“The Doggie Bowl” by David Yost


If he had found the bowl on the first visit, would he have known to take off? It had been a near thing as it was. Clothes lay in tangles across the floor like the guts of an eviscerated animal. A stereo pulsed on the dresser with a screeching beat. Pokémon sheets hung from wooden posts at the bed’s corners. A four-foot stack of sci-fi paperbacks rose monolithically from the center of the mess. The smell of sweat hung in the air like a fog.

Considering, Geoff thought he took it rather calmly.

“It looks like someone still lives here,” he said, trying to smile.  His back twinged again in anticipation of another motel bed. This morning it had taken him almost an hour of yoga to straighten out the pain, another in his unbroken streak of bad nights since returning from China a month ago.  How strange—how infuriating!—that something as simple as your friends taking a house without you could trigger a health crisis in the middle of the richest country in the world.  He eyed the thick, bare mattress.

His would-be roommates exchanged a glance.  “He moved out yesterday,” said the shirtless, long-haired one whose name Geoff had already forgotten, dubbing him “Dirty Jesus” instead.

“We can move this stuff for you,” the balding one added.  “It’ll all be clean when you want to move in.  And, I mean, that can be this afternoon if you want.”

Geoff stepped into the room, feeling like a burglar.  He wove his way through the clothes and switched the stereo off.  Seen in silence, the room already looked more livable.  He sat down on the bed, bounced, pushed down with his hand.  Firm, yet giving; strong springs, cushioned with the thick padding that mattress makers call “pillow top.”  Whoever the previous occupant had been, he had known how to shop for back support.

The tall girl with the shaved head smiled at him, laying a possessive hand on Dirty Jesus’s shoulder.  “You can keep that mattress if you want,” she said.  None of them had entered the room.

“Is it OK if I try it?” Geoff slipped his sandals off and lay back.  The springs gripped his spine inch by inch like the fingers of a masseuse.  He sighed, stretched, turned on his side, his stomach, again to his back, closed his eyes, reopened them, and saw the slash marks in the ceiling:  long tracks that he mistook for twenty or thirty concentric circles, plaster dust still fresh around them.  After studying them for a long moment, he realized that they formed a long, tight spiral, like the groove of a record.

“What is that?” he asked, watching their reactions as he pointed.  The roommates raised their eyes to the damage and winced.

“The guy who lived here before was a little strange,” Dirty Magdalene finally answered, and this time he caught a whiff of Mississippi in her accent.  “He did some damage, he left, he stiffed us on the rent.  We could really use you here.”

Just go, he thought.  Don’t move into this dumb situation for a mattress.  There will be something else.  But there hadn’t been—not since he had screamed it out with his shamefaced ex-boyfriend and the others, hopped in his Camry and drove the 2,398 miles to San Diego, so lovingly described by a Shanghai colleague.

Every ad asked him to pay too much, or wait too long, or commit too long.  Everything except this.  He wriggled so that his back settled further in against the springs.

When Geoff returned that night with his things—five small boxes that hardly needed Dirty Jesus’s help to lug up the narrow stairs—the room had a fresh sterility that he associated with hotels, or Mafia hits.  He lit some incense and began to unpack.

Adam of the receding hairline placed a call for a celebratory pizza, and they feasted.  Dirty Magdalene’s name, Geoff realized later in a pleased haze, was in fact Mary, which also jibed well with the Mary Jane she shared out among the roommates.  Dirty Jesus/Carter sat close to Geoff throughout the evening, still shirtless, as he explained was his rule inside the house.  Geoff had more time now to notice the muscularity of his chest and
arms, and the strength in his features that counteracted even the slackness from the pot.  The conversation traveled from San Diego (“you’d expect this to be a better biking town, wouldn’t you?”) to Shanghai (“for those kids, a foreign teacher is just recess”) to Carter’s painting (“I just want to teach people how to see again”) to the War on Drugs (“I’ll tell you what the real crime is”) until they looked about them in delighted, dawn-lit exhaustion and declared the evening a success.  Carter and Mary withdrew to a bedroom, Adam dozed off
before a televised shark attack, and Geoff collapsed on his new mattress in triumph.

So it wasn’t until well into the next day, reaching for a dropped quarter, that Geoff found the doggie bowl tucked back under the dresser.  He slipped it out and held it, confused—a shiny red plastic bowl, covered with permanent marker in a jagged, child’s handwriting.  HENRY.  The sentiment reiterated itself over every possible inch of the bowl’s surface.  Stale pizza crusts filled the inside like discarded chicken bones.  Three slash marks
notched the inner rim.

Geoff left the bowl on the kitchen table next to a stack of Adam’s Dungeons & Dragons manuals.  When he went back down for some bananas an hour later, the bowl was gone.  No one said a word about it.

The first month slipped by like a deadbeat husband sneaking out the back door, he wrote later in his weblog.  Of course, the blog itself was half the problem—the hours of Internet research on the War on Drugs, on the carnage that followed in its wake, on the hypocrisy of the involved officials; the hours he invested in the writing itself; the hours he spent adding side columns about life, love, men, and what it means to be a human.  Yet in China he had maintained the blog without ever taking away from his teaching.  Here, he lost time on all sides, until he could hardly believe that there were still twenty-four hours in his day.  Yoga, meditation, studying Chinese, e-mailing, jogging, blogging—all productive, yet every night he found himself no closer to applying for either the environmental investigation position in Bangladesh or the English teacher/manager slot at that Beijing hotel.

He began to roleplay with Adam and his friends twice a week.  (“Not Dungeons & Dragons,” Adam said to him, opening another Pabst.  “I have nothing but the fondest love for Gary Gygax, but there’s no imagination in it anymore.  Elves and wizards have been done to death.  Star Assassins is where the real action is.”)  Geoff found the interplay of dice and mutually-created story more fascinating than he cared to admit to his blog readers.  He found himself studying the rule books between sessions, even planning out the future crimes of his character, Gilgapod, a 7th-rank Octoroid Smuggler who battled the Nazdorian Hordes with a vibro-axe in each of six prehensile tentacles.  Sometimes Carter and Mary smoked and watched, Carter with pleasure, Mary with a good-natured contempt.

Geoff saw his bank balance, already hit hard by plane fare from China, dropping like the fuel gauge of his car.  He had to make a decision.  He had to find a job.  He read the first chapter of a Henry James novel.  He set himself to mastering an off-road biking video game.  He masturbated constantly.

Adam offered him a dishwasher position at the Italian restaurant where he managed, leaving Geoff angry at him for having even suggested it, and disgusted with himself for having found nothing better.  He considered the plausibility of living without health insurance, scoliosis or no scoliosis.  He wondered how many of his blog’s 627 unique visitors would contribute a dollar a month to keep him up and running.  Very few, he suspected.

One night as Adam closed Vicelli’s and Mary slept off a stomach bug, Geoff poured it all out to the perpetually-unemployed Carter.

“How do you do it?” he finally asked, passing a joint back across the couch to him.  “The zero income bit?”

Carter shrugged, scratching a hairy nipple.  “Mary,” he said.  They looked at each other for a long moment and burst out laughing.  When Carter leaned into a kiss only a moment later, Geoff wasn’t the least surprised.

It was through Carter that Geoff finally learned about Henry, in the long, naked hours while Mary delivered sandwiches on her scooter.  Their third night together, Carter led Geoff out to the giant trampoline in the back yard and blew him on top of it.  After, they stayed there, staring at the moon, lying naked in the chilly night air, the netting bouncing with every shift of their bodies.

“The guy who had that room before you practically jumped over the house on this thing,” Carter finally said.  Geoff looked at the squat two-story house, then back at Carter skeptically.  Carter laughed.  “Fine, don’t believe me.  But we all saw it.  It was after things started to get bad with him.”

“What happened?”  Geoff felt the sway as Carter rolled on his side to face him.  Above, he watched the dark blur of a bat swooping in and out of the house lights after insects.

“His girlfriend dumped him, then he got fired from that TV job and he had some kind of breakdown.  He locked himself in his room and didn’t come out for a while.  We worried, I guess, but we didn’t know what we could really do for him.  Mary tried to talk to him through the door a few times, but he never answered.  One night Adam left a six-pack of Pabst outside the door as a test, and in the morning it was gone, so we figured he must
be ok.”  Carter broke off for a moment as the neighbor’s dog began to bark.

“Yeah, fuck you, too,” he finally said, continuing over the noise.  “So one day I’m walking by his door and I hear this scratching, like a cat trying to get out of a closet, and when I step closer this demon voice starts up:  Henry is hungry.  Henry wants food.  Over and over like that.  Everybody else was at work and I thought he was going to kill me or something.  Henry is hungry.  Henry wants food.  But I remembered there was some pizza in the fridge so I brought that up, like some kind of a sacrifice.  But no—Henry wants a doggie bowl.  I tried asking him how he was doing, if I could eat with him, if he wanted any pot to chill him out, but all I got was a closed door and Henry wants a doggie bowl.  Now, we had a dog about five months ago that Henry and I really loved, this stray we named Neoptolemus, after Agamemnon’s son in the Iliad, you know, but it got hit by a car, so I went to get its old bowl and washed it out and gave him the pizza in that.  He must have known I was serious this time because he opened the door far enough to let me hand it in.  I could only see his hand, but at least I knew it was him, and not, you know, Satan.”

“Crazy,” Geoff whispered.  Carter laughed.  The dog had stopped barking, and now his voice filled the night unopposed.

“We’re just getting started.  He kept making us feed him in a dog bowl for like three days, always talking in that fucking demon voice.  Then Mary comes running to grab me and says he’s out on the trampoline.  He was getting twenty, thirty feet in the air.”  Carter gestured up toward the stars.  “I’m talking superhuman strength.  Finally he gets tired and heads back into the house.  Adam and Mary want to stay clear of him and I can’t blame them, but I figure I’ll try and talk to him.  But he just blows right past me with these glowing red eyes.”

“Red eyes?  Come on.”

“Fine, don’t believe me, but this guy was fucking nuts.  That night Mary locked our door because we could hear him walking around the house growling and scratching on the walls.  We didn’t know he had a knife in his room until you showed us that fucked-up hieroglyph he made on the ceiling, or else we would have called the cops right away.  In the end, I mean…” He shifted on the trampoline, then shifted again.  “We had to call them. We had a meeting, and we did.  Or I did.  But, everyone agreed.”

“So where is he now?”

“A state mental hospital.  The social worker who came said something about disassociative disorder, or schizophrenia, or… whatever the fuck.”

“Have you been to visit him?”

Carter shrugged.  “We never really knew him in the first place.”



David Yost is a former Peace Corps Volunteer who recently received an M.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. His fiction has previously appeared in Mid-American Review, Flyway, Iconoclast, Emergency Almanac, South Carolina Review, Lake Effect, and Red Rock Review.

“Black Point” by David Plumb


After five years, Robin decided she wanted to talk to me. I was a little skeptical because we had never talked about our breakup eight years earlier. I spent five years finishing off my drinking career with the excuse I was misunderstood, abandoned, an outlaw running from one private war to another. If only we could, did, might have, maybe next time, until I plain ran out of myself. It took another three years just to function, never mind
worry about Robin.

We arranged to meet in Novato. She parked her car in the Safeway lot and we took a drive out Route 37.  It was pouring rain when I pulled the old yellow van under the bridge at Black Point. The rain squalls banged the sides of the truck. I turned on the heater to warm our feet. We sat for a long quiet time watching the rain sweep up the estuary from the bay and out across the marshes. A jeep pulled alongside and a man in a red raincoat got out and made a run for the shack at the end of the pier about a hundred yards down to our left.
By the time he got there, he was leaning so far forward his raincoat flapped over his back.

Robin propped her feet up on the dashboard.  Yes, she and Ned were happy, happy, happy.

“All girls,” she said.

I wasn’t even cautious.  “Well, there really hasn’t been anybody for me?”

“That’s not true,” she said.  “You always have somebody.”

I lit a cigarette and followed her stare out the window toward the drawbridge at the mouth of the estuary, where a single cormorant beat its slick wings through the dense rain.

“You’re just in love with the idea,” Robin said.

“That’s what you said the last time I saw you,” I said.  “It doesn’t mean I haven’t put it in a safe place.”  I cut it short because I felt embarrassed.  I glanced over at the shack, but the man was gone.

Too many years had gone by.  I wanted to tell Robin I still had trouble driving through the Valley of the Moon.

She didn’t even live there anymore.  I always stopped at the Broadway Market and bought something, usually coffee, with the excuse it was the last place I could get a forty-cent coffee.

Robin stopped staring out the window and looked at me.  Her eyes were bigger than I remembered.  I looked for the dark spot set at eight o’clock in her right eye.  Her green eyes had darkened as they always did on dark rainy days.  The mole on her chin just under the right corner of her lip had a purple cast to it.

You really did love me,” she said, as if she actually realized it for the first time.  “Didn’t you.”  It wasn’t a question.

“I was in love with the idea,” I said.

She shot me a cold look.  “You’re right.  That’s my line.  But you strung me along for months and months…You wouldn’t make love to me.  You wouldn’t even fuck me.  Nothing, nothing and nothing.”

“There wasn’t anything left,” I said.  “I couldn’t talk.  We couldn’t talk.”

“But you could fuck every other woman you laid eyes, on and then, and then…There was that somebody else,” she said, rubbing some heat into her legs.

She was right.  I would even tell her about them.  I’d tell her what they were like.  How they didn’t fit in my life.  How this woman had inherited this money, had this eight room condominium and had never been married, never even lived with a man.  That she was beautiful and sexy and that I had told her about Robin.  I told Robin that when I looked at the other woman, I didn’t feel that deep love that comes from here, pointing to my solar plexus.  That yes, I was sexually attracted to her, but so what?  I wouldn’t do it.  I wasn’t about to put our relationship on the line.  I’d been very clear with this woman and her. I’d have a hard time processing that kind of crap.  Robin said, she didn’t have that problem and it was hard to understand.  I told Robin my loyalty lay with her.  It did.  I told both of them in the most honest way I knew how to at the time and underneath it, I was still plotting my way into the woman’s bed, trying to squirm into the folds of truth and fantasy, to get what I wanted and somehow remain unhooked, telling some layer of truth that would fit both sides of the coin and let me keep the payoff hidden, perhaps even from myself.

“There was somebody,” I said.  “And I don’t know why.  I didn’t love her.  I used her to get out.  I didn’t want to hurt you anymore and I didn’t know what to do.”

“Well, you succeeded,” she said.  “You hurt me.

“I know it,” I said.

“I suppose I could be sappy,” she said.

“Don’t be sappy.  We didn’t get what we wanted and we didn’t even know how.”

Robin gazed down toward the bridge.  The rain let up and I rolled down the window.  A few drops fell on my pants.

“I loved you so much.” I began, but it sounded vacant.  I knew she didn’t care.

We must have sat there for an hour listening to the wind and rain without saying a word.  I turned the heater off and the van got damp.  I turned it on.  Finally she said she had better be getting back to pick up the kids.

That hurt.  I didn’t care about the kids.  They weren’t my kids and she had to go home to her kids and I’d never see her again.

“Let me say it Robin.  Most of us never get to say it.”

“Don’t say it,” she said firmly.  “Please don’t.”

“It won’t hurt.”

“It will hurt.”

“I just want to say, we did some great dancing.  Boy were we going to blow off the world.  We were going to be the famous duo.”

“You’re famous,” she said.

“Not famous, famous and not famous with you,” I said.

“Harry, give me a cigarette.  I haven’t had a cigarette since I got pregnant with Deirdre.”

I pumped one up and she lit it with the van lighter and inhaled as if she’d never stopped smoking.  Smoke blew into the corners of the cab and her eyes followed it briefly, and then shifted to mine.

“Harry it was too hard and you always had such a great relationship going with yourself.”  Before I could defend myself, she stopped me.  “Let me finish, Harry.  Dammit, for once let me finish a sentence.”

“So finish,” I said.

“Harry, I loved you.  You were the first strong man that ever stepped into my life.  You were right about that. The rest were boys.”

“Part of me was a boy,” I confessed.  “And I felt like a boy.”

“But you didn’t stay and I waited around for months while you went to Chicago and New York and moved back to San Francisco and came back and left and gave me money and I waited MONTHS, while you had sex with everything that walked.  You even called me from the baths on Christmas Eve.  You don’t remember that, do you, Harry?  And you could have come back right up until 1985 and you knew it.  Even after Ned and I began
going out, the door was still open, Harry.”

“I know it.”

“But you didn’t come back.”

“I didn’t know how,” I said.  “Lack of character, call it anything you want.  Do you know hard it was to let you get on that bus the last time?  It ate me up.  Do you know that all I wanted to do was come home with you, but for some reason, I couldn’t?  It nearly killed me inside.”

“It was the booze, Harry.  The booze.  I know that now.”

I saw she was enjoying the cigarette and the moment.  She was right.  I was blasted all the time and there was no stopping me.  It was one fix to the next.  I didn’t care until I stopped to think about it and then it was too painful to think about.

“Tell me,” she said, exhaling deeply.  A thick stream of smoke blew off my right shoulder.  “What if I were to tell you I’d like to try again?”

“I’d say you’re nuts.  Besides, I quit drinking.  What would you do for entertainment?  You wouldn’t like it.”

“What if I said I’d leave Ned and we’ll take the kids and try again?”

“You really are crazy,” I said.

“I’m serious.”

I rolled down the window to let the smoke out.  “I’m not hearing this,” I said.

“She shoved me playfully.  “Where’s your sense of humor?”

“This isn’t funny,” I said.

“I think it is.”  She poked me in the ribs and I grabbed her wrists.  The cigarette bounced off my knee and flipped off on the floor.  I pulled her close to my face and kissed her hard.  She wrenched free.

“Robin,” I said, listening to my voice.  I wondered if I could say it and mean it.  “You wouldn’t want me now You liked the craziness, the unpredictable me.  You went with me for the tyranny, the rush, the madness. You’d hate me now.  I’d be nice to you most of the time and you wouldn’t know what to do. ”

“I’d like that,” she said, scanning the floor for the cigarette.

“You only think you would.  I’ve developed a little character.  You’d run.  Besides this is all bullshit anyhow.”

“No, it’s not bullshit,” she insisted, acting as if I’d truly insulted her.  “I came to see you didn’t I?  You came to see me.”

“You were curious,” I said.  “But I promise you, you wouldn’t know what the hell to do with me.  I’d feel something and you’d know it.”

She reached down on the floor and picked up the cigarette.  “I am curious.  I guess the last eight years have taken me so far from where we were that I was afraid I’d never feel that rush again.  You gave me that big rush.”  She paused to smoke.  “Remember when you climbed in my hammock at New Totum?”

“No, you climbed in my hammock because the frogs were biting your butt and you woke up scared.”

“And that Mexican family that got us drunk on mescal?”

“We were ripped,” I remembered, and I could see that the only place Robin and I could go was into the past. I felt sad and uncomfortable, but I went with it.

“And that bozo and his speed freak girlfriend who drove us across the mountains in the middle of the night,” I said.  “She changed clothes sixteen times in three hours, and then she put on her mini skirt and passed out bonbons to the men pulling our ferry across the river.  Christ I was embarrassed!”

“Not half as much as I was when I peeked over the rock by the river and there was the cow.  Remember the cow?  And the girlfriend was going down on the bozo and the cow was watching and the Indians in the woods across the river were watching.  And she washed her diaphragm out in the camper sink while you were washing the chicken.”

“What about the first time we got to the campsite and the charros drove the steer right through us while the speed queen sat in her lawn chair rolling doobies and going through sixteen duffel bags of clothes.”

“And you had the balls to make them pack it up, Harry.  And you stood behind him in the camper and made sure he stayed awake and made sure he drove us the whole way and then we found that beautiful hotel in San Cristobal.”

Robin laughed as if she’d just discovered something wonderful all over again.  She clapped her hands and for a second her eyes brightened to their most unusual turquoise green.  We looked at each other then and the silence returned.  Within seconds the rain began pounding on the van.  I smiled without looking at her and that was the last time we spoke.  When the rain stopped we drove back to Novato.


David Plumb‘s work appears in the anthologies Mondo James Dean, Irrepressible Appetites: An Anthology of Food, Beyond the Pleasure Dome, 100 Poets Against the War, and also in The Miami Herald, The Washington Post and The Orlando Sentinel. Books include The Music Stopped and Your Monkey’s on Fire, stories, Drugs and All That and Man in a Suitcase, poems, and  A Slight Change in the Weather, short stories.  Mr. Plumb has worked as a paramedic, a butcher, a San Francisco cab driver and an actor in several Hollywood films.

“Last Rites” by Mary Ann McGuigan


Pete Donnegan looks better than he did when Conor took him to the hospital. They’ve parted his hair, and there’s a slick Brylcreemed finish to it that his father would never have troubled to achieve. Conor wants to straighten his collar again, but he can’t. They’re all looking at him. They want to close the coffin now. It’s time. But Conor can’t move yet; he’s still waiting.

The sudden weight of his brother Peter’s arm across his shoulders takes Conor back to his father’s apartment. That’s how he’d get his father to the bathroom, the old man’s arm pulled across his shoulders, his own arm around his waist, the way GIs carry injured buddies off the field in the movies. The old man had gotten so thin, but he was so heavy, as if the thing that holds a person up, the force that fights gravity were gone, his will gone.

“You mustn’t think bad of him, Conor,” Peter says. But Conor doesn’t think in those terms. He thinks of the feel of his father’s loose skin when he rubbed the washcloth up his arm, the way the flesh stretched and pulled, the deathly color, like a shadow over him, over both of them. He disliked shaving him, being so close: the gray whiskers, the cleft in his chin, the mole by his lip, his breath sour, mixed with his last cigarette. Conor can almost taste it still. And his eyes—absorbed in something, something inside of him that Conor couldn’t know. The old man looked out at him from there, but Conor didn’t feel seen.

Peter pounds Conor’s back like a comrade. “Come, Conor,” he says. He thinks Conor’s having a hard time with this, having to part from his father. But Conor could hardly wait for this to happen. This is the goal that got him through it: knowing that it would have to end,  that the man couldn’t last. A month or two, Conor thought. What’s a month or two? The firm could spare him for that long. Things would get itchy if he stayed away much beyond that, when the quarter ended, but he’d hit the ground running when he got back. He had a right to family leave just like anybody else. So what if he didn’t have a family of his own anymore. That wasn’t his doing. Julie was the one who left, not him. After yet another final discussion, her line was drawn: Either they start a family or they start another life—separately.

Revolting as it was, staying with his father was as good as any distraction Conor could come up with. At least he’d get his father out of his system. It would be over with, out of his head for good. Moira and Bridget and Maggie wanted nothing to do with him. Liam, with the drinking, was having a hard enough time keeping his own family together. Peter felt bad for the old man, but he’d already done his part. Peter and his wife even nursed him while he recovered from the accident, when the truck hit him. But when Donnegan recovered, he  was as nasty and drunk as he’d ever been. No one would have blamed Conor if he’d backed away. But he couldn’t get himself to do that.

Donnegan had an apartment on the Concourse, the rat hole of a place he found when Peter threw him out. Conor cleaned the place up the first couple of days, felt good about doing it. He had this right-thing-to-do attitude about the whole business at first. The man was a drunk, a drifter, a waste as a father, but Conor would be a good son.

And so he was, but now they want Conor to go outside with the others so they can close the lid. Don’t they know it’s ridiculous, he thinks, keeping him from this sight? There’s nothing about this man he hasn’t wiped or smelled or seen or lifted. Nothing. But they want him outside now, as if there could still be something private left. When Conor lifted the old man’s legs to wash him, he’d break wind. It was weeks before they could joke about it.

They direct Conor into the first car with Kate and Bridget. Maggie gets in, too. Moira wouldn’t come to the funeral. More cars follow, filled with cousins and nieces and nephews who don’t know much more about the man than his name. When his Uncle Tommy died, Conor was fourteen. Maggie was in high school. Donnegan and his brother Pearce staggered in from the funeral. They sang songs most of the night. It wasn’t a bad night, considering how drunk they were. Nothing smashed. Nobody bleeding. But Maggie wouldn’t serve them dinner, wouldn’t even stay in the same room. She’d made some kind of decision by then. He wasn’t in her life anymore, she told Conor. She’d carved him out.

Conor’s first few weeks with his father were the worst. He would lie there at night, wondering why he’d come, remembering the gym near his house, going there late for a swim. He called Julie a few times in the beginning. She was the only one who didn’t give him a hard time about what he was doing. After a while, he couldn’t call anymore. He belonged to death. He thought of her skin, but he could feel only his father’s, spoiling everything else. September came. October. His father wasn’t dead. He had to eat. Conor had to cook. He’d get sick.

Conor had to clean him. They listened to baseball together on the radio. “You want to listen to the game, Dad?” “Go ahead,” his father would say. “Put it on if you want,” like he was indifferent about it. But it had to be an act. Nothing meant more to him than baseball. Baseball made him talk. The only real conversations he and Conor had ever had were about the Yankees.

That’s how Conor thought the talking would start. With baseball. Something, anything—somebody throwing himself into a fence for a fly ball or digging his cleats into a thigh for a base—would break the silence. And then maybe the man would get around to asking Conor about his life. Or maybe he’d finally get around to figuring out what went wrong with his own. Conor would have welcomed anything that would get them past feeling like they were waiting for a bus. But the Yankees were in the cellar and the old man had nothing to say.

Kate’s asking Peter if he’ll come to the house up in the Bronx, bring the kids. Peter yeses her. He’ll never go. Peter keeps his distance, doesn’t get involved anymore. He sends cards. He called when he heard Conor was taking a leave from his job though, upset about it. Conor was surprised Peter knew what firm he was with. “Weren’t they talking about making you partner soon? What are you doing this for?” “I’m doing it for me,” Conor said, because he didn’t have an answer. “Forget it, Conor. It’ll never register with him. There’s nothing there.He hasn’t got a clue.”

Five days ago Conor gave his father a haircut. Weak as he was, the old man still managed to curse him when he pricked his neck with the scissors. Two days later, after they took him out, Conor made his father’s bed. He stopped afterward, in the middle of the bedroom, lost, like he’d forgotten something. He lifted the blanket, felt underneath, heard the sound of the rubber sheet he’d just put on without thinking. His father hated the sheet, cursed Conor for putting it on, insisted he was no invalid. But that’s what he was. He hadn’t walked to the bathroom since before New Year’s.

Liam and Peter are talking. Conor watches their mouths moving. He has the same sensation he’s had for months, that he can’t talk, can’t make sounds. It’s the feeling you get in a dream when you’re trying to scream for help and you can’t make the sound come out. It’s not a new feeling. He had it as a kid all the time. In school, he was always surprised when people heard what he said.

By the holidays Conor woke in the mornings fearing and hoping his father would be dead. Conor was waiting for something and he couldn’t leave or let his father leave until it happened. On Christmas Eve, Conor went out and got them a tree. It was a skinny-looking thing, but he dragged out the box of decorations from the closet in the back room and put some on. The ornaments were just cheap shiny K-Mart crap, but they had more power than Conor bargained for. He had memorized everything about them—every bead, every ball, the silly snow-topped starry skies painted on dark blue glass, the weightless feel of them in his palm, his mother saying careful now while she held the string of lights by one end, reaching as high as she could to hand them to him on the ladder. Every box had two or three balls missing, casualties of his father’s holiday rages. Conor couldn’t believe these things were ever special to anyone, brought out for a holy night.

Conor finished trimming the tree and brought his father out to the living room to show him. He touched a branch. “Pitiful-looking thing,” Donnegan said, as if he could really see it, but Conor knew his sight was pretty much gone. “We could say the same thing about you,” Conor said and they laughed. They couldn’t find anything to say for a while. The tree became their television. They just stared at it. Then the old man started his stories, the ones he’d tell when he wasn’t plastered yet, tired old stuff about the war, about his brothers and their barroom brawls. When he got to the one about his father, Conor thought he’d heard it before, but this one was different. Conor suspected it was true. “Your grandmother sent me out to bring him home that night. Christmas Eve. He was drinking at the tavern. She wanted him home. Don’t ask me why. He was happy enough where he was, and the rest of us would have been just as glad to leave him there. But she sent me to get him, so I went. He told me to sit down at a table and have a soda. He was just going to have one more. I sat there, listened to Eddie Cantor, played with my straw. The place was nearly empty, stuffy from the noisy heat. I put my head down on the table, watched my spitballs shoot across. Next thing I know, the bartender, Ernie, is shakin me. ‘Wake up,’ he says. ‘I’ll take you home. Your old man forgot ya.’ ”

Conor didn’t say anything. So maybe the old man thought he didn’t believe him.

“Ask your Uncle Bill. He’ll tell ya. Grandma ripped into him good that night.” Donnegan let out a grunty laugh, but Conor didn’t think it was funny. He wondered whether his father really did. The story could just as easily have been about Conor and him. In fact, one time Donnegan got so drunk he left Moira on the beach. They found her with the lifeguards, who told Conor’s mother the girl had begged them not to return her to her father. This was what Conor couldn’t make Julie understand. Good parenting was not something he’d  experienced too often and certainly not something he was equipped to do.

Donnegan started coughing badly and Conor told him he’d take him back to bed if he wanted. The old man waved him away, as if he didn’t want anybody fussing over him. But Conor wondered afterward if his father found some comfort by the tree.

“You want to talk?” Conor said.

“Why? You got something you want to say?” The man’s surliness, predictable as it was, still got to Conor.

“No. I mean talk. Like family. Like we mean something to each other.”

“What’s eatin’ you?”

“Oh, forget it,” Conor said. He kept quiet. Donnegan asked him to light a cigarette for him. Conor got his Camels. There was no point in telling him no anymore. He put one in his mouth and lit it for him. His father drew hard on it, and Conor sat down next to him, looking at the smoke, avoiding his father’s eyes. “Did you ever want anything for me?”

“What are you talkin’ about?”

“I’m talking about plans. Hopes. Things you want for a person. For a son, for Christ’s sake.”

Donnegan made some kind of sound, took another long drag, in deep, out slow. “You made your own plans,” he said. Despite everything, it amazed Conor that his father had nothing to say. He couldn’t even fake it, come up with some platitude about always wanting the best for him. Conor knew he was delusional to expect any answer at all. The old man wasn’t going to prop him up, pretend things had ever been any different than they were.

They finished the cigarette and watched the tree without trying anymore. Later, when Conor put him into bed, his father said, “I’ll tell you one thing. It was never this I wanted. To have you wipin’ an old man’s ass.” That familiar nasty edge was in his voice and Conor didn’t want to take this any further, but he couldn’t help it.

“Then what was it?”

“What do you want? Bedtime stories? What can you possibly expect to hear? Do you think I could have changed anything?”

“Did you ever try?”

“Try. Right.” Donnegan shook his head, exasperated. “For fuck’s sake, Conor, life ain’t some college boy’s curriculum. It ain’t about setting goals and sticking to a plan. Some lives get fucked up, and they can’t get fixed,” he says, his words nearly buried in a series of coughs.

When his throat cleared, he seemed to be trying to find words, a way to explain. “Conor, I’m like . . . like a man in a cage, except there is no key. And all that ‘lettin go’ shit they feed you in AA is for the lucky few.”

“But you stayed sober for almost a year. That had to mean something.”

“Sober. Yeah. You know what sober feels like? Like a flood survivor waiting to get plucked off a roof. But instead everybody keeps telling you you’ve got wings, use them.” He tried to sit up, his arms trembling. “You really want to know what you were to me? You were another accusation, another thing I couldn’t do right. Do you think I wanted to be around more of that?”

His father quieted and Conor turned to go, got as far as the door. He wanted to take a walk, stand outside on some noisy street and let chaos have its way.

“Why do you put us through this, Conor?”

“I’m sorry, Dad,” Conor said, and he really was.

“Some things . . . some things get damaged, and they stay damaged.”

“It’s all right, Dad. You don’t have to say anymore.”

“It’s not all right. It was never all right.”

Conor imagined returning to his side, touching his hand. He didn’t.

“If you want to hear me say I’m sorry, I can do that. I’m sorry,” his father said, but the words came out angry. “But for the life of me, I don’t see what good it does.”

“Ok, Dad.” His father closed his eyes, sank into the pillows.

In the living room, Conor stood beside the anemic tree. One of the balls—a silver-topped pine cone shaped thing, red and gold trim mostly worn away—had slipped off its skinny branch and landed askew on the one below. He took it off the tree. He thought about taking the whole thing down, packing it all away, but what would be the point of keeping any of this? His father would be gone by the time Christmas came again. Why had the old man saved these things to begin with? He kept them in an old trunk, Peter told Conor, wrapped inside a huge army coat he hadn’t worn since he got back from France. Faded, brittle tree ornaments. Unlikely heirlooms. It dawned on Conor that his father couldn’t see the sorry dull shape they were in. The last time he’d been able to see them they were probably still worth keeping. Maybe they even sparkled.

They want everyone to put their roses on the casket and go. The prayers are done. The cars are waiting. They’ve got a regular routine for this. But Conor can’t move. It’s cold and he can’t stop shivering. He never does that. But he’s been standing there a long while. They try to move Conor away. “He’s gone,” Bridget says. “It’s over.” He can hear her. He knows what she’s saying. But he can’t step away. It’s what he’s been waiting for all these months, but he doesn’t want to leave. This is crazy, he thinks. I thought I wanted this.

Conor smells Julie’s perfume before he feels her next to him. She takes his hand. Her presence brings him to his senses, triggers some knee-jerk desire to seem like he’s got himself together. He steps back, hesitates, then lets her lead him away. They walk toward the path, away from the others. Her long coat is tawny cashmere like her hair. She wears sensible shoes that give her little height. She holds Conor’s arm tightly, pulling him close, as if she knows this is where he belongs—with her. But the Donnegans were not so sure at first.

“An Italian?” Maggie said to Conor. “She’ll have a hard time adjusting to this tribe.” And she did. It was a foreign land, this family. They barely got together, even at holidays. They could let months go by without seeing or even talking to their mother. There was no need for Julie to comment on these things. The contrast to her own family interaction was comment enough. She didn’t try to decipher the Donnegans.

She had missed Conor and she told him so—the way he soaks up every kindness like new, untasted flavors, the way he pays such close attention to life, as if to see how it’s done.

“I admire what you did for your father, Conor,” Julie says. “I know it was difficult.”

“I guess I had some business to finish.”

“Or something to get under way.”

Conor lets out a breath, shakes his head. “There was nothing getting under way with him, Julie. It was too late.”

“That’s too bad, but it wasn’t about him anyway.”

He looks at her, puzzled. “What do you mean?”

“It was about you.”

Conor waits for the rest.

“Yes, you and the kind of person you are.”

“Yeah, delusional.”

“You’re not the first to put yourself out when there’s no chance of getting anything back.” He sees a comical look in her eye, a grin forming. “Sure,” she shrugs. “Parents do the same thing for their children all the time.”

He sees the point she wants to make. That he’d be a good father. This is what she wants to believe, that you can be hollowed out, your insides left for the beasts to pick at, and then fill yourself up with good intentions and middle-class dreams. Conor is not a man like his father. That’s clear. He has a career, people who rely on him, trust him. But the rest is pretty muddy, because Conor is not Conor either, at least no Conor he recognizes. At 43, he should be solid enough to feel at home in his own skin. He knows that much. An identity should be more than an unending search, a series of false starts.

“When do you think you’ll go back to work?” Julie says.

“Right away. They want me at the conference. That’s in two weeks. And I’m going to have to come up to speed for the presentation.”

“Is it in Atlanta?”


“Would you like some company? I’ve got the vacation time.”

Conor knows he should tell her no. He should tell her she’s all wrong about him and what he’s able to be. She can’t see him, he thinks, can’t see past the happy endings she tacks onto their lives, like gold trim on a threadbare cloak. That would be the fair thing, to tell her that not once for as long as he’s known her has he felt like anything but an imposter. He mimics her, like a dancer in the back line, trying to do what’s expected. He can barely keep up. He is more comfortable alone, when he doesn’t have to worry about feeling inadequate. But she chose him, decided she wanted to know him. She believes that she does. But it’s clear to Conor that she’s creating him, oiling parts that haven’t been used, repairing the ones he relies on too much. The attention is heady. And no matter how much he fears that she will see some day that it has been misdirected, he’s grateful for it.

So Conor doesn’t tell her no. He lets her take his hand. If she wants to do this, he’ll let her. But he doesn’t expect either of them to be fooled for long. Someday the damage he does will have to be tallied, but not today.

She leads him to her car, unlocks the passenger door for him. He gets in carefully, one hand deep in the pocket of his coat, his fingers wrapped around the now-familiar surface of a weightless heirloom.



Mary Ann McGuigan writes mainly young-adult fiction. Her second novel, Where You Belong (Atheneum), was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her third novel, also for young adults, will be published in spring ’08. Her short fiction for adults has appeared in various literary magazines, including The Sun and US 1; essays have appeared in the New York Times, New York Sunday Newsday, and other publications.

“Dumplings” by Mary McLaughlin Slechta


My sister The Beautiful One has always eaten our parents’ food like an indiscriminate tourist. Not only obvious dishes either, like meat patties that get the lines started at cultural fairs. Even food no sensible child would like she still hankers for in adulthood. For example, a dumpling, no matter its origin, should not rap like a brick against a counter top.

But for every major American holiday, The Beautiful One would like them made exactly this way: too much flour, too little water, a stingy pinch of baking powder, and frayed strings of salty cod fish. Our father’s dumplings. The Beautiful One insists on tradition, even if she has to create and sustain it single-handedly.

I contemplated writing my father’s mother. Were there actual, living Jamaican children who had to gnaw like puppies on their dumplings? I thought of asking her help in securing an accurate recipe, but loyalty to my parents prevented this. A child intuits plenty from overheard conversation and rambling aerogrammes. I suspected Grandma-in-Jamaica would have felt my father’s dumpling was a good-enough dumpling for a family that stole her only son.

“Let them feel a heavy load in them chest,” she might have grumbled of us, “and think of me aching heart.”

My father tried too hard. There’s no other explanation for the overworked dough. Like my Southern-born mother, I know a dumpling doesn’t require kneading and stretching.  The perfect dumpling swells like a golden orb below the oil. It has the good sense to turn itself over and pop up like a ball to sit on the surface. My mother’s dumpling nicely waits, as she lines a platter with paper napkins, to be lifted and drained. It’s mostly round like a little head, but there are extra limbs and bumps to make it more giraffe and elephant than human. Inside is airy with tiny chips of fish.

The Beautiful One is not opposed to our mother’s dumplings. The trouble is she doesn’t
discern. She wants these too, and as often as the others. But how many dumplings can
one household tolerate? How many cooks in a kitchen on a busy holiday morning? If any
particular dumplings are to be eliminated, one ought to begin with those raised for
sentimental reasons. Or so I once believed.

My father is incapacitated now. No taste, save minted mouth swaps and minuscule portions of toothpaste, crosses his lips. If he somehow swallowed that one single tear that
sometimes squeezes from his remaining eye, it could cause him to aspirate. The skin above his navel has hardened around a feeding tube. He couldn’t use his left hand to make the right one dust the counter with flour.  With a recipe he concocted from imperfect memory, he made The Beautiful One’s dumplings and even this he never wrote down. And the other family dumpling?  Before my father’s accident, in the period now remembered as laden with omens, my mother’s last pot turned against her.  Unblended water exploded in the oil, shooting up a pasty comet trailed by grease.  The instant my mother saw it sticking to the ceiling, it dropped back down and stuck to her face.  Mercifully, the fleshy, pink scars have disappeared, but she too is done with making dumplings.

So in the end, all our dumplings are leavened by memory as well as sentiment: the light ones as well as the leaden.  Someone has found the very last one, hidden under an inverted plate, and eaten it for appetite or meanness.  Something is over for all time, but it takes months or maybe years for this fact to be understood.  From feast to slow-growing famine, you might say.

The Beautiful One has no one left to prepare her dumplings.  I won’t make them for her, but I see she doesn’t starve from their absence.  She’s moved into other people’s households: Chinese, Thai, Czech.  She continues to eat anyone’s dumplings, that one.  She has no particular allegiance, no devotion to good taste.  I give her credit for one thing.  She makes our father happy when she reminisces about his cooking adventures with dumplings.  She describes a gold I can’t personally recollect, a softness inside the crunchy outer crust, the tingle of spring water rinsing the salty tastes.  She reinvents holiday mornings waiting for the juices to run clear in some heavenly pheasant or turkey. Munching a dumpling, she insists, could keep your stomach from tearing itself apart.

The truth is my father’s dumplings sheared the roof of my mouth like rocks. I watch him in The Home, rolling his tongue round and round in his mouth. His struggle revives in my own mouth the pain that followed each bite after the injurious one. Round and round goes his tongue, reenacting my own compulsion to explore the contours of the inflammation. Of course, I never completely stopped eating. The pleasure of any good food was mixed with the pain of reinjuring the bump at the roof of my mouth and a brief memory of what had initially caused it. I promised myself over and over, “never again,” “eat more slowly,” “be
cautious.” Lessons I haven’t learned to this day.

I worry about my father. I worry that his tongue reminds him of the tastes of metal, glass, and plastic collapsing around him at tremendous speed. I worry because there can be only pain in whatever memory he locates in his mouth. I’m afraid that each time his tongue surveys its shattered cave, he returns to the intersection of two familiar roads. And crosses.

The Beautiful One thinks she knows everything. She says our father’s tongue is trying to
remember the good taste of things.

“You were the best dumpling maker in the world,” she assures him, as though he was wondering just that.  She’s a good storyteller.  She almost convinces me that I too enjoyed our father’s rock hard dumplings: I gobbled so quickly they tore my mouth; as girls we wrestled for the last ones; I, not she, was The Greedy One; I still haven’t learned to share.

That last is an out and out lie. I always give The Beautiful One what she most wants from
our father.  What we all miss more than dumplings. When she smooths his hair behind his ears and tells him her lies, his eye widens in something like disbelief. I open my own bruised mouth and laugh.



Mary McLaughlin Slechta‘s fiction has appeared most recently in The Gihon River Review, and it
represents Connecticut in Ballyhoo: Fifty States Project.  She’s published a book of poetry about grief, Wreckage On a Watery Moon (FootHills Publishing) and two chapbooks.  She’s also an associate editor for
The Comstock Review in Syracuse, New York.  This is her first appearance in r.kv.r.y. and we welcome her with great enthusiasm.

“Further Down Lincoln Street, Stambaugh, Michigan: summer 1977” by Chad Faries


The house was mustard yellow, and the wood smelled of it.  From the front porch I could
look up the hill and see the Lincoln Street house on top where we used to live, the house
where I put Lisa Gasperini on the back of my big wheel and we coasted down until we
stopped about right here in front of the stinking mustard house that I would live in.

I was spending most of my weekends at The Roller Rink in Caspian where I regularly won
candy bars during the pee-wee speed skate. It was the perfect opportunity to practice
flying and close my eyes while getting lost in a music I wasn’t accompanied too, the
BeeGees and Disco. The music was good for flying because it was full of heavy string
orchestras and regular beats. It made everything fold into each other and told simple
stories of people surviving and getting the person of their dreams. The mirror ball in the
center of the rink threw stars and lights that rocketed off my polyester clothing and I was
a solar system on wheels racing around a galaxy I had created every weekend night,
while Mother’s world was still revolving around not being alone, and trying to keep her
mind of off drugs and drinking—

Back at home the Man-Worth-Mentioning was coming over a little more often and the
sound of a mantis rubbing its legs together behind the bedroom door was back again.
This time I wasn’t as worried about Mother as I was The-Man-Worth-Mentioning.  With
Mother was riding him, full and heaving, he was poised to suffer the same fate as
Grandpa Boyd had recently encountered, death by drowning in two inches of water after
being thrown from a car wreck as he lay unconscious in a puddle contemplating but not
doing.  Just simply passive and noetic with his head placed silently in dream fluid, red and
emergency flavored—

I was taking diggers at The Roller Rink and “Staying Alive” for hours during the Jerry Lewis
skate-a-thon. I had to skate thirty hours without stopping.  This coupled with the pledges
Mother had gotten in her month of sober bartending at TJT’s would get me the Raleigh ten-
speed Budzack’s Bikeshop had donated. I was dodging boys twice my size during the
speed skate because I had a purpose.  The trick was to zone in on a mirror ball reflection
on the rink floor and just skate your ass off trying to catch it—

Mother had been out of treatment a couple of months when she received the notice about
Boyd. I met Grampa Boyd twice and was named after him, at least my middle and last
name. That’s all I can say about that. There was no father’s name on my birth certificate
because Mother couldn’t figure out if it was the short and stocky biker turned preacher,
Dale, or if it was the one night fling with the tall and slender photographer/global playboy,
Earl.  She settled for Alan Faries, but couldn’t resist “Chad” as a first name since it was
really Chad Everett, the new apostle of drama T.V., who kept her alive while she was in
labor at the hospital. He was a real life saint healing with his sexual eyes and the orbic
flex of his mouth.  Boyd had a build like Chad.  Both Chads.  A little too slender, but fit.  In
a couple of years it would be obvious who my real father was, but no one really cared
about seeking him out.  There was always The-Man-Worth-Mentioning who occupied his

Molly and Ally skated out into the circle and gave me half-filled cups of Mr. Pibb so I wouldn’
t sleep. After awhile I just closed my eyes and had them pull me while I slept on my feet.
They pulled and pulled until my body went completely limp and I collapsed in the center of
the floor and snuck a sleep while the masses of people skated around me at the

“Get your ass up!  You gotta get that fucking ten-speed you little fucker!” Molly was
shaking me, “Your Mom’s gonna beat our asses if she thinks she wasted all that time and
money getting all those pledges. 100 bucks of it was her money she got from her dad
getting killed! Come on, just a couple of more hours—”

Mom and Hope—Boyd’s daughters—and their half brother Tim who lived down in Texas,
each received a couple of thousand dollars.  After thirty hours, a reporter cam and took my
picture. I won the ten-speed, but never received it. It went up in flames with the rink the
night after the skate-a-thon. In a Texas newspaper there was a picture of a car accident
and a photo of Grampa Boyd.  In the Iron River Reporter there was a picture of me with
my eyes closed, resting my chin on the seat of a ten-speed while I held a certificate that
said I had raised 500 dollars and skated thirty hours. Small spots of light were all over me.

Mother bought me a record player and a new girlfriend as consolation

* * *

Mother didn’t like being alone anymore, especially in her newfound sobriety that would
last a couple of months She needed a sounding board so took in a roommate, Linda from
Alcoholics Anonymous, who had a daughter a couple of years younger than me. Shelly
was her name, and her mother let her swear all the time.   The easiest way for our
mothers to take care of us was by letting us live a pseudo-adult existence so that we
were responsible for ourselves.  Shelly and I sat around listening to music and swearing
about friends that we didn’t have while we ate burnt macaroni and cheese that we
cooked over the gas stove.  We roasted hot-dogs over the flames and chopped them up
with a rusty butter knife.

The Man-Worth-Mentioning was coming over more often. I knew he had visited Mother in
treatment because Mother’s new habit was drinking coffee twenty-four a day and she
never stopped talking.  She said he had a nice dick and that she saw it in the woods
because that was where he brought her to screw since they only had two visiting hours
and he was a student so he was poor and didn’t have money for a hotel room.  He drove
up there in a 1968 white Thunderbird that got five miles to the gallon with white leather
seats that gave light to all his brown earth tones. He had a bottle of cheap wine and a
dime bag of weed. She went on and on and on and I knew where I had gotten the
endurance to finish the skate-a-thon

“I mean, can you believe it?  I’m in fucking treatment and he shows up with booze, pot,
and a hard on telling me that I’m a natural spiritual woman and he thinks he loves me.
Three hours earlier I was in a group session getting railed for being addicted to sex, on
top of drugs, and that I was a no-good parent being raised by my child.  I was fucking
crying so bad my eyes were swollen like the bellies of the dead fish I won at the fair and
forgot to feed.  I couldn’t even take care of fish.  Fucking goldfish and Eddy.  Damn
summer heat up here.  I left those fish on the windowsill and at the end of the day they
were almost boiling.  All I could see was the scales peeling off their white bellies that
poked out of the grayish murk that was their water.  There was no more gold left in them.
And there was no more gold in my eyes anymore either.  So I just kept saying ‘yes’ to
everything those counselors were dishing out, ‘yes I’m a bad mother, I’m an alcoholic, a
whore, manipulative, selfish,’ and so on.  And after all my admissions to being the devil’s
personal bitch, my fellow addicts in the circle started hugging me and saying ‘We love you
Kate, keep coming back.’ And the counselors, after getting me to admit all those things
about myself said that I really wasn’t those things, that was the booze and such.

Then I was so fucking confused I cried more and then my eyes were like bloated bellies of
road kill.  Porcupines, skunks, and white rabbits. And the whole time all I wanted to do
was hug Chad and be some mother that I had seen on T.V. I wanted to make him a nice
square sandwich with square slices and not that commodity welfare shit with the big black
letters on the white packaging that said ‘government issue.’ I wanted a bright yellow
package with smiling kids on it that said ‘Velveeta.’ I wanted to be that image because I
couldn’t figure out on my own what a good mother should be.

‘Fake it till you make it’ is what they would tell us. So then everybody gets in a circle and
hugs.  For the first time I think maybe I can at least go without the alcohol.  I’m not so
sure about smoking pot, but I’m thinking maybe that will come next week.  We’re there in
that circle and I’ve got both arms braided with someone else’s on either side of me and I
feel that same warmth from the bodies as I do when I’m making love riding on the top,
and blood and friction is so great I feel it all over down there, hot, you know.  I am a big
girl and can really make some heat! I figure this circle is what I’m after, not coming and
coming all the time with my feet stuck into the ass-cheeks of clouds.  I want this warmth.
I’m all dizzy and it’s like, you know, ‘ecstasy,’ but with a different kind of penetration.  It’s
not like smoke in the lungs or White Russians going down your throat—I’m gonna miss
those—it’s more like a ray of sun shining on your back as your sitting near a window doing
something and the sun is the last thing your thinking of until its heat seeps into your
shoulder and you feel better but you haven’t figured out yet that it’s the light that’s
calmed you.  It’s subtle, you know, you gotta be a little patient.  So I’m having all these
‘epiphanies’ I guess you call them and forget about Greg coming to visit…”

For the first time I had a name for The-Man-Worth-Mentioning.

“I leave group with my fish eyes, warm sunned body, and head to my room feeling the best and worst I have ever
felt.  So then I’m napping and have a wild dream that I’m flying, although it’s not so incredible in the dream.

t’s just natural, all that flying.  I’m way up over the city, but I must have some eagle-vision or something because I can see the color of people’s eyes, and my hearing is perfect too because I hear all this talking.  Some of the languages I don’t even understand, but one language really comes to me, ‘resonates’ is what Greg would later say.  I understood the language, though I couldn’t speak it to you right now.

It was a mixture of slogans, song lyrics, scientific texts, and children’s stories all mixed together.  It said something like ‘I think I can, I think I can shake dreams from your hair my pretty child by symbioses through keeping it simple stupid.’ You know, it’s The Little Train that Could with The Doors, AA, and scientific shit I don’t even get totally.  It doesn’t sound or mean much now, but you should have heard it in that dream language! It had some rhythm like a train that made numerous stops and changed its speed frequently.

And get this, I’m looking toward this voice which is coming out from the middle of a park that has old castle buildings on one side, a desert on the other, and then some Rivers and oceans and stuff on the backside, and I swear it was Chad, though he’s a little older.

Then he starts calling me Kate.  ‘Kate!  Kate!’ he says, ‘You have visitors,’ and I’m looking around to see if anyone is flying next to me and there’s nobody so I start gliding a little toward Chad to get a closer look to see if I’m really right.  I decide at that moment, if it is Chad, I’m gonna grab him in my talons and pick him up and never let him go.  When I think this, I have an eagle head because the smirk of my face and beak reflects the intensity of the decision I’ve made.

He’s still calling me “Kate” and I want him to stop because I want to be Mom again.  I’m almost close enough to make out the exact details of his nose and small ears—because he’s a little older you know, about 30— and then he yells ‘Kate’ one more time and I open my eyes to Mary, my roommate standing over me saying I have a visitor.  ‘No Shit.’ I said,  ‘I was flying.’

‘Relapse dream,’ she said convinced.

‘No, not that kind of flying.  This was natural I guess. I turned into an eagle.’

‘Me too, after taking a sheet of acid at a Supertramp concert in Tiger Stadium under the grandstands.  I jumped off what I thought to be the top of the grandstands and fell on my face.  It must have looked fucking stupid, jumping into the air and diving on your face.  Nobody saw it happen, thank God.’

“I go to see the visitor. I don’t put makeup on or anything, just a pair of jeans and a wife beater with no bra.  On my way to the visiting room one of the care workers tells me it’s not appropriate attire so I go back and throw a dark t-shirt over it so you can’t see my nipples because I didn’t want to lose my daily points and be short of cigarette money at the end of the week.

Greg’s in the waiting room.  His hair is all frazzled and you’d swear he was part black with that afro, and that bulge in his brown hip-hugger corduroys.  His glasses are tinted purple, but everything else on him is brown.  He’s smiling really big like he’s already stoned and says ‘Hello Goddess.’ and that’s about better than the group telling me that they loved me.

We hop into his car and we just sit there for a minute looking out the front windshield.  I guess we are both thinking.  I’m thinking that goddesses must be able to fly, and if they are always good, but I knew they were bad sometimes.  They had been preaching to us in treatment about finding some “higher power” and I didn’t give it much thought until I found this book called “The Masks of God” which was really hip and covered all times and all places in the whole world, not just Jesus and a bunch of guys—this was about women and stuff.

But the thing was, nothing was really clear.  I mean I couldn’t tell what was good and what was bad.  All these ceremonies and sacrifices seemed to cancel themselves out.  It was about killing a bad chicken to have good eggs.  Then there was this part about earth goddesses, which Greg said I was.  Goddesses were almost always mothers and usually had some child at their breast which was supposed to be an enduring force, and the goddess and child together were like one thing, one unit inseparable.  Both the mother and child felt the same things through ‘symbioses,’ both physical and psychic.

I always knew I was psychic.  A gypsy woman told me that once. So this unit of goddess and child was like a universe all tending toward the good of itself and bliss, which is like ecstasy, an orgasm. So that’s the good part. But that bad part, like always, is that not even goddesses can anticipate everything and there are times when the universe doesn’t correspond with what is really needed.

This happens when that little child starts remembering how we was pushed out of a black vaginal hole all bloody and screaming.  At this point the child forgets everything, his mother, the universe, the bliss of sucking on mother’s boob and then the mother is identified with the kids destruction. I was reading it under the covers in the middle of the night with a Zippo and started crying because I’m thinking Chad realized this a long time ago and I was never gonna have him back at my breast again so I realize that’s why I’m sticking my tit in everybody else’s mouth and that’s why the counselors are on my ass about being promiscuous and stuff like that.

So the goddess is beatitude on the one hand, and terrible destruction on the other. Damn.  And if that’s not heavy enough, the book starts getting really specific and talking about a Hindu goddess named ‘Kali’ which looks a little like ‘Kate’ when it’s written out, and she has a long tongue, which licks up the lives and blood of children just like a pig sometimes eats her little piggies.  And yet this goddess is not bad, she’s often portrayed with a child at her breast.

So you’ve got heaven and hell and what’s in between is this fucking treatment center so I start thinking that I am a goddess,  good and bad and I tell Greg to start the car because I’m waiting for something at my breast and bliss. I’m ready to be a cannibal too, if you know what I mean girl! Next thing you know we’re at the end of Forestville Road surrounded by woods and a little house where a chainsaw sculptor lives and he’s got huge carvings of Eagles and Bear and old men smoking pipes and the Madonna. We park and get out. There’s a big ‘slam because the door is so heavy and I shudder a little because I’m still sensitive to loud sounds. Reminds me of fists and all that stuff, you know what I mean.

“‘Cool,’ I say as I stop and really take a good look at the art.  Greg takes my hand and pulls a little, but then he stops too and we have another moment where we are just staring together and that’s when it felt like we were talking the most.  Then he pulls again after a couple minutes and we go off into the windows and strip down buck-naked, but its fun.  It’s not really just about sex.  Things were always a little different with Greg.  He had some kind of special wits, though they weren’t always there. He’s completely naked except for a backpack and I ask him what’s in it.  He says a good bottle of wine and some weed. Then I question his wits.

‘What the hell is that for?’ I say,  ‘You know where I am?’

‘With our Mother,’ he says.


‘With our Mother, you know, the goddess Mother Earth,’ and then he starts quoting the bible for justification, “Genesis 1:29.  And god said behold, I have given you every plant bearing seed and tree bearing fruit which is upon the face of the whole earth.  To you it shall be meat.”  It sounded good to me, but I just didn’t think it was right.  I could tell he wasn’t so sure either so he didn’t pressure me much after that, but he did take some for himself and rejoiced with the goddesses.  Next thing you know  he’s got the open bottle in one hand, a joint in the other, and I’m bent over a tree getting it full throttle.  I’m flying again, thinking about Chad, and thinking that Greg’s got some downfalls, but he’s getting educated and loves Chad so I give in and let myself really go and the ecstasy come, and come if you know what I mean, girl! We get dressed and time has really passed so he speeds me back to the treatment center.

“So I get this idea that I’m a goddess and tell everybody at treatment that I’m a goddess and that’s my spirituality and then they say that won’t work because you can’t be your own higher power, you need to have a power greater than yourself and then you can be restored to sanity.  Well Jesus fucking Christ.  I had never thought that hard before about anything, and it was all for nothing.  ‘But I feel good about myself now,’ I said.  ‘I’ve got a man who calls me a goddess, I’ve got these huge life-giving breasts full of bliss, child-bearing hips…what the hell?’

‘Right on Kate! Johnny W. says I’m with you baby! You’re my Higher Power!’  The counselors just shake their heads and tell me to keep coming back which means I’m supposed to stick with the program and these twelve steps that tell me I’m powerless and pretty soon things will be revealed.”

The conversation was long and I was taking notes the whole time by assigning stories to various toys as mnemonic devices.  The bionic man was the dream.  My Charlie McCarthy puppet was Greg.  My Legos were the treatment center, and the weeble-wobble people filled in the rest of the gaps.  I built the story right in the middle of the bedroom and then asked Shelly if she wanted to really play.

“I mean really play,” I said emphatically. I stripped Shelly down to her panties and went over to my new Fischer Price record player in the corner.  I swung the purple plastic arm around and dug the needle into a 45 of Heart’s “Barracuda” and turned it up until the cheap speakers were distorting.

“Fuck yea” I said at 6.  I floated over to Shelly in my birthday suit, bent her over and jammed to “Barracuda” as I faked adult ecstasy the best I could while gyrating all over her emulating Greg and Mother’s story. I reached around to grab her breasts that wouldn’t be there for another ten year.  I just couldn’t fly like Mother.  My wings were clipped. I had become The-Boy-Worth-Mentioning in Shelly’s private mythology, full of knowledge and lacking sense.  That’s what ecstasy does to you.  I bent her all over the bedroom and Greg came over and joined-in in the other room filling Mother full of compliments and weed. Her complexion flushed and the familiar warmth that drugs brought heaved in her breasts.

She forgot she was supposed to be powerless and let the goddess run wild.  She poured wine into her mouth and let it run down her chin into her cleavage.  It was beatitude and it was devastating. We all dug each other.

And then we moved.



Chad Faries has published poems, essays, photographs, interviews, and creative non-fiction in Exquisite Corpse, Mudfish, New American Writing, Barrow Street, The Cream City Review, Afterimage, Post Road, and others. His book, The Border Will Be Soon: Meditations from the Other Side was a winner of Emergency Press’s open genre book competition. It chronicles his visits to Yugoslavia between 1995-2000 and will be published in May 2006. He has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and was a Fulbright Fellow in Budapest. His memoir, Some Houses, is seeking a publisher. When not traveling he is a carpenter and professor. He recently purchased an old Victorian home and now is planning his next Triumph motorcycle in order to solidify his artificial existence as a renaissance man.

“Listen: I Have Long Kept Silent” by Stacy Thieszen


1. The last two horses died in their traces and we left the wagon behind.

2. Walking with slow weary steps through grasses high as our throats, searching for water.

3. The wind flapping our clothing as it shakes the leaves of aspens so they show their white bellies.

4. This was a land of few trees, unreliable water, great heat, gold-green grasses without end.

5. The land of grass became a land of blood.

6.  Your mission is to listen, or not.

7.  Our mission is to thrive.

8.  After so many years, I speak because I see the past circling by my window, because I believe you will understand.

9.  This time is not so different from that time, the land, the hunger, the mission of our people.

10.  The herds of monstrous, untenable beasts we have called buffalo.

11. A woman, this woman, myself, I can swim through grass as fish swim through water and I swam until I could swim no more and this became our home, my husband and I as alone as if capsized on any desert isle.

12. Except for the savages.


1. I have held the truth in my belly these many years.

2. Your mission is to hear the truth this time. You may choose to listen or you may hum and look away.

3. The wind and successive disasters which left my husband and myself the only survivors had driven us far from the trail; we could expect no rescue.

4. We marked the days by scratching in the dirt, and the wind erased our timekeeping.

5. The buffalo had shoulders like mountains, eyes like stones.

6. We prevailed because we believed it would be so.

7. We learned that the flesh of the savage is good.

8. Our mission is to grow and prosper.

9. Our mission is to clear the land of darkness.

10. My eyes never became accustomed to the red rush of blood, my hands to the feel of the skin parting from flesh, sucking and then ripping free.


1. When it finally rained, I lay on flattened grass and let the water wash my skin, my great shining wheel of hair.

2. You have heard stories of savage and settler, but it was not then as you have now heard, not here.

3. My husband and I ate a nation.

4. By the Grace of God. How else could two kill two-thousand?

5. This homestead is a testament to the gun and the keen blue eye.

6. I have held my tongue all these years.

7. Your mission is to listen to what was hidden.

8. We ate the meat of their bodies, made supple clothes of their skin, wove blankets of their long, dark hair, used their bones as tools and crushed them into mortar.

9. Between you and me is the difference of an hour or a year or a hundred miles, no more.


1. Our mission is to build sturdy and pleasant houses that keep out the bats and snakes and haunting insinuation of the wind.

2. I only followed my husband’s will. I could make that claim.

3. After more than ten years, the faces of civilization caught up with us.

4. My husband emphasized our industry, the neat rows of corn and potatoes, the clean and sturdy house. The absence of savages.

5. The truth was right before their eyes, but their mouths said buffalo skins, bones of buffalo—how amazing!

6. Did they not see how fine my shoes were, how soft?

7. From then on we had to hunt rabbit, deer and buffalo with our new neighbors, slicing open those alien four-legged bodies, roasting that exotic meat.

8. Our mission is to triumph over those unlike ourselves.

9. Still, our mission is to feed upon the savages to build a stronger country.

10.  This prairie is an ocean where I’ve had to learn to swim.

11. It was not at first my idea or desire.



Stacy Thieszen‘s short stories have appeared in the anthology Blink, Clackamas Literary Review, South Dakota Review, and other small journals. She has completed two novels, one of which was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize last year. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and son and works as a writer for a large nonprofit organization.

“To Be Like Him” by Yvette A. Schnoeker-Shorb


To hell with the apple–at her core,
Eve simply wanted to explore paradise
before converting it to Eden.
But she sought advice
from the problematic tree–the only tree
that would ever cut down a human.

Yet the scarlet, fertile fruit seduced her
as knowledge is hot, and once inflamed
the sassy lass snaked her way to Adam;
with each kiss, offered her hypothesis
on why she so desperately desired
the mind of the creator.

I know how she felt,
for the fateful flame was
not the type one holds for a lover;
still, it glows with want, blue
in the center with sin-red heat
inspiring the heart into submission.

But it is the psyche that fans the fire
and which designed Eve’s descent–the fall
rendered as a consequence of some savage
angel extending his residence from heaven
to earthly woods, rather than being depicted
as merely a woman’s addiction to theory.

Clearly, how could Eve’s craving forbidden
frameworks hidden in that hot-bed garden,
that is, her heady attraction to abstractions
sired first by some admired other,
be portrayed as depraved or as betrayal
when it feels so much like love?



Yvette A. Schnoeker-Shorb’s poetry has appeared in Blueline, Pinyon, Wild Earth, Red River Review, Terrain.org, The Pedestal Magazine, The Midwest Quarterly, Hawai’i Pacific Review, Poem, Karamu, and many other journals. She is co-editor of the Sustainable Ways Newsletter and co-founder of Native West Press. She holds an interdisciplinary MA in Ecosemantics and is currently assisting Terril Shorb, Coordinator of the Sustainable Community Development track at Prescott College, with research related to human perceptions and behavior toward the natural environment.

“My New Life” by Dee Shapiro


My new life fills my head
Every moment it tells me
I will be fine

Pulled through the past
and through each day
what do I want to remember
when memory fails?

These few things:

impending darkness
repelled by an evening clearly lit
by lamplight

a conversation connubial
with the promise of passion

to a cool morning
after a heat wave.



Dee Shapiro is a poet, painter, and writer. Her poems and essays have appeared in Chiron Review, Small Pond Magazine, Black Bear, Blue Line, Adirondack Review, New Press Literary Quarterly, Aught, The Bark, Heresies Connecticut River Review, Rhapsoidia and Confrontation. She teaches art history and studio art at Empire State College, Old Westbury, NY.

“Sobriety, Year One” by Victoria Pynchon

Echo Park, 1994

It’s time for me to grow
impatient now, time to worry
I fertilized too hard
or seeded too deep,

time to think
the scarlet sage
and French marigolds,
the peonies and pansies

and phlox I buried
like treasure against
the uncertain future
will never grow for me.

The weeds in my back yard grow
hard and fast as weeds
do, crab grass pushing
its tough blades up against

the stone paving leading
to the compost heap.
I’m always down
on my knees pulling

at the roots, building
burial mounds of limp
green grass, stacking
like cord wood the purple

stalks of the wicked
weeds, sweating,
wiping dirt
from my face.

I was just hoping.

If I planted knowingly
a profusion of color
a wealth of delicate flowers
might also grow for me.



Victoria Pynchon is the founder and editor-in-chief of this journal. Her poetry has been published in Poet Lore, The Ledge, and, Transformation and her short fiction and literary non-fiction in the Southern New Hampshire Literary Journal and Kudzu.  After a twenty-five year commercial litigation career, Victoria now mediates and arbitrates business disputes through Judicate West and her own ADR firm, Settle It Now Dispute Resolution Services.  She shamelessly self-publishes here from time to time but has turned 99.9% of her writing energy over to her new neutral practice.  She blogs obsessively about anything that crosses her mind at the Settle It Now Negotiation Blog.  She has also been fooling around with video poetry on YouTube here.

“At the Cemetery” by Greg McBryde


Two men, suited black
and broad:  Their shoulders
buckle.  Their arms and hands

scissor up then down along
the back of each, slow
as the priest’s blessing hand,

like wounded butterflies
joined in air, one right-,
one left-winged.  Their hands

carve and crush terrain
along the ridge, the bone,
the hump of human time:

the shoulder cracked
by a pitch in ’48,
the Korean bullet,

its knot between ribs,
the hard bend his wife
hammered on him

that day she died.



Greg McBryde‘s poems, essays, and reviews appear in 32 Poems, Chautauqua Literary Journal, Connecticut Review, Folio, Gettysburg Review, Hollins Critic, Poet Lore, and elsewhere.  His work was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2005 and 2006. A former member of the Senior Executive Service at the U.S. Department of Transportation, he practiced law for 30 years and now edits The
Innisfree Poetry Journal, consults on transportation issues, and works as a freelance editor. He was a high school and college wrestler and an Army photographer in the Vietnam War. The father of three and grandfather of four, he lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with his wife Lois, also a writer.

“At the Cemetery” first appeared in Poet Lore