Saturday, July 4, 2015

Toad


Anacoluthon by Alan

When Aram Zohrab woke one day from deep in the reverie of the much-longed-for-and-recently-realized kiss, he found himself changed into a knobby and irreconcilably amphibious toad. The path that led to this discovery was, it seems, the only point. And a man becomes a toad as if a toad becomes a man. And a frog becomes a ravine in the way that I think I love impossible you and will always love the idea of.

The first thing he did that day was consider the circumstances. Like other sudden discontinues, there is no other way to say it. No familial dream, no going backwards in a fairy tale. The water flows one way and inside the most sensitive cavity an aching transformation.

The rest is, as one likes to say, historians, not so much history. He thought about the kiss much, the lips, interruption. We’re always interrupting or interrupted, aren’t we? We shift through points of view only to arrive at a single moment whose beak is both lovely and sharp, whose feathers for fancy and flight. When Aram Zohrab woke that day, he found himself. Still, but no lay trap. Just a refocusing, a conflagration of the soul in order to understand this desire, which is always reason enough.

***

She Tells the Houseguest by Sherisse

That still she derives some pleasure from knowing this man even though she can no longer sit in the same room with him or listen to the sound of his voice. She has had to make his aches and pleasures irrelevant. But she keeps him near her neck and ear and she imagines that he whispers something about Césaire or Tranströmer in the middle of the night because he suspects that she is particularly interested in the aesthetics of loneliness and in her mind, or someplace, they go on together about what is real and where the real resides. The conversation was charged, made her spine light up like a thing on the brink of death.

He was the kind of would-be lover who could, without knowing it, make her feel acute grief and if not grief then pure and pungent longing. She would tell him this; she knew that he was amused by it. And once they walked together along that stretch of highway where all things appear trapped beneath the earth and asphalt and on and on that summer just after the baby, several babies not belonging to each other, were born.

And all the items that once must have belonged to nature, or the absence of it, the possibility of it, now organized themselves into shapes not that orient but that absorb noise and imagination and all the rest of it. She had asked this before: what would be there now if they returned to it, what odd creatures and non-native trees and what stars and what atmosphere of innocence and would it be enough to get them lost in that whisper just under the things not said.

The actual lines were strewn throughout the house, the fragments and notes and bits of his beard. The awkwardness of sudden closeness, like looking into a mirror and seeing your own ghost. The shock, finally, of his presence. How visible she had made herself.

But now she was repeating things. The houseguest with the toad around his neck had said nothing this whole time, not even when desperate she asked like a sick child for a cure. He inquired instead about her dreams. He was interested in the dialogue and laundry of sleep. She was suddenly possessive, unable or unwilling to give anything away. She didn’t have the courage to apologize. In this country there could be no proof of his ever having been there. The houseguest would have to leave and return empty-handed.

***

Conviction by Forrest

Toads are not the best of animal friends one can stumble upon in the forest primeval, but sometimes it's best to make a go of things with them when you're lost because ugliness, too, is entertaining: it makes you feel less stupid for getting lost in the first place. The rough part comes when you unlose yourself by finding a cabin inhabited by a pair of convicted criminals on the lam. Taken by surprise, they'll see you with the toad in hand and ask, Whatchoo doin with that toad in your hand, mister? Now since you may not know that these two are escaped cons (though the matching jumpsuits are trying to tell you otherwise), you would be inclined to say, Bad luck repellant; however, following a newfound instinct being slowly sharpened by your current predicament of walking lost in the woods, you say instead, That's between me and my toad. The entreaty of privacy, though resembling zoophilia somewhat, could, in fact, earn you a certain respect with these two—and sure enough, it does. They start laughing wildly. A stupid question to begin with. We're all friends now! Bring the toad inside—we got plenty a dead bugs for it. You politely turn down the offer. It's getting dark, you explain, and you've been wandering lost long enough. It's time to get home. They stop laughing. The short one looks at the tall one, and it's the tall one says, This is your home. It occurs to you then that these are the handsomest strangers you've ever been suspicious about. Maybe the tall one is right. One place is good as another, and you seem to forget at that moment any of the former comforts you enjoyed at wherever you were living before you got lost. You're just as handsome as these two men—perhaps more so since, unlike them, you have a full head of wavy hair. Three handsome men living in a cabin in the woods. There's a poetry to this scenario you can't recall from something you've read before, but it doesn't matter. Feeling a tinge of jealousy, you place the toad on the ground; immediately it bounds away from you. The short one slaps you on the back. Tells you it'd be happier outside instead. You would very much like to believe him as you walk up the wooden steps to the entrance with the tall one right behind you, watching the toad knife into the bushes from the clearing, but the cabin feels so much warmer. There's a fire waiting inside. Yes, there must be.

***

As Earth Had Shaped Them by Bill

Simple and shaped by calm as the rolling of stones through the ages of the earth, collecting rainwater in time’s basement, listening as it flows down the face of the rock, seeps through the stone to drip a far falling echo when it lands, the humming murmuration of it in the pipes once the walls have closed in on mornings framed by progress. Understanding taking the shape of people, mimicking their behavior while struggling to act in accordance with the rough chaos of their logic. A quiet response to a call it took a long time to make. There is a bit of the stretch left and the frustration of hope.

***

Qualia by Lyle

The old toad froze, contemplating, one might imagine, life. Not in that fight-or-flight way of most amphibians but in another way all together. Considering the afterlife, such that it is (it is!), of a toad. Surely swampy. Filled with those fast moving challenges to satiation -- making them all the more tantalizing and rewarding (one might say, more heavenly, even). Or perhaps we image this old toad contemplating the wind-skimmed, fractured reflection of the pond. What would it be like to hop on a ray of light? What is this qualia qua qualia that is perhaps something other than just fight or flight. What is this leaping sensation?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Sugar, Chef's Quality


Maybe, Sugar by Alan

Sweetness, why do we sway in the trees so? Where is it that those sudden wings fold in genuflections over hidden earths? What is it that the thirsty man said to the breeze before it lifted his desire and turned it into a dove?

This month we want nothing but questions, for the child has not yet begun to read. One might be a photograph, a play of light. Another the trace of a breast. There are things sought after in this world, and there are things that never leave one’s side. This is a kind of maxim he will most assuredly learn, another punctuation mark with which he will fall in love.

Can we meet again? At the end of this month. At the counter where we first met. I’ll be done with a set of words and walking home. It will be spring, finally. I will stare through the glass and look for you amongst the faces. There we will find a space in the dark to exchange dresses. I always thought there was a chance that you were the voice I spoke to long ago, the one in the perhaps dream. What is it about memory that leaves certain probable holes - space for the tasting, taste for lasting – that are inevitably filled with sugar, more sugar? I will meet you there.

***

Some Other Ghost by Sherisse

Over crepes, Ellie said that she believed her husband was falling in love with me and asked whether I, too, was falling in love with him. There were pink peonies on the table that looked as though they had just bloomed. Outside it was hot and we’d agreed we would sit indoors where it was air conditioned. We were both wearing dresses that covered our knees. I laughed when I heard the question, or just a moment after. Ellie’s face grinned but only slightly. I looked over at the bar and the band performing Chris Isaak’s, Wicked Game. I noticed how few people were dining at this early hour on a weeknight. I was chewing and pointed at my mouth to indicate that I would answer her question but needed more time. Her gaze was fixed on me but friendly. It was as though she’d just asked for something that belonged to her and was simply waiting, patiently, for me to retrieve it.

We'd been seeing each other, the three of us, for several weeks. I wasn’t yet sure if this was a relationship, if I would even call it that, nor what was expected of me. And it was that thing – expectation – which I had been trying to deflect since the first conversation. I had wanted to be a passerby, or a participant from a distance. But now we were here, she and I, on a date that started with a stroll through Chelsea and would end with a kiss on the Highline. We hadn't gotten to that part yet. Soon we would order coffee. The coffee would arrive in bowls. She would add sugar to hers and I would have mine unsweetened. This detail seemed to signify some greater difference: the fact that Ellie had a husband and I did not or, perhaps more accurately, that she had made a choice to become someone’s wife whereas I had not ever believed I could fully inhabit such a thing.

Eventually some words strung themselves together. “I may be falling in love with him,” I said, “but we can’t yet know what is reality and what is fantasy.” I paused there. Ellie seemed satisfied as she exhaled. I thought her satisfaction might have more to do with the fact that she had asked the question in the first place, found a confidence she didn’t know she possessed.

After the Highline I found my way back to my Queens apartment. In the soothing dark I wept for some past not yet washed away or disposed of or gone. It was as if Ellie had asked what other secrets I'd been keeping. I hadn't realized I'd been keeping any at all. I may have been falling in love with her husband – with her, even – but there was some other ghost. I took the peonies home with me that night, not the flowers themselves but a photograph. I would go on looking after them in solitude as if they were an extension of our own – Ellie’s and mine – forgotten, or lost, beauty.

***

Sweet Tea by Lyle

Sweet tea with Susie under the pecan trees in the afternoon when it was still not so hot to sit out under the trees and drink sweet tea with Susie. But that was some time ago before the rain. Before the rain was sweet tea with Susie. And then the rain left us separated; a rain is a sliver that separates. A woodpecker in the savaged trees. The foreignness of bridges. Homes stolen for bridges. Sweet Susie under a pecan tree, still under, where I drive a nail into the trunk and think about sweet sweet tea with Susie. No more with sweet Susie.

***

Sweetness by Johanna

For the first eighteen years, I lived in a marsh. We ate rice, mushrooms, watercress, fish, frogs and ducks. My skin flaked with green scales. I made friends with flies and lizards. My eyes yellowed and twitched.

I picked my mom a bouquet of asters, marigolds and rose mallow. They dried to dust under the window. The only music I knew came from my dad's fiddle and he never played it very well. I found a magazine once at the side of the old county road. The pages torn and wrinkled from rain. I brought it home and hid it under my pillow. At night I searched the pages in the moonlight. It was all about cars. Red cars. Fast cars. Electric cars. Trucks and wagons. I was shocked to learn that people cared so much for cars. So much that a whole magazine could be devoted to them. We never had a car. Only a row boat.

My dad found the magazine and burned it in the yard with the trash.“It's just trash,” he said. “You don't need to be reading that junk.” I couldn't read anyway.

Then there was the fisherman. He called me pretty. News to me. He saw that I was feral and he pulled prizes from his pocket. A wooden token, paper clip, pen cap, rubber band, glass bead-- his pocket seemed infinite-- brass key, earring, button, broken chain, and the best prize of them all, a dirty, torn packet of sugar.“Try it,” the fisherman said.

He took me away that night and I never returned. I had never known such sweetness.

***

After a Dying Ray by Bill

It’s a sweet chance and we had to take our shot. The train was getting ready to leave, ahead of schedule, a bit of secret advance we’d managed to scrap up. Normally we were all thumbs on the pulse of things, and our hearts were never that strong to begin with – often we got knocked out before we even knew we didn’t know anything. But the train was a change and the train was the whole bowl of wax where it wouldn’t matter why we couldn’t hack it. If we got this one thing right, had a choice between the convalescent and the moribund then it was worth it to take a roll of the bones and see if it came up white.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Journey to the Center of the Earth



Options by Alan

It was 1995, and the world seemed fine. After they got off the plane, the boys rented a car to find James, who was said to be at the Peace Festival at the foot of the range. A totem of sorts. Some place where the placards would go. A makeshift town circle. These were the notes. See you there in the morning.

For city folk, the mountains aren’t that unfamiliar. The steel is traded for soil…the height is still an inclination to believe in God. People still like to climb. The smells are different. That’s about it, might be a conclusion. But for suburbanites, there is something alien in the purity. A shameful dislocation for at least one in the group. He did not mention it to the others.

The mission to find James began with a map, several hoods, understanding of one’s breath at these heights, and ended with a tent tucked into the folds of the earth. He was with a lover, and so easily he made his departure, as if it were premeditated by at least one of the two of them. Then the options. Boys always like to believe in options. It’s almost as if their world depended on the right to view the land, the world even, from some serious and foreign height. They wore boots for it. They came prepared for what they thought was necessary, part of the deal.

For a moment, everything was still, and something felt familiar. It may have been the way the clouds descended over the tip of the thing and came to a spot just above the heart. And the way what was below was firm and hard. The top, the thinking, a mystery. The ground, an exhortation, a plea. Somewhere in between blood and guts. Branches reaching for understanding.

James placed a hand on a shoulder. Let’s get out of here, one of them said, the words like striations of earth carving out the landscape, which was otherwise miles of intractable snow.

***

Eloquent Disappearance by Sherisse

They could see from the bedroom window that the light had changed and the sun had started to set. Although she couldn’t navigate very well in the dark, not even with her glasses on, they decided to take the drive anyway. She had wanted to see The Cloisters, she said. She had not visited the gardens in over a decade and she missed their private and quiet beauty. She had not intended to arrive necessarily; she knew they might have to turn back. She wanted at least to experience the drive and, if lucky, to experience the reconfigured landscape, even if only from a distance, to rearrange the body according to elevation. To fall, obedient. She had kissed her first lover there (in a parked silver Honda beside the museum), a French-speaking girl several years older. In the middle of that darkness existed a more subjective longing and she wanted to go back to it again, to show him its lush and organized interior. There she had known, felt more directly, the true clasp of desire: they had fogged the windows and laughed, taken their clothes off and climbed on top of each other. This – the drive on this particular night – felt like a study, an academic experiment. There was the timing to mind, the now unfamiliar road, the limited light and all the other facts, how the car would have to be parked – and then what? She had pondered these things prior to the climb with him. Earlier, she had pressed her mouth to his fingertips and tasted into despair, into their needing a way out of stillness, the pursuit of some less linear ascent. They had agreed: if the top of the park was reached, they would not abandon each other. Instead, at the point of entry, they would disappear – one and then the other or both simultaneously – and they had discussed how the signage on the road would fall from view, all forms of report. The days between then and now would stretch sorely into some lovely birth, a more endless reflexive looking. Into their unspoken words, a timid light would pour. “Try it,” she had said, the mouth already filling with absence, folding in like a loose and tender leaving. The car would remain in neutral; some previous and perfect version would find the evening, reach in to rescue the blessedness of its architecture.

***

Past Due by Johanna

The only skin exposed burned at the top of his cheeks where the eyes begin their thoughtful burrow into the skull. The blowing snow pounded on his chest (his heart just a mumble) so that he had to hold his head down to withstand the force. This was the way home, or so he hoped. The landscape barren of markers, a white horizon blurred with the sky. He turned left at the last sign of civilization long ago and followed the sun (a muffled glow in the clouds that must be the sun) westward, back to her. He remembered her plum lips and the way she always kept a candle burning in the window for him. He shivered. His feet disappeared deep into the numb of snow. His pace slowed. He wondered if she’d ever forgive him.

***

Arms by Lyle

In the light of the TV, which flashed blue light across his legs outside the covers, he considered turning up the volume so he could hear what statistics they found about the batter. Maybe that the last time he was up and it was his birthday, he had hit a home run. Or had been beaned. Haha. Yeah, maybe that was it. What are the chances he gets beaned again? Very slim. Very slim that he would be here. Alone. Watching baseball. But there he was, a thousand miles from everything wishing that he wasn't. Somehow the tilt and pitch of the television light helped. Somehow the blur of arms and then getting ready again for the blur of arms... What was he thinking anyway? He sighed and turned off the TV. Outside, moonlight off the snow.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Two Chairs


Untitled by Sherisse

Someone in the house had just died. Dropped dead, in fact. In a closet of a bedroom with the clothes still hanging above, shirt sleeves hanging neatly from their hangers, dresses draped one each beside the other, no bodies inside of them, their colors and cotton, their simultaneous shape and shapelessness. In another room a couple was making love, their bodies clotted together, nude, out-loud moaning that puffed them up and colored their skin crimson, moaning that made the heart accelerate and the toes and fingers go numb, cold. From the center of the house, one could not gather, only guess, who they were; their anonymity had rendered them temporarily invisible or forgotten, and what was certain was that on this particular day they could not be known, not by their names or addresses or interests. The elegant pursuits and intricate schemes of the living: they didn’t matter now. What mattered were the items abandoned, the bag left on the bed, the upside down cups, two of them, the spaces that could not be occupied except perhaps by music, by space or emptiness itself, like a vitrine cleared of its contents, chairs reserved not for sitting but for some not yet fully formed future, some prognostication of sitting. The soul of these things. And the someones who occupied this day, their locutions, you might say they had been cruel and unnecessarily so. Their various vague and foreign disguises: moustaches, hats, trousers, footwear. There were no punched tickets in the pockets, only receipts collecting light creases, a little bit of lint.

***

The Lovers by Alan

Sometimes it takes a window to understand light. Sometimes it’s like I can’t believe I’ve been living in all this dark. It’s like what’s there, through curtain and glare, is a kind of fuzzy invitation to look inward and make sense (as in shadows, take inventory, check the mail) of the later frames.

The letters won’t read themselves, you know. It’s knowledge of the other that stands up the characters, aligns them with breath so that they rise and dip like a kite. Without is not tearing open. Without is just sky.

I want to tell you all why I left, but first I have to arrange the study. Then I will return to the table we inhabited and wait for the sun to go down. I will imagine us a pair of chairs separated by our desire for a sense of place. Here we are now. We offer the nape, half-lit, on the one end and then almost everything but some definition on the other. Be careful not to disturb the universe, my love. I will be careful not to disturb the universe.

Slowly the sequence to the season: Is there any other way? we think, on good days. Is there any other way? First to each other and then to ourselves. Moving in and then moving out.

***

Defying Evolution by Johanna

Charles Darwin invented the office chair. He placed wheels on the bottom of an ordinary chair. In this way, he could move faster from specimen to specimen. And so the chair evolved. Humans have evolved with the office chair. Necks and shoulders hunch over. Pelvis tilts back. Nerve compression in the lumbar. Pain in the coccyx. Muscle degeneration. Obesity. Early death.

“Sit anywhere you’d like.”

“I’d rather stand.”

I’ve given up chairs. Like some people give up chocolate or cigarettes, two vices of no interest to me. I’ll stand at counters. Eat at the bar. Type at my standing desk.

“Rest your feet.”

“I’m resting my tailbone.”

No one understands. My mother says I make her nervous, always hovering. In my office, I tower over cubicle walls. Co-workers hunch deeper as if hiding from me. My boss eyes me suspiciously. After work, I run ten miles. I eat one fish filet and one cup of salad. I sleep on my back.

“Have a seat.”

“No, thank you.”

I only sit in my dreams. There is a lounge chair. Plush and brown leather. It reclines. The chair is placed next to a window. The light comes in low and illuminates my elevated toes. I sink into the chair. The cushions fuse to my spine. I wake up restless and sweaty.

***

Minuteman by Forrest

For this work, meeting another morning, without him: notebooks, ledgers, the last legal pad she had from the office. A small table for that very reason. Imagining him seated before her with nothing else, no notes. Only what was inside him. He had experiences, once he recollected over trust fund certificates with his deceased wife's name, with another woman; and these she wrote down, instead of numbers, as numbers. Hotel rooms. Tallies. Barometer pressure. Algorithms forgotten. She hated them, all the numbers, and all their blind spots accordingly. The measurement of the inseam of his pants, for instance, the way he shifted. She saw it shift. It looked different at the table. All the numbers, these not belonging to him. All on the legal pad. He sold all the possessions. There was only the paperwork, and that in itself keeps the paperwork, she thought. Between them the little ill-stacked pile of All she tallies, trying to remember whether sunrise today is sooner or later by a minute.

***

I Know Where She Keeps the Key by Bill

The door closed behind me with the almost exact amount of force required in one quick touch to push it shut, overcoming the friction of the latch against the strike-plate and settle secure in the frame without undo noise on impact with the jamb. I did not remove my jacket or my scarf. The air in the apartment was warm and the discomfort and itchiness if I stayed too long seemed desirable, necessary. Deserved. The windows being closed kept a scent of toffee and clove in the place from candles I could tell let off their scent even when unlit.

I used scent in place of odor intentionally.

Though the actual consideration was fractional at best – happening in my mind in a sequence of calculations underwritten semi-consciously by what I am now reviewing in a somewhat reductive loop to attempt to unpack – it was consideration none-the-less of what I can only best describe as political mixed with personal appreciation. It was responsible and irresponsible. Hell, it was personal and odor felt too judgmental, like a mischaracterization.

The chairs too I am trying to decide between. What is it that I can infer from this? What is here? A single occupant at the table keeping the present focus in front of them and the less exacting concerns at arms reach? Or were there two?

Which didn’t push the chair back in? And the table. Is there a folder on that table with briefs on pending legislation? Committee and donor dossiers? Is there a ledger of clients? A calendar with regular appointments, doctors visits? How closely does one profession mirror the other on paper and how silly of me to have never realized before.

***

It's almost as if... by Lyle

It. Is. Almost as if something started here with people. But there's nothing that has to make it that way. Residue, invisible, of human-ness like sallow, sick fucking ghosts who were never human to begin with.

Let's start over.

Sometimes in the right light, I can barely see him and sometimes in the right light I can still... It doesn't matter anymore anyway.

The Singularity occurs every day. Every goddamn day forever.

Sometimes a pile of books on a table is just some books someone doesn't want to read even though they tell you that they do. It's not about desire so much as it is about comprehension. You moron.

And people in general. You know what they're like. People. Hellish. You understand, don't you?

What was your name again? I don't remember anymore. But there you are. In the window. In the wind. Disappeared.

It's almost as if things get away from you and no matter how hard you try you can't get them back.

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.

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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.

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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.