I remember you, the brunette from California, with the sheet music of “Over the Rainbow” framed on your apartment wall. It was autographed by the composer of the music or the lyrics, one of them. I remember, too, clearly, how on that night we met, on the eve of the fall semester, when we first had sex, you said the Tin Man had always been your favorite, ever since you were a little girl, because he didn’t have a penis.
Sometimes I think of you, how you preferred to be eaten than penetrated. You who bragged that same night that you’d slept with over a hundred guys.
Whenever I find myself in a cemetery, I remember what you said once so many years ago—of course, in Oxford, Mississippi, when we were grad students. We’d watched Ghost at the mall theater, then visited Faulkner’s grave, admiring the stonework, and you said in the shade after some wandering, “There’s nothing sadder than seeing new flowers on old graves.”
Not many weeks later you called me to your apartment because you’d promised paramedics that you wouldn’t spend the night alone. You confessed that it wasn’t the first time you’d asphyxiated yourself but it had been your first time to call 911. You showed me the knitted rope, the bedroom doorknob. Are you beginning to remember me yet?
Then, before long, you lost your teaching post after word got out you had sex with students and your student’s friends at a frat party. We weren’t speaking by then. Different circles.
If you read this, find me on Facebook. You’ll see I’m married to a brunette from Kansas. How about that for irony—me with my Dorothy at last. But do you have your Tin Man? Are you somewhere, or anywhere, by now? If I remembered your name, my approach would’ve been entirely different.
Sidney Thompson holds an
MFA in creative writing and a Ph.D. in American literature, with a secondary
specialization in African-American narratives. He is the author of the short
story collection Sideshow, winner of Foreword Magazine’s Silver Award for Short
Story Collection of the Year (2006). His fiction has appeared in numerous
anthologies and in such literary journals as 2 Bridges Review, Atticus Review, The Carolina Quarterly, Cleaver
Magazine, The Cortland Review, Danse Macabre, Flash: The International
Short-Short Story Magazine, Grey Sparrow Journal, NANO, Prick of the Spindle,
Ragazine, and The Southern Review.
He also has a chapbook of poetry, titled You/Wee, forthcoming in December from
Prolific Press. He lives in Fort Worth, where he teaches creative writing at Texas
Randall Brown (I Might Never Learn and As Designed) is the author of the award-winning Mad to Live, his essay on (very) short fiction appears in The Rose Metal Press Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, and he appears in numerous anthologies. He blogs regularly at FlashFiction.Net and has been published widely, both online and in print. He is also the founder and managing editor of Matter Press and its Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. He received his MFA from Vermont College and now teaches in Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program.
Devon Balwit‘s ([Yes, but…]) most recent collection is titled A Brief Way to Identify a Body (Ursus Americanus Press). Her individual poems can be found in The Cincinnati Review, Fifth Wednesday (online),apt, Grist, and Rattle among others. For more on her book and movie reviews, chapbooks, collections and individual works, visit her website.
Alex Chernow (your dog slept on the floor of your) is a poet, nurse, and birth doula currently residing in Baltimore. She holds degrees from NYU and Johns Hopkins, and won Boulevard magazine’s 2014 Contest for Emerging Poets. Her poetry chapbook It wouldn’t be called longing if you only did it for a little while is forthcoming from dancing girl press.
Brittany Franclemont (The Nursery Walls) is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Stephen F. Austin State University and has previously had her work published in The Piney Dark.
Stacey Johnson (Between the Living and the Dead: A Chernobyl Monologue) writes and teaches in San Diego County, where she is a current MFA candidate at San Diego State University. Her work has appeared in The Adirondack Review, A Year In Ink, and various small online publications. She lives with her daughter, Grace, who inspires everything.
Kyle Laws (Apology in the Sand) is based out of the Arts Alliance Studios Community in Pueblo, CO where she directs Line/Circle: Women Poets in Performance. Her collections include Faces of Fishing Creek (Middle Creek Publishing), So Bright to Blind (Five Oaks Press), and Wildwood (Lummox Press). Ride the Pink Horse is forthcoming from Spartan Press. With six nominations for a Pushcart Prize, her poems and essays have appeared in magazines and anthologies in the U.S., U.K., and Canada. She is the editor and publisher of Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press.
Jennifer Martelli (Low-/Tide Heart of Mine and The Broken Cherry, The Poplar, The Yew) is the author of MyTarantella (forthcoming, Bordighera Press), as well as the chapbook, After Bird (Grey Book Press, winner of the open reading, 2016). Her work has appeared or will appear in Verse Daily, The Sonora Review, Iron HorseReview (winner, Photo Finish contest), The Sycamore Review, Sugar House, Superstition Review,Thrush, and Tinderbox Poetry Journal. Her prose and artwork have been published in Five-2-One, The Baltimore Review, and Green Mountains Review. Jennifer Martelli has been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Net Prizes and is the recipient of the Massachusetts Cultural Council Grant in Poetry. She is a poetry editor for The Mom Egg Review.
Marcus Meade (Kick Me in the Nuts for $20?) is an Assistant Professor – General Faculty at the University of Virginia in the Academic and Professional Writing Program. He focuses primarily on scholarship in Rhetoric and Composition, but occasionally finds time to write short fiction, music, and baseball commentary. His interests are eclectic, but his intent is always the same, to write something that helps people.
Anna Rac (Illustrator) is an abstract expressionist painter who explores the connection between music and painting. Playing piano since the age of four, Anna graduated with a degree in music from the University of Illinois, and now uses classical music to inspire her artwork. She describes her painting process as an immersive and emotional experience. From music to canvas, her spontaneous approach results in works that are lyrical, dynamic, and multilayered—much like the music from which she draws inspiration. She uses a variety of media and tools to create her compositions. Born in Poland, she now lives in Naples and is an active member of the Florida Artists Group, Naples Art District, and Naples Art Association. Anna’s paintings can be found in galleries in Florida, as well as many private collections in the States and abroad.
Laurie Saurborn (Graft) is the author of two poetry collections, Industry of Brief Distraction and Carnavoria, and a chapbook, Patriot. An NEA Creative Writing Fellowship recipient, her work has appeared in publications such as jubilat, storySouth, The Cincinnati Review, The Southern Review, The Rumpus, and Tupelo Quarterly. Previously, she taught creative writing at the University of Texas at Austin, where she directed the undergraduate creative writing program. She is currently pursuing a graduate degree in psychiatric mental health nursing at Ohio State. Find her at lauriesaurborn.com.
Robert Sachs’ (The Esterlink) work has appeared most recently in The Louisville Review, the Chicago Quarterly Review, and the Delmarva Review. He earned an M.F.A. in Writing from Spalding University in 2009. His story, “Vondelpark,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2017. Originally from Chicago, he currently lives in Louisville, Kentucky. He serves on the board of Louisville Literary Arts. Read more at www.roberthsachs.com.
Sidney Thompson (To Dorothy) holds an MFA in creative writing and a Ph.D. in American literature, with a secondary specialization in African-American narratives. He is the author of the short story collection Sideshow, winner of Foreword Magazine’s Silver Award for Short Story Collection of the Year (2006). His fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and in such literary journals as 2 Bridges Review, Atticus Review, The Carolina Quarterly, Cleaver Magazine, The Cortland Review, Danse Macabre, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Grey Sparrow Journal, NANO, Prick of the Spindle, Ragazine, and The Southern Review. He also has a chapbook of poetry, titled You/Wee, forthcoming in December from Prolific Press. He lives in Fort Worth, where he teaches creative writing at Texas Christian University.
Hananah Zaheer (Stitches and Final Exam) is a fiction editor for Four Way Review. Her recent work has appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review where it won the Lawrence Foundation Literary prize for 2017, Alaska Quarterly Review, Gargoyle, Moon City Review, Westview and Willow Review, among others. She received a 2016 Pushcart nomination from Moon City Review and has been awarded fellowships by the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA) and Rivendell Writers’ Colony.
Reflux runs in my family, burning even as babies, a sharp cringe in every snapshot. This esophageal squall tastes like shredded Firestones, a tired ache that settled in my father’s Adam’s apple. Extended into sinuses, eroded cracks, soft fissures, until he could no longer stomach margaritas with my mother. The outlawed repertoire might leave lesser men impoverished: no lemon tang, no hot press of garlic, no avocado butter. Chocolate turned volatile: no beer, wine, briny cocktail. But my father relaxed into restrictions: a kiosk of pots with broth and worms. Eating without, craving pittance. But not me, no, I continue to burn.
Randall Brown is
the author of the award-winning Mad to
Live, his essay on (very) short fiction appears in The Rose Metal Press Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, and he appears
in numerous anthologies. He blogs regularly at FlashFiction.Net and has been
published widely, both online and in print. He is also the founder and managing
editor of Matter Press and its Journal of
Compressed Creative Arts. He received his MFA from Vermont College and now
teaches in Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program.
“I Might Never Learn” first appeared in Corium Magazine.
More and more, he finds himself in the psychedelia of Farmville, the land of Teletubbies without the creatures: crops, a cottage, a line of cherry trees, all of it his. Blueberries to arise in four hours, tomatoes to plant, watermelons to fertilize. He’s saving up for a tractor or seeder. He pets the Clydesdales, gathers the wool, collects truffles from the pigs. He walks along the white-washed fence, passing the red, purple, yellow hay bales. Someone has painted GROOVY onto the day-glo barn. No neighbors’ dogs bark; no face peers over the fence or through the evergreens. A duck sits on an anvil. Any second the pink roses will bloom. Later, the daffodils, the red tulips. A bug in the system has made crops unable to shrivel. There’s no need to harvest, but he keeps to the schedule. Except for the daisies, like miniature suns or cracked-open eggs, alive for weeks, undead, desperate to…. In the corner, by the tombstones, fallow land waits to be plowed. Somewhere a phone rings, like an alarm. Somewhere, a pile of papers. Somewhere, a text. Pick me up. Take me here. Remember to get the milk. Somewhere, outside of Farmville, someone works madly to fix that glitch so flowers will wither, as they should.
Randall Brown is the author of the award-winning Mad to Live, his essay on (very) short fiction appears in The Rose Metal Press Guide to Writing Flash Fiction, and he appears in numerous anthologies. He blogs regularly at FlashFiction.Net and has been published widely, both online and in print. He is also the founder and managing editor of Matter Press and its Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. He received his MFA from Vermont College and now teaches in Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program.
Back to the green tiled wall, I watch the
surgeon apply clamps to a patient’s fingertips. Unrolling a length of gauze, he
winds it through the clamps and then the loops of a cloverleaf mounted at the
top of a metal pole. With one pull, the arm is lifted. In a blue hairnet, blue
shoe covers, a mask, and a giant white onesie—a “bunny suit”—it looks as if a
cloud swallowed me. When I modeled it earlier for the patient in pre-op, they
laughed, asking if I was married because my husband would certainly find the
sight of me hilarious.
an uncovered leg, a long, rectangular strip of skin is peeled away with a tool that
looks like a potato peeler. Surprisingly gray, the skin is dropped into a
stainless steel basin filled with sterile saline. A resident removes it and
passes it through a device that looks like a pasta machine. The resulting skin
mesh is applied over an injury that was prepared by washing, cutting, and cauterization.
my bunny suit I wear bright red scrubs that mark me as a nursing student. Thinking
of my students in the creative writing classes I taught only last spring, the list
of what I have lost runs through my mind: my house in Texas, my poetry and art books,
my cat, my cameras, my marriage, my job as a lecturer of creative writing. This
is the second surgery I have witnessed at the university hospital and when the
arm is finally lowered I think not, Why am I here in an operating room? But:
How did I get here?
“You’ll be the one who’s blamed,” my
therapist says. “The one who left.” In Texas I found my way to her office more
than four years ago after an outburst of frustrated anger during an argument
with my husband left me shaken and unmoored. During our sessions I learn that
expectations of people in our lives are “premeditated resentments.” Outside her
office, my reading of Buddhist practice teaches me of the option to have no
expectations, which feels like trading the twins of hope and despair for a
flat, lifeless line.
closer I get to my husband, the more I lose my frequency to a fog of static,
and so when I return to Austin from Ohio on semester break I stay at a hotel. At
my therapist’s office I comment on the new landscaping. Pale, heart-sized river
stones now line the space between her office and the next building over. “I was
worried the deer would be unable to navigate these rocks,” she says. “But they
aren’t having any trouble.”
I stumble through a new state of re-positioning my life over a Mid-western
landscape, the metaphor of animal experience continues to appear. Through late
summer and into fall, geese come and go from a pond near my apartment. But one remains,
swimming, eating grass, honking at intervals when I walk past with my dog. A lone
heron stalks along a small creek and I wonder if the two birds find any company
in one another. Is the goose injured? Mourning? Two days later the goose is
still there, maybe: there are now six geese, all standing and eating, and I cannot
tell if the possibly heartbroken goose is among them.
Synchronicity is unconcerned energy. It
does not ask what you imagine of the future: Who you will marry, where you will
live, if you will have kids. What I experience in leaving Texas for Ohio is not
serendipity, that fateful pull a friend and I recall as having too much
influence over our younger lives when we wanted to believe everything had a
meaning to decipher. Synchronicity is worrying over my accumulating
out-of-state student debt and the emotional cost of my destabilized marriage,
and in moments of peak anxiety looking at the clock on the stove, the car
stereo, or my phone, to see the time as 4:44 or 3:21 or 11:11 or 12:34. On some
plane—mathematical, chronological, invisible—I am walking the right track even
when most days feel like a series of falling overs as I learn how to take blood
pressures, how to assess levels of consciousness, how to cleanse and pack a
I do not turn on the TV during the day, but when the Kavanaugh hearings are
aired, I take a break from studying pathophysiology to watch. For the second
time, I have left a marriage to a successful man. Again, I see how easily people—female,
male, gay, straight—take sides on a split and how commonly they lean towards power.
Sometimes knowing yourself means being alone with yourself, means letting go of
everyone you thought you loved and who you believed loved you. How did I know
my marriage was over? Not while sitting in Al-Anon meetings struggling with my
desire to fix the unsolvable. Not when I convinced my husband not to throw me
out of the house by having sex after another argument that escalated. Not when
I scanned his cellphone text-log in the years before, and the months after, I
left. When we are still speaking, he recounts another encounter with a tearful female
student who thanks him for making her feel safe in class. Over the phone, I
feel him glowing. It takes a month of not speaking to him to wonder why making
me feel secure was not his priority.
I know: Another month passes and I begin to wake up happy. Or what registers as
a close approximation to the feeling as I begin to live without daily
storms—mine and his—crashing through my life.
To save what I can, I buy most of my
furniture at Ikea, unpack it in the apartment parking lot and carry it
upstairs, piece by piece. The couch, however, I have delivered, and the men who
carry it in are friendly even in the rainy later-summer gloom. After they
maneuver the box into the living room, one guy looks at his hands, covered in mysterious
black dust (which soon covers my own hands, as I begin to cut the cardboard
away from the couch), and instead of shaking my hand bumps my forearm with his
own. He’s a type, the sort of guy I see in Ohio—skinny white guy with piercing
blue eyes, tattoos that cannot be hidden, a missing tooth or two. We are ground
zero of the opioid epidemic; men who perform manual labor are stuck the
hardest. These blue eyes I see later in the semester in patients who lose significant
amounts of skin and muscle tissue, possibly from injecting drugs. I attend a training
session where I learn how to administer the antidote to opioids, a
drug—naloxone—that rips the high right out of the synapse. “Don’t expect a
thank you,” the organizer warns.
the past years I have struggled with my own addiction to believing I have the
answers and to the belief that making enough effort guarantees success. With this
sometimes self-destructive desire to help comes a corresponding addiction to
men in pain. Men who blaze and require a continual re-application of fuel. When
I first met my husband, his attention was a fire unlike any I had experienced. Passionate
letters, gifts of books and jewelry, calls at all hours. It did not register
then that there was someone else—or several someone elses—building the heat from
the other side. That the circle would shift and I would be the one not pursued,
Earlier in the semester I witnessed my
first surgery while wearing another bunny suit. Watching the process of
removing pins from bone, I learned they can be closer to the size of writing instruments
than sewing needles. When the patient awakes in the post-anesthesia recovery
unit, they appear disappointed to find a wound vacuum—designed to speed
healing—in place. Before I can catch myself, I say, “I’m sorry.” But I do speak
from a kind of experience, years ago having seen the same sadness on my husband’s
face when he woke from anesthesia with this very device tethered to his body.
got me into therapy and then into Al-Anon in 2014 was a wooden spoon. I was
cooking, my husband and I exchanged words, I threw a spoon and it hit him in
the chest. This isn’t you, my nurse practitioner said. See this therapist. I
made an appointment. As I moved into my later thirties I began to see how anger
ruled me, how it was a legacy passed to me, how trying to avoid anger only made
it grow. Yet I also saw how women were not allowed to be angry, in the world or
at home. With reason, or without.
central tenant of Al-Anon is that in focusing on the self, by stepping back
from the urge to control and monitor the behavior of a loved one, a positive
change can result in the relationship. I found the gains, in terms of the health
of my marriage, to be one-sided. Maybe every relationship is meted a set amount
of certain things. The less I drank, the more he did. The less I lashed out,
the more furious he became. Living with chronic anger and alcoholism—whether
yours or someone else’s—is like walking on the surface of a funhouse mirror. It
is a destabilized, warped landscape.
have read that life is one long room, containing everyone who has played a part
in your journey. It is not just the people in the space, though, it is the
spaces themselves: the yellow kitchen in my house in Austin, the church
basement where I first went to Al-Anon, my office in the English department at UT,
my apartment office in Ohio, the patient rooms and operating rooms I move
through in school. It is the women I worked with at the mental health clinic at
twenty-two, connected to the post-surgical wound care I did for my husband at thirty-two,
connected to the patients I cared for with skin infections and burns at
forty-four. It is the North Carolina house I grew up in, the upstate barn I
lived in for a New York winter, the red house my husband and I rented for
several consecutive summers in Berkeley. It is this last house I keep our
marriage in, a space in which we were happy, where Pacific coast fog drifted
through the cypress trees every afternoon.
How I got here: My aunt died and left enough
money for me to envision paying for at least one semester of nursing school,
wherever I was accepted. Although I loved teaching I was not prepared for the
politics and leveraging required of academic life. I wanted to love a job and
to be paid a living wage. To not be caught in the current circumstances of the
artistic economy. Becoming a nurse practitioner was a dream I put to the side
while I earned an MFA. As nearly every week my husband threatened to quit his
job, it seemed that if I wanted a safe place to write, psychologically and
financially, I would have to make it myself.
my sister and I visited our aunt in France, the winter of her death, we remained
neutral in our expressions as she showed us her house in Bram sitting within
sight of the highway rotary. It was a world away from the medieval battlement she
and our uncle spent years repairing, in Banyuls with the Mediterranean in view,
where a large lizard roamed the walls, where my uncle sat on the patio under
the jasmine drinking boxed California rose like the Americans he professed to
hate while the hunters tracked wild boars through the vineyards. Now my aunt’s
head was swollen to twice its normal size due to radiation treatment for lung
cancer that had spread to her brain, her blonde hair long gone and replaced
with a crooked wig and worry about her pets. After our week’s visit at a rented
country house, we returned her to her home and husband, promising to see her
again even though it was unlikely. As we moved through the door I turned to see
her face, knowing we were leaving her the only place we could, a place of her
making, one of writing, travel, alcohol, and anger.
my apartment hang two pictures, one of the house in Banyuls and the other a
charcoal of nearby Collioure. These I crammed into my car before I left, before
I pressed on and did not heed my husband’s pleas to return. This stings: I chose
not to turn around. To not go back when he asked. Perhaps this is another
addiction, to pushing through. But a life cannot be made in an avalanche. I
released as much as I could in an attempt to level the land, but when he drained
the bank accounts over several years I had nowhere else to go but away. I could
use my inheritance to bail him out, or to shore myself up.
I read a report from the CDC about suicide risk and occupation. Among men,
those who work in manual labor—men who deliver furniture, men who build
apartments, houses, offices, and hospitals in booming Austin and Columbus—have
the highest suicide rates. Among women, those who work in the arts are the
hardest struck. I cite the statistics not to imply I was suicidal, but to
illustrate the importance of realizing there are choices women can make that
will provide an option other than enduring. My husband and I are both writers and
artists and we had a system that worked, one that I could depend on, for a
while. Teaching requires the control of emotion, response, and expression, as
does recovery. But it is impossible to hold everything in: My marriage fell
apart when I began to teach at UT for much less than he made, and the self-management
I had to do to survive bled over into my creative life. He kept writing. Living
in a life of compartmentalization and blinders, I nearly stopped.
A relationship ending is being lost from
what was, and if there is anything to hang onto it is the connection between
how things were and what they will become. The space between is far from empty.
In one of my first Al-Anon meetings, someone said it is not how far you have to
go, but how far you have come. My apartment windows face a wooded area. Now that the leaves have fallen I can see the
empty swing sets in the backyards of the houses in the adjoining subdivision. Hanging
curtains would interrupt the light moving in and out of the windows. I am not
sure how I feel about waking up happy; about not living around the drama of
another person’s choices and in the safety I found in living apart from myself.
In my bunny suit, I take steps, some giant and some small, and learn what I can
from where I end up, from the people I meet, from how I navigate—successfully
or not—the hazards and confusions of the daily human condition. Our stories,
our lives, were connected, but even in marriage they were never the same.
on the absence of female road narratives, Vanessa Veselka writes that when
women on journeys are encountered, they are not asked, “Why are you doing
this?” but, “What thing happened to you to make you want to go off on your
own?” As time passes I continue to discern the difference between being
reactive and having a reaction. A reaction can take time; it does not bear the
expectation of immediacy. Staying in my job in Austin, taking prerequisite classes
for my applications, going to therapy, sleeping on the couch or asking my
husband to: those were reactions to living in a marriage I could not rescue.
did I get to here from there? I learned to ask for help: how to frame a
difficult conversation, how to make it through the holidays alone, how to
remove my spouse from my car insurance. When it was offered, I learned to accept
it: non-skid grippers for my shoes to prevent falls while walking my dog in the
snow; notes from a missed lecture; calls and texts from friends who continue to
In my mind spins a loop of all I have gained: space, loneliness, my eyes steady on my own in the mirror when I can finally look at myself again. Moving states has not removed me from anger, but it has decreased my reactivity. If, as Virginia Woolf wrote, there is a line running through each story to which everything cleaves and cleaves—runs to and runs from—what is the line coursing through this layered breakage and regeneration? As winter moves in and it is colder and darker earlier every evening, I walk past the pond less. The last time I see the goose it moves from the bank into the water as my dog and I come closer. This bird is not the woodpecker I found the week before I left Austin, lying on its back on the dog bed we kept outside. Not the woodpecker that clutched my finger with its feet and pecked at my hand, refusing a perch on a branch and instead settling into a stockpot lined with towels. That was small enough for me to catch and hand over to someone else. Synchronicity is not about how things will turn out, but how life carries on while we adjust.
“How do you like Ohio?” A woman asks as she scans my groceries later that day.
“It’s gray, I say,” surprised I miss the sun.
Laurie Saurborn is the author of two poetry collections, Industry of Brief Distraction and Carnavoria, and a chapbook, Patriot. An NEA Creative Writing Fellowship recipient, her work has appeared in publications such as jubilat, storySouth, The Cincinnati Review, The Southern Review, The Rumpus, and Tupelo Quarterly. Previously, she taught creative writing at the University of Texas at Austin, where she directed the undergraduate creative writing program. She is currently pursuing a graduate degree in psychiatric mental health nursing at Ohio State. Find her at lauriesaurborn.com.
your dog slept on the floor of your closet every day after you left. your family tried to coax him into the yard, entice him with long walks, hold palmsful of deli meat at the bottom of the stairs, but, when left unattended, he’d retreat back to the closet to curl himself into a bed of clothes that still smelled like you
1. piles of unwashed clothes
and your mother, who doesn’t know how to move her
body anymore because this is not something mothers are supposed to do your mother, who hasn’t eaten anything
off the plates of casseroles we’ve brought to her side table in endless
parade your mother, who is on
her knees again and we don’t know if she’s praying or if she’s too weak to
2. so many science fiction novels with spines splayed open and
which I know you loved but we never talked about
them and I know you used to write
but none of us have figured out the password to your laptop, not your team or
your dog’s name or your sister’s
3. your elementary school yearbook
and we can’t stop flipping through it saying what a beautiful child you were and your third grade teacher came and told us how once you got in trouble when you and another boy showed each other your penises in
class and said “maybe I shouldn’t
have told you that” and she cried and
kept saying “this is wrong this is so wrong”
4. bottles of lithium, with no pills missing
you’d said in the midst of all the appointments
and scans that someday you would donate your brain to science and now it’s at
johns hopkins, and everyone said to your parents that of course you found a way to to
help others, even now, so like you, and it doesn’t make your parents feel any better
5. a syringe, which no one knew you had or used till after
6. birthday cards from your grandmother you never threw away
all your family came, your grandparents and aunts
and uncles and cousins and all your friends, friends you hadn’t seen in years, and
your parents’ friends and your brother and your sister and all their friends and the
guys you worked with at the bar and your ex-girlfriend who couldn’t stop crying and the
kids you coached for the last five years missed football practice to sit around the living
room in black and tell your mother no when she said it’s all her fault and on the night of the funeral so many people
came they couldn’t fit through the doors and we could tell it made your dad proud,
in a weird way, and your parents said it was the party they get to throw for
you since they’ll never get to throw a wedding
7. every album by the band your best friend started
and you used to drive an hour and a half to see
his shows, every one, and he wrote a song for you the night it happened and your
family listens to it every day
and your brother takes care of your dog now and mixes his food with the bone broth you had made and left in the freezer in hopes that he will eat but even or especially your dog knows this is wrong this is so wrong
Alex Chernow is a
poet, nurse, and birth doula currently residing in Baltimore, MD. She holds
degrees from NYU and Johns Hopkins University, and was the winner of Boulevard
magazine’s 2014 Contest for Emerging Poets. Her poetry chapbook It wouldn’t be called longing if you only did it for a little
while is forthcoming from dancing girl press.
We walked out of Balley’s, a roving bachelor party looking for the right bar or Blackjack table. I’d lost my ass playing three-card poker, and the rest of my group lagged behind.
steady stream of Vegas bodies moved both directions of a crosswalk staircase. I
tried to step slowly so my friends might keep up, but the current waits for no
one except the migrant workers handing out small cards for hookers—rocks in the
The wide crosswalk provided some relief from the rush of people so I stopped and watched a man with an electric guitar and small amp playing “American Woman.” Another man with a briar-patch beard sat next to an upturned ball cap and a sign reading “too ugly to hook.”
the quiet that followed guitar man’s song, a voice projected over the buzz of
moving people. “Kick me in the nuts for twenty bucks,” a man shouted. He stood
near the end of the crosswalk holding a cardboard sign that read, “kick me in
the nuts?”. He was young, early twenties, and his clothes dangled from thin
arms and legs. He smiled with repeated shouts, “Twenty bucks, kick me in the
nuts!” Unlike the man too ugly to hook, who simply sat on the ground and stared,
this young man’s face reflected the liveliness of the street.
the neon lights, his skin looked a dull shade of peach, like he was covered in
layers of plastic wrap. His face had patches of hair that might look impressive
on someone ten years younger but on him looked ragged and dirty.
hearing the man, I visualized the toe of a boot smashing my own nuts and
remembered the pain of contact from years past. The uncontrollable burn, the
body-snatching sickness deep in my gut that recedes slowly.
a moment, the friends I’d been waiting for came walking my way. I jumped back
into the stream beside them, and we continued across the street when a familiar
voice commanded us to hold up. Chuck, a member of our group, was talking to the
man with the “kick me in the nuts?” sign. The rest of us clustered at the top
of the staircase trying not to interrupt the flow of people.
only a minute, Chuck and the man came walking up to our group. Chuck pointed to
Sam, the soon-to-be groom, and presented the man as a gift to him. Sam looked
hesitant and waved his hands in protest, but the others pushed him closer to
the man while laughing and clapping in praise at Chuck’s gift.
I stood silent with my hands interlocked at my belt. This won’t happen, I thought. And yet, I saw the group turn to Sam. I saw him blush and hold up his hands asking them to stop but only in the most lighthearted way.
part of me forced my hands up in a signal asking my friends to stop before
letting them fall back to their clenched position at my belt. I turned and
fixed my gaze on a large sign for Paris, unable to look at my friends, and
thankful I couldn’t look at myself.
man encouraged Sam as well, his excitement matching the building frenzy around
him. With nearly fifteen dedicated onlookers, Sam gave in, and I stared more
intently at the neon sign for Harrah’s.
crowd surrounding Sam had reached at least twenty-five people, and everyone
stood surprisingly quiet as the money changed hands.
held my breath, waiting for the laughter and collective exhale of the audience to
signal an end to the show. I waited to hear the man scream or fall or cry and
turned my head toward anything other than what was happening five feet away
eyes squinted as a reflex, and the neon lights became blurry and dull. Waiting
for the street to make sounds again, a violent force struck me on the side. I
lost my balance and fell face-first to the ground.
The silence remained, no laughs or screams, just anticipation that wouldn’t release. My scraped hands pressed equal parts pavement and discarded hooker cards. Looking up, I saw the kick-me-in-the-nuts man running past Harrah’s. His loose shirt and baggy jeans billowed out like the parachute of a drag racer, but he wasn’t slowing down. He navigated the stream of people with precision, and was gone before Chuck got beyond, “Hey, asshole! Hey!”
crowd slowly broke away, carrying a new, anxious laughter up and down stream.
My friends picked me up, and we continued our walk down the strip. We found the next casino, and I lost two hundred dollars shooting craps. I watched servers in short skirts and body glitter walk from table to table. I watched the night turn back into morning and the numbers on the jackpots climb higher and higher. As we headed back towards the hotel, Chuck and the others grumbled about the man who, it turned out, wanted twenty dollars to run down the street. Eventually, they turned it into a joke, another story to tell back home huddled around a table at the bar.
Meade is an Assistant Professor – General Faculty at the
University of Virginia in the Academic and Professional Writing Program. He
focuses primarily on scholarship in Rhetoric and Composition, but occasionally
finds time to write short fiction, music, and baseball commentary. His
interests are eclectic, but his intent is always the same, to write something
that helps people.