Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Jury Duty



Sailing The Painted Gliders by Bill

I sat down on a stone bench. I thought of laying right on the ground, imagining wetness out of the earth pushing up around me instead of hard concrete against my shoulder blades all the ballooning sections around my middle. Helen wandered off and we could hear her for a while pushing buttons on a console for information. I thought about offering to take some pictures of Melanie and Hank, but they probably would have taken me up on it and I really didn’t want to risk dropping my camera. I guess we expected rocks to stack, but there were none. Rather they were already done, already stacked. Made to look solid like it wasn't ready to fall over in the full course of time. The building was saturated with existence belying time. All the buildings, the whole city, thick and full and immobile with constant motion. Then one day it will all settle back down into the muck, push up more mud, wait, push down and push up again. Eventually the whole city will be a swamp again we might wander through if we choose to wait long enough. All the moisture will pull the heavy stone down into itself, using the weight of itself and its sheer mass to rise up again. What a city is, a swamp can be to, and what a city does a swamp matches just as well.

***

Decisions by Alan

Above us all only truth and sky. And if truth is sky, then is it endless? Does it stretch and bend into the nothing that is infinity? And if our understanding of infinity is limited, is truth a compartment in which we store our nothing?

We ‘re on line for jury duty today. My lies and me. We walk into a building made of sky and the proportions outlast us. A man with a gun for an arm directs us to disassemble. There are tourniquets pinned to the wall for emergency use only. The crowd waits to be named. The waiting is a pillar.

When we’re called, it’s a choice to run or not. We will dash the fastest in this race. Take the liberty and press it firmly against the face and run to river and liftoff in grace one final jump, which will not be final but obsolete save for the few breaths of fresh air and the imagined sequence of wings.

***

Guilty by Lyle

Call it a placeholder. We find dogs to feed on the perimeter. We eat dog at night around the fires in barrels when we can no longer stand the sound of our own hypocrisy. Shorthand. What's shorter than guilty? We all know that one.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Ruins & Remains


These Trees by Alan

In the incandescent rumination of “god’s inner country,” as it was referred to by those who lived just outside of it, we all stretch our limbs toward the sky. Our days are filled with memories that scorch and nights that last just long enough to cool them. We are this family of stiffened longing. We dress desire up in gold and send it into the earth. It stays there while we whisper for some unnamable season to return. These poses we hold with bated breath.

***

Lake Atitlan by Johanna

The lake shimmers just beyond the forest dense with chacas, the tourist tree because its skin is red and peeling. We prefer the hardwood of the pine that burns longer. My husband chops at the trees, splitting the logs into small stackable pieces. I lay out an old blanket. I remember when I spun the cotton, my oldest son, Pedro, suckling at my breast. I wove the yarn and dyed it bright blue from the indigo plant. It was so dark then, the white pattern, so clear. But I have had six children since then. I have draped this blanket to carry them on my back. I have wrapped it to keep us warm. I have covered their little bodies with it while they slept. Now, it is faded and old.

My husband places the small logs with great precision on top of the blanket so that there are barely any cracks between them. He heaps them three feet high and I tie the loose part of the fabric tightly into a strap before he helps to heave the band up and across my forehead. I can feel the rough wood pile against my back as I lean forward to counter the weight and keep from collapsing into the lake. Though, the day is so hot, the lake looks welcoming.

The lake gives so much and takes so much away from us, like Ernesto when his fishing boat capsized and Angelina when she was bitten by a snake. Their spirits always walk ahead of me as I follow the trail, surefooted through the woods, carrying my load as I have for all these years.

***

No Home by Lyle

Since I've been gone: fingerling potatoes and carrots and baby's breath and nails. There is dirt on my headstone but none on my grave. I consider myself mutually exclusive. The inevitability of home. The inconsistency of home. Come home. Never come home. Neither bread nor fire in my hearth and the wind blows inconsolably. Worse yet, the thought of the pantry – potatoes and carrots – is ash. The memory of the path to the splintered door – baby's breath and nails – nothing but cinders. Since I've been gone, everything is still combustible. Take precautions: there is nothing more incendiary than time.

***

The Very End by Forrest

Down to two is nothing much for, they say, survivors. Anything looks well, any tree is a periscope for an ant. You lie down on felled branches et voila. And, yes, we have been here forever. Or at least for a time. A meteor broke straight above us while we watched, and you quipped, Tunguska. So we both should be dead, in other words. Yes, yes I think so, though it's still light and airy about and we haven't forgotten about being famished. We did forget about all the others who wanted to be here at the very end of it, though you and I only look out for each other. Eating can wait. The fire, after all, did put itself out.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Pet Shop



The Pet Shop by Alan

To make amends with his imaginary friend, the illustrious and forgiving (to most) Van Hulsitor, Jeremiah decided to visit the local pet store, which all the boys in his grade had dubbed “a weird vibe” based on their respective mothers’ lay evaluations in between car rides to and fro matches. The first thought was something in the reptilian family, but the stock was slim pickins. “Be careful for Solomon,” the disenchanted man behind the counter warned. “He’s a bit temperamental these days.” Solomon was busy negotiating a deal with a small albino mouse it seemed. Something serious. Jeremiah chose not to disturb him.

Then there were the crabs. Buckets full of them. They seemed to converse with one another in a series of gestures and genuflections. It was like church, thought Jeremiah. The congregation, the pews, one on top of the other. Van Hulsitor might like that. It was, after all, in church when the offense took place. Somewhere between the sermon and the trip to the bathroom. It was quiet. So quiet in the hallway. No one but the two of them. Until Jeremiah, once again, made the mistake of turning on the light.

There are some creatures that are nocturnal. The man behind the counter had loose and flexible handwriting. The characters seemed restless. The room in the back had no lights. Jeremiah entered cautiously, dared not let his friend know what he felt he had to do.

***

Clever the Dog by Johanna

Clever sat in front of the barber shop on the third block from the painted boulder two blocks from the smashed guardrail one block from his home. Home was a new word for Clever. He had spent most of his life roaming the streets of Grainville, the next town over. It was in Grainville that he got into his first fight and tore the ear off of a pit-mix trying to steal his garbage pile. It was also where he conceived his first litter after a late night howling. In those years, he had managed to escape Animal Control six times without a scratch. But the winters got colder, the scraps sparser and he slowed down. They found him jaywalking at dusk. He swore they gloated as they threw him into his cell at the pound. Steady meals and warm shelter aside, he hated being behind bars. He was a vagabond meant for the streets with freedom to roam. When they put him on a leash for a walk, he struggled futilely to tear his head from his infuriating collar.

When the little girl came in on that fated spring Sunday and begged her begrudging father to take him home, he finally saw his escape. He wasn’t fazed when they took him to a new town or when the little girl named him Clever and expected him to sit for regular grooming sessions. He knew his time would come and it did. One day, she opened the door for a package delivery and Clever cleared right past both sets of legs and kept on running. Of course, before long he was lost. He had never been to Red Crest before. He had no idea where to go.

It was early evening when the car lights rolled into the alley where he hid, trapping him. The father grabbed him by that blasted collar and threw him in the car. As tough as he was, the large hands of the father on his nape discouraged any fight he might have had left after his great escape. The father did not take him straight home. Instead he took him here, to this spot in front of the barber shop. They sat in the car in silence for a while with the heat running until the father finally spoke.

“See those two storefronts there, across the street? One’s a pet shop. You’re too straggly a mutt to go there. That’s where the fine breeds are sold. That’s where I wanted to buy a dog. Lucky for you, my daughter insisted we get a stray from the shelter. She’s got a big heart that girl.”

Clever listened intently. For the first time, someone spoke to him without yelling or condescending. The father lowered the fan on the heater and continued, “See that other storefront. That’s where they butcher the meat and that’s where you’re going to end up if you ever run away again.” The father turned to look him straight in the eyes and what he saw there must have convinced him that his message got through because he started the car and drove home. Clever did not take the threat lightly. He had no doubt that the father meant it.

At the house, the little girl squealed with delight to see her dog again. Father glared sternly from above. Clever hung his head low and obeyed. After a few months, he got used to the comforts of home—the petting, the treats, the yard where he could bark at pedestrians. But every once in a while, when he got an itching to run, he’d walk here, sit and stare at the two storefronts, remembering his inescapable fate.

***

The Late February Sunlight by Bill

Trumbling into the parking lot the big pick-up with the quorum of us in the back kicked up a fart of dust after I knocked on the window indicating we should stop when I saw the sign for the pet shop figuring this strip mail ought to be a low-key spot to wind down and regroup. Of course he tossed us a bit against the side of the bed with a sharp left turn to come up short of a sudden right in front of the coffee shop. The truck’s owner sure had a black hand sense of destiny about him.

Who knew what town this was, hours from the capital. We’d beat a hasty retreat from the conference on the advice and seeming concern of someone I had to try hard not to think about. Despite the suddenness of our arrival to this nowhere place, Rob yawned ambitiously against the sunlight and the rest of us moved a little slow and chilled, clutching a bag here and there began to shift upwards, Gail and Cliff jumping off the side edge of the truck under the propultion of caffeine promise and the rest climbing down off the rear bumper. The driver stood by his open door, stretching big and yawning in his jeans and tucked in western shirt and not to be outdone by his truck he let a loud fart rip in the wind. A few more days like this and I'd hire him full time but for the moment it was all I could do except wonder if another UN delegation had ever arrived in such a fashion anywhere. Probably.

***

The Red Crest Pet Shop Review by Lyle

The Red Crest Pet Shop, is difficult to describe. The front sign, of which I have provided a photo, contains two perfect circles, as if wormholes from (to?) another time and place. But the shop itself is orally inimitable, and thus, indescribable, especially as the shop owner forbade me from using metaphor (they are not animals to be understood as anything other than themselves, he told me) or from objective description (these are exotic animals, the likes of which you have never seen, he pressed — they must be experienced first hand), which precluded photography inside the shop. So I am left with the shop sign itself. The images on it are not accurate in the least — such common animals as snakes or cats or goldfish do not exist in Red Crest. They are otherworldly animals of which you have not heard. The best indirect referential statement I can make is that only the sizes of these images come close to how different these “pets” are from your pets. Look at the sizes! In relation to each other. In relation to their representation. I have inspected this image for far too long as I have nothing but memory and radio silence to report otherwise. I have been constricted, so to speak. Go see the place for yourself; though be forewarned, you may return with nothing — that most absurd of all animals.

***

Who Doesn't Love Sausage by Forrest

Because stories are the worst possible vehicle for sincere confession: I haven't been the only proprietor of the Red Crest Pet Shop to pass off expired merchandise to Farmer Jed's Meat Market next door. In fact, I've been told by my wife's grandmother, a clandestine arrangement has existed between the Pet Shop and Farmer Jed himself since Red Crest's incorporation in the 1940's, mostly in the form of Jed sending business back to us—senior citizens stocking up on ground chuck who miss the presence of a cocker spaniel, foodie hipsters buying python meat who are overly curious, that sort of thing. There's an odd correlation between the two that people who never run a pet shop are aware of: the devoted carnivore needing animal company. You'll see what I mean, Jed told me once as he picked up some rabbits laid low by a malfunctioning A/C one night out back. I still didn't feel very good about it. Only because the whole arrangement had a certain sense. Maybe Jed's customers knew what they were buying. Or none of it made any difference—we're better off that it came from next door instead of Argentina, I can hear the good folk of Red Crest say. I'm not really speaking any revelations here. That's what bothers me. What good's a confession, I tell my wife, when no one in town cares one way or the other? Feeding our lone goldfish, she shrugs her shoulders. She thinks it'll grow large enough someday to set it free somewhere. I doubt it has any conception of the outside, a world where there are always honest people lurking.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Grounded



WRK by Alan

To shape the channeling of history. To redirect the norm towards collaboration. Free market. Open source. Explosion. The basement tapes. This is how young Bartholomew swore he would change the face of music. From his parents’ basement.

One made the sound, the other reconfigured it. In between, an army of fanatics who, like good mammals, circled around prey or offspring or both – whichever fed the hunger most. And then the thumping. And then the lights. The name of the band was incidental but noteworthy nevertheless. There were drugs involved, most assuredly. An offhanded remark, a vowel slipped out. One way of articulating the message, a future critic would note, was in the omissions. There is no time in the modern world for the details. Only big picture. This he knew. He worked it.

***

Vanishing Act or The Vanished by Lyle

And just like that, Dwayne was gone. In an actual puff of smoke. He had threatened this, but it was Dwayne. We never believed him. And then, ten years later, suddenly he was gone. We called it his vanishing act. Or rather we called his talking about it the vanishing act. Then after he vanished, we began to talk about his disappearance as the vanishing act. A slight semantic shift that emotionally took its toll on some of us. You’ll see, he’d say after we laughed about his mullet or threw his shoes in a tree. You’ll see. One day, I’ll vanish and you’ll be sorry. We didn’t know if the two things were related — his disappearance and our regret (some of us even bandied around the word, guilt). You’ll see, he’d say. We started calling him Dwayne “the vanished” but all he’d say after a while was, You’ll see. Why he decided to do it in the middle of the annual concert, we don’t know. And for that we were sorry (or at least I was). Sometimes we watch the video. It’s always so quiet when we do as if making a noise will change the outcome. You’ll see, somebody will mutter after it's over, and we’ll laugh nervously, but Dwayne is vanished and our fun just feels mean.

***

Unarmed by Johanna

“Put your hands up where we can see them,” they yelled.

I froze. My eyes darted around my torso trying to locate my hands. It was dark and difficult to see. Fireworks exploded above their heads. Hip-hop blared from speakers. The crowd circled and mumbled excitedly.

“Hands up,” they shouted.

But I had no hands. I had no arms either. I closed my eyes and tried to imagine the sensation of raising my hands, my arms lifting as if to take flight, my chest and heart rising with powerful intention. My arms could stretch far enough around to embrace the whole stadium. I could cradle them all. But only the corners of my mouth went up, in a smile.

I heard a screech. A woman nearby. The shrill in her throat broke me from my fantasy. My head flung up in alarm before I fell down from the impact of their bullet piercing my chest.

***

Showdown by Forrest

Orangeboy's sack had life, and when the crowd drew away from us, we all understood its terrible silence. Only Yellowgirl remained with him and me in the center, almost lost in the smoke machine smoke descending. The band had quit their drum solo to watch closely, too, see who would really show here. And I had thought I had—because Orangeboy's got his arms concealed under that ill-fitting sack like Clint Eastwood's spaghetti western poncho. My moves get Yellowgirl into mine, though, shocked as she was. She said thanks. Didn't mean it. A shower of glitter fell, a pyro column went off, someone in the crowd yelled something regrettable, forgettable. Yellowgirl started reaching. She wanted Orangeboy despite me holding her back. The noise made him into just another balloon we knew would disappear soon, maybe forever. I'd try to make her grateful for the crowd's parting so we could watch him leave, but the band started up again, pointing their guitar frets at something else to take his place. The crowd knew this show wasn't going to happen.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Tunnel


Tunneling by Alan

Hold your breath, he said. This contest had been a source of instigation as a child, burrowing into the mind like a thief’s magnifying glass or an engine’s purr. And if it were a true getaway, he would most assuredly lose…either because of the occasional cigarettes or the exhaustion and lack of sleep. For months at a time it would be three to four hours max. And then a week would end and he’d find himself hibernating for days. These kinds of massive runs became the norm. While in it, he’d continue to dream of epiphany. She cleansed his hands when he was young, offered a glimpse into her room, etc. The words she wrote excited him when he found them discarded on her driveway at thirteen. He stole them too, like the other things. Went out for late night joy rides. Ended up crossing over into the city of lights. The only thing separating one place from another was one fleeting length of breath. The lights blurred intentions while he counted: 36, 37, 38…she wasn’t in the car, but he imagined she was. She and everybody else in the city, the world. Look what I can do. I can make it all the way through.

***

First Day by Johanna

Although her future resided at the end of the tunnel she was reluctant to discover it. As her car whizzed through the noxious cavern, she noted the doorways amongst the white subway tiles and the concrete steps that lead up to them. She imagined the car halting, an accident up ahead. She imagined jumping from the vehicle, tearing her uniform plaid skirt and white button-down, slipping through one of those doors. A series of farther tunnels beyond, she’d find her way in the damp dark, tripping over rats until she discovered a society of rebels unfit for the world of comfortable conformity where she could shave her head and get in raging fights and drink until she puked. But the car kept zipping through the tunnel, the glare of lights passing one after the other until they merged into one. That was all she could hope for, the years to pass quickly until she could get the hell out of boarding school.

***

One Last Piece of Cake by Bill

They asked me to come home when they found Lawrence dead in his cell. I had never actually been there. It was never home, but it was where we were all from.

I’d only paid attention to what was happening from afar. I didn’t get close and I had not reached out to anyone. The call did not come as much of a surprise. I had wanted to stay distracted but distraction is always the easiest way to get mixed up in the things you have no interest in being a part of, so I packed a bag, filled up the tank, and drove back. The lights in the tunnel appeared green but I saw phosphorus and barium tracers in the spectrometry of the air as the bulbs whipped passed. I haven’t the slightest clue how to recognize synesthesia or where to go to get it tested. Maybe its just intuition.

Still once I got out the other side of the tunnel I pulled over at an all-night dinner with a pay-phone outside that in the middle of nowhere made for a convenient place to call Sally with an address and a few thoughts and then stepped inside for a cup of coffee and a slice of cheesecake. It is important to appreciate those things in life that make you happy when you might never have another chance to enjoy.

It is also important, on a personal level, that when I’m about to become a part of things I am not interested in being a part I have got Sally at my hip.

***

Phobia by Lyle

As they entered the tunnel, somehow, he felt, he’d been in this tunnel for a long time. “A long time,” of course means different things to different people in different situations and upon reflection he wasn’t so sure it wasn’t “a long time” after you wake up buried in a coffin (though dead is dead, right?). Not that he had ever been afraid of confined spaces — claustrophobia, someone one said. Yes, not that he had ever been claustrophobic. But sometimes these things happen, right? Go to bed one night and the next day you’re homophobic or whatever. (Homophobia is more of a hatred, he mused later. Based on fear, maybe, but not like acrophobia or agoraphobia or — but that’s not really important. Just a way to pass the time.) What’s important is that he felt confined. And that’s why what happened next happened next. That’s why he’s telling you this story about a tunnel. And none of it makes any difference in the least.

***

Middling by Forrest

Often you're taking me where I know you don't know where you're going, unless we're in a tunnel. Let it ride, you say, we can't get lost—either way, out the other side we go. Or we stop in the middle, I add. You can't fathom why. No one stops in a tunnel. You can't even remember the last time you say a car break down in a tunnel lane, forcing its occupants to walk the remainder. So I imagine tunnels, like this one, have perfect operating records in getting people to the other side, no matter what. Even if they walk it. The only problem is everyone zooming by. Because they know where they're going. They can't stop until the other end; and everyone else wishes they had gone in the other direction instead, though they still keep going. Don't wish in the middle if you have to, I want to say, finally recognizing which direction you think you're taking me.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Chopping Block


Stasa's Husband by Bill

Ivo, the big Czech sits at his desk, half-cocked out from underneath its surface with one leg thrust into the walkway. He just doesn’t fit under the space he's so big. His eyes studied the proofs from the most recent set of pages for the issue, layered across the workspace in front of him.

His hand almost mechanically dips into the re-used yogurt quart at the corner of the desk as his eyes break down the contacts. He pulls up one of the homemade pickled beets. He had made all of his money, but still he brings these beets every day and the thought of retiring wasn’t something you could expect him to entertain. That stock of once oppressed immigrant shot through with a pure love of earning a dollar. The shine of capitalism forever dazzling in their eye. And as no one would have thought to try and force him out - his vision maybe slightly hampered by a need for reading glasses but had otherwise remained almost superhuman. Ivo could have drawn the exact shape of the sun. He knew when the color coming off the proofing printer was starting to weaken, to call out micro-shifts needed by the retouchers - two points of black down here, bump up four points in magenta there.

He honestly made probably half his money from being hired by printer manufacturers to test and calibrate their latest machines. The only real issue was you didn’t want to get caught in the bathroom with him. Those beets weren’t doing anyone any favors.

***

The Blood and the Body by Alan

Evidence is a sequential organism plucked from its soil. It has pace, tone, feel, stem. Years. It was a child once. Its head will peek out from a hole. Maybe a garden. Who knows what lurks below.

The human, like an iceberg or certain vegetables, will hover years in this very predicament, in charge of its almost undoing. When it does finally happen, it might be “knife.” But more likely something that stops the magic internally. The body, skinned, has layers like a universe. Like a bloody red universe. That stains the hands of the creator as it is handled and everything else with which it comes in contact.

Someone will put all of this together if someone cares to look.

***

Beets by Forrest

Beets are blood, but he brought them home anyways. Need them for their hearts, for the working parts others wouldn't have. He cooked them all—only at night, so the neighbors could sleep—and let the stain fill him up to the bedsheets. Everyone who was invited saw. A record exists of containment and measurements but he is sure he will lose it later. If he hasn't already. Beets take up enough space as it is. All they have is each other. He considers a new cutting board. In the morning, trails on the linoleum with their gruesome little footsteps dragging themselves. He fears the neighbors will be suspicious should they look through the window. They will offer a knife to come inside, perhaps, and say their daughter has recently divorced, but is looking again.

***

Cut by Lyle

Cut. Cut. Cut. It wasn’t like it hadn’t happened before. Was it? Who knows. Nothing ever seemed like it happened before. Or did it? Maybe everything felt like it happened before. He felt pretty sure that this had. This drink. This little bit of booze. And the chopping. Always the chopping. He remembered that. Every weekend. Cut. Cut. Cut. Every weekend hoping that the weekend would not end. Cut. Cut. Cut. How many weekends he cut out of his life. How many times he cut himself out of his weekend. How many times he said “weekend.” How many times he cut, cut, cut. Now that he was counting, it was worse. He imagined more cutting. And he tried to stop imagining, but, of course, when you start trying to stop thinking about stopping you think of a pink elephant that stops thinking. Like a smear of blood across a glass slide. It’d happened a whole lot. They said beet red, but it’s more of a purple, all told. Over and over. It had happened. It had happened.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Smokey Creek Cafe


Out through the In Door by Alan

Walking in as if the sky never ended, the young man acknowledged to himself that the functionality of time might be lifted if everyone in the room carried with him or her a kind of nod of silent consent. Then the sky and gravity and purpose, the physiognomy of existence even, might shift. And like a great and mighty tectonic plate, a life would overlap with another’s. A wave would lick a pier. Two wings would collapse the light over the earth for, let’s say, prey. Day would turn into night, literally, and the darkness would be lit with the fire of life without borders, history, limitation, or rhyme.

This was the end of summer, of course, and his friends were not there yet. It was in these moments of waiting for something or someone when his mind would race with what might be called absurd or tinged with neon or dandy or whatever his parents would murmur when he was younger in that other language. No good guys or bad guys. Just life. Stepping back outside the door now, he imagined the entire edifice extending an arm around the ghost of him and everybody else in that world of right now and snapping a quick, innocuous selfie before slipping inside to smoke and mirrors.

***

Burn Against, Speak After by Bill

You know my name. But please, don’t speak it out loud.

And of course, no pictures. Nice enough place here. Quiet, and unlikely. The people seem fine, if hushed and dark, so you have to follow lines of pale light above your head to find the way outside again, but maybe that’ll keep the Wing Grave away.

Our expectations tend toward an irrational awareness, a failed perception of the nature of the people near to us, and the nearer they are the poorer our expectations become as we expect them know us better. Take the manager here, in love with the bartender. I order another bourbon and leave a five on the counter with my current number written on it.

Desire is the enemy of precision. Madness the only bridge between the two.

I let it ring when the bartender calls and go back toward the cabin. Alone all I can do is stare at the moon and hope I don’t pass out drinking too much champagne in the hot tub. Together we could dance in the firelights, listening as the roof buckles and the flames burst through and the low echoing chirp rumbles in the woods as morning comes bringing the Wing Grave.

***

Dry Creek by Johanna

It was dim and uncertain and he took her hand anyway relieved when she didn’t pull away though his palm began to moisten and stick uncomfortably but she held fast until he gave her a little squeeze and released, that one touch being enough to satisfy him for a time, to assure him that she was still there because although she sat beside him day in and day out, he couldn’t really see her if seeing is truly understanding as she remained an enigma to him and with his other hand he lifted the mug to his mouth and looked up at the mirror behind her where he could see the back of her head blocking out all of his reflection but his eyes and the rim of the mug and he saw for a second that she wasn’t actually there at all, she had been replaced by a more obscure form so he dropped his glass and stood to leave, but she cried out, “Where are you going?” and he said, “I thought it was real, but it’s not real. It’s all dried up. There’s nothing left of us. We’re crackling dirt searching for rain,” surprised that he spoke in metaphors because it wasn’t really like him but it was the first thing he thought of when it came time to explain his sudden departure: the arroyo he used to explore in as a child and the day the rains came and he ran for his life from the flash floods and how the next day there was nothing again, only dark clay – she seemed to understand this though she was from some other world where creeks never dried up, and she nodded her head in agreement, so he left, he left her sitting there alone, the back of her head nodding.

***

Wash by Lyle

The smoke won’t wash off, he said to me. But I knew it already. My clothes, my skin, even my eyes were a washed out gray. Sometimes I would stand in the room, very still, and people would file right by me as if I wasn’t there. My nostrils, clogged with skin-like layers, smelled only the smoke but I wouldn’t have changed any of that. I sleep in a smokey room at the Dry Creek Cafe. I drink beer in the smokey room there. I am part of the smoke now, ethereal and thick. I know, I said to him, but he was gone already.

***

Dry Creek Cafe by Nicole

It really doesn’t matter if I’m on the inside or the outside of this bar. I adjust the rearview mirror to check my makeup and attempt to move my bangs, but my fingers are caught in the too stiffly curled hair Jamie teased up an hour ago. The makeup on my face feels heavy and Halloweenish. I shift my knees back and forth to try and adjust my shirt, but my heel hits the brake and red light illuminates the cars parked in the grass lot behind me. The waist of Jamie’s skirt is cutting into the skin around my stomach and I want to unbutton it so I can take a breath. I imagine the irritated red line the waistband will leave on my skin. Jamie’s clothes are always two sizes smaller than what a rational person would wear. I click and unclick the windshield wipers and watch the clock. Why do I always seem to be fifteen minutes early? I should be fifteen minutes late. Make the guy think I’m not coming. Out of washer fluid I move to the blinker and shift the turn signal from the right to the left side of the car. In the dusk the yellow light reflects off the windows and chrome bumpers of the other cars. I want to leave. I run through a list of excuses. A sudden headache? Stomach flu? Food poisoning? I raise the stakes. Make a more believable story so Jamie will stay off my back. Maybe I hit a dog on the way over and have to rush him to the emergency vet and wait for his family to come. I could send a message to the guy through Facebook telling him I am so sorry and I will call him when I get a chance. Is that too much? I could always say I didn’t see him there. Say I looked and no one was wearing the John Deere hat he described on the phone. Jamie would be disappointed, but I could take a hot shower and put on reasonably sized clothes. What does it matter? I jam my fingers under the waistband of the skirt to pry it from my stomach. Move to fix my stiff itchy hair. I turn the ignition off. Ten more minutes of waiting.

***

There There by Forrest Roth

When he met her there there was nothing but smoke there there even a Sorry For Our Smoke sign with bar girl making extra round to wipe off the residue that smoke accumulates there there by the grace of god go I there there amongst them but it's not so bad there there being a new state law now clearing the smoke so he could see her there there she wanted to be with him eating fried catfish and drinking longnecks by the dock there there he sat coughing in front of her wanting badly to explain he deserved his coughing and what was following very closely behind it but much rather hear her voice inflect there there settling in his last good bronchiole the speck.