“Torn” by C. Dale Young

cow skull
“Cow Skull,” Image by Jenn Rhubright

There was the knife and the broken syringe
then the needle in my hand, the Tru-Cut
followed by the night-blue suture.

The wall behind registration listed a man
with his face open. Through the glass doors,
I saw the sky going blue to black as it had

24 hours earlier when I last stood there gazing off
into space, into the nothingness of that town.
Bat to the head. Knife to the face. They tore

down the boy in an alleyway, the broken syringe
skittering across the sidewalk. No concussion.
But the face torn open, the blood congealed

and crusted along his cheek. Stitch up the faggot
in bed 6
is all the ER doctor had said.
Queasy from the lack of sleep, I steadied

my hands as best I could after cleaning up
the dried blood. There was the needle
and the night-blue suture trailing behind it.

There was the flesh torn and the skin open.
I sat there and threw stitch after stitch
trying to put him back together again.

When the tears ran down his face,
I prayed it was a result of my work
and not the work of the men in the alley.

Even though I knew there were others to be seen,
I sat there and slowly threw each stitch.
There were always others to be seen. There was

always the bat and the knife. I said nothing,
and the tears kept welling in his eyes.
And even though I was told to be “quick and dirty,”

told to spend less than 20 minutes, I sat there
for over an hour closing the wound so that each edge
met its opposing match. I wanted him

to be beautiful again. Stitch up the faggot in bed 6.
Each suture thrown reminded me I would never be safe
in that town. There would always be the bat

and the knife, always a fool willing to tear me open
to see the dirty faggot inside. And when they
came in drunk or high with their own wounds,

when they bragged about their scuffles with the knife
and that other world of men, I sat there and sutured.
I sat there like an old woman and sewed them up.

Stitch after stitch, the slender exactness of my fingers
attempted perfection. I sat there and sewed them up.

 

 

C. Dale Young practices medicine full-time, serves as Poetry Editor of the New England Review, and teaches in the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers. He is the author of The Day Underneath the Day (TriQuarterlyBooks, 2001), The Second Person (Four Way Books, 2007), and Torn (Four Way Books, 2011). He is a previous winner of the Grolier Prize, the Tennessee Williams Scholarship in Poetry from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, both the Stanley P. Young Fellowship and Amanda Davis Fellowship from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. His poems have appeared in The Best American Poetry, Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation, Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century, American Poetry Review, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, and Poetry. He lives in San Francisco with his spouse the biologist and composer, Jacob Bertrand.

“Torn” from TORN (c) 2011 by C. Dale Young. Reprinted by permission of Four Way Books. All rights reserved. Read our review of TORN here.

 

“Carrying the Day” by Sylvia Hoffmire

Carrying th Day
Image by Jenn Rhubright

I know the sun was shining that day or I wouldn’t have been hanging sheets on the line to dry.

I know it was hot, or I wouldn’t have put him in his playpen bare as birth to take the sun and ward off diaper rash the way my mother said I should. And I know a light breeze blew because my hair, fresh washed and lemon rinsed trailed across my face so that even now the smell of lemon calls up memories I’d rather lock away.

It’s all there, much as it is today though years have passed. The house in need of paint, still or again, the back steps sagging toward the middle. But remembering, it’s like I’m looking through smoked glass, the kind people use to watch an eclipse. And nothing moves. The lithographed tree in the center of the yard pins the sky in place so that the earth can push the horizon to its furthest limit. The laundry on the line hangs straight and smooth, as if tethered to the ground by invisible wires. No color in anything, from the baby’s toy lying in the stiff grass to the sullen sky.

And I’m there. One hand inside my apron pocket clasping a clothespin, the other tethering a pillowcase to the line as I turn to check on the baby. His hands are folded over the rail to pull up. He’s laughing. But I can’t hear his laugh. Nor see the child who’s running towards us from across the street.

I’m back to pinning clothes on the line when I hear the blow, the sound of a hard object striking something solid but softer. I’m back to pinning clothes on the line when I hear the blow and the sharp cry, then silence. A silence that flows outward from that moment to this, a silence that has lasted for all these years as I see myself slowly turning from my task that day. The picture, like the silence, never changes. The child beside the playpen, one step back from it, the baseball bat resting on his shoulder, his gaze directed downward, into the place where my baby lay. And then color appears for the first time, the only time in that picture. A crimson pool spreading out beneath my baby’s head. Those are the last sharp pictures for a while.

After that it’s all sound and motion and touch. A scream I know is my scream, a rush of movement that I know is the child with the bat leaving, the flow of air past my own face that I know is from me running and running, the warmth that is my baby held against my breast, his face pressed into the curve of my neck like so many times before but this time the dampness at my breast is not my milk.

They flew me and my baby to Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York. Just me and him, my husband unable to get away. He held his business to his breast while I clasped our baby to mine. I held him as closely as I could, him strapped to a board, umbilicled by needles and tubes. When he died, minutes after we got to the hospital, I made them take him off that board and give him back to me. I wouldn’t let them put him in a box. I carried him home on another airplane, in my arms. I’m not sure why they let me, but they did.

When I got to the airport back home, I found a taxi and gave the driver my address. Things were clear to me then. Clearer than before or since. The sky was bleached again by an invisible sun. It was dinnertime, when husbands came home from work to take the noon meal with their families, when children were called in from play to wash their hands, say grace, and fill their empty plates. I didn’t knock.

I walked into their house, crossed through their living room and into the dining room without hesitation. They looked up at me, surprised I could tell. The child pushed his chair away from the table as if he knew he needed to be ready. I walked straight to him and laid my dead baby in his waiting arms. I drew the blanket back so that he could see my son’s gray, pinched face. The mother gasped, the father lurched to his feet, the crashing of his chair an explosion in that still room.

The mother said, “He didn’t know what he was doing.”

And I said, “He knows now.”

When I took my baby back, I went across the street to my own house where I waited in the rocker by the window until my husband came and called the funeral home. I let him go, knowing even then that I would be pressed backward into this memory more times than I would find the strength to resist.

The child’s family moved away soon after, an act of mercy. We stayed on, my husband’s view being that strength comes from confronting fears and loss. My husband’s view being that to turn away from anything unpleasant is to admit a lack of courage. I am not courageous. I struggle to achieve an inner blindness, an ability to turn my inner gaze away while outwardly I seem to look straight on. I fail, time and again.

Behind me now my husband sits at the table, stirs his tea with lemon freshly squeezed.

“What do you see out there?” he asks.

I turn to look at him. His eyes and hands are busy with his plate and fork, his buttered roll. His glance flickers in my direction but doesn’t quite reach. I watch him rearrange the napkin in his lap, open the newspaper that he likes to fold a certain way so that it fits the space beside his plate. There is just enough room.

“The neighbors’ dogs have gotten at the garbage cans again,” I say.

I think I hear him sigh as he adjusts the folds on his newspaper, chews each bite carefully. I push the screen door open and hear it slap shut behind me. I wonder if he notices, if it occurs to him that I might not be coming back.

 

 

Sylvia Hoffmire earned her undergraduate degree in theatre and creative writing. She founded Youtheatre, a children’s theatre organization and has published with Baker Plays, staging and producing many performances. She received numerous grants to support writing projects, most notably an NBC Writing Residency grant, one of only sixteen awarded nationwide. She has also received grant support from the North Carolina Humanities and Arts Councils for a variety of projects, including a collection of short stories based on oral histories she collected in the Piedmont region titled Thoughts of Another Day. She is a graduate of the Queens University of CharIotte MFA program and serves on the faculty at Pfeiffer University teaching Creative Writing and directing their Cultural Program.

Read our interview with Sylvia here.

 

“Traces in the Winter Sky” by Doug Bond

Traces
Image by Jenn Rhubright

Tyler steadied himself alongside the enormous Cypress that bordered the open space across from his house and reached down to unleash the dog.

A chilly wind rising up from the bluffs set the branches creaking overhead as it also lit up the wind chimes his wife had arranged on the gazebo back behind the garden. Exhaling slowly and deeply, Tyler settled his back against the saddle of the tree’s broad trunk and let it all go.

The fight had been silly, he knew. Absurd, even, tangling with her about whether to change the way the Christmas lights would be hung. Couldn’t she just let some things stay the same? Her tone had been sharp edged, even taunting, the way she abruptly clipped the leash and dropped it in his hand, all but pushing him out the door. The flares had come to feel like more than just the bickering of long married people, and he resented it: a disembodied voice and that inflection of disinterest. It pulled at him, the shift and weight of dependency, and Tyler tromped his feet heavily on the wood chips for a few steps as if to shake himself back. The Lab pulled up beside him misreading the cue, and Tyler lowered to pat his head and then released him away again.

As he listened to the jingle of the dog’s tags mixing with the wind and lilting chimes, Tyler let himself drift back into memories and /images long gone. The face of a girl and a first kiss, a December night like this one almost fifty years ago. His brain clouded from the distance and compression of so much time. He remembered the way her skin had smelled sharply of astringent, and the brightness that had come into her eyes when he looped her in his arms.

They had snuck out of the Christmas concert and tucked themselves back for a smoke behind the orchestra room door. Jenny had unbolted it from the top and gave it a kick, sending smoke up past the glowing red exit sign, her hair braided and whirling. When he looked up at the sky and counted out the three stars on Orion’s Belt, Jenny pointed to the lowest one, told him it was actually two, rotating so close together they seemed like one. It was the first time Tyler had heard her talk of stars.

Hers was the kind of mind that had wrapped easily around numbers. Back then he would go into a trance when Jenny gave voice to the elegant geometry of the constellations, to the sound of words like Trapezium, the star cluster deep inside the Orion Nebula, the dim edge of the sword falling below The Hunter’s Belt. They had spent hours together staring up into dark and white speckled skies through her father’s old telescope, so dim and weak they had called it The Night Glass.

A sudden commotion of collar tags and rustling shrub leaves lifted Tyler off the Cypress trunk. He remembered that he’d promised he would not be gone long. Shaking the leash in both hands he called for the black dog who came quickly padding towards him in the wet grass. Together they tracked towards home with the leash pulling, straight and angled.

Watching as Tyler came up the walk, she stood in the parted curtains of the front window, backlit by the dining room lamps. She was outlined sharply in the window frame, but no matter the light, he could not see her. By the time Tyler stopped at the door, she had it opened, waiting. He reached out and brushed his hand across her forehead, then slowly his fingers along the bridge of her nose, onto her lips and into her hair, which lay now short about the crease of her neckline. When she opened her mouth to speak, he felt it and gently shushed her, turning to draw his eyes up again towards where he knew it should be, Betelgeuse, and the long line from the Hunter’s foot to the shoulder. She took Tyler’s hand and helped him trace it, crossing straight through the Belt’s three stars and then the further distance to Rigel, the one she said that burns brighter than all the others.

 

 

Doug Bond has endured life in Manhattan and along the Western fault lines, most recently in San Francisco. His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Used Furniture Review, Necessary Fiction, Mad Hatters’ Review, Metazen, and Wilderness House Literary Review. Additional written words of his and links to social media can be found here: www.dougbond.me

Read our interview with Doug here.

 

Review of TORN by C. Dale Young

TORN
by C. Dale Young
Four Way Books
March 2011
85 pages

In TORN, C. Dale Young’s most recent book of poetry, he continues to explore the themes of human frailty, both physical and spiritual, of love and passion, and of tenderness and cruelty.

The poems in this collection beautifully express the irony of the human craving for precision and accuracy—particularly in the field of medicine and in the realm of love—and the unfortunate and inherent fallibility of both. Often Young employs repetition of a word or a phrase, guiding the reader toward understanding by modifying the context each time the word or phrase appears. This repetition also serves to deliver a sense of urgency to the cadence of the poem and the meaning of the whole.

In fact, the very organization of the collection pulls the reader forward through the book, as if moving through a life. Its sections call to mind Blake’s Songs of  Innocence and Experience.

Section I opens the book, delivering the reader into a world of heady innocence, of childhood desire on the edge of understanding, of love just beginning. Consider these exuberant lines from the poem “The Bridge”:

“And I love fountain pens. I mean
I just love them. Cleaning them,
filling them with ink, fills me
with a kind of joy, even if joy

is so 1950. I know, no one talks about
joy anymore. It is even more taboo
than love. And so, of course, I love joy.
I love the way joy sounds as it exits

your mouth. You know, the word joy.
How joyous is that. It makes me think
of bubbles, chandeliers, dandelions.” (25, 26)

By the time the reader reaches Section II, the perils of Knowledge (with a capital K) come to the fore as Young explores the human tendency toward doubt and sin. The poem “The Seventh Circle” expresses it thusly:

“Did Michelangelo dream of hell
while he manipulated shadows
in an attempt to show us heaven?
Did he betray himself with his hands

that admired the strength of other men’s hands?
If he did, we have forgotten.
Yes. Here we see the luxuries of heaven,
the bodies clothed only in light
languishing above painted shadows
that separate these glories from hell.

There will be no Cerberus in our circle of hell,
we are told, only hundreds of swaying hands
reaching up from even darker shadows.” (46, 47)

And finally, section III brings the reader forward, into a world of post-experience, of regret, judgment, and fallibility, and even a weary sort of forgiveness. Consider the following lines from “Self-Portrait at 4 AM”:

“…The mirror

is of no use. It lies, dirty and spattered
with toothpaste and beard stubble and crud.
It lies. That man staring at me is not my friend.

That man wants to hurt me. He has
hurt me before. I have hurt myself.” (72, 73)

In TORN, his third collection of diverse and beautiful poems, C. Dale Young has given his readers a celebration, a gorgeous lamentation, and an attempt, as the surgeon in the title poem tells us with despair, at perfection. And here, Young has come as close to that ideal as fallible words and human hands can.

“Untitled” by Sarah Voss

untitled
Image by Jenn Rhubright

Old man futility is hovering
over my shoulder again. My third eye
catches him fiddling with my inner ear.

As always he looks strong, invincible
but hides his face. Let me in, he pleads.
It’ll feel familiar, comfortable.

My mother housed him most of her life.
Then he discovered me and I lugged him
around for years as if I had no choice.

One day I found my daughter holding him
tight, like a lover. I watched, weeping,
while he tried to wreck her self esteem,

mangle her mind. An old soul though, she
prevailed. I call her to let her know
he’s back. I share what he’s whispering.

She’s quicker than I, this daughter. Tell him
he’s lying, Mother. Familiar maybe, but
comfortable? Tell him he’s lying, Mom.

My voice gains power as I practice. Liar,
I yell. Liar. Liar. I spit on his feet, a first
for me, and he slinks off, skunked.

 

 

Sarah Voss’s poetry has appeared in literary journals including Writers’ Journal, The Mid-America Poetry Review, Thema, Earth’s Daughters, Ellipsis, Porcelain Toad, Plainsongs, and Whole Notes, and in several anthologies including Nebraska Presence: An Anthology of Poetry; Times of Sorrow, Times of Grace: Writing by Women of the Great Plains/High Plains. Her three published books, including What Number Is God?, all contain a smidgen of her poetry. She is a past contributor to r.k.v.r.y. (“Backbone” Spring 2008)

Read our interview with Sarah here.

 

“I Nearly Lost You There” by Erin McReynolds


Image by Jenn Rhubright

A Close Call

Twilight, and things gold seconds ago have gone blue and hard to see.

I’m barefoot and running towards the front door of your place. Parked the car in the alley behind your building and ran. No one can get by. The car is still running and I am running to the door. Grandma called me as soon as you hung up with her. She said you and he were fighting and that she could hear Junior in the background, calm, placating. I bought her all this wine! he yelled so that Grandma could hear, over the phone lines that stretch up the interstate, alive and quivering slightly in the pink of the setting sun. On the phone, you told your mother not to worry. But you whispered it. She called me immediately. It doesn’t sound right. I left without shoes, drove fast and prayed for no cops. Then prayed for cops. Here now, the door gives way easily, it’s ajar and the dog doesn’t come to greet me. The living room and kitchen are empty. The only other room in the condo is your bedroom. The door wide is open. I tiptoe to it and his back is to me. The TV is on. I see it in the mirror behind your bed. An action film. Someone screams and a machine gun rapidfires bullets. Junior sees me behind him in the mirror and spins around. He has a steak knife in his hand. He’s a middle-aged boy, a cherubic face gone pale, eyes wide. The TV shrieks with bombs. Get out, I say, but I can’t be sure. I am not speaking but sound is coming through me. He sputters and turns to look at you, on the bed. Your hand is clasped to your ear. My right. Your left. You are coughing and with each convulsion, a thin jet of blood shoots into the air. I’m Sorry, you say, breathless and falling backwards. I shove him out of the way and am by your side, ripping the pillowcase into a strip and tying it around your neck. When your hand falls away, limp, I see a half a dozen small holes, and one big one, a heaving gill in your neck. Just a papercut, but for all this blood. I yank the knot tight against it. In minutes, your brain could die but you will keep your blood. Keep it all inside, I say. Keep it all inside, Mom. My hands flip open the phone, drop it, pick it up. Sirens wail on the television. I push four buttons, swear, hang up, and push three. Concentrate hard on the green button so I don’t miss it again. The time on the screen is still the same as it was on the dashboard clock when I pulled up outside: seven-fifteen. The hospital is at the bottom of the hill. I don’t let the operator finish. Sounds are made and I don’t know what they are. I only know Please and Hurry.


Let’s Do Better

The sun takes its time. A quarter to seven and the ocean and clouds are still sprayed violent pink. The shadows grow longer on the drive up the hill to your house. My boyfriend is with me. We were going to go to the fair. Devo is playing with the Psychedelic Furs. They’re too old to be good anymore, we reasoned as we drove away, even though we had been excited about going. We left because in the parking lot I’d had a feeling. I called you and you didn’t answer. That is, Junior didn’t; you don’t answer the phone anymore, and you confessed why, just last week when you got away from him for a while. He won’t let you answer it. Still, you’re both always home. And I had this feeling. How close we are, every second, to losing everything. We pull into a parking space near your door. Children are shouting from the pool in the courtyard and the stucco condos are pink and getting pinker with the setting sun. As we near the door, Chloe bursts out and stretches her long terrier legs against our thighs, bowing her back in a half stretch, half greeting. You are in the kitchen, chopping onions. I smell burning coals. You are sniffling, and you turn, surprised. Your face is swollen. You drop the knife and throw your arms around me, and I smell oxidized red wine, cigarette smoke, and cilantro. I put my face in your neck. You are an inch shorter than me. I can fold you into me completely. I whisper in your ear, Are you okay? He comes out from the bedroom, where he has been lighting the grill on the patio. Oh, hello there, he says. We’re about to have fajitas, you want to stay? You sniffle into my shoulder. No, I say. Mom’s coming home with me. I tell my boyfriend to get Chloe’s leash. He pats his legs and Chloe goes to him, her tail between her legs. Junior laughs. Why are you going, Deb? I got the grill started. He explains, She’s mad even though I bought her three bottles of wine at Trader Joe’s and I cleaned this whole place, you should have seen it before, and we rented some movies so I don’t know what she said but you know what, if you want to go, Deb, fine, I won’t stop you. Just can you come here a second? Can you come talk to me? But you push off of me and fly at him, jamming your little finger in his chest and saying, No moreyou are controlling and manipulative and I want you out. Now. My boyfriend has the dog on the leash and he says, Let’s just go. The words surprise me, coming from him. They seem to surprise him, too. We four adults look at each other. I tell Junior, We’ll talk tomorrow. I think the best thing now is to just go and get some space for a while. Fine, Deb, he says, still looking at you. You go get some fucking space. He follows us to the car, taunting. You struggle against me, wanting to fight him some more. No, I tell you, wrestling you into the back seat where the dog is shivering, her tail coiled tightly around her legs. She nervously licks your face as I close the door. My boyfriend refuses to get in the car until I do, but I have one more thing left to do before we leave. I turn to face Junior.

 

Just Missed You

The sun sinks into the ocean while we wait for the locksmith in the parking lot. He shows up with a toolkit and I make some noise about forgetting my key at work and how you’re out of town. I show my driver’s license with this address on it. Satisfied, he jimmies the door. It is dark and cool inside. The blinds are down, which has been driving me nuts for two days. I got a message from Grandma as I was leaving the fair the other night, that she was worried about a fight you and Junior were having while she was on the phone with you. I went down that night but no one answered. Your car was gone—is still gone—and so is the dog. The dog goes everywhere with you. Glen, the drunk next door, told me that night you two often go to San Onofre or the desert to dry out. I’d called all the campgrounds. Where have you gone? The house is clean and still. Unusual. I used to live here, right here in this living room, but I feel like a sneak. A snoop. The door to your bedroom is closed. I pause before opening it. Nothing happens. I send my boyfriend to the bathroom to investigate and I open the vertical blinds that have kept me from seeing in for the last couple of visits, where I stood on the patio with Glen last night, trying to wrest the sliding door off its track. Long shafts of sulfuric streetlight stripe the bed, which is piled with covers and pillows. A duffel bag. Bingo. I pull the duffel bag towards me and there is a hand. Your hand hangs there, dumb and graceful, palm down. Pink. Brown fingers. A thundering boom from somewhere, everywhere, as if something open has been slammed shut. Sudden, awful tenderness follows.

No, I tell the hand. It stays, so I say it again, harder. No. It will not listen.

Louder now.

No.

I bare my teeth. It does not flinch.

Arms are pulling me backwards, away from the hand. I lean forward with all that I’ve got, barking, barking, barking. And then a howl.

 

Let’s Try Again

I wait outside the front door, which is half open. Inside, in the kitchen, you and he are in an embrace. You drop the phone on the counter and cross your wrists at his back. You are so small inside his arms that I cannot see you. A broken glass is on the floor, red wine spilling out of it, staining the terra cotta tiles. I turn away and let you be.

 

 

Erin McReynolds has an MFA in Writing from Queens University of Charlotte, NC. Excerpts from her in-progress memoir have also appeared in The North American Review and Prime Number. She lives in Austin, TX, where she writes and edits for the Fearless Critic restaurant guides, and blogs about food writing, waitressing, wine, and trauma.

Read our interview with Erin here.

 

“The Haircut” by Cezarija Abartis

Haircut
Image by Jenn Rhubright

She had a serpent tattooed on her left bicep and below her collarbone the red emblem from  “The Queen of Pain,” which, she explained, was a song by The Alkaline Trio.

He was having his hair cut at the beauty school, where  she was studying to be a stylist. His daughter would be about her age. He’d been grinding his teeth in his sleep the past two nights. His jaw hurt.

“Your hair is very healthy,” Shawna said. She fanned it out at the sides.

“Thank you,” he said, but he did not know if that was the right response. He wondered if her parents liked those tattoos.

“We’re all the same.” She looked around at the customers and the stylists and tapped her comb in her hand. “I wanted to be different. I wanted to study art at the Chicago Art Institute.” She combed his hair and parted it into sections.

“That’s got to be expensive. Maybe an art school in Minneapolis?” He massaged his jaw. “My daughter studied art.”

“The Art Institute costs thousands of dollars.” Shawna pulled on the bottom of her shirt as if it were sticking to her, but the room was air-conditioned. “I told myself that I don’t need a piece of paper saying I’m an artist.” She put clips in his hair. “I can just make my art.”

He and his daughter argued about communication, how they couldn’t talk. Shawna had disclosed so much about herself that he felt he should tell her about himself. “A long time ago, I studied art–commercial art, not fine art. But I stopped when I saw I couldn’t be as good an artist as I wanted to be.”

She laughed. “No wonder–with an attitude like that.” She seemed unafraid to be direct. Her eyes were honest.

“I’m an English teacher now. I teach at Bishop High School.” His daughter had objected to going to the same school, being the daughter of a teacher, but in college, she was fine.

Shawna picked up the scissors. “I loved English. I had a teacher who hated me. I wasn’t disrespectful, never skipped class, but she was always giving me detention. She blamed me when someone stole my book.” Shawna snipped the hair in back lightly. “I had to pay for it.”

“You probably reminded her of someone she hated or someone she loved once.” He bowed his head down. His jaw ached. “It was not your fault.”

“One good thing came out of it: I enrolled in the skills program, where you go to school only two-and-a-half  hours a day and work on your own for the rest of the day. I loved that. So I guess I got one good thing out of her.” Her scissors worked on the right side of his face. “Is this your first time here?”

“My regular barber is out of town, and I had to get a haircut.” Mostly it was women here, but there was one college-age kid at the station at the end.

“A special occasion?”

“Yes.”

Shawna told him that her brother had a full scholarship at the technical college, but he went two weeks and stopped going. She just hoped he would get a job. Their house was in foreclosure. Her mother broke up with her boyfriend. “She always picks losers. This one was an alcoholic. She woke up in the middle of the night, and he was sitting in a chair with a gun in his lap. That scared her. But with him gone, she can’t pay the mortgage. She’s been in bankruptcy once already. It’ll ruin her credit rating.”

“That happened to my brother-in-law.” He bent his head forward, so she could shave his neck. He felt only slightly dizzy, considering how little sleep he had gotten.

She fluffed his hair out and turned his chair to the mirror. “How do you like it?”

“Fine, fine.” But no, it was not fine. His daughter was the same age as Shawna. He wanted to tell her.

She smiled into the mirror, her eyes open and leaf-colored. “What’s the occasion?”

He could not catch his breath. “A funeral.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.” She put the comb down and stepped back. She cupped one hand in the other and waited.

“My daughter. She died. A car accident.” He poured out Miranda’s whole life, her aspirations and virtues and death. “When she was little she wanted to be an astronaut. Her teachers loved her. She painted with acrylics and sang in the school chorus. We used to fight. We were almost to the end of the fighting stage.” The chair tilted. He felt stones in his throat. He remembered her voice. The cold air pierced his lungs. He wiped his eyes with his handkerchief.

She watched quietly and nodded as though she understood.

 

 

Cezarija Abartis’ Nice Girls and Other Stories was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in Brain Harvest, Underground Voices, Liquid Imagination, Story Quarterly, and New York Tyrant (which also gave her story The Lidano Fiction Award). Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University.

Read our interview with Cezarija here.

“The Autobiography of Miss Jane Doe” by Jude Marr


Image by Jenn Rhubright

Archaeology rescued J. Doe’s remains
from a re-zoned potter’s field, before the backhoes
flattened clods into the basis for a co-ed dorm—

dirt-rain muck-churned mud-red on midwife’s boot sheet-reek and mama dyed at my
first wake

Pathology measured Doe at fifty-seven inches,
and an estimated twenty years. Her diseased joints,
her skull’s deformity, screamed tertiary syphilis—

my Rory my beau lost at sea Rory raw and bonny rest his soul Rory made May maid
no more

History judged, from the situation of the grave
and the condition of the bones, that Jane Doe must have lived
a whore, before post-Reconstruction’s Gilded Age—

pa traded me for meat plucked fowl blood sausage mutton rare sweet not spoiled not like pa’s wee May

Women’s Studies gave Ms Doe more shape: urban-slum child,
further pauperized by gender; tender cherry-
flesh broken/sold/assaulted by misogyny; a face made hideous by pox—

nor bairn’s nor women’s sickness dosed with mercury I shrink from sticks and staines from stink from me

Art played with Jane. Art digitized her skull, repaired
the syphilitic parts, layered virtual clay. Maybe J’s
reconstructed face, her blunt unwholesomeness, failed to inspire;
still, Art clicked SAVE—

tenement bed-wretched breath blood coughed consumption they say can’t wake May

Meanwhile, Buildings and Grounds scheduled another hole
(fifty-seven inches—four-foot-nine) and re-buried
Unidentified Human Remains, Female #63.

dirt-rain muck-churned mud-red on digger’s boot who says amen wakes me wakes May

Moral Philosophy may plant a cherry tree at her feet.

 

 

Jude Marr was born in Scotland and has lived for many years in England, but always with the United States on her mind and in her work. In the last two years, she has traveled to workshops and residencies in New England, New York and Florida. Right now, she is folding up her old life and putting it in a drawer with her winter clothes, getting ready for the new school year as an MFA candidate at Georgia College in Milledgeville. Her poems have also appeared in The Cortland Review, and she recently completed a novel she hopes may see the light someday. She is fifty-two years old and feels like her life just got started. Dreams can come true.

Read an interview with Jude here.

 

“Sepsis” by C. Dale Young

Tree in mist
Image by Jenn Rhubright

The fog has yet to lift, God, and still the bustle
of buses and garbage trucks. God, I have coveted
sleep. I have wished to find an empty bed

in the hospital while on call. I have placed
my bodily needs first, left nurses to do
what I should have done. And so, the antibiotics

sat on the counter. They sat on the counter
under incandescent lights. No needle was placed
in the woman’s arm. No IV was started. It sat there

on the counter waiting. I have coveted sleep, God,
and the toxins I studied in Bacteriology took hold
of Your servant. When the blood flowered

beneath her skin, I shocked her, placed the paddles
on her chest, her dying body convulsing each time.
The antibiotics sat on the counter, and shame

colored my face, the blood pooling in my cheeks
like heat. And outside, the stars continued falling
into place. And the owl kept talking without listening.

And the wind kept sweeping the streets clean.
And the heart in my chest stayed silent.
How could I have known that I would never forget,

that early some mornings, in the waking time,
the fog still filling the avenues, that the image
of her body clothed in sweat would find me?

I have disobeyed my Oath. I have caused harm.
I have failed the preacher from the Baptist Church.
Dear God, how does a sinner outlast the sin?

 

 

C. Dale Young practices medicine full-time, serves as Poetry Editor of the New England Review, and teaches in the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers. He is the author of The Day Underneath the Day (TriQuarterlyBooks, 2001), The Second Person (Four Way Books, 2007), and Torn (Four Way Books, 2011). He is a previous winner of the Grolier Prize, the Tennessee Williams Scholarship in Poetry from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, both the Stanley P. Young Fellowship and Amanda Davis Fellowship from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. His poems have appeared in The Best American Poetry, Asian American Poetry: The Next Generation, Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century, American Poetry Review, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, and Poetry. He lives in San Francisco with his spouse the biologist and composer, Jacob Bertrand.

“Sepsis” from TORN (c) 2011 by C. Dale Young. Reprinted by permission of Four Way Books. All rights reserved. Read our review of TORN here.

 

“Bearing Down” by Brian Hall

Old gas pumps
Image by Jenn Rhubright

A month before my grandfather committed suicide, I drove him to Russ’ Auto Repair in Canton, Ohio, for his Cadillac to be fitted with a left-foot accelerator.

He couldn’t use his right leg because of a recent hip replacement. A prosthesis was installed to help support the weight of his body, which at 280 was the lightest he had been in a decade. Losing weight was one of the three criteria he had to meet before the operation—along with quitting smoking and drinking—and though he was normally defiant of physicians, this time he had followed doctor’s orders. After watching my grandma slowly die in a hospital room earlier that year, he had made a commitment to stay mobile. He wanted to be able to take care of himself, so he wouldn’t have to move in with anyone, or—his greatest fear—into a nursing home.

My grandfather had planned to be at the auto shop as soon as it opened at nine, so I arrived at his house at 7:50, hoping to be on the road by eight. When I arrived, he was already sitting in the car, and his walker, collapsed on the driveway, lay near the passenger side door. As I approached the car, he rolled down the window, and said, “I’ve been waiting here all morning. Now, close my back door.”

My grandfather had always been an impatient man. Throughout my life, if my grandmother and he were at a family function, he would abruptly stand up at the most inappropriate time, tell my grandmother to get her things, and walk to his car. The grandchildren would have to run to the car and wave as he backed out of the driveway. Once I asked my mother why grandpa always left so fast. She shrugged and said, “I guess when he decides to go, there’s nothing you can do to stop him.”

I caught a glimpse of the wreckage in the house as I reached to close the door. The house, which had been kept immaculate by my grandmother, was lost under dirt and clutter. Stacks of dirty dishes sat in the sink, two dining room chairs leaned against the wall, and magazines, letters, and empty glasses covered the dining room table. In the brown, plush carpet, the feet of the walker left small circular indentations that marked my grandfather’s journey from the living room, through the dining room and kitchen and to the car. Between the walker’s tracks, the carpet was raised like an acrylic wake, a wake left by a dragging leg that still hadn’t adjusted to the artificial hip’s metal ball-and-stem that had been inserted three weeks earlier. As I closed the door, I considered that it probably had taken him much of the morning to shuffle to the back door.

I returned to the car, put his walker in the trunk, opened the driver’s side door and slid behind the wheel.

“Took you long enough,” he said. I could smell mint on his breath, a sure sign he was drinking again. He offered me a cigarette. Since I didn’t have enough nerve to tell him he shouldn’t be smoking, I decided to lead by example. I declined. “Then, what are you waiting for?” he asked. “Let’s go.”

During the first miles of the drive, my grandfather began his critique. He told me when I was going too slow, too fast, and when I didn’t come to a complete stop at stop signs. When he asked questions, they always had two parts. The first part was, “What’s the matter with you?”

The ride became a litany of: “What’s the matter with you? Don’t you know how to drive?” or “What’s the matter with you? Don’t you know how to use a turn signal?” or “What’s the matter with you? Why did it take two weeks to return my phone call?”

I had been avoiding his phone calls because I couldn’t deal with how depressed and reserved he had become after my grandmother died. I lived forty minutes away so it was easy to avoid his calls or, more precisely, him. So I let the rest of my family deal with him. I kept my distance after his first suicide attempt, because I didn’t know what to say to him. My mother finally made me contact him. She told me he needed the accelerator fixed and I was the only one available to drive him. If I would have known it would be my last trip with him, maybe I would have been more enthusiastic instead of focused on not wanting to deal with an old, depressed man for an entire day.

I indulged my grandfather’s orneriness because he seemed to be the grandfather I remembered. The one who decided it was his job to point out any and all flaws. I thought he had turned a corner and was getting better. I considered that maybe the new hip, the alcohol, or the freedom that would come with the accelerator was beginning to bring him out of his depression. I began to feel comfortable around him again, so when we were near Canton, I played along. I told him that he was getting too old to know what he was talking about, and it was best if he just shut up, or, as I said, “Shaddup!” We laughed together, and I continued trying to show that he was wrong to critique my driving. In fact, I became so caught up in proving that I knew where I was going and what I was doing that I missed the exit signs, becoming temporarily lost.

After forty-five minutes at Russ’, the left-foot accelerator was installed: a pedal placed on the left side of the brake and a bar and lever extending to the gas pedal on the right. I drove through Canton, and the car lunged and stopped repeatedly as I tried to find the right amount of pressure with my left foot. Because I wasn’t sure of the exact location of the pedal, sometimes I would hit the break instead of the gas, sending us into our seatbelts. Each time this happened my grandfather said, “Wrong one.”

The most frustrating aspect of the apparatus was that it made me aware that I was driving. That awareness made something so simple, incredibly difficult. Even now, I wonder if that is how my grandfather had felt. Everything became slightly more difficult after my grandmother died: cleaning the house, making dinner, walking, and, until that moment, driving. Perhaps the frustration I had in the car with that damn left-foot accelerator represented a small amount of the frustration my grandfather felt every day with everything he attempted to do.

Outside Canton’s city limits, my grandfather told me that my driving was making him sick, and it was his turn to show me how it was done. I stopped in a supermarket’s parking lot, so we could switch. In no time at all, my grandfather mastered the accelerator.

“What’s the matter with you?” he asked. “The damn thing’s easy.”

A mile away from his house, I had the sensation of moving sideways. The white line marking the road’s shoulder slipped under the car. The tires kicked gravel and dirt as the car approached a drainage ditch. My grandfather was asleep with one hand on the wheel and his head on his shoulder. A month later, a neighbor would see the walker and  my grandfather slumped against the house, his legs buckled under him, and his head, once again, on his shoulder. Thinking that he’d fallen, the neighbor would run to help only to discover the semi-automatic pistol and the half-inch entry wound above his right ear.

“Hey,” I said. My grandfather woke and swerved the car onto the road. “What’s the matter with you?” I asked.

I expected to see his half smile, the one that indicated an insult was coming, but he didn’t smile or have a comeback. He hadn’t even looked at me. He kept his eyes on the road ahead of him, and I watched his cheek twitch as he clenched and unclenched his jaw. I thought about asking him again if something was wrong, but I never had a chance because he pushed the accelerator to the floorboard and turned the corner too quickly. Instead of talking I had to find a way to brace myself.

 

 

Brian Hall is an Assistant Professor of English at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, OH. His essays and photographs have appeared in a variety of journals including The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Palo Alto Review, Exquisite Corpse, The Lullwater Review, and The G.W. Review.