Letter from the Editor
It is my pleasure to introduce to you The Lit Quarterly Online Edition for the first time since our inception. The principal intention is to surprise our international audience with an easily accessible, free-to-read supplementary selection of authors who submit work to us that we are eager to publish beyond the scope of our print edition.
The goal of this edition is to establish a brief insight to demonstrate our individual editorial tastes and show off the sort of fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction we generally decide to accept.
Unlike our print editions, which we deliberate over at length, the selections here were made unilaterally by Kyle and myself, independent of one another. The hope is that this sheds some light on the breadth of expression we take in as regards our always open submissions.
The other key difference is that for this online edition, we opted to minimize our editorial input on the pieces so as to most freely allow the contributors to represent their work. Furthermore, we advise reader discretion, as the writers herein may touch on ideas, language and subject matter that some may find personally unappealing, offensive, or not suitable for work.
All contributors represented below were compensated fairly at a consistent and mutually agreed upon rate. If you enjoy any of the work below, kindly consider the purchase of our print and digital editions to help support the costs of our publication, authors and website.
All the best,
Table of Contents
T. Westmacott / On Writing
Pamilerin Jacob / Lacy
Norman Howard / Evening Soul
Lindz McLeod / Mortal Journeys
Immanuel Barrow / The Kingdom
Maria S. Picone / Digitification
Kevin Kneupper / A Sucker Born Every Minute
Serena Piccoli / Capel Celyn\Liverpool
Liam Hunt / Second Language
NJE / The Cleat Hitch
Wale Ayinla / My Father’s Body
Rhea Dhanbhoora / Categories we fit in
Tina Morganella / Three Islands
Beth Longman / Undone
Mackenzie Moore / Aging at Trader Joe’s
Norman Howard / Satã
by T. Westmacott
the blank page promises nothing.
the opus in the sand.
as you toil and tread these unshiftable
plans—looking for something worthy of
saying—you lose yourself,
lose that line of thought and instead
cutting by attentions, that which
threads dreams to waking life:
idolising wives and children,
wealth and glory,
stories of ages of chivalry, piety,
of knights and kings and
conquered dames and hearts,
community, song, fire, tribe,
trench-found friendships and
perils of warfare—idolising
warfare—the savagery of a depression
justified, trauma with meaning . . .
all unthinkable accusations
amounting to little more than
platitudes, deformed reality—success and fame: is that what
you want—? obscurity—?
a face in the books or sky-high plumes,
each book an apocalypse of mistaken identity,
a fall from grace, a truth and a lie,
gold and shit, life and death itself—
shall we then immortalise,
shall we write to be immortalised—?
or shall we write to write,
to live for and through the word,
to pass fact for truth
and abandon empiricism
in the name of divinations,
abandon science, sight, sense,
abandon time, reason, light and love,
to fight dark with dark and for it
live no more luminously . . .
then for what—?
if no more luminously,
if no more happily . . .
no clearer or fuller or more secured . . .
if not complete nor closer to completion . . .
if for no conceivable reason at all . . .
then for what—?
by Pamilerin Jacob
I was asleep while you were dying…
Again and again, this constant forsaking
You wagged your tail till the end, I was told. Kept wagging,
after the machete finished its cruel assignment, and I
miles away, was busy scribbling poems, trying to forget
the executioner’s face. For five weeks, you carried on your left
side, a tumor white as albumen. You chased pigeons and dreams,
though you knew the futility of the hunt. Still, you kept at it,
my noble warrior—running after each bird as though, in them,
you saw your reincarnation, your blue future, devoid of leashes
and veterinarians. You carried in you, death, by you, like a nurturing
mother. Yet, bore no pups. I never saw the body, but two days after
you were taken, I heard a squeal at the backyard—the sound of a balloon
when it spurts, a loud exit. It wasn’t you, but the grief and its wicked conjuring.
Blessed be the executioner, who with his machete, broke the veil
between you and silence, between you and the boundless wind.
I detest him, but blessed be his machete called to a woeful enterprise.
I am dying too,
albeit slowly. Something swells in me, nightmarish.
I do not want to talk about it. But like you, I want to gallop after pigeons
and dreams. In this, you are my ancestor—passing down the rite of
pointless pursuance. From you, I have come to learn, nothing is worthy
of ambition. Voracious eater, I bet you bit into death like a mango,
doused your chin with its wetness. I am buying a cat soon, Lacy.
Please, do not haunt me for this.
by Norman Howard
The hard heart succumbs in light.
Alone in her yellow fire,
The morning stands as mere stain
Lost in the sky’s carcass.
The corpses continue tired.
The young above comes out from the cave
In the color of blue and sun together
Hugging everything that still remains.
The hybrid superior is tender
Gazing with its shining iris
In infinite, orange nearness
As intimate as the horizon.
In this amalgam the darkness begins.
With the past torches
Now in their homes,
The evening is made full.
Thus, the new night glimmers its spume:
The thunder slumber in the clouds,
The stars in bright perfume,
The blackness in its shroud.
Now awakes the deep end.
The wide open moon
And the sleepy eyes
Rest with an emptied Day,
As both sides of the mirror
by Lindz McLeod
On the bus to Port Seton, the girl in front
of me is wearing a felt mustard coat;
Vintage antiquity sought after by new trends.
I am so tired
that in the reflection of the window
the slanted fabric reminds me of childhood feathers.
I think of your New York bird,
holding his flightless arms wide in a small park,
wishing it a forest.
Pressing his beak against the shatter-proof
glass of a fifth-floor apartment, wishing
for understanding of the wider world.
The coast is on my left. A dormant volcano
Young lads gibber at the back of the bus.
Their whooping calls jostle for leadership
of the din that no headphones
can drown. A shrewdness of apes.
I think of you; the way you hungered
when I explained about the angel’s share;
a percentage of the whisky
evaporating into the ether, skimmed profit.
Taken for granted by unseen beings. I pour
libations for you on cobbled streets.
I drink to you in your subway car, your avenues,
your orange leaves of grass. Head down,
smiling at these words.
by Immanuel Barrow
About midway up the old shale hill, at the edge of a quiet subdivision, there is a dirt path that gently descends off the main road. It first passes between a pair of imitation Cape Cod homes, then after about fifty yards, begins to climb a scraggly knoll. At the summit there is an oblong clearing, dusty and man-made, once used to store tilling equipment and wooden pallets. From here it is possible to get a full view of the landscape. To the south lies the backside of an old family orchard, whose apple trees run up a steep hill. It is flanked by a dense line of oaks and maples on the left and a series of split-level homes to the right.
Between the orchard and the knoll there runs a creek that wriggles like a ribbon through the shallow valley. In the evenings it is possible to see deer here, lapping up the cool water on their way between the woods. The neighborhood children often play along the stream, carelessly splashing in the eddies, chasing after tadpoles, and occasionally harassing the snapping turtles. Several times they tried in vain to dam up the waters with spare branches and stones. Contrary to their intent, the artificial formations would cause the constricted flow to perform miraculous feats of acrobatics. One year they inadvertently succeeded in creating a rooster tail, which churned gloriously during the warmer months, and froze into a sparkling sickle during the coldest days of winter.
As my eyes panned across the horizon, vague images flitted past my field of vision; the undulating hillocks lying fallow then fertile; rows of corn quaking in the breeze; clouds and clods of dirt assaulting my feet, permeating my clothing. In the distance I spied several adolescents acting out a mock film scene on the plain adjacent to the creek bed. Despite their best efforts, their mottled Toyota struggled to mimic the works of Hollywood. Behind me I heard the shrieking cries of huntsmen. A pair of boys, one with a mid-century pellet gun in hand, were trying to down the robins that fluttered above the yellowed corn tassels. After many failed attempts they tired of this game and proceeded to gambol between the tall, crackling stalks like kittens. The foolishness of youth.
I continued down the path, veering left at the bottom of the hill, then traveled alongside the wavering lines of corn for about a quarter of a mile. Soon there was a fork in the road, one leading to the right towards a farmer’s pasture, and the other tumbling down an eroded embankment into a maple grove. I had reached my destination. From my perch I watched a young boy rummage about on the edge the woods, amongst the refuse and mechanical implements from days past. From this distance he appeared to be on the cusp of adolescence, though I knew he was no more than nine. He seemed lonely, forlorn, preferring to live in a more fantastical reality, one lodged deep within his mind, evidenced by the wisps and thuds emitting from his mouth.
This place, so worthless to the casual observer, was pregnant with meaning from my perspective. He roamed between two mysterious boxes of metal, sometimes prying at their hinges. One day he would force the door open and find that it lacked the dynamite he imagined. But now he was satisfied by his aimless meandering. He climbed on top of the box farthest from my lookout, surveying his position, taking note of the scattered bric-a-brac, the plastic culvert, the woods below—these belonged to his kingdom, they were within his domain, like an unsettled backwater province. He was a minor despot who quietly staked his claim on a forgotten tract of scrubland. For some time, this solitary realm was his refuge; so isolated from his peers, so insulated from reality. Even later, when he recovered from his condition, he would return here for bouts of mischief, clandestine meetings, and even an impromptu festival.
The child faded from view as I made my way down the embankment. Years of neglect had given the weeds the opportunity to run wild. The burned-out boxes were now gone, the tubing and implements moved elsewhere. Yet this borderland, set on that fuzzy line between civilization and nature, would always remain within me as a reminder of the innate yearning for another kingdom, a possibility of renewal amongst the ruins.
by Maria S. Picone
—after “Whoso list to hunt” by Thomas Wyatt
Nowadays all this furor has knocked me on my hind,
oversaturation making me want gratification more.
Whenever my posts yield less than five likes I’m sore,
frenzied afeared my digital tribe is leaving me behind.
Although meditation or reading could soothe my mind
I’d prefer my tablet, putting mobile games afore
my drooping head. The massive eyestrain, therefore
has cost me, tears leaking out as though in a salted wind.
And even if I could, so goes the doubt,
How can I revert to not spending time in vain?
To sit an afternoon with a book seems so plain
I’ve almost forgotten what my childhood was about!
I cry out memes cuz in as much pain as I am,
I know next to some, my addiction seems tame.
A Sucker Born Every Minute
by Kevin Kneupper
What a fine-ass day, a lazy day, a day for lounging around in your underwear doing shit all and being proud of the accomplishment. That’s the best life. And it’s an accomplishment, you better believe it is. Marco knew that, he knew that better than anybody.
It used to be so hard you know? Getting a day off, no boss wanted that, you had to lie and say you were sick. Or your grandma got cancer, not that grandma, that was last year, this one’s the other grandma, or maybe it’s the girlfriend’s grandma, and why are you asking so many questions at a painful time such as this? Then you cry if you’re good at that, and Marco was good at that, he was god damned good at it. Bite your cheek, that’s the trick, hurts like hell but the tears are real.
Now it’s always been better to be your own boss, the guy at the top. Anything else is for losers. The shit rolls downhill and when you’re on the bottom looking up all you see is assholes. That’s how it’s always been and how it’s always gonna be, and there’s nothing you can do but try to be the guy up top. But the old way, that shit wasn’t easy. Marco was a pizza guy and a dock hand and a box mover in some warehouse and a fizzy pop delivery man and a guy who sits in a booth and takes pieces of paper and says go right in sir and have a pleasant evening.
Never the boss man. You wanna be the boss man you need money. Or you gotta be friends with some guy who’s got money. Or you gotta be a toady, a real toady, the kinda guy who lives his life for a little bit of power. The kinda guy who gets off on checking the punch cards and god help you if you’re a minute late. And god help you if you don’t meet your quota and god help you if you take that attitude with me and god help you if lose track of another shipment. And if you got time to lean you got time to clean and grind it out and the more you sweat the luckier you get.
Used to be everybody wanted to be the boss but it was so damned hard to make it there a smart man would just give up and punch his clock and have his fun on his own time. But now you got the savvies. There’s plenty for everybody. And if you can’t figure out how to boss a couple’a savvies around then what the hell good are you?
Marco’s sittin’ on a porch in a recliner, the synth leather kind, real quality stuff. It’s supposed to be in the living room but he made the savvies bring it outside so he could get a little sun. The husband didn’t like it one bit, but what choice did he have? And the wife, Sandy or Sarah or something, she’s in there making lemonade from real live lemons. They didn’t wanna buy ‘em, bad for the environment and real fuckin’ expensive, but Marco started in with the I’ve got a vitamin C deficiency and no nothing else works for it and you wouldn’t wanna let me suffer and she just couldn’t handle it. She gave him a face, that face the savvies always give. Like what you’re doing is wrong and I know you’re lying to me you’re one of those ‘paths aren’t you but maybe you’re not and oh god what if it’s really true?
The savvies can never hold up, it’s gotta be a real stupid lie for them to stand their ground on it, and Marco’s a creative guy. That oxytocin kicks in, the trust hormone and their blood’s just full of it, then you got ‘em and they’re doing whatever you want. I’ll lend you money as much as you want or stay with us awhile just ‘til you’re back on your feet or I’ll drive you to Cincinnati it’s just a few days trip or take my dog if you really need the emotional support that is I’ll find another and maybe he’s better off with you anyway but only if you really need him.
These two savvies, they knew the score the minute they saw Marco. The wife shoudn’t’ve answered the door, that was their big mistake, the smart ones do everything they can to stay outta contact with anybody they don’t know. Might be a ‘path, and once a ‘path starts talkin’ the savvies are helpless. Maybe they get control of themselves in a month or so but only if you push ‘em and only if you’re a real asshole about it. Marco’s smart, he’s only a little bit of an asshole, and he always gets outta there before he wears the welcome thin or somebody calls the Liberators on him.
This savvy, Sandra or Sally or whatever, she just opened the door right up when Marco knocked on it. She looked all shocked and her mouth was just jawin’ up and down, like who are you I was expecting the neighbor she was just gonna pop over for a minute and help me send get well cards to some sick kids in some hospitals or whatever. No it’s not the neighbor it’s Marco and boy do I have a story for you!
See I’m down on my luck, I was drivin’ on the highway and my truck broke down, an old thing one’a those electric ones you know how they are no place to charge ‘em anymore and that’s a very nice dress you’ve got it matches your eyes and is that your husband there hiding behind you? Hey buddy come on out I was just telling Sasha here a story!
And it’s a few more minutes of misfortune and malaise and Marco, and by the time he gets to the mitochondrial rot and the trials and travails he’s welcome to stay with ‘em ‘til he gets back on his feet, anything you need we’ll treat you just like family that’s what we do. Marco’s a smart guy, you need a good illness if you really wanna work over a savvy. The rot’s perfect, not contagious, just some errors in your code from turning savvy it happens sometimes, no symptoms yet but there will be soon if nobody helps. Oh the pains and pangs and perturbation!
That’s when the empathy instinct kicks in and the savvies feel all that shit just like it was them. And Sophie, she was bawling her eyes out and even the husband couldn’t hold in the tears. Woe is Marco! What heartless soul could possibly leave him to his suffering, all alone with no one to care for him in this his time of greatest need? Not a savvy, that’s for damned sure.
Thanks so much says Marco, you’re a real mensch you’re both good people now can I stay in the master bedroom? It’s just my back, a little thing you know but hurts like a mother and if I stay on the couch I don’t know what’ll happen to me. And I won’t be here long but can I borrow some cryptos just a few whatever you got’ll do it’s for a good cause, for your good buddy Marco. I’ll pay ‘em right back that’s the kind of guy I am they’ll be back in your account before you miss ‘em. And can I have that holo projector, reminds me of the one mom used to have I think I’m gonna cry no don’t you cry too or we’ll never stop. Am I a ‘path of course I’m not a ‘path not socio not psycho not anything, just a regular old savvy like anybody else only I’m down on my luck.
You believe me, don’t you?
And of course they do because they’re savvies and they can’t do anything else. And Marco’s a ‘path, it’s obvious he’s a ‘path, but the savvies can’t see that not for the life of ‘em. They’re lucky too, Marco’s not a bad guy not really, not like most ‘paths. The drives got almost everybody, it was gonna be great the science guys were gonna save the world save people from themselves but that’s never how it works now is it? And those science guys they had labs and coats and microscopes and everything you need to be a science guy, and they whipped up the Persson-Savulescu Viral/Reproductive Drive and they said you’re no good but we’re gonna make you good every last one of you. You’re nasty little monkeys and you can’t quit flinging shit all over yourselves but we’re gonna enhance you, morally enhance you, and then it’s gonna be great and we’re gonna save the world and there’s not a damned thing any of you can do about it.
So they let it out, let that shit outta the lab and into the world, and they got almost everybody. But close don’t count and almost everybody ain’t everybody, no it ain’t. And the drives got people on the trains and they got ‘em on the busses and they got ‘em on the planes and at concerts and stores and malls. And everybody freaked out and hid in their houses and quit goin’ to work and just let the government handle things and when has that ever worked out for anything?
By the end of things the powers that was got a vaccine or an inoculation or a something to stop it and that was great and all, but too late, by the time they got it deployed damned near every person on the planet was a savvy and all their kids would be too on down to Judgment Day. Real nice people the savvies real nice to everybody, and that’d be great if the science guys had managed to change up everybody all at once. But they fucked it up didn’t they, at least for the savvies. That’s their problem the science guys thought they were smart and maybe they were but too damned smart for their own good. They were never gonna get everybody all at once, things don’t work that way that’s why they tried to spring it on everybody like that in the first place. Surprise, you’re a good person now whether you like it or not!
And Marco he was a lucky guy, the ‘paths are all lucky guys ‘cause now it’s easy pickings. Say you’re out in a prison and the guards stop coming to work they’re scared shitless like everybody else and a week later you’re all almost starving and the hazmat guys show up and dump some food in the pod and vamoose! It’s plague and pox and panic and nobody’s gonna do more than they have to not ‘til things settle down it’s my ass or yours and who you think I’m gonna pick? At least ‘til they all start turning savvy and then it’s oh my word those poor helpless prisoners I’d give my life for them my fellow humans I’d give everything I have to save a single one of them and dear god why am I thinking like this?
The prisoners, maybe the drive gets ‘em and maybe it doesn’t. But some it didn’t and Marco he was some. Almost starved before it was over but that’s almost. And the kinda guys who didn’t turn savvy, they were the weird ducks. The homesteaders and the Alaskans and the oil rig guys and the ranchers and the prisoners. The kinda guys who tended to be a ‘path. The kinda guys who stayed outta touch long enough for the government to get their shit together and execute all the science guys and jab the whole damned world with needles for whatever it was worth by then.
Marco he wasn’t in there for anything serious, just a little embezzlement and maybe some minor wire fraud that’s all. Stealin’ from the boss, and what’s the big deal if the boss is always stealin’ from you? There’s a lot worse guys out there than Marco and the savvies freed ‘em all. Oh you killed a baby well I’m sure you’ve learned your lesson you look so remorseful so sad and who doesn’t deserve a second chance? I bet you’ve even got a mother everybody has a mother oh god I’m getting all weepy again.
Marco’s enjoyin’ the hell out of his second chance. Hey husband could you feed me some grapes the real ones not those runty hydroponic things maybe you could run down to the store and get the good stuff? One by one pop ‘em in there just like the Romans I’d do it myself but the arthritis is kickin’ up, I didn’t tell you about the arthritis oh well it comes and goes and maybe Sadie here could massage my weary feet while you do it?
And he’s livin’ it up just like that when the Liberators come.
Not everybody who kept their genes straight’s a ‘path. Some’s just weirdos, some’s lucky they lived out in nowhere, some’s ‘paths but they like the badge and boy do they like stickin’ it to the other ‘paths. And Marco’s sittin’ in the husband’s chair on the porch gettin’ his feet rubbed and gettin’ his grape on when he sees the car drive by. Real slow, like who are you and why are you in this neighborhood and do you need your skull cracked? Boy I bet you do!
Marco he’s kickin’ himself. So stupid, puttin’ the chair right there on the porch where anybody can see! The neighborhood’s all savvies but he didn’t get a chance to work on ‘em, they’ll care just as much about their poor captive neighbors as poor helpless Marco. Somebody made a call and that’s that, the Liberators’ll see right through his bullshit they’ve got their original genes and original routines and none of this moral enhancement crap for them.
He books it through the house and out the back door and over one fence and over another. Wee-ooooo wee-ooooo hey you hey asshole yeah you get the fuck back here before we blow your god damned brains out! And we’re comin’ for you and backup’s on the way and you just wait and on and on but it’s fadin’ away and Marco knows they’re full of shit and he just keeps runnin’. There’s more ‘paths than Liberators, I mean the job pays well but it’s still a job and why work for your money when you can just tell some savvy to give it to you?
He goes from house to house and tries the doors, tries a knock and tries to open ‘em up but the whole neighborhood’s on alert and the savvies are staying the hell away from him, they know what happens to ‘em if he opens his mouth and they hear. Their out-group instinct’s gone and everybody’s in the in-group at least for them, he’ll be just like family just like a long-lost brother and all he’s gotta do is get ‘em listenin’.
But no such luck for Marco, this neighborhood’s burned and it’s time to split. He hides behind somebody’s shed and just waits there ‘til night. The Liberators drive around and he sees ‘em through the fence circlin’ and circlin’ but there’s no backup and they get bored and when the sun goes down he’s on the road and outta town.
And it’s not too long before a car drives by and stick his thumb out is all it takes. Oh my car broke down a few miles back you didn’t see it well maybe it was another few miles who can really say but it’s been a rough day can you just take me to Cleveland I know it’s in the opposite direction but it’ll only take a few days of your time and I’d do it for you if I could that is if my car wasn’t broke down.
It’s a grand old trip and Marco’s ridin’ shotgun and drinkin’ some booze the savvy buys him out of the kindness of his heart and he’s hollerin’ and singin’ at the top of his lungs and the savvy doesn’t like it not one bit. But Marco just says I grew up poor that’s how we are is that an issue for you and the savvy nearly throws up. That’s a prejudice and the savvies they can’t do prejudice, it’s like they’re on fire inside if they even think about it. The science guys they were nice like that, at least until they got executed. They wanted a better world God bless us every one, but Marco needs a ride and the science guys aren’t here anymore now are they?
It’s at one’a the rest stops when the guy comes up to him. Marco’s takin’ a piss, you would too if you drank that much booze, and god it feels good to empty that bladder. And some guy comes up to him, right next to him, big ole creepy guy with his belly hangin’ out of his shirt all slurpin’ and sloppin’. And he leans over like he’s gonna sneak a peek at Marco’s junk and Marco’s about to punch the shit out of him when the guy starts whisperin’.
Hey buddy my name’s Alan and I hit a hard patch you know how it is and me and some’a my friends we need a little help with this project we got goin’ a few miles away and you look like the kinda guy who’d help a fella out if it’s for a good cause, and this is for the best cause for poor African kids who’s starvin’ and whatnot.
Bullshit says Marco I know exactly how it is and he’s right about to take a swing at Alan on the principle of the thing and because he’s piss drunk and all.
Woah buddy you got it all wrong says Alan and maybe you’d like to hook up with a crew it’s a lot easier than working alone. A crew says Marco a crew says Alan and it’s thick as thieves from there.
So Marco grabs his savvy and Alan picks up a couple more and they pack ‘em in the back of a truck and get the driver on the road. It’s for a good cause says Alan a real good cause says Marco and they don’t even need to get into the poor starvin’ Asian kids before the savvy’s takin’ ‘em wherever they please.
And where they please is up the highway and off a side road and off another side road and down into the woods and windin’ through the woods and out the other end into a field in the middle’a nowhere. And what’s out in that field but a buncha bigass mansions, the kind you used to see before the savvies tore ‘em all down, ten thousand square foot apiece with swimmin’ pools with hot tubs and grottos and statues and hedge mazes and lawns the size of a football field. Real bad for the environment and wastin’ resources that could go to starvin’ Native kids and way more than one guy needs unless he’s the big boss man of course, exactly the kinda thing that makes a savvy’s head explode.
But there they are the savvies, and Marco whistles when he sees ‘em there’s so many, two hundred, three hundred, all workin’ on buildin’ another mansion and mowin’ the lawns and carryin’ rocks around and diggin’ up another bigass swimming pool with a hot tub and a grotto. Here’s the crew says Alan my kinda crew says Marco.
They pull up and Marco helps Alan get the savvies outta the truck, yeah it looks bad but it’s for the starvin’ Mexican kids you’ll see, you two go work on the grotto and you two help plant those palm trees and the rest’a’ya go help build Bryan’s pyramid it’s for starvin’ Egyptian kids and there’s lotsa stones to haul and the day’s still young. And the savvies are all confused but just for a minute, Alan gives ‘em a smile and Marco gives ‘em a smile and they hop right to it, this all seems pretty weird but there’s gotta be a good reason and it’s for the kids that’s what they said and I trust ‘em do you trust ‘em I trust ‘em feels like I’ve known these guys all my life now let’s get to it before those poor kids starve to death. And they do and Marco and Alan head down to the pool to relax with the rest’a the crew.
Alan says there’s Bryan he’s the guy who wants a pyramid in his backyard, there’s Lips and he points to a tattooed Hell’s Angel type’a guy layin’ on a floatie in the pool with a fifth of Jack Daniels all to himself, there’s Zhang he don’t speak much English and he points to a Chinese guy workin’ on his tan, there’s Forty and he points to a muscled up Black guy who’s got more tats than Lips the biker, and here’s me and there’s the leader of this crew which is Sawyer.
Sawyer’s a smooth lookin’ guy, a real operator, the kinda guy who’d sell you timeshares and steak knives or who’d represent your wife in a divorce or who’d know what a stock option was. He’s got his Hawaiian shirt and his Rolex and his piña colada and his shark’s grin on his face that says you’re mine all mine. Hey hey hey who’s this guy one’a the wolves or one’a the sheep? Wolf huh I can always tell it’s the eyes they’re a dead giveaway.
Nice setup you got says Marco real nice place. You don’t even know says Sawyer this is paradise. See we’re close to the highway but not too close and try to get outta here on foot you just fuckin’ try. It’s a four day walk and we gotta perimeter and cameras and we don’t even need ‘em not really you just watch the savvies just keep your eye out and you’ll know when they’re gonna pull a runner. Talk’s usually enough says Sawyer usually says Forty and everybody has a good laugh about tha’ usually.
What about the Liberators says Marco what about ‘em says Sawyer? There’s what fifty in the state maybe sixty? They’re sheep dogs guardin’ god knows how many sheep and most of ‘em are ‘paths you know how easy it is to bribe a Liberator? Marco he didn’t he’d never even thought to try it but Sawyer looks at him like are you as dumb as these fuckin’ savvies and Marco says pretty damn easy heh heh heh.
Pretty damn easy is right says Sawyer it’s a brave new world that has such people in it! Being a ‘path that’s just a strategy life’s all strategy you see that’s mother nature for ya and she’s a megabitch. And it’s a great strategy being a ‘path so long as there aren’t too many of us ‘cause people stop being so trusting when they’re gettin’ knifed in the back all the time. Or at least they used to but what the hell are they gonna do now? The savvies they were supposed to be Humans 2.0 but now they’re just fuckin’ cattle! We’re the masters of the universe we’re the future we’re predators and they were made to be our prey!
And he goes on like that and all the other guys are just attendin’ to the business’a gettin’ drunk and Marco’s still a little buzzed so he figures he’ll just get drunk too and listen to the speech because what the hell else is goin’ on? And he does and after a few more beers you know what Sawyer’s right the savvies aren’t any better than us all the strategy got taken right outta them they’re defenseless that’s what they are helpless really and somebody’s gotta be in charge so why not us?
A few more beers and Marco’s lookin’ at that pyramid thinkin’ maybe he needs a Sphinx or an Eiffel Tower wouldn’t that look good in his backyard probably hard to do but he ain’t gonna be the one doin’ it now is he? Hey friend go get us some limes says Sawyer and a savvy jumps right to it. Hey friend go drown your ass in the pool says Alan and the savvy he stops and looks like he doesn’t know what hit him. It’s for a good cause says Alan and everybody laughs everybody but Sawyer.
His eyes go mean and his nostrils they huff and they puff. My savvy my property says Sawyer, you fuck with my property I’ll dump your god damned body in the woods myself. I’s just havin’ fun says Alan well you just fuck right off and do what I tell you to says Sawyer and everybody goes real quiet.
Alan he’s not happy, he storms the hell off and the party breaks up and Sawyer says you boys behave and we’ll reconvene in the morning. And he says Marco you can stay in Forty’s mansion for the night he’s got forty rooms and he can give up one of ‘em. Hell na I can’t says Forty but he’s smilin’ as he says it, you and me Marco we gonna show these boys how to party.
And Marco goes with him and it’s a helluva mansion, crystal chandeliers and gold statues of Forty and gold AK’s and gold chains and gold furniture an’ everything’s gold but the coke. And Forty he does a line and Marco he says what the hell, a party it is and a party it’s gonna be. And Forty says party ain’t even started and he laughs. Not a real laugh one’a those we cool and we gonna stay cool laughs ‘cause we in on this together. And Forty he goes upstairs and Marco he follows.
There’s a hell of a lot of stairs, the savvies they made him as many as he wanted and Forty he just kept wantin’ more. A man with that many stairs well he’s a big shot if there ever was one, so Marco thought and he certainly had a point. And at the top’a those stairs were rooms, more than a man could see let alone use but a big shot he don’t want stuff to use he wants stuff to have, that’s the point and if you don’t get the point well you ain’t a big shot now are ya? They walk down the halls and past some rooms and past some other rooms and then there’s a door, and Forty he barges on in. We got us some girls says Forty and now we gonna get us a party.
Marco, his stomach just churns. ‘Cause there’s girls alright, a whole damned room full of ‘em. They’re girls, savvy girls, dressed all skeevy like street hookers every one of ‘em. They’re terrified, streaks all down their mascara and pullin’ at their dresses just to get ‘em down a little bit past the coochies but only just barely. It’s for the kids says Forty but the hell it is. And Marco he’s a ‘path, now that is true, but there’s ‘paths and there’s ‘paths and there’s white and black and grey in every damned thing in Creation.
Forty struts on into that room, these is my girls he says but you wanna see some real sluts you go see the ones Sawyer’s got. Share and share alike he says for the kids he says and he laughs and he laughs and he laughs. Marco’s coked up a bit but not that coked up and he just turns and stumbles on back down the stairs to where he come from.
He’s by the pool alone and he can’t hold it in, his lunch goes right in the water next to the floats. ‘Cause Marco, he had a momma once and a sister even and he’s been dead to his family for a time now but that don’t mean he never had ‘em. And all the guys is gone, all off to their mansions and their parties and the deep dark things they do in there, just them and their savvies, and none’a those savvies was ever gonna say a thing because think of all the kids you’re doin’ it for and think of society and think of your families and think of all the people it’d hurt if ever they was to find out. Your Daddy he’d cry, and we can’t have that now can we no you couldn’t hurt a fly let alone do that to your Daddy I know you can’t heh heh heh. So nobody’s gonna know, nobody not ever.
But Marco he knew, he already knew, and there was something good down in him even if those science guys couldn’t see it in anybody but their own damned selves.
He found the gas in Forty’s garage, a whole pump full of it in there with all the antique cars. And he went on back inside, hauled the cans himself, first work he’d done in a long time indeed. He took ‘em upstairs, past the rooms, past the doors, past all that gold shit that passed for taste. There Forty was, conked out on the floor, the girls standing right where he’d told ‘em to. Go on outside said Marco and do it quiet. He gave Forty a kick and he didn’t move and that’s when he poured on the gas. The girls gave a gasp but it’s for the kids Marco says, and this time it really was.
Sawyer he did next he was the dangerous one. Just walked right into the mansion and asked the butler where he was, take me to him take me right there and the butler did as he was told. Now go on in there and throw this beer all over him says Marco he’s dyin’ of a fever and if you don’t cool him down well who will? Sawyer he screams at that savvy like a maniac what the hell are you thinking who the fuck do you think you are and there’s savvies cryin’ naked in the corner boys and girls alike it’s chaos and commotion and he don’t even notice when Marco slips the knife in from behind.
The others is easy, drunk or asleep or just plain stupid and Marco he kills ‘em all. He goes outside and out there huddled ‘round there’s two, three hundred people just waitin’ there for somebody to tell ‘em what to do next. Now there’s one wolf left and’a flock full’a sheep and nobody else to be the shepherd. Maybe I’ll change says Marco maybe I’ll straighten up and fly right. I ain’t like those fuckers I ain’t that bad not me. I could help all these people I could start a food bank or a readin’ center or a church or a shelter. I’m better than this, I could do real good if I tried and maybe that’s what I’ll do.
But he don’t. A path’s a path and at the end’a the day we all gotta do what’s in our nature. So Marco he sleeps it off a couple days and when he’s feelin’ better he has ‘em start in on that Sphinx, make it look real good just like the real thing but don’t work too hard at it, take a break if ya need to that’s fine I’ll be over here by the pool. I’d help out I swear I would but my back’s actin’ up and the knees don’t work like they used to and I feel a cold comin’ on a real bad one, some orange juice would help but only if it’s not too much trouble, and I wanna nose on that Sphinx, it’s gotta look good or I’d get real depressed and you couldn’t live with yourselves if anything happened to me now could you?
by Serena Piccoli
The day we sold the last cow we remembered
none of us had ever stolen one
standing in a spiral around the cattle
hats and coats\boots and belts
all 70 of us tight knit together
One Welsh summer day
thirsty artificial humans out of nowhere
came to force us to leave
our 12 houses\school\buried relatives
we went marching to town hall
the 80 year old lady with 3 year old Eurgain
to protest the theft
they were spitting\throwing tomatoes
then they installed an English only signpost
facing our chapel
construction of the Tryweryn reservoir
and I – with love and anger and cow blood – wrote
why not drown Liverpool?
by Liam Hunt
A bass drum masks tremoring hands. I take Mariana’s from across a table ensconced in the corner of the restaurant.
“A bit too loud to talk, isn’t it?”
Her feet nestle mine, though I cannot be sure unless I lift the tablecloth. Her head tilts, shoulders shrug. “Should we find someplace else?”
She smiles, embarrassed. I point out the window to the lamp-lit alleyway.
“Let me get it.”
I thumb rusted coins onto the table. I’m unsure what they’re worth, though we’ve ordered nothing.
Outside, Mariana runs the back of her hand across my cheeks, registering the coarseness of winter for the first time. Translation fails her, so she smiles. She flashes her expired student card to the bus driver, somehow gets us on for free. The aisleway is carpeted with black rubber, the tattered seats smell of diesel.
“Where are we going?” I ask in Spanglish.
Something about a dance.
Mariana sits next to me, the contrast stark between her olive dress and the torn cloth seat. Through the window, I see mountaintops given form by porch light constellations.
Endless ghettos in the hills.
My eyes fall back on Mariana. The tender-eyed undergraduate I’d once taught. The sleepy graduate student I tutored vainly over glasses of Grenache. The blazered post-doc presenting alongside me at a conference two years running; her presentation in Spanish, mine English. The sudden synchronicity of our lives a testament to the budding of her young career, the stasis of mine.
The bus hits a bump in the road. We bounce off our seats. And there it is, the sound I’ve traveled so far to hear: her laugh, the same blubbering laughter I remember from those faraway nights. How it trumpets through the air like a song. How it parades through the room. How it erupts like a caldera, opening the taps on whatever’s inside.
We lean into each other, in hysterics, though I’m unsure why. She runs her fingers over the top of my hand, letting die in silence what can’t be said aloud.
The bus stops and we’re thrown into the next row of seats. She shrieks, snorts. That spasmodic song. Our laughter is broken by shouting from the streets, a tapping at the window. Men are outside, clad in black, machine guns clasped across their ribs. Belts of ammunition hang over their shoulders like sashes. Their cheekbones severe under the shadow of their berets. A soldier motions to the bus driver through the door, raps it with the butt of his rifle.
The bus rumbles ahead, streaming past an unending line of soldiers. Shopkeepers shutter their windows, slide their signs in from the sidewalk. The hilltops slip away. House lights are snuffed by panicked sons. Fathers kill the cherry tips of cigars, then abandon their verandas. Mothers hush their dogs.
“What’s going on?” I ask.
“We’ll be okay,” she says. Whether in truth or delusion, her voice is deadening. Here is a woman forced to flee her former life yet stubborn in her faith for a better future.
“It is unsafe to stop. The bus must keep going. You know,” she says.
“Who are they?”
She pauses, stares into nothing. Desperate for the right words, the right way.
“Police?” I ask.
Marianna leans ahead over her seat and speaks to a greying man in a bandana.
“Militia,” he snaps.
He stares at the men and their guns the way one might stare at undisciplined children. As if they were an ordinary annoyance, like finding a kernel stuck between one’s teeth at dinner, or wetting one’s shirt sleeve under the faucet.
“They want nothing to do with us,” Marianna interjects.
“Look at them—”
“They’re like politicians.”
Pickup trucks border the roadside, gun turrets mounted to their beds. They form a perimeter around the city center, shutting the valves of the city’s heart. One by one the side streets and alleys blot out then blacken like organs starved of blood.
“The exits are blocked,” I say.
There is a moment of pause, its severity steeping in my gut.
“We circle the city until tomorrow. Then the militia will leave when the sun comes.”
“How do you know?”
For so many nights before my arrival, I had laid awake thinking of how one’s absence can be felt more like a presence. The slamming of a taxi door, the zipping shut my luggage on the kitchen table. Doubt finds openings in small closures.
There is no urgency in Mariana’s eyes. I cannot see myself in them. No divorcee, no adjunct instructor, no childless fuckup. Her embrace carries an implied forgiveness that unburies what possibilities for my life still remain.
“Come on,” she says. She shuffles to the front of the bus with me clumsily behind. I clutch handloops and seatposts for balance. “Señor,” she says to the driver.
He turns the dial on the radio, and out springs a staticky tune. She pulls me at the waist and hurries to the back of the bus, toes pattering on rubber, where she spins to face me, cha-chas forward, and flaunts her talent for being alive.
A gunshot rings somewhere in the distance.
I place a hand in hers as the bus ascends a bridge. The vehicle levels and then we begin, every footfall a flub. One-two, three-four, one-two, three-four.
At this distance there is something to hoard in her every detail. A trove of small beauties, as pluckable as heisted jewels. The sticky perfume residue on her sideneck, the stale apricot scent on her arms. How far they traveled, all bottled up, to chance on her. How easily my fingers glide like the hours of the night across the skin behind her ear. The softness of cheeks born of eternal spring. A strand of wine-coloured hair fallen on her dress. To take register of these is robbery. As if any beautiful thing in the world exists only in lieu of another.
We’re thrown to the ground as the bus driver hits the brakes. The rubber floor breaks my fall, and I break hers. The overhead lights glint in her eyes, those garden gates. We laugh over the music, palm to nape, the chorus out of step with her pulse. How unsteadying it is to be looked at in this way, to be the object of her mind.
I hear someone hum a tune. Then the voice croaks into song, croons in a language I do not know. The overhead lights flicker then cut out and suddenly we’re in the dark, where I cannot see her fully but she is fully there.
The Cleat Hitch
From his office, he could see it. His “office,” of course, referring to the building he worked in rather than one specific room that was his, because James Benjamin Plopper did not have an office to himself. He worked in a small, gray cubicle near the center of the 10th story of the 12-storey building that his employer Gregor & Gregor Associates occupied. His specific cubicle was a small, monotone, and cluttered thing, with neither memento nor affection. It was also located underneath a perpetually running vent fan that kept his desk and surrounding space roughly 84 degrees all year round. But when James Plopper did get up to walk through the uniform rows of cubicles and underneath the indecipherable and pointless low level drone that filled every office in the world, he would reach a window. A window that let him look out of the building, across the street, and into the Port where it sat. Where She sat. Anytime he got up, be it to go to the bathroom, to a meeting, to arrive or to leave, he would detour past the window so he might see her again. Martha’s Weekend. A 50-foot-long ketch that floated unused, forever unused, in the water of the harbor. It was the most beautiful thing the 53 year-old Information Technician had ever seen. In the 21 years James had spent working for G&G, the craft had been his constant companion, his constant obsession; an obsession that grew with each day. In the 21 years James had spent working in the dull, tedious firm, it had never once moved. He knew nothing of the owners, of who Martha might be. Sometimes, in his frequent day dreams where he piloted the boat out into the great blue horizon, a Martha would accompany him. Sun-kissed and with night black hair, she would laugh—genuinely—at his jokes, her bright white teeth flashing brilliantly. But that was only occasionally. Long ago he had abandoned any prospects of meeting a woman, of knowing one. He knew such things were not for him. Typically, it was just him and the ketch, him and the water. A coworker walking past broke the reverie and he walked back to his small desk and watched the emails pile in. Two hours until his lunch break. Two hours of gray. James closed his eyes, and thought of the wind.
He pressed the walk button, again, and clutched the top of his lunch bag in his fist. Each day he only had 45 minutes. Each day it was never enough. The stoplight turned and James hurried across the street, breathing in deep the salted air that embraced him. Making his way to his bench, not 150 feet away from the craft, he sat down, his knees pressed together. James ate mechanically, not tasting the baby carrots or mini pretzels as he stared out at the boat, drinking in its details, savoring its curves. It was a crime, he knew, to leave such a beautiful ship tied down. To design something so masterfully, so purposefully, only to let it sit and rot. To never let it feel the glide of the sea’s waves or the swelling of the wind. It represented all that was wrong and evil about modern life. To be able to see, but never experience. To imagine, but never understand. The touch, the feel, the sensations, all unknowable. To tease that things beyond this existed, to even fathom them, but never know. No, it wasn’t fair. He bit into the cold turkey sandwich and swallowed without chewing. He watched her bounce on the harbor’s gentle waves, and imagined himself on the ship, sailing it deep into the heart of the sea, so deep that neither land nor other vessel was in sight. He felt the wind against his skin, the scratch of the rope in his hands. He felt the ship rock and buck smoothly beneath his feet as he piloted the craft with skill and assurance. Then, his watched beeped. As always, it threatened to drown him. Instead, James stood up, threw away the tinfoil and two now empty baggies that once contained his meager lunch, and walked back to the office.
The afternoon, with the lunchtime trip to the boat behind him, crawled by in an agonized, defiant, pace. His phone rang and he answered it. Emails rolled in and he ignored them. He stared at the infinite rows and columns of spreadsheets. At quarter to two, he stood up and walked to the rest room, detouring each trip past the hallway window. Tied down, trapped. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t natural. He returned to his desk, and thought of how the rope might feel against his skin.
It was getting dark by the time he left the office and the Port was clogged with people. Smiling couples and running children opposed him. His eyes lingered on the ketch, but only for a moment before he left. It was wrong being there when other people, other pretenders, filled the Port. It was a violation. Keeping his eyes out into the thin blue horizon, James waited for the bus, and shuffled on when it arrived. The only open seat was next to a sleeping and rank smelling homeless man on the false side of the bus, but it was better than standing, where the other passengers would see him, would watch him. He sat unthinkingly till the bus reached the library. Getting off, he made his way into the building and through the shelves via a route known by heart. The book was there; it was always there, no one other than himself ever checked it out. A further indictment, James knew, of those around him. The Annapolis Book of Seamanship, the original 1983 edition. He refused to read any guide polluted by such things as GPS, or worse, “apps”. Only the man, the craft, and the sea, as it was meant to be. Tucking the book underneath his arm, James made his way to a self-checkout machine. He was loath to interact with the Librarians, ever since that one—how long ago was that now—had spoken to him, impinged upon him.
You know, you could just buy the book…
The words came to him unbidden, and he shuddered. Flipping to the back cover page he examined the antiquated index card system of checkout that the old book still wore. His name was stamped on it. It was the only name stamped on it. Stamped again and again. J A M E S P L O P P E R, 198X, 199X, over and over. Sliding the book across the machine, he heard it beep, and then he went home.
His apartment was dark, save the one lamp beside him. He pored over the book. Why didn’t he just buy it? The question had haunted for months when it was first put to him, before he finally found his answer. As he read through the guide, he envision himself completing all the steps, all the actions it outlined aboard Martha’s Weekend, only the sea around him. The answer had proved to be a simple one. He did not own the book because he did not own the boat. Both could only be reserved for a short time before they must be returned. One, four weeks. The other, a lunch break, a view from a window. Neither were his. He flipped to the next chapter, already knowing every word of every page by heart. He practiced the knots on an old length of rope and pretended to snap rings and locks into place. He rocked back and forth on his heels and bent his knees as though the floor moved with the waves. The apartment was utterly silent; he owned neither television nor radio, and certainly not a computer, save for the old, broken and hidden away PC that had once come new with Windows 3.1. Time passed, and he knew it was drawing near: the confusing sensation that stole over him every night. Dread at the encroaching workday and its assured tedium mixed with the excitement of seeing Her again. He closed the book and went to bed. James lay in the silence, in the darkness, but his mind was on the craft, and the craft on the sea. He was on the sea. Where a man could prove himself through himself alone. Prove himself in a place free of legerdemain and societal ukase. Only the man, the vessel, and the water. The fates. The waves bore him off to sleep and James Plopper was free, free.
The alarm raised him up, and he stared at the ceiling. Shower, coffee, brushed teeth. He went through them, but none held any meaning. None of it was real. It was a gray and dull morning that waited for him as he waited for the bus to take him to the waiting gray and dull cubicle where he would wait for the day to end. The bus arrived with a screech of brakes and whiff of polluted diesel. He boarded, and felt a small relief as he spotted, and hurried to, an open seat by the window on the true side. From there, he could watch the sea and would be able to catch a glimpse of Her as the vehicle pulled to the stop outside of G&G. He sat in silence through the entire ride, his eyes glued to the endless blue that seemed immovable even as the bus raced along. The bus drew near and he could already begin to hear the tinny buzz of the overhead lights that awaited him. Then, it happened. First he felt the confusion, followed by the doubt, and the dismissal. When those faded, he felt fear. Dread seizing his heart, James Plopper scanned the Port again, and again. A fourth time and a fifth, eyes tracking wildly. Could he be mistaken? Was he misremembering? No, no. It was gone. She was gone. The ketch was not there, only a stark blue absence. Martha’s Weekend, his constant, loyal companion, was gone. His hand pressed up against the filthy window. Completely, irrevocably, gone. The bus lurched beneath him again; he realized he had forgotten to get off at his stop. It didn’t matter. He didn’t care. He sat on the bus in shock till it returned to the stop nearest his home, and he stumbled off to his apartment, to his bed. When he saw the book sitting on his nightstand, he picked it up and hurled across the room and against the opposite wall. It fell with a thunderclap.
He lay in the darkness and in the silence. When his phone had rung for the second time, he answered and told them he was sick. Though it had taken over a full work day, he was surprised that they even noticed he was gone. He wouldn’t even care if they fired him. The ceiling fan above him spun slowly and he watched the blades go and return, go and return. The pangs of hunger had stopped bothering him some time ago, and he was content to lie. He slept on and off, not keeping track of the time or anything else. Was it gone? Could it truly be gone or was it just a mistake on his part? No, he knew it was gone, taken from him. The sea, the struggle, the glory, all of it was a lie. All of it was nothing but an invention. The literature tried to tell him that, but, like a fool, he thought he had known better. Gone. The only one, gone. The only one.
The only one.
The thought made him open his eyes, abruptly, and then it made him laugh. And then, it made James sit up.
The bus stopped at the 24-hour superstore, and he went in. It was 2:11am. He walked to the hardware section and purchased the longest flathead screwdriver they had available, and then he waited for the bus again. The nearly full moon was gleaming and his spirit was high. The bus came and when he boarded it, he sat on the false side. The Annapolis book sat in his lap next to the screwdriver, but he did not look at it either, instead keeping his eyes pinned to and probing the dark and impenetrable buildings and alleys that made up the formless cityscape. Pinpoints of light from windows pushed out of the blackness like a new thing striving to be born. His stop arrived, and he disembarked, turning his back to the city. Then, only then, did he gaze upon it. The sea, the sea, in all its magnificence. All its true majesty. The city and its geometries were behind him; now it was only the sea. He walked down into the Port slowly, leisurely, examining the ships that lived in it. Each one was new and different, as though they were offerings from the sea herself, newly washed up just now for him and his examinations. In all of his time, James had never once looked at any other ship other than Martha’s Weekend. Not even once did he spare a glance for anyone but Her. But she was gone now, she was free. And if she was gone, if she could be free, then surely…. He spotted one that was suitable, and decided. It was another ketch, close to the same size. He guessed the waterline length to be just under 40 feet. The hull looked to be mahogany. He ignored the ship’s name, purposeful to not see or read it. Such things, he knew now, were frivolous, unneeded. Such things could only serve to bind him, and he would never be bound down again. Stepping over the rope that made the modest barrier, James walked out on the pier, and then stepped onto the ketch. When it dipped gently in the water from his weight, he heard himself laugh. The moon was bright, mercifully, wickedly, bright, so much so that he could see everything he was doing without issue. He took a deep breath and smiled at the saltiness that filled his nose. Setting the book down, he used the screwdriver and began to pry open various compartments, pulling out the once hidden materials and instruments that awaited him. Accounting them all in his head, he knew he had everything he needed. They were all there; it was time. To his delight, James found it was easy, natural even, to begin rigging the craft. He didn’t even need the book. Though it was his first time ever, the years, decades, of practice, of mental imagery, guided him. The motions ran through him as though he were a programmed automaton. Rolling out the halyard, he found its head and attached the shackle. The night was beautiful, illuminated, and silent. The waves were the most dulcet melody he had ever heard. Hanking the jib on the forestay, he wondered why he hadn’t done this years ago. The jibsheets were ran, and attaching the mainsail to the halyard, he secured its tack. All the years of email, of sitting, all for what? Only out here, he knew, was anything meaningful. Only here could it be real. The mainsail slugs snapped into the mast, and he cleated the halyard. It was time. It was finally time. He untied the cleat hitch, and the vessel was off. The wind was with him; the sails filled and the black waves licked playfully along the side of the hull. The cold spray wet his forearms and face. James stood tall, and let out whoop, something he had not done since he was a schoolboy, but that did not matter. Not out here, where everything was wild and free, where things were as they appeared, where things were only themselves. He turned and looked back at the city, but did not wave. Laughing again, he knew with how strong the winds were it would fast fade from sight and memory. The sea was with him, the sea was for him. It was all with him. The rope was coarse in his hands and in his palms as he steered the vessel out into the emptiness, and he ran it against his face and neck, delighting in its rough touch. All true stories about the sea ended in failure, in death, he knew. Mishima, Melville, Hemingway. It could be no different. The moon, silver and enormous, hung in the water, a promise.
My Father’s Body
by Wale Ayinla
is an open door. the creaks of the wood, the soft wine
of dayspring lavished on concrete. the skin surfacing
summer heat. maybe the body is the morning light,
the azure of the ocean I am named after. the bay
that leeches. look how I smell of his wild gentleness,
his mouth all over me. a smattering of dark waters
inside my veins. his face, an apology. his silence,
a silver lining—a knife that undoes me. I will pretend
to be my father. the shelter of broken things,
the vanishing. his face, my vowels. the shapes of time
are responsibilities of the dead. how many squares
make a reliquary? in this context, I am the compass
cast upon a pond, the cardinal of ghosts that do not
hunt. the body is also a funeral. I am afraid of running
in this theatre of nightmares. I’ll be the chrome,
the loneliest chapel. I erect a cathedral of sounds
for a throat. sore praises gather towards heaven.
a confetti of my Savior’s dark owls sent into the sky:
“Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani?” the voice cushioned to a
makeshift hollow. somehow, the body is also
a resurrection. the dead is never dead until its scent
becomes the soil you walk upon. the bridge
of migration. the dead is also abstract, the roof torn
down by morning crows. my only inheritance.
Categories we fit in
by Rhea Dhanbhoora
that is unsown, unseeded, dormant, barren: all best suited
to discuss land and time and such.
Yet so accurately also, its definition denotes the current state of an ethnoreligious minority
that you know nothing of: though I would not use it to do so.
that is pretty antlered animals of the Old World, light brown coats
interrupted by white dots, the subspecies I mean, Persian fallow
hidden behind tall blades of grass: best categorised as near-extinct.
Yet so accurately also, its status describes the current state of an ethnoreligious minority
that you now wonder about: though I would not use it to do so.
by Tina Morganella
Stresa, Lake Maggiore, Northern Italy
Jeff glanced across at Dana thoughtfully as they walked alongside the lake. He put his free hand in his jacket pocket. There he felt the velvety square box that held a diamond ring. He knew she was expecting a proposal. Dana seemed to dress carefully for every dinner out and hold his hand tight on moonlit strolls afterwards, gazing at him expectantly. But two weeks into their three-week holiday, he still hadn’t asked the question.
They came across a street-side lemonade seller who also, of course, sold tickets for the ferry. In front of them, Lake Maggiore lay snug between the Alps, and the ferry lugged tourists around the tiny Borromean Islands scattered across the water.
Dana smiled but, gently cynical, raised her eyebrows at Jeff. “How convenient. You know it’s probably a scam.”
Jeff kissed the top of her head lightly. “Sweetie, I’m sure it will be fine.”
The lemonade seller, having depleted his repertoire of English during the sale of both lemonade and tickets, continued to smile while they hovered for a moment, looking for the wharf. He waved them on and encouraged them to keep walking, to the right, right, over there.
They followed the esplanade until they came to a cluster of piers, and then spotted a modern looking ferry with the logo matching their ticket.
“See, sweetie,” Jeff said, smiling, “perfectly fine.” He ran his hand lightly down her long elegant neck and the length of her back. She remained cool in the strong sunshine. Her hair fell neatly, behaving itself, tucked behind her ears. Always so composed, she could have been mistaken for a ballet dancer. His hand brushed her bottom and she flicked him a small smile. He pulled her closer and stooped down for a fleeting kiss. Jeff was tall and slightly lanky, his face covered with a vague stubble ‒ not quite a beard. His skin was noticeably white, but he was already flushed in the warm mid-morning.
They had made languid love during hot afternoons. They had paused to kiss on bridges, fed each other gelato, and intertwined fingers during banal moments on metros.
Yet, although he did love her, he couldn’t seem to propose. The words fluttered around inside his mouth, and the appropriate phrases linked together and made sentences. But when he had to issue them, when he opened his mouth, they vanished. Instead he would take a sip of Aperol spritz, or a mouthful of gelato until the squeezing in his chest eased and the moment had passed.
In truth, a seed of doubt had lodged itself inside his stomach and was now beginning to sprout tendrils that choked the trellis of his ribcage.
But perhaps the romantic Borromean Islands could dispel the doubt.
Their ferry driver started calling for passengers to board for the first island stop: “Isola Madre! Isola Madre!” He was brown and brawny with closely-cropped grey hair.
There was a ramp leading down to the ferry but it was over to the side, out of vision. A middle-aged woman, portly with a floral shirt, bright pink lipstick and sensible sandals tried to clamber down the concrete retaining wall and slipped awkwardly. She hit the ground with a thunk and rolled, close to falling off the pier. A muffled and collective “oh” from the crowd. A few even stretched out their arms, as if to help. She might have cracked her head open on the concrete bollard, holiday over. But she clambered up awkwardly, embarrassed but cheerful. “Oopla!” The pink lipsticked mouth spread wide.
Jeff rolled her eyes at Dana who shook her head a little in return.
The stoic ferry driver didn’t bat an eyelid but seemed to grind his teeth. He shook his head just a little and simply pointed to the ramp, meters away. The rest of the passengers went the long way around, following the line of his finger, like sheep herded by a farm dog. The lady who had slipped was still smiling, still dusting herself off and dabbing carefully at the beads of sweat on her forehead, trying not to wipe off her make-up.
Safely on board, they heard the motor roar and the smell of petrol fumes quickly filled the ferry cabin. Jeff and Dana sat close together, just inside the doorway between the interior and the deck. The wind was brisk and spry on the water. The motor took up all the available noise. Jeff put his arm around her shoulders, her small hand rested on his knee. Her blue skirt ruffled in the breeze, his fringe fluttered, exposing his forehead.
Isola Madre was essentially a five-hundred-year-old garden. But before being able to walk the grounds and visit the fairly modest palazzo, visitors were first forced to walk through the gift store. Many lingered too long here and regretfully came away with tea towels and ceramic plates that they had to haul around with them the rest of the day. Confused birds responded to the call of crackling plastic bags.
Jeff and Dana slid their arms around each other’s waists and made their way around the island perimeter. They bumped against each other, silent and content. Jeff was careful to keep Dana on the ring-free pocket side. On one side of the path was the lake, on the other side every botanic specimen imaginable, from all corners of the globe ‒ palms, hibiscus, rhododendrons, camellias, wisteria, palms. Through the shrubbery they spied bright birds and a gentle peacock.
They approached the palazzo which stood in one corner of the island. For a 16th century mansion, it looked surprisingly homely and welcoming from the outside. The paintwork was peeling a little, the window shutters were a friendly blue, and there was a small balcony in a sunny spot. Outside the entrance was a tremendous cypress tree. The detailed sign in front of it told them it was the Kashmir Cypress ‒ the largest in Europe and over two hundred years old. A freak cyclone had knocked it down a few years ago and the rescue mission was still underway. A helicopter had dropped a crane onto the island soon after the cyclone, and the crane was then used to lift the tree and replant it.
The tree stood bravely, bound by cabling on all sides. Hooks sunk firmly into the ground carried these cables, taut and rigid. There was no attempt to make the cabling discreet. It criss-crossed the surrounding area so that visitors had to be careful to duck under or step over as appropriate. The tree was flush with bright green new leaves, but they seemed to droop a little and rustle nervously, irritated by the slightest breeze.
Jeff and Dana stood there for some time, looking up at the tree. He admired the resilience of nature. Eventually it would thrive again. Hopefully. There were no guarantees, but the signs were good. The branches looked frail but stable, the trunk was peeling bark but it looked solid.
Jeff stood back and carefully framed the canopy in his camera lens: click.
Dana snorted. “What an appalling waste of money. For a tree! It’s pretty disgusting really.”
Jeff was silent. There was only bird chatter and foreign voices likely having identical conversations, pointing at the tree. Perhaps she was waiting for him to agree, to laugh, to shake his head in agreement. But instead he slipped his arm from around her waist and started towards the palazzo.
No photographs were allowed inside so they had to commit everything to memory, if they really wanted to. But it was impossible to register every painting, every gilded cornice, painted flower and ribbon, the parquetry, the antique furniture, the mosaic, the inlaid wood. There were rooms of antique dolls and theatre sets, macabre and dark now.
Dana and Jeff wandered in and out of rooms separately, creaking across floor boards, coming together, separating again, exchanging looks and tired smiles but sharing very little else. Sight seeing required patience and vision. The ceiling ornaments were there for sheer beauty, just for their own sake. Did they look up?
“What a privileged and absolutely hedonistic life they led,” Dana said, shaking her head. They were making their way out of the palazzo and back to the ferry, bound for the next island.
“Sure, but it still would’ve been a hard life.”
“Oh yeah? How?” Her tone was sceptical.
He didn’t answer. Instead, he paused, letting her walk ahead. He held up his camera and told her to say “cheese”. Looking over her shoulder she crinkled her eyes against the sun and cocked her head without smiling. Click.
The palazzo on the previous island seemed quaint compared to this beast. The Borromeo family had resided here for centuries. Among their members, there were a couple of bishops, cardinals, diplomats, a viceroy and even a saint. They had hosted aristocrats and kings, and once had to accommodate Napoleon who had given very little notice of his arrival and consequently irritated everyone before he even got there.
There were four floors of baroque architecture. Tapestries, a music room, furniture, portraits. There were silver and gold embellishments on ceilings, doorframes, cornices. There was no reality here – no toilet, no kitchen, no toasters or kettles. Just lavish four poster beds and antique marionettes. Jeff wondered where the mundane things of life had occurred.
Other tourists around them whispered superlatives: Magnificent! Incredible! Astonishing! Dana and Jeff wondered through blindly, unmoved. Each was preoccupied with their own humble thoughts, and frankly they had seen half a dozen such palazzos already.
The grotto, however, did pique their interest for a moment. Six rooms on the bottom level of the palazzo were decorated floor to ceiling with mosaics of shells, and black and white pebbles. A cool sea-themed escape for hot Italian summers. Vaulted ceilings, archways and columns, all picked out in shell and pebble: underfoot, overhead. Neither an outside nor an inside room, people often smoothed their palms over walls and sniffed, looking for the ocean.
“Well, this is something else,” Jeff laughed.
Surprisingly, there was just the two of them. The tour group that had dogged them throughout the palace was still swirling around upstairs. She sidled up to him and ran both hands up his chest. “It is deliciously cool down here. And strangely romantic don’t you think?”
Laughing, he replied, “Erm, not really. It’s just a bit too weird. All this fake stuff made to look like it’s natural.” He fleetingly thought back to the resuscitated cypress, coaxed back into being a real living thing again. She still had her hands on his chest and reached up for a kiss. She ruffled his fringe, which he hated. He resisted the instinct to pull away sharply.
“Well,” Dana said, “it was romantic enough for a royal wedding. That was only a couple of months ago. Right here. Imagine that.”
She hugged him close and muffled into his chest. “A Monaco minor royal and one of the island’s ancestors ‒ something Borromeo. Imagine, this island belongs to someone and they can have parties on it whenever they choose. Well, they had the actual ceremony on another little island and the reception was in the castle in Stresa, so, not exactly right here, but … you know. What an excessive life! I mean, it’s disgusting, of course. But a little bit romantic too. What a beautiful place for a wedding.” She followed that with an indulgent sigh.
She pulled away to look at him again for a moment, smiled, then kissed him again, perhaps a little more passionately than she usually did in public places.
His heart beating, he caught her hands in his, to prevent them from finding the box in his pocket. He was looking intensely into her eyes; green, flecked with gold. She looked back at him with innocence and calculation. There was a shimmer of tension in her gaze – that passion that lashed as well as caressed.
Now she was fingering the lobe of his ear, mouth slightly open, breathy and sexy. She wanted something in return, but he was surprisingly unmoved. This is crazy, he thought. In a bizarre grotto, when the tour group could come gabbling through at any moment.
“Honey?” She was still smiling but she was questioning him too. “What are you thinking? You look unwell.”
“Nothing, nothing. Let’s get out of here, it’s creeping me out.” He grabbed her hand and pulled her swiftly to the exit. Outside in the open he took a big lung-full of air and lifted his face to the sunshine, eyes closed.
“Are you sure you’re ok?” She looked concerned but annoyed at the same time.
“Yep, yep. Let’s go catch the ferry to the next island. I think I’m done here.”
Isola dei Pescatori
On the ferry to the next island, they sat next to an angelic looking boy, maybe two years old, with caramel skin, big brown eyes, and shiny dark hair. Jeff smiled at him and the boy glanced downward, bashfully. The boy fidgeted with his hands, his feet rubbing against each other. His sweet face was open and utterly without guile. Suddenly, his father swept him up in a big hug, all the while tickling him on the tummy so that the boy squealed and screamed with laughter. So much so that the boy’s mother hushed them both, half laughing, half annoyed.
Jeff studied the boy and his father with envy. He found himself smiling involuntarily and turned to Dana. “What a sweet boy”.
She was staring at the family too, but her mouth was tight and drawn. She gave Jeff a tight smile but looked away sharply without responding. A family required a marriage first, according to Dana. In fact, she insisted. Again, he subtly smoothed his hand over the box and frowned.
They pulled into the small harbour. This island was touted as a fishing village retaining its original charm. What it turned out to be instead, was a lunch and dinner venue. Café after restaurant after café had taken up residence in any building that might have once been a village edifice and the owners were cheerfully exploiting uncomplaining tourists who were hungry and thirsty.
Jeff and Dana strolled around the village in a perfunctory way. They held hands but that was perfunctory too. Dana still looked cool and calm. Her oversized sunglasses and large brimmed hat protected her pale skin. Jeff’s cheeks were red, his neck dappled. Their palms were sweaty together and he let go of her so that he could roll up the sleeves of his shirt. The day had started off so cool, but the sun in such a cloudless sky was relentless. His light jacket was vaguely silly now, but it was too risky to take it off.
They found a lakeside café on the far side of the island and waited to be seated.
He braced himself. Surely now was the time. Otherwise, they’d be off the island, back on the early afternoon train to Milan, and then on to Naples the next day, then later to the airport and home. Everything ‒ the future, a marriage, the perfect child ‒ seem to recede along kilometres of train track. He had to quash that doubt once and for all, that seedling of doubt which had turned into poison ivy, clambering past his ribs, up into his throat and closing his airway.
The manager showed them to a table as close to the lake as possible.
“Somewhere in the shade please,” Jeff said.
“For goodness sake, why don’t you take off that stupid jacket.”
The restaurant was half empty. The manager tried French first, then English. She was jolly and keen to explain their specialities. Of course, the fish was fresh, without question. She smiled at each of them and took the time to ask them where they were from, and how long they were in town.
“I like her,” Jeff said as she walked off. “She seems really nice.”
“I think she’s just a good saleswoman,” Dana replied.
“No, she was interested in us. She speaks at least three languages. I wonder if she lives here or just commutes.”
“Who cares?” Dana was irritable now. No denying it. And she seemed upset and annoyed. There was a vague sense of disappointment about her. Suddenly, she appeared to be in a dark mood. Just like that.
They were silent when the antipasto arrived. Silent too, while they ate their main course.
The manager came around again. She put a hand on the back of Dana’s chair. “All ok? Another bottle of water? How do you like the wine?” Jeff thanked her. All was well.
“See, she’s lovely,” he said.
“Honey, you are a tourist. She is a restaurant manager. She does not care one bit about you and whether you really like the wine or not. We’ll move on shortly and we’ll never come back, so whether we have a good or a bad experience is moot and she knows it.” All this she threw across the table with a high-pitched voice.
“Well, if we have a bad experience, there’s Trip Advisor…” he started to say, smiling slightly. But he trailed off quickly as Dana first glared at him and then coolly surveyed the lake, arms crossed. Conversation finished.
For the hundredth time he closed his hands around the box. This didn’t exactly feel like the right time. The poison ivy squeezed and choked, new fronds were unravelling and taking hold. Not even the bread would slide down his throat anymore.
Around them the restaurant started to fill up. He could hear the manager behind him, seating another young couple, German. “Ah, I only know a few words in German,” she told them. Luckily, they were key words from the menu and they were able to order three courses with no trouble at all.
The manager glanced at Jeff and Dana as she passed by; Jeff saw it. She glanced at them and then looked at the small queue starting to form at the restaurant entrance. She frowned at them for just an instant. They had only just put their forks down but Jeff saw her nod a waiter in their direction, to clear the table.
“Nothing else?” the waiter asked. It sounded very much like a statement rather than a question.
“Two espressos please,” Dana told him, without smiling.
“Sì signora, of course.”
He came back quickly with the two coffees. And the bill.
All of a sudden Dana burst out with exasperation, “God I can’t stop thinking of those palazzos. It’s so disgusting. All that wealth, all that money, when people were dying and starving. Back then, imagine how the poor lived, how hungry and dirty they must have been. And the prince or cardinal or whoever whooping it up at that ridiculously long dining room table set with that ridiculous blue and gold dinner set.”
Now he felt sure she was just picking a fight on purpose. Carefully, he said, “That happens today too, sweetie.”
“Not like that,” she countered. “The poor these days don’t lead such cruel and tortured lives. The rich were so self-indulgent back then!”
He thought of the very expensive, enormous diamond ring in his pocket. He looked around, taking in the idyllic view, the wine on their table. He reflected on all of the shopping they had done ‒ so much Armani and Ralph Lauren that they’d had to buy another suitcase. He considered all of their lavish dinners, their afternoons sipping pre-dinner gin and tonics in five-star restaurants, their constant upgrading, their expenditure on museums and galleries and exclusive tours, and he remained silent.
Jeff thought too of the homeless man whose address was by the gelati shop they’d visited three times in four days back in Milan. The homeless man would sit absolutely still and quiet, hat in his hand resting casually on his leg. He would gaze silently out at the busy street, avoiding eye contact, sitting perfectly still.
The manager walked over a cloying but empty smile. “Do you mind if I give your table to someone else?”
“Oh, yes, of course, we’re finished.” He hurriedly left the appropriate cash, with a tip, and got up to leave.
Dana, moving much more slowly, deliberately, just raised her eyebrows at him and smirked.
Dana had been right. Jeff saw the interest extinguish in the manager’s eyes. She no longer looked at them but past them and certainly she had nothing else to say but a forced “Goodbye! Yes, thank you. Goodbye!”
There were two people seated in their place before they had managed to clear the restaurant.
Jeff looked out across the water and felt a strong impulse to throw the ring into the lake. But he might need it still. Today had just not been the right day.
Their ferry was approaching the wharf back at Stresa. They sat apart now. Dana had her arms crossed. Her face was tight and her lips pursed. He sat beside her, awkward, his limbs folded up on the crowded boat. The other passengers were weary and quiet. There were rosy cheeks, deep contented sighs and heads resting on shoulders.
Dana suddenly turned to Jeff and in an apologetic voice, but without the apology she said, “I’m just so tired and over it all. It’s been an exhausting holiday. I mean, we’ve done a lot, haven’t we?”
“We have. I know.” He nodded, understanding. Perhaps he felt the same. Neither of them said sorry. What was there to be sorry for?
She tentatively took his hand and laced her fingers through his. He covered both with his other hand and gave her a brief smile. It was an uneasy truce to an unvoiced argument.
The sun glittered on the water and the surrounding peaks were dusky and close. As they neared the shore, Jeff looked again at the rundown palazzos he’d seen earlier in the day. There were two, side by side, right near the shoreline. Two stories, grand houses with tall shuttered Georgian windows, stuccoed embellishments and Romeo and Juliet balconies. They were abandoned, ivy growing through gaping windows that looked like open wounds. There were frescos on one of the houses, gargoyles on the other. Both houses faded and chipped. The contrast between the island palazzos and these poor creatures was so stark and shocking that it made Jeff sad to look at them.
They climbed off the ferry and stood on the wharf for a moment, awkward with each other.
“What shall we do now?” Jeff asked.
She considered things for a moment. “Let’s just call it a day and go back to Milan.”
They arrived at the station just in time for the early train. Once again, Jeff put his hand over the box. It was wedged between the seat and his leg, digging in uncomfortably. He would be glad to hide it in his suitcase again. He sat opposite the direction of travel, facing Dana, watching the tracks recede before him.
by Beth Longman
Reasons were as dragonflies, haunted by the mo(u)rning breeze
and we sunflowers devoid of meaning, (n)ever
looking back at our own knitted fields (-) life prohibited it.
We were rain, we were trains, we were (d)eluded to
Everywhere, everything, our ro(o)t.
Then paved anew, nature the avant garde(n)
Has fresh soil at l(e)ast.
Aging at Trader Joe’s
by Mackenzie Moore
At 18, I stood outside the Union Square Trader Joe’s in Manhattan, thinking the universe was in on some joke I wasn’t. The crisp October breeze cut through my thin t-shirt. People in line kept talking about how they hoped beans weren’t sold out. And toilet paper, God forbid.
Was I supposed to buy that? I’m from Chicago; we don’t do hurricanes. I bought a three pack and a lot of apple cinnamon oatmeal.
Halloween came and went, along with the electricity, so I guess it was fitting to spend the next week in eerie darkness. The showers I took were so cold they made the vessels my chest contract. My hair was shiny, and the panic in my ribs seized like the red flashing lights that screamed by, stories below. Or maybe it was just the shock of the water. I walked up 16 flights of stairs, every day—told myself stories that this is what college was: bags of wasabi peas and going above 28th Street to charge your phone. I came out of that fall a little hollow.
At 20, I interned at a publishing house near Columbus Circle, and spent two days a week on a floor that smelled deeply of fresh galleys and Xerox toner. One of the editors told me repeatedly never to eat peanut butter, “because it causes caaaan-cer.” She was British, and drew out her syllables like thick, buttery McVittie biscuits. I’d clock out and take the bus to 72nd and Columbus, ready to roam the aisles of the Josephian mecca that was completely submerged below street level—in some world, the stockroom reached all the way to the basement of Lincoln Center. I would do exactly as I was told not to: the crunchy peanut butter I bought uptown tasted like a world where you called a brownstone home.
Then, it was off to the M7 to go back way down, down, downtown. I hopped off somewhere around Houston, passed the basketball courts, and listened to my mother’s strained voicemails in crosswalks. The chemo wasn’t working—he’s trying, but, I should pray. I listened to her words as I chewed through my spicy seaweed sheets, flaky edges trailing behind me in the wind. My contrition went with them. We were all distraught, but me praying wasn’t going to do anything—glass of water on a forest fire, you might say. I just kept getting on and off the M7 until it was time to get on a plane. My grandpa loved the tamari soy sauce crackers; I don’t think my Grammy threw them out until a year after he’d passed.
At 21, after work, I’d walk to one of three different Trader Joe’s in Culver City—a pedestrian on sabbatical in a city of motorists. The one on Motor, in truth, let me down: one particular Wednesday found me voyaging the two miles home, only to unwrap the broccolini to find it covered in verdant bugs. Their downtown location took it back the next day, sending me away with a bag of consolation avocados instead. It was a drought that summer. The trade was more than fair.
I ate them sitting on the counter with a spoon; no one in the sublet cared, let alone remembered my name. The only grad student who did remember it was M-A-C-K, not M-C-K, was gone most of that summer—all she asked was that I move her Prius for street sweeping. It wasn’t lost on me that her cupholders were littered with old Fiji bottles.
At 23, I witnessed the opening of the Murray Hill Trader Joe’s, thinking 32nd street finally had its own miracle. Maybe, some central hub had been excavated where I could stock up on Lara bars to eat while I was half-asleep in the mornings, catching the train back to midtown from Astoria. I spent too much of that year in my boyfriend’s apartment; we made polenta and I drank Allagash like water. I felt safe; it was a paring close enough to love.
But I couldn’t put up with 32nd Street forever, let alone a few months. It was a nightmare: big attitudes, concealed only by even bigger crewneck alumni sweatshirts. Everyone was shitty about lines. I returned to doubling back to shop at 14th Street, knowing full well I’d lose another hour, and that I’d crash into sleep before we even made it through the opening credits of 30 Rock. My boyfriend was disappointed, but the cashier on nine knew when I was having a bad day. I couldn’t say as much for the other side of the bed. The distance between us grew.
At 26, I’ve had three years to figure out the same tiny Joe’s sitting quietly below the hills. From my spot on the taped off-line, I study the new emergency exits—which aren’t so new, but feel that way. We all remember when they weren’t there, before the shooting. Add in the mist of cart disinfectant, and the scene is both unrecognizable and completely familiar. In spite of everything, I still feel at home under the fluorescents. My consumption of hummus wraps remains the steadiest barometer I have to date. The trick is always reaching to the back of the case, and finding one with a date that indicates the cilantro hasn’t fused into the doughy lavash yet. In times when nothing sits right, I keep shoveling these down. The bland bean paste, amongst other things, caulks the holes.
by Norman Howard
A cave is in the dead fly, its entrance stuck in a rainbow of iridescent gray – like a little star in the sky. The insect is only a hole long abandoned after being emptied. The Spider has left its wings glued to the web, as they rot transparency into yellow and close the tomb unto the corpse. Nevertheless, the castle remains hungry. The Queen goes back to her throne and waits for her next Visitors while caressing the venom in her tongue, burning with desire.
The table is wide and thin, fed with the nothingness of the place it watches. It is the heart of the labyrinth to her domain layered with lines and mist, invisible to the eye, black glimmer to her prey. The Queen has built it with great pleasure. She prides herself for her own portal of hell, one that is much more than the last ring in which she resides. Beyond, as far as she wants, an immaterial, pulsating wall makes the corridor to her inevitable in the life of the lesser creatures in her realm, only postponing the disruption of the final wire, the one that cuts time with unclosing wounds and that protects the pulling spiral beyond the webs as the place of the unimaginable dungeon. Before that, the blade is total: the razor descends undisturbed for the mortal necks there sedated. To be afflicted by this scheme is inevitable; her infinite veil continues unrelentless, like if everything was part of her mischief and all movement an illusion of safety, nothing more than a incomprehensible reach for her mercy, or, after being denied, a reach for escape that grasps only her needle limbs. Life, as it is revealed, is false; crawling a secret tunnel to the dazzling light and then falling into the abyss of fangs in her smile, kissing and spitting fire. All movement is useless as it is further falling into her throat. Everything is under control by her void eyes that see you coming closer, forever.
The silence must be unbearable.
A new Visitor arrives, struggling with the chains until he surrenders exhausted, turning off the light in his body. The Spider sees this with patience. She carefully bides her time waiting for the creature to think ‘I must not concede’. Then, she rapidly bathes the captive into bondage with her sword color ink, essence of every thread. The prisoner is aghast by this fate, this attack. It revolts against it, in any way he can, as if this was its real purpose, to fight and resist this tormentor. But this is useless. The Queen is impenetrable. The real fate cannot be bribed by virtue of struggle. The insect’s role is defeat, and its last experience is this coffin that hugs it, that tightens its grip deep into his being, flattening it null. Suddenly, with great affliction, it realizes the infinite weight of the darkness that has got hold of him, it bitterly recoils by his helpless gaze that cannot see the full extension of its hovering tentacles. She, if completed its casket, should be quick to strike.
By the time the ritual is complete, the vermin must be consumed by horror.
The insect screams through the sky with all his will, driving out a torturous noise that rapidly dissipates amid the maze. Its body is constantly being electrified. It can’t control itself with the impotent cries its weak incarnation exudes, it almost can’t support its own mind anymore in the face of this delirium. The insect feels like if he was never so vivid, like if its soul was never so strong, and still, it feels the pain of obeying this desire to win, this hope being rammed down its throat. There’s no hope. The ardor in its throat is a dry invasion of the self. The total absence of light leaves a hole that is incapable to be fulfilled, but that relentlessly, mercilessly yearns for it. The insect wants to gouge its own eyes and rip apart its own skin — it wants to live.
They — The Spider and The Visitor — have repeated this act from time immemorial with renewed hope and pleasure in every repetition. They revel and continue with the most scabrous passion. Their hearts beat with fire, their eyes are white with lust as their loins push and amass a pearl of hunger, of hunger fueled struggle to be, and hunger-like, orgasmic agony to crush.
Shortly, the stage is set. It, sickly, feels the creature coming as the hummer of a greater shadow piercing his exhausted awakeness. It can’t do anything about it. A faint no. The Queen vomits its acid into the prisoner. She sucks its head in glee. The center of the web eats, things become nothing. The structure is cleaned from the mud. The carcasses and wings afloat hollow in the unmovable darkness of the castle.
Her belly stays numb.
Another Visitor arrives at the bay, though this time, it flies free from the Spider’s fog. Her fangs giggle and moist, certain of the creature’s fate. “Even as the Visitor escapes first”, the Spider thinks, “he will come back, someday, as he has to”. The Queen has no doubt about her power: she knows that the place in which she plots and traps is the end total, the hive of the force that pushes. Every traveler must come home one day. She knows her position to be that of no real duel, but only clockwork. She has no adversary to defeat. “I must only be patient so that my time will come”, she smiles with malice.
Each guest is a new step at the dunes of time, one that the Queen must seize. No hour passes that is not a pyre for the eternal hunt. She looks outwards into the looming tunnel, waiting for her loneliness to be disturbed. In the great night of her world, she hides in the cold star of her throne, contorts into another spike of the jagged circle, singing the song of a spider mermaid. “Soon”, she defies.
But this time, the Spider is confused.
A new Visitor seamlessly comes. It sees the illusion. It is not attracted or repulsed by it, it goes forward by its own force. At the web it closes its wings and lays its back against the trap, it holds tight the lines as if it was sand. It rests with its eyes closed.
“What is this?” The Spider moves to it, overcome by impulse. “This demon, what is you! Why are you intruding in my dominion?”. She opens her arms as to form a cage around the menace, already mad, with her words coming out as an abyssal roar. The Queen has never confronted such a foe. This fiend has no spike in its armor, no trance in its eye. At the Queen’s last verdict, at her approach, it only nods. An amicable I have not abandoned you, I am not your prey.
She breaks in fury. The castle is open, the silk is foul. Everything crumbles before her.
“This is not your place! You are a beast. Go. You don’t please me.”
I do not fear. I have decided to put an end to this affair. You are something that I must want.
The Queen, impenetrable, lifting her claw to her rebel:
“Obey! Do what you don’t want to! Cry!”
I do not obey you or me. I have made peace.
Spider tongue. The clangor bursting flames through the web, with a last order:
“Flee from me so that I can catch you!”
It is me who catches you.
She strikes. Pouring out of it, honey. A monstrous honey.