How to End Your Marriage by David Lerner Schwartz

Final Girl (How to End)

  1. Open the Bible.
  2. Remember Mass and hear your father tell you, “Gracie, it’s because of God we’re on this planet; pay your respects, Sweetheart, to something bigger than yourself.”
  3. Balance the closed tome on its spine; hold it up with the poise of an introvert. Look at the clock and wait until it strikes three, and then
  4. let the pages fall
  5. so that they gain mass and become heavy, and are, quite literally, out of your hands, their gravity like the weight of the flat line of your father’s passing through the thick, cement walls of a hospital waiting room.
  6. Take a breath, and
  7. read the passage that’s been chosen for you: SO SHALL YOUR JUDGMENT BE; it says, YOU YOURSELF HAVE DECIDED IT. You nod, a willing congregation.
  8. Chant the words in your head like a mantra; let them lift you, and
  9. float through the study into the bedroom where you find your husband. Flick on the light. He’ll flinch, burying his nose into a bed you haven’t really ever slept in.
  10. Pull out a suitcase and gather enough clothes for about a week—you’ll stay at April’s—but keep that pulsing passage in your heart. Fold the garments carefully. It’s dark, now; you’ll deal with wrinkles later.
  11. “It’s the middle of the night—” he’ll slur with sleep in his throat. You won’t answer because it’s not a question.
  12. “God,” he’ll say. Think back to all the three AMs you’ve spent together: in the beginning, at bars, drunk with friends or high on Ambien (well, not him, he was always too scared), but, soon enough those three AMs became pure panting and dry heaving, not from sex, but from stony indecision.
  13. Find your passport. Grab your wallet. Hold back tears because this is not your father’s funeral. This is just a leaving.
  14. Close the suitcase. He’ll whisper, “What’re you doing?” “Go back to sleep,” you’ll say, because it is a question. Briefly feel guilty, and realize this is how you felt when you asked your brother to give the eulogy instead.
  15. Pick up the suitcase and feel its weight. You could use some help lifting it, but your husband will just lie there.
  16. Struggle down the stairs, knowing that you would have mustered up this courage years ago. You would have packed your bags in a fervor and thrown divorce papers in his face as evidence of his inattentiveness, his milquetoast inability, but this was never your choice, not while your father was alive; if your dad had known, he would have purged the glazed-over looks of your husband’s, expunged those empty stares directed towards long-legged waitresses, the ones with darker skin, with smoother lines, glossed up and sealed like the wood varnish on the floor of the cathedral. And so, instead of choosing conflict during your dad’s dying years, you will now creep out so silently in the middle of the night as if you are woman who simply cannot decide.
  17. You take a breath, and
  18. with suitcase at your side, shut the door to your tired mausoleum. Finally resurrected, remember that Christ’s three blank days are nothing compared to missing a man you loved in lieu of a man you would love to miss.

 

 

David Lerner Schwartz lives in Austin, TX where he designs products and services for various industries and performs improv throughout the state. David graduated from Tufts University in 2013 and most recently studied at the Kenyon Writers Workshop in Gambier, OH.

Announcing our Spring illustrator: FINAL GIRL

Final Girl street paintI am beyond thrilled to announce that the anonymous (and awesome!) Appalachian street artist FINAL GIRL has graciously agreed to allow us to illustrate our April WOMEN issue using her fantastic images.

As for her art, she says, “I have to do it or I’ll die.” You can read a brief manifesto (of sorts) here and view many of her images at her Tumblr page and Like her on Facebook.

Final Girl (Aerial Spray)And stay tuned for the April issue!

Prison-Orange Bandolinos by Mitzi McMahon

Final Girl (Prison Orange)

Miranda figured she had twelve hours until her world imploded.

She crept along, on her way home from work, the car ahead moving at a snail’s pace on the rain-slicked road. The ever-earlier darkness strained her fatigued eyes. She slipped by bus stops and gas stations and houses she’d passed a thousand times before while her mind darted into corners, seeking a solution on how to return the fifty thousand dollars she’d borrowed from work. It had seemed so simple: use the unauthorized check to stave off imminent foreclosure on home equity loans, then quietly put the money back.

Sweat pricked her hairline as she negotiated a hairpin bend in the two-lane road. Holiday lights in her periphery triggered a reminder of the costume waiting to be assembled for her daughter’s upcoming school play. She should have taken care of the costume last week instead of spending her evenings hunting the daily flash deals at MyHabit. She tamped down the self-reproach and concentrated, instead, on the crisis at hand, willing a resolution to emerge from the surrounding shadows. There had to be a way to fix this. Twinkling reindeer lights pulled at her, promising distraction, and before she could muster a defense, her mind escaped into the bright lights of the high-end department stores and their endless offerings. Silk pajamas, cashmere sweaters, 1000-thread-count bedding: textiles for every mood, every occasion. Last month’s lowest-prices-of-the-season shopping frenzy had been delicious. She’d emptied her daughter’s college account to fund the excursion, and the acknowledgement dimmed her momentary joy.

Miranda refocused on the road, her fingers locked around the steering wheel. She drove for several miles this way—past the Dollar Store, past the red-bricked bank that quietly denied her request for a personal loan last week—while mentally searching for a miracle. She dismissed the drained emergency-home-repair account, the nine maxed out credit cards, and paused at the fake surgery option, but quickly rejected it. How many bone spur removals, frozen shoulder repairs, and wisdom teeth extractions could she expect her mother to buy? With her shoulders bunched at her ears, she accelerated through the intersection at Virginia Street and reiterated her mantra: calm and focused gets the job done.

She was out of time. Tomorrow was a new month; the books would be reconciled, the missing money discovered. A finger of fear tapped on her spine. She drew a breath, deep and deeper still. The radio was on low but a snippet of melody caught her attention and, just like that, she was in a canoe with her husband. She breathed in the scene: sun warming her face, their shared laughter as they splashed each other with water, a picnic of grapes and cheese waiting on the beach. Looming red disks pierced the memory, and she hit the brakes, the car thudding to a stop. As her adrenalin slowed, irony bloomed. Soliciting her husband’s help wasn’t an option; the days of sun-drenched tenderness were long gone. In its place echoed his supplications to corral her mounds of in-progress cross-stitch projects, to purge her piles of clothes and books.

She reached across to the passenger seat and dug blindly through her purse, searching for chapstick. Her attempts were clumsy and ineffective, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the road for more than a few seconds at a time. She gave up, frustrated, and shoved the bag onto the floor, cursing the chapstick, the traffic, the gigantic mess before her. What she needed was a time out, like those she administered to her kids when they misbehaved. Hers would be welcomed, though, used to stop time so she could think. A little breathing room. If she could talk to someone, her boss, her boss’s boss, explain how she got here. She’d tell them about the itch for something new because it was the perfect color or precise shape, how the craving grew until it overtook her, the insistence pressing pressing, the anxiety that swelled to atomic proportions, the sweet release of holding the purchase in her hand.

Traffic moved again and Miranda pressed lightly on the accelerator. The distance between her and the car ahead lengthened as she drove, unseeing. A soundtrack looped in her head, her mother’s voice mixed with her husband’s: Can you follow through, please? Where’s your head? Why is everything always a mess? At Kentucky Street, she blinked and blew out a breath. She would prove herself worthy; she would fix this disaster, make a payment plan, get things back on track. She squared her shoulders, then checked the mirrors. The tail lights from passing cars left faint streaks along the wet pavement and the effect pulled her back to the nights when she’d scoured the cityscape learning nighttime photography. Staking out a vantage point on the I94 overpass, calculating moonrise over downtown skylines, light painting the Old Soldier statues marching through Monument Square. Life seemed simpler then. If she had her gear with her, she could leave this behind and escape into the world of long exposures.

As she approached Highway C, she switched lanes and got into line. Going northbound regularly required a long wait. She thought of her granddad Oscar—Oscar the grouch, they called him. He hadn’t always been surly. She remembered the times when she was young, back before every inch of space in his house became choked with stuff, they’d walked to A&W, the sun hot overhead and his stride slowed to match hers, how they’d sat on picnic tables and shared a root beer float.

The dash-embedded clock glowed orange-red against the darkened interior, and as the minutes crept onward, panic cinctured Miranda’s belly. She knew there was a solution, there always was. She needed only to relax and let it come. Flashes of her scheduled life intruded—her son’s soccer game on Saturday, the dinner party at her sister’s house afterward—but she refused them with a decisive shake of her head. She had to right this before her kids found out. She cracked the window, swallowed against the rising bile, and conjured up soothing images: skipping rocks across the lake, mashed potatoes and cornbread, the perfect sunrise photo. Would sunrise hold the answer? In those moments right before daybreak, when the world was asleep and the day’s congestion still at bay, everything was possible.

When her turn came, Miranda merged onto the highway with a quick glance in the rearview mirror to confirm she’d allowed enough room. She half expected to find flashing red lights chasing her down. Ahead, the sea of oncoming headlights sent pinpricks to the backs of her eyes. She traveled several blocks, then maneuvered into the median’s left-turn lane while her brain served up inventory for Saturday’s assigned dessert: chocolate chips, tapioca pudding, graham cracker crust, gummy bears.

She sat, warm and dry in a cocoon, while cars raced by in both directions. The road ahead curved upward in a gentle slope. Think, she demanded. She heard the honking horn as the metal bars of a jail cell clanking shut. When the sound morphed into an insistent bleating, she startled and refocused. With a mumbled apology at the rearview, she inched forward.

Eleven hours and counting. The finger tapping Miranda’s spine became a fist, pummeling her. Desperation clogged her throat and dampened her armpits, and when a primal urge to turn the car around and head to the mall gripped her, she nearly laughed out loud. Wouldn’t a new pair of Bandolino heels be the perfect answer? Even better: a pair in prison orange. She looked dully at the unbroken path of approaching cars, then flicked her eyes at the night sky, and for the briefest of seconds, she searched for a focal point, something to highlight the frame of stars.

She sat, her spine rigid, her breaths shallow as the minutes ticked by, relentless. How had she allowed this to happen? She swiped her bangs out of her eyes, then slammed the heel of her hand against the steering wheel. She expected her head to blow any minute, like a teakettle. The wave of oncoming cars appeared endless. Maybe, she thought, she should have listened when her husband suggested therapy.

Lulled by exhaustion and the hum of passing cars, she sank into a void, one where the weight on her shoulders vanished and her mind unfurled. She’d been here before; it was welcoming, comforting. She eyed the continuous lines of bright lights and thought: what if?

She eased her foot from the brake to the gas pedal and marveled at how something so powerful could feel so invisible beneath her shoe. She hovered there, between the known and the unknown. Images swirled like glossy snapshots: her daughter’s ribboned braids, heaps of past-due notices, family dinners, QVC delivery boxes, concrete cells. They all coalesced, building, building, and in that moment of white-hot pressure an understanding surfaced. She looked over her shoulder, seized an opening, and shot back out into the northbound traffic.

At Howell Avenue she turned east. The road was narrow and sparsely lit, and the space between houses gradually grew until there was nothing but empty fields on either side. When the entrance to the rock quarry materialized, she slowed and rolled onto the gravel drive. A half mile later, Miranda veered to the right, past giant bulldozers and mute dump trucks, following the curve of the canyon until she could drive no more. Swinging out, she angled the car, nose first, toward the chasm. A flick of a button lowered all the windows, and the silence, expectant and weighty, washed over her.

Miranda extinguished both interior and exterior lights and drank in the vast night sky, reveling in the fixed points of light, pure and bright, like her children. The view intoxicated her. The pinpoints seemed to expand, a deliberate odyssey, drawing her in. She wished for her camera in order to capture the ethereal beauty, wished she could showcase how the fixed points weren’t fixed at all, rather, they blazed a trail home.

She sat this way, in the glow, for several beats while the stillness pulsed in her ears. She inhaled, a deep-through-the-belly intake, then placed her palm on the gear shaft. Acceptance trickled through her, warm, certain, and she closed her eyes. She imagined the thrill of the stars rushing toward her, enveloping her, imagined their effulgent tips bending and smearing as she dragged her fingers through them, the silky sky a panorama of bleeding white.

 

 

 

Mitzi McMahon lives in Wisconsin, near Lake Michigan, where she writes fiction and chases the light, camera in hand. Her fiction has appeared in over two dozen publications, including The Bitter Oleander, The Summerset Review, The Santa Fe Literary Review, and The Evansville Review. Her photographic work has appeared or is forthcoming in Marathon Literary Review and Apeiron Review. She holds a BA in Business.

The Way it Really Was by Ann Goldsmith

Final Girl street paint

From the beginning he got
all the perks, the glitz:
The Big Originator
            The Fomenting Father
                        Chairman of the Universe.
Creations erupted from his eyebrows,
his toenails. He sneezed
and the tides surged.

Where absence had been
he touched the Nothing into color,
motion, music. Clouds, red moons, geysers.
Time’s metronomic wink.

But no shadows. No reflections.
Last Moments, not yet.
Things colliding before they cooled,
mountain into mountain,
plain into pleated cliff. When,

in swirls of protoplasm, sea grass,
he rolled out animals and humans,
it wasn’t long before teeth
began to gnaw on unrestrained
succulence. Feasting everywhere
but no time to digest.

For the first few eons he was too
giddy to even glance
in my direction.
It took wearying periods of steady gazing
to temper the furious pace
of his fiery consummations.

Where would being be,
I tried to show, without a place
for roots and refinements? For rest?
No one mentions me, but
I was the one who mirrored it all back
until he began to see.

 

 

Ann Goldsmith‘s second book of poems, THE SPACES BETWEEN US, appeared in April 2010. She won the Quarterly Review of Literature’s Poetry Prize for her first book, NO ONE IS THE SAME AGAIN. Goldsmith holds a doctorate from the University of Buffalo, where she taught English for ten years. She has also served on the faculties of D’Youville and St. Trocaire Colleges, and worked as Western New York Coordinator for ALPS, a statewide poetry-in-the-schools organization. She has served as poet-in-residence at the Chautauqua Institution, and taught writing at Buffalo’s Trinity Center, which granted her an Excellence in Teaching Award. Her recently completed book of poems, WAITING AT THE TURN, is looking for a publisher.

Interview with Annie Bolger

Annie Tv

Allison Hrabar: Tell me about why you first started writing.

Annie Bolger: I think I started writing from a young age. My parents always encouraged me to write, and they’ve kept copies of a lot of my earliest work, including one poem called “Frog of Thunder.” I’m pretty sure one of the lines — I was thinking of this earlier today — was “he’s evil but charming! He’s one alarming frog.” There’s a couple of other gems there — I wrote one about bourgeoisie cookies. I just sort of went crazy with a rhyming dictionary, and I thought that was poetry.

So that was me as a kid, and I think I got self conscious as I got older, so I stopped. I wrote occasionally through high school, and then in college I started writing again because I took a course on poetry and stories told through verse. That really inspired me: “oh, there’s a thing in my life! I want to write a sonnet about it!” And so I did, and it was a really fun, validating way of expressing myself. So I took a couple of classes in creative writing, and that was that.

 

AH: How was writing in classes different than writing on your own?

AB: When I’m not writing in a class, I only write when I’m inspired. “Oh, this really dramatic thing happened to me, I must write about it!” Then I’ll sit down and rhyme through it. And that’s kind of interesting, because there’s usually something that’s important enough to me that forces me to sit down and work through it through poetry, but the problem with that is that I only write poems on those certain sets of experiences, and those don’t happen very frequently. When I’m in a workshop, I’m obviously forced to crank something out. So if I’m having trouble, I have to go different sources of information and find different ways of approaching something. It forces me to stretch my brain and stretch my writing in ways I don’t always do outside of classes.

 

AH: And has writing so constantly changed your perspective or style?

AB: Yeah, it really has. It’s made me be a bit more disciplined writer. It’s made me realize that you don’t always have to wait for this inspiration, that sometimes it’s better to just sit down and try to write something. Even if nothing’s coming, just try it for like five, ten, fifteen minutes. I’ve gotten more used to that process of being stuck and having to write through it.

 

AH: Is there a particular topic you write about a lot?

AB: I guess I write a lot about connections and relationships. I like to analyze moments of my life a lot. Something will happen, and I’ll attempt to examine it from many angles.

 

AH: Go into that a little more. Why do you like to write about those things?

AB: I think I like to write about them because I like to think about them, and I also don’t really like to act on things. Sometimes I think poetry is a bit of a way of dwelling on something without actually having to take action on it, which sounds bad. But I think it’s a way of also working through things and trying to see them more thoroughly. How would I tell this in a sonnet form, how would I tell this in free verse. How do I make this experience rhyme?

 

AH: So poetry has become a way for you to process things?

AB: Yeah, definitely. And then I can look back and look at a collection of work that I’ve made and say, “Wow, I was feeling these feelings at a time.”

 

AH: What does it feel like to look back on something that you felt very strongly about?

AB: I would say my attention definitely goes to different things. When I’m very much in the moment, I’ll be focused on a certain line and think, “That line was so powerful,” and I’ll focus less on lines that are just trying to get on their way there. So I’ll be revisiting a poem and think, wow, that line doesn’t quite make sense. Or, that line is kind of funny. That’s where this poem ended up. It’s always a new experience, because I’m much less in the heat of the moment, so it’s a little clearer to see how that experience was communicated to someone who was not in it like I was.

 

AH: Is it hard for you to, especially in class, to share what you’re still processing? Has that become easier as you’re writing more?

AB: Well, everyone is class is very careful about not saying, “Oh, you say this,” or “You said, ‘I am really sad right now’ in your poem, you should say that in a different way.” Instead, people make a point to say that the speaker said this or that, sometimes to a funny extent. I think that when I start pulling out poems that are more personal, it’s been towards the end of a workshop when I feel like I’m surrounded by this community of people that are supportive and know my work. They might know me a little bit, but not too well, so I feel safe sharing those poems. We’re all there with the understanding that we’re all poets, so we can share things, but we want feedback on our work.

 

AH: Is there any advice you’d give to other young poets in college?

AB: I guess I would say that you’re probably going to write a lot of bad poetry. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not enjoyable to write it, and it doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile to do it. I very much have a fear of writing bad poetry, or not writing good poetry. And so I think getting past that has been really important to me as a writer. And don’t necessarily look for validation outside for your work. You can seek that, but it can also come from within.

 

AH: Tell me more about your collection.

AB: So, I recently wrote and published a handmade collection of books entitled Dated. It’s a pun: it’s about the classical world and romance. I am a classics major as well as an English major, so it combines my love of Greek and Roman and old stuff with my feelings about love. It was a really fun exploration of this academic side of my life and this intensely personal side of my life. It was really validating and fulfilling being able to combine those in this creative project.

 

AH: What was it like physically making your own books?

AB: It was very meditative and obviously very hands-on. It was very gratifying. I had to teach myself how to make the books. How to do pamphlet style, how to stitch it. I went through a couple different versions of the books, and I actually individually tea stained and poured salt on all of the pages. I was able to survey each and every single poem in each and every single version of it. Each book in the collection has turned out a little differently because of that. I think that that has given me this physical, tactile relationship with my poetry that I had never really experienced before. It’s much different than printing out twelve copies and handing them out to the class. When I hold my books, I’m holding on to my poems, and I can see my life’s work right there.

 

 

Allison Hrabar is an Honors student at Swarthmore College studying political science and film. In addition to working tirelessly as News Editor for The Daily Gazette, she is a producer at War News Radio, a Swarthmore project dedicated to covering international conflict. She spends her spare time convincing people to watch The Americans (Wednesdays at 10pm on FX) and dreaming of writing for The A.V. Club.

 

Homepage Spring 2015

Final Girl Cover Image
All images appear in this issue courtesy of the Appalachian street artist, FINAL GIRL.

Dear Readers,

Welcome to our Spring 2015 “WOMEN” issue. We’re incredibly proud to present to you the wonderful and diverse array of voices in this issue, all complemented by the beautiful street art of FINAL GIRL which she has graciously donated for this issue.

I’m thrilled with the way it all came together.  A big thank you to my devoted editors and readers and especially to our contributors who trusted us to bring their work out into the world. Also, thanks for the gorgeous artwork, FINAL GIRL. You made each piece pop just a little bit more.

I’m thinking a lot about recovery these days, as my son just lost a close friend in a car accident over the weekend. Mike Dmochowski was a shining star of a kid, on his way to good things, with his pick of colleges and swim teams. He was returning from a day-long recruitment trip, in fact. He could literally see his future opening up before him. And now he is gone. How do we make sense of that? How do the ones left behind recover? How do we ever?

Our July issue will have the (loosely interpreted) theme of FISHING and our October issue will have the theme of GOODWILL. As always, thanks for reading.

Yours in Recovery,

Mary Akers
Editor-in-chief

Laundry by Kate McCorkle

 

Final Girl.blue with heart

We were married eleven days when I finally started the laundry on a beautiful autumn morning. We—my new husband and I—hadn’t been living in the same part of the country, let alone the same house, before the wedding. He was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and I loved Chicago.

I had seen the townhouse Jason rented for us off the base in Clarksville, Tennessee, once before our New England marriage: a destination set by our parents’ residencies. I came to unload my things from the city. Jason remained there, getting us settled, while I spent two weeks before the wedding with my family.

When we came home to this place after our wedding and honeymoon, we opened a door to chaos. Since Jason had been living locally with two other lieutenants, he moved his household piecemeal, dumping trash bags of clothes and shoving furniture into any open space. My items from Chicago were treated similarly—books stacked atop dishes because they were in containers anyway. Boxed childhood treasures and housewares shipped from my parents’ home were stowed in every corner. Meticulously packaged wedding presents also arrived daily: When Jason brought them inside, he removed just enough tissue and peanuts or bubble wrap to determine the contents, then left the boxes open, burping their packaging, and now leaving them useless for stacking.

Getting dressed that first morning after the honeymoon—playing search-and-rescue with my clothes—was an ordeal. Corrugated cardboard made a labyrinth of the small townhouse. Bags of clothes competed with wads of packaging paper for floor space. Finding the box cutter was a good game. It was supposed to be returned to the lone window sill after use, but rarely was. An army of trash bags stuffed with Styrofoam peanuts resided under the back deck; they had to be doled out one each garbage day because that’s all the workers would take. Despite this bedlam, all our things—and we—were under one roof. Our life together would begin.

The second morning back, eleven days into the marriage, I was finally ready to start washing clothes.

Home laundry was a novelty. In the city, I had cabbed it to Laundromats, praying there would be enough open washers and dryers to finish the work in one shift. I stayed nearby to ensure nobody hijacked my machine mid-cycle for their own dirty clothes—or because they wanted mine. It was a victory when laundry only sucked three hours from my day.

The freedom to load the washer, then go about my business, was luxurious. While I couldn’t simultaneously run three machines like I did at the Laundromat, I hated being chained to my wash even more and disliked the constant surveillance that prevented me from enjoying a book.

My new liberty didn’t mean I now liked laundry, however, particularly since bulky man-garments entered the mix. One pair of Jason’s camos—his BDUs, for “battle dress uniform”—took up half a load. There was also a legion of foul brown socks. I debated making him wash his own clothes.

The washer and dryer had been his grandmother’s as recently as six months ago. She had died that winter, and the kids and grandkids made off with whatever wasn’t nailed down. My husband had wanted her Army medals—she had been a nurse stationed in London during the Blitz—as well as those of his grandfather, a World War II pilot, but the pacifist uncle took those. Jason drove out of Ohio with her washer and dryer, and various paintings of prairie animals and cavalry battles. It turned out the dryer was broken, but we didn’t learn that until after he hooked it up in the townhouse.

Because it was a beautiful fall morning, I found some twine and strung it around the back deck to create a makeshift clothesline. I looped it around green plastic chairs, the deck railing, and whatever was there. Anything big, like towels, would drag, but smaller items would be okay. They should dry, at least.

About twenty feet past the deck steps, across a sloped, weedy lawn, was a little creek. I had never walked those twenty feet to see just how little. Cottonmouths were down there. Occasionally, even during my brief residence on Rose Drive, we would see their run-over bodies in the road, having slithered up from the creek, perhaps seeking the sun. I was probably fine on the deck, but in those early days the cottonmouths were one more reason to dislike this place.

One load of wash—my things alone—was already drying on the makeshift line. Another load spun in the machine. I could tackle a box now, and maybe find the pots and pans, or my jeans, or my dictionary.

The phone rang. It was my mom. I assumed she wanted to chat about my honeymoon travels or how I fared with unpacking. Instead, she asked if I was watching TV. Something good must be on Regis. I started to explain about the laundry as I searched for the remote, but she cut me off. She said to put the TV on. Just on. My stomach clenched. Any channel. Turn on the TV. The World Trade Center was smoking. A plane had accidentally flown into it. This was insane. This was horrifying. This was surreal. After the second plane, we knew. Not an accident.

“Is Jason at work?” she asked.

“Yeah. Yes. Today’s his first day back,” I answered.

“Is his bag packed?”

“His bag?” I asked. “What—”

“His bag, his bag,” my mom sputtered. “He’ll need his things: his bag, his whatever—Does he have what he needs?”

“I don’t know,” I said lamely, looking around our living room with its clothes piles, and paper piles, and half-unpacked boxes, and wedding presents atop and under stacks of books. It looked like a bomb had gone off in here, but no; clearly one had not.

My mom said to yank whatever was in the washer, and get his uniforms in pronto.

I started crying. “We don’t have a dryer,” I sobbed. “His uniforms will never dry in time. I strung a line, but it’s crappy, and there are snakes and—”

“Kate,” my mom demanded, “Get his uniforms in the wash. Start with the t-shirts and socks. Do it now. I’ll stay on the phone. GO.”

I cradled the phone, ear to shoulder, and pulled my dripping shorts and tops from the washer, slopping them onto cracked linoleum. I threw fistfuls of pitted brown and gray T-shirts into the machine. As futility and fear shut down parts of my cerebral cortex, hands grabbed clothes and poured detergent. In the numb shutdown, a circuit sparked: This is what I do I do what is in front of me, I do laundry, one piece, one piece.

I could do laundry.

Drilling down to something specific, mercifully tedious and mundane, let me take the smallest action. We were falling in a bottomless abyss, but I could hang clothes on twine. I could have his uniform ready. No official phone calls came in, but the rumors were already flying. The unit would be gone, gone, gone. He would have clean camo; many clean socks. I would crush cottonmouths under bare feet. There was work to be done.

It was dark when I hung the final pair of BDUs. I knew they wouldn’t dry at night, but by then, that wasn’t the point.

Years later, with the small, dear clothing of four added to the mix, I still dislike doing the laundry: the perpetual sorting, carrying, loading, washing, moving, drying, folding, re-sorting, and putting away. It’s not hell, just an everlasting purgatory. Yet, when the smaller abysses and fissures crack open, laundry is the closest I get to real prayer.

 

 

Kate McCorkle works as a freelance writer and editor because life is not crazy enough with four children under eight, a husband, and a mutt from Clarksville, TN. A graduate of The College of the Holy Cross and The University of Chicago, her work has appeared in Free State Review, the Newer York, Darkhouse Books, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Crab Fat Literary Magazine, The Rain, Party, and Disaster Society, and Apiary Online. She lives outside Philadelphia with said menagerie and swims to stave off insanity.

On This Day, The Weight of Chronic Illness by Michelle Hanlon

Final Girl door in trees
I am going to brush my teeth.

I am going to eat a banana.

Then. I am going to write a to-do list. I will not go overboard and put a whole bunch of things on it because I plan to accomplish all of the things on that list.

I can do this. When I feel hung up today, or in the next hour, or in the next 10 minutes, I will tell myself…I can do this.

I will say, “You can do this.”

I will scrunch my toes on the tile as I stand in front of the fridge to remind myself how awesome it is to walk around. I will feel the tile’s coolness and texture with my toes, and really acknowledge how awesome each of my little piggies are. And legs. Thank you legs.

I will remind myself that this is a marathon, this is the hand I have been dealt, this is a part of my reality.

I will not feel pity for myself because it is the 4th of July and I want to go light things on fire and watch them explode in colors, and I want to be around others and hear the murmur of conversations and waves of laughter swell and fade and swell again. If I need to cry, I will do it. Once. But I will not stay there.

I will take a shower. Because I am gross—I mean really gross.

I am at the bottom of an abandoned well. No one is coming to save me and it’s up to me to claw my way out, all the way to the top. It is gray and dank and there are no places to really grip or any footholds to dig my toes into. The piece of visible sky is overcast and so far away. It is lonely down there, and I feel like I have nothing to draw upon.

The weight of emptiness is heavy.

I will tell myself, “You can do this.”

I am going to enjoy sitting in the shower as the water falls on me. I will stay in that moment and enjoy it and not think about the process of getting out of the shower or getting dressed or the fact that I still need to brush my teeth.

When I am brushing my teeth I will think, you are standing here and that is enough.

 

 

Michelle Hanlon is a compulsive list maker. Some of her favorite things: summer nights in West Texas, the first sip of coffee on a dark morning, and the Oxford comma. Her work can be seen in apt. and Burningword Literary Journal.

Aerial Spray by Courtney Craggett

Final Girl (Aerial Spray)

A little boy stands at his window in Scooby Doo pajamas and wet hair. He touches his fingers to the glass and feels the Texas summer hot against his skin. Downstairs his parents yell at each other, and tomorrow his father will move out, but in his hand tonight he clutches his first tooth, small and white and sharp, and he waits.

Tonight the tooth fairy will die, under a spray of chemicals sent to end the West Nile Virus.

If he had only lost his tooth last spring, had let his father yank it out when he offered, but he didn’t and this summer in Texas the West Nile Virus spread like a dust storm and a little girl died in a hospital bed and the city said that enough was enough, something had to be done. Protestors said there were other ways, but the city asked how many people had to die. They filled the sky with shining lights and helicopters that rained chemicals down over the streets, and they told the children to stay inside and shut their windows until the aerial spray was over. They must have forgotten about the fairies.

The little boy knows the tooth fairy will try to come. She will ignore the city warnings and will fly through the aerial spray to reach him, like she has flown every night to reach children. And she will die. The little boy knows she will die. He sees her struggling against the chemicals that cling like lead to her wings and fill her lungs. He sees her coughing, sputtering. A plate shatters downstairs. The little boy’s fist tightens around the tooth and a drop of blood appears on his palm.

Tomorrow he will search the woods for the tooth fairy. His mother will dress him in long sleeves and gloves to keep the chemicals from his skin. She will look relieved to send him out to play and will tell him to stay as long as he wants. She will say she is sure the tooth fairy is not dead, only distracted, but the little boy will know better. The woods will be silent, and the little boy will look under rocks and logs for trails of golden fairy dust, but he will find nothing but dead frogs and insects. He will build a fairy house in case the tooth fairy really is alive and needs a place to rest. He will rinse the house in the creek to wash the poison from it and will carpet it with pine needles and build a bed of twigs. He will hang curtains made of leaves from the windows to shelter the house in case the helicopters come again with their aerial spray.

Tonight, though, the little boy waits in his bedroom. He whispers to the tooth fairy not to come, but he knows he is too late. He stands at his window and listens.

Listens to the yelling.

Listens to the poison rain.

Listens to the fairy wings that beat faintly, and fall.

 
Courtney Craggett is a doctoral candidate in creative writing and Chicano/a literature at the University of North Texas, where she teaches English and has served as the Assistant Fiction Editor for the American Literary Review.  Her fiction appears in Mid-American Review, Washington Square Review, and Word Riot.  Her reviews appear monthly in American Microreviews and Interviews. 

Nine Months of Peanut Butter by Sara Dutilly

Final Girl (How to End)

38 Weeks

You have a spoon in your hand. Now all you need is peanut butter to fulfill the craving that you’ve had for minutes that seem like days. After 260 days, you’re ready to send your child off to kindergarten, but she hasn’t been born yet so all you can do is dip your spoon into the almost empty jar, get all you can, then lick that peanut butter and make this day a little sweeter.

On your kitchen table is the baby name book your mom dropped off months ago and wanted to go through with you. You know it would mean a lot to her, but she already “helped” you pick out the nursery colors. You want to pick out the name yourself.

 

-1 Day

Stacey was in the bathroom when the unsuspecting father asked you to dance. You don’t know his name. You just call him Chris. He had a condom, but apparently your high school health teacher was right: condoms are not a sure thing! You were horny and he said you were beautiful; he said your body was a wonderland and then something about the Cheshire Cat.

You told Stacey that you would get a ride home with Chris.

“Who?” She asked.

You pointed your head in his direction, and Stacey asked how much you had had to drink.

A few, not a lot. You were still standing weren’t you?

You were still standing, but not for long.

She told you to wait a minute; she had to talk to this guy before you left with him. She came back a few minutes later with two shots of Jack Daniels. She handed you one. You tapped your tiny glasses together and shot down the burning liquid. Stacey winked and said, “Be good” as you dropped your glass on the floor and stumbled away.

The next morning you woke up and there was a note. “Had to run. Call me later. 902-5873.” You went back to sleep and woke up when Housekeeping knocked. You jumped out of bed and grabbed your purse. A short woman with dark curly hair opened the door, plugged in her vacuum, looked in your direction and said in her far-from-English accent, “You okay, miss?”

 

8 Weeks

Your breasts became sore and you were missing something you didn’t like to talk about. You took a test and now you never look at positive the same way.

You told Stacey first. She didn’t believe you. You didn’t believe you either.

“That guy at the club?” she asked.

“Has to be,” you said.

Stacey told you to take at least two more pregnancy tests. She said that you can never be sure until you get the same result from a few of them; she said that Amanda’s was positive the first time, too.

But all three of yours said the same thing. Blue plus sign.

You remembered that Stacey talked to him before you left the club, so you asked what he was like.

She said he was blond and cute. She had been drunk, and her night was blurry too. “Do you have his number?” she asked.

You looked for that note. You couldn’t find it, but that was okay. You remembered what it said. You called it but there was no Chris there, no blond twenty-something, and no one who had ever been to The Storm Club or had recently slept with a girl with a wonderland body. You tried some different combinations. 209-5873. 902-3875. 209-3785. Still no Chris, but you did have an eye-opening conversation with an elderly man about his grandson’s science project. You had never thought so much about hot dogs.

 

12 Weeks

You had to tell your parents. If they were going to find out, it might as well be from your mouth. You’re 23, but you’re still their child who is not married, not even dating anyone.

You thought about lying. Then, you could have made up a boyfriend but they would have wanted to know what he was like. What would you have said? “I think his name is Chris.” They would have wanted to meet him and have his parents over for dinner and help you look for wedding gowns. You decided to tell the truth.

They took it pretty well. Your mom was worried, but at least she didn’t cry like you had, uncontrollable drops springing from your eyes and your face crinkled into your hands. You were standing when you found out and your hands smelled of urine, but you didn’t care.

 

38 Weeks

You cry again just thinking about it. You are a single mom. Why didn’t you take that offer that Stacey and Amanda had made—to help you pay for an abortion? You wouldn’t have this problem then. This problem. You hope she doesn’t know you ever thought of her like that

The peanut butter fills your craving. You liked it before you were pregnant, too, but you never ate it without bread and jelly. Your mom says you should be eating healthier things, so you do when she’s around. You eat salads and yogurt and never desserts. It’s not worth the nagging. Then you go home, still hungry, and you eat your peanut butter by the spoons full.

You pick up the baby name book and open it to the first page. Acacia. Greek. A point, a spine, or thorn. That’s what this is: a point in your back and thorns in your boobs and somehow it’s inflated your stomach. You say it over and over again: “There’s a baby inside me. There’s a baby inside me. There’s a baby inside me.” But you won’t believe it until you see it.

Above Acacia is Abigail. Hebrew. Father in rejoicing. You think about Chris. Wonder what he’s really like.

Now it’s been too long to recall much except that you slept together. You go to your room to lie down, leave the peanut butter behind. Find your diary. Read that entry:

I got laid last night. I think he said his name was Chris. He left me his number, but I hope he doesn’t expect me to call him. It was loud and dark and I had a lot to drink. I’m not sure I could face a guy I don’t remember.

You hear a knock on your door and a second later it opens. A voice yells, “Hey beautiful!”

It’s Stacey. She’s coming over to watch An Affair to Remember. Lately all you want to do is watch sappy movies like that. She’s a good friend to want to, too.

She enters your room with your economy-sized peanut butter jar in her hand. She rolls her eyes, “You and your peanut butter.”

“Yeah, so.”

“When I’m pregnant I hope I can eat as much crap as you do and not be a fat lard.”

“Are you calling me a fat lard?”

“No, I’m saying that you should be a fat lard. I’m saying that you are a skinny bit- I mean, I’m saying that you’re skinny.”

You and Stacey said your first curse words together when you were nine. You were just repeating something her mom shouted after slamming her fingers in the car door, but you both got in big trouble anyway. You continued cursing because that’s what everyone else did.

Now you’re trying to stop. You don’t want your little girl to turn out how you did. You want her to be different. You want her to study hard and go to lots of birthday parties and no boyfriends until she’s 30! You want her to be good.

Would you have turned out better if you hadn’t ever said a curse word, or if you didn’t have sex until you were married, or if you had studied more?

Who knows.

But you don’t want your little girl to be too good. You always hated those girls who sat up straight and knew all the answers and played chess for fun. How do you raise a mostly-good girl anyway? You remember a book you were supposed to read in high school. Catch 22. Wonder what that was about.

“Thanks for the compliment,” you say.

“No problem.” Stacey sits next to you on your made-up queen-size bed. “Did you go to work today?”

You’ve been calling in sick a lot because you can’t deal with snobby customers asking you why they didn’t get their Chicken Marsala sooner. Alberto’s is a huge step up from Applebee’s, but if one thing goes wrong people get furious. Like it’s your fault the chef doesn’t cook faster. They should have gone to Wendy’s.

“Yeah, I went today. Are you staying over?”

“Yeah. Is that okay?”

“You can stay here anytime you want. Hell, you can move in for all I care. Help me change some diapers.”

“I’ll hold that baby any time, but I’m not changing diapers.” She’s half serious, and you don’t blame her. Then she tells you she’s kidding. That, really, if there is anything you need, she will do it for you, even change diapers. She tells you that she’s here for you forever, for anything, and you tear up thinking about it. Forever is a very long time.

 

-5 Years

Senior prom was supposed to be the best night of your life.

Stacey and Bo Carlos had just broken up two weeks before, but she still dressed up that night for him. She didn’t eat anything but saltines for two days so that she could fit into her sister’s little black cocktail dress. She bought a special bra to make her boobs pop out, and some strappy stiletto heels.

She didn’t see him for the first half hour of the dance, but she told you to go ahead and make your move on Lucas Mann anyway. You heard he was going solo, but if the night went as you planned he would not be leaving that way.

You knew something was wrong when you saw Stacey in the bathroom and her mascara had run all down her face. Why didn’t she come find you? She said she didn’t want to ruin your night, but you didn’t even miss going home with Lucas. Sitting on your bedroom floor eating chocolate chip cookie dough was better; it was forever.

 

38 Weeks

There’s that word again: forever. Stop thinking about it. Tell Stacey you love her. She’s the best. She’s a friend.

You think about Lucas. You’re glad you didn’t go home with him on prom night because you know what he was really like: a braggart, a pothead, a thief. Chris can be anything you want.

“You’re the best, Stacey. I love you.”

“Ah, man, are you gonna’ cry? Please don’t cry. We still have this whole sappy movie to do that.” She waves it in the air and slides it in the player.

The music roars and your emotions pump just because you know the future of Nickie Ferrante and Terry McKay.

When you wake up the sun is up and the TV is still on; the repeating disc-menu music annoys you but not enough to make you stand up. That’s too hard these days. Stacey is curled at the foot of your bed and you are spread diagonal across it. You kick her softly in the head.

“You awake?”

“I am now.” She sits up and hits your legs with a pillow. “How’d you sleep?”

“Good.” You roll over and close your eyes. Stacey gets up.

“I’ll make breakfast,” she says.

“Okay.” You’re already snoring.

You wake up again when Stacey enters your room with an array of muffins and bagels and packets of low-fat cream cheese lining that pretty brass tray you took from your parents’ house. “Did you know you have nothing except peanut butter in your kitchen?”

You shrug as you spread cream cheese over your cinnamon raisin bagel.

When you’re done eating, Stacey says she has to go. She starts to clean up and you tell her not to worry about it; you can do it.

“No way. You’re about to burst. I don’t want to be here when that happens. So you just take it easy around me.”

She cleans up. You say goodbye and she leaves.

You decide to go grocery shopping. That’s what good mothers do, right?

You take a shower; wash everything, even the things you can’t see. You can’t reach your feet, haven’t been able to in months, so you soak them in soapy water and figure they’ll clean themselves.

You dress up, put on a skirt. It’s comfortable and pretty. Then a maternity shirt. You mostly wear t-shirts and sweat pants these days, unless you’re at work, then you wear your specially ordered uniform. But you have a couple of nice outfits that your mom bought for your birthday this year. Might as well use them.

At the store, a woman and a little girl walk in front of you. The woman is wearing heals and carries an impossibly large purse. The girl’s hair is in pigtails. She wears a short pink dress and is pushing her own little-girl sized cart. She stops to touch every box of cookies. Her mom hands her a box of pasta.

She seems like a good mom. Maybe you will learn something by watching her.

But is it enough to be a good mom? Don’t little girls need dads?

You dread the day when your little girl will ask where her daddy is. What will you say? You better decide now because if you wait you may lie. You always said you would tell your child the truth about everything.

You touch your stomach but not because of kicking. You touch your stomach because you feel you should, because it’s there and because it’s big.

You fill your cart with things you need. Spaghetti, tomato sauce, lettuce, salad dressing, bread, turkey, mustard, milk, cereal, pop tarts, cheese, laundry detergent, chocolate ice cream, peanut butter. That’s enough. You check out.

 

41 Weeks

Your mom says this is normal. She says your older brother was late, too, and he hurt like hell, but she was glad for the hurt because she knew she would soon have a little baby to hold. She hoped Clive would have blue eyes, and he did for the first few weeks of his life. She said that the first time she held him was the first time she knew about miracles. Real miracles- not like the Miracle on 34th Street, but like the ones you hear about in Sunday School. She said she might as well have turned water into wine. Unbelievable that out of her stomach came this child. That nine month bump, that low budget black and white video, all that back pain had become a squirmy, unsure, squinty blue-eyed miracle. And she got to love that miracle forever.

 

41-and-a-half Weeks

You knew you had messed up when you were lying in that hotel bed, tangled between the sheets and a strange man. Making Abigail. It wasn’t your first stupid act of that nature, and in the midst of all your life’s tangled moments you knew you were doing something wrong and bad and ultimately self-mutilating. But you didn’t know why doing it was so bad, so the rush of all-consuming human touch overcame the facts.

Now, in the labor of the consequence, you wish with all your being that you could rewind your life and undo that night. Now, while your body is stretching in ways only God could have ordered and man could have messed up, you scream and you cry. You have no control over your body. The man in the green dress tells you everything will be okay. Just push. Just breathe. Heeve Heeve Ho. You repeat after him and you push like he says to, like your life depends on it, because it does. For every second that this humungous thing remains between your legs, you must live another second in the agony of stretching beyond your own limits.

This pain is the exact opposite of the glamour of sex, and so you know it is the perfect punishment. But still you push. You must get through this. You can do it. Just think of what is next.

You push your last push and Abigail slides out. She is full of red and clear goo and guck. You breathe your first breath of motherhood, relieved and terrified. You see her in the doctor’s hands, but he takes her away and you start to cry. It’s over, you think. You are never putting another thing between your legs.

Your take another breath, not for relief, but for air. It’s fresher than you remember. And sweeter, too.

 

Motherhood. Day 1

You thought that life was about looking, that it was full of struggles and heartache. You thought that having hope was your salvation, that it was only in those few and far between moments of hopefully smiling through pain that you could ever be happy.

You look out the window and the sky is blue and the cars are driving past your room four stories beneath you. A nurse enters your room and calls you by name. “Ms. Pulito. Would you like to hold your baby girl?”

You can’t speak, but she knows what you want to say. She places your child in your arms.

You think of your brother, not blue-eyed or squirmy or unsure anymore, and you realize that the miracle doesn’t end at birth. It’s in the growing up, the shaping, the teaching, the training.

You realize that forever only means it keeps going, not that things won’t change. Her name is Abigail. Your answers were always right in front of you. She looks at your eyes. You touch her fingers.

Abigail. Hebrew. Father in Rejoicing. And you hope he is, because you are forever.

 

 

Sara Dutilly earned a B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing at High Point University. She has dabbled in journalism and essay, but this is her first piece of published fiction. She lives in Kernersville, NC with her husband, two small boys, and one newborn girl where she writes poetry and short stories and bakes sourdough bread. You can read more from her at haikuthedayaway.wordpress.com.