The high-pitched animal cries of your boy come hurtling to you drunk at the breakfast table from the backyard and until you finally hear “Dad! Dad! Dad!” it’s only by that terminal “Dad!” when anything registers—those cries and yelps and weight of the sliding glass door as you wrench it open into the sharp February bluster that spreads against your arms and face, snow falling in the crushed heels of the shoes slid on like slippers before crossing your uneven deck. There he is, your boy, standing on a cheap, green-plastic, piece-of-shit chair holding his puppy’s leash untethered in a red glove.chop! chop! read more!
Cici squints at Agatha’s toes, bunched together like an Indy 500 pile-up of smashed, shiny speed-racers. “And that’s why you wear socks in bed,” she says, leaning against the short kitchen counter as she points a slice of toast dripping with butter and honey at her wife’s feet. “It’s good you’re getting them looked at.”chop! chop! read more!
There was something about my smile the other kids didn’t like. Maybe it was the fear in it, the false bravado. Who knows what sets the wolf-pack off?
These days, I sit in my castle without really caring what anyone else thinks. I drink lattes in the morning, expensive scotches late into the evening. Sometimes there’s a needle to thread. I have a family and friends who like to drink with me.chop! chop! read more!
—Time to step up to the plate, Jimbo.
—What’s for supper?
—You’re on deck, right? We all are. We each have to take our turn at bat.
—Them things carry rabies.
—Take our hacks and swing for the fences. Knock the cover off the ball. Go yard.
—I gotta tell you, Dwight, I ain’t entirely sure I—chop! chop! read more!
Margo is eight years old and she doesn’t care about the New Mexican heat, or the drought, or that it is dry and her lips are cracked and her skin is slick with sweat. Her hair sticks to her forehead and neck in thick, twine-like clumps. Her father smells like he always does: motor oil and cigarettes.
Her mother brings home a dog when she’s supposed to bring home milk. The black fluffball almost looks like a porcupine; it runs around the living room and chases around shards of gravel her father tosses, the ones gathered from the driveway. He sits on the couch. Margo sits next to him, silently wishing her father lets them keep the dog, certain he was too obstinate to let it be so.chop! chop! read more!
Well it should come as no shock to you, I’m sure, that on more than one occasion, I have been told I am a difficult woman.
If you’d been around longer, you would have found pretty quick that that’d be the truth, honey. You would have been embarrassed of me, like your little brothers, but maybe a little proud too, because us girls have to stick together.chop! chop! read more!
And then he won and we kept drinking about it, what else to do but keep drinking about it, and no one knew whether to stay or not, it was worse too because the alcohol wasn’t doing anything, and all I wanted was to be with Jean, but she was somewhere else, with someone else, so I had to go home alone, but first I bought groceries at the place that stays open all night, discount tuna salad, spelt bagels, cream cheese, and then walked south, not quite trusting the reality, a nameless void ahead of me, and my apartment was dead, it was dead quiet, and I hadn’t done dishes earlier which is the most depressing thing, and I unpacked my groceries, and put a bagel in the toaster, and then had to clean a knife to smear on the cream cheesechop! chop! read more!
The taxi had finally arrived. The driver watched Eulália Dias as she descended from her front porch one heavy step at a time. He got out of the cab to open the back door for her, smiled an apology for being late, and asked where she was headed.
“I go to St. Helen’s Church on Dundas, you know where it is? But I need to sit in the front seat because of my legs. Please, you have to hurry. I’m going to be late for my granddaughter’s First Communion.”chop! chop! read more!
NO REPEAT CUSTOMERS by Josh Wagner Early one Sunday morning Dean and I stumble past the First Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit, the only church in town old enough to have God’s own handprint cemented in the walkway. We’ve been up a while, still not quite ready to pass out. It’s the corkscrew tail end of hour six or seven where synchronous waves start desynchronizing. The afterglow before the crash. Our general consensus is what the hell, so we sway on over through the courtyard where crocus buds pepper juniper hedges and murky stained glass islands float on seas of dried blood brick. A sign says welcome. The door creaks as it swings. The last thing I see before going inside, carved into the arch in vaguely medieval script, are these words: A riddle: How are we desperate and empty half of the day, but content and satisfied the other half? … chop! chop! read more!
William, who was a cockroach, had a deep love for the music of Beethoven. Born and raised behind the walls of the Cincinnati Concert Hall, he grew up nurturing a passion for the romantics, much like his forefathers, with an affinity for the operas of Wagner and Puccini. To say that music ran in his blood, while biologically inaccurate, would be an understatement. It traces back to his great grandfather, Wilhelm the first, who was an immigrant from Germany, famous for boasting to the uncultured Cincinnati roaches about life behind the walls of the Berlin Opera House (legend had it that he once sat on Herbert Von Karajan’s shoe while the maestro conducted Brahms’ Requiem); and his grandfather, who was taking a stroll to contemplate the thematic development of his first symphony when he was stepped on by none other than Leonard Bernstein. When he was still alive, William’s father longed for the day the family would return to the motherland and hear the acoustics of the famous venues there, but he died while scouting the route to the airport (he was captured and swallowed by a drunk man over a $20 bet).chop! chop! read more!
This morning, out my window, a strange amber film over the sky. The usually crowded streets now mostly empty, only a few people hurrying down the sidewalk, heads bent in medical masks. In the distance, the temple on the hill just a faint shimmer.
Something on the wind.chop! chop! read more!
We may have found ourselves situated in Phase Three of Baz Luhrmann’s Red Curtain
Trilogy – that kind of progression. From happy ending to two lovers dying for love to one woman dying, coughing up what appears to be blood but is actually a mix of red food coloring, corn syrup and water. It doesn’t make us happy, this.
We wonder how old Luhrmann is, if age is a factor in outlook. How can it not be?chop! chop! read more!
Here’s the way the rain works: it comes down every day for a whole third of the year. June, July, August, September, there isn’t a single day without rain. Sometimes it’s just a loud, violent storm that swoops in, does its bit, and moves on, but as often as not it lingers. Like a cat you’re trying to shoo out the door: it yawns, it scratches, it stretches out its claws, it licks itself. In other words, it takes its time.chop! chop! read more!
Two miles from the Greyhound station, Burt hiked through the pinewoods to the edge of Lena’s backyard. The trailer windows were dark. Her Chevy wasn’t in the driveway. They hadn’t talked during the last nine months of his stint in Starke, and what-ifs had been fermenting like toilet hooch in Burt’s head. But what he saw now in the morning light—Virginia creeper on the siding, bull briars in the yard—was a way to work toward absolution.chop! chop! read more!
I sat on the sidewalk; smoked cigarettes. I never put less than two in my mouth because I figure the time combined is worth more than the time separate. You can’t tax two things like you tax one thing. The sidewalk was black and gray with powder brown cracks. The ground was opening up and I thought it would swallow me up, but I didn’t want the world to think I was scared of it so I just sat still and took drags as they came to me.chop! chop! read more!
We are called watchers, though last I heard we were petitioning for a name change. It’s not so much that watcher is an inaccurate title. But it’d be like calling composers listeners or chefs tasters or sculptors touchers—not quite wrong, but certainly a lazy way of going about it.chop! chop! read more!
In love, we are passengers—his take. We had been talking about how people change us. He is standing by the white boards, and I’m sitting in the chair I always read in before students show up for the last class of the night. Out the window, the sunset makes the sky into a ripe plum, but I do not point it out this time. He has jumped to explaining that our understanding of the physical world is not intuitive. We react to forces that we ourselves imagine. Here is the scenario: I’m on a merry-go-round. The friction draws you in. He draws in red on the white board. Then why do I lean out? I stand and move to his side to face the board. Look, he says. All the new vocabulary I’m learning could be its own prose poem: fictitious force, centrifugal motion, normal force. Whenever he gets to talking like this, I see a country sweeping out before me, and I have never traveled there, but it could very well be a place to make a home. Once, he said that I should have been a scientist. Tonight he says, Everything wants to go straight.chop! chop! read more!
It began in August. By December it was done. All he remembered, afterwards, was the freckling of light on the living room couch where she drew him down on the few occasions he went to her house. The home was on the outskirts of town, few other houses surrounding it, and she didn’t seem to care where he parked, didn’t care whether he walked in plain sight to the front door, didn’t care that her husband wouldn’t be home from work until after dark. All he remembered, afterwards, was how one afternoon she told him there were ants in her kitchen sink, asked him to spray them with a bug spray, which he did. The next day, then, by coincidence, his wife informed him there were ants in the basement of their own house.chop! chop! read more!
Suicide was his breakfast cereal, his tuna sandwich, his pasta primavera, his aperitif. Thinking of it got him through the day, and it came punctually.
He regularly tried to kill himself, and I encouraged him. My agenda was not so malignant, or so callous as it may seem only at first glance. I had a larger purpose, though in fairness the sacrifice was his alone.
Attempting suicide was an avocation. In this sense, my encouragement was only salutary. If he ever succeeded, the project itself would terminally suffer. It was his ineptness that made him so invaluable, recommended him so very highly. Not to mention his doggedness despite the failures.chop! chop! read more!
By the day after the storm, the owner of the bar where I worked had fled the city, leaving me in charge by default. I kept the place open, mostly to serve those volunteers clearing the muddy streets of wreckage; I refused to take their money, because I’d always hated the owner.
This far downtown, there was still no electricity, so I improvised my own mood lighting. By one-thirty on the morning in question, the candles along the bar had burnt down, hissing and sputtering, to pools of molten wax in their dishes. The last drinkers had left; I was spending an idle moment at the liquor shelves behind the bar, rotating the bottles so the labels faced outwards, when I heard the front door open again. “How goes it?” I said, eyeing the pale blur of the visitor’s reflection in the nearest fifth of whiskey.chop! chop! read more!
The man paused on the doorstep, huffed into his palm to check his breath, and then shook his jacket straight. Ignoring the bell to the side, he gave a stout knock.
A girl opened the door. “Hello?” She had a wide, serious face and the kind of long straight hair that fell like a shower curtain
“Hi,” he said brightly. “You’re Angel, right?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “I have heard so much about you. I’m Chris. I’m picking up your mother.”
“I know. She’s been getting ready for hours.”
“May I come in?”chop! chop! read more!
Somewhere in the suburban-rural divide of New York, a family of four moved into a small house offset from the rest of town next to a set of train tracks. When a freight train came by in the first night, the entire house rattled and woke the father, who took his shotgun that he hid in the garage that morning and went with it outside. He fired a round at the train, and the bullets sparked against the dull, thick side of one of its cars. He loaded another shell, fired it in the same manner, and then watched the freight move on for another twenty or so minutes until it was out of view, passing over the horizon of enervated, dry grass.chop! chop! read more!
I thought we’d go with the other recruits to Ping Pong, Mahjong, or Sing-Along, but we get Mail Room. Stay here until you work things out, He says, then leaves with the Key. Mother’s not intimidated. Sits down and smooths her skirt. What have we here? Form letters for every person on earth, explaining what happens—not why. Sign on the wall says a few will get their letters while most, poor fools, do not, but even if yours slips behind the mailbox or falls into a flower bed, its contents hold true: You’ll marry that man in the blue suit. Your brother survives the crash, but his right arm doesn’t. Baby for you, you and—yes, I’m serious—you.chop! chop! read more!
If she begged her mom, Heather got to spend weekends at her grandma Maxine’s house. Maxine would be sitting in the living room, looking out the front window when she was dropped off. Her mother never came inside. They’d wave at each other through the windows. This was during the oil crisis; her mother told her that shutting off her car and going inside would just waste gas.chop! chop! read more!
I imagine what brought him to the lot that day was the barrage of ads—the ’58 Chevy Camaro had just been released, and even then they could smell it. Classic the scent whispered, heavy with the sour-sweet of rubbed leather and oiled hinges, the soon-to-be-backseat-conception-point of thousands of late baby boomers. Or I imagine it could have been his new job, sorting envelopes by size, weight, and zip-code, the pressed khaki fabric on his elbows rubbing against his father’s own—the life-sucking monotony that brings life security also brings a decent credit rating. Or I imagine it was his son’s first birthday, family life as a teenage father became instant reality and he was hit with an urgent need to provide—or to escape. Whatever it was, it was something special (I imagine), something that brought him and his wife to that car lot during a breezy Utah summer in ’58—switching the lanes of fate from “what could have been” to what had to be.chop! chop! read more!
When she first came to Epping after dropping out of art school in Boston, Davi loved the way everything in the farmhouse was old and falling apart, swollen in August, when she arrived, and then splintering all through the winter. Beth gave Davi one of her dead husband’s orange hunting hats to sleep in and Beth slept in a camo skullcap. The kitchen was so cold November through March, Beth wore cotton gloves in the morning when she sat at the Formica table drinking instant coffee. For the first few months after she moved in, Davi sketched the kitchen almost every day, usually more than once. The light was so nice in there. Beth liked the sketches and stuck them to the fridge with magnets from the dentist. Davi was over it now, mostly, and the sketches were a little moldy from the moist air seeping out of the freezer.chop! chop! read more!
…which was written in ward D4-B at Butler Hospital, Providence, Rhode Island, Feb. – April ’12. My arms had been fettered to cloth, disclosing the ruined pink arm, the flesh, the lyrics I had angled in brutality and soft grief. They ran like calloused deer tracks across my arms, lengthwise and horizontal to God. The bandage only gave me a looser image, so that all there would confront me, and my arm would be turned over to inspection. Soon I removed the white press and when I laid out my arm on that table, exposed, nude – as upset-looking as the first pet you cherished, suffering that last peculiar vise of agony, it was something of a shocking sentiment. I had laid out the first Joker’s card in our game of confessional, imagistic Poker. I felt chaste.chop! chop! read more!
I find myself suddenly and deeply involved in the comedy world. It started with my ex-girlfriend, who is a comedian. She was one of those comics who did jokes that involved her body. I liked the way she moved on stage, like she wasn’t afraid of people staring. She had this one bit where she did this sort of booty shake. Kind of like a “twerk,” but more side-to-side, not up and down. It made me think about asses in a whole new way that I liked.
I’ve never been an ass guy. I believe in my heart that you can tell a whole lot about a person from her legs. Or his legs. I don’t discriminate when looking at people’s legs, necessarily. You can tell how much weight they’ve put on themselves, in like a deep way, not just physical weight, more like the intangible weight of a lifetime or something. It usually sounds better in my head.
In any case, I’m at a show right now, and one of my buddies is performing. He’s got legs like an ox. His jeans can hardly hide his girthy calves. The sheer mass of them holds power over the audience. He does a lot of frat boy jokes. Like stuff about bars and women and women in bars. He’s a self-deprecator, as most comedians are. Some people say it’s to hide their real emotions. I think anyone who wants that kind of abuse probably thinks he really is a piece of shit. They all drink and smoke before they go on stage. It’s a badge of honor. They either joke about how they’re alcoholics or how they used to be, but now they’re taking it easy and only smoking crack.chop! chop! read more!
Katrine used to be fun, but ever since she got sober she’s as boring as the rest of them. Now it’s “My sponsor this, my sponsor that.” Now family get-togethers are that much more of a fork in my eye.
Before she became the queen of AA, Katrine and I used to hang out on Squirrel Beach, watching the kids splash around the lake. We drank the fancy $7 microbrews that Seth, Katrine’s husband and my obnoxious brother, bought at Whole Foods, and we made fun of all the ways my parents’ house sucked. Starting with: weren’t beaches supposed to be sandy, actually pleasurable to lie on? Not all rocks, so that even when we brought Mom’s soft, fluffy towels, the ones that were absolutely not for the beach, so we had to sneak them down, it was like lying on piles of acorns? Or the skulls of invertebrates. That was Katrine’s theory, that it was called Squirrel Beach because it was some ceremonial, small beast burial ground. She used to make me laugh, Katrine.chop! chop! read more!
THE WHOLE DAMN LOVELY THING
by Melissa Goode
Hannah made a cherry pie and it relaxed her. Only when she was carrying the pie from her house to the neighbor’s, still warm in its tin, did she think it might be inappropriate for a barbecue. She should have brought a six-pack of beer, or some cheese and crackers, because a barbecue probably did not even make it to dessert. In any case, it was too late. Amy had come to her front door to let in a couple of people and spotted Hannah walking up the drive.
Hannah felt overdressed too. She was. She always was, now wearing a white sundress with pumps—Amy wore jeans and flip-flops.
“Oh, you weren’t supposed to bring anything,” Amy said, dragging her into a one armed hug, her other hand holding a glass of wine.
Hannah wanted to turn around and throw the pie in the trash, but Amy was pulling back the dish towel covering.
“Wow! Did you make that?”
“Yes. I did,” Hannah said, quietly.chop! chop! read more!
The man across the desk was handsome in the way that young men could be without actually being attractive. That was one of the things Melissa had started to appreciate when she passed fifty; she could recognize the beauty of younger men without desiring them. So yes, the man was handsome. But tired-looking; he needed to shave. He leaned forward across the desk and smiled weakly at her.chop! chop! read more!
by Kristen Herbert
Them you can ever hear, the mouettes. When walking by the sandy concrete of empty storefronts, the apartments next to the sea, with their windows closed tightly.
Them you hear from your windows open as you write at the desk. Them you hear in the breeze, as you walk the overpass beside the colossal, four-story clouds. The clouds that swell up from the ground are pure. They are floating across the rails and they are making that you stop. They come from elsewhere and they are not staying.
The mouettes you hear when the streets are quiet, when the air is thick, when everyone else is gone, boarded up, closed behind windows with only the low murmuring, the clinking of forks.
It is raining and the walking people are shining in the puddles. The wind ruffles the ash trees speckled and furrows the silver leaves. The light is skittering between the shadows of figures who shuffle back and forth in the street. The university sits quietly behind the boulevard, the ugly, pushed-in windows covered behind the courtyard unruly.
The tram is gliding slowly through the water, it is saying in voice robotic: Université. Then it is swallowed by the bridge. It ends simply. Beneath clear, speckling rain.chop! chop! read more!
THE LIVING MUSEUM
by Jen Knox
I am on the bus with a cloth grocery bag and my notebook, trying to depersonalize my urge to speak to the man next to me. He is over six feet with no ring, and he already looked my way a few times. Now, mouth open and eyes fixed, he watches the reddening sky with everyone else, while I watch him. I long to be a part of the sky.
The little girl across the aisle points to the window when I look her way, but I just nod and write. My urges are part of a condition, not a part of me. They will pass. Meanwhile, the impending storm is bathing everyone in soft, flattering light.
My goal is to avoid triggers until I become stronger, but this requires meticulous planning—more planning than I thought given the bus schedules and a rather inconvenient mistake I made some months back. The problem is numbers. Well, that and proximity.
I slept with Jack, who is my neighbor, who has sticky eyes and lifts his eyebrows often when he speaks to me, as though always genuinely interested in everything. Jack is a waiter with odd shifts. I knew he would be a problem when he moved in, but I successfully resisted his extended company until he invited me to an open mic night on a particularly lonely Tuesday evening.
It is never the good poetry that gets me. Good poetry is a brief release from body and mind, but good poetry is rare. Besides, there’s something about bad poetry—I think it’s the intensity in which the material is delivered, the naïve beauty translated, the human desire to be heard, to be seen, even if a voice is swathed in cliché and melancholy.chop! chop! read more!
a long time, I kept myself awake by writing personalized suicide notes for each of my friends. I’d found a website that compiled every recorded suicide note of the last ten years, and, not to sound conceited, I could do better. To be fair, a lot of the note-writers were teenagers, and some of the older ones had already taken enough sleeping pills to write like teenagers, but these were pretty pedestrian. They tried to fit the whole world into one paragraph, so all the sorrows clanged together. Also, seriously, every third letter used the phrase “ocean of sadness.”
Go small, I whispered into my computer, after reading an open-veiner yammer about “piles of endless infinity.” Talk about the disappointment gathering at the pit of your stomach every Sunday evening, so slight and predictable you can mistake it for hunger. Talk about waking up five minutes before the alarm clock rings. Talk about your cousin who loves telling people he loves jazz. I know pain, and I know escape, but I don’t know one infinity, let alone piles.
The hardest part of writing a bang-up suicide note for the living is guessing each person’s method of self-destruction. They each had their separate styles. Pill-poppers talked of betrayal, of friends who walked out, the beating of their own broken hearts. Shooters were brief—they didn’t care if anyone read it. The people who hanged themselves were the best because they had a sense of humor. They understood they were leaving a body behind, swinging like the world’s fattest wind-chime.
The only time I ever told any of my friends I was setting them up for posterity, I was on half-a-suicide mission myself. Meander Maddox and I had been tasked with wandering through Irishtown and finding Ollie Nunez’s runaway black mastiff. Somebody had purposefully taken the dog off the leash while Nunez was inside a party in Prospect Hill, the shanty-town peak overlooking the rest of the neighborhood. Nunez assumed Meander had done it, and he sent the two of us into the cold to try to retrieve the animal.chop! chop! read more!
by Emanuel Melo
When Tiago woke at first light, his thought was of his nephews, Tom and James, who were arriving that afternoon. He could already hear their voices, full of excitement, the way the little boys always sounded when they visited.
“Titi, Titi,” they would shout as they rushed to hug him. He would lift each boy and twirl him once all the way round, eliciting squeals of laughter as each had his turn flying through the air. Already, Tiago felt the joy of it.
Usually he spent his mornings painting and drawing, but today there would be no time. He skipped breakfast and fussed over each room in the cottage, organizing his pencils, paints, blocks of paper and canvases. And his alphabetized collection of leather-bound first editions were arranged so neatly that you could measure the straightness of the rows with a ruler. Lightly, he ran a feather duster over each shelf of the built-in mahogany bookcase.
In the living room, an art deco rug with intricate designs in deep reds, purples, and greens, accentuated the polished shiny hardwood floor. On top of an art deco side table white hydrangea filled a Lalique vase. He hoped the boys would notice the flowers and think of the flowers that laced the winding roads of the countryside of his boyhood home. But, of course, they would remember no such thing; they did not even know where the island was located. They had been born in Toronto, and, just like everyone else Tiago knew, the word Azores brought a blank gaze into their eyes. Over the years, anticipating most people’s ignorance of the islands’ existence, Tiago had memorized an explanation that for whenever he saw the puzzled look in someone’s face: In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, halfway between Canada and Europe, nine small islands. And almost everyone reacted to this explanation as if discovering the existence of some exotic tropical paradise.
Tiago imagined lighting a fire later that evening, and then sitting with the boys on the floor around the coffee table for a game of Scrabble. Or, perhaps, redoing the puzzle they’d enjoyed putting together last winter. Tom’s face had been pure joy when he triumphantly placed the final piece that completed the silhouette of a solitary man sitting inside a small covered boat, lost in his reading: Monet’s Le Bateau-atelier. “Titi,” Tom had shouted, “I did it!” And Tiago had smiled proudly at his nephew while the younger boy, James, looked on disappointed that he had not been of much help. “Titi, it’s too hard,” James complained, and his uncle had assured him that he’d been a great help, just sorting out the pieces.chop! chop! read more!
WHEN THINGS WEAR AWAY OTHER THINGS
by Michael Melgaard
Moira played with the ocean, chasing the waves as they pulled back into themselves. Her pink rain boots splashing through the water were the only colour on the wet, rocky shore. She turned to her dad and laughed while a wave came in behind her. It covered her feet and was over the top of her boots before she noticed. She watched the water pulling away and then at her dad. She started to cry.
David walked over and picked her up. He told her it was okay and just water, then turned her away from the ocean and asked, “Do you see how they built a wall there?” He held her on his hip in the crook of one arm and pulled her boots off with the free hand. She was trying to tell him about her feet being wet between exaggerated sobs. He said, “Over there. Look. Do you know why they would build a wall on the beach?”
She didn’t say anything, but did look where he was pointing her. David went on, “A long time ago, before they built the wall, there was a graveyard here, where we’re walking.” He dumped the water out of one boot, then the other. “Back then where we’re standing was underground.” He moved her onto his other hip and tugged off her socks. “But the waves eroded the ground away.”
She asked, “What’s ‘eroded’?”
He turned back to the water. “See how every time a wave comes up it pulls some rocks back with it? That’s eroding. It’s when things wear away other things. Eventually, the waves will wear through the wall and wash away the city.”
Moira looked at the wall and then the ocean and then at her dad. She asked, “Really?”
“Yup.” He said, “Hold these,” and handed her the boots. He rang out her socks as best he could. “Eroding takes a long time, though. Hundreds of years. But anyways, back before the wall was built the waves were eroding the ground, wearing away the graveyard’s dirt, and you know what’s under the dirt in a graveyard?”
“Coffins?”chop! chop! read more!
GRANNY AND THE BONEHEAD SQUAD
by Maria Pinto
My grandboy, Ricky, actually comes over nowadays, ever since that stupid show. He’s been here every day this week, drinking all the juice in my fridge straight from the carton. He’s so proud of me, or at least as proud as a pre-teen can be of his grandmother. I mean I wasn’t on the show, but Alexia the reborn was. Ricky couldn’t be bothered with old Mema before, but then Mema got herself tangled up with the Music Television. I’ll take it, I suppose. Beggars and choosers and that.
After he accepted my hugs and kisses with minimal protest, I let him have the run of the house while I holed up in my studio, adding dimples to Ruthie’s knees. I can hear him in the kitchen now. He’s chugging my cran-apple like a diabetic, cussing and fussing with Roland Nielson’s kid. Yes, the same Roland Nielson’s kid who shaved Marylou Crain’s mini-poodle and wrote a filthy word that rhymes with “Bundt” on the poor thing’s side in permanent marker, two summers gone. The same kid who has done worse besides—his worst, as we know it, involving firecrackers and the deaths of a whole heap of lizards this past Fourth of July. I remember a smell like chicken over that particular field as “The Star-Spangled Banner” played nearby. Made me hungry even as it made me sick. The boy won’t stop till he’s tried as an adult, I swear.
Ricky’s mother has already tried and failed to keep Ricky away from The Devil, Jr., so I know there’s no use in my making an attempt.
Best I can do is keep an eye, right? My eyes and ears may have seen and heard the events of umpteen Sundays, but they still work as good as they did when I was a seedling. The ears in particular perk up when they hear, from the kitchen:
“Holy shit, that thing’s creepy! Like, that’s the most insane thing I’ve ever seen.”chop! chop! read more!
WE ARE MEANT FOR GREATER THINGS by Jen Julian This girl, she’s one of those people you hear about nowadays, living her life for the second time around. She’s a slack-faced, dream-eyed sister, born—twice now—at the end of a gravel road outside town, a stone’s throw from the slaughterhouse. She abides with a skittish mother and two large black boxer dogs, and she knows that one of the three will die suffering from a snakebite, hopes she can stop it when the time comes, but she doesn’t know when it’s supposed go down, or if it’s still supposed to go down at all. The girl is Birdy. Birdy Brightlane. Sunny name for such a sad body. But I don’t judge her, it’s part of the job not to judge her. You’d be sad too, is what I tell myself, after fifteen years at the institution, and besides, these are often … chop! chop! read more!
A DIFFERENT KIND OF SLED
by Douglas J. Ogurek
“Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.” – John 4:29
I got no rabbits’ feet on today. But the sledders don’t know. Cuz I got my jacket on. There’s the whistle, and there goes Kinkly. Kinly and the other racers. Right down the hill, right? Thoom. Kinkly’s the fastest. Those rabbits’ feet? They might be real. And Kinkly and the other Rabbits got them on. I got seventeen at home, but they might be real.
I’m all kinds of wrong. Like Bucket, right?
The Rabbits got rabbits’ feet. All these different colors. Yesterday Gushy turned around and said they’re real. But I don’t know how they got those colors. Gushy says they use dye. Gushy’s only got one thumb.
There’s red stuff in the snow. It says, “Gushy is fog.” That’s just silly.
Red’s one of the colors I got. My rabbits’ feet, right? So’s yellow, and orange. I got six reds, but they’re not on now.
Gushy’s standing on the bench up here. He’s holding his sled. Way over his head. That sled says something. Big letters: “HOO.org.” I ask him.
“It’s Help Our Oceans.” He points down at the road. “I want the people in cars to see.”
He’s missing a thumb, and he’s got a silver jacket on, and a silver hat. Shiny.chop! chop! read more!
THE VERY DIVERTING HISTORY OF MAYA
by Grace Singh Smith
Now the day has dawned and the lamp that lit my dark corner is out. A summons has come and I am ready for my journey.—Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali.
It was Fate, Maya thought. Fate who got her married to someone she did not quite love, but maybe, she would learn to love. In the beginning, she woke up feeling as though he was her baby, this engineer husband her parents had carefully selected. She remembers the ad they placed in the city’s best newspaper, The Shillong Times. The classified had described her as “wheatish in complexion” and “respectful of traditional values.” These, and other important details like: caste (Kayastha); languages spoken (Bengali, Hindi and English); height, weight, body type (average); and the occupations of her parents. Her father was “ex-Army” and her mother was “homemaker.” And she was also a Capricorn.
According to the pundit, Fate aligned her with the perfect match—Rajeev Majumdar—and the events that followed became in her memory like the pages of a book turned fast. All the rituals flowed into one another until she could no longer distinguish what had happened when. Did she fast all day after she ate doi first? Did she get smeared in turmeric paste next, eating bits of rasgullas and kaju barfis from many unknown hands that thrust themselves into her face, one quickly taking the place of another? So many rituals, so many people, so many days, so many people, so many rituals, so many days…chop! chop! read more!
by Nels Hanson
The boy lowered his orange papier-mâché beak and his feathers cut from newsprint fell over the cutout eyes. He raised both brown wings, acknowledging the scattered, light applause, then hopped off the stage on clawed feet, past a stunned-looking Mrs. Waverly, his fifth-grade teacher, who had emerged onto the boards.
“Peter,” she called, “Peter, come back!” as parents and grandparents began to murmur and Mrs. Waverly stepped toward the bunched curtain. Principal Harvey stood from his front-row seat and hurried up the three stairs to backstage.
Robert Hamilton turned to his wife, Helen, who stared straight ahead at the empty platform, at its proscenium arch hung with white and red holiday bells, flanked on either side by three silver leaping reindeer, who appeared to have slipped their harness to escape Santa’s stinging whip.
“My God,” a woman behind the Hamiltons announced. “What on God’s Green Earth was that?”
“I’m not surprised,” answered a low voice beside her. “It’s what you get, not letting the kids pray at school.”
“You knew about this?” Robert asked Helen.
Her gaze focused on the trail of silver tinsel fallen from the previous actor portraying a skipping spruce, decked with blinking lights and ornaments.
“I only helped with the costume.”
“‘Someone is dreaming me’? ‘He likes it white and still’?”
“He said it was a secret, not even Mrs. Waverly knew. But I think she did – ”
“His teacher put this on? Without our consent?”
Helen shook her head, lowering her voice:chop! chop! read more!
by Mark Brazaitis
She appears in my dreams as a tornado. The settings vary. A dusty plain. The downtown of a major metropolis. My backyard. Although I never see her face, I know who she is. I feel the wind in my hair. I feel the danger and thrill of her nearness. I feel so close to death I know I am alive. And always when I wake up I am disturbed by how still the air is.
I’ve seen Alice Maravicious—Alice Marvelous is her nickname—do scratch spins, lay-back spins, Biellman spins—the figure-skating equivalent of tornados—at the end of Learn-to-Skate sessions, for which I signed up my daughter, having failed to interest her in bowling and basketball. Alice’s spins are designed to show the young skaters she instructs what they, too, could do one day. During the actual lessons, Alice and her assistants skate between four- and six- and eight-year-olds, preventing them—and sometimes failing to prevent them—from falling. Some of the children fall so often Alice allows them to use walkers like old people would. They shuffle around the ice like miniature residents of a retirement home.
At Learn to Skate, Alice doesn’t wear the sleek, glittering dress she used in competitions. (Photos of her on-ice triumphs, including a fourth-place finish in the U.S. nationals, decorate the lobby of the Sherman Ice Arena.) She wears a Russian overcoat, like Julie Christie in Dr. Zhivago. She could be in Red Square in winter. Often I imagine myself meeting her in a world apart from the heavy world I inhabit. She is twenty-five years old and I have more gray in my hair than black. I am old enough to be—I hate to consider the math and hope my calculations are off—her father. But in these worlds I envision, I am ageless.chop! chop! read more!
MORE THAN A PAUSE
by Niger Alam
It was spring in Minnesota, and the winter newborn babies were entering the outdoor world for the first time. There were many in the park behind the senior center that day. Mothers cooed as they bent over each other’s jogging strollers, their cropped yoga pants stretching over the mounds of their well-squatted buttocks.
Christine watch ed from one of the few benches facing the playground. She turned her head away from the taut mothers and inspected the babies instead, the curled up little beings in the strollers. They were shaped like commas, but she knew they were much more than mere pauses.
One was parked facing Christine. The single front wheel of the stroller was pushed against her bench, and the mother, facing the other way, leaned her back on the handle of the stroller and laughed with the group that huddled there. Her hair shone golden and strawberry, waving left to right, as she shook her head at the incredulity of some joke.
The infant was belted, physically restrained, but its mind was scheming, wielding its power from behind glassy blue eyes on an egg-white bed. Its stare was unsettling, but at least this infant was not Christine’s affliction. She was free of binding belts and babies. She smiled, lifted her face to the sky and reached her arms out on either side, palms flat on the bench.chop! chop! read more!
by Marie Manilla
Belle Fleur was there on opening night thirty years ago. She doubts anyone remembers the skinny girl in the ill-fitting wig—a replacement for one of the hoochie coochie dancers who missed the train in Cincinnati.
“You can do it, Mavie,” her mother had said, already slipping her into the gypsy costume. “You’ve seen their act a thousand times.” Her parents were The Fire-Eating Royales. That night, Mavie adopted the stage name she’d been crafting her whole life, Belle Fleur, and posed with a dozen dancers while Mr. Waller mumbled his speech. Nobody booed, since he owned The Burlesque and paid for the acts that had arrived by train that afternoon. Belle and The Lovely Sisters and The Brothers Grimelda carried trunks two blocks to the theater. Mr. Peels, the chimpanzee wearing a suit, tipped his bowler hat to women and children as he’d been taught. Kids and drunks followed him all the way to the theater where the marquee read: “Suitable for the Entire Family!” The hoochie coochies would have to clean up their act.
Directly across the street was the hotel still under construction, but they likely wouldn’t have taken in the performers anyway. Not the right clientele, they’d been told in town after town. After setting up the stage and unpacking costumes in the basement dressing rooms, the thirty-odd performers settled in the boardinghouse run by Mama T, with a backyard, thankfully, for the dancing pony and jump-roping dogs, but not Mr. Peels, who refused to sleep outdoors.
Opening night, before the theater doors opened, the performers scattered like ants around the rococo-style house, caressing the orange drapes and seats, ogling the gold-rimmed balcony and gas wall sconces. The manager shooed them backstage when carriages arrived with the Waller family and other notables who lived in that stretch of stately homes Belle had walked by earlier with the knife thrower’s kids.chop! chop! read more!
by Kevin Tosca
The light was green but a woman was standing outside her car in the middle of the slow lane with her emergency blinkers on. She was surrounded by what looked like geese. Geese are everywhere in Minnesota. Geese aren’t interesting. Grace glanced left and saw too many vehicles hurtling towards her. She had to stop. After stopping, she realized what the animals really were, what this woman was doing with them.
Wild flapping of arms, shooing and yelling and exhorting, she was trying to get three wild turkeys to cross the road.
If this were a silent movie (and, stuck inside her car, it was), Grace would’ve said the woman communicated a fallen, flawed brand of earnestness, that her desperation was the trumped-up, righteous desperation of the undesperate. She looked like an enraged and foolish general.
Forced to wait, Grace focused on the birds. Having not seen wild turkeys since the winter she spent house-sitting for her uncle, Grace thought about her Maine winter and how she didn’t find the silence, solitude, or peace she thought she would have. Did they exist? She didn’t know, but she could still remember that flock and the magic when it appeared: fifteen big, plump, proud, beautiful birds that had tromped through snow and wood in search of the cracked corn Grace’s uncle had told her not to forget to scatter.
Grace watched them through a picture window. Some, after feeding, flew into the branches of the king pines where they perched like bleak-plumaged buddhas before moving on to wherever they moved on to. They were unspoiled, marvelous, natural. And they made Grace feel old, the wild turkeys did, though she was only twenty-seven at the time. More precisely, looking at beings that made the words “rare,” “endangered,” and “extinct” pop into her head, they made her feel that her youth was over, or that it should’ve been.chop! chop! read more!
THE SECRET WORLD OF YAYO
by Erin Victoria Bradley
Vanessa’s loneliness beckoned her to the white room, where the ceiling vanished into a mist so fine that it melted into six suns and the sediments were of pink marble with flecks of orange and white. So white. Not everyone could make it there. Only those pure-hearted lonely few who still believed in magic could ever find the door, the white hot keyhole, and they remained in life like the unicorns, all but extinct. She had found it in her fifteenth year, when she had looked into a mirror and for the first time understood what it meant for a smile to not touch the eyes. Her key was a metal spoon, stolen from the kitchen of her dreary first life, and a bag of white powder was the sacred artifact that opened her eyes to the magic.
She escaped the monotony of the real world by pushing on the golden frame of the door and budging her way inside. The warmth crawling up her cheeks was instant and alleviated the sorrow knotted in the pit of her belly like thorny vines. Visiting the white room was riding a horse, playing the game she couldn’t afford, making love, having everything she was not to have at once.
She did it for herself. Her parents didn’t warn her about the secret world stashed in the walls of the white room because she hid it like all the sweet things that she had to hide, and they boasted on their perfect daughter as though she were invisible among them. Going to church and listening to the preacher in his cold polished suit did nothing to convince Vanessa that she should not visit the white room, breathe the white air, and warm herself with white. She listened each Sunday, her roaming soul more apathetic to the starch in the preacher’s voice. Her eyes sagged with a lost grace, and her face blanched white as her sin. No one noticed her change. She was surrounded by the blind.chop! chop! read more!
by Alexia Underwood
When the junk collector paused to adjust the hitch to his donkey last week, scattering old papers and dusty bits of plumbing among the potholes, he told Abd el-Majid that snow was on the way.
Rami, the Sa’idi who sold fruit from a wooden cart at the corner of Saad Zaghloul street, denied that it could ever happen.
“It’s a conspiracy, like everything else,” he said.
But then, it did.
Abd el-Majid was standing in the doorway to the Noor Mosque, waiting for the landlady to let down her blue plastic basket from the balcony. As he scraped the coins from the bottom to fetch her the daily papers, he felt something wet slide onto his cheek.
Snow. Gray. Not white. Fragile, dandruff-like particles. The flakes flickered silently in and out of the flame tree branches overhead.
Abd el-Majid settled down on his haunches in the doorway. All around him, others were staring at the mercurial substance. Women ducked and laughed, adjusting their hijabs in wonder. Children and grown men stuck their tongues out, trying to catch an aging snowflake, but they were always a little too late.chop! chop! read more!
by Donald Quist
The glass surface of the round banquet table buzzed. Outside, antigovernment demonstrations jammed the streets of Bangkok. Plastic whistle blasts and the call and response of a hundred megaphones echoed through the humid capital. Sounds of contention burrowed upwards through levels of concrete. The protests hummed between Nahm’s ears.
Nahm sat with Jason’s family in a private dining room on the fourth floor of the Iron Wok Chef. The entrance to the secluded dining area featured a tall red archway ornamented by carvings of spiraling dragons. A wall of windows opened out to a small balcony. Behind a short karaoke stage decorated with blinking Christmas lights, panels of full-length mirrors attempted to give a greater sense of space. But the mirrors reflected the opposite wall and a mural of a foggy Lushan mountain range, trapping dinner guests between dark summits and stirring Nahm’s anxiety.
To calm herself, Nahm narrowed her concentration on specific parts of the meal. She tried to identify the various flavors in the shark fin soup. She attempted to calculate the cost of each ingredient passing between her lips. Nahm had developed habits likes this selling mango and sticky rice with her mother in front of the headquarters for Kaidee Inter Auto Parts Co., Ltd. During those long hours she would stare down at one of the cracks in the grimy sidewalk and count the number of expensive shoes that passed over, or she’d look up at the tangled thicket of telephone wires running above her head and imagine where each line finished and began.
Every year Jason had pleaded for Nahm to attend the family’s Chinese New Year’s dinner, and she always declined saying she didn’t want to go anywhere she wasn’t welcome. But tonight she had finally conceded, and Jason hoped to make the evening enjoyable if possible.chop! chop! read more!
by Aimee LaBrie
It is just past Thanksgiving, and they’ve already begun playing Christmas carols at the theme restaurant where Eleanor waits tables. The music streams from the speakers on the ceiling, like a curse from God, until her head feels stuffed with jingle bells and sleigh bells and holiday bells. She is so bloated with pre-Christmas spirit that she feels sick, as if she’s eaten an entire plate of Santa shaped cookies with an inch of frosting on the top. And yet somehow, the show must go on!
She has been living on her own in the Windy City for just under three months, lives in a shitty garden apartment with a leaky ceiling, and auditioned for zero plays. She can’t seem to find the time, what with all the old AMC movie watching she must do and the waitressing and homeless people to dodge and all.
Table two would like more ketchup in a white salad dressing cup, please. Table three would like several free refills of Diet Coke, some with a lemon and some with limes. Table five would like a new husband and in the meantime, will take her unhappiness out on Eleanor by sending back her calamari first as not warm enough and then saying the plate burned her fingers. Table 6 explodes with rowdy German tourists who will not tip and table seven is the angry wheelchair guy, a regular who purposefully juts his chair out in the middle of the aisle, making it difficult to maneuver around him, especially if you’re carrying a heavy tray of food filled with super fun holiday appetizers with sprigs of holly; as if he hopes to be doused by chili con carne. He also wants his food prepared in a very particular way and explains that if it’s not—if, for instance, the carrots interact with a peanut in any way—he will keel over and need an epi pen stuck in his neck which may spoil the lunch of the other patrons. However, he is also fiercely handsome with a square jaw and chiseled features of a 1940s movie actor of some kind.chop! chop! read more!
by Claire Rudy Foster
That morning there was an email from Paul. Gemma clicked on it without thinking. Her coffee mug steamed at her elbow, too hot to drink. She forced her eyes to focus on the tiny electronic letters. Legal issues, he wrote. Looks like it’s back to jail, do not pass go. I’ll try to be out by summer break so we can meet again in the usual place. She had to read it twice, slowly. Then she slammed the laptop shut , as though extinguishing a flame.
Pouring her coffee into the travel thermos, she took care to rest the lips of the cups together. That way, even her shivering hands couldn’t spill—no messes, her kitchen spotless, not a beer can in sight, the garbage can empty and lined with a fresh plastic bag. A place where no roach dared to tread.
Don’t nobody know my troubles with God, she sang along with Moby on the radio. Traffic was light going into the city, but she tailgated the red Civic in front of her anyway. The maples and pines that shouldered together on both sides of the highway were close and dark, the ivy obscuring their trunks so they seemed like a dense wall of green. As Gemma’s Volvo rounded the final bend, and she saw the tunnel that opened to the city, the sky began to lighten in the west. A handful of leaves floated over the road for a moment, showing their yellow bellies.
“You won’t need those,” Allie told Gemma in the locker room. “She’s doped.”chop! chop! read more!