Category Archives: Issue #14

Issue 14, Fall 2018

Josh Russell

Good People

 

We take our boys to church. It’s been a while. We remember the Hello My Name Is badges stuck between their then-tiny shoulder blades when we fetched them from childcare the last time we came. Back then our names were on those stickers, as if our boys were too little to have names of their own. Now they’re big, old enough to sit through the service without fidgeting or whispering, the younger studying the hymnal, the older reading a Dickens novel he bought at a neighbor’s yard sale. Christmas is coming and we’ve chosen a service centered on carols. Nevertheless, there is a sermon, and we wonder if we should make them close the books and listen. We worry about our boys, worry without religion they’ll end up like the boys who text emojis of bombs and warnings to stay away from school if you want be safe, worry with religion they’ll end up like the boys we see brooding over laptops and red-letter New Testaments in jerkwater Starbucks when we drive down to Orlando to visit Grandma. Or maybe we’ve got it backwards: maybe those texted threats are because of religion, and the boys with shaggy bowl cuts and Bibles are nonbelievers trying to pick up church girls. Antarctica is melting fast and men and women with assault rifles are killing people in Paris and Las Vegas. The Internet’s cluttered with hardcore porn and bomb-making tutorials. We hope our boys become good people, somehow. We pray for peace.

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Josh Russell’s shorter prose has appeared in One Story, Subtropics, New Micro: Exceptionally Short Stories, and Epoch. His novels are Yellow Jack (W.W. Norton), My Bright Midnight (Louisiana State University Press) and A True History (Dzanc Books), and his chapbooks of very short prose are Pretend You’ll Do It Again (Greying Ghost Press) and Suburban Folktales (forthcoming, The Cupboard Pamphlet).

Dan Crawley

Let’s Play Ball, Cecil

 

A young boy entered the sunken ball court through the skinny entrance not far from the ancient pueblo ruins. The only other visitor in the miniature arena was a man wearing a tie-dyed t-shirt and orange pants as thin as pajama bottoms. A bright red bandana cinched around the man’s brow and his long braid of gray hair. And the boy noticed the man’s humongous feet strapped in humongous sandals. “Fair to middling day, my boy,” the man said and waved. After that he tipped backwards and did not stop. Copper dust lingered around the man’s body now sprawled out on the dirt. The boy laughed. The man’s thick fingers resting on his tie-dyed chest beckoned the boy to come closer. “That crazy rubber ball knocked me clear to last Tuesday,” the man said hoarsely, squinting at the sun directly overhead. The boy looked around and said, “What ball?” Then the man pointed over to an area of the low wall that encircled them, built with the same flat sandstone bricks as the nearby dwellings. The boy could see his dad and mom and sisters further up the hill snapping one picture after another near a crumbing structure, with the tiniest windows notched out of one of its still standing rock walls. “Finally, we got out, Cecil.” The man’s voice was somewhat revived. “‘Airstream’s not my home,’ you’d say. ‘Wait till we escape down the road and play out in the wide-open spaces,’ you’d say. Remember?” The man became even more fervent. “Here’s our chance, Cecil. Go kick the ball. Let’s play ball, Cecil.” At last the boy said, “My name’s not Cecil,” but would not give his real name. His mother warned him about this with strangers. The man gazed at the sun and had nothing more to say. But his thick fingers resting on his tie-dyed chest curled and straightened, curled and straightened. So the boy walked slowly along the low wall, scrutinizing the flat stones and dirt and small clumps of scrub. Finally he kicked hard at the ground, staining the front of his socks, and laughed again. “That ball sailed right over you,” the boy called out to the man lying supine on the ground. He ran and hopped over one humongous sandal and then cleared the other humongous sandal. The toes of the man as plump as small potatoes. He kicked at the dirt again. And as the dust settled, was there maybe a whisper of the faintest cough? The boy leaned way over, shading the man’s tanned face covered in sweat, which now held a fixed grin. The boy whispered that Cecil just got there. That Cecil was kicking the ball.

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Dan Crawley’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in a number of journals, including Wigleaf, Spelk, New World Writing, Jellyfish Review, CHEAP POP, and North American Review. He is a recipient of an Arizona Commission on the Arts creative writing fellowship. Along with teaching fiction workshops and literature courses, he is a reader for Little Patuxent Review. Find him at https://dancrawleywrites.wordpress.com.

 

 

 

Salvatore Difalco

Three Days

 

I opened my eyes from a deep sleep with a start. Nonna’s toothless face hovered over mine, her eyes swollen and red, her breath hot and coffee-tinged. I pulled the sheets up to my chin and tried to calm my breathing. I dreaded what she had to say. Three days ago she’d awoken me with news of my father’s death.

“Listen,” she said quietly, touching my cheek with her dry fingers, “I want you to walk your mother to work this morning.”

“She’s going to work?” I said, surprised. I’d been told by Sister Claudia, principal of St. Lawrence’s Elementary, to take the week off.

“She has no choice,” Nonna said. “They only gave her three days.”

My father’s death hadn’t fully sunk in yet: the body in the casket, the flowers, the funeral, the mourners, all of it unreal. The only thing absolutely real, and terrifying, was my mother’s grief. I’d seen her grieve before—when my cousin Donna died in a car wreck last year she was beside herself—but this was something else. Inconsolable, she was finally given pills to numb her out. I had no idea how she planned to go to work.

She sewed pockets at the Brill shirt factory, a few blocks away from our house, a job she’d held as long as I could remember. My father, who had worked in construction and made a good dollar for someone who could barely speak English, used to gently mock her modest paychecks. But she liked her job. She liked getting ready in the morning, putting on a slash of lipstick, popping a Dentyne in her mouth, and heading out the door. She liked her colleagues—mainly immigrant women like her—and enjoyed her independence.

“Come on,” Nonna said, “get up.”

I dressed and went down to the kitchen, not knowing what to expect. My mother had lashed out at me the day before yesterday, after a car almost hit me crossing our street—she slapped me in the face so hard she left a handprint. I was afraid I’d catch another slap if didn’t watch myself.

Dressed in black again after a brief reprieve of floral smocks, Nonna had prepared me milk and coffee and a slice of toast with butter. My mother came down a few minutes later dressed in black, tremulous, her blue eyes red-rimmed.

“I made you a latte,” Nonna said.

My mother waved her hand and took a seat at the table. I tried to catch her eye, but she stared off into space, oblivious to me. My kid sister Angie was staying with my Aunt Celeste for a few days. Her twins would be a good distraction. Little Joey and Charlie were a lot of fun. I hadn’t talked to her. I kinda missed her even though she could be annoying.

“Carmela,” Nonna said, “drink your latte. Sammy’s going to walk you.”

My mother shot me a look. “I’ll be fine,” she said.

“Never mind, he’s walking you. Son-of-a-bitches could have given you the rest of the week. It’s Thursday, for God’s sake.”

“Where’s Angie?”

“With your sister. She’ll stay there this week.”

I finished my toast and drained the rest of my coffee.

“Come on,” said Nonna. “It’s late.”

We stepped out to the front porch. After unceasing sunshine for three days—the morning of the funeral almost painfully bright—clouds had moved in. Nonna waved to us from behind the screen door. My mother walked slowly, her veiled head down, black shoes clicking the pavement. I offered her my arm but she refused it. We passed Mr. Warden’s house. He stood on his porch dressed in baker’s whites and watched us in silence. He owned the little bake shop down the street. He hadn’t come to the funeral. My mother didn’t give him a second glance.

I walked a few steps behind, now and then catching up to her.

“What are you doing?” she said.

“Nothing, ma.”

“Smarten up.”

She said nothing else as we walked to the Brill factory, with its white brick facade and blue sign. I didn’t know what, if anything, to say to her. I thought for a moment she might apologize for slapping me, but I was mistaken. I thought about mentioning my father but sensed this would be a mistake.

She kissed me perfunctorily and mounted the stairs that led to the employee entrance. When I noticed a run in the left calf of her black nylons, I felt an unbearable ache in the pit of my stomach. I wanted to let her know about it, but didn’t want to embarrass her. At one point she stumbled and I started for her, but she recovered her balance and disappeared through the doors without looking back. I stood there for a moment, the weight of the sky and the day and the future flattening me against the earth.

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Salvatore Difalco’s work has appeared in many print and online journals. He currently splits his time between Toronto and Sicily.

 

 

Joy Allen

Migration

 

In the thick of fall migration, all the city kept watch. We’d heard the warnings; this year would yield more birds than usual, louder and hungrier than any season before. News stations blared reports. Headlines talked in caps-lock. PSAs explained homing, mating, destination and travel. They told us the flocks were kind seeking kind. Birds cast shadows like passing storm clouds. Wing beats replaced wind.

Residents bought up bread and milk. We covered our gardens with blankets to keep rooting beaks at bay. My neighbors called their children in for dinner full hours before sunset, for fear their progeny would get snatched up as snacks. I couldn’t blame the parents for their protectiveness. I’d left my door open a second too long on the first evening of September and endured a night with an errant mallard in my kitchen. I’d shut off my lights, folded my skirt around my knees to make my body as small as possible, then tried to coax the duck back into the wild with a trail of popcorn. When he took off at first light I felt a lift under my scapulas as though I should have flown along with him.

High rises downtown sent emails to their employees asking that we turn off all our lights each night. Most birds navigate by stars or the moon, and our skyline transfixed them. At my building, we arrived to work each morning to find shorebirds holed up by the courtyard pond. Geese and loons and scoters swallowed down our koi. I said during a staff meeting that I didn’t blame them, that I envied them, even, eating fish al fresco.

The faces along the conference table turned toward me in panic—all but one, the young, bespectacled lawyer in the corner of the room. His mouth twitched upward, though he kept his eyes trained where his pen met his paper. We were the last ones to leave the meeting, allowing the dozen others to file out in front of us. We exited, shoulder against shoulder, an unexpected touch, and when I glanced at his notebook I saw he’d sketched the curve of a white swan’s neck. Beside it, he’d drawn fish bones.

That day, we appeared for lunch at the same time and sat down at the same table. We sipped our sodas then wordlessly traded our halves of sandwiches. He swept the table with the side of his hand then tipped the collected breadcrumbs in his pocket. We rode down the elevator together and walked to the sidewalk. He emptied his pockets and, after we turned to leave, our grateful friends descended from on high to eat.

That night, the siren blared. We’d been told to shelter in place if we heard it. It would mean the sky droves were densening, avian waves strengthening. I was arriving home when the first whoop sounded. Kids ran inside. Dogs fled their yards. Garage doors closed. I sat in my driveway, close to safety and not yet safe. I buckled myself in and drove back up the street. Parked cars lined the highway’s shoulders; they appeared vacant until I saw the drivers bent over in their seats, arms protecting their necks, their postures defensive. The siren switched from loud, enduring howls to short, sharp blasts. I felt it in the nape of my neck and the heaviness of my foot on the gas. I flew through red lights, felt my tires lift during hairpins.

Longspurs and grosbeaks skimmed close to my windshield. By some miracle of instinct, we didn’t collide. The streetlamps extinguished in a cascading string. Office buildings blocked the horizon. Moonlight bleached the night slate gray. I could only tell my destination by our rooftop’s proximity to Polaris. I parked my car in the company lot next to the only other auto there. I waved my security pass in front of the elevator bank then punched a button for the eleventh floor. A flood light lit the hallway.

 

He had a corner office. We arrived together, crossed his threshold together, knelt by his window together. He’d lowered his blinds at afternoon’s end so the birds wouldn’t mistake his window for sky. Now he cinched them up an inch. We pressed close to the glass, cheek against cheek, eyes beside eyes.

The multitudes arrived. Hawks and gulls and passerines—we recognized them by markings we didn’t know we knew. Only white throats and snow caps stood out against the dark.

Cement ground against itself. Bodies pressed against the glass to show us their necks, their coverts, the long vanes of their flight feathers. Each brush pushed us. It loosed us from the ground. The building spun. I heard the lawyer inhale beside me as if in preparation. My chest filled with the same breath.

We felt the building lurch free from its foundation, rake down the boulevard, and lift. Above us, up where we couldn’t see, as near the sky as our skyline reached, talons gripped the stone edges of our hundred-story building and carried it off like sticks or twigs or strands of grass to be the material for this year’s nests.

They meant to take us, too, fledglings carried in a building sling. We sensed this the way birds sense winter, the way they turn toward warmth and food and mating grounds. The way, en masse, we depart.

As dawn fluttered up over the horizon, we gathered what we needed to begin again. Blankets and pillows and down coats, seed silos, trees torn up from the roots, whole acres of farmland — our brethren snagged up the sides of states-long riverbeds, unlatched and stole all telephone wire. Whatever we wanted, we reached for and caught. His hand found mine. Our fingers dovetailed and held tight.

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Joy E. Allen is a writer who lives in Los Angeles. Her fiction has appeared in publications such as Third Coast, Post Road Magazine and PANK among others. She is currently working on a novel.

Paul Crenshaw

“Fuck Zeus,” Ms. Lynne Said in Fourth Period English

 

And Tommy tittered. Sean sat up at the sound. The rest of us looked at Ms. Lynne in her checkered shirt and Catwoman glasses, too stunned to respond.

“I’m sorry?” Suzie said.

Ms. Lynne sighed. “I suppose I shouldn’t have dropped an f-bomb, but Zeus was an a-hole.”

Tommy tittered again. In a minute he’ll be drooling, I thought, but even the wastes of space at the back of the class were listening after the “a-hole.”

“But, like, he’s a god,” Mason said with his Harvard mouth. “He can do whatever he wants. Isn’t that, like, the point?”

“That is absolutely not the point,” said Ms. Lynne in her smart skirt, and I thought Mason was going to cry, like he wouldn’t get in an Ivy now that Ms. Lynne had corrected him. “The point is I’m supposed to teach this trash, the message of which is nothing other than it’s ok to rape people if you’re powerful.”

She sat on the edge of her desk. Tommy was waiting for her to say fuck again. Later, he’d tell everyone about it in the locker room and we’d all remember that wonderful word rolling off her strawberry lips.

Her small black boots swinging, Ms. Lynne went on, ticking points off her fingers like she didn’t need them anymore.

“He came to Europa disguised as a bull. So not only do we have no problem teaching children about rape, but bestiality seems to be fine as well. He raped Leda as a swan, so there’s that again. Then Hera, who’s his half-sister.” She squared her glasses. “Danae he raped in the form of golden rain.”

“Do you mean to say,” Tommy said, “that was the first golden shower?”

Ms. Lynne had no time for Tommy. “I mean to say that Zeus used every means imaginable to violate women. As did Hades and Poseidon and Odin. Every mythology has its misogyny. Cassandra was raped. So was Persephone and Philomena. Even Medusa with her stone-face and snake-hair, so don’t tell me that how a woman dresses has anything to do with it.

“Look,” Ms. Lynne said, rising up off the edge of her desk with her short black hair and small hoop earrings. “All our beginnings go back to brutality. All our myths are of men. It’s a curricula of cocks,” she said, “ taught to boys who think with them. I’d rather we not read about masculinity and mythology that undermine equality, and that teaches boys to take what they want.”

I would have taken anything she told me to right then. Her face looked like she’d seen something none of us could understand, sitting there in our young clothes wearing our hormones all over us. None of us knew then the kind of men we’d grow up to be. Mason only wanted to know if this was going to be on the test. Tommy wanted Ms. Lynne to say fuck again, and Sean was already slipping back to sleep.

Instead she said, “So we won’t be reading this trash. I don’t care what the school board says, and college entrance exams can kiss my ass. Fuck Zeus and the bull he rode Europa on.”

Looking back, we should have felt fear instead of longing for Ms. Lynne, still in her first year teaching, her skin only slightly older than ours. But I had read ahead to see how these stories ended, so I already knew what would happen next. Mr. Strickland, walking out in the hallway, heard the f-word, and stopped to listen. A few minutes later he stuck his flat-topped head in the doorway and asked could he see Ms. Lynne in his office, and a few minutes after that Coach Crowder came in and asked what today’s lesson had been. In his coach’s shorts and thick neck he looked like a bull, so Mason said Greek Mythology and Coach Crowder said he knew all about Zeus and Chlamydia. While he waited for us to laugh, we read about Europa and Leda and how they were strewn among the stars as some kind of reward for being raped.

Ms. Lynne did not come back. She must have cleared her desk out at lunch, around the time we were wondering what had happened to her that she saw misogyny in every story. We watched her out the sixth period window carry her things to her car: a lamp, a leather journal, a snowglobe that held a small world inside. She could have been crying, but for a brief moment she looked like Atalanta or Hippolyta, a woman warrior, bruised but not beaten under the golden sun.

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Paul Crenshaw’s essay collection This One Will Hurt You is forthcoming from The Ohio State University Press. Other work has appeared in Best American Essays, Best American Nonrequired Reading, The Pushcart Prize, anthologies by W.W. Norton and Houghton Mifflin, Oxford American, Glimmer Train, Ecotone, North American Review and Brevity, among others.