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Adelaide Literary Magazine is an independent international monthly publication, based in New York and Lisbon. Founded by Stevan V. Nikolic and Adelaide Franco Nikolic in 2015, the magazine’s aim is to
publish quality poetry, fiction, nonfiction, artwork, and photography, as well as interviews, articles, and book reviews, written in English and Portuguese. We seek to publish outstanding literary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and to promote the writers we publish, helping both new, emerging, and
established authors reach a wider literary audience.
A Revista Literária Adelaide é uma publicação
mensal internacional e independente, localizada em Nova Iorque e Lisboa. Fundada por Stevan V. Nikolic e Adelaide Franco Nikolic em 2015, o objectivo da revista é publicar poesia, ficção, não-ficção, arte e fotografia de qualidade assim como entrevistas, artigos e críticas literárias, escritas em inglês e português. Pretendemos publicar ficção, não-ficção e poesia excepcionais assim como promover os
escritores que publicamos, ajudando os autores novos e emergentes a atingir uma audiência literária mais vasta.
(http://adelaidemagazine.org)

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Published by ADELAIDE BOOKS, 2018-11-17 09:06:17

AdelaideLiterary Magazine No.17, October 2018

Adelaide Literary Magazine is an independent international monthly publication, based in New York and Lisbon. Founded by Stevan V. Nikolic and Adelaide Franco Nikolic in 2015, the magazine’s aim is to
publish quality poetry, fiction, nonfiction, artwork, and photography, as well as interviews, articles, and book reviews, written in English and Portuguese. We seek to publish outstanding literary fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and to promote the writers we publish, helping both new, emerging, and
established authors reach a wider literary audience.
A Revista Literária Adelaide é uma publicação
mensal internacional e independente, localizada em Nova Iorque e Lisboa. Fundada por Stevan V. Nikolic e Adelaide Franco Nikolic em 2015, o objectivo da revista é publicar poesia, ficção, não-ficção, arte e fotografia de qualidade assim como entrevistas, artigos e críticas literárias, escritas em inglês e português. Pretendemos publicar ficção, não-ficção e poesia excepcionais assim como promover os
escritores que publicamos, ajudando os autores novos e emergentes a atingir uma audiência literária mais vasta.
(http://adelaidemagazine.org)

Keywords: fiction,nonfiction,poetry,short stories,essays,novels,memoirs

INDEPENDENT REVISTA
MONTHLY LITERÁRIA
LITERARY INDEPENDENTE
MAGAZINE
MENSAL

ADELAIDE FOUNDERS / FUNDADORES
Stevan V. Nikolic & Adelaide Franco Nikolic
Independent Monthly Literary Magazine
Revista Literária Independente Mensal EDITOR IN CHIEF / EDITOR-CHEFE
Year III, Number 17, October2018 Stevan V. Nikolic
Ano III, Número 17, outubro de 2018
[email protected]
ISBN-13: 978-1-949180-50-3
ISBN-10: 1-949180-50-6 ASSOCIATE EDITOR
Raymond Fenech
Adelaide Literary Magazine is an independent inter-
national monthly publication, based in New York and MANAGING DIRECTOR / DIRECTORA EXECUTI-
Lisbon. Founded by Stevan V. Nikolic and Adelaide VA
Franco Nikolic in 2015, the magazine’s aim is to
publish quality poetry, fiction, nonfiction, artwork, Adelaide Franco Nikolic
and photography, as well as interviews, articles, and
book reviews, written in English and Portuguese. We GRAPHIC & WEB DESIGN
seek to publish outstanding literary fiction, nonfic- Adelaide Books DBA, New York
tion, and poetry, and to promote the writers we
publish, helping both new, emerging, and CONTRIBUTING AUTHORS IN THIS ISSUE
established authors reach a wider literary audience.
John Danahy, Dean Jollay, Christopher Foster,
A Revista Literária Adelaide é uma publicação Adam McCulloch, Joel Smades, Mitch Johnson,
mensal internacional e independente, localizada em
Nova Iorque e Lisboa. Fundada por Stevan V. Nikolic Sean McCarthy, Mark Budman, Donald
e Adelaide Franco Nikolic em 2015, o objectivo da Zagardo, Nya Jackson, Liana Andreasen, Carole
revista é publicar poesia, ficção, não-ficção, arte e
fotografia de qualidade assim como entrevistas, Langille, Fred Miller, Don Himelstein, Taylor
artigos e críticas literárias, escritas em inglês e por- Lovullo, Susan Swanson, Susan Zurenda, Judith
tuguês. Pretendemos publicar ficção, não-ficção e
poesia excepcionais assim como promover os Roney, Jody Sperling, Anna Schaeffer, Roger
escritores que publicamos, ajudando os autores McKnight, Raymond Fenech, Juli Nicewarner,
novos e emergentes a atingir uma audiência literária
mais vasta. Daniel Bailey, Sara Magruder, Jon Epstein,
Sacha Gragg, Braelyn Riggs, Allen Long, Dave
(http://adelaidemagazine.org) Schwartz, John Bonanni, Marjorie McAtee,
Catherine Rohsner, Ken W. Simpson, Gayle
Published by: Adelaide Books, New York Compton, Marissa Lucatorto, Helen Hagemann,
244 Fifth Avenue, Suite D27 R.T. Castleberry, Melinda Giordano, Robert
New York NY, 10001 Wood, Clara Leo, Mark Burke, Jon Benham,
e-mail: [email protected]
phone: (917) 727 8907 Eduardo Escalante, Edward Bonner, Jesse
http://adelaidebooks.org Domingos, Magdalena Garcia, David Boyer,
George Moore, Christien Gholson, Cecilia
Copyright © 2018 by Adelaide Literary Magazine
Devine, Joseph A. Dandurand, Alan Berger,
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may
be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without Marc Carver
written permission from the Adelaide Literary Maga-
zine Editor-in-chief, except in the case of brief quo-
tations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

EDITOR'S NOTES WRAPPING THINGS UP RIGHT 90
ON HOPE 5 by Susan Swanson
By Stevan V. Nikolic
GRANDMAMA’S FLOWERS 95
FICTION by Susan Zurenda
SHRIVELED HEARTS by John Danahy 7
WHY I WON’T SLEEP WITH DONALD TRUMP 101
THE DANCE INSTRUCTOR by Dean Jollay 15 by Judith Roney

GRACE by Christopher Foster 23 LIFE WITH THIS MAN by Jody Sperling 103

THE LIGHTNING BUG 30 THE LIGHTNING MAN 108
by Adam McCulloch by Anna Schaeffer

THE CORNER, BY WALMART 37 VICTORIA by Roger McKnight 114
by Joel Smades
NONFICTION
CHARLIE FOXTROT: GOD BLESS 41
by Mitch Johnson VLAD, TEPES, THE IMPALER, 121
THE SCOURGE OF THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE
THE CHANNEL by Sean McCarthy 45 by Dr. Raymond Fenech

THREE AND A HALF MURAS 53 CURTAIN by Juli Nicewarner 129
by Mark Budman
MY ANCIENT ENEMY by Daniel Bailey 136
HARMLESS PERVERSION 55
by Donald Zagardo RESTLESS RAMBLINGS by Sara Magruder 147

VIOLET ABSTRACT by Nya Jackson 59 HOPE AT LAST by Jon Epstein 153

AT TAFT POINT by Liana Andreasen 65 WE CALL HIM ABBA by Sacha Gragg 159

HOW THEY MET by Carole Langille 70 TRIAL BY FIRE by Braelyn Riggs 167

THE DREAMERS by Fred Miller 75 JOY by Allen Long 174

A TWINKLE IN THE NIGHT 80 I FEEL FIRMLY by Dave Schwartz 177
by Don Himelstein
MY BIG, PERFECT BROTHER 178
THE UBER DRIVER by Taylor Lovullo 86 by John Bonanni

PRESENCE by Marjorie McAtee 180

POETRY YOU HAD ME AT GOODBYE 234
by Alan Berger 235
LIGHT OF DELIGHT by Catherine Rohsner 188
BELLE VOIR by Marc Carver

FILE NUMBER THIRTY-ONE 191 Illustrations in this issue;
by Ken W. Simpson ‘Goethe House—Frankfurt” by A.F. Nikolic

ELVIS by Gayle Compton 192

SAVE FACE by Marissa Lucatorto 195

GUITAR STATUE by Helen Hagemann 196

PLEASURES OF THE STREET 198
by R.T. Castleberry

SAND CRABS by Melinda Giordano 201

REDGATE by Robert Wood 203

SELF-BOUND by Clara Leo 205

INVENTING GOD by Mark Burke 207

LONG FORGOTTEN MISERY 211
by Jon Benham

INTRICATE MEANDERS OF BRITTLE LAND 213
by Eduardo Escalante

LOWER THE BLINDS by Edward Bonner 215

THE DRINKING POEM by Jesse Domingos 218

WHO IS SHE? by Magdalena Garcia 221

HAIKU BETWEEN THE EARTH 222
AND THE STARS
by David Boyer

IN A PORTUGUESE FIELD 224
by George Moore

NIGHT: A VISION by Christien Gholson 226

STARS by Cecilia Devine 230

I SEE THE GREAT CITIES 231
by Joseph A. Dandurand

Stevan V. Nikolic

ON HOPE

In Greek mythology, Pandora, the first woman, hope seem to be a psychological necessity, if
opened a jar (pithos), sometimes translated as man is to envisage the future at all.
"Pandora's box" , releasing all the evils of man-
kind, leaving only Hope inside once she had Often, such hope, even when it appears to be
closed it again. As it was told in the story, she justified, is transient and illusory. Thereby,
opened the jar out of curiosity and not as a there is a term "false hope" which refers to a
mischievous act. The myth of Pandora is an- hope based entirely around a fantasy or an
cient, appears in several distinct Greek ver- extremely unlikely outcome.
sions, and has been interpreted in many ways.
It is quite interesting that old Greeks consid- Some scholars say that hope appears in our
ered Hope as an evil, which is completely op- lives when the circumstances are dire, when
posite to the Christian understanding where things are not going well or at least there is
the concept of Hope is considered one of the considerable uncertainty about how things will
three theological virtues of the Christian reli- turn out. Psychologist, C.R. Snyder says that
gion. "Hope is an essential and fundamental hope is cultivated when we have a goal in
element of Christian life, so essential indeed, mind, determination that a goal can be
that, like faith and love, it can itself designate reached, and a plan on how to reach that goal".
the essence of Christianity". Hopeful people are "like the little engine that
could, (because) they keep telling themselves
As modern psychology would define it, "I think I can, I hope I will".
hope is the emotional state, the opposite of
which is despair, which promotes the belief in a It is important to note that a hope is differ-
positive outcome related to events and circum- ent from positive thinking, which refers to a
stances in one's life. It is the "feeling that what particular state of mind, as well as therapeutic
is wanted can be had or that events will turn or systematic process used in psychology for
out for the best" or the act of "looking forward reversing pessimism.
to with desire and reasonable confidence" or
"feeling that something desired may happen". According to the Holman Bible Dictionary,
Other definitions are "to cherish a desire with hope is a "trustful expectation, particularly
anticipation"; "to desire with expectation of with reference to the fulfillment of God's
obtainment"; or "to expect with confidence". promises. Hope is the anticipation of a favora-
ble outcome under God's guidance... the confi-
Defined in the Webster’s dictionary as dence that what God has done for us in the
“expectation, a desire for some good, accom- past guarantees our participation in what God
panied with at least a slight expectation of ob- will do in the future.”
taining it, or a belief that it is obtainable, confi-
dence in a future event, the highest degree of The author of the book of Romans, Paul the
well founded expectation of good, a feeling Apostle wrote that hope was a source of salva-
that something desirable is likely to happen,” tion for Christians. Romans 8:24-25 states "For
in hope we have been saved, but hope that is

seen is not hope; for why does one also hope "Hope springs eternal in the human breast,
for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what Man never is, but always to be blest:"
we do not see, with perseverance we wait Alexander Pope (Essay on Man)
eagerly for it".

Hope is a common theme and often a key
concept in the works of fiction, and has a
strong place in western literature as well as in
both classical and contemporary works of
world literature.

For those searching for the higher meaning
of life, it would seem essential to lean on the
hope on their path often covered with mist of
the unknown before them. Faith in the unseen
and hope of finding it is what moves pil-
grims for centuries in their quests, without
any expectation of reward other than the un-
derstanding of Creation.

We often assume that our “free will” or
our determination will give us the advantage
in bringing our plans to fruition, trying to

make consciences choices that will place our
hope in certain achievements in more rational
frame of mind, only to find that frequently
things and events in our lives happen beyond
and above our field of influence, directed by
the cosmic order of things, that we refer to, in
a lack of other word, as to a destiny. Those
who believe in the power of God Almighty
speak of it as “God’s plan for us”. Whatever it
is, hope is the indispensable part of our exist-
ence which gives us strength to endure
through the numerous challenges of life.

In this selection of twelve essays on hope,
written in the form of letters, I tried to address
several issues that could possibly shed a little
bit more light on the concept of hope. Not
claiming to be an expert on the subject, but a
humble seeker after truth, I offer my thoughts
to curious readers for their consideration.

(More in our next issue)

SHRIVELED HEARTS

by John Danahy

Cassie rounded the bathroom corner, slid un- She guessed the suit, a hand-tailored silk Ar-
der the sheets, and nestled her body against mani, had cost more than a thousand dollars;
the middle-aged man who’d said his name was the Brioni shirt and tie, gold cuff links, and Pra-
Thomas Prow. “It’s Thomas, not Tom,” Cassie da shoes another thousand; and the gold
remembered him saying emphatically. She lay Rolex, its bezel encircled with diamonds, more
still next to him and watched as he stared at than her father made in a year.
the ceiling, his right arm covering his forehead.
His left hand, its long, bony fingers flattened With his square jaw, slim nose, light-gray eyes,
and crooked, rested on his navel. and short, perfectly groomed hair, Thomas
looked the picture of a wealthy man in firm
Raising her head, Cassie tried to catch his eye, control of his own destiny. She saw hardness in
but his gaze remained fixed on the ceiling. She his eyes and around his mouth when he spoke,
didn’t think being with her had turned on and she guessed that he could be ruthless
Thomas Prow at all. He had explained matter- when necessary. This man would do anything
of-factly what he wanted. She thought he had to get what he wanted.
probably planned the details, that he was used
to planning everything he did. Thomas’s move- “Will I see you again?” Cassie asked.
ments had been controlled, and the sex had
been perfunctory, his mind elsewhere. She She made it a point to try to see her first-time
wanted to know what he was thinking right customers again as quickly as possible. It was
now, at this moment. good business “to cement the relationship,”
she had been told. This time it was more than
As Cassie watched, his face slowly stiffened, just business. Cassie wanted to know what
first around the eyes, then the mouth and chin. made Mr. Thomas Prow, the chief executive
The aura of relaxation that had surrounded him officer of Consolidated Industries, tick.
evaporated. Cassie wondered if this man so
caught up in control sensed she was trying to “I have your number,” Thomas answered, his
read his mind. She moved aside as he nudged back to her. He put 10 one-hundred-dollar bills
her off his chest, signaling the end of the inter- on the dresser and left the hotel room without
lude. looking at her.

Cassie remained in bed while he sat on the In her six months in the business, Cassie
edge, pulled on his pants, then stood. His thought she’d seen just about every type of
dressing ritual, quick and methodical yet taking man: rich men who didn’t have the courage to
care to smooth the wrinkles from his navy-blue meet women, bullies who’d brag about their
suit and textured white shirt, fascinated her. A exploits to impress her, businessmen who su-
red silk tie expertly done in a Windsor knot and pervised hundreds of people yet begged her to
a white handkerchief in his lapel pocket com- be scolded, grown men who wanted to be
pleted the look. mothered. But why would a man so presenta-
ble and so powerful have to pay for sex? There

would certainly be plenty of attractive women how she looked, Cassie tossed the key onto the
at Consolidated who would line up to sleep dresser and left.
with the CEO. Cassie remembered her last
straight job as assistant to the director of mar- ****
keting at First Financial. She could have kept
her job if she had given in and slept with her Thomas liked the black velvet jumpsuit Cassie
boss, but she’d hated to give the sleazy son of was wearing. A partially opened zipper, run-
a bitch the satisfaction. She told herself, even ning from her neck to below her navel, re-
now, she slept with men only on her terms. vealed little yet hinted at much more. She had
come to the door dressed in the jumpsuit, her
Cassie went to the dresser and counted the hair swept back and tied in a ponytail, her face
money, smiling. It still amazed her how easy it clean and fresh, with no makeup. Thomas
was to make six hundred dollars, net of Nor- thought she looked both wild and wholesome.
ma’s 40 percent finder’s fee. It amused Cassie As he stood in the doorway, the mangled fin-
that Norma preferred to be called a finder, but gers of his left hand spasmed.
she guessed it soothed Norma’s blue-blooded
conscience. Norma’s society friends might be He had been seeing Cassie twice a month for
shocked to learn how she made money since the last four months. At this point, he didn’t
she’d depleted her trust fund, but Cassie as- like sharing her with other clients but had said
sumed many of Norma’s exclusive circle of nothing. When she had returned his call to her
male friends were also customers. pager this time, she suggested they meet at
her apartment. Thomas agreed without hesita-
A few months after Cassie had lost her job at tion, then thought later how curious and an-
First Financial, her husband announced he’d xious he was to see where and how she lived.
found someone else. Devastated but trying
desperately not to show it, she decided to “It’s good to see you again,” Cassie said, smi-
move to Philadelphia. Her Aunt Camille, en- ling broadly. “Come in. Let me take your coat.”
trusted with making sure Cassie began her new
life by meeting all the right people, introduced Thomas stood perfectly still, his eyes roaming
her to Norma a few weeks later. Cassie won- around the rooms. Four double windows, with
dered what Aunt Camille would say if she knew sills large enough to sit on, began 2 feet above
her dear friend Norma had suggested hooking the floor and ran to the 12-foot ceiling, cre-
to Camille’s favorite niece. ating a feeling of spaciousness in the small
apartment. Burnished wood tables sat at each
Cassie no longer cared what any of them end and in front of an oversized taupe leather
thought or said. At the rate she was saving, in couch. Pieces of art hung or stood everywhere.
seven or eight more months she’d have Stained glass, hand-painted pottery, and wood
enough to quit this business for good and pur- carvings adorned every open surface of table
sue her dream of studying fine arts. and counter and windowsill. Pastels, oil
paintings, and charcoal sketches covered the
She dressed slowly, taking care to make sure walls. A faint smell of turpentine hung in the
she looked her best. At 26, her body was air, and he guessed she’d just cleaned her
smooth and slim. Her blonde, shoulder-length brushes.
hair softened her angular face, and her deep-
blue eyes exuded an innocence belied by her “I’m glad you could come,” Cassie said. “It’s
knowing smile. The dark-gray Dana Buchman cozier than a hotel.”
wool suit and light-blue silk blouse, along with
the low-heeled Ferragamo shoes and Gucci “Do you often have clients here?” Thomas
handbag, gave her the look of an ambitious, asked.
soon-to-be-successful executive. Pleased with
“You’re the first,” she said with a smile.

“Where did you get the glass?” he asked, Cassie’s head lay on Thomas’s shoulder, and
sweeping his hand in a large arc. “And the she gently rubbed the hair on his chest. “I’m
pottery and the carvings and the pictures? pleased that you like my work,” she said. “Your
Most of this is very good.” opinion means a lot to me.”

Cassie smiled, and her smile reminded Thomas Staying motionless under her touch, Thomas
of his mother. He hadn’t thought of her in moved his eyes to her face. He hadn’t been idly
months, maybe years. His mind leapt to his complimenting her. Her work showed poten-
childhood, and he was struck with a feeling of tial, although some of the subject matter was
emptiness. quirky. He knew he could get a gallery to agree
to show it.
“You’re looking at my life’s work,” Cassie said.
An itch between his shoulder blades broke his
Her words jarred Thomas out of his thoughts. mood. What was he thinking? Talking to a gal-
“Did you start as a child?” he asked. lery about her was out of the question. She
was not someone he wanted to have his name
“I did most of the wood carvings when I was in associated with. This was a business arrange-
high school,” she said. “My grandfather taught ment only. Or was there something more? The
me. The glass I did when I was in my lonely fingers of his left hand twitched.
poet’s phase. I wanted my words to be as pure
and clear and fragile as the glass.” “What’s wrong?” Cassie asked. “You seem pre-
occupied.”
“Impressive,” Thomas said, his eyebrows
arched. “Tell me about the pictures.” “I have to get back,” he said.

“I did most of the pastels and oils before I “Relax a while longer. Surely the boss can be
dropped out of college. Now I’m into sketching late.”
in charcoals. It fits my mood these days—black
and white and stark.” Thomas rose up on his elbows, pushing her
away. “Being late is a sign of sloppiness, of
“Why did you drop out?” he asked. He turned someone who can’t meet his commitments.”
his head and spotted a sketch of an attractive He climbed out of bed and dressed quickly.
woman in a trench coat and high-heeled shoes
walking a disembodied male organ on a leash. “Come back when you can stay longer,” Cassie
said from the bed.
“To put my husband through medical school.
My ex-husband, that is.” The haughty, mocking expression on her face
both infuriated and attracted him. “Perhaps,”
Thomas flinched at the image in the sketch, Thomas replied, holding her gaze as he coun-
then remembered he was due back at the ted the money and placed it at her feet.
office before long. “Uh-huh,” he said. “Well, I
have to be back in an hour.” *** *

“Shall we, then?” Cassie turned down the hall “I’m glad you could stay,” Cassie said.
toward the bedroom.
Sipping white wine, she and Thomas lounged in
Afterward, Thomas lay on her bed, spent and her bathtub in the still-hot water. It had been
empty, physically drained, and relaxed. He six months since their first meeting, and for the
wanted to linger peacefully next to her. With last two months Thomas had been seeing her
others he had started mechanically, finished once a week, usually on Tuesday evenings. The
swiftly, and left without looking back, but with sex kept getting better, and he was getting to
Cassie he’d experimented, let himself go. She know her also. Cassie still saw other clients,
was young and pretty, like the others, but she and they had argued about it several times.
was different—self-confident, intelligent, and
probing, and she excited him.

“The board meeting ended early,” Thomas to box.” He made a steeple with his fingers and
said. “A good sign. I left the rest of the day held the bridge of his nose at the apex, his eyes
open, just in case.” cast downward.

“Whatever the reason, I’m glad you’re here.” “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“That’s you in the sketch, isn’t it?” he said, “I haven’t talked about this in a long time, or
pointing his glass toward the nude on the dark- even thought about it.”
green wall behind her. The sketch was of an old
woman with sagging breasts, stringy hair, and “If it’s painful for you, let’s drop it.”
lines etched in her face. Eyes large and blazing
with anger, the old woman cupped a shriveled “I wanted to please them both,” Thomas said
heart in her hands. without returning her look. “I loved playing the
piano, and I even enjoyed practicing. My piano
“Yes,” she answered, “although most people teacher was very special—a warm, gentle old
don’t recognize me.” man from Austria who spoke broken English.
He had tangled white hair like a sheepdog. His
“The eyes are unmistakable.” nose had a wart on the tip the size of a pea,
and when we practiced, his reading glasses
“Do you like it?” would perch on the wart.” A wide smile lin-
gered on Thomas’ face.
“It’s your heart, isn’t it?”
“You can do it,” Cassie said. “That’s the first
“When I sketched it, I felt like my heart had time I’ve seen you smile.”
withered away, and I had to separate myself
from my feelings in order to survive.” “Oh?” he said.

“The divorce?” “Were you a good boxer?”

Cassie shrugged and knitted her brow. “It’s just A frown brought a deep cleft to his forehead. “I
a painting,” she said. hated it. In the citywide tournament, I crushed
my middle two fingers and had to quit boxing
“A very good painting,” Thomas said. “Have and piano.”
you ever considered stopping what you’re do-
ing and painting full time?” “Couldn’t the bones be set?”

“Maybe some day, ” she said softly, put her “Our family doctor botched the splints. The
glass down, leaned to him, and kissed his doctors tell me now I’ve got arthritis in my
cheek. “I’ve wanted to ask you what happened hands. If I had tried to go back to playing years
to your fingers?” ago, maybe.” His fingers jerked spasmodically,
and he closed his right hand over his left. “I
“Nothing,” Thomas answered and put his hand have to go,” he said. Thomas stepped out of
under the water. the tub, water dripping onto the floor, and
reached for a towel.
“They’re so long and slender. Did you play the
piano?” ****

He pulled his knees to his chest and rested his Cassie was pleased Thomas had agreed to
chin on them, his eyes fixed on the sketch over come early for dinner. Scurrying about the
her head. kitchen, she asked herself why she was so anx-
ious, fussing so much over this meal and this
“A long time ago,” Thomas said, “when I was a man. He was married, even if his wife had been
child, my mother wanted me to be a pianist. I in and out of psychiatric clinics for the last few
wanted it too. But my father had been on the
boxing team in college, and he wanted his son

years. After all, this was a business arrange- His eyes moved across her face and back to the
ment. She sold her body, and he bought it. But paper, but he didn’t respond.
was it more? He’d expressed interest in her art
and in her as a person, but what frustrated “Do you ever relax, let it all go?”
Cassie most about Thomas was he hadn’t
shared any feelings with her, and when she He stared at her, his jaw tightening. “Let go of
tried to share with him, he’d cut her off. what?”

She had enough money now to apply to the “Whatever is preventing you from just living
fine arts program, as she’d always wanted, but your life.”
for some reason hesitated. What held her here,
in this city, in this life? She was independent “I’ve told you before—Consolidated is my life.”
for the first time in her life. Was she afraid of
losing that or of failing as an artist? And why “Surely you’ve got enough money. Why can’t
did taking his money bother her? Perhaps be- you slow down?”
cause she admired him for his success and his
control. Cassie wanted to learn from Thomas, Thomas’s left hand twitched, and his eyes grew
and she wanted him to be her friend, but she cold and hard. “It’s not the money,” he said, his
worried that the money would get in the way. brows stretching. “Not anymore. That’s just a
way of keeping score.”
The timer on the oven sounded, and while she
was removing the rolls, the doorbell chimed. “Okay,” Cassie said, “okay. You’re getting tense
Cassie checked her hair in the hall mirror, then over nothing.”
opened the door.
“I’ve spent my life trying to be the best,” he
“Come in,” she said. “Dinner is just about said, “trying to make Consolidated the best and
ready.” the biggest.”

Thomas smiled and arched his eyebrows. “It is the best. What’s left for you to prove?
And to whom?”
“The food is hot,” she said. “Let’s have dinner
first.” Thomas slammed the newspaper on the table.
“You really don’t understand, do you?” he
As Cassie stacked the dirty dishes in the sink, shouted. “You can’t get to the top, then walk
she glanced at him as he read the newspaper away. I have to keep showing them I can do
and listened to Bach. He looked relaxed, as if what no one else can.”
the tension of the day had drained out of him.
At times like these Thomas seemed more in “This obsession will catch up with you,” Cassie
touch with himself and with her. said in a soft, halting voice. “You can’t go on at
this pace much longer.”
“There,” Cassie said as she sat next to him.
“Now I can relax with you.” She patted his Thomas jumped up from the couch and stood
thigh softly, but he continued reading without over her. “That’s none of your business,” he
notice. “What’s so fascinating?” she asked. said, pausing at each word.

“Huh? Oh, nothing,” Thomas said. “It’s a story “For God’s sake, Thomas,” Cassie implored.
about Consolidated. I try to keep up with what “Calm down. Please.”
the press is saying about us. Most articles are
generalizations and innuendoes, but Wall “I have to go,” he said. He reached into his wal-
Street pays attention, so I have to.” let and held out a stack of bills.

“Can’t you take your mind off Consolidated for “That’s not necessary.”
a little while?”
“Why not?” he sneered. “Dinner, sex, what’s
the difference?”

“I don’t deserve that,” Cassie said. “Not from
you.”

“Take the money. You’re kidding yourself.” hadn’t reacted when he’d barked at her earlier
for no good reason. He supposed she reco-
“You’re the expert at that,” Cassie hissed. “You gnized a certain amount of abuse came with
think you can put up with the pressure and the every job, and after all, he paid her very well.
tension forever. And you think you can hide
behind your money. It gives you an excuse to Thomas read swiftly through the immediate-
ignore people’s feelings, including your own.” action items, jotting follow-up notes for his
staff. He skimmed the information-only materi-
“What the hell do you know about me?” Thom- als and started to whiz through the papers and
as challenged. periodicals. The story was on page three of the
Times.
“Maybe more than you think. Did you ever ask
yourself why you pay for sex?” “Police, responding to an anonymous call,
found Ms. Cassandra Neff unconscious in her
“To avoid the hassle, to avoid this kind of sce- apartment on Independence Street, an appa-
ne.” rent victim of foul play. No signs of a struggle
or forced entry were found, and police assume
“Take your money and please leave,” Cassie the victim knew her assailant. Full medical de-
shrieked. “Now.” tails are not available, although it is known that
Ms. Neff is being treated at City Hospital for
“I’ll go,” Thomas spat, “but don’t be a fool. complications due to multiple stab wounds.
We’re both selling out. Do you think being with Sources said the victim likely suffered perma-
all those men hasn’t affected you? Don’t you nent damage to internal organs and would re-
know the danger you put yourself in, the type quire nursing care for an indefinite period. Ms.
of people you deal with? I…I’m…I have to go.” Neff, niece of Phillip and Camille Blumenthal of
this city, was a native of Baltimore…”
****
Thomas’s pulse raced, and his hand twitched
Thomas couldn’t concentrate on the work at uncontrollably. No matter how hard he concen-
hand. Although 10 days had passed, he trated, he couldn’t stop the trembling. He held
couldn’t get the scene at Cassie’s out of his his breath, waiting for his heart to stop pound-
mind. She was very perceptive. He was hiding ing.
behind his money, behind a barrier that held
back whatever and whoever he chose not to Had it been one of her customers? He had tried
deal with. He had grown secure, isolated to tell her the life she was leading was dan-
behind his private green wall. gerous. Why hadn’t she listened? Why hadn’t
he insisted, forced her to see only him? Would
In spite of his reluctance to admit it to himself, she ever recover, ever be her warm, vibrant
Thomas missed Cassie. It wasn’t just the sex. self? Could he and Cassie have had something
He missed seeing her, missed her company. more, something genuine?
Surely she’d understand he had been under a
lot of pressure, that he hadn’t meant what he’d Held in his twitching hand, the newspaper
said. shook erratically as if blown by a gusting
breeze. Thomas folded the paper on his desk,
Thomas tried to put Cassie out of his mind. He rested his chin on his clenched, white-knuckled
was just too damn busy for this right now. fists, and stared out the window.
There was much to do to get ready for the
meeting with the Wall Street analysts, but first Was he kidding himself? Could he have some-
he had to clear his desk. thing real with any woman after the pain he’d
been through with his wife’s breakdown? With
His administrative assistant, Mrs. Schnell, had
screened and sorted the morning mail. She

Cassie recovered, perhaps he could. She was heart brought the palpable fear of a cardiac
different. Cassie had opened him up—to her attack. He wanted to scream, to run from his
feelings and to his own. Cassie was young and office, now.
full of life, and she made him feel alive, not
dead; connected to his feelings, not exiled from “The doctor is still waiting on line one,” Mrs.
them on some emotional desert. Schnell said. “Shall I take a message?”

The news article flashed through his mind: “… Her austere, matter-of-fact tone returned
would require nursing care for an indefinite Thomas to the world he controlled. His heart
period…” Did Cassie need his help? What began to slow slightly. With great effort, he
should he do? Should he go to her, be with her, focused his mind on Consolidated. He took a
support her? Would she be an invalid, a vege- deep breath, and the nausea subsided. He
table, unable to recognize or respond to him? rubbed his face in his hands, then ran his long,
Would he ever see that life flashing, pulsating bony fingers through his hair.
in her eyes again, or would Cassie’s eyes be
empty and flat, like his wife’s? Thomas sat mo- “Put him through,” Thomas said.
tionless, struggling to remember his mother’s
eyes. The call concerned a routine administrative
matter. Thomas didn’t hide his irritation with
A few minutes later, Mrs. Schnell’s voice the doctor for wasting his time and hung up
snapped him out of his trance. “Your wife’s without a word. Focusing his anger externally
doctor for you, on line one.” fed his self-control, and he began to regain his
confidence.
The thought rushed over Thomas like a wave.
He was vulnerable. Cassie had made him feel He had to snap out of this. What was he think-
vulnerable again. When he opened himself up, ing? The police would certainly find out he had
people could get to him. It unnerved him to been at her apartment many times in the past
think that he could be hurt again, that he had six months. It would probably come out that
been hurt. He prided himself on his self- she was a prostitute. He had to protect Conso-
control, his strength, but his strength had lidated.
drained from him, and he felt weak, helpless,
old. He couldn’t deal with the possibility of Thomas buzzed his assistant.
again losing someone he cared for, and he
could not bear to look into another pair of “Get my lawyer on the phone,” he barked.
blank, empty eyes. His hand trembled uncon-
trollably. Waiting for the call, he weighed the options for
keeping Consolidated and him out of this sor-
Uncertainty overwhelmed him. The pounding did mess. He had important connections and
of his heart brought sharp pain, as if he were was sure they could be counted on. He’d sim-
being physically assaulted. He needed to get ply call in his considerable markers.
away from this pain, from this place. Cassie
always said he couldn’t keep up the pace. Per- He buzzed Mrs. Schnell again.
haps she was right. He’d take a few weeks off
to regain his equilibrium. Scenes of places he’d “Where’s my lawyer?” Thomas shouted. “I
been flashed by so fast he felt nauseous. Possi- don’t care if you have to get him out of the
bilities and scenarios raced through his mind bathroom. I want him now. After my lawyer,
but were crowded out by the image of a green get Norma Harrington. And make a reservation
wall and an old woman with striking eyes and a at the Concord tonight. I’m staying down-
shriveled heart. The relentless pounding of his town.”

About the Author:

John Danahy resides in New Hampshire. He
enjoys writing, reading, photography, and trav-
els with his wife and family. His work has ap-
peared in Aim Magazine, Alembic, Amarillo
Bay, Art Times, Desert Voices, Forge, The
Griffin, Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, The
MacGuffin, North Atlantic Review, Penmen
Review, RiversEdge, Salt River Review, Sanskrit,
Schuykill Valley Journal of the Arts, and Val-
paraiso Fiction Review.

THE DANCE INSTRUCTOR

by Dean Jollay

Nervous, unsure what to expect, Nails enters him up, rushes him, shakes his hand, and
the Bougainvillea Dance Studio for his first les- points him toward a knot of fellow students
son. In the empty lobby, he tries to recall what gathered on the dance floor. Teeth bleached
brought him here, what voice said, Nails, my white, Nikolai is dressed in black. His brown
man, this ballroom gig is for you. On his way to hair is slicked back. He introduces Nails to the
and from work every day, he drives past this group. Heads nod. Hellos are murmured. Nails
Pasadena Avenue strip mall. Ordinarily he pays tries to act friendly, but these folks aren’t his
no attention, but last week he spotted a small people—roofers, guys he works with or used
plastic yard sign by the road. A couple danced to, men who tip a few brews and speak his lan-
in silhouette. He hit the brakes and read the guage. If they knew he was here…
message: Introductory Special—Two Private
and Two Group Lessons for $99. He believes in A heavyset woman sits at a round table beside
Fate. Fate has decided that Martin Yablonski the dance floor. Looking sad, she sucks down a
ought to take a few dancing lessons. Who is he glass of red wine. Nikolai extends a hand to her
to question her? and tries to coax her onto the floor. She pushes
his hand away. He tells her she looks “great
Yes, the price tag made his balls tingle. Ninety- this evening, never better” and asks if she’d
nine bucks is some real cheese, his average like to join the group. “No,” she says, “I want to
electric bill for a month in the hot Florida sum- drink my wine. Maybe later. Maybe not.” Nails
mers, a payment on his 2009 Dodge RAM. He wonders why this woman would pay good
balked. But there she was again—Fate whisper- money to drink a glass of wine and sulk.
ring in his ear, saying, Nails, you cheapskate,
get your skinny ass in there. Your divorce has The only other single guy is a smooth-faced kid
been final for nine months. Change things up, in his early twenties. A head and a half shorter
dude. Have some fun. Somehow he’ll come up than Nails, he’s all grins and giggles, as if he
with the cash. The roofing company where he can’t wait to get started. He’s making nice to a
works is busy. It’s July—peak hurricane season dark-skinned, stringy-haired girl. Good for you,
in the Sunshine State. Half the roofs in town Nails thinks, hoping a little action might come
are leaking. He can pull all the overtime he his way too. But as he looks around, the talent
wants. pool disappoints him. Three middle-aged wom-
en in slacks and gauzy blouses are huddled up,
Dressed in black jeans and his best shirt, a laughing and talking. Regulars, he guesses,
Tommy Bahama he scored for five bucks at the women he’d not give a second look if he met
Volunteers of America thrift shop, he stretches them in a bar or on a sidewalk. And half the
his neck and peers around the corner. The class is definitely off-limits—two lesbian cou-
room, mirrored on all four walls, is smaller than ples, on the opposite end of the dance floor,
he remembers. Nikolai, the guy who signed are stepping and turning, watching their feet,
rehearsing their moves.

Nails has that horrible (déjà something or Tonight, seeing her up close and personal, he
other) feeling he’s been here, done this. A few notices her large ears and tiny lumps and
years back, he thought he’d try skydiving. He bumps on her face, blemishes covered with
was used to working up high on the roofs of heavy makeup—a teenager’s acne perhaps,
buildings. Piece of cake, he thought. But when except she isn’t a teenager. She’s thirty or
he found himself in the airplane thousands of thereabouts, he’d bet, a little older than he’d
feet above ground, he clamped his fingers onto have liked. Still, he’s attracted to her. Flaws
the seat and froze. Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit! make a woman real. He’s always been suspi-
What the fuck have I done? The instructor cious of perfection. Beautiful women are too
begged, threatened, and did everything except into themselves. Face of an angel? No, that’s
throw him out of the plane. But Nails couldn’t not for him. He prefers a few minor dents and
overcome his fear. This dancing stuff isn’t the scratches—something he can relate to, like the
same. Of course it isn’t. But what if he weariness he can see hidden beneath
embarrasses himself? What if the class laughs Tatyana’s forced smile and made-up energy,
at him? He considers a fast exit, but thinks the look of a tired hunting dog—a hound run
about his ninety-nine bucks, down the drain if hard all day long, eager for its kennel. And this
he doesn’t follow through this time. too—the disappointment in her eyes. Nails has
had his share of disappointments from time to
As if sensing Nails’s hesitation, Nikolai appears time. He doesn’t know her story, not yet, but
beside him. The boss puts an arm around his he feels a connection.
shoulder, steers him to the middle of the dance
floor, and introduces him to Tatyana, the “Welcome, Martin.” Fists resting on her waist,
woman who’s teaching the class this evening. Tatyana looks past him and moves her lips,
“You might have met her when you signed up,” silently counting the students who’ve shown
Nikolai says. “Trust me, she’ll take good care of up for group.
you.”
“People call me Nails.”
Trust me was one of his ex’s favorite expres-
sions. “Trust me, Martin. We’ll never make it “Nails? Really?” She laughs, an annoying-as-
on what you earn from that dead-end job of hell, high-pitched cackle that rattles from her
yours.” lips like machine-gun fire.

Nails shakes Tatyana’s hand. Her grip is firm “What would you like to learn tonight?”
and confident. She asks if he’s taken dancing
lessons before. At another studio, perhaps. “Whatever you’re teaching, that’s what I’m
learning.”
He shakes his head. “Where I grew up…”
“Good answer.”
Tatyana wrinkles her forehead. “What?”
Actually, Nails has no clue. He’s not here to
“Never mind.” tango, that’s for sure. Tango is way too
complicated, he thinks, though Pacino pulls it
Nikolai was partly right. Nails first set eyes on off in Scent of a Woman, one of his all-time
Tatyana when he strolled into the studio to ask favorite movies. Pacino’s character is the blind
about the introductory special. She was giving retired army colonel, in New York for one last
a private lesson, trying to show a flat-footed, fling before he blows his brains out. At a fancy
bald-headed schmuck how to move his hips in restaurant, Donna—a beauty he’s just met—
time with the beat of a Latin song. From a dis- confesses that she’s always wanted to dance
tance she was a stunner, a damn fine reason to the tango, but her slug of a boyfriend isn’t in-
hand Nikolai his credit card. Glossy dark hair, terested. So Pacino takes her on a way cool
red lips, tiny waist, and a dancer’s long legs. cruise around the dance floor. Batting her

eyelashes at him, Donna, nervous as a whore in arms, proper posture, the basic step, and the
church, says she’s concerned she’ll screw up. under-arm turn. “Leaders, you have to keep
The colonel tells her not to worry. “There are doing the box step while you’re turning the
no mistakes in tango, Donna. You just tango lady.” Her English is nearly perfect, but spoken
on.” with a Russian accent. She or Nikolai or Pasha
might be some of the Russians who got
Nails is no Pacino, not even close. He knows his President Trump in hot water. Tatyana could
limitations. “I’m up for almost anything,” he be a KGB agent, one of those sleeper types
tells Tatyana. “Except the tango. It’s a no-go. they made that TV show about. This dance stu-
Off-limits. Everything else—bring it on. I used dio would be the perfect cover for a spy ring.
to play the guitar. I catch on fast. You’ll see.” Who’d ever suspect a hottie with excellent
Young enough not to have back and hip and legs, a woman who looks like she’s danced
knee problems like all the older guys he works every single day and night of her life, is a
with, Nails is as agile as a trapeze artist, Russian agent?
scampering up ladders and across rooftops,
never once falling off. Dancing will be breeze. Nails is opposite one of the gauzy-blouse la-
dies. He takes her in his arms and cranks up the
Tatyana gives him a big cherry-red-lipped box step. From the get-go his feet are like rocks
smile, turns away, and claps her hands. “Let’s he’s dragging around. He thinks he’s managing
get started, everyone.” okay until it’s time for the under-arm turn. The
step blows his mind. As he lifts his arm and
The Thursday evening class is called social hers, his feet tangle. He looses his balance,
dancing—forty-five minutes of instruction for trips, and barely misses knocking her over. He
beginners—waltz, rumba, and fox-trot— shakes his head. “Sorry about that.”
followed by a “party.” Tonight’s meet and
greet is an ice cream social. Nikolai and his The woman admits the waltz isn’t her favorite
wife, Pasha, are wearing cone-shaped party either. “Just relax,” she tells him.
hats, putting out Styrofoam bowls and plastic
spoons on a table across the way. Pink and Easy for you to say.
blue crepe paper streamers crisscross the
ceiling. The scene reminds Nails of the only He takes a deep breath and gets ready for an-
birthday party he ever had. He was eight. He’d other try. His left hand gets caught up in the
told his mother he never got invited to other flimsy layers of her half-sleeves. One, two,
kids’ birthdays, so she had a party for him in three. One, two, three. His feet complete the
their basement. She fixed the place up by four corners of the box. He’s making it happen
hanging animal posters on the concrete block just fine, grooving to the music, then Tatyana
walls. No one but his best friend Billy came. His calls out for the leaders to turn their partners.
mother wrapped the uneaten store-bought He lifts gauze lady’s hand. She turns beneath
cake in foil and kept it in the freezer until his his arm, gracefully, he has to admit, for a
ninth birthday. woman of her size. But as she rotates, once
again his feet forget what they’re supposed to
Tatyana lines up the class in two rows facing do. He steps on her dance shoe. She cringes,
one another. “Leaders on one side, followers then forces a smile. He apologizes.
on the other.” She laughs at her joke. Nails is
confused, so she grabs his shoulders and “Change partners,” Tatyana says. Because
guides him to the leaders’ side. there aren’t enough men to go around, women
must sometimes dance with women. Nails is
Tatyana announces they’ll begin with the happy it isn’t the other way around. He could-
waltz. She snatches the young man for her n’t dance with a guy. No way. But if he could
partner, demonstrates the position of the dance with Tatyana, if he could hold her in his

arms, he could for sure do this under-arm-turn generating revenue by convincing his students
thing. He wouldn’t feel like such a loser. to go to competitions, racking up the paid
lessons necessary to prepare, and the fees and
The rumba is the same deal—he’s cool with the prize money the events generated. She made a
basic step, a box similar to the waltz, but the half-hearted attempt to change Nikolai’s mind,
turn is another train wreck. Who knew dancing but he’s not a man who reconsiders his
would be this hard? A half hour later he’s decisions. She misses Demetri. They’d been
sweating and frustrated. Mercifully the lesson dancing together for two years. Intimidated by
ends. He’s embarrassed at his awful her, she admits now, he lacked her intensity,
performance and needs fresh air. He decides to her dedication. Nevertheless, he was
skip the party and slip out the door. He almost improving. They were improving. Now she’s
pulls it off, but Tatyana runs over to him and without a partner and the numbers of her stu-
says, “Leaving? You’ll miss the ice cream.” dents are dwindling. Perhaps Nikolai will fire
her next.
He tells her he’s sorry, but he has some place
else to go this evening. Tatyana thought she might have found a new
partner, a Russian boy several years younger
She gives him a look that says she doesn’t than herself, so tall she had to stretch so they
believe his sorry lying ass. “Tuesday, 5:00, your could stay in frame. With only two days to
individual lesson. You’ll be here, right?” prepare, they danced beautifully together at a
local competition out on the beach. She wore
*** her new dress. A friend videoed their perfor-
mances, and still smitten with the boy, she
Tatyana sits on the couch opposite the dance watches the recording constantly on her cell
studio’s front desk and waits for her 5:00 phone. Sadly, his visa expired. He had to return
appointment. She’s barely met the man who to Russia. When she asked if he might come
calls himself Nails, a curious name, even for an back to the States and dance with her at the
American. She’ll give him the two private les- world championship competition in New Orle-
sons he’s paid for, and that will be the last of ans, he said he was very sorry but he already
him. Clients who sign up for the introductory had a partner. Every day she has to choke
special seldom return. The studio makes its down her disappointment, keep her clients
money off the wealthy fifty-, sixty-, and seventy happy, and think about her future. But it’s diffi-
-somethings: divorcees, widowers, single men cult to stay positive when you’re sitting alone
and women who can pay up for two or three in an empty studio, waiting for a man to show
lessons a week at a hundred dollars per. up who calls himself Nails.

Last February Tatyana turned twenty-eight. And here he is, her last student for the day,
She’s been in America five years now, three pulling his pickup into the parking space closest
working here at the Bougainvillea Dance to the front door. She watches him through the
Studio. Dancing is her passion. America is the plate glass windows. He takes his time getting
only country where ballroom dancing is taken out of the truck. In the same jeans and shirt he
seriously, where it’s a legitimate profession wore to the group lesson, he shuffles along the
and not a hobby. The lessons she gives at the sidewalk. He has a slight curve in his shoulders,
studio are a way to make a living, a way to so she makes a mental note to work on his
finance her goals. She has aspirations to posture. The door opens. Careful to keep
compete on the national level, win a title daylight between them, she greets him with a
eventually. She thought she was making good hug. Hugs are standard procedure at the stu-
progress until Nikolai fired her dance partner, dio. Kisses are forbidden. She tells him to take
Demetri, last week. He wasn’t pulling his her arm and escort her onto the dance floor.
weight in the studio, Nikolai said; wasn’t

It’s the way a gentleman is supposed to She spends a few seconds positioning his hands
accompany a lady, she explains. He seems and arms, urging him to stand up straight, then
bewildered by the suggestion and grabs her shows him the box step again in case he’s for-
hand instead. Gently, as if he were in a small gotten it from the other evening. “Martin, look
child’s little red wagon, she pulls him through in the mirror over there. See how your
the plastic bead curtain toward the dance shoulders are slumped? Your body should align
floor. straight up from your feet.”

“Never thought of myself as a gentleman, but I He stiffens his spine to match hers. “You speak
do like the idea.” English real good, if you don’t mind me saying
so. I’m impressed.”
His fingers are calloused, his left thumb is black
-and-blue, and his palm is as coarse as a She thanks him for the compliment. “I studied
grinding wheel. The underarms of his blue/gray English in Russia… Okay. Let’s begin.”
shirt are already wet with perspiration. He
smells of soap, sweat, tar, cigarettes, and a Martin manages to pound out a few rough
faint odor of decay—as if the tropical birds on approximations of the box step, narrowly
his shirt have died and are moldering in the hot missing her feet and only because hers are so
sun. He wears clunky black shoes with a mirror much more nimble than his. Defensive dancing,
finish and buckles on the sides—surely not real like defensive driving, requires vigilance and
leather. They appear to be a size too large for quick reactions. “Not so bad,” she says, arrang-
his feet and are not in scale with his slender ing her face to register mild surprise. She
frame. She imagines the pain these weapons of moves beside him, takes his left hand in her
mass destruction will inflict on her feet this right, and urges him to mimic her steps, to feel
afternoon and flinches. the music and move with its beat. Unleashed,
freed from the responsibility of holding and
When they get to the center of the floor, she leading her, he does better.
tells him to stop right here. Since he started to
learn the waltz at group, she suggests they She moves back to the normal face-to-face
begin with it now, then ease into another position, adjusts his shoulder downward, his
dance if they have time. There’s only so much elbow up, and says, “Once more, please.”
she can show him in forty minutes. Maybe
waltz this afternoon and a little rumba for his He’s hopelessly out of sync with the music.
last lesson. “Or perhaps you’ll sign up for more
lessons, yes?” Another aspect of the studio “I’m sorry I suck so bad. This is way tougher
routine—sell the regular lessons hard, flirt, than I thought.”
bend the client’s will to yours, turn him into
putty. “Any questions? Shall we waltz then?” She tells him not to worry. He’s trying
something he’s never done before. She’s been
With an unexpected shyness, he nods. She was dancing her entire life, and she’s still learning
certain that a man called Nails would insist on every day. “All of us here at the studio are,
learning the Texas two-step, the Electric Slide, even Nikolai.”
the Chicken, or some other stupid, not-
ballroom popular dance. The lesson continues with little improvement
on his part. She urges him not to be
“You can set your cap on the table over there.” discouraged. “It takes time.” At 5:40 she tells
She points, then steps over to the computer him his lesson is concluded, not to forget his
console and puts on Strauss’s “The Blue Dan- cap on his way out. “Friday. Same time? And
ube” waltz, hoping he might recognize the song you’ll think about some more lessons?”
and gain a bit of confidence. She remembers
the face-plant he nearly took at group. ***

Since his first private session, Nails has been Nails wonders if he’s the reason Tatyana called
thinking about the lovely Tatyana, how her in sick. He wouldn’t blame her a bit. If he were
hands sent a jolt through his body, how kind her, he’d be terrified at the thought of another
and patient she was, and how pissed he was forty minutes in the ring with a stumblebum
with himself. He’s as graceful as a giraffe on a like him. “I’d like to postpone, until she’s
skateboard. He imagines that Tatyana, no better, if you wouldn’t mind.”
matter what she says, must be dreading his
next lesson. He wonders how she does it, every Nikolai says that won’t be possible.
day, every week, working with talentless ass- Introductory lessons are given by the teacher
holes like him. Make them all believe they’re who happens to be available. “And, you see,
improving. Convince them that, if they’d only my wife is available.”
hang in and stay with the program, the possi-
bilities for growth are fucking awesome. Know- Nails doesn’t see. Not at all. He’s the customer,
ing what a scam the studio is running, Nails isn’t he? “Bullshit. You’re screwing me over.”
would, nonetheless, love more lessons from
Tatyana. Fate wants what she wants—if only “However, if you sign up for regular lessons,
she had a VISA or a Mastercard to lend him. His you can pick the instructor you’d like. We have
credit card balance is at its limit. a special going—ten dollars off each lesson for
a 25-lesson package. Fifteen dollars off for fifty
Nails is planning to get the most out of his final lessons. Payable in advance, of course. It’s a
lesson. Not dancing with Tatyana the whole great deal. You should consider it. Tatyana says
time, but talking with her, listening to her you have potential.”
story. How did she make it to the US of A from
Russia? Why did she come? What about her Potential. The word makes Nails laugh out
family? Being with her, having a word or two, loud. Po-tential. What utter crap. Lure the
quieting the ache in his chest, is more sucker with Tatyana, dangle the bait, hook the
important than learning the rumba. Maybe fish, and reel him in. The whole thing smells
he’ll take her across the street for coffee after like a gut job. He needn’t bother with the
their scheduled time. He gets up the nerve to arithmetic.
call the studio. Nikolai answers. Nails asks to
speak with Tatyana, but the boss says she’s He’s not up for a lesson with Pasha. He tells
busy giving a lesson. He’ll be happy to pass Nikolai, “Thanks, but no thanks. I’d like a
along a message. “No message. I’ll see her refund instead.”
Friday.”
“No refund,” Nikolai says, smiling, revealing his
*** blindingly white teeth. “Read the agreement
you signed.”
On Friday, Nikolai greets Nails from behind the
counter in the reception area. He bought a Nails doubts Nikolai has any idea what it’s like
bright red golf shirt and khaki pants for the to work for a living, what it’s like to spend five
occasion. His ex often told him that red was his or six days a week on a roof in the hot Florida
best color because it matched his eyes. He sun. That is unless you call stealing money from
rushed home from work and took two suckers like Nails work. He’d like to reach
showers—a cold one to recover from the heat, across the counter and seriously mess up
sweating on a roof all day, and a hot one to get Nikolai’s perfectly gelled hair, dim the light in
rid of the stink of tar on his skin. the man’s baby blues. But he doesn’t. Tatyana
wouldn’t approve. “Give me a second and I’ll
“Sorry, but Tatyana called in sick today,” haul ass out of here.”
Nikolai says. “Pasha will give you the lesson
instead.” Nikolai shrugs and returns to whatever he was
doing on the computer before Nails walked in.

There’s no point asking the boss for Tatyana’s

phone number. A no-no for sure. Nails needs to to renew. State law requires insurance. Any
get her last name so he can contact her on traffic stop will land him in jail.
Facebook. He has something he wants to give
her, a thank-you for her kindness. Hanging on Two officers sit inside the patrol car. In his
the wall next to the counter are her certificates rearview mirror, Nails watches them watching
for various levels of teaching proficiency— him. He knows they’re running his tag, knows
Bronze, Silver, and Gold; Beginner, Intermedi- what they’ll learn. The driver cop exits and
ate, and Advanced—all with “high honors” or approaches cautiously. He tells Nails to put his
“distinction.” Her last name is Alekseevna: hands on the steering wheel. Sunglasses hide
Tatyana Alekseevna. With no pen or pencil to the patrolman’s eyes. His hand rests on the
write down the spelling, he must memorize the butt of his revolver. His face looks soft and
name. He concentrates, spells it several times rubbery, as if he’s wearing a Halloween mask,
in his head, then leaves. But by the time he as if this stop is a prank he and his buddy have
reaches his pickup truck, her last name has cooked up to have some fun at Nails’s expense.
disappeared from his memory. “Fuck!”
“Why did you stop me, Officer?”
He heads back inside and tells Nikolai that he
needs a pen and a scrap of paper. “Shut up and do what I tell you. Name?”

“You must leave,” Nikolai says. “You’re “Martin Yablonski.” Nikolai sicced the cops on
trespassing. Don’t make me call the cops.” him. The fucker. Nails vows to return the favor.

“Be my guest.” Nails circles around the counter The cop orders Nails to get out of the truck and
and shoves Nikolai out of the way, thumping assume the position. Nails knows what the
him against the wall. Nikolai slides down into a position means. No need to panic though.
sitting position. Nails grabs a pen from the Before it’s too late, he’ll explain everything to
holder next to the computer and scores a Bou- this policeman. How this misunderstanding is
gainvillea Dance Studio notepad. From a all about a slip of paper with Tatyana’s last
certificate on the wall, he scribbles Tatyana’s name written on it. How he had to write her
last name, then heads for the door. name down so he could remember it. How he
aims to contact her and give her the gold chain
He drops the paper into the RAM’s glove box he found. His intentions are honorable. Beyond
and rolls out of the parking lot toward his reproach. The paper is all the proof he needs.
apartment. He thinks about what he’ll say
when he gets in touch with Tatyana. Perhaps Stretching sideways across the seat, Nails
he’ll explain how disappointed he was, how reaches for the glove compartment.
he’d hoped to see her one last time at least. He
has a small gift to give her, a gold chain to “Stop!” the cop shouts. “Put your hands back
repay her for her kindness. (No need to tell her on the wheel!”
he found the thing in the dirt at a jobsite.) It’s
not much, but he hopes she’ll like it. Maybe Nails turns his head toward the policeman and
he’ll even ask her how on earth she can work smiles to reassure him. Give me a second.
for a prick like Nikolai. She deserves better. Everything is under control. You’ll see. Slowly,
in a calm voice, he recites each letter of
Lost in his thoughts, Nails doesn’t see the Tatyana’s last name. “A-l-e-k-s-e-e-v-n-a.”
police cruiser behind his pickup until its siren Officer, you do understand, don’t you? Nails’s
wails. On Central Avenue, two miles east of the head swivels toward the glove box. Amazed
studio, the cruiser pulls him over to the side of he’s remembered the spelling, Nails reaches
the road. He’s been driving below the speed out, wiggles his fingers, and touches the latch.
limit, careful because his insurance expired two His dance lessons were a blessing. Fate was
months ago. He couldn’t afford the premiums right to send him into the studio. Now he
knows Tatyana’s name as well as his own.

Author’s bio:

As an undergraduate, I studied history and
went on to earn an MA from the University of
Chicago. My law degree from Capital University
propelled me into a career that has ranged
from legislative aide and researcher to lobbyist
and CFO of a manufacturing company. I have
continued to hone my writing skills by studying
at Kent State University and attending writers
conferences at the University of South Florida,
Chautauqua, and Eckerd College. I recently
received my MFA in Creative Writing from
Queens University. While serving on various
arts and education nonprofit boards, I founded
AHEAD, an organization serving at-risk stu-
dents. My legal writings have appeared in nu-
merous publications, and my creative writing
has appeared in Limestone Journal, Notre
Dame Review, New Plains Review, and else-
where.

GRACE

by Christopher Foster

Past the turn off for the cemetery and farther ly woven, hair swept with a late August breeze
down the trail winding around the south side the color of Caribbean sand seen through clear
of the lake the car sat quietly in the late after- water and unfurling like a curtain’s length
noon sun—silver, languid, chippings of paint draped over a bannister from the parting on
mingled with rust around one of the taillights, the high left side of her forehead to where it
all metal and combustible potential; a hulking gathered in ribbons at the nape of her neck
intruder amongst the tall grass and ash trees and along the crest of her shoulders, the cute
around the clearing’s edge. Down twenty or so upturned nose culminating in a little pink
yards at the bottom of the grassy incline where button, cheeks making the slightest indention
a sandy wash ran out to meet the retreating along the glide of her jaw, the thinnest dash of
tide, she dipped her foot, big toe first, into the white among the press of her lips revealing a
cool water. The ripple, small at first contact, minute overbite, a teenage vestige, an endear-
gained rungs to its expansion as she watched it ing blemish in a wash of soft beauty—tanned
stretch outwards into disappearance where the by the months of summer and brushed lightly
rollback of a slight wave swallowed it into the with dimples so small they could only be truly
greater body of the lake. She did again, this appreciated in the close proximity right before
time with other foot, then again with the you kissed her—she pushed her toe through
first—again and again, and each time her eyes the water again, scattering herself among the
trailed the ripple until it dissolved out there ripples reaching into the tide.
beyond the quay rocks.
“Jav! Hey!” she called after the yellow lab fu-
Ruby Daggart had always loved the water—a tilely chasing a gull a little too far down the
fact she attributed to spending her life thou- shore for her liking, “Come now. Get back
sands of miles from either ocean and in a state here”—the dog turning, looking, looking again
where lakes could only be enjoyed a dispropor- back at the soaring bird, pausing, dutifully re-
tionately small amount of the year—she loved turning. Ruby knew she was beautiful—had
the feeling of being submerged in water, the known ever since that dawning moment of her
way it hugged every inch of her, the texture of teenage years when the opposite sex, with
it, the way it adapted to whatever it found it- eyes and hormones, awarded her some un-
self in, the way on a waning afternoon like this named gift that without knowing why, she se-
she could be alone with its calm music and cretly understood would help her the rest of
stick her toes in it and lean out over its small her life; and Ruby supposed it had—the eyes of
pools to catch her reflection: an exposition of attraction followed her naturally and among
symmetry—almond eyes rising to a central her peers a certain status was afforded to her
emerald peak and softly curving with the which others would have to work for. Her
rhythms of her mouth, eyebrows dark and fine- thoughts fell back upon Plattsmouth and that

little girl: braces to fix the gap in her two front king, or doubting it if I did right? What am I
teeth and wondering where mama had gone— doing? I love him. This is silly.
god I don’t even remember what she was like,
what I was like. All gangly and awkward. Fanta- “What do you think Jav? He’s good to me.”
sies of somewhere else, anywhere else. Find a
boy to love me and the promise of graduation. A quick bark leapt up at her.
Off to college and grandeur. Prince charming—
how funny, how naïve. What—fifteen years “Yea you would say that, ya big goof”—she
ago? Fifteen years. All that has happened in bent down and flicked some water at the dog
between here and now. Barely eighteen and still splashing around in the tide—ah why am I
off to college in Lincoln. It was a big city in my even thinking about this? I love him. He’s built
mind then. Peeling back the myths. Kissing dad a wonderful life for us: ranch-style house on
goodbye outside the dormitory, ugly red brick, the south side, the porch swing, fig tree in the
wondering who my roommate would be— backyard he helped me plant and he loathes
fifteen years? Really? Guess if I hadn’t paused gardening, last spring we saw Wicked in New
to look up I never would have known. York, my guitar he had engraved—her mind, as
though coming abruptly to a flat and impassi-
She looked down at her painted toes, red and ble wall, ceased it wheeling ministrations—for
waving under the clear tide; she kicked her feet it occurred to Ruby the nature of what she was
out to make a splashing foam rise up and pep- doing.
per her bare calves, the most arching droplets
of water reaching the bottoms of her blue jean Oh my god—how did I get to this?
shorts hemmed at mid-thigh with a damp sen-
sation—the cool tingling of liquid on skin she Across the water on an unmarred hill of green
relished and kicked her feet again—the dog pasture the sun rolled yellow over the earth
seeing this flurry of movement pounced with and disappeared, leaving a wistful still-born
zest into the tide as well, right beside Ruby, grey to entrench the lake—the dog, as if sens-
whooping and barking and jumping and with ing an enemy on the run, took off barking to-
banging paws flinging lake water into the pink wards the retreating light and birds ran from
fabric of her t-shirt. the trees. Ruby moved her gaze over the whole
expanse of water and vegetation, imaging the
“Ok ok Jav”, she laughed, “Ok easy buddy”, and chilled wind that would roam over all this a few
was suddenly alighted with the image of her months’ time—do I love him? Is it that sim-
husband, who had bought her the Labrador as ple—it should be, I agreed to it. Agreed. That
an engagement present several years ago—his sounds wrong. Like a contract or something I
robust face and always gelled hair, adjusting had to do. That’s not what it was. At least in
his tie in the mirror of their double-sided vani- the beginning it wasn’t. Do you love him yes or
ty, pulling the chair out for her at their favorite no? It can’t be that simple. But it should be. It’s
little Italian place downtown, scrolling through too soon for this. We’re still new in our mar-
Nasdaq on his tablet as an early morning sun riage. I love him. I have to. Her thoughts, like
crawls across the duvet’s warmth—and for no the ripples she made, rolled away from her.
reason or premonition at all she found herself
wondering if she loved him. I have to. Otherwise why would I—and yet,
here I am, beside a lake 17 miles outside of
What am I saying? Of course I do. Of course I town wondering if I love the man I promised
love him. I married him. I’m his wife. I wear his my life to and he to me. That was THE mo-
ring. But what does that really mean? People ment. Everything leads to and from. The happi-
pretend all the time, but I’m not one who just est moment of my life. But I’m not dead? How
jumps into—am I? I mean, I wouldn’t be thin- can people say that? If we’re not dead yet how
can we truthfully declare what was the happi-
est moment of our lives? Did I lie then, when

he lifted my veil? Did he lie—no he didn’t, he veloped her. She had not thought of Emory in a
loves me. But we don’t’ have cameras in each long time.
other’s heads. Only our own. Did I lie? No, I
don’t think I did. I believed it then. What do I And why was that? Three dark birds fell quickly
believe now? through the greying sky and swooped low over
the lake—well, what always happens. I became
She watched the dog as he ran with apparent lost in the curve of my life, probably on pur-
desperation in her direction, only to roll in the pose. Her mind filled suddenly with the vague
sand at her feet. He turned onto his back and image of a figure turning around and staring
looked up at her, slobbering and wet—a down a long road whose beginning was too far
thought melted into shape across her mind: out of sight. Or was it the end? I moved on.
nothing ever leaves us. She’d heard or read Time stops for no one. In her mind Ruby was
that somewhere—the returning arrows of nos- greeted with flashing explanations—Dylan
talgia sinking into the mind, ripples, ripples, songs strictly forgotten, painting the apartment
synaptic currents in communicative ripples— walls over, resigning from the Gallery, the
Gabe: first in that dingy bar and young, doughy Shramm Hall girls’ insistence on a
in a handsome sort of way, an appreciation to ‘reintroduction tour’ of the O street bars and
grow into, long arms on a squat, sturdy body, the weekend in Chicago, back home with Dad
friend of who’s boyfriend—blurred night in an in sad conversations—where a stubborn col-
apartment bedroom, first time since Emory— umn of sunlight fell along a gathering thick
the screeching halt of her thoughts nearly stag- with trees on the eastern bank of the lake a
gered her in the sand. grouse fluttered in the mudflats with a nasal
squeal before lifting into the air, eliciting a call
Oh. Him. Emory—rush of nameless sensation from the dog. Ruby became aware of her feet
into cheeks and mouth, eyes reclining into far- in the water and retreated a few steps back
off places—Emory, Emory. The peculiar sound into the brittle sand.
his name made in her mind, like an old book
swept of its dust. Emory—oh what, 8, 9 years It’s not really sand, more like the weathered
maybe, late ’11? Oh Emory. Taller than….than sediment left behind when they drain the
Gabe! Christ can’t I keep my—I do love him, I lake—a long hot bath is in order tonight. She
know I—mental drift over images appearing gazed down the shore and followed the curve
like bursts of light: Emory, a lot like Gabe only… all the way around the lake’s jagged progres-
oh what would it be...sensitive? More alive? sion, a squint of eyes revealing a similar wash
No, that’s only because Emory’s still twenty- of pale sand between the water and the grassy
two in my memory—thin face, lanky body and shoreline along the opposite bank—smiling
those cheeks always reddened embarrassing into the memory of her father, his long weath-
him, especially when he’s drunk—do they still ered face, explaining how the Game and Parks
do that?—oh all those old times, so damn commission drain the lakes of the Salt Water
young, kids away from home. Basement hands Valley like this every so often—all this water
and quick kisses beneath loosely-strung bare will be gone by the first frost probably hmm—
light bulbs of off-campus fraternity party hou- that thought drawing parallels in her mind:
ses. Emory boyish in Abercrombie shirts. What nothing ever leaves us. But that’s not true—
fraternity again? White house on the corner of Emory left, my mother left, youth, as it once
R by the student union. Alone in the presi- was left—she paused there, for it struck Ruby
dent’s suite upstairs and our skin in the open that the bloom, the electric feeling of impulse
window sunlight, June or May sometime, first and excitement she had carried with her in
summer after freshman year—it felt to Ruby, those first scenes with Gabe had left as well—a
removing herself from her mind for a moment, strangling silence rushed like a gale around her
as though the whole lake had risen up and en- as the whole tapestry of the last decade

opened like windows along a vast collage and down and guitar neck in hand, her bare feet
each one opening with a red alarm glowing rubbing in the grass cooled by the sun’s wake,
from somewhere within; a thousand- she found a stump near the edge of the tree
windowed beast finally revealed for what it is, line where digging in her feet so little blades of
moving and quietly groaning along, and with grass sprouted between her toes, she began
sick horror Ruby realized she had loved the pulling and twisting the gold pegs and dragging
beast—no. Not love. LOVE. Not like that. I unsure fingers across the fret strings with a
loved the escape. Love of escape, that’s what bent ear, the warped and woebegone sound
to call it. Cold acknowledgment in the prefron- echoing along in the stillness of lake about
tal cortex: how could I not have seen—ah, why her—a determination to break through—
would I go thr—I don’t even understand—liked another hoarse whine and the pang of tightly-
it though, there’s no denying that. Lap of luxu- wound nylon against wood, the sensitivity in
ry the phrase is. Pretty things and casual com- her fingertips notifying her how long it’s been,
forts. The kitchen with a million buttons and darting glimpses of forgotten music—“There”,
blinking lights. Sun room spun with gold. Dis- suddenly announcing and jolting the poor dog
tractions? I didn’t see them as such then. Or who had only just laid his head down, “Or close
yesterday. Or this morning. How can some- enough I guess. It’s been while ok?”
thing like this just creep up on you? Explode
like the roof of a volcano. Distractions? Gabe Her fingers began to fall across the strings in
too? lazy rhythms, catching nothing in particular and
chasing nothing either, just swinging in recog-
Her mind silted with this notion in the silence nition of an old motion, a side-lined memory,
of advancing evening—the dog tiring now, laid the little pin-pricks on skin welcome reminders
down in the damp sand at her feet. and the other hand pressed its fingers along
the neck in excavation of buried chords—like
The last skeleton of sunlight wavered over the her memories by the water, the guitar began to
hills to the west and Ruby turned suddenly for open and color, music coming forth from her
the car, her sandals still nestled in the grass mind like a slow train, long tunnel to illumina-
and the dog taking up after her. She wanted to tion, and from her lips a voice nearly unrecog-
make use of what light remained—grabbing a nizable in texture began to hum:
little green memo pad from the middle console
and rummaging through the jumbled mess in ‘Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood
the trunk she was curved with a brief sadness
at the sight of her old acoustic, half-covered by when blackness was a virtue the road was full
a blanket and dusted with neglect, untouched of mud
and forgotten for an unknowable article of
time—the engraved RS obscured by the side of I came in from the wilderness, a creature void
an Pennzoil canister. The lab placed with curi- of form
osity, his paws on the edge of the trunk and
peered with his master at the guitar. come in, she said

“Whaddya think Jav? Think I can get her into I’ll give ya shelter from the storm
tune?” The dog looked up at her with big dark
eyes, panting. She imagined if Jav could talk, he the words issuing from her brain to her mouth
would say dryly and in an aristocratic voice, under the acute stewardship of memory, lyrics
“Darling, I don’t think it’s the guitar that needs long thrown away from her with the rest of
tuning.” Instead she was greeted with a soft those years returning now in painful and beau-
whimper. tiful directness, evocations springing up around
them—
“Alright c’mon then”. Slamming the trunk
Well I’m livin’ in a foreign country but I’m
bound to cross the line

beauty walks a razor’s edge, someday I’ll make saries and from her pocket she took out the
it mine memo pad, writing in small cramped letters the
word Layla. An all-together different nostalgia
If I could only turn back to clock to when God swam through her remembering that face, dark
and her were born in its pale youth, a lost quality run through it—
it was a very different bird writhing in her
visions like sudden blasts of luminescence ap- heart, and it never flew—that dark face never
pearing before her strained eyes: snug living explaining itself when its eyes flamed with a
room 2nd floor condo full of evening and faces, desire to, running, twisting from an unknown
Emory fumbling with the chords she’s trying to command—under “Layla” she drew a question
teach him and bright laughter, the miniscule mark and looked out across the lake where the
turntable crackling over a worn-through rec- distance bent into shrouds of darkened water,
ord, a feeling, like a bird, a hummingbird flap- the remaining skirts of grey rolling into its em-
ping furiously to fly from her heart, their feet brace—straining her mind to remember some-
bumping the guitar off the bed— thing said or a moment in which sweetness
might have been missed, but all that would
And if I pass this way again, you can rest as- come was the sad dream of that strange long
sured ago face, the boy forever beyond her edge—
beside the question mark she wrote Poet and
I’ll always do my best for her, on that I give my closed the notebook.
word
Evening settled firmly into the grooves of the
in a world of steel-eyed death, and men who lake. Ruby opened the notebook again and
are fighting to be warm stared at the words on the page—they were
nearing invisibility now in the dearth of light
Emory; all the old graves wrenching up before and she ran the pad of her thumb over them
her from long ago—he had a mole on the side once, twice, two more times, then resigned to
of his face below his eye—New Year’s Eve his simply staring, eyes well beyond where her
parents’ house an open emporium of excite- vision was fixed. When they returned Ruby
ment, friends, tongues dueling against the ma- could no longer make out what was written on
roon wall of his father’s study, faces drummed the page—“The great what-ifs come back like
up in conversation and the shared illusion of ghosts don’t they Jav?” and the big labrador
forever, sparkling wonder at such warm gath- appraised her with his own sad eyes and long
erings under the stars: Alexis, Brittany, Saman- snout in the dark grass—silence the edict of
tha spilling champagne on the leather couch, this place—except in Ruby’s mind where the
Emory’s fraternity brothers: Mikhail, Chuck, past flamed like a galaxy of glowing cathedrals
Mulbach, Limoli—the Auld Lang Syne wafting at the awakening moment of rapture, her fire
from speakers as glasses clink together, cham- to walk though barefoot—Emory swaddled in
pagne golden in the soft patio lights, a numeri- exhilarating light, the dark face a dream re-
cal chant begun, and another face among the turned in mystery, Alexis all blonde and white
celebration, mysterious under liquor and with- perfection and Samantha too walking through
drawn like a shadow in the corner— the years of sorority houses and secret promis-
es exchanged with each other—jesus, when did
But nothing really matters much, it’s doom I see Sam last? Her wedding? And that was
alone that counts three years ago—pang of quick regret, time
divides—the rich cream walls of the art gallery,
and the one-eyed undertaker, he blows a futile Ruby’s desk a disrepair of drawings, installation
horn concepts, letters from big museums she’d

Ruby let the enunciation on “horn” dribble out
and took her hands down. The lake in front of
her was becoming strung with evening’s emis-

hoped to one day visit, all held up against the She stood and slung the guitar over her shoul-
uniformed cubicle neatly arranged and der, heading back for the car. Halfway up the
straightforward silence of the National Re- slight hill she paused, turning her gaze again
search Corporation desk where she was due in across the water to the point on the far side of
the morning—an empty feeling surround by the lake that seemed to consume all else, the
friends and candles on her thirtieth birthday— blackened grove where the grey water had
Jav howling for his mother on the first night we rolled into a deep abyss and disappeared; she
brought him home—mother, mom, mama, beheld that lost face again: sorrowful eyes that
Jean René Sanders—Sanders, yes that what my betrayed the face’s guard, eyes on the verge of
name had been once and she had long hair, color, garrulous eyes, eyes when fallen into her
long down to her waist that would shine in the own opened a strange, frightening, and holy
morning when she dressed me—wetness rising flame across the silence which always kept
around the eyes—mama, mama—I’m too old them restrained, eyes she had turned away
for “mama”. Says who though? Is there an age. from, eyes that had turned away from them-
Marriage. A career. Do we get to a collection of selves—then it was gone, dissolved back into
titles in life where we just simply become too the shadow of the lake. At the car she ushered
old for our past? A line in the history of one- the dog into the backseat and placed the guitar
self? Mama. I haven’t thought of you in too gently on the passenger seat, securing the
long and you were my mother. Created me. Put notebook between the neck and the fret
me into all, all this—arms spreading in the strings like a pick. With the keys in the ignition
darkness to no one—the mind clawing itself for unturned Ruby remained motionless, paralyzed
a mother’s remembrance and producing noth- by a nameless malady, a confluence to be felt
ing more than the framed photograph her fa- and not understood—the expanse of Branched
ther kept on his dresser in the old house— Oak out her windshield roving in the dark, big
ceremony of lights in the convention center shoulders and sloping curves, sharp inlets and
during graduation and her father waving from marked with swarming patches of silent trees
the stands surrounded by strangers, no mama, that looked like devious envoys of the whole
Emory gone too—nothing ever leaves us— lake’s evil secret, all held her silent in nothing
father sitting in the pew alone in the church of as though she had awoken suddenly and in a
St. Francis as Gabe slides the ring on a shaking strange climate. She felt very far from what she
hand—oh Gabe! Oh Gabe! supposed someone would call her life—her
hands tightened on the wheel and its leather
A breath heaved from her and she looked felt unfamiliar, the digital glow of the dash-
around noticing that all her agony of memories board clock suggested a time she couldn’t un-
had not ruffled even a single blade of dark derstand—the headlights unrolling long white
grass or a leaf on a tree at the forest’s edge. beams down the hill and up the trees seemed
The guitar rested across her lap with the note- intrusive and she switched them off—where’s
pad on its wood body and though she could no moon? It should be out by now. Where is the
longer see through the darkness, both felt as damn moon—the inability to trace the silver
real to her as they had been in the light and as dusting on the water to its source invoking a
much a part of her as the blood issuing forth deep irritation—hand shoots out, last glance
from her heart—her heart, announcing itself over where she had been, keys turning, car
bolder now in her chest, uncertain but seem- humming in response, headlights again, gear
ingly fuller and, like the rest, she was more shift, graveled crunch of tires, dog’s face over
aware of it than she could recall being in a long shoulder, pedal inched, red lights gone in the
time. night.

“C’mon boy.”

At the beginning of the trailhead where gravel About the Author
meets the smooth asphalt of north 84th street,
Ruby hesitated. No cars came and night threat- I am an aspiring writer living in Tucson, Arizona
ened to swallow everything beyond the scope after spending an eternity in Lincoln, Nebraska,
of her headlights. She rolled down the window where most of my writing takes shape. I earned
and heard no sound save the dog’s rhythmic a BA in English from the University of Nebras-
panting; even the birds had retired from this ka, where I was fortunate enough to stumble
place. Her eyes fell upon the small gravel trail into several of the great poet Greg Kuzma's
to her left leading away from the street into a courses. I owe him a debt which cannot be
dark thicket of hanging ash trees. The car repaid in flattery. I think of D.H. Lawrence
swung around in one jagged twist of the wheel often: "Never trust the teller. Trust the tale."
and joined the silence as she left it parked.

“Stay”, she whispered to the dog and set off
alone down the path. In a small clearing among
the long and shadowed trees she found the
graveyard. No more than ten yards wide and
surrounded on all sides by the forest, the
ground was sparsely molested by only a few
graves and they too were small and unassum-
ing, as though the bones beneath them and
their whole sad affair had been forgotten by
the world as it rushes madly after its own
pulse. Ruby slipped off her sandals and felt the
cool glide of the grass beneath her feet as she
walked slowly over the strange earth filled with
death and let her hands trace the grooves and
cracks of each stone slab, weathered by wind
and rain, tracing the lettered indentions of
names she would never know and shivering in
the breeze that had slipped the trees’ guard—
each grave was met with the soft feather of her
touch and in a voice hidden by the wind she
spoke her secrets to the stones—at the last
one she knelt and whispered, “Emory”.

Then as all the memories and recesses of mind
came snarling forward—the dark face, Emory,
her mother, her father, her youth, old friends
and old avenues, her marriage, Gabe’s face and
Gabe’s love, her old hopes and aspirations, her
dreams, sweats, desires, life as it was, as it is,
and as it will be—she fell back on the old and
silent earth and laughed—laughed uncontrolla-
bly and without a breath reserved as though
her whole life she had been holding in one
great final laugh woven into the texture of her
soul—flat on her back with her body open to
the stars Ruby laughed—for looking up, she
had found the moon.

THE LIGHTNING BUG

by Adam McCulloch

Everyone has a type. She was mine. I could tell Prison is full of sounds you want to block out
before we even met. I’ve always been good at but can’t. Fortune and misfortune are two in-
summing people up. As soon as I walked into a visible balls that just bounce around the walls
place I knew who was going to hide, who all day and night. You want to catch one and
would piss their pants, who’d pull a camera avoid the other, especially if you’re solo. You
and who’d pull a gun. I’ve only been wrong keep an ear out for mumbled plans – especially
once… okay, twice. Prison is no different. You if you hear your name – and prick your ears up
need to be able to sum up a person quick- for the rasp of papers (that’s drugs to regular
smart or you’ll likely end up with a pencil stuck folk) being shuffled between cells. If you’re
in your ribs. lucky you’ll hear them being dropped and be
Johnny-on-the-spot at turn out before some-
I was the god-damn master at first impressions. one else finds them. You learn to tell the differ-
I had to be. In prison everyone hung out with a ence between the sound of someone doing a
car of like-minded psychopaths - everyone ex- regular shit and someone shitting a cell phone.
cept for me and Buddy. We were solo and that If someone makes a sound like a siren it means
meant no one had our backs. We spent most of the guards are coming and you’d better stop
our time safely racked up in our cells but when what you’re doing because what you’re doing
the guard called for us to turn out we had to is probably going to earn you more time. Then
turn out. To Buddy, I was the weatherman. there’s the sound of grown men crying and
“How’s the weather in the pound?” he’d say. trying not to be heard for it. That’s the worst of
“How’s the weather in the commissary? … the it.
laundry? … the barbershop?”
So when they offered me education, I was all
He never shut up. in. I spent a lot of time in education. It broke up
the boredom and hardly anyone got stabbed in
And I’d say, “Strong northerly heading south. education on account of there being so many
Hidalgo’s gonna get a soaking,” which meant cameras to stop you stealing things. Mostly I
the Aryan Brotherhood were looking to put read a lot about insects, not because I had any
some pain on Hidalgo. Or I’d say, “I see folk interest in bugs but just because our library
carrying umbrellas. People gonna get wet,” was made up of books people threw away and,
which meant Folk Nation looked ready to stab well, when was the last time you bought a
holes in People Nation. (They were both black book on insects? Exactly. They had classes in
so I could never understand their beef.) “Fine,” stuff that nobody cared about too but they
meant fine, of course, but the weather was were classes all the same and a chance to stare
rarely fine. Like I said, I’m not an idiot. I knew at someone new – someone from outside –
how to read people and I knew, from the get- someone you hadn’t seen a million fucking
go, that she was my type. times. It didn’t matter what they taught.

The class was telephone etiquette or some- toilet doors; faded denims jeans and tieing
such bullshit. We talked on the phone to in- shoelaces; being ignored, the night sky, but
structors pretending to be regular people and mostly time -- everything you love is beyond
they tried to teach us to not sound like com- arm’s reach. For me, love was as simple as
mon thugs. I figured it was to prep us for work this: her breath, her silence. I know it’s not
in the call center down the road. Con-men like much but morse code is just dots and dashes
Buddy used it to hone his skills to find his next and I swear she was sending pheromones right
mark. Me? I figured maybe I’d get lucky and down the phone line. Blind people fall in love
hear birds or the ocean or music playing in all the time. They don’t need to see and nei-
another room. I didn’t expect to hear her voice. ther did I.
So, for five minutes at a time... man, I was in
heaven. Buddy said I was talking crap but, in spite of
being a friend, he was also the biggest idiot I
Here’s what she taught me about talking on ever met. Buddy’s favorite hobby was to talk
the phone: it’s hard to do well. Some people shit about her was while sitting on the can. I
hold the phone too far away and raise their figured it was so he could shit on my dream-girl
voice and that just sounds like they’re ordering from both ends of his flabby-ass body but that
burgers at a drive-through. Others hold it too would have been giving him too much credit
close and it sounds like they’re sidling up to for understanding metaphor. There were no
shaft you. Plus you have to smile, speak slow doors on the toilets facing the sinks and we’d
and stand up so your voice has energy and always be there together to mitigate the obvi-
never, ever be the first to hang up. That’s how ous risk of unwanted stab wounds. He had all
you lure them in. Her voice was never too loud these theories: “She’s as big as a whale…She’s
or soft and, man…that accent. I just love a a dude… She’s blind and desperate”, he said,
British accent. You could tell her entire life sto- “why else would she want to be with you?”
ry from just a single sentence. Her words had
the briny poetry of East London with just I figured she just loved a man in uniform, even
enough plumy-ness to round out her vowels. if they were state-issue orange peels.
She’d been poor but had made good, just like
me, and she used American words like sidewalk Buddy was an idiot but he was the first person I
so I knew she’d lived here for a good while too. met inside. When I was a little fish and didn’t
She said that the key to selling to a cynic was to know any better I told him about the robberies.
was to confirm their scepticism, invent a com- I told him about the money. I guess I was an
mon enemy then offer a solution in the shape idiot too back then but I wised up real quick -
of whatever you’re selling, I didn’t believe her you have to if you want to survive. But not
at first either, but we were both stuck on the Buddy. He could have been out three years ago
phone and what harm could there be in listen- but his big mouth didn’t want him to leave.
ing to her talk? See? As easy as that. When I He’d checked himself into the hole so many
held that greasy receiver to my ear, I heard times that he could no longer escape whatever
more than birds in the background – I heard drama it was he had coming his way and had to
wedding bells. pay it back by getting a savage beat down.
When they fixed everything he broke, he came
Here’s something you learn in prison: you can out saying he had some kind of epiphany and
fall in love at first sight without ever having that he was a changed man. He latched onto
met. Prison is a hive of hate. Everything you me, figuring he had eight months left to serve
love is beyond the walls: real liquor with a label and it was safer running his mouth off to me
(I’m not talking about the poon they brew in than anyone else. Buddy said opposites attract
the toilets here); a bunch of keys for you own but that’s bullshit. Birds of a feather fuck to-
stuff in your own pocket; king-size beds and gether: gulls don’t mate with crows and crows

don’t do it with hummingbirds. If they did, I headed west.
they’d be all the wrong shape and would fall
out of the sky. I learned that in education too. I rode the bus all night and I bet you everything
Animals all have this whole secret code of com- I ever stole that there never was a happier pas-
munication to keep the group strong. Aryan senger on that bus. I’d ridden the bus before –
Brotherhood hang with Aryan Brotherhood, I’d done plenty of diesel therapy behind bars.
Nuestra Familia with Nuestra Familia, Folk Na- The guards had fitted me with a four-piece suit
tion with Folk Nation… hell, why do you think – leg irons, waist chain… the works – chained
they call us jail-birds? No wonder Buddy got me in the back of the truck and had driven me
beat down so much. Like attracts like and – me all over Arizona. It doesn’t sound that bad but
and her – we were very much alike. it’s kind of like the hole on wheels. The first
eight hours is easy but after two days, this shit
She asked me what I liked in a girl but I didn’t will break you. Nothing could have dampened
need to see her to know she was my type. I my spirits on that Greyhound. In prison I’d only
described my type over the phone and you ever moved in little circles inside larger ones.
could hear the joy in her voice as I described This ride was the farthest I’d gone in a straight
her every detail: a psychobilly librarian, with line in seven years. Every street lamp looked
glasses and pale skin. She asked me to draw a like an Olympic torch and I was on my victory
picture of her on a piece of paper and I fixed lap.
the drawing to my cell wall.
When I arrived in Pasadena she was standing at
Here’s what else I knew: I had to get to her the bus stop under a flickering sign. Man, what
fast. She had just come out of a long-term rela- a sight. She was just as I imagined. Her skin was
tionship and was thinking about dating again. a little darker but it was night and I was tired
People call it dating but really she was talking and drunk and… hell, I was a free man. She’d
about fucking other men but there was any- been on vacation but her Aruba tan never last-
thing I could do about it. My cock was serving ed, she said. She wore cat’s-eye glasses.
time too and he wouldn’t be getting his free- I hugged her and she smelled of cinnamon.
dom any sooner than I was.
Buddy thought I was an idiot for blowing my
I checked the weather report every day and parole on a girl I’d never met but, standing in
made sure to not get caught in any sudden the rain with my rockabilly chick in my arms, I
downpours. My ninety-eight-day count turned didn’t care. He said she’d be a big black whale
into seventy-three then thirty-one then single with a hankering for donuts. He was right
digits. The day I got out I said good riddance to about one thing: the donuts. Prison commis-
Buddy and gave him all my stamps. He needed sary wasn’t known for their baked goods. Any
them - he was broke. He had six months left on zoo-zoos I could have bought tasted like shit
his sentence and an ex-wife to beat up on if he and were hardly worth what it took to earn
ever shook free of Cellblock D. He said he did- them. I knew she’d like donuts. I may have
n’t do that anymore (in prison I guess that mentioned it a hundred times on the phone. I
made him a real stand-up guy) and that he was may have said, “first thing I’m gonna do is eat
in love with some new girl but we both knew donuts and pussy”.
we’d never see each other again. My parole
officer said I had to stay in Arizona but, fuck She brought three boxes of donuts to save time
that, I knew how to lay low. There was no way I and I swear I could have been arrested for in-
was going back to South Phoenix. The only decent exposure right there if it hadn’t a start-
thing I took with me was the drawing of her, ed raining. At her place we fucked and ate until
plus the knowledge of what happened to the our bellies were full and we lay back in her
money I stole. sheets all sticky with cinnamon. “Do you like
my skin?” she’d ask.

“It’s perfect,” I’d say. and stuff I hadn’t thought about in years. She
said it was important for starting a new life.
“Do I talk funny?” she’d ask. She never asked me about the money – Buddy
was wrong about that. She never needed to
“I love your accent,” I’d say. know where it was, what I’d done with it, or if
there was any left. All she said was that she
“Do you like my hair?” she’d ask. loved a self-made man or a man who is ready
to make himself. I guess that meant me.
“I love it,” I’d say.
I got a job fixing roads with the Mexicans, and
“I’m a size six. I can get down to a four if you’d with my first paycheck, I bought her lingerie. I
rather?” she’d say. went in the shop on my way home from work
and I was covered in tar and dirt and they all
“You’re perfect,” I’d say. looked at me like I was already robbing the
place. “Who robs a panty store?” I thought to
“What about my boobs? I think one’s bigger myself, but it’s not a bad idea if you think
than the other. Do you like them?” she’d say. about it.

“Of course, baby. Of course, Baby. Of course, “What size is she,” the girl asked.
baby,” I’d have to say to keep her quiet.
“Size six if it’s American. Eight if British.” I told
“It’s just that you came all this way,” she’d say. them, feeling smug for showing them that I
“I was just worried you wouldn’t like me when knew the difference even though I looked like
you got here.” someone who slept in a cave.

“You’re everything I wanted and more,” I said, “What color eyes?” she said, and I told them
and then I showed her the drawing. blue. I always liked blue eyes. People believe
you if you have blue eyes. I never dated a girl
She seemed happy with that. with brown eyes - no one trusts brown.

For a week we didn’t leave the house but, The lingerie fitted as tight as a corset which, I
when we did, I needed new clothes. It’s not like guess was how it was meant to fit. She could
you bring a suitcase of clothes and personal hardly breathe but it didn’t matter - not like
effects to prison with you. She bought me Lee she spent much time in it. The color was meant
button-fly, boot-leg jeans: the exact style I to match the color of her eyes but I took a clos-
wore way back when. You might call it instinct er look and they looked green to me. She said
but it was more than that. She knew exactly they were blue but change color in different
how to get a guy and keep him too. I put the light or depending on what she’s been eating. I
jeans and all the other stuff in her closet and it hatched a plan to celebrate our anniversary
looked like a god-damn store. I might have seeing one of our favorite bands every month
moved her dresses a little and I might have until we had caught up to seven years. The first
looked at the label. She was a size eight not a anniversary was the Red Elvises then Switch-
six but she said they were from England and blade Valentines. Four was Speed Crazy and
size eight was different over there and every- five and six were both Tiger Army. That was her
thing she wore seemed brand new. favorite and she knew the words but got the
tune all wrong. She said she was just a bad
She set me up with a Facebook page because, I singer.
guess I’d been away that long. She told me the
movies I would have liked, the music and books Music was my jam, but dancing – I have to tell
we would have read if I’d spent seven years you – was not. When she was in the ladies, I
watching movies and listening to music instead fell off the stage and broke my hip like some
of rotting in a cell. I didn’t list my interests as
robbing places. I had to remember passwords
and pin numbers and mother’s maiden names

toothless lifer. They gave me drugs and I gave from all women, especially mine, I’ll never
them her name and a description so they could know. He said he was in love with a girl and
find her in the crowd. She didn’t come for the that she was leaving her man and he’d be out
longest time and when she did, the doctor gave of my hair pretty soon. He said she was the
me a look like I must have been thinking of exact opposite of him, like it proved some-
someone else. thing. I asked if he meant she was smart, good
looking and had a big dick and he just laughed.
After my hip was set she drove me home she
carried me into bed. Now, I’m not tall but I’m When Buddy’s birthday came around I knew I
built like a pit-bull so carrying me upstairs must had to do something. He had thirteen birthdays
have been like hauling cement. But I guess love a year most years – more even. He was always
gives people superhuman strength. She was so greasing up the leg of some poor sap, using his
good to me. In prison they never gave you birthday to get better food, easier work, more
enough painkillers and any extra nutrition your of the good and less of the bad. By my count
body needed was passed to you through a tube his mother had died twenty times already. But
instead of in the form of pizza which was my no, no, no… today was really his birthday and
preferred method. Prison nurses were always what did the son-of-a-bitch want? He wanted
on the lookout for when you were faking it to go hiking. Buddy liked hiking just about as
because, at some point you would definitely be much as the Aryan Brotherhood like Martin
faking. It was always far better being in the Luther King but this was his birthday wish and
infirmary than being with your celly, especially he knew I couldn’t join them.
if his name was Buddy. I ate pizza and popped
pain-killers like candy. I was in heaven. While I stared at the water stains on the ceil-
ing, she and Buddy hiked the canyon and had a
But on second thoughts it must have been hell damn picnic at the top. Buddy was a lazy slob
because, with all the drugs, I could hear Bud- but he knew about my money, so if he was
dy’s stupid voice going on and on. He was the doing exercise it meant he was working out
kind of guy who could breathe and whistle how to tell her in a way that benefited him the
through his nose at the same time. There was most. I had to tell her before he did.
no way he could have been here. He had a wife
to beat up on in Tallahassee. But then one day “Good birthday?” I asked Buddy, trying not to
he turns up in the doorway. sound too much like I wanted to punch his
sweaty face in.
I guess I always assumed she quit with the call
center education as soon as I got out but I “Great! Birds and all that. I even saw a lightning
guessed wrong. If I could have stormed out bug,” he said. “She’s a great girl. I’m surprised
right then, I would have. She said she needed you like her. She’s not really your type. Awe-
to keep at it to pay our bills and, besides, she’s some tattoo”.
talked with Buddy a whole lot and he didn’t
seem so bad. She said I should be grateful for a He was full of shit. I knew more than I cared to
friend in this world and that Buddy had made it know about insects and I knew for a fact that
through six months without running his mouth there were no lightning-bugs in California. He
of and that really meant something. was wrong about seeing her the tattoo too but
it was clear he planned on hanging around just
Buddy showed up every day to see how I was about long enough to be proved wrong.
doing but he didn’t have much to say – not to
me at least. He said he didn’t have anywhere He’d go out and leave his music playing in the
to go on account of his wife having a restrain- other room and I’d have to listen to Alicia Keys
ing order against him but, why the court didn’t or some-such shit for hours. She said it wasn’t
have the God-given good sense to restrain him so bad as background music and that Buddy
and his mystery-girl had big plans. Buddy was

an idiot - I think I made that clear. The only I walked in the door and she was there waiting.
plan he was capable of was getting swindled She was wearing the lingerie and had a whole
into revealing his winnings and ending up right dinner laid out. She started to get fresh – and
back in Cellblock D. He was a con-man through it’s not like me to take a rain-check on pussy –
and through but not a very good one either. but I smelled like sweat and adrenaline and
Still, he was poisoning her mind. Around me everyone knows that smell for what it is: fear. I
she was one thing. Around him she was some- took a shower to get rid of the stink. I could see
thing else entirely. I knew I had to tell her the dirt and the old me washing down the
about the money before Buddy’s next birthday drain and I knew I’d found the perfect woman
rolled around. and we’d have a good life together with every-
thing I stole. I must have been feeling better
When my cast came off, I sat her on the bed I because I was getting a little hard so I dropped
told her about the robberies. I explained how the towel and headed into the kitchen to see if
you had to be tough in jail. How it wasn’t like I she wanted a taste of my appetizer.
was planning on doing seven years and not
have had some kind of retirement plan when I She was gone and so was the money.
got out. I did the crime, and I sure-as-hell was
going to get paid properly for doing the time. I In their place were two of the ugliest cops I’ve
told her the money was in a storage locker in ever seen. They didn’t appreciate my excited
Las Vegas. There was two-hundred grand, may- state, or my having broken parole to go rob
be even four-hundred including the other jobs. half a dozen stores around Bob Hope. They
I told her everything. granted me the decency of not arresting me in
an indecent state and took me to the station
The only thing I left out was that none of it was for processing. Now the booking process bores
true. I didn’t have the money. I didn’t even me shitless but when they started asking about
have a storage locker but I couldn’t let her her, I sure as hell took notice. She had a sheet
think that. I had to have a plan. longer than mine. I didn’t believe it at first so
they showed it to me in all its glory. They said
I did what any red-blooded man in my position her name was Angela Davis. I said it was Pame-
would have done: I borrowed money from la Burns. She was five-eight, 160 pounds and a
some crooks and lined up a few jobs to make size 10. I said she must have lost weight be-
up the rest. I knew I’d be able to pay them cause the girl I knew weight 120. They showed
back. I told her I needed three days to get the me the size tags she had unpicked from her
money from the storage locker in Vegas. After clothes. They showed me the hair dye, the pho-
that, we could go anywhere – we’d have to go tos, her birth certificate and her passport. They
somewhere. She always wanted to go to Cuba. said she was born in Jamaica and that her fa-
I didn’t care where. ther was black and her mother white.

I bought a cleaner’s uniform because no one I couldn’t see it. I didn’t want to.
remembers cleaners and stayed at the Quality
Inn near Bob Hope Airport so that any witness- Then they showed me all the ex-cons like me
es would be thousands of miles away by the and the drawings they had done of her before
time I was done. I stole a new car every day they got out. The showed me the different
and hit the biggest stores within a one-block outfits she had worn to convince them she was
radius of good-old Bob so the police helicop- their type. If she had walked in that room right
ters couldn’t follow me. When I was through I then, I would have been put away for murder,
caught the train back to Pasadena. There’s but I had one last trick up my sleeve. I knew
nothing like carrying three hundred grand on how to make a deal.
the gold line to make you feel alive. I was sure
I’d get rolled for it. It stank like money stinks. My lawyer had it all planned. Buddy had been a

fish the same time as me and most of what he About the Author
said didn’t need an answer. But if you listened
real hard he said an awful lot without meaning Adam McCulloch is an award-winning fiction
to. It was him who had the storage locker in Las writer and NATJA award-winning journalist
Vegas and him who had stashed if full of win- whose work has appeared in Travel + Leisure,
nings. I knew the address and the combination Conde Nast Traveler and Lonely Planet among
on his lock. There was no way he was going to others. His fiction can be found in Easy Street
let that go. His winnings and her takings were magazine; Coffin Bell: One; and Tiny Crimes by
enough to set me free. Electric Literature. He recently won the First
Pages Prize at the Stockholm Writers Festival
But as soon as the prosecutor entered the for his unpublished novel The Silver Trail.
room, I knew I had a whole lot of diesel thera-
py ahead of me. The prosecutor was five-four,
120 pounds give-or-take, a rockabilly type, and
even had the cats-eye glasses. When she spoke
her voice was all plums. I was defenseless. I
knew right then that Buddy had seen a real life
lightning bug and that she was eating him alive
right now. I can’t say I blame him. You’ve got to
fly to the light that attracts you and there’s not
much else to be done about it.

THE CORNER, BY WALMART

by Joel Smades

Dad came out of the store only a couple to open the other lid, but I was too short. Every
minutes after he went in, and it was strange he time I threw open the lid, it only hovered in the
didn’t have any plastic bags. Other people air for a moment, teasing me, then would fall
wheeled shopping carts out, their carts filled back down to a painful, ear-grating crash. Dad
with plastic sacks stacked on top of each other, looked at me, smiled, kissed my forehead, and
the boxes and cans inside them spilling out, but opened the lid for me. “A-ha!” he yelled, sub-
Dad came out as he went in, his eyes fixed on merging himself again.
the automatic doors and nothing in his hands.
Mom sat near. She smoked on the curb while I He came up with a dusty white sign—some
leaned against the painted cinder block wall, plastic thing with a phone number, saying, ‘WE
watching people go through the automatic BUY ANY HOUSE — CASH!!!!’
doors to the produce section. The oranges in-
side looked delicious. I stayed by the cart corral Dad pulled a thick permanent marker out of his
while Mom and Dad conferred in quiet. Bored, pocket (from where he got it, I didn’t know),
I watched people go in and out. Two younger then he set the plastic sign down on the hot
adults raced into the store as if the food would asphalt and began to write with great purpose.
all be gone if they didn’t hurry. Then an old He scrawled the bold characters on, each letter
man went in after them, legs stiff, shuffling side its own battle, these carefully wrought bub-
-to-side like someone moving a mattress across bles, then filled them in with sharp lines, top-to
a room. He picked up an orange and inspected -bottom, top-to-bottom, to ensure consistency.
its surface, then set it down, dissatisfied. Then He sweat in the heat, his tongue out, touching
he picked up another and shook his head again. his bottom lip like an artist’s tongue might
when they draft the skeleton of a fine painting.
Mom took my hand and the three of us walked “Your Dad was a painter once,” my Mom once
to the back of the store, along the loading area told me over cereal in our old house. I never
where a semi-rig rested, backed into a dock. knew if his work was done on a canvas or on
Heat emitted from the diesel as it churned, rich people’s houses. For some reason, I never
making the air boil around us. Then a siamese thought to ask (but I always liked the idea of
cat sprung up onto the wall and I jumped, Dad in fancy galleries). Finally, Dad put the
frightened. The mangy cat had one beautiful marker back in his pocket and looked at his
amber eye, brilliant like a star. It paused, glared sign. It said:
cooley at me, then sauntered off, disinterested,
its tail disappearing into dead weeds. FAMILY HUNGRY
ANY BIT HELPS
“Come here,” Dad said.
GOD BLESS
Dad lifted up a garbage bin lid and began to
dig, on a mission. “Try to find a good one,” “It’s a little too nice,” Mom said.
Mom said. Dad lifted his head out of the trash
can and glared at her, his eyes saying, ‘Yeah, Dad shrugged. Mom sighed as she did a lot in
yeah, yeah, you think I’m an idiot?’ He told me those days, but, knowing my father knew best,
she trusted him, and I trusted him, too.

I always admired Dad’s cool-headedness. He and Dad were silent. Dad fumed, but part of
didn’t say much, but he had a plan wherever me knew that meant he cared a lot about me.
he went, despite me not always knowing what He crossed his arms and mumbled curses at
it was. When the money ran out, he’d always the crosswalk—words I hadn’t heard before—
have a recourse, some scheme to get us back then he pressed the ‘WALK’ button three more
on our feet. At that point, we had been staying times and made a quick about-face to the or-
in our old Mercury van. Dad had to sell the ange hand across the street telling us ‘DON’T
house when he lost his last job, so we had no WALK.’ Dad took a breath, calming himself and
place to go, and no money to start over. Every- looked outward, his face, sure and proud, chis-
thing went to food and gas and cigarettes. “I eled like a Michelangelo. Then the traffic light
won’t have us not eating,” Dad always said, turned green and he jerked his head at us, ges-
sometimes looking in the rearview mirror at turing, ‘Come on,’ and we followed. “A bit fur-
me when he said it. Most days, he’d drop me ther,” he said, pointing. “That corner, there.
and Mom off at the park during the day, and There’s a Walmart here—a lot of traffic and a
he’d come back a couple hours later with a lot of people stopping at the light. It’s not the
wad of singles and five dollar bills—even the main light, so people have to wait a while for a
occasional ten or twenty or random gift card. I green.”
never knew how he got the money. That day
was the first time he decided to bring me and STONEHENGE — the street sign said, looming
Mom to work. above as we approached.

When you’re a kid, you just go wherever your And, sure as Dad had suggested, a line of cars
parents are going. Most of the time, you don’t was waiting to turn out. Across the black mat
seem to care either. You might put up a little of fresh pavement on the main road, a Mexican
fight, but, at the end of the day, you’re a bird restaurant sat on the opposite corner, beckon-
on a hippo, and you don’t care or understand ing me. The aroma of beans and stewing beef
where the thing takes you. Mom says do this; arose out of the chimney exhaust, and images
Dad says do that. At the time, as only a second of myself eating tacos and chips and salsa drift-
grader (going on third), I accepted it with the ed through my hungry head.
few faculties I had.
“Alright,” Dad said, smiling. “Sit here, Will.”
As we walked along the main road, I watched Mom sat next to me, and, oddly, she stopped
Dad’s long shadow float on top of the sidewalk smiling. It confused me. Mom almost always
behind him. Me and Mom had long shadows smiled—even when she worried. She smiled
too. Everything had a long shadow, and I didn’t more than my old friend, Cameron, back in
know why. The mystery of it excited me, and I school. But, thinking about him, I tried to stop
almost asked Mom and Dad how a shadow got thinking about him. I missed him too much. He
long, but they were arguing again about me was my best friend in the world and I hadn’t
not being signed up for school. “We don’t have seen him since I left school the Summer after
a way to pay for it,” Dad muttered, walking second grade. I wondered if he felt the same
faster. “He needs clothes, lunches. He doesn’t about me not being there. I wondered if he had
even have an address for the bus to get him at! a new friend now, someone who had a house,
That’s why we’re doing this. This is last ditch, someone who could go to school. Even if I did
Maddy.” — I never knew Mom’s real name was see him again, what would I do? We had been
Maddy. Mom patted my curly, auburn hair, apart so long, maybe things were different
then ran her fingers through like a comb. It felt now? Maybe Cameron would like different
nice, despite me at first wanting to protest. things than I?

When we stopped at the intersection, Mom “Can I go back to school soon, Mommy?” I
asked.

“That’s what Daddy’s working on, Willy,” Mom stood up and took my hand to cross the narrow
said, fanning her face with a chunk of card- street. Nodding, I began to walk, then looked
board she found in the gravel. up and saw the orange hand, saying ‘DON’T
WALK!’ Scared, I turned, tripping on my Mom’s
On the corner, Dad looked at people in their shoe and hurled toward the asphalt. But Mom
cars; most of them kept their eyes forward, caught me before I face-planted, and I swung
trying to keep them off him. I didn’t know why back to my feet like a flying acrobat. Dad
they were ignoring him. It was rude. I didn’t laughed.
even know why Dad was standing there. Then
a man about Dad’s age looked at him, his eyes “It’s okay,” he said, as I still hesitantly watched
filled with fury. He hated Dad—it was obvious. the ominous orange hand telling us to not go.
Then he shook his head and peeled out of the “There’s no cars coming, see?”
right turn. Mom sighed, watching him. I looked
at her, but she only looked back at me a mo- Minutes later, a long procession of cars were
ment, then back at Dad. He paced, nudging his trying to turn left. A tinted window rolled down
sign out from his chest as if its white shimmer and a hand popped out with a five dollar bill.
didn’t shine enough to see. Then a rusty Lin- Dad thanked the man, the sincerity of his
coln Town Car stopped at the turn—one of thanks more sincere than the other two times
those cars that elderly people like for comfort, he got money. Then another car gave him
rather than appearance. The old lady inside money, and Dad thanked them, too. Then an-
was about my grandma’s age, sitting there, other, and Dad thanked them. I stood up in
both her hands on the wheel, sad, looking at amazement, watching a long series of cars
me, and I didn’t know why. Mom and Dad did- handing him money, one after another. When-
n’t even exist to her, like she had horse blin- ever a window opened, my heart leaped from
ders on, blocking those cloudy eyes. She drove my chest, erupting like a fountainhead. There
off, and I thought about how I had never seen were one-dollar bills and five-dollar bills and
someone so focused on one thing. more ones and a couple tens and even a twen-
ty! All the while, Dad nodded, thanking each
Behind her, a Jetta pulled up. This girl was driv- person as they drove off. I grinned ear to ear,
ing, college-aged, with three Greek letters watching Dad try to keep up with all the wad-
stuck on her rear windshield. She lowered her ded bills he was stuffing into his pocket. After I
electric window and dug through her purse. stood up, Mom grabbed me by my shirt and
That’s a cool window, I thought. She leaned told me nicely to ‘sit down and don’t be so
toward Dad’s side of the window and handed cheerful.’
him a couple dollars.
“Yes, Mommy,” I said, sitting down. Sad I disap-
“Thank you,” Dad said, “so much.” pointed her, I looked off at the restaurant
across the street and back to my dad. He was
A connection happened in my mind as I the tallest person I ever knew, and so strong.
watched Dad pocket the money. I finally under- He was so strong, no one could out-wrestling
stood where he got it all. He went out with a him. One time, at my Uncle Roger’s house (the
sign and people just gave it to him. It all made uncle we call “Flex,” because of his muscles),
sense, now. After the Jetta girl handed Dad a Uncle Roger and Dad were drinking beers in
couple dollars, the driver behind her did too. the backyard and they started arguing. Every-
Dad thanked them, and he turned to Mom and one in the house ran out to the back and found
said, “Guilty, that one.” Mom nodded, but Dad and Uncle Roger wrestling on the grass by
strangely, her cheery disposition remained the empty fire pit. “Stop!” Mom said, keeping a
absent. “Let’s go across,” Dad said. “It’s too distance. “Stop it!” Grandpa held Uncle Joe
hard for them to reach over, and a lot of peo- back with his outstretched arm, telling him,
ple just make the right turn on red.” Mom

“Get back! Get back!” Uncle Roger, being the You’re a monster! You make me sick! At least
oldest and strongest, thought he’d easily beat have the decency to leave him somewhere;
my dad, but Dad managed to grab his arm and hide your indignity from him! God!”
twisted it into a special grip, turned him With knotted hands, the man stormed off,
around, then, on top of him, told my uncle, looking back at me as he went and stopped at
“Are we done? Are we done?” Everyone in my the crosswalk, waiting for the ‘DON’T WALK’ to
family watched in awe. Dad was half Uncle become ‘WALK.’ The traffic light turned, and he
Roger’s size. After, in the living room, Mom crossed to eat at the Mexican restaurant. He
was gathering our things in a hurry, and I heard went inside and I turned back to Dad. He was
my Grandpa whisper to Grandma, “I still can’t on his corner, his hands on his face, head
believe Daniel did that.” Dad yanked us out of dipped, shoulders low, and the sidewalk be-
the house and we never saw the family again. neath him was wet. At first, I thought it was
rain. Dad sniffled and wiped his eyes and ges-
The traffic stop was quiet, and even the busy tured at us to follow him, making his first steps
main road had calmed down. A long period across the empty street. While we walked,
went by where no one gave Dad any more Mom had us keep a distance to “give him
money. Being a kid, I wondered if everyone room.” And like a good soldier given an order, I
had run out of money after giving him so much. followed her command, not even processing
But I remembered that these were different what she had said. My mind was somewhere
people, so that didn’t make any sense. else, paralyzed amidst the noise of the passing
cars, my eyes on dad, watching him shuffle
My stomach rumbled bad, so I asked Mom, ahead of us, the vigor in his bones waned, and I
“Can we eat soon, Mommy?” didn’t know if it was a trick of my eyes, or if
nothing had changed at all, but something
She smiled, nodding, and she ran her fingers must have changed in that short time, because
through my hair again. A car drove up to Dad Dad’s shadow was different at the coming of
and the window rolled down. A delicate hand mid-day.
came out with a five-dollar bill. Dad took the
money, smiled, and thanked the driver inside About the Author
as she tipped her cowboy hat and drove off.
Upon graduating from high school, Joel
Not far from Dad, there was this man on the Smades developed a love for learning and liter-
sidewalk marching toward him. He had a blond ature, and soon found his dream in storytelling.
goatee, touched with white, and his ocean-blue He now devotes his time to writing and spend-
eyes were set in a grim stare. Taller than Dad, ing time with his wife and three children.
he moved quickly, his arms swaying purpose-
fully. Then he stopped, eye to eye with Dad,
about to yell at him. He had Walmart clothes
on, so I thought he didn’t want us standing
around, not buying anything. But we were far
from the store.

Looking down and speaking to my Dad, the
man pointed at me and said, “You’re dis-
gusting! Using your boy to buy sympathy!
What the hell’s your problem? You subject this
boy—your son—to this? Teaching him to pan-
handle? What the hell is your problem?—an
adult? Don’t you care about his future? You’d
teach your boy, laziness is how you get ahead?

CHARLIE FOXTROT: GOD BLESS

by Mitch Johnson

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not homeless, himself on his coveted box. He takes a moment
but these fine people don’t know a damn thing to study me. When he makes sense of his ana-
about it. I just like the lifestyle because it’s re- lyses, he nods his head and steals another sip.
freshing to me. I mean, the love of my life,
Becky Girlfriendson, gives me everything I “Auto detail,” he says.
could ask for and more. Though, sometimes I
need a breather from her. You know how it is, “What’s that?” I ask.
right? And these people aren’t as bad as they
smell. In fact, they’re very resourceful, which Mack ignores my question and shouts across
inspires me. the street to another homeless man. “Hey,
Mexico! Issue Foxtrot a cart and a squeegee!”
Yeah, I could donate money to the cause and
help end homelessness; alas, I haven’t seen The man nods and finds a nearby cart.
any charity actually combat the issue. So, I take
the matter into my own hands; and with my “Y’all’ll start now,” Mack says. “Y’all’ll shift for
girlfriend’s money, I secretly bail my homeless two hours and report back to me with the
brethren out of jail when they get a little too money y’all make. Y’all’ll work off commission,
wasted. They don’t know where the money so the more money y’all make will be the more
comes from, however. But, when have the money y’all’ll get.”
homeless ever asked for the history of their
finances? I can’t confirm it, but the word under “Oh, yes sir!” I answer. And run to the nearby
the bridge says that I’m the homeless’ guardian corner to take over for the current guy. He
angel. That’s good news!... Because Becky is shakes my hand with lackluster. He must be
figuring out where her money is going. exhausted from working. His name is Boris Box-
man. He says that I should be careful while
I regret to inform the public that we’re taking washing the windshields. Bobby Beerman is
an extended breather. nursing his wounds from getting his foot
squashed by a car. He’s working in the collec-
I’m new to this homeless thing now. Fortu- tions department down the way (and appar-
nately, the man everybody looks up to, Mack, ently making more money because of his boot).
wants to take me under his wing. He’s current- Good for Bobby.
ly interviewing me for a position at his compa-
ny. I begin my shift as happy as can be. This is what
I need in my life: direction. If I prove to Becky
“Company?” I ask with confusion. that I can be responsible, there’s no way she
can’t accept me back into her loving arms. Oh, I
“What’re y’all?” Mack facetiously asks, miss her so.
“Stupid?”
The Mexican man crosses the street without
“No, Mr. Mack,” I respond quickly and re- looking both ways and hands me a squeegee.
spectfully. He instructs me that I have to dunk it in the
trash can full of water that reads “God Bless,”
Mack takes a swig of his tallboy, then adjusts and wave it around, so the customers know I’m
open for business. He’s such a nice guy.

I’m nervous, but I go out and try my best. My Mack opens the first tallboy in his new six
best smile erupts after I saturate the squeegee pack. He chugs the entire can and proceeds to
in the trash can. I don’t know how I’ll do but as give an inspiring about how everybody else
time goes on, I know I’ll improve. should work like me. So much so, he recom-
mends that the marketing department take the
My shift goes smoothly, I think. I’m making company card and buy clothes that look like
money. With every dollar I receive, I get happi- mine from Goodwill. This makes me happy. I
er. And I must be so happy that these single- like me, and now there’s going to be a bunch of
dollar bills are turning into five-dollar bills, pro- people like me. And the others have no choice
moting to twenty-dollar bills, and then a few but to obey Mack.
hundred-dollar bills! I’m sure the others are
making more money than me because they’ve When Mack dismisses everybody, they scram-
been doing this longer; yet, I feel I’m contri- ble into action. Mack laughs and says, “Pretty
buting greatly to the company. soon we’re gonna upgrade to issuing out those
shopping scooters instead of carts!”
After my shift, I return to Mack with my earn-
ings. He sets down his tallboy and counts my In the meantime, Mack tells me to get back
earnings. His eyes widen. onto the corner. He wants me nowhere else
but working. I’m glad I am needed someplace.
“Boy, why don’t y’all take the company card Watching the homeless move with such pur-
and go get me some Wendy’s,” he suggests, pose humbles me. They’re not who everybody
handing me a plastic card. thinks they are. They are quite industrious and
good and totally not smelly. Mack is such a
“This is a Lone Star card?” I comment. good leader.

“Yes, the company card on behalf of the state Before we all know it, there are people dressed
government,” Mack mentions. “It has no limit. I like me at various intersections around City -
want a Triple Baconator with no bacon. Y’all second-hand khakis, some sort of polo shirt,
hear, boy?” and presentable sneakers. The company is
making more money than it knows what to do
“Anything you say, Mr. Mack!” I eagerly reply. with. City is responding accordingly. They brag
to the rest of the country how we don’t look
As I’m in the process of skipping to Wendy’s, like the other city’s homeless populations. Driv-
Mack calls, “And y’all get me another six-pack! ers all over are eager to pay for our quality
I ain’t gettin’ any soberer here, boy!” services.

I nod happily. The news loves to cover us at our headquar-
ters underneath the overpass, just east of
I return with the altered burger and his bever- Downtown.
ages to wash it down with. Mack smiles and
gathers every employee within the vicinity. The lights shine brightly on Mack’s box for an
Once everybody surrounds his sacred box, interview. Mack tucks his long, silver hair be-
Mack slowly unwraps the sandwich and vio- hind his ears and shouts to me from the corner
lently sniffs it. He goes to take a bite but stops to join him. Anything for Mack. He’s so
once the bun reaches his wild mustache hair. thoughtful.
Then, he violently slams it to the ground (a few
of the employees go to eat the splattered With great excitement, the field report goes
corpse). live and introduces us after herself. Then, she
dives into the question.
“No more of eating at the company kitchen,”
Mack states on his revered box, “otherwise “What’s made the homeless become so self-
known as ‘The Wendy’s.’” sustaining?” she asks.

Mack takes a good gander at the field repor- “City, a big thanks goes out to y’all for trusting
ter’s chest before fabricating his answer. the services provided by our company,” Mack
says. “If it weren’t for y’all, well, we would still
“Well, us here at God Bless, L.L.C.-” Mack be livin’ in shopping carts!”
begins before being interrupted.
And City responds positively. Our company is
“Wait,” the field reporter says, “You guys are a doing so well, and our employees are working
registered company?!” so hard that citizens drive around just to invest
in us. Mack’s idea of trickle-up economics is, in
“Well, hell yes, pretty lady!” Mack answers fact, genius. I’m glad I’m the key to it all. Our
quickly. “Y’all think we’re extending our bles- success couldn’t be reached without his tute-
sin’s to y’all on those signs? Homeless people lage.
don’t believe in God! No, it’s advertising for
our company, God Bless, L.L.C. Much like how Our profits skyrocket. Mr. Wallstreetman and
y’all homeful people do on trucks and bill- his associates offer economic advice to Mack
boards and what not.” on his box. They believe that if God Bless, L.L.C.
goes public than we’ll grow even stronger.
“Wow, I never would’ve known,” the field re- Mack laughs at them. He gets a few of the boys
porter says. “And, sir, what is the secret to your to persuade Mr. Wallstreetman and his team
company’s recent success.” to invest in us on the spot. Mr. Wallstreetman
knows good business when he recognizes it.
Mack proudly looks to me. “This man right
here, Mr. Charlie Foxtrot.” Government officials are so proud of our suc-
cess too. Steve Mayorman and Greg Govern-
I smile at the camera and wave my hand. mentman constantly stop by to congratulate us
on taking the initiative to turn our lives around
Mack uncovers his current tallboy from behind in City. They take pictures of us and post them
his back and chugs it. to their respective political campaigns. Mr.
Lobbyman from the government house pays us
“Foxtrot over here is the key to an economic money to advertise certain issues on our road-
theory I’ve been contemplating for quite some side signs. That’s free, undocumented money
time now called ‘trickle-up economics,’” Mack for us. Anything we can do to help the good
continues. people in the good government. And you know
what, I’m proud of that. I just hope Becky can
“‘Trickle-up economics?’” the field reporter see the good I’m doing for City. I hope Mack
questions. “What is that?” and everybody else apart of this feels the same
way too.
“Wouldn’t y’all like to know, toots,” Mack
comments. “It’s this thing where all the people As business keeps improving, I receive a signifi-
at the bottom make all the money and give it cant raise in my stipend. Instead of making
to the person at the top, which happens to be forty dollars a week, I now make forty-one dol-
me.” lars a week. Nothing but blessings are coming
my way. All thanks to Mack.
The field report is puzzled. “What you’re de-
scribing, sir, is a pyramid scheme.” “What else more could I ask for?” I happily ask
aloud.
Mack shakes his head, then finishes the rest of
his tallboy. “That’s not possible because I be- Then, Becky pulls up to the corner in her Lexus.
lieve in no other shape than the trusty cylin- My world stops. I can’t help but look into her
der.” eyes because I miss her so much.

He raises the empty can with a smile. “I didn’t realize how much you were doing for
the homeless, Charlie,” she says.
The field reporter uncomfortably tries to get
the interview into her control before Mack
interrupts her again.

“Yeah, I love these people,” I proudly answer. Of course, I can’t say no to jelly beans, so I
frantically open the door and hop in the car.
A tear falls down Becky’s cheek. “I feel so awful The light is yellow and about to turn red. Becky
I didn’t see your charity through.” is anxious in this area of town, so she steps on
the gas. To convince me to stay one last time,
“It’s okay, Becky,” I reassure. “You didn’t Mack leaps for the car. His hand protrudes out
know.” into the street and Becky crushes it with her
rear passenger tire.
“I want you to come home,” she says. “Oh my gosh!” Becky shouts. “I hurt him.”
I laugh as I look out the rearview mirror while
“But I can’t just leave,” I say. “Mack just issued enjoying the jelly beans Becky promised.
me a new shopping scooter that has a license “Looks like it’s the collections department for
plate with my name on it.” Mack!”
Two blocks down a man that looks like a co-
Becky looks down and nods her head, as if she worker of mine is holding a sign reading,
has lost touch with the man I’ve become. She “Anything Helps.” He should really consider
pauses there for a moment and then lifts her working for Mack instead.
head up again to look at me.
Author’s bio:
“I’ve got jelly beans in the car, Charlie,” she Mitch is a poet on the deck of Mozart’s Coffee
says. Roasters in Austin, Texas, writing poems and
micro/short stories for the curious coffee
My eyes open and I rush to the door as the drinkers that catch his eye. He is a recent grad-
light turns green. Mack gets upset and stands uate of Texas State University in San Marcos,
up from his box for the first time as long as I’ve Texas that studied English and political science.
known him. Currently, he delivers food for hungry Aus-
tinites, plays basketball with old timers at his
“Y’all get back to work, Foxtrot!” Mack is local Catholic church, and uses the Oxford com-
shouting at me. “Y’all don’t get in that car!” ma unapologetically.

I panic with my hand on the door handle. I
don’t move and just watch Mack storm to-
wards me.

“Get in the car, Charlie,” Becky softly suggests.

Mack stumbles closer and closer.

“That extra dollar is gonna go if y’all get in that
car, Foxtrot!” Mack shouts.

Mack trips and falls when he approaches me.
He’s a crawl away from grabbing my ankles.
Watching him be so helpless like a puppy
makes me sad. This man needs my help. I’ve
upset him greatly. He’s shouting expletives at
me. I’ve never heard half the words he’s de-
ploying but I obviously deserve them. Mack is a
very tempered man.

And right when I’m about to let go of the door
handle, to help Mack up from the dirty ground,
Becky shouts, “Charlie! Jelly beans!”

THE CHANNEL

by Sean Padraic McCarthy

The tide rushed in through the channel, flood- Jack had met her, but he had seen one once,
ing over the sea bed of small jagged rocks and and the resemblance to Sally was beyond stri-
pebbles. Jack had taken off his flip flops and he king.
tried to step carefully. Ahead of him he could
hear voices—teens a little further down the The water was cold and still clear where it ran
beach—and the shouts of children, his twin over the small rocks, and Jack crouched down
daughters, ten, just across the channel. Look- at the far side of the channel, away from the
ing up he could see their shadows, silhouetted cliffs, away from the shore, to look and see if
against the reds of the setting sun, running he could see any fish. Back on the beach he
about atop the enormous jagged boulder pro- could still see the silhouettes of the teenagers,
jecting out of the sea. The boulder had been posing for pictures, leaning over, bending over,
there since the glaciers retreated, and stood all provocative. But he couldn’t see their faces.
prominent, recognizable in photos taken of the Just the flash from the camera. And he was
beach going back to the mid nineteenth centu- sure as soon as the pictures were taken they
ry. In those photos, and in sketches drawn in would be sent out via Instagram or Facebook.
books even long before that. One he had seen For countless friends to see. The wonders of
going back more than two hundred years, The technology.
King’s Illustrated History of the Harbor at Bos-
ton. Technology. He wondered how many lives,
families, had been ruined by rush of technolo-
Jack was already up past his ankles in the tide, gy. Clarissa and Jack had been married eight-
and he knew that unless they wanted to swim een years. He had proposed to her down here,
back, they would have to make their time out upon the ramparts of a nineteenth century
on the rock short. Behind and if front of him, bastion built upon a hill in the distance over-
fireworks exploded in the air, up and down the looking this beach. There were a lot of memo-
beach. The fireworks were everywhere, and ries on this beach, from childhood—when his
out on the harbor people were lighting them grandparents owned a cottage down here—on.
off their boats. One of the twins, Sally, waved And so many with Clarissa. She and Jack would
her hand over her head, trying to get his atten- take the twins and their older sisters, now
tion; she shouted for him to hurry. Sally looked twelve and fourteen, down here each year a
like their mother; all his girls looked like their day in late April when they all were small, be-
mother, all blonde, blue eyed and petite and fore the warmth and before the crowds, and
beautiful, but Sally did the most. Jack’s wife, let them run about the beach at low tide,
Clarissa, didn’t have many photos of herself squealing and laughing, in the cold sand and
from when she was small, most of them had receding tide, and then take them for a lunch
burned in a fire in her mother’s house the year of chicken tenders and fried clams and scallops,
and then every summer following they would

be back and forth from here to home. Clarissa and Nina with a blue, and Sally’s had bedecked
was type A and high strung and always a visio- herself with red, white and blue strands of
nary, organized and top of everything, and now beads, courtesy of Jack’s mother; they had
she slept in the back bedroom downstairs stopped to see the old woman on the way here
where she lay in the dark and texted and face to the beach. His mother had given them bags
timed her boyfriend. Her hair pulled up in a of homemade cookies and muffins and cans of
palm tree ponytail, and the blue light of the seltzer to bring to the beach, whispered in
television flickering in the space between the Jack’s ear at the door, saying she was worried
door and the floor. Prior to this she had little about him, and it just wasn’t right. And he had
to no time for Facebook, but now she was on it to think of himself, she said, and the girls.
non-stop, messaging. She kept the man’s high Most importantly, he had to think of the girls.
school hockey puck beneath her pillow—as if Jack watched his father fade into the shadows,
she had slipped back into high school herself-- as she whispered, away from the kitchen, pac-
and beside it a print out of local available ing about the house as usual, slow and un-
apartments. steady, locked within the halls of Alzheimer’s
and trying to find a way out.
Now Sally called out again, and Jack stood back
up, and reached for a ledge projecting out of And of course, like with so many things, there
the rock to pull himself up. A spray of light was only one way out.
broke open the sky far above his head, and a
wave lapped the side of the big rock, salt water He wondered if Clarissa were home from work
splashing up and wetting his face. yet—she worked seven a.m. to seven p.m. to-
day--and if so, what she was doing. Rushing
Jack slipped back on his flip flops and contin- out, making the most of her few free hours.
ued to climb. Seaweed clung to the peaks of She had never been much of a dog walker, but
the rock, and he knew if the light were better these days, she walked the dog nightly, gone
he would see it streaming inside the pools and for an hour or more with her phone open as
gullies in the low areas of the boulders. Along she headed down the road. Feeling invisible,
with barnacles, snails, and purple shelled mus- he imagined. As if no could see, or guess, what
sels. The sky was even more magnificent as he she was doing. And then she would disappear
reached the top of the precipice. Layered. to the supermarket, gone for two to three
Streaks of red and orange topped by the grays hours and returning with a small bag of grocer-
of the descending dusk, and then the awaken- ies. Prior to the texting, the calls, a full grocery
ing star lit blues of the heavens above them. shopping for the whole family never took her
Everything soon to fade to black. more than an hour.

The girls had their own phones own phones But the boyfriend wasn’t new. At least not in a
out, and were taking their own pictures with sense. He actually went back twenty-five
the sea, the waves rising and breaking, the fire- years. They had dated when she was in high
works, and sunset in the background. They ran school, 17, and he was already four years out,
about the rock, jumping point to point, ledge and then according to Clarissa, or at least what
to ledge. A few years earlier, watching them, she had told Jack over the years, she had end-
he may have had a heart attack, fearing they ed it with him as he was jobless, video gaming
would fall, but now they were agile and nimble, pothead, going nowhere and was too irrespon-
and if anyone were going to fall, he imagined it sible. But now, since she had started up with
would be him; his head was still foggy from the him on Facebook, that story had changed.
night before. Two whiskey sours and a six pack Now, she said, it was all her mother’s fault. Her
of beer. mother, she said, had made her drive him
away, telling her lies about him. She had ne-
The twins wore red, white and blue bandanas ver known this, she said. Had been in the dark
tied about their legs, Sally with a red sweatshirt

all these years. And now, after he had gotten ses, with people being different, acting just a
in touch with her, and confided in her, she had little different in each one.”
been suddenly awash with feelings she said.
Unresolved feelings. Questioning the life that “And?” Jack said.
could have been. Might’ve been.
“And,” said Sally, looking out the window, out
Jack stood atop the rock. He could see beacon over the marsh. “The universes are colliding.”
on the Boston Light spinning in the far dis-
tance, and further still, the Boston skyline. Sally and Nina had been conceived sub-ground
When he was small there had been an amuse- in the Boston Common Parking Garage follow-
ment park down here across the boulevard ing a five hundred and sixty dollar dinner at the
from the beach, and the greatest of his memo- Four Seasons Hotel, and Jack still almost
ries were when they would stay at his grand- laughed when he thought about it now. Mid-
parent’s cottage and visit the park at night. October, Indian Summer. Clarissa had made a
The echoing voices of the barkers, the haunted video at work with a surgeon she scrubbed
laughter from the Kooky Kastle ride, and the for—a famous surgeon whom had once opera-
rising and falling of the roller coaster, the ted on the Pope—and the surgeon had given
crashing. The park had stood for eighty years her the gift certificate to the Four Seasons as a
before they tore it down ,and at the time it was thank you. Five hundred dollars. Neither Jack
impossible to imagine the town, the beach, nor Clarissa had ever spent even half that on
without the park. But nothing was permanent. dinner, never in their lives, and the wine alone
had run three hundred bucks. Small portions,
Sally looked up at him. “Who has the best transcendental lighting, and a spacious room
ideas?” she asked. with a waiter tending to you every three se-
conds, almost making conversation impossible.
“The best?” he asked. It seemed like someone was always there, al-
ways listening. Not that Jack believed the wait
“It was my idea to come here,” she said. staff actually cared enough to eavesdrop, but
still it felt that way. And he and Clarissa were
“You do, of course,” Jack said. “You always do.” talking about having another baby. One more,
and that would be it. They already had two.
And he wasn’t lying. She did. A little girl al-
ways thinking. They had held hands in the dark on their way
across the Public Gardens. A martini and the
Just on the drive down to the beach she had bottle of wine, and both half drunk. Autumn
confided in him as to why, she believed, the already settled, the flowers all gone. Clarissa
year so far had been strange, people not acting had pulled him close and kissed him just inside
like themselves. They were driving through the gates of the Common, in the shadows of
Hingham, the bright grass of the salt marsh on the old burial ground, and Jack couldn’t re-
either side dimming in the dusk, and the blue member whose idea it had been to climb into
of the Weir River winding through like a sneak. the back of the mini-van once in the garage,
and not wait until home, but they had. First
“Like who?” just with Clarissa’s skirt hiked up around her
hips, but then within minutes, the windows
She was quiet, a moment. “Like everyone. All completely steamed, she had everything off,
over the country.” riding frantically atop of him, crying out and
biting her lower lip. Then, after she came, still
“And why do you think it is?” Jack asked. coming, collapsed exhausted and trembling,
she rolled over, and pulled him down on top of
“Because of the multi-universe.” her.

“The multi-universe?” Jack asked, playing
along.

“Yah,” she said, “There are millions of univer-

The pregnancy test showed positive, and then he kept saying. When one identical dies, the
soon after it had become a roller coaster night- other always follows, the studies show it over
mare pregnancy. She had phoned him at work, and over. If there is something wrong with
asked him if he were sitting down. And then one, the same thing is almost always wrong
she had told him that the one more they had with the other. You’ll come in for the ultra-
planned had become three, and then after sound next week, he said again, and there will
brief near heart attacks and coming to terms only be one.
with the reality of triplets, they had gone for
one of their routine ultrasounds only to be told But it never happened. There never was just
by affectless technician that they had lost the one.
third. Jack had felt himself collapse inside, and
Clarissa still on the table, with the with the And then months later after a last minute deci-
ultrasound fluid still all over her already large, sion for an emergency C-section-- baby two
exposed belly, had started to sob. Then they was heading bum first into the birth canal, was
had met with the doctor, and he had started to going to end up stuck, and she would die, and
cry, too. A sensitive obstetrician. Worse news Clarissa might bleed out—it was baby one, Sal-
was coming, he said, he was ninety-nine per- ly, that ended up stuck, wedged beneath Claris-
cent sure they were going to lose the second sa’s rib cage.
baby, the triplet’s identical, the girl who would
be Nina, too. Jack had watched the doctor look at the nurse,
silently shake his head, and then saw the
After the man composed himself, he offered to nurse’s eyes shoot to the clock. It may have
terminate Nina, too, to do a selective redu- just been a matter of minutes, but it seemed
ction, to save them worry, stress. To beat the like an eternity, and by the time they got Sally
inevitable to the finish line. out, she was gray and limp and dangling.
Clarissa couldn’t see, and Jack didn’t speak, but
Clarissa had stopped crying then. Stoic, and he gripped her hand and waited as he watched
cold. Jack could almost swear he could see the them massage the baby’s heart on the metal
tears dry instantaneously on her cheeks. “So table across the room. And then he saw a
you’re telling me I should kill my baby?” she twitch, and then he heard a cry.
said.
Clarissa, still sedated, and still looking as if she
The man took a deep breath. “Not kill. Selec- had been cut in two, asked the doctor if he
tive reduction. To prevent the inevitable.” could bring them to her, she wanted to hold
them.
“Well, how are we going to prevent it if we’re
making it happen anyway?” she asked. That was the Clarissa Jack knew.

“I’m thinking of you,” the man said. “Both of That was the Clarissa he married.
you. You don’t need the stress. It might be
best to focus on one healthy baby, you’re going Now on the far side of the rocks, the tide still
to have one healthy baby.” swelling, there were shadows in the water.
First just shadows beneath the rolling gray sur-
“And you think I’m going to have less stress if I face, still reflecting the sun, and then tails, then
kill the other?” Clarissa said, and with that she whiskers, then snouts. The twins began to
had belted her coat and stood and left the shout. Three seals, doing acrobatics in rising
office, Jack following behind. swells. When Jack was growing up, the sighting
of a seal would’ve made front pages news.
After that, the doctor had told them for weeks, Now like the deer on land, they were every-
each week following that, that they would re- where.
turn to find they just had one baby. Inevitable,


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Adelaide Literary Magazine No.16, September 2018
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