No Place Like Home

Visual art by Jing Li

People have a tendency to forget things. They forget things they learn, they forget things they say, and they forget the friends they’ve made. In a world where materialism is the norm, the more we have, the easier it is to forget.

Lately this thought had been rambling around my head a lot. It’s funny, how when you think about something for a long time you start seeing it everywhere you go. In reality, that something has always been there, but it’s not until you think about it that you actually start acknowledging its existence.

Lately I have been noticing people forget. Sometimes they forget who they are, or where they come from. They forget about their true friends and end up abandoning them. Other times they forget about a nonsensical love, or a broken heart. A myriad of people have told me about the feeling one gets when one finally forgets someone who has caused pain, of someone who has harmed. They said they had finally realized how idiotic they were, how, if given the choice somehow, they would never repeat their actions. I nod and agree; only really interested in the landscape passing by the window. Now, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy stories passionately, but after a while of hearing the same things over and over again, even the most interesting fables can turn into tedious sermons. People, for some reason, have a tendency to trust me, which I do not understand. Is it that they pity me? Is my face a trustworthy one? I don’t know. All I know is I’ve been a runaway for about 5 months now. I have hitchhiked about 1,200 miles, and every time I get into a car, or van, or truck, I have had to listen to someone’s story. I haven’t shaved, but thanks to my wondrous age of 15, my facial hair can easily be mistaken for the dirt on my face. I guess people aren’t used to seeing someone as young as me hitchhiking, so they feel sorry for me. I believe they use pity as an excuse to unburden themselves onto someone, anyone, even this dirty 15-year-old kid.

This last ride has left me in the middle of a highway right before a road division, somewhere in the state of Nevada. The sun’s heat has made me regret taking my fur-lined leather jacket. But it has served me well. After all, when I left Milwaukee it was still winter, and the snow and cold would have been a problem if it hadn’t been for this jacket. And to be honest, it wasn’t like I had any other type of clothing I could have packed. But now my long-sleeved shirt smells of sweat, and I finally decide to take it off, not giving much importance to sunburn.

A car drives by, the driver ignoring my signal for him to pick me up. As I walk, I think about the last person that let me hop in.

She was a middle aged woman, with skin as white as milk, like an angel. She drove a green pick-up and spoke with a beautiful southern accent. If I hadn’t been in a different place mentally, I could have had a crush on her. She told me the story of her life, of how her two boys grew tired of her and abandoned her. She told me, with light in her eyes, how she used to play with them when they were younger and all the fun they had. She told me how on stormy days, they would stay inside watching movies, putting quilts over the windows, making forts out of pillows, pretending they were in a theatre. But it all changed when her husband left them. He had grown tired of his daily routine. He thought that if he managed to escape his boring life, he would be happier. She told me how later she would walk with them to the town square in a futile effort to forget what had happened, and she began crying when she remembered how they could escape their reality on those afternoons as they ate ice cream on Main Street. But her boys had grown up to be very independent and had moved away. Although they had kept in touch with her for a while, they eventually stopped talking to her. According to her sons, she was the reason their father had left. She would never be forgiven. But something had come up, and her first son had called her. She was ecstatic to hear her son’s voice, but the happiness didn’t last long. Her smaller boy was in the hospital, and from what she told me, it was really bad. Pneumonia or something like that. Real sad. I had a cousin who once died of pneumonia. Her death shocked me; I had never had anyone close to me die.

     A sudden breeze of cool air snaps me back from my wandering thoughts. Drivers keep passing me by, but my arm aches so I stop making signs. As if they would actually stop to pick me up again. As if anyone really cares I am here. As if anyone really cares for me. Is that reason enough to run away? I don’t know. It was for me, but someone else might swallow it and learn to live with it. But I refuse. I want to live somewhere where people care. Where they care about what happens to me. I want to matter. I wanted to matter. To make a difference. I don’t care now. Things change, people forget, people forgive, and people die. People find a way, or they lose themselves. People have a way of making things different.

My friends all vanished, disappeared under a thin veil of nothingness. Some found a passion in underage drinking. The adrenaline of being above the law combined with alcohol filled them with euphoria. Others moved. They wanted to become rock stars and photographers, but I knew, as everyone did, that it was just a waste of time and that their trip to Hollywood was nothing but misused money. My dad vanished too. He got a promotion, and stopped coming home for weeks at a time. Since it was just me at home, I had to survive on Mac ‘n Cheese and Cocoa Puffs. I started skipping school, and the more I got away with it, the more I enjoyed my new freedom. My mom died when I was very young. I can’t quite remember her, but my dad used to say she was wonderful, so I just believed him. Suddenly, I wished I had known her. A feeling of loneliness began to soak me, but the paradoxical thought that this might get me attention from someone somehow, made me not want to dry it off. After a while I grew tired of this, and figured that if I could make it here, without a father, I could make it anywhere else. And I had made it all the way to this hot, wild, tomb-like desert.

The heat is overbearing. Sweat falls to the road and quickly disappears. Cars do not pass by anymore. Or at least that’s what I think. I have stopped paying attention to the road. The rock I was sitting by lent me her shadow, but it’s noon, and all the shade is gone. I put my sweaty shirt over my head, hoping it will ease my heat. My shoes are destroyed. The only reason I have kept them is because the ground would cook my feet. “Oh well, I’ll take them off when I’m hungry.” I say out loud, and surprise myself. Am I really going crazy? I must be. I must find a car. I have lost the strength to get up, and honestly I don’t think I would get picked up anyway. Maybe I should put my shirt back on. I traveled 1,200 miles with my shirt on. But the heat is suffocating, so I decide I’ll put it on later. For now, I’ll just stay here, next to this rock. A loud car passes by, it’s roaring engine driving my attention back to the road. But the more attention that I give the driver, the more he seems to ignore me. Drivers probably think I’m dead by now. Abandonment. The story of the milk-skinned woman hits me, and I suddenly realize my situation. The human body can only stand a number of days without water. My sweating like a pig will only make dehydration quicker. I only hope death will be brief.  All motionless, all beat up. I made it all the way to this desert but what has changed? Why has luck suddenly flown away from me? Or have these past six months been only a dream? Could this be just a nightmare? I wish it were. I wish I were still home, with the people I loved. What have I done?

People have a tendency to forget things. We forget things we learn, we forget things we say, and we forget friends we’ve make. We forget the love others feel for us, and we forget the love we feel for others. We forget the good times, but we keep the bad times, as if they were an excuse to justify our actions. People forget. I forgot. I forgot all the warmth of my home. I forgot about my dad, and how he always called me when he was away. I forgot my friends, how they phoned me worried when I skipped school and how they cried when they had to move.  I forgot how they wrote home every day. I forgot about all the parties I attended myself. All the fun I had had with my friends. I forgot about my place on earth, and now it’s too late. I forgot about home. I forgot that there’s no place like home.

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Boyd Fortin

When I own a gun I can shoot the snakes right off the ground. Pick them off when they slither out of the grasses, collect their bodies and sling them over my shoulders like belts of ammo. I’ve been in Texas forever, collecting rattlesnakes like clues, but they’ve never told me anything. Creeping up on them where the grass grows high, jump on their backs and slice off their heads before they can twist around and bite you. Stick the knife in and rip through the scales, direct as silver, though you’re only using steel. I carry them home in the red dusk, when it’s too dark to see the snakes flicker in the grass. More likely they get you than you them if you’re killing in the dark.

When I was six, my dad bought me a plastic toy gun. Orange-tipped, with rounds of caps like plastic flowers. He bought it at the hardware store, and whenever he went back for replacement drill bits, he’d buy another pack of caps. I’d shoot almost all of them, until I had one round left, which I’d save until he bought another set or left for good.

I’ve killed a lot of rattlesnakes. I don’t know how many. I started when I was eight and haven’t stopped since. I’m thirteen now. You can’t see them when you look out at the grass from the porch. It looks like a wasteland, flat and lifeless. But I haven’t run out of snakes in five years. I don’t even have to walk far to find them, behind my mother’s house where their thick bodies coil in the dust. I thought they would be gone eventually. I thought if I just killed enough of them I could wipe out the species. Or at least scare the rest of them out of Texas. But I guess I should know by now that you can’t make anything go away. Things leave if they want and stay if they don’t. Doesn’t matter what you do.

My dad left when I was seven and three quarters. Nearly two years after he bought me that cap gun. Nearly two years of saving the last round, but it was only a precaution, really. I never thought I wouldn’t get any more. But then he packed his worn-out shirts and jeans in two plastic drugstore bags, the red Thank Yous gleaming absurdly down the bulging sides as he slammed out the front door, screaming “Fuck you!”

The first time I killed a snake was at the 1974 Rattlesnake Round-Up. Everyone in Sweetwater goes to it. A hundred some people in white aprons with dark purple blood smeared across their cheeks, hands clutching the limp carcasses of snakes like ice cream cones. I killed my first snake, sliced its head clean off and gutted it with the same knife. Tore its body straight down the middle the way the barber from Main Street instructed, as he stood over the cooler of beer and 7Up, cleaning the dried blood out from under his nails with a toothpick.

After my dad left, my mom lost about half her body weight. Looked like a stork with her skinny legs and a throat that always looked too tired to eat even if she tried. Flaps of skin hanging from her chin to the tendons in her neck, which always seemed over-stretched, like it might collapse, crushing her windpipe till she gasped like a fish out of water and died contorted on the floor with her face mottled blue. I dream that a lot. My mom dying like a fish.

I can’t imagine dying though I’ve tried till it made my chest ache. The closest I came was the summer of 1978, when a snake bit me on the inside of my arm. It was the only time I got bit. Jumped on its back, but my grip on the knife was loose, and the snake swung its head round at me before I could cut it off. I screamed till my voice cracked and cried though I was twleve years old. My mother came running ‘cause I was only a few yards out from the back porch and got me to the hospital in my dad’s old pick-up truck, so I never saw my life flash before my eyes like they say you do. Or maybe I did, and I just couldn’t tell the difference between the grass plains and red dust sliding past the car windows and that lightning synopsis of my life, since they’re really just the same thing.

My parents moved to Texas from Nevada, where my dad worked at a hotel in Las Vegas. He said it was no place to raise a kid, so they went to Lubbock while my mother was pregnant, then Sweetwater once I was born, though she didn’t want to. I think about how the Texas dust is ingrained in my skin in a way that soap and water can’t wash off and how the desert has curled up inside me with the other things that eat me from the inside out. But my parents aren’t even from here, and still the place is in my DNA as much as they are. No one ends up where they were born, but somehow I don’t think I’ll ever get out.

When I was bit, I had to stay in the hospital four days. Rolling Plains Medical Center, second floor. I mostly just remember it being dark and feeling like I was in a movie. People think of hospitals as white, but this one was a disappointing beige, with blankets the sick yellow of pus. It was the same hospital I was born in, and I thought it would be symbolic to die there too, but I didn’t. I wrote my name on the bed post, ‘Boyd Fortin’ in silver Sharpie, then wished I hadn’t. I didn’t want to trap myself in there. Maybe I had a premonition of my return without realizing, and that’s why I wrote it. But when I went back a year later it was gone.

I found my old cap gun the night before I left in my closet. I wrapped it in the apron from my first Round-Up, the one I wore every time I killed snakes, but didn’t need anymore. I wanted to do something symbolic, burn or bury it like a corpse, but those things are always meaningless. I look for symbols everywhere, but mostly I just believe in chaos. Everything’s a mess, spinning in space towards a black hole, a great empty cavity like the one in my liver that forced me back to this hospital. And the whole universe is moving so fast, the earth spinning and the cells disintegrating in my guts, but you wouldn’t know it, in this cinderblock room where everything seems still. They repainted the walls. Still beige.

They found the tapeworm three months ago, a few days before my thirteenth birthday, which I spent in an X-ray machine. I’d been nauseous for weeks, living on ginger ale and children’s Tylenol ‘cause my stomach hurt too bad for anything else. At the time, I thought it felt like needles stabbing my side, but now I imagine tiny teeth chewing at my liver. There’s a hole there, and lots of pus. The doctor showed me the slides. Gray smudges of organs around a skinny white slash that dictated my future. That’s the worm, he said, watching my face as I nodded.

If everything really is pointless, and I think it is, I wonder why the snakes are still here. If I look carefully, I can see them out the window from my hospital bed. It hurts, propping myself up on my elbows enough to look over the sill, but if I’m sick anyway, it hardly matters. They blend in with the dust, but I’ve learned what to look for. Flickers of sunlight on the scales, slight stirs of grass. And if they’re out there, alive, and I’m in here, dying, I could prove that the world is ruled by chaos, ‘cause I could kill them. I could slice their heads off and gut them. I could if I could only lift myself from this bed. But sometimes, I think that worms and snakes aren’t so different, and then I wonder if there is such a thing as fate.

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Visual art by Shusu Hsu.

You are a rat in the machine. You are running.  Run you bastard rat run. You have always been running like this. Always been scrabbling along the constantly turning wheel, claws slipping on the grease. Can you even remember how it was before you started running? Oh how they taunt you. They wave success before you. Münster success. Dangling on fraying rope. You can almost taste the sweat dripping from the cheese. Taste it between your razor sharp incisors. It will be delicious. Then they inject you again. It hurts. It burns. It burns like… It burns like the last shot they gave you. The last boost of steroids they sent coursing through your blood.  That is all you know anymore. The way your muscles tense. The way they spasm. The searing in your chest as you run. One day these shots will let the military men in the middle east shoot one more civilian before they curl up to die in the dust. But how could you know this? You are a rat.  Why should I tell you this story? I do not want to talk to a rat. You do not care.


Run. Cheese. Run. Run. Cheese.


Now you are Mrs. Brown. This will be much more fitting. You are as simple as your name. You are of medium height, medium stature, and moderate temperament.  Your hair is brown. Short cut. So you do not burn it off in a cylinder of hydrochloric acid.  You like to keep your hair in relatively nice condition and are hoping to seduce a man that works in communications. You never will. I can tell you this because it is a given. It is no surprise. You wrap your coat around yourself. It is white and reaches down to your ankles. Something else to do with hydrochloric acid. The safety procedures are all that matter anymore. If you keep safe then you will be able to spend another evening defrosting a Kids Meal while watching Desperate Military Wives. You feel empathy for them, but you are more desperate than any of them, Mr. Brown will never come home.  He will shit himself dead in a small outhouse in Afghanistan. Gonorrhea. A warrior’s death.


Maybe you now know who you are. Know the semantics of Mrs. Brown, and thus can be told your relation to the story.


You wake up and brush your teeth. Tom’s All Natural toothpaste. It tastes like acid rain but you do not care. It is healthy. You edit that statement. It tastes like Hydrocloric acid. The PH of rain is not nearly high enough to affect the taste buds. But, acid on the other hand. Oh how you love the acid. You hang your chemical proof trench coat over your shoulders. Safety first kids.  On the walk down to your car you pause. Today feels like a good day to stay home. To sip a mug of cocoa in front of the telly. Your intuition is usually very good. But. You have never missed a day of work before. Your car is a grey one. It is made by Toyota and promised to be able to handle in the snow. A pair of small fluffy dice dangle above the dash board and the oil hasn’t been changed in months. You have only crashed it twice. A record. The dents barely show anyway. Neither do the coffee stains on the upholstery. You fire up your car and drive to work. Poor Mrs. Brown. You should have stayed home today.


You walk into the laboratory. Everything is starch white. It reminds you of a movie  that played last night on the SyFy channel. Everyone except the main character died. The main character then realized he had become part of the system and hung himself in the starch white laboratory. The movie made you cry for three hours. You walk down the hallway and notice a sharp smell. It must be a new cleaning solution. Gleaming before you is the number 29. That is your office. You open the door and scream.


That is all you need to do. Scream.

Run. Cheese. Run. Cheese. Cheese. Run.


Now, and you will like this part. This part is exciting. We look back roughly two hours. 120 minutes. 7200 seconds. You are now a man named Paul Schneider. I will call you Paul. Not because you have any more right to a surname than Mrs. Brown, but the name Schneider catches the tongue. Catches it like a noose. You have a bristly mustache, much like your father did and live a slightly more exciting life than Mrs. Brown. But you do not need to know this. All you need to know of yourself is that you are very timely. You have a small green Swiss Military Watch. Not only does it tell you the time in 30 different countries but it also tells you the temperature in Mumbai and whether there will be rain or fog next week. It is a shame for you that it does not tell the future. You just had to come early didn’t you Paul?


You wake up at 6:30 in the morning.  Still rubbing sleep from her eyes your wife complains about you getting up so early. She looks beautiful like this, trapped in a cocoon of sheets. You pause momentarily to stare at her, feeling a momentary pang of guilt. The guilt passes. You remember what she looks like. Who she is. She is only beautiful because you can not see her through the royal crimson sheets. You had hoped the sheets would add spice to your crusting sex life. It only gathered more dust. You had married her for convenience anyway. You have been splitting the rent with her for the past two months, but she will leave you soon. It is not even a guess. It is a given. Your savings have been exponentially decreasing. You even  drew out a small graph of the practical half lives of your wealth. It did not help you save any money. You can attribute the impending poverty to the bike insurance you have been paying out your ass.  BUT. You had to have the Kawasaki. It goes so fast. And the looks women give you are so fresh.


You take an hour long jog, checking your cardiometer every 10 minutes. You want to be in top condition. After your jog you fire up the Ferrari. It rumbles in the most pleasing way. You drop by the florists briefly on the way to work. Despite the protests of the florist, you buy a bushel of aging roses. You deny the discount she offers you for the wilted flowers. A matter of pride. You do not know much about flowers anyway. You don’t think Mrs. Brown does either. You know courting Mrs. Brown will only serve to damage your relationship with the wife further. I can not fathom what it is, but you see something special in the stupid scientist.  You don’t have very good taste in women do you Paul?

You drive to the laboratory. You unlock the sliding glass doors at the front of the building. You want to go through the front door today. Stride in your moment of triumph. If only you had taken the side entrance. You would have noticed that the side door was slightly ajar. Would have saved so many lives.


You walk down the gleaming hallway to a door marked 29. You remark how unimpressive the bronze numbers look. They haven’t been polished in days. This is Mrs. Browns office. It is also where they keep the rats. You hate the rats. You and Mrs. Brown both. You work with them in the name of science however. The stupid creatures could rot otherwise. The door is locked. Mrs. Brown has not been here yet.  The keys work for all the doors however. An oversight of the management. You step into the office. Something is wrong. You know it but you haven’t placed it yet. You set the roses down on Mrs. Brown’s desk and stare at them briefly. Maybe one day the two of you will call it love. Spine still crawling, you look upwards at the ceiling of the dark room. A single empty noose recedes from the gloom. The rats are in a frenzy. You tense.


The chloroform works so fast.

Run. Cheese. Run. Cheese. Cheese.


You might be confused at this point. Might wonder of the fates of Paul and Mrs. Brown. Neither of them mattered. But you are empathetic. Human. You are not the only one that is confused. Detective Ramiro is confused. You two must briefly inhabit the same space to understand the minutia of the next part. You are Detective Ramiro.


You pour over your notes and try to ignore the bustle and commotion of the scientists around you. None of it makes any sense. You never wanted to work in Criminal Investigation. Hell. You wanted to be a pilot. You were nearsighted. Your notes are written on a small pad of carbon paper. The lab provided it for you. You have been trying to work on your organization. They say it is a necessary trait for detectives. You still forgot your pen, however, so your notes are scrawled in a glaring yellow highlighter. Three names are written on the page with a single phrase next to each. Brown: Death by acid burns. Schneider: Death by hanging. Revere: Death by hanging. It looks like suicide. You want it to be suicide. You know it is not suicide. As a detective you rely more on your instincts than intuition. You fancy yourself more of a Marlowe than a Sherlock. You do not realize that you are neither. You are a failed CU Boulder student. Your parents provided for you since. They even bought you your position into the police force. You are a trust fund detective. You hadn’t wanted that. You had wanted to fly. Wanted to spread your wings and soar through the desert skies, raining destruction from above. You had dreams of glory back then. They had kept you going those aspirations, gotten you through all the doldrums of your mediocre high school education. But then they had dubbed you 20/70. Blind, naive child. Now, you think you are Marlowe. You think you are a fictional character and nothing anyone says will convince you otherwise.

You consult your notes one more time. The murders must have come from within the company. There is no evidence of a break in. There are too many people around to concentrate. You begin to pace, lost in thought. You turn a corner into a deserted hallway. A figure appears at the end of it. You squint at them but cannot make out a face. A true detective needs no glasses. The figure begins to walk towards you, pulling an indistinguishable object from its pocket. You squint. A shot rings out. It begins. But you do not care.


You are in too much pain to care.

It begins.

Run. Cheese. Run.


But it begins to soon. So many more voices need their say.  How can you truly understand what happened if you do not listen to the screams?

You must now go back in time roughly four hours. Mrs. Brown and Paul have already fulfilled their respective destinies. You are now MR. Revere. Do not worry. This one will be short. Rather like Mr. Revere’s life.


You are part of the cleaning crew. You get spit on just like the rest of maintenance. You hate everything about your job. It has aged you prematurely. A scraggled beard clings to your face and your skin is simply asking for skin cancer. You think you will die of said cancer. You are wrong. But had things gone differently, you probably would be right. You are planning to quit today. To slam your papers down on your managers desk and begin your life anew.  Maybe you will go to Hawaii. Buy a small yacht. Live a life of leisure on the high sea. Doesn’t that sound majestic? Yet, some things are just not meant to be. You believe in heaven however. Subscribe to all of the churches whims. You even have a small Jesus that dangles from your third ear piercing. By your beliefs, this will be the greatest favor you have ever received.


The sun has yet to rise. It is maybe 8:00. Fuck winter. You walk up to the front of the laboratory. Something catches your eye. A massive luminescent sign pulses slowly above the doorway. It reads Los Alamos Laboratory. A dark shape swings peacefully from it, framed by the neon light. You take a step closer. It is a body. You panic. You run. It is what any animal would do. You needn’t be ashamed. But. You run into the laboratory. That is stupid. You should be ashamed. Panic has such a persuasive voice. You practically run into my arms. It is as though I have beckoned you to me. I do not want to kill you. You hate the place as much as I do.


Sacrifices have to be made.

Run. Cheese. Cheese. CHEESE.


Can you see yet? You with your all seeing eye? you who has seen through the eyes of the murdered? Can you hear how the swine squeal? Do you not loathe them as well? These men of the new millennia. These fathers of a new era of science. You have seen pathetic lives. They are just a few examples. The first few brave raindrops that spatter against the pavement before the storm. Don’t you want it to rain? I promise, it will be refreshing. But first. You must see I am not heartless. I gave them a chance to repent. You must walk now as my herald. You are Gerald “Jerry” Graves. Your story starts the evening before the unfortunate demise of Mrs. Brown.


You can not sleep. The Nyquil, the sleeping pills, the crying, the masturbation, none of it will sate you. But why should it? You have been spared. You know you have been spared. He had come up to you, the only man who had really, truly, been  your friend. He had told you of the day you would die. You toss again, entangling your legs in your sheet. Sleep will not bless you tonight. You have been spared. You have been warned. But it brings you no solace. Somewhere in your body you yearn to be the savior. Too be idolized as the hero. You are not to fault. For your whole life you have had more nicknames than friends. AT first you considered them one in the same. It was all In jest. A cruel jest, where you were forced to play the clown. Yet you feel no resentment.  You feel no need for vengeance, you only want acceptance. That is where we differ. You run your eyes over the assorted The Amazing Spider-Man first comics you have treasured since your childhood. They are devoid of their usual entertainment. Dead to you. You never really grew up did you Jerry? I suppose you never will.


You rise from bed the next morning and report to the lab an hour later than usual. Exactly as instructed. You wear all black. You turn your Cartman and Kenny shirt inside out to hide the logo. You would never do that. But you are not really yourself anymore are you?  Your compatriots barely notice you in the bustle of the day.  They barely even register the events of the morning. To wrapped up in their own personal agendas to take their eyes from their work for but a moment to feel mourning for Mrs. Brown. True humanitarians. It strikes you as strange, that they are still working. Working as though nothing happened. It does not matter. You know how they will die. Miss Beryl, a woman you have always felt a strong attraction to walks by. She is wearing tight shorts and a tank top. You feel a tear on your cheek. She will die at twelve o’ clock. This knowledge terrifies you. Harold. Smugs. Peter. You watch them all walk by. You knew each of them personally. You want to do something about it. You want to go up to them and warn them. Tell them to run. Fear paralyzes you. You cannot move. Your tongue lies limp in your mouth. It reminds you of one of Doctor Octopus’s severed bionic arms. You wish you were a superhero in this moment. Wish you were more than a boy trapped inside a man’s body. You wish you could scream and tell them to run. Beautiful Miss Beryl will die at twelve 30 and 48 seconds. You begin to break down. The clock rings the hour. 
In thirty minutes and 46 seconds Miss Beryl will die. You can almost hear the thunder in the distance. You raise your hand to stop her. To tell her. You can be brave. You can be the hero. BUT. You are a coward.


Miss Beryl will die.

Run. Cheese.


Now we must dance in the rain together. You must be me. You must be me after I have rolled in the blood of the fallen. Be my Joy. Be my victory. My friend. We are the murderer. We are glorious, glowing, a practical deity. Is our power not astounding. Just look at all we have accomplished.

We sit cross-legged in the chemical closet of room 29. The dark drapes over us. It is cool and quiet. Rats are nuzzling at a corpse beside us. We begin to shake.

They have mistreated us for so long. Us, and the rats as well. They hired us to care for the rats. To administer the steroids into their heaving skin. To hear them squeal in pain. The rats hadn’t yielded the results they needed however. They turned to us. At first they offered us small reparations, good medical insurance, the kind of things that any sane man would take a shot or two for. How easily a shot becomes three however. Then four. Then five. Then the payments began to drain away, replaced with zealous chatter. With idealistic expostulations that, We, We were the new age of science. We were the new frontier. We had had enough. Now we sit beside their corpses. The world comes full circle. Beautiful justice.

We are triumphant my friend. Immortal.

We have followed them all for so long. Planned for so many days. Watched their movements. Calculated their breaths. When they come for us. With their guns and their badges. They will ask why we did it. And when they do we will smile and we will tell them why. We will say. Because They Were Mortal.


Run. Cheese.

You are confused. You are running away. You are not sure who you are. You can remember having a family. All you want is to get back to them. To find them to protect them. You hear more gunfire and run around a corner. You hide. Door number 29 stands before you. You know where you are. If you turn left you will find an exit. You remember your daughter. Lilly. She likes videogames. A real tomboy. You want to play videogames with Lilly. You still cannot remember your name. But you remember Lilly. You hear a door opening. Run. Your body screams at you to run. You freeze. A torrent of rage and fur comes pouring from door 29. Rats. You tell yourself they are just rats. There are hundreds of them. They stream around you, a wall of teeth and claws. They are not just rats. They are Armageddon. You hear the gunfire coming closer. You Scream.


That is all you get. A single scream.



That is your first thought. There it is before you. Cheese. You have been running for that cheese your whole life. There it is. There are hundreds of you. Loud noises are booming around you. Rats everywhere. Your sensory organs go into overload. You cannot think straight. Run. Cheese. Sex. Run. You begin to quiver. Clawed feet scraping against the varnished floor you run, spattering through the thin veil of blood that settles in crimson pools around you. And there is the cheese. It smells delicious. You rear above it and bite downwards. Sink your teeth deep into its succulent flesh. It is delicious.





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Foreign Policy

Hey, you. Yeah, you. Stop the car. What are you doing?

You’re in America. You shouldn’t be here. What, you think this is some sort of joke? We know who you are, and we don’t want you here.

Get out of the car. I said, get out of the car. You heard me. What’s the matter? You don’t speak English? You understand me good? Get out. Now.

What have you got there? Bags? What’s in the bags? Set them down here. Of course they’re your bags. I don’t care how long you’ve had them. I don’t care if they’re special. Don’t give me that look. Look at your jewels. They’re fake. You think I’m stupid? In America, you could buy this piece of junk for five dollars.

Open them up. Lipstick, bracelet, books in your language—what is this trash?

What’s this? A wallet? Are these supposed to be dollar bills? How do you fit all those bills and quarters in there? And who are these people in the back seat? Are those your thug friends? They look awfully small. You say they’re your children?

Quit your begging—I’m not going to let you go. You poor people are pathetic; you’re always begging us to feel to sorry for you.

Show me where you’ve got it. You know what I’m talking about. I need to see your green card. Green card. Your proof of citizenship. Give it here. I said, give it here. I don’t want to hear what you have to say about this. You have no say; you’re in America, and you follow our rules.

Just as I thought—you have no green card. You’re no citizen. You have no right to be here, filling our classrooms with your kids. You’re not allowed to contaminate our land with your people. You’re just an illegal alien. Illegal.

I am neither a racist, nor a pre-judger. I am a proud officer, and I am rightfully doing my duty in keeping this country as American as apple pie. Now put your hands behind your back—you’re under arrest.

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Visual art by Seung Min Oh.

You’re new here. You live in the blue house. With the yellow flowers on the freshly shorn lawn and white shutters. And the Japanese trees. Your mother bought it because she thought it looked like the Brady house. It doesn’t. She was wrong. You’ve watched that show a thousand times. . It looks nothing like the Brady house. You like the Brady house. You hate this house. You think it’s tacky. You think it looks like it belongs in some coloring book about the 60’s. Tacky, Tacky, Tacky.

Your room has white lacey curtains. The window looks in to Suzie Kincaid’s house. You can see her older brother’s bedroom. The walls have pictures of athletes and playboy bunnies on it. He sits there and reads things on his computer. You watch him sometimes. Just sit on your bed, on your computer, and watch him on his bed, on his computer. You never allow yourself to be naked in your room.

Your kitchen has pink and white checker tile. Your little sister crawls across it. Her fat little fingers grab at the grout. Your mother reaches down to scoop her up. She drools on her your mothers shoulder, ruining her silky blouse. Your mother pouts her large pink lips at the baby. She clicks and gurgles and makes like an idiot. You watch in disgust over your bowl of cheerios and milk. Stupid woman.

You wish you could move back. Pack up all the boxes, turn the car around and go back. You don’t like anyone here. They all have big dogs that bark at the mailmen, slobber and leave their mark on your lawn.

You don’t like the dogs or the people. They are all so obnoxious. You want to go back, you tell your mother, but she tells you this is home. No more apartment building where the third step on the third flight of stairs squeaked. No more hearing the comforting screech of police cars and ambulances outside of your window. No more having to look both ways when crossing the street, because if you didn’t it could be bloody. Now you live in a one-story house. Now the air is always heavy with silence .Now ,you could lie in the middle of the street, sleep there if you wanted to, and you wouldn’t get hit. You want to go back. This was boring you to tears. Your mother said it was what the family needed. Something stable and reliable, a place where there would always be home cooked dinner on the table and then she made another reference to the Brady’s. This is nothing like the Brady’s. You’re not blonde and there aren’t eight of you plus a maid under one roof.

The cement out front has been marked forever. You wonder who Jeremiah and Tammy were. And if they ever lasted. They probably cracked as soon as the cement did. The sidewalk has cracks and tiny weeds fighting their way up through them. They fight for sunlight and the overflow of the hose. You spoke to him once here. In this exact spot. Where the freshly mowed lawn meets Jeremiah and Tammy’s sidewalk. He was playing basketball. Tripping over his overgrown feet. He lept and threw the ball toward the hoop and its ratty net. He watched it in anticipation. His hands out stretched, hanging where the ball had left it. The ball hit the backboard. It rolled from his yard. He followed it, and noticed you. He grunted a hello, picked up his ball, started at your chest and then walked away. You said nothing. You didn’t know what to say.

You sit in the backyard on the tire swing with the cicada’s singing in the warm summer air. You kick your legs in front of you. Kick and retract, kick and retract, till you swing full force toward the suburban moon.

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Pensioner Eaten By Rescued Strays

Visual art by Ben Mcnutt.

Ms. Lucy Hatchett had always wanted a dog, and throughout the years living with her father, he had always told her that if she got one

“I sure as hell am not going to pay for it. They’re too much money, they make you waste away your life at the god-forbidden vet’s office, and they take too much time to keep in shape. That’s not to mention that if any goddamn kid walks by and has a disagreement with the bitch, and he gets bit, then you’ll have to deal with some bullshit government lawsuit. Those pansy government lawyers always have their hands in my pockets.”

The old Mr. Hatchett had long been a radical conservative, with a history of tax-evasion and numerous DUI’s. The federal court filed numerous cases against him around the time that he died, and once they were settled, the fees were large enough to take away any inheritance that Lucy and her brother would have received had they had not been incurred.

So, because of her Father’s enjoining, Lucy denied herself one of the biggest wants of her life. That is, until she realized that she didn’t have to anymore, on her sixty-second birthday, on October 10th, 1982.

It was an absolutely dreadful afternoon. The streets were swallowed by a blustering wind, and having recently broken her cane, Lucy found it near impossible to traverse the city without clinging to the buildings. Her pension check for the month had just arrived in the post, and along with it the bill for her brother’s cremation, who before his death had been her last remaining relative.  Her brother had really been the only person in her entire life who she could honestly call a friend. They had been through their entire life together, right up until Charles joined the army. Because of his extraordinary military talent, the service had promised his sister and him a completely paid for college education. He was happy about this, as it meant they could both rise from the depressed economic status they had so long inhabited.

After the war, however, Charles had proceeded to get extraordinarily rich through the entertainment industry, as he became a show runner of a highly successful television show. He had managed this after saving the life of one of the Privates under his command by performing an in-battle emergency surgery, entailing the incredibly gory removal of a fifty caliber bullet from his buttocks. The Private, left eternally grateful, had then asked what could be done to repay Charles, and said that his father was a television network executive and he could get him an interview. The interview went spectacularly, certainly the circumstances helping, so Charles was assigned to a new, sure-to-be-hit show. He then married and had children with a French woman named Élise, who happened to be playing the title role on Charles’s show, and she absolutely despised Lucy. Maybe it was Lucy’s awkwardly positioned nose, her fascination with kitsch and deco art, her habit of forgetting everything, which she had developed even before she suffered from dementia – but whatever the reason, Élise mandated that as long as she was married to Charles, she would not take the aesthetic insult of having to lay eyes on her. They didn’t, and immediately after Charles’s fatal episode of pulmonary edema, Élise found it classy enough to simply forward the hospital and cremation bills to Lucy, while she enjoyed the life insurance.

Lucy had just finished paying off the bill for the emergency room, and you can imagine how thrilled she was once she discovered that she had been sent the one for the cremation as well from her darling and most esteemed sister in law, Élise Beaulieu. Lucy was feeling lonely, desperate, and distraught over this chain of events, but as soon as she walked around a corner coming home from the post office and saw the Good Times Pet Rescue Center, a light went up on her face.

Inside the Center was a cage of howling, yapping, pit bulls. They rustled around in juvenile tomfoolery, and one particularly rowdy pup found it amusing to pounce on the smaller ones and harass them with youthful skullduggery. Ms. Lucy Hatchett was absolutely enthralled by them, and spent a solid minute observing the nuances of their coats – one was shockingly white, another night black with a white eye spot, and yet another was completely chocolate brown. She noticed some foamy spittle emerging from his mouth, but figured it must be merely drool, and not anything contagious. She entered the center and immediately approached the adoption counter, leaned over and said to the clerk,

“How much for the puppies?”

“How many do you want?” He replied.

“All of them.”

“Well…sixty dollars each.”

“Still, all of them.”

The clerk, obviously of significantly inferior intelligence to the average person, gave Lucy an expression of complete and utter disbelief. He managed by shifting his face in such a lucid way it was almost as if you could see the gears clicking together, to issue a quieted and slurred:

“Wow, Lady.”

Lucy had no patience for the clerks mundane babbling, she was buying dogs, for Christ’s sake; so, making the calculation of six-hundred-and-sixty dollars herself, judging it too intricate a task for the clerk, she wrote a check and pushed it across the counter. She knew at this point that the only way she could afford this as well as all of the other expenses that would occur upon her in the next month, along with the cremation bill, would be to get a Pay-day loan – one that would charge her exorbitant interests so that she would probably never be able to pay off, except perhaps, post-mortem. But, of this she was nescient, and so she didn’t care – she figured that she could just pay it off next month, not realizing that when next month came around she’d have to be paying off an entire new set of expenses. Pushing the simpleton to carry on again, she said calmly,

“Here, now just give me all the paperwork to sign so I can get back to my flat as soon as possible.”

After many minutes of fluttering signatures and glancing over legal papers and the clerk mindlessly shuffling around and continuously handing Lucy the wrong documents for signage, she eventually made it out of Good Times. Lucy, and the crate of all of her newly purchased dogs, were going to be driven back to her address at 561 C, Grange street, by the shelter shuttle, but as complications arose involving the driver, that was no longer an option. The complications being that the driver had pretended that he had chronic bronchitis as an excuse to explain why he was “unable” to transport Lucy, while in reality, he had just taken a lovely F.O.B. Italian woman back to her hotel with her new poodle (Good Times Good!), and had then arranged a date at the local Thai restaurant for Saturday night – he figured that there’s a minimal amount of garlic in Thai. The reason he had claimed illness to avoid transporting Lucy was that for him, a hip and groovy young man, to be transporting some nasty crone was on-the-job social suicide. So, he left her to her own devices as to transportation to her residence.

In a slight flummox, Lucy sucked up her frustration with the young buffoon, and trotted out of the door with her dogs. As she exited the premises, a rank odor began to emanate from the crate. She had not noticed it before, but the inside of the crate that she held the puppies in was covered in their excrement and other sorts of bodily fluids. It had obviously never had been washed once, and so not only was it covered with the newly produced soil of her dogs, but also the excreta of all the dogs before them. Lucy wondered if the people at Good Times had done anything correctly anywise – whether they’d given the dogs their shots, had them fixed, etcetera – and came to the conclusion that they probably had not, given the presented intelligence of storefront employee.

While on her way back to her apartment, traveling down the streets of her city, Lucy, with the box of yipping puppies, came across a large patch of black ice on the sidewalk. Her visibility was impaired by the size of the crate, not to mention the already-acquired hindrance of the blustery wind. As she came across this patch of black ice, she had absolutely no idea that it was there, instead, it merely happened upon her; so down she went, landing on her already sore back and her rump, letting loose of the crate and having it slide down the sidewalk a few feet. All of the people that walked by her merely stepped around her and her dogs, ignoring the dilemma that they faced. One of the pedestrians actually kicked the crate into the building Lucy had fallen next to to remove it farther from their beeline. Lucy did manage to get back on her feet, but needed to spend the rest of the journey back carefully traversing the various sections of imminent and immediate danger that plagued the path. Once she did, after much arduous questing, arrive home, she set the dogs loose in the house, allowing them to fulfill their every will to roughhouse. After doing so, she collapsed with exhaustion onto her couch, as she had not eaten all day.

So, to solve this problem, Lucy then went out for a quick trip to the Pay-day loan center to get an advance for next month, then the bank to deposit her pension check and the Pay-day check, and then to the corner store to get some food for her and the dogs. She had absolutely no idea of the quantity of food that was necessary for eleven dogs, so she simply purchased an entire case, and while in the process of buying the dog food, forgetting to buy food for herself and even the fact that she was hungry. The cashier asked Lucy if she would like a ticket for the next national lottery, and Lucy did. She then bought one with the same numbers she’d been using as long as she could remember, 101082, and then left the store to go home. After returning to her apartment, carefully placing the case of dog food by the door and the ticket inside a drawer of a nearby dresser, she found that every single chair in the apartment had been knocked over, that all the kitsch on her coffee table had been smashed to bits, and that dog hair now inhabited every surface of her house, and let out a blood curdling scream that could’ve given any person an aneurism. However, she quickly recovered from her initial shock, and resolved that she would speak to her newly acquired pets, in a simple, parental manner.

“Come here, puppies!” she called, in a faux-gleeful manner, to which, surprisingly, all eleven of the mid-size pups came barreling into the room.

“Now look here,” she said in the relative tone of a pretentious vice-principal, “I know that none of you have probably had a parent before, so you’re unaware how this is supposed to work. You should know that I’ve also never been a parent myself before this, so you might need to cut me a break, now and then. So, here are the rules of the house:” (She now began a series of confused facial maneuvers, perfectly fitting to her following impromptu postulations. Absent minded cheek biting, lip curling, single brow wrinkling and so on, with vocal inflection to match the movements.) “No sitting on my chair. The red leather one. It was a gift from my brother, and your hairs, I’d imagine, are dreadful to clean. Also, no TV after seven. I’ve got to take my Lisinopril at night, and it makes me very sleepy, so the noise from the TV just gives me a headache. I’ve got a bad heart, you see. That’s why I take my Lisinopril.”

The dogs, at this point, were observing her intently, watching her soliloquize as if they held what she said as a matter of the utmost importance.

“Third,” she continued, “Is that you may not go out at night. Also, no sleepovers, is that clear with all of you? I expect a nod from everyone.” The dogs moaned.

“Good enough. Alright then, off to bed. It’s late.”

It was, in fact, only seven, but, as the day of rushing about the city and picking up the dogs from the shelter had worn her out, she went to bed, forgetting to feed both the dogs and herself. She, aside from the little disaster in the setting room, was rather satisfied with today’s events – maybe these delightful little dogs would help her make it through the rest of life, week by week. At least, she hoped so. They nipped at her heels as she walked into her bedroom, but as soon as she took out her hearing aid, the building seemed, to her, as calm and tranquil as a pastoral lake.

*          *          *

The following morning, Ms. Lucy Hatchett awoke not to a blood curdling noise, but to an earth shaking rumble, startling her to consciousness. She quickly donned her hearing aid, rocketed out the bedroom door, and found that two of the dogs had been fighting, the chocolate brown one and a white one. The brown one had prevailed, broken its opponents neck, and had proceeded to eviscerate it. The remnants of the cadaver were being ravenously swallowed by the rest of them Lucy panicked, and for a moment was stunned, trying to figure out what way was best to navigate between the dog kidneys and intestines, lifting her bare foot up, almost putting it down but just in time realizing that what she thought was linoleum was actually stomach lining. The pups, in particular the brown one, mistook her surprise for anger and shriveled into the corners, leaving the mess of organs alone as she stood there – almost as if they expected her to beat them.

Eventually, Lucy sucked it up and ran through a patch of floor, still soaked with blood, but had just had the piece it had been covered by stomached by a dog, and booked out her front door in her pajamas. She went to her corner grocery store to buy another case of dog food, forgetting about the case that remained untouched in her apartment. She was also convinced by the cashier to buy another national lottery ticket, number 101082. And again, she went off to her home.

Upon arrival to her apartment, she set the case down next to the door next to the other case, crammed the ticket inside the drawer, and yelled for the dogs to come. She then began her second monologue as a pet owner:

“Now listen. This. Is. Unacceptable! I know that you were hungry, but family is family! I never really had a good one either…my father always would tell me that I was useless, and that his want for me was about as equal as that of his want of a dog…but he was a terrible man. I’ve always wanted dogs, you know, my entire life, I figured they’d be such good companions. I hope I was right…but, I guess, dogs are like people. People are never very kind to each other either, you know. Most of the time. Especially the ones I’ve known. I’ve always read about the greats of our world, the Nelson Mandela’s and Dr. King’s, but I’ve never met any. Anyways, you should learn to get along with each other. Just remember to eat, so that you won’t get grumpy!”

By this time, poor old Ms. Lucy Hatchett had again forgotten that she had purchased food, and again forgot that she needed to feed her beloved dogs, and carried out the rest of the day on her usual routine. A quick stop down to the Congregationalist church to do some volunteer work involving organizing old sermon papers, which she had absolutely no clue as to why she was doing, then, a trip to the grocery store to pick up the night’s dinner (chicken, rice, and green beans), and then went back to her house, already completely exhausted, to curl up in her red leather chair to read Brontë’s Agnes Gray, for the umpteenth time.

Recently, Lucy had been becoming more and more upset. The dogs, although she still loved them, had not successfully filled the hole in her life that she had hoped they would. She had always lacked a family, since the departure of her brother – never having gotten along well with her parents and having been single her entire life. Except for the dogs, she’d never truly loved anything or anyone – and even them, she had still yet to name, as she continually forgot that she was “supposed” to.

She didn’t really have many friends, either – there were the old crones at the church worthy only for gossip-mongering, their husbands alive and well, and making sure that Lucy knew it. There was the young postman who always gave her a smile, while stealing her Netflix deliveries, the sweet young lady cashier down at the grocery store who sold her 101082 multiple times a week for the same lottery. There was also a pharmacist who had taken her out to coffee once, fifteen years ago, the month after her father died. He’d wanted to ask her out ever since they’d gone to middle school together, and simply had never bothered before because of the frightening nature of Lucy’s father; but even he was shrouded in bad intentions, as recently, he’d been trying to figure out a way to sneak Rohypnol, or another genus of date-rape drug, into Lucy’s monthly batch of Lisinopril. All of the people who claimed to be her “friends” really just wanted to exploit her, in one way or another – although, Lucy remained painfully unaware of all of it.

There was no one in the entire city who gave a single damn whether or not Lucy was alive. This was because no one ever paid attention – she was allowed by the community to rot, to become a living shell of a person, someone only worth extorting, to the point that no matter how hard she tried, she could never become healthy again on her own. And there she was, with her dogs, signed over to her without them being tested for or given shots for any standard diseases. They might as well have had rabies, they had been so mistreated by their previous owners and the employees at Good Times.

It was because of this, paired with her impending age that Lucy had been sleeping longer than was healthy – upwards of thirteen hours, on some days. So, by the time seven o’clock rolled around, she was 150 pages into Agnes Gray and already half asleep. Then, again forgetting to feed both the dogs and herself, she wished them a good night, sweet dreams, swallowed the gaping hole in her soul, and went to bed.

*          *          *

The next morning, yet another dog had been killed and eaten by the Chocolate brown pitbull.  And the next day. And the next. And the next. Ms. Lucy Hatchett resolved to buy a new crate of dog food so that they wouldn’t attack each other, again, and again, and again; Lucy also forgot to feed herself and the dogs, again, and again, and again. A permanent blood stain resided around the kill spot, which Lucy dutifully cleaned. That is, until ten days after her birthday, ten days of not eating, and  ten days of finding dog carcasses in her hallway every morning.

On October 20th, 1982, Lucy awoke at ten a.m. She entered the living room to make herself her pot of morning tea, and began to read Agnes Gray, yet again. While she did so, the Chocolate-brown pitbull came out of the living room and into the kitchen, quietly and with guile, to watch his Mother. Her pot of tea was done now, and she dutifully fixed it up with a cube of sugar and a splash of milk. Then, she went over to her cabinet to grab a cup of water and her heart medication from her shoulder bag on the counter. At the counter, when she pulled out the bottle of Lisinopril and tried to open it, she found that she was too weak. She tried and tried again, with all the strength that she had left, and with her last ounce of energy, made the bottle relinquish its cap. The strength it took to do so, however, was the last bit in her body – she collapsed to the floor in exhaustion, letting loose of the bottle as she fell. The bottle of Lisinopril, now open, had scattered its contents all around the kitchen floor.

The last remaining dog of the eleven that Ms. Lucy Hatchett had adopted, the chocolate brown , now made its way into the kitchen. It then, slowly and without any tarrying, continued into the kitchen, foaming at the mouth. Seeing the dog in its condition scared her to bits and pieces – that combined with her ultimate exhaustion is what led to her simply passing out. The dog proceeded to raze Lucy’s half-corpse in a frenzy worthy of a Norse Berserker, annihilating every single shred of her, leaving behind nothing but gnawed on bones. He then spied the small, pinkish pills spread around the floor, and gulped up every last one of them. But a half hour later, he began to stumble around sleepily, leaving behind him a trail of diarrhea and expectorant. He wandered around crashing into furniture, and eventually, out of exhaustion, also became inert at his mother’s side. They, Lucy and her beloved dog, were not found until a week after their deaths. By then, a pestilent smell had taken over the entire neighborhood, and left an imprint as to where the world had failed them both.

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Miss Missouri

Visual art by Sarah Abrams.

Inspired by Lorrie Moore’s “How”

Begin by answering the phone, reaching into the mailbox, visiting your mother. Maybe you hear it over the radio. Watch a late-night special. Read the back of the non-fat milk carton. Outside your building, your mother will apologize repeatedly. She will cry. She will have had her long grey hair cut short. A gesture.

Four years, one month and three weeks. You left your daughter, husband, and high school sweatshirt in a dusty village – village, really – in east Missouri. Your mother tells you that you will have to go back. She’s full of bright ideas these days. Feel abandoned, frozen, terrified, frantic, and the hottest little brushes of rage. When desperate or alone, walk to the grocery store. Stare at the backs of milk cartons. Blink at her name, age, height and wide eyes or, alternatively, hurl the stupid Missing Person ad to the ground. The night manager drops your arm when he figures out you’re the kidnapped girl’s mother, or he fizzles out of the room when the police officer fills him in. Either way, they tell you that you get to go free and you spit on the parking lot floor. Four years, one month, and three goddamn weeks, but you’ll never be free.

Make attempts at finding your ex-husband. Remember: you left him not the other way around. The operator will ask you for the city and state, please. Tell him bitingly, bitterly. Add: it’s a hellhole, a fucking waste, I mean home and all, but a pit. Devotion, deep-rooted and hot, laps at your insides. Explain the lack of options, lack of exhilaration. Plan not to hang up until the call goes through, but have a text message of the number sent to your phone just in case.

And yet from time to time you will stare into the bathtub or a random tube of lipstick and bask in the life you have cultivated. You will feel nips of contentment, exultation, joy. Four years, one month, three weeks, and this is your family now. Let’s say your father is a troll. Your ex-husband is a magical turnip. Your high school classmates are spirits of the netherworld. They all still live in that primordial tar pit together.

Her name means rival. Once she leaned over you while you were flat on the floor between sit ups and kissed your forehead like she understood the gesture. She is velvet Teddy bear bow ties and creamed corn and knit hats and fly-away balloons. Once upon a time a tiny fist pounds into the carpet and you dance over to her spot on the floor, into her bright little soap bubble, “Up Mama I wan go up.”

Lie. Tell your ex-husband you work in a museum, one filled with taxidermy animals. He wants to know about health risks. He wants to be sure that you’re, you know, all right. He breathes heavily into the receiver. Lie, repeatedly. Say you never have to work night shifts, that your darling grandmamma of a boss never makes you. Darkness. Glass cases. Chrome door panels. They all still scare you. He wants to see you. He wants you, ravenously. Do you still only fly United?

Don’t put on music. Don’t wear lingerie. Take off your clothes, shyly. It’s a craft. You will lie on the bathroom floor naked, watching, your fingers beseeching bare skin of his insecurity. Hair: fool away from his face. Buttons: charm out of their hidey-holes. Chuck his shirt in the corner behind the toilet. Roll him over on your old bathroom floor barely three hours after your night flight lands, just past dawn in Hell.

Go to the front porch. His neighbors. Everyone will look at you and then go back to what they were doing. His best friend’s wife will be jostling a toddler over her shoulder as she walks past. She will introduce herself as Tammy. Try not to laugh. She will want to know if Harold is home. She will ask you, “Are you house-sitting for him?” Faintly, distantly, she’ll remember the junior prom when you stuck celery sticks and Ranch dip down her dress, and look quickly away. You’ll smile. The toddler will spittle over the back of her pink and yellow blouse: gurgly, gaping mouth and hazy eyes push up into her neck. Feel sated, to the point of excess. “Is Harry home?” she’ll ask you again. Smile. Shrug. Swat the door shut behind you.

It intoxicates you. Self-satisfaction. A slurp of tequila. When you pass women your age on the street, giggle and stare them straight in the belly button, straight in their bulbous, lactating breasts.

One day – in a movie theater or a hardware store – see your father. He is either balding or sun burnt. He still has his special belt buckle from the car show at the fair and this will seem almost spiritual . Have sex with him once and lay spread thin on the floor of your childhood bedroom, since converted into his trophy room. Or: don’t have sex with him. Hide behind the shelves of all the different sized hammers and then run for your life.

In the kitchen that weekend feel loud and relentless. Sit on the counter and tell him he’s ugly. That you bet he doesn’t know shit about cars. That you’ve come back to find him freckled and spineless. He will give you a momentary view of his hunched back, vertebrae poking through his shirt almost like fingers stretching through a balloon. He will start to shake. Rub your hand up and down his arm. Run your fingers through his hair.

When you get out of the shower, damp and smooth-skinned, conquer his chest with hard, heaping bites. Trace your big toe against his ankle. His inner-knee. His uniform is slopped over the bedpost. He will push you so hard you stumble and smack onto the floor.  Say something like: What the fuck is wrong with you? Or maybe that’ll be his line. Go back into the bathroom. Tighten every cap.

This will be the tough part: her name repeats on the radio, at least on the station your ex-husband always plays; her name, age, height. On restaurant windows you see the posters. In line at the pharmacy you get furtive looks. They form a support group for you. They touch their own children’s heads. Bang the toe of your boot on the corner of the pew on accident. A cuss shoots through your lips like a little fish. He ducks his head and rubs the back of his neck, standing in front of the pastor sputtering search plans and statistics. Stare him down the next Sunday. Dare him to invite you to church.

Your ex-husband will have a sister named Susan. Or maybe an ex-girlfriend who wears socks with white lace around the rims, even though she’s like thirty or something. At visits she will touch her ponytail and repeat herself. She will tell anecdotes about your daughter’s childhood when he goes to get you two girls something to drink. And she’ll call him honey pie. He will agree with her: yes, the police should be much more involved; yes, there should be television advertisements too; no, no, they should never give up hope. She will take out her hair tie and shake a hand through her thick strands, glancing at you. He will invite her to stay for dinner and walk her to her car when she declines. He is the best honey pie in town.

Think about leaving. About standing in a damp-smelling elevator and being all drippy. Think about them: the endlessly illuminated street signs.

But it’s cold, New York, and it’s wet. And he tells you his mother cooks this unbelievable roast turkey, somehow you never got the chance, back before you left, to try it.

No, you wouldn’t leave before Christmas.

Escape into movies. When he calls and asks you what you’re doing, say “Keeping busy.” Let your eyes roll back to the screen. At around 6:40 start listening for his car and when he pulls up, switch off the TV. Head back into the bedroom. Leave the DVD in, though. If he checks, he’ll catch you doing nothing wrong at all.

He will seem to be drinking Vodka, tentatively, glancing quickly at you for approval.

At work he will spend company time in the exercise room.

He will ask you if you want to go to the fair.

He will ask you what the symbolism means.


Four years, one month, three weeks – more now. Tell him it’s complicated, what with your daughter and your job and your forwarded mail. You no longer know what you want from your life. When he brings his arms to you, open, tell him you don’t even know what you want. Don’t fucking cry. Get a little carried away. Plan to regret this moment, someday. Pace around the kitchen and tell him you are anxious, all the time afraid.

But this is your home, he will say, in a voice that rights wrongs and slays dragons, that dies off after the Middle Ages or maybe exists eternally in the bottom drawer of the pantry where you keep plastic bags for unforeseen situations that might require plastic bags, a voice that shoves the door open with its head, knocks back its visor and wails, knocks you out of mental tangent, wailing: How long has it not been enough, why didn’t you tell me it wasn’t enough?

You will forget the last time you went barhopping in Hell, but pretend you do. Reminisce until your pupils shrivel up. Choke up. Say: I’m going out. And when your ex-husband catches you at the front door, add: Just out. His limp smile will palpitate like an upset stomach and you will hate him. Don’t bother to shut the door. It’s the Pig’s Squeal and it’s just how you pretend you remembered: smoky and wooden and dim like a copper penny. A bulky jukebox and a half-empty jar of straws. A man in a red tie will catch your attention and then drop it. Someone on your right will start mewling the lyrics. Swivel on your barstool until she’s finished. Spit heartily in her drink when she goes to the dance floor. Spit and liquor swirling in foamy white loops. Swirling, honey pie, like piss down the drain.

Next there are eyewitness reports. Sightings: Barton, Benton. He will pound his fist onto the kitchen countertop, phone pressed wet to his face. A gust of hot wind blows into your eyes and your nose spasms.

This is no time for miracles.

There will be police interviews, statements and co-signatures. There will be nothing for you to do. He has already posted signs everywhere conceivable: on desktops, over freeways, over other signs. Someone will call from the police station: relatives’ names, phone numbers, addresses needed. Ask where his parents live nowadays and he’ll just go grinning from ear to ear. Smile back. He will laugh at something, hours later, completely unrelated. But wheezing. Rioting. Roaring at the television screen in the next room. Bolt in and ask him what’s wrong. Roll together on the floor in front of the TV stand. Afterward, there is nothing else to be done. Afterward, he will dangle half off the rug, completely used.

Continue to pace. Despite fake New Jersey accent, feel unamused by his antics. Look at your wrinkly knuckles. If ever you would leave him. Glance at your cell phone. It wouldn’t be in spring.

There is never any news, just a telephone rocking endlessly in its cradle.

Once a week you will bring up her name in casual conversation, in public. Manage expectations. Tell the old ladies huddled around you that the police have made no promises. “We do what we can,” you tell them, never looking away from the tight, anxious circle, never quite meeting his eyes.

The thought will occur to you that you are waiting for her permission to flee.

You will pass your father on the street, or maybe back at the hardware store. Begin by calling him “Pa”. Begin by asking what he’s been up to lately and walking him back to his house. Meet his wife. She will talk in a thick, European accent. She will respect only the working man, eat very little, eat only on divinely immaculate plates. End it the second time he shouts at you to get the hell out.

There is never any news, just a telephone wailing endlessly for its mother.

Fantasize about a dead body. It is a study in exhaustion, an examination of the end of the rope. You would be comforted by his bony sister and his sobbing ex-girlfriend. The three of you in the depths of the morgue would hurl yourselves at the steel table, then surge backwards. You, especially, would kick your feet, stumble and howl, bare your wrists. Your mother would be proud

After dinners with your father: slink home. Your breasts will ache, your knees will lock. Neighbors will be rocking on their front porches, staring over you as you cringe past. You recall. Remember: nine years ago, a night like any other night in January, your mother already three hundred miles away in a scrubbed clean Chevy, your father stalking through the deserted streets, you following after like a famine. Damn it, he bellowed, god damn it, Lorraine! Lights snapped on in houses, then blinked out with swift apologizes. The two of you were the spooks haunting the streets that night. Lorraine. Mama. Lorraine. It ran cracks through the midnight stillness. Lorraine.

If you could only love one woman in your life you would choose your mother. If you were being introspective, you’d say it’s because she was gone after you were six years old, but you’re not like that. You are a runner and a bailer and a grudge-holder and a tongue-holder. You ignore him studiously, lying next to you in bed calling you baby. Calling to you. “Baby, we have to figure this out. I can’t lose you again. Baby?” You spend the nights under his heavy, stuffed quilt playing out fantasies, that your mother spent five years in Africa before settling in Queens. She called you one morning: Heard you got out too. How’d it go?

Recently she’s gone on these little pink pills that make her consider her shrink her best friend and watch movies only to pre-curse a tearful rehash of her childhood, but god dammit, if she’s not going to act like your mother than you will.

Roll over to face him, but don’t move an inch closer. Don’t tell him any of this, anything. Instead: promises. Promises out the wazoo.

Slink. It won’t matter. Your ex-husband will be pacing the living room looking fearsome. He will slap you, bite you, taste you. Kiss him, soothe him. Make love to him without batting an eyelash. Splash water on your face in the bathroom at four in the morning. Nothing will matter.

Make him breakfast. Your ex-husband will ask quietly about your work. Lie. Tell him you build model boats for tourists. Smoothed, streamlined little things. He will ask about selling, marketing rights, inflation. Lie, always. Tell him, no, oh no, you aren’t involved in any of that. You have a friend in Seattle who takes care of it. You just build them, beautiful little boats. He will not eat your French toast. He will stir it on his plate with the butt end of his fork, and then hurl it against the wall.

At night you will be anxious for the weather to warm. You will pace the front porch like you are waiting for a package, for justice, for sunrise. He will not wait up for you.

When you go out, leave him a list of groceries that need purchasing, dry cleaning that requires his attention. Wait outside. Lie beside the porch and watch the clear sky darken. You could lie there until the end of time. When he lumbers to his car, count to sixty before getting up. Go back inside. Go to stand in front of the wide kitchen windows. Stand stalk still. Watch cars and bicyclists zip past. Lie, when he comes home again. Tell him you wanted to go visit your father for once, just to see how he’d been. No one was home.

There is never any news, just the phone sucking absently on its toe.

This is how you go.

Flossing and primping in the early morning, with the bathroom door open, staring at his shape on the bed in the bedroom.

Peanuts and a 7-Up. Leaning your seat back almost into someone else’s lap.

You will never see him again. Or maybe you will, whatever. But her you’ll see daily. Her picture you put on your refrigerator, above your mantle, clamped in a locket. It becomes a conversation piece. When men come over, they ask questions. You tell them you named her Agatha, after your grandmother, after your best friend in college.

The phone will roll and roll in its cradle.

Four years, one month, three weeks, and so much more. They found her bones buried three miles outside of town. Call your mother back. The sun rises outside your window, out on the curb. The fog rolls in, but it dissipates. One of those mornings.



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