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The Bicycle Review # 32

The Bicycle Review # 32 15 February, 2016 Original Artworks by Robert Bowen and Sandra Yagi.

15 February, 2016

Original Artworks by Robert Bowen and Sandra Yagi.

Poetry and Prose by AN Block, Pris Campbell, Valentina Cano, Neeli Cherkovski, Paul Corman-Roberts, Doug Draime, Mitchell Grabois, Rachel Head, David E. Howerton, Theresa Griffin Kennedy, Thomas Larsen, Martin H. Levinson, Upendra Maddineni, Colleen McKee, Richard King Perkins, A.D. Winans, and Edward C. Wells III

Published by the Pedestrian Press on 15 February, 2016. All works are the property of

Published by the Pedestrian Press on 15 February, 2016. All works are the property of the authors and artists and may not be reproduced without their expressed permission.

Bicycle Review # 32

Welcome back, cyclists! It's been a long and fruitful year in which we've started a whole other, more localand less expensivemagazine here in Oakland called, appropriately: Oakland Review. It's actually been fun doing something much easier for a while before coming back to this world of high art and finance, hehheh.

Doing this journal is a lot of work, and though Rhea and Robert have made important contributions (as well as others, such as Michael McCormick and Lynn Hayes, have helped me out during diffe rent periods) most of the execution, and nearly all of the reading and fielding of submissions have been my job for most of the 7 years I've been publishing BR.

Not anymore. Through the Creative Writing department at SFSU, we've hooked up with intern staff members who have made this overwhelming amount of reading a lot easier. This issue we were assisted by Anna Mahrer, who did a great job helping me get through what has become quite a mountain of words over time.

It is nice to be back on the bike after a whole fourteen months of hiatus. I bitch and moan, but this has actually become so much bigger than me that it gets kind of scary at times.

As promised in issue 30, we are going to be abandoning (continuing to abandon?) the old "editor's note" trope in favor of conversational interviews like the one we did with A. Razor to kick off issue #31. After such a long time, though, I felt it would be a little rude not to say hi.

This issue is so crazy good that to name just a few people would be unfair. Just read it and look at it, and you'll see. I'll shut up now.

Share the Road,

J de Salvo

2

INVISIBLE SAFETY NETS

I’ll forgive you when you admit you were never going to pick up my call; when you admit you were intentionally sticking your head only half way inside the oven; when you admit that you lied to a man who had broken your heart again that you weren’t really 5150, you were just really fucking high.

Not that you HADN’T just swallowed a handful of Xanax and Klonopin chased with a couple of shots of Bulleit, I mean hell, you’ve been riding that sled for years dear; Emeryville PD made sure that detail was correct because the next three weeks wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t.

In turn I will shamelessly admit that yes, it occurred to me you could take it. It occurred to me you told the heartbreaker you were offing yourself because you were sure it would break his heart because it would make him call you later to make sure you were okay, because it would make him kinda care in the way that no one else cared because they couldn’t keep going down this road with you, never mind that he is the same kind of ambitious, cynical alcoholic you are, the same kind of jaded striver who is just one blow job away from the cultural lottery and because of that, you never imagined that he was actually a person of substance and caring underneath that, that he would really sound the alarm; that a suicide safety net actually had been laid out beneath your ledge, and that once activated, there will be no turning it off.

You know that they are going to put safety nets underneath the Golden Gate Bridge now. There will be no way to have that direct line of sight from the railing straight down to the water.

You know eventually, there is going to be that first person to try it anyway, thinking they can

somehow jump far enough out over the net, or that the wind will catch them and they will fly to

oblivion.

Bridge safety net.

But in fact, they will simply then become the first person to get caught in Golden Gate

Can you imagine how that is going to feel? Laying prone and essentially unable to move in the netting; no doubt bouncing up and down in the shrieking Golden Gate winds beneath the hungry lapping currents below, waiting to be hauled up like catch from a fishing trawler .

Yes, I imagine you would know how that first jumper is going to feel. I’ll forgive you when you admit you jumped without looking for the net.

Copyright 2016 by Paul Corman-Roberts

4

3 Pickles: Sour, Half Sour, Dill

1.

sour as your grandma’s most cherished resentment

2.

crisp as the day you were born from a brine of your ancestor’s tears

3.

this one’s emerald seed to skin

chew through it a tunnel back to your childhood

Copyright 2016 by Colleen McKee

6

Getting Fucked on the Way to Reno; 1985

I hadn't been unfaithful to Rodger and I didn't want to be unfaithful. I wanted our marriage to work,

or so I thought. We had just begun talking about the child we might have. Though I had just started taking classes at Portland State University, we were making plans. But I wasn't sure I was marriage material and felt particularly frustrated because Rodger didn't want to talk about it. He only wanted to gamble and chase the tempting buffet coupons. We were after all, “on a vacation” so we had to

stick to the tour bus itinerary.

Roger left me in the front of the casino; in the stark sunlight and walked back in, alone. “I'll be over by the dollar slot machines. You'll find me.” I nodded my head and didn't answer. I was pissed off because after ten months of marriage, we didn't have sex much anymore. The sex we did have generally wasn't satisfactory, as he rarely took the time to make me come. But I still enjoyed the process of getting naked and laying down with him.

I looked around, standing just outside the casino doors, and couldn't believe where they had taken us.

It was another dump, with stained carpets, sticky chairs and grimy, smoke tinged mirrors. I walked over and sat on the large concrete bench out front , feeling the crisp air and sunlight on my face. I shivered in the cold, rather than go back inside the run down establishment. After twenty minutes of

freezing in the cold, I realized I'd have to go find him. Club Cal Neva was one of the most popular casinos in Reno and located right in the center of the downtown area on East Second Street. It was known mostly for its cheap buffets, which were crammed full of starchy foods like potatoes, rolls, corn bread, and chicken and noodle dishesand its numerous bars. It was also known for serving drinkers well past the danger zone. Only after customers began sliding off the bar stools, murmuring into their drink and either laughing quietly or weeping, did the bartenders suggest someone call a cab.

I made my way around a large stone flower pot and walked toward the casino. I remember walking in

and not knowing where I was. The colored lights were so numerous and bright I became disoriented.

I looked over to the nickel and quarter machines and tried to locate him but there were too many

people and so much noise I started to panic. I was nineteen but Roger was forty four and an old hand at Reno. I resented him for his easy confidence and aplomb. I stood by a huge support column covered in mirrors adorned with dirty hand prints and started feeling that lost feeling that reminded me of being a small child. I had to get out of this room. It was dizzying. A disco ball loomed overhead near a grimy window, and added to the distraction and surreality. Noticing it startled me and I stood watching it, mesmerized, until a tall pit boss with a ginger crew-cut walked by and eyed me like I was crazy. “I’m just looking around,” I said in a small voice. He ignored me. I blinked and looked down, trying to focus on the task of finding Rodger.

I walked around the center slots, weaving my way around, looking for him. I noticed, for the first time

there were no clocks and absolutely no way to tell what time it was, unless you were wearing a watch. This I later learned was a deliberate tactic. No casino would have a clock, in either Reno, or Vegas, during any of our many trips. Why remind people they missed dinner or that dentist appointment with a clock on the wall, when they could be making the casino money?

After scanning the room and telling myself to slow down, I located him in the back, over by a restroom. I sighed, relieved and walked over, touching his shoulder silently and offering a small smile. He looked up with a question on his face, then a grateful grin. He was winning, which was rare.

The pit boss with the ginger crew cut approached. “She's not legal, is she?” Rodger stood up. “Well, we're married, so technically I'm her legal guardian. The manager said there wouldn't be a problem, when I spoke with him earlier.” The pit boss was unconvinced, “I'll need to see both your ID's, please.” He rocked back on his heels, and looked down his nose, superior, hostile. Rodger fished out his ID and I did the same, defiant and slightly embarrassed, as I handed over the card. The pit boss looked at both cards, glancing over at my cleavage suspiciously, as if he might find a hidden object in between my breasts. “Well, okay but she's not allowed to drink any alcohol.” Then a slight pause. “By the way, good for you, buddy.” He winked at Rodger and slapped him on the back, as he turned around, heading in the opposite direction. A joke. Some good natured ribbing. Rodger had some of that “young stuff” the men seemed to like so much. Rodger looked over at me and smiled indulgently. “You sure do attract attention sometimes.” He sat back down and patted the chair beside him. I took a breath and exhaled deeply and sat down next to him. I watched him feed the machine, remembering the day before and forgetting the momentary drama of being carded by a powe rful looking pit boss who looked like a football linebacker.

It was 1985 and I'd just been recently married. I hated going on the bus junkets to Reno with Rodger. He always thought “this time” he'd be the big winner, but it never happened. I also I hated the man who sat in front of us on the bus ride down and all the old people, in their sixties and seventies who peered at me curiously wondering why my white skirt was so tight and why I always touched up my pink frost lipstick or brushed my long, auburn hair with the large bright red comb I carried in my oversize purse.

The old man, “Baldie” I had called him, when I later made fun of him, wanted to know all about us. Where were we from. When did we get married. Where in Portland did we live, SE or SW. He c reeped me out when he turned around regularly to think of some new thing to talk about and especially when he looked over at me dreamily and the way he always referred to us as “the newlyweds.” He would lick his lips suggestively, as he looked over at me, ignoring Rodger, who was oblivious to the fact that a man his age might find me attractive. The old man made me want to hit him, or viciously shoulder him “accidentally” and watch him fall to the ground, his face crumpled up in pain, moaning for his wife. Her name would be something stupid and antediluvian like Betty, or Myrtle, Blanche or Bertha.

“Are you and your friend

“Yes, we're married.”

?

Well, I see a wedding ring, so, you must be married!”

“How old are you? You look very young.”

“I'm nineteen. I'll be turning twenty soon, though.”

“Oh, so you're newlyweds, then?” The look on his face became dreamy. I imagined he was holding his erect penis in his hand and stroking it up and down, while we spoke, with his long suffering, half -wit wife sitting next to him thinking, “Oh God, there he is, masturbating in public again!” I could see she was short and thin, with ancient looking skin and that she looked at least twenty years older than he did. She was sitting by the window and when she finally spoke, her voice was thin and disappointed. “Who are you talking to now? Eric, would you leave that couple alone?” I considered the name Eric and felt surprise. It seemed like such a young name and didn't fit the old man's face or bald head. “I'm only talking to the newlyweds” he intoned with mocking indifference. I wondered how many times he'd cheated on his wife.

I glanced over at Rodger and saw he was sleeping beside me, snoring into my left shoulder, unconscious. Because he was asleep, I turned back to the man and deliberately glared. I grimaced my mouth dramatically in an ugly way, turning my mouth up on the right and down on the left, thinking it made me look dangerous and intense. This only thrilled “Eric” and he widened his eyes and took it all in with an elated smile. It was a form of intimacy. A secret communication, only between us and he loved that. Now, I knew he'd cheated on his wife. “Well, well young lady!” He whispered the words so his wife wouldn't hear. “You’re a naughty girl, aren't you?” He turned around, pretending to be offended, facing the front of the bus but turned back twice to look at me and lick his lips, the shocked, mocking look still on his face. I noticed his breathing had quickened and stuck my book in my face.

I began to wonder if his penis was big or small or if he could make a woman come. Somehow I knew he

could and he started to look less old and more like a man. I imagined what he looked like as a young man. I could tell, by the planes of his face that he'd once been handsome and his smug confidence confirmed that he’d been sought after by the opposite sex. When he turned back around to look at me, and mock me with his knowing expression, I slowly licked my lips. My tongue, bubble gum pink, slid over the deep pink of the lipstick I'd recently applied in a thick layer. My eyes were narrow slits of hate as I slid my tongue back and forth under my front teeth, like how I'd seen prostitutes do on TV

cop shows. His face blanched then, his smile fell and he turned around and didn't look back. I felt furious and my stomach started to heat up with adrenalin.

The bus stopped in a tiny one horse town, somewhere past the California border, which turned out to be a spot where inspectors from the agricultural Inspection Station, or “Bug Station” were routinely called to check tour buses. In order that the California Border Protection inspectors could check the bus for fruit which might be carrying invasive species with it, the bus had to stop. I watched the driver grumble under his breath, before he opened the door to give the inspectors a friendly greeting. He got out of his seat and turned in the aisle, saying loudly “Fruit inspectors. Open your carry -on bags, please!” They would have to check the bags for oranges or other fruit contraband to make certain we weren’t smuggling in fruit contaminated with bugs that might endanger the precious California crops, destined to become orange juice.

I watched, interested, as two inspectors boarded the bus. The younger man walked down the aisle

first, looking from left to right, checking bags. “Do you have any oranges, or other fruit?” He seemed

bored and perhaps even hung over as he looked in bags and small suitcases.

murmured that they didn't have any fruit. No one had any secreted oranges from Portland hidden in their underwear or pajamas. The inspector stopped in front of a skinny old man with a hunched over spine sitting near the front of the bus. The old man was dressed in a heavy red and white plaid coat that hung on him like a tent.

Most of the old people

“What is that in your lap, sir?”

“It’s my sack lunch!” The man was indignant.

“Is that a banana I see?”

“Why, yes, it is. I was gonna eat it!”

“Sir, you're gonna to have to surrender your banana.”

A barely perceptible twitter arose from the assembled men and women on the bus.

“I was just gonna eat the damn thing. This is ridiculous!”

“Sir, I apologize for the inconvenience but you are not allowed to bring potentially contaminated fruit into the state of California. You'll have to surrender the banana.”

The old man grabbed the unripe banana and thrust it at the inspector furiously.

“Well, then YOU eat the damn thing! I just saved ya two bits!”

“Thank you, sir,” the inspector said wearily. He stuffed the banana into a clear plastic b ag that contained two oranges and proceeded down the aisle. He ambled down to our seat and looked in my new white leather purse, as I held it open. “Only lipstick and other junk,” I offered in the high voice I used if I thought I was in trouble or wanted to charm a man into liking me. He was about thirty five, tall and robust. His face was weathered and lined and had a nice persimmon color. His teeth were white and straight when he smiled.

He looked down at the cleavage visible from my peach V neck sweater and smiled approvingly, with a slight nod of his head, like my tits had just passed a test. Not huge melons but big enough for a mouthful. I smiled up at him, my eyes revealing nothing, only that innocent open look men love. The look that tells them you'll go along with whatever they want to do to you. It had gotten me out of trouble on many occasions and into trouble on occasions, too. I knew how well the expression worked, if other things were in order. Clothes, long hair, lipstick and then of course the value of having blue eyes. I hadn't understood the value of my blue eyes until I was about twelve. But then it hit me. Blue eyes could do many things for a girl, if they were in a jam, that other things simply could not. They proved to be priceless when it came to men.

“Is that your brother?” the man asked me quietly, motioning to Rodger as he snored, drooling on himself. I nodded, smiling and happy that he thought Rodger was my brother and not my husband. “Huh. Interesting,” the man concluded. He turned and walked to the front of the bus, following the first fruit inspector. Then he pivoted on his heel to look at me and wink as he easily stepped off the three tall steps. I leaned into the isle, flipped my hair over my shoulder and waved prettily, like we were old friend’s just saying hello again. Six or eight old-people-heads all turned around, perplexed, wondering. I went back to reading The Great Gatsby and ignored them. The bus driver turned the motor back on and stepped on the gas. We eased forward, gravel crunching under the tires, toward a dilapidated building, probably constructed during the Great Depression, only about sixty feet from the first stop where the two inspectors had boarded the bus to do the inspection. The bus came to a stop and the driver got out of his seat again.

“We've got about a ninety minute stop here and that's all!” the driver announced loudly over the length of the bus. The bus was half empty and from the middle to the back was vacant. I got up and stretched, sticking my ass out and arching my back. Ninety minutes to walk around, maybe buy some chips and juice and look for the inspector. I had already decided I would try.

Rodger had used the “Latrine” on the bus only a few minutes earlier, in the far back, with the swishing blue liquid and the medicine-shit smell. He wasn't moving so I left him there, unconscious in his seat. I walked off the bus, hopping off the last step and saw the old man, Eric, watching me as he stood by an old leafless tree of unknown species. I smiled evilly and swept past him. I walked near the

little “General Store” next to what looked like a vacant, old hotel. There was a group of cowboys gathered around, watching me with mean looks on their faces. One of them was wearing expensive looking leather chaps and looked exactly like a cowboy from a movie. He sneered at me as I passed. “City bitch!” he hissed under his breath. I ignored him and flipped my hair over my shoulder in a blatant fuck you gesture. He scoffed. “Cunt!” he whispered after me. I was unaffected by his words and smiled to myself, knowing he would fall all over himself if he could fuck me if I gave him even one tiny opening by smiling at him or asking him if he had some gum, a tissueor a condom.

I waited politely for the older folks to walk into the store ahead of me, to buy food and use the restrooms. After the last one slipped into the store, I stepped back, turned and walked off the porch and to the right side of the building. The group of cowboys seemed in perfect keeping with the scenery as they watched me intently. The landscape was all desert, dry tumble weeds and small patches of green grass that struggled to hang on with no rain. Near the front porch of the general store sat two long wooden planter pots filled with colorful acetate flowers in red, white and blue, and covered in a thick layer of prairie dust.

I tried to recall where the inspector had gone and it seemed he’d walked behind the building. I started

walking around to the back, down a narrow incline. Dead looking shrubs to the right of me brushed my bare arm while the cowboys watched me, smirking. I followed the worn dirt trail and found myself on a concrete patio with a small apartment in the back, visible through filmy glass sliding doors. The inspector was standing near the end of the patio, on the far left side, smoking. He turned and saw me, while pulling on the cigarette.

I walk right up to him and smile. “Hi, I'm Madeline!” I announce brightly. I push my tits out and

perform a quick phony military salute. “Are you a General?” I ask, giggling. He laughs, condescendingly, as he pulls on the cigarette and then blows smoke directly in my face. He looks down at me with interested wary eyes. I smile tilting my chin in towards him. I give him direct eye contact and the blank, I'll-do-whatever-you-want-me-to-smile and let the smoke pass into my face, fluttering my eyelashes as it stings my eyes.

“Honey, what are you doin' back here? I'm on duty.” I shift in my braided Bass leather flats, looking down. “You know that man on the bus? The one sitting next to me?”

“Yeah?” he says, bored.

“He's not my brother, he's my husband. I've been married for almost ten months, now.” I make my face go sad.

“Are you happy?” he asks, on cue.

“Well, when he's not watching boxing or news shows, I guess, but not really. I dunno.”

“Why don't you leave him if you're not happy and by the way, how old are you?”

“Well, you know, it’s never just that easy. Oh, I’m nineteen, almost twenty.”

“Well, I'm married with three kids. I know how not easy it can be too—man do I ever.”

He takes another drag on his cigarette and watches me, waiting, his eyes shrewd and alert. I take a deep breath. “It’s just that he never takes care of me, you know?” My comment catches him by surprise and he flicks his spent cigarette down onto the fine gravel near where the concrete patio ends.

“You sayin' he don't fuck you?”

“Well

unburdened a big secret and drop my hands to my sides. The invitation is right out there. I push out my tits a little more. “Let me ask you somethin' girl. Are you a cock tease, cause there's nothin' I hate ”

more than a

I guess that's what I am saying,” My eyes are wide. I heave a heavy sigh, as if I’ve just

yes,

“No!” I say, my voice, high. “I'm not meeeen like that. I'd never do that to a man. I really like you —I ” My voice trails off. I screw my face up into a hurt expression, blink three times and look down. I make my eyes water a little. It’s not difficult. I’ve done it before.

He notices and seems concerned. “Hey, take it easy, baby. I didn’t mean nothin'…” He walks the one step it takes to get to me and takes my elbow in his large brown hand. He strokes the white skin with his thumb, holding me firmly, looking me in the eyes and everywhere else. He's taking me all in, like he’s seeing me for the first time. Then he looks me right in the eyes.

“Don't you mock me, girlie girl,” he threatens quietly.

“Yes, sir. I mean, no

I

won't mock you.” I smile, coy.

“There's a room in the back here, do you wanna

I

mean

are

you sure?”

“I'll do whatever you want.”

“What's your name again?”

“I'm Madeline—Madeline Bracken.

Conrad?” I motion to his name-tag pinned to his brown jacket.

But you can call me Maddy.

What's your name,

other than

“Conrad Ridgepole, from Modesto and other placesin case you ever wanna look me up. Will you do that? Look me up?”

“Yes, I promise. I promise, I'll look you up.”

He pulls me into the apartment, turns and reaches behind me and clicks the deadbolt shut. He looks down at me, still with that concerned serious look in his eyes, like he’s trying to figure me out. “We’re locked in now,” he purrs close to my face. I look up at him. My eyes are wide. He clasps my hand. His hand is dry and hot. He pulls me past the living room, with standard rundown hotel furniture and into a tidy dark bedroom with no windows. The smell of stale cigarettes and mildew fills my nose. It feels like a bad room. Like bad things have happened there, like rape and long violent assault. The air of the room is permeated with a thick feeling of recent stress. I feel butterflies in my stomach. I know it will be perfect for what we're going to do. I shouldn't be there, though. It’s dangerous and foolish. And it’s wrong. He's married. I'm married. But the butterflies in my stomach make me feel alive and I love that

feeling, of being alive and standing on the opposite side of a precipice, with nowhere else t o go, but down.

Without even consciously considering it, I reflect back to the two times I was molested before the age of eleven and how terrified and excited I felt, remembering what the tattoo artist had done and how he’d made me come with his hand. My pussy starts to throb and heat up as it remembers. I think to myself that being with a married man in a cheap looking room with no windows is somehow good and right. That it’s an honest and righteous way for me to express my love of life, getting fucked by a man other than my husband before my twentieth birthday. He switches on the overhead light. The dim light fills the room with a sickly yellowish cast.

The queen size bed is made with thin white sheets, a cheap acrylic blanket and a purple flowered hotel bedspread. He strides over and pulls the covers and bedspread off in one sweeping motion, tossing them to the right, where they slide to the floor. He turns to me, suddenly authoritative. “Take it all off. I wanna see you naked. Do it now.” His voice is quiet and serious. I take off my sweater first, pulling off the pink bra with it and toss it on the bed. I push out my tits, my thin arms slack at my sides and see he’s looking right at them. I make him wait. “The rest!” he barks. I carefully step out of my Bass leather sandals and then pull down the tight white skirt with my pink panties knotted inside, kicking them to the side. I stand naked in front of him. My heart is beating hard in my chest and I can feel humming in my ears, then a slight ringing. I approach him hesitantly. He likes that my eyes are wide. He likes that I'm afraid. I can tell. I’m getting wet. I know it’s going to be good. I stand at attention and wait for him to tell me what to do next.

“Got-damn girl!” he says, looking me up and down . He reaches out with his right hand and lightly strokes from my shoulder down to my left nipple, barely touching the flesh. Both my nipples harden. I can see a large bulge where his groin is, beneath his work pants. His breathing picks up, is ragged and uneven. I know he’s excited.

“I can't get all the way undressed, you understand? Not with my boots and my gear here. But I'm going to treat you right—like your husband doesn't.”

“Yes sir,” I breathe out the words in my most affected little girl voice. I’m playing it to the hilt now. The girlish demeanor, the sexy voice. He doesn’t seem to notice. He unhooks his leather belt and unzips his work pants, impatiently pulling out his erect cock, angry and a bright lipstick pink. He strokes it up and down, tucking his pelvis in. It’s fat, long and covered in hideous, swollen veins. It looks beautiful to me. My mouth starts to water and I swallow hard, looking at it with pained eyes. “It's beautiful,” I whisper. He laughs, delighted, his mouth spreading into a wide grin. Then the grin disappears. “You get down on your knees and you crawl over here and you SUCK! Do you understand me?” I nod my head up and down. I silently drop to my knees and knee -walk over to him. I pull his organ into my mouth with my right hand and my tongue and start sucking, humming into his cock, breathing hard. Long in and out strokes make him reach out to hold onto the wall, near the bathroom door.

I’m wet and keep thinking about deep penetration and how much I want to feel it. But I have to wait. He’s the one in control of the sex. I need him to be in control. Like the two men, when I was eleven, were in control.

After a few minutes of oral, he pulls away and motions to the bed. “Get up there on your knees and I want your ass high in the air. Your husband ever fuck you doggy style?”

“About least once a month he does that. It’s his favorite position.”

“What's your favorite position?”

“All I care about is the man's pleasure,” I answer sweetly.

“Good answer. How many men you fuck in the last ten months, Madeline?” Conrad asks meaningfully.

“Only two. My husband and now

maybe you?”

“Good answer. Are you wet young lady?”

“I'm not sure,” I lie. “I don't think so.”

“Well, I'll take care of that for you.” He’s right next to me, I can feel his hot smooth cock brushing against the back of my right thigh and the coarse pubic hair, soft, as it tickles my ass cheek. “Stick that ass up high. I'm gonna smack it hard!” I arch my back and move my ass from left to right and make the little girl sounds all men love. He comes down hard on my right buttock. The sting is immediate and I gasp, sucking air, as I feel the heat spread. “That's right -just like that-just like that,” I whisper to myself. “Look at that nice pink bloom. You like a good-long-hard spanking doncha, baby?” I don’t answer.

“I asked you a question, girlie girl!”

“Yes, sir! Yes, sir!”

He comes down on my left buttock and goes back and forth, right to left, his br own hand coming down hard. I lay my cheek on the pillow, smile and gasp as his hand comes down again and again. With the last stroke, he grabs my right buttock and squeezes hard, his fingers sinking deep into the soft flesh. There is no pain, only the blooming, spreading heat all across my ass and it feels good. Then I feel the tip push against the back of my pussy and he’s pushing inside, pushing in and up. The thrusting feels good and he doesn't stop. “Gonna make it last,” he grits to himself. He keeps going and after eight full minutes he's isn't stopping. I keep track of the minutes by watching the electric clock radio on the night stand, next to the bathroom.

He keeps up the pace, pushing in hard. Finally, I feel his cock arch and the heat of a big lo ad. His cock pulses four, then five times. I know it’s going to be a lot. I smile. Baptismal water—his cum. Like Holy Water, blessing me, filling me up. I think he's done but he's not. His cock is still deep inside. With his right hand he reaches around and begins to massage my entire pussy, finding and then focusing on the soft protrusion of my clitoris. It’s clear he's done this before, probably with his wife, the mother of his three kids. I'm surprised because I've never actually come with a man before, other than the tattoo artist, and I'm uncertain. Is he really enjoying this? Getting his fingers wet like this?

The only other time's I've had an orgasm was after Rodger had sex with me, after he'd washed off and walked into the living room, swinging his pelvis loosely, satisfied and ready to go onto other things. He would watch another boxing match, or leave the house and watch boxing with one of his buddies at their place. Laying on the bed later, naked under the white sheet, I would move my finger aroun d my clitoris and massage until I came. I would arch my back and come, three, sometimes four times. But now this man, Conrad, was doing it for me.

I

arch my back and make more little girl sounds, only this time, I mean it. This time I’m serious. He

smiles into my hair and laughs, “Poor little baby needs a good Daddy to take care of her nice tight cunt, doncha?” He turns my face toward his, roughly, with his hand, in an effort to kiss me. “Call me a cunt.” He smiles and says, “You little cunt! You like gettin' fucked, doncha?” He slides his tongue in my mouth. I open my mouth and let him push it in. He starts getting hard again.

“I'm gonna fuck you some more, okay baby?” He slides inside and pushes hard, all the way up. As he slowly moves in and out, his hand still works my clitoris. I start feeling that ragged feeling that lets me know I’m about to come. My heart starts racing. I arch my back as much as I can. As I come, he comes too, flexing into me, grunting, holding me tight around the middle, pushing in so hard it hurts. He breathes his coffee -breath into my face, his tongue flicking at my mouth like a serpent, like how they do in porno flicks. I flick my tongue back.

“I can't believe you made me come twice. Twice in one day. Oh honey, it just never happ ens like this.”

“Thank you Conrad. Thank you for this time together.” I sing the last lines; the song from the Carol Burnett show and giggle, but he doesn’t get it. He pulls out and steps back, off the bed, staggering a little. Standing spread legged, he hangs his head, breathing hard, contemplating the floor. I look over at him with his shirt undone, the thatch of light brown hair at his groin and his pants near his knees, his still swollen cock glistening wet and dripping cum from the tip. He looks perfect. Then he breaks the moment and walks to the bathroom to get a clean washcloth. He turns on the spout and soaks it, then washes himself with it and pulls up his pants and fastens his belt. He walks back to the bed. I’m sitting on the front end of it, my hair’s a mess, my legs spread slightly, my pussy burning and his cum slowly spilling out onto the bed sheet, my ass still hot from the hard spanking. Thirty two minutes have passed since I got off the bus.

“Spread your legs little girl, I'm gonna get you all cleaned up.” Instantly I think of the tattoo artist ”

when I was eleven. “I can do it myself, you don't have to

That’s when I stop speaking. When he gives me the look. The look says be quiet. He reaches dow n and gently wipes away the cum and folds the washcloth so he can use the clean side to wipe again. “I'm all

up inside you, huh baby?” He’s proud of himself and smug. “I could make you in pregnant in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. Do you know that? That’s wh at I do, I make girls pregnant. It’s my special gift.”

I look up and smile, as he continues to wipe my wet pussy, his face right next to mine. “You're going to give me your phone number, Madeline and I'm gonna call you. We're gonna spend more time together, next time I drive to Portland. In about a week. How does that sound?”

My voice trails off when I notice the look.

“Really good.” I smile up at him, grateful.

“Open your mouth.”

He leans down and I open my mouth. He slides in his rough, thick tongue. I let him push it all the way in. He's fucking my mouth, moving his tongue around and pushing it all the way into the back of my throat. He pulls away, kisses me on the mouth once more and disengages from me.

“You put on all your clothes like a good girl. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Now give me your phone number!” He waits, then yells, “Come on! Quick, quick!” I'm momentarily startled by the demand.

“But, I

I

“Now, do it NOW!”

“Its 777-1692,” I say in one go… “In Portland.”

“That's good. Quick, so you don’t gimme a phony number. See?” I'm impressed and I smile and giggle nervously, smoothing down my white skirt. I can feel the wet cum soak my panties and I squeeze my legs together. I walk over to him and look up, eager, loving, adoring. He's much taller than my fi ve feet four inches.

“Did I please you?” I ask, begging for approval.

“Oh, baby, you have no idea. Yeah, I'm happy. I’m a happy man.”

He puts his arms around my waist tight and then lifts me up. He's holding me up and I hang there, my feet dangling, smiling and wrapping my arms around his neck. I sink my hands into his tousled dark blond hair, feel the sweat on his forehead and look into eyes bluer than my own.

“What do you weight, 120?”

“I weigh 125. I need to lose weight.” I giggle. He doesn't let me down.

“You'd let me do just about anything to you, wouldn't you?”

“I like to be passive. I like the man to be in control. I think it’s better when the man is in charge. Men need to be in charge, right?” He ignores the question.

“I'm going to call you. We're gonna make plans to get together next time I drive to Portland. In about a week. Okay?”

“Yes, Conrad, I'll do whatever you say. I promise.”

He set’s me down and looks at me hard. “I'm gonna fuck you next week, you got that?”

“Yes, sir.” My eyes are wide. I don't blink.

“Don't forget. Don’t forget how it felt when Conrad made you come. There's going to be a lot more of that in the future. A lot of fucking and a lot of coming.”

“Thank you Mister Ridgepole.”

“You sassin me?” He pretends to be stern and grins broadly.

He turns me around and lifts up my skirt. His hand comes down on my tender right buttock, with one hard slap. I gasp and lean into him, knees weak. “That feels goood,” I breathe out, giggling. He turns

around and my skirt falls back down. He pushes me out the door, gently, with his broad hand on my back, between my shoulder blades. “Get back on that bus—with your husband.” The word husband comes out like a swear word. I nod my head as I turn around and give him my serious blank look, looking up at him, worried. He can insult me, insult my husband and I'll still do what he tells me. He’s handsome and has a hard cock. I'd do whatever he tells me to and he knows it. “Are you really going to call me?” I ask the question with a worried expres sion on my face. “Don’t you worry, I’m gonna be calling you. You can count on it. Now get!” I smile and turn around. I walk out the sliding doors, as he pulls out a cigarette, lights up and turns away.

I walked back to the bus, running my hands through my hair. I got on the bus and walked clear to the

back, to the restroom, hungry, wishing I had purchased the chips and juice. Rodger was still asleep and had his head deep into a pillow pressed into the window. I washed my hands and face in the sink, with the paltry stream of water and no soap and sat on the toilet. I had to come again. Once wasn't enough. I kept seeing Conrad and his handsome persimmon colored face, and the incredible contrast of his blue eyes. I pushed aside my panties and slid my index fin ger deep inside, then pulled it out and massaged my clitoris fast and hard. I stood up and dropped my panties to the floor, bending to step out of them and stuff them into my white purse. I sat back on the toilet, spreading my legs wide, aware of the sloshing blue liquid below me. I came after about two minutes of hard massage. I thought about how I must look sitting on the toilet. A nineteen-year-old girl, having been unfaithful to her husband, masturbating herself on a tour bus, in the back toilet, her hand wet and slick between her slender white legs.

I stood up and wiped my right hand with a paper towel, but didn't wash it. I brought my hand to my

nose and smelled the floral meaty scent of my young cunt. As I opened the door, I saw that Eric, the

old man was waiting outside. He stood there, uncertain but interested. His eyes were wide, adoring, begging for dominance. My mouth curled in contempt, as I smiled. I closed the door behind me and as

the bus was empty, with only Rodger still asleep far down the aisle. I brought my right hand to his nose. “Smell it!” I ordered in a terse whisper. He looked frightened and excited as he leaned in close to smell my hand. I could see he wasn’t as tall as Conrad, standing only about five feet ten instead of six

His mouth fell open and his eyes closed as he smelled the pussy on my hand. “Open -Your-

Mouth!” I ordered. I brought my hand in closer, next to his lips. He opened his mouth and I pushed in two fingers, curving them down on his wet tongue. I could see his teeth. They were yellowed but clean and shiny. He sucked hard, swallowingeyes shut tight. I could see that he was getting an erection beneath his pants. I reached down with my left hand and stroked the swollen lump. His breathing was ragged and irregular.

foot two.

I felt totally out of control, as I opened the door to the restroom and motioned him in, impatiently. He

followed me and waited for me to lock the latch. There was hardly adequate room, but he managed to undo his trousers and pull out his penis, which was surprisingly hard and fat. I turned around and arched my back, looking at him through the mirror, spreading my legs and pulling up my skirt. “Do it doggy style old man!” His breathing was ragged as he said, “Yes, Mamn, I'll do whatever you say.” He held his penis next to the back of my pussy and pushed in. It slid inside. It wasn’t as hard or as big as Conrad’s but it was hard enough to do the job. He slid in and out for a few minutes. I kept remembering when Conrad was fucking me and the hard slaps on my ass. “You're a little slut, aren't

you?” Eric whispered in my ear, but it came out more like a broken sob than a question. I smiled and answered, “Yes, today, I am a slut old man, and it feels good.” He continued to push in and out and then shuddered in orgasm, tucking his pelvis in, tight. “What a nice girl you are,” he breathed raggedly into my ear.

“Can I see you again?”

“I'll give you my number.”

After we disengaged and he pushed his wet penis back into his pants, we casually ambled back to our seats. My pussy burned, sore, swollen. He reached into his pocket as he sat down and brought out a blue ink pen. His hands were just barely shaking. I took a Wet Nap out of my purse, tore it open and wiped my hands with it, looking him boldly in the eyes, as he peeked through the seat. He watched eagerly, his mouth open and slack, lifting his eyes to give me direct eye contact, as I washed the stink off my hand. He asked for my phone number and I gave him the number to the central library in downtown Portland, which was one of the few phone numbers I'd ever gone to the trouble to memorize. Eric would never see me again. I would see Conrad and still get the occasional fuck from Rodger, for as long as I could manage it. I was something different to both of the m. I wanted to be that something different. I needed to be that something different.

Eric sat in the seat, looking back every few minutes, with that same look of adoration. He was pathetic and adoring, like a puppy. I smiled at him, feeling his and Conrad’s juice ease out of me, soaking my panties even more. It felt dirty and it felt nice. Slowly, some of the old people started to file onto the bus. Even Eric's old wife. I still didn't know her name. She climbed in next to him and sat by the window falling into a noisy sleep. I felt smug, knowing that her husband's juice was easing out of my body. She would never know her husband had fucked me in the tour bus restroom. When Eric started talking to me, on the ride still heading to Reno, his attitude was different, respectful, sincere, quietly adoring. I didn't glare at him. I smiled and engaged him. I asked him how many children he had and how long he and his wife were married. Six children, all son's he told me, and they'd been married forty years, since they were twenty. Twice, I reached over, as Rodger and Eric’s wife slept and touched Eric’s hand through the seats, my face full of warmth and promise. He reached down and pressed his penis beneath his trousers while looking at me with large golden brown eyes, his bald head shining, his mouth open and slack, his eyes filled with love. “I can't wait to see you again, Eric.” His face fell and I thought he might weep, when he heard me say his name. “You are sooo beautiful,” he whispered back.

Rodger finally woke up and reached over for me, murmuring incoherently. I was tired but still worked up. He whispered in my ear that he wanted to go to the back of the bus and make out. It had been four weeks he said, and he wanted to have a little “foreplay” with me, befor e we went back to the hotel room to have our monthly fuck on the eleventh floor, in our tiny room. What that really meant was that he'd ejaculate too soon and leave me, “Thirsty at the River, with no way to drink,” like he always did. I stood up and exited the isle. As Rodger passed me and began walking to the back. Eric looked up curiously and I bent down and whispered, “My husband wants to make out with me in the back of the bus. I'll hate it but I have to do it,” I explained philosophically. He smiled, a nd asked, “Can I watch?” I nodded my head and caressed his left cheek with my hand. Rodger sat in the back seat, turning to look at us, missing the caress by two seconds.

When we were settled into the very back seat, I thought I could hear the blue liquid in the toilet sloshing around. I curled into Rodger’s arms, my ass near his groin and lay into his left shoulder. I turned to face him and opened my mouth, as if I was waiting to be fed. He pressed his mouth on mine and pushed his tongue deep inside. I opened my mouth and wondered if he could taste the coffee from Conrad's mouth. He had no idea. I loved that he didn’t know. It made me feel like I could do anything. I had allowed myself to be fucked by two men in the span of 25 minutes. Now I was being

intimate with my husband, but I felt no remorse and I couldn’t explain why. “Let’s try something different. Why don't you actually give me an orgasm for a change?” I could tell Rodger was surprised.

“What? What do you want me to do?”

“You heard me. Just rub my clit, right here, until I come. Then you can have your turn.”

Rodger seemed embarrassed but eager. He reached in through the top of my skirt and pushed his hand down to my pussy. I tucked my pelvis in toward his hand, encouraging him. He slid his hand past my pink panties and into the folds of wet skin.

“You're wet!” he said, surprised.

“I was thinking about you earlier.”

He smiled and looked at me lovingly. “Really? Do you really love me? Sometimes I worry you don’t.” I sighed as he pressed his fingers into my clitoris. “You're the only man I could ever love.” After only a minute or so of his gentle massage, I started to come. I opened my mouth wide, into a silent scream, arching my back and gyrating my pelvis quickly, as he continued to massage my pussy, having my third orgasm of the day. He looked down at me, concerned. “Are you okay, sweetie?” I laid against him, out of breath and didn’t answer. I knew he was shocked. I hadn't tried to be a lady about it. I wanted the orgasm and I had responded piggishly, like an animal. I felt no remorse. I knew that Conrad would have approved, encouraging me, telling me I was a good girl, egging me on, slapping my ass hard.

I looked down the aisle and saw Eric, looking back, watching, from the opposite side, with a perfect

view of Rodger’s hand on my cunt. “That fuckers watching us!” Rodger hissed into my ear. “Leave him alone. Let him watch. I bet he never gets any cunt,” I whispered easily. Rodger looked down at me. “Any what?” I didn't answer. He considere d my comment though, and his feeling toward Eric seemed to change. He lifted his wet hand, waved, and gave Eric the thumbs up. Eric smiled, a look of cunning on his face and gave Rodger the thumbs up in return. “More. I need more,” I said impatiently. Rodger sighed and started massaging my pussy again and I came for a fourth time. Eric watched, his mouth loose and slack, his eyes on my groin the whole time.

All the other people on the bus sat directly in front of Eric and looked forward or out their windows, unaware of Rodger, Eric and me. The bus driver was watching though, through the rear view mirror with a morose look on his face. I smiled dreamily, waved and gave him the Peace Sign. He looked away glumly and kept driving.

I could sense Rodger waiting. I knew he would want to come too. I turned, bent over and as he quickly

pulled out his penis, I sucked hard. He came in less than a minute and his cum filled my mouth. It tasted like the Pineapple we had had for breakfast. I let it pool in my mouth and swallowed all of it. I straightened up and lay there, leaning against him and felt totally content. I had the cum of three men inside me, sloshing around like the blue liquid in the toilet sloshed when the bus moved. This fact

alone, proved that I was desirable.

Except that cum was like Holy Water, blessing me from the inside out. Cum was sterile the medical articles all said, and the origin of all life. Unless someone had a disease, there was nothing dirty or unclean about cum. Holy Water. Like Holy Water. I smiled at the thought.

By the time my husband and I got back to Portland, I would have a new lover, who lived out of town and a husband who worked graveyard. It was perfect. I contemplated the future with anticipation. As long as I had Conrad to keep me company when Rodger was at work or out with his friends watching boxing matches, and I was at home or elsewhere, getting fucked hard, this marriage thing might work. I turned to Rodger, looking up at him and breathed, “God, I love you!” He smiled. “ I'm glad you're back to your normal self. I was worried there for a minute. You are back to your normal self, right Maddy?” I didn't answer.

I remembered my birth control pills, got up slowly and smoothed down my white skirt. I walked back

to our seats, with Rodger following me. We sat behind Eric, who wouldn't look back at me. He hung his head and slouched into the seat. I knew he was hurt. And I didn’t care. I reached down and picked up my large white leather purse. “Honey, are you okay? You seem different somehow. What's happened?” I looked over and smiled at Rodger, ignoring the question, as I patted his right knee, as if he were a child. I knew I had seven left. But I wouldn't need any for the next few days as Rodger had just experienced his monthly nut.

Conrad had told me he'd call me in a week and we would make plans to get together. He had told me he wanted to make me pregnant. I took out the rest of the birth control pills and stood up unsteadily. It had been a long day. I walked up to the front of the bus. It swerved a bit as it rounded a corner. I held onto one of the seats for support, then continued walking to the front. As the bus sat at a light, I tossed the birth control pills into the small gray trash bin near the front door. The ten or twelve old people looked at me curiously. I ignored them, then walked back to Rodger, easing in beside him.

I knew Conrad would be happy to take me away from Rodger, once he found out I was pregnant. I'd

tell him the truth about Eric, eventually. After a couple of months. He'd be angry and slap me around a little bit. But later, we'd make up. Because he was a gentleman, he wouldn’t hit me in the face. Then he'd leave his wife and three kids and start a new life with me, in Portland. He'd choose me over them. He'd choose me.

I became drowsy, leaning into Rodger, who stroked my hair and whispered, “ Its okay sweetie, I'm going to take better care of you from now on. I'm going to take better care of you, okay baby?” I didn’t answer him. Instead, I fell asleep thinking of Conrad’s handsome persimmon face, hard cock and large brown hands. He'd choose me, I thought to myself. He'd choose me.

Copyright 2016 by Theresa Griffin Kennedy

21

A.D. WINANS

(For his 80 th Birthday)

the first thing is his grip when he clasps your shoulder whilst making a point old Al ancient boy, younger than the redwood grove, born on the day of dead stars in the shadow of tides down by Land’s End. sea smashing into a fist of rock, seals barking on their promontories mute Golden Gate Bridge double-crossing the sweeping coast a blizzard in words, the angelic choir passing across his eyes eighty years in the Judah Street jamboree, twin slopes, twined trees, the dread brown leaves piling up, he is due for a second coming, due to writhe on the head of a pen, to lean in on his screen and find the beat pantheon, the ones who were outside of the outside, Bob Kaufman, Jack Micheline Danny Propper -- ah, A D we wrap nothing around City Lights

anymore, no, we wreck our way to the cafes on quick and quiet boulevards or profane streets I guess good luck is a dream -- eighty years you have found the poem -- rough hewn maker, risk taker still writing on a comet far above the rooftops of the watering holes in North Beach, Big Jack Mason kaput, Mike the Spike a doorknob, Paddy O’Sullivan and the Queen of Sheba, derelict William Butler Yeats with mangy dog outside Vesuvio’S Bar, “Red” William measuring the drinks ALWAYS A PLEASURE

to slowly die, to find branches

a bit weathered, roots

hardly clinging, and yet the rings holding ALWAYS TIME to feel smiling poets, those you cherished, raucous “Dutch” Kamstra gone silent, Ferlinghetti clear at 96, Hal Norse

a memory, Janice Blue

what can we imagine, how do you do it, how did a wreath

land on the sidewalk, Jimmy

So and So -- Al Winans, we will be late, but when I see you holding a folder of poems time ceases for a moment and the field is clear

Copyright 2016 by Neeli Cherkovski

25

LADY DEATH

She’s a bitch a whore a toad She’s two hundred pounds of lard Hiding in a one-hundred pound body She convinced Napoleon he was six feet tall And sent him off to his Waterloo She lit the last cigar of George Burns Blowing smoke in his face Minutes before he died

She convinced Custer he was God Lit the match that set Rome on fire She made love to Eva Braun before Fucking Hitler in his bunker Seconds before dousing him with gasoline

She disguised herself as the Pope Blessed the bomb before it fell on Hiroshima She pulled the trigger that took Hemingway’s life and for the sheer fun repeated it with Hunter Thompson She blew Buddha before he could cross His legs and become a living idol

She’s a mafia hit man A sniper in waiting She’s a terrorist with a bomb Hidden in her skirt

She lit the match that set Joan of Arc on fire She built the cross that Jesus died on She convinced Houdini He could return from the dead She burrowed her way into the vagina Of the Madonna turned Cain against Abel

She’s in the testicles of every male Primed and ready to be released Sucking the life out of you Like a child sucks the juice from a straw

Copyright 2016 by A.D. WINANS

27

After teaching you

Broken chess pieces

litter front yard

finally won game.

Copyright 2016 by David E. Howerton

29

Guesstures

The first draft sat in front of him. “The Pen's Seal” was a short story shaped neatly on the paper in graphite. He smiled. The smile was an act with a degree of consciousness, which seemed to parallel Saussure's separation between sign and sig nified. So, he smiled, hoping that the gesture might create some easing affinity between him and the page.

The first twenty-four and three-quarters pages of the draft had been sitting there for two days without changing expressions, and, in short, the wr iter's gesture did not work.

He stared at the page. He tried reading the words. Gradually, this started to seem productive; the words of Dr. Michael came back to him, and the content of a philosophy of language course now served as commentary in his mind on the draft, which was held in his left hand, arm's length from his eyes. The writer's right hand went reflexively to his chin, and the “hmm” that vibrated through his closed lips startled him and chased away the promise of the culminating thoughts.

He let go.

The papers spread slightly, randomly atop the white veneer surface of the desk where he

sat.

He stood up from the chair and walked to the wall-mounted bookshelf, which stretched across the west wall of his studio apartment. He lifted one of the heavy green fabric window curtains the previous tenant had installed to conceal the contents of the shelves. He took a half -full bottle of brown liquor and went to the desk.

He poured a half-inch of the brown liquid into a glass, returned the bottle, released the curtain to settle, and repositioned himself in front of the draft.

Michael lifted the draft and considered the walls of his apartment.

Why white?

Page 2: “The only option is to white it out.”

Page 7: “That's white.”

Michael laid the pages down, and lifted the glass, swirling the contents slowly beneath his nose, as he had seen others do. He inhaled and nearly gagged, as he usually did. He got up, went to the sink, and poured the dark liquid into the porcelain bowl. He splashed water against the sides of the bowl, rinsing all of the liquor away, returned to the desk, picked up a wooden #2 pencil, and turned to page two. He drew a deep line through the sentence, “The only option is to white it out.” He turned to page seven. He pressed the lead hard and ended his line at the period in “That's white.”

Michael turned to page four and began reading again. His brow furled; finally, he placed his palm to his temple and wrapped his fingers around his forehead.

There was a sheltering intention in this action that his most recent girlfriend had pointed out to him. He wasn't completely comfortable with how that had struck him, but he had not argued, and now, he readily admitted to himself what she had observed.

He put down the draft and picked up his phone. He selected the name, Kesha, created a message, and began to type in text.

“Hey. I was in class today. The pains of it. They went out the window. I couldn't remember whether you liked when I rubbed the small of your back. Hers had a load of ink on itNever seen that much white and grey in skin before. It was amazing. It was a piece with relative perspective. When vertical, it appears to be running down. When horizontal, the drops and pools seem to have just been projected from the direction of he r feet. Serious conflict. I wanted to touch it, and I didn't at the same time.”

He looked at the text, then added a sentence:

“Tell me what I'm thinking.”

He smiled and put the phone aside. He flipped to the first page of the draft and picked up the pencil. At the top of the page in form with the indentation, he wrote, “'Tell me what I'm thinking.'” His smile widened, and he chuckled lightly, as he turned to page four and began to read. He skimmed the top half of the page making small lines through any reference to mental activity. With each line, he scribbled a brief note about an outward action that might express the mental activity he had struck out. He laughed when replacing “thought writing this letter was difficult” with “lips pursed, and the hand lingered above the page.” As he finished this, his phone vibrated.

Michael stopped and picked up the phone. A single line was displayed after opening his girlfriend's response: “it never happened. call me.”

He put the phone down and stood up. He shuffled to the first page and dragged a heavy line through “Tell me what I'm thinking.” He then went through the draft scribbling out each of the brief notes about an outward action. He made notes in the margins to disregard the small lines marking through text that described mental activity. Next, he drew brackets from the top of the section he had edited and the bottom of that section, and connected the bracket to the note with a line. Then, sitting down, he turned to page eighteen.

Nobody would have to know. This wasn't the sort of thing that happened every day, so it was likely that even Claire could pass by several times without ever considering that there might be a small person living in his closet.

The groceries wouldn't increase by a significant amount. The heat and the cooling costs could remain the same. What wasn't he thinking of?

Christ! How he hated these exercises. He sat there in the large sofa tightening up the muscles around his brow. His face began to turn red, and he noticed that he was holding his breath. He fell backward into the sofa and sighing.

He could ask Claire.

That was the answer! How do you ensure that the smartest person you know never discovers something they would never expect to be happening? You simply ask them what they would look for if the thing were happening. She loved thought exercises, and he was presenting absurd scenarios all the time. So, it wouldn't be difficult to bring it up, and even better, she wouldn't suspect that she was actually revealing the very things that he needed to conceal. pg. 18

His phone had rung.

“What was with that text message?” Her voice had been crisp through the small speaker. It had always seemed that way, even after he had begun to sometimes feel that the voices of others were blunted objects bumping off him.

“You know, I was just kidding. Wasn't that sort of funny? Didn't you just sort of see the image of it and laugh to yourself?” He had begun smiling at the sound of her voice and little bursts of laughter had popped out between his words.

“Okay.” Her breath had relaxed with a sigh at the end of this. “How is your day, Michael?”

“Good.” He had taken a deep breath and then released it. “I think I'm quite happy. I'm trying

to get some work done

his voice a bit, he had quickly added, “Maybe we could get some lunch, Kesha. I don't feel much like

sitting somewhere with a big crowd, but we could grab some sandwiches and then come back here.” He had begun to listen to the minute crackle of the phone, and eventually, a constant fluctuating buzz held some portion of his attention.

“I'm pretty busy today. I really don't think I could get away for the hour or more that it would take.” Silence.

“Yeah,” he said, then listened to the buzz and tried to determine if the flu ctuation was in sync with the voices passing through the phones.

“I just won't take a lunch,” she offered. “Then I can leave work half -an- hour early, and I'll be home by 4:00.”

He was nearly certain at this point that the fluctuation was not correlated to their voices. In fact, he had heard a flux to a higher pitch in the midst of Kesha talking, a flux to a lower pitch in the midst of Kesha talking, and one of each sort when neither of them was saying anything. He pulled the phone away from his ear slig htly to better observe the sound around him.

That is, I've been staring at this paper all morning.” Raising the pitch of

“Michael?” The voice had been quiet, but still crisp.

“Yeah?” he said moving the phone back to his ear and opening the blinds. He had leaned forward to look out the window. “I'd love to see you sooner than later.”

“Okay, then. Do you want me to bring something with me?” She had begun typing on the report she was working on when she had received the text and began to wonder what Michael was thinking, the phone between her shoulder and cheek.

“I don't know right now. Do you hear that buzz?” Michael asks, inflecting the question with absolute sincerity.

Kesha pauses, winces at something like a pinch on the openness of a dream. “Do you hear a

buzz?

Nothing passes throug h his mind. Perhaps it is an internal metronome, now

adjusted to the rhythm of the conversation, that prompts him. “You don't hear anything

pushes ahead quicker, “Call me when it's closer to time for you to leave. We can talk about what to eat then.

“Okay, Michael. If you aren't okay—or if you just want some company, I can come over now.” The phone is in her hand again, and she pushes the keyboard away from her.

in your phone?

“Yeah?

Michael?”

He

“We both have work we should be doing. It's just a bad connection.”

“Okay. I'll talk to you later,” Kesha replies.

“Talk to you later.”

He holds the phone in front of him, his elbows resting on the edge of the thin laminate desktop. He turns up the volume slowly. Finally, there is a click and the screen displays the call duration. He straightens his arms moving the small object as far from his ears as his hands can hold it. He listens, distinguishing the sounds, and among the periodic cars, the humming of air conditioners, and the faint murmur of a television, he finds the buzz.

He moves the phone closer then a minute distance further away. His eyes are on the phone, pressing the possibility of the buzz deep into the crevice of the phone's speaker, fixing it there. The fluctuation, whose embedded systematicity is pressing into his awareness, becomes pronounced once more, but with the slight motion from closer to further, the sound does not become noticeably louder, nor quieter. He lays down the phone, the buzz: a beacon, a point of reference. The fourth bar of five on the battery icon disappears, and he pulls the draft close to him with moist hands.

He hangs his head over the draft for a moment, glances at the phone, thinks about sushi, vomits on the floor, then turns to the last page.

The phone goes dark, his eyes snap to it. His whimpers and breath stop. He presses a button. The light comes on again. The third battery bar is still there at the top right of the screen. He returns the phone to the desk.

He places the point of the pencil just after the end of the last paragraph. His l ips purse, and his hand lingers above the page. With a jerk, he begins to shape the letter “C.” The lead snaps, and he smashes the pencil into the paper several times, as he cries. The soothing vibration of his sobs finally slows the unconscious pounding on his desk. His face is wet. Tears have spread across his cheeks; mucus from his nose has encircled his mouth and puddles at his chin. Even his brow is damp with sweat. The page is dotted and marred. Specks of lead and graphite dust litter it, and in spots, the page has been gouged through and crinkled at the edges of the hole. He rummages through the papers and other items on the desk. He finds a pen and turns back to the final page of the draft, quietly humming along with subtle fluctuations.

Claire was leaning over his desk when he returned from the common restroom down the hall. The brown faux wood desk with swollen, abraded rings from past tumblers shifted as she leaned further toward the window.

“Jesus, Claire!” he declared.

“Hey, I was wondering where you were.” She was smiling and resting part of her weight on the desk, which rocked visibly.

“Be careful won't you?” He moved toward the desk, pulling her up off of it. His hands gently sliding down the white fabric of the back of her shirt and finding a pivotal point of friction and support at the small of her back. Then, with his hands just above the tight waist of her unbelted jeans, he pulled her. Her back arching, her hair swung out away from her body, and she smiled.

Laughing, she put her hands on his upper arms and asked, “What are you strung so tight about?”

“Nothing. I just didn't expect you is all.” He kissed her cheek and relaxed his arms slowly, allowing her to straighten and balance herself. “I've got a thought exercise for you though.” pg. 25

“Oh yeah?” She stepped to the small refrigerator that was humming beside them. “So, go ahead.”

He watched her looking through the small selection of beverages that were stored in the two door-shelves. “Well, what might be an alert that I was keeping a small person in my closet?” He had moved to his desk and was straightening some of the writing utensils that had been disturbed as she shook it.

She stood up with an apple, “What size?” she asked, promptly taking a bite of the apple.

The top and bottom lids of his eyes pulled toward the center, and his lips began parting with a hint of grimace. “What?”

“What size is this person?” she asked, staring at him as his face relaxed into its usual appearance.

He quickly turned hi s head, looking out the window. “No,” he said, then slowly turning back to her, he continued, “you don't know there is a small person in my closet.” He turned toward her and took a step back, his right leg bumping into the radiator. “So, you couldn't know what size person. So, you have to think that out as well.” He began leaning back a little until his back and left side reached an uncomfortable angle. With a grunt and a sigh, he positioned himself from beside the radiator then fell back into the wall with a thud. pg. 26

“Ahh. So, then I should consider what amount of change might make me suspicious. Though looking for a small person in your closet wouldn't likely be my first suspicion even if some of the most telling clues were obvious.” She took another bite of apple and began swinging her left foot back and forth in front of her. After a moment, a monotony emerged.

He was smiling and turned his head, thinking he might begin to laugh or blush. The tall collar of his shirt brushed his cheek and he reach ed up, flattening it down closer to his collarbone.

It was then, as he was resting less than ten feet from her, against the opposite wall, baring his teeth and hardly containing his laughter, that the closet door slowly slid open as the spring latch stretched itself, the slant of its end smoothly propelling it forward.

“Come 'ere!” He wasn't able to start his body moving before the words were

out.

pg. 27

“What the hell is your problem?!” Claire returned, the apple now dangling at her side, perched between her thumb and index finger.

He quickly glanced from her to the door, saw that it had stopped moving, back to her, tried to hold his gaze, then back to the door, quickly back to her, and then yielded to staring at the half-inch space between the floor and bottom of the slender off-white door. “Let's just go outside,” he said with water pooling in his eyes, still fixed on the door, now shifting from the latch's edge to the two dull colored hinges, and finally again to the door's bottom where it met the side of the door that had swung open.

“Piss off,” she said, and took the handle in her

His phone had rung again, mid-sentence this time.

He lifts the phone to his ear, and he quickly finds the buzz through the minute crackling of the noise from the phone's speaker. He slams the phone onto the desk, then slowly lifts it back to the cartilage of his ear and the flesh of his cheek.

“Michael, is everything okay?” Her voice is sharp.

“Yes?!” he realizes he may be whimpering, and he pulls in a breath th rough his nostrils, tightening them, intentionally making noise.

“That noise! What the hell?!” The sound stabs through everything that separates his ear from the speaker, his mind, her voice.

“I know. I know!

“Okay,” she says.

I don't want you to worry. Okay?” he plie s.

“I don't think you have anything to worry about. Just come over when you can,” he scrapes together.

“Why would I have anything to worry about, Michael?” Her words dash about in his mind.

“About this. About that sound, I mean. I just don't want any sushi, okay?”

“Okay, Michael.” She takes a deep, deliberate breath and pauses. He extends his hand and places the phone onto the desk. It sits just where he placed it, a dark rectangle, which has always felt surprisingly solid and remarkably heavy in his hand.

He smiles. The right

corner of his mouth wriggles with subtle fluctuation. He smiles, hoping that the gesture might create some easing affinity. A tear rolls down and drops onto the paper.

Amid all he is in the midst of, some subtle certainty creeps into him. It fades, only to resurge, like the echo of a choral melody interspersed in a hymn, “Michael” … “do you know what you want” … “what do you want me to bring” … “Michael?”

He angles his body forward and repositions the draft in front of him.

“Piss off,” she said, and took the handle in her hand. She swung the door of the closet open, still looking at him. “You don't ever talk to me, like that!” she began.

His

eyes

were

not

turned

to

somewhere in the closet. pg. 28

her though. Instead, they were focusing

“My last boyfriend got attitude with me twice. The first time – ” Her left hand had moved to her hip after swinging the door, and now his were slowly rising through the air, close to his own body, to his ears. “What is your problem!?” Claire lowered her voice below the threshold of yelling, “I never realized how wrong in the head you must be. Why don't you look at me?”

His hands reached his ears and pressed hard against the sides of his head, in an attempt to seal them. His head began to swing from side to side as the tiny tips of ten fingers emerged slightly from the shadow of the closet.

“What is wrong with you?” Claire asked. She softened her voice and shifted her weight toward him. His hands shot out with the palms flat and facing her, in reaction to the sudden motion in the closet which exposed, to the wrists, two tiny hands with flesh so supple it wrinkled at every joint, and then ceased.

She stopped without ever shifting a foot, but the shaking of his head became more vigorous, and finally, he began to yell, “No!” as he dropped to his knees on the aged hardwood floor and cried. pg. 29

After his lips, parted and contorted, quivered in silence, he dropped, coming to rest curled forward and propped up on his hands, his head hanging down so that his eyes, which Claire had last seen squeezed shut with tears pressing out, now pointed nearly directly at his own abdomen.

She moved quickly to the floor in front of him, as she removed her cell phone from her pocket. She pressed the power button, and her phone lit up, as she placed a hand on Michael's shoulder. The hands moved forward; a little body, approximately three feet tall, was revealed in the angled light which shone constantly on the small section of the closet just by the doorway.

At feeling Claire's hand on his shoulder, Michael had tensed, pushed upward seemingly trying to straighten himself, but then had relaxed completely onto the floor.

“Do you need me to call someone, Michael?”

There was no answer, but despite Michael's silence, the small body moving to doorway behind Claire went unheard. The little thing reached out its right hand to the doorframe in a way so careful that it seemed not to disturb air. pg. 30

Its hands resting on the frame, and supporting its weight, had a translucence, so that the flesh seemed jelly-like and the nails like the plastic of a milk jug, so the bright color of life could be seen beneath each one.

The crisp, near-perfectness of the hand called attention to t he abundance of minute flaws in the wood of the frame: the dents, the variations in the thickness of the white paint, the missing paint. It seemed a terrible thing that the being might slide that hand down the surface; but, it did not. The hand remained ju st there, precisely where the being had placed it.

“Michael, if you cannot hear me and respond, I am going to call 911!” She was now gripping the phone with both hands, on the thighs of her legs.

His head bounced slightly, then he groaned and he nodded his head. She sighed and placed the phone beside her on the floor, leaning far down and resting her head against Michael's back and stroking and patting various parts of his sides.

“Please. I don't want to. You can stay here as long as you want. You know pg. 31

that I will feed you and continue to care for you. We don't have to worry about what Claire will think or say or do. She won't do anything to hurt me and hurting you

close enough to hear his breath. Now the litany was distinct in spite of its unceasing

Michael's voice was so quiet that she hadn't noticed it until she was

would hurt me

flow. She nearly held her breath.

“I just can't. You know me. If I did things like that, wouldn't I have done them

to you? So strange, sitting in the corner that day. Of anyone or anything, wouldn't it

have been you that I would have met with violence? I don't want to do such things wish you would speak loud enough to drown out the possibility.” Michael's breath became a fluid in and out without fluctuation.

Claire wiped at the tears on her face and spoke as quietly as she could while being distinguishable. “Michael, who are you talking to?” Her voice seemed loud in the silence of the room, beside Michael's whispering breath.

I

Michael put down the pen and walked over to the heavy green fabric. He pulled it aside and began to turn each bottle in the row towa rd himself. The small plastic amber bottles with white caps each had a white label. Each label had the same two names printed on them, his own and hi s doctor's. The dates were an array which ranged from the middle of the past year to present. The contents were indicated to be four distinct ones, with a fifth name on a single bottle in a row by itself. He reached up and touched his face, feeling the gri mace, he massaged his facial muscles and attempted to relax. Then returning to the task of straightening each of the nineteen bottles, he chuckled, hoping that the gesture might create some easing affinity between him and the world. He started with a soft burst, taking note of the feeling of the action in his chest and neck, and then listening to the sounds around him for any sign that it might have disturbed anyone. Next, he chuckled louder and longer, taking the same care as the first time.

By the time he had straightened the three empty rows from last year and begun on the three rows from this year, some partially emptied, but most unopened, his mouth was stretched wide, slicing open his face from one side to the other, and the tendons in his neck were pulled out away from the smooth column of flesh by his enthusiasm. When all the bottles were turned in neat rows with their labels facing forward, Michael took a deep breath and went to the bathroom.

Copyright 2016 by Edward C. Wells III

39

Black Eye

The shell of the bus swayed. The bus was made of tin foil, like a madman’s hat. A gust of hot air blew across the aisle. Lice tumbled from Mt. Sinai as it shook in the wind and lightning.

Mt. Sinai’s rumpled skin fell from its bones.

Petra turned back to look for me. She still had the remnants of a black eye from a blow delivered by an Englishwoman, a vegetarian who ardently promoted peace and love, but had silently borne the spectacle of pre-dysentery Petra bullying her boyfriend David, making him cry. David was a skinny vegetarian who ate so many carrots that his skin had turned a light shade of orange. Petra shivered in her bones as resurgent dysentery nudged her towards death.

Copyright 2016 by Mitchell Grabois

41

TOM PETTY MAN

Jefferson rolls into the 7-11, Mel at the till; always Mel at the till on Friday night/Saturday morning. Sitting beneath lamp warmers; breaded chicken in the night remains the only salvation possible for Jefferson when the Point -After Sports Lounge & Grill closes at 2 AM.

“Hi honey,” Mel calls.

“Hey baby.”

“Usual?”

“Fuckin’ A.”

Jefferson heads over the heat lamp display, removes one of the sandwiches inside, and ever so carefully takes the chicken burger out of its thin, foil wrapper. He removes the top bun off the meat. He applies one sporkful of onions to the meat, and two of Jalapenos. The bun gets four and a half pumps off the mayo-ranch spigot, a sporkful of relish, and two pumps off the mustard spigot. He places the drenched bun back on top of the breaded meat. He mashes it down gently to make sure there is a light spillover from the bun, but not enough to get on his fingers. Then he delicately places the sandwich back in the thin foil wrapper, and delicately rewraps it.

He places his sandwich on the counter, goes to pour himself a full tank of Pepsi, and then returns to Mel’s big shit eating grin.

“Big night at the PA?”

“Nah. No game on tonight.”

“Get yer bad self up next to any of them alley cats?”

“C’mon Mel.”

“Aw, yer the king Jeff. Ain’t nobody run the poontang gauntlet at the Point After like you, man. Boy I remember some nights you’d come in here with two, hell sometimes three sweet pieces a cooze all at the same time and then you’d all…” blah, blah, blah.

Jefferson doesn’t pay much attention to Mel jerking him off these days. How is it that this career graveyard shifter manages to remember all this? Jefferson isn’t even sure how long it’s been since the last time he “ran the gauntlet.” How long have they been here? Doing this same shit week after week? Month after month? Year after…

Walking back to his apartment, taking that first deep, juicy bite of his breaded chicken sandwich, washed down by that first sweep of confectionary sweet carbonated “maple syrup”, Jefferson finds he remembers some of it.

He passes beneath the mini-balcony of the apartment where he impregnated his gorgeous neighbor; though he can never remember which one he knocked up, the mother or the daughter.

He definitely remembers the daughter; she was the f irst one he cheated on his first, and eventual third wife with. He’s pretty sure the mom just before wife number two. He still wonders how the dad never found out about the abortion.

He passes by the ground floor apartment of his long time “gilffriend,” whom he balled fairly steadily between wives two and four. He wonders where Janet went. He can’t remember why she left. It bothers him vaguely that he can’t even remember her leaving. She always seemed so happy here at the Sierra Arms.

Just before getting to the door of his own place, he begins thinking he should start putting the light outside his apartment on, even though the thought of it running up his bill drives him to a

He misses the old days when coming back from the Point After Bar and Grill

meant the lights would be on, and he had roommates, and roommates had girlfriends, and there was always a bong going around, and there was always the new Depeche Mode or some New Order re-mix to check out which was always so weird sounding but always seemed to attract more young girlfriends. ‘Course, Jefferson was a Tom Petty man when the girls weren’t around.

distracted frenzy.

Now the lights in his place are always off. When he comes home from the Point After, no one’s around anymore. Like with Janet , he has a hard time remembering when exactly they all left.

He fumbles for his keys for the two thousand seven-hundred and ninety first time. Instead of pulling them up this time though, he suddenly drops his keys, which are then quickly followed by his size 40 ass down onto the stoop just outside his door, and a sound that is some kind of hybrid between a sigh and a sob frees itself from his well fueled torso. He sits quietly in the dark and bites down hard into the only salvation left to him; his chicken in the night.

Copyright 2016 by Paul Corman-Roberts

44

Salami

My butt no longer taut,

breasts hoisted up by bra straps the size of cranes,

i watch him drool

over the perky brunette at the deli counter. She's too busy popping her gum and flirting with the kid with orange hair to notice.

He dawdles, scratches an unkempt gray beard, chooses the cheese in the bottom counter, forcing her to bend over, saucy plums filling her Tom's Market blouse to perfection.

His eyes flash. Memories of other days cross his face.

My husband watches the young ones now, too when he thinks I'm not looking, the way he watched me in my twenties.

I want to tell the girl

to enjoy it, to flirt and prance before she grows old, before her teeth fall out, before pain jabs when she wiggles or bends too far, stuck too late in a clumsy body that draws nary a glance, but

instead,

I order a pound of salami.

Copyright 2016 by Pris Campbell

46

This Banana Slug on Mt. Neahkahnie

has only ever known green corridors of ferns, foxglove, and spruce to curve and to crest, contour and crenellate its slick little circumspect body around.

O maven of mucus, fin and foot one, both sexes stored in one fluid formelongated glistening sum of itself, dark gold gelatinous teethtwenty-seven thousand triangular teethrasping at the edge of a large, red leaf.

Copyright 2016 by Colleen McKee

48

July 4 th of In-vict-us Call

Patient: “Out of the night that covers me Black as the Pit from pole to pole I thank whatever gods may be For my unconquerable soul…”

Doctor: My first patient overlooks sunset heaven on Independence Day while another blind optimist stumbles at the barricade entrance, removing new plastic clinging like parade confetti to the whitest coat, minutes before the Sunday massacre at Bunker Hill Memorial. Soon more imaginary then real fireworks follow with all out defibrillating shocks and chest pounding, creating large mountaineering challenges in the psyche as gitters escalate to unease, panic, and head-long fear, while pressing shaky fingers against quivering eyes, taking slow deep breaths, and attempting to rein in the apocalypse now thoughts. The brief calm shatters like delicate porcelain against a nonstop conveyor belt of sterile linoleum, breaking bad with the courage to stand alone against the onslaught, while stage fright tears overflow into embarrassing headwaters running over red boulders of back-alley biohazard waste; once more trying to re -establish normal by peering out the dark event horizon to picture friends and family relaxing in the distant galaxy of the backyard with cold beer and soothing conversation. The heart starts to race again with the sympathetic fear, all but a few weeks from graduation and th e mighty pledge to uphold the Doctor’s Oath: “Thou shalt be a hypocrite!” Pupils continue to dilate with crash and burn visions—an adrenaline fight or flight response in full swing as the most important year of training finally takes off; now fueled by urgent necessity and unrelenting purpose. After all, the outcome of this night, with time the mutual frenemy, rests for the most part not on knowing complex medical jargon but the regular rate and rhythm of a patient heart.

Patient: “In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud…”

Doctor: Before starting as a medical intern at an esteemed, ultra large hospital mecca, resembling the Great Pyramids rising out of the urban-rustbelt-desert of eastside Cleveland, I felt like so many over confident and under prepared cocky new MDs. In med school I managed through two years of late night cramming in the secluded underground bunker of the library, awakening to the rather jarring bugle call of 7 am Ivy League problem based learning, followed by two more years in the unsheltered boot camp of inner city wards under siege, going the extra mile by seeking out the advice of residents ahead in combat training. I stayed hyper-vigilant during crash course orientation with unhealthy legal stimulants, managed to fall asleep to a midnight lullaby of the ticking clock and golden parable of satire in the rookie doctor’s bible: “House of God,” relaxing on the weekend to a marathon of favorite classic TV shows including “St. Elsewhere,” “Scrubs,” and “ER.” But now this first night of call was turning into a cliff-hanger behind enemy lines like “Courage Under Fire” or “Black-Hawk Down” and despite all the measured foretelling and prognostication, I found nothing really came close to simulating the shock and awe . The task seemed all the more impossible as I was just learning to navigate the electronic medical record while simultaneously creeping through the maze of a new and unfamiliar hospital. After losing my way countless times going between floors, patient rooms, CAT scan, X-ray, the ER, and nursing stations, I developed an altogether paralyzing tension headache straining to find items in the dark infinite universe known as the supply room.

Patient: “Under the bludgeonings of chance My head is bloody, but unbowed…”

Doctor: Adding to the confusion, within the first fifteen minutes, the pager transformed into a live grenade that buzzed, beeped, and blinked with nonstop mind-numbing fury, falling out my fumbling hands, once within uncomfortable proximity of a septic urinal with the suffocating smell of vomit. Although a few pages involved tedious, death by paper-cut minutiae dealt with in Groucho Marx fashion over the phone, many required additional history and bedside eval to generate a preliminary differential, workup, and appropriate treatment strategy. I was not new to dealing with complexity, but the pace of management decisions was overwhelming. In scattered rapid fire short- hand, alarming messages began to accumulate faster than I could answer or remember about families losing patience and demanding answers, blood pressures sky rocketing, blood pressures plummeting, IV’s no longer working, essential labs gone missing, meds being refused, blood and pus exploding from anatomic minefields, incomplete “Altas Shrugged” sized discharge instructions, stalled hostage negotiations for analgesics, mind boggling fever spikes, serious chest pain followed by even more serious shortness of breath, terrifying “Night of the Living Dead” Zombie agitation and delirium, and crazy stalker harassment from pharmacy questioning medication orders. As I scrambled, breathless and unable to keep up, twisting mind and body into painful string theory dimensions, the pager unforgivingly flashed: new admission. While looking through a stack of illegible hand-written transfer records more cryptic then a Faulkner novel on the new patient from an outside facility, the overhead intercom and my pager simultaneously signaled “code blue,” sending me panicked in a new direction, with a Hiroshima mushroom cloud of paper slowly rising and settling on the floor to mark the end another brave soul.

Patient: “Beyond this place of wrath and tears Looms but the horror of the shade…”

Doctor: As the evening continued for my patients in the rhymes and stanzas of a two centuries old poem written by a romantic losing life and limb to Tuberculosis and the sky transformed with thundering fireworks into surreal shades reminiscent of Van Goug h’s “Starry Night,” I worked frantically to keep things from falling apart, slowly discovering new means both within and without. Out of forced necessity - this baptism by fire - my brain and hands began to work faster, while good old-fashioned triage and multi-tasking filled in the gaps. Help in the form of good-will began to trickle-in from some of the other on-call interns who seemed to be encountering the same obstacles on a mad dash through long corridors of the hospital. The night-float senior resident who also shared overnight responsibilities on the floors began to check-in every hour to answer my accumulating list of questions and prioritize the essential tasks to be completed before sunrise. Many of the seasoned nurses, well aware of the calendar month and the start of the new training cycle, were quick to offer workable solutions and didn’t hesitate to double check decisions with the more senior resident. When there was occasional downtime, I managed to flip through the various references lining my overflowing pockets to broaden the differential diagnosis and ensure an adequate workup to guide treatment plans for the new admissions. Fresh colleagues coming in at dawn were a sight for my weary blood-shot eyes. Downing two cups of hot coffee

during morning sign-out and sneaking two more during bedside rounds, I felt the tension in my muscles begin to ease and my eyelids start to droop as the burden shifted onto more wakeful minds and less tired shoulders.

Patient: “And yet the menace of the years Finds, and shall find, me unafraid…”

Doctor: Looking back I can certainly see the unfortunate potential for mistakes arising from inexperience and exhaustion, like a lighted match close to puddles of evaporating gasoline, but I still have a certain faith in the process; the kind that comes from clairvoyant hindsight in knowing certain safe-guards exist, along with the continuing foresight of residency programs in making necessary improvements on behalf of new trainees and patient safety. Young doctors and their patients have been faithful partners in the practice of medicine at teaching hospitals for generations and have come through for the most part in fine fashion. In essence, the pressure cooker environment of call eliminates a young doctor’s inefficie ncies both minor and major and serves to focus the thought process while increasing endurance and sharpening clinical judgment. The camaraderie that naturally develops during the long hours spent on-call also strengthen into collegial bonds that are later relied upon in this era of sub-sub-sub specialized medicine.

Patient: “It matters not how strait the gate How charged with punishments the scroll…”

Doctor: And so it was me, on the following morning, the dumbstruck tired intern once again stumbling out the closed iron trap doors of the hospital into the blinding sunshine wondering where I parked and how I’d survive and manage to keep my patients alive over the next twelve months. A passing thought that perhaps other fledgling interns in Julys’ past, prese nt, and future have had and will continue to have the same stomach churning sensation and yet somehow live to tell the tale provided some reassurance. In a post-call haze I had tantalizing visions of journey ahead with upbeat Taylor Swift sing along milestones and the flipside with Led Zepplin head banging guitar strumming setbacks and someone older and wiser in the years to come writing that things eventually get easier as familiarity and comfort with the hospital environment and the management of acute and chronic ailments continue along the inevitable path. Instinctively I understood the best chance for success was to approach with a generous amount of dedication especially on those crazy nights; trust in the blind merits of the process especially on those difficult nights - and on the following July it turned out to be me enjoying in the celebration, albeit with a few gray hairs to mark the sleepless nights.

Both patient and doctor: “…I am the master of my fate:

for Mom and Dad

I am the captain of my soul.”

Copyright 2016 by Upendra Maddineni

52

Titanium

The two titanium rods in my legs, the tape measure I invariably wear on my belt, and my brain’s crackling synapses conspired to give me the appearance of a dangerous terrorist. The airport security personnel responded with alacrity. They re -broke my femurs to remove the rods, and pounded them on a steel guard rail in support of their thesis that the rods were pig iron, not titanium at all.

I lay on the floor in helpless agony, protesting that I would not have pig iron in my body, that I was

a Jew and kept kosher.

They ripped the tape measure from my belt, snipped it into short pieces, and wrapped them around their heads like marathoners’ headbands. They tore off my Timex to destroy my sense of space and time.

My brain’s synapses crackled like bacon, which was consistent with their pig iron thesis. There are elephants, there are donkeys. You are a Pig.

When I was a teenager, I’d used the word “pig” to degrade L.A. cops, as in Joni Mitchell’s lyric, I’ll even kiss a Sunset pig, so the irony of the pigs calling me a Pig was ferocious.

I was finally released. Crippled, disoriented, heaped with insults, I returned to my messy abode.

Copyright 2016 by Mitchell Grabois

54

Oceans, Fucking Oceans

Oceans, fucking oceans,

And not a good poem about them to be seen.

I’ve read over a hundred poems about water

Submitted to my magazine.

They all relate water to grief, renewal, rebirth, yadda yadda

Blah blah blah

Just give it a rest!

I don’t care if you went dancing on their glamorous shining waves

I don’t care if your tears poured out into the ocean of grief and made you feel better

I don’t care how long you looked at yourself in its reflection and contemplated your life

Find a new metaphor in your poetry, for water and oceans are overdone.

Give me something new, something exciting, something I haven’t seen before

Give me passion, give me emotion, don’t give me another fucking seafloor

Leave the water to nature, poets, and just let it be

Go find another great simile

Just oceans, fucking oceans, everywhere

And not a good poem about them to be seen.

Copyright 2016 by Rachel Head

56

Questionable Advice for Freedom

You have to peel your

fingernails out one by one,

pry them out with the knife of words

and learn to walk with pulsing, bleeding fingers.

You have to plant your feet

on the burning grill of the day

and feel each second tattooed itself into you.

You have to chop off enough to live.

Copyright 2016 by Valentina Cano

58

Adrian Nill Turned Twenty

Adrian Nill turned twenty in a loud sweaty bar near Perpignan and celebrated drinking several bottles of Kronenbourg, then slunk back to his youth hostel muttering and tried to jack off until he passed out. (This occurred well before cell phones.) Sick to his stomach, unable to straighten all the way up, he began thumbing north the next morning, then spent the ensuing decade explaining how he had once been but no longer was a file clerk, shipping department processor, research assistant, pot scrubber, sensitivity trainer, burglar alarm monitor, dishwasher, office temp, scriptwriter, prep cook, poet, poker hustler, lecturer or waiter. “The only thing that’s ever stuck,” he confessed to a stranger sitting next to him on a bus drifting through the middle of nowhere, “the only smart thing I did, I learned how to touch type. Forty words a minute.” The man looked out to the cornfields, snorted and to ok his time saying, “Well, you must be quite the embarrassment to your family, son.” This is what else Adrian Nill did in his twenties: cultivated a long tangly beard, said yes to almost every suggestion, got married outdoors at a country club in flowing white robes, wandered through abandoned downtown streets with a camera around his neck and bent to take close ups capturing parking meters, trash and cracks in the pavement, knotted up a tie and knocked on doors in suburban developments pleading with residents to at least consider voting Democratic, darted around concrete courts with warped metal nets brandishing a tennis racket, gave up meat, took the gonorrhea cure, ran out of money in the Rockies trying to get cross country, jogged to the library in searc h of some essential truth almost every day for a year followed by snarling dogs, squinted over microfilm in airless windowless cubicles, ventured out on regular midnight brownie runs, mastered the art of pressure cooking, did a brief stint substitute teaching, blurted to anyone who’d listen how incredibly lucky he felt, divorced, submitted to counseling, attended one long slow paced workshop run by men in corduroy sports coats after another, drank whatever was around, mailed old schoolmates inchoate mystical political manifestos, read up on macrobiotics, hung around the OTB office hoping to pick up a hot tip or two, and ate as much hashish as he could lay his hands on. Why lucky? To have survived driving unconscious, playing cards in basements with the wrong people, walking through a snowstorm more than once with no jacket, disparaging the IQ of other people’s girlfriends, picking up a pony-tailed hitchhiker with a fresh scar on his cheek who was either mute or just refused to talk but kept cleaning his nails with a knife, hiding with the lights out while some woman’s wacko ex -boyfriend pounded on the door and shouted “I know you’re in there,” taking pills without any idea what they were, and dropping fettucine alfredo on a bouffant hairdo before running out the back door during his first shift at a Mafia-connected restaurant. Lucky because he could not stop pursuing girls with a wild streak, girls who made up their own names and expounded theories involving numbers, the stars and the moon, but he did feel unac countable gratitude after each one dumped him. Also because he initiated conversations with erratic characters who carried weapons, trying with all due respect to convince them their ideas made no sense. He dozed off in class, got put on suspension, was given another chance and had a hyperventilating panic attack in the midst of a presentation he’d prepared on the root causes of the American Revolution. (It had started without incident but when someone asked an irrelevant question, Adrian lost his place in the script, began rambling, and dropped his glasses, after which the overhead lighting triggered a total meltdown). The day he turned thirty he had nothing in the bank, no friends and no real plans. He celebrated with a bottle of red Graves, experienced another episode and, after his palpitations subsided, began work on a manuscript entitled, Confessions of Adrian Nill, or It All Went Too Fast.

Copyright 2016 by AN Block

60

Terrible Land

We should get out of here. Let’s not try to figure out if these messages in graffiti were meant for us. The decomposing grey of the late afternoon sky, the broken street, the sickened sunthe harrowed remainder; debris of a once glorious day.

We should leave now. Let’s look at things realistically, like we did in Torpalas when newspapers were an agile threat. In autumn, we met on the street one perilous morning; dusk had walked there, but that dusk is gone. In a terrible land, there is nothing left to dispute.

Copyright 2016 by Richard King Perkins

62

Post-Mortem

This is what happens when you die. You rise out of your body and hover over yourself, just like those people who claim they’ve come back always say. But they couldn’t really know that. It’s just a dream or they’re making it up. Once you’re up there, believe me, there’s no going back. Still it’s just like they say and for the first time you see yourself in the flesh. And believe me, what you see isn’t pretty. Your color is awful and the stillness is really unnerving. You don’t see the person that everyone knew as you. Muscles that never once relaxed finally let go and your face settles into itself. Or it gets frozen in your last expression and you look angry or surprised, or even happy. And yet, floating up there you can’t get enough of it. Morbid fascination forces you to study the shoulders, the wrists and fingers, but you keep coming back to the face. How it looked sort of like that after a night of hard drinking. How much you resemble your Uncle Louie. Your own face will make you cry. Not to worry, you’ll get over it.

Assuming, of course, you HAVE a face. My own met the grille of a southbound Peterbilt, then the radiator, fan, and trucker in passing. Death was said to be instantaneous, which it was, to suggest painless, which it was not. Mercifully, I couldn’t see, what with the crushed front end and all the flames, but I caught a glimpse of the dashboard melting and something that looked like it might be my hand. I remember thinking how can this be? I had my freaking seat belt on!

So I never had the chance to study my corpse, but most do and it can spook you.

The end is upsetting under any circumstances. You can follow what’s going on, the doctors’ bad jokes, the priest babbling, the coroner discussing his golf game. And you see right away that the world won’t miss a beat without you. Life goes on, you watch it happen. The kids go home and turn on the television. The wife gives away your clothes. Before you know it there’s no trace of you left.

So there’s a lot of trauma, but then it hits you. You’re still around. Not physically, of course, or you wouldn’t be hovering, but essentially. That’s right. I know it sounds spooky and it’s hard to explain, but you’re still intact. Your thinking is clear and you can see better than you have in a long time. Not with your eyes, which, in most cases continue to stare up vacantly, but with your whole self! You have the same feelings and the same basic outlook, but you feel sharper, better able to focus.

It’s funny how some people respond to this. My own reaction was dumbstruck amazement. Good Christ, I thought as the gas tank exploded, there is an afterlife and it starts like this. Hovering. Exactly like the guy on Dateline said! This meant the religions of the world were right all along! There is a God! A quick review of my life revealed nothing damning. I hadn’t killed anybody or done more than my share of irreparable harm. The impure thoughts might pose a problem, but all things considered I’d behaved decently. With any luck at all I was headed for my eternal reward! A heady thought when you think about it, life’s problems forever behind you. No more pain or sickness. No more wondering when the end will come. The thing about being dead is you no longer have to die. You’re home free, right?

Well that last part is true enough. Death is permanent. All of you who think you’ll come back as a butterfly or a bell pepper, forget about it. Once it’s done you can’t undo it. The rest is pure malarkey. If there is a God I’ve seen no sign of Him and I’ve been here since 1998. No God, no heaven or hell, no final judgment or eternal damnation. You stay right here, disembodied but conscious. You can’t affect anything, but you can observe and a lot of what you see will curl your toes, figuratively speaking.

You can’t fly. You can’t time travel. You can’t see into the hearts of men. But you can absorb and retain knowledge. Think about that for a minute. Like everything else, death is a learning experience, an opportunity to broaden your horizons. You want to know how the internal combustion engine works? Just slip inside and see for yourself. You always wondered what the Queen of England eats for breakfast? Here’s your chance to find out. Not too clear on the theory of relativity? Drop in on Professor Howell’s Einstein Seminar up at MIT. The man is a marvel. True, you’ll never be able to apply what you learn, but you will see the world in a different light. And you’ll make connections no mortal could ever make. Take my wo rd. Once

you’ve unlocked the mysteries of those Easter Island statues you’ll know more about … ah, but then I’d spoil it for you.

Anyway, you’ll see.

I know what you’re thinking. How is it you can hover if you can’t fly? I was referring to flying in the traditional sense, a means of transport involving locomotion and aerodynamics. It’s a lovely notion and given the chance most would jump at it, but the dead are not bound by the laws of physics. To move you must first take up space. We have no mass so we have no real presence. Not to say we’re stationary. After all, what kind of afterlife would it be stuck in one spot forever? In truth, you can be anywhere your heart desires. No one’s sure exactly how this works, but it does work. It’s not movement so much as a sudden change of location. Sort of like the transporter on the Starship Enterprise, but faster and without the fizzy stuff.

The hovering is just a reflex. It’s not like you slip out of your body and rise like a helium balloon. You’re just suddenly up there. You do it because you can.

So you don’t take up space but you do take up time. Eternity is eternal, but it’s still a day-by-day proposition. Theories abound as to why this is so. Some propose that we are linked to the chronology of the living. Others see time as the essence of being, without it all things cease to exist. Since we exist in time but cannot affect it there’s a tendency to complain. All this time but what do we do with it? And what will become of us? If death couldn’t make us cease to exist, what could? A few still cling to belief in a Supreme Being, one content to let us puzzle it out for a few billion years before He tallies the score. While no one can disprove this most dismiss it as a post mortem pipe dream. It makes sense for a God to conceal himself from the living, but the dead have no further use for salvation.

So you see, it was never about good and evil.

And while we’re debunking myths, let me throw in another. There’s no such thing as ghosts. Never was, never will be. In the first place, if one of us found a way to reveal their self, don’t you think he’d pass it along? Who of us wouldn’t want to console our friends or confound our enemies? Death is nature’s way of severing contact completely. It’s afterlife as a spectator sport. Belief in ghosts is just a form of mysticism, as are those cosmic auras, ectoplasm and religious apparitions? Hokum, all of it.

A few other things bear mentioning. Since people have been dying for a long time and the b ody of knowledge increases exponentially, we have our share of know-it-alls. You see them all the time off in a corner spewing philosophy or debating physics. But with no way to utilize or impart information to the living, what you know has no practical application. This takes a lot of fun out of having all the answers. One can know more than the next guy but it won’t do you a bit of good. Since failure and success are no longer options, knowledge exists merely to inform. That grand and wonderful spirit of intellect, some have it, most don’t.

OK, then. The adjustments have been made. You’ve crossed over, taken stock of the situation and made your peace with the life you left behind. What’s next?

Naturally the first thing you want to do is go to your funeral. You’ve always tried to gauge your place in the hearts of others and here’s the ultimate opportunity. I have to admit, for me it was a revelation. My closed coffin was wheeled in and I could hear the mortician whispering instructions to his assistants. They were suitably solemn and, despite the fact that we scarcely knew each other, I was pleased Jerry Walker had been chosen over the Dinunzio brothers to handle the arrangements. That Al Dinunzio was a pain in my ass, Jesus, with the pinky ring and the aftershave. For years Jerry hounded me to sponsor a softball team, but I always managed to put him off. Sorry about that, buddy.

Eileen arrived shortly thereafter and I have to say she appeared less than devastated. She shook hands with Jerry and listened while he ran through the program, even smiling at some offhand remark. I wasn’t kidding myself, Eileen and I had grown apart, but I’d been a good provider was never once unfaithful, unless you count that bar maid in San Diego during the appliance convention in ‘96, which I don’t. The poor girl worked me over for a solid hour without getting a rise.

As the cars started to arrive Jerry left Eileen alone by my casket for a moment of private grieving. I studied her face for signs of distress, but she seemed more taken by the walnut finish. I tried not to let it bother me. After all, she had no way of knowing I’d be there. It was quite possible she’d been in tears for the past two days and the crying had simply run its course. I’ve always been suspicious of the inconsolable but a sniffle or two would have been nice.

Next came the children, Marcie first, then Bradley and Vern. Poor Vern, the kid looked completely undone and I thought for a moment he’d break down completely. My boys were a disappointment, I’ll admit, but Vern surprised me over the summer by announcing his enrollment in college. Granted it was community college and he’d picked Eastern religion as a major, but I took it as a positive sign. Brad, on the other hand, was going nowhere fast. The rock band finally ran its course but his job at the video store was turning into a career. As he stood next to his mother rocking side to side, I noticed a burgundy stain on his tie.

Marcie was weeping, my darling angel, Daddy’s little girl. Her chin trembled and her eyes were shiny. My heart went out to her, but then I remembered how she’d sobbed for weeks when her cockato o died, and how the theme from Titanic could open the floodgates.

Viewed through the lens of kinship my family looked more disheveled than distraught. Marcie’s eye makeup was running, Brad’s pants were too short and Vernon gnawed at his lip until it bled. As the church began to fill, Father Singleton emerged from the sacristy to escort Eileen and the children to their appointed pew. … OK, maybe “fill” isn’t the right word. The official count topped out at 23, including the hearse driver and the altar boys, a sparse turnout by any measure, made worse in a church the size of Madison Square Garden.

The real surprise was who didn’t show. John Emerick, my next- door neighbor for 27 years begged off with bad back. OK, I had back problems myself, but sometimes you bite the bullet, Jack. And where the hell was McGreevey, my old army buddy? You spend three years listening to tales of Salt Lake City and you expect a little something in return. Of course he probably doesn’t know I’m dead, but hey, they have telephones in Utah. I mean what ever happened to esprit de corps?

The service was uneventful, except for the pastor stumbling over a few pertinent details. That’s Fred padre, not Ed. I left my fair share of shekels on the collection plate. Would it kill you to do a little homework?

They buried me in the new cemetery out by the toll bridge, this, despite my stated preference for the old one up on the hill, or barring that, cremation. The new cemetery is roomy enough, but I worried about traffic and pollution and those goddamn jet skis out on the river. What a racket! In my heart I yearned for an urn, something simple but tasteful, lined in satin. I pictured myself above the mantel in the study, facing the television. Eileen was uncomfortable with the notion, pointing out that the house would eventually go to strangers with no use for my earthly remains. Considering her affection for the house and her family’s longevity, I figured this was way down the road. By then I’d be too far gone to notice.

That she couldn’t know your final resting place is of no real consequence did not absolve her. For all she knew we go through eternity staring up at the underside of a coffin lid. In fact, few of us spend any time interred. Maybe a few hours just to see what it would be like, but take it from me, once decomposition sets in it’s the last place you want to be.

As they lowered me down I studied Eileen’s face for a reaction. It’s a moment that often inspires a profound feeling of loss and incidents of graveside hysteria are more common than you might think. Not so with the widow Bartlett. Throughout most of the pastor’s eulogy she was forced to contend with a flying

insect of some kind and between the flicking and the shooing, it’s doubtful she registered a single word. Marcie might have lent a note of pathos, but by then her wailing had frayed every nerve. Brad’s eyes settled on Ellen Eddelman’s bust line and remained there for the duration. Vern seemed consumed by the depth of the hole, peering cautiously over the edge while he dabbed his lip with a speckled tissue. When it was over the mourners milled about for a few minutes then gradually peeled off. Only the grounds keeper and the backhoe operator remained behind.

Not so bad, compared to some,” came a voice to my left. Yes, we have voices. Not audible to human ears, but distinct and directional. More internal than telepathic, if that makes sense. Hell, I’ve yet to figure it out myself, but it makes all the difference, reason and speech, what separates us from the animals.

This particular voice belonged to Rankin. No first name, just Rankin. You know the type, the first guy to welcome you to the neighborhood, the loser hoping to make a friend. That’s Rankin.

I went to a dozen of these fucking things,” I grumbled. “Most of my good friends are already dead.”

“Sure they are. And I suppose all of THEM had previous engagements.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Why nothing. Perhaps they’ll be along soon.”

“The dead come to meet you?”

“Traditionally, but things come up. I wouldn’t concern myself.”

“Well, that’s a hell of a thing. What about my parents?”

“I’m afraid I’ve yet to have the pleasure.”

“Jesus Christ! They’re all up here?”

“I don’t know about up, but if they’ve expired they’re definitely here.”

“I can’t believe this! Then who are you?”

“I’m Rankin.

“I don’t know any Rankin. Why are you here?”

“I had nothing pressing to do so I thought I’d check out the newcomers. I’m sure your good friends will be delighted to see you.”

See me? As far as I could tell there was nothing to see. No limbs, no trunk, no head to contain my disembodied consciousness. I couldn’t see Rankin either, though I could sense his presence.

“But we’re invisible, aren’t we?”

“Oh, sorry,” I saw a brief flicker and there he was. A short, middle age man with thinning hair tied back in a ponytail. “Is that better?”

“Wow, you can do that at will?”

He simply smiled. “For dead eyes only. We’ve found it helps with the new arrivals. It’s an illusion really. In life I was actually much taller.”

Rankin filled me in on the details. Since a physical appearance wasn’t really necessary most chose to go without. This was fine with me. My body had never been anything special and not having to tend to it would free me to enjoy my eternal reward.

“What about body builders and movie stars?” I wondered. “What about those tattooed idiots who go around in shirtsleeves in the freezing cold?”

“I said most people. There are those exceptions.”

I looked around me. Except for the guys filling in the hole there wasn’t a soul in sight.

“Is there anyone here besides us?” I asked Rankin.

“No. … But I’m sure they all had their reasons. You’ll find that when your time is unlimited you lose your sense of urgency. What you don’t get around to today you can always do tomorrow.”

“But I’ve been here three days! You’d think someone would come, my mom, or Uncle Leo. Hey, what about my dog?”

Rankin shook his head. “Sorry, no pets allowed … up here.”

“Wait a minute,” a thought occurred to me. “If most people don’t have an appearance, how can you know there’s no one here?”

“You don’t have to see them to know, Ed is it?”

“Fred, Fred Bartlett. Two t’s, like the pear.”

“You see, Fred, very quickly you’ll develop the ability to perceive. Not in a physical sense, but intuitively. In no time at all it’ll be second nature, another faculty, essentially.”

“And the others. I can talk to them?”

“Until you’re blue in the face.”

So far everything sounded OK. You were conscious, you could communicate with others. You had no sense of urgency. Pretty much like life except for the urgency and the pet restrictions.

“Tell me something, do you have a home?” I asked him. “I mean do you live somewhere?”

“A home? Well, I spend most of my time in the area here, but a fixed address? I can’t imagine what for.”

“I don’t know. Where do you keep your stuff?”

“Stuff is pretty useless here.”

“Where do you spend the night?”

Me, personally? Well last night I was at the symphony until the Bartok concerto, then I listened to Joshua Bell describe his childhood to a young admirer over drinks at Ritz.”

“New York?”

“Buenos Aires. The acoustics are first rate.”

I let this sink in for a minute.

“Let me get this straight, uh, Rankin. That means I could, oh, I don’t know, spend the night at Nicole Kidman’s house if I wanted to.”

“Well. right now she’s shooting in Mexico, but they should be wrapping it up in a few days.”

I gave him a look. “So you’re into the celebrities, eh?”

“I used to think my interest would wane, but apparently not.”

Celebrities, sheeesh, my Marcie knew more about the Hollywood love life rotation than she knew about her own family. It didn’t seem fair that fame would follow after you. Stardom should have a shelf life, privilege shouldn’t be permanent, and if fame is forever, what about obscurity?

“So, tell me, how’s Elvis these days?”

“Dead celebrities have a place all their own,” Rankin explained. “The rest of us can’t get there from here.”

“Some things don’t change very much.”

Rankin smiled. “That’s why I prefer the live ones.”

The noon whistle blew and the work crew broke for lunch. Rankin and I watched them trundle down the hill as the drone of jet skis settled over the graveyard.

The grim circumstances surrounding my death were of little interest to the bulk of the departed, understandable, given the permutations. At first I felt slighted by the lack of interest. After all, my life had been cut off in its prime. I was healthy and productive and my prospects were rosy. But life isn’t fair and neither is death. Compared to some, mine was a walk in the park. Rankin, for instance, crushed by Panzer tank at Tripoli.

I found mom and dad back in Hackensack. They were staying at our old house while the old man made the transition, six years now, but in heaven who’s counting?

“You were driving too fast, as usual,” mom scolded me after a kiss on the cheek. “I wouldn’t mention the accident to your father if I were you. He was furious.”

“I don’t get it, mom. How come nobody was there to meet me?”

“We thought your Uncle Louie was going. I had to meet Mrs. Feller.”

“I’m your son! Mrs. Feller wasn’t even related.”

“Honey, she’s 85 years old! It was her dying wish that I meet her.”

“What about dad? Jesus, it’s not like I was coming home from college for a few days!”

“Your father had his heart set on the Masters. Besides, you had your friend here.”

“He’s not my friend. I never met him until today!”

Rankin winced. “I’m afraid he thought the reception would be bigger,”

I could feel the looming presence of my father.

“ You were speeding, genius. A half a mile an hour slower and that truck would have missed you.”

“Hello dad. How was Augusta?”

“Never mind Augusta, who’s the hippy?”

“That’s Rankin, he was just leaving.”

“Listen to me, lead foot,” the old man growled. “You left things a mess back there. Those two boys of yours are headed down the road to ruin. You were always too busy to give them what they need.”

“Which is?”

“Discipline!” mom and I mouthed the word along with him. “Kids these days need direction. I might not have been the world’s best dad, but by God my kids were disciplined.”

“That’s right dad. You could still bounce a quarter off my bed.”

“I see those boys on the weekends driving around doing drugs and I just want to spit!”

“Kids do drugs,” I shrugged. “I didn’t make the rules.”

“That’s the trouble! Parents today let the kids raise themselves. No wonder they can’t rea d or write. Wait until they have to earn a living. Hah! The middle one hasn’t been awake before noon in months.”

“His name is Brad, dad,” I looked to Rankin who seemed to be enjoying this. “Brad just needs to find himself.”

“He’ll find himself on the street if he’s not careful. You’d never catch my kids doing that cocaine.”

“Actually, I was quite the fiend in my day.”

“Walking around with their pants falling down, what the hell is that anyway?”

Mom stifled a groan. “Oh Earl, this is supposed to be a happy day. Why must you always be such a grouch?”

“That’s right, gang up on me. I offer a little fatherly advice and right away I’m the bad guy.”

“Well, at least I never hit my kids,” I gave him my best shot.

“See? What’d I tell you? He’s here five minutes and already he’s throwing that in my face. Like everybody wasn’t doing it. Jesus Christ, give a kid a little slap these days and you find yourself in court.”

“Enough!” mom snapped. “I told myself we could forgive and forget, but you two are impossible. Earl? … Oh dear, your father’s gone off somewhere.”

“The hell with him. If he thinks he can bully me through eternity he’s got another thought coming.”

“Oh Freddy,” mom’s face went soft and pink. “He just wanted what was best for you. He was only human, you know.”

“ Yeah well, sometimes when I think back I get so angry I could scream.”

“Your dad’s right about one thing, Fred,” Rankin’s voice seemed to come from a great distance. “You’re taking your childhood out of its historical context.”

“Jesus, will you please butt out?”

Mom took my arm and led me into our former dining room. Hardwood floors had replaced the old carpeting. The walls were a dull rust color trimmed in light gray. The only furniture was an exercise machine and an upright piano.

“You’ll like the Caldwells, Freddy. They’re a young couple from the South. Charleston, I believe. I just love those genteel accents.”

“Not much on decorating, are they?”

The husband, George, just got a promotion. Georgiana had designers in all last week. I can’t wait to see what they came up with.”

“George and Georgiana? Sure they’re not from Georgia?”

“No Charleston. I’m sure of it. It’s in the Carolinas. I can never remember which one.”

The Caldwells were in the living room watching Seinfeld reruns. Two young boys bored out of their skulls, mom on the cell and dad out cold in his Lazy Boy. We passed right though them on the way to the stairs.

Wait till you see what he’s done to the attic. I was always after your father to renovate, but I had no idea what you could do with that space.”

“Listen mom, hold up for a second.”

She turned to face me. The light caught a fine web of wrinkles and her body loo ked thin and shapeless. I didn’t want to see what some stranger had done to our attic. I wanted my mother to talk to me.

“Did you miss me?”

“Of course, Freddy dear,” she looked surprised. “Naturally, I could see you whenever I wanted to, but I missed our little chats.”

“I wish I could have spent more time with you in the hospice, but things were so hectic.”

“I know,” she smiled her forgiveness. “I’m afraid I wasn’t too with it there towards the end.”

“Are you happy here?”

It’s funny about happiness, Freddy. So much of it is based on things of a temporal nature,” she rubbed the ends of her hair with her fingertips, a thing she did when she was feeling self -conscious. “Life is transitory. What makes happiness so special is we know it can’t last. Does that make sense?”

Coming from someone else, possibly, but my mother was as likely to voice such a thing as she was to break into a tango.

“Who told you that?” I demanded.

Mom lowered her eyes and blushed. “You’ll laugh.”

“No, tell me. It might help.”

“Well, I’ve been reading up on Buddhism, Hindu, of course Confucius,” she gazed off, as if reading a teleprompter.

“But Rankin said there is no God.”

Well, no. But the precepts of most religions are still valid.”

“Valid?” I cried. “Mom, listen to me. If you polled everyone as to how they got here religion would head the list.”

Her eyes shimmered with concern. “Not religion, Freddy, people. At the core, all religion asks of us is to be good. It is and will always be a noble concept.”

“This is unbelievable! My mom the Buddhist! That just wouldn’t happen.”

“It’s really your fault, you know. Remember Doris?” mom stiffened as the Caldwell boys bounded past and up the stairs.

Doris? Robertson? She’s dead?” I hadn’t seen Doris since we dated in high school.

No, not for years yet, but she would stop by now and again after you moved away. We would talk. She was always going on about Buddha and that little guru what’s his name. The Perfect Master?”

“Doris was a fruitcake, mom! She thought the moon was made of green cheese.”

I know, but it always made me wonder. The strange things people believe. I thought I might look into it when I had the time.”

So how do you read with no hands? Huh?”

“Oh, that’s easy. You just slip between the pages.”

“Oh come on, it must be pitch dark in there.”

Mom looked puzzled for a second. “I suppose it is. It just doesn’t seem to be a problem here. You should ask your friend, Mr. Rankin about that.”

“It’s just Rankin, mom. One name, like Liberace.”

“Yes, well. It’s probably very easy to explain. I just …” she seemed to lose her place for a moment, then brightened into a smile. “Anyway, how do you feel about all this?”

“This? This is all a dream. I’ll just pinch myself and wake up home in bed.”

“Think of it as a chance to get to know yourself, Freddy.”

“Don’t mom.”

Back in the living room the lights clicked off as the Caldwell clan called it a night. First the cat, then the Misses and finally dad, after peeing in the kitchen sink.

The next evening my father and I surveyed the grounds and I found him as badly disposed to the hereafter as he had been to the here and now.

“There’s nothing to do!” he kicked at a clump of dandelions. “Look at this! When I lived here there wasn’t

a weed on the property.”

“How can you think of weeds when you have the whole world at your fingertips?”

He looked at me like I was crazy. “What fingertips? The other day I saw a ten dollar bill lying on the sidewalk and I couldn’t pick the damn thing up!”

We stopped at the spot where he used to pitch me whiffle balls. I could see where the spirit world might be a problem for him.

“You can see the things you always wanted to. What about the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown?”

What a gyp!” he snarled “Those plaques are half the size I thought they’d be. You know what they get for

a hot dog up there?”

“What do you care? You can’t eat.”

“It’s the idea. What are you paying for gas these days?”

You should try to be happy, Pop.”

“Doing what?”

“Widening your horizons. Cultivating interests.”

“Listen for a minute, will you?” he looked at me like I just might. “You know me, right? I’m a hands -on guy. Stick me someplace where I can’t fiddle around with things.”

“ … You were never handy, dad.”

He recoiled and I felt myself wilt. We were doing what we’d always done in the years since mom died. Whatever was wrong between us might someday be resolved, but I wondered if eternity would be long enough.

Mom appeared suddenly beside me.

“Don’t trouble yourself, Freddy dear. You have all the time in the world to work things out.”

“But the world will end someday,” I pointed out. “What then?”

There will be other worlds. Life is a work in progress.”

“So … this is the first world.”

“Yes,” my mother nodded.

“Then … forever has a beginning.”

“Everything has to have a beginning,” dad scowled.

“But everything that begins must end! It’s implied!”

“By who?” they asked as one.

My mother gave a glance to my father.

“Death never ends,” he leveled with me.

It was a lot to take in. Unless I wanted to end up like dad I was going to have to find a way to occupy myself. I’d had a number of lifetime pursuits, but nothing that could carry over. Golf was out and pornography held no further interest. For the first time since childhood the future seemed limitless and, once again, I had no clue what to do with it.

“There is one thing I’ve become partial to here,” my father said, as if reading my mind. “You ever watch that NASCAR?”

“That’s another thing. Why does everyone say ‘here’ like it’s a different place?” I gestured to our vaguely familiar surroundings. “We haven’t gone anywhere.”

My father pondered this for a minute. “How else could you put it?”

A good point, I suppose, but it gave the word a creepiness it never had before.

In the years since I’ve gone the usual route. The celebrity fixation (it can’t be helped), looking up ancestors, spying on friends, the dead celebrity fixation (there is a way to get there from here. Rankin was kidding). Of course, travel keeps me busy. I’ve seen the pyramids along the Nile, watched the sunrise on a tropic isle and next summer I’m spending July on the rings of Saturn. On a personal note, my daughter Marcie ran away from home and is presently living with performance artist in the Red Bank. My wife had a brief fling with Emerick, but broke it off when he got too clingy. Vern has followed his grandmother into the Far Eastern fog while Dave the deadbeat cycles in and out of detox. Granted it’s not what I would have chosen for any of them, but in the end what does it matter?

And yes, I’m seeing someone. A former birthing coach from Seattle I met last New Year’s on K2. Like me, Nancy’s an old film buff and avid globetrotter. On our first date we took in a Hitchcock double feature in Athens with Greeks subtitles. Funny thing is, without the pressures of sex and physical affection you can concentrate on the important things. Communication really is the key.

So, there you have it, death in a nutshell. There’s nothing to fear and everything to learn. You can see the world or not. Fame is enduring but fortune isn’t a factor. Time is on your side. You’ll find that your father hasn’t changed a bit while your mother is not the woman you thought she was. You can watch TV.

And since, through some mutant cyber synapse, you’ve crossed wires with the afterlife, you’re the very first to know.

Try laying it on the living and see how far it gets you.

Copyright 2016 by Thomas Larsen

74

THE GREAT OAKLAND FLOOD OF 2015

We are drowning in mustache wax bemoaned the grizzled bohemianwho was being flippant of course, but the truth was that several suspiciously smooth petroleum spillages had been noted on 41st street between Broadway and Telegraph and more than a few stragglers not all of them bearing the Y chromosome mutationhad been witnessed scooping little finger-fuls of the stuff and twirling it into their cookie dusters just so.

I wouldn’t say we were drowning in the stuff yet, but I worry that we are leaning in the direction of an unfortunate tanker truck accident that might leave the entire 19 th street corridor permanently amberized, a future archeological museum where tourists can see how early 21 st century gentrifiers were going about their lives in a perfectly preserved state.

Just the other day, one of Jack Kerouac’s thirty seven thousand bastard ch ildren walked up to me outside the avowedly blue collar, vaguely socialist book salon and started rapping to me about which Tom Waits song would be the perfect soundtrack to my life.

I needed to reach into my helplessly vulnerable intellect to explain to this unibrowed souse that I’m not really into Tom Waits, like I’m not against him and I’m sure he’s cool and all, but as I don’t listen to his music all that much, none of his songs would really resonate for my life arcs you know?

But oh no fuck no I have to understand that EVERYONE’s life can somehow be encapsulated into one of Tom Waits’ songs because that’s the kind of weight that goes along with being a Tom Waits aficionado (or at least this one) and surely there is one of his fucking songs that fits my life.

And then I realized that this is exactly what it feels like to be intellectually colonized, or what it feels like to be brosplained to or what it feels like to be SATURATED by some desperate poseur’s context, even though I understand these things on paper, it may not be possible to truly understand them until they actually happen to you.

And my city has become saturated with this.

Mustache Wax Flood of 2015 is beginning to feel like the least of our subscriptions.

Thinking about it a bit more now, the Great Oakland

Copyright 2016 by Paul Corman-Roberts

76

Excuse Me I Hate to Ask

On the BART train, I’m writing in my journal when I hear a voice behind me. “Excuse me.” “Yes?” It’s a young pudgy guy dressed in black. “Excuse me, I hate to ask, but do you do a lot of yearning?” “Yearning?” I repeat. I think, of course, I’m a poet, yearning is all I do. But I wonder if I’m being mocked. “Why do you ask?” I say. “Because you were staring out the window like you were yearning.” He gestures at the viewseagulls, the stern cranes guarding the shore, the Bay, and beyond, the Pyramid Building emerging from San Francisco fog. “Well, I suppose,” I say. “I yearn. And you? Do you yearn much?” “Uh, no,” he says. He wrinkles his nose like I’ve said something weird, which I have, and then the man who does not waste his youth pining and longing and gazing out windowshe stuffs his earbuds back in his head. He slumps in his seat and returns his attention to his tiny phone.

Copyright 2016 by Colleen McKee

78

Affection

I remember being thirteen and coming up from the depths of our backyard pool after holding my

breath longer than any human being ever had. I expelled my lungs’ dead air, inhaled forcefully, and put my forearm down on the pool deck, right on a bee’s upraised stinger. I watched my arm

speedily swell to four times its normal size. When I went in to show my mother, she had an anxiety attack and my father had to drive her to the hospital, me in the back seat, proud of my Popeye forearm until my throat began to close.

By the time we made the emergency room, I couldn’t breathe. I fell down in the lobby and began to turn blue. Nurses and doctors ran to where I lay, and my father cried, It’s her, not him!

So I became someone who craves affection.

I kissed the woman who slices lunch meat at King Sooper’s. She shoved smoked turkey at me, leaned away, and called: Next!

I kissed my doctor. I’d been wanting to do it since she first told me to stick out my tongue and

complemented me on its smoothness and the elegance of my taste buds. I kissed her and she asked, On a scale of one to ten, how have you been feeling this week? I kissed her again. Have you been seeing or

hearing things that aren’t really there? I kissed her a third time. Have you been feeling suicidal or homicidal?I kissed her more deeply, really sent the tongue to a remote locale. Do you have access to weapons? I said: How can you ask me that after everything we’ve been through?

She called Security. Security knew me from the days when I was a high school football star and amateur boxer and cage fighter who went by the moniker Destructo. They were afraid of me. They called the cops and warned them: Be sure to bring your stun guns, your billy clubs and chemical weapons.

The first cop who entered the roomI kissed her. She yelled FREEZE! Hands where I can see them! Get down on your knees!

I happily complied.

Copyright 2016 by Mitchell Grabois

80

Penelope Learns to Keep Time

Its secret is perched on the point of an arrow

fleeing from the tightest wooden ribcage

and on the beater

pressing crimped, crease colored thread down.

It glitters in the air within the mouth of hoops

and in the space between warp threads.

In the crackling of the dying fire.

In the rising horizon of lapping colors.

In the longest day rowing itself to a stop.

Copyright 2016 by Valentina Cano

82

7 a.m., Columbus St. San Francisco

In the park, under Benjamin Franklin’s bronze, beneficent gaze, ancient Chinese instruct the merely old Chinese how to do tai chi:

creaky elbows gather in fog, creaky knees push the fog back.

Copyright 2016 by Colleen McKee

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The Bicycle Review # 32 was edited and curated by Rhea Adri J de Salvo

The Bicycle Review # 32 was edited and curated by Rhea Adri J de Salvo Robert Louis Henry Anna Mahrer