Interview with Liz Prato

liz-prato

Mary Akers: Hi, Liz! Thanks for agreeing to talk with me today, and for letting us have your wonderful short story “Covered in Red Dirt.” I first read it in your kick-ass collection Baby’s on Fire and absolutely loved it. I feel a strong sense of longing when I read “Covered in Red Dirt,” and an additional sense of…for lack of a better word…unfinishedness…? And I don’t mean that the story feels unfinished—it doesn’t. I mean deliberately “unfinished” in the way of a beautiful piece of wood. Something that gleams with its own confident beauty, without adding flash and gloss to distract from its essence. I think that idea gets at the longing that I feel. As an artistic choice, it’s very effective. I carry that story with me because of it.

Liz Prato: Whoa, I’m so grateful for what you’re saying about the “unfinishedness” of Covered in Red Dirt, because some people DO think it’s not finished. They’re like, “Where’s the end? What happened?” But the outcomes weren’t the actual story for me. The story was the narrator’s stasis—and it’s hard to get stasis on the page in an interesting way because, generally, nothing happens and that’s inherently dull. But there is a certain kind that occurs when you’re in Hawai‘i—especially on the more rural islands, like the Big Island and Kaua‘i. It starts out feeling like relaxation, or harmony, but can easily morph into not acting, not making decisions.

 

MA: Yes. The narrator’s stasis–such a good point. Colors are an intense and evocative part of this story, too. Beginning with Kimo’s brown skin with white splotches, then the bed’s red-brown koa wood, the red dirt everywhere, the yellow surfboard, the blue waves…and then the ending! Those final words: “bright white.” So good. It’s a sensuous, color-saturated story for me as I read and then I get slapped by that glorious and perfect ending. Was the use of color intentional on your part? Or simply an intuitive result of the writing process?

LP: A little of both. It’s impossible to write about Hawai‘i without writing about the natural landscape, and it’s impossible to write about the landscape without color. Kaua‘i is saturated with all these insane shades of green and blue and brown, and the red dirt is everywhere. I was aware that once I got red on the page then blood was on the page by association, and that opened up the story in a corporeal way. Also, race is an issue in Hawai‘i. People like to say it’s a perfect melting pot, and race doesn’t matter, and that’s ridiculous. Race matters deeply. Skin color has meaning. It’s a huge part of how people identify themselves and others. But the vitiligo (which I have in real life, by the way) is also a metaphor for how our identities get split.

Tomoka Trail, 24x24, acrylic, mixed media on canvas

MA: Another one of the standout stories for me was “A Space You Can Fall Into.” Wow. You have this wonderful talent for succinctly and devastatingly conveying a whole moment–distilling a whole life-changing moment–in just a few words. Words that are ostensibly about something else, but we know–we KNOW–what is being said, without being told. My very favorite writers do this and it slays me every time. In the passage I’m thinking of, a young girl (Shelby) is having decidedly non-romantic sex for the first time in the bed of a pickup truck with a friend of her cousin’s whom she has just met:

“…she looks up at the sky and notices it for the first time: you can see stars here. All of them. Every star that was ever made, whether it still exists or not, looks down at Shelby in the back of the brown pick-up truck, and they don’t twinkle or glow or any of those other things you expect stars to do. They just burn.”

Would you like to comment on that?

LP: As a reader, I want to be able to feel what the character is feeling not just by being told, but by how the atmosphere is rendered. There’s that scene in The Stranger where Meursault describes walking down the beach towards the Arab—who he claims he didn’t intend to kill—and the surroundings are described with such sharp syntax, words like blast and strike and gasped and bleached and blade and glare. The sounds of these words make it clear that this man is about to snap under the pressure of anger and violence. When you have an unreliable or detached narrator, like Meursault, or one who’s emotionally guarded, like Shelby, what that character won’t say outright needs to be rendered through how they see the world. Because that’s still my job as an author, to let the reader into the world, even if the character might not want to.

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MA: That’s so smart–and similar to the problem from that first question about how to show the narrator’s stasis–though in Shelby’s case it’s a sort of emotional stasis. You’ve tackled these difficult narrative choices and made them work in fascinating ways. I also appreciate your deft touches of humor. Your deadpan delivery often catches me by surprise in the best way. I’m thinking, specifically, of Meg’s scenarios for Celia in “When Cody Told Me He Loves Me on a Weird Winter Day.” Humor is such a complicated thing and can be difficult to do well. Can you talk a little bit about humor? Its benefits? Its pitfalls? In writing and/or in life.

LP: Just today I sent my husband this gallows-humor text about my dad’s first of several suicide attempts, which happened exactly 8 years ago. If someone didn’t know me, the whole thing would seem pretty bleak and even unstable, but my husband texted back “Haha!” Thank god I married someone who gets that humor as a survival tactic. It lifts us out of whatever micro-tragedy we’re mired in, and gives us a chance to breathe. Even in some of the saddest episodes of my life, I could still locate the small absurdities to laugh about. It’s not a coincidence that the first two stories you mentioned—Covered in Red Dirt, and A Space You Can Fall Into—have almost zero humor and were written during a real dark period in my life. I couldn’t see the happy or hopeful ending, and couldn’t see the humor then. But for the most part, that deadpan or gallows humor will always be a part of how I approach the tough stuff.

 

MA: Me, too. I’d be lost without gallows humor. It’s so versatile! So flexible! Multipurpose, even. :) Can you tell me something about your current writing project?

LP: I’m working on a collection of linked essays that explore my decades-long relationship with Hawai‘i through the lens of white imperialism and pop culture. I have this deep soul connection with the Islands that started with frequent visits when I was a teenager when my dad was building a housing subdivision on Maui. It recently occurred to me that the very thing responsible for bringing me to Hawai‘i is also responsible for destroying it and its culture: white mainlanders coming in and taking the land, the a‘ina, for their own. And being a tourist continues that cycle. In the essays, I’m braiding my personal narrative of coming of age in Hawai‘i as a teenager and going there as an adult to recover from the death of my entire family, with Hawaiian history and cultural affairs. I invoke Joan Didion and The Brady Bunch–wow, there are two names I never thought I’d say in the same sentence–and language and war and the ocean and ashes. In a sense, it’s a love story. My romantic beginnings with Hawai‘i were naïve and predicated on the shiny surface. Now, my abiding love encompasses not just Hawai‘i’s beauty, but also its struggles and deep wounds.

 

MA: That sounds fascinating. I would love to read those essays. And finally, because we are a recovery-themed journal, what does recovery mean to you?

LP: I’ve always thought of recovery as the process of renegotiating my relationship to the world after I’ve fallen down, deep down, and needed help getting up. That sounds simplistic, like a sound bite, and it totally denies what an active, exhausting process recovery can be. It’s not like recovering from running a marathon, which is mostly about resting and taking hot baths and getting massages. Recovering from trauma or addiction or illness is about rearranging your insides. You have to accept and integrate new ideas of yourself and the world into your DNA, and it can be a painful and hard. But the other option is to live a life where I’m not fully engaged, and I can’t do that. That’s what my mom and dad and brother did, and they’re no longer on this earth. That’s a powerful reminder not to succumb.

 

MA: Wow. That may be the best answer to that question I’ve ever gotten. Thank you, Liz, for such a wonderful discussion.

An Interview with Pat Zalisko

pat-zalisko

Mary Akers: Hi, Pat! Thanks so much for agreeing to talk with me today. I’m such a fan of your beautiful work and I’ve learned more about your process as we’ve collaborated on the Winter 2017 issue. One of the things I so admire is your continual search for inspiration. I feel like you are always “open” always taking in the world around you and processing it into beautiful images. Is that just my outsider perception? Or do you recognize some truth in that?

Pat Zalisko: Mary, thank you for asking me to collaborate with you. That project opened up yet another opportunity to explore in my art making. I am incredibly grateful for you sharing this project with me!

The world is a rich and burgeoning storeroom, a bottomless cupboard filled with ingredients that spark new art or a series. I am only processing what we are all seeing, feeling, experiencing, but in my own way. This project was particularly important to me, as you approached me at time when I was exploring line and mark making during a residency. I discovered several things then, including that what I read and heard was being translated into a new visual language. I’ve coined this series, Disappearing Lines.

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MA: “A rich and burgeoning storeroom.” What a wonderful way to put it. That’s going to be ricocheting off my brain pan all day. So good. I imagine when using other sources of creative work for inspiration–particularly writing, as you have done here–there must be some things that are difficult to translate, or perhaps TRANSMUTE is the better word. Can you talk briefly about the joys and frustrations of that process?

PZ: As readers, we digest writing through the filters of our own experiences, personalities, thought patterns. How each of us processes an elegant piece of prose, for example, will be different. And when I read something that is moving, I can only interpret it against my own personal biases. Powerful words stay with me long into a piece of art. But I do feel that we all share a common experience, a common thread. And I find this shared history comforting, because it at once confirms our individual dignity and our universal frailty.

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MA: I feel that your artwork offers that, too–the comfort of shared history and experience. I’ve thought a lot about the function of art, the accessibility of art, and the conversation between artist and “consumer.” I feel strongly that art takes two to be fully realized. At first, the artist is simply in conversation with his-or-her own mind … until there is someone on the other side of that art, enjoying it, experiencing it, or even hating it. But it seems to me that art takes two brains to be fully realized–-the creator’s brain and the experiencer’s brain. Do you agree that conversation is inherent in the creation/realization of art?

PZ: Absolutely. I once had a spirited debate with a mentor, who felt slighted when he discovered that his art was often misinterpreted/interpreted by viewers in a manner other than what he intended. I disagreed with him. I don’t believe that it’s an artist’s mission to dictate how their work must be viewed. Art – like writing and music – are designed to evoke an emotional response.

If a sculptor or painter – or playwright, novelist, poet – intends a work of art to portray a particular point of view, but it’s interpreted or seen in various other ways, that ‘conversation’ between the work and the viewer or reader is valid nonetheless. The ‘consumer’ of the work is just as unique as the creator: we each take in the work through our own filters and life experiences, and this gives the work just as much (if not richer) meaning. And that dialog between the work and the viewer or reader is a spiritual, expressive one.

Slattery's Ghost

MA: Along those lines, did you feel as if you were “in conversation” with the authors whose work you used as direct inspiration for a painting? Did you read and then immediately paint? Or read, let it percolate, and then paint?

PZ: The writing here was particularly powerful. In most instances, I read and allowed the words of these writers to wash over me. I read them, several times. I still return to them.

During this project, I journaled choice words or phrases, theirs or mine. I silently rehashed lines and words on a continuous loop in my head as I painted, keeping music going in the studio to maintain my pace. In this sense, I suppose, I felt more like a student, listening avidly to the wisdom of gifted instructors who could shed light on our tragedies, loves, triumphs, relationships, flaws. And I was conversing, in my way, by creating art in reply or to document what I felt. Through it all, I was learning new perspectives for the reactions we’ve all had to the experiences described by these writers.

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MA: That continuous loop is such a rich vein creatively, isn’t it? Now I feel like I need to start paying more attention to my inner loops. :)

Did any of the work surprise you? By that I guess I mean, perhaps the deeper you went into painting it, the deeper you felt the meaning of what you had read …

PZ: This is interesting. I discovered that I would dream about select pieces here … and I still do occasionally. For example, Noa Sivan’s Two Cats, Jeff Rose’s Lighting Up, and Stephen Eoannou’s Slattery’s Ghost touched me to the core. And Haley Yelencich ‘s On Transmutation continues to haunt me, unearthed old memories and treading new ground in my art. All of the authors you selected stirred up the embers of emotions that we’ve all felt, but incorrectly presumed were long dead.

Tomoka Trail, 24x24, acrylic, mixed media on canvas

MA: I feel as if abstract work lends itself especially well to emotional interpretations and that what we bring to a viewing of abstract art influences what we “find” in the painting. Do people sometimes interpret your work in ways that surprise you? How do you feel about that?

PZ: Abstraction captures things that cannot be seen, described or felt in any other way. To paraphrase Paul Klee, it makes “visible the invisible.” Perhaps exactly because it doesn’t describe in exhaustive detail that which we experience in the world, I’ve pursued it. I’ve spent a working lifetime using words as a precise weapon and tool. The ‘words’ of abstraction, however, completely elude such use. They are far more potent, can feel like the slap a doctor delivers to a newborn’s bottom or a surprise punch, without uttering a syllable. I’m hoping to feel the magic in that art, rather than literally read it.

I do agree with you: if I, as an artist, process what I’m seeing/hearing/reading/feeling in my own unique manner, then we, as viewers or readers must necessarily bring our own interpretations to a work. We have no choice. I am always interested to hear how viewers perceive my art.

lighting-up

MA: What role do you think recovery plays in the creative process? Have you found yourself drawn to images or themes that you later realized stemmed from something you needed to work through?

PZ: I was perhaps drawn to this collaboration with you because of that reason, because as you shared these particular pieces with me, I relived the immediacy and freshness of emotions and experiences from my own life or those close to me. In that sense, it gave me the opportunity to review those events from an older, more detached perspective. It was therapeutic for me and I thank you, and these writers, for that opportunity.

Creating intellectual property like writing or art puts a face on and names that otherwise eludes the artist or writer. Identifying “it” in the work helps us understand and work it out. This can be a painful experience with beautiful, transformative consequences.

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MA: And finally, since we are a recovery-themed journal, what does “recovery” mean to you?

PZ: As I age, I’m discovering that healing means facing that which we fear most, whether it’s an addiction, an illness, our parents’ aging, dysfunctional siblings, surviving and escaping war, starvation, death. If we can confront the pain of that fear, perhaps finding solutions in creative efforts (like making art, writing, reading, composing), we emerge from these tragedies and trials, often finding love and support from others and we realize that we’re not alone.

 

“Robbing Pillars” by Sheryl Monks

Robbing Pillars
“Down” by Penelope Breen

Maiden Estep leads the Red Hat into Number Six at Bear Town, where the mine starts. They walk at first, back to the crawl, miles deep inside, under the town of Grundy. Already, they have cut a strip in both directions, and soon they’ll be coming back through the middle, robbing pillars it’s called, the most danger any of them have been exposed to except the old guys, the robbing line and the dynamite guys. Maiden runs the scoop, loading what they dig and blast loose onto the conveyor that carries it out through the mountain and into the yard. A couple times a night, he climbs off the scoop and crawls along the belt throwing pieces back on that have fallen over, up and down the narrow gangway.

The Red Hat’s name is Charlie Hawkins, barely out of high school. Most of the men know him already. Got a little girl pregnant his junior year. Who hadn’t gotten a little girl pregnant at some point?

The kid’s tall, six-five or six, there abouts, and carries it all through the legs, not the trunk of his body as some men do. From the knee to his hip, he is nearly as tall as the mine is deep in this section, so the crawl behind Maiden is cumbersome.

“Don’t bow your back,” Maiden warns. “4160 running overhead.”

Maiden is only a White Hat himself. This is the first time he’s been part of robbing pillars, and he is uneasy, even though the actual pillar robbing is not his job. Once they’ve humped out the vein they’re working on, the robbers will come behind and start pulling the pillars, the mountain collapsing at their heels.

There is water standing in ruts along the crawl, which dampens the knees of their work pants. Occasionally they hear a drip, but once they travel deeper inside, the floor of the shaft becomes dry again. Visibility is only possible by the dim lights of their miners’ caps, powered by wet-cell batteries. Overhead, the 4160 hums in Maiden’s ears.

The only other thing so far that has spooked him is the blasting. When the dynamite men come in, the others hunker down where they are and protect themselves as best they can. The only real thing between them and fire-in-the-hole is prayer. Not even the unbelievers chance it. “Faith can move mountains,” the miners say. “Just pray like hell it don’t have to.”

A case of the nerves makes the Red Hat natter on about something or other behind Maiden. Baseball. Goose Gossage. Maiden has never watched a game of professional baseball or any other sport, on television or anywhere else, but he can’t imagine pulling for a player from New York City. He likes only westerns and war movies, though he doesn’t mention it to the Red Hat. Maiden lets him blather on, respectfully saying nothing, only occasionally issuing a calm reminder now and again about the current running overhead.

The Red Hat is having trouble, though, and somewhere deep in the pit of Maiden’s stomach he knows something’s going to happen. Something bad. It’s as if a ghost has suddenly whispered in his ear. His flesh crawls all over and he throws another piece of slab up onto the conveyor. Then he turns to look at the Red Hat, low-crawling for every penny he’s worth. Maiden thinks of learning to low-crawl himself at the boy’s age, nineteen or there abouts, in the army, basic training, under concertina wire, fake rounds fired overheard and only sporadically. Nothing nearly so dangerous at 4160. The Red Hat hasn’t thrown the first chunk of coal up onto the belt, but Maiden does not reprimand. The boy is scared. Maiden lets him prattle on.

“Got an aunt over here in Grundy,” the kid says. “Reckon we might be up under her house?”

Maiden doesn’t answer. Says only again, “Watch it there now.”

“Hard to say, I guess. Never know though. Could be we are. Right up under Jimmy’s old room. Jimmy’s gone off to Beckley. We got people there. Know anybody in Beckley? I knew this one girl from War, nearby you know, and buddy I’m telling you she was abou–.”

And then, just like that, Maiden sees things happen twice before his eyes. One version takes place quick. In an instant, he sees the Red Hat stretch forward with one arm, his head buried into the earth. Then he bows up for leverage to push off again. And just as he pitches back on one knee, he arches his spine and the wet strap of his mining belt draws too near the 4160 and sparks. “Oh, Lord!” the boy cries. “Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord!” Over and over and over while Maiden screams back down through the shaft that a man has gotten tangled up in the wire. “Kill the switch!” Maiden screams. “Cut the goddamn juice! A man’s hit! A man’s hit! Good, Jesus, a man’s hit!”

“Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord!” the Red Hat seems to say, even though he is a puddle of flesh, melting like cheese in the damp but smelling of meat. Maiden knows he’s dead, but the kid keeps talking and Maiden just lies there, waiting helplessly as he was taught to do in miners’ school. He does not extend a hand. He doesn’t rush to the boy’s side, though the urge to is overpowering and Maiden just screams his guts out and cries for God in heaven to have mercy. He’s just a kid. Nineteen. Twenty at most. A big, gangly-legged kid whose knee caps have been blown off. “Jesus! Oh, Jesus! Hurry the fuck up down there!” Maiden calls again and again before the power is thrown and the Red Hat stops chattering.

~

In the other version, Maiden had seen a ghost behind the Red Hat. Some kind of phantom. A wisp or something. It was blurry but distinct enough that Maiden had fixed his gaze upon it while the kid had talked on and on about his cousin Jimmy going off to Beckley. Maiden’s wife begs him every night to quit. Number Six is about to shut down soon anyway, she tells him. When Maiden dons his carbide light and packs his dinner bucket with water and leftovers, she resorts to threats, name-calling. Maiden, you sonofabitch! Maiden! Maiden! He lets her speak her peace. Goes on to work. Someone has to run the scoop.

Today they are coming back up the middle, robbing all the pillars. Number Six will chase them tunnel by tunnel as they pull timbers and wait for the roof to collapse one room at a time so they can mine the fall. That’s money standing there, supporting the roof, and the company wants every square inch.

The Red Hat is not the first man Maiden has known about dying, nor the only one he’s witnessed firsthand. Parmelai Cline was caught between two cars on the tipple of a breaker. Clarence Price was killed by a rush of slush when water forced it out the gangway. Julius Reed was tamping a hole when powder in the tunnel exploded. During miners’ training, Maiden heard about men suffocating when they walked into pockets of gas, being struck by frozen slags of culm or being smothered by a rush of dirt working at the culm bank. Men had been run over by loaders, crushed by cave-ins when ribs gave way. They’d been burned, mangled by machinery, and electrocuted like Charlie, the young Red Hat.

When Maiden runs the scoop back through the shaft where the boy died, he wonders about the aunt’s house in Grundy and whether or not they had indeed been somewhere under it when the kid had gotten caught up in the wire. It’s risky, thinking about the dead so soon, if old wives’ tales are to be believed. Bad luck. Better if he thinks of something else, just in case, but the Red Hat consumes his thoughts. Goose What-was-his-name? And then the boy melting like a Popsicle before him. He wonders where the boy’s aunt might’ve been standing. Had she felt something, deep in the earth, some pull on her like a dowsing stick drawn by a vein of ground water?

The robbers begin taking out a few of the timbers as Maiden waits near the other room with the scoop and watches. Those remaining start to buckle under the weight of the roof, but the process isn’t as fast as he expects. The roof does not cave in immediately in order for them to load the fallen coal onto Maiden’s scoop and send it out into the yard. The robbers go one timber at a time, striking with their hammers, prying and shoving on each one until it kicks loose from the floor and the weight of the rock above their heads is redistributed to the others still standing. It’s a game of Russian roulette, no telling when the roof will fall, so they work slowly, pulling one timber and then watching, listening as the other supports begin to splinter and crack in the dark around them. There is nervous energy between the robbers. They talk casually together, laugh loudly, estimating if they should maybe pull another one. Watching by the dim torch of his carbide light becomes unbearable for Maiden. He can feel the weight pressing down on them, inch by inch, timbers slowly splintering and buckling all around, but still the roof is content to hold.

“Son-of-a-bitch,” one of the robbers says. “She ain’t budging. Run the scoop up here, hoss, and let’s see if we can shake this bitch loose.”

Maiden realizes he is being addressed, but still he hesitates. “What’s that?”

“Run the scoop this a’way and see if it don’t shake the ground just enough.”

All four of the men, including Maiden, are working on their stomachs. Whenever the roof does decide to fall, they won’t be able to run. The robbers can’t risk pulling out another timber. Maiden watches as they make their way toward him to the other room, a safe distance away from the shattering timbers. At least he has the scoop, which might be fast enough.

He wedges himself into the machine and drives forward cautiously as the robbers tell him how to proceed.

“Tap on that one right there,” says Arbury Massey. “Easy ought to do it, and then hightail it back.”

Goose Gossage was the ball player’s name, Maiden remembers. And then he is caught by a feeling of being drawn upward. He hears a low growl of thunder and looks around to see that the cap boards have begun to twist and rip. The watery contents of his stomach seem to rise like a wave in his diaphragm. But it’s not only that; the blood in his heart and veins pools at the top of his head, in both arms and legs.

The Red Hat’s aunt is standing directly over him, he realizes. Maiden closes his eyelids, lifts his face, and as the tears well in his eyes, they too are drawn up in streaks that wash the coal dust from his temples and over his forehead. The woman kneels to the floor and places her hand, just there, on his cheek. And then the earth rains down.

 

 

Sheryl Monks is the author of Monsters in Appalachia, published by Vandalia Press, an imprint of West Virginia University Press. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte. Sheryl’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Electric Literature, The Butter, The Greensboro Review, storySouth, Regarding Arts and Letters, Night Train, and other journals, and in the anthologies Surreal South: Ghosts and Monsters and Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods: Contemporary West Virginia Fiction and Poetry, among others. She works for a peer-reviewed medical journal and edits the online literary magazine Change Seven. Visit her online at www.sherylmonks.com.

“Robbing Pillars” is excerpted from Monsters in Appalachia (Vandalia Press/WVU Press, 2016) and first appeared in Split Lip Magazine. It appears here, courtesy of the author.

“BOOM!” by Ron Tanner

Boom
“Emotional Landscapes2,” by Penelope Breen

On the ferry ride back to Ebeye, when the boat is a quarter mile from the lagoon’s rim of reef and Kwajalein is half a mile behind them, a collection of distant white lights winking from the black horizon, Jeton jumps overboard when no one is watching. He knows to push away quickly, to avoid the tow of the boat’s churning propellers. A strong swimmer, a pair of borrowed running shoes tied around his neck, he backstrokes over the boat’s wake. It’s hard work because the tide is going out. Soon the boat is far away and Jeton is alone in the dark water. If he were on the oceanside, he would be shark bait. But here on the lagoon side, he knows there are few sharks. Still, he has to be careful.

He can hear the water slapping exposed rock on the reef a hundred yards ahead. And at last he can see the pale expanse of sand below him—and large darting fish. Above, clouds chase each other like racing ships through the whorl of stars. The moon has yet to rise. As soon as he can stand, bullied by small waves, Jeton slips on the shoes. The reef at low tide will allow him to walk back to Kwajalein. But he has to walk fast, watch for Security Patrol, and get across before the Security boat motors by with its sun-bright spot. He has to walk careful too, watch that he doesn’t slip and cut himself on the coral, which is sharp like fish knives. Salt water will ruin the leather Nikes he borrowed from cousin Mike. But fuck it.

It takes a long time, this careful walking in dark water.

As he sloshes through tide pools, slipping every other step, cursing the reef, he almost wishes a rogue wave would reach over from oceanside and pull him into the depths—then Nora would be sorry, drowned Jeton washed up on Emon beach, where Nora takes her morning swim.

When they met at a soccer game that first time, Nora said, “You’re damned reckless, you know that?” She was flirting, he knew right away. He offered her a cigarette and she said, “Are you crazy?”

“Yes,” he said.

That’s all it took. Boom! like that.

In two days she flies to the States. Four thousand two hundred miles east. What is four thousand miles to Jeton? He has flown to Guam twice. One thousand three hundred miles. That was far enough.

After the game this afternoon, when his team walked over to shake hands with her team (they beat the ri-pālle 7 to 2), he got close enough to her to whisper, “I’m gonna die if I don’t see you, jera.”

Then he heard her sigh the kind of sigh he hears Betra, his younger sister, make when she looks at the mail-order Nordstrums catalogue from the States, at all those things she knows she cannot have. Nora didn’t have time to answer him. And then she was gone, swept away with the other cheerleaders and the ri-pālle boys.

“I know, it’s hard,” Nora said at their last meeting.

“I own a fourth of Kwajalein!” he said, desperate for justification.

“You mean your grandmother does,” Nora corrected.

“Same thing!” he said.

Jeton’s grandmother gets a check every few months for leasing her part of Kwajalein to the Americans. It has been enough to buy her a condo on Guam, a new Nissan Altima LX every other year, a pork farm in Manila, but not enough to give to her huge family, every one of them with an empty hand held out. Still, she offered to buy Jeton a used Sentra and set him up in the taxi business on Majuro. Jeton pictures himself driving Majuro’s long, flat two-lane road all day, every day—ial an iroj, the King’s Road, it is called. The only road. Four or five quarters per ride. Majuro island is one mile wide and 34 miles long and 300 miles from here. They have a couple of discos and a copra plant and fifteen churches.

Fuck that.

In his mind, he hears Nora say his name, over and over. Nobody has said his name like that, like it was a valuable secret. He can smell the strawberry shampoo of her hair, the flowery scent of her body lotion—she sunburns easily. She gave him everything.

She used to say, “You’re the one, Jeton, you’re the only one.”

He knows that in her ettōnak, her awake dreams, she is already on that plane, already back in the States, going to college, dating other boys and thinking of a “major” and a life Jeton can’t begin to understand.

“I will write,” she promised.

“Yes,” he said. “Long emails.”

Now: something stutters and skips past his feet. A shrimp scuttering to safety.

Americans like to come out here with flashlights to hunt for shells at low tide. Some aren’t careful and the high tide catches them, sweeps them out to deep water and they are never found. All of this is a mystery to them, the water, the reef, the life the ri-Majeļ used to know. The ri-Majeļ were great navigators, great canoe builders. They knew how to read the waves and they made secret charts with sticks and cowries shells that enabled them to travel anywhere they pleased. No one knows how to do that any more, except at the Allele Museum on Majuro, where two old men work year-round hacking out ceremonial tipñōls, sailing canoes, for tourists to see.

Jeton once took Nora to Pikeej in his uncle’s speed boat. Pikeej is uninhabited, an overgrown coconut plantation with many hidden ruins from the World War Two, Japanese bunkers and huge oil tanks rusted orange. “Oh, God, Jeton, this is so cool,” Nora said as they combed through the jungle. Jeton had a machete, wasps bobbed over their heads, the air was sweet with the scent of kōno blossoms. They found a grassy mound that could have been a grave site or a buried ammo dump. There they slipped off their clothes and looked at each other in the filtered light. Then they kissed and kissed until their lips were raw and there was nothing left to do but exhaust each another way.

Why isn’t this good enough?

Jeton comes ashore at last, wet up to the knees. As he walks, his borrowed Nikes sound like soggy mops against a tile floor.

Nora lives in one of the new pre-fabs at this end of the island. They all look alike and, for a moment, Jeton panics, hidden in the shadow of someone’s central air. He doesn’t know if he can remember the right duplex.

Here comes the Security pickup with its big light. Lucky thing there are no dogs on Kwajalein, all that barking. Jeton scrambles farther into the shadows just as Security shoots its light where he was crouched. Truck slows to a stop, engine grumbling, light snaking through the dark stubbled yard between the pre-fabs, back porches, bamboo fence, gas grills, locked-up bicycles. Jeton pants, sucking air through his mouth, balled up behind a low fence. Shameful to be caught this way, like a shrimp curled under a rock.

If they catch him what can they do?

Last night, while drinking, one of the older men said to him: “Loving American likatu is no big deal. Everyone has a story of loving American girls.”

This is what he fears, that he is not special, that there is nothing in him that will make him different from anybody else. Doesn’t matter if his grandmother owns one fourth of Kwajalein. Doesn’t matter if he would’ve been a prince in another life. What is he now, right now?

~

The difference between Kwajalein and Ebeye starts with the streets, Jeton decides. Here, they are wide and paved and bright with electric light. The houses are neat, they all look alike, the yards are clear of motorbikes, scrap wood, trash, and chickens, and everything everywhere is green.

Jeton prefers Ebeye. Or Majuro. The haphazard houses and the sandy streets that curl and twist like vines and the animals that run freely and the children playing everywhere you turn and the cooking smells and the women singing and the laundry flagging from the lines over the dirt yards—it all feels good. The Americans’ place seems empty and haunted like Japanese war ruins on Jaluit.

Here it is, Nora’s house. Plastic Chinese lanterns of many colors glow from the bamboo’d patio. Jeton hears several girls talking, laughing. Sleepover. He has guessed right. Far from the patio fence, Jeton crouches at the trunk of a palm tree and listens. He can’t make out what they are saying. Maybe talking about hot boys. Maybe talking about college. Who can tell with girls? When there is a lull in the chatter, Jeton whistles. It is his special whistle, sounds like hissing and bird squeak at the same time. Everyone in his family does this whistle. Nora has teased him about it. “You think I’ll answer that, like a dog or something?”

He whistles again. Now the girls whisper severely to one another. A wasp’s nest. Then he hears his name, like a curse on their lips. Jeton, it’s Jeton.

            And he knows that he has made a mistake. He should run, he should leave Nora alone, he should give her space, something Americans are always talking about. He is making trouble. But he can’t go, he won’t go. Not now. He will take his punishment, whatever it is, like the day he reefed his uncle’s boat, like the time he insulted his grandfather by patting him on the head like a child, like the night he got drunk and rode his brother’s bicycle off the pier.

The patio door opens, a paw of yellow light leaps into the yard, and Nora—unmistakable silhouette—walks towards him. The pink of a nearby street lamp lights her face. It is the face of a smart woman. Mālōtlōt. The kind of woman who could live happily on an outlying atoll. Who would not cringe from cleaning fish. Who would not complain when the rains came.

She is popular, she has said, because she is not pretty like those models in the Nordstrom catalogue who scare Jeton because they look so mej. Dead. “Who could love them?” he asked her. “Why do Americans think these creatures are jouj?” Questions like these delight Nora: he can make her smile. This is how it should be always.

Tonight she wears a sparkly tank-top and white shorts and her white Berkenstocks. Tall, long legs, head up like she was walking at graduation. A woman who would sail with him through Toon Milu pass, north to Rongelap or Bikar or far-away Bokak.

What can he say to make her smile now?

He remains crouched, out of respect. He wants a cigarette, something to do with his hands.

“Jeton, what are you doing?”

His listens for love in her voice, a voice so much lower than any ri-Majeļ woman or girl he knows. Americans talk deep in the throat with flat words.

“I die when I don’t see you, Nora.”

“How did you get here?”

“Walked.”

“Across the reef?” She widens her lovely eyes. “Are you crazy?”

“Yes.”

“Jeton.” Sighing, she kneels near him. But then she has nothing to say.

Her freckles, he can see them now: a thousand islands he wants to inhabit.

He says, “I don’t want you to go.” The words hurt like fish bone in his throat, make his eyes sting. As he swipes at his tears, he sees the other girls peering from behind the patio door.

Nora says, “What would I do here?” This sounds like a complaint.

He shrugs. “We could have fun.”

He wants more than fun. He is sure she knows this.

She sighs again. Is she so tired? “We have been over this several times.”

“You and me could do it, lijera, we could live on a island, just like we dreamed. You’d like it.”

“It wasn’t my dream,” she says. Then, quickly she adds: “I’m seventeen, Jeton, what do I know about living on an atoll?”

It wasn’t my dream. He tries to ignore this. Maybe all she needs is convincing.

“You could learn,” he says. “You love it here, you said so.”

“I’m seventeen!”

He says nothing, only stares at her, waiting. Then he does what the ri-Majeļ do best. He smiles.

“Why does this make you smile?” she asks.

“Seventeen, Nora. You can do anything.”

“And that’s what I want to do—anything and everything. Things I can’t do if I’m stuck on a tiny island out here in the middle of nowhere.”

“Nowhere?” There is no equivalent for nowhere in his language. Ejjeļok maybe: nothing.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” she says quickly. She touches one finger to the top of his hand.

But she does not take his hand. He feels himself sinking, like a man wallowing in wet sand. Nowhere. What is nowhere?

He sees regret in her face, that sorry look he has seen after his mother loses a day’s wages at cousin Amsa’s weekly cock fight. Gone, her look says, it’s gone.

Jeton weighs the American words of loss: nothing, none, not, no.

At last his bellen lays her hand lightly over his, brings him back abruptly, but he can hardly see her for the tide rising again in his eyes.

She says, “Jeton, don’t you have any plans?”

“College, Nora? I’m no good at school.”

“Maybe start with junior college.”

“In the States? You don’t want your ri-Majeļ boy in the States with you.”

“I didn’t say we’d be together, Jeton. I’m talking about your future, not about us.”

“You are my future.”

“I am your girlfriend, that’s all. And day after tomorrow I’m going to fly away. That’s a fact you have to accept.”

“I don’t want you to forget me,” he says.

“Why would I forget you? How could I?” She lowers her head to meet his eyes.

Sitting in the half dark, palm tops clattering above them in the breeze, the girls spying on them from the patio, Security Patrol prowling somewhere nearby—Jeton understands that he wants more from Nora than she can give him. If only he could describe his feelings, he might change her mind. But there are not enough words and they are not the right kind of words.

“You will have other boy friends,” he says.

“And you won’t ever have another girl friend? You want to mummify me or something? I’ve got my life, you’ve got yours. Maybe you’ll find your way to the States and we’ll see each other. Maybe I’ll decide I’d rather be here and I’ll come back. Who can say? Anything can happen, just like you and I happened. “

He wishes she would take his hand, kiss it the way she used to, lay her face against his neck.

“You are right,” he says. “I am just a boy, I don’t know what I am doing.”

She smiles at him. This is what he wants, that softening, that kindness. But he is lying to her. He believes that she is making a terrible mistake, that she will be in her big, cluttered American house years from now and she will look out at her big empty yard with its too-green grass and she will think of the life she could have had here with Jeton. But he knows that he cannot stop her. He knows that, as with certain lovely fish, he has to stay clear or risk great harm.

She says, almost in a whisper, “I’m not sorry for what we had, are you?”

“No, I am not sorry,” he says. She will haunt him, he knows. He will see her always in his head: Nora running, Nora laughing, Nora waving to a friend, Nora’s long fingers combing through his hair, Nora kissing him on the nose.

“Are you going to be all right?” she asks.

“I’m cool.” Saying what the American boys always say.

“You’re not going to do something crazy?”

“I will hang out till morning, then take the ferry back, OK?”

“Why don’t you sleep on Brit’s patio—we’ll go inside.” She offers him her kindest smile. “Please?”

It is impolite to deny an offer of hospitality. And he wants to make her happy. And he would like to be near her. Maybe in the morning she will change her mind. He knows this is a slim chance but it is more than he had a few minutes ago.

She does not kiss him when she says good night from the back door of Brit’s house. He is sitting on the patio hammock, which swings slightly beneath him. The patio smells like candy sweetness. Girls. Jeton nods his goodnight to Nora, watches her close the door and disappear into the darkness beyond the kitchen. She feels sorry for him. That is not good. She will return in the morning to find him curled on the hammock like a stray dog. And he will smell of tonight’s hard walking. And she will be eager to get home because she is excited about her trip. She is going places. 4,250 miles. And he is going to Ebeye. He is not going to college. He is not going to the States.

He does not lie down; there is no sleep in him. He leaves the patio, the girlish sweetness still in his lungs. Sadness makes his heart feel like it is a piece of water-soaked wood. Sodden and sluggish. He stands in the street and stares up at the duplex, at the light in Brit’s window. He imagines the girls will whisper all night long. They will give Nora advice, tell her how to dump Jeton in the morning.

He doesn’t know how long he stands out here. A long time.

Then he hears a truck approaches. Security Patrol. But Jeton does not think fast enough to run. And suddenly it looks like morning, so much light around him.

He turns to the light. Truck light.

“Don’t move, son.”

It is the big-bellied black American officer named Ulysses. With a grunt of effort he steps out of the pickup. He reminds Jeton of his third uncle on his father’s side. Except this man has no sideburns. The officer squints through the smoke of his cigarette, which he keeps at his mouth. He has his right hand on the gun at his wide leather belt. His other hand holds a big flashlight. Truck’s spot makes Jeton squint hard.

“You got I.D.?” the officer asks. He stands to one side of the truck. Garble stutters through the little black radio attached to his shirt pocket. It looks like the weight of the man should pull him over.

Jeton slides his Velcro wallet out of his back pocket. Slowly. Everybody knows you have to move slow in front of Security.

The officer takes the wallet, flips it to the I.D. “Jeton DeGroen,” he says. Flashlight on the I.D. “I heard about you. Your grandma owns half the island.”

“A fourth.”

The officer smiles, shakes his head like he knows something Jeton doesn’t. “She gets a lot of money for that land. And I bet you see some of it.”

Jeton wants to tell him that the land means nothing, it has always been here, it will stay here until the ocean decides to swallow it. He remembers what the teachers told him about how these atolls began. Coral attached itself to volcanoes and kept growing as the volcanoes sank. After a long time, the volcanoes were gone, sunken deep under water. But the coral remained, a circle of coral where the volcano used to be. That’s what he feels inside him now, Nora gone but a hard crust left behind.

He says, “She has offered to buy me a used Toyota so I can have a taxi business on Majuro.”

“There you go.”

“Taxi’s not my style.”

“Neither is obeying the law apparently.” The officer flicks away his cigarette, turns his head to the radio at his shoulder and says, “Got a code 40. Bringing him in, ten-four.” Then he says to Jeton: “What’s your excuse for breaking curfew, little man?”

“I don’t need excuse.”

“You better think one up.”

In another life Jeton DeGroen would be a prince!

When Jeton doesn’t answer, the officer says, “Man, in the States we’d send you to a work farm.” He lights another cigarette with a silver Zippo lighter, like all the Security have, and doesn’t seem in a hurry to go. Maybe because Jeton is so relaxed. Late night like this makes some people want to stand around and talk. Always somebody talking late on Ebeye—Jeton hears them every night, two or three people off here and there, smoking and talking.

“Got a smoke?” Jeton asks.

“Take the pack, little man.” The officer tosses the cigarettes to him.

Like a fish flying from a wave, Jeton leaps forward—not for the cigarette pack but for the officer’s big waist. Tackle him, he tells himself. Tackle him, then run away. It’s not a plan exactly, it just happens. Boom! It reminds him of soccer, of diving for a shot that saves the game, his reflexes so quick, his jump so surprising, that it makes the American girls on the sidelines cheer, even though they are not supposed to cheer for the ri-Majeļ, and then one of them, he notices, the tall, pretty one, flashes him her smile and Jeton knows he shouldn’t give a second look, he knows that American girls are trouble, everyone says so, he really should leave them alone. Do not smile back! he cautions himself. But she is tall and freckled and beautiful, Miss America, and he is the center of her attention now—he remembers this so clearly, the cheering in his ears as loud as waves crashing over him. Of course he smiled back. Boom!

 

 

Ron Tanner’s awards for writing include a Faulkner Society gold medal, a Pushcart Prize, a New Letters Award, a Best of the Web Award, a Maryland Arts Council grant, and many others. He is the author of four books, most recently Missile Paradise, a novel. He teaches writing at Loyola University-Maryland and directs the Marshall Islands Story Project.

Contributors Spring 2017

chelsea adams
B. Chelsea Adams (Near Home) received her MA from Hollins College in Creative Writing and English. Chapbooks of her poems have been published: Looking for a Landing by Sow’s Ear Press in 2000, Java Poems celebrating her addiction to coffee in 2007, and At Last Light by Finishing Line Press in 2012. Her stories and poems also have been published in numerous journals, including Poet Lore, Potato Eyes, Albany Review, Southwestern Review, California State Poetry Quarterly, Clinch Mountain Review, Union Street Review, Wind, Lucid Stone, Rhino, and the Alms House Press Sampler. She taught at Radford University for over 23 years.

Heather Adams
Heather Adams (When We Could See But Did Not Know) Winner of the 2016 James Still Fiction Prize, Adams has published short fiction in The Thomas Wolfe Review, Clapboard House, Deep South Magazine, Broad River Review, and elsewhere. This story is based on her first novel, Maranatha Road, which is forthcoming this fall from West Virginia University Press.

Karin Aurino cropped
Karin Aurino (The Magic Cure) is an American writer of essays, short fiction, and a first novel, which draws on her former career as a fashion model. She worked in the entertainment industry for ICM, Paragon Ent., and was a Longform and Series Television Producer with Alexander/Enright. She is the recipient of residencies at Hedgebrook and Bread Loaf, and her fiction has received recognition from Glimmer Train. She is an active member of The Woolf Pack, founded by the Humanitas Prize Foundation—empowering and nurturing writers. Karin lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children.

Roy Bentley
Roy Bentley (One of These Days! To the Moon, Alice!) was born in Dayton, Ohio. He is the author of four books and several chapbooks. Poems have appeared in The Southern Review, Blackbird, Shenandoah, Indiana Review, Prairie Schooner, North American Review and elsewhere—recently, in the anthologies New Poetry from the Midwest and Every River on Earth. He has received a Creative Writing Fellowship from the NEA (in poetry), as well as fellowships from the arts councils of Ohio and Florida. These days, he makes his home in Pataskala, Ohio.

Penelope Breen
Penelope Breen (Illustrator) is a photographer who always wanted to be a filmmaker. At the age of fifteen she saw The Manchurian Candidate and was forever changed. Films became something more: compositions, tones of black and white, and thematic purpose. At the time, she couldn’t articulate those early observations, but eventually did. Photography provided a way to see the world cinematically. She has been photographing for the last thirty years, primarily in black and white.

Joe Chelius
Joseph Chelius (Old Man) is employed as director of editorial services for a healthcare communications company in the Philadelphia suburbs. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in journals such as Commonweal, Poetry East, Rattle, Poet Lore, and the American Journal of Poetry. His full-length collection, The Art of Acquiescence, was published by WordTech Communications in 2014.

Susan Cole
Susan Cole (Harbor Lights) recently completed a memoir about a three-year sailing voyage she took with her husband and daughter from Connecticut to the Bahamas, Cuba, Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. Essays about her family’s sailing adventure have appeared in Daily Palette, Mary, and Living Aboard. She has attended the Iowa Summer Writing Festival every year since 2007. In between sails, she earned a B.A. from Barnard College, an M.A in Psychology from Columbia University. She currently lives in New Orleans, enjoying a new land-bound adventure.

Jackie Craven
Jackie Craven (White Lightning) won the Omnidawn Fabulist Fiction Award for Our Lives Became Unmanageable, a chapbook of fanciful tales that explore themes of compulsion and recovery. Her poems appear in many journals, most recently in Nimrod, River Styx, Salamander, and Water~Stone Review. Visit her at www.JackieCraven.com.

Tim Eberle
Timothy Eberle (A Rose Named Gary) is a New York based writer and comedian, like everybody else who lives in Brooklyn. His writing and performances have appeared in McSweeney’s, Splitsider, the Santa Fe Literary Review, Jewish Life Television, Jewlicious.com, Heeb Magazine, and the Madcap Review, among other credits. Most recently he was seen performing at The Peoples Improv Theater in “I Am Not a Man” (a sad show which he wrote alone), and in the review “Sad Men and the People Who Love Them.”

Kyle Laws
Kyle Laws’ (Into the Fire) collections include This Town with Jared Smith (Liquid Light Press, 2017); So Bright to Blind (Five Oaks Press, 2015); Wildwood (Lummox Press, 2014); My Visions Are As Real As Your Movies, Joan of Arc Says to Rudolph Valentino (Dancing Girl Press, 2013); and George Sand’s Haiti (co-winner of Poetry West’s 2012 award). With six nominations for a Pushcart Prize, her poems and essays have appeared in magazines and anthologies in the U.S., U.K., and Canada. She is the editor and publisher of Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press.  www.kylelaws.com 

Beverly Lucey
Beverly Lucey (Pest Control Methods) has had work appear in Zoetrope All Story Extra, Vestal Review,  Absinthe Revival, and Feathered Flounder. She was the winner of the Fiction Contest for Estonian Public Broadcasting  (2013) Print anthology:  Friend. Follow. Text.  #storiesFromLivingOnline  (fall 2013 release) “Voice Mail for the Living” in the anthology Up, Do Flash Fiction by Women Writers, (spring 2014). Landmarks: 2015 National Flash-Fiction Day Anthology (UK)

Sheryl Monks
Sheryl Monks (Robbing Pillars) is the author of Monsters in Appalachia, published by Vandalia Press, an imprint of West Virginia University Press. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte. Sheryl’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Electric Literature, The Butter, The Greensboro Review, storySouth, Regarding Arts and Letters, Night Train, and other journals, and in the anthologies Surreal South: Ghosts and Monsters and Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods: Contemporary West Virginia Fiction and Poetry, among others. She works for a peer-reviewed medical journal and edits the online literary magazine Change Seven. Visit her online at www.sherylmonks.com.

kristen-scarlett
Kristen Scarlett (Sensory Memory) is a writer from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her work has appeared in Cape Fear Living Magazine, East End Elements, and other journals. She received second place in the SCCC Creative Writing Award for College Writers in 2015. Her hobbies include fancy teas, existential crises, and musing with her cat, King Charles.


Leland Seese’s (Hunting) poems have appeared in The Christian Century, The Nassau Review, The East Bay Review, and many other journals. He lives in Seattle, where he and his wife are foster-adoptive-biological parents of six children. Much of his work as a pastor involves work with homeless and immigrant communities.

Ron Tanner
Ron Tanner’s (BOOM!) awards for writing include a Faulkner Society gold medal, a Pushcart Prize, a New Letters Award, a Best of the Web Award, a Maryland Arts Council grant, and many others. He is the author of four books, most recently Missile Paradise, a novel. He teaches writing at Loyola University-Maryland and directs the Marshall Islands Story Project.

a.e.weisgerber
A.E. Weisberger’s (Controlled Delivery) work has been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and the Pushcart Prize. Recent fiction appearing in SmokeLong QuarterlyStructo MagazineThe CollapsarFLAPPERHOUSE, and Gravel. Recent non-fiction in The Alaska StarAlternating CurrentThe Review Review, and Change Seven. She reads for Wigleaf and Pithead Chapel, and is working on an illustrated storybook called “Lives of the Saints.” Follow her @aeweisgerber, or visit  http://anneweisgerber.com.

Tyler Anne
Tyler Anne Whichard (Glass Splinters) is a 21-year-old aspiring writer working toward her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. The r.k.v.r.y quarterly literary journal is the first official publication of her work. Her hobbies include staring at blank Word documents, binge-watching Korean dramas, and pouring too much creamer in her coffee in the morning.

 

Homepage Spring 2017

COVER image
All artwork appears courtesy of the artist Penelope Breen.

 

Happy Spring! And welcome to our April 2017 issue with the theme of “DISLOCATION.”

I’m honored to be able to share the work of these sixteen talented authors (some being published for the first time) and grateful to be allowed to present their fine work to you, our readers. Each piece of writing has the further good fortune of being paired with the sensual, textural, and evocative photography of Penelope Breen.

As always, this issue exists, thanks in no small part to my devoted editors and readers who make my job so much easier, and to the contributors who have trusted us to showcase their work. Also, thanks for the gorgeous artwork, Penelope. You made each essay, story, flash, and poem pop just a little bit more.

Our July 2017 issue will have a theme of SPECULATION.

As always, thanks for reading.

Yours in Recovery,

Mary Akers
Editor-in-chief

“Controlled Delivery” by A.E. Weisgerber

Controlled Delivery
“Grassy Tracks” by Penelope Breen

Ben had to ask a favor. He needed one of Big Ed’s guys for some roll-off job, but when he stopped by Big’s, things seemed none too happy.

“He’s out in the warehouse.” The office girl’s head made tiny shakes and she kept it down in her screen. “Big’s moving boxes around.”

“Thanks, Bree.”

She swiveled to turn on the radio behind her, some droning medical show, and said to the world, “Tell him: no drums.”

When Big uses the forklift, drums wind up where crates should be. Foreman can’t locate orders for a week.

Big’s phone went straight to message. Ben followed forklift sounds and finally yelled, “Yo, Big Ed! Stop jerkin’ off!”

Big, in his bucket hat and Giants windbreaker, turned to look at Ben, then lowered the fork with a heavy sigh.

“How can you listen to that racket?”

Big stayed up in the seat looking down. He accepted a cigarette Ben offered and hit the off switch. “Thanks, Cuz.” Big took a puff and blew out smoke through his lips, his tinny voice followed it to the sodium light. “You know my nephew, that one that’s always asking for money?”

“Yeah. Nicky Cash? He was with you yesterday.”

“He didn’t show this morning. Found him dead in his apartment with a needle in his arm.” Big hooked his arm on the seatback, shrugged his shoulders, and faced Ben. “It can hook you. Coke got me.”

Ben, nothing to say, counted boxes.

Big Ed lost his nose to coke. He had a rubber one for a while, some putty-looking fabrication. Docs did that thing where they grew a new nose on his forehead. He was hard to look at for a year or two. His warehouse called him The Fucking Nose. But his sea-monkey-growing nose finally got big enough that the docs carved it out, left a hinge, and flipped it down. It’s still not right. His one leg dangled off the side of the lift. He was wearing old man Velcros. Big was quiet. Ben let him smoke in peace.

Big offered, “What’s going on?”

Ben put the favor on the back burner, put his foot up on the wheel. “I’ll tell you what’s going on,” Ben leaned forward on his arm. “It’s the doctors. Remember when I had a backache? I was up to three Tylenols for breakfast and three for lunch. Va fanacul, my back was bothering me. You remember that? Right around when you bought out Garcia. You had me keeping an eye on that new fucking guy.” Ben snapped his fingers thinking. “What was his name? Eyebrows?”

“Yeah. I remember Eyebrows.” Big closed his eyes.

“So I went to my doctor and said ‘Hey, I got a pain.’ He says, ‘Take these.’ So I took them. They were okay. I was feeling good. And then I ran out of pills and my scrip was done. I got some kinda flu. I couldn’t get out of bed. I told Lisa not to leave the house I was afraid I was dying.”

“Fucking flu,” Big Ed said.

“Here’s the thing. The fucking thing is, it wasn’t the flu. I went to the doctor and said ‘Hey, I got a flu and my back hurts again.’ He said ‘You’re addicted to those pills. When’s the last time you had one? I can give you something else to get you off the opioids.’ I said, ‘I’m addicted?’ So I jacked him up.” Big Ed opened one eye. “I grabbed him by the throat and jacked him up on the wall and said ‘Do you mean you turned me into a fucking junkie? I’m a fucking junkie now?’”

“Fucking docs,” Big Ed closed his eye.

“No more pills for me.” Ben pushed off the tire and stood up straight, offered the rest of the pack to Big Ed. “I’m sorry about Nicky. How’s your sister doing?”

“It’s a big weight. A child is a heavy thing.” He ground out the cigarette under the ball of his foot, pressed the button. The beeping resumed. Big lifted a drum.

 

 

A.E. Weisgerber’s work has been nominated for Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and the Pushcart Prize. Recent fiction appearing in SmokeLong QuarterlyStructo MagazineThe CollapsarFLAPPERHOUSE, and Gravel. Recent non-fiction in The Alaska StarAlternating CurrentThe Review Review, and Change Seven. She reads for Wigleaf and Pithead Chapel, and is working on an illustrated storybook called “Lives of the Saints.” Follow her @aeweisgerber, or visit  http://anneweisgerber.com.

 

“The Magic Cure” by Karin Aurino

Magic Cure
“Botanically Seen” by Penelope Breen

I had to adjust the sharp points under my ass because when I sat down next to him, they poked me in places that made me jump back up. I met him on a school hayride, a thin boy whose sweet eyes and sparse facial hair contradicted a deep voice and big hands. He was two grades older than me and I liked looking up at those tangled brown eyebrows.

It felt like a magic cure. He snuck along a plastic water bottle filled with vodka and he passed it to me. It was my first time with a drink. It was homecoming so everyone was there, taking turns on that squeaky wagon as it bounced along the dirt path behind the football field in that cold air. The leaves on the trees were changing from green to yellow and red. He jabbed his tongue in my ear and I pretended to like it. I had to resist the urge to wipe away that wet spot that got colder and colder as we rode along. I could tell he wanted my virginity, but I let him know I wasn’t eager to give it up by squeezing my knees together for that whole bumpy ride. He made sure the bottle spent most of its time in front of me, in case I changed my mind. Then I passed out.

When I came back to life, the yellow hay poked me everywhere and had weaved its way into my hair. My friend Kaitlyn shook me awake and took me to the girls locker room. The rows and rows of lockers mixed with the stench of old damp sweat made me dizzy. We passed the warped wall mirror and I looked a sight—would’ve even without the carnival image. Kaitlyn told me to stick my fingers down my throat and push. She said I would sober up.

I washed my hands first because I knew where they’d been. My hair smelled like cows or horses did their business in that hay.

At first I put one finger on my tongue but quickly realized I needed to push two in deep to get the job done. I felt better after, like magic. Kaitlyn drove me home and my parents had no idea. They didn’t notice because they’re more like grandparents who only show up for the fun stuff. My mom is 60 years old and my dad is 70 with their loose clothing and squirrely Einstein hair. They had seven kids. On purpose. Who even does that?

Kaitlyn said the thin boy with a deep voice left after he got tired of picking at the drool crusted on my face at the hayride. I went looking for him next Monday at school and in front of the science lab he kissed me right on the mouth. He had on these ripped Lucky jeans and an Adidas t-shirt, and he said, “Hay, you.”

I laughed, and we became a couple just like that. His name was Jake, but I looked at those tight jeans and started calling him Lucky, because anyone will tell you that a senior going with a sophomore just doesn’t happen. I was lucky to have him, and the tag told me so.

We went to movies or hung out at my house. He always had one of those clear water bottles so I ended up puking a lot. Two fingers instead of one. My six siblings were never home and even when they were, they didn’t notice us. When I was ten my parents decided they didn’t like us anymore, so they took off on road trips in their new convertible. I think it was gray.

The day they left my mom made dinner for us and left it on the kitchen table while we ran around the neighbor’s yard playing Ghost in the Graveyard with our friends. The kitchen—that’s where we all used to eat breakfast together.

There was a note. My older sister, Rachel, read in a chipper voice as if it were good news, “Finally taking that vacay! Be back in a few days. Lots to eat in the fridge. Love, Mom and Dad.” Though Rachel read the note cheerfully, in my head I heard a sarcastic sneer.

The food was lukewarm and covered with flies. It was in the summer so the heat was unbearable. They hadn’t shut the screen door in their haste to get away. Over the years when they had talked about that “vacay,” I thought they meant for all of us—the whole family. Not just them.

Joey is the youngest. He was nine then. I could tell he was trying not to cry and when Nick, the oldest, said, “We can’t eat this shit now,” and started to dump the food into the trash, Joey grabbed one of the plates filled with that toxic dinner and ran into the bathroom, locking the door.

Rachel pleaded with him not to eat it, “You’ll get really sick! C’mon, we’ll order a pizza with all the stuff you like.” He wouldn’t come out.

Chloe is the annoying middle sister who looked it up online and said Joey was going to get TB or typhoid or leprosy. She said house flies transmit 65 diseases to humans. So we waited for Joey to die while our parents were livin’ it up on their vacay.

I had dinner at Lucky’s house, a stiff mansion straight out of The Great Gatsby, which I’ve watched a hundred times with Kaitlyn—the Leo version. The thought of going to senior prom with him, as an underclassman, was awesome. His family of four, older sister included, wasn’t free-spirited like mine. These were proper people with manners and a Pomeranian. Before dessert, I excused myself and locked the bathroom door. It was next to the dining room and I didn’t realize they could hear me hurl. I didn’t drink that night, but the food was so good my stomach felt huge, gross and ugly. It wasn’t a big deal. But the next day Lucky came to my locker at school and said, “I know you’re bulimic and you better cut that shit out.”

I shook my head and tried to change the subject, “I saw this pretty blue prom dress in Seventeen. You can get a matching tux.” He rolled his eyes. He said his sister used to be bulimic and she knew the signs. He seemed annoyed that she told him he should help me, maybe get me started in a program called BA. Whatever.

When I was little, we used to have these big family hugs in the mornings before everyone went to school or work. After my mom sizzled sausages and my dad flipped pancakes, someone would yell, “Bring it in!” No matter where we were in the house, everyone came running into the kitchen and squeezed together, like a football team after a big win. We never knew where we would end up in the pack. I always tried to wiggle in the middle, because there was nothing to feel but the bodies of my family.

Lucky said, “You embarrassed me in front of everybody. Don’t do it again.”

I suppose I had been throwing up a lot. It had been six months since the hayride and it was happening almost every day. I knew I had to do something because I still had my virginity and Lucky was losing patience. Senior prom was still weeks away. The idea of going with him felt important, as if proving to the world I was loved.

After my parents started their road trips, I used to wish I had cancer. I thought that would keep them home. I imagined them hovering above my sterile hospital bed with gifts and sympathetic smiles. I guess if I told them I had an eating disorder they would just tell me to stop. After all, I was doing it on purpose, wasn’t I? You can’t get cancer on purpose.

I didn’t want to lose my boyfriend. Kaitlyn suggested, “Stop drinking, then you have no reason to yuke.” It sounded so simple. So easy. So I tried. But Lucky was good at sneaking that vodka into the library at school and he liked to share it with me. Then we’d make out and I would let him feel me up in the Student Life Center. But after, I would always heave, and then at home I would heave again after frozen food night, which was all the time since Mom and Dad left.

Then we got caught at the football field under the aluminum bleachers by the vice principal with Lucky’s hand down my pants and grass stains on my cotton shirt. She grabbed his water bottle and smelled. Lucky smirked, so she stuck her finger in and put a drop on her tongue. Then she smirked. Detention for a week. Detention and community service for Lucky.

My parents happened to be in town and they actually showed up while I sat and waited in the VP’s office. On the car ride home they said the sex part didn’t bother them and my dad, no lie, pulled out a package of condoms. I said I wasn’t there yet and could he please put them away. Gross. They seemed relieved but they wanted to talk about the alcohol. Then they wanted to talk about the throwing up. They said Chloe knew.

Later that night the whole family came together in the kitchen, even the oldest ones who had moved out. All nine of us were there. They had organized an intervention, and they wanted to help me. There weren’t any gifts, but there were eight sympathetic smiles.

At first it was awkward. No one knew what to say. Then Chloe spoke up, “You don’t have to make yourself sick.” She liked to get right to the point. “You could die from doing that.”

My mother asked why and I said I didn’t know. But when my dad reached over and held my hand, words came spilling out as if I had put my fingers down my throat and threw them up. I told my parents they’d abandoned me. I told my siblings they’d forgotten me. I said we didn’t do things together anymore and no one was ever home. I said I didn’t understand how we could have such a big family, yet I felt so alone.

My mother cried. Rachel and Joey rubbed my back. Chloe was already on her computer. Nick punched me in the arm, and I pinched him back. When I asked if we could have some fresh food once in a while, like we used to, Mom grabbed a pad and pen and we all put a grocery list together. She wrote down things like vegetables and fruit, flour and sausage. Nick said he would come by and drive me to Eating Disorders Anonymous meetings on Saturdays. And according to Chloe it was called EDA or ABA for Anorexics and Bulimics Anonymous—not BA. Or AA.

Then my dad asked what they could do to help make us feel like a family again. What would make me feel better, less lonely. They all wanted to know.

My parents said they were done with road trips for a while. Then I asked for that big family hug we used to do, and my dad said, “Bring it in!” I got to be in the middle without even trying. My heart blew open, and as I peeked through the cracks between our bodies, I saw our reflection in the kitchen window and there we were. A family.

 

 

Karin Aurino is an American writer of essays, short fiction, and a first novel, which draws on her former career as a fashion model. She worked in the entertainment industry for ICM, Paragon Ent., and was a Longform and Series Television Producer with Alexander/Enright. She is the recipient of residencies at Hedgebrook and Bread Loaf, and her fiction has received recognition from Glimmer Train. She is an active member of The Woolf Pack, founded by the Humanitas Prize Foundation—empowering and nurturing writers. Karin lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two children. You can follow Karin on Instagram and Twitter @KarinAurino

 

“Hunting” by Leland Seese

Hunting
“Ellis Island #5” by Penelope Breen

 

The one-time Eagle Scout spent the drive up to the mountains texting with his husband in their condo back in town. At the lodge the busker lit a fire in the woodstove with a single match and half a paper sack. A junkie in recovery started up a coffee pot to flow both day and night. We brought three pounds of French roast for the weekend to fortify the twelve of us. No beer. No scotch. No vodka. No cigars. Nothing that might tempt a single one to sacrifice sobriety. Throughout the weekend, scents of boyhood hunting trips, summer fishing expeditions, wood smoke, pine, and skunk cabbage, and memories. This one learned to field dress a deer from men who later passed out drunk in camp. Another told why God the Father isn’t comforting for those whose fathers beat them with a belt. Two call-ups to Afghanistan left a third one screaming in his bunk bed in the middle of the night. No one brought a shotgun or a rod and reel. Were we the first guests in this lodge to mourn the harm we’d done, or pray for opportunities to make amends, or fill the pot with meatless stew? And though we peppered conversation with our shits and fucks as men up in the mountains do, we shook our fists at all the ways the world had wounded us. Lying on our backs beneath the Milky Way, we trusted myriads of stars to understand as we drew out fears like little demons from the shadows near the dying fire, and let forgiveness stalk us, wild and unpredictable through the forest night.

 

 

Leland Seese’s poems have appeared in The Christian Century, The Nassau Review, The East Bay Review, and many other journals. He lives in Seattle, where he and his wife are foster-adoptive-biological parents of six children. Much of his work as a pastor involves work with homeless and immigrant communities.

 

“Glass Splinters” by Tyler Anne Whichard

Glass Splinters
Black Hand” by Penelope Breen

When his mother died, he didn’t cry. I guess he couldn’t find it in him. His eyes that teared up in every argument we ever had were dry at the wake, at the Sunday service, at the graveside, and for three months after that, too. Some people are just like that: all the mourning happens on the inside, and that’s fine. If anything, it’s worse for the people watching. My eyes followed him at the wake, at the Sunday service, at the graveside, and for three months after that. I felt like Noah building his arc even when everyone told him it wouldn’t rain. I had heard the same voice he had; we both knew a flood was coming.

~

One night, I found him alone in his room and he held his arms out to me with a look that reminded me of the glass his friend Eric shattered three parties before; I’m sure if someone looked hard enough, they could still find splinters of it in the corners of the room, under the lip of the lower cabinets.

The pretty girl he danced with went home and everyone who couldn’t drive fell asleep in random places throughout his house. I kept him on his side the entire night in case he got sick from all the alcohol and came to terms with the fact that I would be picking the splinters of him out of me for a very long time. He fell asleep and I wondered if he found what he was looking for there.

~

On the last night of a summer trip we went on, he sat outside in a little rocking chair; it was balanced against the wall so no one could tell it was broken at first glance. If it was sat in the right way, it didn’t give way beneath you. It was around two o’clock in the morning when I woke up and found him there, crying silently. He never spoke about his mother, but I knew who the tears were for.

“You’re always the one to find me,” he said with a breathy, not-funny sort of laugh.

“I’m always looking for you,” I said – only, come to think of it, I can’t remember if we ever said anything like that out loud. If we didn’t, I don’t know why. I remember I wrapped my arms around him as he buried his nose in the silent place between my collarbones.

The rocking chair didn’t give out – I guess it knew a thing or two about timing.

~

At the last party I ever attended at his place, I stayed up on the couch talking to one of his friends, confusing them as my own for a night. I didn’t go up to his room.

At one point, one of his little brothers came over to me and told me he hoped things worked out because I was the best thing for his older brother, even if he didn’t know it. I guess I’m the type of person people are meant to stay with, only no one does, and I don’t really know what that says about me. I didn’t go up to his room after hearing that, even though I wanted to. I knew who was up there with him, and he knew I knew.

I hope she kept him sleeping on his side. He wasn’t one to lose his alcohol, but it was best to play it safe and he snored on his back, anyway.

I drove myself home and slept for two days.

 

 

Tyler Anne Whichard is a 21-year-old aspiring writer working toward her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. The r.k.v.r.y quarterly literary journal is the first official publication of her work. Her hobbies include staring at blank Word documents, binge-watching Korean dramas, and pouring too much creamer in her coffee in the morning.