Brynne Rebele-Henry

2016, Fiction

FOREST GALE

Open up, Hills says. Hands me a mug of chamomile tea with a clove of garlic sticking out. She’s got her red lipstick on and three strings of different colored pearls (one buttery yellow, one bone white, one almost pink). Her monogrammed pajamas are skewed, three buttons in the wrong holes. Her hair is a looped-up nest that reminds me of burned angel hair pasta and knotted sewing thread, thin and ragged but still shimmering in the off light. Rayn comes in, she’s still got her thundercloud-shaped pledge brooch on from twelve months ago, but still. Mine is a lily, the pearls look like tongues or dripping spit. I didn’t want to break it myself, so I put it into an envelope and buried the envelope under my science textbooks, which is to say, it’s gone. I bought all the textbooks at first but then I just started rubbing my fingers over the jaw-lines of the Forester House members and asking them to do the work for me. I always say yes when they ask if I want to get dinner at the all-you-can-eat crab place but never show up. I say that my cat died, or that my stomach hurts, or I just don’t answer, have Hills say that my brother is sick or I’m having women’s troubles, they turn bright red at that one, start to stammer even, she says.

Then there are the Woodland brothers, and the Sky Sisters (our rival sorority), the Foresters, and us, the Flower Family. Tonight’s the Maypole, so I need to look my best. I shake my hair out, tangled from last night. I smell like box wine and sweat. Go to the bathroom. Brush my hair, twenty strokes each side, then smear foundation on, three thin layers is my secret: not enough to look stanky but enough to look airbrushed. Perfect. And then mascara and nothing else on my eyes. Concealer. The blush that comes in a pot. Lip gloss. I want to look fresh, blossom-like. I curl the ends of my hair and put on the bright pink sundress with roses on it. I call this one my secret garden dress, because it makes my tits look like honeydew melons and smoothes out the bump of my stomach, and if you look close enough, you can see my thighs through the too-thin fabric. Espadrilles. A yellow purse. Pearl earrings. A gold barrette that looks like a rose, my namesake now. When I came here I was just Rose but now my name is Rosy. Like, everything’s just Rosy everything’s just good. One of the Foresters called me that one night after I blew him in a bathroom stall, and I liked it. Started introducing myself like that, “Hi, I’m Rosy, just good, how about you, I can make you good.”

I open my purse looking for my phone, but even better: three pills. Xanax, Adderall, and something I can’t identify. I swallow them all dry. Nice. Go to breakfast with Hills and eat one orange and nothing else. The pills are kicking in. Shouldn’t have taken them on empty. Whatever. I set my face into a smile. Half a cup of coffee and a banana and I’m out and ready. Skip classes again because who cares, one of us will just blow the professors or tell the only woman we had to recover after we all got our hearts broken by the same guy. When I first heard that ForestGale was a Christian college I wasn’t into it, but then I realized how many parties and guys with stacks there are here and I went for it. That was last year.

Now I don’t even go to class. I’m going to find a guy and leave soon anyway. Be a wife or whatever. Hills says that with tits like mine I can do whatever and she’s right. No one cares. Hills has a flat chest, nothing up top or bottom, but her face makes it up. Her cheekbones jut out perfect and her jawline could cut glass. Not to mention her eyes are this smashing shade of silver. All the guys stumble over her, but last year there was this rumor that guys aren’t what she’s after. Mine are just brown but the last guy I did said that he loved them because he could see specks of gold around my pupils and that gold is hot. That was such a nice thing to say. I loved it. But then his girlfriend walked in on him bending me over his desk and she freaked. Went totally mental. Crazy. Bitch.

I can feel the dull buzz spreading through my arms and face and stomach. I think I mixed uppers and downers, though, and that shit isn’t fun. Pills are pills, as Rayn would say. Last year we started calling her the Capsule Queen because she could just pop them all day and nothing. She claimed her head was spinning, but she seemed totally normal. Hills knocks on my door, “You want to go get some Vitamin Water?” She thinks that Vitamin Water keeps you skinny, and I’m not sure if I agree, but, look at her thighs, obviously it’s doing something. I say yes. We walk down the street and I feel weird, try not to look at her. I don’t know why. Get the waters. I choose the pink one. Nice. Nice. Bile. Go to the bathroom in the store and puke. Wipe my mouth. Meet her back at the register. Notice a new bruise on my ankle. Don’t remember how.

Hills has a little bite mark on her shoulder. I think about asking who from but decide I don’t want to know. We sit on the curb outside and drink the waters in one go and then she stands up. Brushes off her dress. Says, “Come on.” I get up. The light is reflecting from her face like a beacon and the ground underneath me ripples. I tell myself that I am a rock or moss and put one heel in front of the other and when I start to fall I think: but I thought I was solid. Then I’m sitting on the ground and my dress is covered in dirt and  gravel. A crowd of boys and Hills. They help me up. I stand shaky. Say “oops” and giggle all cute. Open my eyes wide. I steady myself on Hills’s shoulder and then when I start to fall again pretend to hug her but really I’m hanging on to her. She feels warm next to me. We stagger down the road.

Get back to the house and it’s whatever. She looks at me all concerned but I say “I’m fine, just tired.” Then go puke again. Don’t remember what happened last month but I woke up with a guy and didn’t remember if I made him use one. But it’s whatever. I can will my body to do anything, true story. Once I was about to gag on a guy’s dick but I made my body swallow the vomit. And once I got alcohol poisoning but I refused to do anything about it and it went away. So I’m not knocked up. I know it. If I was I would know it. I don’t remember if I got my period last month. I was doing a lot of specials so it doesn’t matter anyway. I think maybe I should get tested but I don’t think I care enough, so it’s whatever. I drink a cup of water and put on more mascara then fall asleep.

Wake up. Hills is shaking me. Says, we need to go soon. I get up. Put on my tight white dress that makes me look all Marilyn and some red lipstick and another chain of pearls and leave. We get there and there’s already beer everywhere, mirror lines placed in a circle around the base of the maypole. I pick up a pink ribbon and start twirling around. Everything blurs and soon it’s dark out and no one else is spinning so I stop and snort a few lines and then go into the Forester House. The boys are jostling and dancing and one rubs his boner on me. Cute. They all try to give me red cups but I’m not taking any. See Hills. She’s dancing, her arms out, her silver strappy dress has slipped off one shoulder and you can see that she isn’t wearing a bra. I go over to her and put a hand on her  shoulder. She smiles all blurry. Then two guys are pushing us together and her mouth is on mine and our hipbones are pressed together and she’s sucking on my bottom lip. Everyone is chanting “kiss” and whistling like we are two stars, like we are two explosions. Then she pushes me away and I start to run. To the house. I don’t know. Somewhere.

Get to the house and take my dress off. Then she’s there and we are on each other and I don’t know what to do but her mouth is on mine and I feel weird and gross but it feels good and I already know what I will say after: I was high. I was drunk. I’m straight. I know. So I let her suck my clit and I let her push my head into hers and I take it all and when she bites my neck I moan.

Wake up. My thighs and hands are covered in cum but it doesn’t look like jizz. Drink a glass of water with some lemon squeezed in. Then I remember. And I puke. In the mirror my belly looks hard, rounder. Need to eat less. Yeah. Drink another glass and decide to stay in bed. Stay like this all afternoon. Then I hear a weird sort of moaning and decide to go scare Rayn and her on-again off-again guy. It’s coming from Hills’s room. Open the door and say “Hey slut, hope you’ve got a rubber.” But it’s not Rayn. Hills is straddling the psych professor we all think is totally weirdo because she always wears blue cardigans no matter what, and Hills is sucking her nipples and she’s got a hand on Hills’s bony ass and they turn and look at me and their eyes and mouths are two giant tire-like circles of surprise. Like animals before you run them over. Hills falls off the bed. I run out and into the street.

Don’t know where I’m going. Wait. I do. The liquor store. Doesn’t card doesn’t care. Get a bottle of Raspberry Smirnoff. Drink. Don’t know how much. I eat a tomato. Sit on the kitchen floor. There’s a party tonight but I don’t know if I want to go. Hills comes in. I tell her to fuck off but she won’t. She sits down across from me, leans against the dishwasher we never use. Let our dishes pile in the sink. It’s a punishment. If you eat too much the dishes pile up like a mountain of fat on your thighs. So we don’t. I don’t know what to say but then she grabs me and our tongues are touching. She’s holding me on top of her on the kitchen floor and then someone screams. Rayn is standing above us, with her on-again off-again, he’s shirtless and holding on to her ass like it’s a football. They’re just staring down at us. Everything shatters. Rayn closes her eyes again. I clear my throat. “I was just teaching Hills how to do the tongue trick.” They’re looking at me like I vomited. I try to say something else but my mouth won’t work. Hills clears her throat. “They can tell, Rosy.”

I don’t say anything. Just stand. Get into bed. Lock my door. Hills knocks fifty times before I let her in. I know. I counted. She curls up next to me and I can feel my belly pressed against hers and it feels warm and weirdly wet. When I look down there’s blood and I think, oh good, I got it. But when I sit up to go get a Tampax something feels wrong and that’s when I see that the clots aren’t just blood. Hills looks down and her face goes paper white. Helps me up and onto the toilet. I try to keep it in but can’t and I can hear it crunch in the toilet. Everything hurts. Hills pats my back, pushes my clenched legs open a little more and holds them there. Whispers. She knows what she’s doing. I look at her and raise an eyebrow and it’s almost funny. She nods. “My sister.” I don’t say anything, but I don’t need to. After she helps me up, I curl up on a pile of towels and feel everything shift inside my belly. She curls up next to me and the blood soaks through the towels and onto the floor and it feels warm.

Wake up. My thighs are stained the same color as a rose. Ha. I get up and more falls out. Go to the window and there’s yelling. Ten boys. All holding shovels. Rayn is there too. In a cardigan and heels. Hills is already up, looking out the window. She starts throwing things into a bag. I do too. I don’t know what. I get five Kotexes and pad them into a pair of black lace knickers. Get dressed fast. Wear heels even though I’m fucked, can barely walk. I can get most of my dresses and heels into a suitcase in four minutes. Fact. Hills can too. We go out the back of the house but her car is in front. I walk up to the car as the boys yell and they start to walk towards me, waving their shovels, but I get in and do the locks and pull out of the driveway so fast that they don’t have time to. To do. Whatever it is. When I pull out of the driveway they all just stand there.

For a minute I forget if I got Hills but she’s there. Our suitcases are in the back of the car. She must have put them there. We drive for six hours. Don’t know where we’re going. I start to fall asleep and think about stopping but then decide that I don’t care and I swerve and almost hit a tree and then I just stop and we sit there in silence. Hills unlocks the car door. She gets out and gets her suitcase. Doesn’t say anything. I try to talk but I feel like I’m drowning, my lungs surrounded in something thick. She starts walking down the road. It’s dark and she’s wearing stilettos but I don’t try to stop her. Just turn the car around and start driving. I’m halfway on the road and half off. I close my eyes. I will stop this humming in my head. I will be clean. The lines in the road are swerving and my stomach sloshes. The car is humming and the road turns into an ocean and I am swimming. The air is blurry. I am steering my ship. I am almost there.

________________________________

Brynne Rebele-Henry’s fiction and poetry have appeared in such journals as The Volta, So to Speak, Adroit, Pine Hills Review, The Offending Adam , Denver Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, and is forthcoming in Fiction International among other places. Her book Fleshgraphs is forthcoming from Nightboat Books in 2016. She was born in 1999 and currently lives in Richmond, Virginia

Nicole Homer

2016, Poetry

ME, 2009, 121 LBS IN JEANS AND A T-SHIRT;
ME 2015, 128 lbs, IN A BATHING SUIT, SMILING

There are two pictures in my wallet: not my dead father, not my dead grandmother, not even my wedding. Instead, two photographs of you. Standing alone, each deliberate line of your body an invitation. I am not supposed to miss you. My mother never liked angles of face. Never sat quietly by while your cheekbones swallowed me whole. She reminds me, over cake and soda, of your wrists: how untrustworthy each countable bone was. Her twenty-eight teeth look at me and say, “Eat. Let the sleeping and bony dogs of your past lay still.”  I lick my index finger and the slick of spit is  glue;  I press it into the lace of the tablecloth and swallow each errant crumb. When the man I love is fucking me, I am thinking of you. He can tell. It is in how my eyes searchlight the ceiling over his left shoulder. How I draw the blinds. Will only let him slip his tongue inside my shadow. I turn the heat down, use the Jersey winter as excuse to hide under at least two covers. I have to imagine that he is fucking you just so I can climax. When are you coming back? I still have all your things hanging in my closet: the old skin of failure. Ranging in size from 2 to 20. Every morning, I try on something else of yours that does not fit. I am not supposed to miss you like this. The feminists will say I have watched too much television, eaten too many glossy-faced magazines. But I am afraid I am going to crush my lover. Shame him in front of the collarbones of his co-workers. How do I come with that thought heavy in my belly? My mother will say she warned me about tricks the body will play on a woman; she will say this from within the frame diabetes has carved down to an eight. My husband will say he loves me just the way I am. Then he will give up red meat and alert me every time he goes to the gym so that I might join him. My wedding ring has begun biting into my finger. It is trying to escape. Because I do not deserve this – this man, his pelvis and well-polished shoes – but you do. I allow myself one pair of jeans. Will not buy more. Not when there is a closet full of your clothes and I should fit them. I do not deserve better or more or comfortable. But you do.

Oh I imagine how it will be when you finally get home: I will watch you try on all of my pants at least once. You will measure how far away from the concave of you we can pull the waistband and we will laugh and laugh. And laugh. When you get home, we will eat nothing but organic spinach and compliments. And I will be so small, so small. Like a tunnel shrinking behind you on the horizon. So small. Something you had to get through to get back home where you were missed.

__________________________

Nicole Homer is (a): Writer. Teacher. Nerd. Mother. Backyard deer watcher. Stovetop popcorn popper. Treehugger. Gardener. Curmudgeon. Part Roseanne Conner, part Sarah Connor. #Sockcurator of an immaculate collection. Collector of #cheesyworkoutshirts. She lives online at http://nicolehomer.com/

Katie Longofono

2016, Poetry

THE VIRUS GOES TO THE MILITARY BALL

   blacked out from champagne and dancing
I remember his hand on the back of my neck
all night     he asked me to take a taxi
home with him    but my friend was puking
in the bathroom     I followed him
out of the tent into the open air
around a corner    there was a hedge   we were drunk
and making out, poked by shrubbery
he tossed me over    scrambled after
   we were alone behind a wall of sticks    he lifted my dress
put his mouth on my panties    then under
are you hearing this?      he put a virus in me
with his mouth    planted a seed


THE VIRUS DISCOVERS BODY HAIR

Tyler licks my armpit and says next time
don’t wear deodorant      I can smell
the chemical burn on his tongue, he is hard
and rinsing his mouth with water
before twining a finger in my locks
I am shocked he wants my body
he puts less than an inch between us
opens to the abyss says a prayer on a leather
necklace something like shed your bliss
we shed all over each other we virus
we unzip. Have you ever locked DNA
– what a foolish plan     to shoot      to miss.


THE VIRUS LIES BY OMISSION

I.
Monday afternoon Will picks up
a six pack      it’s been four years
since college when we slept not touching  
I drank a mug of tea in his bed read Whitman
over his shoulder     we felt very large
and expansive the way a bearded
man often does    Monday afternoon
drinking beer in wet reminiscent gulps   we talk
about everything except
my mouth    he is looking
pretty hard I know what happens
if I lean the right way    I lean
right away     and I’m on my back—

II.
Will wants me    because he doesn’t know—
he takes off my panties unknowingly    pushes
against my rooted flower pelvic bone
pleased and warm in the garden    before
the apple    I let him finish   not knowing
why   I hold him in    I lied
I know why    I know    if he knew
he’d breathe that sigh   you know   the one
with the look I’m sorry and
goodbye   I know why     I let him—mouthfuls
of mealy fruit   he has eaten
from the tree    I wanted him
to know    my thighs.

____________________

Katie Longofono received her MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College, where she directed the 2014 SLC Poetry Festival. She is the co-founder of Dead Rabbits Reading Series, a monthly literary salon that takes place in NYC. She also co-produced AmpLit Fest, in partnership with Lamprophonic and Summer on the Hudson. Her first chapbook, The Angel of Sex, was published by Dancing Girl Press in 2013. Her chapbook Angeltits was published by Sundress Publications in 2016. Her work has appeared in Tinderbox Poetry Journal, glitterMOB, BOAAT, South Dakota Review, Juked, Midwestern Gothic, and more. She may or may not be on Twitter. She lives in Brooklyn.

 

Jennifer Whalen

2016, Poetry

ON RESERVE

When I move through night, I carry
a seashell in my pocket. It is good

to have a delicate thing to protect.
It is like dawn brushing night

away in bluish streaks but much lighter.
If you try to photograph it, the blue

looks pale & sickly & suddenly
it’s morning. There is some scheme bigger

than I’ll ever reach that decides if I dance
tonight. A spiraled whale’s bone

hangs from my neck on thick, black string;
it symbolizes infinity, but I won’t ask it

to stand for that. Our world is not a top,
yet I believe in its spins. Sometimes

I spin much faster than the world.
I wear billowy dresses so the world

can see. Unless the gifts you gifted
are smaller than an envelope,

I don’t have them. It’s a space I gave myself
with limits at a time when I needed

limits. Our city is sliced
with train tracks. We call downtown

the center, but it’s just a phrase
to feel cradled in canopies

of noisy lights. There are no archives
for people like us. If I meet you here,

I’ll have no method to separate you
from any given walker. I can’t tell you how

to get here—it would be
too risky—but you’ll get there.


IT’S SEVEN

So like the delicate setting
of a picnic blanket in the sun,
the bright dining room hushed

to a dim-lit corridor.
Patrons slid off their heels, smeared bare feet
against legs beneath tablecloths.

I don’t know why our sex breathes
in shadows. Yes, exceptions abound.
Somewhere there’s a meadow

where people love in the sun,
maybe. But that room had robbed time
of time—strange, I know,

but I needed the sunset-splayed
brawny yawn across day; the sun
sliding down, slow-down,

until it halos some hill. I tried
to pretend love waited in this—forking
an Alaskan fish, my eyes just shy

of refusing eye contact.
It is too much to have a body,
to monitor its functions

so on luck-lustered nights
it meets another body—a toast!
to pat fork against glass

while expanding my throat:
I had this grand feeling something
grand should happen, but

the waiter waltzed round
lighting candles as if silent ceremony
followed next. The evening kept on

flickering shoddy evening
when I imagined myself moving—
faint figure on a dense floor

drifting deeply to melody,
sweat-peppered skin; how glorious we can be
when only vague-fractions.

If I leave now, go
west away enough, it may still be dark
when I get there.
EVERENDING NIGHT

Hours trickled as our shoes spun circles
off the porch’s wooden beams. Still,
when the night sky fissured into pale light streaks
the way growth accumulates with no notice,
I was startled. And when it stayed this musty haze
for distances, we held our voices
in the bold tone of retirement; our bodies
sloping towards the deck’s exit.

And since we weren’t granted our usual rites
of leaving or being left—wrapping scarves
about our necks or blankets in our bed,
there was no need to recollect.
The sky wasn’t static like a photograph;
it replenished itself in sips: fresh grazes
on new rifts. This lingering became a lodging;
this lodging, a state of being. A time still near us,
petty parts slivered from me as we talked,
like clapping dry clay from hands: here,
it is clean again. But in the everending night,
these flakes find dwelling. Actions long memory,
to cabin somewhere cool & lasting
even if far flung from the self.

I didn’t realize then with layers of light
interrupting night, my hands
in my pockets, oh what time, the time,
but I may never love what lacks potential
for farewell. I couldn’t crumple inside a thing
the way the faithful do. Yet I trusted
that sky would break way to day.
Because I want to believe in rhythm,
because it’s rendered in the stars, because
I still haven’t found a fitting place to receive you.

_________________________________

Jennifer Whalen is Texas State University’s 2015-2016 writer-in-residence at the L.D. & LaVerne Harrell Clark House in Smithville, Texas. She served as the poetry editor for Front Porch Journal, and her poems can be found or are forthcoming in Gulf Coast, New South, Fugue, & elsewhere. She currently teaches college English.

Trista Edwards

2016, Poetry

EQUINOX

The journey of history begins with hunger
and the reach for its end. The orchard’s
 
in vertigo. Leaves gather in halos
about their mothers. And when every apple,
 
every dappled blood-red orb, offers
a little world, a lysis, you take it.
 
Thoreau once said, the gun gives
you the body, not the bird. 
 
And so this orchard gives you winter,
not the apple. The molded, hewed world
 
of bodies in parallel formation, reaching out
to be reached for. Don’t we just want the body?

Just yesterday another boy took a girl
behind a dumpster and used her body

to reach his own end. This is not healing.
Her body reaching for flight, for day

to be greater than night. For the rot
to rot faster as the boy mauls her

like carrion. Thoreau was wrong.
There’s no body without the bird.

Can we handle this bird, this possibility
of flight? When we pull the trigger
 
and snap the ripest apple from branch,
come at it with teeth, are we not asking

for punishment? Not for the taunting
fowl of hunger but for ourselves—

something greater than or equal to
the darkest unforgiving appetite.


BELLOW

            After Ada Limón

Tell the hunter and all his hounds,
the rabbits they chase down the hill,

the blacksmith’s sooty iron hammer,
the sparkles that fly from his strike;

tell them all the myths are true.
I am rabbit. I am those tracks

they follow further into the wood
under growl and starlight and branch.

Tell my mother I’m bound in iron,
that I’m chained to stake and set

to burn. Tell all the women they can
inhale the smoke of my skin, hair,

heart—that it will root inside, deep
in the belly like a heavy daughter.

Tell them, I will squeal under the heat,
that the scorch won’t be silent, that Satan

didn’t blackened my soul so there would be
no blister. And they will tell their children

and their children’s children and books
to come, they never heard a scream

so devout it made them believe
they were the wicked ones. Tell them all

I was but a name. Scapegoat. A girl.
And for this I burn, for this I bellow.

________________________

Trista Edwards is a Doctoral Fellow in English at the University of North Texas. Her poems and reviews are published or forthcoming in The Journal, Mid-American Review, 32 Poems, American Literary Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, The Rumpus, Sou’wester, Moon City Review, and more. She also edited the anthology, Till The Tide: An Anthology of Mermaid Poetry (Sundress Publications, 2015). You can find more of Trista’s writing at Luna Luna Magazine and at her blog, Marvel + Moon.

Linda Boroff

2016, Fiction

MIGHTY

Despite their chronic financial turmoil, my parents always scraped together the money to send me to summer camp, innocently assuming that I looked forward to this two-week ordeal of rejection, bullying, and failure. Setting them straight loomed as a humiliating exposure that might earn me a shrinking, and so I played along every year, smiling through my dread.

By my thirteenth summer, though, all doors had suddenly opened; all hopes became possibilities, and I departed for camp in a rare state of optimism. Our dad, an obsessive entrepreneur, had concocted a waterproof cement paint that solved one of civilization’s peskiest if not profoundest challenges—the leaky basement. He named his breakthrough Mighty Mix. By sealing the pores in concrete, Mighty Mix could turn a dank and dripping subterranean dungeon into a dry and cozy haven.

So momentous was Mighty Mix that Dad was sure the giant Sherwin Williams paint company would quickly see its potential, buy the patent, and manufacture it by the industrial tubful. Success was so certain, so inevitable that we knew it had to become reality.

That summer, my sister Emily and I wandered through hardware stores, gazing at Sherwin Williams paint cans the way future movie stars gazed at theater marquees. The Sherwin Williams theme was “Cover the Earth.” The logo was a dollop of crimson paint, hurled down on the North Pole by a mighty Hand, with nation-sized drips falling off at the equator.

Backed by Sherwin Williams, Mighty Mix would soon take its place in the pantheon of American business legends beside Ford, Holiday Inns, Disneyland, and McDonald’s. We would pay off the mortgages on our house and keep the lights and phone on forever. In fact, all of our debts would instantly vanish, especially those to family, which caused the worst of the fighting.

Emily and I had always known that our dad was a genius. Had he not tamed a red squirrel that lived in his shirt pocket while he fought forest fires in the Civilian Conservation Corps? And had he not gone on to pilot a B-24 Liberator in the Pacific, bringing his crew safely through direct hits and feathered props and belly landings?

When I was nine years old, dad built us an eight-foot-tall kite and sent it soaring aloft before an audience of gawking kids, waving its majestic tail of Howdy Doody bedsheets. Out of sight, the mighty giant pulled ferociously, tethered by its hot, singing cord. The littlest among us were not even allowed to fly it lest they be carried off, or their skinny arms yanked from their sockets.

Hours later, wearing my father’s huge, fur-lined leather paws, I tugged the monster down from the stratosphere inch by inch. When it hove into view, the kids all screamed and applauded. The kite dove and plunged in its battle for freedom, before finally settling to the ground as gently and harmlessly as a maple leaf. This kite alone proved that my father could do anything.

So how was it that he could not make a living?

I can still see his characteristic jaunty stride, a pilot’s swagger that I spent hours trying to emulate. He was tall and handsome, with curly blond hair and a wicked sense of humor. Anyone who could begin a mission from which he might not return by bellowing “Good morning, Mister Sun!” from the cockpit had to be capable of miracles. In the war’s heady aftermath, he had married my mother, a curvy, mercurial partisan with the dark mane and carmine lips of a pinup.

On both sides, our family was a microcosm of America’s cheery desperation, its stampede toward prosperity and away from war, with its rationing and scrimping. Now, poverty was no longer the fault of the stock market or politics. Poverty was the fault of oneself.

The bill collectors used to call around dinnertime. My mother would rise to answer, swallowing her food quickly: he had just stepped out. A payment was on its way, or else lost in the mail. My father’s older brother Maurice, now a wealthy contractor, had tried to loan us $3,000 on the sneak, but Maurice’s wife, a legendary cheapskate, had throttled the truth out of him.

“Your aunt Adelyn went to the bank the minute it opened,” said my mother, her green eyes narrow with rage. “She told them that if they honored that check, she would close their whole business account. So they turned your father away.”

In the library, I discovered a copy of Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality. The book was fiendishly difficult, but I labored by the hour to decode it. Someone with Rousseau’s credentials should be able to explain why there was such injustice in the world; why undeserving arrogance earned praise and rewards, while my father, who was so smart and generous, could not even get by. And why he had recently taken to swallowing pills, lying on the sofa semiconscious night after night, buffeted by waves of canned laughter from the sitcoms.

My father had taught himself to play the harmonica and the ukulele. When we were small, he had serenaded us to sleep with achingly sad ballads of lonely cowpokes who fell in with evil companions, filled their romantic adversaries full of lead, and fell to a ranger’s gun amid mesquite and thick chaparral, whatever that was. And women were usually the cause of it all. My sister and I vowed never to join that perfidious sorority of barroom floozies. Honorary boys, we watched the Friday Night Fights, built a treehouse, raised reptiles.

The summer I turned thirteen, however, my boyish pose seemed to be ending in obvious and embarrassing ways. The path to womanhood lay through perilous terrain defined by Seventeen Magazine; it might as well have led through the nine levels of Dante’s Inferno for all the hope I felt.

I had known since preschool that I had the pick-on-me pheromone. Not only did I attract bullies the way Hollywood attracts starlets, I seemed to have the magical ability to transform even the most passive, churchy kid into a snide little sadist.

Apparently, this summer was to be no exception. Once at camp, I plummeted like a rock to the bottom of the social hierarchy. On the second day, my three new cabin mates collaborated to draw my portrait, entitled “Stinky,” on the bathroom mirror in my toothpaste. I didn’t make the Water Ballet Corps, but was dumped instead into the Dog Paddle Squad. While we rejects flailed away in the leech-laden muck close to shore, the little naiads of the Corps practiced their synchronized routines out in sparkling blue water above their heads, wearing shiny yellow bathing suits, twirling huge hoops and tasseled wands.

It didn’t matter, I told myself. This summer, I had two allies to defend and elevate me: Sherwin Williams, the most powerful paint company on earth; and Sullivan, my camp horse.

Sullivan was mine because nobody else wanted to ride him. He was a huge, irritable redhead, seventeen hands tall; a kindred problem child with whom I instantly bonded. He didn’t care that my teeth were crooked and my hair a shapeless mat the color and texture of rusty steel wool. Sullivan was a noble ally, commanding respect for his sheer bulk and power, his rich smells and snorts. Though appealingly needy, he could kill if he got mad enough. I liked that dichotomy a lot.

Every day, I would escape my cabin mates’ relentless bullying and hurry down a narrow path through baking, drooping evergreens to the camp stables. There, for two dollars, I could cling to Sullivan’s gleaming neck for a blessed hour. Anguish fled. I didn’t bother with a saddle or even a bridle; I didn’t care where I went or if I died. Sullivan followed the trail strictly by his choice. He was bred to lead, a broken-winded thoroughbred who could still leave those other nags in the dust.

When he ran, his flaming mane became mine. My nether half was no longer a crampy, bony pelvis with white legs sticking out of their ballooning bermuda shorts like soda straws. On Sullivan, I pounded the earth with steely hooves; reared magnificently, pawing the air. I bolted free and drank the wind, the clouds skimming above, the earth unreeling below.

One morning, while signing up for my ride I was summoned to the camp administrator’s office. “Your account is out of money,” she said. She had short graying hair and small angry eyes of no particular color. “So you can’t ride any more this session.” I stared. “Your parents put twenty dollars in your account, and you’ve gone through it in under a week.” She extended a pile of receipts.

“They’ll pay you when camp is over.”

“We can’t allow that. Didn’t your parents ever teach you how to budget?” I begged to call home, and she reminded me that the phone was for emergencies only.

“This is an emergency,” I pleaded. She rolled her eyes and granted me access with a dismissive wave. Minnesota was not known for its tender hearts in those days, least of all toward spendthrifts.

“That’s all we have,” said my mother. “We had to borrow the money for camp from my brother. You can live without candy bars.”

“But it’s for horseback riding.”

“Well, ask them if you can clean the stalls in exchange.” My silence must have felt like an accusation. “Brenda, you can’t just have everything you want. We’re going through very hard times.”

“Can’t Sherwin Williams give us some money in advance?”

“What’s the matter with you? Plenty of things are free. Go swimming.”

Despondent, I walked to the stables anyway, though they now seemed as inaccessible as Seventeen Magazine’s prom night fashion gala in New York. Campers plodded around the corral, oblivious to the seething brew of envy and contempt straddling the fence. Worst of all, Sullivan, my Sullivan was saddled and bridled, ridden by a doughy stranger who kicked him in the flanks and whined to the counselor, “He won’t go! He’s lazy.”

I tasted bile.

“Try squeezing him with your knees,” I shouted from my wicked perch. The girl obediently grimaced. Sullivan whinnied, charged and leaped the fence, and was gone in a staccato of hoofbeats worthy of Wild Bill Hickock. It took nearly half an hour to round him up. That nobody was hurt was “a miracle,” and I was thereafter barred from the stables. The camp was now going to marginalize and warehouse me, run out my time.

“Can’t I just exercise the horses?” I begged the riding counselor. She narrowed her leathery eyelids as if at a horse thief and shook her head.

“Can I clean the stalls? I’ll do it for free.”

“No,” she said and turned her hindquarters on me and walked away.

“How come?” I ran after her.

“S’ the rules.”

My nemesis. Rules existed to limit and torment a person; to make sure that dire consequences ensued any time you were unfortunate or defiant. Rules were why I dared not silence my demonic cabin mates, Anne, Jane and Kate.

“You’re bigger and stronger,” said one of my few sympathizers. “Don’t be afraid. Just beat ‘em up and they’ll leave you alone.” But it was not fear that immobilized me while they tied my sheets in wet knots and poured tadpoles into my water glass in the night. It was my certainty that if I ever did start hitting them, I would not be able to stop.

Days later, I watched the chosen few depart on the coveted horseback overnight, 24 splendid hours of uninterrupted equine companionship. Sullivan shuffled past me, a resigned drone. My tears turned him into a bobbing auburn blob against the fading sky, shingled with cirrus. Soon, night would close in, primal, loud and dark. Amid the croaking and chirping, Sullivan’s interloper rider would lie in her tent, sore between the legs with that good horse pain. My pain. My horse. And only money kept us apart; how I craved and hated it. Wide-eyed in my bunk, I pondered how lack of money ruined everything, even my love for Sullivan and my parents’ love for each other.

The day after the horseback overnight, I awakened to the realization that the session was nearing its end at last. A briskness and relief were in the air. The water show, “Splash Capades” was in final dress rehearsal; lunch arrangements were in full swing for arriving families. Our dog paddle squad, the Mud Puppies, had created a lame routine in which everyone could tell that we were really walking on the bottom instead of swimming. The camp was also putting together a newspaper, a cabin-by-cabin review of activities and insights.

“Brenda,” said our counselor, Trudy. “Why don’t you write about our cabin for the camp newspaper? Tell how we’ve gotten to know each other, the things we’ve done together, stuff like that.”

“Why do I have to do it?”

“Because nobody else wants to. Just drop it at the camp office when you’re done.”

When I arrived with my article, the crabby male-of-all-trades, Axel the Axe Murderer, was already assembling the newspapers.

“About time,” he said. “You’re the last, so you’ve got to type it yourself. And hurry up because I can’t wait around here all day.” Whatever intelligence Axel had did not manifest in literary interest. He grabbed my typed article, glued it unread to a larger sheet, and mimeographed it onto tabloid-sized paper. As each issue emerged, he folded and placed it atop a stack.

On the last day of camp, I returned from breakfast to find my cabin mates staring at me as if I were radioactive.

“Thanks a lot, Stinky,” said Jane.

“Thanks for making us look like a bunch of idiots,” said Ann.

“There’s nothing funny about Ann throwing up her s’mores,” said Kate.

“And I did not eat six of them,” said Ann.

“You did too,” I said.

“Well anyone who has nothing better to do than count s’mores is a loser.”

“You told where I found that wood tick on me,” said Jane. “You’re a pervert.”

“And we did not make you drink tadpoles,” said Kate.

“I didn’t drink them willingly.”

“We ought to beat you up,” said Kate.

“Try it.”

“You made Trudy cry,” said Ann. “I hope that makes you real, real happy.”

“Writing something funny that hurts a lot of people is mean,” said Jane, whose nickname for me was Jewpot.

“Just because we teased you a little,” said Kate, “you had to go and ruin all our memories.”

Trudy may have been crying, but the rest of the camp was roaring with laughter. That everybody found my article so funny they read it out loud to each other all through lunch was no comfort. I felt the worst that I had all session.

When I wandered out to the stables to say goodbye to Sullivan, the tyrannical gatekeeper of a riding counselor, as if released from a spell, came running out to greet me with a hug.

“You’re the only one who came to say goodbye to me,” she said, her eyes filling with tears. “Makes you wonder sometimes, people just take and take.” We found Sullivan, and I held his heavy, nippy head close, inspecting the hairs of his muzzle, his whuffy velvet nose and horseteeth and eyelashes, sealing him in my memory.

“Why you’re even pickin’ the stuff out of his eye,” said the counselor. “Now there’s a girl really loves horses.” She grinned and mussed my hair.

After the Splash Capades show was over, I found my family. My sister ran ahead of my parents and drew me off to one side.

“Sherwin Williams fell through,” she said.

I looked up at the canopy of trees waving in a light, hot breeze and imagined something mortally wounded hurtling earthward, hitting branches on its way down and crashing dead at our feet.

What had to be, was not to be, after all. Around me, the wooden bungalows were unaltered; campers and their families strolled and chattered just as they had a moment before, but nevertheless, the world had changed. My dad, hurrying toward me with arms outstretched, looked the same too, but he was not, and he never again sent his dreams soaring like a giant kite.
What awaited us now was not prosperity and a place in the American canon of success, but something very different. As the years passed, Sherwin Williams continued to cover the earth, but Mighty Mix was destined to cover only our own porous and in the end, very permeable dreams.

______________________________________

Linda Boroff graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in English. Her writing has appeared in Gawker, McSweeney’s, The Guardian, Epoch, Prism International, Cimarron Review, Hobart, Word Riot, Blunderbuss, Fiction Attic Press, Able Muse, and others. Her novella, A Season of Turbulence, was published in The Conium Review.

Katie Young Foster

2016, Fiction

BABYMOON

The idea of taking a trip was suggested to me by coworkers. I needed a place to be alone with my body before I gave birth. The whole office voted. You’ll want a swamp, or a carriage ride, they said. A cemetery. Some fish. They settled on New Orleans for my trip. A babymoon would bump-start the natural, pain-filled birth of my child.

My coworkers bought me a gift card for gas and took over my files, then sent me away with a cake that was shaped like a rattle. During the drive, I imagined the tourists, people like me: women wearing tube tops, men with sunburned necks, their bucket hats floating down streets strewn with beads. Good luck with your baby, they’d say, toasting me with spiked lemonade. I wanted to stay away from that part of town. My coworkers had warned me, and I had agreed: I needed to relax my mind and my pelvis.

My mother met me at the AirBnB north of downtown. She’d been tracking me on her phone. I tried to send her away, but she parked her SUV between the stilts of the house. I explained to her my intentions—preparation, solitude. My mother clasped her hands, silent, respecting my wish to appear alone. My coworkers’ words came back to me: Retreat to newness! to nature! Congrats! They’d written it on my card. I reclined in the front seat of the car and massaged my belly, prodding the foot, or the butt, or the forehead of the person inside me.

“Please leave,” I said.

My mother shook her head, mimed: family trip. She had invited my brother and my partner along. My brother hulked in the yard with his Legos, drooling, eating plots of moss off the steps. My partner leaned in through the open car window and slicked icing from the cake. Happy baby, the frosting read. Soon, only—y bab.

That evening, I walked through the streets of the Big Easy. The air was humid. Jazz sprayed from the doors of neighborhood bars. Pigeons collected on roof slats, shuffling as my family shuffled after me, keeping their distance. They were letting me be alone for the last time in my life. My partner stared longingly at souvenirs displayed in shop windows. My brother threw Legos into the gutters. When they stopped for beignets without me, I circled back. We drank café au laits on the riverfront.

Two days passed before it became clear that silence wasn’t helping. I remembered newness and nature. I remembered retreat. With my unspoken consent, my mother took charge. She filled the last days of my babymoon with excursions, and dragged me along—a cemetery tour, a voodoo tour, a tour of the WWII Museum. I played Billy Cuffles, an orphan. I wandered past guns and wall hangings, my ID on a lanyard, scanning Billy’s story onto screens. I got married. I was drafted. I died in a raid in North Africa, the last one alive.

My coworkers set up a video chat. They wanted to know if I’d gone into labor. No, I said, and showed them my belly. Just moon here, no baby. They laughed and saluted my gibbous middle with coffee, then reported on the office’s state of affairs—a botched account, flowers from clients, the weekly crossword they’d laid on my desk, half-started. The secretary showed me a crib he’d made from empty boxes of printer paper. They were ready for me to return with my fetus-turned-child.

I panned around the AirBnB, showing them the couch and a view of the city. It was morning, the last day of my trip. My coworkers were alarmed to see my mother, my brother, and my partner eating bagels outside, enjoying the muggy porch air.

“What are they doing there?” my coworkers whispered. “Have you spent time alone?Visited swamps? Eaten fish?”

“No say,” I said.

My mother overheard and pulled out her phone. She booked a boat tour and packed up our bags. She drove us south of the city, across the bridge, to a small fishing village. We climbed onto a pontoon captained by a man with a backpack. My mother had chosen the boat for its bathroom, a small door attached to the stern.

We sped across the water, passing cypress trees and bayous. Spanish moss hung from tall branches. Oil rigs girded the swamp. From under the wheel, the captain drew out a fist-sized hook on a line. He brought out the skin of a gator and its claws.

“Gator hunting,” he said. “With permits.”


“Permits,” we echoed.


The captain pulled the pontoon alongside an abandoned gas line. Four gators were sunning on logs, ridged and alien. The captain idled the motor and pulled a bag of marshmallows from his pack. He tossed the puffy candy-pillows into the water. The gators snapped and made frothy waves; they were six-feet long and growing.


My family crouched at the helm and took pictures. I sat on the pontoon’s padded bench, alone. We were waiting for the captain to fish out a gator, but he stowed the hook in his backpack and beamed at us.


“Ladies’ room,” I said loudly, but my family wasn’t listening. I rose and tried to enter the door at the stern. The captain stepped in my path. He had a dimple in his left cheek, and his nose was off-center.


“Occupied,” he said.

“I have to pee,” I insisted, and knocked on the door. No answer.

The captain shrugged. He wedged open the door and allowed me to peek. A gator the size of my forearm was sprawled on the floor. The captain knelt and pulled the baby out by the tail. He placed it on his shoulder, a jewel-eyed parrot, its jaw a small trap.


“All yours,” he said.


I entered the bathroom and peed. A wet spot stained the floor where the gator had rested.


When I emerged from the bathroom, my brother had taken over the marshmallow bag. He was chucking the marshmallows into the water, shrieking, running laps on the deck. Gators swarmed the pontoon. The captain was passing the baby gator around to the tourists. They held up its body and smiled for pictures.


“The captain just wants us to tip him,” my partner said in my ear. I jumped back.


My brother snagged the gator hook from the captain’s backpack. He clasped the hook to my belt.


“Your turn!” my mother told me. She was cradling the baby, cooing, rocking it.


“Newness,” I reminded my family. I drew a circle in the air to indicate the personal space that they’d violated. “Nature.”


“Yes, we know,” my mother said, tugging the line that hung from my belt. “Retreat.”

When she passed the gator to me, I held it over the water. Its family circled below—uncles, second-cousins. The gator’s scales prickled my skin. It opened and closed its mouth, wanting to be fed. The baby in my stomach gave a small kick.

The captain held up his phone. My family leaned in.

________________________________________

Katie Young Foster 
grew up in the Sandhills of Nebraska. She is an M.F.A. candidate and the 2016-17 Creative Writing Fellow at the Curb Center at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Master’s Review Anthology, Smokelong Quarterly, and Cowboy Jamboree. In 2015, her work received an Honorable Mention from the Zoetrope All-Story Short Fiction contest.

Andrew Dally

2016, Poetry

ERROR: ‘HERON’ BEING HERONS

If a gray heron unzips her gray sky.

                        & &

A gaunt heron undresses time.

                        & &

A bare heron bisects the windshield
that flattens our round lives.

                        & &

Like a biplane banking
along American beaches, a heron
drags her emaciated legs across August
bannering
       two-for-ones,    
           ladies’ nights,
         nickel shots,
           the happiest wind-wrecked hours.

                         & &

Then it’s true: there is only one heron and she starves
herself in storm pipes along turnpikes.

It is true: there is only one heron and she withers
in the water feature between holes eleven and fifteen.

It is true: there is only one heron and she stalks
the frames of online videos, bobbing for prey.

                         & &

It is true: there is only one heron and I counted

each smallmouth that writhed in her taut jaws,
was a bulge descending the long letter
of her neck and absent as the only heron
arranged her body for disappearing and


NOT THE HERO WE NEED, BUT ETC. 

Patina of useless metadata hugging
the surface of the actual or else

the image resolving itself atop the river
of binaries on which it drifts.

Or a leafy beetle
ups and dies upon an open page

of a magazine forgotten in the grass.
He will be carried off-screen by the ants,

who in their swarming, rearrange and rewrite
a poem by Alice Notley. In some versions

they get it all wrong. In some versions
perfection is pheromonal and fleeting.

The ants are always set in Garamond.
They say an uncertain percentage of insects

will die of old age. We are over halfway through
the top ten reasons people are still writing

in couplets.

How can trends be emergent in a medium mostly dead?
Do we blame green-screened blockbusters

about speedy green algorithms or Roman fingers
combing the gold from their wavy wheat?

We might blame Baudrillard,
but then we might have to read Baudrillard.

We had too much time on our hands
and not enough time to do anything with it.

_________________________

Andrew Dally lives in Oxford, MS, where he writes software and poems. He recently had two poems in Blunderbuss Magazine. 

Leslie Marie Aguilar

2016, Poetry

SILENT ASTRONOMER

When I ask my sweetheart to fill my chest with light, he shifts his weight from one leg to the other & cups a bulb buried in the furthest lamp of our bedroom. His hands cradle the warmth like the way he tries to balance my head in his arms the night I am too much with the world & collapse on the bathroom floor—bursting the blood vessels beneath my eyes, howling at vaulted ceilings, calling out toward constellations with names I cannot remember. He coaxes me with imagined crowns made of gold & places the braided rings around my head, turning the worry in my mind to a seafoam green that splashes softer against my skull.
                                                                                                                        But about the light, he carries it slowly. Afraid to let any of the energy escape before it makes its way beneath my chest plate & into the space where a heart muscle is / should be / was / will be —. My sweetheart is a healer with delicate hands that gather silver threads from the air above our bed & weave them together to create a veil. It covers my eyes so that I can rest, can grieve, can be alone with the feeling that all the stars are slipping away, that the heart words are failing, that I am too much with & without, that my body aches. But my skull expands beyond these silver borders. Ready to carve new boundaries. Ready to draw new maps. Ready to find vibrant ways of shouting, I am angry / sad / lonely / grieving for a life made more terrifying by the ordinary.


TESTAMENT

I let out a laugh that played backwards might sound like a moan or the sound a fatherless child might make, but my father isn’t dead. So, I laugh as an insult to the god who wears aviator headphones & a distressed denim jacket. The god with a perfect man bun that lilts as he walks along pedestrian crossings & ignores all means of answering my calls. I’m beginning to wonder if praying is a bit like dating. If so, I’m out of practice. I imagine prayers as brass arrows shooting through the holes in my ears—reason enough for a man to ignore a woman. Fear of penetration. Fear of blood. If I’m listening correctly, god is a static signal that radiates from distant stars & is just as explosive. His love is like asking for a favor & getting a black hole in return.


RETROGRADE

I’m grieving for another past life left dancing in the street across from a parking garage, down the street from a dive bar, caddy-corner to a Farm-to-Table restaurant. I’m remembering the past few months in five hundred words or less. Afraid to wean off the wolf teat that feeds me in my dreams. I’m unsure of what I’m doing without a parade of four-legged animals leading me up flights of stairs. Toward shelves of books I haven’t read. The six extra pounds gathered around my ribs are making it harder to breath. I tell the whiskered silhouettes. But the weight looks like another body pressed against my abdomen, clawing its way out. The animals wait. They speak in a language like a whisper, offer me bits of honeycomb for my belly, & suggest I give birth to a mended self already.

________________________

Leslie Marie Aguilar originally hails from the heartland of Texas. She has served as the Poetry Editor of Indiana Review and received her MFA from Indiana University. Her work has been supported by the National Society of Arts and Letters and the Fine Arts Work Center. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Bellingham Review, Callaloo, Ninth Letter, Rattle, Sonora Review, and Southern Indiana Review among others. She is the author of Mesquite Manual (New Delta Review, 2015).

Anna Doogan

2016, NonFiction

HEART(LANDS)

Jen says, “Hearts aren’t even really shaped like this. They’re lumpier, with veins.”

We color valentines on the cream-colored carpet in my room. I glue red tinfoil hearts onto a doily, then wait for the glue to dry so that I can peel it off my fingertips. Twenty-six down and five to go. I add to the pile.

“And it’s not even in the middle,” she continues. She points to a valentine I’ve made. A person with a rainbow heart shining out of their chest. “It’s over on the side more.”

I just shrug and keep coloring, then fold my valentines into a brown paper bag to take to school.

My misshapen, mislaid hearts.

So I learned early on that the heart is deceptive.

 

On the playground with the girls at school, I chant my allegiance to seal friendships. We whisper the most solemn of promises.

Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.

We trace our fingertips across our small chests, invisible X’s over hearts.

I wonder why we mark loyalty with pain.

Maybe it’s because pain feels like the ultimate self-sacrifice.

 

In third grade, the woman who lives next door to us has wrinkled hands and bakes strawberry pies. She grows lilies in her side garden, and the veins bulging in her legs are thick and tangled. I can see her working in her backyard from my bedroom window.

“She’s a witch, you know,” my friend Karen says, flipping through a comic book on my bed.

“No she isn’t.” I don’t know for sure, but I don’t want to be scared.

Karen joins me at the window, our faces pressed closer to the glass.

“Well, I think she is.”

Goosebumps start prickling on my skin, and my chest pounds.

Karen smirks at me from the side of her mouth. “Maybe she eats children. Maybe she’ll cast a spell on you while you’re sleeping.”

But the woman’s just weeding her garden, on her knees in the summer dirt. I stare at her, imagining my skin in her teeth.

“She probably has a cauldron in there,” Karen whispers, her lips almost touching my ear now. “She probably has a big black stone in her chest instead of a heart.”

I don’t say anything more, but we watch until the woman finally goes back inside, a basket of potatoes slung over one arm.

A week later I see her in the garden again, her back to me this time. Three monarch butterflies hovering near her.

Monarch wings escaping from her chest.

Who’s to say what’s in someone else’s heart, anyway? Maybe cold black stones or butterflies.

 

When people say their heart breaks, I think of fractured lines and cracks. Not fleshy and muscular and pulsing with blood like a real heart, but something more fragile, like an egg.

In Kindergarten I took a porcelain egg to school for show and tell. I held it in my lap as we sat in the circle. Lavender and red and gold, flecks of light and magic. The kids passed it around, one at a time, until a boy dropped it and it shattered like glass. All bits of eggshell, splintered and smashed across the carpet, some of the pieces still in his hands.

My teacher swooped in, scooped up the broken pieces with her hands. She had a long dark braid, played guitar and sang us songs like “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain.” She smelled of lavender and soap and earth.

“We’ll fix it.”

That day while the other kids napped, she sat with me as we glued the shattered pieces onto cardboard, into a mosaic that looked like a starburst. Transformed into a work of art. We hung it on the wall, and the parents murmured and nodded when they saw it hanging as they stuffed their children into jackets and boots at the end of the day.

I want a heart like a porcelain eggshell.

A heart that even when broken splinters into something more beautiful than what it was before.

 

Grad school in Southern California, and the sky is creamsicle orange when the sand starts to cool. I’m sitting against the sea wall, watching the moon glow over the ocean.

Tonight, red rose petals are sprinkled over the sand nearby. A man leads a blindfolded woman by the hands. He’s made a ring of candles on the beach, a picnic in a basket. He leads her to the middle of the ring of candles and the breeze blows a tiny tornado of rose petals against her skirt.

He takes the blindfold off and she bursts into tears.

“Why? Why would you do this? It’s over. I told you it was over.”

There’s silence between them, almost drowned out by the waves of the ocean. I press my back against the wall, wish for sunset to hide me in the shadows, embarrassed to be catching the echoes of their intimacy.

She walks away across the sand, leaves him standing there in the flames.

“Where’s your heart?” he shouts at her back. The hoarseness in his screaming lungs like skinned knees and it makes me cringe. “What happened to your fucking heart?!”

As if you can somehow just misplace it.

I imagine lost hearts spread all across the world suddenly, left accidentally on park benches and countertops, with keys and checks to deposit.

Where is that fucking heart?

We both watch her walk off into darkness, rose petals scattering across the sand. Breadcrumbs to remind him of her misplaced heart.

 

When my son was born, my chest stretched so that it could make room for my expanding heart. It tumbled there inside of ribs, thumped out a new territory of space to hold all of the love.

The week before my daughter was born, I held my round belly with my hands and called my mom on the phone. Late July, and three full baskets of ripe plums on the counter from the tree in the yard.

“I can’t imagine being more in love than this. Like, splitting my love between two,” I say.

My mom has four kids. I think of her just then holding a four leaf clover, slicing her heart into four equal quarters to pass around.

She laughs.

“You’ll see. You think your heart can’t reach anymore, but it does.”

Inside my belly, my daughter’s unborn heartbeat is wild, a galloping horse.

 

My mom had bleeding hearts in the garden when I was growing up. Tiger lilies, Black-Eyed Susans, roses in varying shades. The bleeding hearts were my favorite, the way they dripped from the stems like jewels. The way their name felt both magical and dangerous.

I plucked the buds and gently peeled them, turning the petals into two rabbits, then a pair of slippers, then earrings, the way a friend had taught me. There was a rhyming song that went along with peeling the blooms apart. I’ve long since forgotten.

A friend gave me a plant a few years ago as a gift.

“Dicentra for you,” she said. I realized as I took it in my hands that it was a bleeding heart, and I replanted it in the garden.

It made me happy to see it there, the dangling pink buds, the slope of the stem. Nostalgia from my mom’s garden. Forgotten rhymes and rabbits.

That plant came up year after year, even when other seeds didn’t make it. Always forcing its way up through the ground.

 

I search for information on superstitions of the heart. Swallow a chicken heart whole to bring true love. Pierce the heart of a pigeon to send a curse. Carry heart-shaped rocks in your pockets for luck.

Everybody has an answer for something.

My daughter comes to me at breakfast one morning.

“I made up a new rhyme for cross my heart,” she says. She has on a red tutu, a silver unicorn charm on a chain. “Better than the old one. You know, about—a needle in your eye.”

“Oh, right.” Playground promises. I sip my coffee. “Let’s hear it.”

She clears her throat.

“Cross my heart, hope to fly, smash a cupcake in my eye.”

I tilt my head and consider it. “Hmm.”

It’s still not particularly appealing, but better than jamming a needle into your eye. And the thought of flying is always nice.

I take another sip of coffee.

“Yours is definitely better.”

She nods and twirls off down the hallway to her room, little dancing feet.

 

A raised red scar winds down my grandmother’s chest, curving towards her breasts.
She called it a pig heart because it made us laugh. When we were older, she explained that one valve was replaced with a porcine valve.

“Grandma has a pig heart,” we’d tell everyone.

When my mom and I drove to visit her in the hospital after the surgery, I held the map while my mom navigated looping mountain roads lined with spruce and white pine.

My grandma and I still played Scrabble on Saturday afternoons after that, and when she bent forward over the board to place letters, my eyes always wandered to the raised scar on her chest, wondering what it felt like to be cut that way.

I wondered if her heart felt different.

What happens when part of your heart is just gone?

There’s an old framed photograph of my grandmother. Younger, standing on the beach in Atlantic City. Smiling in a swimsuit. I look at her smooth chest in the photo, wonder if she ever thought that a red scar would slash across her heart one day.

I look down at my body, my heart, wonder what scars I’m still waiting for.

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Anna Doogan is a writer, dancer, and mother of three. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Hip Mama, MUTHA Magazine, The Literary Kitchen, Arcadia Magazine‘s Online Sundries, and Threadcount Magazine. Her short story “Fires” was the 1st Place winner of the Hip Mama/Unchaste Readers Writing Contest in 2015. She lives in Portland, Oregon.