“How to End Your Marriage” by David Lerner Schwartz

Final Girl (How to End)

  1. Open the Bible.
  2. Remember Mass and hear your father tell you, “Gracie, it’s because of God we’re on this planet; pay your respects, Sweetheart, to something bigger than yourself.”
  3. Balance the closed tome on its spine; hold it up with the poise of an introvert. Look at the clock and wait until it strikes three, and then
  4. let the pages fall
  5. so that they gain mass and become heavy, and are, quite literally, out of your hands, their gravity like the weight of the flat line of your father’s passing through the thick, cement walls of a hospital waiting room.
  6. Take a breath, and
  7. read the passage that’s been chosen for you: SO SHALL YOUR JUDGMENT BE; it says, YOU YOURSELF HAVE DECIDED IT. You nod, a willing congregation.
  8. Chant the words in your head like a mantra; let them lift you, and
  9. float through the study into the bedroom where you find your husband. Flick on the light. He’ll flinch, burying his nose into a bed you haven’t really ever slept in.
  10. Pull out a suitcase and gather enough clothes for about a week—you’ll stay at April’s—but keep that pulsing passage in your heart. Fold the garments carefully. It’s dark, now; you’ll deal with wrinkles later.
  11. “It’s the middle of the night—” he’ll slur with sleep in his throat. You won’t answer because it’s not a question.
  12. “God,” he’ll say. Think back to all the three AMs you’ve spent together: in the beginning, at bars, drunk with friends or high on Ambien (well, not him, he was always too scared), but, soon enough those three AMs became pure panting and dry heaving, not from sex, but from stony indecision.
  13. Find your passport. Grab your wallet. Hold back tears because this is not your father’s funeral. This is just a leaving.
  14. Close the suitcase. He’ll whisper, “What’re you doing?” “Go back to sleep,” you’ll say, because it is a question. Briefly feel guilty, and realize this is how you felt when you asked your brother to give the eulogy instead.
  15. Pick up the suitcase and feel its weight. You could use some help lifting it, but your husband will just lie there.
  16. Struggle down the stairs, knowing that you would have mustered up this courage years ago. You would have packed your bags in a fervor and thrown divorce papers in his face as evidence of his inattentiveness, his milquetoast inability, but this was never your choice, not while your father was alive; if your dad had known, he would have purged the glazed-over looks of your husband’s, expunged those empty stares directed towards long-legged waitresses, the ones with darker skin, with smoother lines, glossed up and sealed like the wood varnish on the floor of the cathedral. And so, instead of choosing conflict during your dad’s dying years, you will now creep out so silently in the middle of the night as if you are woman who simply cannot decide.
  17. You take a breath, and
  18. with suitcase at your side, shut the door to your tired mausoleum. Finally resurrected, remember that Christ’s three blank days are nothing compared to missing a man you loved in lieu of a man you would love to miss.

 

 

David Lerner Schwartz lives in Austin, TX where he designs products and services for various industries and performs improv throughout the state. David graduated from Tufts University in 2013 and most recently studied at the Kenyon Writers Workshop in Gambier, OH.

“Prison-Orange Bandolinos” by Mitzi McMahon

Final Girl (Prison Orange)

Miranda figured she had twelve hours until her world imploded.

She crept along, on her way home from work, the car ahead moving at a snail’s pace on the rain-slicked road. The ever-earlier darkness strained her fatigued eyes. She slipped by bus stops and gas stations and houses she’d passed a thousand times before while her mind darted into corners, seeking a solution on how to return the fifty thousand dollars she’d borrowed from work. It had seemed so simple: use the unauthorized check to stave off imminent foreclosure on home equity loans, then quietly put the money back.

Sweat pricked her hairline as she negotiated a hairpin bend in the two-lane road. Holiday lights in her periphery triggered a reminder of the costume waiting to be assembled for her daughter’s upcoming school play. She should have taken care of the costume last week instead of spending her evenings hunting the daily flash deals at MyHabit. She tamped down the self-reproach and concentrated, instead, on the crisis at hand, willing a resolution to emerge from the surrounding shadows. There had to be a way to fix this. Twinkling reindeer lights pulled at her, promising distraction, and before she could muster a defense, her mind escaped into the bright lights of the high-end department stores and their endless offerings. Silk pajamas, cashmere sweaters, 1000-thread-count bedding: textiles for every mood, every occasion. Last month’s lowest-prices-of-the-season shopping frenzy had been delicious. She’d emptied her daughter’s college account to fund the excursion, and the acknowledgement dimmed her momentary joy.

Miranda refocused on the road, her fingers locked around the steering wheel. She drove for several miles this way—past the Dollar Store, past the red-bricked bank that quietly denied her request for a personal loan last week—while mentally searching for a miracle. She dismissed the drained emergency-home-repair account, the nine maxed out credit cards, and paused at the fake surgery option, but quickly rejected it. How many bone spur removals, frozen shoulder repairs, and wisdom teeth extractions could she expect her mother to buy? With her shoulders bunched at her ears, she accelerated through the intersection at Virginia Street and reiterated her mantra: calm and focused gets the job done.

She was out of time. Tomorrow was a new month; the books would be reconciled, the missing money discovered. A finger of fear tapped on her spine. She drew a breath, deep and deeper still. The radio was on low but a snippet of melody caught her attention and, just like that, she was in a canoe with her husband. She breathed in the scene: sun warming her face, their shared laughter as they splashed each other with water, a picnic of grapes and cheese waiting on the beach. Looming red disks pierced the memory, and she hit the brakes, the car thudding to a stop. As her adrenalin slowed, irony bloomed. Soliciting her husband’s help wasn’t an option; the days of sun-drenched tenderness were long gone. In its place echoed his supplications to corral her mounds of in-progress cross-stitch projects, to purge her piles of clothes and books.

She reached across to the passenger seat and dug blindly through her purse, searching for chapstick. Her attempts were clumsy and ineffective, but she couldn’t take her eyes off the road for more than a few seconds at a time. She gave up, frustrated, and shoved the bag onto the floor, cursing the chapstick, the traffic, the gigantic mess before her. What she needed was a time out, like those she administered to her kids when they misbehaved. Hers would be welcomed, though, used to stop time so she could think. A little breathing room. If she could talk to someone, her boss, her boss’s boss, explain how she got here. She’d tell them about the itch for something new because it was the perfect color or precise shape, how the craving grew until it overtook her, the insistence pressing pressing, the anxiety that swelled to atomic proportions, the sweet release of holding the purchase in her hand.

Traffic moved again and Miranda pressed lightly on the accelerator. The distance between her and the car ahead lengthened as she drove, unseeing. A soundtrack looped in her head, her mother’s voice mixed with her husband’s: Can you follow through, please? Where’s your head? Why is everything always a mess? At Kentucky Street, she blinked and blew out a breath. She would prove herself worthy; she would fix this disaster, make a payment plan, get things back on track. She squared her shoulders, then checked the mirrors. The tail lights from passing cars left faint streaks along the wet pavement and the effect pulled her back to the nights when she’d scoured the cityscape learning nighttime photography. Staking out a vantage point on the I94 overpass, calculating moonrise over downtown skylines, light painting the Old Soldier statues marching through Monument Square. Life seemed simpler then. If she had her gear with her, she could leave this behind and escape into the world of long exposures.

As she approached Highway C, she switched lanes and got into line. Going northbound regularly required a long wait. She thought of her granddad Oscar—Oscar the grouch, they called him. He hadn’t always been surly. She remembered the times when she was young, back before every inch of space in his house became choked with stuff, they’d walked to A&W, the sun hot overhead and his stride slowed to match hers, how they’d sat on picnic tables and shared a root beer float.

The dash-embedded clock glowed orange-red against the darkened interior, and as the minutes crept onward, panic cinctured Miranda’s belly. She knew there was a solution, there always was. She needed only to relax and let it come. Flashes of her scheduled life intruded—her son’s soccer game on Saturday, the dinner party at her sister’s house afterward—but she refused them with a decisive shake of her head. She had to right this before her kids found out. She cracked the window, swallowed against the rising bile, and conjured up soothing images: skipping rocks across the lake, mashed potatoes and cornbread, the perfect sunrise photo. Would sunrise hold the answer? In those moments right before daybreak, when the world was asleep and the day’s congestion still at bay, everything was possible.

When her turn came, Miranda merged onto the highway with a quick glance in the rearview mirror to confirm she’d allowed enough room. She half expected to find flashing red lights chasing her down. Ahead, the sea of oncoming headlights sent pinpricks to the backs of her eyes. She traveled several blocks, then maneuvered into the median’s left-turn lane while her brain served up inventory for Saturday’s assigned dessert: chocolate chips, tapioca pudding, graham cracker crust, gummy bears.

She sat, warm and dry in a cocoon, while cars raced by in both directions. The road ahead curved upward in a gentle slope. Think, she demanded. She heard the honking horn as the metal bars of a jail cell clanking shut. When the sound morphed into an insistent bleating, she startled and refocused. With a mumbled apology at the rearview, she inched forward.

Eleven hours and counting. The finger tapping Miranda’s spine became a fist, pummeling her. Desperation clogged her throat and dampened her armpits, and when a primal urge to turn the car around and head to the mall gripped her, she nearly laughed out loud. Wouldn’t a new pair of Bandolino heels be the perfect answer? Even better: a pair in prison orange. She looked dully at the unbroken path of approaching cars, then flicked her eyes at the night sky, and for the briefest of seconds, she searched for a focal point, something to highlight the frame of stars.

She sat, her spine rigid, her breaths shallow as the minutes ticked by, relentless. How had she allowed this to happen? She swiped her bangs out of her eyes, then slammed the heel of her hand against the steering wheel. She expected her head to blow any minute, like a teakettle. The wave of oncoming cars appeared endless. Maybe, she thought, she should have listened when her husband suggested therapy.

Lulled by exhaustion and the hum of passing cars, she sank into a void, one where the weight on her shoulders vanished and her mind unfurled. She’d been here before; it was welcoming, comforting. She eyed the continuous lines of bright lights and thought: what if?

She eased her foot from the brake to the gas pedal and marveled at how something so powerful could feel so invisible beneath her shoe. She hovered there, between the known and the unknown. Images swirled like glossy snapshots: her daughter’s ribboned braids, heaps of past-due notices, family dinners, QVC delivery boxes, concrete cells. They all coalesced, building, building, and in that moment of white-hot pressure an understanding surfaced. She looked over her shoulder, seized an opening, and shot back out into the northbound traffic.

At Howell Avenue she turned east. The road was narrow and sparsely lit, and the space between houses gradually grew until there was nothing but empty fields on either side. When the entrance to the rock quarry materialized, she slowed and rolled onto the gravel drive. A half mile later, Miranda veered to the right, past giant bulldozers and mute dump trucks, following the curve of the canyon until she could drive no more. Swinging out, she angled the car, nose first, toward the chasm. A flick of a button lowered all the windows, and the silence, expectant and weighty, washed over her.

Miranda extinguished both interior and exterior lights and drank in the vast night sky, reveling in the fixed points of light, pure and bright, like her children. The view intoxicated her. The pinpoints seemed to expand, a deliberate odyssey, drawing her in. She wished for her camera in order to capture the ethereal beauty, wished she could showcase how the fixed points weren’t fixed at all, rather, they blazed a trail home.

She sat this way, in the glow, for several beats while the stillness pulsed in her ears. She inhaled, a deep-through-the-belly intake, then placed her palm on the gear shaft. Acceptance trickled through her, warm, certain, and she closed her eyes. She imagined the thrill of the stars rushing toward her, enveloping her, imagined their effulgent tips bending and smearing as she dragged her fingers through them, the silky sky a panorama of bleeding white.

 

 

 

Mitzi McMahon lives in Wisconsin, near Lake Michigan, where she writes fiction and chases the light, camera in hand. Her fiction has appeared in over two dozen publications, including The Bitter Oleander, The Summerset Review, The Santa Fe Literary Review, and The Evansville Review. Her photographic work has appeared or is forthcoming in Marathon Literary Review and Apeiron Review. She holds a BA in Business.

“The Way it Really Was” by Ann Goldsmith

Final Girl street paint

From the beginning he got
all the perks, the glitz:
The Big Originator
            The Fomenting Father
                        Chairman of the Universe.
Creations erupted from his eyebrows,
his toenails. He sneezed
and the tides surged.

Where absence had been
he touched the Nothing into color,
motion, music. Clouds, red moons, geysers.
Time’s metronomic wink.

But no shadows. No reflections.
Last Moments, not yet.
Things colliding before they cooled,
mountain into mountain,
plain into pleated cliff. When,

in swirls of protoplasm, sea grass,
he rolled out animals and humans,
it wasn’t long before teeth
began to gnaw on unrestrained
succulence. Feasting everywhere
but no time to digest.

For the first few eons he was too
giddy to even glance
in my direction.
It took wearying periods of steady gazing
to temper the furious pace
of his fiery consummations.

Where would being be,
I tried to show, without a place
for roots and refinements? For rest?
No one mentions me, but
I was the one who mirrored it all back
until he began to see.

 

 

Ann Goldsmith‘s second book of poems, THE SPACES BETWEEN US, appeared in April 2010. She won the Quarterly Review of Literature’s Poetry Prize for her first book, NO ONE IS THE SAME AGAIN. Goldsmith holds a doctorate from the University of Buffalo, where she taught English for ten years. She has also served on the faculties of D’Youville and St. Trocaire Colleges, and worked as Western New York Coordinator for ALPS, a statewide poetry-in-the-schools organization. She has served as poet-in-residence at the Chautauqua Institution, and taught writing at Buffalo’s Trinity Center, which granted her an Excellence in Teaching Award. Her recently completed book of poems, WAITING AT THE TURN, is looking for a publisher.

Homepage Spring 2015

Final Girl Cover Image
All images appear in this issue courtesy of the Appalachian street artist, FINAL GIRL.

Dear Readers,

Welcome to our Spring 2015 “WOMEN” issue. We’re incredibly proud to present to you the wonderful and diverse array of voices in this issue, all complemented by the beautiful street art of FINAL GIRL which she has graciously donated for this issue.

I’m thrilled with the way it all came together.  A big thank you to my devoted editors and readers and especially to our contributors who trusted us to bring their work out into the world. Also, thanks for the gorgeous artwork, FINAL GIRL. You made each piece pop just a little bit more.

I’m thinking a lot about recovery these days, as my son just lost a close friend in a car accident over the weekend. Mike Dmochowski was a shining star of a kid, on his way to good things, with his pick of colleges and swim teams. He was returning from a day-long recruitment trip, in fact. He could literally see his future opening up before him. And now he is gone. How do we make sense of that? How do the ones left behind recover? How do we ever?

Our July issue will be themed ON THE LINE and our October theme will be GOODWILL. As always, thanks for reading.

Yours in Recovery,

Mary Akers
Editor-in-chief

“Laundry” by Kate McCorkle

 

Final Girl.blue with heart

We were married eleven days when I finally started the laundry on a beautiful autumn morning. We—my new husband and I—hadn’t been living in the same part of the country, let alone the same house, before the wedding. He was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and I loved Chicago.

I had seen the townhouse Jason rented for us off the base in Clarksville, Tennessee, once before our New England marriage: a destination set by our parents’ residencies. I came to unload my things from the city. Jason remained there, getting us settled, while I spent two weeks before the wedding with my family.

When we came home to this place after our wedding and honeymoon, we opened a door to chaos. Since Jason had been living locally with two other lieutenants, he moved his household piecemeal, dumping trash bags of clothes and shoving furniture into any open space. My items from Chicago were treated similarly—books stacked atop dishes because they were in containers anyway. Boxed childhood treasures and housewares shipped from my parents’ home were stowed in every corner. Meticulously packaged wedding presents also arrived daily: When Jason brought them inside, he removed just enough tissue and peanuts or bubble wrap to determine the contents, then left the boxes open, burping their packaging, and now leaving them useless for stacking.

Getting dressed that first morning after the honeymoon—playing search-and-rescue with my clothes—was an ordeal. Corrugated cardboard made a labyrinth of the small townhouse. Bags of clothes competed with wads of packaging paper for floor space. Finding the box cutter was a good game. It was supposed to be returned to the lone window sill after use, but rarely was. An army of trash bags stuffed with Styrofoam peanuts resided under the back deck; they had to be doled out one each garbage day because that’s all the workers would take. Despite this bedlam, all our things—and we—were under one roof. Our life together would begin.

The second morning back, eleven days into the marriage, I was finally ready to start washing clothes.

Home laundry was a novelty. In the city, I had cabbed it to Laundromats, praying there would be enough open washers and dryers to finish the work in one shift. I stayed nearby to ensure nobody hijacked my machine mid-cycle for their own dirty clothes—or because they wanted mine. It was a victory when laundry only sucked three hours from my day.

The freedom to load the washer, then go about my business, was luxurious. While I couldn’t simultaneously run three machines like I did at the Laundromat, I hated being chained to my wash even more and disliked the constant surveillance that prevented me from enjoying a book.

My new liberty didn’t mean I now liked laundry, however, particularly since bulky man-garments entered the mix. One pair of Jason’s camos—his BDUs, for “battle dress uniform”—took up half a load. There was also a legion of foul brown socks. I debated making him wash his own clothes.

The washer and dryer had been his grandmother’s as recently as six months ago. She had died that winter, and the kids and grandkids made off with whatever wasn’t nailed down. My husband had wanted her Army medals—she had been a nurse stationed in London during the Blitz—as well as those of his grandfather, a World War II pilot, but the pacifist uncle took those. Jason drove out of Ohio with her washer and dryer, and various paintings of prairie animals and cavalry battles. It turned out the dryer was broken, but we didn’t learn that until after he hooked it up in the townhouse.

Because it was a beautiful fall morning, I found some twine and strung it around the back deck to create a makeshift clothesline. I looped it around green plastic chairs, the deck railing, and whatever was there. Anything big, like towels, would drag, but smaller items would be okay. They should dry, at least.

About twenty feet past the deck steps, across a sloped, weedy lawn, was a little creek. I had never walked those twenty feet to see just how little. Cottonmouths were down there. Occasionally, even during my brief residence on Rose Drive, we would see their run-over bodies in the road, having slithered up from the creek, perhaps seeking the sun. I was probably fine on the deck, but in those early days the cottonmouths were one more reason to dislike this place.

One load of wash—my things alone—was already drying on the makeshift line. Another load spun in the machine. I could tackle a box now, and maybe find the pots and pans, or my jeans, or my dictionary.

The phone rang. It was my mom. I assumed she wanted to chat about my honeymoon travels or how I fared with unpacking. Instead, she asked if I was watching TV. Something good must be on Regis. I started to explain about the laundry as I searched for the remote, but she cut me off. She said to put the TV on. Just on. My stomach clenched. Any channel. Turn on the TV. The World Trade Center was smoking. A plane had accidentally flown into it. This was insane. This was horrifying. This was surreal. After the second plane, we knew. Not an accident.

“Is Jason at work?” she asked.

“Yeah. Yes. Today’s his first day back,” I answered.

“Is his bag packed?”

“His bag?” I asked. “What—”

“His bag, his bag,” my mom sputtered. “He’ll need his things: his bag, his whatever—Does he have what he needs?”

“I don’t know,” I said lamely, looking around our living room with its clothes piles, and paper piles, and half-unpacked boxes, and wedding presents atop and under stacks of books. It looked like a bomb had gone off in here, but no; clearly one had not.

My mom said to yank whatever was in the washer, and get his uniforms in pronto.

I started crying. “We don’t have a dryer,” I sobbed. “His uniforms will never dry in time. I strung a line, but it’s crappy, and there are snakes and—”

“Kate,” my mom demanded, “Get his uniforms in the wash. Start with the t-shirts and socks. Do it now. I’ll stay on the phone. GO.”

I cradled the phone, ear to shoulder, and pulled my dripping shorts and tops from the washer, slopping them onto cracked linoleum. I threw fistfuls of pitted brown and gray T-shirts into the machine. As futility and fear shut down parts of my cerebral cortex, hands grabbed clothes and poured detergent. In the numb shutdown, a circuit sparked: This is what I do I do what is in front of me, I do laundry, one piece, one piece.

I could do laundry.

Drilling down to something specific, mercifully tedious and mundane, let me take the smallest action. We were falling in a bottomless abyss, but I could hang clothes on twine. I could have his uniform ready. No official phone calls came in, but the rumors were already flying. The unit would be gone, gone, gone. He would have clean camo; many clean socks. I would crush cottonmouths under bare feet. There was work to be done.

It was dark when I hung the final pair of BDUs. I knew they wouldn’t dry at night, but by then, that wasn’t the point.

Years later, with the small, dear clothing of four added to the mix, I still dislike doing the laundry: the perpetual sorting, carrying, loading, washing, moving, drying, folding, re-sorting, and putting away. It’s not hell, just an everlasting purgatory. Yet, when the smaller abysses and fissures crack open, laundry is the closest I get to real prayer.

 

 

Kate McCorkle works as a freelance writer and editor because life is not crazy enough with four children under eight, a husband, and a mutt from Clarksville, TN. A graduate of The College of the Holy Cross and The University of Chicago, her work has appeared in Free State Review, the Newer York, Darkhouse Books, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Crab Fat Literary Magazine, The Rain, Party, and Disaster Society, and Apiary Online. She lives outside Philadelphia with said menagerie and swims to stave off insanity.

“On This Day, The Weight of Chronic Illness” by Michelle Hanlon

Final Girl door in trees
I am going to brush my teeth.

I am going to eat a banana.

Then. I am going to write a to-do list. I will not go overboard and put a whole bunch of things on it because I plan to accomplish all of the things on that list.

I can do this. When I feel hung up today, or in the next hour, or in the next 10 minutes, I will tell myself…I can do this.

I will say, “You can do this.”

I will scrunch my toes on the tile as I stand in front of the fridge to remind myself how awesome it is to walk around. I will feel the tile’s coolness and texture with my toes, and really acknowledge how awesome each of my little piggies are. And legs. Thank you legs.

I will remind myself that this is a marathon, this is the hand I have been dealt, this is a part of my reality.

I will not feel pity for myself because it is the 4th of July and I want to go light things on fire and watch them explode in colors, and I want to be around others and hear the murmur of conversations and waves of laughter swell and fade and swell again. If I need to cry, I will do it. Once. But I will not stay there.

I will take a shower. Because I am gross—I mean really gross.

I am at the bottom of an abandoned well. No one is coming to save me and it’s up to me to claw my way out, all the way to the top. It is gray and dank and there are no places to really grip or any footholds to dig my toes into. The piece of visible sky is overcast and so far away. It is lonely down there, and I feel like I have nothing to draw upon.

The weight of emptiness is heavy.

I will tell myself, “You can do this.”

I am going to enjoy sitting in the shower as the water falls on me. I will stay in that moment and enjoy it and not think about the process of getting out of the shower or getting dressed or the fact that I still need to brush my teeth.

When I am brushing my teeth I will think, you are standing here and that is enough.

 

 

Michelle Hanlon is a compulsive list maker. Some of her favorite things: summer nights in West Texas, the first sip of coffee on a dark morning, and the Oxford comma. Her work can be seen in apt. and Burningword Literary Journal.

“Aerial Spray” by Courtney Craggett

Final Girl (Aerial Spray)

A little boy stands at his window in Scooby Doo pajamas and wet hair. He touches his fingers to the glass and feels the Texas summer hot against his skin. Downstairs his parents yell at each other, and tomorrow his father will move out, but in his hand tonight he clutches his first tooth, small and white and sharp, and he waits.

Tonight the tooth fairy will die, under a spray of chemicals sent to end the West Nile Virus.

If he had only lost his tooth last spring, had let his father yank it out when he offered, but he didn’t and this summer in Texas the West Nile Virus spread like a dust storm and a little girl died in a hospital bed and the city said that enough was enough, something had to be done. Protestors said there were other ways, but the city asked how many people had to die. They filled the sky with shining lights and helicopters that rained chemicals down over the streets, and they told the children to stay inside and shut their windows until the aerial spray was over. They must have forgotten about the fairies.

The little boy knows the tooth fairy will try to come. She will ignore the city warnings and will fly through the aerial spray to reach him, like she has flown every night to reach children. And she will die. The little boy knows she will die. He sees her struggling against the chemicals that cling like lead to her wings and fill her lungs. He sees her coughing, sputtering. A plate shatters downstairs. The little boy’s fist tightens around the tooth and a drop of blood appears on his palm.

Tomorrow he will search the woods for the tooth fairy. His mother will dress him in long sleeves and gloves to keep the chemicals from his skin. She will look relieved to send him out to play and will tell him to stay as long as he wants. She will say she is sure the tooth fairy is not dead, only distracted, but the little boy will know better. The woods will be silent, and the little boy will look under rocks and logs for trails of golden fairy dust, but he will find nothing but dead frogs and insects. He will build a fairy house in case the tooth fairy really is alive and needs a place to rest. He will rinse the house in the creek to wash the poison from it and will carpet it with pine needles and build a bed of twigs. He will hang curtains made of leaves from the windows to shelter the house in case the helicopters come again with their aerial spray.

Tonight, though, the little boy waits in his bedroom. He whispers to the tooth fairy not to come, but he knows he is too late. He stands at his window and listens.

Listens to the yelling.

Listens to the poison rain.

Listens to the fairy wings that beat faintly, and fall.

 
Courtney Craggett is a doctoral candidate in creative writing and Chicano/a literature at the University of North Texas, where she teaches English and has served as the Assistant Fiction Editor for the American Literary Review.  Her fiction appears in Mid-American Review, Washington Square Review, and Word Riot.  Her reviews appear monthly in American Microreviews and Interviews. 

“Nine Months of Peanut Butter” by Sara Dutilly

Final Girl (How to End)

38 Weeks

You have a spoon in your hand. Now all you need is peanut butter to fulfill the craving that you’ve had for minutes that seem like days. After 260 days, you’re ready to send your child off to kindergarten, but she hasn’t been born yet so all you can do is dip your spoon into the almost empty jar, get all you can, then lick that peanut butter and make this day a little sweeter.

On your kitchen table is the baby name book your mom dropped off months ago and wanted to go through with you. You know it would mean a lot to her, but she already “helped” you pick out the nursery colors. You want to pick out the name yourself.

 

-1 Day

Stacey was in the bathroom when the unsuspecting father asked you to dance. You don’t know his name. You just call him Chris. He had a condom, but apparently your high school health teacher was right: condoms are not a sure thing! You were horny and he said you were beautiful; he said your body was a wonderland and then something about the Cheshire Cat.

You told Stacey that you would get a ride home with Chris.

“Who?” She asked.

You pointed your head in his direction, and Stacey asked how much you had had to drink.

A few, not a lot. You were still standing weren’t you?

You were still standing, but not for long.

She told you to wait a minute; she had to talk to this guy before you left with him. She came back a few minutes later with two shots of Jack Daniels. She handed you one. You tapped your tiny glasses together and shot down the burning liquid. Stacey winked and said, “Be good” as you dropped your glass on the floor and stumbled away.

The next morning you woke up and there was a note. “Had to run. Call me later. 902-5873.” You went back to sleep and woke up when Housekeeping knocked. You jumped out of bed and grabbed your purse. A short woman with dark curly hair opened the door, plugged in her vacuum, looked in your direction and said in her far-from-English accent, “You okay, miss?”

 

8 Weeks

Your breasts became sore and you were missing something you didn’t like to talk about. You took a test and now you never look at positive the same way.

You told Stacey first. She didn’t believe you. You didn’t believe you either.

“That guy at the club?” she asked.

“Has to be,” you said.

Stacey told you to take at least two more pregnancy tests. She said that you can never be sure until you get the same result from a few of them; she said that Amanda’s was positive the first time, too.

But all three of yours said the same thing. Blue plus sign.

You remembered that Stacey talked to him before you left the club, so you asked what he was like.

She said he was blond and cute. She had been drunk, and her night was blurry too. “Do you have his number?” she asked.

You looked for that note. You couldn’t find it, but that was okay. You remembered what it said. You called it but there was no Chris there, no blond twenty-something, and no one who had ever been to The Storm Club or had recently slept with a girl with a wonderland body. You tried some different combinations. 209-5873. 902-3875. 209-3785. Still no Chris, but you did have an eye-opening conversation with an elderly man about his grandson’s science project. You had never thought so much about hot dogs.

 

12 Weeks

You had to tell your parents. If they were going to find out, it might as well be from your mouth. You’re 23, but you’re still their child who is not married, not even dating anyone.

You thought about lying. Then, you could have made up a boyfriend but they would have wanted to know what he was like. What would you have said? “I think his name is Chris.” They would have wanted to meet him and have his parents over for dinner and help you look for wedding gowns. You decided to tell the truth.

They took it pretty well. Your mom was worried, but at least she didn’t cry like you had, uncontrollable drops springing from your eyes and your face crinkled into your hands. You were standing when you found out and your hands smelled of urine, but you didn’t care.

 

38 Weeks

You cry again just thinking about it. You are a single mom. Why didn’t you take that offer that Stacey and Amanda had made—to help you pay for an abortion? You wouldn’t have this problem then. This problem. You hope she doesn’t know you ever thought of her like that

The peanut butter fills your craving. You liked it before you were pregnant, too, but you never ate it without bread and jelly. Your mom says you should be eating healthier things, so you do when she’s around. You eat salads and yogurt and never desserts. It’s not worth the nagging. Then you go home, still hungry, and you eat your peanut butter by the spoons full.

You pick up the baby name book and open it to the first page. Acacia. Greek. A point, a spine, or thorn. That’s what this is: a point in your back and thorns in your boobs and somehow it’s inflated your stomach. You say it over and over again: “There’s a baby inside me. There’s a baby inside me. There’s a baby inside me.” But you won’t believe it until you see it.

Above Acacia is Abigail. Hebrew. Father in rejoicing. You think about Chris. Wonder what he’s really like.

Now it’s been too long to recall much except that you slept together. You go to your room to lie down, leave the peanut butter behind. Find your diary. Read that entry:

I got laid last night. I think he said his name was Chris. He left me his number, but I hope he doesn’t expect me to call him. It was loud and dark and I had a lot to drink. I’m not sure I could face a guy I don’t remember.

You hear a knock on your door and a second later it opens. A voice yells, “Hey beautiful!”

It’s Stacey. She’s coming over to watch An Affair to Remember. Lately all you want to do is watch sappy movies like that. She’s a good friend to want to, too.

She enters your room with your economy-sized peanut butter jar in her hand. She rolls her eyes, “You and your peanut butter.”

“Yeah, so.”

“When I’m pregnant I hope I can eat as much crap as you do and not be a fat lard.”

“Are you calling me a fat lard?”

“No, I’m saying that you should be a fat lard. I’m saying that you are a skinny bit- I mean, I’m saying that you’re skinny.”

You and Stacey said your first curse words together when you were nine. You were just repeating something her mom shouted after slamming her fingers in the car door, but you both got in big trouble anyway. You continued cursing because that’s what everyone else did.

Now you’re trying to stop. You don’t want your little girl to turn out how you did. You want her to be different. You want her to study hard and go to lots of birthday parties and no boyfriends until she’s 30! You want her to be good.

Would you have turned out better if you hadn’t ever said a curse word, or if you didn’t have sex until you were married, or if you had studied more?

Who knows.

But you don’t want your little girl to be too good. You always hated those girls who sat up straight and knew all the answers and played chess for fun. How do you raise a mostly-good girl anyway? You remember a book you were supposed to read in high school. Catch 22. Wonder what that was about.

“Thanks for the compliment,” you say.

“No problem.” Stacey sits next to you on your made-up queen-size bed. “Did you go to work today?”

You’ve been calling in sick a lot because you can’t deal with snobby customers asking you why they didn’t get their Chicken Marsala sooner. Alberto’s is a huge step up from Applebee’s, but if one thing goes wrong people get furious. Like it’s your fault the chef doesn’t cook faster. They should have gone to Wendy’s.

“Yeah, I went today. Are you staying over?”

“Yeah. Is that okay?”

“You can stay here anytime you want. Hell, you can move in for all I care. Help me change some diapers.”

“I’ll hold that baby any time, but I’m not changing diapers.” She’s half serious, and you don’t blame her. Then she tells you she’s kidding. That, really, if there is anything you need, she will do it for you, even change diapers. She tells you that she’s here for you forever, for anything, and you tear up thinking about it. Forever is a very long time.

 

-5 Years

Senior prom was supposed to be the best night of your life.

Stacey and Bo Carlos had just broken up two weeks before, but she still dressed up that night for him. She didn’t eat anything but saltines for two days so that she could fit into her sister’s little black cocktail dress. She bought a special bra to make her boobs pop out, and some strappy stiletto heels.

She didn’t see him for the first half hour of the dance, but she told you to go ahead and make your move on Lucas Mann anyway. You heard he was going solo, but if the night went as you planned he would not be leaving that way.

You knew something was wrong when you saw Stacey in the bathroom and her mascara had run all down her face. Why didn’t she come find you? She said she didn’t want to ruin your night, but you didn’t even miss going home with Lucas. Sitting on your bedroom floor eating chocolate chip cookie dough was better; it was forever.

 

38 Weeks

There’s that word again: forever. Stop thinking about it. Tell Stacey you love her. She’s the best. She’s a friend.

You think about Lucas. You’re glad you didn’t go home with him on prom night because you know what he was really like: a braggart, a pothead, a thief. Chris can be anything you want.

“You’re the best, Stacey. I love you.”

“Ah, man, are you gonna’ cry? Please don’t cry. We still have this whole sappy movie to do that.” She waves it in the air and slides it in the player.

The music roars and your emotions pump just because you know the future of Nickie Ferrante and Terry McKay.

When you wake up the sun is up and the TV is still on; the repeating disc-menu music annoys you but not enough to make you stand up. That’s too hard these days. Stacey is curled at the foot of your bed and you are spread diagonal across it. You kick her softly in the head.

“You awake?”

“I am now.” She sits up and hits your legs with a pillow. “How’d you sleep?”

“Good.” You roll over and close your eyes. Stacey gets up.

“I’ll make breakfast,” she says.

“Okay.” You’re already snoring.

You wake up again when Stacey enters your room with an array of muffins and bagels and packets of low-fat cream cheese lining that pretty brass tray you took from your parents’ house. “Did you know you have nothing except peanut butter in your kitchen?”

You shrug as you spread cream cheese over your cinnamon raisin bagel.

When you’re done eating, Stacey says she has to go. She starts to clean up and you tell her not to worry about it; you can do it.

“No way. You’re about to burst. I don’t want to be here when that happens. So you just take it easy around me.”

She cleans up. You say goodbye and she leaves.

You decide to go grocery shopping. That’s what good mothers do, right?

You take a shower; wash everything, even the things you can’t see. You can’t reach your feet, haven’t been able to in months, so you soak them in soapy water and figure they’ll clean themselves.

You dress up, put on a skirt. It’s comfortable and pretty. Then a maternity shirt. You mostly wear t-shirts and sweat pants these days, unless you’re at work, then you wear your specially ordered uniform. But you have a couple of nice outfits that your mom bought for your birthday this year. Might as well use them.

At the store, a woman and a little girl walk in front of you. The woman is wearing heals and carries an impossibly large purse. The girl’s hair is in pigtails. She wears a short pink dress and is pushing her own little-girl sized cart. She stops to touch every box of cookies. Her mom hands her a box of pasta.

She seems like a good mom. Maybe you will learn something by watching her.

But is it enough to be a good mom? Don’t little girls need dads?

You dread the day when your little girl will ask where her daddy is. What will you say? You better decide now because if you wait you may lie. You always said you would tell your child the truth about everything.

You touch your stomach but not because of kicking. You touch your stomach because you feel you should, because it’s there and because it’s big.

You fill your cart with things you need. Spaghetti, tomato sauce, lettuce, salad dressing, bread, turkey, mustard, milk, cereal, pop tarts, cheese, laundry detergent, chocolate ice cream, peanut butter. That’s enough. You check out.

 

41 Weeks

Your mom says this is normal. She says your older brother was late, too, and he hurt like hell, but she was glad for the hurt because she knew she would soon have a little baby to hold. She hoped Clive would have blue eyes, and he did for the first few weeks of his life. She said that the first time she held him was the first time she knew about miracles. Real miracles- not like the Miracle on 34th Street, but like the ones you hear about in Sunday School. She said she might as well have turned water into wine. Unbelievable that out of her stomach came this child. That nine month bump, that low budget black and white video, all that back pain had become a squirmy, unsure, squinty blue-eyed miracle. And she got to love that miracle forever.

 

41-and-a-half Weeks

You knew you had messed up when you were lying in that hotel bed, tangled between the sheets and a strange man. Making Abigail. It wasn’t your first stupid act of that nature, and in the midst of all your life’s tangled moments you knew you were doing something wrong and bad and ultimately self-mutilating. But you didn’t know why doing it was so bad, so the rush of all-consuming human touch overcame the facts.

Now, in the labor of the consequence, you wish with all your being that you could rewind your life and undo that night. Now, while your body is stretching in ways only God could have ordered and man could have messed up, you scream and you cry. You have no control over your body. The man in the green dress tells you everything will be okay. Just push. Just breathe. Heeve Heeve Ho. You repeat after him and you push like he says to, like your life depends on it, because it does. For every second that this humungous thing remains between your legs, you must live another second in the agony of stretching beyond your own limits.

This pain is the exact opposite of the glamour of sex, and so you know it is the perfect punishment. But still you push. You must get through this. You can do it. Just think of what is next.

You push your last push and Abigail slides out. She is full of red and clear goo and guck. You breathe your first breath of motherhood, relieved and terrified. You see her in the doctor’s hands, but he takes her away and you start to cry. It’s over, you think. You are never putting another thing between your legs.

Your take another breath, not for relief, but for air. It’s fresher than you remember. And sweeter, too.

 

Motherhood. Day 1

You thought that life was about looking, that it was full of struggles and heartache. You thought that having hope was your salvation, that it was only in those few and far between moments of hopefully smiling through pain that you could ever be happy.

You look out the window and the sky is blue and the cars are driving past your room four stories beneath you. A nurse enters your room and calls you by name. “Ms. Pulito. Would you like to hold your baby girl?”

You can’t speak, but she knows what you want to say. She places your child in your arms.

You think of your brother, not blue-eyed or squirmy or unsure anymore, and you realize that the miracle doesn’t end at birth. It’s in the growing up, the shaping, the teaching, the training.

You realize that forever only means it keeps going, not that things won’t change. Her name is Abigail. Your answers were always right in front of you. She looks at your eyes. You touch her fingers.

Abigail. Hebrew. Father in Rejoicing. And you hope he is, because you are forever.

 

 

Sara Dutilly earned a B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing at High Point University. She has dabbled in journalism and essay, but this is her first piece of published fiction. She lives in Kernersville, NC with her husband, two small boys, and one newborn girl where she writes poetry and short stories and bakes sourdough bread. You can read more from her at haikuthedayaway.wordpress.com.

Contributors, Spring 2015

Ron Burch
Ron Burch‘s (Intertwinedshort stories have been published in Mississippi Review, Pear Noir!, Eleven Eleven, Pank and others.  His first novel, Bliss Inc., was published by BlazeVOX Books.   He lives in Los Angeles, where he is Co-Executive Producer on a TV show for DreamWorks Animation.  He is also a produced and published playwright.  Please visit:  www.ronburch.com.

Patricia Caspers
Patricia Caspers (Unreported) is the founding editor of West Trestle Review and poetry editor at Prick of the Spindle. Her full-length poetry collection, In the Belly of the Albatross will arrive via Glass Lyre Press in September, 2015.

Courtney Craggett
Courtney Cragget (Aerial Spray) is a doctoral candidate in creative writing and Chicano/a literature at the University of North Texas, where she teaches English and has served as the Assistant Fiction Editor for the American Literary Review.  Her fiction appears in Mid-American Review, Washington Square Review, and Word Riot.  Her reviews appear monthly in American Microreviews and Interviews. 

Sara Dutilly
Sara Dutilly (Nine Months of Peanut Butter) earned a B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing at High Point University. She has dabbled in journalism and essay, but this is her first piece of published fiction. She lives in Kernersville, NC with her husband, two small boys, and one newborn girl where she writes poetry and short stories and bakes sourdough bread. You can read more from her at haikuthedayaway.wordpress.com.

Lori Eaton
Lori Eaton (Dance Champ) lives, works and writes in Metro Detroit. Her first short story appeared in Sassy Magazine more than twenty years ago. More recently, her short fiction was published in the spring/summer 2014 edition of The MacGuffin. Several of her 10-minute plays have been produced in theatre festivals in Michigan and California. Her first one-act play will receive a staged reading this spring. When she isn’t crafting stories or plays, Lori writes grants and other content for local nonprofits.

Final Girl working
Final Girl (Illustrator) FINAL GIRL is an anonymous Appalachian street artist.

ann goldsmith
Ann Goldsmith‘s (The Way it Really Was) second book of poems, THE SPACES BETWEEN US, appeared in April 2010. She won the Quarterly Review of Literature’s Poetry Prize for her first book, NO ONE IS THE SAME AGAIN. Goldsmith holds a doctorate from the University of Buffalo, where she taught English for ten years. She has also served on the faculties of D’Youville and St. Trocaire Colleges, and worked as Western New York Coordinator for ALPS, a statewide poetry-in-the-schools organization. She has served as poet-in-residence at the Chautauqua Institution, and taught writing at Buffalo’s Trinity Center, which granted her an Excellence in Teaching Award. Her recently completed book of poems, WAITING AT THE TURN, is looking for a publisher.

Michelle Hanlon
Michelle Hanlon (On This Day) is a compulsive list maker. Some of her favorite things: summer nights in West Texas, the first sip of coffee on a dark morning, and the Oxford comma. Her work can be seen in apt. and Burningword Literary Journal.

Brian Kamsoke
Brian Kamsoke (God of Thunder) has fiction forthcoming in New Plains Review and Night Train. His other work has appeared in FICTION, Almost Five Quarterly, REAL: Regarding Arts & Letters, Reed Magazine, Pearl, and the Flint Hills Review. He received his MFA from Wichita State University where he was awarded the 2012-2013 Creative Writing Fellowship.  He’s currently putting the finishing touches on a travel memoir while continuing work on that damn novel. This is his second installment in r.kv.r.y. quarterly.

AmandaKimmerlyPoet
Amanda Kimmerly (Deficient) is a creative writing coach, editor and owner of Polished Pear Creative Editing out of Los Angeles, California, whose fierce aim is to weave manuscripts into masterpieces for emerging writers. Her poetry can be found in Mad Hatter’s Review, Full of Crow, 3Elements Review, Pear Noir!, and Arsenic Lobster. Read her fiction at Storychord Magazine, and her blog at www.PolishedPearCreative.com, where she discusses metaphysical and practical tools for enhancing overall creative freedom. Dreaming is one of her favorite hobbies. Find her at @PortraitOfALady.

PJ Lombardo
PJ Lombardo (Crack-Cocaine) is a lunacy-advocate and omnivore from northern New Jersey, regrettably. His work has been published in, and is in the process of being published in, assorted magazines. He hopes you enjoy his poetry.

Kate McCorkle
Kate McCorkle (Laundry) works as a freelance writer and editor because life is not crazy enough with four children under eight, a husband, and a mutt from Clarksville, TN. A graduate of The College of the Holy Cross and The University of Chicago, her work has appeared in Free State Review, the Newer York, Darkhouse Books, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Crab Fat Literary Magazine, The Rain, Party, and Disaster Society, and Apiary Online. She lives outside Philadelphia with said menagerie and swims to stave off insanity.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Mitzi McMahon (Prison-Orange Bandolinos) lives in Wisconsin, near Lake Michigan, where she writes fiction and chases the light, camera in hand. Her fiction has appeared in over two dozen publications, including The Bitter Oleander, The Summerset Review, The Santa Fe Literary Review, and The Evansville Review. Her photographic work has appeared or is forthcoming in Marathon Literary Review and Apeiron Review. She holds a BA in Business.

Aidan Rooney
Aidan Rooney (The Dance) is a native of Monaghan, Ireland, resident in the U.S. since 1987. He lives in Hingham, Massachusetts and teaches at Thayer Academy.  He was awarded the Hennessy Literary Award for New Irish Poet in 1997, and his collections, Day Release (2000) and Tightrope (2007) are published by The Gallery Press in Ireland. More recently (2013), he was awarded the Daniel Varoujan Award from the New England Poetry Club. Widely published in Europe and North America, his work has appeared in various anthologies including Staying Alive (Bloodaxe) and 180 More (Random House).

David Schwartz
David Lerner Schwartz (How to End Your Marriage) lives in Austin, TX where he designs products and services for various industries and performs improv throughout the state. David graduated from Tufts University in 2013 and most recently studied at the Kenyon Writers Workshop in Gambier, OH.


“God of Thunder” by Brian Kamsoke

Damn kids! That’s what Ed yells. I say, they’re just boys, but my voice fails to rise to an equal timbre. Boys making noise, he roars. I tell him, it’s music. That’s music! Stop being a fuddy-duddy. Do you want me to tell them? Fine, I’ll talk to them, I say.

Our son plays in a rock and roll band. Okay, not a real rock and roll band – a garage band, currently our garage, with two of his high school buddies. It’s ten to ten on a Saturday night. We live in suburbia. So maybe they should think about wrapping it up.

I stand for a moment on the back deck to settle my breathing. From here I see a corner of the open garage where a shaft of white light angles onto the driveway. Tim’s best friend plays guitar. Head down, dirty blond hair spills over his shoulders, hiding his face. He doesn’t shift his gaze from the concrete floor to make eye contact with the three girls huddled by the front bumper of our aging minivan– high school groupies crooning for my son and his band. I recognize two of the girls, not the third.

I move to the shadow of the willow tree where I can see now Tim in front of the drum kit strumming his bass. I recognize the Kiss cover tune. How could I not? It’s one of the few tunes they know. Tim practices the bass line relentlessly when he’s home. God of Thunder. Eventually, I picked up the lyrics. Tim sings:

“You’ve got some-thin’ a-bout you.

“You’ve got some-thin’ I need.”

Tim’s voice has not fully developed. He wants to sing with a deep basal tone, but the words come out sounding pinched. I stifle a smile, fold my arms, and admire my son’s thick, curly black hair. His hair – it explodes like a supernova. Hair any woman would envy. Tim sings:

“Daugh-ter of Aph-ro-di-te.

“Hear my words and take heed.”

The one girl – the girl I don’t know – I see her better now. I see how she watches my son. She appears more mature than the other girls. Physically, yes – her breasts are fully formed, accentuated by a white sweater. But there’s something else – the way she stands, confident. If I had to guess, I’d say she’s smart, one of the smartest kids in school. She already has her career planned, I’m sure. She knows what she wants out of life.

I don’t think Tim knows what he wants out of life, and I think it’s better that way. How can you possibly know what you want at that age? He enjoys playing rock and roll and eventually his voice will mature. If he wants to be a rock and roller, I’m okay with that, so long as he’s happy. He sings:

“God of thun-der ­– and rock and roll.

“The spell you’re un-der.

“Will slow-ly rob you of your vir-gin soul.”

A heavy bass line kicks in here as Tim’s voice fades away from the microphone, like he’s falling down a deep well. That line – rob you of your virgin soul – bothers me. I don’t know if my son is a virgin. I know Tim and his father have had that talk. I don’t know if his father knows. I don’t know if I want to know. But by the way Tim looks at the one girl, I think I can figure it myself.

They finish the song. The three girls applaud. Two of the girls squeal, but that third girl, she just claps quietly, her eyes lock on my son; she smiles with beautiful white teeth. In the moonlight, her straight brunette hair cascades over her shoulders like a dark waterfall. I smell lilacs, or maybe it’s her perfume.

I step out of the shadows onto the driveway, clapping and calling Tim’s name. Nobody seems startled by my presence, except for Tim’s best friend, the guitarist. Always shy, he waves, and says, “Hi Mrs. Miller.”

Tim leans his black bass against the garage. As he walks toward me, my heart flutters. His steps are like royalty. In the past year, he’s grown taller than me. “What’s up?” he says.

Words catch in my throat. He’s beautiful. My son. He is. A god. A rock and roll god. Smooth skin. Not even a trace of razor stubble. And all the kindness in the world buried in those soft, brown eyes. I want to throw my arms around his neck. Hold him against me. Kiss his cheek and never let him go.

“Who’s the girl?” I say.

“Jennifer?”

“The brunette?”

He glances back at her, smiles at me, and I know. “She’s a friend,” he says.

I want to touch him. I want to reach out and grab his hand and hold it between both of mine close to my heart. But I say, “It’s getting late.”

“That was our last song. Don’t want to keep Dad up.” He smirks. He knows. There are a lot of things he knows now. A lot of things I wish he didn’t know. He knows he and his father don’t see eye-to-eye. They seem more to tolerate each other. They’ve given up trying to form a bond. That realization makes me want to cry. But more, I think he knows his father and I have fallen out of love. That’s something I always wanted to shelter him from.

He tells me he and his friends are going out. I tell him to be home by midnight and ask where they’re going. He says to Jennifer’s house. Her parents have a finished basement with a pool table. We have a basement with a workshop and power tools. He tells me they’re walking two blocks to Jennifer’s house. New to the school, she just moved to the neighborhood. This fact both surprises and calms me, knowing that my son will be close.

Tim punches the code onto the keypad and the garage door rattles and begins to drop. As a group, they move down the sidewalk, passing beneath an amber streetlight before disappearing into darkness, my son and Jennifer lagging behind amongst the whisper of cicadas.

~

Inside, a dull quietness fills the house. The only light comes from a lamp beside the recliner in the living room. Beside the chair, an empty whiskey glass. I pour a glass of Merlot and return to the back deck to sit and listen to the cicadas – the remaining audience to my son’s rock and roll show.

At one time, I thought I knew what I wanted, just like Jennifer – eighteen, nine months before Tim would arrive on the scene, when his future father pulled into my parents’ driveway to pick me up in his dad’s Ford pickup truck. His dad had built a plywood camper into the truck bed, for hunting. If my parents had seen the vehicle, they probably wouldn’t have allowed me to go. All they knew is that we were going to see Journey in concert.

But what they didn’t know – we didn’t go directly to the show. We took a back road into the state land and parked. We crawled into that makeshift camper and made love on a thin mattress over a plywood bed. Everything smelled of freshly cut wood – even Tim’s father. We rolled around on that creaky plywood bed, taking turns on top of each other. At the time, that’s all I wanted. Him. Ed.

Afterwards, we left state land and found our way to the highway. Music blaring, I pressed myself against Ed, one arm around his shoulder, the other hand in his lap. We talked about I don’t know what. We laughed about stuff – I can’t remember what – and Tim’s father drove fast, with one hand on the wheel and the other rubbing my thigh, so roughly he rubbed my leg it later left a purple bruise. We followed our headlights down a black highway.

When we arrived in the parking lot and exited the truck, Ed stood dumbfounded staring at the empty truck bed. The plywood camper, we learned later, had never been properly secured. At high speeds on the highway, it must have blown off somewhere. We had never known. Never heard it rip from the back bed and crash onto the road.

I started to laugh, and then Ed laughed, and we hugged each other and kissed and laughed some more until we had tears in our eyes, because nothing really seemed to matter at that time, nothing seemed more important than the two of us.

~

I finish my glass of wine, and I’m nearly lulled to sleep by the relentless cicadas when the door to the deck slides open and Ed steps out. He wears powder blue pajama bottoms and a white tee shirt. His hair is disheveled and he needs a shave. He sits in the chair next to me. He’s barefoot. “What?” he says, noticing I’m staring.

“I was just coming to bed,” I say. “I was listening to the cicadas.”

He grunts, scratches his inner thigh, and peers at the half moon hung over the neighbor’s roof. His face, I notice it more now – heavier, more full, weightier, yes, but something else. His face, it seems, carries a quiet anger. “Tim in bed?”

“He’s with his girlfriend,” I say.

His expression doesn’t change. “He has a girlfriend?”

“I think,” I say. “Her name is Jennifer. She just moved to the neighborhood. That’s where they are – her basement playing pool with friends.”

“Oh.” He leans back and rests his palms on his thighs. Ed’s hands look too large for his body – big and beefy with fingers like sausage links. I know, I’m pretty sure, his work causes his hands to swell – the constant drilling, hammering, pounding. Ed’s a hard worker – that I’ve never doubted. He massages his right hand between the thumb and pointer finger. I catch him doing this more often, and this time, now, for the first time, I take his hand in mine and continue the gentle massage with my thumb. Ed turns toward me, appearing sleepier than surprised, then looks back at the moon.

“Remember that plywood camper of your dad’s?” I say.

Ed chortles, though it sounds more like a grunt. “Whatever made you think of that?”

I set Ed’s hand in my lap and cover it with my own. “I just was,” I say.

His hand stays motionless like a dumb, cold brick while I rub his knuckles with the tips of my fingers. Sometimes, I think I try too hard. Sometimes, I think I’m trying more for Tim than for myself. Then, he says, “A girlfriend, huh.”

I say, “Yep.”

“Hmm,” and I feel his fingers move in my lap, ever-so slightly, like life awakening.

The cicadas sing louder. The moon shines brighter behind a vapory veil. My heart, I feel it beating. I feel it beating so fast and heavy, I feel it breaking.

~

When Ed sleeps on his back, he snores. When he has one too many highballs, he snores, and after sex, he snores. Tonight, he’s got two of three going for him. As I ease out of bed, the digital clock on the nightstand reads 3:10. I pull on a pair of sweatpants and nightshirt, and carefully close the bedroom door behind me.

After using the toilet, I gingerly step down the carpeted hallway to peer into Tim’s room. Curled in the fetal position he looks suddenly small to me. Then, in the moonlight splashed across his bed, I see that’s not my son! A stranger sleeps in his bed. I take a step closer, holding my breath, and realize it’s Jennifer. But no Tim.

In the living room I find Tim sprawled on the couch. He sleeps on his stomach, one arm hanging over the side, his knuckles on the carpet. His bare back, I have to look closely to witness the gentle rise and fall of his quiet breathing. His bare back, it captivates me in the moonlight-filled room, its eloquent grace.

In the kitchen I turn on the light over the sink, take a cup from the cupboard, and as I’m rinsing out the inside I hear my name. “Hello, Mrs. Miller.” I spin quickly around and discover Jennifer standing in the doorway.

She wears the same clothes she wore earlier in the night. They look slept-in. The end of her hair frizzes with static electricity. She’s hugging herself, her arms crossed over her chest. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you.”

“I just wasn’t expecting someone,” I say. Then to clarify, I say, “I wasn’t expecting to see you.”

Jennifer takes a seat at the kitchen table, and she appears to me now much less confident and self-assured as she appeared standing in my driveway watching my son’s rock and roll band. I stand by the table, cradling the empty cup in the palm of my hand. “What are you doing here?”

She hugs herself tighter. Looking first at the floor and then to me, she says, “My parents, they argue a lot.”

“Oh,” I say, because I don’t know what else to say.

“Tim said it would be okay for me to spend the night.”

“I guess that’s alright,” I say. “Would you like some hot cocoa? I was just going to make some.”

“That would be very nice. Thank you.”

I fill the cup with water and place it into the microwave to heat. I feel a strange sense of anticipation in this rather intimate opportunity to speak with and get to know this girl so smitten with my son. I stir cocoa into the hot water, and when I turn back, Tim stands in the doorway wearing only his checkered boxer shorts.

I must have gasped, for even Jennifer glanced my way before returning her gaze to Tim. My son. He is. Beautiful. He is. A god. He crosses the kitchen, and their eyes never part. He places his hand on the back of her neck. My son, he has a look of supremacy, but not arrogance. He shows mercy and great tenderness. Jennifer, she sits peering up at him like the supplicant servant.

I’m not sure how to decipher this scene. I’m overwhelmed with pride for my son, yet with Jennifer, I fear for her well being. Not that Tim would ever intentionally hurt her. But I’m wondering – is this love I’m seeing before me, or something else? And if it is love, are they ready for it?

I place the steaming cup of cocoa on the table in front of Jennifer and take a seat opposite her. As I begin talking, Tim remains standing by Jennifer’s side. I find this disconcerting, so I tell him to sit down, which he does. I ask Jennifer if her parents know where she is. She hesitates then shakes her head. I tell them I don’t want anybody staying overnight at my house without permission. I tell Jennifer she is to call her parents first thing in the morning. I tell her I want her home phone number, too. “What if they’ve called the police?” I say.

Jennifer shakes her head again, looks me directly in the eye. A sense of surrender surrounds her. “They won’t call the police,” she says.

Tim reaches across the table to hold Jennifer’s hand. I want to cry, but I’m able to maintain my composure. “You’re sleeping on the couch,” I say, and I realize my tone and inflection makes it sound more like a question than the command intended. Nonetheless, Tim nods.

We continue sitting and talking. Mostly, I ask questions. Jennifer shares a little about her parents. They don’t sound like bad people or bad parents. They sound like a married couple that argues from time to time. Jennifer and Tim – they’re at that age of hypersensitivity to the world around them. They don’t understand love. Love is not always a given, and it’s not always the Holy Grail. It’s not always constant in its intensity. That thought – love is not always constant in its intensity – makes me pause, and an awkward silence ensues.

Yes, of course.

As Jennifer finishes the last of her hot cocoa, I realize I never made a cup for myself. Strange, but I suddenly feel like the uninvited guest in my own kitchen. I remind Tim again about staying on the couch. I tell them both to get some sleep. I’m tired, too, but I know I won’t sleep. In another hour, dawn will break.

I exit the kitchen and then hesitate in the hallway leaving the two of them alone. But I have to trust them.

In the bedroom, Ed now sleeps on his side; a hollow wheezing has replaced the rancorous snoring. As I ease under the covers, the wheezing stops and I know I’ve woken him. My mind – it flits back to that wild ride from the state land to the concert, the highway mile markers appearing in the truck headlight beams then disappearing in the dark in endless succession. Our life seems to have been that way ever since. Non-stop. How I wish we could slow down. How I wish, at times, we could even turn around. Go back. I curl up behind Ed and press my nose against his neck. Ed reaches back and rests his hand on my knee. His thumb stirs the delicious scent of plywood.

 

 

Brian Kamsoke has fiction forthcoming in New Plains Review and Night Train. His other work has appeared in FICTION, Almost Five Quarterly, REAL: Regarding Arts & Letters, Reed Magazine, Pearl, and the Flint Hills Review. He received his MFA from Wichita State University where he was awarded the 2012-2013 Creative Writing Fellowship.  He’s currently putting the finishing touches on a travel memoir while continuing work on that damn novel. This is his second installment in r.kv.r.y. quarterly.