Down in the Dirt

welcome to volume 97 (August 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
Christopher Hanson
Roger Cowin
Denny E. Marshall
Kyrsten Bean
Matthew Roberts
Victor Phan comic
Ash Krafton
Mel Waldman
Carys Goodwin
Laine Hissett-Bonard
Emma Eden Ramos
Karen Alea
Toni M. Todd
Carl Scharwath
Aaron Bragg
J.D. Isip
Edward Rodosek
Sheryl L. Nelms
Tom Fillion
Holly Day
Janet Kuypers

ISSN Down in the Dirt Internet

Note that any artwork that appears in Down in the Dirt will appear in black and white in the print edition of Down in the Dirt magazine.

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“Catch Fire in the Treetops”:
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The fire catches in the treetops

Fritz Hamilton

The fire catches in the treetops, burning
down all creatures to the ground, they
accept their conflagration &, screaming,

return to the ashes from which they sprang/
Job sits upon them as their monument,
burning his sad ass/ he wails to God about

the injustice, but God is a smoldering ingot in
the pile that rams up Job’s ass to
scorch his frightened soul/ smoke from

perdition gushes from his bellybutton to
befoul the air & make Job cough &
gag/ still thinking the good Lord lives, Job

cries to Him about his losses, but God-the-devil
being dead, can do nothing more than laugh, &
Job who cannot hear Him continues his

futile haranguing until he too is ashes
indistinguishable from the pile, but there’s
still a constant moan that emanates from

his throne ...


I climb into my radio &

Fritz Hamilton

I climb into the radio &
am really wired/ I’d be fried if
it weren’t illegal/ instead I get my

last rejection, a lethal injection/ this
relieves the congestion in the
American prison system, which

solves all its social problems by
incarceration, giving us more
prisoners per capita than

any other nation including
Russia, South Africa, Iran &
Narnia, with Texas & California

leading the way, just like we do
in grapefruits, which we also in-
carcerate, even the little squirts/

ever since that great humanitarian
Ronnie Reagan solved all our drug
problems by tossing druggies in

the joint (98 percent were black,
which was a good Republican way
to reduce the minority vote) now

decades later we also throw
Hispanics into our giant prisons
which we keep building to

enhance the building industry in
the Land of the Free, where
we spend far more on prisons than

education, & our standard of living
keeps going down
                               down, &

the capitalists have it all as
the rest of us are controlled to
prevent the revolution, as

the sheep accept their devolution &
get fleeced proving the Greeks right that
“the worst thing to happen to

born ...


Internet Issue Bonus poem
(this does not appear in the print edition):

Wanna live in Mozambique?

Fritz Hamilton

Wanna live in Mozambique?
It’s hard to get a square meal.
They starve to death to solve their
population problem
just like us if we
don’t raise the debt ceiling, but
some want to cut our programs to the
bone with
no meat left to feed us either,
but there’ll be meat left for the rich &#amp;
our war effort in the East.

60 percent of our budget goes to the
military &#amp; its industrial complex.
Eisenhower warned us yet
here we are, &#amp;
now America crosses over
the bar so
set ‘em up, Joe, we’ll
drink ourselves to death. should
we try a different way?. SAVE
YOUR breath ...


Internet Issue Bonus poem
(this does not appear in the print edition):

I wonder

Fritz Hamilton

I wonder
how many know our
debt crisis is a disguise
by the Radical Right Wing
led by Karl Rove & the Koch Bros
who finance the fiasco to
destroy Obama & the people to
further put the nation in the
hands of the rich & the
many know that
not raising the debt level will
obliterate America to
further drive us into the
hands of fascists &
facilitate our plunge into
the 3rd World with
the people their slaves?/
many know this?
how many CARE ...



Christopher Hanson

I wake up and turn me on
With my cereal and the news.
“Fluff” gives way to
And back to “fluff”
Covered with sugar
And marshmallows –
Literally and metaphorically.
I close my eyes
With each bite
And rock slowly to the
As if waiting
For the sky to fall –
Breaking news
For the broken chicken-little,
The end.
The END!
I’d go if I could,
Far and further away,
Like Neil and Jack,
Taking to the road,
A would and could be
Both far and from
The synthesized sadness
Of radios, TVs, commercials
And the how we should “be”
Of it all.
It’s when the gas is gone
And the sun returns,
That the dreams dreamt of money
May cease,
Life may begin,
Leaving me invulnerable,
All of us,
And with power once more –

“The man with many names.”
(the Christopher Hanson Biography)

    I was born “Christopher Hanson” in Minnesota; Born in the same hospital as Bob Dylan, not that it matters. I remember very little from this snowbound world having actually grown up in California where I picked up the nick-name, “Cloud,” I don’t know why, simply, “Cloud.” While in good old San Fran, I made nice with some fellows and females of Japanese decent. I picked up a sword, I learned to eat sushi and wander in between the realms of Aikido, Iaido and Zen. They dubbed me “Kazuki.” All aside and all names following me into college, I studied for five years at the University of Wisconsin and graduated with degrees in both Criminal Justice (to bust-up a broken system) and Anthropology – I love people, what can I say? During year five of college, I’d acquire my latest addition, “Yang Yun,” my Chinese name. The name basically translates to, “a tree in the cloud.” This was the name given to me by my wife, the love of my life that I met while studying abroad in China. Since my graduation in 2008, I’ve lived in China for nearly two years as a teacher and within this last year, have finally made it back to the states, wife and all. It’s been a wild ride and something tells me that it’s just begun. As for my “writing” and my “art,” it’s a time-honored tradition and way of life – at least for me.

    I’ve travelled the world, I’ve come home. I’m educated, I’m uneducated. I write, I write and write some more. I drink and write again. This is my story, maybe your story and somebody else’s story. I write, I wander, I write and I love, this world and the many facets/faces of it – simply complicated.

    I’ve been, or will be, published in, “A Brilliant Record,” “The Stray Branch” and “Down in the Dirt,” and am looking forward to continuing down this literary, literal and metaphorical road I venture.

It Could Happen to You

Roger Cowin

A man enters a crowded bar,
pulls out a .38 caliber revolver
and fires a single shot into the back
of his rivals head, says “that’s one
cheating bastard who’ll never steal
another man’s woman again.”
          This really happened.
I was there, walking by,
a beer in each hand when his head
exploded, spraying the bar with blood, brains
and fragments of chipped bones.

A young woman goes for a walk in the
Georgia woods near her home accompanied
by her dog. She’s only twenty-four years old
and everyone knows they’re
invincible when they’re twenty-four.
Days later her decapitated body is found in the woods,
murdered by a passing drifter.
          This actually happened.
I read about it in the paper,
saw it on the news.

An apparently happily
married woman takes a shotgun and blasts
a hole in her sleeping husband, gathers the children
and drives halfway across country
before the police catch up to her.
In her confession she describes a life
of physical and emotional abuse,
raped night after night by her Baptist minister husband.
          And yes, this really happened.

A Muslim man from Pakistan
living in Arizona fears his daughter
has become too westernized. He runs her over
in his American made Ford F150.
Fleeing to Mexico, he hops a plane to the U.K. where
he is met by the police and immediately deported back
to the states. He is sentenced to less time
than some drug dealers.
           It was on the T.V. news.

A young woman falls asleep in the backseat of a car.
The driver dozes off, just for a moment,
the tires catch on some loose gravel, sending the car
flipping end over end into a ditch.
The driver, who was wearing her seatbelt, is unhurt.
The girl in the backseat was not. She is thrown
from the wreckage like a rag doll, a marionette
operated by some mad, cosmic puppeteer.
          This really happened.
 In a single, careless instant she was
suddenly gone, her body broken
and shattered beyond all recognition.

I stared at the closed casket, wept as they placed her
in the ground and covered her forever.
It was only then I knew
    it could happen to you,
to me.
In fact, its already happened.
We are all
already dead and don’t even know it.

Saber In Stone

Denny E. Marshall

A pen a short sword
Red iron dull
Thoughts of words
Fall into a lull
Ground stones spin
Sparklers fly
Letters scattered
Sharp to try


Kyrsten Bean

I remember tan cargo pants, chicken feet & dumplings in soup
marginal words stolen from the dictionary when I was
supposed to be studying.

Don’t make eye contact, don’t smile.

Meanwhile, back in the hospital, she hung her bed sheet on the door.

I remember she drew mushrooms & rainbows
patted my hand when I whined. We fought over card games.
I wanted to punch her in her smug face
when she grabbed the last bag of Cheetos.

I had punched a hole in the wall, once. And when the staff asked who had done it,
she claimed it for me. She gave me her red West County Times T-shirt.

The door was six feet high. When she picked up her feet–after
she tied the knot, as her face went red–what kept her from
letting them down?

Kyrsten Bean Bio

    A poet, musician and writer, Kyrsten had been stacking piles of poetry in her living spaces for 29 years. At some point she decided that her words were lonely – they were suffocating stacked three feet high in old notebooks. She is on a crusade to find a home for her homeless compositions of words, and spends all of her free time searching for havens. She lingers outside the fringe, trying at times to get a real job, only to throw in the towel again and go back to creating.

Hiding in the Shadows.

Matthew Roberts

Stay still, stay quiet
I mouthed to her from my
hiding place. She looked at me
with a still, calm face. She smiled
but had death in her eyes.
Instead of hiding, scared in
the shadows, she stepped out
and with open arms
embraced the monster as
it began to eat her alive.

Janet Kuypers readin the Matthew Roberts poem
Hiding in the Shadows
from the 08/11 issue (v097) of Down in the Dirt magazine
video videonot yet rated
Watch this YouTube video

read from the 08/11 issue (v097) of Down in the Dirt magazine, 08/09/11 live at Chicago ’s the Café open mic

the Banquet

Click here for the comic
the Banquet
by Victor Phan


Ash Krafton

    All it took for Debbie to go from hero to victim was a simple point and click. A tap of a finger, a tiny nudge forever changed the spin of her world.
    “Anything else?” The officer tapped his ballpoint against the back of a small memo pad. He’d forgotten his in the squad car and had to buy one from the store. This store made money off everyone.
    “No,” Debbie said. “That’s pretty much all.”
    “Here’s my card. If he comes back, stall him. Give us forty-five minutes and we’ll come in the back door. That type of surprise has worked well in the past.”
    “Sure, officer. Do you need me for anything else?”
    “No, that’s all for now, ma’am. We’ll be in touch.”
    Debbie returned to the pharmacy, grabbing her sandwich and chomping off a hurried bite.
    Another lunch ruined. After twelve years in retail, she wondered why it continued to irritate her. Not like she ever had a real lunch break. Pharmacists didn’t often get that luxury.
    “That trooper still here?” Kim called from the dispensing area without even looking up from the counting tray. The technician’s voice held an edge; she wasn’t much one for grace under pressure. Debbie wondered why Kim stayed in retail pharmacy. Grace under pressure was an absolute must-have.
    She swigged her iced tea and swallowed down the thick mouthful before hurrying out to the counter. “On his way out. Everything okay?”
    “Check those top three. I’m gonna to strangle Mrs. Connors if she doesn’t stop staring.”
    The waiting area was congested. Customers had been delayed while she’d been in the back, and patience wasn’t a quality they possessed, either.
    Delays were uncommon at her store. On a good day, the staff—usually just one pharmacist and one tech—could run through two to three hundred scripts in twelve hours without breaking a sweat, as long as problems kept to a minimum. The longest a customer normally had to wait for their orders was fifteen minutes, tops.
    Ah, but there’s the rub. Problems kept to a minimum? In a drugstore, problems came in boatloads. Insurances. Gabby customers. Constant phone interruptions. Zero refills. Out of stocks. Still, procedure after refined procedure helped to streamline even those problems. Of course, the easiest solution, and most obvious, would never be instituted: schedule more staff.
    Staffing costs money, and things that cost more money didn’t jive with the company’s obvious policy of squeezing blood from a stone. End of story.
    Ironically, Debbie’s bonus depended upon the customer satisfaction surveys that printed out on random register receipts. She could bust her behind all day without more than a bathroom break and a five-minute meal but if the wrong customer got that receipt, it all meant nothing. She did a lot of hoping that the wrong customer never came in.
    The pharmacist clamped down on her concentration and checked the completed orders. Darn doctors and their illegible handwriting. Some doctors wrote as if they held the pen with their toes, but if she read something wrong, it could risk a customer’s safety and her livelihood.
    But this was her job. Thankfully, she was good at it.
    And, thankfully, most doctors had turned to the practice of printing computer-generated scripts. For the most part, it made the job infinitesimally easier. Except for today.
    She carried the bags to the check out and pulled out one belonging to a stout woman who’d stubbornly parked her oversized purse on the counter. Squatter’s rights. Mrs. Connors was first, come hell or cliché. Stifling a sigh, Debbie rang out the order, deftly stickering and x-ing the sign-in logbook. “Any questions about your medication?”
    “Yeah. Why did it take so long? You know I have to catch the bus.”
    “Sorry. We always get busy on check day.”
    “Well, get another girl back here. It’s not right to keep a person waiting. Twenty minutes is too long.”
    Twenty minutes was too long? Boy, Debbie thought, she’d spoiled these people. “I’ll pass that along to someone who can actually do something about it. Three dollars is your change, your receipt’s in the bag, and I hope you have a wonderful day.”
    The next customer wasn’t so ornery as he was curious. “Was that a State Trooper?”
    “Yup. Sign here and here.”
    “How come he’s here?”
    “They’re looking for a guy in a green coat that ripped off Fashion Bug.” She eyed his camouflage jacket with feigned suspicion. “You wouldn’t have a liking for women’s belts, would you?”
    “Oh, hell, no.”
    “That’s ten dollars after the insurance, from ten.” The cash drawer popped open. “I didn’t think you did. You’re definitely the big belt buckle type.”
    That seemed to mean more than it should have because he winked. “You know it. Thanks, darling.”
    Debbie rolled her eyes toward the technician and closed the register. “Want to switch with me?”
    “In a minute,” Kim snapped.
    The pharmacist sighed and picked up another prescription. “Thomas?”
    Eventually she dispersed the mob of customers—thankfully, not a single survey receipt, her lucky day—and returned to the relative safety of the dispensing area. The technician snorted and tossed a bottle into the topmost of a tower of baskets. “I can’t believe that bastard came back.”
    “Funny. I’ve been waiting for him every day.”
    Kim laughed, a mean sound. “That was awesome. You were so damn nice—I thought you were going to fill it.”
    Debbie shrugged and reached for a basket and tipped the contents onto the counter. This was her assembly line: count, pour, stack. Clickety-swish-thunk. “Grace under pressure. That’s all.”
    “See how convincing he was? Now you know why Tina filled the last one.”
    “Yeah. I probably would have, too. It was printed on security paper. How did he make those blanks?”
    “Doesn’t matter.” Kim stacked two more baskets at the checking computer and reached for the next. “They’ll have him by supper. One more junkie, busted. High five.”
    Debbie grinned and slapped her partner’s upraised hand, feeling every bit like a hero.
    Up until lunchtime earlier that day, her biggest problem was some goofball trying to fill benzos at more than one pharmacy. She’d warned him previously that, despite his oh-so-convincing explanation regarding changing doses and insurance restrictions, should he continue to bounce between stores, she would drop him.
    After a brief consultation with a discount chain pharmacist who worked down the street, she knew he was still at it. Enough was enough.
    Debbie asked the other pharmacist if their store had the same problems.
    “Worse. You won’t believe the people we get. We have a guy who knows what our narc delivery truck looks like. I swear he waits in the parking lot for it to show up.”
    “I’d call the cops.”
    “We can’t,” she grumbled. “It’s policy. We can’t call the cops on anyone. Only store security.”
    “You’re kidding, right?”
    “Nope. The manager had a gun pulled on him in the next district. It’s not worth it.”
    “But what if it’s a fake—”
    “We pretend we just don’t have the pills and give it back.”
    Debbie’s jaw dropped. “But then it comes here!”
    “But we don’t get shot. Two weeks ago a customer told me someone in line was using their cell phone to take pictures of us. Then last Saturday, someone loosened the lugs on my front wheel when I was at work. I don’t need to get killed. I have kids. I like living.”
    “So he gets the dope somewhere else. He can still swerve across that center line and kill you on the way home.”
    “I’ll take my chances with a car wreck. I have an air bag and a seatbelt. Nothing stops a bullet.”
    That conversation stayed with her all morning, but by the time that fake narcotic script was handed to her, she’d forgotten about it. It was lunchtime. She’d just unwrapped her sandwich when he showed up at the counter.
    Of course. The smell of food always drew the customers.
    Debbie knew what the script was the moment she glanced at it and knew what she had to do next. She offered helpful and friendly advice on a cold product for his most-likely-faked malady and pointed him in the right direction.
    “Be right back. I have to use the bathroom.” She made sure he heard before darting out the back door.
    The store supervisor loaded boxes onto a U-boat in the stockroom and Debbie waved him over. “I need to call the Staties. Can you let me in the office?”
    She made her calls as she flipped through the security camera views. Good pictures, some with his cap on, another of him looking right into the camera. “Keep him there,” the officer at the call center said. “I’m sending over a couple troopers.”
    Debbie watched him through the cameras as he stood in front of the pharmacy, went up to the front check out, left the store. Her stomach grumbled. She should have brought her lunch up to the office with her.
    Ten minutes later, the troopers arrived. They canvassed the store. They questioned everyone in a baseball hat. They viewed the camera footage. They jotted down names, addresses, descriptions.
    Meanwhile, the prescriptions piled up. She juggled the heavy workload, going back and forth between the orders in the pharmacy and the investigation in the office. The calming rhythm of clickety-swish-thunk helped her to focus. She chatted and charmed as if it weren’t yet another worst day of her career. Grace under pressure, every step of the way.
    Then the ceiling cracked.
    Her supervisor finally returned her earlier call. Debbie relayed everything: the call to the doctor, the call to the police, the meticulous copying of security footage (that, technically, was the store supervisor’s duty but he was computer illiterate.) T’s crossed, i’s dotted.
    “Did you call Privacy?” He referred to the privacy office, which dealt with HIPAA regulations.
    Debbie wrinkled her nose. “Why would I?”
    “You can’t release any information without calling Privacy first.” He huffed a breath into his receiver. “Well, call them. They’re gonna yell at you. You’re in trouble and there’s nothing you can do at this point.”
    She was dumbfounded. “You’re kidding. I’m in trouble? How about the criminal? Remember him? The one who brought in the fake script?”
    “You didn’t follow procedure.”
    “And when, exactly, did we start this procedure?”
    “You should have known. He’s a patient and patients have rights.”
    “He is not a patient,” she said. Her voice was getting loud. Someone would overhear. She almost didn’t care. “It wasn’t a valid script.”
    “You gave that trooper a person’s protected health information.”
    “He had none! It was fake!”
    “It doesn’t matter.” The supervisor’s tone ended the discussion. “Make your call.”
    He hung up.
    She slammed the phone, picked it up, and slammed it again.
    Kim barked her sardonic laugh and plucked a magazine from the check-out display rack. “That’s what you get for doing the right thing.”
    “I guess that’s why the other store won’t call the cops. They don’t want to get sued, either.”
    “Sued. That’s great. Just—great.”
    Just desserts. Debbie guessed there wasn’t a Good Samaritan-type clause to protect someone who cooperated in an investigation. Her satisfaction and her sense of courage began to crumble at the edges. Fighting crime just doesn’t pay.
    It was after seven when a simple point-and-click ripped holes in her career.
    The skinny blond had been reading product packages in the cough-and-cold aisle for several minutes. The night tech noticed her first.
    “She keeps looking back here.” Vikki possessed a personality completely opposite to Kim. She enjoyed providing customer service; then again, most problems didn’t occur on her shift, so customer service was easier to enjoy.
    “Maybe she has a question,” Debbie said. “I’ll go out.”
    She got a good look at the girl as she stepped out of the pharmacy area. Stringy blonde hair under a tight cap, the ends looking twisted and tangled. She glanced up at Debbie’s approach, but ducked her head, rubbing her nose. Her bleary red eyes and frequent sniffling hinted at allergies or a virus.
    Her other hand disappeared deep into her pocket. Never a good thing in retail.
    “Can I help you with something?” Debbie used her helpful pharmacist voice, the tone masking her suspicion.
    “Um, no, just looking.” Head still down, the customer stepped away to look at a different bottle.
    “Okay. But if you need something, just come back and ask.” Debbie paused to straighten a few items on a shelf before walking back to the pharmacy.
    After a moment, the customer followed. “Excuse me.”
    Debbie looked up from the computer as the customer raised her hand.
    Time thickened, stretched like taffy, each motion distinct and significant.
    Debbie saw the black object and heard the click before she could duck. Her heart exploded into a pounding she could feel in her throat and the pressure verged on pain. Sharp pain.
    “Bitch,” the customer said, before she turned and sauntered away.
    Debbie held onto the counter, fighting to pull in her breath, unsure if her legs would support her.
    The tech looked up. “That was random. What was that about?”
    Debbie struggled to swallow down the dryness and the pulse and the scream that threatened to emerge. “She took my picture.”
    A tap of the finger. A simple nudge. The world shifted slightly before resuming its rotation but the police never needed to visit the pharmacy again.

Ash Krafton Bio

    Pushcart Prize nominee Ash Krafton is a speculative fiction writer whose work has appeared in several journals, including Niteblade, Ghostlight Magazine, Expanded Horizons, and Silver Blade. Ms. Krafton resides in the heart of the Pennsylvania coal region and lurks near her website Spec Fic Chick (

The Closet

Mel Waldman

    I live in a closet. But each day, I leave my little home and the safety of my microscopic universe. I saunter off into the labyrinthine streets and walk the tightrope of life and death. I don’t belong. Do you?
    I trudge across the Manhattan Bridge to work. I’ve got a small space too in the mammoth building in the distance, a newsstand I own in the center of the ground floor. Yet I don’t belong, not even to my newsstand and customers. Only when I write do I belong to a group of iconoclastic misfits.
    But now, I stop suddenly and gaze at the majestic building and its twin and the sprawling sun above.
    6:45 AM, it’s a magnificent day, multicolored gold and orange and yellow-brown leaves falling from the Brooklyn trees behind me and shards of Manhattan sunlight rushing to earth and into my gold eyes.
    6:55 AM, I get ready to open my minuscule space to the public. I hope to sell a lot of papers on this glittering autumn day. But if I don’t, I will write a few lines of beauty and truth. And perhaps, one word or line will move future readers for eternity.
    How long is eternity?
    7:00 AM, I open up.
    7:30 AM, throngs of people dart and flit across the vast ground floor. A dozen customers queue up in front of the newsstand. Most will not buy newspapers from me. I sell coffee and donuts they crave.
    It’s good to love something or someone, I believe. And being loved is beautiful, I imagine. I’ve never been loved.
    7:45 AM, the line for donuts and coffee is very long. After the 120-minute rush hour, I will rest for a while. Business will slow down. And I will write.
    8:30 AM, I dream of love and peace of mind.
    8:45 AM, my mind drifts off. I’m unhappy. Why? I’ve asked myself this question my entire life. It’s an existential puzzle. Tonight I’ll treat myself to something special, maybe a small pizza with plenty of cheese and strawberry shortcake for desert. I’m five-feet-four and 110 pounds. I won’t get fat. Well, I’ve got the whole day to decide what I’ll eat for supper. I’ve got plenty of time.


Mel Waldman, Ph. D.

    Dr. Mel Waldman is a licensed New York State psychologist and a candidate in Psychoanalysis at the Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies (CMPS). He is also a poet, writer, artist, and singer/songwriter. After 9/11, he wrote 4 songs, including “Our Song,” which addresses the tragedy. His stories have appeared in numerous literary reviews and commercial magazines including HAPPY, SWEET ANNIE PRESS, CHILDREN, CHURCHES AND DADDIES and DOWN IN THE DIRT (SCARS PUBLICATIONS), NEW THOUGHT JOURNAL, THE BROOKLYN LITERARY REVIEW, HARDBOILED, HARDBOILED DETECTIVE, DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE, ESPIONAGE, and THE SAINT. He is a past winner of the literary GRADIVA AWARD in Psychoanalysis and was nominated for a PUSHCART PRIZE in literature. Periodically, he has given poetry and prose readings and has appeared on national T.V. and cable T.V. He is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Private Eye Writers of America, American Mensa, Ltd., and the American Psychological Association. He is currently working on a mystery novel inspired by Freud’s case studies. Who Killed the Heartbreak Kid?, a mystery novel, was published by iUniverse in February 2006. It can be purchased at,, at /, and other online bookstores or through local bookstores. Recently, some of his poems have appeared online in THE JERUSALEM POST. Dark Soul of the Millennium, a collection of plays and poetry, was published by World Audience, Inc. in January 2007. It can be purchased at,, at /, and other online bookstores or through local bookstores. A 7-volume short story collection was published by World Audience, Inc. in June 2007 and can also be purchased online at the above-mentioned sites.


Carys Goodwin

    The situation underground was comparative serenity to the hysteria of outside. Bea sat in a huddle, pressed against the ever-vibrating walls of the bomb shelter, watching without seeing. It had been less than two hours since the ordeal began, but each minute felt like years, and Bea’s thoughts plagued her in an incomprehensible swarm. She closed her eyes and leant back until her head made a dull clunk against the wall. Under her breath, she began to murmur the notes to her favourite piece of music, just loud enough to hear the tune wavering from her lips.
    While she repeated the phrases, an orchestra began to build in her mind, the crescendos fabricated by the wail of tired violins. And as the shelter began to rumble once again, the timpanis played a deafening rhythm, forcing Bea’s head to jolt in a ‘1, 2, 3, 4.’ One beat for every bomb.


    Bea is bored. She knows the answer to her teacher’s question, but feels compelled to give the other girls a chance. Judging by their faces - expressions of embarrassed ignorance - they can’t figure it out. The teacher surveys her class, an interrogative glare, before landing on Rose in the front row. Tiny thing, as delicate as her name.
    ‘Rose, could you please tell the class your answer?’ Bea imagines the teacher taking delight in the squirming girl, interpreting the straight line of her mouth as a sneer. Rose shakes her head, a blush creeping down the back of her neck.
    ‘Ah,’ the teacher says disapprovingly, ‘well, does anyone know?’ Despite her intelligence, Bea is uninterested in relieving the class of their discomfort. Instead, she twirls a curl around her index finger and stares out the window. The scene around her fades into nothingness as the outside-world takes hold.
    Clouds hang low, giving the field a ghostly look; only enhanced by the crumbling ruins of surrounding buildings. Bea begins to plan a story, her self-perceived brilliance turning the idea into an arrogant assumption of her own talent. With her head on her chin, she imagines her characters; the doll of a girl, the handsome boy, the eerie night at the abandoned shelter... She sighs, slightly annoyed at her inability to escape the terror that suffocates her country. Her inability to escape the idea that any second she could be obliterated, dead before making a mark on the world she thinks she deserves.


    Bea fell out of her reverie to an awful scream. A small girl had been dragged below by one of the teachers and was seemingly unconscious. Her face was smeared in red, and, from what Bea could see, one of her arms was missing. It took Bea longer than usual to understand, but when she did, she wished she didn’t. For the girl was none other than Rose, the flower, crumpled into an unnatural heap, cradled in the arms of the teacher who tried to rescue her.
    After one paralysing moment, Bea rolled, only finding a bare patch of ground with seconds to spare, before heaving the contents of her stomach onto the sickeningly smooth concrete. Shelter be damned. Bea knew that the basement-turned-safe-house was nothing more than a death trap, the closest part of school to hell - where they all would soon reside. She wretched once more.


    The bread Bea is eating is disgustingly dry, as per usual. She spits out the mouthful in despair, wishing for the days when sugar was more than a myth. The action earns an ‘ahem’ from the supervising teacher. Her friend Allie giggles into her mushy peas, and they exchange glances as the teacher begins to approach. Smoothing her dress, Bea prepares to debate the nutritional quality of stale bread in her usual argumentative fashion, but she is distracted by the ground starting to rumble.
    In the lunch room, conversation halts, the atmosphere instantly transforming into one of dreadful anticipation. Another rumble, bigger and more terrifying, rocks the room. One of the first to do so, Bea leaps to her feet, her eyes growing as she watches her school-mates comprehend what is beginning to happen. She tugs Allie up, and as chaos sets in around her, heads for the door. With each step she becomes more aware, and abandons plans and ideas for one thought so strong it’s all that pushes her forward. Survival.
    Once she reaches the lunchroom door, Bea turns, and in an explosive cacophony, the air-raid alarm sounds; Luftwaffe planes audible over the blood-curdling shrieks of realisation. A soft ‘no’ escapes her as the ground shudders so violently her knees buckle and she has to reach for the door-frame to stay standing. It stops, and Bea begins to run, her feet forming a sick rhythm as they clap against the floor.
    Reaching the stairs to the basement shelter, Bea notices Allie isn’t behind, her blonde pigtails lost in the crowd. The true magnitude of what is happening crashes onto Bea’s shoulders with such force that she cries out, her eyes spinning around so fast the room blurs and warps. Each tiny movement she makes as she struggles to walk down the stairs is a split-second decision, and her mind is at such a speed it takes off without her, leaving her stripped of all but basic instincts. She is an animal of the hunt, a terrified rabbit thumping her back leg in warning, screaming to her warren in agglomerative wails
(run! move! help!) of one-syllable words (please! move!) so compulsive she loses all diction.
    Behind her, not twenty yards away, the building is hit by an onslaught of bombs, shattering the bricks into a thousand tiny pieces.


    Someone placed a hand on Bea’s back as she vomited. After pausing to make sure she had finished, Bea looked up and saw that it was her teacher, the one whose class she had been in before lunch. The teacher’s hair was a mess of straw-like strands, her lipstick smeared against her cheek. But she was familiar, and that was enough for Bea. Tears began to slop down her cheeks, mixing with the sweat that already glossed her face. Her teacher pulled her in tightly, whispering ‘Beatrix, oh darling, hush, hush,’ into her ear.
    They sat, sobbing, holding each other, for a while.
    ‘Ms. Wright,’ Bea gurgled, breaking the silence, ‘I knew the answer.’ The teacher paused, before pulling back.
    ‘What do you mean, darling?’
    ‘In ‘current events’, you asked who Germany invaded. It was Poland. I knew it was Poland.’ Bea felt Ms. Wright pull her in tighter, clasping her hands together behind Bea’s back.
    She hoped the bombs would stop falling soon.

Off Camera

Laine Hissett-Bonard

    I didn’t want to admit it, but I knew I was falling for him even before he came on my face in front of a camera.
    We, the famed duo of Derrek Lee and Jacob Storm – his porn name and mine, respectively – had been filmed together twice before the session that spawned the facial in question. My real name was Jeremy Burke, but none of my network of slavering online fans would ever know that, if I had anything to say about it.
    As for the great Derrek Lee, I only knew his real first name was Michael because he told me so the first time we met onset at TwinkLove Studios an hour before we were scheduled to tape our first duo scene. That, his age, and the fact that he, like me, lived with his family in Fort Lauderdale was all I knew about the real him, at least identity-wise. Through a series of on-the-job conversations, including those awkward ones that took place after the production crew left the set to allow us to pull together our scattered clothing and mislaid dignity, I had learned a few other things about him. Derrek – it just felt wrong to think of him as Michael – was soft-spoken but inherently disposed to an ingrained brand of personal fierceness, and more intelligent than most seemed to assume at first blush. He was a lot shyer in real life than his current career might indicate, although he seemed to warm up a little every time I saw him.
    At that rate, I figured, by our tenth scene together, I might find out if he took cream in his coffee or not.
    Regardless of how little I knew about him, I found myself thinking about him randomly throughout the day, and even more so at night, tucked into my bed in my parents’ house, anticipating sleep. The kinds of things I thought about him, however, were not exactly what I expected, especially considering I already got naked with the guy twice. I found myself wondering what kind of toothpaste he used, and whether he did his own laundry, and what kind of books, if any, he liked to read. The point was, it was stuff I wouldn’t wonder about someone if I was only interested in fucking him on camera, and that was where, as far as I saw it, things got dangerous.
    I’d heard of it happening more than once: two guys met during a shoot, had explosive sex on camera, developed a crush on each other, and started dating, only to see their relationship self-destruct with all the heat and resultant fallout of a fireball. In most cases, one or both members of the ill-fated former couple basically disappeared off the roster after the studio found out about their off-screen relationship. I had to sign a contract when I first started modeling for TwinkLove stating I wouldn’t have relations with any other model outside of filming. Maybe the studio figured if models dated and broke up, they’d grow disillusioned with the porn business altogether, or maybe that they’d be unwilling to pair up with their exes, but whatever the reason, I didn’t want to lose my main source of income. That meant hooking up with Derrek outside of work all but screamed bad idea, although that knowledge did nothing to halt my admittedly pleasant daydreams and fantasies.
    Making matters worse, I personally knew of two couples – I’d filmed with three out of the four guys myself – who managed to make it work without the disastrous consequences, utilizing nothing more than a healthy dose of discretion. That was probably the main reason I hadn’t banished my Derrek-related thoughts outright.
    “Okay, guys, come on in and get comfortable on the bed.” Aidan, the twenty-two-year-old producer-slash-director who also manned the camera on most of the studio’s shoots, poked his head out the door and motioned for me and Derrek to abandon our positions on opposite ends of the couch in the lounge. “Don’t be shy. We’ll roll in a minute, but before the scene, we’re going to shoot a quick interview first, okay?”
    Suppressing a grimace and following Aidan onto the set, I nodded as affably as I could. Interviews were my least favorite part of the job, as I placed a high value on my personal privacy. Still, they were unavoidable; our viewers unfailingly wanted to know more about the boy behind the dick, and if throwing out a few soundbytes was what it took to keep the studio happy and ensure my continued employment, I was more than willing to comply. I had to make money somewhere, especially if I hoped ever to finish college, and doing porn was a relatively easy way to do it. Besides, considering everything else I eagerly did on camera, interviews should seem harmless in comparison.
    “Here we go again,” I said with a grin, settling onto the bed beside Derrek, who reclined against the headboard and favored me with one of his sweet, tentative smiles. His large blue eyes were rimmed, as every time I saw him, with black liner. “You ready for this?”
    He laughed, and as it always did, the deep timbre of his voice, though softened by its natural sibilance, surprised me when it issued from his scrawny chest. “More like, are you ready for this?”
    It was a fair question; technically, the upcoming session would be a departure from our previous work, at least in terms of the roles we would take. Although Derrek was a devout top, our first session together was also a first in that ever-persuasive Aidan convinced Derrek to bottom. It was hard to forget the level of flattery I felt when I heard that out of the three guys Aidan offered as potential scene partners, Derrek chose me because, as Aidan told me, he thought I was the cutest. Knowing Aidan had chosen Derrek’s three potential scene-mates because we were of average endowment, which was the only way Derrek would agree to bottom, didn’t taint the flattery in the least. As far as I, the studio, and my fans were concerned, my talents far surpassed the size of the bulge I carried around in my cute little jockeys.
    The second scene we shot together was a threesome in which we mutually – and at one point simultaneously – penetrated a perky, mocha-skinned beauty stage-named Sky Lopez, so the session we prepared to shoot marked the first time I would bottom for Derrek. In all honesty, I couldn’t wait. Sure, I was a little intimidated; to put it mildly, Derrek was on the large side. I knew more than one model that walked funny for couple days after filming with him. Still, even though I too preferred topping to bottoming, I considered myself versatile enough, and I found it impossible to turn down the opportunity to shoot another scene with Derrek no matter what the circumstances.
    “I’m always ready.” I couldn’t bring myself to leer at him; he was just too sweet. The best I could do was smile again and wiggle closer, pressing my back against the headboard beside him so our arms touched. Just before the camera rolled, Derrek reached over and placed one bony, long-fingered hand comfortably on my thigh, and my resultant grin was still in place when the camera began rolling.
    “Action!” Aidan called, then nodded at me. “Go ahead and introduce yourselves.”
    “Hi,” I said, smiling but self-conscious, “I’m Jacob Storm, and I’m nineteen, from Fort Lauderdale.”
    “And I’m Derrek Lee, and I’m twenty, from Fort Lauderdale.” His hand twitched on my leg, and I impulsively entwined my fingers with his. His nails were painted sky blue; on his middle finger he wore a lime green and pink plastic ring, which coordinated perfectly with the multi-colored jelly bracelets hugging my wrist.
    “Jacob, maybe you could start by telling me something about Derrek you like – why you’re attracted to him.”
    “How about “everything”? I thought, swallowing and glancing sideways at Derrek to give myself a moment to think. “Well, um, I love his hair.” At least that was a no-brainer; great hair was one of Derrek’s trademarks, easily attained because he attended school for cosmetology, a fact that might seem clichéd on anyone other than him. His long, jaggedly cut locks were poker straight and dyed a glossy black with streaks of magenta shot through, rendering him a fellow scene kid, at least in the eyes of the producers, who gleefully touted him as such. Our limited number, at least within TwinkLove’s employ, was probably a good part of the reason he and I were paired as frequently as we were. Birds of a feather shot porn together or something like that. “And he’s really sweet, and, uh...” I laughed. The next one would be expected of me. “He has an awesome dick.”
    “Aw, thanks,” Derrek said modestly, touching his hair, obviously taking the first compliment more to heart than the last. After enough people raved about your genitalia, I’d discovered, those particular compliments tended to go right over your head.
    “What about you, Derrek? What turns you on about Jacob?”
    My face froze, and I had a mercifully brief moment of panic in which I was sure he wouldn’t be able to come up with anything. For some reason, the probability that I was much more attracted to Derrek than he was to me was crippling. “Well,” Derrek said, looking me up and down, during which time it took all of my restraint to avoid squirming, “I like his piercings—”
    I barely resisted the compulsion to lick my symmetrically pierced lower lip in response.
    “—And of course he has a cute ass,” he continued, hesitantly sliding his hand out from under mine to rest on the curve of my far hip. Oh, the promise that gesture contained! I couldn’t suppress a delighted shiver. “I don’t know,” Derrek said finally. “I guess I like everything about him.”
    My heart pounded as I turned my head to look at him, knowing my smile was stupidly wide but not caring in the least. While he may have pulled out his final answer as a last resort because he couldn’t come up with anything better, I could hardly deny the effect it had on me. I like everything about him. Oh, God. I couldn’t be so lucky. The feeling was more than mutual.
    Though I pondered it frequently, I couldn’t put a finger on what exactly about Derrek I found irresistible. He wasn’t classically good-looking, at least not in the sturdy, blond-haired, corn-fed farm boy sense like many of the guys with whom I filmed. He had a single tattoo, the simple black outline of a star on the inside of one wrist, and a Monroe piercing decorated the right side of his upper lip. Those lips were decidedly full, pink, and as strong and precisely shaped as the rest of his features, giving him an unusual but statuesque appearance. At about six feet tall and maybe a hundred and twenty-five pounds by my best estimate, he was ridiculously skinny, arguably emaciated; the edge of almost every bone was easily discernible through the faintly golden skin covering his body. I often wondered how I could smuggle a cheeseburger or two into his mouth without him noticing, because that kind of frailty couldn’t be healthy. I was only about five foot eight and probably weighed the same as he did, and most people considered me too skinny.
    “Okay,” Aidan said, interrupting the split-second wandering of my mind, “that’s good. Go ahead and show us what you got.”
    We both knew what that meant. Without a word, Derrek and I turned to each other and pressed our lips together, his hand moving to my shoulder, mine slipping beneath the long hair at the nape of his neck. Our touch was equally hesitant at first, but it didn’t take long for the nervousness to abate. As Aidan specified, we started with the standard kissing, soon sliding downward to lie on the bed with our arms twined around each other. Derrek’s kisses were unusual compared to most of the guys I worked with; he didn’t use his tongue much, but I found the press of his lips doubly intense as a result.
    To be fair, that might have something to do with the way I felt about him.
    The heat of his body through his thin t-shirt and torn skinny jeans was almost unbearable, and when he peeled the shirt over his head and wordlessly guided me to do the same, the resultant skin to skin contact threatened to turn my blood to steam. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t stop my hands from roaming; fortunately, nobody in the room was complaining.
    Derrek was normally very self-possessed during filming, his composure rarely slipping to let more than heavy breaths or the occasional grunt or moan break through, but during the first scene we filmed together, I found the chink in his armor and used that knowledge now in an attempt to ratchet up the intensity. Luckily, his weakness was my specialty, and after only a minute or so of grinding him enthusiastically into the mattress with my still-clothed hips, I was gratified to note he was actually panting. So what if dry humping was so junior high? The viewers ate it up, and as I had previously discovered, so did Derrek. Perched half on top of him, I smiled when his pretty blue eyes rolled and fluttered wildly before focusing on me, and he gave me a breathless grin before gripping the back of my neck and pulling me down to kiss him again.
    For the next hour or so, we did everything Aidan had requested of us during our earlier discussion of the activities he expected, but I think we surprised him with just how passionately and believably we accomplished it. Not once did Aidan interrupt to offer direction or ask us to do something differently, and a glimpse of his face mid-scene gave me a pretty good insight of how content he was to let us continue as we wished. Whatever he didn’t like or anything that didn’t look great on film could be edited out later, but he knew better than anyone that when things got legitimately hot and heavy, the director needed to stay the fuck out of it.
    I always got into my work; I liked to think of myself as a professional, and even when I wasn’t altogether attracted to my scene partner, I managed to put on a pretty convincing show. With Derrek, however, not a single moment of my enjoyment was feigned, and neither was my gasping plea – “Fuck me!” – when I could take no more of the grinding and rubbing and sucking and kissing and rolling around like rutting animals. I thought I heard a mutter of affirmation from Aidan’s general direction, but I paid him no attention; I was too busy watching over my shoulder as Derrek, kneeling between my feet in all his smooth-skinned, bony glory, hastily slicked on the mandatory condom. I was too far gone to feel intimidated by the ridiculous magnitude of his dick, thank God, and when he gripped my hips with his lube-slicked fingers and pushed it home, the cry that pealed from my throat resulted primarily from enjoyment and only the barest hint of pain.
    As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about, except maybe the top of my head blowing off. A couple of times, I nearly forgot about the camera altogether, although it was never far from my mind – or my ass, for that matter; the phrase extreme close-up took on an entirely new meaning for me after I started doing porn. It wasn’t until sometime later, after I came explosively all over my own chest with a quavering wail and Derrek watching in awe from above, that I remembered exactly where I was and what was expected of us next, and I fought to maintain my stupid, blissful grin as my head dropped to the mattress, my hair sweat dampened and stuck to my temples, my body still twitching. Derrek didn’t stop right away, giving a few more slow, deep thrusts and coaxing a series of heated whimpers from me before Aidan cleared his throat pointedly.
    Fuck you, Aidan, I thought, both helplessly and pointlessly, forcing my eyes open and meeting Derrek’s. I wanted nothing more than to lock my heels behind Derrek’s back and refuse to release him until he finished, but the ending had already been spelled out for us, and I chewed on my lower lip to avoid pouting while he pulled out with an unmistakable lack of enthusiasm. I couldn’t tell if I was fooling myself or if he really did appear reluctant as he straddled my chest with his impossibly long legs, but I had to expend a lot of effort forcing myself to watch him jerking off just inches in front of me when all I wanted to do was stare at his face and imagine he wanted a different ending as much as I did. I may have been able to ignore the camera before, but I was never more aware of it than I was now.
    After he finished, mercifully missing my eyes but liberally splattering the lower half of my face, Derrek carefully wiped my lips with the pad of his thumb before bending down to give me a regrettably brief kiss. I didn’t have to guess at the reason for that; he never was a big fan of ingesting bodily fluids, either his or someone else’s. “Cut!” Aidan called, and just when I thought Derrek would pull away, a flush of surprised delight washed over me as he pressed his forehead against mine and gave me a sleepy-eyed smile.
    “Holy shit,” Aidan said breathlessly. “That was fucking epic!”
    Derrek turned his head to the side, leaving his temple mashed against my forehead. “Thanks.” Once again, I was positive he would disengage from me at that point, but he didn’t, rolling off me but remaining attached to my side. I thought I might swoon if I wasn’t already flat on my back.
    Even when Aidan vacated the studio to pack up some of the equipment and give us time to clean up and dress, Derrek didn’t move. I knew it was a bad idea, but I wanted to kiss him again, refraining only because I didn’t want to gross him out with my sticky lips. I tried to tell myself the real reason I suppressed the urge was because I knew it was a bad idea, but I was a very bad liar and saw right through myself. Bad idea or not, possible career suicide notwithstanding, I couldn’t deny how much I wanted to kiss him now that the camera was off and our audience no longer present.
    I didn’t do it, but it took all the willpower I possessed to restrain myself.
    “That was fun,” Derrek said, reaching up with one hand to brush a lock of sweaty, multi-hued hair off my forehead. It was well past time for a dye job, but I liked it the way it was – dirty blonde at the roots and fading to a soft purple at the tips.
    “Hell yeah.” Without thinking, I reached up to grasp his delicate wrist, my fingertips tracing the pronounced blue veins on the back of his hand. Instead of withdrawing from my grip, which I was certain he would, Derrek repositioned his hand so his palm lay along the side of my face, which flushed immediately. “We should do it again.”
    “I’m sure Aidan’s already planned the sequel,” Derrek said wryly, giving me a light peck on the forehead before sitting up and swinging his legs over the edge of the bed. When he stood and stepped into his pants, his hipbones looked sharp enough to cut through his skin.
    “Well,” I said hesitantly, sitting up and reaching self-consciously for one of the towels Aidan left nearby, “I was kind of thinking, like, without a camera in the room. Sometime. Maybe.”
    Slithering into his t-shirt, Derrek didn’t say anything at first, and I took that time to wipe my face and tear myself to shreds internally for putting to voice the one thing I should most keep to myself. As I reached for my clothes on the floor, my face burning miserably, Derrek said, “Where’s your cell?”
    Despite the fact that what he asked made absolutely no sense whatsoever, I stammered and fumbled in the pocket of my plaid Bermuda shorts until my fingers closed around my phone. Without a word, I placed it in his outstretched hand and watched uncomprehendingly, scrambling into my shorts, as he deftly tapped the screen before handing back the phone. “There,” he said, smiling faintly as I looked at the screen, where my Contacts list displayed an entry I didn’t recognize: Michael Riley.
    I swallowed hard, disbelief and adrenaline coursing through me, and met his eyes.
    “Call me,” he said, brushing aside my hand, which still held the phone, and slipped an arm around my waist, pulling me to him, stomach to stomach. “Just don’t say anything to Aidan. And, uh... maybe we can actually do something besides sex.”
    “Yeah,” I nearly gasped, grinning like an indisputable moron, which didn’t deter him from dropping one more surprisingly chaste kiss on my mouth.
    “Or before sex, at least.” With a low chuckle, he – Michael – released me, his fingers trailing down my arm as he went, and slipped out the door, leaving me standing there with my phone in my hand, my shirt and shoes on the floor, and an utterly ridiculous smile on my face.
    Maybe I was naîve, hopelessly romantic, stupid, or all of the above, but there was one single, obstinate thought I just couldn’t shake as I dressed and walked off the set to collect my paycheck: This could work.

Special thanks to Ryan James and Austin Anomic
for their invaluable guidance, which made this story possible.<

A Lesson in Autonomy

Emma Eden Ramos

    Bryn watched as her father entered the facility. She picked at a scab on her knuckle, then looked at the on-duty supervisor for assurance. This particular meeting was a condition of her approaching release. Otherwise, Bryn would never have agreed to it.
    He’s that type of grey, Bryn thought as she watched her father approach the information desk. Silvery with smears of white and flecks of black; Amphibolite.
    ‘Hi daddy, daddy-o, sugar daddy’ she could say. ‘Did you miss me? Your little girl, your sweet little piece of...’ No. That wasn’t the purpose of this visit. In fact, that animosity was exactly what Bryn intended to put behind her. Once. And. For. All.
    “Bryn... Brynlee!”, his stride was assured, facial expression confident. “Are you well? Are they treating you well here?”
    “They treat me well here... Dad. I’m fine.”
    “May I?”, his arms were extended, expectant.
    Bryn capitulated to the hug, then they sat.
    “I know you’ve had some trouble,” he began. “trouble with the law. Drugs, some trouble with drugs?”
    “Meth dad. I went to Utah and you know what they say about Utah, Meth Central. And all those Mormons, self-righteous, holy, pedoph... But I’ve kicked. I’ve kicked the habit and they say I’ll be ready to leave here in a month. Well, thats the hope at least.”
    “I know. I know that was why this needed to happen. Us, we needed to do this.”
    “Me, dad, I needed to do this.”
    Bryn watched as her father’s gaze flattened. He began to fidget. How strange it must be, she thought. How strange for him to see that, after seven years of estrangement, she’d finally developed a sense of autonomy. They, daddy and Brynlee, they’d been the ultimate twosome. But things had changed. She was Bryn now, not dependent little Brynlee.
    “Dad, you know” Bryn continued, “the center and I, we have different ideas about progression. I think the past has it’s place, I mean you don’t deny that it happened, but you put it behind you. Well, they’re all about confronting the past here.”
    “I’m not sure I understand what you’re getting at.” Bryn’s father’s expression was no longer one of dejection, he was alarmed.
    “The rape dad, I’m getting at the rape.”
    “Oh, no. Brynlee, there was never any rape. I don’t know what kind of ideas they have here but rape means force. I never forced you. I loved you and you loved me.”
    ‘No. No dad it was rape because it was nonconsensual. A twelve year old cannot consent to the things we did. Those things... I” Bryn caught herself before the first bout of tears could make their way down her cheeks. She blinked, threw her head back, sniffled, breathed deeply and then continued.
    “Dad, I won’t argue about this. You should know that you can’t argue, that you won’t change my mind. You can’t change whats in... the things that are in my mind now. They are mine. They are mine and this is it. We are done, forever.”

A Single Day

Karen Alea

    There have been times when I’ve bought lumber that was smooth and white on one side and gaped and pickled on the other. But I always put that marred side where it would face inside, letting the good side, that faultless side, face the world. It was a matter of economy, though it made my gut prickle with bile.
    My workshop was on the right out on an old road that led to poverty housing and warehouses. No sign, just an open door and dusty windows. Janet used to come in and clean them, saying that if people could just see through, see my workmanship, I’d get business off the street. But it wasn’t that kind of street. Just trucks and the occasional drifter. To me, the sawdust on the windows spoke of its own kind of work—a man inside spinning his world.
    Janet had stayed with me through high school and agreed to marry me soon after. We were both the type that liked to follow through with something. We grew up together, spent those teenage years on the phone where we’d let the receiver fall from our hands. “What were we talking about?” And go on in the fashion of youth that knew life would never run out of things to talk about.
    We’re both talkers. Once we finished learning about each other, married and moved in, I must admit, I slowed down my mouth. She’d continue, finding smaller and smaller things to talk about, like the weeds in the garden and the way the man at the post office had a crooked toupee. I was falling in love with my work, fancying myself an artist, though all I made was cabinets and chairs. I got to thinking it was the way I put on a knob or a hinge that altered something beyond my little shop, beyond out lives. Making something with my hands, feeling the splinters go under my nails, was god work, though I wouldn’t speak that out loud.

    We rented a small cottage near the square, surrounded by overrun lawns and houses rented to college kids. I couldn’t understand, still don’t, why the area is so neglected and people would rather build cookie-cutter two stories with no land. These homes were built by men who thought each part of the house through. They might lack a modern comfort, but nothing that a hammer and some nails can’t fix up if someone is willing to put their own mark on it.
    While Janet worked at a medical office, going out with the girls on Thursday nights, I found solace in my workshop, the lamps on and unworked wood lying on the work bench. I’d treat myself on that night, work on projects that weren’t commissioned, farm tables and chairs I knew I could sell once someone took a look. I’d lay out the wood and switch the pieces around until my eye could lay on them without seeing a flaw. It was odd the way the surface would be straight and flat with one combination, but if you moved the pieces around, even one, it would look like rubbish.

    In May Janet got pregnant.
    I called her Rainbow. It was from thoughts of promise and spring rain and later it represented the shades of dark to light and back that she brought out of me.
    Seven pounds on the dot, born the day the doctor said, and Janet barely made it to the hospital, just heaved a sigh when she was put in the bed and Rainbow pushed her head against the world and barely gave the doctor time to get gloved up to help twist her out of Janet. Jan, is what she likes to be called now, living somewhere in the west, I assume Arizona, she always talked about the desert.
    Janet went back to work after two months. This time on first shift at a retirement center. She’d take Rainbow out of the crib I made her before I knew what love was and was just showing off my skills as a carpenter, and lay the baby by me. I didn’t want her in that crib much at all. Wanted her beside me where her mouth gaped open and the sweet smell of milk drifted out. Her hair light as a fawn’s, behind her ears wrinkled like an old man.
    If a man can know love like that once in his life, he’s a lucky and a cursed man.
    I wanted to build her a playhouse and a see saw and furniture for her baby dolls, at the same time I didn’t want to leave her side. My workshop felt like an empty tomb or a barren womb. Time ticked slowly and I began to rush through my jobs just to get home and breathe in her smell and let my stomach ease into a sweet rest. Each time I swept the wood with my hand I thought of her skin, the way she had tiny hairs above her lips and how her legs bowed at the shins like seasoned wood.

    Janet’s female organs failed after that. Something genetic where cells kept growing, making her huddle over the dinner table. The doctor told her he’d have to take it all out. At work I took it out on boards, hammering straight through a piece of pine and having to throw it out on the pile.
    It wasn’t that I wanted another child, but I wanted someone for Rainbow to play with. Maybe I held it against Janet, those cells that traveled inside of her, trying to destroy us. And what if they had hurt Rainbow? What if Janet’s body had stuck something inside her and when she grew up we’d find a disease that would take her from us. Now that I have time to think, these are the thoughts I come up with.
    This is when I began to wrap my life around Rainbow. It wasn’t just love, not just family, but I had a soul to protect.

    I lived for Sundays. Janet and Rainbow were my religion.  We’d lie on the bed, the sheets cool and clean from a Saturday wash, and play with her curls and knees and toes. Almost three, she still had fat layered around her joints and when she jumped on the bed her legs jiggled.
    Some big company pulled into town and bought up the retirement village where Janet worked. Things got shaken up. She got to keep her job but got moved to the night shift that June. She wanted to be a nurse and we were saving up for her to start school in the fall. I was doing kitchen cabinets for new construction, a job that would never let up until the last tree was felled and the last breath on earth was breathed.
    Janet and I juggled. We weren’t going to put Rainbow in daycare. The neglect in the news, the losing of a kid, the viruses. There was a certain pride we had in sacrifice, as if that was really when parenthood started.
    I’d end up at the workshop at odd hours, ran cabinets back and forth at dusk to the worksites, and forgot when I had eaten lunch or breakfast. Rainbow rode in the truck with me, letting the wind blow at the top of her head until she laughed and spittle laced the corners of her lips.
    The men wanted to pick her up, swing her, tell her a story they said was a hit with their own kids. But I held her tight, made a  quick leave, told them she didn’t take to strangers much.
    “What’s her name,” a boy with a leopard tattoo asked me. I told him. He had a daughter named Summer and he guessed there was something about nature names that suited little girls.
    People speaking to her, speaking to me about made me nervous. Reminded me that she was touching the edge of the world and that I couldn’t hold her in mine forever.
    I didn’t share with Janet the growing dread inside me. An awful thing. A wild thing that stalked from behind the brushes, only eyes peering through.
    I thought if something could make me happy, bring calm and love so deep, then it must be unfair, shake up the balance of the universe and sooner or later it would be taken away. I became alert of cars in the road, and windows left open, viruses traveling around the grocery store and mosquitoes coming off the lake. I felt it was a matter of time and though I tried to press that thought out of my mind, thought that there were millions of parents on this earth with their kids and they get to see them grow up healthy and fine, I still couldn’t battle the thought they did not love their child with my extreme brokenness. It was a matter of time. I was a carpenter; I knew about leveling.

    I didn’t get any walk-ins. It wasn’t that kind of place. So when Hollander opened my door and gave the shop a rectangle of clear air for a few seconds, I thought he was lost, needed directions.
    When Hollander walked in my shop I felt right away he was bringing in something bad. Just get a feeling sometimes about  people. He was older than I was, starting to lose his hair, though it hung long past his collar. He dressed well, like someone who made his living at a desk.
    “Gerald Blevin told me about you. Said you did his new cabinets.”
    “I did.”
    “Want a wardrobe done. Dutch lines. Sort of modern and bare. Six foot high, light wood.”
    If I were to describe him as furniture, I would have said the same words that came out of him. He was precision and blonde wood. Had he looked at my magazines at home, the tear outs of immaculate lines? Did he come to chastise me, dangle what I loved in front of me, only for me to make it with my sweat and then take away from me?
    “I’ve got a few ahead of you. Maybe take me a couple of months.”
    “I’ll give you ten percent extra to push it up a bit.”
    I told him to bring in some pictures from magazines and I would get looking for the wood. He went to shake my hand. I had my gloves on, but I could still feel his bones right through the padding.
    That night I squeezed Rainbow tightly. There was wrong out in the world, deceptions and cleverness and I felt hopeless preparing her. Thoughts of protecting her ravaged me until I sat stunned on the sofa, her asleep on my chest, the weatherman talking in drones about a snow storm in some northern state.
    I was not happy to see Hollander return two days later, a folder in hand. He spread photos out on the desk. “Like this. But I want the bottom to lie flat on the floor, no legs.”
    “You have carpet or flooring?”
    “Cherry wood.”
    The picture in my mind of the deep burnt brown and the silky white wood atop made me envious of this man who held my same taste, but could afford to execute it.
    He returned the next day and the next, pulling my desk chair out and sitting upon it. He brought his lunch, said he worked in the building on the parallel street, the one people did walk down, where the city hung baskets on the street lamps filled with pansies and daisies. I didn’t ask him what he did, but I assumed he was some lawyer or architect.
    “You like Greek food?”
    He brought me lunch the following day. Lamb folded up in a bread wrap, the white sauce dripping onto the wood-chip sprinkled floor. I asked to pay for it, but he waved his hand, wiped at his bulging mouth with a napkin.
    “My treat.”
    I worked on his piece more frequently, calling other customers to tell them things would be a bit longer than expected. Only one protested. I juggled between the wardrobe and kitchen cabinets made of fiberboard. It was like swapping from milk to wine.
    Janet would have Rainbow while I went to work in the morning and then I would return home as Janet was leaving. We barely saw each other until Sundays and we lived for autumn when we would seem like a family of three again.
    I would come home from work and cook two meals, one for me and one for Rainbow. She loved vegetables and I took pride in knowing that one day when she began to shun them I had laid down a good foundation in her body. I believed anything that happened when you were young, those crucial years they said, would be the blueprint to her future.
    We’d eat in front of the news, which would make me feel a bit guilty, all that bad stuff. But we were together and that counted for a lot. A lot more than I got as a child.
    Then I’d lay her down in her crib. It was almost time for a bigger bed, but Janet and I couldn’t bear seeing that girl grow out of anything.
    Rainbow didn’t like being alone too much and she started this cry that would shoot straight into my gut, twist it up until I had to go get her and lay her in bed with me. I used to watch the late movie or read through a magazine, but soon I was putting out the light early and having her lay on my shoulder, letting her mouth gape open with sleep. I stared at that face like some people stare at art.
    Hollander asked me about my family. Asked me what my wife’s name was. I told him Sarah before I even knew that I was lying. I blamed him for the lies, for the way the sun hid behind clouds that day and the weather turned grey. He was the kind of man I knew from way back, back when I was in school, the kind who could not be reasoned with. He was the kind that went to college and always knew the answers in a quick jab sort of way that made people throw their money at him and women look twice.
    As he watched me shave the rough out of a plank he asked me what her name was. “You have a girl, right? Something in your hands. My father had hands like that. I’m the only boy of four. It was like he was afraid to grab on to things too tight.”
    I pulled the circular saw from under the bench, held it until my knuckles increased size, showed him an unyielding grip and then turned it on and cut a perfectly good piece of plank, one that should have been saved for the tall sides of the wardrobe. With my eyes cut, I could see the upturn of his lips.
    I checked the back yard that night. No reason. Hollander wasn’t the type to come looking for me, but I listened to the wind between the tall grass.
    Rainbow sat on the carpet, teetering between her diaper and her chubby legs. She needed to be potty trained. Janet said I needed to be consistent, go when she did, praise her and give her treats. I knew I wanted to keep her a baby, keep her in my house, under my watch. I wanted to let the world spin any way it wanted, but in our house, thin-walled as it may be, there was something sacred as a church that I held onto, a rightness I never had.
    I went back to work in the middle of Janet’s one night off, Rainbow still quiet in her crib. I made my way in the light of the moon to the shop and worked on that damn wardrobe that began to snicker back at me with its perfect lines and slow edges. The dust whirled around the ceiling light like moths and the sound of the saw and the sander echoed like it never had the chance to during the day, as if it were their time to rule the world.
    When Hollander returned I had it upright, measuring the holes for handles.
    “Nice.” He walked a circle around it and placed his hand to the wood in a sensual way, a caress that made his jaw clench and I wanted to slap his hand off of it, punch him until something in me felt peace.
    Though I wanted to do some last touches with glue and wood caulk, I told him it was finished. I wanted him out, I wanted it out. I’d already spent the night before sweeping out every last wood flake that had been shed off the wardrobe’s skin and tied it up in a bag and dropped it at the dump.
    “Can you deliver this?”
    “I don’t deliver. I’ll give you a number of someone.”
    “I want you to see it in my house.”
    “You enjoy.”
    “I insist.” He wrote out a check, added the final ten percent he promised.
    “Bring your little girl. I have some toys. I’ve got a niece. She’s too old for those things now. Into boys and malls and all that. But I kept them.” He looked out of the window as he talked and tapped his hand on the worktable.
    I didn’t go to his house, didn’t see him again. Signed his check with an ounce of unwillingness and asked the teller for cash, wanted to use it up, not let it mingle in the bank with our money. But there was still a paste on my lungs, a coating of wrong that he passed to me.
    I lied down at night with Rainbow. Her nose and cheek bones made a perfect silhouette and the evenness of her cheeks astounded me. I loved the feeling of a nice smooth piece of pine or oak and her face gave me that same pleasure. The plane of her nose, the carved orbs of her eyes, her lashes lying down across them caused a tilting inside. I had to even my breath and not move my arm to wake her.
    When she woke I would lay on top of her, kiss her face until she laughed and pull her nightgown up and blow bubbles on her belly button until her giggles pierced the high octave. She pulled on my ears and I breathed in her scent again and again until it was misery.
    I was her father, I knew every part of her body. I changed her diapers, wiped her bottom, put the thermometer under her tongue. Her body was an extension of mine, something pure and whole. I was a cleansed man.
    Then I touched her. Touched her in a way that some would say was wrong. It wasn’t wrong. She was my family and I would never hurt her like people did out in the world would.
    Something grows out of love and something moves you in a way that makes you want to be close. I know I am not the only one. I’ve heard mothers at the playground talk about how they wanted to eat their little babies up they were so cute and I would say I felt that too. And when I touched her, when I did those things that were ruled only for lovers, I felt that it was pure, that I meant no harm, I just wanted to be as close as I could to my Rainbow.
    And was it sex? Was it what would happen between lovers? Never. And that is what no one understood. The touch, the caress, was adoration, mystification. It was a worship of her, of her soul that grew inside her. What I was doing was some sort of marking, a way of having her be with us, no one else, no one like Hollander, like the boy with the leopard tattoo.
    There was nothing sexual, and if you would believe me, I can get through...get through a day, a single day.
    She cuddled with her mother early in the mornings while I stood in the heat of summer in my workshop. Rainbow wanted Janet to touch her the same way. When I got home they were gone. Janet called on the phone. She was at her parents’. She screamed into the phone for me to explain myself, bastard, explain myself and I have two minutes because she isn’t just calling a lawyer, but the police. And all I could scream back was that I loved them, God, I loved them and they were every bit of my blood in my veins. I would die without them. And she yelled—then die.
    Neither of us went to work and the calls came in our machine, people looking for us, but as far as I was concerned creation had stopped, nothing would grow, be built, be invented. The world was tired and done.
    Janet’s father came and pounded on the door and yelled obscenities, said he was going to pull off every thing attached to me, stuff them inside. The neighbors called the cops and when they made me open the door, I told them all that happened. In my head, they would understand, they had children, didn’t they? But they pulled me in the car and called Janet and the ball rolled down a mossy hill.
    I was locked up until they pulled me into a courtroom and there stood Janet. All I could say back was where is she, where is my Rainbow? My body ached for her and my eyes stung.
    My lawyer had no understanding for me. A psychologist gave me tests and asked about my upbringing, trying to give me an escape in all this. But I told them outright the truth. I wasn’t afraid of it. Didn’t they know love; didn’t they go too far in love?
    They say love doesn’t hurt, love isn’t hard work, love is natural. Nothing is farther from the truth. Love is the only thing we are born not knowing how to do. And all we can do is try to understand it, try to express it. Love isn’t bright and flawless, it is all the colors in-between.
    I was guilty and they didn’t need a jury to figure it all out. I wasn’t hiding a thing. I just wanted to see her. But the law said I couldn’t see her. Ever. Even after I got out of jail in fifteen years.

    I hear she’s a tomboy now. The jail psych said that happens sometimes. Girls feel they are not pure like the other girls and identify with the boys more.
    Janet, Jan, sent me a report card, showed me her grades. Bad at math like Janet. But no picture. Jan said it wouldn’t be right and I guess I see her point in some way. She thinks I am a filthy person, someone taken over with perverse lusts.
    I dream during the day and at night about what she looks like now. I remember the silhouette of her cheeks and the plane of her nose and I try to place it on a twelve year old. I can still smell her once in a while when I least am thinking about enters me like a palsy and I am on my knees.
    In the dark of my cell I try and reconstruct her, the joints, the hinges, the smooth planks of her legs, the pickled and gnarled pieces facing inward, hidden where only a carpenter would know.

Karen Alea Bio

    Growing up in South Florida with light skin and red hair, I found myself a Cuban-American spy, getting to look into my own culture with one foot outside. I laughed along with the wetback jokes during the day and ate arroz con pollo with my Abuelo at night. Living in two worlds at a young age, I have always been interested in the emotional and social differences of world cultures. I have traveled/worked in Cuba, India, Haiti, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Thailand and Australia.
    I am a graduate of Bennington Writing Seminars’ MFA program. I attended Sewanee Writers’ Conference and am currently an adjunct professor in English at Middle Tennessee State University.
    I have several nonfiction credits as well as stories published in Out of Line,, and Eureka literary magazines. My short, The Next Guy won first place in a literary contest judged by multi-award winner Ann Patchett.


Toni M. Todd

    A real pair of Levis, not the J.C. Penney brand she always wore. Adidas, too, leather, with green stripes, not the vinyl knockoffs. These were the things Megan planned to buy with the money she earned working this summer’s berry season. She’d been thinking about it for weeks, but her enthusiasm was tempered by an unpleasant surprise. Megan stood, her rear-end to the bathroom mirror, looking over her shoulder. Her eyes flooded with tears.
    “It’s completely invisible,” her mother said. “No one will notice.”
    Two months earlier, Megan and her mom had attended The Mother Daughter Tea. They’d sipped orange pekoe in the darkened, school- cafeteria-turned-theater, a fuzzy projection quivering upon the screen, and watched as serious, demure young ladies learned about their special time of the month. The girls played guitars in their rooms, helped their mothers set the table, all while enduring their periods. See? It’s not so bad, said the film in its corny way. Megan had expected to feel it coming, to sense it somehow, but it had arrived without fanfare. She didn’t feel a bit different than she had the day before, though the blood in her underwear, lots of it, said otherwise. She didn’t feel like those girls in the film, either. She didn’t feel like doing anything.
    “May I be excused?” Megan had asked the night before, a half eaten chicken thigh, full mound of mashed potatoes and a pile of peas on her plate.
    “You’ve hardly touched your dinner,” said mom.
    “I’m not hungry.”
    “Finish you’re milk and you can go. Just be sure you’re back in here in half an hour to help me with the dishes.”
    “But Mom, I can’t.”
    “Why not?”
    Megan gave her mother a stern look, then nodded toward her father, there at the head of the table, reading the paper, lifting forkfuls of peas into his mouth.
    “Do you have cramps?”
    “No. I don’t know. What do you mean?”
    “I mean are you hurting? Does your stomach hurt?”
    “Then I see no reason why you can’t help with the dishes. Life doesn’t stop and your responsibilities don’t evaporate just because you’re ...”
    “Mom, please!”
    Megan dried in silence, the clank of dishes especially loud as she stacked them in the cupboards.
    “How about if I make your lunch for tomorrow? What kind of sandwich would you like?”
    “You know I can’t go.”
    “All I’ve heard about for weeks are those jeans and sneakers you’re dying to buy. You won’t earn any money moping around here all day.”
    “But what about the pads?” Her father was well out of earshot in his favorite chair watching TV in the family room, but she whispered anyway.
    “We’ll put a couple into your lunch sack. You can change it when you need to. Like I said, life doesn’t stop for your period. I won’t make you go, Megan. It’s you’re decision. But when you’re grown, you won’t be able to take time off from work for five days every month.”
    Megan circled the towel around the inside of the frying pan, wiped the rim, polished its copper bottom. Five days.
    “Let me hang that,” said Mom. “It looks dry.”
    Megan made a final swipe of the handle, then passed the pan to her mother. “Do we have bologna?”

    The berry-mobile, as the kids called it, was a dingy, rattle-trap-reject of a bus from the local school district. This was the Queen of All Saints platoon, with all of the strawberry pickers hired from Megan’s school. The farmer was a member of their parish. Most of Megan’s classmates worked the fields. Some needed the money to help their families, but most these days worked to earn spending cash for clothes, skateboards and bikes. Berry picking was a Willamette Valley tradition. Their parents had picked as children, so they picked, too.
    Megan walked her hands along the seat-backs of the bus and stumbled down the aisle toward her best friend, Katie O’Malley. She could feel the pad and was sure everyone could tell, but few kids looked up, most of them with their foreheads rested on the seat-backs in front of them, or leaning against the windows, breath fogging the glass, groggy for the early morning hour. She would tell Katie later, when they were hunkered down in their adjacent rows, close, where nobody could hear. Megan glanced at Jasper Munson as she passed him, then plopped into the seat next to her pal. Katie’s black pony tail dangled through the hole in the back of a tattered OSU Beavers baseball cap. A splay of freckles sprinkled across the short span of her tiny nose, cheek to cheek. Megan could feel pressure from the extra thickness in her pants as she sat on the squeaky bench, springs chirping like chipmunks with every bump of the bus.
    “I’m going to kick your butt today,” she said.
    “In your dreams, slow poke. See these fingers?” Katie wiggled hers before Megan’s eyes in a blur. “So fast, you can’t even see ‘em.”
    “Oh yeah, well look at these,” Megan wiggled back in a tangle with Katie’s.
    Jasper stood and laughed at one of his own jokes, his posse in the surrounding seats cackling along as he high-fived them.
    “What a jerk. I swear, he gets away with murder,” said Katie. Last Friday, Jasper had spent that morning recess chanting, “Kowalski’s germs, no returns,” and tagging other kids. Roger Kowalski came from a family of eight children, one of the poorest in the parish. He was frail and shy with a crew cut, large ears that flapped outward and huge, black-rimmed glasses, the lenses of which magnified his eyes out of proportion to his narrow face.
    “What was Sister Theresa supposed to do? It was the last day of school.”
    “He should have at least gotten detention after school or something.”
    “Sister made him sit out the rest of recess to think about it.”
    “Big deal. Five whole minutes. And she made us all come in.”
    “Well, we were all in on it.”
    “Not me.”
    “ Must be nice to be so perfect.”
    “It wasn’t very nice, Meggie.”
    Megan stared at the dangling S of brown hair as it danced on Jasper’s forehead.
    “He always starts it and nobody does anything about it,” said Katie. “I wish my dad could build a library for the school. Then my you-know-what wouldn’t stink.”
    Megan turned to make a quick scan of the occupied seats on the bus. The Kowalski boy was slumped in a back row. “I can’t believe he came.”
    “His family needs the money. I just don’t see why you like Jasper so much.”
    “I don’t like him. I mean, I don’t like like him.”
    “Yes, you do.” Katie cocked her head toward Megan as if sharing a juicy secret. “You know you think he’s cu-u-u-ute.”
    “Oh, real mature. I’m going to annihilate you today. You are going to eat my dust.”
    “Keep dreaming, slow poke.”
    They poked each other, gentle prods in the ribs and the arms and the knees and Megan forgot, for the moment, about Jasper, and about the trouble between her legs.
    The bus rolled through the early morning blackness, having turned from the main highway to a narrow country road that led to the field.
    “Hey check it out, everyone,” shouted Jasper. “Eberstark’s wearing her over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder.”
    Gretchen Eberstark, a year older than Megan and Katie, had the misfortune of sitting in front of him. The chest of Gretchen’s uniform jumper had grown snug as the sixth grade had come to a close. While the other girls were beginning to bud, Gretchen was in full bloom. She sat tall in her seat, straw colored helmet of hair, a full noggin taller than the children around her. When the boy wouldn’t stop snapping it, she stood and walked to the front of the bus, head grazing the roof, bearing the weight of all eyes as she staggered along. Megan wore a training bra. She hated it, but her mother had insisted. “It’s that or an undershirt, young lady.” She imagined Jasper snapping hers, or better yet, sitting next to her. What if his hand touched hers, or if he held it like they were going steady? What if he winked at her, like he did to his pals, like she was in on his secrets. What if he like liked her?
    “Poor Gretchen,” said Katie.

    The sun peeked over the distant mountains as the bus banged across hard-packed dirt and rocks, mangling dandelions that sprouted adjacent to the berry patch. Megan dropped down the steps into the early morning chill and inhaled the familiar smell of damp earth, wet leaves and strawberry juice. She rushed to the stacks of empty crates and carts, putting quick distance between herself and the line of kids exiting the bus. Lines of green and brown stretched across the field, each bush indistinguishable from the next. There was the giant oak under which she and Katie would break for lunch, shaded from the midday heat. A port-a-potty stood sentinel over the berry patch, at the opposite end from their tree. The checkout stand was near the bus, where pickers would bring their crates to have them counted, their pay tickets punched. At the end of the day Angela, the oh-so-serious platoon leader, a senior at Sacred Heart, would peer through stringy, dishwater bangs to sign off on your card, dock you if you’d committed any infraction, then collect the document to submit to payroll. Paydays were Fridays. Cash. There were those rickety, aluminum pushcarts, like wheelbarrows without bins, rails dented, metal wheels untrue.
    The more you picked, the more you earned. A crate had twelve pint-sized boxes, or hallocks. Kids were paid a buck a crate, eight cents a hallock. The rules of picking were straightforward. No horsing around. No green berries. No dirt clods or rocks in the bottoms of hallocks. No creaming your row. That meant picking it clean, not plucking the fattest, juiciest berries and moving on. Infractions got you docked on first offense, canned if you did it twice.
    Katie and Megan picked side-by-side in adjacent rows. Megan was fast; Katie was faster. They raced, hallock for hallock, crate for crate.
    “On your mark, get set, go!” Katie counted down the first start of the morning, and the girls hands rustled through the bushes. A few kids brought radios, transistors tuned to the same top forty station. The Rascals’ People Gotta be Free blasted, tinny and crackling. The music kept their fingers moving, twisting the stems from the fruit in quick rhythm. Katie finished her first hallock and shouted, “One!” Megan picked faster. Katie’s technique was akin to Schroeder hunched over the piano on her knees, playing Beethoven in the bushes. “We’re in search of berry treasure,” she’d say. Megan had her own, scoot-along style, which didn’t work well with the bulky pad in her pants. She tried to ignore it as she slid her backside along the row, pushing with her legs like a member of a scull crew, the edges of the crate pulled along like oar handles, grinding dirt and squishing fallen berries into denim.
    “Seven!” Katie shouted, still half a hallock ahead of Megan. The sun had risen higher and was beginning to do its job, warming the plants and the ground and the backs of the pickers, their eyes scanning for jackpots of red within the green.
    “My dad’s leaving us,” Katie said, without breaking her pace. Megan’s hands stopped.
    “He’s moving to Seattle. My mom says it’s a trial separation, but my brother Kenny says they’re getting divorced, for sure.” She topped off a hallock. “Eight,” she said. “Don’t say anything, OK? I don’t want anyone else to know.”
    “Remember that time Kenny told us your neighbor, Brody, was in the FBI, and he went on and on about him, but then we saw Brody working at Fred Meyer as a security guard? Maybe Kenny’s wrong.”
    Megan looked out across the field to see Jasper standing in his row. He was weighing something in his hand and was looking her way. Three boys from adjacent rows stood beside him and looked, too. Jasper said something to them, reared back, then hurled.
    “Ouch!” Katie screamed. A fat strawberry hit her hard, splat on the side of the head. Megan hopped to her feet and looked around. Most of the kids stopped picking and looked up, but Jasper and his boys dropped to their knees and plunged their hands into the bushes, heads bobby with laughter. Katie looked like she’d been shot, bloody, berry gray-matter plastered to her hair. Megan pulled a wad of tissues from her pocket and handed them to her friend.
    “Are you OK?”
    “I guess. Was it Jasper?”
    Megan ground the toe of her sneaker into the dirt. “I don’t know.”
    “Come on, Megan.”
    “How could I know that? I was picking. We were talking.”
    Katie wiped the goo from her head, stuffed the tissue into her pocket, dropped to a knee and ravaged the bushes.
    At lunch, Megan changed her pad. How, she wondered, could a person lose so much blood every month and survive? Her morning pad had been soaked, and blood had leaked onto the edges of her panties.
    The girls sat against the trunk of the oak, mouths stuffed and chewing.
    “You’re a strawberry brunette,” Megan said.
    Katie stared at the ground.
    “C’mon. It was just a strawberry.”
    “I thought you were my friend.”
    “I am your friend.”
    “What if he was aiming at you, Megan?”
    “It was just a strawberry. Don’t be such a baby.” Megan instantly wanted to suck those words back in. She rolled the top down on her lunch sack, one cookie and an apple inside, saved for the ride home, tucked next to her last, clean sanitary napkin, which had been folded in half and sealed in a plastic bag.

    Megan did her best to fill the silence between them as the girls picked through the afternoon. “‘If God didn’t make the little green apples...’ Come on, Katie. You love this song. ‘No Disneyland or mother goose and no nursery rhymes...’”
    “Let’s just work, OK? I’m two hallocks ahead of you.” By quitting time, Katie had beaten Megan by half a crate.

    The bus was crammed with grungy children, dirt caked to their butts and knees, red and brown smudges on their sun-burned cheeks. Katie sat quickly, in the front next to Gretchen, forcing Megan to continue down the aisle, where she found a seat across from Jasper, two rows back.
    “Hey everybody. I’m Michelangelo.” Jasper stood, shook a soda can and popped its top, spewing a stiff, purple geyser of Shasta Grape all over the white ceiling. His posse wheezed like a pack of hysterical hyenas.
    The driver’s belly strained his overalls and rubbed against the bottom of the steering wheel as he squeezed into his seat. A horseshoe of white hair surrounded a glistening, bald head.
    “Everyone sit down,” he said, and jammed the transmission into gear. The bus lumbered through the lumpy field, then onto the road.
    “Hey, Flanders.” It was Bobby Norton, sitting next to her, number two man in Jasper’s gang. “How’s O’Malley?”
    “OK, I guess. What do you care?”
    “Jasper didn’t want to hit her. He was just trying to get her attention. He though it would land it in the bushes, to make her jump. Really, he just wanted to make her look, you know? He likes her, but she always ignores him. What is she, some kind of snob or something?”
    “No, she’s not a snob.” Megan flushed.
    “She seems like one.”
    “Hey, look,” said Jasper, “Flanders has leftovers.” His hand darted across the aisle and snatched the sack from Megan’s lap.
    “Give it back!” Megan lunged as Jasper held it out, pulled it back, held it out, pulled it back.
    “Ooh. Must be something good,” he said.
    “Give it back!” Her jaw clenched.
    “I don’t think so. Let’s see.” His fingers pulled open the sack.
    “I know something about O’Malley,” she said. Jasper paused.
    “If I tell you will you give it back?
    “Yeah, sure. Promise.”
    “Her father’s leaving. Her parents are getting a divorce.” The bus went quiet. Stares shifted form Megan to Katie.
    “Who cares. Let’s check out the mystery bag.”
    “You promised!”
    “Man, this must really be...”
    “It’s just an apple. Give it back!”
    “What’s this? A Kotex? Flanders is having her period!” Jasper pulled out the baggie and removed the pad.
    “Give it back, you ass wipe!”
    “Ass wipe. Sure, I could use it for that.” He waved the pad in front of her face, then stood and mock-dabbed his butt, then under his armpits. Laughter erupted. “Flanders is on the rag, everyone.”
    Megan’s vision blurred for tears.
    “Real mature, Jasper,” said Katie, who had appeared in the aisle next to him. “Give it up.” “Awe. Are you gonna sick your daddy on me? Wait a minute? I almost forgot. You don’t have one.”
    Katie’s hand flew out to grab the bag from Jasper, leaving nothing but a tear of brown paper between his fingers.
    “Now that.” She pointed to the pad. Jasper slouched in his seat. She grabbed the front of his shirt in a berry-stained fist and pulled. “Now!”
    Jasper shrugged and relinquished the pad.
    “What’s going on back there?” The driver looked in his rearview mirror. “You kids settle down.”
    Katie stuffed the pad into the bag and handed it to Megan, then turned and stumbled back to her seat.
    “Wait. Katie?” Her friend slid into the seat next to Gretchen and pretended to tie her shoe. Megan looked down at her own fingers, clutching the bag. They were kid fingers, field dirt in her fingernails, stained black with berry juice. She stared at Katie’s ponytail, the insignia on the back of her hat, and Megan knew Katie would not turn around. Gretchen was consoling her, arm around her shoulder. They were bent forward together, whispering, like friends. Megan stared out the window. Cars whizzed by, buildings, yards, the asphalt below, all solid and discernible when she first focused on them, but quick to blur. She couldn’t get comfortable for the bulk between her legs and shifted in her seat. The pad was saturated, leaking, miserable.

The Invisible Self

Carl Scharwath

Early molecular loneliness impregnates,
eyes imbue condescending judgment.

City swells beneath footprints,
passages find no haven.

Abandoned in yourself awakening,
among those forever anonymous.

The self becomes visible,
when coveted the most.

Carl Scharwath Bio

    The Orlando Sentinel and Lake Healthy Living Magazine have both described Carl Scharwath as the Ürunning poet.Ý His interests include raising his daughter, competitive running, sprint triathlons and taekwondo (heÙs a 2nd degree black belt).

    His work appears all over the world in publications such as Paper Wasp (Australia), Structo (The UK), Taj Mahal Review (India) and Abandoned Towers. He was also recently awarded ÜBest in IssueÝ in Haiku Reality Magazine. His first short story was published last July in the Birmingham Arts Journal. His favorite authors are Hermann Hesse and Edith Wharton.

Janet Kuypers readin the Carl Scharwath poem
The Invisible Self
from the 08/11 issue (v097) of Down in the Dirt magazine
video videonot yet rated
Watch this YouTube video

read from the 08/11 issue (v097) of Down in the Dirt magazine, 08/09/11 live at Chicago ’s the Café open mic the nights of goodbye

Aaron Bragg

    It really couldn’t have been a better day to spread ashes. Not a cloud in the sky, but what sunlight actually hit the ground was first filtered through a leafy lattice of aspen and Sitka spruce. In all directions, everything was cast in a deep emerald green—even the water, whose mirrored surface was only occasionally broken by rising trout. If Bud were still alive, rather than sealed in a nondescript cardboard box in the trunk of Roberta’s ‘84 Chrysler LeBaron, he might have packed his fishing gear: it was this place, less than five miles from the Pacific coast on Oregon’s Alsea River, that was Bud’s favorite fishing spot, and Roberta figured he might like to commence eternal life by floating, ever so gently, downstream toward the ocean.
    Of course, nobody had bothered to ask Bud before he died. He would have balked at the thought of what amounted to somebody emptying a barbecue at such a pristine section of the river. It was symbolic, though, in a way—at least Roberta thought so—since Bud spent most of his retirement days fishing. It’s what he would have wanted.


    The funeral was in February, a couple of weeks after Bud’s heart stopped mid-surgery. There was no casket, no body; the service seemed a little like church, only more patronizing. That Bud would rather have been on the Alsea than in the sanctuary of Albany United Methodist on a Saturday morning was lost on Roberta, who seemed to relish the attention from parishioners who had met her husband only once or twice. Strange, she thought, that Bud’s doctor isn’t here. Perhaps someone else was dying on an operating table.
    Roberta was stoic. She’d had some time to adjust, time to cry, time to curse God, and time to practice her new widow’s smile in the mirror. (The smile was a strange admixture of self-pity and cold detachment Roberta first saw when her neighbor Ivy lost her husband in a freak car accident. She’d been looking forward to adopting it for nearly ten years now.) Details had been carefully planned and rehearsed: flowers and music selected from Roberta’s favorites, a light luncheon—no alcohol—prepared with an eye toward her own dietary needs; even the guests seemed weighted toward Roberta’s circle of friends.
    Their only child, Alan, had arrived from Spokane the day before with his second wife, registering at a dingy but conveniently located motel just off the freeway. There was plenty of room at the house, of course, but that wasn’t so convenient for Roberta. She didn’t approve of Alan’s first marriage—the one that produced a grandson only seven months after the wedding—but at least it was a proper wedding. This time around, Alan had phoned Roberta from an ashram in the Sierra Nevadas to tell her he’d found his soul mate, marrying her in a late-night ceremony with two other couples. Worse, the unlikely-named Heather was Puerto Rican. Or was it Dominican? Roberta was pretty sure she wasn’t a Methodist.
    The funeral—memorial service, please—could have been for anyone. It was strangely without specificity, as if the reverend had photocopied the “Death and Remembrance” section from one of the overstuffed binders saved from seminary and now collecting dust on a sagging shelf, filled in the blanks, and proceeded as ambiguously as only a Methodist could. Women in the requisite dark-colored but ridiculously out-of-style dresses sat next to husbands in navy blue blazers. A handful of children in khakis and tennis shoes squirmed.
    The pastor knew instinctively when to smile, when to frown, when to feign concern. He’d performed a hundred or more funerals, mostly for folks he didn’t even know, and this one was really no different. A prayer, a sermon, a brief eulogy: what did it matter? Bud wasn’t a believer as far as the pastor was concerned, and no amount of ritualistic tomfoolery would change God’s mind about the ultimate destination of Bud’s soul. Of that much the pastor was certain.
    Roberta didn’t say much after the service. Mostly her lips remained pursed as she nodded acknowledgement, perhaps a thin smile when someone recounted a story about Bud and why he would be missed. There were some thank-yous scattered here and there: thank you for coming, thank you for the flowers, thank you for your thoughts and prayers. Before long, even the pastor had left, locking the sanctuary doors and giving instructions to the janitor. All that was left on the buffet table was some dry bread, small bowls of mayonnaise with yellowing skin, and paper-thin meats and cheeses with rapidly hardening edges. Roberta noticed that nobody had touched the cauliflower plate.
    Alan, uncomfortable with outward displays of emotion, uncertain of funeral etiquette, wasn’t sure exactly what to do with his mother. It went without saying that everybody had loved Bud, so why say it now? It seemed somehow disingenuous, even offensive, to tell her how you felt, when you hadn’t bothered telling him first. Bud knew, though, didn’t he? He must have known.
    In the foyer, Heather studied her nails. Alan stared at the floor. Chuck, the illegitimate grandson who somehow managed to arrive fifteen minutes late for the service, shrugged and walked outside to his beat-up van.


    It was only 3:30 in the afternoon, but Roberta was tired. Alan and Heather were leaving first thing in the morning. In a few hours, she would be alone after fifty-three years of marriage. There was no one to mow the lawn anymore, she thought. And who will prune the roses this spring? My beautiful yard... She walked down the hallway to her—her—bedroom, closed the door, sat on the edge of her bed, and silently wept.
    Chuck was almost to Portland before the first tear arrived. Through the rain he absentmindedly watched the oncoming headlights just to the left and slightly below the grass median of Interstate 5. On the radio, some twenty-something NPR reporter, no doubt fresh out of Columbia Journalism School, was deconstructing Brian Eno’s Music for Airports. His shoulders violently shaking, Chuck pulled the old van to the side of the freeway, over the rumble-strips, and onto the gravel slope. The rain slashed through the glow of red taillights as logging trucks roared past. A McDonald’s sign shone cheerfully in the distance out the passenger-side window. And Brian Eno consoled Roberta’s grandson while he, too, wept.


    Alan closed the trunk of his car, looked uneasy for a few moments, and half-heartedly offered to stay a little longer. You know, maybe help clean out the garage or something. Roberta flashed her widow’s smile—it came more readily now—and shook her head no. Alan shrugged and made certain Heather was situated before backing out of the driveway. Roberta didn’t wait: The front door of the house was closed before the car was out of reverse.
    She’ll never make it, thought Alan as he approached the on-ramp to I-5. She’ll be dead inside a year.


    It was late April, and Roberta’s widow’s smile was coming along nicely. So was her yard, thanks to a grass-cutting service that came by once a week and the help of some volunteers from the church youth group. The roses didn’t fare so well, nor did her fuchsias, but they were in the back yard where passersby couldn’t see. The oil stain on her driveway from Chuck’s van was at last fading to a light brown, and the appearance of normalcy from one end of the property to the other was overwhelming.
    Inside, the house hadn’t changed a bit in the last two months, since Roberta had always made the decorating decisions anyway. Bud had laid claim to both the garage and the shop early in the marriage, but the house was off limits. Gold-gilded picture frames, velvet curtains with gold-braid tiebacks, plush carpets in purples and greens, and everywhere Roberta’s oil paintings. It was a kitschy blend of 50s mod and 70s tack, and Roberta was perfectly at home in it, provided guests removed their shoes at the door. Like outside, a carefully cultivated normalcy pervaded, and one half-expected Bud to come in the back door at any moment.
    Roberta had scheduled the ash-scattering (she wasn’t quite sure what else to call it, since she’d already had a memorial service) for the last Saturday of the month. Arrangements were made with the proprietor of a boat-launching facility on the river to make use of one of the docks, and only immediate family and close friends of Roberta’s were invited.


    Bud’s ashes had arrived at her home via crematory courier six weeks earlier. The driver, a lanky college kid who checked the number on Bud’s box against a sheet on a clipboard, awkwardly accepted a rolled-up one-dollar bill from Roberta in a clumsy pass. The widow’s smile was flashed—ever so briefly—while the driver shifted boxes in the back of his filthy pickup, mentally mapping out his delivery route.
    Roberta waited, staring at the box that had been dumped unceremoniously on the sloping driveway. The driver stared back. Silence drew a line from Roberta to the driver to the box and back to Roberta. The widow’s smile was replaced with a look of stern, pietistic disapproval. The driver relented. Stooping over and picking up Bud’s remains, he asked Roberta where she would like them. She nodded toward a corner of the garage among some rakes and pruning saws and a metal dustpan, where one of the church youth group volunteers had swept a small area clean. The driver turned and, tripping over a hose, fell forward, dropping the box on the cold concrete floor of the garage. It hit with a dull thud. A puff of gray escaped from a seam under the tape on the box, but Roberta was already in the house.


    Alan and Heather, by now tiring of living under the pall of perpetual death, arrived Thursday evening for what they hoped was the last in a series of events mourning Bud’s passing, checked into the same dingy and convenient motel, and awaited the moment. Chuck pulled into Roberta’s driveway late Friday afternoon, strategically positioning the van over what remained of last February’s oil stain.
    Grandmother and grandson spent an uncomfortable twenty minutes silently praying for the appearance of Alan and Heather. There was a meatloaf in the oven, and neither was looking forward to eating it.
    “How was traffic?” asked Roberta.
    Chuck looked up. “All right, I guess. I got out of Portland before rush hour, so...”
    Roberta nodded. She started to say something when Alan and Heather came in through the front door. Polite, cursory greetings were exchanged. Five minutes later Roberta, complaining of a migraine, retired to her room for the night—it was just past 6:00—and Alan ordered Chinese take-out for the three of them after tossing the meatloaf in the trash. Back at the dingy and convenient motel, Alan and Heather fell asleep to the drone of freeway traffic. Chuck tried in vain to find an adult movie on the television. Roberta, haunted by the ghost of her late husband, slept little. Bud remained in the box.


    Saturday morning was warm and muggy. A sense of finality added to the heavy air, and nobody said much. Clothes were packed, suitcases dragged to the front doors of the motel rooms, drawers opened and closed. Chuck had purchased day-old donuts the night before from the grocery store down the street. They were eaten as a greasy afterthought, a means by which breakfast could be checked off the day’s to-do list.
    In separate cars, the three arrived at Roberta’s house. She’d had toast and tea already, read the morning paper, and had even loaded Bud into the trunk of her LeBaron, first wiping the outside of the cardboard box with a damp rag, then lodging him in the shallow depression behind the wheel well. She laid an extra jacket and an umbrella alongside him. Her face was impassive: no evidence of a widow’s smile today. No, this was a day deemed too solemn for any kind of smile. It was the day that Roberta would officially discharge Bud’s remains, he already having spent the last few weeks in a sort of purgatory in Roberta’s garage—it was her garage now, wasn’t it?—a transitory holding pen where his powdery-gray vestiges awaited a more expedient release date.
    Ivy was the only one of Roberta’s friends to come along. Hoping to catch a ride, she had walked from her house as soon as she saw the two cars pull up. Roberta was delighted at the company: It meant they’d have to take another car, which sort of made for a cortège, if you thought about it. Alan tossed his keys to Heather—Roberta wasn’t about to drive the LeBaron herself.


    Bud’s last trip to the Alsea River was almost surreal for Roberta, who determined that she’d never come this way again. The route she chose took them first on Highway 20 through Corvallis—where Bud had played basketball at State—then turning on the Alsea Highway just past Philomath. Even Heather found herself lost in the beauty of the Willamette Valley, slowly forgetting the purpose of the journey with each passing dairy farm. Alan delighted in the LeBaron’s on-dash digital mileage report and the remarkable fuel economy as they descended the final grade. Roberta was silent.
    Surprisingly, the little resort with its half-dozen cabins, laundry facility/showers, boat docks, and “General Store” was entirely vacant, and the only sound was the crunch of gravel under the tires as the two vehicles approached. A screen door somewhere slammed shut, and a short, overweight woman worked her way toward the settling dust.
    Brief words were exchanged between the woman and Roberta, who handed over a check. The woman squinted momentarily, looking for a phone number and verifying the dollar amount, and, satisfied, lumbered back in the direction from which she had come. Roberta looked around, silently wondering whether she’d gotten the right place. Bud was still in the trunk of the LeBaron, and nobody knew exactly what to do. Roberta spoke her first words of the day.
    “I wanted us all to take part,” she said, staring each one of them in the eyes. “And maybe say something kind about Bud...he would have liked that.”
    Alan turned and retrieved the box. Slowly and in single file, the group descended the steps to the dock. Heather, apparently bolstered by Roberta’s sudden breaking of the silence, said that it sure was pretty here. Nobody answered.
    Once the group had gathered at the end of the dock, Roberta, with Alan’s pocketknife, gently slit open the box that held Bud’s remains. Mercifully, there was no breeze. Inside was a clear plastic liner twisted shut at the top, and Roberta tried to ignore the gray dust on her fingertips as she spread open the bag. Resting on top of Bud was a small scoop like you’d find in a box of laundry detergent. Roberta straightened up and looked at the faces around her, stopping on her son’s.
    “Would you like to go first?”
    Alan folded his arms across his chest and looked away. This is ridiculous, he thought. It’s a bunch of damn ashes.
    Roberta resumed her search, looking first at Chuck, then Ivy—even Heather—hoping that one of them would step forward and be the first to send Bud downstream; that her guilt would be that much the lesser because she hadn’t been the first to disturb his remains. The dock creaked. Roberta set her jaw. Finally, Chuck, growing impatient with the proceedings, grabbed the scoop from Roberta’s hand and set to work. The others stepped back as he kneeled and, muttering something about how Bud was a wonderful grandfather and how he was always there for him and how he loved to go fishing here and how it was therefore appropriate to release him at this spot, dipped in.
    Bits of coral-like bone chunks scraped at the plastic scoop as he dug. The consistency was like instant cement, only...gross, he thought. Chuck unconsciously held his breath—terrified of breathing in his grandfather—as he reached over the edge of the dock and turned the scoop over. Like sifted flour, Bud entered the emerald-green water, becoming a viscous cloud just below the surface. Chuck idly wondered which part of Bud it was. For the briefest of moments, Roberta smiled. Then, just as quickly, the corners of her mouth turned down as she watched Bud, undulating in the deep green water, move slowly upstream.
    Roberta hadn’t bothered to check the tide tables—perhaps the only detail to avoid her scrutiny—and, this close to the ocean, the tidal currents were strong.
    “Oh, my God...” she croaked, her face draining of color as she realized that Bud may never reach the Pacific Ocean, that all her plans and contingencies for which she had prepared meant nothing, that Bud would most likely wash up on some nameless gravel spit—or, worse yet, a public beach—and that his soul, wherever it lived, was watching her failure.
    Chuck continued to shovel, sending scoop after scoop of Bud’s remains into the water. Heather gave a nervous laugh while Roberta, enraged, lunged frantically toward her grandson, screaming “Stop!” as he lifted the box and shook the last of the ashes over the water.
    Bud was gone, and Roberta, just short of reaching the end of the dock, sank to her knees, sobbing uncontrollably. Alan, arms still folded tightly across his chest, looked out over the water, turned, and walked back to the car, signaling Heather with a jerk of his head. Embarrassed, Chuck and Ivy followed, each glancing once at the water and once at Roberta, who, still kneeling, struggled to regain control.
    “I’m sorry,” she murmured, rocking back and forth, eyes tightly closed. “So, so sorry...” Abruptly, she stopped, looking upward at the clear blue sky. Slowly, her gaze traveled down, through the trees and ending at the spot where Bud had entered the Alsea River just moments before. She began rocking again, whispering something unintelligible, increasing speed until her forward momentum carried her silently into the emerald-green water.


    A fisherman from Newport discovered Roberta’s body a week later, tangled in kelp and draped over a pile of driftwood on the sand near the mouth of the Alsea. She hadn’t made it to the Pacific, either. Crabs, seagulls, and scores of nameless insects had made identification difficult, so it was a couple of weeks before anyone was notified.
    Alan drove back to Albany to claim the body and make the necessary arrangements. Roberta’s house was put on the market, her estate transferred over to Alan, and her body—like Bud’s—cremated. The following Saturday, Alan again found himself on Highway 20 heading west. In the passenger seat of his car rode Roberta in her very own nondescript cardboard box, sealed shut with packing tape.
    Alan was alone this time. Death was something that up until recently had never visited his family, and now...well, now it seemed none of them could remember a time when Death hadn’t touched them in some way, and nobody wanted to make the trip with him. Which was fine—Roberta would have wanted it this way.
    He didn’t notice the fishermen milling around the lot as he guided his car toward one of the last remaining parking spots. Nor did he notice the crowded dock, the noisy children running through the grass, the short, overweight woman sitting on her porch, smoking Marlboros and eyeing him suspiciously. He grabbed the box, felt in his shirt pocket for a copy of the day’s tide table, and approached the dock.
    The overweight woman stubbed out her cigarette and cut him off by the sign that read “Swim at Your Own Risk: No Lifeguard on Duty.” He vaguely wondered whether it would have made a difference to have a lifeguard on duty a couple of weeks ago.
    “Two bucks to park,” she said. Roberta’s son shifted the box under his arm, reached into his wallet, and handed her a five.
    “Keep it.”
    She stared after him as he descended the steps to the dock. Shrugging, she turned and headed back to her chair, her pack of Marlboros, and her half-empty Coors Light.
    Alan positioned himself at the end of the dock, sat, and waited, glancing at his watch every few minutes and idly drumming his fingers on Roberta’s cardboard box. At precisely 9:53 a.m. he reached over and opened the box, discarding the plastic laundry scoop. He studied the grey powder for a moment, then, removing the plastic liner, turned it upside down. Roberta hit the water with a plop, briefly swelling just under the water’s surface before moving upstream to join Bud.
    Satisfied, Alan looked once more at his watch and once more at the emerald-green waters of the Alsea River. He managed a rueful smile before he whispered “Goodbye”; two minutes later he’d found his car in the crowded lot and pointed it toward home.

Aaron Bragg Bio

    Over the course of his 10-year writing career, Aaron Bragg has published music criticism, news features, a weekly political column, and short fiction. He currently works as a copywriter at a northwest design firm.

An Evening with Cary Grant

J.D. Isip

    This is how he remembered it – just like this: an intimate locale, dark and smoky, open stage, a chair and mic, a tiny table with a bottle of scotch, a bucket of ice, and a single crystal glass. This was classy – just like Grant did it so many years ago.
    “It was the same year I did my first movie. Grant was old, but still handsome,” Charles looked over the crowd, didn’t recognize a face, not one, “He called it ‘An Evening with Cary Grant’ and folks paid a shit load of cash to hear him tell them how he became a success, how he met his five wives... loved his little girl. He used to say that she was...”
    “We love you, Jeff!” an anonymous voice bounced from the back of the room. No face.
    “Yeah, well, let me fucking finish, then!”
    “Show it to us, Jeff!” More voices join in, “Show us your big dick, Jeff!”
    He remembered that night in 1986. He remembered wanting to ask Cary Grant, “It’s a lifetime later, and just about everyone knows about Hudson – so, hey man, are you gay?” And it would have been just like that, respectful and classy, and he would have asked in private, after the show. But he couldn’t. He could fuck on camera for hours – ten, twenty people in the room, camera men, lights, and make-up - but he couldn’t do that to Cary Grant... no matter how much he wanted to know. Then that voice from the darkness, that bastard...
    “Hey Grant, I hear you’re a fag.”
    Grant was so cool, so graceful, “I’m not making a judgment, young man, but I wonder if you might have read something like that while thumbing through old Hedda Hopper columns – the kind of trash on the tables at ladies’ solons. I read I was an alien in one of those, too.”
    Charles watched the guy get escorted out, all shadows. He secretly wished Grant would answer the question, but he dreaded that he would, too. Grant just did what Grant did, he rose above it. Charles, in his own way, rose above it, too...
    “Yeah, that’s what you’re here for, right?” Charles put down his glass and took two steps to the edge of the stage, grabbed his crotch with one hand and started undoing his pants with the other, “Ladies and gentlemen, thanks for coming out to ‘An Intimate Evening with Jeff Stryker.’”
    The crowd roared in the tiny theater, whistles and shouts. Charles stood at the door in a loose robe to say goodbye to everyone who came. Some shyly glanced down and, every time, he would open his robe and tell them, “Don’t be shy.” Others were more aggressive, they wanted to grope him or kiss him – Who walks up to a complete stranger and wants to kiss them? – Charles remembered Grant and, best as he could, he deflected his fans with words like, “Maybe in my next movie” or “I wouldn’t want you to hurt me” (not “I wouldn’t want to hurt you” because, well, so many wouldn’t mind).
    “You knocked it out of the park, Jeff! This was a great idea,” John had known Charles since he was a 24-year-old kid. Just some dumb jock looking for a modeling job. He’s the one who christened him Jeff Stryker.
    “Yeah, but I never get to tell that last story – the Cary Grant story. I think that’s a good story.”
    John poured Charles a drink, “I think you should let the audience – and me – decide what’s a good story.”
    Charles grabbed the glass, tried to understand the logic of what John had just said, but what the hell – he was just some dumb porn star, what did he know, “You’re right, John. Let’s get out of here.”


    “A team of commandos land in a far off jungle –” John has his hands in front of his face, thumbs and index fingers framing the scene à la DeMille.
     “Where?” Charles’s eyes are closed, he’s concentrating, trying to picture it.
    “I don’t know – China, Japan, Vietnam – does it matter?”
    Eyes still closed, jaw tightens. He’s irritated, “You got Asians? You want Asians in it?”
    “Maybe for background. Maybe. Not for the action – man, no one’s into Asians.”
    “I’m okay with Asians,” Charles opens his eyes, looks at John, “I can do Asians. Asian chicks are sweet.”
    “No, Jeff. No Asians, man,” hiding his frustration, John shifts his full attention to his desk, “Shit! Where is that legal pad? I just had it...”
    “I’m okay with Asians, John. Really.”
    Face still down at the desk, hands all over, flipping over loose papers, pushing aside VHS tapes, “I know, Jeff, I know you are...”
    “I mean whatever. It’s cool. Asians, blacks, guys, girls, whatever.”
    John looks up. Deep breath, gathering patience, “Hey, did you get a chance to see the final reel, man? Why don’t you go on down the hall and have Traci show you the final product. It’s a beauty. And, uh, I’ll join you in a bit. I just have to find that damn paper I was writing on.”
    “Oh yeah, sure,” finally aware of being unwanted, Charles stands up. A few loose hairs from his Ken-Doll-do glide over his eyes; he brushes them back, effortless, cool, “You take your time, John. Didn’t mean to bother you.”
    John rushes to his side, hand on Charles’ chest, patting him like a dog or a baby, “Nah, man, no. It’s cool. I just have to find that pad and I want you to see the final reel. The duplicate shop in Silver Lake already has a copy. You’ll be on shelves next week, Jeff. You’re gonna be a star!”
    Cheered, Charles smiles, “That’d be cool.”
    “For all of us, Jeff.”
    John meant it. An old pal at the ad agency called him the minute Charles came in for the modeling job. Loose fit, acid-washed jeans with pleats – cock-hiding gear if ever there was and you could still see that monster in the proofs. That alone... That alone could have made him rich. But, Jesus, it was like God was having a fanfuckingtastic day because he gave him that body and that damn voice.
    “People are gonna worship this guy, Traci! You mark my words. Worship him!”
    “I guess. I mean, yeah, he has a nice cock, sure, but you don’t think he’s, you know, a little stupid?” Traci noticed everything about Charles, but he didn’t reciprocate. Here she was, world’s most famous piece of ass and he doesn’t give her a second glance. He had to be mental.
    “All the better! I made my living off of stupid porn stars, darling,” John smiles wickedly at Traci, but the look and the long pause don’t help, the joke completely misses.
    “Well, as long as he listens to you when we shoot. That’s all I care about. That last fucker... John! You kept telling him to slow down...”
    “I know...” John was used to this – “Traci tantrums” – she had to find something, anything to nitpick, to find completely unreasonable, just to be a diva for a minute. He allowed it, even enjoyed it. She gets screwed a dozen times a week by a dozen different guys and still finds the energy to keep her end of the contract on the up and up with him; why deny her a little tantrum time?
    “Whole day shot! Motherfucker just had to...”
    “I know, Traci, I know...”
    “Anyway, is Tarzan gonna take directions, you think?”
    “You don’t have to worry about it. He’s doing fag films.”
    Cheered up, curious, “So he’s a cocksucker?”
    “Look who’s talking.”


    Charles and John were cruising down Santa Monica Boulevard, hood down. The city was alive, the club crowd was just emerging – everyone clean-scrubbed, bopping to the music of anticipation, laughing for nothing at all.
    “I’m thinking about writing a book. What do you think?” Charles threw this out like one of those suction-cup darts, hoping it would stick... but world’s not gonna end if it doesn’t.
    John tapped a bit on the steering wheel, as if the action helped him to think, “Sure, sure. That’s a good idea. You want me to get you a writer?”
    “No, man. I’m gonna write the book. About me, about my life.”
    “We can get you a writer and it would be in your name. People do that shit all the time. You think Oprah ever writes her own shit? How the hell could she? Celebrities are busy, Jeff. Stars like you, man, they don’t have the time to sit down and write and write and write. You know?”
    “I’m not that busy.”
    “You got this show! I got you booked for interviews on a few independent networks. You got stuff going on,” John looked over at Charles, a little concerned, “What are you saying?”
    Charles noticed that John’s carefree expression had changed. He didn’t want to make waves, “It was just a thought, man.”
    “Okay, whatever. You just let me know if I can get you a writer.”
    “Yeah, maybe,” Charles was silent through a few lights, finally, “Hey, John, you can drop me off at home. My son is calling me later and I want to make sure I don’t miss the call... like the last time.”
    “Sure thing, Jeff. Tell him Uncle Johnnie says hello.”


    Charles’s living room was pristine, unlived-in. He was here maybe two nights a week. Otherwise, he was on the road or shooting somewhere. His sofa, black leather, was brand new. Everything was brand new – and he had been here for nearly two years. He preferred the place off Obispo, where they lived before Chuck moved away for college.
    “Hey, dad, how did the show go?” Chuck had his dad’s deep baritone, sounded so much older.
    “It was good. It was fine,” Charles was enjoying the sound of his son’s voice.
    “You tell ‘em about Cary Grant, dad? You tell ‘em what he called his daughter?”
    “She was his best production,” Charles paused, “and, you’re mine, Chuck.”

The Only Genuine Truth

Edward Rodosek

My faithful TV is waiting for me.
I sit in my armchair
and gaze spellbound at the glowing screen.

There all women are glorious as goddesses,
long-legged and full-breasted,
their eyes are azure like the sky.
There all men are like gladiators,
they all drive fast roadsters.

There I get to know
how I shall live correctly;
there I’m told
what is the only genuine truth;
which is the proper detergent;
how I can lose weight overnight;
where must I spend my luxurious holidays
at giveaway prices.

I must simply and solely buy
this marvellous product;
this old, ugly thing of mine
I have to replace with a new one.

All those splendid new gems
are waiting for me,
only and solely for me...
What am I waiting for?

I’ll stay here inside
Once and for all.
I have no use for the outer world.

Yet – only one thing disturbs me:
the light and the noise from the street.
I have to close
that damned window and the shutters;
the ugly reality outside
insolently lies to me,
trying to deceive me.

Edward Rodosek Bio

    Dr. Sc. Edward Rodosek is a Senior College Professor. Beside his professional work he writes fiction. More than hundred of his short stories and about a dozen of his poems have been published in various magazines in USA, UK, Australia and India. Recently he published in USA the collection of short stories “Beyond Perception”.

Las Cruces Memories

Sheryl L. Nelms

do you

that Sunday morning in July
when you left me
alone on our

in the New Mexico desert
after they’d shut off our electricity

you said
you were going to
the Texaco station to buy a paper

I didn’t
see you again
until you came home dead
drunk at three that afternoon

remember how your car swayed
up that sandy road
and how mad
you got
at me

because I said
you shouldn’t be driving

remember how you did dusty doughnuts
in our barren yard
around me
trying to
me with the Cavalier

do you know how mad I was
how scared I was

do you remember anything of that day?

Midlife Crisis

Tom Fillion

    It was nine o’clock when I arrived at Flint’s house in Thonotosassa. His car was there along with another one. I presumed it was Ellie’s and that they had made up again. It looked like she had a different one from her previous visits, a little sportier too. I knocked several times, but there was no answer so I figured they were back in Flint’s bedroom doing what they usually did, knocking knees.
    “Flint,” I called out.
    No answer, so I opened the door. The reading chair with the orange and white parachute above it was empty. It reminded me of Montezuma’s throne without all the feathers and gold. I could hear voices in the bedroom.
    “Flint, it’s Billy.”
    Maybe it wasn’t Ellie Windows, come to think of it. She had probably made up with her husband, Frank, like they always did. Maybe it was Jacqueline, the English lit groupie working on her PHD and professors with tenure, or maybe the aardvark, the artist Flint told me about. Maybe she found Flint’s new place in the country and stopped by to have a go around with him. I had never seen her or her car so maybe that’s who it was. But it could have been Angelica, the lawyer’s wife, who met Flint in another lit class. She was bored as hell with her life and was writing about cement block suburbia. Didn’t she have a sports car? A white Mustang? I couldn’t remember exactly. Blame it on Flint’s tequila and weed.
    “Flint, sorry about last night. I haven’t gotten that fucked up in a long time,” I said, thinking I heard him get out of bed.
    If it was Ellie she’d just laugh when she found out I chucked all over the theatre in South Tampa last night. We went to see a foreign movie called Seven Beauties, but when I counted them it was more like fourteen to twenty beauties, and I couldn’t tell if they were beauties or not, I was so drunk and stoned. Too much tequila and weed. It was embarrassing not holding my own like I usually did. The guys in the battery factory where I worked part time would have laughed too at how pathetic I was.
    The door opened and Flint peered out. He didn’t have any clothes and used the door to hide himself.
    “What the hell are you doing here?” he said pushing his hair back.
    “I’ve got a couple of brownies someone gave me. I thought I’d share it with you. I owe you after last night, seeing I puked all over the place.”
    “Who is it, Flint?”
    It didn’t sound like Ellie. More like what I remembered Angelica to sound like. Of course, it could have been the aardvark. Like I said, I had never met her. I had just heard about her, the struggling artist. Maybe she didn’t even exist. Flint was always making up shit like the novel he was supposed to be writing just to see if I was listening.
    “It’s Billy,” Flint said, and I didn’t like the way he said it either. If he had said, “Oh, it’s Billy.” That would have been different. Like he was surprised and glad to see me. But “It’s Billy,” sounded like someone had dropped a brick on his foot.
    Whoever was there knew me. That meant it was Ellie Windows, Jacqueline, or Angelica. The aardvark was out.
    “You better go,” Flint said.
    “I brought you a brownie. After last night I owe you. I was truly pathetic. I think I’m having a midlife crisis.”
    “You don’t owe me anything. Besides, you’re too young to have a midlife crisis.”
    The bed inside the room creaked, and I could hear bare feet against the wood floor.
    “Stay right there,” Flint said.
    “Ellie? Hi, Ellie.”
    I forgot Jenna. Maybe Jenna had returned? What a happy ending that would be! Flint came to his senses and welcomed that raving beauty back into his life and recognized their son! I still couldn’t believe he had let her go so easily. I had met her one time when I had taken him to a party at my girlfriend’s house. Jenna was ravishing! I would have married her in a second.
    “It’s not Ellie.”
    I had been around the College of Arts and Letters long enough and had taken enough classes to have already graduated. Jacqueline, the English lit groupie had been in a few of them. She always sat in the front so she could fawn over the professor and let him see how good she looked in tight jeans and a white blouse that covered her freckles. When she was naked, Flint said she looked like a lobster with all the freckles. She was always laughing and posturing and had a preference for pricks with tenure. Flint was the exception to her rule because he was writing a novel called The Void.
    “Just leave the brownie. I’ll get it later.”
    I looked at my watch. If it was Angelica she still had time before returning to Clearwater and a cross-examination by her ex-husband-to-be whom she still lived with because she didn’t have a job. They were working out the details of their divorce caused by her absolute boredom with having everything she ever wanted.
    “Leave it over there.”
    He pointed to his favorite book, Gravity’s Rainbow. The thick book rested on a small night table next to his reading chair and canopied throne. A half-used roll of toilet paper lay on top of the book. Flint read and whacked off. Read and whacked off. He wore Playtex gloves to stop his hands from shaking whenever he was reading. The gloves were next to the book.
    Before I could put the brownies down, my instant ex-girlfriend came out of the bedroom wrapped in a sheet. Long dark hair. Brown eyes. Tanned skin. Sharon was a woman studies major who said she hated Flint after she met him at her party. She looked better than the last time I saw her when she dropped from first to seventh or fourteenth beauty and wore a razor blade on a pendant for cutting off men’s balls and told me she was a lesbian and couldn’t make love or be my girlfriend because her father abused her down there where she pulled Flint back into for more of the midlife crisis all of us were too young to have.

About Tom Fillion

    Tom Fillion has been published in many online magazines. For a complete list please visit The Dream Mechanic at Upcoming stories at Foliate Oak and Wood Coin.

So Everything Is Fine

Holly Day

love creeps up like a
four-legged beast behind
you, sneaks up through fog and
rips in

it’s quiet and it’s cold
no breath, days and months and
even years don’t heal
these bite marks, love

so good going in but
leaves such an empty space
when it’s gone

Janet Kuypers readin the Holly Day poem
So Everything Is Fine
from the 08/11 issue (v097) of Down in the Dirt magazine
video videonot yet rated
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read from the 08/11 issue (v097) of Down in the Dirt magazine, 08/09/11 live at Chicago ’s the Café open mic


Janet Kuypers

    She had lived there, in her fourth floor apartment on the near north side of the city, for nearly three years. It was an uneventful three years from the outside; Gabriel liked it that way. She just wanted to live her life: go to work, see her new friends, have a place to herself.
    But looking a bit closer, it was easy to see what a wonderful life she had. Her apartment was impeccable, with Greek statues and glass vases lining the hallways, modern oil paintings lining her walls. She was working at her career for a little under two years and she had received two hefty promotions. She served on the board of directors for the headquarters of a national domestic abuse clinic and single-handedly managed to increase annual donations in her city by 45%, as well as drastically increase the volunteer base for their hotline numbers. She managed a boyfriend, a man who was willing to put up with her running around, working overtime for her job, visiting clinics. A man who loved and respected her for her drive. Not bad for a woman almost twenty-five.
    Yes, life seemed good for Gabriel, she would dine in fine restaurants, visit the operas and musicals travelling through the city. And she had only been in the city for three years.
    Eric would wonder what her past was like when he’d hit a nerve with her and she would charge off to work, not talking to him for days. She had only lived in the city for three years, and he knew nothing about her life before then. In the back of his mind, he always thought she was hiding something from him, keeping a little secret, and sometimes everything Gabriel said made him believe this secret was real. She told him her parents lived on the other side of the country, and even though they dated for almost two years there never was talk about visiting them. She never received calls from her old friends. There were no old photographs.

    This would get to Eric sometimes; it would fester inside of him when he sat down and thought about it, all alone, in his apartment, wondering when she would be finished with work. And then he’d see her again, and all of his problems would disappear, and he’d feel like he was in love.

    One morning he was sitting at her breakfast table, reading her paper, waiting so they could drive to work. “Hey, they finally got that mob-king guy with some charges they think will stick.”
    Gabriel minded her business, put her make-up on in the bathroom mirror, hair-sprayed her short, curly brown hair.
    “Hey, Gabriel, get a load of this quote,” Eric shouted down the hallway to her from his seat. He could just barely see her shadow through the open door to the bathroom. “’My client is totally innocent of any charges against him. It is the defense’s opinion that Mr. Luccio was framed, given to the police by the organized crime rings in this city as a decoy,’ said Jack Huntington, defense lawyer for the case. ‘Furthermore, the evidence is circumstantial, and weak.’ What a joke. I hope this guy doesn’t get away with all he’s done. You know, if I–

    Gabriel stopped hearing his voice when she heard that name. She had heard Luccio over and over again in the news, but Jack. She didn’t expect this. Not now. It had been so long since she heard that name.
    But not long enough. Her hands gripped the edge of the ceramic sink, gripping tighter and tighter until she began to scratch the wood paneling under the sink. Her head hung down, the ends of her hair falling around her face. He lived outside of the city, nearly two hours. Now he was here, maybe ten minutes away from her home, less than a mile away from where she worked, where she was about to go to.
    She couldn’t let go of the edge of the sink. Eric stopped reading aloud and was already to the sports section, and in the back of her mind Gabriel was wondering how she could hurt herself so she wouldn’t have to go to work. She would be late already, she had been standing there for over ten minutes.
    Hurt herself? What was she thinking? And she began to regain her senses. She finally picked her head up and looked in the mirror. She wasn’t the woman from then, she had to say to herself as she sneered at her reflection. But all she could see was long, blonde straight hair, a golden glow from the sun, from the days where she didn’t work as often as she did, when she had a different life.
    She had to pull on her hair to remind herself that it was short. She pulled it until she almost cried. Then she stopped, straightened her jacket, took a deep breath and walked out the bathroom door.

    Eric started to worry. As they car-pooled together to work, Gabriel sat in the passenger seat, right hand clutching the door handle, left hand grabbing her briefcase, holding it with a fierce, ferocious grip. But it was a grip that said she was scared, scared of losing that briefcase, or her favorite teddy bear from the other kids at school, or her life from a robber in an alley. If nothing else, Eric knew she felt fear. And he didn’t know why.
    He tried to ask her. She said she was tired, but tense, an important meeting and a pounding headache. He knew it was more. She almost shook as she sat in that car, and she began to rock back and forth, forward and back, ever so slightly, the way a mother rocks her child to calm her down. It made Eric tense, too. And scared.

    Work was a blur, a blur of nothingness. There was no meeting, the workload was light for a Friday. But at least the headache was there, that wasn’t a lie. She hated lying, especially to Eric. But she had no choice, especially now, with Jack lurking somewhere in the streets out there, winning his cases, wondering if his wife is dead or not.
    She never wanted him to know the answer.
    Eric called her a little after four. “Just wanted to check if we were still going to dinner tonight. I made the reservations at the new Southwestern place, you said you wanted to go there. Sound good?”
    Gabriel mustered up the strength to respond, and only came up with, “Sure.”

    “Do you still have the headache, honey? Do you want to just rent a movie or two and curl up on the couch tonight? Whatever you want to do is fine, just let me know.”
    She knew at this point he was doing all he could to make her feel better. She didn’t want to put him through this. He shouldn’t have to deal with her like this. She searches for her second wind. “No, Eric, dinner would be fine. We can go straight from work to save the drive. Thanks, too. You really have a knack for making my days better.”
    Eric smiled at the end of the line. And Gabriel could feel it.
    They got off the phone, she finished her work, turned off her computer, started walking toward the elevator when it finally occurred to her: Jack might be there. She can’t go. Even if he’s not there, she could see him on the street, driving there. She just couldn’t go.
    She pressed the button for the elevator. And he could just as easily see me walking out of work, getting in Eric’s car, she thought. I have to stop thinking like this. This is ludicrous. And he won’t be there, he won’t see me, because, well, the chances are so thin, and Hell, it’s a big city. I have to try to relax.

    But she couldn’t. And there was no reason she should have.

    At the restaurant, they sat on the upper level, near one of the large Roman columns decorated with ivy. She kept looking around one of the columns, because a man three tables away looked like Jack. It wasn’t, but she still had to stare.
    The meal was delicious, the presentation was impeccable. She was finally starting to relax. The check arrived at the table right as the place began to get crowded, so Gabriel went to the washroom to freshen up before they left. She walked through the restaurant, feeling comfortable and confident again. She even attracted a smile from a man at another table. She walked with confidence and poise. And she loved life again.
    She walked into the bathroom, straight to the mirror, checking her hair, her lip stick. She looked strong, not how she looked when she was married. She closed her purse, turned around and headed out the door.
    That’s when she saw him.
    There he was, Jack, standing right there, waiting for a table. He had three other men with him, all in dark suits. She didn’t know if they were mob members or firm associates. Or private eyes he hired to find her. Dear God, she thought, what could she do now? She can’t get to the table, he’ll see her for sure. She can’t stare at him, it’ll only draw attention to herself.

    And then she thinks: “Wait. All I’ve seen is the back of him. It might not even be him.” She took a breath. “It’s probably not even him,” she thought, “and I’ve sat here worrying about it.”
    Still, she couldn’t reassure herself. She took a few steps back and waited for him to turn around.
    A minute passed, or was it a century?, and finally he started to turn, just as they were about to be led to their table. She saw his profile, just a glimpse of his face. It was him, it was Jack, it was the monster she knew from all those years, the man who made her lose any ounce of innocence or femininity she ever had. She saw how his chin sloped into his neck, the curve of his nose, how he combed his hair back, and she knew it was him.

    By the washrooms, she stared at him while he took one step away from her, closer to the dining room. Then she felt a strong, pulling hand grip her shoulder. Her hair slapped her in the face as she turned around. Her eyes were saucers.
    “The check is paid for. Let’s go,” Eric said as he took her jacket from her arm and held it up for her. She slid her arms through the sleeves, Eric pulling the coat over her shoulders. She stared blankly. He guided her out the doors.

    She asked him if they could stop at a club on the way home and have a drink or two. They found a little bar, and she instantly ordered drinks. They sat for over an hour in the dark club listening to the jazz band. It looked to Eric like she was trying to lose herself in the darkness, in the anonymity of the crowded lounge. It worried him more. And still she didn’t relax.

    And she drove on the expressway back from dinner, Eric in the seat next to her. He had noticed she had been tense today, more than she had ever been; whenever he asked her why she brushed her symptoms off as nothing.
    The radio blared in the car, the car soaring down the four lanes of open, slick, raw power, and she heard the dee jay recap the evening news. A man died in a car accident, he said, and it was the lawyer defending the famed mob leader. And then the radio announced his name.

    And she didn’t even have to hear it.
    Time stopped for a moment when the name was spread, Jack, Jack Huntington, like a disease, over the air waves. Jack, Jack the name crept into her car, she couldn’t escape it, like contaminated water it infiltrated all of her body and she instantly felt drugged. Time stood still in a horrific silence for Gabriel. Hearing that midnight talk show host talk about the tragedy of his death, she began to reduce speed, without intention. She didn’t notice until brights were flashing in her rear view mirror, cars were speeding around her, horns were honking. She was going 30 miles per hour.
    She quickly regained herself, turned off the radio, and threw her foot on the accelerator. Eric sat silent. They had a long drive home ahead of them from the club, and he knew if he only sat silent that she would eventually talk.
    While still in the car, ten minutes later, she began to tell him about Andrea.

    “Three years ago, when I moved to the city, my name wasn’t Gabriel. It was Andrea.
    “Seven years ago, I was a different person. I was a lot more shy, insecure, an eighteen year old in college, not knowing what I wanted to study. I didn’t know what my future was, and I didn’t want to have to go through my life alone. My freshman year I met a man in the law school program at school. He asked me out as soon as he met me. I was thrilled.

    “For the longest time I couldn’t believe that another man, especially one who had the potential for being so successful, was actually interested in me. He was older, he was charming. Everyone loved him. I followed him around constantly, wherever he wanted me to go.
    “He met my parents right away. They adored him, a man with a future, he was so charming. They pushed the idea of marrying him. I didn’t see it happening for a while, but I felt safe with him.
    “And every once in a while, after a date, or a party, we’d get alone and he’d start to yell at me, about the way I acted with him, or what I said in public, or that the way I looked was wrong, or something. And every once in a while he would hit me. And whenever it happened I thought that I should have looked better, or I shouldn’t have acted the way I did. This man was too good for me. And I had to do everything in my power to make him happy.
    “Less than eight months after we met, he asked me to marry him. I accepted.
    “We were married two years after we met; it was a beautiful ceremony, tons of flowers, tons of gifts–and I was turning a junior in college. My future was set for me. I couldn’t believe it.
    “And as soon as we were married, which was right when he started at the firm, he got more and more violent. And instead of thinking that it was my fault, I started thinking that it was because he was so stressed, that he had so much work to do, that sometimes he just took it out on me. I was no one’s fault. Besides, if he was going to climb to the top, he needed a wife that was perfect for all of his appearances. I had to be perfect for him. Take care of the house and go to school full time.

    “Money wasn’t a problem for us, he had a trust fund from his parents and made good money at the firm, so I could go to school. But he started to hate the idea that I was going to college in marketing instead of being his wife full time. But that was one thing I wasn’t going to do for him, stop going to school.
    “He’d get more and more angry about it the longer we were married. After the first year he’d hit me at least once a week. I was physically sick half of my life then, sick from being worried about how to make him not hurt me, sick from trying to figure out how to cover up the bruises.
    “I’d try to talk to him about it, but the few times I ever had the courage to bring it up, he’d beat me. He’d just beat me, say a few words. Apologize the next morning, think everything was better. I couldn’t take it.
    “I threatened with divorce. When I did that I had to go to the hospital with a broken arm. I had to tell the doctors that I fell down the stairs.
    “A long flight of stairs.

    “When it was approaching two years of marriage with this man, I said to myself I couldn’t take it anymore. He told me over and over again that he’d make me pay if I tried to leave him, I’d be sorry, it would be the worst choice I could ever make. This man had power, too, he could hunt me down if I ran away, he could emotionally and physically keep me trapped in this marriage.
    “So I did the only thing I thought I could do.
    “I wrote a suicide note. ‘By the time you find my car, I’ll be dead.’ I took a few essentials, nothing that could say who I was. I cut my hair–I used to have long, long hair that I dyed blonde. I chopped it all off and dyed it dark. Then I drove out to a quarry off the interstate 20 miles away in the middle of the night, threw my driver’s license and credit cards into the passenger’s seat, put a brick on the accelerator, got out of the car and let it speed over the cliff. Everything was burned.
    “So there I was, twenty-two years old, with no future, with no identity. My family, my friends, would all think I was dead in the morning. And for the first time in my life, I was so alone. God, I was so scared, but at the same time, it was the best feeling in the world. It felt good to not have my long hair brushing against my neck. It felt good to feel the cold of the three a.m. air against my cheeks, on my ears. It felt good to have no where to go, other than away. No one was telling me where to go, what to do. No one was hurting me.

    “I found my way two hours away to this city, came up with the name Gabriel from a soap opera playing in a clinic I went to to get some cold medication. I managed a job at the company I’m at now. Did volunteer work, rented a hole for an apartment. Projected a few of the right ideas to the right people in the company. I got lucky.”

    She told him all of this before she told him that her husband’s name was Jack Huntington.

    She brought him home, sat on the couch while he made coffee for her. He tried to sound calm, but the questions kept coming out of his mouth, one after another. Gabriel’s answers suddenly streamed effortlessly from her mouth, like a river, spilling over onto the floor, covering the living room with inches of water within their half hour of talk.
    She felt the cool water of her words sliding around her ankles. And she felt relieved.
    Gabriel, Andrea, was no longer Mrs. Jack Huntington.

    Eric told her that she could have told him before. “I’d follow you anywhere. If I had to quit my job and run away with you I would.” It hurt him that she kept this from him for so long, but he knew he was the only person who knew her secret. He smiled.
    There was a burden lifted, she felt, with Jack’s death, the burden that she didn’t have to hide who she was anymore. She didn’t have to worry about public places, cower when she felt his presence, following her, haunting her. It’s over, she thought. She can walk out in the street now, and scream, and run, and laugh, and no one will come walking around the corner to force her back to her old life, to that little private hell that was named Andrea.
    But sitting there, she knew there was still one thing she had to do.
    She put down her coffee, got on her coat, told him this was something she must do. Gabriel got into her car, started to head away from the city. As she left, Eric asked where she was going. She knew she had done what she could for the last three years of her own life to save herself; now it was time to go back to the past, no matter what the consequences were.
    He thought she was going back to her family. She was, in a way.

    She drove into the town she had once known, saw the trees along the streets and remembered the way they looked every fall when the leaves turned colors. She remembered that one week every fall when the time was just right and each tree’s leaves were different from the other trees. This is how she wanted to remember it.
    And she drove past her old town, over an hour and a half away from the city, passing where her parents, her brother could still be living. She didn’t know if she would ever bother to find them. Right now all she could do was drive to the next town, where her old friend used to live. Best friends from the age of three, Sharon and Andrea were inseparable, even though they fought to extremes. And as she drove toward Sharon’s house, she knew she’d have to move quickly, if her husband was still there.
    She double checked in a phone book at a nearby gas station. And she turned two more corners and parked her car across the street. Would she recognize her? Would she believe she was there? That she was alive?
    Gabriel saw one car in the driveway, not two; she went to the window, and looking in saw only Sharon. She stepped back. She took a long, deep breath. She was a fugitive turning herself in. She was a fugitive, asking people to run with her, running from something, yet running free. She knocked on the door.
    Through the drapes she saw the charcoal shadow come up to the door. It creaked open. There they stood, looking at each other. For the first time in three and a half years.
    Sharon paused for what seemed a millennium. Her eyes turned to glass, to a pond glistening with the first rays of the morning sun.


    “Andrea.” She could see her through the brown curls wrapping her face. Another long silence. Sharon’s voice started to break.
    “You’re alive,” she said as she closed her eyes and started to smile. And Gabriel reached through the doorway, and the door closed as they held each other.

    They sat down in the living room. In the joy, Sharon forgot about the bruises on her shoulder. Gabriel noticed them immediately.
    They talked only briefly before Gabriel asked her. “Is Paul here?”

    “No, he’s out playing cards. Should be out all night.”
    “Things are the same, aren’t they?”
    “Andi, they’re fine. He’s just got his ways,” and Sharon turned her head away, physically looking for something to change the subject. There was so much to say, yet Sharon couldn’t even speak.
    And then Gabriel’s speech came out, the one she had been rehearsing in her mind the entire car ride over. The speech she gave to herself for the years before this very moment. “Look, Sharon, I know what it’s like, I can see the signs. I know you, and I know you’ll sit through this marriage, like I would have, this unending cycle of trying to cover the bruises on your arms and make excuses–”

    Sharon moved her arm over her shoulder. Her head started inching downward. She knew Andrea knew her too well, and she wouldn’t be able to fight her words, even after all these years.
    “I went through this. When Jack told me I’d never be able to leave him, that I’d be sorry if I did, that I’d pay for trying to divorce him, that’s when I knew I couldn’t take it anymore. No man has a right to tell me–or you–what you can and can’t do. It hasn’t gotten better, like you keep saying, has it? No. I know it hasn’t. It never does.
    “I know this sounds harsh, and it is. If I was willing to run away, run away so convincingly that my own family thought I was dead, then it had to be serious. Do you think I liked leaving you? My brother? Do you think this was easy?”
    Gabriel paused, tried to lean back, take a deep breath, relax.

    “No. It wasn’t easy. But I had to do it, I had to get away from him, no matter what it took. In spending my life with him I was losing myself. I needed to find myself again.”
    They sat there for a moment, a long moment, while they both tried to recover.
    “You don’t have to run away,” Gabriel said to her. “You don’t have to run away like I had to. But he won’t change. You do have to leave here. Let me help you.”

    Within forty-five minutes Sharon had three bags of clothes packed and stuffed into Gabriel’s trunk. As Sharon went to get her last things, Gabriel thought of how Sharon called her “Andi” when she spoke. God, she hadn’t heard that in so long. And for a moment she couldn’t unravel the mystery and find out who she was.

    Sharon came back to the car. Gabriel knew that Sharon would only stay with her until the divorce papers were filed and she could move on with her life. But for tonight they were together, the inseparable Sharon and Andi, spending the night, playing house, creating their own world where everything was exactly as they wanted.
    And this was real life now, and they were still together, with a whole new world to create. They were both free, and alive, more alive than either of them had ever felt.
    “I want you to meet Eric. He’s a good man,” Gabriel said.

    And as they drove off to nowhere, to a new life, on the expressway, under the viaduct, passing the projects, the baseball stadium, heading their way toward the traffic of downtown life, they remained silent, listened to the hum of the engine. For Gabriel, it wasn’t the silence of enabling her oppressor; it wasn’t the silence of hiding her past. It was her peace for having finally accepted herself, along with all of the pain, and not feeling the hurt.
    Andrea. Gabriel.

    The next morning, she didn’t know which name she’d use, but she knew that someone died that night, not Jack, but someone inside of her. But it was also a rebirth. And so she drove.

Janet Kuypers Bio

    Janet Kuypers has a Communications degree in News/Editorial Journalism (starting in computer science engineering studies) from the UIUC. She had the equivalent of a minor in photography and specialized in creative writing. A portrait photographer for years in the early 1990s, she was also an acquaintance rape workshop facilitator, and she started her publishing career as an editor of two literary magazines. Later she was an art director, webmaster and photographer for a few magazines for a publishing company in Chicago, and this Journalism major was even the final featured poetry performer of 15 poets with a 10 minute feature at the 2006 Society of Professional Journalism Expo’s Chicago Poetry Showcase. This certified minister was even the officiant of a wedding in 2006.
    She sang with acoustic bands “Mom’s Favorite Vase”, “Weeds and Flowers” and “the Second Axing”, and does music sampling. Kuypers is published in books, magazines and on the internet around 9,300 times for writing, and over 17,800 times for art work in her professional career, and has been profiled in such magazines as Nation and Discover U, won the award for a Poetry Ambassador and was nominated as Poet of the Year for 2006 by the International Society of Poets. She has also been highlighted on radio stations, including WEFT (90.1FM), WLUW (88.7FM), WSUM (91.7FM), WZRD (88.3FM), WLS (8900AM), the internet radio stations ArtistFirst dot com,’s Poetry World Radio and Scars Internet Radio (SIR), and was even shortly on Q101 FM radio. She has also appeared on television for poetry in Nashville (in 1997), Chicago (in 1997), and northern Illinois (in a few appearances on the show for the Lake County Poets Society in 2006). Kuypers was also interviewed on her art work on Urbana’s WCIA channel 3 10 o’clock news.
    She turned her writing into performance art on her own and with musical groups like Pointless Orchestra, 5D/5D, The DMJ Art Connection, Order From Chaos, Peter Bartels, Jake and Haystack, the Bastard Trio, and the JoAnne Pow!ers Trio, and starting in 2005 Kuypers ran a monthly iPodCast of her work, as well mixed JK Radio — an Internet radio station — into Scars Internet Radio (both radio stations on the Internet air 2005-2009). She even managed the Chaotic Radio show (an hour long Internet radio show 1.5 years, 2006-2007) through and She has performed spoken word and music across the country - in the spring of 1998 she embarked on her first national poetry tour, with featured performances, among other venues, at the Albuquerque Spoken Word Festival during the National Poetry Slam; her bands have had concerts in Chicago and in Alaska; in 2003 she hosted and performed at a weekly poetry and music open mike (called Sing Your Life), and from 2002 through 2005 was a featured performance artist, doing quarterly performance art shows with readings, music and images.
    Since 2010 Kuypers also hosts the weekly Chicago poetry open mic at the Café, while also broadcasting the Cafés weekly feature podcasts (and where she sometimes also performs impromptu mini-features of poetry or short stories or songs, in addition to other shows she performs live in the Chicago area).
    In addition to being published with Bernadette Miller in the short story collection book Domestic Blisters, as well as in a book of poetry turned to prose with Eric Bonholtzer in the book Duality, Kuypers has had many books of her own published: Hope Chest in the Attic, The Window, Close Cover Before Striking, (woman.) (spiral bound), Autumn Reason (novel in letter form), the Average Guy’s Guide (to Feminism), Contents Under Pressure, etc., and eventually The Key To Believing (2002 650 page novel), Changing Gears (travel journals around the United States), The Other Side (European travel book), The Boss Lady’s Editorials, The Boss Lady’s Editorials (2005 Expanded Edition), Seeing Things Differently, Change/Rearrange, Death Comes in Threes, Moving Performances, Six Eleven, Live at Cafe Aloha, Dreams, Rough Mixes, The Entropy Project, The Other Side (2006 edition), Stop., Sing Your Life, the hardcover art book (with an editorial) in cc&d v165.25, the Kuypers edition of Writings to Honour & Cherish, The Kuypers Edition: Blister and Burn, S&M, cc&d v170.5, cc&d v171.5: Living in Chaos, Tick Tock, cc&d v1273.22: Silent Screams, Taking It All In, It All Comes Down, Rising to the Surface, Galapagos, Chapter 38 (v1 and volume 1), Chapter 38 (v2 and Volume 2), Chapter 38 v3, Finally: Literature for the Snotty and Elite (Volume 1, Volume 2 and part 1 of a 3 part set), A Wake-Up Call From Tradition (part 2 of a 3 part set), (recovery), Dark Matter: the mind of Janet Kuypers , Evolution, Adolph Hitler, O .J. Simpson and U.S. Politics, the one thing the government still has no control over, (tweet), Get Your Buzz On, Janet & Jean Together, po•em, Taking Poetry to the Streets, the Cana-Dixie Chi-town Union, the Written Word, Dual, Prepare Her for This, uncorrect, Living in a Big World (color interior book with art and with “Seeing a Psychiatrist”), Pulled the Trigger (part 3 of a 3 part set), Venture to the Unknown (select writings with extensive color NASA/Huubble Space Telescope images), Janet Kuypers: Enriched, She’s an Open Book, “40”, Sexism and Other Stories, and the Stories of Women. Three collection books were also published of her work in 2004, Oeuvre (poetry), Exaro Versus (prose) and L’arte (art).

what is veganism?

A vegan (VEE-gun) is someone who does not consume any animal products. While vegetarians avoid flesh foods, vegans don’t consume dairy or egg products, as well as animal products in clothing and other sources.

why veganism?

This cruelty-free lifestyle provides many benefits, to animals, the environment and to ourselves. The meat and dairy industry abuses billions of animals. Animal agriculture takes an enormous toll on the land. Consumtion of animal products has been linked to heart disease, colon and breast cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes and a host of other conditions.

so what is vegan action?

We can succeed in shifting agriculture away from factory farming, saving millions, or even billions of chickens, cows, pigs, sheep turkeys and other animals from cruelty.

We can free up land to restore to wilderness, pollute less water and air, reduce topsoil reosion, and prevent desertification.

We can improve the health and happiness of millions by preventing numerous occurrences od breast and prostate cancer, osteoporosis, and heart attacks, among other major health problems.

A vegan, cruelty-free lifestyle may be the most important step a person can take towards creatin a more just and compassionate society. Contact us for membership information, t-shirt sales or donations.

vegan action

po box 4353, berkeley, ca 94707-0353


MIT Vegetarian Support Group (VSG)


* To show the MIT Food Service that there is a large community of vegetarians at MIT (and other health-conscious people) whom they are alienating with current menus, and to give positive suggestions for change.

* To exchange recipes and names of Boston area veg restaurants

* To provide a resource to people seeking communal vegetarian cooking

* To provide an option for vegetarian freshmen

We also have a discussion group for all issues related to vegetarianism, which currently has about 150 members, many of whom are outside the Boston area. The group is focusing more toward outreach and evolving from what it has been in years past. We welcome new members, as well as the opportunity to inform people about the benefits of vegetarianism, to our health, the environment, animal welfare, and a variety of other issues.

The Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology

The Solar Energy Research & Education Foundation (SEREF), a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., established on Earth Day 1993 the Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology (CREST) as its central project. CREST’s three principal projects are to provide:

* on-site training and education workshops on the sustainable development interconnections of energy, economics and environment;

* on-line distance learning/training resources on CREST’s SOLSTICE computer, available from 144 countries through email and the Internet;

* on-disc training and educational resources through the use of interactive multimedia applications on CD-ROM computer discs - showcasing current achievements and future opportunities in sustainable energy development.

The CREST staff also does “on the road” presentations, demonstrations, and workshops showcasing its activities and available resources.

For More Information Please Contact: Deborah Anderson or (202) 289-0061

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