SO WE SAT DOWN AND SAID by Steffi Drewes

Allen Forrest for Steffi Drewes


SO WE SAT DOWN AND SAID

Rise and shine Guanajuato, Sebastian’s got five tongues
to your one, odds and ends the acrolinguist flings into

his breakfast banter. Not just the number of bricks it takes
to build a church or trips to Peru before he stopped eating papaya,

tell me how to launch a comeback that steals his morning thunder
—this is high stakes choreography with a mathematical accent.

Here I am climbing a cabeza de piedra to feel closer to history
and here my funnybone exposed under a cactus, underlining all

the parts about silver tunnels and mountains, rebel monuments
that fade and flash. So raise a fist to greet the day block out the sun

and sweep your rival, all muscle and gold sky. Sold two flicks of flint
to unroll a funicular steep on a hillside—feel the weight of

your limbs, the change in elevation, every arched window
an eye unfolding. Half-notes shimmy from a kitchen floating O’s

what a bunch of white rabbits down a hole, what a mouth making its own
magic show or bronze hero come to life. Did you miss the punchline?

Pause for selfies? Wake up, Quixote! We can see you counting tiles,
chasing tides. If you can say it better, go ahead and write my lifeline

in all caps or A minor, in any case think of the chords that can’t be spoken
running an instrument through your veins. Here you are with a piccolo bird

in your head or deep in the jungle coughing up leaf scum. Bit by breath
pushing tongue against teeth what licks the air and starts to howl.


About the Author: Steffi Drewes is author of the chapbooks Magnetic ForestCartography Askew, and History of Drawing Circles. Her work has also appeared in 6×6Zen MonsterEleven Eleven, and the anthology It’s Night in San Francisco But It’s Sunny in Oakland. She organizes Featherboard Writing Series and manages the Writer in Residence program at Aggregate Space Gallery in West Oakland.

Artwork: Graphic artist and painter Allen Forrest was born in Canada and bred in the U.S. He has created cover art and illustrations for literary publications and books. He is the winner of the Leslie Jacoby Honor for Art at San Jose State University’s Reed Magazine and his Bel Red painting series is part of the Bellevue College Foundation’s permanent art collection. Forrest’s expressive drawing and painting style is a mix of avant-garde expressionism and post-Impressionist elements reminiscent of van Gogh, creating emotion on canvas.

Art website (paintings for sale):
Twitter account:
Portfolio: published works

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Having No Tits by Suzannah Weiss

Seann McCollum for Weiss


 

On having no tits: a feminist interlocution of Douglas Harding’s “On having no head”

 

Proposal of the Theory of Tit-Eyes
Eyes, Tit E.
University of Boobsborough
Quarterly Journal of Tits and Ass, Volume 36D

“There existed only the Now, that present moment and what was clearly given in it. To look was enough. And what I found was khaki trouserlegs terminating downwards in a pair of brown shoes, khaki sleeves terminating sideways in a pair of pink hands, and a khaki shirtfront terminating upwards in—absolutely nothing whatever! Certainly not in a head. It took me no time at all to notice that this nothing, this hole where a head should have been was no ordinary vacancy, no mere nothing. On the contrary, it was very much occupied. It was a vast emptiness vastly filled, a nothing that found room for everything—room for grass, trees, shadowy distant hills, and far above them snowpeaks like a row of angular clouds riding the blue sky. I had lost a head and gained a world.”

-Douglas Harding, “On Having No Head”

Douglas Harding has no head. He looks through his eyes, not at them. This is the experience of a man.

The experience of a woman is painfully capitated. She tries to look through her eyes, but with layers of mascara blocking the view, only looks at them. Her eyes see themselves seeing, and hence don’t see.

His eyes, on the converse, see but don’t see themselves seeing. Since he does not see his own head and he believes in the world as he sees it, he feels headless. The photograph and mirror image, which capture a woman’s full identity, are unable to do justice to the great void on a man’s shoulders that holds every beach, museum, and woman he has ever looked at.

Background

Scientists have investigated the role of sex chromosomes in rostral cephalization and found no significant correlation between the Y chromosome and headlessness. Several alternative theories remain. Here is a brief review of the literature, followed by an original theory that this paper proposes.

1.  Men gain the status of headlessness by looking at the heads of women (i.e., they look at women to avoid looking at themselves). Men appear to have heads, but if you took a magnifying glass to their “heads” you would find images of women. They have heaps of women where their heads should be, and pile more and more women onto their beds to avoid considering that they have heads. When they start to believe that other men have heads, they yell “no homo” and look away, relocating their gazes onto chicks, bitches, sluts, etc. (Snoop D. O. Double G et al.).

2. Decapitation may be a symptom of castration, given that all men have been castrated at some point in their lives, whether by emasculating, machismo fathers or Nicolas Sparks film adaptations or a taste for appletinis, but women have nothing to castrate. I reject this ad ignorantiam theory, arguing instead that a woman’s “nothing” is in fact something that is always already castrated. Castration means loss of the phallic power so exalted in our society. It means losing a whole world above a man’s shoulders that captures and defines all the mountains, valleys, seas and women he has seen, and replacing this nothingness that holds everything with a head. It means looking at rather than through oneself. It means flattening. It means having four eyes, and I’m not talking about childhood teasing, though that plays into it. I’m talking about a split consciousness, a self above a woman’s shoulders and a self always a few steps ahead of her, gazing backwards at her head, reminding her that she has a head, and of the duty to provide a head for decapitated men—the duty to perform her envy and castration according to his projection, and maintain the illusion that he is not the castrated one.

3. In the master-slave dialectic, the slave/woman loses power and is left only with the beliefs of her oppressor and a head. The master/man is left with a slave/woman, which affords him the title of master/man. He needs no head—nobody can look at him. His gaze is the final answer. The world is as it is through his non-eyes: the floating globes that contain the earth. For her, these non-eyes are mirrors in a funhouse world. She sees her head reflected in these multidirectional gazes—needy gazes, shaming gazes, belittling gazes, lascivious gazes—and orients herself in relation to them—as Madonna, as whore, as child, as sexual receptacle.

4. A woman’s second set of eyes is located on her tits.

Let us pause on this last, original theory, which requires further investigation.

It is important not to be phallocentric and assume that women’s second set of eyes must be on a head just because men’s eyes are on heads.

For there are other parts of a woman. Yes, there are the cheekbones and hair and other features located on her head, but these are usually accompanied by a second important feature: tits. Said tits are so detailed in her occipital visual cortex that, this theory proposes, they must have their own set of eyes just to look at themselves.  Others have noted that many men seem to mistake tits for eyes, requiring women to remind them that “my eyes are up here” (Urban Dictionary et al.), and their intuition may not be so far off. In fact, the neologism “titties,” as well as its variation “tit-ays,” may subconsciously refer to a woman’s tit-eyes. See Appendix A for examples.

Here is the model I put forth: The protrusion angle of the tits allows the tit-eyes to watch the head—keep an eye on it, so to speak—which leads to the question, which eyes will watch the tit-eyes? (Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?). This paper proposes a positive feedback loop between the tit-eyes and head-eyes, which watch each other and mutually relay information from the outside world.

To illustrate: as a woman walks down the street, her tit-eyes detect the gaze of a lecher. The tits transmit this information to her head-eyes, which follow the stranger’s gaze down to the tits to make sure they are not being stared at for an embarrassing reason (funky colorful bra under white shirt; temperature-related nipple rigidity, etc.). The tit-eyes inform the head-eyes that they look silly staring downward, and her day goes on.

Both sets of eyes project their gaze onto another (real or imagined) passerby in order to look at themselves. Women need this gaze of another person in order to see, the way a female pigeon must see another of its species in order to grow genitalia. It is a human instinct, present from infancy in familiar interactions, to follow the gaze of others. At earlier points in our evolution, this alerted us to salient information in the environment. Little did evolution know that humans would abuse an adaptation made to connect them, designating part of humanity as holders of the gaze and the second part as objects of it (see theories 1 and 3). Evolution also did not anticipate that humans would get out eye trackers and fMRI machines to re-stage the scenes of male voyeurism and female masquerade they have written, then call it “natural” selection since electrodes poking into brains don’t lie, and eyes that linger longer on white women don’t lie, and it all starts so young, and what besides nature could possibly explain Toddlers in Tiaras? Soon doctors will be dressing female infants in tiaras, straight out of the womb, and papers will explode all over PubMed speculating on the genetic basis for tiaras on toddlers.

Not only has the patriarchal imaginary made women victims of “nature,” it has also made women nothing more than pertinent information in the environment that nature initially intended them to look at. The male gaze has become so influential as to make women part of nature. Nature has never been thought to have a mind—that is reserved for men—but it has heads of sorts: molecules under microscopes, taxonomies in textbooks. Women are examined similarly under spotlights and in men’s fierce debates over “what women want” (Freud et al). They are seen not as subjects with their own ability to articulate desires but as objects worthy of only receiving desire and scrutiny. Like fickle weather, women are discernable only through the eyes of men who must chart their courses through Mother Nature’s wicked winds and raging seas and raging hormones. This chaos has no rhyme or reason, they say, but let’s get some barometers and see what we can do. Let’s get some wood and build shelters from the storm. Let’s get some tight clothes and see if we can contain her. Let’s flatten Mother Earth onto a map we can sell and purchase so that we can claim expertise on her and carry her with us at all times.

Perhaps because they fear the hills have eyes, men have made an extra effort to ensure that women’s twin peaks belong to them alone, an effort some anthropologists cite as the invention of tits. Biologists, however, are unconcerned with tits’ “invention,” viewing them as natural, and instead have focused their efforts on cataloguing tits’ defining features:

–         They exist on this earth for the eyes of men.

–         They possess a biological allure so strong that it claims to be outside cultural constructs of beauty.

–         They are incomplete without being topped with male sexual fluids (it’s like the icing on the cake).

–         They are best when they are bouncing all over the place and causing discomfort.

–         They require bras only the way a pot roast requires a platter.

–         The best ones are gigantic ones that add to this discomfort and stand out perkily, pleading for male attention, even though there is no size requirement for breastfeeding (look at other mammals, they just have little nipples).

–         They are public property and can be stared at by anyone.

–         They like to be bitten and kneaded like dough and dug into like meat. They demand consumption, not just oral but also monetary and visual. They should be collapsed into a man’s non-head.

–         When touched, they evoke obnoxious whiney noises of pleasure.

Experiment 

If my theory is right, and tits give women heads by making them observe themselves, what might the world look like if women had no tits? My hypothesis is that they would also cease to have heads: according to the model of mutual tit-eye and head-eye feedback, one either has four eyes or has none.

To test this hypothesis, I went about my day-to-day activities with full eye removal (see appendix B for enucleation procedure) and documented the experience in ethnographic fashion. Below is the manuscript.

Results

Day 1

I have no tits. But nobody seems to know this, and the world continues to go on as if I do. When the man on the subway groped my chest, I asked him what he was looking for because — sorry to disappoint — I have no tits. When the hobo following me on the street mumbled something about “titties,” I also had to tell him that I’m terribly apologetic but I don’t have any. But their illusion is too persistent to eradicate simply by informing people of its falsehood. These men actually see tits on my chest! And since they are the headless masters, and we are the capitated unspoken slaves, their eyes hold the Truth that philosophers are so keen on, and their illusions are the ones I have to deal with in my daily life.

Day 4

Or maybe it’s my illusion that I don’t have them. But why get rid of this illusion? It’s no worse than men going around pretending they have no heads. There, I said it! The heretical fact: I see heads on the shoulders of men! Call me crazy, call me schizophrenic, call me delusional, I still see them! The way they see my tits!

From these irreconcilable positions, I’ve concluded that there two types of vision, looking through your head and looking at it, which will never be simultaneously experienced. It is healthy to consider oneself headless and consider others to have heads. It means you are in tune with your own subjective experience. In your experience, it feels like your mind is the only mind that exists! Think of how hard it is to teach the contrary to children.

Think of how hard it is to teach the contrary to girl children, who must go from believing that the world is inside their minds to believing that they are a mere piece of the world inside boys’ minds. Think of how hard it is to think the world as you see it matters, only to realize all that matters is how the world sees you. Think of having your own ability to see contended. Think of feeling crazy because you still believe in your own subjectivity, of being told you are crazy because you don’t believe the theories about your innate vanity and narcissistic sexuality. Think of your body being a political controversy, of men treating it like land on which to fight their battles.  

You can treat me like an object, but you can’t take away my subjectivity. You can tell me I have tits, and I understand that through your eyes I do, but I have the right to my own eyes as much as you. 

Day 13

Now that I have no tits or eyes or head, I was curious as to whether or not I would grow a penis. I did not. My external genitalia, at least from my vantage point, has not changed. But I do have new sensations. Rather than two lips folded shamefully inward, I have desires between my legs that erect themselves, asserting themselves into the world without concerns about their reception. The energy shoots out so that if I dance, I can feel a thing swinging around down there as I shake my hips. But if I look, there is no thing, just an experience — precisely like my non-head. 

Day 17

My vision has gotten much sharper without the view of my tits and head clouding it. Sometimes I don’t know what to stare at when there are people in front of me. I see your face, I see your nose, I can assess your features and their relative sizes and shapes, now what? This has made me quite socially awkward at parties, where people can’t pinpoint me as the man gazing or the woman posing for him.

Day 19

I’ve thought of something to do when I am stuck looking at other people: listen to their words and the intonation of their voices. I was so used to looking at, rather than listening to, myself that this was how I assumed one should respond to other people. Now I see how men have accomplished all their wars and treatises and financial transactions in so few years, and I see why they have not included women. It seems men are capable of listening to men because they are not so preoccupied with the gaze, but when they encounter women, their ears become stuffed with heads and all they can do is stare like the drooling fucktards that heads give rise to.

Day 23

My stomach is less distended; without my tit-eyes I have no way to look down and see it swelling. It used to impede my motor functioning with its unsightly protrusion and insistence on bumping tables in a café or desks in a classroom. Now, similar to my non-head and non-genitals, my non-stomach has gone from an object to a swirling sea of desires. For the first time I feel hungry, full, and nauseated. It has become less and less compelling to starve or stuff myself. Even exercising becomes a hassle when one has sensations, and all my skin products have begun to sting. When my face felt like a mask, my body like a suit, sitting through these ordeals was easier. Plucking my eyebrows — not to mention waxing — is excruciatingly painful. And deceptive, now that it belies the fact that I have no head.        

 

Day 25

Without tits I can wear more comfortable, less fitted clothing. I cannot believe I had convinced myself I actually enjoyed wearing tube tops and mini skirts. My eyes enjoyed them, not me, because my eyes were not mine. They were the eyes of men, showing me what men see, which just happened to be attached to my head and tits. I had corneas and lenses and optic nerves and all, but I didn’t see; I was seen, and I replicated what others saw. No wonder blindness feels so familiar. I never had eyes.

Day 27

This experience has taught me that our heads and our tits are products of our delusions. Even after ocular restoration, I feel that my tits are as poor a description of my experience as Douglas Harding’s head is of his. If Douglas Harding can claim to have no head, surely I can claim to have no tits. (Given what biologists say tits are, it is especially hard to believe that I have them). Everyone is entitled to affirm their own delusions and consider others’ ridiculous. And yet, I can feel someone watching me now…

Appendix A

“Eighty on the freeway, kissin’ on some titties.” – 8 Ball

“When I bust, titties come out.” – Red Man

“Don’t say my car is topless. Say the titties is out.” –Nas

Appendix B

Enucleation procedure includes anesthesia, isolation of the levator muscle, peritonomy, muscle identification, neurectomy, preparation of tenon’s capsule, and implant insertion (not to be confused with tit augmentation implants).


About the Author: Suzannah Weiss is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Bustle and xoJane and a feminist blogger at dwfdatingwhilefeminist.tumblr.com and noorigin.wordpress.com. She holds degrees in Gender & Sexuality Studies, Modern Culture & Media, and Cognitive Neuroscience from Brown University, which she uses mainly to over-analyze trashy television and argue over semantics.

Artwork: Sean McCollum 

 

Irreversible by Peycho Kanev

Lynae Cook_Sparrow_for Kanev

 


 

Irreversible

The body of the dead bird
soon enough
becomes dirt
where the worms live
which soon enough
become food for
the newly hatched birds.

I picked a flower and smelled it –

Spring, death and
             swallows’ wings.


About the Author:Peycho Kanev is the author of 4 poetry collections and two chapbooks, published in USA and Bulgaria. He has won several European awards for his poetry, and he’s nominated for the Pushcart Award and Best of the Net. His poems have appeared in many literary magazines, such as: Poetry Quarterly, Evergreen Review, Hawaii Review, Cordite Poetry Review, Sheepshead Review, Off the Coast, The Adirondack Review, Two Thirds North, Sierra Nevada Review, The Cleveland Review and many others.

Artwork: Lynae Cook

 

 

Kîlauea and the Curtain of Fire by Ryan McKinley

hawaiian


The week started with a volcanic eruption and it continued with a death. Kîlauea volcano burst and Kelsey Araki, a sixteen-year-old sophomore at Kohala High School, was murdered. Both events hit Detective Achilles Naluaka. He was assigned the case of the murdered girl the same day lava started flowing toward his home. The house and the land had been in his family for three generations. At the same time the newspapers were following the murder case as if it was a football game, waiting for Naluaka to slip because he had solved all his previous cases, a curse of the undefeated. Distracted by the lava, and at his wits end with the case, Detective Naluaka, or Nalu, as he preferred to be called, pulled a Hail Mary play. He picked up a local criminal named Sumo Glen, a butterball of a man with a topknot haircut. Despite his teddy bear appearance, he was a low-level enforcer and sometime killer.

They drove on the coastal highway that encircled the Big Island of Hawai`i. In the passenger seat Sumo Glen yanked on the chains that were locked on his wrists and ankles.

“Glen,” Nalu said. “If you keep rattling those chains, the day is not going to end well.”

“What law was I breakin’, Dick-tective?” Sumo Glen asked.

“Your waist is breaking the laws of physics.”

Sumo Glen waited a moment to deliver the best comeback he could find. “Fuck you.”

“Sorry, that costs money.”

Nalu glanced to the distance where Kîlauea volcano loomed large, its lava flowing toward the Pacific. Sumo Glen looked out the window at the rising smoke. “Police station’s the odda way,” he said.

Nalu nodded.

Not far away steam was rising off the land. The lava was burning through trees, lakes, homes, erasing everything in its path. Nalu switched on the windshield wipers to brush away the falling ash. The smell of sulfur entered the sealed car.

“Shit, we going to your ranch,” Sumo Glen said. “That whole area going be covered in a few hours.”

“It’ll turn.”

“What?”

“The lava, it’s going to turn pass the area by.” Nalu had to keep repeating that. A child’s dream; if he said it enough it would come true.

“You lolo or what? —screw dis, stop dis car. Brah, dis against the law; stop dis car right now—”

“Shut up, Glen. If I stop the car, all that’s going to happen is I’m gonna throw you in the trunk. So just sit there and shut up.”

Sumo Glen sunk into his seat and stared out the window. He mumbled something that Nalu couldn’t hear, and didn’t care to listen to. Nalu slowed down as he drove around a roadblock. A sign on the blockade read, “Danger: Road Closed.” Nalu repeated in his head, “the lava will turn,” and he hoped the volcano goddess was listening.

 

When they reached his ranch Nalu dragged Sumo Glen into the plantation-style house. Nalu dropped his prisoner into a chair in the den. In the center of the room Kelsey Araki’s case file was laid out on a folding table. As the sun set, Nalu cracked the seal on some Black Label Scotch and finished a few glasses before it was dark.

The night was black except for the orange glow in the distance. The lava was coming and it left Nalu in a crimson mood.

“Let’s try again,” Nalu said. He emptied the last of the scotch into his glass and opened a second bottle.

“Brah, the whole island knows the same thing,” Sumo Glen said. “The girl is dead, could have been her teacher, her pops, boyfriend, some random wahine; I don’t know nothing. So let’s go. Let’s get outta here.”

Nalu sipped the scotch and knelt a few feet from Sumo Glen’s chair. “Well,” Nalu said. “We’re going to stay here until we figure it out.”

“Damn it, we gotta get out of here. We going be burned alive…” Sumo Glen continued his monologue, but Nalu tuned him out. He sipped his scotch as he paced in circles looking at the den. He thought of all the work it took to create it. Before big machinery the house was built by hand. Filipino and Chinese immigrants worked for Nalu’s great-grandfather, hammering every nail, molding every piece of material until it fit the structure. He wondered who carved the maile pattern in the stone edges of the walls.

Everything those people had worked for was going to be erased. Nalu wondered what the men in his family would do if they were still alive. They probably would have picked up the land, let the lava pass by, and then put the house right back where it was.

“Eh, detective, you hearing me?”

“I stopped listening a while ago.” Nalu filled up his glass again and drank it just as fast. He leaned over the folding table. Sweat fell from his forehead, splattering the case files. It was getting hotter; the lava was closing in.

Sumo Glen pulled at the chains. “I said, I feeling claustrophobic in here.”

“That’s just because you’re fat.”

“Shit, seriously, it stay a hundred degrees in here; the walls is closing in.”

Nalu ignored Sumo Glen, but the heat was affecting him too. The scotch was probably not helping. Nalu moved the case files around the table, rereading every statement. “I’m missing something,” he said.

“Ch-yeah, one brain.”

“Shut up, Glen.”

Outside the lava hissed in the night, overconfident of its power to wipe the land clean. Louder and louder the hissing grew. Sumo Glen started laughing. The heat was getting to him. “The murder magician: any case, Detective Naluaka will solve it.” Nalu leaned on the folding table. The second bottle of scotch was empty. He swore it must have evaporated in the heat. The lava’s hiss was growing. Sumo Glen’s eyes glazed over and he laughed hysterically. “Kelsey Araki still dead. We going be burned. We going be dead.”

Sweat rolled off Nalu’s face. It hit the table in rhythm, drip—drip—drip. “We going be dead,” Sumo Glen laughed. Nalu stared at the evidence, and he could hear Kelsey Araki laughing at him too. The hissing started to crackle in the air. Nalu’s head pounded, his blood burning. The night was pounding. Louder and louder, closer and closer. The lava was coming. Nalu could hear his grandfather laughing at him, his father laughing at him. The bones of the house were creaking. His heart pounded. His head pounded. His ancestors were laughing at him. The island was laughing at him. The room started spinning. The hissing roared. The lava was coming. The lava was there.

Nalu screamed and flipped the table. The room stopped spinning, and for a moment the papers looked like falling leaves. He pulled his revolver from his belt holster and clicked the chamber open. Six bullets. He spun the cylinder and snapped the chamber shut. Sumo Glen stared at the gun as Nalu moved toward him. Nalu grabbed the chains, pulled Sumo Glen out of the chair, and shoved him out the door onto the ranch’s plains.

The orange glow was a midnight sun lighting up the hills. Lava cut a curtain of fire through the darkness. Nalu walked toward the lava, pulling Sumo Glen behind him. The air, thick with sulfur and heat, battered their bodies. The short walk felt like a mountain trek, and they almost crawled up the embankment. When they reached the property line Sumo Glen fell to his knees, gasping for breath. Nalu stood watching the lava. It didn’t flow or roll; it stalked like a wild animal.

Nalu cocked the revolver, raised the gun, and pulled the trigger. The gunshot did little more than make noise as the bullet disappeared into the flames.

“What the hell you doing?” Sumo Glen shouted. Nalu fired again. Sumo Glen grabbed Nalu’s leg. “I know who killed the girl. I’ll tell you, just get us out of here. I know who killed Kelsey Araki.”

“No,” Nalu said. “You don’t.” Again he fired. “Turn,” Nalu whispered. “Come on turn.” The lava beast was a hundred feet away, seventy feet away. He cocked the gun and fired three shots.

“Wait,” Sumo Glen said. “Just unlock me. I’ll show you who killed Kelsey Araki. I’ll show you where she died. Shit, I’ll show you other bodies.”

Nalu grabbed Sumo Glen’s chains and pulled him up so they were face to face.

“I don’t care anymore about who killed the girl. I don’t care if there are bodies buried right here. I only care about the land. My grandfather worked this land until he could afford to buy it back from the sailor who took it from him. And my then father turned it into the biggest ranch in the islands. Now they’re both dead, and I’m the only one left to protect it. And I’m letting it get taken away in another fucking story of the native lands.” He let the chain go, and Sumo Glen fell to the ground.

The lava was forty feet away. Sumo Glen screamed and put his hands in front of his face as if that would protect him.

Nalu held the revolver with both hands and pulled the trigger. The gun clicked empty. The click was louder than any gunshot. He dropped the revolver and stared at the beast barreling toward him. Twenty feet. Nalu shut his eyes. Ten feet. Then there was silence, a deafening silence. The heat vanished and he stopped sweating. He suddenly felt a kolonahe breeze drifting around him, sending a shiver through his spine. He wondered if he was dead.

Slowly, he opened his eyes, and a few feet in front of him the wave of lava had cleaved, split into two small rivers that flowed around Nalu, flowed around his family land, his family home. His land, his home. When the two rivulets passed Nalu’s property they rejoined into a singular giant flow. It created a kîpuka, a breath between the lava rocks and the hard places. It was no longer a stalking beast, it looked like orange water, but it still glowed like a midnight sun.

Sumo Glen peeked out from behind his hands. Nalu clapped him on the back, “I told you the lava would turn.” Nalu said it with all the confidence he could muster, but he was just as surprised and relieved that they were still alive.

Sumo Glen looked up from the ground. “Great, I don’t give a shit, you crazy son of a bitch.”

“Don’t piss me off, Glen. The night is young, and I got more bullets in the house.” Sumo Glen returned his face to his hands.

Nalu looked at the Kîlauea volcano in the distance. Sparks jumped and lava splattered from the caldera. Against the night sky it looked like a volcanic Jackson Pollack. Nalu looked to the land, the lava, and finally back to Kîlauea. And silently he said, “Mahalo nui loa, me kea aloha pumehana.” It was the best way he could say thank you.

Nalu tapped his foot against Sumo Glen side. “Glen, I think I just figured out who killed Kelsey Araki.”


About the Author: Ryan McKinley is from Honolulu, Hawai`i and a graduate of Saint Mary’s College of California. His work has appeared in Ka Leo O Hawaii, Mary: A Journal of New Writing, Booma, and The Lamornida Weekly. He loves the Pacific Ocean, a good mystery, listening to the world around him, and writing detective fiction.

Artwork: Ryan McKinley

Moles by Helga D. Stroya

 

moles_all_FINAL

 


 

About the Author and Artist: Helga D. Stroya draws comics at her kitchen table in Portland, Oregon.  You can see more of her work on her new website at http://helgadstroya.com/ or follow her on Instagram @helga_d_stroya.  She also has a tumblr page which she rarely updates under the same name.  Helga D. Stroya can be found on Facebook if you wish to contact her.  She is considering setting up an eBay or Etsy account to sell some prints of her work, but hasn’t gotten around to it yet.  Helga does not use Twitter or Snapchat.

 


 

Dual Income by Nadeem Zaman

Monirul Alam_07092014 [ Daily Life ] Garment workers Protest in Dhaka


Maruf was against Salma returning to work, but not because he thought she was incapable. He was, simply put, old-fashioned. Salma had been fine with being a housewife. Fifteen years had passed since she was teaching, a decade and a half during which they had two children, a military government came to an end, religious fanatics returned to the frontlines of Bangladeshi politics, democracy got tossed around like a piece of hot coal no one could handle, and Maruf’s prospects of a major promotion after ten years in the same non-management position turned into a pay cut.

“Mergers,” said Maruf, “it’s code word for murder, because that’s what it does to the real working people. In broad daylight, bleeds them out. And Americans love mergers more than they love their families.”

Maruf’s bank had been taken over by an American investment firm, and over the last six weeks, representatives had been arriving every other day—spiffy, young, smiling faces torched and ruddy from the Dhaka heat but maintaining grace—spending interminable hours behind the locked door of the conference room with the chairman and CEO Mr. Moazzem, who also faced strong prospects of becoming a menial employee. Mr. Moazzem had asked Maruf if there was anything he could do to help. He actually meant it. After a few days’ thought, and a conversational tangent with Salma that became serious, then caused them to bicker, Maruf begrudgingly asked Mr. Moazzem for a lead.

“It’s against my choice, sir, but times are…”

“I understand, Maruf.”

Mr. Moazzem delivered. One of the top industrialists in the city had opened a new office, and administrative positions were open but filling fast.

As soon as Salma excitedly mentioned her CV, Maruf said that it needed to be updated, no matter that she hadn’t had a job since the school. For a firm of this caliber it would have to be close to perfect and make up with appearance what was lacking in substance. A proper cover letter needed to be drafted. She would need a quick course on basic computer use, emailing, searching the web, none of which, Maruf grumbled, could be added to her skill set.

“That part will have to remain un-updated,” Maruf puffed his cheeks and exhaled. “We could possibly fatten the administrative background from your teaching days with stress on organization, timeliness, accountability…” the words swam into each other in Salma’s ears. “…even if most of these positions are little more than office boy-type work, with all due respect to Mr. Moazzem. At least the firm has a name and reputation.”

He went through a checklist as if evaluating his own prospects for the job. He stopped and asked her if she was really prepared to go through the headache. The headache, she told him, seemed only to be his. She was fine. They needed this to work. Maruf’s pride thus knocked, he resumed advising.

The city was different from when Salma was last part of it on a daily basis. There were more cars, more buses, more trucks, damned more rickshaws and scooters, more people, more accidents. Once a week at least Maruf saw a deadly crash or a bus hitting a scooter or a rickshaw and killing a family. Then there were the student thugs and the religious fundamentalists that needed absolutely no reason to unleash violence on whoever they decided was the day’s target; there were young cretins that had no respect for women and touched and groped and tried to rip their clothes off out in the open. Dhaka was not what it used to be.

There was a time, Maruf elaborated, with an almost eulogizing sadness in his tone, when children and women could walk freely, unmolested through any street at any time, and men were protectors, husbands, fathers, and respectful heads of households, not recreants leaguing with other recreants in the name of religion and solidarity and politics and righteousness to turn the city into a jungle.

When he reached the end of his ruminations, he said, without making eye contact with her, “There’s time still to think about it. These things happen in every job. I know people who have gone through worse. Some are doing even better than before.”

“I’m happy for those people.” Salma was on her feet, knowing well enough that the next installment would tie in his tirade about the shameless leasing out of the country to the West.

“But not for me, that won’t happen so easily,” Maruf added, his bitterness simmering. “And that is not a reason to think the problem doesn’t exist in the fundamental attitude of the West when it comes to the Third World…”

 

Salma resurrected the old CV from the depths of a trunk that had been stowed away in the storeroom since they’d first moved into the flat five years ago. She had drawn out the file like a fragile relic. Besides the dust and the mothball smell it looked fine, no different than the day she’d wrapped it in the plastic bag and set it under a stack of books from her teaching days. She locked up the trunk, brought the file to the dining table, and untied the string that held it shut.

She could hear Maruf talking in the bedroom while he changed his clothes. Adil’s running footsteps banged along the veranda in the back. Shama’s Bollywood music leaked out of her room and around the flat like a chorus of mosquitoes. The cook came out and asked Salma if he should set the table for dinner, and Salma gave him an absent-minded nod.

“No one has faith in the country anymore,” Maruf was saying as he walked in. “Why wonder when outsiders and foreigners think it’s theirs for the taking as they wish?” He came to the table and took the CV from Salma’s hand. Holding it at arm’s length he started laughing. Salma snatched it back, and tucked it into the file.

“Item One,” he snorted, “bringing that thing from the Stone Age to the twenty-first century.”

“Dipu downstairs is good with computers,” said Salma. “He is a smart boy. He can do it.”

“Are you mad? Letting a child do the work of a professional? Seriously, Salma, where does your mind go to pick up these foolish ideas?”

The cook began setting the table and bringing out dishes of food.

“For a job with a firm like this, you cannot be careless,” Maruf said. “Everything has to be spotless and perfect. Believe me. Things are not what they used to be. All that flimsy, cobble-together-what-you-can attitude history. Now the firms have trained people they hire just to look for mistakes and discrepancies in everything. Including cover letters and CVs.”

Salma put the file down on the chair next to her. Maruf walked over and picked it up.

“Perfection,” said Maruf, eyeing the frayed file. “My god,” he chuckled, “I don’t think they even make files like these anymore.”

He smacked the file against his palm. “There is no point messing around,” he said. “If we’re going to do something, it should be done right. I will take this with me and have Pranab prepare the new ones. It will be a few days; things are very busy at the bank, but at least it will be done properly and responsibly.”

Maruf spoke on, circling the dining table, hands clasped behind him, deep inflections in his speech on specific points he thought needed more stress than others or else his wife just could not fathom their seriousness. He stopped at the head chair on the opposite end of the table from her, leaned on it with both hands, and said, “No ‘I beg to apply for the position’ nonsense from the times of our fathers. Only direct, professional courtesy, and confidence in the applicant’s potential as the best candidate for the job.”

Salma saw the deep circles under his eyes, the doubts buried under the confident stare, and heard the rasp in his breathing that had gotten worse instead of better because she knew he was still smoking.

“I will leave it to you,” she said. “Whatever you think needs to be done.” She called for the children to come in for dinner.

Later that night, when Maruf would long have been asleep, he nudged Salma in bed. She had been trying to sleep for the last hour, but could do nothing more than count the things she would need to arrange for and rearrange if she got hired.

“Are you awake?” Maruf asked.

“What are you doing awake?” said Salma.

“I was thinking.”

“Okay?”

“You can really make something of this position if you do it right.” He turned around. Salma still kept her back to him. “It’s a new branch of a major firm with international presence, and you’re coming in at a good time, at the beginning.”

“That’s good.” Sleep suddenly hit Salma. Her eyes grew heavy.

Maruf was silent for several minutes, and Salma drifted off.

“But don’t overwork yourself,” he said. Salma jolted awake. “You know? If they make you stay late, tell them you have a family. If they insist on overtime, then they will have to pay for it. You know? But it’s best not to get ahead of ourselves. Nothing has happened yet. You know? Are you hearing me?”

“Hmm.”

He shifted his position again, onto his back.

“Bastards,” he murmured. “Bastards.”

Three days later Maruf brought home the newly made cover letter and CV. He made a ceremony of sitting down in the living room, calling the children out, having Salma sit formally across from him, then presenting to her the documents, which were paper-clipped and encased in a smooth, clear plastic folder. He gave them a light tap with his palm for good measure.

“Well?” said Maruf. “Are you going to look or what? Even the paper is the good stock, used specifically for official documents,” he pointed out. “See for yourself,” he said, as if she had challenged him.

“Where are the originals?” was the first thing Salma could think to ask.

“What originals?” Maruf frowned. “Those old things were useless. Open it, take a look.”

The folder was heated from the sun. It leaked its warmth onto Salma’s lap. Salma popped the clasp, reached in, and slid out the new documents. They made her sad, reminding her of the time her late father had had the old ones made.

“What do you think? Sky and earth difference, no?” Maruf sat back, smiling, triumph back in his bearing.

Salma gave a cursory nod, and replaced the documents back inside the cover, with care as if they belonged to someone else.

“What is it for?” Shama asked.

“Yes, what is it for?” Adil repeated after his sister.

“Nothing for you two to worry about,” Salma replied, placing the documents in their plastic folder on the coffee table.

“Go inside,” said Maruf, standing. “Don’t make me repeat myself.”

Adil tore away from the chair before his father spoke again, tugging Shama by the sleeve of her kameez.

“What’s the matter now?” Maruf asked.

“What did you do with the old papers?”
“Seriously, Salma? All the trouble I go to and you’re worried about some old documents that were lying god-knows-where until few days ago? I don’t understand you.”

“Trouble? You took them to the bank and someone else made them, and you brought them home.”

“Unbelievable!”

“My father had them made.”

Maruf exhaled noisily.

“Some days I don’t know what gets into you people in this house.” He sat back down, stretched, and began untying his shoelaces. He pulled off one shoe and tossed it to the side, paused as if considering a new strategy with the other, then sent that one the same way. The socks he peeled like they were damaged skin that had to be carefully removed.

“Did you throw them out?” Salma asked.

“Throw what out?”

“Maruf, you know what.”

“I don’t know. I gave them to Pranab, he needed them to work from to make those,” he pointed at the new documents. “I don’t know what he did with them. Are you having second thoughts now?”

“No.”

“Because if you are not one hundred percent sure you want to apply for this position, tell me. There is no turning back once you do. Not with a firm like this. Anyway, you should get those sent off immediately. This is not any Tom, Dick, and Harry firm, and they’ll have a line of people begging for a job any given day. Unless you want me to take care of it?”

“No,” Salma picked up the plastic folder again. “No.”

Two weeks after she sent the cover letter and CV, Salma had as good as forgotten about it. Maruf grumbled about it offhandedly, and mentioned he wasn’t really surprised, given Salma’s lack of experience, and for a time the matter was at rest. When the phone call came, Salma wasn’t there to answer it because she was downstairs on the first floor haggling with the chicken seller. Shama had taken the call, and shouted for her mother down the stairwell.

A crisp, young female voice verified Salma’s identity in English.

“Yes, I am Salma Karim.”

“Are you able to come for an interview next Tuesday? Ten o’ clock, sharp?” She added the “sharp” as if she knew Salma to be compulsively tardy.

“Depending, of course, on things being peaceful in the city,” she added.

“Yes.”

“Good. My name is Anika. Just ask for me at the reception. And if anything should change between now and then, we have each other’s information.”

Salma set down the receiver. Her heart was pounding, and she felt stricken with worry.

“That woman was rude,” said Shama. “Are you going to work for her?”

Salma cupped Shama’s chin. “I don’t know. Maybe. Adil? Come out here.”

With the two children, Shama went downstairs and knocked on Mrs. Mahbub’s door.

“Who is it?” Mrs. Mahbub’s voice floated from the back of the flat.

“Mrs. Mahbub, it’s Salma, from upstairs.”

There was silence, followed by approaching footfalls. Adil recoiled behind his mother, and Shama stood at Salma’s side. The door opened. Mrs. Mahbub popped her head out. Her hair was gleaming with oil, and pulled tightly back, giving her an expression of perpetual shock. Pockmarks covered her cheeks. Over the thin line of her mouth was a fuzz of hair. She smelled of sandalwood and laundry soap.

“Yes, yes, how are you?” said Mrs. Mahbub. “It’s been ages since I saw your face last. Come in, come in.”

“Yes, I know. Busy times, Mrs. Mahbub. And how are you?”

“You know how it is,” Mrs. Mahbub said, opening the door wider, releasing a drift of cooking smells.

Mr. Mahbub had left two years earlier for the daughter of an associate from work to whom he was now married. His conciliatory gestures were to buy his son an iMac with a 27-inch monitor, and a printer and scanner unit, and transfer ownership of the flat to his ex-wife—whom he never legally divorced—while he kept making the payments on it. Mrs. Mahbub did not file for divorce, and believed that Dipu’s father would eventually return.

“Mrs. Mahbub, I wanted to ask you something, is this a good time?” said Salma.

“Oh, yes, yes. Come inside first. Hello children. Shama, you are going to be taller than your mother next time I see you. Dipu? Turn off that computer and come say hello to Salma auntie and the children. All day he is glued to that thing.”

The dreary living room, the entire flat, was depressing. The shut windows, drawn curtains, and the complete lack of natural light gave the place a crypt-like chill. It was cold, too, almost frigid, as though the air conditioning had been running round the clock full blast. Most of the furniture was in need of maintenance, if not replacement. The sofa that Mrs. Mahbub gestured for them to take had holes, small ones, but large enough for puffs of bright white cotton to peek out. On a table next to the sofa was a framed picture of Dipu in his school uniform, holding up a certificate, the corners of his mouth drooped, his eyes half closed. Mrs. Mahbub flipped a switch, and the sudden glare of the uncovered light bulb overhead laid bare brilliantly the room’s drab gloom.

Dipu, still in his school uniform, ambled into the room. He was pink-cheeked and fat. The hair on his head was like fine porcupine quills. His knees knocked, and he dragged his feet when he walked. Like his mother he wore thick glasses, behind which his eyes were two tiny dots. Without regarding the guests, he went by his mother’s side, and stood looking at the ground.

“What do you say, Dipu?” said Mrs. Mahbub.

“Sla-malikum, Auntie” Dipu croaked.

“How are you, Dipu? How is school?” Salma asked.

Dipu didn’t answer. Mrs. Mahbub offered to make tea, but Salma asked her not to go to the trouble.

“Do you children want Coke?” Mrs. Mahbub asked.

“Coke, yes!” Adil shouted.

“No. And be quiet.” Salma clasped and tightened her arm around him. Shama said she didn’t want anything.

“I might be getting a job, Mrs. Mahbub,” said Salma.

“Things are bad at the bank with your husband?” Mrs. Mahbub asked.

“A little extra income would be good, yes,” said Salma.

“When times get bad, they get bad.”

“I know you know, Mrs. Mahbub.” Salma felt awkward after making the comment.

“Do I know,” Mrs. Mahbub sighed. She swept a hand through Dipu’s hair, which he dodged. “Every day I know.” Dipu gave his mother a sideward frown, which she did not see.

“I only have the interview,” said Salma. “God willing, if I get the position, will it be all right if the children stopped by here after school?”

“Yes, yes, of course, you don’t need to ask even.”

“Thank you. Dipu? Is it okay with you?” Salma asked.

“Dipu? What do you say?” Mrs. Mahbub touched her son’s plump cheek. Dipu flinched and pulled away. “It will be nice for him. All the time he’s home he’s on that thing,” she waved in the direction of Dipu’s room, indicating the computer.

“Also, if I get this job, I will need to know about computers. Dipu, would you like to be my teacher?” said Salma.

Dipu smiled. Two dimples poked into his cheeks. “Okay.”

After a short silence, Salma thanked Mrs. Mahbub, and promised to keep her updated. Mrs. Mahbub offered tea and refreshments again, but Salma had pushed to her feet without realizing, which made her feel a little embarrassed and opportunistic. She promised to stay for some next time.

Mrs. Mahbub saw them out and locked the door, and then they heard her call Dipu’s name and her voice fading toward the back of the flat.

“That place makes me feel strange. It’s such a sad home. No home should be sad like that,” said Shama, bounding up the steps two at a time. Adil sprinted up behind her, slipped, knocked his knee on a step, and howled. Salma picked him up by an arm, and he dug his face into her shoulder. She couldn’t help agreeing with her daughter.

 

After Salma told him about the interview, Maruf became thoughtful, and sat at the edge of the bed staring at a point in front of him for several minutes before saying, “Well, it’s just an interview, probably one of several. Times are different. These days, firms like this especially, go through many rounds before making selections.”

“I thought you would be pleased,” said Salma.

Maruf craned his neck around like he was doing an after-workout stretch. “Pleased? About what? They probably have a hundred interviews lined up for just that one position.”

“Even for jobs that are no better than office boys?” said Salma.

Maruf made to reply but stopped.

“Tuesday, huh?” he said. “And that crazy woman downstairs, you want the children to stay with her?”

“She is not crazy, Maruf. Don’t say that.”

“Why else would her husband run off? And that poor boy, with nowhere to go but stuck with her day and night.”

“Shama and Adil will not stay with her. They will only let her know when they come home. Just so someone knows. Cook will be busier with me gone.”

“Hmm, well,” Maruf, done taking off his shoes and tucking his socks into them, took them to the clothes rack and dropped them next to the others. His shirt was damp with sweat. He peeled it off and hung it on the rack. In his undershirt he looked small and defeated, like he had just been badly beaten and humiliated by an opponent, lost everything, and was hanging up his armor for good. “I’m glad they found the documents acceptable,” he grumbled.

He didn’t want dinner. Salma and the children ate in silence. Afterward Salma spoke to the cook for a few minutes, telling him that there was a chance she was going to be gone during the day starting soon.

In the bedroom she found Maruf staring at himself in the mirror attached to the adjoining bathroom door. Seeing her, he quickly grabbed his shirt, and threw it over his head.

“Are you worried about your figure?” Salma chided. “Is that why you didn’t want to eat?”

“No,” Maruf said, curtly, and picked up the folded newspaper on the ground next to the bed. “It’s good to be a little conscious,” he said, after shuffling through the paper for a few minutes. “These young Americans that have been coming to the bank, you should see them. Their bodies and their health, and the women look stronger than the men. No wonder they, that whole country, is devouring the world in every way. Who can go against them when they’re that well-fed and well-built?”

Salma got into bed, and Maruf kept reading, or rather snapping from page to page, until she couldn’t help being irritated by it.

“There is every chance that they won’t like me,” she said, without turning to face him. “Is that what you want?”

She heard him fold the paper meticulously and toss it on the floor.

“What nonsense are you talking?” he said. He slid down under the covers, gave them a pull to release them out of the mattress at the foot of the bed and drew them up to his ears. Salma raised her head just as he was turning over.

“They sound like a place that I will not be qualified for,” she said. “Even for a job no more than an office boy’s. There are other places I can look.”

“It’s too late now. You have an appointment, and they’re expecting you. My name is on the line. Last thing I need on top of everything else is my wife making me look like a fool.”        “Then you should have thought of that before.” Salma looked at the bald patch at the top of his head, the hair around it sprouting like grass on the edges of a poorly maintained lawn. He moaned as he slipped away, gave a short grunt, and began snoring.

 

The morning of the interviewwas warm, with a brisk wind rising and falling every few seconds, carrying hints of the rain to come in less than a month. The sky was a dull slate gray. Maruf flagged two scooters, one for him and the children and one for Salma, and Adil wanted to go with his mother. Maruf ordered Shama to hold on to her brother, and wait in the other one. He then peeked his head into Salma’s scooter.

“Keep this,” he brought out a hundred-taka note. “Do you want me to go with you?”
“No. Just get the children to school.”

“Listen. It is what it is. Don’t try to show yourself off as something you’re not.” He waited, and then said, “Okay?”

“Okay.”

“Here, keep my mobile, too. Just in case.” Before she could respond Maruf placed the phone on her lap. He gave her another fifty-taka note, and scolded the scooter driver with the directions to where she was going as a measure against the driver charging a higher fare by taking a longer route.

Mrs. Mahbub and Dipu came out of the building. Mrs. Mahbub was talking at her son, and seeing her upstairs neighbors pulling away in the scooters, waved enthusiastically. Dipu was hustling toward a rickshaw he was flagging down at the same time.

On Shama’s lap, Adil was sniffling against his will. Maruf squeezed in next to them and addressed their driver in the same harsh tone as the other. Shama caught a glimpse of Dipu as the scooter engine revved under her seat, miserable and numb to his mother, scrambling onto the rickshaw as soon as it pulled up, while Mrs. Mahbub talked on.

The office was on Motijheel Road. Despite the driver’s age and innocuous appearance, Salma was skeptical that he would follow Maruf’s instructions, but it became evident soon that per Maruf’s orders he had taken Maulana Bhashani Road to get to the Motijheel area via Shahbag. The driver’s trepidation, however, became evident as soon as they entered the Shahbag area. He slowed the scooter, pulled to the side of the road, and turned to Salma.

“Madam, I cannot go anymore, the way your husband told,” the driver said. He was in his seventies. His eyes were watery and looked blinded with cataracts. The cloth cap on his head was tilted to one side like someone had smacked it out of place. The grimace on his face gave Salma the fear that the he had suddenly become ill.

“Why not?” she asked.

The driver pointed ahead. Salma leaned to one side to look past him through the windshield. She could see nothing more than the usual, clots of people, buses, rickshaws, scooters, more people. Thinking she was missing something Salma kept looking, and the scooter driver, like a tutor that was waiting for the pupil to catch on to the obvious, sat fidgeting. After another couple of minutes, Salma heard the chanting, but couldn’t understand it. It was concerted, unified, loud, and within moments the natural assembly of people and vehicles on the busy intersection grew into a dark wall of bodies. The scooter driver finally turned to Salma. When he opened his mouth to speak Salma saw his teeth were destroyed by pan and betel nut.

“Madam, please, there is no way to keep going,” he said. “Forgive me. I won’t take your money, but I cannot risk it. Even if I wanted to I couldn’t. I will take you back to your home.”

“Is there another way to go?” Salma asked.

The driver’s anguish deepened. He lowered his head, and brought it up again.

“I cannot, Madam. Forgive me.”

Salma wondered why Maruf had failed to mention a possible demonstration. If anything, it would be the first thing he would highlight, above all else, above even the interview, before going on to lambaste the government and work himself into a sweat before huffing off petulantly as if it were all Salma’s fault.

The sound of his complaints droned in her head. A stone grew in her stomach, heavy, oppressive, like it did not want her to stand on her feet again, would not allow it. Salma sat quietly with her eyes closed. The chanting from the demonstration grew louder. When she opened her eyes she noticed flags, their green as rich as rain fed grass, and the ball in the heart of the green the red of arterial blood. They were flying on bamboo poles, large and small, waving and fluttering.

“Madam, I beg you, let us turn around.”

“No, I will get out here.” Salma handed the driver the fifty-taka note, and climbed out. The scooter made an immediate turnaround, its engine whirring painfully to the angst of its driver, and buzzed away like a fading swarm of bees.

Salma draped the strap of her handbag diagonally across her body from opposing shoulder to waist, and headed toward the demonstration. Soon she was trotting, as if rushing to catch a departing bus, her heart hammering in her chest. Her lungs started to burn, but within minutes her head felt light and detached from the rest of her body. She couldn’t tell if the mass of bodies was moving toward her or away, and she didn’t care. She suddenly found herself propelled toward the crowd, for what reason she didn’t know, but for the fact that even if she tried to stop and turn she would be unable. Whether the demonstration had advanced or Salma had gotten closer, she was near enough to see individual faces now. Faces painted in the colors of the flag. Faces pulled and stretched with fervor that Salma envied. Young faces, down to boys and girls no older than Shama and Adil, with banners raised, flags aloft, and chanting. The banners called for the punishment of war criminals.

The war crimes tribunals had been going on for a few years at the Bangladesh High Court right here in Dhaka. Controversy over them had recently reached a critical mass with supporters of the trials calling for the hanging of collaborators that had sided with the Pakistan Army during the Liberation War, and with opposing Jamaat-i-Islami hardliners calling the trials a blasphemous, anti-Islamic witch hunt.

When she was within ten or twenty feet of the demonstration Salma eased her pace and moved along the side of the road. The crush of bodies looked like it wouldn’t afford a single inch for her to pass through. She also saw that the demonstration was not moving forward, or moving at all, and that it was rigid and solid as a wall. They were shouting for justice, calling for death. Happily, jovially, they were demanding heads in nooses. Salma saw the name of the man currently on trial scrawled in Bangla across a banner that was bobbing up and down in the center of the crowd, his face next to his name circled within a noose. She saw a small opening between a few bodies, and plunged forward. Her shoulder bumped with a young woman’s on one side, and grazed the bare arm of a middle-aged man on the other. She caught a glimpse of an old couple holding the black and white portrait of a young man. Must be their son, murdered by the Pakistan Army. A girl, three or four, sat on the shoulder of a man clutching a flag on a stick.

A terrific din arose from the very heart of the procession. The young woman Salma had bumped into turned and gave her a big smile, and shouted a word of solidarity, getting Salma into the spirit of the demonstration. Salma’s heart thumped wildly, but she felt calm, unthreatened in the midst of the crowd.

Riot police trickled out from places Salma couldn’t see. Helmets, batons, shields, vests, guns. Their boots crunched, and, like the demonstrators, they moved by their own unified rhythm. The demonstrators didn’t oppose the presence of the police, and neither was the police making threatening gestures at the crowd. Salma had her handbag clutched against her with one hand. She reached inside with her other hand and felt Maruf’s mobile phone.

A great surge swept through the crowd, pushing it forward. Salma felt it against her back, and she went forward with it. Within seconds the demonstration moved ten feet, almost in a rush. The police seemed unperturbed, even calm. Salma felt the hand of the young woman beside her take hers and thrust it upward, like Salma had just won a boxing match. The woman shrieked so loudly that her words became incoherent, her voice a shredded and piercing clot of phlegm and grit in her throat. A huge response rang out of the crowd. Salma gripped the young woman’s hand and filled her lungs with air to shout.


About the Author: Nadeem Zaman was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh and grew up in Chicago. He is currently a PhD. student at the University of Louisville. His fiction has appeared in The Copperfield Review, Eastlit, China Grove, 94 Creations, and is forthcoming in The Milo Review and the Roanoke Review.

Artwork: Monirul Alam

Time And Its Relatives by Peggy Aylsworth

Vinayak Harshvardhan_for Aylsworth


 

 TIME AND ITS RELATIVES

I hobble in the ruins of myself,
grateful as a bronco out to pasture.
Layers of dust find ways to hide
the glisten underneath.  Red, as in coral

thanks the longest waves of light.
I didn’t die at 24 as I once thought.
At 93 my wits remind – the bell

still tolls for me, even as my ears

have given in to half-closed doors.
This or that makes choice less

wobbly now – The sand keeps
temporary prints the sea will swallow.

Hosanna to the wheelchair and the cane.
Daylight wouldn’t be the same without them.


About the Author: Peggy Aylsworth’s poetry has appeared in numerous literary journals throughout the U.S. and abroad, including Beloit Poetry Journal, The MacGuffin,Poetry Salzberg Review, Yuan Yang (Hong Kong), White Rabbit (Chile). Her work was nominated for the 2012 Pushcart Prize.

Artwork: Vinayak Harshvardhan 

 

Oakland, California 94607 by Rebecca Chekouras

liberty

 


A clerk wielding a Remington Rand had pounded his full legal name, Earl Anthony Jones, Jr., onto the original 1969 business license fading on the wall by his chair, the window chair. In the double frame next to it, an old snapshot of his daughter, all arms and legs, was balanced by a recent, professional portrait showing the aspiring actress in New York. His grandfather, Anthony Jones, bought the Clay Street shop in 1923, the beginning of Jones & Sons, Barbers. Anthony was the confident sort—three chairs, one barber, no sons. Five years into the business, he’d acquired a second barber, a steady stream of juke jiving men who hit Oakland’s 7th Street clubs on Friday and Saturday nights, and a son he named Earl.

Earl took the business into the next generation, holding on to his father’s customers and adding, as they arrived by the score, their sons. He kept a pot of coffee going for men who arrived in the morning and left late in the afternoon, perhaps having refreshed their cup in the back room a time or two with a shot of bourbon. The big-voiced men dissected the world from Earl’s chairs, told stories and bragged on their war service, glad to be home.

On the day Mrs. Jones brought two-year-old Earl Jr. into the shop for his first haircut, Big Earl, as his customers now called him, was attending to a rotund man, combing pomade into hair cut close on the sides and back but piled high in front like the prow of a ship.

“Who that little shaver?” the man had asked.

“Oh, he local,” claimed a customer returning from his third trip to the back room. To his mother’s dismay, the odd retort wrapped its loving arms around her child and held on. By the time he was twenty, Local Jones worked the third chair in his father’s shop.

 

Local Jones put coffee on. It was for old farts like him. Young men today preferred energy drinks, chemo-green or blue as radiator fluid. Nothing you’d want to slip a shot into. The aroma of coffee, dark roasted and oily, threaded the shop, floating on the back of pomade and the astringent lotions that put the sting in a close shave. Jones took up his broom and swept through a big yellow butter pat morning sunlight had thrown on the floor. He tried a shop assistant once but the floor never looked right when someone else did it. When he reached the door, he flipped the sign from Closed to Open and waited while Officer James Boscana parked his black and white cruiser at the curb. Jones raised his hand to the beat cop and opened the door.

Boscana climbed out and called to Jones over the car’s roof. “You see any suspicious-looking types hanging around here yesterday?”

“Everybody come into my place a suspicious-looking type,” Jones replied. Bada-boom. Their favorite joke. Then he reached back inside for a bright pink box. “You want a donut?” He popped the lid on a dozen sugar-dusted, crispy-edged jelly donuts fat and snug as sleeping babies under a blanket of waxed paper. “Here,” he said pushing the box toward Boscana. “I’ll get you a coffee, too.”

“No, thank you,” Boscana said and held up his hands to ward off the persistent generosity of Local Jones. Five years ago, a rookie cop new to the beat, Boscana took routine shit from Old Oakland merchants. But not from Jones. Boscana was welcome in the little wormhole back to 1923. The chairs, white as hospital cabinets and upholstered in black leather, swiveled on shiny nickel stems bolted to red and white floor tiles. The original mirror ran the length of the shop and threw a broad bar of reflected sunlight against the opposite wall.

“You never take nuthin’?” Local asked. “Because I mean don’t let me hear you take a Coke and chips from some place up the street and don’t take nuthin’ from me.”

“Don’t make me haul you in, old man.” That was their oldest joke. That Jones, a man who’d worked every day of his adult life in the same 500 square feet, was unpredictable, the kind who’d fly off the rail in a minute.

“You want a haircut? I got time.”

Boscana removed his forage cap and checked the mirror. He ran his hand through the short bristles of his black hair. Crescent moons shone white above his ears. “Don’t think I need one just yet.” While Jones put his broom away, Boscana pulled a phone from the pocket of his black shirt. Jones had cut his hair ten days ago. Maybe he forgot.

“For real,” he said when Jones returned. “That Mexican place around the corner? It was hit yesterday in the afternoon. Lunch over, dinner still two hours out. Staff in the kitchen eating with the family. No gun. No confrontation. Guy jimmied the old wooden door and got the cash drawer out.”

“Neighborhood fella do it?”

“The cook came out when the drawer popped open; heard the bell. But the guy was halfway out the door and took off on a bike weaving through traffic. They couldn’t catch him on foot.”

“What he look like?”

“They only saw him from the back. Five ten maybe, thin, long legs. Short puff of coppery hair. All I know.”

“You sure it’s a man?” Jones asked.

“Well, you make a good point there.”

 

Dispatch was quiet. Boscana swung through the West Oakland BART station, taking the temperature of the neighborhood. Just people going to work on a summer morning. Doubles made for long days and he hoped this one would stay easy as he headed east on 5th into Jack London Square, a mixed bag of properties along the estuary and demarcated by crisscrossing freeways, rail lines, and the towering white cranes of the Port of Oakland. All of it shoulder-to-shoulder with low-end motels, the kind of bars that feature a small stage with a pole, cheap counters that served breakfast all day, and, sprinkled among the produce wholesalers, meat and fish distributors that supplied Chinatown restaurants.

There were signs the neighborhood was turning—a condo high rise, some pricier farm-to-table restaurants, a liquor store that catered to the tastes of hipsters who couldn’t afford San Francisco rents but knew Napa wines. Up and down the estuary, warehouses that had served the port a century ago were being converted one by oneintocavernous lofts. Just out of the academy, Boscana bought one in a red brick factory that had manufactured paper bags in the early 1900s. The area still had pockets of trouble. A recent murder at a club on 3rd. Sideshows in the small hours of the night that laid hot rubber on little used streets and sometimes put bullets in the air, one randomly catching a two year-old and ending his brief life. Boscana turned onto his street to do a drive by.

He found a body slumped near the curb. Female. Folded onto her knees. The hump of her rear end pointed at the sky, her head wedged under a parked car. As he approached, his worst fears were confirmed. It was his fiancé Noël trying to coax another stray dog into her arms. Things had been chill in the bedroom since he volunteered for double shifts a year ago. He needed another surgery and wanted it over and done before the wedding. Noël, alone much of the time, began rescuing soon after, starting with a pregnant bitch ready to deliver. They’d lived with at least one and as many as five miserable, flea-infested dogs since. Goodie Jackson, who drove the white ASPCA van, now made their loft a regular stop. Boscana parked and walked over.

“C’mon, baby.” Noël’s voice bounced around the hard surfaces under the Honda. “Who is mama’s baby love?” she cooed, so sugary that Boscana’s chest squeezed into a knot. He dropped to one knee and cleared his throat afraid that if he startled Noël she might crack her skull on the frame of the car she was now halfway beneath. “I’m your baby love,” he said.

“Jazz?” Noël wiggled back into daylight. A brown ball of matted fur burst free behind the Honda and raced away. “Now I’ve lost him.” Her tone proved nothing had changed since they’d gone to bed late the night before, depleted from their efforts to understand each other.

“I’m sorry,” he said. Apologies still hovered about his lips and tongue.

“No you’re not. If anything you’re glad.”

“We did just get the carpets cleaned and the space flea bombed.”

“Jazz. . .”

Boscana rose and pointed to his nameplate. “James,” he said. “When I’m in uniform it’s James. We agreed.”

“Jazz, look around this wasteland,” she opened her arms to encompass the warehouses and truck lots. “You see any people?” A symphonic funk of grating gears and loose bolts interrupted them. They both turned. Noël brushed dirt from her knees. The building’s garage door rolled up inch by grinding inch to reveal their neighbor Emilio, who gripped the laser-bright handlebars of a green, factory-perfect bike radiating outrageous brilliance from every spoke and bar. Had his grin been any bigger, it could’ve jumped off his face and lived on its own.

“Even the saddle bags have that new car smell,” he boasted, and kicked off into the street.

“You better get going, too,” Noël said, smiling at Boscana, Emilio, or the thought of getting back to her dog, it was hard to say; but when Boscana kissed her, she leaned into him before turning away.

 

Emilio flew through an industrial stretch, passing coffee roasters that put the sharp brown bite of their burn in the air. His tires buzzed like winged insects against the knobby asphalt. He came to California three years ago, just after college, to make his living teaching conversational Spanish to Anglos; halting, rudimentary conversations in beginning Spanish with people planning vacations. Students asked him, “¿Dónde vives?” in American accents hard enough to break his bones. When he answered Oeste Oakland, they always remarked in English about violence, startled that he lived there of all places and asking did he feel safe. “En español, por favor,” he reminded them. And they would retreat, asking, “¿Dónde vivió en México?”

He was from a small village in the mountains between Puerto Vallarta and Mexico City. He kept his voice lively despite the likelihood his conversational partner would then say he should never have left such a paradise and they had first gone when the kids were in school and what a difference it had made in their outlook on life, slowing down like that. He was wrong for leaving, had landed in the wrong neighborhood and no choice he could ever make would escape the laughing judgment they offered as evidence of their goodwill.

Emilio sailed along, hugging the curb, gliding in and out of tree shadows splattered todo morocho on the road like huge fried eggs, the new bike handling as smooth as the estuary at dawn. At Washington, he slipped left toward the freeway, leaning into the turn and taking it wide. He had good speed but the light turned red just as he hit 5th. Under the freeway, on the opposite corner, Goodie Jackson, who he’d gotten to know from her frequent stops to gather up Noël’s orphaned animals, waited out the same light in her white ASPCA van. He raised his arm and waved. She leaned out the driver’s side and yelled something that made her enormous, old-school sunnies bounce on her big-cheeked grin.

“Way to go, baby!” she shouted in passing when the light changed. She slapped out a series of beeps and kept the horn party going until she made the turn onto 2nd.

Emilio kicked forward. He had to keep his eyes on the road or risk losing his wheel gleam to the bird shit and gnarled vomit that paved the 880 underpass. When he first opened the studio, he formed the habit of naming out loud, in English, everything he saw on his daily commute. It was something he encouraged his students to do, too, to make a game of vocabulary building. If he saw something for which he had no words, he would look up a translation as soon as he got to his office and make a note on index cards that he reviewed between classes.

He had this stretch of Old Oakland down. The underpass never changed and he was able to say, without having to glance up and risk his wheels: huddled man wearing an enormous blue parka, its fur-trimmed hood pulled tight rain or shine, winter or summer; OPD headquarters and Superior Court, plain clothes detectives hurrying to Crown Vics, their Glocks clipped to their belts; TV news vans positioning their anchors and running up their antennas, knots of young men working the corners, handing out bail bond cards and key chains; and a queue of people called to jury duty.

He cleared the shadow of the freeway and slowed at 7th. He stood, gliding a minute before swinging his right leg over the seat so that he now balanced his full weight on the left pedal, his right foot tucked behind his left. Riding side saddle, he coasted up to the sawhorse barriers at 8th. Every Friday a little mercado sprang up at the intersection of Washington and 9th. From that axis the market radiated out one block in all four directions—to the Marriott on 10th at the edge of downtown, Broadway and Chinatown to the east, south to 8th, and west to Clay Street and Swan’s. He walked his bike through stalls of handmade soaps, long-stemmed flowers nodding in white buckets, smoky sweet incense, and jewelers bending wire and stringing beads. Housewives from Chinatown shopped for garlic, eggs, honey, olives, and almonds. He threaded through chocolatiers and pie bakers, and passed a tent selling kettle corn which was dreadful. Food trucks, just starting to heat their oil and chop vegetables, had taught him to love the sighing-vowel and soft consonant sounds of bahn mi, samosas, pad Thai, po’boys.

He made a breakfast from samples. Frutas y verduras were easy to remember: plums, oranges, apples, grapes, and strawberries from the Central Valley, picked by people who looked like him. Other produce had been harder to learn; especially the herbs—those pungent green, purple, and black leaves tied with string and labeled in kanji. The silver lining was he overcame his initial shyness about speaking English in the U.S. Emilio, blessed with persistence as well as intelligence, asked what things were and, in striking up conversations, he’d grown accustomed to street vernacular and idiom. He learned to joke. Among the amas de casa pushing fold-up wire shopping trolleys or strollers heaped with bags and bundles of fresh food, a baby in there somewhere, he’d met Xi and his new home opened to him through his first U.S. friend.

 

“Now there’s a stray ought to be picked up,” Goodie said as she brought the van to a stop behind the flashing red lights of a railroad crossing barrier. Her remark was directed at a young man standing on the opposite corner of Embarcadero & Clay among the thin string of reverse commutes just off the ferry from San Francisco. He was noticeable for his five-inch platform stilettos, a bit scuffed but otherwise looking fine. He wore what Goodie knew from shopping resale stores with a religious fervor to be a 1970s Diane von Fürstenberg jumpsuit of black and gold geometric patterns on a white ground, cinched at the waist with a gold lamé belt. His right hand held a burning cigarette and, swinging on the curled forefinger of his left, an auburn bubble wig, cut to fall just below the ear. Despite the shadow of a patchy beard, he’d taken the trouble to reapply a summery pink lipstick. The 7:45 AM Capitol Corridor, destination Sacramento and the business of state government, blasted its approach in one continuous wall of chest-convulsing horn. When the final car cleared the intersection, the stylish young man took a drag from his smoke, then ground it out and stepped into the crumbling intersection as sure-footed as a Billy goat in his toe peeps.

Goodie took a left onto Embarcadero. At Washington, an Oakland squad car hugged the curb opposite the Regal Cinema. Seeing it, Noël ducked low in her seat.

“Let’s skip Chicken-N-Waffle,” Goodie said with a frown. “Eat outside the Square.”

 

His beige Choos, already chipped at the heel, were taking a beating from the crumbling sidewalks. Though his wedged feet were rubbed raw, the thought of walking barefoot through the underpass at 5th gave his stomach, already queasy from the excesses of the previous evening, a threatening lurch. He should’ve come home when the Castro Street bars closed but he’d taken a Viagra and why waste a four-hour erection? He checked the front of the von Fürstenberg to make sure he wasn’t offending and hurried along, anxious to get to his office near Swan’s and switch to his mild mannered day job self. His grandparents and great aunts would still be at tai chi on Alice Street near the Post Office. No danger there. His brother, two years younger, would be BARTing north to Berkeley where he was in the Haas School of Business at Cal. The real danger was his mother or father running to the Friday market to pick up something for the restaurant.

To avoid that possibility, Xi jogged left to pick up Clay despite extra yardage on dogs already howling. He pulled himself up to his full five feet six as he approached the big window of Jones & Sons, winking at his barber where Mr. Jones stood guard over the neighborhood. Xi hoped at least his hair looked good as he hobbled past. Another half block to the housewives’ market. He ran the last few yards to Xi’s Travel and slid his key into the lock. He was one twist short of home free when he heard his name called by a familiar voice and froze.

“Herbert?”

His heart shrank to the size of a BB. Xi whipped around, caught his heel on the brick pavers of the little plaza and fell back against the door. “Emilio,” he cried with relief, forgetting he was wearing women’s cocktail pajamas, five inch heels, and Revlon Moisturizing Frost Lipstick in a shade called Peekaboo Pink.

“You are doing . . .?” Emilio’s English failed.

“The walk of shame,” Xi said hurrying inside. He stopped, facing the interior, placed his left hand on its corresponding hip, cocked it high in the air and shot a smoldering pout back over his shoulder, his lips a pink rosebud. With lowered his eyes, he threw his chin in the air and demanded, “Repite.

Walk. Of. Shame.” Emilio dutifully pronounced and then gave his friend the thumbs up.

Xi peeled a sticky note from the back of his door and slapped it on the front: Back in 5 minutes. He shut the door and, leaning against it, kicked off his Choos. Bullet dodged but—Oh. His. Head. The thing about Moscow Mules is they will kick your pretty ass all the way home.

 

“Depends on what you want.” Goodie pushed away what remained of the Chicken-Fried Steak and Eggs Special, mostly skid marks where her bulldozing biscuit had sought the last drop of everything. They’d gone only as far as Jingletown. “The dick or the vajayjay.”

“You know it’s more than that,” Noël said. She’d barely touched her Stubby, a comparatively modest platter of two wings, a waffle, biscuit, and the yellow eye of a fried egg.

“I got the vajayjay, s’all I’m saying.” Goodie helped herself to a wing from Noël’s plate.

 

Buenos Días Español didn’t face the street, one of its many charms—fewer distractions, less noise, and, important in summer, cooler. The L-shaped interior courtyard of the old housewives’ market was shaded by surrounding buildings. On opposite sides of the fountain at its center, the courtyard’s anchor tenants, Buenos Días Español and, across the brickwork, Xi’s Travel, represented in the fly-weight division of the service economy.

Emilio slipped his key into the lock on the aluminum frame and opened the door to colors that were, as one of his students had said, “Native bright!” With his bike tucked against the blood red wall behind his desk at the back of the room, he set about tidying a ring of white folding chairs that took up much of the interior. The coffee table held picture books and magazines from Mexico, Central America, and Spain. Low bookshelves kept dictionaries and phrase books within easy reach for Conversation Time. Wall maps allowed beginners to find and say a few words about where they were traveling. Week-old flowers drooped in vases scattered around the room. Emilio gathered these and wrapped them in newspaper. Once he had the vases washed and refilled, he set them about the room and left for the mercado to buy replacement bouquets in lively colors that would really pop against the primary blues, reds, and yellows of Native bright Buenos Días Español.

 

Officer Avilla, a two-year veteran to Boscana’s five, started the minute he buckled his seat belt and kept the riff at full throttle without much conversational help from his partner. The guy could ruin a small space faster than a mosquito. It made for a long second shift. Noël just had no idea.

“The Mayor has fucked us to pieces. You know that, Jimmy? Started with that Occupy shit. We had ’em.” Avilla watched the street as he spoke. “I mean we had those bastards flat out and what does she do?”

“Yeah, well,” Boscana replied, keeping it neutral.

“Hey, Blue Bottle. Cuppa joe?”

Boscana pulled up at the bean roaster and put the cruiser in neutral. “I’ll stay by the computer,” he said.

Avilla popped out of the cruiser and entered the big-windowed brick and steel shop famous for high octane shots and jived his way to the front of the line, a borderline abuse of uniform that irritated the hell out of Boscana, though it did bring Avilla back promptly.

“Look,” Avilla said, throwing a leg and hip into the front seat, the rest of him thudding in after. “Our line in the General coulda been saved if she hadn’t forced us to put helicopters in the air every night for months is what I’m saying.”

Boscana passed on the invitation to look at his partner’s argument and, instead, glanced left prior to turning. The Egyptian who sold shawarma and kabobs out of his blue-paneled truck on Webster waved. Boscana nodded and returned the vendor’s easy smile.

 

Local Jones cracked the snap on the cape tenting his customer and swung it away from the man’s neck and shoulders in a toreador move he’d perfected over forty plus years in the shop. A newer move, one for which he had as yet little practice, was concealing the persistent tremor in his hands. It was around the holidays, when he’d had so many clients back to back, that he first noticed a jangly little nerve cork-screwing from deep in his shoulder up through his neck. First, his right hand trembled. Then, a few weeks later, his left shared the same little shiver as though the two had discovered something exciting; a secret they kept from him. He tried cutting down on caffeine but to no effect.

Working the chair next to him, Bill Mason, his Tuesday/Thursday tattoo cut man, carved the Dubs logo into the back of a young man’s head. It was a precise business wielding a shaver to carve out a basketball bouncing over the Golden Gate Bridge. Jones turned his back to the second chair to clean and put away his combs and scissors. When he glanced to the mirror, Mason was looking right at him.

When he wasn’t with a customer, Jones stood at the window and made sure some version of shit did not trouble this section of Clay. Even standing still, he buzzed like Mason’s shaver. All the time now he could feel it, whatever “it” was, sizzling in his brain like white grease on a black skillet. On his fortieth birthday, he’d laughed along with everyone else, making old man jokes he didn’t really believe but the occasion called for them. He was still in his prime and his wife loved him. At fifty the jokes weren’t as funny and his back hurt at the end of the day. Crossing sixty, he could feel the needle flirting with Empty. His feet ached by noon; his back could go with one wrong move. He became cautious. He was afraid to go to the doctor and putting it off made it worse. Then she died; just okay one day and dead six months later from a fast-moving cancer nobody saw coming. Now he was terrified. He’d spent his entire working life in this one room. Not that it hadn’t been good to him, but . . . his entire life.

 

Hasta luego.” Emilio held the door for students who filed past shouting or murmuring adios. He shut the door and pumped his fist in the Friday air. A line of food trucks waited just around the corner. Throughout class whiffs of empanadas, grilled sausages, roasted chicken, some red-hot spicy thing—any of which would be excellent washed down with an icy horchata—teased his appetite. He slid a rubber band up over his pants cuff and walked his bike to the front where he leaned it against his leg and pulled the door open. He could easily walk the half block to market. He chose to ride for the sheer pleasure of owning a new bike. Across the courtyard, staring straight at him, Xi’s yellow note lied, Back in 5 minutes. Using a process he’d learned to call deductive logic, Emilio guessed Herbert was sleeping one off on the long, deep couch of Xi’s Travel. He settled his bike against the interior window wall, walked over, and tapped the glass.

From inside came a deep moan and the soft tumble of something falling to the floor. A single, blood shot eye appeared between slats of window blind. Emilio gave a little finger waggle. The door of Xi’s Travel opened just enough to permit one red eye sufficient orbit to swing to the left and then roll to the right before settling on Emilio.

“¡Ay!”he yelped, seeing the killer hangover in his friend’s face. “Man, you need anything?”

Xi’s voice was no more than a whisper, “I need a soda, baby.” After a few wet coughs to rearrange throat phlegm, he added, “A plate of chicken and rice wouldn’t hurt.”

“Will you be able to open today?” Emilio fingered the sticky note on the door.

“Emmie, nobody actually comes here.” Xi gripped the door with one hand and covered his eyes with the other. “That’s for my parents. My customers are on the phone or online. I’d probably faint if someone came through the door.” The speech deflated him like a balloon long after the party was over.

Emilio launched from Xi’s door with the determined wince of a man whose self-proclaimed mission was to set right the mistake of another. In the mercado, he bought chicken and rice and loaded the white Styrofoam square into his saddle bag along with a dozen artisanal tortillas. He ate a Vietnamese salad of fresh herbs and grilled shrimp sprinkled with chopped peanuts, the whole thing topped with green cilantro and orange carrot strips and dressed with a vinegary sauce. At Two Bois Bakery he let loose on a half-dozen chocolate-chip peanut butter cookies and then pedaled over to Mama Desta’s liquor store on Clay where he locked his bike to street sign and went in.

Emilio tugged a six pack of Coke from the cold case along the back wall. One can just was not going to do it for Señor Xi. At checkout, a young man, maybe sixteen and sporting a copper colored pouf of hair, stepped aside to let Emilio go first. From the relative safety of a Plexiglas box, the counter man rang up the Coke. Emilio added a phone card, meaning to call his mother in Mexico before heading home tonight. Outside, he arranged the last of his purchases in his saddle bags and kicked off from the curb.

 

From the window, where he watched the street but listened to the A’s game, Local Jones saw Herbert’s friend, the Spanish teacher, glide by. He was followed by a loping puff of copper hair atop a lanky frame and a pair of long legs. Jones pulled an ancient flip phone from his trouser pocket and, pausing only to scratch his ear, punched up his contact list, arriving almost immediately at Boscana, Officer J.

“Hey,” Jones said when Boscana picked up. “Duracell just go by.”

“Coppertop?”

“Could be. Five ten, skinny, long of leg.”

“What’s his 20?”

“He headed toward Swan’s. I think.”

Boscana pocketed his phone and said, “We have reliable eyeballs on a person wanted for questioning in the Mexican break in.”

“Your man Local Jones?” Avilla said. “The one barber Neighborhood Watch Team?”

“My man Jones,” Boscana replied, careful to keep his voice neutral.

 

Emilio dug through his saddle bags to resurrect the carton of chicken and rice and six-pack of carbonated brown sugar water known to have an ameliorating effect on the recently hammered. There was no answer to his knock at Xi Travel so he put his ear to the mail slot above the handle. The radio was on, good sign, and water ran. Emilio set the chicken and Coke close to the door and crossed the narrow plaza, pushing his bike along by the back of its seat. He opened his door and was greeted by a thin layer of sweet smelling rot, not at all unpleasant whiffs of green going to slime wrapped in newspaper. He’d forgotten to take the old flowers to the trash. He leaned the bike against the wall near the door and glanced over to Xi’s.

He was reluctant to leave the food there, especially at this hour when men from the rescue mission on Washington hovered around the edge of the mercado hoping to score a bite. It was another half hour before his afternoon group. He could run the soppy old flowers to the bins at the end of the alley, come back, knock again at Xi’s, eat a cookie, review some flash cards, and be ready to roll at 1:30. He scooped the flowers up out of the bathroom sink in back and sprinted into the plaza and down the alley, keeping one ear cocked toward Xi’s door.

Emilio sidestepped a trio of accordion, guitar, and violin tuning up prior to taking the tidy, hay bale stage at the mercado, leapt over a pair of generators supplying electricity to the trucks on 9th, and hoisted the lid on a 3-yard dumpster, tossing in the flowers and letting the lid slam. Perhaps this broad band of noise and confusion prevented him from identifying the substrata of screaming that was, in fact, Herbert Xi repitiendo, “He’sgotyourbikehe’sgotyourbike.” It was when Emilio turned and saw his friend Herbert, wet from the shower and clutching a towel to his waist, that random data inputs rearranged into the distinct impression that something was wrong. It took him another second to see a copper-haired youth run his new bike down the alleyway and hop on just as he made Clay Street.

“¡Ay, ay, ay!” Emilio took off running. In ten long strides he was at Xi’s Travel. “Herbert!” he begged in passing and Xi, still holding his towel and the chicken, joined the chase.

 

Jones stayed at the window, watching, his fingers wrapped around his phone, clutching it for no good reason except it connected him to Boscana and possibly because it kept his trembles from the prying attention of Bill Mason. The Spanish teacher raced into the frame, catching Jones by surprise. He was followed by Herbert Xi, the fingers of one hand digging into a clamshell of Styrofoam, the other hand holding a towel flapping at his waist.

Jones ran outside. “Whoa!” he called, his arms spread wide. “What’s going on?”

“He’s gone east on 7th,” the teacher yelled. He whipped left and right searching for something, anything that would help, a bolt of lightning, a rodeo lasso.

Jones turned to Herbert, the man he knew, to ask what was happening, but Xi was bent over the gutter heaving what looked to be a stream of maraschino cherries and lime rinds into the more drab refuse already sheltered there. Xi waved the attention away and handed the box of chicken to Mason, who’d come running out of the shop with a string of men.

“Uh, no thank you,” Mason said while Xi wiped his chin.

“He’s getting away.” It was the Spanish teacher, pained and fighting to hold onto hope.

The knot of men on the sidewalk looked to Jones, waiting for him to make a move, say something, tell them what to do. “My car,” he said and ran into the street toward the opposite curb and the Impala parked there. The teacher ran after him. “Emilio,” he said pointing at his heart. In the short space of two slams they were tearing up Clay, making the left onto 7th through a yellow light. At the red light on Washington, Jones pressed his lips tight and put his foot against the gas pedal hoping not to be noticed by any of the dozen officers coming in or out of the main OPD station.

“Left on B’way,” Emilio directed from the shotgun seat.

Jones blasted the horn as a general declaration of righteousness and took a tire-smoking left onto Broadway.

“There,” Emilio pointed to a flash of green making a right onto 9th. “Chinatown.”

The light changed and the crosswalk filled with old women pushing wire shopping baskets, their short dark hair peeking from under broad-brimmed hats, the cuffs of their cloth jackets rolled above the wrist, loose cotton pants flapping above black slippers. Young women with babies on their hips or strapped to their chests pulled empty red wagons they would load at market. Scattered among them all, men in gray slacks and tan cardigans, white shirts buttoned at the neck, brown spotted hands clasped behind bent backs tottered along. Emilio grabbed the dash just above the glove box and leaned forward in his seat as Jones inched the Impala through the intersection and into Chinatown on a Friday.

Cars at the curb were hemmed in by big, double-parked delivery trucks. Men in white aprons, an inch of cigarette in the corners of their mouths, rode rear lifts heaped with bins of fish packed in ice, melons still crusted with the dirt of the field, dark green okra, long and ridged, spiky durian, mangos, peanuts, and a hundred other things. On the ground, men in paper garrison caps wheeled red dollies back and forth, barking into their phones, taking orders, giving orders, shouting to the men on the lifts, everything rushed and slow at the same time. All of it choked the four-lane, one-way street down to one hotly contested center lane.

“I don’t have anywhere to go,” Local cried. He grabbed his cell phone and flicked it open. “The fuck’s redial?” he complained, punching around the little buttons with his big shaky thumb. Emilio jumped from the passenger side and ran into the crowd. The irate honking of horns and shouts in Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, and Korean needed no translation: Move your damned car. Local ripped the key from the ignition and burst from the driver’s side into the street. From somewhere around his waist he heard the smallest voice in the world shouting his name and realized he still held the mobile. “Running east on 9th between B’way and Webster, maybe Harrison,” he managed to gasp into the phone before a wave of nausea overtook him and he wheezed to a stop. He could no longer see Emilio.

 

They crept down 9th against traffic each watching the sidewalks. Boscana hit a few staccato bursts from the siren; Avilla used the PA to shout in Mandarin, “Clear the street, move it!” His accent so thick people stopped and stared. About hundred yards in, Boscana threw the car into park and both doors swung wide to the street. Avilla put his hand on his taser.

“Put it away,” Boscana shouted.

A crowd had formed and Boscana had to force his way through, shouting and shoving people aside. Emilio had a young man, coppery hair in a short Afro, by a wad of shirt in each fist. The kid, maybe sixteen, thrashed in broad hard movements to get free. The green bike lay at their feet as they scuffled. Emilio was hit in the upper lip and nose with a hard right. Stunned, he fell back, getting his feet caught up in the scarred and scraped bike frame. About to go down, he helicoptered his arms for balance. Avilla reached out and caught him. Freed, the youth tried to run but another pair of arms emerged from the crowd to encircle him.

Local Jones had him from behind. He’d gotten his arms around the boy’s chest and held on, pulling tight and squeezing the air from his lungs, stifling him. A grimace like the trace of a smile vanished from Jones’s mouth when Boscana cuffed the suspect. Avilla let go of Emilio.

“You okay?” Boscana said to Jones, who was breathing hard and shaking. “You want me to call for an EMT?”

“I’m good,” Jones said, bending low, hands on his knees to get his breath back. Then he shot up straight. “Shit! My car’s back in the street just hangin’ open.”

 

“Thank you,” Emilio said as Jones helped him lift his bike out of the Impala.

“New?” Local hardly needed to ask.

“One day!” Emilio said.

“I’m sorry about that,” Local said and meant it.

They stood on the sidewalk in front of Jones & Sons. There was nothing more to be done. “I should check on Herbert,” Emilio said. “He isn’t feeling well.”

“Yeah. Our Herbie need to find a good man.” Local offered his hand to Emilio. “Okay then,” he said.

“Are you alright?” Emilio asked folding both his hands around Local’s one. “You’re trembling.”

Local felt his wife so keenly he could’ve sworn the dead woman stood next to him. “I haven’t wanted to go to the doctor,” he said. He held onto Emilio. “Afraid what he might could say.”

“Do you need someone to go with you?”

“No,” Jones shot back. Then, looking at the sidewalk added, “Maybe.”

“Okay then,” Emilio said and pressed Local’s hands before releasing them.

 

Boscana tossed his duffel bag across the console of a vintage Mustang and dropped behind the wheel. He thought of Noël, dissatisfied and alone. But there was no going back. He’d been clear. “My body, my journey.” This wasn’t happening to her, so at home in her skin. She couldn’t know how he felt; she could only want to understand, never getting there, growing frustrated.

Their loft was sandwiched between 880 and Oakland’s industrial waterfront in an isolated spot where boom cranes offloaded cargo and the Southern Pacific Railroad ended its westward run. He loved the estuary; something always in motion as confirmed by a line of sails in silhouette like a row of black teeth against the orange horizon. Perhaps Noël would like something else, though. He resolved to ask her, then toggled the alarm and left the Mustang under a streetlight.

Noël’s dog habit had him trained to be cautious coming home. He pushed the door open just a crack and called, “I’m home.” Nothing. Police instincts are hard to shut off. He slipped into the loft. Its 15-foot ceiling and wall of towering windows allowed enough light to see in shades of gray but not color. Starting near the door, he scanned the kitchen, and then moved into the living area, looking for anything out of place or unusual. And there, at the back, in an area defined by a ring of pull curtains suspended from the ceiling, on the dresser by their neatly made bed, was an envelope bearing his birth name. Inside a note:

“Dearest Jasmine, my love. I know we started this together . . .” He dropped the letter to his side still holding it between his thumb and curled forefinger. It didn’t require police training to guess how this was going to end.

Goodie Jackson. The dog catcher. He almost laughed. He dropped the letter in the junk drawer, that one in every kitchen that holds the things that don’t belong anywhere in particular, and, not knowing what else to do, poured a drink. He stood at the floor-to-ceiling windows and watched the water. The Coast Starlight, lights blazing in the blue-black evening, blared past on the tracks below, close enough to jump on. “I love women,” her note said. If she walked through the door now, she’d see him as nothing more than a shape, a figure in shadow unidentifiable as male or female, young or old. The drink was gone. He felt nothing.

In the bathroom, he slipped off his uniform. He ran his fingers along the pale, half-moon scars where Jasmine’s breasts had been removed. The shower was empty. Noël had taken all her creams and rinses; all the many things a woman needs.

 

White polygons undulated across the dark ceiling, thrown there by the sodium vapor lights of the port. A slow-moving freight train labored through the night; the percussion of its wheels on uneven track as dull and rhythmic as a pulse. The sound receded to nothing. Boscana rolled onto his side and watched a ghostly crane unload cargo from China. Every three weeks the same freighter offloaded containers from Guangzhou then restocked with U.S. goods. In three weeks, it would do the mirror opposite on the far side of the Pacific. Back and forth; first one way, then the other.


About the Author: Rebecca Chekouras has appeared on the Tin House blog, in Narrative Magazine, The San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Magazine, Curve Magazine, and the online zine Pure Slush. Her work has been anthologized by The University of Wisconsin Press and Pure Slush books. She is a 2013 Lambda Literary Foundation Fellow and was short listed for the Astraea Foundation Lesbian Writers Fund fiction prize. In 2014, Chekouras helped launch The Basement Series in San Francisco with writers from McSweeney’s and the San Francisco Writers Grotto. She was invited to the Tin House Writer’s Winter Workshop in 2015. She lives in the Port of Oakland.

Artwork: Michael J. 

 

Revel by Ana Maria Caballero

Carlos Luis Sánchez Becerra_Retrato de Chusmita_for Caballero


 

For Dr. S. Rueda

On the night Chavez died
I needed to feel drunk
So I called my son’s pediatrician
Told him I wanted to be happy
He said I should be happy
I didn’t mention the wine
Maybe he figured and it wasn’t the first time
So I mixed white formula with water
Then drank enough to sway
With the people on TV
Even a teat gets tired of being just a teat


About the Author: Ana Caballero received Colombia’s 2014 José Manuel Arango National Poetry Prize for her book Entre domingo y domingo (“From Sunday to Sunday”). Her work has appeared in Smoking Glue Gun Magazine, Pea River Review, Red Savina Review, Big River Poetry Review, CutBank, among others, and is forthcoming in Jai-Alai and The Potomac. Every week, she writes about poetry for Zeteo Journal’s “Zeteo is Reading” section. Her poetry and book thoughts can be read at www.thedrugstorenotebook.co.

Artwork: Carlos Luis Sánchez

 

Blue Dun by Jason Kapcala

IMG_7836


When the ice begins to thaw from the lakes and streams, my brother Drew and I put in for our vacations, leave our homes, and migrate north to Lakeville. It’s part of a promise we made back when we were still in high school: to return to the spawning grounds of our ancestors and work our grandfather’s bait and tackle shop on the opening weekend of trout season.

I know everything there is to know about fishing. I can tell you which lure colors work best in low light, which test monofilament line to use when casting into heavy cover, what the fish are biting on down at the river this week, and whether the weed beds on the lake are right for running a deep-diving crankbait. But I don’t fish. I’m a musician—classically trained at the Manhattan School of Music, one of the youngest ever to receive a doctorate in musical arts. I’ve served as a substitute clarinet for the Rochester Philharmonic and the Utica Symphony, and I’ve worked as a pit performer for the Syracuse Opera and various theater companies. By my colleagues’ standards, I’m actually quite accomplished for a guy in his twenties.

But I haven’t held a rod in nearly twenty years, not since the day Drew almost died.

*   *   *

Across the loosely-packed gravel lot, Alan Muchowski dangles his leg from the door of his beat-to-hell Chevy Blazer. He lights a cigarette in the cold and doesn’t say a word, doesn’t nod or wave, just watches me fumble with the lock, leaning expectantly forward and then back again into the darkness of the cab. When I finally open the doors and flip on the fluorescent lights, he steps from his truck and follows me inside.

“We’re here and Pennsylvania’s a better state for it,” he says, leaning against the doorframe, watching me unlock the cash register, his cigarette ash falling on the rubberized welcome mat.

“Mooch,” I say and point at the no-smoking sign by his head.

He looks over, inspects the sign as he smokes, pretends as though it’s the first time he’s seen it there, and then nods and shoots me a hangdog grin.

“Guess you didn’t see the sign,” I say. “There’s an ashtray outside.”

“I saw it,” he says, sniffing and flipping the butt behind him out the door.

Through the window, I can see his stepson sitting in the truck, rubbing his hands together and blowing into his palms. In all the years Mooch has been buying nightcrawlers from me, the kid has never set foot inside the shop. Not once. He’s about ten years old as far as I can tell, and I’ve never heard him called anything but “the kid.” His given name may be “the kid” for all I know. A few years ago, I overheard Mooch tell my grandfather that the kid’s old man was a General in the Army or something—not one of those loveable, softhearted White Christmas Generals either, but one who used to beat his wife and son something fierce whenever he came home hammered.

“Now, what can I get you?” I say, as Mooch ambles over to the polarized sunglasses display and checks his face in the mirror. The sunglasses we sell are specially designed to cut the glare on the water, and when you put them on a fish appears in the corner of the mirror to illustrate just how much you miss by not wearing them. But Mooch doesn’t try on the sunglasses. He opens his mouth instead and looks at his tongue, scraping it with his pinky.

“Three dozen crawlers,” he says, wiping his finger on his flannel shirt and wandering over to the rod rack. He pulls an expensive seven-foot graphite and swings it like a swashbuckler back and forth in front of his body.

“You sure you don’t want to try spoons this year?” I say as he slides the rod back into the holder. I am trying to help him. I happen to know that last year the locals slaughtered the stocked lake trout fishing spoons. But Mooch eyes me suspiciously, as though I’m trying to sell him anideology he’s got no use for.

“Just worms,” he says, and I go to the cooler and pull out three Styrofoam containers marked with the number twelve.

The fat, beige nightcrawlers scrunch down when I flip open the top of each container. I check to see that the artificial soil is moist and wipe a few clumps of it from the air holes my grandfather punched in the plastic lids. While I check the count, Mooch fingers a package of chartreuse soft bait. He reads the back of the plastic bag, smells its contents, and then tosses it in a bin of split shot as I return to the register.

“Much obliged,” he says when I ring up the sale.

From the porch, I watch his rusty trailer kick up rooster tails of stone and dust as it thunders out of the parking lot—the faded, yellow bumper sticker that reads: I’d Rather Be Fishing, disappearing around a bend in the service road that leads to Grady’s Lake. Back inside, I remove the soft bait packet from the split shot bin, and hang it back in aisle one where it belongs. Then I lean against the concrete bait tanks and wait for the influx of anglers.

When I was a kid, the Lakeville area was the honeymoon capital of the world. Presidents vacationed here. But now the only outsiders that regularly visit Lakeville are the fishermen. On this one weekend of the year, they roll into town, rumbling down the gravel side roads in dented Chevy Blazers and well-worn Jeep Cherokees, fishing rods propped across backseats, aluminum boats in tow. Men in brown canvas vests, waders, and baseball caps, trudge below bridges and along soybean fields to fish the native trout runs. Fathers take their children to the boat launch to pick up temporary permits. These men (they are mostly men) are reticent and pensive. If a bit rough around the edges, they appreciate the landscape for what it is. They are a non-invasive species. Nature poets. Even Mooch.

 

My grandfather keeps a six-foot spinning rod and a tackle box in the back of his truck at all times so that if the opportunity arises, he can toss a few casts. He took waders to my cousin’s wedding in New York, storing them in an army green duffle bag in the trunk, pulling them on over his tuxedo pants after the ceremony and sneaking away to fish Willowemoc Creek during the reception. He reads all the fishing magazines, analyzes the pictures and the charts, mumbling to himself and throwing fake casts at the trophies mounted on the walls of his den—a largemouth bass, all three of the native trout species, a Walleye set against driftwood, and one enormous Pike baring a mouthful of bone-white teeth. He reels in imaginary whoppers while he watches Bill Dance and Roland Martin on the twenty-four-hour Outdoor Life Network and can work a fishing platitude into any conversation.

“Well, if it isn’t the one that got away,” he says when I shamble down the steps and into the kitchen. I can smell bacon frying in the cast-iron skillet on the stove, and I pour myself a mug of coffee while my grandmother scrambles eggs.

At breakfast we listen to Drew tell stories about mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and ventricle defibrillation. Drew saves lives full time as an EMT with a small ambulance company in Latrobe. A respectable job for a man. His training has come in handy more than once on opening weekend. Just last year he removed a fishhook from Mooch’s eyebrow when the kid caught him on a back cast. I can still remember the look on Mooch’s face as Drew approached slowly with a pair of bolt-cutters in one hand and a bottle of rubbing alcohol in the other.

I sit down at the table and Drew gets up to fill his glass of orange juice. Standing at the counter, he places one hand on top of the other and performs CPR on the frozen chicken my grandmother plans to bake for dinner. He counts each compression aloud, and before my grandmother can snatch the bird away from him, yells “clear” to demonstrate exactly how vocal paramedics are. My grandfather laughs while my grandmother scolds Drew for beating up seven pounds of frozen fowl, mumbling “paskudny” under her breath and shuffling back to the oven.

“And how are they biting in the wide world of music, David?” my grandfather says.

I’ve never heard the word “music” used in a fishing metaphor before, but I play along. I talk about performing Beethoven’s symphony no. 3, the Eroica, and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite in front of a packed house on opening night and my grandfather gets up to refill his coffee mug. He knows I don’t make much money, knows I spend most of my time hopping from one orchestra to the next as positions open. He doesn’t ask when I’m going to settle into a stable job, when I am going to start thinking about my future—a home, a family, a 401k—not anymore, but the question hangs in the air regardless. He’s nearing eighty years old, and he still hopes that one of us, the grandchildren he and my grandmother raised, will take over the store when he dies. That’s not entirely true. He still hopes that I will take over. Drew already has a good job.

I don’t tell him that I turned down an opportunity to play with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra this weekend to sell Stren fishing line and Powerbait, because I don’t even understand the decision myself, and I know that I’d be speaking in a pitch he can’t hear. That’s not to say that he’s heartless; he just doesn’t understand the nature of my profession. In his mind, my frequent pay-as-you-play, substitute performer gigs rank somewhere just above walking dogs and babysitting—I’m another starving artist, pursuing a pipe dream. He doesn’t know that the orchestras I play in are funded by a council for the arts, has no sense of the thousands of patrons I perform to every year. He only knows he hasn’t seen me on television or in his iTunes library.

But for all his misgivings, I have sensed moments when he seemed eager to learn about what I do for a living. And in those moments, I haven’t made much of an attempt to explain my life to him.

 

The west bank of Grady’s Lake is dotted with homemade vinyl-sided shacks built atop cinder blocks. Shabby places you can rent cheap. My grandfather’s cabin is no exception, and every spring he rents it out to Mooch.

The interior sports an eclectic mix of nautical furnishings picked up at various yard sales and auctions: an amateur oil painting of a 19th-century clipper ship, two framed photographs of boats cut from a National Geographic magazine and glued to cardboard, and a two-year-old calendar featuring pencil drawings of different North American sport fish every month. A ratty bed sheet serves as a window blind, a rusty mushroom anchor doubles as a doorstop, and a thirty-year-old television set, jerry-rigged to a car antenna, sits atop the kitchen table.

“Spa package it ain’t, but it’s cheap,” my grandfather says, tossing the key to Mooch as he steps down off the porch. “David will help you get launched.”

“Much obliged,” Mooch says, lighting a cigarette in cupped hands, dropping his spent matchstick in the yard. “The kid’s real excited, aren’t you, kid?”

At the mention of his name, the kid jumps a little. Then he nods and shifts his weight from one foot to the other and back again. It’s easy to see how much his old man—his George Patton of a father—messed him up, and I wonder if that isn’t why he’s always so quiet. I’ve seen him fish. He tackles it with the restless determination of a child. But when he’s off the water without a pole in his hands, it’s like he’s hiding inside himself—like he’s hoping misfortune will miss him somehow if he keeps swimming with his mouth shut. He’s the kind of kid that needs sticking up for. I can appreciate that.

“They’ve been swimming with their mouths shut the past few weeks,” I say, resisting the urge to glance over at the kid. “Postfrontal conditions.”

Mooch looks at me and raises his eyebrows and smokes his cigarette. “You don’t say, hot shot,” he says, finally, resting his hand on the thirty-year-old Evinrude outboard that dangles from the stern of his boat. “Well, at least we’ll get to try out the new motor. I got her for a song.” He lowers his voice and, with his cigarette, gestures toward the kid, who is now sitting on the edge of the porch, picking splinters of wood from the steps. “I’ve been saving up some of his old man’s child support. If it turns out he’s not college material, I can maybe buy myself a new boat.”

“All we can do is pray,” I say.

Mooch drops his cigarette on the deck and crushes it out with his foot, and says, “Right, let’s hit it.”

From the outside, Mooch’s truck looks entirely inconspicuous amongst the other vehicles in the lot. Sure, it has a lot of miles on it, and plenty of wear to show for it—the antenna has been kinked by a low tree branch and it no longer retracts into the hood, the side view mirror is held on with gray duct tape, and the fenders are slowly being eaten by sandpapery patches of rust that flake off in amber-metallic clouds when you run your finger over them—but my grandfather isn’t exactly running a country club.

“Do me a favor and kick some of that mud off your feet before you get in,” Mooch says, climbing behind the wheel.

I swing my legs out the door and kick my heels together. Then I squirm to position myself around a seat coil that’s sprung through the ripped leather upholstery. My feet slide on the floor. If the exterior of the car has character, the inside is a nightmare. It’s sensory overload. Little balls of iridescent blue fishing spool, and split-shot lead sinkers, and red and white striped bobbers roll along the floorboards. Discarded 100 Grand bar wrappers and waxy blue McDonald’s wrappers fill the space beneath the seats, and silvery fish scales twinkle in greasy rainbows. The carpet is a mulch of cigarette butts and dried apple cores and stale sandwich crusts and mud and pinecones and wet leaves. Burnt coffee stains the dash, and a black Hefty bag plugs the space where a rear window belongs. The seat cushions reek with the permeated stench of spilled salmon roe.

“Don’t lean back too hard there; I’ll have a hell of a time getting the seat upright again,” Mooch says, fumbling for his lighter.

In the back, the kid sits quietly, staring out the window at the trailers and cabins as we drive the steep slope towards the boat launch. Low-hanging shade trees stretch out over the lake. Homemade plank-wood docks bob in the water, their white-wall-tire boat bumpers and galvanized pipe moorings dipping in and out of the green.

“Do me a favor and put your boot over that hole in the floorboard,” Mooch says, his cigarette hopping in his mouth.

I nod and reposition my foot. When we hit a rut, the glove compartment door pops open.

“Don’t mind that,” Mooch says, backing us down the ramp, the truck sliding a bit on the loose stone.

This year, the water is low—the DCNR drew down the lake twice this winter for spring runoff—and large slabs of concrete have broken from the bottom edge of the launch. It’s a two-foot drop off. What my grandfather would call an “axle breaker.”

“Holy shit,” Mooch says, as we pull closer.

“There’s no way you’re gonna get that trailer deep enough without swamping your truck. It’s too damn steep,” I say. “I’ll have to push you off, but I’d better call Drew to back us in.”

“The kid can do it,” Mooch says, glancing up in the rearview mirror. “You’re up to the task, right?”

I twist around in my seat to see the kid’s reaction, to see if any fear or hesitation registers on his face, but the kid is as impassive as ever. There’s no hint of excitement in his eyes as he crawls up from the back, positioning himself on the center console. I doubt his legs are even long enough to reach the pedals.

I start to say something, start to suggest that maybe we should think this through a bit, but Mooch steps from the truck, balancing himself on the trailer tongue, and scrambles over the bow. He primes the outboard and then signals for the kid to start backing the trailer into the water. The kid crawls over the seat, releases the brake, directing the rear of the trailer down into the lake. He does a good job of it, too. And when the truck is submerged to the wheel wells, Mooch calls over the drone of the motor, “Give me a shove.”

I curse softly and slosh my way to the back of the truck, straddle the trailer arm and inspect the front of the boat.

“You forgot to release the winch,” I say, reaching down and unclipping the tow hook from boat’s bow. I step up onto the trailer hitch, balancing myself by grabbing the nose of the boat with one hand and the fender of the Blazer with the other. Then I give the boat a good push and watch as Mooch backs it away, circling around towards the docks with a jaunty yachtsman’s salute.

“All right, now pull it out slowly, kiddo,” I say, leaning in through the rear window.

The kid nods and presses down on the gas. The engine wheezes a little and the tires spin in the soft ground at the bottom of the ramp, skidding and spraying gravel.

“Hold up,” I say, cupping my hand around my mouth. “Put it into 4-wheel.”

I lean down and watch through the back as the kid grips the knob on the floor and pulls it towards him, and for some reason, it doesn’t register with me that he’s grabbed the shift and not the four-wheel drive lever. The kid really guns it this time, too, and the truck jerks backwards, accelerating in reverse, kicking stone and mud into the water with a deep, throaty splash.

            “No, forward,” I say, but it’s too late. The trailer wheels have already broken free of the ramp and there’s no way we aren’t going in the lake.

            “Whoa!” I yell. “Whoa! Stop!” I lose my grip on the back of the tailgate, my right arm flailing as I grab for something to steady myself, but my hand hits only air. My feet slip on the trailer tongue, and I’m falling backward into space and landing with a perfect, reverse-belly-flop splash in the reeds along the side of the ramp.

            When I stand, putrid water drips from my hair and my clothing, and I’m covered in slimy green algae and silt. It’s clear that the truck has gone over the edge. The water is halfway up the door, and I’ll be surprised if the rear axle isn’t broken in half. I slog over to the driver’s side window and lean in and turn off the ignition. The kid chokes the steering wheel in both fists, gripping so hard that his knuckles turn white. Water pours into the truck through the door seals, and the junk food wrappers float like wax paper boats in the back.

“Okay, kid. You’re done,” I say.

The kid doesn’t cry, but it’s clear he’s nervous. He keeps drumming his fingers on the wheel, and when he looks at me, his eyes are so distant, so forlorn, that I think I just might be the one to cry.

 

 

 

I dry off in the back room of my grandfather’s store, throwing my jeans over the old clothesline strung for hanging waders and sitting my boots on top of the radiator to dry out. If someone were to come in now to buy bait, I’d look quite a sight ringing up the sale in my underwear, but at this point, I don’t care. I had to wait a half hour for the tow truck to come fish Mooch’s Blazer out of the drink. I’m wet. I’m cold. And I smell like the lake. I wrap an old towel around my shoulders and pad out into the store to grab some gear off the shelves.

In my grandfather’s store, everything has its place—soft baits in aisle one; Shad Raps, Hot ’N Tots, and all other crank bait in aisles two through four, arranged by brand and size; rods sprouting up from the holder by the door like tall, grassy cattails; and reels out on display in the glass case by the register. As kids, Drew and I used to unravel the long strands of cast-off monofilament from the dispensary bin labeled: Fishing Line is Not Biodegradable, Please Recycle. We’d sneak around, opening jars of salmon roe, wrinkling our noses at the different pungent scents.

Along the far wall hangs a poster of trout dry fly patterns—Quill Gordons, Tom Thumbs, Blue Duns—and an array of T-shirts stenciled with our logo: a trout jumping out of the water after a fly and the words Lakeville Pro Fishing. I grab a shirt and pull it on over my head. Then I grab a pair of neoprene waders and yank them up over my hips, letting the shoulder straps dangle behind my back. I look ridiculous—like I somehow stumbled out of the stream and into the shop—but it’s better than nothing, and it will have to do until Drew comes to relieve me after lunch.

That’s always been the arrangement. I manage the shop in the mornings while my grandfather and Drew fish down the Delaware River. Because I don’t fish, it works out well for everyone. I’m free all afternoon, and I can use that time to practice the clarinet. In fact, if it’s a slow day, I can also practice right there in the shop if I feel like competing with the constant hum of the aerators in the live bait tanks, which are a cool, sweaty acoustic nightmare.

Even though I only work this shop one weekend out of the year, I have the routine down. All through high school, Drew and I managed the store, so I know how to ring up sales, know most of the prices by heart, know when to expect the afternoon rush and what to do if I catch someone shoplifting. I’m the consummate professional. In that sense, it’s not that much different from playing in a pit orchestra. Sometimes, in the pit, you won’t play a note for over half an hour, but when it’s your cue, you’re on—front and center, exceptional—and you’d better know where you are, you’d better be ready to perform. There’s no worse feeling than silence, than watching your part pass unplayed. That’s why we all look out for each other down there in the dark. And once you have the feel for it, you could take a nap if you wanted to and not miss a single beat.

That professionalism is the kind of detail my grandfather might appreciate.

Early in my career, before I moved away, people would sometimes come up to me in the supermarket or on Main Street to compliment me for my performance in one of the community orchestras. Usually, they saw my name in the playbill. Or else, they recognized my face when the local jazz band I ran with here in the Water Gap serenaded them during dinner. When these people praised my playing, if my grandfather was with me, he would grow red in the face, nodding as they talked about my natural talent and skill, and he would agree that I was a fine soloist, even though he had no real way of knowing.

“He’s a keeper,” my grandfather would say proudly, offering some excuse like, “It’s a shame I couldn’t get away from the store.”

I knew my grandfather wouldn’t show up at my musical performances uninvited, but I never asked him to attend. It was as if we had an agreement—You stick to your interests, and I’ll stick to mine. And yet, I make it sound like he never took any interest in me. That isn’t fair at all. Or even true. He was a father when Drew and I needed one. He taught me how to throw a football so that it spirals and how to choke up on a baseball bat before swinging. He taught me that pool is a game of angles and that you can line up your shot by drawing an invisible line from the desired pocket through the ball you want to hit. He showed me the proper way to filet a fish to avoid getting bones in the meat—slitting it diagonally below the dorsal fin so that the cut runs along the backbone perpendicular to the gills. And, in one especially harrowing month, he taught me to drive stick on our old Dodge pick-up. But after Drew’s accident, my grandfather never invited me to go fishing again, and I never asked.

 

 

 

It was a morning expedition, early spring, the last time my grandfather took me fishing. Drew and I couldn’t have been much older than ten, and my grandmother had packed us a picnic lunch—bologna sandwiches, potato chips, and three cold cans of Coca-Cola. Before we left the house, she made us promise to wear our life jackets, but when we got out onto the lake, my grandfather took his off, and when Drew and I pulled ours over our heads and tossed them in the corner of the boat, he didn’t say anything.

We were out mid-lake, fishing a weed bed along Marcy shoal, and my grandfather was showing me how to tie a line. He didn’t make up any silly mnemonic devices about bunnies hopping around the bushes and down the rabbit hole, as he had when he taught me to tie my shoes. Instead, he sat behind me and put his hands on mine and showed me how to thread the line through the eye of the lure, then twist it on itself a half-dozen times before threading it back through the loop it made. I understood him, but I couldn’t get my small fingers to make the line do what I wanted, and when I tried to pull it taut with my teeth, the way he showed me, it fell apart.

“Not bad for a first try,” he said, fishing line clamped in his teeth, as he tied on an Eagle Claw for me.

Drew had already had a couple of hits by the time I got my line wet, but on my first cast, the fish that struck my lure hit so hard that it nearly pulled me into the water. It grabbed the bait only yards from the boat and started down lake, buzzing line out from my reel.

“Holy crow,” my grandfather said, jumping up and nearly spilling us, our gear, our lunch, and the life vests, into the lake. “Play her nice and easy, Davie,” he said, shuffling over to me and grabbing the braided net below the seat.

I could feel the fish jerking back and forth, the flutter of its tail as it nosed down toward the weeds, diving and zigzagging and doubling the rod over on itself so that the tip practically touched the water.

“Don’t horse it,” my grandfather said. “Get your rod tip down over the boat. Keep her out of the weeds.”

I strained against the rod, just trying to keep from losing that fish and trying not to drop the rod over the side, but my arms were starting to tire and my muscles were getting that jelly sensation. I managed to draw the fish close enough to see its greenish-yellow back, and then it saw the boat and went berserk and dove again. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could hold it. Still, I wanted to land it myself. It was my catch. Mine. And just when I thought I couldn’t pull any longer, the fish tired out. It went dead like a log, its weight solid and heavy as a snag, and nosed up onto its side along the edge of the boat where my grandfather scooped it in the net.

“Lordy, will you look . . . at . . . that,” he said, tugging the treble from the top of the fish’s head. He reached into the nylon netting and hooked his finger along the pink gills behind the fish’s jaw. “You false hooked it. Snagged her right in the dome. I’ll be damned. What a lucky catch. What a lucky, lucky catch.”

The walleye had to be close to eight pounds, speckled olive and gold across its back. It opened and closed its mouth a few times, exposing a small row of teeth, and swished its tail in the air. Its cloudy gray eyes focused on nothing as my grandfather pressed it down across the ruler on the live well and measured its length.

“Over twenty inches from snout to spot,” he said. “What do you want to do with her?”

I looked to Drew, but he already had his line in the water again, casting and retrieving at record pace, trying for a whopper of his own. “I don’t know,” I said. “Throw it back, I guess?”

My grandfather nodded and got down on a knee. “I wish we’d brought a camera,” he said, leaning over the edge of the boat and sliding the fish, that monster of the deep, back into the lake. He slipped a hand under its belly and held it upright, letting the water filter in and out through the fish’s gills. Then with a violent flick of its tail, the fish sprang to life, thrashed the water once, and disappeared into the murk.

“Hell of a catch,” my grandfather said, grinning, and for the moment, I was speechless. Just standing there in the bow smiling and proud, letting the adrenaline ebb from my body.

On the way back to shore, my grandfather let me drive the boat.

“Go on, Davie,” he said, sliding out from behind the helm and patting the faux-leather seat. “Biggest fish brings us home.”

He’d never asked me to do anything like that before, and I wasn’t really sure what to do. I felt a churning in my stomach, but I didn’t want to disappoint my grandfather, and I didn’t want Drew to know I was nervous. So I grabbed the wheel with both hands, and my grandfather showed me how to prime the motor.

“Okay, now give it some juice,” he said.

I pressed the throttle forward with some hesitation and the bow of the boat rose in the water, bouncing a bit on the chop.

“Give it a little more,” my grandfather said over the grumble of the motor. “Then she’ll level out.”

I did as he told me, and soon we were cruising at a flat plane, running across the surface of the water, the air blowing up through our T-shirts and across our faces. My grandfather grabbed the brim of my baseball cap and pulled it backwards on my head and gave me a thumbs-up. I nodded once and leaned back in the seat, taking a hand off the wheel. I was a real boatman, guiding us in across unchartered waters, those perfect green waves. My grandfather smiled, as though he knew what this meant, and then he turned back to Drew and said something I couldn’t hear.

He was still turned, telling Drew some pointer about fishing or boating, when a jet ski shot out of a cove ahead to our starboard side. Had I known something about boating, had this not been my very first time driving, I might have handled the situation better—I might have realized that in a crossing situation you should give way, let the stand on vessel clear your danger zone, and then pass astern. But there behind the wheel, with my grandfather’s back turned, I froze. My elation, my confidence and the joy I’d felt only seconds earlier disappeared. I knew we were seconds from collision, knew that the jet skier wasn’t paying attention, had no plans to alter his course, just as one knows when two cars are about to crash at an intersection.

When my grandfather turned back, he didn’t say anything. He didn’t yell or scream or order me starboard. He just sat for a second, staring. I like to think he realized his mistake in that moment. When he grabbed the wheel from my hands, he knocked me to the floor of the boat, jerking us sideways and pulling back on the throttle. We spun in a half circle, and I rolled toward the edge, smacking my head against the live well. Drew, sitting in back with his feet propped atop the gunwale, let out a small cry and then he was over the side, his heels disappearing beneath the transom, dipping smoothly into that dark water.

Then my grandfather was overboard—only he was diving. When he sloshed back to the surface in a singular clear burst of water and foam, his glasses and hat were gone, and his eyes were wide, panicked, helpless—the kind of stare that might drown all three of us. He called Drew’s name in a way I’d never heard it before, gasped and then dunked himself under again, his boots breaking the surface of the water once, and with trembling hands I pulled the floating life preserver out from the back and tied it off to one of the metal cleats on the side of the boat.

“Please,” I whispered, leaning over the side, staring down into the shadows. “Oh, God, please.” But the only thing I could see was my own reflection on the surface of the water. My grandfather was under for too long that second time, long enough for the water to go flat above him, and after a while I thought he might not come back up. But when he did, he had Drew with an arm around his neck, and he was holding him up in the water.

The jet skiers had stopped further down the lake and were watching us now.

“Get to the other side,” he said, pushing Drew’s limp body over the side, and once I’d pulled him across the seats, my grandfather slung a leg up and rolled himself back into our little boat.

Drew’s skin was cold and his lips were turning blue when my grandfather stretched him out on floor and pressed his mouth to Drew’s and started blowing.

“Come on, boy, please, come . . . on,” he said, pressing down on Drew with both hands, and then pressing his ear to his skinny chest. He looked up at me, pinching his eyebrows above the bridge of his nose, and then he pressed down again. Hard. And Drew started retching, cloudy water dribbling out of his mouth. My grandfather turned Drew’s head and hugged him, and said, “Oh, thank God,” over and over again.

When we reached the shoreline, my grandfather called our grandmother. She got to the lake just before the ambulance did, and she trembled as she asked questions and patted our bodies all over, as though to make sure we were all there—ten fingers, ten toes. And on that afternoon, Drew rode to the hospital in the back of the ambulance, though the EMTs assured my grandparents that it was only a precaution.

 

When Drew arrives for his shift at the shop, I’m just finishing up with a customer. He leans against the doorframe and watches me ring up the sale on the register, looks me up and down, taking in my getup—the waders and T-shirt—then he says, “That’s a good look for you, Dave. Really.”

“I hate this town,” I say. “I hate coming back here, and I hate working at this damn store.”

“You don’t mean that,” Drew says, buffing out a scuff mark on the floor with the toe of his sneaker.

“Yes, I do.”

“Then why do you come back?” Drew says.

It’s the million dollar question. Why do I come back? “Obligation,” I say. “Masochism.”

“It’s not obligation,” Drew says, moving around behind the register. “It’s not even really a two-man operation. I mean, we aren’t arming nuclear warheads or landing jumbo jet-liners here. I think you do it because you know it makes Pops happy.”

And to that, I have no response.

*   *   *

Bebe’s is a small diner less than ten miles outside of Lakeville. Actually it’s more or less a dive bar with some wooden tables in the back, but at Bebe’s the drinks are cheap and the food is even cheaper, and so the locals frequent the bar at night to trade fishing tales in the dim, smoky light over a pint of Yuengling. Inside, various photographs decorate the wall—pictures of men holding up Walleye, Pike, Bass, and in one case, a prehistoric-looking Musky. My grandfather, Drew, and I sit at one of the tables eating chili and sopping it up with sourdough bread, when Mooch approaches from the bar with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

“How’s the truck, Mooch?” my grandfather says, setting his spoon down in his bowl.

Mooch smokes his cigarette, and he rubs the two-day growth of beard on his chin, and then he says, “The whole damn thing is waterlogged.”

“Hook, line, and sinker,” my grandfather says.

“Could’ve been worse,” I say. “It’s easy for a kid his age to get confused with everyone yelling at him.”

“Way I heard it, you were the only one yelling,” Mooch says, taking a rubbery step backwards.

“I don’t think I was,” I say, offering up an easy smile. “I was just speaking loud so he could hear me. I thought he might swamp us.”

Drew looks down and pushes the beans around in his chili bowl. My grandfather leans back and presses his fist to his chest, puffing his cheeks and burping. If Mooch accepts my explanation, he shows no signs of it. He just continues his furious smoking and glances awkwardly around the room.

“Take a load off,” my grandfather says, pulling out the empty chair.

“Don’t mind if I do,” Mooch says, flopping down and sighing. He points at my grandfather’s chili with the butt of his cigarette. “You finished with that?”

My grandfather pushes the bowl toward Mooch, and Mooch drops his cigarette in the chili and crosses his arms in front of his chest. “I come to tell you, I think you should apologize to the kid,” he says.

“Apologize?” I say, laughing a little. But no one else is smiling. “For what?”

“For muckering him,” Mooch says. “He’s only eight years old, for Christ’s sake.”

“I wasn’t trying to mucker anyone,” I say, pressing my hands to the sticky tabletop. “I don’t even know what that means. I was just trying to keep him from sinking your damn truck, Mooch.”

“And I say he wouldn’t have sunk my truck, if you weren’t harping on him,” Mooch says, slapping the table.

“There’s logic for you,” I say, and I can feel my cheeks growing hot with anger. If anyone is to blame, it’s Mooch for having the kid launch the boat in the first place, for giving an eight year old that kind of responsibility. But Mooch’s doggedness defies reason. He’s drunk, and he’s angry, and above all else, he’s determined not to take the fall for this disaster.

“Where is the kid?” Drew asks.

“Back in the cabin,” Mooch says, lighting another cigarette.

“Well, we’re headed back soon,” my grandfather says, nodding to the waitress as she tops off our coffee mugs. “Why don’t we give you a ride?”

“Hell, I just got here. Let me finish my beer,” Mooch says, grabbing the waitress’s arm and ordering another round.

I’m just about to tell him how selfish he sounds, maybe lecture him on taking some responsibility for his actions, when Mooch points over at Drew with his cigarette and says, “You know, I designed those packets.”

Drew looks down at the pack of Sweet’N Low he’s dumping in his coffee mug.

“Yeah, that long, skinny one there you’re using. That’s my design. Saved the company a shit-ton of money, if you’d believe it.”

Drew and I exchange unsure looks, but Mooch doesn’t care. He’s on a roll, staring down into his pilsner glass as though we aren’t even there.

“A few weeks ago, my boss calls me in. Says, ‘Alan, you’ve done good work for us over the years. Here’s a little something extra for you.’ And he slowly slides this envelope across his desk and winks at me,” Mooch says, sliding his hand along the table in pantomime. “He’s being real damn debonair about the whole thing, so I figure it must be a thousand dollars or something. When I get home, I tear open the envelope, and you know what’s inside? A fifty-dollar gift certificate to the Lobster Bucket. I save them a quarter-million bucks and they give me a lousy, stinking gift card for assembly line seafood.”

I lean back in my chair and look over at my grandfather, who is shaking his head and staring at the ceiling. “We should head on back,” he says, placing a handful of quarters on the table for a tip. He hands Mooch his jacket from off the back of the chair, and says, “You know what they say: early to bed, early to rise. . . .” When Mooch doesn’t answer him, he adds, “Fish all day; make up lies.”

“I like spending time with the kid. He’s a real fishing machine. I hope he grows up to be a professional fisherman or something,” Mooch says without budging. “He’s a smart boy, but he gets kind of confused when people yell at him. Then he gets spooky quiet, and it’s like he’s staring right through you, like one of these beer glasses. And I start wondering if he’s ever going to speak again.”

Mooch clears his throat, stares hard at each of us as he reaches back for his coat and wrestles with one of the sleeves. “So are you going to apologize or what?”

“Listen, Mooch, if you feel that strongly about it, I’ll apologize to your son. But maybe you ought to be the one to talk to him,” I say. “You’re his father, after all, and you’re the one who put him in the driver’s seat.”

Mooch doesn’t say anything at first. He just draws little circles in the spilled beer with his finger. “You don’t seem to get me,” he says. “I already did apologize. Didn’t mean anything. In case you ain’t noticed, I fuck up—a lot. I’m not exactly father of the year.”

And there’s something beautiful about that—something humble and unconditional that makes my throat close up. And all of a sudden, Mooch doesn’t seem selfish anymore at all. He just seems like a father who’s in over his head.

Mooch looks at me a long time from the corner of his eye. He frowns. Then he takes a swig of his beer and says, “Okay, then. Glad we got that settled.”

 

Later that evening, after apologizing to the kid, I head down to the makeshift cleaning station—a carport with a sink beneath it that draws its water directly from the lake—and watch my grandfather fillet the day’s catch.

“That Mooch is something else,” he says, his back to me as he plugs in the electric knife.

“Sure,” I say, but somehow, standing there at the side of the lake, I envy the kid. He’d gotten the apology I always wanted. From my lips to his ears.

My grandfather turns the knife on and then turns it off again and says, “You know, I still have nightmares about killing Drew.” He shudders a little, and I can see that terrible, doomed look creeping back over his eyes, the way it did when he surfaced from the lake so many years ago. He looks down over the rims of glasses. “He had to practically beg me to take him fishing after that, and it still makes me nervous even today. And you,” my grandfather says, his shoulders slumping. “I could barely look you in the eye, I was so afraid you’d never forgive me.”

I open my mouth to say something—though I’m not sure what; I’ve already apologized once today. I must look stunned, like one of those glassy-eyed fish hanging in his den, because he says, “Hey, it worked out okay in the end, right?”

I nod and watch as he digs a fish out from the sink and lays it flopping on the cutting board. As he begins to slice, I slip out from the cleaning station and climb the hillside above the boat launch. I sit next to Drew and watch the sun set over the water, the red clouds and the deep purple shadows cast across the small crests of waves and the wind-whipped scumlines.

“It looks like blood,” Drew says.

“I think it looks like a crescendo,” I say.

The breeze coming off the lake puts a night chill in the air, and the sound of water lapping at the shoreline is far more peaceful than any of those nature tapes you can buy at the supermarket checkout. The yellow fluorescent telephone booth light clicks on with a faint buzz and, in minutes, the booth is filled with mosquitoes—mostly the large males that live only a short while.

Halfway up the road, Mooch and the kid sit at a picnic table, examining a tackle box. A pair of brook trout dangle from a metal stringer on the porch. They’re on the small side, but at least they are something to show for a day’s worth of fishing.

Drew and I catch snippets of their conversation on the wind.

“My dad gave me this box when I was your age. Told me the names of all of these flies. That’s the only thing he ever taught me. Like that one there—that’s a red zinger.”

“You know there’s no such thing as a red zinger, right?” Drew says, his eyes still focused on the last brilliant sliver of light as it disappears below the waterline.

“I know,” I say.

Down below, my grandfather’s electric knife registers a high E as it cuts through fish scale and pink flesh.

“What’s that hairy one?” the kid asks.

“That’s an azure-tailed buggy nymph,” Mooch replies.

“He’s just making it up as he goes,” Drew says, shaking his head and snorting a little.

I look over to where they sit together, studying the blue dun, the sides of their faces illuminated in the dying light. Mooch takes another fly out of his tackle box and holds it up by the hook so that the kid can take a closer look.

Down below, the light goes out in the fish cleaning station, and my grandfather emerges with a porcelain bowl of fillets in hand. He stops for a moment, staring out over the lake, and as the sun sets beyond the trees, he bobs his head a little as though admiring a tune only he can hear.


 

About the Author: Jason Kapcala’s writing has appeared in Cleaver Magazine, Prime Number, Saw Palm, the Good Men Project, and elsewhere.

Artwork:

 

AUBADE by Simon Anton Nino Diego Baena

Maëlle Valantin_for Baena


Aubade

Breaths are slower, and nobody climbs mountains
just to hear a song. Creaking doors are ubiquitous,
as well as stains in the statues of saints in churches,
birds shit and grave faces. How do you welcome
epiphanies? Please tell me. An open window
is not enough for a mouth full of ruins. Of course,
the light inhabits each space but the world remains
anemic. I am not sure if I read the signs properly.
The end is not yet near. The herons are still flying
out of the mangrove forests. People are curious
about God. It is obvious. Heaven is unaware of
its own deficiencies when it deals with sinners.
Every plague is a phenomenon as the silence
I prefer after the rain. Aside from doing nothing,
I begin my day by rubbing these bloodshot eyes
of mine before I stare at the hues reflected
in the surface of a cracked mirror, then roam
the entire city and come home with its embers.
I remember the dead. Sometimes I feel their
presence in the crow of roosters. Mornings are
gloomy. I assure you, nobody walks on water.


About the Author: Simon Anton Nino Diego Baena currently lives in the Philippines. He spends most of his time on the road with his wife. Some of his works have already been published in The James Franco ReviewOff the CoastAfter the PauseEastlit, Mascara Literary ReviewThe Blue Hour MagazinePhilippines Free PressRed River Review, the forthcoming issue of The Bitter Oleander, The East Bay Review, and The Fox Chase Review.

Artwork: Maëlle Valantin

When the Lane Ends and Other True Memos by Kelsey Liebenson-Morse

Kristin Williamson_for Liebenson-Morse


Date: October Third, 2014
To: Hecklers of Morgantown
From: Enraged Female
Subject: Who Do You Think You Are?

Strike One:

First you leer at me, four of you out of a moving truck. You say something, but luckily I can’t hear because I am talking to my friend. I am still trying to forget last weekend when someone said I would fuck the shit out of that, any night as I walked by. When you drive past in the rusty truck, I am grateful for the cement barrier between us. I can see your round jeering faces, your red craning necks. I wonder if you think I cannot see you, seeing me.

Today is an unseasonably warm October day, so I wear a sundress because I don’t like to sweat walking to campus. My dress is an appropriate length and it covers my thighs. There is no cleavage, and I wear my hair pulled back in a ponytail. My hair is blonde. I realize it is bright. I realize you can spot it from far away. My hair causes me trouble. I did not spray myself with come hither perfume. I did not wear high heels or coat my face in makeup. Because signals like those are what attract you hecklers, right? Those are the signals that made it ok to say would you look at that fucking ass.

Later, when I am walking alone in my sundress, you beep at me. You beep so loudly and unexpectedly I jump out of my skin. I do not appreciate this. There is just one of you. This scares me more. You pull back around and drive past again. I hover somewhere between sheer terror and abject rage. I am holding a Tupperware container, for Chrissakes, a Tupperware container with remnants from my lunch: quinoa salad. I have the sudden and unexpected urge to throw my eco-friendly Kleen Kanteen through your car windshield. It would make a satisfying sound – loud as a gunshot. I probably couldn’t launch it with enough force or accuracy to shatter the glass, but I’d like to see the look of shock crossing your shadowed face. You all look the same: wolf eyes, hungry open mouths.

However, I was raised to be a polite woman, so I don’t turn around and chase your car screaming motherfucker, which is what I am thinking. Of course it isn’t safe to chase you back. This is unfair. What defense do I have? All I have is the ability to ignore you. I quicken my pace. Mercifully, you don’t come back. You make me feel unsafe on these streets, and for that I hate you. Sticks and stones may break my bones, and your words fucking enrage me.

I am writing this memo to politely request that you get the fucking fuck away from me. I would like to request that when I ride my bicycle you do not come alongside me and say things like you know you beautiful right? I’d suck that pussy. I wonder if you think I will stop what I am doing and acknowledge you. I wonder if you think I will put down my bike, take off my helmet and climb into your car. Will I unzip your pants? Will I let all four of you take a turn with me?

I hope you crash your car into a telephone pole, turning your head trying to look at me. Trying to take what isn’t yours. Trying to take what is not being offered. I hate you, for making me angry.

I wonder who your mother is, and how she allowed her son to grow up to become a heckler. Burn in hell, fuckers. I’d like to kick you in the ball sack.

***

Date: October Fourth, 2014
To: Marcus V. Canner 435 Seventh Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11215
From: Kelsey A. Liebenson-Morse 276 Warren Street Morgantown, WV 26501
Subject: What I Didn’t Say To You & Never Will

Some Time Has Passed:

So maybe I am not as angry as I was a few weeks ago. That’s not true, actually. I am still really, really, angry. When we said goodbye in my parent’s kitchen this past July you looked right at me and said this isn’t goodbye. Why did you lie? Because it was goodbye. Is it fun to be a liar? You said I love you. Why did you bother? Did you mean to entrap me so you could give up on me as soon as I left the state? We knew it would be hard, because distance is hard, you dummy. But you didn’t try.

In my spare time I imagine you finding pieces of my hair all over your apartment, which is likely because I shed a lot. I picture you finding them, crying face-down on your meticulously clean floors or smoking lots of cigarettes even though we quit together. I actually quit. I haven’t cheated once since June. But you cheated a lot of times, even before I left. I should have known you weren’t to be trusted because you couldn’t follow through with a simple promise.

What else do we have to give to each other, but our promises?

I pretend not a single woman will talk to you at your new restaurant, a fancy steakhouse in Midtown. In fact, I imagine no females even come to your restaurant. You are cooking for a constant stream of men. Only men. Manhattan is made up only of men since I left. Anyways, what do I care that you’re going to trendy restaurant openings and glamorous glitzy socialite filled parties? I am down here in West Fucking Virginia trying for all the world to be happy, to avoid getting assaulted when I go running. I bought Mace last week. Mace. I imagine you getting home late, unpacking your groceries from Whole Foods: expensive fair trade coffee, half and half. You sit in silence listening to the ticking clock, missing me. A tear or two escapes. You are wretchedly, desperately lonely without me. The tears slide down your face. Your mouth holds a bitter flavor. Let me tell you, Chef, what you’re tasting is regret.

The Cold Hard Truth:

Remember the time? You were eating gummy bears in bed and one red bear escaped your mouth. When you woke up in the morning, I was gone. The gummy was in my place, like he’d been sleeping, too. We couldn’t stop laughing about it. That’s all you have now, Chef. Memories. Me, and the gummy are gone. Forever. We aren’t the coming back types.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any news to report in terms of dating. So far, so bleak. But I refuse to be deterred, and I remind myself that I did not, I repeat, did not plan on marrying you despite our various conversations about having a family. You said I would be a great mother. Well, duh. Women who have great mothers become great mothers, and you know just as well as I do that my Mom is a great one. Too bad. You snooze, you lose. You let me go, and I am lost to you. Lost without a return ticket. Do I sound melodramatic? Overwrought? I swear I’m not. I accept my nun-like existence and try to come up with reasons why I loved you in the first place.

Tonight, I roasted golden beets and chicken breast. I tried to learn how to French-braid my hair using a YouTube video. Mostly my arms got tired, and the braid kept coming undone, but I’ll keep practicing until I get it right. Tomorrow, I will hunt for new kitchen chairs to strip, sand, and repaint. Something bright, cheery. A fresh coat of paint masking scrapes and burns, covering over markings of the chair’s past life.

Somehow, between trying to stay happy and hating you, I find myself otherwise occupied.

I didn’t bother to say any of this to you, how hurt I was that you let me go so quickly. Love can be filled with trickery and treachery. I was made a fool. But I will survive you, yet. If you’re looking for me, I’ll be in the garden, sitting on my new chair, a striking shade of red

***

Date: October Fifth, 2014
To: New York-The Big Apple-The City That Never Sleeps
From: Former Brooklyn Resident
Subject: I miss you. Please, let me come home now.

Can’t Get You Out of My Mind:

This is the worst breakup I’ve ever had. And believe me, I’ve had some bad ones. The thing is, I can’t get you out of my mind. I can’t watch movies about you. I can’t read magazines talking about anything that’s going on with you. It is obvious you’ve moved on, without me. It’s obvious that you don’t even notice I’m gone.

But I fall asleep at night picturing walking down Fifth Avenue stopping at the pie shop, or walking down to the water, looking across the river at your breathtaking skyline. In my dreams I am riding the train, packed up against a stranger, and I’m so happy-can’t breathe-can’t sleep-can’t eat-I’m just so damn fucking happy to be part of it.

Why Does It Hurt so Bad?

If only you would let me come back. I swear I won’t complain this time about having a college degree and working as a nanny. I won’t say a word about my night job, taking people to their tables at a restaurant. They called me a hostess. I swear I won’t talk about graduate school anymore, or trying to be a writer. If you take me back, I will be yours, faithfully, forever. I’ll do anything you want if you just let me have one everything bagel toasted with cream cheese and one tiny cup of drip coffee. I’d like to go to the library and sit quietly in the stacks. I’d like to walk down the subway stairs to the screeching grinding metal-on-metal. That’s not asking too much, is it?

I’d like to rush down the subway steps, trying to catch the orange F train before the doors slam shut. I fall asleep recalling biking out to Coney Island to watch the ancient Russian men, shirts off, tanning. I fall asleep pretending I can have one single day in which everything isn’t exactly the same as it was, before. I want noise. I want honking, beeping, yelling. Vitality. I want life.

I want to know that it’s all happening, and that I am happening, too.

But I live in West Virginia where everything is slow, backwards, hot. The morning sky is pink, delicate, and I don’t hate everything for thirty seconds before the sun fully rises, illuminating the scarred land-now home.

Cycle Of Love:

I try to recall all the times you slapped me down, tried to break me. All the times I missed my train or walked home in the wrong shoes when it was only seventeen degrees or stood in line for hours to buy a stamp. It didn’t matter how many curveballs you threw at me because I kept fighting. You respected that.

In exchange for all my fighting, you let me call you home, and that kindness I will never forget. I want you to know I won’t give up, until you let me come home. Because the truth is New York-I love you.

What Have I Done?

With a sick jolt I remember I made the decision to leave you. You didn’t make me go. I’ll never forget what it felt like to pack up all my belongings, to close the door to apartment 2M, while you stood by silently. I can’t forget how much it hurt to drive away, leaving your hustle, your bustle, your tall, straight lined beauty.

Leaving you was leaving a party early, when I really, really wasn’t ready to go. I try to comfort myself with remembering all the good times we had. Long, luxurious Sunday brunches, bars with soft orb lanterns, you always meticulously dressed up in your bright lights, putting out your best shows for Christmas, dazzling everyone with your glimmer and magic glow. You know there isn’t anywhere else like you. They mention Paris, but they are fooling themselves. Your security in your own greatness makes you smug. You are magic. You are possibility and hope. You are refuge, fame, fortune and luck. E.B. White wrote about you, no one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky. 

I was so damn lucky. I see it now.


About the Author: Kelsey Liebenson-Morse is currently working on her M.F.A at West Virginia University. She is an amateur baker and avid runner. Most recently her work appears in The Rappahannock Review and is forthcoming in Wraparound South’s “Food and The South” issue.

Artwork: Kristin Williamson 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave Your Body Behind by Sandra Doller

Reviewed by Mia Fassero
Sandra-Doller-Leave-Your-Body-Behind-front-feature


 

Leave Your Body Behind
by Sandra Doller
Les Figues Press 2015
ISBN#978-1-934254-57-8

Sandra Doller’s new book “Leave Your Body Behind” is not a story told simply. This is not a straightforward confessional or memoir or book of prose poetry. Even Doller’s publisher refuses to slap the usual genre label on the back cover, opting for the simple yet broad description: Literature. Doller’s book is, in fact, the diary of a poet. “The poet demands” she says tellingly, of both herself and her readers, who must wade through her subtle clues and references to earn a deeper understanding of her story. The struggle brings a payoff: Doller smashes up her life and presents us with art beyond the typical framed work of literature. She reminds us that it’s possible to rewrite our histories, reinvent our memories. This is a book that demands attention, attention to detail on every page.

The first section reads like a collage of journal entries on acid. The voice is disembodied; time folds in half, images pop up from the absurd and perverse to the innocuous and innocent as Doller recaptures “the very security of a youth you have the privilege to not remember.” Throughout the book Doller allows herself the freedom to break all the rules when it comes to typical chapter formatting, punctuation, even spelling, as only a poet does, unapologetically. What surfaces is her ability to be both secretive and revelatory.

Doller is relentless at times, offering up a buffet of images and imperatives. “Nothing moves. Except white SUVs. All over California. All the sweet sheeping hackers. Love your fog. Was that a rat. Wasn’t it. So a dripping ceramic vase on a pedestal is supposed to make you feel better. So lots of glass. Petro product free. So corn. So you know what I’m talking about. So say it in English so we can all hate it together.” The accumulation of details could be overwhelming (and indeed this is the book’s only hazard). However Doller is smart, very smart (this is no secret). She is clever to package her prose in small doses, giving the reader a chance to regroup in the white spaces on the page.

The narrator is faintly sketched (I’m referring to Doller as “narrator” since it feels the most neutral in this genre-less space). She grew up in Virginia near a lake. She has a sister. Her mother was a less than nurturing nurse. Her father was a questionable character. She now lives on the west coast (San Diego as per her bio) and is a professor of creative writing. But these are not the details of interest. The interesting details are in the images she creates and the ideas she thrashes about on the page. It’s no surprise that Doller, the author of three books of poetry, is known for the haunting physicality of her work, the sparse yet precise language in her poems.

“I can’t do this…” Doller confesses, reminding us where this journey, the book, began. “It’s impossible to tell what will happen if we tell the truth.” As she examines her life in fragments, she infuses these fragments with imagination and then stacks them up alongside philosophical arguments within the context of modern times. It’s a compact and complete trip for the mind in a narrow 134-page book, roughly the size of a Zagat guide (a slightly sarcastic reference I believe Doller might appreciate).

Shifts in time, space and tone pull us along as Doller shifts techniques from small chunks of prose to longer riffs. Her story “begins in Omaha” but this particular memory is in fact set in a tropical place, Mexico, where the author luxuriates in the lightness of nostalgia. Over time we come to know our narrator through repetitive imagery that reveals her struggles growing up, her issues with her father, her career as a professor, always coming at you in an oblique manner. Her specificity of detail is grounding – “a photograph taped to the back of a painting” when talking about her father, for example. Spread amongst the shadowy imagery are admissions scattered throughout – “They say I have no theme.”

Doller becomes more transparent as we come to know her midway through the book, admitting in subtle and not so subtle passages the difficulty with nostalgia. As she yearns to remember the past, she dips her toe in – she recalls childhood summers at the lake, popsicles, teenage pranks – then she pulls away. Her technique reflects the issues inherent with memory. Doller introduces each new “chapter” with quotes from myriad sources – from scientific and online news journals to modern dance critics and punk rock lyrics. Using the sources as structure is remindful of what may have started as self-prompts. Her tone ranges from confidential to confrontational, her use of language is consistently unconventional and unrelenting. Doller doesn’t hesitate to use the word “rape” in one sentence followed immediately by the phrase “Christmas Day.” The contrasting imagery is meant to make us flinch. When the tone shifts from passive to reactive, her one-liners pack a punch: “you should be paying me not to procreate.” Doller delivers entire paragraphs of directives that you can’t turn away from, forcing the reader into a state of heightened awareness.

Whether Doller is recalling a teacup store in Mendocino County or a hobo by the beach, her personal sketches of memories are sparse but poignant and her language is anything but cliché. “Even the cobwebs are clean” she remarks, describing the interior of a house, “atmospheric, red berry ambiance.” Her analogies are witty and timely, citing Tom Cruise’s teeth and Madame Bovary in a “gold lamé onesie” on the same page. The accumulation of details is what makes this work potent.

Doller takes on the vegetarians, politicians, and teenagers. She jabs, pokes and jostles the reader then smooths things over again. Expect unorthodox word choices, spellings of words. Expect to Google a name or two or more (sorry Lesley Gore). She notes that we can “recollect and collage and forget it…” How do you forget being called “slut” or a mother not acting like a mother or a father not acting fatherly, Doller asks. But she doesn’t seem to be searching for an answer.

“Is that prose or poetry and why” Doller quotes Gertrude Stein, one of her influences. In the end, who really cares? And why worry if the story moves you. It’s Doller’s natural inclination toward the poetry that is the strength of this easy-to-hold, hard-to-describe novel. Yes, Leave Your Body Behind is a diary, a meditation. It is also a flood of form that defies classification. As former poet laureate Natasha Trethewey said “It’s one of poetry’s greatest gifts to show us ourselves through the intimate voice of another.” Doller’s DNA is wrapped around this authentic body of work.