Adam Tavel

2016, Poetry


Sometimes when I’m winding the orange
extension cord around my arm I hear them
chatting about weather while they dress
down the hall. Once I heard weeping
and found my male lead, nude in a puddle
of tears and snot, lacing his boots
cross-legged on the floor, still hard.
This basement hears two thousand
species of moan. Each shoot’s sheets
bleach whiter than poached tusks.
When my wife surrenders, snoring
inside her sleep mask, I slip inside
my laptop headphones to edit out
the whispered lines I fed, my easy
implausibilities no one can remember.


              for Jacob Quaker

We hunched inside the boathouse floodlight glare
to measure what we caught. Thin gills fluttered
like tissue paper by an open door.
Eighteen inches. A keeper. You squished its head
inside the clamp atop the butcher board
and sunk your point until you felt the snare
of bone. I watched as crisscross shadows bled
rosy down your hands, nephew, and on guts
you flung across the grass. Though dull, the blade
filleted straight through the tail. The gray wet meat
you held up to the jack-o-lantern light
rinsed white inside our pail. Your grisly feat
complete, I flipped the fish no rainbow made.
No pupil now, I knelt to bear the knife.


Adam Tavel is the author of Plash & Levitation (University of Alaska Press, 2015), winner of the Permafrost Book Prize in Poetry, and The Fawn Abyss (Salmon Poetry, 2016). His recent poems appear, or will soon appear, in Poetry Daily, Crazyhorse, Ecotone, Meridian, Southwest Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, The Gettysburg Review, Tar River Poetry, and Sixth Finch, among others. He is a professor of English at Wor-Wic Community College and the reviews editor for Plume. You can find him online at


Fall 2016

Photo Credit: Decayed Aspen Leaf in B&W by Shaun Fisher | Cover Design: Sebastian Paramo


Leslie Marie Aguilar
John Andrews
José Angel Araguz
Emily Rose Cole
Will Cordeiro
Andrew Dally
Trista Edwards
Nicole Homer
Monica Lewis
Katie Longofono
Ashley Mares
Nicole Santalucia
Adam Tavel
Terrell Jamal Terry
Jennifer Whalen
Theodora Ziolkowski


Linda Boroff
Katie Young Foster
Brynne Rebele-Henry


Anna Doogan
Greg Marshall


Katie Young Foster

2016, Fiction


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.

Kyle Vaughn

2016, Poetry


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.


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.

Darren C. Demaree

2016, Poetry


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.

James Dulin

2016, Poetry

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.

Joe Milazzo

2016, Poetry


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

Danny Judge

2016, NonFiction



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Joseph Alan Hasinger

2016, Fiction


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.






















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