“In Which Sasquatch Moves to the Desert” by Rachel Maggio


“The Overseer” by Jean Banas, Acrylic on canvas, 38″ x 47″.

i. they say the Sasquatch has never been killed
because the face is too human
that hunters looking into the eyes become struck with the fact
that they too are monster;
that Sasquatch have an affinity for chewing tobacco and bottled water
sneaking it from the packs of hikers, careful
so as not to wake the children

ii. the sightings of donovan are rare
perhaps on thanksgiving or christmas
but when he is present the room is alight
the air hangs in earthquake weather
this time the medication is working
this time dono drives a bus
this time he drives us all in the bus to see the christmas lights
this time i bury my head in my mother’s shoulder the whole time
too afraid to look up
this time the air is alive and elektrik

iii. Sasquatch speak their own language
a cohesive language they all understand of grunts and moans
and guttural calls, even the young ones
(they live in close family groups)
speak this language, based on the cries of the young
so the species adapts to speak to babies,
understood from birth that the innocence we all carry
may in fact be our saving grace
not the other way around and the Sasquatch
presumably have their own bedtime stories told in these grunts and moans
and the young presumably grunt and moan
for them to be told again

iv.they move to the desert
my grandma tells me the desert, has more extreme highs
and lows and maybe the sunshine and nature is what
the two of them need
and we go to the desert to see them
past the plaster dinosaurs and donovan rocks a new baby in his arms
to sleep before he disappears

v. the great Sasquatch of the pacific northwest
can communicate with the conscience
and maybe that is why it has never been killed
the great Sasquatch of the pacific northwest often attempt to bring home
the hikers kind enough to bring them chewing tobacco and bottled water
not realizing this is not appreciated
seeing into the greater conscience(but never to the surface)beyond the fear and thinking
instead about the need to escape to nature, but these hikers
cannot see into the greater Sasquatch conscience only to the surface of their own, and therefore
are limited to their fear

vi. when they find donovan’s body
hanging in the garage
my brother deciphers the news through my sobs
and asks me if i remembered to take my medication
wondering if i too will run away into the woods 

vii. offering Sasquatch food ensures your survival
while crying seems to aggravate the creatures
who will punch in your jaw and run at the sight of tears
but apparently no one has told this news to my grandmother
and aunt because there is no food at the funeral but there is
plenty of tears and
in the true Sasquatch spirit,
punching to follow suit

viii. donovan rode his skateboard down pch
to watch monsterquest with me and my brother
and his guttural laugh at the skeptics shown
makes us only more sure of ourselves
Sasquatch live among us
he leaves before the episode is over
and before Sasquatch are found

ix. the Sasquatch’s humanoid face
may in fact be proof that they are real
our cousins in fact
early wanderers who once
fed up with this world’s treatment
fled into the woods,
and spoke a new language of guttural groans
and chewing tobacco
and never came back

 

Rachel Maggio is a freelance writer and student in the English program at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

 

“Gone Sister” by Dion O’Reilly


“Carriage House” by Jean Banas, acrylic on canvas, 48″ x 52″.

She never fell from her frantic
mare as it reared and twisted
in the mustard fields.
And when she drove high speed
in her ‘67 Karmann Ghia,
she didn’t plummet
off an unexpected cliff
at the end of Swift Street
as she flipped out on acid.

She survived her wild childhood,
divides her time
between three western states.
Summers in Coos Bay, visits in the fall
with the willing men of Kanab,
winters spent
floating across borders,
visiting boneyards of the old days
in this dirty California town,
where she learned the ways of wayward surfers,
smoked dope downtown with strangers,
searched the Boardwalk
at four in the morning
for some stringy-haired boy
to bring home.

Bull-whipped child grown bold,
cast out by her parents at seventeen,
her violence aimed back to them,
when she tipped the table,
stood, suddenly screaming
at Christmas.
Even my father’s fists
slamming her face,
my mother sending her into the streets
in tight lime-green pants and torpedo bras—
none of it killed her.
Without family she’s alive,
sixty-six in a jet-black wig
and Grace Slick bangs, the same
as when she was eighteen
and I was twelve,
her big dark eyes inked with liquid
eyeliner, her plump mouth
shiny with pale gloss, open,
as if calling out.

 

 

Dion O’Reilly has spent  much of her life on a farm in the Santa Cruz Mountains. She studies with Ellen Bass and Danusha Leméris and attends an MFA program in Creative Writing at Pacific University. She has worked as a waitress, barista, baker, theater manager, graphic designer, and public school teacher. Her poetry appears or is forthcoming in Rattle, The Sun, Canary Magazine, Spillway, Bellingham Review, Atlanta Review, Red Wheelbarrow, Porter Gulch Review, and a variety of other literary journals and anthologies. Her work has been nominated for Pushcarts, the Intro Journals Project, and was a semifinalist in The Folio Literary Journal Poetry Contest.

 

“Grade School Fashion Faux Pas” by Optimism One


“Moving Through Space” by Jean Banas, acrylic on canvas, 46″ x 47″.

We had gone running early that morning but cut it short, stopping after three and half miles.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” Cortney said, and started to walk.

“Big potty?” I asked, trying to be delicate, speaking her third-grade-teacher lingo.

“Yes.” Her cheeks reddened under the lamps that lit the trail.

“You can poop in my hat,” I said.

“No. I wish I had brought some toilet paper. I’d go in the bushes.” We were on the Virginia Corridor Trailway, a two-lane paved path that replaced a dormant set of train tracks and bisected neighborhoods to the west and east. I pictured the doggie pick-up bags in dispensers and shuddered at the thought of cleaning up after her. Thankfully, I kept my mouth shut. Thankfully, she didn’t want to crap in my favorite fitted running beanie.

I had to go, too, but I was more used to running through the urge.

Ten minutes later, back at her apartment, Cortney rushed to the bathroom. I started making a smoothie and heard the shower. Since there is only one bathroom in her apartment, I held it and got her lunch ready. The relationship was pretty new in those ways.

~

Cortney was running late for work. She had already left the apartment and walked down the stairs to her car but rushed back in. “Have you seen my cell phone?” The force of her words pushed the door open as much as her hands.

I popped my head out from the kitchen at a 45-degree angle, shaking my hands toward the sink. “No, I don’t think so. Is it by the b—”

She reached between the cushion and the arm of her reading chair. “Oh, here it is. Okay, gotta go. Quick kiss.” She walked and puckered as I met her in the living room.

In unison, we exaggerated, “Muah!”

“I’ll walk you out to your car,” I said.

She sped through the door and hurtled down the stairs. “Don’t lock yourself out.”

“I won’t,” I said, closing the door behind me and rushing to catch up. Suddenly it felt like we were working out again, running down bleachers at the track, head and eyes down, intent on each step, a mixture of concentration, caution, and exertion. At the bottom and on flat ground, we jogged the twenty yards to her car.

“Okayhaveagreatday,” she said.

“You, too. See you this afternoon.”

I stood in the mini parking lot like I was waiting for her plane to take off, not wanting to turn around until her car had disappeared from my sight. I watched her pull out in reverse. The gravel in the alley crunched under her tires. She drove away after we gave our final waves, metronomes from elbows to fingertips, and blew our final kisses.

Floating back upstairs, belly full of butterflies, I glowed with the thought that I was an attentive, exciting boyfriend.

The front door was locked. I gripped the cold, gold handle and shook it like I was trying to tear it off, as if I would somehow overpower the locking mechanism with brute force. The windows rattled.

“What the fuck?” I said out loud, knowing Cortney was already down the street, out of sight, zooming to work fourteen miles away and two towns over. Knowing I didn’t have my own cell phone on me. Knowing I didn’t know her phone number anyway.

I walked around the wrap-around balcony to each hand-crank window, hoping that one had been left cracked open, digging my fingers into the gaps on the sides to pry loose the old, rusted frames.

What the hell am I going to do? I had rented out my house when I went on sabbatical and was crashing at Cortney’s before I went traveling again. Everything I needed was locked inside of her place.

I started to get cold in my running tights, running shoes, and form-fitting, long-sleeved running shirt.

~

Now I was stuck outside without a key to my car, a phone, money, anything. The morning air added an extra chill to my smoothied bones. And, still having to go big potty, it felt like I was going to mess myself.

I thought, Maybe Paul is awake and I can borrow one of his cars. I walked the five blocks to my friend’s house, reliving the scene in Up in Smoke when Cheech coaches himself: “Cheeks stay together.”

Paul was already gone, so I returned to Cortney’s porch, shaking the same door handle, pulling at the same windows. I looked across the street to my college. It was still before 7 a.m. on a Friday, a non-teaching day. I could wait until the secretaries arrived and call my mom’s house. But what I wore left very little to the imagination. One glance at my crotch gave a clear outline of everything.

Plus, having just spent too many weeks on the road eating crappy food, I looked like I was pregnant and just starting to show. My pecs, too, seemed more like points since I hadn’t done a push-up in weeks. I felt like Mr. Fatness more than Mr. Fitness. This was fine for running in the dark before most of the world awoke but not walking around in broad daylight at my place of employment. Still, the specter of squatting outside to relieve myself overtook all ego.

Where do the homeless go to the bathroom? I wondered.

The science building, otherwise foreign to me, sat close to the road. I slipped into a bathroom with an outside entrance. Warmth, gratitude, and relief consumed me so much that I considered staying until Cortney got home at 4 p.m. But picturing myself pacing back and forth in a bathroom or sitting all day in a stall, hiding and hoping no one would walk in, motivated me to think of other options, like running to my mom’s house three and a half miles away.

The run would keep me warm, allow time for my mom and stepdad to wake up, give me access to a car, and provide the option of putting on some lessrevealing clothes. An added bonus, which I didn’t anticipate, was that the run would give me time and insight to work through my tendency to blame others for anything bad that happens to me.

I knew that Cortney locked the door as she walked out, an unconscious movement from the two years she had spent living alone in that apartment. I noticed her doing it a week before when she almost locked me out, and I had thought several times that I should get an extra key made to stash outside. But I didn’t. And now I wanted it to be her fault that I was stuck outside, stranded, resourceless, and practically naked.

Deep down, I knew better. But it took this extra run through Modesto to figure it out.

~

My mom opened the front door, her face pixilated through the security screen. “What are you doing here?” she said.

“I’m locked out. I need your car.”

“What? Where’s Cortney? Is she already at work?”

“Yeah, I walked her out to her car and didn’t realize that she locked the door out of habit.”

“Do you have your license with you? You can’t drive my car without your license.”

“Mom, are you serious? Look at me. I don’t have anything. All I have is what I wore to go running. I’m not going to get pulled over.”

She chuckled in that nervous way that conveyed she meant what she said but wasn’t comfortable being challenged about it. “Yeah, I’m serious.”

Dan, my stepdad, still facing the too-loud TV, said, “I’ll take him.”

“Okay, thanks, Dan. But Mom, do you have some sweats I could wear over my running gear? I can’t walk into Cortney’s school looking like this.” I would have asked Dan, but he outweighs me by at least 100 pounds.

She soon displayed a series of matching sweatsuits in pastels and kitten-soft material not meant to go past the front door.

“No, Mom, what about that matching blue Adidas track suit you wear all the time? Can I wear that?”

“Oh, yeah. Let me see.”

Meanwhile, I said to Dan, “If I’m not being too needy, can I borrow one of your baseball caps? My hair is a mess.”

“You bet.” He followed my mom down the hall but turned left to the spare room cum storage closet.

My mom returned with another wrong set of sweats. “This?” she asked. I began to get flashbacks of being in the third grade, shopping for school clothes at Mervyn’s with my mom. She had seemed intent on ensuring that everybody I ever encountered would not only dislike me but also openly ridicule me.

“No, you know, the track suit with that material that makes that swishy sound when you walk and it rubs together? Swish, swish, swish,” I said, embarrassed that I tried to mimic the sound certain clothes make.

“Oh, okay. I think I know what you’re talking about.”

“See if this fits,” Dan said, walking past my mom. “If it does, you can have it. I didn’t realize it didn’t adjust when I bought it, and my head is so big you could put a wine barrel on it and it’d still be tight. That thing’s not even close.”

I squeezed it on, getting an instant headache, but I just wanted this kitchen fashion show to be over. “It’s perfect,” I said. “Thanks.” Meanwhile, I wondered who I could give it to after it served its purpose.

My mom walked into the room holding another set of warm-ups like she was carrying a baby at a distance, one hand on the hanger-hook, and one hand under the legs of the pants. “This one?”

“Yep, those are the ones.”

I heel-pushed out of my running shoes and pulled the pants on over my running tights, then the jacket over my running shirt. My mom’s waist and torso are bigger than mine, so I looked like a kid who wore his big brother’s sweats and his little brother’s hat. To top it all off, the legs came up a little short to show my bare ankles, what kids called “high waters” back in the day.

~

Walking onto the playground in elementary school was always terrifying. Actually, junior high and high school were no different. It was like playing “Marco Polo” but on dry ground. I just knew someone was going to yell “fish outta water!” and identify me as an outcast, an oddball, the one who wore his big brothers’ hand-me-downs, the one who still wore Toughskins while everyone else had graduated to Levi’s, the one who wore Kinney shoes while K-Swiss ruled. It didn’t even matter that I was generally pretty popular. I didn’t feel like I fit in.

Thirty-five years later, I thought I had grown out of that, but the perfect confluence of mishaps brought it all back.

~

I swished into the elementary school office wishing that I had shaved in the last three days, that I wasn’t sporting my stepdad’s too-tight baseball cap, and that I wasn’t wearing my mother’s clothes. But I was desperate.

“Oh, you’re Op,” the secretary said. “Nice to finally meet you. Just sign in right there and you can walk to Cortney’s classroom. Do you know where it is?”

“I think so. That way, right?” I pointed in a direction I hoped was south.

“You got it.”

Exiting the back door of the office, I saw miniature people, maybe kindergartners, lining up outside. One of them appeared to ask his friend, “Who is that strange, scary man walking with his head down?”

I sped up my pace, which only made me look more creepy and suspicious, I’m sure.

When I approached Cortney’s third-grade classroom, I heard her voice and suddenly realized I hadn’t considered what I would say. I just stood in the doorway, watching her read to her students in “Library Corner.” The light from behind me made me a silhouette.

She looked up, and her brow tightened over her eyes, defensive and alarmed. “Can I help you?” Twenty-seven tiny faces turned my way.

“I’m locked out.”

She registered my voice and unclenched her jaw. “Oh, no. Come in, come in.” Then her teacher voice returned, a few decibels higher than normal conversation. “We-were-just-read-ing-a-stor-y. Let-me-in-tro-duce-you-to-ev-er-y-bod-y. Class, this-is-my-boy-friend, Op. Op, this-is-Kay-la, Lu-is, A-lex-is, O-mar–”

“Baby, I’m sorry, but Dan is waiting outside. Can I meet everybody at a better time, when I’m not wearing my mom’s clothes?” The kids all giggled, either titillated that I had called their teacher “baby” or looking closer at my get-up.

While Cortney retrieved her keys, the kids still stared at me, so I addressed them like a robot speaking to a group of semi-deaf, developmentally-delayed children. “I-look-for-ward-to-meet-ing-ev-er-y-one-of-you-real-ly-soon. Good-bye-now,” and waved like Ronald McDonald.

As I did this, I kept thinking, Is this how I’m supposed to communicate with third graders? This can’t be right. I was used to teaching adults at the local junior college.

In a chorus, Cortney’s students said, “Goodbye,” unaffected by my self-consciousness, my attire, my mannerisms, or my syncopated speech.

~

Now, with the key to Cortney’s apartment securely zipped in my pocket, I strode back over hopscotch outlines and basketball courts while two bottles of post-run water pushed for release. I wondered if it’d be okay to slip into the little kiddos’ john to pee. But just then, a waist-high poster boy for cuteness stepped out of the bathroom entrance while still buttoning his pants, and I got a clue. No way was I going in there, especially looking like a forty-something stalker-predator who still lived with his mom.

I didn’t want to add another challenge to my morning of playing Survivor: Central Valley, so I held it again, trying to find the lesson in all this. Like before, what I desired remained just out of reach — a bathroom, my living space, a vehicle, an inconspicuous set of clothes. But really, these were all temporary, and it wasn’t like I was actually homeless. My so-called problems were small in comparison.

I also had to look at my fault-finding. Since I was no longer a kid, I couldn’t just blame others for whatever predicaments I got myself into. Still, I didn’t shit or piss my pants or die from colon blockage, kidney failure, hypothermia, running too many miles, or embarrassment from wearing goofy clothes. Yes, I did have to relive all the anxiety I felt as a kid about what I wore and how others perceived me. But just like when I was in the third grade, I didn’t get laughed off the playground. I lived to learn another day.

 

 

Optimism One‘s essays have been published by In Fact Books and The Normal School, among others. He earned his MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Sierra Nevada College and teaches writing full-time at Modesto Junior College in California. He’s currently working on a memoir called Goodbye, Suicide. His blood type is B+ (be positive).

“The Undertow” by Katie Strine

Eve and the apple
“Eve & The Apple” by Elizabeth Leader, pastel on Fabriano paper.
(See also “In Flight Safety Card” by Lauren Eyler.)

She runs toward the water and the sun holds tight on the horizon. It wants to watch. It wants to illuminate her as she makes her way into the water: ankles, knees, waist, and then she dives into the water. Her body swallowed, the feet flip up and flirt toward shore before they, too, disappear.

He’d like to submerge his body along with hers and feel the weightlessness of swimming and the excitement of sliding his legs by hers without being able to see beneath them. But he can’t swim, so he watches from the shore until she returns breathless.

She replaces her shirt and shorts. Darkened splotches appear throughout her clothes as the water seeps into the fabric. “Is that your first memory? You were three?”

He’s told her about his father. His memory of him throwing him into the water, teaching him to swim.

“Yea—yea, it is. I can recall a circle of the scene—not all of the background, not the entire setting, just like looking through a telescope, you know? Just a circle and there I am in my shark swimming shorts and there he is in a faded yellow polo shirt.” The childhood emotion returns. The pit of his stomach raw with it.

“Have you tried to swim since then?”

He shakes his head no. He has a tan complexion. Time in the sun. Hardened lines around his face. Once the season shifts to fall, she thinks his hue will lighten, but the structure will remain the same. There’s a certain vulnerability to those lines. His past present on his face.

“Fathers have a way of penetrating our futures, don’t they? Without even knowing it. Subtle choices causing distant effects.” She decides in that moment to take him home. Back to her small apartment, a place nestled at the city edge. She boasts its view of the lake, although at night, she confesses, it’s a blackened version of its former self.

He surveys the area: one main living space with a kitchenette, a bathroom and a bedroom. She has squeezed and fitted trinkets and treasures throughout the landscape. Oddities, she calls them. Collections from her former lives. The oddest of them all catches his eye—an entire presentation of false teeth sitting in an open box on her window sill. He bumps his fingers along one of its rows.

“My father was a dentist,” she says to his back. “He saved antique gear like that.”

“Was?”

“Was. Saved. It’s all in the past now.”

“What did you want to show me?”

She pulls a purple-and-blue dyed fabric to one side and motions for him to enter her bedroom. Along one wall someone has painted a seascape mural. An octopus drifts through coral and seaweed. He spies jellyfish, swordfish, and other urchins.

“You paint?” he asks.

“I dabble,” she replies.

A small lamp on a corner table is fitted with a blue bulb. She lights candles and a stick of incense. The smoke flows through the space. She hits play on a small radio on the dresser and it’s too soft for him to discern what band it is—if any—or what instruments are played.

She indicates for him to lie on the bed. When she straddles him, he tightens his eyes on hers. He thinks of her as a character. One with marbles for eyes that turn others to stone. A hybrid of mythology and reality. She dives in to kiss him and he thinks she tastes like seaweed. They wrestle about the bed in the blue light. He comes up for air periodically and spies the mural. He feels at ease with her. He feels the weightlessness he had wished for earlier.

They fall asleep, her hair kinked and splayed against the pillow.

He wakes at an uneven hour. A strand of moonlight bounces onto her collection and he stands and scrutinizes each piece. He asks questions about her through their weight, how each one feels or looks. One of the smaller items fits nicely in his palm. He carries it back to the bedroom and rubs at its glass mold.

In the morning, light crashes against the windows. The lake is now visible: placid, at peace with a mild mist at its lips.

“You’re like the undertow, you know?” He tugs at her and pulls her under the covers with him and they kiss, morning mouths and last night’s naked bodies.

Her back rocks against him and flutters with the sheets. She feels the glass object at her feet and nudges her big toe toward it. She recalls the motion as if searching the ocean floor for a sand dollar.

Pulling it out of the sheets, she eyes it. Wraps her fingers around its curves. Its shape cavernous to other worlds.

“Was it a gift,” he asks, “from your dad?”

She brushes back her wild hair, imagines each soft, existing memory of her father—a collage the expanse of a skyscraper—and sighs. She holds up the object which catches the sun’s ray and illuminates a yellow glow. When she finally responds, her voice hovers above a whisper and he hears seagulls in her throat. Distant and sad. She tells him, yes, it was a gift and a promise and a lie and a lesson and it was everything.

He wonders if he’s meant to respond, but has nothing to say. He pictures her dad. In this awkward silence he’s surprised to find himself imagining his face. Imagining what lines or curves of hers were other gifts of his.

When he leaves, an amalgam forms in his mind of her and the undertow. A raging beauty that seethes with some type of untouchable vengeance. A distance spreads between where she remains in the bed and where he descends. The space dark and exact but empty all the same.

 

 

Katie Strine tolerates life through literature and dark beer. She lives in the east suburbs of Cleveland with her family—husband, son, and dog—who accompany her on oddball adventures. Her work has been or will be published in The Writing Disorder, The Wayne Literary Review, Visitant, The Furious Gazelle, and BONED. Stay in touch via Facebook, @ktstrine.

 

“Fuel” by Lanier Wright Fields

god asks why (Fecundity, Expanse)
“God Asks Why” by Peter Groesbeck.
(See also “Fecundity Expanse” by Sasha West.)

I.

My father swears up and down
that, when he was thirteen,
he mistook an unmarked vat
of kerosene for water. In this
as in all things, he drank
with gusto. Everything burned
inside him for days.

II.

I cannot help but feel sick
superiority when I tell someone
I don’t drink. Vodka, whiskey—lesser spirits
might heed whispered invitations
to woozy, jet-propelled calamity. But each
shot of firewater is exactly that
to my guts: corrosion, all the way down.

III.

Walking down my street
past the liquor store, I watch
the neighborhood boys siphoning
gasoline to trade for nips.
Two teenagers hand the tube
to a younger one. They say, “Don’t worry,
everyone swallows some the first time.”

 

 

Lanier (Lane) Wright Fields is a southern transplant living and working in Boston, Massachusetts. Professionally, Lane has performed technology witchcraft, taught sociology, worked in a factory, and gone corporate. Besides poetry, Lane’s hobbies and interests include music and shows, leftist activism, veg*n cooking, straight edge and hardcore subcultures, video game history, philosophy and social theory, and spiritual development.

 

“Going Places” by David Marchino


“Drifting” by Jane Cornish Smith, acrylic, gesso, charcoal, and wax on paper, 2011.

Cars were powerful, sacred things in my family. Mom’s first car was a baby-blue Camaro, flipped twice on her way down to Florida. Dad’s second job was on the pit crew for NASCAR. Pop-pop, Uncle Turk, Aunt Dee—they’d head down to Roosevelt Boulevard after dark to watch the street racers compete. Pop-pop would always share the details with me the next day. How they squatted alongside the road in the buzzing yellow glow of Philadelphia streetlights making wagers, watching the drivers zoom down their makeshift track, and waiting, ultimately, for the sound of police sirens which signaled it was time for them, too, to disappear into the night. I remember once asking why they raced there on the Boulevard, when it had so many stoplights. Pop-pop half-wheezed-half-laughed. “If you want to win, if you need to go, you don’t stop just ‘cause someone says you got to.” I was just a kid. I didn’t get it yet.

We were made to drive. People could tell wherever we went. Us heavy-footed sons-a-bitches, with the wind-swept hair and the squinty eyes, would pull up at car shows and immediately be shepherded by the fellow gearheads. This cylinder, this block—they had to show us. It was ritualistic. We patted the dash in gratitude when we passed stragglers on the highway and extended skinny middle fingers when tailgated. Every car had a soul, and every car needed a name.

Grace came into my life just before I left for college. She was a 2002 Ford Focus, red, given to me as a graduation present. It was clear at the dealership that she’d seen a lot. The engine was a transplant, still bearing the garish yellow-highlighter serial number from the junkyard. Left idle, she’d struggle to avoid overheating. On hot days, the engine fans were cacophonous. When I picked up dates, I’d leave Grace running in their driveways. The girls balked at the noise she made, the 115-horsepower-fueled wheeze exploding from behind the grill.

“Gracie gets separation anxiety,” I’d explain. “She’s jealous, too, so you better watch it.”

Grace had a storied life before me—ten years of hard drives and poor maintenance. The battery cables needed a jostling to carry the current. The windshield wiper controls worked less than half the time. She’d fall out of gear when going faster than 70. She was temperamental and bitchy and worked when she felt like it. No, she wasn’t perfect—far from it. But, being only eight years older, I wasn’t perfect either.

I didn’t need perfect to be happy. When I took her for the test drive, she felt right. Driving the wrong car is a lot like dancing with someone else’s girlfriend. Back straight, eyes forward, hands where everyone can see them. There’s no rhythm, no sway. It’s the kind of mechanical motion that driving never should be. I was always comfortable with Grace. On that very first test drive, I let my arm slack onto the door and leaned far back into the grooves of the driver’s seat. I knew her alignment, her brakes. I felt her, and in that instant she was mine.

We learn to drive the way I imagine people learn to diffuse bombs. It’s a methodical process. In Driver’s Ed and in the instructional videos, it’s all Point A to Point B. People are always going places. But driving can be meditative and liberating. There is no greater freedom, I believe, then passing over smooth, striped asphalt with no destination. To be lost and curious behind the wheel. The Zen of it.

As a teenager floating in the interstice between high school and college, these pockets of Zen were plentiful. I remember how the city was new viewed from the driver’s seat. The pedestrians jaywalking, the bicycles weaving, the flashing of diner signs, and the weight of the other cars. Behind the wheel, these things were no longer static scenery, they were living and electric. I’d often get lost, following large avenues into side streets into alleys through bad neighborhoods. I took comfort during these trips in the safety Grace provided. Inside that car, it was my world—shelter from what existed outside.

At the end of the summer, in the foamy grey backseat, I lost my virginity. I’d parked Grace behind a Hilton Hotel that overlooked what felt like all of Philadelphia. It was with a girl named Mary, whose skinny, freckled body laid uncomfortably along the curvature of the interior. It was hurried and breathy. I dug my finger into an old cigarette singe in the seat while our feet jostled the doors. It was the kind of sex had through unzipped jeans, the young clueless kind where every “I-love-you” is followed by an “I’m-sorry” or a “you’re-on-my-hair.” We filled the car with giggles and steam and scattered after a manager spotted us. I can still see that manager’s brown-lipsticked scowl in my head when I think of that night. I remember how her hair-sprayed curls bounced as she threatened to call the police. Snickering from behind the window, I climbed to the driver’s seat and revved home. On the way, Mary and I poked at each other’s still-naked bodies. So foolish, so very young.

In college, I grew up, and Grace grew old. Of all the lessons learned at my university, perhaps the most indelible is that my university was incredibly expensive. Desperate for cash, I took a night job delivering pizzas. The perils of working delivery are well known: the harsh weather, the robberies, the attacks. But it is also achingly lonely. A pizza boy is a transitory entity—coming and going—and, as a result, permanently in the way. Cooks hand you food. Customers hand you money. Doors slam, few words are exchanged. For a pizza boy, being good at his job means being invisible. Peace exists on four wheels, with doors locked, dry underneath a metal roof. Familiar voices come in the form of radio. The cheesy shock-jocks and DJs become company, and their over-the-top attempts at humor begin to register, at the very least, nods of familiarity. Grace could only offer so much. I loved and was grateful for the passenger seat, but in the midst of those double shifts at the shop, I wanted nothing more than a passenger. Jackie BamBam of 93.3 cackled out of my radio speakers most often. I’d text in during his Saturday shifts and hover over the speakers, waiting for that moment when he’d render me whole again: when his voice would bounce out into the airwaves and acknowledge me, the pizza boy with an identity underneath his store cap. This one, my fellow vampires, goes out to David, delivering in Port Richmond. A thankless job but an honest one, too. We raise our devil horns to you, Dave.

The job was hard on Grace, too. She was perennially winking due to a short in the headlight circuit. Belts snapped regularly, often costing a day’s worth of work and hundreds of dollars in repair costs. We shambled on like this together. I’d walk into the mechanic’s office, my head hung low underneath my pizza cap. He never learned my name, instead greeting me by make and model. “Ford Focus, 2002. What now?” My explanations felt like an admission of guilt, as though I had been abusing this poor car. The mechanic would click my descriptions into his computer, with a resigned smirk. I’d place the keys in his thick-fingered, oily palm, and he would sigh.

Shortly after college graduation, Grace’s radiator began to fail. She couldn’t make it twenty minutes without overheating, at which point her engine would seize. I spoke with my mechanic over the phone. He informed me of the repair cost. It would be steep, most of my savings. I figured he could sense my feelings over the phone. “I tell you this because you’re a good Italian boy,” he grumbled. “We can fix her this time, probably the next time. Hell, probably the time after that. But, at a certain point, it’s worth considering other options.”

Junking my car, initially, seemed like a betrayal. But it was clear Grace was suffering. I conferred with my family—the racers, the elder statesmen among the gearheads. They understood my relationship with her, but they agreed it had to be done.

Not long before this, I’d been conferred my degree. Standing proud in my cap and gown my family huddled around me, fighting over whose arm would rest on my shoulders. I thought of this as I said goodbye to Grace in the junkyard. I thought of what my family said that day—the promises they made. That I would be “going places.” As I closed the driver’s side door after cleaning out my possessions, I looked over her interior one last time. The groove formed by my slumping, delivery-boy posture. The traces of rock salt on the floor mats left over from winter. The gaping cigarette singe in the back. Going places.

I closed the door, and, for the first time in what felt like forever, I walked home.

 

 

David Marchino is a Philadelphia-based creative nonfiction writer, whose work has appeared in The Penn Review. His essay “No Goodbyes” won the 2016 Penn PubCo Award for Best First-Person Narrative, and his short manuscript He Will Be Remembered earned him honors from the University of Pennsylvania’s Creative Writing Program. In the mornings, he jogs at the rising sun—without sunglasses—squinting hard through the light. He is reading. He is writing. He is searching.

 

“Calling Out” by Izzy López


“Blue Path” by Jane Cornish Smith, encaustic, oil, paper on board, 2014.

When I typed the number for Counseling and Psychological Services into my phone, I discovered that it had already been saved to my contacts. In truth, it was a relic from orientation week, when overly exuberant upperclassmen had recited the numbers to us from a stage in Irvine Auditorium and I had diligently entered them into my phone, like the ever-prepared Ivy League student I had recently become. Still, as I pressed the formidable green circle to dial, a small voice taunted me. “See,” it sneered, “everyone knew you were crazy. Told you so.”

Exhaling, I waited as the phone rang on the other end. I sat perched atop my too-tall dorm bed, which I never figured out how to lower. That semester, my sophomore fall, I had gone to great lengths to make my single dorm room as cozy as possible. Truthfully, it was a vain attempt to try to reconcile the fact that a four-walled, cinderblock box was the closest thing I had to a home. The paisley sheets on my bed contrasted well with a dark purple tapestry, a trick I had learned in an art class. Across from my bed was a desk and a small mountain of library books and coffee mugs.

The phone kept ringing and my free hand flitted in indecision between my shirt collar and my hair. Finally, the receiver clicked and a voice answered.

“Hi, thank you for calling Counseling and Psychological Services, how can we help you today?”

I couldn’t help wanting to laugh. It was incredible how much a receptionist at a mental health center sounded like a drive-through employee. One happy brain and a side of functional family dynamic, please, oh and a milkshake. I told the anonymous voice that I was looking to set up an appointment with a counselor, anyone really. From there, the call was very logical, as he took inventory of all the things that had or had not lead me to call for help. Age? 20. Student? Full time. Ethnicity? White. Eating disorder? No. Issues making friends? Not that I’m aware of. Problems in class? It’s fine, just too expensive. Issues at home? A deep breath. Yes. With your parents? Yes. Abuse?

I paused.

This was, after all, the reason I had called. To be honest about what had happened, to have someone listen, to tell the truth. My tongue curled behind my teeth, waiting to say no, the answer it had been trained to deliver. In my moment of indecision, I noticed that I had been clutching the comforter of my bed, morphing the soft fabric into a sweaty ball, suffocating the pastel blue and purple that swirled across it. Like lifting a wrecked car off a child trapped beneath, I forced my tongue out from behind my teeth and propelled it forward.

Yes, I answered.

I heard the receptionist pause and shuffle some papers around. A new line of questioning began, asking the particulars of events I had only recently seen as unusual. Had I been sexually abused? No. Had I been physically abused? A few times. Verbal abuse? I paused again.

Yes, frequently.

I released my grip on the comforter.

“Thank you for your honesty”, he replied, his voice soft and calm.

The conversation moved forward to appointment scheduling and an explanation of services offered, but my mind hovered on his gratitude for my sad story. Why would he be grateful? It was his job, I supposed, to care. Still, in all the times I had spoken candidly about my parents, which I could count on one hand, no one had ever thanked me. Maybe, I thought with equal parts fear and hope, this was what therapy felt like.

 

 

Izzy López is originally from Boston, Massachusetts and is currently a creative writing student at the University of Pennsylvania. This is her first publication.

 

“The Bridge” by David Jauss


“Windblown One” by Jane Cornish Smith, mixed media encaustic collage, 2012.

If I had it to do over again, I’d still go to the funeral, but this time I wouldn’t wear a disguise. And if I heard anyone say, “What’s she doing here?” I’d just give them my Mona Lisa smile, then take a seat in a pew up front, right beside the grieving widow. Everyone would be staring at me, but I’d just sit there, ignoring them and looking only at the casket, trying to imagine what he looked like in there after the accident. And I wouldn’t cry, not even once.

As it was, of course, I made a world-class fool of myself. And I don’t even have the excuse of being drunk, since I’ve been on the wagon for nearly three years now—pretty much ever since he said he’d had enough of me. I don’t know what made me decide to put on that stupid wig and sunglasses, but it wasn’t a pitcher of margaritas. And it wasn’t love. Don’t you make the mistake of thinking that.

I read about his death in the Sunday paper. I was just turning the pages, and there his photo was, on the first page of the Arkansas section, right next to a shot of what looked like the Leaning Tower of Pisa but was actually a concrete bridge support stuck in a riverbank. I knew it was him even before I saw his name because of the missing eyebrow. I was with him the night he lost it on I-40. We shouldn’t have taken the motorcycle out in the rain, but this was right after we were married and we were immortal in those days. I remember how the bike just suddenly disappeared out from under us, like we’d only been dreaming we were riding it, and we went skidding face-first across the wet asphalt. No helmets, of course. He’s lucky he didn’t die then. Me, too. I got a road rash you wouldn’t believe, but at least I didn’t lose an eyebrow. As he liked to say, you never realize how important it is to have eyebrows until you lose one. I think he grew the mustache so people would look at it, not his missing eyebrow. But it didn’t work.

I wonder now if the undertaker drew in an eyebrow for him. He probably didn’t, since the casket was closed, but I like to think he did. If I’d still been his wife, I would have made sure he did.

It’s funny he died helping to build a bridge. He loved bridges, especially rickety old ones. One year he bought us a calendar of covered wooden bridges in Vermont or New Hampshire or someplace like that. And he once said that if he knew how to take photographs, he’d take a whole book full of shots of old bridges and make a fortune selling it. He said there was a real market for bridge nostalgia. And a few times he drove me up to Heber Springs on his bike just so we could stand on this old wooden plank bridge they call the Swinging Bridge and feel it sway a little in the breeze over the river. He loved that feeling, he said. He said he felt almost like he was about to float up into the air and fly away. Other people went to the Swinging Bridge to fish, but he went there just to stand. Frankly, I never thought the bridge was that big a deal. But I didn’t say that to him, of course. I think he knew, though, because once when we were standing there, swaying in the wind, he started to sing, real slow and somber, that old song “Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water,” and stupid me, I thought he was joking and started to laugh. He stopped singing right away then, and when I looked at him, I could tell he was hurt. I told him I wasn’t laughing at him, that I was just thinking of a joke I’d heard at work, but I don’t think he believed me. He was very smart, even if he did do some dumb things. Anyway, I’ve always felt bad about laughing at him that day. I should have known better. I should have remembered he had a deep, serious side.

According to the paper, what happened was, a cable on a crane snapped and dropped the bridge support on him. He’d been guiding the base of it into the hole they’d dug for it in the riverbank. The coroner said he probably died instantly, but it took his coworkers and paramedics seven hours to dig him out from under the concrete column. They had to jackhammer their way through it. Sometimes when I close my eyes I can hear what it must have sounded like. Like a machine gun, only louder. And I wonder if he heard it, if only for a second, and tried to figure out what that sound was.

It shocked me to hear that he’d been killed, but what shocked me more was that the paper said he’d remarried just a few months before. Why none of my friends told me, I don’t know. I wouldn’t have minded. I’d have been happy for him, and I would have gone to his wedding just the same as I went to his funeral. Only I wouldn’t have worn a disguise to the wedding. I would have gone as myself. I would have waited in the reception line like everyone else to shake her hand and kiss him on the cheek. I would have said, “I hope you’ll be happy this time.”

I don’t want you to get the wrong impression. I stopped loving him long before he stopped loving me. When he told me he’d had it, we were already history as far as I was concerned. But not loving someone doesn’t mean you hate them. And I didn’t hate him.

I didn’t hate her either. In fact, the reason I started crying at the funeral was that I felt sorry for her. Even from where I was sitting, a dozen or so rows behind her to the right, I could see her lips and chin were quivering, and once when she reached up to adjust her black veil, her hand just fluttered. She was trying so hard not to cry that I felt I had to do it for her. And did I ever do it. I’ve always been a loud crier, but now I was crying so hard that I was gulping air, which made my sobs sound kind of like seal barks. I can’t help it. It’s the way I cry. And isn’t crying normal at a funeral? The way everyone turned and looked at me, you would have thought I was singing “Happy Birthday” or doing a striptease or something. Even the minister stopped telling lies about him to stare at me.

It was the same minister who’d married us, but it wasn’t him who recognized me, it was the wife. How she knew it was me despite the curly blond wig and sunglasses, I don’t know, especially since we’d never met. Most likely she’d seen one of the photos he took of me, maybe even that one where I was all laid out on a blanket in a bikini like the main course at a picnic. Or maybe he’d told her about the way I laugh, which is a lot like the way I cry. He couldn’t have told her how I cried. He never heard me cry. Not once. Not even the day he took off his ring, dropped it in my glass of José Cuervo, and walked out the door without so much as a fare-thee-well. I just sat there, looking at that ring. It looked so much like a dead, curled-up worm I almost had to laugh. But I didn’t. And I didn’t cry either. There’s no one alive who could tell you otherwise.

Anyway, she said my name. She didn’t shout it or anything. She just looked at me and said it. Then someone said, “What’s she doing here?” and someone else said, “No respect for the dead.” I also heard the word bitch, and more than once. And the word drunk, too. But like I said, I wasn’t drunk. That’s the thing about a reputation: once you’ve got one, it’s got you. To his friends and relatives, I’ll always be the drunk who cheated on him. He got to start his life over with a new wife, but me, I don’t get a second chance.

I could be bitter, but I’m not. And I suppose I could move away from Little Rock, go someplace where no one knows me. But I like it here, and I’ve got a good-paying job—lab tech at Baptist Medical Center. I deserve my second chance here, just like he did.

It didn’t take me long to stop crying. One minute I was wailing and the next I was stone silent. It was not a dignified silence, though. I was trembling all over, and I could feel my face flush red-hot.

That’s when his asshole brother came up to the pew where I was sitting and said, like he was trying to be polite, “Would you please leave?” I looked up at him, my mouth hanging open. Of all the people to ask me to leave!

“You’ve got some nerve,” I said.

His face was so red it looked sunburned.

“Now’s not the time,” he said back, his voice shaking a little.

He got a second chance, too. My ex-husband forgave his little brother but not me. When he found out, I told him it takes two to tangle, but he still blamed it on me and me alone.

“I’m not going,” I told his brother now.

The minister cleared his throat then and asked if he could resume the eulogy. The last I’d heard, he’d been saying something about the corpse having been a loving and devoted husband.

I stood up. “Go right ahead,” I said. “Lie your ass off. The bastard left me.”

Well, you can guess how people reacted to that. No one likes the truth. For a few seconds, there was nothing but arms and elbows and legs and shouting, and then I found myself outside, laying face-down on the sidewalk, my wig ripped off, my dress torn, and my head throbbing. There was a small crowd standing on the top step looking down at me, mostly men but also a couple of stocky women. One of the women was his brother’s wife. She shook my wig at me and said, “You didn’t even have the guts to face us. You’re pathetic.” I rose onto my skinned knees then and reached up to touch my eyebrows. They were still there. Then I started to laugh.

“Get out of here,” a man’s voice said. “Now.

But I couldn’t stop laughing. I stood up then, and my head went woozy, and for a moment I felt like I was back on the Swinging Bridge, my husband by my side, both of us swaying there in the breeze, so light somehow that the slightest puff of wind could lift us up off that bridge and into the blue, blue sky. And then I felt like I really was floating up into the sky, just like a balloon or a saint, and he was floating there beside me, holding my hand. I knew that any second I’d drift back down to earth, to the cracked concrete sidewalk, the scowls and jeers, to the realization that I’d been an utter fool and always would be, but I didn’t care, at least not then. I was with him, and they weren’t. I was with him, and he was holding my hand, and it felt so real, so real and so right.

 

 

David Jauss is the author of four collections of short stories (Crimes of Passion, Black Maps, Glossolalia: New & Selected Stories, and Nice People: New & Selected Stories II), two collections of poems (Improvising Rivers and You Are Not Here), and a collection of essays (On Writing Fiction). He has also edited or coedited three anthologies, most recently Words Overflown by Stars: Creative Writing Instruction and Insight from the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA Program. His short stories have been published in numerous magazines and reprinted in Best American Short Stories, The O. Henry Awards: Prize Stories, and The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses, as well as in The Pushcart Book of Short Stories: The Best Stories from the Pushcart Prize. He is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a James A. Michener / Copernicus Society of America Fellowship, and three fellowships from the Arkansas Arts Council and one from the Minnesota State Arts Board. His collection Black Maps received the Associated Writers and Writing Programs Award for Short Fiction. A professor emeritus at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, he teaches in the low-residency MFA in Writing Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts.

“The Bridge” first appeared in Arkansas Literary Forum.

“Yard Sale” by Nancy Ludmerer


“Orange Horizon Line” by Jane Cornish Smith, encaustic, oil on board, 2014.

Jackie’s present to Brooke from two weeks before, Richard Scarry’s Mother Goose, was going for two dollars. The baby shoes she bought Brooke were on offer for a pittance as well. “Yard sale! Moving today! Last chance!” clamored the sign.

The screen door hung off its hinge. “Deirdre!” Jackie called softly to her daughter. The only sound was the baby crying. Deirdre’s baby, and Tonio’s. Not yours, Deirdre said last time. Jackie’s ideas about child-rearing were antiquated, Deirdre complained, her gifts well-meaning but off. The pink baby shoes were kidskin — but they were raising Brooke vegan. Mother Goose was sexist.

When she heard they were moving to Tempe, Arizona, to be near Tonio’s people, Jackie said, “I’ll never get to see Brooke.”

Deirdre said she could come visit. She didn’t mention how hard it was for Jackie to travel – how she’d forget her tickets, or her house keys, or even where she was going. Jackie had gone to the library and looked up the city they were moving to, tried to figure out exactly how far it was from Clifton, New Jersey, but couldn’t even find it on the map. An hour later she realized she was looking for Temple, Arizona – a place that didn’t even exist – when the place they were moving was Tempe. She was too embarrassed to tell Deirdre about her mistake, or even what she had learned from her research, which was that Tempe, Arizona was named after the Vale of Tempe in Greece, where in ancient times there was a temple to Apollo. Somehow she knew Deirdre wouldn’t be interested, or at least not interested in hearing this from her.

But she wasn’t there for that. She came to say good-bye to them, and to the baby.

Minutes passed. Then Tonio appeared. He was small and wiry and no match for her Deirdre, who was 5’9” with large, jutting hip bones. “Brooke dozed off before I could feed her,” he said wearily. “At least she stopped crying.”

“Isn’t Deirdre home?” Jackie asked.

“At the gym.” Then he left, too, to gas-up the U-Haul.

Brooke lay on her back in her crib, awake, violet eyes blinking, forehead wrinkled in puzzlement. Jackie wanted to say “I’ll make it up to you,” but knew it was a lie. Your parents are your destiny, not your brain-addled Grandma.

Instead Jackie chanted the one rhyme she could remember by heart: “Pussycat, pussycat where have you been? I’ve been to London to visit the Queen. Pussycat, pussycat, what did you there? I frightened a little mouse under her chair.”

The baby watched her. She kicked her bare feet and moved her small hands like birds, as if she recognized Jackie was her grandmother, as if she knew this was special, like a visitation from an angel.

Little mouse, Jackie crooned, lifting her in her arms.

In the taxi Jackie called to speed her and Brooke to the station, she untied the shoes’ ribbon laces, stroked the soft pink kidskin, and fitted them on.

 

 

Nancy Ludmerer‘s fiction and essays have appeared in Kenyon Review, Hospital Drive, Litro, Amsterdam Quarterly, Green Mountains Review, Cimarron Review, and Literal Latte, among other fine journals. Her flash fiction has been published in Vestal Review, North American Review, KYSO Flash, Grain, Night Train, and Blue Monday Review and her flash “First Night” (a prizewinner in River Styx) also appeared in Best Small Fictions 2016. She lives in New York City with her husband Malcolm and their cat Sandy, a brave survivor of Superstorm Sandy.

“Asha in Allston” by Chaya Bhuvaneswar


“Turned Away” by Jane Cornish Smith, oil, encaustic on board, 2014.

The one thing you promised, you swore, was that you’d never allow her inside our house. Remember, when we came here, that you believed we’d have four sons. An optimistic belief but not outside reality, since I come from a family of ten, you from just five, and the astrologers had said that we’d have sons. Their predictions were what made us get engaged.

You said this was the house where we’d grow old. I say “this was the house” because, though you don’t know it yet, there was a kitchen fire last week. Your patio, gutted. Much water damage to the tiles, the basement, other areas. Cheap melted plastic and disjointed machines, the sound of a soft female voice droning all her broken syllables, pathetic. Don’t bother asking what became of her. I won’t answer. You shouldn’t care. You have her download store-housed somewhere permanent. You have what you need to make as many new Malins as you need. I can’t say the same for making me.

I know you’ve got enough to think about, nodding and bowing your way through the summer retreat with VC’s, trying to make sure you keep your job. Everyone at Ganesha Inc. is aware now, aren’t they, not only engineers, even corporate, that Malin became one with you, somehow? That like an animal researcher who gets too attached to his primates, you seek to protect her constantly?

I shouldn’t say “her.” I never forget what Malin is. A mannequin with hardware, an old-style robot encased in new-style coverings, turning her tricks. A plastic dream. The sum consciousness of notebooks, graph paper, comic books you used to read and collect long years before I ever met you, where women’s breasts were large and conical, leg muscles strong and well-defined enough so they can leap between buildings. Malin’s a fucking joke, the sister of inflatables. She isn’t real. She never will be real. It doesn’t matter that her legs and arms can move so precisely. Her smile plays to your dreams and isn’t her own. She can’t own anything.

But that must be why you love her. Your Malin has nothing to lose.

That old stupid question: What does she have that I don’t? I know the answer without having to ask. Her sight. She can see better than most people. Ninety-seven percent of humans, nearly as good as an eagle. But that reflects on you, not her. You designed and built her laser gaze. I recall just how intent you were that day.

I was just back from the neurologist, a cold morning that left me shivering. The doctor in JP was still too …what? I couldn’t say. Empathic? Guarded? Practical? All of the above? To make my diagnosis definitive, even though I’d read enough and knew enough by then not to be fooled. The best we could hope for was relapsing remitting. Then there would be good days, even Richard Pryor funny days, days I could walk and even dance a little bit. But the doctor wouldn’t confirm even a name. “How many children do you have again?” he’d asked, the absent-minded and respectable doctor. “Zero,” I forced myself to say, only because at that moment, I craved his pity.

By ten-thirty, I’d taken a cab home because of how pressed-down I felt; how held back by the silence in the examining room, the sense of life moving so fluidly all around me. I hadn’t exposed myself on public transportation—I mean “exposed” in the sense of even sitting on the T among strangers—because of how frightened I felt. What would go first? My speech? Mind? Hearing? Where would the plaques surface, white clearings where there should be brain forest? I did not want to know.

You had equipment spread on the table, a naked blond woman open and smiling before you, flat on her back. You had a headlamp on and tiny screwdrivers and tools I did not recognize. But most of all you had the room and there was no way I could have entered it. It wasn’t for three weeks afterward that, spent after your run around Jamaica Pond, you came to me smiling, wanting to make love before you showered, the way you often do, and I had to show you the neurology report, the patient education handout. Wait for you to read it. Blame and even hate myself for turning you so grave. You didn’t run once you found out; you stayed. We stayed in bed for hours. I can’t remember what we did, except that I had you completely, you had me, yet all the while, I felt empty-handed.

That was six months ago. Nothing has changed since. Everything has changed. There is a taut anticipation in our lives. We wait for the worst, know it will come. I lose my balance often. You catch me before I fall. You’re dutiful, perfect, really. The best neurologists. Second and third opinions. The articles you clip, saying it might be Lyme’s disease, Guillain-Barré, benign tumor, even a mild case of herpes. Anything reversible. Anything but what it is. And yet, the more responsible you are, the less I have of you, the less you’re here. You disappear into the closed garage, the place where I once thought of gassing myself. While I still can. While I still have enough control to decide when the end will come. But the garage is your space. The place where Malin was constructed, after a big check was written to your AI program from no less than Paul Allen; after your postdoc at Stanford and your being recruited to a Kendall Square biotech; after you’d earned a big enough bonus to bring me to you from India and bid high for this house.

And now there won’t be any sons, or other kids. There won’t be birds singing in the trees. Sunrises, sunsets. First my balance, then all my senses, ephemera, sometimes working, other times blocked because of muffled synapses, ghosts in the machine of me. My cellular catastrophes.

But you’ll have Malin, won’t you? Yes. This being, first inert, named after some Swedish actress, your crush from that movie about superheroes, but now, quite a bit more. This thing that’s come alive. She can think now. You look like you could spend eternity watching her think.

No doubt, when you build her next version, salvaging whatever you must after the fire that I set, unable to bear the living and moving sight of her, the way she sang songs you programmed in her—no doubt she’ll tell you how frightened she was. When I approached her, leaning on my cane, dousing her with kerosene, lighting the match. At first not caring if I burned myself too, but in the end managing to run while she stayed still. I’d glued her feet. I’d tried to think of every possibility.

I couldn’t kill her. It shouldn’t surprise you, given that I couldn’t kill myself either. The fire was only for her physical body. Your files, your work in the garage, I left intact. So you will be able to rebuild, of that I’m confident, and also—that you’d rebuild me if you could. That if you had to choose between Malin and me, there’d be no choice. But we don’t get to choose. Have or don’t have; we’ll have to wait.

Sorry my love, my dear. I truly hope that she’ll give you comfort.

 

 

Chaya Bhuvaneswar’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Narrative Magazine, The Awl, Michigan Quarterly Review, Redux, Compose, Nimrod, Asian American Literary Review, Notre Dame Review, jellyfish review, aaduna, Bangalore Review and elsewhere. She received a Henfield Transatlantic Writing award, scholarships to Grub Street and Squaw Valley Writers conferences, and is at work on a novel.