“To Dorothy” by Sidney Thompson

Painting by Anna Rac

I remember you, the brunette from California, with the sheet music of “Over the Rainbow” framed on your apartment wall. It was autographed by the composer of the music or the lyrics, one of them. I remember, too, clearly, how on that night we met, on the eve of the fall semester, when we first had sex, you said the Tin Man had always been your favorite, ever since you were a little girl, because he didn’t have a penis.

Sometimes I think of you, how you preferred to be eaten than penetrated. You who bragged that same night that you’d slept with over a hundred guys.

Whenever I find myself in a cemetery, I remember what you said once so many years ago—of course, in Oxford, Mississippi, when we were grad students. We’d watched Ghost at the mall theater, then visited Faulkner’s grave, admiring the stonework, and you said in the shade after some wandering, “There’s nothing sadder than seeing new flowers on old graves.”

Not many weeks later you called me to your apartment because you’d promised paramedics that you wouldn’t spend the night alone. You confessed that it wasn’t the first time you’d asphyxiated yourself but it had been your first time to call 911. You showed me the knitted rope, the bedroom doorknob. Are you beginning to remember me yet?

Then, before long, you lost your teaching post after word got out you had sex with students and your student’s friends at a frat party. We weren’t speaking by then. Different circles.

If you read this, find me on Facebook. You’ll see I’m married to a brunette from Kansas. How about that for irony—me with my Dorothy at last. But do you have your Tin Man? Are you somewhere, or anywhere, by now? If I remembered your name, my approach would’ve been entirely different.




Sidney Thompson holds an MFA in creative writing and a Ph.D. in American literature, with a secondary specialization in African-American narratives. He is the author of the short story collection Sideshow, winner of Foreword Magazine’s Silver Award for Short Story Collection of the Year (2006). His fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and in such literary journals as 2 Bridges Review, Atticus Review, The Carolina Quarterly, Cleaver Magazine, The Cortland Review, Danse Macabre, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Grey Sparrow Journal, NANO, Prick of the Spindle, Ragazine, and The Southern Review. He also has a chapbook of poetry, titled You/Wee, forthcoming in December from Prolific Press. He lives in Fort Worth, where he teaches creative writing at Texas Christian University.

Contributors Winter 2019

Randall Brown (I Might Never Learn and As Designed) is the author of the award-winning Mad to Live, his essay on (very) short fiction appears in The Rose Metal Press Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, and he appears in numerous anthologies. He blogs regularly at FlashFiction.Net and has been published widely, both online and in print. He is also the founder and managing editor of Matter Press and its Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. He received his MFA from Vermont College and now teaches in Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program.

Devon Balwit‘s ([Yes, but…]) most recent collection is titled A Brief Way to Identify a Body (Ursus Americanus Press). Her individual poems can be found in The Cincinnati Review, Fifth Wednesday (online), apt, Grist, and Rattle among others. For more on her book and movie reviews, chapbooks, collections and individual works, visit her website.



Alex Chernow (your dog slept on the floor of your) is a poet, nurse, and birth doula currently residing in Baltimore. She holds degrees from NYU and Johns Hopkins, and won Boulevard magazine’s 2014 Contest for Emerging Poets. Her poetry chapbook It wouldn’t be called longing if you only did it for a little while is forthcoming from dancing girl press.


Brittany Franclemont (The Nursery Walls) is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Stephen F. Austin State University and has previously had her work published in The Piney Dark.




Stacey Johnson (Between the Living and the Dead: A Chernobyl Monologue) writes and teaches in San Diego County, where she is a current MFA candidate at San Diego State University. Her work has appeared in The Adirondack Review, A Year In Ink, and various small online publications. She lives with her daughter, Grace, who inspires everything.

Kyle Laws (Apology in the Sand) is based out of the Arts Alliance Studios Community in Pueblo, CO where she directs Line/Circle: Women Poets in Performance. Her collections include Faces of Fishing Creek (Middle Creek Publishing), So Bright to Blind (Five Oaks Press), and Wildwood (Lummox Press). Ride the Pink Horse is forthcoming from Spartan Press. 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.  

Jennifer Martelli (Low-/Tide Heart of Mine and The Broken Cherry, The Poplar, The Yew) is the author of MyTarantella (forthcoming, Bordighera Press), as well as the chapbook, After Bird (Grey Book Press, winner of the open reading, 2016). Her work has appeared or will appear in Verse Daily, The Sonora Review, Iron HorseReview (winner, Photo Finish contest), The Sycamore Review, Sugar House, Superstition Review,Thrush, and Tinderbox Poetry Journal. Her prose and artwork have been published in Five-2-One, The Baltimore Review, and Green Mountains Review. Jennifer Martelli has been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Net Prizes and is the recipient of the Massachusetts Cultural Council Grant in Poetry. She is a poetry editor for The Mom Egg Review.

Marcus Meade (Kick Me in the Nuts for $20?) is an Assistant Professor – General Faculty at the University of Virginia in the Academic and Professional Writing Program. He focuses primarily on scholarship in Rhetoric and Composition, but occasionally finds time to write short fiction, music, and baseball commentary. His interests are eclectic, but his intent is always the same, to write something that helps people.

Anna Rac (Illustrator)  is an abstract expressionist painter who explores the connection between music and painting. Playing piano since the age of four, Anna graduated with a degree in music from the University of Illinois, and now uses classical music to inspire her artwork. She describes her painting process as an immersive and emotional experience. From music to canvas, her spontaneous approach results in works that are lyrical, dynamic, and multilayered—much like the music from which she draws inspiration. She uses a variety of media and tools to create her compositions. Born in Poland, she now lives in Naples and is an active member of the Florida Artists Group, Naples Art District, and Naples Art Association. Anna’s paintings can be found in galleries in Florida, as well as many private collections in the States and abroad.

Laurie Saurborn (Graft) is the author of two poetry collections, Industry of Brief Distraction and Carnavoria, and a chapbook, Patriot. An NEA Creative Writing Fellowship recipient, her work has appeared in publications such as jubilatstorySouthThe Cincinnati ReviewThe Southern ReviewThe Rumpus, and Tupelo Quarterly. Previously, she taught creative writing at the University of Texas at Austin, where she directed the undergraduate creative writing program. She is currently pursuing a graduate degree in psychiatric mental health nursing at Ohio State. Find her at lauriesaurborn.com.  

Robert Sachs’ (The Esterlink) work has appeared most recently in The Louisville Review, the Chicago Quarterly Review, and the Delmarva Review. He earned an M.F.A. in Writing from Spalding University in 2009. His story, “Vondelpark,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2017. Originally from Chicago, he currently lives in Louisville, Kentucky. He serves on the board of Louisville Literary Arts. Read more at www.roberthsachs.com.

Sidney Thompson (To Dorothy) holds an MFA in creative writing and a Ph.D. in American literature, with a secondary specialization in African-American narratives. He is the author of the short story collection Sideshow, winner of Foreword Magazine’s Silver Award for Short Story Collection of the Year (2006). His fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and in such literary journals as 2 Bridges Review, Atticus Review, The Carolina Quarterly, Cleaver Magazine, The Cortland Review, Danse Macabre, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Grey Sparrow Journal, NANO, Prick of the Spindle, Ragazine, and The Southern Review. He also has a chapbook of poetry, titled You/Wee, forthcoming in December from Prolific Press. He lives in Fort Worth, where he teaches creative writing at Texas Christian University.

Hananah Zaheer (Stitches and Final Exam) is a fiction editor for Four Way Review. Her recent work has appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review where it won the Lawrence Foundation Literary prize for 2017, Alaska Quarterly Review, Gargoyle, Moon City Review, Westview and Willow Review, among others. She received a 2016 Pushcart nomination from Moon City Review and has been awarded fellowships by the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA) and Rivendell Writers’ Colony.

“I Might Never Learn” by Randall Brown

Painting by Anna Rac.

Reflux runs in my family, burning even as babies, a sharp cringe in every snapshot. This esophageal squall tastes like shredded Firestones, a tired ache that settled in my father’s Adam’s apple. Extended into sinuses, eroded cracks, soft fissures, until he could no longer stomach margaritas with my mother. The outlawed repertoire might leave lesser men impoverished: no lemon tang, no hot press of garlic, no avocado butter. Chocolate turned volatile: no beer, wine, briny cocktail. But my father relaxed into restrictions: a kiosk of pots with broth and worms. Eating without, craving pittance. But not me, no, I continue to burn.

   

Randall Brown is the author of the award-winning Mad to Live, his essay on (very) short fiction appears in The Rose Metal Press Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, and he appears in numerous anthologies. He blogs regularly at FlashFiction.Net and has been published widely, both online and in print. He is also the founder and managing editor of Matter Press and its Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. He received his MFA from Vermont College and now teaches in Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. “I Might Never Learn” first appeared in Corium Magazine.

“As Designed” by Randall Brown

Painting by Anna Rac.

More and more, he finds himself in the psychedelia of Farmville, the land of Teletubbies without the creatures: crops, a cottage, a line of cherry trees, all of it his. Blueberries to arise in four hours, tomatoes to plant, watermelons to fertilize. He’s saving up for a tractor or seeder. He pets the Clydesdales, gathers the wool, collects truffles from the pigs. He walks along the white-washed fence, passing the red, purple, yellow hay bales. Someone has painted GROOVY onto the day-glo barn. No neighbors’ dogs bark; no face peers over the fence or through the evergreens. A duck sits on an anvil. Any second the pink roses will bloom. Later, the daffodils, the red tulips. A bug in the system has made crops unable to shrivel. There’s no need to harvest, but he keeps to the schedule. Except for the daisies, like miniature suns or cracked-open eggs, alive for weeks, undead, desperate to…. In the corner, by the tombstones, fallow land waits to be plowed. Somewhere a phone rings, like an alarm. Somewhere, a pile of papers. Somewhere, a text. Pick me up. Take me here. Remember to get the milk. Somewhere, outside of Farmville, someone works madly to fix that glitch so flowers will wither, as they should.

     

Randall Brown is the author of the award-winning Mad to Live, his essay on (very) short fiction appears in The Rose Metal Press Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, and he appears in numerous anthologies. He blogs regularly at FlashFiction.Net and has been published widely, both online and in print. He is also the founder and managing editor of Matter Press and its Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. He received his MFA from Vermont College and now teaches in Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program.

“Graft” by Laurie Saurborn

Painting by Anna Rac.

Back to the green tiled wall, I watch the surgeon apply clamps to a patient’s fingertips. Unrolling a length of gauze, he winds it through the clamps and then the loops of a cloverleaf mounted at the top of a metal pole. With one pull, the arm is lifted. In a blue hairnet, blue shoe covers, a mask, and a giant white onesie—a “bunny suit”—it looks as if a cloud swallowed me. When I modeled it earlier for the patient in pre-op, they laughed, asking if I was married because my husband would certainly find the sight of me hilarious.

From an uncovered leg, a long, rectangular strip of skin is peeled away with a tool that looks like a potato peeler. Surprisingly gray, the skin is dropped into a stainless steel basin filled with sterile saline. A resident removes it and passes it through a device that looks like a pasta machine. The resulting skin mesh is applied over an injury that was prepared by washing, cutting, and cauterization.

Under my bunny suit I wear bright red scrubs that mark me as a nursing student. Thinking of my students in the creative writing classes I taught only last spring, the list of what I have lost runs through my mind: my house in Texas, my poetry and art books, my cat, my cameras, my marriage, my job as a lecturer of creative writing. This is the second surgery I have witnessed at the university hospital and when the arm is finally lowered I think not, Why am I here in an operating room? But: How did I get here?

 

“You’ll be the one who’s blamed,” my therapist says. “The one who left.” In Texas I found my way to her office more than four years ago after an outburst of frustrated anger during an argument with my husband left me shaken and unmoored. During our sessions I learn that expectations of people in our lives are “premeditated resentments.” Outside her office, my reading of Buddhist practice teaches me of the option to have no expectations, which feels like trading the twins of hope and despair for a flat, lifeless line.

The closer I get to my husband, the more I lose my frequency to a fog of static, and so when I return to Austin from Ohio on semester break I stay at a hotel. At my therapist’s office I comment on the new landscaping. Pale, heart-sized river stones now line the space between her office and the next building over. “I was worried the deer would be unable to navigate these rocks,” she says. “But they aren’t having any trouble.”

As I stumble through a new state of re-positioning my life over a Mid-western landscape, the metaphor of animal experience continues to appear. Through late summer and into fall, geese come and go from a pond near my apartment. But one remains, swimming, eating grass, honking at intervals when I walk past with my dog. A lone heron stalks along a small creek and I wonder if the two birds find any company in one another. Is the goose injured? Mourning? Two days later the goose is still there, maybe: there are now six geese, all standing and eating, and I cannot tell if the possibly heartbroken goose is among them.

 

Synchronicity is unconcerned energy. It does not ask what you imagine of the future: Who you will marry, where you will live, if you will have kids. What I experience in leaving Texas for Ohio is not serendipity, that fateful pull a friend and I recall as having too much influence over our younger lives when we wanted to believe everything had a meaning to decipher. Synchronicity is worrying over my accumulating out-of-state student debt and the emotional cost of my destabilized marriage, and in moments of peak anxiety looking at the clock on the stove, the car stereo, or my phone, to see the time as 4:44 or 3:21 or 11:11 or 12:34. On some plane—mathematical, chronological, invisible—I am walking the right track even when most days feel like a series of falling overs as I learn how to take blood pressures, how to assess levels of consciousness, how to cleanse and pack a deep wound.

Usually I do not turn on the TV during the day, but when the Kavanaugh hearings are aired, I take a break from studying pathophysiology to watch. For the second time, I have left a marriage to a successful man. Again, I see how easily people—female, male, gay, straight—take sides on a split and how commonly they lean towards power. Sometimes knowing yourself means being alone with yourself, means letting go of everyone you thought you loved and who you believed loved you. How did I know my marriage was over? Not while sitting in Al-Anon meetings struggling with my desire to fix the unsolvable. Not when I convinced my husband not to throw me out of the house by having sex after another argument that escalated. Not when I scanned his cellphone text-log in the years before, and the months after, I left. When we are still speaking, he recounts another encounter with a tearful female student who thanks him for making her feel safe in class. Over the phone, I feel him glowing. It takes a month of not speaking to him to wonder why making me feel secure was not his priority.

How I know: Another month passes and I begin to wake up happy. Or what registers as a close approximation to the feeling as I begin to live without daily storms—mine and his—crashing through my life.

 

To save what I can, I buy most of my furniture at Ikea, unpack it in the apartment parking lot and carry it upstairs, piece by piece. The couch, however, I have delivered, and the men who carry it in are friendly even in the rainy later-summer gloom. After they maneuver the box into the living room, one guy looks at his hands, covered in mysterious black dust (which soon covers my own hands, as I begin to cut the cardboard away from the couch), and instead of shaking my hand bumps my forearm with his own. He’s a type, the sort of guy I see in Ohio—skinny white guy with piercing blue eyes, tattoos that cannot be hidden, a missing tooth or two. We are ground zero of the opioid epidemic; men who perform manual labor are stuck the hardest. These blue eyes I see later in the semester in patients who lose significant amounts of skin and muscle tissue, possibly from injecting drugs. I attend a training session where I learn how to administer the antidote to opioids, a drug—naloxone—that rips the high right out of the synapse. “Don’t expect a thank you,” the organizer warns.

Over the past years I have struggled with my own addiction to believing I have the answers and to the belief that making enough effort guarantees success. With this sometimes self-destructive desire to help comes a corresponding addiction to men in pain. Men who blaze and require a continual re-application of fuel. When I first met my husband, his attention was a fire unlike any I had experienced. Passionate letters, gifts of books and jewelry, calls at all hours. It did not register then that there was someone else—or several someone elses—building the heat from the other side. That the circle would shift and I would be the one not pursued, but sustaining.

 

Earlier in the semester I witnessed my first surgery while wearing another bunny suit. Watching the process of removing pins from bone, I learned they can be closer to the size of writing instruments than sewing needles. When the patient awakes in the post-anesthesia recovery unit, they appear disappointed to find a wound vacuum—designed to speed healing—in place. Before I can catch myself, I say, “I’m sorry.” But I do speak from a kind of experience, years ago having seen the same sadness on my husband’s face when he woke from anesthesia with this very device tethered to his body.

What got me into therapy and then into Al-Anon in 2014 was a wooden spoon. I was cooking, my husband and I exchanged words, I threw a spoon and it hit him in the chest. This isn’t you, my nurse practitioner said. See this therapist. I made an appointment. As I moved into my later thirties I began to see how anger ruled me, how it was a legacy passed to me, how trying to avoid anger only made it grow. Yet I also saw how women were not allowed to be angry, in the world or at home. With reason, or without.

A central tenant of Al-Anon is that in focusing on the self, by stepping back from the urge to control and monitor the behavior of a loved one, a positive change can result in the relationship. I found the gains, in terms of the health of my marriage, to be one-sided. Maybe every relationship is meted a set amount of certain things. The less I drank, the more he did. The less I lashed out, the more furious he became. Living with chronic anger and alcoholism—whether yours or someone else’s—is like walking on the surface of a funhouse mirror. It is a destabilized, warped landscape.  

I have read that life is one long room, containing everyone who has played a part in your journey. It is not just the people in the space, though, it is the spaces themselves: the yellow kitchen in my house in Austin, the church basement where I first went to Al-Anon, my office in the English department at UT, my apartment office in Ohio, the patient rooms and operating rooms I move through in school. It is the women I worked with at the mental health clinic at twenty-two, connected to the post-surgical wound care I did for my husband at thirty-two, connected to the patients I cared for with skin infections and burns at forty-four. It is the North Carolina house I grew up in, the upstate barn I lived in for a New York winter, the red house my husband and I rented for several consecutive summers in Berkeley. It is this last house I keep our marriage in, a space in which we were happy, where Pacific coast fog drifted through the cypress trees every afternoon.

 

How I got here: My aunt died and left enough money for me to envision paying for at least one semester of nursing school, wherever I was accepted. Although I loved teaching I was not prepared for the politics and leveraging required of academic life. I wanted to love a job and to be paid a living wage. To not be caught in the current circumstances of the artistic economy. Becoming a nurse practitioner was a dream I put to the side while I earned an MFA. As nearly every week my husband threatened to quit his job, it seemed that if I wanted a safe place to write, psychologically and financially, I would have to make it myself.

When my sister and I visited our aunt in France, the winter of her death, we remained neutral in our expressions as she showed us her house in Bram sitting within sight of the highway rotary. It was a world away from the medieval battlement she and our uncle spent years repairing, in Banyuls with the Mediterranean in view, where a large lizard roamed the walls, where my uncle sat on the patio under the jasmine drinking boxed California rose like the Americans he professed to hate while the hunters tracked wild boars through the vineyards. Now my aunt’s head was swollen to twice its normal size due to radiation treatment for lung cancer that had spread to her brain, her blonde hair long gone and replaced with a crooked wig and worry about her pets. After our week’s visit at a rented country house, we returned her to her home and husband, promising to see her again even though it was unlikely. As we moved through the door I turned to see her face, knowing we were leaving her the only place we could, a place of her making, one of writing, travel, alcohol, and anger.

In my apartment hang two pictures, one of the house in Banyuls and the other a charcoal of nearby Collioure. These I crammed into my car before I left, before I pressed on and did not heed my husband’s pleas to return. This stings: I chose not to turn around. To not go back when he asked. Perhaps this is another addiction, to pushing through. But a life cannot be made in an avalanche. I released as much as I could in an attempt to level the land, but when he drained the bank accounts over several years I had nowhere else to go but away. I could use my inheritance to bail him out, or to shore myself up.

Recently I read a report from the CDC about suicide risk and occupation. Among men, those who work in manual labor—men who deliver furniture, men who build apartments, houses, offices, and hospitals in booming Austin and Columbus—have the highest suicide rates. Among women, those who work in the arts are the hardest struck. I cite the statistics not to imply I was suicidal, but to illustrate the importance of realizing there are choices women can make that will provide an option other than enduring. My husband and I are both writers and artists and we had a system that worked, one that I could depend on, for a while. Teaching requires the control of emotion, response, and expression, as does recovery. But it is impossible to hold everything in: My marriage fell apart when I began to teach at UT for much less than he made, and the self-management I had to do to survive bled over into my creative life. He kept writing. Living in a life of compartmentalization and blinders, I nearly stopped.

 

A relationship ending is being lost from what was, and if there is anything to hang onto it is the connection between how things were and what they will become. The space between is far from empty. In one of my first Al-Anon meetings, someone said it is not how far you have to go, but how far you have come. My apartment windows face a wooded area.  Now that the leaves have fallen I can see the empty swing sets in the backyards of the houses in the adjoining subdivision. Hanging curtains would interrupt the light moving in and out of the windows. I am not sure how I feel about waking up happy; about not living around the drama of another person’s choices and in the safety I found in living apart from myself. In my bunny suit, I take steps, some giant and some small, and learn what I can from where I end up, from the people I meet, from how I navigate—successfully or not—the hazards and confusions of the daily human condition. Our stories, our lives, were connected, but even in marriage they were never the same.

Commenting on the absence of female road narratives, Vanessa Veselka writes that when women on journeys are encountered, they are not asked, “Why are you doing this?” but, “What thing happened to you to make you want to go off on your own?” As time passes I continue to discern the difference between being reactive and having a reaction. A reaction can take time; it does not bear the expectation of immediacy. Staying in my job in Austin, taking prerequisite classes for my applications, going to therapy, sleeping on the couch or asking my husband to: those were reactions to living in a marriage I could not rescue.

How did I get to here from there? I learned to ask for help: how to frame a difficult conversation, how to make it through the holidays alone, how to remove my spouse from my car insurance. When it was offered, I learned to accept it: non-skid grippers for my shoes to prevent falls while walking my dog in the snow; notes from a missed lecture; calls and texts from friends who continue to check in.

 

In my mind spins a loop of all I have gained: space, loneliness, my eyes steady on my own in the mirror when I can finally look at myself again. Moving states has not removed me from anger, but it has decreased my reactivity. If, as Virginia Woolf wrote, there is a line running through each story to which everything cleaves and cleaves—runs to and runs from—what is the line coursing through this layered breakage and regeneration? As winter moves in and it is colder and darker earlier every evening, I walk past the pond less. The last time I see the goose it moves from the bank into the water as my dog and I come closer. This bird is not the woodpecker I found the week before I left Austin, lying on its back on the dog bed we kept outside. Not the woodpecker that clutched my finger with its feet and pecked at my hand, refusing a perch on a branch and instead settling into a stockpot lined with towels. That was small enough for me to catch and hand over to someone else. Synchronicity is not about how things will turn out, but how life carries on while we adjust.

“How do you like Ohio?” A woman asks as she scans my groceries later that day.

“It’s gray, I say,” surprised I miss the sun.





Laurie Saurborn is the author of two poetry collections, Industry of Brief Distraction and Carnavoria, and a chapbook, Patriot. An NEA Creative Writing Fellowship recipient, her work has appeared in publications such as jubilatstorySouthThe Cincinnati ReviewThe Southern ReviewThe Rumpus, and Tupelo Quarterly. Previously, she taught creative writing at the University of Texas at Austin, where she directed the undergraduate creative writing program. She is currently pursuing a graduate degree in psychiatric mental health nursing at Ohio State. Find her at lauriesaurborn.com.  

“your dog slept on the floor of your” by Alex Chernow

Painting by Anna Rac

your dog slept on the floor of your closet every day after you left.  your family tried to coax him into the yard, entice him with long walks, hold palmsful of deli meat at the bottom of the stairs, but, when left unattended, he’d retreat back to the closet to curl himself into a bed of clothes that still smelled like you

1. piles of unwashed clothes

and your mother, who doesn’t know how to move her body anymore because this is not something mothers are supposed to do      your mother, who hasn’t eaten anything off the plates of casseroles we’ve brought to her side table in endless parade          your mother, who is on her knees again and we don’t know if she’s praying or if she’s too weak to stand

2. so many science fiction novels with spines splayed open and dog-eared corners

which I know you loved but we never talked about them      and I know you used to write but none of us have figured out the password to your laptop, not your team or your dog’s name or your sister’s

3. your elementary school yearbook

and we can’t stop flipping through it saying what a beautiful child you were     and your third grade teacher came and told us how once you got in trouble when you and another boy showed each other your penises in class     and said “maybe I shouldn’t have told you that”     and she cried and kept saying “this is wrong this is so wrong”

4. bottles of lithium, with no pills missing

you’d said in the midst of all the appointments and scans that someday you would donate your brain to science and now it’s at johns hopkins, and everyone said to your parents that of course you found a way to to help others, even now, so like you, and it doesn’t make your parents feel any better

5. a syringe, which no one knew you had or used till    after

6. birthday cards from your grandmother you never threw away

all your family came, your grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and all your friends, friends you hadn’t seen in years, and your parents’ friends and your brother and your sister and all their friends and the guys you worked with at the bar and your ex-girlfriend who couldn’t stop crying and the kids you coached for the last five years missed football practice to sit around the living room in black and tell your mother no when she said it’s all her fault and on the night of the funeral so many people came they couldn’t fit through the doors and we could tell it made your dad proud, in a weird way, and your parents said it was the party they get to throw for you since they’ll never get to throw a wedding

7. every album by the band your best friend started

and you used to drive an hour and a half to see his shows, every one,    and he wrote a song for you the night it happened and your family listens to it every day

and your brother takes care of your dog now and mixes his food with the bone broth you had made and left in the freezer in hopes that he will eat but even or especially your dog knows this is wrong this is so wrong

     

Alex Chernow is a poet, nurse, and birth doula currently residing in Baltimore, MD. She holds degrees from NYU and Johns Hopkins University, and was the winner of Boulevard magazine’s 2014 Contest for Emerging Poets. Her poetry chapbook It wouldn’t be called longing if you only did it for a little while is forthcoming from dancing girl press.

“Kick Me in the Nuts for $20?” by Marcus Meade

Painting by Anna Rac.

We walked out of Balley’s, a roving bachelor party looking for the right bar or Blackjack table. I’d lost my ass playing three-card poker, and the rest of my group lagged behind.

A steady stream of Vegas bodies moved both directions of a crosswalk staircase. I tried to step slowly so my friends might keep up, but the current waits for no one except the migrant workers handing out small cards for hookers—rocks in the stream.

The wide crosswalk provided some relief from the rush of people so I stopped and watched a man with an electric guitar and small amp playing “American Woman.” Another man with a briar-patch beard sat next to an upturned ball cap and a sign reading “too ugly to hook.”

In the quiet that followed guitar man’s song, a voice projected over the buzz of moving people. “Kick me in the nuts for twenty bucks,” a man shouted. He stood near the end of the crosswalk holding a cardboard sign that read, “kick me in the nuts?”. He was young, early twenties, and his clothes dangled from thin arms and legs. He smiled with repeated shouts, “Twenty bucks, kick me in the nuts!” Unlike the man too ugly to hook, who simply sat on the ground and stared, this young man’s face reflected the liveliness of the street.

Under the neon lights, his skin looked a dull shade of peach, like he was covered in layers of plastic wrap. His face had patches of hair that might look impressive on someone ten years younger but on him looked ragged and dirty.

In hearing the man, I visualized the toe of a boot smashing my own nuts and remembered the pain of contact from years past. The uncontrollable burn, the body-snatching sickness deep in my gut that recedes slowly.

After a moment, the friends I’d been waiting for came walking my way. I jumped back into the stream beside them, and we continued across the street when a familiar voice commanded us to hold up. Chuck, a member of our group, was talking to the man with the “kick me in the nuts?” sign. The rest of us clustered at the top of the staircase trying not to interrupt the flow of people.

After only a minute, Chuck and the man came walking up to our group. Chuck pointed to Sam, the soon-to-be groom, and presented the man as a gift to him. Sam looked hesitant and waved his hands in protest, but the others pushed him closer to the man while laughing and clapping in praise at Chuck’s gift.

I stood silent with my hands interlocked at my belt. This won’t happen, I thought. And yet, I saw the group turn to Sam. I saw him blush and hold up his hands asking them to stop but only in the most lighthearted way.

A part of me forced my hands up in a signal asking my friends to stop before letting them fall back to their clenched position at my belt. I turned and fixed my gaze on a large sign for Paris, unable to look at my friends, and thankful I couldn’t look at myself.

The man encouraged Sam as well, his excitement matching the building frenzy around him. With nearly fifteen dedicated onlookers, Sam gave in, and I stared more intently at the neon sign for Harrah’s.

The crowd surrounding Sam had reached at least twenty-five people, and everyone stood surprisingly quiet as the money changed hands.

I held my breath, waiting for the laughter and collective exhale of the audience to signal an end to the show. I waited to hear the man scream or fall or cry and turned my head toward anything other than what was happening five feet away from me.

My eyes squinted as a reflex, and the neon lights became blurry and dull. Waiting for the street to make sounds again, a violent force struck me on the side. I lost my balance and fell face-first to the ground.

The silence remained, no laughs or screams, just anticipation that wouldn’t release. My scraped hands pressed equal parts pavement and discarded hooker cards. Looking up, I saw the kick-me-in-the-nuts man running past Harrah’s. His loose shirt and baggy jeans billowed out like the parachute of a drag racer, but he wasn’t slowing down. He navigated the stream of people with precision, and was gone before Chuck got beyond, “Hey, asshole! Hey!”

The crowd slowly broke away, carrying a new, anxious laughter up and down stream.

My friends picked me up, and we continued our walk down the strip. We found the next casino, and I lost two hundred dollars shooting craps. I watched servers in short skirts and body glitter walk from table to table. I watched the night turn back into morning and the numbers on the jackpots climb higher and higher. As we headed back towards the hotel, Chuck and the others grumbled about the man who, it turned out, wanted twenty dollars to run down the street. Eventually, they turned it into a joke, another story to tell back home huddled around a table at the bar.

   

Marcus Meade is an Assistant Professor – General Faculty at the University of Virginia in the Academic and Professional Writing Program. He focuses primarily on scholarship in Rhetoric and Composition, but occasionally finds time to write short fiction, music, and baseball commentary. His interests are eclectic, but his intent is always the same, to write something that helps people.

Contributors Fall 2018


Alicia Bessette (space bodies and bird bodies) has had poems appear in Anima, Atlanta Review, and The Main Street Rag. Her debut novel Simply From Scratch (Dutton/Plume) was an international bestseller. Visit her website at www.aliciabessette.com


Clayton Bradshaw (The Twenty-Two) served in the US Army for eight years as an infantryman. He deployed with 3/2 SCR to Iraq from 2007 to 2008 and to Afghanistan from 2010 to 2011. He graduated from Sam Houston State University with a BA in English and currently participates in the MFA-Creative Writing program at Texas State University. His work can be found in The Deadly Writers Patrol, Second Hand Stories, War, Literature and the Arts, and O-Dark-Thirty.


Elyse Brouhard (Psych-Ward Cheesecake) lives in Forest Grove, Oregon. She started writing at the age of two, while pretending to take people’s orders for food. She works as a social worker, primarily with homeless adults with mental illnesses. She loves her work and has found a home in the people she assists. Writing is one of her favorite skills to employ for surviving life.


Emily Ellison (I Am Trying to Be More Rock Less) is a second year MFA poet at Texas State University, where she also works as an Teaching Assistant for their English faculty. Her work has appeared in Southword, After the Pause, and Haiku Journal, and is upcoming in several places. Emily lives in San Marcos, Texas with two cats and an abundance of plants (withering at the moment).


Moe Kirkpatrick (Deconstruction Room) is a queer writer from Cincinnati, Ohio. Currently, he is pursuing a BFA in Creative Writing at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. His work has received multiple Scholastic Writing Gold and Silver Key Awards and can be found in Artemis.


Eli Landes (Dead Man Walking) is a marketing copywriter by day and a fiction writer whenever he can squeeze in the time. He writes about pretty much anything and everything, but everything he writes has a little bit of novelty to it; a little bit of different. For more—including unique, never-before-published short stories—follow him at his blog, regardingwriting.com.


Suellen Meyers (Still Born: Finding Madeline) is agoraphobic, and not afraid to talk about it. Currently, she is obtaining an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Bay Path University. She writes true stories about family involving themes of loss, addiction, anxiety, agoraphobia, and resilience. Her work has also appeared in The Manifest-Station. She lives in hellishly warm Las Vegas, Nevada, with her husband Gary, Zoey the Elf Dog, and new addition to the family, Abby the Wiggle Butt. Contact her at https://www.suellenmeyers.com/


Stacey Park (Impediment) is currently an MFA poetry student. Previously, she has worked as an adjunct instructor and holds an MA in English Literature from the University of Toronto. Her previous writing can be read in RipRap and Foothill.  


Virginia Pye (Crying in Italian) is the author of two award-winning novels, Dreams of the Red Phoenix and River of Dust, and the short story collection, Shelf Life of Happiness. Her stories, essays, and interviews have appeared in Literary HubThe New York TimesThe RumpusHuffington Post, The North American ReviewThe Baltimore Review, and elsewhere. She lived in Richmond, Virginia for many years and now lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Find her online at www.virginiapye.com, FB, Twitter, and Instagram.


Mary Hutchings Reed (Bubba) is the author of four indie literary mainstream novels: One for the ArkWarming Up, Saluting the Sun, and Courting Kathleen Hannigan, which foretells the #MeToo movement as it chronicles the challenges facing a young woman lawyer “growing up” in a prestigious Chicago law firm. Mary practiced intellectual property law in Chicago for many years and her short fiction has appeared in The Florida Review, The Tampa Review, Ars Medica and the Ligourian. Read more about her work at www.maryhutchingsreed.com

“Dead Man Walking” by Eli Landes


Photo Credit: TL Sherwood

It feels good to laugh again.

To close my eyes, throw my head back, and just . . . laugh. Peals bubbling up freely from my throat; body shaking with mirth. Nothing holding me back, nothing in the way. Just this moment.

I deserve it.

I’m sitting at a restaurant, a friend on either side. I’d tried to tell a joke but messed it up—got the punch line the wrong way around—but we laughed anyway, because we could, because life is free and why on earth not. As I open my eyes, a smile lingering on my lips, I feel the warm yellow light bathing my face; smell the delicious aromas wafting to me from the table.

I look up, and the dead man is staring back at me from the street.

I freeze, smile vanishing. This can’t be. It’s not possible. He’s dead.

I’d killed him myself.

He’s dressed well tonight; immaculate suit, expensive watch, polished shoes. He sees me looking and winks.

I look around, desperately, to see if anyone has noticed. No one has; the chatter continues on unabated.

When I turn back, he is gone.

~

By the time I reach my apartment, I’ve almost convinced myself I’d imagined him. I take off my suit, kick off my shoes, lay my watch on the dresser. I reach out, switch on the light . . .

“Miss me, kiddo?”

I pause, then slowly turn. He’s sitting on my bed, dressed now in just a white shirt and pants, his bare feet cross-legged underneath him. I shake my head wildly.

“No. No! You’re not here. You can’t be. I killed you.”

He spreads his hands wide, as if inviting me to look at him. “And yet, here I am.”

I don’t respond, defiantly—desperately—refusing to pay him attention. I lower myself onto the bed—he scoots over to make room—and close my eyes.

I just need to sleep.

His voice is the last thing I hear.

“Sweet dreams.”

~

I squeeze onto the subway car in the morning, cling to a pole for balance. I look around, distract myself with the latest ads. Out of the corner of my eye, movement catches my attention. I crane my neck to see.

The dead man is waving at me.

I wait until the doors are about to close, then jump out. I run to a different train, catch it just in time.

I sit down, wipe the sweat off my brow with a trembling hand.

The dead man next to me hands me a tissue from his briefcase.

~

At work, I run into the bathroom, turn on the faucet and splash my face with cold water. I look up at my face—pale and drawn, eyes bloodshot, hair in disarray.

This can’t be happening, this can’t be happening, this can’t be happening.

A toilet flushes behind me. The stall door opens and the dead man steps out.

He walks up to the mirror and adjusts his tie. “Don’t worry.” He smiles at me in the mirror. “We’re old friends. You’ll get used to me in no time.”

I shake my head frantically. “I don’t understand. I killed you. How can you be here? I killed you.”

“Please.” He slaps me on the back. “Haven’t you read the Bible?” He walks to the door. “You can’t kill sin.”

He strolls out.

~

Time loses meaning. It passes in a blur, me sitting by my desk, head in my hands, trying not to listen to him as he talks. I do things, meaningless tasks I forget the moment they’re done, and maybe I have a conversation with a coworker—I can’t quite remember—and I think my boss stopped by and told me something, and I think I smiled dutifully and nodded, and I think I even wrote it down, but maybe I’m wrong, because when I look down all I have written, over and over again, is help.

I look up and see that I’m at a bus stop. It’s night now, and I don’t remember walking here—I don’t really know where here is—all I know is that the dead man is sitting next to me and he’s still talking, still chattering endlessly in my ear, and I don’t want to fight anymore, I just want him to stop, I’d give anything to make him stop . . .

“How long?”

At first I think I imagined the words. Then I turn. A large African American is sitting next to me. I frown at him.

“Sorry?”

He gestures to my hand. I look down, see that I’m holding my keychain in my hand—funny, I don’t even remember taking it out my pocket—and I’m tracing my fingers over the metal tag, over and over again.

The tag with that date engraved in it.

The date I stopped.

“Ele . . .” My throat is weirdly dry. I have to cough, clear my throat before I can form the words. “Eleven months.”

He pulls out his own keychain and shows it to me. “Thirty two.”

Thirty two. Somehow, I can’t quite wrap my head around that. “It get any easier?”

He snorts a laugh, only it doesn’t sound very funny. “No.”

I don’t reply.

He turns to me. “You feel it, don’t you? The need, the itch? You were doing so well and then something triggered it—a smell, a sound, heck you probably don’t even know—and suddenly it’s all you can think about. Suddenly you’d do anything for one more time, just once more.”

I don’t say anything; I don’t need to. We both know

“And all the reasons you quit don’t matter anymore,” he continues, “Because you need it, need it like you’ve never needed nothing before, and it’s not fair, really, it’s not fair because you quit and you were supposed to stay quit, but it don’t work like that, does it?”

I swallow. “How . . . how do you make it go away?”

He shrugs. “Hell if I know. Ain’t got no tricks for you, kid. That itch—it’s gonna drive you crazy. Keep you up at night, won’t let you concentrate at work. It’ll go away, eventually, but it’ll come back. It’s like the tide—comes and goes, and when it comes it’s a tsunami.”

The dead man next to me waves at me, tries to get my attention, but for once, listening to this stranger’s words, I’m able to ignore him. “So what do you do?”

“You keep going, kid. You make it through a day. And when you do, you make it through the next day. It’s all we got.”

The bus arrives, and he stands. He wishes me good luck and boards.

I don’t follow.

I watch the bus drive away, then turn to the dead man. He’s arguing with me, telling me it won’t work, but I’m not really listening anymore.

I glance at the keychain once more, then put it away and stand. I start to walk, and the dead man comes to walk beside me but for once I don’t care, because it’s OK if he’s there.

He talks and he screams, and his voice echoes in my head and it’s agony, but I grit my teeth and smile anyway.

Because he hasn’t won yet.

 

 

Eli Landes is a marketing copywriter by day and a fiction writer whenever he can squeeze in the time. He writes about pretty much anything and everything, but everything he writes has a little bit of novelty to it; a little bit of different. For more—including unique, never-before-published short stories—follow him at his blog, regardingwriting.com.

 

“bird bodies” by Alicia Bessette

so frail when they faded down that corridor.
no use crying out—the mask
swallowed my mouth. besides,
only the metal bed had ears.

dreamed of brother guzzling air from buckets.
sister swinging high, shoes flying.

woke with wormy scars, pecked, not knowing
forge or forget

*

they watched me binge
and didn’t say stop

or okay or someday
you’ll miss blood

because it’s bright and
if nothing else, yours.

after, i lay on mealy
ground, one eye closed

making my fingers feathers
that floated over chimney

beyond sky. how else to
escape a belly so like

mouth, emptiest when full?
choice and demon both,

the eating. maybe. but my own
fingers blamed me. still do

*

wings trace loops;
sculpture shows me.
its streamers, frozen
above grass, tip and
slide me through.

if only arms spiraled into wings.
how i flapped at pretend edge
aching to belong.

now at real edge
i cup my hands
and whisper mending
mending

 

 

Alicia Bessette’s poems have appeared in Anima, Atlanta Review and The Main Street Rag. Her debut novel Simply From Scratch (Dutton/Plume) was an international bestseller. Visit her website at www.aliciabessette.com