This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
IU OE F L07 S E N +A 20 S L
Issue One Fall 2007
Keyhole Magazine, Issue One Published in Nashville, Tennessee. Copyright © 2007 Keyhole Publications All content: rights retained by contributors. Cover illustration by Sarah Stanley. Fiction Editor Poetry Editor Managing Editor Jonathan Bergey Brandon Schultz Peter Cole
Fiction Ron Savage Jonathan Bergey Stephanie Johnson William Walsh David Cole Poetry Rachel Plummer Janna Layton Brandon Schultz Sestina for Jonah The Plant Thief Bill Theory Class Inventory Jacob’s Ladder Disarm 97 Huffine Street This Juncture in New Jersey 47 49 50 53 55 56 57 58 61 63 Home Among the Pigeons God is Good My Cousin Billy is Dismantled Tennessee Travel Inn, Circa 1979 Magdalene Shaving The Welcome Room 8 15 23 25 26 28 34
Laura McCullough Biographies
From the editors…
Where have all the writers gone? I often find myself asking this question as I carry around whatever piece of classic American literature I happen to be reading at the time—Kerouac, Fitzgerald, Salinger, Yates. In retrospect, it seems as if a new classic hit the bookshelves every year from the turn of the 20th century until roughly the late 1960s. I do read a good deal of current literature, and yes some of it is quite good—Cormac McCarthy, Jonathan Safron Foer, and Dave Eggers to name a few—but does any of it really stand up to a Catcher in the Rye, a Cat's Cradle, an Old Man and the Sea? Time will tell I suppose. But even if we do look back on a book such as McCarthy's The Road and say that yes, it is a classic on par with Kerouac's On the Road, is our current time period even close to producing the great depth of literature that the first half of the 20th Century produced? It doesn't seem so to me. So where have all the writers gone? I suppose they may be in Hollywood writing screenplays. Or perhaps they've all sold out to writing the type of books that sell in quantities of six digits—mystery, romance, or children's fantasy. Hey, we have to make a living, don't we? But I wonder if the true answer is that all the real writers are sitting in some coffee shop, working feverishly on a masterpiece that will never see the light of day because they don't have the time or energy to convince a skeptical publishing industry that people will still buy literature. After all, a day job in corporate America tends to suck any such needed energy out of even the most determined writer. I believe there are still great writers in the world, and it's just a matter of finding them. I suppose that brings us to the purpose of Keyhole. I won't say that Keyhole is chock full of those missing classic authors. Perhaps it is. Or perhaps it is just a collection of nice stories. But it is our goal to be a place where good writers have the chance to showcase the talent that certainly must be out there somewhere. Most of the authors in these pages are not making a living from their creative writing—we have day jobs with varying levels of satisfaction and success. But in a world in which opportunities for true creative writing is becoming more scarce by the minute, hopefully we offer a refuge for those people who still believe in the power of the written word. –JB
Home Among the Pigeons
by Ron Savage
I would leave him, too. He had no idea then; I didn't tell him for awhile, but going to the war seemed better than staying here. You know what, Harry? This was how Jakie liked to start it. This was what he did to pull me in, his hustle. We were hiking through the park across from where we lived on Flatbush. Jakie said, Pigeons mate for life. Did you know that, Harry? They take turns sitting on the eggs. The guy pigeons do the day shift. Also, the mama and daddy both raise their babies together. Intense, huh? My brother was thirteen, five years younger than me, when he started keeping pigeons on the roof of our apartment. He didn't rush it, either. Jakie spent most of the summer at the Brooklyn Central Library reading whatever they had on pigeons. He was that type, a library kid, or what I thought of when I thought of kids who voluntarily read things, all skinny and small and uncomfortable. Jakie even had white adhesive tape holding his glasses together. After the first week my brother could talk you to death on pigeons. He knew about the Spreads, the Checkers, the BlueBars, the Red-Bars, the Reds, the Whites, the Pied-Whites, and the PiedSplashes. He knew them all, that was his M.O. He also liked to tell you the details. Jakie didn't do it to show off. If anything, he was bonecrushingly shy. Jakie just presumed you would be as fascinated as he was in whatever took his interest. Our father bought the pigeons for Jakie from a lady in Queens. This was June of '04, three months after our mother had died. Dad was 8
working as a staff social worker for the Brooklyn VA. He said we were all too depressed and that life was short and we should get something to help us through our sad days, something we truly wanted. Jakie wanted white pigeons under a year old, a dozen of them. I wanted a '74 Chevy Nova with a 406 V8. Jakie got his pigeons. I got a '72 mint green Pinto. Dad got a girlfriend named Heidi Manowitz. You didn't tell me you had boys, Heidi Manowitz said. She was a social worker, too. Heidi looked as old as dad but was thinner and taller and had enormous breasts. Her white-blond hair curled down to thick gold hoop earrings and shoulders with tan freckles. Heidi said to dad, What might their little names be, Arnold? This was our first meeting. Dad had taken us to Pizza Hut. Cluttering the table were three Cheese Lover's pizzas, garlic breadsticks, an untouched order of Hot & Spicy Buffalo Wings, Caesar Salads, two Coke Classics, and dad and Heidi's second pitcher of beer. Heidi also had ordered a pizza with anchovies. Jakie and I kept sneaking peeks at her breasts. They rose like soft white dough above the V of her cotton pullover. If you could get past the anchovies, Heidi Manowitz was better than sex magazines. Dad said, Tell Miss Heidi your names, boys. He had this wild man grin and his face was flushed from too many beers. I didn't see how Dad could be Heidi's type. His arms were big from working out twice a week at the Fulton Gym, but those arms were fastened to another person's body. This person had a belly that drooped over his belt and not much hair. The restaurant felt like a dream that doesn't let you open your eyes all the way. I wanted to wake up and tell my mom that she had died and that dad had taken us to get pizzas and meet a woman with enormous breasts who was going to help us get through our sad days. I needed to quit thinking. Thinking has always been my number one problem. What I needed to do was get away from my father and his girlfriend. I needed to quit staring at Heidi Manowitz's breasts. I pictured myself driving a Humvee in an Iraqi desert and shooting terrorists.
Dad started talking to Heidi before Jakie and I had a chance to tell her our names. Forgive me, babe, he was saying, I should've mentioned my boys. They're sweethearts, believe me. Jakie also said something to Heidi. He said, Did you know that pigeons mate for life? Jakie pushed his black-framed glasses to the bridge of his nose with his forefinger. Then he said, They take turns sitting on the eggs, too. The guy birds do the day shift, and the parents raise their kids together. Isn't that intense? Heidi Manowitz didn't answer him. She just blinked at Jakie and patted her red mouth with a paper napkin. Heidi turned to dad and said, Arnold, smart children can be difficult. Jakie built a flight loft for his pigeons out of chicken wire and pine. He insulated it with old latex gloves and Styrofoam to regulate the temperature. The flight loft was twenty feet long and six and a half feet high and it had big wooden flaps that closed over the chicken wire on cold days. A person could see the effort my brother had put into the job by looking at his hands. His skin was scraped and cut from all the carpentry. He built the loft without anyone's help, though, fitted every piece of wood, nailed every nail. He sprinkled sand on the concrete floor to absorb the moisture. He changed the feed and water each day. He cleaned their poop and used buckets of soap suds to wash away their pee. More than that, Jakie spent time with his pigeons. He'd given names to all twelve and would spend hours inside the loft talking to them. Jakie could tell you who was who, and who was getting it on with who, and who wasn't speaking to who. The pigeons thought they had died and gone to pigeon heaven. When my brother wasn't with his pigeons, he was in the 53rd Street library reading about his current interest, intracerebral hemorrhaging. That was what happened to our mother. Her brain filled with blood and she died. Nobody knew why. Mom's name was Katherine Rebecca Morganthal. Our dad called her Kate. Kate was tall and slim like Heidi but her breasts weren't enormous and her hair was light brown instead of white and blond. She had gone to the Korean grocery on the corner to get a loaf of Wonder bread, a jar of Skippy Creamy peanut butter, and a
squeezable container of Welch's Grape Jelly. That was my brother's favorite lunch. You know what? Jakie said. Just say it, I said. We were sitting inside the flight loft surrounded by white pigeons. One of the pigeons was perched on my brother's wrist. It pecked at the seed in his cupped palm and looked nervous. The other pigeons cooed above us, their tiny nails clicking against the wood and the chicken wire. If you squinted your eyes, the pigeons became a white noisy cloud. Jakie said, You can get intracerebral bleeding from a hit on the head or from bad blood vessels or high blood pressure. But sometimes you can't find any reason. Maybe the doctor was right, Harry. Mom was on her way home from the Koreans and passed out on the sidewalk. The doctor said to our dad, She was dead before she hit the ground, Arnold. Dad said, I don't get it. How does a person just drop dead? The doctor said, Sometimes horrible things happen and we don't know why. Less than a week after Heidi moved in with us, she said to dad, These are filthy birds, these pigeons. You can get the SARS, Arnold. Do you want us all to get the SARS and die? The boys and me? Is that any way to begin a new life? We were eating supper. The dining room table was covered with a white cloth and set with mom's good dishes, her silverware and her real napkins. Heidi had cooked baked chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, baby peas, and Butterflake Dinner Rolls. It was only Tuesday but it felt like Sunday afternoon. Avian Flu, Jakie said. He was examining a fork of baby peas. He said, You're thinking of Avian Flu, not SARS. Birds get it from other birds. People don't get it, the virus doesn't know how to mutate. A virus can learn, Heidi said. Her voice and eyes were angry for a second then calmed. She said, Matt and Katie talked about it on the Today show. Sooner or later viruses learn how to attach themselves. Once that happens, it's all over. Believe me, they can eat a person alive. Eat them until there is nothing left. A pandemic, that's what they call it.
Jakie and I looked at each other. I was thinking how I didn't want to start a new life. I liked our old one. I liked the way you could count on everything. You knew what was what. I missed seeing mom and dad holding hands on the sofa and watching Seinfeld reruns. I also didn't care how enormous Heidi Manowitz's breasts were; she was a crazy person. I shut my eyes and imagined myself in the Iraqi desert. My buddies and I were driving our Humvee through Baghdad and Fallujah and Kirkuk. We were killing terrorists and laughing and racking up points like something out of Xbox. This time Jakie was with us. He kept firing his rifle and adjusting his glasses. I didn't want to think about Heidi and her viruses. When my brother and I were finally in our beds with the lights out, I told him what I had been thinking at supper. The dark room hid his face and his voice sounded far off and lost. Jakie said, Don't you get it? We're the viruses, Harry. We're the ones who are going to eat her alive. Two nights later dad came into our bedroom to talk. Before he did this he peered down the hallway then closed the door. Jakie and I were playing poker for M&Ms on Jakie's bed. Dad pushed the wooden swivel chair from my desk and parked it next to us. He sat spread-legged with his big arms propped on his knees. Dad took a breath and said, Boys, I'm going to get married. Probably. Why are you whispering? Jakie said. What do you mean 'probably'? I said. The small veins on the top of dad's head were puffy and throbbing. His yellow knit Polo had sweat marks under his arms. Dad said, Your mom used to say, 'If anything should happen to me, find yourself somebody. You're no good alone,' that's what she'd say. I don't think she meant right away, Jakie said. We have a problem, boys, dad said and stared at the floor. Heidi isn't what you'd call the maternal type. You may have noticed. We need some alone time to get used to things. Us, being married, those sort of things. Like a honeymoon? Jakie said. Longer than that, dad said.
This seemed a good time to announce my plan to join the Marines and go kill terrorists. This was also when Jakie ran to the roof and locked himself in the flight loft with the pigeons. Dad waited two hours and forty minutes before starting off to find Jakie. I could hear Heidi and my father arguing about it in their bedroom across the hall. Don't go running after him, Heidi was saying. That's exactly what children want. They want that attention, especially boys. They're nothing but hungry little creatures, Arnold. They'd just love to see you upset and running after them. But I am upset, Dad said. He's my son, what am I supposed to do? You want me to stay here and do nothing? I should ignore him? What sort of parent ignores their child? You're playing right into his hand, Heidi said. Don't you get it? You're a big ole push-over, you know that? A Mr. Softie. A Mr. Soft Touch. Dad began shouting at her. He said, Hand, what the hell hand? This isn't poker. You think this is poker? Maybe I should raise the stakes, call his bluff. I'll throw in a few more chips. You're a crazy woman. Dad stopped. He said, Wait. Wait, I take that back. What have I done here? You're just a stranger in somebody else's family. I'm the crazy person. The tar and gravel roof was silver from the moonlight. Restaurants and the traffic below us were sending up meaty cooking smells and exhaust fumes. I was standing inside the shadows by the entranceway, watching dad knock on one of the closed pine flaps. He was fifteen, maybe twenty yards away. Jakie's flight loft was sealed shut. I think there will be times like this in the war. My buddies and I will have to wait and observe our environment, judge the angles. Jakie, come home, Dad said. He still had on his yellow knit golf shirt and khaki pants, but he wore flip-flops instead of his loafers. Dad said, These days are the worst. But it gets better, or that's what people tell me. Personally, I hope it's soon. Come home, Jakie. Let's you and me and Harry figure this out. What do you say? Dad knocked on the pine flap, 13
again. He sighed and pressed his forehead and the flat of his thick hands against the wood. He kept quiet for awhile. Finally dad said, Nothing stays the same, Jakie. It's the good news and the bad news. His hands and forehead slipped down the wood. His big arms, his doughy body, his bald head, all the pieces folded onto the tar and gravel roof. My father was sobbing. I had never seen or heard my father cry. Light began flickering above me like a fluorescent tube about to go bad. Jakie had opened the door to the loft. Pigeons were flying across the moon. Bright, luminous, only twelve but they covered the night and their shadows covered the roof. Jakie stood there in his summer T-shirt and jockeys. White Feathers clung to his dark hair, white feathers on his thin arms and legs. He wasn't watching his pigeons. He had never seen our father cry, either. Dad reached up to Jakie. My brother knelt down and held him and said something but I don't know what. I imagined it had to do with the escaping pigeons. How the guys do the day shift; how the parents raise their babies together.
God is Good
by Jonathan Bergey
“This is maddening. Maddening!” Mr. Caraway was talking to no one and everyone. “Could they possibly make this any more difficult?” He paced back and forth as much as was possible in the crowded area, but it was quickly getting to the point where people were standing shoulder to shoulder. Looking through the crowd, he suddenly stood still and shouted “Gary! Hey Gary!” He waved his hand high over his head. “Gary Shultz!” Mr. Shultz turned around slowly, looking for the source of his name. Seeing Mr. Caraway, he wiggled his way through the crowd until he reached his friend. “Hey Chris. You know someone on the flight, too?” Mr. Caraway grabbed Mr. Shultz’s hand and drew him close for a brief embrace. “Yeah. My son. He was flying home from college.” “I’m sorry,” Mr. Shultz spoke in a weary voice. “My daughter was on the flight, too.” “I’m sure they’re both okay.” Mr. Shultz’s eyes wandered around the room. “I don’t know. I…I’m worried. They’ve been saying on the radio that most of the passengers are unaccounted for.” “Well…” Mr. Caraway smiled reassuringly towards his friend, “hopefully that’s about to change.” “I hope so.”
“It’s just frustrating how they’re handling this. They’ve had us packed into this room for hours. At least it feels like hours. Surely they know the names of some survivors by now. Why can’t they just tell us some of the names? And they won’t let anyone near the ward in the hospital where they’ve taken them. My wife is over there now, but she’s found out nothing.” “It would be comforting if they told us a couple of names with the promise of more names to come.” “Exactly. But instead—silence. What can be more panicking than silence?” Mr. Shultz looked around the room again, pausing on as many different faces as he could, absorbing their eyes, their gazes, their sunken expressions. Their tears. Their silence. He disagreed with Mr. Caraway. The silence—he found it almost meditative. Certainly not panic-inducing. He wished that Mr. Caraway hadn’t spotted him in the crowd. In times like this, he thought, he would rather be left to his own thoughts. “Hmm. I forget, what is your daughter’s name?” “Kara. And your son is Matt? Is that it?” “Matthew. Yes. Have they ever met?” “I’m not sure. Perhaps. She went with me to the church picnic last summer. Was Matthew there?” “Yes, he was.” “Yes, I remember meeting him there, now that I think about it. Although I don’t recall if we introduced him to Kara or not.” “No, I don’t recall either.” There was a pause in the conversation as Mr. Caraway noticed his shoelace was untied and bent down to retie it. Mr. Shultz used the pause to search for memories of his daughter. The first moment that came to mind was the conversation he had with her after she learned that he and her mother were filing for divorce. He had expected a flurry of emotions from her. Anger. Disgrace. Disapproval. Tears, perhaps. But she showed none of these things. He had thought that he and his wife had put on a good front, but it had been obvious for many years that their marriage had grown cold. They did not fight or argue often. There was no namecalling, no blow-ups. There was simply no passion left between them. No interest, little love. Like having a roommate. Kara, apparently, had sensed this long ago. There was no need to explain any reasons why. She was 19 16
at the time, living on her own, attending college in Chicago. She was young, but Mr. Shultz had always believed she had an old soul. Wise to the world and to people. She was their only child, and they had waited for her to leave the house to file the divorce. They had talked of delaying it a few years for Kara’s sake—they both feared that she might be fragile in this stage of her life. But once she was gone from the house, the emptiness in its walls was too much for either of them to bear. The only love had been for Kara. Without her, there was no reason to put up the front any longer. “I want to make sure you know,” he had told his daughter, “that this has nothing to do with you. If anything, you’re the only reason we stayed together as long as we did.” “I know that, Daddy.” She rarely called him Daddy anymore, only in times of affection, but he cherished it when she did. The word gave him a feeling of welcome and importance. “What are you going to do now?” she asked him. “I’m getting an apartment. Apart from that, I don’t know. I don’t think my life will be so different. I’ll still go to work. I’ll still smoke my pipe at night and read in my pajamas, sitting on the couch.” “Will you be lonely?” “I’ve been lonely since you left for school. But I do have friends, you know.” “Do you think you’ll ever get married again?” The question took him by surprise. He hadn’t actually thought about that. He was expecting to console her, to reassure her that everything was going to be okay. Instead, she was the one counseling him. “I don’t know. Maybe. But you know, marriage never was what I thought it would be. Maybe your mother and I were just a bad match, but I had always thought marriage was supposed to be about sharing your life with someone. Sharing the good times, the bad times…becoming one. I guess that is just a romantic view. The only good thing that actually came from our marriage was you. And I’m too old to have more children now, so I suppose I don’t have much desire for another try at it.” She smiled at him warmly. “Not that I would discourage you from ever getting married,” he continued. “I hope you do. Just be sure it’s for the right reasons. Don’t just marry the first guy who comes along that you share chemistry with. 17
Chemistry is a great deceiver. It wears out. Marry someone who’s a true friend, someone…” “Daddy,” she interrupted him. “I know.” She smiled again and placed her hand on his arm. That moment, that conversation was the first time he realized that she was more than just his girl. She no longer belonged to him. She is far too grown up for her age, he thought. She is her own person now. He was proud. That was six years ago now, but the moment had lingered on in his mind ever since. “It’s nice to have someone to talk to,” Mr. Caraway said, waking Mr. Shultz out of his daydream. “I was starting to get so restless I was talking aloud to myself.” Mr. Shultz turned back to Mr. Caraway and smiled. “Yeah.” “I’m glad you’re here, Gary. Well, I mean I’m glad to have your company. I’m certainly not glad your daughter was on that flight too.” Mr. Shultz placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder. Maybe he’s right, he thought. Maybe having a friend here right now is better. If the news was going to be bad, at least he’d have someone’s shoulder to cry on. His thoughts turned again to his daughter and the last conversation he’d had with her. She had a custom, ever since she first went away to college, of flying home to celebrate his birthday. He tried to tell her that she didn’t need to do it this year—she had recently lost her job and he knew her money was tight, as was his. But she insisted. Dammit Kara, why do you have to be so stubborn? he said to himself. “I haven’t seen you in church the last couple of weeks,” Mr. Caraway interrupted. “Been away?” “No. I’ve just been getting caught up in some other things. Actually, I meant to go last Sunday, but I forgot to set the alarm. I overslept.” “Well, we’re having a potluck after church this week, so I hope you come. Your daughter, too.” “Thanks. I’ll try to come, but I doubt I’ll stay for the meal. It’s my birthday and Kara always takes me out to eat, just the two of us. That’s why she’s flying home, actually.” “Oh, happy birthday.” “Thanks.” More and more friends and family of the crash victims were filing into the already crowded room. A sudden lurch in the crowd, caused by an elderly man tripping, resulted in Mr. Caraway and Mr. Shultz being 18
shoved forward. “This is ridiculous,” Mr. Caraway muttered, as he regained his balance. Mr. Shultz looked around at the faces near him again, then turned back to Mr. Caraway. “It’s interesting. If you look around at all the faces in the room, there are two different reactions to all this. You have a number of people who are in tears, sobbing quietly, emotionally distraught, trying not to completely lose it, but not very successfully. And then you have everyone else who just looks sunken. Defeated. Their eyes are blank and wide open, caught in a surreal moment. Their minds filled with memories of their loved ones or else completely blank. It’s just like a funeral, actually.” “Yes, like a bad funeral.” “A bad funeral?” “Some funerals are joyous. If you’re confident in the way the deceased lived, then you should be confident in where they are going in death.” “Even so, it’s hard to be joyous when you’ve lost someone you love, regardless of what you believe.” “Of course, but like my mom used to tell me, the more we learn to be selfless, the more we learn to be joyous. I think that applies to what you’re talking about.” “So you think missing someone is selfish?” Mr. Shultz spoke in a neutral tone, not revealing whether his question was out of curiosity or irritation. “Well… in a way, it is.” Mr. Caraway paused, choosing his words carefully. “At least it is if the other person is off in a better place and all you can think about is wanting that person back with you, where she was worse off.” “I would argue that if you don’t miss someone you love, that would be coldhearted more than selfish.” Mr. Shultz wanted to add that if he was 100% certain that a loved one who’d died had gone on to a better place, be it heaven or somewhere else, then perhaps he would be joyous. But how can anyone really know? But he knew exactly what Mr. Caraway’s response would be: “It sounds like your faith needs some strengthening.” Or even worse, “What exactly do you believe then, Gary?” This was certainly not a time for a theological argument. “I’m not saying you shouldn’t miss them at all, just that your joy 19
should overcome your sorrow.” “If you find out that your son was killed today, will you be joyous?” Mr. Shultz immediately regretted asking the question. Mr. Caraway’s face soured. “I have faith that that hasn’t happened,” he said with a slight smile. “I’m sorry,” Mr. Shultz said. “All I’m saying is that even if I lost someone I loved and knew they were in a better place, I would still long to be able to talk with them now and then and I don’t see how that is selfish.” “Of course. Of course.” Mr. Caraway opened his mouth to add something else, but he was interrupted by the sound of shuffling from the crowd—something was happening. “May I have your attention please,” a voice said over the loudspeaker. Any movement and talking that was coming from the crowd immediately ceased and a wave of nervous anticipation overcame everyone—both Mr. Caraway and Mr. Shultz felt it. The crowd focused their gaze on the speaker, a middle-aged woman whose face was every bit as weary as all the others in the room. “At this time we are prepared to release the names of the known survivors of US Airways Flight 933. This is not necessarily a final list, as crews are still searching the wreckage for more survivors, but we do have positive identifications on all the known survivors. They are all in stable condition in Baptist Hospital, and many are now being released. There are a total of 38 known survivors. I would ask that you please remain calm as I read this list so that others may hear the names. This is an alphabetical list. I will begin now.” The woman paused, obviously struggling with her task at hand. “Louis Adams…LaKeisha Allen…Malik Baker…” Someone in the crowd, presumably with a last name beginning with A, let out a moan of grief. Mr. Caraway, who just a moment ago had shown no signs of nervousness or fear, was now sweating profusely, his face gone pale. Hearing the names of the first few survivors of the crash brought a sudden sense of reality of the moment. These were real people. Men and women, perhaps children, who had boarded the same flight as his son, had sat next to him, engaged in small talk with him. “…Joseph Barton…” Perhaps they had shared a joke with him about airplane peanuts or 20
floatation devices. He imagined these people terrified as the captain announced there was a problem with the airplane. A serious problem. They might not make it. “…Theresa Barton …” He pictured them holding hands, too scared to scream as the airplane went lurching down, dropping more than landing. “…Danisha Benton…” Most of the passengers are unaccounted for. That is what Mr. Shultz had said. Maybe he was right. Maybe he shouldn’t be so confident. Maybe I should be prepared for the worst. Thirty-eight survivors? Only 38? There were 200 people on that flight. “…Kimberly Bolston…” That’s only about a one in five chance. And with the reading of every name not belonging to his son, the odds diminished. “…Jason Bull…” If Mr. Shultz, who was nervously rubbing his left palm with his right thumb, had looked into his friend’s eyes at that moment he would have seen a completely different man than the impatient, irritated person of just a few minutes ago. His eyes were black with fear. “…Jennifer Camp…” The hard C of Camp snapped Mr. Caraway out of his thoughts. His eyebrows raised, eyes widened, and palms grew wet with sweat. “…Matthew Caraway…” “Praise God!” Mr. Caraway erupted. “Praise God for He is good!” He raised his arms high and fell on his knees, breathing heavily and on the verge of tears. Mr. Shultz smiled and placed his hand warmly on his friend’s shoulder. The woman on the loudspeaker paused and said, “Again I ask that you remain calm for the sake of those around you.” She then continued reading the list. “Nancy Carter…Peter Cole…” Hours passed, or so it seemed to Mr. Shultz, before the names beginning with S were finally reached. Mr. Caraway, who stayed on his knees muttering praises to God until the F’s were reached before standing up and embracing his friend, had now left to try to find more information on the health of his son and where he might find him. “…Maria Sacco…” the voice continued. Finally, Mr. Shultz thought, 21
the S’s. “…Steven Salo…Jessica Salo…” Mr. Shultz closed his eyes. “Please, God. Please.” “…Erica Seagate…” Mr. Shultz opened his eyes. “Jeremy Shin…” He clenched his fists. “…Rachel Simon…” He stood perfectly still. “…Sal Smith…” He stood in his spot, unmoving, until the end of the list, listening carefully to every name spoken, pronouncing the name in his mind, hypnotically moving his tongue along to the sound, absorbing the sounds from the crowds—the moans of sorrow, the cries of relief. The voice of Mr. Caraway shouting “God is good!” played over and over again in his mind. “Praise God! Praise God for he is good!” The image of Kara as he last saw her—dropping him off at the Midway Airport as he flew home over Christmas—flashed in his mind. More images of her throughout her life, mostly random, uneventful moments, played in his mind like a movie with the sound of “Praise God for he is good!” providing the soundtrack. The woman on the loudspeaker continued, “Thank you all for your patience. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of you who have lost loved ones.” The crowd began to file out of the room in a slow, sullen trance. Mr. Shultz followed along, muttering quietly, but distinctly, “Praise God for he is good. Praise God for he is good.”
My Cousin Billy Is Dismantled
by Stephanie Johnson
My cousin Billy returned disguised in darkness. Home in one piece but no longer at home anywhere, he moved into the house next to his mother and across the alley from my grandmother. Privately, my grandmother cried for her sister’s child. Fingers working rosary beads, she petitioned the Virgin Mother to reconstruct an unfortunate son. She told us kids to stay on our side of the alley, to respect Billy’s need for solitude. She said it wasn’t our fault that we made him nervous, avoiding words like civilians, napalm, flash backs. In the backyard, my grandmother whispered with her sister while they stared at window shades hung like shrouds. They murmured about barren pantry shelves and fruitless time spent in barrooms bewitching women who had painted faces and hollow hearts, about how Billy left in his truck each night to roam deserted rural roads. “I want to see my son,” my aunt repeated, a mantra for reclamation. Still, nothing stirred in Billy’s house before dusk. After my grandmother finally embraced that her entreaties for grace had fallen on deaf divine ears, Billy’s former classmate Rhoda arrived like an uninvited Godsend, her rusty hair held back by a bandanna and her overalls covered in grease. The only female mechanic in town, she
marched across the yard to where my grandmother and great-aunt sat in lawn chairs. “Hear you want him to come out,” she said. Without waiting for their surrender, she advanced across the alley, leaned in the open window of Billy’s truck, and popped the hood. Pulling tools from her pockets, she went to work. The wrench wailed, metal-on-metal shrieking, as she beat it on the truck’s frame. Dipstick and spark plugs, filters and fittings, battery and belts emerged, landed with a thud in the dirt as Rhoda hurled them toward Billy’s back door. She didn’t flinch when the women protested, when Billy pushed the shade aside to pound the windowpane, when his curses escalated and his sandpaper voice slid through the cracked door, demanded that she get away from his goddamn truck. “Make me,” she challenged. She didn’t look at him. She continued pitching engine pieces, a mechanic’s proof that the whole became worthless without some of its parts. The door swung open and Billy, drunk on sunlight, stumbled forward, arms flailing like a drowning man struggling to stay adrift. He spun her away from his truck and flung the wrench across the alley. The hood slammed like a gunshot. Hands on her shoulders, he shook her until she broke his hold, brought her fists up to defend herself. Here, in the no man’s land between prayerful principle and pragmatism, I learned the nature of love and war. While my grandmother and her sister stood witness, Rhoda assessed the damage. Amid the dismantled mess, she understood the impasse and negotiated Billy’s silent surrender. Here, he began handing her fallen pieces, the broken things he desperately needed her to put back together.
Tennessee Travel Inn, Circa 1979
by Stephanie Johnson
Shortly after checking in, my father checked out. Slammed doors, car exhaust, and squealing tires marked his melodramatic exit, marked us as not worth keeping. Abandoned, I bawled into the bedspread. My mother watched out the window, smoking and singing along with country heartbreak songs on the AM transistor radio. “Stop it,” she said when she’d had enough. “He always comes back.” Hours later, we silently ate his peace offering: a kid’s meal, greasy hamburgers and fast-food fries. I needed ten more years of haphazardly packed baggage to know he was too afraid of loneliness to ever go for good.
By Stephanie Johnson
The years I spent in Catholic school didn’t fool his mother. I was only sixteen, but even then she saw my sweetness as fleeting, chastised my naked desire for knowledge and passion. A prophet of promiscuity, she worried I would tempt him with things that would make him fall hard. His mother had dreams for him: a girl in pressed cotton dresses and barrettes, one who possessed flawless familiarity with scripture and hummed hymns. I’d never done more than kiss a boy, but I was already soiled as more Magdalene than Blessed Virgin. I wore faded jeans, used hairspray and lipstick, didn’t know the difference between the canonical gospels, the evangelists after whom she’d named his younger brothers. The first time I came over, she pulled me aside in the kitchen—his siblings swarming her apron strings—and hissed, “Two feet on the floor or you’ll never set foot in my house again.” That night, we watched movies in his living room, lights brighter than the floodlighting at the football game we’d skipped because his mother didn’t want him to be tempted by alcohol. Two feet on the floor and three feet between us on the couch, I pretended to be enthralled with an innocuous comedy he said he’d seen a dozen times, a G-rated number his mother believed was appropriate. Neither of us mentioned the film we both wanted to see, the one he asked me to rent, the one abandoned in my bag.
Perhaps fearing the worst because we didn’t talk much when she was in earshot, his mother sent in his baby sister. Thumb in mouth, she climbed on my lap, stuck sticky fingers in my hair. Not knowing what she was saying, she lisped his mother’s Old Testament doctrine, “This is what happens if you don’t get married first.” She pointed at her chest, giggled, squirmed on my lap. He stared at the screen, never said a word. I chewed my cheek until my mouth tasted tinny. I wanted to initiate my own directive, address his mother’s flawed logic, but decorum dictated it distasteful to use children as messengers. When his mother took his siblings upstairs to put them to sleep, I wanted to kiss him, but he told me he wanted to see me again, begged me to obey his mother’s commandments. When the film ended, we shook hands in the doorway. His mother watched from the stairs. Truthfully, my mother never liked him either, feared boys like him more than the cocksure ones with beer-stained breath who’d promise the world for a taste of a girl’s sweetness. Catch-and-release boys came and went, carelessly creating scars, but rarely killing a girl slowly with years of frigid disappointment and shame. Years later, I ran into him in our hometown, where I was just visiting and he had never left. I hadn’t thought of him in years, but there he was in the market. I smiled, raised my hand, called his name. He winced, turned away in denial, abandoned his cart in the aisle. My throat burned when it seemed he mistook friendliness for man-hungry advances. I didn’t need to see him get in his car to know he was gone. But I wasn’t actually surprised when, two days later, he called. He asked me to meet him for coffee at a diner two towns over, and I knew then that someone would always have to be fallen in order for him to believe he had been saved.
by William Walsh
Wax Williams didn't get any hair between his legs until the summer before ninth grade started. His first instinct was to shave it off. He knew that his father shaved his face every day and that his mother shaved her legs and under her arms. He figured they both also shaved between their legs. He didn't know for sure if they did, but he knew that he shouldn't ask. The first time he shaved himself, he used his father's menthol shaving cream, which stung him in a cold way. His testicles tightened up and ached. He shaved quickly, eyes tearing, hands shaking. He nicked himself twice. One week later, when his hair had come back in and an itchy rash had appeared, he shaved again, this time using the beauty soap his mother kept in a little plastic box in the bathroom vanity. It was easier going the second time, but he stopped shaving and wiped the soap off without rinsing when his penis became hard as he pinched the head lightly to reach a spot he was trying to shave underneath. He knew what was happening. Erection. He knew that it was also called a hard on. He had them when he woke up in the morning. He'd read that this was normal in the second to last chapter of his eighth grade health book, even though his class never officially got that far in the book and had been instructed not to read past the chapters that had been assigned. Originally Wax's class was supposed to cover the whole book,
but after the textbooks had been reviewed by the School Board, there was a vote against including sex education in the eighth grade curriculum. Ms. Boynkin, Wax's health teacher, would pass the books out at the beginning of each class and collect them before the bell rang to end class. These books could not be taken home. She would circle the classroom as the students read, making sure that nobody looked beyond the day's lesson. The trick was to read forward during one of the open book tests. You could flip through the pages quickly then, undetected, and get an eyeful of the nude charcoal sketches in the final chapters. But you couldn't look for too long. You had to flip back to where you were supposed to be. Wax shaved about once a week for the rest of the summer. One night he said to his father, "I shave now." His father looked closely at Wax's chin and rubbed the back of his hand on his cheek. "Sandpaper," he said, before turning back to his newspaper. Wax had expected his father to understand the larger implication of his shaving. But he had seemed oblivious. It was possible that his father was avoiding the subject. Wax knew that beginning in high school you had to start showering after gym. It was school policy. A letter of notification came from the High School in the middle of the summer. Mrs. Williams read part of the letter aloud at the supper table in an angry voice. "As proper hygiene is imperative to the overall health of every student at Ampersand High School, students will be required to shower following Physical Education. Each boy/girl is to bring his/her own soap and a clean, dry towel. They will be afforded ample time to properly shower before the start of their next class. Thank you for your cooperation with this policy." She handed the letter to Mr. Williams who quickly re-read the letter to himself then looked at the list of things each student had to have for Physical Education. "I don't like it," Mrs. Williams said. "I think these boys just misbehave in situations like this. It's unnecessary."
Mrs. Williams said Wax should cover himself in front of the other boys and make sure that he didn't look at the other boys and that if there was any horseplay in the shower he was to step out of the shower and dress for class. If this got him into trouble, she would go straight down to the school and stand up for him. A week before classes started, Wax decided that he would begin shaving everyday so he wouldn't be stubbly. He was thinking about having to shower with all the other boys after gym class. He figured that if he had stubble, someone would say something about it. He didn’t want any stubble. He was scheduled to take Physical Education Fourth Period every Wednesday and Friday. His mother packed his gym bag for him with a new bar of soap in a plastic sandwich bag and a new white towel that she had bought when they went shopping for school clothes. She also packed his gym uniform, white shorts and a reversible shirt in the Ampersand colors, green and gold. The idea was that you could turn the shirt inside out when teams were divided up, though in basketball, which is all they would ever played in Gym, Coach Dunkin always made the teams Shirts vs. Skins. Wax was also supposed to have an athletic supporter (it was on the boys' list), but Mrs. Williams had crossed it off in the store without buying one. When he asked her about it later on at home, she told that she would not buy an athletic supporter for him. "You don't need one," she said. "They're disgusting and filthy, and I'll be the one who has to wash it." Wax didn’t ask her about it again because he knew she was still upset about the showering policy. She kept asking Wax if he was nervous about having to shower with the other boys. "Are you afraid?" she asked. He told her, honestly, that he wasn't. He had seen a movie once about kids away at summer camp who all had to shower together at the same time. The movie made it look like fun, the way the stalls were low enough so you could see the head of the boy next-door. He also thought of how the army doctors on M*A*S*H showered together but in separate stalls. But then he found out that the showers at Ampersand High School weren't divided into stalls. There was just a wide-open corner of the locker room with eight columns that each had shower nozzles spraying in 30
four different directions. Coach Dunkin turned them all on at once with a large knob that looked like a ship's wheel. You had to huddle around the columns with three other guys and duck your head under the nozzle. The water went down two large rusty drains embedded in the tiled floor. Some of the boys from third period Gym were still in the showers when Wax entered the locker room. They were all Tenth Graders. Wax could see them through the steam, laughing, pushing each other around. He was surprised that none of them covered themselves like his mother had told him to. Coach Dunkin was tall and overweight with a sweaty red face and a whistle on a shoestring around his neck. He was sitting on a small table by the showers handing out combination locks from an old laundry basket to Wax's fourth period class. There must have been a hundred locks in the basket, all with a three-number combination taped across the dial. "What's your name?" Wax was startled by how loud Coach Dunkin's voice was. "Wax Williams." "Your real name, not your nickname." "That's my real name," Wax said. Coach Dunkin looked at his clipboard, then looked at Wax. "Wax Williams," he said, putting a heavy old lock in Wax's hand. "Make sure this combination works before you lock up your clothes." Wax moved toward a row of lockers. One of the boys on the bench told him to pick an empty locker. Wax sat down next to the boy, but faced the row of lockers on the other side of the bench. The boy started undressing. He took off his shirt, pants, and underwear, and then stood naked for a moment looking through his gym bag. His back was turned to Wax, but there were other boys who, Wax thought, could probably see the boy from the front. The idea of taking his clothes off in front of everybody made Wax uncomfortable and anxious. He began thinking of ways to undress that would not leave him exposed to the other boys. He knew he wouldn't have to get out of his underwear because he didn't have a jock strap to change into, but suddenly the idea of just being seen in his underwear made him feel self-conscious and scared. And then there was the shower after gym. 31
Wax resolved that he wouldn't get caught fumbling through his gym bag with no clothes on. He would have his gym uniform ready to put on before he got out of his clothes, and he wouldn't get out of his shirt and pants at the same time. He would take off his shirt first, put on his gym shirt, then take off his pants and put on his gym shorts. The boy standing next to him was still naked. He had his gym uniform, towel, soap and jock strap out of his bag, but he wasn't changing. It seemed to Wax that the boy was purposely showing himself to the two boys on the other side of the bench. They both looked away, but they kept taking quick looks at the naked boy every few seconds. The naked boy turned to face Wax as he stepped into his jock strap. Wax saw that the boy had hair. Wax stood quickly and took a step back and looked into the big shower area. He felt a panic in his throat and worried that he was going to trip on his own feet as he moved toward the shower. He could feel his face was getting hot. Coach Dunkin blew his whistle, told the boys in the shower to get the lead out. Then he turned the big knob to shut the water down in all the showers. Wax heard groans from the shower. One of the boys yelled out, "But Coach, my balls are still soapy." Coach Dunkin laughed and said, "Girls love soapy balls." The Tenth Graders emerged from the shower then. They were all a lot taller than Wax. He looked at the floor and noticed also that their feet were much bigger than his. He didn't look up; still, he could see that all the boys coming out of the shower had hair. They weren't shaved. Not one of them. "Coach," Wax said. He tried to say it in the same tone as the boy from the shower who said his balls were soapy, but his voice sounded much smaller and didn't seem to carry in the echoey locker room. Coach Dunkin didn't take his eyes from his clipboard. Wax worried that the Coach might not have heard him, or worse, that he had decided to ignore him. "Coach," he said again, louder this time. Coach Dunkin finally looked up. "I already gave you a lock, didn't I?" "I don't have an athletic supporter," Wax said. "Why not?" "My mother said she wouldn't buy one for me." 32
"Don't bullshit me, son." A few of the Tenth Graders started to gather behind and beside Wax, toweling off as they listened to Wax tell Coach Dunkin that his mother had refused to buy a jock strap for him because she didn't want to have to wash it. The Tenth Graders laughed when Wax said that. "You don't have to wash them," one boy said. Another boy said. "I didn't wash mine once my whole freshman year." Coach Dunkin said, "You're excused from Gym for today. But you make sure you have five dollars next class. I'll have a cup and a strap for you. You tell your mother the money's for Glee Club." "Thank you," Wax said. Then Coach Dunkin said, "But no singing in the showers." All the tenth graders laughed, and Wax did too, but he didn't get what was funny.
The Welcome Room
by David Cole
Even on the way to the Church of God on Madison Drive I find myself with one hand on the wheel and the other tipping a half empty bottle of brandy onto my tongue. These AA meetings are supposed to help me, but I guess half the issue is I don't let it. Or maybe that's all the issue. Maybe after two years the effect starts wearing off. I get used to the circle we sit in. I get used to Linda Harrison and her soft slow voice, the voice she chooses to use to make everyone feel like they're not in danger, to feel like they're not being judged. I've heard the Serenity Prayer so many times it makes me sick. On the fifteen-minute drive at 5:48 (according to the car clock) in the evening I start drifting my eyes off the road and the cars ahead of me, and I stare off instead at the trees moving in the whispering wind, an invisible force manipulating and urging a living thing, a visible object, with its reaching, thirsty roots, to move. Lately, I've become a real believer in invisible forces, an echo of the teachings of an old pastor from my teenage years lingering around in my head, sparking little fires of faith. From inside the car, I move my eyes from the swaying trees back onto the road, the constant double yellow line, slowly easing up on the car ahead of me, slowly easing back away from it. I feel as though I'm not
really moving, only the things outside the windows are moving, as if the world is passing under me and I'm simply staying in one spot. And on that note, I take another sip of brandy. AA meetings at the Church of God take place in a back room, a room big enough to fit twenty-five desperate-to-recover (or maybe not so desperate) alcoholics, while in the main room, a preacher goes on about the story of David and Goliath. Linda Harrison's soft slow voice reminds me of how much I despise the color yellow. Somehow, Linda's pathetic attempt to keep us all at ease gives me the exact same feeling that looking at the color yellow gives me. It's just that: a pathetic attempt to keep me at ease. Instead of being at ease, I just get uninterested and move on to other things. So I listen closely to the distant sound of the preacher and his bit about David, the little boy who defeated Goliath. Like the way Batman without a superpower can triumph over anything that comes his way. It's something that has tempted me for a while now: becoming a superhero. I see how unrealistic it really is and how it will never happen, but that's alright with me. It's just something I like to think about. "Sean, would you like to tell us how you've made progress over this last week?" Linda Harrison's yellow voice interrupts my thinking. "Um...no." My mind is occupied with better things than what progress I've made (or in this case, haven't made) over this last week. My mind is still on the preacher. My mind is still on my hopes and dreams of doing something good, triumphing over evil. I take my eyes off the wall where the sound of the preacher's voice is coming from, and I look around the room I'm in. Apparently, I made everyone in the room laugh. Their smiles still stuck to their faces like slugs, slimy and disgusting. Linda takes a deep breath, and smiles. "Are you still drinking and driving?" "No." Then the usual: "That deserves applause, everybody, let's congratulate Sean on a job well done."
The sound of the preacher is drowned out by clapping and little comments like, "Good job, Sean." and "Keep it up." I cross my fingers in the hopes that Linda will move on to someone else. "So, Sean, what are your goals now?" "Um...." I could say anything, and they wouldn't know the difference. I could say, "I have many goals: clear my apartment of all the alcohol...." Wait, that's a good idea. I'll say that. "Um, I'm gonna get rid of all the alcohol in my apartment." I find myself lying in these AA meetings all the time. Linda perks up and her eyes widen. "Now that's a goal we should all have." Then the clapping. Clapping. Clapping. Clapping. Linda moves on to the guy next to me...the guy I like to think of as "Farmer John," because he wears overalls all the time. I'd never call him that though. His real name IS John. But of course, he's not a farmer. Of course. Maybe he is. My boss is a nice guy. He's always nicely dressed. He always smells like really expensive cologne. I sometimes think about accidentally rubbing up against him so I can get some of his cologne on me. Not that I don't have enough money to buy some for myself. I just don't know what cologne it is. I bought some I thought smelled similar, but I just didn't like it as much. Today, I'm working with Peter Kent, a 50-year-old stylish man with slicked-back hair. I'm also working with Artie Dugger and Tom Jones. Both of them are pretty friendly and funny, but they don't talk much. My boss walks up and says, "Before lunch, we have 4 families we have to work in. You know the routine. Keep the place clean, open the doors for everyone who walks up, and greet them. Keep your chin up, and your chest out. Good luck." At the Madison Memorial Home, what we do is, we take calls from families who've lost someone and want to reserve a room for the body. Mostly, the reservations are for night. But sometimes we're crammed with reservations and have to push it to as early as 8:00 in the morning. Today is one of those days. 36
In about half an hour, a hundred or so crying faces will walk through these doors. Little children. Old women and men. Middle aged. Teenaged. The welcome room is full of pictures. Happy, pretty pictures. Colorful fields of flowers. A reminder of the peace of life after death. Comfortable paintings. The same pictures and paintings I saw for the first time just a few years ago. The clock hits 8:00 and Peter Kent unlocks the doors. Within a couple minutes, the first crying face walks up to the door. Peter and I are the ones by the door for the first couple hours. We'll take care of two families in that time. There are four rooms in the Madison Memorial Home. Four separate bodies in open/closed caskets, in four separate rooms. If you walk into the welcome room from the main doors, you walk about thirty-five feet, then you hit a wall. If you turn left, there are two rooms. Each room has a body in it. If you turn right, there are two rooms, each room with a body in it. Peter opens the door for the crying woman, and following her is a man and two kids. The kids are maybe twelve to fourteen. A thought comes to my mind, and it makes me uncomfortable. What if these kids are the sisters of the first body of the day? This woman, the mother of the body. This man, the father. I start thinking of my family. I start thinking of the first time I walked through these doors. Twenty-three years old. I think about the first time I saw my father, my mother, and my brother in their caskets. I think about seeing these greeters, strong yet gentle. Caring, yet distant. I think about how much I admired them. The way they were better than us, all of us crying and depressed and looking down at the floor, dragging our feet. I remember that, and I think about how I wanted to be one of them one day. I remember my first time looking at the pictures and paintings on the wall. Not at all a pathetic attempt to keep me at ease. It's the real deal. Maybe an angel painted them. Maybe the pictures are of heaven. I think about walking into the room where my family rested in their caskets. I was one of the last to sign my name in the guestbook. I looked over the names. So many names. Most of them were gone by the time I got there. I had been out of town, distancing myself from everything. 37
Trying to find myself. Trying to forget them. Trying to rediscover life. When all along, they were my life. I remember looking around at the people on couches hugging each other. Looking at the bulletins where there were pictures of my family, some of them with me in them too. I remember wanting to rip myself out of the picture so I could burn it later. Then walking up to each casket individually, thinking of each. First I saw my brother, Benjamin. I thought about how we'd play games in the house together as kids. Baseball, mostly. We'd play with a little plastic bat, and usually a bottle cap. The TV was first base. The front windows were second base. The couch was third base. And the kitchen was home plate. Then it was my father, Daniel. I thought about all the fights we had. How many times I told him I hated him. I don’t remember ever telling him I loved him. Then my mother, Nancy. We'd talk all the time. I missed those talks. But the last couple years, we hadn't talked, unless we were arguing about God. I had lost faith at the time. She just wanted to help me find God again. But I couldn't take it. I remember driving home that night, passing all the same buildings I'd always pass, but now they seemed different. Empty. I thought about how guilty I felt, leaving my family. I thought about how I should've been kidnapped with them. And had my throat cut as well. I saw a liquor store. I pulled over. I went in and walked around, looking for something to put me out of my misery. That was the first time. A voice interrupts my thinking. Peter Kent. "You alright, Sean?" I look at him and recover myself. Peter shuts the door behind some more people walking in and says, "We have people to greet." Now, we greet until 2:00 and then we go home for lunch and break. Some don't go home, but I don't live far from the Madison Memorial Home, so I do.
I pull in to my apartment. I live in apartment 20. Not too shabby. Not too pretty. Inside, the light is still on. I think about how much the bill is gonna be now. I walk into the kitchen and open a cabinet. Vodka. I take it out and start chugging. I think of Linda Harrison and what she'd think of me lying about clearing my apartment of alcohol. On my fridge are a few pictures of my family. "If only I had been there," I say to the picture, "I could've saved you." I take a drink. I sit down and stare at the wall. I don't have a TV in my apartment. I like to listen to the sound of people and their TV's from other rooms. An invisible force. Sound. Like a talking spirit. Telling me stories. Laughing. You name it. Manipulating my eardrum. Interpreted by my brain. I think about God. I think about life and how beautiful and scary it is. I think about my job. How I have to be the tough guy. I have to be the one who's smiling when everyone else is crying. I roll out of my chair and onto my air mattress. I set the bottle down and shut my eyes. I think about how badly I want to do something with my life. Then I'm asleep. A young girl with brown hair and pigtails, a black and white dress and shiny shoes, maybe fifteen years old, walks up to me and asks, "Where am I?" I look down at her and think I've seen her before. I feel like I've known her all my life. I feel like I've got to help her find her way back. "Um, I'm not too sure where we are..." I tell her. I keep looking at her, trying to figure out how I know her. The girl looks around and looks scared. I look around also and can't recognize anything around me. Everything is overgrown and ugly. Scary. Then everything starts fading away. I look at the girl and say, "Ok, so, what's your name, so I know what to call you?" "Nancy." My mother’s name. She looks up at me and says, "I'm going to die. You can't let me." I wake up. I look around, and I'm still in my apartment, but everything looks different. I knocked the vodka over in my sleep, but I 39
don't care. I see I have just a few minutes until I have to be back at work. I get up and run out the door. On the way back, the buildings and the trees and the signs, they all look different. The feel of the invisible air entering through my mouth, it's just different. I get to the main doors of the Madison Memorial Home, and the front doors are locked as usual. I take my keys and unlock it. Inside, Artie and Tom are already there. They've been waiting on me. "Your hair's a mess," Tom says. "Yea, you look like you got trampled. By like. I don't know," Artie says. "Many horses," Tom says. I don't really know what to say, so I sit down on a couch in the welcome room and put my head in my hands. My boss walks in and looks around at us. He looks at his watch, and then starts looking around at us again. "Five minutes, boys. Sean, fix yourself. We just have a couple families tonight, so I'll talk to you guys when everyone's gone. Been a good day so far, so keep it up." Five minutes pass, and this time Tom and Artie have the doors for the first two hours. Peter and I stay back and walk around handing out tissues to anyone who needs it. I can't shake the feeling that something is going on. I can't think of anything but that girl in my dreams. The crying faces start pouring in, and they all walk around, some of them aimlessly. Then more crying faces walk in. More and more and more. Crying. Crying. Crying. A cop walks in, looking stony. He walks up to one of the caskets and looks in. A woman looks at the face in the open casket and falls to her knees. I walk quickly up to her to help her to her feet, and I hand her a tissue. And then I see her. The girl from my dreams. Pigtails, brown hair. Same black and white dress. Same shiny shoes. She's not crying. She seems calm. Suddenly, my vision blurs and I see white flashing lights, then nothing. I see the girl. It looks like she's sleeping, but by the blood on her head, I realize she's been knocked unconscious. A man walks up to her and puts a knife to her neck, pressing the blade in and pulling slowly from one side to the other. A voice says, "They're coming for her. Get her out of here." 40
My vision returns, and I'm on my hands and knees. At first, I think I've gone crazy. After years of guilt from my family, I've finally lost it. Then I start thinking maybe this is the real deal. Maybe this is God finally using me. I look where the girl was standing, and she's gone. Fear builds up inside of me, and I get up and look around the room at the crying faces. I wonder if this is the alcohol getting to me. I wonder if maybe I should be locked up, have myself taken care of for a while. But I keep looking for her anyway. I find her looking at the paintings in the welcome room, and I just know this is what I’m supposed to do. I run up and grab her and carry her out the door. She's screaming and screaming and punching me. But this is for her own good. I know it is. I know it is. A voice says, "Take her home. Now." I open the back door of my car and put her in and say, "Please stop screaming. I'm protecting you. Some people are going to try to kill you." She opens the door, but I take off. She doesn't jump out, she just screams for help. She shuts the door and cries. I can feel myself smiling. I know this is the right thing to do. I'm finally making up for not saving my family. This is what I'm supposed to be doing with my life. This is me playing superhero. Good triumphing over evil. David and Goliath. The girl screams all the way to my apartment. I shout so she can hear me, "Don't you worry, Nancy, I'm taking care of you! I'm not gonna let them find you." The girl screams, "My name's not Nancy!" Blue lights appear in my rear-view mirror. I speed off and dodge the cars ahead of me. Once again, it feels like the world is moving beneath me and I'm staying in one spot. Only the things outside the windows are moving. Nothing is what it seems. You don't see it, but the air is there. You don't see it, but it has an effect on the things you see. The invisible air is keeping me alive. God is there, invisible, but he's telling me what to do. I’m doing his work. My mother would be so proud of me. I pull into my apartment complex, and park the car. Nancy gets out of the car and runs, but I run up and catch her. "Listen, we have to go hide in my apartment. I'm not going to hurt you! I'm protecting you."
The cop car pulls in while I'm dragging Nancy up the stairs to my apartment. We get in and I lock the door behind me. I cross my fingers and hope he didn't see which apartment I walked into. I can hear him knocking on the doors, then the doors being opened and then talking. Then more knocking. I realize I have to open the door and tell the cop I don't know anything about a kidnapping. And in order to open the door, I'm gonna have to keep Nancy quiet. I grab some tape from a drawer and fight away her arms and tape her mouth shut. "I guess someone must've called the cops from the memorial home and gave a description of my car. I don't know. I'm so confused," I say to myself as I walk back to the door and put my ear to it. Suddenly, a voice says, "You have to kill the cop. He is the one." It takes me by surprise. I hesitate a little, then I tell Nancy, "Listen, I'm going to have to kill this cop, ok? He's the one trying to kill you." Then I remember the cop at the memorial home. "Nancy, don't be afraid of me. I'm not going to hurt you, I'm just protecting you." Someone knocks loudly on my door. I open a drawer and take out the biggest knife I can find. I look through the hole on the door, and see that it's definitely the same cop. I hesitate. I say, "I know what you came here for." The cop takes a second and then says, "Son, I don't know what you think, but I saw you kidnap that little girl, and if you hurt her, so help me God...." I say, "God's not on your side, you sick fuck. I know what you're going to do to her. I saw it in a vision." "Son, listen up. You’ve lost your mind. All that will happen if you turn yourself in right now is maybe a few months or years in a mental institution. That's all. They'll take good care of you." I whisper to myself, "I'm not crazy...I'm not crazy...." The voice says, "Do it now." I open the door and stab the officer in the heart, and he shoots me in the chest. In the hospital, they tell me I'm not going to make it. They tell me the cop bled to death. What I did is all over the news. 42
Linda Harrison and the whole AA group show up. I see them outside the window talking to a nurse. On the wall in my room is a painting of a field of flowers. I can’t stop staring at it. Linda is the only one who walks in. She looks at me and says, "You were so close." I look away. "Close to what?" "Helping Nancy." I look back at Linda, "No, I'm crazy, apparently." Linda pulls out a folded piece of paper. She unfolds it and starts crying. She turns the paper around. It's a printed picture of Nancy with a slit in her throat and her hands and feet tied up. I scream at Linda, "No! It doesn't make sense! You're lying! This is all bullshit! God told me to kill the cop! The cop was the one who was going to kill Nancy, and I killed him!" Linda says, "There was another one waiting in the car. He took the girl." Linda looks away from me and wipes the tears rolling down her face. I grab the paper from her hands and tear it up. There's a knock at the door and a nurse walks in. She says, "Are you alright, Mr. Nicholas?" I look at the nurse, and then where Linda was standing. She's gone. A voice interrupts my thoughts of confusion and frustration and says, "Now. Kill the nurse."
Sestina for Jonah
I sat at Joppa’s docks and waited for the boat to Tarshish, full of self-doubt. The sun, and the sun’s reflection on the water Seemed to have bleached everything, stonewashed like faded canvas, the sails Of ships, the rocks, the ropes, and even faces Were salt-scrubbed bland, turbulent With heat and wickedness. I was reminded then of that other city’s wickedness, Starting now to doubt This course. How easily I am swayed, how turbulent My thoughts and whims, how like the water Here below me, unending flux – a man of many faces. The Tarshish boat drew in, drawing in its sails. I paid my fare, the men spread wide the sails That would carry me beyond my madness and my wickedness. Their faces, Sun-darkened and carefree, had me envying them their lack of doubt In life and heathen faith. A storm turned the waters Suddenly turbulent. Turbulent Seas, as any man who sails Will tell you, quicken fear and superstition. As the burnt-black water Grabbed at us like some foaming, rabid animal, wild in its wickedness, I and those around me began to doubt Our innocence in this. Those faces, Some of them seemed almost calm, perhaps confident in our survival; some faces Mirrored my own hysteria, their features turbulent And troubled. We cast lots. I do not doubt It was a difficult decision, how best to lay blame when there may be none. The sails Were tied fast, bound to the mast as the men were bound to my wickedness. My skin dripped sweat like water.
We cast lots which, of course, I lost. The water Seemed to long for me, and as I watched their frightened faces I decided to admit my wickedness, And demanded they throw me overboard into the turbulent Ocean. The bravest tried to dissuade me, but then the sails Broke loose, and all hell with them. Then they could not doubt My wickedness, or doubt Themselves in what was to be done. Their faces pale and waxy as the sails They threw me to the thirsty water, storm-stirred and turbulent.
The Plant Thief
At night on Winton Estate Certain leaves are smoothed through The cracked, dirt-stained fingers of The plant thief. He identifies promising Young specimens and marks them In Latin Heracleum. He knows The Latin names. This side of midnight his car Fills swiftly with the scent of treasure As he makes his slow escape down Gravel driveways. The hills gather close around him, Soutra and the Lammermuirs, Huge as hogweed on the land.
I'll tell you all a story about Bill And Norah, how they met and courted back When life was like that. Norah liked to dance And Bill could tango like a matador. She'd straighten up that splash of red bow tie And overlook the oily patches where His hair pomade had bled onto his neck And shirt. He always wore a shirt, a tie, A suit made by a tailor for how much? A whole week's wages gone like that? But she Was worth it. Once they skived an afternoon Off work and spent it at the pictures. Once Bill waited for her in the usual place, The usual box of chocolates in his hand, But she was late. He came to realize That coldness had a smell all of its own. He ate a chocolate then to mask the taste. She never let him live that down. She tells The story still, between the bingo and The ballroom club. He held the opened box Like this, she says, one hand held out, like this.
Theory Class Inventory
What is entropy doing, as bony foot slides out of flip-flop and ink turns red-orange like a fruit juice? Blue jeans, blue jeans, blue jeans, plastic rainbow pens, blank whiteboard. Door squeaks with tardiness, just in time for the sound and the fury. Same book cover over and over. The hum of the electronics fills stark off-white walls. A map--why? Endless spirals of notebooks beneath the sprinkler heads in the ceiling, the florescent boxes in the ceiling. A cord, hanging, from the rolled-up screen. Catatonic clock. Only 40 allowed. Water bottles and styrofoam cups of coffee, lidded. One red thermos. A string of fat pink beads. Camisoles revealing in the almost-goosebump air.
Your grandfather crossed his skinny legs, ankle to the knees as a young person, and told me that in his twenties he rushed home from work everyday, which was an ironworks and welding shop, populated in my imagination with men under fountains of orange zippers, all working on the dark side of the moon. He said he would return everyday to his wife, put his thermos, rolled up jump suit, sooty grey tools perfunctorily in the barn where they would climb the ladder to the loft. We, he said, would make love every night under the stars, and the cows mooing, and the wind making the walls growl, adding that he kissed her all over. The children and grandchildren in the room winced and pretended to not hear him when he said that is how they were made.
Words mouthed the womb voice Lightning wine legs, saturated syllables D.I.S.A.R.M.—disarm: you can use it in a sentence, children ((See)) “His religion is so disarming” Pay Attention, And say it with me “His religion is so disarming”
The door cr A dog b H is b reath fr ee z e He’s leav ing And the wo rld is The way it was for him s eaks
They are angels in the yellow sun Grandmother’s dresses On the copper clothes lines She hangs her scarves there The nineteen twenties in spider silk Oh how sad they look Can’t forget the tomato plants in the garden With their bright red and green sheen God’s Christmas decorations And the leaves like helicopters Falling out of gas and out of control From the ominous and silent giants Or her hair, black ravens taking off Leaving their opalescent eggs The flashing white of teenage eyes She smiles for the decades and decades That move ahead in seasonal cycle Pulse by slow pulse
This Juncture in New Jersey
In the middle of New Jersey, the Turnpike, the Parkway, and route 287 collide not far from Woodbridge Center Mall. On the side of the road there's a blue bottle, overlooked by road crews, angled against a sign post, missed by snow plows. There's a message in that bottle, tossed there after a concert at the Meadowlands, everyone driving home drunk. Inside is the answer to the riddle you’d never be able to answer without cheating. It's trash grail, and only a rash and elegant recycling Percival hunting down truth in refuse will find it. Everyone in the universe passes through this juncture in NJ on their hero's journey to a concert or the Liberty Science Center, to see Ground Zero or visit the new Newark, but nobody notices. They're distracted by the spire in Manhattan echoing Liberty's torch and who can blame them? Bravado and hope keep us sane, but civilizations can be judged on what they do with their trash, their dead, their young, the confluence of the three in NJ always ending in a song by Bruce, a surprise visit to the Stone Pony on a cloudy day, only a short drive from the center of the universe.
Ron Savage has been published or is soon to be published in: Temple University's literary magazine, Modern Short Stories, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Tomorrow Magazine, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction;, Film Comment Magazine, TallGrass Writers Anthology, Crimewave 8, The Bitter Oleander, Mystery Anthology Magazine, Nocturne Magazine, Oyez Review, Lichen Review, Taj Mahal Review, Bombay Gin, Philadelphia Stories, Roanoke Review, Arabesques Review, Mount Zion Review, Ellipsis, Opium Magazine, Aeon Speculative Fiction, Gold Dust Magazine, Crimewave 9, Outercast Magazine, G.W. Review, North Atlantic Review, Summerset Review, Southern Humanities Review, Ecotone, Natural Bridge, Jabberwock Review, Summerset Review, Southern Humanities Review, Ecotone, Natural Bridge, Jabberwock Review, Shenandoah Review, Evergreen Review, Chilling Tales, Aoife’s Kiss, Glimmer Train. Ron has a BA and MA in psychology and a doctorate in counseling, all from the College of William and Mary. He’s been a newspaper editor and broadcaster, and he worked twenty-seven years under the title Senior Psychologist at Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Jonathan Bergey spends his days as a slave to Corporate America in the healthcare industry, which isn't really as bad as it sounds. He is generally happy. His work has previously appeared in some other journals that aren't worth mentioning as well as various company newsletters. He believes that Dostoevsky is God, Kerouac is Jesus, and Salinger is the Virgin Mary (and, in case you are wondering, Ayn Rand is Satan).
Stephanie Johnson lives in Madison, Wisconsin, with her husband and their newborn son. She's sold shoes in Chicago, poured coffee in Boston, and taught writing in numerous places. She frequents used bookstores, likes to see bands in bars, and has a penchant for bad TV. Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, Quay, Lily, Verbsap, Fickle Muses, Boston Literary Magazine, GlassFire Magazine and Idlewheel. Her essays have regularly appeared in The Rambler in her column "No Do-Overs."
In addition to a short story forthcoming in New York Tyrant, William Walsh's fiction has appeared in Juked, Lit, Press, Rosebud, Crescent Review, Quarterly West, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and other journals. Portions of question-based derived texts series sourced from the many (many) books of Calvin Trillin have appeared in (or are forthcoming in) Caketrain, Opium, Segue, Bleeding Quill, Blotter, 5_Trope, Fringe, Slurve, Turnpike Gates, and Elimae. Also, his first novel, Without Wax, is forthcoming from Casperian Books, and a story called “The Snowman on the Moon” will be published in the fall by uptown Books. William Walsh has a lovely wife and three kids and a fourth due in April.
David Cole prefers to have nothing said about him.
Rachel Plummer is a 23-year-old pet shop owner from Edinburgh. Her spare time is spent reading and writing poetry, with the emphasis very firmly on the former. She is influenced by the more traditional poetical styles and feels these have an important place in modern poetry.
Janna Layton is a receptionist in Northern California, and her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in publications such as Blue Unicorn, Press 1, Umbrella, and Soundzine. She publishes interviews with poets in new poetry journal Mimesis and is currently working on a chapbook and a novel-in-poems.
For several years Brandon Schultz has pseudonymously published poetry and prose. He currently works as a network administrator for a small company thirty minutes from Nashville (since he drives like an old lady) and lives in a quiet suburb with his seven-year-old son. Some of his major literary influences are from the works of Annie Dillard, Wendell Berry, WS Merwin, Ernest Hemmingway, Chaim Potok, and Billy Collins, among others.
Laura McCullough is raising five kids on the Jersey shore just outside Atlantic City, formerly known as The World's Playground. Her first novel, Finging Ong’s Hat, explores Southern Jersey as a character and connects
Laura's interests in aesthetics, cognitive science, art, and empathy with what she's observed traveling these roads. She has a second collection of poems, What Men Want, due out in early 08 by XOXOX Press. Her first, The Dancing Bear, debuted in 06. In 07, Mudlark published her chapbook of prose poems, Elephant Anger, and she won her second NJ State Arts Council Fellowship, this time in poetry, this year, as well; the first was in prose. She has an MFA in fiction from Goddard College. She went to Bread Loaf in 07 as part of the Social Staff. Her work has appeared recently or is forthcoming in Hiram Poetry Review, Gargoyle, The Hiss Quarterly, Pedestal, Nimrod, Boulevard, Tattoo Highway, Gulf Coast, Hotel Amerika, Poetry East, The Portland Review, and others.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.