“The Survival of Uncle Peachy” by Laura Long

The Survival of Uncle Peachy

For twenty-seven years my Uncle Peachy drove trailers of brand new automobiles from Detroit to everywhere else. He saw a thousand towns at twilight glimmering like stars dropped amid trees, but not a single person in a single house knew his name, nor he theirs. Wherever he stopped, a dog barked. The moon grew juicy, withered to a bow, rose over his shoulder, and kept her distance.

Peachy drove. His hands gnarled around the steering wheel. His bones rattled, resettled harder than before, and his eyes became flat as burnt coffee. He chewed over every joke, every good story, and tried to forget the voice of his first wife on the phone when suddenly his daughter was dying. “Shellie’s in the hospital. Where the hell are you?”

After his divorce he would fall asleep by remembering his mom’s hands putting pickled beets on his plate. He’d picture his dad planting corn after he went blind, knowing the field by feel, then mowing half of it down by accident. The old man cussed for an hour, then sat on the porch, his dog at his heel and his face turned toward the last splurge of July light.

During his second marriage, Peachy settled his wife Kendra and son Perry near where he grew up in West Virginia. He drove home on his way to Missouri just to hunt one morning with his son. Perry’s face seemed as guarded as a young man’s, but his piping voice told his correct age, six years. Peachy didn’t scold the boy when he cried because the pretty deer fell. He stopped himself from saying, “Eight point buck, kid.” Peachy held Perry and let him cry.

Later that year, near Hondo, Texas, Peachy was shooting pool and doing laundry at the Diesel Fried Chicken Truck Stop when he spotted a shriveled man sitting by the pay phone. Next to him the receiver dangled on its silver cord. The man stared through the green-tinged air at nothing. He’s smoke, Peachy thought when he touched the man’s hand, then called 911. I don’t want to turn into smoke.

“I’m staying,” he told his wife the next time he strode through the door.

“Good,” Kendra said, stirring spaghetti-os for Perry. “Now we can finish wallpapering the hallway.”

Peachy applied for janitor jobs at the grocery stores, Wal-Mart, Home Hardware, the paper factory, the lumber mill. He was 57, an Army veteran. Peachy gave every manager a handshake and a crooked grin, and said, “I want you to know, getting paid to push a broom will be easy street for me.”

Peachy got on the graveyard shift at the new Kroger’s. He claimed, “I wax them floors till they’re smoother than the highway to hell, or the driveway to the Governor’s mansion, same difference.” As late night Kroger shoppers rolled their carts down the aisles, Uncle Peachy maneuvered around them, hat over his eyes, chewing over an old joke or a new story he would tell someone tomorrow.

I was around my Uncle Peachy for a while when he first came back, the trucker settling down. He said, “I’m gonna feed my family. The world can go as crazy as it wants.” I thought his life wasn’t much to live for, compared to mine, because I was going to college soon. He’d been taught that as a man he fed his family, no whining. He’d decided that everything else was the craziness of the world.

Now, I’m decades past college, and it’s no small thing to get along day after day, year after year, and let the world be as crazy as it wants, with whatever miniscule difference I might make. Sometimes the craziness tears at me and reminds me of how a raccoon tore up my neighbor’s caged chicken, reaching its clawed hand in and pulling the chicken’s feathers and flesh through the wire little bit by bit. Sometimes late at night I think of Peachy driving the night roads, perched high up in the cab, the highway barreling through his heart, his heart a migratory bird, circling back toward home.




Laura Long’s first novel Out of Peel Tree is published by West Virginia University Press. She has published two poetry collections, The Eye of Caroline Herschel: A Life in Poems (2013) and Imagine a Door (2009). Her work appears in Shenandoah, Southern Review, and other magazines and she has received a James Michener Fellowship and other awards. She teaches at Lynchburg College in Virginia and in the Low-Residency MFA Program at West Virginia Wesleyan.

“The Beginnings of Sorrow” by Pinckney Benedict

The Beginnings of Sorrow

Vandal Boucher told his dog Hark to go snatch the duck out of the rushes where it had fallen, and Hark told him No. In days to come, Vandal probably wished he’d just pointed his Ithaca 12-gauge side-by-side at Hark’s fine-boned skull right that moment and pulled the trigger on the second barrel (he had emptied the first to bring down the duck) and blown the dog’s brains out, there at the edge of the freezing, sludgy pond. But that unanticipated answer—any answer would have been a surprise, of course, but this was no, unmistakably no, in a pleasant tenor, without any obvious edge of anger or resentment—that single syllable took him aback and prevented him from taking action.

Vandal’s old man, now: back in the day, Vandal’s old man Xerxes Boucher would have slain the dog that showed him any sign of strangeness or resistance to his will, let alone one that told him no. Dog’s sucking the golden yolks out of the eggs? Blam. Dog’s taking chickens out of the coop? Blam. Dog’s not sticking tight enough to the sheep, so the coyotes are chivvying them across the high pastures? This dog’s your favorite, your special pet? You wish I would refrain from shooting the dog? Well, sonny, you wish in one hand and shit in the other, see which gets full first. Blam. Nothing could stop him, no pleading or promises, and threats were out of the question. But that was Xerxes in his prime, and Vandal wasn’t a patch on him, everybody said so, Vandal himself had ruefully to agree with the general assessment of his character. So when Hark said no, Vandal just blinked. “Come again?” he said.


Well, Vandal thought. He looked out into the reeds, where the body of the mallard he had just shot bobbed in the dark water. That water looked cold. Hark sat on the shore, blinking up at Vandal with mild eyes. It would have struck Xerxes Boucher as outrageous that the dog should balk at wading out there into that cold, muddy mess, the soupy muck at the pond’s margin at least shoulder-deep for the dog where the dead mallard floated, maybe deep enough that a dog—even a sizable dog like Hark—would have to swim.

But damn it if, on that gray November morning, with a hot thermos of his wife’s bitter black coffee nearby just waiting on him to drink it, and a solid breakfast when he got home after the hunt, and dry socks—Damned if Vandal couldn’t see the dog’s point.

“Okay,” he said. “This once.”

He was wearing his thick rubber waders, the ones that went all the way up to the middle of his chest, so he took off his coat—the frigid air bit into him, made his breath go short—laid the coat down on the bank, set the shotgun on top of the coat, and set off after the mallard himself. The waders clutched his calves as the greasy pond water surged around his legs, and his feet sank unpleasantly into the soft bottom. He considered what might be sleeping down there: frogs settled in for the winter, dreaming their slick wet dreams; flabby catfish whiskered like old men; great knobby snapping turtles, their thick round shells overlapping one another like the shields of some ancient army.

They were down there in the dark, the turtles that had survived unchanged from the age of the dinosaurs, with their spines buckled so that they fit, neatly folded, within their shells; and their eyes closed fast, their turtle hearts beating slow, slow, slow, waiting on the passing of another winter. And what if the winter never passed and spring never came, as looked more and more likely? How long would they sleep, how long could such creatures wait in the dark? A long time, Vandal suspected. Time beyond counting. It might suit them well, the endless empty twilight that the world seemed dead-set on becoming.

Vandal didn’t care to put his feet on such creatures, and when his toes touched something hard, he tried to tread elsewhere. The pond bottom was full of hard things, and most of them were probably rocks, but better safe than sorry. He had seen the jaws on snapping turtles up close, the beak on the skeletal face like a hawk’s or an eagle’s, hooked and hard-edged and sharp as a razor. Easy to lose a toe to such a creature.

When he reached the mallard—it was truly a perfect bird, its head and neck a deep oily green, unmarked by the flying shot—he plucked its limp body up out of the water and waved it over his head for the dog to see. “Got it!” he called.

Hark wasn’t paying any attention to him at all. He was sitting next to the tall silver thermos and gazing quizzically at the coat and, cradled on the coat, Vandal’s shotgun.

~ ~ ~

“I told him to go get the duck,” Vandal said to his wife, who was called Bridie. Then, to Hark, he said, “Tell her what you told me.”

No, said Hark.

Bridie looked from her husband to the dog. “Does he mean to tell you no,” she asked, working to keep her voice even and calm, her tone reasonable. “Or does he mean he won’t tell me?”

No, the dog said again. It wasn’t like a bark, which Bridie would have much preferred, one of those clever dogs that has been taught by its owner to “talk” by mimicking human speech without understanding what it was saying. “What’s on top of a house?” Roof! “How does sandpaper feel?” Rough! “Who’s the greatest ballplayer of all time?” Ruth!

DiMaggio, she thought to herself. That’s the punchline. The dog says Ruth! but really it’s DiMaggio.

Vandal laughed. He was a big broad-shouldered good-natured man with an infectious laugh, which was one of the reasons Bridie loved him, and she smiled despite her misgivings. The dog seemed delighted with the turn of events too.

“That’s the sixty-four dollar question, ain’t it?” Vandal said. He clapped Hark on the head in the old familiar way, and the dog shifted out from under the cupped hand, eyes suddenly slitted and opaque.

No, it said.

Much as she loved Vandal, and much as she had hated his bear of a father, with his great sweaty hands always ready to squeeze her behind or pinch her under her skirt as she was climbing the stairs, always ready to brush against her breasts—glad as she was that the mean old man was in the cold cold ground, she couldn’t help but think at that moment that a little of Xerxes’ unflinching resolve wouldn’t have gone amiss in Vandal’s character, in this circumstance. She wished that the dog had said pretty much anything else: Yes, or better yet, yes sir. Even a word of complaint, cold, wet, dark. Afraid. But this flat refusal unnerved her.

“He takes a lot on himself, doesn’t he? For a dog,” she said.

“Talking dog,” said Vandal, his pride written on his knobby face, as though he had taught the dog to speak all by himself, as though it had been his idea.

Hark had begun wandering through the house, inspecting the dark heavy furniture like he had never seen it or the place before. Not exploring timidly, like a guest unsure of his welcome, but more like a new owner. Bridie thought she saw him twitch a lip disdainfully as he sniffed at the fraying upholstery of the davenport. He looked to her for a moment as though maybe he were going to lift his leg. “No!” she snapped. “Bad boy!”

He glanced from her to Vandal and back again, trotted over to Vandal’s easy chair with his tail curled high over his back. He gave off the distinct air of having won some sort of victory. “Come here,” Bridie called to him. She snapped her fingers, and he swung his narrow, intelligent head, looking past his shoulder at her.

No, he said, and he hopped up into Vandal’s chair. Bridie was relieved to see how small he was in the chair, into which Vandal had to work to wedge his bulky frame.

There was room for two of Hark in the seat, three even, so lean was he, slender long-legged retriever mix. Vandal nodded at him with approval. The dog turned around and around and around as though he were treading down brush to make himself a nest, in the ancient way of dogs. In the end, though, he settled himself upright rather than lying down, his spine against the back of the chair, his head high.

“Xerxes wouldn’t never allow a dog up in his chair like that,” Bridie said. And was immediately sorry she had said it. Vandal had adored and dreaded his brutal, unstoppable old man, and any comparison between them left him feeling failed and wanting. Xerxes, Xerxes. Will he never leave our house?

“Xerxes never had him a talking dog,” Vandal said. He handed the dead mallard to her. Its glossy head and neck stretched down toward the floor in a comical way, its pearlescent eyes long gone into death. It was a large, muscular bird.

“Not much of a talking dog,” Bridie said. She turned, taking the mallard away into the kitchen when she saw the flash of irritation in Vandal’s eyes. She didn’t look toward Hark, because she didn’t want to see the expression of satisfaction that she felt sure animated his doggy features. She wanted to let Vandal have this moment, this chance to own something that his father couldn’t have imagined, let alone possessed, but it was—it was wrong. Twisted, bent. It was a thing that couldn’t be but was, it was unspeakable, and it was there in her living room, sitting in her husband’s chair. “Not much of one, if all it can manage to say is no.”

~ ~ ~

Hark reclined in the easy chair in the parlor. The television was tuned to the evening news, and the dog watched and listened with bright gleaming eyes, giving every appearance of understanding what was said: Wars and rumors of wars. Earthquakes and famines and troubles. None of it was good at all, it hadn’t been good in some little time, but none of it seemed to bother him in the least. He chewed briefly at his own hip, after some itch that was deeply hidden there, and then went back to his television viewing.

Vandal sat on the near end of the davenport, not appearing to hear the news. From time to time he reached out a hand to pet Hark, but Hark shifted his weight and leaned away, just out of reach. It was what Bridie had always striven to do when Xerxes went to put his hands on her but that she had somehow never managed, to create that small distance between them that would prove unbridgeable. Always the hand reached her, to pet and stroke and pinch, always when Vandal’s attention was turned elsewhere. And them living in Xerxes’ house, and her helpless to turn him away.

About the third time Vandal put his hand out, Hark tore his gaze from the TV screen, snarled, snapped, his jaws closing with a wicked click just shy of Vandal’s reaching fingertips. Vandal withdrew his hand, looking sheepish.

“No?” he asked the dog.

No, Hark said, and he settled back into the soft cushions of the chair, his eyes fixed once more on the flickering screen.

~ ~ ~

Over Bridie’s objections, Hark ate dinner at the table with them that night. Vandal insisted. The dog tried to climb into the chair with arms, Vandal’s seat at the head of the table. Vandal wasn’t going to protest, but Bridie wouldn’t allow it. She flapped the kitchen towel—it was covered in delicate blue cornflowers—at him, waved her hands and shouted “Shoo! Shoo!” until he slipped down out of the chair and, throwing resentful glances her way, slunk over to one of the chairs at the side of the table and took his place.

He ate like an animal, she noted with satisfaction, chasing the duck leg she had given him around and around the rim of the broad plate with his sharp snout, working to grasp the bone with his teeth, his tongue hanging drolly from the side of his mouth. Always, the leg escaped him. Each time it did, she put it carefully back in the middle of the plate, and he went after it again. From time to time he would stop his pursuit of the drumstick and watch Bridie and Vandal manipulate their utensils, raise their forks to their mouths, dab at their lips with napkins. His own napkin was tucked bib-like under the broad leather strap of his collar, and it billowed ridiculously out over his narrow, hairy chest. Vandal watched this process through a number of repetitions, his brow furrowed, before he put down his knife and fork.

“You can’t let a dog have duck bones like that,” he said. “He’ll crack the bone and swallow it and the sharp edges will lodge in his throat.”

Good, Bridie thought. Let him. The dog stared across the table at her, his face twisted into what she took to be an accusatory grimace. Hark had always been Vandal’s dog, never hers, and she had never felt much affection for him, but he had always seemed to her to be a perfectly normal dog, not overfriendly but that was normal in an animal that was brought up to work rather than as a pet. Restrained in his affections, but never hostile. Lean and quick and hard-muscled, with the bland face and expressions of his kind. And now he looked at her as though he knew what she was thinking—an image of Hark coughing, wheezing, hacking up blood on the kitchen floor swam back into her consciousness—and hated her for it.

Was there an element of surprise there too? she wondered. He hadn’t known about the bones. An unanticipated danger, and now he knew, and she could sense him filing the information away, so that such a thing would never be a threat to him again. What else was he ignorant about?

Bridie had never disliked Hark before, had never disliked any of Vandal’s boisterous happy-go-lucky hunting dogs, the bird dogs, the bear dogs, the coon dogs, all of them camped out in the tilting kennel attached to the pole barn. They shared the long fenced run that stretched across the barnyard, and they would woof and whirl and slobber when she went out to feed them. Dogs with names like Sam and Kettle and Bengal and Ranger. And Hark. Hark the waterdog, a little quieter than the others, more subdued, maybe, but nothing obvious about him to separate him from the rest of them. They were Vandal’s friends and companions, they admired him even when Xerxes fed him scorn, and they were kind to him when even she herself wasn’t. She didn’t fool with them much.

Something had come alive in Hark, something that allowed him, compelled him, to say no, and now he was at her table when the rest were outside in the cold and the dark, now he was looking her in the eye. That was another new thing, this direct confrontation; he had always cast his gaze down, properly canine, when his eyes had locked with hers in the past. He’d regained his earlier cocksureness, and the impression of self-satisfaction that she had from him made him unbearable to her.

Vandal was leaning over, working his knife, paring the crispy skin and the leg meat away from the bone. “Here you go,” he told the dog, his tone fond. Hark sniffed.

“If he plans to eat his food at the table like people,” Bridie said, “then he better learn to pick it up like people.”

Vandal stopped cutting. Bridie half-expected Hark to say No in the light voice that sounded so strange coming out of that long maw, with its mottled tongue and (as they seemed to her) cruel-looking teeth. Instead, he nudged Vandal out of his way and planted one forepaw squarely on the duck leg. He understands, Bridie thought to herself.

The plate tipped and skittered away from him, the duck leg tumbling off it, the china ringing against the hard oak of the tabletop. The dog looked perplexed, but Vandal slid the plate back into place, picked up the drumstick and laid it gently down.

Just as gently, Hark put his paw on the leg bone, pinning it. He lowered his head, closed his teeth securely on the leg—the chafing squeak of tooth against bone made Bridie squint her eyes in disgust—and pulled away a triumphant mouthful of duck. He tossed it back, swallowed without chewing, and went after the leg again.

“Good dog,” Vandal said. The dog’s ears flickered at the familiar phrase, but he didn’t raise his head from the plate. Bridie bit into her own portion. Duck was normally one of her favorites, but this meal filled her mouth like ashes. Vandal stopped chewing, leaned down close to his plate, his lips pursed as though he were about to kiss his food, his eyes screwed nearly shut. He made a little spitting noise, and a pellet of lead shot, no bigger than a flea, pinged onto his plate, bounced, and lay still.

~ ~ ~

After supper, as Bridie retted up the kitchen, Vandal sat cross-legged on the floor in the parlor, the shotgun broken down and spread out on several thicknesses of newspaper on the floor before him. A small smoky fire—the wood was too green to burn well, hadn’t aged sufficiently—flared and popped in the hearth.

Hark sat in the comfortable chair, and his posture had become—she felt sure of this—more human than it had been previously. He was sitting like a man now, a misshapen man, yes, with a curved spine and his head low between his shoulders, but he was working to sit upright. He looked ridiculous, as she glanced in at him from where she was working, but she felt no impulse to laugh. Was he larger than he had been? Did he fill the chair more fully? While she watched, he lost his precarious balance, slipped to the side, thrashed for a moment before righting himself again.

The television was on, the usual chatter from the local news, a terrible wreck out on the state highway, a plant shutting down in the county seat, a marvel on a nearby farm, a Holstein calf born with two heads, both of them alive and bawling, both of them sucking milk. Who could even take note of something like that in these times, Bridie wondered to herself as she worked to scrub the grease from the plates. The next day it would be something else, and something else after that, until the wonders and the sports and the abominations (how to tell the difference among them?) piled up so high that there wouldn’t be any room left for them, for her and for Vandal, the regular ones, the ones that remained.

A talking dog? Was that stranger than a two-headed calf? Stranger than poor old Woodrow Scurry’s horses eating each other in his stables a fortnight earlier? Every day the world around her seemed more peculiar than it had the day before, and every day she felt herself getting a little more used to the new strangenesses, numb to them, and wondering idly what ones the next day would bring.

How you use? They were Hark’s words, clumsy and laughable, coming to her over the din of the voices on the television. There was another sort of show on, this one a game of some type, where people shouted at one another, encouragement and curses. That thing, Hark said.

“So,” Vandal said, “you can say more than No.”

How you use that thing, Hark said again. A demand this time, not a question.

The shotgun, Bridie thought, and she dropped the plate she was washing back into the sink full of lukewarm water and dying suds and hurried into the den, drying her hands on a dishtowel as she went.

“Don’t tell him that,” she said.

Vandal looked up at her, startled. Just above him on the wall hung a picture that his mother had hung there as a young woman. She had died young. In the decades since it had been hung, the picture, it occurred to Bridie, had taken in every event that had occurred in that low-ceilinged, claustrophobic room. It depicted Jesus, a thick-muscled Jesus, naked but for a drape of white cloth, getting his baptism in the river Jordan. The Baptist raised a crooked hand over his head, water spilling from the upraised palm.

Vandal was fitting the barrels of the shotgun—which had been his old man’s but which was now his, like the house, like the farm—back into the stock. The metal mated to the wood with a definitive click. “Why in the world wouldn’t I tell him?

Bridie was at a loss for a cogent answer. It seemed obvious to her that Vandal ought not to impart such information to the dog just for the asking, but he didn’t share her worry at all, it was clear. How to explain? The dog looked at her with, she thought, an expression of feigned innocence. “A dog ought not to know how to use a gun,” she said.

Vandal chuckled. “He doesn’t even have hands. He has no fingers.

“So why tell him how a gun works?”

“Because he wants to know.”

“And should he know everything he wants to, just because he wants to know it?”

Vandal shrugged. Bridie felt heat flooding her face. How could he not understand? He thought it was terrific, the way the dog had decided to talk, the way he could sit there with it and watch television, the way it asked him questions, the way it wanted to know the things that he knew. He was happy to share with it: his table, his food, his house, his knowledge. He was treating the dog like a friend, like a member of the family. Like a child, his child.

“What he wants is to have hands. What he wants is to be a man. To do what you do. To have what you have.”

She caught Hark gazing at her intently, his eyes gleaming, hungry, his nose wet, his broad flat tongue caught between the rows of his teeth.

“What’s wrong with that?” Vandal wanted to know.

He is not your boy, she wanted to tell him. He is not your son. He is a dog, and it’s wrong that he can talk. You want to share what you have with him, but he doesn’t want to share it with you. He wants to have it instead of you.

The dog wrinkled his nose, sniffing, and she knew suddenly that he was taking her in, the scent of her. A dog’s nose was, she knew, a million times more sensitive than a man’s. He could know her by her scent. He could tell that she was afraid of him. He could follow her anywhere, because of that phenomenal sense of smell. In prehistoric times, before men became human and made servants out of them, Hark and his kind would have hunted her down in a pack and eaten her alive. Her scent would have led them to her. Hark’s eyes narrowed, and her words clung to her jaws. She couldn’t bear to speak them in front of the dog. She blinked, dropped her gaze and, under the animal’s intense scrutiny, fled the room.

Behind her, Vandal spoke. “This here’s the breech,” he said. The gun snicked open. “This here is where the shells go.” The gun thumped closed.

**Excerpted from Miracle Boy and Other Stories (Press 53).



Pinckney Benedict grew up on his family’s dairy farm in the mountains of southern West Virginia. He has published three collections of short fiction (Town Smokes, The Wrecking Yard, and Miracle Boy) and a novel (Dogs of God). His stories have appeared in Esquire, Zoetrope: All-Story, StoryQuarterly, Ontario Review, the O. Henry Award series, New Stories from the South, the Pushcart Prize Anthology, The Oxford Book of American Short Stories, and The Ecco Anthology of Contemporary American Short Fiction. He is the recipient of a Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Literary Fellowship from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts, a Michener Fellowship, the Nelson Algren Award, an Individual Artist’s grant from the Illinois Arts Council, and Britain’s Steinbeck Award. He is a professor in the English Department at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois.

Read an interview with Pinckney here.

“There Is No Such Thing As Spring” by A. Inguanta and S. Squillante

Spread Your Wings

but airplanes, they are such a thing.
My body, steel-encased and careening,
and waiting, always waiting
for the pressure drop, for the forced air, for the budding
between lips, the bloom worked for,
worried over, open, finally, flown.

The woman in the painting beside my bed wants to know this: “flown.”
Only part of me cares to respond, the other part rifles through.
This woman aches just as I do.

There are three main types of flight:
Echo, arrow, and spiral.
Crocus, Iris, Fiddlehead unfurling.
Her body: Intuition, God.




Ashley Inguanta and Sheila Squillante have both published poetry collections with Dancing Girl Press. Sheila is Associate Editor at PANK, and Ashley is the Art Director of SmokeLong Quarterly.

Read an interview with Ashley here.
Read an interview with Sheila here.

“Sitting in the Sandbox” by Eva Marino

Goldfinch (Sitting in teh Sandbox)

The summer sun made my skin tingle, which I guessed was the feeling of being slowly broiled. I could feel the heat of the rubber black seat seep through my shorts, and I refrained from touching the swing’s metal chains. Sweat dampened my socks, and I could feel sand building at the toe of my shoes as I half-heartedly pushed myself to and fro. My friend, Dahlia, sat in the swing next to me, clutching the chains and staring at the empty red playground. The wind blew tiny dust devils across the sand.

“Say something,” she mumbled, letting go of the chains and massaging her hands. Her palms were red and blistering.

“Like what?” I asked. What could I say? In my sixteen years of life, I’d never been confronted with this situation.

“Anything. I’m dying here.”

I looked at her. This girl who I thought I knew after she stepped away from the protection behind our mothers’ legs; this girl who zipped her heart shut for so many years, was now a girl who tore herself open and needed me like a patch over a fresh wound. But I was only a band-aid, and she was bleeding more than I could staunch.

Her long ebony hair hid her face as the wind blew wisps of it around her head. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”

I inhaled the dust surrounding us. “I’m thinking of how I couldn’t see it before, or why you never told me about it.”

“How could I tell you? I barely knew myself.” Her voice was thick as she stared down at her raw hands. “My parents are gonna kill me if they find out.”

“No they won’t. They love you.”

“You don’t know my parents.” She kicked sand into the air and watched the wind carry it away. “They want people like me to burn in Hell.”

I rubbed slick palms across my shorts and bit dry skin off my lip. Then I said, “Well, if it makes you feel any better, I think you deserve to be in heaven.” She looked at me with blue glossy eyes, and I smiled back. “We’ve endured the early terrors of puberty, and I think that’s punishment enough.”

She managed to giggle, and I swung over to bump her seat with mine. We swayed like that until our swings stilled and our laughter quieted. She was the one to start speaking again as she looked up at the blue sky. “What do you think would happen if I swung really high and jumped off?”

I pondered her question for a second, saw the muscles in her bare arms tense as she twisted her wrists around the chains, and then I replied, “You’d probably break something.”

“We’ll see.” She gripped the chains again and began to rock back and forth, pushing off the sand to add some height. Her swings became smoother, longer, stronger, until she let go and soared through the air. For the briefest moment, it seemed as if she floated. But gravity possessed her again and threw her into the sand. A wave of sand rose and fell when she landed on her heels. She flailed her arms, her legs buckled, and then she collapsed onto her back. Her hair spread around her head like petals on a flower.

I rushed over to her and saw that she was laughing, her arms over her eyes, her cheeks glistening with tears.

I swallowed my heart that crept up my throat and asked, “Is anything broken?”

She shook her head and started to sob.

I lay down beside her, feeling the same sting of the sand against her skin. Grains slipped into my shirt, hid in my scalp, crammed into my fingernails. “What hurts?”

“Everything,” she managed to choke out, “and nothing.”



Eva Marino is new to the literary world, and this is her first published piece. However, she is experienced in studio art, and had three paintings showcased at the Tempe Center for the Arts three years in a row during her high school career. Additionally, her art has won second place twice in the Tempe Sister Cities Art Contests, and has won third place in the Arizona Congressional Art Contest. Currently, she is studying Visual Communications at Northern Arizona University, and is following her passion for writing and drawing.

Read an interview with Eva here.

“Elemenopy” by Sylvia Foley


Mornings often smelled like tar, although other things might burn: eggs on the stove, toast in the toaster, a cigarette hole in a robe. Be good, Ruth Mowry’s daddy said when he left for work such mornings. My girls, he’d call out, kissing Ruth and her mother on top of their heads when he came home. At dusk the crows cried Tar! Tar! as they tumbled out of the sky.

The Mowry house stood near-last on a dead-end road, and after the dead end came the tar flats, a piece of Carville land which in 1959 nobody wanted, now the boom was over. A one-lane access road ran a hundred yards further out to the tar pit itself. Barrels of tar, even a road roller with its giant foot (smooth as a baby’s rump, Ruth Mowry’s daddy said, his hand resting on the warm metal) had been forgotten nearby. On hot days the tar bubbled at the tops of the barrels, and a rippled heat rose off the flats. Ruth was let out barefoot; her father said any child of his ought to know enough to watch for nails. Tar’ll keep her stuck down fast, he persuaded her mother—she won’t get far.

To Ruth, who was four, a sturdy child on scabbed legs, each night arrived from nowhere. Suddenly it was close to bedtime; her parents put the lights out before her eyes. You are bigger now than you were, they told her. When in the dimness they stepped away from her, she checked her parts. Here was a gray arm. Here was the brutal hair in her eye, and her bitten tongue, and the dark holes in her head and privates. When you were born you had a strawberry birthmark, her mother murmured, here, at your nostril. You couldn’t breathe right, so the doctor took it out. Ruth took to watching how her chest rose and fell. What if she forgot?

“You’d die,” her daddy said one night over his ice cream.

He grinned. He held her mother’s swollen feet on his lap under the table and rubbed them until her mother pulled away. Finally he said, “But don’t worry. You can’t forget. It’s built-in, that control; it’s set deep in your fishy brain.”

She understood the idea of automatic breathing, the helplessness of it, though she could not articulate how she knew.


One day Ruth and her mother were having lemonade on the back stoop when a neighbor, name of Mrs. Doone, stopped by. Doone had sharp red elbows, and Ruth did not like to be near her, or most other people. She leaned back against her mother.

“Don’t.” Her mother swatted at her tiredly, and sent her in for the whiskey bottle. “Be quick but don’t run.”

The kitchen was full of dull green light that filtered through the shades. Ruth made out the chrome handle of the refrigerator, the silvery pots and glasses in the dish rack. The shape of the bottle was here, too; it was on the counter, blocking the stove clock’s eye. Outside on the stoop her mother and Doone murmured back and forth. With both hands Ruth pulled the bottle down.

She was quick as her parents saw she would be, quick legs, quick mind. The alphabet’s toy words came easy: abee seedy, elemenopy. She understood the bottom layer, the simple parts of what her parents said: the blocks, if not the tricks they could do with words. Supper talk was plain. Daddy is an engineer, Daddy makes machines. What kind? Refrigerators. She did not like the slippery talk they spoke with whiskey. When her mother said things such as “I got a bug in my machine, too; I want him home at night,” to Ruth it meant a kind of No, no, gimme! “I want” or “I don’t want” were often clear to her, but not the rest, the wanted things. She hung behind the screen, listening. The stove eye saw her. All she wanted was for Doone to go away.

Her mother was muttering about the baby she said was in her belly. “I can’t see my damn feet. I can’t hardly walk a step without the floor tripping me up.”

“Such won’t last, Iris,” Doone said. “Baby’ll get itself born soon enough.”

Ruth pushed open the screen door, holding the bottle fast by its neck.

“Let go now, honey,” her mother said, taking the bottle, and to Doone, “Freshen that?”

Doone smiled and tried to pet Ruth’s hair.

Ruth hopped back against her mother’s legs, meaning to escape just so far. But the legs gave way, and she tumbled over the side of the concrete stoop. As she fell, a hand reached out and snagged her arm, and another caught her shorts, and they lowered her to the ground. “Oh, she’s all right,” her mother said. Ruth squatted in the driveway, just beyond.

At twilight the street lamps came on. Her mother’s face stood out flat and white as a plate. Their voices seesawed back and forth until, finally, Doone got up to go home. She waved good-bye and ducked under the clothesline, Ruth’s daddy’s shirtsleeves brushing her shoulders.

Ruth’s mother rubbed her own swollen belly and closed her eyes and smoked. The cigarette’s orange coal at last flew out and landed at Ruth’s feet. There was no more talk, only the night-cooled smells of smoke and tar, until her mother said in her tired voice, “Let’s go back inside.”


Next day was too hot; the road shimmered early on. Ruth’s mother kept her in after lunch.

She built a city on the kitchen floor. First she had to decide—night or day? The sun was there in the ceiling, showing itself in the blaze of the lightbulb. She stacked baking pans for buildings. Certain alphabet blocks stood for people; the red rubber bands were balloons that showed what they were thinking.

This one thinks of how a baby got into its stomach—eaten. This one picks up the sister (Ruth picked up the saltshaker) and shakes it until the insides come out. That one rides to work on a bus. Here is a rabbit in the grass; here (bit of electrical tape) a crow. These are the telephone wires singing with headaches. These are the refrigerators holding the cold food. Here is me (Ruth gave the shaker a rubber band) on my tricycle. Here is me finding Daddy’s money for him in his pocket. Here I am falling down.

Now it is suppertime, and the crows have flown home, and the eye in the stove sees you while you play. Your mother has gotten up from the couch and is standing by the sink, just waking up. Her eyes drift to one side and her mouth yawns to show her egg teeth. The bottle slides from her hand and falls in the sink with a broken sound.

Ruth’s mother jumped.

“I’m clumsy,” she said, her eyes angled so she couldn’t really see Ruth. She got the dustpan and picked slivers of glass from the white sink and pretended to hide them in Ruth’s dirty hair along with her damp fingers. “Did you get cut? Look what I found!” Obediently Ruth said Ooh over the sprinkle of brightness found on her. The bristle brush appeared. The fire ants swept over her scalp. The windows went dark. Her mother stood Ruth on a chair, and washed her hair under the faucet.


Ruth’s daddy was building a cellar under his house; in fact, he bragged, it was almost done. In Carville, Tennessee, nobody put cellars under houses. He could not understand that. Everything he did made room around him. There was money in his pockets when he came home. He loomed in the kitchen doorway. He washed his hands at the sink, humming in the refrigerator’s monotonous language. Ruth knelt on the stool beside him and dug his money out. He turned and opened his mouth wide for her. “Look at all this gold,” he said, bending so she might examine his molars.

“Are we rich?”

He burst out laughing. “When I’m dead you can tell the undertaker to yank it all out for you,” he said, patting Ruth’s head. He opened the refrigerator door and basked in the coolness.

At supper he hunched over his plate; his hair waved out from his cowlick where it had grown long.

“You look like a lunatic, Dan. Get a haircut,” her mother pleaded.

“I don’t get you Southerners.” He cut into his fried eggs with a steak knife. “Where is a man supposed to put things? There’s no garage on this house, either.” He said this as if it were proof of some failing. He trimmed the whites and scooped up each yolk to swallow whole.

“Disgusting,” her mother said. She went and put her plate on the counter, tossing back her messy hair, her red mouth around a new cigarette as she turned and leaned against the sink. “You, finish,” she said to Ruth.

The cold eggs rubbed unpleasantly against Ruth’s teeth.

After supper they sat out on the back steps awhile. When her mother rose to do the dishes, her daddy pulled on his black knit cap. He winked at Ruth, and she followed him and stood exactly where he told her to in the driveway, holding a flashlight. He carried two-by-fours into the cellar hole under the living room. He buttoned his collar and pulled his cap low over his ears against spiders. They nested in the floorboards above his head, a dangerous rain, he told her; black widows eat their own husbands. She shivered for him. “You see? I’m all right—go back inside now,” he called from the floodlit cellar. But she wanted to hear the hammer sound—he was making the walls.


What she would remember was the three of them dancing in the living room to the loud Mexican records until her mother fell down. She would remember how exultant they were, stamping and whirling. When her mother’s tangled black hair caught in her daddy’s hands, he pulled her head back sharply, and kissed her neck. She was laughing when she fell, slumping heavily to the couch, her eyes rolling back. “Faker,” he said. “You’ve got nowhere to go, Iris.” But she didn’t rise, so he stood over her, his face flushed, breathing unevenly. His shirt was dark with sweat. He raised her legs to the cushions and covered her with a sheet. She stiffened and rolled away from him, showing the underpants that cut under her big belly. There was spit on her cheek.

He picked Ruth up and said she was his good girl. She had never seen him as happy as he was that minute. He carried Ruth into her room and shushed her. He showed her the rabbit’s head on the wall. He sucked the rabbit’s ears—his fingers. “Daddy’s checking you,” he said, “hold still,” and he hummed his soft hum. There: he poked between her tired legs. She jerked and whined when he cracked her open.

She understood nothing. These are the letterless blocks; these are the whiskey bottles her mother pulls from under the floor; this is the money she takes from her daddy’s pocket. Daddy put his fire-ant finger on her, and shivered like a very cold man. She lay quite still. She watched the ceiling for the sun. It’s still night, her daddy whispered. Why? Because it is. When he put on the lamp, that was when he looked scared. A little blood was coming out of her. “You fell,” he said. “You fell, that’s all. Did I see you? You and your mother were dancing so fast.” He patted her clean with a washcloth. “Good thing I checked you,” he said with his sweaty mouth. “You’ll be okay.”


In the morning Ruth’s mother called the doctor to say Ruth had another infection. “It’s the badness coming out, is all,” she said into the telephone. She put Ruth in the bathtub and washed her with hot water and tar shampoo. There was a red rubber band around her own hair, wrapped tight so no one could guess what she was thinking.

The water hammered from the faucet and was shut off. “Daddy’s gone,” she told Ruth. “He went to work, but he left you these.” She showed her paper children, the kind that came in McCall’s magazine, and left her a towel to dry with.

The boy doll had curly hair that was coming unstuck from its backing. Ruth peeled his face to see how he was made. When she tried to fix him, pressing her thumb over his damp eyes, his face kept lifting away. She felt the sudden pump of her heart as she climbed out of the tub.

In the magazine there were not only doll’s clothes to punch out, but spare arms and legs. You laid the pink flesh of a new arm over an old one. She waited for her mother to forget her. She was good at remembering. She was a breather like her daddy, who loved her. The baby living in her mother’s belly was so heavy it pulled her mother down.


The habits that came to Ruth were those of quickness, and falling. She understood plain things, eggs and rectangles and rhymes. When her father sang the one about falling, Rock-a-bye Baby, she was never afraid. She didn’t yet understand things such as jealousy, and tearing sadness.

June bugs smacked the kitchen screens as soon as evening came. Her mother whacked a head of lettuce against the sink to get the water out. The alphabet towers had toppled in the corner. The cellar door squeaked when Ruth pulled it open. “You’ll fall. You’re not allowed down there, so don’t try anything,” her mother said without turning. “I’ve got eyes in the back of my head, you know.”

Ruth stood at the top of the cellar stairs listening to her daddy’s sawing—he was home again. The lights were blazing. Lightbulbs were the color of salt; that was why moths licked them. Then the moths’ wings burned. Did it hurt when that happened? No answer from the red rubber bands, or the dolls’ mouths. The steps ran down to the cellar like a steep block slide, and when she looked she saw it was her turn. She felt her mother’s eyes on her like a push.

“Shoo, flies,” her mother said to the June bugs. What did the tricky words mean: you’ll fall, you fell. What was falling like? Ruth tried, but she couldn’t remember any other falling, only Doone’s and her mother’s hands picking her out of the air. The boy doll was in her hand. She pinched his flat head to keep him still, and swayed out until she lost her balance.

It was a quick, loud fall, with no thinking in it, only hard banging against the stairs that echoed in her different parts. At the end her ear struck the bottom step; her legs pointed up the stairs. Her daddy ran to her and put his thumbs to her eyelids, trying to see in. My God, his mouth said; she could not hear him very well. He felt her bones and picked her up. His nose ran. She tried to say, Wipe it, Daddy; no air would leave her. She could hear her mother calling her, saying, Ruth, Ruth! Want my baby, under the salt light, and she was so thirsty, but she felt no push to answer.




Sylvia Foleys first book,  Life in the Air Ocean (Knopf, 1999), a collection of linked short stories, was named one of the Best Books of 1999 by the Los Angeles Times. The title story won GQ’s 1997 Frederick Exley Fiction Competition. Her stories have appeared in various literary journals, including Story, Open City, LIT, Zoetrope, and The Antioch Review; and in the anthologies On the Rocks: The KGB Bar Fiction Anthology (St. Martin’s Press, 2002) and They’re At It Again: Stories from 20 Years of Open City (Open City Books, 2011). Her poetry has appeared in Black River Review, Sinister Wisdom, Conditions, and Alaska Quarterly Review. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and has received fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Yaddo.

Elemenopy first appeared in Life in the Air Ocean (Knopf, 1999).

Read an interview with Sylvia here.

“No Such Thing as a Small Secret” by Debbie Bradford

No Such Thing as a Small Secret

“What do you look for in someone you love?” my mother asked, shifting on the bench to face me.

I thought for a second. I had pretty expansive criteria for a thirteen year old. “Well,” I said, staring into the patch of purple flowers behind her, “they have to be cute, smart, funny, cute…”

“You never said it had to be a man.” She paused. “See, honey, it’s not that I prefer women. I just prefer Naomi. If Naomi were a man, I’d be heterosexual. Make sense?”

I looked back in the direction we’d come. Flowers bloomed everywhere, in every color. I guessed, as settings went, the Dallas Arboretum was as beautiful a place as any to learn your mother was a lesbian, if you had to learn it. Well, to learn your mother was a Naomi-sbian, at any rate. I wondered how Amy was taking the news.

“So, Naomi is telling Amy now?” I didn’t know why they needed to tell my twin sister and me separately.

“No,” my mother replied. “I’m telling you because you asked me. When Amy’s ready to know, she’ll ask.”

“Oh. So, it’s a secret?” I felt the familiar pull in my throat.

“Not exactly. It just isn’t something we’re telling people.” She reached for my hand, then added a barely audible “yet” – like it wasn’t really coming; it was just the logical end to that sentence. “It’s not a big deal. We’re just not ready to talk about it.”


I’m no good at secrets. I think my ability to process information is situated in my vocal cords. If I can’t talk about it, I can’t deal with it. An undiscussed secret invariably sits like a popcorn kernel in my throat. And this one was a whole bowl of them.

For the next two weeks, I tried to get Amy “ready-to-know.”

Amy stood at her full-length mirror, putting on makeup for drama club. I couldn’t imagine spending more time at school than I had to; I’d already skipped gym twice that week. I sat down on her floral comforter – her bed meticulously made, as always, and perfectly smooth, pillows tucked neatly under the bedspread, and Cuddles, her teddy bear, sitting in front of them. He had excellent posture for a stuffed animal. I looked across the hall to my room and saw a wad of blue sheets and blankets hanging from the bed, my pajama pants and T-shirt balled up next to them.

“So, I went to Mom’s room last night to ask her something, and she wasn’t in there.”

“She was in Naomi’s room again?” Amy continued penciling black eyeliner around her already-lined eyes.

“Yeah, of course she was. Don’t you think it’s weird that they sleep in each other’s rooms?” I asked, getting up to check myself in the mirror. My just-dyed blue-black hair looked suitably jarring against my pale skin.

She nudged me out of her way. “Nah, they’re like sisters.”

“I don’t know, dude. Reagan said the reason Mom has a vibrator is because she’s gay.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. That’s for her back. She showed us, remember?”

I remembered. “Right. I’m sure back massagers are always shaped like that.” I pulled a tube of lipstick out of the top rack of Amy’s pink Caboodle. I twisted it open, and poised the waxy, Pepto-Bismol-colored lipstick over my mouth, waiting for my sister to notice. “Amy, just ask her if she’s gay. Tell her someone at school said it, and you just wanted to ask her yourself.”

“Debbie, give me that,” she said, grabbing the lipstick. “Shouldn’t you be wearing ‘Black Death’ or something?” She flipped her dirty-blonde hair over her shoulder.

“Very funny.” I picked up her eyeliner and sat down in front of the mirror.

“Why don’t you ask her? You’re the one who thinks it. Get out of my way, please,” she said, stepping over me en route to her closet.

“But I don’t want to ask!” I whined. “Come on. You’re the big sister this year anyway.”

As kids, our parents told us Amy was older in odd years, and I was older in even ones. We were seven before a friend’s big brother pointed out that 1979, our birth year, was an odd one – making Amy officially older and giving credence to her big-sister bossiness. When presented with that flawless detective work, my parents folded and told us the truth: Amy had six whole minutes on me.

But I was the crafty one.

Amy sighed. “Fine. Could you move, already?” She sucked in her stomach and adjusted her halter-top in the mirror.


I expected to feel relief when Amy knew, but it took a few days before she would talk about it. She was too busy slamming doors and not looking at my mother, except to glare at her turned back.

My mom spent those days repeating lines from the recent divorce: “It’s okay to be angry. I know you love me, and you know I love you. You can tell me you hate me. I will still love you. We’re a family.”

I felt the popcorn kernel growing.


I tried writing a diary. I didn’t feel any different.

I tried accidentally leaving my diary on the living room table, opened to the page where I had written (in big fat letters) how I desperately wanted to talk to somebody.

“Sweetheart,” my mom said, handing the closed diary back to me, “Naomi and I told Rabbi Singer about us so you’d have someone to talk to. Should we set up a meeting? Or, you know you can always talk to Naomi or me.”

Naomi stood next to her, silent, as she had often been lately.

“Great, thanks.” I folded my arms around my diary, went to my room and shut the door.

Naomi, we’d been told, had moved in with us for financial reasons. We needed to get out of our tiny post-divorce closet of an apartment, and Naomi wanted to make the move from New Orleans to Dallas without committing to a house. So we rented together. I liked Naomi. Loved her, even. She was like a fun aunt you could giggle away an entire evening with – a much-needed lift from our new, heavier lives.

But she wasn’t my fun aunt. She was my mother’s lover.

It wasn’t the being lied to that bothered me. It was the lying. Telling people Naomi was my aunt. Lying to Amy to make her ask so I wouldn’t be carrying the truth alone. Keeping the secret from my friends – the people who knew what I’d gotten on my geometry homework, what stupid thing my dad and I had fought about on the phone the night before, what boy had called on the other line while we fought, and which ripped JNCOs and hoodie-sweatshirt I planned to wear to school the next day.

I didn’t care if my mom was a lesbian or a Democrat or a garbage collector – at least I didn’t think I did. I just felt like I should. Everyone else would (if they knew). And they’d despise us. Maybe somewhere else in the country lived lots of homosexuals and their beaming, well-adjusted children. Maybe normal families invited them over for Thanksgiving or birthday parties. Not here. Not in Dallas, Texas. Not in 1992. Here, my mom would lose her job (as a school principal, not a garbage woman). People would talk. There would be no more invitations to anyone’s Bar Mitzvah or birthday party. We’d be ignored, laughed at. We’d be outcasts.

A few open diary entries later, my mother said, “You and Amy can each tell one person.”

I tried bargaining: “Just one? But I can’t tell Emma if I don’t tell Abby.” And I can’t tell Emma and Abby if I don’t tell Blair. And I can’t tell Blair if I don’t tell Jaime.

“One person,” my mother repeated.

“I’m telling Quinn,” Amy said.

What a stupid idea, I thought. No way would I have told Jesus-Freak Quinn. I’d had enough of “being saved.” If Amy wanted to tell her, fine, but I had no interest in hearing that now my mother was destined for Triple Hell: one for Jews, one for divorcees, one for gays.

I decided on Emma, primarily because I saw her first. I didn’t feel nervous; she was my most liberal friend (though growing up in Texas, I didn’t actually know what that meant – just that her parents both had long hair, ate tofu, smoked pot, and didn’t give her a curfew).

Emma didn’t have much of a reaction. She belonged to a Unitarian Universalist church; she knew lots of gay people, probably three or four even. I couldn’t remember ever meeting one.

God loved everyone, she reminded me, so why shouldn’t she? It was no big deal, I shouldn’t worry about it, it didn’t change anything, and, of course she wouldn’t tell anyone.


My confession felt anti-climactic. I decided Abby should be my “one person” instead. I just hoped she wouldn’t hate my mom or Naomi after. The night I planned to tell her, we were in her living room with her mom, who was like another mother to me. It wouldn’t hurt to tell them both – they could count as one.

I cried while I said it. They hugged me. They promised to keep it between us.

“It’s okay, honey,” Abby’s mom said the next morning as I grabbed my bag and headed out the door.

Then she stopped letting Abby sleep over.


I thought maybe I should tell Hailey. Even though we hadn’t been hanging out long, she was quickly becoming my new best friend. In elementary school, Hailey had been friends with Amy, and she’d even come over to our old house once before the divorce. But their friendship ended suddenly and dramatically when Amy allegedly stole one of Hailey’s stickers.

Hailey and I had never had classes together, but that semester, we’d been assigned as lab partners. I got my first B in that class. After passing notes and laughing through a month of lectures and experiments, we started going to each other’s houses after school. Maybe it was too soon to tell her, though. What if she thought I liked girls, too?

One day, after I’d decided definitely not to tell her, we sat in her driveway, practicing our newly acquired cigarette-smoking habit, giggling as usual. Mid-laugh, I blurted: “My mom’s a lesbian.”

Hailey cracked up. So did I. I laughed until I cried.

“You’re serious.” She looked at me like I’d just told her my mom had a brain tumor.

I continued crying. Hailey put her arm around me and lit me another cigarette.

“You can’t tell anyone, okay?”

She nodded.


My sister told Quinn and did not immediately burst into flames. She didn’t tell anyone else. After my fifth or sixth “one person,” Amy developed and perfected an impression of me meeting anyone she could think of – a new boy, the doctor, the President: “Hi, I’m Debbie and my mom’s a lesbian.”

I wondered if my dad knew. My mom said we couldn’t tell him, not even if he asked. She didn’t think he’d try to get custody, but she couldn’t know for sure. Either way, she reiterated, her situation was not public knowledge.

When I met Gavin, my first “serious” boyfriend, a few months later, I asked my mom if I could tell him. I don’t know why I asked; I’d never bothered before. Maybe I wanted to make up for all the people I’d told already. Maybe I figured she’d want him to know, if someone had to. She liked Gavin: he said hello to her on the phone before asking for me, showed no signs of shock or fear when she made him drive her around our neighborhood before she’d let me get in his car, and – her favorite – he hugged her every time he came over. She said yes.

After I told him, he grinned. “That’s really cool! You’re so lucky. You have two moms!” Gavin’s own mother had died a few years back. I cried as usual, but this time for Gavin.


Feeling especially brave at a tattoo shop down in Deep Ellum one day – after not passing out from getting my nose pierced – I decided to tell my new friend Alyssa who was getting her belly button done. I wanted to shock her, I think. But she just said the usual: No big deal. No, she wouldn’t tell – not even her druggie boyfriend, Trevor. She seemed grateful to be trusted, and genuinely concerned for me.

When we walked into my house that afternoon, my mom stared at me vacantly and said: “You have a hole in your nose.”

I pretended it was no big deal. I was getting good at that.

I cringed when that evening Alyssa’s earring got caught in my mom’s sweater as they hugged goodbye. Would Alyssa think my mom enjoyed her ear pressed against her breast? I walked Alyssa outside, apologizing.

“It’s okay. Don’t worry about it,” she said, her cheeks not yet returned to their normal color.

I faked a smile and waved goodnight. But I was tired of hearing it was okay. It’s okay was just another lie.


One night, Matt and I sat facing each other on opposite ends of his ratty green couch with our legs up (his on the outside, mine on the inside), a typical middle-of-the-night scene for us. Hailey and I had been sneaking out somewhat religiously, just to Matt’s apartment though. He was the only person we knew who lived on his own.

Before we met him, Matt had been through everything from a drug-induced heart attack to living in his car. Now he was getting his life together: working at a gas station; staying clean; and lately, trying to keep his tearful, insecure, fourteen-year-old admirer from heading down the same path.

Even though we’d only known each other a few months, he was already more important to me than almost anyone. Not like a boyfriend or anything – though a few weeks after we’d met, he’d stopped his car in front of my house, turned to look at me in the passenger seat, and said: “I know you think you’re in love with me.”

I loosened my grip on the door handle. I didn’t know if he was about to tell me he loved me, or I was too young, or he never wanted to see me again. I tried to look simultaneously beautiful and like I didn’t care. Please don’t break my heart.

I nodded.

“That’s sweet,” he said, his hand on my arm. “But you’re wrong.”

That was one I hadn’t anticipated.

“You’ve just never had a relationship like ours, especially not with a guy. I’m in love with you, too, in a way.” He shrugged. “I love you more than I love my own sister.”

The tears, predictably, welled in my eyes. He was right; I’d never felt this way, not about a friend, a boy, my sister – like all my daylight minutes just needed to be gotten through so I could end up in his smoky apartment, looking at him from my end of the couch, while everyone I knew slept, feeling safe in their beds in their dark rooms. I only felt that with him.

“You’re not in love with me; you just don’t know what else to call it,” Matt finished. He opened his arms and I settled my head against his chest.

Whatever this was, I trusted Matt to look out for me, to know what was best for me, to have answers. I knew that for the rest of my life, I’d be comparing all of my unworthy boyfriends to him and trying to become the person only he knew I could be. I loved him even more then.


Usually, Matt’s apartment was filled with “friends” from his former life: good-looking, grungy eighteen-year olds with long hair and heroin-user builds hidden inside ill-fitting Pearl Jam and Soundgarden shirts, passed out in various rooms, sleeping it off or smoking joints on the porch. Tonight it was just me and Matt.

“My mom’s gay,” I said, lighting up a cigarette and picking up an overly-full ashtray from the floor.

“Yeah?” Matt pushed his stringy blonde dreads out of his face. “My sister’s gay too. Actually, she’s a dominatrix, but, you know, she’s a lesbian too.” He flashed me a sympathetic smile and reached out for my cigarette, which desperately needed ashing.

I knew what was coming: my throat constricted. I leaned forward to rest my head on his bent knee, wrapped my arms around his leg, and sobbed. He ran his fingers through my hair for a few minutes.

“It’s gonna be okay, sweetie,” Matt said finally, sober blue gaze pinning me.

The words sounded different. Not like a dismissal or just the thing you say when someone tells you something big. This time it felt true.

I wiped my eyes, and even though the sky hadn’t so much as hinted at morning, I asked Matt to drive me home.



Debbie Bradford received her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Connecticut Review, Wicked Alice, Scribblers on the Roof and The Writing Disorder, among other publications. She currently teaches developmental English at Tunxis Community College.

* Names have been changed.

Read an interview with Debbie here.

Contributors, Fall 2014

Patrick Bahls
Patrick Bahls (Pas de Deux) is Associate Professor of Mathematics and Honors Program Director at the University of North Carolina, Asheville. He is the author of the recent text Student writing in the quantitative disciplines: A guide for college faculty. His poetry has appeared in Adirondack Review, Eunoia Review, Far Enough East, Unshod Quills, and Walking Is Still Honest.

Hannah Baggott (Alternative Therapies: See “Juicing”), a Nashville native, is a poet of the body. She is pursuing an MFA in poetry at Oregon State University while teaching writing courses. She has received awards for flash fiction and critical writing in gender studies. Her work can be found in Tupelo Quarterly and other journals. Learn more at hannahbaggott.com

Pinckney Benedicts
Pinckney Benedict (The Beginnings of Sorrow) grew up on his family’s dairy farm in the mountains of southern West Virginia. He has published three collections of short fiction (Town Smokes, The Wrecking Yard, and Miracle Boy) and a novel (Dogs of God). His stories have appeared in Esquire, Zoetrope: All-Story, StoryQuarterly, Ontario Review, the O. Henry Award series, New Stories from the South, the Pushcart Prize Anthology, The Oxford Book of American Short Stories, and The Ecco Anthology of Contemporary American Short Fiction. He is the recipient of a Literature Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Literary Fellowship from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts, a Michener Fellowship, the Nelson Algren Award, an Individual Artist’s grant from the Illinois Arts Council, and Britain’s Steinbeck Award. He is a professor in the English Department at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois.

Debbie Bradford
Debbie Bradford (No Such Thing As a Small Secret) received her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Connecticut Review, Wicked Alice, Scribblers on the Roof and The Writing Disorder, among other publications.

Mark DeFoe
Mark DeFoe (Sago) teaches in the MFA Writing Program at West Virginia Wesleyan. His latest book is In the Tourist Cave (Finishing Line Press, 2012).

Gina Detwiler
Gina Miani Detwiler (Voice Talent for Mouseskull) has a BA in English and Drama from Vassar College and studied Theatre Directing at Columbia University. She worked for several years as a theatre specialist and Entertainment Director for the US Army in Germany and has acted, written and directed for theatre companies in Colorado and New York.  She loves reading aloud to her kids and was thrilled to be asked to contribute to r.k.vr.y with an audio version of the amazing story Mouseskull. She’s written the novels Avalon, The Hammer of God, and the forthcoming Forlorn. www.ginamiani.com

Sylvia Foley
Sylvia Foley (Elemenopy)’s first book, Life in the Air Ocean (Knopf, 1999), a collection of linked short stories, was named one of the Best Books of 1999 by the Los Angeles Times. The title story won GQ’s 1997 Frederick Exley Fiction Competition. Her stories have appeared in various literary journals, including Story, Open City, LIT, Zoetrope, and The Antioch Review; and in the anthologies On the Rocks: The KGB Bar Fiction Anthology (St. Martin’s Press, 2002) and They’re At It Again: Stories from 20 Years of Open City (Open City Books, 2011). Her poetry has appeared in Black River Review, Sinister Wisdom, Conditions, and Alaska Quarterly Review. She holds an MFA from Columbia University and has received fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Yaddo.

margaret frey
Margaret A. Frey (Pillars of Salt) writes from the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. Her fiction and nonfiction has appeared in: Notre Dame Magazine, Camroc Press Review, Kaleidoscope, Foliate Oak, Flash Fiction Online, Used Furniture Review, The Dead Mule of Southern Literature and elsewhere. Most recent work appeared in the summer 2014 issue of The Stinging Fly.

Asley Inguanta
Ashley Inguanta (There is No Such Thing As Spring) is the Art Director of SmokeLong Quarterly.

Laura Long
Laura Long (The Survival of Uncle Peachy)’s first novel Out of Peel Tree is published by West Virginia University Press. She has published two poetry collections, The Eye of Caroline Herschel: A Life in Poems (2013) and Imagine a Door (2009). Her work appears in Shenandoah, Southern Review, and other magazines and she has received a James Michener Fellowship and other awards. She teaches at Lynchburg College in Virginia and in the Low-Residency MFA Program at West Virginia Wesleyan.

John McKernan
John McKernan (I Tried to Drag Back) grew up in Omaha Nebraska and recently retired from herding commas after teaching for many years at Marshall University. He lives – mostly – in West Virginia where he edits ABZ Press. His most recent book is a selected poems Resurrection of the Dust. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Paris Review, Field, and elsewhere

Eva Marino
Eva Marino (Sitting in the Sandbox) is new to the literary world, and this is her first published piece. However, she is experienced in studio art, and had three paintings showcased at the Tempe Center for the Arts three years in a row during her high school career. Additionally, her art has won second place twice in the Tempe Sister Cities Art Contests, and has won third place in the Arizona Congressional Art Contest. Currently, she is studying Visual Communications at Northern Arizona University, and is following her passion for writing and drawing.

Ann Pancake
Ann Pancake (Mouseskull) grew up in Romney and Summersville, WV. Her first novel, Strange As This Weather Has Been (Counterpoint 2007), features a southern West Virginia family devastated by mountaintop removal mining. The novel was one of Kirkus Review’s Top Ten Fiction Books of 2007, won the 2007 Weatherford Award, and was a finalist for the 2008 Orion Book Award. Her collection of short stories, Given Ground, won the 2000 Bakeless award, and she has also received a Whiting Award, an NEA Grant, a Pushcart Prize, and creative writing fellowships from the states of Washington, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Her fiction and essays have appeared in The Georgia ReviewPoets and WritersNarrative, and New Stories from the South. She lives in Seattle and teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Pacific Lutheran University.

Mike Q
Mike Quesinberry (Illustrator) graduated from Floyd County High School in 1984 and Radford University in 1988. He is currently a manager at Slaughters’ Garden Center in Floyd and avidly pursues his passion of creating meaningful and beautiful photo-art.

Keith Rebec
Keith Rebec (In the Waking Hour) resides in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He’s a graduate student working on an MA in Writing at Northern Michigan University. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Shenandoah, The Portland Review, Monkeybicycle, Hobart, Midwestern Gothic, Devil’s Lake, and The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, among others. He’s the managing and nonfiction editor for the literary journal Pithead Chapel, and you can learn more about him at www.keithrebec.com.

Sheila Squillante
Sheila Squillante (There is No Such Thing As Spring) writes poems and essays in Pittsburgh. She is the author of three chapbooks of poetry: In This Dream of My Father (Seven Kitchens Press), Women Who Pawn Their Jewelry (Finishing Line Press) and A Woman Traces the Shoreline (dancing girl press). Her full-length collection, Beautiful Nerve, is forthcoming from Tiny Hardcore Press in 2014. Her work has appeared in Brevity, The Rumpus, Hobart, Barrelhouse, South Dakota Review and elsewhere. She is an assistant professor of English in Chatham University’s MFA program, where she serves as editor-in-chief of The Fourth River literary journal. From her dining room table, she serves as associate editor at PANK.

“SAGO: Buckhannon, WV–January 2, 2006: 6:30 a.m. ET” by Mark DeFoe


Only I alone escaped to tell you—Ishmael—Moby Dick

They’d see they were moving along at sixty minutes an hour
on a mountain road, into a future that was a mirror with no glass,
there was nowhere to pull over, and cars lined up behind them honking
“The Briar Plans a Mountain Vision Center”—Jim Wayne Miller

Outside my window rise stalks of bamboo,
planted by my home’s former owner, clums
brought from the Pacific as a prize of war.

I think of Sago. The mine is long closed.
The story is cliché and typical,
but the memory still soaked in sorrow.
The miners not crushed in the usual roof fall,
but trapped by the ubiquitous blast caused by
unknown factors, starved of air by
ubiquitous methane and carbon monoxide.

We like miners living on the edge
of the good old days, but not too high-tech,
singing of fate. We want times to get better,
but not too fast. We need them to gnaw
the shank of the hog. Corporate HQ
likes trickle down safety, after the coal dust bomb
(see Upper Big Branch South) after the last black lung
victim wheezes his last(see WV hospital records 1913—2013)

We have trudged down this road before. We vote
for good ol’ boys(and gals)–a hearty slap
on the back and request that they tar-and-feather
the EPA and OSHA and chase
that Socialist Nigger out of Our White House.

They stood in the mud and waited for word–
kin and hangers-on and media types.
The country preachers worked their moment,
got folks drunk on desperate GLORY GLORY
HALLELUIAHS. The Nazarene would hear their pleas,
and the saved would float from that dread portal
on the waters of Galilee. But it all came

to a bad phone line, a sad misunderstanding.
It all came to emptiness times twelve dead men,
the stunned hours times the clueless questions
of the talking heads, times the ceaseless
strobe of spectral light, garish orange and blue.
Today, up in the sun, on the granite slab,
the faces of the lost regard the present.
Their images etched by Laser, precise,
though before if I had met them on the street
I would not have known them. Nor the kid
who did not succumb, Randal McCloy Jr.,
whose own slow, maimed voice could tell us little.

Why did the miners go where the sun never shines?
For father and grandfather before them?
For lack of choice? For fear of failure in
the world of light? For food on the table?
Check all the above and pass in your survey.

Some wives they left behind stare at the wall,
waiting the company check. Some, tough as any
miner’s wife, weep their allotted sorrow and find
another man. Daughters go off to nursing school,
sons work the Shale, get hooked on Meth or star
on a college team, lose a leg in Kabul.
Some spell in the county spelling bee
or become the lovely Strawberry Queen.

I think of how the men flickered, praying in
the toxic dark, scrawling their notes, their lamps fading,
self-rescue devices not fit to save a dog.
Waiting for the scattered rescue teams to drive
the winding roads, made late by the hills they
all loved, and besides it was the weekend.

What do I know, bystander, trying to
patch the quilt of our history with words?
I listen to the click of the wind, a green song
through my bamboo, rustling like the skirt of
a swaying, sashaying, laughing woman.

How lonely to be a up here, sucking
my lungs full of the good spring air.




Mark DeFoe teaches in the MFA Writing Program at West Virginia Wesleyan. His latest book is In the Tourist Cave (Finishing Line Press, 2012).

Read an interview with Mark here.

“I Tried to Drag Back” by John McKernan

I Tried to Drag Back

That earlier me
That kid with the kite

That child
Carrying a lunch bucket
To his grandfather at work

That I
Wearing his cub scout uniform
Looking for old people
To help across the busy street

When I approached him
He adopted a karate pose
Pulled a Boy Scout knife from his pocket
And screamed   Get away from me
Right this instant     You bloody creep




John McKernan grew up in Omaha Nebraska and recently retired from herding commas after teaching for many years at Marshall University. He lives – mostly – in West Virginia where he edits ABZ Press. His most recent book is a selected poems Resurrection of the Dust. His poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Paris Review, Field, and elsewhere

“Pas de Deux” by Patrick Bahls

Pas de Deux

I saw a sliver of sun
like a fingerlake
in the afternoon

I saw clear
if only for a moment we were
the twists in the paper that bind
one piece to its partner

we were the dancers en pointe
and we slid across the rooftop
where a strong wind
would take us over the edge

and we were old branches
worn raw waiting for the cold
to settle in in silence
like snowflakes on a subway rail



Patrick Bahls is Associate Professor of Mathematics and Honors Program Director at the University of North Carolina, Asheville. He is the author of the recent text Student writing in the quantitative disciplines: A guide for college faculty. His poetry has appeared in Adirondack Review, Eunoia Review, Far Enough East, Unshod Quills, and Walking Is Still Honest.