Summer Kitchen

Glixman-Summer Kitchen1

The children threw us both away,
chicken feed to the birds when you passed.
The house for sale with the garlic press,
the copper pots I made clean sold for ten cents each.
The beige crocheted lace that outlined the front door window
your boots caked with field mud scenes.
our wedding pictures, the picture of Hunter the dog,
gone to a bidder visiting estate sales.

Nothing feels like earth in my new home.
I pull old apple tree silhouettes in memory
through the kitchen windows
frenzied black lines in the dawn without a crunch
walking dreams that take me to the
beginning when we were warm and full.

I am a chicken without fat in this grassless yard,
a bent woman tied straight in a chair
watching the nurses go by delivering
dried cod fillet. potatoes and applesauce
with a dab of fake whipped cream.
They promise me  there will be more minutes
to recall the stained potholders on the hooks,
and the red wine stains on the curtains in the summer kitchen
where we got drunk when you were ill,
where the peonies you planted bloomed outside the window.
It all drifts in my head, rivers before this frost.
No children visit me.
You and I grew in that quiet home,
ate curry in the yard, met the spitting Llamas
our neighbors bought. Loved well.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Glixman is a poet, writer and artist. Her fiction and poetry have appeared online and in print in many publications including Wicked Alice, In Posse Review, 3 A.M. Magazine, Tough Times Companion, a publication of The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, Her Circle Ezine, Frigg, Meow Poetry, Journey anthology and Velvet Avalanche, an anthology of erotic poetry. Her author interviews, articles, book reviews, and creative non-fiction pieces have appeared in The Pedestal Magazine, Whole Life Times, Spirit of Change, Hadassah Magazine, Eclectica and the anthologies Chocolate for A Woman’s Soul II and Cup of Comfort For Women. She is the author of four poetry chapbooks: A White Girl Lynching (Pudding House Publications, 2008), Cowboy Writes a Letter & Other Love Poems (Pudding House Publications, 2010), and The Wonder of It All (Alternating Current, 2011). I Am the Flame (Finishing Line Press) is forthcoming July 2012.

 

 

 

 

 

The Uneasy Voice of the Grass: Cuwignaka Duta Tells Her Dream

Ress-Uneasy Voice1

Dakota Territory, 1864

In my dream I am walking there
where the north fork of the Platte
and the Laramie meet, where the grass

grew thickest, tender and green.
as the dark heart shapes of cottonwood leaves,
as lacewings, delicate dragonfly needles,

fat hoppers, the killdeer’s sweet home.
I know red as the buffalo’s flesh,
woodpeckers’ crests flashing bright

tied in our warriors’ black hair, I know red
as blood, the color of my skin,
and my name: Red Dress.

And white I once knew as ice on the buffalo grass,
the winter cottonwoods’ ermine bones,
knew it sometimes as hunger.

Now I know white as treaties, as
bible tracts, bills of sale, the mission
schoolbook’ s icy pages,

In my dream I am struggling to walk
across endless white ground,
forcing my legs between stalks of ripped

parchment, the wind howling
around me, clawing to rip
sheets from the ground. This whiteness

has spread, it eats at the land. I look back
at my footsteps. “Tate,” I say to the wind,
I am here for a reason.

–After Susan Power’s The Grass Dancer (G.P. Putnam & Sons, 1994)

Lisa Ress first came to Appalachia (Blacksburg, Virginia) in the early 1960s and fell in love with the region, returned to go “back to the land” in Floyd County in the ‘70s and ‘80s and finally was able to retire to a co-housing community in Blacksburg after teaching college and university English and writing courses for a number of years. Over 100 poems have been published in a variety of magazines. Her first book, Flight Patterns, won the 1982 Associated Writing Program prize and was published by UVa Press. She was also awarded an NEA grant. Her second book, Object Relations, has just been published by Wilder Publications and is available at Banres & Noble and Amazon.

The Uncropped Photograph— Nick Ut’s Vietnam, June 8, 1972

Dop-Uncropped Photograph1

Four children with little, naked Kim Phuc
run down Route 1 by Trang Bang. Seven soldiers

in uniform behind little, naked Kim Phuc
lift their boots away from Trang Bang.  One

often-cropped photographer, four steps beside little,
naked Kim Phuc, loads his Canon to shoot Trang Bang.

The children burn and run.  The soldiers walk,
but one, far off, a miniature ghost, talks to the cloud

and refuses to follow as the children dance away
from their pluming rose garden.  The helmets pull

the men toward the space between the fire
and the naked nine-year-old flying, her arms wings

of the fallen.  Phan Thi Kim Phuc’s family
are behind the firewall, among the dead.  Some

of the soldiers blur like the clouds
they called down.  One, who can’t consider the ground

of boiling blood, faces the smoke of freedom.  We all
look away.  Only the youngest child, a little boy

in a white cotton shirt, orphan of falling fires, looks back,
his eyes blistered away from time, toward Trang Bang.

 

Gary Dop—a poet, scriptwriter, essayist, and actor—lives with his wife and three daughters in Minneapolis, where he teaches creative writing at North Central University. He received a Special Mention in the 2011 Pushcart Prize Anthology, his essays have aired on public radio’s All Things Considered, and his poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Agni, New Letters, Rattle, and North American Review, among others.

Read our interview with Gary here.

Fishes and Their Fathers

Glixman-Fishes1
When the fish bowl needs scrubbing from your small handprints
I take a damp cloth dipped in castile soap
contemplatively wash around the outer curve of the bowl
like my hand followed the curve of my belly
when you were inside me feet kicking.
You need me to tell you its okay
that your father is not here as the
snow falls like fastballs thrown by a famous pitcher.
When your father is not there, when the pond is covered with ice

You want me to tell you he will return soon.
You ask where is the fish’s (the one in the bowl) father.
I tell you he is all grown up and does not need a father.
You ask about the other fish that are not grownup
and their fathers
under the ice in the pond.
I tell you the fishes and their fathers are underwater
telling stories to each other.
They will come to the surface in the spring after the thaw.
You say watching me wash the bowl
I want daddy to come home
So small a mumble I can hardly hear.
I take the cloth follow the roundness of your face
with my hand smelling of lavender
wanting to protect you from ice

I am your first teacher
I cannot teach you the way gases change from solids to liquids
and back the cycle of change
(you have conquered your shoelaces this week)
or how people never come home
Even when it is spring and the ice has thawed.

 

 

Elizabeth Glixman is a poet, writer and artist. Her fiction and poetry have appeared online and in print in many publications including Wicked Alice, In Posse Review, 3 A.M. Magazine, Tough Times Companion, a publication of The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, Her Circle Ezine, Frigg, Meow Poetry, Journey anthology and Velvet Avalanche, an anthology of erotic poetry. Her author interviews, articles, book reviews, and creative non-fiction pieces have appeared in The Pedestal Magazine, Whole Life Times, Spirit of Change, Hadassah Magazine, Eclectica and the anthologies Chocolate for A Woman’s Soul II and Cup of Comfort For Women. She is the author of four poetry chapbooks: A White Girl Lynching (Pudding House Publications, 2008), Cowboy Writes a Letter & Other Love Poems (Pudding House Publications, 2010), and The Wonder of It All (Alternating Current, 2011). I Am the Flame (Finishing Line Press) is forthcoming July 2012.

The Shrink Who Killed Gazoo

Whitney-Shrink Who Killed Gazoo1

“It’s all my fault.” When I say this to my  therapist, she frequently replies, “Seriously, Michele, you are not the center of the universe. You don’t have that much power.”

I’ve heard that choosing a therapist, counselor, or more affectionately known as a shrink is kind of like choosing a mate. Luckily I have been more successful in the shrink department than the mate department, but that’s a whole other story. So yes, I admit to having psychologically courted a few counselors until I finally found The One.

There is no shame in this.

Or maybe there is.

But at least I am working through my issues.

The surprising thing is that after years of going back and forth with different counselors, I found my “one” in an older white lady who had years of experience, but in my mind would never be able to help someone like me. When I say someone like me, I’m not saying I’m an alien or anything, but our culture and background on the surface is different. Or so I assumed. I am black, she is white. I am young, she is old…or older. I soon found out that I was wrong.

Once I was in a session where I was crying over a man who, for whatever reason, did not want me, but who I knew was perfect for me. Why oh why? What is wrong with me? I don’t understand why he won’t give me a chance.

My therapist simply told me, “He’s fucked up.”

“What?”

“It’s not about you; the guy is just fucked up.”

Is my therapist supposed to use the F word?

It didn’t matter because that was the recipe I needed to get me out of my rut. The main course was “the truth” for a gentle jolt out of my pity party. Add a side order of compassion to nudge me back into reality. And finally a shot of laughter to wash it all down.

Moving on to a different therapy session and me sulking over the same guy. Perhaps he really wasn’t attracted to me; maybe he just slept with me because he felt sorry for me.

“Did his penis work?”

I laughed. “Yes.”

“Then I would say he was very much attracted to you. The penis doesn’t work if there’s no attraction.”

Oh yeah.

~

A couple of days ago, I was in a therapy session where I was blaming everything on myself. I’m just the kind of person who thinks that everything is my fault. Perhaps it’s the conditioning of my conspiracy-theory-filled mother or the paranoia I formed from growing up in an alcoholic home. Or perhaps I’m just crazy. But if there is a conflict, I think it’s my fault. If there is tension, anger, sadness, or fear being expressed…it is my fault. If I experience loss…again, it’s my fault. An otherwise sane person would not think this way.  But I have associated myself with every bad thing that occurs. And it gets really extreme sometimes.

I could probably find a way to blame myself for the war in Iraq.

I never said it made any sense. It’s just what I do. I think it provides me with a level of comfort when things happen that I cannot explain.

My therapist told me that this “all my fault” thinking is called “magical thinking.” I was intrigued. I like to think of myself as a pretty magical person, so I thought at first it was a compliment.

But then she explained to me that I was thinking like a child…

I was a bit offended. But then I thought, I kind of feel like a child when I think this way. Children can be pretty self-centered.

You are not that powerful.

My therapist went on to ask, “Why is it that you believe you are at fault for so much?  Don’t you know the truth?”

I didn’t have a concrete answer. I sat there for a few minutes. Dammit, I was going to explain to this woman why everything is my fault! What kind of analogy could I use? And then the craziest thing popped into my head. “Do you remember Gazoo?” I asked.

“Who?”

“Gazoo. Do you remember the cartoon The Flintstones? Well, there was this little character called Gazoo that used to fly around and sit on Fred’s shoulder.”

“I remember the Flintstones, but I don’t remember Gazoo.”

The character’s name was actually the Great Gazoo, and he came in the last season of The Flintstones. He was this little, cute, flying green guy from outer space that spent most of his time with Fred and Barney and constantly caused trouble. He wasn’t bad, just a bit of a pest, and when he tried to help, he would always end up causing more harm than good.

So I told my therapist that my thinking goes that way when I’m visited by what I call the Bad Gazoo (as opposed to the Great Gazoo). So this little green guy sits on my shoulder and fills my head with guilt, shame, and blame, even though I know the truth. He thinks he’s helping me, but he’s really not. Gazoo is the little bugger that causes me to “magically think.”

I was satisfied with this theoretical explanation. But my therapist was not.  She leaned forward and calmly said, “I think you need to murder Gazoo.”

When she said that, I had the best belly laugh. I laughed so loud that I’m sure it echoed through her waiting room. My soul was smiling.

My shrink had done it again.

And so, as I write this, my shrink and I are planning the capture and ultimate murder of Gazoo. Rest in peace.

 

Michele Whitney is a writer, blogger, and musician from Chicago. She is currently a PhD candidate for public service leadership at Capella University where she is working on a dissertation titled: The Human-Animal Bond: A Phenomenological Study of People’s Attachment to Companion Animals. Her writing has been published in the Chicago Sun-Times, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, and other venues. Michele’s message of emotional healing, recovery, and connection can be found in her blog, Words of Compassion, Creativity, & Knowledge. Her free time is spent playing the flute, cooking, and practicing aromatherapy. She resides with her mom and her feline kid named Samson.

Read an interview with Michele here.

“Elephants and Banana Leaves” by Andrew Stancek

Stancek-Elephants1

The fire alarm shrills, pulls me awake. The clock radio blinks 2:37. Natasha moans in her sleep, but I’m too keyed up to sleep, dreaming of our new life.

“Natasha,” I shake her, “we have to get out. It might be real.” She turns away, buries her head. It’s the third consecutive night of ringing. Last night Mr. Jayaraman took ten minutes to turn it off, while the tenants of his five flats shivered in bathrobes and slippers on the sidewalk. At the end of the ruckus Mr. Jayaraman, wearing a nightshirt and a hat with a pom-pom at the end, waved us in, smiled and said, “Has the stormy weather set the whole sea in motion? No worries, my friends, electrical no doubt. I fix it.”

I shake Natasha again. She sits up, swats my arm. “Don’t touch me, Franti, don’t touch me again. You go outside, wait for your guru to turn the alarm off. I’ll stay and burn to a crisp in my bed.”

I pull at her blanket as the alarm goes silent. She burrows; I put my head on my pillow, sink my consciousness far from the chill of Toronto into the waves of the Indian Ocean.

When I wake up, she is sitting on the couch staring at a yawning suitcase half-filled with folded blouses, a lacy black bra and a red thong on top. She does not turn her head but speaks in a half-whisper. “I’m not going with you. I don’t belong with elephants and banana leaves.”

“Natasha, richer or poorer, from this day until death do us part.”

She slurps her coffee. “First Tamil proverbs from Mr. Jayaraman and now it’s vow recitations? OK, what about the dance at the wedding? Remember The Beach Boys? Remember “fun, fun, fun till daddy takes her T-bird away”? You’re not taking my T-bird away. You fly off, expand your mind in Sri Lanka, teach those kids English. Me, I’m staying. I’ll buy red stilettos today.” The suitcase crashes; her clothes spill out. She does not look back before she slams the door.

She still has not returned in the late afternoon. The glossy brochure on the kitchen counter is covered with rice flour. The music of Ramanathan keeps me centered as I recite lists of Tamil vocabulary. I wash potatoes, mix rice flour, chili powder, garlic paste and fry the potato bajji the way Mr. Jayaraman’s wife used to, as he weaves Tamil tales and stories of his wife and family in Colombo. I admit Natasha stormed out. “A family divided against itself will perish together,” he says, biting into the first bajji. “But sometimes it is good to taste loneliness. The husband that ran away has returned and is reconciled; therefore, she has adorned herself with jewels to excess. You must do what is right.  Teaching is noble. When you return, a good woman will rejoice to have you back.”

He leaves after eleven, after many cups of tea. Twelve days till we fly. I am drifting off with a dictionary and Tamil phrases in bed when Natasha stumbles in, smelling of beer and cigarettes. I don’t ask where she’s been. She does not speak. Through the open bathroom door I watch her spitting out pink toothpaste, its trickle down her chin. I long to touch her.

“I’ll sleep on the couch,” she says.

“Natasha, I can…”  Her look freezes other words. She pulls a packet of cigarillos out of her purse, lights one, blows smoke towards me. I cough.

There’ll be no screeching of fire alarms in the wee hours tonight, I want to say. Mr. Jayaraman told me he’d disconnected them. But in the thundering silence between us it does not seem important.

“Is it safe?” I had asked.

“To the timid the sky is full of demons. We all sleep better tonight.”  I straighten my sheet, turn to the wall. In the living room I hear coins spilling, a giggle, then a snore.

No sleep for me, I am sure, as I toss, alone. But I do dream after all of soaring above a Sri Lankan countryside, children and women singing, breaking twigs, feeding a bonfire.  I wake with a pounding head; I smell smoke, vomit.  “Natasha? Natasha?” Light switch flip does nothing. I run into the living room. The couch is empty. Did I dream her? I scurry from room to room, even open a closet, searching. I hear screams outside our apartment door, wailing. Sirens blare as I run outside. “Have you seen my wife?” I yell at Mr. Jayaraman on the sidewalk.

“She was carrying a suitcase, heading that way,” he points with his head. “Only one shoe on.” I look. The street is empty.

Mr. Jayaraman is at the airport to see me off. “If only I could fly, too,” he says, shivering in the air-conditioning. “You are the blessed one but I have my house to look after, the fire investigation. He who takes care of his property will not be robbed. Observe with young eyes, make note of everything. Teach them the language of Shakespeare and Milton, come back in a year, like seasonable rain.”

Neither of us mentions Natasha. When I ride on top of that elephant in Colombo, I expect she will streak by in her T-bird, hair shimmering in the wind.

 

Andrew Stancek was born in Bratislava and saw Russian tanks occupying his homeland. His dreams of circuses and ice cream, flying and lion-taming, miracle and romance have appeared recently in Tin House online, Flash Fiction Chronicles, The Linnet’s Wings, Connotation Press, THIS Literary Magazine, Thunderclap Magazine, Istanbul Literary Review and Pure Slush.

Read an interview with Andrew here.

The Year of the Rooster

Garstang-Year of the Rooster1

Bali is the perfect place for Oliver. It feels like the end of the road, the end of the world, where everything stops. No pressure, no pretense. Just the waves on the beach, constant, tempting. The bars in Kuta, art in Ubud, temples, music, beer, beautiful Australians, men and women.

He’s backpacking with a guy he’d met at the hostel in Bangkok, Barry, a sour kid from Brooklyn who couldn’t wait to get out of Thailand and now can’t wait to get out of Indonesia. He wants to leave, and Oliver wants to stay, maybe forever. So go ahead, Barry, go, have a nice life. Replacing Barry with a girl, or another guy, or both, could lead to a new world of possibilities for Oliver, arousing possibilities. But Barry backs off, says he isn’t serious about leaving, and, to show there’s no hard feelings, he’s got a special treat for Oliver.

Oliver is skeptical. In Bangkok, Barry’s idea of something special was a whorehouse. Not that Oliver didn’t thoroughly enjoy himself, but that was Bangkok. Another planet.

Barry leads him to a café. It looks like all the other cafés, and bottles of Anker beer arrive, along with a menu.

“A very special menu,” Barry says.

Special, indeed: blue meanie omelets, blue meanie soup (with carrots), blue meanies sautéed with onions and garlic.

They order the omelet, to share, and, when it comes, Oliver has to make a choice. This could be a colossal mistake. He’s heard about the effects, that mushrooms are like LSD, which somehow never came his way during college, and, although he’s curious, he’s just plain scared. He wants adventure, he wants experience, but it could kill you, right? Warp your mind?

The omelet is greasy and gritty, barely edible, but that’s hardly the point. When nothing happens, Oliver recalls the first time he smoked pot, how it had no effect. Barry is disappointed, too, and they go in search of a real meal.

As they walk down the sandy street, Barry jumps over the shadow of a palm tree. Oliver sees the same shadow, but suddenly it’s writhing like a snake, and Oliver is rooted where he stands. Barry laughs and jumps back over the shadow, kicking sand onto Oliver’s feet, and then he grabs Oliver, dragging him forward. When Oliver tries to pull free, they both tumble, laughing, into the sand.

As the mushrooms take hold, they return to their inn near the beach, where Oliver hopes to ride out the trip in safety. They sit on the porch, and he grips the railing, afraid he will fall or—and this seems a real possibility—drift into the endless sky. He’s thirsty, thirstier than he has ever been in his life. A beer materializes at his side, and then it is pouring into his mouth, dribbling down his chest.

A rooster struts through the courtyard. It picks and pecks, cocky. Peck. Cock. Prick. Cocky cock. The rooster looks at him and speaks, but he’s speaking Indonesian. Whatever he’s saying, it’s hilarious, and Oliver laughs. He can’t stop. Barry pulls his dick out and pisses on the rooster, which is even funnier. The rooster cackles and leaps away. Barry runs after him, spraying piss on himself, on the rooster, all over. Oliver is laughing so hard he spills his beer, and that makes him laugh more. He falls backward onto the porch. His head lands on the hard wood with a thud.

 ~

 Oliver opens his eyes. He remembers the rooster and he remembers hitting his head. He feels his head now and there is a bump. But he’s no longer at the inn. He’s on the beach. He’s wearing shorts, but he’s shirtless and barefoot. His skin burns. The sun is sinking, nearly gone.

He stands, dizzy. On the way to the inn he comes across a shop and asks for beer. His thirst is still epic. He reaches into his pocket, but his wallet is gone. He pats front and back, back and front. He runs back to the beach, anticipating the relief he will feel when he finds the wallet. But the entire beach looks like someone slept there, sand troughs and sand waves, and although he does find a spot that seems right, there is no wallet.

Did he have it when they went for the omelet? It was Barry’s treat, he knew he wouldn’t need money, so maybe it’s in the room? He runs now, with darkness deepening, and finds the inn.

The rooster still struts through the sand. Oliver jumps onto the porch. The door to their room is open, but Barry isn’t there. Barry’s backpack isn’t there, either. Oliver’s is there, though, open, disturbed. He pulls clothes from the pack, his guidebook, his journal, piling it all on the bed, until the pack is empty. His wallet is gone. The linen pouch with his passport is still there, but the travelers’ cheques are not. His camera. The tiny ruby he bargained for in Bangkok. The batik he bought in Jogjakarta. Gone.

He slumps on the porch, as close to tears as he’s been since childhood. If Barry appeared right now he might kill him. Oliver pounds his fist on the porch once—take that—and then again—take that—and again. The violence helps. He pounds the porch again. Better. He pounds the porch one more time and, when he looks up, sees that he’s being watched. In the glow of a lamp across the courtyard, two travelers, tall and blond, a man and a woman, lift bottles of beer in greeting. The man reaches into the bag by his side, pulls out another bottle, and holds it toward Oliver.

Oliver rises. The dizziness—whether from the mushrooms, or the fall, or the sun—is still with him. As he crosses the courtyard, the rooster eyes him warily and then, in a moment of clarity, runs for his life.

Clifford Garstang is the author of the novel in stories, What the Zhang Boys Know (Press 53, September 2012), and the prize-winning short story collection In an Uncharted Country (Press 53, 2009). His work has appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, Blackbird, Virginia Quarterly Review, Cream City Review, Tampa Review, The Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere, and has received Distinguished Mention in the Best American Series. He won the 2006 Confluence Fiction Prize and the 2007 GSU Review Fiction Prize. He has received fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. In addition to degrees in law and public administration, he holds an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte and is the co-founder and editor of Prime Number Magazine.

Read an interview with Cliff here.

 

 

The Warning

Jen Knox-The Warning1

I knew better than to acknowledge someone who would psst at me. But my dog, a mild mannered Australian Shepherd, pulled me toward the car so that he could sniff a torn plastic bag caught on something near the curb. The driver, a glossy lipped woman in a business suit, leaned toward me and said, “There’s a guy—” She scanned the sidewalk behind me and continued. “He’s been walking around here. Just be careful.”

“Um… okay,” I said.

As vague as this warning was, I noticed a twist in my stomach as the woman drove off. My dog had just finished peeing on the plastic and was now tugging me toward a large rock. I pulled him tight to shorten the leash and locked it, trying to ignore his pleading stare as I began to speed walk. We were a half mile from my apartment, nearer the neighboring complex that apparently housed suspicious-looking wanderers.

I couldn’t help but look back a few more times as I pulled my poor dog along like a puppet. I wondered at the motivation of the woman who’d pulled over. When I finally made it to Huebner, a reasonably busy street even at this hour, I looked back once more. I had positioned my apartment keys in my fist so that their jagged points stuck out between my  fingers. This would have the effect of brass knuckles, or better since they had sharp points, if I punched someone. I used to hold my keys like this. When I was attacked years ago, many people said it was the neighborhood I lived in. Here I was now, a near-suburbanite walking by a gated community on the north side of town, semi-old and semi-stable, and up early every morning; meanwhile, a vague warning was all it took to reintroduce the old guardedness.

I heard something behind me and turned to find a young woman jogging. Her body was tilted forward as though her skinny frame had to counteract the morning breeze to remain upright. I moved over, allowed my dog to smell an empty McDonald’s bag. I could hear her jagged, heavy breath as she neared. A woman I’d met in a rape survivors group once told me that a jogger’s heavy breathing might invite sexual abusers because no matter how much ‘experts’ told us rape was about violence, it was also about sex. Strained breath makes anyone think of sex. She did sound like sex.

My dog gave the leash a hard tug, and I heard something breaking between his jaws. He’d found some sort of bone, which he knew to eat quickly before I could pry it from his mouth.

“Excuse me,” I said. The jogger wore short shorts, the type of thing she’d be chastised for if she were raped. “There’s some man walking around here. And he looks suspicious.” I sounded as vague and potentially crazy as the driver.

“Um,” the woman began.

“Just be careful.”

She nodded and thanked me, but her fine features hardened before she jogged off. Her tilted frame became smaller and smaller, until she disappeared around a corner. I had been wearing long pants when I was attacked, but it had also been after sundown. The first police officer to arrive asked what I was doing outside, alone. He spoke as though I were an accessory to the very crime that had been committed against me. He had assumed the same tone of the woman in the car: stern and disapproving.

I looked down at my hand and realized that the mail key faced the wrong way; a small circle of blood had appeared at the center of my palm. I thought about the warning I’d received. The driver hadn’t called the man dangerous, hadn’t said that he had a weapon; she’d only said that she’d seen a man walking. Maybe he’d locked himself out of his apartment. Maybe he was warming up for a jog.

I licked the salty blood from my palm. I opened my front door, switched my brain to the humdrum—what I needed to iron, what mood my boss would be in, what kind of coffee I’d stop for on the way. I unfastened my dog’s leash and went to lock the deadbolt. As I pushed the door, however, it didn’t close easily. Instead, I felt a push back from the outside. I saw the driver’s face, smiling: I warned you. I imagined a blunt kick to the backs of my knees. But the push against my door had just been the wind. I wanted to laugh, but I couldn’t. Not yet.

 

 

Jen Knox is the author of To Begin Again, winner of the 2011 Next Generation Indie Book award in short fiction and the 2011 Readers Favorite award in women’s fiction. Her short story, “Types of Circus”, was recently chosen for Wigleaf‘s 2012 Top 50 list. Jen’s essays and short fiction can be read in Annalemma, Bluestem, Gargoyle, Narrative, Short Story America, Thrush, Superstition Review, and elsewhere. She lives and teaches in San Antonio and is currently at work on a novel. Jen’s website is here: http://www.jenknox.com

Read our interview with Jen here.

Savasana

Lin-Savasana1

It was another of her weird ailments, what her mother called her stress symptoms. It was the year of swine flu, and everyone was concerned. There were pump bottles of congealed hand sanitizer in every office cubicle. Each dorm room had its own personal package of cleansing wipes. If you so much as coughed, someone would give you the stink-eye. In the midst of this, Coraline scratched and scratched.

At first it was surreptitious. She would sneak a little scratch here and there, waiting until she reached the privacy of her bathroom to attack her skin ferociously. Dead skin lodged beneath  her fingernails. The back of her neck was red and raw. Once, she accidentally broke the skin and thin rivulets of blood streaked down, pooling at her collar. She debated wearing clothes to hide the scabs, but turtlenecks were out of the question and it was still too warm for scarves.

Maybe go to the dermatologist, said Lyle. He lay on her beanbag body pillow, licking the gummy Life Savers he had around his pinky finger, stacked like a collection of sweet, pliable wedding rings. These are surprisingly delicious, he said. I mean, since they’re full of chemicals and everything.

Lyle was a huge proponent of everything organic. He worked at the Whole Foods downtown. Coraline’s mother called him “wholesome.” Coraline’s mother didn’t know about the pills. Coraline had done it once with him, watching him crush the pills on the counter top with the bottom of a beer bottle, then disciplining the powder into neat lines. She hadn’t known what it was—some type of upper—but it made her sneeze blue snot. When she inhaled, and the mucous dripped down her throat, it had tasted sweet.

A dermatologist, he repeated. They can give you cream and shit.

He looked dreamy. Coraline wanted to get to that place, the place of dreams, but instead she was like her pet Maizy when it got fleas.

A doctor won’t help, she told Lyle, positioning herself into downward facing dog on the carpet. You know it’s in my head. It’s okay. You can say it.

He shrugged. If you think it’s real… He trailed off. He waved his hand around and a Life Saver flew in the air and landed on her bed. Damn, he said, can you go get that?  He didn’t move off the beanbag.

I’m doing my yoga, Coraline said, grunting a little bit as she transitioned into upward facing dog. I’m trying to bring in good energy.

You know this type of stuff always happens to you, Lyle said. Remember last fall, when we missed the Formal because you were too sore to get out of bed?

She did remember. First it was the back pain. Then it was the constriction in her torso. That’s when they—the doctors, that impenetrable, collective unit—referred her to a psychologist. The psychologist didn’t help her, but she met Lyle there, so that was a bonus. He was completing the last hours of a field experience practicum for his master’s degree, shadowing the experts. This is all very unethical, he had said, the first time they met for smoothies at the juice bar. But by that time he had finished his practicum, which made it better, if not okay.

Now Coraline moved into child’s pose, her second favorite yoga position. Am I the craziest you ever saw in there? she asked, face toward the ground. Her voice was muffled.

Lyle chewed for a moment. This one girl, he said. I shouldn’t be telling you this even, but she carved words into her belly with safety pins. Once, she wrote a sentence.

A sentence? Coraline tried to picture it, a line of bloody, dripping letters running around some girl’s torso.

It was a short sentence, he said. Lyle closed his eyes. He placed his hands on his stomach.

She stood up slowly.  I want you to look at my neck, she said. She sat in front of him, facing the other way, and lifted her hair to the side. He looked at her skin, inflamed and oozing. She wanted him to touch it, caress the tender redness. He didn’t. Instead, he moved her hair back in place.

I think I’m dying, she said to him.

Lyle laughed. He leaned over and kissed her on the forehead. His lips were sticky from the candy. You’re silly, he said.  Do your yoga. Lyle loved yoga, and he loved that Coraline had started going to the beginner’s classes twice a week. She did not take to it very well—her body wasn’t flexible, her mind was too fearful—but she loved that he loved that she was trying.

Later, after Lyle left to pick up dinner, Coraline lay on the ground with her arms spread as wide as she could stretch them. This was her favorite position, the savasana. It was the way her yoga teacher ended every class. All twenty students would lie in the darkened room, arms outstretched, and would breathe slowly. After five minutes of savasana, they would get back into lotus, put their hands to their foreheads, and say Namaste. The last five minutes were the best five minutes, and Coraline’s sole motivation.

She heard Lyle on the stairs but didn’t open her eyes. She heard the sound of him opening her door, then the rustle of the grocery bags.

Why are you in corpse? Lyle asked. Coraline’s eyes flew open. He was standing above her, his nose running a little bit.

I don’t know what you’re talking about, she said. She put her hands over her eyes. I was doing savasana.

That’s the same thing as corpse, he said. He lay down beside her. This is corpse pose, he said.

I don’t like that name, she said. He stretched his arms out. Her right hand flew to her neck, but he grabbed it. He held it. They lay still next to each other.

 

Jami Nakamura Lin is an MFA candidate in nonfiction at the Pennsylvania State University. She is a nonfiction editor at Revolution House literary magazine. A Pushcart Prize nominee, her work is forthcoming or has appeared in Rock & Sling, Niche, Monkey Bicycle, Thunderclap! Magazine, and Escape Into Life, among others.

Read an interview with Jami here.