Categories
WINTER 2012

WINTER ISSUE VI

Winter Issue
Winter Issue

POETRY

Kristin Abraham
Becca Barniskis
Allie Marni Batts
Amanda Cobb
Patricia Caspers
Bianca Diaz
Mercedes Lawry
Abbie J Leavens
Joseph Millar
Joel Peckham
Dan Pinkerton
Diana M. Raab
Robin Richardson
Brook J Sadler
Barry Seiler
James Valvis
Pui Ying Wong

FICTION

Peter DeMarcoEva JablowMellinda HensleyVito J. Racanelli

NONFICTION

Tim BassJim KrosschellCinthia Ritchie

Categories
Poetry WINTER 2012

Joseph Millar

POEM OF EXPERIENCE

I will never again write from personal experience.
– Lynn Emanuel

If they keep on with their unstable muttering,
chipping away at the worn first person
who’s now pulling weeds outside in the garden
or leaning its ladder against the garage,
maybe no one else will show up
in sneakers and old hat
to water the lettuce or clean out the gutters,
patch the fence
next to the broken gate…

Maybe no one will waste most of Wednesday
driving to town and getting lost
on the slanted black streets of Lynchburg
amid coffee galleries and book stores, the music
CD’s glittering like badges: Hendrix, Mingus,
the jewelry of cell phones opening
their cheap clasps over the sidewalks
dotted with late spring rain.

Maybe the kitchen above the brick steps
will vanish in a sudden postmodern ellipsis,
along with the olive oil in its jar
glowing like a lamp on the counter top
strewn with the gold skin of carrots and spuds
and the onion’s translucent husks,
the pot with a glass lid
she bought at Good Will,
the stove’s charred burner
and blue gas flame even now
beginning to stutter and rise,
even now beginning to hiss.

_____________________________________

Joseph Millar‘s first collection, Overtime (2001) was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. A second collection, Fortune, appeared in 2007. Millar grew up in Pennsylvania and attended Johns Hopkins University and spent 25 years in the San Francisco Bay area working at a variety of jobs, from telephone repairman to commercial fisherman. His new chapbook, Bestiary, is available from Red Dragonfly Press. His third collection, Blue Rust, is out now from Carnegie-Mellon. Millar is the core faculty at Pacific University’s Low Residency MFA Program and lives in Raleigh, NC.

Categories
NonFiction WINTER 2012

Cinthia Ritchie

COMMUNION

You began with a glass of wine, thick and dark and rich, the night J and I camped up in the mountains, so far north we walked right up to the snow, even though it was the middle of summer. Later, when he leaned toward me, I heard a wolf howl and knew instinctively that something was about to happen, something deep and binding and unforgivable.

I could have stopped, but I didn’t. I leaned forward, opened my mouth. I offered him my tongue.

You would have been a Pisces, a water child with strong, quick feet. When I swim my laps, I often imagine you beside me. We’re not in a pool, we’re in the ocean, in that gray, salty water, and you’re ahead of me, your dark skin gleaming in the sunlight. You never stumble or waiver. Your hands remain effortlessly curved, the angle of your back strong and steady. Unlike my own body which tires and ages, yours remains timeless and perfect.

In these dreams, these imaginings, you are always the better swimmer.

He was gone before I even knew about you, taking off one morning before the sun had time to rise over the mountains. He said that he couldn’t live in the desert, that the sight of so much land made him feel small, as if he could walk forever and never end up where he wanted to be.

I dreamed of you that long, hot summer as I sweated and kicked in my bed, the air conditioner clinking and clattering through the unbearable slowness of the afternoons. I dreamed of you in different stages of your life: as a toddler, pulling boxes and plates off the kitchen counter; as a schoolgirl, socks sagging down around your ankles; as a young woman, your face beautiful and secretive and uncertain.

I found myself waiting for these dreams, longing for them in that intense, almost shameful way that we always long for the things we cannot keep.
I went alone. I didn’t want anyone to see my face, I didn’t want to have to meet anyone’s eyes. I lay down on that table, my feet in the stirrups, the bleached whiteness of the sheet flowing around me like something fallen from grace, and there was no one to hold my hand but a nurse who didn’t know my real name.

Afterward, I asked to see it. They refused. But I stood there, in that small room, the blood running down my thighs, and demanded to see what was left of you.

There wasn’t much, clots of blood and a few meaty-looking pieces of membrane. I told the nurse I was thirsty, that I needed a glass of water. While she was gone, I picked up those bloody remains, wrapped them in tissue, hid them in my jacket pocket and rushed toward the door.

“Are you okay?” one of the nurses yelled after me.

I kept on going. When the sunlight hit my face, I felt branded and exposed. I felt suddenly ugly.

You would have been old enough to bleed by now. To know the thrill and embarrassment of your own body. To have your own child. To make your own terrible choices.

I almost died, they told me later. An infection, my temperature climbing higher and higher as I lay in bed, tossing against the damp sheets and dreaming of my Polish grandmother, who used to tell me stories of relatives caught in the war, caught in the camps; gone forever. By the time my sister finally found me, the whole apartment smelled of blood, and heat, and when I tried to walk toward her, I collapsed in the middle of the rug. I stayed like for a moment, in that sucking, whirling heat, in the comfort of that black wall rising up to meet me.

For a moment, I didn’t see the point of getting up.
This is what I’ve never told anyone, what you need to know. That before the fever climbed high enough to blur my mind, before the blood got so heavy I had to pack towels between my legs, before all that I stood in the bathroom and stared at my face in the mirror. I looked old and ghostly, as if I had used up all the years of my life. Suddenly I wanted you back, I wanted to know you were still in my belly, I wanted the luxury of being able to change my mind.

Maybe the fever had already crept into my head because I unpacked that Kleenex and folded those tough pieces of membrane, those small, blackish clots of blood, into my hands and held them up to my nose. They smelled of blood and earth and the secret, sullen smells of my own body. Before I knew it, my tongue reached out and pulled a small piece of what was left of you into my mouth. You tasted slippery and warm.

I swallowed without thinking.

____________________________________

Cinthia Ritchie writes and runs mountains in Alaska. Her work can be found in New York Times Magazine, Water-Stone Review, Memoir, Under the Sun, PMS:poemmemoirstory, Ghoti and others. Her first novel, Dolls Behaving Badly, will be released from Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group Feb. 2013

Categories
Poetry WINTER 2012

Becca Barniskis

ourladywasbrickbat

ourladywasanangel

 

_______________________________________________

Becca Barniskis lives in Minnesota where she works as a teaching artist, free-lance writer and consultant in arts education. She’s the Associate Editor at the Teaching Artist Journal and co-authored “The Teaching Artist Handbook” (Columbia College Chicago Press, Spring 2013). She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Oregon. Her poems have most recently appeared in Mid-American Review, Conduit, Prairie Schooner, burntdstrict, and Konundrum Literary Engine.

Categories
Poetry WINTER 2012

Kristin Abraham

THE AFFAIR

(SPRING)

Her whole body was

one bone, a curved rib.

Clarity was elsewhere,

afterward, after the story

rolled over in its sleep,

when everything spilled

across the table (in her center,

where you wouldn’t expect it).

Then she was a jar, upset:

I’m learning that

innocence again.

My ear is stuffed

with it.

 

HELENA VERBOTEN

1.

You are snaps & lozenges, Helena,
again and again, all slope-shouldered
sad scissor legs. All Helena of the smell
of wet towels & urine, look out
from your bangs, you tit-of-a grub, you
always the start of, you one step down.

Worm-gutted Helena, again and again,
the key is under, behind
the loose brick. Make this home, Helena,
make you lovely, Helena, try.

2.

Helena, your sighs. His loss. My zip. Sick with
canned-perfect, faithful like potatoes,
Helena the wish, the shrimp-plump inferior, shrimp-
pink mouth, your date-book interior: one & one &
one day, budding tooth & tooth. His loss & loss.

On your stomach, zipper down, you are a darling
dismal thing. Helena, make your hand go
this way. Helena, go hush.

3.

Helena, you’re writing infected. Again and again,
liver soured by doubt or guilt, you’re well-
heeled and groomed, could slice it out, if you write it—
still warm—for dinner. No more, Helena,
simpering pleaser. Is served. No more curtsy,
happy home-made. No stutter, no gasp. No
Helena, no no.

4.

Brockle-faced Helena, dishonest constant
lapse in the—shame, tell yourself, Helena,
for shame, Helena.

For again and again panties soak
in the sink. You know best to clam
up, be the saucer; save your blushes.

5.

Your ball-gag post-discard, careful discretion, poems
bound in fiber, poems tuck & hide. Gnaw
Formica, Helena, gnaw on love. Teething
shock & awe, again and again, that diary: dentin,
enamel, cementum, denial: this way you lie often
or not at all.

This day you lie often, knotting it all. X off
the weeks, weak jaws. Don’t say. You hate you
hate, again and again, you sharp
little monster. Don’t say it.

6.

So swallow the cod liver, Helena: Formica
& love. Swallow your archetype & mineral
oil. Helena, again and again of the cupcake
eyes, deformed ignition & violent endings:
No need to be sorry, just do forth:
Write a poem about not
writing, write a poem about not needing.

_____________________________________

Kristin Abraham is the author of two chapbooks: Little Red Riding Hood Missed the Bus (Subito Press, 2008), and Orange Reminds You of Listening (Elixir Press, 2006); her full-length manuscript, The Disappearing Cowboy Trick, will be published by Horse Less Press in 2013. Additional poetry, lyric essays, and critical essays have appeared in such places as Best New Poets 2005, American Letters & Commentary, Rattle, Court Green, LIT, Columbia Poetry Review, and The Journal. She currently teaches English at Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, WY, and is editor-in-chief and poetry editor of the literary journal Spittoon.

Categories
Poetry WINTER 2012

Pui Ying Wong

NOVEMBER AND THE MUSIC BOX

The field is ready
for winter,
when it sleeps
it won’t get enough

as if something fierce
in the ground is pulling it
down to its core,

then the wind will be homeless
and can’t hear its own crackling
in the cornstalks,
the flowering wheat,

and my silence will be
like the music box,
unopened, unwound,
and will grow eyes.

MEKONG

Smell of burnt leaves,
a bird shoots up
into the gasoline air,
boats carry pomelo, basil, denim,
buzzing of work, hemlocks sway,
a baby asleep to the blue
of the day, two dogs,
chin down.
How does the river heal?
Crowns of water hyacinth gather
in the river’s wide mouth.

______________________________________

Pui Ying Wong was born in Hong Kong. She is the author of a full length book of poems, YELLOW PLUM SEASON (New York Quarterly, 2010) two chapbooks: SONNET FOR A NEW COUNTRY (Pudding House 2008), MEMENTOS (Finishing Line Press, 2007) and her poems have appeared or forthcoming in The Brooklyner, Gargoyle, The New Poet, Prairie Schooner, The Southampton Review, Ucity Review, and Valparaiso Review and others. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, the poet Tim Suermondt.

Categories
Poetry WINTER 2012

Robin Richardson

THORA AT THIRTEEN

She wants a ghost or more a pooka: horse
whose hooves lead steady to the cliff. Uneasy
cause she can’t get off on flesh alone, such stone,
those statues slack beside the crosswalk, not
fumbling, troubled, only form: heavy-ordered
in its place. In museums, dressed as a peasant, she
sketches fauna, brushes up on Roman myth, walks
Degas like those sketches. If she were a sketch
or best a bluish streak across the canvas, barely
human she’d be pigment, curled cobalt in an old
Picasso. She’s uneven, eyes slant clock and counter-
clock-wise, fingers keep time like choirs on the
thigh. She’s scrawny, lifts a toe to pirouette
when no one’s looking. No one ever is.

BARELY LEGAL

Blue-eyed brunette in a grass stained
pencil-skirt, her words are lesions, red
mouth, wide willingness to scrub herself
across a bed of batted eyes. Bride
of book spines, storm-sweet. She reads
each word as if a scribe, as if calligraphy
could bring a well-formed sentence
to the groin, wrap around the throat; slow
swallowing each serif as a neck thrown
back. Those curves, those cursive words,
the love-note of a boy who’s brown
makes mud of other skin tones.

MAYBE EVEN REALER

The cabinetmaker’s daughter, while
dowsing with the Girl Guides in Muskoka,
finds a stream three feet below the bedrock.
Sun has bleached her braids, a séance
steeps her voice in mandolins so when she
speaks she seems to sing. The Girl Guides
are a loyal troop; too thin to think of heat
or how the bear’s skin makes him ornery.
The forest leaves its imprint on a path
where mindful girls may see the seedling
of a full-grown fern. Feeling barefoot
through the mud, they turn their beaks
towards a belt of meteors – slow-spinning
past the blue they’ve come to know as day.

____________________________________

Robin Richardson is the author of two books of poetry: Knife Throwing Through Self-Hypnosis (ECW Press, 2013), and Grunt of the Minotaur (Insomniac Press, 2012). She holds an MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College, and has been shortlisted for the ReLit Award, and the CBC Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in many Canadian and international journals including The Puritan, Dandelion, The Westchester Review, Berkeley Poetry Review, The Cortland Review, The Malahat Review and others.
Visit her website at http://www.misslexia.com/

Categories
Poetry WINTER 2012

Mercedes Lawry

REPLICA 

What is the cost of the unhinged howls
of those without hope, the sodden allegory
laid plain on the kitchen table, nothing gussied up
or named with a false rhyme.
Bleak hearts brim with greed
like a scatter of red ants at a massacre.
This curious geography does not align with stars.
Mourning is no disease, no placebo.
That time would crack was a given.
Only the widows are left to feed the dogs
who’ve lost their shiny coats along with their domesticity.
Schoolchildren make lists and discard them,
running past abandoned shelters still redolent
with smoke and ghosts.
There is no replica for life, only this:
what we swallow and breathe.

WAR PAYS A VISIT

Ah, here he comes again, the unwanted guest,
dragging his history in a shabby, great sack,
the stink, glint of metal, the spatter of bones
and so much missing in smoke.
The names of the warriors are etched on his back,
the dead and those diminished.
He’ll want tea and a long chat about strategies
and the dark spaces in the human heart.
He’ll want me to trace his scars and whisper
a string of words: bravery, oblivion, insane.
He’ll want to tell me about clever bombs.
By first light he’ll be gone and I’ll be feverish,
vomiting, macerated, and it will take me
days to recover.
_______________________________________

Mercedes Lawry has published poetry in such journals as Poetry, Saint Ann’s Review, Nimrod, Poetry East, Salamander, and others. She’s been a Jack Straw Writer, held a residency at Hedgebrook and is a Pushcart Prize nominee. Her chapbook, “There are Crows in My Blood”, was published by Pudding House Press in 2007 and another chapbook, “Happy Darkness,” was released by Finishing Line Press in 2011. She lives in Seattle.

Categories
Fiction WINTER 2012

Vito J. Racanelli

THE NIGHT BEFORE

Kristi laid out her long white dress on the bed and smoothed it with the back of her right hand. She ran her fingers along the fabric from top to bottom a few times. The cut was a little puffier in the arms than she’d wanted, but she hadn’t had much time to shop. It’d do, she thought, looking over at her father, Clive, who was sitting in a rocker.

Clive’s track record as a husband was awful, but she hoped that didn’t have meaning for her. Her father was a serial husband, a four timer, but only three if you allowed that he’d married Kristi’s mother, Linda, twice. Kristi was the product of the first go round. Clive Jr. and James were his sons from his other wives, and both of the boys, now men, had as little to do with him as they could.

The town of Watling knew Clive: He spent most of his time skirting work and the rest working skirts. Apart from that he was an obnoxious, occasionally seething drunk whose temporary bouts of sobriety were memorable more for their infrequency than lucidity. Kristi was lucky this time.

Clive sat watching his daughter. She had Linda’s eyes but his reddish Scot-Irish skin color. He smiled, thinking about the $10,000 he’d won in the lottery twenty years ago. He promptly lost $7,000 at blackjack in the Turning Stone casino in Herkimer, where he’d met Linda, a waitress there. But $3,000 seemed like a good grubstake for a marriage and he took the plunge with Linda, his second and future fourth wife.

It didn’t last long and Kristi was born shortly after the first time he divorced Linda, who’d eventually died trying to keep up with her twice ex-husband’s talent for the drink. Clive, who’d spent plenty of time in the tank for dusting up his other two wives, never touched Linda.

“That’s a lovely dress,” Clive said, sitting in what tomorrow would no longer be Kristi’s bedroom. They lived in a faded yellow clapboard house with a porch missing planks. It kept the rain out.

Kristi didn’t like him coming into her room. When she first moved in, after Linda died, he too often stumbled in like a broken wheelbarrow. She’d had to punch him hard and often in the first couple of months. She kept a baseball bat in her room—Clive thought his daughter loved baseball—for her own reasons. She looked forward to leaving, although she knew he couldn’t take care of himself. He’d die soon enough, she figured.

“Thanks,” Kristi said, not looking at Clive. She searched for the fancy hanger that came with the dress.

“Kristi?” Clive said.

She heard his throat catch. It was so rare an occurrence that the sound seemed to jump up and away like frightened Calico. Kristi did not want a semi-fatherly semi-lecture from a man whose acquaintance with responsibility was thinner than her new veil.

“I know I ain’t been the best Dad,” he went on. Though he was sober, the words fell out of his mouth almost as if he weren’t.

“That’s true,” Kristi said without looking back. She slipped the hanger into the dress.

Awww,” Clive said. The thickness went out of his throat. It was going to be like that, eh, even though I’m trying, he thought. “Well, I guess everyone knows that,” he said, trying to engage her face to face.

Kristi put the dress in the closet and started straightening things, like she wanted him to leave.

“I’ve not been the best husband, either, though I’ve had some practice,” he laughed. Clive figured he’d just talk to himself if Kristi wouldn’t listen. “Don’t know what I’m gonna do with this room after you leave,” he said, hoping to lighten the mood. He said it as if he were the lord of a great mansion instead of the tenant of a four-room shit hole

“I think it will become the jerk off and drink room,” Kristi said directly, pursing her lips and turning to him.

Stuff like that didn’t hurt Clive. It was not being minded that hurt Clive. And that was coming in spades now that Kristi was getting married.

“You love Wayne, huh?” he said.

“That’s the first time you’ve asked me,” Kristi said, sitting on the edge of the bed and facing Clive. “You know that?”

“I guess I didn’t,” Clive said.

Kristi lit a cigarette.

“You shouldn’t smoke,” he said. It was a vice that he hadn’t taken up. They both laughed and Clive knew that he’d broken the ice a bit. “I guess Wayne’s good enough,” he said.

“Oh, Thanks, Big Daddy,” Kristi said. “All my fears are relieved now.”

“Don’t make fun of your Dad when he’s losing you. When he’s trying to be good for a change.”

“As if I could recognize that,” Kristi said. “Well, at least you know your faults. It is one of your good qualities. Maybe the only one.”

“I do,” he said, ignoring the digs. “That’s where I’m goin’ with this.”

Kristi shifted herself to point her knees away from Clive.

“Wayne seems a good fellow but you ought to know what you’re getting yourself into.”

“You trying to talk me out of it?” Kristi said. “Trying to keep your housekeeperyour nurseyour cook around a little longer?”

“No. You might think that, but that’s not it at all. I mean if you wanted to stay, you’re welcome. Hell, you could bring Wayne here, too, but I know you two won’t go for that.”

“So,” Kristi said, taking a drag. “What’s your point, Clive?”

“Little fatherly advice.”

“From a four time divorced boozer who hasn’t held a steady job in ten years?” Kristi said, half-joking, yet half sad.

“Well, I’m experienced. You want marriage counseling from that prissy preacher? What’s he know but three ways to say Hosanna? You need marriage advice from someone who’s been to Paradise and back a few times,” he said.

Kristi smiled at that. He could be funny when sobersometimes. And he’d done so many things wrong that what he’d said actually made sense.

“So?” Kristi repeated.

“Well,” Clive said, leaning forward, now that he had her attention. His gray eyes were pale but distinct. Most of the time there was a dull glaze to them.

“First,” he said, “don’t have no kids.”

“Thanks, Clive. That makes me feel great.”

“Listen. I understand. I’m trying to help you here. Am I glad you were born? Course I am. But there was a lot of hell in between yesterday and today. Not for me, honey. I know I haven’t been around much. For your Mom, I mean. Kids are lots of work. They come between a husband and wife in ways you can’t imagine. Especially if you don’t have a lot of money. And they are even more work if you’re alone.”

“Thanks again, Pops. Now you’re telling me my marriage won’t last,” Kristi said, already resigned to that possibility. She figured her marriage to Wayne mightn’t last much anyway, though she wouldn’t admit that to anyone. Everyone she knew was either split up or on their way there. “Well, it’s a little late for that,” she said, looking at her stomach and patting it lightly.

Clive wasn’t surprised. He couldn’t help smiling at his impending third grandchild, though it went against his better judgment. He had two other grand pups named Cindy and Wade, but his sons never let him see the kids. The only times he ever even saw his sons Clive Jr. and James were at the Recovery Room in town and they usually left as soon as he came in.

“O.K.” Clive said. “I guess I’m too late for the kid advice. I’m always too late,” he said, staring at the floor and not Kristi. “Anyway, don’t forget to have sex after the kids.”

“Please, Clive. That’s enough coming from someone whose hands I had to pry off my ass more than once.”

Clive swallowed. He was only ever truly embarrassed and sorry for that in his life. He was sorry for those first months, when Kristi, at 15, had moved in with him, after Linda died. He didn’t remember much of it anyway—her pushing him, punching him, him peeking at her in the shower—but enough of it to feel like running in front of a truck when he was sober. Otherwise nothing made him feel that way. Not even occasionally roughing up Lily and Rose, his two other wives.

“I’m sorry about that.” Clive said and wiped his mouth.

Kristi stubbed out the cigarette on the floor, got up and went to the kitchen.

Clive sat there looking at a wisp of curled blue smoke that wafted up from the dying butt. He was parched and needed a drink.

In the kitchen, Kristi noticed it was midnight. Ten more hours, she thought. She returned with a glass for him and one for her.

“What’s second?” she said.

Clive was distracted. He looked at the tumbler, the russet colored sour mash sitting easily in the dark glass. “Huh?”

“No kids’ was your first gem. “Whatisthesecond piece of advice?” she
asked.

Clive looked up. “Forgiveness.”

Kristi might as well have been smacked full in the face by him for the hundredth time in her life. She’d had never seen her father this earnest. Eyes dark and still. His voice light but unwavering.

“Forgiveness, Kristi girl,” he said directly to her.

“Like in church,” Kristi said sarcastically.

“No,” Clive said. “Like in life. Like you’re Mom. She forgave. I do not. Learn from your fuck-up Dad.”

Kristi took a swig of her drink.

“Wayne isn’t perfect. You aren’t perfect,” he said smiling. “Your child ain’t gonna be perfect,” Clive said. “But if you forgive, life can be more tolerable. It might not be good, like the happy ending of a movie, but livable. Linda forgave me of a lot of things. She didn’t deserve what she got from me. I forgive nobody, and then pay the price.”

“You goin Jesus on me, Clive?”

“I mean it, Kristi. I’m not capable of it,” he said. He couldn’t bring himself to look at her now. He was thinking about the stupid things he’d done in his life, but that could take all night, he realized.

“Uh-huh.” Kristi said, finishing off the thimbleful left in her glass. “Come on, Clive. Got to get up early tomorrow. Somebody’s getting married.”

Clive stood up slightly content, an attitude which evaporated as he bent down to grab the glass and took his first drink since midday.

“That’s right,” he said.

There he was, Kristi thought, the Clive whom she recognized, the Clive of bourbon fueled certainty, the only one she really knew.

“Be a good time tomorrow,” he yelled strutting to the bedroom door. He looked forward to seeing his sons’ faces for a change. Maybe they’d let him sit with the grandkids for a while.

“I can’t wait to see the look of every bastard in town as I walk you down the aisle,” Clive said. He paused and then said to himself, “I hope I can find my suit.”

As he walked out, Kristi thought she’d tell him Saturday morning, after he’d had a few early bracers. She didn’t have the heart to tell him while he was sober. But in the morning she lost her nerve.

Clive woke up hazy at 11 am. Before going to bed, he’d finished off half a bottle left in the kitchen. Kristi had already left, but that didn’t bother him. He knew she had a lot to do that morning. Brides have to get themselves ready and she probably went to her friend Mara, a hair stylist in Watling, who did those extensions.

A few days back, when Kristi had told him she was getting married, she said it would be the Church of the Holy Word at 1 pm Saturday. That’s all he needed to know, she had said. She was taking care of the rest.

He wasn’t hungry but poured himself a nice character builder before showering and shaving. Clive found his suit at the far right of his closet behind a couple of boxes. The last time he’d worn it was for a funeral. One thing he didn’t have to worry about was the size. He’d not treated his body well but he was of the type that didn’t get fat. If anything, he was skinnier, as if 20 years of alcohol had burned it out of him. The collared shirt he took up was wrinkled and he didn’t know where the iron was. He should have reminded Kristi last night. Probably in Kristi’s room, he thought, but he didn’t think to get it.

Passing the mirror on the way out, he admired himself. He walked to his car and picked a red rose from the garden that Kristi worked on during long afternoons. Clive hoped it would match whatever the bridal party was wearing.

When he pulled into the church’s parking lot at 12:55, there were only three cars. Kristi wasn’t having a big wedding, but she had friends. He didn’t see his sons’ trucks either, which he thought strange, too. He jumped out of his car and walked past the gardener.

“Nice day for a wedding, eh?” he said.

The gardener stopped raking the lawn, looked up, and then smiled and said nothing.

“No English?” Clive said. Still nothing.

Otherwise, there was no one getting in a last minute smoke on the church front steps. Nobody gossiping. Clive ran pulled open the front door to an empty set of pews.

“The fuck, did I get the time wrong?” That wouldn’t have been a surprise. No, Kristi had said 1 pm, Church of the Holy Word. This was it.

“Where is everyone?” Clive shouted, the words echoing off the walls. “What the fuck?” he screamed into the quiet.

A moment later Reverend Lane came out from a door behind the lectern.

“You shouldn’t be cursing in church, Clive,” he said. “You shouldn’t even be in church for that matter.” Then thinking better of it, he added, “Until you are right with God.” He walked up to Clive with small steps and his nose slightly averted, as if Clive smelled of sulfur.

“Where’s my goddamn daughter?” Clive yelled again.

“You’re gonna have to calm down, Clive Wilson. Kristi’s not here. What are you talking about?” the reverend said, turning his face away from Clive’s breath.

“She’s getting married for fuck sake…” Clive sputtered. “Here. Today. Now!”

“Not here she’s not, Clive. She’s getting married over in Milford, at Wayne’s church,” he said. “She didn’t tell you that?” And he looked at Clive’s rumpled suit and then the whole thing hit the both of them, like things are supposed to in a church, but don’t. Lane glanced at his watch. Clive won’t make it, he thought.

“Clive, take it easy,” the reverend shouted after him as Clive stormed out. “Come back and let’s talk. You can’t make the wedding, now.”
“Don’t need to talk,” Clive said. He almost stomped the gardener who fell out of his way.

He drove to the house. Inside he went into Kristi’s room and found that all her stuff was gone. Only the baseball bat was left. He took it to every window and door in the house before he collapsed in the rocker, his right hand squeezed tightly round Jim Beam’s neck. Later, when he opened his hand the bottle held to his skin for a moment, before dropping to the floor, where it burst.
________________________________________

Vito J. Racanelli is working on a book of short stories and finishing up a novel, “Blood in the Water,” a thriller set in New York City and Italy, where he lived for four years. He attended the Crime Fiction Academy at the Center for Fiction and has a previously published story in The Literarian. By day he writes for Barron’s, and his nonfiction has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the Far Eastern Economic Review, the San Francisco Examiner, the Atlanta Journal/Constitution and the Newark Star Ledger. From 1994-1997, he was the bureau chief for the Associated Press-Dow Jones news agency in Milan. He lives in New York with his wife.

Categories
Fiction WINTER 2012

Eva Jablow

LIFE IN TERMS

The first is blonde and I am sixteen. We see a scary movie I don’t remember the title of. I am not old enough, so we buy tickets to March of the Penguins and sneak in to the scary one. I am embarrassed by this, but he doesn’t seem to mind. He may even find it funny.

I hope he finds it funny.

I spend the entire movie pretending to play with my hair but actually shielding my eyes from the screen. I was afraid to tell him horror movies are not my thing. So much not my thing. Even with lights on, hand held, tiny screen. I can’t handle the suspense. I can’t separate myself from the action. I am that helpless girl, that naïve couple, that poor man in the shower.

And so, I preoccupy myself with the brail of chewed gum beneath my seat and chew each popcorn kernel twenty three times before swallowing. The sounds are okay. I can handle the sounds detached from the visual. My ears are braver than the rest of me.

He enjoys the movie, even laughs during the climactic scenes of gore. It is childish, but in a good way. I wonder if he will try to kiss me, but he doesn’t.

We go for ice cream afterwards. I prefer this part. He has a coupon for a free cone and tells me that mine is the one he pays in full for.

We sit in small black chairs; the walls are painted murals and the chair’s feet scrape against a fun tile floor. He makes me laugh, which I appreciate. He makes me laugh a lot but the next week, he kisses someone else and makes me cry.

~

The second one is Puerto Rican and I am still sixteen. He skateboards, and I think that is cool.

I go to the high school homecoming dance even though I hate dancing. I do it to see him, and he sees me. The dance is held in a gym, everything is casual. We walk around the track outside of the music and he confesses he hates dancing too, though I’m pretty sure he’s only saying it to lay out common ground.

My friends see us walking circles and somebody gets my brother’s attention. I can see him peering through the window into the darkening space we are in. He does not look happy. He is one year above me, has known high school without me. He does not love that we share friends.
He sees who I am with and he comes outside, feeling purposeful. They are friends, he makes things uncomfortable. I lose the battle and that is that.

~

The third one kisses me in a closet. I like it. His hair is down to his shoulders like mine and he braids them together until what grows from my head grows from his.

He is into Buddhism but doesn’t really know what that means. He is a vegetarian and I become one as well. We are seventeen.

He takes me to vegetarian dinners. I begin to like green things and I eat macaroni and cheese at home when my family has burgers. I eat pounds of carrots.

I take him home and my parents tell me they are impressed. My dad makes a joke about our matching hairstyles and my mom calls him adorable. They both think my meat-eating days are not over. I prove them wrong.

My brother is neither hot nor cold to him.

There is a blizzard in January and school is canceled. He walks to my house in an insufficient amount of clothing and I warm him with the space heater in my bedroom. I am not allowed to close my door but he kisses me anyway and to my surprise, an alarm does not go off. We eat tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches with homemade pesto from the freezer. He decides it is time we venture into the snow.

I give him my brother’s snow boots and we walk around the deserted neighborhood. Stores are closed, sidewalks are mountains. We climb.

He pushes me over first and then we are both down in piles of white. He presses his face to mine for warmth and fun. His tongue is a furnace.

We get too cold too quick and have to return to my house to dry. We shower, separately, and dip celery into hummus while we listen to whatever records we find in the basement.

He brought a few beers, and this is new to me. We chill them in the snow in my backyard and after two cans I feel like I know what being drunk really is. He is an experience that I have.

One month later, he eats a steak and I am okay with it. He cuts his hair, and I lose interest.

~

The fourth one is six feet tall; we meet in class, international relations. Fresh to college. We play an awkward name game in class, and we are introduced in a public manner. I feel something immediately, and we are pulled to each other. We are in a small school, and before I even understand myself, new friends are asking if I am interested.

I laugh uncomfortably and say, “Oh, I don’t know.” But I do and so do they and so does he.

We are assigned tedious weekly current events, and when he passes me in a hallway he asks if I want any help on the assignment. I don’t need it by any means, but I tell him I would love it. He comes over and we spend an hour on cnn.com without accomplishing anything. I discover he is hilarious.

“I don’t think anything happened in the world this week,” he says.
I giggle harder than I mean to. The buzz that goes from him to me is distracting to us both. I don’t know what to call it, but I settle for a crush.

“Well then,” I say. “We can present on the new cookies in the dining hall this week. I would say they were pretty internationally related.”

I don’t know if he laughs to make me happy or because he finds me funny, but I like it when he does. His hair is red, which somehow adds to the excitement.

We finally get the assignment done, and he spends the rest of the night looking through my music collection and pretending to judge me by it. I don’t even know what he’s saying half the time, I am just expanded by his presence. I have never felt this way, and I don’t sleep thinking about it.

The next two days I am afraid to contact him and he doesn’t contact me. I wait for class and we sit at a long oval table, across from each other. I am a child trying not to look at him and we catch each other a few times. He blushes easily against his pale cheeks, and the sight alone makes me do the same.

He is one of five lucky students called on to present his current event. He is a terrible public speaker. His hands shake the printed article in his hand, and I lose count of his um’s. He mumbles through something about the Middle East and breathes heavily when he sits back down. I don’t look at him in fear of inflating his embarrassment.

I am surprised when he catches me after class.

“Same time, same place?” he says.

I nod and hurry away.

He comes as planned and we plant ourselves on my tiny bed, backs against the wall. My feet don’t come close to the floor, he is a tower on my side. I am so strongly compelled to touch him.

He opens an article about oil and the president and we both pretend to read it for whole minutes. He is red, and his fingers won’t stop moving. I’m afraid for anything. The anticipation is thick.

I turn my body slowly, inch by inch. He follows. We play a middle school game, we don’t use words. I breathe silently. He waits for my lead, which drives me crazy. We are closer and closer. I lift my head, our noses touch, and I push my lips to his.

He uses too much tongue, and I don’t care. I am so happy to be in contact. He is careful not to push me. We do not part for some time. My roommate returns from the library and he goes home. Current events are insignificant.

He starts coming over more often. Each time we don’t get far into work or conversation. It is not a sexual thing, but we cannot help but be sexual.

We are alone in my room. Clothes come off, and breath picks up. For the first time, I am faced with sex. His skin is comfort, I want to run through it. I let him in. A dorm room bed; a persistent squeak that makes us both laugh.

“Are you okay?” he says over and over.

I smile when I can and say, “Yes.”

We do this again. We can’t seem to stop, even though I don’t enjoy it yet. I enjoy him, however, and that is enough for me. We take my minivan out to quiet roads and undress each other in the backseat. We drive to the parking garage downtown, wind our way to the top and park overlooking the city. He sits on the hood against the windshield and I peer over the edge of the structure, and imagine sailing to the tiny strip of sidewalk below.

“Come here,” he says, and I am comforted because I want to rest my hand on his chest. He uses his funny voice and kisses the corners of my face like a compass: north, south, east, west. We move to the concrete in need of a solid surface, and leave the garage with memorable bruises.

Weeks pass this way.

We are in his room, it is starting. I am sitting on his lap in a desk chair: clothes on, hands moving. He stops.

“Hey,” he says.

“Hey,” I say back.

I move in to touch his lips and he pulls away. I wait while he tries to say something.

“You ever notice how we never just hang out?” he says.

I don’t want to answer. I can’t help it that I’m slightly hurt.

“We’re hanging out right now,” I say, though I know it is not the right thing to say.

“You know what I mean,” he says. I know what he means. “Just talking or whatever.”

He’s right but I defend things. He reminds me we never had the time to be friends first. I reach for his hand and he lets me hold it.

We agree to take some time. “To get closer,” he says. He makes a joke about abstinence, I try to laugh like we’re on the same page.

We get dinner together, try to build things up. Friendliness.

It’s a bit awkward and he doesn’t do awkward very well. Without touch, we don’t communicate the same. Two weeks go by and we still struggle; I worry I have lost. There is still something about him I need to be a part of.

We are at a party; our social group is often one in the same. I am wearing the same shirt I wore in class that first day. When people started to wonder. He is wearing one of the five shirts he owns that circle in a night-out rotation.

I watch him drink and am careful not to beat him. No mistakes is important to me. I don’t approach him for a while. I let other boys flirt with me because they’ve heard we are not entirely on and I am not flattered, just watching him. Girls drunk-slap his biceps and tell him they love his ginger hair. I have seen it before.

He doesn’t talk much all night, and is calmer than his friends. He sees me, and he leaves the space there. Not quite time. When half the crowd has gone, I come to him.

“Hi,” I say.

“Hi,” he says. And all of a sudden it is easier. I can tell it is not just the alcohol.

We chat, it is comfortable. I only want to lean into his t-shirt, subtract the distance between our feet. He walks me home and we whisper in my bed for an hour while my roommate sleeps unknowingly. He is so goofy in these baby beds, and we start with the fingers. Playful hands touch each other and then our arms and legs and we are kissing. Neither of us know what this means but we keep kissing, and that is all we do. It is slower than before, and we are pouring out.

When it is over, early sunlight peeks in through the edges of the window shade, and we smile. Something is different and though I am afraid sleep will make it go away, it does not. I wake up and he is still there, still close.

I fall in love with this one. He falls in love with me. It stays like this for quite some time.

A year passes: we are sophomores and we think that makes us old. Academic interests are focused, school is less novel. Our best friends start dating, and we do not approve. They shout and split us into sides that we hate to take.

When they break up after two months of imbalance, he goes on a spring break cruise to some Caribbean islands to cheer his half up, while I answer phones at my father’s law firm and text happy thoughts to my half underneath a wooden desk. We are supposed to mend them.

He makes out with a girl from Alabama on the cruise and tells me.

“I don’t know why I did it,” he says. “I had to tell you, I am so sorry.”

I ask him what she looks like so I can picture it.

“Don’t do this,” he says.

I tell him he did this. I am wearing sweatpants and wish I wasn’t.
I am flattened. I make him leave. I do not forgive him, and it takes all that I have.

~

The fifth one I meet abroad in Barcelona. He is dark, energetic and older than me. We are awful together.

I miss most of my classes, drink to messiness and sleep in his loft. He screams at me and I return the noise. We are loud, filled with broken English and inconsistency. He is too attractive and I wear too little clothing and I think about the first four frequently.

I return home filled with secondhand smoke and I am trampled.

~

I am alone for two years.

~

I think I’m going to marry the sixth one. We fall in love fast. We are in a movie. He is clean and handsome and my parents are sweet on him. We are in New York City.

He works in finance, and I stop asking what that means. I am still looking for myself, and I don’t pay rent in his apartment.

I have come to the city after spending too much time at home post-graduation. It is impulsive, and I love this. Friends from several bits of my life are scattered around the boroughs, and I float on couches, take in favors.

I have met him at a bar like the rest of the city. I love that the first time I saw him he was wearing a tie. He doesn’t believe me when I tell him a suit does wonders for any man, but he takes me home anyway.

Weeks later, it becomes apparent I have no place to be.

“Do you live here?” he asks me. We are eating breakfast before he goes to work and I don’t go anywhere. The park, maybe.

I turn the spoon in my yogurt and lick the back before the front.

“Yes,” I say.

And he says, “Okay.”

I thank him without words.

I invest in used cookbooks and spend hours between cover letters experimenting in his kitchen. I learn that I love capers, bluefish and quinoa. I am still a vegetarian but he is not, so I indulge in cooking meats for him. I enjoy this, too. He certainly does.

He is a few years ahead of me, but still enthused about the things I am.

He comes home from work. I am so familiar with the rhythm in which he unlocks the bolt, lower lock, turns the knob. A slower beat means he is tired, or distracted on the phone, but he always makes sure to finish a call before greeting me.

I try to greet him but he always greets me first.
“Hey, babe,” he says. “Miss me?”

I do tonight and I tell him so.

“Eat this with me,” I say. I do not eat dinner alone, lunch is enough.
We sit down with clay colored plates and pastel cloth napkins. I was ambitious with risotto and it pays off.

“Tonight is for wine,” he says, and so it goes.

We share a bottle of red, which I am growing accustomed to. We spin around to no music and forget things. I pull novels off a shelf and we read passages to each other out of context. Together the string of paragraphs starts to make sense and I am telling a real story.

“Tomorrow I will find the ending,” I say.

He agrees and takes me to bed. We make dizzy love for as long as we can. The covers are sloppy, and he is tangled in them but too tired to remove himself. I kiss him and he says he loves me three times before I say it back. We sleep heavy on the mattress.

I finally get a job as a teacher’s aide in a private preschool. The kids brighten me. The order in which they put words is wonderful; I am an ambiguous adult in their lives. One day at work tells me I am doing something real.

I cut carrot sticks, peel glue off of fingers, make penguins out of construction paper. I blow noses, wash hands, break up a fight of tiny hands and tiny light up sneakers. I read: I do so much reading. I push three swings simultaneously and learn how to sing ‘good morning’ in five languages. I recite each one over dinner.

He is excited by my excitement.

I buy patterned scissors, jumbo packs of colored pencils, the makings for paper mache. I bring home photos of my kids and show him just how small the zippers on their sweatshirts are. Just how much they love to sit next to me at snack and even more so at lunch. He puts them on the refrigerator behind matching silver magnets. I still have plenty of time to cook.

When I get my first paycheck, I stare at it for three days before bringing it to the bank. The line is long and filled with busy looking people. I stare at my watch once or twice to fit in. I feel underdressed which I was not expecting.

“I can help you over here,” someone finally says. I practically run to the counter.

“Hi, how are you?” she says, but she does not care for the answer so I don’t give it to her.

“I’d like to make a deposit, please,” I say. I haven’t spoken these words in almost a year.

I hand the teller a pre-filled form and the signed check. My signature is ugly.

“Wait,” I say. I make a last minute scratch mark on the form and decide to cash half the check. I bring the money home and leave it on the kitchen table for him. I want him to have it more than anything.
He is confused when he sees the bills sitting there too casually.

“What is this?” he says.

“Money,” I say. “For you.”

He picks up the cash and counts it by habit. Sometimes I imagine this is what he does all day in a cubicle.

“I know it’s not much, but it’s a start,” I say. “I am a contributing citizen,” I say. I think I’m being funny.

He doesn’t laugh, and places the pile back in my hand.

“Please keep it,” he says. “This is your money.”

I tell him no way. I tell him he has done too much for me as it is, and he says that he wants to do all of this. That it gives him pleasure.

“And giving back to you gives me pleasure,” I say. “I can’t mooch forever.”

But he refuses to take it and things grow hostile very quickly. He tells me he can support me and I start talking about resentment and expectation. I think I mention gender equality just to prove I went to college. Then I cry.

In an angered burst of energy he runs to a kitchen cupboard.
He is down on a knee and I realize he is proposing. I realize I have somehow ruined an elaborate romantic plan.

The ring has been hiding among tea bags. A place he knew I would visit at some point before, during or after dinner. It holds one stone, but it is the size of a plump blueberry. I look down at it, then down at his face, then back to the blueberry. It is too large; I am still crying.

It’s not right. I love him deeply, but I can’t be this forever.
I close his fingers around the ring and kiss each knuckle. I gather my things from each layer of the apartment and fold into him hard, afraid that I will not see him again. I leave my teaching supplies, and find it strange that otherwise my belongings fit into the same bag as when I arrived.

I close the door and wait painfully in the hallway out of the peephole’s range. Minutes pass and he finally approaches the door to double lock it from the inside. It is time to go.

I don’t stop crying and will not for days. I make a phone call and revert back to generous couches.

~

I spend days in a simple state of hope: that I made the right decision, that he will be okay, that I will be okay.

I continue to go to work because I have to, and the preschoolers are miniature ego boosts. They depend on me for funny things and I am responsible for that. I zip up their coats, and their runny noses make my chest beam.

A week after I leave him it is Shapes Day at school. Circles and trapezoids are everywhere, though I am the only one making trapezoids because even the name is too much for a three-year-old to handle.

I am at a worktable with two beautiful little girls and they have decided it is time for hearts. One of them is significantly better at it than the other, and this causes toddler tension. The less artistic of the two steals a heart from her classmate and when they struggle over the construction paper, the tip at the bottom of the heart rips off.

Tears ensue and I am left to console the original heart cutter-outer. In seconds she is a ball of snot and her world has ended. I tell her to use her words like we practice at school and she takes in dramatic breaths to prepare herself.

“She,” she stammers. “She—She broke my heart.”

At first I want to laugh at the beauty of it, and then I am moved.
She has no idea what she is saying and I hold her for this, and for me.

__________________________________________

Eva Jablow is a recent graduate of Connecticut College where she studied Creative Writing and Human Development. She lives in Brooklyn, where she answers phones for a non-profit half the time, and writes the other half. This is her first publication and she is probably still crying about it.