Down in the Dirt

welcome to volume 94 (May 2011) of

Down in the Dirt

down in the dirt
internet issn 1554-9666
(for the print issn 1554-9623)

Janet K., Editor - click on down in the dirt


In This Issue...

Fritz Hamilton
Ben Macnair
Sarah Mallery
Danielle Bredy
Micah Thorstenson
Elizabeth Mitchell
Victor Phan
Richard Shelton
Allie Claus
Mitchell Waldman
Caleb Yarborough
Jasmyne Suggs
Megan Price
Edward Rodosek
John Silvio
Peter LaBerge
Iftekhar Sayeed
John Ragusa
Clinton Van Inman

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In “Revelations” the Romans are called

Fritz Hamilton

In “Revelations” the Romans are called
“whores of Babylon”
/ Paul called them
good guys/ does

this mean whores are good whether
in or out of Babylon? &
Jesoo partook of Magdalene because

she was good at it?/ John, who wrote
100 years after Matthew says nothing about
Magdalene’s virtues, but she was pretty old by

the time of John/ by then he probably had
little interest in the ancient slattern/ Jesoo,
according to some recent accounts, escaped

the cross before they discovered they’d
forgotten the nails & made his way to India &
the protection of Muslims & Hindus where he 

became a capitalist/ since
it’s impossible to be a greedy, selfish
capitalist & be a Christian, Jesoo

most likely left the proseletizing to Paul &
became a money maker/ the Hindus then
caught him eating a steak from one of their

sacred cows & sent him off to Pakistan to
die blowing up infidel Americans for the
Taliban & raping a few poor farmer’s

daughters to brag about to
Bin Ladin before
retiring to the Riviera with King Farouk ...


Why are all the faces
coming out of my laptop?

Fritz Hamilton

Why are all the faces coming
out of my laptop?/
they amass to see my hanging?

They look from grotesque shapes, all
shining like the sun/ all staring
at me like friendly fire, &

they plug me like the nickle, trying
to sneak onto the Staten Island Ferry/ a
school of Asian carp waits below in

New York Harbor for me to fall off the
ferry to their razor teeth &
harbor myself in their bellies/ I

am Tom Sawyer dangling my line into
the water to catch me a carp to
take to Becky Thatcher/ I

jerk up a mule fish instead &
let it pull me up the Erie Canal/ it
lets me off in Buffalo, where

I’m too buffaloed to continue &
return to my laptop, where
all the faces are cut & bleeding/ I

catch the blood in a chalice off
the nose of Capt Bly &
drink it down until I’m

Long John Silver trying to
find short Gold/ we
go to Gold’s Gym &

find him bench pressing 5,000 lbs of
heroin with a 2 cent street value/ we
cut it with nuclear waste & trade it to

kindergarten kids for their bag lunches/
raided by the Keystone CIA we
get rid of our stash in New York Harbor/

a porpoise & sea monster OD, &
the homeless of NYC eat their
flesh & check into detox/ Margaret

Thatcher, Becky’s mother, sends the
British navy to attack New York with all
its addicts, but they get off course &

invade the Malvinas/ a WWII bomb from
the U.S.A. goes down the smokestack of a
British destroyer but won’t go off or

the Britsh would have turned their ships
home & 3rd World Argentina would have
beaten the English, &

all the faces around my laptop would be
different embarrassing the fickle monster of
history to change all the stories &

make the murdered God moan, &
we’d be destroyed in a different
way, at another time &

place ...


Keeping the Peace

Ben Macnair

I have never met the Devil,
or Satan to his friends,
but I think we share the same local.
He never buys a round,
but he gets a real mean look
if you spill his pint,
so I may have bought him a drink,
if only to keep the peace.
I hear he is often in the details,
and that he makes work for idle hands,
so he may well be running the country some day,
but I think I may still be voting for people.

The Comforter

Sarah Mallery

    Hans leaned back even further into the shadows, his heartbeat pulsing up into his ears. Thank God the doorway was slightly indented from the street, otherwise they would have surely spotted him. Trying to stay calm, his body became consumed by the rhythmic pounding of heavy boots on cobblestone, only twenty yards from his labored, irregular breathing.
    “Not safe to pick up the passports today; too many SS in the city for the big rally,” he speculated. Instantly, he pictured his dutiful wife Marthe, carefully folding the Goose-Down comforter over the edge of the assigned bed while she waited patiently for him to come to her. The room would be immaculate; in fact so neat and clean you could eat off of the floor, and the family pictures would hang straight, not crooked on the walls, as was so often seen in the other boarding houses, die besteigend hause, around the city. Indeed, everyone commented on how much pride Marthe always took in her work.
    A sudden lull on the streets prompted Hans to venture slowly from his hiding place, but five paces out, he could see a crowd composed of men, women, and children gathering up ahead. Booing and hissing, they all seemed riveted on something and he was about to quietly slip by them, when he glanced over and stopped, appalled.
    A frail, dark-haired woman stood silently in the middle of the sidewalk with a large, wooden Jewish Star draped over her neck. Laughing and taking turns, people couldn’t resist the urge to poke at the cumbersome object, and with each harsh jab, she cringed as her neck twisted back and forth; still, she couldn’t bring herself to move away—her senses had been too dulled.
    An elderly man attempted to walk by as inconspicuously as possible, but it was no use.
    As soon as an SS guard caught sight of the yarmulke he was wearing on his head, he was hauled over and handed an ordinary toothbrush.
    Hans watched in horror as the Nazis kicked the old man twice, knocking him down to his knees. Dazed, pleading softly in Yiddish, the man gazed up at his tormenters, a small stream of spittle forming out of one side of his cracked lips. But they stood firm; they were on a quest.
    “Clean, you good-for-nothing Jude!” they jeered. “Clean the streets! That’s all you’re good for. Now do your job!”
    Forcing him to scrub the streets with the toothbrush, the guards kept shoving him down with their thick, black boots every time he tried to sit up or even pause. At one point, the old man managed to stop just long enough to peer over at the frail woman, and for a split second, the mutual bond of despair was palpable. But in a flash it was gone, self-survival trumping everything.
    Hans didn’t dare remain any longer. For the last several months he had witnessed so much of this kind of treatment, he had learned protesting would be pointless, so he returned home, his forehead constricted and his eyebrows a single, determined line.
    As the late afternoon light filtered through his small apartment, he sensed that by now, Marthe would be across town, so anxious she would mostly probably be nauseous. But today, there was nothing he could do about it, and opted to finish his meticulous work instead.
    From out of his top right hand drawer, he pulled out several typed papers comprised of two hundred Jewish names, all placed in his trust. Next to the papers were at least five regular German passports, and five passports with the infamous “J” written on them. He positioned each one in front of him, then he carefully started transferring the Jewish names and their photos fromthe Jewish passports onto regular German passports. It was a painstaking process. Each passport had to be carefully executed, and if he made an error, he had to start all over again.
    “Irene ‘Sarah’ Greenfeld will now be Lisle Guttman,” he muttered as he omitted the obligatory ‘Sarah’ attached to the woman’s identification and added a Christian first and last name. He glanced over at the woman’s husband’s old passport, and made a mental note to change his from Leo ‘Israel’ Greenfeld, to Ernest Guttman.
    As the grandfather clock’s pendulum slowly ticked back and forth, Hans worked on, unconscious of time. By contrast, Marthe, on the other side of the city, agonized over every minute. These days, if Hans didn’t show, she automatically assumed there might be danger, and already, she could feel her stomach churning. Still, she dusted and cleaned, grateful for her housekeeping job at the Sailerstrasse Boarding House with its good pay and how it had turned out to be the perfect vehicle for their underground activities.
    Every morning she would vigorously sweep, dust, and clean each room, always making sure she finished her day with the lodging that contained the designated comforter. The comforter itself was ordinary looking; a dark brown Muhldorfer, once lush in its color and texture, now faded and worn. But stitched inside its soft folds, German and Jewish passports were strategically placed, ready for the simple exchanges that Marthe and Hans did with their co-conspirator, Herr Kaiser.
    So far, the system had been impeccable. Herr Kaiser was a longtime boarder, so naturally, the comforter was housed in his room. Friends for years, he and Hans had known each other as far back as 1920, when they were both new, young professors at the University. But as Hitler’s power increased, they had stood by and watched the firing of their Jewish colleagues, one by one. Finally, after two Kaier’s beers each in Han’s apartment one night, they knew neither of them could sit by while their countrymen were in so much trouble. Something had to be done.
    Herr Kaiser came up with the idea first about the passports, but because Hans was an art professor, it fell on his shoulders to do the actual forgery. Soon, he had become so proficient at these fabrications, Marthe kidded him that when Hitler was gone and their world returned to normal, perhaps he could continue this as an occupation, enabling them both to retire up in the mountains, in Mittenwald perhaps, where the snow sometimes packed twenty feet, and the quaint cottages were a reminder of better times. But Hans would listen to her fantasy for only a few seconds, chuckle, then shoo her away so he could concentrate on his passports.
    Standing in the door jam of the final room, Marthe could hear Herr Kaiser and another man ambling up the creaky hallway steps. As each swollen step groaned, she braced herself before telling him the bad news: no new passports today.
    “Good evening, Frau Hauptman. How are you this fine day?” His jovial tone proved Herr Kaiser assumed all was well.
    “Good evening, Herr Kaiser,” she answered, darting her eyes towards the comforter and just barely shaking her head.
    Startled, Herr Kaiser looked concerned, his eyebrows arching up towards each other. But ever the consummate actor, he never missed a beat. “Ah, you have done a fine job of cleaning as usual, Frau Hauptman, fine job, fine job. Thank you very much.”
    His mouth stayed open in an ‘O,’ poised to say something else, but Herr Guttermann, the concierge, walked past them on his way to his room at the end of the hall. Herr Kaiser shut his mouth with a click, and nodding politely to Herr Gutterman and Marthe, went into his own room, closing his door and leaving Marthe to hurry home to find out just exactly what had gone wrong.
    Marthe’s and Herr Kaiser’s cautious instincts about Herr Gutterman were not wasted. Raised by a single mother, the concierge’s life had bounced back and forth from poverty and illiteracy to shame and non-stop humiliation. Winters seemed the hardest, when he and his brother and sisters clung together in the kitchen, a cluster of small hands, arms, and legs, squatting on a single bench, trying to keep warm enough to sit down and eat whatever meager food their mother could piece together. As they gnawed on their bread, he would watch their mother burning worthless WWI German currency in their stove to use as fuel rather than money, her face dead, her eyes hollow.
    She neither read to them at night, nor told them fairytales; the only time she had the energy to talk to her children at all was at the supper table, as she regaled them with stories about the depravity of the Jews. Then she would come alive, her face animated and her eyes shiny, convinced these people were the single cause of Germany’s downfall.
    “Jews kill Gentile children, then use their blood to make Matzohs,” she would insist, puffing up a size, certain that at least her children would grow up to be good, untainted Germans.
    Yet her son Peter Gutterman was different. Unlike the classic Aryan looks of his brothers and sisters, he was small and dark, a fact that had always haunted him. By the time he was full grown, a childhood of taunts, threats, and street pummeling had filled him with venom.
    But as Hitler rose to prominence, Herr Gutterman grew hopeful. Here at last, was someone who could raise Germany up from its ashes and simultaneously, punish those responsible for its ruination. And when the Nuremberg Laws were passed, he was particularly pleased; denying Jews citizenship was only the beginning as far as he was concerned. He took particular delight in seeing a neighborhood interfaith couple forced to wear individual placquards over their bodies. Mimi, who had always given him and his family sugar cookies, had to wear a sign that read: “At this place I am the greatest swine: I take Jews and make them mine!” Her husband Sidney’s read: “As a Jewish boy I always take German girls up to my room!” And although his early memories of her freshly baked cookies covered in a small basket had remained imprinted somewhere in his limbric brain, he still managed to turn his head the other way when passing them on the street.
    Kiosks, slathered with posters announcing the boycott of Jewish-owned stores, triggered first a tip of his hat, then a chuckle to himself. He would even, on occasion, mouth the words: “Defend yourselves! Do not buy from Jews!” He was in Heaven.
    Marthe’s key clicking in their front door lock made Hans twitch. Then, breathing a sigh of relief, he walked over to his wife and hugged her for almost twenty seconds without a word.
    “What happened today?” she finally asked.
    “Because of the upcoming rally tonight, I felt there were far too many SS around to be totally safe. Don’t worry. I worked on more of the passports, and next week when the city clears a little, we can continue.” He stroked his wife’s slight shoulders and back gently between her shoulder blades like he used to do when they were first married.
    She could feel her body relaxing muscle by muscle. “Hans, what if we are caught? Is it really worth——”
    He cut her off. “Don’t even talk that way! Think about all the people we’ve known that no longer have lives: Frau Greenberg, David Honig, all the professors at the University, Moishe Federman, remember him? Why, he was best man at our wedding for Gott’s sake! Think about it, Marthe!”
    Marthe nodded, trying not to cry. He was right, of course. She would just have to learn to conquer her fears.
    They fell asleep that night holding onto each other and listening to the booming loud speakers that had been set up in the main square. Hitler’s voice infiltrated everywhere, thundering and vibrating his message about how he was going to take over the world. Over and over again he bellowed his immense plans, until his gutteral tones became less strident, less intrusive, and just seconds before they drifted off to sleep, only a background hum, wafting in and out.
    In the ensuing weeks, although fifty more passports were exchanged easily, Marthe noticed a shift in Herr Gutterman’s behavior. Before, he had always tipped his hat to Herr Kaiser as a gentlemanly gesture, but now he would only stare at the boarder, and smileless, say hello. One day, exiting Herr Kaiser’s room, she caught the concierge standing on the landing watching her closely, yet when she caught his eye, he simply nodded, deep in thought. As he padded down the hallway, she could feel the tiny hairs on her arms starting to rise along with their gooseflesh brothers.
    She immediately brought up her concerns to Herr Kaiser, but in his typical way, he resonated his deep laugh and warned her not to worry so much. “Please go about your business,” he reassured her. “Leave Herr Gutterman to me. I’ll take care of things. You know, his bark is a lot harsher than his bite.”
    Remaining calm was not in her nature, but as she sewed each muslin ‘envelope’ containing a passport into the thick down batting, she repeated a little prayer like a mantra, consoling herself that by the time Herr Kaiser would extract the packages from out of the comforter, she would most probably be halfway across town.
    Every few days, the city was changing. Increasingly, Jewish stores were being emptied, their inhabitants either gone, or too frightened to come to work, and from out of nowhere, one of the first Jewish ghettos was instituted, a blatant reminder of the new Germany. Now, Marthe had to get to work each morning by walking past a big sign posted outside its large, black iron gates: “Wohngebiet der Juden. Betreten Verboten;” “Living area for Jews. Entrance is prohibited.” She would peer in quickly, then scurry on. Sometimes, dark-circled, glassy-eyed children stood just behind their gates, and if the SS guard’s head was turned away for a few moments, extend their hands, palms up, silently begging for food. But she dared not stop. Above all, she mustn’t arouse any suspicion, particularly now that they were so close to their goal.
    By late October, Herr Gutterman was openly hostile. Instead of any ‘hellos’ to Herr Kaiser, he just glowered, and with his consistent bragging to some of the other boarders about his close connections with the SS, Marthe feared the worst. He was an important man, he would sputter, proudly displaying the bold Swastika armband he had stolen from off of a truck just two days before, along with an SS dagger, an iron cross, and a frayed copy of Mein Kampf.
    “Hans, I really worry about Herr Kaiser,” Marthe insisted each night.
    “Herr Kaiser is amazing. He has a couple of good connections. You’ll see, he’ll know how to take care of himself. But I do worry about you. Perhaps this shall be the last ‘run’ for you, Marthe
    “Why now? I have been worried for weeks!” Marthe snapped, ignoring his outstretched hand.
    “Well, I do believe Herr Gutterman is getting worse from what you’ve just told me, and besides, these passports will be the last fifty on the list.”
    “Fifty! How can I possibly sew all of them into the comforter in time?”
    “My dear, you’ll just have to sew faster than you’ve ever sewn before. It appears we have no other choice.”
    The next day, all the rooms were less spotless than usual in the Sailerstrasse Boarding House. Rapid dusting, makeshift floor mops, and scratches on the floors from furniture being shoved quickly out of the way had allowed Marthe an extra hour and a half by the end of her shift, giving her time to sew fifty envelopes into good hiding places in the quilt.
    Finally, when she heard Herr Kaiser trudging up the old steps, achy, tingling fingers made it difficult for her to turn the knob, but she managed to fumble through and open the door to face her friend. Suddenly, she heard Herr Gutterman calling out from down below: “Herr Kaiser, come here, if you will. There’s something I must talk to you about.”
    Marthe hesitated. She stared at Herr Kaiser’s face: impassive, unsuspecting. She watched him shrug his shoulders, then do an about-face and go back down the stairs. She leaned over the railing and strained to hear any discourses, any arguments. Silence. She locked his door as quietly as possible and tiptoed down the steps, stopping each time they creaked, but Herr Gutterman did not open the door to his downstairs office, and she couldn’t hear any sounds coming out of it. As she exited the front door, she thought she heard a chair turning over, but kept running.
    Herr Kaiser was not so fortunate. When he had entered Herr Gutterman’s office, the concierge took a couple of minutes to water his one sad-looking plant, fix a couple of small statues on his shelves, and dust off his desk, calm, collected, no emotions on his face. All of a sudden, it was as if some blood vessel had burst, oozing up into his cheeks and turning them red and puffy. Like a madman, he ran around his desk, knocked a chair over while he grabbed a cane, and raising it up, struck the boarder across the face. “You Jew-lover, I know now you’re up to no good! You swine, you will have to pay for this! Don’t you realize how close I am with the SS? How dare you have anything to do with Jews!”
    Stunned, Herr Kaiser managed to sputter a few words. “Wha...what are you talking about? I don’t understand...”
    “Frau Burger said she saw you talking to a Jew on the street a few weeks ago, and Frau Schmidt even saw you going into a Jewish store one evening. Both of them have given me their sworn testimony on this! Now what do you say to me, you swine!” His eyes almost popped out of their sockets as he staggered towards Herr Kaiser, his left hand holding several sheets up in the air. A second later, he drew a small whistle from out of his pocket and blew it, piercing the air and catapulting a terrified Herr Kaiser spread-eagled across the floor. Instantly, an SS guard appeared from out of nowhere, his uniform fastidious, menacing.
    The co-conspirator was led away screaming, but somewhere inside he kept hoping the other boarders or Marthe, if she were still there, would go for help. But Marthe was gone, and the boarders all knew the drill too well; no one there would ever risk everything for the sake of someone else, not these days.
    Later that night, nestled in Hans’ arms, Marthe started to shiver.
    “What is wrong, dear one?” His voice was particularly smooth, liquid, like honey dripping over her freshly made sponge cake, just out of the oven.
    “I am not sure, but in my heart, I feel something is not right.” She turned and presented him with her back, soft, warm, in need of comfort.
    He draped his right arm over her stomach. “You are not due back at the boarding house for several days. By that time Herr Kaiser will have distributed the last passports, we will be finished with our work, and we can return to our old schedule, all right, my darling?”
    Marthe nodded and closed her eyes, knowing the tears would come soon.

* * * * * * *

    In the small border town of Kietz, Gertl Grynszpan couldn’t sleep even if she wanted to. Wedged in next to dozens of other Polish-born German Jews, she had trouble breathing in the stifling, overcrowded railway freight car and besides, her full bladder was keeping her awake. Still, she didn’t dare ask a border guard if she could go to the bathroom; it was enough just to hope for decent treatment without adding special privileges. Gagging, she could see the pools of urine spilling out in circular patterns on the floor and hear the young children whimpering, as they fidgeted next to their mothers every ten seconds..
    “Mama, tell me again, why are we here? Why did the police come in the middle of the night and take us away?” Her fourteen-year-old daughter Berta wasn’t quite old enough to interpret her mother’s frightened eyes.
    “I don’t know Berta, but hopefully we can go home soon. Now try to sleep. Go shushy...” she whispered, using the same, comforting words she had always uttered when sending her children off to sleep. As Berta and her young sister huddled against their mother, the teenager’s mind wouldn’t stay still. If they make us go to Poland, I will write Herschel in Paris to send us money; he has always taken care of us ever since Papa died. My brother will never let us down.
    Just thinking of Herschel relaxed her and she started to doze off, when suddenly, hoarse, glottal words ripped through the night air. “Get up! You must cross the border now! Your new home will be in Lodz, Poland. Now, get going!” The guard’s ferocity matched his hate-filled face.
    By the time they had reached Lodz, they were marched behind large wrought-iron gates and herded into various buildings whose shutters creaked and moaned in the wind as they trudged by. Once inside their sleeping quarters, although it was difficult for Berta to pull out a piece of paper and pen, she managed to scribblee a quick note to her brother:

         are penniless. Please send some money
    to us at Lodz. Love to you from us
    all, Berta.”

    She gently unclipped a pendant from around her neck that she had always treasured and handed it over to a woman who claimed she could get the note out safely to Herschel. She knew she would have to lie to her mother later and claim her heirloom jewelry had gotten lost in the shuffle somehow when they were detained at the border. But for now, Herschel’s help was top priority.
    Herschel did receive the note a few days later, and promptly threw up his consomme avec pain lunch. That afternoon, wandering the pulsing Parisian streets and fuming, he ended up at a shop where he purchased a small, but accurate gun; he had had enough. The next day, before anyone knew to stop him, he entered the German Embassy, marched directly up to the first official he saw and shot him squarely in the chest, then turned to face four guards with pistols aimed at his head.
    Ernst vom Rath, a bit player in the Nazi government, would have surely gone through his entire life unknown and unappreciated had it not been for his encounter with Herschel, instantly engraving his name into history books forever. As vom Rath lay dying, Herschel told the police, “Being a Jew is not a crime. I am not a dog. I have a right to live and the Jewish people have a right to exist on this earth!”
    But Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda, was not convinced. When vom Rath died, he blamed all Jews for Herschel’s work, and devised an immediate plan of retaliation.

* * * * * * *

    In the dark, Marthe dressed haphazardly, with missed buttons and an unzippered-to-the-top skirt, anxious to get to work early and make sure all was well with Herr Kaiser. But approaching the boarding house, she stalled. There, in front of the entrance, were all sorts of furniture pieces, along with boxes and trunks overflowing with clothing, knick-knacks, books, and dishes, all juxtaposed against the building and blocking the sidewalk. Passerby’s, trying to edge their way through, had given up and finally, simply milled around with the boarders, comparing notes and talking excitedly.
    “What is happening?” Marthe asked one of them leaning against a sofa back.
    “Why, haven’t you heard? They’ve arrested Herr Kaiser, and Herr Gutterman is leaving us to join the Gestapo!”
    “Arrested Herr Kaiser?” Marthe’s heart quickened. “Why?”
    “They said he had Jewish connections; I don’t really know the details.” The boarder sounded slightly annoyed; after all, Herr Kaiser’s safety wasn’t nearly as important as losing a good concierge.
    Barely touching the banister, Marthe flew up the stairs to Herr Kaiser’s room. There, she encountered the movers already starting to haul off his furniture piece by piece. The comforter still lay inert, neatly folded on the end of the bed, but she didn’t dare check for passports in front of the big burly men. Instead, she feigned a nonchalant attitude while dusting, humming slightly as she worked her way over towards the bed. They seemed amused by her cleaning at the last minute, but she didn’t care; it provided her with an excuse to stay close as they took everything downstairs to load onto a large van.
    Checking the comforter was another thing altogether. She had performed her job so well,
    she had to struggle to push two fingers way up into the batting. Frantically twisting her hand to the right then to the left, she couldn’t feel anything. She breathed a sigh of relief, and started to withdraw her fingers. Then she felt it. One of the hard, leather corners blocked her hand on the way out, bending her index finger. She shoved her other trembling fingers to the left of the passport, touching another hard edge, and another, and another until finally, she realized all fifty of them were still there, intact, ready for an exchange.
    “You, please, let us finish our job. Danke,” one of the movers grumbled as he came into the room on his eighth trip from downstairs.
    She jumped up and moved to the window, her body tingling like dozens of tiny flat-headed pins bouncing around inside her. Paralyzed, she watched the rest of the furniture being carted off past her: his bedside table, dressing table with the beveled-edge mirror, and wooden-needled phonograph player were all being taken down to the street, while the Beidermeier armoire and cherry wood chest set, as well as a foot-worn red, gold, brown, and black Oriental rug were hoisted up into the small van. Angling further out of the window, her heart still pounding, she could see the men slowly filling up the van with not only Herr Kaiser’s furniture, but other people’s property as well, people who had been arrested earlier that day. Decent antiques could still fetch a good price at local auction houses.
    Ducking back in from the window’s ledge, she scooped up the comforter just in time to hear Herr Gutterman’s triumphant voice blasting from down below.
    “I tell you, it was one of the most exciting moments of my life, Frau Lieppman. I should have joined up with the Fuhrer a long time ago. Yes, it is a very big honor to be part of this great movement!”
    Marthe quickly returned the comforter to the end of the bed, seconds before a mover came into the room, grabbed it, and flung it carelessly over his shoulder and back, draping him like a toga. He marched downstairs and flung it out on the street where it remained, along with Herr Kaiser’s less important items, abandoned and unguarded.
    Just visualizing people strolling by the quilt, talking in low casual tones, unaware of its importance, her heart picked up speed. As Herr Gutterman’s voice faded around the corner, she double-stepped down the stairs and hurried across the street to a local restaurant, to wait for the right moment to recover the comforter. But with each passing hour of slowly-sipped tea, Marthe became more and more agitated. She didn’t dare attempt a rescue in the midst of so much activity, yet the thought of fifty Jews unable to obtain their freedom made it difficult to breathe.
    “Madam, are you planning on staying at your table all day?” the waiter’s tone was unmistakable.
    It was obvious she needed a new hiding place; her watch post was becoming too apparent. Quickly paying the bill, she deposited a large tip on the table under a napkin and went searching for another place to lay low. An old, abandoned car proved to be perfect. Near an alleyway, it was off the beaten path, and crouching down behind it, she settled in for a better, darker time to rescue the passports.
    As night colored the sky with navy blues and deep roses, she noticed fewer people around. This was her chance. She stood up, stretched, then started to come out from behind the car when she heard the first sound. Unable to identify it at first, its eerie quality immediately put her on edge. Brief, crystal-like notes were being repeated all over the streets like someone shattering bottles against stone walls. At first it was faint, scattered. But as the din increased, so did the thuds and the crashes, until Marthe became truly alarmed.
    She raced around the corner to a neighboring street where she knew a Jewish school was located. Stunned, she could hear screams coming from inside as she watched one of the children opening up a window and yelling, “Help us, they’ve locked us in—please dear Gott, help us!” The girl struggled to climb out onto the windowsill to escape, but someone inside pulled her back, kicking and screaming.
    “They’re burning a synagogue down the block. Come look!” a man bellowed as he ran by. Marthe saw other people streaming towards a paint-encrusted building she must have passed by hundreds of times in the past, but never noticed. Its wooden front doors were wide open and inside, men in brown shirts and swastikas were pouring gasoline on the seats, even the holy arks, then in unison, igniting everything. As the flames danced and crackled, Marthe could hear the fire trucks coming, their sirens howling so loudly she had to cover her ears. When they arrived, their brakes shuddered and squealed as firemen leapt off of die loschfahrzeuge and sprung into action, concentrating only on the neighboring buildings. The synagogue was left to burn.
    Once each section of the temple started to kindle, the old, white walls grayed, then blackened with smoke. Flames reached up and licked the large Jewish star, making each of the six points melt then disappear until finally, all that was left of the symbol was a small part of the original center, hollowed out, erased forever.
    Hans paced non-stop in his living room. He had not heard from Marthe all day, which, in itself was not that unusual, but with evening settling in and still no sign of her, he started to panic. What if something actually had happened to Herr Kaiser? Perhaps Marthe was right, perhaps...his thoughts raced around in circles until he thought he was going to explode. He had to get out of the apartment and go to her.
    He began his trek towards the boarding house under hazy streetlights, gently beaming down a spotted path for several city blocks until suddenly, he heard a scream, then a loud, harrowing thud. Barreling toward the noise, all of a sudden he felt something graze his cheek. He stopped, slid his hand down his face until he got to his jaw, his fingers moistened and stained red. Looking at the fresh blood, he thought, what the hell is going on?
    Up ahead, a mob had gathered around the old Wasserman store. Chairs, pipes, bricks, loose cobblestone, anything they could grab, were being hurled at the storefront windows, and when the plate glass cracked then shattered, the crowd cheered, laughing and slapping each other on their backs.
    Hans hurried on, his heart ping-ponging, his mouth dry. Passing by his favorite movie house, he could feel another crowd swelling behind him, driving him inside. At first he couldn’t see anything in the pitch-black theater. People were pressing against him so violently, he had to cling on to the wall for support. But as his eyes grew accustomed to the half-light, he could discern a few people down in the front row being dragged up on stage, crying and pleading.
    After the house lights were flipped on, he recognized several of the victims. It was members of the Federman family: Moshe Federman, Sadie, and Sarah cowering together Stage Right, sobbing, as two guards came forward and started beating them. Half-hearted cries of protest burst from the front row, while Judith Federman and her sons Leo and Hirsch were forced to watch their family attacked.
    Nausea instantly filled Han’s throat and mouth, making him gag. Pushing his way out of the theater, he broke into a dead run to the boardinghouse, gulping air and saying the Av Harachamin, a prayer for Jewish martyrs. Around the corner, broken glass glistened on the streets as the largest mob that night swelled and rumbled down by the Lieberstrasse House.
    In front of the building, a lone man straddled several huge crates stacked together, waving his arms and shouting, “Germany is for true Germans only. Juden es Vorboten! Jews are forbidden!”
    The crowd took up the cry. “Germany is for true Germans, Germany is for true Germans! Juden es Verboten!”
    Hans stepped in closer. Reflections from the different fires bounced and flickered against buildings, cars, and faces, reminding Hans of a horror picture he and Marthe had seen not so long before, where a vampire’s face was illuminated by the glow from people’s torches. The orator’s face remained hidden from view, and the swell of the swarm kept his voice unrecognizable. But then the crowd cheered again, and the man slowly turned his face in Hans’ direction; it was Herr Gutterman, distorted with power and rage.
    Hans gasped, and when people turned to stare at him, immediately ducked back into the shadows of a nearby alley, frantic at the thought of trying to find, then extricate Marthe from this frenzy. Seconds later, he slowly inched his way out when suddenly, two small arms encircled him from behind. Jerking backward, he nearly knocked Marthe over as they both fell hard onto an overflowing garbage can, all four legs splayed upward.
    “I thought I would never find you!” Hans murmured, stroking her hair and trying to blink back tears.
    “Hans, the comforter...Herr’s horrible...” Marthe could only string a few words together at one time as she stood up, flipping off bits of garbage from her skirt.
    “What is it? What are you trying to say?” Hans demanded.
    Finally, she managed to spit out a complete sentence. “Herr Kaiser was arrested before he could transfer the passports! All fifty of them are still in the comforter!”
    They both pivoted towards the forgotten coverlet, thrown recklessly over a dresser sitting on the sidewalk to the left of Herr Gutterman. Then slowly, they turned towards each other, their eyes the size of potholes.
    Krystallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, was in full swing; books were yanked out of stores and libraries and thrown onto huge bonfires that hissed and crackled up towards the blackened sky, as frenzied people danced up and down, laughing, howling, out of control.
    Marthe and Hans watched Herr Gutterman suddenly leap down from his makeshift podium to yell, “Help me people; let’s fill this comforter with more books so we can make the biggest fire in the world! We’ll wipe out every Communist intellectual and Jewish book in existence!”
    With the help of three other men, they pulled the comforter over to a nearby store and started loading it up with dozens of books. Hoisting it up like a tent, they marched over to the fire and on the count of, ‘ one-two-three-Go.!’ flipped the books up into the air and onto the fire.
    The crowd loved it. After that, a chorus of ‘one-two-three-Go!’ accompanied each new load-and-toss of books onto the growing fire. On the last trip, the coverlet came dangerously close to the fire, and Hans had to pin Marthe back from racing over to try to stop the proceedings.
    After a while, Herr Gutterman and his cohorts had depleted all the books and were on to the next inspired insult. “Let’s gather up the glass from the street and throw it all into their ghetto. Let glass rain down on all the Juden! Down on all the Juden!!”
    People applauded, stomped, and cheered before picking up shards of glass to fling beyond the ghetto walls. Bleeding hands left the glass red, but they were oblivious; this night was too exciting to worry about such trivialities.
    Frustrated, Herr Gutterman searched around for something to speed up the process. His eyes lit on the comforter and he ran towards it, calling out for everyone to bring their glass pieces over to him. As he lay the comforter flat on the street, people dumped the jagged shards onto its soft folds, mounding a pile of glass at least one to two feet high. Then, four or five men each grabbed a corner of the comforter and started to move over to the iron gates just outside the ghetto, the coverlet swinging back and forth. Muffled sounds of crushed glass echoed eerily: crussshhh— crussshhh— crussshhh— it repeated, until finally, the men halted in front of the gates.
    ‘One-two-three, go!’ Everyone screamed, watching the glass fly up into the air, disappear into the dark, then fall like slivered rain from a noiseless sky onto the courtyard of the ghetto.
    Craving an encore, Herr Gutterman started in again. “Let’s do it again, only this time, let the comforter GO! Ready?”
    The crowd followed suit, chanting, “One-two-three—Let GO!” Suddenly, the entire comforter was released, flying over the gates like an Arabian carpet floating in space.
    Hans and Marthe held their breaths. From out of the ghetto came only silence; no one stepped out nor even poked out their head. After a few minutes, the crowd drifted off, tired of this game and eager for higher stakes. As the footsteps faded, Marthe and Hans stepped forward cautiously, gripping each other’s hand, hoping to see any form of life rustling behind those apartment walls. But there was only the hollowness of a ghost town that had once existed, now seemingly boarded up and abandoned.
    Later that night, safe in their apartment, Hans and Marthe collapsed together on their sofa, sobbing and promising each other they would leave Germany at the next possible opportunity. But first, they had to make sure. In the morning, after a hurried cup of coffee and day-old apple streudel, they gingerly walked down Lebenstrausse Street, stopping by the ghetto gates. Still, there was no sign of life.
    And no sign of the comforter.
    They needn’t have worried. As the official stamp had punched down on each German passport at the Bahnsteig Bahnhof railroad station earlier that morning, fifty men, women, and children, their faces smooth with relief, boarded a train out of Germany.

No Guts, No Glory

Danielle Bredy

    Intuition is underrated. Whether you view it through the lenses of a “conscience” or you feel it deep in the pit of your stomach, somehow it tends to throw its opinion wherever it sees fit. Gut feelings are something I know too well, and whisper in my ear a secret it knows before my mind wants to hear it. It screams at me when I’ve walked a step too far. All in all, I’ve learned that it predicts things for me like Miss Cleo wished she could before she was incarcerated. Gut feelings are always right. I can’t help but feel some thanks are necessary.
    It happens all of the time. Today, switching lanes on 94, a douchebag stayed within inches of my bumper. He didn’t have his blinker on, so I thought I was in the clear. I flipped my blinker instead of my finger, yet my gut feeling kicked in something awful and my foot froze. I didn’t go. He does. Surprise. The guy, by some divine miracle, misses me and spares me since it was his decision after all. Maybe you think to yourself that it’s all too common. People on the road that shouldn’t be driving are common, indeed. It makes me reconsider whether sixteen year olds (let alone most of the population) should be allowed. Lack of consideration is all over. But my gut feeling goes deeper than this.
    In relationships, my gut feeling has saved me more times than Kevin Costner did for Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard. Consider intuition the should-have-been fifth girlfriend in Sex and the City. She would be there to tell Carrie that she might have screwed up (before she does, of course.) First instance of this showed up in my first serious relationship. The entire way over to his house one day, walking (which helped give my gut feeling time to intervene first) I had the feeling that it wasn’t going to go well. My pace slowed. I felt my feet plunge into a sinkhole that should have swallowed me entirely. It’s like my gut feeling was giving me a choice. “Hey, something weird is gonna happen. I mean, I could understand if you didn’t see it before. But now you’re walking toward it... and uh, I mean, you could save a lot of time if you just stopped. I’m not gonna be the one to tell you to stop, but I’m giving you a heads up.” In other words, “prepare to be disappointed.” This might seem like a self fulfilling prophecy, but I tend to cut my worries short if I find myself sauntering down that unkempt path. Obviously, I must have felt a tinge of hope this particular day because I kept walking. I finally got there, and like clockwork, I felt the tension rise. It felt weird, awkward, forced, and I sat there wondering why I’d wasted my time in the first place. It wasn’t for calories’ sake. Then, a realization began to radiate from my bones outward to my skin: I should have listened to myself.
    The only thing to do when you have realizations like that in life is to collect them, process them, and apply the lesson when necessary. To me, making mistakes is fine. Inevitable, even. The thing that kills me is making a mistake that I have the power to prevent more than once. It’s almost like I’d be fucking up to spite myself, and I don’t feel fondly for that sort of thing. Coincidentally, during my next relationship, my gut feeling announced itself with force. Logging into my Myspace account, I felt sick to my stomach. My intuition was kicking me where it hurt. Back when Myspace was big, people used to post bulletins. All of the time and to the point it was annoying. It reminds me of Twitter now. To me, if someone cares what you’re thinking that often, they might as well call you or try to have an actual relationship with you. Within these bulletins, people used to post surveys with randomly selected questions that, again, if people had a REAL relationship with you, they might know the answers to. A girl I was friends with was asked “who are your best friends?” She answered my boyfriend. Interesting. “What are some things that only you guys would know about?” She answered “staying up all hours of the night.” Right. Most people don’t need a gut feeling to know the correlation here, but I knew before I even logged on that something was up yet the thought of them hadn’t even crossed my mind before. Intuition leveled with me: “You might not want to click that. You aren’t going to like it.” After clicking it, it consoled me: “Well, at least you found out.” Intuition was right. I learned a lot that night. I learned that intuition had my back when the evidence wasn’t around, and that you can’t trust people to hone up to anything despite when it is. When I confronted my boyfriend? Yeah, he didn’t say a thing. At least I listened to myself.
    When things like that happen, people often suggest “counting your blessings.” They’re right. Even with one thing like that happening, I had a million aspirations better than that. Having learned from that mistake, I collected it, processed it and put it away. It’s not fair to subject a new relationship to what happened to you in your past, after all. Everything felt great about this one, everything was open. Things always find a way, though. One day he told me he and his friends were going to go out. Intuition kicked in telling me “There’s more to the story.” I listened, to an extent. With this relationship, everything was open. What did I have to worry about? Intuition reasoned with me: “There’s more to the story. Whether or not you’re going to bring it up is up to you, but don’t be shocked.” By this point, I couldn’t ignore that I got feelings like this for a reason. Sometimes we look for people to prove us wrong, though. That can be dangerous territory. I leveled with intuition and asked him who he was going with, and to make sure he didn’t do anything stupid. Having said the wrong words, he exited to tell me he didn’t care what I thought and was going anyway. Nobody is a fan of babysitting adults or being overbearing, so I let it go. Upon calling the next morning, he told me that he’d gone to the hospital because of the night’s festivities. “Told you,” Intuition said. “He should have listened to you.”
    Gut feelings are powerful, and have the can knock you back with force fit for a cyclone. If they fail at doing that, they can sober you up better than a cup of coffee the morning after or a cold shower. At the very least, tuning into them has given me a stronger sense of self. I trek along and absorb the things around me, but have an essential trust in myself. That’s something that intuition’s taught me. It helps me for those moments when you know the motive isn’t with your best interest in mind. Unfortunately, that’s also a situation you can count on. I owe mine a thank you for helping me realize that, and for keeping my interests at the top of my priority list when life doesn’t allow it to be. Now when I hear “you owe it to yourself,” I know it’s intuition to which I’m indebted.

Junkyard Blues

Micah Thorstenson

Life took me to the junkyard
Where the calm seemed without opposition
And in between unhurried tranquility
Appeared scenes of abandonment
Appeared wrinkled lines of wreckage
Years of use and
Only to be cast aside at
Given away before it was too late
Before we were stuck with our problems

The dead here show more effects
Of life
Than any graveyard
Broken mirrors
Faded paint
Worn upholstry
Engines stripped from their souls

Humans gut differently
We take not what we
But everything
And leave the shell for the next
Stealing us to sit eternally under the hot sun
Once loved but now taken
For other’s benefits
And I think
It’s good to be in this yard
Because almost everything
Has been taken from me
Thoughts of life

The Day They Took Her

Elizabeth Mitchell

    The day they took her, she had not worn mascara is seventeen days. Seventeen. A bad number. Not divisible by 2 or even by three. Uneven. Odd.
    I picked up my mother’s make-up bag and put it neatly into the far left corner of her suitcase. I thought of standing in that same bedroom, watching her apply coat after coat of mascara, knowing that since she was wearing it, she was feeling like the good version of herself, and it would be a good day. Maybe if I packed it for her, she would wear it. And be happy. And come home.
    I glanced around, deciding what to pack next.
    “Pajamas,” I said to the empty bedroom, thinking of those ghastly open-backed johnnies the nurses would give her to wear. I pulled open the bottom drawer of her dresser and grabbed a sleep shirt. It was sky blue with a big black satin pocket on the left side of the chest. The pocket was too big, I decided, too heavy without something on the other side to balance it out. It would most certainly have cancelled out the good of the mascara and she would have stayed away longer. I shoved the offending nightdress back into the drawer and selected a solid pink one instead.
    I didn’t so much like pink, but had always preferred solid colors. They don’t have any ulterior motives. For instance, I had worn a black and grey plaid skirt to school the previous Friday, and it wasn’t until I put on a green sweater that I noticed the tiny green lines running through the plaid. I didn’t appreciate their attempt at hiding from me. The fact that it sometimes took a large, loud version of something to act as a mirror for a smaller counterpart bothered me. It made me wonder how many things I miss or do not attend to because they are singular or understated, small or quiet. I would only pack solid-colored clothing for my mother.
    Once the four nightshirts, two pairs of jeans, two sweaters, four t-shirts, eight pairs of socks and eight pairs of underwear were neatly folded and packed away, I considered what else I might include in the bag of good things.
    “Nail polish.” My mother had beautiful hands and long nails. I loved her long nails, partly because of the clicking sound they made on the keys when she played piano, but mostly because she would use them to scratch my back when I had a nightmare, or could not sleep. I put a bottle of clear Revlon nail polish in the front pocket of the suitcase. I grabbed her metal Revlon nail file off of the vanity, but then remembered what my father had said before he left for the store that morning.
    “Remember, honey. Nothing sharp. They won’t let her have anything sharp. Not even her razor.” If she couldn’t have her Bick razor, I supposed she couldn’t have her metal Revlon nail file either, and so I put it back where I found it. Her hair and nails would have to grow longer and longer like the Wild Things in Where The Wild Things Are. I was immediately revolted by the idea of my mother with shaggy fur and long, curved nails, but then checked myself. Maybe it would be a good thing. The Wild Things were happy.
    Satisfied with its contents, I zipped the suitcase. I checked the time and found that I was early. I was always early. My father would not be home to take me and the bag of good things to visit my mother for a little while longer. I decided that the best use of my time would be figuring out exactly what combination of factors had caused the bad version of my mother to come back so that I could make absolutely certain it would not happen again. The seventeen days without mascara was definitely part of it, but what else? I replayed the few hours before they took her in my mind, and could see it play out in front of me, as if it were happening in the present:
    I go to bed, making certain that my teddy bears are all facing the same direction. They are. So that couldn’t have been it. I fall asleep without trouble, and have a nightmare. I dream that my mother and I are sitting in our field, wrapping blades of grass around our fingers and whistling through them. We are trying to play “I See the Moon.” She is helping me to select the best possible pieces of grass for my makeshift instrument, when she begins cutting me with blades of grass while petting my hair and singing,
    “It seems to me that God above
    Created you for me to love
    He picked you out from all the rest
    Because he knew I loved you best.”
    I wake up, get out of bed, turn on my bedroom light, the hall light, and the dining room light, in that order. That is the proper order, so that couldn’t have been it, either. I walk into the living room and creep up to the couch where my mother is sleeping. I turn on the table lamp and then shake her shoulder…or did I shake her shoulder before turning on the table lamp? Maybe that was where the trouble started.
    She wakes up after four shoulder shakes. Four is an even number. Not a contributing factor.
    “Mom, I had a nightmare,” I tell her. “You were hurting me.” She opens her eyes, but when she does not immediately respond in her usual way (telling me it was just a dream, and lifting up the blanket so I can crawl in beside her), I say it again, thinking maybe she has not heard me. But still, she just looks silently at me. So even though I have already said it twice, and I never say anything more than twice because saying something three times in a row often causes something unexpected to happen (like standing in front of a mirror, saying “Bloody Mary” three times in a row), I said it again. That was definitely the biggest factor and on top of the mascara and the possibly backwards order of the shoulder shaking, it must have tipped the scale in the bad direction.
    “That’s strange,” she finally says. But her voice is hoarse, the voice of the bad version, and she is slurring her words. “I’ve been so afraid that I’ll hurt you. I’ll hurt you and I’ll have nothing left.” I stare for a long moment, then take four evenly spaced steps backwards, turn, and run to my parents’ bedroom to get my father. I come crashing into the room, causing my father to sit bolt upright, grab his glasses, and flick on the light. I take a brief moment of comfort in the fact that even when hurried or startled, he always did those three things in the same order, even now.
    “Honey, Jesus, what’s wrong?” I am so thrown by the bad version of my mother appearing out of nowhere, that I am almost surprised to find that my father is still my father, reacting exactly the way I would expect him to react if I came crashing into his room in the middle of the night. But that had always been the best thing about my father. He only had one version.
    I tell my father that the bad version of mother is back. I say I don’t know why, that I’m not sure what I did, but I made it come back. My father gives me a quick and tight hug, mutters something about it not being my fault (he always says that, but he doesn’t understand). He tells me to stay in the bedroom. He walks out of the room and shuts the door behind him. I hear their voices get louder and then the rattling of pill bottles. I creep to the door and open it to find my mother is lying in her chair sobbing, and my father has gone into the kitchen. I hear him pick up the phone and call them.
    I close the door again, as quietly as possible, and sit on my Father’s bed, watching out the window. I hear them before I see them, the sirens wailing, drowning out the crickets and the tree frogs, but soon the blue and red lights cut through the darkness outside the window. There are two cars: a police car and an ambulance. I’m glad that they know they have to bring an even number of cars, or they would only make it worse.
    As they come into the house to get her, I know that there must be a lot of noise. Since this has happened before, I know there should be screaming, crashing, doors opening and shutting, disembodied voices on crackling walkie-talkies, but I don’t hear it. I am staring at the big crystal that I once hung in my father’s window for luck. I know I should be upset or frightened or something, but all I can think about is how pretty the red and blue lights look reflected off the multiple faces of the crystal.
    I brought myself back to the present. Sitting on my mother’s suitcase, I decided that I would simply make a few new rules for myself and once she came home, I would never cause the bad version to come out again. Rule #1: Never say anything more than twice in a row. Rule #2: Always turn on a light before shaking someone’s shoulder to wake them. Rule #3: Always be sure to turn the lights on in the proper order. I could not think of a fourth rule, but three was an odd number. Then it occurred to me. I’m not sure I had one, at least not yet, but my mother was my mother, after all. Rule #4: Do everything possible to ensure that no bad version of me ever, ever comes out.
    Having packed the bag of good things, and having analyzed my mistakes, and made new rules to prevent such mistakes from being made again, I felt satisfied.
    Just then, I heard my father’s truck tires on the gravel driveway, returning from the store. I went to the window and watched as he stopped at the end of the drive to pick up the paper. I knew that next he would park in his usual spot, come in the door while finishing half of a glazed donut, hand me the other half and say, “I gotcha a hot chocolate.” We would sit at the little kitchen table, have our breakfast, and he would tell a joke to make me laugh. It was easy to predict because he only had one version. He was my father and I was me, and even if my mother, and crystals, and people, and everything else in the world had multiple faces, I knew this would never change.
    I heard my father come in the door, and call, “I gotcha a hot chocolate!”
    “Thanks,” I called back. But before going to meet him in the kitchen, just to be sure, I quickly but carefully took the makeup bag out of the suitcase, and took my mother’s mascara out of the makeup bag. Then, even though I knew I was too young for make-up, I applied two heavy coats to each eye.

Waiting for Death

Victor Phan

    Brian and Dan sat against the cabin wall. Their pallid faces panged with hunger and exhaustion as both men looked to be on death’s doorstep. Wooden planks with nails and makeshift bindings sealed the windows shut. Remnants of a violent brawl left the furniture scattered all over the floor. Flies swarmed around the thick brown coagulated bloodstain coating the wooden floor leading to the barricaded front door. Brian breathed heavily and summoned the strength to move slowly towards the window. He closed his eyes hoping that when he looked out, he wouldn’t see the horror that kept them locked away like prisoners.
    Brian reopened his eyes and cautiously peaked through the crack in the boards. It was too dark to make anything out. The cabin was in the mountains, far away from streetlights. The moon was the only source of illumination, like the way it was for primitive man. In the age of iPads and iPhones, how ironic it was for Brian to be reverted back to days of homoerectus peering out of his dark cave, hoping not to see predators stalking in the moon light. Unfortunately for Brian, the predators he feared were much worse than saber-toothed tigers or feral wolves. Far worse. Primitive man had it easy.
    Dan stirred towards Brian and weakly spoke through his dried blood encrusted lips, “I don’t know why you even bother.”
    Brian didn’t let the words deter him; he couldn’t let the words deter him. Even though he knew he was being foolish, he still held onto some childish notion of hope that when he looked out that window, there would be nothing there and they would finally be free from the nightmare that kept them captive for a week. He squinted into the darkness focusing his vision on the outside world. He felt his heart sink into his stomach as his eyes adjusted to the darkness and made out moving shapes.
    Throngs of the undead surrounded the cabin, skulking around in a trance. Their decomposed flesh and tattered clothes swarmed with waves of flies. They made ghastly sounds whenever their gaping mouths opened, either attempting some form of communication or expelling gasses from their rotten innards. These were the predators of the modern age, mindless, fearless, and coming in great masses. They shambled aimlessly in circles around the cabin as if lost in some dream. Absolutely defeated, Brian sat back down next to Dan.
    “Well?” Dan inquired.
    “Still there,” Brian replied, wishing he were lying.
    “It’s like they can smell us or something.” Dan surmised.
    “We’re sitting ducks here, Dan. We need to find help.” Brian slumped and grabbed handfuls of his own hair, trying to think of ways to escape their situation.
    “Are you crazy? We had a hard enough time getting in here in the first place. If we leave now we’re as good as dead,” Dan replied.
    Brian instinctively looked to the bloodstain at the front door and his mind replayed the shoot out on the first day they arrived and took refuge in the cabin. They both almost lost their lives that day. They originally came up to the mountains for camping but instead found themselves surrounded by waves of mindless cannibals. While fleeing from the zombies, Brian and Dan stumbled upon the abandoned cabin. They shot their way through the entrance and barricaded the door.
    The safety they found was only momentary. As soon as they turned around an infected version of the original cabin-owner had leapt on Dan. Dan hit the ground hard struggling to keep the cabin-owner’s hungry jaws away from his throat. Brian soccer kicked it in the face sending bits of corroded teeth flying everywhere. Dan crawled out from under it and right when it looked up at Brian with its horrible gaze, Brian put a bullet between its eyes. They dragged the body outside and lit it on fire, keeping the others away from the cabin momentarily.
    Brian pondered if it would’ve been better if they had died that day. It would have spared them from the predicament they currently found themselves in. No matter how much the odds were against them, he still couldn’t surrender to just withering away without attempting escape. Brian said, “We’re just waiting for death here anyway. I’d rather die out there than stay another day in this tomb.”
    Dan began to cough violently and squeezed his own arm. Dan had been nursing his arm ever since his struggle with the previous cabin-owner. He must have hurt it during their tussle. To make matters even worse, Dan became more and more lethargic as each day passed. When the coughing stopped, Dan swallowed down the bile in his throat and inquired, “How many bullets you got left?”
    Brian felt the cold steel of the revolver against his waistband. He felt a slight sense of safety whenever he felt the metal against his warm skin; that always meant, for a moment anyway, he didn’t have to use it. He had lost so much weight he was surprised the gun never slipped out and thudded on the floor. Brian pulled out the revolver and opened the chamber. There were 5 empty slots and only a single bullet left, only one more chance of freedom or salvation.
    “One,” Brian said.
    “One bullet. We don’t stand a chance even if we were strong enough to fight our way through them,” Dan reasoned. The coughing came back.
    As much as Brian hated to admit it, Dan was right. Brian had never felt a worse or more disempowering feeling than the utter helplessness he currently found himself in. In a fit of rage, Brian sprang to his feet and knocked over the table. His boiling blood made him forget all of his fatigue. He kicked his foot through a chair. “Fuck! We can’t stay cooped up here forever! There’s no food or water in fuckin’ shit hole!”
    Dan curled up like a frightened child as Brian yelled at the top of his lungs.
    Outside of the cabin, zombies wandered around aimlessly. The cold sting of the mountain air no longer bothered their dead skin. Their minds were so far gone they only knew the company of silence, but the silence was broken by Brian’s angry voice penetrating the night’s crisp air. “I’m not gonna die here! If you want to go right ahead but . . .”
    Some of the zombies stopped dead in their tracks and turned their heads towards the voice coming from within the wooden walls.
    Inside the cabin Brian continued fuming at Dan, “I’m fuckin’ out of here!”
    Dan struggled to get up. Dan felt his aching joints give out forcing him to stumble back onto the floor. He crawled to Brian’s legs and begged, “Please, Brian, don’t leave me. I’m too weak to go with you.”
    Brian couldn’t bear to look at this pathetic display. Brian glanced around the room ignoring the man at his feet. Dan collapsed onto Brian’s boots and cried. Tears and foams of mucus covered the black leather. “Please don’t leave alone here!”
    Brian tried his best to ignore his friend’s entreaties. This was how their entire lives have always played out. Brian was always the strong one who was adamant about something, only to sacrifice it for the weaker Dan. The worse time was during their senior year of high school. Brian had received a letter saying he was granted a full academic scholarship to wrestle for Iowa State University. Brian’s life dream was to become a wrestling legend like his hero Dan Gable. Brian immediately called Dan to share the great news with him.
    That night Brian went to Dan’s house to play videogames together after wrestling practice. He found Dan in his room with a noose around his neck and tiptoeing on a stool. Brian ran to Dan and caught his legs, bracing Dan’s weight and removed the noose. Dan cried profusely saying how he would be all alone with Brian gone. Brian pleaded with Dan but there was no reasoning with him. Brian chose to stay in town and go to community college with Dan so he would never be alone. Every year since that incident Brian felt a burn of resentment in his chest whenever he watched the NCAA wrestling championships on TV. Brian often wondered was Dan really the weaker one out of the two of them, or was it himself for always giving in?
    Their current problems in the wooden coffin were much bigger than Brian’s lost dreams. Dan was still at Brian’s feet, hugging Brian’s legs and pleading, “Brian, you’re all I have. I’ll die without you. You’re my best friend!”
    Brian bent over and helped Dan up to his feet. Brian spoke very calmly to soothe his hysterical friend. “Look, Dan. We can’t stay here any longer. We don’t have supplies here and will starve to death if those things out there don’t get us first.”
    Brian paused and carefully considered what to say next. A decision had to be made. “I’ll make a deal with you. We’ll stay one more night so you can gather your strength, but we’re leaving first thing in the morning. I’ll carry you if I have to.”
    The men didn’t do or say anything for a brief second. Then Dan exploded with even more tears than before and hugged Brian tightly. Brian paused, and then sympathetically patted Dan’s back. History had a funny way of repeating itself.
    Dan stopped sobbing just long enough to say, “You’re my best friend, Brian.”


    Brian snapped awake to the sound of pounding on the walls. This could only mean one thing.
    “No,” the words barely escaped his lips.
    Brian’s head snapped left to right scanning his surroundings. He saw the wooden planks on the windows being torn down from the outside. Brian immediately thought of Dan. Brian sprang to his feet and searched the enclosure for this friend. He was nowhere in sight.
    “Dan!” Brian called. No answer.
    Brian rushed around the cabin frenzied. “Dan! Where the hell are you?”
    With no trace of Dan in the living room, Brian looked towards the shut bedroom door. Brian immediately ran towards it, as the sounds of splintering wood grew louder. He turned the doorknob but it wouldn’t budge.
    “Dan! Are you in there?” He yelled to the door. Still there was no answer.
    A loud crash came from behind. Brian turned to see a zombie crawl through the open window into the cabin. Brian was petrified by fear. The dead thing scanned the cabin in its dreamlike manner then it looked right at him. Brian frantically jiggled the doorknob until it gave way and turned. Brian threw the door open and rushed into the room, slamming the door shut behind him. He couldn’t even breathe a sigh of relief before he felt hard impacts coming from the other side. He shuttered as the pounds reverberated through the door. Brian grabbed the dresser and propped it against the door buying a few minutes. Brian backed away and turned to the bed.
    He saw the contour of Dan’s body covered from head to toe under the bed sheets. Brian rushed over and yelled, “Dan! We gotta go now!”
    He pulled the sheets away and couldn’t process what he was seeing. Dan lied there absolutely still. His eyes were glazed and his chest wasn’t moving.
    “Dan?” Brian asked still not wanting to accept what his eyes relayed to him.
    Brian covered Dan’s face with the sheet. He turned around and took a single step before collapsing. Brian’s heart shattered and he lamented. Images of their childhood together flashed through his mind. He buried his face in his hands and let the torrent of tears and screams flow from the open wound in his heart.
    In the living room, more zombies entered the cabin. They surrounded the bedroom door and continued their barrage. A fat zombie came to the door and struck using its full weight. The hinges of the door bent with each blow.
    Brian cried alone on the bedroom floor. Brian began holding his breath in attempts to pull himself together. He knew what was on the other side of the door would be in the bedroom very shortly.
    “I gotta go,” he said to himself before getting back to his feet.
    Brian headed towards the boarded up window, his only way out of this nightmare. With his bare hands, he pried the planks off. He placed his foot on the sill preparing to cross the threshold into freedom. Behind him, Dan’s body raised to its feet with the sheets still covering his face.
    Brian sensed something was amiss. He paused and turned around. “No, Dan. Not you.”
    Dan slowly stepped towards Brian. The sheets slid off his face to reveal his new self, the undead version of Dan. The rolled up sleeve on Dan’s injured arm revealed a grotesque bite mark on his forearm. Dan’s mouth opened up spilling out putrid black fluid, hungry for its first taste of warm flesh. The bedroom door behind him burst apart as Dan stepped closer to Brian. Wooden splinters gave way and Brian made eye contact with the fat zombie trying to get in. Brian knew the dresser blocking their path would only hold them for a few more seconds.
    Brian had never felt so defeated in his entire life. Tears stung his eyes as he considered his options. He had very few precious seconds to make his decision before he would be overrun and torn into sticky globs of meat. He took out the revolver from his waistband and said, “You’re my best friend, Dan.”
    Brian aimed and pulled the trigger. The bullet bore clean through Dan’s forehead and exited on the other side, painting the wall behind him red and black. Dan’s reanimated corpse fell lifelessly onto the floor and finally found the sense of peace he never knew in life. Brian wasted no time in turning around and leaping out of the window.
    Brian landed in the dirt and pointed his empty gun in front of him. The path was clear since all the zombies were still inside the cabin. Brian dropped the gun onto the ground knowing that he no longer needed it. He turned around and took one last look at the cabin before running off into the distance – finally a free man.

Knowing Bottles

Richard Shelton

Knowing bottles can’t revive lost dreams,
Forgotten ambitions,
Uncontested faith.
Knowing avoidance won’t resolve
Nor running seem any less empty,
Knowing hope is lost is no answer.
I keep going
From bottle
To bottle

Scenes of Everyday Life in Meyerton, Georgia, circa 1942

Allie Claus

    The only two things that Jill knew about Mrs. Beatrice Everton were that she was the mother of her husband, Sam, and that her own husband, Arthur, had passed away one year ago to the date. From the letters that arrived on a monthly basis, Jill could tell that Mrs. Everton adored her son but that she disapproved of his choice to go all the way to Indiana for school, and to make a home there afterward. If she had ever approved of Jill, it was hard to tell, and she certainly had made it known that she did not agree with Jill and Sam’s choice to have Mattie just as trouble was brewing in Europe, threatening to make its way across the Atlantic once again.
    That had been a nasty letter that arrived on their front porch one cold winter morning, only a week or so after Sam had excitedly sent his parents news of the expectation of their first grandchild. “How can you be so careless? Roosevelt certainly cannot keep the U.S. out of that war forever, and when it comes over here, you can sure as bet that there will be a draft and that the child might as well grow up fatherless.” Even now Jill could picture those words written in neat, patient cursive straight across unlined, nondescript stationary paper, as if Mrs. Everton made such comments every day of the week. And of course she did not blame her son for the choice, but imagined that it had been a result of Jill’s relentless insistence on having a child. “Just couldn’t wait to get busy, could you?” Mrs. Everton had written, in a smaller, even nastier note addressed directly to Jill, and the only one she had ever received from her mother-in-law until the telegram directing her where she could find Mrs. Everton once she and Mattie got to the train station in Buford, Georgia. Sam would be somewhere across the Atlantic, Jill hardly knew where in her own reluctant rush to move, fighting in the war Mrs. Everton had prophesied would reach American shores.
    The Georgia heat beat down on Jill now as she led her three year old daughter across the platform in search of a porter who could help them take their luggage to the parking lot. The porter she found hastily located the two large suitcases and gray steamer trunk marked with her maiden name of Reams, loaded them onto a cart, and dumped them on the sidewalk outside of the station building where Jill and Mattie were waiting in the shade of the faded green and white striped canvas awning. And she silently argued what Sam had asked her to do, to move from Indiana, from the suburban town she had lived in all her life, to come to rural speck of a town to take care of and support his aging mother, because his father had passed away, and Jill did not even know if Sam would ever come home to take care of all of them himself.
    A red 1940 Chevrolet pulled up to the curb and a woman with grey hair pulled back in a tight bun, skin dark and calloused from a lifetime of working outside, and bright blue eyes just like Sam’s emerged from the driver’s seat. “Jill?” she inquired with a curt nod. Jill smiled in affirmation, but only briefly, for the woman’s posture remained stiff and distant.
    Jill now knew a third thing about Mrs. Everton. There was no point at which the woman had ever approved of Jill.

* * *

    Bea, as Mrs. Everton asked to be called in her clipped voice that was such a counter to the southern drawl Jill expected and heard from everyone else she had met so far in Georgia, had arranged for her daughter-in-law to get a job working in one of the Buford factories that had shifted from making women’s nylon pantyhose to soldiers’ parachutes. Jill was to work from eight until five on weekdays, and every other Saturday, while Mattie stayed home with Bea, who had firmly told Jill that she would teach the child to speak. Mattie had barely spoken five words since they had arrived in Georgia and Bea insisted that there must be something wrong with a child that does not speak. Jill knew that Mattie had stopped speaking after Sam left, but she did not want to tell Bea that, did not want to be reminded of the terrible words in that awful letter sent three years before.
    The first Saturday that Jill had free, Bea expected her to do some work in the garden and help clean up around the house before summer ended. Jill left Mattie to sleep in the bed that they shared in the room that had once been and was still decorated as Sam’s childhood bedroom, and started sweeping and mopping the downstairs rooms of the old sprawling house that at one point in its history belonged to a wealthy plantation owner, and eventually to a wealthy lawyer by the name of Arthur Everton. Bea, who had risen even earlier with the sunrise, busied herself in the kitchen without a word of instruction or gratitude for Jill as she hauled brooms and mops and buckets of water from room to room.
    Breakfast, which did not come until after Jill had completed her cleaning of the first floor, consisted only of coffee and scrambled eggs, and the meal took longer than Bea had scheduled because Mattie had woken by that point and asked for breakfast too. Mattie made a mess of the eggs and dumped half the salt container out on the table, having missed the plate. Jill simply smiled and rubbed her nose against Mattie’s nose, making the little girl giggle and bounce on her mother’s lap.
    “She doesn’t seem to speak but does she ever sit still?” Bea harrumphed, wiping up the salt pile with a cloth and surveying the massacre of eggs upon the tabletop. “She gets as antsy as her father!”
    Jill pictured the time that Sam had got it into his head to raise chickens and so began building a coop out of scraps of materials that very day when he came home from work, creating a ramshackle shelter that Jill had mistaken for a dog house and had assumed was Sam’s way of finally consenting to her request for a golden retriever like the one she had growing up. They never got the chickens. Sam soon forgot about the coop and the birds, and started planning for a baby instead.

* * *

    The wooden steps leading up to the small white church were shaded by a spindly pair of almond trees that gave off a scent that Jill fell in love with the first Sunday she had accompanied her mother-in-law. The almond scent reminded her of the perfume she used to borrow from her old college roommate, before she left on dates with Sam. Most of the time she did not like thinking about Sam at all, for fear of what even thinking of him, and where he was, and what he was doing, would lead to, but she liked thinking of him when she passed the almond trees, with her daughter Mattie clasping her hand as she skipped along in the little white sundress that Bea had made for her granddaughter.
    Today was an especially muggy. Jill watched Bea and all of the other older ladies genteelly fan themselves with their announcement papers that the greeters had handed out in the foyer, and pulled Mattie onto her lap, bouncing the blond haired three year old up and down on her knee. Mattie laughed in delight and Bea cast Jill a look of firm disapproval at the outburst. The pastor was approaching the pulpit.
    Jill faded out instantly. She had never once listened to a sermon since she had started coming to Meyerton Baptist with Bea six weeks ago. It was a point of pride for her, this silent rebellion against the dusty and traditional Southern town, the aging, sprawling house and the woman who had not come to her wedding to Sam because ceremony took place in her parents’ barn.
    Mattie tugged on her hand and Jill turned to see the offering plate being held out to her. She handed Mattie a dollar to slip into the plate, as she always did, and passed it on down the pew. Jill rubbed her daughter’s back, making slow smooth circles, knowing that if she was too light Mattie would jump and start laughing because it tickled. The choir finished their hymn, Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow, before the pastor moved into Communion, the first Communion that Jill and Mattie had attended since they arrived in Meyerton.
    The pastor read the passage from First Corinthians as ushers passed out plates with little individual cups of grape juice and various sized scraps of bread and Jill took some for both herself and Mattie, though Bea seemed to disapprove of her allowing Mattie to hold her cup and bread, her frown lines deepening as she straightened up in the pew to appear as prim and proper as possible by comparison.
    The pastor came to the line about the taking of the bread “in remembrance of Christ” and the congregation followed suit as he ate his own piece, before continuing on to the cup. Jill closed her eyes as he finished speaking, tilted her head back and drained the little glass, grape flavor splashing about in her mouth, almost sickly sweet. A moment later she felt something wet and sticky fall on her right hand, which had been resting on Mattie’s lap as she hugged her daughter to her chest. Jill opened her eyes to see a growing purple stain splattered across the front of Mattie’s white dress and her own hand. The little girl squirmed impatiently as the juice began to soak in.
    “Give me that!” Bea hissed, having turned to see the stain at just the same time as Jill, and grabbed the cup from Mattie’s sticky fingers, shoving it onto the stack of glasses that was being collected and passed down the pews. Immediately Mattie’s face started to crumple at the harshness of her grandmother’s voice and the loss of her “plaything.” Jill flashed Bea a withering look as she slipped out of her seat and carried Mattie out into the foyer, where the door stood open to let in the rare July breeze and the relentless buzz of cicadas.

* * *

    In the afternoon after Jill had put Mattie down for a nap, she changed into a simple blouse and an old pair of casual trousers of Sam’s, rolled up, and went to out to work in Bea’s prized garden. She dug her toes into the soil and sighed, wishing that the worries would dissipate as easily as the exhaled breath. She had only just begun picking pea pods and gathering them in the wicker basket that she balanced on her hip when Bea called to her from the wide, wraparound porch that stretched around to the side of the yard where the garden plots lay.
    “Don’t go picking those vegetables if they aren’t ripe!” Bea reprimanded as she brushed sweat and hair away from her forehead. “Now come help me with the laundry, at least this way I can keep an eye on you.”
    Jill hid a bemused smile as she set the basket aside and went around the far side of the house to where a large tin wash basin had been set up, already brimming with hot water and soap suds, several piles of laundry and linens awaiting their fate. Bea had already returned to the basin and had her sleeves rolled up to her elbows as she plunged a small white and purple bundle beneath the surface of bubbles and water.
    “Which shall I start with?” Jill asked hesitantly, watching as Bea violently scrubbed the cloth against a washboard.
    “Any of it, you silly girl, it has all got to be washed and hung up before the sun goes down,” the older woman half-muttered, rolling her eyes, whether at the question or Jill it was hard to tell.
    Jill pretended not to notice her irritation and took a sheet from the top of the first pile to wash, positioning herself on the opposite side of the basin from her mother-in-law, imitating the way in which she plunged the cloth down into the water and swirled it around, before dragging it back and forth across the washboard until satisfied that it had been thoroughly scrubbed and could then be rinsed in another nearby basin. Jill quickly completed the washing, scrubbing and rinsing of four sheets before she realized that Bea had never moved on from her first washing. She just kept swirling the cloth around and around in the suds, and the purple stain never got any smaller. Jill caught her eyes and in that moment Bea spoke as she had never spoken to Jill before, utterly vulnerable, voicing a shared fear.
    “What if he never comes home?”

* * *

    Bea never spoke in that way to Jill again but neither did she ever boss her around or speak to her with a tone of disapproval as she once had done. From then on Bea showed her appreciation of - and even love for - Jill in small acts of kindness: fresh hot coffee on her bedside dresser when she awoke in the early morning before getting ready for work, old stockings and socks darned without a word, an antique silver brush and mirror set that appeared one Sunday morning before church, joining in the shelling of the peas as Jill sat on the front steps watching Mattie run around the yard.
    The greatest kindness that Bea did for Jill took place one late August evening of her first year in Meyerton. Mattie bustled about the yard as dusk descended, grasping after the fireflies that flitted above the long grass, hoping to catch one and keep it in the mason jar with holes punched in the lid that Jill had given her for her day-to-day exploits in bug-collecting which thus far had consisted entirely of butterflies. Both Jill and Bea sat in wooden chairs with woven straw seats on the porch, sipping glasses of sun tea that Jill had brewed on top of the railing that same afternoon.
    “She never speaks,” Bea nodded toward Mattie as she tumbled in the dirt, laughing.
    “No,” Jill answered softly, “but then, she is almost always smiling. She’s just waiting for her Daddy to come home.”
    She had never told her mother-in-law that before and she could see the effect it had on Bea, her eyes glistening in the fading light, following her granddaughter’s meandering path.
    “I’m glad you and Sam chose to have Mattie.”
    Not “Why did you decide to have Mattie?”
    “With her here,” Bea continued, taking Jill’s hand in her own, gently rubbing her thumb across the cracked and sunburned skin, “it’s almost as if Sam was with us again.”
    Jill did not know what to say but slightly squeezed Bea’s calloused hand and knew that she would never know enough about Mrs. Beatrice Everton.

The Man from New York

Mitchell Waldman

    “Hey, hey, you made it!” His father was a smiling bear, descending upon Isaac as he entered the bar of the Lake Geneva Resort. Isaac didn’t know what to do — should he shake his hand, hug him, smile? — so he did nothing at all. Abe Hoffman clasped Isaac’s shoulder for an instant with one of his big claws, squeezing a little too tightly.
    “So, how’s life treating you?” he asked.
    “Fine, just fine,” Isaac replied, even though, in truth, it wasn’t. His life was, in fact, going nowhere. Ever since Sophie, his first love, died, had killed herself, six months before. She’d been on a trip to England with her family when it had happened. It had devastated Isaac. And ever since, he’d just been on this downward spiral. He couldn’t get a job in his field — sociology — and had just lost another meaningless job, this one in a warehouse. The week before he’d gone out on a bad second date (why bother?) with a girl he didn’t really like. He had about a hundred dollars left in his bank account. And he was back to living at home with his mom and stepdad, sleeping in the bedroom of his childhood. But he didn’t reveal any of this, just bit his lip, smiled, and asked, “How are things going for you?”
    “Couldn’t be better. Business is great. The family is great. Everything’s just. . . great!” The older man laughed. “You and I, we’ve got some catching up to do, don’t we? Buy you a beer?”
    “Sure.” Abe Hoffman made a show of it, waving a fifty in the air and yelling out “Bartender, a couple Michelobs down here for me and my boy, please! Pronto!”
    The bartender walked over, without much enthusiasm, and plucked the bill from Abe Hoffman’s fingers. Isaac and his father sat down on the black cushioned bar stools.
    “So, what have you been up to?” Abe said, redirecting his attention to Isaac.
    “Not much,” Isaac said, just as the bartender placed a beer in front of him. He stared down into the golden liquid, not knowing what to tell and what not to tell. He took a sip, considering, put his mug down, then picked it up again and, looking at his father, let it all spill out.
    “You know . . . I was in Dallas and Austin again. Worked in warehouses and restaurants. Nothing really panned out. Nothing really ever does. What am I going to do with my life? I’ve got a goddamned degree, and I don’t know what to do. Nothing seems to fit for me. I just want to do something I enjoy. Is there anything wrong with that? Is there anything wrong with trying to be happy?” He put his mug down.
    “Nope. Not a thing.” His father smiled.
    “The jobs, they were awful. I couldn’t work. I just couldn’t stop . . . couldn’t stop thinking . . . about her. About Sophie.”
    “Have you tried going out with any other girls?”
    Isaac picked up his beer again and stared at his father. “I went out with a couple, but it was no good. None of them are any good. They just don’t, can’t compare to Sophie. No one does. No one ever will.” He downed the rest of his beer, staring straight ahead at the mirror behind the bar. He could barely see himself through all the stemware and bottles.
    He put the mug down and slammed the bar top with his fist. Down at the other end, the bartender froze for an instant while pouring a drink and gazed through the smoke at Isaac. Then, apparently satisfied that there was no immediate danger, he went back to the business of pouring.
     “Why’d she have to do it? Why’d she have to be so selfish and do it and leave me all alone? I was there, right there in Austin, waiting for her to come back. She knew that. I was waiting for her. Why?” He looked over at his father, eyes wide and moist. “Why?”
    Abe wasn’t looking at Isaac, but was staring straight ahead. He grabbed his beer and held it up in a sort of toast to himself.
    “Hey, there are a lot of fish in the sea.” He took a sip of the beer, put the mug down solidly on the walnut bar top and, turning his head, stared right at Isaac with a broad grin. “How about another?”
    Isaac didn’t answer. With his index finger he traced a line down through the foggy condensation on the side of his mug.

    He was ten years old, tracing a line through the cold haze of the front window, watching for his dad, just like every other Sunday. He had to stand on tiptoes to see out the window. The sun was shining bright. Staring at the off-white pavement made him squint.
    Isaac stared out the window, looking for his father. He normally came at three and it was already twenty minutes after. But the telephone hadn’t rung yet and Isaac knew he would show up. He probably just got held up in traffic.
    An hour later, Isaac was still standing by the window. His neck ached from looking out. He’d told his mother “No” when she’d suggested that he go out back and play with the other kids, that she’d call him when and if his dad came. But now his legs ached too and he had to sit down. He figured it wouldn’t be a problem if he were to do his waiting on the couch in the living room. He would just stretch out and relax. And, with his head on the arm rest, he could still see out the living room window.
    He could smell the pizza cooking. His stomach was growling. But, when his mother came to get him, he said he wasn’t hungry, and pressed his cheek against the smooth back of the couch. He thought about the rib place his father had taken him to, where they’d make glorious messes of themselves chewing the charred meat off the bone while sipping vanilla phosphates, the Italian restaurant where he always ordered the same thing —chicken cacciatore —or the place in downtown Chicago where they made the pizza burgers with the gooey cheesy white centers. Food eaten with his father was always better than anything his mother could offer. It just wasn’t the same.
    “Suit yourself,” she said, and left the room. He got off the couch and bounded up to his room. He closed the door behind him, dove onto his bed, and buried his head in his pillow.
    Lying there with tears on his pillow that evening, Isaac had no idea that three years later his weekly vigil by the window, waiting with hope for his father to appear, would end when Abe Hoffman would move from Chicago to New York for good.

    Abe slapped Isaac on the back. “You must be starved. Let’s go get you something to eat. My treat. What do you say?”
    Abe threw a couple of bills on the bar and started walking away before Isaac answered, apparently expecting his son to follow.

     Isaac was sitting across the table from his father in the resort’s cafe. He was watching his father eat. The man’s full concentration seemed to be on the process of biting, chewing, salivating, and tasting, his eyes closed as he slowly processed the food. A thin line of hamburger grease ran down his lower lip, and dribbled down his chin, but he didn’t seem to notice, just chewed on. It was another thing Isaac remembered about his father — how he loved to eat. He closed his eyes and was sitting at his father’s kitchen table again on that trip to New York City. When Isaac had turned twenty-one he’d figured it was time for him to get to know the father he hadn’t seen since he was thirteen and had sent Abe Hoffman a letter. He saw Abe now like he’d been that day, sitting right before Isaac at the kitchen table, spooning chocolate ice cream out of a half gallon container until he’d polished off most of it by himself. Isaac hadn’t had any — he’d just watched his father eat. He’d been disappointed on that trip. But what had he really expected?
    “Hey, what’s the matter? You haven’t even touched your sandwich.” Isaac opened his eyes. He’d ordered a tuna on rye with chips on the side.
    “I guess I’m just not that hungry right now.” He picked up a ridged potato chip and broke it between his thumb and forefinger, staring at his father.
    “You don’t know what you’re missing.” Abe took another huge bite from what remained of his burger and, with his mouth half full, said, “Best resort food this side of the Mississippi.”
    “I’ll take your word for it.”
    Just then, three men in maroon-colored shirts, with the resort’s sailboat logo emblazoned on their left breast pockets, walked over from the salad bar and joined Isaac and his father, positioning themselves around the two men. Abe introduced his co-workers to Isaac and within a minute — a couple of smiles and a nod later — they turned back to Abe, talking to him like Isaac wasn’t even there, drilling Abe about various aspects of the outdoor spots to be shot the next day, and fretting about the latest weather reports, which called for rain. The man on the other side of Isaac’s father was the agency’s art director, a guy named Ted. He was about Isaac’s age, but was Hawaiian and wore heavy black-framed glasses. Occasionally, when asked a question by one of the other men, Abe would put his hand on Ted’s shoulder, in a fatherly manner, and say, “What do you think, Ted?”
    About five minutes into the discussion, Abe turned back to Isaac and suggested that maybe he’d like to be in a shot, “be part of the excitement,” was how Abe put it. “How about it, Bob?” Abe asked, turning to address the man next to Ted, a balding man with a small gray goatee and a beer gut. “We can still use some extras in that game room shot, can’t we?” And then, without missing a beat, Abe swiveled back around in his chair to face Isaac and said, flatly, “So, you’re smoking now.”
    Good of him to notice, Isaac thought, avoiding the older man’s eyes, but taking what he thought was a rebelliously long pull at the carcinogenic materials and then blowing the smoke out in a steady stream.
    “You’ve got to stay a couple of days, Isaac,” his father said, smiling, head cocked to one side, looking straight into Isaac’s eyes. “What do you say? What kinds of plans do you have?”
    “Well, I was planning on going up to Madison to see a girl, but not until Saturday.”     “Great. Then it’s settled. You’ll stick around here until then, no arguments please. I’ve got lots of time.”
    “Yeah, and we can talk.”
    “Sure. Anything you want. It’s really good to see you. Did I tell you that before?”
    As it turned out, Abe Hoffman did not have a lot of time for Isaac — he was always too busy with his work. Isaac watched a shoot one day, with Ted by his father’s side. Isaac felt invisible as his father, brows furrowed, clipboard in hand, moved toward the two actors sitting on the eighteenth green of the golf course, and said to the camera man behind him, making jabbing motions with his hands, “Why don’t we try one from this angle?” Then, on second thought, he turned to his right hand man and asked, “What do you think, Ted?” Isaac had slipped away after that and, despite his father’s invitation to watch more shoots or to, be in one of the commercials, which offer Isaac declined, spent most of his remaining time in the room, reading. Once in a while he’d break up the boredom by strolling around the resort grounds, looking for pretty women, and sitting at the bar, feeling somewhat jaded, sitting in the dark with his shades on, drinking beer after beer (all charged to his father’s room). At dinner time his father would return to the room to find Isaac lying on the bed in a beer stupor. Abe would collapse and the two of them would lie, side by side, father and son, and silent. The television would blare its constant sales pitch. And at eight o’clock sharp they’d go down to the Flamingo Room for dinner with Abe’s co-workers.
    Ted stayed in the room adjoining theirs and the door between was always left open. He’d pop into the room unannounced, his nearsightedness apparently not limited to his eyes, unaware of the silent curtain between the two figures that lay stonily, side by side, on the bed, staring at the television set.
    At dinner time on Thursday, Abe and Ted walked down to the dining room in matching brown sport jackets. Isaac, in his T-shirt, followed a couple steps behind.
    The Flamingo Room was dark and smoky when the three men walked in. The other agency men were already sitting at a table, sipping their drinks and smoking cigars. They welcomed the threesome with jokes, laughter, and raised glasses.
     After sitting a while and studying the menus, Isaac burrowing inside his own, the wine steward brought them a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, handed the wine cork to Isaac’s father, and poured a small amount of wine in Abe’s glass. Abe picked up the glass and took a sip, then nodded to the man, who smiled, said, “Very good,” and walked off.
    When the waiter came, Abe ordered steaks all around without protest. Isaac was not a fan of steak but didn’t say anything. The men at the table talked about what they knew best — the world of advertising. His father, the boss, spoke: “What commercial really stands out in your mind, Bob, not one that’s fashionable to like, but that really sticks out for you? Above the rest. Mr. Whipple.” A couple of the men laughed. “Now I know what you guys are thinking. You hate Mr. Whipple. I hate Mr. Whipple. Hell, anyone with a brain in his head hates Whipple, but that’s not the point! You hate him, but you remember him. We all remember him. And look what it’s done to sales of that toilet paper from number six nationwide to a dominating market leader in three short years!”
    Isaac felt sick. Maybe it was the wine, or maybe it was that recently diagnosed ulcer acting up, but in his silence his thoughts smoldered. He wanted to confront these men and their concerns. What did they really care about toilet paper? What importance did it really have (beside the obvious utilitarian purpose) or, for that matter, what significance did wine corks or bloodied slabs of beef have when half the world was starving to death, ridden in disease and poverty? These men were opportunists, making their livings off of other people’s insecurities, trying to convince everyone that they needed things — bigger, better, stronger, faster things — to be successful. It was all part of the game — always looking for a new mark, for another sale. Isaac felt warm and self-righteous, the anger washing over him.
    Or maybe, he thought, maybe that wasn’t it at all. Maybe it was just the man, Abe Hoffman.
    He excused himself from the table, telling the others that he didn’t feel well. His father looked concerned for about ten seconds, but turned back to the conversation the moment Isaac left the table. Isaac looked over his shoulder after about ten steps. Abe wasn’t looking after him, but was laughing and talking loudly to the group, chopping the air with his hands as he spoke, as if Isaac had never been there at all.
    Back in the room, Isaac fell heavily on the bed, where he lay for hours, staring at the television, the inane box, listening to the canned laughter as sitcom characters moved from room to room with no real purpose, no real connection to reality.
    It wasn’t until around midnight that Isaac heard the key turning in the lock, rolled to his side and closed his eyes, breathing the pretend breath of sleep. He heard his father move quietly to the bathroom, flip on the light switch, run the water, and brush his teeth. He heard his father spill the change from his pocket out on to the bureau, pull off his pants and then, with a sigh, slide into bed next to him.
    In their shared bed that night Isaac and his father slept back to back, cowering in their mutual corners. And, in the morning, Isaac feigned sleep while his father slipped into the shower and out, then dressed and softly closed the door behind him.
    In the middle of the afternoon Abe returned to the room, ecstatic that the shoot was finally over, trying to convince Isaac that they should celebrate somehow, spend some time together.
    As his father walked toward the bathroom, Isaac murmured, “We could talk,” but his father didn’t seem to hear. He ran the water, splashed some on his face, and when he came back out, towel in hand, said, “Anything you want to do. What’ll it be? It’s beautiful outside. Those weathermen called for rain, but they’re idiots. Just look at it out there!” he said, pulling the curtains open. Isaac, who was lying on the bed, his book planted at chest level, shaded his eyes with his left hand, and said weakly. “Bright, it’s too bright.”
    Abe grabbed the book out of Isaac’s hands. “A boy like you shouldn’t be cooped up in a room like this on such a beautiful day.” He paused for an instant, looking at his son, then said, “It’s not like you didn’t get enough sleep.”  Isaac watched his father closely. He was smiling, he seemed genuinely happy. “Come on! Don’t be such a dead head. How about canoeing? You used to love that when you were younger . . . There’s a river not far from here where we can rent them. How about it?”
    Isaac, still squinting and feeling lethargic, said, “Sure, anything you say.”
    At that moment Ted showed up at the door, smiling, his brown eyes wide behind the oversized black glasses, and said, “Hey, guys, what’s up?”
    It was a hot day, unseasonably so for the time of year. The trees were swaying in the breeze, some still bare, others painted with tiny buds of color that reached up toward the sky. The river was tucked away beneath this contrast of death and birth, beneath a sky filled with drifting powder puff clouds that would occasionally block the sun.
    The canoes were lined on the shore, their gray bottoms turned up. At his father’s insistence, Isaac picked a boat (Number Nine) for his father and him while Ted examined the other canoes closely, running his hand along their bottoms until he finally grinned and announced, “This is the one.”
    A young Latino boy took their money and pushed them off the rocks into the cold green steam, mumbling something about staying to the right somewhere. Isaac didn’t really catch what he said, couldn’t get past the mumble. Ted rolled up his pant legs and pushed his boat alone, jumping into it with seeming glee. He quickly rowed ahead with sharp, controlled strokes while Number Nine struggle ahead with Isaac at the oar. There seemed to be some kind of trick to keeping the damned thing straight. Isaac paddled on one side of the boat, then the other, only to find the boat lurching like a late night drunk staggering home from the bars. Abe sat in the front of the boat, smiling encouragement back at Isaac, throwing his rhetorical questions and statements out to the wind, things like “Isn’t this a glorious day, Isaac?” and “It’s so nice just to get out in the air, away from it all for a while.” The older man, oblivious to Isaac’s grunts, stretched his legs out on the canoe floor and propped his hands behind his head, as Isaac continued to struggle.
    The river was wide. Ted’s boat seemed like a knife that sliced it down the middle. Number Nine, on the other hand, continued to waver from shoreline to shoreline. Ted would make a quick little spurt, disappearing around a bend where he’d drift for a few minutes, patiently waiting for Number Nine; then, when Isaac had finally caught up, huffing and puffing and seeing Ted’s drifting as a welcome invitation to rest, the little smiling Hawaiian would be streaking out of sight — it seemed like a sadist’s game.
    After a while the sun got the better of Isaac. The skin across his face grew tight, his muscles ached, and his steering grew slower, more erratic. He wanted to offer his father a chance to row but was afraid to disturb him from his slumber, his body slumped forward on the front seat. Isaac regretted now that he’d ever come here and wished he was driving far away from this man, this scene, and this throbbing pain.
    He closed his eyes, and set the oar down on the floor of the canoe. He was giving up.
    The water flowed faster.
    In the heat Isaac felt himself sinking down into the canoe, drenched with sweat and exhausted. He blinked through the perspiration dripping down his face to look at the man in front of him. He looked so familiar but also like a total stranger to Isaac. He closed his eyes again, lulled to sleep by the flowing water, the rustling trees. He dreamt of the ballpark — Wrigley Field — sitting next to his dad like in the old days, watching the players on the field. Ernie Banks was at bat, swinging his bat a couple of times before setting. The hot dog vendor yelled “Get your red hots, get your red hots here!” The man at the organ in center field played the fight song to start a rally. The man on second base, Glenn Beckert, took a lead off the bag and crouched forward, his hands just touching his thighs. He seemed to hear the baseball announcer screaming “A crack into right. . . .” Then there was a sound like the roaring of the crowd.
    He was awakened by a jolt and crash (was it a nightmare?), and, for an instant, he was flying in the air, above the water. There were glimpses of light — the canoe crashing downstream, flipping like a child’s toy over what appeared to be a waterfall, his father’s face bobbing up, then down, up, then down again, reminding Isaac of the floats they had used when he was a kid, bobbing to signal a fish on the hook. The cold water was piercing Isaac’s body and he was gasping for breath, sinking for so long, down down down an eternity and finally, his weight reversed, the feel of the water rushing against his lifting body and sunlight, air, coughing, choking, then steady. Downstream his father was still bobbing, only down longer now, floating farther away, out of reach.
    With heavy hands Isaac swam, chopping through the waters. The image of his father was behind him, burning into the back of his skull, as he paddled onward, the shore in sight, in reach, his arms weary but suddenly pumping with new strength. The world around him was spinning, upside down, as he swam on and on, the shore, his survival, the only thing in his mind until he was there, crashing against the jagged rocks, scraping his chest against the edge and, with a last burst of energy, pulling himself up over the side, shaking, dripping, but triumphant.
    Sitting on the rocks, he watched his father bobbing downstream, as another man — Ted — made his approach, then, with smooth, compact strokes, grabbed Abe around the chest and pulled him slowly toward Isaac’s shore. The faces were slowly coming into view. Isaac was silent, not daring to move, thinking that to break his stillness, to flinch an inch, was to falter. Sitting that way, cross-legged, becoming a part of the rock, Isaac stared out at the violent flow, the waters crashing against rock and foaming, the trees shivering as the skies darkened with black thunderheads, and unseen birds chirping as if nothing in the world was awry at this moment, on this day.
    In the water, right before Isaac’s eyes, Ted, with all his might, strained with his arms and shoulders against Abe’s large backside to push him up over the edge of the bank, shouting to Isaac, who was solid now, impenetrable: “Help me, for Godsakes! What’s wrong with you?” Isaac’s body quaked, shattering the ice, and he reached down and tugged at his father’s limp arms, pulling him up and over the edge. Then he sat straight up again, shaking uncontrollably, while Ted lay Abe’s limp body out on the grass, and began the process of pumping on his chest and breathing into his mouth. Isaac watched, a spectator once again to the events occurring before him. Ted pumped and breathed rhythmically as Isaac shivered, his teeth chattering against one another. After about the third pump and breath, the man on the ground started coughing and spitting water out. His chest quivered violently, his arms rising, then falling with each cough, as Ted gently cradled the man’s head in his hands and murmured softly, “It’s gonna be all right, Abe, it’s gonna be all right.”
    A couple of minutes later, Abe Hoffman, still weak, opened his eyes to the daylight and for the first time since he was a child cried and prayed to God in thanks that he had been chosen to survive, to be saved — he was one of the lucky ones.
    And Isaac cried too, not knowing why, or for whom — for himself, for the emotionality of the scene, for fate, for life or death, or was it for the man from New York?

(This story was previously published in the now-defunct Five Fishes Journal.)

The River

Caleb Yarborough

We are rocks in the river of life.
Sometimes the current is strong.
Sometimes the current is weak.
But no matter what,
the current shapes who we are,
and who we are destined to be.

Hard Knocks

Jasmyne Suggs

    Yvonne and Cassandra Vasquez grew up in Cape Girardeau Missouri in the late 1990’s. They lived on their own at seventeen. Their mother died shortly after giving birth to the twins due to the effect of Aids. They didn’t know their father and had no knowledge of living relatives. They stayed with their friend in a crummy one bedroom apartment. Cassandra made due with sleeping on the sofa in the living room while Yvonne slept in the bedroom with Sean, a ruthless 22 year old male who tried to turn his life over after jail and drugs. He and Yvonne were good friends. They had known one another since they were younger. Sean took Yvonne and her sister in since he had an apartment of his own, so they agreed to split the rent and the bills three-ways.
    When Sean got hooked on drugs he and Yvonne’s friendship drew further apart. While Sean was out getting high and not taking life seriously, Yvonne went back to school. She dropped out in the eleventh grade after she got pregnant, but later that year she had a miscarriage. The baby’s father had bailed out long before he found out the outcome of the baby. He wasn’t ready for a child and neither was Yvonne. She had a sensee of relief and depression at the same time.
    Sean didn’t care much because at the time he wasn’t in the right state of mind because of what the drugs had done. Yvonne resented him for that. He hated that she didn’t come to him for advice and rely on him as she used to. Now everything was broken. Cassandra on the other hand was going to school and working so she could afford to get more things than her sister. Yvonne began to become jealous of what her sister had and she did not.
    While Cassandra was in her room Sean and Yvonne were in theirs and they got closer and closer. Cassandra had told Yvonne not to get to close to him again because he is trouble but she didn’t listen. She longed for the friendship they had. Cassandra noticed something different about her sister Yvonne wasn’t acting like herself. She was having weird cravings and began to be very moody. She asked what had happened and she came out and told her that she was pregnant.
    Yvonne was now three months pregnant and her sister had a hint who the father was, but Yvonne never clarified it until now. Cassandra just knew it was Sean’s kid , Yvonne felt so bad about it and told her sister she’d slept with her boyfriend Michael out of jealousy and envy of their relationship.
    Cassandra was in rage and she didn’t talk to her sister for months on end. Yvonne’s baby shower was in one week and her sister finally decided to talk to her sister over what had happened. Her sister had been apologizing since the day it happened, Cassandra finally accepted her apology. When Cassandra accepted her apology Yvonne came out and told her she had already had her abortion completed two weeks prior.
    The two girls hugged and held each-other close. Yvonne was hurting she had to abort her baby because she knew she couldn’t provide for it. Just three weeks later Yvonne committed suicide. Cassandra was furious that her sister would take her life because the road got rough. They’d been through so much in life. They never once considered suicide no matter how much stress they’d gone through. She’d never have thought it would end up this way. Cassandra could not hang on long without her other half and managed to take her life.
    Moral of the story-Don’t let life knock you down.

I Don’t know who you are anymore.

Megan Price

    I thought you loved me, why would you wanna hurt me? My name is kadience, I am 5'2 with long curly brown hair, tanned skin and blue eyes. My friend Kay and I were best friends, might as well been attached by the hip. We practically lived at each others houses. Until the day that I got a new boyfriend; Zach, at first she was happy for me but then, everything changed. After a month of being with Zach, he had done so much for me and he was really sweet. He would leave me love letters around the house or on my desk at school. I could kind of tell Kay would get jealous when I came home from school or she’d see the notes around the house. I’d tell her how sweet he was and how I really liked him and she would get angry at me for some strange reason. Kay, was also single she was very pretty she looked just like, me but she was more of a “tom-boy” than me. I was the “girly girl” cheerleader and she was on the soccer team. I was also more outgoing than her.
    Then it was weird because, Zach had start telling me he had late football practices, around the same time Kay would tell me she had to work a late shift. At first I thought it was a coincidence then, after two months it started getting unbelievable. When, Zach came over and Kay was at my house as well, they wouldn’t even talk to each other. That was weird because usually they got along, but then I thought that they just wanted me to think they didn’t really associate with each other so I wouldn’t think nothing of “late practice” or “night shifts.”
    Shortly after that, would wake up with mysterious marks on my neck and face, I thought I was having a bad dream or something. But one night when Kay was staying the night with me, I woke up to Kay standing over my bed with a knife the only thing I could do was scream. Then, she told me she was just “trying to scare me.” I knew it was more than that when I woke with marks numerous times after that. I would tell Zach about it but he’d always find a way to make up an excuse for her! That was really weird of Zach; he’s usually always there for me. One night, I was in the shower at Zach’s house, and I fell asleep I was awoke with his hand around my neck, while I am under water! I had pinched him so hard that he let go, after I scolded him he told me “I am just Playing.” I was so scared.

    I found it weird that both of them tried to hurt me. So, one night I was at Kay’s house alone during one of Kay’s “late shifts” & Zach’s “late practice.” I went into kays room looking for my jacket and I look in her top drawer, then there was a blue book that read “Kay’s Diary.” I opened it and the very first page said “what can we do to get rid of her to finally be together?” At that point, my heart dropped I could feel my palms getting sweaty but, I kept reading. Then after that it said “We love each other so much, why does she have to ruin it?” I kept reading, after that it mentioned the “late practices.” It all started making sense to why they both tried to hurt me when I read the next sentence. “We just want her dead!”
    At that point I felt like I could feel my heart breaking. Why would they wanna hurt me, I love them both so much. I started flipping pages to see if there was anything else that I needed to see or read. Then, I found a picture of them kissing! When I saw that all my patience went out the widow, I was furious! I went to Zachs’ football practice there was no one there, so I went to Kay’s work in the back of the building I saw Kay’s blue car.
     I pulled in the parking lot with my head lights off, then I got out of the car. I creeped over to her car and then I saw Zachs’ jacket in the window. I tried to open the door, it was locked so I busted the windows out! And there they were being all over each other they both looked up at me and applauded. I thought it wasn’t even worth it I went to go walk away. Then, I could hear someone running up on me I turned around, it was Kay she had a baseball bat, she started hitting me with it repeatedly. I was trying to protect myself yelling for help but no one could hear me. Then, I guess Zach realized that he was wrong so he made her stop, that’s all I remember from that night. I just got out of a coma about three months ago; I am paralyzed from waist down. Shortly, after I got out Zach tried to get back with me. I asked him if he was out of his mind and hung up the phone. Haven’t talked to him since, but not that long ago I heard Kay was out of jail and they got married. Now, I live in a nursing home so I can get taken care of. I will never forgive Kay or Zach and I’ll never trust anyone again!

There Is No Oblivion

Edward Rodosek

Those who believe in oblivion
are mistaken.

Nothing in our bizarre world
you could forget

Not all the good
that came upon you,
which you try to remember.
Not all the bad
and ugly
and tremendous
that you wish to forget
as soon as possible.

Even the thing
you think
you’ve forgotten
once and for all;
all your bygone years
are just covered
with the dust of time
and are waiting serenely
to be revived again.

A fragrance
from your childhood,
an intimate voice,
the chirp of birds
from the crown of a tree,
a flash
of a well-known image
creeps into your mind again.

There is no such thing
as oblivion.