the psychoaffective realm – kesi augustine

window

“The first thing which the native learns is to stay in his place, and not to go beyond certain limits. This is why the dreams of the native are always of muscular prowess; his dreams are of action and aggression. I dream I am jumping, swimming, running, climbing; I dream that I burst out laughing, that I span a river in one stride, or that I am followed by a flood of motorcars which never catch up with me.”

Now
Bedstuy, NYC, 2016

He lays alone in his cramped apartment. Tipsy cars are his soundscape. The yellow of a streetlight hits his dark skin like the promise of rainbows to come.

In bed, one of his legs dangles outside of his covers. The other cradles underneath. An army of sweat marches down his spine.

When he finally falls asleep, his face is a frown.

In Dream, he is walking down an alley. Blunt in mouth. Not knowing from where he came, or to where he goes, he walks.

Suddenly, he hears a familiar crescendo of footsteps behind him. The rattling of nuts and bolts.
He spins around on his heels, briefly seeing the world as a blur of pink and purple.

He stops.

The creature crouched in front of him is part flesh, part metal. Its boxy muscles are boulders. Black voids of eyes. Its chest heaves in and out with each calculated breath.

This creature is an old program, but a stubborn one. The newest creatures can morph into the subconscious. Embody the beliefs that roam in the shadows of the colonial subject. A model citizen at terrorizing Black people.

But this old technology still patrols Dream streets. For many, its physical ugliness cannot be stomached. It can catch and cradle them in their choking itches of fear. Suck the optimism from their hearts. Render them worthless.

“We meet again,” the creature howls, its voice a synthetic sound bite of virus. Its teeth, digital chips. The tone, a caustic, racist disgust. “Motherfucker.”
This time, man and creature draw their weapons. He manifests a sword. The creature, a laser gun. Something of a different dimension. The gun fades in and out of materiality.

It shoots.

In a split second, he makes himself jump. He wields his sword and brings it slashing through the fleshy part of the creature’s neck. Just as he has practiced. Night after night.

The creature drops dead.

He clutches his stomach, feeling warm blood spurt into his hands.

He laughs viciously like the thunders of a torrential downpour.

“There are maleficent spirits which intervene every time a step is taken in the wrong
direction, leopard-men, serpent-men, six-legged dogs, zombies—a whole series of tiny
animals or giants which create around the native a world of prohibitions, of barriers and
of inhibitions far more terrifying than the world of the settler.”

Then
Montgomery, Alabama, 1964

He lies restless in bed, both legs under the covers. Surrounded by an army of toys. A GI Joe. Cars. Even a teddy bear, still.

There are protests outside of his window.

“Mama,” he cries. Shaking. Still seeing the shadows of ghouls pressed against his eyelids. Still hearing their demonic squeals of joy. Still feeling the bony fingers pressed around his throat. The sensation of waking up with a choke.

She comes in.

“Again?” she asks. Weary.

“They’re everywhere,” he says. “I can feel them in my sheets.”

She places glass of water on his nightstand. To swallow the spirits. Then, a hand on his forehead. To soothe the imagination.

“Make it stop,” he cries. “Please, Mama. I’m scared.”

She sighs, seeing a white bubble of light surrounding his black body. Whispers a protective prayer. Feels his body for knots. Soothes the mysterious scratches.

She says, “It’s not real.”

“It feels real!”

She sits on the edge of his bed. Wipes the sweat from his brow.

“Stay centered, baby.”

Shouts seep into the room from between the drapes.

“Someday, you’ll know how to push those fears away,” she whispers. “You’ll learn how to fight back.”

“During the period of colonization, the native never stops achieving his freedom from
nine in the evening until six in the morning.”

Quotes are from from Franz Fanon’s “On Violence” in The Wretched of the Earth (1961).

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Kesi is a writer and a teacher of literature and creative writing for teenagers and adults. Her writing has appeared in Winter Tangerine, USA TODAY, on the New York City Subway, and in collections like haiku narrativo and ancient futures. Kesi received her Ph.D. from NYU in 2018 and wrote her dissertation on Black writers who are working to correct the lack of diversity in children’s literature. She lives in Queens, New York. You can find her at kesiaugustine.com

Photo: Teddy Kelley

affection/affliction – andrea dreiling

x-ray_of_paratype_of_paedophryne_amauensis_(lsumz_95002)

She sat on the torn sofa and finally glued the last bone in place.  She would write on the black, cardstock backing with white gel pen when she labeled the different bones.  Just like in 5th grade, when her whole class received owl pellets, each containing a single mouse-skeleton to reassemble.  After everything she had been through over the last year, it felt good to pin down what was left of it and label it in clear, scientific terms.  Who knew, maybe as time passed, she would grow fond of the display.  Maybe she would hang it on her wall and imagine flesh for it.  She had a memory attached to each bone, a story to write for them…

 

Innominate

 

In a split second they become so obvious, the two things that I realize.  The first is that I’m pregnant, the second is that I don’t know how it happened.  I hook up with the same couple of people sporadically and I hadn’t been with anyone for a long time.  Through the bathroom window the sky bares its teeth at me. Loneliness calcifies.  I could tell someone else but I’m not sure I can pretend to be happy about it, or if I even have to.  I remind myself that my body is well equipped to handle this.  I thank my wide hips.  What if I never love it?  What if it’s not even mine?  When you try to find answers where there are none, the nature of the task drives you mad.  You know you will lose even before you know that you will never stop trying.  I become a caged animal.  I try to escape because I knew I can’t.     

 

 

Sternum 

 

I grew up Catholic and left the church without regret.  I imagine the people I knew as a teenager and what they would say if they knew me now.  I imagine the way they would touch the rose gold crosses hanging around their necks, as if to remind themselves that they are not like me. I would ask them, Couldn’t there be a second Mary Magdalene to usher in the second coming?  I would ask them, Do you think you can have an immaculate conception even if you’re not a virgin? Why not? Besides, those celibate preachers had us touching the lean skin between our breasts while we murmured the son during every mass.  What could they teach about a woman’s body?

 

Mandible

 

All food has become tinny and dry.  I struggle to take care of myself, I couldn’t feel less maternal.  I call my friend Atticus, the King of Last Night.  We get drunk together.  It is horrible and necessary.  I play the pinball machine at the back of the bar where my face becomes a distortion rolling on the surface of the silver marble.  I remember how my mother ate so much liver when Oli, my baby sister, was born.  So much liver, I can feel its grain between my teeth now.  I clench them to crush the sensation away and wake up in one of my nightmares.  The one where my teeth are crumbling with such violence that they are choking me, making it impossible to tell my mom, who’s on the phone, that my teeth are crumbling.  My teeth are crumbling, and it’s all blood and bone falling into the bathroom sink.  One of the fragments becomes lodged in the bar of soap.

 

 

Metacarpals

 

In my inertia I stay in my tiny apartment, forgetting that my future child will take up space.  If I could, I would scratch a new home for myself in the face of the Earth.  I would wear my fingers down, leaving all ten fingernails inside the tunnels I create, burrowing.  The overripe drip of the summer sun will go on without me.  The flowers, rooting far above my reach.  When the bathroom door is open, I can see every corner of my apartment from the couch in the living room.  In the winter, when the window’s always shut, the dust moves in accordance with my breath, my movements; I like it that way.  If I ever left, I would crawl to the center of the Earth, as far away from heaven as I could be.

 

Sacrum

 

The lonely pregnancy is an anchor dragging me to the bottom of the ocean.  In the silence every word is amplified, every interaction a raggedly inhaled breath.  I visit Anne, a friend from college.  She will have kids someday soon, it is written in her five-year plan.   I sit on her couch gingerly, worried that the leaden weight of my body could break it; like I could crash, tailbone first, into her cellar.  If I relax for even a second, I could come undone.

 

Metatarsals

 

When men stub their toes they howl like baby wolves.  They revert to childhood somehow, or pull their yelps from some layer of their ego that exists without expectations.  They forget that they have to be tough.  It makes me feel closer to them when I witness it.   I also have toes that are often stubbed, and I don’t howl, but I pinch up my face, and sit on the floor and take a moment to revel in self-pity.  If someone is in the room with me, I expect them to ask if I’m ok, even though we both know that a stubbed toe is both ok and not ok at the same time.  At any rate, there is no cure for a stubbed toe. But there is a remedy, which is to momentarily lose yourself in the pain, to howl, or pinch up your face, to sit on the ground and be asked if you’re ok. I stub my toe on Anne’s coffee table when I stand up from her couch, preparing to leave.  She does not ask if I’m ok this time, she is too worried about the other parts of me.  A toe is just a toe.

 

Vertebrae

 

I try to go to a yoga class for the first time in my life, a special one, just for pregnant women.  Compared to the other expecting mothers, I am made of ash.  I do not glow.  I follow along during meditation, trying to roll a ball of light up and down my spine.  It should float gently, a paper boat on a placid lake, but it does not work this way.  Instead, I feel my ball of light swirling violently down towards my abdomen.  My bulbous belly wants to capture the light and snuff it out.  The last of my hope drains through an umbilical cord, I leave the class quickly, before anyone can ask me when I’m due.

 

Ribs

 

Starla lives in a world populated by possibilities.  I don’t know where I met her, I pulled her from the twilight.  I’m endlessly thankful for her company.  Starla’s the only one I can stand to be around as I head into the seventh month of my pregnancy.  We smoke herbal cigarettes and contemplate the possibility that I am carrying a baby pterodactyl.  At times I could believe it, because whatever is in my womb seems intent on pressing against my ribcage, winging its way up into my chest cavity as though my belly is not enough for it.  I suspect that what I have to give will never be enough for it.

 

Skull

 

The contractions come on all at once, as though someone is wringing my guts out like a sponge.  Something is wrong and I know it right away. I call no one but a taxi.  At intake I give all the wrong answers. They just started? And they’re how close together?  It’s like the nurses want me to make sense of it for them.  Finally, I’m taken to a hospital room with horrible yellow wallpaper- the color hurts my eyes.  I feel everything, including something beating against my pelvic wall.  The small fists turn to claws and it is pulling apart my flesh- burrowing its way out.  My screams are disembodied and go unanswered by the nurses.  My distended belly button opens-a new eye.  Finally, some doctors rush in, but they freeze when I rip back my sheet and show them the hole in my stomach that is opening up.  Inside I’m just black, no blood.  Whatever is pushing out of me is doing so without the benefit any natural lubrication.  It’s dryness scrapes through every inch of my insides and I pass out- missing my pillow and banging the back of my head against the wall.

 

Humerus

 

I’m dragged from my sleep by a blood pressure cuff squeezing my upper arm.  The nurse that is taking my vitals will not acknowledge my consciousness.  Hey… I begin but she cuts me off, The doctor will be with you shortly.  An IV drip runs into my other arm, just above the elbow, I bend my arm to feel the catheter burrowed into my vein.  I realize now, that I should be cradling a baby, and for the first time I really want it.  I want to look into its filmy eyes and rest it’s clenched up fist against my chest.  Hey, I want to see my… The nurse whisks out of the room before I can finish my sentence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scapula

 

I arrive at my apartment with the bundle of dead matter that the doctor forced into my arms.  No one had an explanation to offer, the only thing they would tell me was that my health was stable, that I could go home.  I toss the prescription for Valium that the doctor gave me into the trash. The fear and anger and confusion is a rubber band stretched to breaking point between my shoulder blades. I can’t breathe or sit. I try to take a hot bath but I sink to the bottom like a petrified piece of wood. I finally unravel the blankets to look at the dusty heap inside: a ball of yarn made from human refuse, hair, teeth, nails and bones.  I sink my fingers into the repulsive mass and begin separating the bones from the hair.

 

Wishbone

 

As I complete the gruesome task, I find myself hoping that there is a wishbone amongst all the tiny bones and filaments.  I know that most creatures don’t have wishbones. It doesn’t matter now if the wishbone would have caused a deformity.  The child didn’t have a life to live, deformed or not.  If I found a wishbone, I would set it aside- the only bone that I would not glue onto the black, card stock backing.  I would grip both sides of the wishbone myself, so that my wish would come true no matter which way it broke.  I would wish for a baby, a soft, living one filled with the novelty of breathing. I would close my eyes and pull.

Appendix:

n

Andrea Dreiling is a writer and artist from Denver, CO.  She has been featured in literary magazines like Teeth Dreams, Birdy and Stain’d.  Follow her shenanigans on Instagram @dread._ofbunnycauldron. 

the washing machine sang – jane-rebecca cannarella

dollhouse

All of the appliances in Jen’s apartment sang. In her grown-up home with central air and functioning gadgets, she’d asked me to watch her mature cat — mature as in mellow, not aged – while she was away on a trip, like the ones actual adults take. “A mini getaway.”

It was the day after her departure. As the sun changed the sky into soapsuds of color, the washing machine glittered upon start, spin cycle, and finish. A jaunty sweet song like the plastic teeth of a Fisher Price record bleated at the end. Matt and I had been watching a TV show about magicians and were startled out of a static reverie. Matt ran a hand through his long dark hair and said the machine was probably singing the song of its father, which sounded very theatrical.

I’m going to put the songs of washing machine forefathers on a playlist, or at least put the task of making this playlist on my radar– just like how paying my loans is on my radar, and not taking every single emotion so seriously is on my radar, like how getting quarters to take my laundry to the laundromat on 43rd and Chestnut is always on my radar.

While the washing machine sang, I turned the sound up on the TV to drown out the lullaby. I ran my own hand through Matt’s dark hair.

My appliances don’t sing, but I don’t have any modern-ish appliances to begin with–not even a microwave. People always ask how I live without a microwave. I say something cavalier about using the oven, but really I just eat food that is cold or raw. I don’t care – I honestly don’t care – until sometimes I do, like when I’m staying at Jen’s and everything is merry and melodious. Even her microwave twinkled music as I made ready-to-eat chocolate mousse from a power packet I found in her cupboards along with her leftover milk – not even past its expiration date. I marveled at the microwave’s friendliness. My envy is not contained in small ways, it is the flow of the chocolate-y pudding under a silver skin that forms on top after staying out too long.

Throughout my stay, I drank all of the vodka in the freezer. The refrigerator beeped because I kept the door open too long, pouring from the bottle into my mouth, glugging like a fish. In the freezer, there was an ice cube tray she’d bought that didn’t just come with the place. I have never thought to do that. Buy an ice cube tray. Hers was rubber and blue, and the ice popped out easily, and I envied that too.

***

A day earlier, before she left, Jen had bought us cheesesteaks and cheese fries and we’d drank too much. Jen put away the leftovers but chucked the fries because “fries aren’t good reheated.” The next day, with her gone, I lay in her bed in my underwear watching reality TV on my phone. I ate the cheese fries with my snail fingers, having fished them out of the garbage. Matt said he couldn’t show up until later, so I waited. Sometimes I called, “pss-pss-pss” for her cat to come out and join me, but he never did. He never even made a sound.

The only things that make noise in Jen’s home are the robots.

***

Then later, Matt came over, and there was the music of the appliances. And we had pizza, and new fries, and magicians on TV, and really bad sex. We tried our best, but he wasn’t hard, but we attempted to do it anyway with limited success. And when it was all over, I apologized, and he left, and I took out the load of laundry from earlier and replaced it with the soiled sheets. I cleaned the apartment. The washing machine happily launched into a song to announce that the sheets were clean. I thought about Matt’s joke from earlier, about the washing machine’s father’s song and it made me angry. Where do we learn how to commit to pain? It’s pointless to kick a washing machine because it doesn’t get your hurt – it’s too busy making music to feel anything.

***

I wondered who has loved just like this before in Jen’s grownup space. With computers as companions and even a faucet that chimes – are all trysts here mechanical? Or do hers turn out better than mine? Does love look better when you’re an adult who has their shit together?

I pulled the sheets out: a blue piped one, a bird patterned one, the white pillow cases where, earlier, I’d found a long strand of Matt’s dark hair and felt like even that feathering touch made the entire pillow unclean. I assume Jen’s love is more meaningful, made under the watchful eyes of tender electronics. The bodies she invites into her home power down to melodies of automata, consecrated with the sweat of responsibility.

Then, since there was no machine for folding laundry, I became the robot. And since I was the robot, I felt like I should sing. I hummed while collapsing the bedding into pleats, while fitting fresh blue sheets onto the mattress. Jen would be home in a day and then I’d be back in my non-harmonious, appliance-less shithole of an apartment.

I never could find her fucking cat anywhere.

 

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Jane-Rebecca Cannarella is the editor of HOOT Review and  Meow Meow Pow Pow Lit.  She was a genre editor at Lunch Ticket, as well as a contributing writer at SSG music. In her spare time, she is a candy enthusiast and cat fan. 
She received her BA and M.Ed from Arcadia University, her MFA from Antioch University, and attended Goldsmiths: the University of London and Sarah Lawrence College. When not poorly playing the piano, she chronicles the many ways that she embarrasses herself at the website www.youlifeisnotsogreat.com. Her chapbook of flash/prose-poems, Tiny Thoughts for Tiny Feelings, was published by BA Press, 2002 in 2011 – which she concedes is confusing. 

holes – hillary leftwich

holes

They lay down on the bed, his head inside her chest. He thinks of how a heart is like an engine, if the oil runs out it will seize. He saw a broken engine at his mechanics once, right after their daughter Lily disappeared. See that? The mechanic said, pointing a socket wrench at the hole. If you don’t check your oil, that’s going to be your engine. That’s going to be his heart. Too many cigarettes, too much booze, and love tethered then clipped. She slips him inside of her, asks if he wants it faster. He answers in heavy breaths. When the shaking subsides, she doesn’t touch him. They fall asleep and wake to an Amber Alert on his phone, flashing like a neon sign. He shuts his eyes and dreams of a little girl stolen. The girl is in a car with a man speeding down a curling highway. The trees lean in on either side of the road, straining to see inside. The man tells the girl the engine sounds funny, and if she isn’t careful he’ll bust a hole right through her heart. He hands her a gallon of strawberry milk and she drowns herself in pink, erasing her face. The man whistles to the music on the radio as he drives, the trees in the rearview mirror folding like two dark wings.

When he wakes up, the dog outside is barking, the coffee machine is grumbling, and she’s gone, a hole on the side of the bed where her body used to be.

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Hillary Leftwich currently lives in Denver with her son in The Murder House, a registered historical landmark and notorious 1970’s flophouse. She is the poetry and prose editor for Heavy Feather Review and curates At the Inkwell Denver. In her day jobs she has worked as a private investigator, maid, repo agent, and pinup model. Currently, she freelances as an editor, writing workshop instructor, guest instructor for Kathy Fish’s Fast Flash Workshop, and writer. Her writing can be found or is forthcoming in print and online in such journals as Entropy, The Missouri Review, The Review Review, Hobart, Smokelong Quarterly, Matter Press, Literary Orphans, Occulum, and others. Her book, Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How to Knock, is forthcoming from Civil Coping Mechanisms/The Accomplices in October of 2019.  Find her online at hillaryleftwich.com and on Twitter @hillaryleftwich

Photo: Fancycrave

struck horse – ron burch

Struck Horse

Coal-black mare. Solitary in the darkened field, its crooked, broad teeth grasping green strands. Gray clouds heaped upon one another, a thunder inside, one strike, two strikes, the mare on its front knees, slow-motioning as it tilted on its side, thick muscles shaking as the large body smacked the wet earth, mouth open, singed, a thin drift of smoke rising from the trembling haunches, tongue out, eyes wide.

A lone farmer ran through the field toward it, yelling its name. His green hat flew off in the rushing wind that embraced him with arms of rain.

The farmer dropped knees-down, wrapping his long arms around the mare’s head, its eyes all white. Spittle dribbled out of its agonized mouth.

“Please,” he pleaded, “don’t die.”

The horse rested in his arms, breaths like unanswered questions. The eyes returned to their normal state, the eyes of the mare meeting the eyes of the farmer, firmer breaths as the farmer’s hands stroked the dark horse head, until the mare asked, “What the hell just happened?”

The farmer, astonished, stuttering, “You, you, you were struck by lightning.”

The horse, whose name was Mare, leaned back its large head, the nostrils flaring, “Did you just talk to me?’

The farmer, more astonished, “You talked to me first.”

“Holy fuck,” replied Mare. “I guess I did.”

Once the miraculous had been accepted by the farmer, his immediate thought was, naturally, commerce. With this in mind, the farmer approached the mare who declined his offer of public performance.

“I wouldn’t like that at all,” she said.

“It’s no different than the conversation we’re having now,” the farmer protested. “You just have it with other people.”

The mare neighed in response, saying, “Other people may not be as kind as the farmer.” The farmer laughed.

“Nonsense,” he said, “I’ll be with you the whole time.”

Using his phone, the farmer recorded a short video of he and the mare discussing the weather while standing in the farmer’s north pasture. The video lasted less than 30 seconds and the mare completed three complete sentences and expounded on what she believed tomorrow’s weather was going to be like – crappy again. The uploaded video went viral, making the major social media sites, with ongoing arguments from the viewing community as to whether it was really a talking horse or not.

To confirm, the farmer and the mare were invited to one of the national televised morning shows, followed the same day by visits to two late-night shows. One of the late-night shows had on what they were calling a “Talking Horse Expert,” some guy dressed like a country rube with a straw hat and a pitchfork, a joke until Mare unmasked the man as someone knowing nothing about contemporary farming. The actor dropped his pitchfork realizing that the horse was actually talking.

Mare’s fame exploded. Her likeness was put on coffee mugs, t-shirts, plates, and hundreds of other trinkets. Even her own calendar. Crowds greeted her at the events she attended whether it be the opening of the local county fair to television shows. She was even asked to do the play-by-play for the national horse-racing derby, which she turned down, citing that she believed that humans racing horses for money was wrong. The derby representative, a stern, pasty old man who was a local politician, complained to the farmer, who apologized but felt the same way.

She didn’t understand why she had to do a dog-food commercial. “I don’t even eat dog food,” she said. “Do you?”

The farmer shook his head and said that it was just for the money. Mare complained that too many humans only cared about money. The guy holding the boom said she didn’t know any better because she was only a stupid horse. Mare cantered over to the boom operator, backing him up against the wall and said that if it wasn’t for humans and their slaughter of innocent animals to feed their overweight, smelly bodies, that this world would be a much better place.

You could hear the hum of the background lights.

They finished the shoot but the atmosphere was tense. As the farmer led out the mare, she said to him, “I’m only telling the truth.”

The farmer nodded his head. “I know.”

Later, that night, someone leaked a shaky video of Mare’s comments from the commercial. The comments were excoriating, and the farmer didn’t see the need to tell the mare about it. This was bad press and perhaps, the farmer considered, that they had made enough money to live happily for a number of years.

In the living room of the farm house, where Mare was now living, he told her it’s time to retire.

“Thank god,” she replied and nuzzled his neck as she once did when she was much smaller.

They still had one more talk show to do and decided together that it would a great way to say goodbye. The farmer would say that the mare woke up silent again, and she would merely stand there while the camera pushed in on her face.

Minutes before she was to go on live television, the farmer couldn’t find her in her assigned dressing room. He asked a couple of the people backstage if they’d seen a horse but nothing. He heard a shot – he knew it was a shot – he was a hunter, he knew. He ran toward the direction and out an emergency exit. A white car pulled away. She was on the ground behind the building, crumpled across two parking spaces, her body broken on the cement dividers, her mouth bound with white rope, her blood, from a gunshot, pooled around her mane. He held her still head in his arms and even as the grief broke across him, he refused it, so it would feed him for a long time, never letting him forget.

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Ron Burch’s fiction has been published in numerous literary journals including Mississippi Review, New World Writing, PANK, and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His novel, Bliss Inc., was published by BlazeVOX Books. He lives in Los Angeles. 

Photo: Erin Dolson

silence – annette freeman

silence

I was criticised by any number of people for what I did to the old piano. When my sculpture was exhibited at the gallery — all dismantled frames and twisted strings and bereft keys — I was criticised. Oh, yes. People at the Opening drew in shocked breaths and waggled their champagne glasses. The word desecration was used; also destructive and obscene. Obscene? I’ll tell you what’s obscene — having to put up with someone who is supposed to have moved on. My sculpture was large and it used most of the innards of the piano in a constructivist-style thing intended to reference a mound or hill. Like a burial mound. I even included an ironic plastic rose on the top, a dirty pink thing, to reference a wreath, but I don’t think the art lovers at the opening got that. They certainly mourned the piano, though.

“What did you have against that poor piano?” a tipsy art-type in an old-fashioned bow-tie asked me. He’d gone for whisky.

“How long have you got?” I replied, and sipped my champagne, leaving lipstick on the glass, blood red, which is ironic also, since the death of the piano was under discussion. In all truth, it wasn’t the piano itself that had earned my ire, but its former owner. I’ll tell you what happened and you can judge for yourself if I was justified in dismantling the thing.

When I moved in with Simon I kept my studio in the inner city. His place wasn’t far away but it was an upscale building, one of those new apartment blocks. They had CCTV cameras everywhere: didn’t want any undesirables, deplorables, muddying the terrazzo floors or shooting up in the shrubbery. You wouldn’t have thought that such a new build, where a year or so earlier there had been only a depthless mud-hole gouged into the land, could harbour any wraiths from the past. But my theory is — and I have reason to know — that the wraiths preserve their longevity by attaching their icy tendrils to objects, and objects can be moved around, as was this blighted piano. Simon told me that it had been a family piano for decades. In fact, it was an old wooden-framed thing, out of date and untuneable. Were you imagining an elegant baby grand with a rosewood cabinet? No, this was an old upright, scratched from many moves, barely playable. It had candle sconces screwed to its front. Candles! How long ago did people play the piano by candlelight? The dark ages?

I shouldn’t make flippant remarks about the dark. That piano and I were to share some sombre times. Simon and I had been together for about a year when I moved in with him. I was sure he was my soul-mate. I still am, and if he ever forgives me — or, as I prefer to think of it, understands me — I think we could be happy. If you notice an edge to my voice while I’m telling what happened, it’s because of Simon. When he found the piano gone, and I told him what I’d done with it, he went into a funk. He refused to come to the Opening at the gallery and so he hasn’t seen what a far, far better thing it has become. Those critics who could stomach the dismemberment have been raving about it. My agent is fielding offers. I have hopes that it’ll go to Abu Dhabi.

Simon goes away on business trips often, mostly to the US, for a week or two at a time. He packs a couple of his sharp suits into a folding suit bag and jets off to do whatever international-finance-types do. As for me, I’m a night owl and often come home late from my studio to the empty terrazzo-floored lobby of the apartment block. I rarely run across anyone from the other apartments. It’s an echoey lobby; there’s not much in it except a couple of Eames-replica chairs that I’ve never seen anyone sit on. There are security cameras with red cyclonic eyes staring down from the corners of the ceiling.

The old piano was an incongruous piece of furniture in Simon’s place, interior-decoration-wise, so naturally I asked him about it.

“It was Eliza’s,” he said, as if admitting something he’d rather I didn’t know.

Eliza was his ex. They hadn’t been married, exactly, unless you count that hybrid Buddhist-Hindu-hippy ceremony they went through in Kathmandu. Then Eliza was lost on the trail while they were hiking to Tengboche. Lost, as in never found. Almost certainly she went over the edge of a ravine into the Dudh Kosi and her body swept away downstream, though it was never recovered. Simon spent a long time hoping. That whole incident was years ago. He’d had two or three girlfriends between Eliza and me. But still he’d dragged the piano on at least two moves that I knew of. It sat against the wall of the living room, looking across at the Léger print on the opposite wall. It seemed to me to be constantly watching us as we lounged in front of the TV, or drank cocktails on the balcony, or slow-danced on the rug, listening to jazz. It appeared to me to disapprove of jazz.

Simon told me, when I pressed him, that the piano had first belonged to Eliza’s great-aunt, a spinster who’d lived in Melbourne and had gone to India as a missionary. Apparently she was revered in Eliza’s family. That was in the days when proselytizing was applauded. The great-aunt was musical. She played not only the piano but also the violin. That was all that Simon knew about this ephemeral person from the past, the musical missionary, Eliza’s relative. The piano was then bequeathed though Eliza’s relations — aunt, cousin, father — until, as each of them died, it eventually settled on her. She played, quite well. I’ve heard her. She favours eerie things, like Messiaen — at least that’s what I thought it was when I heard her. Yes, I’ve heard that piano play on many nights when I was alone in the apartment. Did I mention that we were on the thirty-fifth floor? An aerie. It was as if angels were malevolently plucking harp strings where they had no right.

All of this sounds fanciful, I know, and to start with I thought so too. The first time I heard the playing it was about 2 AM. I got up and marched out of the bedroom switching on all the lights. But the notes merely faded at my approach and so I assumed that I was imagining the whole thing. But the playing in the wee hours went on, only when Simon wasn’t there, of course. Obviously it was meant for me alone. I was targeted. I took to leaving all the lamps on in the living room but it made no difference. The music still woke me — and the lamps went out.

Naturally I told Simon what was going on. I tried to convince him to get rid of the piano, maybe pass it on to another of Eliza’s relatives. He actually said that he wanted to keep it in case Eliza came back! She has come back, I said grimly. Then he went all solicitous on me. He said I was just having some residual delusions. I wasn’t long out of rehab. When I met Simon I was doing far too much junk for my own good, and it was he, bless him, who’d got me into a program. Now I was clean, off the stuff, and my work was blossoming. I owe Simon so much. He’s the love of my life.

The night-time playing continued sporadically, always when I was alone in the apartment.

“Get rid of it, please!” I was begging him now.

“Sweetheart, it’s in your head. I can’t let it go. It’s my only reminder of Eliza.”

“Can’t you just keep her photo or something?” He laughed.

“Sure, but what if she comes back and I don’t have her piano? It was her most precious possession.”

That was the second time he’d said that about her coming back. If she came back, where would that leave me? This point didn’t seem to concern him as he stared across the room at the piano, and I saw in his gaze some past in which I had no part. My first impulse was to remind him that Eliza was pretty certainly dead, and so not coming back for her piano, but I stopped. Of course she was back, as I’d told him the first time we had this conversation. I couldn’t get through to him.

The playing went on. It was creeping me out. One night I changed tactics and tried spying unseen on the piano. I put my eye up to the gap in the bedroom door, which I’d left ajar. But when I looked the playing stopped abruptly. I thought I saw something slip out the front door. I definitely heard a click as the door closed. This wraith came in the front door? It didn’t happen like that in stories.

After the next night of ghostly playing, I went down to the security booth in the basement carpark. I knew the guys there; I often spoke to them when I parked my VW Beetle — they liked my car. I asked if we could take a look at the CCTV footage of the lobby from the night before. I told them I thought I’d heard noises around 2 AM, which was true. We had to go backwards and forwards a bit, but we found it. It was eerie to watch: a long stretch of silent emptiness, the cameras watching creepily, pointed at the lobby doors, the lift, the fire stairs. Twice, figures of other residents crossed the floor, silent footsteps, silent arrival of the lift, silent opening and closing of the lift doors. Then, finally, a figure emerged just as silently from the fire stairs door. The guys were amazed — “that thing’s alarmed,” they said. But no alarm sounded, there was just the CCTV silent soundtrack. The figure was frustratingly indistinct. I was sure it was female, but the security boys argued about that for a while.

“It’s wearing a cap.”

“That’s a skirt, for sure.”

“Or trousers — can’t tell. It’s not clear enough.”

The footage had been clear enough earlier to recognise the legitimate residents. We stopped and started it but we couldn’t get a better picture. The figure disappeared as silently as it had come. We didn’t see the lift arrive, but we could see the illuminated floor numbers marking its ascent from the lobby, then stopping at Level 35.

After that I dismantled the piano. I took out its guts and moved strings, hammers, felts surreptitiously to my car bit by bit. I prised off all its keys with pliers and took them away, keeping the lid on my work so Simon wouldn’t notice what was going on. It took a while, I can tell you. Of course the playing had to stop then. I thought about leaving the empty thing there, just a carcass with its ridiculous candle sconces. But two things changed my mind. The first was the imperative of the work — as I brought these infused and laden objects together in my studio I saw that they needed more bulk, the bulk of the piano cabinet, the wood, the structure. And more detail: the pedal, the hinges, and those sconces. The second thing that prompted me to completely dismantle the piano was the final occurrence of that eerie Messiaen, playing in the silence of 2 AM, despite the keys and strings being entwined in my studio two suburbs away.

At the Opening, an art agent came over and asked me about the piece. He was wearing a dishdasha and a keffiyeh. I smiled winningly.

“What is the piece entitled?” he asked.

“I call it ’Silence.’

“And what is that strange smell it emits?”

SBGS December

Annette Freeman is a writer living in Sydney, Australia. She was born and raised in Tasmania, which she suspects is reflected in her writing in ways too mysterious to analyse. She has a Masters of Creative Writing from the University of Sydney, the support of a terrific writing group, and boundless respect for a fine sentence.

hopper house – james h duncan

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Down the hill stood a house beside a set of railroad tracks, a house I always called the Hopper House because it reminded me of those Edward Hopper small town scenes he would paint, quiet and windswept, forlorn. Shades of chipped emerald and hunter green paint, scalloped awnings, spire staircase, slanted chimneys. This house stood on Orient Avenue with dirt for macadam and a green-striped folding chair on the front porch, a radio playing in the window and a dog barking somewhere deep inside, but no one ever sat in the chair or came out when I walked by every day.

I was in a bad way, unemployed aside from some very fortunate writing jobs or some small checks coming in for poetry, $10.00, $5.00, even a few for $2.00. I would walk to the bank and cash them and then take Orient Avenue and a short-cut through the grounds of a dilapidated trolley station to a small tavern by a rock-strewn river where I’d eat an inexpensive meal or just blow the whole shot on two-dollar bottles of beer.

I often stopped at the Hopper House and looked up, wondering what it must have been like to live there during its heyday. All three stories were gorgeous and ornate, though falling apart from years of neglect and agoraphobic hibernation. Save for the dog and the radio I would have called it abandoned. Even haunted maybe, and that green folding chair always gave me an odd feeling like someone I couldn’t see watched from within, waiting for me to leave.

All that summer I wrote letters to a woman in Germany about the house. She wrote back and told me of a similar manse near her father’s summer home outside Bremen. Her haunted mansion was not green but yellow, bleached by the sun and empty, and stood back from the road on a small rise, its black hollow eyes watching their car drive by whenever they went back into town from their seaside cottage. She asked if I named my green house, and I said yes. I told her of Edward Hopper. She knew him and adored his work, most especially Automat.

One afternoon someone at the end of the bar said a car went off the road and had rammed into the house and some of us got up and half-walked, half-ran up the street to the Hopper House. A white Subaru had crumpled into the front porch and paramedics, police officers, and firemen surrounded the car and were climbing onto the porch. We watched for a while but no one came outside, no one sat on the curb with head in hand, not even the driver, who apparently ran off. The dog didn’t even bark.

Soon we all walked back to the bar, but for weeks afterward blue tarpaulins covered the broken portions of the porch and stairs, with no dog, no radio, no green folding chair. I wrote a letter to Germany and told her what happened at the house, and two weeks later her reply said I should avoid it. My story gave her a bad dream, a bad feeling. It was haunted, she said, and a magnet for bad luck. I believed her. I always believed her. She signed her letters Yours, so I did too.

I avoided the house after that, as she specified, but I had dreams of the house as well. I had them then and long after I moved away. In the dream I walked up those porch steps and put my hand on the doorknob. A fear filled my chest about what waited inside, about going up the stairs to the second floor, the third floor, the attic, and then I was there, in that attic space. I heard the radio far below me, the dog barking somewhere. I closed my eyes and a claustrophobic warning in my heart told me that what if I opened my eyes again I’d discover something unbearable. In the dream I would run, painfully slow, and leave the front door open behind me, the green folding chair sideways, the dirt driveway littered with bottle caps and gravel as I raced for the horizon, for that wildfire sky.

And then I’d wake up—somewhere else, far away. But the dream was hard to shake and I wrote to Germany about it, but after three letters with no reply, I stopped writing. Now there is only the dream, wherever I go.

sbgs cowskull

James H Duncan is the editor of Hobo Camp Review and author of such books as Nights Without Rain, What Lies In Wait, and Dead City Jazz, among other collections of fiction and poetry. For more, visit www.jameshduncan.com.

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han’s solo – mark blickley and keith goldstein

Keith Goldstein - Acadia NP.jpg

sbgs cowskull
Editor’s note: the following piece is an ekphrasis, a rhetorical exercise where usually an artist bases a piece of writing off of an image. In this case, Mark Blickley based the following story off of Keith Goldstein’s image above, a picture of his son at Acadia National Park.

sbgs cowskull

I’ve had this recurring Bridge Dream for nearly fifteen years. It first appeared one night after being exhausted by cram studying for my Bar Mitzvah. In this initial fantasy I was a swaddled infant left on the very beginning of a long and twisting walkway through a vibrant yet desolate forest. I was crying and there was blood from my bris seeping through the fabric covering my groin. We don’t need to dig Freud up from his grave to figure out I was about to undergo a ritual of manhood, so I must’ve been thinking about the genital mutilation that first signaled my acceptance into the tribe. What’s quite disturbing about this recurring dream as it appears today is that after fourteen years of experiencing it, I’ve only move forward incrementally from the bloody infant that was first placed on this forest path, into a six year old boy that balks at moving forward. In the real world I’m about to turned twenty-eight.

My name’s Han because my parents are both Star Wars freaks and the worship of this film series is the only real religion practiced in my household. They obviously were not the only disciples. When I was in Pre-K, there was another boy named Han as well as a girl named Leia.

What’s strange about my abandoned boy at the bridge recurring dream is that it’s always just a prologue to whatever else I’ll be dreaming that night. This winding walkway always introduces whatever anxious or peaceful visions my brain has decided to focus on that night—nightmare, erotic ecstasy, exciting adventures, idyllic beauty.

These days in my dream I am a first-grader who is really hesitant about moving forward, but I also see it as my feet turning into the classic ballet 4th position. My mother taught ballet for years so perhaps my foot position on the bridge is a nod to her. Once again I don’t need to disinter Freud to figure out this bridge snakes into a representation of my life’s journey. By the way, did you know that babies double their birth size by age five months? Yet in my recurring dream I remained a crying, bleeding infant for years —no physical growth, no emotional growth.

I’m a bit confused about relationships with women. My testosterone tells me to be more aggressive and not to feel so shy and unworthy. I’m always terrified of saying the wrong thing. In High School I didn’t really have a girlfriend because I always hung out within this circle of friends that were both males and females. Most activities were communal, not individual dates. Recently I joined a dating app called Bumble. On Bumble only women can initiate first contact which I like because it reduces the stress of rejection, yet I’ve been registered on this app for five months and have yet to receive a single hit.

I’m presently undergoing E.M.D.R. (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy, which also includes hand tapping and listening to ambient sounds, like ocean waves, via headphones that seesaw these sounds from ear to ear to promote a kind of aural hypnosis. One of the side effects of this treatment is that it can cause vivid, realistic dreams, but my recurring dream happened years before I entered therapy. My therapist insists I keep a journal between sessions in order to maintain the session’s progress she insists is occurring.

My shrink Martha works for the V.A. but please don’t think I’m some sort of Veteran war hero suffering from PTSD. I never even enlisted in the War Against Christmas, yet I’ve never known a world without suicide bombings, school shootings and acts of terrorism that take place in my backyard, not in some distant land. Martha is also an ordained Lutheran pastor but she never mentions God in any of our sessions.

I tell Martha I’m so sick of reading/hearing reasons why Millennials can’t grow up. My shrink calls it a “First World” problem not unique to young men my age. I am depressed and anxious all the time but don’t know why. I am always smiling and laughing at jokes I don’t think are funny so people won’t discover how unhappy I am. I feel like I’m faking everything. Being an adult to me means not doing things you enjoy doing, yet that’s nuts because my parents still act like kids at Star Wars Conventions.

Why am I so miserable? I had everything I was supposed to need while growing up— emotional and financial security, a good education and now I have a more than decent paying job. I do feel guilty that they are so many less fortunate than me and know it is unmanly to be so constantly sad. Every day there’s somebody crying out what privileged assholes we Millennials are, so I always feel pressured to pretend I’m happy.

My shrink says I should spend less time always surrounding myself with people and more time being alone, even if it means being bored at first. But I can’t relax by myself. I tried all different kinds of things, but I can’t slow down my goddamn anxious thoughts. I’ve tried drugs, porn, video games and even different kinds of meditation—Zen Meditation with mindfulness on breathing and intentionally focusing on the moment. Then I did Metta meditation to focus on a loving kindness towards myself as well as empathy for other people. In my final workshop I studied Sufi mediation to try to achieve mystical union with a Supreme Being.

In every class and workshop I’ve taken, I seem to be the only one who can’t obtain this metaphysical knowledge and peace. I would often comfort myself in class by thinking my fellow students are just bullshitting their enlightenment to try to make me feel like shit—but thoughts like that defeat the entire purpose of meditation, which is to get to know myself and pull away from the outside world to focus on my inner world, instead of blaming everyone else for my failure. Do you understand how fucked up a person I am? Hell, I even get sad deleting old tweets because it feels like I’m flushing away a big part of who I was and who I am.

Last month Martha suggested I try using a weighted blanket that applies deep pressure touch. She says it simulates the feeling of being comforted, like a swaddled baby, and is supposed to help my insomnia and anxiety. So instead of fighting my anxieties like a real man, I retreat into acting like a fucking baby again, all tucked inside my crib beneath a blanket with 30 pounds of pellets sewn into it. So far it hasn’t worked.

When I ask Martha how she arrives at the concept of what exactly my emotional age is, she turns the question back on me and asks what do I believe is my emotional age? I tell her I don’t know anything except first my dick is snipped at birth and then as I advance in life I have my balls constantly broken by social proclamations that I MUST BE SUCCESSFUL!

I worry I’ll never live up to my own expectations. I grew up being told I could be anything I wanted to be, but I’m coming to the realization that I’m not as smart, talented or special as I thought I was and that fuels an obsession with having to succeed. My friends and I seem to be growing up poorer than our parents. My Mom and Dad can afford to go to Star Wars conventions all over the world but my important travel plans are still handcuffed by student loans.

I get incredibly stressed over not being able to find a WiFi spot, forgetting passwords to online accounts, the buffering sign when I’m streaming online—it’s like taunting me that my life is going in circles, like the areola of a maternal tit. I stress when unable to find my T.V. remote just as my favorite Netflix show is starting.

Why am I unable to advance past the age of six in my recurring dream? Is it because I’m a victim of helicopter parenting? During my childhood my Mom and Dad hovered over every experience and problem I had growing up. Cell phones are the longest umbilical cords in the world. I was taught to be afraid of strangers, playing sports, sexual contact. Is that why they claim we Millennials act more like children than adults?

This outburst of self-pity is very tiring, so I’m going to disappear under my state of the art weighted blanket and hope tonight is the night it crushes my recurring dream of being a child stranded on a spooky bridge inside a dying, primeval forest. And if my heavy blankie is unable to extinguish the dream, perhaps when I wake up I will have at least gained a year of emotional age so I will be a seven year old boy on that walkway, just three quarters away from achieving my true age of twenty-eight.

sbgs cowskull

Mark Blickley is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild and PEN American Center as well as the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Scholarship Award for Drama. He is the author of Sacred Misfits (Red Hen Press), Weathered Reports: Trump Surrogate Quotes from the Underground (Moira Books) and the forthcoming text based art book, Dream Streams (Clare Songbirds Publishing). His video, Widow’s Peek: The Kiss of Death, was selected to the 2018 International Experimental Film Festival in Bilbao, Spain. He is a 2018 Audie Award Finalist for his contribution to the original audio book, Nevertheless We Persisted. 

Keith Goldstein is a freelance photographer and photo editor in New York City.  Keith began exhibiting his photography since the1980’s. His work has appeared in many publications including  ABC News Australia, Now Public, Flak Magazine, JPEG Magazine, Time. His work is included various private collections and in the Erie Art Museum, Brooklyn Museum, and the S.K. Neuman Culture Center, Brno, Czechoslovakia. Website

bag of eyes – david rawson

When I took Holly to the waterfront, she told me I was destined to be a father.

“You’re going to have a girl,” she said. “And you’re going to raise her alone.”

Holly and I had been hanging out a lot the last few weeks, staying up til 4am walking around her neighborhood. One night we laid down in the middle of the street at the end of the cul de sac. No cars came. And if they had, we would have seen them coming. As I curled up in one of the blankets we had brought with us, Holly climbed up a tree that the cul de sac had been built around. It stood surrounded by pavement on all sides. I had to look down as she climbed because small leaves, twigs, and dust fell from where she rustled. I protected my eyes, and even though nothing had gotten in them, I felt them swell and water.

This trip to the waterfront was my attempt to expand our relationship, to begin to define it. I was nineteen and barely knew myself, let alone how to date this beautiful independent woman who, although she was my age, had secrets in her eyes I could not begin to uncover. She was a lion. She had an unruly mane of hair that she was always trying to move out of her eyes. She was looking out at the water. We barely spoke. I did not know how to respond. I knew I did not want kids, but I never told people I dated what I really wanted. I didn’t want to scare anyone off.

“Yeah, I haven’t given it a lot of thought, to be honest,” I said. “It all depends on the person, you know?”

But she had already decided I would be alone. Whoever the mother would be was already gone, unreachable. Although Holly was a few feet away from me, she could have been a sea away.

We sat on the rock by the waterfront on the same blankets we had used in the cul de sac. She was telling me she hated her nose. She said she thinks it is too big. She didn’t look at me. She looked at the water. I didn’t know what to say. It was a big nose if you isolated it, if you took it out of context and held it in your palm. I imagined holding her nose in my hand. She looked down at her stomach.

“I’m going to get a nose job my last year of college. And I’ll probably have my stomach done.”

She did not mention her eyes. She loved her glasses. The way she stroked the frames gently with her index fingers. The glasses framed her eyes perfectly, and she knew it. The nerdy infatuation I felt for her intensified every time she tilted her head down and looked up at me, when my world became those eyes perfectly framed.

The whole time we were talking, I had been watching two brothers, no older than twelve. Their father was nearby sitting down in a chair he had brought with him, a retractable one he had brought in a bag slung over his shoulder. He had a simple fishing rod that he held loosely in his hand. Every once in a while, he brought up a fish. His two boys were doing something on a bit of pavement down from us, near the cooler the father was placing the fish in. They were quiet, looking down at the pavement, doing something with their hands, like tracing something out deliberately.

After the boys left with their father, Holly and I stood up to leave. And we could see down the way to the pavemented area, and we could see what the boys had been doing so meticulously. Twenty-three stiff fish bodies laid rotting in the sun. The father had not taken any of the fish to eat later. It struck me in the gut as a waste of life, to catch and discard on hot pavement. It was death without a function. And then I saw what the brothers had been doing so meticulously. They had taken out the eyes. Forty-six eyes altogether that they had cut out together, as a team. The eyes were nowhere to be seen. Perhaps they kept them. Somewhere there was a bag full of fish eyes.

I attempted to move the dead fish off the pavement into the water. I picked up two big sticks and attempted to move one, like I was using enormous chopsticks. Holly halfheartedly followed my lead. She said nothing. I could not measure her discomfort or shock. She would not look at me.

I got one fish into the water, but it floated vertically, its mouth open, holes for eyes.

When I dropped her off at her car after a silent drive back, she hugged me and looked up at my eyes for the first time that day. It became clear. We were not going to talk about the fish.

“You’ll probably name her something like Penelope. She’ll draw on your walls with crayon, but you won’t care. You’ll pick up a crayon and draw right along with her.”

I laughed a hollow laugh and nodded. “You can always wash a wall,” I said.

In the reflection of her car, I saw Penelope, but just for a brief moment. She was wearing a summer dress and ballet slippers, and the Robin’s Egg Blue crayon was tight in her hand as she drew a vertical line from as far as her arm would reach above her head to the moment she can feel the touch of her hand against her toes.

But then just as quickly as I had seen her, she was gone. And without consciously trying, another image flooded my brain: a small Ziploc bag full of fish eyes, in an underwear drawer somewhere, covered in t-shirts and boxers, a testament to a productive day.

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David Rawson is the author of A Jellyfish for Every Name and Proximity (ELJ Editions).

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all things resound – jordan a. rothacker

Actions have resonance. Actions are things. All things resound. They continue to resound in the place they happened.

Driving back home one night from visiting her mother in Atlanta, last Tuesday actually, Lara sung along with the stereo, the low highway rolling by with yellow ticks of paint and reflectors in the dark. The song was melancholy with a refrain to belt out legato and intense, allowing Lara to emote while belting, tears forced from her eyes. The last time she heard this song was through headphones in the much more public location of the treadmill at the gym. She couldn’t do her listen then the justice that she could now. As it ended, she stopped at one of the annoying stoplights on this highway.
She started back off from the light into the darkness, building up speed again, and she saw a flicker of light ahead on the right shoulder. She wondered what it was. It was a quick intense wonder and she released the gas gradually to look. When she saw it was a candle flickering at a flower-decked cross, she braked and pulled over.

The night was chilly, but she left the car without getting her jacket from the back seat. She hit the hazards and shut the door, scanning the night. Whoever lit the candle was gone, for how long she didn’t know, but it was still lit against the windy whizz of the cars on the highway. Lara knew what the cross meant, and she always thought the concept was strange. Why come here when the person is most likely buried somewhere else? Do the loved ones, family members, always go to both, here and the grave? She thought they probably went to the latter on the birthdays and here on the other day.

Today must be that day, she thought, and this must be the spot. Lara stood in front of the cross. Three cars passed behind her, all big sport utility vehicles, all fifteen miles per hour over the speed limit and the wind they brought cut through the knit tights she wore under her skirt. The flame flickered, flickered, flickered, cutting hard back against the wind each time in its partial glass enclosure, finally standing hard again.
This was the spot.

Lara turned around and looked at the highway. It didn’t look so violent now. There were cars with their lights far back to the left, behind the red light, and far taillights to the right horizon, but right here, right now, it was a dark peaceful place. She lowered at the knees and sat down her dark skirt into the cool damp earth.

Her ass cooled and a chill went up her back. She lay her legs out flat and slowly down her back went to the earth; just a t-shirt marring little of its chill. The flickers of the candle were just above her head. Every few flicks brought the shape of the cross or the flowers, or both, a terrifying shadow. Lara held her breath with such force she choked. She coughed and jerked against the earth, loosening it and generating more chills. It was hard to breathe, hard to catch her breath again. The white lights on the horizon to the left closed in on her. She held tight to her breath, pressed her back to the slight hill of the ground, and the candle went out as the torrent of traffic overtook where she was.

In that one moment, in that place, there was so much noise from the cars, released from the traffic light, Lara could hear nothing; from the bright of their lights she could see nothing; from the intense pain of the place she could feel nothing, and through the thudding off-time beat of death her heart could not complete. When the traffic abated and she could see again and hear again her breath released and her heartbeat resumed.

Lara knew everything and felt it all, all the pain. She rolled to her side to retch, and retching and rolling slushed in the wide puddle she had released and in which she now lay. It was awful, all awful. She stood and whipped her face with her hand and against her short sleeve. She was achy and cold, wet from the waist most of the way down. Without turning to look back at the cross, flowers, or candle—the cross made and laid by Jose’s mother Marisol, and the flowers from both his Tia Julieta and Tio Juan, and the candle placed and lit tonight by his sister Miryam—she slowly staggered down the hill to her car.

Pushing her legs through the ache she got to the car swiftly. On the hillside of the car she leaned on the back passenger for a moment to catch herself. She needed to get out of here fast. She got in the car and gunned it, just drove, off from the shoulder and out down the highway, as a panic overtook her and her nerve endings. She cried and wanted to scream and punch the wheel, but held it, she had to focus and get away. Twenty miles and fifteen minutes down the road she pulled over on the shoulder and got out to run around to the side and retched again. Ducking down into the back seat she took off her t-shirt and wiped her face with it, cleaning her mouth and dabbing at her eyes. Luckily the jacket she had with her was a raincoat-style and came down to her mid-thigh. She removed her skirt, tights, and panties all in one motion, stepping out of her boots to get it all down. With a clean corner of the t-shirt she wiped at herself where she was still wet and then balled all her clothes up into a wet gross mess and shoved it into a plastic grocery bag littering the floor of her car. Lara then stood with the jacket on and put her back to the road to button it. With a newspaper from the backseat she padded the driver’s seat so she wouldn’t get filthy again and got in to leave.

Why me, was all Lara thought the rest of the way back to Athens. It had all already happened to Jose, why did she need to feel it all too. It lingered in her memory, her whole body, her muscle memory, in a way that it couldn’t for Jose, for he was dead. She kept wanting to scream but instead just ached and drove. Other than “why me,” she did think “poor Jose,” but what he felt only lasted a moment whereas for her it continued to linger; she could even see the car that hit him, hear the crunch of plastic bumpers and metal frames, and feel again and again the metal into skin and into bone. Her seatbelt felt so tight as she drove, Lara felt the way it choked the breath out of Jose, but she was scared to take it off.

She needed to go straight to the library. Lara had been cutting close the drive all night.

She left Atlanta with just enough time. The stop at the flickering candle slowed her down and now she had no time to remedy the situation that she was naked under her coat except for a bra. She could call in, but what would she say, “I see dead people, or really just one dead guy, but mostly I just feel him, the pain of his death;” and the absurd humor in this potential interchange gave some levity to her state. But Lara still couldn’t think straight and come with any good excuse, passively with no better option to cross her mind she headed to the library for her late evening shift.

When she pulled into the parking deck a clear thought cut through the residual ache and lit upon her consciousness, Rose. Rose would be working the front desk. Rose is always either to or from the gym on one end of her shift or the other. Rose would have a change of clothes, gym clothes at least.

Lara grabbed her purse and phone and ran from the deck into the library. Rose greeted her with a smile at the front desk.

“Hey girl, why you rushing, you are just in time, and just in time to do a lot of nothing.”

“Hi Rose,” she gasped out of breath, “do you have your gym bag with you, or is it in your car? Please say you have it.”

“I have it, Jeez, I was gonna go late after work. Why?”

“Excellent,” Lara leaned on the desk and then paced in a circle catching more breath.

“Can I borrow your gym clothes right now? Maybe you will have time to go by the dorm before the gym after work for more. Please, its important.”

“You need my gym clothes? Why? What are you wearing under that coat? Girl, what have you been up to? Seriously?”

“Please, I can’t really explain. Will you just help me out?”

“Sure, relax, it’s fine, here you go,” and Rose reached down beneath the high desk and drew up a red and black gym bag. “But you owe me a story at least and an explanation of why I wasn’t invited to whatever craziness you have been up to.”

Lara took the bag and agreed, laughing off her friend. She clocked in and then changed in the bathroom glad that she and Rose were roughly the same size, except for in the chest, but luckily her bra had survived the filth and soiling. She quickly cleaned her face and crotch the best she could with hand soap and set to work. There was a full cart of books needing to be reshelved and she hoped the methodical mindless repetition of her slow uneventful job would cool and calm her down.

What was on the cart brought her first to the third floor and then up to the sixth. Up and down the stacks she breathed slowly, focusing on each breath, like she learned in yoga. She paid close attention to call numbers and her work and her mind wandered about the books, up and down each aisle, film theory, biographies of directors, then African oral literature and folk traditions. It seemed funny to her that all of this should be on the same floor, but there were only seven floors so it had to all mix together in some way. At the end of an aisle Lara noticed a wooden chair off in the corner, a chair that should be at one of the study tables in the floor’s common area near the elevators. This section of the sixth floor was the most private part of the library, and Lara knew, though not first hand, of its reputation as a popular make-out spot. Most likely explains the chair, either way, it was her job to straighten up behind the library visitors so she went to get it.
The chair faced the plain off-white corner, cold and isolated and for the second time tonight Lara felt a compulsion, she needed to sit in the chair. The second she sat down she shut her eyes and felt the tongue. She opened her eyes and there was no one around but her eyes slammed shut again and she felt the tongue again. It was right against her, it was right against her and it was right. A boy’s face flashed before her shut eyes, a boy she had never seen before, his eyes shut too, just going to town and humming and she could feel the humming burn-cooly out from the spot into her thighs; and then a different boy’s face, and then a girl’s. Lara pulled her eyes, open no one around. There was a girl’s face she didn’t know, a second ago before her shut eyes, between her legs, but they weren’t her legs, and the girl was more than just tongue, she was lips and mouth and sucking, so warm. And then Lara felt the waves, three hard-breaking waves over her, stiffening everything, boiling her blood. The first two were familiar, similar to long orgasmic waves she had felt before but the last broke shorter, cresting earlier, in three stalls and jerks and then nothing, no resolution. Her hair follicles on her head and down her arms, toes, and fingertips tingled as she drooped out of the chair and crawled into the stacks towards her cart.

All the pain from earlier was gone, and the aches had transformed; Lara was spent. Slowly she pulled herself up to sort of slump against the cart. She hadn’t bothered to borrow panties from Rose’s bag, but now the gray sweatpants she did borrow were a wet shade darker in the worst, most obvious location. Lara was done. She was done with this night. She was spent, wet, and freaked out. She was so done with other people’s feelings, other people’s experiences. She didn’t feel like herself and she didn’t feel real.
Lara rolled the cart as cover in front of her to the elevator and down to her coat for better cover. She clocked out and on her way past the front desk she told Rose to tell their supervisor she was sick, it was food poisoning, she had to go. Lara was very done with this night.

Over the next few years these moments of heightened sensitivity continued to occur, but never as bad as this first night, never two in one day. The world became a minefield for Lara, and as she slowly understood what was happening, she became increasingly careful of where she sat or lay down, where she let herself relax with her guard down. She could never really know though, hence the minefield feeling. She never told anyone about these experiences and could think of no practical use for this ability of hers. Her “sensitivity to locations” was more a curse than a power. Mostly it was just disruptive and embarrassing, but she did learn to control her reactions to some degree. Sadly, all her practice and preparation couldn’t prepare her for that one fateful night where and when she learned how her father really died and what kind of person her mother really was.

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A curious amalgam of the corporeal and phantasmagoric, Jordan A. Rothacker will birth forth his fourth-birthed book in February, 2019 under the title, Gristle: weird tales (Stalking Horse Press). As every story is a ghost, “All Things Resound” will haunt that book as it does this site. Close your eyes… can you see her… what dark truth does Lara know about her family…