The Oklahoma Review Staff

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2 The Oklahoma Review Staff Faculty Editor DR. BAYARD GODSAVE Faculty Advisors DR. JOHN HODGSON, DR. HARDY JONES, DR. JOHN G. MORRIS Assistant Editors ANGELA BAUMANN, BRANDON RAMIREZ, CASEY BROWN, KAITLYN STOCKTON, MELISSA JOHNSON, REXANNE RIEMER, SARA RIOS, SETH COPELAND Layout & Design CASEY BROWN 1

3 Table of contents Non-Fiction Allie Marini Batts Darwin s Dead End 5 Riley H. Welcker Scaling the Ranks 8 Poetry Natalie Bryant Rizzieri In Winter 23 Rammed-Earth Village 26 Joey Brown Intersection of Crow and Dead Possum 27 The Cleaning House List 28 Sebastian Paramo These Days Are Good Too 30 Conor Braken The Power of Words Compels Me 31 Croissant 33 Villanelle 35 What We Talk About When We Talk About the Stars 36 Anthony Rintala Song of Isaac 38 Sarah Heady Greetings From Michigan 39 Heather Rand Sestina 42 Empty Boxes 44 2

4 Table of Contents Fiction Peter Barlow Poster 46 Isaac Blum The IHOP 48 Jack King Dark Fiber 58 Wendy Dutwin You re Not Going Anywhere 68 Jesse Mardian The Halibut 88 Book Reviews No Direction Home: A Review of Constance Squires Along the Watchtower 96 Landscape as Autobiography: A Review of George McCormick s Salton Sea 98 A Poetics of Recovery: A Review of Jason Poudrier s Red Fields: Poems from Iraq 101 Contributors 105 Oklahoma Review Mission Statement 109 Submission Guidelines 110 3

5 A Sense of Balance by Vital Germaine 4

6 Batts Non-Fiction Darwin s Dead End by Allie Marini Batts Babies. Those squalling little pink bundles; so joyfully insistent, the fleshy legacies that holler out both their parentage and their discomforts in equal measure. How I fear and envy, also in equal measures, seeing expectant mothers whose waists have spread wide. Even with swollen ankles and the presumption that their bodies are now public property, they are able to bask in the glow and awkwardness of so many strangers hands on their distended bellies, petting and cooing to the baby tucked just below their skin. Creation is the feminine prerogative that remains untouched by man or his constructs. Men can birth religions, cities, nations, politics and architecture but even those impressive feats pale in comparison to the might that 7 pounds of wrinkled skin and the fragile structure a baby carries in the palms of its tiny, perfect hands. Mothers are alive, inside and out; they are a valued vessel. The experience of birth, handed down through generations of biology, keeps our species and the spirit alive. In the naming of these pink things, there is the power to shape the world with surnames, identities and new people to write both history and legacy. Equals, all of us: born in blood and effluvia, bathed and swaddled and placed on our mothers breasts. In this moment, even if in none that follow it, we are unconditionally loved and anything is possible. I am in awe of these women, at their fearlessness at the certainty of pain and humiliation, their ability to welcome the contractions and tears, the willingness to be spread wide and naked in a room full of strangers. My experience of being a woman has been a chaotic see-saw, with one seat of the swing in a constant struggle of push versus pull, self versus desire and all of the things 5

7 Batts that I could never be sure if I wanted, or if I just thought that I d been trained to want. Up: love, marriage, babies. Down: academics, a career, independence. Which swing was conditioned into me, which part is the hard-wired animal that wants to perpetuate the species? Is my desire for a MFA degree just my way of masking my fear of responsibility and surrender to something that I can t change my mind about later? I am terrified that a new life would gulp down my sense of self and burp up nothing but milky foam, but also curious: What would my baby look like? What kind of mother would I be? Having a baby. There is a paralyzing magnitude of meaning there, packed into just three tiny words, eleven letters and five syllables. I am scared of sharing my body, my fluids and organs. There is blood and pain and shit and afterbirth, there are umbilical cords and caul, there is water breaking and all manner of viscera: the horror and fascination at the construction of the body and its intricate systems. The unspeakable dread of screaming, weakness, back labor, contractions, episiotomies, eclampsia, labia stretched and split, heads stuck in the birth canal, breach babies, umbilical cords wrapped around their necks, stillbirths and defects. I am skeptical at my ability to provide safe transport from my womb to the earth. Or worse yet: I am petrified that I might not love my baby, that I might resent it or be deficient in my parenting. There are legions of absent fathers, taken off in the night and sisterhoods of women, divorced for newer wives and fresh families, stuck alone in the sea of motherhood, bound and dependent and abandoned by the men whose seed took root and grew. With their wings clipped and free no more to roam, there are responsibilities and dirty diapers, sleepless nights, bottles or bloodied nipples, college tuitions to be saved and scraped knees to tend. My husbands set sail to new oceans with each divorce I felt relief at the hesitance and fear that had crippled me and kept me childless. I saw the face of my daughter taking shape, without a husband, maybe, with me older and settled and ready, with the MFA degree safely in hand to reassure me of the thing beneath that ended up being the thing that scared me the most it didn t matter what my baby looked like, I would be a good mother and I would love her the way that my mother loves me. I would be independent and academic, like my mother, and I d pass that value down again, just as it had been passed down to me. 6

8 Batts Nature has its own perverse sense of humor. As quickly as the realization had come to root in my heart, the chance to make it so slipped out of my reach. A poisoned tree bears no fruit, perhaps my indecision marked me as one of the barren ones and my body followed the dictates of the gods. Perhaps I'm just unlucky. Neither matters. This secret of women is one I can never share in, not wholly or fully. There are shiny pink scars that mark the places that they cut, the tubes and canals that they ablated, the organs that were extracted and the masses and tumors that they biopsied. Now it has been taken from my hands. I am a box of lead pipes, shaped from the smelted guilt. I am both relieved and ashamed to be viewed with sympathy, not suspicion, because now I am not deficient by choice. I am Darwin s dead end; it s a physical impossibility, and women of all ages whisper and tsk at my misfortune, consoling me by telling me, You can always adopt. I discover the true meaning of want, a grip more powerful than any desire for education or career I have ever felt, as I watch helplessly as my friends from high school and college become mothers, sunbathing in the waters of boundless love for their babies. At all costs, I avoid telling them that I am barren, that I waited too long, that I m one of the unlucky ones. I cannot swallow the sticky burn of their pity at my childlessness and the emptiness that they see awaiting me as I get older. I will only have the pictures and the scars to remind me of the things the doctors took, the misshapen cells, the tissues that had grown in all wrong, the swollen glandular material, the ovaries and my barren womb. They burnt the fields and sowed them with salt, pulling back the Russian border all the way into Siberia. Nothing can grow here now, neither poison nor pink. I am razed in black and silvery scars, stained and bruised beneath my skin. Raised welts mark my body like a fucked-up treasure map leading to an empty Dead Man s Chest. There is no gold, just a box of rust and scars, a swaddling of ghosts for my independent arms to cradle against a tight heart. My name and my heart end here, singing a lullaby of wanting to the babies of mine that will never be born, the children I lost before I realized how badly I wanted them. 7

9 Welcker Scaling the Ranks by Riley H. Welcker I died. But I ll get to that later. My father calls me squirrelly. When I was fifteen, he guided me into college. Going to college early taught me some very important things. One: don t draw on the chalk board before a lecture. Two: don t leave your smelly dance shoes out on the desk in Introduction to Law. Three: never date girls who are still in high school. These lessons were painful lessons. Maybe it s just me, but these were difficult lessons. My first real job came soon after my first semester began. I washed dishes at the university cafeteria; only, it wasn t a university then, it was just a state college. My older brother was fortunate to score a job in vending, and our oldest sister had already been working in the cafeteria as a cashier. I thought this arrangement was a little unfair. Age shouldn t matter. I could do any of those jobs as well as they did; but I got stuck washing dishes, a job well below my dignity. It was a job I wasn t planning on keeping for any significant amount of time, if I could help it. Dirty cups, utensils, trays, and dishes came in through a checkered-cubby wall. We snatched them from the cubbies that people thrust them in and tossed them on the dishwasher s conveyor belt, a belt of white plastic thumbs that made one continuous loop. The dishes went in one end and came out somewhat dry on the other. I wore a purple employee shirt and a white apron over my school clothes (neither of which repelled any water), and a wet rag hung from my belt. The wall between the dish room and the back kitchen was lined with stainless steel sinks and hanging hand-sprayers for pots, pans, and dishes that needed power spraying and scrubbing before they were allowed on the conveyor belt. 8

10 Welcker I mentioned we. Two other people also worked in dishes, two other people I didn t feel comfortable talking to. They were dishwashing people, born and bred for the job. Me, I was meant for something better than remedial labor; and I was determined to prove it with every stroke of my hand. I was going to work my way out of the trenches and into the office. I was going to be a front line server. Better yet, I was going to be a cashier. Now that I come to think of it, I can t remember the face of the first guy I worked with (he could have been a girl). Shows how much I thought of them. The second one, however, was definitely a girl. She was older than me. Everyone was older than me. She had red hair, one heavy-lidded eye, too much make-up, and an arm that didn t work right. She always held it at a funny angle, cocked like a dog begging for a treat. She tried to be flirty. This made me uncomfortable. When I was hot on showing the world how amazing I was, I ran the whole dish room by myself while the other two sat back and watched. No sweat off their backs; they were on the clock. The less they had to work the better. As I slaved away, they d get to talking with the cooks in catering. I thought they were lazy and worthless. And I often questioned the intelligence of the head manager for keeping those dummies in the dish department. My reasoning: if I can do this job myself, who needs them? Fire them. Let me do the job myself, and pay me the wage of all three of us. That was my excellent plan. So I set about to prove to the manager those other two really were worthless. I emptied the cubbies in a frenzy, overloaded the conveyor belt, ran circles around the washing machine, unloaded the scalding hot dishes on metal hand-trucks, leapt to the sinks, hosed down everything in sight, and ran the power blasted dishes to the front of the conveyor belt. It was hardest when the cook s pans came through. It hated that. Their pots, pans, and steel tools always clogged up the works and forced one of the two born-and-breds to throw in a hand. I can t tell you how many dishes were broken by my ardent efforts, how many trays were cracked, and how many glasses were shattered; but I was certain that no matter how much damage I occasioned, I was sure to win the praise and admiration of the manager; and when I collected the courage to ask him if I could 9

11 Welcker take over the dish department, he d up-and-fire the other two and give me a promotion, or at least a pay raise. It infuriated me when either of the other two got working. They just got in the way, which usually happened when the manager came poking around. They made me look bad. They botched my efforts at impressing him. They were the wrench in my spokes for earning a promotion. I had to do something. I seized the green coiled hose and sprayed down the sauce-spattered, white tile walls. When the manager thrust his head through the south entrance, water was flying everywhere, hurling off the walls like a desert rain storm. Mats were leaping across the room under the blast. The cement floor was a regular swamp lettuce, fries, and marshmallows whirlpooling over the backed-up drains. A mountain of dishes was moving across the conveyor belt. The dishwasher chugged and ground to a halt. I was drenched from head to foot. A concoction of water and sweat dripped from my nose. The other two dishwashers observed the fray from the north entrance, their latex gloves gripping the corner tiles, their heads shooting out of sight with every ricochet. The manager grunted and walked out. I dropped the hose and wiped my forehead. I had done it, I had gotten noticed. The other two were gone. The sinks and cubbies were empty. I was getting a promotion. Two weeks passed. No word. No promotion. Hadn t the manager seen my brilliance, hadn t he seen how hard I worked and how little the other two ever did? Was he blind or just plain stupid? I determined I would have to work harder and longer and get more creative. Spraying the dish room had gotten me noticed. I would have to take that hose around the wall into the cook s domain. And I did. I forced everyone out of the back room with wild fits of water. I swamped the floors. I blasted the walls. The manager came back in a rush. He surveyed the scene. He assessed the situation. Then he spoke to me. For the first time, Val Brown spoke to me. The only way I can describe Val Brown, beside the fact that he was middle-aged, is that he walked with bounce in his step like he was on a basketball court. Just keep that hose pointed at the floor, he said, with a smile he struggled to contain. He turned and stalked away, then stopped. Good work, he added. 10

12 Welcker I was ecstatic. That was twice. Twice he had noticed me. Twice he had seen how hard I worked and how much I cared and how much I put into my job. A promotion was as good as mine. It never came. I was furious. I was outraged. That dolt was obviously blind. No man could be that stupid and live. How could he be the manager? I could do his job better than he could. I would have the sense to know when somebody was a hard worker, when somebody deserved a raise. I would have the sense to see through those dummies who dared call themselves my co-workers. I would be bright enough to see who was worth their pay and who was definitely not. I knew who worked hard. Me. I did. I was valuable. So I stopped working in dishes. Sometimes the front line servers needed someone to help out when it got busy. I took over. I found every possible and excusable excuse to leave the dish room. If Val Brown didn t have the sense to give me a promotion and put talent and hard work where it was most needed, I would. And I did. I worked the front line with tremendous care. I gave customers extra portions on their plates just for good measure. I knew they d put in a good word for me to the manager. They d say, That boy s got it where it counts. That boy s worth his salt. That boy knows how to work. That boy gives fantastic service. That boy s a real find. That boy deserves a raise, a promotion! And the manager, if he knew what was good for him, would reply, How could I have been so blind? That boy s a hopper. That boy s a real golden worker. That boy s my best employee. I m sure glad he works for me don t know how we d get by without him. That boy deserves a raise. That boy deserves a promotion. Heck, he should have my job! Maybe I ought to give it to him. He d do better than me. He d turn things around. He d fire every lazy no good dummy in here. He d only hire the best. This would be a smokinghot crew. The food would shatter world class standards, it would be served better than it ever has, the dishes would never be dirty, profits would be up, and everyone would be well-taken care of. Happiness would be at an all time high, and customers would come from all over the state just to catch a bite and experience the charm of the UVSC dining court. He d change history. That young man s destined for great things. I don t know what 11

13 Welcker I ve been thinking. I m going to give that boy a raise this very moment and shower him with employee rewards. He didn t. I got the shaft. If I wasn t cursing the foul putz s name, I was dropping hints in the way of my overdue promotion. At four months, I asked when I was getting out of the dish room. The clock was ticking. He was shocked. I was shocked. His shock shocked me and bounced back again. According to him, I had only been there four months. Only! He wrapped a big red flag over my head and tied it in a knot so fast he might as well have stomped on my dreams stomped dragged his heel over them and ground them with the ball of his foot. He left nothing, nothing but the scattered grits of teenage despair. He did it with shock. What had he ever seen by way of exceptional performance? Exceptional performance, I ask you! I wanted to curl up and die. How could I keep up my kind of effort and live? I had refused to believe I was made of the same course material as the born-and-breds. But I began to doubt myself. Was I really that worthless? Was I destined for failure? Would I ever amount to anything? Was I capable of doing anything better? Was I capable of doing anything at all? Or was I doomed to washing dishes forever? I wallowed in my self-pity. I hugged it like a kid grappling a teddy bear. I drug my feet and dashed my head on the wall of disappointment. I eventually got over it, only after the trauma had caused serious brain malformities. But I had an indomitable spirit. In the end, I believed myself superhuman. This experience hadn t killed me. It would have killed the born-and-breds. I was going places and not nothing, nor nobody, was gonna get me down. Mm mm. I slaved away in the dish room, taking any opportunity I could to help the front line and serve a customer. Something like six Mongolians worked the front line and the grill, deep frying chicken or spooning plops of mashed potatoes on white Americans plates. If my so-called co-workers weren t chatting up the cooks, they were hanging out by the soda syrup machines stocked in the passage between the dish room and the serving line. Whenever a Mongolian shouted, help up front, they were the first on 12

14 Welcker scene. I couldn t have those two born-and-breds beating me to the job. Not only did it made me look bad, it got them noticed, a severe blow to my modus operandi. I needed another hose down, something to make me stand out. But how was I to get past the bornand-breds blocking the way with their long silver spoons in hand? If I was going to rescue the line, I was going to have to fight my way there. I had to play the game, and I had to play it right. I, too, carried a large metal spoon, hunched at the ready in the passageway, which meant sacrificing my job duties in hopes of catching an opportunity. In our angst for a shot at the service line, we broke into all but spoon battles. More than once, I was caught not doing my job. Standing closest to the front line meant the born-and-breds were behind me. Whenever the manager found his way back to the dish room, they were the first on scene yet again. I don t know how they managed it, but they were always one step ahead of me. I can t tell you how many times I enjoyed the sweet reverie of one or both of them slipping and breaking a leg. Syrup spills happened. It was simply a matter of pre-accident planning. But it was this kind of planning that put me in sleep-mode, at which times I gave new meaning to the word slow. I surprised myself. I even surprised the born-and-breds. Altogether, if I wasn t running the dish room like a mad man for a few lousy bucks, I was getting in trouble for neglecting my job. I didn t understand how those two things juxtaposed. Of course, I didn t know what that word meant when I was fifteen. Heck, I didn t know what that word meant until I was almost thirty. I just knew that something wasn t right. How can someone be the hardest worker and always get the lousiest rap? I had just finished a book from my Organizational Behavior class, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. I was determined to make a go of its overfifteen-million-copies-sold principles. I made friends with the Mongolians. I learned their names. Bierbacdal. That s not how you spell it. But it s how you say it, only the bac part should come out of your throat like you re hocking something. Bierbacdal. I struggled with it. Bier always laughed at me for hacking his name. I dedicated myself to learning it. I whispered it everywhere I went. I can only imagine how it sounded to everyone else. But 13

15 Welcker in the end, I got it right. I earned their admiration by learning every last one of their names. By this time, I had been serving significant time on the front line. Val Brown was beginning to notice my efforts. If he was annoyed that I wasn t doing dishes, he was further annoyed with how much I slopped on customers plates. Strict rules were put in place, and the portions were reduced. I thought this was ripping off the customers, and I plainly spoke my mind. I was half-promoted to the service line by sheer will, but I never fully made it. My brother quit the vending job. He tried to work out a deal with Val Brown to get paid on a per-machine-basis rather than hourly. He wanted piece-rate. He made a convincing argument, but Val Brown wouldn t budge. My brother s idea did, however, make headway with his friend Jeremy Johnson, who, long after I started in dishes, found his way into the vending position from the outside ahead of me. Convinced that anything but piece rate wasn t worth it, my brother and Johnson left for bigger and better things. How could vending not be worth it? It was better than washing dishes. I learned differently later. Val Brown needed to fill the vacancy, and he needed to fill it fast. He offered me the job. Or I begged for the job. I don t remember which. I got it; that s what matters. It was a promotion and a dollar-and-twenty-five-cent raise. I was ecstatic. More than ecstatic, I experienced mild euphoria. But I couldn t shrug the sense that something was a little off. Why had Val Brown been so quick to give me the job? What hadn t I been told? It didn t seem like anything at first. There were still two other men in vending. One worked the on-campus vending; and the other, the off-campus vending. I couldn t do the off-campus vending. One had to be eighteen to drive the van. Soon after I took the on-campus job, the off-campus vendor quit. I don t remember his name, but I do remember two things: the size of his figure and the size of his head. He had wide shoulders and stood almost twice my height. He had skeletal eyes and a head the shape of a Staffordshire Bull Terrier. It was huge. The other guy s name was Brandon Rideout. He was short and looked like Tom Cruise with a crew cut. His hair was black. He taught me the ins and outs of vending, showed me how to arrange the vending closet from newest to 14

16 Welcker oldest product, how to order, how to pack the hand-trucks, how to stock the machines, how to take the money, and how to do it all over again. He then took over the off-campus vending. I was left to stock and maintain every vending machine in every building on campus by myself, and I was to do it in under thirty hours a week. At a college of twenty thousand students, the vast majority who subsist on Sun Chips, Granny-B cookies, and Coca Cola, the job was nearly impossible. I proved to myself I was superhuman. I was now sixteen. I was a full-time college student. I arrived at school at seven in the morning and didn t leave until eleven at night every day for three years. Most Saturdays I had to work. But if I could get it, I slept sixteen hours straight through the weekend. When that happened, my teeth would get slimy and my breath sour. I got my promotion, and I got a pay raise; but for the amount of work I did in the hours I did it in, I made a whole lot less than six-dollars-and-fifty-cents an hour. At least I wasn t getting my school clothes soaked all the time. I was never going back to dishes. With somewhere around sixty machines, I had only a half an hour to service each, which included taking inventory before hand, loading the hand-truck, pushing product across campus, stocking the machines, taking money, submitting buys and sells, reorganizing product in the vending closet, taking inventory totals, and cleaning the machines. Cleaning the machines, however, was my last priority. Almost every machine needed filling almost every day. Was it any wonder the other guys quit? I collected wads of cash to the amount of tens of thousands. I was told never to count the money, just to stick it in a blue zipper bag. But after working at a bank, years later, I marvel how much cash went through such young hands. Each machine had two to five hundred dollars jammed in it. Considering the number of machines across campus, I was collecting an average of twenty-one thousand dollars a week. I never stole a dollar. My integrity was never a matter of question. Maybe I was just naive. After a while, Val Brown got a second person to take the cash with me on cash collection days. Turns out I did steal, but what I stole I didn t know I was stealing. The snack machines were easier to stock than the pop. Boxes of Snickers, Twix, and Lay s potato 15

17 Welcker chips don t weigh as much as crates of Fanta, Sprite, and Barq s Root Beer. Because I was nearly always behind in stocking the machines, it left me in tight squeezes. If I was going to stay on top of things, I didn t have the time to tidily-dink around with ordering a little of this and a little of that, poke around looking busy with my clipboard, wander across campus, chat with the satellite crew in the Gunther Trades, or make a half-page scribble of inventory from a machine on the remote planet of Hoth. If I went anywhere, I was running. When I ordered, I over-ordered. I ordered so much product, I sweated writing the ticket, I sweated when I handed it over to Val Brown, and after hauling the product off the truck, I sweated getting the vending closet doors closed. It was feast or famine. The closet was either bulging over capacity or stock empty. Whenever Val Brown poked his head in to inspect the situation, the muscles in his face struggled over a perplexed message I never could decipher. I just assumed he had to go to the bathroom. When the closet was jammed, avalanche warnings were in full effect. Even with my Q-tip-type body, I could barely pinch through the mountainous heaps. Picking my way through was like getting lost in a junk food jungle, my arms extended, my head ducked. With all that product in the closet it wasn t any wonder it sustained a high rate of damage. I was forced to crawl around on everything to get to anything. And I was always in a hurry. If I really needed a case, it was at the bottom. When that happened, I had to pull every box, case, and crate out of the vending closet, snatch what I needed, and put every crate, case, and box back into the vending closet. That alone took more than half an hour. With over fifteen machines to fill in the next two hours, I was already behind. If I forgot anything, Bierbacdal could have put me on the grill and fried me. I mentioned sweating. Sweating was a problem. If sweat had categories, I sweated in the category of profuse. And I stank. Sweat gathered down my forehead and drizzled off my nose. If I wasn t hosing product down with sweat, I was sanding it down with the grit and rubber from my shoes. I quickly learned what product stacked, what was sturdy and what wasn t. The way it often went, I was forced to get in touch with my body, to play fairy feet and practice 16

18 Welcker dance moves in curious and uncomfortable ways. If I could see myself then, I might be ashamed. Then again, maybe not. I had gotten hooked on ballroom dance still am and I was slowly weakening to the wiles of ballet. My good friend Bate Manison, a thirty-yearold, married, Taiwanese, was doing ballet to extend his reach in dance and strengthen his technique in Latin ballroom. Little did I know, standing in that vending closet, I would get roped into one of the most questionable dates I ever went on by a girl I was only briefly acquainted with from a dance class because her boyfriend wouldn t go with her on some yearly family event. It was A Mid Summer Night s Dream performed by Ballet West in Salt Lake City. Could I blame the guy for not wanting to go? The memory is really fuzzy now, but somehow I found myself dressed in a purple shirt and tie in a theater with people I didn t know, huddled in my seat, hugging my knees, my mouth agape with shock at all those perfectly beautiful, muscular males frolicking about in tights. Think of your worst nightmare? Mine was worse. Whatever innocence I had retained, before that night, was lost. I had to ask myself some hard questions about my interest in becoming a professional dancer. Some people might say, ooh, I want to hear more about that. No. It s something I d rather not talk about. I don t know why I even brought it up. It s an entirely different story, and I d rather not some scars are just too painful. A man shouldn t know how to do the splits or how to make the shapes of rainbows with his body. It isn t natural. But such were the kind of maneuvers I found myself pulling off in the vending closet, my dirty shoes slathering the pop-can-tops that people would eventually perform fifty-cent make-outs on. Ignorance really is bliss. Twenty thousand students and a few less faculty might as well have licked the rubber bottoms of my shoes and gnawed the grits for as much as I trod those cans. What can I say? Cases of cans are easier to climb. They have a sturdier base than, say, a box of chips or a crate of bottled Squirt. Cans don t move around. Bottles do. Stepping on bottles is like stepping in quicksand. They scatter in every direction and spill over the flimsy plastic walls of their crates like convicts escaping the state penitentiary. My shoes ended up on everything. Even now, it makes me nauseous when I see vendors 17

19 Welcker walking through public restrooms, their sneakers lapping up the germs. I crushed boxes of cookies and chips and felled crate towers of pop like a clumsy lumberjack. Aluminum cans broke open, sizzled, and sprayed. Snack bags popped and burst. I ate and drank them all, every last busted can and smashed bag. Between the time I got the job and the time Rideout left, leaving me utterly alone, he told me it was OK to eat damaged product. I got a very different story from Val Brown when he caught me munching Granny-B cookies and chugging a dented can of Sprite. I said I ran. I never went anywhere without running. When anyone saw me anywhere it was: Did you see that Q-tip running with the clipboard? I saw him. I SAW HIM. I saw him. Gunther Trades. McKay Events Center. Woodbury Business. Browning Admin. Sorensen Student Center. Cafeteria. Pope Science. Sparks Automotive. Phys Ed. What s that Q-tip with the clipboard doing? Who is that Q-tip with the clipboard? At UVSC, every building is connected by a hallway. Convenient. Only when the elevator didn t work getting up to the Gunther Trades, I had to take the long way around. That meant leaving the Woodbury Business Building and traversing the open sidewalks. Problem was the sidewalks weren t that great between the Woodbury Business Building and the Gunther Trades. You get to know the cracks and pockmarks pretty well when you re pulling around a thousand pound handcart of crackers, up hill. It ain t no picnic. Believe me. And I don t talk like that if I can help not sounding like a hick. I once got stuck on a crack. I tugged on the hand-truck. It popped the pavement. The product tottered. Down went the cases, cans breakdancing on the concrete. I fell into a furious stomping fit, jumping up and down like a wired monkey in a zoo. If you ve ever seen a two-year-old with a temper, that was me. I can only imagine what a full grown body in that state might have looked like to any casual passerby. I still get them. Them? Them? What s them? Anxiety attacks when things fall out of my hands. It was a good thing no one was around. It was just more to drink can t waste good bebida when it comes at you that cheap. I crushed chips and busted cans so often you would think I suffered from a severe case of kleptomania. Only I didn t; I suffered from over-stressed-over-worked syndrome. I 18

20 Welcker was driving myself into the ground all to impress Val Brown. Not to insult anyone, but what the heck. To insult someone who has the last name of Brown anyway? It s smothered with brownness, brownie, brownnose, poo. Poo-head Val Brown. I did the 50-yard-dash all over campus. I was a speeding bullet. I was a flying J. I was superhuman. I ran people over with the hand-truck. Either I couldn t see around all the product piled on the cart, or I was going too fast to stop. Val Brown saw me doing this. He frowned when I ran a guy over just outside the cafeteria doors, told me to be more careful; but he smiled at my show of energy, my show of fast action, my show of superhuman-ness. I was impressing Val Brown. I was getting noticed! And that was all that mattered. Or was it? He was probably laughing at me. Look at that sucker. Look how much work I m getting out of that kid. And I m not even paying him for it. Oh, he was paying me for it. With all the money I robbed in pop and candy. I don t know. Maybe we squared even. I d still like to think he was abusing me, though. One thing was clear. I understood why my brother quit, why every vender who had the job before me quit. I wanted to quit. But I m not a quitter. I got fired. So let me tell you how it happened. The assistant manager s daughter, Holly, had been helping me out. That s when old Jim Bo arrived on scene. One look at him and I knew, my job was coming to an end. Jim Bo could have been ninety-two. At the least, he was older than sixty. What did a guy like that want with a job like mine? I found out he was another one of those born-and-breds. He was a vender through and through ran his own vending business for forty-five years. His name was just Jim. But Holly nicked him Jim Bo. Holly was the complete opposite of Jim. She was tall, slender, and blonde, with a prominent forehead and a stud in the top of her left ear. She, too, had a lot of extra skin. She claimed she was fat in junior high, really fat. It was a phase, she said. Holly was engaged. Jim Bo, on the other hand, was short, fat, and wore dingy, full-body Dickies. Hair grew out of every visible orifice of his body; the hair on his round head, like a stubble field. His face was wrinkled like a Shar Pei. The lines of his forehead were so thick you could tug on them with your fingers. Most people put their ballpoint pens behind their 19

21 Welcker ears. Jim Bo could have put his between the wrinkles of his forehead. He didn t. He put them behind his ear like everyone else, or in his mouth. His breath was bad. Some would even go as far as calling it dog breath, but that might be taking it a little far. On second thought, no. That was about right. It was dog breath. If Holly loved anything more than complaining about Jim Bo, I didn t know it. She called Jim the troll. She said it with a drawl. The troll. She grumbled the word like it was something to be stepped on. She had a lot of other names for him too, but the troll was the one that stuck. Jim Bo made Holly feel uncomfortable like that red-haired girl in the dish room did me, and she let me know it. Jim Bo didn t do much. He only did my job. I worked hard and fast; and when I was done, I played the grand piano in the Ballroom on the clock. Val Brown didn t like this. People in the cafeteria racked up time by working slow on purpose. But I couldn t do that. Working slow was for dummies. I did my job twice as fast as anyone else would have done it. If I got my work done early, I should be able to stay for the amount of time it would have taken the next guy. Why should I be required to kick off the clock? I get it. Punish the hardworking. It was at that moment I understood why my brother wanted piece-rate for the job. It was the same moment I determined I had been used as slave labor. Never mind the fact that I was getting further and further behind on filling the machines after too often neglecting my job to help the Caterers. The Caterers always needed help, and I liked dressing up like a penguin. Serving high profile clientele, politicians, and university presidents at dining events in the Ballroom suited me. That s another reason I was always on the piano hanging around in case I was needed. Always looking for bigger, better things. You can imagine my mood when Val Brown stopped me in the hall, opened one of my machines, pointed at the half-empty sections, and said, You re not getting your job done. I don t remember the words that flew out of my mouth. I do remember the look on his face. I think what I said had something to do with how he failed to notice how hard I worked. The part of the conversation I do remember went like this: 20

22 Welcker I m letting you go. You re letting me go where? Again, my memory gets a little fuzzy. After a round of confusing communication in which he mumbled a string of sounds I didn t understand, he said, You re fired. My response: Oh. Fine. I stepped around him, threw my clipboard at the vending closet, the closet Jim Bo was standing in reaching for product on his tiptoes, and never looked back. 1 1 About now you re probably wondering: but when did you die? I didn t. Change that D to an L. I just said that to catch your attention. I ll tell you what did happen. When I told my dad I had gotten fired, he called Val Brown up. I begged him not to. When Val Brown got on the phone, my father ripped him a new ear, calling him a government-paid slob, and explained to him in short, small words everything that was wrong with the government, the college, and his cafeteria. I never wanted to see that cafeteria again. But I had no choice. I had to walk by it every day to get to class. 21

23 Art to Music by Matt Williams 22

24 Rizzieri for E Poetry IN WINTER by Natalie Bryant Rizzieri i. After the sun labors from its nest of winter grey, jasmine fruit steels black. By black it is known to have ripened, swallowed just enough winter, just enough daylight. The calyx is bell-shaped. The flowers not solitary, but clustered in threes. This trilogy of fruit turns the perianths inside out. ii. Wet hide of snow fallen: she couldn t move beneath tens of hands couldn t unstitch the humanity from the irises of one man s eyes in particular; he was young and not yet accustomed to inflicting wounds she was young (his hands were chapped) and not yet accustomed to receiving them. 23

25 Rizzieri His stomach crimped into chords of hymns she sleeted in the handcuffed dark until her lips clenched tight as the jasmine bud on the tip of a branchlet. iii. She slipped under a bell-shaped terrarium, and stayed. iv. Labyrinths do not dictate forwards or backwards. There is only a center, a distillation. And a periphery where one day she must take off her fear like clothing, lay it out to dry while she circles the day the sun burned black. And the day after, chapel light: the way words can also rape. Clustered, she must sing underground songs, lava-hot, to melt snow, break apart rock which foliates the past in garnet designs and patterns of strain she compressed into slate as a child. 24

26 Rizzieri This might mean standing in lozenges of stained glass and screaming. v. For twenty years her anger was slaked by density: earth s crust. But now even that is splitting apart. Earth quakes. There is more than one person leaning into the damage. vi. Sunbird, now you labor, thread rim from wind, far from reach. Fine-twig nest a pendant in the branches. Camouflaged, chambered, it s the depth that protects nestlings. Shore up scars with spiderwebs. This is another laying on of hands you require. This is consecration. This, and the telling. 25

27 Rizzieri RAMMED-EARTH VILLAGE by Natalie Bryant Rizzieri The soil is shallow in Xi an a mock army waits underground. What cannot protect still must surface so I chisel through clay, rake loss with a claw-shaped sieve and find a head halved like the Emperor s wealth. It has been years and I m recovering limbs this army of statues one joint at a time. This is how I choose to quarrel with the past, rebuild a mausoleum, hammer years together. This is how absence is undone. I remind myself of the mock army lying in wait. What cannot protect still must surface. I am the sole protector of my impoverished dynasty. 26

28 Brown Intersection of Crow and Dead Possom by Joey Brown On a highway east of Tulsa rain and thunder bring an interstate s worth of traffic to a stop, so I watch a crow eat from the carcass of a dead possum. Flicks a glance up at me, chop-steps his way between dinner and my tire. I m not even a scandal in his day, but he is a prize I find on the road out writing my plains cartography. Sometimes when I drive I say prayers for people who need them. Sometimes I add myself. I wait on weather and traffic, on some unnamable feeling and the opportunity to put the right word to it. It s about there and getting there, about spanning space and breadth, a compilation of vowels and wads of connotation, perfect, if only I knew how it is pronounced. Between the Cherokee casino and the yard of rusting tractor parts is the sign that says today is a gift from God, and I wonder what the rest have been. Gears on a cement mixer shudder, and the crow extends a protective wing. The possum emanates rot and lays there like a fact. Thunder when it s far off rattles you inside, but this one hits us hard and crisp. I ease off the brake. Crow blinks. 27

29 Brown The Cleaning House List by Joey Brown You start with 1. Clean House because you can t write a note saying 1. Get Your Life up off the Floor. Besides, the real problem is much more cluttered than that: just how does one clean house? 1. Sew loose, disembodied buttons on. But sew them to what? Such a small, tedious job. And really, do they look so bad collected in jars here and there? 1. Match up loose socks. Easy enough. So how do you end up off washing out pantyhose in the grimy bathroom sink? 1. Sort taxes/ insurance. Ugh. Let the shuddering ensue. You ll construct a hasty tower of babbling paperwork, ignoring all dates and the alphabet, as well. 28

30 Brown 1. Closets. Too boring. 1. Kitchen cabinets. More boring. We re lacking motivation over here. 1. Chest of drawers. Ah, but what of the need for places to tuck found pennies, loose papers, and pens? 1. Love letters. But, no, not them. They re so brittle and thin, tremble like ash in your hands. Trap them under a lid that won t fit its dented pot, along with a sweetness you d rather not name. 1. When details belong to both god and the devil, order is, at best, only implied. You start off with 1. Clean House because that is just how all lists start. 29

31 Pramo THESE DAYS ARE GOOD TOO By Sebastian H. Paramo We crack open another Coors, a bottle of whiskey meanwhile glows empty under the lamp light. A deck of cards is opened, passes hands. We put the Aces down & from time to time one of us calls bullshit. We shoot the breeze on nights like this, call it in order from the China-Star or Luigi s yell & say you owe me one for the horse race. On occasion, let s say for our sake, the boys & I go to the bar, watch the fights & you come out. I m indifferent looking at you & against better judgment offer to buy you a song. Let s say I ask if you'll dance & you say no & I go over to that birthday party, take shots of rum, whiskey or vodka whatever is available. I'll pat my jean pockets to make sure nothing is stolen, that you haven t called. Your friend's birthday party could end anywhere her couch, her bed, her body. It all depends on how close to drunk we are. It s happened before. The things we do to say another beer means another night you're not there. You don t come around. Stop fucking around I miss those days. 30

32 Bracken the power of words compels me by Conor Bracken it is true, it must be said, that today I woke up with nothing to say to today so I will say this, that the thunder right now is rolling around the sky like a tantrum tiring itself out. I like it better when the clouds are filled with children instead of water, not because I savor drought since that is callous and I am, by nature, soft and full of sweetness ask the mosquitoes; they are bees to my thorny flower and not because I prefer children over any one thing, since that sounds creepy, even pederastic, and I m only creepy when the ceiling asks that I conform to its demands to reach whatever else it is protecting. no, I think because it s easier to like the sky when there s an image grafted to it. remember the Sistine Chapel and how awed everyone was? the mouth suddenly a chrysalis of quiet that once outside and startled by the mopedtang and sound of Rome would split to let flutter out a wasn t that amazing? it is easier to trust a roof to hold itself when it s also holding some kind of beauty even though a sudden brick-slide wasn t something we were worried about. sometimes I m worried about the clouds intentions, as sometimes you might be worried about mine, but I am not here to deceive you, not here to make you falter on the staircase of your beliefs, I m just here because I m wondering 31

33 Bracken if sometimes I say heaven to keep the unfathomable distance behind the clouds from crashing through our craning heads. 32

34 Bracken croissant by Conor Bracken she says I love you with gauze in her voice, peeling flaky layers from a pastry and somewhere outside the sun is peeling mist from the river where someone, one of those friends you make like a snap decision, someone carried home in their body a piece of the river the river never should have had. the river had a lot of these, little obscene amoebas that would expand like doubt in the brain once they d made it their home and started to feel that inevitable sensation of complacency. there were petitions to sign, signs to chant under, people to mass with so the catechism of protest could body forth its questions to whatever corporate edifice didn t feel like opening its doors to a suitable answer that day. there never was a suitable answer. she says I love you, gently, as if laying a poultice on the air s split silence, and I say there are hawks in my front yard near every day. people ask me what the largesse of this city feels like and that s what I tell them, that my front yard is big enough for raptors to feel at home inside it. somewhere outside the sun was raising a question to which each shadow answered yes, we re still here. somewhere inside 33

35 Bracken I was feeling like an asshole because doubt had set up shop and milled every answer to its blueprints. the pastry wasn t going to last much longer. each layer she peeled she piled neatly on a corner of the plate we shared, building a soft ziggurat of questions. the only answer seemed the steady movements of my jaw. 34

36 Bracken villanelle by Conor Bracken I will marry this one, not him, who said apple is a question my eye can t answer. he lied. I went on bright and tiring meds, went too far on one canvas pair of Keds, went half-maculate into the musty diner. I will marry this one, knot him, who said well I d want fries with that. what bread, unsliced or not, what didn t I daily better? he lied. I went. on bright and tiring meds, on the varicolored carousel, on undead vid-game rampages, on a cursive star, I swear I will marry this one. not him, who said let s just stay within my idiom, not med dle with the us of it, this we s unclear he lied. I went on bright and tiring meds. you are what you eat, you re more clev er than you seem. d you think, ever yes I will marry this. one not him, who said he lied, when I, on bright and tiring meds. 35

37 Bracken what we talk about when we talk about the stars by Conor Braken there are ashes in the demon s milk tonight is one way to talk about the stars. if we re talking about the stars, that is. one way to talk about the stars is three ways to break into the vault of solitude, which, no, I m not asserting there is one. that there s only one. a tabloid prattles we are all stars, we are all star-quality, made of stars, fifteen minutes away from being and from not being, stars. all of us are machined from fission and frisson. all of us are minutes from being here and burning there. which is the motion of the stars flashing carnally encoded smiles above a sequined wave of cleavage. this, by the way, is a way to talk about the stars, about cleavage as a means of joining, as a means of separating, stars from stars, everything in between. wave as a means of collecting then depositing all the rocks the sea once knew, waves as a means of dismissing all the constellated talk about the stars, is one way to talk about the stars. one way to talk about the stars is thinking asterisk a dozen times, is drinking absinthe too many times, is straddling a gable glass in hand, the party swaying below you like kelp in an ebbing tide, like paper lanterns in an August breeze and trying to lick the stars. try to lick the stars. they have the sweetest knees I know. they send the sweetest notes. I ve shown from green-built mountain tops 36

38 Bracken the notes the stars exchange, the lines they write each other. the lines they write with our eyes, the lines they d written with the eyes of peoples far gone and totally unfamous except for the pictures they made on the sky to make the night reflect a little bit more of us. 37

39 Rintala A knife so fine bronze, iron, or rough stone to shave against beard grain, when he grows his own, cutting the moonlight from the darkness in a curve like a toenail curled up, flicked, with his flinching foot held down in the warm, dry crush of his father's hand. Song of Isaac by Anthony Rintala A blade so sharp, obsidian glass, edged in crescents, hafted in linen, it severs the lock of their eyes as it passes--his father looks up, not at the sky but at the hair of his son, hair tousled and stroked by the blade of his own hand, rarely raised in anger, never lowered so. Hands curled to hot crescents over his own eyes as his father takes him into the light, folds the fragile wings of his arms back and works the blade, slicked with blood, damming the blood, of the splinter from his palm. His hand, curled to a scimitar, cradles his son's face, slashes tears with his thumb. The stab of the moment, hung, time pierced, pulsing, as the knife dropped through generations of blood and faith, peeling certainty back like skinning an apple, a lamb, exposing certain doubt. What father wouldn't stop the sacrifice? 38

40 Heady GREETINGS FROM MICHIGAN by Sarah Heady O my broken hemisphere, o my broken all of this I am sitting in the M contemplative blue skied a smudge faceless forest red-bottomed after a beating you are the crease in my otherwise grand afternoon a thing of the future there rise two towers holy as deco in Royal Oak festooned heavy in purple and ermine like we re the Paris of North America I show you my palm like a buddha s never fear I leave behind rainbowed gluts of petrol I greet you in carblood and redlines I greet you dirty with freedom I send you my greetings from the first true postmodern place: it s all I can do to stop laughing at this measly Mackinac fish with four heads and no brain 39

41 Heady Motown decongestion a no-longer-rushing hour gray vehicle moving through the word made by American hands charmed by the sultan carburetor defibrillator of the big three and the spaces between the letters? empty silk-lined sacks mayor s recognition plaques rev shitshow polaroids broiled in empty lots-cum-urban farms 40

42 Heady Schrödinger s cat unfed neglected steel curtain Lake Erie leisure suit 1970s, i.e. apocalypse womb the melodic shunt in front of my skull singing empty but wet, empty but full with fluid that must be drained, swum in to be believed dove into from outcropping dotted with Pabst cans crushed headlong because drunk driving teen deaths hold more sway than riot in this region a single smoking engine more shock than whole-cloth evisceration of 800,000 and the gutted elementary: small squeaky choirs belting out every back entrance the middle class dads cleverly found and slipped their families through just before the end-of-show dash for the parking lot 41

43 Rand Sestina by Heather Rand On my way back from the funeral I blew a tire, thinking as my car spun out by Alexandria, Is Kayla really dead? I had spent most of the day with Ashley, bragging about how I had consumed just 300 calories that day. Of course I was sick. Only 100 left before I would have to stop eating. Only 100 to go. I had hoped it would be a while before I had to go to another funeral. I was getting really tired of seeing dead bodies. If anyone else left my family like this, dead and buried, if would be the end of my poor mother. To whom could I brag? And where does this come from, this need to brag? We aren t better than anyone, we had nothing more going for us than any other family. We had our looks and charm, both of which are fleeting. And when people get tired of those, or when we ourselves are dead, what of our need for approval will be left? So as I sat in my truck, backwards on the left side of the highway, I knew I would only brag about how I survived this accident and wasn t dead, but that I guess was obvious. People would go by on the road and wonder, though. They d see scraps of tire, and what was left of it, clutching to the metal rim. They d see what was left of me, too, clutching the wheel. What was left of my mother and sister must look something like the tire. Maybe this would teach us not to brag. Maybe we could decide, together, to let it go, We could let this family tradition just stay dead. Kayla, it turns out, really was dead. At the end of her treatment, she got sick of being clean. Just before it was time to go home, she would use what was left of her time to brag 42

44 Rand about how she hadn t even tried. It seems strange that a blown tire and a young girl, dead, can stop a young woman from bragging of the amount of calories left. She can let it go. 43

45 Rand Empty Boxes by Heather Rand I thought that it must have been awful to get married in the lobby of a Best Western hotel, right next to the bathrooms and in front of a fake Christmas tree with empty boxes wrapped beneath it. I thought it would be terrible to have nobody in attendance, save for your parents and sister. None of the groom s family ever showed up. To be pregnant at that wedding, to the man you were marrying, the man that you met on Facebook, while using the Speed Date application, would be the worst. To have a tiny marquis cut diamond, cloudy, and a titanium band on him, would break my heart. There s a reason, I guess, why some people are alone. 44

46 If You Forget Me by Vital Germaine 45

47 Barlow Fiction Poster by Peter Barlow You ve bought a tube, a little cardboard one. Three bucks at the post office. Caps on both ends. Remind yourself to tape those down before you send it. The poster s been haunting you for a while. It has a nice picture on it, and a poem written by an old flame. The poem was published by a literary journal somewhere out west you know where, it s on the poster but you can t be bothered to look. The poet, the old flame, sent the poem to that journal on your advice. That was your relationship: you both wrote, but the poet had no idea how to get things out into the world. Once the poet started getting published, you both started writing more. You enchanted each other. The journal accepted and published the poem, created the poster and sent the poet two copies of everything. One was forwarded to you, in appreciation for a job well done. You put it in your office at work, framed. Then there was fighting. Words were said because words weren t said. The poet moved on, became involved with someone else, became engaged to someone else. That should have been me, you think. That should have been me. The poster came down later. And then nothing was said. There was nothing left to say that wasn t laced with anger and jealousy. The poster was buried away in a drawer. You moved on too. Kind of. Always there, at the back of your mind, is the poet. Always wondering what things would have been like had the words been said. Would there still be anger? What would that look like? Would there still be communication? What is the poet doing now? And though you love the person you are now with, the poet comes back to you at odd moments, little things in the street or on TV that remind you, 46

48 Barlow idle conversations on-line involving common friends when the poet chimes in. You try not to mind when you see this, when the poet is forced back into your life for a moment, but you do. And you remember the poster. You hadn t forgotten about it, but just now it throbs at you from the filing cabinet you ve hidden it in, frame and all. It has to go. This ghost has to be exorcised. So you ve bought a tube. You know the address, as if you could forget. You weren t the one to walk away from the relationship. If it were up to you but it isn t. As you undo the clasps on the back of the frame, you think, Do I send a note? Do I say I m doing fine? Do I say something angry? You roll the poster up, carefully you re above damaging it, at least you think you are and put it in the tube. You get a blank sheet of paper from the printer, take up a pen, and stare at the page for a minute, two minutes, three minutes. The words do not come. You cannot bring yourself to end the silence, mend the friendship. There s no space for you in each other s lives and you know it. You put the cap on the tube. Later, as you hand the tube to the postal agent, you say a silent prayer that the haunting will end, even though you know it won t. 47

49 Blum The IHOP by Isaac Blum My Saturday has an auspicious start, because we go to IHOP. I need a trip to pancakes international home when things aren t going well for me. And things are going about as poorly as they can go for a kid with no serious life grievances. I m in a rut. My schoolwork s not going well. I m annoyed at my parents. And I m dealing with a rather persistent and painful bout of unrequited love. I find that the best days start at the IHOP. That isn t to say that you should wake up there. I m just saying that good things happen to me when I break the night s fast with IHOP s gloriously inexpensive, morning-oriented sustenance. When the Phillies won the World Series, I d had stuffed French toast. When I lost my virginity, it d been two eggs over easy, with home fries and wheat toast. I don t think that this is fate or destiny. I m not religious, or stupid. It s just one of those stranger-than-fiction coincidences that gives life its extra luster. I d like to dispel your suspicion that I m in the pay of the International House of Pancakes. Sadly, they and I have no formal affiliation. The only employee of theirs whom I know is Juan-Carlos, the manager of the City Line Avenue franchise. I endorse this fine establishment because it has a bizarre connection to my personal happiness. Because it pulls me out of ruts. Not because of any under-the-table tomfoolery. Jason, the driver of our breakfast-bound automobile, has never known a rut in his life. He seems perpetually care-free, happy-go-lucky. He has the windows rolled down in the car, which I hate. It makes that awful rhythmic wooshing noise, and it makes me feel sick. Jason knows that I hate the open windows, but he leaves them so anyway. Jason seems to be extra cheerful today, to spite my poor mood. He drums on the steering wheel and smiles at me, as I lean my head against that nameless support between the front and rear windows of the car. 48

50 Blum Give it up, man. That one s not going to grow. Just go out and plant some more seeds, he tells me. I m not a fucking farmer. Yeah, there s nothing to harvest if you only plant one fucking seed. What were the chances that that one was going to sprout? I m too hung-over for metaphors, I insist, and I bend forward and lean my head on the dash to illustrate. Jason does very well with women, because, as he says, he plants a lot of seeds. Women is actually an extremely generous term. The females to whom I m referring here are teenage girls, usually below the fiftieth percentile for self-esteem. They are decidedly unwomanly. Jason s strategy, to get with these young ladies, is to meet as many of them as possible. He collects their phone numbers and Facebook friendships like little boys collect baseball cards. To use his metaphor, he plants as many seeds as possible, hoping that one or two of them will grow into a full-fledged tree, preferably one which bears the fruit of sexual intercourse. The sex tree is ideal. But as Jason has told me once or twice before, from the driver s seat of his cramped Honda, he ll settle for a blowjob bush. In my head, sexual favors and agriculture are not directly related. And it s hard to see female humans as objectively functional, in the way that a seed is. Teen girls may all wear the same shorts with juicy written on the ass, but somewhere beneath the uniform, doll-like surface, lies an individual with beliefs, opinions, and a surfeit of feelings. Call me old fashioned, but I like to know the girl who is, in Jason s words, S-ing my D. Queen Victoria and I believe a relationship should consist of more then a couple of sexts. When I do meet a girl I like, when I do plant a seed, she never yields the desired produce. She grows, if she grows at all, not into a glorious blossoming sex tree, but into an awkward friendship vine, or a gnarly, clingy stalker plant. My trees send me text messages late at night, telling me about the times they ve cut themselves, and about all of 49

51 Blum the strange drugs they re currently experimenting with ones whose names are acronyms I ve never heard before. I m a more traditional adolescent, I guess. I m a throwback, like Coke with real sugar, not some kind of iphone armed Don Juan. I do what young men have done since the dawn of time. I lust after girls from afar, too scared to approach them. And then when I do express my feelings, I m met with crippling rejection, which sends me to the IHOP, in Jason s car, for a cheer-up meal and a Jason pep talk. Juan-Carlos is a hands-on manager and he is helping out the hosts and hostesses on this Saturday morning. Hello, Aaron, he says, Que patha, thenior? The Castilian lisp is an inside joke between the two of us. When I first patronized his IHOP franchise, he greeted me with a friendly hola. My Spanish teacher is from Madrid, so I replied, que patha? Juan-Carlos is not from Spain, and he thought that this was about the funniest thing that anybody had ever uttered, and he and I have been great friends since. Great friends, in that I often go to his IHOP, and he greets me with a lisp and gales of laughter. That s the full extent of our relationship. Nada, I reply, on this occasion, even though it s not true. I don t know enough Spanish to tell him that things are indeed patha-ing, and that they re not bueno. Juan-Carlos chuckles at our exchange and seats Jason and me at a booth in the middle of the bustling restaurant. The IHOP s interior is painted mostly blue, and the booths are separated by tall headboards which bear the flags of some of world s nations. Our waitress, Cindy my second favorite comes to take our order almost immediately. I order the Belgian waffle sandwich, which is not a sandwich. Jason orders eggs and toast. Cindy pours us both coffee. Look, Jason says, as he blows into his steaming mug, I know rejection sucks, but don t you think you d handle it better if there were other options on the back burner? My range only has one burner, man. It s one of those little green camping stoves. Fuck, I warned you about metaphors. I pause to clear my head for second. I don t think you re understanding, Jase. The problem isn t that I didn t get my D wet. It s not a 50

52 Blum general lack of D wetting. It s the fact that I like Carly, and she doesn t like me. It s simple. The night before, there was a party at Jeb Turner s house. Not a keg party like you see in movies. Just a group of adolescents drinking together in an under-supervised suburban home. I know Carly from choir class yeah, I m in the choir, fuck you. In the rehearsal arrangement, we re right next to each other. She s the leftmost alto, and I m the rightmost tenor. So I hear her sing, every day, and watch her breasts rise and fall with her practiced breathing. She s a good singer, and she s always sweet to me when we talk between rehearsal pieces. She s a nice, sexy young lady, and she knocks my socks off, figuratively speaking. I invited Carly to the party, which she seemed relatively psyched about. But when we got there, she spoke to everybody but me. Looked at everybody but me. Laughed with everybody but me. I could have punched her in the face, and she wouldn t have taken so much as a peek in my direction. I thought that she d agreed to go to the party with me. I didn t expect that this meant that I d get to undress her afterwards. But I felt that it entitled me to, at the very least, a bit of eye contact, and maybe a snippet of conversation. You don t know that she doesn t like you, Jason says. Well, she s made it pretty clear by pretending that I don t exist. You could just talk to her about it if it s eating you up so bad. I take a sip of my coffee, and try to think of a way to explain to Jason, that if I talk to Carly about my feelings for her, and she is not receptive of said feelings, that spending every afternoon standing in choir, with our arms brushing each other, will be emotionally excruciating. But I don t bother, because this is not a feeling that he ll understand. To him, no does not mean no. He s not a rapist, but he s persistent, and rejection is just a temporary roadblock on his path to dominance. Rejection will just make his eventual triumph feel, and look, even better. 51

53 Blum Jason and I both work at the same ice cream shop. It s one of those places where you mix crushed Oreos into the customers ice cream on a cold slab. It s a stupid gimmick, but suburbanites line up to pay out the ass for it. Jason likes to see how many young ladies phone numbers he can get in one shift. They tell him what ice cream they want, and he makes small talk. That s such a nice purse there, he ll say, referring to a girl s nice purse. Oh, thanks! she ll say, feeling good about her taste in handbags. It matches your shirt really well, Jason says, in a voice which sounds earnest, even to me. You think? she ll ask, and she ll look down at her shirt and straighten it in a coy way. Yeah, of course. I wouldn t lie to you, he lies. He hands her the ice cream, and while she takes her wallet out of her nice, matching purse, he tells her to take out a pen too, so that she can give him her number. And she does. She always does. I don t think that these phone numbers ever turn into even fleeting relationships. I think the girls find it creepy when he actually calls. But in that moment, when the girl puts pen to receipt paper, it s a big ego boost for ol Jason. Jason encourages me to play this game with him. It can be a competition he ll suggest. But this just isn t something I can do. First, talking to people I don t know makes me uncomfortable. And second, I don t give a flying fuck about some girl s purse. All purses look about the same to me. I ve never had an opinion about a purse. And I m not a good enough actor to pretend that I care. Our food arrives. We dig in. Man up, Jason tells me, his mouth full of egg. Don t be a pussy about this shit. They re just girls. Not that scary. If you ve got such a big boner for Carly, tell her. Well, I m not sure that s a good idea. Don t use those exact words, idiot. I move my eggs around my plate with my fork, and Jason takes this as an act of defiance. He drops his fork next to his plate and throws up his arms. What do you want 52

54 Blum me to say? What can I say or do? He s frustrated that he hasn t been able to bully me into shape. I put some of my eggs on top of the waffle, and pick at the waffle-egg combination. I don t really know what I want him to say or do. I just sort of expected that the combination of Jason s usually friendly company, and IHOP s breakfast food, would make the sun come out. I look out the window. The sun is out. Fuck. Well, what I mean is that I thought this morning would be an automatic mood-changer. But thinking about Carly s rejection is making it worse. And it continues to slide downhill when Jason brings up Annie. What happened with you and Annie, man? How did you ever get with her, if you refuse to express your desires? This question was easy to answer. She expressed hers. I didn t have to do shit with her. It was great. Yeah. I bet it was. You fucked the shit out of her. Actually, one of the things I liked most about the fucking was that the shit remained firmly in her. You know what I mean. I do know what he means. And I try to remember Annie fondly, but thinking about her hurts more than it usually does. Annie and hadn t really been friends. She was just a girl I saw around. But one day, out of nowhere, she invited me over to her house, brought me to her room, and started kissing me. I didn t consider at the time, that if she d so suddenly decided that she did like me, she could just as suddenly decide that she didn t. And it doesn t occur to me now, as I sit in the IHOP with Jason, that just because Carly ignores me now, that doesn t mean she won t slather me in attention tomorrow. I try to picture Carly in my mind, acting like Annie. Being as confident, forthright, aggressive. But it s difficult. I don t think of Carly in the same, exclusively physical terms. I stare into the deep pool of syrup on my plate, trying to picture her and me together, 53

55 Blum maybe at my house, on my couch, her resting her head on my chest. But Carly s not in the syrup. Instead, a different scene plays out upon its iridescent surface. Annie and I are at the same IHOP, two booths down, and she asks me, What kind of trees do they get maple syrup from? She isn t the brightest girl, but she s sweet, and peppy. I laugh and laugh at her stupid question, and my laughter tells her the answer. Oh, maple trees. Fuck me, she says. And I do. Later that afternoon, we lie naked in her saggy, pink twin bed. Her little brother is watching cartoons in the room below. I can t help but picture him directly beneath us, perched on the couch, his legs folded under him. I can t get him out of my head. This is what I think about as I have sex for the first time. The rooms, separated only by the floor, a floor my imagination spirits away, are compressed together in my mind. The two rooms are one. And as I thrust my hips downward, and the bed sags lower and lower, I am acutely aware of the lack of space between the innocent child, and the recently less innocent adolescents. I pay no attention to the new sensations I am experiencing, or the image I ve been waiting for, for so long, of a naked female stretched out under me. I don t even hear Annie s ragged breathing. All I can think about is the proximity of her little brother. I can feel the Sponge Bob cartoon throbbing up through the floor. Surely he can feel me awkwardly thrusting myself in his direction. And it is this image, of me humping Annie Stahler, inches above her little brother s blond head, that I hold in my mind when the man pulls out the gun. A shortish guy a few booths down, toward the front of the restaurant, makes a gun appear, and he holds it high in the air. He doesn t point the gun at anything in particular. He just waves it around. He turns to face the rest of the patrons, but I don t get a chance to see what he looks like, because there s too much commotion in front of me. I ve had fantasies where I savagely murder people who mess up my meal. Everybody has these fantasies, I assume. Just as waiters and waitresses fantasize about slaughtering their customers. 54

56 Blum But this fellow, brandishing a heavy-looking black gun, does not appear as though he s been served the wrong meal. It looks like he s been served the wrong life, presumably without the socio-economic status he requested. Or the chemical balance. Or the parenting. Or, by the looks of him, the hygienic standards your average person would enjoy. But he s clearly not an average person. Because he s waving a gun in the air at the IHOP. Just like in every depiction of bank robbery, everybody ducks, and dives under booths and tables. A few people start to scream, but they are silenced by the rabid eyes of the gun-wielding lunatic. It occurs to me that he could actually be rabid. But then it also occurs to me that he s not a raccoon. So I go back to my original theory, which is that he s just your standard nut job. And that it s our bad luck to have wanted pancakes this morning. I m a little slow on the uptake, and I m the last customer to hit the deck. Usually, I m terrified of guns. I ve never seen a real one before, but the idea of gun violence scares the shit out of me. But on this particular day, hungover, tired, generally unhappy, everything feels a bit surreal. I was more scared in choir when I asked Carly to the party. In the IHOP, I have a sort of strawberry fields, nothing is real, nothing to get hung about kind of feeling. I just feel removed from everything, like I m on drugs, or like I m watching everything from a little hole inside the restaurant s drop ceiling. If I can access this level of apathy on a regular basis, maybe I can speak to Carly without pooping myself. Jason s already under our booth when I crash down beside him. He jumps a bit and hits his head on the sloping booth-table. I hear our plates and water glasses rattle above us. He looks like he s seen a ghost, or a man with a gun. It sounds like a cliché, but his face is as white as the creamer he put in his coffee. I can also see that his hands are shaking. I haven t seen him look like this since we went to a haunted house when we were six or seven years old. I start to give him a don t be a pussy look, but then I think twice. He s the one having the reasonable reaction. You re not supposed to take the prospect of death by bullet-holes in stride. Yet, that s what I m doing. I find myself less scared than I am interested to see what s going to happen next. 55

57 Blum I hear some footsteps, and then a voice. Que pasa, senior? it says. And I know that it s Juan-Carlos. I don t really want to watch him die, but I stick my head out just a little, to see what s pasa-ing. I expect to see the man pointing the gun at Juan-Carlos s perpetually friendly face. But instead, the man has the gun trained on his own head, and his hands are shaking, just like Jason s. Juan-Carlos is about three paces from the guy. The man, as I examine him, looks as if he did wake up at the IHOP. He s probably in his mid-twenties, and he s wearing a stained undershirt, which he s pretty much sweated all the way through. He s got scraggly facial hair, and a balding head. His eyes grab my attention. They wander around his skull as though they don t know what to focus on. I m not sure what Juan-Carlos s plan is. He seems tentative and I can t blame him. The gunman isn t saying anything, or giving any kind of clues as to what his next move will be. Juan-Carlos takes one step toward him, and extends an open hand, silently asking for the gun. Come on, brother, he says, give me the gun, and we ll forget this happened. No need to do this. The man still says nothing. Juan-Carlos takes another step forward, and the man moves his hand a little. It looks like he s going to turn the gun toward the IHOP manager, to keep him from getting any closer. But as he moves his hand, Juan-Carlos leaps toward him, and grabs him by the wrist. The gun fires, a window shatters, and everybody screams. I hear Jason s voice distinctly. His shout sounds extra-panicked, and I realize that since he cannot see anything, he has no idea that, unless the bullet s hit somebody in the parking lot, nobody s been hurt. The shot is louder than I expect it to be, and I find that my ears are ringing. I start to rise, and I see that Juan-Carlos has wrestled the gun out of the man s hands, and, with the help of some of the wait-staff, he has the man pinned down. People start to get up, and they take their seats, unsure of what else to do. What is the protocol at a restaurant post-shooting? Do you finish your meal? And do you have to pay for it? Or is there a mealtime gunfire discount? Are you allowed to leave, or do you have to wait for the police to arrive? 56

58 Blum I want to finish my food, but nobody else seems interested. And I think that I ll be seen as insensitive if I go back to my waffles. People hug and shake each other, and murmur things quietly, as though we re in a library. Some lady s cell phone rings, but she doesn t answer it. I don t know why. The gunman sobs and shakes a bit, and his sobbing is the loudest sound in the restaurant. After a few minutes, the police arrive. They take witness accounts, but since neither Jason, nor I, volunteer any information, we re left alone to sit and watch. I expect the investigation to take a while, at least the length of a CSI episode, but it s over after a few minutes, and they escort the suspect to the squad car. Juan-Carlos announces that everybody has to leave, and I get up to make my way out. But Jason won t get up. Well, it s not that he actively won t get up. He just doesn t seem to have heard Juan-Carlos, or me. Come on man, I say, Let s go home. This is fucked up. But he doesn t reply. He s still shaking rather violently, and looks like he might pass out. I m not sure how I ve determined that he s close to fainting. I ve never seen anybody faint before, so I m not sure what it would look like. I turn him in the booth so that he s facing me. Get up, I say, more forcefully than I plan to. With my help, he rises, and he leans on me as we walk through the restaurant. Thank you, sorry, Juan-Carlos is telling customers as they depart, as if it s somehow his fault. As if he hasn t heroically saved a life, at the expense of a measly window. People thank him for their continued existence, in stuttered voices, and they stumble out the door. In the parking lot, I awkwardly dig the keys out of Jason s pocket, trying real hard not to get too intimate with his crotch. I push him into the passenger seat, and I start driving toward his house. I find as I navigate suburbia in Jason s Honda, that I feel all right. 57

59 King Dark Fiber by Jack King The steam tunnels under the city are a dark maze of tight corridors filled with old pipes and bundles of cables that droop between brackets fixed to the ceiling. There are lights every hundred feet, old bulbs in yellow glass that give off a faint but welcome glow. They hang on the wall in steel cages and remind Dan of old World War II movies where soldiers hid in concrete bunkers while bombs drop overhead and dust trickles from the ceiling. Only, down here, the dust comes from trucks growling over the roads above. Dan s nephew, Ford, follows close behind. The kid flashes his hard hat light at every shadow and every dark corner. Zeke limps along in the rear, humming out of tune. At least he doesn t smell like alcohol today. One by one they duck under a dripping water main. On the far side, Dan looks up at the concrete ceiling, the flashlight on his hard hat casts a white circle on a bundle of cables. What you want to look for, he says, is orange or yellow or red. He reaches up, his back cracking and groaning, and pulls on the cables, singling out a thin strand of bright orange. Like this here. Ford flicks on the handheld Maglite, flooding the tunnel in white light and long shadows. How do you know which ones are live? You don t, Zeke says. He s taller than the kid by almost a foot. The stubble on his face hides the lines from a life of disappointment and regret. You can cut a line if you think it s dark, but you better be right. Dan follows the orange strand further down the tunnel. City s got all kinds of fiber optic cables down here. Their boots make hollow echoing sounds. Now, the phone companies label theirs, like this. He points to a white tag fixed to a cable. The tag is 58

60 King printed with the AT&T logo, blue sphere like unripe fruit. We know this one is lit. The dark ones, Zeke says, usually ain t got no labels. Like these, Dan points to a bundle of yellow strands. He follows them to a T- junction. The pipes, tubes, and cables split up between the two paths. Ford, Dan says, which way? Ford looks down both tunnels, then back up at the bundle of cabling, then back to both tunnels again. Uh, that way I think. Dan smiles and squeezes Ford s shoulder. He wanted a son of his own, someone he could impart wisdom to and play catch with, and though it wasn t meant to be, Dan learned long ago not to feel sorry for himself. Once you start that, you end up like Zeke, drinking yourself right out of a marriage. You end up spending all your days at a bar near the airport and not one of the nice ones where they pipe in light jazz. Then again, Dan found his own special way to ruin his marriage. He hasn t seen Emily since she kicked him out of the house. Four days now. If he doesn t hear from her today, he ll go over. Try to explain. He just has to get through today. Zeke asks, Why they call you Ford anyhow? It s short for Danford, Ford says. Christ, kid. I thought I had it bad, Zeke says. You ain t never gonna get laid with a name like Danford. The kid turns around and smiles. Why do you think I go by Ford? Zeke hates how smug the kid is. Little shit doesn t belong here. This ain t a job for three. Hell, it s barely a job for one. Dan is always going on about how unreliable he is, and Zeke knows he spends a little too much time drinking and too little time learning. It s all bullshit anyway. Regulations and cable types and transceivers. The world was simpler without all this computer crap. Hell, the only reason he has the job is because he s known Dan since they were kids. When he thinks about it, he knows what he could ve made with his life. So he tries not to think about it. The bundle of cabling feeds into a large metal box with the blue sphere so faded, 59

61 King it s barely visible. Dan pulls the box open, examines the cables, and closes it. They cut through the box, but they keep going. This cabling must be older. Ford coughs, the dusty air tickling his throat, and each hack reverberates off into the darkness. He takes a deep, slow breath and, when he s sure he won t cough, asks, So, why is there all this fiber down here anyway? Back in the dot com days, Dan says, leading them down another junction, the city paid a couple million for fiber cable to be run from one end of the city to the other. Thought it d bring business in. When the old mayor left office, the paperwork got lost and now nobody knows where any of the fiber goes. Ford nods like he understands. So, why do they call it dark fiber? Kid, you ask a lot of questions, Zeke says. Like you didn t when you started? Dan says. We re under Mercy Medical. He points his hard hat light at a set of doors with the hospital logo. You know how fiber works, right? Dan doesn t wait for an answer. It s glass. You shine a light through it, and you can send a signal. No light means that fiber isn t used. It s dark. Ford says, And that means if you can figure out where both ends are, you can get paid for it. Zeke says, Give the kid a prize. Dan turns left at another junction and follows the tunnel to the end where a square hole sits in the floor, a rusting ladder leading into the darkness below. The faint smell of mildew wafts up on a cool current of air. If you can trace it down to a transceiver, Dan says, you can see if it s lit without clipping it. A transceiver is a little box that turns the light signal into an electrical signal so you can send it to a computer or to the Internet. Ford points the Maglite down the ladder. Zeke drops his backpack and leans against the wall. Don t let him make you think he knows what he s talking about, kid, Zeke says. He knows as much about the Internet as the Pope knows about porn. Knock it off, Dan says. Today we re going down close to the sewer lines. Last time we came through, I saw a bunch of dark strands down there. 60

62 King Stinks, Ford says, testing the air with his nose. You ain t smelled nothing yet. Wait til we get into the sewers, and you see your first Coney Island whitefish. Dan smiles and slips his backpack off. He hands it to Ford and starts down the ladder. Ford asks, What s a Coney Island whitefish? Dan hollers up, A used condom. Throw down my pack, will ya? Ford drops the backpack down the hole and starts his descent. Gross. So, what s the nastiest thing you guys have seen down here? He slips off the ladder and points the Maglite down the tunnel, revealing more pipes and tunnel and cabling. There are no lights down here, except what they ve brought with them. Saw lots of dead animals. Rats and dogs and cats and things, Zeke says. He drops Ford s backpack down, then his own, and lowers himself onto the ladder with a groan. But it ain t the dead things you gotta worry about. Don t get him started, Dan says. He slings his pack on and moves down the tunnel, his hard hat light dancing along the wall. The dark gets inside you, Zeke says. Makes you see things. Hear things. I seen graffiti appear on the walls when it wasn t there before. Seen things moving down here in the shadows. Dan stands below a grate in the ceiling. A bundle of cables poke through, dropping down beside the wall. Here it is, he says, following the bundle along the wall. This is the old cabling. I ve seen these clamps before. He points to a metal bracket holding the fiber in place. Ford says, How do you know where the cable comes from? We don t, Dan says. We follow it to one end; it ll probably go up to a business park or something. Then map that out to the other end. If we can t find the other end, we map it as far as we can and clip it off, then run some new cables up to the street and patch it through. Dan can sense Ford s nerves by the way the boy keeps spinning around, the flashlight on his hard hat casting a bobbing circle of light that flicks from the floor to a 61

63 King pipe to the ceiling and back to the floor. Zeke grabs the kid by the shoulders and yells, It s a rat! Ford screams, jumps forward, knocking into Dan. Damn, boy, Zeke says, laughing so hard his face is turning red, you scared of rats? Knock it off, Zeke, Dan says. Just didn t expect that is all, Ford says, and then to change the subject, How come there are so many tunnels down here? Dan starts back down the tunnel. They were built in the sixties when the city fired up the recycling plant. They burn trash and used to pipe the steam to surrounding buildings. It was supposed to be an efficient and cheap way to heat everything. Ford asks, Did it work? No, Dan says. These tunnels could get really hot. A couple of workers boiled alive down here. A metallic bang echoed from the darkness, and they all jump. Flashlights shine down the corridor, peeling back the shadows. What the hell was that? Zeke says. Seconds ticking by as they watch and wait. A subtle breeze carries the dank smell of storm drains. It s probably a water pipe, Dan says. Pressure makes them bang against the wall brackets sometimes. Come on, I don t want to be down here all day. He starts forward again, eyes focused on the cables. Thud thud. The sound is like a fist pounding on a steel door. Dan looks at Ford and Zeke, sees they have the same questions he does, and creeps forward. The tunnel branches out to the left, but the fiber bundle continues forward. Which way do you think it came from? Ford asks. He has one hand on Dan s shoulder, shining the Maglite and catching dust motes in its beam. I don t care, Zeke says. You don t go chasing noises down here. You do, and you get lost real quick. How do you keep from getting lost? Ford says. 62

64 King Well, Dan says, I got a pretty good sense of direction. You come down here enough, you find your way around all right. You Thud thud. It s closer this time, just ahead of them. The tunnel comes to another junction. To the right is a steel door. The fiber bundle splits up, and a single strand runs through the wall beside the door. Dan steps forward and examines the hole in the wall the fiber passes through. It s filled with yellow foam. Yeah, this is definitely dark fiber, he says. City used this fireproof foam every time they cut through a wall. Why is there a door down here? Ford says. There s lots of doors in these steam tunnels, Zeke says, looking behind them. That s probably a fire door or THUD THUD. The banging came from behind the door. Hello? Dan calls. Somebody in there? The door has a heavy pull-down handle. The hinges look old. Dan grips the handle and shudders. It s freezing cold. He twists down, feels it give. I think that says warning, Ford says, pointing to the faded lettering at eye-height. Beyond the door is a stairwell. Gray concrete stairs descend into the darkness. A steel bar railing hangs on the wall to the left. Dan steps slowly through the door. The air smells of dust and age, but there s no moisture. The mildew smell of the sewer is gone. Where s it go? Ford asks. There s a landing down there, Dan says, standing on the first step and shining his helmet light down into the darkness. It s the kind of reinforced stairwell found in any industrial building. Gray block walls on either side, wide concrete steps that are cracked in places, revealing reinforced wiring. Can t see very well. Ford, give me the Maglite. Dan takes the light and points it down the stairwell, but the brilliant Krypton bulb fails to penetrate the darkness. I don t think the fiber comes through here, Zeke says. There is no hole in the wall beside the door, no cabling or fire-sealing foam, nothing but stairwell. It makes Zeke feel 63

65 King uneasy and hollow inside as if his whole body has stopped to wait for something to happen. Ford says, Why would the stairs only go down? Dan says, They go down to something. I ve never seen a stairwell like this before. Not down here. Hey, Zeke, you remember that one time we found a A woman screams, piercing shrill that gets inside Dan s head and scratches until he feels raw and bruised. Someone s in trouble, he says and runs down the stairs. Ford follows close behind. Hey, wait! Zeke yells, but he doesn t follow. He stands in the doorway and watches them disappear, sees their flashlights fade and blackness fill the void behind them. Dan races down the stairs. The first landing turns to the right, down another set of stairs to another landing. And another after that, always turning to the right, landing after landing, darkness ahead and behind. Ford loses count of how many landings they pass. Hello! Dan yells down the passage. His voice doesn t echo like he thinks it should. It s as if the darkness swallows it. Dan, slow down, wait a second! Ford yells. It sounds like she s hurt, Dan says. He thinks of his wife, the way she cried, how her body shivered with each sob. He never meant to hurt her. You never mean to hurt the ones you love. Isn t that what they say? It might be true, but it doesn t make it right, what he did. He slows on the next landing to catch his breath. The air is dusty like an old library, and he coughs. Ford catches up behind him. Dan, something s wrong. There aren t any doors. Huh? Dan says, pointing the Maglite at Ford. He is only three feet away, but he seems darker than he should. He seems to be outlined in darkness that bleeds off him like ink in water. No doors, Ford says. We must ve passed down a dozen landings, and there aren t any doors. He looks up the stairs, his hard hat light shining against the steel railing. There s nothing here. 64

66 King Someone s down here, Dan says. You heard it, didn t you? You heard the scream. Yeah, Ford says, but it didn t sound he can t find the words. His heart thuds in his chest. He can hear his heartbeat in his ears. He can t remember feeling so afraid. The darkness presses in on him, suffocating him. It hurts to look up the stairs, stings his eyes like looking into the sun. But not down the stairs, no. Down is nothing but more stairs and darkness. He shouldn t want to go down there, but he does. I don t like this, he says. C mon, Dan says, finally catching his breath. He hears a woman crying, faint sound trickling up from below. It sounds like Emily did after he hit her, that hurt and surprised whimper, sobs of disbelief as much as pain. She s hurt! he says, darting down the stairs. Wait! Ford yells, running after him. What do you mean her? He has to grip the railing to steady himself. He yells behind him. Zeke! Are you up there? Are you coming down? Dan has to keep moving, or he ll lose his nerve. The crying tugs at his heart. He wants to cry with it, wants to tell her it will be all right, tell her he s sorry. He never meant to hurt her. The TV was too loud, the kettle was whistling, he was trying to read through the foreclosure paperwork. The bank gave them thirty days to come up with money they didn t have. Emily was talking to him, trying to tell him something. She was angry, yelling. She pulled at his arm. He spun around, annoyed. He wanted to push her off, but the back of his hand hit her face, knocked her down. She was on the floor, looking up at him with hurt and disbelief. There was a long moment that passed between them, her face contorted shock and regret that lingered until the crying started. Fourteen years of marriage unraveled in that moment. She sobbed and pushed him away. She wouldn t let him explain, didn t want an apology. Dan, stop! Ford yells. The kid is getting farther behind, but Dan can t make himself stop. He has to move on, has to find that crying. Has to get to her, tell her he s sorry. Down and down he goes, through the darkness, landing after landing, far deeper 65

67 King than any tunnel should ever go. He s getting dizzy, has to cling to the railing. The cold steel stings his hand and makes him shiver. Ford can t see Dan s light or hear his footsteps. He stops on the next landing. They are too deep, too far down. He wasn t counting, but there has to be forty landings, forty sets of stairs with nothing but a steel railing, concrete steps, block walls. No lights. I ve never seen it so dark, he says, the sound of his voice is so hollow and empty it makes him shiver. It strikes a primeval resonance in him. He starts back down the stairs, heart hammering away. He feels sweaty and cold. A sharp pain radiates up his left arm. He can t stop, can t wait. He has to find her, has to tell her. Each step brings more pain in his chest. His breathing is short, raspy. He has to go on. On the landing far above, Zeke leans against the doorway. He slips his pack off and pulls out a bottle of Wild Turkey and unscrews the cap. He can taste it before the first drop hits his tongue. No telling when Dan and the kid will come back, so he takes advantage of their absence. Looking down the stairs gives him the creeps. Like pausing a horror movie right when the monster comes out. There s no way he s going to take even the first step. He looks back at the door. On the inside, it s plain, but there s no handle. It can only be opened from the outside. If he left them, they ll have no way to get out. He doesn t know why a door would only have one handle. He steps back into the tunnel and looks at the outside of the door. He takes another pull from the bottle and sets it down, then runs his hand along the dust that covers the door. The lettering is red and faded, but he can make some of it out. He wipes more dust away. Warning: Quarantine. Do not open by order of U.S. Army In case of emergency contact and that s all he can read. He looks at the date again. Does that mean 1944? The door can t be that old. The steam tunnels weren t even built until the sixties. He picks up his bottle and steps back into the stairwell. A dark shape on the first landing sends his balls shuddering up into his pelvis, sends everything in his bladder running down his leg. The door swings behind him, 66

68 King knocking him forward. His helmet is knocked off and bounces down the stairs, the single light twirling around, casting long shadows. The door slams shut with a thud. Down the stairs at the first landing, his helmet comes to rest against the wall. The light flickers, and Zeke prays it won t go out. The shape is still there. A dark shadow that stands stiff in the light where no shadow should be. Zeke screams. He turns around and pounds against the door, hammering his fists raw. The hard hat light goes out. 67

69 Dutwin You re Not Going Anywhere by Wendy Dutwin Rosie was stuffing formaldehyde cotton patches into the back of Mr. Zocalo s head when Jim asked if she would go have coffee with him. He made circles in the concrete floor with the heel of his sneaker, waiting for an answer. Rosie was relieved that Mr. Zocalo s dead, doughy flesh lay between her and Jim on the steel table. I can t, she said. She concentrated on the machine that steadily pumped embalming fluid resembling yellowed artery plaque into Mr. Zocalo. She snapped off her surgical gloves and tossed them in the nearby sink. Jim reminded Rosie of Mr. Potato Head in a mortician s bib. It gripped his pudgy middle while his thick black glasses hung at an angle across the edge of his nose. The chunk of black hair he slicked to the side each day failed to cover his receding hairline. But the worst thing was when she found this disheartening appearance endearing at times. Those moments unsettled her. She grabbed her clipboard off the counter and began her supply inventory for the week, starting with the cabinets that housed the reconstructive putty. She was halfway through the first cabinet when Jim came up behind her. He reached a sweaty palm over Rose s hand and squeezed it. She recoiled, slipping her hand away from his. What are you doing? she snapped. She grasped the back of the inventory clipboard, holding it in front of her like protective armor. Sorry, he said, staring downward like a scolded dog. Why d you do that? she asked. 68

70 Dutwin Hope, I guess, he replied. She looked down at dead Mr. Zocalo, half expecting him to sit up and offer counsel. When you re done, Uncle Marty wants to see you, Jim said. Rosie watched him slump forward like a defeated boxer who had lost his final chance at the title. *** Rosie always delayed the death march to Marty s office until the last possible moment. He owned Cohen Family Funeral Home, but rarely prepared the bodies himself anymore. She took slow steps and her breath quickened when she reached his door at the end of the hall. Rosie, Marty said, motioning her to sit. His desk, gargantuan in size, was no match for his girth. Rosie sat down. She folded one hand over the other, a gesture she thought conveyed professionalism. She d only been working there for six months. Marty had hired her out of a local beauty school where she had spent a year earning a certificate in cosmetology. She told her mother she needed to learn a trade to support them. Secretly, what she had really needed was an escape: six hours a day, five days a week. After an internship at a salon, she realized having to make small talk with old ladies while she set their hair all day wasn t much of a reprieve from having to do the same with her mother. She worried her latest plan of escape had turned into yet another trap. Until the temp agency told her Marty was looking for a new makeup artist. The color wheel for hair was the same for makeup and the pay for painting the dead was more than she would ever make setting the hair of the living. And those customers sure won t talk to me, she thought at the time. Rosie knew the funeral home well. They had handled her father s arrangements a year earlier. Her mother found him hanging from the attic rafters one hot July morning with a note pinned to his striped pajama top that read I ve been summoned back to the heavens by God for an important position. I won t be home for dinner. Rosie had just 69

71 Dutwin turned 25. She never told anyone how she knew he had stopped taking his meds a month before. Or that he had visited her almost every night since his death. You don t seem happy, Marty said. Jim treating you okay? He s attentive, she said. Good, said Marty. Just because we handle the dead, we don t have to walk around like them. Rosie nodded. She wasn t sure what was worse, the frequent talks with Marty or the romantic advances of his nephew. A smile would be nice, and perhaps pull that hair out of your eyes. Lift your head up once in awhile. I know you re used to leaning down when working on the bodies. I have to say some people have been complaining that during the viewings you ve been a bit sour. Sour? Rosie repeated. What concerns me more is that Mr. Rockwell said you were talking to his dead mother in the coffin right before the viewing two days ago. Is that true? He must be confused. His mother just died, he s upset. She didn t dare explain to Marty that Mr. Rockwell s dead mother was extremely vocal about the dress her family had chosen to bury her in. She had begged Rosie to replace it with a different one from the garment bag tucked in the backseat corner of Mr. Rockwell s beat up Corolla. Rosie argued with her that such a request could get her fired and she d just have to live with being buried in paisley. Marty, I really need this job, Rosie said. Please don t make this into a big deal. I promise he didn t hear me talking to his dead mother. I m fine, I swear. *** When Rosie entered the front door of the beat up Craftsman she shared with her own mother Roberta, dinner was simmering in the Crock Pot the way she d left it that morning. She and Roberta lived in a ratty, East Los Angeles neighborhood, off a section of Sunset Boulevard that bled into the more destructive areas of Echo Park. This was the part where desiccated lawns resembled withered patches of tumbleweed, where the 70

72 Dutwin houses wailed for overdue paint jobs or roof repairs, and sidewalks doubled as dumping grounds for tattered couches and rusted refrigerators. Rosie slumped into one of their kitchen chairs with her coat still on, rubbing the muscles of her lower back. Their own house moaned dirges of the worn down and battered. She grimaced at the kitchen windows, caked with a fading tangerine paint. A few years ago, her mother thought it would brighten the room during a redecorating urge triggered by depression and Scotch. Roberta emerged from the back bedroom. She was large and loud, with a poof of badly dyed orange hair that formed a halo of fire around her head. Hot roots again, Rosie thought. Shortly after Rosie got her license, she told Roberta how box-coloring her hair red was allowing the gray to grab all her base color. The secondary tonal color can t deposit into the cuticle. Let me color your hair professionally, Rosie had said. Her mother had snapped that she wasn t going gray and told Rosie to stop showing off. In an act of stubborn disapproval, she had used the box-color red that very night. Rosie was so hurt she never offered to color Roberta s hair again. But she always made a point to secretly scorn Roberta s latest dye job. Where have you been, Rosie? I m starving! Roberta said. I got held up at work. I couldn t make myself anything to eat all day. I could barely move with my back spasms. You seem better now, Rosie said, checking the food cupboards and verifying her belief that Roberta had indeed managed to eat several meals that day. My nerves are shot. Mr. McGreary left that dog out in his yard again. I told him the incessant barking aggravates my migraines. And you re off at that job all day long, I feel so helpless. Rosie closed the cabinet and began setting the table, settling on the white ceramic bowls with tiny pink flowers engraved along the edges. They had been a Christmas present from her father, when the local Wal-Mart was having a sale. The job helps pay our bills, Mom. My disability and the money your father left is enough. 71

73 Dutwin You re hungry, Rosie said. Sit down and I ll get dinner. Roberta shook her head and sighed, slumping into the recliner adjacent to the kitchen. Bring me some chamomile tea and the hot compress for my calves. I can barely walk. Rosie pulled a fresh towel from the drawer and filled the kettle with water from the kitchen faucet. A small smile of suspicion curled at the corners of Roberta s mouth. She eyed Rosie s movements like a detective from a cop show. Nice dishes, she said. What s the grand occasion? Dinnertime, Rosie said. Roberta sat down. She began ladling heaping spoonfuls of the chicken stew into her bowl. She slurped heartily, periodically drowning pieces of bread into the mixture while Rosie tried to ignore the inharmonious sights and sounds. I started making up Mr. Zocalo this afternoon, Rosie said. The sweet old guy who worked at the bank downtown. He slipped and cracked his head on the edge of his bathtub. Roberta shook her head and a finger at Rosie as she swallowed a large mouthful of stew. No mortuary macabre at the dinner table. When you get a normal job like everyone else you can talk about work. Rosie stared at her bowl, the greasy gloss of stew throwing her reflection back at her in abstract pieces. She was frail and freckled, a tiny frame that seemed in threat of being swallowed up by her environment at any moment. She tucked her hair behind her ears, something she did to keep her hands occupied when she was nervous. Roberta went on in great detail about the minutiae of her day: enduring Mr. McGreary s dog, watching reruns of Matlock, and cursing at the contestants on Wheel of Fortune for not getting the phrase it takes two to tango. 72

74 Dutwin Rosie s thoughts drifted to Mr. Zocalo stepping out of his porcelain tub, smelling of soap and talcum, never suspecting the ball of his foot would fail him, sending him backward against the side of the tub. Rosie, are you listening? Why are you staring at the wall? After dinner, Roberta plopped in the recliner to watch the news, and Rosie cleared the table, guiding translucent pieces of chicken stew to the bottom of the trash can with her fork. I was thinking how much better you ve been doing, Mom, Rosie said, making sure she was still halfway engrossed in the television. What s your point? Her mother flipped through channels with the remote until she settled on an old episode of M*A*S*H. It s been a year since Dad died. I think it s time I lived on my own again. I would stay in the neighborhood and could come check on you every day. You re fine here. I was thinking about one of those artist studios on Descanso. Maybe do some painting again. Paint here. The fumes hurt your lungs. Her mother pushed herself out of the chair. This is why we ate off the nice dishes tonight? So you could move out? Who would take care of me? A hot flush of anger bled through Rosie s cheeks. Forget it. Come on, there s still dessert. Her mother switched off the TV and flung the remote onto the recliner before a dramatic double time march down the hall. Swift for a woman with muscle spasms, Rosie thought. The bedroom door slammed, indicating the end of their conversation for the night. 73

75 Dutwin Rosie finished the dishes and carefully placed them in the cupboard. Everything was a mishmash of things her mother liked and thought went well together. Rosie hated the chipped, broken objects, mocking her desire for order and symmetry. When the doctors first diagnosed her father as schizophrenic, Rosie was a toddler. Rosie believed magic fluttered around her father like birthday streamers, not understanding that his eccentric behavior and talks with imaginary friends were not the same as her childhood world of make believe. When he unsuccessfully attempted to sever the mailman s hand from his wrist, he claimed that God spoke through the electric turkey carver that he had used to try and carry out the job. Roberta developed her own version of madness looking after him. Rosie felt the tides of chaos churning inside her. She imagined ripping all her mother s precious, delicate objects off the shelves, crashing them like broken waves into the depths of the ocean. She served herself a slice of the store bought coconut cake, put the M*A*S*H episode back on with the volume very low and settled into the recliner. She didn t pull away the loose strands of her hair that landed in the flakes of coconut when quiet sobs overtook her. The M*A*S*H rerun reminded her of her father. He always laughed at Klinger in the dress. She waited for those parts in the episode, where she could hear her father s booming laugh intermingled with the audience track. She closed her eyes, seeing him in the recliner, his stomach puffing up like a helium balloon with each explosion of laughter. Tiny bursts of white light darted behind her eyelids like shooting stars. She rubbed them, but the light persisted. When she was little, her mother would swing her around while Rosie squealed with laughter, begging for more. Show me more stars, Mommy! she d cry, getting so dizzy that all she saw were those tiny shards of light. She welcomed it back then. I still think about you, Rosie s father said. Rosie blinked away tears and her father came into focus, sitting on the couch across from her, dressed as Klinger. He looked down at his attire and nodded reassuringly. 74

76 Dutwin Halloween costume party, he explained, turning to the TV. This is a great episode. Have you seen this one? They have costume parties in Heaven? Rosie asked. You re assuming that s where I am, he said. I killed myself, you know. Supposedly that s a big no no. Then where are you? Not sure, but it ain t too bad, all things considered. Besides, why should the living be the only ones allowed to have costume parties? Dad, am I becoming like you? What do you think? That it sucked you hanged yourself with a note that basically said God called you up for a staff meeting. What the hell? I know. It wasn t fair. And you feel I left you alone with her. Trapped with her, Rosie said. Yeah, her father replied, adjusting the string of pearls around his neck. What are you going to do about that? I don t think I m supposed to be talking to you, Dad. I need to say goodnight. Rosie flicked off the television and watched her father evaporate. *** The next afternoon, when Rosie went into the basement to work on a new body, Jim was reading a Highlights Magazine and eating a bologna sandwich. Ten feet away, a dead woman lay on the steel medical table, translucent pink rivers of blood moving out of one stomach tube, embalming fluid flowing through another. How can you eat here? Rosie asked. The chemicals alone are enough to make a person gag. It s peaceful, Jim said. Uncle Marty s a lot worse for my gag reflex. Rosie laughed. The look of surprised pleasure on Jim s face mirrored hers, so she pulled her expression neutral again. Aren t you old for Highlights? she asked. 75

77 Dutwin I was looking at Goofus and Gallant. The lines are so simple. He held up the folded section of the magazine, showing sketches of the two boys. I draw, he said. Me too, Rosie said. My dad used to paint. He taught me. Jim nodded, turning back to his sandwich. Rosie picked up the paperwork attached to the steel table. Mrs. Morgenstern, 68, congestive heart failure. The tiny slices of light began to spin and spiral behind her eyelids again. I need to concentrate on Mrs. Morgenstern, and I can t with you eating, she said. Can you please finish lunch upstairs? Jim shoved the sandwich into the paper bag before leaving. On days when the voices were so loud that Rosie felt her skin would melt off her bones, she d play some of her father s old records on Marty s antique player. Her mother hated those old albums. She d thrown most of them out, but Rosie had managed to rescue a few, keeping them safely hidden between the eaves of the crawlspace, only listening to them when she worked. A brief flicker of relief passed over her as the mellow rhythms of Louis Armstrong swirled around her and Mrs. Morgenstern. Playing hard to get? Mrs. Morgenstern said. She sat up on the table, rubbing her abdomen where the tubes were inserted. Rosie jumped. That young man, Mrs. Morgenstern continued, he seems nice enough. Doesn t have much of a delicate touch, though. Jammed these things in there good. My daughter wants to cremate me, you know. Her father had been the first one. It wasn t until she started working at the funeral home that the other dead, even strangers, began to speak. She wondered if she were sensitive like the mediums she watched on TLC. She kept lists of what they felt, saw and heard, matching them against her personal list to see if there was overlap. She always burned the lists, though. If she could communicate with the dead like those mediums, then what she had was a gift, not the result of a mental illness. It was not a death sentence that would tether Rosie to her mother. As long as police might use her skills, maybe she had a future. Forensic science seemed like a natural next step for her. 76

78 Dutwin She noticed Mrs. Morgenstern watching her with amusement. Bet you wanna know why my own flesh and blood wants to cremate me. She knows I don t want to be cremated. Mrs. Morgenstern, I need you to lie back down please so we can finish embalming you. Couldn t be bothered, my daughter, she said, reclining back down. Even my death is an inconvenience. Didn t want a viewing because she thinks I m too fat. That s what she was telling that wimp husband of hers last night at dinner. Well, you seemed to have won that battle, Rosie said. We re preparing you for your viewing. You re preparing me for my barbecue roast, darling. Thank God for the cousins. They won their viewing, but she ll get to Joan of Arc me after that. I m sorry, Rosie said. She wondered if she would do the same with her own mother someday. *** At end of the day, Rosie collected her things from the basement. She snapped off the lights and was at the bottom of the stairs when an intense knocking started from inside the refrigeration unit where Mrs. Morgenstern was being housed for the night. Rosie looked around, hoping she had misheard the direction of the sound and that it was only from a window left open or someone arriving at the front door upstairs. But when she cautiously moved to the refrigerator and pulled steadily on the weighted steel door, Mrs. Morgenstern sighed with relief. Listen, do you mind leaving a small light on? she asked. Rosie snapped her eyes shut and took three sharp breaths, inhaling a mixture of perfume and chlorinated embalming chemicals that felt like crushed glass piercing her lungs. She slowly began mouthing one, two, three I know you re not deaf, darling, Mrs. Morgenstern said. Why would you need a light? Rosie asked, opening her eyes. Isn t it all just one big blackout for you now? 77

79 Dutwin Mrs. Morgenstern rolled her eyes. Everyone thinks they know what dead looks like. I want a night light. It s for comfort. I leave a light on out here, you re not going to see it once I shut this door again. I ll know it s on, she said. I ll know there s light out there. Rosie shut the refrigerator door and gathered up her things. When she reached the bottom of the stairs, she switched off the light. A moment later, she shook head and switched it back on again, ignoring the grateful, muffled thank yous from Mrs. Morgenstern behind the refrigerator door as she hurried up the stairs, two at a time. *** Roberta was waiting on the porch when Rosie arrived home. She was flapping her arms like a frenzied bird and Rosie wondered if she might leap off the porch and attack. I have a surprise, come see, she shouted, waving Rosie over to the detached garage behind the house. It s not perfect, but with my migraines and the back spasms acting up again, it s the best I could do on short notice. Anyway ta da! Roberta pointed to the door and Rosie pulled it back. It had been cleared out and several painting easels were set up with canvas. A collection of various paints and brushes, none of which were right for Rosie s needs, lay on the workman s table. Several lights had been attached with heavy tongs to the scaffolding above, bouncing thick rectangles of light off the walls. How did you do this in one day? Mr. McGreary helped clear it out. God knows he owes me for my headaches. And Betty drove me to the art supply store. I don t know if I got the right stuff, but I kept the receipt. She fumbled in her dress for the crumpled piece of paper, finally producing it. She handed it to Rosie with a hopeful smile. This way you have your own studio out here where you can draw anytime. And the fumes won t bother me at all. Rosie felt tears surfacing, but wouldn t allow herself to cry in front of her mother. Instead, she summoned troops of anger and rage that marched from her stomach to her chest and throat. This was kindness in handcuffs. She avoided her mother s embrace. A hug at that moment would feel like razor blades slicing Rosie open. 78

80 Dutwin Well? What do you think? she asked. I m speechless, Rosie said, unable to erase the image of the art studio as a prison cell and her mother as its warden. After her mother had gone to bed, Rosie sat alone out in the new studio. She stared at the easels and the brushes in jelly glasses, all the wrong supplies that her mother had so earnestly put together. It made her heart hurt, to have people want her more than she wanted them. What am I going to do, Dad? she asked. She stared at her father, sitting solemnly in the corner, holding a sketch book in his lap. You could paint, he said. Here? Anywhere, really. Stop holding yourself back. From what? From everything. Stop being a damn victim. You re one to talk. I gotta go. Art therapy. He walked into the night, the stars twinkling like backlit raindrops suspended in the sky. *** I never got to ride in a convertible at night, Mrs. Morgenstern said. My one deep regret. Always meant to, it never happened. Would love to have the top down, a big ol scarf tied around my head like Bette Davis or Joan Crawford. All dolled up for a night on the town. If I could, I d drive right up past the Hollywood sign under the dark sky and just let the stars rain down into the seat next to me. Rosie listened patiently as she applied makeup to Mrs. Morgenstern. Did you get a load of what she decided to have me wear? Mrs. Morgenstern asked, switching gears without warning. I think it s because she knows she s burning me after. Don t tell me that wasn t deliberate. 79

81 Dutwin Rosie made a shhh sign with her finger to her lips. Mrs. Morgenstern plopped back down on the table. At least you ll make me all up real pretty. Don t be shy with the makeup, baby. I like a lot of color. Way up by the Observatory, she said, shutting her eyes. I bet that s where you could see the stars the best. What a view that would be from a convertible. When Mrs. Morgenstern had been laid out for viewing a few hours later, Rosie had dressed her in a bright pink muumuu, as instructed by Mrs. Morgenstern s daughter. Rosie had done her best against the florescent tone of the dress. It did seem deliberate, she thought. The makeup was heavy, but that s how Mrs. Morgenstern said she always wore it. It was one thing that could be her choice. Mrs. Morgenstern s daughter Louise had been texting furiously on her Blackberry when Rosie caught her attention. She was a brassy blonde put together like a broken piece of gaudy china. Rosie noticed that her highlights were six weeks past needing a touch up and didn t quite blend with the lacquered red nails that mismatched the pink heels. Are you the girl who worked on my mother? she asked, still texting. I am, Rosie replied. I m sorry for your loss. I ll bet, Louise said. Listen, honey, I know my mother loved to look like something out of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. The woman had a heavy hand with just about everything, and the makeup brush wasn t an exception. But I got relatives here from all parts who don t want to see a circus clown lying in the casket, you know what I m saying? So get some makeup remover and clean up that mess on her face before everyone else arrives. Something more natural. You know? Marty caught Rosie s eye. He kept making urgent smile gestures at her while she talked to Louise. She tried to smile, but felt another lecture on her sour appearance coming on. 80

82 Dutwin They moved Mrs. Morgenstern downstairs for the makeup adjustment ordered by her daughter. Rosie felt she was violating Mrs. Morgenstern when she began to remove the layers of makeup. Please don t, Mrs. Morgenstern begged. Her tears mixed the makeup into a kind of oil paint that coagulated into colorful blobs across her face. I m sorry, Rosie said, leaving Mrs. Morgenstern with a bare, stripped down look. Rosie absorbed Mrs. Morgenstern s sobs as if each were a cement block dropping onto her own chest. *** After the viewing, Rosie took an early lunch break to walk around the Reservoir and try to forget about Mrs. Morgenstern. She took frequent walks whenever she could, imagining families and the daily soap operas that went on behind the window of the houses that spoke to her. She often felt like all the world had enough air to breathe except her. This was the only place where she didn t feel that way. She decided to phone her mother to tell her she would have to work late so she could come back to wander some more after her shift in peace. I really need you home, Rosie, Roberta said through the phone, her voice close to panic. I need you to pick up my inhaler from the pharmacy. I ll get it on the way home. Last on the food chain again. I made you a creative space. Doesn t that move me up the ranks? I didn t know it came with a set of strings, Rosie said. I feel like I m all alone out here. Don t be so dramatic. It s not like I have anyone either. I m just trying to keep what we have, Roberta said. That feels like too much pressure for me, Rosie said. How is loving someone putting pressure on them? I ll come straight home after work with the inhaler, Mom, she said, hanging up the phone before Roberta could hear her break into sobs. 81

83 Dutwin *** When she returned to work, Rosie found Jim crouched by the backdoor in the basement with several wads of paper towels She watched his movements for several minutes until he noticed her. What are you doing? he asked. You go first, Rosie said, motioning to the paper towels. Jim pulled himself up and Rosie could see he had been crying. I can t get them all. I m trying to help them, but they keep jumping away. What? Uncle Marty told me to get rid of them. Jim held up a clear jar full of crickets. He walked out back and Rosie followed. She watched Jim open the jar and set the crickets free in the bushes behind the mortuary. He could hear them chirping through the walls and called the exterminator. They re just singing, but the sound bothers Marty. I sent the exterminator home, told Marty I took care of the bill. So you re trying to free them all? I ve been gathering them up all afternoon, Jim said, a crack of defeat breaking through his voice. I know you think I m stupid, but I don t care. They deserve a chance. Rosie smiled and held her arm out. Give me a handful of towels. They worked in silence for over an hour, listening only to the chirping of crickets, periodically echoing into the basement. Finally, Rosie looked at her watch and remembered her mother s prescription. Hey Jim, she said, You wanna get something to eat? *** Rosie and Jim entered The Brite Spot on Sunset. It had become her favorite diner because of the bizarre décor: cuckoo clocks of various shapes and sizes glued to the wall, a deer head, paintings of little girls with misshapen bodies and oversized eyes, and German Shepherds staring off into the distance in deep philosophical thought. The plush red booths and retro energy made her feel transported to another dimension. 82

84 Dutwin Jim smiled with approval at all the dysfunction on the walls and followed her into her favorite booth. The waiter came over and took Rosie s order of chicken noodle soup, saltines and ice water with lemon. Jim ordered a slice of cherry pie with extra whipped cream. While they waited for their order, Jim pulled out his sketchbook and leaned over the table towards Rosie. She took his sketchbook and began thumbing through the pages. These are good, Rosie said, flipping through comic book renderings. She smiled when she came across a drawing of one of her favorite Silver Lake homes. I pass this on my walks. It s my favorite. It s a cross between a French Chateau and Old Mother Hubbard s shoe, Jim said. That s it! I could never put my finger on why I liked it so much. But it reminds me of something out of a fairy tale. Their food arrived and Jim immediately offered her a bite of his cherry pie, which she refused. She crumbled crackers in her soup while Jim ate forkfuls of the pie. They sat in silence as he sketched in between, carefully drawing her hand curled around the spoon that dipped into the cup of chicken noodle soup. She looked up and hesitated before finally asking, Do you ever feel like you re not going anywhere? We work in a funeral home, he said. We re constantly reminded of the last stop on the train. I m hearing voices, Rosie whispered. I m afraid to tell Marty or my Mom. I hear myself talking all the time, telling me to stop being so awkward, brush my teeth, not to forget to pay the rent again this month, he said. I talk to the dead, Rosie said. Oh, Jim said. That s different. My Dad heard voices, she said. Jim didn t say anything for a long while. Some people, he said finally, would come into this place and find it creepy. I find it comforting, Rosie said. 83

85 Dutwin What is dark and depressing to some can be put through a different filter and suddenly it s The Brite Spot. Rosie smiled. What does that have to do with my craziness? What you find to be potential illness is charming through my filter. Creative, even. Not crazy, though. How do you know? Crazy people never question whether or not they are. They re just crazy. Maybe you need to paint again. He held up his sketch book and she stared at the care and attention with which he drew the fragile curves of her hand and the shadows around it that the fading sun now filtered through the window of their booth. Rosie lifted her face towards the warm light and smiled. When she opened them again, Jim was looking at her. My mom s had a hard time since my dad died. Before he died, too. I think she sees me as a life jacket. She s so sad and angry. Sounds like she got a raw deal, he said. Rosie nodded. It s like the game was over for her before she even played a hand, she said. Rosie learned that Jim s parents called him slow all the time before they were killed in a car crash. Marty kept the label intact, calling him slow at least twice a day for various breaches of protocol. They discovered a common love of warm climates, Vincent Price movies and Saturday morning cartoons. And Jim told her it was his dream to live in New Mexico one day. Rosie found herself wondering what it would be like to go with him. She felt a stabbing in her chest, as if Jim would be able to rip open her ribcage and see through to all her darkness and all the lies she told to keep her life glued together, to try and appear normal. She was suddenly nervous in his presence and wanted him to disappear. Thanks, this was nice, but I need to get going, she said. My mom needs a prescription and I m already late. 84

86 Dutwin She started to pick her cuticles, something else she always did when she was really nervous. Jim reached for her hand. Please don t pick, he said. Rosie instinctively dropped her hands into her lap. So what happened? he asked. We were having a nice conversation. I don t know, she said. Does your Mom need the prescription right this second? She found him hanging from the rafters, Rosie said. I m all she has left. He inhaled deeply, his belly spilling slightly over the booth table that failed miserably to hold all of him back. He was 42, but looked ten years older. She wondered how he saw the baggage written across her own face. Here, he said, ripping the sketch of her hand out of his book. Take this. I want you to have it. Remind yourself to do something creative. Okay, Rosie said. She fumbled with the zipper on her coat as they both slid out of the booth. They stood awkwardly facing each other. I kinda don t know what to say, Jim said. I want to talk to you, but I don t know what to say. Well, maybe I ll go see someone next week. About being crazy, I mean. I don t think you re crazy, he said. You may change your mind by next week. No. Okay, Rosie said. Do they seem happy after they ve gone? he asked. The dead people you talk to, I mean. Some of them, she said. I think most of them are just lonely and confused. Or tying up loose ends before they move on. That s how I see it, anyway. Rosie and Jim walked to their cars in the parking lot of the diner. Rosie didn t recoil when he wrapped an arm around her shoulders as they walked. In that moment, 85

87 Dutwin she closed her eyes and imagined them a normal couple, free of angry mothers, mental illness, funeral homes and dead people. When they broke their embrace, Rosie looked at Jim s car. I didn t know you drove a convertible, she said, studying the beat up silver Ford. I thought it would land me a couple of dates, Jim said. Did it work? Rosie asked. Let s just say I can see why you would only want to talk to the dead, Jim said. Rosie s eyes widened and she stood on her toes so she could grip Jim by the shoulders. Jim, can you do something for me? *** Back at the funeral home, Rosie watched as Jim shoved Mrs. Morgenstern into the plus size dress they picked at a nearby Sears on the way back. It was a cobalt blue sequined dress that fish-tailed out across the floor, giving her the appearance of a full figured Rita Hayworth. While Jim went to lower the top on his convertible in the driveway of the mortuary, Rosie worked on Mrs. Morgenstern, applying elaborate makeup just the way she liked it. When she was finished, she topped the look off with big Jackie O sunglasses and tied a silk head scarf firmly around Mrs. Morgenstern s chin. Rosie smiled as she looked out the open back door behind the mortuary. The sun had set and Jim s crickets sang their arias into the darkening sky. An audience of blooming stars started to emerge above them all. No more regrets, Rosie whispered to Mrs. Morgenstern. Not deep, not ever again. Rosie and Jim cruised down Sunset Boulevard around the Reservoir, past Jim and Rosie s favorite Mother Hubbard house and up through the hills past Griffith Park. They soared with full speed towards the Observatory, with Mrs. Morgenstern strapped firmly in the back seat. 86

88 Dutwin Jim reached over and stroked the side of Rosie s face and when she turned to him, she could see that he forgot to remove his mortician s bib. It had been poking through his heavy winter coat. His glasses still slipped down the bridge of his nose. As they drove against the sting of winter on their faces, Rosie started laughing. Jim asked her what was so funny, but she was laughing too hard to answer. She tilted her head back to get a better view of Mrs. Morgenstern. She looked better than Joan Crawford or Bette Davis, inhaling the crisp night air as streams of stars showered her in light. Thank you, Mrs. Morgenstern said. Thank you, Rosie. 87

89 Mardian The Halibut by Jesse Mardian Everyday Javier Montoya stepped onto the 14B bus heading south from downtown to the small beach city of Seaside, and everyday he sat alone in the back and watched out the window as he traveled along the two-lane coast highway. He never turned his gaze away from the window, he never made small talk, and he never spoke to anyone; rather, he stared over the mounds of sand, past the shore break, and beyond the rolling swells into the infinite horizon and let the expanse soothe him. He liked the coast very much, how the sun brought out the different blues of the sea and how all the beautiful people played in the surf and lounged in the sand. It reminded him of his childhood in El Salvador, where he spent many of his boyhood days dangling his feet off a small fishing pier. Yet, in his old age the memories were fading to black and white. They were harder to remember; they were harder to hold on to. At times he was terrified by the thought that the memories he had were fake, or skewed by old age and time, and his mood would darken. But for now, he was content to lean his temple against the warm bus window and marvel at the beauty of the day. When the bus arrived at his stop, Javier took one final look, closed his eyes, and hoped he could carry the image in his mind throughout the long workday ahead. He paid the fare, left the bus, and crossed the street heading inland. As always, he walked past the market center, past the retail shops, past the flower shop where the sweet smell of gardenias flowed, and past the liquor the store where he was always tempted by, but never succumbed to, a nip of tequila to get through the day. Finally, he stood before the large bamboo doors of the seafood restaurant where he had worked for nearly ten years. Javier had always worked in restaurants: first it was Luciano s, then Jimmy s Bar and Grill, then The Crab Hut, then Humberto s, and now The Halibut. He had, for the most part, enjoyed his work throughout the years. Most days, Javier walked through the door with a 88

90 Mardian smile and a determination to do well. He took pride in his work and was well liked by his employers, but on this particular day, a sudden rush of disappointment overtook him, arising from a déjà vu. While not entirely unpleasant, every day had become the same, blunted like an old kitchen knife. Leaving the summer day in his wake, Javier walked into the restaurant. The dining room was dark, empty, and lifeless but would soon be thriving with hungry guests. Pushing through the swinging doors of the kitchen, Javier felt a slight chill at his nape. He entered, becoming a part of it himself, drifting along the stained grey floors, hugging the mushroom-colored walls, blending in unnoticed, just another appliance. Moving to the back, he put away his things before tying a white apron around his waist. In the bathroom, he disinfected his raw and calloused hands, and before turning to leave, he glimpsed his aging face in the mirror. The skin on his face was like scales, cracked and brown, a few stray hairs protruded his nostrils, and his sideburns and facial hair were the color of ash. It was the first time in awhile that he looked at himself, looked into his own eyes, and he was shocked by the old man who peered at him, with weary, half-open eyes, the old man with slouched shoulders, the old man unshaven, and unkempt. He did not know this man, and he turned away. At the prepping station he was joined by Manuel, a young man with a shadow of a moustache and hair hardened by gel. Together they chopped carrots, peeled onions, and grated cheese. They sliced meat, weighed it, and placed it on a metal tray. They cleaned the salmon, the ahi, the swordfish, and the mahi-mahi. They worked in silence while Manuel listened to his music through headphones and Javier worked mechanically. Outside, the summer sun had reached the center of the sky, and the air in the kitchen had become sultry. Javier began to sweat and his odor mixed with all that of the fish and the meat. Feeling nauseous, he looked over at Manuel, and for a moment he saw his young self; the Salvadorian boy who arrived at this country fresh and optimistic. Javier wanted to embrace him, tell him to relish his youth, but rather he rubbed his eyes and wiped the sweat from his brow, and Manuel became Manuel again. What I d do if I could start over, said Javier. 89

91 Mardian With the music blaring in his ears Manuel could not hear his colleague, but he saw his lips move, so he pulled out the earphones and answered, Cómo? I said, what do want with life? Manuel looked at him with a smirk. You got too much sol old man, he said before putting his earphones back in. When all the vegetables had been chopped, all the meat sliced, and all the soups cooked, when all the dressings were made, all the bread rolls heated, and when everything had been stocked, only then did the rest of the kitchen staff arrive to open for lunch. The prep work finished, and customers arriving, Javier asked the head chef what was needed. The chef, an old Chinese man, similar in age to Javier, but with squared shoulders and wrinkleless face, told Javier to work the dishwasher. So, Javier did as he was told and worked behind the metallic dishwashing station where lazy bus boys stacked porcelain plates unevenly. Putting on a pair of rubber gloves, he dismantled the leaning towers of plates and sprayed off the residuals of mashed potatoes, bok choy, and fish bones. Soon, the sink became clogged and slowly filled up with murky water. Reaching down into the small dark drain, he removed a wet fistful of soggy gunk and threw it away in a trashcan. Javier moved mechanically: rinse, wipe, stack, repeat, rinse, wipe, stack, repeat. The day progressed, and the lunch rush faded as it always did an hour or two before dinner service. He asked for a break, and it was granted. Behind the restaurant, where the dumpsters were kept, Javier indulged in a cigarette. Two waiters with dirty-blonde hair were also taking a break, huddled together watching a video on a cell phone. Together they laughed and chatted about what they planned to do after work. They seemed alien to Javier; they lived in a different world than he, a world with promise, a world that had passed him by years ago. But before they left, they nodded and smiled, and he did the same. With his cigarette nearing its end, Javier dropped it and then stomped the butt on the ground. Before picking up the nub of the cigarette off the cement, Javier looked at it in disappointment: its ugly color, its crinkled body, the toxic ash blowing away with the wind. Soon it would be evening, and Javier wished he could climb on top of the restaurant and watch the sunset; how he craved to 90

92 Mardian watch the sun sink into the horizon with a last gasp green flash. The night was busy, and piles of silverware, plates, and glasses mounted before him. His white apron turned calico and his fingernails filled with grime. Hours passed in a flurry of scrubbing, rinsing, drying, stacking, broken only by a young hostess looking for a to-go order. In his moment of reprieve, Javier relaxed his tense shoulders and gazed in awe. He did not know her, nor had he seen her before. Her face was smooth as porcelain, her eyes like the morning sea, and her hair curled in waves upon her forehead. Muñeca. It was not lust he felt, for she was only a young girl, and he an aging man. Rather, he felt a longing for love and a feeling of self-pity. He never had time for love thus never had a wife. He had nights with women, but never mornings. He looked upon the hostess with a pain in his heart, for in the beauty of her face he realized his life had gone by like a freighter in the night, as quick as she had come and gone, leaving Javier with another picture in his mind that he would surely forget. The dinner service began to wind down, and one by one servers, bus boys, cooks, and hostesses clocked out. Manuel had left hours before in a hurry to make it to another job. Only Javier, the kitchen supervisor, one of the blonde servers, and the head chef remained as some late night customers came in. Javier was amused as he watched the closing server complain about having to stay longer. The young server paced back and forth through the kitchen, agitated, waiting impatiently for the chef to prepare his entrées. Finally, the food was made and he quickly carried it away on a large tray. Later, the server returned to the kitchen shaking his head and frowning. There was a loud clanging as the server scraped the remnants of the meal into a trash bin before leaving the plate for Javier to wash. He stared at Javier. You ve always been here. Sí, a long time. Man, this place drives me nuts, the server said. Once I get my real estate license I m gone, outta here, sayonara. Javier noticed a smudge on a plate and quickly wiped it away as the server looked at him with more to say. 91

93 Mardian I m telling you José, the waiter said, meeting Javier s eyes. This place is quicksand. Javier didn t understand the metaphor, but he laughed anyway. The waiter left, and after he gave his guests their check he returned to the kitchen, clocked out, and said, Adios! Javier cleaned the remaining plates, swept the kitchen, and asked the chef if any more work was needed. There was. The dining room needed vacuuming. While he moved the vacuum back and forth, he noticed that the server, in his rush to leave, had overlooked the tip tucked under the ketchup caddie on the table. Pulling the money out, he impulsively put it in his pocket and continued to vacuum the floor. But soon his conscience irked him, so he put the bill back on the table and looked over his shoulder. He breathed a sigh of relief. Before leaving the dining room, he did one last walkthrough and thought to himself that he would like to own a restaurant or a bar one day, nothing fancy, just something he could call his. But before he could dwell on this dream, the wistful thought drifted away, somewhere off in his mind, somewhere along with the vague memories, the beautiful beach scene and the delicate face of the young hostess. He left the dining room and turned off the lights. In the kitchen, he gave everything a look over and was convinced his work was done. The dishwashing station was shiny, the floor swept, and the prepping station wiped. He asked the Chinese chef if he could clock out. No. So, Javier took a mop and a bucket and cleaned the kitchen washroom, figuring he could catch the 14B bus home if he hurried. He mopped quickly, restocked, untied his apron, threw it into the laundry bag, and washed his hands while avoiding looking at himself in the mirror. He left the same way he arrived, out the bamboo doors, but now the summer day was a summer night that met his face with a cool onshore breeze that stayed with him as he walked past the open liquor store where people walked out with bottles in brown bags, past the closed flower shop where the sweet aromas slumbered, past the retail stores and the market, and across the street to wait for the bus under a dim light post. So many nights he had done this: waiting for the same bus to take him to the same apartment, where he would sleep in the same lonely bed and dream the dreams of a man yearning for more. 92

94 Mardian The bus arrived on time and the driver smiled at Javier as he opened the doors. Javier sat for a moment staring through the doors, through the driver, through the bus, through it all, his eyes fully open, looking at nothing, panning his mind, unable to move, reaching an end. He would not get on the bus as he always did, he would not go home and climb into his cold bed, not yet anyway. He heard the mechanical doors shut as he walked away. For a while, Javier just walked along the coastal highway until he strayed onto a dirt trail that led to the beach. Once there, he flung off his shoes and enjoyed the sand pushing between his tired aching feet. The moon was almost full, the ocean calmly rippled, and the beach was all his. Coming upon a sheltered cove, he laid his back on the sand and soaked in the moonbeams. Javier stared up at the cloudless sky until he noticed something strange out of the corner of his eye. It was like something he had never seen. With a start, Javier suddenly noticed that with every crash of a wave a marvelous neon greenish-blue shimmered. Little did Javier know that it was a red tide, a natural phenomenon caused by an algal bloom containing a high volume of phytoplankton. A breaking wave jostles them, transferring enough energy to make them glow. Javier s eyes lit up with every collapsing wave, their glow beckoning him. Shedding his clothes, he stepped into the water, pushing past the cold as the water enveloped his legs, then his abdomen and chest, finally acclimating as he walked out as far as he could, jumping over the blue-wash until he had to swim. He swam and he laughed like a boy, much like he had done when a bird swiped the fisherman s catch on the pier in El Salvador. He bodysurfed the waves, and when they crashed, he delighted in being engulfed in the neon flush. It was as though Javier radiated as well, becoming one with the thousands of microorganisms around him. He lost track of time and lavished in the sea for almost an hour before getting out. As he put his clothes on over his wet body, he could see the lights of the restaurant turn off in the distance. And though he knew that his life was not likely to change much, he embraced this small adventure and its gift of renewed happiness. Tomorrow he would surely get on the 14B bus from downtown to Seaside, and he would work with Manuel and the others. He would hope to see the muñeca, and he would be tired, and he would regret 93

95 Mardian his life, but maybe, just maybe, something peculiar would happen, even if only something small, something he may have to work hard to notice, or make happen himself, but something to remind him that life, no matter how dull, how habitual, how mechanical it becomes, life, his life, still had meaning. 94

96 Highway 62 by Matt Williams 95

97 Rios Book Reviews No Direction Home: A Review of Constance Squires Along the Watchtower By Sara Rios Constance Squires is a self-identified military brat, and her debut novel, Along the Watchtower, lays to rest any notion that she may be otherwise. The book is a whimsical coming of age story from the often overlooked perspective of a child growing up in circumstances beyond their control, specifically, of a girl growing up on one military base after another, who is without a place to call home. The protagonist of Squires novel, Lucinda Collins, is the type of girl who noticed things. Squires lays this foundation with the first sentence and much of the novel s action depends on this fact. Lucinda Collins is the type of kid you d expect from the regimented and heroic father figure who we meet soon after the novel opens. She s brash, bold, and strong willed, and she s just like the man, Army Major Jack Collins, who is as mighty and influential as his title would seem to imply. Lucinda carries her father s strong will and perseverance amidst all the battles that life throws at her in the years from 1983 to But she is also equipped with her own powerful insights, which present themselves in the form of well-observed quips and asides at every turn. As she describes watching a neighbor battle PTSD, learning lessons about rock and roll classics, facing ghosts from Germany s past, dipping her toes in punk rock shows, finding a love, losing him, finding him again, and losing him again, her voice teeters on overbearing, and the road to adulthood seems, to any reader, intimidating. Lucinda s greatest pursuit is finding a place to call home, and it is this journey that leads her to one of life s greatest discoveries (or disappointments): that a person placed on a pedestal is still a person, who sometimes makes mistakes. In the end, it is her overpowering personality that saves Lucinda from crashing when she faces that realization. Finding out your hero is flawed is never easy, but if it s done with grace and 96

98 Rios the perceptiveness, as Lucinda does, then there s a chance that things will turn out okay. One s life may end up being beautiful, and that s how I d like to believe that Lucinda s life pans out. Along the Watchtower centers on the happenings of a military family, but even those with little or no experience with military life can easily relate to the message conveyed in this unconventional story. All kids struggle with growing up, and finding a way through life while gathering as few scars along the way as possible can be difficult, no matter what the circumstances are. Constance Squires Along the Watchtower is available from Riverhead Trade for $

99 Brown Landscape as Autobiography: A Review of George McCormick s Salton Sea by Casey Brown George McCormick s collection of short stories, Salton Sea, was the winner of the 2011 Noemi Prize, and is forthcoming from Noemi Press. The book opens with an epigraph from Charles Wright which reads, All landscapes are autobiographical. Anchoring the collection, this quote lays the groundwork for a series of stories whose characters all seem to be tied to the landscapes around them. They are not necessarily nature-lovers, but they each have a special relationship with their surroundings, both natural and man-made. Some of the characters even have a connection and familiarity with landscapes in multiple states. McCormick s dynamic and well-crafted prose speaks for itself and at every turn showcases his talent as a writer and storyteller. Each sentence seems to deliver economically and equally both description and information in a way that speaks to his intimate familiarity with the short story form. The book opens with the shortest story of the collection and winner of the PEN/O. Henry award for 2013, The Mexican. It s the story is of a man recounting a seemingly insignificant incident that happened to him during a summer job when he was a teenager. It is also the story of a teenager discovering a world of political and legal undertones, that he is still too naïve to fully appreciate. It is a character driven story that in a very short space plumbs great depths in the narrator, as well as the secondary characters that surround him: Jess Uncle Alton said. You try. You know how to open a boxcar from the inside? Uncle Alton knew I did, he d showed me, but he was cautious and protective of me, as he always was with his brother s son, and by asking me the question out loud he was giving me a way out if I needed it. I nodded and went over to the hatch and looked in. Careful attention to detail is paid throughout the story to where the cargo in those boxcars will travel during their cross-country journey. The cargo itself, oranges, transform from yellow, unripe fruit to orange, edible commodities as they make their way from stop 98

100 Brown to stop. The narrator interacts with this cargo in Oklahoma and that is where he discovers a stow-away in the refrigerator cars holding the oranges. The oranges were navels, from Redlands, California, packed in refrigerator cars, and they were four days on the Southern Pacific crossing the desert re-icing only in Clovis before arriving at midnight, here in Wayvoka, Oklahoma. The oranges were yellow, and would ripen somewhere in Illinois or Ohio before arriving next week in New Jersey. The narrator, in retelling this memory, pays special attention to his landscape but also the landscapes that the train carrying the cargo might see. The way the story unfolds reveals something about the narrator but also sets the tone for the rest of the collection, whose other stories all seem to feature characters who tend to understand the world, in part, through the natural settings that surround them. In DC the story s central character and narrator comes to accept his fate through an increasing appreciation for the land around him. That acceptance seems to result from that appreciation, perhaps even more than through his interactions with the other characters, and the events in the story. DC is about a man who is trapped in a small town, in a life he does not want to lead, and in a somewhat unsatisfying marriage. The story opens, I was under the kind of duress that a man like me is under when he interviews and lands a good job as a manager of a chain restaurant in suburban DC only to find out that taking the job, for now, would be impossible. No sooner had I convinced my wife and my baby daughter to move than a sniper began shooting people out there. This would not be the first time this man relocates for a job in the restaurant industry, but for the time being he is stuck in Orofino, Idaho working for his father-in-law. Throughout the story he divides his time between working at his father-in-laws bakery, drinking in a local bar, driving through the Idaho landscape, and reading to his daughter. At one point, he cheats on his wife when he kisses a bartender: I would be lying if I said I hadn t revisited that kiss in my mind several times. The character s connection to his landscape and the careful attention he pays to the details of his surrounding scenery serve 99

101 Brown as character development throughout the story as well: Where the Clearwater River met the Snake River, was the town of Lewiston, Idaho, and as I pulled off the interstate I tried to even out my thoughts on Christ and Smith and myself. The mint was a small bar not far from the confluence of these two rivers. As the story concludes, while the narrator, and the reader for that matter, seems to have a keener understanding of place, we are still left wondering whether or not he has finally embraced his responsibilities as a husband and farther instead of continuing to live a life of instability. All five stories in this collection have the common thread of strong character development running through them, and all are told from the perspective of first person narrators, who examine their lives and wonder how it is they came to find themselves in less-than-desirable living arrangements or romantic relationships. Each character s story begins with not quite knowing how to deal with what is happening in their lives, but as they grow to understand the places around them, they begin to deal with those difficulties and start to move on from the trouble that opens each story. So, for these characters their landscapes really are autobiographical. They each come to understand something about themselves they might not have seen without first looking at their natural environments. 100

102 Riemer A Poetics of Recovery: A Review of Jason Poudrier s Red Fields: Poems from Iraq by Rexanne Riemer In his book, Red Fields: Poems from Iraq, Jason Poudrier allows himself, and his readers, to visit his grievous memories of Iraq. His opening poem, Red Fields is a flawless example of the author s ability to remain grounded in Oklahoma, with references to his future father-in-law and the wife he has not met yet, while safely visiting his caustic memories of war. Poudrier writes of Oklahoma as home even though he is from Oregon. But, as he me, I knew Oklahoma was going to be my new home for a foreseeable future, like George McCormick [author, and friend of Poudrier] said, writing about a place helps to make that place home. Poudrier s ability to use his poetry to aid him in his emotional recovery from the experience of serving in in Iraq could be cited as the reason he was chosen to serve as a host at a workshop as part of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library s Healing Through the Humanities event in Indianapolis, Indiana in In Subjects of Merriment, the author demonstrates his ability to use humor to lighten the solemn event that resulted in his being wounded and for which he received the Purple Heart. The poem opens with a quote from Hemingway reminding the reader that injuries can sometimes appear amusing, depending on how you look at them. In the poem s opening stanza, a civilian is asking the speaker about his injury, as he is obviously inspects his body and counts parts. As the inquisitor zeroes in on his legs, the speaker is tempted to tell him, the right one s gone, but he resists the urge, remembering, LT, now legless/ and how unfunny, and unfriendly/friendly fire is. Again his memory takes him back to a moment while watching a now legless LT playing lacrosse, sprinting down the field on two rods. He had been the captain of the team while at West Point. In an interview following the game, the camera man panned out to capture LT s full figure as he responded to the reporter s question 101

103 Riemer about the Army Alumni s recent loss. I ve never been to quick/on my feet anyway, he replied and for a moment, I laugh a little too. Poudrier makes frequent use of military terminology throughout, which lends the book its authenticity, and even includes a Glossary of Military Terms to help the uninitiated with such jargon. The book s depictions of Iraq are presented through the eyes of a bewildered soldier, but his poetic allusionss to Jackson Pollock, Roman slaves, and Orion s bow, soften the harshness of the reality of what he saw. This technique diminishes some of the harshness of war, and makes it easier for the reader to accept certain truths about being Iraq. My favorite poem to read, Poudrier points out, is Demerol Dreaming, the image from my memory is so fuzzy but clear at the same time. In that poem, the speaker and LT lie stretched out on beds next each other. Both are receiving substantial narcotics to ease the pain of their war wounds. This may account for the fuzziness of his otherwise clear memory. In Poudrier s reading at Cameron University in spring of 2012, he told his audience about how the conversation depicted in the poem was repeated about every two hours as the medication began to wear off and consciousness returned to he and LT. In the poem, he awakes to find himself in a new location no angel of numbness, no ice cream sandwiches, and no LT. When I wrote the poem, Poudrier said, I had a good time trying to capture that idea with a humorous tone. The poem Tainted is separated into nine sections, and depicts the collective experiences of Poudrier and the other members of his unit upon their return from Iraq. Sharing these poignant and personal stories reveals the hardships that must be overcome when a soldier returns to civilization. It is easy for the reader to recognize the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder in the events described, and feel the emotional reaction of family members who do not always seem to understand. Poudrier, in his book, was successful in finding an outlet for his emotional turmoil. To quote the poet John Graves 102

104 Riemer Morris, from his foreward to the book, Jason has had important things to say and demons to exorcise from the beginning. 103

105 Serenity by Vital Germaine 104

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