I remember the widow
That each year would place
Candles in her windows
Next door to the man
Found unconscious beside
The ring for the bride
That betrayed him
Across from the mother
Whose only child
Loved alcohol more
Than her life
And the agents that sold
Their homes only spoke
Of how beautifully each
My father once said
That if I didn’t know
What to say I should
Just say nothing
As if the world
Is really a court
And to speak is to
Admit your guilt
And even now
I can hear his ghost
As it whispers
His hard-won words
As you ask me how
I plea to the crime
Of daring to
Speak at all
He calls night and day
Picking up exactly
Where he left off before
Like a broken record
Stuck at the end
Of the same sad song
And as he repeats
The only melody
He has ever learned
His voice becomes noise
The lonely sound
Of an anonymous wind
Denny E. Marshall
two butterfly wings
change living unknown planet
larvae hatch both worlds
Denny E. Marshall
eight syllable words
in haiku poetry
Denny E. Marshall
Caught between the cold
And dark colors setting sun
Shadows play like a fold
Current scenes paint on the run
Sit on wooden chair
Mirror images reflects on lake
Horizon spills into a pair
Edge of sky swirling snakes
Deny E. Marshall
Orion’s song plays
across the vast universe
lyrics reach eardrums
Deny E. Marshall
stars drop all over
like light salt from a shaker
peppered with black holes
Thatcher pulled the bag off the man’s head. With his mouth duct taped shut and his limbs duct taped to the chair, the man’s blood shot eyes rolled around the room.
“The QSZ 92,” Thatcher held up the gun. “Made in China. 9mm caliber. 9x19 parabellum cartridge. Weight with empty magazine: 24 ounce. Muzzle velocity 1,148 ft%s. Fifteen round box for the magazine. 165ft range of effective fire.” Thatcher ripped the tape off the man’s mouth and shoved the barrel in, then pulled the trigger. Brain splattered on the cement wall behind him.
“Whoa,” Baldric stepped back and adjusted his tie, “Did I need to see the demo?”
“Wait here a sec.” Thatcher walked out of the warehouse and came back dragging another man with both hands. The man’s head was bagged and he was thrashing. Thatcher kicked him in the gut, then pulled another handgun out of an inside pocket in his suit coat and cocked the hammer. “Take a look at this baby,” Thatcher said. “The FN Barracuda. Made in Belgium. Caliber .357. Cartridge type .38 special. Weight with empty cylinder 37 ounces. Overall length 8.3 inches. Cylinder capacity 6 rounds.” Thatcher emptied all six rounds into the man’s chest. He whimpered and the thrashing slowed, then stopped.
“Tsk tsk. Bad mood today?” Baldric shoved the carcass with his foot.
“I want to show you something,” Thatcher said. He kneeled down and connected two power cords. A light flicked on in a distant end of the warehouse. Another man with a bagged head was squirming, tied to a pipe against the wall. Thatcher produced a pistol from his foot holster. “This ones the grand daddy of my toys. Knock your panties off and you’ll swallow your teeth like Starburst. The Desert Eagle Mark XIX. Made in the USA. .50 caliber. Weight with empty mag 4.39 pounds. Ten inch barrel. Magazine capacity 7 rounds. Range of effective fire 218 yards.” When Thatcher shot the gun his arm recoiled. After the seven shots he put it back and disconnected the cords.
“You got some explaining to do,” Baldric said. He was a tall and lanky man with a blue blazer and tanned complexion. His shadow cast a long draw in the dimness.
Thatcher was suited and pale. “You have to appreciate a good gun. It’s a work of art. Like Picasso—with more of a bang. Everyone’s different, I have a collection pinned to my wall. Been collecting ever since I started doin hits for Malcony. Been doin this since you were a rug rat.”
“Fucking static. I told him to tape the bug under his balls.” The van outside was becoming hot and stuffy. The agent sipped some cold wanton soup.
“You never told me which of the pinheads we were tracking,” The other agent said.
“Simple. We got a mole and vet. The vet’s Thatcher Russo. Top ranked hit man for the Gambinos. Takes out Malcony Simm’s trash.”
“And the Mole?”
“Baldric Dawson. With the fam for 10 years. RICO flip. Actually he’s just a driver.”
“Fuckin’ a. Just witnessed the executioner’s block.”
“There’s somethin else I wanted to show you,” Thatcher said. He reached into his outside suit pocket. “The Browning Baby. Small. Caliber .25. Barrel length 2.1 inches. Weight with empty magazine 9.7 ounces. Good for the close and quick ones.” Thatcher stepped forward and ripped a white wire from Baldrick’s inside suit pocket. He grabbed Baldrick by the throat and pressed the pistol to his temple. “Short and sweet,” he said.
“You got me. You know how it works with the feds these days.”
Thatcher pulled the trigger. The gun clicked but no shot.
“Oops,” Baldric said, “didn’t check the magazine?” He lifted his arm out and dropped six bullets on the floor. He pulled a long buoy knife from his pant pocket. “Always hated those things. Never trusted em. Now this, this is a weapon!”
the right to bear arms
doesn’t mean you shoot someone
for twenty bucks bash.
David A. Forrester
He didn’t want to pee in a graveyard. But he had to go, and besides it wasn’t his fault. A black sedan was rolling down the gravel road and he was forced into the woods. The boy had a fear of strangers, yet somehow peeing in a graveyard was wrong. At twelve Spencer didn’t understand why it was wrong. Maybe it wasn’t nice to pee on dead people. He would just point away from gravestones.
Spencer peed into the bushes. He had an innate sense of modesty, as if someone might come walking through the woods and see. Or maybe the dead people might see. He was somewhat surprised to see mosquitoes in the bushes. He had just assumed they lived on human blood and stayed near houses or camp grounds. What did they live on in a grave yard? A shudder went through him. He wiped his fingers off inside his pockets.
“That’s my boy” said a slight breeze.
Spencer hurried along his shortcut. The day was dim from overcast but still daylight. The grave yard scared him to the point where he could not afford to tarry longer than he had to. He felt that if he stayed too long the graves would find a place for him.
A misty figure followed the boy down the bare path that led up to a distinct line of trees. The wall of oaks marked the border of the grave yard. The path disappeared into a field of timothy and rye, dotted with black eyed susans. Spencer did too. The misty figure stopped and watched him run away.
“I miss you Mason, come back soon.”
Several other figures floated up to the line of trees to see. They had been following the boy and when they reached the edge of the grave yard stopped and hovered next to the first figure. The misty figure turned to face the others.
“That was Mason” it said. “I was going to teach him to skate. He loves winter time. Snow, Christmas and all that. He takes after me; his Grandpa.”
The figure paused as if giving an opportunity for the others to comment and then continued.
“Mason is the smartest young man you’re likely to meet. Can play the piano too. He plays Christmas songs.”
A second figure, that had followed beyond the first, slowly turned from the field and facing the others, spoke with a slight twang in its voice.
“That was Jason. He’s taking care of the farm. He promised he would if I didn’t come back. And I know I didn’t come back. He’s a good boy. He’ll see those horses come to no harm.”
There was a rush of leaves that came up from the field.
“I got three horses. I had seven but the confederacy ‘pressed four. They took the best four horses I got.
That I had.
I coulda sold them for substitution, but they took that too.
Oh Jason, don’t be a fool. Get outa Mississippi. Go with your aunt. Go see my sister. Forget about that farm, it’s nothing but an open grave.”
The overcast had darkened and the wind became steady. The heavy first drops of a long soaking rain fell through the branches above.
“That’s my little girl. She can ride horses,” said a third figure, “Adele looks like a fairy princess with her long golden hair. Her caped gown flows like wings as she flies through the meadow. I’d watch her from the top of the hill and just smile. It filled my heart to almost bursting to know she was happy.”
The rain fell harder and the figures blended into the mist. The voices were drowned and night fell. Time passed and the rain slowly changed to sleet. The afternoon was cold and the remains of leaves crackled under the force of a tall man’s shoes. He walked out of the graveyard and onto the crunchy gravel road that ran down the hill. A long black coat swept into a black car and he drove away.
Spencer was coming home along the country road when he decided to take a shortcut through the graveyard once more. The plots lay about on the top of the hills that marked the high point of the county. He weaved his way through graves, broken limbs and twigs and tried to stay up out of low points where water had collected. The figures began to gather as before.
As Spencer entered the field and began to trot down toward the sunset a figure that had stayed close behind called out.
“William! Please come back. I don’t understand.”
The figure fell to its knees and the sound of rustling leaves was intermixed with shallow weeping.
In a loud voice another figure shouted out behind the first.
“Run Eddie, you’ll make it. Get out of deep Kim Chi and get back to the world!” The figure seemed to relax and looked down at the first figure. “Don’t cry sister. He’ll make it, in fact he already did.”
The second figure sat on a stump next to the first and put an arm around it.
“Let me tell you something about Eddie. Ed and I and Louis always stayed together. We knew Eddie was going home and we wanted to share in that luck. He has a beautiful wife and two little angels for daughters. I saw their pictures. He wouldn’t trade ‘em you know. The pictures I mean. Louis and I traded, but Ed wouldn’t part with those pictures.
It was a thing you did to trick Death. You traded pictures so if Death came looking for you and looked in your wallet he would be confused because you didn’t seem like the right guy and maybe he would go looking for someone else. I got pictures of Louis’ wife and kids and he’s got mine. Once we got out of here we’re to trade back. I guess we never traded back.”
The shadowy figure searched through its cloak and then looked down on empty hands.
“I got nothing now.”
The wind picked up from the field with force. The figures shifted in toward the graveyard. One small figure stayed at the edge. It peered out trying to find sight of the figure that was long gone.
“Mom?” said a fragile voice “I’ll wait here” and then it too drifted back into the woods.
The black sedan made another visit to the graveyard before the winter took hold. Snow gathered against the hills, trees and the faces of the gravestones. It was a short visit and soon the tires were leaving tracks down the rural road. The snow fell harder and the tracks were gone.
This time Spencer spent too much time visiting his grandmother. The cozy fire, the sweet food and the lure of Christmas were overwhelming. She gave her grandson a basket of treats to take home. Now he couldn’t run as he usually did. The snow had stopped falling but the sun had gone down earlier than expected. The boy made the tough decision to take the shortcut, but didn’t realize until well into the graveyard that the path was under snow. In the dark and with the drifts it was unclear which way he was suppose to turn between the large oaks and soft hills. He lost his way but knew in what general direction he had to go.
Because of his slow pace the figures gathered around him more quickly.
One figure confronted the small boy. Although the misty vapor had no physical substance, it stood its ground.
“You should have left when you could. I have no quarrel with you. I’m just doing what I have to do.”
The figure watched Spencer pass right through it.
“It doesn’t matter why I’m here. I don’t care why you’re here. I just need to get through this.”
Another smaller figure drifted beside the first.
“Bobby, hey Bobby. Let’s go down to the creek. With all this rain we...”
The voices stopped and the figures quickly vanished as Spencer crested the main hill in the center of the cemetery. In a moment his breath disappeared. Less than two feet in front of him was a statue of the Virgin Mary. Her palms were open and her gentle eyes looked down at the boy. He immediately shifted to the side so she couldn’t make eye contact. As he did he saw the opening where he always exited the graveyard.
As Spencer hurried down the hill toward the exit, carefully cradling the basket of treats, a figure sitting at the base of the statue turned and looked at the footprints in the snow.
The figure wavered in and out of focus.
“I haven’t seen you for so long. Lets talk; I mean you got to see my side of this.”
The figure rose to a standing position and continued even though the boy was out of range.
“I want to say something.”
The misty substance that made up the figure drifted around to the other side of the statue and gathered once again.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Oh God! I’m sorry! Why can’t anyone hear me?”
The figure crumpled to the side of the statue and began to slide toward the ground. The arms of Mary caught him and lifted him up.
Jacob stood up from his father’s grave. He had placed a wreath on the gravestone as he did every Christmas. He felt a cold wind blow down from the hill above the site. As he looked up in the direction of the wind, his eyes rested on the statue that marked the center of Paradise Cemetery. The air felt familiar in an indescribable way. It was a wind that had passed through his hair many years ago.
Jake looked down at his father’s grave once more.
“I’m sorry dad. I’m sorry.”
The man in the long coat turned away. He walked back to his black sedan. The black coat swept into the driver seat and drove away. He was already late for dinner.
Rain’s Turn for Show and Tell
David A. Forrester
Rain gathered up her courage and walked to the front of the class. Her long blue hair cascaded beyond the soft green bow tied at her waist. Her dress had pastel prints that softened into nondescript shapes. Like the gentle shadows of rain cast along the wall as the dim light found its way through curtains. As if to complete her innocence she was bare foot.
Today for show and tell Rain had brought a flower she found on the side of the road.
She was a shy quiet girl. Holding out the flower she murmured so gently that it was unlikely anyone could understand what she said.
“It’s a flower”
Snow, her best friend, was the first to react.
“How strictly delightful,” she said.
There were three boys who sat directly behind Snow. They always sat behind her with the intent to mess with whatever she intended to do. Hail, Sleet and Ice snickered. Ice who was the coldest of the three, whispered just loud enough so that Snow could hear.
“How sickly frightful”
Now there were two larger boys further back in the class and they saw the snickering going on. They also saw the frown that formed on Snow’s face. Thunder and Lightening didn’t know Snow very well but they knew she was Rain’s friend. And because Thunder and Lightening liked Rain they wanted to retaliate. Besides, they were always looking for an excuse to show off.
Lightening leaned forward and shocked the three while Thunder boomed with laughter making Hail and Sleet slide out of their chairs and Ice melted himself.
“That’s Enough!” shouted Mother Nature and gave Thunder and Lightening detention for the third time this week.
A small blonde haired girl in a yellow dress glanced back at the trouble makers and when she saw them make eye contact with her she sneered, knowing full well the teacher couldn’t see her do it. The others were wary of her because she was the teacher’s pet.
Sunshine sat in the middle of the front row and batted her eyes at Mother Nature saying:
“Let me hold the flower,”
“NO!” said Snow and stood up quick to get in Sunshine’s way.
Snow’s white hair hung in drifts along her sides almost as long as Rain’s, but Snow’s hair billowed out more. Her white dress was trimmer and did not need to be tied with a bow. Snow was more confident and straightforward than Rain, but even she was a little afraid of Sunshine.
Luckily for Snow, two boys had become interested in the flower. Cloud and Fog had stood up and were floating toward the front of the class. They came between Snow and Sunshine but at the same time they blocked the way so that no one else could see.
Wind had been daydreaming that Rain was bringing the flower for him. He adored rain and suddenly became aware that Cloud and Fog were crowding in around her. This irked him somehow and he rose up briskly to say:
“Let Rain show her flower”
The two boys moved aside and Snow settled down, but Sunshine persisted. Wind showed her he was not the least bit afraid. Sunshine glanced at the teacher and then sat down.
Mother Nature was not paying attention. It was late in the school year, spring had arrived. It seemed she was painting her nails.
Rain saw Wind standing in front of her with his wild hair and silly smile. She was flattered but this was still her affair.
“I’m not showing the flower. I’ve seen thousands of flowers,” she said, “It’s what’s inside that I don’t get to see.”
Wind looked down inside the flower and saw a butterfly sleeping. Its wings were slowly folding and unfolding. He softly blew on the butterfly and it lifted out of the flower, floated a moment and landed on Snow’s nose.
Snow sneezed and Wind laughed.
Rain broke into the biggest smile she had ever smiled.
I have fought the world’s
storms, blizzards, droughts, hurricanes
and I still found you
Snow Covered Homes
Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I stumble through the near blackness of our bedroom, hopefully, towards the bathroom. Turning on the light, I’m relieved to see pale blue tile and porcelain white. One step at a time, I morbidly think to myself. A sense of doom settles on my heart as I feel for the towels hanging on the wall, searching for the driest of the two. While waiting for the shower to warm to a tolerable temperature, I look at myself in the mirror. Running a hand through thinning blonde hair, I see a man in his mid-thirties, thin but out of shape with the slow formation of a gut. Not haggard but also not a picture of health. Dark circles revealing little sleep and the weathered skin of a lifetime of smoking catching up. Lost in the pointless self-examination, I barely hear the movement coming from the dark of the bedroom. Deciding to risk it, I quickly climb into the shower.
The water shocks me awake. Cold jets hit my chest, reminding me of the awful positions that I keep falling asleep in. Muscles cry out as I stretch my arms while joints pop in annoyance. Getting older sucks. As the water begins warming, I hear her come into the bathroom and start moving things around on the counter. Only an indistinct shape through the shower curtain, her intent is a mystery to me. Finally the light whir of an electric toothbrush proves too much and I put my head under the water, waiting for her to leave.
“Are you ready to go?” She asks sharply, knowing that I’m only half-listening. Staring out over the snow covered rooftops below, rows of them stretching out to the next hill, I take a final drag of my cigarette and put it out. Pulling my coat closer to my body, suddenly aware of the cold, I turn and walk back in. By the front door, she already has her purse and rattling the keys in anxious waiting. It strikes me then, as I’m walking through the back door and across the room, how beautiful she is today. The grey and black uniform of winter contrasting with her pale skin. She unconsciously touches her hair, eyes cast to the side from where I’m entering. Hair, a light red, cut short and swept to the side. Funny to imagine this figure of self-control as the nervous girl of a few months ago. Her coming home with a foot less of hair, left on the floor of the salon. The physical result of an impulse, immediately regretted. I try not to remember the way her hair felt as I ran my fingers through it, holding her until the panic gave in to laughter. How I whispered low reassurances, the touch of my lips to her brow. “Yeah.” I say, getting to the door, holding it open as she passes through it without a word.
She has been late to everything that she has ever done. One of the things we had in common when we first met eight years ago at a friend’s house-warming party. Her laughter was a siren to me, struck thoughtless, driven to distraction whenever she was in the room. I asked her on a date that very night, she laughed and agreed. She was twenty minutes late to our first date but I’d only arrived five minutes before her so it worked out.
She was late again. I remember her walking out of the bathroom, applicator in hand, sobbing. Terror took hold of us then. Children were never part of the plan. We fought that night. In eight years, this was our first real fight. I suggested an abortion, she suggested that I go fuck myself. We went around like this until we were both too angry, scared, and tired to continue. I slept on the couch that night. The following week was worst, all conversations led back to her period. She wanted to keep it, I wanted out of the conversation.
“I can’t believe you could be so insensitive!” she said.
“Insensitive? Are you serious? I’m being realistic. How could you even consider having a kid? I’m not ready. We’re not ready. Look at this place, it’s a shit hole that we can barely afford. Do you think we can afford a kid? I mean, shit, I don’t want to be anyone’s father.”
“So what, I should just get an abortion because you’re too selfish? Christ, that’s really nice. It’s easy for you to say that. You don’t have to do it. You don’t have to go in and tell some stranger, ‘Oh hello! My name is Melanie and I’m here for an abortion!’”.
“Listen, we don’t even know if you are actually pregnant. Those things give false positives all of the time. I don’t even know why you are making such a big deal out of this. It’s just a little procedure.” My words hung between us, brutish and heavy. Neither one of us knowing what to say for a moment. My mouth moving to unformed and unsounded words, wishing that I could just pull in what had already escaped.
“Wow. You know what? Stop saying we, there is no we. It’s just me who has to deal with this, who has to carry this shit. Not you. So stop trying to make it sound like we are in this together and get the fuck out of my way.”
She stayed with her parents that night and the next. She called to tell me that she’d set up an appointment to find out, for sure, if she was pregnant or not. The conversation was stilted and short. She came home the next day and we haven’t spoken much aside from when absolutely necessary.
Driving across town, I can feel her watching me. What is she thinking? Soft pop plays over the radio and we continue on in our silence. My hands resting exactly at the two and ten with eyes straight ahead. Her’s feel like they’re boring into me, into my soul. I hear her scoff and glance over in time to see her turn her face to the passenger window.
The nondescript building comes up on our right. She sees it first and I can sense the air in the car becoming more tense. Pulling the car into the first available spot, I realize that we are at the far end of the lot. Unsure of what to do, I start the car again, to find a closer one, but she is already out of the car and staring in mild disbelief at me. Finally, I give up and get out. As we walk through the half-empty parking lot, side by side in silence, passing dead trees and shurbs, I feel her hand slide itself into mine. Cold and clammy, shame burns inside of me but I still draw my fingers in and hold her hand within mine tightly.
Entering the building, we are greeted by a cheerfully coloured waiting room. Stacked in the corner are magazines with babies on the covers, flanking it are rows of unassuming brown chairs. The room is empty aside from a tired looking receptionist. I find a seat while she fills out some paperwork. Eventually she is told that the doctor will be able to see her in a moment so she sits down beside me. Nervously shaking her knee, she turns and looks into my face. I meet her eyes.
“What if I am pregnant... I don’t know if I can get an abortion. What happens then? What happens to us?”
I don’t have a ready answer. I don’t have any answer, guilt washes over me as I find it hard to maintain eye contact. “I’m... I’m not sure,” is all I can get out before a nurse calls her name. She gets up without another word and leaves me still fumbling in my chair.
What are we going to do? Am I ready to be a father? Am I ready for that kind of commitment? I don’t have any answers and I know I should. The indecision is paralyzing me. Unable to communicate, too ashamed to act. With every failed moment I feel her drifting further away. I do love her. It comes to me in waves, every memory of us, all the good and awful moments, coming onto me faster and hotter. Overwhelmed, I feel my hands tightening on the arm rests when suddenly it all stops on a thought. Her not being there, no longer being in my life. As the thought gains footing in my mind, my chest tightens and a cold chill runs through my body. The last thing I want and the one that I’m guaranteeing. If she is pregnant then you’ll not run away. Your selfish fear is less important than her absence, I coach myself while my environment fades out of my concern. I lose track of time, minutes drift past me, unaware of my existence, until I notice a pair of black boots in front of me. Looking up, she is there. The chill fades out as I’m overcome with a sense of discovery. As though seeing her for the first time, I take her hand and stand up. Looking into her face, I smile for the first time in over a week and whisper, “I love you.” She is visibly taken back but doesn’t retract her hand.
“Are you okay?” There is concern in her voice, “It was pretty simple. They said that they’ll know in a week so I just have to wait, I guess. Are you ready to go? You don’t look so great.”
The moment passes and I pull back into myself. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just in a weird mood. Let’s go.”
In the car, driving home, we resume our silence. Each lost in our own thoughts. Watching the passing houses, I think of all the things I’m going to do after this, ways that I’ll try to be better. So absorbed, I hardly notice that we’re home and that she had said something. I ask her to repeat what she’d just said.
“I don’t think I want to do this anymore.” She repeats, her voice wavering as she opens the door and steps out of the car. She walks carefully through the snow and I watch her unlock the front door to our house and step inside. She looks at me then, briefly, before turning and shutting the door.
Daniel Mark Bio
Daniel Mark received his BA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He writes to capture the smaller moments in life- the passing glance or a snatch of conversation overheard while walking down a busy street. Through those brief windows, he believes, truth can be found in it’s most raw and honest state. He hopes to one day find that line that can encapsulate the entirety of a person’s existence. When not writing or working whatever job will have him, he tries desperately to find a comfortable place to read.
William R. Soldan
for Kyle Hohn
Your rocket ship is fast as shit—and your heart’s on fire
Taz and I have been back at my place for all of five minutes when Julia calls to tell me Kev’s back in town. She says he stopped by the house earlier but no one answered. We were over on the North Side, I tell her, biting our nails in the middle of the sticks and waiting for Taz’s cook to show. She tells me he’ll be back around in a bit.
Ten minutes later Kev’s knocking on the boarded up window of my front door. He’s got his acoustic guitar and looks straight for the first time since I’ve known him—not stoned, not strung out. Haircut. New clothes and shoes. Like he’s been clean for a while.
But he’s got that look, like he’s raring to go.
“What’s good?” he says.
Taz is in his zone, acrylic painted dreads draped in front of his eyes, crushing up some crystal on a small mirror. He nods to Kev What’s up? and goes back to it. When Kev sees the shards scattered across the table, he looks so excited I think he might piss himself.
He sits on the couch, tells us he just got back to Ohio about a week ago. He’s been gone since October, spent the last six months in San Diego ago with this chick Dana. “She’s going to one of those ‘alternative schools’ out there,” he says. “Ended up being some fuckin’ cult, man. Weird shit.”
“Weird like how?” I ask.
“I don’t know, man, just weird.”
He says the two of them were living in a small cottage beside a huge water tower on her uncle’s property. “Then she decided she wanted to move out to the school campus or whatever, which was just some rundown farm out in the fuckin’ boonies. Some real Heaven’s Gate type shit. I went with her once and kept expecting them to start passing out cups of Kool-Aid.”
“Peoples Temple,” I say.
“The Peoples Temple are the ones who drank the Kool-Aid. Jonestown in the 70s. Heaven’s Gate was barbiturates and apple sauce.” I only know this because I recently read an entire book about infamous cults from cover to cover after running a rail as thick as my thumb. I read a lot of books.
“Heaven’s Gate was in San Diego, though,” I tell him. “Maybe Dana joined a revival.”
“Maybe. Anyway, she kept trying to recruit me, so I split one day while they were all out in the woods praying for the mothership.”
Taz scrapes us each a nice pile. At that, Kev drops the subject, removes a spoon and rig from his jacket pocket and loads up.
We each do our thing.
I sit back in the filthy curbside armchair, take a few moments to let the speed B-boy through my system.
Taz pops off and goes right to tearing apart a magazine, starting work on one of his collages. He’s got a glue stick and scotch tape beside him. Markers. He’ll be busy for a while.
Kev’s pacing around the living room, trying to channel his sudden energy. His eyes, always ablaze with some new creative vision, are as big as the Kinks LP spinning on the turntable. He breathes deep, starts bouncing on the balls of his feet.
I grab my guitar. “Feel like jammin’?”
His narrow face stretches into a jester’s grin. He jumps, actually leaves the floor, and I imagine that he levitates for a minute, starts flitting around like a hummingbird. I join him and hours pass. When Julia gets home from work around six I barely even notice. Kev and I are both still hovering somewhere near the ceiling.
It was about a year ago when I first met Kev on the way back from cashing my paycheck. He was on a bench outside Starbucks on High Street, playing a battered pawnshop guitar for spare change. He was a hodgepodge of styles. Wicker cowboy hat, curled up at the sides and shading his face. Green sport coat over a Sonic Youth T-shirt, safety pinned jeans, dirty and full of holes. Chucks held together with duct tape. Julia and I had spent some time out west a couple years earlier, living like street kids—playing music, selling jewelry, all that—and seeing him there struck a chord of nostalgia in me. I worked security at a frat bar at the time. Had a place, was paying rent, bills—more responsible than I’d ever been in my life. Tied down, in other words.
I tossed him a buck and offered to buy him a beer. “I’ll be at the bar on the corner if you wanna join me,” I said.
He said, “Cool,” and grinned as he fingered a Pentatonic blues box over the guitar’s grimy frets.
About an hour later, he strolled in and we split a pitcher of Coors. He told me he was from near Toledo but had spent the winter in southern California.
“Never made it farther south than Sacramento,” I said, “but me and my girl spent some time in Seattle.” I said we’d spent that time gacked on crystal and playing music, told him I missed it every day. The energy, the possibilities.
“West Coast methamphetamines,” he said, as if describing the palate of a fine wine. “San Diego’s the place, man. Mission Bay. Fucking tourmaline skies.”
He reminded me of this dude—Doc, they called him—in Seattle. Shot me up with crystal for the first time in a campus stairwell. Like a jolt of lightning through my dick straight to my brain, heart rate going zero to a hundred in three seconds flat. Needed to move. Needed to play. We spent the whole night wandering the unfamiliar city, and I played until my fingers frayed. In the early hours, we went up into the hills, watched the day leak back into the world and whorls of morning mist dance like specters on the pavement.
It had been two years. I hadn’t been back to either place since, but a person holds on to times like those. I was bored, my beer was getting warm, and I felt lethargic in the summer heat, so I asked, “You got a hookup around here?”
Kev walks in, says, “Check it out.” He’s holding an old school Big Muff fuzz pedal and grinning like a kid on Christmas morning. “Got a cash advance at work,” he says. “Only cost fifty bucks.”
Before coming back to Columbus, Kev stayed with his folks for a week in Toledo or wherever he was from. When they saw that he was off dope and making an effort, they got him a car and a cell and agreed to pay his insurance and phone bill for six months. He’s pushing thirty, but maybe they think this time he’s really turned things around. And who knows, maybe he has. Two weeks and he’s already got himself a job delivering pizzas part-time.
“What the hell kind of pizza place gives pay advances?” I ask.
“I told ‘em I needed to get my oil changed and some gas,” he says. “Said I’d make it back in tips tonight or tomorrow.”
Though I’ve never known anyone quite like him, I’ve always known Kev’s kind. No shame or hesitation when it comes to asking for favors. The type who, through some inexplicable charm, can get just about anyone to help him out. I’ve run into these people over the years, always got something lined up, will get you back next week. The way I’ve always seen it, if you play the pushover, don’t bitch about it when you get burned.
But I’m certainly no exception. I like when Kev’s around. This is what I told myself when Julia and I decided to let him crash with us. And this is what I tell myself every time he bums my smokes, drinks my beer, gets high on my dime. It’s only because I like when he’s around. Not because I’m a sucker.
Before he took off to San Diego, Kev and I had been writing songs. It started that first night I met him.
We left the bar and walked to a dumpy little brick apartment building on Tenth, waited out front in the parched grass for his buddy Taz to show up. When two hours had passed, I said, To hell with it, gave Kev my number and walked home, about twelve blocks north.
My cell rang around eight o’clock. Taz had finally arrived. Everything was all good, but he needed a ride. The three of us spent the next hour driving around in my car, parking, waiting, driving some more. Eventually, Taz met his guy outside a convenience store on Weber and the run-around was over. More than once I had wanted to throw in the towel on the whole deal, but by then I was committed. I wanted to justify the wasted time and gas, and I knew that if we finally scored it would be worth it.
We got a quarter gram of glass, which back then was more than enough to turn us into laser beams and set the world on fire. Julia was home when we got back. A key bump and she was rearranging the magnetic poetry on the refrigerator and alphabetizing our CD collection for the rest of the night. I hadn’t touched my guitar in months, but Kev and I jammed until the sun came up.
Musically we meshed, and the entire summer was spent this way—blast off, stay up for days, toeing the delicate line between oblivion and revelation. Kev called them our vision quests, convinced that the ghosts hovering in the corners of our eyes would soon give up the secrets to the universe if we just kept going. So we did. We had a shoebox full of microcassettes, hours’ worth of riffs, drop tunings and schizophrenic time signatures we could never recreate in a million years. We told ourselves we had tapped the hidden spring where the muse resides. We told ourselves during playback that what we were hearing was genius. But it was mostly just noise.
I’m sitting on a chair outside the Ravari Room, the bar where I’ve been working stocking beer and checking IDs a few nights a week since quitting my last job. It’s eleven-thirty on a Thursday, and the place is dead. Just a couple guys shooting pool and a small group of the bartender’s friends hanging around, mooching free drinks.
Kev comes jogging across High Street with his guitar slung on his back and a look on his face like he’s just come into something big. Either that, or it’s just his face. It’s hard to tell anymore.
“I got us a gig,” he says.
I’ve been afraid of this. It’s a very detailed and recurring sense of dread. It’s me in a crowded venue, surrounded by people. We’re about to play a show that Kev has lined up. It’s sound check and Kev’s gone, nowhere in sight. I’m by myself on the stage, and the owner of the club is chewing me out because we can’t go on. It’s the busiest night of the week and he’s going to lose money if there’s no band. I’ve never experienced anything like a premonition, but as soon as it’s out of his mouth, there’s the anxiety and I’m not so sure.
“A gig,” I say. “Where?”
“Bernie’s.” He smiles, holds out his fist for me to bump. “Next Friday.”
“You’re kidding, right? Tell me you’re fucking kidding.”
I imagine the eyes staring, bodies getting restless, so I stand up, light a cigarette, and pace the sidewalk in front of the bar.
“You might’ve run it by me first,” I say.
“Sorry, man. It just sort of happened. My dude’s band needed someone to open for ‘em. The week after’s lookin’ good, too.”
I do a quick mental inventory of what we have and what we don’t.
What we have: Two acoustic guitars, neither of which have working pick-ups; a pig-nose Yamaha amplifier; an Epiphone bass with stripped tuning pegs; a Big Muff fuzz pedal with a fried transistor; a lead guitar player with his own Strat but no amp; a bass player with none of his own gear; and about six or seven songs we’ve never played the same way twice.
What we don’t have: A working acoustic pick-up for my guitar; three adequately-sized amplifiers through which to play, pedals, a PA system, monitors, mics, mic stands; a name; a fucking prayer.
Add back in the maybe three times the four of us have rehearsed in the same room with one another, subtract the drummer we don’t have, and based upon my calculation, that puts us somewhere between fat chance and fucked sideways.
I stop pacing and sit back down. Kev’s leaning against the building’s brick façade, hammering out some power chords on his thirty-dollar axe, and I say, “Hey, look at me.”
He stops strumming, turns my way.
“We’re not even close to ready,” I say.
“Sure we are.”
I lean back, say with my eyes, I’m listening. Tell me the plan.
“I talked to a drummer, plays for another band. He said he’d sit in with us. We’re gonna start running through the songs tomorrow. He’s good, man. He’ll be a good fit.”
“That’s a start, but what about—oh, I don’t know—everything else?”
“We can borrow some gear. I know some people.”
“Of course, you do.” I drag on my Camel so hard the filter gets hot and flattens between my fingertips. Exhale. “We don’t even have a name yet,” I say. “But I guess you got that all figured out, too.”
He sweeps an open hand through the air like a magician. “Space Station Stereo,” he says.
I think to myself, Damn, that’s not bad, then nod and flick my cigarette into the street.
During the day, I’d be at work, stringing together chord progressions in my mind and watching the seconds tick by on the clock above the bar, while Kev was playing our songs with these other two guys, Matt and Raja. He’d bring me a tape of him hammering out a lick and Matt laying down some jazzy lead over top of if it. Or a few measures of Raja slapping out a beefy ass bass line in the music store just before they got kicked out for not buying anything. Kev, wearing a lunatic’s grin and saying something like, “It’s coming together, man” or “This’ll sound wicked through a stack.”
They’re cool guys, but they’re the equivalent of session players in the sense that we have nothing in common besides the music. Matt’s a big pothead that delivers pizzas with Kev, someone I would have hung around with a year or two ago, before things got crazy. Before things got—whatever they are now.
And then there’s Raja. My first thought: Where the hell did you find this cat? Seven-foot tall Middle Eastern law school student. Pressed pants and Oxford shoes. Maybe twenty-three, younger than the rest of us by a few years. So straight I thought he was a narc when Kev first brought him over. But turns out he’s just a newbie. Weed’s the hardest thing he’s ever experienced. And part of me wants to tell him, Good for you, man. Take your time.
I thought him not having his own equipment seemed fishy, too, because he’s as much as said his folks are loaded. But my guess is he’s full of shit or afraid they’ll find out he’s slumming and cut him off. Can’t fault him for either one.
We’re all full of shit. Scared to death.
Colt 45 and orange juice: Brass Monkey. The poor man’s mimosa. We’re on number three when Kev starts in about, “Have you ever heard the sound birds make when they commit suicide?” He’s really getting into it. Says he used to climb to the top of the water tower where he and Dana were staying, before she went all Follow-the-Leader. He’s been up too long, talking crazy.
“I’d take my axe with me. Up there the notes just rode for miles, man.” He’s staring across the living room at the wall, or someplace beyond it, making a rollercoaster motion with his hand. “Sometimes I’d just record the wind.”
I shake my head, laugh. “The hell are you talking about?”
“I was up there and there were these sounds, bendy like a struck saw blade, but deeper, you know?”
Julia sits cross-legged on the floor in a pair of short denim cutoffs and an old threadbare tank top, rolling a joint at the coffee table. She says, “What’s that got to do with birds?”
“That’s what it was,” he says. “A whole flock of ‘em. Fucking things flew straight into the tower like kamikaze pilots. Tried to get in on tape, but it was over.” He looks over at us, almost disappointed. His eyes are glassy, webbed with red lines. Hair like he’s been electrocuted.
Julia passes me the joint, but I’m not in the mood. Weed’s been making me squirrely lately. We made some brownies the other night and I lay in bed for hours with my fists balled up, thinking the SWAT team was about to swoop in the windows.
“I can still hear ‘em,” Kev says.
I mix another Brass Monkey, kick my feet up on the end of the coffee table. “What’s that?”
“The birds. I still hear ‘em.”
Julia grins at me on the sly and shakes her head. Her auburn waves spill over her soft shoulders and I try to remember the last time we spent any time alone, but I can’t.
I tell Kev, “Maybe you should get some sleep.”
I feel like I’m in fucking sitcom when we’re all in the same room. This new guy on drums, Buzzard. Biker dude, as wide as he is tall. Matt in his Grateful Dead T-shirts and corduroy pants, Raja in his fucking khakis. Kev. Me.
But they can really play. When we all got together for the first time as a full band a few days ago, it was nothing short of weird. How the songs came out sounding like we’d been together for months. Kev keeps looking pleased with himself. Mad scientist, giddy as he watches his creation come to life.
We just finished practicing, and things sound good, considering we’re still lacking all the equipment we need. I charged a new amp to my credit card. Four hundred and change. Crate. Two twelves and a three-switch pedal board. Not a stack, but loud enough. Kev assures me that the rest of the amps, mics, and an acoustic pick-up are all lined up for Friday and that the bar has its own PA system. He’s getting more scattered by the hour, but no one else seems concerned, so I’m trying to just go with it, trust that it will all work out.
But then I’m alone again, surrounded by agitated spectators waiting for a show, and faith wriggles free.
Our gig is in less than two hours, and Kev is nowhere to be found. I’ve been up for the last two days, practicing, trying to stay balanced. Kev’s been up seven, so I’m guessing he went to Taz’s looking for something to keep up the pace.
Taz lives above Estrada now, a Mexican restaurant over on King with a patio decked out in Corona neons and plastic palm trees.
I enter the door that leads to the second floor, and Electronic music reverberates off the walls of the narrow stairwell as I ascend the steps. No one responds to my knock, so I walk in, thinking Taz has got to be the only drug addict in the world that leaves his door unlocked.
Stepping into the apartment is like stepping directly into the mind of an insane person. An onslaught of sensory stimulation. To my left: a wall of TV sets displayed sideways, upside down, and rightside up. Music videos, low-budget horror movies, snow. One of the screens is playing in ultra-slow-mo. On it is a scene from Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, Vincent D’Onofrio going batshit right before lighting up the drill sergeant and blowing his own brains out in the latrine. All around: people in the cramped living room, texting on phones or playing with action figures, drawing on their shoes or picking at their faces. Closing in: collages. Various anatomical distortions that seem to grow on the walls like mold. Moving through the room, I duck under a pornographic mobile. Three-dimensional blossom of tits and mouths and eyes, dangling on a filament of fishing line. Others hang throughout the apartment, spinning in midair like grotesque planets.
I peek into the other three tiny rooms, the bathroom, see more of the same. Crazed activities. Externalized psychosis.
Kev’s not here.
In the kitchenette, Taz is spinning records while two guys and a girl stand in front of a lit burner and do hot rails off the stove. Taz has on a pair of mirrored shades, and his multi-colored dreads are tied up, sprouting from his head like a gnarly looking flower. “Hey,” I shout to him, but he’s got a huge set of headphones pressed against one ear. There’s no getting his attention, so I join the others. They hardly seem to notice me until the girl offers me a glass tube. She’s flagpole thin with turquoise hair and a lip ring. Scrawny wrists mapped with needle marks.
I take the tube from her, heat it up over the burner.
The crystal melts on the way in, lines my throat with bitterness, and I exhale a faint feather of smoke.
Things rev back up. Nerves in my teeth ignite. Balls clench. The threads of light and darting shadows that have occupied my periphery for days hone themselves into razor blades and I almost forget the pressure, the anxiety that led me here in the first place.
I’m moving toward the door.
I’m . . .
There must have been some kind of neural misfire, a minor glitch in the central nervous system. The books would call it Substance-Induced Dissociative Fugue or Transient Global Amnesia.
Whatever it was, it’s over and I’m all of a sudden on stage. A low platform about six inches above the floor. The sound in my ears, the position of my left hand, they tell me we’re in the middle of our seven-song set.
Kev’s swinging from the exposed plumbing in the bar’s low ceiling and wailing into the microphone. The sound is off, unbalanced, but we sound good. It’s a small place but packed, and people appear to be having a good time. But it’s hard to tell. Everything is moving in fast-forward—the undulating crowd, the other guys in the band, Julia in ripped jeans and tight white tee weaving through bodies with her camcorder—but my hands are moving at a normal clip. I tune my focus to the chord changes, the intuitive cues that tell me when something’s about to happen that we haven’t rehearsed.
There’s nothing but feedback between songs and Kev’s garbled banter with the audience. He’s unpredictable but a good front man, knows how to engage a crowd. He’s wearing a space helmet. That’s new.
During the improvisational outro of our last song, my acoustic pick-up falls inside my guitar but I keep playing, pulling out all the moves I can to distract from it: windmill, climbing around on the monitors, playing on my knees, scraping my strings against the amplifier.
Things fall apart when someone passes Kev a lit sparkler.
He tosses it into the center of Buzzard’s bass drum, and the foam rubber pad inside starts to smolder. A smell like burning hair and plastic.
We keep playing, though the rest of the band looks worried, confused. As people run around, thinking the place is on fire, Kev announces that we’re also available to play Bar Mitzvahs and Divorce Court hearings.
Then . . .
Outside the bar’s side entrance, our gear is on the curb and Buzzard looks furious. Kev has that look again, like this was the start of something huge, something that was going to change the world.
“We fuckin’ killed it,” he says.
There’s a knot in my neck the size of a fist. Strained something carrying equipment last night, I tell myself. But really, it’s just the gradual accumulation of all the shit in my system telling me enough is enough. The eventual, inevitable result: mind breaks, body shuts down.
My place was a wreck when I woke up this afternoon, still is, but I don’t recall the after party. It’s all been burned away, images on celluloid melted through with cigarettes.
It’s Saturday, so Julia and I are off work. We sit around in our pajamas. We order tacos and I eat like it’s the first time. My depleted cells attack the food like a ravenous dog.
“You’re gonna get sick if you don’t slow down,” Julia says. There’s something both funny and sad about that, neither of which I can fully explain, so I force myself to stop.
While the food digests, Julia massages my neck and we watch the recording of last night’s gig. The video looks foreign to me. I recognize most of the players, but it seems false, like I wasn’t really there. The person wearing my clothes looks like someone else, someone forty pounds lighter than he’s supposed to be. But it sounds good. Or at least better than bad. Considering the circumstances under which it was created, I’ve seen a lot worse.
“What do you think?” I ask her.
“Besides almost ending in tragedy? she says, and I remember the sparkler, the smoke. “I’d say it was a success.” She laughs, but it’s a kind laugh. She’s always been our biggest fan. Maybe our only one.
We watch the tape again, but I’m still not convinced success is the word.
Julia takes my hand and places it on her breast, looks at me with dark brown eyes that also seem false. Someone from another life. We haven’t had sex in a while, been flying on different currents for a long time. She’s not into speed, so she shoots dope. She sits slouched in a chair, slackjawed, drifting. It’s only at times like now that I notice her once warm glow flickering like a dying bulb. But it’s also these times we find ourselves on the same ground, two old lovers meeting on the street, and I think there’s still time to turn it around.
It’s just us in the house for once, so we catch up, sinking into the filthy couch. We get destructive, knocking bottles and cans off the coffee table with our feet, spilling an ashtray. I’m going for a while, which surprises me, because I’m usually a one-pump chump when it’s been this long. But then it happens: sharp pain in my chest. It’s happened a couple times before—a spike in my heart, pinning it to my ribcage while it sputters and clicks and tries even out.
This is where you stop, a voice keeps telling me. This is when you stop ignoring the signs.
But I ease back, grind through the gears, and it passes. Opened up now on flat road, and the only pain is the good pain. The pain of her teeth in my shoulder and nails in my back. The pain that holds me together when nothing else can.
I’m hungry again, craving sweets, so I walk to Buckeye Donuts for a baker’s dozen. I feel good.
It’s a balmy evening, and as the sun drops behind the university, the buildings stand black and backlit by the dying day. A bus hisses to a stop. A crotch rocket whines by. The street lights stutter to life.
The closer I get the less hungry I am, but I don’t turn back. I’m trying to reflect on the last couple months—the band, me and Julia, the no longer hidden downward trajectory of our life together—but my neurons are still charred, misfiring, and I can’t settle on any thought long enough to analyze it.
Ahead, the sign in the window of the doughnut shop spills its anemic light onto the sidewalk, where a guy with a single, nappy dread sells sticks of incense for a quarter apiece. I go in and get the baker’s dozen I no longer want, just so I can feel like I’ve followed through with something. When I come out, I see Kev lurking between the shop and a strip of brick row houses, holding his tape recorder and banging on a Dumpster with a stick. Still chasing imaginary birds.
“Any luck?” I ask as I approach.
He looks up. It takes a moment before his crazed eyes even recognize me. It’s obvious he still hasn’t slept. Going on nine days. Psychosis in full bloom.
“Thought I had it,” he says. “But I lost it.”
He returns to his search, like I’m not even here, and I think, Yeah you have.
Walking back, I pass a group of frat guys in polo shirts with popped collars playing grab ass outside BW-3’s. One hollers something and vomits in the gutter while his buddies laugh and call him a bitch. Seeing the puke splatter on the curb, I become hyper-aware of how dirty everything is around me: the sidewalk littered with cigarettes and mashed chewing gum, benches and street signs scaly with dried spit. A trashcan overflows on the corner and a small swarm of bees hovers around a thickening puddle of spilled milkshake.
I catch a whiff of a nearby Chinese restaurant, and the smell of grease and fried food is too much, so I hand the box of doughnuts to a homeless guy who assures me Help is on the way and pull out my cell.
When I get back to my place, I don’t even go in to tell Julia, just jump in the car and go. For once, it’s quick at Taz’s. No waiting around. Afterward, I stop off at my man Pete’s to get a few balloons of dope for Julia.
Within a half hour later, we’re back on our disparate currents. While she nods out on the couch, I remove a bunch of bleach and pine-scented cleaner from under the kitchen sink, then spend the rest of the night scrubbing the house from top to bottom, and lying to myself about everything.
Kev’s curled up on the couch with cotton fever. Something beautiful about the phrase, I’ve always thought, but there’s nothing pretty about it. Endotoxin. Bacteria hiding out in a bit of Q-tip or cigarette filter or festering in a rig, enters the blood stream. Leaves you aching and sweating with chills like you wouldn’t believe. Like being dope sick, only no amount of dope will make it better. Has to run its course, usually a few hours, maybe a day.
He showed up last night, sleepless ten days and counting, let himself in with the key I’d given him before I realized what a bad move that was. I came downstairs about 3 a.m. in a haze after spending almost an entire day in bed and found him sitting in the dark, staring up into the corner where the ceiling meets the walls. When I turned on the light he barely budged. He had on his headphones, probably listening through the racket he’d recorded in hopes of hearing that elusive sound. The birds.
Yesterday, after cleaning the entire house, I picked up some more dope for Julia and did a little myself. Something to grease my creaky joints and help me sleep. I’d picked up four balloons and had two left. I’m used to being around tweakers and weirdoes, but still don’t want one hanging around my house acting like a mental patient, so I broke off a piece for Kev, told him, “You need to fucking unwind.”
His works looked like they were pulled from the garbage. Now he’s in the fetal position, shaking and burning up. He looks like a corpse and I begin to wonder what illusions I’ve been seeing when I look at myself in the mirror. I know I’m not seeing what others are seeing. My mom visited last week and she didn’t do a very good job concealing it, the horror she felt. She hugged me, and I could feel her hands moving around my ribs and shoulder blades, examining their edges. When we pulled apart, her eyes were wet. She placed a hand over her mouth and turned away. She cried for a while and it was awkward. I had to go into the bathroom and get right before I could face her again.
I give Kev some water and ibuprofen. “Here, this’ll make you feel better,” I tell him. It won’t help, but it might lower his temperature. I refill the glass and place it on the table next to him, then cover him with a blanket and go upstairs.
Julia wakes up when I come back to bed. She turns on the lamp and we do another shot. Things are getting out of hand, I can admit it. Have been for quite some time. The chest pains, the tolerance, the new moral lines drawn in the sand every other day. At least this and not that. Still paying the bills, et cetera, et cetera.
I look at her as she lies back on the pillow. She’s pale and much too thin. Faded red hair in knots, eyes foggy, mascara smudged. “Maybe we should think about checking in somewhere,” I say, already half under water as I lie back beside her. “You think?”
Silence. Then: “Let’s talk about it in the morning,” she says, and turns out the light.
Matt and Raja must have come to their senses, because they haven’t been around since the night of the gig. And Buzzard hasn’t called, probably still sore about the sparkler in his drum-kit. Not that it makes a difference. After a write-up in the Alive about the incident, no one wants to book us anyway. We’re a fire hazard. Bad for business.
And there’s no telling where the hell Kev got off to. Fever ran its course after about twelve hours, and he was out cold for damn near two days. Then someone sideswiped him while he was on a delivery. Totaled his Toyota. The insurance company cut him a check, and we haven’t seen him since. There’s still a garbage bag full of his dirty clothes upstairs in the spare room, but his phone’s no longer in service. He could be anywhere.
The truth: I’m relieved. I want to be a rock star as much as anyone, but when you look close at the order of things, start thinking rehab after playing only one show, you begin to say to yourself, Wait a minute. No. This isn’t how it’s supposed to happen.
Been doing a lot more dope, though. Both of us. It was a while before I mentioned cleaning up to Julia again, but we eventually discussed it, even called a couple places. But everywhere has waiting lists. Three months. Six. Long enough to maybe change our minds. So we decided we’d kick on our own. Just have to plan it right, a few days off work so we can get over the hump.
We’re starting tonight. She’s going have it worse than me, I think.
It’s Thursday afternoon, and we’ve got till Monday. Count on my fingers, three-point-five days. I pick up Julia at the record store and we swing by Pete’s. One last score before we go home and get rid of anything lying around that’ll fuck up the game plan: old cottons, baggies, rigs, and whatever else.
We grab some sandwiches on our way back because we’ll need the strength and won’t be able to keep anything down by morning.
On the couch, we do up the single balloon and watch the evening news, buckle in and bunker down. Try to enjoy this little bit of comfort.
Remain calm and wait to get sick.
I wonder if Julia’s as scared as I am, look and see that she is and pull her closer to me.
Drifting off, already thinking, Maybe you should get one more to hold on to, just in case, when I hear one of the news casters . . .
. . . man arrested climbing Franklin County water tower and
nearly falling when police
fire department on the scene . . .
he remembered to press record
William R. Soldan bio,/h2>
William R. Soldan lives in Youngstown, Ohio, with his wife and son. He graduated with his BA in English from Youngstown State University and is currently a student in the Northeast Ohio MFA program and teacher of English Composition at YSU. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in a number of publications such as Quail Bell, Sanitarium, The Fictioneer, Floyd County Moonshine, New World Writing, The Vignette Review, Elm Leaves Journal and others. You can follow him on Twitter @RustWriter1or find him on Facebook (as Bill Soldan). Hes even joined Instagram, because, hey, why not?
to you I’m vinyl —
Your needle’s been in my grooves;
through every ridge, pore.
“Julia, you are so ugly,” Anna said.
Julia turned her attention from the dishes to her bratty, little 10-year-old sister. Normally she would just ignore her little sister’s insults, but today for some odd reason, she was just unbearable. Julia and Anna were both exceptionally bright girls. Their mother, Rachael, was their primary caregiver. She worked as a vendor in the town center selling fruits and vegetables while the children are in school. Julia was tall, 13 years old girl with brown hair, green eyes, and was very pretty. Anna had blue eyes, blond hair and had dimples. Anna looked like a little angel, but to Julia, she was a demon child.
“Did you hear me, ugly face?” Anna asked. “I. CALLED. YOU. DISGUSTING.”
Julia wanted to grab a soapy knife and throw it in her sister’s direction, but she resisted.
Gregory Death will take care of her. She thought. She has no table manners, and she is downright lazy.
Gregory Death was a supernatural being that visited the small village of Camber once every 10 years. He would take the form of a regular human, visit every household that has two or more children, and take one child to the afterlife with him, or he can decide not to take anybody with him. The latter has never happened. These were the terms agreed upon by Gregory Death and the town mayor. It was either that or let Gregory Death slaughter the entire village. This would be the first time he would visit their household.
Julia felt calm after reassuring herself. Julia was never a problem to her mother. She was always obedient, helpful around the house, and often wrote short stories and poems in her own free time. Anna, however, was a spoiled brat, who hated reading, house chores, and listening to her mom’s instructions. The only thing she loved was annoying the hell out of Julia. She always wanted everything to go her way.
“Anna, shut up. Julia, did you finish the dishes?” Rachael, the girls’ mother, came into the kitchen.
“Yes, Mom,” Julia answered.
“Who’s coming over again?” Anna asked in an annoying voice.
“An important guest,” Rachael said. “So be on your best behavior, Anna.”
“Yes, Mommy,” Anna answered sweetly.
Julia hated it when Anna used her fake sweet voice.
Once Julia finished the dishes, the girls went to change their clothes. Julia came into the dining room wearing a simple white dress, church shoes, and her hair was all combed and loose. Anna wore a little black dress, with matching shoes and her hair in pigtails using black thread. Rachael also wore a black dress, with matching shoes and her hair in a bun. Next, they placed the food on the table. It was an impressive display of chicken, pasta, sweet potato, bread rolls, and macaroni and cheese. Suddenly, Anna complained that she had to go to the bathroom and ran off.
Rachael began setting the utensils on the table. Julia started to set the napkins on each seat and asked. “What happens if he chooses one of us?”
Julia looked at her mother to see her reaction. Rachael stopped for a second, and then resumed placing the utensils.
“It won’t come to that,” She answered. “I won’t let anything happen to either of you.”
Julia finished setting the napkins and sat at her seat. Rachael sat at her own seat and placed her hands in front of her like she was praying.
The doorbell rang.
“I’ll get it!” Anna answered, coming out of the bathroom.
They could hear Anna’s shoes against the wooden floors as they went from the bathroom to the front door. They heard Anna unlock the door and open it.
“Hi, Important guest!”
Just take her now and leave us, just do it!! Julia thought.
Anna came into the dining room holding hands with a tall, clean-shaven man, with gray eyes, black hair, and a calm demeanor.
“Hello,” said the man with a blank expression.
“Welcome to our home.” Rachael got up and shook Gregory’s hand.
“It’s lovely to see you again Rachael,” Gregory said in a calm, but impartial voice.
His gray eyes were mesmerizing. There were no blemishes or imperfections on his face. His towering figure, broad shoulders, and large hands made him very attractive. He was the product of angels.
Julia said nothing. Anna’s attention was on the food laid out in front of her.
“Please sit down,” Rachael said.
Gregory sat next to Rachael, and Anna sat next to Julia on the other side of the table.
“Everybody dig in,” Rachael said.
“Everything looks great.” Gregory blankly replied to Rachael.
The girls started gathering food to their plates and began eating. Gregory doesn’t lift a utensil. He watched Julia eating her chicken first, Rachael eating her pasta, and Anna devouring bread rolls. Gregory noticed that every other second, Rachael looked at him as if he’s going to strike someone, like a beaten housewife expecting a blow from the abusive husband. He kept his eyes on her, watching her fidget and squirm in her seat. Julia saw her mom and picked up the plate of sweet potatoes and cleared her throat. Gregory doesn’t move and kept looking at Rachael. He didn’t hear Julia clearing her throat. Rachael tried to drink out of her shaking wine glass.
He slowly turned his head towards Julia. She felt something tighten around her neck like a noose. Heart beating fast, she opened her mouth.
“May I serve you?”
“I don’t eat,” Gregory replied.
Julia’s mind went reeling. Then why would we prepare all this food for somebody who doesn’t even eat? Gregory concentrated on Anna and Julia felt the noose vanish. Anna’s mouth was grinding and softening her food noisily, her eyes glued to her plate. Julia kept her gaze at their strange guest. He suddenly turned to meet Julia’s gaze. The tightness feeling around her neck returned but with more constriction. She began coughing. She still kept her green eyes locked to the gray eyes across the table. His eyes bulged suddenly and Julia’s head involuntary jerked back to the chair. She coughed more violently and clawed at her neck trying to breathe.
Rachael looked at her daughter, standing up, running to the other side of the table. Julia felt like her neck was about to burst. She slammed her right hand on the dining, table making everything jump. Anna gave a gasp of surprise as her plate jumped while Rachael tried to help Julia. She closed her eyes. Stop!! Please!!! Stop!! Stop!!
She felt her airways expand again and took in a lungful of fresh air, coughing. She looked at Gregory. His eyes stared blankly at his napkin. His mouth slowly formed a small hint of a smile. Rachael asked,
“You ok Sweetheart?”
“Sorry, it was a (cough) piece of bread stuck in my mouth.”
“Chew your food, Julia... Jeez Louise.”
Anna chuckled at her retort to Julia as Rachael returned to her seat. Julia resumed eating glancing at Gregory every so often, massaging her neck.
“Max says “hi” and sends his love,” He said, his eyes fixated on his napkin.
Julia gasped and stopped eating. Rachael dropped her fork, and it clattered to the ground loudly. She grabbed the table trying to stabilize herself, trying not to lose control of her tears.
“What’s wrong, Mommy?” Anna asked noticing her.
“You spoke to our dad?” Julia asked, looking at Gregory.
Gregory rested his gray eyes to Julia’s green and nodded. Julia looked over to her mother. She seemed to be gaining control of herself. Anna looked at everybody, feeling like she missed something. Julia noticed Anna’s confusion and tells her that their dead father spoke to him.
“So then that means you’re Gregory Death?” Anna asked.
Julia and Rachael look at Anna, shocked that she knows. Gregory noticed their perplexed faces.
“How did Dad die?” Anna asked.
“He died in the war.” Rachael answered.
“He was a brave man,” Gregory stated. “He was trying to save his friends. There was an ambush; he looked like a god avoiding all the bullets while shooting with his rifle.”
This was the first time Gregory spoke with conviction in his voice. He sounded like a preacher professing faith.
In her mind’s eye, Julia saw her dad on the battlefield. In the epicenter of chaos and mayhem, her father stood at 6”2, old movie star handsome, broad chin, gray eyes, the best eyes for a rifleman. She imagined her father running, carrying a fallen comrade over his shoulder, narrowly escaping bullets. She remembered how even more handsome and dignified he looked in his uniform.
“The enemy’s army had his platoon outgunned and outnumbered. They retreated to their base, but even more came.”
Rachael’s tears were freely flowing. Julia wore a stern face, trying to show no emotion. They were never told how he died. The only piece of him that came back home was his dog tags. Anna’s eyes stayed at Gregory, hypnotized.
“His unit eventually surrendered. They were under torture for two weeks.”
Rachael wanted to stop Gregory for the girls’ sake, but at the same time she wanted to know what happened to her husband. She looked over at Julia, who was still strong and calm. Anna was crying small tears, nose running. Gregory continued.
“They lined all the soldiers up one by one at dawn, most of them nearing the end anyway. Max, however, stayed sane and resilient. They had a firing squad waiting for them.”
At least it was quick, Julia thought.
“The majority of them begged for mercy, but your father stayed silent and looked at his enemy’s eyes as they shot him,” Gregory said finally.
“His last thoughts were of you three, his beautiful wife, and his two lovely daughters back home.” he said.
“Prove it,” Rachael suddenly said, eyes red, tears flowing, lips quivering.
He stared expressionlessly at Rachael and took something out of his jacket pocket. He placed it in front of Rachael. She immediately lost control and broke down. Lo and behold, it was the very same photograph Rachael gave her late husband before he went to war. The photo was of the entire family. Rachael and Max looked like movie stars, Rachael was carrying Anna who was very small back then, and Julia was holding Max’s hand.
Rachael left the table, not wanting her girls to see her that way. Gregory resumed staring at his napkin, Anna was removing her tears, and Julia stared at the monstrosity that made her mom cry.
“Thank you,” Julia said.
Gregory looked up at her and replied inanely, “You’re welcome, I am glad to have met someone as courageous as your father.”
An awkward silence filled the dining room. Gregory turned his attention to the doorway leading to the kitchen. Anna stopped eating, and Julia began eating her macaroni and cheese. Gregory was now fixated on the crucifix above their doorway. His face turned into an angry and displeased look. As if the crucifix was taunting him.
“Do you like poetry?” Julia asked.
It took a few seconds for Gregory to register the question. His body and face loosened, and he took a small breath. The poker-faced look returned to Gregory’s face.
“Nobody wants to hear your sucky poetry Julia,” Anna retorted.
Good now her true nature shows. Julia thought to herself and ignored her nasty remark.
“Do you have any favorite poets... Gregory?” Julia asked. It felt really awkward without saying his last name.
“I have too many to name,” Gregory simply answered. “Do you have any favorites?”
“Emily Dickinson, I LOVE her work and she was so beautiful,” Julia said.
“I’m definitely of a big fan of hers, and she was... a big fan of me,” Gregory said.
Julia felt a shiver going down her spine at catching his attempt at a joke. She tried to make a genuine laugh. Anna couldn’t believe that somebody was enjoying Julia’s company. And they’re talking about poetry? Poetry is boring.
“Do you have a favorite poem by Dickinson?” Gregory asked vacuously.
“Because I could not stop for Death,” Julia replied with pride.
Gregory slowly nodded his head, familiar with the poem. “I probably shouldn’t tell you this.”
Gregory turned his head to the doorway that lead to the kitchen. Malice flashed across his face again and chided.
“He’ll probably get mad.”
Julia looked to where Gregory indicated, confused at first. She then remembered the crucifix they have above the doorway. Feeling more chills going down here spine, and feeling she will regret asking this, Julia said, “Tell me anyway,” looking at Gregory.
Gregory glanced at Anna, who was examining the doorway from her seat, looking perplexed.
“When it was her time to...” Gregory made a short pause.
Julia nodded, understanding the meaning of his pause. Anna was still examining the doorway as if the answer were to jump in front of her saying: “Hey! Over here you idiot!!”
“I took her to the afterlife like it said in her poem,” said Gregory, simply.
Julia moaned, placing her hands on her heart like she heard the most romantic thing on Earth.
“That’s how I want to die!” Julia said.
“You are so weird,” Anna stated, looking at Julia.
Anna grabbed another bread roll and took a bite of it.
“See...” Anna says with her mouth full of bread. “I never want to die.”
Gregory looked towards Anna with a blank expression on his clean-shaven face. Julia’s hand automatically gripped the knife at her side on the table. Gregory stared at the knife she was holding.
Just take her and leave my mom and me here. Her, I could care less...
“I want to live forever, be rich, famous, and be loved by everyone,” Anna continued, smiling with her mouth full of wet bread.
Gregory returned looking at Anna for a split second and turned his attention to Julia again. Gregory said in a toneless voice.
“I would love to hear some of your poetry, Julia.”
Taken back, Julia slowly released her hand around the knife. She walked out of the dining room and into her room, her mind buzzing on which of her many poems to recite. She reached under her bed and took out a folder containing all her poems. There were dozens of poems inside. She flipped through the pages, deciding which to choose.
Which one... Which one... Which?
She grabs one entitled “Birdman,” the poem she recently finished. It wasn’t her best work, but she felt this one was one of her really good ones. She returned to the living room finding Gregory twirling his wine in his glass with a bored look on his face while Anna babbled on and on about nothing. Gregory saw Julia reentering the room.
“Finally,” Gregory said vacantly at Julia.
Anna saw the unimpressed look on Gregory’s face and pouted in her seat. .
Julia cleared her throat.
Every afternoon I see something so rare
A man in a dirty tuxedo smelly and torn
Walks into the park without a care
Silent as the winter snow falls every morn
He sits on his favorite bench and lets out a tired, weary sigh
Small birds, medium birds, and large birds flock to his side
Suddenly, something wet and cold smacked half of Julia’s face. She wiped it off her face and finds that it was macaroni and cheese. She looked at the kitchen table, seeing Anna holding a spoon with flecks of macaroni and cheese on it. Anna did it. Something inside Julia’s head and chest broke. Julia’s brain and heart yelling for Anna slaughtered. She wanted Anna dead. Julia lunged at Anna, grabbing her throat. Anna tried to free her neck from Julia’s clutches, but Julia is too strong. The sisters fell to the floor, Julia on top of Anna, choking the life out of her. Julia’s eyes got wider and wider. She’s actually going to do it. She was actually going to kill Anna; her face was slowly turning blue. Tears start running down Anna’s eyes and small whispers Mommy... Mommy. Julia felt like she was floating. She was rising up, losing her grip around Anna’s neck... Wait...
Julia was floating in midair. How is this possible? She turned her head and saw Gregory standing behind her with a calm expression on his face.
“I decide who lives and dies, not you,” Gregory said.
Anna started to breathe freely and started coughing on the ground. Gregory walked over to Anna and softly touched her face. Anna fell into a deep sleep.
“Although...” Gregory said, “I do admire your ambition.”
Julia gently floated back to her seat and Gregory placed Anna back on hers, still sleeping.
“She won’t remember you trying to kill her. Don’t worry,” said Gregory mutedly.
“Thank you,” Julia said gratefully, her whole body was shivering.
Gregory resumed his seat and looked at Julia in shock.
“Drink some wine,” He said.
“But I’m not drinking-” Julia stopped talking. She sat there fixated on her glass. The water was swirling really fast then turned blood-red. Her water turned to red wine.
Julia looked over to Gregory, remembering who their guest of honor was.
“You thought nobody else could perform miracles?” Gregory asked.
Julia took her glass and drank from it. Her nerves immediately vanished. Rachael returned to the living room, her face now plain and her ruined makeup washed away. She saw Gregory looking at her, and Julia finished what she thought was her water. Anna was still sleeping.
“Did you enjoy your meal, Gregory?” Rachael asked.
“Everything was to die for,” Gregory answered.
Rachael gave him a warm smile and headed to the kitchen.
“Rachael, I’m ready,” Gregory said.
Rachael stumbled and placed her hand on her wall. Julia ran to her mother, asking if she was all right.
“Ladies please sit down,” Gregory said.
Julia and Rachael sat next to the slumbering Anna. Each of their faces etched with anxiety and fear. Julia was holding hands with her mother as they faced Gregory.
“Now I’m going to be honest you with both now...”
Julia squeezed Rachael’s hand. Her heart was beating furiously.
“This is what makes my existence worthwhile,” Gregory stated.
Rachael was on the verge of tears again. Her lips were quivering uncontrollably, and her head was shaking violently. Julia looked into Gregory’s gray eyes, unfaltering and unafraid.
“Rachael, I’m going to let you choose who I can take with me.”
Something inside Rachael collapsed and her heart skipped a beat. She could not do it. She couldn’t; she loved them both. They are a part of her. They are her.
“Please...no,” Rachael begged, tears streaming down her face.
Julia looked at her mom in shock. She had never seen her mom beg to anybody before. She rarely even cried. When given the news that their father died, she stayed strong for her only two daughters. Seeing her mom in an almost pathetic state was really scaring her. Gregory sighed.
“Choose or I take them both. Don’t think some piece of paper signed by a corrupted official can control me. I can do whatever I want,” Gregory stated with a stern, intent face.
Take Anna! Take Anna! Take her! You have seen what we have to live with!! Julia screamed in her head.
Gregory looked at Julia for a short second and turned his attention to Rachael again.
“I’m waiting Rachael,” Gregory said with a hint of anger in his voice.
“Please don’t make me choose...” Rachael said, choking on her sobs.
“And why not?” Gregory asked. “Your parents did, remember? They spared you and handed over your sickly brother. What did he have again? Ah, yes, Down Syndrome. They made the wise choice. He didn’t even know who or where he was 99% of the time, so decide or I will leave you with nothing!” Gregory suddenly screamed.
The whole house shook at the end of his sentence. Frightening Julia and Rachael, the crucifix from the doorway fell and shattered on the ground. The chairs shook, and the table was coming alive. The utensils were singing an eerie song, and the walls groaned in pain.
“Take Anna! Take Anna!” Julia screamed over the chaos that was happening around them.
Parts of the ceiling were starting to crumble and fall. Their glasses and plates fell and smashed into pieces on the floor. The chairs started breaking themselves apart and crumbled in front of them. Julia had finally begun to fear the man who entered her parents’ house. Julia grabbed the snoozing Anna and carried her to Gregory, begging him to take her now while she’s unconscious. Rachael ran to the corner and sobbed, trying to wake up from this awful nightmare.
“Idiot woman!” Gregory yelled, and the house turned silent.
Julia felt herself rise into the air again and floated slowly toward Gregory. He walked towards the door. The floating girls involuntarily followed him.
“Mom!! Mom!! Don’t let him take us Mom!! Get up!!!”
Rachael stayed in the corner, not moving at all. Heavy tears leaked from Julia’s eyes. She kept yelling at her to do something. They entered the living room, now reaching a few feet from the door. Anna was still in a deep sleep being carried by a bawling Julia crying for her mom.
“Say goodbye to your mom Julia. You won’t see her for another 1000 years.” Gregory said. “I’ll make sure of that.”
Gregory grabbed the door handle.
“Wait!!” a voice from behind screamed.
Gregory turned around and saw Rachael standing, tears still falling, but standing upright. Julia’s mind buzzed with hope and relief.
I’m not going to die. I’m not going to die...
Rachael steeled herself again, wiping away her tears.
“I choose to sacrifice my eldest daughter, Julia,” Rachael declared.
Julia’s body suddenly went numb. She heard a ringing in her ears, and her mind went blank.
She said the wrong name... She meant Anna not me
The snoozing Anna tore away from Julia’s clutches and catapulted towards the couch in the living room. Gregory stared up at the floating Julia.
“NO!!” Julia screamed.
She yelled at her mother as more tears started flowing down her face. Her heart was beating furiously as if wanting to pump a few more precious seconds of life. It knew what would happen when Julia got outside.
“I was the perfect daughter! I did everything you asked!!” Julia screamed.
Gregory stayed silent, watching. Julia continued sobbing while calling her mom every foul word she could think of. The tears made soft noises as they hit the living room floor. Rachael just stood there and took in every name her daughter called her, fully aware that she deserved it.
After what seemed like hours, Julia covered her face, still sobbing. She felt herself lowered to the ground feeling powerful arms hugging her. Her dad used to do that when she had nightmares. She even remembered what her dad used to smell like. He smelled like grass after a big rain storm. Only, her dad wasn’t hugging her.
“Come on Julia,” Gregory said.
Julia opened her eyes to see Gregory’s arms around her, her eyes still producing tears, her heart still beating nonstop, denying its imminent doom. Julia gave her mom a hateful glare.
“Why?” She asked, lips quivering.
Rachael walked over to Anna and stroked her blond hair. Anna was still sleeping peacefully.
“Because I hear you cry every night,” Rachael said.
Julia’s face turned from hate to sadness. Gregory’s stern face reverted back to his blank face. Rachael continued.
“I miss him too Julia. Every day is a struggle for me too. I see your father so much in both of you and your sister.”
Julia kept her eyes on her mother who was looking over Anna. Gregory slightly bows his head a little, as if he was showing reverence.
“Can you do me this one last thing? Keep your father company while I try to make Anna more tolerable?”
A laugh almost escaped from Julia while she sobbed. Rachael looked at Julia in Gregory’s arms. All dressed in white, she already looked like an angel.
“I do love you, Julia. Believe me, please.”
Julia realized how much she’ll miss her mom. She’ll even miss Anna, in a way.
Gregory placed her on her feet and looked down at her. Julia gave back a hateful glare. She just noticed that he has gray eyes too. Gregory said blankly.
“Come on, your dad is waiting,”
Gregory grasped Julia’s right hand as she looked back at her mom and her sister. They got closer to the door.
“I’ll see to it that the mayor will publish your writings. I know all your poems and stories by heart,” Gregory said. “You will be immortal, and be loved by future generations,”
Julia looked at Gregory in shock, not believing the words he just uttered.
“And now... We are going on a carriage ride.”
Eliah Medina Bio
Eliah Medina is Legal Studies major living in Houston Texas. He attends University of Houston Clear Lake and works as an English Tutor at a community college. In his free time, he writes and reads as much as he can.
the grief counselor
walked us to our car
we thanked her
pulled onto pleasant street
minutes after the bell rang
at the local elementary school
seconds after the buses filled
so many small faces
in the windows
including a boy
who reminded us
of the baby we buried
dark unruly hair
who smiled warmly
forced us to say goodbye again
Corey Cook Biography
Corey Cook is the author of three chapbooks: Rhododendron in a Time of War (Scars Publications), What to Do with a Dying Parakeet (Pudding House Publications), and Flock (Origami Poems Project). His work has recently appeared in The Aurorean, Brevities, Commonthought, The Legendary, Muddy River Poetry Review, Nerve Cowboy, Smoky Quartz Quarterly, and Three Line Poetry. New work is forthcoming in Daily Love, The Germ, Leaves of Ink, and Milk Sugar. Corey works in New Hampshire and lives in Vermont.
Watching you with binoculars
Watching you under a microscope
Watching you with a magnifying glass
My father was a ten hour
a week employee
who drank on the job.
He cooked fantastic meals,
built some things out of wood,
and mowed the lawn.
He was Dad-Lite--
half the calories,
half the fun,
none of the responsibilities.
On Father’s Day
I made him a card from
It said Congratulations--
You were almost a father.
You were the opening act--
the warm-up comedian who
loosened up the family.
You were bigger than life.
You were a Pop-up,
a father whose legacy was
no health benefits for all.
Kara Bright Kilgore
The first incision is always hasty. I’m watching Frank’s skin change from pale to colorless as the blade slices through white flesh. A pearl falls to the floor, and Frank looks down at his apron. He told me yesterday to make sure the pearls would hold. I created a paste that had the consistency of crazy glue, but it grew flimsy after exposure to extreme heat. I took pictures for our brochure about two hours ago, handing them to Frank so he could hold on to his work. We added some color with an airbrush, and that’s when we noticed the mismatched eyes. One blue eye rested slightly higher than the other. I knew it was only in millimeters, but there I was with gel and a scalpel. If I could just fill in the brows, it would offset the imperfection without changing the expression.
“You’re gonna lose her, Maddy” Frank said. I reached down into our black toolbox, feeling around for the tool known as the number nine, but Frank calmly moved the box away with his foot. My expression asked the question, but Frank just shook his head. “You don’t need it, not now, not anymore.”
I nodded and remembered as he handed me the airbrush instead. I added depth to her brows in short slight strokes. My wrist carried the motion from base to tip. Still, I wanted this to be my first time with the number nine. Frank’s the only one who has ever used it. Most people have never even seen it. I can’t even seem to remember how we even acquired such rogue tool. It’s a shape shifter, an interlocking system of five point blades, tips, and brushes with a slippery trigger. It definitely delivers. I’ve seen what it can do, something even closer than a photograph.
Frank was right. I really didn’t need the number nine after all. I stared at my canvas. She could have posed for a portrait, every hair placed at a natural angle and groomed to a fashionable length. Her expression was the color of the ideal commonly called “good natured.” Frank called out the minute and second.
There’s a nine-minute window before gravity takes over, before I have to empty the contents of an aerosol can, dousing the art and freezing that which would naturally fall, sag, or drop. It’s been four minutes and I could have stopped there, but I added eyelashes that tapered into sharp tips and waited ten seconds for the gel to stabilize. It worked. The gel hardened on top, resisting pressure to sink into the creases. The extra depth however called for more prominent cheekbones.
I hear footsteps and know that Frank is pacing the short hallway. “There’s no time for that kind of architecture. You buttered that bread, now lie in it.”
He was nervous, not that it affected his speech. He always confused expressions. I angled the airbrush and pulled the trigger. The blast could have caused a two-inch tear. It could have been the wrong tool and the wrong decision.
But it wasn’t and now, we’re ready.
As I was stood there fascinated by Frank’s colorless complexion, the guest gathered under the archway. Manicured hands tried to conceal the sharp intake of air that creates a gasp and without any instruction the adults approached her only in single file. The suited and the pencil-skirted, for once in unison and speechless before our finished product. Some were in tears, a fact that was not surprising, but a weak indicator of reaction. This was the reason for Frank’s roll call of emotions. He stood watching on the front line, all emotions ready for action. I watched the crowd as well and tried to look for some kind of signal. The only thing we knew in those first few moments was that our work had made an impact, but people cry at despair as well as despair’s polar opposite and sometimes everything in between. Relief and peace were also possibilities, not that they canceled joy or pain, but overshadowed both of them as an acceptable middle ground.
In our line of work middle ground is stability and far from inertia.
I clutch Frank’s hand as we free fall. We see tissue. A sniff. A cough. Stillness. The mother drifts away from the moment, simultaneously blotting mascara and tightening her smile. In the time it took for Frank to clench his jaw she was brimming before me.
“This is exactly what she would want,” she said.
Our hands fall apart. Frank exhales, and speaks in that clipped manner that almost hides his accent.
“A loved one’s wish, that’s our mission.”
In this kind of interlude, Frank makes himself available in small doses. He prunes what he says before he says it so that everything sounds like an ad in a glossy brochure. He prefers, of course, that they speak to me. I handle both ceremony and business in the same shade of candid conversational speech.
He was a technical builder while I was public relations. This was our business. This was our marriage. I can’t tell her this so I just smile and wait for her next rush of words. I maintain the smile even though the mother’s words fall like granite.
“Does your company provide the knife?”
I decide to answer her, sparing Frank the indecent moment.
“Yes, of course,” I say and place a steel blade in her open palm. The handle had safety grips. Anyone could hold it and look like an expert. I didn’t know if she’d start with the shoulder or the sternum. And with that, she turned on her heels and walked back to the cluster of guests. She paused mid step and turned back, addressing both of us from the pit of recognition.
Her hand floated up before her nails grazed her lips. Her eyes narrowed.
“I almost hate to have to do this... such a shame ... I mean, the skill that...
She swallowed the end of that thought. They usually do, but not before realizing the finality of their next action. I’ve seen it before, like a collision that happens in the forgiving motion of water. It’s the end that they’ve seen the entire time, a logical progression in sequence. Observed, but nonetheless, ignored.
The mother regained composure and with a cool nod, smiled with something resembling gratitude before saying, “It really is a beautiful cake.”
Frank had gone through a lot to get this gig. His eyes lit up when I finally told him, “It’s a girl.” The Donavan’s had planned their child’s seventh birthday party for two straight months. They called her Katie, but her name was Katheryn, a spelling monument to non-tradition, an added risk to sugary letters on top of a cake. A name to get wrong more times than right.
Luckily, we never needed to spell the child’s name. Frank considered that only a minor issue, though. In the dying art of custom confection, there are other risks to consider. The Donavan’s had requested a cake created in the likeness of their only child. They wanted, of course, to surprise her. They supplied a photo of Katie dressed in pink and springtime green and told us it was her favorite dress. They were well equipped with details because they had just come from Girl Scout Gaudy, a bakery on the south side of town that specialized in custom creations. They were popular with troops 5 and 11 and specialized in renegade icing techniques. Very post modern. Even their green sign had a recklessly granulated texture that beckoned to the only kind of clients they accepted. I heard stories of fathers, of mothers, who begged the owner to build a cake for their little boy. All of them, turned away. Confection and perfection, but for girls only. It was their one and only specialty. That night, while I sketched a model of a six-foot cake, Frank went for a little drive.
He met with Gaudy’s owner, an olive-skinned man by the name of Callowin. Frank knew Callowin more as a machine than a person, remembering stories of the man that spent years perfecting an edible red dye that would never stain porous surfaces, such as teeth.
Callowin’s persistence paid off, even though experimentation left his own teeth permanently stained in unavoidable crimson.
Frank only nodded to Callowin’s red grin before sitting on the edge of a chair. He could, after all, choose to never show his teeth. The fact that he did was an obvious threat, but Frank came prepared.
Saying nothing at all, he removed a small metallic object from his coat pocket. The three men behind Callowin’s chair moved quickly, but Frank had already placed the item on the table and quickly stepped back. Callowin’s voice was just as bold as his teeth.
“Is that what I think it is?”
Frank crossed his arms. Stainless steel tips. Changeable edges. Freshly cut, the grooves were multi-functional by a small dial on the side, making any confectionary edge, shape, or design instantly simplified. It was the bastard that bakers know as the number nine. No one ever says its name out loud. This device had no numbers or markings of any kind. The tip for frosting still had remnants of metal shavings around the edges, scars from an assembly normally associated with the creation of firearms.
Frank returned without the tool and without any further rivalry from Callowin’s bakery. I blinked in disbelief when Frank told me that Callowin himself gave the order, calling the Donavan’s to give them the news: Girl Scout Gaudy could not be considered for their daughter’s birthday due to a recently remembered and decidedly large custom order that was already in progress.
Even with Callowin out of our way, the structure of the cake still presented its own contradictions. It wasn’t the height. We did eight or nine feet cakes all the time, but they were wedding cakes with the classic Victorian layers that were structurally sound. This project however required yellow cake. It was ordinary substance that everyone was familiar with, stealing its place in childhood photos that burned five, six, or seven candles. Even baked and cooled, it was far less dense than wedding cake, and therefore temperamental. I looked down at the photo of Katie. Her dress was breezy, and that was some sort of safety net. The bare yellow bones were solidified with heat, three hundred plus degrees to form connective bonds. Once it cools, it will reveal a detail that was not in the photo. It was a decision that I had to make, a precaution that followed through, masquerading as a light breeze that added a billowy effect to her dress. The extra depth would create a suitable base for frosted features that would, without a doubt, add weight to any type of curve or angle. The parents wouldn’t mind a breeze that could have been. I glanced back at the photo of the pretty little girl and smiled. I know what Frank needs to create. Still photos have the unfortunate effect of stillness, but this is the shape of a happy childhood. This is the sum of summer.
I inhale the scent of sugar and heat and try to translate Katie’s features. Our subject has key colors that will need to speak in the language of sweet flavor, new dresses, or a favorite doll. I graph our options before Frank’s workday even begins. His job was more technique than process, and highly cosmetic. Frank walked into the room, silent, as if his baby were sleeping. He peered into the oven and flashed thumbs up. He sat down next to me and said he’s trying to get a song out of his head. It’s bad luck to sing while a cake is baking, and Frank won’t even allow his mind to sing, no matter how silent the song. We whispered instead, safe in baking time.
“Her features are so fine,” I breathe.
“Thin as lemon glaze,” he says. His nostrils flare and he asks, “What is that delicious perfume you’re wearing?”
“Vanilla. Your favorite.”
He would sleep the rest of the day and start early in the morning. The frosting and paste could take hours, his hands in a painful slow dance with consistency. Scalloped edges come from wrists that guide the tip, while roses required the extension of fingers lifting at precise angles. Almond paste is rolled for any sort of piping, stacked by hand and coated with clear icing to seal the design.
It was just last night that I spoke to the Donavans. We met at a badly lit diner in the club district. They were still in their work clothes and looked nervous as the lights flickered. I chose a booth in the far corner. A shadow loomed over us and we all looked up at the grease stained waiter. His left arm was in a cast and his eyes seemed to float in mid air.
“What you want?”
“Just bring us some water, Mac,” I say before the Donavans even find their voices. This type of custom design required a deposit. I went through my entire speech even though they didn’t object or even hesitate. They handed over cash, our only accepted form of payment, and nodded to my statements.
They were not really buying a cake for their child’s birthday; they were buying a memory of mommy and daddy. For the right price, I could ensure that the memory was pure, and literally sugar coated. I scribbled notes as soon as I got home. While I was grateful that Katie’s hair was already the color of caramel, her eyes were not the sky blue variety. In fact, they were an intimidating glass cleaner blue. Her skin color cooperated nicely though, since it was easily expressed in vanilla diluted with bitter almond. Two drops of red food coloring produced a color commonly referred to as flesh. Frank wanted to place flowers in her hand probably because he wanted to show off. He did, after all, spend six days behind closed doors, speaking to himself in these deranged pep talks. He came out afterward knowing how petals and ivy would look if they were ever granulated. The big show off would need to use primary colors this time. I prepped the shades with names like red 40 and blue 1, setting them in order on the counter. I knew how sensitive Frank was to color, and I knew he would be missing a chance to use a group of pastels, known as figments. Their colors changed and faded based on the light. Look once and you’ll see something that resembles white. Look again and you’ll see a subtle shade of melted pink. They were striking, but those colors are too time consuming to mix. I can’t fixate on formula right now. He would have to create flowers with primary colors, just this once. Next week, I’ll quantify the soft figments until some sort of formula emerges.
The next morning, I’m standing in our doorway watching those hidden moments when artists are still in love with their subjects. Frank hesitates with tools even though control comes from his hands. He steps back and gages his progress. His head tilts and he curses his own sense of time that is rarely on time. He says that this is work, but I’m not buying it. There are too many soft smiles for a man of Frank’s age. I hear him as he finishes the contours “There’s the look of an angel,” he says. He’s finished, and Frank puts this to bed. He motions that it’s time for me to take over and leaves the room.
The flour spills on the floor as if someone were dusting for fingerprints. Frank’s escape leaves blades on marble slabs and twisted wire behind the cabinet doors. I take Polaroids before I prep the gurney. The van is running and it will be seventeen minutes before the temperature is precise. Frank and I converted what used to be a van into a moving refrigerator. Kids follow us sometimes because we have to drive so slowly. They think we have ice cream, and wonder why we don’t stop.
At the event, a little boy recovers the fallen pearl before he attempts to swallow it. His mother wrestles with him, but it’s gone. She scurries over to where Frank and I are standing. I let her ask the question even though I know it. I tell her that it’s candy, and completely safe. Everything on the cake is fit for human consumption. A woman drifts by and compliments Frank on petal shaped frosting, and it’s then that I think to ask Frank the obvious question of his attendance. He does this all the time, arriving at each event in a separate car with tinted windows.
Frank just stands and waits in the indiscretion of ceremony. Our guests are gathered around the cake and they don’t notice anything outside the celebration. They start slicing and Frank holds his breath. He could leave at any time, but he just stares as they hack away at the dress, and the hair, before rationing out the candy eyes. Children grab fistfuls of icing and the whole thing comes away piece by piece, fragmented by common things like plates and forks. The taste will be momentary at best, before leaving another type of hunger. I want to tell Frank that there’s a reason they call them consumers, but I can’t look at him in this moment. Not while he stands silent, watching an autopsy that reveals absolutely nothing. Look once and you’ll see the likeness of a little girl, look again and you’ll see nothing at all. The pictures of the cake will be in a book that he will never see. I’ll tell him to disassociate. Pretend to be pretentious. This will always happen. They will always cut the cake, Frank, so close your eyes as they blow out the candles, and next time, make another wish.
The Seed of a Kiss in Every Smile, art by Bill Wolak
Bill Wolak brief bio
Bill Wolak is a poet, photographer, and collage artist. His collages have been published in The Annual, Peculiar Mormyrid, Danse Macabre, Dirty Chai, Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Journal, Lost Coast Review, Yellow Chair Review, Otis Nebula, and Horror Sleaze Trash. He has just published his twelfth book of poetry entitled Love Opens the Hands with Nirala Press. Recently, he was a featured poet at The Mihai Eminescu International Poetry Festival in Craiova, Romania. Mr. Wolak teaches Creative Writing at William Paterson University in New Jersey.
David Nelson Hilliard
I met Kelsey, known as Corky, when I was a junior in high school. I don’t know why she preferred Corky. She was staying with an uncle because of her mother’s death, and her cousin was one of my friends. Soon after I met her, we were an item. For whatever reason, it happened quickly and easily. At that time, my tastes were very unrefined – someone who was interested in me and who had large breasts was just what I wanted. I encouraged her to wear her peasant blouses which showed off massive cleavage. She had large everything. Her response was “More of me to love”. She had to explain another expression “Too wet to plow” because of my insufficient understanding of female anatomy. I later found out that she had hair in usual places, and thin hair on her head but that did not deter me. She may have had more testosterone than I.
Her cousin suggested she wouldn’t be the best possible girlfriend, but I had few promiscuous and brilliant super models lined up as alternatives.
We didn’t go on many traditional dates, but mostly made out in my parked car. She regularly got me off orally, but I didn’t return the favor. I don’t know how that affected her. I didn’t care at the time, but we had really gross displays of public displays of affection. We would lay on each other, sometimes dry humping. Not counting birth it was the first time that I touched a vagina. Another time she was caught at the end of a party with her hands in my pants. She would baby talk to me.
The one time I had planned to go for real sex, we were hurrying for my parent’s empty house and got stopped for speeding. I got off with a warning, but it bothered me enough to abandon my plans for seduction. She may have been ready, maybe not. On the plus side of missing intercourse, I didn’t have condoms, I didn’t know if she was on birth control and I was completely unprepared to be a father.
Our senior year she stayed with relatives somewhere else. I had been faithful, even sappy. I put mushy stuff on my notebooks with her name, but there were rumors that she had played around while out of state.
We had a special day at the turn of a decade. I was young enough that it was only my second and the first that I remembered.
I went to college locally and was kept busy with studies, so I suggested (and here is the incomprehensible part) that she have platonic dates to keep her busy. After awhile she had a new boyfriend, a shoe salesman. They played COD (catch on delivery), a breast grabbing game played while driving.
While this was going, on I was distraught and tried everything that I could think of to get her back. I would force kisses on her and while driving hold her hand over my dick.
The shoe salesman didn’t win. A third guy did. She was really taken with a song “I Want To Marry Jerry”, that had the name of her future husband in the title. My mother, who thought that she was trying to trap me, had suggested that she was in a hurry to get married, so I offered that, but was rejected. Her new boyfriend was Catholic, so she needed to convert. I tried to convince her that was hypocritical and was not consistent with our perverted (by some standard) activities.
Although broken hearted at the time, long term it was a good thing for me.
While trying to win her back, I loaned her money for nursing school. After I was completely out of the picture, her new man showed up on my door step with the money and a note, “Here You Are, You Sack Of Shit”.
Have I made it sound like I was the good guy? I definitely was not. When I thought that she wouldn’t look around, I took her for granted. I blew up at her at a party for no good reason. She didn’t get the sexual satisfaction that I got. I was a very poor loser and tried to use the loan as leverage.
Arbitrarily, I read obituaries with pictures attached. Recently, I happened to read the obituary of her husband, because the obituary had his picture. It mentioned their two children and how he met Kelsey, but didn’t have any other information about her. Before that I’d only heard scant news about her a couple of times from a relative. Although, I had subsequently wandered about the country, I ended up just 7.2 miles and 16 minutes by car from where she lives.
I wrote a condolence letter to her saying I’d like to talk. I hoped to heal some old wounds, and apologize for my behavior. Later when I called her, she had no knowledge of the letter. Her response was hostile and irritated, reasonably enough. She could see no reason that a long ago affair was any justification to contact her. She was still grieving and cried at one point, but also laughed at something silly I said. Given her understandable attitude, I gave up on seeing her or asking what would have seemed like impertinent questions, so much of this memoir is built on my frequently mistaken memory. I did find out that she had a son working in my town with the same occupation as her late husband. She had a little interest in my history, which was a surprise and despite her claim that our affair was unimportant, she did remember exactly how long ago it had happened. Although I had a slightly different take on the break up, she said that I “pushed her away”, but it turned out well for her.
“Janine” in Down In The Dirt Magazine is the memoir of the next girlfriend and the only other serious one before my marriage, so “Kelsey” is the end of a very short series. All of the names and even the song in here have been changed.
A Bouquet of Daisies
This time the news was completely delivered in under a minute, but I caught it and it made me rise from my seat.
“Yes!” I heard myself say to the TV. “Yes! Of course!”
It was 1992 now and while years had passed since Walter and Anna Marie were an object of media interest I, for one, hadn’t forgotten this couple. I’d first become aware of them—and been as aghast at Walter’s actions as everyone else—on the evening of the incident, an evening in July of 1985, when New York TV stations carried reports from their South Florida affiliates. It wasn’t until the fall though, when they made the wires again on the day Walter was sentenced, that they got a serious grip on my attention.
What transpired at the sentencing had also triggered a major focus on Walter and Anna Marie in the Miami Herald and the Kendall Star, the journal representing the Miami suburb in which they lived, and I was, for the next few mornings, a regular customer at the out-of-town newspaper store on Broadway and 72nd Street. As I’m inclined to do, I was thinking about the breadth of human resourcefulness in response to the horrific knowledge of being mortal, about the variety of remedies, usually subconscious, often implausible and sometimes abhorrent, that we’ve fashioned for the mother of all anxieties. And albeit a strictly visceral reaction at this stage, I was, upon seeing the headlines, at odds with what these papers were making of the extraordinary events at the sentencing. In step with the newscasts I’d watched, the Herald referred to Walter and Anna Marie as the “Demented Duo” and a piece in the Star was titled “The Twisted Psychology of a Victim.” But notwithstanding my quarrel with what struck me as limited vision, both the Star and the Herald published extensive articles that promised details, and details being what I wanted (and was gratified to discover—they would buttress my faith in my instincts) I read everything. I found the Star especially valuable. It ran interviews not only with Anna Marie, who recalled entire conversations with Walter almost verbatim, but with family members and others. And it printed numerous photographs, images of the incident site among them.
Twenty years old at the time, Walter was five nine and squarely built with unruly shoulder-length hair that shrouded much of his angular face but failed to wholly obscure a profusion of severe acne scars. Although he had his share of friends, one of them a confidante who was interviewed at length, his inclination was to keep to himself, and snapshots from his early childhood—he was the youngest of four boys—revealed that his perpetually dour countenance had been a lifelong characteristic. From the week following his high school graduation through to the incident date, Walter worked as an auto mechanic at a popular gas station where he was reputed to be indolent and less than tidy when it came to the simple tasks but was also known as a talented problem solver. He’d procrastinate about the easy things, and leave a wrench in a gear shift or oil stains on a steering wheel when he was finally done. But in respect to a car’s more elusive issues he would engage and persevere until he’d produced the correct diagnosis and solution. His declared ambition was to eventually own a repair shop. His preoccupation, however, was Anna Marie.
Anna Marie was two months younger than Walter and a full head shorter. If she could claim prominent breasts and large green eyes with long and thick lashes, she was hardly, at least insofar as her appearance was concerned, a woman you’d expect a man to be obsessed with. Her nose was too big, her cheeks too fleshy, her chin too brief, her bottom too broad and her “dirty” blonde hair (which she wore at shoulder length or pulled into a ponytail) too stringy. A brother of Walter’s described her as “maybe a six.” Employed since high school as an assistant manager in a supermarket in Kendall’s largest shopping center, she lived in a two-bedroom apartment with her mother who was suffering from an abundance of ailments and essentially house-bound. It was the same apartment in which she’d been raised. Her father, a building construction worker, had died on her ninth birthday, not long after he was trapped in a fire ignited by a gas explosion. She was an only child.
Walter and Anna Marie met in their junior year of high school and that was when, as another of Walter’s brothers expressed it, the “simple teenage crush that just got crazy” commenced. Walter had apparently been love-struck the instant he saw Anna Marie. They were in three of the same classes and in the opening weeks of the term he maneuvered to sit near her whenever he could. (He would lean towards her to capture her fragrance, to study her face and to watch for the bra straps that tended to slip below the short sleeves of her blouses.) But she showed no interest in him, never so much as glanced in his direction, and his natural shyness exacerbated by the inflamed condition of his pimples in this period, it was beyond him to make a move on her.
Then, on a midweek morning in late October, she was passing his desk and tripped over his book bag which happened to be protruding into the aisle. She crashed against the desk in front of his and he heard her groan. Seizing the opportunity to help her, he felt the cool flesh of her arm in his hand and would “forever remember” the “electrical current” that charged through him when they made this first physical contact. As she composed herself, pressing her fingers to her forehead—she was in evident pain—she took a hard look at him and smiled.
“Is this your way of flirting?” She said.
Walter, taken aback, his face hot, had no answer. He only gaped at her.
“The book bag,” she said, still smiling. “Well, it worked. My name’s Anna Marie. What’s yours?” She held out her hand and he noticed a welt beginning to form over one of her eyes. “I could have croaked,” she said. “But I’m still here.”
Dating by the weekend, Walter and Anna Marie were “going steady” in a matter of days and they defined their relationship that way for a full year. “Sixteen! The best year of my life,” Walter would say. Much of their time was spent in Anna Marie’s room. Down a long hallway from her mother’s and largely unchanged since her girlhood, the capacious room was painted pink and all but consumed by a collection of gargantuan ragdolls and oversized, multi-colored pillows strewn on the bed and the floor, and they’d talk spiritedly there for hours at a stretch.
As a rule Walter had little to say about himself and spoke mainly about cars. He could name the make, model and year of every car on the road. But on one evening he told Anna Marie that he’d never felt “wholeheartedly loved” by his parents. Walter’s parents owned a modest one-story house a short bus ride from Anna Marie and Walter shared a bedroom with his second-youngest brother—which accounted for why Anna Marie seldom reciprocated his visits. His father was a mid-level executive at an auto parts company and his mother a part-time bookkeeper. They were depicted by the Herald as “intensely private people” and few in the community were personally acquainted with them. “Don’t get me wrong,” Walter said. “They’re okay. They’ve done what they were supposed to. They haven’t abused me or anything like that. But I never get the strokes my brothers get. I think—my mother mostly—they didn’t want another kid, definitely not another boy, and that I probably wasn’t supposed to happen.”
In turn Anna Marie, who was enamored of horror films and would chatter about their plots in every detail, abandoned her favorite topic to tell Walter about her father in the ICU after the fire. “He was in God-awful pain,” she said. “Even though he was taking morphine the pain just overwhelmed it. He was in agony and couldn’t move ‘cause they had him strapped down. Then he breathed funny and passed away, just like that. All that pain, it was for nothing. What’s the point of pain if you don’t live through it? If it had been something he had to feel to stay alive, that would be one thing. But then he died. I still dream about it. And about dying like that myself.”
They also made out a lot. The both of them still virgins, they brought each other to climax with their hands.
In their first year Walter would experience facets of Anna Marie that served to strengthen his feelings for her. She’d shop for acne ointments and then apply them to his face herself. Walking next to him on the street, she’d suddenly, for no particular reason, grab and embrace him. But she was not without some troubling aspects.
Given to a seemingly willful carelessness, she’d often march across streets against the light and in total disregard of flowing traffic. And habitually leaving her opened handbag on a restaurant table or chair when she went to the ladies room or was engrossed in conversation, she was time and again a victim of theft. (After one such event in Walter’s company, he took to holding her bag when he was out with her.)
What’s more, there were stretches that could last for several days in which she’d become listless and distant. The loss of her attentiveness upset Walter. But so did her unhappiness. He couldn’t stand to see her in distress. He wanted her to feel good. He needed her to feel good. “What happens to her happens to me,” he said to the friend in whom he confided. “It’s like my nerves are soldered to her nerves.”
For Anna Marie, what was most impressive about Walter in this beginning year was his “gentle nature” and the “incredible generosity”—the steady flow of presents and flowers—that accompanied it. But vying for top spot with those distinctions was his “slovenliness.” His schoolwork notes were such “an unholy mess” that she had to spend entire days organizing them for him. And his “indifference to personal care” was “almost a joke.” He’d wear the same shirt for a week. His sneakers had holes in them. Though she loved his long hair it was “insistently unkempt” and she wished he would “style it more.” Sometimes his “seedy” appearance was “seriously aggravating.” More often than not it was “endearing.”
They had their first real sex when they were seventeen. Walter deemed the milestone near to spiritual. Anna Marie thought it was “good,” but that something was missing. “Do you have to treat me so delicately?” She asked the next time they slept together “Why don’t you push me around a little?” But he couldn’t do that. Hurting her was the last thing he could do. She frowned at him and he felt chastened and inadequate.
And it was during the year they turned seventeen, and not long after she’d asked Walter to take her kayaking in the Everglades and he’d exclaimed—”Are you kidding? With the alligators?”—that Anna Marie remarked to a friend: “Walter’s pusillanimous.”
“Pusill-what?” the friend said.
“Funny word, huh?” Anna Marie said. “It came up in a crossword. It means he’s chickenshit. He’s so sweet to me, which I love. But sometimes he’s too timid. It’s all sugar and no spice.”
It was also in that year that a shift occurred in their relationship.
A new reality began, Walter soon realized, on the day an older boy gave Anna Marie a ride on his motorcycle. When Walter connected with her later she was wearing a heavy bandage on her ankle. “It still stings,” she said breathlessly. “We skidded on a slick patch and we actually grazed the ground before he got the bike upright again.” She lifted the bandage to show him the burn. “Do you think it’ll leave a scar?” He saw her eyes widen at the prospect. “It was scary,” she went on, “especially when I felt the scrape. But now I feel terrific, like indestructible—is there anything better?”
A few days after that she broached the idea of an “open relationship.” She would date other boys and he could see other girls. “From time to time and just, you know, casual-like,” she said.
In a voice he didn’t recognize as his own, Walter said, “You’re my girl.”
“It won’t be so different,” Anna Marie said. “We’ll still be together. Most everything will be the same. There’ll just be times when one or the other of us will be...indisposed.”
Walter was in all imaginable misery. What, he wanted to know, did she mean by “casual-like?” How could she be sure that he or she wouldn’t get attached to someone else? And what about sex?
After Walter’s sentencing, Anna Marie would tell her interviewer that all she’d wanted was to “have some fun.” Her response at this moment was to erupt in a fit of giggles and, when that was done, to reach out and touch Walter’s face. “The Acknomel’s working great,” she said. “That’s good. We’ll get some more.” (In a separate article, her high school grade advisor was quoted as saying that although Anna Marie was “not stupid,” she was “a bit of a space cadet with little or no self-awareness.”)
Inasmuch as a life without Anna Marie was inconceivable to him now, and fearful of antagonizing her, Walter declined to challenge her proposal. He reminded himself that she still wanted him close, that she still needed him. It was only a phase she was going through. In no time at all things could revert to where they’d been. With the exception of him seeing other girls, which was out of the question, he agreed to the arrangement she asked for.
As it played out the arrangement would last nearly three years, years in which, and despite the fact that the routines of their relationship were not appreciably altered, Walter was obliged to live with a tension that varied in degree but never fully dissipated. Unable to feel that his place in her life was secure—she was his girl and she wasn’t all at once—he was also burdened with a new and abiding apprehension about her physical and emotional well-being.
Anna Marie, who’d anticipate her dates with unabashed excitement and who spoke openly with Walter about them (as openly, he assumed, as she dared to since she consistently denied having sex), would be “indisposed” once or twice every couple of months. It was always with guys she referred to as the “devil-may-care ones” but who Walter regarded as “dangerous” or “sketchy.” One was a drag-racer, another was into hang gliding. Most of these boys failed to sufficiently “share their passions” with her and were summarily dropped, while those who did include her in their activities, and in whom she sustained an interest, quickly cut her loose. In both cases, but principally the latter, which would initially induce periods of extreme elation, weeks of depression could follow. Never gloating or vindictive when she was down, Walter was, on the contrary, sympathetic and solicitous. He admitted to jealousy, but increasingly perceiving himself as her “guardian”—if the spells of melancholy weren’t worrisome enough, her fervid descriptions of her adventures with the drag-racer and the hang gliding enthusiast, respectively chronicling near collisions and violently shifting wind currents, horrified him—he maintained that “all that really mattered” was Anna Marie’s welfare. That she’d return from dates she labeled her “best” with a smarting cut or contusion “concerned” him, he imparted to his confidant, “more than anything else.”
In the hope of dissuading her from pursuing “outside engagements,” and reasoning that he would be with her should she be in jeopardy, Walter, at one point, and as inimical as it was for him, determined to emulate the boys Anna Marie was drawn to. Though he dreaded an affirmative reply, he offered to take her up on her Everglades idea. But it was too late. Her sense of him was already fixed. “Wally, you know you don’t want to do that,” she said, slowly shaking her head and cupping his cheek with her hand.
A few months after they’d graduated from high school, the month of his eighteenth birthday, Walter had left home and along with the purchase of his first vehicle—a pickup truck that he could use for work—he’d rented a furnished room in Anna Marie’s immediate neighborhood. That room remained his place of residence until the day of the incident.
From his close proximity, and with his newly acquired wheels, Walter began to surreptitiously trail Anna Marie when she went on her dates. His purpose, he said, was to be there for her should she require his assistance. Pressed by his confidante, he conceded that he was also motivated by a need to see for himself “just what she was up to.” As chance would have it, the proceedings Walter witnessed were confined to the stuff of ordinary dating. But while it never became necessary for him to go to Anna Marie’s aid, what he observed was enough to cause him no small measure of grief.
Walter, generally at night, would find himself chain-smoking and sipping beer in the pickup outside a club or movie theater Anna Marie and her date had gone to. (He kept an empty gasoline can on the floor under the glove compartment to urinate in.) Clocking every couple in the crowds that emerged from the place he was monitoring—feeling his blood jump when he saw a girl wearing her colors—he would, once he’d spotted Anna Marie and the guy she was with for sure, start his motor and set out after them. Most of the time the guy would bring her directly back to her apartment house. In these circumstances, Walter would park as close as he could get to the house—sometimes recklessly close—and stick around to see what she did. Anna Marie, Walter was invariably relieved to note, took no one inside. But when she lingered too long in the car, or if there was a more than perfunctory kiss at the door, it would take all of his will not to shout to her to break it up. There were also nights, less frequent but well-nigh unbearable, when she’d go to the guy’s digs. On those occasions, Walter would wait for as long as it took for her to rematerialize in the entranceway—in several instances hours elapsed—and to either be driven home by the guy or to hurry into a cab that had been ordered. Although she’d eventually buy a car of her own, Anna Marie rarely used it for her liaisons.
On nights Anna Marie was with someone else and Walter was, for one reason or another, unable to follow her, he would, beginning at eleven o’clock, call her on her personal line to see if she was home yet. If she answered he could go to bed. If she didn’t answer he would call her at 15-minute intervals until she did. He couldn’t sleep unless he knew she was home. When he heard Anna Marie’s voice Walter would hang up without speaking and she never questioned him about the calls.
At 2 a.m. on one such night, and well into the arrangement’s third year now, Anna Marie’s phone rang two-dozen times with no response and Walter felt something he hadn’t felt before, a fierce and consuming anger. He wished that Anna Marie had engaged in one of her foolhardy exploits and that an accident had resulted, a disfiguring accident that would make her repugnant to other boys. But merely allowing this thought to enter his mind made him as angry with himself as he was with her. It was so far removed from what love was supposed to be about. And he would never want Anna Marie to be his woman because she had no other options. He wanted to win Anna Marie. Indeed, in the circumscribed world of his fixation, a world that had narrowed more and more with the inception of the arrangement, nothing less than his very life depended upon her freely and fully giving herself to him. To claim her by default would kill him just as surely as losing her would. He recognized, of course, that the prospects for a positive outcome weren’t good. The arrangement itself was ample evidence of that and if further signs were needed, whenever he tried to discuss a future together she changed the subject. The problem, his gut was telling him, was that he wasn’t loving her enough. But what did that mean? How much more could he love her than he already did? He didn’t know. He did know that she wasn’t happy, not even with the arrangement. Not really. He’d begun to think of her—the perception bruised his heart—as some kind of pain junkie, and he viewed the boys she went out with as her dealers. They wanted a sexual score and she was, certainly now and then, trading her body for the hurt they promised. If they delivered she’d get high for awhile and then all raggedy and strung out when she got cut off. “It’s just sports and games anyway,” she’d said to him on one of her low days and after an especially vivid recurrence of that bad dream. “Most of the time it’s no better than a scary movie. No souvenir afterwards to prove the point. You know what I’m saying?”
What she was saying had, like the reason for her chronic discontent itself, baffled him. And believing that her equanimity was his to secure, and that its achievement would assure her devotion to him, he’d continually—he was doing it now—ransacked his knowledge of her looking for clues to what he was missing. Thus far, however, his incessant brooding had yielded only frustration. But when he called her again, and she answered this time, which caused a wave of affection for her to flush through him, but also, and confusingly at first because his anger was gone, restored the notion of a maimed Anna Marie to the foreground of his mind, he had what amounted to an epiphany. He understood, and would convey to his confidant with a remark the astuteness of which astonished me, that “It isn’t pain and injury Anna Marie gets off on, it’s the feeling of surviving them.” But that wasn’t the whole of it. The rest, which he was careful not to disclose until a jailhouse exchange with his friend following the incident, was the realization that had arrived with his insight of what loving her enough meant and of what it might demand of him.
Shortly thereafter, on an afternoon he was at work and under the assumption that she was too, Walter received a call. “I’m still here,” were the first words Anna Marie uttered. She was in an airfield phone booth twenty miles from Kendall. A boy she’d recently encountered and mentioned only in passing to Walter had taken her sky diving and once they’d landed remembered an “urgent matter he had to attend to.” She was “busted up and stranded.” Walter, doubly disturbed by her uncharacteristic omission of advance notice about the date, found her holding her wrist. “I tripped when I touched down,” she said. “I tried to break the fall. I think I might have fractured something.” He rushed her to an emergency room where the diagnosis was a simple sprain. In good spirits for a week, about as long as it took for her wrist to heal and for her to grasp that the boy had blown her off, she gradually became pensive and withdrawn. Then, in the midst of her despondency, the cycle was in motion again. A guy she’d met at work, another motorcyclist, had asked her out and she had accepted.
“I don’t know,” Walter said.
“I thought we had an understanding,” Anna Marie said.
“I don’t know,” Walter said.
“Walter,” she said, “what do you want from me?”
“I want you to be okay,” he blurted. “To be okay and to love me.”
“You are so sweet,” she said, plainly moved by his statement and stepping towards him.
He readied himself for a passionate clinch but what he got was a kiss on the cheek.
Confronted by a parade of cars, all of which, and oddly, required new batteries, Walter was backed up with work and well on the far side of his regular hours. The minute he finished he climbed into the pickup and set out for Route 1, the highway that would take him the 150 miles to Key West. He’d been experiencing a turbulence in his chest the entire day and warring thoughts were roiling his brain. A long drive would maybe pull him together.
Once he was past Key Largo’s garish strip of motels, fish shacks, hamburger stands and gift shops, the road opened to water on both sides and there were stretches in which no land could be seen. To be on this road in the middle of the ocean ordinarily blew his mind. But there was no thrill in it this time. This time what was happening in his mind shut out his surroundings. Holding the wheel steady against occasional squalls, he kept his eyes on the asphalt and the traffic in front of him. He wanted, right now, no wondrous seascapes or stunning sunsets, only the pickup’s motion and the grind of its engine. He could just as well have been driving through a tunnel. He stopped solely for gas and to relieve himself, and never turned the radio on. Arriving at Key West in three hours, he drove half the length of the island where he made a right turn and then another right onto an avenue that led him directly back to Route 1. By the time he returned to Kendall, deep into the night, in a light rain and to streets empty and hushed, his heart was still beating too hard, but his head was clear.
With the temperature and humidity in the mid-nineties and the sun fiercely radiant, Anna Marie, a self-described “sun freak,” was outside on her two o’clock lunch break. Dressed in shorts and, to absorb every ray, flexing and extending her already deeply tanned legs, one and then the other, she was perched on a metal railing at a short distance from a small group of similarly sun-worshipping colleagues in the section reserved for “Associates’ Vehicles” adjacent to the shopping center’s parking lot. Across from her was the familiar vista, shimmering now in the dense heat, of a giant Macy’s, a Chinese restaurant, an ice cream parlor, a RadioShack and the Winn Dixie she worked for. The center’s expansive parking area, in the foreground of her view, was bounded by palm trees and only a quarter full. The people passing through it were mostly housewives and young children. Somewhere close magnolias were in blossom, while just overhead two blue and white tree swallows chased each other back and forth, stirring steamy breezes strong enough to feel in her hair.
When a mosquito invaded the space behind her sunglasses and bit her eyelid, Anna Marie had a sandwich in one hand and a bottle of soda in the other. Placing the sandwich on her lap, she removed her glasses to rub at the itch, but she rubbed too vigorously and the sandwich slipped from her lap and dropped to the ground. As she was bending to retrieve it with the hand that held her glasses, she pressed the glasses against the pavement and broke off a stem. Crouching in front of the railing, she set the soda down and took the glasses into both of her hands, wondering if she could fix them. It was at this moment that Walter’s pickup, coming from the left, pulled to a stop on the roadway a few yards in front of her.
She didn’t see that it was Walter’s pickup. From the angle at which she was positioned she was facing directly into the sun, and the pickup was only an amorphous shadow in the wicked glare. She identified it by the clamor of the always unfastened chains and tire irons that rolled around its body whenever he began to move or to brake.
She could hear Walter disembark and hear, as well, that he’d left the motor running. She expected to hear the driver-side door slam shut behind him but, in this regard, there was only silence. Then, as he came around the back of the pickup—himself a gray specter in the impossible light—his movement halted and, she could tell by the clunk and the creak, he opened the passenger-side door. Was he planning to take her somewhere, and in a hurry? Was there an occasion that she’d forgotten? He knew she was working.
He started to approach her and appeared to have something with him, an object that, bouncing along with his gait in a corner of his darkened mass, was of a lighter hue. She thought it must be a gift. Then, as he got closer and the object got brighter, she thought—she was convinced—that it was a bouquet of daisies, her favorite flower. He was about to present her with flowers. But as she proceeded to stand, the murkiness dissolved and she saw that he was holding a can, an opened rectangular can colored a brilliant yellow with green and white lettering. She was staring at the can when Walter, now no more than a foot from her and without a word, jerked it at her face. The can contained battery acid and she received the searing liquid with a long siren of a cry that was joined by the sound and the smell of a hamburger sizzling on a charcoal grill.
“It was like he threw fire at me,” she would later recount how the splash of acid felt to her.
The sunglasses Anna Marie still had in her hands fell from them and were crushed beneath her weight as she collapsed at Walter’s feet. Weeping loudly, she was clutching her fist to her eye. Walter swiftly lifted her and, cradling her with the palm of his hand under the back of her head, carried her to the pickup. Ignoring red lights and stop signs—and dogged by a horn-honking band of appalled witnesses—he drove her at great speed to the nearest hospital’s emergency room where he’d been arrested.
TV and newspaper coverage of the assault, which excoriated Walter (and caused his mortified family to refuse any contact with the press for months), was predictably lurid. It faded though in just a couple of days with reports that Walter had pleaded guilty and that he’d be confined in a Miami jail to await sentencing. Anna Marie would remain in the hospital for a week or so. She’d undergone a surgical procedure and more were planned. One of them, perhaps a year away, would likely involve the excision of her left eye. A palliative care specialist forecast a “lifetime of moderate to severe discomfort” in the afflicted space.
Aside from a freelance photographer’s attempt to sneak into Anna Marie’s room on her second night at the hospital—he was promptly apprehended—Anna Marie was not pursued by the media at the hospital or when she was discharged and there were no indications of what was to follow.
The sentencing proceedings were held in late October, on a fall day that was unusually sweltering even for Miami and in a courtroom in which the cooling system had failed. The windows were thrown open, but there was little movement in air rapidly soured by some fifty perspiring bodies. Moreover, an hour from the appointed time would pass before the judge, a tall, skeletal man in his sixties, made his appearance. Despite his tardiness he was in no hurry to get to the bench. A clearly casual ten-minute conversation with the bailiff took place before, in shirtsleeves, he assumed his position. At this juncture Anna Marie, who was sitting in a front row with an aunt and across an aisle from Walter’s parents and brothers, stood up. She’d misplaced, that morning, the white cloth patch she normally used in public now to conceal the damage the acid had done (that it had to have been a frantic morning would presently become obvious), and wearing instead an accessory she might once have donned on a New Year’s Eve—enormous, rhinestone-studded cardboard-framed glasses with plastic electric-blue-tinted lenses that did succeed in masking all of her upper face—she said, in a voice astonishingly resonant, that she hoped “His Honor would consider probation for Walter.”
“What did you say?” The judge shouted.
“I couldn’t bear to be without him,” Anna Marie said, turning toward Walter who was shackled to a chair at a table near the bench. Walter had been keeping his face down and lifted it then. He’d endured, while in jail, a compulsory haircut and the acne remnants, fully visible, were accompanied by newly inflicted bruises.
The spectators reacted to Anna Marie’s words with startled exclamations and much murmuring. The judge was apoplectic. Quivering with rage, he said that he had a daughter of his own and that if something “so depraved” had been done to her he would have “blown the dirt bag’s head off with my shotgun.” Anna Marie’s plea was “ludicrous” and would have no mitigating effect on the sentence, he said. In fact, given the “unconscionable cruelty of the act,” Walter was going to get “every bit of what was coming to him.”
According to the judge, what Walter had coming was seven years in a Florida state prison.
As Walter, shuffling in his leg irons but with his head still raised, was led away, the judge summoned a now hysterical Anna Marie and her aunt to the bench. In her discombobulated condition, Anna Marie had knocked her appurtenance askew to reveal a melted-shut left eyelid and the raw, mottled meat, speckled with tiny white pustules and stretching from her hairline to the edge of her nostril, that was the flesh surrounding it. The judge, blanching at the sight of her naked wound, advised Anna Marie to seek counseling. “I don’t need counseling,” she sobbed. “I need Walter.” (Subsequently the judge would tell someone that, “The girl is as sick as the perp. It’s as if she welcomed what he did.”)
Most everything I’ve related here I would learn on the succeeding mornings when I perused the regional dailies. But what in particular had led me to balk at the blanket derision Walter and Anna Marie elicited, and then to read every word printed about them, was the video I saw when I turned on the news later that evening. Anna Marie, in her comical shades, was emerging from the courthouse and her indignation lit up the screen. Visibly spraying saliva, she sputtered to a cluster of confounded reporters, and before any of them had a chance to speak: “Walter’s the whole package. I would have floated right off the world if he hadn’t been around. He makes me feel safe.”
“I’m still here,” she added, and then stalked off to a waiting car.
So seven years afterwards, with the accuracy of my instincts long since confirmed to my satisfaction but anticipating no further word—seven years was, after all, a long time— you can guess what the sudden announcement was.
Below a new picture of a grinning Anna Marie—she seemed to be wincing slightly and the left side of her face, from which a conspicuously prosthetic eye stared, was discolored and mildly tumescent but perfectly smooth—the caption read:
“Victim of 1985 acid attack, Anna Marie Woods, marries her assailant, Walter Parchman, upon his release from prison.”
In my mind I offered my congratulations. They would be, I expected, something like all right.
Robert Levin Bio
A former contributor to The Village Voice and Rolling Stone, Robert Levin is the author of When Pacino’s Hot, I’m Hot: A Miscellany of Stories and Commentary (The Drill Press), and the coauthor and coeditor, respectively, of two collections of essays about jazz and rock in the ‘60s: Music & Politics, with John Sinclair (World Publishing) and Giants of Black Music, with Pauline Rivelli (Da Capo Press).
when he’d come home late,
I’d cut a piece of clear tape,
tape the key hole shut
The Devil and the White Room
Jennifer L. Smith
I’ll admit it. I am an impatient person. I will not wait for a listing agent’s permission to visit an already vacant house. I have a MLS key, and as a real estate agent, I have privileges.
“Want to go in?” I asked my husband, Darren, as I waved to the old man across the street.
“Should we wait for the guy to call us back?”
“Nah, it is unnecessary.” I smiled. “A cedar with a prow front. Wraparound deck. It is a fixer, though.”
The wood paneling was everywhere, except for the kitchen, where the hideous forget-me-not wallpaper hung. Cheap white appliances, too. My business card was the first on the kitchen counter.
“Tiny bedrooms.” I looked at the sheet. “Where’s all the square footage?”
“Basement maybe? There’s a door by the refrigerator.”
I felt crushed. “I thought that was a pantry?”
I’ve always hated basements. My childhood home had one. We never finished it, so it had the exposed concrete walls. The washer and dryer were down there too. My grandmother would admonish me for being too scared to get the clothes out of the dryer. There was never enough lighting to show what lay beyond the darkness, which hid the devil himself I was sure of it.
Strike one for this house. We walked down the stairs to a renovation zone disaster, a small open area strewn with wood laminate boxes, commercial sized containers of white paint and loose yellow “CAUTION” tape.
Darren looked it all over. “Well, someone started work.”
“Doesn’t smell like paint.” We walked down the narrow hall aglow with cheap yellow-white track lighting. It opened into a great room, painted so white the light bouncing off the walls was blinding.
“Wow,” he said. “I know you agents like white, but this is too much.”
“Yeah.” I walked toward the bathroom. “Looks like there’s a sauna in the—oh my god!” I covered my mouth. “What is that?”
Darren saw the same thing and went over to it.
“Relax!” He lifted it. “It’s just a prosthetic.” He put it down. “Just a leg.”
My eyes widened. “What’s it doing in the tub?”
“I don’t know. Someone forgot it?” He laughed. “It’s not attached. Maybe they didn’t need it anymore.”
“Yeah, I guess. Whatever.”
“I want to check outside,” he said. He tried the wood door, but it was sealed. “Someone painted the hinges over.”
He went back upstairs. I felt sick to my stomach just looking at the leg. The dank smell reminded me of the old basement and my grandmother, who was admonishing me again. Her face. Her finger. I saw them, taunting me again.
I just had to leave. Like a child looking over my shoulder for the devil, I retraced the path upstairs. I reached the door and slammed into it, but it wouldn’t open. I tried shoving. My fists pounded.
“Darren! Help! Come get me!” Where was he? My back slid against the door. I looked at the yellow tape. I was sinking. I could feel it.
Finally, after my eyes closed, the door opened and I fell toward Darren.
“What the hell?” He grabbed me. “Are you OK? I heard yelling. What happened?”
“The door—it was locked.” I choked.
“I didn’t lock it.”
He looked at it. He locked it again, but the knob remained loose, unlocked. “Maybe it got stuck or something.”
“Whatever. I want out of here.” I ran to the outside door. “That basement! It’s too white or something.”
“Yeah, I’m getting a weird vibe. You think they have cameras? I feel like I’m being watched or something.”
I locked up. “Some sellers do to prevent theft. But this home is empty.”
I took some deep breaths. “You must think I was crazy. I’m sorry, but the door would not open.”
“It’s OK. I know you don’t like basements.”
I checked my messages. Eric texted: PLZ CALL ME.
“Yeah, Melinda, you don’t want that place.” Eric coughed. “You’re relatively new to the area, so you might not know. How should I say this?”
“Straight.” I put my keys in and hit lock. Darren looked at me, but I didn’t care.
“OK,” he sighed. “I know the owner. A son and his elderly parents lived there. Mom wasn’t in great health, had diabetes, dementia. They lived in the mother-in-law suite.
“Apparently, they liked it. It was handicapped accessible through the back door and separate from the son. They had some issues. Anyway, son goes on fishing trip and all hell breaks loose. The dad said that mom killed herself in the bedroom and he tried to stop her.”
Darren and I exchanged looks.
“No one believes that though. She was immobile with just one leg. Her wheelchair was on the other side of the room. She was dead three days before they found her. We will never know.”
“Brain matter was splattered all over. I couldn’t imagine the clean up. There was no way she did it. The dad died before the police got to him. Heart attack. ” He coughed again.
“Oh my!” I felt cold. I thought I saw my grandmother down there.
“It was the dad’s rifle. He said he saw her do it and ran out the door for help. He was found outside covered in blood.”
“Right across the street?”
“Yeah, actually, in the ditch.” He paused. “Did you hear about this?”
I started to pull out of the driveway. “No, I just guessed.”
“Yeah, in the ditch. Said she was possessed, people coming after her and such. He died of a heart attack in the hospital. Son tried renovating it, but the crew felt funny down there or something. Just awful.”
The man across the street was still there. Darren waved to him, but he did not wave back.
“Sounds like it.” I picked up speed. “Yeah, I think we will pass on this one. I’m sorry for the family.”
I kept driving. There was no way I was telling either of them what happened down there.
The letter came. A stained uniform surrounded him. Sweat held it clinging uncomfortably to the exhausted body. A lifeless face flushed. This was it.
Lower Queen Anne was quieter than usual, despite it having been a relatively cloudless day. The summer was ramping up to be another long, hot one. Drought would be declared yet again. Four months straight of ninety plus and higher. Hot sunshine awaited.He gently caressed his fingertips down the aged door. Built 1903. All the old world charms. One of the last times, for him. There was his apartment. Number 102. Never the home he had intentioned. It was the base, nonetheless. His escape.
The apartment was odd, even for it’s day. The bedroom and bathroom, right off the entrance, were small. Too small. On the other end was a small kitchen and dining room. In the middle was a giant living room, long and odd. The place held memories over decades. 1903. All the state of the art trimmings, the finest, decorated the place.
Hardwood floors echoed footsteps much like when he had lived with the Her. His now ex. Those echoes always bothered him, as they were so heavy. Now his were far heavier in his own place.
His shoes offered no resistance as they came off. He let out a sigh as he looked around. Wow, what memories this place contained. Generations of people coming home after long, hard days to fill their glass with this or that, have some enjoyment before going back to the grind. He raised his cheap can of beer to them and to himself.
This day was long in the making. Seattle didn’t want people like him anymore. She obviously didn’t like who she was, and decided to change her ways. Gone were the up and comers. The down trodden. Enough of those who seek to work to rebuild ruined lives. She had grown out of it. Now, it was security and money that mattered. It was time for the software bros to take her. They were cleaner, richer, and far more reliable than those who get dirty hands and bad backs.
Gone would be the night clubs in Pioneer Square. Too noisy. Too much actual life. No more.
The software bros needed quiet after eight PM. Seattle needed to tuck them into bed and read them a bed time story.
Shh! Don’t dare tell of what used to happen in that neighborhood, as Seattle recalled all the big, bad wolves. Her face glowed one last time.
The software bros needed tucking in. No big, bad wolves around. Silence. Lifelessness.
Next was Cap Hill. Gay or not, the software bros were the queens and kings. All must shut down. No exceptions. None. Eight PM, sharp. Don’t you know that they have to work tomorrow?! Seattle nodded as she tucked them in too, singing a lullaby.
“Go to sleep...”
Her ex lovers wept and protested, and even begged. Please...please don’t do this! We had such great times! We can outlast anything! I love you! Please give me a chance...
They met with silence and skyrocketing prices. It was Seattle’s way of dumping people. Instead of “Please, just go.” It was rent going from $1100/month to $2500/month, and all the cool, interesting places disappearing.
Cookie cutter “micro beer bars” filled in, crammed with software bros. No diversity would be allowed. Ever. She had had enough.
The beaten body tossed the letter on top of the usual clutter before taking the beer out of his backpack. A long sigh forced its way out before rain hit his eyes. Again. Seattle is dry. His eyes supplied the rain. Old times’ sake. He already knew.
When a woman turns against you...
He grabbed another cold beer. Crack. Chug, exhale. Repeat.
The beer went down fast and hard. The numb body grabbed another. $2500 a month. Seattle was good, but not that good. The bathtub filled as he sipped. Soreness melted slowly. It was almost orgasmic.
He always cleaned up nice. There was his prized possession; his fedora. His one splurge, aside from women. His long coat. A shirt the Her had given him. He walked out the door.
Saturday Night in lower Queen Anne. Loud. Frat bar down the street. Annoying assholes from rural college towns. Avoid.
The west side of Queen Anne Avenue was not to his liking. East of it was better. His dying legs scurried him out of there. It wasn’t far. Soon he was there. He sighed, and slowed down, as he began taking it all in. Memories.
The Space Needle showed brightly, deceptively. Seattle had turned her back long ago. It was memories, and nothing more. He defiantly forced his all but dead body along, needing to say goodbye, even as she wouldn’t dignify any of it.
He paused part way up the small hill to look back, remembering all the times, good and not. An involuntary grin met his face. All the adventures, the festivals, the dancing, the loving, the hurtings. Yeah.
Seattle pushed him on. “Come on now...I have many to say good bye to.”
He arrived at Belltown. It was kind of dangerous. Back in the day, he was super cautious. He was a homeless guy then. Young, privileged drunks took pleasures in beating him. Now he was dressed well and was forty pounds bigger. A load. Experienced.
The amateurs passed by without more than a glance that was met by a well-earned glare. The homeless and dealers passed by thinking NARC. Fuck them all. Memories need their time and place.
There it was. The Nitelite. They had been good to him back then. On the streets, being seen as filth, being able to be served at a bar, any bar, was golden. It was your chance to be human.
He was the best dressed they had seen in forever. He looked Mafia. His face meant business. The young bartender nodded to the nervous bouncer.
“Can I help you?”
“Yeah, can I have a Rainier, please?”
“Sure.” She scurried, and cracked it open.
“Ahh, thank you...” He drank mightily, sighing and looking around, suddenly grinning like an idiot.
The mood eased as he kept grinning. The young bartender smilingly approached.
“Oh yes, thanks.”
“So, what’s your story? You new here?”
“New? No. I’m old. Leaving. This place meant so much to me back in the day. I was homeless then, and could come here for safety. Long stories. Now I’m leaving Seattle forever. I had to say goodbye.”
An older woman abruptly bear hugged him from behind.
“I remember you...” She sobbed. “I thought they killed you...you never came back!”
Memory smacked him. Yeah. They. Them. They shot. They missed. Close range. No cops. Drugs. Mistaken identity. Chills ran through him.
“It was the worst here. They beat you.”
“And I beat them, so they squeezed triggers and ran. They missed. Thank God. They missed.”
“His drinks are free.”
His glow illuminated the dim bar. Roughed up men came and went, conversing to feel important in their lives. The few women set about to set themselves apart, destroying their dreams. Humanities flowed with the beers, as hopes drowned in sorrows. Seattle would not be deterred. She was better than this. She’d be rid of all of them soon.
Glasses clanged as he recalled his days back in 2001, relating this and that. How much easier it was then, how much harder it is now. Everyone hurt. Everyone listened. Everyone drank.
Those who thought they were somehow making it puffed out their chests. Others scurried away. Regardless, it was clear; Seattle was moving on. Enough.
It’d be a much longer, harder road without her love.
As per his old, not risking death, routine, he abruptly left well before one a.m. He stopped to look back at the place, as liveliness began peaking. His eyes filled. The Nitelite had been his first home. There was no hello. There could be no goodbye.
He walked along Second Avenue at first. Dealers had wide eyes as he shoveled his way through. The very same that tried to hustle or intimidate him years ago now steered clear.
Memories brought him off course. There were a chain of unique bars, famous, rowdy. All were scheduled for destruction. He stopped in front of one, and turned around. He was unsure. Might this have been the place that years ago the Her had met him on their second date...the night she came walking along, looking so troubled, only to toss her hair back and glow as she walked into his arms?
He glanced into the place. He was right. “Their” booth was empty. He grinned.
“You going in, or not? One of our last nights.”
“Sure. One drink.”
The place was sad but lively. Life it to the end. Good advice.
He left five for tip. They’ll need it. Next door was an icon. An old school video game bar. It had been there forever. Tattooed women ran amuck as the men tried to look hard. It was loud and rusty, celebrating the last. As usual, the line for drinks was too long.
His footsteps echoed through the noise. Cars raced. Homeless begged. Dealers pushed. He was unnoticed. So was Seattle, as she plotted the end of them all.
Seattle Center glistened ahead. Deep breaths calmed his body.
This was it.
The women that called to him, loved him, at one time, were here. Here is indeed where the heart was. He paused to breathe deeply.
The air was still. Silence and darknesses surrounded him as Seattle gently pushed him along. His eyes welled. Here. So much here. I might never make it back....she doesn’t want me anymore.
The hill gently rose as his cigarette smoke spread across his last toughness, hiding his face. Here was there... Yeah. All those times. All those times.
Seattle pushed him along, further and further, as he looked in awe. This was his home for so long. She sopped up his tears.
She continued to push him along until they reached the long, covered, well illuminated walkway, where he stopped them both dead in their tracks.
“Not this, Seattle. This one is not about you. This is about the Her. THE Her. Samantha.”
It had been their thing. The coverage had lights that made it look like an engagement ring commercial; as if they were going through life’s phases together. Nearly engaged twice, and in love, it was, at one time, so fitting, so magical.
He walked through it alone for the first time. Probably for the last.
“Sorry, Seattle. Unfinished business. I’m all yours now.”
Seattle had simply left him, going off to a software bro.
Silence was the only response.
The convenience store was empty. An eighteen pack was rung up. The fridge was largely empty. It fit right in. Alone.
The alarm hit. The head hurt. He was too old for this shit. Coffee was needed. It brewed.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Get out.”
Work sucked, as always. Supes pushed hard and intimidated. Clueless. Those who can’t, manage. Twits. The long route showed absolutely no mercy. He pushed on, his ankle screaming at him. Things are what they are.
Evening had him resting his bad left leg. It hurt. Eighty pounds running up sixty feet of stairs to deliver a sales flier. Times six hundred. Yeah.
Nights had him packing, one hour at a time. People at the station didn’t know or care. It was all good to him. Sometimes it’s best to not be remembered.
It came time. The old Honda CRV was mechanically checked out. 192k miles. Perfect. The U-Haul was loaded. He made his final leg. The first apartment. Places he worked. Where he and the ex wife lived....
His grin glowed.
He drove north, all the way to Edmonds, his body shaking. It was time to say goodbye to the HER. The HER of poetry fame. Without her. Without her knowing or caring, by now.
His car parked nicely in the empty lot behind her store, like old times. The jazz station still played that song as he sat there smoking his cigarette, his door open. Like old times, when they had painted her store purple. He grinned while he got out and stood there.
The “biker bar” she had feared was the same. Lame. His gin and tonic raised eyebrows. His smirk erased them as the place began filling.
He walked to the front of her store. It looked amazing. It was nothing like the woman’s consignment place he had first laid eyes on so long ago. It was now beyond upscale. A real boutique. A prize. Diamond in the rough.
“Hey Liam. What are you doing here?”
“Hi Jess. I’m just doing a goodbye tour...Heading back east, to Chicago. Just saying goodbye to people and places. How are you?”
Tanya stood nearby, looking hot as ever, especially for an older chick.
“Does Samantha know you’re looking in her windows?!”
Jess was always an asshole.
“No. Is it a crime to widow shop?”
“I’ll call the police...”
“I’m not doing anything wrong.”
Tanya pulled Jess away, taking his cell phone. They argued.
“He’s just saying goodbye...”
The beach was the same as always. What changed was her. She was gone. Tides brought memories. “It was here that we...” “It was there, right there...” That was then, long ago. He half expected the police to show up. Fuck them, he thought, and fuck Jess. Really? Have some decency. Really.
There were the police, for real. A cop car blocked his Honda. Lights were flashing. His eyes went wide.
“Officer, that’s my car. The Honda. What’s going on?”
“You’re under arrest!”
Two officers drew firearms. Liam’s hand flew up.
“I’m not armed! Please! Don’t shoot!”
“OK.” One officer checked him. “Nothing.”
The cuffs hurt. He sat helplessly in the backseat. The two cops gave him the eye. One move, and die. It was their biggest excitement in years. They actually “got someone.”
A background check brought nothing, of course. A call to the business owner brought humiliation and confusion. Soon, a purple Saturn pulled through the mayhem. It was the Her. She heard bullshit, looked at him, and shook her head.
“What did he do?!”
“He was here. And...well... Did he have your permission?”
“To be here.”
“Look, he didn’t do anything, right?”
“But he might have...”
He couldn’t help it. His mouth.
“I was only saying goodbye to the places I knew and loved, before leaving Seattle forever. I did NOTHING wrong to anyone. I’m a federal employee, a mailman. That’s right, you guys roughed up a mailman. Congrats. I’m impressed. My wrists are killing me! At least loosen the cuffs.”
Their eyes met. Fires and passions were in hers. Deadnesses were in his. Soon the police “escorted” him out of town. Out of luck. Such memories. He vowed to return, just for spite. Miss Seattle would grin. He would moon. Fuck Edmonds. One last, one...Please, Seattle, one last. Let’s laugh.
“I’m so sorry...” the email started. His red face forced on. “I chose times I knew you wouldn’t be there, so as to not impact you. Just wanted to say goodbye to places that mattered....throughout the city I’ve loved. I meant nothing toward you. No harm, no foul, I hope.”
There was no reply, as usual. The past is the past. She obviously wanted to forget he existed. To her, he no longer did. He wept as the reality set in. That was likely the very last time they’d ever see each other. That will be how they’ll remember... Oh fuck.
He timed it right. The tides would be very low. The bus dropped him at the grocery store. He bought beer and munch, and walked down the trail, glowing the whole way. Carkeek held so many memories.
Being a weekday, the beach was empty. He found a secluded place, set his old backpack down, and grabbed a beer. The water was cold. The morning sun began its’ oppression. Waves crashed around him as the waters slowly inched higher.
He walked south to the next beach. Golden Gardens always had special meaning to him. It was a place he always went when massive life change was needed. Those changes always came in as irresistibly and forcefully as the tides.
The cold wind took from the hot sun. Winds of change. Change was needed. It was coming. He was going.
Queen Anne was as always. Busy and fairly crowded. It was his last day. He beamed. It was all a blur. He needed to somehow slow it down to make sense and memories of the swirling madnesses as he winded his ways through the streets.
His old apartment. Wow, what times! Somehow jazz was playing from somewhere. It’s bittersweet spirit playing into the air, slowly fading like life itself. He found himself dancing to it all. How much it meant. The best times of his life were right there. He could almost see those times, feel them, swim in them. He laughed aloud, and was thankful no one was around to see his madness.
The steep hill seemed to push him along cruelly. He stopped in the old convenience store to get a soda and a last visit. It had been too long. No one remembered him. He chugged the soda and left.
His heart pounded as he neared the apartment he and Samantha had shared so long ago. Such times, great and not. He looked up at the place with an admiring smile. It was just as he remembered it. He slowed his walk, taking it all in. He’d have been happy to have lived there forever...if only...
It hurt him to walk past it, leaving it behind. There was nothing else left to do, though. It wasn’t like he could be there again. Hell, Samantha probably didn’t even live there by then.
He knew that voice. It was Samantha. His heart raced.
“Oh hi! How are you?”
“I’m good. How are you?”
“I’m well, I guess. Just making my tour.”
“Oh yeah. Chicago? Wow. Most people want to move to Seattle from Chicago. The weather. You’re really leaving?”
“I’m still on the fence.” He laughed.
They glowed at each other. She was still so beautiful. He was still lucky to have had her in his life. It had been years since they had spoken. Memories’ flood returned. He had never seen anyone glow as she did in those moments, even as the conversation remained surface.
“Well, I hope you have a good day.”
“You too, Samantha. Let me guess, you’re off to chase sunshine?”
“You know, I’m heading that way, going home. Maybe we could walk together the few blocks. It’d be awkward to walk apart when we’re heading the same way, right?”
“Sure. We could do that.”
They began their last journey together, broad smiles and dull aches. Her voice was as heavenly as he remembered.
“So, let me guess, you’re probably engaged and living happily, making some guy thrilled in life.”
“Well, not exactly...” She beamed.
“Samantha, how is that possible?”
“No one snapped you up yet?”
“Wow...you know I would have...”
“You disappeared after we separated. There was still a chance....kind of..but you went away.”
“I couldn’t...couldn’t stand the thought of you being with someone else...I just...”
“Well I have been...”
Her voice reflected distress.
“I have too. All of them mistakes.” He laughed.
Near the corner of Roy and Queen Anne Ave is a jazz club tucked away in a high end hotel that plays jazz on loud speakers for all to hear. “My Funny Valentine” was just coming on.
“Samantha, please wait here for just one moment. I’ll be right back.”
He rushed into the hotel. He knew them, as he had delivered their mail.
“Frank, I need a favor. Please crank up the loudspeakers for like five minutes. Please, it’s important.”
“Ok. Will do.”
The music was much louder as he rushed down the few steps, his arms outreached toward the Her.
“May I have this dance? Old times’ sake...one last, for the ages...”
“Sure.” Her clever grin revealing so much.
There, surrounded by the hustling city, drawing impressed stares and smiles, they had their last dance, bringing one last precious memory to their story.
She glowed brighter than ever as he spun her around like he used to back in the day. He had actually forgotten how amazing she truly was. She had forgotten his ways of surprise and romance.
He timed it just right, taking her into his arms just as the song ended. He worried that he may have gone too far if he tried for a kiss. She solved that for him, pressing her lips against his.
Cheers rose as the music volume lightened. Both their faces turned a little red. Someone actually threw some rice they had just bought from the nearby grocery story. Everyone laughed.
“Umm...wow. That was unexpected! Only you...only you.”
Her laughter showed so very much.
“I can’t help it. You bring it out in me.”
“Oh really?” she blushed.
“Yes. Absolutely. I can’t help myself. What do you say we go for a drink somewhere? Old times’ sake?”
Her phone went off. A text. Her glow disappeared. Their love was forbidden. Complicated. Her smile dropped, as her eyes got cold. Compartmentalized.
“No. Liam. I...I have to go. Really, thank you for the memory, though. That was fun! Only you...only you.”
Part of her glow returned, along with a sly smile.
Suddenly she wrapped her arms around him for one last embrace. Tears were shed as a love was being finally breathing its’ last. Murdered.
As it ended, they looked deep into each other’s eyes, to their soul. This was how they would remember each other forever.
She turned and walked off into the world as he watched, again. The third or fourth time. The one that got away, again and again.
He stood there with his arm still open, and empty. The rest of the world didn’t matter. It was over.
He stayed home on his last night as a Seattleite, as usual. He thought back of his first night in the city that now rejected him. That cheap motel room, cold pizza, and hookers knocking on the door every twenty minutes. He laughed as he wished to somehow do it all over again. What a ride it had been!
The beers went down almost as fast as the tears as time flew more mercilessly than ever. It didn’t take long before his sleeping bag provided his only comfort. He was technically homeless again. He had lost both Seattle and Samantha forever.
The cruelty of the alarm hit at nine AM. This was it. Coffee. Need coffee. More coffee. Soon it was eleven. It was moving day, so no need to sprint to go to work. He had days to spare. Nothing needed to be exact.
Everything was wrapped up. Even his coffeemaker was now packed. His apartment was completely empty as he stood in the middle of it. It wasn’t his favorite place, and he hadn’t been its’ favorite tenant, but there had been a few good times.
He locked the door one last time, and caressed his fingertips across the old fixtures on the outside of the door. One last, one last. He slid the key under the locked door, as directed by the landlord. He was homeless again, and about to be without his beloved Seattle.
The U-Haul sat waiting, with his CRV towed behind it. The thing took up two or three parking spots, which probably upset local residents. He got in and turned the key. The truck sprung to life. These were the final moments of Seattle in his life. He’d never be back. It’s now or never.
He turned the key off, got out, locked the door, and began walking. He wasn’t sure where he was going, but it probably didn’t matter. Now or never. Forever hold your peace. Is there any way? This is it. I mean, is this really happening?
The Streamline is a fantastic dive bar in the neighborhood that he had been to here and there over the years. He was sort of known and sort of liked there. Jim was just getting some things done as he prepared to open.
“Hey Liam! I thought you already left for Chicago. You still leaving?”
“Probably, Jim. Everything is loaded and ready. Just having trouble actually doing it.”
“Yeah? Maybe it’s wrong.”
“Probably, but I can’t see what else to do, here. Seattle is just too...”
“I hear you. I know.”
“Hey Jim, can I ask a last favor?”
“Sure. What you need?”
“I’d like to have one last beer here, if it’s not too much trouble.”
“Ok, I can do that. A proper send off. Come on in.”
The barstool fit perfectly as a cold Rainier found its way in front of him. Jim scurried off to get ready for a new day of drunks.
He sat there alone in the still closed bar, sipping a cheap beer in darkness, thinking back to the ride he had been on, while the sunlight burst through to bring another round of fakeries and pretentions, saying the right things at the right times, having the right experiences...living the right lives.
His longing looks had only affected himself. Seattle was moving on. Somewhere out there was Samantha. She’d always be of fame to him. Their love would always burn brightly through the wind and rains and cloudy, dreary days, and would always bring him smiles.
The last gulp of beer landed hard. It was time, but still he sat motionless. Is this really happening?
The cell phone vibrated. A text. It was Samantha.
“Is the offer to have a drink together still good?”
Jim came back in to see a smiling, glowing face.
“You ready to leave yet?”
“No. Can I have another? I might just say the hell with it and stay. Damn the torpedoes.”
Another can sat in front of him as he texted back and forth with Samantha, coordinating for that drink.
Seattle smiled through her tears.
Cast the News
Laura A. Steeb
They drop their anchors,
awaiting to catch their prey.
They can’t tolerate their mundane lives,
I forgot, they know it all.
So they say.
The helpless fish swim all over the ocean,
No need to be cautious because the ocean is calm.
The fisherman bait their hooks,
longing for some sick form of satisfaction.
These people need excitement within their souls,
a glass of salt water will shrivel up their cells.
After they catch their fish,
they discuss gutting them on the news.
Voices in the night
“I mean it, young lady! Go-to-bed!”
“But mo-om...” Jenny Reese cried.
Her mother cut her off. “No buts! Go!”
Jenny tried puffing herself up, and pouting. Sometimes, it worked. Not this time, though. Her mother was as stone-faced, and unmoving as an ancient idol. The unspoken subtext was a threat to talk to her father. If she continued to persist, the threat would be verbalized.
With as much defiance as she was capable of mustering, Jenny gave a loud huff, and marched to her bedroom. It wasn’t that she was such a bad little girl. Her mother told her all the time that she was one of the best little eight year old girls she had ever seen.
The truth was, fear was driving her intransigence. She had heard the voices whispering that it was coming. She didn’t know what it was, but she wasn’t keen about finding out. She had been hearing the voices for about a year now. They always came out at night, and spoke in hushed whispers.
At first, she had been scared of them. She tried telling her mother about them, but she never heard them. At first, she suggested to her daughter that she was asleep, and had dreamed the voices. When Jenny didn’t let go of the issue, she became concerned. She took her to go to see a man who asked a lot of questions about her dreams.
She decided that she liked the man with the prying questions less than the voices. So she told her mother that the voices had been a dream after all. Soon afterward, she no longer had to go see the nosy man.
Jenny also began looking for answers on the playground. The other kids were much more sympathetic to her problem than her mother had been. However, they only talked about the monster under the bed, and the thing in the closet.
She soon realized they didn’t know any more than she did. So she decided not to worry about them. For awhile, that seemed to work. They just whispered to each other in quiet tones. They also talked about things that she couldn’t understand. However, she got used to them, and they stopped bothering her.
If it would have stayed that way, it would have been the end of the issue. Unfortunately, one night she thought she heard them whispering about her. At last, they quieted down. Of course, she remained awake all night, wondering what was going to happen.
Night after night, it continued. She started falling asleep, but it was plagued with nightmares. Her mother began commenting on the dark bags under her eyes. She wanted to scream that it was because her mother wouldn’t listen to her. Of course, she didn’t say it. She was afraid she would have go see the man who asked all the questions.
Finally, she realized they were talking about her, and that something was coming for her. The voices never said what it was, but her imagination worked overtime to fill in the blanks. All the stories she heard on the playground came back to haunt her.
As she walked to her room, she wondered with morbid curiosity if it would come from underneath the bed, or from the closet. The voices were waiting for her as she came into the bedroom.
“It’s coming for her tonight, you know.”
“Yes there’s no way she can escape.”
The words sent icy waves through her. It felt like her bladder would go at any minute. She slunk into bed, and tried forgetting what the voices had just said. Unfortunately, he mind refused to let her have any peace.
They kept up their whispered conversation, and her mind kept turning over what it might do to her. Eventually, she dropped off into a troubled doze.
She wasn’t sure what had woken her, but she was clammy with sweat. The voices were whispering, “It’s coming! It’s coming! It’s coming!” Soon, they fell silent. The sudden silence was even more menacing than anything they had said.
A creaking sound caused her to start quaking under the covers. Her breath caught in her throat, as a scream lodged there. Her eyes rolled toward the closet.
The door had opened a crack, and four long, gnarled fingers appeared. The skin was dark and leathery, with a long nail at the end of each. The hand kept pushing the door open, until it revealed a pair of glowing malevolent red eyes in the darkness.
Jenny’s bladder let go with a hot rush. A girlish squeal escaped her as she pulled the blankets over her head. Her breath was coming in harsh rasps, and her heart was trip hammering in her chest. In her mind, a panicky voice was telling her to run, to get away.
Despite her brain’s desperate pleas, she remained rooted to the spot. She felt a small pressure at her feet, and began whimpering. Bit by bit, she felt whatever it was moving over her prone body. Up past her knees, along her thighs, and onto her stomach.
Once it reached her chest, it stopped. Jenny was torn between wanting to hide, and curiosity. The debate raged in her head for a long moment. Curiosity won out by pointing out that a couple layers of blankets didn’t make a very good shield.
She lowered them below eye level, and peered over them. Her eyes got as wide as saucers, and her breath stopped. Standing on her chest was a foot tall ghost. It wore a robe and cowl of a dark material that hid its face. The only thing visible was a pair of glowing red eyes.
Its hands had long fingers that ended in sharp hooks. Jenny stared at it, mute with fear. It stared back at her, cocking its head. She waited for the ghost to make its move. At last, it did. It stuck out its tongue, and gave her a loud raspberry.
...that Mars is red from the blood spilled by that ancient god of war,
Venus is our sister planet, warm and soft and blue
and that the sun speeds around the earth.
They said God in heaven judges us, giving and taking away according to his mysterious plan.
Countless Galileos have been silenced for saying different.
But Mars is an empty wasteland,
Venus is the most hellish place in the solar system,
and the earth circles the sun.
But they also say that life is good.
Even people who dare disagree with them
should agree with that.
Bones Die Hard
They killed them in the shower rooms,
Gassed them with Zyklon-B
Through a grate in the ceiling
At Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Treblinka—
When they opened the metal doors,
They found them in a naked pyramid.
Sonderkommando pulled them out,
Piled them up, and put them in ovens—
The crematoriums smoked night and day
With clouds of souls escaping toward heaven
Leaving their bones,
Skulls in the ashes.
The ash still floats down like ghosts,
Settles on our shoulders
As we remember
Bones die hard.
DR. EMORY D. JONES: A SHORT AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
Dr. Emory D. Jones is an English teacher who has taught in Cherokee Vocational High School in Cherokee, Alabama, for one year, Northeast Alabama State Junior College for four years, Snead State Junior College in Alabama for two years, and Northeast Mississippi Community College for thirty-five years. He joined the Mississippi Poetry Society, Inc. in 1981 and has served as President of this society. He was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by this society in 2015. He won Poet of the Year in the Mississippi Poetry Society in 2002 and again in 2016. He has over two hundred and thirty-five publishing credits.
Free and Clear
Stanley Rickards walked through his darkened house, fumes from the kerosene burning in his nostrils and wetting his eyes. It sloshed against the bottom of the galvanized steel can with every heave, beating on it like a snare drum in a slow, somber cadence as he doused burgundy and gold wallpaper peeling from knotted pine walls, dusty wooden furniture, faded rugs. Methodically, he moved along the second floor, tried his best to leave no surface untouched by the gas. He crossed the threshold of his father’s bedroom and his steps stuttered a moment. His eyes fell on a framed photograph on the bedside table.
“Who’s that?” a very young Stanley asked his father, pointing to the same photograph taken nearly a quarter-century earlier.
“That’s your mama and me on our wedding day,” his father replied. “Ain’t she a peach?”
“Yeah, she’s real pretty,” Stanley said. “But you look funny in that suit.”
“I guess I did,” Stanley’s father said, chuckling softly. “That was the first time I ever wore a necktie. It choked me up somethin’ awful. Only wore it once since. Reckon I’ll only have to wear it one more time. Won’t bother me none, then.”
“When Mama comes home?”
“What? No, she—Son, we’ve talked about this. Your mama gone off to heaven the day you was born.”
“But when’s she comin’ home?”
“She’s—” He paused for a moment. “I don’t want you worryin’ about that, all right? Now help me get them lamps lit before it gets dark.”
Stanley walked to the nightstand and set the gas can on the floor beside the bed. Carefully he removed the faded photograph from its dusty frame and tucked it into the back pocket of his trousers. He sighed and took up the can and poured some of its contents onto the bed—the same bed he was born in; the same bed where his mother and father, both, had perished.
He left the bedroom and started down the stairs, tipping the can so a splash of kerosene spilled out behind him onto each step as he descended. Stanley made his way to the kitchen, pouring out a splash or two onto everything he passed. The dinner table now bore only dust and stacks of papers stamped with red ink. Stanley turned the can upside-down and poured most of the remaining kerosene over the piles of paper. The gas cascaded down the mounds of documents and gathered in dark pools on the tabletop. Stanley watched nearly two years of collected dust float to the surface of the beaded gas. The particle stared up at him like eyes; judging him.
Stanley set the near-empty can on the table and opened the cabinet above his father’s roll-top desk. From the cabinet he retrieved a small leather pouch and a pair of quart mason jars wrapped in burlap. He put the jars on the table next to the gas can and dragged out his chair and sat down, untied the pouch’s drawstring. Out of a book of rolling papers he plucked a leaf, emptied the pouch over it. Flakes of dry, stale tobacco ground nearly to dust spilled over the edges of the paper and stuck to Stanley’s greasy fingers. He tucked the crooked cigarette behind his right ear.
Stanley collected the two mason jars from the table and cradled them under his left arm. He grabbed the gas can by its rusted handle and started toward the front door. The last remaining ounces of kerosene splashed at his feet as he crossed the threshold and exited to the front porch. He dropped the empty can on the wooden planks, and it made a sound like the hollow peal of a funeral bell as it rolled down the steps into the dirt. Stanley took the cigarette from behind his ear and stuck the skinnier end of it between his lips. He produced a matchstick from the pocket of his trousers and struck it on his belt buckle, raised the flame cautiously to his face, blocking the wind with his other hand. He lit the twisted off end of his cigarette and inhaled deeply. With his exhalation, Stanley dropped the still-burning matchstick onto the dampened rug just inside the front door.
By the time he sat down in the dirt, about twenty yards from the house, black smoke was billowing from the doorway and orange flames begun licking their way out of the first floor windows. Watching the fire spread slowly throughout the only home he’d ever known, Stanley cracked the seal on one of the jars and unscrewed its lid. He lifted the rim to his lips and tipped it back, wincing at the burn of pure grain alcohol in his throat. He coughed, wiped the back of his gritty wrist across his mouth. “Foreclose that, you sons ‘a bitches.”
By sunup, little more remained of the old Rickards house than some blackened, teetering framework and a smoldering pile of ashen coals. Stanley had hardly moved an inch all night, and his eyes had barely blinked. As dawn’s first rays washed over him, he noticed a dust plume tracing the road on the crest of the eastern ridgeline. After a few minutes, Stanley heard the familiar rumble of an automobile engine turning up his lane, and the car appeared shortly after. It was a shiny black ‘27 Packard with white-wall tires and an oversized chrome hood ornament. Behind the wheel was Mr. Hyde Franklin, proprietor of First Bank and Trust of LaPointe. Mr. Franklin exited his vehicle and started toward Stanley, neither man’s gaze breaking from the smoldering wreckage.
“Christ almighty, Stan,” Mr. Franklin said, still staring into the smoke and ash, “What in God’s name happened?”
“Fire,” Stanley replied, twisting the top off of his second jar.
“Well it wouldn’t take a Pinkerton to sort that part of it out,” Mr. Franklin snapped, “I meant what caused it?”
“Faulty wirin’, I suspect.”
“Faulty wiring? Stan, you and I both know there hasn’t been a single watt piped into this place in more than a year.” Then he noticed the blackened gas can sitting on the ground at the edge of the charred ruins. “Jesus, Stan, what the hell did you do? Do you have any idea why I came out here this morning?”
“I suspect I do,” Stanley said coolly before taking another nip.
“You suspect? Well I suspect you don’t know your ass from your elbow sometimes. I didn’t come here to put you out, Stan, that’s the sheriff’s job. I came to bring you something, but it seems pointless now.”
“Tough break, Hyde. Gonna be a pretty sorry auction.”
“Dammit, Stan, that’s what I came to tell you. There isn’t going to be any auction. The bank was robbed yesterday, right as I was closing it up. Sheriff Dawkins seems to think it was Pretty Boy Floyd’s outfit, but I couldn’t say for certain. All I saw was the muzzle of that scattergun. They made off with almost fifteen hundred in cash, and they took my watch. The cash is all insured—so the people will get their money back eventually. Wish I could say the same for my watch, I had it since I was your age. My father gave it to me when I graduated university.”
“Sad story, Hyde. Things are rough all over. But if you drove all the way out here just to accuse me of robbin’ the bank—”
“Would you just shut up and listen a minute? They didn’t just rob the bank. They burned your mortgage papers, Stan. Understand? You’re off the hook. The farm, the tractor, the house—it’s all yours, free and clear.”
“Free and clear,” Stanley echoed with a whisper, his eyes falling from the burned-out remains of his home and sinking to the bottom of his mason jar. Without regard for the cleanliness of his pressed, tailored trousers, Mr. Franklin took a seat beside Stanley in the dirt.
“I helped your folks build that house,” Mr. Franklin said, staring down at the barren ground between his knees. “I don’t just mean signing off on the loan, either. I’m talking about pulling a saw and swinging a hammer right alongside your dad. Helped him clear the fields and put his first crop down, too.”
“I know you did. He always talked fondly of you, even at the end,” Stanley said, offering Mr. Franklin a drink with an outstretched arm. “He told me never to blame you for our bad luck.”
Mr. Franklin eyed the jar in Stanley’s hand, paused only a moment to consider the hour of morning before accepting it. He lifted the jar to his mouth, but stopped it short.
“Ellie wanted so badly to adopt you when you were born,” he said. “She believed it was our Christian duty. She begged me to convince your father that it was the best thing for everyone, that we could give you a better life and ease his burden. She even lobbied Judge Harris’ wife to the same end. Ellie made some good points, but I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t take you away from him. You and this farm were all he had left in the world, and I knew he couldn’t keep either without the other.”
Stanley was silent. Mr. Franklin surveyed the younger man’s rigid, folded frame. Stanley was always lean, but his slenderness had taken a sickly form. Bones jutted out beneath his skin like the poles of a circus tent, sharpening his joints and casting shadows where sinewy muscles had waned. “I must have told your father a hundred times when you were a baby that he ought to find another wife, keep growing the family,” Mr. Franklin said. “But I don’t think he ever gave it a second thought—always said he could boil his own beans. I had it in my mind that it would be easier for you two if there was a woman in the house. I thought he was just being hard-headed at the time. I didn’t understand until years later, after I lost Ellie. I was so proud of you, though, of the both of you. I’ve never seen a man work so hard as Jack did those first few years. I thought he’d slow down once you were big enough to help out in the field, but he just kept on charging. He expected the same out of you, too. You were an able hand before most boys can even cut their own meat. I watched the man you grew to be, and I’d think about the big fat sissy Ellie would have made you into. Jack raised up a son any father would be proud of.”
Stanley finally turned to face Mr. Franklin. “You gonna talk into that jar all day, or you gonna drink?”
“Sorry, Stan. I get to carrying on.” Mr. Franklin pursed his lips and pressed them against the rim of the jar, tilting it only a few degrees for a modest sip. He swallowed, and his head swiveled violently. His mutton-chopped jowls flapped as he hissed through gritted teeth. “Good lord, son,” Mr. Franklin said, regaining his breath, “What the hell’s in that jar, turpentine?”
“Damn near,” Stanley said, taking back the jar. “Boots Johnson’s white lightnin’. Traded Boots my last chicken for two gallons of it. Kicks like a mule, don’t it?”
“Sure as hell does.”
“Well, don’t go pissin’ on any brush fires.”
Mr. Franklin grunted and pulled himself up from the ground, dusted off the seat of his trousers. “What are you going to do with yourself, Stan?”
“Haven’t given it much thought past the bottom of this jar, to be truthful,” Stanley said. He took another drink.
“Here,” Mr. Franklin said, producing an envelope from the inside breast pocket of his waistcoat. “It’s the deed to the farm, take it. The bank has no claim to it without the mortgage papers—not without an expensive fight, anyway. You won’t get much for it now,” he said, glancing at the smoking black heap where the house once stood, “But it’ll be enough for a fresh start. You’re a young man. Go to Colorado, go to California, or Tahiti—just go. Leave this dead land before it takes everything you’ve got left.”
Stanley rose to his feet. He looked north over the cracked, windswept field where acre upon acre of amber-tufted corn once grew; looked south to the grassless pasture where half a dozen fat Holsteins once grazed. He looked east to the hillside where his mother and father lay, and finally back to the charred remains of his lifelong home. “Ain’t much left to take, Hyde. I think I’ll stick around.”
“I wish the best for you, Stan, I always have. I don’t want you to wake up one day thirty years from now and realize it’s too late. It’s not too late for you.”
Stanley stood and watched the rear end of Mr. Franklin’s Packard dissolve in the dust and vanish into the darkness of the pines. He clutched the envelope in both hands, noting for the first time its heft, which seemed to him more substantial than that of just a single document. Tearing the seal and unfolding the flap, Stanley’s suspicion was confirmed. The parcel did contain the deed to the Rickards stead, as Mr. Franklin had indicated, but there was more. Along with the deed, Stanley found his father’s defaulted mortgage agreement—entirely unburned. At the bottom of the envelope he found nearly fifteen-hundred dollars in cash and a gold pocket watch with silver filigree hands and a faded inscription etched on its reverse.
Dusk’s fire set the clouds ablaze above the hollow, and the cadence of Stanley’s hammer echoed unopposed through the August air. It had been three weeks since Mr. Franklin’s visit, and nearly as long since his funeral. Dr. Finkbine’s report concluded it was a heart attack that caused the old man to drive his Packard off the road; that he’d expired before the fuel tank ignited and was spared the agony of burning alive. Stanley found the wreck. He couldn’t help recalling the image of Mr. Franklin’s hollow, blackened skeleton as he tacked down the last of the tar paper on his new roof. He wondered to himself how Dr. Finkbine could tell it was a heart attack.
Bound by Blood
She screamed, a mix of fear and pain. I covered my ears, trying to block the screaming. Glass shattered, a body fell, and I held my hands tighter to my head. Nothing could block out the noises. The shouts and cries ran on repeat in my mind, my heart, the core of my being. I crawled deeper into the closet and buried my face into the low hanging shirts, wrapping them around my head to use as makeshift ear muffs. The cries and yelling faded away as if a volume button was gradually turned down. I unwrapped my head and listened, now wanting to hear noise. A voice rang out, shattering the silence in a single heartbreaking moment.
“Billy! Where are you? Don’t hide from your daddy, you little sumbitch.”
His heavy footfalls shook the floorboards and me along with it. I held my breath and prayed to God for him not to find me. My prayers never worked before, but asking Him for protection gave me hope. The footsteps thudded past the closet door. I almost breathed a sigh of relief, but I didn’t want to be caught when safety felt so close at hand. I closed my eyes and started to count to 10. Mrs. Harvey said it helped calm people, so I decided to try it. I counted, waiting several seconds between numbers. I made it to seven and a shadow passed the door, smothering the narrow strip of light. I gasped despite myself, thus sealing my fate. He shook the door, threatening to break it from its hinges, screaming profanities at me all the while. I cried, knowing full well that the lock wouldn’t keep him out.
“Please don’t hurt me,” I sobbed.
“Wake up! Billy, wake up! People will hear you.”
I opened my eyes, panting and sweating. The cheap hotel covers stuck to my arms. Madison sat on the edge of my bed, looking at me with worried eyes. The smell of smoke poured off her clothes. She must have started again. I rubbed my eyes, rough skin digging away the crust.
“That’s the third night in a row that I’ve had that nightmare,” I said.
“Have a guilty conscience?”
I sighed. “We’re too far gone to have second thoughts now. Come on, let’s get packed and go. We have a lot of ground to cover.”
Madison groaned, sounding every bit as young as she was. “Can we at least get some breakfast before we go? I haven’t had a full meal in a week. I’m getting tired of fast food.”
“Fine. We have to be quick though. Call up some room service while I get dressed.”
She gave a short squeak of delight before kissing me on the cheek. She ran to the phone while I got up. I went to my duffel bag and pulled out a dress shirt and pants. Madison rattled out her order and mine as well, her voice sounding noticeably more chipper than I’d heard it in a while. I smiled, happy that Madison wasn’t sad anymore.
I fixed my tie, trying to avoid looking at myself in the mirror. I wouldn’t see me. The man in the mirror looked to be in his mid-30s instead of 24, thanks to the makeup that Madison put on me. My hair was shaved to keep it close cut and professional. Madison looked more different than I did, hair done up to match Marilyn Monroe’s at her request. Her old fashioned dress and my casual business outfit made us look like a couple straight from the 1940’s. We were far from a couple, we were brother and sister.
Our breakfast came, pristine white plates topped with fried eggs and pancakes. The yolk from eggs bled out, making a pool of yellow just like I liked them. The pancakes were still hot and the steam wafted the smell of butter and syrup to me, making me envious of Madison’s meal. We took our meal out to the terrace where the roar of nearby traffic would provide us privacy while we talked.
Madison wasted no time in attacking her food like an animal. I waited to eat, despite my growling stomach. I was busy mapping out the rest of our trip. Only one state left and we’d make it to Canada. If we avoided staying at any more hotels, we could make it in a day or two. We would just have to take shifts driving. We could do it. We were almost in the clear.
“What’re you thinking about, Billy?”
“Stop calling me that. It’s Bill now.”
“Right. Sorry. That’s what Dad called you. I’m just so used to it.”
I picked at my eggs, losing my appetite at the mention of our dad. I took a bite of egg, fork dripping with runny yolk.
“Do you think about them? Mom and Dad, I mean.”
“Yeah,” she said, “I feel guilty some nights. They were our parents, Bill.”
“They deserved it. They beat me and you for over 20 years. We repaid the favor. I only wish we’d done it sooner.”
“Then why do you keep having nightmares?”
“Don’t try to psycho analyze me, Madison. This is all for the best.”
She opened her mouth to argue, but sighed instead. I didn’t back down easily and she was too passive to fight with me. Sometimes I wondered if I had dragged her into too big of a mess. It wasn’t worth the debate. What’s done is done. I slammed my fork down on my plate.
“Let’s just get out of here. We only have North Dakota left to go.”
She sighed. “Yes sir.”
Neither of us spoke as we gathered our things. No more words needed be said. What’s done is done.
He broke bones, gave
Once she saw him kill kittens,
against a wall.
About Katie Moore
Katie Moore is the founder of a little literary magazine called The Legendary, a coffee shop manager, an improv actor, and a proud mother. She writes because her life depends on it. Katie comes from the untouched wilderness of Southern Maryland, makes her home in the concrete jungle of Memphis, Tennessee, and plans to someday retire to a certain mountain peak in Appalachia to raise goats and rescue pitbulls. Her hair is curly, her wit is sharp, and if you need to know more check out http://www.thegirlcircus.com..
I know what you did.
Jessica has never really been a sound sleeper and given the strange phone calls she’s been receiving lately, the quality of her sleep has only lessened.
I know what you did.
Every morning at 9:00 AM for the past two weeks, that’s all the caller ever says before they promptly hang up. I know what you did.
With each call, her paranoia gets progressively worse. I know what you did.
But what do they know exactly? That she set fire to her house when she was 8? That she once beat another kid so bad, she actually killed him when she was 9? That she had to become an escort when she was 15 because she couldn’t handle living on the streets?
I know what you did.
Jessica is not the person she used to be. If the secrets of her past were to be revealed, her entire life would crumble faster than the time it took to build it. She’s come too far and can’t go back to the shell she once was. She won’t.
It’s 8:59. She lies in the dark, wide awake, staring up at the blank ceiling with her phone in one hand and a gun in the other. Another minute passes, and the phone rings. She hits the ‘answer’ button and bring the phone to her ear, not speaking a word.
“I know what you did.”
A tear falls from Jessica’s eye as she ends the call and sets the phone down beside her. She then brings the muzzle of the gun to her temple, and pulls back the hammer. She closes her eyes and pulls the trigger.
I know what you did.
haiku 2/28/14 (revised 5/2/14)
I don’t want youth, looks,
tons of money — I just want
the nightmares to end
Kinds of Torture
Note that no flowers are delivered to you
the six weeks you recover
from almost being killed.
You had to be in another country
when you were strangled before you escaped,
scraped elbows and bloody knees.
You even kept the sexual assault
you’ve endured to yourself,
because really, who can you trust.
I know, I know,
you can stand up for yourself,
you keep saying that.
There is always a fine line you’ve drawn —
you reveal yourself to the outside world
while keeping yourself closed away.
You’re on every web page I see,
but I think it took you twenty years
to actually get your own cell phone.
Necessity, is what you say,
but now, now that you’re got it,
you cherish it maniacally.
I know that phone will eternally be
by your side... And that is why
you’ve finally given me my chance.
I picked a random time.
Nine a.m. sounds fine.
I’ll dial that magical number of yours.
When you answer,
“I know what you did”
is all I’ll say
before I hang up.
And I know it’s a cell phone,
I know you see the number I dial from,
so I started by going to the airport
and dialing from a different pay phone
for the first week or two,
until I realized
I can dial you with the Internet
and change the number each time.
So I’m sure you’ve checked the number daily,
searching helplessly for your lack of answers.
How exasperating, with a daily dead end.
I have no idea if you respond,
since I hang up right away.
But i’m thinking it has to be driving you crazy.
I’m sure you’re wracking your brain —
is it “wracking” or “racking”?
Maybe I should say “racking”
because these few simple words,
these simple calls every single day
are torture for you, like a torture rack.
I know you say
you’re been through it all,
but this —
it’s only a few words.
But it’s a different kind of torture.
And how do you fight that?
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, chicagopoetry.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 BZoO.org and chaoticarts.org. 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 three collection books from 2004: Oeuvre (poetry), Exaro Versus (prose) and L’arte (art), 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, poem, 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 shutterfly ISSN# cc& hardcover art book life, in color, Post-Apocalyptic, Burn Through Me, Under the Sea (photo book), the Periodic Table of Poetry, a year long Journey, Bon Voyage!, and the mini books Part of my Pain, Let me See you Stripped, Say Nothing, Give me the News, when you Dream tonight, Rape, Sexism, Life & Death (with some Slovak poetry translations), Twitterati, and 100 Haikus, that coincided with the June 2014 release of the two poetry collection books Partial Nudity and Revealed.
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