Categories
FALL 2012

FALL ISSUE V

POETRY

Emily Bonner
Sally J Johnson
Scott Keeney
Dallas Lee
Thomas Lux
George Moore
Sergio Ortiz
Joanna C. Valente
Robert Wexelblatt
Changming Yuan

FICTION

Lindsey Harding
Sarah Sorensen

NONFICTION

Karen Dietrich
Matthew Zanoni Müller

 

 

cover photo: carly susser

Categories
FALL 2012 Poetry

Thomas Lux

THERE’S A WORD FOR IT

When it rains on a dry garden, there’s a word
for the smell that results.
The word itself is not aromatherapy,
not to my ear.
The oily essence released is.
A word made from stone and the blood of gods,
if gods have blood.
It’s not a tasty word, not a word first for the mouth.
Not for my mouth.
I loved the smell.
I lived in a house surrounded by cornfields
and we needed the rain and when it did rain
we were glad for the silage it provided,
but no one ever said: Smell that!
No one said: Note the ozone notes,
the hint of cedar, and fresh grass stains.
Corn’ll stand up stiffer tomorrow, someone did say.
I’m glad there’s a word for it,
even though the theorists said language can’t
be trusted, (Oh where, oh where, did the theorists go/
I think I know.) I’m very glad
to learn there’s a word for it
though I’ll neither write it
nor ever say it aloud.
I will take it in my mouth, my nose, gulpfuls
with my lungs
until the former ceases to sniff
and the latter fly away
over the brown hills.
_______________________________________

Thomas Lux‘s latest collection is Child Made of Sand, (Houghton Mifflin 2012). Other books include God Particles, The Cradle Place; The Street of Clocks; New and Selected Poems: 1975-1995, a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; The Blind Swimmer: Selected Early Poems: 1970-1975; and Split Horizon, winner of the Kingsley-Tufts Poetry Award. A finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award in Poetry and recipient of three NEA grants and a Guggenheim Fellowship, Lux holds the Bourne Chair in Poetry and directs the McEver Visiting Writers Program at Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

Categories
FALL 2012 Poetry

Changming Yuan

NATURAL CONFRONTATIONS

1/ Seagull

With its sharp wings
Feathered with
The light of thunder
The seabird is cutting open
The curtain of a whole season
Along the borderline
Between the seas and the sky

2/ Swirl

A gossamer-like breeze
Left behind by
A running dog
Tries to strike
The stagnated twilight
All over the city
Before the storm sets in

3/ Sprout

From under
A bulky boulder
Sitting still, meditating
Like a Buddha
A tiny bamboo sprout
Has just broken the earth
Ready to shoot up
Against the entire sky

___________________________

Changming Yuan, 4-time Pushcart nominee and author of Chansons of a Chinaman, grew up in rural China, holds a PhD in English, and currently works as a private tutor in Vancouver; his poetry has appeared in nearly 510 literary publications across 20 countries, including Asia Literary Review, Best Canadian Poetry, BestNewPoemsOnline, Exquisite Corpse, London Magazine, Paris/Atlantic, Poetry Kanto and SAND.

Categories
FALL 2012 Poetry

Dallas Lee

ULTRASOUND

Odd, sitting in a wheelchair waiting
for a push toward God knows what,

thought shrunk to disturbing new sounds.
Ischemic. Carotid. Clotted.

But when an attendant wheels you careening
like a Manhattan cabbie to a technician

with gorgeous red hair who meets your eye,
you growl your larynx free of self-pity

and rise to lie back for the exam like a man.
You feel her drop warm oil at the skin of your throat,

that scroll of responsive flesh that covers
the artery in question like a loose bed sheet.

You watch her long fingers grasp the wand and rub.
Up, down, around. Data audibly pulses.

Each beat of the heart, it’s said, is future
pouring into past. You listen like a child –

not to thump of heart, wind in lungs,
but to ocean, flood, the rush of blood,

your own life’s mortal sigh.
You hear your animal self pass by.

COMMUNION

Scarred by drill and scalpel, plumped by chemo,
my neighbor Tom slumps into a pew,
hands at the shepherd’s crook of his cane.
Our eyes meet before I kneel to pray.

Guilt heats my brow. I’ve not stopped by in weeks.
Born to belief but hardly knowing what to believe,
I’m calmed by the cathedral’s rustling timeworn-ness
and hope that Tom finds solace here.

I think of my father, the Baptist pastor,
who mistrusted images and pageantry
and priests, who believed the truth to be simple
and accessible, who weeks before he died at 91
said to me, “God does not require religion.”
Earlier, I had attended his last Bible class.
“Prayer is beyond defining,” he’d said,
raising a hand as if to touch a thing unseen.
“Beyond words, more like a silence,
a stillness into which comes another.”

Oh, for silence. Cathedrals are built for it,
but I am a windbag pray-er in my head.
Thankfulness and entreaty artlessly tumble.
I watch Tom make the sign of the cross.
In the name of the Father, the Son
and the Holy Spirit . . . Amen.
A comfort, praying with the hands.

Later, Tom will joke about how long it’s been.
“Everything’s changed. All this singing, touching,”
he’ll say. “I miss the solitude of mass.”

But now we rise for the Eucharist –
rise to the beauty, without a doubt.

__________________________________________

Dallas Lee is a writer with a career in various newsrooms (primarily The Associated Press and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) and as a speechwriter and scriptwriter. His poems have appeared in ConnotationPress and are forthcoming from The Cortland Review, SNReview and Mia Magazine. He is the author of The Cotton Patch Evidence, the Story of Clarence Jordan and the Koinonia Farm Experiment (Harper & Row). He’s a native of Graham, Texas, a graduate of Baylor University, and lives in Atlanta with his wife, Mary Carol.

Categories
FALL 2012 Poetry

Scott Keeney

CONCUPISCENT FIRE

1

Fire loves a match head the way dreams
love our skulls when we lay them down
on pillows or sofas or blankets on the floor
in the living room on New Year’s Eve
where we’re always a couple of twenty-
nothings watching PBS’s ten-part documentary
on the history of rock & roll, from its humble
beginnings in the ’50s to Lollapooza
in the ’90s. We have our own classic footage,
Starflower. Kiss me against the kitchen counter,
kiss me to the gurgling Keurig brewing
a Caribou K-cup . How concupiscent is that?
Move me like a cannonball. Ignite me
with your tongue. Wrap me in your hair
like the January sun, in your perfume of flames,
that I may bury my skull in your end of days.

2

Fire doesn’t love anything and dreams just want
to fuck with us. It doesn’t matter where we
sleep or how deep. Holidays are memorable—
so? I’m looking forward to the heyday of
uncreative rock and roll. The way water loves
anything—except when you go to bed
without saying good night to me, it hates that—
proves it’s hard to go through school without
a dream, just as it’s hard to dream without
being tired. The moon is an open road
so let’s ride. Just kidding: you can’t get there
from here, snap. Love is a concupiscent itch
that most of the time can’t be scratched.
For love, it’s best to walk an inconspicuous mile
and leave the huffing and puffing to those
who would rather wave their arms than smile.

_____________________________________

Scott Keeney‘s works have appeared in Columbia Poetry Review, Court Green, Everyday Genius, failbetter, Gobbet, Juked, Mudlark, New York Quarterly, Poetry East, Shampoo, Tinge, UCity Review, and elsewhere.

Categories
FALL 2012 Poetry

Sergio Ortiz

SORTILEGE

Death continued to haunt him,
sniffing his pants without
deciding to give him
the final blow. However,
he looked as if he could
understand the other side
while maintaining a grip
on everyday life, until the
world got sad forever.

________________________________

Sergio Ortiz is a retired educator, poet, painter, and photographer. He has a B.A. in English literature, and a M.A. in philosophy. Flutter Press released his debut chapbook, At the Tail End of Dusk, in October of 2009. Ronin Press released his second chapbook: topography of a desire, in May of 2010. Avantacular Press released his first photographic chapbook: The Sugarcane Harvest, May 2010. He is a three-time nominee for the 2010 and 2011 Sundress Best of the Web Anthology and a 2010 Pushcart nominee.

Categories
FALL 2012 Fiction

Sarah Sorensen

GRACE PERIOD

The house I rent, I used to rent with my gf, but she up and left three months ago. I sort of like its garish, green shutters. I like its large and useless yard. I like that it sits at the end of a dirt road and no one bothers me.

The house has its issues. There are most likely snakes in the crawl space. That’s why Brenda boarded up the door that goes down there. I think about that sometimes now. I wonder if those coils of snakes in the basement are just down there thrashing about, twisting up mice in their unhinged, psychotic jowls. I wonder if they will find some breach in security and come up the stairs. I wonder how many people could be hacked to bits in the space that I have never ever seen and won’t go in. The door is in the bedroom, beside my nightstand. Sometimes there are small noises that I choose to ignore.

I start my days now by making coffee in the French press—Starbucks, the good stuff. Then I exercise for an hour using my Jillian Michaels’ DVDS. (At least the TV and the Blu-Ray were mine. The stand is gone, the couch, the chair, the rugs. But I have the TV.) Then, I read. I read for hours and hours. I read cool guys like Junot Diaz. I read classic stuff like Wuthering Heights. I read the weirdoes, the misfits, the malcontents: Charles Bukowski, Denis Johnson, George Saunders. I read and read. I make more coffee. It’s summer time and all I want to do is spend time with my books, eat pussy and watch The Twilight Zone marathons on Sci-Fi. I don’t have a job; I don’t have any offers; I don’t even have interviews. The loans will come due, but right now, just now, things are okay.

I put in queer porn and masturbate, wondering when I will be able to get out there and get a girl again. I like porn stars that like being porn stars. I like to hear them talk about how it feels good to get paid to be this hot fuck machine and to get all of these gorgeous creatures. I wish I was a fucking porn star—somebody really beautiful. Brenda didn’t tell me that I was beautiful all that much. I watch the stars melt and shudder all over each other. I watch the hard muscles of their strong tattooed arms as they pump and pump. I perform my simulation. I wash the carpet with the same rag and disinfectant as the day before.

I’ve become intimate with the carpet—an old deep green carpet that feels moist. It looks stark against the bright white walls, starker still with almost all of the stuff emptied out of the house. I haven’t brought anybody back here since Brenda. She was such an efficient leaver—blindsided me and took all the stuff in one swoop. I came home and there was my broke down coffee machine with a note on it.

.

There is going to come a day when I get out there again, but this week I haven’t gotten further than my mailbox. I stared down the long dirt road and watched an old pick-up thump through all of the pits and bumps. The flyer in the box said “Vote Berman.” The catalogue was for soy candles. It said “Brenda Farwell or Current Resident.” It felt good to be outside. I looked at the trees, the grass, the dust of the road, felt the sun beating down on me. That must have been Tuesday.

I washed the windows all day Wednesday, just hoping to scrub through the grime and feel that same sunlight. They were coated so thick with dust that it took a lot of paper towels. The glass in the panes is old, frail under the insistent pushing and spraying. There was a cat in the yard, large and grey. It sat watching me. Its eyes followed my swirls and streaks until it grew bored and walked on. The summer light made him look illuminated, a fiber optic cat. I swirled and swirled over the image of him walking past, like I could erase him before he was gone.

The Twilight Zone marathons are better with the clean windows, although the carpet now looks worse. A few episodes in, I switch to porn. I dial the automated service and order soy candles in hazelnut, cotton linens, and cherry jubilee. They cost $36.48. Madison Young masturbates with the Hitachi. I hang up. Shipping takes a week. She’s so beautiful when she comes.

The UPS guy brings the candles. The day is burning hot and both of our faces are steak red. He offers me the box and I sign for it on the digital pad. I take the box into the backyard and open it while sitting in my fold-out lawn chair. I sip my vanilla vodka, watered down with melted ice. The candles smell ok. I line them up on the tray table that my drink is perched on. I take the barbecue lighter from underneath the chair and light them. I down the rest of the vodka and close my eyes.

The phone book has an area that they designate as the area to write in phone numbers. That part just looks like lined paper. I try to draw the girls that Bukowski is writing about. He’s always talking about their legs. My pen traces out a shaky take of a mud flap silhouette. Everything smells like cherry jubilee. I pour the hot wax over the carpet and watch it harden. It chips in little pieces and it stains the stains of the carpet darker. I trace over the mud flap girl outline, holding a wax chip under my nose. I give the girl large dark nipples. Above the image, “Miss Cherry Jubilee 2012: Brenda Farwell.” I put the chip in my mouth and the taste is terrible in a way that I did not expect. I swallow because it seems like the easiest way to avoid tasting it again.

Some people from a religious group stop by. They say that they are not Jehovah’s Witnesses. They say, no, not Mormons either. I let them in. I tell them that there is no furniture to sit on, so they stand awkwardly in the living room. The woman stares at the porn box on the floor. There is nothing of me in my smile. The man holds out a pamphlet. “I’m not much of a reader,” I say. He frowns. Then he sets the pamphlet down on a rather unwieldy stack of books. No one says anything for a while. They leave. From the window, I see them going into my neighbors’ house across the street. My neighbor is smiling warmly and it seems like they are all old friends. My neighbor has likely baked a batch of cookies and consulted with the husband about the children’s interest in joining local sporting teams. I have no curtains, so I just turn my back and sit down on the floor. Today is Tropic of Cancer and cotton linens.

Today is the day. I have gotten dressed in my best jeans and the black tank that makes my boobs look huge. I put on make-up like it can cover every kind of ugly. At first, the car didn’t want to start, but I got it going and I’m ready. The book group at the library is reading a selection of work by Virginia Woolf, and I’m assuming that there will be lesbians there. I imagine showing up and seeing row after row of chairs filled with doe-eyed, red-mouthed women in bright red dresses. Rows of women in cargo shorts, polo shirts and hemp jewelry. Rows of dreads, nose studs, and Bob Marley t-shirts. Rows of mullets and mohawks and faux hawks. My driving is shaky, but I am practically flying down the road because I can’t wait to get there. Just the thought of it sends a dull ache through me. I drive with all of the windows down even though my eyes burn from all of the dirt and dust, even though the tears stream down my face and ruin the makeup.

Today is the day after. More vodka, more lawn chair time, more The Twilight Zone, more Miller and more Madison Young. Bedroom status: empty. Turned out to be nothing but me and four stodgy old women who couldn’t follow the plot of Mrs. Dalloway and didn’t like what the humidity had done to their hair. One of the women, Margaret, complained that the library should air-condition the smokers’ picnic table just outside of the lobby doors. She was wearing a pale pink sweatshirt that read, “Grandma” in scrolling letters, surrounded by embroidered blossoms in pink and purple tones. I laugh as I think of it now, but I may be drunk as well. It is hard to say. More porn, more masturbation, make a sandwich.

Coffee in the French press, fresh fruit from the farmer’s market. It felt good to go out and buy fresh fruit and vegetables. It felt good to bite into a perfect black cherry, that rubbery, taut little fruit. I don’t know what I have in my bank account, but I mailed out all of the bills after shopping first in the farmer’s market, then in town at the used clothing store. And the clerk at the store—Keesha—she was so sweet. When she stood next to me, she smelled like spicy flowers. She said that purple was my best color. I dream and dream of stretching her out on purple satin sheets while I hold the coffee and the cherries in my mouth.

Keesha has a boyfriend. I know this because I waited for her in the parking lot of the used clothing store, my car filled with purple balloons and tulips. Everything smelled sexy like latex and flowers and I knew that I looked good today. A sparrow hopped around on my hood, peeping in admiringly. It made me feel like a fat handsome robin with a big red chest, puffed up and horny. I felt as good as I ever have, maybe better. Keesha, I thought. Keesha. What would it be like to run my tongue down the tight pattern of one of her long long Lisa Bonet braids? What would it feel like to snag them and bite them with my teeth? Keesha. That’s when she appeared and some dude strode up to her and grabbed her hand and put her in his better car, with its loud pumping droning music coming out of a better stereo. My clown car, filled with balloons and the sad pervert smells of latex and sweat. Keesha has a boyfriend.

Apparently, my checks cleared. I’m running out of money fast. The answer? A lawn chair, a barbecue sandwich from Mr. Quick’s and Angels by Denis Johnson. The pagination is off in my copy and I read whole chapters on repeat, with big thick chunks missing in the center. It makes me feel like Johnson would feel on drugs. I get barbecue pork on a few pages, off-brand soda on others. I heard the snakes in the basement last night and wound up vomiting at 3 a.m.

A new porn arrives with Madison Young on the cover. It took three weeks to get here and was accompanied by a handful of bills, some enveloped in a menacing red. The guy that sold me the DVD lives in Florida, a long way from Michigan. Still, three weeks seems like a long time to wait. Her eyes leer at me from the cover and her long strawberry blonde hair looks like some kind of sweet edible taffy, that’s how smooth and slick it is, her hair. I sit down on the carpet that I have stopped cleaning and stroke. The Miller tastes light and bubbly down my throat and I laugh for a minute thinking that just now, just for a second, this is really the life that I want. I stop. The whirr of the wind tousles the leaves on my yard’s only tree. The large grey cat peers in at me from the screen door and scratches on the “Welcome” mat. The snakes don’t thrash and the humid sticky paint shines like lipgloss. I stop and hold my breath and feel my body’s convulsion, a spasm so loud that it drowns everything. I will never be this perfect, this much myself, again.

_____________________________________________

Sarah Sorensen’s work has most recently been published online or in print at Black Heart Magazine, Identity Theory, Apt, Knee-Jerk, The Ear Hustler, Metazen, and Staccato. Her work is forthcoming from Queen City Review. She likes cats, tats, and coffee.

Categories
FALL 2012 Poetry

Joanna C. Valente

THE PILL VERSUS THE SPRINGHILL MINE DISASTER
for Richard Brautigan

Don’t blame me, I only killed
what I could not take care
of.

GISELLE OU LES WILIS

Roy Orbison has been crying
over your girl: her face
shapeless / her ass
hookless. His heart’s
in trochee—going
northwest to Philly /
a house bought—broke
mirror / its chips
pasted on outside
walls ston’d:

mirror the home w/
have’s & have not’s.
He throws a dance
party / watching Giselle
watch the dead killing
the dead / cemetery
built on rock
dancing ’til unborn
’til roots stem air
turning gold into
embers

___________________________________________________

Joanna C. Valente is a MFA candidate in poetry writing at Sarah Lawrence College, where she is also a part-time mermaid. She founded and currently edits Yes, Poetry. She can be found at http://joannavalente.com.

Categories
FALL 2012 Poetry

Sally J Johnson

[i am the universe and i am]

i am the universe and I am expanding   i am taking a brick from my body to leave in the
place of my destruction to tell my kids i stood    i am as strong as the fish odor coming from
the market next door    as pink and new as this house is to me    i am feeling my way across
the floorboards and morse-coding marbles down the drain pipes to tell the tiny trees that
have yet to be to stay in the dirt drinking up my sink water shampoo-swirling excess until
they can be as beautiful as me    as big as a lady who stays up nights to drink constellations of
wine and who wakes with water running out of her skin fast so she can trace the places
where there needs yet to be tears    a woman who wears dirt like a dress to be wed in a
growing girl growing bigger like a bug    like a star    river    mouth    like fear    ripple    snake
like the whole damned place where those things are

SINK

My father holds a towel over my white communion dress. Downstairs our matchy-match
family is wrestling for minutes and itching inside their hand-me-down gowns, suits, and
shoe-shiny shoes. You should have brushed your teeth before the dress: my father’s cigar voice, like a
psalm over the paste-stained porcelain. We look each other in the eye, through the mirror. /
I still taste that mint with Catholic wine, even after years. Guilt tastes like a sick harmony;
clean too close to drinking. / He sets me on my buckled-with-a-bow shoes, says, You can’t tell
me it was your mother’s fault. You are grown in the eyes of God now; he says this and pats my veiled
and tiny head, things can be your fault now.

___________________________________________

Sally J. Johnson is lucky enough to work for a couple of great magazines and live in a pink house with her dog and an avid shoe collector in Wilmington, North Carolina. Her poems can be read in Fogged Clarity and The Laureate.

Categories
FALL 2012 Fiction

Lindsey Harding

HD IMMORTALITY

Bodies buckle in turbulence.  Yellow masks fall and hiss.  Overhead bins spill their contents.  Next to me, a young girl pukes on her orange Converses.  But I’m calm.  I see Fate’s hand in my destiny.  The stewardess didn’t offer me two Cokes to be nice.  She knows I’m a star.  Just like I know what’s happening.

Voices call out, choking and guttural.  They don’t understand.  This is it.  “Listen,” I yell.  Nobody hears me.  But cameras roll somewhere, right?  They’re probably built into the tray tables.  I want viewers to know me.  Crash a plane, see who survives: what a premise. I got all A’s on my report card in eighth grade.  Believe me, I’m not a whiz kid, but I had extrinsic motivation: my own TV.  Mom and Dad are lawyers at a big-name firm with offices in Center City and the Main Line suburbs near our house, but I earned that TV.  It wasn’t sitting on my dresser one day like a pony waiting in the backyard.

During prime time, the reality Renaissance had begun.  First I watched Survivor, episode two of its third season, African Outback.  When the credits ran, I realized I was destined for reality show stardom.  Lightning didn’t strike; I just knew.  A bit idealistic, sure.  A bit megalomaniac, maybe.  But here I am.

This past fall, I arrived at Penn State with a single bag.  After six seasons of Survivor, I could pack a duffle – Swiss Army knife, can-opener, and all.  My roommate was impressed.  KC Hewitt’s his name.  Real swell guy.

We formed an alliance for the college rigmarole: classes, dining hall dinners, even the occasional frat party.  “Think of it as The Bachelor practice, Jason.”  He tossed me a folded Polo shirt.  “Start with one hundred girls and whittle down to one.  A whole season in one night.”  I couldn’t say no to that.  A pre-med major finds a corpse in his closet or under his bed, and he’s making a few cuts before calling the cops.  No doubt.

The party was more like Survivor.  KC and a blonde hit it off on a plaid couch while I staked out fifteen girls and nabbed alone time with three.  What can I say?  I have the curly dark hair, blue eyes, and lanky body thing happening.  The girls were all pretty, but if I’ve learned anything from Chris Harrison and the boys on The Bachelor, it’s that most are.  You gotta get to know them if you want to see their curves.

I had been narrowing the field to five when red and blue lights flashed through the windows.  COPS wasn’t my destiny.  Missing teeth, wife beaters, no, thank you!  But I respected the show’s officers with their wooden rods and aviators.  The Po-Po with the Mo-Mo.

After midterms, KC and his sofa sugar were going steady, and I handed my final rose to a Steeler fan from the ‘Burgh, Jane Smitherman.  God, could she kiss.  One morning over a plate of waffles, I passed Jane a napkin note:  I want to see your wild side.

“Wild side?”  She twirled her fork in the syrup puddle.
“We could head out to Jackson Trail to hike this weekend.”
She put down her fork.  “That sort of wild.  I’m a city girl.”
“But you’re adventurous.  You said so yourself.”
“What about bears?”
“They’re hibernating,” I bluffed.

I packed gourmet cheese, expensive crackers, and chardonnay.  I forgot glasses, though, so we had to shoot the wine straight from the bottle.  And I swear on my grandmother’s ten-pound King James Bible: we saw a bear.  Big and black and lumpy and scary as hell.  On TV, bears could be stuffed animals or pets or Maitre d’s at vegetarian restaurants.  If Jane wasn’t right next to me, I would have peed my pants.  But Jane was next to me.  She was pulling my arm.  “Do something,” she whispered.  “Please.”  Her voice sounded small.  I didn’t think.  I charged.  I ran right into an episode of Animal Planet’s I Shouldn’t Be Alive.  I flailed my arms and bared my teeth.  I roared.  I hissed.  I punched the air.  In return I willed a claw swipe, a flash of teeth.  I wanted this to be good.  You know, impress Jane, the viewers.

“C’mon, bear,” I yelled.  An arm’s length away, I stopped.  The animal stood on its back legs.  Showtime!  Jab belly or kick out a knee?

Before I could make the first move, Jane called, “Bear!”  I turned to look.  She had the cheese in her hand.  “Hey, bear!” she called again.  Her voice shook.  Then she chucked the gouda down the trail.  I didn’t even have time to growl again.  Off the bear went into the brush.

I jogged back to Jane.  “Next time we need a video camera,” I said.

“Take me home,” she said.  We hadn’t even reached our first scenic vista.  Maybe she wanted to make-out in private, fantasy-suite style.  I poured the rest of the wine into the leaf litter, and we practically ran to the car.

But back at the dorm, Jane said, “I just don’t feel a strong connection with you. . . . I don’t think we have enough in common. . . . You’ll meet a lucky girl someday.”  I took the lines in.  She was my first girlfriend.  I think I could have loved her.

Right before finals, I started watching Top Chef.  Crème brulee, baby!  Mom seemed delighted when I offered to cook Christmas dinner.  “You’re really growing up, Jason,” she said on the car ride home.
“What’s on the menu?

“I thought I would hit up Whole Foods, check out their fresh veggies and proteins.”  No chef went into a challenge saying, I’m doing a saffron leek scallop soufflé.  What if the leeks were wilted or the scallops too small?  A few episodes in and already I was learning.

Mom turned to look at me, “Alright, Emeril.”  Bam!

But everything I touched in the kitchen went up in flames or ended up smelling like burnt garlic, even the chocolate-infused bread pudding with a caramel-infused whipped topping.  The whole meal was a mess-infused disaster. We ordered take-out from Chan’s China Palace.

Back at school, I buckled down.  By January 21st, I had four applications submitted.  Sure, I was destined for stardom, but I knew not to procrastinate.  Oedipus, blind yourself already!

Then along came the inevitable.  Last night.  A reality show casting exec called during The Amazing Race.  “Jim Bundt here.  I’ve just made your day, kid.”

I almost hung up.  “I’m too old for Chuck E. Cheese’s, mister.”

“That’s funny, kid.  Your application was funny, too.  You made the cut.  We need you in Miami tomorrow night.”

Everything pounded.  “What’s the show?”
“Ah, curious? Curious is good, but for now, trust me.”
“But how do you know I’m a good fit?”
“Like I said, your application was funny.  No, more than funny.  It was intense.”
“What about the bear story?  Did you like that part?  My epic charge?”
“I don’t work for the Discovery Channel, kid.  My turn to ask a question.  Are you in?”

I saw final roses, endless immunity, interviews, agent hirings, and magazine covers.  “Yes, I’m in,” I said.  Maybe Jane would accompany me to the post-finale cast party.

I left KC a note and phoned my parents from the cab on the way to University Park Airport.  Look, Mom!  I did it.  I flew to Dulles.  Dad had called to book me a hotel room next to the airport.  I came close to squealing twice when I checked in.  This morning I woke up, checked out, and boarded a plane.  Destiny waited.  I was so ready.

But this?  Now my vision is deteriorating rapidly, literally falling in a blur of sky and trees.  Between the plane’s drone and the captain’s intercom warbling and the incessant screams, I can barely form a thought.  And when I do, it’s this: the bear.  That stupid bear Jane and I saw on our date.  I never should have charged unless I knew Jane was filming.  Danger without documentation is dumb.  Really dumb.  I just peed my pants.

When the plane touches down against the surf, the aircraft shivers: a wailing, heavy tremor that rips open the fuselage and lifts seats from their bolts.  Mine among them.

I wake up with one and a half legs and blood pooling syrupy and dark under the remains of my knee.  Closeness to death seems to sharpen my mental acuity.  I mean, come on.  This has to be part of the show.  I’m on my back at the edge of a scrubby beach.  I’m alive, but of course I’m alive.  This is my destiny.  The star of the show can’t die.  HD immortality.

God, there’s a lot of blood.  The reality of it seems so unreal, cartoonish and ketchupy. I use my seat belt as a tourniquet, but still red soaks the cushion, the sand.

I have to hand it to this show’s producers.  They have real balls to do something so big, so real.  They got carnage right.  Around me lie bits of charred metal, a hand, and two smoldering tray tables.  The air smells like our kitchen Christmas Day but without the garlic.  A gray haze hovers to the left, fed by smoke chimneys swirling from plane parts.  Where are the other contestants?  Where are the camera crews?  Filming with hidden cameras is common, but this level of innovation in shooting unnerves me.  Hey, the whole scenario unnerves me.  Who wants to see a disembodied hand on a scrubby dune?  I knew to be ready for challenges and twists and drama whether the show was about fashion or losing weight, but tragedy is new for me – an aspect of reality I haven’t studied.

Something is happening.  The tingling in my leg intensifies.  Hello, Destiny, is that you?  Under this charcoal-infused sky, I could be the only one left.  Could winning be this easy?

Jane’s on her way to class.  A pink toothbrush protrudes from the sand.  KC’s having lunch with couch girl.  They’re still dating, and he’s intact.  I squirm into a sitting position.  The open wound aches and bleeds.  I pull the belt tighter.  Roses grow and shed leaves in my knee.  Glimpses of thoughts bounce in my head, then out.  Plane.  Smoke.  Contestants.  Hand.  Show.  Reality.  Toothbrush.  Blood.  Stardom.  Crash.  Destiny.  Are those sirens I hear?  A chopper overhead?  More tingling.  A hole.  And I’m falling.  An elimination ceremony already?  I can’t pack up my knives just yet.  Cheer for me.  Cheer for me.

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Lindsey Harding is a creative writing Ph.D. student at the University of Georgia. She earned my M.F.A. from Sewanee University’s School of Letters. Her stories have been published in Xenith and Wilderness House Literary Review. She also has a story forthcoming in Stray Dog Almanac.