When I get to work I leave my guts on the curb. I won’t need them inside. So I scoop them out like ice cream and pile them up next to the others. They’re all pretty similar. Some are darker. Some emptier. I notice mine are heavy and fragrant. I can’t place the stench. But it reminds me of ground beef and sour cream.
When I leave work I find my guts where I left them. A few crows were just about to start chowing down. I caught one in the belly with the heel of my boot. Then I stuff my guts back in the best I can. I feel better already. There’s sunlight for the first time this year. The vitamin D from the light turns my blood into wine. It’s been too long. I start sweating. Quickly soak through. I fumble taking my coat off and almost trip crossing the street. Catch myself against a bench. An old woman walking a cat laughs at my reaction. I nod knowing it’s deserved. I thank her. I thank her cat. Both of them still cackling as I slip down the street.
1.) His brother was shot by the police while trying to break into his own house, drunk, very late at night, using a hammer he had found in his shed. The shed had not been locked and he had looked around in the dark for something blunt and heavy and settled on a small hammer which he then used to crack the glass and pry the shards free of the window. When the police arrived and shouted at him, he threw pieces of glass at them while they told him to drop the glass, the hammer. He was shot several times. He was awarded a settlement. He uses a wheelchair.
The leash of red foxes scampered from the community garden and crossed the paved bike path into the low-hanging forsythia along the riverbank. The foxes didn’t even notice the stag beetle making its way to the garden across the blacktopped path, but the last fox had upended the beetle, which now lay on its back looking into the heavens.
The beetle treaded air and screamed into the void, “INSECURITY PROBLEMS????”
The worm crawled through the earth and the darkness and the disgusting grubs that sometimes got in its way on their own beautiful way to flight and broke through into the light of day.
The worm was listening to Biggie.
“Fuck,” said the worm. “I’ve made all the wrong friends.”
I’m high as balls and my cousin is doing 90 around the f-zero highways I’m a little worried cuz he’s really ripping the pen but His tolerance is way higher than mine which also worries me but in a way less immediate way
I’m not sick of McDonalds even though we’ve had it five times this week. Every night someone pours the biggest bag of cheeseburgers onto the kitchen table, and no one has noticed when I stack three together. I will sneak a box of fries and eat them lying down on the hardwood, with my heels pressed high against the dining room wall. It’s been kind of like a slumber party, except for the tears, and the three week time span. I guess it’s more like summer camp. When they aren’t talking about blood results, or how hearing is the last thing to go, they whisper that mom should stop singing Garth Brooks all the time, and how it’s pathetic that my godmother starts drinking at noon. She sleeps in my bed and spilled red wine on the comforter. I sleep in the basement, which is okay because I’m able to sleep better when the TV hums in the background and I get to talk to my cousins until really late. I haven’t cried yet, mom said I will when it’s all over. She said sadness hits people at different times and can creep up on you now and again.
“Like what?” I look at the kitchen doorway, but Mom isn’t there.
I’ve lived with my mom for sixteen years, but I still can’t predict her words or actions. No one can. Mom was born a lefty, but my grandmother tried to make her right-handed. My grandmother’s attempt was among the first of many to change immutable things in my mom. They all failed. Mom mounts a hostile resistance to other people’s ideas of what’s right.
Andy and Mike sat at the ends of a table, boots in the air like planted flags. The table a plethora of bread dust and cheese crumbs. Roschachs of coffee and wine. Bored little pillars of salt. Service was over but the smell of it remained on the cloth. Andy and Mike finished their cigarettes. They watched over the restaurant like kings. Stock bubbled away. Waiters slept in the linen closet, burred into white sheets.
Mike and Andy didn’t talk. They stared at the walls. A single artist decorated the restaurant. The painter was sleeping with the Maître d. Their portraits were all of spherical blue people reclining. They filled the restaurant with Rubenesque Smurfs. Mike examined a tattoo of knife scars. Andy flexed his boot. Inside were blisters already filling up with blood. They smiled at one another. Smoke trails chained them to the chandeliers. They picked off shattered melon fragments from their faces and hair. They picked it’s hard dinosaur skin from their whites.
When the boy grew tired of pirate stories before bed, he asked me to tell him a rock n roll story.
But it’s gotta be a little bit scary, he added.
So I told him about Black Sabbath.
Once there were these four lads from jolly old England, I told him, his room dark but for the red flickering glow of a spaceship nightlight. Good blokes, hard working dudes all. They were playing the blues, playing that heavy rock n roll in a band called Earth. But they weren’t having much luck.
After a Saturday night gig somewhere out in the moors or the swamps or whatever they’re called over there—foggy, anyway—their van broke down at a crossroads in the dark, moonless hours of the morning.
Dang this, they said, or something similar but British. They were bummed right out. They thought about throwing in the towel on the whole music thing, going back and spending their lives in the factories, losing the rest of their limbs piece by bloody piece.
Katie’s elderly aunt slept in the sun while her dad recited Red Fox punchlines, trying but failing to keep his voice down, although the remainder of the partygoers, resentfully sober 7th Day Adventists, retreated from the heat into the house where a gray bearded man in rainbow suspenders twisted up a miniature zoo of balloon animals. I couldn’t tell if it was the beer, the sun, or the air of religious judgment, but I began to feel dizzy. I tasted metal. There was a buzzing in my ear and my head felt like it was full of cotton. I caught a whiff of hot maple syrup, then putrefying garbage, both from an unknown source. Katie’s dad’s topic of conversation shifted from Red Fox to Rudy Ray Moore. I excused myself from the table. I opened the sliding glass door and was hit in the face with a delicious gust of cool, dry air, as well as a burst of excited voices. Sitting cross-legged in a semi-circle, children squealed in delight as the balloon man manipulated his cache of multi-colored latex, while the adults focused on gossip. I located the bathroom, closed and locked the door, and splashed cold water on my face and neck. I rinsed my mouth with water from the bathroom faucet. I could hear the screams and laughter and electricity of the party on the other side of the door. I didn’t want to go back out there to all of those faces and mouths and teeth, all of those ears and eyes. I flicked off the light, sat with my back to the AC vent, and decided to take a nap. If they wanted me, they would have to come and get me.
will never graduate from The Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He has a feather in his cap, but doesn’t have a PEN. He has (surprisingly) a roof over his head, but has never been in residence. He sometimes socializes, but has never had a fellowship. He knows a guy named Grant, but has never received one. He’s been called a MF, and an A, but doesn’t have a MFA. He professes to be (or not to be) these things, but he’s not a professor. He never says never. Less can be found at LinkedIn & SoundCloud.
the drunken mess of my little brother dragging him home in the night away from the party he had become militantly comical screaming in the faces of other party guests and laughing in a strangely glottal way i had never really heard from him before his breath humid with beer and wet cigarette butts his torn military jacket faded
This time, Mom got drunk first. In a pink cat-embroidered sweater, she delicately opened the Beefeater, like it was one of those antique music boxes. Dad watched from the doorway, grinning, flipping his mug in his hands, still pockmarked with paint from our chores yesterday. This was breakfast.
Hours later, she’s driving. We were off to the races today. She’s singing but it sounds like she gargled with gravel instead of Listerine. Her red nails clacked on the dashboard. Dad’s fumbling to light their cigarettes. It was a sunny day and the light cut hard into them.
To be honest, and I know you’re going to think me an apologist, but I didn’t mind them this way. I mean, was it healthy? Of course not. I will say this though – they made sure I was fed, read to, and had good shoes to wear. The drinking never hindered their jobs. They just liked to have a good time. Maybe a little too much, but it was days like this that they really let themselves go. If we were going to the races – they loved going to see the horses – then they were going to have gin instead of coffee, beer instead of apple juice.
I remember on this particular day that I wasn’t really enthusiastic about going though. The night before, they got me a Super Nintendo – I was the last kid in my class to have one and I was looking forward to finally playing some of the games they talked about. But, they said, I was still too young to be at home. I almost made the suggestion that I could stay at home and watch the alcohol for them, babysit the beer, made sure it didn’t run off somewhere. But I swallowed hard and said sure. They assured me we wouldn’t be gone too long. Just to the races. Just long enough to throw some money down.
Mom was usually the better drunk driver of the two, but today, something was amiss. She had swayed slightly on the turnpike and got honked at by a tractor trailer. Dad laughed the first time, but when she did it again a few miles later, he chastised her.
“Debbie,” he said, “quit driving like an idiot.”
She pouted slightly, held her cigarette like a dignitary. “No one’s driving like anything. I just want to get there.”
“The track will be there,” he said. “Let’s make sure WE get there.”
She huffed and looked in the rearview. “Sweetie, you good?”
I nodded. I was daydreaming about saving Zelda. I was doing the math on how many drinks they would be having at the track – the more they lost, the more they put down. I looked up and saw Mom still staring through the rearview.
“Fuck,” she said.
Dad turned. His open mouth spelled it out – red and blue lights. Not the first time, not the last time.
“Well, you’ve gone and done it now,” Dad said. “I should have driven, goddamn.”
“Stan,” Mom whispered.
“Pull over,” Dad said. “I’ll talk. You’re slurring like a goofball.”
The sun highlighted their faces and I remember thinking about how old they looked, how in the kitchen just an hour ago, they looked youthful, like they had just met at a school dance. But now there’s wrinkles, curves, spots where things like gin and bitters hide, and it made them look so alien – like they were a monster that couldn’t scare anyone or anything. They looked like old dogs that would hang out at gas stations and bake in the heat. It was sad. I remember that so well, and what happened next is something I could draw on any canvas with any instrument.
“Well, Stan,” she said, as the cop car whooped behind us.
“Oh, Jesus, don’t you even…”
“Wanna bet? We can make our own race.”
“Awh, hell, Debbie…” Dad smacked his face. The white paint was still on his knuckles, caught in his hairs. He couldn’t even wash his hands properly. But they always knew to make more ice. It’s weird – we notice the talents in people and they never notice it themselves.
“We’re only two miles away,” Mom said.
Dad sighed. He smoked his cigarette. He looked back at me.
“Hey. You know how you like going down hills in your Radio Flyer?”
Dad smacked his lips. “This is the Radio Flyer. And we’re going down together. You ready?”
“Sure, Dad,” I said. “Whatever you say.”
Mom took that as her cue. She sped down the road. The cop raced, too. Here we were – the two finest steeds of our time. Galloping. For glory and honor, for that sacred finish line, for the purse, one for the money. Two for the show. Not everyone can win. Mom clacked her nails on the dashboard some more and Dad sat, clutching his seatbelt, smoking away, like he had intentions on finishing the pack right then and there.
I know what you’re thinking – about me and them. I’m not going to say they were the best parents ever – far from. But they were mine. I had to hold onto that. There, in that spot, as a kid – I had no choice but to stay tethered. I wasn’t sure where else to go. I wouldn’t be sure for a while. Just had to accept it.
We picked up speed. It was such a gorgeous day. I pretended I was in my Radio Flyer, like Dad said. We glided past trees. I felt like I was going to win. I couldn’t think about anything else. I imagined my name in the newspaper – and the thought warmed me.
Kevin Richard White’s fiction has appeared in Hobart, Rejection Letters, X-R-A-Y and Hypertext among other places. He is a Flash Fiction Associate Editor at Barren Magazine. He lives in Philadelphia. His Twitter is @misterkrw.
We found your car in a ditch at 5 AM. Kevin’s truck illuminated your Saturn sedan covered in band stickers. Smoke leaked into the summer haze. The lights were off. Tire marks carved into the soggy earth. Auto liquids saturated the plush grass in burgundy. Kevin jolted out and bounded the hill, going No, no, no. Your door was stuck and dented inward. Your lifeless body slumped into the passenger seat. Your head smacked into the glass. Blood on the tan dash like mold on bread. Brown beer bottles all over the back seat. CD jewel cases busted and snapped on the floorboard. Lukewarm KFC chicken half-eaten in the cupholder. You know how laconic Kevin is, how much he can handle. When I heard his deep-throated scream, I fell to my knees. We knew that night it was on us, fuck. We didn’t hold you back. You always were an Aries.
On the internet I saw a freelancer say that a piece they wrote for a few hundred bucks “fucks” and I thought, when did we go from slaps to fucks?From the jump, I should disclose that I was a teenager in the 90s, so while attempting to solve the riddle of the new slang, my thought process was like this: I remember Ol’ Dirty Bastard (ODB) saying “My beats are slammin’ from the rugged programmin’” on his classic track “Hippa to da Hoppa,” and slamming, as an adjective for something that kicks ass, probably comes from fucking, because, well, fucking kicks ass. Other than slamming, we’ve got the RZA dropping “It’s bangin’ son, I said it’s bangin’ son,”on the intro to the Method Man cut “What the Blood Clot,” and banging obviously comes from fucking, right?
So now I’ve got a bit of a blind spot because, you know, the whole 90s thing, and I’ve got kids, so I’m paying attention to this slang, and I hear people talking about shit that slaps, and that’s probably referencing skin-slapping-skin-mid-coitus, and naturally, why not just go ahead and say that it fucks because ever since the 80s and 90s, when we were listening to Wu-Tang and talking about slamming and banging? We were always just talking about shit so good it made you want to fuck.
T.L. States lives in Tucson with his wife and kids, and he’s got marvelous shit at ‘Hobar’t, ‘The Daily Drunk’, ‘HAD’, ‘Rejection Letters’, and other places. He’s got a fledgling Twitter presence as @epmornsesh
I’m watching an old movie on my bed, holding my laptop close to my face to hear what the characters are saying.
It’s loud outside.
My apartment has no air conditioning or heat. But the weather is that breezy hardly-noticeable kind so my window is open and I can hear everything going on. The party down the block. The weekend traffic on Pacific Avenue. And the homeless man digging through the dumpster right outside my window.
Once a week he’s been doing this, since I moved in a month ago.
I know this because every time I hear him I have this fantasy.
A fantasy about getting up the guts to talk to him.
I will discover he is actually a genius and that he wrote the greatest L.A. novel of all time. But lost it in a house fire that also claimed his wife and children.
After the incineration (his words) he took to the streets and started garbage sifting– just as a form of therapy at first– but then discovered it to be the purest form of artistic expression. An art form that he would then pass on to me.
After getting paid, Goya drives to Walmart hoping to purchase a gun and spending an hour looking at guns and picking one out and filling out all the necessary paperwork and handing her background check to the clerk.
“So, it will take a week for the background check to process?” Goya asks the clerk.
The clerk turns the forms to read them, and he makes little reading sounds under his mustache, and his eyes go back and forth across the paper, and he breathes a deep breath in to his mouth and out through his nose.
“I can tell you right now that it probably won’t pass,” he says, turning the form around and pointing to a checked check box that reads, I have been diagnosed with a mental illness. “They cannot sell guns to people who have been diagnosed with certain mental illnesses.”
“Okay,” she says, taking the paper from him and walking through the parking lot to her car and driving down the highway and pulling into the parking lot of a different Walmart and filling out another background check without checking the box called, I have been diagnosed with a mental illness.
My Tupperware™ container of used batteries is a constant source of anxiety I’ve been putting batteries in it because they aren’t supposed to go in the garbage, but the container is almost full now
I think they can be dropped off at City Hall or a school—some sort of institution, an institution where they have the solutions to these kinds of problems Unfortunately, I haven’t been to any institutions lately I serve no institutional purpose; I have no institutional knowledge
When the time comes, I’ll probably just dump the batteries in the garbage Or maybe I’ll recycle them Yeah Putting batteries in the blue recycling bin almost seems eco-conscious But if batteries don’t belong in either the garbage can or the recycling bin, is one choice better than the other? Is one decision less destructive? There is something to be learned here of intent
I guess I could try the composter— try composting the batteries for a million years Maybe Green Peace would laud my dedication; an NGO committed to keeping batteries out of landfills would be founded in my name
Let’s be real, though When I inevitably throw the batteries in the trash, They will meet their landfill fate They will marinate in the soil; their acid will mix with Earth
But until then, I’ll feel good just having them right here in the Tupperware™ container on my table It’s like I’m saving the world a little
Have you heard about the great bristlecone pine? It’s the oldest living thing It can grow to be, like, 5,000 years old That’s what it felt like when I met her Like something 5,000 years old was suddenly alive
I said, “Describe his apartment for me”
I was a detective of depressing facts You were a criminal of nothing You told me you’d hooked up with him, and I thought you were joking
I said, “Describe his apartment for me.” And you said, “He has these shitty leather couches.” That’s when I knew you were telling the truth
My eyes-wide are boring holes into this pallid glass of orange juice in front of me. I hear him -the pancake dude – but I cannot break my vision away. My drink has netted itself into tiny ripples, vibrating from the buzz of the restaurant. Tiny clumps of pulp bob up and down like buoys in salt-water sea.
There are waiters waiting for the old grey dying couple to choose their 2:00 PM dinner. Bus boys carrying plastic grey tubs of dirty melamine dishes into the sink sloshed around with soap, just to be slopped up again with eggs and sausage or chicken and waffles. His voice is a tiny speckle in the boisterous breakfast spot.
“So… was that a short stack?” I look up. Pancake Dude smiles, but he’s annoyed I haven’t answered him yet. Thick black dreads line the back of his scalp. His calm skin claims an innocent mind. He is older than me, but I have seen more than he ever has. I resent him for this.
“Just the 3 is fine.” Mom finally answers for me. Tight jawed. Furrowed brows. An almost convincing smile. “Let me put that right in for you, ok?” Pancake Dude takes our menus. Stephanie is sitting next to mom, twiddling her hair into her fingers. Around her thumbs, across the tops of her hands, and back again her brown curls move in the conveyor belt. We sit unspeaking in these unpleasant vinyl booths. I can’t believe they still make vinyl booths.
Now that I think about it, nobody has spoken to each other since last night. Mom is dancing with sideways glances, trying to catch a glimpse of sadness or tears on our faces. She won’t look us in the eyes though. She feels responsible. Which is and isn’t true.
I look up from the table and catch her staring at me. She clears her throat and pretends to look behind my head, at the clock on the far wall.
Hair into fingers, around her thumbs, across the tops of her hands, and back again.
Mom holds her cross pendant in the palm of her hand.
Breakfast tastes like sour milk and sugar. Nobody wants to go home.
Dad’s favorite song comes on as soon as Mom’s engine turns over. She slaps the radio dial mute with the heel of her hand. I think he was trying to reach out and pull her down into the speakers.
Mom turns to us and puts her finger up to her lips right before she lets us out of the car. “Don’t wake up your dad, ok? He’s sleeping upstairs.”
My breath instinctually becomes more shallow, quieter. I think maybe only I could hear the difference, but I wasn’t willing to take the chance. Steph and I slowly lower ourselves to the ground and unlace our sneakers with patience and precision. Socks stay on; bare feet squeak on linoleum floors. We become methodic in our movements. Don’t step on that floorboard, it creaks. Open the cupboard, but don’t let it slam. I even see mom gently placing her purse on the countertop. We are tiny, uneasy guests in our own house.
Aunt Joyce is already there when we get inside the house. She’s cast out any trace of evidence from the night before. Dad’s favorite chair is right side-up and back against the wall where it’s supposed to be. Our floor lamp is gone, but so is the broken base and shattered bulb. She even replaced the repugnant smell of Jack Daniels with Lysol, and a peppermint candle. Everything almost looks normal. It feels as sterile as a hospital, but it’s better.
The only thing Aunt Joyce didn’t manage to cover up was the immense gouge of freshly chipped paint and cracked gypsum board in the wall. I can hear the yelling and screaming again as I start to think about what happened. I stare at the dent in the wall until I don’t see a dent anymore.
Mom makes us dinner as usual, and Steph and I watch Nickelodeon after, as usual. The white dent seems to have eyes. It twists and turns in my peripheral vision. Morphing into a disfigured face; something foul and unearthly. I don’t think Steph can see it, but I know it’s there.
Aunt Joyce is helping mom clean up in the kitchen. I can hear their whispers over “Legends Of The Hidden Temple”, and the sound of plates being put into the dishwasher. They are being too loud.
“Are you sure you and the kids are safe here, Lisa?” “Yes, of course. He’s their father. This has never happened before.” Which, of course, is and isn’t true.
Tip toe up the stairs. Brush teeth. Put on clean pajamas.
Mom folds the sheet and blankets underneath my mattress the way I like. Usually being strapped in snug is nice, but tonight it feels like a cage. She smiles at me and kisses me goodnight, but lingers on the bed for a bit.
I close my eyes, turn to the side and feign sleep. There has been so much silence today in rooms full of people. I don’t want to spend another single minute like that. Mom leaves. I stare at the glow-in-the dark planets on my wall.
I reach out to touch them and trace the stars.
I think about the dent.
The door creaks, and light spills into my room. The noise immediately wakes me up, but I do not move. I don’t move. Don’t move don’t move don’t move.
His breathing is so heavy, and loud. Careless, clumsy footsteps approach my bed. My eyes are shut so tight. I try to relax them so he won’t notice, but I can’t help it.
“Hey bud, are you awake?” I smell the bite of alcohol from his breath as he stands over me. It burns my nose, but I don’t move. If I don’t move he won’t know I’m awake.
He ruffles my hair, hapless and sloppy. Tries to shake me awake. I don’t want to be touched. I know what he did and I know who he really is. I want him away so I can sleep. My head screams. My body screams.
“Jack?” Mom calls him from the master bedroom.
Dad stands over my bed for another minute before leaving. I think he’s looking at the planets. We look at the planets together, apart. I don’t notice him and he doesn’t remember me there anymore.
I think of my mother.
The taste of sour milk.
I feel the dent with every step he takes away.
Ryan Westmoreland loves reading, artisan cheeses, and napping. Her work has previously been published in The Tiny Journal & Beyond Words Magazine. Find her at twitter.com/reeltuffcookie
Didn’t much matter where we ended up because it was always the same faces doing the same things with the same people and the same perspectives. Not much happens when nothings going on.
(practice in dialogue and realism just to make sure we could still do it). Tony asked what Callie’s favorite star was. Unprecedented conversation.
“Star Wars?” Callie said.
“No, just Star.”
“I don’t know any stars.” “You don’t know any stars? Of course you know stars.”
“Name one star I know.”
“Okay,” she said.
“Okay,” he repeated.
“So the sun’s not your favorite star?”
“No, the sun’s not my favorite star.”
“Then what’s your favorite star?”
“I don’t know I haven’t really thought of any of them. The North star? I don’t know that’s a stupid question.”
“Of course it’s a stupid question.” He paused to let that sink in before bringing the conversation back to his answer. “The sun is my favorite star.”
“It keeps us alive. All the other stars don’t even really matter.”
There were three other conversations happening around the table, one staying true to the well-worn subject of Star Wars and which was and wasn’t the favorite films from the series. While nothing of any substance could ultimately be added to the exploration of fandom, it was a conversation that would continue until the end of the universe despite, recycled for as long as the medium of film continued to exist (and maybe even past that). Someone tried to interject themselves into Callie and Tony’s conversation, but came up stopping short.
“If all other stars don’t matter, then why did you ask the question?” Callie asked.
“I wanted to see what your answer would be.” Tony said.
“Well of course it’s the sun now that you explain it. What am I supposed to say? The one my Dad bought my Mom for Christmas?”
“Your Dad bought a Mom a Star for Christmas?” Mikaela asked. (interjection interstitial).
“We all did. It was a family gift.”
Eventually the conversations would collide upon Garrett asking Tony what his favorite Star Wars film was. Someone handed around a plate of cocaine. Kyle did a bump and handed it to me. One in each nostril just to make sure it worked. Later we played some house music. Kyle played three or four tracks and then Garrett played about the same and then I played a few more than that and then Kyle played again for a long while, maybe an hour. I played once again later, but only after Kyle came and got me and told me to.
Fourth of July was coming up and someone offered the idea of the group of us camping instead of staying in town like we’d already been doing for weeks on end. The same thing we did every day. It didn’t need to be special, but living at the beach might just end up making the day worse. A series of differing opinions, but ultimately group consensus decided the best thing to do would be to do what we were already doing, either Tony’s house or Kyle’s house or maybe the beach.
The party ended around midnight. It would be just about the same again.
KKUURRTT is the author of ten books of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
I have this special power random people give me free food
This lady I was sitting next to at the bar ordered chili cheese fries She did not seem like someone who ordered chili cheese fries. She looked to be around 40 and took care of herself perfect white teeth She asked me if I wanted some of the fries
I said yes and she asked the bartender for another fork. She asked if it was weird sharing her food with me
My friend and I laughed and said it happens all the time.
The fries between us. I poked them with a fork and took a bite. Got drunker talked
in walks the biggest douche bag in the world Alone, wearing designer clothes and a big diamond watch
The biggest douchebag in the world sat up at the bar next to my friend. ordered wine, asked a bunch of questions about the year of the bottle and shit
he worked his way into our conversation And once that happened the conversation was only about the biggest douche bag in the world
He told us he went to Africa and started his own mining company He wanted to impress us The mine collapsed and 50 workers died He had to flee Africa and lost a bunch of money He was upset about lost money He really wanted us to know how upset he was
We all just nodded along But I couldn’t anymore I said, “man, yer like the biggest douchebag in the world.”
My friend slapped his hand on the bar counter and tossed his head back laughing The lady giving me food giggled The bartender bent over, covered her mouth, her hair drooping over her face, she twirled around and quickly walked away
“What did you say?” said the biggest douchebag in the world. I repeated with a dead stare, “I said you are the biggest douchebag in the world.”
His face got red.
“what … you can’t say that to me.”
I took a big drink of my beer then said, “yup, sure can. Just did.”
I ate more fries I closed my eyes
The fries hit good with spices. The cheese so gooey and warm The beer so cold Tasting like exotic berries
I knew I would never drink this beer again I did not know what kind of beer it was. I don’t know anything And never will
My brain swam in the warm electric pool of an afterglow acid tab Smiling mermaids as brain cells Don’t bother me
“You can’t talk to me like that. You need to show some respect.” Oh I’d forgotten about the biggest douchebag in the world. I opened my eyes Turned to him “Bro, nobody cares about your problems. Get the fuck away from us.”
It got quiet.
The biggest douchebag in the world left without finishing his wine
The chili cheese fries were gone now
The lady next to me put her hand on my shoulder I felt the tips of her nails softly pressing into my skin. she asked if I wanted to try the mac & cheese next I did
You’re in a rusty, beat-up green pickup that squeaks and sputters on a long, painfully straight highway. The lighting is orange and dusty-glowy but it’s unclear whether it’s dawn or dusk. Literal desert. Tumbleweeds. Cactus. Even in the dream you know it’s cliche. Pawn Shop by Brandy Clark plays on the radio but the static keeps cutting through so you turn the dial. Your car swerves into the opposite lane. An evangelical is telling you you will go to hell. You swerve back into the right lane and turn the dial again. Hot Girl Bummer by Blackbear comes on. The reception is crystal clear but you’re confused because the song alternates between saying “fuck” and censoring it. You feel dizzy. You reach for the can of Coke in the cupholder and take the last lukewarm half-sip left. You can’t tell if it’s half backwash or if it’s just gone flat. You see a gas station on the horizon, some townie off-brand kind you’ve never heard of. You glance at your meter and it’s far past the line for “E” but your car is still moving, lurching, running on fumes. You press the gas pedal down further and power past the station and turn the radio up. It is now playing Dance Monkey, but you didn’t register the moment the song changed because you were distracted. You visualize all four wheels falling off like caramelized sugar melting in your mouth, but they don’t. You visualize the body of the car coasting through the air after the wheels fall away and then coming down gradually several feet later as though the Earth’s gravity had been significantly reduced, but not eliminated. But it hasn’t, and it doesn’t, and it doesn’t have to because the wheels are superglued in place and spinning, propelling you forward. You glance at your odometer. Forty. A sign for the speed limit says 70. No one else is on the road. No one else has been on the road. You haven’t passed a single car since you started driving. When did you start driving? The radio cuts out and you know it’s because you’ve crossed a state border or a dimensional plane or the car is low on gas. Dua Lipa starts singing in your head. You let her. You don’t hear her voice, just a song stuck in your head. The way that downstream part of your brain hears. You see a storefront up ahead. It isn’t a gas station, but you notice you’re both hungry and thirsty. You glance at the clock on your dash and it’s 7, but you still don’t know AM or PM. You picture some vandal filling your tank in the car you leave unattended. You picture the thermodynamic arrow of time running in reverse. You remember that you can call Triple A after you get something to eat. You pull into the tiny lot for the convenience store and check the battery on your phone to make sure you can make the call later. 24%. You notice when you do this that it is PM and not AM, but by now it is almost 7:30. The lettering for the convenience store is big, blue, and unilluminated. The wiring in the letters doesn’t even flicker or short circuit or catch fire. The place must be broke. The letters say PIT STOP. The letters say REST AND DIGEST. The letters just say someone’s name, the name of someone you don’t care about. He probably isn’t the guy working the store. There is only one person working the store. He’s a pimply redheaded boy with glasses, late teens. His shirt is an ugly mustard yellow that clashes with his hair. He is reading a book by Descartes or Hegel or Wittgenstein. It is thick. It is paperback. It is oily-wet. The kind of print so fine it strains your eyes. But you aren’t the one that needs to read it. You turn your attention to the shelves. They are all the same. Red painted, wire, flat red metal bottoms. The paint is not chipped. The paint is still wet. It has come off onto the packets of chips. The packets of chips are all the same too. They are single-serving Lays Sweet Southern Heat BBQ. You count the racks, the aisles. There are six of them, they are about ten feet long, and both sides of each are stocked. Your eyes come to rest on probably twenty or thirty bags, individually. You glance at the wall opposite the cashier. There’s no clock, and the lighting is dim. There are three anti-theft posters but they all say different things and have different images. You don’t care about them. Your eyes scan higher. An official Lays logo advertisement is placed in the corner of the room like a postage stamp. “Lays: betcha can’t eat just one.” And below it and below the anti-theft posters, at the bottom of the room, appropriate eye level for maybe a rat, another advertisement with an identical logo says instead, “Sweet Southern Heat BBQ: it’s all we have.” You plunge both hands into the pockets of your faint black stained jeans. Your right pocket has a frayed hole in it and nothing else. Your left pocket has a wrinkled bill and three coins, all different sizes. You pull them out, unfold the bill and inspect the coins. They’re sticky with something. It is a one dollar bill, a quarter, a dime, and a penny. The orange tag by the first row of chips says $1.22. You grab one bag and take it to the cashier. He rings it up and the total with tax is $1.36. You give him everything you have and ask if he has a water fountain. “By the toilets, but it’s gross. Here.” He hands you a Coke, half-finished. You drink the whole thing gratefully in one gulp. It is lukewarm and it tastes like backwash, but it quenches your thirst, for now.
Lana Frankle grew up in the bay area and got her BS in neuroscience from UCSC in 2015. She is currently a neuroscience PhD candidate at Kent State University. Her short story collection, The Dismantling, was published by Gnome on Pig Productions in 2016.
The route I delivered mail in a remote area, but COVID still was here. People stayed in their houses and rarely came out, but they ordered lots of packages.
Porch pirates thrived now, and since it was fall, spiders set up webs big enough to catch me, dogs barked and growled at me as approached their houses even though I loved them, and
worst of all the bandits with black masks liked to harass me. Raccoons.
I complained about it, but all I received was a letter saying Erin was out-smarted by raccoons. It was posted on the bulletin board and everyone laughed at me.
I couldn’t afford to quit. Since my divorce, I lived in an apartment and needed this job to survive.
I removed my mask to eat my lunch and a raccoon grabbed the package that I just dropped off. I gritted my teeth.
“Drop it, you stupid bandit.”
I ran toward it holding out my dog spray out. The raccoon joined two others and ran toward the woods. I lost too many packages to porch pirates and got letters of warnings. I would like to add some men who lost packages did not receive any warnings. I chased the raccoons.
I turned the corner and one of the bandits threw a chicken bone and hit me in the eye. I turned and it looked like the raccoon was laughing at me. I covered my eye with my hand.
“You must have rabies?” I yelled out. It hissed when it slumbered away.
The package was gone. Another one lost. I made a partial eye patch out of some paper and rubber bands. I finished the deliveries with my one good eye looking out for the raccoons. The last delivery was for a house on a dead-end street. I didn’t even know anyone lived there, but the car in the driveway was the one I saw the girl get in earlier.
Near the front door, I glanced into the window with my one good eye. A girl was laying on an air mattress with a syringe beside her. It looked like she wasn’t breathing.
I called 911. It would take too long if she was overdosing. The window was open and I pushed in the screen and climbed into the empty room. The girl looked like a lifeless doll, I kept my mask on and tried CPR then glanced at an ID next to her. Her name was Emma. She looked like a teenager.
“Emma,” I said over and over, but she remained still.
The ambulance crew arrived and took over trying to save Emma. Someone ran out the back door. He got a head start, but a girl slowed him down and I gained on him. After a few more minutes, the man dropped the girl, turned around, and pointed a gun at me. I froze and saw my sad life fading away.
The man laughed when he looked at me. “Are you a pirate?”
“Let the girl go. I won’t tell the cops anything.”
His hand shook and the girl moaned and that idea faded away.
“What’s her name?” I pointed at the girl.
“Let her go.” I stepped forward.
“No. I’m not afraid of you. You’re just a minor threat.”
He steadied his hand and his finger twitched. He was going to kill me. I closed my good eye then heard a rustling sound. When I opened it, a blur jumped on the man as sparks flew out of the gun. I dove to the ground and everything became fuzzy, but I crawled forward and grab Hayley then we stumbled away from the scene while the man wrestled with the raccoons. I heard another shot and a searing pain in my leg knocked me to the ground. I looked back and saw a raccoon holding a gun. It sounds crazy, but I swear the raccoon was holding a smoking gun. They saved me, and yet one of them took the opportunity to shoot me. Raccoons are insane.
I limped with Hayley toward the arriving police cars. She wasn’t wearing a mask and that made me worried. When I got closer, some of them pulled guns while others stared in shock. I limped toward them with a drugged girl while wearing an eye patch and with blood pouring out of my leg. I collapsed to the ground when they reached me.
In the hospital, my eye improved but remained circled with a dark bruise. I looked in the mirror and thought the raccoons somehow made me one of them.
A negative COVID test was good news. My leg hurt and was wrapped in thick bandages. Nobody believed that a raccoon shot me, but I knew it was true. I played Animal Crossing and the raccoon in that game ran the town. After my experiences I knew that made sense.
I fell asleep and woke up to a blue wolf trying to catch a fish. I shut the game off.
Emma survived the drug overdose. The police arrested the man and explained away the bite wounds on him as from a stray dog despite what we both said about the raccoons.
On my third day in the hospital, Hayley and her mother used a tablet to do a virtual visit.
“You saved mine and Emma’s life,” she said. Her mother nodded.
“The raccoons helped,” I said.
They looked at each other and shook their heads. “Pain meds,” the mother whispered.
“You’re a hero.” They promised to stay in touch with me. Maybe they would.
On my first day back to work my pockets were filled with cookies, cat treats, and crackers.
I threw the treats out and before long a group of raccoons came out and gobbled them up. We made a truce that day, but they still stole food from me since raccoons can’t help themselves. I believe they are born to be mischievous.
The police never found the gun and I kept expecting to turn a corner and encounter a raccoon pointing it at me. No matter what its intentions are the sight of a raccoon with a gun made me shiver. That would be more than a minor threat.
William Falo studied Environmental Science at Stockton University. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The UK journal Superlative, The Raconteur Review, Train River’s first fiction anthology, and other literary journals.
In the market, even though preoccupied, I see her headed my way again, in a well-tailored black suit, white blouse with cuffs showing at the sleeves, black heels.
“What are you doing?” she says, stopping this time.
Most people out of work are beat, never curious.
“Picking out dinner,” I say.
That day, in the meat section, a small steak for $6.26 looks good, but then underneath is another for $8.08. So I have a decision to make. Have been making. Leaning.
She says, “I came back this way because I forgot nuts and you’re still here with that same two packages of meat in your hands?”
“You forgot nuts?”
“Yeah, right, I’m the one.”
I like what I see in her eyes.
And that’s how it starts, isn’t it? The ignited look—right conditions, it rages through the scrub, heads for tall grass.
“It wasn’t ten minutes,” I say. “Not quite eight.”
“If you say so.”
And that could have been it. But then, another day, deliciously eight weeks beyond, more shopping, there she is again.
I favor this store, the only one that has the proper lowest items checkout—even though it takes a longer route (4.4 miles from work; 8.2 from home) to properly get there.
I think she gets it too. I like her basket: smoked oysters, a pack of figs, a carrot juice, two-pack of brownies, pre-made wrapped roast beef sandwich, single roll of toilet paper, what looks like breath mints… and a crumpled white cup from the free coffee station at the front of the store.
(Does that count?)
She turns—looks at me looking.
I should know better but I’m getting drawn into those blue-gray eyes of hers. An edge beckons. She’s like one of those deep dark pools in abandoned quarries, where stolen cars and the parboiled bodies of teenagers end up.
I’ll skip the particulars. After I move in, we fall into routine. First eight days are great.
Neither of us is much of a cook. She uses the kitchen sink only to brush her teeth, and even then, not so often, but I like to do things right, the microwave my friend. I use one of the multiples, 24, 32 seconds depending on volume, to nuke or re-nuke. Eight more, if that isn’t hot enough.
“What are you doing?”
“You ever wonder how the mind can spiral? Loop back on itself,” she says, “so the routine becomes so credible it becomes incredible to believe one could change in any way?”
“Never,” I say, blowing on my spoon.
But she’s one to talk….
She doesn’t want loose batteries around. When the occasion arises, I have to reload a flashlight in the garage.
Speaking of cars, out somewhere, shopping or something? And she sees a dog someone has left alone? She circles the parked vehicle until the poor animal begins to bark. (If it doesn’t, and it’s time to, I stop her.)
When she wakes up and goes into the bathroom at night, she throws off the covers, gets out of bed and walks in backwards—comes out and into the bed the same way.
When she brushes her thick blonde hair? It’s four strokes down the left side, then the same, four, on the right.
I can live with that.
We all have our quirks. To be fair about it, I like to park in the same spot at work. It just makes me feel comfortable. How I start my day. Part of the set I work with.
Like when you hit eight minutes in a shower? You know, don’t you?
Maybe time to get out.
Maybe it’s what happens to any couple, together for that stretch, the feeling-out time, at the end of which you decide to keep it going or not. After say, eight weeks in, you take a long hard look and what do you see?
You see maybe, that day at the grocery was not about matched shopping methods, but instead a pedestrian chance encounter, where the compatibility you felt was a pent-up release, a transitional phase perhaps, rather than any soundtrack made from the music of the spheres.
Number two, you’re in an ice-cold garage puffing breath, changing flashlight batteries.
Number three, you sit down with eight chips, eight spoonfuls of soup and an eight-piece pizza pie because what’s eating healthy got to do with it?
Number four, you can’t believe that even if she doesn’t know that the Chinese consider eight a fortuitous number, a lucky number, a number promising good fortune—she should not be so as crass to remark, “We’re not in China.”
Number five, once you point out to her the base logic of certain numerical tidings she should definitely not smile.
Number six, you see that—don’t you?
Number seven, you see what you know now is the most important thing.
There is no number eight, so there you have it.
But you move on, don’t you? You go into to work, but you take a slightly different way. You may question the routine if not the reason, but you certainly don’t douse the baby with the cold bath water, as the saying goes.
You cut the wheel a little sooner than usual, and your heart thumps, as you swing it into the spot.
You take a deep breath, get out of the car, circle it, count each one out. Get inside on the good foot. Step it off, get it right. The new right.
And just that simple, like magic, yes like the music of the spheres, it begins the moment you see her: at the end of the row of cubicles, short black-haired, not long blonde (as if that mattered), seventh one down on the left.
What you hear is a song you hope will never end. It’s got the right beat, the rhythm to which the dance of your dreams plays out.
Jon Fain’s short fiction can be found here and there. He lies low in Massachusetts.
When Paul came in Susan’s mouth he shouted, ‘WrestleMania!’ It was the second time Susan thought about killing him. On Boxing Day Paul walked out of the toilet saying, ‘the turkey has left the building.’ His hair was damp and swept like Elvis. She wished he’d gone out the same way.
Susan spat thick like an athlete and rolled onto her side. Paul tried to explain but gave up somewhere between Triple H and 1999. He sighed and said, ‘sorry’. Susan switched off the lamp and patted Paul’s knee. She put one hand against her waist and willed him toward sleep. She didn’t need to wait long. Deep shadows rolled over them. Susan made circles with her fingers. She thought about the sea and Paul Rudd and the dead futures that had glistened on her tongue.
At dawn Susan smoked in a chair and tended to a lily. She ate dry cereal from a box, cracking down on the honey clusters. Paul snored and flopped over on his back, feet stuck out, his sounds heavy and irregular like the confused mourning of a bear. On their first date Susan asked why he was so tall. Paul told her that he was bitten by a radioactive basketball player. Susan smiled and laughed and when he said, ‘do you want to come back?’ she told him that she did, but now she’d moved in the joke didn’t seem so funny and he wasn’t as tall without his boots on.
Susan leaned back against the wall. The low sun burned like spotlights. Pressure gathered in her chest, pins and needles, vague and burning. The room was strewn with clothes and used towels. In the corner was a folded steel chair. Susan looked at Paul: flat out, grunting, helpless. A new strength rose in her. It was now or never. Susan crept towards Paul, a crowd of voices roaring in her head. She slipped back onto the mattress, ducking the imaginary ropes. Susan grabbed Paul’s leg, lifting the heavy, tattooed thigh. Somewhere behind her the referee counted: 1…2…3.
Daniel Fraser is a writer from Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire. His work has won prizes and been featured widely in print and online. He lives in London.
Frank passes by the house a second time, the pack of lithium tablets in a bag on the dashboard of the van, wondering how to tell Anne he isn’t well. The light from the porch swells outward, imitating warmth. He parks.
Anne is walking around in thin linen, floating from room to room. Frank drops his bag and makes for the stairs, head low. He feels the sweat and dirt bound closely to him, a weight that tingles.
‘Don’t change,’ Anne says, woozy in the doorframe. ‘I like you just like that.’ Her voice flicks like a tongue inside his stomach. She pours another glass of Sambuca‘to refresh her,’ she says, ‘like a holiday.’
They are on the sofa. Anne looks over at a bit of skirting board with a dead spider curled up on it like a little hand stuck trying to make a fist. Frank crinkles the medicine inside his pocket, feeling confused and sad and a little bit like “this is a problem” but one he’s not allowed to talk about because how much does he drink and besides isn’t he the one who’s crazy and WHO THE FUCK IS HE anyway?
‘Are you…?’ Frank says, with no idea how the sentence is supposed to end. Anne’s grinning, pouting, quivering her lips. Her eyes are swollen, full of aniseed and webbed dust.
‘What?’ She says. Her hand coils round the tumbler like its moulded there. She twitches out a thud of ice like rock hitting crystal or cold hitting throat. Frank shivers.
‘Nothing.’ He chews the corner of his cheek. Frank’s dad comes back from cancer, filling his brain-space with insults, calling him worthless. The voice gets replaced by a montage of drugs and childhood tears. Frank wants things to be his fault.
Anne gulps and swallows, sighing with a snake hiss. Frank smells sweetness. Anne drapes an arm across him, her white bra peaking through loose cloth.
‘You look good,’ Anne says, lilting, a slight slur, thin fingers brushing Frank’s hand. Frank wants to have sex and break up and take Anne to therapy and get a job where he can afford therapy and go back to college and kill himself. He gets up and makes pasta. Anne eats six slices of Parma ham thin as razor blades and smokes two Pall Malls with the door open. Frank takes the tablets and feels a little further away from himself; like his consciousness and body were somehow a TV he was looking at from across the room. Limbs move, mouths move. There are rooms with lights on, bodies sharing space. It all seems fine in a way that seems dead. Like a still life.
Anne kisses his neck while Frank thinks about those aniseed sweets his grandma used to suck, little red balls that spilled onto your tongue. Anne puts pressure on his thigh and pulls up her dress. Frank puts his hand under, feels the wet warmth. His grandma dies just as quickly as she lived. Anne slips away her underwear. It stays hooked on one leg like a hula hoop rolled around a belly. They have sex fully clothed, scratching and tearing at the hard places behind each other’s backs. Frank examines them both from somewhere else, his mind locked in a threesome with a slower, greyer version of himself and a woman that several drinks ago used to be his wife.
They finish and sit side-by-side, breathing heavily, staring out. Frank turns on the news and lets the world do its work, the dissolving bigness of it, the vast expanse of anything that can crush you down and make everything close seem bearable. There were wars and fires in California. It would be ok. Frank holds on to his knees, feeling them shift beneath his hands. Anne pours a drink. Outside the city makes its broken music: sirens, aeroplanes, cheering, and underneath it all a cool wind swirling, whispering with leaves.
Frank gets up and crosses the partition back into the kitchen. He watches Anne through a dark reflection in the window, a mass of hair and neck. He’s there too, an oblong of grey sweatshirt, a piece of face; all the rest of him cut off by the frame, severed by awkward angles of light.
‘The days are getting colder.’ Frank says, pulling a beer from the fridge.
‘But we’re not Frankie,’ Anne says, ‘we’re not.’ and she lights up another cigarette before she’s even finished laughing.
Daniel Fraser is a writer from Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire. His work has won prizes and been featured widely in print and online. He lives in London.
Do you know anyone named Dick? Well, maybe their real name is Richard, but they don’t go by Rich, Rick, or Ricky, just good old-fashioned Dick. If so, does it make you uncomfortable? Do you giggle when they introduce themselves?
Have you ever uttered the phrase, “you can suck my dick,” when someone irritates you? How has that affected you when someone special wants to literally suck your dick? Do you feel it’s extra degrading because, in addition to putting a vessel for waste disposal in their mouth, they are also committing an act that you previously deemed a killer insult?
Let’s talk about the term “dickweed.” How do you feel about that? Here’s what the Oxford Living Dictionaries have to say:
A stupid, obnoxious, or contemptible person (especially a man).
Not a bad definition, but thank goodness for Urban Dictionary and the user that goes by Phuqit. Here are Phuqit’s definitions, uploaded on October 11, 2006:
1) A completely self-absorbed, useless asshole with shit for brains;
2) A person so irredeemably stupid that their idiotic behavior causes pain to everyone that they interact with.
Personally, I think Phuqit knocked it out of the park with the first definition. A “useless asshole with shit for brains” has got to be the winner.
What if the person you know that insists going by Dick isn’t just anyone, but he’s your dad? How does that work? What if he rails against the vulgarity of society and how it has ruined his preferred nickname, but you really want to call your boss a fucking dick? You can’t escape the vulgarity, right? You could call your boss a cock, I suppose. “Hey, you fucking cock!” That doesn’t really work, does it? I mean, you need something extra on the back end, like cock gobbler or smoker. Even so, the vulgarity is ever-present, and guilt will gnaw at you because you know that you’re just substituting for dick, and it’s not like saying penis is any better.
Can you imagine talking shit about the boss with your co-workers, and you decide to bust out penis? “Wow guys, he’s being such a penis today.” They’d laugh you right out of the group. Then, sitting alone in the break room, watching your co-workers laugh and carry on, you’ll wonder why you even felt the need to compare your boss to a phallus. Your boss might be a jerk, but a dick? A prick? A cock? Why the insatiable urge for vulgarity? After all your dad, that guy named Dick, didn’t he raise you better?
T.L. States lives in Tucson with his wife and kids, and some shit he wrote can be found at Hobart and The Daily Drunk. He wastes time on Twitter as @epmornsesh
I need a place to stay for the night. I’m commuting two hours to school and can’t splurge on gas to make two trips in two days. I make a call to a friend. It’s been a while since we’ve talked. He answers in two rings. Before I can ask a favor, he tells me come over. My phone is dying. I scrawl the directions in my notebook.
I make the drive to Alameda, wondering how long it’s been since I’ve seen him. Just over a year. We were the last of six to move out. It’s dusk when I pull up to his house. His roommate lets me in and tells me he isn’t home. I call him.
He answers: “I just got home.”
I tell him I’m here.
“Are you telling me the call is coming from inside the house?”
I open the door, welcoming him into his own home. A good, long hug follows.
Sometimes it’s awkward seeing a friend after an extended absence. There are the people we used to be and the people we are now, and it can be hard to tell how much is left of the person we remember. Sometimes the middle section in the friendship Venn diagram gets too small to hold. Those people take up ninety percent of my Facebook feed.
That’s not what this is. This is an instance where two friends part ways for a while and pick up right where they left off. We crack jokes, talk at annoying volumes, and laugh about our failures du jour. Before long, we’re sharing books, quotes from authors who inspire us, and little snippets of our own creations.
We mack some burgs and reminisce about how we used to buy a pack of cigarettes after lectures and hate ourselves for it. It’s a reminder that we’ve grown up—in some ways.
We watch Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, Whip It, and he rewinds the movie every time we start talking even though we’ve both seen it before. He says that if he doesn’t, we’ll miss critical character development.
It’s after one o’clock when the movie ends. We watch an episode of The Simpsons. We play a card game until 3:30. I tell him we should have blown up the air mattress earlier, but turns out he has a great air mattress. It’s got a built-in pump that’s real quiet. Before long, we’re talking about our relationships. I’m no longer crashing at a friend’s house—this is a full-blown sleepover.
Why is it that a sleepover demands that all members of the party be in pajamas and tucked in bed before talking about feelings? Maybe this is a guy thing, meaning it’s likely that emotional repression brought on by toxic masculinity has caused us to only speak truthfully about love only under a literal blanket of protection. We’re older now; we’ve seen therapists! We can talk openly about our feelings, sure, but it’s just easier when we’re cozy. The moment is not unlike when, after a long day, my dog lays on his back and lets me scratch his belly. We call it a night at 5:30, but the sun is almost up. We’re well into morning.
At 9:15, my alarm reminds me of an impending phone interview. It’s for food stamps. I scramble around the room gathering necessities. My eyelids weigh heavy, but I’m awake. I walk outside and the morning air whispers you can do anything and I believe it because I’m twenty-five and I don’t know any better. The rest of the world is worried about when a boy becomes a man. Growing up in California, I’ve only ever been a dude. But after a night of friendship, I feel like a kid again.
Even though my trailer park butted against the stilted drive-in screen, the fence made it so I couldn’t see the movies for free. But I could still hear them.
The drive-in used speakers you hooked on your car window. They got ripped from the stands when the cars took off and the owner got tired of fixing them. So he put the movie sound on 89.9 FM so you could hear the movie on your car’s radio.
If you drove down 144 late at night, and listened to 90.1 FM, which was WTTX OUTLAW KOUNTRY, and you passed the drive-in, the movie sound would cut-in for a mile or so before it would fade back into David Allan Coe.
I tuned my Barbie clock radio and waited for it to get dark. I listened to the movies with my dad. If the drive-in played a movie we’d both seen a hundred times, we acted-out the scenes and lip synced the talking. We had our little adaptations right there in the living room. The drunker dad was the better actor he was. When there were new movies we hadn’t ever seen, Dad left because he was only ever interested in things he’d already seen, and I’d lay in bed listening and I’d cast my actors and paint my scenery and cut away and fade and dissolve.
In the winter when the drive-in was closed I watched my Unsolved Mystery tapes. I watched them alone and it got dark early. Some of the stories scared me so bad that I wore several pairs of panties to bed. In my mind it helped with two things: a raper would have a hard time and if I had nightmares and wet the bed all of the layers of underwear would keep my bed dry.
I tried to peek over the drive-in’s sheet metal fence but it was too high and too sharp to climb. I couldn’t sneak in either because somebody sat in the ticketbooth all night. But it wasn’t a total waste of time because I liked to investigate the sweet smell that came from somewhere along the fence. It smelled like Teddy Grahams. I sniffed the leaves and the clusters of showy flowers but I couldn’t locate it. The hot air really made it smell.
The movie sounds with no pictures and the Teddy Graham smell were what kept me from running away. They were my own unsolved mysteries.
But then I started riding around with boys and sneaking into the drive-in was easy when two or three of us girls hid in the truck bed under a tarp or in the backseat covered with a sleeping bag. Four or five of us got into a double feature for four bucks that way as long as we stopped giggling and were still. The smell of the Teddy Grahams was masked by our boozy breath and the boys’ stink of creosote and cum. We never stayed for both movies or we forgot what we saw. It turned out we made our own movies and I wasn’t missing anything I hadn’t already seen. Ours were better. I didn’t like watching beautiful people on screen try to make me feel things that weren’t really there. I liked making my own scenes.
Once I was taken out to the pastures, somehow alone with somebody. The boy said he was taking me out to podunk with him so we’d get abducted by aliens. He told me the story of Barney & Betty and I told him I’d seen them on Unsolved Mysteries and he got me all witless. We parked by some substation and he flashed his headlights over the sleeping cattle to attract the mothership. All that did was scare away the bats and attract the lightning bugs. He tried to touch me and I tried to stop him. The back of his neck smelled like raw pie dough. I smelled like the hot metal handles of a merry-go-round.
We sped through clouds of lightning bugs until their phosphorescent ooze was smashed out and covered every inch of the car. Until the car was glow-in-the-dark. Until we looked like the mothership we wanted to be taken up in.
“You ever seen Repo Man?” he said.
“No,” I said.
“Well that’s what our car looks like right now. The car in Repo Man. I hope we start flying away.”
We went faster and he turned the radio up louder. This was our adaptation.
He brought me back to the trailer park. I walked along the fence drive-in fence and found that Teddy Graham smell because the booze evaporated and the boys were gone. I could tell finally that the source of the smell wasn’t from one thing. The smell was an amalgamation. The smell was all the flowers and weeds and roadkill and trash and exhaust. I picked the smell apart into its pieces. I didn’t sense a whole anymore.
With both mysteries solved, I felt untethered but not free. I saw where I had been tied and what was used to tie me there. I thought I’d drift. But all I wanted was to find another mystery that I wouldn’t be able to solve. I didn’t want a bigger world. I didn’t want to know anything anymore. All I could do was be a mystery myself so I got wild until I didn’t know who I was. Until I was like a merry-go-round. Sort of spinning until there were many transparent copies of me. So many of me nobody knew which one to grab a hold of. I drifted and I couldn’t see what I’d been tied to anymore, at least. I knew it was still there. And here I am now trying to cut that piece away that’s still dragging behind me.
Adam is a writer and lives with his wife in Franklin, Indiana.
Everyone was milling around the lab waiting for the meeting to start when Hailey told me we were going to the amateur adult film festival.
‘You’re going to this with me and Brian,’ she said. ‘No significant others.’
Brian came up beside me. ‘Did she tell you we’re going to that porn thing?’
‘I already bought you a ticket,’ Hailey said. ‘You need to pay me back.’
We met at a bar on the north side of town. My girlfriend was working. Hailey left her boyfriend at home. Brian didn’t have to worry about it—he had just gotten out of a five-year relationship. They’d owned a house together, a Jeep, two pugs. He’d joked about finding a ring and she’d told him straight up that she would never marry him. He found a room in a house three blocks from the lab and had been living there for a couple weeks when I first met him. The ex had already bought him out of the car and the house, but they still shared custody of the dogs then. It would take an entire year to break him on that. By the time we were at the bar on the north side of town, he was drinking every day and too much, juggling three girls, and hooking up with his ex every time he went over to walk the dogs just as a fuck-you to her new boyfriend. One of the girls I never met, much less learned her name. Val was nice but all I remember about her was that she had dark hair and all of her friends were lesbians. I think Brian kept her around because she let him borrow her car. Stacy, the last girl, was about ten years younger than Brian, a few years younger than either Hailey or I. She was pleasant in a dumb way and, according to Brian, loved cocaine and sex in the bathtub.
Hailey could barely sit still, giddily leading us in a round of sexual confessions. ‘Dude, okay,’ she was saying, ‘I absolutely love it when a guy licks my asshole. Obviously I’ve never had Greg do it—’ Greg was her boyfriend, ‘—but back in college or if I knew it was going to be a one-night stand, I was always like get back there and make it happen, I don’t care if you get a disease.’
It was my turn. ‘Well, Megan is on birth control but last week she got super horny during one of those stretches where she’s on the placebos. We were out of condoms so she flopped over on the bed and shouted, Fuck it! Just put it in my ass!’
Hailey snort-laughed, sending bits of her vegan meatball sub crumbling across the table. ‘That’s so Catholic! I love it.’
Brian was making a face, a half scowl hidden in his pint glass. ‘That’s gross. I don’t do butt stuff. It’s a one-way street.’
‘I mean, yeah, with that attitude,’ I said.
‘I’ll bet you’d love getting your asshole eaten,’ Hailey said. ‘Anyway, good luck dealing with this fucking porn festival then.’
Brian’s phone buzzed. ‘Oh nice. Stacy’s here. She’s right out front.’
Hailey looked like he’d just slapped her. ‘What? Fuckin—what happened to no boyfriends or girlfriends?’
‘She wanted to go and it’s not like she’s my girlfriend.’ He used air quotes here.
Stacy arrived at the table with an oblivious smile. ‘I’m so excited! A movie fest! Wow.’ It was pretty clear Brian had not specified the style of films that would be shown. In her defense, its name was relatively benign. It could’ve been anything. ‘So, like, what’s the plan? Are we going straight there? I’ve already got my tickets.’
Hailey looked to me as if I could somehow disappear this girl. ‘We’re gonna take a cab to a whiskey bar down the street from the theater, have a drink or two, then go in.’
‘Oh cool,’ Stacy said. ‘I hope they have tequila. I don’t like whiskey at all. But I love tequila.’
Hailey puckered her lips. I hadn’t known her that long—I’d only been at the lab four months—but this was by far the angriest I’d ever seen her.
As we were paying up, Stacy got a text. ‘Holy shit, my friend is in town. I haven’t seen him since high school. Should I tell him to meet us at the whiskey bar?’
Before Hailey could protest, Brian cut in, ‘Yeah, sure. Let’s add another one.’
I don’t remember who was at fault, but we all ordered the special—a habanero bourbon that tasted like someone had simply mixed ground up pepper seeds and ribs into Maker’s Mark. The shots had us all choking. We sipped our little glasses to the bottom, complaining the entire time.
I was buzzed enough to be sociable towards Stacy. ‘So, who’s this friend we’re meeting?’
‘Oh, he’s like my best friend from back home. I haven’t seen him in years. He was like super Christian back then, basically a Mormon. I’m surprised he even wanted to come to a bar.’
When he did show up, he shook all of our hands and introduced himself as Chet, surveyed our empty shot glasses and asked the server for one of what we were drinking. He looked exactly the type of golden retriever I expected.
His shot arrived and I said, ‘Watch out, it’s pretty—’
He tossed it back. Immediately, he let out a trio of bronchial coughs. It sounded like someone had stabbed him through the lung with a screwdriver. ‘Oh my goodness,’ he said through an embarrassed smile, blinking tears out of his eyes. ‘Whew! You all did that?’
He asked what our plans were for the night and Stacy told him about the film festival. He ordered tickets on his phone.
The fest itself was fine—short films about pegging, nipple clamps, orgies, graphic blowjobs, gimp masks, a couple of narrative pieces—none of it was particularly sexy, which I think was mostly the point. Very little of it was compelling, which seemed less purposeful. Still, as each new title card flickered across the screen, Hailey would slap my thigh and stage whisper, ‘Ooh, watch this!’ as if I could do anything else.
Afterward, back on the street, Hailey was buzzing, in possession of too much blood moving too quickly, and asked if she could buy me a drink. She led our group to a crowded dive. Everyone split between trying to squeeze their way up to the bar or stake out a place in line for the bathroom. I didn’t want part in either so I stepped out front. Chet was standing next to the entrance, staring off into the middle distance.
‘Hey, man,’ I said. ‘What’d you think of the fest?’
He kept his eyes on some unknown point in space. He looked like someone had beaten the shit out of him spiritually. ‘I saw things that I will never be able to un-see. I just—I don’t know what to do with that.’
‘Oh, come on. It wasn’t that bad.’
‘Yes. Yes, it was,’ he said, getting angry. ‘It was that bad. I don’t think things can be the same anymore. I’ve seen stuff now. I don’t think I can even be the same person. I’m, I don’t know, different.’
‘Hey, take this.’ Hailey stood in the doorway sloshing the head of a beer all over her hands. ‘You need to come inside to drink it.’
I turned back to try and bring Chet inside, but he was gone, just completely vanished. I never saw him again, never heard what became of him. When I think of Chet, like I’m thinking of him now, I always imagine him happy, freed of unnecessary shame and fulfilled by his fall from grace. I know it could easily be the opposite.
Aaron Block is a graduate student at Oregon State University.
In this video (the kid says) he walks us through the foolproof steps to killing yourself. One: put
on a tune! (He puts on a tune.) The tune should not be melodramatic, but should (he stresses) stand up to postmortem analysis. (The tune builds. Synth, muted percussion. I walk around with a handglove, / shrugging my shoulders, / fucking up everything.) Two: video! Even though, well. Maybe this should be the first step? (He sighs.) Never mind! (At this a rehearsed smirk.) Three: text the ones you love. Ideally something simple. (He shows us his phone. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.) Four: turn off your phone! (He turns off his phone.) Five: attempt to kill yourself. Do your best to make it appear real! (Cross-legged on a baby-blue carpet, his back against a spackled wall. The light belongs to either an early morning or a late afternoon. The T-shirt he wears is ambiguously stained and bears C-3PO’s beaten-gold face. Now hold open the door so I can fall in. Hold open the door so I can fall in. Elsewhere, muted, someone laughs. The kid laughs, too. Then he lifts a knife from the floor at his side and horizontally slashes across both wrists.) Six (he manages): wait to be found. Do not cut too deep, if you choose to go this route. Perpendicular to the veins. Permit the blood to clot, the wound to heal. Or perhaps take pills. Less dramatic. Also less risky. (There’s no more sun, / and no more light shines through. The blood does not clot. And still the blood does not clot. He wipes his wrists upon his shirt, staining it further. Panicking, he attempts to rise, and sways, and falls upon the floor, face-first. Off-screen, muted, someone laughs. The video cuts out.)
A familiar disorientation, this. One deriving from either the original Blair Witch or any of its sequels or copycats. A human face steals the scene from leaf-littered earth. Baby face. Flushed cheeks. Watercolored eyes the same color as the eggshell fragments we glimpse above and beyond him through warm-colored leaves. His breath smokes. It is cold. “I’m sorry—” he says, breathes. “But—it’s been a minute since I’ve gotten out. So if we don’t bag anything. Sorry. Anyway.” He breathes.
But he does. He bags many and without mercy. It is a crisp fall day and couples and families are out. They fall with hardly a sound. In another sort of film, one more traditionally shot, we hear a high whistle as the man’s missiles search out their marks, a satisfying thwack as they find them and sink. In another story, the hunter’s victims scream. A group of his would-be victims forms. They fight back. A couple (either old or young, old or new) survives, thereby asserting the importance and indomitability of love. But in this film we hear only the man’s heavy breathing, the steady progress of his heavy boots crushing fallen leaves.
Colin Lubner writes (in English) and teaches (math) in southern New Jersey. His work has either appeared or will appear, temporally speaking. Recent pieces can be found through his He is keeping on keeping on.
I blew my nose this morning. I know it’s gross to say but it was a big honking load of snot. I opened the tissue afterwards, to examine my harvest. What had I reaped?
I mean, was that the locket I gave my high school girlfriend? Was that a ticket stub from the baseball game where I got drunk and fell down the stairs? Was that a ragged piece of my own body, snipped away by an arrogant surgeon?
There was this green army man I stuck in my pocket when I was eight, who went through the wash and lost a hand. I promoted him to the grizzled captaincy of my ragtag force (from Navarone). He punched a whole crapload of Nazis with those binoculars in his left hand!
A crumpled can of Natty Light, too. I bet it was from that liquor store. You know? The one you and Billy and I’d hit on the way to the “ugly” bar? We’d grab a six-pack and drink some but always donate one to the old guy slumped on the sidewalk outside. Joe. That’s what we called him, even if it wasn’t his name. Do you think he minded? Probably not.
There was a lot of sand.
Was that the sand from the beach where Jules and I made out behind the palms? Or the one where the waves slammed me down and, I think looking back, I came away with a concussion? Was it the sand from all the beaches ever, all mixed up?
Or was it just the sand from every empty lot I ever crawled through and every worksite I ever sweated over? That gray-brown sand, not the good white stuff.
There was a rusty chunk of my honor, a jagged piece of my dignity, and plenty of tarnished copper hopes.
And there was so much more. I wanted to save some of it but, in the end, I just folded the tissue and tucked it into the garbage can, pushing it deep down under other, bloodier tissues and lengths of rancid floss. Easier that way.
Still the questions linger, though. Am I the hero of this play? Or its villain?
Levi Krain rose from a clear, cold northern lake and enveloped a small midwestern city. Since then, he has moved on to greater things and now resides in the heart of Lovecraft country where he spins tales and refuses to drink the water from the well. His fiction has twice placed in The Molotov Cocktail flash contests.
There’s a hole in my eye. I don’t think people notice it but that’s probably good. It might freak them out, especially if they got close enough to look through the hole to the other side.
My good eye sees the people talking to me, clear as day, like you see me now. But through that peephole in my other eye, I can see the coming darkness. The creeping doom and crawling chaos set to engulf us all.
Yeah, all of us.
It’s not pretty. And it’s not a fun power, or whatever, to have.
“Goodbye,” I think to myself, as people talk about new cars, new homes, old girlfriends, rich husbands, medications, and jobs.
Do they notice the sad set of my mouth when they talk about their children? I hope not. I don’t want to bum anyone out. You know?
“That’s so sad,” I say to myself when they talk about the future, about dreams and aspirations. I have to concentrate on not shaking my head and pursing my lips.
Does that sound fun to you?
Plus, it’s hard knowing what to say to people. I don’t want to lie, of course, but I don’t think they’re ready to hear about the end, either. I’ve opted to be polite, like when someone asks you if their new haircut looks good or when someone shows off a new car. You say something polite, right? Even if you hate it.
So, like, when my brother told me he and his wife had decided to have children, I said, “Won’t that be wonderful.” It’s not going to be anything, of course. But I can let them enjoy the thought of it. I even smiled to add to the moment. He’s my brother.
Or, when a colleague said she was pursuing her dream of starting her own business, I told her, “That’s going to be great.” Didn’t do me or her any harm, pretending like that.
One day, my friend Frank told me how bad things have gotten with his wife. She kicked him out. He never saw his kids anymore. In a dark moment, half-drunk, he said, “Maybe I should end it all. No one would miss me.”
“No. Don’t bother, Frank,” I said. I patted him on the back, tried to be reassuring. “It’ll all be over soon.”
He didn’t seem reassured. But he took my advice, so maybe I was helpful without saying too much.
I have looked into the mirror, you know. To satisfy my curiosity. I looked closely. Right down into that hole in my eye.
I wasn’t going to tell you this but I think I figured something out. Remember when I told you I can see what’s coming, the end that’s coming? Now I think I know where it’s coming from.
I’m not proud of it. It’s just a fact. Like when you’re the fastest runner in your class. Or you did really well in the stock market. I looked inside there and now I know it’s getting bigger and there’s no stopping it, so don’t bother trying.
Well, this isn’t something I feel the need to brag about, that’s all I’m saying.
No, I’m not winking at you! Ha-ha! I’m just trying to get one last good look at you, that’s all.
With the good eye.
Levi Krain rose from a clear, cold northern lake and enveloped a small midwestern city. Since then, he has moved on to greater things and now resides in the heart of Lovecraft country where he spins tales and refuses to drink the water from the well. His fiction has twice placed in The Molotov Cocktail flash contests.
We don’t carry baggage, we carry lassos and the time has come to move on, rope someone else with our feelings, drag their nights behind our galloping will and hope they survive the long, painful cut through the mud. It’s not that I mind the gesture. It’s hard to sever ties, so we might as well start by trimming the fat before we remove the heart entirely. It’s just a picture. Two people smiling about something, with a filter that made us look like sepia gods, soaked in the sun of a beautiful, infinite day. But I can’t stop thinking about the morning of. We stopped for breakfast and you told me, in between bites of your McGriddle, that thing I promised I’d never repeat, I reciprocated and we cried, guiding our horses for another round of circling the barrels long-since filled with poison from our respective upbringings. But we drove and eventually, we parked. We found the sun and shed the greater weight for the smaller moment. For company so perfect we had to save it. Smile into your camera and preserve the day. Celebrate. Not because we found happiness, but because we’d found each other.
But fuck me, I guess.
Timothy Tarkelly is a poet from Southeast Kansas. He’s had two books published by Spartan Press. When he’s not writing he teaches English to Ninth Graders. One of them recently described his ponytail as “immaculate.”
Save for the few movie nights in my room or hers next door, or that awkward fight we had about how I wasn’t any fun because I didn’t go anywhere with her or Sarah — which made me cry for feeling inadequate as a friend, even though they lived life in a much faster lane, while I was preoccupied with depression and the kind of anxiety that makes you want to rip your skin off, even just walking across campus during broad daylight, and as a result of our different lifestyles, no one chose me as a roommate for the following year — Mindy didn’t know me all that well or the childhood experiences I had that forced me to become a shell of myself, never opening up in an unabashed, raw way, or share what I really felt or what I was really going through, or keep a journal because, deep down, I knew that my well-being depended on no one finding it, to know that shoving one of her leftover condoms (thank G.O.D. unopened) from her Spring break trip with Bill (the poor schmuck she strung along for months on end), into the plastic case holding my bed-in-a-bag, facing it upwards so my mother could see it when she helped me move out of my freshman-year dorm room for the summer, was not humorous. Mindy’s malicious “Oh, don’t forget your condoms!” as she stood in her doorway, while I made my way past her to the elevator, disgusted my mother and mortified me. Red-faced, I ripped it from the bag and threw it back at Mindy’s feet, insisting that the condom wasn’t mine, knowing the idea would be lost on Mindy that her move was a low-blow. And as convincing as I tried to sound that Mindy was playing a dirty trick on me, it mattered not. My mother’s scorn, coupled with my immeasurable embarrassment and guilt, hung over me during our short ride home, thick as clinging, overgrown ivy that never seems to die no matter how much you keep cutting and ripping.
Christine M. Estel lives and writes in the Philadelphia area. She tweets from @EstellingAStory.
On the sacred recommendation of the head chef in my kitchen, my best friend John and I traversed the breadth of Kansas state to the hum of Pink Floyd over the radio. Being immigrants, we were unfamiliar folk to the corn-sodden great midwestern expanse. For the satisfaction of our coastal curiosities, there seemed no method more appropriate to rectify this modern problem than the all-American road-trip, though in part too carefully curated with the technological luxuries of the 21st century. We bought a paper atlas, but even the desolate Black Hills are wired.
When we left the better half of Kansas City, my phone guided us to the long west. His was plugged umbilically into the aux. There was a sort of alchemic equivalency to this that seemed only fair and natural, like Newtonian physics, or well-established inheritance law. We needed direction, so we needed a soundtrack. My chef recommended the 1973 album, so we were obliged to abide.
I’m sure you’ve heard of it already, but don’t stop me. Let me have this moment. There’s the old rumor of non-causality that if you begin The Dark Side of the Moon at the same moment as the beloved Judy Garland film classic of 1939, a synergistic effect will present itself. Tornadoes tamed by screaming and brain damage resolved with basslines. Witnessing this act of alignment is something I have never done, fully intend to do someday, and lie about constantly that I already have. It’s a hyperactively celebrated rite of passage for era-hopping tab-eaters, the point of no return down the long-melting reality screen. What a load, right? Alan Parsons would agree with me. People microdose now anyhow and over-analyze these things. It’s not lost on me that we’re in Kansas. You can imagine it, if you squint.
That’s how it goes, yeah? You’ve listened to it once, at least. It always starts with a double-take. Speak to Me came in so quiet that we had to check the cable, pulling it out a couple times and blowing in the hole like bad porn or an old Sega cart. Don’t bullshit, we all do it. The only person on this Earth who never does is my chef, and I can assure you that’s only because he spends eight hours of each six days of work hitting dislike on the shop Pandora if it queues anything out of the Peter Gabriel—Neil Diamond musical range. This man is my spiritual father. Mine did alright, but I like this one’s taste in music better. He agrees that The Chain should have been the first song on Rumors. My father does not. No contest.
Rising with the track, the low morning clouds began to leak. A storm had followed us hot from the church-crack Sturgis lightning to the sweltering and sudden outpour of Chicago that soaked our socks and pruned our toes with warm, wet moisture as we hiked down Michigan Avenue. The first screams of the album welcomed in the rain and shook it like a sieve above us.
John rose from his slouch in the half-reclined shotgun seat and stiffened upright with messy angular contractions, the opening notes of a recognizable bit. Everything is a bit. His hands scrambled for purchase, slapping the center console, the right-hand handle, the child-safety lock, the glove compartment. His eyes widened, his lips tightened, he whipped his head from left to right, methodical and out of synch with the frantic ministrations of his palms against plastic. We have known each other enough, and I have yet to determine if this is social exaggeration or if this is as genuine as his anything. The adolescent textures of Roger Waters had his full attention.
The volume of falling water increased as the last chords of Breathe faded out and the driving beat of On the Run faded in. At the two-minute swell of distortion, my mouth began to creep along the edges of my face, rising up at the corners but never breaking its concealment of my teeth. The gentle drizzle had aggregated into a perpendicular firehose. The excitement in our carpeted Corolla was palpable in expletives. The death-portent of the Synthi AKS made us feel dangerous.
Around the third minute, we exited the thundercloud with the deep force bass of an airplane impact, suddenly crashing through the wall of rain and into the open sky. We were running now along the Kansas highway with the pattering fallout footfalls of the bomb behind us. With no hope of recovery from our synchronistic amazement, the cacophonous arrival of Time sealed us into a suggestible hallucinogenic state. It could only have been psychosomatic, but does that really matter? Just listen.
Sound never really dies. It exists in the aether, all around us, and under specific circumstances, it finds itself tapped and summoned. The same could be said of decades of collective hallucination, or that thing about if you crack your spine, all the acid you’ve ever taken will bubble right back up again. Nick Mason was guiding us down like Virgil through the rings, surrounded by the laughing ghosts of long-dead psychonauts and burners, all the way through to the frozen circle, where David Gilmour’s wrinkled fist punched upwards from the depths and loomed until it burst before us like a mortar.
Of a giddy shock, John pealed. I could see the little black pockmarks of his face expanding and reddening like an acidic vision. Certainly it was only the heat and our skin opened up like beggars’ hands to the atmospheric moisture, but the fantasy was fun to indulge. We spend more time dreaming about drugs than actually doing them.
Serenaded by overlapping reverb, the highway skipped us up and down, like the steady pulses of a waveform generator, bobbing us along the amps through to the sixth minute, where each respective lambda lengthened and trough shallowed until we were deposited again on level road. The grey canvas of the sky melted behind us, and Clare Torry began to scream, welcoming the reborn sun and splitting the west before us. I could catch in John’s eyes the frightened awe of God presented in the form of endless corn. She kept us tense for perceptive hours, brandishing a vocal knife and not quite sheathing it until we touched down at the bottom of the greatest gig there ever was: four seconds of silence.
Startled by the slamming registers of Money, snipping my nerves at their split ends enough for the hair to grow again, I was bumped back into the confines of my skull. I hadn’t noticed it until I pressed a finger into each eyelid that we were slick, sweating like pigs. We had finally hit the clarity threshold of the trip non-trip. If I had learned anything of the many kitchens I have fried in, there’s always a moment like this. We’d get back shortly to the shitshow, after our milk-crate smoke break. John dabbed his tee up to his blistering forehead and carded back loose hair. He was smiling with his teeth, grimacing, bopping his chin to the wicked baseline. This was the booth at the nightclub at the bottom of Judecca. John laughs. Fucking Gilmore, what a prick.
I should say here that John isn’t the shitbag that I am. He’s a good guy. Honest. His parents built their lives to take him home from school. I was emancipated for tax purposes. There’s a particular kind of insufferable that comes of prolonged close contact, and his I could love as fondness. Likewise, he chose me on the expectation that I’d offer a measure of wisdom to his developing deadhead sensibilities. I am not nearly the chaos wizard he presumes me to be, but he doesn’t need to know that.
What he did need to know is what I’d said the day before, responding to his orgasm in the dining room of Joe’s Barbeque about two hundred and thirty-six miles behind the state line. I wish I enjoyed anything in life as much as he enjoyed everything. Good food, better music. Chair cushions, air conditioning. The honest happy relish of no exaggeration. Is it the depression or is it too many lysergic daydreams and ketamine bathrooms? Am I doomed to a Charonic fate, psychopomping all my friendships through amping crests that I will never know again myself? Fuck these contemplations of a lifetime addict: ultimately futile, all the same result. I shouldn’t care so much. We’re ordering our last shots at five minutes fifteen. We’ve got to prepare ourselves for this shit, because we’re getting back into the heat any minute now. Henry McCullough tells us he was drunk at the time.
Our thoughts dissolved in the drone of the Hammond organ and were sucked by the circulating car fans. My skull vibrated in F minor by the time the saxophone appears ahead of us on the highway, notes rising out of the distant spots of steaming asphalt, like tiny pools of water, ever out of reach. We had fallen again into a perfect silence. I was nauseous and without fear. This was a late-stage familiarity so truthful to me that I almost forgot that this was only music and that was only Kansas. In God’s country, I marveled at the power of belief.
John surrendered himself to faith. Never in his life had I seen him lose that fine and anxious edge of an arm so ramrod straight against his side that the armpit ceases to exist. He relaxed in that moment, shoulders flush and curved against the cushion of the seat, slipping down until he was playing footsie with the gum wrappers and beef jerky in the abyss. I was pleased to be ferrying this Styx, but something nagged me as I watched him melt. We coasted all the way through Any Colour You Like, soothed by solos. It was long past the peak and we’d be alright.
I didn’t put it together then, but hindsight is a bitter mistress, making an education of me always, and I know now what it was. I hope John never does drugs. I fear I’ll lose him if I put him into the business, one way or another. I’d sooner bear the burden of guilty paternal control than the exponential guilt of squandering a young man’s potential. I was just out of it enough that I kept hearing Crazy Diamond on the track and expecting a rise, but it never came. That’s the wrong album, and there was only the brilliant mirage ahead. The nearest ocean was six thousand miles away and I couldn’t say I wasn’t nervous with the thought.
John didn’t notice me grip the wheel as we rolled into minute one second sixteen, Brain Damage exploding in our ears like the bewilderment at the end of the 8 hour ride. He looked like he should be gripping the wheel instead. Chill out, man, we’re almost at the bottom. We can go to bed soon, I promise. This, I can impart without remorse. We’re the only lunatics for miles around.
We were a little more prepared for minute two second thirty. John took the drum line in, gently slapping the console to the toms, and we dove in for a last little high as we entered Eclipse, rubbing our gums with what remained on the plate. He’d gained a little experience. By the end, you always feel professional.
The last word of the name is the last word of the album. It’s poetic, and we felt smart in our silly, momentary analysis of the thing. There’s just so much more to it, probably. The Hammond coasted to a smooth finish, an extended note, and, just like that, it was done. It was over. We were silent through the last heartbeats of the album, listening to our own, looking at the corn, the sea of the fucking thing. It looked so lovely, after the rain. The American dream of what heaven must be, the sprawling sun in the wide open, golden west.
That was pretty good, wasn’t it?
We put on Rumors. There were still thousands of miles to no place like home.
Adrian Belmes is a reasonably depressed Jewish-Ukrainian poet and book artist residing currently in San Diego. He is editor in chief of Badlung Press. You can find him at adrianbelmes.com or @adrian_belmes.
A Portrait of a Man Who Wanted to Be a Millionaire, Now Retired, Watching Who Wants to Be a Millionaire
The old man in apartment 254 settled into his recliner. It was 7:30 on a weeknight. The residents in the apartments beside, above, below knew this, without question, from the game show’s theme song penetrating the walls, the floor, the ceiling. This episode’s contestant was on his second night. Polka, and now with $300 dollars, on his way to a million. At commercial breaks the old man would mute the television. Closed captioning would scroll, and he’d watch for the stage to reappear, unmute the tv, in time for the bassline’s bombarding beat down throughout the second floor, parts of the first, parts of the third. The questions, like the banter, like the old man’s hearing, like the sounds seeping through the walls, the floor, the ceiling, were muffled, but the answers were always clear. Tombstone, $16,000, on his way to a million. The old man played along silently although he didn’t know many of the answers. However, this was alright by him because A) he felt he might be learning something in his ever growing fondness for game shows in these twilight years, B) he’d treated life like a game show with its chance for easy money based on skill, odds, and luck, C) this contestant’s name reminded him of that horror film the time he and Frankie laid low in that theater after a job well done on his own way to a million, or D) all of the above. D, final answer. That is correct. We’ll be right back after a word from our sponsors. (An interlude quieted apartment 254, the second floor, the apartments below, the apartments above. The old man watched a woman mop behind the captions he couldn’t see to read. He had no children. Nor anyone for that matter. But it was the life he chose. Or did this life choose him? He’d known a few women in his prime, even if they didn’t know him, not truly, not by name. His lies and life bridged by f—) He, the second floor, the apartments below, the ones above, heard the return of the bass heavy melody, of muffled banter, a question, I.M. Pei, $500,000, one question away from a million. But only the old man heard his heart invigorate in excitement. Waves of dramatic tension washed over the complex like the lights on the stage. The final question read. The contestant, who needed no help, phoned a friend, called his father. No one had ever won the million, but he was about to be a millionaire. The old man shared this feeling, himself winning many years ago. A guard and a vault his host to the prize. And even though he hadn’t played since, a SWAT team battered down the door. He, his neighbors, beside, above, below, heard the crash of the television off its stand. The game was over, the jig up. A phone call now his only lifeline. He never heard the final answer.
A Portrait of Don With His Best Friend In a Dimly Lit Dive Bar 258 Miles From Home
They were halfway on their trip towards blacked-out memories in New Orleans, crashing where they landed for the night in nowhere. The bar a few blocks down, Foxes & Hounds, shared its name with a strip club back home. The one traveler, black, had tattoos from his chin to his knuckles. The other, white, had shot glass sized holes in each ear. They both wore plaid shirts. Back home in the city, they blended in nothing special. But halfway from home, only their attire didn’t stick out amongst the peanut casings on the floor and the equal amount of burnt out bulbs as cowboy hats (4) on the heads of these don’t fuck with us blue collars in a state of rednecks. The air smelled like heartland, musk and sweat, salty with spit and dip and shells. A woman in what else but her finest rhinestone blouse and frilly boots, hair teased closer to God, sang Loretta Lynn in the open space that was the karaoke stage. They sat at the bar, ordered beers, avoided the peanuts. The karaoke DJ thanked our Mrs. Lynn for her rendition of “Don’t Come Home A Drinking.” Darn tootin’. Claps passed around the bar like an offering at church. The guy with tattoos said he was going to vomit the lizard. The guy with holes in his ears didn’t see him sign up for a song on his return from the bathroom. A beer and a half plus whiskies, for the taste of ambiance, later, they were no longer avoiding the peanuts, when “Welcome to the stage…” showtime. Darn tootin’. The old timey twang on repeat since they’d entered was replaced with shredded guitars blurred to distortion. The guy with tattoos screamed into the microphone the inaudible words that bounced across the screen as if it was this trip’s sole mission to fuck up these speakers. The guy with holes in his ears felt the air shift heavy, could see hate churn like the cigarette smoke around the bar, could smell that lard fried scent of them getting their asses kicked. So fuck yeah he wanted in. He rushed the stage, didn’t follow the words, didn’t matter, belted alongside his bash bro like a true fucking D2 Mighty Duck. The honky-tonkers boot scootin’ boogied their way to the make-shift stage, fists raised like pitchforks, their voices joining the vocal chaos, as in tune as red, white, and blue bald eagles eating apple pie. The charge was led by a God bless America Loretta Lynn, horns up, in all her rhinestone glory.
Motherfucker tossed a 10-pin bowling ball through neighbour Gord’s windshield by mistake there. August long weekend. I mean, motherfucker had every intention of tossing it through the windshield. Only Gord’s Aerostar wasn’t the intended target. Oh ya, motherfucker’d been drinking. Everybody was. Long weekend and all. No excuse. But what ya gonna do? Motherfucker figured buddy was stepping out with his ex. Probably was. But she’s free to do what she wants, right? 2020, baby. Live laugh love eh? So, buddy says something and motherfucker goes off. Fuckin right off, bud. Someone kept ‘em from fighting there out front of the Inn. Sent motherfucker packing one way, buddy stumbling back into the bar—thank Christ—or who knows what woulda happened. Remember last time? Anyways, motherfucker fucks off. Only, he’s back an hour later with the bowling ball. Dunno where he got it. No idea. Don’t wanna know. Gord, he was sleeping, passed out hard, at the time. Shitty news to wake up to. No fuckin doubt. He’s insured, though. Sure. But there’s your deductible right fucked. Nevermind explaining to insurance why motherfucker put a 10-pin bowling ball through the windshield and all. Gord’s still right pissed about it. Oh ya. Big time.
Sheldon Birnie is a writer, beer league hockey player, and father of two young children who lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada whose writing has appeared recently in BULL, Rejection Letters, Cowboy Jamboree, Riot Act, among others. Find him online @badguybirnie
I made it through. That’s the point of this story. Anything is possible. Perseverance and endurance are requirements. So is meeting a kind person. A helpful organization. Let me stop here and hit the rewind button.
I’m fucking cold. Not it’s sort of chilly out. Not brrr or damn I need an extra layer. No, I’m talking bone cold. Your veins aren’t navigating the blood correctly. Your mind is a fucking ice block. Details: I’m in a parking garage. This is my current home. It’s connected to the courthouse. The temperature is in the teens. It’s early January in Ohio which means I’m freezing. I’m in the glass-encased stairwell, where it might be a couple of degrees higher than outside at best. I’m trying to sleep on concrete. I have no blanket, just a black peacoat which I received from a local church. Sleep is hard when you can’t get warm. And when you feel worthless. And alone. And scared. And suicidal because that’s always an option. It has to be when you have nothing, you are nothing. I fantasize about jumping off the top of the garage. Splat. Goodbye. My story over. Fade to black. But I didn’t actually jump or I wouldn’t be writing this. Let’s go a bit further back.
2009 – 2011
I’m a degenerate gambler. I love to bet the horses. And by love I mean the unconditional kind. Love gambling more than my children or why else would I spend every nickel to my name on a bet? Christmas gifts? Fuck that noise. Birthdays? A card with no cash. Everything else? I’m just a ghost at the track. A depressed ghost. A sick in the head ghost. A selfish piece of shit ghost. I am everything besides a good dad. I chase the dime instead of spending time with my tiny girl or older son. I care about nothing but exactas and trifectas and superfectas and longshots who are longshots for a reason. It’s a compulsion. I can’t stop nor do I truly want to. I sell my food stamp card to gamble. I con my mom out of money to gamble. I steal metal from factory dumpsters and sell it to a scrap yard for money to gamble. Like I said, chasing the dime, except the dime is an elusive rabbit and I’m an inefficient hunter. I’m awful at gambling because I honestly think I’m more intelligent than speed figures and breeding and past performances. I’ll chase that dime, that high until I land in a parking garage.
I’m halfway asleep when I hear a car approaching. Headlights flash over my frozen body. Cops. Dammit. I get up and walk to the car. Two officers, but only one speaks. He’s young. He asked me what I was doing here and whatnot. I mumbled my usual bullshit answer and he eventually said something about we didn’t see you here. His way of saying go back to sleep, you’re not in trouble. I was relieved.
Roughly two hours later and another car approaching. I’m bathed in headlights again. Dammit. I get up and walk to the car. A familiar face, the young cop has returned in his personal vehicle. He has stuff for me. McDonald’s. A quarter pounder and fries. A gift certificate. Gloves and toboggan. A puzzle book and pen. I wanted to cry. I wanted to hug him. He told me about a place where I could get help, Transitional Living. He knew the woman who ran it, gave me her card and told me to call her tomorrow. He also said he was going to call her. This place helped the homeless and mentally ill. He knew I was in trouble and he went out of his way to intervene. An absolute saint. He pulled away and I tried to go back to sleep but couldn’t. I kept thinking about the kind and caring police officer. A good man. A good human. The opposite of me. I also thought about Transitional Living. Hope on a business card. I would eventually get in touch with them and start the long process of getting better. Years of therapy. A case manager who worked her ass off to transform me. Medication for depression. A new chapter began. A new me was born. I became a real dad again.
I made it through to the other side because of a young cop. Because of Transitional Living. Because I was resilient and wanted to change. I embraced it. This story ends with me in my own home, warm and cozy, writing about the past. And hope. Because hope is real. Clutch it like it’s a newborn and never let go. Hope saved me many moons ago. It can save you, too. You must believe in something you can’t see or touch but is always there.
Chris Milam lives in Middletown, Ohio. His stories have appeared in Jellyfish Review, X-R-A-Y, Lost Balloon, JMWW, Molotov Cocktail, and elsewhere, You can find him on Twitter @Blukris.Attachments area
There is an Asian man on the subway He likes swimming with dog sharks I know this because I just overheard him He said this to his friend:
“I like swimming with dog sharks,” he said “It’s nice,” he said
I have never been swimming with dog sharks It is a regret I didn’t realize I had I don’t even know what a dog shark looks like I picture a German shepherd underwater It is gliding towards me with fangs exposed The dog shark has tiny fins and they are wagging frantically like so many tails
I should have asked the Asian man what dog sharks look like if only so I could picture them better and relay the details to you
If I was ever in the water with you and saw one I could say, “Look, there’s a dog shark” My knowledge of dog sharks would totally impress (I hope nobody asks any follow-up questions about dog sharks)
I guess I’ll just search “dog sharks” on the Internet but it’s not the same
I often eavesdrop—it’s something I can’t help but I’d never overheard anyone talking about dog sharks before So I really should have asked that Asian man on the subway
I should have asked him about dog sharks I think I would have learned something
I want to write the Jurassic Park of Great American Novels But I’m worried that might actually just be Jurassic Park
I call the help lines on subway ads
Look for answers in phone books
I have an encyclopaedic knowledge of failure,
and I’m a glossary of defeat
What’s a synonym for all of this?
My life seems beyond definition
—only because nobody has come up
with terminology so bizarre,
vernacular so flawed
I read Web MD entries to satisfy my neurosis
There are sick plot twists in books
about the Bermuda Triangle
that I read as a kid
Josh Sherman does run the @iamdave_hello Twitter account.
I like my life but it’s unexpected After Erich’s tweet
college degree, $100,000 in debt, slinging coffeehouse lattes at privileged mommies and daddies whose kids want cake pops and won’t be quiet till they get them
scan the job ads looking for a way to put four years of rhetoric and econ and history classes to use but there’s 1400 other college grads and laid-off middle managers competing for every one
I want to do good in the world, make change, care for my parents when they grow old – but right now that looks more like someone else’s future or maybe no one’s
look around it’s the same for everyone, nothing special about me, a whole generation getting skilled at punching cash registers and clearing drinks from tables, thank you ma’am just happy for the work
my best buds have had bad jobs, no jobs, gone back to school hoping it’ll be different the second time around, most of us still living with our parents, sleeping in the same beds we had before puberty
friday nights I’m cleaning locker rooms at the high school picking up the left-behind jock strap of some kid whose future I can predict cuz I’m living it now
don’t get me wrong – I like my life but it’s unexpected
Spoon-feed a sick hamster from a jar of baby food and you, too, will form a bond
Days later, when she dies on the table during surgery you never imagined paying for, you, too, will cry
Then you’ll stifle your sobs and sniffles, collect your child from school, and prepare to break the news
Later, you’ll gather your family around the dining table still mourning, and draw together, pictures of hamster memories
One will become the memorial card your child hands to friends to harness his grief and theirs
Kim Kishbaugh is a former journalist whose poetry and other stuff has been published in some places, including here on the Back Patio. She wanders through the world looking for magic and sometimes finds it. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram: @kkish.