11/30/12

Scott McClanahan

PHONE GIRL

It started with the phone call. I was sitting in my room not doing a damn thing when the phone went—ring, ring—and I picked it up, expecting it to be one of my friends.

“Hello.” I said, but there wasn’t any voice on the other line. There was just this heavy breathing.

I said, “Hello” again thinking it was a telemarketer, when the voice on the other line started giggling.

“Hello,” I said again.

“Who the hell is this?” I said, going through all the people it could be.

Could it be Wayne? No, he was in basic training by now.

Could it be Randy? No, he was in jail for his third DUI.

Then the voice on the other line said, “What are you wearing?”

And I giggled too, not recognizing the voice at all.

She giggled and I giggled back.

She said, “Who is this?”

I tried thinking up a name I could tell her.

Eric.

John.

Bill.

George.

I said, “George,” and as soon as I said it I thought, “God, George sounds like a made up name.”
She realized it too and said, “George of the Jungle.”

Then she breathed sexy and said, “Okay George what’s your real name?”

I couldn’t take it anymore. I asked her who put her up to this. I knew somebody was listening on the other line. But she didn’t say anything and I believed her. I believed her and told her my name was Scott. She grew quiet and said, “Okay Scott. It’s your lucky day. Do you know what I’m doing right now?”

I sure as hell didn’t and felt my breath growing heavy. I didn’t care if it was a prank phone call or not, my hand was shaking so bad.

And then she said that she just wanted me to know that she was alone and then she started groaning.

She breathed heavy again and I realized she wasn’t joking. She moaned again. I sat in my chair and listened to her on the phone and then I thought—what the hell! This is my lucky day. She started moaning and groaning and groaning and moaning. And I imagined her bed and her body and her blonde hair.

I thought whatever floats your boat. I enjoyed it. It was all over a couple of minutes later and she said goodbye and hung up.

After that a week or so went by and I didn’t hear from her. She called again one day and she moaned some more. She called the next day and did the same thing. Then she hung up. But then the next day the phone rang and I picked it up and we just talked. I found out all kinds of stuff about her. I found out her real name was Jacqueline and she was 22 years old and worked as a secretary in a law office. She was paid like shit, but she just broke up with her boyfriend because he beat her.

He beat the hell out of her.

She told me she was a blonde in a bottle and 5’6”.

I told her what I looked like too.

Then she whispered like usual, “I want you.”

That’s the way it was. She giggled and said this was the strangest relationship in the history of relationships. We both laughed and talked about all kinds of things.

We talked about how hard it was to meet somebody in this world who you can connect with, and even sometimes when you think you found someone you really haven’t found the person, but just the idea of the person. Then we talked about how weird it was she just called a number up out of the blue because she was bored and had nothing to do. We talked about how maybe she didn’t even exist, and maybe we were just a figment of each other’s imagination. She told me even though we’d never seen each other’s faces—she saw who I was. She said that most people see faces and don’t know anything else. She breathed heavy and asked me who I was. I told her. I told her I was a twenty-two-year-old guy and I’d never even had a girlfriend really. I told her I was so lonely there was a fly living in my room for a couple of days and I couldn’t kill it. I told her I talked to it and pretended it talked to me.

I said, “Are you lonely little fly?”

I said, “Yeah I’m lonely too.”

Then we laughed and she said I should write her a love letter. She said she would write me a love letter too.

After I got off the phone, I sat down and wrote her a love letter. I told her about how much the past couple weeks had meant to me. And then I told her that I loved talking to her. I said that I knew that this wasn’t just chance. She knew me better than anyone and I was thankful for it. I thought I should take a picture of myself. I went home that weekend, and I had my mother take a picture of me without my shirt on. I put the picture in an envelope along with the letter. I finished with the letter and then at the end I wrote, “I hope this doesn’t freak you out, but I love you.”

When I got her letter there was a baby picture and a picture of a beautiful blonde girl. There was a letter she wrote that said, “I hope this doesn’t freak you out. But I’m in love with you.”

One late night after talking for about an hour, and listening to the moaning and groaning, we decided to meet up. I got in my car and drove down to a grocery store parking lot which was close to her house. I waited on her in my car. I sat out in the front seat looking around for the red sports car that she said she would be driving. She wasn’t showing up so I took out the letter that said “Love, Jackie” and then…
I hunger for your cock.

I sat and chuckled and I imagined all the people. Is that her? Is that her? When I looked out of my window I saw a fat woman and I thought—Is that her? I thought of my friend who had a girl like this—only to find out it was a guy. Why would someone like this want someone like me? I sat and looked at the picture, and a half hour passed and then an hour and then an hour and a half. I drove back to my room to call her, thinking there must have been a mix-up on the meeting place.

I drove all the way back to my room and passed a man in the street. Is that her? I picked up the phone and called her telephone number. The phone rang a couple of times and I was thinking, “Shit. She’s somewhere waiting on me.” But then someone picked it up and a voice said, “Hello.”

It wasn’t Jacqueline. It was a rough-sounding woman’s voice.

“Is Jacqueline there?” I asked, wondering.

“Jacqueline. You mean Jackie?” The voice sounded confused. “I guess this is her friend from school.”

“What?”

“Well this is Jackie’s mom and she can’t go out tonight. She’s got school in the morning and she can’t be going out late at night. ”

I held the phone to my ear and thought, “What the hell?”

Then there were voices arguing and all of a sudden Jacqueline was on the phone sounding like she’d been crying. “What the fuck is going on?” I said.

She tried playing it off.

“Oh my roommate was being silly.”

“What? Roommate? She said she was your mom.”

Then Jackie giggled except it wasn’t a sexy giggle anymore. It was the giggle of a little girl. I just asked her if she was twenty-two and worked in a law office like she said and she just giggled. I asked her if she was eighteen, thinking she was in high school maybe. She giggled. I felt like I was going to be sick.  But I still asked her.

Sixteen.
She giggled.

Fifteen.
She giggled.

Fourteen.
She giggled.

Thirteen.
She giggled.

Twelve.

She stopped giggling. She said, “Well I’m going to be twelve in two months.”

I flipped out, and she told me it was her cousin in the picture she sent and that everybody said she was going to look like that when she grew up.

I started screaming, “I can’t be doing this. This is illegal. I told her I needed to stop talking to her.”
She got mad.

She told me, “If you stop talking to me, I’ll tell my mom. I’ll tell my mom everything about the dirty talk and I’ll show her your letter.” She read me a raunchy sentence. My heart dropped. She whispered, “I want to hear you.”

“What?”

“I want to hear you or I’ll tell.”

I hung up. The phone rang. Ring, Ring.

I just let it ring and put my hand on the phone.

And even now, years later, when I see all the faces, I think, is that her? I see women at the grocery store, and I see people outside. Is that her? And even now whenever the phone rings, guess what?
I still want it to be her.

Scott McClanahan is the author of Stories V! and the Collected Works of Scott McClanahan. In 2013 Two Dollar Radio will publish his book Crapalachia and New York Tyrant Books will publish his novel Hill William. He is co-partner of the company Holler Presents. Learn more at hollerpresents.com.

11/29/12

Chiara Barzini

THE WAVE

What I didn’t understand was why everybody felt like they had to masturbate furiously upon the arrival of the tidal wave. It was true, the island would be submersed and this was driving everyone mad, but the way they all mingled and got off with each other while they waited for the end, baffled me.

The distant ruffles in the water would turn into something huge and steady. It would come forth like a wall, they said, and sweep us all away.

I didn’t feel like getting off before I died, or experimenting too much. I felt it was more important to show some organizational skills at that point. Maybe, I thought, if we could just get our shit together and climb to the top of the volcano, we might risk being burned to death. The island would shake and lava might erupt, but at least we wouldn’t drown or die getting hit by an old boat or an anchor flying towards us under water. Nobody cared about my proposal. They were so daring with their promiscuity. Couples traded partners, women touched themselves lonesomely on the rocks by the sea, brothers kissed each other, friends bore their naked sexes and asked other friends to be loved and licked. I retreated on top of a roof and lay on a bundle of dry sticks that formed a nest for humans. I held a steady gaze towards the horizon.

The moon would get thicker and wider when the wave was on its way, they said. That was so like me, I thought. Everyone on the shores having wild sex and me finding solace in the spikes of old sticks. I stayed alone looking at the bay. The moon became big. The wall of water was coming.


THE BROTHERHOOD

The teenagers gather around the man because he tells them he is the father they never had. He has a beard and a long snake between his legs. He drives a Rolls Royce and lives in a mansion in the hills. The girls sleep with him at night and listen to his prayers. Each child born in their home is his. Breastfeeding is the perfect, natural way, he tells them. The teenagers don’t complain. They sway towards him with hollow eyes and smoke the sacred herb. One of them was a beauty pageant queen.


NURSERY

My baby would receive a beautiful room filled with the wood and plastic gadgets he might need. Flavored rubber objects to suck on, amorphous ducks that emitted squeaky sounds, toddler pillows, and toilet things I could wrap him in after his baths. The room was stocked, a perfect nursery, but it would not be in my own house. I had to look for it around the world. Sooner or later I would find it.

My son was born and we went searching. I asked around if anybody had heard jingly toys in their building, or had seen shipments of rubber ducks being delivered. Nobody had a clue. We traveled far and when we found the room, in a big red brick building, the toys seemed to scowl at us for being late. They refused to exert a charm on me or the baby. The towels were dusty and fell apart when you touched them. The playthings had shriveled. They had lost volume, especially the inflatable trucks and the floating boats. “That’s the most useless form of baby shower ever,” I told my son with regret. He shook his shoulders and grabbed a pacifier from the shelf. At least it still tasted like raspberry.


Chiara Barzini is a screen and fiction writer living in Rome. Her writing has appeared in Bomb Magazine, Noon, Salt Hill Journal, The Encyclopedia Project, The NY Tyrant, as well as the Village Voice, Rolling Stone Italy, Flair, Italian Vanity Fair, and Harper’s Magazine. Her debut fiction collection, Sister Stop Breathing, was published by Calamari Press in February 2012.

11/28/12

Brooks Sterritt

A Face is Made of Fourteen Bones

The older the house, the more have likely died inside. This house is old. This house was instrumental in the development of the sushi/sashimi industry in Japan, aided breakthroughs in refrigerator design, accentuated the spread of disease between agricultural inspectors, and spearheaded the decapitation of authors associated with the somewhat obscure foundational text of LaVeyan Satanism entitled Careers for Color Connoisseurs.

When you look at your surroundings, do you find yourself saying, “I would have chosen another color?” Are hues, tints, shades, and tones important to you? Are you a talented individual who can work magic with a color palette? If so, I have news for you, i.e. YOUR LIST OF POTENTIAL CAREER CHOICES IS LONG.

Has the phrase “on the cheap” troubled you for quite some time? Is your face a heat sink? To give you my own frank personal viewpoint: it has and it is. A “pin fin heat sink” to be precise, which is a heat sink with pins that extend from its base, like Dennis Hopper. The pins can be cylindrical, elliptical, or square. THESE PINS RUN THE ENTIRE LENGTH OF THE HEAT SINK.

Similar to Dennis Hopper's 65 folios containing 101 exceedingly complex magic squares, heat sink fins follow in the footsteps of the undisputed haiku master Matsuo Basho. Hopper's numerous visible tubes, similar to this very house, promote Enochian magic, ceremonial colon cleanses, SYSTEMIC FORCED LIVE ORGAN HARVESTING OF THOUSANDS OF INNOCENT PEOPLE, and numerous benevolent and stabilizing forces in the lives of millions of plagiarists, adolescents, community organizers, pastry chefs, and murderers.

While you, Dennis Hopper, the United States, and much of the rest of the uncivilized world are preoccupied with some sort of, I don't know, ECONOMIC PROBLEMS, there is another urgent matter that must be addressed as soon as possible. Let's change the subject. When the water and fat in, say, a diseased deer's hoof is replaced by various plastics, this yields a diseased deer's hoof that can be touched, that does not smell or decay, and that can be mounted for teaching purposes. I'm talking fixation, dehydration, impregnation in a vacuum, and the hardening of tissues. I'm talking a certain degree of rigidity. I'm talking water and lipids replaced by curable polymers.

This house is cold storage.

Brooks Sterritt's writing appears in The Madison Review, Denver Quarterly, The Southeast Review, TRNSFR Magazine, HTMLGiant, and elsewhere. He currently lives in Boston, and can be found online at www.magicmonads.com.

11/27/12

Thomas Fucaloro

Children double dutch in the endless moonlight


Children double dutch in the endless moonlight
the zombies come, eat all their brains
it’s a full moon tonight

They say hiding is the hardest part

but it’s hard hiding from what you don’t

understand.

We all are afraid of the undead.

Haunting pasts are like growing neck goiters

always in the way

always in plain sight.

Locked doors are an opportunity for death

but sometimes the unlocked ones come to the same conclusion.

I’ve never had a problem

running away

from my problems.

I learned that from my parents.

Having your brain eaten is like a 10 minute Tom Waits song

always crisp

always cool

always street lit just right.

When the zombies catch me

they won’t find a thing

just a couple of buffalo headed nickels

and a tender alto sax melody

a diamond

ring.

Thomas Fucaloro is an NYC poet. He has a book out by Three Rooms Press called Inheriting Craziness. He is one of the founding editors of Great Weather for Media press. He is studying at the New sSchool for his MFA in creative writing.

11/26/12

Robin Beth Schaer

Breakfast

He is the sort of man who takes his toast
well done. The slices fan open, each pale
velvet center is his alone. It is better
not to think of other hands already here:

the fingers that kneaded dough, and palms
that held the loaves. Besides, the heroes
of epics always set off from ugly towns.
His mornings start the same: coffee

percolates, eggs simmer in their pan,
a newspaper unfolds itself. The toaster
accepts the bread by design, two slices
slide in and stiffen against radiant springs;

a single purpose finds clarity doubtless.
He can sense the switch nearing its end
and holds his hands over the chrome mouth,
keeping the bread down to the edge

of burn. There is no perfection greater
than breakfast. Even the executioner
gets a baguette, though the baker sells it
upside down. The rest of the day, the man

follows shadows of hawks across a field.
His hem unravels, baby spiders hatch
in the mailbox, and the squirrel skull
on the sidewalk is only a peach pit.

But no one gets to take the zebra home,
he tells himself, even less than a horse
would be lucky. At night, he sees only
his girl’s eyes, a pair of dark fish

watching him. Her hand on his thigh
is flat; he wishes it could be a hot coil.
(She knows this too.) In the morning,
he wakes in a fist. He wants to tell her

everything. His mouth opens like a box top,
then closes with one cardboard flap tucked
into another, resealable but not airtight.
The future clock of disappointment chimes.

There is no safe word because no one
is there to hear. But breakfast will be perfect.


Robin Beth Schaer’s work has appeared in Tin House, The Awl, Bomb, Denver Quarterly, and Prairie Schooner, among others. She has received fellowships from Yaddo, Djerassi, Saltonstall, and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She teaches writing at Cooper Union and Marymount Manhattan College in New York City and occasionally ships out to sea as a deckhand aboard the Tall Ship Bounty. Find her at: twitter.com/robinschaer.

11/23/12

Lincoln Michel

The New Game

The children erect a gallows out of desks, cardboard, and ribbon. A child is hung, and then buried in the locker room under a pile of backpacks. The child is made to remain there, held down by two of the larger boys if necessary, for at least thirty seconds.

“Act properly!” I say.

They laugh, normally.

The children do not understand anything about death. When the time is up, the hanged classmate leaps from the locker room with a candy bar in his mouth. The other children cheer and clap.

Don’t they realize that nothing returns from the dirt? Not ever? Death might as well be a lollipop to them.

*

Today’s lesson is on sections of the house. I draw on the board with different colored chalk.

“This is the hallway,” I say. “This is the attic.”

“My grandmother lives in the attic,” says Sam.

“You lie!” says Sophie. “You don’t have a have grandmother.”

“I do, I do. She lives in the attic in the sky.”

Sam yanks her hair and Sophie kicks his shin. They go on like this until I shout that there is no attic in the sky.

They ask me where Sam’s grandmother lives.

“The dirt,” I say, pressing my hands to my face.

“Ew,” Sophie says. “There are bugs down there.”

I start telling them about my husband. The way they soaked his body with chemicals and then lowered him into the ground. But the children hold their hands to their throats and make gagging noises.

*

The next day, Norm comes to school with one of his shoelaces tied around his neck. He is one of the most popular boys and by naptime the entire class is wearing shoelace nooses.

They trip around the jungle gym at recess. I retrieve their laceless shoes from the yard during naptime and toss them in the cubbies.

After lunch, Sophie asks me if she can eat a chocolate bar. I tell her I don’t have any.

“But I need it to live!” she screams. Sophie starts shaking, rolling her eyes back until I can only see white.

“That is not funny,” I shout. “Not funny at all.”

She is already beginning to giggle.

*

I get to class late on Friday. My eyes are red and sore from the night before.

When I walk into the room, the students are constructing a new gallows out of real wood and rope.

“It’s for the science fair,” Norm says.

“What does this have to do with science?” I say.

“I dunno,” says Sam.

“You’re the teacher,” says Sophie. “You tell us.”

It doesn’t seem to matter anymore. I sit at my desk and sip my burnt coffee.

When Sophie volunteers for a test run, I lift her body carefully to the loop. I’m supposed to hold her there while she pretends to die, then lower her safely to the ground.

The children count down their thirty seconds, but I keep holding. I want them to get a little taste of fear. To realize death doesn’t stop when you want it to.

Instead they just laugh as Sophie wiggles her body. The children fall to the floor and kick their legs in the air. Sam tumbles around the ground like a hyena until he sweeps my legs out from under me.

*

I’m lying on the carpet, looking up at Sophie. Her face is as blue as a naptime mat.

The other children are standing or sitting around me. Some of them are beginning to cry. Norm tugs on my skirt. It is almost recess.

Sophie’s body is ticking back and forth, marking the seconds, minutes, hours left to fill before the day is done.

Lincoln Michel was born in Virginia and lives in Brooklyn. His fiction and essays appear in Tin House, NOON, BOMB Magazine, Oxford American, The Paris Review Daily, The Believer, and elsewhere. He is a founder and co-editor of the literary magazine Gigantic. His comic strips and comic collaborations appear in The Rumpus and Volume 1 Brooklyn. He can be found online at lincolnmichel.com.

11/22/12

Leah Umansky

The Wonder Years

“[my kids are playing house] and are currently waiting for Fresh Direct”
– a Facebook status

1/

Dick and Jane are playing house. Dick is playing with his father’s iPad, “Honey, my Fantasy team just won the season.” Jane ignores him. She picks up two spatulas and pretends to flat-iron her hair. “That’s great, Dear, can you order Fresh Direct when you’re done?” “No,” says Dick, “I have to prep for a meeting. I need to Skype with China in two hours.”

Jane sighs.

The next day, after an hour of killing each other in World of Warcraft with Tom and Paul on the Internet, Jane begs Dick to come into the kitchen with her. She puts her hand on her face and pulls her skin very taunt: “Look, I’m Mom, try to make me smile.” Dick laughs. He says, “Okay, you be mom and I’ll be dad.”

Jane: “Hi, Honey. How was your day?”
Dick: [typing furiously on a pretend iPhone] “Fine. I’m in the middle of something.”

Jane sighs. She pretends to burst into tears and then turns her back and pretends to take a small pill and is magically happy again. She flits around the room and smiles. “Oh, That’s great, honey. “

Then, she sits down opposite Dick and pretends to take out her iPhone and both stare into the white screen.

2/

Dad comes home. Dick and Jane don’t come downstairs. Dick and Jane watch the DVR upstairs. Mom and Dad talk. Dick and Jane don’t hear Mom and Dad talk. Dick and Jane are hungry. Dick and Jane complain to Mom and Dad. Dad tells Dick to order pizza. Dick and Jane take Dad’s iPhone and order pizza. Dick and Jane run down to the basement. Spot follows Dick and Jane.

Spot lays on the floor. Jane places different objects on Spot. First, a Kindle. Then, a juice pack. Then, Mother’s left Louboutin, and finally, the Wii controller. Spot is mad. Spot gets up and barks. Dick makes a video of Spot. Jane watches Dick make a video of spot. Dick uploads the clip to YouTube. Then, Dick and Jane go Viral.

Leah Umansky's first collection of poems, Domestic Uncertainties, is forthcoming from BlazeVOX Books in January 2013. Her poems can be found in such journals as Barrow Street and Catch-Up. Read more at: http://iammyownheroine.com She also hosts and curates COUPLET: A Poetry and Music Series on NYC’s Lower East Side.

11/21/12

Matthue Roth

Never Say Die


The four of us goons
rode our bikes to the beach
It was the end of the earth
as far as land reached

Twelve years old but each
of us already had a death wish
We knew the familiar crush
of hard knuckles into tender flesh
Our stomachs were punching bags,
but our brains were
escape pods

In real life
we all had our Clark Kent moments
eating or wheezing or
talking too much

But when the lights went out,
dark swept over the land
and we hid in telephone booths

We became blood brothers
born in fire
nurtured by legends
hungry for pirates and adventure and
desperate to be anything else
Being poor was just an
excuse to keep dreaming

We were raised in the suburbs
force-fed must-see TV,
bland unspicy food and
chlorinated tap water but
We could taste the sea
in traces of salt that spread

through the cracks of reality
underneath our world
we knew what lurked


and our mouths burned with that
first taste of fiery coal
unable to drown out the flavor
of adventure

We crawled through the cracks
only to discover
we were the cracks
losers
Goonies

The kids that didn’t fit in
were the only ones capable
of saving the Goon Docks

And later, we’d start to drift
and still later, we’d start to live
finding ways to fit into Astoria
without giving up hope

Data got rid
of the Asian geek thing,
designed death-defying tricks on the trapeze totem pole
contorting and reforming
Everything he used to want
to build a robot for,
he now built himself
into

Mouth is still Mouth
but for different reasons
now.

Brand fixes cars
with a poetry that poetry
can’t convey
comes home to a red-haired girlfriend
and three kids that all
look more like her than him,
thank God.
He’s happy.


Mikey’s a millionaire
with a program on the Discovery Channel
he never found love
but he was never really looking for it, anyway
he always just wanted
someone to listen
and never go away

We never had an adventure quite
as dangerous, crazy, and brilliant
as that Saturday afternoon in the cave
Never found the kind of perfection that comes
with death hot on your trail
two minutes left to live
Fratellis slugging bullets at your back
and the only thing to believe in
is yourself

Yeah, success doesn’t look as good on us
as dirt and mud and blood
but we learn to persevere
we make do


Through day jobs as dark and neverending
as a Tunnel of Doom
Gas bills more deadly
than a killer octopus
We won’t be one for the history books
That’s fine
We never read much
history anyway

We’re good, solid folks
in love with our lives
secretly disappointed
in the cars we drive
and that our kids look like us

but loving the simple pleasures
a cold soda in summer
the fireplace we built ourselves
and the way our daughters lurch
on the jungle gym ladder

we may be


our midlife crises
never end in suicide
not because that would be a contradiction

but because Goonies
never say die


Matthue Roth is the author of the novel Never Mind the Goldbergs, an NYPL Best Book for the Teen Age, and the upcoming picture book My First Kafka. He's currently a video game designer during the day and attends graduate school by night at Brooklyn College. He lives in Brooklyn and keeps a secret diary at www.matthue.com.

11/20/12

J.E. Reich

Prague 1939

In a little city, a city the shape of a vinegar stain, there is a girl who fetches schoolbooks from a larder and holds her mother’s belt. Her cheeks are the color of crab apples. Her father is a watchmaker. He places the gears of each pocket-piece, each fob-watch, each membrane of gossamered quartz, on the soft indent of his impatient tongue, so that he leaves a mark on the moments it will dent. Each movement, he tells her, tastes different: some of serrated polished knives, some of tingling, acrid copper, some of cold nickel.

One day, the girl returns home from school, puts her coarsened schoolbooks in the larder, and finds her father, the watchmaker, unattendent of his post. The wares arranged on his shop-board have tumbled like aggravated pebbles, their ticks arrhythmic and scattered. His spry tools, the stuff of locksmiths and thieves, are dispersed on his worktable. They are small enough to fit into the soft pockets of her cheeks – she knows this, she has tried. The little girl places them on her tongue, sifting the tuning forks and hairsprings over the plateaued ranges of her teeth. She holds an all in her hand for protection and traces the lines in her thumbs, pantomiming roads.

Her mother steps through the door and grabs her daughter by the wrist. The moon is pale and thin, a Eucharist wafer. Father will not return, says her mother, eyes anonymous as number dials.

But where has he gone? the girl asks.

Her mother tightens her grip, as if to remember and imprint the knobs of bone beneath her daughter’s skin. He has gone to serve the emperor, to hold the arms of the clock-towers of the kingdom, in Prague, in Ostrava, in Khust. Her mother releases her, takes a scarf the color of pond water, and ties it around her daughter’s head. The little girl thinks of rheumy-eyed, lycanthropic ogres when her mother tells her they must go, they must leave, take the books and the pictures, but nothing more. The tools are still dug within her cheeks, the awl is tucked in her small palm.

It is night, and the little girl and her mother hold onto the backs of impartial trams. She watches the windows of houses pass, as fleeting as candle flicker. When the city ends, they cross the ancient trade routes and enter the overgrown hills. They sleep in moss-eaten caves. She leaves the tuning forks, the hairsprings, the small-teethed gears in the places they pass, as totems for the homeward-bound. When she sleeps, she cradles the awl like a shivering infant. She thinks of the glint of metal in her father’s mouth.

It is in this fashion that they find a new city, in another land, a city the shape of a music box. Rumor reaches her mother: of her husband, his eyes burst with the implacable pressure of thumbs, hands sawed away like pig-meat.

Your father loves you very much, says the mother to her child.

The girl listens to the tocsin of shallow bells outside of her window, gouges the awl into her sill for the familiar wanderers that might be drawn to it.

When you wind a watch, the small heart inside of it – the escapement mechanism – lets time begin again, her father said.


J.E. Reich hails from Pittsburgh and received her MA in English Literature from Brooklyn College. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Armchair Shotgun, Volume 1 Brooklyn, Plain China: The Best of Undergraduate Writing 2010, KGB Bar & Lit Journal, Underground Voices, The Emerson Review, and other publications. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2010. A Brooklyn resident, she is a contributor at Thought Catalog and is working on her first novel.

11/19/12

Juliet Escoria

Grunion Run

We decided to watch the fish fuck on the beach. It was my first date with this good man, and the moon was waning gibbous. I should have read the signs, yet still I was hopeful. Before I met up with him, I coached myself: This is a good man, so I will be good; no trouble, no trickery, no vexes.

We met at the beach at sunset. He brought a blanket, a chocolate bar, and a bottle of wine. We sat in the sand and began to drink. The sun sank down and the air grew cold and he held my hand. He told me about his day, he told me sweet things, and quickly I grew bored and restless. So I started telling him things my mother taught me while I was growing up.

“The sand will be alive soon, and slippery,” I started, because that’s what my mother told me to say. “It will crawl, and you won’t know where to stand, where it will be safe to plant your feet. The ground will move under you, you will no longer mistake it for a solid object. The air will stink strongly of fish.”

He smiled politely, pretended as though I wasn’t speaking in incantations. He was new to California, moved here three months ago from the Midwest, so it was alright for me to talk in this way. California is the last place on the map, land of golden dreams, and I wanted to be a dreamer. He may have been a good man, but I knew he still wanted a little magic.

“This isn’t the only strange thing the ocean does,” I continued. “On the right nights, the sun falls into the horizon like Achilles and flashes green. Sometimes the waves turn thick and brown with algae, it looks like rusted blood, and the city quarantines off the beach from hopeful swimmers. But once it is dark, the surfers sneak out anyway and the crests of the waves glint blue beneath their boards. Bioluminescence, it’s called. Living light. Fireflies and jellyfish do it too, but this is better, this is the sea itself, it is more powerful. But sometimes it glows too strong and the surfers can’t help but follow it under. Sometimes they dive down and sometimes they die.”

I wanted to stop speaking now, but I had already treaded too far. The words tumbled out of my mouth in ribbons, bitter and curling. I watched his eyes glaze over as I spoke. I watched his pupils turn into flat disks, dull and dry as paper.

I was quiet. I was worried. His breathing was heavy and deep. I hadn’t wanted to do this, to say those things, but, like always, it just sort of happened. Time passed, and I let it. Slowly, the good man’s breaths returned to normal.

“Where did you hear this?” he asked me, finally.

His pupils looked alright again. I inhaled sharp, a sigh of relief.

“My mother,” I said to him. “She’s a Marine Biologist,” I lied.

“She compared the water to blood?” he said. “She told you surfers die looking for light?”

“Blood’s what it looks like,” I said, and took a sip of wine, “and it’s true.” I closed my eyes, but the moon still glowed through the backs of my eyelids, seared in like a stamp.

He kissed me, and I kissed back. I slid off my jeans and we made love. Like with most good men, the act was unremarkable. I was pleased, though, because that meant I hadn’t gotten into him. Perhaps he was stronger than I thought. Perhaps his goodness was rooted more firmly than the blackness in my words.

It was fully dark now, and the light glistened pale on the flat waves. I could see the fish had come in by the way the light darted off of the water.

“Let’s go,” I said, and grabbed his hand. “Grunion run.”

We ran to the shore, our fingers interlaced, and my heart leapt because I felt like one half of a normal couple. I watched him carefully as the fish fucked slippery between our toes. The cuffs of my jeans grew heavy and wet, and the good man laughed and laughed. I relaxed. He was safe. I couldn’t get to him. There was hope for us yet.

I plunged my hand into the darkness and extracted a fish. It flopped around in my palm, telling my fortune like a red piece of Chinese plastic film. If the fish turns over, it means your heart is fickle. Stay on one side, I told the fish, stay true. I stared at it in the moonlight, its flat-looking moon eyes, its leg-looking little fins. I closed my hand around it again, felt the solidness of this fish, felt myself grow lost in the blackness of its gaze. Then its eyes and mine became one. The fish stilled in my hand.

The ground grew unsteady. I didn’t know where it was safe to plant my feet. I felt the world under the sand opening from below, vast and ugly and so incomprehensibly dark.

When I looked up again, there was a flash of brightness on the horizon. I saw the good man’s shoulders above the water, outlined by the light. Then I only saw his head, and then he was gone.


Juliet Escoria lives and writes in Southern California. You can sometimes find her at http://juliet-escoria.tumblr.com.

11/16/12

DW Lichtenberg

OUR GENERATION IS ONE OF MOVING BACK IN WITH YOUR MOTHER UNTIL THE SHIT STORM PASSES

I remember my first cigarette. Maybe it wasn’t my first ever cigarette, but my first cigarette leading to the point of me being an addict. It was in Berlin, it was a Galouise Blonde, which I think is sort of a girls’ cigarette, but I’m not sure. Which I guess shows how much I care.

I remember my mother telling me my sister was a drug addict for the first time. It was on Valentine’s Day my freshman year of college. My long-time girlfriend had just broken up with me a week before and I’d ask her to be my Valentine even though we’d broke up, but she said no.

I remember when I thought I was in love.

I remember writing a girl a series of love notes on index cards, labeling each one progressively as Love Letter Number One, etcetera. Except things didn’t go so well with this girl, and the series never got past Love Letter Number One.

I remember After the Goldrush.

I remember All Things Must Pass.

I remember the day George Harrison died and how me and my friends at school were sad, even though we probably shouldn’t have been sad.

I remember taking a shit after this girl dumped me. There was no toilet paper so I used a Safeway advertisement.

I remember my brother out of the blue saying, it doesn’t ever seem like there’s enough. And me asking, enough what.

I remember creating a wedding gift registry just to convince myself that I would not be alone forever.

I remember taking the F train to work every day. When the train went over the Manhattan Bridge, I turned 180 and took in the view of the city. It seemed like nobody else noticed the view. I felt like a tourist, so I started facing the window before the bridge arrived, anticipating the view.

I remember on father’s day (2010) a few people called me and I answered and I could not talk to them without choking on crying so I hung up. And then some of them kept calling—and hearing the phone ring made me cry.

I remember going to prom and not wanting to dance.

I remember practicing dancing in my bedroom.

I remember a time immediately after my father’s death, being with my family, maybe just my brother and sister, me saying, or maybe just muttering, how I just thanked god it was dad and not mom (I was very upset). I remember my sister turning to me, giving me this sort of twisted-in-pain look. Then her saying, really? Why? I think exactly the opposite. (I hated her so much right then)

I remember dancing at prom.

I remember the first time I had sex with a particular girl. I didn’t come and I was embarrassed, but I wasn’t sure if I was embarrassed for me, or embarrassed for her, and I didn’t say anything.

I remember getting into the car with my brother and dad, then all of us guessing what time it was, then my dad turning the car on to find out what time it was and see who was closest. I remember my dad almost always winning. I remember my brother winning whenever my dad hadn’t won.

I remember my dad never giving me a break, beating me even at chess.

I remember a tennis coach once saying to me that nobody is invincible. I wanted to say, who are you to say, but didn’t say anything at all.

I remember not remembering anything about high school. And saying so to people who asked me about high school.

I remember thinking, this is it.

I remember thinking, hey, at least that’s one less person to call on Sundays. But then realizing, that didn’t really leave anyone to call on Sundays.

I remember being drunk after the bars closed and throwing a salt shaker into the wall. Then feeling stupid about throwing a salt shaker into the wall. And then feeling even more stupid for having spent half an hour picking up all the little pieces of a salt shaker.

I remember first learning that your nose and ears never stop growing, and being worried, because my nose was just barely small enough to be considered normal sized.

I remember telling my mother once in an email that I loved her. I was drunk.

I remember being drunk and walking home alone and shouting, when none of my other friends are there, Philip Morris is.

I remember telling a girl that I kissed her with my eyes open sometimes. She told me that that was scary or that it scared her or that it was weird. I don’t remember which exactly.

I remember smoking in bed with an ashtray resting on my belly.

I remember the first time I very straight-forwardly and honestly told a girl that I liked her. It didn’t go so well. But that didn’t stop me from continuing to use the strategy.

I remember there not being anything else to do but wait.

I remember doing cocaine with a girl at one of those very bohemian loft parties in Brooklyn because I wanted to sleep with the girl. And then somehow I got shy and didn’t ask her to sleep with me, but the next day I called her and asked if she wanted to see a children’s play with me, one that was written by Maurice Sendak. She said no and then didn’t ever talk to me again.

I remember discovering the difference between grief and mourning.

I remember when I decided to stop folding my underwear. I was listening to a song and the singer was talking about how some girl was so prissy that she folded her underwear. It hadn’t ever occurred to me that you can get away with wrinkled underwear.

I remember being very young, being in college, and calling up my sister and yelling into the telephone at the top of my lungs. Telling her that her drug addict bullshit was getting dad broke. Threatening her instead of offering some sort of support, because that’s what I knew how to do.

I remember thinking that our generation is one of moving back in with your mother until the shit storm passes.


DW Lichtenberg is the author of The Ancient Book of Hip (Fourteen Hills Press, 2009). He has been told he definitely knows how to be a loner when he wants to be. He hopes to one day write the Great American Bumper Sticker.

11/15/12

Mitchell S. Jackson


No Blood Left Behind

Full disclosure:
This was supposed to be an essay called “Bloobloopdeblam” that criticized the ubiquitous clich√© in rap. This was going to be an essay that championed the idea of imposing creative constraints. As in, no more bars about your drop top; as in, negative on mentioning the cuff of diamonds encircling your wrist; as in, enough with bragging on the megatons of weed you puff by the month. This essay was supposed to be a rant against the dearth of creative content in hip hop and a hypothetical, though facetious, fix.

Yeah, well, call me fickle, cause what it could've been, it won’t be.

The impetus is this text exchange from the other day. Someone asked how I was doing and I said, "making it," and they said, "you doing a lot better than that," and I said, "that depends on perspective."

I said that because of late, I've been mired in a melancholy we might just call ironic. Let me explain. I came to this city (NY) a decade ago intent on becoming an author, but also harboring the lofty ambition that achieving that dream would fuel what’s been an adult-life mission: helping my loved ones make it—most importantly my mama. All these years later I am, by measures, realizing dream A. The problem is, the closer I get to some sort of career achievement, the greater the distance I witness between my blood and a career—period. The problem is, though dream A is upon me, the likelihood of it supplying my mother’s long-term security seem slim, frail, wispy as shit.

Before somebody goes and accuses me of being a pessimist or worse an ingrate, know this: reaching this position has given me an immense sense of pride. In ways my younger self could not have fathomed, I feel accomplished, hopeful, fortunate, empowered, buoyed by the propsect that moments of my future might feel oh so close to sublime.

Though, as I said there’s my blood. There’s my blood and our history.

Ask any yammertastic ex hustler about the satisfaction one feels in providing for a significant. No rent, no problem. No car note, not a worry. Empty fridge, small woe. Whatever the deficiency, the elixir is at hand. In fact, forget all the ill-begotten baubles, there is no greater joy for a go-getter than assuring a loved one “I got you,” in earnest. Ask those who know me and they’ll tell you, beginning in my late teens, for a select few, I was that guy: rent, light bill, groceries, gas, court fine, pawn-ticket, law-away, school clothes, team fees, funds to fuck off—you name it, I supplied. And believe you me, for my folks, my real folks, I have never stopped feeling compelled to do so. How could I, when there persists a plethora of troubles (That’s a no-go on exposing the particulars of this intimate business), which demand the Mitch of yesteryear, or at least my ex pockets.

“Either you’re slingin crack rock or you got a wicked jump shot."—Biggie (Things Done Changed)

We’ve seen those halftime specials on the athlete who catches or throws a ball or three-point swooshes he and his family out of poverty; we’ve all read stories of the first round draft pick who cops his mother a brand new ride pre cashing a single pro check. We hear-see these tales and they confirm: the other American dream (the one born in Congo Square) is real. A person with enough talent and focus and perseverance, a dreamer with just the right tincture of luck, can become who and what they want, and when they do, it's all to the good for their kin.

All good, unless you want to become an author. Unless you want, not only to write a book, but produce work that endures. Hey, I'm no fortuneteller, but I don’t foresee any vampire series or sci fi trilogies or erotica for my career. What I do see are stories that explore the lives of those who will likely (What, ya’ll missed the memo? My people don’t read, or at least read enough to nix the knock) never read them, and since my content has been and might be as such, what are my chances?

“All us blacks got is sports and entertainment until we even.”—Hova (Dead Presidents)

Go ahead and say I’m silly for chasing this dream, for believing it could aloft us few.

And for those of you assenting, I say this: before I had a child, I had a mother who needed me. Now I have children and a mother who needs me. My words must heft, and I can't envision another way.

Nor do I want an easier way. Easy street has always existed in someone else's neighborhood, and I’m fine with it, trust me, fine. And me whimsical, never that. No hope of wealth beyond Romney’s (insert: the white man’s) wildest dreams. No visions of bank vaults filled with gold medallions. No pining for a best seller (don’t get me wrong, I’d love one) so I can flaunt Maybach down a boulevard.

What this is, is the longing for peace for me and for us—no, for us and for me.

And if not peace then at minimum enduring calm.

“Everything will be alright if you hold on.” Pac (Dear Mama)

Let me reiterate, I’m beyond happy to be here—ecstatic. I have a publisher who believes in me. I have an editor who not only believes in me but has been a shepherd in this process. Oversoul is out in the world and well received. The Residue Years is on the way, and while these developments give me a sense of having achieved, there is a very real chance, so near it seems semi-certain (though I’ll go to my grave beating against it) that this life I chose, will never afford me the means to throw a rope to the ones in my life who most need rescue.

The shoreline dissent, I hear it. They say, I made the choice to leave my loves behind. They say, if the concern was as deep as I claim, I would’ve chose—MBA not MFA—means of more fruits. They say, her need maybe beyond figures. Ask, where are the siblings in all of this? Swear, a savoir isn’t the job of even an eldest. That no matter the efforts, my melancholy’s catholicon won’t be.

Shush!

None of that matters to me as much as this farewell word, a word especially, for fellow sentient ambitionists.

I will avail if only by increments, do it held fast to the hope that my success will be enough, though if it ain’t, my god, my god, it’s all to the bad—ruins. Cause to outerspace with what the theysayers say, onmylife, I ain’t made it if my mama's still struggling.


Mitchell S. Jackson is a Portland, Oregon native who lives in Brooklyn, New York. He received an M.A. in writing from Portland State University and an M.F.A in Creative Writing from New York University. He has been the recipient of fellowships from Urban Artist Initiative and The Center For Fiction and is a former winner of the Hurston Wright Foundation’s award for college writers. Jackson teaches writing at New York University. Oversoul an eBook collection of his prose was released in the summer of 2012. His novel The Residue Years is forthcoming from Bloomsbury USA in the summer of 2013. Find him at www.mitchellsjackson.com.