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Fifteen years old was when Shane Allison wrote his first poem. Since then his poems have appeared in countless kick ass literary journals such as Chiron Review, West Wind Review, The Brooklyn Rail, and others. He is the author of four collections of poetry. His new collection Sweet Sweat is out from Hysterical Books. He is also the author of two novels. Harm Done and You’re the One That I Want.
The books were dumped from a box when I moved out of the house love from jersey built to make room for more books in the box which were dumped on top of the books first put in the box and set on the bottom where the consequences would be obvious I am alone as an ego trapped in a book pile. I have not read a book in one hundred years. I see so many words. They scroll past me at two thousand years per hour. Everybody is a prophet with a platform standing over attention yelling at old men hear me in four corners I am high on the definition of right now. I did not write it down. I slept a sound, dreamt of better saints, temporary, telling stories of what just happened, today we make our own news out of the dirt beneath the dust that gathered on ink left picked up blew off there is a storm coming I can sense it in my eyes. Information it has been reported, sides, who hurt? The corners do not hurt so much if you lay on a side, I am laying on the side facing you, it is comfortable, beautiful, we have built a circle from rectangles, there is no getting out of, the outer language of rhythmic desire, expression at the limit, how to say what is over there, what is over there, escape me. Be here now let us pray. In the beginning, word, then in the end, book, I am looking for a way to begin the book, I haven’t got a word and never want it to end, feeling, lord make me a channel of your objects, lord make our channel an object send someone else to name it, what is that sound? Do I rise and follow its call, is it calling at all, how would I know, it did it again. Want me like a pattern, over over, form never repeating, you are coming to close the covers, I could lie in the dark call it the new thing, it feels better than the last time, it feels together with the last time, it feels like the same thing, like the first day of my life is still going, like I’m a different person than the baby I used to be, that I perceive myself to be, wish, why is my body so sore and when did you get here? Cannot sleep as peaceful as when I was young with these ghosts to stand above, they cannot live like I do and I am not as important. I am an idea the history surrounding me had already. Adapted for TV. With commercial breaks. Write a check Facebook, I am selling mindspace to the highest outbreak for wallets, you should get in on this, we’ve got six hundred pages burning a hole in the budget and five paragraphs to change. I introduced myself in a rage by the thesis opinions were facts the mob concluded, colluded with schoolchildren in the conspiracy of education. Why do they want me to know these things, why do I want to know anything, will it make my dreams more interesting, will I sweat harder, do they hold the cure for fevers? I believe to addiction in a world rewarding faith. I believe in being scared and sickness. Read deep between the lines of idols and practice self-medication. I am talking to myself again when I should be writing. Sometimes it’s more fun not to fuck.
…………..stained glass watercolor ink old soul new testament
you look like you know the answers
…………..there’s a finality an apocalypse a heaven-hell-dichotomy to your tone
you found me alone in the elements, dressed in black
…………..hand-held through your opening, hat off hair tucked back
I want to ask so many questions, like what are we—
…………..you rest a finger to your lips, shh it’s time for a baptism
I find discomfort in your pews but kneel, kneel always
Kylie Ayn Yockey is a queer southern creative with a BA in Creative Writing & Literature. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Glyph, Meow Meow Pow Pow, Night Music Journal, Gravitas, Ordinary Madness, The Stray Branch, Not Very Quiet, Prismatica, Gingerbread House, Butter Press, honey & lime, and Capulet Mag. She has edited for Glyph Magazine, The Louisville Review, Ink & Voices, and is poetry editor for Blood Tree Literature.
“Oh, yeah,” said Maddy. “I made it into a drinking game. I drank every time she spoke.”
“She’s just so sexist,” said Kirby. “How can a woman be that sexist?”
“Hey,” she said. “We can do anything you can.”
We were in the Sic Bay. It was New York University’s unofficial student health center, which was preferable to the actual Student Health Center, because Kirby only charged for the weed.
Kirby was a grad student in the NYU School of Medical Technology. He was going to be a repairman for robot surgeons. “Until they learn how to repair themselves,” he always added.
He and Maddy lived in Rubin, a residence hall overcompensating with ivy so thick you could barely see the brick beneath its leaves. You could still smell it. Rubin was so infused with secondhand hops that, on a hot day, the bricks smelled more like loaves of bread. It was the cheapest housing on campus, because the antiquated structure couldn’t support central cooling. On a hot day, you were lucky if all you could smell was beer.
I lived in the Bobst Library and Computer Lab.
NYU had recently gotten caught up in a ponzi scheme. It was the Pyramide Inversée of the Madoff scandal, which no one liked to talk about, so of course, it history repeated itself. Tuition went up. So did housing. I lived en plein air for a while, but it was hard enough being homeless in New York City even before Central Parking paved over the green roof to make room for more cars.
When the Bobst Library closed in the small hours of the morning, I hid in the bathroom. The security guards never swept the stalls. They never policed their butts either, so there was always something to smoke while I waited.
I slept during the day, but it was a college library, so they were used to that. I woke up screaming, but they were used to that too.
“You should hire a bodyguard,” said Kirby. Even Maddy looked confused by the non-sequitur, and she got an A in Non-Sequiturs I.
“They don’t have that category on Craigslist,” she said.
“Not Craigslist.” He started pacing. “The dark web.”
After Campus Public Safety found out about the death threats, they did a few extra bike-bys of our building. Kirby said that was bullshit. Maddy said it was “about as useful as cupping a corpse.”
She explained the idiom, but that led to a whole new series of questions, including how long she had been Jewish, and what exactly went on when her people sat Shiva.
I raised my hand. “What’s the dark web?”
“The dark web refers to any website hosted on an anonymous network like Tor. It’s technically legal, in a read-the-fine-font sort of way, but the websites that exist on it are not. You can buy anything on the Silk Superhighway with enough digitally laundered currency. You remember that girl who sold her kidney to buy an iPhone? It’s always harvest season on the internet. People who view this item also viewed drugs, guns, and kiddie porn. You can even hire an assassin. The Unicoder will make it look like an accident for anyone who refers a friend. You’ve probably never heard of him, but he’s totally dark net famous.”
“No, Miriam,” said Maddy, without looking up from her phone. “We aren’t hiring The Unicoder. He only has two stars.”
I lowered my hand.
“I could be your bodyguard,” said Kirby. “For the right compensation.”
“Don’t be a pig,” I said.
“Would your parents pay for one?” asked Maddy.
“I doubt it.”
To be fair, of all the ways I could have disappointed my parents in college, I don’t think they had considered “starting a cult.”
The Gift started as a side hustle. Kirby designed it for me, and coded it in BASIC, despite my initial confusion and offense. He had three side hustles: App designer, Uber Driver, and sous chef, or as he put it: the real triple threat.
The Gift was an app combining witchcraft with psychology. The name was a reference to DEAR MAN GIVE, an acronym from the Dialectical Behavior Therapy module on Interpersonal Effectiveness: Describe, Express, Assert, Reinforce, Mindful, Appear confident, Negotiate. Gentle, Interested, Validate, Easy manner.
After the Gift went viral, I had to Urban Dictionary my own slogan. Apparently “Dear man, give,” was a versatile expression that could contextually mean any of the following: Yes, no, maybe, and exclamation of victory, a greeting, an insult, or a request for sexual services.
I started full-fidelity Dialectical Behavior Therapy three weeks after my first panic attack. Three days into first module, my parents took me off their insurance. I didn’t qualify for the university’s health plan, because I was taking less than twenty-four credits per term.
Anyone could be a witch, but their persecution (and prosecution) had always been a feminist issue. Early witches were just women who said “no” to men.
The Salem Witch Trials were mostly the result of misogyny (and hallucinogens). Although only twenty people were executed in Salem, compared to the scores of thousands in France, Germany, and England (the Spanish Inquisition had insisted that ordinary standards of evidence be applied).
In 1967, the Yippies levitated the Pentagon. (Hallucinogens were probably involved on this occasion as well.) During the 70s, W.I.T.C.H. (Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell) and other feminist groups chanted slogans such as, “We are the daughters of the witches you couldn’t burn.” In 2017, a neo-W.I.T.C.H. group was formed for the Women’s March.
Historically speaking, the popularity of witchcraft tended to peak during periods of social unrest. The Cold War brought Wicca, Dianic Witchcraft, and cultural appropriation. The Orange Scare brought emoji spells, and more cultural appropriation. After they took our health insurance, it was only a matter of time.
The Gift went from seventeen downloads to seventy thousand overnight, and the hits just kept coming. Per day, I averaged fifteen autograph requests, thirty kiss requests, half a dead animal, and two marriage proposals. My death threat count had dropped to five. They were very flattering death threats too. Most of them only wanted to kill me so they could absorb my power.
I had everything I’d ever wanted, except for sleep.
“How did you do it?” Kirby asked.
I blew a smoke ring. “It must have been the deal I made on Craigslist. This guy had a listing under Mobile App Promotion, but he insisted we meet at the corner of 5th and Couch, at night. Instead of payment, all he wanted was a picture of me. What was his name? Ugh, I’m so bad with names, and he had so many.”
“That was one of them.”
Maddy blew a smoke dragon. “Your strategy seems to be working, Miriam.”
“Strategy?” I repeated.
“Your strategy.” She spoke louder, as if I was deaf or Siri. “Taking a break from social media.”
“Oh, that strategy.”
“The internet is calling it your vow of silence. You’re maintaining the air of mystery around the Gift. It helps that the only thing you ever post on Twitter are pictures of cats. Of course that won’t work forever. You may have to hire a ghostposter. Try to get the one who works for the Kardashians. I think they just won a Pulitzer.”
“I have a question,” said Kirby.
“Just one?” I asked.
“Is this all psychological, or do you actually believe in magic?”
I shrugged. “You can’t believe in nothing.”
Maddy snapped her fingers. “Enigmatic. Good. I don’t think you’ll need a ghostposter.”
“Of course I can,” said Kirby. “It’s called atheism.”
“No,” I said. “I mean, you can’t believe in nothing. There’s no such thing as nothing. Even in a vacuum, there are particles and antiparticles and they are inherently unstable, which is probably what caused the Big Bang, but we don’t know. We don’t know what happened before the Planck epoch. We don’t know why there’s no such thing as nothing. We don’t know why we exist, but we do, and we’re complex enough to question the nature of that existence. That implies inherent meaning. We may not know the meaning of life, but we can’t deny it. We are not an accident.”
Maddy snorted. “Speak for yourself.”
I ate dinner by the campfire light. I had started the fire all by myself. For kindling, I burned dry branches. For tinder, I burned dry leaves. And my hair, but that was an accident.
Dinner was a life hack for campfire-grilled cheese sandwiches. I didn’t understand why they were called life hacks when they were supposed to be easy. Hacking was harder than it looked. There were only two windows, one progress bar, and no time limit. And the progress bar turned out to be Kirby’s music.
Although to be fair, I almost started a forest fire.
I stayed in the Catskills until the new president took office. Then I turned around and drove west. I didn’t even stop to eat. Drive-thrus seemed safer. Of course, Taco Bell backfired since I had to stop three times after that.
I drove until we ran into water or Border Patrol. Then, like a Roomba, I did an about-face and drove in the opposite direction. Along the way, there were rest stops, supply runs, and open road. The white noise of the electric van’s fake engine. The white noise of the news.
It started small. In Texas, a woman was refused service at Starbucks because she had a pentacle on her shirt. It was Captain America’s shield.
Her case didn’t even make it to the Supremes, but it was a benchmark. Witches had separate bathrooms and water bottle filling stations. They even had their own schools, which were not as nice as Harry Potter led them to expect.
Maddy led the protests, so she was the first arrest.
The president repurposed several government facilities to serve as correctional camps. They were supposed to “provide a remedial setting for aggressive therapies,” and that was the PR version. The camps used aversion therapy, administering drugs that made people sick and then showing them tarot cards. The suicide rate was off the roof.
The Kardashians’ Pulitzer-winning ghostposter got herself sent to the camps on purpose. She managed to release some footage before “committing suicide.”
I wanted to help, but it was hard to get a Twitter account verified when you were a fugitive from justice.
I patted myself down before leaving the van. Wallet, phone, keys, knife, knife, knife, knife, knife. Drive-thrus seemed safer, but sometimes you just had to enjoy the supersized things in life.
Another old man was taking the ball pit too literally. The children were crying into their french fries— as if the sodium content wasn’t high enough already.
No one noticed when the Unicoder drew his gun. It was an antique revolver. A financial statement piece. Point and click.
No wonder he only had two stars.
“I’m going to sue McDonald’s,” I said.
“You wouldn’t be the first,” said the Unicoder.
I drew my athame. The ceremonial blade was traditional in design, double-sided and black-handled.
“You really think you’re going to do any damage with that little pigsticker?”
“Let’s find out, pig.”
He ruined the moment by laughing.
“Hey, I have a question.”
“Just one?” he asked.
“Why do you do it?”
He shrugged. “It’s a side hustle.”
“I meant Uber.”
“Oh.” The Unicoder blinked. “Easy to make it look like an accident. A lot of people refer friends. More than you might think…. Miriam?”
I had that feeling— when you knew there was something that you were supposed to be doing, but you couldn’t remember what. In this case it was breathing.
I was having a panic attack.
Lucy Mihajlich lives in Portland, Oregon. Her first book, Interface, was chosen for the Multnomah County Library Writers Project, where it appeared on the list for Best of the Library Writer’s Project 2017.
Shannon Elizabeth Gardner is a graduate from the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point with a Bachelors in Studio Art and a Minor in Art History. Her interest in horror and the macabre came about while exploring nature and the paranormal. The work explores the natural and organic process of death, evoking empathy for decay. She believes life is beautiful when left to fate, leaving art to chance assists the viewer to witness beauty hidden within imperfections. Her process appreciates nature’s process and discovers the earth’s imperfect beauty. The ethereal mood of her work reaches the extreme and address the taboo.
Watercolor and Ink on Paper
Decay is an evident part of life. The use of stippling accurately renders the appearance of a technical dental drawing. The illusion the dots creates a unique texture that imitates the look of nature.
Ink on Paper
The daisy is a sacred flower representing the Norse goddess of love and fertility, Freya. In Norse mythology Freya, while symbolizing birth, also symbolizes death. Daisies are often gifted to new mothers in blessings of new beginnings. In this piece the perky and happy appearance of the flower is contrasted with the black ink and white voids creating an ethereal mood. While the daisy represents purity and positive perspectives, the viewer gets an uncanny feeling as if something has gone awry.
Ink on Paper
In this piece the use of dots creates an impression of a technical drawing. Stippling creates clusters of value implying crisp texture and depth. The use of stippling imitates the changes in life through time.
Ink and Colored Pencil on Paper
Can you feel every system operating through your body? Many complex components running simultaneously in conjunction with each other. Isn’t it miraculous how we work?
Watercolor and Ink on Paper
The daisy in this piece symbolizes strength through death. Often gifted to mothers of newborns, this flower was captured during its last days. With the blessings of new beginnings this piece replaces the usual perky and happy appearance of the flower. A shadow of black ink drips from the top poisoning positive perspectives.
Watercolor and Ink on Paper
Life drawing is a beautiful exercise. The intimate relationship between model and artist is an enthralling experience that continues to inspire throughout one’s lifetime.
Two are Better
Watercolor and Ink on Paper
In my work I practice the Asian technique of Wabi Sabi; the aesthetic within imperfections. I strive to explore the unearthed beauty and imitate the natural imperfections. The use of watercolor and India Ink creates beauty within imperfections while creating an earthy grunge aesthetic. The use of India Ink and Watercolor creates an ominous burnt feeling that attributes to the beauty of the worn aesthetic.
Ink on Paper
With my admiration of nature, death, and decay my work strives to explore the aesthetic within imperfections and unearthed beauty of line work and stippling. These techniques imply and imitate natural imperfections. The depth of this piece created with lines illustrates the depth of trauma.
the world is much more wonderful when you think that it is
the world is much more wonderful you can think that
think the world is wonderful and it is much more wonderful
you think the world is wonderful but it is much more wonderful
than you think the world is more wonderful if you think it is
the whirl is munch munch, one of the four with your shrink wrap it is
various things create a vertigo.…………..yes it is
Cherie is blurry weary
worry is sorry
fluid flowing flute flipping
flicks leap end flap
varied things create a vertigo
you think the world is
wonderful but it is
vertical…………..then vitriol…………..then vigil
a vertigo as in heightened contrast
as in soft soft soft…………hard
as a confuse……..new view that feels
everything written on water
a room of water
I flounder…………for the words
try to flinch in water
try to have a scare try to have a
Leah White is an MFA candidate at University of Colorado Boulder. Originally from Tempe, Arizona, she currently teaches creative writing, works on Timber Journal, and runs a reading series in Boulder.
Nathan Elias is the author of the chapbooks A Myriad of Roads That Lead to Here: A Novelette and Glass City Blues: Poems. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction) from Antioch University Los Angeles, and he has served as editor on the literary journal Lunch Ticket. His work has appeared in Entropy, PANK, Hobart, Barnstorm, and elsewhere. His films and screenplays have been official selections or finalists in festivals such as Cannes Court Métrage, Glass City Film Festival, Canadian Film Centre, Texas Independent Film Festival, and both Hollywood and New York Screenplay Contests. He has taught a variety of creative writing classes, including fiction, poetry, and screenwriting. | www.Nathan-Elias.com | @_NathanElias
Menace is in the air. Tragedies are in the making. Fear passes from each to each. It has always been this way.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
daughter is the sun
the religion i once shunned
i place my hand on my belly
where life once bloomed
mother womb’s fertile whisper
the musings of god
as the waning rays of child-light fade
i can no longer hold her in the gentle
budding now through cerise skin –
how love can be
a guide into the ether
how i cannot let it be a trap
MelaBlust is a moonchild, and has always had an affinity for the darkness. Her work has appeared in Isacoustic, Rust+Moth, Anti Heroin Chic, Califragile, and more.
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.
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.