“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.

 

“Rose” by Dylan Landis

squash curl
“Squash Tendril” by Jenn Rhubright.
(See also “Convalescence” by Billie Tadros.)

Leah’s grandmother washed and dried her dinner plates, stacked them in the oven and set it on broil. She hid her pearls in the toilet tank, where they coiled under a rubber flap and created a perpetual flush.

“Nine is green,” said Grandma Rose. “Four is red. Mint tastes like flashes of light.”

Leah’s parents decided it was time. They said Leah could stay with any friend she wanted. Oleander, said Leah. Helen and Leo were so busy gabbing on the phone to the social worker in Pottsdam and the Hertz people on 77th Street, they didn’t say no.

“I don’t see why you have to put her away,” said Leah, watching Helen fold tissue paper into her clothes—a winter-white sweater, because fall came early upstate, and a herringbone silk scarf. Helen hated wind in her hair.

“Leah, this is painful for me,” said Leo. He was tethered to the phone in the hall. “But it’s better than letting her die in a fire. And she can’t communicate her needs. Her mind is deteriorating.”

Grandma Rose’s mind looked like her bedroom, Leah decided. It was a wonderful room. Hair pins napped in the rumpled bed. Dark hairs from her wiglet drifted into the cold cream. Tubes of Bain du Soleil lost their caps and slid into open drawers, releasing the oily fragrance of summer into white nylon bloomers. Nor did Rose seem to register, when Leah was allowed to stay with her, that Leah smoked in the basement, riffled through her grandmother’s pocketbook and skimmed every paperback with a passionate couple on its cover.

“Why do they mix up the colors?” Grandma Rose said, peering over Leah’s shoulder at a title. “O isn’t red.” The word was “romance.”

“Red like a heart?” said Leah.

“My shayna maideleh,” her grandmother said gently. “O is as white as an onion.”

“She’ll burn down the house if she keeps baking the plates,” said Leo, gently.

“Maybe that’s how she wants to go,” said Leah. “Maybe the flames will talk to her.”

Her father took his palm off the receiver and said, “Do we need a lawyer for that?”

“I wish I heard colors,” Leah said. “I bet purple sounds like Joan Baez.” She tapped the suitcase, three left and three right. But her parents kept getting ready to drive off and kidnap her grandmother. Oleander, when Leah telephoned, said sure.

“Don’t you have to ask your mom?”

“Ask what?” said Oly. “Just bring your stuff. You won’t believe what’s going on here.”

 

The night roof was alive. It ticked and crackled. Ventilation fans flashed in their cages.

“This is where we’re gonna do it,” said Pansy. She hugged a damp Sloan’s grocery bag containing a towel, two joints, and a rubber stolen from their father’s room.

Ten stories below the night roof, the brakes of buses sang. Leah wondered if she could make herself jump off a parapet. Then she couldn’t stop wondering. Fly or die, fly or die. It was like standing in the bathtub and wondering should she touch the switch. Some thoughts she couldn’t control when they cycled through her brain. Mrs. Prideau, who was Pansy and Oly’s mother, did not have this problem. When they left the apartment Mrs. Prideau was standing in the kitchen, spooning ice cream out of the Schraft’s box and writing on some typed papers in red pencil and ignoring the most amazing things. She ignored the leak under the sink that was wetting the grocery bags. She ignored the paint hanging from the ceiling like notepaper. She ignored that Oly and Leah threw eggs from the windows sometimes, or that Mr. Prideau slept by himself in the second bedroom because it was cheaper than divorce.

“Going to howl at the moon?” she said. “Don’t fall off.” God, Leah loved Mrs. Prideau.

 

Standing pipes, tall as people, stuck straight up from the tarpaper. Leah tried to act casual in the face of the enemy. She edged closer to Oleander. “I bet those pipes move when we’re not looking,” she said, knowing it sounded crazy. “I bet they’re like the roof police.” She was tapping like crazy, fingers jammed in her pockets so no one could see.

Oleander fixed it. She touched each pipe, calling PLP— Public Leaning Post. Meanwhile, Pansy started up the ladder to the water tower, which stuck up high above the roof. This was worse than the roof police. The water tower had no windows. It had no mercy. Leah imagined falling in, grasping at walls all slimy below the waterline.

Fly or die, fly or die, she whispered, while Pansy Prideau crammed the Sloan’s bag between the ladder and the curving base of the tower.

Pansy climbed down again, flipping her hair. “No one’s gonna notice that,” she said.

Leah, enraptured, remembered how Pansy slept on her stomach because she rolled her hair around Minute Maid cans. She watched Pansy look down over a parapet at the singing buses. A plane blinked through the black sky toward her ear. It disappeared into her head, then eased out the other side, propelling through waves of her Minute Maid hair.

That’s when Leah inhaled—worshiped the night roof, remembered to breathe.

 

Saturday morning the milk smelled bad, so they got to eat Trix from the box. Then they went stealing. Leah palmed a Chunky at Manny’s Fountain on Broadway just to feel it nest in her hand, silvery and square. At Ahmed’s Candy & Cigarette, Oleander slid a comic down the back of her jeans. Then she trashed it down the block. “No one reads Archie,” she said. Leah kept her hands out of the garbage. She liked to admire Veronica’s bust, but she knew not to say it.

Leah and Oly, they were magnetic. Sweet things clung to them. When they stole, they had secrets, and when they had secrets, they shone.

They ducked under the turnstiles on 86th and changed subways twice and did Lord & Taylor’s, where they tried on five brassieres each. Leah put back four and Oleander put back three. Then back down the clacky wood escalators to the main floor, where Oly stole the White Shoulders eau de toilette tester without even smelling it, just vacuumed it into her purse.

“You ditz,” said Leah. “My grandmother wears that.” Then she browsed at Christian Dior, smiled at the lady and stole the Diorissimo tester. She didn’t smell it first because she knew it from the heartbeat of her mother’s wrist.

Leah’s mother knew all about department stores. She dispensed strange and dangerous facts. She said department stores had lady guards who pretended to shop. They lingered over gloves or garters, but were actually spies. “They watch your hands, and they look for women who glance around,” Helen said. “At night they check the ladies’ rooms, so no one sleeps over on those lovely chaises longues.” Helen was eating again, twelve hundred calories a day, and she worked for a decorator, ordering fabrics and sketching drapes. At night she studied pictures of French chairs.

“Don’t glance,” Leah warned. Oly had stopped at wallets.

But Oly couldn’t help it. What Leah did was, she listened with her skin. Leah’s skin was electric and it knew when she was invisible, and that’s when she made things disappear. Then she tapped on the counter or in her pockets or even on the floor, as if she’d dropped a safety pin. Three left, three right. It made her safe, plus it was some- thing she had to do.

The girls burst out of the same glass slot in the Lord & Taylor’s revolving door. They walked fast with our heads down, except Oly kept glancing back.

“Holy Mary mother of God pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death Amen,” she said. Her eyes were like penlights.

“When can I throw up?” said Leah. Because that’s what stealing made her want to do, after.

“In the park,” said Oleander fiercely. “Puke in the park.”

In Central Park Leah threw up behind a bush and spit nine times, three times three, to clean her mouth. They bought Creamsicles and walked to Oly’s apartment, except on the way they did the Grab Bag on Broadway, where the clothes were all burlap and ribbon and lace— artistic, Helen said. Under glass, silver earrings lay on black velvet and tarnished in their sleep. On the counter, beaded earrings dangled from a rack; you could strum them with a finger.

“Steal me,” they whispered.

Things spoke to Leah often. She did what they said.

Saturday evening no one said a word about dinner. Mrs. Prideau sat on her bed and turned her manuscript pages and watched Pansy get ready, as if this was what daughters were supposed to do, go out with boys. Sometimes all Mrs. Prideau said about dinner was “Oh, just forage,” and Leah hoped she would say this soon so they could eat more Trix.

Pansy leaned over the bathroom sink, dabbed blue shadow on each eyelid and stared at herself in the mirror. She had a face like a Madame Alexander doll, the expensive kind in glass cabinets at FAO Schwartz. She looked like a cross between seven and seventeen. Leah watched her from the doorway, hoping to learn something. What she learned was how to put on blush. First you grin. Then you rub lipstick on the part of your cheek that sticks out like a cherry tomato.

Oleander opened bureau drawers and slammed them, pulling out tops and shoving them back in. No one at Oly’s had private drawers or private shirts or even private beds, because Mrs. Prideau and Oly and Pansy shared two beds in the one big bedroom and didn’t have space for private anything. Sometimes this made Leah so jealous she could die and sometimes it made her want to go home and straighten her desk. A bandanna halter came out with a froth of socks and Oly put it on and went in the bathroom and sprayed a cloud of Right Guard around her armpits.

“Oh, good, deodorize the toothbrushes,” said Pansy, fanning at the cloud.

“Any toothbrush of yours it’s automatic B.O.,” said Oleander, and sat the can on the sink, where Leah knew it would mark the porcelain with a ring of rust.

“Any toothbrush of yours it’s automatic pus,” said Pansy.

“Oh, shit, here they go,” said Mrs. Prideau, and looked at Leah like they might actually share some sliver of understanding. She lit a clean cigarette with the old one and jabbed the old one out. The butts in her ashtray were all kissed red at one end and bent jagged at the other.

“Your parents go anyplace fun?”

“Upstate,” said Leah. “They’re kidnapping my grandmother.”

Mrs. Prideau’s eyebrows lifted into question marks, thin and elegant. “Are they taking her anyplace fun?”

“Old folks’ home,” said Leah. “Her mind is deteriorating.”

“Really.” Mrs. Prideau looked at Leah like she was trying to figure out where to insert a key. “How can they tell?”

Leah shrugged, but Mrs. Prideau kept waiting. “She sticks plates in the oven and they melt. She’s going to burn down the house.”

“She might,” said Mrs. Prideau. “If she has dementia, your parents are probably doing the right thing.”

“Plus,” said Leah, “she sees things. She says nine is green, vowels are white, stuff like that.” She hated the way she sounded, as if Rose were someone else’s crazy grandmother.

Mrs. Prideau sat straight up and looked at Leah. “Well,” she said, “I don’t know about the vowels. A is light pink and E is almost scarlet. But nine is definitely green.”

Mrs. Prideau was not beautiful like Helen. She had short spiky hair and she wore black turtlenecks and jeans. She had ink on her hands instead of nail polish. But there was some kind of light that went on inside her, and at that moment Leah thought if she stood very still, the light might shine on something she needed to see.

“Not all vowels,” Leah said carefully. “She said O and I were white like an onion. I thought it was because they’re in the word onion.”

“No, it’s because they’re white,” said Mrs. Prideau. “I also see Q and X as white, but you don’t run into that as often.”

Leah didn’t move. Tap now, her brain instructed, but for the first time in her life she disobeyed.

“It’s called synesthesia,” said Mrs. Prideau. “It runs in families, but it missed my daughters. You too?”

Leah shut her eyes and concentrated. She wanted Mrs. Prideau’s voice to reveal a shape, a scent. She thought it might smell like Diorissimo, or float like a string of pearls.

“It missed me,” she said.

Pansy walked out of the bathroom with frosted white lips. She looked perfect. Leah wanted to lay her down flat to see if her eyelids would glide shut. “Tell her what her name tastes like, Mom,” she said. “Mine tastes like tea biscuits.”

“Very thin biscuits,” said Mrs. Prideau. “Leah tastes like cucumber.”

“It could be worse,” Pansy said. She spotted Leah’s shoplifted earrings on the bureau, threaded one into her ear. “We had a babysitter once named Renee whose name tasted like pennies.”

“Syn, together, aisthesis, perception,” said Mrs. Prideau, not even flicking her eyes toward Pansy, who was taking one of her cigarettes. “It means the senses work in pairs. It’s a gift. Synesthetes are often artists,” she said. “Scriabin had it. Kandinsky, though he may have been faking. Nabokov. Is your grandmother creative?

“No,” said Leah, who had no idea what she was talking about.

“I bet she is,” said Mrs. Prideau. “Kandinsky said synesthetes are like fine violins that vibrated in all their parts when the bow touched them.”

The doorbuzzer made its jagged rasp. “Oh my God,” said Pansy, “it’s Robbie,” and she left the cigarette burning on the bureau, a fringe of ash hanging over the edge. Oleander glanced at her mother, whose lap was spread with red-penciled pages, picked the cigarette up and brought it to her lips. Leah couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Her parents would have a coronary.

“We are the bows from which our children as living arrows are sent forth,’“ said Mrs. Prideau. She looked at her younger daughter with the cigarette and closed her eyes, as if she were searching for something deeply internal.

“Kahlil Gibran,” she said, opening her eyes and, as Leah wondered if she would ever understand, “Don’t be discouraged, Leah. We never know what we inherit.”

 

They watched her.

They hid behind the elevator shed and watched her on the roof.

He did everything exactly in order, first base, second base, third base, home. Leah liked it, liked the way his hands traveled on Pansy and the way Pansy let her body be a highway for them. He pulled her jeans off. There wasn’t any underwear. This was a revelation, that a person could not wear underwear. They saw his hands move where his fly was and then he pushed onto her and Pansy made a sound like she had stepped on a piece of glass, and he put his hand over her mouth. When he took it away he kissed her. Then he pushed some more. This got boring, but Oleander kept saying “Jesus” under her breath, so Leah just hung back a few minutes and didn’t look, and thought about what it was that they might have inherited, she and Oleander and even Pansy, who was fifteen and barely spoke to them.

The boy pulled up his jeans. He lit a joint and Pansy took it from him. The roof police didn’t do a damn thing. They just stood there.

They were just pipes.

“Was that home?” said Leah.

“Yeah,” said Oleander, “Jesus,” and they were breathing words more than talking them. They carried their sandals so they wouldn’t scuff and moved toward the stairwell cautiously, as if stepping over puddles.

“It hurts,” said Leah, amazed.

“Only when you lose it,” said Oleander, and Leah felt a rose open in her body, felt a release as its petals fell open and flew apart, and she wondered what she had lost, and why it did not hurt.

 

 

Dylan Landis is the author of Normal People Don’t Live Like This, a novel-in-stories that made Newsday‘s Ten Best Books of 2009. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Norman Mailer Center, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She is working on a novel.

Read our interview with Dylan Landis here.

“Rose” by Dylan Landis, excerpted from Normal People Don’t Live Like This, copyright (c) 2009 by Dylan Landis, reprinted here by permission of the publisher, Persea Books, Inc., New York. All rights are reserved.

 

“The Double Voice” by Margaret Atwood

the double voice1

Two voices
took turns using my eyes:
One had manners,
painted in watercolours
used hushed tones when speaking
of mountains or Niagara Falls,
composed uplifting verse
and expended sentiment upon the poor.

The other voice
had other knowledge:
that men sweat
always and drink often,
that pigs are pigs
but must be eaten
anyway, that unborn babies
fester like wounds in the body,
that there is nothing to be done
about mosquitoes;

One saw through my
bleared and gradually
bleaching eyes, red leaves,
the rituals of seasons and rivers

The other found a dead dog
jubilant with maggots
half-buried among the sweet peas.

 

 

Margaret Atwood is the author of more than thirty-five volumes of poetry, children’s literature, fiction, and non-fiction. She is perhaps best known for her novels, which include The Edible Woman (1970), The Handmaid’s Tale (1983), The Robber Bride (1994), Alias Grace (1996), and The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000. Atwood’s dystopic novel, Oryx and Crake, was published in 2003. The Tent (mini-fictions) and Moral Disorder (short stories) both appeared in 2006. Her most recent volume of poetry, The Door, was published in 2007. Her non-fiction Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, part of the Massey Lecture series, appeared in 2008, and her most recent novel, The Year of the Flood, in the autumn of 2009. Ms. Atwood’s work has been published in more than forty languages, including Farsi, Japanese, Turkish, Finnish, Korean, Icelandic and Estonian. In 2004 she co-invented the Long Pen TM. She currently lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.

“The Double Voice” by Margaret Atwood, used by permission of the Author. Available in the following collections: In the United States, SELECTED POEMS I, 1965–1975, published by Houghton Mifflin, ©Margaret Atwood 1976; In Canada, SELECTED POEMS, 1966–1984, published by McClelland and Stewart, ©Margaret Atwood 1990; In the UK, EATING FIRE, published by Virago Books, ©Margaret Atwood 1998.

See also Showcasing the Work of Margaret Atwood.