zach vandeZande – two stories
They labelled her a witch, mostly because the world loves to monster a woman. She could do things, though. Turn a dead leaf into a click beetle. Tarnish silver with a touch. Speak through the mouths of young children. She never paid for a cup of coffee or a drink. She didn’t smile, not even when people asked her to, when they asked her sweetly, that sweetness its own tyranny, her outside of it. Monstrous.
They wanted her to be lonely and she wasn’t. She was quite content in her little house, standing as it did on long chicken legs, an eyesore according to the home owner’s association. And the legs were scaly and knobbed in an unpretty way. She didn’t care. She could see over the rows of shingled roofs to the hills beyond from her kitchen window. She felt it important to see the land like that. She tore up the formal complaints, didn’t pay the fines. She drank coffee while her children, the shadows, played on the hills.
They knew there was no evicting her, so they tried driving her out. Nothing worked. Not loud music (easily ignored), not messages scorched into the grass (uninspired and nonthreatening), not poison in her coffee (a light sweetness to balance out the bitter), not closing her favorite place to get donuts (she was getting on in years and needed to cut back), not even loving her (nice in a distant kind of way). She stayed there in that house, an outsider, the center of all attention. In this way she lived a good life.
Of course he was desperately sad, and of course he had sex with another boy over it, and of course it scarcely worked except in the moment, that sloppy-mouthed moment, and then later he was sad again. We think of sadness as a symptom of something. We think of sadness as having a referent. Silly things to think.
The point is this: the boys kept seeing each other. One of them was afraid of intimacy, and the other was desperate to attach himself to something. I couldn’t tell you which was which because they kept switching places when no one was looking. Somewhere along the way, though, it worked—it finally and really worked—and the sadness fell out of the first boy. How nice.
The thing about sadness is it likes to go from person to person, so when it fell out of one boy and couldn’t find a way into the other it didn’t really know what to do.
If you haven’t guessed, this isn’t a story about boys. It’s a story about a feeling with nowhere to nest. Sadness got up from its spot on the floor and went to breakfast. It was sat in a booth next to an old man, cowboy-hatted and coveralled. Occasionally the man would clear his throat and pipe up with a saying. I wouldn’t do it again for a million bucks. He was talking to no one. He wanted to tell a story but a story wasn’t coming. Sadness was glad for that.
Zach VandeZande is an Assistant Professor at Central Washington University. He is the author of the novel Apathy and Paying Rent (Loose Teeth, 2008) and the forthcoming Lesser American Boys (Ferry Street Books, 2017). His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ninth Letter, Gettysburg Review, Yemassee, Georgia Review, Cutbank, Sundog Literature, The Adroit Journal, and elsewhere. He likes you just fine
rena priest – two poems
Riding Along in a Limbo
Life is purgatory. Your body is a fossil calcifying,
calcifying under an opulent silver sky.
The smell here is of flowers and fuzzy afternoons.
The drink here makes your fingers feel empty and used
—time on a tourist’s telescope, gone dark—
needing renewed, your membership to the fine nude
textures of silk, and ash, and flesh, and stone.
Sartre says, “Hell is other people.”
Gershwin claims heaven is “dancing cheek to cheek.”
Washington is a state in purgatory.
Your body is ashes, silken, swishing, swirling, swirling,
slang—no time for two words. Shortened language
will have to do, and your skirt keeps slipping and
you have to hold it up. Not because it doesn’t fit,
but because you’re always thinking of sex.
“Drinking champagne on beer money!”
The sublime brick of freedom floats away.
It’s not for you, so you dance the tango, instead
just like they do in Argentina. Kiddo, it’s almost heaven;
close enough to pretend, and at the end of the night,
you shall open your door, and light shall pour forth,
and an indoor voice shall un-thunderously proclaim,
“Please watch your step when entering, or exiting the train.
You travel in place. A seguro, le llevan preso.
“Why not fly?” Asks the tether of the bird, gazing
into the opulent, silver sky.
The Piña Coladas of Purgatory
I’m not sure, but there are telltale clues that this
may be purgatory. The only outlier is the IRS.
Which is more characteristic of hell.
They had a bedbug scare at the Covington agency.
The exterminator had to heat the building to 122°
I think it was just a cover for hell seeping through.
Three things hell has for sure: Heat, bedbugs, the IRS.
Do you hear the roaring? It’s not flames. It’s the sound
of a million souls in transit. It smells like the subway
because it’s the subway, where residual traces of
bubonic plague pop up in routine swabs. (The touch,
the feel of cotton, the fabric of our lives.)
I’ve heard they keep vials of smallpox on ice
in a secret facility in Greenland. Makes you want a
poxcicle eh? Tastes just like piña colada.
Tastes just like silent films about the apocalypse.
It is obvious this is purgatory, even though
we’re not supposed to know. Even though,
I’m on fire, salty AF, purging my feelings
about this post-truth patriarchy—“Balls!”
said the queen, “If I had two then I’d be king!”
The wayward mailman of a fugue state has
misplaced all my bills. All I ever get is fan mail
and love poems from the pens of amorous men.
I’ve put the hex on the IRS. They said I’ll never
pay taxes in this town again. Sweetheart is a savage.
In the end, I shall survive by acting on stock tips
that arrive in the form of bird song but are really
the voices of the merry dead. They want me
to thrive, because, nemo propheta in patria.
If an IRS agent speaks in a poem,
is it personification?
He says “Suffering is purification.”
Someone has given me a fan. He asks,
“Are you cooling off, or making the flames hotter?”
Rena Priest writes poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. She holds an MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College, and has taught various topics in writing and the humanities at Western Washington University, Northwest Indian College, and Fairhaven College. Her poetry chapbook, Patriarchy Blues, was recently released by MoonPath Press
Every Other Week
I need a job. Despite my lack of skills, my lack of charming personality, my lack of team oriented problem solving, my lack of motivation, my lack of can-do spirit. So maybe not so much in spite of, but directly because of those things. I need an occupation so I have somewhere to be since no one’s really wanted me around. I’m not repulsive, thank God, that I know of, so no one requests that I leave. To that end, however, no one requests I arrive, either.
So, my availability for a job is wide open. I’d settle for part time, but it’s not what I’m looking for. I’ve just grown so tired of looking that I’m starting to fear I couldn’t even handle full time. That just demands so much focus and sometimes I have panic attacks or my attention careens down these tangents. What if I’m clocked in and expected to smile and positively interact with strangers? The only thing I could smile for, involuntarily, would be the nervous fear that if a customer got frustrated enough with the level of service I provided, they could write a letter. Surely, one letter wouldn’t get me fired. But full time increases the probability of it happening, and that continues to escalate the longer I work at the job. The more time I spend at a particular place, the more danger I accrue to being let go because too much of myself was visible and I wasn’t able to suppress the acceleration of my becoming unhinged. That I wasn’t up to corporate policy, declarations of acceptable behavior, expectations. That’s what they pay you for, to adopt their character and to revoke your own. As long as you’re dressed how they request, you are to speak with the words they’ve deemed safe and brand worthy. You don’t have “customers,” you have “guests.” You don’t have “bosses,” you have “team leaders.” You aren’t “you,” you’re “floor staff.”
You sign an agreement going in that if you don’t act according to a code of conduct that is neatly laid out to you in more of a book than a list, they reserve the right to fire you. Only they don’t “terminate” you, they “let you go.” Though your employment will, as a matter of fact, be considered terminated and they will refer to you as such in your absence, there are softer, more gentle ways to phrase things so they distract you from the harsh reality. And that’s rarely an issue, but as there is an acceptable possibility that you may return to work and exact revenge somehow because of your more dire circumstances in life, they try to make your firing feel reasonable or somehow amicable. Like you can’t be mad, you did it to yourself and, frankly, wouldn’t you be better off pursuing something else? Something more in line with your values that you could flourish in better?
Then, they wish you luck in finding it, in starting your life over. And you know you can always come back and spend money there, to seek their services. But they
will no longer be paying you. You will no longer receive a discount. It is the end of your mutual relationship.
“There are businessmen and there are artists.” My mother would so frequently begin, as if this were somehow the only advice she wanted to truly impart upon me. Or perhaps that she wishes would’ve been imparted upon her at my age. Or maybe it was actually the only advice she had.
“There are those who claim to be both, but they’re lying to themselves. And probably you. To me, probably is enough.”
She would take such long drags on her “last” cigarette and would never finish her last drink before bed. In fact, she rarely ever slept in bed. “Businessmen only think about the future, so they make money in the present. Artists prefer some kind of integrity, to reserve the availability for independence, so they’re always broke.”
Depending how many drinks deep she was, it could end here. Or she’d continue “Businessmen are terrible lays. Not in the moment, never present, only money makes them horny. Artists fuck like there’s no tomorrow.”
And therein, she’d inevitably confirm, businessmen were the ones you marry and artists are the ones you cheat with.
April 4, 2017
During class today, one of my students
asked about the Black Panthers–
I said that there are some different iterations of that organization,
but it’s not what it once was.
And he said, Miss–
There will never be another Black Panthers.
There will never be another Dr. King.
There will never be another Malcolm X.
And I said, You’re right. These are different times.
We will have different leaders.
Maybe you will be one of them.
Miss. This generation is messed up.
And just then
I heard a noise. Laughter.
Went to investigate
and forgot to tell him:
I see hope and promise and prosperity in cedar skin and umber eyes.
Tomorrow, I will be sure to say to him:
Let’s not just mourn the bullet that struck Martin’s jaw,
severed his spinal cord on this April day, 49 years ago.
As I am telling/teaching/showing you the works–
Toni Morrison and James Baldwin and Monique Morris–
Run with it.
Carla M. Cherry’s poems have appeared in Anderbo, For Harriet, Obscura, Dissident Voice, Random Sample Review, Eunoia Review, MemoryHouse Magazine, Down In The Dirt, In Between Hangovers, Picaroon Poetry, Firefly Magazine, and a forthcoming issues of Street Light Press. She has published three books of poetry with Wasteland Press, Gnat Feathers and Butterfly Wings (2008), Thirty Dollars and a Bowl of Soup (2017) and Honeysuckle Me (2017).
Why I Never Want to go to Japan
I watched an old man shuffle out of the gas station with the lottery ticket and fold himself into the driver’s seat of his Buick. He had to be 457 years old. I wondered why he was still buying lottery tickets. If he were to hit the jackpot, he’d probably have a heart attack and no one would find his body in time and they’d have another drawing. It scares me that he was that old and still searching for more. I wonder if that man ever loved anyone, I wonder if anyone ever loved him? I wonder if he sits at home with his significant other, surrounded by a lifelong accumulation of knick-knacks and just smiles at all of his treasures? Or does he sleep alone and constantly question what he did to deserve all of this? This, is what scares me the most in life. The regrets. The never-ending self-incrimination. I don’t want to be buying lottery tickets when I’m like, 800. I want to be happy with what I have, not remorseful for what I never got.
I don’t get a lot of texts back. Every guy I’ve ever had sex with doesn’t talk to me anymore. The majority of them have blocked me across all platforms. One of them told me that I was just too much, which in turn, think this means that I just wasn’t enough. The first time I had sex, sucked. The guy didn’t contact me for years. I assumed that this was because I was bad at it, but I think that he was bad at it too. I think that we are all equally as awful and clueless when it comes to good sex. I get anxious when I think about that night. It was so awkward. I was so awkward. I can’t help but think that everything I did was wrong; That he would be texting me right now if I had done it right. I wish I could just black it out, I wish I could just forget it. It was like watching a student driver crash a car in slow motion. I wish I could just forgive myself. Despite all the heartbreak, I keep going on dates. I keep adding people to my long list. I never drive, they always do. We go somewhere public, but private at first, like a park. Then I get in the guy’s car, because I genuinely don’t care if I die. At least I wouldn’t be dying alone. We go and eat something, or they eat and twirl a spoon around in a bowl. Ultimately, we end up doing something sexual by the end of the night. First dates are a test drive. They usually decide that they don’t want me and I think about it for years and then decide that I don’t particularly want myself. Anthony wasn’t any different, but he was the first, so I thought he was. I wanted to live until I was a million with him. I wanted to really fall in love and last forever, like Edward and Bella or like those two mummies that died holding hands I saw on the internet. I wanted to go to space and populate a colony on Mars with him. I wanted everything. And, I wanted him to drive. I hated driving.
I took a break from binge Watching The X-Files and Anthony drove. I couldn’t stop thinking about how much he looked like FBI Agent, Fox Mulder. It was the summer after my freshman year of college. It was my 19th birthday. And, it was our first date, so he told me we could do whatever I wanted to do. We had just finished having frozen yogurt for dinner.
“So, what are we gonna’ do now?”
Anthony rolled his head back over toward the passenger seat, so we could make eye contact when he asked. Neither of us blinked. He grabbed my hand and both of our palms were sweating. This made me feel like he knew what we were going to do. I told him that I didn’t know, even though I had a pretty good idea.
I liked Anthony because he looked like one of my ex’s, who coincidentally also looked like Agent Mulder. Both of them were naturally tan and muscular. They both had thick brown hair that was flawlessly styled, like a show poodle. Anthony grabbed me by skin around my jawbone, after a few seconds of awkward first date silence. He pulled me closer to the driver’s seat. He started to kiss me quick and sloppy, and with teeth. I didn’t even feel like we were human. My whole face got wet. He bit the corner of my bottom lip and pulled me closer to him. It hurt, but I liked it. He kept going. I think he liked that I liked it. If someone were to look in the car, they would have probably assumed thought I had been abducted. No one knew where I was, because Anthony wasn’t out to anyone. He told me that I could never tell anyone. So as far as I knew, I was actually being abducted and die in that Honda. This possibility turned me on even more.
Anthony’s spit tasted like wedding cake flavored yogurt. He glided his tongue around all 32 of my teeth. I felt like a specimen in a jar, but an important specimen in a cute jar. Anthony was younger than me, but I pretended like he was 18, because his profile had said that he was 18. However, his NASCAR orange high school parking pass dangling down from the review mirror told me otherwise. I ignored this. Lies are easy to go along with if you really want to believe. He drove a shitty 2002 Honda Civic that his mom probably bought for him. It was all dinged up on the outside due to his reckless high school driving. The inside was hot and smelled like remanence from late night fast food outings with his ‘bros’ on his junior varsity soccer team. They used to think that by 2002 cars would be flying. Anthony’s car didn’t even have A/C, and it was summer, and the interior was leather. The skin on my legs clung peeled off the seat, as Anthony grabbed the collar of my shirt and drug me past the stereo, over the cup holders, and onto his lap.
We were parked in a Gas Station – Subway parking lot, in some shitty. Ohio suburb, that was far away from our shitty, Ohio suburb. We were the only ones there. Whatever town it was sucked. There was just corn and then a little town center, which only consisted of a few houses, a bar that several men wearing cowboy hats hand walked in and out of since we had been parked, and of course this beautiful frugal six-inch-sandwich themed Sonoco. To top it all off, the gas station was playing Taylor Swift over the pumps. Mine and Anthony’s bodies started sticking together from all of the perspiration, so he rolled down the driver’s window with one of those vintage window cranking apparatuses on the inside of the door. Anthony was so hip. The entire parking lot smelled like Italian beef and heavily GMO-enriched bread.
I felt lightheaded as Anthony and I kept shoving our spit down each other’s throats. I accidently hit the windshield wipers and they started flapping vigorously, like it was the apocalypse, or like we were old ladies and it was sprinkling. I imagined an alien spaceship was looking at us from above. I felt them watching, like they were about to push a button and abduct us at any second. And, I was ready for it. My eyes were closed as Anthony’s lips moved wildly around my face. He licked the outside of my eyelids confidently, as if that was a thing people normally do. He said that he read an article that people in Japan love that, before he went in to do it again. I am unsure of the validity of this article, but I have added this to my ever-expanding list: Reasons to Never Visit Japan. It’s as close to outer space you can get on Earth.
Anthony bit my neck so hard that I could hear the blood vessels burst. He took my hand and led it down his shorts. He was really hard. His dick felt exactly like my ex’s. I pulled his shorts down to the gas pedal. His face lit up like a UFO, late at night, in New Mexico. I could tell that this was his first encounter. I grabbed his thighs and they were meaty. I bet he could’ve dead-lifted me. I wish would’ve asked.
Without even asking, Anthony threw me in the backseat. I felt a cluster of Chipotle tin- foil burrito wrappers crunch underneath my back when I landed. He back after me and landed on top of me smoothly. He started touching my entire body, really studying it, like one of those rovers on the moon. Then he picked me up by the armpits and started tossing me back and forth between the right and left doors, like how Linda Blaire must’ve played with her dolls.
Anthony whispered, “You’re so hot,” in my ear, right before he bit it so hard that you would’ve thought he was a shift-manager at Claires. He got on top of me again and removed the remainder of his clothes, and then my clothes too. I could see massive stars glowing and flaring in the sky behind him, through the backseat window. They were exploding, and being born, and dying, all at the same time. I find it so weird that we ended up in that car together, in the middle of all of this. Out of all of the galaxies, and countries, and planets, and Honda Civics, and Sonoco parking lots – we had crash landed into that one and into each other. I can’t remember if he messaged me, or if I messaged him first. I don’t know if it really mattered who did. Actually, I don’t even think it really mattered who was in the car. There were just two beings with each other, doing human things, being beings, I guess. I told Anthony that he was so hot too. I told him that we were like the Sun. We both laughed.
He asked if I wanted to do it all, as he kissed my torso and stuck his tongue down my bellybutton. Bodies are so weird. I told him that I wanted to do everything. He told me that he hadn’t had sex before. I told him that I hadn’t either. We had both heard that it was the best thing in the world. He got on top of me and led me into him. There was no lube. I can really not stress lube enough. I started thrusting. The inside of his body felt dead, like life on Mars. The friction burned so bad that I couldn’t breathe. I told Anthony that we should try another time and exited his body. He asked me if I wanted him to drive to a different neighborhood and try again. He was so young. I was so young. I told him no.
Anthony drove me back to my mom’s suburban house with a picket fence and the porchlight still on, waiting for me to come home. I hugged him and kissed him goodnight. He kept his arms to his side, his lips closed. He didn’t even say goodbye. He started pulling out of the driveway before I even got out of the car, or he never even pulled into the driveway to begin with. I don’t know. I was so ashamed that I just ran into the house. I texted him the next day. He didn’t reply to me for three years until I posted on social media that I was selling my Lollapalooza tickets. I guess he really took his space. He bought the tickets from me, and I gave him a huge discount, because somewhere deep down, I still want him to like me. I want him to text me back. I want the world to know what we did. I want our worlds to collide again, like the moon and those asteroids. I don’t even know why I want this. I just do. I crave his validation. I want to text him. I want to say I’m sorry. I want to drive to a different neighborhood and try again.
Often, when I tell people about Anthony I feel like that crazy guy, in a low-budged UFO Sighting Documentary, the kind you find on the dark side of Netflix. I felt used then. And I still feel used now. He has wiped his memory completely clean of me. I bet he hasn’t told anyone, and I bet he won’t ever tell anyone. I wonder if he would even recognize me if we both got abducted by aliens in the middle of the night and met again on a spacecraft hovering over Tokyo?
I think about him a lot. I think about everything a lot. I hope Anthony has grown up. I hope he has bought lube since our encounter, and I hope he uses it generously. I hope he had a great time at Lollapolooza. I bet he got so high he thought he was in space. I hope he visits Japan, and for his sake, I hope they do really lick each other’s eyeballs there. The new seasons of The X-Files don’t even make any sense. Nothing makes since anymore. Nothing is as clear as it was before mine and Anthony’s bodies collided in that car. I don’t know why things happen, I don’t understand why we are here, I don’t get Anthony and I never will. I’ve decided to stop trying to decipher the strange sexual tension between Anthony and I, as well as between Scully and Mulder. I have decided to let everything go.
It makes me upset when I think about Anthony, when I think about any of my ex’s. There have been so many people in this world that haven’t texted me back, that have decided that life with me is inhospitable, that it is toxic like the atmosphere on Saturn or Neptune. I obsess over them and why we didn’t work out, why they never texted back. Maybe I could have performed better in that car, or said this, or done that – Maybe I could’ve been a different person with a different body – Maybe if I telepathically contact him he will telepathically contact back – maybe – maybe – maybe. My mind goes over it repetitively, like cable re-runs on weekend afternoons.
I have come to the conclusion that I need to rid myself of all the Anthonys of my life, I need to exterminate them from my memory. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll miss them. I’ll really miss them. I’ll miss thinking about them, and what could’ve been if the Earth had turned differently. I’ll miss writing about them, as if our time together had been more than what it actually was, that it had been what I wanted it to be. I’ll miss talking about the Sonoco, and my ex’s clone dicks, and the all weird things they did, with their weird bodies, to my weird body.
The idea of all of the Anthonys mean the world to me. I write about them like they’re still around. I have all of these alternate realities and false memories floating in my mind. I guess, the real reason I never want to go to Japan is that I’m afraid. It just seems so foreign from everything that I’m used to. I’m afraid that I wouldn’t understand anything and collapse in the street from hunger, then get trampled during the morning rush of one of those horrific-looking crosswalks I always see in movies. I presume that I’m afraid to let go of Anthony for this same reason – I don’t know how to live any other way. There is a theory that the brain will black out an alien encounter if it deems that the person could not process it. I want to believe that I could process it, that I am ready to move on from it all. I’m tired of Anthony taking up so much of my headspace. I am ready to discover who I am without him, without any of them. To grow, and to find a new life, devoid of my sexual history. I want to do what I want to do. I want to try driving again, but I sold my car last year so I could afford to visit a boy in Miami that I met on the internet. I can’t even go to Subway without smelling the salami and thinking about Anthony’s dong in that Honda. I can’t get away from them. I guess, I’m just not sure how to.
I wish I could text Anthony and he’d hold my sweaty, birthday hand to my next move. I wish that he’d tell me what we’re going to do next. I don’t want to be that old man, anxiously watching the 11o’clock news holding the little paper with the numbers on it that don’t mean anything, waiting, only to find out that I didn’t win again; That I never really won anything at all. I want more from my life than all of this suffering from a bad case of Anthony’s Phantom-Dick Syndrome. There has to be more than that. There’s got to be better dick than that. Sometimes, I close my eyes and wonder how big the lottery gets in Japan.
Matt Hawkins lives in the Boystown neighborhood of Chicago. He is in his final undergraduate semester at Columbia College Chicago. He enjoys petting other peoples dogs and eating way too many bagels
Scraps of $25 salads circle the drain. Raw, day-old oil-burns on my hands flare as they breath hot kitchen air. The spinning leaves of arugula slow and pool on top of the mustard-colored dishwater.
“The trap is full.”
I drop down to all fours onto the kitchen floor. It smells like hell. Never mind the smell. Think about it and it’ll make you sick. Reaching into the hole in the concrete, I scoop a handful of shit out of the trap – chunks of grilled salmon and lamb burger, congealed aioli and charred french fry bits. I slam it into the trash above me.
I should get up now. I can’t.
The truth is, I don’t think you’re a very good writer. You honestly probably don’t have a future in the field. It’s just as much of our fault. We should have never hired you.
Do the cooks know? Who I used to be, the life I had once. But how could they, this isn’t happening. All of the pills went down. The cops didn’t come in time. I bled out. I never called that fucking helpline. I’m not here.
I wanted to get that call, not some stranger. We grew up together. You should have called me.
Martina reaches across the table towards me and Drew clutches at her fingers. Her breathing is sharp, tears leaking between between the fingers of her other hand and splashing onto the dining table.
There’s a rolled up dishrag covered in maggots under the sink on the red-brick tiled kitchen floor. I need to grab another bus tub. Dylan from college is out there though. We used to work together forever ago. And I can’t let him see me, soaking chest-down in dirty dishwater and covered in cooking grease. Everyone would find out what happened – that I fell. Again. All the way down.
I’m weak, I know they would say that. How much bullshit can happen to someone before it starts to become unbelievable? I asked for it.
“So Cade, what do you like to do when you’re not here in the kitchen?”
Holy shit. What do you mean, “What do I like to do?” What do I like to do with what? When was the last time I did something I wanted to do.
I open my mouth and nothing comes out so I blow a raspberry. Well a month ago, I wrote in professional sports because that’s what I wanted to do since I was a kid. Now I’m gone and I’m here, on the floor, shoveling rotten fish out of the drain trap.
Bile rises in my belly and I choke on his dotted line – the gag order. I’m lying about it all for a month’s salary. My brain gasps for air inside my skull. I pull myself up on the side of the sink and grab a heavy stack of china plates, balancing them on wet palms as I weave around flaming saucepans and boiling pots of beef broth. Each hour of dinner service sucks a little more oxygen around my mind. But it pays rent and I can’t get off the ground.
I grab an empty tub and walk into the dim front of house. “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” oozes from the bar as Amazon employees at a table nearby Instagram their $25 salads and Chai Tea Moscow Mules. Trading out the empty bin for the full one, I hoist several pounds of half-eaten cage-free chicken legs and empty mason jars to my shoulders and peel around the corner before Dylan from college can recognize me. But I’m part of the background – the Instagrammy experience he signs for on his tab at the end of his meal.
I thrust the full bin onto the counter as a glimmer of comprehension smacks me around the head: Good things don’t happen anymore. I don’t believe in them.
My lungs expand as if I’ve inhaled for the first time in a month. The first coherent thought I’ve had since it all happened, the first “making sense of things” notion. That job could have been good – it wasn’t. I may have needed it. Needed the money, experience, affirmation. But maybe I didn’t deserve it. It wasn’t good and that’s why it happened.
Almost everything was ready for me to die without me trying. I had spent so much time in the office that my people should have started to forget me. It should have lessened the blow. My death was inevitable, some people would say. I was always fucked up. Trans people die by suicide more often, they saw it on Last Week Tonight.
If I had to bury you, I would have had to spent the rest of my life wondering what I did wrong as a father, which isn’t fair.
I love you. It isn’t about you.
I’ve been there too, man. We’ve all been there.
No, you fucking have not fallen like this. With no floor to smack onto.
Tears brim around the corners of Mom’s eyes before she slowly closes them, takes a deep breath, and then issues a new round of heaving sobs. She knows it’s true. She knows why I broke. It’s possible that I fall farther and she knows it.
The kitchen empties out and arms of weed smoke snake through the doorway from the huddle near the compost bins. Two hours later, I finger the final dregs of cold mac and cheese out of the sink and shove the last tray in the machine.
“Hey Cade, what are you drinking tonight?”
“How about the best bourbon you’re allowed to give me?”
“You got it, brother.”
Orein comes back a few moments later and slides a double Knob Creek special across the counter. I drain it. The poison swells behind my eyes and sinks into my guts. I could bathe a thousand times and never get clean.
It was just a job. It wasn’t worth your life.
My gender makes you uncomfortable, I know. A play-by-play description of my future plans with every family meal will keep it as artificial as possible. If I’m making something of myself, you can tell old friends about me when you run into them at Safeway. They haven’t heard about me since 2011. It wasn’t worth my life, but I gave it anyway.
A brown worm of grime swirls the basin as I run my forearms under the tap. I shoulder my bag and walk into the alley where the cooks are long gone, but the scent of stale cigarettes and bowl lingers.
Good things don’t happen anymore. I don’t believe in them. I should put some ice over the chaffed places on my skin. I should write. I should try to heal, get off the ground. Or maybe I should just lie down and take it where I fell. The truth is, I don’t think you’re a very good writer.
So I peel the dead flesh off my damp shriveled fingers in sheets and cut through the empty parking lot.
He never signed the NDA after you sent him your signed copy, right?
He didn’t. So I told the truth. Part of it – the rest I left with the flecks of my skin and maggots on the greasy kitchen floor.\
Cade is a 25-year-old Seattle resident and very bad pool player. After a few months, he left the dish-station and is now nearing completion of his studies in fitness training and nutrition. Everyday, he understands a little more that even though his life so far hasn’t turned out how he hoped – that’s okay. He still washes his own dishes and keeps a diary
“Where’d you get a slinky,” I asked Kelly as she shifted her hands to slink the slinky.
“My therapist gave it to me last week”, she shrugged, “it’s supposed to help me focus or relax or something.”
“You’re actually a four-year-old you know,” I said with a nod to the mound of stuffed animals I reclined against on her floor.
She just smiled at that, intent on shifting the silver rings from one hand to the other. I watched her and that slinking slinky and I saw why her therapist gave it to her. The smooth back and forth movement was soothing to watch.
It reminded me of my first slinky. My aunt and uncle had given it to me when I first came to Florida. They thought it would placate me on the long drive from the Midwest. I smiled to myself at the memory. I hadn’t even gotten my first handheld game at that point. A slinky and a few books were all I had, at 7 years old, to entertain myself for 17 collective hours in the car.
“Earth to Cameron”, Kelly said with her hands cupped around her mouth.
I stared at her for a second, “sorry I spaced out”.
“What are you thinking about”, she had already gone back to her slinky.
“Of when I moved down here.”
“From Indiana or something right,” she asked.
“Close but Illinois”, I corrected her.
I was quiet then. I didn’t like to think about when I moved here. I don’t remember much of what happened but it wasn’t a happy story by any means.
“Hey, I’m gonna head home,” I let Kelly know before I got up and grabbed my things.
“Oh, okay. I’ll see you tomorrow Cam,” she waved as I walked out.
I walked west, towards my aunt and uncle’s house. That had been home for the past decade. It was a lot different from when I lived in Illinois. Loads different, it was a bigger house, we had really nice things. It was almost extravagant, we were the Joneses that everyone had to keep up with. My parents’ house had never been quite this nice. I winced at the thought of the, my parents. They weren’t really my parents anymore; my aunt and uncle had taken that duty upon themselves. From what I’d heard though, they hadn’t ever really been parents to me at all.
I let myself into the house and started to climb the stairs. I was making my way up to the attic, where we had stored all my old things I’d brought with me when we’d moved. The door to the attic creaked slightly as I pushed it open. The window across from the door looked out over the rows of houses in our little neighborhood.
I took in the space, it was the most cluttered out of all our other rooms in the house but even the clutter seemed almost organized. That’s Aunt Lena for you. I picked my way around the Christmas and Easter decorations and to the small window seat in front of the only window up there. When I was younger I had dreamed of having my bedroom up here but my aunt and uncle wouldn’t have it. In retaliation, I had spent all my free time for the next few months sneaking up to the attic to read on the window seat. It felt like a small victory to me back then.
I plopped onto the window seat and looked around. To my right there was a bundle of old jackets, my aunt liked to collect them for a couple years then donate them, and to my left was what I was looking for. A few boxes of things labeled Cameron. I sifted through them and pulled out various clothes and stuffed animals, allowing myself to remember each individual object fully. There was a little teddy bear I used to sleep with every night. My mom had given it to me when I started kindergarten. I stared into its shiny plastic eyes and felt tears start to well in mine.
I missed them, my parents, or the idea of them. A better version of them. A version of them where they could have taken care of me. A version of them that was responsible and a version of them that cared. I hadn’t heard from them in at least five years. I remember getting cards from them on holidays at first. I pinned them all to a big corkboard in my room, but those were gone now. I had ripped them all down in a fit a few years ago when I hadn’t heard from them on my birthday.
I tossed the old teddy bear aside and looked out the window. The sun was starting to set and my aunt and uncle would be home from work soon. I started to pack up the boxes again when I saw a box behind one that held all of my old books. It was wooden with a latch that had the potential to hold a small lock. I picked it up, it was heavy for its size. I flipped the latch and cautiously opened it up. Inside were rows and rows of letters. Some looked old but others could have been from yesterday. I grabbed one and gasped. Scrawled on the front was my name in a familiar lazy cursive. I quickly shut the box and rushed down to my room. I stashed the wooden box under my bed just as I heard the front door open.
“Cam we’re home and we brought Chinese!”, My aunt called up to me.
Corrin Bronersky is a student at Columbia College Chicago studying fiction writing.
Your meditation expanded,
Became what you’d always wanted,
And your lampshade barked like a twisted animal,
Your decorations splayed like wart-warped lovemaking
And your floor slipped like boiled meat, and
You turned your pillow over many times, many times
To find your sanitized coitus a coiled stare,
The carpets, the paintings,
The nicknacks and the trinkets
Thick with a smell like something
Awful as any morning
Does horrible things to the curtains
David Franklin Hostetter grew up in Scarborough, Toronto, and so is living, loving and working on stolen land. He received a bachelor’s in philosophy from the University of Toronto in 2014. He has performed stories with thereapers.org, and his work has appeared in Acta Victoriana as well as other publications at U of T.
kelsey annlyn – two poems
Light under the door
You tasted like spring
Picked berries from starlight
And there is the big dipper
Night dark shores surround the light from your shoes
Surrounded in oak branches
Glowing with the moon
Palm to skin
and there I am
Calling no one for anything
Kelsea Annlyn is a theatre artist from southeast Michigan. After earning her degree from Eastern Michigan University she wrote a series of short plays that were produced in her local area. She moved to Chicago to pursue acting and discovered that writing felt better. She is a Second City alum in small town in Michigan finding her voice through poetry.
Ann Christine Tabaka lives in Delaware. She is a published poet and artist. She loves gardening and cooking. Chris lives with her husband and two cats. Her most recent credits are The Paragon Journal, The Literary Hatchet, Metaworker, Raven Cage Ezine, RavensPerch, Anapest Journal, Mused, Indiana Voice Journal, Halcyon Days Magazine, and The Society of Classical Poets.
The room smelt exactly how I would define comfort. No spice, no twist, a plain recomforting odor that said nothing but what it was. The transparence of this smell made me feel at home, and for as long as I was in this room, I could forget all about the day I had or the one that started as soon as the cries would wake up and rock the house from head to toe, Attic to basement. The smell was warm and created the ambiance I needed to crush my exhaustion. I would slowly disappear into it, edulcorate myself within the fever. She was my room, she was my Queendom with my queen size bed, she was the only room that entirely belonged to me in a house that wasn’t mine. Sometimes, some days, she was even more than a room, she was the best friend I needed, the one that would let me bury myself under her, putting pillows over my head like sweet arms that know how to put you at ease. She would let me cry myself to sleep with no judgement, leading me to think that tomorrow was not just another day, but the end of the path, the goal came to its achievment. This odor of hers was nothing but familiarity, it came alive after dark and embraced the automnoal season like a custom made dress. It was not only that she was narrow therefore cosy or that no real bed lodge in her core before mine, therefore was a new born with a past unclear and undifined; No, no, no, she was, in her essence, made to be filled with love. And just to embrace marvelously her reason to be, she soon became a love nest.
After nine months of seeing me struggling with good intentions, my room slowly bloomed into what my african lover and myself used to call « the Cocoon », nurrishing our love with that same smell that used to embalme my sweet tears so delicately. There were days when we really didn’t have to talk, laugh or do what lovers do, we were just learning to be more than friends, and the cocoon felt like the safest place on earth to learn to be who you are with someone else but your only self. So we did kill a lot of time just hanging on clouds shaped as meringues, and we did feel like we were stealing some pieces of paradise to whomever it may belong. We almost lost touched with reality, from where we were, everything else seemed like a waste of time, and time we didn’t have. We only had our hopes and strenghs to hold on to, the memories we built together allowed us to now live without a clock ticking above our heads. Louisville’s reminiscences are now the wallpaper of our current cocoon. Staying in the background might not be as vivid as a first kiss, but we all need an ambiance to ease, to sooth and to cooperate.
Just like that smell.
Debby Braem is a french writer that has been traveling and seeking inspiration in many places. Now back to her geographic roots and her forever cinematic friend. She is the author of a few scenarii and co-writes a graphic novel.
Ashley Cooke is a creative writing major attending Long Beach City College. She is from Long Beach. She is currently working on her first poetry collection entitled “Like Pulling Teeth”, which is expected to be finished by the end of the year. She works at a hospital and at a music venue.
The Back of My Hand
It was that time of the
day when the light
gave away the distance
of each hill
The twilight swarm of gnats
and wishing cottonwood seeds
bounce off the windshield
in a rush to live and die
The dark sun wanting to set
took a rest over the last ridge
It was that place on the
highway where the lines
bend in unison to
show off its curves
like a lady in corset
It was that time, that place
when you wiggled in your seat
turned a shoulder forward
looked at me and said
“I love you. You know I love you right?”
Your hand hugged mine
as we came to that point
in the pass where the
road is visible for miles
I saw it worming down around
ending with a sharp leftI knew—with no doubt
from traveling this road
many times before—
I knew it continued into
the Skagit Valley, pass the cafe
I knew we’d find the freeway
and reach our street by ten tonight
We’d both go to work in the morning
and the week would continue
into more weeks, months and years…
and when you said
you loved me
it was a lie