generational curse – miss jody

Hiding The Ghost Of My Favorite Lover From The Others

I am a fourth generation Piscean, on my mother’s side. My grandmother’s eldest and youngest of four were both Pisces, and my mother’s eldest and youngest of four were both Pisces. My Grandma Buffalo, my Granny, and my Mom: all storytellers. And so it was passed down to me, the awkward sort of storytelling that has so much truth to it that it must be fiction.

Most of the stories I heard as a child came orally, but some were only told in dainty, precise cursive on yellowed pages because they were too dreadful to be told out loud. One such came from my great grandmother, known to me as Vida, who married a John E Byrd and after him a John E Buffalo. She had a type. It was she that wrote down the story of her sister’s death.

They were six and four, and it was tasked to her to keep watch over the young girl. It was the winter of 1907 or 1908, in a rural town in southwest Missouri, and the pond was almost as frozen as the ground. Almost. They travelled out onto the pond, Vida coaxing her small sister farther and farther out. By the time she was able to get back up to the house and drag her parents to the pond her sister had already begun to freeze under the shattered ice.

With the ground being too far gone to allow for a proper burial, they had placed her into a coffin made of stone and situated it into a corner of the north barn. Alone. There it sat until the warmth of spring began to melt away the protective layer over the hill Vida’s mother wanted her daughter to sleep. They had briefly opened the coffin to place into it items that the girl had loved, and that’s when they learned the truth. Vida’s sister had only been in a coma. When she awoke to find herself trapped in stone she had done everything in her power to claw her way out. Only it hadn’t worked, and she perished seemingly a second time, worse for wear.

A great horror settled over me the first time reading these words. Granny could not confirm that Vida had a sister by that name, the old family Bible did not appear to list the child’s name in the genealogy of the family during that time. Was it simply a story she had written, though a great deal different than the poems about her children and grandchildren and her hymns to the Lord?

I try not to think about it, afraid that I too will write stories wishing my sister dead.


itsmeWhen you feel homesick for the colors you don’t have words for, that you saw once in a dream, that’s miss jody. She has two cats in her home, named Alfredrick “Alfie” Boris Karloff the Sea Captain, and another named Nereus “Nereus” The First Mate. Her favorite goddess is Freya, and her favorite place to live is in her home in Centennial, CO. Find her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.

Art: Hiding The Ghost of My Favorite Lover From The Others by Miss Jody

con job – marcelo duran

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A Young Man was walking down 17th street towards Union Station. His eyes fixed on a sign, “railroad ticket office” about a block away.

He was unbothered by the chaotic chorus of horse-drawn carriages and trolleys pulling businessmen in dapper suits and dirt-caked workers alike up and down the streets of downtown Denver.

As he got closer he saw another sign to the right of the door with an enticing advertisement, “ticket to Chicago $5,” which seemed too good to be true since it was $50 for a trip to the Windy City.

This would be good to bring up, he thought as he made his way closer to his destination and meeting with Soapy Smith.

He stepped through the plain pine door and asked for Mr. Smith. An affable gentleman with a feathery smile glanced over at the young stranger and asked, “Which Mr. Smith do you wish to see? It so happens that we have two or three Mr. Smiths in here.”

The affable gentleman behind the bar was one of Soapy’s lieutenants and tasked to size up those who came in about the tickets.

“I’m here to see whichever Mr. Smith can get me the best ticket price to Chicago,” the Young Man said. “I saw the sign out front and it piqued my interest.”

After a few minutes, the affable gentleman learned that the Young Man was looking for a ticket home to Chicago to give his father a report on mining prospects.

“Let me go get the Mr. Smith you’re looking for, but first do you want to take a chance at big money? You look like a lucky man…”

“No thank you, but maybe later after I square away a ticket for home,” the Young Man replied.

On one side of the dusty, square room, one of the games made up of a box with large envelopes, each containing varying amounts of bills where you can bet a modest amount to win big. But most of the time the suckers would be lucky to walk away with half of what they bet.

On the other side of the office was another dapper businessman. Before him on the dark wood desk sat a large ore sample from a claim up in Leadville. That was what the Young Man was really looking for. He had been warned about the gambling games in the ticket office and how they were prominently placed to more easily part a hapless man from his money.

Just like clockwork, Soapy appeared from a back room across the way.

“Young Man,” he drawled, in a voice as smooth as an oiled thunderbolt. How may I help you this fine morning?” He came from Georgia, but his voice was more than just Southern: it was the voice of a man confident in his place in the world, and intent on building it up.

For the top con man in Denver, this unassuming man’s look was more unkempt than one would expect.

He wore a homespun vest, free of any ornament, a dark, heavy cotton shirt with a cravat under the collar, and plain brown pants. His neatly-trimmed beard finished the look, which was unremarkable, unmemorable, and notably humdrum.

He looked more like one of his victims than he did the man running the biggest con in town. But maybe this was his aim. In looking like a man leading a humble life, and not the rich con artist he was, people would be quick to think, “How can anyone dressed like that pull one over on me?” And then, before you could say, Jack Robinson, this nondescript, smooth-talking fellow is taking the hard-earned gold dust you laid down moments before.

“I am inquiring about a ticket to Chicago and your sign caught my eye.”

“Oh yeah are you one of these kids that came out to Denver and heading back home because you’re flat broke” Soapy inquired.

“Not at all, I’m in a good spot and can buy a first-class ticket home, but my dad told me never spend a dollar where 50 cents would do just as well so I figured a $ticket will get me home as well as a $50 ticket.”

After a few more minutes of jostling between the two, talk about the $5 ticket faded away and replaced by talk about the piece of ore on the counter the Young Man saw earlier.

The two men wandered over to the counter with the ore with flecks of quartz, sandstone and broad gold streaks running along the sample.

The Young Man let on how he admired the sample, but Soapy refused to sell any of the stock of that mine unless the prospective buyer took home literature about the mine and promised to share it with his father.

“This will be the first thing I’ll talk about with my father when I get home,” the Young Man replied.

Soapy got up and walked to the bookshelf to pick up a few copies of the prospectus.

“What I’m about to give you is very valuable,” Soapy said as he shuffled the pieces of paper before putting them back on the shelf, “Perhaps too valuable to leave my office.”

“Maybe it would be more appropriate for your father to come out to Denver to see the mine’s value himself instead of leaving it to chance that others might learn of it first and buy up the shares.”

This awakened the Young Man’s suspicion. He stood up and walked over to Soapy near the bookshelf to make another plea for the pamphlet one more time.

“I can assure you that nothing will happen to the literature you give me, but my father will be interested with or without it.”

“It would be best if your father came out on such a big decision, but he shouldn’t take his time,” Soapy said. “Excuse me for a moment; one of my men is motioning me about something urgent.”

As Soapy stepped away, the Young Man saw that nobody was paying attention to him. Seeing his chance, he feigned a sneeze and copped a copy of the valuable prospectus.

“I apologize for leaving you in the lurch, but an important matter has come up that requires my attention,” Soap said in a hurried manner. “I’ll leave whatever matters you have to my able barkeep and I hope to see you and your father in my office soon.”

In addition, just like that, Soapy vanished as quickly as he appeared. And so did the bartender. The men left so quickly after realizing the Young Man was not going to be the catch of the day.

The only person left in the drafty room was an old man sweeping out dirt and debris onto the sidewalk. The Young Man felt so much like dirt and debris as he stepped outside with nothing.

The sun overhead was dipping into twilight possibly reflecting the down mood of the Young Man. However, little did anyone know, other than a few well-dressed gentlemen men in town, the Young Man walked away with the final piece of a puzzle to bring down one of the most powerful men in Denver.

The man that Soapy and his gang thought of as a lout and a waste of time was a new cub reporter for The Denver Times. Mere minutes after the uneventful meeting with Soapy he was at his desk on 15th and Lawrence scribbling down his encounter for the exposé.

The Young Man moved to Denver after receiving word that his old friend was the Managing Editor of the newspaper. This gave the Young Man a shot at writing for a daily and his arrival gave the managing editor a chance to bring to light the seamy underbelly of Denver.

“I want you to seek out the vilest men in town, get to know them, earn their trust or invisibility from their scheming eyes,” the editor told his friend. “Be watchful for their contacts in the police and city government, find out their names so we can crack the depravity of this town like a peanut.”

Therefore, he went about his work on the streets, with the look of a rube making his way through town. The reason why the Young Man had a chance at this is the story is his anonymity. There was an understood edict among the con artists not to steal from residents of the town. Denver was small enough that it was easy for them to discern a local citizen from a hayseed fresh off the train.

It really is amazing what a few ounces of whiskey will buy you from the local drunk holding down the bar at the Tivoli Tavern on 17th and Larimer. That is how he learned about the “gold mine” scheme and then planned his ploy to get his hands on a pamphlet.

The trip to the ticket office was the last piece to puzzle and a few hours later the reporter, with the pencil in hand, completed his story and turned it in.

With victory at hand, the Young Man sauntered down Larimer Street wherein front of the arcade, another man motioned to him in salutation.

It was Bat Masterson, formerly the famous marshal of Dodge City, an acquaintance of the reporter. They were talking with one another near the curb when the Young Man looked behind his back and saw, standing in the doorway with a look on his face as if he had seen a ghost, the affable man whom he had met at the ticket office earlier that day.

The Young Man immediately crossed the street, but he knew that his identity discovered. The affable man vanished. He was probably running directly to his boss to tell Soapy what he had seen.

By the time, the reporter got back to the Times office, Soapy and his entire gang were in the managing editor’s office. Soapy was reading the front page story for tomorrow’s edition, composed of the article contained their methods, their haunts, their names and even information about the heavily-guarded prospectus of the rich gold mine.

Nothing was left out; the police and government were implicated in the story. The article spelling their doom was mere hours away from being etched to ink and paper. There’s was no way the gang could stay in Denver if the jig is up. But Soapy had one more card to play before he would abdicate his throne.

“Mr. Manager,” he began in a strong, earnest tone and manner “we are all here, for I could not believe what I was told; now I have read it and I know.”

“When you publish that, these men you see,” indicating his followers sitting about “and I will not be here:”

Leaning impressively towards the editor, in a low intense voice, he offered his terms of capitulation:

“If you want anybody beat up, we’ll do it; if you want any papers destroyed or stolen, we’ll do it; do you want a force in politics, we have it. If you want a ballot-box destroyed, we’ll destroy it pronto. If you wish to dispose of anybody permanently, we shall make his disappearance absolutely final. If there is anything want to be done, we’ll do it. But not publish that story.”

The exposé about Soapy and his gang was omitted from next day’s edition of The Times. The cub reporter received it back.

We’ll never know the real reason behind the Managing Editor’s decision to suppress the story. Maybe the real con was for the Managing Editor to have the upper hand on Soapy and the covenant of a favor tucked in his pocket, and the promise of being able to cash in that valuable chip at any time.


Marcelo Duran is a former journalist, born and raised in Denver who grew up on the North Side of town before it was cool. He spends his free time scrolling through microfilm at the library researching local Denver history. His stories and knowledge about Denver history has been featured on several podcasts in and around Denver.

mental regurgitation – juliet cook

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1.

I was terrified of leeches when I was a girl. I was walking home from school with a boy who pointed at a hole in the ground and told me that bloodsuckers lived inside holes. When I got home, I asked my mom what a bloodsucker was. She informed me bloodsuckers were mutant worms that stuck themselves to your skin and sucked your blood and could not be pulled out with your fingers. She said the only way to get them out was to burn them.

I was extremely squeamish about blood and hellfire, and so the idea of having a big misshapen worm penetrating my flesh and swallowing my blood seemed like a horror movie scene. I saw myself fainting and falling down into a continually sucked pool of my own blood while burning in hell.

In my late teens, I found out about medicinal leeches.  When they had no idea how to treat hysterical females, they would insert the leeches into women’s vaginas, in an attempt to alleviate their mental disorders by having blood sucked out of their female parts.

Sometimes my memory exaggerates things, but I’m telling you what I remember. The bloodsucking leeches are stuck inside women’s vaginas. They are almost impossible to pull out.  Maybe that’s what it means to be a woman. Maybe you can’t control what’s stuck inside you and it will keep sucking and sucking and sucking the life out of you.

How in the hell would they remove a leech from a woman’s vagina? By sticking a cigarette inside her?  By inserting a gloved set of fingers  to probe and pry? Are there special medicinal instruments for extracting the leeches? Or for secretly inserting one inside of a woman forever?

2.

In my adult life, I still hate the gynecologist. I still worry about what might be inside me. But I’m not as squeamish about blood as I used to be. After all, menstrual blood clots have been blobbing themselves out of my vagina every month for close to 30 years, so I’m pretty used to internal blood baths.

If a leech attached itself to my body now, I think I’d be able to handle it and even take a series of photos, watching it suck enough blood until it fell off me. As a little girl, I had no idea they could ever get enough blood and fall off on their own. As a teenager, I had to investigate everything unusual on my own.

I found out that trying to remove a leech by burning is one of the least effective forms of removal, because not only does that maim or kill the leech, it also has much more potential to injure you. Even if the fire makes the leech fall off, first that injured leech will vomit the sucked blood out of its body and into your body. That bloody vomit will enter your wound.

Then the violent infection of your own wound will work its way into your womb and you will keep growing more and more infected leeches and popping them out of your vagina like a hideous infestation of babies shaped like giant worms or tiny malformed blood sucking penises.

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Juliet Cook is a grotesque glitter witch medusa hybrid brimming with black, grey, silver, purple, and dark red explosions. She is drawn to poetry, abstract visual art, and other forms of expression. Her poetry has appeared in a peculiar multitude of literary publications. You can find out more at www.JulietCook.weebly.com.

Photo: Erol Ahmed

miracle: an excerpt from the diary of lea knight -attica adams

Miracle (2)

1. Beginnings
Menace is in the air. Tragedies are in the making. Fear passes from each to each. It has always been this way.

2. Parents
Mine were violent and all-powerful. They even knew this about each other. Father sarcastically called her “The Queen” because she was cruel and self-absorbed. Mother called him “The Minotaur,” after the creature of incalculable fury.
Jack’s were a little different. His mother was violent, but his father was not. His mother beat him. His father was rarely around. Jack’s father called Jack’s mother “The Witch” because of her sharp tongue. His mother called his father “The Goat Man” for his lasciviousness, for he liked the ladies.

3. Dog Stories
I never had a dog when I was little, but Jack did, a little Boston Terrier named Pepper. And Pepper was everything to Jack, his baby to take care of, his friend to keep him company. A creature pure in its love.
A teenaged boy told me once that his dog was run over by a car. The dog was alive but suffering. He knew he would have to shoot it to put it out of its misery. As the dog lay beside the road, the boy reached his hand out. The dog licked his hand. “The Goddamn thing licked my hand,” the boy said. He was crying when he told me this.
Two weeks ago, in this town, someone tied a stray dog to a pole. The person poured accelerant on the dog and set it on fire. The dog lived for a few days, during which time many people rallied to save it, and when it died many were left feeling empty, with nothing to do and no one to blame.
Last summer, at a festival, I saw a black dog. Its owners stopped to let a child see it. The child was a very young, a boy, not yet able to talk. It was a remarkable dog. I know this because I saw it through the child’s eyes. Its owners went around with it on the end of a string! It had two shiny marbles for eyes! Its hair was short and velvety like the inside of a jewelry box! Nearby, people sold confections and balloons, so there was a flurry of buying. Most people headed toward the river where canons were being fired and men wore uniforms from long-ago wars. Silently, the boy sent his finger forth and touched the dog’s little black anus. The mother was calm. She looked at her child with sadness, as though she had seen something far ahead or had just awakened from a dream about death.
There is a place some humans believe in called “the Rainbow Bridge,” a realm where pets go after death and are restored to full health and happiness. It seems to me a place like the Big Rock Candy Mountain that hobos sing of, a land of lemonade springs and a lake of stew, a land where jails are made of tin and you can walk right out again. In these places, there are no sad consequences to anything pleasurable in life. At the Rainbow Bridge, there’s unending sunshine, room to play, and fresh water and food all the time. It’s a place of reunion, where humans someday rejoin their pets. I’ve heard people say something like, “My Buddy passed over the Rainbow Bridge today.” They say through their tears that now their pet is running free.
We walked to school every morning and Pepper followed us. He knew what classroom we were in and jumped until he could see us through the window. It made everybody laugh, even the teacher. When he was satisfied, he would lie by the door, waiting for us. He would wait all day. As Soren Kierkegaard wrote in his diary, “The yardstick for a human being is: how long and to what degree he can bear to be alone, devoid of understanding with others.” Pepper understood us. This was his proper function, and when were together, we were happy.

4. Punishments
I slept in a room at the end of a long dark hallway on the second-story of our house.
Once I let a rope down for Jack to climb on. The idea was to let him and Pepper live secretly in my room. It made sense at the time.
But Mother heard us and nailed the window shut. And that was the end of that, except for the punishments.
Mother punished me by making me sit under the big tree in our front yard. I sat there for many hours. While there, I developed a relationship with an owl that lived in the tree. The owl became my confessor, listening to all my problems, considering all my questions.
I asked it, “Do you believe in God?” I said, “I have read The Golden Book About God, but there is no picture of God in the book, only pictures of birds, insects, cherries, and stars.”
In my childish way, I wondered whether these things might be God or at least manifestations of Him. I still wonder.
Jack’s punishment began with his mother yelling at the top of her lungs and his father’s grand escape. The Goat Man fled the house, yelling that his witchy wife was nothing but trouble. “If I wanted to take my troubles with me,” he said, “I wouldn’t bother leaving.”
The next day I saw the marks on Jack’s face and arms, the places where she had hit him, making blood rise angrily under his skin.

5. Home
One day I felt good, so I broke into song at the kitchen table. This was rude, Mother said, so she made me sit under the tree again. I sat there for many hours.
It became a regular thing.
The punishment was so frequent that I began to study the situation, and I saw she didn’t care if I stayed under the tree or not. She only wanted me out of her sight. Then I was free to join Jack and Pepper in their explorations.
Jack and I found an old cabin in the forest, and we decorated it with objects we found at the dump. It was homey. We had chairs, a table, a painting of an angel protecting children while they crossed a bridge, and a vase for flowers. We had a whole set of World Book Encyclopedias. We had a circular rug made of old, braided rags sewn together. We gave the rug to Pepper, who slept on it in a sliver of light that came through the cabin window. And while Pepper slept, I read encyclopedias to Jack and quizzed him about the summaries they held.
When we were in the cabin, we never pictured ourselves changed by grief, growing up, or growing old. Like children in a fairy tale, we would be children forever and eventually all would be well.

6. A Cat
I was the one who discovered it. It was a kitten, so tiny it was sleeping in one of father’s shoes. Mother wanted Father to carry it off, but he wouldn’t. She wanted him to kill it but he said no. He didn’t want the cat. He just didn’t want to bow to her commands. He was the Minotaur, the crazy bull at the heart of the labyrinth of life.
I fed the cat and it learned to trust me.
Mother said it would all come to no good.
One day I saw the cat’s belly was large. Mother saw it too and said the cat would have kittens. She blamed Father. What were they going to do now with a bunch of cats? This would upset our stability. Our lives would now be so much worse. An argument ensued. Insults were traded. To end the fight, Father threw a mug of beer at her head. She ducked, so it didn’t hit her. It exploded against the wall.
It was quiet then, enough to hear the mice scurrying behind walls.
Time went on.
It was in the fall when the air was bitter with the smell of burning leaves. That’s when I found the cat dead under a bush.
As Kierkegaard wrote in his diary, “Great is my grief, limitless. Since my earliest childhood, a barb of sorrow has lodged in my heart. As long as it stays I am ironic—if it is pulled out I shall die.”
Mother saw the dead cat too and was filled with a magnificent rage. She would give me a lesson, she said.
She had already told me long ago how babies were made, how they were born. Her descriptions of cutting, blood, and pain had left me scarred and afraid.
And now she said she would show me something. She went into the house and got a knife. She wanted to expose the kittens, to show me how they would be hairless and blind, like little rats, she said, like filthy little rats. She sliced the cat open but there were no babies, only a big tumor.
No kittens. This enraged her even more. She threw the cat and the tumor onto our pile of burning leaves. The flames curled everything up, turning it black before reducing it to almost nothing.
After this, I dreamed that the cat had only looked dead. Really, she was alive, except I was the only one who knew it. The dream gave me a private thrill.

7. Irony
One day Jack’s mother chased him around the yard hitting him with a broom handle. She had done this before with other objects, like belts, wire hangers, or shoes. This time, Pepper was barking in outrage.
Have you ever seen an animal killed before your eyes? To see it pink-tongued and bright-eyed, then still. At first you think it will get up and strut like before. You think it just has to. Then you notice it looks so much smaller. You want to ask it, “Where did you suddenly go?”
That afternoon when we returned from school, a dirty shovel was resting next to the house. And that was the end of that.
Some believe in heaven. Some believe in the Rainbow Bridge. Others say the earth is our mother, and she loves us. What the truth is, I can’t say. Though I’ve seen once-buried things and they didn’t look like they were loved by the earth.
After all that happened, I would dream I gave birth to some sad thing, a cancer, a rat, a dog with a broken face, a human fetus distorted beyond repair.
Then, years later when I did have children, they were born beautiful but dead. This is Kierkegaard’s irony.

8. Endings
I knew a woman who had to put her ailing dog to sleep and could not forgive herself.
She showed me a photograph and said to me, “This is my baby.”
There are people who can’t abide a person referring to a dog as their baby. They think it’s silly, or weak, or that the comparison isn’t apt. But I abide.
The creature sighs just as a baby does. It draws close for comfort and drools on your shirt. It yelps in its sleep and we imagine it has nightmares, so we hasten to relieve its trouble. A dog is a placeholder for a thing that’s missing or, in many cases, it’s the thing itself.
“My baby was my everything,” the woman said, “I miss him so much. I miss his mouth, his velvet chest, the way he walks, the way he snuggles, I miss it all.”
The way he walks, she said, the way he snuggles, as if the dog was alive in her mind.
Then she remembered her dog was dead. She said, not to me but to God, “Bring my baby back. His ears and feet. Bring him back, his soft skin, his loving grin; I’m sorry. I did this to him. Why? My baby.”
She was crossing “The Bridge of Sighs.”
In his diary Kierkegaard mentioned “The Bridge of Sighs,” which is the enclosed bridge in Venice which passes over the Rio di Palazzo and which condemned men crossed on their way to their lead dungeons. He said this bridge is the path we all must take on our way to eternity.
Last night I dreamed about the cat again. I was looking out through my childhood eyes, but also the eyes I have now. I was looking at Mother illuminated by fire as she stood against a black and starless sky. She was about to throw the cat onto the burning leaves.
“No,” I shouted, “she’s still alive!” In response, she threw the cat’s body onto the fire. It was as though I had made it happen. After a sharp instant of grief, a sense almost of being sliced in two, I saw the cat leap from the flames and disappear into the night.
I could only stand perplexed.
What had I witnessed, a miracle or all hope leaving?
Even now I have no clue why the universe exists as it is.

 

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Theresa Williams (Attica Adams) has twice received the Individual Excellence Grant from the Ohio Arts Council. Her work has appeared in many magazines, including Gargoyle, Hunger Mountain, and The Sun. Her Sun stories can be read here: https://www.thesunmagazine.org/contributors/theresa-williams . Her novel, The Secret of Hurricanes was a finalist for the Paterson Fiction Prize. She is currently working on a graphic novel, The Diary of Lea Knight. 

Art: Attica Adams (Theresa Williams)

 

three scenes of heartache as told by a casual observer – grace nordgren

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One. My local Goodwill was nearly empty the week before Christmas. It was eight o’clock. I had ducked in with a friend, looking for refuge from the bitter weather. We were wrapped in coats that were too thin to keep us properly warm. But we didn’t care. As she browsed the CD collection, I of course gravitated over to the books. Worn paperbacks lay discarded in great quantities, adorned with yellow stickers of a garish color. They were marked with cheap prices, but no one seemed to be interested in them, as the shelves were full and the stacks high. Perhaps it was because they had once belonged to other people. Handling the books with care, I scanned the back covers and flipped the pages. A little volume caught my eye from its position on the pile. I picked it up, and almost discarded it once I realized it was a self-help book for troubled couples. For reasons I cannot explain I opened it, and browsed it page by page. The paragraphs were notated in black pen, and the handwriting was neat and legible in the margins. I read none of the notes, except for one, written in large letters under a heavily circled passage in the book: John- we really need to work on this. Please. I set the book down. It was three dollars.

Two. They lay there like dolls. Their human forms, splayed on the concrete, were barely distinguishable under the tarps. There were police and firemen standing over the bodies, and a small crowd was on the curb. My mother and I hurriedly crossed the street, and a woman who saw us on the sidewalk warned us to always be watchful when driving. And to never text on your cell phone. My mother put a hand on my back and asked me to keep explaining The Iliad to her. She stole sidelong glances at me as we walked down the grassy hill, too green and alive to exist right next door to death. The birds chirping was too cheerful, the sky too clear, and children at the park too lively. My mother bought me a smoothie, probably to take my mind off of the people. But I wasn’t thinking about them. I was engrossed in the story of Achilles playing out in my head. I was numb inside. As stony as the walls of Troy.

Three. My friend’s mother was waiting for us to meet her in the car. We were just leaving a shop, about to exit the mall. A strangled cry made us jump. We turned to see a woman tear towards a kiosk, running like the wind. She gasped and shouted at the saleswoman, so loudly we could hear her from twenty feet away. Her voice rose and cracked as she asked her if she had seen a small four-year old, all by himself. Her tears streamed down her face like lightning, her cries thundering through the mall. The saleswoman shook her head, and tried to placate the woman by dialing her phone, presumably to alert somebody, anybody. The woman spun around and began screaming the child’s name. Jack! Jack! Jack! Over and over. We stood there, unsure what to do. Perhaps some other people approached the woman, it’s hard to remember. I will forever feel guilty about how we chose to leave then. Later that night, in bed, in the dark, my friend shakily whispered that she hoped the woman found her son. I wish we had some way of knowing. On days like this, I resent being human.

 

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Bio: Grace Nordgren is a student from Denver, Colorado.  She is working towards acquiring a degree in English.  She enjoys daydreaming, pondering existence, and pomegranates.  This is her first published piece.

Photo: Prudence Earl

three stories – mathias svalina

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One.

A man wanted to travel to another continent, but he did not have a boat. He read about a series of holes & tunnels & caves that led to the continent to which he wanted to travel. He travelled to the beginning of the path, parked his car, & walked the mile or so to the first hole. This initial hole was filled with mud. He waded through the mud. The hole led to a tunnel of slime. He waded though the slime. The stink sickened him & he propped the neck of his shirt over his nose to try to dampen it, to no avail. The tunnel of slime led to another tunnel, which was dry & generally unremarkable. He walked through this tunnel easily. The dry tunnel led to cave in which there was a lake of fire. He could not pass this lake. Gathering many large rocks, he dropped one into the lake of fire. He stepped on this rock, then dropped another large rock in front of him. He from this second rock he dropped a third rock into the lake of fir & stepped onto that one. He dropped & stepped on another, then another, another. In this way he raveled across half the lake of fire. At this point he took a break. Carrying large rocks is very tiring. He sat on the last rock & drank some lemonade. Then he lay down & took a little nap. In his sleep he had a weird dream of falling upwards into a florescent light, buzzing & flickering. He woke with a bodily convulsion, knocking all his remaining rocks, which were to get him to the other side, into the lake of fire. The knocked-over rocks formed a small island. He tried to pull the rocks out but the heat had melted them together. This was as far as his journey would get him. He built a log cabin on the island. He grew a pleasant garden, both vegetables & flowers. He trained his hounds not to near the lake of fire. He e-lanced & paid all his bills online. On weekends he’d pack a little lunch, put a six-pack in the cooler & spend the whole day fishing on the shore. He didn’t care whether he caught anything. He had grown to love how the fire splashed & rippled when his sinker dropped, how the fire lapped at the stone shore, how little tusks of fire would sometimes pierce through the lake, only to dissipate in the air. But when he did catch a fish, if he could pull it in quickly enough, it was each time already fully cooked by the lake of fire, the flesh flaky & delicious.

Two.

My sister is a pilot. I am her co-pilot. We are preparing to fly a plane across the ocean. The plane sits on the runway as we wait for the air traffic controllers to give us our commands. A bunch of boys climb into the cockpit. They play marbles. They play kick the can. They play stickball with a rubber ball, causing the ball to bounce around the cockpit every time they hit it. One boy eats some sloppy spaghetti out of his cupped hands. He sits between me & my sister. As he eats the sloppy spaghetti, he toggles the switches. I tell him he can’t do that, but he does not listen. I offer him a bowl for his spaghetti. He ignores me. The ignition switch is covered with tomato sauce. My sister leans into the microphone & says We were cleared to take off. Her voice emerges from the speakers tinny & distorted. I flip the ignition switch on & start doing flying stuff. The plane rolls down the runway. It lifts into the air. It increases in speed, until are in full throttle. We reach cruising speed, but all this time, the plane has remained only ten feet above the ground, shaking the cars & trucks below us on the highway. I turn to my sister, the pilot. We are dead, aren’t we? I ask. This is how the dead live, isn’t it? I take my headset off & walk to the door of the cockpit, & look over the seats. Everyone in the plane is dead. All but one teenaged girl with long black hair. She is alive & seated next to my mother’s dead body. Sara, I say to the teenaged girl & tears roll down my face. I grab the boy eating spaghetti. He is a man now, his face covered by decades of dried tomato sauce. He is my husband & I am his. When I look at him again, he is old, his knuckles gone mutable & nutty with arthritis. I point to the girl with black hair, still teenaged, still the only one alive. O, I say to my husband. O, how our Sara has grown.

Three.

A woman could not tell the difference between babies & sticks. As her friends became adults & began to have babies, she became a popular party game. One friend would hold his baby in one hand & a stick in the other, then ask the woman which was which. Half the time she guessed correctly. One day the woman found herself ready to give birth to a baby. At the hospital the doctor ducked beneath the woman’s gowned knees to check on things. When the doctor stood back up, his arms had transformed into large plastic spray bottles, filled with blue glass cleaner. I do not want you to deliver my baby with spray-bottle-arms, the woman said. They will injure the baby’s pliable skull & glass cleaner will irritate the skin. Another doctor was ordered but at he did his doctor stuff, his arms turned into plastic mastodon dolls. I do not want you to deliver my baby with plastic-mastodon-arms, the woman said. They will scar my baby’s soft skin & make her afraid of the world she is entering. Again doctor was ordered. When this doctor stood up from beneath the woman’s gowned knees, one of the doctor’s arms had transformed into a good-sized stick & the other had transformed into a fresh & healthy baby, flecked with afterbirth & screaming. The woman looked back & forth from one arm to the other, trying to figure out which one was the baby. She made her decision & took that one home. She kept the one she took home in a crib & each morning she sang their favorite song as she changed their diapers & fed them formula. The song is called “Buffalo Stance” by the musician Neneh Cherry. It is a very good song.

 

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Mathias Svalina is the author of five books, most recently The Wine-Dark Sea from Sidebrow Books. He is a founding editor of Octopus Books & runs a Dream Delivery Service. 

Photo: Sarah Penney

falling – dakota drake

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The planes at the airport would fly over, land, and take off every day, and the sky would be full of noise. Next door to the high barbed fences surrounding the tarmac, there was a small house where a man and his dog lived. The house where the man and the dog lived would shake and shiver with the sound of planes attempting to break the sound barrier all day and all night. Despite the thunderous exclamations of flight that rattled windowpanes and made the very floorboard vibrate like a bass drum, the man, and the dog, barely noticed.

They were so surrounded in this cloud of constant noise that they both went about their business every day without really hearing the difference between silence and thrumming engines. Neither their daily routines, nor their nightly sleep was affected in the least.
Both slept well under a curtain of stars and diesel, and every day they ate small meals in each other’s company.

The man ate the small meals because he bought small bags of groceries, which was all that he could carry on his bike from the grocery store to the house. The dog ate small meals because that is what the man fed the dog. The dog looked up at the man sometimes while the man dug a very small handful of dry food out of a paper bag to put in the dog’s little bowl, watching him, wondering if today was the day that more food would be in the bowl. Sometimes. But the dog was mostly used to eating a small amount, and never whined or drooled for more.

The planes flew over all night, between the man and the dog and the edge of space. Both of the dwellers of the house slept well on their half-full stomachs and dreamt half-full dreams, and woke refreshed each day.

One day the airport shut down. All the flights were stopped. The sky was still, free of other people’s itineraries and combustion engines. And the sounds of wind, and birds, and rain, and quietude were free to return.

The change was sudden. The man noticed as soon as he came home from work. That night, no amount of rolling around the bed or flipping his pillow could allow him to get to sleep. The dog walked from room to darkened room, wondering at what was no longer there. In the daylight, when the man spoke to the dog in the newly quiet house, the words hitting the air startled them. The man took to whispering so as to not disturb them both.

The dog didn’t care for the clipping noise that his nails made against the floor and decided to live on the couch or bathroom rug. Until dinner time that is, when he forgot as soon as the kibble rang like a bell in his little bowl.

The man took to grinding his teeth in his sleep, and the dog started scratching at fleas that were not there.

“No, it’s not a strange request at all!” said the realtor.

The next house that the man and the dog quickly moved to was on a busy street. The house was filled with other people’s sounds: car doors, backfiring engines, clanging pots and pans at a nearby restaurant kitchen, children before they had learned about the power of decibels in their own lungs.

The man failed to convince himself that the bass from a nearby movie theater was actually a plane breaking the sound barrier over and over again. The aggression and suddenness in the noises was so demanding of the man’s attention that sometimes he forgot to feed the dog for an hour or two, which caused the dog to begin to whine and drool.

The dog was tired from racing from wall to wall, to the window, to the front door, to the back, in order to find the source of all the noises. When he slept, he dreamt of chasing nothing for miles and miles, through the sky. The man did not dream at all, because he was not sleeping. Neither the man nor the dog woke refreshed.

“I’m sorry, I’m having trouble hearing you. Would you mind turning down the music on your end? … Oh, oh I’m sorry, I thought it was yours.” Said the realtor.

“It will be a change of pace to be sure.” Said the realtor about the next house. The house was out in the country, where the stars were only slightly visible under a canopy of spindly pine trees.

The ancient house created its own noises, anything from the scuttle of mouse feet in the attic, to groans of centuries-old boards. Most sounds went unexplained for generations.

The man and the dog took walks together in the forest around the house. Branches snapped out of sight. Leaves crunched underfoot. Huge crows sat in the trees above them and laughed harsh and grating. The man and the dog paused, shivered, and turned back on the path to the house, less interested in the beauty of nature than suddenly remembering that if something sinister happened to them, there was no one for miles to find out.

The dog sneezed over and over at the dust and the pine needles. The man listened to the lonely old house sway and whine and held the allergic dog close to him. The man’s heart beat as fast as when it was quiet as when he heard something.

The dog coughed too hard to sleep, and the man lay awake thinking about every book or movie he’d ever read or seen about haunted houses, from Nancy Drew to Scooby Doo. Bodies in the walls and whatnot. Haunted forests surrounding you on all sides. Families gone to ruin for generations, wandering shadowed hallways. Cobwebs. Ghosts. Scooby Snacks. Then—

Small footsteps. Clawing at the window. A hiss.

“Yes, possums are very common there.” The realtor explained, trying so hard not to laugh that tears rolled down her cheeks like rainwater off a roof. “I’ll get you someone to fix the window.”

Temporarily the man and the dog moved to another forest, into a house that had once been used for early settlers and pioneers, then forest rangers.

“Rustic!” read the listing that the realtor had hesitantly sent the man. The man and the dog looked at each other. Mostly the man looked at the dog, because the dog’s eyes were too red and watery from allergies too see much.

The man rode his bike to check out the house with the dog trotting happily beside him on a leash, his snout finally clearing a bit. The bike left wet lines on the grass when they rode around the many hikers and tourists that they shared the path with.

As the two got closer to the house, a low hissing sound could be heard. It grew louder as they neared, into a quiet rumble. It was like holding your ear to someone’s stomach, and feeling as much as hearing the unseen churning inside.

The little house was close enough to the famous waterfalls that mist had created droplets of water on the windows. They ran down the glass as though it was constantly raining on one side of the house. Once inside the humid little home, the roar of the falls was still audible, but contained.

That first night, whenever the man spoke to the dog in soothing tones between doses of allergy meds, neither felt that the sound of his voice was intrusive. The voice was softened, the edges rounded off.

One fresh and bright day, the man and the dog went out onto the trail to the falls. The muddy track climbed slowly over rough switchbacks along the cliffs to make the steep slope easier to navigate.

The man stopped in a clearing to watch a hawk glide downwards from the top of the falls slowly, close enough the see it turn its head back and forth. The breeze picked up, blowing in a mist like a veil separating the man and the dog from the rest of the world.

The dog sat in the cool mud, smelling water, and rocks, and the fish that fought the current, and the sandwiches in the backpacks of nearby hikers.

Enveloped in mist and sunlight, the man and the dog became wavelengths of sound themselves, allowing the wet air to permeate their beings. They too were the continuous noise of a burly river that had been falling off the world for as long as there had been rocks and water and had always filled the atmosphere with its laughter.

The man did not at first notice the dog stand up and walk off sharply, pulling the leash out of his hand. Above the gush of falls, he could then just hear the sound of barking.

Instantly pulled out of his reverie, he turned and called for the dog. The dog kept running and barking ahead on the path that lead down to the river near the bottom of the falls. He followed alarmed, sliding in the mud through switchbacks, running back through the forest.

He met the bank of the river at a break in the trees. He found the dog, front feet in the cold water, barking as hard as a dog could at something across the river. The man lunged and grabbed the leash, trying to pull the dog out on the bank, but the dog would not budge. Finally, the man looked up at what the dog was now howling at, and nearly dropped the leash again.

Across the river, another man was climbing up the low cliff face. Long sinewy limbs reached and stretched to find narrow holds against slippery rock.

He reached, he reached, and he slipped. And fell.

The man and the dog ran and dove into the powerful current, kicking against boulders. They tumbled in the waves and came up with nostrils burning, sinuses full of icy water.

The man found and grabbed at the climber, barely holding onto a half-submerged tree, struggling to pull himself above the tumultuous surface. The dog was tumbling past them and the man just barely managed to reach out and grab the dog by a grabbing his back leg and pulling him onto the tree. The man had the climber hold onto his back and held the dog under one arm as he swam the three of them downstream and back to the shore.

The man and the dog coughed and vomited up fishy water on the gravel bank. The climber simply rolled onto his side and passed out.

Later that day at the hospital, the man and the dog sat in the climber’s room where it was never silent but never loud either. Machines, and nurses’ shoes on the tile, and the distant arguments of families, and the groans of the sick.

No one questioned the man about the dog. He did have to answer questions about the climber, which he was surprised to realize he knew nothing about.

That surprise was a bit of a surprise in itself. Why should he feel like he knew this man? It’s just some guy doing a stupid stunt on a cliff, of course he didn’t know anything about him. There was no reason to still feel protective after saving him, no reason to stay in the room waiting for him to awake. He never thought about leaving the room however.

When the climber awoke, the dog leapt on the bed, rubbing mud all into the sheets and his wet snout all over the climber’s beard. The man finally got a chance to ask the climber about being surprised, about being surprised at being surprised, and finally asking him his name. The climber smiled weakly, before answering. His chest hurt from the ice water and the CPR, but he wanted to talk anyway.

The climber drove them all back to the little house in the forest, stopping first at the grocery store in his car to buy food to cook for dinner, as a thank you for saving his life.

After dinner, the climber poured the dog’s food himself, a huge bowl full of goopy wet meat chunks from a can. The dog ate the food hard that his teeth hit the bottom of the bowl. Both the man and the dog’s stomachs were full for the first time in a very long time.

The climber poured a very large glass of wine for both himself and the man. The gentle cling of the glasses together sounded as right, just as their laughter with the backdrop of the roaring falls did as well.

That night, the dog climbed onto the bed to sleep in the valley of blankets between the man and the climber. There was no room there at first, both men fitting so snugly together in sleep, but the dog was determined and wedged himself in until there was a dog-shaped space for him too. He rested his snout first on the climber’s scratchy beard, then on the man’s chest. The only things that could be heard above the sound of the falls was their quiet breaths, and the warm sound of heartbeats.

 

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Dakota Drake is a woodland creature living in the desert. She does AcroYoga all the time, reads often, and sometimes makes art. Eventually she will buy a wasteland and devote her life to making it into a lush rainforest, one tree at a time.

 

Photo: Martin Adams

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

skim milk – jack orleans

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Marie met back with herself after quite a long hiatus. She was sitting in the den, reading the paper and letting tendrils of smoke vine up at her wrists. She met back with herself after she decided to take up gardening and collecting old National Geographic. She met back with herself after realizing that she wasn’t the one she needed to escape from. She met back with herself after she dumped all the pills in the toilet, and swore not to reach down and take them one-by-one, dry them off, and save them. She did that to two, swallowed one, felt half, and let the rest go.

She was reading NatGeo after stepping inside to make tea. The magazines looked like an attempt to get back to the land. In it there were glossed pictures of African women and Siberian native men, seemingly happy, seemingly without knowledge of more intimate pleasures. The most she’d seen is pictures of a few factory workers—some Soviet, some Chinese—stepping out for cigarettes, or drunk after hours. But even the cigarettes looked otherworldly. Between the fingers of people that weren’t her, and in a place she couldn’t be, the cigarettes looked healthy even. Like Chinese Coke, bitter and more bubbly, less sweet. Like Russian Kvass; healthful for fun. As for the tribal folks, the most there was a shaman taking the strange brew, which looked less like fun and more like duty.

Marie thought of what a mistake it may have been to throw out the pills. How, they swam down the pipes and tubes in a moment of peace, and how she might wish she wouldn’t when times became less easygoing. And in some ways she was right to sense that she in the future would be scolding of her in the present. That thought alone brought some tension, some punctuations in ease. She tried to lose herself from it, hiding between the glossy pages, under people who knew better, and beside them as close as possible without kidding herself. She put down the magazine to grab a beer from the fridge. The cigarette in her hand had fizzled out, but it was burnt enough to even think about relighting it. She came back to the magazine with a pint glass of stout, watching the black middle get sandwiched between two shades of foam.

She took small bird-like sips of it, now cautious of anything that feels good. A substitution couldn’t be on its way already. Anything that feels good; enemy. But she kept sipping it and tumbling through the rest of the pages, looking for an answer after having found the camaraderie. She put the issue away and grabbed another from the magazine holster beside the armchair she sat in. This time, the ‘67 issue. It felt heavy, and a bit too holy to not have a few more sips of beer and a cigarette beforehand. She wanted to read it, but wanted to enjoy herself, so she huffed the cigarette until the ember was longer than the ash and took one huge chug of stout. She took a deep breath and opened to the contents. In it was an article: Skim Milk. The title reeked of incredulity. Invitation by title alone compared to the others that started with ‘how’ or ‘when.’ It described the end of the Civil War one-hundred years later.

When soldiers returned from battle, they also returned with morphine addiction. Those who’d survived survived with a slow illness, rather than quick ones. Even if they’d not been killed or severely maimed, they still returned for carvings for the good stuff. To which, they were either put in asylums, or slowly died from the addiction. A doctor treating them had grown infamous for his advice: “to treat morphine dependence, the afflicted should make in their regimen a cup or two daily of skim milk.” Meanwhile, people who went to him still had the disease. The skim milk didn’t save anyone. In fact, drinking skim milk doesn’t even cure calcium deficiency. But they drank the skim milk, still used morphine until death or cold-turkey.

She looked through the myriad of pictures of soldiers trying to stand still. They did a good job, but the slump rest just beneath their eyes. Their pupils were the size of pin-pricks, and for good reason. Eyes like that make the light dim. They maintained their rowdiness in candid shots. Gathering around a small table playing dice, drinking, smoking on pipes. They were distant, unseen, clouded in sepia and scuff marks on the thin glass panes that served as film. They looked like they did, everything normal, just with the weight of morphine resting on them. Everything they did or could do, they would have done. But they hunched over, going about the day-to-day, but weighed.
They didn’t stop drinking skim milk. Even though it didn’t do anything, they didn’t stop drinking the skim milk. They may have died from overdose or stress, but earlier that day they most likely drank a heaping cupful of skim milk. And they didn’t ask themselves why. It didn’t help, but it didn’t hurt. Her interest grew into it, looking glued to the article. She finished her cigarette so she could read more, and the beer was making her woozy. So she clasped the magazine in both hands and tried to dive in.

She couldn’t understand how a doctor—someone who’s in the business of help—could suggest something so bizarre. She couldn’t understand the logic. It wasn’t perfect but they had methods for every other thing. It wasn’t perfect but it was better than years before. It can’t be perfect but it’s always better. She thought that that sort of advice would’ve been outgrown by then, after the war, after most of history. She couldn’t understand it, but also didn’t mind going for a glass of skim milk.

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Jack Orleans is a Denver writer whose work has been featured in Birdy Magazine (‘Nobody Leaves,’), SUNY Hopewell’s literary journal, The Finger (‘Edward III’), and Suspect Press (‘Orchid’). He has also published a photo-essay in Stain’d Magazine (‘Paris Syndrome’), and an essay is forthcoming in Litro. Jack can’t seem to fall asleep. He takes the bus late to have coffee. While taking the bus, he’s happy until someone fucks up on the bus. After, he’s happy but with caveats. He knows that he’d be awake regardless of having had coffee. He prefers to be awake and alert over awake and tired. He just doesn’t know what he wants, but it better involve lots of undeserved perks or skymiles. 

Photo/Ceramics: Tom Crew

hungry ghosts – chris moore

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How to Woo a Married Woman:

• Converse on a wide variety of topics
• Share music she’s never heard before but likes
• Be physically close
• Challenge her, without conflict
• Have similar outdoor interests
• Love nature
• Notice rocks
• Be quick-witted
• Be offbeat
• Keep your mind open
• Be intelligent
• Care about things
• Give
• Have patience with her children
• Be the keeper of more than one talent
• Be thoughtful
• Be intuitive (to a fault)
• Be sensual
• Make her laugh
• Have bright eyes

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August 2010: They say that the brain doesn’t stop developing until mid-twenties, even early thirties. Guess that means I meet her at a crucial point. Twenty-four. I tell her twenty-five; my birthday just around the corner. She’s eleven years my senior and a lesson in forced autonomy. I have her and I don’t. She asks if I see my future full of options and I say yes: multiple paths yet unknown. To be settled down is her dream and I lose myself in it.

 

Lately everything is a little bit more than it seems.  Lost in a book of a back-mountain man who builds his stasis from the wood of trees much like the ones that are burning to the ground as I speak. Maybe it’s a little bit timely, maybe it’s a little bit telling: the winds that raged that Labor Day when we trailed behind a group in the woods, crossing paths with children hunkered down under backpacks, on our way to an inlet that led you and I to our private rocks of contemplation. And tonight, we can’t even talk over the winds so I hold her against me, against the porch pillar, letting passersby revel in our puzzle pieces.

 

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Dear T,

I know I gave birth to you. You wilted with your wife and said you revived my body, the way Maria did mine. But I have seen how when a body is resurrected, a war can begin inside. These disorienting dilemmas have a way of upending lives. Your former life was a carefully set table overturned in rage. I knew our life together might meet the same end. Nevertheless, I persisted.

 

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The thought just barely creeps in. It says, we can make it outside my dreams. Her eyes are reckless windows that lead directly to her soul without passing ‘go,’ without collecting two hundred dollars; precisely why I always look away. Our very separate bodies ached together, woman who oh-so-frankly called me out on the speed with which I fell. Tempted to say: told you so or oh, how the tables have turned.

 

Valentine’s Day, 2011: I rent us a room at a quaint bed and breakfast in a mountain town, fill it to overflowing with candles, lie my guitar across the bed like a naked woman. After we have dinner I bring her there. I am shy. I sing and play for her every song that has shaken us. We consume one another the rest of the night. Blood everywhere. It’s either love or death to the housekeep in the morning. Surprised they don’t call the police. The next day, she vanishes.

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Dear T,

Who are our first lovers if not our mothers? Your disappearing act was familiar to me. You were familiar to me. You were my home insofar as you were like my mother.

Baby Duck Syndrome:

  • Absence on loop.
  • A scratched compact disc.
  • Unable to advance.
  • Insane in love.
  • Insane in war.

 

Maybe the possibility that we could heal our respective mommy-traumas is what held us together for so long. In the meantime, we loved the outdoors and creating things with our four hands.

 

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December 21, 2011: We live together now. I promised her before I moved in that I wouldn’t drink.

She strands me at a billiards bar in a suburban strip mall. She rents herself a room, over an hour into the mountains and makes her angry getaway. Her disappearing act is familiar to me. I fill my bloodstream to overflowing with beer by midnight, take a taxi home, find her reservation in her email inbox. I decide to chase her down, guitar in my backseat, and serenade her back into my arms.

A couple close calls: my passenger door and the guardrail, my sideview mirror and the median. A couple of empties thrown through my open window into the dark. A couple hundred shards of glass on the snowy highway. A couple of good samaritans. A couple 911 calls. A couple of cop cars. A couple of blows: a couple tenths of a milligram per deciliter away from a coma. A couple of hands in handcuffs. A couple of mugshots. A couple hours sobbing. A couple hours sleeping. A couple hot showers in between the couple hours of sleeping. A couple of other women cry aloud in the beds around mine. A couple bus tokens the next morning. A couple miles to walk back to our home without my socks, short-sleeved in a couple feet of snow. A couple days until Christmas, a couple dissolving.

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Dear T,

Thank you, oh and fuck you, for letting me back in a few months later. I became the third or fourth mother to your children for a second time. You’ve really gotta work on your boundaries. We were a five year love affair. Drama all the time. Maybe we were caught up in the passion we had lost. We fought about something everysingleday for two years. A zucchini flower. A credit card. Any snide remark. Any crooked look. The childrens’ bedtime. What to have for dinner. Who will cook dinner. Who appreciates who less. That thing I did two years ago. Which therapist we should hire.

 

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January 1, 2015: She says get your shit and get the fuck out by 8pm or I will call the police. My blood turns to battery acid and my eye levees burst. I get out. Downtown, center of the city, my friend Chad helps me across his street, up the stairs, into and out from the elevator, down the hall, into his open-air spare bedroom, and back again about fifteen times. I am moving out, maybe moving on, but my identity is still T and the kids. They’re everything. People often ask why a battered wife won’t leave her abuser. I understand now. It becomes the only thing of everything you know. Probably of everything you’ve known since you were a child. Familiar may not be healthy but it’s expected. Ani Difranco sings privilege is a headache that you don’t know you don’t have. Read that again. Let it sink in. I guess in my case it’s: abuse is a headache you have always had and so you didn’t know you could exist without it. And I won’t know for another two years.

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Dear T,

Fuck you for begging me back nearly six months later. And what of the in-between? The only true thing you ever said of me: you didn’t want a lover, you wanted a mother. I think you knew my weakness. Maybe you didn’t want to disassemble another household. I almost said family, you didn’t want to disassemble another family, but you’d put me on a par with your children and when one sibling moves away, the family itself doesn’t dissolve. But the household changes. Your household changed, drastically, the third time in five years. I demanded couples therapy if I were to set foot back in your house. You told me you’d do anything to make this work. Why then, in our therapist’s office, did his nearly-gaping mouth betray his neutrality? I sat tight  against the armrest, swollen eyes staring off at some object in the room. He coached you through what it would sound like to validate another human’s feelings. You kept up the questions about whether or not my particular feeling really had validity. That’s not the point. It’s not about right or wrong, feelings aren’t right or wrong. All feelings are valid because they are just that: feelings.’


val·i·date /ˈvaləˌdāt/ (verb):

  1. check or prove the validity or accuracy of (something).
  2. demonstrate or support the truth or value of.
    • synonyms: prove, give proof of, show to be true, give substance to; uphold, support, back up, bear out, justify, vindicate, substantiate, corroborate, verify, demonstrate, authenticate, confirm, endorse, give credence to, lend weight to; vouch for, attest to, testify to, stand by, bear witness to

 

It’s as though you thought that to say I hear you, meant you’d convict yourself. Of what, though? It’s the only time I ever walked out of a therapy session in my life.

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My anger is so thick I can’t cry. I go through the house reclaiming all of my belongings, again – if it fits in my car, it’s going with me. I slam the hatchback so hard on this part of my life that it echoes through the cul-de-sacs. I slam my car door just as hard. The dead bird in the bush comes back to life, my hampered voice fills my mouth again, the first time since thirteen. This is it: the moment where I take up all of my pain and resentment. Like so many knick-knacks from my past, I hurl the abandonment and invisibility into my literal and metaphorical car and get the fuck out because dammit I deserve better.

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Chris Moore is an elementary school teacher and poet-turned-essayist, residing in the Denver Metro area. She is currently completing her MFA in Creative Nonfiction in the Mile High MFA Program at Regis University. Her work has been featured in the 2018 Punch Drunk Press Anthology, Naropa’s 2019 Vagina Monologues Zine, and Allegory Ridge Magazine.