am i really extinct

welcome to volume 122 (the March/April 2014 issue)
of Down in the Dirt magazine

Down in the Dirt

Down in the Dirt

internet issn 1554-9666 (for the print issn 1554-9623), or & click Down in the Dirt
Janet K., Editor

Table of Contents

Peter McMillan
David Hernandez
Eric Burbridge
Marina Manoukian
A.J. Huffman
Michael Cluff
Fritz Hamilton
Susan Rocks
Melissa Davis
Jesse Martin
Frederick Pollack
Janet Doggett
Wendy C. Williford
K. D. Walls
Tom Sheehan
Daniel J O’Brien
Jon Saunders
Victoria Smith
Judith Kaufman
Peter Hully
Bob Strother
Mark Lane
Pijush Kanti Deb
William Masters
Robert Crowl
Anna Maria Hansen
Janet Kuypers

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am i really extinct

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Peter McMillan

    They just discovered they’d taken the same class in college 15 years ago. Now Marv and Cami had adjacent cubicles in a call center.
    Last Friday night they and some of the other CSRs went out to a sports bar. The playoffs were underway, and everyone was a hockey fan this year—to varying degrees—since the home team had a chance to win the Cup.
    They were 12 to start with, but two had to leave early because of a double shift the next day. Everyone was eating and drinking, talking and laughing and having a good all-around time. Marv and Cami happened to be seated next to one another.
    On the huge TV screen, the announcer screamed “GOAL! Pedersen’s slapshot IN the back of the net!”
    Cami, watching the replay, said “Actually, I prefer slapstick.”
    “That would be highly illegal even in this game, Cami, but keep a good thought,” said Marv.
    “Hmm, yeah. After today’s day, that’s not easy. What a pack of whiny, lying, rude bastards they are sometimes.”
    “You gotta have a thick skin, not take it so personal. Course, it helps to drink ... afterwards, I mean. Puts things in a different ... perspective.”
    “I do, but I didn’t even drink this much in college. We oughta get a, uh, a mood rehabilitation allowance or something. Don’t you think?”
    “Drinking money. What a great idea Cami! How ‘bout you run that one by Percy?”
    “Can’t blame a girl for dreaming. And if the gods are listening, mine’s pretty modest compared to some.”
    “Hey, did you see that? Puck right in the kisser. God that had to hurt. There’s blood all over the ice.”
    “Think we should cheer, too?”
    “God no! That would be like— What’s that German word—means when you get off on somebody else’s pain?”
    “You came up with that pretty fast.”
    “Yeah, well everybody’s using it these days—except maybe tweeters. Personally, I try to enjoy some everyday. Got it from meine mutter. She spoke German. She used it a lot when she talked about her mutter.”
    “So, you speak German?”
    “Just enough to insult you without your knowing it, but not enough to qualify as business bilingual, Verdammit.”
    “Whoa! They’re taking the guy off in a stretcher. That’s gotta be more than a mouthful of broken teeth.”
    “Guess that’s what it means to get royally pucked.”
    “Wow, you’re vicious tonight. What gives?”
    “Can we get some more drinks over here?” Cami said to the waitress.
    “C’mon, did you think 15 years after college you’d be doing this shit?” asked Cami.
    “Course not, but I’ve had worse jobs ... mailroom, warehouse. The worst was selling annuities door-to-door.”
    “My last year of college I had a great offer. Entry level, with a multinational and ‘lots of growth potential,’ they said.”
    “What happened? You didn’t turn it down?”
    “Don’t be stupid. They turned me down. Flunked the final in International Trade and then got turned in for cheating.”
    “Did you?”
    “Did I what?”
    “Did you cheat?”
    “Hmph! There was a lot going on back then. Anyway, the bastard was on to me and he tricked me. He deliberately checked all the wrong answers and like a fool I copied them exactly. Must’ve changed them back after I left. But he wasn’t as clever as he thought. Instead of a zero, I got a 12, so I hope it f____ his GPA.”
    “I see. But why didn’t you go to Professor Battaglia and explain you were sick or in the middle of a tragedy or something and ask for a retest?”
    “Could have if someone hadn’t tipped him off and told him I was cheating.”
    “Damn, Cami! I’m so sorry, I had no idea that—”
    “It’s not your fault. But, wait a minute how did you know my prof’s name? I know you went to City College and all, but—“
    “I was in third year—that was the year we made it to the NIT—and I was gonna graduate early. Battaglia’s class was one of five Econ courses I was taking.”
    “Whew! I only had the one and that was one too many. Maybe you remember the guy. Had a freckled face sorta like yours and this great big fro. Looked like a botched home perm. Really smart guy though—had to have been an Economics major—but he wasn’t at all obnoxious from what I could tell. Not that we ever spoke. We International Business students were cliquish ... as bad as the Greeks.”
    “Don’t think so. It’s been a long time.”
    “Some days, it seems like just yesterday. By the way, how’d you do?”
    “Um, passed but might as well have failed. I needed an A to get a grad school scholarship, but I choked. Just stupid, careless mistakes.”
    In the background, the announcer yelled “SCORE! Gagner’s shot OFF the skate of Taranov—” and the bar erupted in raucous jubilation as the home team had forced an overtime.

Peter McMillan Bio

    The author is a freelance writer and ESL instructor who lives on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario with his wife and two flat-coated retrievers. In 2012, he published his first book, Flash! Fiction.

Am I Really Extinct?

David Hernandez

The Insights Museum, once set in the town’s business center,
housed an exhibit of dinosaurs and extinct mammals
that I went to see if I was indeed extinct.
Cases displayed our teeth, horns, and skeleton system.
Dinosaurs were recreated with flesh, body, sound, and robotics.
Children felt the fur of the mammoth, the skull of the saber-toothed tiger,
and learned how to dig our fossils from a sand pit.
I see that I’ve been reincarnated,
my memory lives on, even though the building is now empty.
If I’m not extinct they why aren’t children reading my stories,
do they favor space and native culture?
The Smithsonian museums display more of our remains,
yet children see more of our motion driven bodies, not our life stories.
Was it my intent to become famous?
Am I really extinct, or am I just for display?

Disregarding a Writer’s Innocence

David Hernandez

Flattened meat of a rabbit
stains the road near my rented cabin.
Its blood smears a streak
while its rib cage splits apart.
Flesh and inner organs smashed into mush,
spread across its dismembered body.
The sun decays the corpse,
the flies rid it of its stench,
and the drivers continue to spread
what remains further down the street.

Janet Kuypers reads the David Hernandez poem
Disregarding a Writer's Innocence
video videonot yet rated
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading the David Hernandez poem Disregarding a Writer's Innocence from the newly-released issue (v122, Mar./Apr. 2014) of Down in the Dirt magazine - “am I really extinct” live 4/23/14 at the open mic the Café Gallery in Chicago

Empty Graves

David Hernandez

The drunken car crash
part of the writer’s plan
for his funeral, his body in a coffin.
People dressed in black,
two graves in front of them,
watch as they are accompanied
by the coffin and the victim.
Someone refuses to fill the hole
and I hold the shovel,
only because a specter comes out
and tries to see if anyone
remembers his writing
even though he couldn’t put it on paper
or give it recognition.


Eric Burbridge

    This story could be called an excerpt from a memoir. It didn’t start that way, but whoever reads it will relate to some part of it. I write well. I enjoy telling a good story; all kinds of stories, true or false. My teachers and instructors said, “James, you are doing yourself a disservice if you do not pursue a writing career.” I didn’t want to write professionally; that’s work. I prefer fun, but I waited to see what my dad would say. His elderly state of mind made it difficult to get a straight answer. “Jimbo, do the right thing for...” He drifted like that every time I asked. I took it as a yes.
    How do you do that fresh out of high school? My counselors advise me to do this and that; and I did. But, I lost interest. I carved a small spot in my heart for writing and parked it there. I’ve been a sci-fi guy since Flash Gordon was on TV. That’s right, I watched him every Sunday on the Community Discount Store hour. I think that was the name; if not they sponsored it.
    I still loved to read and paperbacks were under a dollar. I loved to browse in the bookstore. My favorite, Kroch&Brentano’s in Chicago, but Walton’s knocked them off. Then came the other big chains and now they’re gone. The digital age was upon us.
    Every writer dreams of the big one and let’s not forget about the movie fantasy. I have read and seen movies that I could do better. After decades I decided to open the spot in my heart and let the writer loose. Money wasn’t an object. I took a fiction writing course here and there; submitted here and there; got rejected everywhere and one day.
    Yea, an acceptance! Look out publishers, here comes Jimbo.
    When the euphoria subsided I settled down and devised a writing strategy. Write several short stories in several genres until I’m ready to tackle a novel. I know that is not unique, most things aren’t, it’s who gets there first. My dad told me that once. For three years I’ve written twenty-five short stories and at my age anything can happen. I self published them in a nice neat package. Beautiful title, cover and description of its content. I was so proud. My eagerness to share, what I call a monumental accomplishment, with friends and family was met with a cool response.
    Why do people say, “I want to, will or have started writing a book,” and they and you know damn well they won’t?
    “Give me a copy I want to read it.”
    Give! You know they won’t read it then.
    I know other writers know what I’m talking about. But, I admit I mailed cards to out of town family members to download a free E-book.
    I haven’t heard a word.
    At the family reunion I brought several copies along just in case. No congrats or inquiries; I got nothing. Don’t get me wrong I come from a good family; I love them, but they don’t read. However, a relative and a friend of the family are writers. They offered critiques of my work. It seemed to be more ridicule as time went on. I couldn’t get them to say if they’ve been published or completed a manuscript to save my life.
    They’re jealous!
    Now it’s time to continue to work on my novel creating different situations and worlds on paper. And, for those who disagree. #@%! ‘em.

In an attempt to rationalize...

Marina Manoukian

    1. I noticed it in animals and humans when I was very young, but did not see it in myself till my twenties.
    2. We cannot tell if animals love or hate, but we can see when they fear. Squirrels become popsicles. Possums drop dead. Lightening sprints through hollow bones. Petrified like mammoths in Siberia.
    5. If no one believes, you do not exist.
    6. Muscles and skin droop from grandfathers playing backgammon. All of them wizards with no more tricks no more sleeves, toenails curled in moldy grey slippers no one bothers to wash.
    7. I remember crawling out of the ocean, away from sharpened flippers into sharpened claws, hoping mothers would be gentler, but the croquet mallet was swung just as hard.
    8. Children are a weight. No more eggs must be born or bred. Leave them out in the cold cleaved in twine. Bound in twine. Snow destroys all traces.
    11. Alice let her house fall when she no longer needed Wonderland. My feet refuse to step off the chessboard onto grass too sharp and air too dry. Where breath coughs up a nicotine fog. Ashtrays and beer bottles overflow with the vomit of the mind, purged out and relit every twenty-two minutes.
    17. Without stories, the room collapses like a telescope in infinite replay. Borders drew the eye into a well. Trembling in the bucket past treacle and claws to the oubliette. I’ve furnished mine. Not yet ready to put it on the market.
    19. No plant can take root in my backyard. The foundation reeks of mortar and blood, haunting the dreams of seedlings in cradles. A dragon breathing nicotine and smoke guards the lone pomegranate tree. It rarely blossoms these days. No sweetness in years.
    22. Without the rabbit hole pebbles are pebbles. I circle a mushroom till the world ends but each side looks the same. Create a house of cards and wait for it to topple. Otherwise you will never know where the foundation is cracked. Where to let the Oak take root.
    32. Once the edges are traced, I can create my own rules to the game, as long as I don’t repeatedly keep smashing against the borders. I’m tired of that.

sounds and silence

Marina Manoukian

    Something must be noted about the notion that there is very little silence anymore. Silence is uncomfortable. Whether it is a fun whirring, music playing, or a conversation that has not yet found its lapse, the ears almost craves it. But the portability of sound is a recent convenience. When man had to sit alone with his ticking clocks, how was madness not coaxed out of its cave? Were the walls thin enough to allow the whispers of nature through, giving man that hint of company that keeps the brain from thrashing itself back and forth between its padded room?

I Hate

A.J. Huffman

            waking up an hour before my alarm; forgetting
to put coffee in the filter, turning the pot on anyway; watching
the perky morning news(?) caster with her maniacal
smile and hair that never moves; waiting
for the traffic report that will inevitable re-route me
miles out of my way.

            crunching cruet de tat at my desk
as I work through lunch in hopeful attempt to climb
out from under the pile of folders, notes, to-do lists
threatening to bury me alive; the incessant chings,
dings, rings of electronic communications waiting
for response.

            squeezing in a run on a belted human hamster wheel
to counteract my increasing waistline that has absolutely no
regard for my constant attempts to count calories; my limited
closet and budget that makes the former a necessity.

            finally climbing into comforting embrace of pillow
and bed to find no hope of sleep on the horizon; that my mind
won’t shut out yesterday’s drama, today’s catastrophes,
or the possibilities of tomorrow’s crises; that right
at the precipice of complete exhaustion, the muse deigns to visit
and remind me of the price of daring to have even one
selfish dream of my own.

Squirrel Hunting

A.J. Huffman

I was fourteen when my father decided
to take me with him. I had passed my test,
got my license the year before, but had never
shown interest in shooting Bambi or any
furry forest friends. “It’ll be good
for you,” he explained, appealing to my logical
nature. “Practicing on moving targets will
only make you a better shot in competition.”
Finding no flaw in this logic, I reluctantly agreed.

Next morning found us, crunching
through leaves in the back woods behind
our property at quarter-past-ridiculous, a.m.
We took up perch on felled tree and waited
for four-legged furriers to appear. I was already
tired, bored, rapidly losing interest. I found
solace in peeling bark from our sentry seat, crumbling
fallen leaves, dusty bits to feed to the wind.
By the time I discovered the patch of mushrooms
that puffed when I squeezed them, my father had lost
patience. “I believe you are a good enough shot,”
he said, pushing me back in the direction
of the house. “I think I am the one who needs practice.

about A.J. Huffman

    A.J. Huffman is a poet and freelance writer in Daytona Beach, Florida. She has previously published six collections of poetry all available on She has also published her work in numerous national and international literary journals. She is currently the editor for six online poetry journals for Kind of a Hurricane Press. Find more about A.J. Huffman, including additional information and links to her work at facebook and twitter.

Just An Additional Droplet

Michael Cluff

Rain molests Charlotte’s hair
as she waits for another
it doesn’t matter who, what---
someone, something
to take the day to a second
better point of entry.

Buses can only carry
you to the end of a particular line
she murmurs aloud
scaring Nathaniel to cross
the road without remorse
for being so plainly rude.

After that
noticing his scuttle
she concludes
after that
you are definitely
defiantly on your own
yet once again.

I open my door

Fritz Hamilton

I open my door, & before me is a heart/ I say, BEAT IT!”/ &
he says, “I am beating!”/ & I say, “Well, aren’t U a clever
little bastard!”/
& he says, “Please don’t fault me my

heritage.I haven’t maligned yr mother.!” So I say, “I’m
sorry, but it’s not every day a heart comes beating on
my door.What do U want?”
& he answers, “I’m giving

myself to U, because U’re a heartless motherfucker.”/ I
don’t like to hear it, but it’s true, I feel empty inside, & at
other times I feel my chest is inhabited by a rock. “All right,”

I say, ”but what can I do with U? How do I feed & care for
a heart?”
The heart steps beside me into my house & says,

catches fire & burns down with both me & the heart as well, &
as I hear him beating his last, he screams,
“PASS the ICE!” & melts into his ashes . . .


I’m hungry, angry, lonely & tired, hence

Fritz Hamilton

I’m, hungry, angry, lonely & tired, hence
a total madman/ if I had a gun, I’d
shoot U, but since I’m passive-aggressive, I’d

tell U I hate U, then shoot myself first to
express my hostility, but then I’d be dead &
couldn’t shoot U/ this all makes sense to a

madman, especially if he’ s too
hungry, lonely, angry & tired/ I suspect I
should eat something & take a nap, then I

might stop being angry & might realize I’m not
alone, or maybe join a church or dance club to
stop being lonely, but then I might stop being

suicidal, & WHO WANTS THAT . . .



Susan Rocks

    When Cecelia came home she usually paused to admire her stunning penthouse apartment with its far-reaching views over the city, to remind herself how far she had come. Today she didn’t. Throwing her coat and bags onto one of the white leather sofas, she turned on the music system and the poignant strains of Rhapsody in Blue filled the room. She took a few calming deep breaths whilst pouring a large vodka tonic. Sitting down at her uncluttered desk she sipped her drink, beating an impatient tattoo with immaculate nails.
     Cecelia hadn’t recognised Debbie at first. She never dreamed she’d see her in this part of the city - after all, she was more Pound Shop than Prada. Her delightful elder sister had certainly let herself go in the past twenty years. There was only five years between them but Debbie looked far older. Always a chubby child, she was now decidedly obese, her pasty skin clearly not used to seeing daylight and brown and grey roots were showing through her cheaply-coloured hair. Cecelia thought she had left her past behind as the sleekly perfect creature she had become was very different to the scruffy, neglected fourteen year old who had finally escaped her family’s clutches. Unfortunately, given the circles she now moved in, her photo often appeared in the press, so there was always a slight chance one of them would recognise her. Their mother had run off to Spain after their father’s death but Debbie still lived in their childhood home. And now Debbie wanted money or she would reveal her sister’s buried secrets. Cecelia knew if she started paying it would never end and she had no intention of letting anyone have a hold over her again.
    Her diary was in front of her and she checked her plans for the next few days, seeking solace in the familiarity of routine. By each event was noted the outfit she intended to wear, down to the smallest item of jewellery. Tonight her fiancé’s sister was opening a new gallery, yet another fad no doubt, but she had better confirm she was going. She picked up the phone and dialled, pulling her mouth into a smile as she left a voice message.
    ‘Annabelle, it’s Cecelia. Just walked past the gallery. Looks fab darling. Can’t wait for the opening tonight. See you at seven. Kiss, kiss.’ The charades they all went through were farcical and she couldn’t bear Annabelle but, as her future sister-in-law, Cecelia had to hide her contempt. She had cultivated their style to ensure acceptance, and maintain her own pretence, but she never imagined it would be such hard work. Going into her dressing room to put away her latest purchases, she double-checked her maid’s instruction list to ensure everything would be ready for later. Her fiancé, Anthony, laughed at her obsession with what he called ‘old-fashioned pen and paper’, and had bought her an iPad but it remained in its box. He thought it one of her quirks, one of the reasons he loved her, unaware she was constantly afraid of being found a fraud, and this was one way she kept control.
    The only person she could turn to in such a crisis was Jimmy, the man who had rescued her from the streets, helped guide and educate her, setting her on the path she somehow always knew she was destined to follow. Jimmy would always help, no matter how tricky the problem. She dialled his number.
    ‘Hello gorgeous girl. What’s up?’ he answered and Cecelia felt the tension begin to seep away at the sound of a voice as familiar as her own.
    ‘Darling, I’ve got rather a problem. Debbie has found me and is trying a bit of blackmail. I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do about it. Any suggestions?’
    ‘Okay.’ He paused. ‘I suppose there was a danger she would. She always was a nasty piece of work.’ Jimmy paused and she could imagine him sitting at his desk, immaculately dressed in his usual navy pinstripe suit, running a hand through his thick grey hair.
    ‘You could always go round there,’ Jimmy continued, ‘try to reason with her. Tell her Anthony knows everything so she hasn’t got anything to hold over you.’
    ‘I don’t know.’ Cecelia paused, trying to decide the best option. ‘She’s not really the sort of person you can argue with. She always insisted she was right, even when we were children, and I would imagine she’s worse now.’
    ‘Why don’t you try it?’ He laughed, ‘if it doesn’t work you could always go to the police.’
    ‘No,’ she shouted, her cool faćade momentarily disappearing. ‘No way. Then it would all come out and I’ll lose everything.’ She was taken aback; Jimmy wasn’t normally so harsh, even when he was joking with her.
    ‘Hey sweetheart, calm down. You usually know when I’m teasing. God, you really are upset about this aren’t you?’
    ‘Sorry Jimmy. It’s just brought everything back. I’ve got so much on at the moment what with getting ready for the wedding and trying to get Anthony’s parents on side. They’re still unsure of me.’
    ‘I’m sure you’ll charm them over soon.’
    This time Cecelia did laugh. ‘I’ll go round tomorrow morning. Anthony’s picking me up in the afternoon as we’re off to the old ancestral pile for a weekend pheasant shoot.’
    ‘Oh dear, what a hard life you lead,’ he chuckled. ‘Seriously, if you can’t persuade her to back off, let me know and I’ll arrange something to change her mind.’ Cecelia’s face hardened, her mask firmly back in place, cursing herself for her moment’s weakness allowing her vulnerability to show, even if it only was in front of Jimmy. She knew perfectly well what he was capable of, after all he had dealt with the problem of her father, but a similar fate would be what sister dearest deserved. As she walked back to the kitchen, she thought of the rumours she’d heard lately that made her question his motives but just as quickly dismissed them.
    The following day was damp and miserable, grey rainclouds hanging over the city. Cecelia dressed carefully, she didn’t want to stand out or risk anyone recognising her. Unfortunately, even her oldest clothes were designer, but she did the best she could. Her maid had left an old quilted coat behind which Cecelia put on, the bulk disguising her slim figure. She pushed her blonde hair under a hat and wrapped a pashmina around her neck, pulling it over the lower part of her face. Before leaving she took off her diamond and sapphire engagement ring, placing it carefully in the velvet-lined box; she didn’t want Debbie trying to get her hands on it, although Cecelia doubted her sister would have any idea how much it was really worth.
    The taxi dropped her off several streets away and as she walked the drizzle turned to rain. She pushed her hands deeper into the pockets as the familiarity of the area brought long-buried memories flooding back, and the closer she got, the more she felt herself reverting to the scared child she had once been. It took all her strength to shrug those feelings away. Cecelia looked around warily and could see attempts had been made to smarten up the area, but newly planted tree saplings had been ripped from their pots and broken railings jutted at strange angles. Graffiti decorated the stained walls and most of the paving stones were cracked. She heard angry barking and the pulsing bass of dance music before a door slammed, cutting off the sound, leaving the drone of traffic on the nearby overpass. She paused, staring at the house she had run from so many years before; Debbie had not just let herself go, but the house as well. Cecelia pushed open the broken gate and gingerly stepped round the rubbish on the path. The front door was ajar so Cecelia went in, following the smell of cigarette smoke and burnt toast down the dim hallway to the kitchen. Debbie was in front of the oven and turned as she heard the door.
    ‘Well, well, look who it is. Miss High and Mighty herself.’ A triumphant smile split her face and she turned back to the oven where she was pushing something unidentifiable around a frying pan caked in grease. Cecelia looked in disgust around the filthy kitchen. The small TV on the worktop, surrounded by unwashed dishes, was tuned to Neighbours. At least their mother used to keep the place clean and tidy, Cecelia thought, but then she had to, otherwise she would have received another beating. In the corner she noticed some holiday brochures on top of a leaning pile of newspapers. She guessed Debbie was already starting to plan how to spend the money she thought Cecelia would give her.
    ‘So what can I do for yer ladyship then? Oops sorry, forgot, you’re not actually an aristocrat yet.’ Debbie laughed bitterly, showing stained crooked teeth.
    ‘I thought we could sort this out. Have a sensible discussion,’ Cecelia began.
    ‘Nothin’ to discuss,’ Debbie said, adding a large dollop of ketchup to the pan. She picked up a fork and began to eat. ‘I told you I want money. Now.’
    ‘There’s no point trying to blackmail me,’ Cecelia said, now realising this was a complete waste of time. ‘My fiancé knows everything.’
    Losing her temper, Debbie’s face contorted into an ugly snarl and she threw the fork in the direction of the sink, ‘Oh come on bitch,’ she pulled a pack of cigarettes from the pocket of her worn sweat pants and lit one, blowing smoke in Cecelia’s face. ‘You mean to say all your posh friends know what a little slut you were? All about nicking stuff and boozing? And the lies you told? You were nothing better than a whore, before you got all la-di-da. Mind you, I s’pose you’re still one, sleeping your way to the top. Bet your fiancé don’t know that bit.’
    Cecelia was shocked. Didn’t Debbie remember what really happened? ‘You mean you’ve conveniently forgotten the beatings father handed out. It wasn’t just me; he went for mother as well. He even put her in hospital once.’
    ‘No, he didn’t. He might have slapped her a bit but he never laid a finger on you, not his little princess.’
    ‘How do you know that’s what he called me?’ It was as if Cecelia was re-living the horror all over again. ‘He only called me that after he’d ... you know. When he said I had to keep it secret.’ Even now she couldn’t bring herself to say the words.
    ‘Rubbish, you were his favourite and a right spoilt brat an’ all.’
    ‘If what you say is true,’ Cecelia said quietly, ‘how come I was pregnant when I left?’
    Debbie laughed, ‘Some school lad, I reckon. Like I said, you were a slut. And where’s the brat now eh? Bet you were lyin’ about that.’
    ‘I lost the baby, probably due to the punching he gave me.’ She couldn’t bring herself to tell Debbie how she had nearly died, how the hysterectomy had saved her life but that life would be childless. Just as she hadn’t been able to tell Anthony. She’d work out what to do about that when the time came - after all, when you had money there were ways of dealing with even seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
    Debbie stubbed her cigarette out in the frying pan and walked towards Cecelia. ‘Yeah, right. Now, how much cash you got?’
    Cecelia backed away but was trapped against the worktop, ‘Get away from me.’ she said, ‘I told you, I only came here to talk.’ She edged sideways towards the hall.
    ‘Talk eh? I’ve said all I’ve got to say.’ Debbie moved, blocking the way. ‘You know what I want.’
    Cecelia looked towards the back door but it was bolted. ‘You don’t really believe I’m going to carry large amounts of cash around with me, do you?’ she asked, and reached behind grabbing a saucepan, which she swung in Debbie’s direction, in a vain attempt to get her to move out of the way. Debbie tried to dodge, slipped on some spilled grease and fell back, hitting her head on the oven. She groaned, and then laid still, blood seeping from her head onto the grimy lino.
    The pan clattered to the floor as, horrified at what she’d done, Cecelia stared at her sister. ‘Debbie. Debbie,’ she began to back away. ‘Debbie. Wake-up.’ She knew she ought to feel for a pulse or something but couldn’t bring herself to touch the pudgy flesh so scrabbled through her bag for the phone instead. Then stopped. No-one knew she had gone to the house and there was nothing to link the two of them. Looking down at Debbie, she couldn’t believe how things had turned out, feeling little compassion. She was beginning to understand her family had known what her father had done to her but said nothing. What she had to do now was find a way out of this. For so long she had kept everything completely in check. Now, unless she was careful, it would all be ruined. She looked around the kitchen again; the only thing she’d touched was the pan. She scrubbed the handle with a stained towel and then, to be safe, wiped the edge of the worktop and the door handles, throwing the towel onto a pile of clothes by the front door as she left. Problem solved; with a bit of luck. Back to her perfect life, another secret to keep hidden. Swallowing feelings of guilt, she hurried away to find a taxi, not seeing the face peeping around the grubby net curtain in an upstairs window of the house opposite. Once in the taxi, she dialled Jimmy, but the call went straight to voicemail.
    ‘Jimmy darling. Phone me soon as. Got another little problem.’ But he didn’t call back. He always returned her calls, something must be wrong. She tried again - no answer. She left increasingly panicky messages, twisting the end of her pashmina around continually, staring out at the passing traffic as the taxi crawled back to her world.
    Once in her apartment, she anxiously dialled Jimmy’s number again while checking the landline but she couldn’t reach him. She had to calm down as Anthony would be arriving in a couple of hours. She knew she should be looking forward to seeing him, but all she wanted to do was get away, then she might be able to start putting this behind her. She would have to behave normally so neither Anthony nor his family would know anything was wrong. Cecelia had a long hot shower, letting the water cleanse away the stench of her childhood and began to relax slightly. Perhaps Jimmy had guessed what had happened and was clearing up her mess already. He’d call when it was done.
     Everything was ready for the weekend, so she took her time dressing and was putting on her make-up when the entry phone rang. Pushing the button without speaking, Cecelia briefly wondered why Anthony hadn’t let himself in, but at least he was finally here.
    ‘I’m in the kitchen darling,’ she called as she finished applying her lipstick. Fixing a bright smile on her face she turned towards the door, to see two strange men entering her apartment.
    ‘Who are you? What do you want?’ Cecelia asked in alarm, trying to reach the telephone.
    The older man held up a police badge. ‘DS Thornton and this is DC McCoy. Are you Karen Clements?’
    Cecelia was stunned to hear her real name spoken for the first time in years. ‘My name is Cecelia Connelly. You’ve got the wrong person. Now please leave.’ Turning her back to hide her face, Cecelia decided she would have to brazen it out. She couldn’t believe the police had linked her with Debbie so quickly; after all, the only person who knew she was going there was Jimmy.
    He took out his notebook, flicking through the pages ‘If you’re not Karen Clements I’ll need to see some identification.’
    ‘I’ve told you my name. Now leave, or I will lodge a complaint of harassment with your superiors.’ Cecelia put on her most imperious voice as if she was addressing an incompetent waiter. She heard the lift stopping at her floor and hoped it wasn’t Anthony. Please let him be late for once, she thought.
    ‘We’re investigating an assault on Debbie Clements. I understand you’re her sister and you went to see her this morning.’
    ‘You mean she’s not dead?’ she blurted, just as Anthony stepped into the room.
    ‘Cecelia? What’s going on?’ he asked, looking from her to the policemen and back again. Cecelia sank into a chair, the blood draining from her face as her carefully constructed life crumbled before her eyes.

Eyes Like Coal

Melissa Davis

    “This isn’t going anywhere,” Natalie complained.
    “We have been making great progress. Yet, I feel that, perhaps, your dissatisfaction comes from something you are keeping from me,” the doctor replied.
    “Like what? We’ve gone through everything in my life. Poor self esteem. Crappy job. Lack of friends. No boyfriend. And for what? So I can feel sorry for myself?”
    “Our purpose here is not to make you feel sorry for yourself, but to help you gain the insight that will aid you in leading a more productive life. Or is that not why you came here?”
    “I suppose it is,” Natalie replied. “But it just feels like a waste.”
    “Maybe there is something you haven’t mentioned? You have said previously that you used to have friends and boyfriends. When did that change?” the doctor asked.
    “I don’t know. Why would it even matter?”
    “Well, let’s see. Just tell me about it and then we can discuss it.”
    “I was still in middle school — thirteen years old — I told you it was a long time. . .


    Anyways, back then I had a ton of friends. Every weekend we would go to the beach or party at a friend’s house. We used to get drunk on wine coolers and cheap beer. Then, I became really close with one girl, Jamie. She always wore black, so I always wore black. We painted our eyes and lips with black make-up. We kept a journal where we wrote notes back and forth to each other. We dyed our hair black together in my bathroom. And we also accidently dyed our necks and the bottom of the tub. Well, I began to spend less and less time with my other friends and more time with Jamie, her boyfriend, and her brother Sam. I definitely had a crush on Sam. He was seventeen with long black hair, dyed of course, and the blackest eyes. When I looked at his eyes, I couldn’t even see the iris from the pupil — they were the same color.
    One night, I was hanging out with Jamie as usual and we were watching a horror movie in her bedroom. Then, her boyfriend called her so I was just laying in the bed listening to a one sided conversation. Then, Sam came in and jumped in the bed with us, so I was sandwiched between them.
    “Hey what’s up?” he asked.
    “Nothing,” I whispered. I never had anything intelligent to say to Sam. And he always looked at me like the dumb middle-schooler I was.
    Sam jumped out of the bed and turned out the lights.
    “I’m cold,” he said. “Let’s get under the covers.”
    “Move over Jamie. I’m getting under the covers,” I said.
    Jamie moved to the floor and continued her conversation.
    Sam and I lay in the bed with the covers up to our shoulders for a few minutes. Then, Sam slipped his cold hand under my t-shirt. He slid his hand upwards and cupped my breast while lifting my shirt up. Then, he rolled to his side and kissed my chest. I lifted my shirt over my head while he undid my bra. Sam rolled on top of me and undid my pants. I circled his shoulders, his waist, and then lifted his t-shirt off. We slid our pants and underwear off simultaneously.
    Sam arched his back and lifted himself into me. I gasped suddenly and felt his force ripping into me. After a few moments, the tearing sensation receded and we rocked up and down together, digging our nails into each others arms. Finally, Sam arched his back sharply, grunted, and came into me. My sensation was somewhat less pleasurable as I was still experiencing some stretching pain. Yet, it felt so right that I mentally orgasmed with triumph. I had had a crush on Sam for so long and now this. Who knew? Me — with a seventeen year old. He would be my boyfriend and I would be Jamie’s best friend and we would all be one happy family. I was writing a future in the afterglow of my passion.
    As Sam rolled back to his side he asked, “You okay?”
    “Ya,” I replied. “I don’t even think I bled.”
    “Eew!” Jamie yelled.
    “Guess what?” she said to her boyfriend. “Natalie and Sam totally just did it in my bed.”
    She turned to us, “You guys are so washing my sheets.”


    “Well, you’re a doctor so I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that Sam and I never dated. He never spoke to me again.”
    “So you give up on men? Plenty of people have bad sexual experiences, especially when they are young,” he replied.
    “That’s not all. Although, that was basically the end of my friendships. Most of my friends stopped speaking to me because they said I was too obsessed with Sam. And I couldn’t be as close with Jamie because I was embarrassed about acting like a fool with her brother.”


    Jamie begged me over and over to go to her New Year’s Eve party a year after the incident. I tried to make excuses but she was persistent. I got dressed up. I even heard a little voice in the back of my head suggesting that Sam and I might share a midnight kiss.
    I knew no one there. I found a table in the back and sat there with champagne. I saw Sam. He was wearing his hottest clothes with his black hair tied back in a ponytail. He had his arm around a skinny blond with a dress so short she couldn’t bend over. Our eyes met once, for a second. As I stared at his eyes like coal, there was no smile of recognition, no half-way wave. Those coal eyes stared through me.
    “Hey, what are you doing over here?” Jamie asked. “You don’t look like you’re having fun”
    “I don’t really know anyone.”
    “Please, I’ll introduce you.”
    She walked me to the table where she and her boyfriend were sitting. She pointed to a girl with dark brown hair and glasses.
    “Natalie, this is Marcia. I’ve known her even longer than I’ve known you. So I know you’re both awesome.”
    “Hi,” she said. “How do you know Jamie?”
    “We go to school together. And you?”
    “Our parents are friends. We grew up together. Although we don’t see each other too often anymore. Just for big parties — like this.”
    “I haven’t been seeing Jamie as much lately either. I guess I’ve been busy.”
    Marcia and I didn’t have dates for the party so when the clock struck midnight we just downed our champagne as everyone else cheered and kissed.
    Marcia glanced to where Sam had his date in a backbend as he stuck his tongue down her throat.
    “That is disgusting,” she said.
    “PDAs?” I tried to ask coolly.
    “No, just Sam in general. I wonder if he’s fucked her yet . . . or if he’ll fuck her again.”
    “Well, Jamie hates when I talk about this, but I should warn you. There is a reason I only see Jamie at big gatherings. I don’t like to be alone at her house. When I was ten Sam locked me in his room and fingered me until his parents heard me screaming. Since then, our families aren’t as close — for obvious reasons.
    “But it’s Jamie I really feel bad for,” she continued. “At night, Sam sometimes comes in her room and, well, basically rapes her.”
    “Why don’t her parents do something about this?”
    “Who knows? They’re probably in denial about their perfect little boy.”
    I looked back at Sam and his date, but not with envy. With disgust. I thought back to the night when he used me, as he’d used so many other young girls. But now I wasn’t fantasizing about his smooth, cool fingers on me. The thought of his touch on my skin felt like worms. His black eyes were worm holes. The thought of his body made my skin itch and squirm with crawling worms.
    But did I report him? No. I just let him keep using young girls. Who knows whatever happened to him. Or Jamie - his biggest victim. We never spoke again after that night.


    “So I can’t be with anyone else. The thought of a man on or in me makes my skin crawl. It’s not logical — Jamie should be here, not me. Or, better yet, Sam. He was really sick.”
    “None of this was your fault. You were just a child, barely even a teenager. Nobody would blame you for not reporting him,” the doctor replied.
    “But it’s disgusting. I’m not a good friend. I did nothing to help her. And the thought of sex, placing that kind of trust in anyone, disgusts me.”
    “It doesn’t have to feel that way. That’s why you’re here. We can work through this.”
    “That’s just words. What good are words?”

Dreams of Ice

Jesse Martin

    “Pick him up,” Mona ordered Tim. “No, under his arms...yes, like that.”
    Tim grunted and shoved the man into the back of the pickup, wiping his hands on his pants and wondering how he made it here, with this woman, doing this thing. Disposal. The two of them set to grabbing clumps of soggy hay and tossing them on Lance, dressing him with the earth and disguising him. Still, his milky, fogged eyes showed. And that tongue.
    A single, dark hole pierced Lance’s chest. His heart had died before he could bleed out. A clean end.
    Tim got in the passenger seat and waited, breathing and feeling his body shrink and expand as if he were one great, big lung, exhaling and inhaling life. He took the pistol off the driver’s seat and put it in the glove box.
    The truck stuttered to life and sped off. Tim looked over to the driver’s seat. Mona had entered the truck and started it. Now she looked concentrated, her hands, white-knuckled, commanding the steering wheel.
    “Shit.” Mona pulled her lips back from her teeth. “Shit, shit, shit.”
    “What?” Tim asked.
    Mona shot a glance at him. “Did you not see? His kid came outside. Goddamn, they probably have the cops on us right now.”
    “I didn’t even see a kid,” Tim offered. “I’m sure we’re fine.”
    “No, I don’t think so.” She shook her head. “...” She closed her mouth. “You never see anything, Tim.”

    Mona thought visibly.
    Tim waited.
    Lance lay with his face pressed into the soft earth.
    “The water’s moving fast,” Mona said. “It should carry him far.”
    Tim agreed with a grunt.
    Mona looked at him. “You’ll have to take him out there. I’m not strong enough.”
    “We should just push him off the side,” Tim offered.
    “He’ll get caught on a tree branch. Someone will find him too close to here.”
    Tim looked at the man, Lance. Lance who? he thought. He had never learned the man’s last name.
    Mona pulled out the gun and held it at her side. When had she taken it from the glove box? Tim had missed that. Maybe he didn’t see things.
    Tim and Lance went into the water. It was liquid ice, thrusting at the two of them, tossing Tim off his feet for a minute before he regained balance. He pulled Lance tighter to his body. “Come on,” he begged Lance. “I’m sorry.” Mona stood, watching them.
    The roar of the river was mountainous, a cacophony of nonsense. He would lay for a long time in bed after this, Tim thought, in silence and warmth.
    A cold wave surged up and pounded a fist into his back. He went sprawling and lost Lance, who floated off, off, off. Lance grew smaller and smaller, face down.

    Tim woke up feeling cold.

Allegory of the Poet
(NOTE: Cher – successful singer, 20-21C.)

Frederick Pollack

The position of the poet in our society
is that of a beachcomber
who would rather live inland –
say in the mountains. But since the
beaches in our society
are either public or private, he enjoys
a privileged position.
(So they tell him.) The hut
is chilly and damp, the salt
coats everything, and he must make do
with flotsam. Now flotsam
isn’t necessarily old. The sea
brings in fragments
of the latest thing, of the future,
even of other worlds, but the problem is
they’re flotsam.

                    As to the job
itself: whether the thoughts
the poet has, stomping, increasingly
stiffly, among the dunes, are sublime or useful
is a matter of taste
and taste is what,
increasingly, they involve. At sunset a
great, lifegiving
ball of bad taste
sinks into the sea. Sometimes Oscar or Kemo
drives up from Malibu
in a stretch limo. He brings with him
his entourage – goons, flacks, suits
who exclaim
How splendid; girls,
fantastical assemblages who
peer ( ... in years past, the poet
wondered how they felt
in their bodies, then in their ability
to cause desire,
then in the whole
vicarious-power setup; now he
more or less knows). And they lay out
the sort of banquet
Stalin and Beria enjoyed
all night in the homes
of selected victims, leaving no leftovers. Waving a
chicken wing, Oscar sobs, “I really
love you, man ... what you are doing
is so real, so necessary–” etc.
Gazing at him
the poet thinks, There’s no
way he will lend me
his place in the mountains, but (just in case)
improvises: The sea
is the form of thought, terror the content
and so on
until they leave.

                     Afterwards, he walks
on the beach. The sweater is warm,
the heart beats. At the zenith, the gulls wheel
symbolically and hungrily, then settle near
the old wreck. The poet measures
the day’s take: driftwood.
Styrofoam. The usual bar
of kryptonite. A gaudy crucifix
dropped by some bordercrosser.
A bulging and rusted drum marked HAZMAT.

He judges these but thinks (as I say)
always and only of
the mountains: clean air and streams,
unfriable rocks,
surviving secretive trees, frugal noises
released from the endless fflupshh fflupshh,
stars emerging
from haze at night, and, at night,
the view of the mountains –
miles and miles of mountains and forest
with a few poignant lights and the light
of some gentrified town – that extends,
he has heard,
from Cher’s john.

A Bipolar Life

Janet Doggett

Buzzing to get out of my skin
Unzip it and find freedom
Knees first, climbing out, reaching
One arm then the other for something
Just beyond my grasp
Before the impending doom from behind
Catches up and snaps at my ankles

The clock’s second hand moves slower than possible
The black against white wall lulls you to sleep
where dreams are far more interesting than life
You awake. You close your eyes to block the light
that buzzes and buzzes and buzzes
So loudly in the recesses of your mind.
You hear the light and see the sound.
You move an inch per hour from the bed to the bath.
It’s too much trouble. No one can help. Nothing will help.
You are helpless.

I can fly, no really I can fly! I fly at night in my dreams and
Land on clouds when I sleep, which isn’t often because I’m busy
Creating great works of art and literature. My words come fast;
My thoughts even faster still. I am an artist. I can create anything.
I don’t need to sleep. I don’t need to eat.
My thoughts are clear and forward-thinking.
I feel like every TV heroine there ever was. Maybe I’ll get rich.
Maybe I’ll inherit the Earth. Maybe I’ll never die.
I am floating like a child floats upside down
and curled in a swimming pool.
Bubbles burst on the surface revealing
Laughter and sparks of pearly light.
Everything’s perfection.

I Pity the Sorrow (The Boston Marathon)


Blahblahon Bill Maher
Blahblahmature reaction
Blahblahcompassion shown
BlahblahAmerica has grown up,
Oh, yes! Yehhhhss, Mr. Sappy
When, an hour in, on Spacebook
Complaints from the Thumb People, are
NOT “Who dares hurt...?!”,
NOT “W-who h-hurts...?”,
But the same, damned thing I bitched, that
Space Odyssey Year:
“HEY!! Is this gonna go on, forever?!
Vapidblahblahon Bill Maher
Blahblahblahblahblah, blahblah
A great people filled with “love”, blah and blah

Turn with me in our 80’s Vulgate
To the Book of T,
Chapter Clubber, Scene Pre-fight,
“...then did they ask, reporter voice,
If the contender predicted, if he foresaw
what he foreswore to bring to the ring
To mete upon visage of Rocco;
And the contender did ask they repeat their query,
so did they query, once more;
Whereupon eyes did pierce and hate did pierce
as bolts, as the contender spake but a single vow
Of sworn portent:


We always forget that one,
When we’re having such mature reactions to it


Wendy C. Williford

    She was dead by the time he got there.
    Geoffrey came to, gasping for breath. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been out. The explosion happened so quickly, he barely had time to hit the ground or cover his head as he heard the undeniable whirling of the M-30 overhead. It was the Russians, no mistake about it. After six years, it was clear they were out for revenge and these small German towns, innocent or not, were going to clearly feel their long awaited wrath. Kösel was just a step along the road to Berlin, but that didn’t matter. They were fair game. Everything was at this point.
    Clearing the plaster from his eyes, Geoffrey lifted his shoulders and looked around the hallway of the abandoned apartment building. He felt a twinge in his neck; he didn’t realize he’d been knocked to the ground so hard. The lights hanging from the ceiling had been knocked out as well, only a small light shone from the busted window at the end of the hallway. He stretched his head back, looking in the opposite direction. Another window, a tree blocking most of the light, filtered in a thin cloud of dust through its branches. Geoffrey wiggled his fingers, happy to feel them, then his toes, pleased they were still there.
    Taking in a breath, his lungs intact, Geoffrey pulled out a picture, secured in thick cellophane, from the pin on his inner lapel. He stared into Carys’ eyes, stared at her thin face, the blonde locks curled on her shoulders and looking smart in her tweed jacket with a thin layer of dark lipstick covering her mouth. He smiled, wishing he could tell her he’d see her soon.
    He let out a healthy cough as more dust settled from the ceiling. From the looks of it, the building hadn’t been inhabited in months, yet his orders were clear, go in, find civilians and find a spot for a makeshift rendezvous point for the next few days. His lieutenant had lost his mind. The sleepless nights had finally gotten to him. Ever since they successfully crossed into Germany they were on heightened alert, despite the fact Hitler and his Nazis were retreating. Geoffrey knew, somehow oddly inside, it would only be a matter of days before Berlin surrendered. If only that happened, he could go home.
    Geoffrey sat up, brushing the dust off his clothes. His ears still rang; the crick in his neck wasn’t doing much for the headache. He had no room to complain and he knew it – he still had a head. After eyeing the giant hole in the wall, he realized it wasn’t a window after all. Those Russian howitzers had power behind all those years of waiting for revenge.
    Geoffrey took in a deep breath. “Is anybody here?”
    He waited. Nothing returned but his echoed voice. He smiled, amused with himself. If anyone was there, they probably couldn’t understand English. If they did, he doubted they could make it past his thick Welsh accent.
    Geoffrey rubbed his eyes and thought. “Ist...jemand...hier?”
    No response. Geoffrey stood up as fast as his body would allow, taking a few moments to get his balance back. He checked his uniform for blood, relieved there was none past the nicks and scrapes on his hands. He bent down, picked up his Webley revolver lying by his foot, and checked the chamber, uncertain if it had been fired. Everything was still a haze. Satisfied, he put the gun back in its holster.
    The hallway had several doors, some shut tightly, some half open, others appeared to have been kicked in. Geoffrey walked to the end of the hall, sidestepping the pieces of blue painted wall and wood, glass from the lights and little pieces of molded plaster from the ceiling. As he did, he searched himself for his canteen and flashlight. A noise caught his attention, something faint, like a child crying. Geoffrey held his breath and stared through the dust, looking for a cat or a puppy which probably made the noise. But nothing appeared, nothing moved. Just as he was about to chuck it up to his imagination, he heard the whirling again. He made it to the ground and covered his head before the building rocked.

    The loud blow of the 9:13 A.M train whistle took Geoffrey out of his stupor. He had only blinked for a moment and haziness washed over him. He almost forgot where he was until he turned and looked at Carys with the dark suitcase in her arms, her nails digging into the worn-down leather. He reached out and grabbed the case as his fingers brushed against hers. They were cold, had been for a while now.
    “I don’t suppose I’ll have much use for it when I get there.” His hands shook, he was close to losing his voice. “It’s me dad’s, you know. What if they won’t let me on the boat with it?”
    Carys cleared her throat. Her eyes gave her away. He knew she hated it when he protested like this. “They have to allow you some personal items. I know it’s France and they’re having their own troubles, but surely they know you need socks and,” she cleared her throat again. It didn’t take much make her voice crack these days. “Other things.”
    She let go of the case, her nails scrapping across the leather echoed in his ears. “I’ve made you a lunch. Don’t eat it on the boat. Wait until you get on the train in France.”
    Geoffrey nodded, feeling like a child whose mother was seeing him off on his first day at school. He wanted to kiss her but held back. Something about the perfect red lipstick against her pale complexion told him he couldn’t.
    “I guess this is where I promise to come back alive,” Geoffrey said after he couldn’t handle watching her eyes bear into the black steal of the train any longer.
    Carys nodded again, her eyes revealing nothing. “I do want you to come back alive.” Her voice didn’t have the desperation Geoffrey hoped for. “But they’re killing innocent people over there. Babies. That’s what you’re fighting for - the people who can’t fight for themselves.”
    Geoffrey nodded. Despite his better judgment, he kissed her cheek, giving back the warmth she had lost months before. He wouldn’t come back until he knew he was worthy again.

    Geoffrey let out a sigh of relief. The time, no huge explosion, no large fragments of wall to the head, just the rumble and stirring of dust.
    Looking up, he let out a scream, “Nobody’s here, goddamnit!” He beat his fists against the floor in unison with the cry. His breath caught in his throat; he looked around, hoping to catch it again.
    Geoffrey scrambled to his feet. “Ist jemand hier?” His fingers slid in the direction of his gun. He took one step forward, squinting down the hall.
    Again, the noise, this time fainter, muffled. Three doors down on the left side, toward the Russian-made hole in the wall, Geoffrey heard crying. He stepped toward the door, slightly ajar, watching his steps, holding his breath. His fingertips rested upon the knob and it opened, as if the air was giving him welcome.
    “Is there somebody here?” he said, not even attempting to butcher the German language. He looked around, searching the dark. In the corner of the room, he saw the outline of a window, the light of the sun seeping past the thick closed curtains. Geoffrey took careful steps across the dirty hardwood floor and threw the curtains open, disturbing the months of dust covering them.
    He turned, his eyes examining the room and a knot caught in his throat. He was surprised he hadn’t tripped over them. A woman laid on the floor, her arms lying gently at her side, blood draining from her wrists. Beside her, a boy of about six years and a girl of about four, their wrists equally gashed open. The little girl was on her side, a thumb in her mouth and her other hand twisted up in her mother’s sleeve, sobbing against the blood. Beside them, a shard of a porcelain tea cup laid on the ground, stained with their blood.
    Geoffrey fell to his knees, the air knocked out of him. He placed his hands over the woman’s face, calling to her, pleading for a response.
    “Madam!” The only response was her weakened breath. “Madam?” he repeated, “Frau?”
     She opened her eyes, slowly at first, glancing around, eyes crinkling as she tried to focus on his face. Finally, her eyes filled with tears as the sobs escaped her lips.
    “Nein, nein,” she cried out. She brought her hands to her face, the blood streaking down her arms and against her cheeks. When she gained some strength, she attempted to push him away.
    “No, madam, I’m here to help you.” Geoffrey grabbed her balled up hands feebly striking against his chest. As he did, he got a better look at her. She was young, at most in her late twenties. Her black hair was tied in a bun, nestled in the nape of her neck, locks and wisps out of place and matted against her forehead and tear-streaked cheeks. The panels of her pink, conservative blouse were held together by one button, the others ripped off. Her dark wool skirt stopped at her knees, tattered, and it didn’t take Geoffrey long to figure out what had happened when he saw the streaks of dried blood around her knees and climbing in smudges and claw marks toward her thighs, the wool skirt hiding the rest.
    Geoffrey looked her in the eyes, his own betraying the pity they held.
    “Madam, I’m sorry.” His voice was gentle, as if to a cowering animal. He placed her hands back to her side. She was losing her strength to fight. “I’m here to help you.”
    The woman turned to her side, stopped by the little boy lying beside her. She opened her eyes to him and moaned.
    “Ma’am, let me help you.” He looked around the room, still shadowed in darkness, but lit enough to find a table cloth lying next to a broken table. He crawled over, grabbed it and pulled out his knife. When the woman saw it, her eyes widened again and she screamed out.
    “No, madam, frau, I have to help you. It’s my job.” He started cutting strips from the cloth. “Help. You know, hilfe; heilen.”
    As the knife ran along the long grain of the cloth, the woman’s eyes rolled to the back of her head. At least she was passed out when he started stitching her flesh back together.

    The folded up advertisement Jonesy handed to him asked if he wanted to kill Germans. He stared at it, confused, not remembering when he had ever seen something so blatantly advertising death, asking him to break the sixth commandment. Geoffrey glanced back up and he shrugged, not knowing quite what to say. He was still new to this pub and these friends. The war seemed more England’s problem, not Wales. How could he possible say it wasn’t really his concern?
    Better them than you, David answered. Make your own destiny if you can. Anyway, it’s better to join up than wait and be conscripted. He made a good point.
    He looked over to Carys’s sallow complexion as she sipped her ale, recovering, yet still fighting off the infection. Geoffrey and Carys had been spared, having not made it to London before the Blitz, not having to run from the bombs flying through the air, nor having to scrounge through the streets seeking shelter and food. But they felt akin to their problems, as if they could bleed the same blood as the Londoners now.
    Before Geoffrey had a chance to crumple up the paper and toss it, Carys peered up, as serious as he could ever remember. “Perhaps you should.” She practically finished off what was left in her glass. “After all, you’ve got to consider what’s best for everybody.”
    By the time the night had come to an end, everybody in the pub had bought him a drink.


    Geoffrey managed to wake the woman as soon as the bandages were in place. Instead of crying, like he imagined, she simply stared at him, her stunned eyes working out a puzzle in her mind. He was already wrapping the tiny bandages around the boy’s left wrist. On the ground, the sewing kit from the box she kept in the nightstand laid on the floor beside his leg. Black thread was neatly sewn in a criss-cross pattern against her son’s right wrist. She looked at her own, the bandaged cloth wrapped so tightly she could barely move her wrists at all; acknowledging the pain would be too great if she tried. She looked to her left and saw the girl, her wrists wrapped as well, her eyes wide with tears, her dark hair cascading around her face, still sucking her thumb.
    The woman turned back to her son, her dry lips cracking open. “Dieter?”
    Geoffrey looked up and smiled, attempting to ease her apprehension. She ignored him and turned to the boy again. “Dieter?”
    “Is that your boy’s name, then?” Geoffrey asked.
    She glanced up, eyes vacant, filled with contempt. “Russe?”
    Geoffrey shook his head. “British. Well, Welsh, actually. You know, Englaender? Sprechen sie Englisch?”
    She shook her head.
    Geoffrey gave a nervous laugh. “You must have figured that I don’t speak German by now. Deutsche?”
    She nodded. “Ja, deutsche.”
    There was nothing more to say, nothing he could try. Her gaze didn’t leave him, he knew it wouldn’t. He sat in front of her, cross-legged, and shoved his hands underneath his thighs, hoping his action would prove she was safe.
    “My name is Geoffrey, by the way.” He gave a nervous grin. She squinted and shook her head. He repeated his name while pointing at his chest, then slid his hand underneath himself again. She nodded.
    “Meta,” she said. She raised one finger towards the boy. “Dieter,” then to the girl. “Leyna.”
    Geoffrey smiled and nodded. “Pretty names.”
    They were locked in silence again, starring into each other’s faces, as if to anticipate each other’s actions. Gunfire echoed outside, every now and then striking against the concrete walls outside. In a welcomed moment of silence, Geoffrey broke the stare with Meta. He looked around, finally giving himself a chance to take it in. The apartment was small, only big enough for the small family, nothing more than a one room flat with a small kitchen in the corner, a sofa and radio in the other, a large bed across the other side. The bed wasn’t made, the sheets thrown to the ground. The broken table from where he pulled the cloth laid next to the broken chairs. A metal wash tub sat in the kitchen area, holding the charred remains of the dining chairs and a half burned leg of the table. The sofa along the wall drew his attention next. It was small, its fabric covered in a thin layer of dirt. It was meant to match the mint colored fleur-de-lis textured paper clinging to the wall. Above that, a small testament of the family remained: a photo of the woman, the children and a man, whom Geoffrey could only guess was her husband. The faces, full stoic smiles and contentment stared back at him. It was a perfect picture, a perfect husband and wife, and their perfect children.
    Geoffrey looked down when he felt the woman’s eyes on him. Their images still hung in his eyes. Her lips parted, almost with a smile, “Mein herr.”
he said, not sure if it was the right word for alive. He was afraid to ask, afraid to know if he was with her or out there fighting – fighting against him or his brothers. Geoffrey wondered if he manned a bomber during the blitz and the raids, or could he be amongst the ones who marched into France. Could he have been the German man he had shot a few days before, whose face he didn’t recognize when he held up his gun and aimed for his nose.
    The woman shook her head, her eyes revealing a pain he hadn’t yet seen. “Gestorben,” she whispered.
    “Nazi?” The word escaped him before he realized it.
    “Nein.” Her sadness intensified and she shook her head with emphatic strength. “Gut. Gut man. Gut vater.”
    Geoffrey was the first to break the stare, almost as if he was ashamed. He shoved his hands deeper under his legs, wondering what was taking his mates so long to catch up with him, hoping they were still somewhere out there.

    Geoffrey promised he’d come back alive, but wondered if she wanted him to keep that promise. It had been eight months since he left her at the train station, thinking he was only going to France, not knowing how wrong he really was. France seemed like a lifetime away, a world apart. Kösel was the furthest from his mind, let alone a woman intent on killing herself and her children. Daft woman, he thought. Even worse, what a stupid, arrogant bastard he’d been. He rubbed his eyes and tried to block out the thoughts.
    He couldn’t remember Carys’ smile, having not seen it for weeks before he joined the army. He found her in the café after he enlisted. He sat down and unknown minutes passed before he spoke as she stirred the spoon round and round in her tea, adding more sugar every seven stirs.
    “I leave in a few days,” he said when the waitress brought him a cup of Earl Grey. He tried to hide the fear in his voice, wondered if she could detect that he wasn’t leaving for duty, but running from guilt.
    Her stolid expression revealed nothing. “Paris is pretty this time of year.” She finally took a sip of her tea. “Or was.”
    “Hey,” he said, taking her thin hand. “When this is over, we’ll honeymoon there. Make a fresh start of it.”
    She pulled her hand away and went back to stirring her tea. He didn’t deserve her, didn’t deserve her love – the love of a wife, the love of a mother. All he could do was hope she’d forgive him. Or would she consider him more of a monster for what he was doing for his country?
    Although he had spared her every chance he had, he knew she’d see him for the hypocrite he was. The week after, when the train pulled up to the station, he wanted nothing more than to grab her hand and head back to Wales. He just couldn’t do it, seek out an enemy to kill. He didn’t have it in him.
    Now, these many months later, it took more than his two hands to count the Germans he had killed. He couldn’t determine if God separated friend from enemy. As he looked at the little boy and girl and the blood-soaked cloth he used to clean their wounds, he wondered if murder for your country covered up the sin of murder itself.
    If he could save them, all of them, maybe it would set right the others that were lost along the way.
    But would Carys consider the blood repaid?

    Dieter woke up and cried for his mother, much to Geoffrey’s relief. She turned to look at him, raking the hair away from his forehead with her fingertips, her hand trembling as she moved. Geoffrey didn’t worry about the children. Their wounds were less severe, barely cut through the fatty tissue of their arms. Meta’s were worse; she obviously meant it when she scraped the jagged edge of the tea cup along her wrists. She wanted to die. She was broken, her body disgraced. Unclean.
    Geoffrey picked up the broken cup, smeared the drying blood away and found the delicate hand painted purple anemones and imagined the thin brush that made them. He could see the cup sitting in Meta’s hand as she sipped her fine tea, perhaps in the mornings with her husband before the children woke up.
    He sympathized with her decision to kill herself. Her husband was dead, from what he could gather. The Russians, his own allies, half destroyed her body. What would stop them from coming back and finishing the job, or perhaps doing the same to her children? No, he couldn’t blame her. He understood desperation. And now he understood that his desperation amounted to absolutely nothing.
    Dieter turned to Geoffrey, his dark eyes concentrating on him, not understanding who he was but knowing he was a good person. The staring contest was on, Geoffrey soon realized. After a moment of strange thoughts running through his head, wondering what this little boy could be so fascinated with – the shiny buttons on his dark green uniform, the strange way his hat sat upon his head, the blue of his eyes, the gun in his holster that he hadn’t once withdrawn or waved at them – Geoffrey finally blinked. Dieter smiled widely, his front two teeth missing.
    Pleased to have made a new friend, Dieter looked up to his mother again. She was going in and out of consciousness. Geoffrey had done all he could, but she was losing the battle against her own will. The bandages, white and clean when he first wrapped her wrists, were now seeping through with blood, despite the stitches he’d carefully sewn. There was nothing he could’ve done for the artery she carefully hit. Despite his thoughts of moving them when the firing outside ceased, he knew it was inevitable.
    She would die.

    The pregnancy was unplanned. The engagement, their impending marriage was not. Their long, life together was planned. The mistake they made was not. The flat they considered moving into outside Chelsea was waiting for them; they already had the money saved for the deposit. It was no big deal to leave Wales. After all, finding work for such an affluent family was a dream for both of them. Geoffrey had a good head for business and numbers, and would do well wherever he went, especially if that somewhere was at Mr. Lewellyn’s Bank. The Lewellyns took them both in. It was good of them to remember their roots, keep it in the family, so to say, happy to have their children raised by a proper Welsh nanny. Carys was both, Welsh and proper. Even when they laid together in each other’s arms, he would look at her and notice, lovingly, how pure and simple she was, even down to the scattering of freckles across her nose.
    He loved telling her about his day. “I opened four accounts,” or “I deposited a check for Lord Bassington.” The highlight was always meeting an M.P. or a wife. Carys would smile, squeeze his hand and set his stew in front of him.
    “The children simply exhausted me at the park today. It was good kite weather,” she would say, and he’d know she was being modest. She lived for those children, lived for nurturing and teaching them everything she could.
    Pregnancy was far from either of their minds. Yet, the solution was quick to hit his lips, and surprisingly easy to come up with. Yet, some things aren’t easily solved, he understood now. It was nothing but his pride that led them to that room in the East End, with the dirty cot folded down in the corner, and the makeshift surgery tools they used on her. He knew she couldn’t understand the risks. They would’ve lost everything, cast into the streets like trash. He couldn’t have Carys living like that. She deserved more.
    He worked for days trying to get the blood out of her new dress, the one she bought after months of careful saving – a little indulgence she allowed herself after so diligently saving for the flat and her wedding dress. Now, the savings were gone and he was stupid for thinking she still placed her pounds, shillings and pence in that old tea tin anymore. It was gone, the hopes with it.
    Geoffrey looked down, eyeing the fine traces of Meta’s blood still embedded under his fingernails. With her blood on his hands, was he mocking God, or was God mocking him?


    He didn’t notice how quiet it had gotten outside until she started coughing, her breathing becoming shallower by the minute. The bandages were soaked, bleeding through onto the floor again. Geoffrey sat against the wall, watching them, wanting to get away from them, but wanting to make sure they were alright. The real problem that plagued him was where he could take them. It wasn’t as if he could carry them all along the whole length of the road to Berlin or find a refugee shelter nearby. He bit his lip, trying to hide a funny thought. He knew what his mates would say: why was it his concern what happened to a German woman who tried to kill herself and her kids? He wasn’t there to preserve her way of life, but his own. Forget them, get yourself home to Carys. She’s the only one that matters.
    The girl, Leyna, turned over and pulled her thumb out of her mouth long enough to concentrate on Geoffrey. He couldn’t even smile at the child, didn’t think he even had the right to. He looked away, and stared at the wall.
    Leyna wasn’t deterred. She rose to her feet with a strength that surprised him, all the while smiling brightly despite the tears that streaked her cheeks. She reached him and sat down in his lap, adjusting herself until she was comfortable in the crook of his arm, and her tiny fingers found the shiny buttons of his jacket. Geoffrey looked down, and felt an odd sense of comfort, perhaps a comfort that even matched hers.
    As he stared at the child, the short gasps grew louder, and hypnotic. He looked up to Meta a few feet away, the pool of blood coagulating by her fingertips. She managed to look at him again, her eyes reflecting that vacant, reproachful look that he hadn’t seen since he left Carys, her white skin reflecting nothing else from the sun streaming through the window.
    The instructions were simple, her raspy voice unyielding. “You. Kinder. Go.”
    He wasn’t shocked when he heard it, didn’t think much about it or wonder if she meant what she said or was just putting together English words she’d once heard. It didn’t matter, he understood it all the same.
    Geoffrey searched through the room for additional blankets, taking only the cleanest one from the bed – a patchwork quilt which he could one day tell the children about, perhaps help them discover their heritage, help them not forget their mother. Another sheet he found he knew he’d have to use to wrap Meta’s dead body in.
    Geoffrey picked up the children, careful not to disturb their wounds and wrapped them in the quilt. Dieter simply wrapped his arm around Geoffrey’s neck while Leyna smiled, grabbed his lapel with one hand and stuck her thumb in her mouth. He held her tight and promised he’d keep her safe, keep them both safe. He could only hope that Carys would make the same promise, not to him, but to them. It was the only chance left him to prove he was worthy once again.
    When Geoffrey and the children left the apartment, the Russians had already moved on.


K. D. Walls

    He noticed her as soon as she turned the corner. It was hard not to, she was a knock out. The light tan of her shoulders, bared by the blue tank top, offset her strawberry blond hair. Her nose was small, with the slightest hint of a change in slope at the end. Full lips encased a little smile of perfectly white teeth as she caught his gaze. Her large, piercing green eyes looked directly at him.
    Embarrassed, he immediately looked at his feet. David noticed how cold the hallway was after she sat down on the bench next to him. He let out a small shudder of breath as he looked at his watch to see how much longer there was until class started.
    Twenty minutes. That could feel like an eternity when all you did was think.
    He thought maybe he should try to talk to her. It would help to pass the time, and she was the only other person in the hallway. David thought for several minutes about what he would say. Anything he came up with always sounded so infantile and hackneyed. Since when did first conversations have to be exciting, he asked himself.
    As he opened his mouth to speak, another girl came walking around the corner and sat on the adjacent bench. David quickly shut his mouth and started staring at his feet again, noticing the blue and white patterns on his shoes. He felt that it would be awkward should he start a conversation with one person and not another. He didn’t think too much of it, he would just try again next week, class was about to start anyway. David was glad this was his last of the day.

*                *

    He looked at his watch. Thirty-five minutes until class started. He’d have plenty of time to get there and think about what he was going to say to her. His sense of confidence after the American history exam had not yet died down. He felt like he could conquer the world, or at least his own inhibitions.
    “Today is the day,” he said quietly to himself as he walked down the expansive hallway. I’ll have enough time to get my bearings straight and think up some clever way to start a conversation, he thought. He hadn’t felt this good in a long time.
    David audibly gasped when he turned the corner. There she was. She had gotten here before him. He flashed a quick smile at her when she looked at him and then began to rethink his plan.
    As he sat down on the bench he thought frantically about what he would say to her. Would it be considered rude if he just sat there and didn’t say a word, he wondered. She could always say something to him, why couldn’t she start the conversation? That’s not how it works, he told himself, the male is supposed to attract the female.
    David noticed the speaker in the room next to him giving a lecture on genetics. Genetics would have been a truly fascinating subject on any other day, but not this one. The dull monotony of the instructor’s voice was surely putting several kids to sleep in there. That’s it, David thought excitedly.
    “That guy sounds like a barrel of fun,” he said to the girl. It was as worthy a conversation starter as any.
    “Hmm?” She asked in return.
    David frowned a little, “I said, that guy sounds like a barrel of fun.” This time he added a little smile when he finished speaking.
    She gave a faint look of annoyance and said, “I hadn’t noticed,” then produced a quick smirk.
    David berated himself mentally for even entertaining the notion that she would want to speak to him. He sat there on the bench for the next twenty-five minutes reminding himself how stupid he was. His mental punishment was temporarily relieved any time he would glance over and notice her beautiful features. This momentary bliss that her beauty created in him lasted only until the screaming began again in his mind.

*                *

    He stared at the wall on the opposite side of the hallway, noticing all of the cracks in the paint and the grid that the tiles formed. In combination with the bleak white tiles of the floor and ceiling, they produced an unnerving sense of solitude, even when other people were there.
    It had been four weeks since he had first seen her. In those four weeks he kept all of the things that he had wanted to say to her inside. He didn’t know why he couldn’t just say them. It seemed simple enough, but he just couldn’t bring himself to do it, a conflict of his mind and body.
    The bench was cold, as usual. He was alone in the hallway, as usual.
    “Par for the course,” David muttered to himself as he leaned against the wall. At least he’d be able to get a little rest before class started. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall. If he tried hard enough he might just be able to silence his thoughts until then.
    David was so relaxed that he barely noticed the meek voice coming from a few feet to his right.
    “Excuse me,” it said softly, almost apologetically.
    He sat up quickly and turned his head. It was her, she was speaking to him. He must have fallen asleep, he didn’t even hear her pass by him.
    “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to wake you,” she said.
    “It’s OK,” David replied “I wasn’t asleep anyway, just resting my eyes.” He threw out a quick smile.
    She looked away shyly and said, “I just wanted to ask you something real quick.”
    David turned toward her, a little excited. After all this time, his one failed attempt at reaching out to her, after all of the playful smirks, she was finally going to try to break through to him.
    “Alright,” he said, “ask away.”
    “Do you mind if I copy your notes from last week’s lecture?” She asked. “I had to leave early and didn’t get them all.”
    David’s heart sank. He recovered himself quickly, before his emotions became apparent on his face. He knew she left early last week, if she did anything in that class he knew about it. He wasn’t watching her on purpose, it just happened. He’d find himself staring at her, just watching the way she would write some and then look up. She would write for eight seconds and then look up, he had timed it. It was never any more or less. She probably didn’t even know she did it.
    He retrieved the notes from his bag and handed them to her.
    “There you go,” he said, “they start right about here.” He pointed to a spot on the page.
    “Thank you so much,” she replied. She started copying the pages. Look at the page, write for eight seconds. Look at the page, write for eight seconds. It never failed.
    She finished, gave them back and said, “Thanks again.”
    That would be all for today.

*                *

    Confidence waning always, he hated himself. This day was no different than the rest. Sitting on the cold bench, in the dank hallway, alone. He sat, staring at the wall. On days like these it seemed like the wall stared back.
    David waited for her, there wasn’t much else that he was able to do.
    He heard footsteps around the corner. Was it her, he wondered. No, the stride was much too heavy and the pace of the steps was not right. Perhaps she’s running, he thought. He listened closely. No, not the right kind of shoe.
    He watched as the imposter rounded the corner and sat on the next bench. David was sure that it wouldn’t be long until she rounded that corner herself, and he could sit there scolding himself for not saying anything to her. It was just a matter of time.
    Time came and went, and still David sat, silent, unmoving. The previous class was emptying and yet she still was not here. The students in the hallway moved into the lecture hall for his class. There were still several minutes before the lecture started, she would come.
    The instructor was moving to the podium, still she was not there. Genuinely concerned, he thought to himself, she could still come in late.
    The lecturer babbled on and on about microbes and cell parts. Eventually the hour was up and the class stood up to leave, she never came. It was impossible that he missed her, he never missed her. David got up to leave and the restrained anger inside him suddenly broke free.
    “That bitch,” he said to himself once he was outside. He continued his rant in his mind, how dare she not come, this is our time together. David walked toward the bus that would take him back to his dorm room, he was furious. He changed his mind and decided to make the walk instead. The rain started to fall as the bus pulled off behind him.

*                *

    A week later it was still raining. David’s wet shoes squeaked on the floor tiles that had been the only consistent thing this semester. That and the unending feeling of loneliness the hallway produced.
    Like every other day, he sat down on the bench and listened to the monotony of the class ahead of his. He heard the footsteps around the corner. It was her. It took only a few more seconds for fate to produce the inevitable conclusion to which he had already come.
    Her wet red hair stuck to her forehead. Her eyes seemed to have a slight sadness, she looked cold. The afternoon’s events played out as they always did. He said nothing, she said nothing, class started. She wrote for eight seconds and looked up, and repeated this process again and again. David didn’t even pull his notebook from his bag. He didn’t care about this class anymore, and he was still mad at her for standing him up last week.
    As class was ending, he was determined to talk to her on his way out the door. This he resolved to be his final stand, it was now or never.
    Everyone got up to leave, they all frantically rushed for the door like a herd of cattle, she among them. He tried to step out into the crowd so he could be near her and talk to her as they walked out. He made his attempt to get out into the crowd, but it was moving too fast, David was pushed and passed until he wasn’t anywhere near her anymore.
    He could just see the back of her head as it walked through the lecture hall doors. His heartbeat quickened as he tried to catch up with her, but the crowd of students between them was just too thick. David’s frustration mounted and he let out a low growl that attracted the attention of some of the students closer to him. If looks could kill, none of them would stand a chance.
    Once he made it out of the room, he looked down the hallway and saw her head just as it turned into the stairwell. He walked at a quicker pace to try and catch her before she got outside. He made it to the stairwell and followed her up to the next floor, keeping his distance. The last thing he wanted to do was scare her by following too close.
    David tried to come up with something clever to say to her, something to get a conversation going where they could just find out a little about one another. Nothing came to mind.
    She turned as she continued to go up the stairs. She saw him behind her. Her pace quickened.
    That was it, he had scared her. He knew she would never talk to him now, following her for any longer would be pointless. He might as well just turn around and go back to his dorm at this point.
    David’s confidence fell through the floor, but something in him kept following her. Something in him was determined to catch up to her and talk to her. This surge of determination was something new to him, something that had never been present before. Or maybe it was there all along, just below the surface.
    She made it to the exit of the building and emerged out into the driving rain. She stopped a moment and searched her bag for anything that might have protected her from the violence of the elements. She found nothing.
    David watched her start jogging across the campus, no doubt running to get back to her dorm before the rain made her soaking wet. He kept up with her stride, all the while being pelted the drops of water. It felt like a thousand little needles landing all over his body, each inflicting tiny amounts of pain. He was so focused on the girl that he barely felt it.
    She stopped to cross a street and looked back again. She knew he was still following her. He was gaining on her while she stood here. As soon as there was an opening between the cars she took off at a full sprint toward the opposite curb. He wondered if she thought the river of cars might slow him down.
    It didn’t. His new found determination kept him going. He was still unsure of where it had come from, but he didn’t really care. He liked it. He felt powerful, like nothing could stop him from achieving his task. He wanted her. David’s mind searched for something to say to her when he finally confronted her. Why say anything, he thought, just ask her name and if she would like to do something later. It wasn’t that simple, he told himself. He thought about it for a second. David didn’t even realize that he had been watching and wanting this girl for nearly two months now and he still didn’t know her name.
    This new force that was driving him slipped and allowed itself to be heard for the first time in David’s thoughts. Why do you need to know her name, it asked. Just grab her and take her back to your room, it’s as simple as that. David’s mind raced. Where had such a notion come from? He was scared by the whole idea that what he had just thought was not himself, but someone or something else entirely, locked away deep inside him. But the determination, the confidence, the power, he liked it. David couldn’t deny that. He continued to follow her, while the new faction inside him was trying to leave the old David behind.
    The sky grew darker as she reached the courtyard of her dorm building. He saw her place her left hand against her ribs on the opposite side of her body. All the running must have caused a stitch in her side. She looked down into her bag for something. She stopped walking and looked more intently. Whatever she was looking for, it didn’t seem to be there.
    David saw her frantically searching the ground around her. He knew that her search was pointless. He’d had her keys since she dropped them just after crossing the street. He could just walk up to her and give them back, it would surely start a small conversation next class period. It would have to, she would be grateful to him for finding her keys.
    “Hi,” he said to her as he approached.
    “Hi,” she said, continuing to search the ground.
    She sounded scared. He liked that sound. She didn’t even look up to see who he was. He had decided that she already knew who he was, how could she not?
    “You shouldn’t be outside in weather like this,” his tone was calm, even.
    “I appreciate the advice, but I’m kinda stuck out here since I lost my keys,” she was sarcastic.
    “You mean these,” he held up the keys.
    She finally looked up. Her tan shoulders were dulled by the rainwater. Her hair was wet and clinging to her face and neck. That small and perfect nose of hers created a shadow that distorted the rest of her features. Those full lips seemed a prison to her exhausted frown of tiny white teeth. Her sad green eyes looked directly into his and then out to her keys in his hand.
    David had never looked upon anything more beautiful in his life. He hated to think that once she got her keys back, their life together would probably go back to just the way it had been before. Casual glances and greetings in hallways, nothing more, ever. He didn’t want that.
    She stood up to take her keys, a light smile broke across her face.
    “Thank you, so much,” she said, barely getting all the words out before she gasped.
    She looked down. She noticed his fist against her stomach and the small crimson spot that was beginning to grow on her shirt.
    He slowly pulled his fist back to reveal the blood stained key as it exited her torso. As she began to fall forward, he embraced her with open arms and held her up so she wouldn’t fall. After all, he loved her, and he didn’t want anything to happen to her now that she would be his forever.

The Boy with a Crooked Mouth

Tom Sheehan

    It was never what he said, The Boy with a Crooked Mouth, but how he said it, the way he sneered and looked down at people, at people who did menial tasks. He looked down at maids, truck drivers, sheep ranchers and even firemen when there was no fire. He had little use for landscapers and log splitters, men who froze ice cream, men who climbed poles to put up wires or women who spent long hours making clothes for other people.
    Whatever he said, the mean way he said it, the way the words came out of his mouth, made his mouth crooked. The words came with something almost visible hanging on them, pulling at his mouth, like spidery webs or tree moss or ghostly strings of a sort. And his mouth always got twisted and screwed up and made him look odd. He never once realized it. Nobody ever told him, “Go look in a mirror at the way your mouth looks whenever you talk.” Nobody ever said to him, “Go talk to the mirror and tell us what you see.”
    They let him go on talking because his father was the richest man in the town. This was the town where the rich man lived on the top of the hill in the biggest house. It was the house, as The Boy with a Crooked Mouth would say, closest to the stars. “Some nights, if you don’t know, I can almost reach out and touch my stars.”
    Words like those words really stretched his mouth out of shape and made him look so silly and so plastic that people did not laugh, they pitied him so much. “My stars!” they would say to themselves. “My stars!” sounding like, “My word!” and small glee filled their eyes. The Boy with a Crooked Mouth particularly liked Orion, sitting up there on top of everybody in the whole universe. Orion, he thought, must be much like his own father, princely, top of the mark, one of a kind. And, he often said to himself, the kind of a man I will become some day.
    One day a new boy came into town. He was tall and had red hair. His bright eyes and handsome face put him in the limelight right away. While he walked about the town that was new to him, he whistled. Every place he went he whistled and people knew he was coming, or knew he was going. All kinds of whistle sounds came from his lips; long whistles and short snappy whistles and train whistles and bird whistles and bird songs, and even ship whistles sounding as if they were far at sea. When he did a whole song while whistling people would marvel at his range of notes and how beautiful the tones were.
    When The Boy with a Crooked Mouth tired of all the attention being paid to The Boy Who Whistled All the Time, he walked up to him and said, “I bet you think you’re pretty special the way you can whistle. I don’t think you can whistle that good.” He turned and pointed off to the house on the top of the hill. “I live up there. Where do you live? What does your father do for work? Does he work in the fields? Is your mother a maid? If she needs a job I might be able to get her one.”

    His mouth was as crooked as it ever had been. It was like a scar that had healed from a bad wound, or a bolt of lightning caught in its place in a dark sky. Jagged it was, and wretched. It made his eyes look funny and out of kilter.
    The Boy Who Whistled All the Time did not answer the questions. Instead, looking right at the other boy, said, “Why is your mouth so crooked? Did you get hurt? Have you fallen on your head? Are you angry at me because you cannot whistle?” He stopped for a moment and looked closely at the boy’s crooked mouth. “I doubt that you could ever whistle, your mouth is so crooked, so out of shape. It’s as if it’s bent or broken. I probably couldn’t teach you how to whistle no matter how hard I tried.”
    “I can do anything you can do.” Nobody had ever talked to him like this. It was strange. He wondered if he should look in a mirror, but he couldn’t make himself do it. His mouth felt perfectly all right to him.
    “Not with that crooked mouth,” the new boy said. “You couldn’t begin to whistle with a mouth like that in a hundred years.” Off he walked, a glorious tune rising from his lips, a song that made people stop in their tracks, listen to the song, and remember the words that went with the music. A lot of them thought about olden times when they were young. All along the way people waved at him and raised their arms happily over their heads.

    And The Boy with a Crooked Mouth saw it and wondered again about the mirror.
    That night he talked about it with his father. “It’ll come to you some day, my son,” the father said. “You’ll be able to whistle and you’ll be happy for a while, but then, when it doesn’t bring you any money or won’t get groceries for you or pay bills, you might want to try something else.” He smiled, patted his son on the head and said, “Like working in the bank when the right time comes.”
    “But what about this new boy? He keeps on whistling and he seems so happy and so are those who hear him. He doesn’t have to pay any bills.”
    “Listen, my son,” his father said, “Whatever you do in this life, just make sure people look up to you. Not down on you. That’s what’s important. Where you fit in this world.”
    “Like always living on top of the hill in the biggest house?” the boy said. Neither he nor his father saw how crooked his mouth had become once again.
    One day the old gardener who worked on top of the hill at the biggest house carved a whistle out of an old piece of wood he had found. When he blew on it a beautiful sound came from it. He cut a few more holes and soon a host of lovely notes leaped into the air.

    The Boy with a Crooked Mouth heard the notes and came running around the corner of the big house. The old gardener whose name was Renee Persimmon had always smiled at the little man of the big house. He had always been kind, and the boy knew it. Renee was one person he had no disrespect for, and did not look down on him.
    “Where did you get such a beautiful whistle, Renee?” he said, and he sat beside the old man on a small bench.
    “I made it from an old piece of wood. It was a pretty piece of wood, though. It had such a nice grain to it, long and smooth like a canoe or kayak or a swimmer in the water. I decided not to burn it and not to throw it away because most all things have some kind of use, are worthy in themselves.”
    “All things?” The Boy with a Crooked Mouth said. He listened to more beautiful notes coming from the whistle. “All things? Are you sure?” He did not know softness had begun at the corners of his lips. The music was still beautiful and Renee nodded his agreement. The boy said, “Will you teach me, Renee. I would love to be able to play that whistle the way you do.”
    “Why would you want that, Armand?” Renee said, deciding it was time to call the boy by his given name.

    The Boy Who Once Had a Crooked Mouth said, “I think it would make people happy. It makes me happy. The Boy Who Whistles All the Time makes people happy.” His lips were really soft now, and his mouth was no longer screwed up like a bolt of lightning or an ugly old scar. “Perhaps it would make my father smile to hear me play that whistle.”
    Renee Persimmon the old gardener said, “I don’t think you need any lessons, Armand. You look like you can play it right off the bat. Here, try it,” and he handed him the whistle and saw how soft and pleasant the boy’s mouth was and how music would soon have its rightful place with him.
    “Wait until The Boy Who Whistles All the Time hears this,” he said as he played some beautiful notes. “It might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
    “Yes,” Renee Persimmon said, “an old friend of mine said that once in a movie a long time ago.”


Daniel J O’Brien

She was old, grey and smart
when her teeth were in.
In spring and autumn she could
feel the rain in her arms.

But I, a young boy, could connive her
into giving me sweet cough drops,
faking a hack after she came home
from her long walk from the drugstore,
before she strangled her rosary beads,
whispering words I did not understand,
getting bored from listening,
chewing my Vick’s after three sucks,
looking at her framed congratulations from
Jimmy Carter for reaching ninety,
wondering how the young dark beauty
in that ancient photo could be the same
veinous, wrinkled woman sitting in that chair,
reading the holy book filled with enough
memorial prayer cards to bookmark every page.

She always embarrassed me,
bellowing out of the living room window
to wear a hat in 70 degree weather,
while neighborhood kids laughed at me.
I told her to leave me alone.
I told her I hated her.

Then Sunday came,
and she added sugar to the spaghetti sauce
from a recipe she created.
My mother scolded her like a child
until she walked away with her head down.
Then I went into my room and sobbed.

The Passover

Daniel J O’Brien

He dreamed a morphine dream.
It was a hospice dream,
bathed by memories of darker
times made bright by a twist of plot,
believing scars he inflicted quickly healed.

In all his dreams he craved water,
feeling his sandpaper throat closing.
The drink never came - just Kodachrome
images of the old house with the leaky roof
and the well-trimmed hedges.
Once he passed out in them stepping
out of his car. One drink too many,
a chapter often repeated with regret.

She was there. She was always there,
even when he drank, and hit, then
left her all alone to cry. It was a catholic
marriage for which she had no escape.
Fifty years passed, and those times were
forgotten by the closing of iron curtains.

Now she was with him again in summer 1964,
riding the tire-framed Ferris wheel, watching Manhattan
standing tall in the distance. It had been
a good time and she was alive,
reaching out her hand to pull him toward her,
yearning to take him to the place where guilt falls
away and sweet music plays.

The dream begins to dissolve.
The morphine expires, and images of loftiness
become hardened in the cold mist
of reality.

Soon he realizes he is still alive,
and the place where she lives is a place
he knows he can never go.
He knows they are standing over him,
waiting, crying, remembering.
He remembers, too.
The dropper touches his lips. Soon he
will remember as they have, of happy
times, days of penance, reinvention,
and the opiate trance he hopes
will be his last dream before nothingness
- or fire.


Jon Saunders

    “Did she mention the kids?”
    Carol had just lit a cigarette, something you couldn’t do inside a nursing home. We had gone out to the parking lot so we could talk and Carol could smoke.
    “What kids?” I asked.
    Carol sighed a stream of white smoke and raised and lowered both shoulders like a cat.
    “That’s why she was out wandering around in the rain. Thank God, Annie Lee saw her and got her in the house. That’s when I knew something had to be done.”
    The “something” was putting our mother in a nursing home. I had been in Romania working on a piece for the New York Times Magazine when I got Carol’s message. By the time I got there, it was pretty much a done deal.
    “She went out in the rain because of some kids?”
    “She claimed she saw these two little kids out in her yard. A boy and a girl.”
    “Who were they?”
    “She thinks they’re the Morrow children.”
    “The Morrow children! My God, they’ve been dead forty years.”
    “I know, I know,” Carol sighed. “But she swears it was them.”
    “Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
    “I didn’t want to get into it over the phone. Besides, I was afraid if I told you, you’d have another heart attack.”
    My sister seems to enjoy reminding me of my infirmities. I waited for her to continue.
    “Anyway, she was trying to get them to come inside.” Carol smiled sadly. “She was worried about them catching cold out in the rain.”
    “Has she had any other ... sightings?”
    “No, but you see how she is. She’ll ask the same question a hundred times. Her mind’s gone, Morgan.”
    I nodded. Our mother, who once had probably the best mind in the county, was surely slipping into senility.
    “Annie Lee is just too old to take care of her. And there isn’t anybody else in Corinth. I don’t want this either, Morgan, but it’s just temporary until we can find a better place.”
    Carol had finished her cigarette and there didn’t appear to be anything more to say, so we went back inside. Mother was sleeping, having finished dinner at what seemed to be the middle of the afternoon.
    Carol had to go back to Dothan for something to do with her husband, Harold, and his store. She didn’t know if she could come again before Sunday, but promised to call.
    I watched my sister drive away in her green Jaguar and then got into the Buick I’d rented at the Dothan airport a few hours ago.
    I guessed this nursing home was about as good as they get but it was still depressing. It was in the small South Georgia town of Baxley about twenty miles from even smaller Corinth where Carol and I had grown up, and where, until a few days ago, our mother lived.
    The gray December weather matched my mood. The fields between Baxley and Corinth were bare of all but cornstalks cut off near the ground. They reminded me of so many rotten teeth.
    I looked forward to a scotch or two when I got to Mother’s house. She didn’t drink but I always picked up a supply of Cutty Sark for my visits. I knew what this one would be like so I had plenty.
    It was dusk when I pulled into the driveway. Out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of movement at the edge of the porch.
    A couple of kids, I thought. I got out of the car and yelled to them. No answer.
    I walked around the corner of the house but there was no sign of any children. So there really were kids.
    Maybe Mother hasn’t totally lost it after all. She had seen some children and imagined they were the Morrows. But these kids were black.
    Later, when I thought more about it, I realized that they hadn’t looked black at all. Rather, they had seemed sort of grayish. A trick of the light, I told myself.
    I had a couple of Cuttys, then thawed a TV dinner in the microwave, watched CNN for a while on Mother’s big screen TV – a gift from Harold that she seldom used – and went to bed. I dreamed strange dreams that I couldn’t recall the next morning.
    I was finishing a cup of black instant coffee when I heard the back door open. My mother’s elderly housekeeper, Annie Lee, had come to fix me breakfast.
    After I had finished the sausage, biscuits, grits and eggs that my doctor had absolutely forbidden, I carried the dishes into the kitchen and asked Annie Lee about the children.
    “You seen ’em?” she asked, looking at me oddly.
    “Yeah. Must be the same kids Mother saw. They probably live around here.”
    Annie Lee said nothing and continued scrubbing a large, black skillet.
    “If Mother saw them ... then she wasn’t seeing things. She’s not as bad off as Carol believes.”
    “Your mama don’t want to see ’em. You neither.”
    “Why? What’s wrong with seeing those kids?”
    Annie Lee didn’t look up. “They ain’t kids, Mister Morgan.” She always called me that. “They’s duppies.”
    She looked annoyed. “No ... duppies!”
    “What’s a duppy?” I asked.
    “Duppies is ... duppies.”
    Try as I might, Annie Lee would say no more, so I left her to her scrubbing and headed back into the dining room.
    A couple of minutes later, it occurred to me to try and persuade her that Mother’s house didn’t need cleaning and that she could take a well-deserved day off.
    When I opened the door to the kitchen, Annie Lee was facing the window with her hands lifted high in the air. She was mumbling something that I couldn’t quite make out. Except for the word, “duppies.” I didn’t want to embarrass either of us so I backed out the way I came in.
    I was still thinking about Annie Lee’s odd behavior as I showered and shaved. Later, I’d try to find an Internet connection and Google “duppies”.
    I figured I’d hang around until we got Mother settled.
    Carol was looking into one of those upscale assisted care places in Dothan, a place more suitable for our mother than a county-run nursing home.
    Maybe I’d try to get back to the book I’d been working on. I could do that here as well as in an empty house in Connecticut. It had been empty since the divorce.
     Thinking about the book gave me an idea. On the way to the nursing home, I’d stop off at the town library.
    Corinth, despite its size, had an excellent public library, thanks in large part to my mother’s efforts. One of my cousins was librarian there.
    The library’s small display of my books made me smile. Under a photograph from maybe twenty years ago, the banner proudly stated “Corinth’s own Morgan Taliaferro writing as Morgan Tolliver.” My agent had insisted on the name change. He had convinced me that nobody north of Georgia could pronounce “Taliaferro” properly.
    After Peggy had asked about Mother and I had inquired about all the relatives I could think of, I told her I needed to do some research for an article I was writing. I asked if there were any books on Southern folklore. She guided me to a surprisingly large section on all things Southern.
    I glanced over the books on the shelves and was about to give up when I spotted a slender volume titled “Southern Superstitions” by Frank Ewell. There had been something about Annie Lee’s reaction that made me think that a duppy might be more than just some kind of dwarf.
     I glanced through the table of contents but saw nothing about duppies. I noted in the flyleaf that Ewell was a professor at Auburn University. Maybe I’d drop him an email.
    Thanking my cousin Peggy and promising to give her love to Mother, I left the library and drove to the nursing home.
    Mother seemed depressed. No wonder.
    There was a faint smell of urine in the air, just under the heavier mask of Lysol. We went out in the sitting area, away from her room. An old man in khaki shirt and pants sat in the corner in a cracked plastic chair, his mouth open, saying nothing. Otherwise we had the place to ourselves.
    I knew it wasn’t a good time to ask. But I couldn’t stop myself.
    “Mom, tell me about the children.”
    She looked at me sharply, the confusion usually present in her eyes completely gone.
    “Did you see them?” she asked in a small voice.
    “I saw some kids. But I don’t know if they were the same ones you saw.”
    Mother said nothing. I went on.
    “Carol said you thought they were the Morrow kids.”
    “Honey, you know the Morrow children died a long time ago. They were such sweet children.”
    I was confused. “So they weren’t the Morrow kids.”
    “They looked like them, dear. But the Morrow children are dead. Drowned in the river the summer before Carol was born.”
    This was the most coherent thing I had heard my say mother since I had been home. I was elated.
    “You can see for yourself,” she said. “They come by here most every afternoon.”
    My spirits sank. “You’ve seen them since you’ve been here, you mean.”
    “I see them outside my window sometimes. I tried calling to them, but they don’t pay me any mind.”
    “These kids ... children. What do they look like?”
    She didn’t answer. “I don’t know how they get down here. I never see their parents.”
    “Mom, I saw those kids myself last night ... up at your house. I think they’re black kids from the Bottom.”
    She didn’t say anything for a while. Then she asked me where she was.
    Once again, I explained that the doctor had thought she needed a few days rest and promised that she could leave the nursing home when she got stronger. I didn’t tell her about the assisted living facility.
    It was time for her lunch. I joined her and the other “guests” for fried chicken, greens, potatoes and gravy. The food wasn’t very good and Mother didn’t eat much. She suggested that we not come to this restaurant again.
    When I had helped Mother back to her room for her nap, I went outside for some air. On an impulse, I took out my cell phone and dialed long distance information for Auburn University.
    I didn’t expect to reach him and planned on leaving a voicemail, but to my surprise Dr. Frank Ewell answered his phone. He sounded like a Southern Donald Sutherland.
    I introduced myself and, another surprise, Ewell said he’d read some of my books. That made it easier. I explained I was doing research for a piece on Southern superstitions and I wondered if knew anything about duppies.
    “Duppies, eh. Where would a fellow from Connecticut hear about duppies?”
    I explained that I had grown up in the South and that my mother’s maid had mentioned them. I didn’t tell him that I was beginning to half-believe in them myself.
    “Well, like a lot of things down here, the colored folks seem to know more about them than us whites. I didn’t put duppies in the book because it seems to be more of a West Indian thing than a Southern superstition.”
    “So what is a duppy?”, I asked.
    “Some say they’re playful ghosts ... sort of like poltergeist but with a visible form.”
    “In other words, you might see them,” I offered.
    “Well, yes. But that brings us to another point about duppies. You might not want to see one.”
    “Mother’s maid said something like that. What’s that about?”
    “Some people believe that if you see a duppy, it means you’re going to die.”
    I felt my hair tighten.
    “Of course, that’s just superstition, right?” I asked, trying to chuckle.
    “It’s all just superstition. But it’s kind of interesting, don’t you agree?”
    I thanked the professor for his help and put the phone back in my pocket. I had quit smoking after my first heart attack, but just then I desperately wanted a cigarette.
    I went back into the nursing home. Mother had company, some ladies from her church. I kissed her goodbye and told her I would be back tomorrow. Hoping I was getting their names right, I thanked the ladies for their visit and headed for the parking lot.
    Just as I stepped out the door, I caught a glimpse of something rounding the building. Not just something ... two children.
    I ran in that direction and when I turned the corner, I saw them: A boy and a girl, both about ten years old and both with that blindingly blond hair you see only on Southern children.
    They were climbing into a tan Dodge minivan. Fortunately, the woman that I assumed was their mother was too preoccupied to notice the sweating middle-aged man who had run after her children.
    As she drove away, I was able to see the license plates on the minivan. Stephens county. Corinth!
    My heart was pounding and beginning to hurt like hell, but I didn’t care. These were the kids my mother had seen. There were no duppies ... only children.
    I waited until the pain lifted a little and then walked back to the Buick. I figured I owed myself at least a double when I got to her house.
    I started the engine and turned to look behind me. Standing about ten feet behind the car were two small figures.
    For a second everything stopped. My heart ... my brain ... everything. Then everything started again with a jolt.
    I slammed the gearshift into park and got out of the car as fast as I could. By the time I made it around to the back, they were gone.
    Part of my brain kept trying to convince itself that what I’d seen existed only in my imagination. The other part wasn’t buying that.
    One thing both parts could agree on: These were no children.
    As soon as my hands stopped shaking, I carefully backed out and drove away ... to the nearest drive-in liquor store.
    A couple of stiff belts later, I headed for the Bottom.
    Annie Lee lived with her cats and dogs in a neat little cottage beside the half-paved road. I should say beneath the road, because her house clung to the side of the hill. I carefully edged my way down the sloping sandy walkway.
    I knew she’d smell liquor on my breath and disapprove. But this couldn’t wait.
    She met me at the door. “I been ’spectin’ you,” she said. “Come on in the house, if you can get in for the mess.”
    There was no mess. The place was spotless. That was just Annie Lee’s way.
    Motioning me to a couch, she asked about Mother. I said she was OK and waited for her to be seated. Then I asked her about the duppies.
    She took her time answering, looking past me as she did. Behind her a color print of Jesus dominated one wall, a sad and pale white face in a sea of smiling, black ones: Christ surrounded by photos of Annie Lee’s many nieces and nephews.
     “Mister Morgan, you know I try to be a good Christian woman.”
    “I know that, Annie Lee. You are.”
    “Christian folks ought not to be studyin’ about such as duppies ... haints ... and all that.”
    I didn’t say anything.
    “But folks talk, you know. Old folks, mostly.”
    I nodded.
    She paused. “I can’t tell you nothin’ about duppies. But I reckon I know somebody who can.”
    I was excited. “Who?”
    “You know ol’ Obadiah? Live out on Mister John Shaw’s place?”
    I’d never heard of such a person. Apparently, there was a lot I didn’t know.
    “Obadiah ... his folks come from the islands ... back in slavey times ... same as mine. He know all ’bout duppies.”
    Annie Lee gave me complicated directions on how to get to Obadiah’s place. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to find it and asked her to go with me. She politely declined.
    “So what’s the best time to go see this Obadiah?”
    “You can go right now. He’ll be ’spectin’ you.”
    “Did you tell him I was coming?”
    “He know.”
    Another hair tightening.
    It was close to sunset and getting to Obadiah’s place was even harder than I thought. I drove out past where the paved state road turned into the gravel county road which turned into a red, dirt road. Following Annie Lee’s directions, I turned off the dirt road and onto what seemed a little better than a cow path. I was pretty sure I was doing Avis’s Buick irreparable harm.
    Finally, I saw it ... a weathered wooden house, little more than a shack. I pulled up in the sandy yard. An ancient hound came out to sniff the tires then moved on. He didn’t bark.
    A large black man wearing a flannel shirt and bib overalls stood in the doorway. I walked up and put out my hand. He made no move to take it. I saw then that the man was quite old and quite blind.
    “Er ... I’m Morgan Taliaferro. You wouldn’t happen to be...”
    “I’m Obadiah,” he said in a quiet, deep voice. “I knows who you are. Been ’spectin’ you.”
    I followed Obadiah into his little house. It was dark inside; I could barely see. He sat down and vaguely gestured to what I hoped was a chair.
    “How is yo’ mama?” he asked.
    “Oh, do you know my mother?”
    “I been knowin’ Miss Alice a long time. She always been good to us.”
    Mother had never mentioned an Obadiah. I told him about the nursing home and all. He nodded his head.
    “Reckon you come about the duppies.”
    I should have been past being surprised but I was.
    “What can you tell me about them? Are they ...” I searched for the word in the vernacular ... “haints?”
    He didn’t answer. I was getting ready to ask again, when he asked, “How many times yo’ mama seen ’em?”
    “I don’t know. She said she saw them up at her house. And she’s been seeing them at the nursing home ... outside I mean ... on the lawn.”
    Obadiah nodded. “How many times you seen ’em?”
    “Once ... just once.” I could feel myself sweating although the room was far from warm. “Wait, maybe twice.”
    He nodded again. I was getting impatient.
    “Obadiah ... what does it mean ... seeing these duppies?”
    He turned straight toward me, as if he could see. “When yo’ time comes maybe you needs a little help gettin’ across. That’s what duppies do.”
    “You mean they help people ... die?”
    “No ... no ... they helps you when you die.”
    “So, these duppies ... they’re good ... they’re not bad.” I was babbling.
    “Duppies ain’t bad nor good. They just is.”
    I had one more question. “Obadiah, if you see a duppy ... does that mean you’re going to die?”
    “Everybody gone die,” he said. I thought that was all I was going to get out of the old man. We just sat there, neither of us saying anything. I wondered if I should thank him and leave.
    Then he spoke, “When you start seein’ duppies, that mean yo’ end be pretty near.” He leaned toward me. “Give you some time to get ready.”
    Obadiah fell silent again. I knew it was time to go. I thanked him and stood up to leave. But he had something else to say.
    “One thing I been studyin’ on,” he said quietly.
    “What’s that?”
    “Folks see duppies ... they usually folks who ain’t quite right in their soul. Yo’ mamma ... she ’bout as right as folks get.”
    I thanked him again and backed out of Obadiah’s yard. I needed to get home. My heart was pounding and I felt the old, familiar ache in my chest.
    Once Obadiah’s house was out of sight, I stopped the car and popped a couple of nitros. I felt weak, but the pain stopped. I drove on.
    My first impulse was to keep on driving ... to the Dothan airport and take the first plane back to New York and away from these damned duppies. But I knew it wouldn’t be that simple.
    I’d be working late in my study. It would be that grey part of the day close to dusk. I’d look out the window, across the lawn and into the woods. They’d be standing there. Waiting.
    Or I’d be at some dull party in the city and glance past the person I’d been talking with and there they’d be on the terrace outside the window. Waiting.
    No, there was no escape from the duppies.
    I half expected to see them as I turned in to my mother’s driveway, but to my relief there were no little grey figures to greet me.
    I knew it wasn’t a good idea to mix scotch with heart medicine, but I needed a drink. As soon as I was inside, I poured myself a Cutty straight up.
    I went into Mother’s library, only slightly smaller than the one downtown. The two books I was looking for were missing. Of course, Annie Lee would have taken Mother’s prayer book and Bible to her. Besides, it was a little late in the day to be taking an interest in religion.
    I sat down in her den with another Cutty for company.
    It took me two more to work it all out. By the time I did, it was dark outside.
    I pulled open the heavy curtain at the big window.
    In the moonlight, I could see two small figures at the edge of Mother’s broad lawn. Just standing there, facing the house. Two kids, I once might have thought.
    I closed the curtain and turned away from the window, spilling what was left of my drink as I did.
    No matter. The scotch wouldn’t show on Mother’s old Oriental rug.
    And I might have time to fix another before the duppies came for me.

The Importance Of Thread Count

Victoria Smith

    Actors “in character” have always creeped me out. Encounters with the Easter Bunny or Santa at the mall, clowns, sports mascots, and costumed characters at theme parks always felt deeply wrong, shameful, even perverted to me. As a toddler, I was suspicious of anyone baby-talking at me and, even then, made a conscious effort to appear unresponsive. One of my earliest games was repeating “You cant see me” while hiding my head, my palms suctioned to my eye sockets. That got a lot of laughs from the grown-ups, both in the demonstration and in the re-telling. My first nauseating twinge of cognitive dissonance came from watching my parents argue from the backseat of the car. I absorbed their anger and anxiety; the air in the car became oppressively heavy. I must’ve started crying or asking questions, when my Mother turned, leaned into the backseat wearing a Joker-like smile, and assured me that “adult conversations” were normal, nothing for me to worry about until I was older. In that moment, I lost a little trust in my Mom and, by extension, the Adult World. Even today, I suffocate a little when observing or participating in every-day, social falsities.
    My sensitivities are likely shaped by a touch of Aspergers Syndrome, certainly by extreme introversion. If you’re familiar with Meyers-Briggs, Im an INTP (Introverted Intuitive Thinking Perceiver) which is a rare, societally challenging type for a female. My daughter, my husband, and I have had great laughs watching ‘Survivor’ and imagining me on the island. We take turns mimicking my surprise at getting voted off after innocently making any number of social gaffes. This, unfortunately, is right on-the-mark for how the last 25 years of my professional career has gone. I’ve been voted off the island‚ sometimes blind-sided, several times. Consider this advice for career-women with Aspergers (AS):
    “Whats the one social activity that you must participate in? The Morning Greeting. When you first see a coworker, it’s very important to say, “Good morning.” Try to smile, and look directly at her for just a moment. That’s all. It’s quick, scripted, and buys you a great deal of goodwill if done on a regular basis.” - Patricia J. Robinson from ‘The Social Side of Work - Tips For Women With Aspergers’
    I find it interesting that what I had imagined to be a sincere interaction amongst peers is described as “scripted”. Maybe I’m super naive, but this advice sets me up to start my workdays with an act of duplicity. The Morning Greeting makes me feel insincere, anxious; a Stepford WannaBe. And, if we’ve all tacitly agreed its nothing more than a ritualistic bit of word vomit, what’s the big deal if I don’t play-along? I don’t talk much as it is, but when I do, I want it to be meaningful. The workplace offers us many opportunities to degrade sentiment and authenticity throughout the day; cant we be just a little real before we caffeine up and have at it?
    The automatic regurgitation of “God Bless You” when anyone in earshot sneezes is another mandatory act in Cubeland theatre. I was raised in a household where such social politesse was not only not taught, but viewed with suspicion, so I didn’t even realize God Bless You was “a thing” until I’d been out on my own for years. Being busy inside my head all the time, I barely hear people that actually stop by to talk, so I’m not naturally scanning my environment for every little bodily eruption. It feels a little stalkeresque; the whole idea that the people “working” next to me are also on some sort of permanent, intrusive vigil for my sneeze. Besides, once you’ve blessed me, am I not now obliged, not only to say “Thank you”, but to add your name to my own God Bless You dance-card? You know I am. To prove this out, I ran my own anthropological experiment. At the time, I sat in an aisle where God Bless You was expected to follow every sneeze, even sneezes in series, with Pavlovian timing. Since learning its a nice thing to do, sometimes I blessed a sneezer, sometimes not; either way it was random, not consciously doled out. One day, I decided to withhold my blessings altogether, sort of like a strike. Luckily, it was allergy season, so I continued to sneeze. Weeks later, to my delight, I was the only one who sneezed and was never, ever blessed. In the seconds that followed my sneezes, I could feel the chilly Group-Think undercurrent reinforcing my exclusion from the blessing. The disconnect to me is that even if you’re blessed in the aisle, its apparently still cool to have your character utterly, and daily, trashed by The Blessers in “secret” conversations over IM, in the bathroom, or at lunch.
    “AS girls are generally recognized as superior mimics, says Tony Attwood, a pioneering Asperger’s researcher. Those with AS hold back and observe until they learn the “rules,” then imitate their way through social situations. [This] strategy amounts to remembering and rehearsing scripts. But as Attwood points out, such playacting is not intuitive, and is therefore exhausting.” - from Psychology Today, An Aspie in the City
    The one act in which I am still, at best, an understudy is The Chat Up. At the beginning of my career in the 90s, I was encouraged to chat people up more, to ask them about their kids and their weekends, feigning interest before launching into my work requests. With very few exceptions, I feel this is akin to lying and it makes me feel phony and anxious, especially when I’m the recipient. In my head, I’m at work to play The Efficient Worker, not to pave the path to an infinite number of casual “friendships”. Its hard for me to smile, come up with something suitably bland to ask, fake interest, offer appropriate comment or follow-up, and then to remember what I came over for in the first place. Similarly, it bums me out that, when you come over to talk to me, I see you scanning around my desk for something to comment on when I know what you eventually ask about serves merely as disposable transition material to the matter at hand. Its sad to me that you don’t really want to learn about the award I won for mead making or the oil painting my friend Mark made. I’ve seen you get uncomfortable hearing about how my in-laws bored me to tears over the weekend, how I made my own ricotta, or how my older dog’s hips are failing. So, I’d rather dispense with the heart-to-heart and just get on with it. Don’t get me wrong, I do have some close friends that I met at work, but I’m talking like a dozen over 25 years and none of them were hatched into being by The Chat Up. My friends were made where I always give my most honest, soul baring, convincing performance - in the starring role at Happy Hour.
    Yes, yes, I realize that these acts should be small, easy niceties we all participate in to keep the “fabric of society” together. I just want my society’s fabric to be precious, 1000 thread-count, luxury cotton, not some crappy, omni-available, discounted polyester blend.

I Am Not A Watercolor

Judith Kaufman

I am not Anne Sexton.
She is a watercolor,
she washes off.
I am fecal matter
You wipe and flush.

Abortions weren’t legal
when the sperm that won the race;
penetrated the finish line.
Nor did a coat hanger
breach the protective wall.

I disappointed as soon
as I exited the birth canal.
But I never disappointed
in disappointing.

He looks into me;
lilacs, alstromeria and lilies
fill his eyes.
Mine reflect sewage.

He imagines Briar Rose
awakened every day
by love’s true kiss.
But as I stare into the morning mirror,
Elphaba stares back at me.

He is surprised to find love
does not conquer all.
It pushes demons
to a corner, contemplating
my annihilation.

He prattles, wanting
But I am emotional-ly
I discharge my retort
like firing a cannon,
unable to extinguish
the fuse.

I am not Anne Sexton.
She is a watercolor.
She washes off.
I am a shell
I hold guts and scat.


Peter Hully

    “Do you want to hold him?”
    “Does he mind being handled?”
    “Only friendly lizards here. Specially bred.”
    Laura listens to the owner and the other man from behind the fish-tanks at the back of the shop. She crouches and looks through the tanks at the two men. Their bodies and faces are obscured and distorted by fishes and bubbles and glass. She doesn’t need to see them to know what’ll be happening. Some of the men are bigger than others, but they’re always the same; always dressed in cheap jeans and an old, too small coat; their hair either long or shaven, but always unconsidered. The owner will try to soften his taut, angular, olive skinned face as best he can, so that it might express something that could be taken for warmth or trust. He might also touch the man lightly on the elbow, in that way men do when they want things to lead somewhere. His eyes will be open and welcoming and his voice even.
    At the back of the shop, the sound of the tanks’ filters is always there; the soft, vibrating hum and the popping of bottles as they drift upwards and puncture the water’s surface. Laura closes her eyes and listens to the filters until it’s all she can hear and the sound becomes a part of her. The darkness and the whirring and bubbling soothe her red wine headache and the scratching of her eyelids lessens. She stands, letting her body hang and waiver, until self-consciousness overwhelms her and she opens her eyes again, back into the light of the shop.
    “Come on, come here.” The owner says from beyond the tanks, speaking to the lizard but maybe addressing the man also.
    Laura goes back to cleaning. She runs the soft yellow cloth over the glass and it picks up strands of damp black. The fish put Laura in mind of the thin foil wrappers of foreign sweets. They move hopefully towards the glass, but then dart away as the shadow and cloth come closer.
    The fish return when she pulls the cloth away. The stripy ones with the pointed noses first, then the ones that look like translucent, swelling purple hearts. Laura smiles and the fish float suspended. From in between the fish, Laura can make out her reflection in the tank’s dull light. Her grin looks big and empty and her eyes are unreadable pools of shadow. At university, people had called her enigmatic because they couldn’t tell what she was thinking. She’d liked the attention; the flattery that people might care about and want to know her thoughts. For a term or two, she’d played up to it – dressing in dark clothes so that her slight frame became a shadow, drifting in and out of rooms, disappearing and reappearing. She wouldn’t say anything, but silently willed people to be intrigued by the inner life that she might one day choose to reveal. But then it seemed people stopped caring, and the effort of maintaining what she’d hoped was an essential mystique became too much, and she retreated away, no longer buoyed on by new feelings of curious, tentative acceptance.
    Laura moves to the lizards at the front of the shop where it’s brighter and smells of straw and dry, yellow shit. “If people want a lizard, try to sell them the tank and the lamp. If they only want the lizard, put it in a box.” The owner had said to Laura on her first day. She’d wanted to ask whether it would be cruel for the lizards to be kept without the heat lamps, but questions made her lightheaded and there was something about the way the owner had spoken – fast and spittle filled – that told her what the answer would have been as soon as her mouth had formed the words. She imagined the lizards in pokey living rooms, their bodies taunted by an invisible, foreign dampness, the sun replaced by broken desk lamps with strips of tin foil stuck to them. She thought of the too small tanks, placed at first next to televisions, but then moved somewhere less distracting, before being put into garages and utility rooms when the smell of shit becomes too much for people eating dinner and watching soaps. Her heart had become leaden and hopeless as she’d realised she was to play a part in all of this.
    “Do you have a vivarium?” The owner asks the man, an unrestrained eagerness creeping through. Laura sometimes overhears the owner on the telephone. He speaks hurriedly in a foreign language she can’t understand, but she notices how his voice will rise in pitch and get faster throughout the call, the words whining and running into each other. Sometimes he’ll be outside the shop, talking on his cheap mobile and pacing a spiral on the pavement. When he gets to the centre he’ll stop and end the call, lighting a cigarette with a shaking hand. If he catches her watching him, he’ll give her an unyielding look that says ‘no’. She’ll go back to cleaning out the rabbits, only with more vigour than usual and being careful not to spill any food.
    She runs the cloth over the lizards’ tanks with a limp effort. Today’s a Wednesday but it could be any day. Time has become cold tea, sloshing around, trapped. She’s started to recognise people when she takes the train to the shop; there’s the man in the brown shoes and blackened, beige coat, who always seems to be sweating, and the girl with the hunched shoulders and red scarf. She worries that her life has stopped expanding and it’s now contracting back in on itself. There’ll be nothing new, just the same people and places, repeated endlessly. The only thing that might change is the order.
    Sometimes she thinks about staying on the train, letting it take her somewhere else. She tries to imagine a day in a new city, but all that comes to her is sore feet and deflation. It would probably be no different to those empty evenings spent alone on the internet, eating crisps and drinking red wine until her fingers turn a brittle powdery orange and her lips a bruised red.
    “Can I look at one of the bigger ones?” The man asks and the owner guides him over to the tank with the biggest lizard – the solid, muscular one that never seems to blink. Most of the lizards look forlorn and tired, but this one jumps and skitters around, head-butting the glass. Laura isn’t allowed to feed it. The owner says he wouldn’t be able to afford it if it bit her and she sued him. When the owner’s not around and the shop’s empty, she’ll jab her fingers at the tank and watch as the lizard charges and leaps, marvelling at its undiminished and instinctive need to fight and escape.
    “This one’s three-hundred pounds. Very rare.”
    “Hey fella.” The man says. Laura wanders away from the tanks to where she thinks might be the periphery of the scene and positions herself behind a carousel of dog collars. The man’s about five years older than her, but seems to be suffering from the unshakeable tiredness of someone much older. He hunches over and strokes the tank, moving his hand with a heavy slowness. As he straightens himself, his back moves uneven and ratchetting, as if he might get stuck before he’s fully upright. When he steps away, Laura can see the lizard at the front of the tank, its tail whipping the sand up into tiny orange clouds.
    “He’s got some energy. Can I hold him?” The man asks. The owner pauses and Laura imagines him weighing up the risk of the man being bitten against the necessity of making a sale.
    “Okay. I’ll get some gloves.” The owner goes to the stockroom and the man turns towards Laura with a weak, nervous grin. It’s maybe the embarrassed, awkward grin of someone being caught about to buy something frivolous, or perhaps it means something else. Laura smiles back, shrugging her shoulders without realising, as if she wants to apologise for something. There’s something about the men who buy lizards that makes her uneasy; a recognition that makes her uncomfortable, only the men buy lizards and she wants something else.
    “I’m . .&nbso;.” She says, waving the cloth towards the door, leaving the man to wait.
    She wipes the glass panels in the wooden door. Outside an old couple walk along, hunched forward against an imagined headwind, their arms interlinked. She watches them until they reach the end of the street and she feels as if it’s safe for her not to look any more. She goes back to cleaning the glass, being careful not to knock the peeling paint onto the floor. From behind her, there’s a twisting, injured groan and the clanking and ringing sound of cat collars falling to the floor. Then a pause of realisation and a light, frantic scratching.
    “Stop it.” The owner shouts, his voice fractured and sharp. Laura turns to see a flash of yellow dart across aisle. The flash stops and it’s the lizard.
    “Get it.” The owner shouts again. The man sits on the floor, holding his finger close to his face and inspecting it like a jeweller may consider a diamond. Laura realises the owner must mean her.
    “Here, here.” She whispers, bending forward towards the lizard. It moves again, this time towards the back of the shop and the fish tanks.
    “Corner it.” The owner orders and Laura moves forward, crouching and scanning the floor, but there’s no lizard or blur of yellow, nothing
    “Where is it?” The owner asks. Laura shrugs and stands upright, wrapping the cloth around her hand like a mitten.
    “Here.” The man shouts from the front of the shop. The owner runs over at the slow jogging pace that people use for running indoors.
    “Have you got it?”
    “I’m not touching that again.” The man says, holding his hand up to the owner, so that he can see the thin lines of red that trail and twist down his fingers and onto his hand. The owner points at Laura and waves towards the door.
    “Stop it if it comes to you.”
    Laura thinks of playing at netball at school and the way the taller girls would tell her to do things she didn’t understand or couldn’t do. Moving towards the door, she feels the same nervousness of unavoidable failure that would make her forge notes from her mother or feign illnesses, anything to avoid the caustic disapproval and the silent walks back to class. She lowers herself and bounces on her calves, trying to look ready, but not knowing what it is she’s supposed to do.
    “Get it.” The owner shouts and an ‘S’ of yellow comes towards Laura. It moves with the force and certainty of instinct; it knows this is it and what it has to do. The owner runs towards the lizard, this time as if he’s outside. Even when she sees how angry and desperate the owner looks, she knows she can’t stop the lizard, to do so would be impossible and might damage whatever balance or reason there is in the world. She jumps upwards as the lizard comes towards her, neither of them stopping or turning, both stuck in the primal inevitability that dictates the way things are. She doesn’t feel responsibility or thought as she reaches behind her for the door handle.
    “What the fuck?” The owner shouts.

    The door’s open and the lizard’s away, out into a different world of damp pavements, cold shadows and heavy feet. It charges forwards into the newness, its feet slipping on the pavement, itself unchanged and not stopping.

Orphans of the Storm

Bob Strother

    The first few drops of rain splatted softly against the living room windows as Maureen sat in one of the two matched, upholstered chairs watching the baseball game on TV. The Braves were playing the Marlins, and were up by two runs in the fourth. Her father had been an avid White Sox fan, and even though she’d never been able to figure why—they’d never lived anywhere even remotely near Chicago—she’d grown up with a love for the game.
    They didn’t have cable in those days and couldn’t get the Chicago channel. So on Sunday afternoons, after church and lunch, she and her father listened to the games on the radio, both of them stuffed into his old gray Lazy-Boy recliner. There was something about listening to the play-by-play that way. The announcers had talked more, certainly. Dead air time was a no-no. But the split-second pause between the pitch and the call, the excitement in the announcer’s voice when a long ball sent the outfielders running toward the warning track, when you saw the action only in your mind, it somehow transcended TV viewing.
    The rain picked up—pelting the windows like Mother Nature was pitching sidearm. Maureen got up, moved to the front of the room, and drew back one of the drapery panels. Jonathon had just pulled up in the driveway and was struggling with his briefcase and an umbrella. Maureen used the remote to turn off the television and stepped into the foyer just as her husband opened the front door. He placed his briefcase on the floor, leaned the umbrella against the wall, and shrugged out of his raincoat. Small rivulets of water ran down his forehead and rain pooled at his feet.
    He hung the coat on a rack near the door and glanced briefly in her direction. “Quite a storm,” he said.
    “Yes,” she answered, and turned toward the kitchen. “I’ll have dinner ready in an hour.”
    As she puttered about the kitchen, she could hear him in the hallway, using an old towel from the laundry room to soak up the mess in the foyer, then making a martini, and finally turning the television on to the evening news.
    Dinner was a quiet affair, as usual. They each inquired of the other’s day and provided the same pleasant but mundane replies while Entertainment Tonight droned on from the living room. Afterward, as she loaded the dishwasher, Jonathon took his briefcase to his home office, and busied himself with work.
    Maureen often wondered just how much work was done during those periods. Oh, he never closed the office door; he would consider that impolite, and if Jonathon was anything, he was polite. But she seldom heard the clatter of his computer keyboard, and if passing by, often caught him simply staring out the office window.
    It wasn’t that she blamed him. It was his way of coping, she guessed. For her, it was anything that that might keep her thoughts at bay—exercise (she was in training for a half-marathon), gardening, volunteer work at the local mission, and, during the season, televised baseball—anything that kept her from revisiting that day in the doctor’s office.
    She had sat beside Jonathon, clasping his hand tightly, already knowing what was coming, but powerless to control her destiny.
    “It’s in an advanced stage,” the solemn-faced doctor said. “We have treatment options, but I must tell you, the prognosis is not good.”
    Afterward, there had been the surgery, and then the chemotherapy, and finally the months of waiting—waiting for the inevitable.
    Maureen returned to the kitchen table, sat down, and began planning for the next day. First, she’d get up and run. And run. And run. And, if she was lucky, maybe the sweat would wash away some of the demons gnawing inside her brain. Outside, the wind was whipping torrents of water against the glass. It sounded like waves breaking at the shoreline. She let the harsh rhythm overtake her.
    She was startled, sometime later, to find Jonathon standing quietly in the doorway watching her. She glanced at the clock on the wall over the refrigerator. Two hours had passed since they’d finished dinner. Where had she been?
    “I’ve finished in the office,” he said. “I think I’ll spend some time in my workshop.”
    She nodded. “All right, then. I didn’t realize how late it’s gotten. I’ll have my bath and then go to bed and read.”
    The bath was steaming as Maureen slipped under the water and let the warmth flood her body. She still had her figure and could probably keep it as long as she was able to train. Not that it mattered to anyone but her. Jonathon hadn’t touched her in months, and she had been a willing accomplice, accepting any flimsy excuse that kept him from coming to her bed before she fell asleep.
    It was so different, she thought, from the beginning of their romance, when neither could find fault with the other. And, as their love had matured, even the occasional angry outburst soon dissolved into passion. But no more, she thought. The disease had seen to that. Neither of them knew how to deal with death.
    Half an hour later, as Maureen climbed into bed and pulled the covers to her chin, she thought again of her father. She remembered once during church, as she sat between her parents, the choir had begun a hymn. It was one she hadn’t heard before: “Let us break bread together on our knees...” The words had struck her funny, and she was driven to a fit of giggling. Her father had tried to contain himself, but it wasn’t long before he chortled and tried to hide it by coughing into his hand. Her mother had shushed them both, red-faced, but smiling.
    That afternoon Maureen meant to ask her father about the song, but once the baseball game had started, she’d forgotten all about it. The following day, while she was at school, her parents had both been killed in an automobile accident.
    Lying in bed now, she wondered which was worse, to lose one’s parents—or to be a parent and lose one’s child. She had experienced both.
    Neuroblastoma was an insidious malignancy that preyed exclusively on the young. Amy was diagnosed at four years old. They had lost her at six, nearly eleven months ago. For weeks afterward, Maureen had still heard Amy’s laughter in the hallways, the happy sounds of her pink flip-flops smacking across the hardwood floors. Then there was nothing.
    She looked over at the bedroom window where only a few beads of moisture remained, clinging tenuously to the glass. The storm had passed. The house was quiet as fog and just as cold. It was too bad, she thought. For a while at least, she’d had the noise.

The Curious Incident of the Mold and Gordon Parker

Mark C. Lane

    Gordon Parker noticed the mold one chilly morning in November.
    He stood in front of the toilet, urinating, his heavy eyes peeking through the bathroom window at the sleeping world outside. The frosty, still-quiet village seemed so strange and mystical at this hour; the hour just before dawn, when the people yet slept, dreaming their individual dreams and snoring their collective snores. Gordon felt such peace standing there in his bathroom, his gigantic baby-blue bathrobe wrapped tightly around his shoulders, warm and secure, sleepy but content. He could look through that window for as long as he pleased (or, at least, for as long as he urinated) in complete and cozy comfort.
    He noticed a group of pretty young men and women walking up the sidewalk toward the bus station. They stopped to sit on a bench beneath a large, leafless maple tree so that they could finish their steaming cups of coffee before boarding. It seemed as if they wanted to chat for a bit, too. Gordon thought that it was much too cold for anyone to sit on a stupid bench and enjoy a conversation as much as they were, but the radiant smiles stretched between their rosy cheeks said it all: they were happy. So enamored with each other’s company, in fact, the cold didn’t seem to impede their pleasure at all. Gordon wondered what it would feel like to be a part of a group like that. To be with people you wanted to be with when they really wanted to be with you, too. He sighed and looked away, his eyes crawling over the faded rose-patterned wallpaper his mother had put up decades ago, long before the stroke. He shook off thoughts of his mother and looked down instead at his large and hairy stomach. It completely obscured his penis. He swore it was under there somewhere, but he hadn’t actually seen the poor fellow for some time. It was while he was searching for his lost—but not forgotten—friend that he spotted a dark square patch on the wall to his left. He rubbed sleep from his eyes and looked again, but the mold stubbornly remained. Gordon sighed, his great chest puffing up then deflating. He’d have to clean it up later, he supposed, which meant he’d have to bend over and retrieve the cleaning supplies from the cabinet below the sink. It seemed a gross expense of energy so early in the morning. He’d do it later.
    He finished his business and left the bathroom, squeezing his large buttocks through the door frame and shuffling into the kitchen to make pancakes and coffee. He wouldn’t be able to enjoy a nice conversation with his breakfast, but he could certainly enjoy some coffee. As he reached for the coffee pot his chubby fingers brushed a stack of papers sitting atop the kitchen counter. They teetered precariously for a moment, but didn’t fall. The settlement check (the one he kept forgetting to cash) lay on top. He didn’t want to think about leaving the house or going to the bank, or about how much time and energy such a trip would waste, but he couldn’t go much longer without doing so: he’d eaten almost all of the frozen pizzas he’d purchased on his last outing, nearly a month ago.
    Cleaning. The bank. What next?
    He brushed these thoughts away and fixed himself a grandiose stack of pancakes (heavy butter, heavy syrup). He filled his favorite cup—the one that looked like a whale—with fresh coffee. The whale-cup was blue with happy pink lips and white eyes, its tail curling back to form the handle. The little guy smiled at Gordon as he added sugar and cream, but he didn’t return it. The cup had been a present from his mother, and even though Gordon loved it, whenever the whale smiled at him he couldn’t help but think of his mom. The way she used to make the whale noise when she brought his breakfast to him. She’d say, “Bwooooooo!” in a deep voice and push through the door of his bedroom, staggering under the weight of all the pancakes and bacon on the little silver tray. He’d look up from his computer and make his own whale noise right back at her.
    He’d get up and—now why the hell did he have to keep thinking about that?
    He’d felt so peaceful there for a moment, while taking a pee. Then all of those silly thoughts started jumping into his head. Thoughts about his mother, cleaning the mold, going to the bank, those silly people who’d looked so happy together on the bench—couldn’t all of that crap just leave him alone? He was much more accustomed to being alone. He didn’t need all of that extraneous bullshit to dampen his day. He gave one last concerted effort at shaking off the megrims before taking his repast into the living room and sitting down in front of the computer monitor. With a few mouse clicks, Gordon’s hero (barbarian class) continued his crawl through a particularly nasty dungeon. Gordon smiled, popped on his headset, and enjoyed himself some breakfast. Soon, his syrup sticky hands had left sugary fingerprints all over the keyboard.
    By the middle of the afternoon Gordon had forgotten all about the negative thoughts from earlier. No more memories of mom, no more thinking about such a frivolous thing as friends. He’d given up on the bank for today, and he’d forgotten about the mold entirely. The sun set, and Gordon slept. The sun rose the next day, and inexplicably, so did Gordon. Again and again, Gordon followed the path of the sun, until the calendar had crossed from November into December. At some point, probably around Thanksgiving, Gordon had managed to make it out of the house and to the bank, but as the days slipped past and Christmas snuck up, the mold on the bathroom wall remained forgotten.
    It was Christmas Eve when Gordon noticed the mold again. The patch had grown a little bigger, and he silently cursed himself for forgetting about it for this long. He knew he should clean it up, right then and there, but it was Christmas Eve after all. A fresh pizza was about to come out of the oven, and he’d just accrued nearly 20,000 experience points in his game; he certainly couldn’t be bothered to clean it up now!
    But then, as New Year’s Day came and went, Gordon realized that he’d been staring at the mold each time he went to the bathroom, ever since noticing it again on Christmas Eve. In fact, he discovered that he rather enjoyed looking at the spongy little growth while attending to various calls of nature. It was almost as if he’d bought a Chia-pet or something. As he watched it grow, he developed an absurd paternal affection for his furry friend. He talked to it. Sang to it, sometimes. However, whenever he left the bathroom, it was always with a resolve to clean it up before it grew too much larger. Christ on a cracker, it just wasn’t appropriate.
    But he never seemed to get around to it.
    As the universe buried January in its icy grave, allowing January’s bitch of a sister February to come out of hiding, the mold grew from a small square the size of a baseball card to an amorphous blob as big as a basketball.
    Gordon celebrated his birthday in March by finishing off two large bowlfuls of homemade eggnog (heavy whiskey, heavy rum). It was a little late in the year for such a seasonal drink, but on one of his monthly excursions to the store he’d purchased enough eggnog to fill a small swimming pool. So, he drank it. Finding himself quite drunk and needing to urinate, Gordon squeezed his burgeoning derriere through the bathroom door and took down his pajama bottoms. He attempted to locate his penis, but was too drunk to remember he couldn’t actually see the thing; he’d have to go by feel alone. And indeed he did find it (sighing with relief as he did) a moment later. Clasping his hand around his little pink tube, Gordon released a hot stream of liquid into the waiting bowl. He swayed drunkenly, and an arc of urine splashed against the wall. Gordon laughed. He turned his bulk and sprayed the rest of his bladder at the mold, laughing and hiccupping while little puffs of steam wafted past his face. Gordon giggled; he would definitely have to clean that up later. But the good thing about later is that, well—it always came later. And off to bed he went.
    The next morning, Gordon’s hangover was epic.
    His head pounded as he stumbled out of bed, blundering into door frames, making his way back to the bathroom. He had absolutely no recollection of his pee-pee playtime from the night before, so he didn’t understand exactly why the bathroom smelled so strangely sour. However, it wasn’t the smell that made him gasp as he came through the door.
    The moldy spot was no longer a moldy spot; it was a moldy wall. The entire left side of the bathroom was covered in black, spongy growth. As Gordon stared at it in amazement, he swore he could see it pulsating.
    “Wow,” he mumbled. “I guess I really should clean this up.”
    But somehow, perhaps due to the sheer amount of growth, the wall had an odd kind of beauty. Maybe Gordon had lost his mind, but his heart was suddenly filled with pride. It was a good feeling, an alien feeling. He’d done something. He’d made something grow. And even if it was only mold, well hell, he was the only one who’d ever see it anyway. Why not be proud of it? He’d created something and it was there now, all across his bathroom wall, because of him. He’d have to clean it up at some point, that was for sure, but he decided to leave it alone for another day or two, just so he could admire his work a little longer.
    A day or two turned into April, and then came the maggots.
    Gordon saw them sprout during one of his many trips to the can. He stared in amazement as one little white body after another squeezed out of the wall and hung there as if stuck to the surface by sticky-tape. They were small, no bigger than a fingernail, but were unlike any other maggots Gordon had ever seen on rotted beef or in the garbage—and believe me, Gordon’s infrequency in the ‘disposing-of-garbage’ department afforded him many encounters with maggots of the third kind. But these were different: they had fur. Little brown patches of it. More importantly, they had faces. Gordon’s breath caught in his throat as he stared into their tiny upturned heads.
    It was his face.
    A miniature replica of himself squashed onto each furry little body that wriggled about on the bathroom wall. As he watched, more of them came. Every one of them looked like him (in miniature maggot form, of course). A smile spread slowly across Gordon’s face and he clapped his hands in joy. He’d never been more proud of anything in his entire life. He’d given birth, in a sense. He was a papa. For the first time since momma died all of those years ago, he finally had something else in his life. Something alive. Something with meaning. Gordon promised himself that he would never let anything happen to them, ever.
    He took to watering the maggots. He emptied a spray bottle from below the counter and filled it up with tap water. Whenever he went to the bathroom (which was becoming increasingly more frequent) he’d spray a cool mist over the walls. By May, the bathroom was a living, breathing entity. Wall to wall the maggots wriggled happily. Gordon sometimes petted them, letting his hands run over their slimy wiggling surface. They gave him little kisses. He blushed and giggled whenever they did. Gordon didn’t feel alone anymore. Whenever he thought about his mom, or about his lack of friendship, he went into the bathroom and let his new family kiss his fingers and lick his palms, which erased any kind of sadness or loneliness he’d felt.
    One morning in July, Gordon woke up and found his legs and arms stuck to the side of his body. The skin had fused together, as if it melted. Little brown patches of fur had cropped up on his chest and back. Gordon was confused at first, but his confusion quickly turned into rapture. He was becoming like his children. He crawled his way into the bathroom and used his mouth to squirt the walls with water. His family of maggots wriggled with pleasure. He wriggled right back at them.
    Gordon never left the bathroom after that day. He didn’t need food; he found he could survive quite well by nibbling on the moldy wall every once and awhile.
    On that morning in July when his legs had melded together, Gordon remembered being able to distinguish between his right and his left legs. As if the skin had been melted, but retained the scar from the conversion. But by the end of August, his arms and legs had become just another part of a long sinuous body. A small dark hole had opened up at the apex of his forgotten appendages and he used this hole to relieve himself. He snuggled on the floor and the little Gordon maggots leapt from the wall to crawl over him and keep him warm.
    As August came and went, something new happened to Gordon and family.
    Their wiggling motions quieted and a thin milky membrane began to wrap around their bodies. It was quite comfortable. So comfortable, in fact, that Gordon no longer felt the need to wiggle, or eat, or do anything at all; he only wanted to lie on the bathroom floor and sleep. And so he did. Him and his maggoty friends.
    All was silent and immobile in Gordon’s bathroom as the first leaves of fall began to change their colors. The days grew shorter, cooler. The stealthy quiet that always seems to ride along on autumn’s wings stole over the village, blanketing the world around the Parker’s estate.
    And then, on a lovely afternoon in early October, Gordon and his family finally broke free from their cocoons.
    In unison, they shredded their membranes and exploded into the air. Gordon looked down at his long white body as it hovered over the floor. Large, transparent wings sticking out of his back beat the air behind him, effortlessly keeping his body afloat. The bathroom was full of little white bodies. They floated past Gordon’s face and smiled at him. Gordon smiled right back. His heart leapt into his chest and he gave a triumphant roar. He was one of them. They were truly his family now.
    He smashed through the bathroom door and flew into the living room, his family close behind. He sped through the air, crashing through a window and up and out, high into the sky, deep into the sunny afternoon. A cool fall breeze flowed over his white skin, ruffling the little brown patches of fur across his body. He smiled at his family of Parker maggots and they wriggled their little bodies back at him with love.
    Gordon shouted with joy, and the whole lot of them flew off into the horizon.

The laying of Eggs

Pijush Kanti Deb

The laying of eggs by a cuckoo-
paints two pictures in our hearts,
one, a portrait of a dead scavenger
lying on a heap of garbage
and other is an image of a popular singer
who sings and poets compose poems.

The laying of eggs by a cuckoo-
sets ablaze the whole cage of heart
to gut off all the old tamed pets,
still consoles it with new seed that germinate
into innovated tree of greed
for the opportunist and shrewd.

The laying of eggs by a cuckoo-
causes the dual between optimist and pessimist
and sets us around the ring as supporters
to make the environment tumultuous round the clock.
Thus, we forget the death of the poor scavenger
and become blissful to the melodious singer.


William Masters

    Following the same intuition that helped him to survive his first eleven years in China and the written instructions he had memorized, Yung Choo jumped ship at dawn, hitting the water with a tiny splash, and swam to shore. As he pulled himself out of the water, he heard the Coast Guard ship’s siren, followed by a loud, artificially enhanced voice in Chinese ordering the other ship to stop and be boarded for illegal entry into San Francisco Bay.
    Wet and shivering from the icy water, Yung Choo’s first thoughts were, “I’m cold. I’m so cold.” His tiny duffel bag, wrapped in plastic as planned for protection against this circumstance, contained his only possessions: a towel, two pairs of thin, cotton trousers, two shirts, a quilted jacket and cap, slippers, ten American twenty dollar bills, a photo of his family, his three swimming medals, a picture of his old dog, Yam Yam, and two postcards of San Francisco, a Chinatown view of Grant Street and a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge.
    Quickly stripping off his wet clothes, he toweled himself dry and changed into another pair of trousers and shirt. With the fortuitous assistance and directions from a pair of surprised looking joggers, who had witnessed his emergence from the water, Yung Choo found his way to Chinatown. He felt a surge of joy as he surveyed the small area, carefully examined shops, read signs written in Chinese, and looked at the newspapers (dated October 11th, 1989) locked in yellow boxes as he scouted for lodging near the Grant and Stockton Street area.
    For a $1.50 he could shower at the Chinatown Youth Center, but for $5 per day he could use all its facilities, and sleep in his own bed in a dormitory with other Chinese youths.
    After a day of rest during which he stuffed himself with noodles and pork buns, he began to observe what other Chinese boys, approximately his age, looked like: their gait, their clothes, their haircuts and the machinery they wore on their heads. Yung Choo thought these boys walked as if they followed the beat to music. He noticed differently colored school uniforms and odd looking haircuts. He listened to the strange language and soon picked up a foreigner’s observational vocabulary: pizza, more money, dollars and a few simple greetings.
    From searching trash cans, he found an empty, yellow Sony Walkman case and a pair of discarded headphones which he wore over the unmarked cap on his head.
    In an effort to blend in his appearance with the other boys, Yung Choo visited a barber shop, carefully explaining the style of haircut he wanted worn by other boys, and energetically bargained for the price. The barber, sizing up Yung Choo’s circumstance while tying a white cloth around the boy’s neck, used his left hand to gently support the boy’s head while his right hand moved the tool of transformation. Yung felt the slight pressure, pleasant vibration and warmth from the clippers on the back of his head and then on each side. The barber switched from clipper to scissors and snip, snap, snap, he finished and turned the chair around so Yung Choo could see his reflection in the mirror.
    “Ha, ha, very nice. Welcome to America,” said the barber, refusing to accept payment.
    In an astonishing display of good luck and happy circumstance, Yung Choo found work from a succession of part time jobs offered by local shopkeepers: he swept floors and emptied trash cans; he restocked store shelves with hot merchandise from China and Singapore and helped display it on tables located on the sidewalks fronting the stores; he washed windows and made lunch runs for the proprietors, too busy to leave their shops during busy hours, and on weekends he helped wrap merchandise purchased by the onslaught of tourists.
    Many shopkeepers sensed Yung Choo wouldn’t cost much because they instinctively guessed his circumstance. Following the unctuous custom of some greedy, immigrant bosses; they paid him very little money and always used one dollar bills to make Yung Choo think he earned more money than he actually received.
    During the time-off between his casual, part time jobs, Yung Choo felt the crush of isolation and the oppressive weight of loneliness like a door closing against his body. At such times, he often slipped into empty schoolyards, cautiously hiding in the corners of playgrounds until recess or lunchtime, and then emerged to play with the other children, temporarily relieving his sense of isolation and diluting his loneliness.

    On such days, for the few minutes during which he kicked around a soccer ball, ran a race, sat on a swing, or listened to the chit chat of other boys speaking Chinese to each other, he felt the momentary comfort of belonging and a lull from his fear of discovery.
    Once, while playing in a neighborhood schoolyard, a little girl recognized Yung Choo as a stranger. Following the school’s protocol, she reported his presence to the volunteer playground monitor. The monitor, an old Chinese woman, took one look at Yung Choo and shrewdly appraised his status. She walked over to him and asked his name. His body tensed. She laid her right hand on his shoulder. He froze.
    “I know all the students here. This is not your school.” The monitor’s left hand grabbed his other shoulder. Shaking him she said, “This is not your place. It’s too crowded here. Go back to China.”
    Then, removing both hands from Yung’s shoulders, she slapped him hard across his left cheek. The sound of the slap turned the nearby heads of other students who refocused their attention on the pair. Yung Choo felt a sustained sting on his cheek followed by a ringing in his ear.

    “Don’t come back here or I will call the bad police who will send you back to China where the authorities will put you in an orphanage. You will work hard all day and at night they will chain you to a wall with the other orphans.”
    As Yung Choo pushed the old lady away and bolted from the schoolyard, the bodies connected to the nearby heads that heard the slap and witnessed the scene, surrounded the old woman. A tall, eighth grade boy stepped forward. His body towered over the old woman.
    “We don’t want you on our playground anymore. Go home.”
    By the next morning, Yung Choo awakened with a black eye, but had regained his equilibrium and returned to his many, part time jobs, grateful that his maturing judgment led him to choose from among the mean, greedy shopkeepers and pleasant, good hearted owners who often bought him lunch.

    Sometimes, at the end of each day, Yung Choo bought a 99 cent movie ticket to the nearby Times theater to watch an American movie. At each performance, he recognized the sounds of two or three English words. From watching the action, he attached the correct meaning to the words, slowly building his English vocabulary and self confidence.
    On the fifteenth evening of Yung Choo’s arrival, one of the Center’s administrators asked Yung to join him in his office.
    “Officially, there is a twenty day maximum that you can stay here at the Center without furnishing us with identification and proof of legal entry into the country before we must report you to the INS. We follow this rule, otherwise the City would close us down and we couldn’t help boys like you...who have sneaked into the country and have no relatives or permanent shelter.”
    That night Yung Choo slept uneasily. Worry and fear intercepted and blocked his nightly dreams of wish fulfillment. By the next morning, Yung Choo felt the welcoming hand of the warm Indian summer weather of October surrender its grip to the chilly fingers of November.
     “I’m cold. I’m so cold,” he thought.
    On the morning of his eighteenth day, while performing his ritual search of public trash cans before making his rounds of shops to look for work, Yung Choo found a discarded October fast pass, still good for October and the first three days of November. Knowing what it was and how it worked, Yung Choo boarded a 38 Geary bus and rode it to the end of its run, a block from Ocean Beach.
    Off the bus, Yung Choo walked across the Great Highway to the beach. Removing his worn slippers, he walked barefooted in the sand, and fondly remembered former times with his family, vacationing on the banks of nearby rivers in the Yunnan Province, covered with a soothing light green colored moss, and the trips taken with his father and older brother as they all lowered their bodies into the steaming waters of Zaotang Hot Springs in Baoshan or viewed the Rhododendrum blooms on Gaoligong mountain, and afterwards, visited the markets near Baihualing City.
    Then Yung Choo’s recent memories bluntly cut short his reverie, reminding him that he no longer had a family.
    Packed with predominantly Asian passengers, Yung Choo rode the Geary and Clement buses for the sheer pleasure of hearing Chinese spoken. Looking out from the bus windows, he wondered why more people didn’t ride bicycles. In San Francisco almost everyone drove a car or rode a bus.
    During one such ride on the Geary Street bus, Yung Choo overheard some young men pointing and speaking about new, abandoned apartment buildings on Geary Boulevard.
    Yung Choo got off the bus at the next stop. He searched and found several of the abandoned buildings. All bore the same red colored sign: Danger, No Admittance; Scheduled for Demolition. Yung Choo didn’t understand the English words and thought the red sign, like a red door, meant good luck. He found entry to one of the buildings through a break in the fence.
    Into this deserted building, Yung Choo moved all his accumulated possessions. Although he still paid the daily $1.50 fee to use the shower facilities at the Chinatown Youth Center, it was here, in the darkness of this deserted apartment building, that Yung Choo slept alone each night without the misery of hearing the half strangled cries, the snores and the muffled, nightmare sounds of the other illegal boys sleeping in the dormitory of the Youth Center.
    His new home stood surrounded by the packed apartments of the Geary corridor, in which lived the children from the various school yards in which Yung Choo often played without discovery. Each night these children, whose parents tucked them into warm beds, after buttoning their flannel pajama tops, festooned with pictures of favorite cartoon characters and beloved pets, would awaken the next morning to loving parents, warm bathrooms and hot breakfasts.
    Sheltered only by the walls and roof of the abandoned, unheated building, Young Choo slept fitfully each night on a sofa in what formerly served as the rental office for the building. Although covered with two blankets, he often awakened in the middle of night, shivering.
    “I’m cold. I’m so cold.”

    One night, a week later, just after Yung Choo had fallen asleep, a female voice speaking in his local dialect awakened him.

    “Wake up, Yung Choo. Get out. Hurry. Danger! Danger! Leave the building.”

    Startled, Yung Choo sat up. Trembling and frightened, he realized that he wasn’t dreaming.

    “Faster. Get out. Run. Run Yung Choo!
    Still shaking with fear, Yung Choo hurriedly stuffed all his accumulated belongings into his new duffle bag and dressed himself. Aiming the bright beam of his flashlight in front of him, he ran down the hall as wall plaster split and floors shook. He carefully avoided stepping on the accumulating debris and exited through the now broken front door outside to the sidewalk. Sleepy, tightly gripping his duffle bag and two blankets, Yung Choo crossed the street and sat down on the opposite curb. Still shivering, he wrapped the blankets around himself, and silently gave thanks to the Goddess Guan-Yin for her warning.
    To the astonishment of a growing crowd of onlookers, the building continued its systematic collapse: fuses blew and water lines cracked; improperly installed windows buckled, shattering their glass in esthetically pleasing designs framed by exploding gas lines and bursting light fixtures. Staircases folded and walls collapsed. By the time the fire and police departments arrived, the building had crumbled to the ground, a heap of improperly mixed concrete, unsound bracing, below code wiring, imitation drywall and degrade plumbing.
    A cloud of noxious chemical materials gently floated overhead west, toward Ocean Beach.
    Yung Choo, now fully awake, was just about to begin his search for a new hideout when a pair of blue, uniformed long sleeved arms picked him up from his sitting position. Police Officer Albert Wong had observed this child, along with the collapse of the apartment building, for several minutes. Guessing that the boy didn’t speak English, he questioned him in Chinese.
    Yung Choo feared this uniformed person would take him away and lock him up. Panicked, he tried to pull away.
    “Let me go!”
    “Go where?” “Where do you live?”
    “Over there,” Yung Choo lied, vaguely pointing to an avenue full of row houses.
    “Now, I’ve got him,” thought Officer Wong. “What’s the street number of your house?”

     “It’s a secret. I’m not supposed to give my address to strangers.”
    Officer Wong recognized the signs of displacement in this wily, undernourished looking, smelly boy. Besides, Officer Wong had just emerged from the all night cafe directly across the street from the collapsed apartment and had witnessed the boy’s escape from the building.
    By now crews from local news stations had arrived and the regular, on duty policemen, walked over to Officer Wong, to thank him for calling in the incident. The other policeman looked suspiciously at Yung Choo.
    “Don’t worry,” Officer Wong said to the other policeman. “I’m just about to return him to his home. Had a fight with his parents and ran away,” he explained while gently patting Yung Choo’s head. Grabbing an arm, Officer Wong led him to his parked car. He removed the ticket from his windshield of his private vehicle and folded it before filing it in his shirt pocket. As he opened the car door for Yung Choo, he felt the boy pulling away.
    “Don’t do that. The police are still watching us. I’m not going to turn you in. Stay calm.”
    The officer drove for about three minutes and turned into a sidewalk facing a garage. Yung Choo watched Officer Wong pick up a metal box from the side pocket of the drivers door and press a button. A giant door opened in front of them and Officer Wong drove his car inside a garage. Yung Choo heard the door shut behind them.
    Yung Choo’s father and brother had warned him about kidnappers who snatched small boys and the terrible things the snatchers did to the boys before selling them on the black market. Why had this uniformed person brought him hear? Sweat rolled down Yung Choo’s forehead and he felt like he was trapped in a closed pot.
    “Here we are. My house.”
    Yung Choo got out of the car and followed the officer to another door. Officer Wong pressed some buttons. A green light flashed on a panel above the door. The door popped open onto a staircase occupied at the bottom by an excited, golden retriever, tail wagging furiously and loudly thumping on the floor. “Woof, woof. Grr.”
    “Hello Sam. How’s my boy?”
    “Woof, woof,” Sam replied looking suspiciously at Yung Choo.
    “Sam, I brought home a guest.”

    “Woof, bark, grr,” replied Sam, happy to see his pal, but rudely ignoring the guest.
    Officer Wong, determined to get this smelly boy into a bath, grabbed his hand and pulled him down the hall into the guest bathroom. Filling the tub with water, he dropped in a couple of cucumber foaming bath beads into the water and pointed to a washcloth and a bar of soap in a tray next to the tub.
    “Are you hungry? You look very skinny and you smell bad. Please take off your clothes and climb in this tub. How old are you?”
    “Thirteen,” the liar replied.

    “Oh really? You look like you weigh about as much as a nine year old. Just get in the tub while I find some food for you. Sam, don’t let him out of the bathroom.” Then Officer Wong left the bathroom and headed for his kitchen.
    Sam sat down, blocking the bathroom door, but Yung Choo made no attempt to escape. He stripped off his clothes and slippers, climbed into the tub, and soon surrendered himself to the sensation of warm water and the prospect of food, dry clothes and sleep.
    Consequently, Sam remained seated with his back against the bathroom door watching this strange boy, so skinny and bony as he sat in the tub. Even though he could smell the boy; so stinky and filled with unpleasant cooking aromas; even though he could hear the boy breathing, then gurgling with pleasure from soaking in the warm, scented water as he used the soap to wash himself. Even though Sam sensed instinctively this boy must be valuable; otherwise why should his pal add him to the household? He didn’t know yet whether or not he liked this boy.
    “Woof, woof,” he barked to the boy.” Arf, grr,” he added.
    Allowing himself to fully relax, Yung Choo expanded his surrender to include the therapeutic effects of the warm water and the seductive fragrance of the cucumber scented bath water. He began some modest splashing, rather enjoying the size of the tub and the rub of the washcloth against his skin. Feeling suddenly playful, Yung Choo lifted his left hand from the water, aimed and successfully shot a spray of water at Sam’s face.
    With water still dripping from his nose, Sam growled, “Woof, woof. Bark,” as he rose and walked to the lip of the tub. He stuck his freshly sprayed nose right up to the formerly stinky boy’s face to determine his true aroma. Yung Choo impulsively bent his head down and planted a kiss on Sam’s nose.

    “Why you presumptuous boy,” barked a humiliated Sam! “Ruff, ruff. Grr.”
    As Sam remained close to the tub, Officer Wong opened the bathroom door and entered with a steaming cup of hot cocoa, and a grilled cheese sandwich on a plate.
    Officer Wong gave Yung Choo the cocoa first, (“blow on it before you drink this hot liquid”) then pulled the stopper from the tub, replacing the now room temperature water with a warmer refill.
    Yung Choo had never tasted hot cocoa, but liked it immediately and held the mug’s handle tightly in his hand as he picked up half a grilled cheese sandwich with his other hand and took a bite. Officer Wong turned off the water.
    “Now, it is time to tell me your story.”

    Although Yung Choo’s mother had died in childbirth, everybody still thought that Yung came from a lucky family because it had two sons. Yung’s older brother, Zhao Choo, had originally purchased the contract from the smugglers for his illegal passage to America. However, before his brother left, he decided to visit his best friend, Xiang Wang, who had gone on a hunger strike with other university students in Tiananmen Square in Beijing. But on June 3, 1989, during an action to clear the square, the army shot and killed many protestors, including Yung Choo’s brother.
    No longer did anyone say that Yung Choo belonged to a lucky family. Instead, everyone now whispered that he belonged to a revolutionary family. Neighbors no longer talked to or wished to be seen with the remaining Choo family members. Grief and heartbreak visited Yung’s father who contracted pneumonia and died. The authorities forced Yung’s uncle to offer him a place to live, but the uncle would not allow Yung Choo to bring his dog, Yam Yam, because his daughter had a cat. His uncle promised to find a home for Yam Yam, but instead secretly sold him to an underground dog meat operation.
    When Yung Choo discovered what his uncle had done, Yam Yam had already been killed and butchered. Angry and wild with grief, Yung Choo waited for an afternoon during which his Uncle’s house was empty of occupants and burned it to the ground.
    Yung Choo took his brother’s contract to the smugglers and insisted that they substitute him for his brother. They refused. When Yung Choo asked for a refund of his brother’s money, the smugglers, amused at his presumption, smiled, winked at each other, and threatened to spank him if he didn’t leave immediately.

    Yung Choo threatened to expose the smugglers to the local authorities if they didn’t accept him and warned them that if he suddenly disappeared or didn’t come home today or failed to survive the voyage to America, his brother’s friends, who knew of this visit, would cut their throats.
    The smugglers laughed and ridiculed him. They playfully slapped and punched him. After knocking Yung Choo down several times, they agreed to take him.
    Yung relayed his recent history in San Francisco.

    “And now I am washing in your water.”

    Sam felt deeply impressed with this brave boy’s story, only some of which he understood based on his casual knowledge of Chinese learned from listening to Officer Wong speak and running around with the many Chinese speaking dogs in his neighborhood.

    “Twenty-five years ago, I left China and worked my way on a tramp steamer to Honduras, then worked myself through Mexico and entered America riding in a truck, hidden in a wooden freight box, nailed shut. Suddenly, I felt someone push the box off the truck. For many hours I sweated and choked, afraid the box would become my coffin before I heard the laughter of someone opening the lid. As the box lid opened, I glimpsed a huge, black iron staff. As I arose from the box, I heard laughter and saw the backside of an ape running away.
    My contacts in San Francisco offered me temporary shelter and food. Most illegals like me worked for cheap in restaurants or laundries in exchange for food and lodging and paid high prices for English lessons so they could pass the postal examination test or work as a bus driver. I had dreamed of America and looked for the fabled sidewalks paved with gold. I didn’t find any gold. I found dirt. I swept the dirt and dust from many sidewalks just to eat. Impatient to succeed and learn English, I joined a Chinese gang. I did terrible things and hurt many people in order to earn money for expensive English lessons, buy counterfeit identification papers and a copy of the Policeman’s entry examination.
    I bribed the police officer who administered my oral examination by persuading him that I would murder his family if he didn’t pass me. In those days Chinese gangs wielded great power and influence. Now I am an American citizen, a detective and have been with the force for 23 years. I consider myself a loyal citizen and I no longer fear a number four in my address or believe I need a red door on my house for luck.”
    Sam stood up, feeling increased respect for his pal and fascinated with the stories he heard that evening. He renewed his recent vow to work on his language skills with his Chinese speaking canine buddies.
    Detective Wong wrapped Yung Choo in a giant beach towel, carried him to the guest room and laid him on one side of the bed as he pulled back the blankets, making room for Yung Choo to move over and pull up the blankets and bedspread.
    “Don’t worry. I won’t turn you in to anyone. Just sleep now and we make plans tomorrow.”
    Sam, who had followed them both to the guest room, jumped up on the bed to pay his respects to this brave boy. “Woof, woof.”
    The next morning, after breakfast, Detective Wong took Yung Choo shopping. He bought two pairs of Levi’s. He bought socks and T-shirts and underwear. Detective Wong had a salesperson expertly fit Yung Choo with two pairs of running shoes. Then he paid a barber to modified Yung Choo’s haircut, after which he bought a Sony walkman. After placing the walkman on Yung Choo’s head, he snapped his photograph with a Kodak Instamatic. In a minute and a half, they both admired the result.
    After buying tapes for the walkman, they returned to Detective Wong’s house. The detective taped the photo of Yung Choo to the inside of the guest room door.
    I’m going to make lunch now,” he lied, intending to call North Beach Pizza for delivery. “Why don’t you put all your new clothes away in this chest and hang up anything you want in the closet?”
    Detective Wong laid one hand on Yung Choo’s left shoulder. “I really think you should stay here awhile.” Yung Choo’s body tensed. Then Detective Wong laid his other hand on Yung Choo’s right shoulder. He froze. Before Yung Choo could pull away, Detective Wong matter of factly planted a kiss on his forehead.
    As soon as Detective Wong left the guest room, Yung Choo began to stuff all his clothes and possessions into his duffel, preparing to run away. Only a small portion of his new clothes and possessions would fit. Frustrated, Yung Choo sat on the bed. He began to cry. His cries grew into sobs.
    Sam observed this behavior sympathetically, but not without scorn. “Why didn’t this formerly smelly boy know what a lucky boy he was now?” Sam walked over to the door and turning his head, said “Woof, woof, grr.”
    Yung Choo slid off the bed, walked over to the door and looked at his photograph again. He stood there for almost a minute, as if transfixed. Then Yung opened the door all the way, stepped into the hall, and shifted his gaze across the hall through the glass center of the front door down the steps to the street.

    He heard the familiar sound of rushing water. Suddenly, the sidewalk and street transformed themselves into a wide river on whose bank Yung Choo now stood. He saw his school friends sail slowly past him in a boat. His friends raised a banner saying Good bye Yung Choo. Live a Happy Life. A second boat appeared carrying his father and brother who stood up, waved, and raised a banner saying Make Us Proud of You.

    As Yung Choo raced down the riverbank toward his father’s boat, a jogger ran past him, pulling the sidewalk and street back into view as Yung Choo felt a tongue vigorously licking the fingers of his left hand, and Sam’s mouth gently dragging him back from the hall into the bedroom.
    Yung Choo turned around and lifted his duffel from the bed and dumped out all the new clothes he had stuffed inside. After carefully folding the new merchandise, he loaded it into the bureau drawers. Then he sat on the bed and surveyed his room. Leaning back against the headboard, Yung Choo decided he should move the bed to the other side of the room and paint the existing white walls a pale green. Sam jumped up next to him.
    “Pizza,” asked Yung Choo, firmly stroking Sam’s back?
    “Woof, woof. Grr,” replied Sam, slamming his tail on the bed in agreement.

Tractor Boy

Robley Browne

    “Oh, quit feeling sorry for yourself,” said Mrs. Spurlock. “Out of all the kids we’ve had here, you’re the only one who’s had to deal with adversity. You’re the only one who ever got handed a raw deal.”
    “I was handed a raw deal,” I said to her.
    “Aw, poor baby,” she always said back.
    “Maybe you didn’t get the memo,” I used to tell her. “It turns out secondhand smoke kills.” And she’d just light up another Winston.
    “How was church,” sometimes I’d say. “Did you remember to mention all the Old Grand-Dad and off-track betting?”
    “And freeloading juvenile delinquents?” she’d ask.
    “Eat shit,” I’d say. And then she’d grab a TV Guide or ashtray and throw it at me.

* * *

    I was seventeen years old and living in a foster home in Sherman, Texas. It had all the warmth and coziness of a state penitentiary.
    “A penitentiary?” my roommate Spider said to me. “Bro, you don’t know how good you got it here.”
    Spider loved the place—acted like three hots and a cot were absolutely all there was to life.
    I made some comment about how much toilet paper was left, and he said, “Y’all ought to try seeing the roll as half full for once.”
    “Hurry up in there,” Mrs. Spurlock said, banging on the door. “You got Spider waiting out here.”
    Through the bathroom window I had a perfect view of a red Harvester Cub tractor cooling off under a tree. I tugged furiously at my cock as my eyes raced up and down that hot little body. When a butterfly landed on her shapely rear end, I lost it and blasted my load against the wall.
    “You need to get a girlfriend,” Spider said as I walked out.
    “You’re the one with all the Beyonce posters,” I said.
    At El Paso High School, the girls are all stuck up. I went to a Sadie Hawkins dance once in the school gymnasium. You had to stand against the wall like an idiot and wait to be asked if you didn’t have a dance partner. After about half an hour, two girls walked across the room to me. One was pretty, with strawberry-blond hair; the other had shoulders like Mike Tyson. The Mike Tyson one said, “We were just wondering, do you plan to murder one of the girls here tonight and then wear her skin around as a coat?”
    As lousy as things were, I kept reminding myself that they could always be worse. Spider’s brother had some sort of deal, a fucked-up immune system I think, and he had to stay inside this big room-sized incubator. Spider told me if his brother ever set foot outside the protective room, the unfiltered air would kill him.
    If there was some fucking place I hadn’t been sent yet, that’s where Mrs. Spurlock stuck me. I stood around in a crowded church. I sat all day in my room. I spent three months in summer school. I slept on a cement floor in a jail cell. When I went to jail, the guard kept calling me by my booking number. Whenever I’d say I was hungry or wanted to talk to someone in charge, he’d go, “I’ll get right on that, Mr. Five-Four-Two.”
    I wanted to bail on everything, hit the road. I mean it wasn’t like I had anyone dropping by or sending me mail, so I didn’t need an actual address. I’d drive across the goddamn country. See the heartland. I’d wash dishes here and there. Sleep out under the stars. Expand my horizons, unlike all the other shit-for-brains at this place.
    “How are you going to do that when you can’t even wash the ones you left in the sink?” Mrs. Spurlock said when she heard this.
    “Those would be your golden boy, Spider’s,” I said.
    “Spider’s?” she said.
    “Yeah,” I told her. “What’s so hard to believe about that?”
    “Why would Spider leave a stack of dirty dishes in the sink?” Mrs. Spurlock said.
    “Because he’s a lazy piece of shit, same as me,” I told her. “Because all he’s ever gonna be is a fucking burden on society.”
    “Okay, okay,” she said, “take it easy.”
    “Take it easy,” I said.
    “Take it easy,” she said. “Sit back down.”
    That was my last semester at El Paso. I was a few hours late driving the Spurlocks’ ’57 Chevy pickup around looking for my dog, and my teacher never stopped bringing it up. Days later, even if I did well on something, all I got was “You just rolled in here like it was no big deal. You completely disrupted my class. You need to have a parent call if you are going to be tardy.” I’m sitting there and the teacher’s just going off on me in front of the whole class. Eventually I told her that was absolutely fascinating, but the class would probably be better served if she shut her fat mouth and went back to teaching history.

* * *

    You get all lovesick is what happens.
    The first time I saw Chase, she was dripping wet in the middle of a high school car wash. I started talking to some dude waiting for her who seemed like a decent enough guy even if he didn’t appreciate her. The “for sale” sign in her window read best offer. I’d never had a thing for Ford Torinos, or Cobras, but this one was something special—I mean right away she just seemed like the one. Before you could say two eggs over easy, I was planning ways I could make her mine. I could get a part-time job—or talk to a bank. Take out a loan like a decent fucking member of society.
    He gave me his phone number and address. Of course this Dave Santos lived in the Double Diamond district, a gated community. From what I gathered though, it was someplace I’d never been before.
    There were a couple of neighborhoods in El Paso where I wasn’t supposed to go. If I accidentally trespassed on one of them, I was basically screwed.
    Mrs. Spurlock and Spider noticed me acting differently. They started making little comments and asking me what was new.
    One of the times I went over, Chase was sitting out front in the rain when Mr. Santos came out of his house. “Small world,” I said, “My grandmother lives right up the street.” And he said that was an interesting coincidence. I asked why he didn’t keep her garaged, and he said I shouldn’t worry about it. I told him I would definitely be coming by with some money soon, and he said to be sure I gave him a call first.
    I rode my bike by there twice late at night and wasn’t able to come either time. The second time I had my dick in her gas tank when a light came on over the porch. I had to crouch down behind her while Mr. Santos stood on the edge of his steps looking up and down the block.

* * *

    I’ve changed homes a thousand times, and somehow I’ve always wound up on the bottom bunk. Under my bed against the wall, behind some boxes, I kept a backpack containing a ski mask, a jar of Vaseline, some hydrogen peroxide, gauze, bandages, styptic pencils, a police scanner, a bunch of Auto Trader printouts, a flashlight, and an old T-shirt. The police scanner was just a tiny thing with a long antenna.
    I got the book bag from my counselor at Child Protective Services after I left home. I put a change of clothes in there, and some bathroom shit too.
    When I was like ten, I used to have this video game where you had to kill off all the zombies in a shopping mall with a machine gun. My neighbor Carlos and I used to play each other, and we’d stay up late seeing who could get the highest score. I had to hit my joystick over and over until my palm got this painful red bump on it. This one disgusting hot weekend, it must have been during summer vacation, I had finally gone ahead. All I had to do was run my guy up to the roof to finish the game. But I couldn’t stop pounding the controller. I remember Carlos running to call his brother as the sun was coming up. And his older brother’s mouth fell open when he saw my bloody hand, and he pleaded with me to stop. Carlos and his brother were yelling to each other in Spanish and then it was like they both just ran out of words, and they didn’t know me. I felt like Zippy the Pinhead. One of them unplugged the TV, and the other one yanked the controller out of my hand. Then Carlos started bawling, and they both climbed in his shit-brown Toyota Corolla and drove off.
    Freshman year I began getting in a lot of trouble at school. Ditching classes. Getting in fights. The story goes that I was such a handful, Mrs. Green called the parents and asked them if they’d ever considered homeschooling. I guess she figured I could just study our monthly eviction notices and tally up the old man’s beer cans. That was the summer the parents deposited me in the summer drama program. We had to put on a production of Frankenstein’s Monster. Somehow, I wound up with the privilege of playing the monster.
    I had class on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights and three-hour rehearsals every Tuesday and Thursday. It’s about the last time I can ever remember us all in the same car together. It was a three-door Hyundai Excel my father had gotten from a friend of his. The back door was broken, and I’d have to get out through the hatchback. They’d always say, “Just be yourself,” as I was climbing out of the car. I guess that was supposed to be funny.
    There was this one part I loved to rehearse, where this impossible bitch Candy, who plays a little girl, is tossing daisies into a lake and watching them float. She decides to give me a thrill and gives me some of her precious flowers. She pretends she likes me. Then when I find out it’s all bullshit, I get to toss her ass into the lake.

* * *

    After the night Mr. Santos came out of his house, I stopped going by to see Chase. I gave him a call, finally, and left a message on his voice mail: “Have you thought any more about my offer?” I said. “Give me a call.” And then when I was making my lunch, I recalled I hadn’t left my name.
    Toward the end of that summer, a mouse finally got caught on one of my homemade glue traps down in the basement. I watched it struggle to pull its collapsed body from the paper for several minutes and then stepped on it. I brought it out to Mrs. Spurlock on the porch, and she said, “That’s disgusting.” And I said, “That’s all you’ve got to say? I solve your mouse problem, and you don’t even want to say thank you?” And she said, “My hero. Now get it the hell out of my face.” And took another pull from her mason jar. So I tossed it into the sunhat by her feet. Then as I was walking across the farm, I decided she didn’t deserve my help, so I went back down to the basement and picked up all the traps.

* * *

    The lady who showed me the bras at Kruger Auto Supply told me that vinyl was the hot thing right now and would be best for Chase’s measurements. Another guy told me later that that was all horseshit, and leather was the classy way to go. I got that, a chocolate-strawberry air freshener, and a CD called Seriously Cool Driving Music because I’d always liked the song “Radar Love.” After that I went by Open Road and picked up an old-fashioned picnic basket and some road maps. The salesman at the store kept calling me “a real Don Juan.” I joined a car club that met each Wednesday at this Retro Burger just to talk cars and have someplace to go. I had to take the bus to get out there, and somebody trying to get my goat asked if I ever planned to get a car, and I said, “Well, what do you think?” I talked to a couple guys who seemed all right who said there was nothing wrong with me. This old guy, Artie, was living in his T-Bird and said he had since he was seventeen. He even said we should get together and cruise Main Street sometime, but it never happened. This woman was going on about how she liked to get her GTO up to one hundred miles an hour while her girlfriend got her off with a vibrator. She advocated this sort of thing for everyone who owned a classic car. She said once a cop even chased them through the hills, but that the flashing lights and sirens only added to the whole experience.
    I got a tribute tattoo for my grandma Elsie at the House of Pain in Vista Hills when I was leaving. The guy used a photo from my wallet. It’s one of those photo booth pictures, and my grandmother is wearing my dark sunglasses with a big cigar in her mouth. The work cost me two hundred and twenty dollars and came with a little bottle of lotion for my arm.
    I stayed in my room for a few hours after the whole mouse thing, and when the Spurlocks started watching their idiotic TV shows, I went out back and began greasing up their tractor in the dark. I was just beginning to work up a lather when I heard the screen door squeak open and Mr. Spurlock ask me what I was doing. He was at the top of the steps in his wheelchair under the porch light.
    “My chores,” I told him.
    “Well, when you’re done fooling around, I need you to help me over to the barn.”
    “What’s Mrs. Spurlock doing?” I said. She claimed she couldn’t budge the old fart, but I’d seen her lift whole bags of potatoes plenty of times.
    “Mrs. Spurlock is taking a nap,” he said. “Are we going to debate this or are you going to come help me?”
    I wheeled him into the barn and up to a shelf of thick blankets. “We’ll need to get these things up on top of Roscoe and Pete,” he said.
    I kept changing my Facebook status while he was in the stables with the horses. Finally I settled on what my mother used to sarcastically call my parents’ song: Love will tear us apart. “Are we almost done?” I said to him after a couple minutes.
    “Why, you got someplace you’re supposed to be?” he said, pushing himself out of the stable.
    “What if I do?” I said, looking at the crumpled blankets in his lap. “I thought you were going to put those on the horses.”
    “I gave up,” he said. His glasses were crooked, and little beads of sweat were dripping down his forehead.
    “Listen, I was talking to some guys over at the Flytrap,” he said as I pushed him back toward the house. “I think maybe you got a problem, one of them fetishes. You could probably do with some professional help.”
    “Not this again,” I said.
    “It isn’t normal,” he said. “It isn’t good for you.”
    “And you’re going to tell me what’s good for me,” I told him.
    “One of the fellas, Beefy, he used to have a thing with rubber dolls. He goes to meetings now. He ain’t touched one in, oh—”
    “—Can we just drop it? Can we?” I said.
    When I wheeled him back to the living room, Mrs. Spurlock was asleep on the couch with her mouth open. For an instant I thought the stupid bitch was dead.
    “Please try to keep the noise to a minimum,” Mr. Spurlock said before I slammed the door to my bedroom.
    He wheeled by later that night when I was playing High Speed Chase on my phone. “There are places we can send you,” he said. “Treatment centers.”
    “Wouldn’t that be convenient,” I said.
    “What’s that supposed to mean?” he said.
    “Don’t worry, you’ll be rid of me soon enough,” I told him. “I’ve about had it with living in this goddamn Bates Motel.” And that got the two of them to finally go down to their room.
    When I heard them milling around the house in the morning, I went and got my bike and rode it out to Big Al’s scrap yard. I left so fast I forgot to bring my phone. Sitting at the top of Grant Hill, I watched the giant crane picking up stripped-down sedans and topless coupes. I began to feel guilty looking at other cars. I wished that I had my phone so that I could at least play High Speed Chase.
    A year ago my counselor got the bright idea to put me in this scared straight program in Fort Worth. Death row inmates in federal prison cursed me up and down all afternoon, but I just tuned them out. When that didn’t seem to click, the guard said not to be so cocky, that I hadn’t seen anything yet. I ended up locked in the morgue with a bunch of stiffs. “It’s okay if you feel like crying,” my counselor said when I came out. I remember he was holding a book called <>IIntroduction to Teen Counseling. “About what?” I asked him.
    I couldn’t eat. I would sit in front of a bowl of cereal and just stare at it. Couldn’t sleep. I started having strange thoughts too, snapping at people. I had a pretty good idea of why. Not that I expected anyone to give a rat’s ass.
    I came out of my room after lying in bed until noon and unplugged my phone from the charger. Mrs. Spurlock had the door to the refrigerator open, and her olive-green kitchen stunk like Pine-Sol. She was digging through a drawer at the bottom with a yellow piece of masking tape across it labeled “guest” in black cursive.
    “Is there something wrong with this charger?” I asked.
    “How should I know?” she said back. “I’m assuming you’re done with this.” She was wearing her floral bathrobe, holding something wrapped in Saran Wrap over her head.
    “That’s not mine,” I told her.
    “Well, it was in your drawer,” she said. I left her and went into the garage. Mrs. Spurlock said, “He probably found somebody who made him a real offer. Anyway, I don’t see what you love about that car so much,” she added, once she had closed the drawer and shut the fridge.
    I found an outlet and checked through my messages. Nothing new. Just an old one from Mr. Santos saying that he would give my offer some real thought. He would get back to me. His distorted voice said, “The thing about this one is, she’s got a lot of people interested in her—we may want to play the field a bit, you know?”
    Suddenly it dawned on me I was not going to hear back from him. Everything went out of me like a blown-out tire. “Fuck!” I yelled, slamming the phone onto the workbench. I stood there holding the jack in the outlet. The garage was dark except for some reflections across Mr. Spurlock’s stupid jars of bolts and shit.
    “Oh, calm down,” Mrs. Spurlock said. “You couldn’t have afforded her anyway.”
    “Don’t tell me to calm down,” I said.
    “Please,” she said, shutting off the faucet. “You’re acting like a damn fool—” When I came into the kitchen and stood behind her, she said, “—not that it isn’t understandable.”
    I kept thinking how Chase and I were meant to be together, picturing all these guys putting their hands on her. I pushed by Mrs. Spurlock and threw my phone in the garbage.
    “What are you doing?” she yelled.
    I’d about had it with listening to her run her ignorant mouth and went out to the porch to think. I was considering riding my bike over to see Chase, but my heart was pounding too hard. My shoulders were hot and I couldn’t catch my breath. I decided to wait until I felt my body calm down. After a few minutes Spider woke up on the swing. He rubbed his eyes and said, “Dude, seriously, you’re going to wear a hole in the porch.” Meaning I was pacing a lot, so I went around back and sat down against the barn. I watched Mrs. Spurlock’s gray head bobbing around over the sink until she must have noticed me because she wiped some steam from the window.
    Then I started to feel so anxious that I figured I had to do something, so I grabbed the bag from my room and got my bike from the porch and rode it down to Brownie’s Hardware. It was colder than shit, but I couldn’t stop sweating. I looked at the flathead screwdrivers and the power drills while some Iranian guy at the cash register kept giving me dirty looks. I didn’t even know if I was buying the right shit, but I paid for it and put it in my bag. When I got back my caseworker, Miss Jaffe, was standing on the porch talking to Mr. and Mrs. Spurlock. I hid behind a hedge at the end of the driveway and waited for her to get in her brown Volvo GLT Wagon, with its 2.4-liter engine, automated climate control, and five-speed manual transmission.
    I knew it, I knew it, I knew it! I was saying to myself. Just seeing her with that stupid clipboard again had me freaking out. My mind was racing. I felt outside of myself. I could see my body from above, crouched behind the swaying bushes.
    When she drove away I walked in the front door like everything was damn Skippy. There was a green pamphlet on the entrance table that read, Texas Treatment Centers. A band of light lay across the living room couch. I could hear Mr. and Mrs. Spurlock talking in the kitchen. I cleared my throat and started in past them toward my bedroom.
    “Miss Jaffe was here,” said Mr. Spurlock. He was looking across the table at his wife, who had her face pinched tight like she smelled a turd.
    “Yeah,” I said.
    “Yeah, so, we had a talk,” he said. “She seems to think you’d do better in a controlled environment.”
    “And what do you guys think?” I asked them.
    “We agreed,” said Mrs. Spurlock, turning the bowl of plastic fruit in front of her.
    I went out the back door and sat down on the steps. They’d probably called Miss Jaffe when Mrs. Spurlock walked in on me with all those car magazines. Or it might have been when I cut myself up on the gas tank of their tractor. There wasn’t anything to stop the bleeding, and I’d left a trail of blood leading from the porch to the bathroom. Either way this was their doing.
    “I’m going out,” I told them when I came back in.
    “We’re only looking out for your best interests,” Mr. Spurlock said.
    “You guys are all heart,” I said.
    I changed into a silk shirt and slacks and combed my hair and sprayed myself with some of Spider’s cologne and got the fuck out of there.
    It took me longer than usual to get across town because I was trying not to sweat. When I got close to the main entrance at Double Diamond, it was just getting dark. I got off my bike and walked it over behind the mailboxes. When I was sure nobody could see me, I opened my bag and went through it to make sure I had everything and to go over what I was going to do in my head.
    Every five minutes or so, someone would pull up the flowery driveway and open the metal fence. It was an arched gate with a diamond on either side, and whenever it jerked to life, you could hear the chain rumbling along the bottom. Beside the entrance was a community bulletin board. There was a Thanksgiving turkey made out of construction paper behind the locked glass, and I remembered a commercial on TV advertising a getaway for young people called Art Camp for Teens.
    I thought, Jesus, if I’m actually going to do this, I want to start out completely fresh, so I took the driver’s license and social security card from my wallet and ditched them behind some bushes. The air was thick with the smell of lilac. Nearby, I could hear someone hosing down a driveway and a little farther off the gentle clatter of crockery as someone else was making dinner. And the whole time I’m watching, I’m thinking, If I mess this up, if I get caught, the Spurlocks will make it their life’s mission to make sure the whole lousy world knows my personal business. So I put on my ski mask and got ready.
    But no one came down the driveway. I sat on my heels and listened as a streetlight buzzed away over the gate. I untied and retied my boots. My face started to itch. I took off the wool mask and shook it out and put it back on. Finally a snow-white Town and Country pulled around the corner. Two kids were in back with their dog watching something on the drop-down Blu-ray DVD system. When it drove in I waited until it was a good ways down the block and then ran in and crouched down behind a fire hydrant. In the beginning of Frankenstein’s Monster, the hunchback has to hide behind a cardboard tombstone with his lantern in the graveyard. I just remembered that.
    The monster that the town goes after is supposed to be made out of spare pieces of regular people that the hunchback collects. When they chase me into an old mill, I climb all the way to the very top. Then there is nowhere for me to go. I grunt and growl and throw the guy who created me out the window into the windmill.
    I ran along the sidewalk until I came to his neighbor’s place, where I crawled under a camper shell in the driveway. I was breathing so hard I thought I was going to hyperventilate. Chase was still there, her crimson-red body sprawled out like a seductress lying in wait. Cupping my hands over my mouth and nose, I tried to control my breath. Dew was falling quickly, settling on the camper window and giving everything a surreal look.
    By the time the light finally went off in the Santos’ place, my legs had gone numb. I dragged myself out from under the camper and stood up by a pile of firewood covered in a plastic tarp. It was windy and the covering kept flicking up against itself. Somewhere behind me a wind chime was playing a maniacal symphony. I threw the backpack over my shoulder and hurried over to Chase. I crouched down and touched her with my fingertips. She was wet. I looked her up and down. She’d had her entire body waxed. I began to giggle and then covered my mouth.
    Taking the Slim Jim from my bag, I noticed the weight of it. The goddamn thing felt like a dagger in my hand. I thought: I’m sorry to have to do this to you, baby. Plunging my tool into her, I began jabbing away frantically. Suddenly I felt a release. My head became light and I could feel the blood surging through me. I opened the door and tossed my bag on her Milano leather seat. Taking out my penlight I checked under her steering column. They were right there; a bundle of multicolored wires bound by a plastic band. Pulling out the red ones, I put the penlight in my mouth. I snipped off the plastic band. I began stripping away the thin plastic coating. Putting the two wires together, I felt her roar to life.
    I sat up and took the wheel. The warmth of Chase’s 428 Cobra Jet engine entered my shoulders and back like a hit of Jack Daniel’s. I put her in gear and let up slowly on the clutch. She rumbled and began to move. The porch light came on. The front door flew open, and Mr. Santos came running out in his boxer shorts followed by some fat mess in a Disney T-shirt. Chase was shaking so violently, I worried she was going to seize out. The fat mess had her phone out and was trying to tape me. “Kick his ass,” she yelled from the middle of the lawn. “Kick his ass!” Mr. Santos was tugging at the door and punching her window. I shifted into second and tried not to look at him. He ran along beside us for a half block or more before he finally disappeared from the window.
    I fishtailed around the corner and was headed toward the gate when I saw a young couple jogging together up ahead. I pulled Chase up onto the sidewalk and caught them just as they were turning around. The way they went under the car, I’m not sure anything even happened to them. Chase was hiked up so high, she was like a low-flying plane.
    I must have caught the edge of a wet lawn or something because when I tried to turn the wheel, I spun out into the side of a house. I could hear sirens getting closer, and I thought my heart was going to pound right out of my chest. Something was banging underneath me, but I couldn’t tell what it was. And while I was lying there with my head split open on the steering wheel, every looky-loo in the neighborhood had walked out front of their place to watch a free show.
    My head was getting lighter, and I felt I’d melded right into Chase. They’re going to have a bitch of a time separating us, I thought. Then I started to laugh and coughed up blood all over the speedometer. “Sorry about that,” I said.
    I could hear trucks pulling up and doors slamming. Radios. Guys were gathering around, dragging things across the cement.

* * *

    Everyone is always saying, Well, that dude’s a pothead or that guy has a gambling problem or whatever, and I always come back with, Well, wait, can he still function; can he stop if he wants to? That always makes people uncomfortable. That’s because it’s all relative. Because everybody does stuff that is unhealthy. Everybody has a few bad habits. Everybody says reach out to your family or reach out to your friends, but ninety-nine percent of them will never know what it’s like to pick up the phone and have no one to talk to. You’d think people would quit doling out advice about shit they’ve never experienced.
    I can feel something clamping down into Chase, next to my head. The rescue guy close to me stinks like he hasn’t showered in a week. He’s saying something to someone behind him about black smoke. They don’t have much time. I push my head harder into Chase, trying to bleed. I don’t know what I’ll do if they separate us. I don’t know what I’ll do if I live. There is this one part of Frankenstein that always stayed with me. The entire class is crowded around the burning mill. I am trapped under this giant Styrofoam beam. Naturally, all the townsfolk are pissed off and waving their torches like nuts. It is then that the monster realizes he loves his creator. He reaches out and howls for Dr. Frankenstein. But it is too late. A voice says, “And soon the monster was borne away by smoke and lost in darkness and distance.” And Dr. Frankenstein looks up from his stretcher and says, “Good riddance, you twisted soul,” which the audience always ate up. And I remember thinking, Who’s the real monster here?


Anna Maria Hansen

I feel


Unsure of where I’m going,
or if I’m going

Unsure of what to do,
and who to do it with
at all.

Questioning everything.
Searching for signs.
Hoping for something,
I don’t know

I write my life up in lists
of duties, dreams, dead ends.
As if in the lines
I will find

Crossing off hours of living
like a game of ticktacktoe,
feeling pinched tight;
specimen in a

Dividing around the equal sign,
solving for an unknown
that I’m not sure
I even really want

I search for a way out
of this mess of emotions
heading towards something
that might be

I feel so




Janet Kuypers
haiku 2/8/14

tired of dying
for sins, over and over —
who’s your messiah

twitter 4 jk twitter 4 jk Visit the Kuypers Twitter page for short poems— join
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of Janet Kuypers hosting the open mic and reading this poem 2/12/14 at Gallery Cabaret’s the Café Gallery in Chicago
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See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her twitter-length haiku over live 2/12/14 at the open mic the Café Gallery in Chicago (C)
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Janet Kuypers
haiku 2/8/14

save me from the bur-
ning building, or I’ll have to
rescue me again

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of Janet Kuypers hosting the open mic and reading this poem 2/12/14 at Gallery Cabaret’s the Café Gallery in Chicago
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See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her twitter-length haiku rescue live 2/12/14 at the open mic the Café Gallery in Chicago (C)
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Fitting the Mold 2010

Janet Kuypers
(poetry converted to prose)

    He told them repeatedly that the government has to get an employee into this division, so he was willing to sit in his colleague’s office, and they kept the speakerphone on as they started conducting telephone interviews; knowing that person made a difference for public speeches for this branch of the government for this position, Gerald sat in Stephan’s office silently as Stephan pulled the first resume sheet dialed the number and started the interview
    Gerald listened, and heard the first applicant discuss that he understood government spending in education, health care, helping the poor, paving roads, keeping water safe to drink, fighting pollution and the like but he wasn’t in favor of money going to religious groups, or even helping corporations who have previously failed so miserably. He said he was against the expansion of the Patriot Act (that’s a blow against him for this government position), but he was in favor of holding the military responsible for illegal acts committed while in service.
    And oh, we just heard another issue that’s a strike against him: he claimed that abortion is nobody’s business but the woman (and secondarily the man).
    Well, he was sounding good, but we have to make sure some topics are not covered when he’s making public speeches while at work...
    To close the phone interview, Stephan asked what religion he was the first applicant said confidently that he was jewish and after he gave his answer Stephan thanked him and ended the interview. With the phone off the hook, Stephan said under his breath, “well, we’ll have to find someone else, we’ve got two more phone interviews”
    When the second man answered his phone, Stephen immediately started asking questions, and this new candidate had a lot of intriguing opinions. He understood that taxation existed to secure the people’s view of a good society, but people who are taxed can’t control if the money is spent efficiently. But he also made a valuable point: that nothing guarantees that people are correct in assuming that what they want is what they need. Americans, through taxation, display faith in the government to accomplish what we need. Government spending gauges where our values lie. Choices of spending money to house orphans or to subsidize industry, on education or incarceration are a direct reflection of what the people want.
    Gerald listened to this interviewee, thinking that this person could be molded into whatever they needed for this new position.
    Not knowing what he’d say about the wars and combat, Stephan guided the questions to the military. he responded by saying that a common defense is the most enduring and universal symbol of all successful human societies. Treaties and alliances effectively stop people from continuing to build their arsenal. So, he’s also in support of finding more allies after the war Bush was walked us into, to cut our costs down as well. Makes sense. so Stephan closed the interview asking what religion he ascribed to, and he replied that he was muslim
    Gerald and Stephan both looked at each other with wide eyes when they heard that, so Stephan asked if he was Muslim from birth. No, he replied, I was raised Christian, but I became Muslim was I was probably around twenty-five.
    Oh, well, thank you, Stephan said, thanks for letting us know.
    He then graciously said thank you to Stephan as they ended the interview and hung up the phone
    Stephan then looked up at Gerald.
    Well, he finally said.
    Yes, Gerald answered.
    I don’t think that would work out well for us, Stephan said.
    I don’t know what the ramifications would be, Gerald answered.
    Well, one more interview to go as Stephan looked at the last application and phone number to dial.
    Before Stephen dialed the last number, he said that this one’s a woman, well, we should listen to her anyway Gerald pointed out that if the President can bring a black woman into his cabinet, this might not be a bad thing, so Stephen relented and dialed the phone.
    After greetings, he started asking her questions, and she answered honestly, though she tried to back up every answer with facts and details that made her answer seem like the most plausible choice. She believed it was a woman’s right to have an abortion since the woman is the one who has to host the fetus until it can become a life on its own, but she also felt that if people were looking to adopt, and doctors can keep premature babies alive well after their first trimester, she had less of a moral argument for late term abortions. She said that even though she was a woman and in a minority, she didn’t believe in laws to assist women, or people in minorities in getting jobs because people should only be hired on merit and talent, not on the color of their skin or whether they’re male or female.
    She believed taxation was appropriate to keep the society functioning, even though some are unwilling to pay higher taxes while wanting more things done for them. She then pointed out that these same people want to gamble some of their money away at casinos. This made her wonder why gambling is not more prevalent, and taxed heavily, so the government could get money for work that needed to be done.
    Stephan asked her about the military, and she responded by saying that war is always a gruesome thing, people are realizing that now because television cameras are now on the front lines, showing them details of the gore... But one thing she noted when the gulf war was going on in the early nineties (though it wasn’t technically a war, people use the term “war” flippantly whenever there’s a conflict or an invasion now, even though congress hasn’t declared a war since world war two), but what she noted was the staggering ease America had in attacking the middle east, how casualties were low, and how a lot of amazing technology was used to fight the first gulf war. the country is filled with amazingly intelligent people, she said, and that intelligence will keep our numbers of injured or killed low when in battle again.
    Approaching the end of their interview, Stephen remembered the first prospective employee talking about keeping the government away from religion, he asked her what she thought of the separate of church and state.
    She pointed out that there is nothing in the Constitution that declares the separation of church and state, and she also knows that there are many people in this country who aren’t Christian, who have to deal with Christian holidays and churchgoers imposing their Christian mentality.
    Then all she heard was silence.
    She knew this Christian interviewer didn’t like her non-Christian answer, so she tried to fill the silence with justification since this country is a melting pot, she said, and people have had to accommodate differing languages of citizens for years, people should also be able to accommodate different religions as well, or even atheism.
    I see, Stephan said.
    I am not saying that Christianity should be out of the government, she said, it’s in our government’s roots. I know full well that most people who founded this country were Christians; they just didn’t want a government-sanctioned religion forced down people’s throats. People who complain about the separation of church and state don’t have a problem using our money, where every bill and coin says “in God we trust”.
    Stephan noted her beliefs about the inclusion of religious phrases in money, so he asked about the inclusion of “under God” in the pledge of allegiance.
    Well, she said, I believed it should have remained there if that is the way it had always been, but then I found out that it hadn’t always been that way. From the best I can gather, FDR added “under God” to the pledge to show how us Americans were better than those Godless communists.
    Does that mean we should pull the added phrase out now? she asked.
    The invocation of religion in Bush’s cabinet does make this middle eastern attack more like a holy war, whether or not anyone wants to believe it, but instead of pulling those two words, which would anger a lot of americans, I don’t see why children who are opposed to saying “under God” can’t just not say those two words while reciting the pledge and leave it at that. I wouldn’t say we should remove those two added words to the pledge, but I also don’t see why so many people in America want to search for problem to complain about. If I didn’t like something when I was growing up, I didn’t try to uproot the system, because the systems’ often far too powerful to overcome, i’d just found a way around the problem for myself and didn’t make any waves. We can’t get along as a country if everyone is complaining about little details they can just work around. People have different beliefs in this country, and one of our saving graces is that we’ve allowed those differences to help us thrive
    Stephan was coming around to what she was saying, and when he looked up at Gerald, he saw him smirking at the sense in her comments.
    Well, thank you very much for your opinions in this interview, Stephan finally said just out of curiosity, what religion are you?
    Do you need that, she asked.
    Well, we— Stephan was cut off.
    You’re not allowed to hire based on religion, she cut in.
    We’re not, Stephan answered, we’ve just been talking about religion, that’s all.
    She knew he was expecting her to answer.
    She panicked.
    She knew he was a Christian, she knew they wanted a Christian in this job.
    Everyone in the government has to fit what they see as the perfect American mold
    She knew she’d be flat-out rejected for a job if she told them she was an Atheist. her mind started reeling. She was born catholic, but she learned to think for herself as she grew older, so she knew better... Her morals were very Christian, and she was told more than once that she was a good gnostic Christian.
    All of this flashed through her head in about one and a half seconds and she finally answered, I’m a Christian.
    Oh, Stephan answered, what denomination?
    Excuse me? she asked, to steal herself a little more time.
    Oh, what denomination, Catholic, Protestant, Lutheran, Baptist, just wondering what church you went to.
    She gulped.
    People have told me I’m a good gnostic Christian but... I was born a catholic.
    Ah, keeping company with the president, Stephan said.
    No, I’m not a Roman Catholic but Catholicism does make a good portion of Christianity in this country...
    They both laughed in agreement as Stephan started to close the interview.
    After she hung up the phone she thought about how the cards are stacked against woman. Then again, they’re stacked against you if you are anything other than an Anglo-Saxon male, sorry Blacks, sorry Latinos, sorry Asians, sorry Native Americans. But now she was seeing that the cards could be stacked against you if you’re not a Christian. Sorry Jews, sorry Hindus, sorry Muslims, sorry Atheists. You’re screwed too if you don’t fit into the perfect mold.
    She almost felt like she needed to take a shower, to clean herself off from having to lie — wait, she didn’t lie, she just didn’t reveal the entire truth.
    Then she realized that if she got the job she’d have to get used to covering up the truth all the time.

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Key To Survival 2010

Janet Kuypers
(poetry converted to prose)

    Have you ever seen someone who has a flock of people around them, and that someone is just naturally talking but people are attracted to them like moths to a flame? People there are like sun tanning high-school girls facing this person’s bright light, wanting to soak them all in and hoping they’re more beautiful for it.
    You see these people, everyone smiling, circled around this special someone. It’s like an animal magnetism; you can’t help but try to nudge in, to hear their words, to try to get a little of that narcotic for yourself.
    It’s like being a child again, with a ton of kids in a candy store where someone’s giving out free candy and all the kids are so thrilled and they’re grinning from ear to ear... You haven’t even gotten close enough to hear their words, but you’re already starting to smile.
    Have you ever seen someone standing at the corner of an intersection; they look dirty and disheveled and you try to keep your distance ‘cause you’re guessing they’re homeless and asking for money but you have to pass them, they’re right on the street in your way. So you try to walk on the farthest edge of the sidewalk but you watch them with your peripheral vision, and you see them making animated gestures and you see their face contorting like they’re having a great debate... with no one. Like they’re giving the speech of their lifetime to no one.
    Because, you see, no one wants to listen. Everyone knows this is a madman raving, so you just try to ignore them. You make a point to not listen, I mean, there’s a Hell of a lot of noise we tune of out of our minds, cars going by, honking their horns, the low rumble of other people talking nearby, the shuffle of your footsteps... Well, this is another one of those noises. You don’t want to hear them; you had a bad feeling about them as soon as you saw them. Just ignore them and hopefully they'll go away.
    I knew of a woman who went on a date with a male friend of mine, and after the date the guy talked about how great she was, how they talked about their future and what they both wanted. He talked about the inside of her place, but after he left messages for her repeatedly, she never called him back again
    Saw this woman weeks later at a Starbuck’s and she said she felt bad, but she never wanted to see him again, because during their date they never talked about what they wanted... He just talked about what he wanted, like how she wouldn’t work because he even told her how many of his children she would bear.
    She wouldn’t let him into her home (does that mean he was looking through her window?), and she said that after the date she showered for hours because she felt mentally raped.
    Poor girl. She saw someone who seemed nice, but it took her only a short while to know what he was really like.
    Sometimes you look at people, and you just know.
    Sometimes it takes you a little while, but people can’t hide their souls forever.
    Everyone gets feelings about someone whether or not they want to admit it.
    It’s not women’s intuition, men feel it too. You feel it in your chest when you see someone good and you get that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you see someone bad.
    Sometimes you look at people and you just know, and you can try to avoid that feeling you get and you try to shrug it off as nothing and you try to run away from the feeling for years but you can’t hide from your soul forever. It’ll catch up to you when you least expect it.
    Sometimes you just know. You’ve felt it. I’ve felt it too. We know what to run to and what to steer clear of.
    We’ve got to. It’s in our nature. It’s a key to happiness and our key to survival.

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(5:34) from the Chicago performance art show {Stripped} live 06/07/05

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 Chicago poetry open mic at the Café Gallery, 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, the Stories of Women, Prominent Pen (Kuypers edition), Elemental, the paperback book of the 2012 Datebook (which was also released as a spiral-bound cc&d ISSN# 2012 little spiral datebook, , Chaotic Elements, and Fusion, the (select) death poetry book Stabity Stabity Stab Stab Stab, the 2012 art book a Picture’s Worth 1,000 words (available with both b&w interior pages and full color interior pages, the 2013 ISSN# color art book Life, in Color, Post Apocalyptic Burn Through Me and Under the Sea (photo book). Three collection books were also published of her work in 2004, Oeuvre (poetry), Exaro Versus (prose) and L’arte (art).

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