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Volume 1, Issue 1

Beginnings

Cover Art by Alisha Walker

Em Dash Literary Magazine

1335 Fleming Ave, #26, Ormond Beach, FL 32174

2013

All authors and artists whose works are showcased or cited here retain full copyright ownership of their works. Permission to reprint or reproduce any works herein must be sought from the authors or artists, individually, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

Please visit our website for information on submitting your own writing or artwork/photography.

www.EmDashLiteraryMagazine.com

*all photos or artwork not titled or attributed herein belong to the editors or are public domain images or clip art

From the Editors:


Dear Reader,
Pinch uswe cant believe its finally here! When we jumped into this at the end of last year, we knew wed have our hands full. What we didnt expect was the outpouring of submissionsso many amazing pieces filled our inbox, from beautiful photography and artwork to luscious writing in the form of poems, essays, and stories. We even had to turn away pieces we loved to keep this first issue a reasonable size. Its still hard to believe that so many wanted to be a part of our magazineour dream. Its humblingand inspiring. Its taken longer than we anticipated to get this maiden issue up and running. So much more was involved than we were prepared for, and with several hiccupsincluding waiting for certain copyright permissions, a few last-minute withdrawals, and even health issues between the two of usdelays were inevitable. The initial selection process was already gruelingwe read each piece and reread each pieceand then we ranked, scored, and discussed each and every submission. We even brought additional blind readers on board to help make sure that every piece not only fit our theme, Beginnings, but also the standard we set for ourselves:

to publish vibrant writing with an emotional impact and vivid imagery. We want to be wowed by your voice, in awe of your superior craft, but most of all, we want to feel something while reading your work or viewing your art.
And boy, did our contributors wow us and make us feel something. The submissions were so breathtaking that it was hard to pick recipients for our Editors Choice award. But we were finally able to narrow it down to one piece from each genre: artwork, fiction, flash fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Congratulations to those recipients, who are listed below, along with the title of their work and genre: Alisha Walker One-up the 4 Oclock (artwork, cover photo) Meredith Bailey A Night on the Serengeti (fiction) Murphy Jacobs Baggies (flash fiction) Christopher Dizon Whats So Funny? (nonfiction) AJ Huffman Baby Turtles and [Busted?] Condoms (poetry) If we could award every contributor an Editors Choice award, we would have. The submissions were that amazing. All Editors Choice award recipients have a chance to be nominated at the end of the year for a Pushcart Prize. Wed like to take a moment to give thanks to some people. First, Cathy Elmore, our associate editor, who spent countless hours helping go through submissions. And thank you to our blind readers, who really helped us when we couldnt decide between all the pieces we loved. Wed also like to thank the artist/photographer whose work we showcased throughout this issue. Alisha Walkers brilliant photographs captured our attention, so we chose to feature them throughout this issue as accompanying artwork for many of the submissions. Thank you, Alisha, for allowing us to use your art to make our literary magazine better. While we already feel that this issue is a success, wed like to know your thoughts. What was your favorite piece? Were you inspired by anything in this magazine that fueled your creativity (story, poetry, art)? Feel free to send your thoughts and inspirations to us at editor@emdashliterarymagazine.com. We might be encouraged to choose a few select responses to be featured in our next issue or our blog. It has been our dream to create a magazine that not only houses beautiful works of art in various forms, but is itself a piece of art. We hope this dream has been realized with this first issue. Thank you, dear readers, and thank you contributors for hanging in there with us. Kemari Howell & Tomara Armstrong Co-founders and Co-editors

Em Dash Literary

Magazine 2013

In this issue:
Whats So Funny? - Christopher Dizon - 1 | Baggies - Murphy Jacobs - 3 | Salt Water Wish - Valentina Cano - 5 | Baby Turtles and [Busted?] Condoms - AJ Huffman - 6 | Castles in the Sand - JM Strother - 7 | Annual Peep Show - Alisha Walker - 8 | Frou-Frou - Joe Okonkwo - 9 | Fall - Alisha Walker - 13 | Autumns Pashmina - J.lynn Sheridan - 13 | Pickup - John Grey - 14 | Tree - Alisha Walker - 15 | Pinion - Nerine Dorman - 16 | Wedding Day - John Grey - 20 | Loving You is Like Loving the Dead - Alisha Walker - 20 | Minotaur Speaks - Jnana Hodson - 21 | In Noahs Defense - Julie Barclay - 22 | Waiting Kevin J. Mackey - 24 | Honey, I Brought Wine for Dinner - Alisha Walker - 25 | Answering an Empty Room - AJ Huffman - 25 | Keys - Erik Hane - 26 | Effin Gold - Alisha Walker - 33 | After - Jane Hertenstein - 34 | A Cup of Ceylon - William Doreski - 35 | Temporary - Katrina K. Guarascio - 36 | Childs Toy - Alisha Walker - 39 | Blue Your Eyes - Joan McNerney - 40 | No One Smokes Anymore - Daniel Davis - 41 | Sculpt - Alisha Walker 43 | Muse - Loukia M. Janavaras - 43 | Dance Dance Revolution - Christopher Dizon - 44 | Addiction - James Leo Sheridan - 48 | Oklahoma Outside - Alisha Walker - 49 | She Lounges Hungrily - Sy Roth - 50 | The Art of the Scientist - Dr. Ernest Williamson III - 51 | Haint - Brendan Sullivan - 52 | Flower - Alisha Walker - 53 | A Night on the Serengeti Meredith Bailey - 54 | Men In Trees - W. Jack Savage - 60 | No Thoughts - Sy Roth - 61 | Raining Clips - Fabio Sassi - 62 | When the Old Way Doesnt Work - Michelle Ornat - 63 | Weird - Holly Guran - 64 | Hit - Sue Buckwell - 65 | Friendly Skies - Alisha Walker - 66 | Cloud - Michael White - 66 | Into the Music - Dr. Ernest Williamson III - 67 | In the City Alisha Walker - 68 | Passing a Man on the Street - Valentina Cano - 68 | Lagomorph - Paul Hostovsky - 69 | New Leaf - Michelle Ornat - 70 | In the Beginning - Leland Thoburn - 71

To view contributor bios, please go to http://emdashliterarymagazine.com/volume-1-issue-1-bios/

Whats So Funny?
By Christopher Dizon
Theres this picture in my hand, picked from an old brown photo album with translucent plastic pages, thin like saran-wrap. There are three characters in the photo: me, and mom, and dad. None of us are looking toward the camera or the person holding it, all of us candidly caught in the moment. Were not thinking about the past. About regrets, or what should have been done, what should have been said, or what shouldnt have been said, words that want to be taken back and uttered in moments of luminescent instinct. Were not looking ahead to the future, to think about all the silent moments in between talking, and not talking, and not saying what should be said. All of that is in the picture, but we cant see it. My parents see each other. Theyre standing, laughing and looking down towards the floor. Dads on the left, wearing blue jeans and a whitecollared polo shirt and a smile beneath his small dark mustache. Hes skinnier than I remember, with the frame of frail boy. He looks pure, wholesome, and malnourished. This was before he fell in love with weight-lifting and filled out. Before broad shoulders and the super hero physique, before his hands became calloused, before he refused to use gloves because he believed that hardened skin, scars, and imperfections were greatand manly. His hair is cut short, probably crafted functionally and without much style by my momamateur barber. Or by the woman holding snippy scissors at Super Cuts. Or by some guy in the navy, whose job it was to cut hair with buzzing clippersof men who wear uniforms and pins. Mom is on the right, wearing pink shorts that end a few inches above her knees and a white tank top decorated with an assortment of ink blotches the kind psychiatrists display on large white poster boards, holding up images that look like nothing but mistakes on paper, spilled stains spread out. Youre

supposed to see something. A special significance. What I see is my mother smiling more, her mouth slightly open and laughing, and though Im looking at the photo, I can hear her laugh now. It is loud, unique, and difficult to ignore. Its the bird singing at night in the tree by your window, that doesnt care about your rest or your shift in the morning. Its jovial, happy fireworks. Neon glitter in the dark that makes you squint and forces you to shut your eyes tightly. Look for me and find me in between. Im in the middle, my head straight forward and looking at the both of them. My hair is impeccable. Straight, blacker and shinier than any models long locks in a shampoo commercial. From behind me, with my back turned, you can see a tiny piece of ear poking out from the thick forest of amazon hair. Im short, the top of my head coming up to about the waist of my parents, who are standing and bent slightly forward, the two of them laughing. You cant see my face, just my back. Im wearing a white polo shirt, like my dad, and blue pants shrunk to size fit for a wannabe. In my right hand is plastic guncolored gold and designed to shoot foam disks at all my imaginary enemies: the dinosaurs that escaped extinction, the closet monsters staking claim to my toys, and the abstract shadows in the darkindistinct yet menacing. Its the 80s; you can tell by the colors in the background. Everything is covered in some hue of brown: the walls behind the stove, the dishwasher below the counter, the coffee cups turned upside down and stacked, and the lone cushiony chair poking out from the corner of the photo. I can see brown in the grout between the tiles underneath our feet and in a varying degrees between the three of us, me-mom-and-dad. A third of the photo is taken up by a rectangular block of ivory. You might think its a wall, I did too, but look closer at the shine and gloss coming off the surface and youll realize, like I did, that this is something else. Its a brand new fridge. Its spotless and clean. There are no magnets. No proud crayon pictures that display my discipline to stay within the lines, no coupons that promise free burritos with the purchase of one standard meal, or dreaded reminders of court dates and jury summons that come annually and unexpectedly. You and I dont see marker slashes; my name scrawled illegibly, juvenile attempts at graffiti. And

attention. All that comes later. With the divorce, where Dad will inherit the fridgeand the blame.

I look at the two of them and imagine what form the front of my head has taken. What does my face look like? Whats so funny?
And this is the part where I tell you whats what, which direction to walk, and what paths are possible. Theyre laughing. Maybe at the accident on the floor spilled between them. A fruit pie, maybe turned over on its tin, with all the whipped cream spreading out, lathering the space in between them. Or apple sauce or pots of beef stew with all the spices and assorted vegetables. Or it could be all the food in the fridge, the condiments and frozen waffles, the microwavable pizza and the peeled cloves of garlic all thrown out in a pile of edible garbage in front of them. Theyre thinking about the future and how silly it was to believe that one fridge could hold all of those ingredients, items for recipes they liked but didnt love. They made meals from the things within the fridge, and we ate them together: chicken adobo, cheeseburgers, tocino, spaghetti, and the black stew from hell I refused to touch, dinoguan. There were always leftovers. And maybe theyre taking inventory of whats there, to divide up the groceries and go their separate ways. Its feasible that theyre hysterical and laughing at themselves. The silly mistake they made. The promises they traded back and forth and that they really believedthat small things, petty things wouldnt accumulate and build into a large mound of resentment: the toilet seat left up, the plants not watered in the morning, what language I would learn first. It is conceivable that theyre laughing out loud because they knew that bitterness builds into larger events that can create a grudge. If youre having trouble seeing what I mean, think of my father coming home later one evening and progressively later the next night, until dark hours of night turn into days of absence. Think of me hiding under the table in the kitchen

at night, waiting for dad to come so that I could grab his ankle and scare him. Maybe hes laughing because on the rare nights I succeeded and found his foot, I asked him, Whatd you bring me? And perhaps he laughed because he knew that for a long while, that was the kind of thing that would suffice and satisfy a little kid with a golden gun. Not answers. Why are the Lakers wearing white, I thought they were yellow and purple? More gifts. Surprise! If you mark the curve of their mouths, the way the edges of their lips point upward, think about the times my mother started going out too. How she followed him and performed her own surveillance, after finding proof in a car parked in a bowling alley that she worked double shifts to make payments for, the windows fogged up and misty. Maybe theyre laughing at his mistake, the fact that he went bowling without his ball. So she brings it to him and throws the three-holed orb through the foggy windshield and shatters all of the glass in front of him. Into tiny pieces. Because he needed it. You can imagine that theyre laughing at the little kid with shiny hair, holding on to each other and trying to dodge for cover, from my gun. From me. My hand is on the hilt, but my finger is not on the trigger. I look at that little kid in the kitchen, and I see him seeing them, taking aim, and still wondering whats what. I wish I could tell him.

BAGGIES
BY MURPHY JACOBS
I noticed the first one in Mondays homeroom. Black magic marker on the brown paper bag hiding her face read YOU SAID I WAS FAT . The big black shirt and jeans made her a huge blob anyway. Between classes, Ashley sent me a text. Hav U seen teh Baggies? The anonymous two in my English class read, YOU CALL ME STUPID and U SAID I WUZ A FREAK . At our lunch table, Ashley giggled over salad. Its the latest emo thing. Trs tragique. Jessica laughed, too. Cheaper than razors. Geekwear, I contradicted, opening my bento box. Damn, I bet theyre all Latin Club or computer geeks. Baggies sat at empty tables on the rooms far side, separated from each other by vacant chairs. More showed up on Tuesdaythree in my World History class. The one near me didnt talk or raise his hand. I knew he was this total loser named Rufus or Ralph or something. His bag read, YOU THINK I CANT HEAR YOU . At lunch Wednesday, Ashley said, Its the new anti-mouth-breather device. Were saved! I laughed. Paper bag eyeholes stared at me from all over the
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room. Thursday, the first teacher showed up in Baggie Black. Hers said, YOU MAKE IT HARD TO CARE . Jessica missed lunch. Someone texted me a photo of a girl in a Nordstrom shopping bag that said, YOU THINK IM A SNOB AND AN IDIOT . Ashley and I laughed. Friday, everyone texted and talked about how Jason Berkley, football team captain, walked into a bunch of jocks hassling some skinny Baggie chick, stood next to her, and put a bag on his head that read YOU SAID IM AN ASSHOLE, BUT I DONT WANT TO BE . By final bell, I felt like all the Baggies I passed screamed at me. Everybody talked about them all weekend. My mom saw the sixty-second local news spot before she left for Pilates. She said Poor kids. They must hurt so much. My stepdad called them whiners. Stupidest thing in the world, Ashley said. Pure Oprah. Maybe Jerry Springer. I called Jessica. Why? Because, she said before she hung up. Half the school wore bags and black clothes the next week. Some idiots tried to be funny with big ears, glasses, or clown-face bags. One guy wrote, YEAH, I THINK UR GAY on his bag. They sent him home. Nobody talked to Baggies, not even other Baggies. When we talked to each other, we whispered. The clown guys stopped wearing their bags or they went Baggie, too. Black marker replaced faces everywhere saying, YOU CALL ME SLUT, BUT IM A VIRGIN or I AM NOT USELESS or YOU SAID IM A LOSER . Parents called the principal. Church groups held prayer vigils. I skipped lunch at our table and didnt answer Ashleys texts. Monday morning, I got up extra early. I pulled the paper bag that Id swiped from the kitchen from under my bed, turned on my lamp, and got my marker.

Salt W ater Wish


by Valentina Cano Away with you, then. Take your smile (a seashell shimmering across the floor) and your voice (tapping its rhythm on my skin). Take your fins to another ocean, wrap them around other scales and let mine glint in peace.

Baby Turtles and [Busted?] Condoms


By A. J. Huffman
The perfect surprise: soft green flippers peddling past my toes. So determined to get their goal. Like you, my serpentined seraph, so feral in your pursuit of . . . everything. You desire the universe. Forcing your own parameters over and through the norm. I am just another niche you style. Placing me on a shelf [re-]labeled: contained. I forget to mind that you forgot to aerate my lips. I embrace the staleness of this slower suffocation. Preferring its welcoming numbness to the consummate barrage of [in]consistent image projections: your full frontal flashes confronting me daily. (Come nightly they haunt me.)Until I too am reduced to [focus on] a pile of discarded . . . tissued . . . knocks.

was wrong. Thats the way it always was with Richardany argument, any problem, could be fixed via sex. But dammit, sex, even great sex, does not fix all. He told her the last trip would be itnever again. Shed heard that before, after the previous trip, the dive off the Azores. But when Danny Green called and dangled the big money in front of him, Richard accepted again, over her objections. Its over twenty-five grand! he told her. Maybe forty, if theres a lot of overtime. Its just for two months, babe. Thats a lot of money. And its in the Mediterranean. You cant ask for safer than that. Never mind, theyd just attended Scott Halls funeral. Scott and Richard went way back, had done many dives together. They were good friends. Richard had been devastated. So stupid, he lamented. Scotts lines had become By J.M. Strother entangled, then severed in shifting debris at 700 feet. He Amanda curled in the was dead before they got him to armchair, feet tucked under for the surface. That was probably a warmth, drawing idle patterns blessing. in the deep blue velour. She no But it wasnt just the danger, sooner completed one when the sense of dread every time she would rub it away with the the phone rang. It was the aching palm of her hand, only to start loneliness while he was gone, another. Some of them took on the empty bed, the empty seat at recognizable formsa stylized the table for months at a time. puppy, a range of steep-peaked The first rays of sunlight mountains, a goofy face. Wave dipped under the morning clouds, after wave of scribbles come fell across the bed, brushing and gone. She intermittently Richards face in a soft golden glanced out the window at the glow. He scrunched his eyes approaching dawn, or toward tighter and slid a hand out across the man sleeping in her bed. He the sheet, searching for her in slept peacefully, as he always did his sleep. An unconscious frown following sex, looking perfectly crossed his face, his breathing relaxed and comfy, as if nothing paused. Then he exhaled and

Castles in the Sand

turned away from the sun, onto his opposite shoulder. A vivid blush of dawn played out on the underbellies of the clouds, until the sun rose above it all, casting the sky a dismal grayharbinger of the coming days. At 7:30 sharp, Richards alarm went off. He slapped at the clock until it fell silent, then rolled over toward her again. He seemed surprised to find her side of the bed empty, then brightened when he spotted her in the chair. Morning, love. She did not answer. Sleep well? I sure did. He gave her a mischievous smile, which faded fast. He leaned up on one elbow, considering her mood. Youre not still mad? If you go, I wont be here when you return. Aw, crap. He swung around, planted his feet on the floor and rubbed his face. Dont be like that, Mandy. Its just two months. And this is the last time. I promise. She had heard it all before. It would always be thusthe last time. Promises. Richard was a lovely sandcastle, to be forever reclaimed by the sea. The simple truth was the draw of the sea pulled at Richard stronger than his love for her. She knew that now. It would never change. She made him breakfast, let him kiss her goodbye as he went out the door. Then she went to their room and started packing her bags. She cried as she carefully wrapped a framed photo of Richard and placed it in her suitcase. This, of him, at least she would keepand the child he would never know.

ANNUAL PEEP SHOW BY ALISHA WALKER


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Frou-Frou
By Joe Okonkwo
The plant had to go. Upton regarded it as it rose up out of its pot. Stationed in a prime location the floor in front of the only window in his studio apartmentit occupied that space as if it owned it. It was called a Bird of Paradise and he had just bought it from a snooty exotic plant shop on Lexington Avenue. The plant was exotic: the sight of it made Upton think he should be lounging on the white sands of some Caribbean beach with a tropical drink in his hand. And it wasfeminine. If a plant could be described that way. The stem was four feet tall, had the diameter of a small pole, and it curved at the top in a beak-like shape that jutted out obnoxiously about a foot. The top of the beak erupted in a wild bush of multicolored petals yellow, orange, violet. A tacky bombardment of splash and color. Just add some glitter and sequins and the thing could be a drag queen. To escape the plant, Upton sat at the piano and practiced his Chopin. The etudes and mazurkas rocketing through his fingers and off the keyboard were a far-flung universe from the Broadway musicals hed played for a living for the last twenty-five years. His concert stage ambitions had short-circuited when musical theatreand easier moneybeckoned. But he kept up his classical skills by practicing Chopin, Rachmaninoff, or Scarlatti each day. Like a foreigner determined not to forget his native, and perhaps preferred, tongue. Upton finished the Polonaise-Fantaisie and peeked at the Bird of Paradise more like a bird of prey the way it arched out of that pot, petals bristling. Once more, he considered taking it back to the store. He studied the keyboard again but had lost his motivation for Chopin. It was Sunday afternoon, he was off from the show this evening, and he was bored. And a little horny. He tinkled some old Tin Pan Alley tune for a moment, then got up, put on a t-shirt and his tightest jeans, and left the apartment.

*****
The weekend before Pride, and Greenwich Village already buzzed. Rainbow flags flapped above shop windows as Upton salivated over cute boys clad only in short shorts, jetting by on rollerblades. People slurped margaritas in sidewalk cafes, where laughter flowed as liberally as the booze. An empire of men crowded the streets, slices of pizza or bottles of beer dangling from limp wrists. On Christopher Street, a troop of guys swished so hard, if their hips had broken loose someone would have gotten hurt. Two black drag queens tumbled out of a bar, nearly undone by the lethal combination of alcohol and four-inch-spike heels. They looked artificial in their over-the-top clothes and chintzy makeup. Their afros were the size of small planets. Girrrrrrl, your drunk ass be trippin. Literally, Drag Queen #1 said. My drunk ass? Drag Queen #2 said. Fuck you, bitch. You drank more than I did. And it all went to your fat ass! Fuck you. My mamas fat, but she aint birth no fat bitch. Youre fat and youre mamas fat, too. In fact, yo mama so fat, when she sat down on a dollar bill, she made change. Well, yo mama so fat, when her cell phone beeped, people thought she was backin up. A trio of tourists stood nearbydad, mom, and young child, all wearing I Love New York t-shirts. The child watched the drag queens with the riveted attention with which children view cartoons. But his parents were aglow with disapproval. It was in the squint of their eyes as they watched the spectacle, the way the dad snatched the child away from the cartoon and hustled the family down Christopher, past the smoke shops and tattoo parlors and stores that displayed gay porn and dildos in their windows. Jesus. What they must be thinking, Upton mumbled. At Christopher and Hudson, he passed the stoop of an apartment building where a big, hunky thing was hanging out with a couple of friends. His meager tank top barely contained his colossal mass of muscle or the wilderness of hair on his mountainous chest. He gave off an aura of serious

ruggedness, unassailable virility. Then he opened his mouth. Girl, I dont think so! he said, snapping in Zorro-like formation, his voice screeching with a high-pitched effeminate quality. He thrust one hip out to the side and placed a hand on it, tenderly, like a female fashion model posing on the runway. It provoked a memory: Upton, ten-years old, Christmas morning. He had received the pair of boots hed been asking for. He slipped them on and stuffed the legs of his pajama bottoms down into the boots, then began strutting around the living room and posing for his mother, hands on his hips, hips swaying from side to side. He was enjoying his showy antics, but it took his mother about a split second to dart up from the sofa, stop him mid-sway, and slap him. She took him by his shoulders and shook. If your father was here, she said, hed be ashamed of you!

*****
The Windowsill Bar was packed. Upton had to grapple his way to the bar and then wait five minutes for the bartendershirtless, ripped, and twenty-somethingto acknowledge him. You think I could get some service over here? he said. The kid continued mixing a drink that looked entirely too complicated and, without looking up, said, Depends on what you mean by service, babe. A clique of customers laughed. Upton didnt appreciate the joke made at his expense, but envied the bartenders quick wita gift so many gay men possessed, but he himself had been deprived of. His eyes toured The Windowsills dcor while he waited. Mexican piatas swung from above while strung-up Christmas lights criss-crossed the ceiling, end to end. A wood-paneled section of wall hosted amateur reproductions of Warhol prints and framed photos of D-list and has-been celebrities. The Windowsills customers were men of every shape, size, color, and attitude. Every level of attractive, all degrees of ugly, and everything in between. Quiet men, hungry for affection, huddling against the wall while the laughter of boisterous men hurtled across the room. Hustlers who recognized the hunger of the quiet men and

preyed upon it. Butch men. Effeminate men. Drunks. Some guys searching for sex, others for a husband. Some searching for sex while their husband sipped ten-dollar vodka martinis not ten feet away. Young men, arrogant in their youth and vitality. Old men, cocky with the knowledge that youth and vitality are fleeting. The bartender gave Upton his drink. Five dollars, babe. Upton cringed. Babe. His Uncle Karl had done that. Called all the young nieces and nephews babe or baby or sweetie. Until the men in the family put their collective foot down: Karl was welcome to use those endearments with the girls, but under no circumstances was he to address the boys that way. Uncle Karl had been the familys open secret. They all knew he was gay, but his activities outside of family dinners were never talked about. At least, not in front of the kids. Upton headed to the piano at the rear. On the way he passed a wall of posters from classic movies that had starred Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Rita Hayworth, and Marilyn. A giant replica of Judy Garlands Carnegie Hall concert album occupied a revered place. At the piano, a thunder of voices sang We Need a Little Christmas from Mame, a show hed music-directed on a regional tour a few years back. Men sat on stools, circling the piano, or stood. Those sitting seemed to be in charge, relishing their status as piano bar stars. As if their patronage contributed to the legacy of the songs they were now desecrating. He nudged in closer. He liked the tune and the unique embellishments the pianist added. Upton deigned to join in for the last part, his high tenor freely gliding above and beyond everyone else. The singers applauded themselves at the conclusion, and Upton wondered how many of them had started off as performers before giving up and becoming paralegals. At last. A true musical theater queen. Whereve you been all my life? The man sat next to Upton on a stool, legs crossed elegantly at the knee, his slightly oversized sweatshirt sloping off his shoulder. Wrinkly bags sagged under his eyes and loose skin dripped from his neck and throat. He held a glass with a cherry, a slice of lemon, and an umbrella floating in it. The liquid was pink. Excuse me? Upton said, eyeing the drink and then the man with disdain.

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The way you sing. You have a true affinity for this stuff. You really appreciate it. I can tell. Most of these schmucks dont know musical theater. He waved his free hand dismissively. They think they do. But theyre too young. He gave Upton a suggestive once-over. But you look about the right age. He put his lips to the straw in his glass, looked Upton in the eye, and sipped. Upton wanted to slap him silly, but the prissy queen probably would have enjoyed it too much. The right age for what? The man sighed. A labored and exaggerated outflow of liquor-tinted breath. Sweetheart, havent you been listening? Youre the right age to be a true musical theater queen. One who appreciates the complexities and the style and the pizzazz and the complete and utter fabulousness of that venerable art form. Like me. That makes you a true musical theater queen. The real thing. No nonsense. The genuine hot tamale. At least in my book. He sipped his pink drink. The umbrella bobbed. I would appreciate it if you would not write me into your book, Upton said and then stalked away. He found a boxy space in the jammed bar and stood in it, fuming. A full-size throne sat nearby, unoccupied. The back and seat cushions were pink velvet and sequins blanketed the wooden arms. Cowbells hung off the back. The piano men had moved on to All That Jazz from Chicago (Upton had done that one on Broadway) as the man with the effeminate drink subjected someone else to his once-over. He reminded Upton of Karl. Uncle Karl had always been unconditionally welcome at family gatherings but was never invited to any function that included non-family. He would have been too embarrassing. Upton finished his drink and was about to exit when he saw a lovely young black man standing on the opposite side of the bar, almost directly across from him. Maybe twenty-five years old. Tall. Skin of medium-brown tint. Slender frame, lanky even. Muscles that gently amplified his chest and arms. Legs like the long, slim limbs of a gazelle. He smiled and a certain confidence enveloped him as he surveyed the bar. As the bar surveyed him. With an unexpected surge of resolve, Upton approached the young man. Hi there, he said, a bit tentatively. His usual policy was never to approach someone unless permission had been granted through a smile, a look, a nod. There had

been nothing from this man. Hi! the young man said. Im Scotty. Nice to meet you. Upton. He nodded at Scottys empty glass. Can I get you a drink? Sure, thanks. Sex on the Beach. Excuse me? Sex on the beach? Upton knew he was missing something. What? Im sorry. Its a cocktail, Scotty said. Uptons befuddlement morphed into embarrassment. Scotty probably thought he was dumb or, worse, unhip. Ive never heard of Sex on the Beach. Well, not the drink anyway. He felt like an idiot. But Scotty gave him a shimmering smile. The bartender was slammed with hordes of customers. While he waited, Upton perused the glass display case hanging over the bar. It had ceramic phalluses and faux Greek vases painted with male figures frolicking naughtily with one another. And there was a miniature painting of a scene from an all-male Kama Sutra. He asked for a Sex on the Beach and was mortified by what the bartender slid across the lacquer bar: a glass with pink liquid, a cherry, a lemon slice, and an umbrella. He yearned for that old-fashioned time when drinks were simply rum and coke or scotch and soda. Drinks his dad might have ordered. Where are you from? Upton asked as he handed Scotty his drink. Houston. But I live here. Just moved. Yesterday, in fact! Got in last night. Im an actor. Of course you are. Welcome to the Big Apple. Scotty raised his drink in a toast. Im a New York City girl now. Upton cringed. You just got in last night and you found your way to the Village already. Isnt that de rigueur? Scotty asked. Upton was impressed that someone so young could use a sophisticated phrase correctly. But the impression diminished when Scotty said, I mean, a girl has to get her ass to the Village, right? As soon as she prances off the plane. Scotty laughed at his hearty logic. Upton didnt. What kind of acting do you do? he asked. Comedy. Drama. Shakespeare. Musicals. Childrens theatre. And I direct and I write plays and poetry.

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Upton had dispensed with hospitality, neither asking Scotty to take a seat nor offering refreshments. The young man wandered around, inspecting this and that, tinkling the piano keys, occasionally glancing at Upton, as if waiting for him to initiate something. But Upton just wanted him to leave. He sat on the futon couch. Scotty joined him. Hey, the young man said. Im really sorry about earlier on the train. Ive had a bit to drink and, you know, Im finally in New York. I let my excitement get the best of me. Scotty kissed his cheek and Uptons irritation vanished. He pulled him into his arms and held his beautiful new boy. Oh my god, Scotty said, bolting out of Uptons arms. He approached the Bird of Paradise as if mesmerized. This plantis fabulous. The colors, The train sped toward the Upper East Side, the petals. carrying Upton and his beautiful new boy. He had He stepped back as if scrutinizing an artistic been exquisitely aware of the strut in his walk, his masterpiece. smart-ass smile, the jealous faces scowling at him Im thinking about taking it back to the store, as he and Scotty exited The Windowsill. Upton said. Its too showy. Too flamboyant. Too Ever ridden the subway? Upton asked. Frou-frou, Scotty said. Its really frou-frou. In Nope. This is my virgin ride. a good way. And he nuzzled close against Upton and nested Bingo, Upton thought. The plant was too his head on his shoulder. Upton jerked out from goddamn frou-frou. under him so fast, Scotty nearly toppled onto the I love it, Scotty said. Too bad I dont have a seat. place yet. Id take it since you dont want it. What Stop it, Upton hissed. Were not in the Village can I say? The girl likes exotic flowers. anymore. As soon as the words reeled out of his mouth, They rode the rest of the way in silence, Scotty it was obvious that he knew hed fucked up. a discreet distance from Upton. They were almost Im sorry. I know you dont like that. Ill be more to their stop when Scotty yawned like he hadnt careful slept in months. Scotty. Youre a great kid. Really. But this isnt Jesus, he said. This girl is tired. going to work. The dam broke. Like, what the hell is your problem? Can you do me a favor? Upton said. Can you My problem, Upton said, rising, walking to stop referring to yourself as a girl? the door, is that I want to be with a man, not a The train wheezed to a stop. man who wants to be a girl. Kind of defeats the th th 77 Street. 86 Street will be the next stop, purpose, you know. intoned the automated conductor. Upton hurled the door open with a dramatic This is us, Upton said, rising and brushing sweep of his arm. Im sorry about tonight. Good past Scotty, hoping he wouldnt follow. luck in New York. Scotty looked perplexed, then angry, then just threw up his hands and walked out. Upton closed the door, went over to the plant. Nice place, Scotty said, touring Uptons place. He stood before it as if it was an adversary. FrouMy first time in a New York apartment. A lot frou, huh? different from what we have in Houston. I like this. He went to the wastebasket and rummaged Thanks. through it, looking for the plant store receipt.

Upton was impressed again. He wasnt the only oneScotty was drawing looks from all over the bar. Maybe it was his youth. Or his confidence. Or his delicious body with its tight tummy and full, exuberant ass. What do you do? Scotty asked. Upton didnt want the young actor to like him just because he worked on Broadway. Oh, a little of this, a little of that. So. Actor. Director. Writer. A multi-hyphenate. Thats exciting. Really. What can I say? The new girl in towns got game. You look more like a boy to me, Upton said. And youre new in town. And youre beautiful. That makes you my beautiful new boy.

*****

*****

12

Autumns Pashmina
A Sevenling

By J.lynn Sheridan
The peacock voice carries a note of discord, when heartened lad loves jealous lassie hen She, a glossy icy envy of his illuminati eyes. How I long to scatter your Asian fan upon the breeze. Your seed to plant in my garden snow bed. Id gather the blooms with harmony hands. Then weave them into a pashmina for orphaned foals.

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PICKUP
Yes, once I was in a place like this. Once I was a pickup. Now you imagine I saunter in from the other, knowing side of tawdry sex. But I am not looking for a host for my laugh, my libido, not in this dark, dismembered place that passes for a barroom. Sure the clink of glasses is the clack of parasite legs, and the hours slither into darkness like wiggly things through a crack in your flesh. But the dirty jokes are merely bloody folk tales caught with their pants down. And the beer we guzzle furiously is not the way out of inhibition but mucus skimmed from the hyperactive jaunt of gushing blood and the whiskey is a dark thought, bludgeoned into maturity, stoked by aching fetishes and liquefied. For sure, these are bedroom eyes, but honed and hell-sated in the boudoir of the executioner. And yes, my hands know where to probe, but be warned the erogenous zone is no end in itself but a chasm, a temptation to peer into the dark red explosion of my thoughts. Yes, once I was just like you, imagining that somewhere, in a gauzy dream-like state, I would nudge aside my slinky silks and what was out there would slip deliriously inside me. So I will take you to the place it took me, a steamy paralysis where lips rot at the touch, where scales grow on seduction. Feel the thrill of entering you be damned! I will test the power of what has entered me.

By John Grey

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TREE BY ALISHA WALKER


15

Pinion
O

By Nerine Dorman

utside, in the blue gums, the crows were cawing and flapping, and the geese, no doubt ill at ease with the racket, began to honk and hiss. Surely, Matthys wasnt back yet? A prickle of unease had me set my mending aside and glance toward the doorway where the knobkerrie hung within easy reach. Matthys had taken the musket four days ago when hed left to make a delivery at old Jan Ebens behest. He should have been back by now, but it was past noon already, and I expected hed bring the wain in just before sunset with ale on his breath and cheap floral oils on his clothes. Matthys wasnt a belligerent drunk, but in many ways his silent accusation was worse. That he would malinger at the bordello rather than come home as soon as his work was done still stung despite our inability to bring that fact up in conversation. This wasnt the first time. Im sure it wouldnt be the last. Odd that the dog wasnt barking. I rose and walked across the room so I could lean over the open half-door into the yard. A stranger stood by the pumpa man dressed in a dusty leather coat, his wide-brimmed hat obscuring his features as he patted Missy. The traitorous dogs tail wagged. Can I help you? I called and tried to keep my voice from wobbling. We so very rarely received visitors of any kind. Our holding was at the top of the valley, and the wain trail ended by us. Even the mule drivers preferred the shortcut across the next glen from ours. My unexpected visitor looked up and smiled. Sorry to be a bother, maam, but I was wondering if I might trouble you for a drink of water. A flash of even white teeth greeted me. The knobkerrie was reassuringly close but the man did not look like trouble. I estimated him to be around my age, about twenty summers, and about my height. Wed be evenly matched if there was trouble, but his face was without guile. His skin was the colour of caramel, and he wore his dark blond hair loose and longbrushing his shoulders.

A beautiful man then. How could he hurt me in any way? The dog licked his hand. No trouble then. Right? I realised I was staring, and my face grew warm. Just hang on a minute, I called, then went over to the kitchen table to fetch the pitcher. He must be thirsty, and it was hot out, though it was supposed to be early spring. Here, hold this, I told him. Our fingers brushed as he took the pitcher and held it, as I indicated, over the outlet. He watched me with a curious gaze while I worked the pump a few times. Air spluttered wetly and the pipe gurgled, then cold, clear water splashed into the pitcher. Any other times, Id have stayed at my door and let the visitor help himself, but four days without another soul to speak to made me hunger for company. Even if that soul was a taciturn husband. No trouble at all with this visitor. Missy sat at his feet, expectant. My stranger drank down deep gulps, and water spilled down his cheeks and ran down his neck where the vertebrae of some snake formed a necklace. Strange. The gap in the rusty fabric of his shirt revealed a smooth chest, and I couldnt help but compare this slight man to Matthys broad of shoulder; dull, resentful glares. You dont walk among enough people, Eva. Many thanks, fair lady, he said. I have travelled far, and it is good to find another person wholl treat me kindly. I couldnt place his accentneither northwester or southern, and he enunciated his words carefully. Im hardly a lady, I said with a laugh. A humble goodwife. You are a fair lady to me, and a sight for sore eyes after half a month in the wilderness. He handed the pitcher back to me then swept off his hat and executed a deep bow. Allow me to introduce myself. Jonny Copper at your service, forever indebted to the lady of this most welcome farmstead, standing pon the boundary between the wilds of the Black Cypress mountains and the good, scripture-fearin folk of New Dell. I giggled. I couldnt help myself and pressed the fingers of my left hand to my lips. No one spoke so irreverently here, and while I mightve held unworthy thoughts, Id never had the gall to speak them out loud. Matthys would never approve.

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Its the truth, I tell you, Jonny said. And now that you have my name, I feel that it is fair payment that I learn yours. And dont tell me your husband told you never to speak to strangers. How impertinent of him. To cover my discomfort, I drew more water that Id take into the cabin. I dont see why I should tell you. I couldnt quite hide my smile, however. Yes, Master Copper made me uncomfortable, but he was so at ease with himself; at ease with me, I couldnt help but take a shine to him. My name is Eva. Just Eva? he asked. Eva Hout. But my mother was a Suidkaper, married a Hoorn. Farmers. Jonny Copper whistled. Your bones belong to the earth. What a strange thing to say. And you? He smiled. I blew in with a dust devil and a brace of tumbleweeds. Your accent. I cant place it. Youre not meant to. Im from everywhere and nowhere. His smile revealed small, even teeth. I couldnt help but wonder what theyd feel like biting my flesh. I gazed out, over the veld, so I wouldnt make eye contact with him, but that didnt stop him from regarding me. I am about to prepare dinner. You are welcome to my table. The words were out of my mouth before I had a chance to consider them, and I walked briskly back to my dwelling without looking back. What possessed me? Was it not enough that Id gone to speak to a strange man whod appeared in our front yard? Matthys could return at any moment to find Jonny Copper here, and then what? But part of me was reckless. I think I wanted Matthys to arrive. I wanted that confrontation. Better that, than the eternal stagnation in which we found ourselvesor so I could tell myself. Jonny Copper followed me into the house and dumped his coat, hat, and duffel bag on the floor by the door. He seated himself by the table, and I shifted my sewing things and laid down a tin plate and mug. The coffee didnt take long to heat, and I busied myself in the kitchen putting more wood on the fire and preparing a simple meal of smoked venison and toasted farm bread with pickled onions. Jonny watched my movements with bright eyes. You are lonely here while your husband is away. You have no young ones? My hackles were up in an instant and I stopped my preparations so I could glare at him. Of all the sore teeth to poke at, that was one Id prefer

to avoid. Whats it to you? I didnt want to be reminded of the four small graves beneath the lightning-struck oak. He shrugged. Merely an observation. Most women in your situation would have at least two or three by now. I cant conceive. Not exactly a lie. I hadnt conceived in more than a year. Not after the last miscarriage. Perhaps thats why I was so reckless now, inviting a man into my house in the vain hope of what? That hed touch me with tenderness? Jonny Copper was a comely man in his ragtag way. Quick hands. Youthful features. What would he see in a somewhat drab goodwife? Yet a woman could hope, could she not? Or perhaps I was being a fool hankering after romantic dreams of fairy princes on moon-grey chargers come to whisk me away from a lifetime of drudgery. If anything, this would be a mere flirtation with something I could never have. Tomorrow, Jonny Copper would be gone. Id wake to Matthyss midnight fumblings, his huffing, sweating body as he groped and pawed blindly at my flesh. Oh, Jonny said to me, and I had to take pause for a moment to snatch at our discussion. I am most sorry to hear that. It is no problem. You learn to get by. No one to inherit the holding from Matthys, no son to continue his name. Of course it was a problema big one. Not that we could do anything about it. Perhaps we might foster an orphan from New Dell in a few years when it became clear no children would quicken in my womb. I watched Jonny eat while I pretended to be busy with my mending. My guest was intent on his meal and devoured his food like a man whod starved for months. Every once in a while, Id glance at the window, but the yard remained resolutely empty. An entire afternoon stretched ahead of me. The moon was almost full and would be up a few hours after sunset. Knowing Matthys, hed wait for moonrise then return home when thered be more than enough light to follow the track home. Why was I considering all these things? Because the years had taught me? Because I hoped for something more from this stranger seated in my husbands chair? Jonny pushed aside his plate. Youre not eating. Im not hungry, I replied. Your eyes tell a different story.

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It is no business of yours, Master Copper, I told him. I would offer coin to pay for this meal, but have none. Therefore I would offer other currency and perhaps sate your hunger. I snorted my surprise and shoved back my chair. Was he suggesting what I suspected? Jonnys eyes gleamed with mischief. Why else would a lonesome goodwife invite a strange man into her home and bid him sit in her husbands chair? My cheeks burned and I rose to my feet. You presume too much. With that, I grabbed the plate and took it to the pail containing the dirty dishes. I could not bring myself to face him. Stupid, foolish Eva. Biting off more than she can chew. I remained by the hearth, my back stiff as I gazed out the window. I could see as far as the tracks bend where the golden sandstone cliffs curved toward the Buiten holding. My husband will be home soon. You should go. Really, Eva. Youre not fooling me. You started this game. You might as well finish playing it. I wont bite. Much. Laughter danced in his words. Just. Go. True, I mightve started this game, but I could no longer go through with it. Why, I dont know. I hated admitting that Id had ulterior motives all along. To not do so would mean lying to myself. Chair legs squeaked on the dung-and-pip floor, and for a moment, I was certain hed do the right thingthe honourable thingand leave me be. But I felt his heat behind me before he placed one hand lightly on top of mine. His skin was soft, and the scent of leather and bitter herbs clung to him. I inhaled sharply and allowed him to tug me around. Jonny Coppers eyes echoed his name, and I allowed myself to be mesmerised by the concern I fancied I saw lodged there. I was all too aware of how close he stood, of his maleness, of the wildness that clung to him. Here was no slow, work-roughened man old and warped before his time. Jonny Copper was a jackal, fleet of foot and filled with secrets. Am I that repugnant? he asked. I darent admit that I didnt know what he meant by that word, but I couldnt pull away from me. Im sorry if I suggested that... My stomach clenched, accompanied by an unaccustomed tightness in my woman parts. I tingled, and my skin felt too tight. Jonny was male, so close to me. While my mind fought against knowing what he could do to me, what I wanted him to do to me, my traitorous body was all too quick to remind me of what I missed.

What would it feel like to have a man to fill me with passion for a change, to have his lips graze mine and his hot mouth on my nipples? I groaned. A beautiful, fierce man like this? Who was to tell of this tryst? Jonny brought his hand up and slid his fingers slowly down my cheek. All I ask is one kiss. Mute, I nodded and, like a cat, I arched against him, my flesh alive to his touch. His kiss captured my lips, his tongue flickering along the seam of my lips as his other hand found its way to my hip. He parted my legs with his thigh, and I thrilled at the forbidden contact, of the aching need of having him pressed against me. I drowned in his kisses, the way his tongue quested and tangled with mine, his lips bruising me. He trailed small nibbles down my throat while I ground myself against him, pinned helpless against his body, the wall to my back. The buttons of my dress proved no challenge and, before I knew it, those hot hungry kisses found their way along my shoulder then to below my collarbone. He cupped my breasts and when his lips and tongue found my nipples, I couldnt help but cry out. Jonny Copper looked up with a feral grin. No man has ever kissed you like that, has he, my lady love? I... Robbed of words, I allowed him to lead me to the bed where he laid me down on my back. He shucked his shirt and I marvelled at the smoothness of his skin and the small spiral design that had somehow been inked in red on his left shoulder. I followed his cue and removed my dress and undergarments, and allowed myself a small smirk at his frank appraisal. Despite my earlier misgivings, now that I was committed, I could not pretend to be a blushing virgin. And I gave myself to him over and over again that afternoon like a wanton, revelling in each touch, each caress, until spent, we dozed in each others arms. A curious lassitude crept over my limbs, and my consciousness fled to the realm of the dream king.

he beating of wings woke me. That, and the muggy breeze that stirred the drapes. The sun was long gone and I sat up, my head heavy and my body leaden, aching all over. A flutter of blackand-white feathers drew my attention to the pied

18

crow perched on the sill. The birds harsh calls were loud in the enclosed space of my one-roomed home. Then the creature exploded into flight, gone in a frenzy of wings. Memories oozed to the fore, of limbs entangled, my skin creamy against Jonnys darker tone. Burnished eyes sought my own and I felt the phantom stirrings of his hard length inside me, leaving my thighs sticky with his seed. Of the man, there was no sight. Hed gone, along with his things, and the only other sign of his being there were the dirty dishes and the door that stood ajar. That, and a single flight feather gleaming with an oily sheen on the ground outside the front steps. I pulled on my dress but didnt button it all the way up, and with feet bare, padded onto the veranda. Bruised-purple clouds bulged in the sky, and in the southeast, the first violet-white flickering of lightning promised an unseasonable thunderstorm. Twelve heartbeats elapsed between the flash and the distant grumble. The storm would be here soon. The air was alive with the scent of thirstland bush, heavy with the promise of rain. Some cold, logical part of me suggested it would do me no good to await Matthyss arrival looking like a slattern, but I couldnt bring myself to care. I stood until jagged fingers of lightning arced across the sky directly above and the first heavy drops darkened the hard-packed dirt. When the downpour came, I allowed it to sluice me with its lukewarm tears while I thrilled in the ozone-laden air that shook and groaned with each hammer fall. I slept well that night, wrapped in sheets that smelled of sex and Jonny Coppers musk.

A plucky little man in his deep sixties, Reverend Saul was still vital, despite his age. He served our far-flung community well, and while I had no great love of the interminable monthly communion services, I didnt harbour any ill feelings toward him. I just didnt have any special feeling for or against his church. Maybe Id lived out here in the wilderness too long and the big sky had filled me with emptiness rather than an apprehension of any holy spirit. The reverend clambered from his buggy, his expression serious as he approached and stopped five paces from me, his hands clasped before him. He dipped his head. Goodwife Eva. Reverend, I responded and kept my eyes downcast. Can we go inside? he asked. Im afraid I bear grave news. My breath hitched at those fateful words and I dared to lift my gaze. You can tell me now, here. Matthys. The man gave an unhappy little sigh. Last night. In the storm... A rushing filled my ears, like the beating of wings, and I heard only random words. Lightning. Horse spooked. Overturned. Neck broken. Sorry. He tried to console me but I pulled back from his embrace. I didnt want him to see my smile. I should be a grieving widow. I should cry and tear at my hair, but I had a hard time disguising my laughter as sobs. A good wife would feel sorrow. All I felt was as though a great sickness had run its course, and my limbs turned to water and sank away into the earth.

think of Jonny Copper again when a murder of pied crows calls in the oaks and the idmorning, I was hanging up the first northwester shakes the last of their leaves laundry round the back when Missy began barking from the branches. like the end of the world was arriving. That was the My belly is as swollen first time Id felt the vaguest stirrings of unease. as the gibbous moon Matthys still wasnt home. I hurried to the front rising on the eastern in time to see Reverend Sauls buggy approach horizon. The jackals down the pear avenue. Odd. He was only due to sing me to sleep each night. Inside, my heart collect tithe next week. If hed somehow had word of yesterday... beats with the wing Impossible, though I couldnt help a small niggle sweeps of a black bird. of guilt, and I clutched my arms across my chest His eyes are bright and while I waited for the reverend to pull up in my burnished, his beak a dagger dipped in blood. yard.

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Wedding Day
by John Grey Who invited the woman in black to the wedding? Who said formal for most, gothic for one? Shes in the back row, black hair, black veiled, in a sleek black gown that ties tight at the neck like a noose. I stand before the altar, muttering the words the priest feeds me like stale bread to sparrows. But I cant help glancing over my left shoulder. For better stands at my side, smiling nervously. For worse sits ominously behind tearful aunts, solemn uncles. The Wedding March plays. Its a dirge in Mendelssohns clothing.
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MINOTAUR SPEAKS
By Jnana Hodson

you know none of my taste for the absurd clam of conjuncture the repeated clumsy photo relating their death sentence and mine the desire to leave all this behind but one or two dragged off into the brush Im reclaiming, besides who has time for intrigue in such short lives intersecting

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IN NOAH S DEFENSE
By Julie Barclay
Last night, Noah excitedly waved a National Geographic in front of my face. Noah: They found it! They found it! Me: Found what? Noah: The Titanic! And they found it in the ocean! Me: (Silently muttering) Dear God His enthusiasm gets an A+. His knowledge of world historywellhes not quite meeting standards. Its excusable though, because in truth, the first six years of Noahs life, he was living under a sedimentary rock formed with layers of death, poverty, and basic survival. Little did I know when I walked down the jet bridge holding hands with Noah in Ethiopiathat when I exited ten hours later in Amsterdam, we would be introducing him to a world so new, so fluorescent, so busy, he would hardly have time to breathe. Addis Ababas airport is bare bones. No Welcome to Ethiopia store, no Starbucks. No people movers. No drinking fountains. When we boarded the plane, Noah blinked rapidly, squinted from the bright lights from above, and settled into his seat with nervous energy. He was George of the Jungle leaving the only jungle he ever knew.When the KLM pilot flipped on the safety video, Noah jumped back, startled that the tiny grey box mounted on the seat in front of him came to life. With each direction the stewardess pointed in the video, Noah would follow. His eyes would lock in on the EXIT signs and then swiftly he would return to face the video and speak to the lady in his native Amharic language, nodding and assuring her he had indeed checked that safetyprocedure off his list. He slid off his seat to sit on the floor in front of him and then placed his head under the cushion to locate his floatation device. He then returned to his seat, faced the video, and again spoke to the lady in Amharic, nodding and assuring her he had checked that safely procedure off his list. Quickly and enthusiastically, Noah was learning. When we arrived in Amsterdam, we were weary and still had a long flight ahead of us.Marching toward our connecting concourse, we hopped aboard the moving sidewalks, thinking nothing of the fact that Noah had barely walked on a sidewalk, let alone one that moved for him. One second hes upthe next second he is downsprawled across the moving sidewalk with his arms spread wide and legs extended straight behind him. The only thing missing was a red cape or he would have been mistaken for Superman. I guess he was also missing a smile too, because the look of terror across his

22

face at the situation he was in was like no other. My friend Cindy was behind him and quickly picked him up and carried him off the human conveyor belt. The next time we came across a moving sidewalk, I motioned to Noah we could walk along side it. He shook his head and hopped aboard, this time holding on to both handrails and staying upright the entire length of the sidewalk. When he hopped off at the other end, he had a smile as bright as the fluorescent lights above him. Quickly and enthusiastically, Noah was learning. Once we settled into a corner of the airport to wait out our six or so hour layover, thesmall group we were traveling with took shifts watching over Noah and Melat, another WACAP adoptee, but not before we found a drinking fountain. Fresh, safe, clean water at our disposal.Something we missed during our time in Ethiopia. Once again, without thought, I walked up to the drinking fountain with Noah and took a sip. Noahs eyes grew wide. I looked down at him, smiled, and pressed the button again. A stream of cool, clean water arched out of the fountain. Noahs eyes grew wider. He walked over to the wall and examined it with his long, slender fingers. He got on his knees to glance underneath. He stood up and quickly pressed the button and giggled when a stream of water spit out of the hole. Cause and effect. He pressed the button again, this time for five seconds. He didnt drink the water.He just watched it.I could just see his brain in motion. Water. In the wall?I encouraged him to drink it, but he was unsure.Water where he came from meant illness and sometimes death.I leaned down and tookanother sip. Cindy did the same. And then Noah did. Soon a sip turned into a gulp. A gulp turned into gulps. Quickly and enthusiastically, Noah was learning. It wasnt until we were home that I realized how big this adventure truly was. We adopted this boy from a simple existence and dropped him dead center into the world of reality TV, where he had to work overtime to decipher what was fact and what was fiction. He watched a few minutes of the movie Titanic, but then a few days later, he saw that same guy on an old episode of Growing Pains. If the guy was still alive then the Titanic didnt really sink. Dont even get me started on how Hannah Montana completely confounded him. I still dont think hes figured that one out. In all honesty, for several months, we just watched cartoons, because it was a lot easier on his thought process. Tom and Jerry fought, argued, played the banjo, and enlisted in the army, but they were cartoons. They werent real. Reality was a very confusing concept. Ive been with Noah for just about every single step of his journey in America. So when Noah comes up to me excited that hes composed a new song, only to find out Pachabel composed it three-hundred-fifty years earlier, or that the Titanic had been found, on the bottom of the ocean no less, I cant help but smile, because in Noahs defense just like that first leg of his journey four year ago, he continues to discover something new, quickly and enthusiastically, every single day of his life.

23

WAITING By Kevin J. Mackey


Quiet, dark, and cold. The cold that grips the heart, paralyzes the will. I sit, silent. Soft sounds from beside the bed, from beside other beds, mark the minutes, mark the hours. The beep-beep of a heart monitor. Further away, the sigh of a breathing machine. Soft-soled shoes as someone passes on the way to another bedside. The sounds of an Intensive Care Unit, late at night. I watch. My fathers face is calm as something like sleep comes. Earlier, there was strain, struggle. The crease between his brows, deep then, is easing now. Mine deepens to compensate. I stand and stretch, quietly, so as not to disturb and in my mind, I pick up the chair and smash it against the wall. But I dont. I pace; holding myself in, holding myself together. Another passes along the space between the curtained beds and the wall. We briefly exchange glances, shared pain recognized. And look away. No smiles. There are few smiles on faces in an ICU, and none at this time of night. I sit again and reach out to touch his hand. Hands once so strong. Strong still, I discover, as his hand closes reflexively in mine. But then it was he who held me, to guard against dangers. Now I hold him and wonder if I have it in me to guard against the dangers of this night. I look at him again. Pain crosses his face. Pain that resonates within me, squeezes my heart, stills my breathing. We are bound by more than hand, by more than blood. We are bound by shared history, measured in decades. Bonds that cannot be broken, but that, I fear, may unravel. I begin to talk, quietly, subvocalizing. I must not disturb others. He would not approve. He will not hear me. But does it matter? I need to hear what I say. To say the things that should have passed between us before now. Before then. Before what may come. I talk and talk. Nothing important is said, nothing revealed. Just talk. The talk, the simple commerce

It is the quiet part of the night.

between two people. The simple commerce that is so difficult between two so alike. I talk in the depth of the night and some of the fear is kept at bay, kept outside the circle. He sleeps and my heart rate slows, the tightness in my face eases, a little. They come. Nothing special. Just a regular check. Wordlessly, with sympathy on carefully neutral faces, they ease me away from his bed. I go, holding my new calmness tightly in my clenched fists. They need ten minutes. I need to walk, to pace, to move. I check the time. It is too early to call the others. They will be here later, whether I call or not. To call would be to speak. To communicate. To connect. But no. I wrap my solitude around me. Later. Later will be time enough to talk. I pace the corridor, seeing everything but little registering. Passing the small waiting room I see someone there, stretched out on the couch, not sleeping. I turn away and continue pacing. To intrude would be impolite. After forever, I make my way back to the ICU. They have finished. They have been finished for some time. Pain strikes suddenly. I have left him alone, alone to face the night. I move to him, knowing how impatient he would be with such nonsense. Aware myself how ridiculous the idea is. But still I hurry to his side. He lies there. Cleaned, his condition recorded, medication adjusted. The indignities of his situation. For that alone, a deep wound opens within me and I wordlessly rage against Fate. I bargain; if he recovers, I will knowing how futile such bargains are. I force untenable conclusions; if he has a good night, that means and hear his calm logic in my head, deconstructing my argument. So I sit and hold on, to his hand, to my pain, to hope. Dawn comes and there is movement out on the floor. The night is ending and the murmuring of the shift change reaches me. I look up and catch a glimpse of his face. Pain crosses it as he moves from not-quite-sleep to the not-quite-awake state he has been in for days. I look down the long tunnel of the past with him, remembering. I look forward, but the future is dark and unclear. The others will be here soon. He has made it through this night. Can he make it through another? Can I?

24

A N S W E R I N G
The phone resonates: Silence. Such a spiteful word, it permeates my thoughts . . .

A N

E M p t Y

R O O M

By A. J. Huffman

You are not there again today. Bandaged by my voice, you regained a hold on your sense of being. Bounded off to break new borders of buoyancy. Once again, I am left. Sedentary in the saltless silt of your wake. I am waiting for a return you never planned. You never thought to glance back at my drowning. Not waving -even over your shoulder -- was the sign: I was denied. Now I am through. Being incidental to anything. I deserve to shine. Alone, I have tied my wrists to the wind. We wail together. Twisting the sounds into a pseudo-sanity, I survive this day; this desertion; this . . . Good-bye.

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K
A

E Y
By Erik Hane

s she sits at the table in the living room of her second-floor apartment, Gloria begins to feel more than a little slighted, considering the fact that she sits alone. Shes been aware of her solitude for exactly eighteen minutes; this is how long ago her husband, Henry, was supposed to have shown up for cards. Today is Henrys and her anniversary, and since she knows that he has never been one for too much celebration, all she has asked for is a couple games. Shes cleaned off the card table to play Double Solitaire, and shes growing increasingly impatient as she waits for him, again. Gloria has put a little bit of sugar in his coffee, which he likes; shes closed the windows so its quiet, which he likes; shes even shuffled the cards for a solid minute to make sure they are adequately mixed, which, more than anything, he likes. The tuna sandwiches she has made for the both of them have been sitting out, and they give off a fishy aroma. She wrings her hands as she sits; she should have known he would break their date again, he always does. Henry is usually just a couple minutes late for things, enough for Gloria to feel the slight twinge of insult each time but not enough for her to do anything about it. But twinges add up, and today Gloria tallies them. Gloria feels her face flush a bit. Eighteen minutes is the latest Henry has ever been, the largest slight twinge yet. Today, she has reached her tipping point. Love is in the little things, she has always told herself, the small gestures made or not made that say more than words ever could. After thirty years of marriage, his gestures are speaking loud and clear. She looks down at the table again, the places she set for the two of them, the deck of cards she has already cut so that she could have smiled at him when he asked. It occurs to her that she might be too old to be feeling like this. Gloria feels ashamed. This mixture of heartache and anger has Gloria staring across the room, at the piano that sits next to the window. Henry loves that piano. hes a terrific pianist; right now though, the thing just seems to be sitting there and insulting her. Theres been a thought thats been crossing her mind lately, a nasty one, she knows, and it might even be as impossible as it is unreasonable. She remembers quite clearly the day that the piano was hoisted by two strong men up the stairs and into their apartment. It fit through the door, just barely. They had carried the cumbersome load, so as to avoid scratching the new floors. She looks at the now-weathered floor, at its scratches and

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scuffs and dirt; it is no longer new. All of this in mind, Gloria is convinced that, were she to work at it, she could push the piano out of here. Shes done rationalizing, because shes done that for years. She wants it out, she wants him out, and if she has to spend all day pushing and shoving a mass many times her weight to make it happen, so be it. She stands, abandoning the cards and the coffee, and walks over to the instrument, inspecting it, feeling its weight.

In a small townhouse down the street, a television blares, and Jamie watches as an anvil falls from the sky and strikes the storys animated protagonist on the head, causing the talking rabbits body to compress like an accordion as he walks in a circle, confused. Jamie is seventeen and still wonders how the anvil never misses its mark. He and his grandmother are preparing for brunch, as they do every Sunday. Shes a woman of particulars, a woman who insists that the cartoons be on the television on Sunday mornings because thats how it has always been, from back when Jamie was just visiting and didnt live with her, even though her grandson is now old enough to drive a car. Shes in the kitchen and has the refrigerator door open and turns to face Jamie after several minutes of searching the cold shelves. Jamie? she asks. She sounds concerned. Yes, Mother? he answers. He calls her Mother because, as she puts it, there were too many people calling her too many names. She also believes that boys should always have someone in their lives with that title. I think we are out of milk. Her eyes appear genuinely troubled. Jamie responds, but knows it is in vain. Maybe we can drink something else with brunch today? We have orange juice; that might be nice, right? He knows that to Mother, it wont be. But what will Goodness drink? Goodness is, perhaps was, Mothers cat. The animal got her name the night Mother brought her home and asked Jamie to help name her, just a few weeks after Jamies parents had died and

he had moved in. The new cat was meant to be something to uplift the both of them, a strange emotional substitute, as if the pain of loss would be tolerable as long as they designated some other being to replace what went missing. Jamie had suggested to her that she name it the best thing you can think of. Every morning, Mother pours a full bowl of milk and sets in on the floor for her cat, not because Goodness has ever liked milk, because the cat doesnt, but because Mother feels like she should. Every night, Mother picks up that same bowl and pours it down the drain. Milk goes quickly in this house. And every Sunday, Mother pours the bowl and two glasses of milk for brunch, because theres something to be said for everyone drinking the same thing. Goodness hasnt been home for ten days. The cat has been known to leave for extended periods of time, wandering the neighborhood or rooting through trashcans, but she has always eventually come home. As she has grown increasingly nervous, Mother constantly tells herself and Jamie that the reason for the extended leave of absence is because Goodness has found something especially interesting, and she cant wait for the cat to come home and tell her all about it. Its the sort of blind hope that aims to put off acceptance of truth. Jamie feels pretty sure that the leave of absence comes from the wrist shot that Goodness took to her back leg when she tried to cross through a game of hockey he and his friends were playing in the street. Jamie was the one who had shot the puck, not seeing the animal at first, and he had initially yelled in delight after he did; the shot had deflected off Goodnesss leg into the goal. The cat had limped out of the street amidst the yelling and cheers, heading into some secluded alleyway. Jamie thinks Goodness is dead. With that in mind, Jamie picks his next words carefully. Why dont we first see if Goodness comes home today, then get some milk for her? We wouldnt want to waste any. Quite simply, he feels too guilty to tell her what happened. But what would happen if today is the day she comes home, and she has no milk? Shed probably just leave again if that happened, and that wouldnt be nice. This is the source of Jamies guilt; Mother seems to blame herself for

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the cat leaving, a cat that already has enough emotion ascribed to it in the first place. She loves Goodness, and as far as he can tell, the cat is now the only thing she loves other than Jamie. For her, the rest is ritual, planned routines for days that only prove significant because of her grandson and her cat that she doesnt know has been injured by her grandson. Mother wont show it, because she almost never shows anything but concern for the preservation of the way things are supposed to go, but she needs Goodness back. She needs to be able to pour the milk and wonder if it will be drunk, rather than knowing it wont but pouring anyway. I guess Ill go get some, then, Jamie responds. Its a strange way to handle a guilty conscience, he knows, performing a chore as if the reason for the chore still lives. He picks up his coat. Mother smiles. Do hurry, we wouldnt want to wait for too long. Concern in her eyes again. She glances toward her back window, where the table in the backyard is visible; the table is fully set, glasses and plates and silverware, which wouldnt be strange except for the fact that right now it is probably forty-five degrees outside. But brunch is always outside. As Jamie opens the front door and steps out, he hears more crashing noises from the television. An exploding birthday cake in the face of its recipient, one that reduces the cartoon pigs face to a blinking and blackened mess. A scene of chaos in a house meticulously built on order. Mother closes the door behind him and he begins his walk to the store. He hears the many locks on Mothers front door being clicked into place: a slider, a turn, a bolt, and a chain, all mechanisms meant to keep things how they are. The air is brisk on his ears. Brunch, he thinks, will be cold.

even believe shes been able to push it the short distance that she has; the original idea had been, at least in some part, theoretical. Gloria isnt exactly a strong woman, physically anyway, and shes only been able to move the large mass about a foot across the floor. The scraping noise was terrible. For a second, she has the instinctual thought that this sort of chore would best be left to Henry. This idea disappears quickly. She considers forgetting the whole thing when she thinks about how rash this must seem. Henry will probably be home soon, and what would he think if he came in and saw his piano pushed halfway toward the door? Most likely, he will be holding flowers or some other token of apology, as if roses make up for the self-consciousness of sitting alone and waiting, or chocolates cancel out the feeling of neglect. What is this, he would ask; its nothing, she would answerand soon they would be playing cards after Henry pushed the piano back into place, carrying on as if nothing had happened, like they always do. Gloria doesnt want this, not today. He should know how she feels, just how deep each slight jab has hurt her, and she should know for herself that shes capable of doing such a thing, pushing a piano out of a home because its owner was eighteen minutes late. The whole problem is the undeniable fact that she loves Henry with everything she has; this, probably, is why she hurts like she does. She begins searching the kitchen for mats upon which to place the legs of the piano, because perhaps they will slide better that way. Gloria takes a quick look out the window toward the street below, just to make sure Henry hasnt arrived. Nothing but some garbage cans, a parked car, and a dirty stray cat.

But it is getting warmer in Glorias apartment. Shes broken a light sweat, both from building up the nerve to actually do something as brash as this and from the fact that pushing a piano is proving to be quite difficult. Really, she cant

That cat stands at the base of the garbage can, looking up at the tall plastic cylinder and smelling the food left within it. Its anyones guess as to what a cat is feeling at a given moment, but this one seems to be feeling desperate. Goodness circles the can, or limps, rather, since her left hind leg still cant support

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any weight; she cant talk, but if she could, she would perhaps tell someone that it is broken. This is why Goodness hasnt been home. Theres a fence around Mothers house, a fence she usually jumps without thinking twice. Now though, she can barely muster the strength to walk. Her leg drags as she moves, wandering through alleys, limping along sidewalks, getting anywhere she can that might have something to eat. Goodness is damp from rain and dirty from dragging herself through the mud and grime of streets. If animals can reach truth or understanding, and who really knows if they can or cant, Goodness is perhaps realizing that this might be it. Shes picked through all her various food spots throughout the last week, and she cant reach any more of them because of her leg. She walks away from this latest garbage can, defeated once again. There seems to be some acceptance in the way the starving cat slinks as she walks, though that slumping of posture could also simply be fatigue. Goodness wanders the earth, downtrodden, dirty, and resigned, and with some imagining, its possible to think that Goodness is preparing herself for the end.

Jamie cant decide whats worse, the cold on his bare ears or the gnawing guilt in his stomach about this whole thing. His ears go numb and he forgets about them, effectively answering the question. Hes nearly at the store, just another block or so to go. Apartments and small homes move past him, a drycleaners, the bus stop he waits at before school. The morning feels sharp, the air crisp and thin enough that each sound seems amplified and distinct. Jamie speeds up as he passes by one apartment building, because theres a scraping sound coming from up the stairs that sounds grating and cacophonous. He arrives at the store and walks inside. The dairy aisle is near the back, which he knows quite well considering that he only ever comes here to buy milk. Jamie stops and surveys his options. He runs his hands through his dark hair when

he sees that the specific brand and type of milk that Mother prefers is not in stock; apparently, the carton with the smiling, winking cow leaping over the sun is quite popular. Its strange, Jamie thinks, that people wish their animals to have human traits and expressions. Beings are what they are. He remembers the cartoon that had been on the television this morning, the one he had watched with tired skepticism. Those animals had been talking, gesturing, even walking upright; yet somehow, this sort of bizarre premise had always seemed reasonable to Jamie. The problems began to occur once that initial leap in logic was made, because once you accepted that the pig wore a three-piece suit and spoke English and was like you, anything could happen. Anvils could fall from the sky. Knowing Mother, a reasonable substitute for the typical milk brand could be difficult to find, though all milk is probably the same when it is poured down a sink. This doesnt matter, because Mother would gladly pour carton after carton of milk down the drain without thinking twice, as long as the milk was the same and the time of night at which she poured was too. This tears at Jamie; she wasnt always this way. Not before he had to move in. And it will only get worse now, he knows, because in her mind, Goodness left because of some detail she forgot about, or some part of the pattern that went neglected for too long. Things go wrong when there are variables. He considers leaving empty-handed, walking home, and simply telling Mother that they didnt have the kind she wanted. Hed tell her that Goodness isnt coming home because Goodness is probably dead, and this isnt her fault and neither is any of it, these things just happen and they always will. Her response could go one of two ways: either she understands and they vow to start anew, or she acts as if she hasnt heard him and instructs him to go sit down outside, because the food is getting cold. This second avenue is infinitely more likely, and he knows it. Jamie continues looking for the best milk choice. Hes nearly at the register with his selection, a glass bottle that could be considered fancy, when Jamie nearly collides with another man

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rushing in from outside. The man is moving quite quickly for how old he looks, and his forehead glistens with sweat. Jamie is happy to let him cut in front; hes certainly not trying to get home too quickly. The man bolts straight for the flower section, looking flustered and uncomfortable. Jamie wonders if this man is looking for a miracle as much as he is.

outside their door and then a set of stairs that leads straight down to the street. Gloria walks to the edge, looking down at the cold February day below. The thirty-two steps seem like a cliff as she stares at them, a distance that suddenly separates more than just floors. A piano that simply rests in the hall can be pushed back inside. Gloria moves the piano closer to the edge of the stairs, trembling like the white keys on the treble clef do with each shove.

Gloria figured that the hardest part of shoving a piano across an apartment would obviously be the physical nature of the chore; she was wrong. Shes made good progress in the task, as shes nearly to the point that she should think about opening the front door. Her breath has become short, but it has nothing to do with the manual labor. During her last big shove, her perspiring hand had slipped from its position and landed on one of the black keys, a high F-sharp that suddenly has her remembering the song Henry had played for her that time it snowed all day last March. Gloria becomes a bit irritated with herself; didnt she figure this was going to happen? She pushes it another inch, just to renew her resolve. She looks forward at the closed door, half of her wishing it would open from the other side to reveal Henry, half of her hoping that, in a few minutes, it will be her that opens it and shoves the piano out. Glorias body has begun to ache. She cant remember the last time she endured this kind of physical strain, and it makes her feel lonely; she wishes Henry were here to help, which, of course, is the point behind all of this. This pushing hasnt served the purpose she thought it would, because what started out as anger has morphed into nostalgia. Maybe the act is less about removing him and his things, and more about showing him. Showing him what, she isnt quite sure, but shes certain he needs to see it. After another minute, the piano is at the very edge of the doors swing radius. She steps to the other side of the instrument and opens the door, the smell of tuna and anxiety mixing with the smell of February. Theres a short hallway

Whether it is some form of grappling with impending death or simply the faint smell of tuna, no one can know; either way, something has Goodness walking toward an apartment building she has never been to before. She pulls herself across the street without looking in either direction before crossing, not concerned with the puddle that soaks the fur of her broken leg. In a few minutes, Goodness has arrived at a set of stairs. As the cat sets her right front paw on the first stair, it is unclear whether Goodness gives a moments thought to Mother, or Jamie, or the bowl of milk shes never wanted. Presumably, it was the brief wafting smell of tuna that had Goodness walking in this direction, though that has since faded, meaning the cat places her other front paw on the step entirely on her own volition. It is common imagery that, in the moments immediately following death, a persons spirit rises; whether Goodness the cat possesses such a presence to her being cant be known, but perhaps this is some similar form of ascension. When death is involved, gravity pulls up. She places three legs on each progressively higher step, dragging the fourth as she climbs. Theres no food or water at the top, or shelter; her senses should tell her that, shouldnt they? Somehow, shes almost at the top, and she looks completely spent. On each step, Goodness seems to decide that no, this isnt the right place, eight inches higher really would be better. Instincts cant explain this, at least not base ones, unless Goodness isnt sure whether her spirit will rise on its own, meaning she

30

better make herself ascend now, just in case. Shes reached the top and seems relieved by level ground. A large, dark mass lies in front of her, and she moves toward it.

Jamie is back outside, and the chilled bottle of milk feels cold against his exposed hand. He has decided that what would be best is for him to walk in to his house, sit Mother down (preferably inside, which she wont like), and explain to her that Goodness is dead and that the both of them should begin the process of moving on. The conversation might prove difficult, even impossible for a while, but this cannot continue, this repetition as a means of insulation. The milk is different; thats certainly a starting point. Up ahead he can see the apartment building where he had heard the scraping noise, and is profoundly relieved to notice its absence. The quiet is too simple to be called an omen, too ordinary. Unless ordinary is what he and Mother have needed this whole time, not a miracle but instead the utter lack of one, some solid ground from which to build. His guilt begins to subside a bit at the thought that maybe this whole thing was for the best.

heads back out into the hallway. As she turns the corner out the door, she sees something move and it excites her, maybe its Henry coming up the stairs, she can just explain it to him now The movement has not come from her spouse of thirty years, however. A cat, the same dirty one she saw before, stands in the few feet of hallway between the piano and the stairs. It stands motionless, looking quite pathetic. Gloria wonders, for a second, if this is how she looks when she waits. The brief surge of shame fuels her and she moves forward, the pit of her stomach rising as she approaches the piano and shoves it one last time, with no regard to the instrument, its owner, or the cat that stands in front of it. The strength she summons for the task feels definitive to her. Shes sorry, she thinks for a split second as if he can hear, shes sorry but this is the only way.

Shes going to do it, Gloria keeps telling herself, shes actually going to do it. Gloria still stands behind the piano, which sits a few feet from the edge of the first step down. The image that keeps replaying in her head involves her giving the instrument a push, then it somehow appearing at the bottom of the stairs, unscathed; she cant bring herself to visualize the in-between. Gloria convinces herself that she needs to take a moment to walk back briefly into her apartment for a glass of water. Maybe something to drink will calm her nerves. Maybe Henry will come home. She finishes about half her glass when she decides that this prolonging is only making the job more difficult. She puts the water down and

This must be death, Goodness must be thinking as the large black mass comes moving toward her, pinning her against the drop of the stairs with nowhere to go but up. The cat reacts instinctually, pressing her weight on her hind legs, even the broken one, and jumping straight into the air. The pain must be excruciating. She lands on the right side of the keys, a dissonant and garbled collection of high notes sounding as she presses her weight upon them. But right as Goodness gains her uncertain balance, the surface on which she stands begins to slope downhill, gaining speed, bouncing violently and making strange and dissonant sounds, and if this is death, which it must be, then who knew it would be so earsplitting and move in this direction

f
Jamie stops in his tracks as his hair stands suddenly on end, and he wonders what in heaven could possibly be making such an awful noise behind him. The few seconds it takes to turn feel like forever. By the time he is able to

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whip his body around to face the direction of the sound, all has gone brutally silent, his ears ringing as he stares in shock at a sight he cannot believe. A piano in tatters, keys strewn about the sidewalk and adjacent street, one leg broken, the instrument still vibrating from the assault on its strings. A car driving by has stopped to stare as well, and several pedestrians stop with their dogs on the other side of the street. Everything is frozen. All Jamie can think to do is switch the bottle of milk to his other hand; he nearly dropped it because of the sweat on his palm. His body still shakes as he moves forward to investigate. Jamie runs his hands along the splintered wood, picking up one of the keys and wondering where along the keyboard it previously rested. He cant shake the idea of how strange it is that this falling object seems to have missed its mark, whoever or whatever it was. Perhaps it was him, meaning that, for the first time he has ever been aware of, someone dodged the anvil. Whats even more shocking to Jamie though is not the broken instrument before him, but what he now sees resting inside it on the bent strings. Goodness the cat has curled herself into a tight ball in the corner of the inner part of the piano. Shes up against a splintered wooden wall, and one of her legs, the one Jamie hit, sticks out strangely and has slid between some of the contorted strings. For a second, he thinks the animal is dead, until he sees it shiver, just slightly. Still too dumbfounded to do anything but react, Jamie sets down the bottle of milk and reaches both hands in, taking hold of the trembling cat and pulling it toward him. Goodness is alive. He can feel the animals ribs, and he wonders how long it has been since shes eaten anything. Jamie looks up, trying to find the pianos source. He glances first, for just a second, at the sky. His eyes then move toward the staircase, and his vision moves gradually up the flight of stairs to the top. A woman stands there, looking downward; shes elderly, wide-eyed, and looks to be upset by the occurrence, but not surprised. The two make eye contact, and Jamie feels peculiar about looking up at the

being who dropped the anvil. He looks away, not even pretending to know what to say. As his vision settles once again at street level, he notices another figure approaching the scene. The same man from the grocery store, pink roses in hand, walks toward him with a look of utter dismay. Mouth agape, he examines the broken piano, touching it with what Jamie guesses is familiarity. When the man peers inside the instrument and sees its irreparablydamaged strings, his grip loosens on the roses and they fall to the ground, pale pink scattered amidst harsh black and white. The man looks up the stairs, his eyes stricken with what appears to be grief. Jamie watches as the woman at the top of the stairs and the man next to him make eye contact. Every few seconds, one of them turns their vision to look at Jamie, then back to the other person. None of them move. Tentatively, the man bends down and picks up one of the roses lying on the sidewalk; he looks both at the woman and at Jamie, as if to make sure the movement is okay. He takes a step toward the stairs. The woman at the top doesnt flinch, but Jamie can see her face starting to soften as the man slowly walks. The triangle is broken, and Jamie looks down at the cat in his arms. He needs to get Goodness home. If he hurries, perhaps the cat can eat something and maybe live, maybe they can rush her to an animal hospital, maybe its irrelevant. Mother needs this and so does he, this empirical evidence that he believes could be both an end and a beginning. For some reason, the labored breathing of the cat suggests to Jamie that the animal has come to grips with any outcome that awaits her. Jamie picks up the bottle and begins to walk home, the milk in one arm, the cat to justify it in the other. Jamie walks away, Goodness shaking in his arms as she clings to life; he cant quite tell how long she has, maybe a few more seconds, perhaps several more years, but either way, it is quite simply her presence that Jamie feels certain is the key to the start of something new.

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EFFIN GOLD BY ALISHA WALKER


33

After
By Jane Hertenstein
sodden tissue. Seeing it there didnt diffuse her seismic anger. The tremors and shaking, the nausea and twisted, aching gut.

She threw his toothbrush in the toilet. It bobbed along the surface, along with After the miscarriage.

down the rain-slicked steps. And everything that comes with love and being in love.

It was beyond her control. The universe, accidents, pushing and pulling, slipping Last week, shed dropped his toothpaste tube into the trash can. She couldnt Like how shed shredded his shirt left strung over the hanging bar rather than

stand it, not for another minute, the way it oozed alien blue, as if it were a wound bleeding over the cabinet above the sink. The mess everywhere.

on a hanger. It absolutely drove her into a frenzy. She tore at and attempted to rip it but only bruised her hands when she gave up and pounded the walls. It was like she couldnt get enough pain. She drove the heel of her shoe into the fabric, which did nothing. Finally, she yanked open a drawer and caught the sleeve on the runners to make a square-angle tear. Later, she crawled to the back of the closet to muffle her cries with the shirt clutched in her knuckled hands.

downstairs, having fallen asleep on the couch, and she awake in bed, the shirt stuffed under the kitchen sink behind detergents and cleansers, she was at a loss. When did it all start?

Hours later, after hed come home, after dinner, after the Late Show, he She only knows what came after.
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A Cup of Ceylon
By William Doreski
Tea time. My tape recorder, notebook, and pencil are lost. Youve disorganized yourself and me so thoroughly the walls have become porous, and weep a thousand pastels. The back door lacks stairs to the yard three steps below my normal stride. A man shaped like a compost heap grins because hes your latest conquest and has returned to renew his luck. Tea time, the kettle whispers a thousand little whispers fading before I can interpret them. You direct your boyfriend down to the cellar, nail the door shut. When hes ripe enough youll skewer his best organs and braise them on the propane grill this winter, and dry the rest of him for jerky. I wanted to keep a journal on tape or on a microchip, take notes on local politics with a reporters keen sharp pencil. But youve wrapped your favorite scarf around your least human smile, have donned your blackest winter coat, prepared to leave me puzzling over that clay figure Brancusi forgot to fire, a sculpture of me rendered in the year of my birth. Tea time. Sit with a cup of Ceylon and explain the weeping of walls and recite the exact contents of the journal I havent kept. I dont blame you for your black winter coat, your sly expression; but I fear your forthcoming absence will leave me naked as seafood and almost more illiterate.

35

Temporary
By Katrina K. Guarascio
He is in love before he ever arrives on the bus. I know it. I might not want to admit it to myself, but in my gut, I know. I try to convince myself it is just a visit. Ethan is looking at prospects, at real estate, meeting old friends and community members, and I am the addition, the couch to crash on, the new friend to spend some extra time. But I am the reason he is crossing over five hundred miles to this lonely city for a mere three day rendezvous. It is foolish to think otherwise, and I am not foolish; I just do foolish things. It will be two days before Ethan can conjure the courage to tell me. He first says it while making love on Sunday afternoon, in a hushed, sweaty whisper. I hear him but pretend not to. After all, words grunted in the heat of passion can hardly be taken seriously. But that is his intention, that is the reason he came: to fall in love, and I, foolishly, let him. I am not interested in love. The last thing I want is love or to be loved again. The intensity of love I received over my meager life seems overwrought with the sorrow of its eventual disappointment. It was something of which I want no part. It is the idea of a temporary meeting, a timed visit, a weekend rendezvous that holds my interest. Love is a dirty word on my lips; it does not hold my interest. I am interested in him. I am interested in the story behind the tattoos that covered arms and chest. I like the way his eyes reflect my image like cut crystal. I am drawn to the familiarity of him; even upon our first meeting, he radiated an intimacy like a long lost friend. I want to touch him, to taste him, to connect, to understand, to heal, and be healed in return. It is a foolish wish. Regardless of my anticipation to know him better, a week before Ethans inevitable arrival, luck or loneliness placed me at the mercy of another mans embrace. It was one of those things that just happen when loud music, too much alcohol, and no place to be presents itself in a way that makes a neglected girl feel beautiful. Mark had worked diligently all night to get me and my friends to his house when the bars closed. He had been just as sly to twist me into a corner when my friends went out to meet the cab and drive home. He was passionate, and I was starving. He wanted me to stay, and I, foolishly, let it happen. The attention was new. The ability to say yes was new. Never in my life did I have the freedom to just let the moment happen. There had always been someone waiting at home. There had always been an obligation, a responsibility, a commitment to consider, but not now. Despite the conversations and flirtations with Ethan over the three previous months, we were not bound to each other, which is why it was easy to spend last Saturday night temporarily tangled up in the bed of a man whom I meet less than a handful of times. Which is why this weekend, I was able to pick up a different man from the bus station and take him home to an empty apartment. And it is going well, this little rendezvous with Ethan. A mini honeymoon with the man behind Door Number One. Within a half hour of his arrival, he grips me, wrapping his lips to mine. He is just as starved as I. I push him aside and tell him, I was planning on playing coy. Then I offer a shy smile and add, but fuck it. I stand and walk to the bedroom, pulling my shirt over my head as I go. Come on, Ill show you my new tattoo.

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It is new, clumsy, sweet, and, I know, temporary. It is a glimpse, a taste, not built to last. After all, the bus he came in on Friday afternoon will be rolling out Monday night. There was a strange sort of comfort that comes with that knowledge, a certain freedom that allows me to drop inhibitions. Knowing he is in love with me is frightening, but at the same time, empowering. In his arms, I am special, worshiped, what I say matters, my requests are so easily met, again and again. The fact that his time here is limited gives me permission to ask what I otherwise cannot. It was strange to think about having different men in my life. The idea of dating in general was a new concept. That one could have a wonderful night, a passionate weekend, with a person and have it never really manifest into anything permanent. It was strange to have men interested and to have options. I considered seeing Mark again, he already called once, and Ethan, well who knew what would become of his infatuation if I let him continue to fall. I didnt really know the rules of this dating thing, I didnt know how to play; it was only inevitable for a backfire to occur. On Saturday night, I take Ethan downtown to a bar where a friends band is playing. We meet up with a group and spend the evening drinking cheap beer and working our way through awkward conversation. But near the end of the night, I see Mark there. It is nothing strange or unusual. We all run with the same crowd. I say hi and gave him a hug in the most casual of ways, how I would have done if the events of the previous Saturday had not occurred. And he is the same, friendly and nonchalant. Although it sets my mind at ease, I am still compelled to invite my group of friends and weekend lover back to my apartment for an after party to avoid any possible meetings. Of course, everyone is invited; it is one of those nights. And it is going well. I am the happy hostess, with friends in my yard and a man who adores me at my arm. On nights like that, I often stood back and watched the people around me. I couldnt imagine what stroke of luck had brought these peoplewhom I adored, whom I wanted so badly to be a part ofto my house, into my life. I knew it would not last. Nothing did. I was merely playing the part of someone I thought I could be. Someone I wanted to be.

What did it matter if it was all a charade? If it was all temporary?


It is after two when yet another wayward group arrive at my apartment door, hungry to hold on to the night, and, although I am tired and already thinking about work on Monday morning, I let them in. Always the good host. But in this particular group, due to luck or loneliness an additional unexpected member, Mark, wanders through the door. Boy, I made out with last weekend, please meet boy Im making out with this weekend, are not the exact words I use when I introduce Mark to Ethan, but they are the ones running through my head. All I can think about is how to get out of this terrible situation, run for the hills. I need the show to end now so I have a week gripping the cliffhanger to figure out a proper course of action. What is our heroine to do? Instead of over-thinking it, I avoid it. Standing near the back of the room, away from both Mark and Ethan, I focus on talking with the other party members. There are enough people here. Nobody belongs to anybody. I am not the kind of girl to allow men to hang on me, although Ethan probably would if I let him. Everyone is drinking, smoking, losing attention, soon they will be meandering home. This party is only temporary and it will be over soon. Soon, I will be alone again with Ethan, Door Number One, and we will spend the rest of the weekend learning each others physical triggers. Then on Monday, he will leave. It is temporary and will be over soon.

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But he loves me. Even though it will still be another twentyfour hours before he will first grunt the words, I know. Ive known since he first said he wanted to visit, during their last few conversations, since the day we met. I also know that it isnt really me he is in love with, but the idea, the infatuation, the flirtation. I am not a foolish girl, I just do foolish things. And I am not a cruel person. My feelings, perhaps undeveloped, are still affectionate and honest, and just because love has manifested into a curse word in my own vocabulary, synonymous with punishment, obligation, pain, I know it isnt the same for Ethan. I want to protect him from the cruel knowledge that taints my heart. I couldnt stand to watch another man shatter before my eyes. So when Ethan and Mark begin to get a little too close for comfort, I approach Ethan, put an arm around his back, and ask him to have a cigarette with me, out front, where we can be alone. On the front porch in two separate chairs, staring out at the street, listening to the embers of the after party, we sit in silence. It will be over soon. I look at him and offer a tired smile. I have nothing to say, never did. It is then that Mark stumbles out the front door. I tense. Of course, Mark came over looking for a repeat of last Saturday. Of course, he wasnt expecting me to be there with someone else. I am not foolish enough to believe it is just some awkward coincidence. Mark is drunk and announces he is heading home, on foot, even though he lives miles away. I offer to call him a cab, but he refuses, saying he needs the fresh air. He shakes Ethans hand, tips his hat to him. He takes my hand and kisses it. Always a pleasure, he slurps. I let him go; watch him intently as he stumbles down the front path to the street, leaving me and Door Number One in our temporary situation. I should feel relieved the night has ended sans drama, and in a way I am, but in another way I feel sick. What am I doing here? How did I get here? I dont belong. The fear of hurting these foolish men who think they care about me pushes tears against my eyes, or maybe I am just tired. It is then the song begins to play on the radio. The sweet romance of it spilling all over my front porch. Ethan says to me from the darkness, Ive always loved this song. Me too, I reply with my tired smile. I remember when it came out, how I always wanted to have someone to think about when it played. A moment to remember that this song reminded me of. And I think I probably had been with someone when the song came out. I probably had been telling someone always, love, forever, or some other meaningless jargon that added up to nothing. Ethan reaches for my hand and squeezes it. Now I have that, he says. And it sounds so nice, but when I look at him, all I see are the eyes of the last man who had been foolish enough to fall in love with me, the ache he wore when I left, the way he tried to hide his tears, and how he never even considered what it meant to be temporary. How I broke that man whom I loved so much, how love had almost destroyed him, destroyed us both. And now, here is Ethan with that look, already in love before he ever got off that bus. I will tell him over and over how it isnt forever, how I will only hurt him, how I am broken, and all of it is only temporary. Eventually, he would say those words. It would be on a winters night nearly two years later. A night where our blood boiled in the back bedroom and our bodies robbed each other of all innocence. I repeat these fears and he would tell me not to worry. All that matters is right now, this moment, dont think about anything else. I would weep quietly with relief against the heave of his body as he consumed me, and I would love him more in that moment than ever before. Two months later, I would ask him to stop calling and he would, without argument, without a fight, leaving us to mend broken hearts five hundred miles apart. But he doesnt say those words that Saturday night, and I cant muster the courage to speak my mind either, so we sit there. Next to each other in separate chairs, not touching, not talking, just staring at the street and listening to the thick syrup of a romantic song that will end at any moment.

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CHILDS TOY BY ALISHA WALKER


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Blue Your Eyes


By Joan McNerney

Blue your eyes this edge of snow in silent sky. Brown eyes soft tree bark patterns as yellow flicks sparkle in wintry sun. And now it seems your eyes are green green as spruce turning to grey eyes glancing across as if from a mountainside. Your eyes two violets hidden beneath frost. Close your eyes as sleepless stars glide through night in aerial ballet. Black coal eyes glowing on fire red flames leaping out of eyes burning blue your eyes.

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No lne Smokes Anymore


By Daniel Davis Jessie comes out of the gas station with his fly open again. I zip it up for him. This worlds going to hell, he says, tearing the wrapper off a pack of cigarettes and shaking one out. This guy in the bathroom, I asked him if I could bum a smoke, and you know what he said? He waits, because he always expects an answer to rhetorical questions. Ive never been able to explain the concept to him, so I just shrug. He said, Who fucking smokes these days? Can you believe that? Right in my face. Like he wanted to beat me just cause I like to smoke. Jessie pulls his Jack Daniels lighter from his pocket. Ive got one that says Budweiser. Hes whiskey, Im beer. We never confuse our lighters. He offers me a smoke but I decline. Im trying to quit, but Jessie doesnt know that. Im not sure how to break it to him. When I told him I was quitting my job at the steakhouse because I wanted to go to school on the East Coast, that was easy.

When I thought I might be pregnant, that was easy. But telling him I dont think smoking is good for me and that I want to catch up with the rest of the world? Hed never understand. I tell you, Jessie says then stops and turns around. Through the glass door, I can see the cashier glaring at us. Shit, Jessie says, and we move fifteen feet away from the entrance, just like the small red sign tells us to. Its probably a smart move anyways; right next to the door are the propane tanks. I tell you, he says again. You cant even smoke indoors in this state anymore. Hows that even legal? Say some guy owns a bar and he wants to let people smoke. Doesnt he have the right to let them smoke in there? I think theyre worried about secondhand smoke, I tell him, wishing I had a pop or something. Caffeine has helped my nerves this past week. Quitting hasnt been as hard as Id thought, but it hasnt been as easy as Id like it to be, either. Jessie snorts. Second-hand smoke. Fuck that. Its that Governor Ryan. He outlawed smoking, and now hes in jail. Were following laws set by a crook. Shouldnt all of his laws be repealed or something? Youll be able to smoke in New York, I tell him, though Im pretty sure its not true. Ill be able to do a lot of things in New York. He rubs the back of my head, a little too aggressively, but thats okay because hes worked up. I could be a cab driver. Ill smoke in my own cab. Ill make so much in tips, because Ill let other people smoke, that well have a nice apartment in no time. You can do your lit studies thing, and I can drive around and get material for your stories. Sound like a plan? I smile and rub my head against his shoulder, thinking that it does sound like a good idea. Im not stupid; I know it wont

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work that way. Theyll never let him smoke in his cab, for one thing. And Im not even sure yet which school I want to go to. I have my eye on a couple of community colleges, and my parents are providing some financial backing, but Ill have to work for a while. I can bartend; Im only twentyone, but I worked at a downtown bar here in Chelmsford where they didnt really care what my age was. There are a lot of bars in New York, and they can always use more bartenders. And Im betting guys tip better in the big city. It stands to reason. I cant believe were finally getting out, Jessie says, and theres a note of sorrow in his voice. Im surprisednot because of the emotion, but because hes showing it. I know part of him doesnt want to go; hes lived here his entire life, just like me. Hes never been to New York. Im not sure hes been beyond the far side of Indiana. I havent either. Im excited and scared at the same time, and I know Jessie is too but its not like him to break confidence. I look up at his face and follow his gaze. Theres his car, loaded up with everything weve decided is worth taking with us. Across the street is another gas station, one thats been closed for four years. Nothing has moved in. There was talk of a liquor store once, but nothing came of it. Now there are just boards in the windows and abandoned pumps out front. I dated a guy in high school who worked there. He got robbed one night. Swears he saw a gun poking out from the robbers coat. Just handed over all the money, didnt say anything, and the guy left. I believed the story at the time; now, I dont really care. Jessies cigarette trembles in his lips. I take it from him and put it between my own. It feels natural, like a blanket I had as a child. I take a small drag, being careful not to inhale. Then I give it back, disappointed. Id thought I would want it

more, but surrendering it is easy. Maybe I never enjoyed smoking after all. Maybe I was ahead of the curve. Like the gas station, I feel as though this town has abandoned me. I cant say why. I still have friends here, and I will miss them. Ill miss my job even, and my family, and the familiar sights and sounds. The simple pleasure of wandering into someone at Wal-Mart you havent seen in a while. Therell be no familiar faces in New York. Itll be lonely, even with Jessie there. Ill have doubts, Ill call my mother every night, Ill cry and consider dropping everything and going back home, and Jessie will say that hell do whatever I want, because secretly he wants the same thing. I know all this, but it isnt stopping me. I wish I knew why; I could take strength in the understanding. But I dont know, and so I stare at that gas station, forgotten and shut up and tossed aside, and I wonder how long until my parents house is like that, until the steakhouse is like that, until the town has forgotten itself entirely. These things happen. Jessie takes a deep drag on the cigarette, so hard that, even as I feel his chest constrict, sucking me into his body, I can also hear it, wet and sloppy. Im reminded why I stoppedit is, when you pass the initial pleasure and the buzz that lasts you a few hours, thoroughly disgusting. Hell with it, Jessie says. That bastard got to me. You know where hes going in life? Nowhere. He was born here and hell die here. He kisses the top of my head and says, You know what, Kim? You know where were going? New York City. Well make a life there, a real life. Tell me, what could possibly be better than that? Smoke drifts across my face. His arm pulls me tighter as he waits for an answer, but I say nothing.

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Muse
By Loukia M. Janavaras

What is it like knowing you have opened me from the inside tapped deep releasing an outpour captured only in craft a form you can take away as your own a souvenir embodying our journey.

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Dance Dance
Revolution
By Christopher Dizon

What should have come naturally disappeared into the catalogue upstairs between his hairy ears and beneath the crown of his fishing hat. Before hed gotten to the point of crossing the top of his capital T, his hand trembled under the smiling face of the receptionist. He wasnt fooled, and Tobias saw patience in that smirk that was leaking through and draining away. He thought of his wife before hed circled an O in blue ink, meeting the original starting point of where the pen touched the paper and finished with something that looked more like an awkward apple. He wrote in fast celebrity cursive, immaculately curvy and pretentiously illegible, an autograph font restricted for the rich and famous. When he got toward the looping arch of the I, Tobias thought of his daughter Ida and paused. At the end of the I, a dot of ink slowly expanded and then exploded into a blue lake of splotchy nostalgia before he moved on. When he finished, he pushed the top end of the ballpoint pen and made the nib disappear. Tobias looked at his shoes. They were brand new, stiff and untainted. When he saw the small shine around the curve of where his pinky toe would be, he wiggled it in response, proving its existence. The receptionist handed him a numbered sign and a towel, and as Tobias looked toward the machine surrounded by red velvet ropes, he remembered why he was there. Above the machine, a fixed display of numbers radiated yellow with an electrical type of permanence. Underneath the power-driven plaque was another number that slowly increased closer towards the time etched above it. It was Tobiass clock and the numbers slowly climbed higher, in red. The world record was

sixteen hours, eighteen minutes, and nine seconds; Tobias was one hour away from shattering that. He marched in place and occasionally used his arms, sporadically swatting away at music notes, as if their presence annoyed him. He did his best to hold back because he had to remind himself that this was really a marathon and not a dance. Tobias was going to be the worlds champion of stamina, the one person to play to Dance Dance Revolution longer than anyone. There were nine panels below his feet, but Tobias concentrated on the ones that glimmered. Tobias was wheezing. The whistling sound of his breath sounded like snoring, and he wanted nothing more than to lie down and rest. With the rhythm of the music and the thumping of the bass, the blue arrows of up and down pulsed a welcoming touch. On screen, two single arrows in pink scrolled down on top of one another and pointed to the left. The old man anticipated the move and synchronized his brittle legs to travel left in the right direction, Tobias stepped twice. Efforts added from his hands were far from necessary. The game only required coordinated foot movements, but this was dancing, like the game said, and the old man wanted to play his part. A difficult combination rose above the screen. Down, right, up, right, left, up, down. It was directional mayhem, navigational chaos. Tobias shuffled accordingly and smiled. He added an extra turn and crossed his legs to spin, lost his balance, and fell back against the security of the rail. Smooth move, geezer! said Alex. He was thirteen years old, the current title holder. The adolescent champion was looking at Tobias, smiling wide with his arms crossed. Tobias looked back for a second and noticed food stuck in the kids braces. He wiped his brow with the small towel that hung from his back pocket. It was moist and heavy from sweat, and it seemed pointless to hold now, but it was habit. Tobias turned back toward the machine, inserted four tokens, and chose another song. Youre good for an old fart, but you should hurry up and die already. Youll never beat my record. The old man saluted the kid with his right hand, wrinkled with callouses and ancient scars, memories of damage that had been done and would never go away. There were liver spots around the start of his thumb and his fingers ached in protest as the three mangled brothers bent forward to create one half of a peace sign. Without turning around, he mouthed the words and whispered to himself. Tobias flipped him off. Fuck you. The small crowd of three

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laughed, and Tobias chose another song. There were two officials, a balding man in a bowling shirt and the receptionist, a woman wearing a blouse with shoulder pads. There was the arcade clerk standing at the desk of prizes that could be traded in for tickets: stuffed animals, plastic parachute men, and frogs that hopped when you tipped the back end of their tabtails. The clerk had long hair and wore his baseball cap backwards. He leaned on glass and watched TV, ignoring the countdown that slowly went upwards. In between steps, Tobias looked over at the clerk and ignored the colored treats suspended in the glass. He didnt care about the medal he would receive simply for participating, or even the tall trophy reserved for the grand prize winner. He huffed and shuffled and looked back at the clerk, who was ignoring him. Through his foggy bifocals, he looked at the leather shoes, now broken in, and found resolve. No one cheered him on. Except for the music, the room was quiet, and he wished for an ocean of noise just so that he could make out one or even two familiar voices. In the realm of acknowledgement, there was only the menacing kid, looking on, jealous and hateful. You dance like shit old man! yelled Alex. The main reason why Tobias was there, galloping in place, burning with a painful expiration date, ready to elapse around his knees, and ignoring the murderous intent of slightly obese thirteen year old, was because of Patrick Swayze. On a Friday, a week after his wifes funeral, his daughter handed him a worn cardboard box. She was five then and took her mothers spot at the couch where the two of them sat in between a satellite dish full of popcorn. Together they watched Dirty Dancing and pretended as if nothing had changed. One handful at a time, they filled their bellies with salty fluff that served as their dinner. There was enough popcorn for three people and the two of them ignored the extra portion split amongst them. Between the crunching that broke silence, they watched Johnny teach Baby the intricate patterns of Salsa, and then in front of everyone, hed lifted her toward the ceiling. Tobiass face was moist with sweat and he licked his lips. He tasted salt and butter and heaved through the artificial enamel inside his mouth. There were only forty-five minutes left, and he was reserved to staying basic. Soon, he would destroy Alex Skudlarek and become immortal. The Guinness Book of World Records would recognize his name and hed be remembered before he could forget. A lineup of coupled arrows scrolled upward onscreen. You jumped here, and Tobias hopped in sync with the pad beneath him. He felt the proof of solemnity in his knees and throbbed. His score was

growing. Points accumulated. He listened to a Japanese girl sing the lyrics to the song he stepped to in uncooperative English. The Ls in hello sounded like Rs, but Tobias had gotten used to the sound and memorized the lyrics. It was his 134th time playing the song that day, and he was sick of it. He was 83 years old and staring at a large monitor with a blonde girl in a plaid skirt, condensed in polygons. She clapped her hands and moved side to side, waving her blurry body to the beat alongside him. Her rendered smile never changed, and Tobias thought of his daughter and felt a little less alone. The girl on screen was beautiful in a magazine kind of way, the way Ida wanted to look before it all ended. When the red clock hit the thirty-minute mark, Tobias remembered his daughter. He danced on the panels beneath him and saw a montage of pictures of her within his mind. Tobias thought about shopping days and holding her hand while they walked through the mall. Whenever they walked past a toy store, she pointed toward the entrance and begged to go inside. When he said no, she went limp with her tiny hand still holding on to Tobias. The pull of gravity weighed down on her, and she implied her mass upon him with waterworks, and screamed. When the arch of her screaming hit its highest point, Tobias flinched and reflexively shrugged his shoulders. It was the turtle effect, a vain act of retracting his neck into the body of his shell that withheld entrance. Tobias had looked around at the passing shoppers pushing carriages, eating French fries, and having it easy. It was daytime and there were no men around, only females cradling babies like footballs in clusters of two or three. Ida clung to his hand trying to weigh him down so that they couldnt move on, and Tobias noticed the fanny packs around all the women and wondered what it was that they carried around in the pouches zipped around their stomachs. Laced around the hips of the strangers and in the bags, he imagined candy and band aids, car keys and animal crackers, and other unidentifiable items of bliss he didnt have and would have forgotten, even if he had a list. Inside those bags were all of the things he needed and none of the things he had and only knew of. Hed looked at the tiny wrist connected to his daughter, the miniature parody of fingers that disappeared into his hand. The answers were in those bags, all the right things he never said, all the solutions he never thought of. Tobias had held onto to the accumulation of sighs in his throat and given in. When he said okay, the little girls tears went dry and her performance seized. A

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strategic smirk took the place of the morbid howl and Tobias saw the gaps in his daughters smile; he wished that imaginary things like tooth fairies were real. They walked out of the toy store with a plastic woman in a princess dress, four horses for her to take care of, and a castle made of Legos for them to build and live in. On the walk to the car, there she was still smiling and missing teethand a mother, but none of that mattered. The red clock soared and Tobias thought of the day he stood outside a bathroom in the hall. Hed picked Ida up from school that day, her pants soaked red from the unprompted surprise of growing up. A female teacher was inside with her, and Tobias folded his hands, scratched his head, and mildew formed in the grout between the tiles. He pinched the lint inside his pockets then looked up towards the ceiling, counting the number of lights and wondering what it was that his wife would have done differently. There was the night she showed up with her first boyfriend, and where he did his best impression of an imposing figure. He sharpened an array of knives in the kitchen, a value pack bought the day before just so the boy would get the picture. There was a serrated knife for bread and eight tiny metal soldiers dedicated to the slicing of steaks, and it was more than they needed because it was only the two of them. With an apron on, Tobias had rubbed the stone against a cleaver and looked at the boy standing next to his daughter. Dont fuck this up, kid. Tobias chose another song and thought about the time he fucked up. He thought about the time he bent down to tie his shoe and looked up to find that Ida had disappeared. The old man, a middle-aged man back then, panicked and swiveled around in circles at the park. He went inside the tube slide, expecting her to be hurt and needing him. He looked up at the trees, thinking that shed climbed too high and needed rescuing. When hed surrendered to the picnic benches and run out of options, he sat down and smelled the freshness of the lawn around him and cried. Tobias didnt know what he was doing. Here, Daddy. His daughter handed him an ice cream cone. Shed licked the green mountain away on her own cone without looking at him. I bought you ice cream. He was moving faster and matching the tempo to Paranoia. There were other moments he stood outside the bathroom, thinking about his daughter and what should come next. Hed found junk food hidden under her bed. Individually wrapped pastries hidden behind

the undisclosed locations of their home, like Easter eggs shrouded for discovery. There were melted chocolate bars under her pillows, bent from the heat of being forgotten and solidly permanent in an awkward alignment, after being discovered. Giant bags of familysize Doritos lay deflated like birthday balloons, only a day after hed bought them. Tobias thought about the retching sounds in the hallway, at night, and the tired circles that formed around his daughters eyes. The red clock ascended and Tobias was fifteen minutes away. He wanted his inhaler but he couldnt slow down now. Dont push it, geezer. Youll get a heart attack! said Alex. The next song was Pink Dinosaur, and Tobias thought back to Idas funeral. He remembered the casket lowering and how every minute of that day crept slowly. No matter how many times he told himself that this wasnt happening, the world wasnt listening, and the priest read on while the crowd of people in black looked down and cried. In the movies, funerals were only a few minutes long, but for Tobias, he lived through that funeral every day after. His suit was blue, but no one said anything. There was nothing to say about that, but for Ida there was everything. The world was backwards. He grasped the roses picked from the garden in his yard that morning, with the thorns still present, and concentrated on the trickle and sting that pricked his right hand. Tobias was supposed to throw the flowers into the hole, but he held on. For the second time in his life, hed believed that it should have been him being lowered instead. Ten minutes stood between Tobias and the world record. His feet were sore and the moist circles around his armpits extended outward. His sky-blue shirt, buttoned up and tucked in, was soaked a deeper hue of ocean. Holy shit. I think that dinosaur is gonna do it! said the clerk. Oldest nerd on the planet, said the balding man. I hope he pulls it off, said the lady with the shoulder pads. Fuck him, said Alex. Tobias looked at the reflection in his bifocals and watched as Alex crossed his arms and adjusted his hat. He was wearing the wrong footwear; the agony pulsating below his argyle socks told him so. It would have been easier to wear tennis shoes or running sneakers. The cushiony mattress soles would have absorbed the bouncing. Even his Velcro shoes, strapped together with the tightening ease of a child, would have made the mission more comfortable. Yet, comfort wasnt the point. There was something romantic about doing things the hard way, and he

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matched each step in accordance with the waterfall of directions onscreen. He was dancing now, with the shoes his daughter had given him, a pair he would have creased in circles with his wife. The new shoe smell was gone and the squeak of being broken in had dissolved away from his feet. It wasnt too late. Tobias could dance like Ida had wanted him to. He was doing that now. Tobias inserted four more tokens and thought about the moments when hed fallen apart. Hed ordered breakfast at Dennys and was surprised to find that he ordered bacon. When he walked by the photographs of his daughter in the living room, the images of her became blurry and unfamiliar. Hed stared and saw the development of her happiness progress. His daughter was smiling at five, fifteen, and twenty-three, and Tobias wondered what he had said while holding the camera to inspire each momentary instance of delight. He remembered, at some point, having a hard time with pants and how the concept of one leg at a time seemed too complex, too daunting. There was wandering at night. Tobias was often in the act of finding his way home in a neighborhood that should have been familiar, but wasnt. Things that he watched on television became real: The steel chairs wrestlers hurled did hurt and the outcome of every match did matter. Tobias had to reschedule missed appointments and strain his eyes when looking at the phone numbers on the fridge and ask himself repeatedly, why was he dialing in the first place? At some point, he forgot how to use spoons and argued more with strangers about trivial thingsthe day of the week to mark off on the calendar, who was the president of the United States of America and whether or not Michael Jackson was black or white. A tiny incision mixed into the sweat soaked into his socks. You couldnt tell by looking, but Tobias knew from the pain. The shoes were making things harder on him, but he took the pain as a reminder, a medal he wore while navigating through the hail of arrows. When Ida turned 16, shed bought him the shoes with money saved from the part-time trade off of flipping burgers. Now you can learn to dance Daddy, like Mama always wanted. He remembered liking them, even though they looked more like bowling shoes than any kind of fashionable footwear designed for dance. Tobias felt guilty and wanted her to use the money on herself, and she cried when hed told her to return them. Shed kept the shoes hidden and Tobias unearthed them the day after her funeral. Deep within her closet,

amongst moldy pastries turned green and king-sized candy bars not conquered, he found them. The floor seemed to flicker brighter now. Underneath his dimpled wingtip shoes, a colorful array of fireworks told him which way to go. This was nothing like Patrick Swayzes last scene. This was his Billie Jean moment, and things were backwards. The spots in which Tobias stepped became illuminated by his touch; it was the other way around. This was the way things were, the way they always had been, and he danced knowing that. Tobias forgot about conservation and the ration of energy he stored for the end. He crossed his legs and jumped when he could have lightly tapped. He balled his fossil fingers into fists, held them up to his chest, and stirred the air in front of him. The Cabbage Patch. He went deeper into his cabinet of signature moves, and with his palms on his knees, the old man criss-crossed back and forth. The Charleston. He did the robot and lost all capacity aligned with human emotion. Tobias froze from a sudden malfunction with his elbow locked and swayed from the momentum lost from movement, and when the beat kicked in, his programming revived and he rebooted. As his dance moves became more intricate, his accuracy declined. Tobias was stepping out of sync. He was missing beats and his combo trail of 143 significant attempts crumbled. What the fuck is he doing? Grandpa is losing it on purpose! said Alex. I thought you wanted him to lose, said the clerk. I do, but whats the point of giving up after all that? He was only five minutes away now, and the screen flashed yellow, then red with warnings. Tobias was in danger of losing it all, and he was ignoring the arrows beneath him, stepping where he wanted to, the way he liked. He spun and tapped, missed the match up of his feet to the floor like the monitor demanded, and yet the polygon girl on screen was screen was still smiling. An alarm went off prompting more caution, but Tobias continued to dance like no one was watching. Nothing was familiar, and his wife wasnt there. Ida wasnt either, but he would have lifted her into the sky and held her as long as he could. Tobias tossed his remaining tokens in the air and looked up. The old man concentrated on the hail of spinning disks and ignored the monitor, the glow of the paneled floor, and the crowd of three with one adolescent kid among them. There were just his shoes and the revolving coins flipping infinitely towards head and tails. Heads and tails.

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Addiction
with such bitterness blowing through my veins where the bandages blossomed in time while track marks completed the discourse of my pain addicted again to the angels shielding the softness such is this skin inside where the sadness seeps like a sun creeping across darkened sky its rays penetrating desolate air like swaying such is this sorrow no where near a stranger adding its supply of salt to the silence of secreting unclosable wounds but then gates again in the garden guardian of what still remains unopened just the same they enter uninvited but when the wings come this time to embrace you not evade you carried like a cloud across gentle sky with just a pin-prick the pain subsides the sea of sorrow streams into serene guides for this addiction has no end just remission until the veins of pain bleed flowing and in the arms of the angels you again cascade

By James Leo Sheridan

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OKLAHOMA OUTSIDE BY ALISHA WALKER


49

She Lounges Hungrily


By Sy Roth
inamorata of the deep frozen into their thousand-year dreams, feed wryly upon one another. champagne remembrances, asexual canoodling and noisy their pomposity accompanied by a cacophonic ocean. this passel of blue mussels are adrift on their final ocean. in their bunkers of rotting plaster and heroic busts, the lovers rattle old sabres fusty with the weight of their incarceration, musky relics that she will wrest from them. bunker tunnels echo with their ancient thoughts tattooed on deadened lips. last dances as they cavort on tables, amid lusty wishes of forgetfulness. their illusions rocked by boomlets, baying soldiers, and armies that raze the living into fetid mounds. unabashed adoration remains scattered in the silence of abandonment. they prepare themselves for the meal the world must have while she lounges hungrily in a corner. loss lazes like a grimy dish rag on a spent stove.

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THE ART OF THE SCIENTIST BY DR. ERNEST WILLIAMSON III

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By Brendan Sullivan

Drive, he said take me to the open road my father knew, and I will build a home upon my back. I shall call it dare and make its bricks from red Georgia clay and fashion windows and doors from white birch. I will paint the ceilings haint like the cloth my mother wrapped me in and learn to wash what is left behind after the cooling rains. I shall make boats from leaves to soothe the heat the secret life of water in my name, and I will wander through this slow bounty like a valley of souls.

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FLOWER BY ALISHA WALKER


53

a Night on the Serengeti


By Meredith Bailey

It was an unspoken fact: Popular girls like Brittany Crenshaw did not invite girls like Sophia Reynolds to their slumber parties. What was the catch? There had to be one, Sophia thought to herself. She sat cross-legged on the Crenshaws living room floor surrounded by several other girls from her seventh grade class who were grazing on popcorn, homemade brownies, and soda. They were watching Tales from the Crypt--a new television show on cable of which Mrs. Crenshaw did not approve. In order to circumvent this obstacle, Brittany had appointed a look out to stand guard by the doorway and watch for her mother. Sophia sat in the back of the room, wishing her best friend Cory was there, but this time she was on her own. What about him? Do you think hes cute? a girl named Jessica whispered in Sophias ear as she pointed at a picture of a teenage boy in the latest issue of Tiger Beat magazine. Before glancing at the photo, Sophias eyes swept the room, searching for smirks, sneers, or hands covering mouths contorted in laughter. She imagined herself a zebra migrating across the Serengeti, constantly scanning the horizon for predators: hungry lionesses and cackling hyenas who could pounce at any moment, their teeth crushing your windpipe. Well, do you think so or not? Jessica asked again, shoving the magazine in Sophias face. She looked down at the picture of a boy wearing a tight white t-shirt and a hat pulled down low over his eyes. He leaned against a brick wall and stared off into the distance, somewhere past Sophia. He didnt seem like he much cared what she or anyone else thought of him. Though he was better looking than most of the boys she went to school with, Sophia thought the boy in the picture seemed more stuck-up than cute. As she looked up at Jessicas eager face, Sophia knew her true feelings werent the right ones. She swallowed harduncertain of what she should say. One false move, one mistake, and the hyena would sink her teeth in. Hes OK I guess, Sophia said, shrugging. Owww! Your hairs full of knots, Molly, the girl sitting behind Sophia, said as she jerked a brush through her tangled locks. Its not hair, its mane, Sophia thought to herself, envisioning stiff black and white bristles standing straight up like a mohawk. Zebras had no need to brush their hair. And its all frizzy, Molly added, wrinkling her nose in distaste. At first, Sophia had protested when Molly offered to do her hair, but she eventually backed down. The girls were being so nice to her and even treating her like she was one of them. The den of lionesses had not yet noticed her zebra stripes, or maybe they had and they would groom them off her. Regardless, it was hard to resist. Here, maybe you should put some of this in her hair, Jessica interjected, handing Molly the bottle of styling gel. Wait, I Before Sophia could finish, she felt two large piles of goop being squirted onto her head. Sighing, she began to regret accepting the party invitation. Last week, when Brittany had stopped in front of Sophias table during lunch, she braced herself, expecting to hear the usual insult or receive one of her scathing looks. Instead, Brittany handed Sophia an envelope with her name written on it in swooping cursive purple letters. Whats this? Sophia asked suspiciously. An invitation to my birthday party. Its a sleepover at my house. Brittany said, tossing long

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strawberry-blonde hair over her shoulder. Immediately, Sophia showed the envelope to her best friend; Cory handled it as though it were rigged to explode. Youre not going, are you? he asked. Cory was privy to the way Brittany typically treated Sophia and went out of his way to ignore her. Sophia shrugged, wishing she could rip the invitation in half and show him just how much she didnt care. But unfortunately, Sophia did care. It wasnt every day she got invited to a party, especially by the most popular girl in middle school. Sophia glanced over her shoulder at Brittany, who was sitting among a large group of girls at another table in the cafeteria. It was a dangerous place. One had to earn the privilege to sit there and no spot was guaranteed. As the girls unwrapped their fruit roll-ups and bit into their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, ruthless calculations were made. Beneath the giggling, they all jockeyed to say just the right thing, do just the thing to win Brittanys favor. Sophia had never longed to be a part of that world. Until shed received the party invitation, it hadnt even been possible. When she noticed Brittany staring back at her, not only staringbut smilingSophia was startled. Her smile seemed tentative, as though she were uncertain how it would be received. Sophia quickly turned around, her heart pounding. What did such a smile mean? You know you cant trust her, Cory warned. As Molly continued to smooth the gel through Sophias hair, she wondered how Brittany did it, what it was that made everyone clamor to be close to her. When Sophia looked at Brittany, she thought of a cheetah: sleek, fast, beautiful. And lethal. She watched her sometimes, in awe of the way she charmed teachers with her smile and her helpful attitude, yet the moment their backs were turned, she expertly chased down her preyweaker girls, and sometimes even boyswho sought her approval. Suddenly, the cheetah herself sidled up to Sophia wearing white silk pajamas. Sophia selfconsciously looked down at her blue sweatshirt and plaid pajama bottoms wishing she had more sophisticated clothes. We should crimp your hair, Sophia. Molly suggested, putting aside the brush. Lets give her a whole makeover, Brittany added. Sophia searched her eyes for signs of a practical joke but could find none. When her face wasnt twisted in meanness, Sophia thought, Brittany was actually very pretty. She had a heart-shaped face, a delicate, slightly upturned nose, and a rosy complexion. A makeover? I dont know, Sophia said, touching her hair, which was now hardened from the gel. Oh, come one. Itll be fun. Besides its my birthday, Brittany said, jumping to her feet. She ran upstairs to her bedroom, returning with a crimping iron and a large cosmetics bag erupting with bottles and brushes. Sophia had noticed that some of her female classmates were starting to wear makeup. Shed watched them apply lip gloss or a little bit of blush in the bathroom. Sophia wasnt sure how she felt about it, though she knew her father wouldnt approve. He was always going on about how naturally beautiful her mother had been when she was alive. Sophia had her doubts as to whether she had inherited any of this natural beauty. All she saw in the mirror was one of those walking stick insects, with pale skin, fish lips, and poofy black hair. A little make-up certainly couldnt hurt, she decided. She needs foundation. Which color do you think? Brittany asked, holding two bottles up to Sophias face. Definitely the lighter one, Molly said. Jessica disagreed. Lets put the darker one on. She needs more color. They both turned to Brittany, their wise Solomon, awaiting her decision. Sophia watched Brittany too, watched how she enjoyed holding them in suspense. Brittany looked from one bottle to the other, scrutinizing the merits of each girls recommendation.

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The darker one I think. Youre right, she needs color, Brittany asserted. Jessica, the chosen one, was beaming. Crestfallen, Molly crossed her arms and stared down at her lap. Sophia looked from one to the other in confusion. What was the big deal? It was just a makeup bottle, wasnt it? Soon the ramifications of Brittanys decision became clear. Molly, I left the hair clips upstairs. Can you get them? Brittany asked, her tone insinuating her request was in fact a command. Molly mumbled a reply and loudly clomped up the stairs. A few minutes later, she returned, only to be asked to get more soda, a bag of Doritos, another shade of lip gloss, a Walkman, and the new Paula Abdul cassette tape. Each time she complied, shooting furious glances at Jessica. Sophia didnt understand any of this. Why didnt Molly just tell Brittany to get it herself? She felt like she was watching a PBS special about a newly discovered species in the jungle whose behavior she couldnt understand. Her uneasiness amplified, Sophias stomach began to tighten. Maybe this was a mistake. Her father had been the one to convince her to attend the slumber party in the first place. Itll be good for you to hang out with other girls. Maybe you can make some new friends, hed said. Yeah, but But, what? her father had asked cheerfully. There were some things she was beginning to realize that he didnt understand, and she didnt know how to explain them to him. Girls were mean to each other for no reason at all sometimes. Often, she had found herself on the receiving end of this unpredictable malice. It was embarrassing, so she rarely ever talked about it. She couldnt tell her father that she feared the sleepover would be one of those incidents. But so far, nothing had happened. Up until now, Brittany had been cordial, if somewhat aloof. Maybe there was no catch, she thought. The three girls surrounded Sophia, peering into her face, deciding which colors to use, what products to smear on. After some serious debate, Brittany and Jessica reached a decision, while Mollywho had been delegated the task of organizing the bottles, tubes, and brushes on the coffee tablesulked. Finally, Brittany turned to Sophia. OK, now were ready. Sophia sighed. Why did she agree to this? If Cory were here, she knew hed be laughing his head off at the idea of her wearing makeup. Sophia glanced at the television, wondering if she was going to end up looking like one of the ghoulish characters on Tales from the Crypt by the time Brittany and her friends were done. Her mind occupied with regret, Sophia was unprepared for what happened next. Brittany poured a small amount of foundation onto her palm and dipped her index finger in it. Her touch was gentle as she began smoothing the liquid onto Sophias skin in small circles. Sophia didnt move a muscle. No one had ever touched her face so softly like that before. As though someone had turned a light on, electricity began to buzz through her. She was afraid to look at Brittany, or anyone else, scared that they could feel the vibrations inside her. So is Corylike your boyfriend? Brittany asked, turning Sophias face from side to side with her finger. Uh, no. Well, youre always together, Jessica chimed in, applying several layers of blush onto Sophias cheek. You eat lunch together, you hang out after school. Have you kissed him? No! Sophia exclaimed, shocked that they would think such a thing. Did other people think that he was her boyfriend? Did Cory think that he was her boyfriend? The girls giggled, causing Sophias face to redden deeper beneath the layers of shellacked, sparkly blush.

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Its no big deal if you have kissed himhes kind of cute, Brittany added. Sophia looked up at her, searching for the glint of cruelty so often present, but could find no trace of it. Instead, she saw warm, inquisitive brown eyes staring back at her. For the first time, she noticed how long Brittanys eyelashes were and that she had two prominent dimples when she smiled. Close your eyes. Brittany commanded. Sophia felt her palms begin to sweat as Brittany rubbed purple shadow on her eyelids. Her other hand cupped Sophias chin. It felt like this hand was the only thing holding up Sophias body as the rest of her had melted into the plush carpet. What was going on? Why did she feel so strange? It was like she had a sugar buzz from eating too much candy, yet she hadnt had a single piece. I bet you she has kissed him, and she just wont admit it, Jessica said, as she began to crimp Sophias hair. Leave her alone. If she doesnt want to admit it, she doesnt have to, Brittany added. Her eyes closed, Sophia felt like she was hearing Brittanys voice for the first time, really hearing it. It was deeper than she thought, and full. It echoed in her head as though someone had struck a bell. Sophia wondered what it would be like to hear her sing. She knew that Brittany often sang at the Baptist church Cory went to. Maybe one day soon, she would have to go with him to listen to one of Brittanys solos. Instantly, she was reminded of her best friends warning: You know you cant trust her. But maybe he was wrong. People could change, couldnt they? A lady doesnt kiss and tell, right Sophia? Brittany continued, winking at her. Thats what my mom says anyway. Right, Sophia agreed, ignoring the smell of her own hair burning on the crimper. Brittany and Jessica continued to discuss boys from their class they longed to make out with; however, Sophia could barely follow the conversation. Shed never felt so hot before, as though her very skin was on fire. Was this what Jessica felt when she looked at those boys in the magazines? Was this what her father felt when he talked about her mothers natural beauty? Suddenly, Brittany peered closer into Sophias face. She could feel her warm breath on her skin. Sophia opened her eyes and all she could see was glossy lips like ripe strawberries. Impulsively, she leaned forward, kissing Brittany gently, yet with purpose. The watermelon flavor of Brittanys lip balm mingled with the shock of connecting to someone lip-to-lip for the first time. It was nothing like kissing her pillow or kissing her own hand for practice. Sophia felt as though fireflies, thousands of them, suddenly lit up the inside of her body. Her stomach fluttered with the steady flashing of tiny winged creatures. Sophia didnt hear Jessica and Molly gasp, nor did she notice the other girls wander over, their jaws slack. All she could think about was the warm glow in her belly and the softness of Brittanys lipshow sweet they tasted. And for a second, she thought she felt the briefest pressure of Brittany returning the kiss. She would examine this moment in her head again and again for the rest of her life, never certain whether or not she was kissed back. When Sophia opened her eyes, she discovered the world had permanently shifted. Brittany recoiled like shed been bitten, her mouth opening and closing several times as though to speak, but no sound came out. The other girls at the party turned to each other, exchanging horrified whispers, while Brittany bolted to the bathroom and slammed the door. As Sophia looked around, she finally saw what she had been expecting to see the whole time: smirks, sneers, and hands covering mouths contorted in laughter. Theyd seen her zebra stripes after all, and no amount of makeup or crimping could hide them now. Girls, do you need anything Mrs. Crenshaw asked, a look of confusion settling on her face as she looked around the living room. Is everything all right? What in the world are you watching on TV? Suddenly, Brittany emerged from the bathroom, composed and serene, as though nothing had

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happened. Mom, were fine. I dont know what that show issomething Sophia told us to watch. But I dont like itits kind of scary, Brittany replied, smiling at Sophia, a smile that was not at all tentative or uncertain. A smile that made her feel like her stomach was being rung out like a dishtowel. Well, I think you should turn it off. We dont watch shows like that in this house, Brittanys mother said, shaking her finger at Sophia and returning to the kitchen. Sophia desperately wanted to beg Mrs. Crenshaw to stay, but she knew it would only prolong the inevitable. After her mother left, Brittany sauntered over, her brown eyes now cold and narrow, until she was inches away from Sophias face, practically daring Sophia to kiss her again. Brittany was slightly shorter, but the way she carried herself, tall, erect, and confident, one would barely notice the height difference. When she spoke, her voice was low and deadly, almost like a purr, but loud enough for the other girls to hear. Sophia stared at her mouth, finding it impossible that the lips she had just kissed, lips that she had liked kissing, were now being used to call her a weirdo, and a pervert. However, it was Brittanys final words that stung the most: You know the only reason I invited you was because youre friends with Cory. I thought maybe you could find out if he liked me or not. Not that Im interested now. Sophia stepped back, nearly tripping over a sleeping bag. I dont understand. Hes cute, but I guess you never noticed. Youve been too busy staring at other girls, like me. Jessica and Molly snorted in laughter, as Brittany joined in. The sound of their voices roared in her ears. They were hyenas tearing apart a carcass, tearing apart something that had once been alive and magical. Sophia shook her head in disbelief, backed out of the room, and ran out of the house into the silent winter evening. At first, Sophia just ran with no idea where she was going. It was after midnight, she couldnt go homehow could she possibly explain any of this to her father? Barely noticing the cold seeping through her sweatshirt, she found herself standing outside of Corys house. For a while, she paced back and forth under his window, trying to decide what to do, uncertain if she really wanted to see him. But soon, Sophia began shivering and she realized she had nowhere else to go. Hoping Cory was in his room, Sophia threw pebbles from the driveway against his window. Finally, he appeared, motioning for her to meet him in the backyard. What are you doing here? he asked, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. Arent you supposed to be at Brittanys? At first, Sophia stared at him in the dim light filtering down from the moon, trying to see what Brittany and the other girls saw that she hadnt. Sure, hed grown a couple of inches over the past year and there was something else, something about his face, like his nose and cheekbones were suddenly becoming more noticeable, but he was still the same boy, still her best friend. I had to leave, Sophia said. She could feel tears threatening to spill over as she remembered the sound of the girls laughter and the menacing purr of Brittanys voice. Did she do something to you? Cory asked, looking at Sophia with concern. Not exactly. Sophia stepped closer to her best friend and peered into his gray eyes. Was he cute? If he was, what was wrong with her? Why hadnt she noticed? Was she really too busy staring at girls? Sophias hands felt clammy as she nervously rubbed them together. Are you OK? he asked. Sophia shook her head, hot tears warming her cheek. She put her arms around Corys neck and lay her face on his shoulder. It felt safe there. Maybe it was a sign. Maybe what had happened with Brittany was only a fluke. Maybe this was where she was supposed to be and who she was supposed

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to be with. Those girls are stupid. Who cares what they think? Cory said, awkwardly smoothing her hair. I care, Sophia wanted to scream. Instead, she lifted her head and kissed him urgently, hoping to feel the same electricity shed felt when her lips touched Brittanys. Cory didnt step away, and there was no doubt in her mind that she was being warmly, yet cautiously, kissed back. His lips were relaxed, less tense than Brittanys, and his breath smelled of chocolate chip cookies. Desperate, she pressed into him harder, searching for something, anything beneath these surface sensations. Yet there were no fireflies; her insides remained dark and undisturbed. This time, Sophia was the one who pulled away. She rubbed the back of her hand over her mouth and said, Sorry. Its OK. Cory replied, a tone of surprise in his voice, as though he hadnt expected to utter those words. They stood there silently in the darkened yard. Cory stuffed his hands in his coat pockets, and Sophia wrapped her arms around herself. Perhaps if she squeezed tightly enough she would just disintegrate, crushing her feelings of confusion and shame into a fine dust. Sophia didnt care about any of those boys in Jessicas magazine, and she hadnt liked kissing the supposedly cute boy standing right in front of her. Yet when she thought of Brittany touching her face, her body suddenly felt less solid, like chocolate candy that had been left out in the sun. What exactly did it mean? Sophia couldnt bring herself to look at Cory. She didnt want things to be different, but she knew they were changing. I should go home, she said, her teeth starting to chatter. Here, take my coat, Cory replied, laying it around her shoulders. He glanced up at the sky, the ground, at everything but her. Thanks. Pulling the coat tight around her, Sophia began walking home. She wondered how long it would be before everyone in the whole school knew that she had kissed Brittany Crenshaw, and if it was possible to convince her father to move to a different country where no one knew her or what she had done. Sophia stopped and turned when she reached the end of the driveway. Sitting on the porch now, Cory raised his arm to wave. Sophia waved back, feeling as though she was saying goodbye to more than just her best friend. She smeared a line of makeup off her face with her index finger. Even if she hadnt done what she did, Sophia knew she never could have been one of them anyway, no matter how many layers they painted on. When she reached the outskirts of town, Sophia ducked under a fence and took a shortcut though a cornfield, imagining instead an open grassy plain. A place with no houses, crimping irons, or makeup, no best friends who couldnt look at you, and no girls you had kissed. Soon, Sophia began to run. The frosty night air became warm and dry; the great migration across the Serengeti was about to begin. Yet this time, she was not a zebra. She had no herd. Sophia had no clear vision of who or what she was perhaps a new species altogether, solitary and elusive. She knew in the light of day, things would be different, but there was one thing of which she was certain: Cory had been wrong. It wasnt Brittany she couldnt trustit was herself. Ignoring the aching in her lungs, Sophia ran faster.

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MEN IN TREES BY W. JACK SAVAGE FEATURED PREVIOUSLY IN UNCHARTED FRONTIERS NOVEMBER 2012 ISSUE 60

No Thoughts
By Sy Roth
It simply is that way sometimes, like squeezing toothpaste and none comes out, the inclination to throw the pen at the wall when it itches the scribbler who lost words to cram the page with dances Tarantellas, boisterous Flamenco explosions, castanets clicking a word volcano spewing words that zing across the lines songs of jubilation, of unwrapped ideas, Christmas presents piled eye high. Unwrapping them, exposing them to the light of day, stroking their soft hairs to titillate them to arousal only ends like vampires exposed to light and turns them into sand leaving a hollow vacuity. Only naked lines, hopeless meanderings stretch endlessly across the page accompanied by a chorus aaarghs and growlings devoid of the passionate murmurs, susurrations of like-minded words. No thoughts-only dolorous scribbling. This way (?) forever.
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RAINING CLIPS BY FABIO SASSI


62

When the Old Way Doesnt Work


By Michelle Ornat
Ive taken up lying on my resumes and applications since neither my experience nor education seems to qualify me to do much of anything anyone seems to want done these days. Except thievery. Good old fashioned stealing, expropriation, peculation, filching and the like. You wont find that highly desirable qualification spelled out after a finely honed bullet. You have to read between the lines. You have to slip into the space between the eighth and ninth commandments where the air is thin. For an adjunct spot at the community college my resume is a Dickens novel, its Dombey and Son, the one nobody reads. Im all four Sex and the City ladies with transferable skills without the sexy for all civil service gigs at the state and local level. For the 7-11, Im a super hero, the guy from 24. The big box stores really take to a meritage of 40% Jane Eyre, 50% Chili Palmer, 10% Holly Golightly, sensible, sharky and effervescent. I can do it all. With the exception of waiting tables. I dont know the first thing about laying plates of fried chicken and eggs over easy in front of the empty bellies of church ladies. I just cant lie about that.

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Weird

By

H olly Guran

f course the circus sideshow with the by-now-familiar sword-eating fellow, the Siamese twins, maybe a bearded lady, sticky pink cotton candy down in Madison Square Garden where nothing grows, but something would grow in my dream of jumping beans.

hey had to be arranged in certain patterns and began leaping together as though they enjoyed being planted h, you will have a religious guide with each other. Those tricky to sit with you before you are marched little kernels in the you-tube clip where the twenty-somethings are popping down the hard corridor. Thats when you need a bomb to fall and make corn using cell phones. a hole in the wall so you can run through the circle. When the lights flickered in Yonkers they said, nce the ring tones sing, Someones getting zapped in Sing Sing. voila, wow, corn flies like fourth of July

fireworks that arent weird, but kind of ecstatic with color, noise, that red-white-blue freedom fervor, freedom to pop corn and blow things up, the way bombs dropped from high places, go off in the middle of someones street, or the kitchen, and the part thats incredibly weird is being taught thou shalt not kill then later how to kill and also come home and dont kill now, and if you do, its called murder, and well kill you for that.

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HIT
By Sue Buckwell

It was so unlike him, to accelerate just as the light was turning yellow, but he did exactly that. He had to get to the church. He had to get there on time because Allison was waiting with flowers and bridesmaids and a promise that life would hold everything he dared to dream from this day forward. And then the woman stepped off the curb and a nauseating jolt shook the car; it trembled and shuddered as he held white-knuckled to the steering wheel. He began to blink uncontrollably, making the road ahead appear awkward and pixilated. His breath came in harsh, wheezing gulps, and for a moment, he could not remember how to stop the vehicle. At last, his foot found the brake. Forcing himself to look in the rear view mirror, he saw her gray head resting in a widening pool of blood, her limbs flung at unnatural angles, her groceries strewn about, as if at the last moment she had cast them to the wind, realizing she would no longer need them. He sat stock-still for what seemed like a very long time. He thought of his bride to be and the future they had planned, the house they would purchase, the children they would have, a boy for him, a girl for her. Max, he would name his son. He would teach him to play ball and to fish and to be a good man. Anna Marie, they would call their daughter, Anna after his maternal grandmother, Marie after Allisons. He pictured his tiny girl curled in his lap while he told her fanciful stories and read her books about castles and princesses and happily ever afters. But now there would be no happily ever afters, not for him, not for the woman whose lifeless body lay sprawled in the street. She would never again know the satisfaction of preparing a Sunday dinner while her family swarmed about, laughing, teasing, planting appreciative kisses on her cheeks. Never again would she know the delight of pushing her grandchildren on the park swings or wiping their sticky fingers and stained faces after a cherry Popsicle on a sunny afternoon. And while her heart would never again constrict with sorrow as she suffered lifes tragedies, neither would it swell with joy as she celebrated its triumphs. And so he had to think, to concentrate. If he stayed, he would have to answer to the law, to the dead womans grieving relatives, to a heartbroken Allison. If he fled and managed to hide himself, he would never draw another easy breath, never sleep without guilt and remorse twisting his dreams and prodding him to wakefulness in the dark hours before dawn. He sat motionless and rested his forehead on his hands that still gripped the steering wheel. He closed his eyes, cleared his mind of the turbulence that swirled like a funnel cloud, and waited, waited for the answer to come.

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By Michael White
The treasure of moments is that they cannot be kept even though they are grasped and hoarded, encased and referenced and bottled but they really disappear like last nights cotton candy evaporated into pink grains of sweetness. moments are not snapshots of time they are smoke that blooms and expands like a tiny universe spreading its scent to linger. we remake moments into memories which may or may not have Truth. but what good is truth when the magnet pulls us closer and our memories exceed the speed of moments. of memories. of wishes. of Right Here of Right Now. these are the jewels of our heart but they hold no light only warmth and forever is not such a long time, if love is infinite then wont the tiniest drop be enough?

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INTO THE MUSIC BY DR. ERNEST WILLIAMSON III


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Passing a Man on the Street


By Valentina Cano A stroke of luck made him feel like he was wearing a suit made of sunlight and river stones, shimmering with water. He walked down the street with a song tucked in his pocket, a melody running like a thread through his smile.

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Lagomorph
Before she came he had a philosophical look about him, our pet rabbit Pepper, chewing things over while staring off into the distance, masticating a piece of romaine, lop-eared, brindled, solitary, and liking it that way, and not letting anyone pick him up except Amber, who was ten and wanted another. To keep him company, she explained. We told her no. If we get a male they will fight, if we get a female there will be lots of company before long. Pepper looked away, sniffing the air as if on the brink of an idea. We caved. And we kept them apart for the first few weeks in the easyto-assemble duplex rabbit hutch from Petco. But poor Pepper was so distractedher scent was more than was dreamt of in his philosophy, and he looked so miserable and horny that Amber took it upon herself to unlatch the dividing lintel and let them. The relief was palpable, the silence pregnant as they gazed lovingly up through the wire mesh of their one bedroom apartment. But soon she began to nag at him, and nip at him, and hiss as her appetite grew voracious and her belly grew big. Pepper grew skeptical, fearful, diffident, that distant look returning to his eyes, as if questioning all the assumptions and hitherto accepted conclusions of a lifetime.

By Paul Hostovsky

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NEW LEAF
My ten year old niece pops her knuckles and demands to know why I insist on parking so far away from the deli and the bank and the stores on our errands day. Im turning over a new leaf, I say. I explain how my fear of getting old and being stuck in a wheel chair is just like her fear of being alone in the basement in the dark. I cant blame her for her not understanding. Her nimble limbs cant feel what I feel. She doesnt even know how to panic yet about time and cost and spending. She says Im not old. But that doesnt matter. I should be walking five miles a day, golfing on sunny days, riding the old ten speed in the few months between the snows. I should be running my dogs hard down at the park, de-thatching the lawn with grandpas metal rake, putting my back into to it, bowing the tines and springing them back and sweating like a Ukrainian farmer. I ought to be doing handstands in the front yard, holding a crane pose until I tremble, rocking in a hammock and dissolving into the afternoon sky. Im pink. Im flushed, fluttering just thinking about twisting with my husband into a tantric pretzel every other night of the week. She squints into the sun, says her feet are achy, that shes dying of thirst, to tell her again why Im so worried about raking the lawn like grandpa since hes not here anymore.

By Michelle Ornat

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In g the Z B egi nn i n g

frustration. Spots! hissed Leopard. Spots are so... yesterday. There wasnt any yesterday, said Owl. Hippos making faces, cried Rhinoceros. Turn him around, said Giraffe. Wouldnt make any difference, huffed Rhinoceros. Oh Lord, we are so unworthy, muttered Sheep, wandering about, oblivious to the surrounding turmoil. Every animal was complaining about something. The din was finally silenced by the stately flapping of Condors enormous wings as it rose from the By Leland Thoburn plain and settled in a nearby tree. The scavengers, who had collected in a far corner of the plain, had elected Condor their spokescreature. Condor tucked its wings and turned to address the multitude. It is with great pride that I we announce And behold, God saw everything he had made, today the formation of Animals of Nature United in and he was bored. It wasnt his best; however, it Sodality. also wasnt his worst. Pluto, now that had been a You might want to reconsider that acronym, blunder. Planets, ecosystems, firmaments once dude, murmured Dog. it had all been very interesting. No longer. A chorus of lesser animals spoke up, all pleading And thus it was that, on the seventh day, God to be accepted as members. Condor flapped its felt puckish. He took it out on the beasts, and God wings to command silence. Okay, but no cats, and felt good. His work was done. only scavengers can be founding members. The But for the animals, it was just the beginning. rest of you will be non-voting working members. The greater animals were not impressed. Even a cowchip is paradise for a fly, murmured Cow, to which Fly took immediate and loud umbrage. There was some discontent, but a consensus soon formed that a working membership in an organization that would not accept cats was better than no membership at all. This is outrageous, shrieked Rectalpecker Cow turned to Condor. What are you ANUSes... Bird. Hushed giggles could be heard as Cow paused to What about me? asked Horny Toad. Im a smile. What are you ANUSes trying to rectumfy? distinguished gentletoad, a toad of breeding and Cow had made First Pun. refinement. I havent committed an indiscretion Our purpose, stated Condor, its voice intoning in...whats it been? every word with the utmost gravity, Our purpose is Id say about twenty-two hours, replied to eradicate a terrible tyranny that is holding under Beelzebug. its thumb the brave workers here assembled. Thank you. Toad nodded gravely. The animals all looked at their forelimbs. Those Yeah man, like, who laid these names on us with thumbs were the most concerned. anyway? demanded Morongutan. A great injustice exists here in Eden. Condor Edens plain was full of creatures of every kind. paused to scan the multitude. Your work, your Less than twenty-four hours had passed since the food, the very produce of your limbs is being taken Creation, and already the animals had a long list by... Here Condor paused for effect. Corporate of grievances. They had assembled to vent their Eden! it thundered, raising one wingtip and

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looking to the heavens. The animals looked at each other in bewilderment. Chicken turned and scratched at the ground, pelting Condor with sand. Condor bent over to glare at Chicken. I would remind you, young lady, it takes a brood to raise a chick. No, it dont. Just takes my fat ass. Chicken turned away in disgust. Idiot, she muttered. Condor waved it aside. Surely youll admit to the value of redistribution of the wealth. Whereas some animals enjoy all that Eden has to offer, others, sadly, do not. Who? demanded Cow. Well, we scavengers for one, said Condor. Nonsense, snorted Cow. You get to sample everything without having to work a lick to get it. We want it fresh! Condor was getting angry. Then youll have to hunt your own, like the rest of us! roared Tiger. Condor paused. Never mind, it pronounced, before flying down to rejoin the other scavengers. The complaints again became a cacophony above which nothing else could be heard. Almost nothing. Whos in charge here, anyway? asked Armadillo. Silence fell as the animals looked at each other. Cat looked at a rock. Cow? suggested Gopher. It aint me, babe. Cow spoke firmly between bites of her cud. Oh Lord, we are so unworthy, muttered Sheep. Sheeps got a point. Lets ask God, suggested Coyote. A shrill whistle split the air. It was Gorilla, facing the heavens with two fingers in its mouth. Yo! Gorilla shouted. Yo, God! The clouds began to boil. Cool beans, muttered Morongutan, staring unblinking into the heavens. A face materialized in the clouds. Yes? The very word shattered the air and rumbled and echoed amongst the cliffs and mountains. Birds in flight fell, stunned, to the ground. None of the animals dared speak. God became impatient. Come, come.

Ive got places to create, people to motivate, things to do. Youve only got three interventions, and this is the first. Lets get started. Sheep started bleating about how unworthy they all were and how they had all sinned. God replied, You havent had time enough to sin. Well, except maybe Cat. Anyway, I dont want to hear about it. Just stop sinning. This was too simple a solution for Sheep to accept, and it began to bleat even louder. God yearned for the silence of the lamb. Morongutan stepped up. Like, man, this aint cool. Theres animals who hate their names. Theres animals what dont even know their own taxonomy. And then theres Cat. Morongutan pointed to Cat, who was, at that moment, using Morongutans leg for a scratching post. God spoke. Stupid Cat. I knew hed be more trouble than he was worth. Morongutan pleaded. Its not just Cat. We want someone in charge, someone who can tell us what to do, someone who can solve our problems. God looked down and shook His head. If you relinquish your responsibility, youll also relinquish your freedom. Its both or neither. But without order, we cant have freedom. It was Condor who was speaking on behalf of the scavengers. Devilshit! thundered God, his blast blowing the feathers off the top of Condors head. We cant be free if were hungry, cried Cat. Is that Cat? God roared. Cat hissed and arched its back. God loosed a thunderbolt as Cat ran behind Dog, who, unfortunately, caught the brunt of the blast. Isnt there some way we can get, like, a superior species or something to help us when youre not here? Cow asked. All heads nodded in vigorous assent. God thought about this for a moment before responding. The problem is that you already possess all the characteristics of a superior species. You have awareness of self. You can talk. Some of you may someday learn to read and write and use power tools. If I give you what you ask, youll have to lose those skills. The animals huddled together. Soon, Tiger stepped forward. Well accept the loss of selfawareness and the read/write thing; however, the power tools and speech stay.

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I do not negotiate with things I create, roared God. By now, the animals desperation was driving them harder than their reason. We accept your conditions, surrendered Tiger. Okay, God sighed. But youll be sorry. He gave the matter some thought. Clouds swirled. A lightning bolt shattered the silence. Then, in a cloud of dust and smoke, there appeared...a smirking man in a dark gray suit and a briefcase? Cat hissed and spat. Oh shit, muttered God as He smote the creature with one mighty blast. Damned lawyer. Not good. Not good at all... God pondered again. Then, He smiled. Clouds swirled, thunder rumbled, and the ground shook. The animals all hid their eyes and were awed. The Sun shone through the rapidly dissolving clouds. A warmth settled on Eden unlike any the animals had known. Flowers bloomed. Spring flourished. The animals opened their eyes. There, was Woman. The animals were benumbed by her beauty, and, at that moment, each lost the gift of speech. Forever.

Albatross was now content and flew to the sea where it lived happily the rest of its days. Morongutan had crept up behind her and was picking at her hair. Stop it, she giggled, for the fingers of Morongutan tickled her scalp. Whats your name? Morongutan uttered a guttural grunt that no one but Woman would have understood. Well, how about Orangutan instead? This delighted Orangutan, who clapped with glee and danced away to tell his friends. Next, she renamed Beelzebug, Ladybug. Soon, Woman had solved all of the animals problems, and all were happy. All except for Horny Toad, who had felt the entire scene beneath his dignity. No matter. For the first, and possibly the last, time, Eden was happy.

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One day, Shrew, who was walking with Vole, found something behind a bush. It was disease. Gross, exclaimed Shrew. Vole agreed. Whatll we do with it? Lets get Cat. Hell eat anything. Off they went to get Cat, but of course, Cat only played with it. As a result, disease flourished in Eden. Once again, the animals were unhappy. They surrounded Woman. Some were coughing and sneezing. Some had watery eyes. Woman suffered with them, for she had been blessed with the gift of infinite empathy, as well as the healers touch. She stayed up late, keeping them warm, smiling her motherly smile, and looking on them with great sympathy. When this was not enough, she made chicken soup, which displeased only Chicken. But the animals faith in Woman had been shaken. How could something like disease exist in a world controlled by, blessed by, Woman? Had they not given up their voice, their freedoms, their responsibility, so she could take care of everything for them? Discontent simmered. Woman became aware of every bitter feeling, every angry mood. She

0
It was as if the very strains of a harp filled the air when she walked. Her flaxen hair flowed down her back like a waterfall. Her smile radiated unbounded joy. Birds placed garlands in her hair, while the rest of the animals queued up in her wake to see whom she would favor. As she sat, they nestled nearby so she could stroke each of their heads in turn. You look unhappy. Whats the matter? She was stroking Rectalpecker birds head and smiling sympathetically. Instinctively, she understood without the unfortunate bird saying a word, for she had the gift of telepathy. Lets see, what shall we call you? How about albatross? Yes, albatross. Thats a wonderful name, isnt it? Sounds like Albert Ross. I knew a man named Albert Ross once...Oh wait, no I didnt.

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decided it was more than she could stand. She decided to ask for help. Yoo hoo, she tittered, fluttering her hand while standing on the highest hilltop in Eden. Hey babe. God appeared in the clouds which were now white and serene. Im getting kind of lonely here. And besides, you never told me about this disease thing. I need a break. God nodded his head. Soon, He and Woman were planning the characteristics of the creature He would provide to help govern the world, and for which this would be His second intervention. Ultimately, they decided that there would be this creature called Man. Both understood that, while this creature would have great strength and endurance, he would also need great selfconfidence to make full use of those assets. Therefore, Woman was going to have to hide for a few days, to let Man think that he was first on the scene. Next, Woman was going to have to abjure her remarkable powers, or at least. the overt display of such, to let Man think himself the superior creature. Lastly he wasnt going to be pretty. Woman steeled herself to what she knew was best. She spoke to all the animals so none would be surprised or frightened when Man appeared. On the appointed day, Woman and all of the animals hid, crouching behind the rocks, bushes, and trees that surrounded Edens central plain. All eyes faced skyward. High in the air, a dark spot appeared. Long before they could make out its shape, they could hear its screams. Limbs flailed as it fell to earth, crashing into the ground with a thunderous blast. Dust swirled where it had landed. A shape began to take form in the dust. The first thing Woman noticed was his hair. He was covered in it. Next, she saw his dishevelment. This did not concern Woman. Ill withhold judgment until hes had a chance to clean up. Little did she know how long that would be. What concerned her most, however, was the besotted look on his face. Soon, her greatest fears were confirmed. Man dusted himself off. God damn it, what happened? No sooner had the words escaped his lips than a lightning bolt crashed from the heavens, missing him by inches. Man jumped. God damn... This time he had

no time to react. The lightning bolt hit him squarely in the chest. Blackened and bewildered, Man arose, tamping out the fires that had started in the hairs on his chest. Man looked about cautiously. God... he said cautiously, quickly jumping aside before a lightning bolt struck the spot where he had just stood. Man looked briefly into the sky. Then, he sauntered over to a large tree that stood at the edge of the clearing. As he neared the tree, he began to whistle. Reaching the tree, he stopped and looked up. Then, he ducked behind the tree and shouted, God damn it. Instantly, a lightning bolt of Biblical proportions split the tree, raining flaming embers everywhere. Man peered from behind the now blackened stump, his eyes the only white in an otherwise uniformly black mien. Man looked up. Motherf... he said quickly, ducking behind the stump. Nothing happened. With a satisfied smirk, Man emerged. Cow shook its head. Even Cat hadnt needed to be struck more than twice. Man looked around. Then, he broke wind, eructed, and scratched. The animals were shocked. What manner of beast was this? Woman smiled sadly and buried her face in her hands. She now knew it was going to take all her skills to manage this thing called Man. She sighed and slipped away quietly into the brush. Shortly thereafter, Woman revealed herself, and the rest, as they say, is history. Almost.

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Woman had reached the end of her patience. This Man had no manners, no tenderness, very little reasoning ability, and he was never around except at night. Worst of all, she hadnt had an uninterrupted nights sleep since he arrived. She decided to use the last intervention.

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Its me again. The Sun faded as clouds swirled overhead. A voice boomed. This is number three. You know that? Woman nodded. Gods face appeared. You look tired. Whazzup? I just cant... God interrupted. I warned you. You said you wanted... Woman lost her temper. Jesus Christ, would you just listen to me for a... What did you say? God commanded. God had never spoken to Woman in anger before, and she was frightened. Timidly, she said, I only wanted you to... No, that first part. Jesus Christ... Yeah, I like that. Its got a nice ring to it. I got to remember to use that some day. Okay, you were saying? I just cant go on like this any longer. Hes so... brutish. Hes like Gorilla but without the manners. And I have no idea what to call him. I dont give a damn... Great idea! Ill call him Adam. But what about his manners? You asked for... Woman looked up, batted her eyelashes, and smiled coyly. It stopped God cold, as it would much lesser beings for the remainder of eternity. Oh, all right, He sighed. Ill give you one modification. Choose carefully. Woman thought. She thought long, and she thought hard. Just make him love me, she pleaded. God frowned. No can do, sweetheart. Woman stamped her foot. Why not? When I made him and you, by the way I gave him free will. Its the only way I could avoid having to solve all the Goddamned little oops, I shouldnt say that all the silly little problems people dream up. Whether he loves you or not, thats up to him. And you. A tear trickled from Womans eye. Can you at least help me get some sleep? Every night its do you come here often? or whats your sign? Then he starts rubbing my back and...well, when hes done, all he wants to do is talk. And dont get me started on his breath. God smiled sympathetically. Thats all part

of ensuring the continuity of the species. Its necessary. Trust me. But I can make it so hes not so talkative. God snapped his fingers. Anything else? Woman shook her head sadly. Bye, she murmured, waving to God as He disappeared from the heavens. Woman knew that, now, God was finished. The future, whether for good or evil, was hers to manage. She sighed, for hers was truly a heavy burden. She turned and walked slowly back down to the plain of Eden. The animals, sensing her mood, kept their distance. All except for Cat, who rubbed her leg before running away just as Woman reached down to pet it. It was a dejected Woman who trudged out of the hills that afternoon. Reaching the plain, she sat. She was tired. She was sore. But she was also resolute. She swore that she would carry out her responsibilities to the best of her abilities. A grim look of determination etched her face as she raised her head. Then, she smiled. For there, cleaned, groomed, and gazing tenderly and holding a bunch of flowers (for he had been unable to find any chocolate) stood Adam.

THE END

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