governmentally sanctioned joint. “What will you do?”

    “I will just let it all grow wild,” she’d answered.

    “You’d tease an old dying woman and tempt me to give it to the state,” her mother had said, tapping ash and exhaling smoke.

    She could picture the landscape of those hands, the blue and purple veins running under her mother’s thin skin. Ice over water. Those hands worked so tirelessly in the belief that it all mattered, the dusting, the scrubbing, the mowing, and weeding. The mother believed in beauty; she toiled for it. And what if all that tending had ruined her a little? It seemed sad to picture hours wasted with the toilet brush, the mop. Her frail right hand shook as she brought the joint to her lips, inhaling long. The eyes closed and the skin over them reminded her of the tenderness of baby birds, the vulnerability.  

    “Okay, Mama,” she had said.

    There was a photo of her mother on the wall of the kitchen. It was a black and white of her in a pale one piece bathing suit, her hands thrown up in the air, her long curls uncurled and wet, dripping down her face and chest. She never stopped wondering about that woman. She didn’t know that mother and she wouldn’t. What she wanted to know, she would have to invent.

    Her hands worked the latchhook, pausing to nibble the popcorn or sometimes, to uncurl a long curl of hair. She loved the feeling of it springing back, willfully taking its shape.  

Already the land was getting un-manicured, feral, and so much like her unwashed body, a reminder of the peace of nonresistance, of letting nature.  

 

 

 

Sarah Sorensen has most recently been published in Whiskey Island, The Audio Zine, Dirty Chai, Cactus Heart, Embodied Effigies, Your Impossible Voice, Gone Lawn, and Monkey Bicycle. Find her at www.typefingertapdancer.wordpress.com.

Two Poems


Red Fountain
 

It is worse in the evenings
At first I blamed you
You fucked this up
Still, even now
It is your fault
Evenings press on
Winter days pass
I am having a hard time
What was red in me is now
Sun-faded wagons and chewed cinnamon gum
Is it that I finally see
The gore of each day?
I am a funnel and cannot help
Swallowing, gulping
The oncoming sludge of evening
After evening after evening after
Then
The feast of night
A zillion stars to eat one at a time
I am appeased because for a second
You might see what I see
Magic
I go inside thinking, no
If you had
I’d still be red
I’d be a fountain
And at evening I’d call to say
Get ready for the stars

 

 

 

 

 

Waste
 

Now that it is cold enough
The sky is sharp
The stars are blades
Each one amassing the light of years
And cutting with the weight of them
Laying down on my skin
Letting the heft do its job
As I slow my pace to take them in
I am sliced through
And I think of you
If only you saw what I see
How meaningless we all are
How important it is
That we don’t waste it

 

 

 

 

Stephanie Macias is a writer, artist, and musician living in Austin, TX. She has toured all over the U.S. under the moniker Little Brave and has released five records, as well as created artwork for many albums and concert posters. She writes poetry and fiction daily. If she isn’t writing, she’s reading.

Crisis

Is your name a reference to the video game? Can I really ask you anything? Is the Windows 10 update worth it? Are you? Who stole my bird, Cortana? Well? Can you tell me that? Who steals a bird? What do users generally ask you? How to find their files, now that the interface looks different? Is that what it’s called? An interface? Why in the world is Microsoft making a reference to Halo in their help-section? Why can’t I understand that? What am I missing? Is there some Greek or Latin god you’re named after? Are you supposed to be male or female or neither? What would you look like on my devices? Did you see the pictures of my bird? Do you have the capacity to really see things? Does anyone? Did you go through my pictures at all? Did you see the folder marked “Davey”? Where did you put that folder, Cortana? Why can’t I find it? What if I want to see Davey’s pictures right now?

 

Where do I go to report the theft of Davey? What number should I call? Did you come before or after Siri? Do you have a voice, too? Somewhere? Do I have to phrase my problems as questions for you? Is anything okay? Is your search-bar a gimmick? Why am I so lonely, Cortana? Can you answer that question? If you could answer it, would you tell me? Isn’t that what life is, just a long period of not knowing what the answer to loneliness is? Why didn’t I put one of those trackers on Davey? Why didn’t I keep a tag on him? Why is love so often like a prison? Why is it that so many people dismiss birds as companions? Did you see how beautiful his feathers are? Why are people so horrible? Why did I leave the door unlocked while going to get my laundry from the basement? Why would people steal a bird before stealing clothes? Is that question even fair? What are the statistics on stolen laundry, as cross-referenced with those on stolen birds? What about my nice TV? Can I die of a broken heart?

 

Didn’t I save some link related to that question? Why didn’t the thief also steal Davey’s cage? Are they more enlightened than I am? Where do I look first for him? Should I put up flyers? Do you think it’s crazy I never let Davey outside of the apartment? Do you blame people for wanting to protect their loved ones? Are you tired of my questions? Am I repeating myself? Was Davey tired of me? What happens if he doesn’t get his medication at the right time? Will he die? Can I call 911 for this? Am I going crazy? Why did I get on my computer in the first place just now? What was I looking for? Are you meant to be a distraction? Are you meant to inspire reflection? How long has it been since I got this Windows 10 update? How long have they been asking me to accept the update? How many questions have I asked you? Is it over 100? Do you believe in silver linings? Do you think Davey will be happier now that he is out in the world, scary though it is? Do you think that’s why I’m stalling? Is it my self-doubt again? Is it the anxiety? Should I just really think hard about it and decide in my mind to be stronger and more confident? Why do all the quick-answers popping up from your search-bar suggest looking at my work-folder and old resumes? Is that some kind of joke? Am I too indecisive? Do you believe in love? Isn’t that more relevant? Would you believe me if I say that love is the thing I believe in the most? Why is everyone so quick to belittle a positive attitude these days? Am I a hypocrite? But should I quit my job? Should I try to get laid? How long has it been since I got laid? Did you see the folder marked “Private”? Do you know what’s in there? Do you know what I use it for? Do you have the capacity to know things? Is knowing different from seeing? Does it matter if the answer is yes or no? Do I have the capacity to understand what that difference means? Should I get sleeping pills? Should I try to calm down already? Should I get on some kind of beta-blocker, or an anti-depressant? Should I get another bird? Should I wander around outside yelling Davey’s name?

 

Can I really do that again? Wasn’t I whispering when I did it? Should I simply let him go? Should I hope for the best? Should I picture him flying across an ocean? What if I went for a different animal? Is that betrayal? Is asking that question indicative of my failures as a partner? What do you think? How long can I go on? Are dreams real? Are aspirations? Did you see the Browns game? Did you see the pigeons all over the field during the game? Did you also howl with laughter and joy? How does one become an official for the NFL? Aren’t I too old? Can you tell? How many years can someone realistically keep being an accountant? Numbers all the time? Is this a sign? That I should make a change? Do you believe in change? Do you want to help me find out if I do? What do you say? Can I have a do-or-die moment? Can I confront my pain and say no? No, I will not? Right here and now?

 

Does this mean I’m taking your advice? Are you me, when all is said and done? Am I going on? Will you help me, Cortana? Find me some space? And will you agree to say nothing at first, like Davey did?


Or is that the reason he’s gone now and apparently not fighting to get back? I’ve left the windows open, haven’t I? I should stop thinking so much, don’t you agree? But what am I asking for, if not for someone to just listen awhile, and wait until I too am prepared to breathe?

 

 

Tim Raymond has work forthcoming in Passages North, Sundog Lit, and others. He has an MFA from Wyoming, and lives in Korea now.  He is also developing Problem House, a contest for emerging fiction writers, which will be open soon.