After Visiting Jack London’s Grave on the Day of his Death by Iris Jamahl Dunkle

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Dunkle by Brad Milhouse



Microsoft Word - Iris Dunkle_After Visiting Jack London’s Grav


About the Author: Iris Jamahl Dunkle’s debut poetry collection, Gold Passage, won the Trio Award and was published by Trio House Press in 2013. Her chapbooks Inheritance and The Flying Trolley were published by Finishing Line Press. Her poetry, essays and creative nonfiction have been published in Fence, Volt, The New Guard, Lake Effect, Sugar Mule, Calyx and many more. Dunkle teaches writing and literature at Napa Valley College. She received her BA from George Washington University, her MFA in Poetry from New York University, and her PhD in American Literature from Case Western Reserve University. She is on the staff of the Napa Valley Writers conference.

Bobby Fischer Goes to Hollywood by Ian R. Jacoby

For Jacoby


 

Opening

Los Angeles, 1971:

Craig curses at a white car that pulls in front of us outside the Knickerbocker Hotel. Craig looks good in a bitter, failed actor kind of way. That means it’s extra gross when he sneers at them. He’s also cursed with chronic perspiration. He told me they had to paint him with makeup over and over again on the set of Hula Hoop Massacre 3. Now he grows sweat stains around his armpits, around his thick neck whenever he yells at old men in LA traffic, which is often.

This old man doesn’t understand how much of a war crime it is to cut off the second lead from Alien Beach Party 2, Fun Daze, and My Girl, The Werewolf. The old man raises his tan, withered arm out the window and gently waves at Craig. Craig slams on his horn, and the old man obliviously leans his car into traffic—nearly causing a three-car-accident.

“Can you believe that a-hole?” Craig says through his perfect white horse teeth. He pulls both hands off the wheel to emphasize how big of an injustice it all is. “He pulled out right in front of me.”

“Classic king’s gambit open,” I say.

“What?” he says. It takes a second to snap out of his ape rage. “Oh, is that chess? Is that a chess move? You being smart?”

“I don’t know.” I blow my hair out of my eyes, but it falls right back into the same old spot. Craig hates that.

I get out and grab my suitcase from the back seat. It’s too big, but it’s the only luggage I have. They bought it for me, for when I have to go to my dad’s. Diane is my mom. She married this doofus six months ago. Craig is my step dad. He of the nice hair and growing teal Hawaiian sweat stains.

“I’ll be back tomorrow at seven,” he says.

“But the tournament’s done at four. What am I supposed to do ’til then?” I say. It’s not technically a tournament, but I’m not even going to attempt to get into that with him right now.

Craig spits out the window and puts his sunglasses on. My mom bought them for him when they “went away” to “wine country” last month. Craig reaches back and hands me a crumpled twenty.

“You’re seventeen. Jesus kid, figure it out.” He lights a cigarette. “Try not to call unless it’s an emergency,” he says.

“Yeah,” I say. “I’ll do my best.”

“Great,” he says, “Go get ’em, killer.”

Craig’s sedan peels into the green summer morning. My suitcase bumps against the curb when I try to pull it onto the sidewalk. The bushes outside The Knickerbocker push ragged branches through the iron grates that barely hold them in place. I bet they used to look nice when someone cared about them. Mr. Lazlo told us The Knickerbocker used to be a place where movie stars hung out. Jen said a bunch of them took weird drugs and killed themselves here, or whatever. I can kind of see why.

Jen and Kilby are already out front and mixing in with the other members of the Herman Steiner Chess Club. You can tell us apart from normal guests because we all have blue Herman Steiner blazers with little red Herman Steiner crests on them. Two maladjusted twelve-year-olds have a portable chess set out and are running through openings as fast as they can.

I was never like that, not even when Mr. Lazlo thought I was a prodigy. I remember when Mr. Lazlo first started tutoring me, trying to tell me about psychology and all that garbage. You know, you have to break your opponent’s ego, play with his emotions, play with your own emotions. All that crap. That’s all stupid, man.

It’s like Fischer said, “I don’t believe in psychology. I believe in good moves.”

Outside the hotel, the younger kids see how far up the side of the building they can spit. The older ones check the clipboard to see who’s rooming with who. This one junior high kid launches a loogie like twelve feet in the air. It’s so big that it casts a shadow on the way back down. Kilby jingles his keys to let me know we’re rooming together. Miracles abound.

“Was that your dad?” he says. He points to the skid marks in the road. He’s fat, red, and his dad is some big-time studio executive who lets Kilby wear clip-on ties even though he’s seventeen years old.

“Step dad,” I say.

“Lazlo says Bobby Fischer probably isn’t going to be here ’til tomorrow,” Kilby says, sweating.

“That sucks,” I say.

Kilby drones about something stupid while I stare over his shoulder at Jen. She’s laughing a lot with Whitney Carlson. She’s looking at me too, and I just wish I was over there. Not even doing anything, just over there existing.

Jen shrugs her travel bag over her shoulder. She’s got a perfect part down the middle of her perfect hair. We made out last week at Skate America under the speakers while “Jet” by Paul McCartney played. It was the best moment of my life.

She’s tall and smokes—and both of those things, along with her tight jeans, and the fact that she kissed me, probably make her the sexiest person in the world. I still can’t look her in the eyes. She’s got perfect teeth. She’s terrifying.

“You think you two will do it this weekend?” Kilby says, following my stare. I avert my gaze.

“Jesus man. Don’t be crass,” I say. “Maybe.”

“Yeah right,” he says. “Good luck, James Bond.”

He rubs my curly hair back and forth. It frizzes out even worse than usual. I hit Kilby in the arm. Mr. Lazlo gets us in a group, and we hustle into the shadow of the lobby. I have this one zit on the inside of my nose that hurts like hell, but I still can’t leave it alone. I think I’m going to name it Kilby.

*

I don’t want to give off the impression that I don’t like Mr. Lazlo. That’s not true. In fact, he’s about the only person who ever believed in me.

Three years ago, Mr. Lazlo’s yellow Volkswagen K70 crawled up our driveway. We had small glasses of lemonade, my parents sitting across the kitchen table treating chess not-at-all seriously. I hid in the hall, taking it all too seriously. I used to be real serious about everything.

“I don’t want him to be some kinda screwball,” dad said. He took a sip from his lemonade and made a face. “This doesn’t taste right.”

“Paul has so much natural ability. Let me assure you—” said Mr. Lazlo. He twisted his beard hairs whenever he spoke to my dad. A nervous twitch. My dad does that to people.

“I wish someone would assure me on this lemonade,” said my dad. His laugh flew across the table, and Mr. Lazlo flinched like it hit him in the face.

“He’ll be in great hands,” Mr. Lazlo said.

“We just want what’s best for Paul,” my mom said.

“What he needs is consistency!” said my dad. He dumped his drink in the sink. He grabbed for Mr. Lazlo’s cup. “You want me to take care of that for you?”

“No, thank you,” said Mr. Lazlo, and gulped it down. He made a face too. “Do you understand what it means for him to be ranked 1900 at thirteen years old?”

“That he has too much free time on his hands?” said dad, and smiled at mom.

She looked at the back of her hand.

“No, but seriously,” said dad.

“Many serious players never even reach that level,” said Mr. Lazlo. “Ever.”

“Dale,” said my mom.

“What?” said my dad.

“Please,” I said from the hallway.

“Fine,” said my dad.

Mr. Lazlo started coming Tuesday afternoons. He taught me some good opens, how to treat the middle game, where to take an endgame. Six months later, my parents divorced.

I have a rank of 1700 these days, comfortably not a genius. I try not to let Mr. Lazlo get too down about it though.

“It’s not like it’s anyone’s fault but my own,” I said one rainy Sunday at Fitzger’s. He was playing white again.

He pulled down his rook and cleaned house, two pawns and my bishop. I probably should have seen it coming, but whatever. I was lucky when I pulled out a draw ten moves later.

“It’s not anyone’s fault,” he said. “I think you’re improving, anyway.”

“Line ’em up again,” I say.

I’m black. I don’t mind being on the defensive one bit. Mr. Lazlo says it’s a habit I need to break.

*

Mr. Lazlo wears a wine colored suit with a bright yellow shirt underneath it. He’s fussing with a microphone and scratching his beard again. I try to get close to Jen, but some college kid with cool hair says something into her ear, and she starts giggling. He puts his hand on her back, and they sit at one of the card tables that have been arranged into a giant rectangle in the converted ballroom. It’s a coliseum for chess geeks.

Mr. Lazlo stands in the middle of the rectangle. It’s where Fischer will play. He clears his throat into the microphone. It’s attached to a portable speaker on his belt.

“I thank you all for attending the Tenth Annual Arthur Lazlo Memorial Chess Friendly,” Mr. Lazlo says. “My father would have been so happy to see chess in such high demand. From the very young, to our … more experienced players.”

He looks at a bunch of sour-faced old men that play in this lobby every week. There’s a couple of former masters, some ranked amateurs, whatever. Small fries.

“As you all know, no ranking will be altered at the end of this friendly. It’s all just for the joy of chess.”

The college guy is really talking Jen’s ear off about something, and they’re both smiling like it’s the best thing in the world. He’s good looking, like Craig is. I mean, he looks like the kind of guy who excuses himself to brush his teeth during a date.

“Don’t worry, you’ll all get a chance to play the great Bobby Fischer,” Mr. Lazlo says, “Half of you in the morning session, half in the afternoon. Two games, one hundred men. Each time, one versus fifty; Fischer versus the mob!”

The dramatic tension is ruined when the microphone begins to feedback, and Mr. Lazlo doesn’t know how to stop it. Some wet coughs from the old men join in. Eventually Mr. Lazlo flips the off switch and cups his thin hands together.

“Not that I think of you all as a mob, of course,” he shouts. “But yes, fifty matches at once, all timed. And to the winner—”

“When does Fischer get here?” a reporter in back says.

“Well, he’s not told us exactly, but he say that no one should ask him for pictures, autographs, or interviews,” Mr. Lazlo says. The audience begins to turn away. “He just wants it to be about chess! The reception will be in the—”

Fischer walks through the hotel doors, and the place erupts. He’s wearing a tan suit and wayfarers. He cuts through the lobby like there’s no one there; flashbulbs and cameras click like you imagine they do for Steve McQueen. God, he’s about the coolest guy in the world.

“James Bond,” Kilby says.

“Your breath smells horrible,” I say.

“Is it true your mom works for the Russians?” A reporter shouts at Fischer’s back.

Fischer jogs to the elevator while his driver blocks the reporter’s path. It’s a classic Steinitz Defense. There’s a lasting silence when the door shuts. The elevator ding unleashes a sudden torrent of conversation, and the room rings with fresh gossip.

“Wow,” says Kilby.

“Did you see him? Like a movie star or something,” Jen says. She walks up with the college guy still in tow. “This is Julian. He goes to Occidental.”

“You think anyone will give Fischer a run for his money?” Julian says. He shakes my hand. He smells really good. He holds my hand so I can’t return his strong grip. Jen must really like us all getting along so well. “I heard he hasn’t drawn in over a month.”

“Draws are for cowards,” I say.

“Still, it’d be quite the feat,” he says.

“Still, it’d be quite the feat for a coward,” I say.

“Julian says we can go up to his room,” Jen says. We get in the elevator behind a crowd still swirling in Fischer wake. “He brought cognac.”

“Great!” Kilby says.

“It’s from my family’s vineyard,” Julian says, “in France.”

Big whoop, I think.

*

Middlegame

Me and Kilby and Jen and a bunch of Julian’s college friends stay in his room and drink through dinner. We sit in a circle and shout about our favorite Gilligan’s Island episodes. Jen and I sit next to each other. We hold the bottle between us, laugh when the other person coughs a lung up after a big pull.

Julian puts on “Beggar’s Banquet,” and a couple people start dancing. They have marijuana cigarettes, but Julian says we should save ours for later. I’ve never smoked before, and that makes me nervous, but Jen seems into it. I feel the cognac buzz in my empty stomach. It makes Kilby’s jokes a lot funnier. Eventually, he starts dancing with a blonde girl, and it ends with them rolling around on the green shag carpet together.

Me and Kilby head down to the ballroom in a tiny brass service elevator that creaks when he gets in. I hold my breath most of the way down.

“I think Jen’s really into that guy, Julian,” he says.

“Yeah, thanks, Kilby,” I say.

“I just mean, their body language is off the charts.” He giggles and sways back and forth. “Off the charts,” he repeats to himself.

When we get to the lobby, he hits every button and jumps out before the door can shut. I do too, though my pants get stuck in the gate for one terrifying second. They rip at the bottom when I pull too hard. I told you; action was never my strong suit.

The tables have been pulled away from the ballroom, and the chandeliers cast specks of beautiful light all over the old people getting drunk. Mr. Lazlo used a big chunk of his money to hire the Paul Desmond quartet, and they’re all in the corner, smoking, drinking, and hacking away at the “Stray Cat Blues.”

My dad used to listen to Paul Desmond a lot when he played with Dave Brubeck, but that stopped when my dad moved in with Charlie, his personal trainer, because she said it made him seem old fashioned. That’s probably the one thing that me and Charlie agree on.

Mr. Lazlo pulls himself away from a troupe of fat men just as the piano player chops some really dissonant chords that don’t seem at all appropriate for the occasion.

“Are you boys having a good time?” he says.

“Ask us tomorrow morning, and we’ll let you know,” Kilby says.

He winks at Mr. Lazlo, who frowns and rubs his chin with the palm of his hand. The piano player settles down into a groove that actually sounds kind of nice. Jen and Julian float down the spiral staircase into the ballroom. She’s beaming, and he’s so nonchalant, like new Kennedys. Their energy spurs Paul Desmond into fits of hysteria all over again.

“Yeah, it’s OK,” I say.

“Paul Desmond,” Mr. Lazlo says. “I can’t believe we got him!”

He motions to Paul Desmond, who’s taking a break from the saxophone to drink a tall glass of whiskey and ice. He drinks it all in one gulp, sucking air from the sides of the glass before dropping it on the table. He sees Mr. Lazlo looking, gives him a drunk salute. When he plays again, it’s pretty squeaky.

“What a player. I just wish he wouldn’t drink so much,” Mr. Lazlo says.

“Yeah, my dad used to love Paul Desmond,” I say.

“He looks like he’s going to be sick all over his saxophone,” Kilby says, who is also pretty drunk.

Jen sees us and comes over. She’s wearing a green dress that ends just above her knees. It fits in all the right places and is not good for my imagination.

“Hey Mr. Lazlo,” she says.

“Good evening, Jennifer,” Mr. Lazlo says. “That’s a beautiful dress. I remember—”

Jen pulls me aside. We stand next to a punch bowl that’s the size of an upside-down Volkswagen. My heart is in my chest when she touches my arm. Imagine the best smell in the world, then double it. That’s what I’m experiencing.

“I need you,” she whispers.

I gulp.

“We’re going to the roof,” she says.

“Right now?” I say.

“Yeah,” she says.

“Just you and me?” I say.

Paul Desmond hits a sour note and tries to slide out of it, but just makes it worse in the end. Mr. Lazlo makes a throat slashing gesture to the bartender and points to the stage. Jen looks at me like I’m brain dead, which is probably true.

“Uh, no. You, me, Julian and Kilby, and the gang, the Occidental kids. We’re having a seance.” She unlocks arms and walks to the elevator. “C’mon, they’re up there already. Kilby, come!”

Kilby stands at the end of a long buffet table. He shovels a mound of tapenade onto a plate and litters its base with stuffed mushrooms. He jogs toward us while balancing his plate with one hand.

“Yeah, coming,” he says, licking his fingers.

*

The top of the building is dominated by huge wooden scaffolding that supports a giant neon HOTEL KNICKERBOCKER. The Occidental kids lean against the wood frames smoking cigarettes, lounging easy, watching us like pumas in the dark.

Jen takes us between two electrical boxes that create a big green Stonehenge in the middle of the roof. She’s got candles set up all around in a circle, and a brand new Parker Brothers Ouija Board. The plastic planchette is still inside its packaging. Jen tears the plastic open with her teeth while me and Kilby, Julian, and some of the gang sit down.

“It’s good because it protects us from the wind,” Jen says. She spits the plastic bag out, and it rolls away in a draft. She reads from a dark blue book with a silver moon on its cover.

In 1936, ten years after magician Harry Houdini died, his wife, Bess, bereft and helpless without him, took over the Knickerbocker’s rooftop and sought for a tenth and final time to summon his spirit on Halloween—the anniversary of his death—with the help of numerous mediums.

“So who’s going first?” Kilby says. He’s found the blonde girl from the carpet earlier and brought her along for the ride.

I can call spirits from the vasty deep. Shakespeare,” Julian says, sounding like a total dick.

“I’ll go,” Jen says.

She’s looking at Julian when she says it. Julian is looking off into the middle distance, probably trying to think of another great quote to wow us all with.

“Yeah, me too,” I say.

Jen arches her eyebrows in the witchy candlelight; she’s a terrible beauty—Yeats. Eat your heart out, Julian. We sit on our legs, side by side. She puts the planchette in the center of the board, and our hands touch. We breathe together. I wrack my brain for dead people to talk about.

“Can we talk to my dad?” I say.

Jen touches my hand and looks in my eyes. Technically, he’s not dead. He’s living in a condo in Arizona with Charlie. That seems close enough. I look to see if Kilby will say anything, but he’s too busy trying to teach his girl how to blow better spit bubbles.

“Of course,” Jen says. “What do you want to ask him?”

I can think of about a million things, and not one of them that I want to share in front of this group. Hey dad, are you happy now that you ruined everyone’s life? Hey dad, how’s the real estate business for dickheads?

“I just want to know if he’s happy now,” I say.

I bite the inside of my cheek so hard that I feel marks. Jen puts her other hand on top of mine and gives me a sad smile. Through a haze of marijuana smoke, I can feel Julian’s eyes burn in the back of my head. That feels just great.

“Dear Paul’s dad,” Jen says. “Have you found the peace in death that you sought in life?”

I start to nudge the plastic towards “yes,” but Jen stops me. She’s got my hand sandwiched between hers. It’s great, but not really conducive to fudging communication between me and my fake dead dad.

“I know it’s hard, but don’t nudge it,” she says. “Let him speak for himself.”

“OK,” I say.

We sit there for a long time. I imprint the feeling her hands make on mine into my brain forever. A breeze blows some of the candles out, and someone has a marijuana cough that won’t quit.

“Um,” Jen says. She touches my cheek. “Maybe he’s just not ready yet.”

“Yeah, you’re right,” I say.

“Let’s try my Aunt Norma,” Julian says. “She was hilarious—wrote articles for the American Nazi Party in the thirties.”

An employee of the hotel walks up the stairwell and onto the roof. He sighs and lights a cigarette. He switches on his flashlight. Everyone bolts, exploding in every direction.

“Hey!” the guy says, chasing in every direction with the cigarette dangling. “You can’t be up here! Stop!”

In the confusion, the Ouija board gets kicked over, and the candles upended. Jen and I run down the stairwell, all the way down to the third floor. We stop and collapse into each other’s arms. The light is warm and yellow from the light fixtures that go down the long green hallway. From the heating grates, you can barely hear Paul Desmond sweetly echo the chorus of “Strange Meadow Lark.” We slump and sigh together.

“You know, my dad named me after this guy,” I say.

She looks down at my chest. When she looks up, she has tears in her eyes. She kisses me slow and a lot. I walk her to her room, and we kiss goodnight all over again.

I collapse into my bed, and Kilby shows up ten minutes later. We don’t talk. He falls right to sleep, snoring the snores of someone unburdened by conscience. When I say my head is swimming, I mean it. A crummy old air conditioner pushes the drapes into phantom shapes around the window. Somewhere in the hotel, Bobby Fischer lies awake working on openings. I live drunk in that kiss for hours ’til I fall asleep.

*

Endgame

As part of our weekend, we’re supposed to get breakfast with Bobby Fischer, but no one is especially surprised when he doesn’t show. Jen and I get a seat in the corner of the dining room and share secret smiles over our food.

The hotel staff arranged it so all the chocolate and poppyseed muffins are playing each other on a chessboard. All the chocolate muffins get eaten first, so it looks like a route. A bad omen, as Fischer plays white today. We all play defense. I look at the spot where the king should be, but there’s only black crumbs and a torn piece of wax paper. Kilby spots us and makes his way diagonally through the round tables covered in white tablecloths, a classic Hodgson Attack.

We eat together. A natural trio, a fine team when Jen rolls her eyes at all the right parts of Kilby’s stories. Julian sits with some of his gang and watches our table. I can guess how he plays chess, waiting, probing for any weakness.

“We still on for next weekend?” Kilby says. He looks at Jen. “My dad got us tickets to the premiere of Dirty Harry.”

“I can’t,” I say. “I’m busy.”

My dad is coming to town, first time without Charlie in tow. Kilby knows because I told about it last week. He never remembers stuff like this, because he never remembers anything.

“What? C’mon man, Clint Eastwood. In the flesh. When else is that gonna happen?” Kilby says. “Tell your dad he can pick you up Saturday morning. He can come any old time.”

“What?” Jen says.

“Clint Eastwood,” Kilby says.

“Your dad’s coming?” Jen says. “Next week?”

“Um,” I say. “I was going to tell you.”

“Sure,” she says. “Right.”

“Jen,” I say. I don’t know what to say. I blurt out, “I still believe in magic.”

God, what does that mean? Jen stands up and grabs her orange juice. She looks like she’ll dump it on my head, but she puts the glass back down and looks over at Julian’s table. Now I’m the one staring at breakfast. The eggs I’ve been eating have an uncooked sheen that I didn’t notice before. I feel like I might barf.

“You know, you were a lot more interesting when your dad was dead,” Jen says. She gets up and walks away. Kilby takes some bacon off her plate.

“You finished?” he says.

She doesn’t turn around, doesn’t go to Julian’s table, she walks straight out. Julian and I follow her with our eyes, then he looks at me and smiles. Next to the crepe station, Mr. Lazlo turns on his microphone and clears his throat. He’s holding two pieces of paper in the other hand.

“The friendly starts in half an hour. Please check with me to see where and when you play. Good luck to everyone! I’ve never been so pr—”

“Can it, Janet!” somebody yells and everyone laughs.

We all rush around Mr. Lazlo. By the time I get to the piece of paper, it’s torn and there’s sausage grease all over it. I find my and Kilby’s names’ smudged in the afternoon session. Jen and Julian play in the morning with the rest of the stronger players. Mr. Lazlo comes up behind me and puts his hand on my shoulder.

“I couldn’t help it,” he says. “It’s just the luck of the draw. When you play doesn’t really mean anything.”

“Yeah,” I say. “I know.”

*

The shades are pulled back on the windows that reach to the ceiling of the ballroom. The sun beats down hot on the boards. Mr. Lazlo spent money on a velvet rope, so there’s a spectator area consisting of a few rows of folding chairs off in a corner.

There’s some press, but mostly it’s just wives, and moms, and little brothers, and put out girlfriends. Each seat around the circle has a number taped on back; Jen’s is 27. I imagine optimal sightlines and try to position myself accordingly. When she walks in, she doesn’t even look at me.

“Wow,” Kilby says. “She looks great.”

“Yeah,” I say. “I know.”

Everyone sits around for twenty minutes before Fischer finally shows up. When he does, the air gets sucked out of the room. He’s wearing a different suit and sunglasses. Per request, the clocks start when he enters the circle. They all tick a little off.

When he plays, Fischer doesn’t walk in a circle, but zigs and zags between games—creating new lines of evil geometry. He walks fast. The chandelier lights dim at random. It’s satanic—like chalking a pentagram to access the power of grandmasters past. It looks cool as hell.

It puts most of the players on edge. Ten moves in, and Fischer already has twelve of fifty in checkmate. One by one, they empty their pieces into a box, and Fischer touches their hand before turning sharply to the next game.

Jen stands strong. She’s controlling the middle section of her board by hemming in Fischer’s bishop with her pawns. They form an impenetrable wall around Fischer’s favorite piece. He bites his thumbnails at her board, he tugs on his tie.

Unfortunately, Julian plays well too—and after 25 rounds both he and Jen are two of only ten players left. He catches her eye and they share a long, shitty smile together. Fischer stares at both of their boards, his brow furrowed as the games devolve into petty skirmishes.

Fischer has to bleed them for every pawn, yielding board space only when pried from his fingers. Julian goes to a vending machine and comes back with two Cokes. He puts one on Jen’s board and one on his own. Some people clap at the chivalry. Jen opens it and drinks half the can down in one gulp. She burps loud and moves a pawn. The crowd goes nuts.

Everyone loves them. The mothers of the twelve-year-olds lean forward and talk about what a dashing figure Julian cuts at the board. The guys think Jen’s a real firecracker. Fischer sweats through his blazer. Kilby hits my arm whenever Fischer’s pieces get pinned farther back.

With a pained face, Fischer extends his hand for a draw, first to Julian, then to Jen. Everyone else is eliminated. A round of applause showers the room. Fischer storms into an adjoining unit. He slams the door; it’s punctuated by a howl. Violent animal pain from the other side of the wall. It’s exactly how I feel.

One of the masters brings out a giant green wreath like we’ve all seen at some tournament victories, and not just a couple of dumb “friendly” draws. He puts the wreath around Jen and Julian. They smile as photographers flash picture after picture.

“What’re the two young lovers’ names?” a reporter asks. Everyone laughs.

“Two draws!” Kilby says. “Can you believe it?”

I need some air. I pass Mr. Lazlo on my way outside. He’s pulling on his beard, walks by like he doesn’t see me at all. A bunch of his kids trail behind him like demented seven dwarves.

“Wow,” Mr. Lazlo says. “Wow.”

I walk outside, and the hotel employee who busted up our party is smoking a cigarette. He’s fat and less scary in daylight.

“Can I get one of those?” I say, pointing to his cigarette.

“Sure, kid,” he says.

He lights it for me, and I cough like crazy. It burns the back of my throat. My eyes won’t stop watering. I bend over on the sidewalk, almost wretch. He looks at me nervous.

“A natural,” he says.

“Know where I can get a sandwich around here?” I gag.

“Chester’s, two blocks that way. Might want to put that out though,” he points to my cigarette. “No smoking allowed.”

I gladly step on it; he seems relieved.

*

Chester’s is a sandwich shop and arcade. They have one just like it a block from where I go to school. What they don’t have is a Bobby Fischer sitting alone in the corner booth looking miserable. That’s unique to this one. I walk up to the counter, try to order a beer for him, but the guy behind the counter just laughs at my age.

I order a cheese sandwich and two root beers. I give the guy my twenty dollar bill and get back fourteen bucks, two of it in quarters. I point to Fischer’s table and tell him to send the sandwich over there.

“I know who you are,” I say.

I sit down in Fischer’s booth and hand him a root beer. He looks at me wild-eyed, like he might bolt for the door with my root beer in hand.

“Don’t worry, I won’t mention it if you don’t,” I say.

“OK,” he says.

I take a long drink of mine. I take some change out and drop it on the table. Fischer drums his fingers.

“You like pinball?” I say.

He looks up at me, then at the machine. He nods, and we go over and play. It’s space themed, so on the backbox there’s a cartoon of a hot lady astronaut about to get eaten by a giant green alien.

“You ever had a girlfriend?” I say.

He hits a triple score bumper, and the whole machine flashes, goes into fits. A plastic comet knocks against glass inside the machine.

“Um,” he says.

“Jeez, how old are you?” I say. “You never had a girlfriend?”

“How old are you?” he says.

“Seventeen,” I say.

“Well when I was your age, I’d been a grandmaster for two years,” he says. He turns back to the pinball machine and tries to keep playing, but his ball stalls. He slaps the machine like it did something really wrong to him.

“OK. The girl I’m talking about, she wasn’t my girlfriend per se,” I say. “I bet she could have been, though. If it had worked out.”

Fischer takes a swig.

“So?” he says.

“I don’t know. I guess, I don’t even really know her that well,” I say. “Plus, I think she just fell in love with some asshole freshman from Occidental college.”

“Oh those two,” he says. He looks even more miserable. Those draws take a toll on him. They add up over the years. I can relate.

I say, “It’s funny. Three years ago I wouldn’t have cared at all about any of this. The chess was the important thing. Now I don’t even think I want to play you. No offense.”

“None taken,” he says.

We walk out of the arcade and onto the street. I still have ten dollars, so I grab some hot dogs for the walk back. Fischer never offers to pay for anything. He gets two hot dogs for himself. Between that and the sandwich, I feel a little green.

“You know the Benoni Defence?” he says. He stuffs the end of the first dog in his mouth.

The modern Benoni Defense lines up a bunch of pawns on the queen’s side. It pushes black to make moves they don’t want to, makes everything real cramped and sweaty, closes up the game, forces it into live or die from the start. It forces a game into a win or lose for both players, no draws. In a way, it’s a suicide attack.

“Yeah,” I say.

“You know what it means? Benoni?” Fischer says. “It’s Hebrew. Son of sorrow. It’s from Reinganum’s book. 1825.”

Fischer pulls out a little manual from his pocket, barely a pamphlet. It’s been folded every which way. He takes off his sunglasses and reads.

Whenever I felt in a sorrowful mood and wanted to take refuge from melancholy, I sat over a chessboard, for one or two hours according to circumstances. Thus this book came into being, and its name, Ben-Oni, “Son of Sadness,” should indicate its origin.

“That’s a hell of a name,” I say.

“It’s the truth,” he says.

“So you’re saying I should play?” I say.

“I’m saying no matter what you do, that sadness is going to find you. Might as well use it for something,” he says.

He finishes his second hot dog, and we enter the hotel in silence.

*

The drapes are back in place per Fischer’s request, and the afternoon session starts more subdued than the morning’s. Most of the observers eat cake with Jen and Julian in the dining room, but eventually they trickle in—or don’t. The older players stay in the bar, licking their wounds and drinking free Lowenbrau. Nothing changes for Fischer, who storms into the room with purpose, exactly the same as before.

When he gets to my board, he impassively moves his queen’s pawn two spaces forward. He doesn’t place the piece, just flicks it across the table so it stands straight up on the board by itself, like telekinesis. I see his moves, recognize what he’s initiating. I can oblige. Jen and Julian come in with a couple of their moony-faced friends. Mr. Lazlo walks behind them with a colossal piece of cake, and they all sit down together to smile at me.

I skip my knight out to F6, just in front of my pawns, and Fischer sees it out of his peripheral vision. He walks over and flicks a second pawn next to his first.

Here it is, the suicide play. The Benoni Defense. I look at Fischer, and he smiles at me; I smile back. We both know someone has to win. He walks to the other side of the room and knocks a guy’s bishop clear off the table.

Kilby is checkmated by Fischer in his tenth move. He doesn’t seem too upset, but gets food on Fischer’s hand when they shake. It isn’t until the fifteenth that people realize what’s happening on my board. Fischer and I have been slugging it out for an hour, and somehow, I’m getting the better of him.

I take one of his rooks when he makes a boneheaded mistake in the corner, and from there I wrestle control of the center squares. Fischer takes off his sunglasses and rubs the bridge of his nose, he complains about the lights again; he doesn’t smile at me anymore.

There are more gasps when I take his queen in the twenty-third move. Whispered words travel through the hotel, and even sour old drunks stand in the hallway, craning their pale necks and spilling gin on their pants. Kilby leans back as Mr. Lazlo leans in to see the game. He slides the rest of Mr. Lazlo’s cake over with his foot, and stands up eating it. He points Mr. Lazlo’s fork at me.

“Hell yeah, Paul,” he says, spitting cake everywhere.

I checkmate Fischer in the thirty-third move. He finishes by beating everyone else at the table in a huff. When the last match finishes, he’s gone 97-1-2. Fischer stalks back into his room. I’m alone at the board, his king still tipped to me.

The place explodes. I’m put in a thicket of sweaty congratulations. I lift my hands over my head, and men with thick framed glasses hold their chins and study the list of our moves like it’s foreign policy. Jen heads off to Julian’s room with the rest of the Occidental crew, but everyone else surges toward the boards. They come for me, and I am carried away. I even get my own wreath. I wonder where all the wreaths are coming from.

*

Kilby’s dad shows up first, with his driver and Kilby’s new stepmom. Kilby offers me a ride, but I tell him that I’ll just see him next weekend. Kilby’s dad tells Kilby he looks like hell, and what’d he do all weekend, anyway? They vanish in a cloud of cologne.

Jen comes out with Julian. She’s wearing her wreath. Julian tries to get her to ride in the gang’s van back to Occidental, but she says she has to wait for her dad. A buzz starts on the roof. You can feel the hotel lights turn on before you see it happen. Julian sniffs sharply when he walks past us, gets in the van, and drives away.

The same hotel employee comes out for another smoke break, eyes me and Jen alone on the sidewalk, and walks across the street to buy a paper. Jen stands closer and touches my green wreath. She’s got a wreath, and I’ve got a wreath.

“Congratulations,” she says.

“Congratulations to you,” I say.

She pets hers; the buzz of the hotel lights are pretty loud now. They’re palpable.

“Thanks,” she says and looks at mine, “but I guess it doesn’t mean as much now, huh?”

“I don’t know,” I say.

“I really liked you,” she says.

“Me too,” I say. “Why do you think I said all that stuff? Some of it was true, anyway.”

“It doesn’t matter,” she says.

Her dad’s car arrives. It’s real beat up, and it coughs out a cloud of black smoke on a couple of lost tourists. He waves to us from the street.

“Ok, well,” I say. “See you around.”

She hugs me and our wreaths get tangled together for a second. Jen’s dad puts his hands up when two cars start honking behind him. She gets the strands undone and walks toward the car. She puts the wreath in the back and turns around.

“Yeah, anything is possible,” she says. “I mean, you’re the one who still believes in magic.”

The radio gets turned all the way up before they get past the end of the block. I’m the only one left. I spend two more dollars at Chester’s on cheese sandwiches and Coke.

I put the wreath on the stool next to me. When the place starts to fill up, the waiter tells me to put it behind the counter. I play pinball for one lonely hour, then two.

Craig comes in and tells me he’s been honking for the last five minutes, and do I realize what a little inconvenience I am becoming? When I grab the wreath, it’s been hit by an exploding bottle of whipped cream. I don’t let Craig see, and get it all over his interior when I sit with it in the backseat.

“You know you can sit up here,” he says.

The traffic isn’t too bad out to Crenshaw; most of it goes in the opposite direction toward the city. I look in the cars as they stand gridlocked in the other lane and imagine a million different Saturday nights.

“So did you win?” Craig asks when we pull in the driveway. He nods at my wreath. We park under the carport. I get out, leave the ailing laurel in the car. Craig stands in the shadows next to the garage by himself and looks in the back.

“Does the wreath mean you won something?” he says.


About the Author: Ian R. Jacoby is an MFA candidate at the University of San Francisco and an overnight librarian. His written work can be seen in Volume One Magazine, The Golden Record Poetry Broadcast, and NOTA. He is a current Zivic fellow and working on his first novel, The Sunset People, which is mostly about civil war reenactors in West Virginia. He played in an indie rock band called Laarks that was signed to Absolutely Kosher Records (Pinback, The Mountain Goats) and toured the US a few times. Laarks received a mediocre Pitchfork review.

 

Ballpoint Pens as a Point of Reference by Mercedes Lawry

For Lawry


Ballpoint Pens as a Point of Reference

Let’s talk ballpoint pens, and do they reproduce and how can one be found at a moment of critical need and do they resemble paper clips in some utilitarian matrix and what is their relationship to nostalgia? Ah, gibberish, the high notes, the low notes, such and much as might be animated, that is, drawn from life. Write it down, interpret, define, signify, elucidate, okay, time’s up. In a linear fashion, the sweet muck of ink is akin to blood. In a circular fashion, there is such harmony in scribble.


About the Author: Mercedes Lawry has been published widely in such journals as Poetry, Natural Bridge, Nimrod, and Prairie Schooner. She has published two chapbooks—There are Crows in My Blood and Happy Darkness—and has received honors from the Seattle Arts Commission, Jack Straw Foundation, Artist Trust and Richard Hugo House, been a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee and held a residency at Hedgebrook. Mercedes has also published short fiction as well as stories and poems for children.

Truckee River Rock by Julia Park Tracey

IMG_7876


 

Truckee River Rock

 

Half moon floats in an empty sky,
Like a slice of lemon in a cool drink.
River calm and silent.
Water skeeter.
One small fish.

A tree carved by a bear,
And a bear carved from a tree.

The wind says shush
and whoa.

Shush and whoa.


About the Author:  Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning poet, author, blogger and journalist. She was named Poet Laureate for the city of Alameda (CA) in 2014. Her contemporary fiction is available through Booktrope. Her women’s history project, The Doris Diaries, has been lauded as a dynamic, exciting peek back at the Roaring Twenties. Her poetry collection, Amaryllis, came out in 2009 (Scarlet Letter Press). Julia’s poetry has appeared most recently online at SweatpantsandCoffee.com, and in print anthologies from New Rivers Press, Moorhouse, Augsburg Books and PEN West. She lives in Alameda and Forestville, CA.

 

 

Bullet Run by Mark Rapacz

mouserat


 

2/2/2014, 12:00 PM, Overcast 50°, 7.5 miles, 6:50 min/mile

Notes:

During the weekdays I run at lunch, and I run up the highest hill I can reach within my hour time allotted. I go up and then come back down. On weekends I run into the countryside and into the foothills, and I do it early in the morning when nobody is out, and the California fog still blots out its too-bright sun.

But there’s this thing I think about and it is, more or less, related to putting a bullet in my brain. I imagine there’d be some pressure, and I’d feel it tear through my head, so long as it’s not boring through that part of the brain that tells you what a bullet through the brain feels like. I imagine it’d be a moment that happens both too slow and too fast, like most life-changing events. I can’t decide what color you’d see. Probably a flash of the brightest white or darkest black. It has got to be one of those extremes.

I don’t want to kill myself. What runner does? What runner who so carefully cares for his health really wants to die? A runner who not only runs an hour over lunch on the weekdays, scampering up and down the largest hill within striking distance of the office, but one who eats spinach by the handful and carries a bag of carrots to meetings. One who started drinking tea.

Spinach and carrot eaters who run are not at risk of committing suicide. Tea-drinkers less so.

So I’m allowed to do this kind of thinking. In fact, being so health-conscious is exactly why I can do this kind of thinking. It helps me sleep. The running and the healthy eating and thoughts of bullets in the brain, it all helps me sleep.

Because when I lie down and those thoughts are going through my head, nothing quiets them quite like imagining what it’d be like to cease them forever. You could do it quickly too.

And to me, at least, when I’m on the run or drifting to sleep, this is the most interesting part of the day. It’s risky somehow. Somehow there’s this feeling that the thought will make it so, perhaps by way of lucid dreaming or astral planing, one of those moments of intense prayer—or meditation—that brings you, the thinker, the imaginer, the thought-experimenter and spinach-eater to the threshold of that other place where those who have done and thought this before have already left behind all those others who were not so brave.

There’s courage to it. There is bravery. Like those flatliners from that movie. Stop the heart, go to that place, but instead of coming back, you just keep heading on. Heading on the way I wish I could when I’m on my lunchtime run at the top of the largest hill within striking distance of the office and I’m looking over the landscape and seeing all the places I could go, but can’t, because I have the job and responsibilities and a wife who wants children.

No landscape looks more beautiful than the one you will never step one foot into.

2/26/2014, 12:00 PM, Clear 55°, 7.5 miles, 7:10 min/mile
Notes:

“Maybe you should go to a therapist,” she says. She tells me this almost daily and she’s not the only one. It’s not mean-spirited, it’s not in the middle of a fight, it’s just stated plainly as if it’s a board game we might play.

We are on the couch, but we are always on the couch. We are always on the couch and we are always eating dinner. This is how we live out here, forever the couch-dwellers and eaters of the quickly-made dinner. From what we can tell, this is how everybody lives in California. This is how every person who has yet to have kids lives. It’s the necessary step before the kids because there needs to be a certain amount of pathetic before you both make the leap.

“My supervisor said the same thing today,” I say because she did. She also told me that the pressures I’m experiencing on the job do not go away for long since inevitably some other project will come down the line that’s just as directionless and meaningless, and the best thing to do is not dwell on it.

But I am a dweller. I dwell on all things.

I was also told not to take it too personally.

In fact, she said, “Don’t take anything personally.”

But I take all things personally.

And I think it’s because I haven’t had a haircut or a shave for a while, and my supervisor might think the pressures of the job are mounting, and I’m letting certain things slip—like haircuts and shaving and a few other things. And I think it also has something to do with her mistaking that I’m at the beginning of my career. When does a career begin? Does it start at 32? Careers don’t begin for those who aren’t pursuing one. At no point does someone come to you and say, “Now, young apprentice, your career has thus begun.”

You get a job and then another job and then another job, and they are all, more or less, related, and you can’t really remember why you took any of them except that they and you were available at the same time so you said yes. Eventually one goes away and another comes up, and they all involve a desk and a computer and too many birthday cakes to really give a damn.

Most things work this way. They begin and end in some nebulous fashion that becomes a blur. There’s no definition. It’s the morning fog and the cries of morning birds.

 

3/14/2014, 12:00 PM, Windy 62°, 7.5 miles, 7:05 min/mile
Notes:

I tried to be a standup comic for a week. I would come to work, and I would write my jokes and only one joke was sexual, but most were about Catholicism.

I haven’t thought about Catholicism for ages. But I had all these jokes. One long joke was about the Nazi pope, but I never cared enough to figure out his real name. I just called him Nazi Pope, and that was pretty much the punch line. I had another series of narrative jokes that were about a priest and an altar boy, but they had nothing to do with pedophilia or rape, which was the point of the jokes. The priest and altar boy would get into all sorts of unsavory situations in which they were doing the most immoral things to corpses, prostitutes, and the corpses of prostitutes, with knives and rope and chains, and they did it all with glee, like it was some kind of Frank Miller world where all the priests and altar boys terrorized the seedy underbelly. In this was the humor.

I had a bunch of Hitler bits as well and I realized that I really hate Nazis. More than I expected. I knew I hated Nazis with some passion, but I really, really hate Nazis.

Might be from the movies. I don’t know.

After a week of writing my routine, I convinced my coworker and only friend in California, Big Jon, to listen to the set. Big Jon is a man who loves to laugh, and he is a man who laughs easily and readily to any anecdote I might share. On top of this, my enthusiasm for this craft was such that I convinced Jon to also write his own five minutes. He cleared it with his therapist during his Monday morning session and after telling me how great his therapist is, he said, “Let’s do this.”

We spent the week going back and forth, never fully divulging our jokes, but telling each other our premises and convincing one another how promising they were. When Friday rolled around, we left work, drank a few beers, smoked some weed, ate burgers and then it was time for our sets.

“Cum dumpster,” I said. It was the punch line to my first joke. This made Big Jon laugh.

Confident, I rolled into my Nazi Pope bit. It went on a little too long, and Jon got confused. I got confused. I got polite laughs near the end and Big Jon was kind enough to provide a few working notes.

When I launched into the priest and altar boy material, I had to abandon it halfway through because I had to explain why it was funny that the priest and altar boy were doing such horrendous things to dead prostitutes. I further explained that it should be funny because they were not doing the one horrendous thing we all think of when we think of Catholic priests and altar boys.

It did not get a laugh. It actually got whatever is worse than a laugh because all joy was sucked out of the evening, so much so that Big Jon didn’t want to do his set and neither he nor I have mentioned stand-up comedy again.

 

3/23/2014, 7:00 AM, Marine Layer 43°, 19 miles, 7:20 min/mile
Notes:

Years ago I made a project called a BeerBox Narrative. It’s twenty-four micro stories on beer labels affixed to beer bottles. It can be read in any order and people get the general idea of what the story is about. This story was about a rock and roll band coming up in the 70s that rose fast and died early. It was based on any number of rock bands that have done just that in the 70s, prior to the 70s, and since. I spent time designing the labels. I spent a lot of time writing the words. I made invitations for people to come and see the performance of this “Jamboreading.” There was music, live music that I also played in the style of the band in the story, though I only knew three chords and thought passion and determination would fill in the rest.

Three buddies came and they all left early, before the twenty-four bottles were drank. They all had places to be. My wife was gone for the evening. At her mother’s. I finished the case and then whatever the guys left in the fridge.

When I woke the next morning, my wife had already come and gone, apparently to the farmer’s market. It was spring and beautiful outside, so I went out, down our apartment steps, and saw the parking lot glittering with little brown jewels of light, and I realized then, at that moment, my head pounding and feeling close to retching, that my only audience was myself, hungover, replaying a scene I barely recollected where I was smashing bottle after bottle.

I couldn’t tell if this made it a better art project. The ambiguity and the fact it was seen by no one. The fact that those who might’ve seen it—my neighbors—might have mistook it for a moment of drunken rage in the poorer part of the city.

 

3/29/2014, 7:00 AM, Light Rain 51°, 11 miles, 6:55 min/mile
Notes:

I listen to a famous comedian’s podcast at work. He’s the one who got me thinking about nightly thought routines. His involves being a sniper in a tree, and he finds being weaponized in relative safety makes him feel safe, so he falls right asleep. Other times he says he likes to think of himself being lowered into one of those science fiction deep sleep chambers and set adrift through space.

I’ve tried both of these.

The only thing that works is the bullet through the brain. My thoughts stop instantly.

 

4/08/2014, 12:00 PM, Light Rain 58°, 7.5 miles, 7:20 min/mile
Notes:

My memory is beginning to get worse, and I’m trying less hard to pull details from the fog.

On the bus on my way to work, one of my coworkers was on the bus, and she asked what I did for my vacation. I told her we went to New Orleans, but I couldn’t remember the dates, and I knew we were only in New Orleans two days out of the seven or eight we were along the Gulf Coast. The rest of it, we stayed in a vacation town an hour away.

“It was … The town was called …” I stammered.

And she was friendly and helpful enough. Citing the few names she knew in the region.

“I’m sorry, but I’ve never been there before,” she said.

“Not many have anymore,” I told her.

Then I told her a few things I remembered. The white sand on brackish waters. The long stretches of beachfront property with just spare, old footings standing tall. The quiet streets.

“Like a retirement community or something,” I said.

“Because it was ground zero,” I said.

“Katrina,” I said.

And it wasn’t until that moment that I felt that gentle pull of forgiveness for forgetting the names of the places I had been two weeks prior because a place that has relented to disaster can also relent to memory.

And I saw this understanding in her face, and she changed the subject to ask me about the death of my wife’s father.

 

4/19/2014, 8:00 AM, Rain 47°, 14 miles, 6:40 min/mile
Notes:

A friend came out for a medical conference the other week. He went to residency out here, and we’re good friends from way back. College. He told me months ago he was coming, and I made plans. My wife could sense my excitement.

“You excited for Mike coming?” she’d say, as if to a child or a dog, but not in a belittling way. After so many years, communication doesn’t need much more than these rudimentaries, and in a way, how else do you speak to a man who rarely speaks back?

“It’s gonna be sweet,” I’d say.

And not that I did anything to prepare except keep up on Mike’s text messages and Facebook messages and emails. He had a lot of folks to touch base with out here. He went to residency. He had a completely new set of friends in San Francisco. People he knew as well as he knew me.

It was one of those friends meeting friends things that never goes well.

On Friday evening I packed my bag to crash on his hotel floor like old times and headed to Union Square where his hotel was. Once there I gave him a call.

“Oh, yeah, dude, we’re not there anymore. We’re out in Sunset.”

“Where’s Sunset?”

“You could catch the Muni.”

“I’m not near the Muni. I’m at your hotel. Weren’t we getting dinner?”

“Didn’t I send you a text?”

“Yes, it said meet at Union Square.”

“Jeez, man, I’m sorry. You can either catch the Muni or take a cab. Don’t worry about it. We’re eating dinner now.”

“I got all my crap.”

“What did you bring?”

I took a cab. I am employed. I am more gainfully employed than I’ve ever been, but these things are relative. I am employed enough to afford public transport through the city. I am not employed enough to afford taxi cabs across the city.

They were at a brew/pub. One of those places that is caught between trying to be the neighborhood watering hole and being some upscale fusion restaurant. The building itself was confused. I had trouble getting through the door. My backpack was too big. My work satchel too full, but I had a book in there that I enjoyed reading. It was about World War II and speaks forthrightly about cowardice and homosexuality. These things make war seem more real to me, a guy who will never see it.

Mike and I hugged. I shook hands with Stephanie, a doctor, and Brad, another doctor. They all were sitting near plates with scraps of half-eaten entree on them, all of it looking unappetizing and plastic and smelling of ketchup. Napkins were over the French fries. I sloughed my packs and went straight to the restroom because I had just spent two hours on public transport and then another twenty in a cab. I was counting costs at that moment because I’m always counting costs, and I had now already doubled the weekend parking rate I would have been charged had I drove, and to which Mike said was completely unnecessary.

When I returned, I was introduced.

“This is Mark. He’s a secretary at Stanford,” Mike said.

“Well, I work administration,” I said.

This introduction sparked no further interest, and I sat in a seat that was still warm and took a sip of water.

“Somebody sitting here?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s Rog.”

I do not know Rog.

“Don’t worry about it, he took off, but he drank out of that water.”

“Oh.” I said.

“You want food?”

“Nah, just beer.”

They talked doctor things while I thought non-doctor thoughts.

Eventually I mentioned something about puppies.

 

5/03/2014, 7:00 PM, Overcast 59°, 10 miles, 6:55 min/mile
Notes:

I’ve been seeing a therapist. His name is Steve, he will only drive BMWs, he’s never once gotten my name right, he wants me to meditate with this guru he knows, and during every session he has told me the same story of Chicken Little. Explaining, as if for an eight-year-old, how the sky isn’t actually falling, how Chicken Little is blowing things out of proportion, how if Chicken Little were just able to realize that it was an acorn that fell, and not the sky, most of his troubles would just go way.

Steve is not a Ph.D. He’s not even a doctor. I think he has a master’s degree in something. I have a master’s degree in something as well. This makes me falsely believe we’re on equal footing.

But we’re not. He’s drives a BMW. I ride the bus. He’s a professional meditator. I run in the hills. He relieves his anxiety by driving down the freeway in his BMW at unsafe speeds. He told me this. With a straight face. “I have to keep my speed up on the freeway, otherwise I get tense. This is a thing I learned about myself. You need to have similar self-discoveries. It helps me see the world as an acorn, not as a falling sky.”

He loves the callback. Reiterating. The acorn sky. Raining acorns. Acorns everywhere. Acorns are safe. The sky is not.

And it had me seeing a world filled with acorns and how disastrous this might be. The infrastructure that would be needed to clear the acorns from the streets. The plows, the bulldozers. Where would you put them? They would rot and ferment. There would be an insane problem with pests, and you’d hope they’d be friendly chipmunks or squirrels, but logic tells me it’d be rats and cockroaches. Real pests. Diseases infected everything in Steve’s acorn world where he could race down the Autobahn at insane speeds on his way to Nirvana.

Because I wanted my hills. I wanted my run. I wanted to think about bullets and brains and thoughts ceasing forever. I wanted the sky to fall because how exactly could that be worse than acorn hurricanes? And, technically, the sky is always falling. We’re falling through space on starship Earth. It’s called fucking gravity. The universe is bound together because it is all falling apart. This is, like, physics. It’s the same goddamn force that pulled the acorn from the oak and plunked it onto the rat’s head. Laws of nature.

Steve, I decided, was an idiot, but I asked him if I could join his Men’s Group group-therapy sessions anyway because I knew I needed help. I knew my conversations with Steve weren’t helping. I thought perhaps I would meet a mentor/fatherly figure in his group who would actually give me advice. He said I was too young.

“Is it because I don’t have prostate issues yet?” I asked because I thought maybe that’s what they talked about. That, or golf.

He chuckled, said, “No,” and told me about Chicken Little.

“It’s the not the sky, Joe. It’s an acorn. You know. A little, itty-bitty acorn. Fell from a tree. Chicken Little went running.”

My name isn’t Joe.

 

5/11/2014, 12:00 PM, Clear 63°, 7.5 miles, 7:10 min/mile
Notes:

I went to a church in a small town. The building was red brick and had a white steeple. The church was beautiful. As I recall it, the congregants and the priest, Father Kapala, were too. Everything was beautiful. It was always spring, which is impossible in Minnesota. Spring in Minnesota lasts two weeks. But in my head, it was always spring, and Father Kapala was always smiling, and the small church was always packed, and the darkness and coolness was always perfect. It was cramped, and the perfumes were strong and the body odor tolerable. The organ was loud and it defined what I came to know as being Catholic, and even as a young kid I admired the altar boys and how they had serious responsibilities. My father told me he was an altar boy, and at that time I wanted to be my father.

I wanted to be an altar boy just like him. I didn’t want to be a low-level administrator just like him who died too young at his desk.

But this isn’t the joke. This wasn’t part of my routine. Still it has a punch line because they demolished that church, and they sent Father Kapala to some small farm community in western Minnesota, and none of us knew why. It was so surprising. He was so nice. He was kind. He was old. He smelled like a priest, and he told funny jokes, and we all respected him. But then they built this beige monstrosity and put that steeple on top of a used car dealership and everything about Catholicism after that became one long cartoon until I was an adult, in my thirties, doing the things my dad would do in the office, on the runs, with the spreadsheets and the rage, when my brother sent me an exceedingly rare text message.

Remember Father Kapala?, it said.

Of course, I replied. He was awesome.

Paper said he was a pederast. They just put it out today.

Neither of us even texted a seeya l8tr, or how are things. We just don’t text that much.

5/12/2014, 7:00 AM, Overcast 51°, 11 miles, 7:30 min/mile
Notes:

A priest and an altar boy are driving around looking for a place to bury the dead prostitute in their trunk. The altar boy pulls up to a warehouse and the priest says, “Nah, no good. They got security cameras. Besides, the pavement would hurt my knees.”

The altar boy shrugs, says, “I know another place. Not a problem.”

They pull up to the wharf and drive under the docks. The black waters of the sea are lapping up against the shore.

The priest, again, says, “Nah, no good. One of these hobos might be an undercover cop, and I just don’t like the idea of sand in my robes.” The altar boy shrugs again and drives on.

They end up in the wilderness, and it’s getting toward dawn, and they’re in the middle of a forest. No people, no anything is around for miles and miles. The altar boy drags the prostitute over to a tree and props her up and says, “Will this do?”

“Well, this is embarrassing,” the priest says. “I forgot my Viagra.”

 

5/13/2014, 8:00 AM, Mist/Rain 54°, 22 miles, 7:40 min/mile
Notes:

On the rare occasion I’m up and motivated, I drive to the Golden Gate Bridge to run through the Golden Gate Recreation Area on the north side. I hate running across the bridge, but I do it anyway. I don’t know why.

At no moment do I think it’s a good idea to huck my body off like so many others. That’s just not a way to go.

I run across the bridge for some sort of penance and because to not run across it would seem strange when so near it. But it’s a miserable journey. It’s windy, cold, crowded. You can’t so much run as jaunt a few paces and then breathe loudly and aggressively behind whatever lollygaggers are trying to enjoy the frigid mist.

Frigid mist is perfect to run in.

Once in the park I am free. There valleys and hills and a labyrinth network of trails cut through these things. There are copses of forests and open fields. When the skies are clear you see the ocean. When the skies are not clear you get lost.

It is grey and misty, and figures emerge from this mist, and sometimes they are like you—a haggard runner, long hair, bad skin, eyes that somehow look like they have light. They are not dark. They are not like black holes. And they don’t look through or past and beyond or whatever it is people say about eyes not quite dead. They see everything. They are like the candles that have burned so long that you can only see the palest flame guttering through the wax, yet, oddly, when you go to blow it out, you find there’s no flame there at all.

Mists and lonely figures in the mists always make you think of ghosts. Networks of trails that lead in circles and nowhere at all also make you think of ghosts. Being lost makes you think of ghosts.

And I’m a scientific-minded man. I lost my religion because I believe so strongly in the tenets of physics and calculus and those things Einstein discovered that I do not understand. My math skills aren’t up to par.

But I know the cosmos are expanding.

The universe will collapse.

And it will happen again and again.

And we primal men will die and go away, losing our way on trails near an ocean we cannot see.


About the Author: Mark Rapacz is an editor and partner with the neo-pulp press Burnt Bridge and the founder of its imprint Blastgun Books. His short stories have appeared in a number of publications, including Water~Stone ReviewSouthern Humanities ReviewThe BookedAnthology, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012. His novella Buffalo Bill in the Gallery of the Machines was recently re-issued as a historically accurate dime novel and is available through IndyPlanet.  He and his wife currently live in the Bay Area, where he works at Stanford University and continues to write stories.

Etched Indigo Blood by M.O. Mc

For M.O. Mc


 

Etched Indigo Blood

Seen series of an afterlife
when I walked through the catacombs
It was June, scorched
un-nameable animals & dye skirted the walls

I saw how Osiris cut successors’ way
walked a few feet in the dark
towards an Egyptian Syria using deadly combination of
expertise brutality classically associated with
disturbing videos of mummy-wrapped,
when I noticed his sister doing the same thing

ISIS taunting distinctive scores of former crowns
official seniors clad like ostrich feathers served resembling
symbolic trained forces that ISIS flails to take, on time

Flashbacks bring me to the tunnels of the tombs
where a fair fight in some areas ensues
—Iraq corps texts retained new Sunni documents—
that’s what it’s like

I’m sucked out of the scene when
commotions of Kurdish carting vegetation
an aggressive aero blue rug is thrown
over the threshold as a dust storm floods alarm for an hour,
waiting off  the Nile river infrastructure
reminds me of al-U.S describing love
before missiles

Regional ambitions permanently have prominent Utterances
Osiris once said in my dreams
spells, pushing out my sage marbled eyes that I
affectionately termed trifocals after the one on my forehead
shattered glass

The forecast in 2016:
the pyramid dam will crack open of
concern over video protesting Pharaohs’
rouge evidenced journalist follows the body
addressed after death immortelle

Which president will rescind retaliation?
Revenge doesn’t smell as sweet as cinnabar & cloves,
there will only be heaping helpings of airstrike skinned roots of chicory
that Osiris will use as oil

Beware for the death god blows willingly
with the east African wind traveling in mid-hymn
onyx and juniper berry were gifts of protection
from the gods, situations etched into the walls
are proof, I can prove it

Ritual civilians bazaar like during fifth dynasty in a country as the old kingdom
where paying camel homage
becomes part of anthology history
was written in electric indigo blood
on the walls, permanently
I read each scene and wept a storybook


About the Author: M. O. Mc is the co-founding editor of (Re)Vision: A journal of literary transformation. She is currently completing her MFA in poetry at SDSU.

 

 

 

 

Bats in the Attic by Clare Fitzpatrick

ken and barbie


We were on our way to Annie’s funeral on a cold morning in the pit of December. Sky heavy with rain and aching. I had just turned on the defroster. Jay was in the passenger seat, sipping his coffee. We were waiting for the rain.

From the corner of my eye I watched Jay’s fingers sliding against the paper cup. Side to side. The giant fingers tentative and light.

“Thanks for driving,” he said.

I shrugged my shoulders. “It’ll be easier than jamming up the parking lot with both of our cars.”

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s going to be packed.”

My iPod was on some random playlist with the volume low. He picked it up and switched it over to City and Colour. The quiet melodic hum drifting in and out of our bones.

“You look nice, by the way,” he said.

I looked down at my black dress. I used my other hand to bunch my coat closer.

We were silent. The song hummed onward, painful awareness, filling me up to burst. I took occasional glances at Jay. He stared straight ahead. His normally unkempt red hair and beard were combed and trimmed. His coat was still dusty.

“I don’t even know what an aneurysm is,” he said.

“It’s like a blood clot, I think. You don’t feel it, and there’s no symptoms. A built up bubble of blood bursts, and you die instantly.”

“I didn’t know you could get one in your 20s,” he said.

“Anyone can get one anytime.”

“Oh.”

We were quiet again. The freeway was clear. Jay had the back of his hand against the window, tapping at each tree as it whipped past us.

“I hope it didn’t hurt.”

“It’s painless,” I said. “She didn’t feel anything.”

He put his coffee back in the cup holder and said nothing. I pressed my thumbs into the steering wheel.

“I didn’t think you would respond,” I said.

He exhaled a quiet laugh. “I didn’t either.”

“Why did you?”

“I don’t know.”

He was unreadable in the overcast light. His head swayed with the current as we drove. When he looked back at me, his eyes were narrow and focused. “I don’t think you’re ever going to be satisfied with how things went.”

“How could I be?”

“Can we just drop it?”

“Okay.”

“It’s Annie’s funeral.”

“I said okay.”

“Okay.”

In the silence I remembered the phone call at 7pm on a Friday night that changed a lot of things. Nicole on the other line, her voice careful and soft, a distinct mumble and the word “dead” hanging between us. How I sat in front of my computer in the bank of the quiet. Stared at Annie’s number in my phone. Watched her Facebook swell and burst with photos and words. By the time I’d mustered the courage to call her and hope she would pick up, knowing she wouldn’t, I was mostly drunk and slurring a voicemail from the floor at the foot of my bed with 10% battery life and a half empty bottle of Bushmills. The deep sleep when all I wanted was to be awake.

Jay ran a hand through his beard. “When did you last talk to her?”

“Couple months ago.”

“Did she know about us?” he asked.

“She always knew.”

He nodded. Slow but assured. Straight ahead staring and bleeding the dashboard.

I felt like I was chasing the road somewhere. All that big gray sky. But all either of us was chasing was a church and a casket and a spray of flowers no one would notice was there. One big show.

“Sometimes it feels like we just got caught up in one giant clusterfuck mistake, and we just need to start over,” I said.

“Why would we start over?” he asked.

“Because you loved Annie. Before you loved me.”

“But she didn’t love me.”

“What difference does that make? Doesn’t change how you feel. How it went for us.”

“Maybe if we had been more open. Weren’t ashamed of it. Maybe if I hadn’t been ashamed of it.”

“Maybe,” I said.

I had told Annie all of these things over many days and months and glasses of wine and maybe whiskey. The truth of it was that she knew it all and wanted it for us as much as I did, and more than Jay did. More than Jay ever did. I remembered her face in the dim light of my apartment one night over Christmas break when she was home visiting from her college up north. Assured and knowing.

“Hey,” she’d said. She swirled her glass of cabernet without taking her eyes off me. “You deserve to be happy. And so does Jay.”

“I don’t think either of us will ever believe it,” I’d said. I downed the glass.

She smiled a sad smile. “I hope someday you do.”

She had been echoing in my head in the days since she died. Loud and wavering in my line of sight, vague. I slept with the uncertain hope that she was next to me with a hand on my head saying it over and over and over, that I deserved to be happy.

I wanted to tell Jay this. Instead I asked him if he remembered that night that a bunch of us got drunk in his garage junior year and took his dad’s Cadillac and did donuts in the court. Jay throwing his head back and howling as I grabbed the bottle of Stoli from his lap and took a swig. Annie and Molly singing a Something Corporate song. The night in its patterns and a glimmering starlight we traced with our fingertips. When Jay’s beard only grew in clumps on his chin and left cheek.

He smiled. I laughed a little. There was so much we didn’t know.

“I hadn’t heard from you in almost a year,” I said.

He looked down at his coffee. “I had a lot of thinking to do.”

“Not even a text?”

“What good would it have done?”

But I didn’t answer him. We were just 21 again, laying out on the golf course a block from my house, trading a bottle of whiskey back and forth, and I was tucked under his arm. Even in that moment I remembered being warm and knowing it wasn’t the whiskey and thinking, “Yeah, we can do this; we always could.”

The rain came down harder. In the shadows cast off by the passing trees I swore I saw Annie standing there, and for a second, she wasn’t dead, just missing. Just missing and we were on a mission to find her. And when we found her we would hug, and I would tell her that I was so sorry for everything and for not calling and that it wasn’t because I was busy; it was because I hated Jay, and it was always easier when things were his fault. And then we would all laugh about it, and I’d give her the keys to my car, and she’d drive the three of us north, and God knows where we’d go but wherever it was, it’d be home.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Jay said.

“Do you?”

“Sometimes people just die, and sometimes the only thing we can do is acknowledge that it happened.”

“It’s not going to make things better.”

“No. But maybe it’ll make you braver.”

Annie always thought that we were going to fly off into the sunset when we died, after we crash landed with whatever fucked up ideal we were pushing when the time finally came. No quiet sleep. Never.

“We aren’t quiet people,” she’d said. “We’re loud. And loud people go out as loud as you can possibly get.”

And I cried then because Annie went out quiet and alone.

I held the ache in my throat to a choke. I was the one who had called Jay at three in the morning a few days before, voice a timid whisper, to tell him what no one ever wants to tell anyone. And I lay on that floor expecting voicemail, and instead got a hello. The hello that gave me permission to be brave.

I didn’t realize how tight my hand was gripping the armrest until I felt his hand come over mine. At first it was light, cautious. His skin was rough and callused. But it held mine, tight enough to remind me he once loved me, loose enough to assure that we were different people in a bigger world and things were new here. And whether we got out of it was its own to him as it was to me.

If there was something that needed to be said, it was said there in the hollow of his hand, warm and tensed. I felt his fingers in the crooks of my knuckles and eased them into his hold. We were careful, marking our steps and waiting.

In the end, Annie with her end cast a glow in our darkened corners, and we followed that glow up the stairs where it lit us up and we could see the bats in the attic we had spent too long ignoring. Hanging upside down and gnawing at us internally. Jay is holding up his candle, and I’m standing still because their meaty eyes are crooked, and if they rush us, they may blow the light out. So we stand there silent and maybe a little aware. Maybe in the end we will laugh.

He moved his hand away from mine, back to his lap. I watched his eyes from the corner of mine as they followed the trail of the windshield wipers.

We had agreed that we should get to the church early, and we were right. The parking lot was nearly full. We found a spot near the back, and through the rearview mirror I could see the hearse, a black stain at the foot of the church. There was a trickling of people on their way in, long coats and black umbrellas swimming along the blacktop against the current of rain.

“Do you think maybe,” I asked, “if we get through today, we’ll feel better about how it ended? Even a little?”

He took a deep breath. “I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

“Will you be ok?”

He smiled. Another soft laugh. “Will you?”

In my mind, I waited for Annie to tell us both yes. But there was nothing from her. Any more than from us.

I opened my door and stepped out. The heels of my shoes fell into a splash of rain water as I shut the door and bunched up my coat. Jay came around and leaned over with his umbrella, covering us both, and I caught the ends of his mouth tipping upward in the slightest smile. I smiled back.

We stood in the parking lot staring up at the church for a moment before either of us was brave enough to take that first step. And even then I was a step behind Jay, who had one hand in his pocket and the other gripping the umbrella. But he was still smiling, slight, just enough for me to notice, and I stayed close to him.

The rain came down harder, then. It fell around us as we ascended the steps; it fell in splashes over the black hearse; it fell in speckled bursts over the steeple and spilled over the holy crucifix; it fell like a fist. And in those moments, in the spaces between us and the rain and God and our most precious dead, there was silence.


About the Author: Clare FitzPatrick started writing Lion King spinoffs when she was six, and hasn’t stopped. She’s still waiting for Disney to call her back regarding any one of her 47 sequel or prequel pitches. She graduated from Saint Mary’s College of California with her MFA in Fiction in 2013. After spending a couple of years working at a funeral home and getting reprimanded for making terrible death jokes at parties, she found her way into the tech industry, where she still makes terrible death jokes. Her written work has appeared in The White Stag Journal, St. Mary’s Magazine, and riverrun. When she’s not writing masterpieces, you can often find Clare playing video games, sleeping, or speaking at length about the problems with the Oakland A’s ownership. She currently works at Google and lives in a tiny apartment with an awful dog

Carrying the One by Kevin Brown

2015-04-19 12.48.14-1



Carrying the One

 

We both learned languages—you started
Latin in sixth grade, row after ordered row
of declensions, while I was forced into French
my freshman year, rules so random they seem
pieced together by three teenage boys

in a basement passing the time until
the rain stops.  Our brains are built for words,
not numbers.  We count in three categories:
one, two, and many.  We can tell if a cartoon
character has two or three hairs
on his head at a glance, but four or five

fingers force us to focus.  You used
those categories, told me I told one
too many jokes, made one too many
mentions of how you laughed at co-workers’
comments:  louder and longer.  You said
you were different, the exception

that proves the rule; you knew if you had said
something once or one thousand four hundred
and two times.  You could move decimal places
in your mind. You knew what the remainder
would be when it came time to divide.


 

About the Author: Kevin Brown is a Professor at Lee University. He has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (forthcoming from Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press, 2009). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. He received his MFA from Murray State University. You can find out more about him and his work at http://www.kevinbrownwrites.com/

 

 

A Comic Strip in Ten Panels by Barry Blitstein

Ignacio Pena_For Blitstein


 

  1. A comic strip in ten panels: In the first panel, there is a crescent moon. In the second, a cow. In the third, the cow spins its tail and inflates its udders. In the fourth, the cow rises and in the fifth, reaches the clouds. In the sixth, the cow appears below the moon; in the seventh, above. In the eighth the moon wrinkles; in the ninth, it pierces an inflated udder and there is an explosion. In the tenth and last, the cow is shown falling through space.
  2. The backstory: When it was a calf this cow experienced a trauma when her father was killed in the bullring. Without advice, without therapy or emotional support, this cow was left to heal as best she could; and she conceived, during this period, which lasted into adulthood, a dream of flight. Through an act of will and a special kind of genius, she discovered that she could make her tail spin like a propeller and her udders inflate with hot air. This made her rise and move low over the meadows, which gave her the serenity she lacked in her daily life. One day on one of her flights, misdirecting her heat energy away from her inflated udders, she farted and rose like a rocket into the upper atmosphere, in the vicinity of the moon in its crescent phase. To the cow’s perpetually fevered brain and inappropriately applied imagination, the moon took on the person of her father, with his horns. As traumatized creatures will, she fell into an obsessive condition which compelled her, at each crescent moon, to fly above the crescent, expressing with all manner of cow noises her love for her father. To call this a habit is to undervalue it. It was one of the great obsessions, to be memorialized in all media from Norse epic to Pixar blockbuster. At last, the cow’s pathetic history reached a newly independent Kyrgyzstan, whose formerly state-owned newspaper soon initiated a popular cartoon series in the first flush of capitalist enterprise.
  3. The Dénouement: Why, then, did the moon act in so reprehensible a manner? I believe, month after month, in all innocence, the moon, being only half-bright, came to think of itself as the cow’s father, a bull. All well and good for the cow, who doubtless sensed the moon’s empathy and bathed in its glow. But one night, the moon rose blue, and in a fit of depressive delusion, saw the cow as a matador and seized the chance to take a father’s revenge for having been lost to his daughter all those years ago.
  4. The Lesson: If you are going to jump over the moon, and you are a cow, make sure you have a cat to comfort and a fiddle to soothe a deranged crescent moon.

About the Author: Barry Blitstein began in theater (MFA); he has lived in New York, The San Gabriel Mountains, Los Angeles, and Berlin, Germany.  He feels very much at home wherever he is. Most recently his poems have appeared in Off The Rocks, Hartskill Review and The Inflectionist Review. His objective is to make each poem’s form and content inseparable and has no fixed ideas about either.

Ice by Michelle Gil-Montero

IMG_7952


Ice

Salt dissolves this mirror

which is finite, blotched with the heat
and wet of a benignant winter

in the body, a kind austerity,
the exsufflation of a needy sentence

whispered softly to fog a surface.
Outside the neighbors string

lights around the trunks of lifetime
oaks, like necklaces of bejeweled

tears, as might costume a saint,
a lady of the light of a lonely  lookout,

tower illuminating at best its own
exception, though exciting the dark.


About the Author: Michelle Gil-Montero is the author of Attached Houses (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2013) and the translator of several books of contemporary Latin American writing, most recently Dark Museum (Action Books, 2015). Her work has appeared in Jubilat, Spoon River Poetry Review, Conjunctions, Colorado Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, and other journals. She lives in Pittsburgh and is Associate Professor of English at Saint Vincent College.

 

The Odyssey of Turkey Jane by Mandy Campbell Moore

For Moore


California’s Highway 395 is a road you’d use if you were on the lam. Or if you wanted to see Los Angeles raped and left for dead. I know desert, but this looks like a bomb’s aftermath got swept away by windstorms.

Hours ago I threw the few things I haven’t sold into my Hyundai with a plan of driving anywhere rather than facing my landlord. Instead of the stray cash I was hoping for in the glove compartment, I found a three-year-old wedding invitation from my best friend in high school. Dena and I both met our soul mates (or so I thought) when we came west for college, but she married hers and moved out in the country. She isn’t expecting me, but memories of their wedding—barefoot on the beach, passionate kisses as he carried her into the surf—make love seem so real and true. Witnessing that is just what I need.

What looked like sand from the highway is actually jagged white rock now stuck in my sandals as I make my way toward a ditch near the railroad tracks. Not so much as a twig of chaparral to hide behind when you gotta take a piss. I was gonna go in my Big Gulp cup, but it’s the only drinking ware I have.

I can’t use a restroom in a gas station without buying something. I just can’t.

Rising from the ditch, I see a rainbow glint from the other side of the tracks. Colored glass in the sun. Shards of it amidst rusted cans and wheels and unidentifiables, as if freight train engineers have dumped their trash right here for years. I should see if there’s anything worth selling or making art with, but the image of myself old and rusted and discarded by the tracks punches me in the stomach. I run back to the car.

It wasn’t like this ‘til recently. A couple of years ago, my boyfriend Ted and I had this idea for a children’s cartoon. We were so baked we were having shared visuals about a turkey we named Turkey Jane. The cartoon has become quite successful now, and I still say you couldn’t tease apart who had the original idea.

But Ted’s lawyer did.

My own lawyer was so busy bragging about how Ted was going to owe me for the rest of his life that he forgot I had no means to pay his bills unless I won the case. Which I didn’t.

More than wishing I’d won, though, I wish I didn’t still love Ted. I won’t discuss here the ways I tried to express this, but I will say that the restraining order was overkill.

No sign of civilization other than billboards advertising the World’s Best Beef Jerky for about fifty miles, so when I finally reach the little shack, I know how the ‘49ers felt. My protein has come entirely from peanut butter for the last several months.

Los Angeles is so devoid of rednecks, it actually feels like cultural diversity to see one behind the counter. The store has three walls devoted to jerky. Honey, garlic, sweet pickle, lime, curry, cotton candy. If it will stick to rawhide, this guy’s got it. Country music plays really loud, but the guy talks over it at me, asking if I’m going to Vegas.

I cover my shock at the price of jerky by tossing a bag on the counter in front of him. “Visiting a friend in Lone Pine. You know it?”

“’Course I do, but you’re going the wrong way.”

Impossible, there’s only one road and I know enough to know I’m going north, but I break my last twenty and open the bag in front of him like I’m totally cool with going the wrong way.

“You musta turned at the stoplight. Happens all the time. But you gotta go all the way back there to pick up 395.” His arm glides like I have to fly a plane all the way back there. I catch a glimpse of pit hair.

So I’m not even on 395.

Even if it happens all the time, he clearly gets a kick out of my mistake. I wish my hair was still long. Now it’s white and spiky—homemade chic—and useless at hiding my hot face as I make for the door.

Back to the scorched day. Back those fifty miles to the stoplight that made me wonder why the hell it was there.

I turn on the air in my little hatchback, hoping I can buy gas again before they cut off my Visa.

The thing my lawyer tried to prove was that the cartoon character Turkey Jane was based on me. Every episode, she started with a misunderstanding and led the other eye-rolling barnyard animals on a wild goose (or turkey) chase, but then miraculously and totally by accident, she’d make the right thing happen. The thing Turkey Jane needed to happen all along.

Only, unlike me, she didn’t feel sorry for herself. She’d just exchange the red comb on her head for the one that stood upright on her butt and walk off into the sunset, grooving to a bluesy tune.

. . . . .

Miles ahead and far away from the flat hot road, snow-covered Sierras rise like animated backgrounds. In sunset, they fade to huge purple shoulders I can feel even when it’s too dark to see them. The sign for Lone Pine flies by as I’m nodding off. Figuring it might be the only one, I careen into the first motel driveway I see.

There’s a long enough wait that I begin to think the neon vacancy sign is just artwork. Finally, a lady with stark red hair buzzes me in through the glass office door. Her fitted tan blouse is misbuttoned, revealing a lacy turquoise bra. Clearly, I’ve interrupted something, though her lizard-skin cleavage makes me wonder who’s interested.

“How long will you be staying?” Even her voice sounds leathery.

“Um. A day or two.” My mascara like epoxy as I squint under the light.

“Which one?”

I heave my backpack higher. “Three.”

The clerk leans over the desk to pass the key, but won’t let go of it ’til I meet her eye. “Keep it clean. Don’t take anything. We’ve had trouble with your type.”

My type—the tatted type? Broke folk? I head back to the car trying to keep in mind her directions around the motel where my room is waiting.

As I’m driving the path from asphalt to gravel to dirt, it’s clear I’ve gone too far. The headlights catch an orange diamond-shaped sign that reads—I kid you not—Dead Animal Pit, but what appears next is a very live animal. A large dog or a small horse. I hope it’s not a wolf, or a giant coyote. He blinks in my direction and I think he can’t be wild. Finally, he ambles along as if he knew I’d hit the brakes. Large testicles swing beneath his upturned tail.

. . . . .

Late sun filters through the dirt-splattered window. There’s mooing outside. My teeth could have fallen out, I slept so soundly. This may be the first time since court.

The invitation’s return address is 203 Manzanar Street. Manzanar was a Japanese internment camp a few miles north of Lone Pine in a town called Independence. That much I remember from eighth grade.

The room has no phone. I terminated my cell contract to pay a legal bill and sold the GPS on Craigslist, so finding the street presents a challenge. Beyond the motel, the highway narrows to a strip of gift shops, forced-quaint galleries, and restaurants offering local steer. For breakfast, I order a waffle cone at an ice cream shop where the sign says they can’t “except” any bill larger than $20. A cute moonfaced Indian girl hands me the cone and directs me to Dena’s street.

“Why do you want to go out there? That’s in the sticks. Go away! Sorry—not you,” she says as I step backwards. “Him.”

I follow her finger to what I swear is the same dog I saw last night. He must be a Great Dane. Huge, slobbery, Scooby-Dooish in daylight.

“Some tourist dumped him on us. Don’t stand too still. He’ll hump you.”

. . . . .

Willow branches drape the clapboard house. It has a tin roof and a wraparound porch. A small gray pickup truck out front. Dena’s in the yard, hanging laundry. I honk the horn and hop out to meet the lithe woman with the wavy brown hair. Same as when we graduated ten years ago.

There’s that knockout smile as she drops her laundry basket. Gathering her skirt (a breezy cotton pastel versus my all-black skintight attire), she crosses the wildflower-strewn lot.

“Syl! How on earth?—I like your hair.”

We hug. We giggle. She whirls me inside to see her homemade calico curtains, her rare and native plants. A few years ago, I poked fun at people like this. Now I see this is how it’s done—love and life. A black and white portrait of Darby hangs on the den wall. His hair dark and curly, his eyes deep and sincere.

Dena pours us tea.

“Aren’t you working on the Roadrunner or something?”

I can’t tell her all that’s happened over the lemongrass tea in her handmade pottery mugs. Instead, I tell her what a success Turkey Jane has become. She’s been picked up by a big network, although, legally, I have nothing to do with that.

“Turkeys, hmm?” Dena grunts into her mug. “Turkeys are threatening my marriage.”        She flings open the kitchen door. Acrid feed and dusty feathers thicken the breeze. Four rust-colored birds with lolling red necks strut around the dirt yard. One comes clucking up to the door, as if for food. Dena slams it in the bird’s face.

“Bourbon reds.” She flips on the overhead fan and dumps out her tea. “Observing them carry out their ‘natural life cycle’ was supposed to help assuage my desire for a baby.”

The irony is that the turkeys seem disinterested.

“They never even screw,” Dena twirls her hair behind her ear and squeezes a laugh. She offers a glass of wine, saying the nature center’s closed on Wednesdays and Darby is at a water rights hearing.

So. Dena wanted a baby and Darby didn’t (“Why bring in more polluters?”). Instead he brought home turkeys, showing his, as she sees it, disregard for her feelings. Their rift grew and in a moment of weakness she let herself get pregnant. She was convinced she could change his mind. Shortly after she told him, she miscarried. He hasn’t forgiven her dishonesty.

Dena pours another glass. We have a history of clandestine drinking. “I wonder if we had had kids, would he dump all the responsibilities on me? That’s what he’s trying with the turkeys.”

The eyes in his portrait look forgiving. The lips edible. Why can’t these people just be in love for my benefit?

“Why don’t you set the turkeys free, or give them away?”

“I think he keeps them out of spite for my little trick.” She blinks her thick lashes. “I used to love everything about him, Syl, and forgive everything I couldn’t.”

I get up to look at her problems (and avoid trivializing them).

The hens roll their eyes toward me, but their bodies stay glued to where they’re picking at the ground. As soon as I step out the door, the tom rushes the back of my knee. I squeal, but he only nuzzles my pants leg. I pet his ugly head and he doesn’t shy away. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a real turkey before. He’s copper and white, with a tail that folds down like a regular bird’s. Turkey Jane is brown with big eyes and those interchangeable red combs.

Two of the hens approach. Only half the size of their man.

“They like you,” Dena giggles from the doorway.

. . . . .

For dinner I grab a Coke and Fritos from the motel’s vending machine to accompany my jerky. Hot dust blows as if from a broken vacuum cleaner bag. Once dusk comes it’s cooler outside than in, so I take a stroll toward the cows. It’s still light enough—and the moon bright enough—that I can see there are two ways to turn at the Dead Animal Pit sign. I go the other way. Past aspen trees that line the fence, there’s a shitload of junked cars. There are mattresses, a toilet, a rusted fridge. A person who’s about to be homeless could probably use some of this, or sell it. I lift a twisted brass lamp from its box-spring trap, and as I’m doing that, I notice one of the cars is moving.

Not like running moving. Swaying moving. When I take a step closer a naked girl pops up from the backseat. Her face is familiar. The Indian girl who sold me ice cream. She flashes a shy smile and dives back down.

Leaning against the fence, I realize most of the junked out cars are moving. Making an ocean of reflecting metal under the moon. When I hold my own breath, I hear others breathing, grunting.

There’s a wet warmth on the exposed skin on my back. I jump. The dog. His moist whiskers tickling. On all fours he’s more than half my height. He might outweigh me by thirty pounds.

He licks my hand with a hot tongue. The jerky, I realize. Then he’s off and headed toward the pit.

Later, lying back on the bed—a stone tablet covered with a saddle blanket—I twist the fake diamond in my navel and drift off to sleep.

. . . . .

In the morning—well, afternoon—I discover the TV doesn’t work. So I’m looking through the room’s reading material when I see a flier for the Owens Valley Nature Center. That’s Dena’s and her hubby’s place.

It nestles in a dormant pasture down a deeply-rutted drive. My Hyundai skids on its weedy median. I guess not many tourists or hikers come out of their way to visit.

Dena’s little pickup and a mountain bike are under the shade of an immense oak. A square of gravel suggests a parking lot and I stand in it for a moment in complete silence. Even the hot wind is on siesta. Then, as I crack open the metal door of the building, cool grayness transports me back to school field trips. Buzzing fluorescent lights and the smell of pinecones and dusty books and maps.

The place seems empty, but I hear mumbling in the office across from the main room. A pleading baritone followed by Dena’s high whine. I slip off my sandals and, carrying them, pad across the floor.

I would’ve thought they’d have heard my car. Slinking until I can put one eyeball to the crack of the door, I hold my breath. Sunlight filters in a window of the cramped office, the couple’s shadow visible on the far wall. Darby kneels, hugging Dena’s waist.

He’s feeding her platitudes: we can’t go on like this; I need you in my life.

I strain to hear over my heartbeat.

Dena crosses her arms as if she doesn’t care. Is that what makes men like you? I’ve forgotten.

“Get rid of the turkeys,” she growls.

His sigh deflates him lower still. “Do you really think that’s our only problem?”

Please say yes, I’m thinking.

“I’ve apologized,” she says. “You say you forgive, but it feels like you’re still punishing me.”

He mumbles something into the folds of her skirt and his hands crawl up and down her back. Her own hands drop to his shoulders.

Just as they melt together, there’s a clattering noise. Suddenly they’re at the door and in my face.

I realize I dropped my sandals.

Dena’s eyes are red and puffy. Darby’s far from understanding. I bend to pick up my shoes and wipe my brow like I’ve just walked in from the heat.

“Honey, you remember my friend Sylvie.”

“Where are you staying?” From zero to one hundred percent gruff, this guy.
“There’s a motel—”

“You two have a nice visit.” He edges past me. “I have to feed the turkeys.”

“Darby, will you forget the turkeys for five minutes?”

“Can’t just let them starve ’til we figure out what to do with them.”

“You two.” I raise my voice. “You need more time together. I’ll feed the turkeys.”

. . . . .

It is physically impossible for them to peck me to death. I’m fairly certain. As I open the gate all four of them come grooving up to me with the same rhythm as Turkey Jane, their grisly necks like engorged genitalia.

They are not like dogs, looking up to see if you agree. They’re more like people, busy with their own agendas, but aware that you are there in case you might help them in any way.

We walk toward the shed where I open the latch and am blind until my eyes adjust. As Dena described, there’s a bag with a few pungent pellets. I wonder how they keep rodents out of it.

I toss the last of the stinky things around the yard. Four lolling necks follow the motion, but they are too hot to be hungry. You’d need air conditioning to eat this time of day.

Speaking of which, my black vest, although cotton, feels burdensome. The birds are watching me like they hope I’ve got something better. I flap the lapels like wings and stomp around in the dirt.

The tom cocks his head, then thrusts his beak to peck at my toe rings. The hens follow suit, crowding to get to my toes and the shiny décor on my sandals. All this is freaking me out so I step back. But the turkeys flap forward and catch me.

I’m not scared of you, I tell them. We can play this game. For a second, I consider opening the fence and leading them down the road. People here would cook them and D & D could get on with their lives. But the turkeys seem friendlier than D & D at the moment and I hate the image of some cowboy gnawing on a giant drumstick. So I run in tight circles. The hens clamber over one another to chase me. Like Turkey Jane, I flap and groove round and round the yard. The sun swells with midday heat.

I work our way under a live oak and lie on my back. The birds investigate my eyebrows. I have never been this close to any animal. They seem more like my brother’s pet iguana than songbirds. Their pecks are gentle and, though they seem interested in my hay-like hair, they don’t eat it. I close my eyes and there’s a dizziness like falling asleep. It’s so peaceful. D & D should try this.

I open my eyes to catch the tom diddling my jacket buttons in his beak. Cautiously lifting my top I let him investigate my nipples. I don’t want cartoons. I want real turkeys. Real love. It’s scary to watch. He starts in like he’s plucking a worm, but when he hits pink flesh, he’s gentle. It stings just enough to make me wet so I nudge him away and rub myself. I don’t get anywhere with it, just remembering I’m alive despite everyone’s best efforts.

Moments later the birds have lost interest in me. I roll onto my stomach, pulling impaled dry leaves off my hair spikes. Under the shade of a pine tree close to the house, two hens are clucking around their one lucky sister whom the big tom has mounted.

I want to jump, but I’m afraid I’ll destroy the magic.

. . . . .

I’ve lost track of time when I finally leave the turkeys. They are sleeping in the shade by the feed shed.

A woman across the street is shooing the stray Great Dane. They both look up at my passing car. Though she seems no older than me, the lady has no teeth. Meth, I’m guessing.

I drive back to town and wander among the touristy shops.

One of them, called The Spinning Wheel, ropes me in with its charm. The store is narrow and I’m vaguely aware of the gray proprietor couple bustling behind a counter to my right. I turn left to find myself in maze of quaint objects—a wooden coffee grinder, a butter churn, bellows. Not that I know anything about antiques, but these things don’t seem particularly rustic. They are all similar blocky shapes with matching metal works.

The items are inexpensive—not that I want to steal from this place since I won’t be paying my Visa bill—but I’ve got that sense that I’ve been in here too long not to buy something.

I’m about to ask for help when I notice that all motion at the opposite end of the shop has ceased. I glance at them through the spokes of a spinning wheel.

The woman is stout with feathered short hair and square glasses. Her biscuity arm rests in her husband’s lap. Her smile is one of frozen shock. I have to see what’s going on. Grabbing a wooden handled mirror, I look at half of my face and angle the mirror to the old man’s smile. His is more drunken than shocked. Moving the mirror slightly south, I can see that his jeans are unzipped.

Blushing, I stomp out like a prude.

Late sunlight shines between me and my sunglasses no matter where I look.

. . . . .

At the edge of the tourist block, the sidewalk graduates from planks to concrete to dust. Businesses dot the other side of the street, but to my right is all residential. Every house has laundry hanging from lines. Rusted trucks parked on dry weeds. A poppy or two.

Dena’s pickup is outside a feed store. A middle-aged couple is passing, and as I cross, the woman grabs my arm, her hand a leathery claw. “When did you say you’re leaving?” she asks.

It’s the motel clerk in a powder blue cowboy hat and denim skirt-suit. On her other arm is a handsome, craggy man. By their outfits, they are headed out to dinner.

“I thought I’d stay an extra day.”

She shakes her head as if even the sight of me causes her problems. The gentleman offers a tight smile. As they pass, he fits his big hand comfortably in the small of her prim denim back.

Even the motel clerk has a suitor. With loneliness like a sharp object in my ribs, I open the door of the feed store to find Dena dragging a big flat plastic bag of Turkey Starter A Crumbles onto a dolly. There’s hay dust on the floor that makes me sneeze, but I help my old buddy haul her burden to the register. Then I help her drag it to the bed of the pickup.

When I hop inside next to her, Dena’s head is on the steering wheel.

“Why are you crying now?” I ask her.

“Because I wanted things to be different. He’s still the man I love, but I’m tired of feeling guilty.” Her long hair hangs like a curtain around the driver’s seat.

Every other couple in Lone Pine, except Dena and Darby, is getting it on. Even the turkeys. Another cosmic joke on old Sylvie here. “Do they have any bars in Lone Pine? You need to tie one on.”

“It’s called the Lonely B and I’ve never been in there, but yeah.”

I spend the next two hours listening to Dena cry in this cowboy bar while we drink the most killer martinis I have ever had. The bartender is a fellow you might call Doc by his beard and glasses and the detached way he hands you yet another drink. The clientele is purposeful on a late afternoon. The only movement is a young couple playing shuffleboard along the back wall. The jukebox plays Johnny Cash and there are no TVs. Dena drones on about all the mistakes in her life, but it seems to me the only consequence has been turkeys.

I guzzle. I’m the one who needs to tie one on.

When my head is completely swimming, Darby enters and I swear it is just like some old Western. Everybody, even the shuffleboard couple now necking in the corner, looks up as he hits the door open. Light blasts into the barroom and I watch Dena’s face sag. Darby cuts his eyes at us and walks up to Doc for a beer. As his handsome little butt hits the stool next to us, the music seems to start again.

“You two need a date,” I tell them. I grab Darby’s arm. “What needs to happen at home? I’ll do it. You two go have dinner and talk it through. Please.”

Me, giving relationship advice.

But they’re not making any noises to the contrary so I tell them I saw a sign in the window of the steakhouse saying they serve local steer. Darby will go for that.

His eyebrows soften ever so subtly. He thanks me. Then he gets Dena a glass of water and kisses her hair. I follow him outside and he drives us in Dena’s pickup to my car. On the way, he explains how to put the turkeys up to roost. Even with the martini buffer, I’m glad to avoid an awkward silence between us. We load the turkey feed into my hatchback.

He gives me the stiffest hug I have ever had and drives back toward the Lonely B and Dena.

It hits me they’ll be picking up the tab.

. . . . .

The tom sees me coming and waddles up. He gives my pants a tug when I bend to pat his head. The roost, which looks like an elaborately constructed ladder with a roof on top, is tucked in a fenced nook at the back of the house. I’m guessing Darby made this himself. Would a cradle have been that much harder? They can probably hear the turkeys from their bedroom. That was a mistake.

The birds don’t seem quite ready to go to bed. I sit in the dust and watch them. One hen chases another, vying for the tom’s attention. The sky has a single purple edge, not unlike my buzz from the Lazy B.

How can you possibly know all the big things about another person when you fall in love? There’s a point, I guess, where principles, or ambition, or whatever, prove more important than that other person.

I don’t want Dena and Darby to be there yet. They should look around themselves. All the other people here are happy as clams.

How happy are clams, I ask the tom, giving his head a scratch. What have I had to eat today? The Lazy B experience would be greatly improved with some complementary nuts. The tom’s hungry too. I wonder if that stuff Dena bought is any more appetizing than the lunch pellets, so I tell him to hold on while I go get the new food.

My fingers are on the car’s handle when I realize all four turkeys are right behind me. The damn gate!

Darby said when it’s getting dark, they don’t want to be anywhere but the safety of their roost. Ha!

I close the trunk and try to scoot them back into the yard, but the tom runs ahead, leading his ladies up the road. Darby said wild turkeys roost in trees. What if they are running for a taller tree somewhere? Part of me says, maybe this is the best thing. But another part of me pictures Darby’s pissed eyes when he thinks that Dena manipulated her friend into doing this.

The dog comes from the side. The tom is in his jaws before the hens and I can react.

Two shakes and my pal is a pile of feathers blowing in the road.

By that point, I’m running, yelling, flapping, but the hens just stand there watching as the dog swoops them up and shakes them one by one. The last gives him a small circle of a chase, but it’s over before I can get to her.

The devastation.

I collapse on my butt in the middle of the curb-less street while the dog begins feasting on the tom. I want to make him stop, but I realize how hungry he must be. As my hands come to my face, I see the toothless lady, the only neighbor who’s close enough to see us, slam her door.

Now it’s just me and the frenzied killer. He looks up from his meal with a bloody muzzle, his lips swaying to a stop as he catches my eyes. Some Scooby-Doo.

Then he does a very strange thing. He lifts the floppy feathered body, flicks it up to grip it in a gruesome, gut-slinging, feather-tossing move, and carries it to plop down beside me in the road. Then he turns and does the same thing with the three hens. I choke up at the pile of bodies next to me.

The dog is behind me and I’m wondering if he plans to make me part of the pile when he turns a circle and rests his back against mine.

Like we’re in this together? Like, honey, I’m home and I brought dinner?

I don’t know, but his back is warm and soft, his breathing heavy. I can sense when he opens his mouth to pant.

A full-size pickup turns onto the street, going slow. As it approaches, the man driving—a painter by his clothes—slows down even further, eyeing me silently. The dog stands and I turn to watch him. A mix of threat and question in his posture. The painter keeps driving.

We have to clean up.

Pulling the Hyundai close to the carcasses, I figure I can fit at least some of the bodies—maybe their gooier parts—on top of the feed bag to keep my car from being ruined. The hens are not that messy, but I kick the poor tom toward the dog.

“Go on, you bastard, the least you can do is make him a little smaller.”

I look away. By the time the monster seems satiated, I’ve got the poor girls tucked in on top of what would have been their dinner. Wrapping what I can of the tom in a stray grocery bag, I lift crumbling chunks of him onto his harem.

There’s no closing the hatch, but the Dead Animal Pit isn’t far. Then inside my room to wash these hands, take my last shower before who knows how long. But I gotta grab my stuff and scram before the cowgirl comes back from her date.

All this is rushing through my head as I turn the car toward town. The dog stands in front of me like he’s gonna take on the Hyundai. I flip on the lights. His eyes go sad and moist.

A sigh heaves out every bit of air inside me as I lean over to open the passenger door.


About the Author: Mandy Campbell Moore holds an MFA from Antioch, and has recently published in ink&coda, Word Riot, and Calyx. Her first novel is ready to dive in with the sharks.

Coventry Road by Mira Martin-Parker

For Martin-Parker

 


Mother said it was haunted. Mother said it was moldy. Mother said it was small and dark. But I remember it differently. I remember a Spanish-style cottage with a large, scarlet bougainvillea bush growing around the front door. I remember yellow sour grass flowers bordering the stone footpath, and a swing hanging from a cypress tree. Mother threw nasturtium seeds outside the dining room window and afterwards orange, yellow, and red flowers took over in the front garden. I was happy in that house, that’s what I remember.

In the evening mother would cook brown rice and sautéed carrots for dinner, and sometimes she’d let me stand on a chair in the kitchen and help her. Afterwards we would all eat together at the large wooden dining room table. Even my dad would join us. We were happy then, that’s what I remember.

Once a bird flew through the small window next to the fireplace and our babysitter had to chase it outside with a broom. I ran behind her shouting with excitement. “What a nightmare,” she complained afterwards. But I thought it was great fun.

My brother and I shared a room at the back of the house, where a honeysuckle bush grew beneath our window. Once my mother came in and my brother was holding me by the ankles while I picked flowers and tossed them up over my shoulders. Mother said it was dangerous, and I could fall. But I loved the nectar in honeysuckle flowers, and I wasn’t scared of falling.

Once my dad hung a painted African weaving above my bed. In it there were dancing figures wearing masks and holding spears and shields. “It will give her nightmares,” my mother said. But it didn’t give me nightmares. I loved the black stick figure dancers with their masks and weapons.

Once my parents took a trip to Europe and came home with beautiful toys from Austria: a babushka two feet tall for me, a toy castle with knights and horses for my brother, stuffed animals and a laughing box for us to share. The laughing box was my favorite. Ha ha ha, it went. Ha ha ha, ha ha ha

There was another family that lived down the street, and we used to play with their kids. Once their mother got angry and sent us home. She stood at their door holding a broom, saying, “Isn’t it time you two ran along?” I was looking at her thinking that her face was not nice and that the broom in her hand made her scary. My mother was waiting on the sidewalk. She was smiling and held out her hands to my brother and me. She had come to rescue us from the witch.

One morning I walked into the bathroom and my dad was emptying a mousetrap into the toilet. “What’s that?” I asked.

“Get out of here!” he shouted and slammed the door.

Once my dad came into our bedroom and spanked my brother and me for no reason. We were confused. He had never spanked us before.

Once I snuck into the living room at night and my dad was spinning my mother around in circles while she screamed. I thought they were dancing, and I laughed. They stopped, and I saw that my mother was crying. “Go back to sleep!” my father shouted.

The next morning my mother was on her knees spackling a hole in the wall.

Soon after that my parents sat my brother and me down at our dining room table. “We’re getting a divorce,” my dad said. “That means we won’t be living together anymore.”

My dad held us and cried. “I’m going to miss you so much,” he said. The next day he left.

My mother says she was never happy in that house. She said it was haunted and dark inside, and that she was glad when she sold it. But I remember it differently. That’s where I remember being happy.


About the Author: Mira Martin-Parker earned an MFA in creative writing at San Francisco State University. Her work has appeared in various publications, including The Istanbul Literary Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Mythium, and Zyzzyva. Her collection of short stories, The Carpet Merchant’s Daughter, won the 2013 Five [Quarterly] e-chapbook competition.