Categories
2016 Poetry

Darren C. Demaree

NUDE MALE WITH ECHO #93

There’s a lake
near my house
near my body

& all three of us
are full of road signs
& the vehicles

that follow road signs.
The guiltless piling
inside the guilty,

that will change
the scenery,
that will ruin

all of the beliefs.
Initially, I was just
incredibly lonely.

______________________

Darren C. Demaree’s poems have appeared, or are scheduled to appear in numerous magazines/journals, including the South Dakota Review, Meridian, New Letters, Diagram, and the Colorado Review. He is the author of five poetry collections, most recently The Nineteen Steps Between Us (2016, After the Pause). He is the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology. He lives and writes in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children.

Categories
2016 Poetry

Kyle Vaughn

FIREBIRD DREAM

I was driving a 78 Pontiac and
had a sore throat.
With my slag halo, I could
rip twilight from a blonde evening.
Cars were harder then—
bone-black body, ashy wheels—
I didn’t need to be clean.
I believed in death-bed deliverance and

magic words lit like an arcade.
I insisted on undoing myself, straddling
a blaze like the upholstery burn where
the cherry fell out.

No one meant it, but they all asked if I was ok.
At home, I booby-trapped the
doorknob, stuffed a towel under the door—
especially if it was fatal, every last curl of
pipe smoke was for me.
And the police, holding up papers
to the peephole, didn’t like my explanation:
go away—nobody’s home.

But falling asleep on a Salvation Army couch,
that flame descended, then rose in fever,
forging a hundred worthless ingots
back into my head.
I always learn the hard way:
immolated, sunburst,
firebird, revival.


NAÏVE MELODY

If I concentrated hard enough,
a Triumph motorcycle
could find you and drive you where
I’m crushed inside,
sorted into pieces—malfunctioned to obsolete—
so you can see this tapedeck where
I’m making you a mixtape.

There’s nothing like the sound
of the cartoon snow behind my face,
nothing as stunning as
your hair in stormfront wind.

I won’t stop the music
as long as I’m fording this deep river
between my long nights
and the hope of
your ink-dark yes.

___________________________

Kyle Vaughn’s poems have appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies, including Vinyl, Poetry East, Confrontation, and The Sentence. His prose has appeared in English Journal, where he won the Paul and Kate Farmer Award for his article “Reading the Literature of War: A Global Perspective on Ethics.” His photography has appeared in journals such as Annalemma and Holon, and his book A New Light in Kalighat, featuring photos and stories about the children of sex workers and the children of crematory workers in the Kalighat district of Kolkata (co-photographed and co-authored with Breanna Reynolds), was published in 2013 and featured by Nicholas Kristof’s Half the Sky Movement.

Categories
2016 Poetry

James Dulin

the man in the picture on my nightstand

i don’t remember anything my grandfather said
or the sound of him.

i remember praying over his picture at night,
back when i prayed.

i remember the night my parents called my brother and i
into their bedroom to tell us he died.

i don’t remember what words they used
only the taste stale air.

i remember going to the grocery store with him
to get donuts. he let me pick out a cupcake instead.

i remember loving the idea of a man i never really knew
outside my mother’s stories and a blurry image of him playing cards.

i remember the car ride home from nowhere important
when my mother confessed he committed suicide.

i never blamed the lie, nothing a seven year-old can do
with the shotgun hole in his grandfather’s chest.

i remember asking what gun he used
and where he shot himself.

i remember finding out he disowned my aunt
for marrying a black man.

i remember being told he took her back after todd
was born and how that was supposed to absolve him.

i remember crying
because it didn’t

he left me his neckties or that was something nice
my grandmother said to placate a curious child.

how do I reconcile his blood that is mine?
sift through his ashes and unearth the man in the picture on my nightstand.

parse out the space between who he was
and what he did and maybe there is no difference.

sometimes i think that it’s better he died,
me hoping to bury his racism in the same grave.

i’m named after him.
i need to know i am not my grandfather.

it scares me, when i picture him
he is still the quiet man standing by the river on my nightstand.

and if my grandfather was a river bank
shaped by the rushing water

i am the bank around the bend
awaiting the same. i don’t want to become him.

i don’t remember every racist thing i’ve said
or done. i never will.

i remember some of the ugly ones.
if i’m honest, i wish i didn’t.

i remember my mother reminiscing over her father.
she loved him and his worn hands.

i remember learning he built houses
and it killed him when the pain pills weren’t enough.

i remember assuming racism was simple.
it looked like a burning cross and blackface.

now it looks like my grandfather. a man who loved my mother,
taught her to ride a motorcycle.

i wonder what was he contemplating in that picture, staring over the river
i want to believe he changed before the shotgun emptied him.

____________________________

James Dulin is a poet and educator from Grand Rapids, MI currently living in Boston, MA. He has been a member of the 2012 University of Michigan Slam Team and the 2015 Eclectic Truth Slam Team, winners of the 2015 Red Stick Regional Slam. His work can be found on the Write About Now poetry channel, as well as in FreezeRay Poetry, One Throne, and Drunk in a Midnight Choir.

Categories
2016

SUMMER ISSUE XX

summercover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

POETRY

E. Kristin Anderson
Jacqueline Boucher
Christopher Citro & Dustin Nightingale
Kristina Marie Darling
Darren C. Demaree
Chelsea Dingham
James Dulin
Andrea England
Sophia Galifianakis
Ángel Garcia
Amanda Huynh
Hannah Lee Jones
Joe Milazzo
Katie Prince
Kyle Vaughn
Anna Lowe Weber

FICTION

N. Michelle AuBuchon
Joseph Alan Hasinger

Elizabeth Johnston
Phillip Scott Mandel

NONFICTION

Ashlan Runyan
Danny Judge

DOWNLOAD PDF

Categories
2016 Fiction

Joseph Alan Hasinger

WELL, I HEARD YOU LOVE ME

On the way to dinner at the Adams’s house I kill one of their peacocks. Traci and I have been at it the whole ride over. She’s just said the word divorce, which makes twice in one week. I look at her, try to read her face in the country dusk, but she turns away, stares out the window, her fist to her lips. When I put my eyes back on the road the son-of-a-bitch just waddles out from the tree line and steps in front of us. There’s nothing I can do.

If it is not against the law to kill a peacock in Virginia, then it should be. They are magnificent birds. One can tell this even in the fraction of a second that the peacock is sliding up the hood of your Hyundai, past and over your windshield.

When we hit, feathers go everywhere. I press the brake hard, the tires and the bird make nearly the same funny squawk, and the car skates to a stop near the edge of the road. Feathers filter down through the beams of the headlights. I watch them, like strips of patterned fabric, until Traci says, “What was it?” and I hear fear in her voice.

“A bird,” I say.

“A bird?” she asks.

“A peacock,” I say.


“A peacock?” she asks.

“Yes,” I say. “A peacock. A big damn peacock.”

“Oh,” she says. “I’ve never seen one.”

I unfasten my seatbelt and turn the engine off. Sink back, exhale. “They’re fucking beautiful,” I say.

I go around the front of the car to inspect it. Traci gets out too, walks toward the body of the bird, left about fifty yards behind us.

“Not much damage,” I say. “A few dings.” I pick a long feather from the grill of the car, let it fall slowly to the asphalt. I look back at Traci and see she’s still hovering over the peacock.

She says, “You killed it.

“It killed itself,” I say, but I can’t help but feel guilty.

“It’s dead,” she says.

I start toward her. “Of course it’s dead,” I say. “It got hit with a car.”


“Dusty has peacocks,” she says.


“What?” I say.


She lifts her eyes, stares past the Hyundai, down through the black of the road in front of us. She bites her bottom lip. “Don’t tell him,” she says.


I’m beside her now. I put my hand on her shoulder. She moves away. “This is Dusty’s peacock?” I ask.


She shrugs, still staring. “Maybe,” she says. “He talks about his peacocks all the time.”


“It was an accident,” I say.


“Damn it, Ted,” she says. She turns to me and says, “Just don’t tell him.” Traci starts back to the car and I follow her. She closes the door hard behind her.


Dusty Adams is some kind of mountain hippy, yuppie—I don’t know. Runs these little holistic grocery stores spread across southwest Virginia. Traci works at one as a cashier, but she’s supposed to get promoted to manager. That’s what this dinner’s about, and why Traci is scared to tell Dusty about his peacock. And I can understand that, I guess, but she likes Dusty a little too much, I think, and I can’t get why we had to drive out to this farm in who-the-fuck-where for dinner.

Traci thinks Dusty’s some kind of genius, a practical saint. She goes on and on over what good he’s done for the community, for the children, for turning them onto natural, wholesome foods. I’ve seen Traci polish off an entire bag of Hot Fries in a single take, a whole pint of rocky road, so I’m lost on where the admiration comes from. And besides, Dusty Adams is no saint. I’ve known Dusty for years, back before he was an entrepreneur. We came up together, but we’re not friends. Dusty sells me cocaine. I’m not sure how wholesome his coke is, but it burns like fire and sales seem just fine, and I’d bet it’s that money that keeps those damn grocery stores afloat, keeps his little farm paid for.

Of course, Traci doesn’t know I use again—and for a long time I hadn’t—and so I listen to what an angel Dusty is and let him keep his secret for the sake of my own.

Once we turn from the main road into the Adams’s driveway I’m pretty sure the bird was his. The yard around his house, closed in by a little log fence that seems too short to be of much use, is full of peacocks, wandering dumbly this way or that, feathered in brown and green or green and blue like some kind of royalty. They sound like a new litter of kittens, mewing, mulling about the yard. We park just outside the gate, and I can see Dusty and Maureen, his wife, waiting for us on the porch, waving us in.

When we get out and open the gate, walk up the path to the house, the birds hush in a wave and turn to stare, follows us with their eyes.

Maureen shakes our hands and says hello, then lifts two metal buckets of food from the porch and heads out into the peacocks, who have returned to their mulling about. “I’ll be a minute,” she says, and she sinks into the birds and begins to squawk.

Dusty shakes my hand, too, and winks. He turns to Traci, rests his arm around her shoulder, and leads her inside. “Who wants drinks?” Dusty says.

I look down at my hand. Dusty has slipped a bag of cocaine into my palm. I head after them into the living room. Traci takes a seat on a long white sectional and fluffs the pillows and Dusty starts pouring drinks at a little bar. When right away he starts in on high-fructose corn syrup I turn and head down the hall. “Bathroom?” I say.


***


When I come out, Traci and Dusty are sitting beside each other on the couch. I don’t know what they’re talking about and don’t care. Dusty is leaning in, talking with his hands. Traci is nodding and smiling. I’m afraid I’ve been gone too long, but no one seems to notice.

The windows and doors are all open, and the breeze is nice but it’s still hot. It was hot in the bathroom too, and I stayed in there, with no windows at all, doing cocaine off the end of my car key until half the bag was gone.

I take a seat next to Traci, but not too close. Maureen comes in. “Hen got out,” she says.


“Pardon me?” I say, too loud, and she gives me a funny look and turns to Dusty.


“You hear?” she says.


Dusty waves her off. “She’ll be okay,” he says.


Maureen stands there for a minute, just waiting, kind of glaring at Dusty, but Dusty starts back into whatever conversation he was having and ignores her. Maureen looks old for Dusty. Looks like she could be a waitress at a roadside diner. Her hair is graying, the skin on her face and arms weathered. Plain-looking. But Dusty has to be getting up there himself. He’s five years older than me, at least, which means he’s pushing forty. But he’s so cool, or thinks he is, and that’s the difference between them. Dusty has an earring. Dusty has a ponytail. Dusty is hanging on, in a sad way, to the kind of life Maureen has long stopped caring about.

Maureen moves along into the kitchen. “Dinner in twenty,” she says.

I’m anxious. My heart is pounding. Foot tapping. I keep running my fingers through my hair, massaging the skin of my face. Once I think one of them is talking to me, asking a question, but I don’t bother to respond. I can’t really hear them, just a word here or there. Organic. Profits. Expansion. Peacock. And then I’m thinking of that peacock, and I can’t stop. I can’t shake the image of its limp body against my windshield, or the sound it made when I hit it.

I look at Dusty, smiling at my wife, laughing, probably telling jokes, the gold of his earring catching the overhead light, and I am filled with a desire to run him over with my car. I can’t stop picturing this now. And it’s not the same feeling as the bird. I don’t feel bad at all. I’m laughing when his face slides by, a trail of blood smeared behind it. I almost laugh out loud, maybe I do. Dusty shakes my hand, too, and winks. He turns to Traci, rests his arm around her shoulder, and leads her inside.

The air’s cooled down outside and I’m sweating and cold, feverish even. I peek back toward the door and take the cocaine and my car keys from my pocket. I do a little more coke off the end of a key, then put it all back again.

My hands are shaking.

I stand there and watch the birds—there must be a dozen of them, peacocks—waddle around the yard. It’s dark now, and in the soft glow of the porch light and moon I can only make out their shapes. They’re less impressive in the dark, clumsy shadows stumbling, and every so often, fluttering a few feet off the ground and then down again.


And for whatever reason I begin to cry and I close my eyes and listen to the funny sounds the birds make and to the other sounds of the farm at night, crickets or other birds or toads, or a truck rumbling down the road up past the end of the driveway.

Inside, I can hear the piano going and Dusty’s best Bowie singing “Ziggy Stardust,” and my hands are shaking, I can feel them shaking, and my heart’s beating fast, too fast, and I know I’ll have to leave soon or I might just go in there and strangle Dusty to death. I’ve already killed your goddamned bird, Dusty! I think. And I know, I’m almost certain, I’ll kill him too if I don’t run soon. Choke the sound from his throat so he can never tell stories or sing songs or talk about his stupid peacocks again.

And then I hear this sound, the shuffle of feet in the dust, and I open my eyes quick, afraid someone’s seen me carrying on like this, crying, but it’s just a bird. A peacock, a big fucker, standing before the porch steps with his plumage all fanned out. Dozens of freaky feather-eyes catching the porch light and staring up at me, and he’s staring too, with his own eyes, cocking his head from one side to the other, trying to figure me out.

“What do you want?” I say, and he does a little dance, cocks his head, shakes his tail. I can’t help but smile then, and I look away, off toward the barn and the moon just behind it, and wipe the tears from my eyes with the back of my hand.

“Don’t be sad,” he says, and I think for a moment that my heart has stopped.

I look down at him. He backs up slowly, just a step or two, his eyes still on me. I glance up at the sky, to heaven—don’t fuck with me now—and then back down at him.

The peacock speaks again. “She’s always doing it,” he says. “Only a matter of time.” His voice is like an old man’s. He sounds like my grandfather.

I slip my hand into my pocket and press the bag of drugs into my palm. “Who?” I say, and his neck cranes back, quick, and he squawks, like he’s surprised to hear me answer him.

“Esther,” he says after a moment. “The hen that ran off. It’s not your fault, man. She knew better.”

“How’d you know?” I say, surprised.

“Word gets around,” he says.


“Her name was Esther?” I say.


He does something like a nod. “So don’t be sad,” he says, and turns, as if he might walk away.

“She had it coming,” he says. He says, “Always running.”

“That’s not really it,” I say. The peacock turns back and bobbles toward me. “I mean, I’m sad about the bird—Esther—too. You know, she was beautiful. But that’s just not really it.”

“Well,” he says, turning back to me. What is it?”

“What’s your name?” I ask. I inch closer to the edge of the stairs. His head is just above my waste.


“My name?” he asks. “My name is Ted.”


I laugh. “Wait,” I say, “my name is Ted.”


“No kidding,” the peacock says. “Small world.” Then he says, “So, what’s the problem, Ted?”


I look out into the yard. I fidget with the bag inside my pocket. “My wife’s leaving me,” I say, turning back to Ted.


The peacock makes another squawk. “That’s too bad,” he says. He’s shaking his head. He’s laid his feathers back down again. So much smaller now. I take my hand from my pocket, stroke my beard with my fingers.

“You have a wife?” I ask.

He shakes a little. “Not really our thing,” he says.


“Oh,” I say.

“But I understand the allure,” he adds. “Sure. I get where you’re coming from. So tell me, Ted, why’s she leaving?” he asks. “What’s the problem here?”

I put my head in my hands. “I don’t know,” I say. “We fight.”


“Who doesn’t?” he says.


“We really fight though, and something’s just not there, you know? It’s not how it’s supposed to be.”


“Can’t you fix it?” he says.


“I don’t know. I’m not sure she wants to fix it. I don’t know if there’s something left to fix. I mean, I love her. I just—.”

I look up and the peacock is gone. “Ted?” I say, knowing how crazy I must sound, but I only see the shadowy figures of the birds in the yard now, out beyond the circle of porch light.

Then I hear another “Ted?” as if my echo has come back to me, only this time it’s Traci’s voice and not mine, and when I turn toward it I see she’s come out onto the porch, a drink in her hand.

She lets the screen door close behind her. The piano and singing has stopped.

“Hello,” I say.


“What are you doing out here?” she asks. She comes closer. “Dinner’s ready.”


I look back out over the yard, past the spot Ted had just stood. “Nothing,” I say
.

Traci is standing beside me now. Her elbow is touching mine. “You talking to yourself?” she says.

I shrug, embarrassed. “Yeah,” I say. “I guess I was.”


She laughs.


I look at her and she looks up at the sky, swirls the ice in her drink.


“What did you hear?” I ask.


“What?” she says.


“You heard me talking,” I say. “What’d you hear?”


“Well,” she says. “I heard you love me.”


Out beside the barn, in a pale patch of moonlight, one of the peacocks—maybe it’s Ted, I can’t tell—flutters its wings and perches a fence post, its feathers, in full bloom, silhouetted against the faint glow of sky. Traci points. “Would you look at that,” she says. “Isn’t that something?”

__________________________________________

Joseph Alan Hasinger holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Hollins University. His work can most recently be found in Jersey Devil Press and Citron Review. He lives and works in Charleston, SC.

 

Categories
2016 NonFiction

Danny Judge

A SMALL TOWN PASTORAL 

I.

The walkthrough went well until I mentioned my son, at which point her demeanor changed radically. I didn’t know what The Insurance Woman knew: she wasn’t allowed to deny an applicant solely because they have a child. She feigned disappointment, like I’d just given her the bad news. She affected sympathy and explained she didn’t rent to folks with kids, that her tenants were older and preferred silence. She tried to coach me into making the decision for her. It worked. I believed her act. I’m sorry you don’t want the place, she said, but, of course, your son is more important. The thing is—for a minute—I really believed I was telling her no. Well, she added, if anything changes . . .

Wait. What could change?

Downstairs, she told me she couldn’t include her “no kids” rule in her classified listings. She seemed to think we’d suddenly become confidants, like she sized me up and thought, in spite of our differences, that I would “get it.” Two small-towners like us.

II.

When I first queried about the apartment, she asked me to tell her about myself. I told her: twenty-nine, in college on the G.I. Bill, separating amicably (more or less) from my wife of five years, looking for a quiet place close to campus. I left nothing out—not intentionally. I had no reason to guess she was fishing, and that only by neglecting to mention my son did I even receive a response—I just sent her what I thought best expressed my ability to pay the rent and keep the place clean. “You sound perfect,” she’d written.

Apparently, things changed.

That night I told my wife: I’d looked it up. The Insurance Woman broke the law and considered me oblivious—or worse: acquiescent.

“Seriously,” she said, incredulous. “Your civil rights. Because you didn’t get the apartment you wanted.”

“What’s that look? How is this ridiculous?”

But maybe it was.

“Never mind,” I said.

We were holding it together for the holidays. I told her about The Insurance Woman, and that’s when she knew I was looking, that I’d pursued a serious prospect, and that it was all really real. She didn’t flinch.

I betrayed no warmth either, no tinge of capitulation. That’s not the way a marriage ends: with one party breaking ranks. These things go down with both captains aboard, standing stiff-necked and resolute.

III.

The next morning I walked past her place, a red-brick building with wide, paneled windows. The Insurance Woman’s name was plastered on the window. The university was a short walk from her door. I still loved the location. I walked a lot these days.

In August, I’d been in an accident. Caused an accident, was more like it. I failed to yield at a left turn and was broadsided. All my fault. An old man died. Internal bleeding. My son was asleep in his car seat. He wasn’t hurt, but it was a less than ideal way to wake up from a nap. I’d been sleeping very little and wasn’t as alert as I should have been. My wife was undergoing chemo in week-long stretches. Molar pregnancy. Cancerous. A baby never develops: the cells don’t do what they should—they simply multiply, attacking vital organs. It spread to her lungs. No beginning, but there could damn well be an end, if she didn’t start treatment. I was dropping my son off for the night at my mother’s when we wrecked. I made it back to the hospital, albeit a little later than I’d anticipated.

Every night spent in that hospital, we spent in unspoken fear of what would happen when the cancer was gone, when the hospital was a memory, when we were left again to our own devices. When she recovered, we had to face the fact that we were unable and/or unwilling to continue. The accident—my accidental murder and my pernicious guilt—stress, money, resentment, cancer, the baby, the non-baby.

The baby never existed, medically speaking. But we still had the shared memory of the ultrasound, of trying to interpret the mounting unease the mood of the ultrasound technician, the long moments of oppressive silence where there should have been a heartbeat, pitch black where there should have been life. Finally, flustered, flushed: “I just don’t see a baby,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

They pulled my license after the accident. Now I walked. And I needed a place to live (maybe to hide). Cue The Insurance Woman. Just another thing, nothing symbolic about it. I had a decision to make.

I paused in front of the window. Not open yet. I walked on.

The Insurance Woman came along at a time in my life when I was vulnerable, sleepless, and perpetually tired. She came along and swept me aside. She was a small town deity, and she had the right.

I walked to school, resilient one moment, resigned the next.

IV.

I sent another email. I told her I thought there’d been a misunderstanding. I expressed my concern about the legality of what I was told. I made concessions. My son was quiet; no one would know he was there. I tried to solve it rationally, implying only that I suspected she’d skirted the law. I made no mention of taking action. I wasn’t sure I wanted to. But if I did file a complaint, I would need a record of attempted resolution. Most of all, I just wanted her to be decent. I wanted to settle it like adults.

I finished class in the afternoon. No answer. No answer that night. My wife cooked. We sat in a queer suspended animation, fractured yet playing house for the holidays. Corned beef. Cartoons. A bedtime story.

The next morning, still no answer. I seesawed.

Fight it.

Get over it.

Nail her.

Not worth it.

The principle of the thing.

The absurdity of the thing.

The hopelessness of the thing.

What she did was the legal equivalent of turning away an applicant based on race, but was it the common sense equivalent? At once, it was both a principle strong enough to stand on, as well as a ridiculous form of childlike petulance.

The smiling, small town invincibility of The Insurance Woman ate at me. She wasn’t life—she wasn’t cancer, death, or tragedy . . . she was human. Yet she called the shots, dictating my fortunes with the inanimate impunity of a social condition.

She wasn’t a car accident, she wasn’t cancer, she wasn’t a rotting marriage.

Yet, somehow, she was all those things, or at least the one thing that I thought maybe I could beat—the one thing human enough to be beat.

V.

By lunch I decided to try again. Her secretary answered my call.

“Oh, okay. Just a moment. I think I hear her back there.” A moment passed. Another. “She’s actually in a meeting. Can I have her call you back?”

She didn’t call.

That night, my wife sighed: “What if you get the place? She’ll kick you out the first chance she gets.”

“That’s not the point.”

“Then what is the point?”

Our three-year-old son interrupted. “I tooted!” Cartoons on television, pasta on the stove. Snow outside. Christmas was coming. I needed to hang our lights on the house but couldn’t bring myself to do it this year. My wife and I had sex later that night. We’d been doing that a lot since we’d agreed to separate. I couldn’t, for the life of me, figure out why.

VI.

The next morning. Friday. I sent a final email. I just wanted her to quit it. I wanted her to know that progress was bigger than her pride—no matter how many neighbors she knew or to which town council members she sold indemnities. There was something else: I wanted to find out if that was even true.

I told her I’ll be filing a report Monday morning. That I still hoped it was all a big misunderstanding. I told her again how quiet my son would be. That “all I want is to reach a mutually beneficial conclusion without taking it further than it needs to go.”

She called while I was in class. Her voicemail was terse:

“Hi there, I received your threatening email, and I just wanted to touch base. Just so you know, I can’t rent the apartment to you for insurance reasons. (This was new) Those stairs, the liability . . . I can’t take on the liability, you know, of a child going up and down those. Aaand, (her voice rising in pitch, that nasally, I’m just saying . . . tone) just so you know . . . you didn’t tell me about your son when I asked you to tell me about yourself. That’s fraudulent, so . . . you should have told me, and we could have avoided this whole thing, so. . . . Anyway, I’d encourage you to just drop this. This isn’t best for a small town situation, you know. . . . So. Just move on. Okay? Just let it go. Thank you.”

I stared at my phone as if it were playing a trick on me. Did she really just leave a recorded message accusing me of fraud for not giving her the information she needed to discriminate against me? For whatever reason, that settled it.

I decided to let it go.

She was oblivious. The severity of the thing escaped her. She’d given me everything I needed to bring suit against her. Gift-wrapped it and dropped it in my voicemail. But she didn’t understand the principle behind it. Her “small-town situation” was one of embalmed ignorance, entitlement, of insulation from accusations of discrimination. How could she possibly discriminate? She knew everyone. She was the small town.

That’s why I dropped it. The Insurance Woman was the town. I just lived in it.

Later, my wife listened to the message, frowned, but remained tactically noncommittal. “Huh.”

I didn’t bring it up again. We’d had a hell of a year, and I’d lost the only fight I ever had a say in. At least I saw the punch coming.

VII.

A month later we settled in a corner booth at La Casa, this Mexican restaurant in town with phenomenal queso dip. It was four-thirty, and the place was dead. The bartender, a tall Hispanic man in a black collared shirt with a spiky, Wolverine-style haircut, emerged from behind the bar to take our orders. We ordered drinks and the queso. It’s four bucks a bowl, and it’s worth every cent.

I scanned the menu. I’d seen it all before and always ordered the same thing. My wife closed hers. Her go-to was the chimichangas. She had on her ring finger a brand new, five-year anniversary band—a Christmas present. An expensive one.

I looked for something new, knowing I’d find nothing, and there she was. An ad on the bottom of the second page. The Insurance Woman. I’d never noticed her. She’d been hiding in plain sight. Now I could see her plainly.

“Jesus. That’s her.” I pointed. My wife looked at me, then down at the menu. She frowned.

“Who?”

I laughed. “The one who left that message. The one who wouldn’t rent me the place because I had a kid.”

That’s her?” The Insurance Woman, fifty or so, smiling her taut-skinned smile beneath her dry, over-bleached hair.

“Yup. Figures. Told you she’s everywhere in this town. Can’t even order a burrito without seeing her.”

My wife shook her head. “What a bitch.”

We ordered, reminding the bartender about the queso. He took the menus—and The Insurance Woman—with him.

Ten minutes passed. Someone from the kitchen brought our food. Our glasses were empty. No queso. No service.

“Where’s the bartender?” she asked.

“Up at the bar, playing on his phone.”

We waited. We didn’t complain. It was odd, the way we waited, somehow content with the injustice of having been forgotten.

__________________________________________

Danny Judge’s prose has appeared or is forthcoming in many literary journals, including Litro Magazine, Portland Review, AZURE, Twisted Vine, and Lunch Ticket. He is the founding Editor of The Indianola Review, a quarterly print journal, and lives in Iowa with his wife and son.

Categories
2016 Poetry

Joe Milazzo

MONETARY VELOCITY

A piece of paper taped to one
of the doors tells you:
“look like a government”
as a shot garbles
again. The building couples
with broken screens. You kneel, a hose

running from that same piece
of paper. Seeing new cities, you start
a problem. Your whole talk of black
helicopters, a gym, the coming
night, the pantry, some
inexplicably longer list of things:

what you might have to do
if the world started. Spectacular things
and legends run on underground.

Up and down the sure summer,
you didn’t refuse the hot-
house and the ridiculous.

And this bubble of blindness just
used up its cheap zero. Inexplicably
sugar, inexplicably closed off, the second
part of this crisis isn’t that long. Some
boring day-to-day life in the shocking
story that won’t work. How
much? Much more. The brands

in total practice. Small change:
you won’t be able in the aftermath of any
definitive understanding unfolding like always.
To claim, to get protected, to
protect, you trek, still recovering,
odd. Sometimes a strange accent
strikes its foreign currencies. A long time ago,
you got older. A long time ago, the worst
drank its own wine. A long
time ago, a stash somewhere
vociferously warned. A long time
ago, other walls wouldn’t recommend
you. A long time ago, this morning.

Expensive and tight spaces
pump, deciding armies of private
subscribers are still open. You
don’t have to be pronounced. That piece
of paper hangs up. Try to tip.
Get a front-row seat. The guff: it’s
for people who need a select group to
rattle some weight, to receive

the color and influence of constant
bombarding. The alliance is actually bigger
than all you spent. Most jerry cans tell you
you shouldn’t look. The doors, dark, helped

make a rediscovery possible. So you never
expect, and you never lose. Like a virus,
you’ve come to depend on reckoning.

____________________________________

Joe Milazzo is a writer, editor, educator, and designer. He is the author of the novel Crepuscule W/ Nellie (Jaded Ibis Press) and The Habiliments (Apostrophe Books), a volume of poetry. His writings have appeared in Black Clock, Black Warrior Review, BOMB, The Collagist, Drunken Boat, Tammy, and elsewhere. He co-edits the online interdisciplinary arts journal [out of nothing], is a Contributing Editor at Entropy, and is also the proprietor of Imipolex Press. Joe lives and works in Dallas, TX, and his virtual location is http://www.slowstudies.net/jmilazzo/.

Categories
2016 Fiction

Phillip Scott Mandel

I SWALLOWED THE SWORD OF SHANNARA AND LIVED TO TELL THIS TALE ABOUT IT

Over the summer at Jonah Yustein’s Bar Mitzvah they gave out itchy purple t-shirts that said, “I survived a whale of a time at Jonah Yustein’s Bar Mitzvah” and Jess Feingold wore it on the first day of school. We ate shrimp cocktails and danced the Roger Rabbit and the Electric Slide, so our lives were never really at risk, except for maybe dying of boredom. Jonah’s bubbe tripped on her way up to light a candle, so maybe her life was in danger momentarily, but one of the beefy backup dancers literally bounded over the cake to catch her before she broke her hip, so even that is an overstatement.

I, however, swallowed The Sword of Shannara and nobody even gives a care.

I love Jess Feingold. Dr. Feingold is my orthodontist and even though he screwed up my teeth, I still get quite a thrill when she teases me about needing extra-girth rubber bands, because it signifies a special bond between us. A bunch of other kids in our grade have braces too, but I don’t think she inquires on the status of their orthodontia as much as she does mine. 

Just last week during lunch she went out of her way to swing by my table with her friends to check in. “AJ,” she sang, “my dad wants to know if you’re braces are tight enough.”

Her friends all laughed but I know they’re just jealous of the attention she was paying to me. Adam and Rob both looked down into their sloppy joes and pretended Jess and the other popular girls weren’t standing right in front of us, but I smiled wide and showed off all the metal in my mouth. “Tight as a virgin bride on her wedding night,” I said.

Adam and Rob are barely even my friends anymore. I’ve come to understand they’ve been playing Warhammer 40K in Rob’s basement, like, every weekend, without me.

I’m anything but a fool. I know that the only reason I was even invited to Jonah’s Bar Mitzvah was because we’re in Hebrew School together and his parents were pressured to invite the whole class. That’s why Anna Reznikovskaya was there, and she’s the poorest person in town and barely even speaks English. She’s, like, eight inches taller than everybody and weighs at least seventy pounds more than me, has long, tangly black hair that goes down to her butt, and onyx-colored eyes, which she covers with black eye shadow. One time Anna cornered me in the hall on my way to earth science, my favorite class, and pushed me against a locker. Everyone just kept walking by and she planted a big wet sloppy kiss on me and tried to shove her tongue into my mouth but I kept my jaw locked tight, though I could feel the sharp wet tip of her tongue probing at my lips, like a slippery little goldfish nipping at the flakes floating at the surface of a bowl.

It took a couple of months before everyone stopped calling me Boris Yeltsin or The Russian Bride, but eventually they did. Anna still looks slyly out of the corner of her eyes at me and sometimes makes the most disgusting gesture with her two fingers spread in front of her mouth and her fleshy, fat tongue darting back and forth between them, but I mostly ignore her now. In five years she’ll either be a supermodel or a junky, and since I’ll be at Princeton or Dartmouth or Yale or Harvard, I don’t plan on being around to find out which.

Unlike Anna, Jess Feingold is classically beautiful. Anna is the kind of female that inspires myths like Medusa or Baba Yaga, while Jess has a face that could launch, if not a thousand ships, at least half a dozen. I’d captain a ship around the globe for her, that’s for sure. She has a long, freckled nose, unlike my stupid little one (“a cute little button,” my mother used to say, of my nose, until one day my father made us go to the doctor for a paternity test which I guess came back negative because after that they both kind of stopped talking to me).

She uses a blue, red, or pink scrunchie to put her long curly brown hair into a ponytail and it smells like, oh, the most wondrous citrus shampoo, strawberry or grapefruit, with a hint of vanilla and tea tree oil (that stays secret though, because I sit behind her in English and I do not think she would appreciate how often I sniff the back of her head). Also, she has tits.

Yes, real, big tits. She one time leaned over my desk to sign up for a field trip and she
was wearing a loose, wide-necked low-cut blouse with no bra, and I could see right down the
front of her shirt and I could see her tits! It was the first time I ever saw a girl’s tits! Well, it’s the
only time (so far!), but it was awesome.

I want to become a wizard and slay a dragon for her, which is why I practice magic tricks
at home all the time. I know it’s not the same thing — it’s not real magic — but real magic
doesn’t exist.

So, the Sword of Shannara.

Last Friday in English class Jess and I were assigned to the same group to write a book report. She wanted to write about The Outsiders. Tom Lynch, that sweaty tard, and Julio Garcia, he’s okay but whatever, both said they don’t care what book we do, as long as the fag (they meant me, I assume) does all the work, and I said I’d only do all the work if we did The Sword of Shannara, which is one of my favorite books of all time. (I know some people are going to say it’s just a rip off of The Lord of the Rings, but it’s totally not.)

Jess protested and said it wasn’t fair that the nerd (meaning me) does all the work, and I
said I didn’t mind, and then Tom asked Jess if she likes to spit or swallow (apparently the rumor
is that she made out with Jonah and gave him a beeje), and she got really embarrassed and turned
bright red and then laughed and smacked him on the arm. I swear to god I would never treat a
girl like that. It’s like, I don’t understand how Jess went from so mad to, like, flirting with him in
one second; he’s SUCH AN ASSHOLE!!!

So I had an epiphany and after class I asked Jess if she wanted to meet over the weekend at the library in town to work on our report, and she said yes! I couldn’t believe it.

It’s all I could think about, even while I was watching The X-Files. I sat in my bed listening to Boyz II Men (unequivocally my favorite band) and reading The Hobbit, but I kept daydreaming about her. Five or ten pages would go by and I would retain none of it, so I’d have to go back and reread it, but then I’d start fantasizing again: making out with Jess, right next to the medical encyclopedias. Also, I kept getting nosebleeds from my allergies.

So this is what happened: on Sunday I asked my dad to drive me to the library to meet up with Jess Feingold and he said he was busy, which I know he wasn’t because he was just watching the dumb Giants play the dumb Cowboys with my dumb brothers.

Davey threw the nerf football at me and it hit me in the head and they all laughed but it actually really hurt. “Why do you want to go to the library anyway, dork?” he said. “The Giants are on.”

“I have homework!” I said. And then I called him a butthead and they all laughed again, even my dad. And then my throat got all knotty and I felt like crying but I didn’t.

“Mom’ll take you,” my dad said.

“Mom’s at the store,” I said, a bit too loud.

“Then wait!” he said, even louder.

“But I have to go to the library now!” I screamed.

And then my dad jumped up. “You have no idea what I do for you!” he screamed, right in my face. “NO IDEA!”

And then I ran back upstairs to my room and locked the door and I started crying, but just like, a little. I thought I was going to miss my study date with Jess. But my mom came home eventually and drove me over. I could tell she was pissed, but I wasn’t sure if it was at me or my dad.

When I saw Jess I stuck out my hand and, too late, I realized I shouldn’t have done it. She grasped it weakly and we pumped hands awkwardly. “I’ve been practicing my prestidigitation,” I said, still holding on to her hand, shaking it up and down. “Card tricks and stuff.”

She drew her hand back — out of revulsion, I think — and wiped it on her jeans. “You’re late,” she said, as we sat down next to each other at adjacent study carrels. I pulled the novel and my dolphin trapper keeper out of my backpack.

“Sorry,” I said. “Did you start already?”

“No,” she said, sniffing loudly. Her eyes were red and puffy, and I assumed her allergies were acting up. A point of similarity!

“Are you okay?” I asked her. “Do you want a tissue? Is it hay fever?”

“I’m fine,” she said.

Then I thought maybe she was crying, so I asked her why she was crying.

“I’m not!” she said.

We kind of stared at each other for a minute, then I blinked my eyes and stuck out my tongue and gave her a Bronx cheer.

She actually laughed, and said, “I’m just sad. Me and Jonah broke up.”

I put my hand on her shoulder, and patted it gently. “It’s okay,” I said. I actually touched her!

She shrugged away from my hand. “I know,” she said. “I don’t want to talk about it.” She was wearing like, seven bracelets on her hand, which seemed like overkill. But she smelled so sweet and fresh, like a young doe prancing through the forest on the morning of a bow hunt.

I hoped my nose wouldn’t start bleeding.

“Do you want to see a magic trick?” I said, taking a deck of cards from my pocket.

“AJ,” she said, almost wistfully. “Why would I want to see a magic trick?”

“I don’t know,” I said. I had been banking on charming her with a magickal illusion — I
knew how to produce a card out of thin air or find the ace of clubs.

“Let’s just do the report,” she said. “90210 is on tonight and I really want to get home in
time to watch it.”

“Me too,” I said.

“You like 90210?”

I nodded.

“Jason Priestley,” she said. “Oh my god.”

“Yeah, he’s a hunk,” I said. “Did you see that show Melrose Place?” My mom doesn’t actually let me watch it, but I didn’t want her to know that.

“Uh, yeah of course,” she said. “It’s the bomb diggity.”

“I know,” I said. “It’s like, my favorite show.”

“Cool,” she said. Then she opened up her copy of The Outsiders, and I started to panic. This was my only chance to have a real conversation with her, and I was losing it.

“Do you know Anna?” I said.

She looked at me. “Anna Reznikovskaya?”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah, why?” Her eyes grew wide, and she slammed the book back on the desk. “Oh my god. Do you like Anna Reznikovskaya? Do you like, like like her?”

“Ew, no!” I said, wrinkling my nose in what I hoped was an obviously disgusted way. This was going all wrong. The last thing I wanted was for Jess to think I was the off the market.

“Oh,” she said.

“I did make out with her, though.”

She started to smile. “Really?”

“No doubt.”

“When?”

“Like, a few months ago.”

“Oh.” She smiled again, this time more sinister. “Yeah, I already knew about that.”

“You did?”

Everybody knew. Tom, like, gave her a dollar to kiss you in front of everyone.”

Tom Lynch, that bastard! I felt the adrenaline surge through my veins, and my face grew hot. I was humiliated all over again, just like the first time around. A dollar? I know Anna is like, super poor and all and she’s like, a Russian refugee, but still it felt so crappy. All it took was one measly dollar for her to ruin my reputation.

Jess picked up The Outsiders again, and cracked it open to what seemed like a random page. She leaned forward to her notebook and picked up her pencil. I needed better material than Anna. I’d actually brainstormed a list of conversation topics we could cover that morning, but I’d left the paper in my bedroom and I couldn’t remember what was on there.

“So did you really blow Jonah Yustein?” I said.

“What?” She turned towards me and her eyes were furious. “What did you say?”

“I—” I lowered my gaze. “I’m sorry,” I said.

“You can’t say that,” she said.

“I’m sorry. That’s none of my business.”

“You’re right,” she said. “It is none of your business.”

She put her book down gently. “This is why you have no friends,” she said.

I didn’t know what to say to that, so I said nothing. It’s weird but it’s almost like I felt my heart break at that very instant, even though I know that hearts don’t actually break like that.

I just stared at her.

“Why did you even ask me that?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m sorry. Just forget I said anything.” I picked up her pencil and
started waving it up and down. “Look,” I said. “I made your pencil turn into rubber. It’s all
bendy.”

She grabbed the pencil out of my hand. “Stop it.”

“Wait, that’s just sleight of hand. Let me pick your card out of a deck,” I said.

She started to pack up her stuff into her book bag.

“I can pull a rabbit out of a hat,” I said. I didn’t have all of my magic props, but I had a
few things in my bag, if I could just get her attention again. “I can turn a wand into a bouquet of
flowers,” I said.

I didn’t want her to leave, but she seemed intent on going. Though to be honest, part of
me actually felt a little relieved, to like, be alone. “I can spit fire!” I offered, in a last ditch effort.

“Yeah, right,” she said, standing up. “I’m out of here, AJ.”

“I can swallow a sword.” This isn’t true, I can’t.

“Whatever.”

“No, I’ll swallow a sword right now. I’ll bet you I can.”

“What sword?”

“The Sword of Shannara.” I took a bronze replica dagger out of my backpack and showed it to her. It’s actually called a “renaissance stiletto” in the catalogue — obviously not a claymore— but it’s got shiny fake gems on the hilt so I doubted she would even know the difference. It’s pretty phat, actually.

“Holy cow AJ!” she said, in like, a loud whisper. “Put that away!” Her eyes darted back
and forth, like we were going to get in trouble. “Where’d you even get that?”

“From an ancient Dwarven smithy,” I said. Actually, my mom got it for me for Chanukah, but I didn’t think that a necessary detail. A rogue keeps some secrets, after all.

“You are so weird, and so stupid. I’m going home. I’ll just tell Mrs. Peterson that we’re not working on the project together anymore. I’m going to do The Outsiders by myself, and you can work with Julio and Tom alone. Or whatever, I don’t care.”

I tapped the cold steel blade with my fingernail, like it would impress her. “I’ll swallow
the Sword of Shannara if you stay.”

“That doesn’t even make any sense,” she said, and walked away.

I watched her, mute, as she tromped down the library stairs into the quiet main atrium, under the tall domed ceiling that had baby angels and the christian god painted on it, past the old wood reception desk piled high with returns, her ponytail in that pink scrunchee, swishing behind her as she marched towards the automatic double doors and out of my life, forever.

I stared at the lobby for another minute or two, just in case she decided to come back and apologize for being so mean to me, but I knew she wouldn’t. She was probably calling her mom from a payphone already and asking to be picked up, and then her mom would tell my mom, and my mom would lecture me and punish me and tell me I had to make more friends and she would ask me if I was taking my Prozac and I’d have to lie to her.

The library’s paperback copy of The Sword of Shannara was resting on the desk of my study carrel. I’d read the book three times already, and, to be honest, was starting to get sick of it.

To be really honest, I just want to be like everyone else. I want to watch Melrose Place and play football with my brothers, and go to the mall, and most of all, I want to get bee-jays from girls like Jess Feingold.

But I’m not. I’m weird. I’m a loner. That’s why I was sitting in the library by myself, and I had to do the book report by myself, while everyone else in the world was happy and cool and had a lot of friends.

Very carefully, I tore the cover off of the library book, so slowly it barely made a sound. I ripped a little piece off a corner from the cover and put it in my mouth. The old ink and yellow paper tasted bitter and dry, and I sucked on it for a moment before swallowing. I didn’t want it to get stuck in my braces. I ripped off another shred from the cover and put that on my tongue next. My mother wasn’t coming back to pick me up for at least another hour, and I wanted to see how many pages I could devour before then.

____________________________

Phillip Mandel is an MFA candidate in Fiction at Texas State University and the editor of Front Porch Journal. He is originally from New York. This is his first published story. 

Categories
2016 Poetry

Hannah Lee Jones

DAUGHTER OF CAIN

As sons and songs go some precede
                     the others like a major chord,

                     barbed as they are with the mercies
of an inheritance. The winter I lost my skin

to my cousins in a cedar hollow, my father’s spade
                      silver in my ear, a wolf’s head

                      found me in a field of downed
hemlock, took my left hand

when I couldn’t reunite it with its body.
                      I know it seems like surrender

                      that I knelt to its wake.
It would seem like surrender that I gave my right

hand to its cold flame as it swept the meadows
                      like a thin hunter.

                      It was nothing. Except it was silver.
It steals through the blood when the north wind

returns to claim what I lack, and I kneel once more.
                      I kneel once more:

                      heaven knows what hell
moved his offering to another war.

Trees stopped crying as they were cut
                       and whispered as they fell –

                       here into the drawn breath
of another morning, once-phantom moons

sprouting from the old stumps like a second coming,
                        surely a god somewhere.

                        O god somewhere: find me
in some bramble among the crows, sealed in prayer.

Find me in these woods
                         where we die and rise again.

_______________________________________

Hannah Lee Jones’s poetry and nonfiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Superstition Review, Literary Orphans, Apogee, Yes Poetry, decomP, Cider Press Review, and Orion. She edits Primal School, a resource for poets pursuing their craft without an MFA, and lives on Whidbey Island in northwest Washington.

Categories
2016 Poetry

Chelsea Dingman

OBEDIENCE

In a previous carnation,
I knew fresh snow on the sills
as I grabbed my ankles
& asked you to be gentle
moving in & out
of the room as you collected
your things, heat rising
from vents in the floor, the thud
of the thermostat kicking
in. I couldn’t watch
another man leave
as my father left, fresh snow
on the sills. Though your leaving was
only temporary, I was left
grabbing my ankles, face
pressed to dust & hair on the hardwood
in some shitty apartment
I can’t remember the name of
now. This morning, I wake
& mistake air conditioning
thrumming from the ceiling for winter
in your voice. You whisper,
bend over, as you leave yourself
somewhere I can’t name
& again I’m left with my hands
at my ankles, waiting for you
to leave the way snow leaves
when I try to catch it
on my tongue.

_________________________

Chelsea Dingman is a Canadian citizen who studies poetry and teaches at the University of South Florida in the graduate program. Her poems are forthcoming in Phoebe, The Normal School, Harpur Palate, The Adroit Journal, Quiddity, Grist: The Journal for Writers, Raleigh Review, The Fourth River, Bellingham Review, and Sou’wester, among others