3/31/10

Steve Himmer

Whose Hands

And like that my days in the garden began to go by.

The smell of the tunic and blankets faded as the stink of my own unwashed body usurped the last trace of the sheep I blamed for my suffering, whose coat was the source of my own. And while the itch became less pronounced and more irritating than incendiary, my body stayed swollen and red -- as it would for a while -- and I took every chance I could steal to rub my back and my sides against a rock or a tree, or to reach with a stick and scratch until I was bleeding and raw.

Meals were delivered and I ate without knowing whose hands had brought them. Trays appeared in the wall niche by my bed while I was outside or before I woke up; I tried a few times to watch their arrival but somehow they always snuck by.


Steve Himmer is the editor of the webjournal Necessary Fiction. "Whose Hands" is taken from his novel The Bee-Loud Glade, from which other excerpts have appeared in Pindeldyboz, PANK, and Emprise Review. He has a website at tawnygrammar.org.

3/30/10

Robert Swartwood

Summer of ‘84


New Jersey
Mama says Kim’s white trash, that I should stay away. So when Kim asks if I want to go for a ride, I say sure.

Pennsylvania
At an Exxon station I ask where we’re going. Kim asks if I want a cigarette. I lie and say I do.

Ohio
The left rear tire goes flat just outside of Zanesville. Kim changes it herself, her muscles writhing underneath her sweat-stained tank top.

Indiana
We sleep in the car behind a truck stop. Kim asks if I am scared. I say no. When she is asleep, I quietly masturbate.

Illinois
A skunk lies dead on the side of the highway. Flies blanket it. Kim pulls over and stares for a long time. Then she laughs.

Missouri
The sun dipping below the horizon lights up the bugs splattered on the windshield. I reach out and with my finger trace their chaotic pattern.

Kansas
Kim asks if I’ve ever seen The Wizard of Oz. She says she is Dorothy, I am Toto. I look out my window and bark.

Colorado
With the Rockies looming before us, Kim buys me a Coors Light. When I finish the entire bottle, she kisses me on the cheek.

Utah
The moon shining on her naked body, she asks if I think she is pretty. Then she takes my finger and guides it inside her.

Nevada
At an Indian casino we hope to turn twenty bucks into one hundred. Kim leaves me in the car. She comes back with five hundred.

California
This is it? I ask, staring at the ocean. You’re just eleven, she says. What do you know? She lets me drive back home.



Robert Swartwood's work has appeared in Wigleaf, elimae, Hobart, PANK, and Monkeybicycle. He is the editor of Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer, forthcoming from W.W. Norton. He blogs at http://www.robertswartwood.com/.

3/29/10

Cami Park

As If to Become, as If One Actually Were
There, there already, the wish, the air. Trembling, the slanting neck, the ready ground, again, running, again, away, over the head shed land and spurs, Indian without horse.


Night Walk
The moon, full-armed and ragged. Distance sleepwalkers, pursued. The second man runs toward the front man. He wants to kill him. The first man will do anything for the moon. A bed of accomplices. The third man is entertainment. Independently, the street rises.


It Is a Wonder
We all understood the harm; nobody has arms not crossed; all have limbs and tails. I press each into the other, this way-- the sound! If it is done this way, it is done.

But really, nobody cried like these otherwise entangled throats separated by tiny mountains. Nobody would sing.


Cami Park will not do. She tries to make up for it by posting things at http://oddcitrus.wordpress.com, and other ways.

3/26/10

Erin Fitzgerald

At Grayfield Keep

My old buddy Asidri burned to death on a lava cavern tour and was chewed on by a goblin. Post-mortem. His mom sent an email to Asidri's email list. I hadn't seen Asidri in years, but I got his emails often enough. He'd send those stupid You Know You Are A Minotaur When... and Click for The Dancing Werewolf! things.

Five minutes after Asidri's mom, there were ten more emails. Everyone had replied all. One sent an animated felflower picture. It was sparkly, and it crashed my computer after thirty seconds. Tech Support was not happy.

Naxrus in Marketing shot me an email. We should go to the funeral and make stuff up about how brave Asidri was. Good idea, I wrote back. But Nax and I weren't going to quit our jobs, get our weapons from the pawn shop, and go into the forest to perform pointless deeds again.

There's a saying that all it takes to leave the adventuring life is one day in town. I just got tired. The pay was lousy. I couldn't follow television shows. That's even before everyone started whining about how dangerous adventuring was. Or how expensive, or environmentally unfriendly. Or how there won't be any trolls or wolvogs left in twenty seasons.

At break time I go to the stone parapets and look at the green hills. There's nothing on those hills now but a grocery store and a gnomish retirement community. And a portal, because where isn't there a portal these days? But the hills remind me of things.

I'm a lot of things. I'm Slayer of Mindwurms, revered in Himaria. The one thing I never want to be is That Adventurer. That Adventurer waves his claymore at intramural ball games and spins tales for bored administrative assistants and gets wrecked on ale at midsun work parties and carries on about crypts and the treasure box that was empty when he got to it. Blessed Black Dragon, just shut up already. No one cares.

I hate knowing stuff now only because I remember then.

Here's what I remember: Elves don't get heart disease or cancer. The only ways an elf becomes a dead elf is if he is flattened by a bus. Or he does the job himself.

I bet Asidri snuck away from the tour group. He took off his enchanted mithril, dumped his canteen of blessed water on the rocks, and waited. I'm sure he was glad he spent the boring time of his life dying. Not faxing things to orcs who never read faxes but require them anyway. Or conducting research studies about what elixirs will be popular with wood nymphs in the evensun of 16423. Asidri thought about his first set of too-small armor in his mom's basement. And just as he remembered his first enchantment, he was gone.

And if I remember anything right? That hungry goblin was poisoned with memory and hope.

Erin Fitzgerald lives in Connecticut and at rarelylikable.com. She is editor of The Northville Review, and her own work has appeared in many fine online literary journals.

3/25/10

Jen Michalski

The Turn of Things
 It is the third time she has thought of him, her cousin, once a year ago and now twice this week. When she closes her eyes he finds her, in his backyard tent, in the basement behind the dryer, crouching under the lint hose, in his bedroom, dark after school. She presses her palm against the line of fur that maps his navel to his crotch, smiles with her teeth and hopes they are not stained with wine.

When they were twelve he stole plastic cups of beer, half-smoked cigarettes from his father’s basement bar on Christmas Eve, and they hid in the stairwell outside. Under the dog’s old quilt they listened to the voices inside the butter-light windows, Aunt Louie’s laugh rising over the murmur, an unidentified man cough. A glass broke in the dining room. Not a very expensive one, he reported to her later.

She friends her cousin on Facebook. She sends him a private message, inviting him to an art show of a friend, a friend he may have met when he visited her in college. His hair was greasy then and she didn’t like the way he ate at brunch, looking at no one, picking up the hash browns with his fingers. She explains the artist friend is sort of famous now. She hopes he still likes art, that he still has the Chagall book she gave him back then for graduation.

He comments on her Wall that he and his girlfriend are going to Turkey next week. Some other time soon for dinner? You haven’t changed, LOL. She is disappointed that he has become the type that brags in public spaces.

When they were twelve in the stairwell they didn’t kiss. It was not something she had considered then, and even as she thinks about him now, gripping her shoulders from behind, penetrating her, in tents, behind dryers, underneath his old sailboat comforter, she realizes that they should have run into the snow. If they did not think about it, the cold, they could get very far away. When they stopped, the dog’s blanket wet, smelly around them, the cold piercing their noses and throats, they would see the windows of his house, small tic-tac squares of light. Keep moving, she would say. She would take his hand and pat it alive, stick it in her mouth, warm like that, until they stumbled upon the house again. Like a compass, she’d explain, spinning.

Jen Michalski's first collection, Close Encounters, is available from So New (2007) and her second is forthcoming from Dzanc (2013). She is the editor of City Sages: Baltimore (CityLit Press 2010) and editor of the literary e-zine jmww (http://jmww.150m.com/).

3/24/10

G. Walker

An Experiment

Someone took her out of a dark room. The light nauseated her. She bit the arm that grasped at her. They told her that she was an orphan, a feral child. To repay her rescuers, she became a prisoner of science.

In an institution with linoleum floors, a man came and knelt before her.

He held her hands. His eyes were dark blue. She could smell the damp wool of his coat. The stark fluorescent lights illuminated every line on his face.

“Let me see your arms and legs,” he directed her. She stretched her limbs out, like an insect turned on its back.

“So it’s true; they broke your arms and legs and put metal rods inside,” he said.

“It was an experiment,” she told him. She tucked her legs back underneath her and crossed her arms over her chest. She felt pain but it did not dissuade her; it was only a sensation.

“How much do you remember?” he asked.

“None of it.”

“Not even a shadow?” He raised his eyebrows.

“There wasn’t any light,” she said, frustrated. “I told you!”

He stood up. She tilted her face toward him, waiting, until he reached for her, lifting her.


G. Walker was born in Alaska and grew up in rural Virginia. She currently lives in downtown Richmond, Virginia.

3/23/10

David Erlewine

Buried

I swallow the wet cat food, which tastes like chicken. Steve lets go of my chin and digs through more kitchen drawers. "You think I enjoy doing this, Pop?"

I shrug. "Could you at least scratch my ankle? It’s driving me crazy."

He tosses dishtowels and measuring cups onto the kitchen floor. His eyes are too close, his hair disheveled, his thin arms reminding me why I always called him "Twiggy."

"Or you could untie me."

"Not until I get it." His little right hand rhythmically balls into a fist that looks no bigger than a spit-out wad of gum. The drugs have aged him fifteen, twenty years. "Please, Dad, just tell me where it is." He looks about to cry. His shoe comes at my face before I can close my eyes.

When I wake up, he is upstairs, banging things around, yelling. A few minutes later, he unties me and leaves. After an hour, I limp to the backyard, just to the right of the spot I used to keep the chin-up bar.

I can barely breathe. Blood fills my mouth. The right side of my head feels dented.

I glance at the area where the chin-up bar hung, remembering how his tiny fists clung to the bar, never able to get his chin high enough. How he cried and shook.

I start to dig. It’s only a matter of time.


David Erlewine often dances in the dark on the mean streets of Gambrills, Maryland. His misogynistic blog posts can be found at http://whizbyfiction.blogspot.com/.

3/22/10

Roxane Gay

Boys in Drag

They do it because they think it’s funny and they don’t know any better. They borrow their girlfriends’ skirts and silky panties and matching bras and sexy tank tops. They use eyeliner to draw tramp stamps on their lower backs. They slide their calloused feet into high heels and prance around, grotesquely cupping their imaginary breasts even though they’ve never, not ever seen a woman prance around cupping her breasts, not even in a strip club.

They stand in front of the mirror in the grimy frat house bathroom. They don’t see the stray beard shavings and wisps of pubic hair and damp footprints on the tile and the molded calcium lining the faucet. They ignore the stench of piss and aftershave and industrial cleaning products. They stand in front of the mirror making dick jokes that echo off the floor as they redden their lips in broad strokes, get a little paint on their teeth. They suck in their cheeks, apply blush, always too much. They blink their eyes, try to darken their lashes. They cry. They stand, hands on hips, turn to one side, then the other. They finger their ribcages. They look down at their hairy legs. Some of them shave. They laugh.

A few of them don’t put on their heels until they get downstairs. It would be dangerous to negotiate the rise and fall four inches from the ground so they hold the delicate straps of their shoes between their thick fingers and make their way to the ground floor on the tips of their toes.

In the den, an X-rated movie is playing on the big screen television, the kind with the big tube in the back. They open beers and turn up the music and soon the girls start arriving, wearing skirts and tank tops and red lips and they prance and they dance and make out with each other and drink warm beer and then they sit on the laps of the boys in drag and make out with them too.

They take pictures, then flip their cameras around and laugh and shout, “Dude!” They bring out the hard stuff and pour open bottles into open mouths.

The girls adjust hem lengths and fix make up and give the boys lessons on walking in heels while drunk. They teeter. They totter. They fall, knees pressed together, into crumpled heaps. They’ll go out on the porch and light cigarettes. The girls will lean into waiting arms and dirty dance back to chest and yell mean things to fat girls and ugly boys scurrying by.

Eventually the girls stumble home or they crawl up the stairs and spread their legs and laugh as the boys in drag lift their skirts and kneel between numb thighs and thrust and groan and pull out and come. The girls and boys dressed like girls pass out, half-naked, not satisfied, in beds covered with sweaty gym clothes and blazers, day old pizza, Shakespeare, homework. When they wake, they taste it all on their breath.

The boys downstairs will sit on armrests and stained coffee tables and dirty couches in their wrinkled skirts and sagging tank tops, spaghetti straps halfway down their arms. They will drink flat beer and melted Jello shots. They won’t look each other. They won’t even talk.

Roxane Gay's writing appears or is forthcoming in Mid-American Review, Annalemma,The Collagist, Gargoyle, DIAGRAM, Monkeybicycle 7 and others. She is the co-editor of PANK and can be found online at http://www.roxanegay.com/.

3/19/10

Kyle Hemmings

from Amazing Animal Facts #4

SHE LEFT HIM WITH THE TALLOW OF THEIR LOVE GONE FLABBY. It was the first line from her mystery novel-in-progress--Augurs Under My Bed. It concerned a forensics expert's suspicions of infidelity, his eventual murder of his jet setter wife by anoxia, the box-tight alibis, the ruse to counter ultra violet light. Feeling dirty, she, the author, (pen name: Garuda Talbek) rose from her desk, left the page at a tab ten spaces from the left margin, and threw on the shower. Closing her eyes, she felt inside her, approximately five spaces from one ovary, larva skipping stages, caterpillars turning to worms, worms turning to class-conscious snakes, snakes turning to jaded warblers. Irretrievable. Her body, as if an inverse Jati Smara, recalling previous inhabitants, her washcloth, evidence of feathers and avarian DNA, her voice, a new monarchy of scales.


from Amazing Animal Facts #2

She woke up with lily pods in her eyes.

He rolled over with a strange hum, thick and low, a sound at the bottom of a river, the kind she imagined him making at boring conferences.

She never expected to fuck her zoology professor, married with 17 snakes, 2 species of wild cat, three cross-bred hamsters, a blue snapping turtle, exotic fish that could live 100 years. So he claimed. He kept them in his basement. His wife lived near a black and white TV set on the unfinished second floor.

When he lectured, she thought he looked directly at her, even when his head was turned. His floating eyes bisected her, such an edible specimen.

Now light on her feet, wrapping her bra around her small breasts, she remembered the timbre of his voice, trailing off. In class, he said that a female cod can lay up to 9 million eggs. To this, she wished to reply, I only get laid by vegetarian boys, stony-eyed, with sickle secrets.

In his private office, he said, I always see you with my eyes closed. She wanted to pee.

In lab, cutting up dead frogs, she thought: How does sex feel if you're wingless? The girl next to her was fat with hairy arms and wore thick glasses. Was her fate sealed in formaldehyde? She dropped a jar containing the egg of a frog's memory.

He coached girls' softball. He researched local batting averages. She struck out. By the fence, he came up behind her. He was saying, when you're in love, you lose some body parts, and re-grow others. But it might take a long time. Or no time at all. She wished to eat him with her vagina or turn him into a mouthful of seafood.

She realized it was just a night, an instinct, something the animals might do better. The hippocampus was not as highly developed. Not completely true. She imagined spotting his wife, a distant face in a crowd, and what stories they might conceal, how they would greet each other's disguised scrutiny. Tiptoeing slowly, she reached for the door. He woke up. Where are you going? he said. He flicked on a light and studied his watch. Turning around, she caught a glimpse of his face, broken in shadow, projections in frontal plane, a flash of zebra in the night.

She remembered how he taught in class that snakes can see from behind their eyelids. And a Jesus Christ Lizard can run across water. She invented her comical version of ontology.

She ran and morphed into something small and breathless, something she once grew out from.


Kyle Hemmings lives and works in New Jersey, where he skateboards and falls and rarely gets up. His work has been featured in Prick of the Spindle, Lacuna Journal, Ophelia Street, Rumble, and other places.

3/18/10

Joseph Young

Stories Around People


An Event
Facebook lived in midtown, for there the people and windows shone like water. Though it would board the bus--1 day--and ride to the sea, where people said words like sea and where the city shone in the waves and the fish were sidewalks and windows.


Bolt

In the night, the house where Octopus lived burned to the ground, all the letters and poems a curled ash. The other books patted its shoulder and gave it roses and tea. It stood admiring the sky and thankful.


A Labor

You do not understand, vacuum said, it's never been like that between us. In its jar, it knew this, seized it.



More From Stories Around People


It was that day Kansas lost a tooth chewing corn. It smiled at the sun, gold and gold and gold.

Mercy Seat didn't know who its friends were, whether to eat red pills and fill its eyes with velvet night, or sit home and pray. It had a child it didn't know; blessed that fruit with silver hands.

Bullion came in the shape of an egg. It waited for the water, that spectral cousin of steam.

It was the one that came at the end, when the crowd went home. It filled the place of black-note dot.


Joseph lives in Baltimore. His book, Easter Rabbit, came out in December 2009. His next project is a collaboration with painter Christine Sajecki, called Covers, to be shown in April 2010 at a Baltimore gallery. Visit easterrabbit.blogspot.com.

3/17/10

Tamm Walters

THE HYENA AND THE GNUS:
A Fable Dedicated to the Female Approach


The loose bachelor herd of wildebeests, having no territory to defend and therefore no stray estrous females to court, decided to make it a Blockbuster night. They sent Big Blue on the movie run with specific instructions: rent a stag film. Big Blue had the largest horns of the bunch, a fact about which the others teased him without mercy--in an effort to deflect their own insecurities. At least that's what Big Blue's girlfriend said. She was smart that way. Big Blue returned with the casing for Bambi Does Dallas. The DVD inside, however, was titled Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. That fucking spotted hyena working behind the counter--he was probably, at this very moment, laughing his anal pouch off.

What the hell, the wildebeests decided. They cued the disc up anyway. Still, the mix-up--justly or not--was counted as one more mark against the Bluester.

The wildebeests cheered when Indy, confronted by a scimitar-wielding gentleman of (obvious) Arabic persuasion, forsook his customary whip and simply shot the troublemaker dead.

Big Blue frowned.

“That hardly seems fair,” he said.

“Oh, for Christ's sake, Blue. You're taking this progressive bullshit way too far.” Big Blue's Uncle Ed paused the movie and pointed the remote at Blue as he spoke. “I didn't say nothing when you started dating that brown hyena. To each his own, I say. But the girl's got you mock-penis whipped. Truth is, leadership that is not prepared to disadvantage anyone is hardly leadership at all. FYI, buddy. Hyenas scavenge the kills of other animals. And they don't pair bond. You want to live on the fringe of a communal den, be my guest. As for me, I'm rewinding that last scene, and I'm going to applaud that camel fucker getting plugged all over again.”

The herd followed Uncle Ed's lead and returned to watching the movie. Big Blue left the party. Verbal aggression, his girlfriend said, is as psychically harmful as its physical counterpart. Even a wildebeest is entitled to set her or his boundaries.

Big Blue's absence was greeted with relief. His hyenazation of their body politic was making them weak. Dragging them down. Exposing their soft underbelly. Plus, considering the size of those big-ass horns, they were glad to be rid of the competition.

As for Blue himself: his leaving the party turned out to be a serendipitous move. The spotted hyena who'd switched the DVD, he hadn't wasted any time yukking it up. He alerted the rest of his clan to the preoccupation of the wildebeest herd. Also, in order to gain favor and earn a certain amount of protection, he passed the same information along to a pride of lions he knew would be most interested. The lions were picking their teeth before the final credits of Indiana rolled. The hyenas helped themselves to the baby gnus and, of course, received the leftovers from the bachelor party.

Moral:
A relative--not to mention passé--concept in a postmodern world.

At least that's what Blue's girlfriend says.


Tamm Walters is a recluse-in-training who lives somewhere near a big mountain with her saint-husband Michael and actor-son Alexander--currently on location in New Orleans filming the feature Big Ginger with Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, and WWE star Randy Orton.

3/16/10

Dawn Corrigan

The Assignment
(originally appeared in The Raging Face)

Each of us wears a .45 and each of us is supposed to shoot the other if the other is behaving strangely. We sit still for a long time, until I feel itchy all over. Is my gun loaded? Suddenly I want to double check. Would he consider this strange, though?

I don't know for sure, because we haven't been given a list of strange behaviors to look for. At least, I haven't. So I continue to sit very still. I begin to wonder if I've gotten the instructions confused. Maybe we're not supposed to move at all? Maybe we're supposed to hold ourselves perfectly still, like the models in an art class, until we truly believe we're made of marble, or oil paints?

Now he takes a deck of cards out of his pocket! He begins to play solitaire! Is this strange behavior? Should I shoot him now? He doesn't even look at me.

I have never shot a gun. Never even held one, until now. I grew up in the wild, on a preserve of land small--one square mile in area--but lush. A white lion named Kimba lived there, and many other animals. The animals didn't eat each other, though; none of us ate much at all. We were all very thin. The preserve was presided over by two women, women with round and pleasant faces who wore their hair in ponytails and strummed away at guitars.

How did I come to this, to be holding a gun? I know just what it would feel like, though: like a bird exploding in my hand.

Should I try to creep away? Should I throw myself into his arms?

We're not supposed to do anything strange.

We're supposed to make ourselves into statues.

We wait and wait for news: Who has won the Nobel prize this year? Can one win at solitaire without cheating? Where does love go when it goes? Will skirts be short or long next fall? May I have more? How did the imps ruin the three brothers?

But no news comes.


Dawn Corrigan has work forthcoming from Bound Off and Stymie Magazine. She's an associate editor at Girls with Insurance.

3/15/10

Michelle Reale

At the Fair

She’d been saying it to herself like a mantra: try to get out of the house today. She pushed the stroller like every step was uphill. Occasionally she would forget her wiggly, red-faced son, her third ,that lay inside of it. At six weeks her breasts were shiny and taut, strained against the maternity top she still wore. Two milk spots, the size of egg yolks were blossoming over each nipple. Soon they would spread like wide, gaping eyes that said ‘hello world!’ Her body was a force beyond her control.

It was dark and humid, every year, on the day St. Monica’s held their fair. Her sons, five and six were hungry and wanted to go on rides. They needed tickets for everything, even cotton candy and soda. The line at the ticket booth was long and snaked across the length of the playground. A priest puffing on a cigar was taking money and handing out tickets. He nodded to her when he saw her, his eyes on the stroller. She acknowledged him without a smile and tried to remember why she thought it was a good idea to bring the boys here.

They bought some cotton candy and soft pretzels and sipped from the same jumbo Cola, snot and saliva no barrier to a thirst hard to satisfy. Afterward she stood with her large hands on the bar of the stroller, rocking herself back and forth out of habit while she watched her boys, both of them small for their age, dip and swirl on the gigantic teacups, their paint old and chipped. She thought how once they must have looked bright and shiny.

She recognized a mother from her son’s t-ball team. The woman came over, wagging a long, French tipped finger at her newborn. “Wow. You’ve got your hands full!” She’d have cut a woman like that off at the knees before she had kids, but that seemed like such a long time ago and she knew that a leaking woman had no leverage.

She clutched the long length of tickets in her hand for the lifeline they were. The pickpocket lady stood alone, smiling, occasionally tipping her head back and closing her eyes. She looked like an old version of Strawberry Shortcake in her funny little hat and little square toed shoes. Her patchwork dress had pockets of various sizes, trimmed in different colors, concealing prizes that were nothing but junk. She led the boys to the woman, and handed her four tickets. The woman smiled like they were the sweetest things she’d ever send and told them to “go for it!” The boys were shy and took some time to decide, but chose from opposite sides of her skirt resulting in a small package of blue army men and a neon green rubber ball the color of antifreeze. She let them choose again holding her hand up when the mother tried to hand her more tickets. “It’s on me,” the lady said.

The sky grew darker and the low clouds began to spit. “What the hell,” the pickpocket lady said, peeking into the stroller while the boys shoved their sticky hands into her pockets, pulling various small toys, all made of plastic.

The two women stood watching the boys, now on the ground playing with their small toys. The baby stirred. “You’re lucky,” the pickpocket lady said.
The mother crossed her arms over her heavy breasts.

The pickpocket lady put her hand in a small hiding place in the hem of her long skirt and pulled out two cigarettes, jamming them in her mouth, lighting both of them. She offered one to the mother. “I shouldn’t,” she said, looking at the boys, but taking the cigarette anyway. “We shouldn’t do a lot of things, but we do them anyway.” The mother thought how she’d been too tired to give the kids breakfast. She heard the hearty laugh of the priest and smelled the stink of his cigar. She enjoyed her cigarette without guilt. She took the smoke into her lungs and blew a strong stream.

The pickpocket lady emptied her pockets, offering the boys who were happy and oblivious to everything else around them, whatever was left. “Be good,” she called to them, gently touching one, who barely noticed, on the top of his head. She walked away from the crowd.

The mother finished her cigarette and peered into the stroller. The baby was awake, though he hadn’t made a sound. He smiled at the mother, drawing a tiny, red fist to his mouth, sucking hard. She called to her son’s to gather their toys before it rained. The teacups were still spinning despite the ominous sky and she would have loved to curl up in one. She would phone the boys’ father when she got home. She’d tell him they’d had a decent day. Not a great day. Just not a bad one.


Michelle Reale is an academic librarian on faculty at a university in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Her fiction has been published in Word Riot, elimae, Rumble, Monkeybicycle, Smokelong Quarterly and others. Her fiction chapbook, Natural Habitat will be published by Burning River in the spring of 2010.

3/12/10

Donna D. Vitucci

The Woman

Imagine her hair under that bonnet, sparse and thin, of vacant color, a grass patch during hard times. The cushions shed their purpose. She has forgot her own name.

Imagine how the hard-edged chair draws the day right out of her blood, and how her gray eyes exhaust the window. A child of hers is promised to arrive, to shovel dirt she once threw like flour halfway across the field. Rebellion, and joy.

Imagine how she accepts the bend in picking asparagus -- which you have also plucked and tasted and relished-- that grows down by Spruce Road. For a moment she waits for her back to straighten and for a spasm in her lungs to pass. Years stretch like dough. The carriage arrives and drives on.

Imagine the thousands of loaves carved from her breast, the milk she has squandered. Imagine the dark when the dark comes and the quiet when the quiet descends, no music, which must be the loneliest sort of existence. The church rhymes in her head are enough news; she doesn't need or want the paper you have gone down the road to retrieve. She is not of your world, never has been.

You cannot know her pain, and your imagining it is a slight form of honor, as well as choice betrayal. You have not spoken; she does not speak. Her mouth is a stitch of plain black thread, with the bonnet to match and keep hold of her brain.

Imagine the needles she keeps close, piercing the leather of a small folded satchel, and bobbins all run out of flax. You may find her grunting on the floor, in the manner of a goat, to find what she let fall and roll under the table.

The doorknob coddles her clutch. Her feet have shrunk in their shoes. The ladder rung chisels her each instep while chickens cluck and fear, their wings beating where she’s turned her back. Oh, Host of Angels. Oh, Mighty Grace. Her arms and legs are treasonous thought. First one egg, then she loses the half dozen. Sorry mess in the straw God knits His brow over, glowers over, aping you and her neighbors, withholding language and judgments.

Imagine her face and still-sewn mouth assigned to dirt and dung and the yolk, the black cuneiform, the barn broke open, its hens seizing toward the ditch.


Donna's stories--and a few poems--have appeared in dozens of print and online venues, including Hawaii Review, Meridian, Mid-American Review, Front Porch Journal, Storyglossia, Night Train, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Word Riot, Dogzplot, Smokelong Quarterly, Juked, Freight Stories, and Another Chicago Magazine. She's currently working the first draft of a novel titled In Euphoria. Her admiration for the Amish runs the gamut-- from their commitment to family and community, their less harried lifestyle and their organic foods to their basic black dress. Especially the black dress part.

3/11/10

Danny Collier

Ouch

He has the pushpin Excalibur stuck in his thumb.

Thirty years pass. No one can extract it until, one evening, a woman says, “Oh, ouch!” and pulls out the pin.

The music swells. The gods crown the woman. She gives speeches. The smiths forge iron. She wears the armor. She leads the troops. She crushes the enemy. She is victorious. She is betrayed. She falls. She is victorious despite this. Wounded, bleeding, she founds the Republic. She dies. She is victorious despite this. They measure her body for the sake of the artists, then they build a barge and sail her corpse east.

All the while he stands there, an old man sucking his thumb.



His fortune gone . . .

His fortune gone, the old man sat beside the tar volcano and watched the rocks fly from within. It was time for me to say something kind. I touched his shoulder and he leapt to his feet. “I was rich once!” he shouted, “and I can be rich again! Each bit of tar, each sticky rock contains one of my things! I can scoop up my fortune, my life!” He looked as if he felt young again, and I was afraid he would break his legs.*

    *…I had to break his legs.
    …I knew I had to break his legs.
    …I knew he would break his legs.
    …I wanted to break his legs.
    …I wanted to shave my legs.
    …I saw that I knew his legs better than I knew him.
    …I knew I would have to redefine my concept of “leg.”
    …I realized I no longer loved my own legs.
    …I became angry at my legs.
    …I carved the word “leg” into my leg.
    …I sat down to analyze my leg.
    …I canceled the premiere of my legs.
    …I offered him the use of my legs.
    …I wondered at the crystalline glory of my legs.
    …I awarded myself a portrait of my legs.
    …I pried off my kneecaps to pour him a draught of the effervescent content of my legs.


Danny's work has appeared in Kill Author, Northville Review and New American Writing. He is willing to move to New Orleans, Barcelona, or Brugges if you can offer him a suitable job.

3/10/10

Gabriel Orgrease

For Three Days They Were Not Able to Identify a Body That Had No Arm

Those were some muscles he had and Sally Potawatomi wanted to eat them. No, he thought, it had to be another Potawatomi not the Sally he sat behind in fourth grade.

That was a nasty thought he had then going back to the small classroom where the grade school kids all huddled under their desks to hear stories of the great white light. When you see it run to it said Mrs. Oxley as she prepared to whack another poor sap with her rude pointer. What he saw then, with all of existence in the balance was Sally’s behind; calico dress with off-white undies.

A flash and we are gone gone.

But he had not thought out where he was going on a slower arc of personal development through the subsequent thirty years of non-instant-annihilation.

As if he had to make up for the lack of the instant nothing by slow methodical rotting away of his connections to a life well lived his kidneys and liver and brain.

To find himself now derelict, collapsed, laid out in the wilder bushes amidst a floss of empty bottles, used butts stained with teeth, tarnished paper wrappers, dead condoms, behind the public pool house.

A Robert Moses monolithic expanse empty of shallow water, vast blue-painted concrete vessel to hold laughing summer bodies of common humankind in full swelter, this giant public pool it had lain dormant, nothing more than a solar sink of flat concrete for the last twenty years as the local ethnic community of Italians and Poles, not quite so long ago immigrant laborers themselves, resisted the light of those other slightly darker funny speaking people, like him and Sally.

To move up as they would a great tide of unwarranted energy from the neighborhood to the south, with Sally Potawatomi hacking at his left arm with a dull rusted hunting knife.

Wherever she had got that?

And there was a cattail growing there in Brooklyn.

He almost dreamed as he lay there half insensate with a marinade of vodka, his sweat was nearly flammable in late July, that this harpy shade would have gone after something more in the succulent family of genre… but this Sally now in the lonely morning fog along Leonard Street as she huddled and fussed over his carcass like a fledgling vulture was no more sane or reasonable than that Sally he poked with the point of his #2 pencil under her desk.

It was a subtle squeak that Sally let out into the panoply of elbows and little asses like a secular prayer hall, heads huddled in with their small delicate bodies, anticipation of the cinder of bone in a black silhouette flashed out in dull contrast, pointed to the concrete wall away from the bright expanse of the window wall, and it was recorded, we presume, her feminine bark not yet matured, as all of existence is recorded some place in a great bin or repository of such incidents but with a dull sort of push down and lean into it Sally managed a severance of his artery and he bled out.


Gabriel Orgrease is from the northernmost county in Appalachia which makes him a hybrid of between-hills and the Finger Lakes of NY State. He enjoys breaking hard rock into angstroms with hammers though currently he lives with abundance of sand near to the Atlantic halfway between Manhattan and Montauk on the flatland south-shore of Long Island. He blogs at Orgrease-Crankbait. A vid reading of this vsf can be found at: http://bit.ly/9D95sm.

3/9/10

Tara Laskowski

Day 72

The ice screams as it folds over itself. I want the fog to kiss me, but it wraps like a damp scarf, tightening, sliding down my throat and dying in my belly like a sigh. I count rabbits and daisies and pale women. So cold my piss bounces off the ground. My breath ripens and falls. Words crystallize and fail. So cold my God has already said checkmate, has already retired to bed. Here miracles and discoveries choke – my arms would shatter into a million pieces over these glaciers if I could lift them. If I still had arms. A brain. Is that me out there, skipping savage stones and dancing? Or just grey, an unending landscape of glue and glue and glue. Snowcaps like drowned pines, ice pellets that whirl in circles like millions of gnats. Conversations with the demons. They tell me to bury myself now and ante up for a hand of poker. It is a game we've played before, cutting deep into ourselves, pouring blue blood – hearing something just over the horizon and realizing it is, again, only the beginning.


Tara Laskowski was the 2009 Kathy Fish Fellow and writer-in-residence at SmokeLong Quarterly. She has had stories in Barrelhouse, The Northville Review, Wigleaf, Pindeldyboz and others. She can be found online at http://www.taralaskowski.com/.

3/8/10

Ben White

Milestones

I am tired. You too are probably tired. At least I hope you are, because I don’t want to be alone in this. I think it may be because we’ve been staying up losing sleep for as long as I can remember. It may be that I still haven’t gotten over the fact that I will not be rich nor famous nor talented, and teenage girls will never wet their panties over me because I am not the topic of conversation and my hair isn’t nearly well done enough.

It may be a combination of these things.
I should get a haircut.

You probably feel the same way. This is good though, that we are in this together. You are less attractive than I am. If panties are to be wetted for this, then I will be the master of the waterworks.

But you should also get a haircut.
And some new jeans.
Some new shoes.
Actually just a whole new wardrobe. One without cargo pockets.
I will tell you tomorrow.

Because tonight we make history. Because tonight we pop the impossible of MMORPG cherries. We will beat World of Warcraft. We will complete all 986 achievements. It will be the culmination of years of work. 10,000 hours. 404 days. I have earned this. You too have earned this. In fact, you might need this more than me. But we will do it together.

And then I will quit. I will uninstall my copy, and I will walk away. For good this time. My computer will stick to running Microsoft Office, Firefox, iTunes, and the extensive collection of videos I have amassed in a hidden folder since the sixth grade. I think you should probably continue playing.

And then I will go to John's party, and though I won't say a word to anyone about our footnote in history or our internet fame, I will get drunk, find a girl, and have sex. The order is irrelevant.

Ben White studies medicine in Texas with his beautiful wife and edits Nanoism, a publication for Twitter-sized fiction.

3/5/10

Barry Graham

13 WAYS OF LOOKING AT A ROADTRIP

I killed a woman when I was ten years old. Me: kicking rocks in the middle of the road. Her: taking the blind curve much too quickly.

***

I thought about stalking her children. Finding her daughter and learning of her dreams and aspirations and earning her confidence and making her love me then running my tongue from her belly button to her clit on top of an old mattress with no sheets.

***

The way her sweat will taste when we’re both dripping wet and I lick it from the nape of her neck, then wash her hair in ocean water and brush it while she eats pizza and tells me all the things she never told anyone else. And I play along, then tell her I caused the accident.

***

Road signs for places I’ve heard in songs and read in books but never seen. Merle Haggard’s Muskogee. John Berryman’s McAlester. He was born there, John Smith, in 1914. It took him forty-eight years to find the right bridge.

***

I found a small spot along I-40, just west of Little Rock, good for nothing but disappearing.

***

The toothless hitchhiker I picked up outside of Lawton. We talked about dyslexia and high school football in Texarkana. He smelled like cheap red wine and regret, like a father whose children won’t attend his funeral. I dropped him off in Henryetta and he asked for money before he got out. I gave him eight bucks and told him that’s all I had even though it wasn’t.

***

Last summer I hitchhiked from Reno to Brooklyn in three and a half days after dropping two hundred dollars in a whorehouse in Carson City and another six hundred in one hand of Texas Hold’em. An old man in a blue SUV drove me from Nevada into Arizona. He gave me fifty bucks and his address in New Mexico and I promised to mail the money when I got home. He’s still waiting. Hopefully he’ll die soon, relieving me of one more expectation I can never live up to.



***

If you get picked up by an Indian in a baby blue pick up truck and he drops you off in the middle of a reservation after sunset in Eastern Nevada, despite his smile and reassurances, his intentions are suspect at best.

***

Her curly blonde hair swung in stride with her hips when she spoke, when she wrote down my order for bbq beef brisket and catfish, when she called every customer baby in her thick Arkansas drawl. I thought about how easily southern accents made my dick hard and the possibility of words having enough power to cause an orgasm. I secretly hoped she was lonely enough to fall in love with me. I called her back over to the table to refill my water and find out the truth.

***

The opossum in the far left lane, looking me in the eyes, just before I splattered his brains on the highway. My envy of his inability to fear death.

***

I used to live along the bank of the River Raisin where it was common to see small animals in the woods. One morning a raccoon came waddling out from beneath the underbrush. He looked sick or blind or both. I shot him in the face with my pellet gun. He couldn’t see where it came from so I shot him again. And again. One after another into his face. He climbed a tree and I kept firing. Over two hundred pellets until I ran out and went home. The next day I returned with my father’s rifle but the raccoon wasn’t in the tree. He was on the ground, red mush where his face should have been. No mouth. No teeth. No ears. No eyes. Just the goddam red mush and I went home.

***

My uncle, a third degree black belt and former member of the Johnston Gang, told me that my father was the only man he ever met that truly had no fear. I knew this wasn’t true. He was forty-nine years old when he died hooked to an oxygen tank. I went to see him two days before he passed. His skin was yellow and his lips were dry and cracked and his flesh smelled like it already started to decompose. My grandmother said he hadn’t slept in four days because he knew when he did he wasn’t waking back up. I sat beside him on the couch and looked in his eyes for hours and hours and when I knew in my heart that he was scared of dying I went home.

***

Clichés are clichés for a reason. They’re trustworthy, easy to confide in, like bus drivers and apple eaters. So here it is. Fuck the place you were born. If it was that great you’d still be there. Home is where your heart is.


Barry Graham teaches writing at Rutgers University and he wrote The National Virginity Pledge. Look for him online at http://www.dogzplot.com/

3/4/10

Jimmy Chen

Potential Prologue

 
A potential prologue to a book you will never write can only be read by people fluent in the English language. As for the England Languid, which is what you impulsively wanted to name your pastoral novel, would fall off not the tip of your tongue, but the tip of your tongue would fall off—this is called leprosy.

Which is how you ended up in the hospital, or, because we are in France right now, hôpital; that any writer would want to venture an English novel, yet buy the wrong plane ticket and fly to de Gaulle, where less than 24 hours upon landing, would lose the tip of his finger inside his palm during a suggestive pantomime, is not only inappropriate, but fictional.

Which is how we end up here, or, because you are at a computer right now, 0110100001101; that any writer would want to venture a short story, yet stop short with some meditation on a potential prologue for an improbable book, where in less time than it takes to read this would get tired, is not only appropriate, but factual.

A potential prologue to a text I may never write can only be read by people fluent in the English language. As for the England Languid, which is what I impulsively wanted to name my pastoral novel, would fall off not the tip of my tongue, but the tip of my tongue would fall off—dith ith called a lithp.

Jimmy Chen works at a large institution where he enjoys writing. He can be found online at jimmychenchen.com.

3/3/10

Kathryn Scanlan

Victorian Wedding Portrait

He was no milksop.

His intentions seemed very good, but they often balked when harnessed. (When he asks if you would like more cheese, it is only that he wants not to appear a glutton, and you will recoil at your portion!) He could speak intelligently about a number of subjects if he found your company, but most often he wandered the field alone. Do not set your sweet balmy morning upon his mantle. Nothing to be done: he would always be easier with men than with women. Recall the story of the poor girl-child playmate, reviled, ridiculed. Disfigured by a pot of ink.

By the time his bride arrived he had memorized his cloak and dagger act. His soft swift assurance swooned her, but only an hour. No fool she, and no half-lidded maneuverings escaped.

She, too, loved power and its intoxication.

She developed a dappled scarlet rash and used it as a passport. When at last it seemed as if no more good could come, she collapsed into a sweat and the doctor was called. He diagnosed an acute consumption of nerve. She played at it until the last drop had been wrung, then pulled on her boots for a romp.

On he went, scaling the summits and slaying the beasts that blocked his way. His diligence became a mania, then a specter. Taller grew the stacks of paper; vaster the horizon of his daily riding-out. Creature comforts made him itch. He tried his best regarding the flannel pyjamas, the bedside jar of flowers, and damply conciliatory jokes—it was the right thing to do. But alas! In this life, to what do we pin our badges?

The efficiency of their machine astonished and delighted passers-by and the dogs at the hearth. No respite for it, but they applied oil to the joints religiously. It was passed from one generation to next in a velvet-lined case: a timepiece, an instrument, a weapon, a relic.



Kathryn Scanlan's work has appeared in NOON and Wigleaf, and this month will be included in The Collagist and elimae.

3/2/10

David Kaufmann

You'll Poke Your Eye Out


“Midwinter spring” hah sticks

And mud sticks and

Seeds fur clogging

The drain and and and

That's what multiplication looks

Like Zoe serial addition tidal

Winds from the play ground fake

Skims on our artificial pond it

Pays to pay

Attention now count the damns

Of remonstration the damn

Was cold was still damn

Cold I swear to goodness

It's frozen shut


David Kaufmann is a Contributing Editor at Tablet Magazine where he publishes a monthly poetry column. His book on Philip Guston will appear from the University of California Press this May.

3/1/10

Ravi Mangla

VISITING WRITERS

I sat next to Richard Yates on a plane to Los Angeles. He was knocking back glasses of bourbon. One, two, three, four … Nervous, I asked. About what, he said, unwrapping a pair of saltines. The Times was folded, tucked between his leg and the arm rest, and I asked if he was reading it. He said he would be, but first he wanted to sleep.
***

When I was sixteen I danced with Dorothy Parker. She pressed a small delicate hand to my back and dipped me. The man in her booth watched us, frowning. She said she felt faint and asked if I would bring her a drink. What are you drinking, I said, the way I had seen it done in movies. She trusted I was old enough to decide for myself. By the time I returned, she had left, and so had the man. I don't remember what I brought her.
***

There was the time I watched Thomas Pynchon lather himself with cologne samples from magazine ads. We were going out on the town. He didn't have anything to wear.
***

Gabriel García Márquez was feeding pigeons in the park: slices of banana, browning slightly, and puddles of warm milk from a thermos he tipped at intervals. I'd like to introduce you to my favorite pigeon, Raul, he said, pointing to a pigeon in the middle of the flock. Can you see the pain in his eyes, he asked. But the pigeon, as far as I could tell, was no different than the other birds. Have you known Raul for long, I asked. Many years now, he said, and kneeled to smooth a ruffled feather on its back.
***

I spotted J.D. Salinger at a supermarket in Cornish. He was shoveling gummy worms into a clear plastic bag. His face was wrinkled. His beard reached his belt. He seemed to derive little pleasure from the task at hand. Hey, I know you, I said to him. He told me I was mistaken and that he just had one of those faces.



Ravi Mangla collects lists at http://readreadreadreadreadreadread.blogspot.com/. Other microfictions from this series appear in Gigantic #2.