Summer Vacation by Anne B Wright

Daytime summers in southern New Mexico are brutal. Hot. A filmy layer of gritty dust settled on the tiled floor but I laid down on it anyway, just to feel something cooler than the air. This way I could see the spider webs in the corners where the walls met the ceiling. Even they were coated with bits of dust.

I looked forward to the evening when I could sit outside, under the roofed patio and watch the rain move across the desert, throwing up billows of dust in its path, flashes of lightning streaking the pastel violet sky.

Once I sat on the patio in the rain and I saw a dog walk toward me on long skinny legs. His paws were oversized and his eyes shone amber, or was it the setting sun reflecting sparks of yellow light? The dog plodded across the yard and sat in front of me, his long red tongue drooping from between white teeth, and sat his skinny haunches not ten feet from me.

I’d been drinking a beer from a glass and the sight of this dog froze me, my elbow bent, my lips wet with the sour beer taste. I thought I heard him say something but he was a dog, or was he a coyote, and I was a person, and I didn’t understand it. He lowered his head, and licked his paw, and I could see a spot of bright red blood between his toes.

I set my glass on the table and got up from my lounge, and a step at a time approached him. He let me come near and as I bent down, my hand outstretched, palm down to stroke him under his chin, he settled with a plop on his side and showed me his belly. Oh poor boy you have a thorn. I smoothed his paw in mine and picked with my nails until the sharp cactus spike fell onto the ground. The rain closed in on us, pellets of heavy water everywhere, and I watched him walk away until I could only see the white tip of his tail, disappearing into the dark.

All Writing is Confession by Anonymous

All writing is confession.
Masked and revealed in the voices and faces of our characters.
All is hunger.
The longing to be known fully and still loved. The admission of our own inherent vulnerability, our weakness, our tenderness of skin, fragility of heart.
Our overwhelming desire to be relieved of the burden of ourselves in the body of another — to be forgiven of our ultimate aloneness in the warm body of god or the common work of revolution.
These are human considerations that the best of writers presses her finger upon. The wound ruptures…

and heals.

………………….Note from the editor…………………….
Though this piece does not fall into the traditional definition of short fiction, it is an offering, an interruption of services so to speak in support of writers. And it is beautiful, no?
–Curly Red.

The Old Guy Who Used to Drink My Coffee by Zachary Fishel

Flat rimmed glasses rested on the crescent moon of a nose he had plastered on his face. He smoked three packs a day and rarely read anything other than hunting magazines, but he sat here in the library for hours in the steady hum of fluorescent lights and bleached floors. I often looked at the old man from the tops of the spines of Kerouac, Keats, and Twain because there was a mystery about him, like he was expelled from college for being too brilliant. His voice was raspy like Tom Waits if he drank sandpaper martinis, and he never checked anything out just read it in the library minding to return it to its proper place like a crooked necktie after the final page was turned.

Sometimes I could hear him muttering curses at the outdoor writers, like a 1970’s cynic pissed off about the latest critique of Howl. I brought the old man coffee, even though I never got a thanks. Most days I felt like a secretary bringing it to him, just doing what was needed done.

That old man died one day walking home with all of his bags. He was hit by a pickup full of returning college students. The write up in the paper said he was homeless, and that there was nobody to notify of his death. I called the morgue and volunteered to write his eulogy.


“Readers never forget that the worms always win, but they can’t touch the soul.”

Sometimes There Just Aren’t Enough Rocks by Zachary Fishel

I just wanted to know how she could hate me so much when all I ever wanted was to hold her like a magician in the inky nights of a January, unforgettable. I wasn’t a sweet reliable machine, but a broken mess like cigarette filters turned over in cans outside of courtrooms.

“I loved you, you know?” She said this in between sips of hot chocolate at a Starbucks across town, I walked through fifteen blocks to see her kick me in the face with those perfect Pointe toes. I loved her, more than any neo-theologian loved their self-made God, more than candy on Halloween and I just wanted to figure out how such a delicate flower could wield teeth like barbed-wire fences at Auschwitz, where snagging skin was the only love making available.

Nothing really happened so I told her that I hoped she had a good life, sorry things didn’t work, and drive safe. That last part was a lie, I wanted her to wreck into a train or something because I hated her for lying. I took her engagement ring back, All 900 dollars of it, and bought a mandolin, some books by Kerouac, and a bottle of rye whiskey that’s still unopened in the freezer. The end of the day went fine. I learned good poetry leads to bad breakups and sometimes you can’t give enough heart to someone with a concrete body.

Love Your Endowments by Stacey Dennick

Emily lifted up her t-shirt.  “Go ahead,” she said.  “Take a look.”

Where her breasts should have been, used to be, were twin scars, slanted like closed eyes.

“Can I touch?”  I asked.


I brushed a fingertip against the taut skin, my throat tightening with tears.  Another woman in the hallway stopped to see what we were doing.  Soon, she and several others from this retreat for women with cancer were exposing their chests, comparing, witnessing.

“Now let’s see yours,” Emily said.

I unhooked my bra and lifted my shirt.  A five-inch scar ran the length of my right breast, puckering the skin.   Once again, I was embarrassed by my extravagant endowment.  Some of these women had nothing, and here I was worrying about a scar.

“This is a scar,” Eva said.  She pulled her shirt up and her pants down to reveal a fat scar that split her belly in two, from just under the sternum to the top of her pubic bone.  She’d had colon cancer.

But the size of the scar wasn’t the point. I would rather have scars all over me than lose a breast.  A scar says accident, or surgical intervention.  A missing breast means you can never be naked again without screaming, “I had cancer!”  It scares people, and it’s not at all sexy.

I wasn’t one of those girls who anticipated the arrival of her chest, who couldn’t wait to be grown up.  One day a saleslady told me I needed a bra for Junior High and I wondered why.  The next, I filled a C cup.

“How did you get those scars?” my best friend said, indicating the cleavage popping out of my hot pink bikini.  She refused to believe the lines were stretch marks.

The agony and ecstasy of having big melons had begun.

At school, a boy that I had previously liked stared down my shirt and whispered to his friend in demeaning tones.  Grown men clicked their tongues and whistled.  Did they think I was a parrot?  By the time I was eighteen I filled a D cup.  I longed for perky, cupcake breasts, the kind that look great without a bra. No halter tops or strapless dresses for me, and forget about jogging.

Fibrocystic breast disease came later.   Painful mammograms turned to scary mammograms and then terrifying surgery.  I’d never been so glad to see leftie and rightie as when I woke up and felt them huddled together under the recovery room blanket.  When rightie healed enough for me to shower, I saw the scar that branded me as a “cancer survivor,” with its’ implied postscript of “For how long?”  How long until it returns, and an entire breast is removed?  How long until it spreads to my organs?  How long until I die like my mother did?

In the hallway at Harmony Hill Retreat Center, touching the spots where Emily’s breasts used to be, I wanted to cry for her, and for all the women who’d been mutilated, who like me, lived with fear and inadequate treatments.   Emily was stoic.  I hoped if I had to have a mastectomy, I would be too.

Ten years later my lumpectomy scar has faded until it’s barely visible amongst the stretch marks on my big, saggy, wonderful breasts.

I’ve learned breasts are like parents.  You don’t get to choose which ones you get.  You spend most of your life embarrassed by them, criticizing them and taking them for granted. They’re all imperfect, and some are deeply flawed, but when you almost lose one you really appreciate what you’ve got.

PEACE NOW by Anthony Christiansen

PEACE NOW the bumper sticker on her ’68 green Impala said in red, white, and blue.  Me and my hound Bobo were walking in the woods and came upon that mess of cars down by the Carmichael hay barn where the creek runs east.  Would’ve recognized it about anywhere, I figure.

The day Flower came by to pick up Bobby she’d just come back from that fancy girls’ college her daddy sent her to up North. Had to sneak over to our place when she came home at Christmas, too, because of what her daddy thought of Bobby. Looked all different with her tie-dyed shirt and blue jeans and moccasins and all. Tell the truth, I hardly recognized her. Bobby said she’d become a hippy up North. Standing there on the front porch, breeze dancing in her long blonde hair, throwing it in her face. Just smiled at Bobby, jingled her car keys at him.

Said I could come if I sat quiet in the back seat. Flower was driving and Bobby had a jar of that corn liquor from the Johnson still flickering like a diamond in the sunlight. He and Flower were sharing it and listening to Janis Something on the 8-track. Stopped down the river under the bridge going to Tuckersville. Smoking cigarettes and something else too. Smelled funny like when Daddy burns the fields.

Told me to stay in the car and listen to the music. They walked off a little way. I still remember them kissing while they took off their clothes. If I stretched over the seat I could see them squirming in the grass, naked and white as the clouds reflecting in the slow brown river. Looked like they were wrestling, but hell, what did I know? Was only six.

I never even saw them drive up, they were so hushed. Heard the shots and saw Flower’s daddy and her brother standing over the other side of the river. I stayed still and got myself real close to the floor. Just fired and turned around, got back into their red truck as quiet as they’d come. Never knew I was there.  All I remember is how quiet it got after those shotguns cracked through the woods,  Even the cicadas stopped their buzzing.  I knew I’d be okay if I could crawl up into that quiet and stay there.

Sat there about an hour that afternoon. Yep, same old car with the PEACE NOW sticker peeling off.  Here’s the ashtray with the cigarette butts. 8-track with the tape still sticking in it. Janis Joplin. Pearl. Smells the same too. Gasoline and red vinyl. All the same but for this moss growing on the dashboard and the rust on the hood out the cloudy windshield. Murky and heavy like my dreams when I get myself real tired. Oh, and look here, Bobo, here’s that old jar.

Walked home that afternoon when I realized Bobby and Flower weren’t getting up any more. Sheriff never knew what happened and they never even knew I was there, not even Momma and Daddy. Never dawned on them it could’ve been Flower’s daddy and brother. Momma and Daddy never knew why I’d stopped talking that day, just thought it was from missing my big brother, Bobby. Never spoke a word since. Never knew the car was over here.

Sometimes I see Flower’s daddy and brother over the Piggly Wiggly when I’m spending my food stamps. Just put my head down and keep on walking, crawling a little bit further up into the quiet. PEACE NOW.

Pumping at The Richfield by Debra Gordon Zaslow

I pull into the Shell station and edge my car up to the pump.  I always have to think which side my tank is on, which wrenches me out of the muddled reverie that my brain is in when I drive.  A young man in a red shirt leans toward me and says, "What can I get for you?"

I answer, "Fill it up with Ethyl."  He stares back at me blankly.  It is 2001.  He has never heard of Ethyl, and he doesn’t think I’m funny.

He never met George and his wife, Lee, the owners of the Richfield station on the corner of Nordhoff and Sepulveda  in the San Fernando Valley where I grew up. We knew them so well that nobody in our family even had to show them our Richfield Card.  "Just charge it to my parents,” I’d say breezily to George, as if he and Lee were our best friends and the station was in our back yard.

I don’t know how old George was. The Southern California sun had braised his cheeks brown and burnished lines into a web around his black eyes. He could have been Italian or Greek, but we didn’t know him that well. He was a compact man with short hairy arms who walked easy, like he owned his body. Not like my parents’ real friends who were pale and paunchy from sitting at desks and moved as if their bodies were rented equipment.

George and Lee lived outdoors and smelled of sweat and gasoline, an odor that still intoxicates me.   My first husband, a blond Lutheran man from a working class family as far from my Jewish, intellectual origins as possible, worked in a gas station the first year of our marriage.  He would come home at noon smelling of sour sweat and Ethyl gasoline, and we would make love before we ate lunch.

George’s wife, Lee, wore men’s trousers and a blue shirt, and carried an oily rag in her pocket to wipe oil from a dipstick before she leaned over and plunged it nonchalantly into an engine. Even in her boxy uniform, you could see her curvy shape, but she tucked her curves into her trousers as naturally as she eased that oily rag back into her pocket, with just the red end peeking out.  Lee’s face, like George’s, was tanned hard and rough like a piece of jerky, but she always rimmed her dark eyes thickly with Maybelline, and slicked her black hair into a pony tail, that swung with the rhythm of her walk.

I wonder now what Lee and George must have thought of my parents, who entrusted them totally with a series of Ramblers, DeSotos, and Lincoln Continentals. The Gordons, who gave their fashionably tanned teenage daughters their own cars as soon as they could drive, and instructed them to go to the Richfield station and tell George or Lee to charge it.  Maybe they didn’t think about us at all. They were busy changing oil and pumping gas, and letting the sun etch their faces.

      The Young attendant in the red shirt at the Shell station continues to stare at me.  I shrug, "I guess ‘Ethyl’ was before your time."  He smiles condescendingly, the way only a 19-year-old can, and rolls his eyes, just slightly.  I glance around.  Lee and George are nowhere to be seen.  They’ve probably gone home to rub their tough, oily skins together and make love before lunch. 

"Just fill it with regular unleaded," I say, " and put it on my Visa."

’57 Chevy by Debra Gordon Zaslow

My grandparents have come over to show us their new, ‘57 Chevy, smooth yellow, with glossy chrome trim. The San Fernando Valley heat rises off the sleek fins, as we stand at the curb and marvel.  My parents and sisters and I look like any suburban family. With our bright shorts and sunglasses, you could match us with any of the tract houses in “Storybook Lane,” where the floor plans repeat every fourth house. My grandparents don’t fit. Grandpa wears rumpled wool trousers and a long-sleeved shirt, while Grandma has on a worn flowered dress with a handkerchief tucked into the bosom.

She doesn’t approve of anything he does, but this extravagance has her really steamed. Grandpa, a solid man with a perpetual smirk and breath that smells of old cigars, lets us touch the white vinyl upholstery, roll the windows, and switch the radio to KRLA Top-40, while Grandma grumbles.

“Our legs vil stick to dat seat in dis heat,” she says, as if it were a slow death by a tropical disease. We ignore her as we explore the new Chevy.

“If he plays da radio ven vere driving, ve’ll get in an eccident.” When no one responds, she adds, “Dat’ll be da end of us.”

When we cram in for a test-drive, Grandma turns away. My father calls, “Come on, Ma, come with us!” He calls her Ma, although she’s my mom’s mother, and never raises his voice no matter how irritating she gets. I figure this is because he’s not related to her by blood.

Grandma glances back, and I see the flicker of a half-smile on her face. It would be fun, wouldn’t it, to squeeze in with your grandchildren in a new Chevy and careen around the block with the radio blaring? I think I see that on her face, but she smoothes her hair, and adjusts her face into a scowl. “Youse kids go if you vant. Hev a good time.”

After lunch when my friend, Bonnie, comes over to ask me to play, Grandma hollers, “Vere are you going?”

“To ride bikes.”

“You just ate. You desn’t go till you digest.”

“That’s swimming, Grandma, that can give you cramps. We’re bike riding, and I hardly ate anything.”

“You didn’t eat a helty lunch?”

“I am healthy, Grandma.” I glance at the screen door. Bonnie stands on the porch, out of Grandma’s view, her arms raised like claws, her teeth bared, “EAT HELTY,” She hisses, then clutches her side, giggling.

“I gotta go.” I try to keep a straight face.

“Take a jecket. You’ll get cold.”

“No, it’s hot out,” I say, knowing it’s useless to argue. Bonnie does a polar bear imitation on the porch, shivering. “Only NINETY DEGREES today under all this FUR,” she growls.

“Anyway, exercise is healthy, Grandma! See you later!”

She nods, but I know she’ll have the last word, “If you dunt get exxersize, honey, you’ll get fet, like your modder.”

I slam the door. Bonnie waddles on the porch, her hands circling her belly. “OY,  I VISH I GOT SUM EXXERSIZE,” she moans.

I hear my mother yelling from inside. I know she heard Grandma say she’s fat and now they’re going to go at it.

We push our bikes down the driveway, then hop on and start to pedal. Bonnie passes me, her hair flapping behind her like a flag. She balances on her seat, then shoots both hands out to her sides.

“Look, Ma, no hands!” she screams.

I hold on tight to both handlebars. If I let go, I know I will fall.

The Mexican Crib Crisis by Lupe Fernandez

October 1962- In a little brown house, Salvador, lying on his baby belly, turns face down. The crib mattress presses into his face. His breathing stops. In the living room, his parents watch a special television broadcast. His mother, Claudia, interprets the dire news into Spanish for her husband, Tomás. A black and white image of President John F. Kennedy announces the blockade of the Cuba to stop Soviet atomic missiles from sprouting on the former casino island paradise. Premier Khrushchev intends to keep his promise of burying America.

Salvador’s pressed lips dribble salvia onto a white bed sheet. If Salvador doesn’t start breathing in three minutes, his tiny brain will starve from oxygen deprivation. His chubby cheeks will turn blue and his heart will stop beating. He will be among the millions of babies who die mysteriously in the crib.

If neither Uncle Sam nor the Red Bear blink, a destroyer will be torpedoed or a submarine will be sunk in the warm, azure Caribbean waters. The missiles will fly and the nuclear equation will incinerate everything.

Salvador turns his head, flexes his tiny fingers and sucks in a gush of air.

The Russians dismantle their launch sites and go home. The Yankees promise not to invade Cuba.

The world breathes again.

Seven Days Ago by Lupe Fernandez

Seven days ago, a paroled pedophile was arrested for loitering at St. Augustus Elementary School. Seven days later, I was taking photos on a scorching summer afternoon Hermosa Beach, near the restored pier.  The black barrel my vintage 1988 Canon A-1 zoom lens focused on a sweaty man digging a hole in the sand. As I snapped the image, a four year old blond boy, face plastered with sand, crossed into view. Click.

“Excuse me.” A curly blond woman in a one piece black bathing suit padded up to me. “Who’re you with?” She smiled politely

“With?” Was she picking up on me? I looked at her and then my camera. “No. Not with a newspaper if that’s what you mean.” I cradled my Canon in both hands. “This is just for fun.”


“Fun,” I nodded.

“Steven!” The blond boy plodded up to his mother with a bucket full of sand. The mother hugged him tight and glared at me. “This is my boy.”

I shifted my bare feet in the hot sand. The mother backed away from me, clutching her son.

“Oww…!” The boy squirmed under her wiry arms. “That hurts.”

“I was aiming for him.” I pointed to the hole further up the beach. I shuffled toward the hole. “He was in here.” The pit was empty. Tracks led toward the swirling surf.

The mother stabbed her finger toward the sand. “Leave the camera there.”

“What?” Cameras and sand don’t mix. “No. What for?”

“Have those pictures developed,” she said, “and we’ll see what for.”

“Crazy woman.” I turned away and marched toward the pier.

“Help!” The mother shouted. “Somebody help!”

I spun around. She retrained her boy with her right arm and rocked her left fist in the air. “Molester! Child molester!”

A crowd of sunbathers and volleyball athletes heeded her call and gathered about her, casting me with wary eyes. I smiled and waved. Bare feet pounded the sand as the crowd chased me. Pressing my Canon to my chest, I scampered under the pier. Maybe I should have snapped a few photos for evidence. The charging mass of flailing arms and outraged faces surrounded me. I twisted into the surf against the mollusk encrusted pilings. A wave splashed over me, drenching the Canon. I stopped, furious at the pursuers. Two flabby belly men pulled me under the surf and kicked me. Water choked down my throat.

A chiseled faced Life Guard pulled me out of the water. Canon A-1 lost. Shore patrol zoomed up in an SUV. Plastic cuffs squeezed around my wrists. I declared my innocence in the Hermosa police station lockup. Due to lack of evidence, the district attorney failed to press charges.

Seven days ago, KCLA broadcast a segment titled CHILD STALKERS.  Taking photos of children at beaches was a common tactic used by predators to select their next victims. Though my shots were lost in the ocean, my grey-bearded, balding drenched face appeared on countless websites via cell phone cameras, next to the outraged mother clinging to her cherubic son.

I sat in my studio, surveying my color prints of urban landscapes, Art Deco architecture, and female body studies. The e-mail and answering machine used to be crammed with client requests.

Now, nobody will talk to me.

Elephant in the City by Nora Nadjarian

It happened as I was crossing over and I saw it, him, right in the middle of the street, blocking the traffic.

A woman stood in front, and everyone watched in horror at first, because she might get trampled, the elephant might stampede and she might die. But none of that happened in the next few minutes. The woman touched his thick skin with her hands, and she wept and wept, as if she’d found the one precious thing in life which she’d lost, and more traffic stopped and people stared. No beeping of horns, just complete silence. No panic, just calmness. There’s this one word: serendipity. If she hadn’t gone shopping that day, they wouldn’t have met. If he hadn’t escaped, she would never have found him. If the cars hadn’t stopped, I wouldn’t have looked. If the woman hadn’t wept this story might not have been written. Think of it as a kind of sequence, luck in slow motion, people escaping their lives for a few minutes in order to find what they’re looking for.

The woman would not move, and neither did the elephant. I wrote a love story. It happened.

© Nora Nadjarian

Buffalo Park by Calder Lorenz

The church bells have settled back down and it’s a struggle for her to keep up with a flock of emaciated white streaks as they slide against the intense light of the day’s blue sky.

‘Miss, Miss,’ a man calls. ‘Did you ring for this cab?’

‘It wasn’t me,’ she says, squinting into the car’s interior.

This man, with his unbuttoned shirt, gold chain sunken into his grey chest hair, frowns and shakes his head.

‘I doubt I can help you,’ she says. ‘I lost my sunglasses and it hurts my eyes to speak with you.’  Her hand in her purse.

‘That’s not my problem,’ the man says, as his thin mustache dances like a pelvis, perfectly in time with the rhythm of Italian disco.

She thinks, I should walk down this cement hill and buy a cheap pair of shades.

‘Toronto is hot in July,’ the cabbie says. ‘There’s a strike there, miss. Trash piled up in the parks.  Hidden in the jungle gyms. Can you imagine?’

She can’t.  Rolls down her window a few more inches.

He bounces slightly in his seat to the radio.  He’s emphatic in the mirror.  Encourages her to smile.  To dance with him.  Horns sound.  The car jolts; then stops in the face of a red bloated intersection.

A free ride is a free ride, she thinks, not fully convinced.  In this battered bathroom she keeps on her toes.  She drops the cab driver’s personal card into the bowl and sits down.

How it must feel to be washed down with the water into the dark!

She recognizes it instantly, a decent band of white powder.  She will have to touch the muddied floor, rank from early drinkers.  This little score is caught in a filthy pool beside a black trashcan with its crumbled and streaked brown paper in full bloom.

Is that blood?

This feeling, this feeling is a going away party and you don’t want to leave but you know you will leave and never, ever, see most of them again.  This is where she questions whether she has gone too far?  Where she thinks, no, I’m just getting started and I need a cold drink and I need to leave the bathroom because someone is knocking, angry, needing to piss.

There are three of them and one of her.  They smoke.  She smokes.  They have many many friends in this city.  There is food, enough for many many people, but there is only the three of them and the one of her.  She chews and chews and chews, scanning the open plain for a restroom.

A girl holds her hand.  They’ve made a hand sandwich.  The girl’s black shirt is loose and free and her jeans are folded neatly at the knees.  She says, ‘Buffalo live here.’

Now their fingers are locked into the chain link fence.  She’s with this girl that shaves the sides of her scalp, Linda.  Two of the buffalo stroll like woolly brown clouds across the splotched patches of dead grass.

She remembers Wyoming and her father and the buffalo there in that time.  She had stayed in the car, laughed at him for being so excited about cows with big shoulders.  They laughed for a long time about cows with big shoulders.

She thinks, in those parks the people stop for the buffalo; the buffalo manage the roaming.  There, in front of her, are the caged buffalo of Golden Gate Park.

Linda says, ‘Here comes the fog,’ she says, ‘I wish I had a coat like the buffalo,’ she says, ‘I could stay with them all night,’ as a small calf plods over to a shoddy corral.

Once again, there are three of them and one of her.

It’s her turn to catch and then throw a disc but she walks, wordless, out of the circle, towards a small trail that leads out of the grass heavy picnic area.

Now, she’s in the cement avenues that smell of oceanic salt.  She waits on a washed out corner.  One empty train heads to the ocean, the other heads to the city.  She thinks: there have been too many days just like this.

She turns the key that opens a thick gate and then turns another key that opens a heavy door to a garage, which leads to the room she rents.  They do not speak the same language, her and her neighbors, but they share barren and dull white walls.  Their carpets are beige and bleached.  They nod at her, a flashing screen as their backdrop; and she drifts into her room.

She thinks there have been too many days just like this.

She sits on the empty floor.

Tomorrow, she thinks, tomorrow when the sun breaks the clouds into thin strips, when the buffalo walk to the far end of their cage; when the fog crawls back on top of this city, then she will go back to who she was.

February Rain by Calder Lorenz

She’d left her lunch shift without her tips and called him from a red pay phone on Parker Street, a tumbledown replica of a once cherished London style phone box. Inside the box there were delicate militant patches of grass that had broken through the concrete. The splintered door to the booth was without its protective glass and now her socks were stuck to her skin as the demented February rain huddled her up against a few panels of un-smashed glass. 

The phone picked up on the first ring. 

Terra Jean heard heavy breathing.  The other side sniffled.  Coughed. 

“I’ve thought about it,” she said. “I know that you want her. But so do I.”

There was silence on the other end.  A lowered punk song she had once liked scorched along in the background.  Her earring dug into her neck.  “You can’t keep her,” she said. “You just can’t.”

“No worries,” he said. “That mutt shit on my floor.”

“Benny,” she asked. “What are you doing?”

“I pay the bills,” he said. “It’s my apartment and all that.”

The operator’s voice declared itself with stern and disruptive instructions.  She dropped in another quarter and then Benny returned, coughing, hurting her.     

“…his phone is all that’s left,” he said, his voice strained.

“Then she went with him?”

“I imagine she didn’t have much of a choice.”

The rain surged against the glass.  Each tap harder and more impatient. 

She could’ve cried right there with the wind spitting against her bare knees, but there was a bearded man watching her.  He wore a flopped down fishing hat and smoked a swollen limp joint as he stood on the sidewalk under a molded awning.  

“I’m getting pissed on,” she said.  

“I wouldn’t feel bad,” Benny said. “You’re not the only one. About an hour ago, two big angels with golden necklaces and rotten teeth practically kicked in my door.”

“When will it end?” she asked.

“Sometime in late June, like always.”

He hung up on her and she watched as the man outside of the phone box slugged into the slick oiled street.  In the distance, north of the raised city condos, bloated cheerless clouds herded themselves into the concrete carved mountainside of North Vancouver.

Benny lived in a small two bedroom flat atop a jazz bar that sold ground meat and poutine.  He rented out his other room to musicians, poets, and often times, Americans.  Despite the rain and fog and the frigid temperature that seemed to crystallize in her marrow, the bar’s garage door sat open to the sidewalk.  Thick smoke from the grill drifted into the street. 

Terra Jean leaned against the end of a long unfinished bar.

“Carmine,” she called. “Are you back there?”

Carmine walked out from the back kitchen.  He carried a plastic bin filled with tomatoes and onions and peppers.  His long apron stained from casing sausage.  He kept his back to her and began to chop onions on the service bar.

“What’re we drinking today,” he asked in a soft voice.

“I need your help,” she said. 

Carmine dropped the knife and then grabbed a bottle from the cabinet at his feet.  He put two shot glasses on the bar in front of her.  The glasses were smudged from his filthy fingers.  The onions strong and present and consuming in the cold pressed air.  

“I never liked him,” Carmine said, his eyes welled up and wet in the corners. 

He swallowed.  Wiped his mouth.  Filled her glass and then returned to the kitchen with the empty bin.

She picked up the glass.  The whiskey bit into her tongue.  It rolled down her throat, as diminished droplets continued to fall from her hair onto the surface of the worn wooden floor.  The puddles stretching and shivering as Terra Jean poured herself another.   

Killing Time by Zach Wyner

At 10:30 AM the doorbell rang.  Faye noted the time, thirty minutes to kill before she’d have to start getting ready for her appointment.  She stubbed out her cigarette and there followed a knock.  She got up from her desk, breezed down the hall in her sweat shorts and tee and opened the door.  The heat smacked her cheeks.  She shielded her eyes from the glare, smelled the baking asphalt.  Before her stood the same thickly built UPS man as always, betraying no hint of recognition.

“Morning,” he said, thrusting a clipboard at her, a shoebox-sized package tucked under his left armpit.

“They said it’s going to be over a hundred again today,” she said, as she signed.  She handed the clipboard back.  He nodded and scanned the paperwork.  “Must get hot in that van.  That is… well, I assume you have no air-conditioning.”

He lowered his eyes to hers, black like his hair.  He tilted his head the right, peering behind her into the empty house.

“Yeah,” he said.  “I guess.”

“Can I get you anything?” she said.  “A glass of water?  A Diet Coke?”

“No tips,” he said.

“Oh, just a glass of water,” she said.  “I’d say that hardly qualifies.”

He pursed his lips and glanced at his watch.

“Okay,” he said.  “One glass of water.  I’ve got…”

“A busy day ahead,” she said.  “Of course you do.  One glass of water, coming up.”

Faye stepped aside.  He crossed the threshold, and stopped, scanning the hallway, the staircase, the living room.  The scent of his suntan lotion saturated the recycled air.  She closed the door behind him as he swiped perspiration from his forehead with the sleeve of his shirt.

“Where do you want this?” he said.

“Follow me,” she said, leading him down the hall towards the kitchen.  His keys jangled on a chain.  She could feel his warmth, his bulk, his breath on her back.  He possessed a solidity that made her feel positively frail, as though the blow of the air-conditioning might lift her off her feet and usher her up the chimney.  She entered the kitchen and opened the cupboard.  She nodded at the granite-topped island.

“Right there’s fine,” she said.

He put the package down, turned around and leaned back, placing his palms on the granite where he would leave behind moist semi-circles.
“Nice kitchen,” he said.  “Looks brand new.”
Faye smiled.  She filled a glass with water from the filter.
“Here you go,” she said.

“Thanks.”  Their fingers brushed as he took the glass.  She watched his gaze slide down her body and come to rest on her bare legs.  A moth in her belly beat its wings.  He raised his eyes to hers and she held them there.  He took long gulps.  He let out a satisfied, “ahhh,” and handed her the empty glass.

“Guess I better shove off,” he said, not moving.

“You’re sure you wouldn’t like anything else?” she asked.

“Lots of deliveries,” he said.  “It’s only gonna get hotter.”

“Of course,” she said, turning her back on him to rinse the glass.  “The Dog Days,” she said.  “So to speak.”

“Yeah.  Yeah, right.” he said.  “What are those again?”

“Excuse me?” she said.

“The Dog Days, I never did…”

Faye chuckled.  She placed the glass on the dish rack.

“They’re the hot ones,” she said.  She faced the UPS man, his furrowed brow.  He scratched his head.  “Anyways,” she said, looking at the floor.

“Right,” he said.  “Back to work.”  He walked out of the room, keys jangling, boots clumping the hardwood.

“Have a nice day,” she called.  He grunted and the door closed behind him.  She discovered the index finger of her right hand tracing circles around the lump.  How long it had been there she could not say.  The clock on the kitchen wall read 10:40.

She looked at the package, addressed to her husband.  She withdrew a knife from the butcher’s block and ran it through the packing tape, liberating the scent of fresh leather.  My shoes, she thought, with mild surprise.  She had forgotten that she used his credit card to pay for them.  She withdrew them and sat on a stool.  They were cross trainers, hideous, all intersecting lines and clashing colors.  She laced them up and slipped them on.  She had planned to cut down on smoking, get back in shape.  She had thought that with a pair of running shoes she might finally try doing some laps around the lake; nothing too ambitious, a few miles a day.  Running on concrete was hard on her knees, but she couldn’t stand treadmills, couldn’t imagine a more joyless activity.

She paced the hallway.  Back and forth, rubber soles squeaking while her toes wiggled, making certain they had adequate space.  She grabbed her keys and burst through the front door into the raging heat.  She sprinted up the empty sidewalk, past the row of roasting cars, daggers of sunlight reflecting off their windshields.  Sprinklers watering modest, green lawns left a fine mist on her bare legs.  She hit the corner and turned around, sprinting back, harder this time.  Knees up, fists pumping, she flew past her house, running out of her hair, her lungs, her lump.  She reached the corner and doubled over, pressing her palms into her knees.  A weight like an elephant sat on her chest.  The air was thick.  It felt like she was sucking it in through a straw.

Wavy, Blue Lines by Zach Wyner

I’m babysitting my five-year-old niece today, my sister Suzanne’s daughter, Ellie.  I’m back home for the week, staying here because Sis has a house now (whop-dee-freggin-do) and she thought that it’d be easier than staying with the folks.  Besides, she said, it’ll give you a chance to spend some quality time with Ellie.  Like Ellie and I need to catch up.  Like she has something to say about anything besides boogers and ponies.

Anyway, Ellie and I are sitting at the kitchen table because that’s where the TV is.  The kitchen.  Apparently it would kill them to put one in the living room with the suede couch.  Sis and her hubby are out socializing with other people with kids, and I’m thinking I’m a sucker, and no wonder she was so eager for me to stay here.  Ellie’s working on some drawing and I’m half watching TV because the game is on and half talking to the kid because I don’t want her to tell her mom that I watched TV the whole time she was gone. 

Just so we’re clear, Ellie doesn’t give two shits about me.  She’s completely off in her own world.  But I start to feel guilty anyway, like I ought to make an effort to find out what she’s into, so I take a closer look.  Ellie isn’t much of an artist; I can’t tell if I’m looking at flowers or a flock of birds or what.  All I can make out are some wavy, blue lines so I’m like, “Is blue your favorite color?”
         “This is turquoise,” she says.

“Well,” I say.  “Aren’t you a smart one?”  Ellie stops drawing, picks her face up from the paper and rolls her eyes.  No bullshit.  Then she goes back to her drawing and the game comes back from the commercial, and I’m left with this tingle in my belly like you get when you make a joke in a crowd of people and no one laughs.  The tingle lingers.  And I don’t even realize I’m staring until she looks up and stares back, her little five-year-old wheels turning.  I feel naked.  If a grown person looked at me this way I’d have to consider punching them in the face. 

“It’s not polite to stare,” she says. 

“I’m sorry,” I stammer.  I can’t believe this.  My niece thinks I’m an asshole.  Now I need a strategy.  I’ve got to get her back on my side.  Not because I can’t stand not being liked, but because I’m her uncle after all, and because I know what it’s like to grow up in this family, and it’s important for her to know that she’s got an ally.  I take a closer look at her drawing.  It’s not as bad as I thought.  The wavy, blue lines are more like small arcs converging in the center of the page like a tornado.   

“I really like your design,” I say, slowly, the way people do when they want to impress upon you how truthful they’re being.

She scrutinizes me.  I’m leaning forward, stroking my chin, studying this thing like it’s not just a child’s doodle, like it’s got some deeper meaning.  She tilts her head to the side and scrunches up her eyebrows and her nose like she smells something rotten.  

“That’s not a design,” she says.  “That’s dog.”

The naked feeling vanishes.  I smile.  I lean back in my seat.

“Oh!” I say.  “I love dogs.  My favorite kind’s a Boxer.  What’s yours?”

She exhales and shakes her head side to side. 

“No,” she says.  “Not dog.  God.”

I scrunch up my eyebrows and my nose.  I open my mouth to speak but I have no words.  In desperation, I almost ask her what her favorite kind of god is. 

“Oh,” I say.  “Can I?”

“Here.”  She puts the paper in my outstretched hands.  I look hard.  Suddenly it’s real important that I see something besides wavy, blue lines.

Scrapper by Niya Sisk

My two neighbors cut their grasses together, the same day, the same hour every week. I sneeze and think of water, the olympic size pool I’ll swim in later. It’s my respite; the large body of water that flushes the fuzzy little ants of worry into the wavy folds behind me. There is a knock at the door.

One of the neighbors, well… I gave him two dollars to a few weeks back. Today he asks for seven. His story is always the same, “his kids aren’t home, he needs his medication.” My other neighbor  said to me last week, “Oh him. Didn’t anyone tell you? He’s a gambler. We’ve all been hit up. You’re just new blood.” Perhaps he took advantage like this early, never stopped, and now into his sixties he runs the same red sentences over and over, and cuts the same grass over and over, while telling himself the story that gives him hope. He has a game in his life he doesn’t quit.

Sunday morning 8:29, the church bells ring from in the Catholic church a block away. People shingle the streets—their cars, shiny and glued together like a centipede. They put their road rage aside for this. They walk in a sort of dazed, space economical way—making room for one another in foot traffic. They are open-mouthed inspiration receiving, patent-leathered shoe people. They are scrapping for something to feed their souls the clear eyes of a child, the heart of a dog, and smiles that are fundamentally natural. Scrapping for band-aides for their blistered feet, caused by hard shoes that are worn only on Sundays. They want something white, pillowy, soft skinned that leans into their goodness. Something they imagine can be absorbed into their bodies, in the prism of the stained glass church windows—something, God gives. This church has a progressive God, a man God, a Lone Ranger God who will take everyone home. Everyone, that is, who scraps and sacrifices; everyone who gives their name to him.

In this neighborhood this is no secret.

I pick up the swimming equipment and water resistant backpack with all my gear and head out to the car. The streets are filled with green–fluorescent light. The dogs bark, the chubby cat rolls down the gardened, bulky, sinewy yards full of sunflower and Irises.

As I open the car door a squirrel drops walnut shards on my head. I look up at the king of the scrapper world. It looks at me, challengingly, like, yeah, what are you going to do about it? The squirrels have the most fun here in the neighborhood. They don’t go to church, they aren’t working for progressive ideals filled with inherent contradiction, they make a profession of taking advantage of us humans—they laugh at us. They are always chomping like otters on something; corn husks, sunflower seeds, roasted almonds from Wild Oats Food store provided by amused, gullible humans. They look at you blankly, like what do you have for me today— like it’s expected, like it’s the best thing you could do with your useless human life; to be taken advantage of by the neighborhood’s fat squirrels. They weigh nothing, give you nothing and expect everything. We give it to them.

I drive to the pool and see the neighbors having an all neighbors yard sale to save the trees. Neil Young plays from one of the houses, windows open wide. There falls a dusty rain; so light it can barely be felt. I stop to give them five dollars to help keep the woolen tree tops going. I cheer for the fluorescent green, that like the stain glass windows in the church, give me a sense that god is everywhere. Someone asks for my email address. The homeowners, they need volunteers. “Speak! Help us!” they say”, a large market is moving into the neighborhood. Save us from the cars.”

The water. I enter it and I’m grateful for it’s stubborn, pushy resistance. Something to push into. Something already collected, that moves when I move. I see something shiny on the bottom of the pool. I think maybe it’s the citron earring I lost last week. My ears fill with a stinging pressure as I scrape and scrap at the bottom. Is there something here that the water has saved for me for a whole week? Something preserved, unmoored, untouched that is mine, there, at the bottom of the dark blue? The silver candy bar wrapper buoys up as my weight moves the water. I rush up to the top to get air and sneeze immediately.

A man asks me if I would time-share my goggles, “take turns?” he asks.

Here, sure, you can have them, they are yours. I think this is what I will say. This is what I would normally say. I think of those squirrels in their selfish joy. No community to make, no trees to save, nothing to do but eat, eat, eat. The water is my food. I reach for the goggles to give to him because it’s the right thing to do. And then before I know it, I push the goggles back on my face and dive back into the water—into the deep promising sound of no sound at the bottom of the pool.

Fairy Matching by Raphael Cushnir

The Japanese are wizards at serenity. Think of the tea ceremony and Zen rock gardens. What these placid products of Japan have in common is a high degree of order. Every element fits in its perfect place, and doing so harmonizes with every other element. There’s lots of space, too. The sips of tea come with such deliberateness that each moment of repose, before and after, feels as important as the activity itself. The rake creates its graceful sand patterns as if following invisible, previously etched grooves.

All this serenity is critical for the Japanese because the rest of their society is so frenetic. They live crammed together on teeming islands. Their cities overwhelm the senses with a neon-drenched cacophony. You might say that the meditative aspects of Japan are an attempt to bring balance to a lifestyle that would otherwise be totally out of balance. And this begs the question – what would a lifestyle look like that was serene by its very nature?

In contrast to Japan’s extremes, consider the long, steady life of a redwood tree. A redwood can live for over 2,000 years and grow almost 400 feet tall. With leaves high above the forest floor, it’s relatively impervious to the otherwise deadly ravages of insects, fire, and flood. It just grows and grows, serenely, a little at a time over a long stretch of time.

Yet, a redwood tree is profoundly limited in its adaptive capacity. It can only live on one small stretch of earth. It can only produce one type of leaf and grow in only one direction. If its environment becomes inhospitable, a redwood is literally stuck in the mud, unable to pick up and travel to friendlier surroundings. Therefore, while inspiring to behold, this mighty tree doesn’t offer us much instruction for serene survival amid today’s fast, furious, unprecedented change.

But my niece does. Beatrix is about to turn seven, and she’s an ace at the card game Concentration. She doesn’t play with the usual deck. Instead, she uses one that features pairs of fairies. There are flower fairies, midnight fairies, river fairies – twenty duos in all. Beatrix calls this game Fairy Matching, and she beats me at it every time.

With uncanny accuracy, Beatrix keeps track of which fairy goes with which. She doesn’t just remember but also intuits. You may think I’m deluded by pride but I swear it’s true: I’ve seen Beatrix successfully select four sets of fairies in a row without ever having seen them turned over beforehand.

How does she do it? I’m not sure. But clearly, she has an uncanny knack for knowing what belongs together, and also when. She doesn’t just turn on this supra-rational skill haphazardly. She saves it for those rare moments when I seem to be mounting a challenge, when I might for once actually win.

Now what can Beatrix’s fairy matching teach us about serenity? The same thing, more or less, that was taught by Ecclesiastes. “There is a time for every purpose under heaven.” You to heed each moment’s call.
And how the call comes… most of the time, it’s through energy.

Energy, the kind of subtle, intuitive flow I’m referring to, is a controversial subject prone to lots of grandiose claims and confusion. Yet every one of us has a “sixth sense” and has felt it countless times. Whether we heeded it is another matter. Beatrix heeds her sixth sense continuously because she hasn’t yet been talked out of it.

Heeding your own sixth sense in relation to the call of the moment means recognizing whatever energy is present. While there are endless types of energy, most of us encounter just a handful each day. There’s to-do list energy, for instance, when suddenly you notice an increased ability to “take care of business.” There’s also communication energy, when suddenly it’s right to talk things over. In addition there’s contemplation energy, playful energy, and even house cleaning energy.

When we align ourselves with the energy of the moment, our capacity to thrive increases by leaps and bounds. When we disregard that energy, and try to accomplish something out of synch, it becomes as difficult as it is unpleasant.

I bet you already know this. Haven’t you forced yourself to clean house at least once when housecleaning energy was nowhere to be found? The chores were grueling and seemingly endless, right? But how about when you cleaned house with recognition that Now is the time to clean! Didn’t everything go quickly and smoothly, as if the wind were at your back?

Every once in a while, the demands of everyday life make it impossible to match our actions with the energies we perceive. Our kids suddenly need us when it’s time to relax, for example. Or, we get a clear message to nurture ourselves right before a big work deadline. At those times, tuning in, we realize that the wind can’t be at our sails, and that resisting that truth would only amount to misreading the entirety of the moment.

More often, though, we don’t actually have to misalign with the energy that’s present but do so anyway because it doesn’t fit our plans. We try to impose our will on the moment, in spite of our sixth sense, due to plain old stubbornness. We want what we want when we want it. And the cost of that stubbornness is – by now it should be obvious – our serenity.

Every moment, fortunately, provides a new opportunity to get that serenity back. The fastest, most efficient way is to tune in, and then match that moment’s specific purpose under heaven. Once you do, it’s not just wind that appears at your back. Sometimes it’s also fairies.

From the upcoming book, Surfing Your Inner Sea: Essential Lessons for Lasting Serenity, Chronicle Books, August, 2009. This copyrighted material may not be reprinted without prior written consent.

Cockroach Wisdom by Raphael Cushnir

Toward the end of the Eighties, my body stopped working. After what seemed like an ordinary bout of the flu, I never fully recovered. For many hours each day I was beset by staggering fatigue. My previously iron stomach, for no apparent reason, became an unpredictable minefield.

Searching for an explanation, I went to the doctor. And then another doctor. And then another. Over and over I heard the same verdict – there’s nothing wrong with you. But clearly there was something wrong with me, psychosomatic or otherwise, and I needed guidance in how to address it. This need sent me on a deluxe tour of complementary medicine, from its well-respected center to the diciest of its fringes.

Wherever I went, a new culprit for my malady was revealed. Sometimes it was a virus, such as Epstein Barr. Other times it was a syndrome, like Leaky Gut. Most often it was labeled an “imbalance.” Usually there was a test administered to prove the imbalance, and this seeming clarity would always uplift me. But then my spirits would just as quickly plummet, as soon as the recommended treatment provided absolutely no relief.

After months on this medical sojourn, with symptoms still as mysterious as they were unrelenting, I withdrew. No more doctors, mainstream or alternative. No more prescriptions, pharmaceutical or herbal. I vowed to get to the bottom of the mystery myself, and began by process of elimination. Everything that might be stressing my system had to go, starting with the likeliest suspects. That meant alcohol, sugar, wheat, dairy – pretty much all the good stuff. When that didn’t help I began avoiding possibly noxious environments. The mall, for instance, was suspect for its sensory overload. Even air and water were off-limits, unless sufficiently filtered.

Soon I grew brittle and high-strung. Waiters were quickly annoyed at my endless questions – “How was it cooked? Was there something else on the grill? Any pre-packaged sauces?” I stuck to my conviction, however, and gained support from others in the same predicament. We saw ourselves as canaries in a coal mine, as early warning systems of a world befouled.

While certainly understandable, the way I dealt with this medical crisis in its first years didn’t increase my wellness or earn me much serenity. What I gained in control I lost in freedom. This is similar to the way many people approach their own challenges, and not just those about illness. First they identify threats to their peace of mind – “I can’t be around my mother.” “Politics depress me.” “My spirit just sinks in a big city.” Then they plot their retreat. Which isn’t wrong, to be sure, but it always comes at a price.

And that brings us to the lowly cockroach. A cockroach may hide, but it never retreats. The cockroach’s motto is “Adapt!” It finds ways to survive, to thrive even, in just about any environment. Remember that the old adage that cockroaches will be the only species to make it through nuclear war? I don’t know if it’s true, and I certainly won’t be around to find out, but just the possibility is instructive.

Uneasy with my self-imposed moratorium on everything, I began to think about the schooling a cockroach might impart. I imagined it would look up at with me with pity, but at the same wag its antennae as if to say, “You oughta know better.” And then, the real sermon would begin.

“The opposite of serene, you silly human, is finicky. What good is well being in a sterile bubble? I mean c’mon, I’d rather swig Raid. If you’re so good at surfing your emotions, why can’t you do the same with the outside world? Don’t demonize that cheeseburger; evolve a new stomach for it. Don’t flee from that toxic waste; light your house with its glow!”

As you can see, cockroach wisdom only goes so far. Had I cavalierly pursued many of the things that caused me the most systemic stress, my condition surely would have deteriorated. Likewise, if all of us sought to do a million years of evolving in one lifetime, we’d quickly perish.

Still, over the years that followed I took the gist of cockroach wisdom to heart. While accepting the limitations I’d been dealt, I also kept testing and updating them. In other words, if sugar made my symptoms worse in February, I downed a small bite of cake in March. Sometimes I was met with a setback, and sometimes I was freed to indulge. Sometimes I had to update in backwards fashion, meaning that a new license to dig in would later get revoked. No matter what, however, the whole experiment was always worthwhile. It allowed me a life at the edge of my capacity, rather than one needlessly diminished.

I realized that just as serenity doesn’t require any particular pace, it doesn’t prefer a monastery either. Or a cave. Or anything else that sets us apart from our surroundings.

If we succumb to the tempests around us, and don’t consistently seek the greatest possible shelter in each moment, there’s no question that our serenity will fade. But if we don’t keep updating our requirements for well being, and learn to live as well as possible within the tempests, we’ll never find the eye of any storm.

Today, my fatigue persists. So does my shaky stomach. No cause has ever been identified and every day offers me new inner and outer waves to surf. While riding those waves, I never stop wishing for better health. But I never get out of the water either.

From the upcoming book, Surfing Your Inner Sea: Essential Lessons for Lasting Serenity, Chronicle Books, August, 2009. This copyrighted material may not be reprinted without prior written consent.

What Water Can’t Wash Away by Laurie Cannady

The fire hydrant shot water onto the street with the force of a tidal wave.  A long, black boy with a small curve in his back and arms that seemed, like stringy noodles,  to stretch past his knees, braved the savage force with a square board fashioned out of the top of a broken coffee table.  He meticulously slid the board under the jutting water, forcing the wave into the air to be released into millions of water droplets, dangling like icicles dripping onto the sidewalk.  Like a maestro conducting a symphony, he lifted the board, entreating the notes of water to rise higher and with a flick of his wrist, he lowered the board, allowing them to shoot onto the ground like the last melody of an aria.  As he stood behind the hydrant, straddling it like a wild horse, the water sprayed into his smiling face.  The muscles of his stringy arms, jumped up and down in excitement, allowing the crisp cold of the water to tattoo small lakes and rivers into his skin. 

The many children of Lincoln Park gathered around the front of the hydrant, moving as if in a tribal dance, thanking the weather gods for the end of a long drought.  With their hands outstretched to the sky, and their faces upturned to the once offending sun, they lapped up droplets of water that rained down on them, oblivious to the fact that their own parents, and maybe even grandparents had generations ago participated in this same ritual. 

Laurie sat with her son Dereck in her car, peering out at the celebration, remembering her own role in the dance. On most summer mornings during her childhood, she’d sit shoulder-to-shoulder with Mary and Tom-Tom, her little sister and brother, waiting for some brave soul to walk out of his home with a wrench as long as her thigh and unveil  summer relief.   After the traditional check for the police and one or two threats from the oldest villagers, villagers who as children had participated in this same ritual, the black knight in cut-off shorts and a white tank top shirt, would place the large wrench on the hydrant and jump, forcing all of his weight onto the stubborn cap until there was a pop and a sizzling sound escaping the hole. 

Laurie, with Mary and Tom-Tom would vault off of the porch into the street, grabbing at feathers of water until they were immersed in it, sheltered by the wall of coolness.  They’d hold hands and do-si-do around the beads of hydration.  Laurie and Mary would twirl like African ballerinas, their legs jutting up to the air and their hair dancing a small jig of its own.  They’d do this until they couldn’t anymore.  Even if the bottoms of their feet and the palms of their hands had wrinkled to the point that they resembled an old man of ninety years old, they, like all of the other park children, stayed on that street, under the shelter of the water, until the fire department came to shut off the valve. 

Dereck enviously watched the children taking turns running through the wall of pseudo waves.  He laughed as pretty girls who were wearing their project best, were forced into the water by their boyfriends or brothers.  Even they laughed as the water washed away the hours of work that they’d paid for at the local beauty salon.  He wanted to join them, to prove to his mother that he could be one of them, that he could be like she once was.  He leaned toward her, with almond eyes, pleading for a chance, a chance to carve his own way, to journey through the same dark roads that she had traveled, roads that had placed her right where she was in that moment.  His tongue turned and turned in his mouth, searching for the words that would free him and free her.  As soon as he’d grasped a line that he thought would sing of liberation, self-doubt set the words afire, weakness began to bite at his skin, and surrender muzzled him.  He retreated in his seat, a battle fought and lost within himself. 

She had also wanted to join them, to let down her guard, to grab her son’s hand and let the water pour on them together, uniting them despite the differences of a generation.  She wanted him to know that part of her life that had been illegal, but also innocent and beautiful.   She wanted the strength that she had implanted in him to bow within his body, to arc him into action and move him into his rightful place, alongside his peers, alongside young princes.  In that moment she needed to touch him with her words to allow their sentences to discover each other and eventually link together like the hands of new lovers.  She imagined herself communicating with him as she had when he was a baby, holding him high above her head, watching the toothless smile spread across his face, saying with eyes what they could not say with words.  With a heaviness that pushed her heart into her stomach, she knew that she’d have to set him free, to watch him move from baby to boy to man to king.  To allow him to put into practice all of the lessons that she had poured from her soul into his soul.

But, she was not ready yet.   She stopped short of beginning that dialogue, beginning that dance.  With the beauty of her past that she wanted to gift him, came something entirely different, something guttural.  She couldn’t be certain that he would be able differentiate between the two.   So they sat and they watched as the moment, the possibility of that moment journeyed alongside the curb and down the drain, like the history attached to the water spouting out of the hydrant.

Museum of Life by Laurie Cannady

“We can’t be here much longer,” she leaned over to roll up the passenger seat window, even though Dereck was sitting in the seat.

“ Why Ma,” he asks, “I like it here.” She knew why. It was nothing like Avis, Pennsylvania, where the entire neighborhood tucked itself into bed at 7:00 in the evening. Here, the sun going down was like a rooster calling to its minions, signaling that the day had just begun. “Can’t we just stay the night here with Aunt Tricia? I’ve been having so much fun hanging out with my cousins.”

“No,” she quickly responded. She knew that she didn’t belong there anymore and she hoped he’d realize that he would never belong there as well. She didn’t want him infected with the comfort that had cursed many Park inhabitants into a life of poverty. Dereck looked at her with disappointment, with doubt in his eyes, while she eyed the group of guys littering the front of the corner store. She wasn’t sure if the smoke floating from their lips was from the cold Virginia air or the joint that they were passing around their circle. She settled on the latter.

She and Dereck sat there, waiting for Tricia to come out of the house with a plate of food from the funeral. If Laurie could have stomached another round of McDonald’s on the way back to the Renaissance Hotel, she would have left and taken her chances on Mickey D’s, but she was jonesing for the ham, collards, and deviled eggs that each of her family members had put pieces of themselves in as they prepared for Aunt Ella’s repasse. She might have also felt safer in the house with the rest of her family, but she didn’t dare leave her car unattended, for fear that she’d return and it would no longer be there. She began to grow impatient with her surroundings. Things that she hadn’t feared when she was thirteen, like running the streets of the Park alone at 3 a.m. or hanging in front of the same corner store that she was now surveying , frightened her, causing her to sweat profusely, gluing her body to the leather seat of her Lexus.

She spied a man walking in front of her car. His hands were hidden snuggly in his pockets, and he wore a bubble of a coat that gave the allusion of a hot air balloon. Her heart jumped into her throat. She quickly hit the automatic locks on the door, grabbed a hold of her cell phone and began dialing Tricia’s number. “What’s wrong, Ma? “ Dereck asked, searching her face for an answer. He followed her eyes to the man that she was peering at. “Come on, Ma. The man is just walking to his house. See, he’s not trying to bother us.” Dereck’s right, she thought to herself. That man wasn’t concerned with them, but that didn’t mean that the next one wouldn’t be. She was ready to leave, food or no food.

She gazed at the big oak with branches that towered over her former roof, waving stoically in the winter wind. She’d often sat in her bedroom window, looking out at that tree, wondering what strife it had seen in its years in the park. She’d sometimes mock it because it was stuck, rooted there and she was determined that she would not be. She now stared at its limbs through her sunroof. Each one was familiar and had seen her life in ways that she’d just as soon forget. They’d spied when she’d gotten into a fight with April in 88’ and had barely escaped with only a bruised ego. They’d witnessed her kissing Sanford for the first time on the porch and had promised that she’d be with him forever. They’d seen her as she waited at the bus stop on a cool wintry morning and peered at the gutter holding remnants of Jermaine Mills’ brain after he was shot and killed in 1989. They’d seen all of these things and she didn’t want them to see anymore. She didn’t want them peering into her son in the way that they’d peered into her. She didn’t want him to have to look through the veil of their leaves in order to see the world, the real world that was filled with success stories born out of broken cycles of dysfunction.

So, she silently sat in that car and she didn’t tell Dereck why they couldn’t stay there. She feared her warnings would have the opposite effect. She didn’t tell him that she believed their car would be stripped by the time that they woke up the next morning because they had out of state plates and all outsiders were fair game. She didn’t tell him that she’d seen someone’s blood, some mother’s child gunned down right where their car sat on that winter night. She didn’t tell him that her biggest fear was that he would choose the allure and excitement of the park over the ordered and privileged world that she had crafted for him, thereby mending the cycle of dysfunction right where she thought she had broken it beyond repair. She just sat in the car along with her son and watched the night walkers of the park as if she were a spectator in a museum of her former life.

A Little Fictional Heat by Niya Cristine

She owned a restaurant in the desert that had copper kites pinned to the walls like flies to dried up lemonade. There were other things too that filled the room. Couples sat at low-lit tables and three chefs had the same hairdo; stiff little Mohican waves that curl at the tip.

She’d been here longer than she expected. She’d purchased the restaurant, a home, and a pure bred Irish Setter. She bit her nails and soaked her feet every night after work.

What had she left behind for the high altitude and ancient, dying Junipers?

The south wall of the restaurant turned a silvery claret while a woman having dinner put her wedding ring down on the table in front of the man across from her. He held the empty finger and massaged it; his expression, slightly bored but tender.

In the kitchen, she prepped the powdered milk for the next day and picked out a fallen black hair. The silky powder slid down the bowl like a ski bum’s dream. The smell… that wanting to be real and whole smell, the silky texture of the powder; how it looked like it could be something its not.

She asked chef number 2 to finish the milk and took Jake, the Setter for a walk in time with the closing desert light. A scrawny fox dashed into the sage brush as Jake bumbled out the back door of the kitchen. Sounds began to unwrap her thoughts like unopened cans.

Her husband waited for her in the yellow Chevy.

The woman from the restaurant walked towards her car. Jake ran to her, excited and familiar. She stood in between the Chevy, Jake, the woman and watched in slow motion as the woman repeated a gesture she had known for how long? weeks? days? months?, and touched Jake’s muzzle. He licked her hand.

The lake was almost invisible with so much dust and moving panoramas of clouds–sky drama. It was hard for her to hold still; to see it. But she stared with hope hearing the reassuring tinkle of burro bells nearby. Her husband approached now. She let the noise of his guilt fall past her ears to the prickly pear cactus as she’d asked him for the keys.

She called Jake, not looking at the woman. They got into the beat up Chevy and drove. The mesas to the right of her reached towards the distance; the fluted clefts the color of indigo, vermillion, the surfaces as orange as Jake’s coat. They drove until the grey cliffs and speckled sage consumed her in a delicate but intense invitation.

It won’t be long now.

Our Skies by Joshua Mohr

No one knows what you’re doing. You, a rogue cater-waiter who none of the guests see slip away even though twenty minutes earlier they all begged you for free glasses of champagne or apple martinis or cosmopolitans, the entire bar tab paid for by an ad agency that six months earlier you’d worked for and had been wrongfully terminated on a bunk allegation of coming to the office under the influence of alcohol, a charge totally bogus, but what, were you going to sue a billion dollar corporation? Could you really exact your revenge against their Ivy League lawyers whose assholes smelled like cappuccinos?

It hadn’t been booze that affected your job to such a shimmering detriment, but music. Music you never knew existed. Music that dwelled in the binary code you helped maintain and manicure and nurture as a programmer in the company’s IT department. You never expected to find song in that ocean of ones and zeroes, but on a Thursday morning it shared its voices with you, whispering spirituals through your computer’s speakers; that first morning you looked all around, wondering if other workers heard it too, but they didn’t. They in fact heard no music coming from their computers, didn’t hear the songs secreting from the speakers in four-part harmonies, a cappella, songs that sounded as if they came from a southern Baptist church, somewhere in rural Arkansas, some time in the nineteenth century, an entire congregation clapping their hands on the downbeats, swaying with the spirit of their piety.

You alone heard these songs, and the longer you listened to the plangent lyrics, you cried, right there at your desk, you wailed because the songs seemed to say that life didn’t have to be so lonely, and you kept asking, “How? How can things get better?” and your coworkers walked by and stared and you saw their mouths moving in conspiratorial whispers and before you knew it, your boss had called you into his office.

He made a speech about the way your sick days vanished in the first quarter, and the way your peers found you unapproachable, defensive, sometimes mean, the way you never seemed interested in your primary responsibility of overseeing the agency’s intranet site. He told you that the whole office knew you had a drinking problem, and then he seemed baffled by the mass of your failures, scratching the stubble on his cheeks, before saying, “You’re fired.” “I didn’t know anything was wrong,” you said. “You didn’t?” he asked. “Life can be like that. Everything’s okay and then the sky starts falling.”

You tried to explain the music seeping from your computer, that machine that ached in its c: drive, tried to explain the concerts of uncanny precision and passion, but your boss didn’t want to listen, and you said, “The music is a miracle,” and he said, “You’re drunk. Go home,” and every day for the last six months, since they fired you for no good reason, you’ve searched everywhere to find that music again.

You’ve tried to recreate the exact scenario from that cathartic Thursday morning: drinking single-malt scotch the second you got out of bed to forget she’ll never let you come home, drinking single-malt scotch on your drive into work, scotch out of the same coffee cup you used at the office, the mug with the ad agency’s name splattered on its side in a streaky cursive. You’ve duplicated these details with precision, though you’ve done them at home, no longer welcome in an office you helped build from the ground up. You’ve replicated every thread of minutia and then stuck your ear to your home computer, listening and pleading, trying to coax concerts that never came, and the longer you went without hearing the songs, the longer the agency deprived you of the music, an inevitability mounted regarding your plot for revenge.

Like this: like tonight: you feeling ready to take your boss’ advice and make the sky fall: you posing as a cater-waiter at their company Christmas party, actually growing a moustache and wearing dark-rimmed glasses and dying your blonde hair pitch-black to disguise yourself as a stranger, to conceal your malice in a blue-collar façade; you distributing spirits, stationed off to one side of the room, keeping the guests well imbibed, and then you skulk out the door, abandoning your post so you can scale the humungous pine tree that’s planted in the courtyard in front of the building. It’s decorated like a Christmas tree during December.

The first branches of the tree don’t start until about eight feet up its shaft so you have to jump and do an awkward pull-up, finally swinging your legs over that first branch, shimmying, slowly at first and then getting comfortable, winding up to the top. Two corporate zombies, a man and a woman, come out front for cigarettes and seduction. You hear the man say, “My wife’s skiing in Purgatory for the weekend,” and she says, “How are you going to pass the time?” and he asks, “Any suggestions?”

You’re finally here: at the top of the sixty foot tree, poised to throw ornaments, to heave red and green globes at these enemies as if it’s raining glass bullets, and you let two fly, not trying to hit them yet, but warning shots—why hadn’t your wife given you any warning shots, why didn’t you deserve the naked courtesy of notice?—and the ornaments smash into the courtyard, fifteen feet from the zombies’ positions. They jump. The woman drops her champagne flute, splintering, and the man says, “What’s happening?” and you yell down at them, “That’s life. One minute everything’s fine and then Wham! The sky starts falling!”

More people run out of the building to see the fracas, a blaze of commotion slithering its way through the crowd, tangling itself around the courtyard like a starving python. Panic. Fear. You love watching the workers scatter, churning around like a startled marching band, and they’re right where you want them. Every last one. Each employee who didn’t hear your music. Each of them that let you go without second thought. They’ll be taught what you already know: our skies fall, our lives fall, and there’s nothing we can do except gobble multivitamins and wait for calamity.

You take three more ornaments and pitch it at the wiggling clog of people and say, “This is life!” and then you throw another at them and say, “These are our lives!” and you throw another armful of ornaments and say, “Our skies rain shit and these are our lives! These are our tiny lives!”

Time loses its math, sheds its codes. Some people in the crowd look up, open-mouthed, gasping, looking at you or at the glass orbs gaining speed, plummeting toward their faces, while others look down and cover their heads with their hands; strangely, no one flees, all frozen and baffled and addicted to witnessing the conclusion of your air raid, but you, you actually close your eyes, close them so you can listen to the shattering ornaments morph into four-part harmonies and hands clapping as if you were there, in that dusty church, because beauty can rise from something ugly, and only then can the silence shave its sins away as if they’re ancient skin.

I Dream in RGB. I Fear in Grayscale by Mark Gurvis

Click. Click – again. Click – and again. Wait…click.
The walls are never going to assume a new pose. Concrete is so awfully gray.
Go on, walk out…click. Another vantage point. Click. It’s under-exposed.
Click – caught something – 1/125th of a second. No exposure compensation. No morality meter.

In 1906 the certainty incinerated. In its place the great City arose again. This time we will withstand an 8.0; at what price exactly?
The business travelers arrive. They bunk down in the rooming house of cells. It’s a comfortable jail. They can’t open the windows, so they have to breathe the conditioned air. They become conditioned. Humans are so adaptable, they can survive almost anywhere.
Even in downtown America.

Click. The fog and clouds make a mockery of your slab-sided edifices.
A leaderless society just got a leader.

I go to the orange bridge. The air has shifted. It’s colder now, and blowing from the north. F-7.1 at 2 seconds, ISO 800, 70 mm. The sky is moonless. The stars streak across my sensor, as the bridge glows in sulfuric light. The red beacon shines atop one shoulder. Open panels in the superstructure attempt to frame the cosmos. What elegant folly.
My tripod is carbon-fiber. But the wind is stiffer. Long exposures suffer from the buffeting. My brain is beginning to freeze. Tail-lights and head lights merge into streams across the span.

The small towns just to north of the Gate each slowly descend into the suburban horizon the farther Alaska bound one ventures. One of them, around an old mill, has shed its frontier and hippy pasts to become trophy wife-ville. Its studied quaintness begs the question of rot beneath. One of my $475 an hour lawyers lives there.
I can’t find the objects of my derision in the hills of the old mill town. I leave empty handed, I believe. Maybe in the contact sheets, the edits, something will stand out? Or not.

Boston, twenty degrees. It’s January. On our way to the Garden in a late 1980’s BMW with a huge back seat. My colleague Chris and his glasses, framed by the oversized rear door window, stared through the partly steamed glass at the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge. It was a photograph. Ushered into the private corporate boxes, without a glance at my big equipment pack on my back, fifteen pounds of camera and lenses, a flash. I kept thinking I could have a scope and sharpshooter’s rifle. No one would have known. In the box, comments about my zoom lens – was I compensating? Of course I was. For my insecurity about what I was doing. Why was I now taking seven hundred shots of pituitary cases stuffing a ball through a hoop? I got one photograph. Not a good ratio.

Back in the hills of my City. There’s a vista I love, I wanted to capture it at the school on Parnassus. I wanted to anthropomorphize the towers that rear themselves above the mundane-ness that rolls to the ocean. Arched eyebrows of windows of a medical building appeared to stare into the sunset and the great ocean. The feline head of de Young’s latest incarnation seemed more human than pet. It is a post-modern Sphinx—An homage to the ancients? Her flat crown cut a line across the headlands. And the sky allows wispy clouds to frame it all.

A mother in a hat, red shirt, with two children trapped in a rolling contraption. She knelt down, and together they peer at the view through the railing at the edge.
Click. The same image—A photograph of the unconsciously imprisoned. Another woman in the coffee shop with one seat of the view that she occupies noticed me. A businesswoman from a small town on the eastern edge of our conurbation – she said she envied me. She used to do street reportage in the City, years ago. I told her she is doing her email at the best seat in the City. The sadness behind her eyes frightened me.

The actress I love, Kate Winslet, is in two movies. I see her strong performances through my new eyes. F-2.0, ISO 25,600. High Definition. Full frame. Cinematography is fascinating, but fraught with risk. Poor continuity, average set design, lousy makeup.

Me? I am a one-person visual department; watching, searching, fearing…and on occasion capturing a fraction of a second of Truth.

edited by niya sisk

Salmon Becomes Them by Kathy Powell

I am chiseled by the plane of your brow. The pattern of your features and line are simple, elemental. Provocative, haunting and familiar like a well loved ghost story told in winter in the musky cedar long house.
• • •
Meat hung low, a fire burning small and mindlessly tended. Children are gathered sleepy and helter-skelter on planks one tear up from the fire pits. Aunties and brothers busy over berries and hides but comforted knowing word for word the story that will come again from the grandmother’s own personal weaving of the Salmon Boy story.

Generations of winter tellings about when he will be swallowed by Salmon and the promise Salmon makes that the people can always sleep well knowing the lost boy will return each Fall and Spring bringing the Salmon for his people to fish and dry. Children are crumpled in the laps of the older ones. The littlest ones are asleep before the Salmon Boy returns. They swim among silver sided Salmon in their dreams, strong and plentiful enough for there grandchildren’s grandchildren.

Salmon swim up through our lodges, up in the rafters in rows. They swim through the waters dappled with fallen leaves, keeping us safe from snow hunger. And then again, they swim again into Spring waters, carrying us with them into silvery summers.

Salmon swim and dive in people’s dreams spawning stories in bellies to come out of our grandmother’s mouths. The stories call the children back to bellies of the Salmon, bewitching them so that they will always know they are Salmon people and crave the Salmon to spawn around, through and among them and become them again and again until they become Salmon and Salmon becomes them.

edited by niya sisk

Ice Bar by Niya Cristine

It’s cold.
The hair on the back of my neck stands up in a feeble attempt to function as an insulating fur. From this place, from the blue ice the blood is busy in everyone trying to constrict and create heat.
And from here… the brain fuses with more than alcohol.

• • •
I try not to look at the burly man to my left with the blue lips and a three-inch mustache. He orders his fourth whiskey and moves closer. He laughs at my melancholy like it was a flat thing–a dead animal to strip of its fur. Why be melancholic when you can float your thoughts on whiskey in a blue ice bar?

As he talks about his skill as a hunter on the ice, I set my gaze on the long, shiny, carved ice table to his right. It looks high class. It looks like its surface is made of Italian marble. He tells me stories of cutting up animals. I love animals. I can’t hear him, I invent my own story as he talks. As he talks and talks.
—He throws me on that table like he’s doing me a favor. He throws his fur cape down under me a little too late. He makes my ass blue with his weight—smiling like a pirate inventing his own rules. But his rebellion tires me. I take my cold feet to his heavy belly and push him away—
All of this passes through me in an instant; these away games. Its cold. And people are drunk, they are saying things that cold and whiskey make possible.

Suddenly, the woman next to me turns and asks why I am here. She has dark, thick, straight hair and three freckles on her nose. She’s wearing a camisole, a heavy navy colored sweatshirt, a short skirt and tall furry boots. I hang my gaze on her boots. What’s with the fur in this place? It’s not like everyone lives in igloos and relies on animals for their beds. This isn’t pre-civilization. This is full of the elite who, over a Cigarello and anchovies say to their friends: ‘I did it. I went ice picking—it was glassy, it was blue, I saw a fish frozen into the ice, I almost hit it with my pick.’

I look her up and down in an obvious way. I’m here to set fire to old debris in my life. I’m here…I say… to buy boots like yours and ask someone like you to hike with me in the mist.
I want to feel scared and new again.

Camouflage by Kate Adams

A free hour between meetings is reason enough to leave campus, to chase coffee and errands. The suburban streets have settled into the lull between lunch and the first lap in the long story of rush hour. On the raw edge of the new big box strip, there’s no one but me, slowing to make the turn, and a man standing at the corner, looking right through my windshield as I approach. He doesn’t have a windshield: he has a cardboard sign and my eyes graze it so quickly that if a detective later, investigating a crime, were to ask me, all I could offer would be guesses, the usual suspects: “homeless”? “please help”? “god bless”?

But there is no crime here, just a middle-aged woman slowing to turn, a short haired man wearing camouflage pants and a khaki
t-shirt and his dun-colored sign. And because we need to make stories as much as detectives need answers, mine begins spooling out behind my forehead: about a veteran, a tour in Iraq, maybe two, which is why he has lost his place here, because he was sent there. He is behind me now (rear-view, ephemera, red light), but I am still imagining him waking up this morning to pull on those pants purposefully, camouflage part of his presentation, soldiering and sacrifice the brand he gives to his product, which is the cardboard sign. He was holding it gut-high; he was standing on the side of the road, claiming the no-man’s land between the clean sidewalk and the dirt median, strawberry fields, horizon. Farm workers in the far distance bend to their small wheeled carts in the low rows of red fruit, dots near the highway.

The light changes and I go on, spooling, riffing: camouflage. IEDs. Don’t forget to buy stamps. On the evening news, this war’s signature wound is traumatic brain injury. First stamps, then Starbucks: SBUX on the NYSE. We Make Money the Old-Fashioned Way: We Earn It. Talk to Chuck: Charles Schwab. The best money-launderers endure, day after decade, punctuating the news bites with ads that fibrillate between high fustiness and low familiarity, pinstripes or plain folks.

To talk with him I would have had to pull off the road, roll down the far window, and invite his upper body into the cabin. To give him money I would have had to unfasten my seat belt, lift up my ass to fish out my wallet, and riffle. Instead I’m fingering my turn signal and negotiating my next move, perfectly upright and alert, my mind twittering in a clutter of news and arrogance and also perfectly useless questions. The policed can rarely afford the truth.

At the post office, the sun is benign, I leave my car comfortably paused between parallel painted lines, there’s very little wind, and inside I join the queue with my envelopes, before and behind my fellow executioners busy with our days stretching out toward our individual evenings, defining our territories by answering our cell phones and cleaning our guns and polishing our swords of casual inattention.

God on Vacation by Lyssa Tall Anolik

God decides to take a vacation. Not a long one, just some down time to sit on a beach somewhere on the planet Earth that he created several billion years ago. He always fancied Jamaica. He can blend in there, because the locals are so relaxed. He’s been there a number of times before, and they always recognize him, but they don’t make a big deal.

“Hey, Mon,” they say. “Welcome back. How ’bout something tall and fruity?” God nods appreciatively. He settles into a lounge chair on the white sand beach and watches the aqua-blue water lap against the sloped beach. He congratulates himself on water and white sand, sun and palm trees—all good. And fruity cocktails; even better. Sure, there’s lots of poverty and war and famine, and with global warming on the rise, there will be progressively more water and less land, but there’s nothing he can do about that. These earthlings are going to have to clean up their own mess. But the problem continues to nag him in the back of his mind.

God sighs. His cocktail arrives and he takes a long sip then twirls the pink paper umbrella. He enjoys coming to earth and taking corporeal form. Sometimes he appears as a woman. Sometimes a bird or animal. That’s when he/she/it is working under cover, to suss out how things are going. He does this on other worlds he’s created, too. But sometimes he gets confused, forgets which planet he’s on, and shows up as a bug-eyed alien on earth and scares people. He always regrets these mistakes for the panic they cause. As the Prime Creative Force in the universe, though, he’s entitled to a few blunders, because as anyone can see, his job is enormous.

He feels relieved, though, when he reminds himself that he’s not the only supernatural being to make such mistakes. Every millennia or so, he attends a conference of other prime creative beings from other universes. They get together and compare notes for ideas and inspiration. They form a kind of support group for one another to handle those instances when things go badly.

His turn to host the next conference is coming up. He thinks Jamaica would make a great meeting spot. Maybe he can get some advice about global warming.

Alzheimers by Lyssa Tall Anolik

Violet says, “No.”
I say, “Yes.”
The second hand on the plastic Garfield clock above the china cabinet ticks and inches forward. Violet doesn’t remember buying the clock at a garage sale in Woodburn last summer. We’re sitting at her kitchen table, and I’ve been working on her for ten minutes now, trying to get her to come out to the garden with me. The fresh air would invigorate her, and I want her to see the yellow heads of the daffodils that she doesn’t remember planting.
Again, she says, “No.”
“Why not?” I ask.
“That’s not an answer.”
“Is to.”
“We’re not in grade school anymore,” I tell her. Sometimes I get impatient. I can’t help it.
She says, “So?”
I say nothing. Garfield continues to tick away the seconds. Violet sits across from me, her hair tied into a neat silver bun and her hands folded primly on the table in front of her. She sits up straight and looks directly into my eyes, without blinking. I fidget and can’t seem to find a comfortable position on my hard vinyl chair.
I try a new tack: “Ok, listen. There’s a black-eyed junco outside, and a squirrel. They’re both fighting over the same feeder. The squirrel has figured out that if he hangs upside down on the branch from his toes, he can reach the hole in the feeder. But the junco keeps flying in and stealing the sunflower seeds, which makes the squirrel hysterical. He’s trying to protect his hoard, while keeping his balance.”
Violet thinks for a moment, then laughs.
“Would you like to go outside and see?” I offer.
“Yes,” she says. My hunched shoulders relax, and we get up to go.
This is how it often goes with Violet. She gets stuck in “No.” She doesn’t really mean it. It’s just that it’s the only action that feels safe anymore, since the illness started scrambling her neurons, causing her to forget things. I guess saying “no” to everything makes her feel in control of something. I have to trick her into saying “yes.” She has a soft spot for animals, so that’s always a good place to start.
Tomorrow we’ll go to the zoo. She’ll say, “No.” But I’ll tell her how the giraffes just had a baby and it’s still wobbly and making mewing and snorting noises. It may not be true, but it will get her to “Yes,” and then when we get there, she won’t remember about the giraffes anyway. But she’ll point and laugh at the penguins, monkeys, and lemurs, even if the memories disappear by the next morning.
I often wonder what it must be like, not to have a past or a future. What would it feel like if I could live only in this moment I’m in? Violet and I watch the squirrels every day. I’ve seen them before a hundred times, but today is always her first time. She giggles like we’re in grade school again.

My Brother Buddy by Verna Wilder

The day two nuns in a station wagon ran over my brother Buddy, I had been rollerblading along East Cliff Drive wondering why I never fell in love with appropriate women. I fell in love with fun women, mind you, interesting and even exciting women, but not with women who could make a commitment for more than about five minutes, and I was well into version 176 of this thought, which ought to give you a clue how much I thought about this and to what incredibly stupid depths, and I remember rolling over to the fence along the cliff and just hanging there when the ambulance passed, having no idea my brother Buddy was in there, with a broken leg and such a scrape on his forehead and along his cheek that you can still see the bloodstains in the handicap parking space outside Lucky’s Supermarket, and I guess in a way he was lucky, since the nuns didn’t see him at all and the only thing that saved him from being completely run over was the bag boy who bumped a full grocery cart into the side of the driver’s door of the station wagon to get the driving nun’s attention, and so Buddy was only run over a little bit, even though he still tells the story to anyone who’ll listen about how he was almost killed, only he leaves out the part about how he was bent down tying his shoe right there in the parking lot like there wouldn’t be cars backing out for god’s sake, and my  mother says she still gets palpitations when she remembers that cool-as-a-watermelon voice on the phone asking her if she had a son named Richard, which he hates, and which is why we’ve always called him Buddy, like that’s not a better name for a dog than a boy.

So anyway, I was rollerblading along East Cliff Drive scolding myself when Buddy was being run over, but after I found out about Buddy, it didn’t seem to matter so much about the way I choose women, so I think about that day and how clear the sky was and how my feet seemed to find the smoothest part of the pavement so that I hardly had to think about where I was going or what I was doing, and I remember skating around this big blond guy in a wet suit and how it was like a dance the way he stepped to one side and I did a step-over on my blades and the sun glinted off the front door of the Pleasure Point Quick Stop so that the day, except for Buddy getting run over, was perfect.

Jon Boy by Niya Cristine

His name was Jon. And he looked like John Boy from the Walton’s. Our first date was a walk in my neighborhood in Mill Valley Ca. It was a beautiful day, everything smelled alive and his stringy blonde hair looked like that of a 7 year old. I was jealous because my hair was pool worn and straight iron worn. I also didn’t know if Jon could win me over with his masculinity, he looked so…well, John Boyish.
I decided as we walked, why not test him out a bit? It was the late 90’s, I was in the most confident time of my life as a woman. lots of flirting, lots of floundering and not caring.

So, I said to him, “It’s sad really…” he looked at me curiously.
“Well, how boys are taught the 1, 2, 3 method of seduction with a girl. When they grow into men they usually keep it up.”
“Oh, pleez…tell me more, this ought to be good” he chortled at me.

“1. Get close enough to the girl to hold her hand.
2. If you get that close, take it a step further and put your arm around her. If you’re lucky she won’t notice, but you still accomplished something.
3. Go for the kiss. Get your tongue in there or she’ll think you’re gay.”

He laughed and did exactly what I wanted I him to do… he kissed me. “3.” He said while pulling me to him in such a forceful, sexy way that even John Boy Walton would’ve taken note.
It was a good kiss. Good enough for me to accept a date with him two nights later.

He took me to a raw foods restaurant in San Francisco. The waiter seated us on cushions on the floor near the window. Everything was cold. The food, the floor, even the waiter looked skinny and cold. And his skin Vampire-ish pale, marble sheen to it. It gave raw food new meaning to think of the waiter as a Vampire. But Jon was a major vegan. He couldn’t even smell meat without wanting to puke. I didn’t know this previously. But as it turned out, I didn’t know Jack about Jon. In fact, if Jon’s name were Jack I wouldn’t have been surprised by the end of this night.
By the time the Licorice tea came I was craving a Martini in a big way. Jon was talking pridefully about the mother of his child, his ex-wife. How he left her when she was pregnant with his son because he realized her body type was never something he liked. He scratched his crotch a lot as he told this story. To this day I don’t know why–guilty crotch syndrome maybe. Anyway, he moved to another state and got a skinny girlfriend. I asked him to describe his ex-wife’s body type. “Voluptuous, athletic.” He said as he slurped the seaweed into his mouth. “But that’s me, that’s my body type.” I said incredulous. “Yeah, you aren’t my body type either.” “Are you whacked?” I said, eyeing the skinny waiter because he was starting to look really good to me.
Jon laughed and kept eating. He was pleased with himself for some reason. We were quiet for what seemed like an hour, as we ate. The sounds of cars passing got louder. I felt colder. I wanted to go home. But Jon had more to say. The night morphed into something more like a circus act of the soul—something darkly amusing and creepy at the same time.
He smiled and pulled his stringy hair to the side. He eyed my cleavage. “My current girlfriend runs a whorehouse in Mill Valley.” He said casually. I stared blankly at the floor and realized we were the only ones in this restaurant. He wanted to eat at 6 p.m., which I thought was pretty early. He probably had plans after this with the whorehouse mistress.
“You may know her…” I put my hand up in his face to stop. “You know, I have this essay to write on hobo language, a design paper for…”
I trailed off. The waiter came by. “Check please.” I said a little too enthusiastically. And he looked at me pitifully. I wondered how many women Jon had brought here. Not that I cared in the way I should have with someone I was attracted to until now. I wished a cab home didn’t cost a hundred dollars; that I was rich enough not to care. But this wasn’t the case.

As I closed the passenger’s side of his funky white van, he said “I’m sorry, I’m so ashamed of the male conditioning I carry in my being. I try to cleanse. I eat…”
“Raw food” I interjected. “Well. I eat well. I try to learn and grow…”
“I was just wondering if you could start the van. I really need to go home.” I said anxiously. But he didn’t. He talked for 10 minutes straight about this issue and that issue and all the issues with him and his whorehouse 1099 woman. What a consulting gig, I thought sullenly. Finally, I said, “I’m just not into you, I’m not interested. Please take me home.” He laughed. He looked at me stunned. He said, “Now that! I just don’t believe. When I look in the mirror, I want to DO me.”
I went to my happy place at this point. I needed to calm down before I gave opened my mouth again. I needed to be effective. I thought about my bed, my own bed, how good it would be to get in it ALONE. I gave him a long, thorough look and said: “Then, THAT’S all you need! All you need is YOU! Now take me home.” I demanded. This time I glared at him until he relented. I hoped he got the message I would kick his skinny little ass if he didn’t step on it. He did.

In the morning I cuddled with my white coyote dog. I opened my bedroom window to hear the sounds of the creek going by I called my best girlfriend and told her the story over morning coffee. We laughed really hard.

What was I thinking? Clearly I wasn’t thinking at all. I would like to say that the next time I did. That I did think. But no, charm over seeing was a theme for a few more years.

Submitted December 27th 2008 : Come to your senses day stories.