ADELAIDE FOUNDERS / FUNDADORES
Stevan V. Nikolic & Adelaide Franco Nikolic
Independent Monthly Literary Magazine
Revista Literária Independente Mensal EDITOR IN CHIEF / EDITOR-CHEFE
Year IV, Number 21, February 2019 Stevan V. Nikolic
Ano IV, Número 21, fevereiro de 2019
ISBN-10: 1-950437-11-6 MANAGING DIRECTOR / DIRECTORA EXECUTIVA
Adelaide Franco Nikolic
Adelaide Literary Magazine is an independent inter-
national monthly publication, based in New York and GRAPHIC & WEB DESIGN
Lisbon. Founded by Stevan V. Nikolic and Adelaide Adelaide Books LLC, New York
Franco Nikolic in 2015, the magazine’s aim is to
publish quality poetry, fiction, nonfiction, artwork, CONTRIBUTING AUTHORS IN THIS ISSUE
and photography, as well as interviews, articles, and
book reviews, written in English and Portuguese. We Nick Farriella, Michael Trobich, Anna Brassky,
seek to publish outstanding literary fiction, Zak Block, Rees Nielsen, Don Dussault,
nonfiction, and poetry, and to promote the writers
we publish, helping both new, emerging, and Rina Sclove, Torrie Jay White, Paul Perilli,
established authors reach a wider literary audience. John C. Weil, Pauline Duchesneau,
A Revista Literária Adelaide é uma publicação Joel Worford, Sana Mojdeh, Ruth Deming,
mensal internacional e independente, localizada em Anita Haas, P. J. Gannon, Samuel Buckley,
Nova Iorque e Lisboa. Fundada por Stevan V. Nikolic
e Adelaide Franco Nikolic em 2015, o objectivo da David Massey, Eric Massey,
revista é publicar poesia, ficção, não-ficção, arte e Claudia Piepenburg, Eric Lutz, Maggie Gleason,
fotografia de qualidade assim como entrevistas,
artigos e críticas literárias, escritas em inglês e por- Jordan King, Allen Long, Rachel Cavell,
tuguês. Pretendemos publicar ficção, não-ficção e Robert Steward, Patrick Hahn,
poesia excepcionais assim como promover os
escritores que publicamos, ajudando os autores Kirby Michael Wright, Dr. Raymon Fenech,
novos e emergentes a atingir uma audiência literária Noel Williams, Margo Poirier, Korkut Onaran,
Luke Francis Beirne, Jonathan Dowdle,
(http://adelaidemagazine.org) John Casey, Dave Nielsen, Sophie Chen,
Barry Silesky, Katharine Studer, Howard Winn,
Published by: Adelaide Books LLC, New York Luke Skoza, John Horváth, Gary Beck,
244 Fifth Avenue, Suite D27 Mark J. Mitchell, Scott Thomas Outlar,
New York NY, 10001 Ryan Havely, William Welch, John Grey,
e-mail: [email protected]
phone: (917) 477 8984 Frederick Pollack, Dmitry Blizniuk,
http://adelaidebooks.org David Dephy, Madison Smith, Jane Varley
Copyright © 2019 by Adelaide Literary Magazine
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may
be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without
written permission from the Adelaide Literary
Magazine Editor-in-chief, except in the case of brief
quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
EDITOR'S NOTES GOD’S OWN by Samuel Buckley 91
WHALE BONE by David Massey 96
By Stevan V. Nikolic THE LITTLE DOG by Eric Massey 103
AMBIVALENCE: A LOVE STORY
FICTION by Claudia Piepenburg 108
KNOCK by Nick Farriella 7 JULIE IN CHICAGO by Eric Lutz 114
CANDID by Michael Trobich 15
PLEASE CONFIRM YOU ARE NOT IN BEAST NONFICTION
MODE by Anna Brassky 21 THE MESSAGE FROM THE CROCHETED DRESS
HORRIBLE LAUGHTER by Zak Block 24 by Maggie Gleason 123
THE GERMAN by Rees Nielsen 28
GUILT MONOLOGUE by Don Dussault 33 LOST TIME: A ROAD TRIP JOURNAL
ALL OF NEPTUNE’S OCEANS by Jordan King 128
by Rina Sclove 41
NO BETTER REASON THAN THIS JOY by Allen Long 135
by Torrie Jay White 45
ENCOUNTERS MAY BE PREDICTED TWO SUMMERS by Rachel Cavell 138
by Paul Perilli 53
THE WALL BETWEEN US by John C. Weil 57 THE LANDLADY by Robert Steward 141
THE VEIL OF JUDGMENT
by Pauline Duchesneau 59 THE SMALL GIRL by Patrick Hahn 145
WHAT DID YOU SEE? By Joel Worford 62
THE KILLING OF AN ARDENT APPRENTICE PAU HANA TIME
by Sana Mojdeh 65 by Kirby Michael Wright 147
WILL I DIE OF HEAT STROKE?
By Ruth Deming 74 ON FREEDOM – MAN’S EVERLASTING ILLUSION
FLIPPING THE TORTILLA by Anita Haas 77 by Dr. Raymond Fenech 151
STANDOFF AT THE COUNTRY PRIDE MOTEL,
STARRING BILLY FITZ by P. J. Gannon 82 POETRY 157
GERANIUMS by Noel Williams
WOULD THAT... by Margo Poirier 160
LETTER TO A YOUNG POET
by Korkut Onaran 162
EMILY by Luke Francis Beirne 165
REDUCTION by Jonathan Dowdle 168 NEW TITLES
NE PLUS ULTRA by John Casey 171
BIG TIME by Dave Nielsen 174 WHISTLING PAST THE VEIL
WHAT SHE NEEDS by Sophie Chen 177 by A. Elizabeth Herting 239
RESURRECTION by Barry Silesky 179 VANISH TO THE MOUNTAIN SPRING
LOVE by Katharine Studer 183 by Donny Barilla 240
by Howard Winn 186 COUCHSURFING: THE MUSICAL
PEN SAND by Luke Skoza 190 by Gary Pedler 241
BUS TO SANTEE, SOUTH CAROLINA
by John Horváth 192 SOMEDAY EVERYTHING WILL ALL MAKE SENSE
THAT OLD BLACK MAGIC by Gary Beck 197 by Carol LaHines 242
UNHOLY MEDICINE by Mark J. Mitchell 201
ETERNAL AND INFINITE ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE
by Scott Thomas Outlar 205 by Joseph Sneva 243
THE PEOPLE WHO VANISH
by Ryan Havely 208 MY PEARLS IN SHANGHAI
HUMAN BEING by William Welch 212 by Marianne Song 244
SO BRIEFLY HERE by John Grey 214
I ALMOST KNEW THIS FALSE SPRING
by Frederick Pollack 216 by Gloria Monaghan 245
RED FOREST by Dmitry Blizniuk 223
THE LAW OF SILENCE by David Dephy 225
BRAND OF BROKEN by Madison Smith 230
THE LOST RIVER by Jane Varley 233
“TRUTH ACCORDING TO MICHAEL”
“God wants you to be truthful and humble to “Strangely enough, he didn’t feel any guilt for
yourself and others. He made you good and separating himself from his past. Five years
industrious, but you can’t benefit from it if you ago, he clearly heard in his dream a message
always stumble on pride.” brought to him by Archangel Michael from the
God Almighty, telling him he should get up and
“... for miracles to happen, God needs our co- leave everything behind; that his place was not
operation. As Pastor Charles once told me, God there; that it was time to go in search for his
can throw us a rope to save us, but we have to true self and for his true destiny.
hold to it.” Now, five years after, he was sitting in the Bow-
ery chapel, a broken and homeless man, still
“…leaving a book behind keeps your thoughts trying to find that which he was looking for. But
alive in this world forever. So, in some ways, he didn’t regret anything he had done in those
your spirit never dies. It is the best way to five years. In his mind, it wasn’t his doing. He
achieve immortality.” sincerely believed that he surrendered his own
will to the will of God and that everything that
“Sometimes, he thought of himself as an ele- happened to him, good or bad, had to happen
phant walking through the china store, break- for some reason. It was God’s doing. It was his
ing everything in his path and still expecting destiny. He just had to figure out why.”
people not to be angry with the damage he
made, but rather to admire his strength and his “I was going after a woman believing that the
endurance.” key is in being with her. But the key is in writing
about her. The key is in words and words are in
“I think that both our lives and the potential me. Longing for her is just an impulse for words
directions our lives may go are predestined. By to come out. And the whole purpose is for
using our free will in making our life choices, words to come out. Words are important.
we do nothing else but picking up one of many Words about love. About life.”
already predestined options. To us, it seems
like we were making the decision, while in real- “I don’t know why I am doing this. Everybody is
ity, we just selected one of many possibilities saying bad things about you. Wherever you go,
that were already a part of our destiny.” whatever you do, there is a noise after you… In
spite of everything, I respect your courage to
“Don’t you think God is so powerful that he can go after your ideals, no matter what. Men like
make us believe that we made some choices, you make this world move. I know that the
when in actuality, he had made a choice for road you go is covered with thorns. But I also
us?” know that it must be a road to the stars.”
“How far we can go with our liberty of con-
science, without offending God, and disturbing
the natural order of things…”
by Nick Farriella
Esme was a charity care worker or “charity care Her husband, Paul, a gringo always com-
officer” as she’d like to call it when discussing fortable with the ground he stands on, had told
her job with relatives at family functions. She’d her to relax, to chill out. But honestly, Esme
been doing it for twenty-two years, approving thought, Callate la fucking boca, because she
or denying thousands, if not millions of people hasn’t been able to chill out since she left Co-
Medicaid or health care assistance. At first, she lombia in 1978.
felt like her job was a public service that she,
an immigrant herself, was helping her people When Esme decided to tell her son Jorge
get the medical attention they needed. But about the panic attacks, on the phone while
now, a seasoned American citizen, Esme felt attempting to eat her lunch at her desk in be-
more like a gatekeeper, a guard of America’s tween patient visits, spooning the refried bean
wealth. How things change. casserole into her mouth while tears hardened
in streams on her cheeks, she expected that he
Esme has been suffering from panic attacks would offer her some type of console. Instead,
lately. Call it menopause, or hot flashes, or low his voice cracked and quivered. Panic attacks,
level anxiety since her twenties, but whatever Mija? His worry had made Esme worry; anxiety
you call it, Esme has had to rise from her desk over anxiety, the loop continued.
chair, stagger across her office gasping for her
breath, and turn over the deadbolt on her It was usually after lunch when Esme would
door. The simple click was a quick relief. Next find herself feeling sluggish. It was easy to
came crouching behind her desk and hyperven- blame the greasy cafeteria food or the three to
tilating into a brown paper bag until her four hours of attempted sleep where she was
breathing settled, her heart rate lowered, and half conscious, hearing her heartbeat in the
the world aligned with itself again. She remem- canals of her ears as she tried to drift off, but
bered thinking, briefly during her first panic the thing that depleted her energy entirely was
attack, it was as if the uncertain state of her the fact that she was tired. She was tired of
home country of Colombia had found its way seeing patient after patient, always wanting
into her mind and took a small bite. Slowly, this something from her. Whether it was a preg-
anxiety ate at her, until she felt it had con- nant Muslim woman, dressed in a burka, who
sumed her thoughts entirely. Even her office— traveled from Saudi Arabia to New Jersey to
a small, broom closet-like office in the base- have her child be born an American citizen;
ment level of St. Katharine Drexel’s hospital— with only eyes looking back at Esme that said,
had felt as if it were shrinking, closing in on her “You better make this happen, white woman,
to the point where it felt her ear was steadily or it will be your life,” or the slender man from
against the door and with each knock of a new Nigeria with gorgeous facial features, dazzling
patient, came a dreadful thud of panic. jewelry, and a royal complexion, that refused
to look at her because she was a woman. She
imagined him lifting her off the ground by her She wondered if it was her that had
throat and sliding an elephant’s tusk through changed. At times she would stare at herself in
her chest if she denied him Medicaid. People the mirror and think, “Has my skin always been
assumed, because she was on one side of the this white?” Her hair, chemically straightened
desk wearing a suit with an ID badge around and blonde, opposed to the voluminous dark
her neck, that she wasn’t one of them, that she curls of her youth. She sometimes would cry
was simply some white bitch. and think of her home country. It tore her up
to realize that she had been in the United
“It’s mentally exhausting,” she had ad- States for almost thirty years longer than she
mitted to Jorge over the phone one night, was in Colombia. “That seems like another
pouring herself a glass of wine. life,” she once admitted to Jorge, before any
wine was had at all.
The job wasn’t like this at first. In the late
nineties, when Esme had just graduated from It was another life. Life on a farm for the
college at thirty-eight, she would proudly say, youngest girl of 4 sisters and 6 brothers was
even before a drink, with all seriousness, “I not easy, a life where she had to give up a
love my new job.” That, she did. She loved all childhood for work and routine. Every day felt
the different kinds of people who would come like a life in itself; born into a task to retire by
to her with their illnesses, their flaws, and she dusk. This was all she knew. She was the dirty
was the one to fix them. Well, not actually do farm girl in school with a big nose and crusty
the procedure, but she at least got them ponytails. Her friends were the animals on her
through to the next round, as if she was an father’s farm, not the kids that picked on her
interviewer or a talent scout. The patients because of her smell or her rotten shoes. After
would knock on her door, enter with sunken a long day of farm chores, school, then house
eyes of helplessness, and she would be sitting cleaning, she would welcome the death of
behind her desk, back straight and sincere sleep each night. It was there where she would
smile, and think something like, “No need to dream of a foreign place; one where she felt
frown, dear human, there is hope. This is like she belonged, one that didn’t feel like a
America and you are in good hands. Now let’s struggle to exist in, one that looked like Ameri-
see what you’ve got.” ca in Time Magazine.
What a wonderful time that was. A time Often, usually on nights when Paul was
when patients would offer her gifts, bracelets, away on business trips, she wondered if it was
fruit baskets, even cash; which she always de- the distance from who she was to who she is
nied. The smiles she accepted, the gracious that broke her apart, like two continents
stamp that another good deed was done, an- splitting and drifting away. Over time did she
other person saved. Gratitude was always erase who she was to be who her new country
enough. wanted her to be? These were questions that a
fourth glass of wine would bring up, which
What had changed? Esme never poured.
It wasn’t her drinking. She always kept that What had changed her job was the change
in moderation with the help from a doctor’s in the country. Prior to 2008, her patients were
opinion that one to two glasses of red wine per mostly immigrants from Mexico, undocument-
day helps keep the blood pressure down and ed workers who got hurt on the job or preg-
the overall health up. So, what was one more nant women who had been in the country ille-
extra glass going to do? She still went to work gally for years. This was no problem, they
every day, she kept her son and her husband needed help. She would file the proper paper-
fed, the house clean, the laundry done. It was work along with her stamp of approval, to en-
definitely not the wine.
sure these people got the best health care that At times she didn’t know who to blame, so
was available to them. They were survivors just she blamed Paul. After all this time he still did-
as she was; hardworking, kind people, who one n’t understand her. It didn’t help that he natu-
day will seize the opportunity to become legal rally rejected anything Hispanic. “Turn that
citizens, just as she had. But for them, there crap off,” he’d groan, when Esme would play
was always a nasty tooth, a broken femur, or Salsa music while mopping the kitchen. “This is
an unexpected baby in the way of that goal. It disgusting, I’m ordering pizza,” he said, pushing
was Esme’s job to keep them on that path, a away the plate of Bandeja Paisa, a famous Co-
path to freedom. This is what she loved about lombian dish of red beans cooked with pork,
America, its dutiful responsibility to immi- white rice, ground meat, chicharron, fried egg,
grants; that you can come here and belong, plantain, chorizo, arepa, hogao sauce, black
that after bubbling in George Washington as pudding, avocado, and lemon. One may ask,
the first president on a Scantron test, you will who would tolerate this? Well, Esme saw in
be accepted. Paul what she saw in America. She saw his dark
history, one of liberation, misguidedness, rac-
After 9/11, this ideology would change in a ism, triumph and glory, but what she saw most
devastating way. It seemed foreigners were was great potential.
not to be trusted, but vetted with a national-
istic scope of judgment. This seemed to be a At first, her marriage with Paul marriage
global sized problem, an issue to be worked was good. Paul was a good man, a man full of
out over time by future presidents and world life. He was always laughing. They met when
leaders. How was it possible for Esme, in the they were both nineteen. Paul would play his
charity care department of a Catholic hospital, records, they would smoke some pot. Esme
to end up with a small scope of judgment her- would sit in silence, admiring his grandiosity.
self? It started with a change in her patients, He was big, he was strong, and he was Ameri-
then a change in Paul to cause her scope to can. He was a hard worker like she was and
grow in size. had great taste in music. Esme would attest to
learning English from Paul’s Led Zeppelin col-
It was in early 2009 when Esme started to lection. They were married by twenty-two.
get an increase in volatile patients. The out- That was thirty years ago, now. And much like
bursts were nothing new; this part of the job the state of race in America, Paul hadn’t made
was expected when someone’s health was on the changes necessary to accept Esme as an
the line. It was the knife that was new, pulled equal. Paul could never really grasp the idea
on her behind a closed door. Luckily she had a that Esme was from a different world. To him,
panic button beneath her desk. After the knife, it was as if she was from a small suburban
it was spitting. She had been spat on by all rac- town similar to his, just one that was too far to
es. People denied healthcare because of ex- drive to. When Esme brought him to Colombia,
pired visas, criminal records, or because they the first thing he said of Bogota was, “Oh, it’s
already received a certain amount of money like a shitty New Brunswick.”
for their last child, their last surgery, their last
visit to the ER. After spitting came death Over time it was these micro-assaults on
threats, not just to her personally but to the Esme’s ethnicity that built a wall between
country of America. “No wonder why they them. Esme felt like a foreigner in her own
bombed the towers. They ought to do it again,” house. As the news became more intense,
a woman had said. Esme froze and felt offend- more polarizing, Paul grew angry and cold. He
ed. She had lost a friend in 9/11. It was hard to no longer laughed with her. He no longer
hide her smile as she stamped DECLINED on reached across the table for her hand at dinner
the woman’s application, as security dragged to look at Esme with his wide green eyes to say
her out. things like, “We’ll make it happen together.”
She no longer saw potential in him nor sought “This is the new world,” Paul was saying. They
comfort in his words. She only heard his out- were on the couch, watching TV together.
bursts, as if every single person who comes Esme had just finished making hamburgers. Fox
into the country to use America’s services for News was running a segment on immigration
their benefit was a personal attack on his char- about how illegal immigrants “drain” the
acter. She became an attack on his character. It healthcare system. “It’s time to close the bor-
showed in his flushed face, in his salivating ders,” Paul declared.
Was this true? Esme thought, sipping her
“Es, are you kidding with that shit? Do you wine in distress. The more she sipped, eventu-
really believe that America could be just this ally finishing her glass, and then the bottle, it
open door mat? Get a grip.” started to make sense to her. It gave reason to
the influx of volatile patients, patients who
Esme would sink into herself like a turtle seemed ungrateful.
and mutter to herself that he just didn’t under-
stand. “It wasn’t like this for me,” she blurted out,
sort of snobbishly, the way older generations
Maybe it was her too that didn’t under- speak of younger ones.
stand. Maybe this is how it was. She under-
stood that getting older brought opportunities “That’s right,” Paul agreed.
to become someone new, but she could never
adopt new things like going to baseball games, “I struggled,” she said.
using credit cards, and celebrating the Fourth
of July with tequila shots and a stars and “Yes.”
stripes bathing suit. She struggled to learn that
a good patriot is loyal to her country. Even “I never took advantage of the system like
though no matter where she was from, Ameri- this.”
ca was her country now, her home and she was
incredibly lucky to have that. She’d relin- The next day at work, Esme had her first
quished her past and wanted to believe that panic attack.
made her strong. She just could never see, not
even in the cards of her fate, that she would ***
eventually tolerate knitting besides an Ameri-
can husband, as he drank beer and watched That was six months ago. She tried therapy, but
Fox News. It was impossible. And as Esme was put off when having to talk about her
struggled to accept this, the further away she childhood. Some scars just run too deep. The
felt from it all. It was as if America was some death of her father at age six. Being raped at
bus that she had missed, and Paul was the driv- age thirteen in Medellín. The loss of her moth-
er. er at sixteen. She couldn’t understand how
things that happened fifty years ago could ever
Slowly over time, Esme began to hide her impact her now, especially in her new country.
ethnicity from her husband, as if it was a secret Paul said that she had a point. Her primary care
lover or a private smoking habit. She would physician agreed and went the scientific route,
play the Salsa or the Cumbia while in the car or the biology behind it all.
in her headphones at the gym. She would en-
joy the foods of her country only on Sundays “It’s clear that your hormones are at play
with her son. But eventually, she would go to here; menopause, along with your history of
the gym less and less, her headphones would anxiety. Is your job very stressful?”
lay dormant in her nightstand drawer, and
Jorge would go off to college. Esme contained her laughter.
*** “Doctors are quacks,” Paul said later that
night, flicking on the TV, “Have another glass of
By this point, her and Paul were like two in her head. She could never sit still listening to
passing ships. The idea of sitting with him as he all of that chatter.
consumed his media repulsed her, so she re-
treated to her bedroom to text her sister in However, with help from a few Facebooks
Colombia using an app that doesn’t charge long posts, shared by Rodika, Esme found herself
distance through Wi-Fi. using an iPhone app to assist her with guided
meditation. The first session was for ten
-Hola, it’s been awhile, what’s up? minutes. Esme put on stretchy pants to signify
that some type of exercise was about to be
It was strange to her that even now, after done. She shouted out to Paul, “I’ll be in the
all these years, she and Rodika spoke to each basement for ten minutes doing some yoga.”
other through text in English when Spanish
came out naturally over the phone and in per- “Whatever,” he said.
son. It was as if Spanish was strictly reserved
for intimacy. She wondered why she felt like she had to
lie and thought that that wasn’t a very good
-Hi!!! Que Paso… start.
-Not much. It’s just me and Paul. Jorge is Esme sat on the faded beige carpet next to
back at school. How’s everything? the broken treadmill that had old winter coats
thrown across it. She sat as legs crossed as she
-Wonderful! We have new chickens :^) could, feeling completely ridiculous, feeling like
a child in time out. She followed the instruc-
For some reason, Rodika always correlated tions from the soothing voice in her earphones;
the wellness of her life with the stock of her focused on her breath, let thoughts come and
farm. This made Esme miss home and jealous go. She was surprised that for about fifteen
of the simplicity. seconds out of the entire session, her mind
seemed to be thoughtless. She decided to
-Question… have you ever had a panic meditate again the following day.
The next morning at work, Esme was
Esme felt foolish for having asked this twisting her hair behind her desk, trying to fo-
through text and wished she never did. She cus on her breath. She was waiting for the next
wanted to delete it, but Rodika started typing. knock on her door. The previous patient was a
pregnant woman from Dubai. She had brought
(…) along her husband; they were expecting twins.
They were approved for Medicaid and when
(…) they received the amount due, $14,676, the
husband said, “I cannot pay this. This is ab-
Rodika would start typing then stop, build- surd.”
ing the suspense. Esme hoped that a break in
connection caused her last text to fail before “I do apologize, Mr. Antar,” she said.
He seemed stunned.
-How are the kids? Esme sent quickly.
She apologized once more.
-Of course I’ve had panic attacks Mija. We
all have. Have you tried meditation? “I’m sorry, Mr. Antar. It shows here that
this is your fourth Medicaid request and that
Meditation to Esme was for hippies and you have been approved twice before. It seems
Buddhists. She didn’t understand how sitting in that you were able to pay your last amount
silence, legs crossed like a pretzel, could relax due with no problem, in cash. There’s nothing
the mind. What does that even mean? Relax else I can do.”
the mind. Anytime Esme closed her eyes, it was
as if she could feel her thoughts whooshing by
“Fucking bitch,” he said, then spat across “I see,” Esme said, “undocumented?”
The couple’s eyes found the floor.
As soon as the door slammed, Esme felt her
breath escaping her. She could feel her heart “Yes,” the woman said.
hammering inside of her chest, feeling it pulse
in her neck and her arms. She began to sweat “Have you filed for a green card?” A Diversi-
and lose focus visually. Her office felt like it was ty Visa?”
Despite her racing thoughts, Esme tried to
follow the meditation guide: focus on your “Unfortunately, I cannot assist you until the
weight in the chair, feel your feet against the proper paperwork has been filed.”
floor, concentrate on your breath. How does
one focus on what they cannot catch? Inhale This is when Esme expected the spit, the
on one, exhale on two. It’s like trying to chase knife, or the cursing. Instead, the woman
the wind. Her eyes gaped with fear, her ears leaned in close and spoke in a direct manner.
felt nearly closed, until a knock on the door
brought her back. “It took us twelve days to travel here by
train. You see, our daughter was awoken in the
Knock knock. middle of the night with a fever and a deep
cough. We figured she had caught a cold from
A couple entered, slouching over to the school. It is winter in Nicaragua, the tempera-
chairs at Esme’s desk. They had a skittish de- ture sometimes drops suddenly. It affects our
meanor, the way one can scrunch in the pres- farm, we farm sugarcane.”
ence of someone of a higher class. They were
Hispanic. The woman was small, slightly Esme began to focus on her breath, listen-
wounded looking with a youthful face. The ing with half an ear, more so concerned with
man was rugged looking, dirty with sunken how much longer until the end of her shift.
eyes. He was missing his left hand. Esme, com-
ing down from her panic attack, was unim- “The fever no passed even after a full day. I
pressed. She had seen it all and by now she spent all night at her side, patting a soaked
was numb to it. towel on her forehead and rubbing menthol
cream on her chest. This went on for two more
“How may I help you?” she said. days. We went to the village doctor. After a day
of tests, he was sure she had cancer. He re-
“We would like to apply for charity care,” ferred us to the shaman for prayer and a dose
the woman said. of pills.”
“The two of you?” By this point, Esme was studying the wom-
an’s face. She was looking into her eyes think-
”For our daughter. She is sick.” ing, “Okay, what else? My first three patients
this morning were children, all under the age of
Usually she doesn’t like to hear patient’s two, all with terminal cancer.”
stories. It puts an unnecessary context to the
entire process and the last thing Esme needed “We did not want our daughter to suffer
was to feel guilty for denying someone their anymore. We knew that she needed the best
coverage. An application was enough. Medical health care. Cruz, my husband,” she said, “had
history, immigration status, financial status; heard that America was advanced. There were
these were concrete things attached to no surgeries, better tests, more certainty.”
emotion, but the woman went on.
“That was when I made a deal with the
“We are from Nicaragua,” she said, in clear Devil,” Cruz said in Spanish, lifting his left arm
English. in the air, showing a curve of skin and stitches
where his hand used to be.
This had struck a nerve with Esme; it had the amputation, the train ride from Texas to
broken the rhythm of her breath and allowed a Chicago then to New Jersey, Esme was full,
flood of thoughts to enter her mind. She was bursting with emotion. She heard this story and
always quick to assume that missing limbs, like saw herself alongside Cruz, Aminta, and Lana
scars, had stories behind them. When her un- on their journey. It’s the sacrifices we make
cle had lost his foot from gout, he said it was that mark us for eternity, Rodika posted to Fa-
because he danced with the devil for too long. cebook after their text conversation. Esme un-
Did the Devil always take limbs?, she won- derstood it, and even hit “like.” It was the re-
dered, then started to listen to Cruz with in- sult of these sacrifices that was left unknown.
tent. Had Cruz sold his soul, exchanging his hand for
his daughter’s health? Unfortunately, she still
“My cousin knew a route to America, a had to deny them coverage. They had none of
freight train that went from Nicaragua to Mexi- the right paperwork, and their only U.S. resi-
co City, then Mexico City straight through to dency was Cruz’s cousin, who had a criminal
Texas. It was called The Beast.” background of theft and arson. So, what was it
all for? All of that sacrifice just for an oppor-
Esme has heard of such trains, they were tunity?
almost mythicized, where hundreds of immi-
grants would board the train, sometimes tuck- When Esme saw what she had given up for
ing themselves underneath the beams below her life of freedom, it doesn’t seem like much
the freight cars, but usually laying on the roofs in comparison to Cruz and Aminta, who smiled
like excess baggage thrown above for conven- and thanked her for her time as they left her
ience. She had heard that a lot of people had office. Such gratitude. Perhaps what she found
died before getting into America, some struck here in the land of the free wasn’t freedom at
with illness or starvation, some were sucked all, but different ways by which she was impris-
under the train in motion, and some were even oned. Perhaps she will never understand what
murdered. She compared this to her migration else she has left to give, just as her husband
to the states, a coach flight from Bogota to may never understand her, and maybe her
Miami. panic attacks will never go away. This is uncer-
tainty that she would have to learn to live with,
“We met a man in the Mexican desert who like a scar or an amputated hand. “Dios que da
went by the name of El Diablo. He said for one- la llaga, de la medicina,” Aminta had said. God,
hundred thousand pesos he could get us a spot who gives the wound, gives the salve.
on the train to get us to the U.S. border. From
there, it was up to us. At the border, the train She left work that day feeling what she had
running at full speed, a man with a bandana felt in the airport leaving Colombia all of those
tied around his face like half of a mask, blew an years ago. Her body trembling. Her mind rac-
air horn. That meant it was time to jump. I held ing. It was these physical symptoms that al-
tight around my wife with our daughter be- ways reminded Esme it was time for action, like
tween us and leapt into the darkness, directly an alarm clock waking her up. But this time it
into the hands of God. Aminta and Lana landed wasn’t begging her to leave her country, but to
in some shrubs; they were scratched up, but no leave herself; whatever idea of herself as an
serious injuries. I smacked the desert ground American. She had called Jorge on her way
so hard, my teeth rattled, my hand was badly home and let out everything that has been
broken.” troubling her. It felt as if she had split open an
artery. His voice sounded encouraging through
By this point, Esme was one with her the speakers of her car, filling up the space
breath. She was a vessel being filled with her around her almost god-like, embodying the
surroundings. When Cruz explained the eight- words she needed to hear. “It’s okay if you
een mile hike out of the desert, the infection,
divorce,” he said. “I can’t say I didn’t see this About the Author:
coming. I’m old enough now to take it. I just
want you to be happy.” Nick Farriella's fiction has appeared in
Barrelhouse, X-R-A-Y, Maudlin House, and
At home she had went straight to her room, elsewhere. He lives in New Jersey and works as
ignoring Paul’s request for dinner and his de- a copywriter and a flash fiction reader for Split
manding poison tipped arrows trying to infil- Lip Magazine.
trate her, trying to pierce her skin with his neg-
ativity. She locked the door then found a place
in the center of the room to assume the lotus
position. She closed her eyes and focused on
her breath. She felt her weight on the floor,
observed the tension of her shoulders, her
neck; she felt the weight of her entire being. It
seemed like so much, too much to bear. But
she stayed focused on her breath. Soon, breath
after breath, the floor beneath her feet fell
away, along with Paul’s high-pitched yelling
and thunderous knocks against the door. She
by Michael Trobich
Kate Gibbons likes to take pictures. She doesn’t daughter, his only child. Nowadays, he often
know how it started, closing shutters and tog- acts like a schoolboy with her, doing small
gling flash, but she loves the way that each things just to get a rise or a smile.
photo has every pixel in place and captures
moments in amber. She sees the way her Today, though, he has a new idea. It is Ty’s
friends quietly fear age, the gym memberships first birthday party tonight, and Arthur and his
and expensive cars and spa weekends, and she wife Rose are lucky enough to be in town. So,
takes her comfort in the small army of family while Molly goes shopping with her grandma
photos around her home. They’re her way of and Scott and Kate decorate furiously, he pops
remembering who she is, her mind fighting into town for an hour or so. The nice young
back against the body’s inevitable betrayal. man at the electronics store helps him pick out
a camera that’s nice and practical, quick
Her family, for the most part, either appre- enough to catch a hummingbird at the feeder,
ciates or indulges this habit. Her husband Scott sturdy enough to take a few falls when his
is a salesman, and so always has a winning hands swell in the mornings.
smile on demand. Molly is just getting to be
seven, and likes dressing up and having fashion During the party, he takes it out of the intri-
shows for Mommy. Ty is one year old, and still cate packaging and walks over to his daughter.
getting used to the peculiar experience that is
having toes, so he’s registered no serious ob- “Katie,” he asks, “can you show me how to
jections. Even her mom lets her take the pic- use this thing?”
tures when they visit. Kate has always had a
talent to pose people just so, and with a bright She sees the camera and laughs.
“Smile!” She takes photos in which people
look, if not the best they ever have, certainly “Dad, why’d you buy a camera? I’m taking
the best they can today. plenty of pictures already.”
Her dad is the one exception. When Arthur “I know, but you seem to enjoy it so much I
was young, he had been a bit of a hell-raiser, thought I’d give it a shot.”
shooting out the stoplight in his one stoplight
town, and though he’s mellowed with age, So she shows him the settings she thinks
rules remain his favorite thing to break. When- he’ll want to use and asks him to take some
ever Kate’s taking pictures, he’s sure to be pictures of the kids, thinking he wants to feel
close, and he’ll jump in at the last second, useful. Arthur, though, knows what he wants
laughing. There’s never a quiet moment when to do.
Arthur is around the rest of his family. He has
never quite known how to relate to his For the rest of the night, he is furtive, lurk-
ing around corners or across the room. Some-
how, his daughter’s talent has been passed up
to him, but instead of delicately posed photos,
he takes candid shots. He captures the mo- take pictures now to remember things,” she
ments that people look the most like them- says.
selves. Ty laughs as his hand extends leftward,
sending his plate of cake flipping away. Molly “That’s funny,” he says. “I was going to say
hugs the family dog close, burying her face in the same thing.”
his shoulder fur. Scott watches his wife snap a
picture of their son as he leans on the door- Kate had a different reason when she be-
frame, simple contentment in his eyes and on gan to take photos. She has always been this
his lips. way, the way where the world feels always a
little out of place around her. Scott calls it
These are what greet Kate when she wakes “nervous”. To Kate, it feels the way she feels
up in the morning. Her work means she gets up whenever she breaks open a Pop-Tart.
before anyone else in the house, and they are
there in the soft light of the early morning. When Kate was younger, she had the same
There is one on the inside of her door, one in nightmare on the second Saturday of every
the hallway, one on the kitchen table. He month. She would be holding a Pop-Tart in her
must’ve gone out last night to get them print- mother’s kitchen, brown sugar cinnamon, her
ed, after everyone had gone to bed. Kate has favorite. She would sna it in half, the way that
never known how to think of her dad as a per- children who eat Pop-Tarts do to make them
son and not her father or a grandfather, and so feel like they last longer. She would break it,
every photo to her is like a little miracle, pre- and out would come a colony of ants, a steady
serving moments she didn’t even know she stream of tiny black marching insects, rows and
missed. columns and regiments and battalions and she
couldn’t drop the Pop-Tarts, all she could do
When Arthur comes down that morning, he was let the ants crawl over her body, cover her
sees that all the photos have been collected. skin, and scream silently.
He smiles. His daughter is not someone who
lets things get lost, and he is sure the photos Kate does not call the way she is “nervous”.
have been put away somewhere, stowed for a Kate does not call it anything. She takes photos
rainy day. of the best that people can be because people,
she has decided, are like Pop-Tarts. Sometimes,
Time passes, as it does, and more pictures they are horrible and terrifying. But most of
are taken. Kate and her father grow closer, the the time, they’re pretty okay, and they deserve
way you do to people with whom you share a to see that.
passion, and they talk about the way the light
is best in the early morning, how one of the More time passes and even more pictures
best parts of pictures are the things you see in are taken and Rose, her mother, dies. Arthur
them that you never saw the first time. speaks at the funeral, but begins crying halfway
through the eulogy, and struggles through the
At some point or another, she asks Arthur rest of it. Years weigh down his shoulders like
why he started taking photos. sandbags. The picture beside the coffin, the
one beside the priest who performs the ser-
“Well, why did you start?” he replies. vice, is one Kate took a few years ago, of her
mother in her Sunday best. At the reception
“I don’t know. I’ve never really thought afterwards, there are pictures Arthur took:
about it,” she says. Rose gardening, or tasting soup, or reading in
her armchair with her glasses on, the dusty
There is a moment of comfortable silence lamp beside her spilling a soft light over the
between them. page. Neither one of them have any photos of
her in her hospital bed, when the cancer took
“I don’t know why I started, but I think I
hold. It seemed cruel then, to capture a mo- gether in a nice album. He flips through every
ment they had all hoped so long would never page, growing gradually frustrated as he begins
come. to encounter photographs he doesn’t remem-
ber taking. Eventually, he gives the album back
Soon, Arthur finds himself in a similar situa- to Kate and turns away. The sun is setting out-
tion. He has always had arthritis and now gout side.
begins to creep into him through his toes. They
give him a wheelchair, but osteoporosis soon “I remember this one,” she says. “Ty’s first
makes it difficult for him to push himself birthday party. It was when you first went out
around. Kate and Scott do an admirable job of and bought that camera.”
ignoring the ways in which his body is failing,
but he can feel it, and he asks them to help him He turns back to her. “Which camera?”
look into assisted living. At first, they protest,
thinking that he wants them to tell him why he And so she tells him about the camera that
doesn’t need it. He doesn’t. They come around, was both nice and sturdy and the way that she
Kate more slowly than Scott. thought he had just wanted to be useful. She
shows him the picture of Molly and the picture
The assisted living home is very nice and of her and Scott and she tells him about com-
the nurses are very nice and everything there is ing down in the morning to the photos
very nice and smells like cleaning supplies. Ar- scattered throughout the house. And he re-
thur tires quickly of the preplanned activities, members the nice young man in the electronics
and begins to stay in bed more and more often. store, the one who had helped him print out
Soon, he spends entire days there, writing in a those photos that night, and the way that Ty’s
journal or doing crossword puzzles. He doesn’t cake had spattered the nice white tablecloth
bother anyone, and his condition doesn’t seem with specks of blue icing that never quite came
to worsen. He convinces the nurses one by one out.
to let him take just two walks a day. Whenever
Kate visits, they take a walk in the hour after He makes his way through his memories
sunrise and the hour before sunset, when the like this, some slower than others. If he doesn’t
light from the sun filters best through a cam- have pictures for something he wants to know
era. They find squirrels gathering supplies for about, she shows him hers, and he relives his
the winter, hummingbirds flitting through flow- life one event at a time. Kate learns some of
ers, and once, the shadow of an old wolf the things about a person you don’t learn when
stretching like a tree trunk through the twi- they’re your father if they can help it, like how
light. They take a lot of pictures. infuriating he’s always found Scott’s habit of
drumming his fingers on the table, or how he
She visits often, sometimes with Scott, had drunkenly lost several thousand dollars to
sometimes with the kids. Molly is in college a man in poker a few days after Rose’s funeral.
now, and Ty is starting high school. They are He finds the times in his life when everything
too preoccupied discovering young adulthood seemed like it was going wrong, and he makes
to think too much about their grandfather. his way to now, to spending sunsets and sunris-
es with his daughter.
On one visit, he asks her to bring him some
of his old photographs. Scott and the kids begin to visit less fre-
quently. Arthur’s place in assisted living has
“I’m getting old,” he says. “Can you bring become a regularity now, and this decline in
me some pictures? I’d love to see if I can rustle activity is understood and quietly accepted by
up a few fond memories.” everyone involved.
So she brings him the pictures, all put to- Before a particular visit, the doctor who is
in charge of Arthur’s case takes Kate aside in He’s away on a business trip, and Arthur is
the lobby. looking at a picture of Scott on his bedside ta-
ble, a picture that Kate had given him. There is
“Kate, I hate to tell you this, but your fa- a smile on his face and for a moment, Kate
ther’s getting worse,” he says. Kate wonders can’t tell if he’s joking or not, but then he starts
how many times a day he has to say that. to speak again.
“What do you mean?” “Well, I’m happy you made it, and I’m sure
Katie appreciates the time you’re taking away
“His physical condition is fine, nothing new from your job.”
there. But his mental state is slowly deterio-
rating. He’s getting plenty of mental exercise, And he turns to her and the smile on his
but he’s reached the age where some decline is face is so full and she knows in that moment
inevitable.” that he is not joking. In this moment, Kate
doesn’t know what to do, and Arthur does, so
“What exactly does that mean, Doctor?” she goes along with it.
“He may begin to forget things. Things he “It’s definitely not easy getting time away,”
shouldn’t forget, I mean.” she says, doing her best Scott impression. “But
it’s worth it.”
Arthur laughs. “Coming from someone who
“Significant events in his life. People. The took plenty of off days in my time, you never
other day, he asked how his daughter’s baby end up regretting them.”
boy was doing.”
They have a three-person conversation.
“Is there anything you can do?” After a while, it is easier for Kate to look at the
picture of Scott when she is speaking in his
“We can give him medication,” he says. voice, for her to act as if Scott was really speak-
“But eventually, this is just what his mind is ing. It doesn't get easier for her to understand
going to do. We see it every day here. People what is going on, and when she’s left, making
are like everything else. They break slowly over sure to say goodbye to the picture of Scott as
time.” well (“I think I’ll stay a little later this time,
Kate, why don’t you go ahead and get back
Kate comes away from the conversation home?”), she is too rattled by the experience
thoroughly unimpressed with the doctor’s bed- and her previous conversation with him to ask
side manner. When she goes in to see her dad, the doctor what precisely just happened. When
she can see in his face that it takes a second for she gets back home, though, she tells Scott,
him to recognize her. They talk about the way and spends the rest of the night sitting with
that the bird feeders are set up so that he can’t him at the kitchen table, alternately crying and
take good pictures. They take a walk in the exhausted.
hour before sunset. Kate is still getting used to
pushing her father around in the wheelchair. “What do I do?” she asks him. “There has to
He is still getting used to not being able to be something I can do.”
jump into pictures.
“Just keep visiting him,” Scott says. “He’ll
When they get back, she takes out the al- know it’s you. He’ll remember you.”
bum she brings to every visit, but before she
can get it out of her bag, she hears him start Kate keeps visiting her dad, and he keeps
talking. remembering her. She asks Scott and the kids
not to come, hoping not to destabilize her fa-
“Scott, what are you doing here? I thought ther’s perception of reality even further. She
you had a business trip?”
Kate looks up with a start. Scott isn’t here.
hopes that the kids are old enough to mostly wedding, about the days her children were
remember their grandfather when he was not born, about how happy she was when he start-
dying in a nursing home. There are times when ed taking pictures because that was something
Arthur thinks that Kate has left the room, and she loved and now he loved it too. How both of
he will have conversations with other people, their reasons for taking pictures were to re-
all of whose voices come out of her mouth. member things, and the picture sniffled a little
Still, these things all begin and end with her bit on that one. When he hears that, he laughs.
and her father saying hello and goodbye. She
asks the nurses, and they tell her that he “Oh Katie,” he says. “I really started taking
doesn’t do this when she’s not visiting. He’s pictures to have something worth remember-
happier when you’re here, they say. He knows ing. Of course, Rose meant the world to me,
somewhere inside him that you’re here, they but at that point, I barely knew my daughter.
say. Sure, I knew who you were, and I knew what
you did, but I didn’t have any memories of you
They no longer go on walks after sunrise that weren’t posed, you know? I wanted to
and before sunset. If her dad isn’t asleep, it’s know who you were when you were doing
too hard to get him out of bed. something you really loved. So I started taking
pictures because I wanted to take them of you.
Time passes. Kate begins, to a certain ex- I wanted to see you the way you see someone
tent, to think this is normal. when you see a photo of them they weren’t
expecting. I’ve always thought that’s how you
Kate walks into her father’s room for the know someone best, when they’re not ex-
last time before he dies, although, of course, pecting it.”
she doesn’t know that. Arthur is writing in his
journal, and doesn’t look up. Katie is focusing very hard on the fact that
she is not crying. Focusing so hard on this, in
“Hey Dad,” she says. Arthur still doesn’t fact, that she misses the first time her dad says,
look up. She thinks of the room as it must look “Excuse me, miss?” He says it again and she
to him: empty, with only the growing shadows starts. She looks around the room, but there
of dusk for company. She goes over to the side are no other pictures, no other people. She
of his bed, and takes out a picture from her bag lowers the picture slowly from her face and
which she had never hoped to talk about. there is her father looking at her, blank and
She holds it up, and a posed picture of her-
self on a family vacation, in a sundress at the “Miss, would you mind taking a picture of
beach, her favorite photo of herself, says with me and my daughter? I want something to re-
her voice, “Hi Dad.” member this by.” He is handing her a camera,
an old one, and she realizes it is the first one he
He looks at it and smiles. “Katie! How are bought, still nice and sturdy. He is taking the
you?” photo from her, the one of her, and holding it
close to him.
Her voice breaks several times when she is
talking to him, but she passes it off as recover- “Of course,” she says mechanically. She has
ing from a sickness. Her arm begins to get tired been taking pictures her whole life.
holding the picture up in front of her face, but
she does not want to look at his eyes, so when She stands and pulls the shutter up in
she lowers it she looks out of the window. He front of her eye. She frames the old man in the
asks her to tell him stories about her life, says hospital bed, cradling the photo of his daughter
he’s begun to forget things that he wants to that she took a few years ago, on the last fami-
know about her. So she says words and the ly vacation he was in good enough shape to go
picture tells him stories, tells him about her
on. Kate Gibbons arranges the picture for her-
self in the golden light that streams in from the
“Smile,” she says, and takes the picture.
About the Author:
Michael J. Trobich is a North Carolinian by
birth, an Ohioan by residence, and a current
student at Kenyon College. His fiction has
previously appeared in in Polyphony.
PLEASE CONFIRM YOU
ARE NOT IN BEAST MODE
by Anna Brassky
A month ago, Chris began to see dwarfs, To be helpful, his family signed him into a
though not exactly see but rather sense their therapy group. Those people could suggest
presence. Just as he was about to spot them, how to get rid of the dwarfs, they said. They
they hid. He could only get a glimpse of their had gone through similar things, and each of
small dark outlines and tiny dirty feet as they them had their own solution. Chris was glad to
ran away. meet like minds, but as soon as he set foot in
the room, he immediately realized he was
It’d have been okay if they appeared only surrounded by psychos. Was that what his fam-
outside and during daytime. But they got into ily thought of him?
his bed at night, rattled his sheets and pinched
him. He cried and called his family for help. He Not willing to stay in this gray, faceless place
was sure that if someone else saw them too, soaked in dust and boredom anymore, he
the dwarfs wouldn’t trouble him anymore. His walked straight to the corner of the room
brothers and sisters rushed over, turned his where a young woman with glasses and a thin
bed upside down, but the wicked dwarfs holed mousy ponytail sat at a shabby desk. A few
up in their crevices - all that his family found other people joined him; they now stood si-
was the light fluttering of blankets from their lently behind making him the undisputed lead-
rapid flight. er of their rebellion. They’ve probably figured
out this place too, thought Chris.
At least his siblings believed him. Each time he
shrieked in his bed they were there by his side, ‘I…We want to leave,’ Chris announced loudly,
and that comforted him. It meant that they staring at the faded flag on the wall.
wouldn’t let the dwarfs win, because Chris
knew what these creatures wanted. When he The girl looked up at him wearily, her gaze
was asleep, their little bodies snuck to his neck, reading, I’m so sick and tired of you all, and
sat on it and closed his mouth and nose with said:
their filthy palms so he couldn’t breathe. The
only way to stop their abuse was by waking up, ‘Please confirm you are not in beast mode.’
then they disappeared under his gaze, and his
‘What?’ asked Chris, confused. ‘Nah,’ Father answered and turned onto his
other side. ‘Let him wake by himself.’
‘If you want to leave,’ the girl repeated with a
sigh, ‘you need to sign a certificate that you ‘AAAH,’ Chris continued to shriek but the
aren’t in beast mode. Here it is.’ She pushed sound didn’t come as clear any more. It rather
the paper across the desk; a pen was there too, resembled a growl, a beast’s growl. Please
next to it. confirm you are not in beast mode. So that’s
what it meant. Maybe, he’d gone into beast
That’s crazy, thought Chris, but still reached for mode and didn’t notice that?
the pen and signed the paper.
But the dwarfs were gaining the upper hand.
‘This copy is for you,’ Specky said when Chris His lungs were almost empty, his throat burned
tried to return it to her. ‘It’s enough for us to and his head became heavy, like a bowling ball.
know that you’ve agreed to sign.’ Chris still tried to fight, swung his arms and
legs, spun like a top, anything just to shake
At home, Chris hid the certificate under his those little sneaks off. But the bedsheets
mattress. He had a gut feeling it belonged bound his fierce movements. He ripped them
there. Please confirm you are not in beast with his teeth but they enveloped him even
mode. What had she meant? Before he knew it tighter.
he had fallen asleep. The dwarfs showed up,
once they saw he was defenceless. Vile wretch- PLEASE CONFIRM YOU ARE NOT IN BEAST
es! MODE! a female voice screamed in his head.
Chris realized that the air was coming out of his ‘I can’t,’ Chris hissed, like a rattlesnake now -
lungs but was not returning. It was getting these were the last drops of the air leaving his
harder to breathe. He tried to wake but some- body. He froze.
thing hampered him. Calling for help was the
only thing that could save him before it was Chris’s body was found in his own apartment
too late. where he had lived alone for the last ten years.
In his sleep, he had tossed and turned, winding
‘AAAH,’ a scary animal bellow exploded from mounting layers of cloth around him. One of
his throat while in his head he heard, Please the wraps covered his head. Any other man
confirm you are not in beast mode. would have thrown a blanket aside even in the
deepest slumber - it was a basic survival
‘Will you go?’ half-awake Mother asked Father instinct - but Chris was unable to do that; he
in the neighboring room. Chris’s muffled was wrapped like an ancient Egyptian mummy.
screams had woken her, now she lay on the His death throes only tightened the coil stran-
bed squinting into the blinding moonlight. gling him.
‘Just like an animal in the coils of a
constrictor,’ noted Harry, one of the policemen
who had arrived on the scene.
‘Yeah, poor guy,’ Nick agreed. ‘Do you know
what he watched before going to sleep?’
‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Weird,
‘Yeaahh,’ Harry drawled. ‘Let’s go, they need About the Author:
Harry and Nick picked up Chris’s cold, skinny
body and put him on the stretcher. Behind
them, the dwarfs giggled acidly.
‘Turn off this cartoon already!’ Harry
snapped without turning back. Unpleasant
chills ran down his spine.
‘It’s not on,’ replied Nick as he eyed the dark
Anna Brassky is originally from Moscow, Russia
but she currently lives and works in Southeast
Asia. She studied Linguistics and Psychology
and she has always been a fan of science fiction
and Russian classic literature. This unusual
combination and her adventurous spirit have
become her inspiration for creating stories in
the genre of psychological science fiction. Anna
has recently finished her debut science fiction
novel, Nadarri, which hasn’t been published
yet. She is currently working on her collection
of short stories and non-fiction book
tentatively entitled, How to Master Your Body.
For more information about the author, visit
by Zak Block
Mike was named Michael by his parents play, I'm essentially under the pressure of
because, while pregnant with him,—his mother imperialists to interject at this moment.” “Fair.
literally; the couple, figuratively,—and not Sorry.” “It is fair because, you've got to
necessarily “him” because the field of imagine, you know, that this isn't—anything for
obstetrics, - which they were soon to learn was which they signed up, if you follow my
developing at a pace so rapid that it seemed language. Though nonetheless the lecture is
like an apology by sexist science for years of beautiful and well done.” “Go on.” “You see—
randy reckless neglect,—that field was not yet you might say—could—in these names—see—
so developed as to allow them to know his naming patterns—there's an eclecticism absent
projected gender in whatever trimester he,— from the others I've looked over.”
the unborn, or she, the mother, depending on
whichever grammar you like,—had reached at The listening couple heard the rustling of
the time,—ended up with the name because, pages.
while listening to NPR which was broadcasting
a lecture by, in the guise of an interview with, “So—right, so—I went by decades, and I went
an eminent medical researcher with a boring out of order as I didn't think I would arrive at
voice on the subject of recent developments in anything linear anyway. And I got to thinking
the field of obstetrics and the implication of that this—perhaps this said something about
the rapidity of those developments, the subject planned pregnancy-motives, planned
of Most Popular Boys' and Girls' Names for pregnancy-strategies and how they've
Newborns for that year (1987) was touched developed—” The interview was almost
upon, the vehicle for its touching being an entirely performed in this sort of “planned
interjection by an interviewer-wallflower who pregnancy-[blank]” idiom. “Is having a child no
had for too many minutes allowed his longer a matter of course, but an act of
interview to devolve into a lecture by his creativity—and that leads to the break with
interviewee. tradition—in favor of creativity—in names—
naming.” “That's good, yes. Or was is that on,
So he said, “You see here,” after reading the say, page five, you know... in those days... the
top ten most popular boys' names rapidly “a child might not live, but should he live he'll be
break with tradition,” after reading the list, named after his father, the grandson after the
“possibly—or—not tradition, sorry, a break grandfather, and should he die, another could
with—traditional naming conventions.” “One live, there's no guarantee there—” “That's
imagines what such a convention might—” “Let right, yeah—” “No guarantee of mortality
me finish, please, I'm—listen, we have a challenged, so... the name is the guarantee,
palpable listenership-demography to which to
and the child lives, rejoice: the name means because he'll be a Mike among many Mikes so
nothing at this point except that it justified the he'll be Mike First Letter of His Last Name, if he
endeavor and the designated name, bolstered wants. Physical Characteristic Mike. If he
by tradition, was the name of the endeavor wants.”
now forever commemorated; passed forward.”
And the more they listened they suspected If he ever asked them why he was called
that interviewer and interviewee had Michael, they would lie say they didn't
conspired to render their quandary worse, remember; it was without question correct of
insofar as they had only bothered to listen at them to choose the name at the top of the list,
all because they were grappling with a fever of the name most likely to be the most common:
indecisiveness regarding what to name the Michael if he were a boy, Jessica if he were a
impending Michael, who wasn't called Michael girl.
yet. Tradition, tribute, anything of that
nature—these were out of the question, and ###
not in a rebellious sort of way. But the idea of
the child ever being compelled to utter a The walls here, Mike remarked, were covered
combination of words as mortifying for them as in hate and shit, figuratively, but there was a
“I'm named after,” or, worse still, “They named categorical linearity about them that was
me after,” was, frankly, not one they were undeniably aesthetically pleasing; so he could
willing to even entertain. have been said to have arrived at something
linear. But he did this in silence, and did it
Creativity was the only recourse. But as figuratively, as it would have been
creative people, or creatively inclined people, inappropriate to speak at all at this very tense
or people who knew artists, other kinds of moment—tense in a not necessarily negatively-
creators, they knew well the pitfalls of charged way, but tense because a great deal of
ghostwriting: the child would one day choose anticipation and discovery was involved, and
an identity out of the available baker's dozen, a therefore tense in a neutral way—while the
profession out of possibly a few more than man who was his new best friend, he
that, and he would be called by a certain name supposed, Teddy, was showing him around the
which, regardless of his feelings as touching the expansive floor on which he'd be working on
matter, would define him and allow others to most days in this office.
recognize him—but, again, he wasn't a he yet,
though he might have been, but they had no ###
way of knowing, though they might have had a
way without knowing they did.
“That's perfect,” one of them said. “There'll be “The first time we ever made love, we were so
ten of him in his class.” “Ten instant best intensely connected that it was as though we
friends.” “It's good: it's bland, it's a were one body. And it went on like this. But I
placeholder. They'll have that in common, that guess you could say it went wrong when I woke
they were given that.”“Maybe. I like that it up one night, on my side of the body, and I
makes Kids' Names a non-issue. And possibly thought a bit and I realized that she could go
encourages a kind of nicknaming creativity in out and get a new penis whenever she wanted
which he can be involved.” “That's right and I couldn't. And how could one body
simultaneously be able to do that, to go out
and get a new penis, while at the same time you the address tonight. They do this... sort
being unable to go out and get a new penis. So of... weird... like surreal. I don't know.”
we left each other, the one body somehow left “Postpostmodern cabaret anti-anti-humor.”
itself. But we work together and I see her at “That's right.” “Zero-point-five-liners.” “That's
least once a week. But rarely if ever more than correct, yeah, and they do them fifteen
that. Because this is a huge office.” minutes apart: one's spoken aloud, another's
written on index cards and post-its and handed
### out to the crowd. You put them together and
you get an unfunny one-liner. Anyway, they
Because Teddy thought it would be amusing to have this classic bit, it's called 'Sorry I wasn't
tell Mike a joke as part of an imaginary listening.' It goes like this:
ceremony for jumping in a new member of the
team, “Don't tell it to him,” said Chuck, “This girl says to her boyfriend, 'I said listen.'
Teddy's, he supposed, best friend. “And it's not And he says 'Sorry I wasn't listening.' 'I said
funny.” “It's not supposed to be funny, it's listen,' she says. He says, 'Sorry I wasn't
supposed to be fun to listen to. And... to... you listening.' And she says, 'I said listen.' And then
know... get. And then if you don't get it then he says, 'And then what did you say?' And she
you seem to me to be an idiot and it's fun and says, '“I said listen”'—again. Because it's true. 'I
funny for me.” “But it is idiotic. It relies on said listen' is what she said after she said 'I said
grammatical imprecision and implied listen.' So he says, 'What did you say after you
assumptions of common ignorance to work.” said “I said listen”?' And she says '“I said
“That's true, yes.” “Yes, it's true. Okay, go listen.”' Because it was still true. 'I said listen' is
ahead.” what she said after she said 'I said listen,' after
she said 'I said listen.' So, 'Why do you keep
“So it goes like this: repeating yourself?' he says. And she says,
'Because you aren't listening.' He says, 'Sorry I
“This guy—” “No, do the—make the guy the wasn't listening.' So she says, 'I said “Because
girl the girl the guy, the new version, you know you aren't listening.”' He says, 'Sorry I wasn't
it's disturbing otherwise.” “So it goes like this, listening.' So she says, 'I said “Because you
this girl—” “You botched it already.” “What?” aren't listening.”' And he says, 'What did you
“You're supposed to tell him...” Chuck say after that?' And she says 'I'm not going to
mouthed something to Teddy and “Oh right,” say it too many times.'”
Teddy picked it up, “So, uh, have you lived here
long?” he said to Mike. “Is this part of the joke
or... are you—no actually I'm new.” “Oh, okay
well... uh... hey... you know... you should really
check out this... amazing comedy duo. They're
called... Cabot and Ostello.”
“Oh?” “Right, Cabot and Ostello. They have a
long-term residency at Corky's the free jazz
arcade and Monopoly-money casino. Down by
the Jewish Children's Animal Hospital. I'll text
About the Author:
Zak Block's written things have appeared in Big
Bridge, Paper Darts, Quail Bell Magazine,
Gadfly ONLINE, and Potluck Mag among
others. He is the founder/editor-in-chief of
(the) Squawk Back, an online literary journal of
transgression and alienation, est. May 2011.
by Rees Nielsen
It was the summer of 1971 and Murrow and I long. That is fine,” she said. “You have
were stuck in Tehran waiting for the weekly beautiful hair but you must wash it three times
bus to Istanbul. Down the hallway this barrel every day. Come to me and bend over the
chested German was leaned up against the sink.” She took a bottle down from the cabinet
north wall smoking a cigarette. and, of all things, began to shampoo my hair.
“I’m going to tell you my life story.” The Hissan, who couldn’t have been more than
German informed me as I passed. He was eight, strapped on his accordion. He played
approaching middle age and had that with enthusiasm but he played like an eight-
weathered look that suggested trouble. “I’m year old. Hissan wasn’t the next Mozart but
not going to lie to you. I need a loan. Not you had to admire his reverence for his
baksheesh, mind you, but a short-term loan. mentor. He hung on every word. Half an hour
They’re about to kick my wife and I out on the later he pulled some waded Rials out of his
street if I don’t come up with the rent. I’ve got pocket and anxiously asked about his next
a check coming week’s end and then I can pay lesson.
you back.” He flicked a cigarette out of his pack
and held it out in my direction. “Let me tell “So you’re a musician?” I asked after the
you my story then it’s your call.” boy departed.
His room was at the far corner of the hall. The German smiled as I dried my
A chubby Persian boy clutching an accordion head. He acknowledged the lady in the room
was waiting timorously next to the German’s sitting stiffly at the edge of the bed. “This is my
door. “This is Hissan,” the German explained, wife Akter.” Akter put her palms together
“He has come for his weekly lesson.” The boy closed her eyes and dipped her head. The
looked at the floor in awe of the maestro. German had crossed the room in three quick
strides and was holding a large scrap book
The German patted Hissan on the top of the which he opened at the end of the bed. He
head. “Come Hissan, show me what you have waved me over and I sat across from him on
learned.” The German opened the door and the other side of the book.
pointed at a chair where I sat down. A woman
wearing a turquoise silk sari embroidered with “What do I call you,” the German asked
silver thread came out of the bathroom. She
stood to the side checking the mirror while “Call me Red,” I answered, “everybody else
braiding the last strands of her long thick black does.”
hair. She waved me over to the sink at the
other end of the room. “Red, I am no ordinary musician. I am an
entertainer. You understand the difference. A
“It is permissible for a man to grow his hair musician plays in an orchestra, an entertainer
plays for the audience. I can play the accordion
or the guitar or the horns, but better than that, The workings of the instrument were
I can play the crowd. This is my path. I am a bolted to a large sheet of plywood almost as
student of songs and also a student of people. big as the bed itself. It was crafted with all
Songs can tell you more about people than any sorts of piano wire and sitar strings. There
newspaper. I can sing songs from anywhere in were levers at intervals and myriad mechanical
the world. Anywhere! Name a country and I devices. Some wires ran diagonally above
will sing you a song.” other sets of strings. These sympathetic strings
picked up on the vibrations of the bottom
“Look,” He flipped rapidly through the scrap strings and created a harmonic hum echoing
book which was pasted with handbills of off the workings of the instrument. Near the
numerous countries from every hemisphere. top there were a set of keys that struck the
He lighted on what he was looking for. “Red, tightly strung wires much like a piano. The
believe me, I know American songs. Look here, German had cut a half circle into the plywood
I lived in Texas for four years.” He pointed at a giving him room to reach all the gizmos on the
black and white photograph. It was a photo of board.
the young German on a quarter horse wearing
a black Stetson. “That’s me,” he assured me. The German began to pick at his
contraption slowly but with rising intensity. At
“I know all the melodies. All the everyday one point he threw a bow onto the bed,
songs. I know ditch diggers songs. I know the stopping at times to draw a low deep groan
lullabyes. The love songs. The drinking songs. out of the thing. Meanwhile he strummed and
I know the songs you grew up with in grade picked, as he delicately tuned his creation. The
school. I know Red River Valley, Streets of myriad levers seemed to provide him with a
Laredo, Strawberry Roan. I know all the range of chords while there were other sets of
cowboy songs and the coal miner songs and strings where he plucked, with remarkable
the union songs. I can sing about the Civil War. dexterity, at individual notes.
I sing the songs of Ulysses and Robert E.”
It sounded similar to a sitar or a zither, then
I took a long look at the photo. It was later, especially when he ran through the
definitely the German and from what little I scales, it produced a ringing liquid clarity, like a
could see it looked like Texas. “You’re a folk runaway bluegrass mandolin. The thing was
singer then?” I asked. filling the room with a sound that was dense
and pungent. The German was trapped in the
“Yes, yes I am the volk singer! And my sway of this composition. Then the melody
wife Akter, she is a classical Bengali dancer. I slowed from its frantic pace and became
play and she dances. We play all over the simpler, almost familiar. Without warning he
world. You know the Hilton Hotels. Yes I have lent his voice to the mix:
played the Hiltons many times, many
countries. We have a home but we can’t get I ride an old paint, I lead an old Dan
back until my check comes through. My wife is
East Bengali, there’s a war going on and we I’m goin’ to Montana for to throw the
can’t cross the Pakistani border. We need to hoolihan
fly direct to Mumbai.”
They feed in the coulees, they water in the
“Let me show you something. I have my draw
own instrument. I invented it,” the German
explained enthusiastically, “It’s what you Their tails are all matted, their backs are all
Americans call, one of a kind.” He jumped raw
from his chair without waiting for my reply and
pulled this huge contraption from under the My uncle used to sing that very song after a
bed. long day and a tumbler or two of Canadian
Club. I have to admit hearing Ol Paint in this named our daughter Pavi and we bought a
shabby hotel in Tehran left me missing home small house in Eastern Mumbai. By the time
for the first time in a long while. There were Pavi was four we gave up the road. We had
some borders I couldn’t cross either but that’s cultured a network of clubs and hotels in the
a story for another time. surrounding area that provided a livelihood.
Akter taught school and I gave lessons. We set
The German played on for another twenty about raising our daughter properly. We lived
minutes in a million languages and styles. His in a middle class neighborhood and we had
shirt was sweated thru and he flung his head middle class concerns.
from side to side as he played with utter
abandon as if we weren’t even there. Without Our particular neighborhood was under the
warning as the music reached a fevered pitch control of the Vardha Bhai. They were a local
he abruptly stopped, like pulling the mafia of Tamil criminals. Theirs was an
emergency brake on a passenger train. I nearly organization of bootleggers, smugglers, opium
fell from my seat thunder struck by the abrupt traffickers and murderers. They operated with
end of the concert as his Stradivarius lay on the impunity. They even had their own courts and
bed humming along down a long road that they settled their scores as if they were a
stretched off into what approached forever. country unto themselves.
The German looked exhausted. He dragged One evening I caught a boy trying to lift my
his instrument back under the bed and sat Mercedes. I knew him to be the son of one of
there contrite. The thing was still vibrating. the thugs of the neighborhood, so I dismissed
His shoulders sagged and his voice took a him with a swift kick to the pants rather than
plaintive tone. He turned to the front of his the beating he deserved.
scrapbook and spoke breathless.
That’s how I ended up in the court of The
“When I came east I was a young man. The Vardha Bhai. They captured me with the quick
same cock sure stupid young man you run into strike of a black jack and a coil of rope. I was
every day. A man not so different from hijacked off the street and when I came to, I sat
yourself. I owned a Mercedes and a matching in a dock before the local gangster magistrate. I
trailer and I had 20000 marks in the bank. He was told to surrender my Mercedes before the
pointed to a photo which showed himself end of the following day in recompense for my
standing before just such a rig. Look at me offense. I tore open my shirt and pointed to
now. I am a child’s abandoned doll. I am a my heart. “Take it now.” I screamed, “save
mutt with a torn ear that will never mend.” yourself the trouble.” I considered them duly
“How to begin?” He thought about this for
some time. “In the beginning I was determined That night I sat in my car with a club and a
to establish some concrete direction. My small sword. I kept a pistol in the glove
peculiar ambition being to practice and learn compartment. Just before dawn they set upon
the music of every country along the old Silk me. I sent two of them to hospital before
road. I did this to foment some historical someone landed the deciding blow. I lay there
context to my interests. In the process during stunned on the street. One of the goons rifled
a foray into east Bengal, I met Akter and not my pockets till he found my keys. He started
long after we became man and wife. We my Mercedes and sat there patiently waiting.
began to perform together. It was as if the
world with all its troubles had given Akter and I There was blood running down into my
a pass. We had run off to join the circus.” eyes. I managed to get to my knees but I was
too wobbly to stand. A third man came
“After two years a child was born. We crashing through the front door. He had
something in his arms. I could hear my wife German was silent and in this ghastly silence I
calling my name frantically from the front door. read the articles in the scrapbook of a beautiful
This last gangster had tied a kerchief over his 11 year old girl stolen from her family.
face, he paused and opened his arms. “Tell
Daddy goodnight,” the monster said and then “Red,” the German said at long last. “A
he kicked me and the lights went out. piece of advice. If you choose to marry, marry
a Bengali. The women of Bengal are both
When I came to Akter was shaking me. She beautiful and loyal. They are known for their
looked worse than I did. She held me in her honesty and they will smoke charas with you.
arms for the longest time rocking back and They are not timid in bed either and most
forth with me in her lap trying desperately to important, they protect you from snakes.
clear the cobwebs from my head. Pavi had
disappeared and I knew the clock was ticking. As god is my witness I will tell you a true
story. We traveled to East Pakistan, the
The German took the scrapbook and country they call Bangladesh now. Akter’s
opened it in his lap. Methodically he turned people live there. You would have thought we
the pages until he found the place. There was were royalty the way they received us. We
the newspaper photo of a beautiful young girl were given a hut at the edge of the village next
and the banner headline: KIDNAPPED!!! to the jungle.”
“Over the next 5 years I spent all the money “I was tired after the long journey and I
I had trying to find our Pavi. I bribed. I begged. ducked my head to enter the hut but Akter
I threatened. I made crucial contacts within refused to let me pass.”
both the criminal organizations of Mumbai and
the police. Through these contacts we “‘Babu she said, ‘you must not enter here.
discovered she had been sold by the Vardha There are seven Cobra’s inside and they will
Bhai to slave traders who dispensed children strike you. Wait here while I fetch them.’ ”And
across Asia as house servants and prostitutes. so she did, returning seven times and each
time holding a cobra at arms length.”
I sold the Mercedes and mortgaged our
home. I sunk every pisa I owned into her “Akter how did you know there were seven,
discovery. Gradually we came to know the I asked my wife.”
names and evil histories of the handful of men
responsible for this despicable act. Slowly I “’I could smell them Babu,’ she answered.
began to give up hope of her return. I ‘They smelled like seven.”
resorted instead to the least transcendent of
emotions, personal revenge.” The German looked at me. He looked
exhausted. “True story.” He said, “Every
“I murdered five of the perpetrators of my word.”
daughters abduction in cold blood. I poisoned
the man that did the actual deed. I stole his The German was suddenly played out. He
car, drove it some two hundred miles and was no longer the hardy barrel chested
handed the keys to a beggar. Over three German I had encountered in the hall an hour
months time I bankrupted his family. or so earlier. He looked older and feebler than
I had realized. I stood up to take my leave.
The others I killed face to face and with my Without a word I pulled my wallet and handed
own hands. I snapped their necks like a farmer over most of my cash.
snaps the neck of a chicken. I came upon them
in the dead of night and waited for their eyes “It’s all I got,” I added. “I’ll talk to Murrow
to cloud over so that the very last thing they see how much cash he’s got on him.”
saw was my face and my vengeance.” The
“Like I said,” the German assured me, “I can
pay you back come the Thursday.”
“That’s ok. We have tickets for the About the Author:
Wednesday bus to Istanbul.”
For 35 years Rees Nielsen farmed stone fruit
“O,” the German said and looked down at with his cousins on the family farm 3 miles
his hands. He had massive hands and I did not southwest of Selma, at the heart California's
doubt he could snap a man’s neck if he took a San Joaquin Valley. Three years after the
notion to do so. passing of his wife Riina, he moved to
Indianola, Iowa where he chauffeurs his
“I studied literature in school. I have grandchildren, Marshall and Adelaide Taylor,
always loved books. I eat books like Texas eat to and from elementary school. He has
bar-b-que. I will tell you this secret Red. It is a published poetry, fiction and visual art in the
secret I have discovered after years of study. USA and the UK.
In this world there are only two books worth
reading more than once. There is this,” the
German held up a well worn Bible. “All great
literature springs from here.” The German
slapped the Bible as if it were a drinking
companion and he was slapping it across the
shoulders. And there is this,” The German
opened a drawer in his nightstand. He handed
me a dog eared copy of The Lustful Turk. I
gathered in a glance that this was a 17th
century erotic novel set in the harem of the
Dey of Algiers.
The German tore a page out of a notebook
and scribbled on it. “Here,” he said, “this is our
address in Mumbai. Should you ever find
yourself in the vicinity call me or just come by.
I will personally put myself at your disposal.
We can ride the elephant. We can go on a
tiger safari. We can go anywhere you want to
go. Take our number with the confidence we
will never forget you.”
I tried to return his copy of The Lustful Turk
but he was having none of that. “My gift to
you. Thank you for your generosity.”
I turned to leave. “ Remember,” Akter said,
“you must shampoo the hair three times every
day.” She somberly held up three fingers. I
held up three fingers in return and nodded
I grabbed the doorknob and I heard the
German say, “Red, read the book and if you
need to don’t be shy, use the hand.”
by Don Dussault
For me everything is in the present tense. mind. Ah, that smile of his! I know little about
Whatever whoever slips away into the past I them. Jerry and Alicia, she a photo-journalist
yank it back. Here something of me thrives. hoping to make her name by recording the
And him. Too much of him. Straight hair a paler rebuilt cities since the world war. I savor the
brown than my rich dark walnut. Bright blue glow of of this young man's body.
eyes. At any moment I revive that most
dramatic afternoon with an unexpected visitor, As I idle in Jerry's room, reluctant to leave,
a guest from America. subconsciously seeking clues to this young
traveler's personality, I notice atop his dresser
We dally. I love that word, a sweetener for loose paper money, coins, a rumpled
the sweaty groping gasping noises and smells it handkerchief, his passport. Ever piqued by
connotes and the rumpling of the young man's photographs I open the passport. In the this-is-
bed, dally, ah, the scrubbed-clean sound of it, me square signed across the side he looks
this primary color word, cadmium yellow younger than his eighteen years, with an
letters, or red-orange, on a cobalt field, innocent infectious grin he now wears in real
signifying the most pure of pleasures filling us life, watching me. "I look pretty goofy in that
with golden glowing warmth as we look picture, don't I?"
brighteyed at each other afterward, strong
young male with smears of dark hair on his Jerry turns out to be Jeremiah Slade. I'm
chest, mature female thickened, not yet about to tell him I have a son named Jeremiah
sagging. We relax knowing we won't be alone when his last name echoing through my mind
for long in our overheated universe. I get up shivers my pleasant woolly mood, sets me
first. He watches me getting dressed to resume trembling, for my own Jeremiah and his
my role as consort to the aristocratic mother—myself!— have not seen each other
landowner, really a modern businessman with since he was two, and I ask his father's name,
an antique title anachronistic in an era of dreading his response to this innocuous
capitalist socialist quasi-republics. The Count question. "Senator Slade."
and the quite young female companion of my
bedfellow are riding back to the castle. I can hardly control my voice. "A United
A genuine castle in eastern Europe mostly
spared by war towering in hills above a city "He's a State Senator now but he's running
rebuilt in the image of a theme mall. The Count for the United States Senate."
we call him. Acts no, lives the part. My count
possesses the circumspection not to flirt Impatient I blurt, "Senator Marlon Slade?"
nor dally too long with the young quite female
half of our guest couple. The verb plays in my I can write this with some clarity now,
recalling my incoherence as old scenes and
images swirl and blend into each other and as I
assemble them I see satisfaction in his calm for others to clean up."
features as he reclines with his arms
folded behind his head, mildly surprised I've Remembrances of my sister halt my plunge
heard of the Senator. I mutter I keep up with into despair. Afternoons of dancing with her,
American politics. I read his birthdate— the laughing under the backyard arbor of sweet
same as my son's! My full weight rests against green grapes. Wiser than I ever was, she raised
the dresser. Both hands braced on the dresser. my son well. Vasile and Alicia ride into
It slides away. I gaze at the white ceiling. His the courtyard, laughing. From my height I
anxious face intrudes. He is kneeling beside observe their progress toward the stables
me, holding my hand, eyes filled with concern. behind the castle. Handyman, chauffeur Dracul
"Are you OK?" marches across the courtyard and closes the
gate. Make a decision— walk downstairs or
I shake my head not in reply but to clear it. leap. I can't take a first step. I shiver as
Steadying myself on my arms I let him help me mountain shadows creep over the parapet.
up, leaning against him, shaky, avoiding his Fear frazzles the soles of my feet and my ankles
touch while I straighten my clothes. "I'm fine. tremble and weakness riddles my knees. Too
Truly, I'm fine. I'm going downstairs. cowardly for the coward's way. Has some time
passed? Lighted rooms cast pale-yellow
Get dressed. Tell no one what happened. trapezoids across the dim courtyard stones
We don't want controversy at dinner, do we? so far far down.
The Count hates controversy."
Hours of my madness shiver any semblance
My son has the intelligence to volunteer no of rationality in me. Don't believe the
information that could trace our paths to his rationality. I'm back to my first days with Count
room. I force a smile and after watching him Vasile Grigore when, in Paris, I veer away from
leave, thinking it would be my last sight of him, the upperclass woman I'm supposed to
I try to stroll with blithe steps, managing not to become, who holds charity events, perhaps
totter, out into the hallway. joins Suffragist rallies, ages in ease and
contentment. Tell Vasile I have a son or await a
To avoid meeting anyone I take the stairs reply to my letter home, a reply that never
up to a walkway along a parapet under the arrives, no, I can't. A man of the world, Vasile
roof. A single thought burrows into my mind: I won't judge me harshly. Can a woman feel
seduced my own son! Leaning outward certain she understands a man? Or a man a
between crenels, mind whirling, I peer woman? A pleasure-loving wealthy
down into the courtyard and the square stones businessman respected in his homeland who
fitting together, imbedded in concrete. Jocasta, adheres to traditional principles of honor,
wife and mother of Oedipus, a suicide. Could I? who'd sympathize, probably comfort a woman
Too dear a cost to preserve my awful secret? amid her tangled feelings, might Vasile go so
My duty, proper retribution for having enjoyed far as to forgive my tryst with Jerry? Irrelevant.
my son's youthful maleness in ways no mother I can never tell Vasile what transpired between
should! I curse the horrid impossible my son and myself. Words of forgiveness mean
coincidence that brought him to me, challenge nothing when our eyes meet, every day, every
my courage to fly down to those square stones. year.
See my stiff, crumpled, broken body on the
flagstones as Vasile and his servants venture During the years between my carefree
out to stand around in bemused silence. Am I travels with Vasile and my night of despair in
artfully posed, lovely, saintlike, asleep in his castle, I surrender at moments to thoughts
perfect peace? My sister Eleanor cries out, of returning to Marlon, father of a son forever
"You must dramatize yourself as usual! Selfish, a small child in my mind. Moving on, willynilly, I
inconsiderate this latest stunt of yours, turning
yourself into a gruesome mess on those stones
can't fathom them moving on from me. Year I make my voice weak. "Our guests should
after year a soft hectoring guilt buttresses my leave tomorrow morning."
doubts. Returning home to them is another
indulgence in fantasy. My sister is a better Unease drifts into his eyes. "Has anything
mother to my son than someone so deficient in happened in my absence?"
maternal instincts as I. How dare I disrupt their
lives again! A year is a day. Is a minute. Every "You have nothing to worry about. I don't
delay diminishes any likelihood I'll return. The feel up to entertaining strangers any longer." I
past enters the present with a vengeance. manage a weak smile. I can speak his lingo.
Today with stunning finality a bizarre "Their limitless youthful energy strains my
improbability has forced the long-avoided own."
confrontation with myself. No choice remains.
Protect the innocents, now including my own I walk past him trying not to touch the
son. stone walls, not to seem I rely on them to avoid
tottering. In my own private bedroom with the
In the darkness a wavering light appears in door locked my sleep is fitful. Tormented by
the entrance to the walkway. I don't budge, images I can't banish, suspicions about
awaiting the inevitable inquiring voice, Vasily's, myself— did I intuit my special prior
worried. "Why are you up here alone?" I shrink connection with this manchild? A profound
from the brilliance of his flashlight as if it would chill penetrates my being. I stand in my
burn me to ashes, clinging to my silence, afraid nightgown watching the dawn from a parapet
my tone may reveal my distress. He repeats his with no recollection of how I got there.
question, adding, "Are you angry toward me?" Returning to my room I lay sleepless on my
bed. A new notion rushes round and round in
I latch onto any guilt he might or might not my mind, sparked by fear that, without
feel, hoping he dallied with Alicia in the forest. thinking, I may blab to Vasile our American
I chill my entire self, becoming that Biblical visitor was my son. Around midmorning Vasile
pillar of salt not to sound fragile. "Would you knocks, pauses. I know his knock. Through the
have any reason for me to get angry?" closed door he tells me our guests have gone.
"Good," I call back.
"None that I can think of." I hear sufficient
puzzlement in his voice to believe his denial, at Waking again late in the morning I stay in
any rate caring little. He sounds anxious. "Does
something trouble you?" bed. At noon someone knocks on my door.
I steady my voice. "Nothing that should After several minutes I rouse myself and
discover the door locked from the inside. I
"You are missed downstairs. You should not
be late for dinner." cannot recall locking it. Walking away, our
"I have no appetite. I wish to forgo dinner housekeeper Sorina turns to frown in
impatience. On the carpeting outside my door
Over the years, when stressed, I have fallen
into his rather formal manner of speaking. He she has left a tray containing a dish of
sounds curious, concerned. "Are you well?"
mamaliga topped with a fried egg, a small bowl
"Tired. I may be coming down with
something. I need to go to bed early." of yogurt and a tall glass of coffee. I eat
"You do look peaked." mechanically and then sleep again until after
dark. A light night breeze energizes me. I
wander upstairs and along the ramparts
and gaze at the half-moon teasing its way
among pale clouds. My torments overflow in
spasms of numbness. Emily, admit your
genuine attraction to Jerry, beyond maternal. A
young male of eighteen can be aroused by
almost any bearer of a vagina, especially one
who returns his interest, even merely piques it conversation and avoiding extended silences.
with brightening eyes. He'd have been aware When we sleep in the same bed, he notices my
of his physical appeal to a woman living in rural lack of enthusiasm and my poor attempts to
castle isolation. This young Jerry could have simulate it. Dare he ask what's troubling me, I
been any handsome man of any age, I any may blurt oh, I met my son whom I abandoned.
promiscuous female. In the courtroom of my His next words? Likely wonderful, we must
heart I argue I shouldn't be faulted, for how in celebrate the reunion. I clutch at a straw. "I've
a distant continent could I possibly meet and been away from my family far too many years."
recognize my own child how old, two? learning
to walk, talk, run, whom as a baby I'd pushed in "Then we shall visit America. I would be
a pram on Westchester sidewalks. A liaison pleased to meet your family."
unlikely beyond the wildest chance. I find
myself believing, hoping, it never happened, I "Maybe."
dream it, while, dreamlike, he and I join as
lovers finding each other. My own dear boy Feigning immunity to my diffidence he
Jeremiah, my son, what must you have makes another offer. "They can come here."
envisioned in a woman your mother's age
tumbling with you in your bed, stirring "They never travel."
subliminal remembrances of a mother you lost
early? Sincere, romantic, you remark, "We "After so many years, you cannot know
should be strangers but we don't feel like their feelings. Does that frighten you?"
strangers." In believable naive sincerity you
reveal the loving man in you capable of "Perhaps."
winning a woman. Don't lose that gift, dear
one, when you recall, as you may, with I fear I may explode in rage, and worse, I
amusement and male pride the eccentric
middleaged stranger of your fling. If Jeremiah worry. I've sunken too deep into my sorrow for
should learn this stranger was his mother, what
harm would that knowledge bring! My son any anger to surmount it. Tell him, Emily. Truth
must never know. Alone I bear the burden of
that afternoon. I may envelop myself in is reputed to be liberating. Tell Vasile the story
innocent ignorance or wallow in despair at my
violation of nature, of human nature, yet never of that afternoon. Leave it to him to forgive
rid my spirit of that night and the images
locked into my brain— the easy grin in a me or banish me. Emily, overcome your
handsome face which somewhere certainly
contains traces of the baby I gave birth to, the paralyzing fear. I should fear my weakness
supple young body, the lean yet muscular
arms, the surprising stamina of this incipient more than his response and the risk of altering
my life with him. Crossing a Rubicon is no
Hard as I try to avoid moping, I catch
surreptitious glances. I avoid the kitchen, the longer a mythic tale about someone else. It's
common social area, unless I have instructions
to impart. I go horseback riding in the morning become my story. I must reveal my past to a
while Vasile works in his office, giving myself an
excuse not to ride with him in late afternoon, man of great importance in my life. I owe him
his favorite time. At dinner I labor at contriving
How might it go? Tentative, I approach him
in midafternoon. "About my life in America,
there's something you must know," and he
waits, perhaps inquires, "You have a husband?"
and I stay calm, "I've never had a husband,"
hoping I need go no further, aware I must,
while he holds his silence, "My parents live in
Newport," for whatever that might mean to
him, "My sister is married to an attorney,"
which jogs his memory, "I believe you
mentioned a sister once," and now I wait until
he continues, "Do they have children? Do you
have nieces and nephews?" and in a soft voice I
reply, "No," and now I've gone too far to turn
back, here goes, "I have a son." I must say it, hero in his first lines, Keep up your bright
"By my sister's husband." I can say it. No, not swords, for the dew will rust them."
"Is that from Othello?"
As the quiet and isolation of the castle
exacerbates my moods, I fancy bright lights and "The commanding entrance of a general. So
crowds bringing lifesaving distractions. My different from Hamlet, who is detached, aloof.
passing fear Vasile and I are losing each other is Hamlet's first words are an aside. America
buried among the debris of my disfocused arrives like Othello, a formidable warrior."
thinking. "Vasile, I need a change."
"That seems kind of unfair. Americans love
"I do as well. Tomorrow we may be on the peace."
train to Vienna."
"In due course we shall see."
Good to be out of the castle and in a
With me, briefly he indulges in his moment
bustling city. My melancholy overcomes the of intellectual badinage. We cut our trip short
and return to the castle. My moods return.
best of Vienna. The stolid Viennese Unable to conceal them forever I force myself
into activity. I help in the kitchen that I may
architecture displaying the overwrought fervor learn from Sorina how to prepare local dishes. I
take an easel outdoors to paint the trees on
for an empire that no longer exists fails to green slopes, sunsets on undulant ridges. With
my mind clouded by guilt I don't quite realize a
conceal the changes brought on by two growing impulse is driving me, until I finally
express it to Vasile. "What would you think if I
great wars and an era of social evolution. went to Paris by myself for a, oh, a visit to old
Telephones of old friends are disconnected.
His eyes darken to flat black and thoughtful.
After a magnificent Don Giovanni at the State "Paris holds special meaning for you. It is the
city where you awoke to yourself."
Opera an acquaintance informs us one of our
"Where we met."
friends is an actor in Hollywood and
Irrelevant now, he gets it. "I understand
another has moved to Prague. In caffes the your longing to revisit Paris."
young chat in excited voices sparked by bursts I can hear his regret. He knows I'm not
inviting him. Ever ready to accomodate my
of laughter. Vasile isn't one to conceal his wishes, withholding his reservations he lets me
go. I deserve no such easy reprieve. Suddenly I
disappointment. "The lights of Vienna are not want him to sit me down and command me to
tell the truth about my past or face his wrath. I
as brilliant as I recall." want to hear him tell me he loves me too much
to let me drift away. Neither are in his nature.
I understand he means the intellectual Does his reliance on traditional nobless oblige
illumination of our age. "The splendor has signify he is weak of spirit? My spiritual kin
faded, the horrors of war can do that." would be one who wouldn't as easily have
allowed me to leave. My spiritual kin, yes, with
"No doubt the world has changed. America whom I couldn't live any better than I live with
may become the center of dialogue." myself, now overwhelmed with fear and
"We Americans aren't much for daylong
conversations in caffes."
I recognize the expression on his features,
marked by a brief distant look. "The future is in
"One of those ancient ideas you love."
"It originates in nature, as do most good
ideas. The seed determines the fruit. The
manner of America's entrance on the world
stage may tell us much about the role your
people will play. The English Bard reveals his
proddings of guilt. I love him more than ever for those words,
an intimation I may never have loved him as
I project my weakness onto Vasile. More much as we believed. That night an automaton
than once I've overheard him berating some inside me packs two suitcases and restores me
business associate on the telephone. Never has to sleep every time restless thoughts jar me
he spoken with harshness toward the castle until I rise well after the sun. I hear Vasile
help nor to me, transmitting any displeasure typing in his office with its door closed as usual.
toward us, a rare event, with a look and a curt Without a word Sorina fixes me eggs and ham
phrase. He can ask me a hundred questions: and pours my coffee and then departs for the
did I run to Europe to escape an unloved garden, where Ilie is already at work. Dracul
husband, do I have children in America, what is sips coffee in silence until I finish my breakfast
my family like, why am I not closer to them? So and then in response to my inquiring uncertain
many questions he refrains from asking— look accompanies me upstairs to my
whether from courtesy or weakness, no room, where he lifts my suitcases and we start
matter— and now, as I gain his approval for my out to the courtyard. Pausing as I pass Vasile's
solo trip to Paris I notice in his dark eyes a office I knock at the closed hardwood door and
whirligig of hope I'll return and a sense I won't. announce I'm leaving and he calls back, "I'm on
In his eyes the blent shades of premonition and the telephone. Have a pleasant journey."
loss mirror my dark grief at a past that's a long
knife aimed at his heart. No, my dear Vasile, In the backseat of the Mercedes I recline,
nostalgia is not a primary reason why I must surprisingly tired so soon after a night's sleep
return to Paris. My voice is thankful. "With and I doze at moments as the car winds down
your blessing, I'll pack tonight and leave the mountain. I stand at the station ticket
tomorrow morning." counter with my bags beside me where Dracul
left them. I hear the Mercedes driving away. At
As his thoughts cycle through the potential my window in the Orient Express I watch the
consequences of my departure, he listens to day melt into twilight, then into darkness.
my announcement with weighty calm. "You
will not return?" As I did years ago I rent a room in the Sixth
It's both question and statement. I owe him Arrondissement. At outdoor tables I sip coffee
more than an abrupt departure— the full truth
about myself. Dare I repay my happy years and study faces seeking anyone I might
with him by telling him the tawdry tale of a
mother who abandoned her son, leaving him, recognize. I rummage through my memory for
my best friend and lover, satisfied to be rid of
such a person but defiled by years of my faces and names. Brendan of course who
deceit, first by my misrepresentation of myself
and now by an incestuous infidelity. He is owed turned out to be more adventurous than I
the full truth about me. Now arrives my final
chance to confess, to set him free of me thought, how does he look today? Bigboned,
forever, to allow him to abandon hope I might
return, to wish never again to see me. I has he put on weight and settled in with a
manage a pittance of honesty. "Probably not."
stout Dutch milkmaid? Dominique, to whom I
I see sorrow in his dark eyes, hear tradition
and nobility in his softened voice. We're all gave a dress and a smock when I was packing
captives of something. "Your quest, wherever it
may take you, may it bring you happiness." my suitcases, Joe from Ypsilanti practicing on
his guitar, Jean-Pierre, Lars, others who might
remember me. I scan the faces of passersby. At
dusk I wander to the Seine. Two young men
pick at their guitars, young and they look it, as
our crowd must have. They are Jerry's
generation. Absent well over a decade, I've lost
my connection to this city, my favorite, with
familiar streets and buildings, hotels, produce
stands, book stands side by side along the
green Seine, the Louvre, the city where I once
came to find freedom, where I'm now a tourist wound up bringing up my son. Because I live on
like any other.
whims, I have since my teen scorn of
I urge myself to write Vasile a note thanking
him for our years together. My persistent pretentious high society elites, claiming I'm
procrastination in letterwriting reminds me I'm
temperamentally unreliable, given to sudden different from the subservient spoiled other
enthusiasms and equally sudden retreats into
myself. Never having gotten a reply to my girls flouncing in ruffles, frills and furbelows. I
letter from his castle years ago, at intervals I
wonder if it vanished in one of the postal defy an often pretentious Procrustean society.
systems it passed through, or if my sister
threw it away, perhaps unopened, still peeved Selfindulgence gives me the right. Hovering,
at me, holding a grudge uncharacteristic of her,
as if that matters now! I could have followed transparent in my hotel window, my reflection
up with other letters, had considered writing
her and Marlon again, many times. The past stares at me. In the window my sad eyes
returns as present. I know what I want, to
reclaim a home no longer mine, rejoin a family rebuke me. Selfish brat you are, abandoning
who can refuse to accept among them a
deserter in disgrace. In my Paris room my mind your boy, then seducing him mere months
prances through New York, reviving Eleanor
and Marlon, now like me entering middleage, removed from childhood? Could the window
Jeremiah resembling the small boy in my
memory morphed into the handsome young image speak, her words would scathe my
stranger. A flickering double image. Hope
tempts me to override my fear they'll reject flesh: Emily, you like your babies fully grown
me. Wisdom urges, accept your new reality.
You're alone in the world. Runaway hope and primed to serve your evil fantasies.
breeds illusions capable of outshining reality. I
ponder tactics. If I return home now, Jeremiah Wherever in our social circles I may venture
is likely still away on his travels with a young
woman too assertive for his gentler nature but whispers will follow: a woman your age having
who can enable him to forget me, and his
absence will help me postpone the ultimate a fling with a teenager— a scandal to set
necessity of divulging our encounter to some
later time when, after winning the family's tongues wagging, as they say, yet not
acceptance, I again become a real Emily to
them, not a ghost: a risky scenario. I could comparable to the scorn for a mother
undermine myself with a slipped word, a guilty
look. Oh, the intricacies of hope! The traps of seducing her son! Damn that mute reflected
selfishness! At my window I contemplate walls
and rooftops. I see the city as Kokoscha might, face! Let the social elites, the hoi polloi, the
or Matisse, or Cezanne. Alignments of metal,
ceramic tile, wood, redbrick, stone in the cold lowest rabble condemn that face, those empty
geometry I chose above my family, my son. a
decision correct at the time only because bold, features, that mindless image on glass I can
spoiled, independent, I betrayed the sister who
turn away from. Elsewhere in another place
and time, condemnation awaits me in
judgment fair and merciless. I'll postpone
judgment as long as I can.
Where's my delectable sense of irony
gone? Dare I turn my sarcasm against myself?
My window image brightens as dusk darkens
the sky. You are not me, I inform it. I see youth
lingering in those features, hope straining
in those eyes. An illusion. You've never acted
your age. You ran from your baby son as if
tossing away a doll you were tired of. You had
a quest, or convinced a sophisticated count you
had one, while you played your part unaware
that it was more a stage performance than a
spiritual search, a pose of high seriousness,
accomplishment… Doubt hasn't left me.
Dreading selfdelusion I continue succumbing to
Gossip columns and TV celebrity shows
would feast on our scandalous story. They who
were once my family have moved on without
me. Haughty, careless, having isolated myself
from my sister, from the father of my child, About the Author:
finally from my own child, I've harmed them
enough. Time to accept my exile, wherever it Don Dussault lives in the San Francisco Bay
should take me, not New York, nowhere I'd risk Area. His history includes a BA and MA in
running into family or former friends. Free to English literature and postgrad study in
go where I want, live wherever I choose, do linguistics. His work appears in several literary
what I please, I don't feel free. I need a publications, a few of which are excerpted on
sprawling American city, Chicago, Los Angeles, his website, presently under construction at
where I can vanish into the crowd. The wise https://dondussault.net/ He's wrapping up a
course. multivoiced saga of a dysfunctional family.
Primeval instinct urges me to return home.
Threatens to overwhelm my good sense. An
ocean voyage should give me time to prepare
myself to confront my kin, brace myself against
their onslaught. If I fail to win mercy I can leave
before Jeremiah returns from his travels.
Perhaps with the acquiescence of Eleanor and
Marlon I can become his crazy aunt and
our old deception will continue, enabling him
to view me with distaste to spare him the
torment of knowing he Biblically knew his
mother. For his benefit they may go along. Our
family is adept at deception. I can live another
false life. Indeed embrace it! What have I to
lose? Nothing but my final shreds of
selfrespect. Well, dears, they are mine to
dispose of. The next morning, assuring myself
I'm being rational and destiny is best met than
avoided, I purchase a steamship ticket to New
ALL OF NEPTUNE’S OCEANS
by Rina Sclove
Her hands are the only part of her that isn’t aren’t. Once, there was a time when being
scarred. quick meant racing her sister to the swingset
and the speed at which her hand was lifted in
Everything else is marked, claimed, her skin math class, that sometimes it still means the
varying shades of angry red and blistering pur- days when she was still lightning.
ple, puckered and dry and stretched out too
far. She feels like a drawing done by a toddler, This is a different kind of quick. It is a flinch,
scribbled on with ragged lines and no care, the crease between this world and the next,
hung on the wall and left to bleed. the scars that sit near the cavity where her
heart used to be. Is, she reminds herself. Is.
She is paper thin, she thinks. Translucent.
Her hands don’t belong to her, though. Not
It is the scars she hates the most, more anymore, maybe not ever. It is the price of be-
than the bruises. The bruises change, shifting in ing a body without a soul, she thinks, or maybe
color and form and, sometimes, away. They are of having too much of one, and she lies and
proof that there is still blood trapped beneath tells herself that it doesn’t matter which it is.
the surface of her skin, that things are still
forming. That they still can. She lifts a shaking Once Upon a Time, her hands had not been
hand to her cheek and holds it there, as if so smooth. They were rough, calloused. A war-
somehow she could capture a little bit of its rior’s hands, she thinks, and for a moment she
magic. It stings at the touch, and she treasures almost remembers how to smile. Almost.
that, too. Pain, she knows, is the body’s way of
screaming, of saying you cannot touch me and I She used to row, in school. The oars blis-
will resist you. She lets her bruises sing. tered her hands, marks left from the act of
pushing forwards. God, she had loved those.
Her hands, though. They are unmarred, Her teammates all used to compare them, try-
smooth. She almost remembers the way peb- ing to see which one of them had worked the
bles felt in her hand, glistening from the stream hardest, who was willing to pay the highest
and cold in her palm. She used to collect them, price. Sometimes she won, sometimes she did-
taking all of the perfect things and tucking n’t. But she had owned those blisters, and she
them away in her pockets. Her hands feel like was a part of them as much as they were parts
them now, she thinks, guesses. Not knowing, of her.
When she enlists in the army, her hands
Sometimes, she looks at her unblemished turn rough again, hardened by push ups and
hands and lets herself believe that they are still the cold, black weight of a gun in her hands.
hers. They had to become stronger, still, for her to
be able to hold lives in them. And to crush
She’s quick to remember, though, that they them - well, that was the heaviest weight of all.
They must have seen promise in those He is only a boy.
hands, though, enough that she was cherry
picked for the CIA. And so she trains and trains, She swallows, sets her jaw, and lifts the gun
lets herself harden. She stiffens her shoulders higher. Stop projecting, she tells herself, it is
and tells herself that she is a weapon, a blade, only the sunlight being reflected, can’t you see?
And then another thought - isn’t that all
All of the training, though, isn’t enough. She there ever is?
fails her very first mission. She may be a weap-
on, but she is one with a beating heart, and it Her heart beats. Drums. She’s on the river
very nearly gets herself killed. Nearly. At any again, an oar in her blistered hands. Water
rate, her fingers stutter on the trigger when the sprays her cheeks and for a moment she re-
time comes, her body wavering as her soul members how to breathe.
stands deathly still.
What price are you willing to pay? The river
She had been ready to kill him. Ready to whispers, what cost will you bear?
take a life without a second thought, as if it had
belonged to her, but then - but then. He lifts his She wants to stay, but that is not what the
head, just a little, enough for her to see his river is - it is pushing forwards, always for-
eyes from underneath the brim of his helmet. wards, and she is back in the desert with a boy
with her brother’s eyes and a choice in her
She can’t remember what color her own hands.
eyes are. She tries and tries, searching for
some sort of clarity among the endless hues of There is one more question - the only ques-
gray, but she comes back with nothing. In her tion, really. She asks it herself. How much of a
dreams, her eyes are rolling blue, like the river soul do you have? She asks, too much or too
she used to row in. Or maybe it is like the little? How much is your soul worth?
stream - she isn’t sure. Sometimes they are a
sunset, deep oranges and poppy reds, wispy She doesn’t know, can’t know, but she un-
pinks and purple lightning that all come togeth- derstands what those sunlit eyes are worth,
er to bleed liquid gold. It always changes, and and this is how she finds her answer. Not him,
for the life of her she cannot remember the she tells herself. Not him.
way she used to see the world.
She lowers the gun.
Different names for empty craters, she
thinks. Or cries. Does she remember how to There is a heartbeat, a shaking hand, a gun-
that? shot. The bullet enters her leg quickly, just to
the side of an artery. It is a bullet, a flinch, the
Could she? shadow between life and death - it is quick.
They say that getting shot feels like burning,
His eyes are brown. Like dirt, like the things like being consumed by a thousand fiery suns.
we come home to. Home. She has brothers But when the bullet breaks her skin it feels like
there, small, knobbly things with scabbed an answer, like a promise that one day she will
knees and open hearts, bits of earth behind cling to this moment and remember what it
their ear in the places they never manage to feels like to burn.
wash. They’re waiting for her, she knows, and
all of a sudden home is a knife. (she doesn’t know this, but a few feet away
a boy with brown eyes stares at his own trem-
His eyes are brown, but there’s something bling hands, at the weapon clutched in them so
more to them - a little bit of light, dancing right tightly that his knuckles have turned white. he
in the corner there. Her brothers’ are the knows what he’s supposed to tell himself: she
same. These are a boy’s eyes, she knows. She would have hurt him, if he hadn’t done it, hurt
knows. his friends, she is dangerous. he doesn’t think
these things. instead he looks at his pale, blood
-stained hands and asks himself a question. Other times she goes to the stream, puts peb-
how much is your soul worth? he thinks of his bles in her pockets and thinks of a boy with
mother at home, of how she won’t let him sit stars for eyes.
at the dinner table with so much blood caking
his hands. his hands tremble with the weight of This is the price, she knows, for clean hands
the world, and he knows, he knows that all of and - and for what?
the water in Neptune’s great oceans would not
be enough to wash away the stain of what he’d For the sun, she thinks as she traces a finger
done. less, the man shudders, less.) around the scar that sits where the bullet en-
tered her leg and her head and her heart. She
They take her prisoner, after that. It is her feels flames dancing on her fingertips and
mind that is valuable to them, the information knows that it is something that they cannot
that they need but what they want - well. They take away. There is a fire that is hers and hers
take that too. alone, and it is almost enough.
I am a weapon, she wills herself, a blade, a She doesn’t speak much anymore, her voice
fighter. low and croaking, stuck in the back of her
throat trying to sing a song whose title she can-
I am not human, she hears, and metal does not remember. Hope, maybe. She doesn’t
not bleed. know.
She grits her teeth and shuts her eyes, does But there are two words that are never far
everything they told her to do. She bleeds all from the tip of her tongue, and she whispers
the same, and somewhere, halfway across the them day and night, like a prayer. Too much,
world, the river weeps. her scars sing, too much.
Her captors are fair, as far as captors go. She knows how much of a soul she has, and
They give for everything they take, a bartering this, this is the price she is willing to bear to
system as old as humanity itself. They carve carry the weight of it. Too much, she whispers,
away her flesh and give her holes where she lets out a breath and knows that it matters.
used to be whole, rob her of breath and give
her broken blood cells, shattered lungs and the About the Author:
knowledge that Home is an ache she no longer
believes. They take life and give her the space Rina Sclove is currently a junior in high school
between, the pause between inhaling and ex- at Princeton Day School. She lives in Princeton,
haling, between a not-quite hardened heart NJ with her parents, two sisters, and beloved
and a boy with earth-kissed eyes. fish, Algae-Won Kenobi. She has previously had
work published in Canvas Literary Journal.
In the beginning, she used to laugh, mania-
cally, brilliantly, lightning dancing on her
tongue. Just to prove that she still could. She
did that until she no longer remembered what
it was to laugh, until the lightning died and the
world forgot how to burn.
Now she is silent, mostly. Her eyes glaze
over their shoulders, fixating on the same spot
on the wall. Sometimes it is Home, pigtails and
freshly-mowed grass, her father’s steady hand
on her shoulder. Sometimes it is the river,
laughter and the things she earned for herself.
NO BETTER REASON
by Torrie Jay White
The cabin smells like my grandfather as a than see, the squeak and scamper of mice.
young man. Like my mother’s skin in her last Thank god I can’t see them. Thirty years ago,
days. Like the gunpowder in my father’s pistol. forty, they wouldn’t have bothered me, but
Like the earliest parts of my remember life. I’ve gone soft. My grandfather would be
I remember. I came for him.
The key grinds in the lock; the door in its
frame. No one has opened it in over a decade. I A half century of grime frosts the windows,
haven’t in three. I put my shoulder into the but the light coming through is getting
door, and only then does it give way. It swings stronger. It opens the room, and lets me survey
open to a pounding dark. Behind me is the the postage stamp of property that is now
pounding sun. mine, for not better reason than because
everyone else is dead.
I take a moment, and breathe in the rot. A
melee of stench. A whole century of skin and The room is a photograph, an almost
must and moss and mice, bodies rotted fat and perfect snapshot of everything I remember. It’s
round in the walls my grandfather built. I step become brown and brittle in the years since I
into the cabin. I’ve forgotten there is no was last here, but then, don’t photographs?
electricity. (Didn’t I?) Newspapers, once stacked next to
my grandfather’s armchair, have spilled, their
My eyes acclimate, the black becoming a yellowed headlines panicking over events only
brown haze. I grope my way to the they remember. My grandmother’s umbrella,
disintegrating curtains, and open them. its nylon worn and chewed, stands in its
Outside, I see the lake, the small children I corner, point held in place by her rubber boots.
heard when I pulled in. A little boy, with water I shudder. What’s made its home inside their
wings. A little girl, with a fringe on her bathing toes?
suit. They’re both laughing, both tiny. From the
shore, someone splashes them. As a child, I saw this room with the narrow
specificity of youth: the tiny yellow flowers
I turn my back—I didn’t come for the stitched into my grandfather’s arm chair, the
company of strangers—and open more oak and iron chest with letters carved into the
curtains. Let forth whole furies of dust and top, a palm sized cement cat that my
moths. It looks like rotting snow. I hear, rather grandmother kept on the windowsill. She once
told me that the cat’s eyes had fallen out, and small parcel given up for auction by the state.
sent me to the beach to search for them. I feel He’d planned to be a logger, like his father, but
pebbles between my fingertips, my thick war came, and in the perverse way the world
toddler hands trying to coax sight back into her turns, this secured a kinder life for my
stone sockets. grandfather than his father had. He came
home from France, got hired as a railway
It comforts me that I remember this room postal clerk, and earned enough money to buy
clearly. It means I’ve done little to tamper with for his leisure a slice of the land that, thirty
these memories. This half of my inheritance, at years earlier, had been his father’s labor.
least, is still familiar, even after thirty years.
I know this, because I have a both a deed
It’s the second room, the closed door I’m and a letter confirming it. It’s what you receive
facing, of which I’m less certain. My memories when people die: documents. The deed from a
of the bedroom aren’t as solid. Even back then, lawyer who handled the deaths of my father,
it was private—my grandparent’s room into my grandmother, and finally, my mother. The
which I could only be invited—but the past letter from a box marked “FAMILY – DON’T
thirty years have blurred what I knew of it. The THROW” stored in my mother’s hall closet. The
years rifled through the memories, edited box full of the same collection of ephemera
them until I had only fragments of what’s and detritus that every family saves, confident
behind that door. I don’t know which are real, that its meaning will remain longer than we do.
which are created.
The cabin itself wasn’t built until 1942. A
I know it’s a bedroom. I believe there are project my grandfather gave himself and his
gas lamps. I wonder if inside are the cat’s blind only son after a work injury earned him a
eyes. summer away. I know this from family lore.
Every visit, my grandfather would show me the
A shiver on my spine betrays me. Decades work of my father’s hands, pointing out the
of disuse have left the cabin cold, an icebox nails his boyish fingers had hammered, first
chill preserved between its walls. I run my hand haltingly, then competently into place. My
over the gooseflesh to make the pimples father would speak softly at night about
disappear. I remind myself that fear can’t be sleeping, in the first weeks of that summer, on
placated as easily as cold, but still, I give myself the ground the cabin sits on.
a reason to leave the cabin.
And herein lies the flaw in our
I have a cooler packed with food enough for recordkeeping. This land wasn’t supposed to
three days, and an overnight bag packed with pass, as it did, from his mother to my mother
clothing enough for seven. I didn’t want to be to me, but rather from father to grateful son.
here one night, let alone multiple, but hadn’t
wanted to admit that to myself. I find crackers —
and a knife among the dry food. I’ll sit outside a
few minutes. Eat summer sausage and cheese, I finish my snack, and can’t think a justification
like I did as a child. On the grass outside the to remain, lazy, in the sun. I haul the cooler to
cabin, I feel the strength of sun. A relentless, the cabin door, then leave it to circle the
beating heat that lends itself only to the lake. If building. When I arrived, my eyes and memory
I closed my eyes and dipped my toes in the colluded to show me only what I remembered,
water, I could be eight years old ago again. but slowly, I’m beginning to see the decay.
Only as heavy as this hot air. Weeds choke the cabin’s cinder block base. My
grandfather’s crude imitation of a lawn has
— been preserved, but only by a layer of
disintegrating pine needles, and, I assumed,
My grandfather bought this land in 1921, a
the deadening snow that falls each winter. The note or piece of marginalia. I feel a small bead
paint, once red, is chipped and sun-bleached. of hysteria crystalize, once more in my gut.
I’d call it the color of wood, but the wood itself
is gray. The windows, dull inside, are covered in —
spider webbing and leaf debris. The blinds are
still closed inside the bedroom windows, and I am awake.
the filth makes them look like eyes gone blind.
Again, the cement cat. I go from sleeping to waking so fast the
transition is violent. Darkness lies on top of me,
Back inside, and again, the darkness a pitch so black I’m blinded. To my right, I hear
assaults me. So does the smell. I place my blue something—fingers digging in the earth?—and
cooler and my purple duffle in the middle of above me, nails scratching the ridged roof. My
the room. The cabin draws in on itself, mind thrashes—where is my mother? where
suddenly fiercely small. It’s as if it knows I’ve am I?—but my body is paralyzed. Panic. I taste
come to colonize its dark corners. It’s ghosts it on my tongue.
crowd me, and again, gooseflesh rises on my
arms. From the corner comes a sharp I tell myself to lie as still, waiting, listening
scrabbling. It takes one hysterical second to these faint noises. They can’t be fingers.
before I remember that ghosts aren’t real. That They can’t be fingers. They can’t be. I want
I’m an adult woman, of nerve and flesh and someone to wake beside me, and tell me
matter, and years enough to know that space they’re not fingers. Nobody does. There’s
can’t be occupied by anything invisible. I’m not nobody there. I remain paralyzed, but
a child. I can’t be taken in by the fears I had gradually, my breathing begins to slow. I find I
when I was one. I close my eyes, and count out can blink again. The black begins to lighten,
my breath and slowly, my reason, hijacked by panic,
returns. The stiffness in my bones reminds me
There is a reason that I haven’t been here that I’m not a child, but that I am lying on a
in over thirty years. floor. Grandma and grandpa’s cabin. My cabin.
I want to run. I’m the adult I was waiting for.
I don’t let myself. I sit up, make myself sit up, heat rolling
through my body—the indignities of middle
It takes several minutes, but eventually the womanhood, and of this childish reversion. The
tension in my chest eases, and I come back to sleeping bag I brought from home is too hot for
myself. Grown me. Skeptical me. Middle-aged this humidity. Sweat has pooled underneath
me who, in a different dimension, lectures my breasts and in the crevice of my spine. I
young women about the fearlessness of unzip myself, pull off my pajamas. Naked, the
growing old. I put the child away, and demand air becomes comfortable.
that she stays hidden. I have work to do.
I berate myself for this foolishness—acting
I carry my bags back out of the cabin. I like a child again, when I haven’t even felt
shouldn’t have brought them in in the first young in years. I didn’t come here for nostalgia,
place. I’ll need the space to separate the nor to feel like girl again. I stand among the
detritus from the heirlooms, the valuables, the furniture, and still, it hulks like shadowed
family relics. monsters. Can I be grown here? In this place
where I was, most essentially, a child?
I begin my labor, starting with newspapers,
the sun still cool this side of the dirty glass. I I taste the tinny corrosion of rust. The taste
unfold each spilled paper, and peel of blood. Panic rises in my throat again, my
disintegrating pages apart to search for a lost body ready to topple into this abyss of fear.
Stop, I say out loud. Stop. Go outside. I pulled
the curtains down this afternoon, and now I can hear is the beat of my own heart. I stay
can see the night through the naked panes. It’s below long enough for the melody to turn
a pearl, soft and milky. I step out of the cabin, frantic.
try not to run.
Out here, my fear lessens with the
darkness, the moon high and bright above me. It was dark, the night my mother shook me
The air is same temperature as my body. from my sleeping bag. And cold. I remember
Bathtub hot. That’s what I called this weather first her hand on my chest, then her nose in my
when I was a kid. I walk to the lake. The surface ear before I realized I was wake. We have to
is glass, but small lips lap the sand along the leave, sweetie. We’re going to sleep in the car.
shore. I always wanted to swim at night. I used
to imagine that I would, when I was older and She nudged me out of my sleeping bag, into
not scared. my jacket, my limbs wobbling. I’d been
sleeping on the floor, my parents on the hide-a
I didn’t find anything this afternoon. -bed couch. She tugged my feet into boots, my
head into a hat, and then my body out the
I spent the remaining sunlit hours picking door. I thought I heard men’s voices. My
through all the physical objects left inside the daddy, and my grandpa.
living room. Searching each newspaper for
significance, emptying each drawer, appraising It was snowing. That I remember well.
each item, opening each book for something Sleep-drugged, I thought the snowflakes were
tucked inside, or written on its pages. I even the moon, busted open and falling to earth.
checked a canister of infested four, dumping it The cold stung my nostrils and my tongue,
outside the cabin to check for something smelling sharp and empty, and then I was
hidden inside—a note? a photograph? What inside the car, smelling heavy and old. My
had I expected? A TV detective to come mother slid me into a seatbelt like she’d slid
through the trees, and take my rotten flour to a me out of my sleeping bag.
lab for testing?
She took the passenger seat, and I closed
Nothing. Garbage bags filled with the junk my eyes. Dad must be getting our bags, saying
of fettered lifetimes. goodbye. I didn’t say goodbye. It was just
Grandpa here. Grandma didn’t come in the
I wade into the water, letting the faint winter. We didn’t usually either. We never left
ripples nibble my ankles, my calves, my thighs. in the dark. I slumped into myself, almost back
It’s cleansing, after the epic filth of the to sleep.
afternoon. I walk in until the waterline reaches
my breasts, and for a moment, the surface Then, a blast. Muffled, but loud. Like part of
tension holds them up. Across the lake, I can the world, small, but heavy caving in.
see a fire, can hear Hank Williams singing. I’m
not alone after all. The water is trying to lift my I jerked, the way I sometimes did when I
feet from the sandy lakebed. The night wraps dreamed I was falling. Melted snow streamed
itself around my ears, and its faded sounds are down the windshield, and down my mother’s
like a lullaby. I could sleep here. Float on my cheeks. The dashboard lights lit the twin rivers.
back, and finally rest. My father came out of the cabin. He slammed
the door so hard it couldn’t catch the lock. It
I take one more step, suck in my breath, bounced, and swung back open.
and plunge my head under. The water runs on
my face, cold and bracing. I kick away from “Don’t.”
shoreline, finding my legs powerful, and my
arms long. I dunk again. Here, underneath, all I My father took the driver’s seat, breathing
heavily and smelling of something I didn’t