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the Bicycle Review

Issue #24 15 October, 2013 Original Artworks by Dana Ellyn and Brett Stout Poetry and prose by: Ifra Asad, John Bennett, Alan Britt, Megan Dobkin, Kyle Donley, Robert Earle, Benjamin Scott Farthing, M. Justine Gerard, J Gone, Mikko Harvey, DanaLynne Johnson, Nick D'Annunzio Jones, Tyler Kutner, Frank Mundo, Oleg Razumovsky, Donald Ryan, Quentin Savage, Daniel Suarez, William Taylor Jr., J. Edward Vanno, Steve Vermillion, and Robert Wexelblatt.
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The Bicycle Review #24 Greetings, cyclists. Going to keep this one short, as I've been shaking cocktails for yuppies all day, my deadline looming in the back of my sick, stuffy head. This is Issue #24 of the Bicycle Review. It features a lot of paintings about animals and drinking by Dana Ellyn, and a lot of mixed media works by Brett Stout, whose subject matter range from the “sacred” to the profane. Returning writers include: John Bennett, Alan Britt, and M. Justine Gerard. As always, most of the work in this issue is by writers we've never published before. I'd like to mention once again that though the Bicycle Review remains free online, it is now available in print as well. If you have the money or the credit and could buy it, we'd sure fucking appreciate it.

Share the road, J de Salvo

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On Radishchev Street

At the beginning of the summer, in the heat, I hit the bottle, and my wife, as usual, kicked me out of the house. I had absolutely no place to go. For a while I cried like an idiot at the window, begging her to let me in and then suddenly remembered that Father gave me the number of his new mobile the other day. Father is my last chance in this life. He rescued me many times at critical moments. Just my savior in life, I'll be damned (I crossed myself). Called him immediately. Father was, thank God, in a good mood. Most often he is not in a good mood, gets angry easily and becomes fucking paranoid. "Come over here, idiot, we will rescue you!" - he often cries. Well, we got shitfaced drunk of course, on this Radishchev Street. Incidentally, it's not that bad. There's a marketplace there where they trade and cheat in the afternoon and rob and kill at night. Nearby lives this Rat woman who sells moonshine. It's cheap but worse than poison. You can die easily. And a lot of people do on Radishchev. Mostly young men and women. Once I drank her stuff and then for several hours was unable to find Father, wandering in circles. I almost drowned in a mud puddle and was beaten by "night bombers," young punks who like to beat up drunks just for kicks. All wet, bloody and utterly frustrated I at last reached the house of Colonel, where Father lived. Colonel usually wore civilian clothes and put on his uniform only in case he needed to punish somebody, like his wife Mashka. He often locked her in the garage and held there for several days without food or alcohol. So he taught the bitch to be respectful. It serves her right. Father came in the afternoon in his white-and-dirty "Oka" . Long black hair, shiny bald head, straggly beard, pale face, burning mad eyes, greasy cassock. Absolutely drunk. When sober he never drives a car. Yells to me, "Get in,
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motherfucker, we'll go to whores!" I got into this lopsided "Oka" and we drove to the Tank. It used to be a place where newlyweds went to get their pictures taken, but now it's a place where hookers hang around. We took one not very young slut with big boobs and a cheerful nature. She was kinda sociable. I remember one day we picked up a very young but thin and arrogant bitch. She drank our beer, smoked our cigarettes and boasted about working in the Netherlands. (In their language, a blowjob is called "a walk in the daisies"). Father listened to her for a while, and then blessed the fucker on the head with his large fist. But this busty whore sucked us great in turn with different jokes and gags. Father gave her a cigarette and told her not to sin any more. By the way, the locals claimed they loved and respected Father, but humiliated and insulted him behind his back. One night when he was stoned they brutally beat him, broke all his ribs. That evening, Colonel, dressed in his uniform, was beating up his old woman Mashka with an army belt, calling her names, like "fucking sheep" and "dirty animal," and she did not mind because she was grateful to Colonel as he once found her in the garbage and took her home ragged, dirty, barefoot and almost hairless. Father was sitting in a corner, apparently thinking of something divine that we fools couldn't understand, looking askance at Colonel and his pathetic half, whispering to me from time to time, that some of them soon would die. Finally Father thought about something and disappeared. Colonel slightly revived. Took a Prima cigarette, handed it to me and pointedly raised his finger. This meant that God willing we should soon be sure to have a drink. And meanwhile we, to lift our spirits, recalled how we recently beat up gypsies. They wanted to deprive of her flat our familiar lame girl in leather pants, whom we treated with the moonshine from Rat. We drank, and she complained to us about the Roma. The Colonel quickly put on his uniform and grabbed the gun. We taught those devils a good lesson.
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I even fell asleep to those sweet memories, and when I awoke, I saw a cheerful face of Father. He was in high boots, a leather coat, under which the fraying robe could be seen, and a black wide-brimmed hat. He threw a wad of money on the table and asked Mashka to set the table and even kicked her in the ass. Colonel only grinned. After three glasses of moonshine from Rat, Father began to serve a sort of black mass. Turned on the old hard rock - Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. Twitched in the wild rock, sprawled in a twist. Shivered in shake and walked the Irish step across the hut. Then he grabbed a big cross and a censer, and began to bless everyone. Some on the head, some in the ass. In the morning, Father and me decided to unwind a bit and drove to Fairytale Lake. A beautiful place. We drank beer and chatted. It was cold at night. We were beset by mosquitoes. Towards morning we caught three kilos of fish and two water rats. The fish we exchanged with the locals for moonshine and ate the rats because we were starving. In the evening we drove back to Radishchev Street. And there - tragic news. Colonel had kicked the bucket. Fell asleep and never woke up. Rat is mad with sorrow: Colonel owed her twenty rubles. Mashka is in deep mourning. She does not understand anything. Just drinks, cries and smokes one cigarette after another. Father frowned. Now this funeral will fall on him. Nobody else here gives a damn. He's alone to take care of this whole goddamned Radishchev Street and always prays for it.

Copyright 2013 by Oleg Razumovsky

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Charlemagne
I move the stars for no one - David Bowie

“Give him back to me, please,” she begged. We agreed to meet at The Mandrake, the half-hearted hipster bar on La Cienega Blvd. Surrounded by mid-level Sony 1st and 3rd shift post-production drones, we stood out like a pair of opposable sore thumbs. She, in her pearls and Jacqueline Smith matching separates, and me in my Bobby Sands crew shirt, faded jeans and worn-out Docs. I needed a cigarette, prayed for it with every nasal whiny syllable that dropped from her perfect collagen-enhanced lips, but she, the Queen of Teetotalers, held onto her club soda and lime like it was the Blood of Christ. She refused to go with me to the courtyard full of wisteria and moonlight (sometimes), and cigarette butts, where I could smoke - and think - and plan. No, she had to have things HER way. “Please,” she begged again in fine Dickensian form. “I need him. I'm the one who got him in the first place.” “Fuck you, Cynthia,” I shot back. “Fuck you and your husband, your annoying step-kids, your fucking house in the fucking dystopian 'burbs, your... fucking pearls! Jesus, you used to wear my bike chain with pride. What happened?” My hands, eager to grasp at something, started to rise up of their own accord. I realized I was going to rip that stupid strand of pearls off her still-lovely neck, I put my hands behind my back, counted to 11 in Farsi, and then reached for my mojito. “You can't have him. He's mine. I take care of him. I take him to all his appointments, to his acupuncturist. I buy his food, I spend time with him at the park. I take him to my mom's for the holidays. She's so happy to have him there. He's family.” She sighed. I watched her press her lips together and fondle her pearl necklace. Her engagement ring caught the light; it blinded me. I recognized the signs. She'd prepared for this argument. “I can give him a home; a house, a backyard, lots of space. You still live in a
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crappy single with no central air and bad plumbing. I can give him the best medical care. You still have to depend on county vouchers to pay the bills, and foodstamps. Have you gotten your EBT card yet?” “The fact of the matter is that he was mine before we met and he's still mine. You've had your fun. I've been nice, and not bothered you about this until now. But if I have to, I'll call my attorney in the morning and we can go to court. Can you afford it? I can.” She folded her arms and waited. “You don't like to take care of anyone. You made that clear when we came into your life. You said so, at least every other day for the two years we lived together. Why make this difficult?” She had a point. I had nothing. Well, not nothing. I had a job, I had – well, maybe – a publishing contract for my first book, but that wouldn't go through until next year, and I had to pony up 50% of the funds for the print run and do my own publicity. Mom helped to pay my rent more than once this year. It'd been difficult to find enough temp work to pay my bills. I managed to stay on top, but after Cynthia left me, things fell apart. Charlemagne was the only one who kept me going. He gave me a reason to flush the pills down the toilet and get my lousy ass out of bed every morning. Cynthia was right. I couldn't fight her money, her lawyer, or her logic. “Can I get him back for Christmas, or at least Thanksgiving?” I asked, hoping for a reprieve. Cynthia looked down into her glass. I knew she was going to lie, or at least stretch the truth like she did for the last six months of our relationship when she stopped coming to my poetry readings. She stayed out later and later. She kept telling me it was for work. The truth came out the day she packed two big suitcases with everything she owned, except for Charlemagne. She said she was going to visit her dad in Arizona, but I knew better. She never came back to see either one of us, until today. “Maybe,” she said. “We can talk about it closer to the end of the year.” I closed my eyes, and tried not to cry. After tonight, I would be alone. Tomorrow was definitely going to suck. “Fine.” I capitulated. I downed the last of my mojito. She looked surprised. She hadn't expected me to give in so easily. I tried not to smile. One day, Cynthia would get hers.
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“Come by in an hour. I want to spend some time with him, to say good-bye.” “Thirty minutes.” she dictated as she threw some money down on the bar to cover our drinks. “I'll be at your place in thirty minutes!” She pushed her way through the crowd and disappeared out the door. I left the Mandrake through the back entrance, but paused for just a moment by what had been our favorite bench, underneath the wisteria, where we'd sit for hours, our hands entwined, getting drunk and buzzed off cigarettes because we believed that is what lovers are supposed to do. But she got bored with the poverty, the nihilism, my chronic depression and my constant mocking of her middle-class ways. I can't blame her for leaving me, but when she left Charlemagne behind, that made me angry. He missed her terribly. It took both of us months to get over her and to get on with our lives. We became partners. We did it - and here she was breaking our fucking bond. My walk home was a short one. I lived, like all life-style alchies, only one block from the bar. I opened the door. Charlemagne lay on my bed, sleeping. I walked over, sat down and stroked his head. “Hey, buddy, wake up. I got some news for you,” Charlemagne opened one sleepy brown eye, clearly not pleased. “Cynthia’s coming to get you.” Charlemagne rolled his eyes, unimpressed. “She's totally missed you. She's coming to take you to your new home. Lots of toys, good food, kids to play with, lots of room. Better than this dump.” He yawned. “You're going to be so happy there,” I said, and swallowed the lump in my throat. “You won't even remember me after a week, you'll be like, “Who? That guy? Who's he?” “Well, buddy, let's get you something to eat before you go off to your new home. I got a special treat for you.” I rose from the bed, pulled out a can of beef stew. “I can't send you to your new home hungry, can I?” I poured the stew into a bowl and popped it into the microwave. A tear made its way from my left eye and splashed onto my hand. I screwed my eyes shut. The microwave bell went off. I opened the door. The stew was warm, just the way Charlemagne liked it. “Let's not forget your medicine. We got to keep you well,” I said as I opened the fridge and grabbed his medicine. I added the medicine to the stew and and stirred it with a spoon. “The doctor said you have to take this every day. And
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you've been really good about that.” Charlemagne, smelling the soup, rose up out of bed. I put the bowl down in front of him. He lapped up the soup with sloppy strokes, splashing it on the floor and my shoes. I didn't care. I petted and stroked his head. I scratched him behind the ears. I started to cry. I was going to miss him. He had no idea how much. Even I didn't know. Just as I was putting the leash on Charlemagne's collar, there was a knock at the door. Charlemagne, sniffed the air. He could smell Cynthia through the door. He perked his ears and whined expectantly. We walked over to the door. I put my hand on the knob. “This is it, buddy. Be good. Okay?” I opened the door. At the sight of Cynthia, Charlemagne went nuts, wagging his stubby tail and jumping up and down on his stubby arthritic legs. At least one of us was happy to see her. “Charlemagne, baby!” Cynthia cried. She bent down, pick him up and gave him a tight squeeze. Charlemagne, ever the gentleman, struggled slightly against her iron grip. She clasped him to her breast. “Oh, sweetie, I am so glad to see you again. Mommy's going to take you home now.” She put Charlemagne back down. He sat back on his hind legs, panting, his eyes going back and forth between us, happy to see us both together again. “I've got to get going. Thank you for doing this. I'll think about your request. If I feel it's appropriate, I'll email you in a few weeks.” She turned to leave. Charlemagne, her faithful bitch, followed her out the door, which closed with a soft final “click. Charlemagne was gone. An hour later, there was a knock at my door. I knew who it would be. I was going to jail. I didn't care. Charlemagne went quietly, at least, I'd hoped he had. If I couldn't keep our kid, then no one would have him.

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Copyright 2012 Marie Lecrivain / M. Justine Gerard

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Central Park 8.04

On a humid August Saturday, with sweat snaking in between our scalps, we sat on a Central Park bench and I turned to Rayed and looked him square in the eyes and said, I have an almost melancholic need to be with you. He looked at me and his response held a blank, serene expression with lips set straight and eyes glazed over. A kind of sadness behind my love for you, I said, facing him now, jaw squared, voice even and determined, fingers laced between his, knee curled up on his lap. He said nothing. I’m terribly attached to you, I insisted, as the birds around us chirped tiredly in the heat, mini-tongues panting out their beaks. A hopeless, non-romantic inclination that binds my arms to your waist, my head to your shoulders. I can't stand it when you're more than a few feet away from me, I said. A squeal of neediness thrusting its fist out my lungs, proclaiming flags and slogans as it unearthed its way into the open. When you're on a night out, I heard myself say, and haven’t called me, and I find myself steadily accepting that you don't need me as much as I need you, I said, teeth clenching at the shameless cliché. I said, leaning forward, slightly aggressive, a desperation dripping out my eyes, that I can't never imagine you not in my life. The triple negatives swung around me like musical notes floating in a cartoon strip. People around us milled about aggressively, noses upturned and arms outstretched to walk over-groomed dogs with no wilderness skills, the sheltered arrogance of an over-loved big-family child. I can't, I said to him, trying my best to break in through the glaze of his eyes, and see what he was thinking, go on some days because I’m plagued with the thought of your eventual departure. Because I feel, I said, and suddenly——the ground around us rumbled a deep growl and the grass around us began splitting in patches like a carefully constructed puzzle set walked all over——I feel, I said, that eventually you will, I said, pleading, validation please, some violent denial of this statement please, please sir won't you do me such a favor——and blinding even in the midday sun, beams of light began
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shooting up through cracks in the grass, and the patches began to shrink until flecks of molten lava oozing in the center of the earth became visible, and I said, almost shaking his shoulder wildly now for any, any reaction, because eventually, that's what happens, I said, that people look inside and see a cesspit of ——and the birds suddenly started clinking as they hit the ground and I realized they weren't real creatures and but actually a mess of nuts and bolts lazily screwed together, and that the sullen chirping was really second-hand voice boxes shipped over cheap from China——that you have a more settled mind, I began to shout, because the eruptions were starting to get loud. That you’re more content, and less dependent, less slavish to your own mind and with a firmer grip——and the rumbles grew and grew, and a loud scream to our right showed a tree toppling over onto a car, and the crowds around us began their sheep-like frenzy and people began bumping into each other with screams stuck into their throats, arms flying overhead, yells of 'Charlie, hold my hand, we have to leave' circling around, blond-haired kids with strawberry lips and blue eyes began screeching for mommy, and I said, do you hear me? I shook him now. Hey, I said, shaking and shaking his shoulder, do you hear me? His eyes remained glazed as ever and his expression stayed unchanged. That stupid almost-grin on his face stayed frozen, that serene passivity curtaining his face, and our bench started to shake, and then tilt to the right, and then tilt to the left, and I yelled, do you understand? Do you understand what I’m saying to you right now? shaking and shaking his shoulder till his head wobbled like a dashboard Obama figurine standing at the windshield of our car. Do you hear me, I said. As people lost their children, husbands, wives, siblings, minds, as dogs went from terrified yelping to furious barking to rabid chasing to biting maniacs, as children's wailing sobs turned into screams and then into bursting throats—I said, Rayed, do you fucking hear me—His eyes blinked calmly and he suddenly looked directly into my eyes and said: I’m starting to starve, and we need to get munchies. Because we were high as balls that day. It was a Saturday, and it was summer, and we were nostalgic, and there it was. Are you coming? He said, starting to get up. Ifra. He said. Brows furrowed. Are you coming?
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I stared at him silently for a few seconds before snapping back to now. What? I asked, head in a fog. He was standing up now. I’m going to get food, he said, hand outstretched. Come walk with me. In a minute, I said. Voice dreamy and eyes loopy and brain in fierce competition with heart. A golden haired retriever jogged up next to us in search of a missing frisbee. A couple a few feet away canoodled under the cooling shade of a pine tree. Old ladies gathered under a statue to muse over the debris of old age. He looked at me with his hand still outstretched, and I said, in a minute. Give me a minute. I’ll be with you in a second.

Copyright 2013 by Ifra Asad

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Origami

Over dinner, for our anniversary, in the restaurant where everything seemed to be either silver or black and elegantly muted, you handed me an origami swan made from your napkin. I had watched you work with your tongue stuck out a bit in moments of intense concentration. I had seen your eyes brighten when the paper began to resemble a swan and the gentle way you reached over and placed it on my plate. I thought to myself, this is sweeter than any entree, so when the waitress came and you ordered swordfish, I only asked for wine. You looked at me suspiciously but didn't say anything, and the swan sat politely on my plate. By the time your fish came and you picked up your knife and cut the fish up I was half-drunk and did the same with my swan. As if daring me, you still didn't say anything so we sat in silence, and no one in the restaurant raised an eyebrow. I was wearing my nice pants. I ate the whole swan, little piece by piece washed down with wine and water. Then I picked up the check and put my arm around you. The door slammed behind us. The streetlights made the city look like a field of stars and we were both, secretly, cold.

Copyright 2013 by Mikko Harvey

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Rocktop Prophets for H.K. Rainey The fog hangs about the Carmel shore like something more or less poetic, harboring lonely secrets and treasures stolen by the sea. Once alone upon the landscape, the dead poet's house is now caught between the homes of the rich and boring people he despised. We search for his ghost but it has fled deep into the granite and cypress, just as he foretold. So we walk along the beach, filling our pockets with pretty debris. We sit upon the sand and laugh at empty things while prophets sit like drunken Buddhas atop the rocks, their wisdom less than the chatter of gulls. Our laughter drifts with ghosts into the fog and this is magic enough. Since the dawn of time hearts have broken for less.

Copyright 2013 by William Taylor Jr.

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HOSTAGE NEGOTIATOR

She has locked herself in there with them. That part of me has holed up in the hillside apartment we kept when I first moved in. In her bare feet and black bohemian dress, she roams that empty bedroom studying the phantom limbs of our lovemaking. I keep trying to call her home and back to us, but she won’t come out. She stares at our young profiles as they stare into each other. Spooning your back as you lie facing me, stroking the curve of my side. Sitting on the sink in the bathroom listening to us shower together. I've tried to understand what she wants. I've tried making offers, bargaining with her, reminding her of the life she now has. But she won’t budge. She stuck her head out of the sliding glass door and screamed out to the hillside. She won't talk to me anymore. She says she only will deal with you from now on. She says that there is only one way she will come out, move home, move on. I'm sorry. I have done everything I can. You need to break in and claim her.

Copyright 2013 by Megan Dobkin

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Strange Elevator

I held the doors open for the VP’s assistant. She reached the back right corner in two strides and pivoted to face the spot where she knew I would stand. She waited for the doors to close. “I and probably the whole committee saw you staring at my feet the entire working lunch in the park today, you fucking pervert.” This approach pulled an immediate “yes” from me. She smirked. “Thanks for not lying about it--” “You’re welcome.” “--you creepy bitch. Tell me exactly what you were thinking about.” 10 floors down so far, not a single stop. I had to talk, or she would. “I couldn’t help it,” I pleaded, “I was surprised at their cadence, which vibrated on their pandurate slopes like warm honey would across guitar strings. I would worship-- no, worship is a bad word, a derogatory form of one’s real relationship with the deity, in which both parties give, need, and judge in equal measures. That is how I would relate to just the copper-cured white on your left upper inner arch. I would find an alchemy engine to forge the materials needed to subdue each angle. And,” I gulped, “there was the salt, lines and lines of it, you could practically see the crystals set on you in careful patterns by the sun. It would be crazy not to watch that. Those salt mandalas, there for all to see, but only for me and my thirst to destroy.” Her eyes were enchanted or raging; either way she was going to kill me. Each green number crawled over the last. Only halfway to the lobby, and still no new passengers. Damn this huge building with its prohibitive rents. And then she was whispering. “Well here’s what happened instead. I dug them into the grass, pinching the wet blades and sniffing for bitter roots. But when I hit the dirt it rang chills all the way up me, like someone shot ice water between my legs. I could have sworn with a little more digging I'd have found the Rosetta Stone down there, ancient lexicons hammered into cool stone. We flew to the British museum, and in a vast climatecontrolled gallery you bent me over an obsidian sarcophagus, right where some priest fucked his slave under the gaze of the obelisks, and fucked me until I
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exhaled a small new warmth among the ancient dead, a model of the living earth as it spins all its heat into the black universe.” The whisper ceased. The world ceased to move. The doors of existence opened. She ran her hands down her bright blue skirt, and stepped away from me into the lobby. Copyright 2013 by J Gone

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Omnium-Gatherum

Adolescence Before Adderall In high school, inhalants were a bad influence; I hung with hydrocarbons in a handkerchief; Freon was my best friend. One time, a guidance counselor with a scabby crew cut, a short-sleeved white dress shirt and a skinny flat black tie, “the full Fifties” we called it, yanked me into his office after he saw me attempt to walk into a hall locker, thinking it was a classroom. He warned me that I was “headed for trouble, fast, buster.” Intrigued, I pulled a True from the pack tucked in the hip pocket of my patched-covered jeans, Bic lit the stick with a flame the size of my middle finger and blew a contrail of cool that mushroomed like Hiroshima between his ass-crack eyes. “Like a white tornado,” I said.

Notes on Graduate School in Washington, D.C. Hooked on meth, kiting checks, watching Reagan’s coronation coatless and sweating; dating blond-cool Georgetown Wasps soon to be, or, better yet, soon to be married to, lawyers lobbying for leather-upholstered acronyms. Blue evenings on lonely corners, high, hungry and cold, weighing the pros and cons of hustling, wondering how low I might go, what it would feel like, taste like, whether I would throw up. Fleets of night-length, teeth-tread limousines skating on the permanent black ice shielding government’s mono-lettered streets, moonlight glimmering off the hard-waxed, bullet-proof bodies; inside, faint silhouettes, gray as graves, empowered by unimpeachable marble laws and the overtime heroics of paperslave labor living in lesser principalities and forgettable zip codes.

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Getting Over on Goldman Sachs My sole interaction with the cancerous enterprise was a phone call while sitting at my desk in the old Times building on 43d Street. “Who is this?” a strange and stressed male voice inquired. “Who’s this?” I threw back in my best Jersey accent, my tenor more than implying that if asked again I would repeat myself and insert an emphatic “the fuck” in the middle of the sentence; nota bene: I did not use the colloquial “d” instead of the proper diphthong “th” in “this.” The caller, a fearless institutional trader, I later learned, replied with an even better Jersey accent: “Your number’s on my wife’s cell phone bill.” I hung up.

Aristophanes in Amarillo If “Whirl is king,” Bob Wills is God.

“‘Elvis Costello Lyrics in Code’ for $200, Alex” [∞] = < ∅

Ode on Keats Were it not for a fatal cough, the poet might have lived long enough to meditate on a different truth: ‘Youth is beauty; beauty youth …’ Copyright 2013 by Nick D'Annunzio Jones

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BAH, HUMBUG, TO THE WORKING LIFE

We base our standards on tire tread guarantees. That’s what I’ve heard. 50,000 miles, 60, perhaps 70 as we become less and less mobile surviving well into our 80’s. Is this wise? My right shoulder bone creaks at the very thought. Why not? Well, well. If I were pregnant, I wouldn’t bowl with grapefruits. And I certainly wouldn’t wish my final breath to occur during a bourgeois stroll through what most of us call the working life.

Copyright 2013 by Alan Britt

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Learning to Read and Write

I offer my friend, the bank robber, a deal he can't refuse. He is pretty much illiterate, can't read or write, can't hold a job, which is why he robs banks. He's says he's going broke paying literates to write the things he needs written. I agree to write his holdup notes for him, asking only a share of future profits. Seems like a fair deal. It's not hard work. Not very demanding. I could misspell half the words and leave out the punctuation and what the hell would he know? But I write the usual. I include a gun. This works pretty well for a time. He even asks me to write to his mother, tell her he's doing pretty good in his new job, not to worry. She writes him back. I tell him how proud she is. Sometimes he lays low. Money gets tight and I write to his mother, ask her for money. Work's slow. He'll pay her back first chance. This breaks his heart, but what can you do? I get a share of that money too. Not much, but some. Things have all the appearances of working. Then, out of the blue, just like that, he gets full of himself, decides this ain't a good deal after all. He doesn't want to give me my share anymore, wants to go it alone. Starts mailing his mother Hallmark cards he finds at the pharmacy. Happy Anniversary. Happy New Baby. Happy Chanukah. What does he know? He doesn't even sign them, just goes by the pictures. And he takes a blank piece of paper. Nothing on it, walks into a bank, casual, slides the piece of paper toward the teller. She doesn't even look at it. She knows. She hands him the money, pretty as you please, just like that, and he says thanks. He's flush. He brings home takeout Chinese with real wooden chop sticks and little packets of soy sauce and hot mustard. I'm suppose to be grateful, but I'm pissed. Not confrontational, just pouty. I eat my broccoli beef but don't even touch the Kung Pow chicken. I say nothing. I can tell he's looking at me, wondering how long I'm going to keep this up, but he says nothing, just keeps eating. After dinner I clean up the boxes, the chopsticks, napkins, the empty, bleeding little packets of soy sauce. Later, I open a book, start reading out loud, only I'm not really reading. I'm just making shit up. But before I do, I give him this look. I look him in the face, straight into his eyes with my head tilted a little down so my eyes are kind of rolled to the top, eery looking... "One dark and stormy night, four murderers met at a
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crossroad. As the lightening flashed and the thunder shook the skies above them, they began to plan their next move!” He's all ears, says lemme see that book, stares at, takes his time, running his fingertips over the pages like a blind man teaching himself sign language. He does this for an hour, at least. Doesn't even look up, suddenly just reaches into his shirt pocket, tosses me a stubby little pencil and a blank piece of paper, asks me if I'm any good with a gun.

Copyright 2013 by Steve Vermillion

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It Takes Two Seconds

She is not here to pick up my socks It's not her job to hunt them down either Is it really asking too much to put them in the hamper? It's bad enough she has to wash them in the first place

Copyright 2013 by Frank Mundo

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The Trouble with Most Poetry

is that it's just a mess of stillborn words serving only to poison the beauty it claims to serve, like bricks around a garden making a tomb.

Copyright 2013 by William Taylor Jr.

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I've Been Underwater

You’ve taken to calling yourself a fruit-bat now. In the dark you pull your frames low to the tip of your nose and snarl in the mirror. Pretend you’re not awful. Solitude is the space between your voice and ears and whispers are not solitude in the same way that you cook their food and don’t sit at their table. What ensues is a commitment to kindness, a testament to your rouging cheeks. I dare say some value’s there. You’ve been underwater for a day now, and the last time you went for a walk, your shorts rose clear to the lobes of your ears and the cheeks of your buttocks giggled with the rising and receding of the tide. It would have been an awful sight for the neighbors if they weren’t so stuck on color -blind theory and the night that it happened on was more clear and meaningful. But it was dark, and full of fantastic rippling clouds that gave them reason not to look in your direction, so your swollen buttocks wasn’t proud like it was meant to look, it deflated and handled awkwardly and gave you a hell of a time when you tried to fit it back into your basketball shorts and sift behind some seaweed. Because this is one of those things. You have to keep moving forward or the progress starts to melt away. You’re not back, that would drive you insane. And not only did none of it happen, none of your time survived. You’re just closer to the dark closing of the closet door. You’d been with weirdos for a very long time a few years ago, but you didn’t learn how to communicate this to anyone. Been wondering why you feel so mature and all the 40yr-olds see it when they talk to you. You outright told one once, but they’d asked you to explain and you couldn’t manage. Figured you shouldn’t have spoken up about it if you couldn’t. It’s one of those things with responsibilit y, this, and you only ended up pretentious and young when you couldn’t express what was real. It was true stuff though, you were with so many weirdos growing up it gave you volumes of information on people, but like your ebonics, you understand it in writing, hear nuances worth in oceans and low frequencies and can’t express yourself for shit. You’re vague and a young boy sloshing around in black galoshes. I don’t concern myself with the appearance of your skin so much anymore, but it’s getting exceptionally pruned, and it wells up in blotches all over your abdomen. Sometimes I think that I should say something to somebody, but the last time I tried, they told me it wasn’t important and to stop thinking about these things. I woke up black last year and nobody thought enough of it to do much more than to throw me overboard with a shrug and some old Nike laces. Damn it all if they gave me goggles, because it was so dark the night they did it and the lake was so black already that there wasn’t anything to see but more black. But I heard you
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splashing around up there. I heard you found your favorite place to shit the other day. And I heard that normally you like to relieve yourself up high. On the third story of the Reps building at your city’s Art’s Council. Where you sweat, there’s a stall dedicated to you. Up there, you run into nobody. You have the entire porcelain, tiled, color-coordinated shitting quarters to yourself. I know, sometimes you play music. You like the familiarity of one location, it’s almost li ke you’re at home, cozy in just a bathrobe. So, we think we know your type, and your new favorite hole is inside of this place, Perris Burger, it’s about a ten minute walk from the room you’re renting. Lately, you’ve been really good about taking the initiative and walking to shit there. It’s a beef grill, right off of Perris Boulevard with a logo advertising a Chinese teriyaki bowl instead of a burger some seasons. You almost never eat it, it’s way over your budget, and a place called “Perris Burger” should have a fucking burger logo anyway, but you walk there to use the restroom. Rather than frequent the toilet in the house with the room you sometimes pay three-hundred a month to rent, it seems better, in your view, to shit outside. So you’ve been walking down to Perris Burger often. I know you don’t too much like the toilet there, it’s a little bit long, so you have to arch your spine and recruit all the muscles in your back to perform the action. When you shit, you like to be comfortable, and frankly, you never are there. The view, though. The view’s what keeps you motivated. Inside that bathroom is the most magnificent piece of art you ever did saw. It’s a painting, too. Now, I don’t know too much about art. Not nearly enough to make you hard, because art ’s really your thing, but I can do a hell of a job describing it to you. It’s a painting of a sky. There are a few houses in the left -hand corner, but really it’s the sky. You’ve never seen a sky so wonderful in all of your days, it is the perfect shade of blue. There’s also a field, with brown rusty grass in it and a glare from the ceiling lights. You can’t turn the lights off, so the picture most always looks the same, day in and night out, with the glare, staring at it, it’s beautiful. You miss the scrawny twigs also on the left, next to the houses—they’re actually half out of the frame but they are there too, with the sky, and rust colored grass; existing. There are three houses, actually. They are all red. You take your shits in this restroom. You also have a favorite bag now, for your things. It’s plain, and makes you look bad. Hell, you have a favorite bus driver, too. His name is Leo and he’s probably about thirty. The full beard on his Italian-American face makes him warm
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even for the birthmark on his neck. He greets you every time you ride his twenty, his sixteen, his nineteen line and you always do this thing where you fumble around with your pass and go “Hey, Leo. How’s she riding?” To keep it casual Leo goes, “Hey, man” (He doesn’t know your name, or ever ask for it, but that’s because he’s so considerate and the reason you like him). He’ll say, “Like a champ, Boss” and let you step past the yellow line into the hot bus-ride meditation on the room you’re renting and the empty boxes of oatmeal and peanut butter jars in the closet. I know you’ve been riding the bus a lot lately, you don’t drive. You have an eight bucker at a library that’s a two hour each way commute by the bus system, and you’re on four hour shifts, maximum. Here you get paid once a month, on the twentieth of every month. You get paid for working a three hour shift Friday and Saturday and a four hour shift, Monday and Wednesday. You don’t work Tuesday or Thursday, so Leo and the Riverside Transit Voice Assistant go wanting. *** Down here, D’Kwon’s getting undressed and asking if I’ve ever been to the La Sierra Library. Well, I have not been to the La Sierra Library as many times as you, or he, has been to the La Sierra Library. And I have not been to the La Sierra Library in Riverside, California where books are cleaned like children and the homeless men sell drugs. But I have been where there is no peace and volunteers volunteering push metallic carts along the thin carpet. Pacing back and forth all day everyday except for Christmas day, pushing and pulling squealing carts—neglectful parents are volunteering at the La Sierra Library. And where a white woman named Evie asks to be addressed as Miss Evie, and will hawk-eye your performance from the circulation desk before walking past the petite row of computers that is the computer station, and the straggling 900’s of the DDS to you in the Juvenile EZ Readers, still walking, to the end of the alphabet, just as you’re about to slide a finger between the margin of spa ce in the shelf of books. There’s been fluid in your lungs lately, and the day you woke up blotched, you went to work coughing. While you were about to drop your child off at day care, she was trying to remind you about the time Jim Crow stopped by the world of letters. “That book has an orange stripe of tape, Quentin. It doesn’t belong there,
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Quentin. It’s not a prejudice; it’s just better this way.” So you gave her a mean-ass look, re-enrolled your child at the shelf with the other orange stripes, and didn’t offer any explanation until bath-time—when you squirted it with a bottle of Hair Straightener and told it to do its best to get along with the other oranges. It’s better this way. It was pouring out of your mouth, fluid and droney, and black. You got your cotton socks all wet and learned they don’t absorb a damn thing, so you did your best to swallow it back down. *** The library I haven’t been to’s sort of a tyrannical orphanage, too. The volunteers know. I don’t know. The volunteers give the pep-talks and baths to the thousand and twenty-three children crammed into their dormitories, side by side. Silent. The volunteers tell them to buck up! It’s not that bad! Do your best to look your best, and maybe you’ll find a nice family to take you home 731.67! They got no teeth at the La Sierra Library. Been ground away by the frequency of the peptalks. I hear no one’s a fan of Pragmatism down there. And you, at the La Sierra Library, you damned few volunteers, your chosen vocation is to deal in the homeless. (Those poor few gentlemen who congregate outside on the green lawn and talk amongst themselves). You are sent out in waves like reconnaissance; like blood-hounds whose purpose is to report on shopping carts. See –and it usually happens around winter—when there are shopping carts out, it means the men are attempting to establish a tent-city around the La Sierra Library, and that’s a no, no. When it happens, you lie about it, personally. Because you’re good buddies with those guys outside, been with weirdos a long time. But in fairness, it never really matters when you lie. The head-mistress, Mary-Anne never trusts the naysayers, you see. So she’s going to send out three more in your place, the weak ones, who will indeed confirm the Tent-City’s struggle for unity. And then they must be diasporised. Mary-Anne’s going to go ahead and call the Sheriff. She will ask personally, to speak with the Sheriff. I will listen to the entire conversation and report it here, because this has become a cry for help. “Yes, Sheriff Jones, this is Mary-Anne at the La Sierra Library. Hiiiii. Yes, I
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am alright but I’d like to beg your investigation into a matter of some importance down here at the library. No, I’m afraid it’s rather urgent, there are shopping carts in the storage dock.” I confess that though he did talk with diction, through the phone’s speaker I could not make out verbatim the responses of the Sheriff. I will do my best to paraphrase with accuracy. “Oh no! The shopping carts are back? Are you in a secure location?” “Yes, yes Sheriff. My volunteers are rounding the perimeter as we speak, we’ve got young eyes on them.” “Yes, ma’am.” “Yes, Sheriff. Oh, and Sheriff—the men are selling drugs! Be sure to bring with you one of those mongrels with the noses.” “Mary-Anne, are you sure about that? It’d be just awful to make an assumption like that—without any real evidence, or justification of belief, or good cause, in fact Mary-Anne, that’d be bigotry and we’re adults, Mary-Anne. Let’s be reasonable. Now how is it that you know the men are selling drugs?” “One of the men has a very dirty white beard and ghastly locks of hair. He’s always walking back and forth up the sidewalk talking to himself and I’m sure he’s got a mental disability. I always see him and the others with big backpacks, they’re so close-knit and always spitting and crowding the phone booth. And so many of them have on scuba-gear—I’d just appreciate it if you came down again.” “But of course, ma’am. Right away.” *** Some of the dirtiest work you’ve ever carried out has been through the La Sierra Library, and I’m ashamed to say it was for minimum wage. You handle population control. They don’t like the twins down there at the library, they follow an ancient law. You were given a stack of children and a black Sharpie. These are your sins. I watched you attack the books with your Sharpie, and mark them good so that they can never return and the entire world will know of their rejection. You take away citizenships next; they are dead to the La Sierra Library and all others. I listen to
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them cry when the acid burns away the adhesive of their serial number bar codes; they will never reproduce. Then you lock them away in the big grey sweat box with the plastics and papers and other non-biodegradables to contemplate it. I suspect they’ve all but died when George collects them every Tuesday, but I dream sometimes, I dream that they haven’t. Or that… (Knock on wood) you’ve done the wrong twin in, because it’s just awful when you get it wrong. They really don’t pay you enough, you don’t see letters anymore, everywhere are little colored hearts and innocent smiles. And while it’s true, his name escapes me, he came up to you as you sat down at the bus stop in front of the green lawn where some were talking amongst themselves. You were sobbing because it was Tuesday. His hair was locked and he was a black man who’d lived a long life and you had a civilized conversation, goddammit, about Audre Lorde and Black Hebrews and post-racism; he was running low on oxygen, though. Towards the end he’d asked you why you’d called the cops on his buddies. You just sobbed, and sobbed. So you see? While, yes, I have been to the thin carpet, the warmth and smell of Lemon Pledge, you have been to the La Sierra Library, where some books go to die and the homeless men sell drugs and the shelves are sprayed down with Lemon Pledge. But D’Kwon says you saw Leo today, it’s Monday. And off that nineteen line, the sidewalk stuck close to you. Nine PM and you’re walking up Perris Boulevard in December. The air’s cold and heavy under your feet, you haven’t eaten in a while. Perris Boulevard might be 18 miles long, might be a lifetime, and you are four miles from your destination, a rented room off of Ironwood and Gassen. The jet of carbon emissions made you cough when the engine pulled away, and it was the last time you felt warm. You lived with a diabetic for twenty years, so I knew you knew your blood sugar was low when you pushed the button to make the intersection yield and weren’t ready when it was time to cross. And the stars in the sky that weren’t really stars, but faint hints of existence hugging the city’s lit up fat lip, shone dull on the small businesses and fast-food wrappers, restaurants, young people that littered the street. The Del Taco diner that you’re approaching shifts side to side because your steps are sluggish, and the passersby probably think you’re a drug abusing paranoid. Maybe one of the lost youth who lives on the street enrolled in college, not attending, spending financial tax dollars on cocaine and liquor. No matter, no
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matter. You passed the Del Taco where you usually sit inside to wait the hour for the next bus to arrive, but you are too hungry tonight, and the women inside did miss you. You passed the bus stop, it did go wanting. Into the street you wandered. And back onto the sidewalk. Braced and ready, you shook off the self-pity because you’re into art, and the moon light isn’t dramatic anymore, honey. Ready now, ready now. Street light, lamp, curb. You passed the storage unit where all of the things that you promised, really promised never to pawn for food money or your pocket are crying from the wanting. You can’t go in, you can’t go in. You didn’t pay the bill this month. Run your fingers over the grooves of the padlock key in the small of your pocket and keep walking. Do the best you can. You pass a tree, two trees, seven trees? Seaweed. You lose your balance, you keep moving. You make your body steady, and keep moving. Nobody that you know will pass you in their cars because there aren’t cars down here. You’ll get no sympathy from the moon, it let you go. You pass a Christmas tree field with the abandoned few, about four feet high and begging at the corner of Dracaea; there’s the smell of pines you never knew that yo u loved. It is the last time you’ll enjoy the smell of pines. You pass Sunnymead, swim straight through the street, see one of the homeless youth dying half-asleep in the cold, you have no blanket to offer and pass Ironwood. You live off of Ironwood. Make a left, dive left. Open a door and fall. Stand hunched in the kitchen opening a packet of macaroni and push START, the cheese floats about your face.

Copyright 2013 by Quentin Savage

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48

To My Retarded Brother

I see you’re shriveled up in that chair again, drooling on yourself. Remind me to tell mom that you never existed, we didn’t get you Dragon Naturally Speaking for nothing you little prick. Fuck you, you faggot. Do faggots even fuck cripples? I bet they don’t. Don’t cry, you son of a bitch. I can see you pretending to cry. Did I ever tell you about the time I saw you in the mirror in high school? The way your knuckles rocked made my stomach turn. You had my Germs shirt on, give it back to me. Every time I fall in the pit, I think of you. I’ve got Skrewdriver on in the bathroom and I’m boiling water for skin soup. I’m yelling, “fuck the Jews,” and doing a couple Nazi salutes before I jerk off to thoughts of blond boys. I didn’t mean to leave you like this. Copyright 2013 by Tyler Kutner
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50

Bagels and Coffee “Good morning, everyone. Thanks for coming. I have some news. Hold your questions until we’re done. Oh! I see someone has a question. Okay. Quickly, you, in the back, in the green sweater.” “How come there’s no bagels and coffee today?” “Good question. The board of directors decided to dispense with bagels and coffee, and-” “But, we've always had bagels and coffee! Is the company in trouble?” “Who said that? Oh, hi, Maxine. No, the company’s fine. The board needs to maximize employee productivity and cut costs. Bagels and coffee are expendable. The man hours wasted while you all socialize before the meeting are not. Fifty employees times thirty minutes is twenty-five man hours wasted per week. So -” “I have a question.” “Huh? Oh, the guy with the red tie with your hand up. We have to finish the meeting. Ask me after the meeting is ov-” “You answered everyone else's questions!” “I answered two questions.” “Let him ask!” “Yeah, let him ask!” “Answer his question!” “Answer!” “QUIET! Fine. What’s your question?” “Sorry, I almost forgot what I want to ask -” “Ask me later.” “No! Wait! Okay, I remember. We’ve all been with the company since the beginning. The board put us on salary to eliminate overtime. They got rid of our dental plan. They turned part of our lunch room into storage space. We have to take random drug tests, work nights and weekends, our Internet usage is monitored. We have to sign out for bathroom breaks. Last week, we were told by
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HR to provide the passwords to our Facebook pages. Now, you take away our bagels and coffee!” “Do you actually have a question?” “Yes! Does the board understand how this makes us feel? It’s not about bagels and coffee. You’re taking away our morale, our collective dignity.” “Are you finished?” “Yes.” “Good. No more questions. Jesus, you’re a bunch of whiners! The board's giving you a choice. You can keep your bagels and coffee, but they're to be consumed during your assigned breaks. Or the funds used for bagels and coffee can be given to you in the form of a small raise. It’s up to you. We need to vote on this now. Those of you who want the money say, ‘Aye’.” “Can we have some time to think about it?” “No. So, how many want a raise?... Anyone... I’m waiting... Okay, then, how many want the bagels and coffee, say ‘Aye'.” “AYE!” “Okay. It’s settled. Personally, I think you’re all stupid. It’s money! One more thing; to save time, Friday morning meetings will be shortened to thirty minutes. Employee questions must be emailed to HR, and answers will be provided at the weekly meeting. Any more questions? No? Good! Get back to work.”

Copyright 2013 by M. Justine Gerard

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53

The Mystery of an Ending

I saw an article about Richard Farnsworth deciding--or declaring--that he wouldn't write anymore. Do writers retire? I asked myself. How could they? They don't have any money. What would they retire on? But Farnsworth obviously has made a good living with two dozen books to his credit and lots of other stuff, several professorships, for instance. What about me? All of that was true except the professorships. I wrote professors into my fiction often but never wanted to be one. I wrote about them as self-absorbed, egotistical, narrow, predatory, unhappily divorced, alienated from their children, moving to the country and moving back to the city. But that's the limit of what I made from professorships, not a salary, just a magazine sale, inclusion in a book, once in a while an award or a grant, and yet, okay, I could retire. Our house is paid for. We're already contributing to college funds for our grandchildren, for goodness sake. Gerald's annuity combined with what I seem to have accumulated…it's enough. Farnsworth said he wanted time to read, time to travel, time to be with friends, time to live a little before he died. That was one interview. Another interview was more candid. He admitted he had said all he had to say, couldn't imagine saying anything more. Then there was a TV special where he contradicted himself slightly. He talked about the endless range of things you could write about. There was always more to say, another way to portray relationships, conflicts, moments of confusion at the personal or social level. But who had the psychic and physical energy to keep doing it at eighty-one? (Wait a minute, I said to myself, I’m eighty-one!) He said he got up at seven, by eight he was working, kept on until noon, had lunch and a walk and restlessly returned to his desk, pursuing what he called “fugitive perfection.” Was a scene too long or short? Could you envision how its characters looked and felt and know them by their diction alone? Was the echo of Kafka legitimate or forced? Should you press harder on how angry you were about something, let yourself “bleed through” a character, as he put it? What colors did dahlias come in? I identified with everything Farnsworth said, even though when Ned Blunt died he wrote a poem the day before, knowing death was just around the corner. I liked that so much. He ended it by rejecting everyone's fatalistic sympathy because what did they know? They weren't the ones about to die. That's the way I wanted to go, I thought. Then. Now? Gerald knew what I was thinking. He knew a good part of why I have written so much is that I wanted to live so many different lives and you can’t do that "in real life" but you can in
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fiction. Want to be a fisherman's wife? Be one. Want to see a stranger lurking around your barn? Put him there, give him a past, remember who he was and realize why he would return. Of course, that was Andy Perkins. Decades ago his grandfather owned this farm. Gerald said, "I don’t know how you’ve written so much, but if you feel like stopping, you don't have to give a reason. I'll tell you the truth about Farnsworth: He's becoming the carnival barker who haunts all his stuff. He wants to remind everyone what a wonderful show he’s put on. I don't imagine you'd like carrying on that way in the least." I said, "You're cruel but right, as usual." "Cruel to Farnsworth?" "Yes, and a little bit to me--you don't know how I've done it? You've seen me do it. I sit and write and erase and make a mess all over the dining room table and end up sick with worry there’s something I want in a story and can’t put it i nto words. And do you know who else I admire? Gail Tharp. Gail arranged a virtual book signing with a Skype connection between Philadelphia and London. She used some kind of machine that scrawled her inscriptions for her because she didn't feel up to traveling across the Atlantic." "She was sick. I thought it was noble of her, doing even that much. It wasn’t cheeky or noblesse oblige or any of that." "I suppose you're right." I kept getting up and following my routine, not unlike Richard Farnsworth's routine, but I was nettled and had been for some time--with myself and everyone else. I realized there already was a tone of "What? She's still alive?" in articles about me. I received fewer invitations to give readings and sit on panels, and it wasn’t because I had turned ninety percent of them down for decades. There was a disturbing uptick in PhD dissertations retrospectively assessing my “body of work.” What about my body of me? I realized Gerald was right. Farnsworth, clever fellow that he is, had begun narrating his own death whereas I was letting others do it for me. He was having the time of his life declaring he wasn't Farnsworth anymore but knew Farnsworth better than anyone, spent his whole life looking over Farnsworth's shoulder, could tell you why he got funny about sex in one period and dark in another, could let you in on where he felt he'd been unfair to his father. I could never do anything like that because I had never been my own carnival barker. Lots of my stories caught my mood as a young girl, an adolescent, a young mother, or a single young mother, but I wasn't self-involved
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autobiographically. Really. I needed perspectives and situations. My life was my prop room, that’s all. Besides, I've never had Farnsworth's magic with the media. To make your exhaustion a kind of New Orleans funeral, trumpets and drums and dancers, that took his kind of brass, as my mother would have said. You’d have to put as much into calling it quits as keeping on writing, and I wasn’t that entertaining, not witty like Farnsworth or Ned Blunt or Gail Tharp. The issue that really plagued me, though, was a familiar one. I've dealt with it forever and only understood it--this is the sad truth--as a writer, not as a person. When and how does a story end? What is the critical moment? You can’t overshoot it. You’ve got to hit the brakes just right. The mystery of the ending has to be predictable but not predictable, a fast reprise of the entire story, a moment on the summit, looking down on the story’s gnarled slopes. That's what gnawed at me. How could a writer resist exploring the mystery of her own ending, especially when she is tired, is fed up with being told she hasn’t lost a step, not that she’s getting better and breaking new ground? You are eighty-one, madam. How many more pencils do you think you will you need? Farnsworth understood this and wrapped things up his way. Did I have a right to my way, concluding my writing career on my own terms, spending time with my friends, not Farnsworth's friends, reading books I'd been afraid to read for decades. I've avoided Don Quixote if not Ulysses. I have always told myself I just didn't have time to do Proust justice, so leave him alone. A long time ago I think I wrote a story in which a professor says something like this to his student: "Proust gives you his soul, the least you could do is give him yours. You wouldn't come out on the short end, I guarantee it." And then the professor leered at the student a bit; she'd just told him she couldn't go on having an affair with him; and he quickly got back to lecturing her instead of kissing her, as if kissing her hadn't mattered…kissing Proust, that's what mattered! Gerald could see I was nettled. Hard to fool a man you've been married to for thirty-seven years. He said, "If you told the world you were quitting but if you kept writing anyway, just for yourself, wouldn't that be exactly the kind of ending you’d use in a story?" It irritated me when he became prescriptive about what I ought to use in a story. He never understood the risks you take, the balance you're after, the gradual way in which you peel the skin. But I saw his point. I thought this way I could have my ending all to myself and yet privately it would go on and on. She isn’t writing anymore? they’d say. Really? Well, it stands to reason--she’s past eighty, what would she write? Just like Farnsworth, she’s all used up, but just like herself, like her stories, she’s being discreet and quiet about it. No fuss. No interviews about why she wrote this story or that collection or how she saw herself in the pantheon of prose. Nope, I’d settle for being the elderly woman fretting
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about her equally elderly husband and incapacity to understand her eighteen-year old granddaughter. Let them agree that discipline erodes into habit, and habit erodes into going-through-the-motions, and why bother? I thought I’d like that, playing possum. I’ve always been cast as so sensible and straightforward, but I’m not, really. I just want to go on living and writing without any fuss about how I could possibly do it when I’d be better off admitting that I’m actually dead. Just the way I’d like my story to end.

Copyright 2013 by Robert Earle

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58

OF EAGER FATALISM

“Faggots luh my shit!” “What’s that now?” “Faggots luuuh my shit!” the Officer jovially shouted over the music, raising his eyebrows at me in the rearview mirror, eyes darting everywhere but the road. “Oh… I’m happy for you. That’s great. That’s real great.” I undid my herringbone wool scarf and placed it on top of my peacoat, politely folded next to me in the backseat. The car was becoming oppressively hot, windows fogged. “Hey Officer, you think we can crack a window in here, it’s a bit hot, no?” He paid no mind. How is he not hot, sitting there in his full policeman’s garb? He casually picked at the long and unkempt cornrow braids tucked under his navy blue cap, occasionally taking bites out of an egg salad sandwich that was resting on the dashboard. I couldn’t be sure that it was egg salad, but it smelled as such. He lit up another cigarette. “I ain’t a faggot or nuffin, but you’s a handsome dude.” “Thank you, Officer.” “All-right.” The sirens had been blaring for the entire time I was in the car. We sped through red lights with alarming frequency. Perks of the trade I suppose. We were absolutely cruising, traffic lights and oncoming headlights swirling by us in seasick halos. I couldn’t help but read Emily’s text once more: YOU HAVE NOTHING TO OFFER. YOU’RE A DISEASED ANIMAL PHILLIP. DO YOU INFECT OTHERS?? Streamers of smoke wafted through the metal mesh wiring separating the front and back seat. Narrow vectors to nowhere. The dispatch loudly screeched through dead static, something about a bunch of numbers strung together and street names. Nonsense really, grammatically inept. The officer lifted the radio to his lips, responding, “Hey ya bitch! Hey ya bitch! Tryna fuck?” He paused briefly, only to mischievously volley another “Tryna fuck?!” He laughed uncontrollably gargling spit-up. Good ol’ boy humor I presume. Not my taste but I could appreciate its working class zeal.
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“Hey, ah, Officer?” “Hey ya bitch! Fuuuuck!” Initially, I guess I thought I had hailed a taxicab or something, though after several minutes of relentlessly hard left turns and incessant siren whooping, it became clear that I was in police custody. It was this goddamn text from Emily that sent my head swimming on the way out of Booker & Dax, my arm in a flaccid hail, admittedly bumbling down some frostbitten sidewalk. Cab driver, police officernot really all that different when you think about it. Each perform a service to the people. I didn’t see a credit card swiping thing back here though. I sincerely hope the NYPD take debit. “Do you think you could maybe turn down the music a tad?” He put out his cigarette on the dashboard next to the sandwich. “What!? You don’t remember this shit from the barbeques!? Niggas was puttin in work to this shit! Listen up right here.” He turned up the music and began singing, “You know I thank God sun rises and shines on you! You know there’s nothin, NOTHIN, NOTHIN I would not do! Whoa noooooooo! Before I let you gooooooooooo! Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” Why would Emily ruin a perfectly fine evening like this? A diseased animal? Right, okay. Enjoy that human rights degree from Bard. Let me know how that works out for you. I mean, there we were- Anders, Devlin, Mandel, and I- cavorting at Booker & Dax, enjoying an endless string of dark and stormys, having a downright jolly time. Jolly. And then this text, without warning. Without context. Without merit, above all else. “Ay aaaah, lemme aks you a question tho. You be suckin’ dick right? I know you white boys be up on some gay shit, mad funny style, b!” I scoffed as loudly as possible over the energy drink commercial that was playing on the radio at full volume. “You know Officer, if I were the least bit defensive on the subject I would demand your badge number.” “???” “I said, if I were a defensive man I would have your badge! But I’m not. So forget it.” I fidgeted with the brown deerskin gloves on my lap and eyeing my reflection in the window, wiped away the sweat that had begun to mat down my hair in the front. “You know, my generation finds discrimination against homosexuals to be out of touch. I mean, I’d go as far as to say barbaric. The disenfranchised- well, what am I telling you for? You’re a black man! Excuse me, a black Officer. Surely, you
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of all people…” “What the fuck!? I’m not black, nigga! I hate them niggas!!! I’m Dominican! I got mad waves! Fall back nigga…shit got me tight! What’s good, nigga!? What’s blood, nigga!?” ‘Dominican?’ ‘Mad waves?’ The NYPD, apparently, are about as coherent as the average cab driver. He spoke a language of his own invention, some Burroughs’ beat dick lexicon. We had read several Burroughs excerpts towards the end of semester, hellish examples of the abstract magnified into homosexual fever dreams. Emily laughed out loud in class when I mispronounced ‘jissom’. “Right. Dominican, whatever it is you call it, Officer. My point being, that as a person of color, you have to understand the intrinsic irony of the homophobic rhetoric you’ve been spouting. I mean, I get it, I’m in on the joke to a certain extent, but nonetheless. A man of the law? With the media the way it is these days. I’ve seen people persecuted for much less is all I’m saying.” The Officer chewed at the radio’s volume knob, already dialed to its maximum. “It’s an interesting character flaw though. Worth exploring. A man of power, comes from nothing, himself once a disenfranchised youth and in his meteoric rise disenfranchises a whole other set of disenfranchised people. The other, so to speak. I mean the whole thing operates on a cosmic, karmic, double helix kind of thing. That could be a great story, yeah. You’d be a great character. I’m studying the Novella at The New School, so… I don’t think I’d make it about blacks and gays though. It’s a little trite, no?” The Officer made an impromptu U-turn, going about 65, and skidded over the curb, barreling into a trash bin that in turn sprayed soggy garbage on an unsuspecting cold body inhabiting a crack in the sidewalk, wool blanket clutched in papoose over its bird bones. The Officer steered with the butt of his gun. It was at this moment that the thumping from the trunk had become apparent, growing louder with the music. Something had awoken in the dark. A blind panic permeated through the backseat like static trickling down the back of my neck in unsettling waves, strangling the air. The muffled exclamations suggested some sort of rag-in-the-mouth scenario, “Mhph mmmph! Mhph mmmph!”, in a continuous gagged transmission no longer possible to ignore. “Hey ah, Officer, is there something…someone…I ah, think your friend here in the trunk is talking to you.” The Officer pointed his gun in my general direction, sizing me up in the rearview before turning to face me, his eyes, yellowed and frantic, meeting mine through
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stale menthol cigarette smoke. “Tell that bitch I got something for her ass. You wanna see, white boy?” Violent explosions of kicking and screaming radiated from the trunk into the backseat, nearly rumpling my shirt in its fettered desperation. My gaze fixated on his contorted face, his widened eyes momentarily crystalized under transient reflections from passing light posts, inevitably returning back to darkness all the same. His left arm jerked furiously in his lap, as he trained his firearm on me with his right, neck going slack, eyes rolling in the back of his head, steering wheel untouched as we veered toward a public city park. “Luh me a female cop. Jump offs...make a nigga…dick…hard.” I felt uneasy. This has to be police brutality. A case of the tables have turned. White man’s burden, so to speak. Oh god, Emily would just love this. She would fucking love this, wouldn’t she? Like she’s so cultured, like living in a loft on the Lower East Side next to some pan-African restaurant, that smelled like feet I might add, or getting high with your Filipino transnational media studies professor makes you world weary. And what, she’s like a lesbian now? Bard? “Hey, Officer! Officer?! JESUS CHRIST!” We had nearly sideswiped a park bench before we found our way back on the twolane. The kicking had intensified, deliberate and migraine-inducing. “You know, Officer, I get it! Don’t think I don’t know what’s going on here!” He steadied the barrel of the gun on my reflection in the rearview. “You’re a rogue cop. Don’t play by the books much. I get it. I do! It’s a common character trope and rightfully so! But this person in the trunk, justified as it may be to subdue this criminal… scare tactics and the like, I get it. I understand it’s your civic duty to pick up civilians like myself, but for Christ’s sake I’m going to need a chiropractic consult after this goddamned cab ride! Which is taking forever, I might add!” The Officer seemed wholly disinterested in my rant, attempting to light a new cigarette with the butt of his current one as he placed his penis back inside his pants. And then a moment of clarity. The glow from my phone split through the damp heavy air like a wand, its powers omniscient and orb-like. YOU HAVE NOTHING TO OFFER. YOU’RE A DISEASED ANIMAL PHILLIP. DO YOU INFECT OTHERS?? The last two lines were cryptic ornaments meant to elicit some sort of, what? Bemusement on my behalf? Vague and ultimately empty distractions. Had I not workshopped a semester’s worth of her flash fiction I would have maybe taken offense. But I knew it was decoration, her way of being clever. Real cute stuff. YOU HAVE NOTHING TO OFFER. That’s what killed me. The finality of it! Like wow. Wow. And I knew she meant it too! That’s why it was so fucked! It’s like, you share your entire semester with someone, all the inside jokes and everything,
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and this is the conclusion they come to?! And what is she referring to anyway? I have nothing to offer? In life? Sexually? In general? Is this supposed to be a critique of my prose?! Fuck her! All these fucking backhanded notes on my novella! ‘This isn’t how real women talk.’ ‘You should really take a historical international studies course if this is going to be set in Nazi Germany.’ Fuck you, Emily! Like what, I should spend my winter break walking the streets of Berlin, sleeping in some train station? Is that what you would do, Emily? You fucking cunt. I shook with anger, the rolled up cuffs of my buttondown wetted with collected sweat beads. “Are we almost at Spring Street?” The whooping of a million sirens swarmed, red and blue lights cascading through every dewy window of the hot metal box, a blurry and vomitous patriotic hallucination. “Niggas ain’t goin to no Spring Street. I gotta handle some shit up in Yonkers, b.” My eyes stung with sweat, my throat doused in unknown secretions thickening in the amplified atmosphere like I was swallowing bad jazz. I played it as cool as I possibly could. “Christ. Fine, just so long as Yonkers is in the West Village.” I smeared through the fog of the back windshield to find a dozen or so cop cars trailing us, driving equally erratic and blaring foghorned proclamations indecipherably. My god, is this what really goes on in the NYPD? Late night romper runs? We had to have been going 90 mph, at least. I can already see the drag racing puns on the cover of the Post. I could write the expose. I will write the expose. “Je-sus, Officer. Last one back to the station a rotten egg?” When he shot me in the face his eyes turned cavernous, like they were scooped out of his head or something. It was unnerving and made the corners of my mouth dry. Was he driving completely blind out there? I slumped forward, helplessly clutching the phone, clutching to Emily’s words. Let me make this clear, she meant nothing to me. I would’ve never introduced her to the family. Obviously. I mean, we weren’t even a thing so that was never on the table to begin with or whatever. There was no future. God, could you imagine her at Winnetu? On the tennis courts? Just the image of her limply holding a tennis racquet, hand on hip… I laughed so hard I nearly showered the back of the Officer’s head with spittled gore and shattered pieces of bicuspid! What was I fretting about anyway? A fucking girl! God I must’ve really overdone it with the dark and stormys! Ok Mr. Dominican Officer Man! Let me out at Yonkers.
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I may have never heard of that street before but I’m not a fucking child and I will not be treated like one! I owned this city. I made it through my first semester just fine. My novella was coming together nicely. Tomorrow I’d board a chartered flight back home to Martha’s Vineyard. Spend Christmas with Father and Tanya. Live my fucking life. Forget about Emily. Forget about Emily? I forgot, she was already forgotten. Black blood soups thick down my chin, staining an otherwise perfectly pressed light green shirt. The back windshield is sprayed with brain slaw, tiny bits of cartilage embedded in the seat along with, I don’t know, sinew? Tendons? The radio screams some awful R&B mash-up. The clipped kicks from the trunk machine-gun in a full-on seizure, the jolting hypnotic and precise. The Officer drives with the gun lodged firmly down his throat. Billows of smoke clot the air, passing freely through my gaping mouth, defiling open wounds. The sirens call my name, louder and louder until I lose myself in them. It is Wednesday night. It’s always Wednesday night.

Copyright 2013 by Kyle Donley

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The Chickens Refuse to Ride the Bus

Our dreams of owning a chicken farm are waning. We bought a plot of land outside Bid City, Oklahoma with our savings from odd jobs in restaurants, retail, and on construction sites. We have a small house, a wood stove, a bend of river, and an outhouse all on our 64 acres. We have coops, and we have dried corn. And we have no need for iron wire strung around posts because we don’t have any foxes. All we need now are chickens for our lonely, open land.

However— The chickens refuse to ride the bus. The seats are full of springs and feed, and yet they still refuse. Warm hay hangs from the luggage racks, and yet the chickens remain stubborn. We ask the chickens, “Why don’t y’all go for a ride?” And the chickens respond with, “Because if we were meant to travel God would have stretched our legs longer.” “But y’all can walk,” we counter. “Yes, but awkwardly and in circles,” peck the chickens.

The chickens refuse to ride the boat. Hay fills the hull, and the stern rocks peacefully like a lullaby, perfect for taking naps on incubating eggs. “How about a boat?” Our patience is wearing thin. “A boat is not a bus.” “Because if we were meant to travel God would have prepared us to swim.” “We were under the impression that most fowl could float.” We sound more unsure than honest. “We’ve never tried since our feet are not webbed,” peck the chickens.
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The chickens refuse to ride the plane. The cabin is lined with coops, and the engines coo a melody that will not to disturb the fresh chicks. It circles its noontime shadow on the dusty plain. We point to the pale sky and inform the chickens, “The plane is ready to land.” The chickens kick around dirt and ignore us. “The plane is going to land.” “No, no. There is no need,” the chickens respond. “If we were meant to travel God would have allowed us flight.” “But y’all have wings,” we inform. “Yes, but they’re too thin to flap,” peck the chickens.

Therefore— We have no chickens for our chicken farm. Instead, we have a small house, a wood stove, a bend of river, and an outhouse all on our 64 acres. A bus and a boat are parked behind the outhouse. A plane sits out front. We take our bikes along the river and watch the sun tuck itself in under a pink blanket. We consider getting horses but decide against it. If we were meant to have horses God would have made us cowboys.

Copyright 2013 by Donald Ryan

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Practical Imperfection

Practical perfection < Reality > Than the possibility. There are always chinks, Pieces missing from the human puzzle, Scuff marks placed upon us by life's sharp edges. Some imperfection is hard-wired So that we learn--or know by instinct-To find the pieces to complete the whole In others. Not tall enough, Not strong enough, Pretty enough, Smart enough, Not fast enough, Patient enough, Loud enough, Or Soft enough to Command attention. Lord, let me trust In the necessity Of being created incomplete.

Copyright 2013 by DanaLynne Johnson

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Empty Mansions in Heaven We arrived here in Heaven several years ago. Since then, no one else has come. We were driving to Grandma’s house, the family cruising through the mountains in our minivan. But an 18-wheeler ran us off the road, and we fell 50 feet into the New River. Drowning hurt, but not as badly as watching the baby turn blue. And then in a few moments – there we were – being guided through the pearly gates by Saint Peter, who we later decided already looked rather worried. A crowd greeted us, smiling and singing. A few wandered off once they realized we weren’t anyone they knew. Nobody has wings here. The kids think that’s weird. Grandpa came looking for us, and after chatting a bit about Grandma, he showed us to our home. “Is this a new neighborhood?” asked the kids. There are a lot of empty mansions in heaven. The first 100 years were everything we’d been promised. Real happiness. True joy. Then we noticed the furrowed brows, the anxious pacing. The welcoming committee turned into worried families waiting for the lost sheep to come through the pearly gates. No one has come through for 107 years, 5 months, and 7 days, when we arrived. Yesterday we heard two men arguing about divine assistance interfering with free will. This morning a husband and wife fought on golden streets about whether men were all sinners or if they had conquered death. We didn’t know there was arguing in Heaven. The kids are getting restless, and asking when their friends are coming. We’d ask God, but most days he just looks down at the earth and cries.

Copyright 2013 by Benjamin Scott Farthing
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Coming Out

The first thing I did was leaf through my yearbook, looking for people I used to know. I was surprised at all the people I remembered, and more than a little intimidated by the difficulty in finding them, in time though, I did. I reached Mark G. first. He wasn't sure he remembered me, but after we talked a while he said it was coming back to him, he thought. Anyway, Mark has a good job, he's married and has a couple of kids, so he was pretty surprised when I told him he was gay. Well, actually, he seemed defensive. He denied the whole thing, but I pressed on with what I'd learned about the staggering number of people who are in denial. I'm not sure if he heard that last part though because he hung up on me. Judy W. had the same reaction, only she called me names and threatened to call the cops, accusing me of harassing her. But my job was done, so I promised I wouldn't call her anymore. It was pretty much the same things, all the way down my list. One person though, James H., seemed resigned to it really, receiving the news with grace and acceptance, making me feel as welcome as the Publisher's Clearing House guy, admitting that he was in fact gay and thanked me for being so intuitive, even offering to exchange numbers and stay in touch. It was all pretty discouraging really, but I wasn't about to let it get me down. There was still my mom and dad. I reached them on the telephone, just after dinner, and in the most respectful way I could, I told them they were gay. They protested of course, but I said that statistics don't lie. I told them that in fact, the whole family was gay, everyone but me. They didn't take that very well either, but they're old. I told them that as a consolation, they could legally marry one another in Massachusetts and a couple of other states too, if they wanted . This generated some hostility from my dad, but he's a hot head anyway. They're ongoing denial and mounting frustration with me only grew stronger when I let them know that I was against the gays and that they were an abomination. I went on to tell them that since they had chosen to be homosexuals, they had no one but themselves to blame. It was up to them now to reject their lifestyle choice, repent and get right. In the end, my mom thought she could intimidate me by threatening to stop sending me money, but I wasn't moved. I was standing by my new convictions. Two days later though, my older brother called, in that sissy voice of his, and threatened me. Just listening to him gave me the creeps, but I listened anyway as he went on and on about how he was going to kick the crap out of me for upsetting our parents the way I had. "The truth hurts, doesn't it.?", I said, then hung up. Despite the loss of my family, I was growing closer to my new friends. After telling them how my family had reacted, and the abuse I'd endured, they were all
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smiles with high fives all around, including 'down low, too slow'. They even nominated to be the treasurer or something. I forget, but it was official and I was given a lanyard to wear. I was also invited to write a weekly newsletter about how the epidemic of the gays had personally ruined my life, the shame and ridicule I probably suffered growing up, and the long road back to accepting that I was normal, despite my circumstances. After services though, Gary called me into his office. He's our leader and the one who started the group. I had a funny feeling. When he had something nice to say he mostly said it in front of other people, so the private meeting made me a little nervous. Still, I felt that my numbers, over all, had been pretty good. There was coffee and a box of donuts on his desk. Gary had a way of looking at you, but this time he smiled and motioned for me to help myself. Powder sugar donuts are my favorite, so I relaxed a little. "Your numbers are down", he said as I took my first bite. "Down?", I sputtered, spewing powdered sugar, my throat suddenly dry. "Listen, I like your enthusiasm, the way you have of thinking outside the box and all, and I'm not saying you aren't trying, but the others look up to you. You're a role model. By they way, have you given any more thought to the people in your office, or maybe even going door to door in your neighborhood? That place you work must be crawling with them. And if they're like mine, god only knows how many of your neighbors are." I wiped my face with my sleeve, sipped my coffee and reached for a couple more donuts. "Work's going to be a problem, Gary. I got a warning from my supervisor not to start in on them. There's a lot of resistance. A lot of denial." Gary leaned back in his chair, laced his fingers together over his stomach, then took a deep breath. "Denial is just another word for 'excuse'. Remember that." Gary's good at inspiring people, just coming up with things off the top of his head, the kinds of things that most people would have to have memorized. "There is no way there aren't homos working there, and we both know it. The place has to be crawling with them. Doesn't your boss see you're doing him a favor? Anyway, work on it and get back to me. Meanwhile, get creative." Gary leaned forward and seemed to be speaking to himself. "Why can't people be the way they used to be and act normal? It really makes me wonder." As soon as I got to my apartment I got a pencil and some paper and started writing some ideas. I figured that while I was waiting to get up the courage to confront my boss, I might as well take Gary's advice and get creative. I hadn't gotten very far though when my brother called and started yelling at me about mom and dad again, blaming me because now mom wasn't eating, or so he said. Anyway, he went on and on with that nasally, wimpy voice of his, the one that
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sounded like he was ordering a Shirley Temple, all the time promising to punch me in the stomach. No chance I was going to fall for any of his bullying, but I listened, imagining how much time he'd probably wasted that morning picking out an outfit. After he hung up, I don't know where it came from, maybe thinking of my parents, but I got inspired to call Memory Lanes, the local bowling alley, mostly for old people. And while my mind was zeroing in on seniors, I contacted the Sunset Retirement Center. They're always looking for entertainers. I told them I played piano, mostly oldies, so I was booked for the next afternoon. When I got there, after some glad handing with the staff, I sat at the piano and began right away with my speech. I started out with a line I figured would get their attention, announcing that none of them was gay. This was just to get their attention. It wasn't true of course, but it did make them kind of sit up and pay attention. I followed that up by saying that statistically, they themselves were likely not gay, but there was a more than even chance that the persons on either side of them was. This caused some confusion which I hoped would lead to introspection, but you never know. Not that it had been such a big success, but I gave the same speech at the bowling alley that evening. Again, I was asked to leave, only this time, before I even got to the part about the person on each side of them. In the end, no one stood up and admitted to anything, not even ambivalence. Anyway, things were getting pretty disheartening. Still, I wasn't willing to give up just yet. If I could save just one person, free them from the personal hell of the closet they were in, then it would all be worth it. That's when I got the idea. I didn't even hesitate. I went to a pay phone and dropped a dime on myself. If no one was going to have the courage to admit to being gay, then why not me? Who was I to think I was so special? I left the long confession on my answering machine, then I called my parents because I figured they could use some good news. "I'm gay", I said. I just came out with it. "I've been gay all along and isn't that just so very typical of us gays?" I tried to laugh a little to ease the tension, but there was only silence on the other end. So I went on and on about being ashamed of having been someone so deeply closeted, someone who'd aspired to name names, blame others and ruin lives in my short lived quest to keep my secret. I'd not only tried outing people, but I'd prayed and suggested consequences for people just like the new gay me. I would pay of course. I would pay dearly. Not that a sudden change of lifestyle, finally owning my impending gayness, was some kind of punishment, but that people would know, and they would see me as hypocritical and someone they couldn't trust. And the gays? I wondered if they would ever want to go clubbing with me after what I'd done. I was pretty sure that being their lover wasn't exactly off limits though, given their predilections. Still, I was flawed. I was now deeply, disturbingly, mistrustingly gay.
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Still, this was the lifestyle I'd chosen, so this was the life I planned to embrace. That evening, while I was baking Madeleines (first time ever), I got up the nerve to call Gary. Gary had every right to know of course. And it was probably a long shot, but I wondered if I would be formally ostracized from the services. We had been big on ceremony and strangely, I would miss it. Still, I figured I'd at least lose my treasurer position and stripped of my lanyard, but would he be unhappy with me? I mean the new me. I hoped he wouldn't. It was tough to know though. On the one hand, he and the guys would realize that they'd had a gay in their midst all along, but at the same time, they surely couldn't be surprised. I mean, considering the statistics. Then I wondered if that wouldn't in its own way, be a kind of victory for them. Something to really show for all that work; turning on a friend, experiencing the same fleeting, but exalted sense of triumph I had felt calling my parents. In the end, and thanks to all their dedication, someone who would never have been gay, was now affirming that gays really were everywhere and maybe, everyone. I took the next day off. I still had some residual doubts of course, but who wouldn't? I think I must have replayed my coming out message like a zillion more times, and even though there were moments in which the frightened little boy in me wanted to curl up, cringe and die. Just listening to the humanity in my voice gave me a kind of purpose, a clarity. Feeling re-energized, I finally put on some music and started clearing out my closet, making a Goodwill pile of my old clothes and taking mental notes about what new style I hoped to wear and how I was going to sign up at the fitness center, maybe start taking better care of myself. I also made some more cookies and got myself a hair appointment. It was turning into a real can-do kind of a morning. I even daydreamed. I dreamed of a better world someday, one where my parents and my brother forgave me, where my mom started sending me money again. A world filled with true friendships, understanding, tolerance and adorable parties. And, I don't know why, but I dreamed of Gary coming over to help me decorate. And in the dream, he looked better than he really does, and he promises to make me treasurer again, and give me back my lanyard. I mean, if I want it.

Copyright 2013 by Steve Vermillion

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The Man Who Was Born in the Air

He resents the crack a leaf makes when he steps on it by accident. When someone says cloud, he sneers. What do you know about clouds? he thinks. He thinks of lakes as thieves. You call this rain, he screams. This couldn't put out fire. I've been to war, he whispers. I've been to where the clouds are going. I've held them in my hands as they melted. I've told them my name so many times they never responded. ... And how does that make you feel, Mr. Balloon? Mr. Balloon, you look nice today. Thank you doctor. I've been ironing my shirts, like you suggested. And I've been jogging. I listen to music so the leaves cracking don't bother me. I'm still afraid of the rain though. And I still have those dreams, about falling. Relax, Mr. Balloon. Dreams are the last to go, and they don't mean anything. I had one last night where my husband was eating me, literally taking bites of my body as if I were pizza. I kept saying, "Isn't this making you thirsty? You must be thirsty?" But he kept saying, "No, no," with his eyes closed. He ate me until I was nothing, then poof, I woke up. And you know what I did? I rolled over in bed and kissed his big, bald, head. Because dreams are no excuse to stop loving. Copyright 2013 by Mikko Harvey
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Five Things You Must Know Before Closing Your Eyes

Light bulbs will turn into glowing balls the size of limes and roughly the color, no, maybe a little lighter. They will stretch purple and slink turquoise across black canvas. Veins will sprout like tree roots to smother pupils. If you resist, corneas will crackle and tear ducts will tear apart. Chunks of iris will drink themselves milky or glassy, depending on whether you stare at the sun or a wall for three hours at a time for the next three days. Counting to twelve will buy four white sheep, five black sheep, two alpacas and one lonely lamb. shearing them will result in twenty-seven or more lashes. A yellowish pus will seep from immaculate macula as optic nerve blossoms bloodshot. Copyright 2013 by Tyler Kutner
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If you’re not a Wolf

The grey wolf pants had suspenders. He stretched the taut elastic over his shoulders. His grandpa wore suspenders. The backside of the fabric was scratchy. He lumbered the mask overhead and tasted his sour breath, he scratched for the doorknob. She was, he sighed, foraging. He was self-conscious. He approached and stroked her flank, he leaned and she moaned, pushed off, and pranced away. She bounded over the couch and tipped a glass. He walked around the table. His body language betrayed him. “Oliver,” she broke character, “If you’re not a wolf, you should leave.” * “I’m a wolf,” he proclaimed. “Really, he stood bipedal and showed his paws in explanation, “I’m a wolf, I’m just a touch confused as to what I’m supposed to be doing.” She sighed and rose bipedal, “What does a wolf do?” “He howls at the moon?” “Did you come here to sing?” “He lives in a pack and hunts?” She waited. “He… copulates?” “That’s true, Oliver. Wolves fornicate.” “Yeah, but, you’re a deer, am I supposed to hunt you or fuck you?” “Oliver, was this a mistake? Can you handle this?” * “I can handle it,” Oliver said. “You’re the wolf?” “I’m a wolf, I mean, maybe more an otter or something.”

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“I’m calling a timeout,” June said and pulled off her mask and shook her hair out. Oliver did the same and wiped the sweat from his brow. “I’m sorry June, this is just…” He watched her retreat to the small kitchen and sit on a stool next to a small table with a bottle of wine. She poured a glass and studied him, took a drink and responded, “You don’t say.” “I’m sorry.” “You’re very apologetic,” she said over his explanation. She continued, disparaging him as he closed his eyes, breathed out, and bit his tongue. “June, come on, it’s weird!” he exclaimed. “It’s a bit uncomfortable.” She gave him a glare that stopped his speech. “First, we don’t know each other that well so I’m going to give it a pass, but if you ever call it, me, or anything weird again, you’re not invited back, clear?” “Sorry,” he backed on his heels. “Call it unusual if you must. But I don’t like that, weird. It’s not weird. You’re weird.” “Ok, it’s not weird, unusual,” Oliver said and looked down at the floor, around the small apartment and toward the window. It was raining in Los Angeles. He thought of his work. She wouldn’t look at him. She drank. “Can I have a glass of wine?” She turned on him, “Oliver, it’s a ten dollar bottle of wine, I’m a lawyer, I have three dozen bottles in the pantry and you’re here on a date. You don’t have to ask,” she smirked, “Step up your game.” He walked to the table and poured a glass of red. He drank it and walked to the window. “I love it when it rains in LA. It’s like everything gets reset. You know?” he asked nonspecifically, with his back turned she rolled her eyes. “The atmosphere clears, you can see the mountains, the air is crisp, people slow down and take note,” he felt poetic. “Are you queer?” “What? No,” he turned to face her. “Come on.” Before touching her glass to lips she clarified, “It’d be more fun if you were.” She was challenging, not unlike his ex-wife. She needed strength and he
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needed truth; some people strived with ambiguities but he did not. “Are you a furry?” he asked. She laughed, Ha, and lingered with wide smile. “You read that on the internet?” He looked away. “TV show, actually,” he rose his glass, “I think,” he lied. “Well,” she gestured to her fur costume, running fingers across her thigh. “A true furry wouldn’t like me.” “Why’s that?” “I modify my costumes,” she uncrossed her legs and put the left over right, sitting back and shifting to face the living room. “You may have noticed, I like them crotch-less.” Oliver blushed and if to verify, she uncrossed her legs and traced a finger up thigh and settled it on her lip. She turned back to Oliver with her legs crossed. “True furries dry-hump. Many would never be caught dead jeopardizing the integrity of their fursuit, to be honest. In my experience, most…” she cleared her throat, “partners don’t mind my requests.” “So you’re like, a neo-furry,” Oliver said. “Can we evolve? I have enough labels in law. Costumes, just because it’s an animal, does not equate Furry. Can’t we keep our personal lives more organic and free-flowing.” “Ambiguous,” Oliver added. “I know it’s difficult for a scientist,” she said. “I guess… I’m not really a true scientist,” he turned back to the window. “What do you mean?” “It’s a job. The true ones are those for whom it never quits.” “Those for whom it never quits,” she repeated his words. “You know, the people that live science all day everyday, who never turn it off.” “Oh, I know exactly what you meant. Plenty of that in law and every field. Don’t think you’re unique. I wasn’t questioning that.” “You love giving me a hard time.” “Well, I’d love getting a hard time, but you talk too much.”
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Oliver smiled. He walked toward her, “Is that right?” He asked and reached out his arms. “Off!” she commanded like you would a dog. She was smiling. She stood and pointed a hoof. He looked down at the thin red strip of vertical pubic hair. He envisioned scenes and positions. “You blew it today,” she informed him. “You’re kidding,” he continued to reach for her but she slapped him down. “As serious as cancer. I want you to think about this experience and how you may or may not have done things differently if you had the opportunity again, ok?” She paused then said, “That’s how we learn. How we adapt our behaviors. Anyway, my neighbors are having a party next weekend. I’d like you to take me to that. Another chance.” * He hurried through the rain to his car and once inside, he pondered the night. He had a date for the next weekend, so that was positive. But, he was intrigued how such things as pride, or self-consciousness, could get in the way of such evolutionary forces as fucking. The Oliver now in the car, teased and lusting, would have never let the coy and cautious Oliver in the costume act that way. He turned on the car and NPR blasted his contemplation, he turned it down, imagined June next to him, voiced her comment, and muted it. He checked his phone. Six missed calls from his ex-wife, Susan. He cleared the messages and leaned his head back. He dialed to KCRW and weird electronica filled the air. He drove home, out of Mar Vista, onto the 101, past downtown and into South Pasadena. By now, rain was cascading off the dark mountains and channeling down the west facing streets. At home, he stayed up until three reading about roleplaying sexual fantasies. * On Monday he drove his car to work and parked under the massive federal building on the hill near the mountain. He walked up the steps, past the roof top gardens and deposited his sandwich, the same variety he’d eaten for the past eight years, into the fridge and walked outside, used his keycard to access his hallway and entered his lab. He sat at his desk and removed the dustcover from his microscope. He sat in his black leather chair and stared out the window. He did nothing for an hour and went to the kitchen to prepare his coffee. He inserted the cartridge and waited as it brewed. He heard footsteps and Ruth entered, smiled, accessed the fridge, and walked on. The coffee maker steamed and he took out his mug and waited.

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Back in the lab he stared in the opposite direction as he drank his coffee. His samples sat out of reach and he stared at them. At ten he phoned Susan and left a message. At eleven she phoned. “You know I do Pilates at ten. Come on, Oliver.” His heart rate quickened. “I believe you called, six times, Susan.” “Yeah I called six times you clown. Your son is AWOL. I don’t know what to do with him anymore. He’s taking after you. You know.” Oliver took the phone away from his ear. “You’re going to have to tell me the full story.” “He’s gone,” she exclaimed. As it happened, their nineteen-year-old son had absconded from his ex-wife’s Thousand Oaks home. Oliver took the phone from his ear again, gritted his teeth and asked what she wanted him to do. Find him, obviously, the clown, both of them, father and son, clowns. “You know he’s on acid! And it’s your fault. You told him you did it.” “Kids still do that?” “Kids sniff glue and dry-hump teddy bears, Oliver, come on! They’re kids, they’ll do anything they can get their hands on!” Oliver went into an erudite soliloquy regarding his understanding that Ecstasy was the main party drug now. “What in God’s name are you talking about! Oliver! He’s not going to clubs eating pills! He’s on the street with weirdos reading Kerouac like you told him to do!” Oliver never directed such actions and he defended himself. She snapped and yelled as he held the phone away. He heard the keycard beep of the door outside and turned to see Sam round the corridor, carrying the same instant noodles she ate everyday at 11:30. “Greg can find him.” “Gregory is in Beijing on business, Listen, he’s Your son, Oliver, You need to Find him.” Oliver hung up. * He called a rancher on the central coast confirming the details of the easement agreement they’d reached obligating the farmer to set aside a buffer on the border of his stream, which the industrial revolution had abused into a rigid
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ditch, in the hopes of returning the water into a river with serpentine characteristics and a thriving community of multi-sized rocks, dirt, and bugs. And maybe one day a salmon or two. “It’s all fucked though anyway,” Oliver spoke to himself. Some days, it’s the little things that lead to the most drastic conclusions. But life is little more than a series of little things anyway. * Tuesday he talked with Ruth at length about her Bonsai collection and asked Mike about his mountain biking and read extensively about foot fetishes and chased scientific articles exploring the psychology of obsession. Then, of course, there was the front page article about the National Security Agency and a twinge of paranoia caused him to reset his computers cookies and rest his browser on an article describing the ecosystem benefits of stream insects with scissors for mouths that cut leaf-litter into tiny parabola shaped discs. * Wednesday it was someone’s birthday and he ate two slices of chocolate cake with vanilla frosting. * Thursday he had a meeting with a small-scale renaissance farmer north of Santa Barbara in Buellton. An assortment of organic vegetables lined up in dank soil, fruit trees erupted with colors, free range chickens clucked about, owls hooted from strips of native oaks and donkeys stood at distance staring at hooves like Emo dancers in a club. He stopped in Solvang and bought a membership at the first winery he visited. A petite mixed race Latina girl served him and smiled and he was the only patron on an overcast fall day and he was utterly absorbed by her. Oh, what it would be like to have this girl, to lay her in a bed and be able to touch her, hold her tiny feet and sniff his way across her tight thighs. So perfect! He flirted as best he could. She laughed, she touched her ear and pushed the hair from her forehead, she let him revisit the Pinot and he tipped her handsomely. Then asked about a date. Clearly, he was not of dating quality for a college freshmen reading Life of Pi and Googling Neil deGresse Tyson. He left, dejected, buzzed, and stewing with existential dread. * He listened to conservative talk radio to rile himself up. Traffic snarled in Santa Barbara and he cursed every one of the people that lived there, from the bums to the students to the billionaires. “It’s not fair,” he agreed with himself,
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“Obviously, you learn that in first grade. It’s NOT fair. It was never meant to be fair and there was never anything or anyone for the word meant to ever make any sense. It’s just the traits that evolved in the system that arose,” he explained to himself, realized he shouldn’t be driving, and pulled along an empty stretch of old highway one and got out to stretch. * The coast curved and the horizon stilled with a flap of ocean rising up and settling noiselessly near the shore. Kelp imprisoned the water in solitude about it. Anacapa Island was out there, flat and boring, littered with bird shit. The clouds were that brilliant fall type. He was obsessed with youth and beauty. He reflected on that wine vender in Solvang. He went to his car and uncorked a bottle, got wasted, passed out and woke, shivering at four in the morning. It was Friday and he found a hotel in Ventura, took a hot shower, and slept until noon. He wondered if it was a fetish to be such an inadequate, middle-aged man, weak in spirit and body, and lust so thoroughly over young and beautiful girls, not children, he reassured himself, obviously not children, he wasn’t a monster. Just a pervert stuck in his head. He just had, perhaps, an unhealthy lust for young women in the prime of their beauty. It’s only unhealthy, he argued, because they don’t give a shit about you, you’re not wildly rich, intelligent, dignified, or charismatic. And your youth, he was informed, you wasted by being meek, coy, and passive. Unable to appreciate that beauty until now, but isn’t that the way it goes? * He wanted to stay at the anonymous hotel feeling sorry for himself but he drove home –a journeymen with every other asshole on the road. They swelled and eased along the highways like an intelligent parasite excavating cell tissue along the intestinal tract. He drove to a trailhead in South Pasadena and hiked until he wasn’t thinking about anything. At the summit he watched the sunset over the cluttered valley and at a switchback on the way down he stopped to study the frantic buzz of the city lights. Then, Susan called. He answered with silence, listening to her listening. “Oliver, hello, are you there?” she asked and he remained quiet. “Is the phone in your pocket? Clown. Hello? Worthless, impotent man,” she trailed off the insults. “What do you want Susan.” “Oh, Oliver, listen, Tim’s still gone. Have you had any luck contacting him?” “You got his tuition check this month, right?”

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“Huh? Well, yeah,” she replied. “Well that’s all the fuck you ever wanted, you bitch,” Oliver hung up. The trail of break-lights lined up over the ridge and spilled into the valley and pumped into the city. * On Saturday morning he drove his old Honda Civic to the dealer and left with a sporty black Mazda hatchback. He went to the gym and bought a membership, benched too much and strained his chest, and later took Henry Miller’s lesser Tropic from the shelf and read until it was time. If she was impressed with the car she didn’t say so. Her thoughts were occupied with a case she’d been working on and Oliver agreed and nodded when appropriate but could think of nothing but the young wine vender in Solvang and the thin strip of red pubic hair and June’s fawn costume, putting it all together and adding two more anonymous girls in cheerleader outfits with orange and yellow stockings. He prepared for life as the wolf. She gave him directions and he accelerated around corners and soon they arrived at an un-pondered section of Venice, found parking seven blocks away, and started their journey. “So, I guess I should take this opportunity to tell you a bit about where we’re going,” June explained. It was Guerilla Pride, she explained. Because Gay Pride was too mainstream now, so they had Guerilla Pride to express the need to press for equality among all types of people, specifically transgender and gender-neutral people, she told him. So, his stomach flushed with butterflies as his mind unraveled and developed the most deviant stories he’d read on the web. They were given nametags and instructions. She wrote June and her identifying gender tag, born a female and content, a small relief for Oliver when he saw her confirm. They contributed the donation and entered the old Catholic church turned non-profit activist headquarter. Stained glass windows lined the cavernous room. “The food is all vegan, from fabulous chef Miles,” A male named Chase informed them, unsolicited. Oliver wondered if there were drugs in the food. It smelled strongly of curry and body odor and the crowd looked more Grateful Dead than West Hollywood. They found plates, sat, and ate. Some, Oliver thought, were clearly gay. They looked normal. There was a band and he felt he could identify those in the music scene. Oliver himself wore a flannel with jeans and his face was unshaven. June told him what to wear. She had a plain black skirt with punk pink stockings. He wondered if he were clearly the square. Slowly, he began to see others who truly looked gender-neutral. One person with a gender tag reading “them,” had a shaved head and zero features that helped distinguish sexuality.
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Them was with a skinny male with rolled up jeans and a yellow tee under red suspenders, they were touching endearingly and protectively, it was actually quite sweet, Oliver thought. A woman in tattered jeans shorts and fishnet stockings wore a nametag reading: “Whatever you want.” Frankly, What-ever-you-want looked like a whore and looked like she’d smoked crack five to ten times in her life. Whatever-you-want dragged her eyes about the room as if she wanted to fuck every man, woman, and object in sight. There was something savage about her. Oliver looked down. A band started. An overweight Mexican sang punk and killed it, he was so pure and raw and had such energy, Oliver marveled. The bassist was thin and tall with a scraggly hippie beard and long hair twisted up in a bun. His eyes were half closed and he danced in place with exaggerated steps from toe to toe. The singer quickly sweated through his shirt and after the fourth song the bassist took his pants off. His droopy white underwear was half covered by his bass. His droopy eyes stayed focused on that middle distance just off the floor near the corner of the rug outlining their stage. Two overweight women in the crowd took off their shirts and swung them overhead. Oliver couldn’t read their gender tags but clearly, he thought, they were what one would consider Bull Dykes, or Butch, he was uncertain the courteous terminology. Oliver was afraid everyone would remove their clothes and some ambiguous post-gender orgy would ensue. It didn’t. They finished their set and he ate a nationally ambiguous egg roll. The scene captivated June. She didn’t quite fit in either. He wondered if she gave legal advice to any of them. She was a patent lawyer. They were who they were, Oliver and June, no one seemed concerned they were there, no one seemed to judge them. Maybe everyone was accepted, squares, queers, and post-gender lumps of flesh alike. The next band was setting up and Oliver turned to his food. He felt someone’s presence and heard June’s greeting. From the corner of his eye he read a nametag saying, “Dude.” Oliver had thought of that and wished he was cool enough to pull it off. The man stood there for an awkward moment and Oliver felt June glaring at him. Oliver looked up, stunned. “How’s your night?” “It’s,” Oliver set his plastic fork down on the soggy plate, “It’s pretty good. How have you been?” “Can’t complain. Got a place in town, got a bike. Bicycle… I ride the bus,” “Cool, you in school?” “You know,” the young man had a flop of greasy Mohawk hair that he pushed back over tightly clipped sides, “I’m taking a sound engineering class at
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City College, it’s ok, lots of work on computers, which is, sorta tough, I guess. Working at this organic smoothie place that makes some killer wheat grass.” “Huh, I’ll have to try that.” “You good?” “I’m ok, okay. Um, yeah, I’m okay. Hanging in there I guess,” Oliver responded and felt June’s quizzical and impatient look. “Well,” Oliver began. “Yeah, you know,” the young man brought a hand through his hair again, “I just wanted to say, hi, catch up for a moment. You know.” “Totally, I know, for sure. Yeah, ah, good, good seeing you.” Oliver took a hand from under his soggy vegan plate and looked at it, flexing his legs, unsure if he wanted to rise for this departure. The young man walked away. Oliver studied the ground. With her glare unrequited, June cleared her throat. “Stay in touch,” he said but his son was already lost in the crowd.

Copyright 2013 by J. Edward Vanno

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WHEN IS A POEM NOT? In a desiccated country some are counting up the daily dead, while others spruce up their arguments that prove even three-year-old bystanders aren’t innocent. Mrs. Oleander fears she’s aging badly— that is to say, she looks forty-five at fifty and yet hasn’t turned one whit wiser. The spanking new Lexus cannot compensate. At the playground, on the beach, in the alley, by the pool, on the field, by the river, children are making their timeless children noises. The teeming insect world appears indifferent to everything but weather, hunger, sex, and light. The beech trees obstinately decline to relocate. Sad, how nature tries so hard to ignore history. I am nothing, she whined, nothing. Not so, I protested. You’re really something. She glared at me scornfully, pleased to deny the thing she yearned most to believe. Mr. Prixendieu once made good money, used to feel as secure as a locked box in a Greek Revival bank, with a portico. Well, at least the bank’s still there. An intractable, insoluble, unreckonable problem metastasized until it overflowed Joe’s mind, dribbled out of his mouth, spilled from his ears, then careened down Route 95.

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They had an ennui epidemic, a plague of melancholy, a contagion of pyrexia, endemic pessimism, febricity, calenture, megrims, tedium vitae— until a huge sinkhole swallowed the whole town. After the fourteenth PowerPoint presentation our loyal employees rushed to the bar to drink and compete to see who could be the most cynical. The contest wound up in a dead drunk heat. Give us wheat and hope, beef and grace, potatoes and dignity, prayed the fervent priest in a deep voice even louder and more resonant than our rumbling tummies. It’ll be a terrible drive, Wanda warned. Yes, but so so lovely when we get there, Chet cheerfully replied. When we get there, she scoffed. Idiot, we won’t make it over the first bridge. Would this be an essay if I insisted ardently enough, albeit not a fine one? Surely, it’s neither a poem nor a prayer. And, after all, essay merely means attempt.

Copyright 2013 by Robert Wexelblatt

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Damaged: XVI

I want to share a moment with you — tell you something I haven’t told anyone else before how I’ll never forget that night in November 2005 in the emergency room at St. Elizabeth Hospital in the West Side of Chicago waiting to be taken onto the psych-ward my mother putting my gold chain in her purse with my Marlboro Reds and chrome Zippo the four dollars in quarters she put in my hand for the payphone that I put in the breast pocket of my hospital-gown how we barely spoke the nurse’s knock on the door and the empty wheelchair that would wheel me to the floor the look in my mother’s eyes when we said goodbye, her kiss on my cheek : her tears how the nurse left me facing my mother in the hall while she was being handed my intake papers and I interrupted the exchange : told her to turn the wheelchair around.

Copyright 2013 by Daniel Suarez

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Learning How Not to Die

I'm on a rudderless ship with Father Time and Lady Death. There are no other passengers. Father Time swings his scythe low and says, "Jump!" I jump. It's like skipping rope. Lady Death is lounging in a deck chair, her lips scarlet, wearing dark glasses and a red dress, an iced drink in one hand, a cigarette in the other. She smiles as I jump over Father Time's scythe. She flicks the ash off her cigarette and the tip glows. I find it hard to keep my eyes off her.

Copyright 2013 by John Bennett

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The Bicycle Review # 24 was edited and curated by: Rhea Adri, Robert Louis Henry, and J de Salvo

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