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.

_________________________________________

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.

Categories
Fiction SUMMER 2012

Matt Dube

FEVER TO TELL

“Why did you let me drink so much?” Karen asked from the bathroom, and then vomited loudly. Kevin thought she was trying to make it sound worse than it was, but he couldn’t be sure. He turned his mug to make a ring of the moisture that dripped across its base, and then he drew his finger through it, a bold slash.

“You like to drink. You told me before we left, and I quote, ‘I need to be fucked up,” Kevin didn’t move from his seat. Her heaves resumed. “You’re a big girl. You can take care of yourself.” It was true: she was old enough to hold her own hair back, old enough to know when to say when and old enough to suffer the consequences when she overdid it. He was old enough to leave her alone if she’d just let him. He put a glass of ice water at her place at the table, and four chewable children’s aspirins because she couldn’t swallow the adult pills.

It was his fault Karen’s life was so hard, he told himself. When Kevin first told Karen that he’d got a job out here, he should have told her she couldn’t come. There was that moment, in the stairway outside her apartment, the white walls and the chipped white paint on the stairway that led up to the apartment she shared with two other girls, and she’d asked how it went. He could’ve told her anything.

He practiced on the way there, clomping through snowbanks after he’d taken the call from the HR person and negotiated compensation, practiced telling her it was good news and bad news, that he got the job and that this meant goodbye. He knew what he wanted, and he wanted her to have the chance to find out what it was she wanted to do for herself. He owed her that.

He practiced saying it, exhaled foggy gusts of breath into the night air, there’s good news and bad news. And then when she asked, he said, “There’s good news,” and gave a weak smile. She jumped on him in her stairwell and pressed her tongue into his mouth, and he thought, well, the bad news could wait, and here they were now, four years later.

“If I could take care of myself, I wouldn’t feel like this,” Karen said, walking gingerly from the bathroom holding her forehead in her hand. “And anyhow, what would you do if I started taking care of myself?” She scooped the aspirin into her palm and took the glass with her other hand. She emptied the pills into her mouth and dumped the water in the sink and asked, “Who does a girl have to blow to get a drink around here?”

There was a time when comments like these were Karen’s favorite gambit. The first night they met, Kevin walked up to her at a party and engaged her in conversation even though she was standing by her roommate. He thought himself quite brave, but after a minute talking, she shot back at him, “Are you planning to fuck me tonight? Have you got a big dick? Because if you don’t, I’m moving on.” Something swelled inside Kevin, and he whispered yes, not even knowing if it was true, and then leaned forward to kiss her. But when comments like this became every day, it got a little grating, and over the years, Kevin found himself responding to her breaks with decorum with formal responses.

“I’d prefer it if you weren’t drinking,” he said.

“Oh, poor baby. When have I ever cared about the way you feel,” Karen whined back at him. The question its own answer. “And the way I feel? It’s not looking good for you.” She pulled open the door to the other side of the sink and pulled out a cloudy glass bottle. ”Ah, the hair of the dog.”

Kevin got up from the table and stood behind Karen before he even knew what he was going to say. His hand was locked around her elbow, forcing the bottle in Karen’s hand to knock against the side of the sink. “I’d prefer that you didn’t drink. I’ll make you some toast.” He took a deep breath and reached around her, taking the bottle in his hand. “Why don’t you sit down?”

He returned the bottle under the sink and refilled Karen’s water glass and brought it to her where she was sitting, more like pouting, at the table. He didn’t say anything, and neither did she. When they first moved, he knew it would be hard for her, but Karen caught some flu bug and then it sort of lingered until she barely got out of bed at all. When she did it was to watch TV wrapped in a ragged old blanket. She would tease him in a British accent, pretending to be Heather Mills. “You need to build me a trough in the middle of the bed, so if I need to shit or piss I can just roll over and do my business. “

Kevin had no sense of humor about Karen’s infirmities anymore. He didn’t laugh, and six weeks after moving, he hated coming home. Instead he went out with his friend Bernard for drinks at a place Bernard used to drink when he was in college. It was fun, and for a while at least Kevin forgot how he got there or that he had to come home. When they finished at the bar it was well past dark.

When he stepped into the apartment, not a single light illuminated the ground floor. Karen’s voice came from upstairs. “Is that you?” she asked. “Where were you? I thought you’d left me.” One comment after another tumbled down the stairs toward him. As he climbed, he imagined himself as Mario fighting off Donkey Kong’s flaming barrels. He’d definitely had too much to drink.

“I went out with Bernard from work,” he told Karen and flopped down on the bed beside her. He didn’t know if it was the drinks or the fear (hers and his) or if it was just time, but he and Karen had sex that night for the first time since they’d moved. He wanted to call in the next morning and lay in bed all day, but he was the one who worked, so he forced himself up and out.

Karen got bored easily; maybe that’s what finally got her out of the house. First she joined a book club, then she took a couple yoga classes, and finally she got a job organizing craft sessions at one of the local fine arts outreach programs, helping kids glue googly eyes to egg cartons. And while the bread was toasting, she got bored then, too, unable to stay mad or sulky with Kevin. “Why don’t you want to let me drink? It’s the only thing that’ll make me feel better.”

“You’re pregnant. Drinking will only hurt the baby.” He wasn’t sure how long he had until the toast was ready and was surprised, for once, to get a whole thought out without interruption.

“As if,” Karen scoffed, but half-heartedly. The toast popped. He brought it to her on a plate, along with a jar of preserves from the fridge and a knife to spread it. She twisted off the lid of the preserves, squinted one eye inside and took a deep whiff. “This jelly isn’t any good. It’s lumpy.” And then she was off again, dashing to the bathroom. The toilet seat clattered against the tank. A second later, she was vomiting again.

“The puking. The way you feel. It’s not from drinking. It’s morning sickness.” There was silence from the other room, which would’ve freaked out Kevin except he was still floored at how much he’d been able to say without being interrupted.

“I’m having a baby,” Karen said. “Holy fuck, is that even possible?” There was another pause. “Oh, Kevin, will you let me keep it?”

He answered, but the sound of his words were drowned out by the flushing of the toilet, and then Karen was on his shoulder, crying. He didn’t know that he’d ever have another chance to say no.

__________________________________

Matt Dube‘s stories have appeared in 42Opus, Pindeldyboz Web Edition, Porchlight, and elsewhere. He teaches creative writing and American lit at a small mid-MO university and is the fiction editor for the online journal H_NGM_N.

Categories
Fiction SUMMER 2012

Marina Rubin

THE COAT

it was gone. the bald CPA was shuffling hangers back and forth
in a frenzy. i tried to console him that all businessmen wore the
same black wool coat, someone must have taken his by mistake.
but the visitor snapped that it was a double-breasted Waffen-SS
leather coat with a belt, a real classic. i nodded sympathetically,
slowly taking stock of his shaved head, the square toes, yellow
stitches of Doc Martens, two dozen lonely holes in his earlobes.
between balance sheets and corporate tax returns i imagined him
thrashing his head at a skinhead concert, fucking his girlfriend
underneath a red banner with a swastika. apologizing profusely i
put him in a cab, promised to find the coat, punish the criminal.
then i walked the halls, looked inside the offices, glass training
rooms, wondering who was responsible? the thieves, were they
secret neo-nazis who coveted the iconic coat, or grandchildren
of the holocaust who cringed when they saw it hanging in the
closet? or maybe the coat walked off by itself, took the elevator
down, heil hitlered everyone in the reception, got into a sidecar
of an old NSKK motorcycle and rode off, like it never happened

WELCOME TO AMERICA. PURPLE RAIN

was the first film we had seen in this country. on a television set
rescued from the dumpster, we took turns holding up the antenna
as we watched Prince, not sure if he was white or black, a man or
a woman, Michael Jackson or someone else. he sang ballads and
rode a motorcycle without having a job while my brother needed
cash for a pineapple so he pasted flyers on poles until one day he
carried it in like a kettlebell, opened it, devoured it, then cried
like a little boy because it tasted nothing like it did in his dreams.
the girls in the movie wore garter belts on stage, their hair wall-
like in the front cascaded in a waterfall, we wondered if this was
the american fashion we were brave enough to follow. we had no
idea why Prince’s father shot himself but my father already knew
that he would never be a doctor again, a stock boy at the Sunrise
99¢ store he took home Tide that was discarded as trash, accused
of stealing he was sacked in the morning. that first desperately
hot summer we let the purple rain wash all over us as we strolled
the air-conditioned Waldbaums every night in our house slippers,
counting the years it would take to try all the variations of cheese

___________________________________________________

Marina Rubin‘s first chapbook Ode to Hotels came out in 2002, followed by Once in 2004 and Logic in 2007. Her work had appeared in hundreds of magazines including 13th Warrior Review, Asheville Poetry Review, Dos Passos Review, 5AM, Nano Fiction, Coal City, Green Hills Literary Lantern, Jewish Currents, Lillith, Pearl, Poet Lore, Skidrow Penthouse, The Portland Review, The Worcester Review and many more. She is an associate editor of Mudfish. She has been nominated for the Pushcart. She lives in New York where she works as a headhunter on Wall Street while writing her fourth book, a collection of flash fiction stories. Her website is www.marinarubin.com

Categories
Fiction SUMMER 2012

Jillian Grant Lavoie

GIRLS LIKE BETSY (IN 50 WORDS)

“Here’s the thing about girls like Betsy,” my brother says. “Girls like Betsy like boys like Big Brad. They don’t want small-town boys with small-time jobs, you understand? Girls like Betsy are looking for a way out. They’re looking for a big ticket, a leg up. Brad’s got big money, what have you got? A job in a kitchen? Betsy’s looking for a way out of the kitchen. She stays here, that’s all she’ll ever have. She knows how it goes.

Betsy’s got big-ticket legs, but she knows it’s a matter of time. She’s gotta get Brad and get her way out. Girls like Betsy with big-ticket legs get big in small towns, you understand? Big girls don’t get boys with big money like Brad. It’s a matter of time, brother; Betsy doesn’t have it for boys like you.”

My brother had a girl like Betsy, with big-ticket legs and big-time wants. She wanted out of the small-town; she wanted a boy like Brad.

“You want Betsy?” my brother says. “Get yourself out of here: out of the small-town, out of the kitchen. Get a big-town job; get big-time money. Get yourself a girl bigger than Betsy.”

 UP AGAINST THE KEG CRATES

In the back of McGinty’s, up against the empty keg crates, Danny was feeling like the luckiest guy on Earth. Claudia had double D’s and legs for days and, tonight, only eyes for him. Stroke her hair, kiss her neck, tell her she’s bodacious. Def Leppard was pouring sugar out the speakers while he was getting lucky under neon

lights are low in the back of the bar. Nobody saw them slide in here, next to the keg crates, up against cold brick. Kendall’s got her phone in her hand just in case things go too far. This kid’s rubbing on her breasts like they’re not attached to a body, all grabby hands and sleazy come-ons. He doesn’t know she’s only

sixteen and now knocked up, blowing chunks on the brick wall. Claudia was holding onto keg crates, trying to keep steady while the music pumped. Danny said he’d marry her, keep her in high-tops and hose. Crap, here comes another

round ass, smooth skin, hands tucked under his belt. Claudia doesn’t kiss like that anymore, this girl’s got a gift. Tell her that she’s sexy, make her feel safe, lean her up against the keg crates and

fuck that prick, Kendall thought to herself. Dad was over by the keg crates kissing some slut. Mom was at home waiting up, TV on loud, two babies in their bed. She thinks he’s working late; oh he’s working all right. What a lousy piece of goddamn

shit, that’s my daughter. Danny buttoned back up. Left the slut against the keg crates, popping her gum. Kendall was out the door and down the street on long legs just like her mom’s. Night was cold, his coat was gone, but he was sweating into his

hands were moving up her skirt. Claudia wasn’t so sure. She’d never gone all the way before, but Danny was awful sweet. He had a car out front, was saying all the right things, and his smile sure was

cute enough, but anyone will do. Kendall lets his sleazy hands move fast. Dad’s been gone for almost three weeks now. Mom’s been crying all night long, TV on loud, two babies in her bed. Now she just needs to

feel that kick? That’s your daughter in there. Danny’s heartbeat was going faster than the bass. Claudia was lit up like neon, smooth skin, hands on his. Up against the empty keg crates, he sure was the luckiest guy on Earth.

____________________________________________

Jillian Grant Lavoie has a BA in Creative Writing from Hunter College and an MFA in Fiction from Sarah Lawrence College. She lives in Greenwich, Connecticut with her husband and owns a graphic design/paper goods company. She writes stories about the secret side of suburbia, for which Greenwich offers plenty of inspiration.

Categories
February 2012 Fiction

Alex Miller

LAYOFF

Bert delivered the bad news after lunch. He handed everyone on day shift a pink slip of paper informing them that they’d be laid off from the factory. They were not fired, not exactly, the paper assured them. They could be called back to work at any time.

“What’s this all about?” Daniel demanded of Bert.

“Just read the paper,” Bert said, scratching his stomach.

“I’ve read the damn paper,” Daniel said. ”I want to know what the hell this is all about.”

“I feel like shit, you know I do,” Bert said, still scratching. “Look at the bright side. At least you’re not fired.”

Daniel’s shift didn’t end until the evening, but he went home immediately after his conversation with Bert. He did not punch out at the time clock.

“What the hell’s the point?” he muttered as he slammed shut his car door and gunned the engine. Anyway he hated the job. The boredom. The mind-numbing tedium. But he knew he needed the paychecks.

Hours later he sat on the couch in his apartment, TV remote in hand, flipping from news network to news network. None of them said anything worth hearing. Now that he’d lost his job, he no longer felt the news applied to his life. Already he felt disconnected.

His wife Betty was surprised to see him when she arrived from her job at the restaurant. She walked in on him watching TV in the dark. In her greasy waitress apron she smelled of cigarettes and red meat.

“The factory laid us off. All of us, the whole shift,” he said before she could ask. It was easier to talk about if he dragged his coworkers into it.

“What will we do?” Betty said, her face ashen, her eyes huge. “How will we make rent?”

“Relax,” Daniel said. “I’ll find something in no time.”

And that’s how it went all night, with Betty in a mild panic and Daniel gently consoling her, reasoning with her. He told her they would be fine. They’d tighten their belts, stop eating out so much, maybe cancel cable TV until things turned around. They would be fine, he said, just fine.

The next day at breakfast he read the help wanted ads in his newspaper’s classifieds. Then he drove all over town to fill out applications. He felt like he wrote his name, address and phone number at least a thousand times. Back at home, he washed the dishes and swept the kitchen. He didn’t want Betty to think he was lazy.

That’s what his days were like. He busted his ass all afternoon to fill out applications at any place that needed labor. Then he came home and cleaned up. Betty acted fine at first. Supportive, even, for a while. But as the days turned to weeks she became increasingly distant, irritable. She wouldn’t let him touch her at night. She didn’t say much, but when she did she lost her temper. She accused him of not doing enough around the house. He’d made a good start, she said, but he did less and less every day.

This was true, he admitted, but he was her husband, after all, not her butler. And he’d had a run of bad luck, and couldn’t she cut him some slack?

One morning, instead of going out to put in applications he sat at his computer and searched for jobs online. Then he spent the afternoon watching TV. The next day he skipped the computer and just watched TV. And he would have done the same the next day except he felt like if he spent another second in the apartment he would lose his goddamned mind.

The apartment complex had a pool. He had never used it because he hadn’t ever had the time, but now time was all he had.

At midday during the week the pool was nearly empty. Some kids splashed around in the shallow end, their parents nowhere to be found. Daniel dove into the deep end. The water felt cold, but he got used to it quickly. He hadn’t gone swimming in years, not since he was a child. He had forgotten how much he enjoyed it. Best of all he liked swimming underwater. It was like flying, only in slow motion. He could fly for as long as he held his breath.

Later, exhausted, he floated on his back. Waves rocked him gently. Chlorine stung his eyes, but it didn’t bother him much. In the midday sun the water looked impossibly blue, the poolside stark white. Overhead the contrail of a plane split the sky into hemispheres. As he floated between the water and August sunlight, Daniel felt like he was living at the end of time.

It wasn’t long before the blonde in the stars and stripes bikini showed up. She carried an inflatable raft under her arm. It was mostly blown up but not all the way. She kicked off her flip-flops, sat poolside with her long legs in the water and inflated it.

Daniel watched her from the deep end. He leaned back against the poolside, his arms outstretched on sun-warmed concrete, supporting his weight in the water. He watched her blow into a small plastic nozzle. He swam laps back and forth across the deep end, hoping he cut a fine figure.

The girl put the raft in the water and climbed aboard. She started out in the shallow end, but momentum carried her to deeper waters. As she came close, Daniel stopped swimming and rested against the side of the pool.

“I hope I’m not in your way,” the girl said from behind a large pair of sunglasses.

“You’re fine,” Daniel said, out of breath from swimming.

“If I’m in your way just tell me,” she said.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “I’ll swim underneath you.”

“Will you?” she asked, and even from behind the sunglasses he saw her arch an eyebrow.

“I’m working on my tan,” she said.

“I never tan. I can’t,” he said. He felt her eyes sweep over him, over his chest, ghost-white from days spent beneath the factory roof.

“You just need to work on it,” she said. “Come back tomorrow. Spend an hour or two out here everyday. You’ll get your tan. Anyone can do it. You’ll see.”

They talked awhile longer. He learned her name was Tanya and she attended college, a marketing major. She was recently single after escaping a relationship that should have ended in high school. When he told her he was laid off from work she appeared quite sympathetic–more so, he noted, than anyone else he’d confided in. When he said he was married she nodded and seemed disinterested. She didn’t ask about his wife.

He swam some more laps after that, diving underneath when she floated across his path. And wherever the raft carried her, he was aware of her eyes on him.

That night at dinner he stifled the urge to tell his wife about Tanya. She was all he wanted to talk about, all he could think of. But he knew better than to mention her.

“Laundry’s piling up in the hallway,” his wife said, sighing.

“I’ll get to it tomorrow,” he said.

“Did you put in any applications today?”

“Sure,” he lied. “Plenty.”

He spent the next day at the pool. He hadn’t been there long before Tanya showed up, lugging her raft. He waved, and when she stepped into the water he swam over, challenged her to a race.

Daniel and Tanya spent the day together, waging splash fights, practicing handstands on the bottom of the pool, playing in the sun and water like neither of them had since they were children. Daniel realized he had forgotten how to play. With Tanya’s help he remembered.

At dinner his wife remarked on his tan. Daniel admitted he’d spent some time at the pool.

“Must be nice,” she said.

“Losing a job is no picnic,” he said through a mouthful of meatloaf.

“Oh, I don’t know. It sounds okay to me. I wait tables all day. You hang out at the pool. You watch TV. It sounds pretty goddamned okay to me.”

“It’s not like that,” he said.

“Did you apply anywhere today?”

“Look, I’ve applied all over the city. Something is bound to turn up. It just takes time, is all.”

“I thought you said you’d take care of the laundry.”

“Tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll do the laundry tomorrow.”

The sun was shining when he arrived at the pool. Tanya was already there, floating on her raft. Quietly, he slipped into the water and swam to her beneath the surface, holding his breath until he burst out and dunked her. She squealed as she went under, then resurfaced in a tangle of wet hair.

“You bitch,” she said, laughing and gasping for air. She slugged him playfully on the shoulder. “I’ll get you for that.”

She lunged at him, and he dove out of the way, took off swimming. When he let her catch him, the contact of her skin thrilled him as she pulled him down.

They played in the pool for hours until they were exhausted. They floated in the sun, she on her raft, he on his back.

“What do you want out of life?” he asked, staring up at the empty sky.

“What do you mean?”

“Why are you majoring in marketing? What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t care. I just want a job that pays decent. Something that isn’t miserable, you know?”

“I know.”

She rolled off the raft, her thin body making hardly a splash. She swam to him. They regarded each other, face to face. A wet lock of hair curled down her forehead. Her eyes were so blue they glowed.

“Let’s race,” she said.

Daniel reached for her, placed a hand on the curve of her back, tugged her close. The kiss was electric and made Daniel feel something leap inside his chest. Her lips moved in time with his as he and Tanya treaded water, their legs churning through the cool, blue expanse.

Tanya pulled away.

“I should go,” she said, swimming for the ladder.

“I’m sorry.” Daniel paddled slowly behind her. He clung to the ladder after she climbed out, all strength fled from his body.

Tanya toweled herself dry, then walked back to the edge of the pool. She towered over him, cloaked him in her shadow.

“I’m so sorry,” he said.

“Don’t be.”

She knelt by the ladder and kissed him quickly and lightly on his lips. After that she fished her raft out of the pool and walked away.

“Will I see you tomorrow?” he called out to her.

“Take a wild guess,” she said.

That night in the apartment he could hardly sit still. He swallowed dinner without tasting it. He flipped TV channels haphazardly, didn’t take anything in.

“You didn’t wash the clothes today,” Betty said, arms folded, sitting away from him in the recliner in the corner.

“Fuck,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re always sorry,” she said. “You don’t work. You don’t help around the house. I can’t take much more of you being sorry.”

“We already had this argument.”

“Then get a job.”

“I’m trying,” he said.

“Try harder. Take a job at a gas station, a grocery store, a fast-food place. Do something. Do anything.”

“I can’t live like that,” he said.

“Well I can’t live like this,” she said, standing up and storming out, maneuvering around piles of unwashed laundry in the hallway before slamming the bedroom door behind her.

Daniel slept on the couch that night. He considered doing the laundry, then he just didn’t. He dreamed about his old job at the factory, the gray walls, the noise from the conveyor belt, the boredom. In the morning he was awoken by the sound of his wife getting ready for work. After she left he fell asleep again. A few hours later the phone rang. He answered it, groggily, while lying on the couch. Immediately he recognized Bert’s voice.

“Good news, boy-o,” Bert said. “The layoff is over.”

Daniel sat up.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean you’re going back to work. The factory took an order, a big one. Everybody’s being recalled.”

“That’s … that’s great,” Daniel said.

“I need you back on Monday,” Bert said. “Can I count on you?”

“Sure,” Daniel said. “I guess … I mean … sure. Sure you can count on me.”

Daniel hung up the phone. He sat on the couch for a time, staring at nothing. The news would make Betty happy, of course. It had been hard, recently, between them. The news would make it easier.

Daniel thought about the factory, about the long gray walls. He lay down again and tried to sleep.

________________________________

Alex Miller edits newspapers in Hawaii. He wonders why people live anywhere else. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Dogzplot, Thunderclap and The Dead Mule.

Categories
Fiction January 2012

Patty Somlo

SLOW SWALLOWING

The water tasted chalky and warm. Eying the second hand of her watch, Mary Beth swallowed and waited.
She’d been practicing slow swallowing, convinced that it would make her lose more weight. She wasn’t hungry, she reminded herself, trying to ignore the gurgling sounds her stomach was making.

Mary Beth had gotten down to a hundred and five pounds. She was five foot three and three-quarter inches tall, with long legs but a short waist for her height.

Two months shy of her fortieth birthday, Mary Beth was beginning to think this latest guy, Miguel, might be the last straw.

Miguel had asked Mary Beth to dance at a crowded salsa club, on a warm June night. The band was playing a meringue. Their one-two steps fell into sync as Miguel twirled her under his right arm, smiling each time he turned back around. Miguel wore his hair stylishly long, combed back from a high, stately brow. Smooth and straight from the front, with strands receding on top, the hair fell into soft curls that clustered against Miguel’s neck and caressed his collar. Miguel was from Spain, born and raised in Valencia, a name he pronounced with ample use of his tongue. In the silver BMW he drove, modern gypsy music cried out, while green and yellow lights lit up the console. Friday nights, Miguel took Mary Beth to a crowded club tucked in an alley near the wharf, where expatriate Spaniards ate tapas, drank bitter red wine poured from plain glass carafes and listened to Flamenco. Mary Beth learned to clap with her palms held stiff and flat, a one-two beat, keeping time with the guitar.

Absent the exotic foreign veneer and the substantial house in the hills surrounded by mature oak and eucalyptus trees, with a bay view on fog-free mornings from a deck upstairs, Miguel was a somewhat dull engineer, good at algebra, which he’d used to his advantage. Mary Beth, though, had an overactive imagination. She took the occasional writing workshop and made the fatal mistake of giving Miguel a love poem she’d written about him. The following week, Miguel neglected to call.

Mary Beth lost her appetite. By Sunday, she was having trouble concentrating.

“Hi, Miguel. It’s Mary Beth,” she said, in the first message she left on Sunday night. She tried keeping her voice pleasant and light.

“Just called to say hi and that I was thinking about you. Call me.”

Her phone didn’t ring once that night.

The following evening she called after walking in the door, without taking off her coat. Hearing his recorded voice with the musical accent, made her want him more.

“Miguel. It’s Mary Beth. Are you avoiding me? I hope not. Please call.”

That night, she felt too anxious to eat at all. At nine o’clock, her stomach started to gurgle. Her eyes bored into the phone. She pulled a box of crackers from the shelf and lifted the waxed paper bag out that was inside.

She pinched each side of the bag and pulled. The seal refused to loosen at the top. The second time she slid her hands closer to the top and yanked in opposite directions, waiting for the quiet sigh signaling the adhesive had freed itself.

When the bag wouldn’t cooperate, she hurled it across the room. It ricocheted off the wall and landed on the floor. Instead of picking it up, she raised her right foot over the bag, let her shoe drop and smashed the bag several times. She could hear the crackers crunch.

She bent over and picked the bag up from the floor. The bite-sized, round brown crackers had been beaten into a fine pale dust.

After tossing the bag in the garbage, she walked to the bedroom and stared at the phone. For years, she’d been under the illusion that wishes could be granted by visualizing positive outcomes. She closed her eyes and imagined Miguel in his living room, lamps glowing on the end tables. He was dressed in a navy blue running suit, with white stripes reaching from the waist down to his ankles. Yes, he’d just jogged in the door from his every-other-night run up and down the hilly wooded streets of his exclusive neighborhood. He considered whether to take a shower or dial Mary Beth’s number on the phone.

Of course, he couldn’t wait to talk to the woman who he realized now that he loved. The thought caused him to drop down on the couch, even though he was sweaty and his breath and heart rate hadn’t calmed. It was true, he had to admit, as he admired the city lights through the tall windows framing the living room’s west wall. He was a lucky guy. He wanted to call Mary Beth now and let her know.

Mary Beth imagined Miguel lifting the sleek black phone and placing it on his lap. She watched him punch in the numbers and prepared to hear the phone ring.

Two weeks passed. Mary Beth had lost eight and a quarter pounds. Each morning, she stepped on the scale. Half-asleep, she studied the red numbers as they drifted in and out of focus.

On the second Friday night Mary Beth was spending alone, she dialed Miguel’s number. The clock on the nightstand said it was nearly eight o’clock. She listened to the phone go through its obligatory four rings before the automatic voice of Miguel picked up.

“Theese is Miguel.” The voice sounded deep, quiet and breathless. “I am on the other line or not at home. Please leave your message and I will call you right back.”

“No you won’t,” Mary Beth hissed.

“I know you’re avoiding me,” she spit toward the receiver, after hearing the beep that sounded like a desperate moan. Her mood shifted from anger to despair and then to dread. “Please, Miguel,” she pleaded to the plastic receiver. “Call me back. I just want to know what’s happening.”

Waiting for Miguel to call, Mary Beth flipped through the September issue of Vogue. The tragically thin girls on the sleek pages had lives Mary Beth could only imagine and envy. Think about being so thin that no matter what you slip on, you look like an advertisement, she scolded herself.

By the end of the third week, Mary Beth had shed twelve pounds. She was so weak, she had to walk slowly to and from the bus. Breakfast consisted of black coffee and one hard-boiled egg, with pepper sprinkled over it but no salt. Salt would make her retain water and cause the numbers on the scale to inch up. Every morning, she packed her lunch: three-quarters of a cup of nonfat cottage cheese with an apple sliced up. At night she sat at the kitchen table, her book propped against a 24-ounce bottle of water, sipping one teaspoon-full of chicken consommé after another.

After four weeks when she reached her twenty-pound goal, she decided there was no reason to celebrate or stop. Weak and hungry and dizzy every time she stood up, the bones in her face and across her collarbone were only just beginning to jut out. In front of the mirror, she’d strike a Vogue model pose, her right foot in front, hands on her hips, and yes, she could feel the smooth hard surface of her hip bone. But it wasn’t enough.

On Monday morning at the start of the sixth week, she sat at her desk, staring out the window. As the account executive with the least seniority, Mary Beth had been shuffled to a back office overlooking a six-story parking garage, with a paved roof-top lot.

This morning, she couldn’t take her eyes off the man. He was hanging from straps, while washing the tall windows of the office building next to the garage. Mary Beth, who was deathly afraid of heights, couldn’t imagine the courage it would take to strap up and hang yourself from a building. The wind was blowing and rain pelted down, but the man didn’t stop.

Mary Beth thought to herself, It’s a sign. You keep going on, no matter how terrible the weather, no matter how much you struggle.

The phone rang. Mary Beth picked the receiver up.

“This is Mary Beth,” she said, using her first name without the last. In PR, Mary Beth thought it helped to sound friendly and casual.

Buenos dias, Mary Beth.”

The man had extended his legs out in front. He appeared to be sitting on an imaginary couch. A moment later, the man pressed his feet against the building, in an attempt to keep steady in the blustery wind.

Mary Beth recognized the voice on the other end but was too surprised to know how to respond. The man was swaying less, now that he’d planted his feet against the building. She watched as he pulled a squeegee down the window, in one long firm and flawless stroke.

“How are you, Mary Beth?”

The man, she could see, wore a belt around his waist, onto which he had hooked a rope that kept him from hurtling to the ground. He slipped the squeegee into a notch and pulled another tool with a long thin pole out, that he held straight up and guided down, leaving the surface shiny.

“I have been thinking about you. I miss you.”

The man was using his feet to move himself across the building. At his far left, a glass elevator was gliding up. The panels were a pale milky green, reminding Mary Beth of the color the ocean gets when waves slowly break in the sun. The man’s movements, as he pressed the squeegee against the glass and drew it down, reminded her of a dancer, the squeegee having become a lovely long extension of his arm.

“Beautiful,” Mary Beth sighed, having momentarily forgotten Miguel on the other line.

“What?” Miguel said.

His voice brought her back to the slim black phone and the computer screen that had gone dark. Her head felt fuzzy, as if she’d sipped one too many glasses of wine. The computer screen swayed to the right. The phone receiver dropped and dangled toward the floor.

The man finished the last window moments after Mary Beth passed out. She would have been excited to watch him climb back up, his hands holding the rope and his feet pressed against the building to steady himself. She might have been tempted to wave and smile.

He gazed in her direction, while enjoying a well-deserved smoke. Mary Beth was slumped over, her chin bruised from hitting the keyboard.

Miguel hung up, assuming Mary Beth didn’t want anything to do with him. He’d only called, he assured himself, because he was horny.

The man crushed his cigarette butt under the good-grip sole of his work boot and turned his back toward the window where Mary Beth no longer looked out. He noted the time on his watch and then stepped into the elevator that was on its way down.

At home, his wife asked him what had happened that day and the man replied, “Nothing.”

When Mary Beth came to and recalled what seemed like a dream, she thought, I watched a man risk his life today to make the world a little bit brighter.

___________________________________________-

Patty Somlo has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three times and was a finalist in the Tom Howard Short Story Contest. She is the author of From Here to There and Other Stories, published by Paraguas Books. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Review, the Santa Clara Review, the Jackson Hole Review, WomenArts Quarterly, Guernica, Slow Trains and Fringe Magazine, among others, and in several anthologies.

Categories
Fiction January 2012

William J Fedigan

THUMB JELLO

Crazies on Ward B hear Captain screaming, screaming all day, night. Crazies not surprised. Crazies know Captain. Captain’s frequent flyer on Ward B, visits 10-12 times/yr, like his home away from.

Crazies used to Captain screaming, screaming at his thumb, screaming: Fat Mike you motherfucker motherfucker motherfucker.

Fat Mike is what Captain calls his thumb, right thumb, split nail, dirty, nasty fucking thumb.

Crazies know Captain. Crazies know: Stay the fuck away from Captain. He got sharp teeth.

What happens when Captain stops screaming, he bites his thumb, bites deep, bites til it bleeds. Next thing, Captain screaming again, waving thumb, calling it Fat Mike, blood flying round. Orderlies, big as coup deville, grab Captain, tie him down & into rubber room. Nurse puts bandage on thumb, doc gives shot in ass, Captain’s out, sleeping like he’s in coffin. Crazies smile.

Next a.m. Captain’s unleashed, doing thorazine shuffle, walking like he drank too much wine, needs to sit down, take it easy before he falls down. Captain sits next to Jimmy. Jimmy thinking: Shit.

Captain raises thumb in air like sword. Jimmy thinking: Shit. Captain hisses at thumb like rattlesnake. Jimmy thinking: Shit. Captain says real low: fat mike, you motherfucker motherfucker motherfucker. Jimmy thinking: Man talkin to thumb hissin like rattlesnake should be in rubber room, permanent guest.

Captain’s tired now, chin drops to chest, nods off. Thumb falls thru the air like rock into Jimmy’s lap. Jimmy jumps, Captain jumps, thumb twitches. Captain says: fat mike fat mike fat mike. Captains says it real low, nobody hears cept Jimmy. Jimmy’s gotta ask: What the fuck you sayin?

-FAT MIKE! Captain screams. Crazies run, doors slam, orderlies looking over.
-Take it easy for chrissakes, You wanna say somethin, say it low, Jimmy says, sorry he asked in first place.
-Fat Mike. You remember Fat Mike? Captain saying it low.
-Yeah. I remember Fat Mike. He’s dead. Heart attack, stroke, some shit. He’s dead.
-NO! WAS MY THUMB! THIS FUCKIN THUMB! Captain screams, raising thumb in air like sword. Jimmy thinking: Shit!

Orderlies moving fast like coup deville, saying : Fuck Shit Son Bitch!
Jimmy says to orderlies: Everything’s ok. Don’t worry bout it.
Orderlies stay awhile, then leave, but watching close.

-Take it easy for chrissakes. What the fuck you talkin bout? Jimmy asking Captain. Jimmy gotta know.

Captain whispering now: I stuck my thumb thru Fat Mike’s eye alla way to his brains. Captain saying it like it’s nothing at all, sticking his thumb thru the man’s eye alla way to his brains.
-You’re sayin you killed Fat Mike? Jimmy says.
-Fat Mike, he called me a crazy retard motherfucker. Fat Mike got mean eyes when he says it so I pick one eye and stick my thumb thru alla way to his brains.
-What? Jimmy says, looking at Captain’s thumb, right thumb, split nail, dirty, nasty fucking thumb.
-His brains felt funny. Like jello, but harder. When I pulled my thumb out, looked like cherry jello. Do you like cherry jello, Jimmy?
-What the fuck you talkin bout? Fat Mike died of a heart attack, stroke, some shit…
-Maybe we’ll get cherry jello for dessert tonite. I like cherry jello. How bout you, Jimmy? Captain says, not hearing Jimmy, thinking about cherry jello, how nice it looks, how good it tastes…
-Listen to me. You didn’t kill Fat Mike. He died from a heart attack, stroke…

Captain jumps up, screaming at Jimmy: CHERRY JELLO! Captain rips bandage off thumb, bites thumb, thumb bleeds. LIKE THIS! RED LIKE CHERRY JELLO! CHERRY JELLO! CHERRY JELLO…

Orderlies coming fast. Captain raises thumb in air like sword, stabs at orderlies, at Jimmy, stick em in the eye if he can. Jimmy tries to jump out the way, but too late, gets thumb in eye. Jimmy saying: Fuck Shit Son Bitch! Orderlies grab Captain, rubber room again, shot in ass again, sleeps like corpse six feet down.

Crazies watch, look at Jimmy, eye turning purple but brains ok. War over. Quiet time. Crazies smile.

Wk later, Jimmy’s out, discharged. Captain leaves AMA. Back in 24, his home away from.

Jimmy and Flower walking in park, nice day, sun hurts Jimmy’s eye.
-I hear Captain’s back on Ward B, Flower says to Jimmy.
-His home away from, Jimmy says. Eye hurts, black-blue swollen fucking eye.
-Wanna know what he did this time? Flower says.
-What he do, thumb-fuck somebody? Jimmy says.
-Captain thumb-fucked himself.
-What you talking bout?
-Crazy retard motherfucker stuck his own thumb thru his own eye. All the time he’s screamin something bout how Fat Mike did it, not him, it was Fat Mike did it. Crazy retard motherfucker.

Jimmy’s gotta ask: Do you remember Fat Mike?
-Yeah. Died last year. I went to his wake. Whadda fuckin wake. Never forget it.
-Why?
-Never saw a one-eye corpse before. They putta patch over one a Fat Mike’s eyes even though both eyes’re closed. One-eye corpse for chissakes. I took one look and got the fuck outta there.
-Shit, Jimmy says, blinking his eye, making sure it’s still there, still in his head.

Flower and Jimmy smoking now. Smoke hurts Jimmy’s eye. Jimmy thinking: Shit.

Jimmy blinks eye two times to make sure. He blinks two more thinking: Shit.

_______________________________________

William J Fedigan writes about who he is, what he knows, where he’s been.

Categories
December 2011 Fiction

Justine Haus

MOTHER’S MILK

My mother poisoned me on the day of my first period. We spent the morning hiking through the woods behind our house to a field near our church where there was, each spring, a fragrant and abundant rash of daffodils. We collected dozens of them in a lacquered straw basket that was usually kept on top of the bureau in the guest room. On occasion, when I was very nervous or home alone sick from school, I would go quietly and take the basket down and lick the handle for a few minutes. It tasted sweet and pickled. I held the basket while my mother snipped the flowers off at the bottoms of their stalks and dropped them in. First, she would turn the blooms of the daffodils up toward the sun and say “What sweet faces they have. Don’t let their heads get crushed.” We had about thirty flowers by the time my blood started showing. My mother noticed it before I did. I was walking ahead of her and the sun glared with so much heat and whiteness I couldn’t see. She snatched the basket from my hands and instructed me to be still. She moved her fingers tersely, like a doctor, over the back of my thigh. “We have to go back to the house now.” She said. Mother carried the basket of daffodils tight against her chest as we walked through the woods, and blood pooled in the heel of my sandal.

She filled a plastic tub with bleach and water and dropped my shorts in. They looked like an organ suspended in milk, vague and dark red. I sat on the floor with my back against the bath, the bumps of my spine kept knocking against the porcelain and getting sore but I didn’t want to stand up and encourage my bleeding. Mother stood by the window chewing on her nails in an animal way.

“Do you understand what’s happening to you?”
“I already know about it all.” I told her
“What, all?”
“You know,” I lowered my voice “sex things.”

Mother’s eyes were small, dark pebbles set far back in her head. “This is not a sex thing.” She hissed, and she scowled at me with her cold imperial mouth drawn into a thin line.

Later on that night Mother brought a glass of milk and two blue pills up to my room. I took them while she sat in a chair next to the bed watching me. Once all of the milk was gone she rinsed the glass and filled it with water and daffodils and placed it on my nightstand. “Your period can make you feel very sick,” she said “Sometimes you can’t even get out of bed.”

“I know.”

She began speaking in an aloof, wounded voice. “I didn’t realize you were an expert on the subject.”
“I’m not. I just know things.”
“I didn’t get mine until I was seventeen.” She said “I didn’t know what was happening. I thought I was dying. Unlike you, I didn’t have a mother kind enough to teach me about these things.”

Then, quite suddenly, I began to vomit. There was no warning, no wavering of my stomach or saliva flooding my mouth. It came in a sudden and vile rush. It splashed, still cold and milky, across my floral bedspread and onto the carpet. My mother lifted me up with a gentle firmness that I had seen only once before when she walked our dog into the vet to be put down. She carried me back to the bathroom and I heaved violently into the toilet. Mother smoothed my hair and rubbed my back, sometimes gouging me with her nails, as she said, “See, I told you it might be like this.” She pinched my cheeks a little and lifted my face up to look at her. My eyes, I’m sure, were red and swollen from the vomiting. My face must have been slick and bulging, my hair stuck around my mouth. Mother said, “What a sweet little face you have.”

_______________________________

Justine Haus’s work has appeared in PIF Magazine and The Reader. She lives in New York City