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QUIET LIGHTNING IS:

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52
2014 Quiet Lightning
artwork Fuzz Grant
fuzzillustration.com
book design by j. brandon loberg
set in Absara
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CONTENTS
curated by
Katie Wheeler-Dubin & Evan Karp
featured artist Fuzz Grant
AMY E. GLASENAPP Combustion 1
GINGER BUSWELL The Year Without Water 13
BRIELLE BRILLIANT In the Steam of Things 17
Sickling P. II 21
LISA PIAZZA Fairyland 23
PAUL CORMAN-ROBERTS Our Combustion 27
MELISSA R. SIPIN They Call Us Resilient 33
BROOKE FERGUSON Microclimates 43
SHELBY HINTE Glitch 49
JOHN BABBOTT Marge Narrowly Escapes On
Horseback From Carpathian Bandits On Horseback 55
Q
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ING IS SP
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l a g u n i t a s . c o m
QUIET LIGHTNING
A 501(c)3, the primary objective and purpose of Quiet
Lightning is to foster a community based on literary
expression and to provide an arena for said expression. QL
produces a monthly, submission-based reading series on
the first Monday of every month, of which these books
(sparkle + blink) are verbatim transcripts.
Formed as a nonprofit in July 2011, the board of QL is
currently:
Evan Karp founder + president
Chris Cole managing director
Josey Lee public relations
Meghan Thornton treasurer
Kristen Kramer chair
Sarah Ciston director of books
Katie Wheeler-Dubin director of films
Kelsey Schimmelman acting secretary
Sidney Stretz and Laura Cern Melo
art directors
Lisa Miller, Rose Linke, and RJ Ingram
outreach directors
Sarah Maria Griffin and Ceri Bevan
directors of special operations
If you live in the Bay Area and are interested in
helpingon any levelplease send us a line:
evan@qui etl i ghtni ng. or g
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BUSTIO
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Sometime between getting out of bed and making
coffee, Cleos brain started to overheat. First there
was the sound of a high whistle, which could have
been the tea kettle in the next apartment. Then it
was unbearably hot in the kitchen, worse than in
the Bikram studio. She grabbed her coffee, opened
a window, and went into the living room, where
Cassie was reading the Sunday Times. This was their
most treasured time; there was still an hour and a half
before theyd have to make up their minds about the
ten oclock rappelling class at the climbing gym. But
after a few uneasy minutes, during which no one
had bothered to shut off the whistling kettle, Cleos
eyelids started to droop, and steam rose from her slick
black hair.
Oww, she said. My head. Cassies eyes were glued
to the front page of the Business section. Cleo
dropped the book reviews onto the coffee table.
Your head always hurts when you read the book
reviews. What is it this time? Historical fiction
disguised as a presidential autobiography?
Another book about Freuds influence on the size
and shape of baguettes.
2
Ohh, Cassie replied. She looked up finally and
caught sight of her girlfriends smoking scalp. She
thought about saying something, but Cleo didnt
like it when she pointed out things that could be
construed as flaws.
They continued reading. Cleos face sizzled with
sweat, the beads popping off her skin like grease in
a pan, and at one point she started to moan. Cassie
sighed. Was Cleo really doing this right now? Why
didnt she just go lie down? Unable to focus on the
latest mortgage banking scandal, she skipped ahead
to the Markets Overview and ran her cold foot over
Cleos damp, stubbly shin. She wasnt sure what to
do or say, so she waited. Outside, an enormous, dark
cloud moved over the sun.
Are you okay? Cassie asked finally, scrutinizing her
reddening girlfriend. Pretty tendrils of smoke drifted
from Cleos finely drawn nostrils.
What do you mean? she asked, her eyes round and
globby.
Nothing. Just asking.
They went back to reading. Smoke swirled beneath
the light fixture. The couch was getting really warm,
and Cassie moved a few inches away from Cleo,
whose hands were shaking so badly she could hardly
hold up the Week in Review. Vladimir Putin did a little
scowly dance as the corner of the paper dipped into
Cleos coffee cup, which was still full to the brim.
She kept the paper aloft, even though her eyes were
AMY E. GLASENAPP 3
closed. Steam escaped her parted lips.
Hows the article? Cassie asked.
What article?
The one youve been reading?
Ive just been holding it here.
What for?
I dont really know.
A dog barked outside, which made their dog, Henry,
bark, and then a few other neighborhood mutts
joined in the ruckus. Cleo, who usually yelled at
Henry to shut up, rolled up in a ball on the couch and
covered herself with newspaper. The cloud blocking
the sun moved on, and then another bigger, darker
one came.
Cassie went into the kitchen to get Cleo some water.
When she came back, she tried to tilt the water into
her mouth, but it kept spilling all over the sofa and
creating more steam. When Cleo sat up, there was a
circular burn mark on the plush cushion. The living
room smelled like the scene of a car crash. Cassie felt
Cleos head, and it was like touching a light bulb that
had been on for a while. She put the air conditioner
on, even though it was January, and Cleo sipped the
water and sighed.
Weve got to get you to the doctor, I think, Cassie
said, aware that Cleo hated doctors almost as much as
she hated shrinks. I think maybe you have a fever.
4
No way. Too expensive.
Well go to county.
And wait fifty years to see someone whos just going
to give me aspirin anyway?
Hmm.
Yeah.
Cleo lay back down, and Cassie flinched, because the
sofa had been really expensive at Ikea, and theyd only
bought it a few months ago on credit.
They decided to skip the climbing gym and instead
flipped on the TV. As they waited for whatever was
about to be on, they half-watched commercials
announcing the arrivals of several FDA-approved
medications with ridiculous sounding names, like
Astroglucon and Xaniplenda, all of which treated
minor discomforts and listed side effects such as
uncontrollable vomiting, foaming at the mouth, and
semi-permanent loss of eyesight.
Cleo belched white ash all over the throw blanket
and moaned. Her neck seized, and now she lay with
her shoulders pressed to her ears. I bet all that shits
in the water by now, she said, staring at the screen.
All those medications that cause loose stools and
vertigo.
The commercials ended and the Sunday morning
bald guy, they could never remember his name, was
introducing his next guest, Hillary Clinton. Cassie
AMY E. GLASENAPP 5
enjoyed left-leaning political rhetoric as much as
any liberal San Franciscan, and although she hadnt
rooted for her in 2008, she was thrilled at the prospect
of a Hillary 2016 bumper sticker to put over the old
one. But wait, who was this guy? The bald guy was
interviewing a spokesman for Hillary Clinton. It was
not a good day for the network. Just as the spokesman
was unveiling Clintons game plan for remaining out
of the public eye until she decided whether or not to
run, Cassie picked up the remote. Lame.
Cleo reached over and grabbed her wrist. Wait. Wait.
What?
I want to see this.
Um, okay.
Cassie put the remote down and let Cleo watch the
rest of the interview. She still simmered, but now
with interest, nodding and hmming to herself.
You know, Cleo said during the commercial break, I
used to think about going to law school. Doing some
high-profile stuff and then running for congress.
Then becoming president. And from that position of
power, just getting all the people together, you know,
rallying them, to abolish government altogether.
Like, staging a revolution from the inside? Hmm. I
didnt know you ever wanted to do stuff like that.
Cleo was a yoga instructor. She had majored in
Performing Arts in college.
6
Cassie turned back to the screen, trying to figure
out what the bald guy and the Clinton spokesman
were saying that suddenly made so much sense to her
girlfriend of two years, who had never before had any
interest in participating in, much less overthrowing,
government. But now a happy couple frolicked
through a field of daisies, no longer dealing with the
discomfort and embarrassment of halitosis.
Its like, be the change you want to see, Cleo was
saying, and stupid us, we all thought we could just
vote for this youngish, handsome black guy and
something different would happen. And maybe now
Im starting to see through all that. I mean, why even
vote? Everythings broken.
I suppose. Yeah.
And stuff like yoga and dance, all of that just feeds
complacency, Cleo went on, her eyes widening. Like
here, heres a little bit of relaxation, a way to be in
your body rather than in your head, because when
you actually bother to think, you can see everythings
fucked up. Right now, in childs pose, you dont
have to think about it. Just breathe in, breathe out.
Cleo waved her hands in the air, a spasmodic, semi-
conscious symphony conductor, and a little flame
burst out of one of her eyelashes. It fizzled out before
it reached the follicle.
People dont want to think about that stuff all the
time, Cassie pointed out. Theyd go crazy.
They should go crazy.
AMY E. GLASENAPP 7
Okay, Cassie said, shrugging. But I think maybe
youre brains shorting out.
What are you saying?
I dont mean it like that. I mean, I think your brain
is actually going through some sort of chemical
reaction. I mean, look. Cassie pointed to the dense
cloud overhead.
Is that why its so hot in here? Cleo asked, looking
alarmed.
Thats my guess.
Have you turned on the dehumidifier?
If youd just let me take you to the doctor.
Cleo grabbed bits and pieces of different newspaper
sections and resumed covering herself with them.
They billowed and smoked but did not catch fire.
Cassie reached over Cleos head and wrenched open
the paint-stuck window, and when she sat down
again, the front of her sweatshirt was charred. The
fibers were black and crispy, and slightly sticky. Some
of Cleos hair was attached.
Thats it, Cassie said, standing. If you wont let me
take you to urgent care, Im calling my brother.
Jordan arrived ten minutes later in full volunteer
fireman regalia. Who Kentucky fried a corpse in
here? he said, grimacing through the mask. He didnt
say it in front of Cleo, for which Cassie was grateful.
8
Shes in there, Cassie said, pointing. Im worried
about her. She said she wanted to go to law school,
and be president?
Wow. Cleo did? Shit. When did this start?
An hour ago? I dont know.
Jesus, he said, peering into the living room. Her
head looks like a baked potato.
Cassie stared out the kitchen window. She was trying
hard not to cry. Well, can you do anything? I mean,
its probably just the flu, but
Jordan leaned against the table and scratched his chin.
Could be. Theres a gnarly one going around.
Ive never seen one quite like this, she said, weaving
her fingers together.
Have you tried holding her head underwater? Jordan
asked.
Cassie gulped.
Okay, go fill the tub. Then come back and help me get
her in there.
The rain pounded on the clogged gutters, and the
stray tabby cat howled beneath the back porch.
Im trusting you, Cassie said, eyeing him.
Cleo was humming when Cassie walked by. Her
eyes were closed again, and she looked peaceful. The
cushion beneath her head was scorched to the seams.
AMY E. GLASENAPP 9
When the tub was finally full, Jordan cinched his
arm around Cleos waist, and Cassie took Cleos arm
and put it over her shoulder. As they carried her, her
head bobbed on her neck like a buoy lost at sea. She
was humming the tune of Jeff Buckleys Hallelujah.
It was more depressing than anything Cassie could
imagine.
You know, I think Ive seen this once before, Jordan
said as they lowered her onto the bathmat.
Yeah? What was the deal?
Well, I hate to say this, but he turned away from
Cleo and whispered, spontaneous combustion. Its
a real thing, you know. But the good news is a lot of
times the person doesnt actually explode.
Whats it caused by? Cassie asked, intrigued.
Stress, for one.
Cleo is always under a lot of stress at work.
Isnt she a yoga instructor?
Cassie shrugged. What else causes it?
Jordan thought for a second. Diet, he added.
She has been eating a lot of tuna lately.
And, um, lack of something. He snapped his fingers.
Some vitamin. B? D?
Hmm. Ill have to look into that, Cassie mumbled.
When they peered into the still water, their
10
reflections were so similar it startled them. Curly
black hair and dark eyes from their mother, strong
chins from their father, big pores from Grandma.
Their foreheads large, wondering.
They lifted Cleo by the armpits and positioned her
over the rim of the tub. Jordan counted to three, and
they pushed her burning head down into the cold
water. She didnt struggle. A few seconds passed, and
then huge bubbles rose to the surface. Cassie could
feel blisters forming on her palms where they came
in contact with her girlfriends scalp. The cold water
turned lukewarm, then hot. In seconds, the bathroom
was a wet sauna, not unlike the one at the climbing
gym.
Once the bubbles started to diminish, they let Cleo
up. Strands of black hair stuck to her face. Cassie
ran to the sink and poured cold water on her hands.
Jordan thanked God for his fire hose calluses.
Shit, Cleo said, blinking. I just had the craziest
dream.
They couldnt tell if her head was still smoking,
what with all the steam, so they carried Cleo into
the hallway and set her down in the faux-leather
armchair. For a while, she was still red and baked-
looking, but the smoke was gone. Cassie patted her
brother on the back, but Jordan wasnt convinced.
Whats four times four? he asked her.
Uhh.
AMY E. GLASENAPP 11
State capital?
Sacramento?
Political leanings?
Cleo shook her head as if to clear it and grabbed the
arms of the chair. What?
Cassie clapped her hands.
Later that night, after they treated Jordan to a home-
cooked vegetarian meal, Cleo took some muscle
relaxers and fell asleep almost instantly. Cassie
treasured the whinnying sound that came out when
her girlfriend exhaled. Her head was still a little
deflated-looking, but she was sure it would fill back
out after a good nights sleep. The pillow beneath her
remained cool and clean.
In the semi-darkness, Cleo didnt stir, not even when
the fire engine sirens blared outside. Cassie wiped
sweat from her brow and felt heat radiate through
her own body. She sat watching her girlfriends chest
rise and fall as blue and red lights flashed wildly
behind the still, white curtain.
13
G
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We drank milk, and bathed in dried lavender. We
washed our dishes with sand and hung our laundry
in the sere air. At lunch we drank apple juice and
ate strips of jerked beef and venison. We drew our
portraits on the sidewalk in pastel chalk.
We whitewashed the fence, and hung posters in the
streets with wheat paste. We snacked on raisins and
prunes. We tanned leather, bound books, or split
wood. We joined knitting groups, sewed quilts, and
wove nets to catch armadillos. We collected cobwebs
and won gold ribbons at the county fair. We forged
cast iron pans and blown glass lanterns. We refilled
our inkwells. We struck oil.
On Sundays we swept all the dust under the rug, then
took our sacraments. We washed down our crackers
with wine, and stuffed ourselves with dry salami
and cheese. We became apiarists and wore beehive
hairdos. We licked peanut butter and honey from
our spoons. We made rubber band pistols and flicked
carnelian tipped matchsticks at each other. We
flew paper airplanes on the siroccos. We took our
siestas. We burned incense at vespers.
14
At dusk we smoked pipe tobacco or rolled cigarettes
on the porch. We stuck cotton balls in our ears and
refereed pillow fights. We gave each other henna
tattoos and braided cornhusk dolls. We put on seer-
sucker suits and twirled parasols. When it got dark
we put on records, and cleaned lint from the needle.
We built midnight bonfires and toasted marshmal-
lows, then took up fire dancing with hula hoops.
We laid off all the weathermen. We spontaneously
combusted.
We fried yucca and salted jicama. We stuck out our
tongues like lizards sniffing the breeze. We grew
milkweed for caterpillars and prayed for monarch
butterflies. If we listened we could hear the cicadas
munching on thistles. We erected ant farms and left
our angels in the dirt. We held cricket fights, picked
winners and placed bets. We cooked popcorn and
shared it with spectators at meteor showers. We lit
candles and waited for moths. We shimmered in the
mirage.
We trained crocodiles to balance coconuts on their
noses. We wrangled rattlesnakes and made tumble-
weed wreaths with their sloughed skins. We played
hopscotch and cast our shadows on the blacktop. We
tied balloons to our wrists, then untied them and
watched them disappear. We played didgeridoos and
made rainsticks out of cactus and beans. We whirled
like dervishes.
GI NGER BUSWELL 15
One night we heard lightning strike the desiccated
hills and spark dormant seeds. After the fire, we
spread out our quilts and had picnics and watched
wildflowers bloom under the charred manzanita.
We cried when it rained.
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B
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perhaps
in the steam
ill be a
droplet
the first one
of the rain
the first one
thats not
red.
perhaps
in the steam
ill be a
long long
braid
who talks only
in blueberry pie
and people will
like me best
grey.
perhaps
in the steam
ill eat like
a bird
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and everyone
will watch
because
they prefer shadows
to people shadows
to shade.
perhaps
in the steam
ill bandage
my legs cause
theyll turn
to branches
colorless kindling
branches
ill smooth
out a vein
wiped too clean
on the way
to vermont.
perhaps
in the steam
i will sound
like a boy
who lost
his bloodhound
and ill live
in a house
built for rabbits
to be killed
BRI ELLE BRI LLI ANT 19
in the backyard.
and most definitely
perhaps
in the steam
i will eat
these rabbits
in the chair
next to the table
in the kitchen
and think
about fucking
or pick-pocketing
or potato peeling
and ill have
no objects
to my name
only pieces
of peoples
hair and mosquito
bites and all
my freckles
will be gone
and i will leave
my backpack
on the side
of the highway
so only
squirrels
20
can find me
and the cars
will go too
fast too fast
to pick me up
and the day
will be
a big sky
always a big sky
on days called
today.
in the steam
no one slows down.
im pretty enough
to be a passenger
but its some usual
shit-eating-love
and im
just another
newspaper photo
of a girl
looking soft
in the steam of things.
BRI ELLE BRI LLI ANT 21
SICKLING P. II
he dont speak,
this puddle.
no gentle man
bobby vin
teal n cashmere,
splish splash.
so i sit,
turn the heating on,
watch the air
turn to afternoon.
in the morning
he watches me
wake up and count
freckles seven,
eight, seven.
i ask him
to grow a long
brown beard
so i can watch it
float in the
water like
a dead animal.
22
he dont speak.
instead he lives in the
storm drain,
occasionally
comes out
holding a black mug
and says
sweetie?
youre
steaming.
23
L
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F
A
IRYLAN
D
It is easier to disappear than to seethe. Seething
requires heat, requires notice. To disappear is delicate.
Imaginary. Subtle, slow, soundless. It can take years.
It is not like a burst of flamethe red-orange of
fireblazing for all to see. There is no smoke or
glareno demand for witness, for action. Disap-
pearing requires little discipline. For me it happened
mostly by accident. A finger first, the pinkie fading
from the tip, then the oval mole on my forearm
followed by the flap of my right earlobe. The night I
ducked into the whales mouth I was little more than
half-there.
It was a time for celebration: sixty years of Fairyland,
the gated world in miniature surrounded by the raspy
shores of Lake Merritt. Eariler, Mona and I entered
through strings of lights, festive bands of color, sur-
rounded by a happy crowd humming with the gush
of young mothers showing their babies to the world
and the world to their babies. Mine was a different
business. A trade-off, an hour break, a heart-stopping
transfer of child from mother to father. This was
our new agreement: Paul would take Mona for an
hour or two at a time. She was ten months, still
nursing, still tied to me in a physical, tangible way
24
I could use as proof of her need (and mine).
She curdled in his arms and I tugged myself away to
the whale, which welcomed me with its round mouth,
wide opendank with the stale air of algae and dust,
still water, old and forgotten. I waited, crouched in
the dark belly feeling my lungs evaporate, one breath
at a time. I could only hold and hold her empty form,
imagining Mona to be safer than I ever was with
Paulbut this, too, is part of the disappearance.
Partial seeing is a form of omission that attaches
itself so that if you give up one thing, you end up
giving another. Eventually all that remains is a sliver
of nothing new and by then you, too, are going
going
gone.
Mona will know soon enough.
She will ask for the whole story. The real one: the
deep hole, the steep drop. The split and mend, the
mend and split. The heavy bags, the empty rooms, the
ring I cannot stand to wear. She will ask about a way
forward, a way back. And she will listen (attentive as
stone) to the silence between sentenceswaiting for
a space to enter.
There is only so much I can say.
LI SA PI AZZA 25
Words, too, disappear when you do. I have forgotten
some of the most important already. As easy as an
eyeball, there goes the way to say: see, sightwhen
the rhymes latch on it gets worse. There goes: fight,
fright, ignite, relight, sleep tight dont let the bed bugs
bite.
At the bottom of the whale was an empty fish
tank where a mechanical crocodile sat, gurgling
brown bubbles. It is the least of what Fairyland has
to offer. This placea world colored in cracked
pastel, beckons with rickety rides and wheels that
grind, clanging on, screeching off. Everywhere the
wavering tune of a music box ruined in the rain.
Here there are wishes to make, wells for pennies,
boats to pirate, houses with windows that open and
close, painted flowers always in bloom. Children,
strapped onto wilting ponies, wave as they circle the
merry-go-round, surprised every time to find their
parents there. Of course these horses offer no pro-
gression, no diminishment of mothers. Only a careful
followinga hovering, an absorption of revolving
animation: we light like a strobe each time our child
comes around.
Parenthood is part lock, part key. Tight squeeze.
Small arms around a weary neck, a small head
bending, one, two, three nods away from sleep. It
is a tenderness unnamable; it is what keeps me real,
even as I fade. I suppose every mother strives to keep
her child from sinking into the quicksand of disap-
26
pointmentI am no different. But even more, I fear
Monas actual, eventual, disappearance; little by little,
feet first, full belly, up to her chin in understanding.
If I tell her to hold out a hand, every time, will she
reach for me? Will she know to grasp the airbone
white as the summer fogand find that 1 am still
there?
If I could burst into flames, maybe I would. If only to
give Mona a sign. Something to remember me by. A
brightness. A light. An offering. An answer.
When it was time, I left the damp den of the whale
walking on crooked feet, missing an ankle on one
leg and a knee on the other, my spine askew. I looked
for Paul by the dragon, our meeting spot. He was
anxious, worried, angry, as usual. Mona swung easily
back to me. Her small hand caught on a strand of my
hair and she held on, tugging an honest reminder to
stay. A crowd of kids rushed by and we twirled out of
the way, finding ourselves face to face with the long
leather slit of the dragons tongue. I pulled it, half
expecting a charging flame, a momentous eruption
intent on burning us both. Instead, a whole troupe of
thin, glittery bubbles drifted out, gliding in a silent
spiral, floating high and away on an invisible stream.
27
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Part I: Your Combustion
You never see fire like you see it in the eyes of your
family, when the wilderness of their desire springs
free and consumes them in the most innocuous of
moments; behind the wheel of the mini-van, sparking
awake after an impromptu nap on the laundry still
not folded and put away, during the human interest
news segment that airs in between the weather
and sports, or during Sunday morning coffee and
web-surfing, brought on by nothing more than the
sublime juxtaposition of grainy police tape images
and a for sale sign mixed with the sound of gently
fading rain and you are never in more danger than
when your senses are so seduced and suspended and
surrounded by the company of those you most love in
this life.
Part II: My Combustion
We are never more imprinted than in those
moments not of our choosing. My kingdom of
damage is a burned out, three story grotto over-
looking the Spokane River Valley, visions of a
28
hand over cash & carry haunted house operation
dancing through my uncles dilated pupils as he
drives up the rutted road, letting us all out at the
spectacle of gothic ruins.
The first floor is wild and strewn, as if the rain storm
that had just passed on this gray, April 1977 day had
been looking for something inside here.
On the second floor, halfway down the hall from
the blackened stairwell, my beautiful honey haired
cousin Julie, a precocious eleven years old and two
years older than me to the day teaches, pulls me into
one of the ravaged bedrooms and convinces me to
let her teach me how to French kiss slowly. The bible
tells us this is wrong, but I love that she wants us to
pull our pants down and feel each others sensitive
parts nuzzle against each other while our tongues
wrestle madly. Her brother James catches us, puts his
hands over his mouth and runs out. We pull up our
pants and walk out wondering how much trouble we
are in.
The rain returns and everyone starts back to my
uncles van but my mother is missing and I begin
to feel that hollow burn. I call out her name on the
first floor, to no avail. I scream out her name on the
second floor, wondering if she saw my cousin and
I being naughty, and after fearfully checking each
ominous room on the second floor, I ascend to third
floor trembling with the possibility that she has left
PAUL CORMAN- ROBERTS 29
me forever. I can hear my family outside near the van
calling her name.
JO ELLEN!
I call out MOM! on the third floor and still get no
answer. I check each room up here, where the center
portion of the roof is gone and charred beams and
shingles resemble the mouth of a dragon whose teeth
have been smashed by its own tail, the rainfall inten-
sifying and soaking me through the gaping maw.
In the last room on the floor, I finally find her
staring at the graffiti on the wall.
Mom.
She doesnt respond, just keeps staring at the wall.
I run up to her.
MOM!
She finally speaks:
Devil worshippers lived here.
I look to the wall to see if I can see what she refuses
to take her eyes off of, but I see no obvious signs of
evil. I dont understand the images and words spray
painted on the ruined, ashen walls. I look back at her,
30
rainwater dripping down her cheeks.
Young women died here, she says.
I tug at her arm.
Mom, we have to go. Were leaving now. We need to
leave now mom, okay? Please?
She turns and starts to come with my pull, and when
we get to the stairs there is James waiting, and I
wonder if he is going to say anything when suddenly
the stair beneath his right foot gives way and he
screams as he starts to plunge down but he is able
to grab onto a barely stable stair rail still there, and
with the hand that is not tugging my mother, Im
able to help pull him out of the hole. He then helps
me to carefully step over this hazard, and then in
turn helps me help my mom across it. We continue
gingerly down, James and I afraid that any one of
the structurally compromised steps could send us
tumbling down to the soggy embers below.
But this doesnt happen, and we make it back to the
van with the rest of my cousins imploring us come
on! Hurry up! and my uncle is cracking open a fresh
can of Coors before getting ready to hit the road, an
enormous, self satisfied grin on his features. James
gives me a look, and I know he isnt going to say a
word, and I love him forever for this, even when
he becomes a woman years later, driving a cab in
PAUL CORMAN- ROBERTS 31
Bremerton and strung out on meth.
Part III: Our Combustion
Everything that ever goes wrong between you and I
was caused by things that happened to us before we
even knew each other.
33
M
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EY CALL U
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ESILIEN
T
We prayed. We huddled in a basement when the
winds fell and lit candles and signed the cross as
we gave thanks to the statue of Holy Mary. She is a
small statue. She is all we have left. She has been in
our lives for 400 years. She is draped in an olive robe
and her eyes are blue like the raging mouth of the
sea. We prayed to our Holy Mary. We crowded the
basement. There were bodies spilling out, we couldnt
all fit, and some took refuge in the scattered Jeepneys
along the road, and when the trees and metal gates
bent, so did they. The waters came and it took their
bodies from the colorful jeeps. The sea swallowed our
loved ones with the broken windows and collapsed
doors and the portraits of our fathers and mothers
and the rice cookers and the pots and pans. But we
prayed. When the sun broke the clouds and we stood
on the wet grounds with every house crushed under
the weight of our hopes, we prayed. We prayed, Lord,
we prayed. We took our silences and our constant
smiles and hugged our neighbors who still had hands
and feet to stand on and we walked the ten miles
and heard the planes above and we prayed. This
was our prayer, Lord. This was how we prayed.
34
Holy Mary heard our crosses, bore the weight of
our silence. Hawak kamay. We held hands when the
winds fell, when the land emptied our bellies, when
the raging sea took every house and man and child
and woman with her. We prayed, Lord, we prayed:
We can smell the dead.
We can smell the dead crying, Lord.
We can smell the dead scurrying for food.
We can smell the dead lying, Lord.
Our resilience, isnt it the wind calling?
Take our hope, Lord, we will eat it.
Eat till our guts and loins are full:
Kumain tayo, kainin natin ito.
Tayo tayo tayo.
We can smell the dead living, Lord.
We can smell the dead alive.
We can smell the dead eating, Lord.
Stand before our broken houses.
Raise your fists as the sun howls.
Wash our feet, abashed, wash the sounds.
And hear us, now, as we pray.
* * *
In the morning, we awoke to the sun and the smell of
rotting flesh. In the morning, we awoke to collapsed
houses. In the morning, we awoke to missing
children, husbands, wives, brothers and sisters. In the
morning, we crawled from the pit of the earth and
saw hills covered with mounds of broken buildings
MELI SSA R. SI PI N 35
and crashed cars and dead bodies. In the morning, we
awoke, our bellies hungry, our wills scattered. In the
morning, we awoke and began to walk.
We walked ten miles to the airport after the winds
fell and the storms bent metal gates and 10,000 went
missing. We walked ten miles and waited eight long
hours in a crowded room spilling with bodies. We
walked ten miles and the roads were paved with
bodies. We walked ten miles and the churches were
filled with bodies. We walked ten miles and we
prayed for two days in a basement when Yolanda
swelled and screamed, and in her loudness, 10,000
bodies went missing, 10,000 bodies we saw lying in
the dirt and the debris, 10,000 bodies in a broken
chapel, 10,000 bodies for empty coffins, 10,000
bodies under the bamboo and wood and brick and
bent metal, and did you know? We walked the island
of death and the trees uprooted themselves and
the sun came to brazen the wetness and it was ten
miles to the airport and eight long hours awaiting a
military plane crowded with supplies and food and
blankets and pills and bandages and cans of packaged
meats and bags of rice and all the objects we needed
but we call to you, to ask you this, we must ask you
this: What can erase the image of bodies lining the
streets, the trees and buildings and lampposts and
wooden beams hiding their limbs, separating their
hands and feet and heads, the empty coffins awaiting
their sleep, tell us how to forget the 10,000 bodies
that crowd our minds?
36
We walk the island of death and we walk the roads
paved with the smell of flesh.
But when we see the young woman birthing a girl
in the crowded airport, we cry. We cheer when the
babe cries. We hear the military planes roaring above,
bringing us more things to eat: we eat our hope. We
move as the earth watches, as the journalists come, as
they ask us if we are hungry, as the cameras flash, as
the global reports claim we are looting and stealing
and so, we turn away and we walk. We walk and
walk and walk and walk. We remember without
stopping, without feeling the pain surging our feet,
our lungs, the head, the heart.
We walk, one leg lifting, we walk, one arm swaying,
we walk, one breath inhaling, we walk. We walk
with 10,000 bodies. We walk more than ten miles.
We walk longer than eight hours. We walk till the
metal gates unbend. Till the trees re-root. Till the
coffins are filled. Till the houses are rebuilt. Till the
roads are paved with our sweat.
Our will walks us through the island of death, and
with our hands, we await the next day and the next,
ready to build.
* * *
We are ready to build. We are ready to build because
there is nothing else. We are ready to build but there
are no supplies. We are ready to build but there is
MELI SSA R. SI PI N 37
no food. We are ready to build and it is the fifth day
since the winds fell and still, we have no food. We
have no buri mats to sleep on, no clean water, no
electricity, no power, no medical supplies, no pots or
pans to cook rice in, no man or government person
with his uniform in charge, and around us, the
earth is flattened: there are collapsed houses, broken
bamboo stilts, crushed cars, bent metal, shattered
glass, splintered wood, a sea of black body bags, a sea
of long lines and the waiting. There is the stadium
with the crumpled government cars wedged into
fence posts, a twisted chain link fence. We walk with
makeshift masks, desperately trying to escape the
smell.
We can only walk. We walk. There is nothing else.
The lucky ones have motorcycles. The lucky ones
stole bikes. The lucky ones climb into government
cars. We, we walk. We walk. We are hungry. We
band together, we eye the others. We walk. We loot.
We steal. We walk. We follow the crowd. We walk
three hours to a warehouse with a shattered roof.
We climb the broken wall, up the roof and down to
the building filled with thieves. We hope for rice,
but there is more: cans of sardines, bottles of water,
blankets. We steal. We loot. We take whatever our
hands can carry, whatever our children can bear. We
take, we steal, we are hungry. We are women. We are
men. We steal metal guns. We hold onto metal guns.
We run. We sleep in huddles. We stand guard. Take
turns watching. Waiting. Till the night falls and the
38
earth is filled with the air of flesh. We stand still.
Guns pointed. Guns ready. We walk.
In the morning, we see the white man coming with
his cameras. We see him treading with us, asking
our folk if they are hungry, where their houses stood,
where their childrens and husbands and wives
bodies lay. We watch the white man cry. We watch
him answer the camera and say:
Can you imagine the strength it takes living in a shack, to
be sleeping on the streets next to the body of your dead
children?
We look at the white man eyeing the camera,
glancing left and right, collapsing his face into his
hands, his khaki slacks perfectly clean, unspoiled, his
grey hair slicked back, his eyes the bluest, like the
raging sea.
Can you imagine that strength? I cant.
He turns to us, he looks at us, and he says:
And Ive seen that strength day in and day out here, and
we honor them in every broadcast that we do.
We look back, we hold hands, hawak kamay, we walk
to this white man and we grasp his shoulders and we
ask him: dont you know? Dont you know? Dont you
know?
MELI SSA R. SI PI N 39
We carry our statue of Holy Mary, we hold her close,
we touch the rough marble and kiss her olive robe,
and we ask the earth and the television screens and
we sit on our stolen buri mats and we say:
She is all we have left.
We hold hands, hawak kamay, we pray. We pray,
Lord, we pray. We want to tell the white man and his
cameras: didnt you know?
We are used to typhoons. We grow with typhoons.
We have two seasons: the wet and the dry. Typhoons
ravage our land, our islands, and more than 20 whip
through our towns in a year. We could smell the rain
when it comes. We knew when the moon had a ring
around it, there would be rain. The winds would
fall. We knew from the chattering of the birds. We
knew from the cockroach hordes marching from
our cupboards and up our walls. We knew from the
scurrying of ants outside our porches. We knew
from the roosters and their stilled wings and their
suspended cries that the rain was coming. We could
tell the strength of the storms from the color of the
clouds, from the grey streaking across the sky, from
the thickness and darkness of the blankets above us.
The cities would blare signals of these predictions. A
siren would blow when the typhoon was encroach-
ing. The first signal meant rain and some wind, but
we still went to school. The second signal meant
stronger rain and wind, and we were excused from
40
school. But the radio lines still worked, the cinemas
were still open, the telephone lines and electricity
still buzzed. When the third and fourth signal blew,
we stayed indoors and hid in our basements. The
winds would fall and the rain would plow through
our streets, flooding the passagewaysthe branches
would break, the trees would uproot, the metal gates
would bend, the corrugated metal roofing would
collapse. We huddled in our basements with canned
goods, water, candles, matches, and the world outside
would wait, the electricity and telephone lines would
cease, and dont you know, dear white man, we knew
how to wait. We waited. We would wait for the sun
to break the clouds and brazen the wet grounds and
in the morning, we awoke to a city still standing.
What was this storm, dear white man? Was it the
fifth siren, the sixth, the seventh? The city we
knew: its gone. Everything: its gone. Where is our
strength? Our resilience? Where is our brokenness?
Where is our food? Where are our politicians and
their wives on broadcasts, telling you, white man,
that youre wrong: that were not starving? Where is
our hope? Where are our voices? Did the wind ravage
them too?
We pray our Hail Marys. We pray Our Father. We
pray and we smile and we hug those who are left. We
walk and we scavenge and we bury our dead, even
our children. We walk and we loot and we steal
and, Lord, we have to eat. We walk and we steal
MELI SSA R. SI PI N 41
a treadmill because maybe we can sell it for food,
because maybe later, our still breathing child can say
we may have nothing left but this treadmill, but this
treadmill is all we have left. We walk and we walk
and we laugh and we cry and we keep walking until
the sun continues to dry up the land.
We laugh. We find a hoop beneath our broken houses
and we prop it up with broken wood beams and rusty
nails as if it were our treasure. We play basketball
among the ruins of our lost town. A crowd gathers on
Juan Luna Street. We play, pushing each other aside,
grabbing at our arms, shooting the orange, grimy
ball into the metal ring. We laugh. We hold each
others hands and we huddle on this street where our
families once stood and we share stories of loss: we
grieve. We laugh at what weve lost, we joke, if only
briefly, we list them, we itemize and inventory the
objects, the relations, the people, our loved ones, our
dear ones, and cry. We laugh. We remember. We eat
our silence. This is all we have left.
You call us resilient.
We say to you, dear television sets, dear journalists,
dear broadcasters, dear outside world that paints us
like brown savages, that must ask us: why?
This is nothing new. Bahala na, sir: whatever happens,
leave it to God. It is why we pray. It is why we leave.
It is why we stay. Our collective blood seeps deeper
42
into the islands rivers, the underwater caves, the
mountains, the trees, the dirt of our land, our kapwa
of will, of death, of moving on.
It is why we board a crowded U.S. Air Force C-17
along with 500 others, all displaced, all who have
lost everything too; it is why we stand by babies and
pregnant women and men with dolls who kiss the
stuffed animal-like wings over and over, remnants
of a daughter now gone. It is why when an American
crewmember holds her iPhone to the aircrafts
speaker, playing Earth, Wind & Fire, a song we do
know, a song we play on the karaoke, that we break
out into dance and song. We sing: Do you remember?
We dance: While chasing the clouds away. We twirl:
Our hearts were ringing. We sway: In the key that our
souls were singing. We laugh: As we danced the night,
Remember. We cry, as the plane nears Manila, far away
from the carnage, our home: How the stars stole the
night away.
They call us resilient. And dear sir, yes, we are: this is
what we always will have.
K endra M cK i nley musi cal i nterlude
43
B
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OCLIM
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S
I am walking my dog on Geary Street, along the
narrow cut of San Francisco called the Tenderloin.
Our nightly strolls average 45 minutes to an hour;
Humbert makes wide, snuffling sweeps of the
sidewalk, hoping to detect blades of grass, a rich pile
of soil, something natural. Experience should tell him
no, he will not find those things here, and ought to
just hunch up over one the steel doors of a sidewalk
cellar (his second favorite poop spot, something about
the texture I think) and call it a night. But we trudge
on, the streetlights washing his white fur yellow. We
give a wide berth to the soot-darkened shoes and
singed piles of clothes we pass.
Humbert stops outside of a bar. Its one of the newer
spots with a fireplace and leather couches, one of
the businesses that exist on the TenderNob (the cute
name rental agencies came up with for the blocks that
run interference between one of San Franciscos most
notorious neighborhoods and one of its wealthiest)
so that young folks can adventure there for a drink
without having to experience anything too scary.
Humbert sniffs at a dark spot on the concrete.
Excuse me, two men are standing near the curb,
44
cigarettes between their knuckles. The shorter one
is looking into traffic with his hands in his pockets,
grinning, while the other steps toward me. Hes wear-
ing a grey North Face jacket and has bushy eyebrows.
I say nothing and watch as Humbert presses his black
nose to the ground, inhaling deeply.
My friend and I were talking, the man continues.
We were saying that no one lives here unless theyre a
student, a drug addict, or a hooker.
I flick my eyes toward them. The short guy is
sniggering and shaking his head.
So which one are you?
I pull on Humberts leash but hes rounded his body
to do his business. He glares at me over his shoulder,
not pleased by the disruption. I look back at the man,
who is waiting for my answer.
No, I say. I just live here. I frown and rub my fing-
ers together. Theres a smoky layer of grit on my skin.
It comes through the windows of our apartment when
we leave the windows open, blackening the sills and
the back of the couch. Its been noticeably heavier in
the last few weeks. In the last few weeks three build-
ings in the neighborhood have been gutted by fire.
Oh, he says, and he frowns, too. I pull a purple poop
BROOKE FERGUSON 45
bag from my pocket and stoop to pick up Humberts
mess. Hes studying the man with his dark button
eyes, shaggy tail giving a hopeful wag.
Well, maybe you can tell me whats up with the
clothes, then?
What? I look down at what Im wearing: jeans and a
sweater and converse sneakers.
The piles of clothes everywhere, he gestures with his
cigarette, toward a crumpled lump of corduroy pants
and a button-down shirt. Whats the deal?
Oh I nod my head slowly, knotting the poop bag,
thinking about how Im going to respond. Well, you
know, theres all these micro-hoods.
Micro-wha? He glances at his friend, who is now
looking at his phone.
Microhoods, I say. Tiny neighborhoods. With
microclimates. Because of where were situated, with
the bay and the ocean on either side, plus the hills. It
makes these little climates. Like when you cross the
street and suddenly need to put on your jacket, and
then on the next block youre hot again.
Oookay And that has what to do with the clothes?
His friend has finally walked over to join him. He
looks ready to leave. They both have gelled hair.
46
Well, its just my idea, I guess. That theres a reaction
with the climate. Thats why it happens more here
than in other neighborhoods.
What happens?
Spontaneous combustion, I say. Some people, they
come into contact with the climate here, and they
start to smoke. And if they dont do anything about it,
they go right up in flames. Sometimes it doesnt even
scorch the ground. All the clothes It almost looks
like all these people got Raptured, like God plucked
up the ones he wanted to save. I laugh. But thats
not it. They just burn up. It happens in compost piles
sometimes. Piles of shit, too, I say. Now Im looking
right at him, and now Im smiling, and now his bushy
eyebrows are knitting together.
Riiiight, he says. The short one takes out his phone
again and murmurs something about an Uber car. So
I guess batshit crazy people live in this neighborhood,
too.
I shrug and keep smiling. I drop the bag of shit at
his feet. I give Humberts leash a tug and we start
walking again.
Crazy bitch, he says behind me, but Humbert and I
are already rounding the corner, heading back to the
apartment.
BROOKE FERGUSON 47
When we get home I take a shower and wipe the
grit out of the bathtub. I get in bed and turn out the
light and wait for my boyfriend to get home from
bartending. Humbert is curled in the crook of my
knees, asleep with his head on my calf. I rub the tip
of his ear between my fingers, listening to people on
the street below. I hear raised voices, two men and a
woman arguing. I smell smoke, sour like burnt hair
and a moment later the curtains blow inward. An
incredible light fills the apartment, hot and yellow
and almost Godly, and Humbert opens his eyes, and I
smile and stroke his head.
49
S
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LITCH
Hang keys on hook left of doorway. Unlace boots
and place at doorway with toes facing street. Walk
upstairs, take off pants, fold and place on the chest at
the foot of bed, these are good for three days without
dry-cleaning. Walk to closet, unbutton shirt, hang on
the corner of another empty hanger so it faces out at
you when you enter the closet, this is good for two
days without dry-cleaning, tomorrow is its second
day. Walk downstairs and make two ham sandwiches
on white bread with mayonnaise and two individually
wrapped slices of cheese. Open one can light beer.
Hold sandwiches on one sheet of paper towel in your
left hand and beer in the right hand. Walk to recliner.
Recline. Set sandwiches on lap. Put beer on coaster
located atop a two-in-one lamp side table. Pick up
remote. Turn on television. Search through directory
of recorded programs. Choose selected recorded
program. Watch.
This is Brian on days after he works. On days he
does not work he makes an egg sandwich with two
medium fried eggs on toasted white bread with one
leaf iceberg lettuce, one slice tomato, mayonnaise
on both slices of bread. He eats this with exactly
two half-drank cups of black coffee. He drinks one
50
halfway down until it is a temperature somewhere
between hot and not hot that he despises. Then, he
gets up from his recliner, which is where he eats while
watching his programs, and walks to the kitchen to
fill the coffee mug to the top. This creates the perfect
drinking temperature. He will be able to drink just
over half of the contents of the second cup before it
reaches said temperature between hot and not hot
he despises. On his days off he will sit in his recliner
for almost all hours he is awake. In his recliner he
will first watch the program he has recorded. When
he is caught up with the recorded programs he will
switch to real time television. The program is always
UltraReality: When Reality Becomes Ultra Reality.
The show is filmed in real time for twelve hours of
everyday, meaning he is almost always in a constant
state of being outside of real time and is, instead,
always in the process of catching up to real time.
The show follows mostly young people who are
UltraReal. There are some characters his age who
also are apparently UltraReal. Brian, however, is
skeptical that anyone his age possesses the ability to
be UltraReal, seeing as he himself is not UltraReal.
The screen projects a screen. On this projected screen
a man and woman sit across from each other with
another screen between them. It is apparent, by no
clear demarcation other than common familiarity of
the UltraReal by its viewers and their understanding
of its language, that the two on either side of the screen
SHELBY HI NTE 51
are lovers. No words are heard. One could mistake the
projected sounds as lack of sound, as silence, but for
devoted viewers there is a very specific buzz permeating
out of the screen, or of its speakers, and penetrating the
room in which the viewer and television are located. The
buzz changes tonally as a close-lipped conversation takes
place between the two lovers. They are discussing a sort
of apocalypse that has torn apart other lovers but which
has in fact brought them closer together. Everything is soft
hues except for the eyes and mouths of the lovers, which
are both such deep blues they almost appear on the screen
as black blobs moving atop the lovers. The apocalypse,
one of what they describe as one of many, as in they will
continue forever to be in a constant state of existing in
end, has just broken up their two best friends. Both of these
lovers, the ones broken up by apocalypse, were once lovers
to the lovers on either side of the screen. A high pitched
buzz takes place and the viewer knows that things between
the two lovers are the best theyve been. The two lovers
unplug themselves and the screen between them lifts up
like a theatre backdrop, the two disappear and the screen
buzzes for a moment in the slight green between blue and
yellow. One can no longer see the lovers but knows that
they exist still in the room.
There is a two inch white spot on Brians television.
It looks like it could spread. He knows it is not a part
of UltraReality: When Reality Becomes Ultra Real. It is
not the right color. He gets off the recliner and walks
to the screen where the white spot has emerged.
He touches it and feels nothing other than the fine
52
ripples of TV screen. He kneels down to look at it
and is so close that he cannot see it. It has blended
into the images projecting from his television. For a
moment he watches his program like this, but he gets
the sense that this is not real, that this is disrupting
the reality and he cannot stand to sit blind to it by
this patch emerging whose sole intention appears to
be manipulating Brian. He gets up and paces back
and forth until his feet begin to burn from the carpet.
He makes it back to the recliner, sits, and closes his
eyes willing the spot to be gone when he opens them
again. He opens them and looks at the screen. The
spot is still there. He can feel sweat about to fall from
his upper lip into his mouth. The screen is distorted.
UltraReality is distorted. He cant stand to look at
it. He grabs the remote from his two-in-one lamp
side table and clicks the television off. It is just past
2am. There is no one who can help him resolve this
issue at the moment. In his mind, he sees a clock like
the ones on scoreboards at sporting events flipping
time. Time displayed like this appears to carry more
weight than normal time. This, for Brian, is all the
time he is losing from UltraReality, all the time he is
being set back by and will have to spend hours not
sleeping in the days following to catch up to. Tonight
he will not be able to sleep. He will get in his car at
six fifty-two a.m. and drive for five minutes to the
electronic supply store by his house. He will wait
another minute outside the locked and chained doors
of the electronic supply store until someone lets him
in to purchase a new, unblemished television. He just
SHELBY HI NTE 53
hopes that it is his television and not his recording
device malfunctioning and projecting the white spot.
If it were, he could lose days of UltraReal information.
55
J
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B A B
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N
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LY ESCAPES O
N
H
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S
E
B
A
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F
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C
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TH
IAN BANDITS O
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H
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B
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C
K
Marge worked at the Story Factory, in the Shoveling
Department, where she worked all day shoveling
terrible stories into the Terrible Story Furnace. She
didnt really write herself, well, maybe a little, maybe
some journaling here and there, some false starts, but
nothing polished. She wrote, but she didnt write,
anyway. Until one day near the end of her shift, while
Marge leaned pensively on her shovel, a pipe carrying
exhaust fumes from the Language Generation
Chamber (where the Creation Fire was stoked)
sprang a sudden leak. She sighed deeply several times,
breathing the fumes, and presently found herself
with an Idea.
Where was Marge, just then, with her hands folded
delicately over the polished wooden handle and the
large sharp blade balanced precisely on the ground
like the single incisor of some interesting, one-
toothed animal, at the precise moment in which
Marge was visited upon by an Idea? Thats right:
second catwalk, Shoveling Department. Marge
plucked up her courage. Dizzied by excitement and
slightly hypoxic from the fumes, she fed her time
56
card into the machine, kachunk! And hurried home
to begin her story.
Marge wrote at a furious pace, as if being pursued
by wild dogs, or as if she were a wild dog pursuing
something, pausing periodically to twirl her pencil
like a baton and consider the metaphorical space
above and to the front-left of her head, which teemed
with images and ideas, before bearing down again
to continue writing at a furious pace, the tip of her
pencil scrabbling wildly after the words which lunged
just ahead of her like a pack of you-know-what.
The story leapt from her.
After an elegant beginning and a gut-busting middle,
she found herself nearing the end of the story on
horseback, being pursued wildly by Carpathian
bandits on horseback. The pursuit was hot, and
escape was uncertain, but her sorrel mares lungs
heaved hugely as she galloped across the dusty plain
just ahead of the darkly handsome bandit captain and
his savage knot of brigands. Twice the bandit captain
reached for her and came so close that his rough, ring-
laden fingers brushed strands of Marges flying hair,
but Marge whispered words of encouragement into
the ear of her sorrel mare in the language her mare
best understood, and twice she surged ahead, and
reached the treacherous mountain pass unscathed.
Her sure-footed mare carried her through, and at
night she circled back to the ring of fires marking the
J OHN BABBOTT 57
Carpathian bandits camp, stole past the brooding
brigands, and slunk catlike into the darkly handsome
bandit captains carpeted yurt, where she discovered
that he was not only darkly handsome but also well
endowed, and where he discovered that his former
foe was the only woman strong enough for his love,
and they ruled the plains together with benevolently
iron fists until they perished gloriously in battle,
having lived truly and well, the end! Marge gasped
and tipped over backwards in her chair and lay on the
floor, her chest heaving amply.
It was the best story in the world.
She went outside to smell the night and gaze at the
stars, and she perambulated the house until sunrise.
Then, refreshed, she went back to work at the
Shoveling Department.
Did Marge then possess an air of quiet, triumphant
satisfaction because she knew the story she carried
rolled up in her back pocket to be the best in the
world, ever? Did her story hold the potential to
bring to people laughter, tears, terror, joy? To
change peoples whole perspective on things and to
crystallize meaning for them in a big big way? Was
Shift Manager Jerry presently in front of her, ejecting
spittle from sluglike lips as he chewed Marge out
for wool-gathering on the job? Yes, yesyesyes, and
yes. Marge calmly regarded Shift Manager Jerrys
tirade until Jerry, unnerved by Marges calm, stepped
58
backwards and brushed his sleeve against a hot
pipe and caught on fire, and went up in flames that
Marge was obliged to calmly extinguish, which
immediately triggered an Incident Review Review
with Jerry, Marge and Mr. Large. Mr. Large, impressed
by Marges uncanny poise, supplanted Jerry with
Marge as Shift Manager and packed Jerry off to the
burn ward. Shift Manager Marge returned to the
Shoveling Department and strolled along the catwalk
patting one palm with her rolled-up story like a baton,
surveying her new domain, and heaved a satisfied
sigh just before the story slipped from her hands and
dropped into the Terrible Story Furnace.
Marge gripped the railing with both hands, staring at
the spot where the flash of white flame marked the
sudden and complete dissolution of 100% of the story
she had written. Frantically, she ran to the bulletin
board and ripped from it the first pieces of paper her
hands fell upon, which happened to be the Safety
and Shoveling Technique Placards, an action that Mr.
Large observed with disapproval from within his glass
office that lorded above the Shoveling Department.
Marge wrote as much as she could remember as fast
as she could, but when she was finished and read
back over her words, her heart turned to uranium and
began poisoning the rest of her: the reproduction was
a laughable attempt, possessing none of the magic
of the first. What remained was a bad Harlequin
romance, with Carpathian thrice misspelled.
J OHN BABBOTT 59
Gone, her sure-footed sorrel mare.
Gone, her well-endowed bandit captain.
Gone, her potential to bring laughter, tears etc.
Marge lumped home and wept, shortly after Mr.
Large had demoted her to Shoveler, Third Class for
Placard Removal and Defilement.
After several days of tears Marge, severely dehydrated,
crawled to her desk, climbed from tear-puddled floor
into chair, and waited, soggy pencil raised. No stories
leapt from it. Where did they go? Where had they
last come from? Then she remembered: The broken
pipe. The exhaust fumes. The Language Generation
Chamber. Marge received, just then, her second big
Idea that week: she had to get as close as possible
to the Creation Fire. Screw the fumesshe had to
behold the Fire itself. Thenand only thenwould
she find her way back to that moment of Original
Mystery, and from that all-knowing place, she would
re-write the greatest story in the world.
As she had been crying for several days and
attempting unsuccessfully to write for ten minutes,
Marge had not reported to work, and had been fired
by Mr. Large. This was no deterrent. She dressed in
black, donned stealthy felt slippers, and scaled the
Story Factory fence in the dead of night.
60
When Marge reached the Language Generation
Chamber, she was breathing hard and also bleeding
badly from having been temporarily waylaid by
the sharp accordion of barbed wire atop the Story
Factory fence, but she was there. In the middle of the
Chamber, the Creation Fire roared orangely inside
its great cistern, the one window in the thick door
glowing like the eye of God, or like the eye of an
orange-eyed whale representing the leviathan of her
subconscious. She approached the window, felt its
exquisite heat. The Original Mystery was in there, in
front of her. She closed her eyes and reached for it
with her heart. It was no good. She would have to
open the door to behold it, just for a moment. Marge
braced herself for the heat. She grasped the handle
with the potholder she had brought along just in case,
turned it and swung open the door. There! She could
feel it so much stronger now, the prickles of heat tap
dancing across her bloody skin. It drew her in. Just
one kiss from the fire, Marge thought, will be enough.
Marge leaned in, touched the fire, and was consumed.
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