Narcissus and the Broken Giver

Photograph by Philip-Lorca DiCorcia

Photograph by Philip-Lorca DiCorcia

text by Marc Frazier

 

            Strains of Tchaikovsky fill Bruce’s second-story apartment. Curtains swish lightly in the breeze like a mournful dance—dancers illusive, then static; then, he thinks,

mocking. The clock ticks off minutes as only a Sunday afternoon clock can.

            Bruce enters the bedroom, his favorite place to relax when alone. Although tastefully decorated, elements of its décor are dissonant like the strings of the symphony he listens to, or his own needs and wants. The bed is an old metal frame with box springs. On the wall to the left of the bed is a long wall mirror. Stretched out on the bed Bruce stares out a rather large open window.

            The mustiness. It clings to me. Acts on my senses. The mustiness of summer cottages in resort towns open to their first boarders of the season. He tries not to think. A fly buzzes somewhere near. The time away has done nothing, he fears, as he traces the lines of his right palm with the forefinger of his left hand and vice versa.

            Suddenly Bruce jumps up and yanks open the top right drawer of the large, antique wooden chest. He reads and rereads and stares without reading the piece of paper before him. It sounds poetic, he can and cannot understand it, he could appreciate it and then he could hate its author. He hears footsteps on the stairs. He cannot mistake their author. The same.

            The music stops, the clock ticks, he hears the knock. He contemplates whether to answer it or not. Again the knock. He sits unmoved on the bed. Then he hears the door close and sees him standing in the bedroom doorway.

            David stands not smiling, not not smiling. “Didn’t know if you were home or not.” Silence. Bruce realizes he is holding the note in his hand. This disturbs him thinking it gives David too much power, that he cares enough to have it there, in his unsteady hands, that David knows all this with one glance.

            David nervously brushes his red bangs to either side of his forehead. Tom jumps from the bed, hands fisted, swinging wildly at the other man who remains motionless, “You son of a bitch, you fucking, mother-fucking son of a bitch.”

            David, being physically the stronger, overpowers Bruce’s fists with his hands. Bruce sinks to the floor holding as if to a ridge on a mountainside to David’s belt. He sobs. “I trusted you.” He feels like he will fall off this precipice, unprotected, all the way to the bottom. David’s hands are overlaid upon Tom’s clenching tightly to his belt. “You son of a bitch.”

            Bruce’s hands open David’s fly and take out his cock. This is the intimacy we had he thinks. David stands more smiling than not smiling, glancing sideways in the mirror reflecting his firm chest swelling, lapsing, his six-pack abs.

            When David’s guttural breathing slows, Bruce says evenly, “I don’t ever, ever want to see you again, you son of a bitch.”

The Simple Pleasures Of The Kazoo

hotel room destroued.jpg

text by Peyton Burgess (for Max Ross)

 

Most people don’t know this, but David Foster Wallace, under the pseudonym Vincent Impastato, published an essay titled “The Simple Pleasures of the Kazoo.” It appeared in the 2007 Italian anthology Mangiare Con Le Orecchie, a book about nontraditional instruments in Rome’s early 90s punk rock scene. 

Don’t ask me how I know this. Simply put, I used to want to be a writer, and he was one of the writers I followed intensely.

Anyway, in the essay he was able to express a genuine sentimental appreciation of the kazoo’s membranic response to a player’s subtle intonations, that is, the hum, without subjecting himself to the lofty expectations of a new, adoring but probably jealous fan base. In using the pseudonym Vincent Impastato, he relieved himself of the three-name byline, although interestingly enough, both his real name and the pseudonym are six syllables.

The thing is, I think we would have loved him for the kazoo essay. At least I hope we would have. I’m sad he didn’t feel he could trust us with it. 

I think the kazoo was the first instrument I played. My sister gave me one for my third birthday. She had wrapped it herself with a couple of pages torn from Rolling Stone, her favorite magazine at the time. It was made of dull red plastic, and I loved it. 

I thought I was supposed to blow real hard on it, but my sister showed me the importance of the hum and how to be subtle and to even roll my Rs, to use it to actually convey emotion, which was something I didn’t think you could do with a kazoo. I thought it was just a toy. 

My sister grew up to be a famous punk rock musician. You can probably guess her name. She was, still is actually, that famous.

Our relationship was always weird because of my expectations of her as my sister versus my expectations of her as a rock star. By weird I mean when we saw each other things would go well for a bit and then it would end bad. 

The last time we saw each other she invited me to three days with her in a fancy suite at the Casa Del Mar. She spent a lot of time pacing back and forth in a big, white cotton robe, smoking cigarettes in our nonsmoking room. 

I felt like I was hanging out with my sister the rock star the whole time and not my sister from, say, 1989 in Staunton, Virginia, during the old basement concert party days. 

One morning after a late night of drinking, she stood out on the balcony in bra and panties, drinking coffee and flipping off the paparazzi. Although I felt pretty uncomfortable, I donned briefs out on the balcony with her, but I didn’t see any paparazzi, maybe because I just didn’t know what to look for, but I laughed and flipped off the people on the beach anyway. 

As my laughing died down and I wiped away a happy tear, I looked at my sister, feeling closer to her and hoping to see her smile at me like the old Staunton days, but instead she was gazing out at the Pacific, her lips pressed tight against each other, and then she dropped to the floor and started shivering. I went and got her robe. 
I wrapped her in the robe and held her tight. “Just come back home,” I begged. 
“I can’t do that,” she said. 

In Wallace’s kazoo essay, he says that he mostly admired the punk musicians in Rome for embracing the kazoo because none of his favorite American musicians ever played the kazoo, none except for my sister, who he writes, “was the only musician to ever make me cry with a kazoo.”

He was referring to one of her solo tracks released posthumously. After my sister’s death, her label released a ‘home recordings’ kind of album. It features a track in which she plays the kazoo, breaking every now and then to breathe and sing a few slow verses about beating up Bobby at the bus stop when he pushed me into a storm ditch, about not being mad at me when I made her a collage from London Calling’s album jacket, and about how I wasn’t such a bad writer, but I could still use a little practice. 

I wasn’t aware of the song until I heard the album for the first time, about six months after she died. The critics claimed the album consisted of mostly nonsense and rambling. It bombed, nobody bought it, and I love her for it.


Peyton Burgess received an MFA degree in fiction from New York University. While at NYU, he taught undergraduate creative writing, curated the KBG Emerging Writers Reading Series, and worked as fiction editor for Washington Square Review. His first book, The Fry Pans Aren't Sufficing, came out in May 2016. He also works at Loyola University's Monroe Library in New Orleans as a Learning Technology Developer.


Three Short Prose Pieces By Carrie Cooperider

Empathy

         Many years ago, I attended a lecture by a man whose stroke, he warned us, had left him language-impaired. He spoke slowly and deliberately, sometimes using the wrong word. At one point, he lurched into a tragic sentence that began, “My mother, who is still dead…”

          I hated myself for it, but I cracked up. I could not stop laughing behind my hand, even as people turned to stare. I felt terrible, let me tell you! Sorry for him, and ashamed and embarrassed for myself. Yet here it is almost thirty years later, and I still find it hilarious. Sometimes, just re-hearing the words in my head, my thumbs will go numb, that’s how serious it is. My circulation is affected by how hard I am crying with laughter. Maybe there’s something neurologically squirrely going on in my brain, too.

          Nearly thirty years later.

          I wonder if the man with aphasia is still alive?

         Or if his mother is still dead?

Got A Minute

          It’s been one of those days when everybody I want to talk to is dead. Not their fault; it’s a common-enough type of busy signal to get. I figure, okay then, I’ll drive out to the Russian place, do some shopping. I don’t know any Russians, living or otherwise engaged, so that’s nothing personal. But maybe an aisle of smoked fish will cheer me up.

         I put the plastic sack with the butter, rye bread, and wrinkly-skinned mackerel on the passenger seat. “Hey, Mack,” I say as I back out of my spot, “What do you think? Get home quick, or do we got time to take the scenic route?”

Baby Shower

         Of course I didn’t want children. They can turn out so—wrong. I mean, what if they turned out like me?

         Once, when I was bathing Mother, she looked at me, dripping and steamy-eyed, and demanded, Child, does your momma know what you’re doing?


Carrie Cooperider is a writer and visual artist who lives and works in New York City. Her work has appeared in such publications as New York Tyrant, The Antioch Review, the Southampton Review, Cabinet Magazine, and Artishock.


Why Is It So Hard To Leave Los Angeles?

text by Keely Shinners

 

I leave the States in one week, July 3rd, the day before Independence Day. We have been joking a lot about how post-modern Americana it is, how David Foster Wallace may have used it as a first sentence in something.

When I talk or write about it, I say it differently: I leave Los Angeles in one week.

I have only lived here for a few months. I grew up in Illinois. I moved to Southern California, to a far suburb of L.A., towards San Bernardino. I have only lived in Los Angeles since May. I leave in one week. 

Still, it has become very difficult for me to leave Los Angeles. I have been crying at small things. Such as, the mention of going to Malibu. Such as, petting my editor’s cats (who actually do not like petting, but prefer spanking, the sado-maschochists).

I cry at less sentimental things as well. Such as, Billboard top 40 hip hop songs on the radio and finding a cheap cup of coffee ($1.75 at a place on Spring Street, across from the building where I have worked for more than a year).

Why is it so much harder to leave Los Angeles than anywhere else I have been?

I have a boyfriend in Los Angeles.

(I had a fiancé in Illinois.)

I have a life in California. I go to parties and I am recognized. I have writing jobs that publish my work and encourage me to keep writing.

(At one point, I believe I could have had a life at home too. A wedding in Chicago. A teaching job, like my mother. A big window overlooking Lake Michigan, with a writing desk.)

It’s warmer in L.A.

It’s warmer in L.A.? Really?

This is the one distinction between Los Angeles and other places I have been: in Los Angeles, it is easier to lie. Or at least to embellish. I have told so many lies in Los Angeles and people still believed me, respected me, loved me, even. L.A. attaches itself to a good story, whether or not the story is rooted in anything wholly true.

In L.A., I can say the words, “I am a writer,” to artists and sandwich makers and girls at bars. They nod and sip their drinks and say, “Oh, cool.”

At home, I can barely say the words, “I want to be a writer.” Let alone “I will be,” and certainly not, “I am.”

Los Angeles, city in love with good stories. And me too. I have read so much here. Didion. Bukowski. Eve Babitz.

Malibu is the most beautiful place in Los Angeles.

Malibu is at least the most beautiful-sounding place in Los Angeles because it is called Malibu, because it is attached to black and white photographs of movie actresses and screenwriters smoking cigarettes and drinking cognac on the balcony of so-and-so’s balcony overlooking the sea.

“The first time I came to Malibu, it was spring and the wildflowers had blossomed in the mountains.” I cry as I am writing this sentence. Why?

One, because it is a good sentence.

Two, because it is true. It was spring, and the wildflowers had blossomed, and it was me who was there. I plucked a white poppy flower from the canyon and tucked it in my hair, which was longer then. (I cry again at this story.)

And of course, it is reductive to say that the cats who like to be spanked are just my editor’s cats. These are the cats that posed with girls in black and white nudes, the photographs that I silently poured over when I was fifteen, sixteen, obsessed with a photographer who ran a magazine from his home in San Francisco. Now, Oliver Kupper, my editor, the man who taught me how to be a writer, in a studio apartment in Downtown Los Angeles (where you can apparently get coffee for $1.75 at a coffee place down the street).

I learned to drive here. (I tear up at this sentence too, probably at the word “here.”) I learned to stick half my body out the window when I am merging several lanes of traffic on the 10 east, to anthropomorphize my tiny silver hatchback. I learned to drive buzzed, to drive while putting on mascara, to drive at night, whipping past palm trees at eighty miles an hour. I learned to drive listening to the top 40 hip hop songs on the Billboard charts on Real 92.3, driving up and down Sunset Blvd in the middle of the night.

Sunset Blvd, a road, just a road. But a road attached to so many mysterious and fabulous stories that it has become more than itself. So much so that I remain blissful in Hollywood rush hour traffic, singing songs that I shouldn’t be singing, singing YG.

Why is it so hard to leave Los Angeles?

I will be back in six months, maybe less. Why is it still so hard to leave?

The love I have cultivated for this place permeates several layers of fiction and reality.

I fear I will come back and all of my illusions will have sunk with time, that I will have meetings and responsibilities and even more rent to pay. I will start to complain often of the ambulances and the smell of piss. And then my imagination of Los Angeles will not be so romantic anymore.

More than this, I fear the fantasy will wash over me, that I will be consumed by cognac and cigarettes on the balcony, interviews with people who are photographed often, long drives down Sunset. I am afraid that I will return to Los Angeles and there will be no time to go to the mountains or the beach, to put a white poppy in my hair, and that nothing here will feel so real anymore.

In the meantime, I will be relishing in my ability to say the word “here” until my mother drops me off at LAX and I wave all my kisses goodbye.

Tender Meat

artwork by Dash Snow

by Jennifer Love

         Me and Baby Rae like to talk about how we’re gonna get out of here soon. We both have big plans. She’s gonna be a school bus driver, and I’ll probably find Jesus or something. I just need to experience a great miracle to make me believe. Then I’m gonna be saved.

        The chili always burns black at the bottom of the pot. That’s why they’ve let Baby Rae stay here so long, because she’s the only one who’s got the sinew in her arms to scrape the iron clean again. “I’ll tell you a secret, Tiny,” she had said when I was first assigned to kitchen duty with her. “I got a deal with the cook. She always burns the food a little on purpose, gives me something to work with. Keeps me off the streets til I get going on my bus license.”

         My secret is that I watch her work out of the corner of my eye, I love to watch the rumbling muscle and fat. Baby Rae has great big folds of flesh and great big grooves around her eyes, she is stout and strong and steeped in rare wisdoms, pluckable as grapes. Like what she said before my first job interview. A shower ain’t enough, honey. You gotta go down to the Walgreen’s and pick out a 99 cent tube of lipstick. You wear lipstick, people think you got money, you know? She’s smart like that. Took a lot for her to get this way, though, living in the shelter for a record amount of time and not hearing a peep from no one about moving on. I know she had a baby boy and that baby boy isn’t hers anymore, because I guess somehow his school found out she was shooting up at home. The story’s a little fuzzy. She always gets to blubbering before long.

         I stay quiet when Baby Rae gets to talking about her son. A long time ago, I had tried to explain to her about my own experience as a mother. Tried to say, hey, I know what it’s like. To give birth. And then to lose your kid. But she didn’t understand, because my baby was born into the hands of a fortune teller named Grace who I had found in the Yellow Pages after a long night of contemplating the vast mystery of the future. And I guess to her, that isn’t quite the same.

         I reach back to the furthest tentacles of my mind, take myself out of the salty haze of the kitchen and back to that most important day. I am fifteen years old. I am wearing a sweatshirt that hangs halfway to my knees. I am on her doorstep, and then I am inside her house, sinking into the folds of her couch, breathing through my mouth and holding my hand out expectantly as she rustles through the contents of a drawstring bag. “I’d like to see my future, please,” I say.

        She makes me pay before she will touch me. Takes my ten dollar bill, then takes my hand and glides her crackled fingertips across its surface. Retrieves a stone to press into its center. Oils the fingers, a different oil for each one, from tiny bottles she produces from the depths of her bag. Stones. Oils. And a knife. This she lifts with great ceremony before running the blade along the creases of my palm, drawing bubbling red threads to the surface.

        “I didn’t know those were under there,” I breathe. When I touch them, they smear.

         She strokes my wrist with her thumb. “Are you ready, baby?”

          Her voice is barely audible. If I speak out loud, I fear the moment may break. My head nods before I know what I’m agreeing to.

          She sinks the knife deeper into my palm, angling it towards my wrist. She’s reaching for something, I know. She’s finding something important inside of me, and I feel no pain at all.

          Something bloody and gelatinous is on the end of her knife, as she pulls four inches of blade out of my flesh. She scoops it out of the meat of my hand and lays it, with reverence, across my other open palm.

           “A baby duck,” she sighs, eyes glittering. “An embryo.”

          The glazed eye of my offspring gazes up at me. Grace takes my hand again, pulls a needle and thread through the incision she has left.

          “Will it survive?” I ask. “Is it going to grow up?”

          She just nods, breaking the thread with her teeth. Taking my hand, she leads me to her front porch. She kisses the embryo, staining her lips red before she retreats into her house and shuts the door.

          “Grace, wait!” I try the door, but it’s locked. I shake the knob to make the hardware rattle. “What about my future? You never told me!”

         I bang on the door with my stitched hand, keeping my baby cupped carefully in the other. She pulses warm and wet in my palm. “Grace! What does this mean?”

          It seems as if my voice should echo, but it doesn’t. I desperately need Grace to let me back in, but she won’t. The night, unsympathetic to my situation, descends. So I just slush home.

          I named her Meatball. The little duck. My daughter. I cracked eggs over her miraculous body each day, gently massaged the yolk into her skin. Meatball was my moon and sun. She grounded me during my time of navigating life as a disoriented Canada goose, two states behind and wondering when everyone else was going to catch up. She started the thaw within me, organs materializing from the soup of my cells and groaning slowly to life. The world was becoming real with her every imperceptible breath; life could be more than something I thought about from afar, formless and alone, wondering when everyone else was going to catch up.

          Frozen, thawed, back in flight-- life could be more than something I thought about in my sleep.

          But I am not fifteen anymore. I am not with Grace, I am with Baby Rae. And she has moved on. Now she is telling me that if she’d had a man, she would still have her kid, and she’d have a job and a house and all that. Playing the game, she calls it. That’s how you gotta do life, she advises.

          She cracks her dishtowel, slings it across the wire rack. “You know, Tiny, you’re a cute little thing. I don’t know why you don’t just pick a man off the street, get him wrapped round your finger. You’d be all tucked up in a nice house in no time.”

          “It’s not that easy.”

          “Like hell it ain’t. Wait til you’re my age, see what you think ‘bout it then. You can give me a call.” Baby Rae pulls the stopper out of the drain and meanders out of the kitchen, squawking with laughter. “Cos you know if I ain’t dead yet, I’m still be here!”

          Baby Rae doesn’t know about the last time I tried anything like that. I had been scooting down the strip mall at the edge of town, a shopkeeper after me for stealing a can of beans. The bowling alley had seemed like a safe haven from the outside, with a faded sign promising fun for the whole family. Inside was dim and interplanetary, every surface yellowed by fluorescent beams. I ran for the lanes and slid down the first alley I reached, dropping my body low, gliding under the ten-pin triangle suspended and into the dark. My feet slammed into a metal grate. What the hell, a voice said from the other side, a voice that I would later know as that of my angel, my angel took a socket wrench to the grate and pulled it down with a clang so I could hop out, and I hopped.

          “Who are you?” I asked him. He had a greasy black mustache that I trusted with my life. His body was shaped like a beautiful egg.

          “I feel like I should be the one asking the questions here,” he said with something like a grunt, or maybe a laugh. I waited. I checked on Meatball. She was a fluffed-up duckling by that time.

          The man cleared his throat and puffed out his chest a little. “My name’s Dave. I’m the pinsetter mechanic.”

          He showed me the supply closet to hide in when the owner came back a minute later to bang on the door, said I don’t know man, she ran out that way, I don’t know, she didn’t say nothing to me until he left, and I asked from inside the closet if he had a wife, and he didn’t hear me so I came out of the closet and asked again, and he didn’t say nothing to me, and my insides snapped for a second and my eyes darted to the door, until he asked me hey kid, you gonna be okay if I sneak you out, and I didn’t say nothing to him, and that’s how I ended up sleeping in the musty space behind the bowling lanes, eating the food he brought me, feeding Meatball the oats and peas he brought her, spending my days plotting how I was gonna get out of there and into his house, where I could have a real bed instead of an inflatable mattress on the ground, and real showers instead of baby wipes and weekly trips in the middle of the night to the campground showers just out of town. I spent a long time on my teeth in those concrete restrooms in the cold and the dark and the night. Convinced that if I brushed them long enough, they would get sharp like fangs.

          His wife’s name was Barbara. I had to ask him four different times if she was fake until he showed me a picture in his wallet. He loves her very much, he said, but that’s why I gotta stay here. He gets it, he said, but she don’t. And he kinda likes it, he said, having a little secret to keep.

          “You guys don’t have any kids, right? Can’t you adopt me?” I asked him one day, and again. He didn’t say nothing to me. “Do you think of me as a daughter? Or more like a captive, illicit love?”

          He snorted. “Come on, kid. You’re only old enough to be my daughter.”

          “So I am your daughter, then?”

          He watches the pins through the grates, spinning, spinning, spinning into place. From where I sit on my mattress, I can see every single line in his skin.

          “Sure, Tiny. You can be my kid.”

          I could be his kid. Until the night I was woken by the sound of pins crashing against one of the grates, and his voice, and something less familiar. The voice of a girl. Younger than Barbara. I scrambled out of bed and pressed my eyeball to the grate and saw her, my age but prettier than me, pretending she didn’t know how to roll the ball so that he would put his arm next to hers and he put his arm next to hers and behind them on the plastic seats, a cherry slushie he must have gotten her from the snack shack, he would’ve had to turn the machine back on for that and then clean it again before the morning crew arrived and I knew this because he’d done it for me and until that night, for me alone, and I saw the way they were looking at each other, and I pulled on my sweatshirt and shoved Meatball in the pocket and wrenched out the bolts and pulled down the grate and ran down the line at the side of the lane, picked up a bowling ball, and they were yelling but I couldn’t hear what they were saying and they were yelling and I threw the bowling ball at her head, and I didn’t throw it hard enough, and it landed with a bone-cracking smack on the ground that I became certain was the sound of my heart breaking.

          She’s my niece, he thundered after me as I ran to the front doors, clasping another bowling ball against my chest. And here’s what happened next: first, his hand clamped down on my arm. Second, every nerve ending in my body shrieked. Third, my entire being pulled itself away from his grasp, a great surge of revulsion pushing forward so hard that my sick-mouse feet couldn’t keep up and one kicked the other and I fell, hard, on the hardwood, on my left hip. The pocket with Meatball inside. I felt her little bird bones popping against mine, the warm blood seeping through my sweatshirt, and my baby girl was dead, a mess of flesh in my pocket. A sob rose from my stomach, but I couldn’t think about it then.

          At the front doors, I threw the bowling ball against the glass and this time it worked, the glass shattered, sent the screech of an alarm across the building and into the night. It sounded like silver blood, just like me, and it almost drowned out Dave in the background, his footsteps, his voice, still yelling, Tiny, you fucking crazy bitch, she’s my niece.

          Two lungs later I laid flat on the side of the highway, arms outstretched like an angel. My bones were aching like they wanted me to tear them out or something, bury them in someone’s backyard until a hush settled in. Made them docile. I thought of all those glittering fragments of glass, suspended for milliseconds before raining down on the pavement. And my body a tiny angel, fluttering amongst the iridescence, avoiding the sharp edges with the practiced bobs and weaves of someone who has felt them before. Laying far out in the dark, I considered whether I really cared that Dave had some other stupid girl with a ponytail, or if I just thought I should. Sometimes it’s hard to tell how much of what I’m doing is me, and how much is a hand slipping through the cracks in my skin and knotting against my spine.

          The sobs had long subsided, faded to kitten hiccups in my throat. I felt convinced that no one in history has felt as hard, as much as I do, no one else has ever laid flat on the ground on the side of the road in the middle of everywhere with their baby’s mangled body turning crusty against their hip, fucking freezing and waiting for the earth to split open beneath their back, waiting to fall, praying for a home or a hand or something to catch them on the other side. No one else has ever been so close to the void.

          I stayed like that, a bloodstained palm to the sky, until the cops came to take me away.

          But it’s okay. You know? People are always talking about how everything is okay. I’m gonna be saved. And Baby Rae’s gonna get her certificate and become a school bus driver, probably in Kentucky, she says. Where they have white picket fences and green grass, the kinda shit you don’t see round here, she says. I dig my nails into the blackened grit at the bottom of the pot, and the grit bites back. I’ll be there, too. When I’m an angel, back in flight. Higher than the sun. I’m gonna be saved. I swear. I’m gonna be saved. I’m just waiting for the miracle.


Jennifer Love is a writer, artist, and Bay Area native. She currently resides in San Jose, teaching literacy skills to ESL learners and working on a collection of short stories.


Maneesh in Los Angeles by Shane Jones

photograph by Daido Moriyama

text by Shane Jones

       On Saturday mornings Maneesh tells Sarah things. They have lived together for six months. Sarah refuses to define their relationship, so Sarah is just Sarah and she lives her life saying she has a cold. Maneesh doesn’t understand why Sarah always has a cold, but she says she does and she likes to talk about it. Once a week Sarah works for a veterinarian who makes house calls. The only reason he makes house calls is to put dogs to sleep. The only reason he employs Sarah is to have someone in the house if the dog is too big. 

       Maneesh wants to marry Sarah. He feels embarrassed that he desperately wants to marry a woman named Sarah who has a cold all the time and puts dogs to sleep. Back home his parentsquestion their non-arrangement. They call Sarah “The Sahara” and when Maneesh asks what that means exactly they go silent. Regardless, they send money every month and are happy to do so. His mother places dried flowers, from their backyard, intothe envelope, and during the trip they become dust. His father sketches clouds in pencil across the top of the envelope and the mailman once used a black pen and drew some slanted rain. 

        The worst thing Sarah has ever said to Maneesh he has written on a purple post-it note. This one mean thing, so heartless, he holds onto, and before taking a shower, he unfolds the purple post-it note, reads the question, and tries to answer it. What the mean thing is never seems as mean as when he first heard it. They were arguing about money. They always argue about money because money is the most important thing in the world. Sarah said that he could never make it alone because he had no friends in LA. She narrowed her eyes and said, “When was the last time someone asked you how you were?” 

         Maneesh is on a job interview at The Dick Motel. His resume is completely blank, there is absolutely nothing on it. The man sitting behind the desk, Mr. Dick, feels required to interview a person with a name like Maneesh. Mr. Dick has a framed picture of his five children. All five children are dressed in North Face jackets and Under Armour pants. Maneesh looks at the picture and sighs. 

        “Tell me about yourself,” says Mr. Dick. 

         Maneesh describes the field of flowers back home and the spice market and the golden temple and the cows that produce toxic milk because they eat street garbage. To some of the people who interview him his life seems exotic. Sometimes the interviewers talk about Cancun and Maneesh smiles and nods. 

        “But who are you really,” says Mr. Dick. 

          This has never happened before. Such a question! Maneesh lists off adjectives, none of which accurately describe him, most of which he’s not sure the definition of. Still, it sounds pretty good. 

         Mr. Dick doesn’t speak for five minutes. Finally, Mr. Dick says, “What’s your favorite animal?”

        “Dog,” says Maneesh. “Simple and noble and they give you everything.”

         “Let me clarify. Any animal in the world. That includes jungle.”

         “Definitely dog,” says Maneesh. 

          By the end of the interview Maneesh isn’t sure he has the job. A salary is discussed, so it seems like he has the job. He’s not even sure what the job is. But Maneesh will return the next day at 8 a.m. and see what happens. He needs a job so he can marry Sarah and be happy. 

         It is raining outside and too dark for a summer evening. Waiting at the bus stop Maneesh isn’t sure if he should celebrate or look for more jobs. He sits on the metal bench inside the bus stop and with both hands he holds the purple post-it note. 

       “Doctor’s are now saying you should squat on the toilet,” says Sarah. “To get your shit out.” 

       “What?” says Maneesh, amazed. “Is that news?”

       “Maybe it would make me have fewer colds,” says Sarah. “Seems kind of funny though, squatting on the toilet and not sitting, like a normal person.”

       “Right,” says Maneesh.

       Sarah is in the suburbs at the Dick’s house. She is with the veterinarian and the dying dog’s owner, Mrs. Dick, who can’t stop crying. She is going through a divorce and now this. The Dick’s dog is so large Sarah is startled every time she leaves the room and comes back into the room. The reason she leaves the room so many times is to text Maneesh. She says things like, “God, I am so sick today, not sure I can make it,” and “My cold is so bad I think I might pass out.” Nothing Maneesh texts back is good enough.

        The veterinarian likes doing mushrooms and reading horoscopes. Putting dogs to sleep has made him into a weirdo. He used to wear a hemp necklace until Sarah told him to stop. On many occasions he has refused to put down any other animal besides a dog because he believes other animals aren’t as close to God. He said this years ago while on mushrooms, but even sober, he believes it. 

        When he’s on mushrooms he tells Sarah by texting a picture of a palm tree. This was a mistake the first time, but it was funny, so now the palm tree is a running joke. Today the veterinarian is not on mushrooms. Sarah’s job is to hold the back quarters of the dog still while he injects the dog with the chemicals that will kill it.

        “It’s a nice dog,” says Sarah. “I’m sure you gave him a wonderful life.”

         Mrs. Dick is on the living room floor, about ten feet from Sarah and the vet. She looks like she is praying but she is crying so much.

         Once, Sarah and the vet had to put down a German shepherd named Brutus. Brutus hadn’t been groomed in ten years and his tongue never stopped bleeding. For Halloween, the owner’s daughter went as Little Red Riding Hood with Brutus. On first entering the house Sarah had hated the dog. When Brutus was injected with the poison he swept his paw down and on top of Sarah’s hand.

         Once, the veterinarian called Sarah for an emergency job, it had been a few weeks, and when she hung up she said, “I love you.” She didn’t mean it. She only said it because she had a fear of saying “I love you” on the phone to a stranger. And now, it had happened. After the emergency job – two dogs in one visit – the vet texted Sarah a palm tree and a purple heart. 

        When all the poison is inside Mrs. Dick’s dog the vet has Sarah hold the needle so he can get more poison. Some dogs are so big they need more poison to put them to sleep forever. Sarah feels the need to keep talking to Mrs. Dick who is now flat on the carpet with her face pressed into the carpet. She’s not that upset about the dog. “You gave him everything,” says Sarah. “A life of love.”

         Sarah and the vet place the dog inside a purple bag. It’s purple because black is too morbid. This is the vet’s idea and he is proud of it. Even in the driveway Sarah hears Mrs. Dick crying. The vet needs his money. Before he comes out and gets into the car he texts Sarah “j/k” and a palm tree. A second later he sends a heart. 

         They began having sex several times a day shortly after their first date. Maneesh was surprised by this. It was a lot of sex! The only other girlfriend he had ever had while living in LA was a woman who liked sex on Thursday only, which she deemed, “Sophie’s Day.” But Sarah was different. Sarah was insatiable because she couldn’t love anyone. Maneesh was a careful lover and for cologne he wore rosewater which Sarah liked to smell off his shoulders. Sarah enjoyed fast humping. Maneesh increased his humps per minute and felt ridiculous. He wanted to be married so he humped until it hurt. Sarah told Maneesh to put a hand on her throat. He refused. Maneesh loved Sarah by telling her everything he would accomplish in his life. Sarah thought that a person who does this accomplishes nothing. 

         For ten days Maneesh goes to his job. He’s not sure he has the job because he hasn’t been paid. When he showed up the following morning after the interview, Mr. Dick seemed surprised. 

       “You came back,” said Mr. Dick. 

        “Ready to work,” Maneesh said. 

         Mr. Dick waited a while then smiled. “Favorite animal is a dog.”

        “We had discussed money, so I assumed,” said Maneesh. 

        The job is guarding a small swimming pool behind the motel. Maneesh is not a lifeguard. He has no such training. He just makes sure no one is to go swimming. Mr. Dick doesn’t want anyone in the water. The Dick Motel is performing poorly on the financial spectrum. A boy drowned last month. He went down the slide and became so shocked by the cold water that he had an anxiety attack in the deep end. So Maneesh, from sunrise to sunset, watches the pool and points people away from the water. 

        At the end of his tenth day Mr. Dick hands Maneesh five hundred dollars in cash. It is much less than employing a lifeguard and letting people have fun. The motel now charges 35 cents for a bucket of ice. In the future the motel will have one resident and it will be Mr. Dick.

       Sarah can’t sleep because it’s too hot. The air-conditioner is on but it’s not strong enough. Their bed is a mattress on the floor. Next to her on the floor Sarah keeps her phone and when it goes off a little light blooms in the room. 

       She gets a text from the veterinarian. This has been happening more frequently. Sarah rolls onto her side and squints into the light. The screen is all palm trees and hearts. She doesn’t respond. He sends more. 

       They are out drinking coffee at Sarah’s favorite coffee place. It’s called Starbucks and Sarah likes to sit outside under the green umbrellas so people can see her. She has a headache and says she can barely open her eyes. Her throat is raw but the coffee soothes. It’s a very bad cold this time around and she needs to take time off work. 

“But you only work once a week,” says Maneesh. “For an hour.”

“Exactly,” says Sarah. “I need to clear my schedule. I need Sarah time.”

“I’ve been saving money,” says Maneesh, smiling. 

“Don’t smile,” says Sarah. “You look pervy.”

Maneesh lowers his chin and bites his bottom lip.

         “Men shouldn’t smile so much at women. It’s oppressive.”   

         “I’m saving for our future,” says Maneesh, not smiling. “I have great plans.”

         "A Sarah day,” says Sarah. “Once a week where I get to do whatever I want.”

        “Hm,” Maneesh says. 

        “Today’s good,” she says and finishes her coffee. “Now let’s go home and do fast humps.”

         “You can’t act this way when we’re married,” saysManeesh. “Back home they won’t allow such behavior.”

        “What are you talking about?”

         “This is my proposal,” says Maneesh and he falls to one knee. There is a five hundred dollar ring in his open palm. It is beautiful. 

         “I thought this would happen,” says Sarah. 

         Maneesh is unpopular at the motel where there is a guy who says he designs airplanes so he spends all day writing mechanical equations on his body. There is a woman who hides beer in the ice machine. There is a guy who calls himself Morphine Man who spends more time in his van than his motel room. There is a stray dog named George that everyone loves but no one will take responsibility for. They all dislike Maneesh. They don’t care that a boy drowned. Visible water you can’t enter in LA is torture.

       Maneesh sits inside the gate at a patio table next to the pool. A car pulls into a parking spot. A woman is inside. Ten minutes later a pick-up truck parks three spots from her. A man gets out, walks to the front desk, and enters the motel room closest to where the woman’s car is parked. Five more minutes pass until the woman leaves her car and opens the motel room door, which is unlocked and left slightly open. An hour later the man leaves. The woman leaves ten minutes after. Maneesh holds his face with his hands. 

       Every night before it becomes dark and the little yellow motel lights come on outside each room, Mr. Dick appears in his Chevy Cruze. He parks on the side of the motel where there is an entrance. From his trunk he unloads a dozen black trash bags. A woman, much older than Mr. Dick, helps him bring the bags inside. They are huge bags, and the old woman is very small but very strong and she takes three bags in each hand and she can barely fit through the door. One night, Mr. Dick left his car right there and in the morning his car was still there. But most nights, Mr. Dick leaves. He comes back in the morning to work the front desk because he has fired everyone but Maneesh and a maid who is into heroin and skinny dipping in the dark. 

         If he’s in a good mood Mr. Dick brings Maneesh a coffee in the morning. He hands him a clipboard and paper where Maneesh writes down when and who tries to swim in the pool. Soon, he will have enough for the plane tickets back home. 

       “Do you like America,” says Mr. Dick. 

       “You are going to have to be more specific,” Maneesh says. 

        “Our way of life, our food, our manner of moving through the world.”

        At the ice machine is the woman who hides beer inside the machine. She has the flap open and is kneeling in front of it. Her eyes are closed. “Doctor Franks,” she says. “You are needed in the recovery room.”

         “I like the flag,” says Maneesh. 

          Eventually, Sarah agrees to marry Maneesh. She stops complaining about her colds. She’s not even sure she had a cold before, she just liked talking about having a cold. It’s a way to complain and get sympathy for a while until the other person has nothing to say and then she can still keep talking. Sarah realizes she just really likes to talk and have no one talk back to her. She doesn’t necessarily like this about herself, but she accepts it. 

          The engagement is a great success for Maneesh. He looks at the purple post-it note with the mean thing on it and puts it back in his pants. His parents seem thrilled. They stop calling Sarah “The Sahara” which is a nice thing to do. They will have the wedding there. They will invite one hundred people. 

         It is all so strange and exotic. Sarah spends less time looking at her friends on her phone. None of them have children so they have dogs they take pictures with. Sarah has to like each picture. But now Sarah thinks about being married and having a child. She doesn’t tell Maneesh this. Her likes on her friend’s dog photos become random. Her friends are offended and happy for her. The colors of the wedding will be white and turquoise and long beads will be on every neck and wrist. Rose petals will lead them everywhere. Marble, thinks Sarah, is a nice name for a baby girl. 

         Maneesh collects his last five hundred dollars and lets everyone into the pool. Mr. Dick is furious. It’s a small pool to begin with and there are too many people in it. They fill the pool shoulder-to-shoulder and on the slide are half a dozen people drinking Bud Light. One person wears a clown wig. 

“Why are you doing this?” says Mr. Dick. 

          “To make the people happy,” says Maneesh. “I am embarking on the most joyful part of my life and I want to share it with everyone.”

         “Half of these people are child molesters,” says Mr. Dick. 

         “I am in love and you are not,” says Maneesh. “So we see the world differently. I couldn’t be more happier than I am now.”

         Mr. Dick waves hello at a motel resident slapping his belly, seemingly, in his direction. “I didn’t ask how you were feeling,” says Mr. Dick. 

        “On top of the world,” says Maneesh. 

        They are back at Starbucks drinking coffee. The ring on her finger is perfect and a passing man in all gray sweatpants and shirt gives them a thumbs up. Maneesh tells Sarah that the flight is 17 hours. 

“Oh my God,” says Sarah. 

“We can play games,” says Maneesh. 

“Games?”

         “On our phones,” says Maneesh. “Like this.” He shows her his phone with a squirrel running from one side of the screen to the other side of the screen catching falling acorns from an autumnal tree.  

        “Maybe this isn’t such a good idea after all,” says Sarah. 

        Maneesh does the pervert face. “I am King Love. You are Queen Bee.

        “For the wedding,” says Sarah. “How many elephants can we have?”

        Maneesh stares at Sarah. 

         Sarah quits her job and the veterinarian has a coughing fit. He wants her to stay. He has never directly confessed his feelings so he will destroy everything around him. They are outside in his car. They have just finished putting down a Doberman Pincher. Sarah feels nothing. It is her least favorite dog in the world. The owner is a physical therapist who showed her an entire room filled with Bruce Springsteen memorabilia. 

“I’ll be gone for a month, maybe more,” says Sarah. “I’ll come back a married woman.”

“I’m on mushrooms,” says the vet.

         Through the windshield Sarah sees the physical therapist filling out the paperwork at his dining room table. His forehead is supported by his index finger and thumb. Sarah imagines him listening to depressing Bruce Springsteen songs.

“Can you see me,” says Sarah, “being a wife?”

“Not really,” says the vet. “How about some mushrooms.”

“But isn’t that a bad sign?” says Sarah. “You’re into astrology. Doesn’t my horoscope say what I should do?”

         “Sarah,” says the vet. “I’m afraid we have come to the closing chapter in our shared experience. We came together in death, laughed together in death, and now, we leave together in death.”

“But I’m getting married,” says Sarah. “In India.”

“The stars are overrated,” says the vet. 

          The day before the 17 hour flight Maneesh buys a coffee for everyone at the motel. He knocks on each door, leaves the coffee on the ground, and then moves to the next door. 

“What is this about,” says Morphine Man. 

“Victory,” says Maneesh. 

       A few residents open their door, look at the coffee, then close the door. Mr. Dick is asleep in his Chevy Cruze with the old woman knitting in the passenger seat. 

       “From lottery winnings,” says Morphine Man. 

        “No, not at all,” says Maneesh, smiling. “I’m going back home to get married. I’ve met a woman and we are going to have a life together.”

       Morphine Man drinks his coffee. He stops drinking his coffee but keeps the coffee cup against his mouth and nose while looking at Maneesh. Then he lowers the cup and says, “Talk about a dream and try to make it real.”

       Sarah isn’t sure how she got everything so wrong in her imagination but the wedding ceremony isn’t in a church but at the home of Maneesh’s parents. It is lovely. They have decorated for weeks. There are two chairs colored gold in the living room on a riser. Maneesh wears a perfect white suit that is so soft that Sarah cries when she touches it. There is the backyard full of flowers. She looks at the backyard full of flowers and they are married. 

         There is cake. On the cake are one hundred candles. This is a tradition. Every person at the wedding takes a candle and walks outside where they form a circle with Maneesh and Sarah in the center. She knows no one. Everyone has a dog sitting next to them as they stand. Everyone makes their wish for the couple. They don’t blow the candle out. Rather, they put the candle out with their fingertips, nod at Maneesh and Sarah, and then, the next person goes. The ring of light dials down to dark. The sky is a light blue, almost white, with both the sun and moon visible. Sarah believes she can smell sand in the breeze. Then it’s just Maneesh and Sarah standing in the center with their candles. They make a wish for each other. 

        There is great applause and cheering. The dogs sit still. A weeping man hugs Maneesh around his thighs that Sarah is pretty sure is his father. Another person holds a small dog against his chest while spinning and looking at the sky with his eyes closed. Maneesh and Sarah run into the house so people can throw things into the air. 

        “Tell me,” says Sarah, in Maneesh’s childhood bedroom. “Come on, tell me what you wished for.”

        “It’s sacred,” says Maneesh. “You wouldn’t tell me your birthday wish at Applebee’s last year.”

         “We should do fast humps,” says Sarah. 

         “My family is outside,” says Maneesh. He points out the window and his uncle nods his drink at him. The dogs haven’t moved an inch. They remain in a circle. 

         Sarah pushes Maneesh against the door and kisses his neck. Maneesh puts a hand on her throat. She feels scared so she laughs. Then she tells him to keep going. He squeezes her throat and kisses her on the mouth. He kisses her forehead. She coughs. Everyone outside is happy. But they are not as happy as Maneesh and Sarah. How could they be? He lifts her dress. There really are flowers everywhere. He slides his fist across her stomach. “What the hell are you doing?” says Sarah. He slides his fist into his pocket. The purple post-it note remains because they are in love. 


shanejones4.jpg

Shane Jones (b. 1980) lives in upstate New York. His first novel, Light Boxes, was originally published by Publishing Genius Press in a print run of 500 copies in 2009. The novel was reviewed widely, the film option purchased by Spike Jonze (Where The Wild Things Are, Adaptation), and the book was reprinted by Penguin Group in 2010. Light Boxes has been translated in eight languages and was named an NPR best book of the year. In August of 2012 Penguin released a new novel, Daniel Fights a Hurricane. Shane is also the author of the novella The Failure Six.


The Pollinator by Kate Wyer

photograph by Nobuyoshi Araki

text by Kate Wyer

We are all migrants here. Working with our thumbs and hands in the organic orchid field. We are all brown with the sun and some from family. We do not all speak Spanish. I speak some, enough. I dream it and can tell when I’m the butt of another’s joke. To know  slurs and insults, to roll with the subtle, confusingly slow brushes against my backside as I lean into the plants. 
 

"Do you shave your eyebrows?"they ask me. 
 

I don’t know if this is some kind of come on, if it meant something other than a literal question. My eyebrows are huge and black with a natural arch to them. I was born with them. Sometimes I have an urge to neaten, but not often. I do not tolerate a beard or mustache though. Even the slightest scrape of stubble against the back of my hand gets my gag reflex going. What’s that about, right? 

I am most drawn to the creatures who hang out with the Hare Krishnas. I’ve heard they don’t believe in sex unless you are trying to procreate. There is one in particular. She has a shaved head. I think she’s a she. There is something masculine in her shoulder. I  see them all after rain storms. They appear after the clouds have gone and the sun is shining as they beat their drums and step around the mud puddles in the street. 

 I like to watch the dogs line up behind the grocery store on my way home. It is dark and their shadows move through the streets with mine. I would like to beg the way they do. I would like to kneel and ask for food, have it handed to me directly into my mouth. I can sit. I can stay. Instead, I go home and cook beans and rice with some of the discarded vanilla pods and a little red pepper, a lot of black pepper and salt. 
 

Home is very full. I live with the men of the fields in all the outcroppings of semi-permanent homes. There is a shared kitchen, but no one cooks very much. Except for me. The bathroom is shared too. We have single bedrooms that are linked in an open hallway. There is plastic over the walkway, but rain still gets in, even if it isn’t windy. The room is carpeted with remnants. 

If you were my guest, I’d have you leave your shoes next to the door. 
I have to say, I always wear a hat when I’m working so the sun won’t age my face. I use some turmeric and mix into a face mask to give myself a little color. It stains my skin a slight golden color and is good for inflammation too. I know why I confuse some of the men and disgust others. There is something they don’t know how to read. I don’t know how to read it myself. It’s all very crude and approximate. 

I decide to piece my nose. I found a small earring hoop in the field today and pocketed it immediately. All day I thought it over. Yes, it should be easy enough with my quilting needle, although my standard needle may be too big. As soon as I’m home, I think, I’ll look. 
 

I have a small carrot that about the size of my pinky. It fits up my nose. I wash my face and hands, stick the carrot up the right nostril and then with it hanging out of my face, run the end of a needle through a flame a few times. In the mirror I test a few places with a marker and then select the dot furthest back on my nose. Grabbing the carrot to hold it in place, I then press down through my nose with the needle. My eyes immediately water a lot, but really, it’s not that bad. 
 

Oh, I think, I should have washed the hoop first. With the carrot and now the needle sticking out of my face, I walk to the kitchen to wash it before trying to loop it through. 
 

Fero is in the kitchen.  What the hell is that?, he asks. 

I blush, or at least flush. I can feel the blood in my chest rising up my throat. 
I’m piercing my nose. 
 

Are you crying?


No, it made my eyes water. I’m not crying. It doesn’t hurt much at all. 
He makes a move like he’s going to get up quickly. If I grab it, it will hurt. 
I move back and he laughs. 
 

Whatever, he says. I’m not going to touch you. 
 

I don’t turn my back to him as I wash the gold hoop under the hot water. 
 

You need to clean the hole with saline. Or soak it with salt water every day for a couple of months, he says. My sister had hers pierced in the 90’s. I still remember her sitting in front of the TV holding a washcloth to her face every night. 
 

How long do I soak it?
 

I don’t remember. I just remember it takes a few months to completely heal. 
 

Why did you pierce it? The nostril too. You could have at least pierced through here, he says and pinches the septum. You have the ring, like the bull. 


I don’t answer him. I want to get the needle out of my nose because it is starting to throb. 
 

Thanks, I say, and exit hurriedly to my room. 
 

Once inside I twist the needle a few times and then bend hoop open. If I had a stud it would be so much easier. 

The needle is stuck into the carrot and I can’t get it to slide out without pulling the needle out of my nose. I should have picked something harder that wouldn’t be penetrated. 

I watch his eyes as they scan me. I wonder what he notices. 
 

The longer he holds my face the more blood moves, the more quickly it moves. Despite this, I worry about breaking out where his oily fingers linger on my chin. I haven’t yet tried to wiggle out. 


He moves his torso closer to mine, closer until it is just a fist’s distance away. I feel his heat and can smell his supper on his breath. 
 

His eyes finally move onto my face. There is mild surprise across his eyebrows. 
 

I don’t know if I wanted him to drop my face or crush it. Or kiss it. 

His hand goes to my crotch. He gives a strong squeeze and then releases, steps back. My hand finds his waist and I attempt to pull his body towards me until his crotch is against mine.  
It’s clear the moment is over though. 

He resists and moves to open the door. 
 

Don’t steal my goddamn avocados, he says.


Kate Wyer is the author of the novel Black Krim, which was nominated for the Debut-litzer from Late Night Library. Her manuscript, Girl, Cow, is a semi-finalist for the Omnidawn Fabulist Fiction Chapbook Contest. Wyer's work can be found in The Collagist, Unsaid, PANK, Necessary Fiction, Exquisite Corpse, and other journals. She attended the Summer Literary Seminars in Lithuania on a fellowship from FENCE. Wyer lives in Baltimore and works in the public mental health system.


Fat Kid

Text by Matthew Vollmer

         The kid was fat. Like really fat. Obese, I guess, is the word. Not morbidly obese, I don’t think, but I can’t say for sure. I’m no doctor. I can’t observe the particulars of a body—human or otherwise—and tell you whether or not it may or may not be teetering on the verge of extinction. I do, however, have eyes. I like to think—and in fact I feel pretty confident in saying—that I know overweight when I see it. So, like I said… this kid, he was fat. In fact, I’d say that he belonged to a specific category: the kind that elicits pity. The kind you look at and say, what chance does a kid that fat have? It’s terrible to think, I know, and worse to say. And it’s not like I have a lot of room to talk. I could stand to lose a few. But still. This kid? His fatness? Whole other story. Wherever he went, the fact of that fatness was, if you’ll pardon the expression, the elephant in the room. I’m not saying he was like those thousand pounders whose corpses have to be airlifted out of their bedrooms, just that this kid’s fatness was something you would’ve had no chance of not noticing. You could tell yourself that you weren’t going to judge, but I’d bet a dollar to a doughnut you couldn’t help wondering how could someone, specifically a child, could get that big. Was it the fault of his parents? His pediatrician? Was he somehow genetically disposed? Was his problem—supposing you wanted to distinguish it as such—glandular in nature? What and how much did he snitch when nobody was looking? Did he get in trouble for raiding the pantry or refrigerator? Did he sneak out to the nearest convenience mart, where a raspy voiced woman with bloated eyebags and a diamond ring on her finger rang him up and called him “Hun” when she asked for the total, and if so did this make the fat kid feel good, if only because it seemed to him then that in the cashier’s eyes he was a regular person like anybody else, living in a world where all people were potential “Huns,” and did he then give her a handful of quarters and say, “Keep the change,” and ferry the snack cakes to his room where he stuffed each one whole into his mouth, not eating as fast as he possibly could, but with a steady consistency that still might have been accurately described as “wolfing,” little beads of sweat breaking out on his forehead and air whistling through his nose as he chewed,  not even really enjoying it except for the fact that he knew he shouldn’t do it, but fuck it, who was he to deprive himself of this one joy in life, not that he didn’t only have one joy, but this was one only he knew about, a secret joy, the way his teeth cracked the brittle icing and then squished into the yellow cake and the gooey filling and maybe he had a chocolate milk to wash down each massive bite, who knows? Maybe all he needed to do was get through the eating and emerge on the other side.

         But maybe I’m getting it all wrong. Maybe the only thing to say about any of this is that it’s wrong to see a kid and think first and foremost the word “fat,” wrong to imagine that said kid was somebody who lacked the necessary willpower to be not fat, the kind of person who couldn’t control his desires. Aren’t we all guilty of indulgence? Don’t we all practice our own singularly ludicrous acts of self-sabotage? And might the only difference between our sins and his be that the consequences of his supply more physical evidence? What if, for instance, every time we got angry, our bodies started, ever so slightly, to balloon? What if we evolved somehow so that we grew what scientists would later dub on the cover of Time magazine, “the fat gland,” and that every time you lost your temper, every time the Dream Team lost to the Sacramento Kings in NBA2K14 or if your spouse washed something that shouldn’t have been washed and dried or if your kid took too long finding a jacket to wear because he’s pathologically slow in the mornings and the bus will be here any minute, what if every time you got mad this little gland secreted something, like fat, maybe, or cellulose, or whatever, and what if bodies started metabolizing—or not--anger or sadness or lust? In other words, what if you could get fat in ways other than eating too much and not exercising enough or having the wrong kind of metabolism? What I’m saying is, what if it had to do with something other than metabolism or genetic dispositions or food? Might you change your tune? Could you then eavesdrop upon our fat young friend as he confesses knowing how to make a “mean” spaghetti sauce without wondering what the everloving fuck he was doing making spaghetti sauce, regardless of said sauce’s intensity or flavor profile, or what hole he’d been living in that would have prevented him from having heard that he, as a person of extraordinary girth, should be avoiding carbs and instead be subsisting mostly on a diet of nuts and fruits and vegetables and grains? Then again, do you have any room to talk about willpower? Do you know a thing or two about deprivation? Do you assume it would be no big deal to survive, say, on a diet of apples, just as a man I know named Junior once did, a guy who recently arrived to de-branch the trees in my yard, a guy who was certainly not, by any measuring stick, slim, but who, having learned that a person can eat as many apples as he or she wants and still lose an extraordinary amount of weight, embarked upon such a diet, and so for days and weeks ate nothing but apples, one after the other, just and only apples the entire livelong day, and that by doing so he shed—“burned it up,” is how he tells it—an extraordinary amount of body fat, and is now lighter on his feet than he’s been in years? Could you imagine a world where people like Junior took stock of their lives, and of what they might stand to lose, and then lost it? Is it too much to think we could teach ourselves to look at a person without inserting “fat” or “thin” or “black” or “white” or “straight” or “spiny” or “sticky” or “bedraggled” or “clean”? Might we learn to relinquish our hold on our qualifiers? Might someday we see a kid of a certain size and circumvent the adjective altogether, going straight—as we ought—to “person”? I’m tempted to say—sad as it sounds—that the premise sounds preposterous. But then I think of Junior, a once ground-bound body who regained, through sheer will, his mobility, and who now scampers nimbly up tree trunks with a chainsaw in tow, and once he gets high enough he begins what he climbed up to do, which is to say he chooses which limbs need to go, lops off the excess, making trees lighter, opening them up so that more sun can shine through to the yard down below, so that the grass there can grow once again richly green.


Matthew Vollmer is the author of the story collections Gateway to Paradise and Future Missionaries of America, as well as inscriptions for headstones, a collection of creative nonfiction. He edited the anthology A Book of Uncommon Prayer, which collects everyday invocations from over 60 writers, and with David Shields co-edited Fakes: An Anthology of Pseudo-Interviews, Faux-Lectures, Quasi-Letters, "Found" Texts, and Other Fraudulent Artifacts. He teaches at Virginia Tech.


            

[SHORT STORY] A Walk Around Town on a Chilly Evening

Image by Ralph Steadman

Image by Ralph Steadman

A Walk Around Town On a Chilly Evening

by Sasha Fletcher

After the sun set and the last of its heat dissipated from the baked bricks of the buildings lining what amounted to a boulevard, the cold winds started in from the North or the East or some other place full up with trouble and nonsense, and whistled their way through the town.

Outside the bar are several drunks drunk and lonely, their secrets spilling out their mouths and on down their shirtfronts, their bile spelling out a few choice phrases like WE FIND NEW WAYS TO DEFEAT OURSELVES BETTER THAN THE WORLD EVER COULD EVERY DAY and IF I KNEW BETTER HOW TO LIVE WITH MY LONELINESS THEN MAYBE YOU’D SPEAK TO ME AGAIN, OR AT LEAST COME HOME and I WOULD SAY I AM SORRY BUT THE WORD FOR WHAT I AM FEELING IS NOT A WORD, IT IS A FEELING, AND FURTHERMORE IF I BROACHED THE SUBJECT OF MYSELF TO YOU I’D BE A DEAD MAN AND A HALF and THIS WAS NOT WHAT I MEANT TO ACCOMPLISH and WHOOPS, GUESS I REALLY MADE A MESS HERE, HUH?

Such are the feelings we spill from time to time on the shoes of strangers, our sadness a thing we choose to choke or choke on as the moment dictates, and depending of course on the price of whisky, which at the moment is on sale, and the road to the bar is wide, roughly as wide as my weaknesses, which will swallow me whole, just you watch. But before that, let us hold our heads under the water until something magical happens. Let us hold hands and walk through the fire in the manner of people in nicer clothes that we can afford, and let us do it with the gusto and commitment that we would like to be better known for.

Outside all of this is the jail, in which several men are interred for inflicting their feelings on unsuspecting citizens with varying degrees of violence. ‘Tell us something!’ they call out to the Sheriff’s father. ‘Tell you what he?’ says to them. ‘Tell us something lovely and true and only a little vicious, just enough to draw some blood, to get the scent of living in the air.’ He says ‘Fine’ and reads them the letters he has written to the ghost he loves and when he is finished they say ‘And then what?’ and he says to them ‘And then nothing.’ He says ‘And then we keep living as best we can with our hearts on fire in a way that not even death will extinguish’, and this shuts them up for the night while they sit with their thoughts which have, it turns out, sincerely let them down.

Upstairs from the jail is the Sheriff’s father’s apartment, next to the sign that says JAIL, and notes are falling from the ceiling, and have been for years, and then the wind comes and scoops them up, because the wind is a fucking asshole, and romance does not always get to win, because if it did, well, what then?

What then? is a game the children are playing that they invented earlier wherein they reinvent the wheel and by the wheel we mean history.

What then is then everyone gets the ball scores in in a more timely fashion. What then is the double play and the complete game shutout and the invention of the ground rule double, which is a thing people have got some opinions on, but fuck their opinions, because the ground rule double is a law, and you’re just an opinion with a mouth. The town paper has got some things to say about the ground rule double, but is keeping them to itself. The town paper sits alone in the dark, writing editorial after editorial. The town paper thinks for a moment about what it might be like to date, to sit across a table from a body and to risk something of their feelings, or at least maybe to sit down to a meal, for once in its life. After thinking, the town paper writes an editorial, and after that the town paper writes another editorial. In the basement of the town paper, an idea, unspoken, rustles.

Up in her room is Meg who has stopped seeing Daniel, but is unsure if she wants to see Sam. Sam on his porch down the road is decidedly sure that he would like to see Meg if she would let him, while up in her room Meg thinks of how glad she is to know Sam, of the joy knowing him has brought to her life, and the ways in which their conversations have expanded the borders of her life to encompass things she had previously only dreamed of, but how that doesn’t mean she wants to marry the guy. Meg thinks of Sam and is, for a moment, overwhelmed by a rush of blood and warmth let loose by her heart. Meg thinks of Sam and of how much more glad she would be if he would just let things be. ‘Sam’ says Meg ‘I get it. There is such stuff in my heart that you could not get over if you tried, which who even knows if you have, but that doesn’t mean things between us would work.’ ‘In another world’ says Sam to Meg from his porch ‘Wanting would be enough.’ ‘In another world ‘says Meg to Sam from her upstairs in her room ‘I’d like that very much.’

Past them is the moon, which is, in its own way, another world beyond all of us, and below the moon is the barbershop. Outside the barbershop are a group of men with large ideas and new haircuts and nobody cares about those men and if they do care about them well then that’s their mistake, and not one which we are willing to indulge. Past the barbershop is the Jail, where the Sheriff sits with a pipe as the prisoners ask him questions to which he responds ‘Well, I reckon you’ll stay there until such time as you learn to not be a shit heel. No Tom, I don’t rightly reckon I know when that would be either. Dinner’s beans in a cup with some burnt ends. Well because it’s all I know to cook, or it’s ’cause I don’t rightly feel like expending the effort to make you more than that. Also you’re drunk Tom. You pissed in your gun and thought you’d be shooting piss in Bill’s ear instead of the shell in the chamber. Yes, Bill’s dead, with an ear full of piss, too. Yes, Tom, I reckon you’ll hang. Yes it was misleading earlier. No, I don’t feel too torn up about it. Well Tom, I have known love. Well I left that love, Tom. No, no it was just. Well, Tom, she was a witch, and I was greatly terrified of her femininity, and her power, and quite frankly I just felt like I was out of my depth. Do I regret it? Sure. Some days. I mean, who doesn’t have a few regrets? I’m sure you regret leaving Bill dead with an ear full of piss. But that don’t preclude an attempt at justice and whatever subsequent punishment is decided upon for the taking of a life unjustly, which, if you’ve been following along here, tends in this town to be a handing. Yes, Tom. I too weep at the sheer fucking impossibility of it all. Practically every night.’ And then they both weep at the sheer fucking impossibility of it all, because who wouldn’t? And anyway past the jail is, fittingly enough, the graveyard, which is not so much a yard as it is the plot of land at the bottom of a hill reached by a winding staircase at the top of which is the church.

Outside the church sits an old priest and a young priest. Earlier today the old priest and young priest woke up in their rooms and they yawned and stretched and the young priest worries a bit about sleep, which is not a thing he does well at all, and the old priest cataloged his dreams so as to better distinguish them from his visions and the young priest just assumed that whatever happened inside his head was the thing he was meant to think or see, but that he should, if he could, hold those thoughts up to what light of day there is so as to compare them to the wide world and better get a grip on what plans there are that exist for him, and after al that they got dressed and met downstairs.

‘Well’ said the young priest to the old priest ‘I guess we’d better open up.’ ‘That’ said the old priest ‘Would be the thing to do’, and so they went and they opened up the doors, and no one is there. ‘There’s nobody there’ said the young priest. ‘Seems as though nobody is in need of a church at this hour’ said the old priest. ‘Coffee?’ said the young priest. ‘Oh yes, please’ said the old priest, and they retire to the back, and prepare some coffee. ‘So last night’ said the young priest ‘Oh?’ said the old priest ‘Yeah’ said the young priest. ‘Were you going to tell me about last night?’ said the old priest and the young priest said ‘I wasn’t planning on it but I could if you’d like’, and then they both sat there with their coffee, and then someone stuck their head in and said ‘Hi Hello Can you help me?’ ‘How can we help?’ they said, and the person says ‘You can die’, and then like twenty people swarm the church, guns blazing, and the priests said together and in unison ‘We’d rather you didn’t do this. God loves you, and violence is not the answer’ and this statement got answered with more gunplay, and the young priest sighed and said to the old priest ‘OK so about my dream’ and the old priest said ‘Uh huh’ and then grabbed the nearest church-swarmer by the neck and removed their head from their body and gripped the spine with both hands and whipped it around, smashing a few heads together, while the young priest shot out the eyes of the church-swarmers and said ‘Last night I could have sworn there was a mountain walking around the desert’ and shoots out a few more eyes, which are the windows to the soul, and anyone that would visit such violence upon these men, well, their soul is fucked unto death probably, and the old priest said ‘Go on’ and the young priest said ‘I mean that wasn’t what happened, really. What happened was I was a much older man’ and the old priest says ‘Like me?’ and the young priest says ‘And I was standing on the roof of a house on top of a mountain that was roaming the desert carried along upon a series of tumbleweeds, and I was standing there with my daughter, in the dream I had a daughter’ and he shot four more people through the eyes while the old priest switched out his shattered-to-shit skull on the end of the spine of his church-swarmer basher for a fresh one from the neck of a real asshole-looking fella, and the young priest said ‘I don’t know how I knew she was my daughter, but I just did’ and the old priest said ‘The world’s funny like that’ and the young priest said ‘And anyway her name was America, and it wasn’t a symbol or anything it was just her name, America Resplendent Adams, and she and I were standing there, her mother had been dead a year that morning, we stood there, and we wept, and our tears formed a waterfall, and it flooded a town, a town by the sea, and the town was swept away, and America looked up at me, and she opened her mouth, and then I woke up.’ ‘Shit’ said the old priest, breathing slowly, and stacking the bodies into a sort of mountain. ‘Yeah, well’ said the young priest, panting from the exertion. ‘Guess we should bury them.’

And so anyway that’s why they’re here in the graveyard, where the old priest, sweating, mostly out of breath, and leaning against a tombstone on which they have inscribed HERE REST SEVERAL POOR DECISIONS, he says ‘I was in love with a ghost once’ and the young priest says ‘1) Who wasn’t and 2) We can talk about that later.’ The old priest says ‘What of America?’ and the young priest says ‘That isn’t funny’ The old priest says ‘America.’ The young priest says ‘You can be a real asshole sometimes, you know that?’ The old priest says ‘I worry that America has forgotten how to love’, says ‘Brother and sisters, we are gathered here today huddled up amongst the rocks and the hard places, begging the Lord up above for guidance, because that is all we are good for, is begging. Brothers and sisters I say unto you ‘Fuck your beggary’, for it will get you nowhere. Does the lord love you more when you cry out for him to fix things? When your child ceases not with its pleas and tears, does this inspire you to love the child more? or to strike it about the face and body with your hands or some other implement of tact? This is a question put to you out there in America where we no longer know what love means.’ The young priest says ‘That was a nice start but it gets a little aggressive towards the end there.’ The old priest says ‘People respond to aggression.’ The young priest says ‘Not well’ says ‘Recall earlier, if you will.’ The old priest says ‘I thought that went well’ and the young priest says nothing. He says ‘Once upon a time in the west I was tired, and after that I went to bed, and in the morning a whole bunch of jerks sat around worrying about everything except whether they were trying to be better, more decent people, who attempted more sincerely to connect to others around them, and really grow the kind of community that would make anyone proud.’ He says ‘Let’s change the subject.’ he says ‘Some people talk about the soul and where it resides. They say that the deepest part of you is in your head, or your heart, or your blood. ‘His blood is bad’ they’ll say. ‘His heart is cold.’ ‘He has got an evil turn of mind.’ ‘There is a darkness to him’ is what they’ll say. But the worst of us, what we leave behind, what heaven never wants, is our bones.’ He says ‘Fuck.’ He says ‘I don’t really know where I’m going with all this.’ He says ‘I am not really going anywhere with this.’ The old priest says to the young priest ‘Oh yes you are’ and the young priest says ‘And where might that be?’ and the old priest says ‘Straight to hell’ and then they both die laughing. Now they’re up in heaven, and there’s God, saying ‘Stop that’, and the old priest and the young priest say ‘Make us’, they say ‘We dare you.’ They say ‘We double dare you.’ They say ‘We double dare you and stamp it with a Presidential seal from the President of Loneliness, with whom we have got a real close and personal relationship.’ God says ‘You guys know the President of Loneliness?’ The old priest and the young priest say ‘Fuck yes we do!’ And God says ‘Dang.’ And the old priest and the young priest say ‘Tell us about it’, and so that is what God does. And, in the morning when the sun comes up, there they are, the old priest and the young priest, still dead as all creation, and loving every second of it.

 


SASHA FLETCHER is the author of It Is Going To Be a Good Year (Big Lucks Books, 2016), several chapbooks of poetry, and an out of print novella. He has recently finished a novel, from which this piece is excerpted from.


[SHORT STORY] Creamed His Corn

photograph by Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari

photograph by Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari

by Luke Goebel

He was a “he,” which meant the dummie knew already that there was only two things in the world that mattered and he wasn’t either of them. Were, were! There was the online world of instagram photos and sexiness. Everything that was young or female and sexy or famous and rich and arching its back in a photo, which he wasn’t and then there was the physical world of problems, such as taking a shit and what was written on the wall, and having to go upstairs to take a shit because someone was already in the bathroom, which was the janitor, probably, and him being on campus, and him being in his office, and his being on campus, and him being a fuckhead professor, which you shouldn’t and couldn’t really even say as a fuckhead who was a professor. Fuckhead.

He didn’t want to say anything. He just wanted to stop saying. He just wanted to stop. Teaching, and he wanted to stop this fucking capitalist regime of the entire planet. He wanted to stop the whole thing where people went to school to learn how mistreated people were by people who went to schools. He just wanted to have a life that didn’t revolve around desire to matter to and mate with as many people as possible but he still wanted to have all the pussy and dick and money and houses and cars and live on a sandy beach that was hot and in a house that had windows with electric shades on motors.

He wanted his phone to stop spying on him and them, and wanted his—hahahahahahahahaha—the government to stop spying on them, and wanted the webcam to stop spying on him and them, and wanted the marines to stop spying on them, and wanted and wanted like a fuckhead. Like he wanted a relationship with his girlfriend that was totally different than the relationship he had with his girlfriend. Not that it mattered. Because it totally didn’t! They were fuckheads and old. He was almost 35. No one in the world not famous should make 35. Unless they lived off the grid. Whatever that meant!


They had sex. It was stressful at first and then it was sex and he liked it and she maybe didn’t like it as much as he did but pretended to like it quite a bit. Then they said goodbye. She said to call her again. It was so much like real attraction but there was capitalism and money and all the other shit. 


He was working the night shift, and the janitor was there, playing the night shift song on his radio, and it was just the two of them plus his dog, under the desk, and he was working on preparing for class, something he didn’t care about, and it was Sunday night, and he went to the 7-11 to get a fake cup of coffee that was part art piece part handjob part boobjob, part war in the middle east, part cocaine sky, part rap song, part nuclear time bomb. At the 7-11 there was a black girl with tight pink stretchy sweatpants that said PINK. And he thought PINK. She was far out fly with a booty and she had huge marker eyebrows painted on her eyebrows on top of her eyebrows. He went up to her by walking as she was bringing coffee out of the dispenser. You know the decanter with the pump on top that is silver. Probably plastic. He said, “What kind of person drinks coffee at this hour?” He was a fuckhead. Not that clever! She said, “Same as you,” in a way that sounded kind of sexy. To a fuckhead. Then she also next said, “What do you do?” He looked like a crazy hairball who chose to look that way. This is what he figured she thought, or saw, because of POV laws. “Professor,” he said. “What about you?” he said. He wasn’t being racist I don’t think. He wasn’t insinuating anything. Relax. Please don’t! Please try and calm yourself! Maybe you’re right! I don’t know anymore. Maybe there were no ill intentions. Maybe nothing ill was even said. Maybe she was the princess of Lichtenstein. He wasn’t a police officer. There weren’t any racial connotations happening, aside from this being the USA! Like that helps his case? NO! He wasn’t the world of politicians defunding women’s health access, funding racial injustice, police state, although he was privileged and didn’t shout at or shoot police out of his car. “I’m a prostitute,” she said. It seemed fun to say. She had a wonderful smile.

He asked her to write an essay for an art magazine about her experiences in the San Francisco prostitute world—Bay Area—this was San Jose. He wanted to know if there were any fetish balls for millionaires or billionaires that they could go to and he could write a story about so that he could get into Playboy Magazine so that he could do something over so he could have another chance and be famous, so that he could be part of the capitalist regime, so that he could be glorious, so he could have something on instagram, so that he could be followed, first, not basic, so that he could have one million dollars or followers, so he could have lots of cars, so he could listen to rap and hip hop—hey you like pizza? SO his life didn’t mean nothing, and he could have a house full of cats overlooking cliffs he didn’t live at or go to. He was allergic. So that he could say on instagram and other social sites that he was in Playboy Magazine. She said no. She said her pimp would not like that. She said he should take her number down quick. She smiled again. He took her number. Then he thought she thought he was taking a photo of her with his phone. She said, “Tehee, are you taking a photo of me?” then she went outside after they said goodbye. He was exhilarated with- he had his coffee and went outside and she was getting into a black BMW with her pimp, he presumed, and he went to his office and couldn’t work and texted her and she texted back.

He went home. Let’s name him Francis. Francis went home., and his girlfriend was there. Her name was Juniper and Horn. She bought her name from a store that was called something and something. Tooth and Flea. Hand and Snake. Rake and Bake. Rack and Steer. Bean and Quarter. Big and Hairy, he was. A giant hairy beast. She loved him. Why? That was nine tenths of the problem. He didn’t trust her. No one should love him. He knew better, because capitalism had trained him. He loved instagram and phones and money. She loved him? He loved the prostitute already.

He sat at the kitchen next to the radiator and made toast in the toaster that was on the table, with bread that was on the table, and texted the prostitute. He met her where she said to later that night, sneaking out of the house on his girlfriend and wearing only a winter coat and jeans. They had sex. It was stressful at first and then it was sex and he liked it and she maybe didn’t like it as much as he did but pretended to like it quite a bit. Then they said goodbye. She said to call her again. It was so much like real attraction but there was capitalism and money and all the other shit.

He went home. He woke up his girlfriend and told her like a fuckhead. She creamed his corn with language and then he said I wish you were black and she said I wish you had a bigger dick. So she went to the clinic and got black and he went and got a bigger dick. She decided she wanted him black too. Then she got what she wanted and then they wanted to be Asian and then they wanted to switch sexes, and they did, and then he wanted her lips bigger, so she got them, and he wanted a bigger booty for himself, except he was she and she was him. Then they switched back. They were barely confused about any of this. Then he wanted to be both sexes and so he was. Then she was tired of that so he became a man again, even though sex sucked as a man, so he went gay and she didn’t care, because she became a man who liked it bareback as the bottom. They changed all sorts of things. They worked hard to pay for all of this by being prostitutes, but they knew they were just being privileged. Then he wanted her ass to be a sky, and so she had it tattooed but that wasn’t what he had in mind. He wanted her face to be the ocean. And she wanted him to be kind and loving and new and also wanted him to have two dicks. They got that done. Then she wanted him to be an octopus and he wanted her to be a german shepard. DONE! Angels a-ppeared and told them it was a miracle to be on Earth and they swam and barked and the moon came out and no one ever went to work again.


Fiction writer Luke B. Goebel is armed with wit and dangerous. He also carries a colt 45 pistol but that's the least of your worries. With an insatiable appetite for the dark, mystical phenomena of the American West, Goebel's writing has found him living for stretches in Marfa, Texas; San Francisco; Portland, Oregon; and many more landscapes that nourish his writing. Last year Goebel published his first novel, entitled Fourteen Stories: None of Them Are Yours, which won the Ronald Sukenick Prize for Innovative Fiction.