Q uiet L

ightning
sPARKLE & bLINK
8

Q uiet L ightning
sPARKLE & bLINK
as performed on Oct 9 10 @ Gestalt As part of Litquake’s Lit Crawl © 2010 by Evan Karp + Rajshree Chauhan 978-0-557-69477-8

front + back photography by timothy faust
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edited and designed by evan karp
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Q uiet Lightning
is a monthly submission-based reading series with 2 stipulations you have to be able to be there to submit you only get 3-8 min submit ! !

« contents »
meghan thornton
the seduction 7

ana elsner
incubation flirting 16 15

shideh etaat
under the fig tree 19

steven gray
visit from an ex-girlfriend on acid hansel and gretel 27 30

roger porter
church folks 33

sam sax
bed.bugz fran san frisco 39 43

julia halprin jackson
the politics of inheritance 45

tatyana brown
impact depth perception 53 56

keely hyslop
mind & body forgive each other frankenstein 63 59

maisha johnson
island home 67

sharon coleman
zone 71

scott lambridis
abort 75

jennifer barone
love noise 81

Meghan Thornton

t HE s EDUCTION
» I’d love to meet my mom. » Yeah? » Yeah, I’d love to ask her what the hell she was thinking when she slept with my dad. » Oh, that’s nice. » Seriously, look at him. » What if he hears you? » He won’t hear me. He’s passed out. » Yeah, but he could hear you subconsciously. » No, that’s not even a thing. You don’t hear subconsciously. » You don’t? » Shit, I don’t know. Maybe. Anyway, I don’t give a crap. If he’s gonna pass out on the couch like that, I’m gonna talk shit about him.

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» What if he’s sick? » He’s not sick. He’s drunk. Do you not see the empty bottle of Jack in his hand? » There might not have been much left— » It was a brand new bottle. » Oh. » Anyway, what were we talking about? Oh yeah, my mom. Seriously, what was she thinking? » Well, she had you. » Yeah. » Well? » That’s supposed to instill me with pride? That she bothered having me just to leave me with this loser? » Well, she could have not had you. » True. » But she had you. » She was probably Catholic or something.
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Meghan Thornton

» But you’re Jewish. » My dad’s Jewish. I’m impartial. » Yeah, but Jews and Catholics, they can’t marry right? » Well, they didn’t marry did they? Just had sex in the back of a Volvo. » Your dad told you that? » Yeah, it was a very romantic story. » Sounds like it. » Yeah, he’s a real romantic. What was my mom thinking? » She was probably in love. » Doubtful. » Why? » Look at him! » Well, he wasn’t always like this, you know. » As long as I’ve known him. » Yeah, well, when your mom did him he was
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the star quarterback. » “Did him.” Lovely. » Sorry, when they made love. » You’re a dick. » C’mon, I was trying to be tactful. » Sure. » Well, so he was somethin’, and she was probably somethin’, and they got together. Perfectly natural. » I guess. » It’s just what happens. » Are you trying to get in my pants? » Dammit, Carrie, your dad’s right there! » He’s asleep. I asked you a question. » Whatever. » You are, admit it. » Well, maybe just a little. » See, this is exactly how my mom got into
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Meghan Thornton

trouble. » What, talking about sex with her dad sitting two feet away from her? » No, this…thing. The seduction. Talking about feelings and crap, and then bang. Sex. That’s how you guys operate. » What? No, no way. » Yeah, whatever. » Look, you’re the one who brought up your mom. I wasn’t trying to do anything except you brought up sex. » You brought up sex. » Okay, fine. But there was no seduction or whatever the hell you just said. » No? » No. » Really? » Really. I was just being a friend. » You know, we’re gonna wake up my dad if we keep talking here.
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» I’ve been saying that for the last— » Maybe we should go upstairs. » Hey, okay. Yeah, okay.

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Meghan Thornton

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Ana Elsner

i NCUBATION
And isn’t it made seductively easy for us to overlook these clusters of embedded larvae, voracious maggots, laid in the moist corners and dark crevasses of our ignorance? How madly our heads were set spinning by the pollsters and the carnival whores, bewitching us with shameless spectacle and boisterous campaign, while entrapping us with the viral confetti of tinsel clad and laminated lies. Remember, this invasive blight of systemic depredation took hold with little or no resistance, and began gestating in the body politic well before the lobbying and the song and dance, when we were festooned with the dankness of our sweat, with the yellow ribbons of our fear, with the ravishing and chronic blindness to an un-masked reality, which had been coming on, which was going on, which is on-going. Face it, these implanted pupae of calamity, hosted by the soft tissue of our minds, they await awakening, excubation in unison, sly maturation into a clandestine army, that is self deployed to game out the thin membrane of our fortitude, to deconstruct intelligent compassion, to eulogize our innocence, and inject a powerful anti-coagulant so our seeping wounds can never heal.
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f LIRTING
Stony Sweetheart, grazer on meadows of skin, WHO chimed you into Sunday, the one day when there is no bloodshed? Flirtatious Dominatrix, subject of our fascination, now unsleeping, now raised up from the darkest soil of heaven. Say you wish you were a Seraph, but slice through our sinews with the gold tipped blade of your song, your deliriously hypnotic siren song, that cripples our feeble attempts at gasping for life. Sunday. No bloodshed. And you are inscrutably a wanton Seductress, approaching from far
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Ana Elsner

away, yet never far enough away to save us from the predictable outcome of our dangerous contrivances, and let us go unclaimed. Yours is immortally a love that is, needs be, all consuming, all exhaustive, deliciously fatal to our bereft existence Yet all our new days we will be, we dream of your touch, secretly, craven. All now flirtation. All. Now.

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Shideh Etaat

u NDER t HE f IG t REE
Feyzolah Delshad was an athletic man with a thick, black mustache that looked like a brush stroke above his eager eighteen year old mouth. And as his last name suggested he had a happy heart. The King, Reza Shah was starting to build the Trans-Iranian Railway and had even visited Isfahan, where the Jews had first settled because the land reminded them of Israel. Reza Shah was personally sympathetic towards the Jews, even praying in their synagogues, putting on a yamakah with an Aleph sewn onto it, boosting the confidence and status of Iranian Jews everywhere. It was easy to change the laws of the land, but the mind and hearts of the people, less so. It was only a minority of Iranians who would ultimately treat Jews better than before the Pahlavi Dynasty when a Jewish man or woman wasn’t allowed to enter a Muslim man’s shop, but had to stand outside and point to the fruit he or she wanted to purchase. Their contaminated fingers could never tap a melon to see if it was ripe for eating, put it next to their ears to hear its hollowness, or put an orange to their nose and inhale. It was only a small amount of people who would stop believing that Jews were considered najes or untouchable and weren’t allowed outside while
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the rain fell, afraid that water would carry their impurities off of their skin, which is surely where all impurities are always stored, and would destroy the city like an apocalyptic flood. Even after the King’s visit to the synagogue, very rarely were Jews invited to tea by Muslims. But on a sweltering day in Isfahan when people hosed each other down and the pigeons rested in the shade and it was too hot even for tea, Feyzolah Delshad took Mahvash, his first true love (for there would be another, more important one), to a garden near the city where the fig trees grew. Mahvash was a Muslim girl who had a thing for Jewish boys, something about someone being so untouchable made her want to touch him more. Her head was shaped like a pear and the henna that she used in her hair left a red glowing tint behind and made her hands look rusty. She rested her head against the trunk, and Feyzolah rested his head on her belly, and when she looked down at him she imagined her belly large and expanding. “Biyâ berim dasht,” Let’s go to the field, she sang quietly to him. “Kodum dasht?” Which field, he asked, singing back. “Hamun dashti ke khargush-na dâre, ây bale- the same that has rabbits, oh yes. Bacche sayyâb be pâyash tâb dâre, ây bale- and my dog has a rope on its foot, oh yes,” Mahvash
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Shideh Etaat

responded. “Bacche sayyâb-râ mazan, khargush-e dashtom râ mazan. Khâb-e khargush be khâb-e yâr mimunad, bale- Don't kill my dog nor my rabbits, for the dream of the rabbit reminds me of the dream of my lover, oh yes,” Feyzolah sang to her, urging the hunter in the song not to kill the animals on his field because they reminded him of his lover. Mahvash twisted one of his curls in between her fingers and he looked up at her face, upside down from where he lay, and he thought- this is a woman to love. “I want to kiss you down there,” Feyzolah told her, because Ramin his friend had told him that girls fall in love with you when you do that. And she let him because she was feeling slippery inside and she worried that everything inside of her would soon fall out if something did not make its way inside of her. She would’ve spoken, but there were no words invented yet for this. Feyzolah moved down below, parted the thick hairs, tangled like a web, darker, if you can believe it, than the hair on her head. And he kissed her like he meant it, because really he did. He slipped inside and then outside of her, and it reminded Mahvash of the rhythm of the song they had been singing together minutes earlier. Let's go to the mountain. Which
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mountain? He continued even though it was windy and the figs knocked wildly on their bodies. They didn’t mind. He looked up asking with his eyes, his mouth wet with her and Mahvash nodded, inviting other parts of him inside of her. The same that has deer, oh yes. And my dog has a rope on its foot, oh yes. The branches were soon bare and Mahvash moaned as she began to feel empty, blank, free inside her own body, and she dug her sweaty hands into his curls and allowed him even deeper inside of her. Don't kill my dog, nor my rabbit, nor my deer, for the grace of my deer reminds me of the grace of my lover, oh yes. And before she could even think of her friend Nasrin who had hung herself in her room months before, afraid what her father might do if he found out she had slept with Babak and was no longer a virgin, Mahvash’s body began to pulse as if possessed. “Allahu Akhbar, Allahu Akhbar. Ash-hadu al-la Ilaha ill Allah,” she cried out to Feyzolah to God to the tree and the sky and the birds that flew in flocks above, it was afternoon after all. Time for prayer. Feyzolah rested on top of her, their wet bodies slipping against each other. He put his head into the curve of her neck. “Don’t move,” she said, “we may be able
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Shideh Etaat

to stay like this forever.” “You taste like everything beautiful in this country- Saffron, tea, jasmine, the sweat and love of a hardworking man,” he said, and he believed for a moment that something this good could in fact last forever. And as their naked bodies throbbed with delight, and Mahvash laughed uncontrollably because something had been switched on inside of her, made her feel child-like and light headed, like Allah was in fact nearby, they heard the sound of rattling coins. It was Rabbi Kohan with his hands deep in his pockets. He’d known Feyzolah since he was a child and had performed his circumcision, had trained him for his Bar Mitzvah which had been a secret affair held in the privacy of the Delshad’s home, for all Jewish rituals and traditions had become something to hide, to be kept out of the public eye. He walked around always with two hands in his pockets playing with loose change. His wife, who wore a black wig even though her natural hair was as red as a bowl of cherries, had sent him to pick some figs for a batch of jam she was making for him and their six daughters (Rabbi Kohan still prayed for a son). Rabbi Kohan’s favorite food as a child had been fig jam spread on bread warm enough to quickly turn butter into liquid. Remembering his mother’s mustard yellow
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apron and the way her hands swirled in the air when mashing the fruit, as it lifted the smell of summer into the air, remembering what it felt like to be so safe as she patted his buttery chin down with a napkin, he’d hurried towards the garden only to stumble upon this horrific scene. A Muslim and a Jew woven together, naked in delight. And not just any Jew, but Feyzolah who he’d come to consider as his own son. It made him throw up in his mouth a little. His body shook and he wondered what spell she’d casted on him. He pointed his dirtied, copper finger, moist from sitting in his pocket for too long, in their direction. “Feyzolah Delshad,” he cried out, “release that goy at once.” Feyzolah jerked his head up to see who it was that was yelling at him while Mahvash continued her laughter. “Boroh gomshoh,” get lost he said, “I’m in love.” Feyzolah, son of Isaac Delshad, didn’t light the Shabbat candles every Friday, enjoyed yogurt with his kabob every now and then, but he had read the Torah forwards and backwards, had kissed the mezzuzah every time he stepped inside his house or a store or in the case of his good friend Ramin’s house the mezzuzah that lay on the cement next to the single sheet that was his bed because they had no walls sturdy enough to nail anything onto. Feyzolah who if nothing else had been a fine Jew began
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throwing figs at Rabbi Kohan. Mahvash joined in too. They were soft, the figs, with dark brown skin and tiny seeds that bounced inside, but they felt like stones against his body. Rabbi Kohan picked the figs up one by one and thought of his grandmother who he’d never met, who’d been killed by fervent Muslims in Mahshad. How they had held a knife to her neck asking her to spit on the Torah, to denounce her faith, to become a Muslim. With a ferociousness she’d gathered spit in the back of her throat and with dry eyes she turned her face slightly and had spit on the man’s sweaty face. “Take my God from me you khar, and you take my life,” she had proclaimed. Rabbi Kohan put only one fig in his noisy pocket, forgetting all together his wife’s jam, and how it was possible for summer, for an entire life to be contained in just one jar, and he headed home, bewildered and betrayed.

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Steven Gray

v ISIT f ROM a N e X-g IRLFRIEND o N a CID
A woman wearing heirlooms from another country showed up at my door on acid, with a necklace and the diamonds on her fingers the equivalent of what I make in a year. I couldn’t believe she took the bus in that condition, but she liked it. At the moment around the bend and it was bending her diffused attention to the ordinary, now infused with greater importance than an epic. The momentum of the lysergic left her standing in the room and swaying slightly in the shifting parallels of sunlight filtered through a bamboo curtain on an open window. She was saying things, whatever struck her, like a serious little girl of 42, resembling an eccentric gypsy, made up by her escort – an effeminate fellow – looking like a parody of herself. A parody her character was shining through, no matter what was in her hair, there may have been a bird in there, along with tinsel. She was
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wearing a skirt of gold lame and phosphorescent stockings. Later on the roof she was exclaiming, “I have million-dollar legs!” – they glittered in the sunlight and she named the jewels she could see in them. A woman I used to live with, who was taking chances, leaving me to care about it or to worry, who was highly impressionable and even said with truth and beauty dancing on the head of any acid queen, that she could see how things become uncomfortable as premonitions of a nightmare flicker on the horizon, so she carefully steered the conversation away from what was tenuous and back into the matter at hand: a gum-drop she believed more precious than the opal on her finger. After a while the escort offered me a joint, although I was transparent enough, she was picking up the slightest fluctuation in my attitude as if a visible aura she was sensing with the radar of a child, you couldn’t tell what she would find amazing or uninteresting. So I brought her things, careful in considering what associations might be generated
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Steven Gray

in her mind, the negative not invited to this afternoon communion. I was feeling the strain of watching someone I care about who’s walking on a high wire for the first time, with a parasol of her awareness acting like a parachute, a paranormal woman not to be refuted.

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h ANSEL a ND g RETEL
Once upon a time there was an old woman who would kill teenagers and eat them. She lived in Marin and her home was covered with marijuana plants. When the high school students would come up to her house in the woods to get some pot she would invite them in, get them stoned, and when they were so high they couldn’t see straight, push them into the oven. Considering they were full of THC it was like making pot brownies, except it was smoked high school students. One day a boy and girl were walking by after school and saw the pot plants all over the house. They walked up and were pulling off leaves when the old lady invited them in for a smoke. The girl was suspicious, she was an honors student who wanted to be a nurse and this didn’t seem quite right. Her boyfriend was a low-life, but she put up with it because psychosexually she needed to feel like she was slumming in bed or she couldn’t come. But that’s another story. While her boyfriend was getting high with the old woman, she just pretended to inhale. She wandered around the place and glancing out the back window she saw some bones in the hot tub and a baseball cap with the name of her high school on it. She
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Steven Gray

knew something was amiss. Math was her specialty, so she put 2 + 2 together and came up with: homicidal stoner cannibal witch. She pretended she was stoned, slowing down her reaction time and not finishing sentences. When the old woman showed Hansel the oven where she dried her marijuana, Gretel realized she meant to remove him from the realm of the living, in other words to perform a Hanselectomy. Gretel had spent too much time on the behavioral modification of her stoner boyfriend to lose him now, so she was only protecting her investment when she pushed the old woman into the oven, slammed the door, and cooked her goose. The boyfriend was shocked out of his mind. “That’s elder abuse”, he said, and in fact the girl was arrested, but since she was a minor she only did a year in the Juvenile Detention Center. The boyfriend smoked all of the old woman’s pot and became permanently spaced out, so he moved to Bolinas.

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Roger Porter

c HURCH f OLKS (e XCERPT f ROM t HE a FRICAN d EAD)
I am on the battlefield for my Lord— The deacons would always begin Sunday morning worship with this song. They would sing it as they waited for people to come in and fill the pews. We would already be there of course; me, Lamar, Lamont, and Mrs. Brown. I would walk to their apartment early in the morning and have breakfast with them because I knew that they always had food and I knew Mrs. Brown would take me to church afterwards. We always sat in the middle pew of the center section of church. Lamont, and Lamar would sit on either side of Mrs. Brown and I would sit by Lamar. Yes I’m on the battlefield for my lord— That last note is supposed to carry slowly but the deacons always messed it up. Some of them sang it too low, others sang it high, and they all sang it too fast. All of them depended on the steadiness of Mrs. Brown’s voice to keep the rhythm. When they sang it too fast she sang the hymn loud and slow while clapping out the beat for them. Then as they all caught on she continued to clap but quieted her voice down so by the last lines only we could hear her
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humming. And I promise that I Will serve him ‘til I die, Cause I’m on the battlefield for my lord. The last part of the song always moved Mrs. Brown. She closed her eyes while she hummed, sucking hard on her peppermint candy. I watched her sway her body gently, her lavender hat with the pink rose moving side to side to the rhythm and I listened as her deep voice grew husky after Lamont got killed. The last note of the song started sounding painful. She would hum it as she folded her arms across her chest like she was hugging herself. Lamar would always look down at the ground; he never sang a word. He had a Sunday service routine that he would follow; during 8:00a.m. worship he was silent and good. Then during 11:15a.m. worship he would twist and turn in his seat, he would bend up a Martin Luther King church fan or keep trying to talk to me even though Mrs. Brown told him to be quiet. If it was communion Lamar would spill the blood of Christ on the church carpet. The girls that went to school with us would look at Lamar and giggle, the boys would smile and whisper “dang Lamar hecka bad,” the old ladies in church hats would look at all of us and then stare at Mrs. Brown. The deacons, even the reverend, would squint his
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eyes at us. When this happened Mrs. Brown would take Lamar outside and whip him and then she would make him dry his tears before he came back inside. “Cut that crying out, I don’t allow no punks to sit with me,” I could hear her telling him. At evening worship he wouldn’t move at all, he would just sit there with his head in his hands looking straight ahead. “I hate that fuckin church.” He would tell me in the darkness of our room once Mrs. Brown had gone to bed. I had been living there for less than a year but it was enough time to hear Lamar say he hated everything. He hated 5th grade, he hated our teacher, he hated school, he hated our apartment, he hated the people who killed his older brother the year before, he hated his father for beating on his mother when he was little, and he hated the church. About twice a week the reverend would come to our apartment to discuss church affairs with Mrs. Brown, he never said much to us when he came but as soon as he got in the door Mrs. Brown would tell us to go outside and play. Lamar hated that. When we got outside he would kick the reverend’s Lexus as we walked past it and when we started playing Lamar would always pick a fight with somebody, and if he was losing
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I had to jump in on his side or Mrs. Brown would whip me for being a punk. When the streetlights came on and we had to go back inside he hated the look on his mother’s face, he hated the thick stale air in the apartment, and the smell of cologne that the reverend left everywhere. And he hated the way the reverend’s wife looked down her nose at us when we came in early for church. I never said nothing when Lamar went off about why he hated what he hated. I just laid in my bed and listened to him talk. I didn’t want to be able to feel his hate. I was happier than I had ever been in my life. I liked school because I was pretty good at it and the teacher liked me. I think she felt sorry for me because she knew my parents were addicts but I didn’t care, I liked the extra attention. And I loved church. I loved that we went to church together like a family. I loved the whole Sunday atmosphere because the boulevard was completely different; it was like the streets got cleaned up. It was always crazy to me how when we left the house to go to school dudes would already be posted up on the block, hair uncombed, clothes dingy, faces ashy, and lips dark from smoking weed. When Lamont was alive he was one of them dudes on the corner every morning and then in the afternoon when we got back from school he would be in
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the same spot doing the same thing. But on Sundays it would be nothing but church folks spilling out in front of the liquor stores, in front of the beauty salons, and the barber shops. Each congregation representing for they small church but everybody would be smiling and everybody was happy. I mean everybody, the church sisters in white dresses, the young church girls in their flower print dresses. Even the men laughed and joked. They wore polished shoes, leather jackets, and silk ties—not clip-ons like me and Lamar—and they talked to each other, shook hands, and they always smiled. On Sundays all the thugs would either stay inside or put on a suit and worship. Lamar said the whole scene was hella fake but I felt like it was so necessary. I felt it more than anything else. Back then I just knew I was gone be a man of the church when I grew up but I was young. I had no idea how strong the Avenue was until I was posted up on it every day, hustling just like everybody else.

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Sam Sax

b ED . b UGZ
if sleep is the cousin of death then death must be my schizophrenic cousin daniel who reads talmud claims our family are direct descendants of god and sleep drinks alone in bathrooms claims his brain cells are not destroyed they are merely expanded this is how we get through the night: kiss the backhand of a bottle of bourbon drink aerosol spit shine through a loaded pen eat a fistful of vicodine for breakfast fist fuck a church door.s wood mouth this is how we. this is how we. this is how we get through the night awoke on a pillow of my own vomit recall how stripped concrete sheets had made a bed for me in the mansion of my madness. my mouth a bloody grin after dining on a banquet of pavement.

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watch how men dressed in burial suits walk slow in morning toward a punch clock feeding days to their paychecks children back home with mouths hungry as fresh graves from broken condom to broken promise that morning daylight straight razored my gay nightlife and i wished i hadn.t told bedtime to go fuck herself that walk home i thanked my lucky now hidden stars that i had no one to come back to this is how we get through the night after i left my last lover broken in an adjacent bedroom when we learned that our words would not help us remember how to speak to each other again he asked me /how i can sleep at night/ naked as countless sheep i told him: nightly baptisms in a bottles of bourbon
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Sam Sax

writing until my knuckle bleeds into the table an alarm clock shaped like a fistful of pills and cursing god as often as i remember he does not exist always fearful of waking a sleeping giant i have learned to fall in love like i fall asleep as fucked up as possible this is how we. this is how we this is how we… if daniel was right and my family are actually direct descendants of god and if children learn to smile from their fathers than god must have a grin like a cemetery with tombstone teeth pointing forward always forward to that second cousin of sleep but i learned how to cheat the night from my mother cups of hot black morning resting like an infant in her palm i wonder if i envied their closeness if i learned to nurture my insomnia like a child let it grow inside of me until i birthed nightmares onto my bed sheets

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in my house we only found rest at the end of a deadened nerve ending after emptying these coffee can heads and letting us fill again with stripped wool and feathers when my mother found me a carcass lying on the carpet next to the bed like a bleeding lamb with everything possible stripped down to empty she asked me if i ever felt like my cousin daniel and i told her through gritted gravestone teeth mom. we are all just searching for ways to finally rest in peace.

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Sam Sax

f RAN s AN f RISCO
When that big wave finally comes to swallow the sunset i.ll be waiting. open armed on the sunrise side of the golden gate bridge. hands outstretched to meet the ocean knowing i could only survive that two mile high wall of water if i pretended it was you

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Julia Halprin Jackson

t HE p OLITICS oF i NHERITANCE
The will lay before me; an unfinished draft. Here, at her 87 years of age, Mamma had to exercise her final act of control. Her possessions. “I can only promise you girls so much,” she says now, her gaze shifting from her hands up into the ceiling. For once she does not look into our faces, which I know is a sign of internal uncertainty. “And the thing is, there’s still Frodo.” Frodo, Mamma’s 9-year-old toy poodle, represents one of her most tender and enduring relationships with a member of the male species. We used to joke this was because she feeds him chicken scraps from the table every 2.3 minutes. She is doing so now. “Mamma,” Esther says, “please, it’s not what we want, it’s what you want.” My eldest sister says this with the emotional strength of a 17year-old boy telling some hapless girl that “it’s not me, it’s you.” Everyone knows what Esther wants. Her eyes rarely leave Mamma’s right
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hand, where a diamond ring sits so prettily. It is the only pretty thing that Mamma ever inherited from someone else, the only thing she didn’t earn herself, the only gift that she ever actually wanted and got. “What I want doesn’t mean chicken shit after I’m dead and gone,” Mamma says. She smiles when she says “shit.” She always has. “Mammaleh, please,” Anna starts. She holds her regal nose high. For years, when we were kids, that nose brought us more trouble than anything we said or did in school. For years she walked with her face downward, like a foxhound sniffing out a trail. But then she followed our father’s advice (the only good advice he ever gave) and kept that nose in her books, until she got herself a scholarship to university, then law school, then sued a former employer for some anti-Semitic remarks he made into a microphone once. Anna’s a smart, tough cookie. A smart, tough cookie who also likes diamond rings. “Look, why we waste time like this?” Mamma says. “Why can’t I just give you all money now, and we can finish making supper and go to the movies and then I can just die quietly in my
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sleep?” She smiles while she says this, even chuckles, but we know better. She’s absolutely serious. Our mother is a card-carrying member of the Hemlock Society, and ever since our father died a slow and onerous death, she has reminded us, time and again, of her right to determine how and when she goes. “Mamma, please don’t talk so, you’re upsetting Malka,” Esther says. All eyes turn to me. I’m not really that upset, but since I’m the youngest, Mamma has always expected me to be the most emotional. I fake it well, and it usually serves me good. “Malka’s fine,” Mamma says. “Besides, it’s part of the First Amendment.” “Suicide is not part of the Constitution,” Anna insists. “And I should know.” “You know shit,” Mamma says, smiling. “The First Amendment protects the freedom of expression. Death is just another form of expression. A good lawyer knows how to interpret such things, Anna.” Anna puts her fingers to her temple, rests her head on her chest. She shows defeat so easily around our mother. We all do.
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“Look, Mamma, we’re not here to discuss how you die,” Esther says slowly, her eyes still on the ring, “but rather, what to do when that happens.” “Have a party,” Mamma says. “Get that good wine, not the cheap stuff. But one thing I don’t want—I don’t want anybody sitting shiva.” We all nod slowly. Finally something we can agree on. “I spent too many Saturdays at houses of mourning. When your father died I did it because it was his wish, but the last thing I want when I go is for a house full of people to sit around and stare at my unsexy body while my soul dances an invisible jig.” I laugh. Anna disapproves, Esther leans back into her chair and sighs heavily. We hear the clock strike in the kitchen. Mamma has one of those bird clocks that trills a different song every hour, on the hour. It’s noon, which means the kitchen sounds like a mechanical owl has taken roost. We’ve been at this for two hours already. Frodo whines, and so Mamma slips him another piece of chicken from a plate on the table. “You see? Frodo gets it,” Mamma says. “He
« 48 »

Julia Halprin Jackson

knows I’m over all this death and dying shit. He knows I don’t believe in Heaven or Hell. Sure, he’ll miss me when I’m gone, but that won’t stop him from pissing on the neighbor’s fence or dragging dead mice out from under the patio or licking his ass.” As if on cue, Frodo props a leg against her chair and starts a close inspection of his more private organs. “See? He’s completely unembarrassed. If there’s anything I wanted to teach you girls all these years, it is to kill that shame that your father instilled in us all.” The room is quiet. I try to tune out the sounds that Frodo makes. Mamma looks out the window, where the Santa Monica sunlight shines so superficially. It is 70 degrees in November. “This is about the ring, isn’t it?” Mamma says. We all startle. She looks down at her finger, wiggles it. For the first time she looks us all in the face, one by one. Esther gulps audibly. “Do us all a favor and stop bullshitting yourselves. It’s okay to want things.” “Mamma, I wouldn’t dream of—” Anna starts. “It’s up to you—” puts in Esther. “You know the full story of this ring?” Mamma
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asks. We all nod. “Malka, tell it to me again. I forget what is the full story of this ring.” “It belonged to Pappa’s mother,” I say. “She left it to you when she died.” “Yes, it did, but you think life is as simple as that?” Mamma says. “For us?” She smiles, slips Frodo some more chicken. “I remember Pappa said it was stolen once,” Esther says. “On the way to the hospital, when your Amah was in labor,” Mamma says. “There she was, this loud, crazy immigrant woman, caterwauling in the back of an ambulance, and this nurse, she holds her by the hand, the whole way to the hospital. And then your Amah gives birth to your Pappa, and it isn’t until she is on the way home the next day that she sees the ring is missing. And she searches her purse and she calls the police and they call her all kinds of nasty names, want her to pay them to find it for her.” “So how did she get it back?” Anna asks. “Well, two years pass and Amah gets pregnant again. This time, she takes a cab to the hospital
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Julia Halprin Jackson

and just when she gets to a bed she notices the ring on the attending nurse.” “No!” Esther says. “These things, I cannot make up,” Mamma says solemnly. “Your Amah, she fought for this ring. She pushed and she pushed and then she gave birth to your aunt Harriet. And when she was done, she reached over and pulled the ring right off that miserly old white lady.” “What?” I say. “Well, at least that’s the story your Pappa told me,” Mamma says. “But, as you know, your Pappa was full of shit.” She wiggles her finger. “I never liked his mother, but I sure did like her diamond ring.” All three of us girls lean in, share a breath of excitement. We haven’t shared a feeling like this in years. “So I tell you what,” Mamma says. “Whichever of you girls agrees to help me die, gets the ring.” She reaches down and rubs Frodo’s belly. Instantly we all push back our chairs. Mamma laughs, yells as I get up to go to the kitchen, “Get me a beer, Malka dear,” and I do.

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Tatyana Brown

i MPACT
The first time I hit you and knew that I meant it, my fist caught the soft spot just below the cartilage of your sternum, and kept moving into you so quickly a pathetic puff of air broke free of your mouth and you let out the kind of wounded animal sound they edit out of nature videos because everyone knows the only way to love a wild thing is if it has some semblance of dignity. I want to tell you I learned in that moment there are monsters in my blood I am unwilling to become. But even though my memory is too clouded by the shame of it to be certain, I am pretty sure I pulled back and hit you again. I think when I did it, our eyes met, and the confusion that I found there wasn’t enough to make all of me sorry until hours later, when my limbs stopped shaking and I remembered that my name was your first and most frequent word. Sister, your suffering was the classroom of my unlearning. You are the reason I learned that not all love is laced with violence. It took years ballet dancing brutality across your cheekbones, self-righteous with a rage you were too young to
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deserve before I recognized the warm, familiar scent of insult on my breath, and knew I’d built a home for us out of the worst of where I’d come from. By the time I caught myself, I’d torn into you so often it was a kind of comfort. I possessed your voice in tiny increments, stealing snatches of it to build a birdhouse in my pockets for my pride, hungry for more proof that I know you so well I can finish your sentences. I can make you never start another one. I can renovate you, rip apart the floorboards beneath your feet until the open air is all you stand on and your mouth rings, a bell begging me to save you again. Even now it’s difficult to hear you thank me for the way I raised you right. You, the girl who can’t hold a job for more than two months at a time, who still hasn’t learned to be tender with herself quite yet, and can’t think past this week’s paycheck. The girl who can’t imagine deserving something better. You thank me like it wasn’t my boot that smashed your spine. I visit with your echo sometimes, examining each spot where my hands and voice betrayed
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Tatyana Brown

you, but I am not looking for forgiveness in the hollows I’ve dug out. It is the spark of you I miss the most. I keep looking for the place that held you when you ran away. I am hoping you will find your own way back. I’ve ripped away each finger of the phantom of my fist from around your throat. I have sewn back together all the tattered pieces of your tongue, and unplucked it from its house inside your lips. Speak now. Your body is your own again. The only thing missing from this revival is your breath.

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d EPTH p ERCEPTION
On the weekends we would set the parakeets free inside the apartment, and wonder at their failure to understand walls. Within a cage so small, there was no need to learn what wings could really do— the miracle of hollow bones and lift: gratuitous, a tease of potential, a hungry plague upon the mind. No wonder they screeched senseless, inconsolable at sunrise. A body restrained from its calling is a death worse than oblivion, insult and ache without release. Once freed, they were greedy with the air inside our cramped and cluttered rooms. It was the closest to any form of feral they would ever be, so they ignored formalities like slowing down because there was no more space to fly. I remember the wet and sickening thud of feathered skull against plaster, then glass, then wood. Each collision another spike of panic in our blood: it always sounded like the impact might kill them.
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Tatyana Brown

You always wondered if that was what they wanted—an honest ending, a conclusion when they were most themselves.

« 57 »

Keely Hyslop

m IND & b ODY f ORGIVE e ACH o THER
I pleaded with my body to let in the wolves to prove we were not afraid but she was afraid we both were and we had reason to be. I tried to ply her with alcohol to coax my body to open the door and let in the boys who were fondling my breasts on the porch. They had weapons they were saving in the corners of their smiles but I didn’t see them. Through the haze of rum and lust she fingered the key she had turned years before but did not unbolt the door. I hated her then. She always denied we were the same person. She always believed what happened to me did not happen to her. When the boys’ teeth turned into knives they cut bits of me away to get at her door
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which shed splinters like porcupine quills but they couldn’t get at her. They dug their fingers into my wounds to make me beg her one last time to let them in and then they left. I didn’t want to speak to her. I didn’t want to look at her. We were bound together, Siamese twins but if I could have left her then I would have. How can you forgive when your own body betrays you? She was angry with me too. I could feel it in her tension. Years later another man came to us. I politely explained we were not taking any visitors. He said he would not starve if I did not feed him for he knew where the wild berries grew. He said he would not freeze if I could not offer shelter for it was a warm night and he knew the earth would always warm him. He asked if I would like to come outside and count the stars. There were crickets singing
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Keely Hyslop

to mates they might never touch in darkness. There was joy in their songs mixed with longing. He said we could make up songs of our own. I could sit in a tree and he would sing to me from its roots if I wished. I could lay next to him on the damp grass and he would sing as long as I wanted him to and only touch me when I pulled him towards me. My body was intrigued. She watched us from the window. Sometime during the merciful night that was everlasting because we asked it not to end and it was kind to us I felt myself slip into her. I understood what it meant to own a house to safeguard it against fire and thieves to patiently make repairs when something’s been broken to accept that it trusts you to know what’s best to accept that you know what’s best. I was holding the key when I let him in.

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Quiet Lightning » sPARKLE & bLINK

f RANKENSTEIN
Grandpa was Frankenstein staring eyes half-lidded leaden legs lifting dropping rigid arms reaching forward nerveless fingers slicing through air and I was Elizabeth stumbling away running being caught by the creature shrieking in terror I was 7 and I loved to scream my screams could pierce ear drums I was going to be in the movies someday and Grandpa loved to help me practice At night when the jug was empty when I was supposed to be in bed I would hear grandpa howling he would yell at my uncles he would yell at my mother but even when I was caught eavesdropping in the hallway he would never yell at me When I was 9 Grandpa was a skeleton lying in a hospital bed with cirrhosis of the liver his eyes and cheeks
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Keely Hyslop

sunken deep into his skull his ample belly had filled with blood and burst like an overripe grape my uncle sat by his bedside every night Grandpa wanted to be taken off life support when my uncle refused him Grandpa balled his sharp thin fingers into a fist the emaciated arm flew off the bed and blackened my uncle’s eye After the funeral the late night conversations echoed down the hallway the story of a good, clever Catholic who learned how to lure death with gallons of cheap wine and value packs of Marlboros thus getting the ending he wanted without the eternal damnation.

« 63 »

Maisha Johnson

i SLAND h OME
well, wouldn’t you be afraid if you were her? with memories slipping from your skull like the warm sand of your island home falling through the cracks in your brain, and you clutching all you have left by your ribs while you sleep, waking each morning to find someone tugging your treasures away? this is for Granny A, who’s starting to forget the important things like my father’s name, a name I hope I’ll always remember, and the name of the island she calls home, the place the rest of us call Trinidad, only because we haven’t lived as long as she has, lived there so long she doesn’t need to call the island by name can reach out to it the same way you can call the mosquitoes, by dripping sweat like syrup, not salty but sweet, from sugar cane thicker than your thigh. it’s no wonder she doesn’t want to change her clothes when the folks who offer new outfits
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look more like strangers each day and the only thing more familiar than the warm, thick blanket of heat is her own smell, rising from her body so that each time she inhales, there’s a chance she could take back something that was within her, like echoes of her babies’ cries, which once leapt from the walls of this house as she wondered if they’d come from within her own throat. some parts of the island will never leave her, like the stray dogs who follow on her heels. in a way, one can never get lost beneath skies made of honey and cantaloupe stains and in a way, even the unpaved roads will always lead home. you don’t remember, but you’ve been there before. all of us have been there, with strangers hovering over us because we don’t know how to care for ourselves, but Granny A is holding on in a way none of the rest of us know how. so this is for my grandmother, who’s thinning but not waning, who might’ve written this herself except she’s not like me, it’s not words she wants to remember, so while I stand so far from her island trying to decide where on my body I will fit tattoos of all the words I never want to forget,
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Maisha Johnson

she’s kissing and tasting each memory as it floats on the wind that drifts away, and someday she won’t remember what home is but she’ll know how it feels and she’ll know on her lips, on her skin, and in her bones that this is the air she wants to breathe.

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Sharon Coleman

z ONE
In a crevice where brown mountains lined with orange minerals drop to the desert floor, just under and therefore out of sight of sharpshooters who spit bullets at dawn and dusk into their own shadows as they migrate across sand and dust and sometimes hit the living who find themselves covered by a shooter’s blotted form, here in this crevice, directly below and therefore out of sight, I inhabit a place, half cave, half wooden thatch, that looks onto the arid valley, half exile, half home. I came here following a sidewinder covered in feathers. She looked at me and said
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You’re part jackal, part ibis, part desert cat. Yes, I responded, but I don’t eat the dead won’t clean the desert of carcasses. I eat death. I want an end to the desert as finality and ruin. Slow cat eyes took in fine dirt, grey thorn, plastic bottles of kerosene, rusty scissors under a mesquite, bones that young coyotes left behind, spent bullets and charred hackberry milkweed and empty lighters, falling sandstone and sky. A jackal stomach could burst. So, during the cool hours, I sit and condense the world that’s lived through me onto paper, which burns in noontime sun. Nearby a spring dribbles from a crevice and sinks into the ground. Sometimes creatures come at midnight to lap at the wet stone or they come mid-morning, stay in the shady thatch until mid-afternoon and watch the ash curl, crumble away. They come along the mountain walls,
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Sharon Coleman

brushing them with fur or scales; they’ll do this until the sharpshooters change their ways, then we’ll all find other ways too. The children also come sometimes, the children part blacktail deer, part chuckawalla, part whip snake, part red-eared spider, part grey fox, part white mouse, part crested quail come to drink. Sometimes they— offspring of war or curiosity or troubled migration—come to me, always with the same question: What can they say when asked on which side they belong. As if through a long, curved beak that finds words deep in the sand, I whisper in their ears: Say what they don’t want to hear, then say what they want. Then ask them quietly: “How can you hope to know by simply asking?”

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Scott Lambridis

a BORT
She wasn’t pretty. I don’t even remember first seeing her. She was small. She had, as my friends told me, great big tits, though I really didn’t care. It was spring in the Midwest—I was a sucker for short skirts and cleavage and large wide smiles. I was also a sucker for adventure after a nasty break-up and six months of postcollege nothing. I didn’t like that this made me a “dude,” but then maybe I did. It’s never a good idea to get involved with someone in your office, but the taboo-ness of it was a hint of what I needed from her. She taught me how to fuck when I didn’t want to learn anything else. She was the perfect girl for the wrong time of my life. She was brazen. When she was sober, it was intoxicating; when she was drunk, it was nauseating. After my boss fired her because she wasn’t as good as me at calling off sick, I got to see her in her element at the department store. I wondered if we would have sex in the changing rooms. Or if we would even make it that far, considering the density of all the racks and turnstiles covered with clothing. We might duck below them right here, on lunch break. My friend Billy warned me over pasta and breadsticks at some chain restaurant to stay
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away from girls with fucked up childhoods, but I didn’t see how she had a fucked up childhood. Or maybe he said don’t fall in with stupid people, but Billy was an elitist and we had been struggling to keep our minds on the same track and this was the beginning of our estrangement. He told me I should leave the state. I had nothing keeping me. A year was enough. Move on. Narrator lacks focus. No grounding in time or place. Losing us. Theoretical framework unclear. Questionable erotic value despite potential readership. I don’t know what to tell you. This is all I have and I didn’t say it was a story when I started. Do you really want to know more about her crying? About how she cried every time I saw her for months? It didn’t start during her threats of being pregnant again. It started earlier, after the abortion was over, when I tried to break up with her because she was crying about it, even though she’d agreed to it, even though she’d said it wouldn’t change her. She’d call and call and call and ask why, why, why, and I started avoiding the calls, but then she’d just show up, and she’d be crying, sometimes even in her pajamas, there on our front porch, not really caring that any one of the other five guys I lived with might answer the door and see
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Scott Lambridis

her there, all wet-faced and pouty. She cried every time I saw her, but it did not make me sympathize. Quite the opposite. It made her trashy and pathetic and somehow sexier in that slick, damaged, torn-stockings sort of way. How could she cry even as her pussy got wet? It just made me want to fuck her again, and that lack of empathy made me disgusted with myself, so I became more disgusted with her, because it was her fault that I felt disgusted with myself, and so I became more disgusted with her and wanted to punish her by making her forget herself, by drowning her in orgasm. It had nothing to do with my own satisfaction. I wanted her orgasm to make her cry even more, and even now thinking about it my dick stiffens. She sickened me and I wanted her to explode in pleasure, just like she seemed to want, to forget the difference between tears and joy. Forget me entirely. Be only a moment of ecstatic nothing. I couldn’t help myself. Every time I met with her to get rid of her we would have sex again. Even the last time; I said to her after we both came in each other’s mouths, “You know, I didn’t fuck you, because, uh, I didn’t want to,” and she said, “Well I didn’t want to fuck you either,” but still we had bent over each other in her single bed in her upstairs apartment, I had pulled her legs up and open from inside her
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faded flower-printed nightgown and sucked her and she had held me in her mouth with her hand and we panted there for some amount of minutes trying to do something to each other, but each of us failing miserably. Narrator needs work. Cheap retrospection is no substitute for a proper meta-narrative arc. Characters sentimental but lacking in both sympathy and anti-hero potential. Protagonist vs. antagonist relationship remains unclear. Reminder: This is not a therapy session. We are not counselors. We are not friends. Why do you keep interrupting? I’m the goddamned antagonist. I can’t help it. I cannot write about her without getting agitated and aroused and picturing that slickness on her face, streaming from her eyes, and that slickness on her thighs, spreading between her legs. It’s an autonomic response. I don’t want it. Was I wrong to degrade her like that, to tell her I loved her when she told me she was pregnant again, to lead her on and make sure she had a second abortion, to pretend, knowing I was using these words for my own safety, and for the moral defense of this unborn child of two idiots right out of college? Of course. Was she wrong for lying about the entire thing, using the threat of keeping a second fake pregnancy as a cheap trick to keep me in her life? What if she wasn’t
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Scott Lambridis

lying at all? Can I be sure she was? What if I caved in? Would I have made the lie a truth? I have no idea, why are you even asking? Narrator is becoming defensive and unruly. Of course I am. You’re pressing me for closure. She was not good for me. She was candy. She was great for me. What’s the lesson? I am a terrible person, and I regret nothing. I have no idea why I’m telling you any of this, but thank fucking hell she’s gone now. Narrator should be let go. Dispatch letter of dismissal with the following note: Recommend the narrator keep their journals to themselves. Recommend the narrator take a few pills and tell a friend, a new girlfriend, someone private. Follow up with an open letter to applicant pool: Seeking new narrator for story.

« 77 »

Jennifer Barone

l OVE n OISE
A slow, repetitive squeaking begins to reverberate over my head in the bedroom “finally” I whisper to myself all alone with this sound of my neighbor who I can’t really picture making love but I try nothing I close my eyes still nothing can’t picture him but I know what I feel happy finally that the squeaking has returned it’s been so long since I heard it I was beginning to worry about him and starting to feel really bad that my husband and I have been making such obnoxious love noise in all the rooms of our apartment
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at all hours of the day and night with no regard for our neighbors at all but now that sound of joy has arrived again that soft monotonous sound like a little mouse jumping on bed springs brings me a sense of relief It depends on where I am in life that sound has made me feel so differently Once when I was little I woke in the middle of the night and came upon my parents those sounds coming from the living room the sight of their naked bodies rolling around on the floor but they weren’t fighting they seemed happy and strange whatever was going on I knew I shouldn’t be there and that I should probably back away slowly as if from a vicious animal in the forest and return safely to my bed
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Jennifer Barone

without disturbing them something in me also knew it was some kind of rare and sacred occurrence and must mean that they love each other so much they want to devour each other or perhaps meld inside each other’s skin in an effort to become one when I was older and single for way too long that sound that dreaded sound made me ache made me angry made me feel jealous and lonely those damn, selfish people sweating and writhing in their sexual ecstasy not caring at all that I sad and lonely I was next door just trying to get an innocent night’s sleep but no I was left having to listen to their squeaking perpetual squeaking and here comes the moaning and the pounding and the sighing and finally good, old silence
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before the shower the sound of running water but most of the time I spent time wondering why the world is so completely obsessed with this activity that usually lasts so briefly everything in society seems to be built around attracting it obtaining it sustaining it exuding it bragging about it exaggerating it and yet I wonder why I hear that squeaking sound so rarely that sometimes when I do hear it it gives me pause it’s the only proof around me that it’s actually happening yes, yes, yes people actually do make love it’s not just an advertising scam not just a fantasy and yet no, no, no I barely ever hear it
« 82 »

Jennifer Barone

but today I lay in bed in the middle of the afternoon trying to be quiet enough to hear this proof of love existing again becoming ever so vibrant and real above my head quietly squeaking the repetitious love mantra of my neighbor finally back to life

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