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fugue 56









fiction 

The Farmers' Market

Sean Cunningham

On the first Saturday, on my way to the farmers' market, I was accosted by Alice – of Wonderland fame – and beseeched to rescue her friends, the leeks, from the tyranny of gnashing teeth. I did as requested and bought every leek in the market, returning them to her, unharmed. She never acknowledged me, but instead set about drawing faces on each leek and placing them inside oversized milk bottles whilst – to herself, or to the leeks – singing: Over in Killarney, many years ago...
  On the second Saturday, en route once more, I chanced upon a sinkhole, measuring a rough three feet in diameter but, by the reckoning of all my senses, bottomless. I tossed in a ten pence piece, hearing only silence until out spewed the riches of Babylon, El Dorado, and ancient Timbuktu. But all turned to rotting flesh in my hands, seeping between my fingers to the floor.
   On the third Saturday, I awoke early – in a foul temper – and sat in my kitchen, contemplating missing the farmers' market, as the fresh daylight broke over the garden wall. The rays were blocked, however, by the materialisation of a less-than-divine being atop my stove. She spoke her name and buoyed my soul with the manic fervour of her inimitable tongue; she filled my heart to its very limits and never blinked once. We shared a black tea, and out the door I went.
    On the fourth Saturday, I made it to the farmers' market without prior incident and found it deserted, but for the glorious wealth of fresh produce available. I picked up a cauliflower and a force slapped it from my hand, I picked up a bunch of spring onions only for the same to happen again. I held out my hand, with coins in my palm, and watched them disappear. I took the cauliflower and the spring onions, along with a turnip and some blue rice, and cried with purposeless joy.
     On the fifth Saturday – the rarest Saturday of them all – I instigated the Great Farmers' Market Riot of 1992. I forget the exact reason why, it changes often; I've said before that it was due to the increasing price of mushrooms; I've also said that it was because of the disrespect I received after laying claim to the final jar of piccalilli from across the market. Whatever the reason was, it resulted in the place going up in flames – the purity of the wares only stoking the inferno. It went down in history as the largest fire created on Earth and that's something I take bittersweet pride in. We danced around the blaze for thirteen years, non-stop, forgetting life, forgetting death, forgetting love and hate. Forgetting all but our shameful names.

Winged, Two-Headed

Danilo Thomas

 Before and after Pinpurse was a story. Our mother told me it, and she told it well. She told it like a ghost story, like the story I’m telling you. It starts with a place called The Palace. The once verdant plain, filled with stream-fed grasses and hundreds of horses, quickly withered into crust and ash when the mines replaced the ranches. Some horses remained wild; others, taken from the fields and brought underground to haul carts, return to the surface when they die. For every pound of ore burned in the copper smelters, one acre of grass recedes under the mountain, and in this new desert snakes plunge down the warrens to snare small life. Rabbits, thrush, they plunge down the bellies of the snakes, and the snakes multiply in the polluted sands. Mutated by the poisons boiling out of the smelter and falling from the blackened sky, some snakes drag with them useless wings or an additional, derelict head. Beyond the rocks of The Palace, they enter the roosts of the miners’ hens, strike at the faces of sheltered livestock and family dogs. Carried home, the bitten child strung taught, the amputated limb hits the floor, already stiff and bruised the color of death; but the knuckle rapping off the blooded wooden floor shakes the braces in the shafts and sends a shiver through the steel girders in the gallus frames. And along the spines of man.
 The miners finally look, and what they see is black sands, bristle, and a herd of horses skittish where they walk the thinnest barrier between frog and a sea of serpents.
 The miners take the steel implements, their picks, shovels and axes and ply their unyielding trade. The soil, dampened in the snakes’ blood, blooms purple-headed thistles mounted on scaled stalks. The flowers are striking among the desolation. The mad horses eat these delicate heads, but we should never pick them. No, the miners never did. There are fangs in the blooms. Listen. Wind or wing among their stalks sounds warning.

 This is the legend my mother told me. It was made all the more real since, I assure you, The Palace is very real. You can drive into and across it. The lush hills have been dead two-hundred years and we are all haunted. I know from its telling that all stories begin where this story ends.
 What I mean is that our father shot himself. In the wastes of The Palace, in the days following the birth of my brother, Pinpurse, my father drank a fifth of rye and shot himself in the chest with a hunting rifle. For what reason? Nobody claims to know. But over time his passing became an unanswerable question that transformed into an object, a stone, in fact, that weighed down my brother his whole life, and there was nothing we could really do to help him. We only knew there was a stone and a dead man, and neither a stone nor a dead man can speak. And if they could, would you trust what they told you? No, you wouldn’t, and the more you move stones around the more you uncover what’s beneath them, which is simply snakes, dust, bones turning to dust, and air.

 My mother, on the other hand, left your classic suicide note. Barb, I do not wish to diminish before your eyes is a line of what she wrote on the paper that she put on my bed stand to find. We did confirm with doctors that she was very ill, and it is true that she sheltered us from watching her physical decline, but inadvertently, she, the one whom we’d named Hero, willingly abandoned us, abandoned me, who she addressed most cordially when using the abbreviated version of my name. I sometimes wonder what I’d feel had she written Barbara. Some people will believe my mother’s actions noble. They will tell me that I can’t possibly know what horrors my mother saved us from, and perhaps they’re right. They probably are right. But my brother and I had to live with her absence, and further, we were left behind in the same way twice, and that is a violation, regardless of intention.
 Everyone here knows at least five suicides. At least. I’m not exaggerating. Everyone here has not just heard of someone they once met choosing to walk the dark road but knows personally five people who have chosen to die. These suicides are first kisses, they are the friends who taught them how to drive the inside curve on a twisted highway, who taught them to soak peeled potatoes for crispier fries, who had drawn minnows from a lake in a flour sifter and funneled them into a bottle of gin and watched them swim right out of their scales and skins until all but their bones disappeared. We drank down those bones on the dock after the adults went to sleep, our laughter echoing across the dark water into a hidden cove.
 We are told stories of snakes and of horses and eventually we accept that someone dear to us will choose to die. We accept that another suicide is more likely in our lives than seeing a wolf or a porcupine or a beaver, and we live in Western Montana, a forest, or what used to be a forest.

 Our grandmother took me and Pinpurse in first. We were young. Pinpurse still in his diapers. Our grandmother was old and filled with the poison, and soon after we arrived she passed away in her kitchen. Before she died she told us, too, the story of the snakes and the horses, and of the bitten child and the lovely, dangerous flowers. Then she sent us to play on the rail track. She sat on the kitchen floor. The long, cool cinder of her cigarette ash arched from her forefinger and stayed there until my uncle touched her shoulder. The ash came all apart then, but never hit the floor. It went out the window and then away somewhere else.

 Those were our early years. They sorted themselves out around us, and our uncle, a kind man with little knowledge of children, brought us to The Palace, into the heart of the story, the place where the mountain had died. There, he showed us a certain way in a hard place: how to breathe in a dust storm, which horses to use for target practice, how to kill snakes. He taught usthat the land was not evil, but that nature could be thrown out of balance. And so we ran through rust-colored ruts and brambles, breathed deeply the poisonous dust. We carved our shining faces into spring’s bones.

 From a young age I picked Pinpurse up when he cried. First, when he was in diapers, as we all do with babes, but then later when the schools sent him home for fighting, or for spitting tobacco into the radiator, for smoking weed in the locker room or putting grain alcohol in a bottle of maraschino cherries and eating them at his locker. For not giving a shit. For wanting to be in trouble.
 We had an inheritance. And perhaps that was the problem. Pinpurse’s struggles were real. He reacted to our parents’ deaths by sabotaging his life, but he lived in the luxury those choices provided without reprimand or consequence. Our parents were suicides, but Pinpurse had a seventy-two-inch TV in his room and no one to set him straight. He sulked in a king-sized bed. He self-medicated with the good shit. The sabotage was fake, was vain. He was accountable to me and my uncle, and neither of us could raise our voices to the flailing boy. What if we pushed him over the edge? We told him it was all going to work out.
 Pinpurse. This sweet boy unguided, turned into a young man jobless and profane. He stooped on the porch with our aged uncle and a 40-ounce bottle of Olde English mixed with orange juice that he happily gulped with the belief that he among the many had been singled out and cheated. Something was owed, and he became his own personal zealot, and he became a taker. He wanted for nothing. He could afford all that he stole. He stole nonetheless. It was not really his fault. It was just his story. And it made him a ghost.

 Ghost stories are tales of recompense, and what needs to be clear is that something had not been settled when on one cold day a rumble carried over the hills and gullies of The Palace. An untended campfire burned on the haultop while its maker sighted her rifle, firing slugs into a hard ridge of aged slag. The rifle’s report loosed a crow’s hold on the single black pine still standing. The abandoned mine dumps bleached the valley a hundred miles in any direction outside of Birch, Montana’s city limits. Green-grey light diluted the edges of the Flint Creek Range. It was early morning. The world had yet to round. It remained flat in its motion like sheet metal gliding on dirty flooring. The crow drifted down to the clotted smelter waste and hardscrabble. Pinpurse faced five to twenty years in Deer Lodge State Prison for robbing a train.
 Dust and snow had covered the broken stones and the hoof prints of the wild horses that still ran in the gullies. Near the primitive road, all rut between granite, the horses ran from the warmth in the gully across the darkened ridgeline, spooked by the rifle and Pinpurse’s tires on the cattle rattle. Pinpurse drove, and I rode with him. He chomped a toothpick, and a smug grin turned the stubbly corners of his mouth up into dimples. Technically, his crime had placed him in the company of Butch Cassidy and Jesse James, and humored, he slapped his knee about that fact. Sitting shotgun with all the gravitas of a mildewed sack of Idaho Golds, I reminded him of his grim prospects. Something like fear replaced his smile and tightened his neck.
 Pinpurse set his knees under the steering wheel and shifted the rig into neutral, letting the truck take its own course down the hill. He popped the lid off his chew can and pinched out a dip. He stuffed the wad behind his dimpled chin and the lump distorted the symmetry of his features. He recapped his tobacco and threw the can on the dash. He spit through the hole in the floorboards down near the clutch where silt coming off the road plumed through in quick spouts that dirtied his clutch foot. The brooding, begrudgingly delighted boy that had been my brother a year before had become a rugged young man. Already there was a touch of winter in his beard stubble, and a year of labor on the roofs around town had replaced his defiant mean streak with an assured passivity that was on the verge of breaking.
 The suspension creased, old and loose, and slack-shouldered from sleep loss my head dipped to touch the window. I shook out the lank strands of hair that had become sticky with neglect. I felt ill. I hadn’t worked or washed in over a week but sat fretting in my bed. I had sprung Pinpurse on bond, but he was due back in court soon for sentencing. He was going to do some serious time, and I was helpless to stop any of it. I pinched my nose and sniffed hard to pack the dust from my nostrils in closer to my brain.
 I wanted to set Pinpurse at ease. Times before, when I’d bailed him out after dust-ups and pranks gone south, we’d laughed it off over a few beers. But this time he hadn’t merely broken the nose of a college student or broken the head off the dinosaur at the Sinclair. I could not address this dilemma. I did not know how I felt about it. Or maybe I did and just had a hard time taking the whole thing seriously.
 What had happened was Pinpurse caught wind that a train car had gone unlocked and unguarded down at the depot. He went to the yard to check the facts and finding the tales true it didn’t take much to convince a few of his boys. They stole a train car’s worth of beer, and it took little more than backing a few trucks up to the tracks and then driving away.
 Mornings don’t keep night’s secrets in small towns. By noon next day, the whole town had a free case of beer in their fridge and heard tell of the comical ease with which this caper was accomplished. We all celebrated the boys. Laughed. Forgot. Never even considered forgiveness or what might be owed because, honestly, who could possibly give two shits? Turns out the train company. The beer distributor. And the federal government. It quickly became all too clear that those were the answers to the question none of us, especially my brother and his friends, had thought to ask.
 A day or two later the impulse to brag faded into a shut-mouthed necessity. Thing of it was, tight lips irritated the local force until the time for any leniency passed and they were forced to pursue grand larceny. The usually good-humored law enforcement, the feds breathing down their necks, would persecute to the fullest extent of the law. They had to. It was now a federal crimeonthenationalradar.Thefirsttrainjackingofthe21stcentury.Thebluesstoodtrueto their word, too. Collared on the corner of Copper and Platinum, Pinpurse knew it didn’t really matter who’d turned coat on him. It was serious. I imagine that for the first time in his life he felt something like relief.

 He slammed his head back against the headrest, upsetting the rattlesnake skins draped in the elbows of the gun rack. The skins had not been taken down from last year’s kill and they had turned hard and slim as catgut. Some moldered where the muscle and blood hadn’t been scraped clean, and their dry rot flurried in the cab a corpulent blizzard. Pinpurse slapped at his neck. He chewed rapidly his tongue, and his neck flesh crawled with snake dust and what I assumed and hoped was shame. The mixture of grime and anxiety spread hives down his spine and he pulled on his collar. He rolled down the window. It didn’t help. The itch was too much for him. He stopped the truck and put the brake on, stepped out to slap out his coat. He rubbed at his cold, damp nose and slammed his jacket off the side panel. He did it again. He slammed and smacked and punched until he was beating hell out of the fender, the coat on the ground near the tire. Spent, he kicked the coat across the road and leaned on the open door and spat.
 “Look,” he said. “We’re running hot here.”
 I was his oldest and possibly only friend, now that his compadres had thrown him under the proverbial train car. I leaned my chin into my hand. Pinpurse retrieved his coat.
 “What about it?” he asked. “We could run. Get into Canada? Vancouver always treated me well.”
 “That’s a child’s thought, Pin. You’ll make do. You’re not in yet, and you will be out. Someday soon you’ll be out. All right?” I crossed my arms and looked out the window at the cracks and rocks and shadows wondering how much prison might change a man. If it might do my brother some good?
 The sun spilled. Frost at the edges of the windshield glowed. The herd of horses stopped on a near hill and turned broad to the sun to feel its warmth. Pinpurse pulled his cap down to shield his eyes. The wind touched the ash and the snow that smothered the ground. It was hard to live in the valley, and almost harder to believe that before the mines it had been one of the largest horse ranches in the country, running with grass, scored by high mountain streamsrunning off the Continental Divide and game trails that lead to the water. Now, there wasn’t a hint of growth that wasn’t barked or sharp, and this included the shifty horses forced to eat the brambles. There were plague creatures in the hot months, snakes and grasshoppers, but now they slept in their winter dens.
 The road wound through piles of ancient shaft braces, the squared pines they’d cut out of the Beaverhead by the thousands. They’d used them to buttress the mining tunnels. I don’t know how these got here, but they’d always been there, turning askew on each other in haphazard piles. I had the inclination to stop and light them on fire, set the valley ablaze and Birch, Montana, along with it. Send out a warning signal to anyone able to see the smoke. Do not tread here. I knew better, though. The valley and everything in it was sown with arsenic, a lethal, natural flame retardant. Twenty miles northwest, in Asphodel, the world’s tallest smelter had steadily burned stone for decades, burying everything in a three-hundred-mile diameter in ash. Once burned, nothing could burn. It just sat in the dry air and slowly fell into ruin.
 Pinpurse took a right and cut away from the road. The docks of the ruined train dumps scattered along the ridges of rail track. The rail ties had eroded down to furred brace bolts and nests of broken duff that would forever smell of kerosene. More hills rose out of the littered washes below the dumps, where the ditches gathered bedsprings, rocks, broken bottles. The truck stamped track in the earth, and the dust came out from under the featherings of snow and fell into the cab. We pulled our bandanas over our mouths and ears.
 “You know, Barb,” Pinpurse said. “Killing snakes is bigger than us. It’s tradition. Like grandma’s stories. We’re keeping the town safe.”
 “The hell did the snakes ever do but act like snakes?” “I’m serious.”
 “So am I.”
 “Okay, well, how’d Nanner Feet die?”
 “Okay.”
 “How’d that dog die?”
 The heat blasted out of the dashboard. My face was hot.
 “Snake bit,” I said.
 “You’re damn right snake bit. And I can’t count on my toes how many people, and their dogs, have thanked me for not being dead, or in a whole lot of discomfort.” Pinpurse turned the knob on the heater to defrost and the windshield fogged. He turned it back.
 “Them the same people that turned you into the feds?”
 “Don’t change the subject. Snakes are dangerous. Killing them is right and good.”
 “Come on, Pin. You’re right. A few less people and/or their dogs may be bitten by snakes. Good on you. But that’s not why you kill snakes, and it sure as hell doesn’t make it ‘right and good.’ You’ve been the first to do something just to do anything since day one.” I scratched a line through the frost on the window, aware that I was saying things I’d been thinking for years. “You don’t think I can see it. See you risking your ass for what you say is just kicks when we both know you tear yourself up because you don’t know which direction to fire an arrow. Your whole life it hasn’t mattered if it’s killing snakes to kill time or acting the asshole for your buddies or, apparently, robbing trains.”
 Pinpurse rounded down the hill, maneuvering slowly through the rock that led up onto the granite outcropping. I hoped that he was trying to convince himself that he hadn’t lived a life so obvious, but he said, “No, I think you prove my point.” And we didn’t say another word about it.

 Silt and the roots of dead thistles gripped the seams of the boulder covering the rattlesnake nest. Steam drifted from the deep fissure below the rock where they slept. Pinpurse stopped the truck. I got out, put hands to hips and stretched a bit. Sweat beaded on my lip. I licked at it to keep it from running into my nostrils when I bent to touch my toes.
 “Better clear the early birds first,” Pinpurse said.
 Pinpurse and I, like the law, like the chosen righteous, like miners with their tools, we pushed the noses of our shovels through the dirt and dusting of snow, checking for the few snakes that had exited the den, snakes fooled by the early spring, only to twist their bodies back into the sand for warmth.  My shovel turned over a length of body hidden in the soft earth. The slightest movement and the dust trickled off the spine and scales like a lit fuse and gave away the rattlesnake’s shape. I drove the spade through the snake and into the ground, freeing the head from everything else. The mouth still worked separate from its body, opening and closing, emptying the venom out of its glands. I kicked it aside, and we set to prodding the dirt around the entrance to the pit, bothering a few small snakes from the rocks, and stabbing them apart.
 The ground clear of any snakes we might have stepped on, Pinpurse fired the rig and backed it up carefully, edging the bumper near to the den. I took the hose out of the truck and pushed one end into the muffler. I fed the other end into the snake hole. I stopped up the exhaust with a ball of socks and the fumes flowed down through the hose. Pinpurse revved the engine. Exhaust roiled up from the nest. The truck idled, and Pinpurse got out of the cab. The morning had warmed a bit, and the world filled with the sound of a steady dripping.
 The stones whispered. Bothered by the hose and the taste of exhaust, the snakes closest to the mouth of the den deserted slowly, colder than the others at the bottom of the burrow where the tangle created a live furnace, but more willing to flee the hole. After months in the dark, I could only imagine how the cold, bright day assaulted their senses, made them stupid and frantic as a thing newly born. They slithered in random directions or coiled up when they felt the cold air. We killed them at a controlled pace, rocking from foot to foot, shifting our weight, turning furrows in the ground with our heels. The dust came out from under the snow, and it covered rock and skin and spade. Then the blood ran and melted the snow and dampened the silt. A few snakes made it into the shelter of the rocks. Other asphyxiated bodies ceased mid-slither at the opening of the den. The snakes that had been sleeping deep in the ground were already dead. I looked at all the bodies, unsure at what point my derision for this act turned into gleeful participation.
 Pinpurse pulled the last of the train beers, his loot and misfortune, from behind the seat. Other than the possibility of twenty-five years in prison, these beers were all that remained of the prize he’d hauled from the belly of that train car. It had only been a few weeks since he’d pulled up to the fire, his truck bed stacked three cases tall, his cab filled and all his friends celebrating, the girls noticing and admiring his handsome recklessness.  The spray of beer foam flecked his blood-spattered hands. He blew heat back into his fists and admired the slaughter on the ground before him.  “I must have killed twenty.”
 “Maybe six,” I said.
 Pinpurse slapped my shoulder. We had practiced forgetting over the years. I emptied my can, gagged, and threw it into the rocks.
 “Flat.” I opened another.
 “You’re a pro,” Pinpurse said.

 Full daylight and everything possible. Pinpurse wound the hose, pulling it around his shoulder and elbow, he watched the herd of horses that had brought in the morning. They’d roamed off toward the base of a butte, but now the dirty stallion led them down through the snow directly toward us. They turned to and fro at intervals to avoid the ghosts, until they came right up on us and stopped. The horses were small. In them, time and a shared bloodline had rotted the careful breeding of the valley’s original purebred Arabians and quarter horses. On their long thin necks they held high proud heads. Where they had bitten each other, open wounds on their flanks and necks wept an infected curd. Their hides were warty with pellets that had once been in my gun. Pine brambles and burrs were stove up in their tails. They pawed the ground. They shook out their manes.
 In deeper spring the air would have teemed with ticks and horse flies, but the winter had at least relieved them of those infestations. The lead stallion had a patch of royal white on its flank where the filth had been cleared by constant motion, and he stood even with Pinpurse’s shoulders. Drawn by the horse’s wet dark eye, Pinpurse raised a hand and took a step, hoping to touch the darkened muzzle. The stallion turned and yipped and kicked, bit the rump of the mare nearest to him who reared, and the herd bucked in a single motion, snapping each other’s mouths closed and thumping rib cages with their broken hooves. Pinpurse touched his mouth, rubbed the tips of his fingers into the soft part of his upper lip and slid it around on his skull.
 I went after them. They were amazing to me in that moment though they had never been worth much before. I wanted to get up close. I tugged on Pinpurse to follow.
 “A walk would be all right,” Pinpurse said. “Get my blood moving.”
 I slapped his shoulder and we went after the horses. They’d made it to the slope of the ridge. The stallion twisted on its back, bathing in the dust. It thrashed about like to put out flames. The other horses fanned out on lower ground near a gully trickling with run off. They idly drank from the water and bit the heads from the thistles that had sprung up at the first suggestion of the moisture. We walked toward the horses until they started to shy and we changed direction, circling the herd to the left until we happened upon a scree slope where a crow worried a carcass lying in a scrabble of stones. Pinpurse chucked a rock at the bird and it hopped off a pace before it again perched on the hoof of the dead foal, cocked its head, and commenced pecking out the dead pony’s soft spots. Pinpurse threw another stone that hit nearer. The bird flew off.
 The foal had two punctures in its muzzle. The snake venom, hemotoxic, destroying cells in the horse’s soft flesh, had caused the nose and upper lip to swell until the bites had split into horrible stars. The blood, unable to clot properly, had run into its mouth and stained the horse’s teeth black. Its stomach was full of gas and distended near to bursting. Dead a few days, the cold had kept it from going putrid, but when the spring finally came the gases would burst the skin and work a stink up. Then the dogs would stray to find the body, bringing their slaver and spit and noise. They’d be crazy with the smell, stupid for their chance to gorge on green meat, and they’d ignore the warnings of the snakes newly freed from their dens. The dogs would return home snake bit or not at all. Families would mourn. Snakes would die. Unsatisfied with their vengeance, men would drink toasts to their dead dogs. They would drink too many toasts. Their families would miss them. Mothers would send their sons to find their fathers and the fathers would turn up bitten by the bottle again, and the misery and the madness would spread. A spouse would be put out. Another would uncover a deeply ingrained worthlessness residing inside them, full grown, crystalline, somewhat beautiful if not horrifying for its abundance, as if it had always been there, tangible and undeniable. Then there would be death and winter. But, then too, the spring to turn it all over. The cycle ends with hope, the rot that brings life lying dormant in the next stupid thing to root about in the rocks, blinded by want, not paying attention to the alarms or where it is putting its innocent nose.

 I squatted and tilted my head to get a better look at the markings on the foal’s forelock, a white diamond.
 “Poor little thing had a jewel in his head.”
 Pinpurse lifted a stiff leg with his boot. If he had a thought, he didn’t say it. He unearthed a large flat stone and drug it abroad the foal. Under its weight, the spine and ribcage popped in several places. I helped him out. We placed several smaller stones on the carcass until a loose mound was built over the animal.
 “Just think,” Pinpurse said, picking the bright head from a thistle before leaning on his knees to catch his breath. “He’ll be nothing but bones when I get out, and me . . . Barb, I’ll make this right for you. For both of us. When I get out. It’s going to only be five years. I can feel it. Five years. I swear it on this horse’s bones, five years and I’ll pay my debts to you and I’ll get the hell out of here. Let you live your life. Live my own.”
 He handed me the flower, but I could not accept it. I crossed my arms and tightened my lips into a small smile, trying to stay stoic and proud, trying to rationalize, trying to will some luck. I hugged him, but I would not take that flower. Pinpurse let it fall and pulled me into his chest so that I could feel the calamity of his heart. I found myself believing him. He’d try hard to follow through on his word. I thought, then, that he intended to, and I almost cried aloud at the fear of my hope. I put my head to his chest and listened to the ever-present timbre of rattlesnakes. I felt bad for that dead horse awhile.

MOOD CHART

Emily McKay

OBJECTIVE:

I aim to produce a set of data comprised of singular emotional moments, quantified on the spectrum between the wavelength of the Chin Quiver, formally referred to as either low mood or low energy, to the wavelength of the Eyebrow, formally referred to as either high mood or high energy, to determine a possible trend. A single data point will be collected daily in the controlled setting of West Sands, a cold and perpetually overcast Scottish beach facing the North Sea, formally referred to as The Void. At the conclusion of the experiment, the data can be expressed in a simple yet helpful graph, in which the y-axis represents quality of life and the x-axis represents time.


1

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And it was extremely sunny and full of happy couples and families and everyone was beautiful and I wanted to go home and die. Also, I am disappointed with all the people who failed to realize that the best seashells are at the end of the beach by the estuary. At least they did not deserve them.


2

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And I am confident that doing this everyday will improve my life. But today a small cross-eyed man strolled up next to me, grinned, walked a little ways ahead of me, ran full-speed back behind me, walked past me again, and carried on like this until I turned around to go home.


3

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And the mist made the town look blue. Chelsea Hotel kept running through my head. “Ah but you got away, didn’t you, baby/ You just turned your back on the crowd/ I never once heard you say/ I need you, I don’t need you, I need you, I don’t need you/ and all of that jiving around.”


4

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And there was so much mist that people floated in the opal like ants in amber. Leonard Cohen is still stuck in my head and he will not get out by singing.


5

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And the horizon was devoured by a hyena-flurry of fog, absolute and almost gruesome. Saint Andrews was gone, Scotland was gone, I was nowhere and nowhere minded. I wondered how people conceived of the sound of the ocean without hearing it for themselves. A recording couldn't bear witness to the layered whispers of waves miles away. Water on water, much, grave, and infinitely heavy; always threatening to come or go, always coming and always going, never leaving, never withholding at all. Swaying, and easing us into its cradle. Shushing.


6

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

But it was difficult to get out the door because my face kept breaking apart. I fell asleep crying, and when I woke up crying, I could not remember why. This is not new or interesting. My heart is large and pointless, I can believe nothing it says. So much fog today, it erased even the sea, and encased me in a dome that rolled along as I walked. This little notebook and this walk are two arms, give me a place, make me remember the days. Today my walk woke sandpipers.


7

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And it was Easter Sunday. My legs carried me into a warm steady trance and I needed it to never stop, to never lead anywhere. But flecks of sand whipped the sun off my sea-facing cheek, urging me to turn. I do not have the emotional stamina for wind, for sand, for seafoam, clouds, or skin. Everything adds to the lump in my throat and I want to vomit, I can’t stop thinking the word VOMIT VOMIT VOMIT and I want to vomit up something of consequence, like a few years of life, something to separate myself from this unpinnable toxin somewhere inside of me. The Easter children laugh and splash into sparkling summer-ice waves; the Easter parents smile and hold up towels.


8

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And apparently they’re sanderlings, not sandpipers. How diligent, how endearingly neurotic, racing toward every wave's lacy edge as if to usher the ocean back to its rightful parameters. A crow growled and bobbled along ahead of me like some small geriatric Godzilla. I stepped quietly and followed him for several minutes.


9

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And I was cold, so I turned blue. I passed a friend and he asked what violent weekend debauchery had left me with such bruises. I don't know how people can speak so quickly in the cold. I can't even form thoughts quickly in the cold. I just turn blue sometimes, I said. He laughed, which he also did so quickly I could hardly understand him.


10

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And fed breadcrumbs to Godzilla. We were joined by a thundercloud of other birds, mostly gulls, but then I had to leave to meet my psychiatrist. He approves of my walks. I think that in the same way everyone believes in love, everyone believes in walking. But no need to tell him I bake bread in the middle of the night for crows.


11

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And found a broken shell. It felt like every gloss and ridge of teeth. I wanted to put it in someone’s hand, and wrap someone’s fingers, around it and wait smiling as if it were a riddle. But someone is gone, every way I wrap my mind around it. Without deciding to, I carried it home. Nothing is more lost than one tooth of a beachcomb. I put it on my windowsill.


12

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And I could not feel the passage of time or the sunburn or the wind.


13

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And still I am walking but only walking around the residual pain of a rohypnol-and-lithium-blocked Friday night. This does not stop happening. I can’t change my life, I don’t know what it is, I don’t remember it, I wake up scratched and swollen in a strange flat and whisk myself to West Sands and that is that, that is this, this is my life, now and only. My body has to be so much more ruined than this to actually die; there is such a long way to go before this is finally, literally unbearable.


14

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And the sun was strong, it controlled everything, even the kites. Glitter in the sand, tombstones for what used to join them. It seemed so thick and deep today, made my legs ache to get through it.


15

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And stepped next to a jellyfish embedded in the wet packed sand. It looked like an eyeball. My footstep made it tic and the flies whipped away, then immediately relanded. I stepped out of its peripheral sphere and carried on through rooted dunes, avoiding everything with eyes.


16

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And it struck me again how hard it is to get away even when you go away.


17

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And it was perfect. Warm, overcast, and only a few people around to call the sky’s bluff. I counted the syllables of tentative haikus on my fingertips, until I realized I had an apple in my bag. Fingers filled: haiku suspended. It was the first time I’d ever eaten the core.


18

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And I saw two swans run toward the sea, making a tremendous sound as they took flight. I did not know how to describe the sound. Later I had dinner with a friend who had, that same day, seen two swans take off from East Sands. This led to an ecstatic conversation of trying to describe the sound.


19

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And the tide left the sand smooth and silver as a mirror. Distant figures unwittingly stepped on the toes of their inverted doppelgangers. The north end of the beach was wrapped inside a raincloud, but it looked so like fleece that I could not resist walking tighter and tighter into it until I was soaked.


20

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And passed the remains of last night’s bonfire, where someone unexpected and I had knocked back peanuts and gin. I have never felt so located as when he spoke to me. I think my life – I know my life - is changing.


21

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And the loose sand flew over the firm sand like ghosts slithering to sea. It was the sound of wild sand, undomesticated, intended for no one, a lively flock of rainsticks practicing their scales.


22

Today we walked

To Craigtoun Park and back

Since neither of us could sleep. We walked for hours through the woods, past trees’ gnarled faces, through snowdrops and crocuses that brightened as the sun rose. No one has ever held my hand in the daytime before. We ducked under the wooden posts into the old, ever empty park. Moss obscured the carved portraits, dates, and intentions of the stone monuments that nested in rows of intertwining cypresses in garden tended and garden untended, contextless urns, pedestals glorifying only lichen, and arched gateways we cannot say led nowhere.


23

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And as I yawned, the wind swept across my mouth like someone blowing over an empty bottle, or the low tone that swoops over of the mouthpiece of a flute, before any attempt at song.


24

Today I did not walk

Up and down West Sands

Because I was intercepted by bliss.


25

Today we picnicked

On the sands across the estuary

By Tentsmuir Forest. For years I have left myself on the northen-most edge of West Sands, wondering at the opposite shore, but never set foot there until today. There was no clear path. And you couldn't see them from West Sands but huge concrete blocks were dropped on the beach in the second World War to keep enemy ships from landing. I skipped from one to the other until they were too far apart, and then returned to our scones and flask of tea.


26

Today we walked

Up and down West Sands

And West Sands was not openly jealous. It stowed away in our eyebrows and belly buttons and joined us in bed. It struck me again how hard it is to get away even when you go away from West Sands.


27

Today I walked

Up and down West Sands

And the sanderlings let the tide wash over their toes as if in a gesture of cosmic trust. The sunset cast everything in a tender, almost sweaty, candle-flame glow, which was not only beautiful but true, and generous. The experiment is complete. I know the days, even as they ebb back into the dark colossus. I keep everything.

Move On Over Or We'll Move on Over You

Luke Muyskens

 The sink is mint green, broad enough to be a wash basin, broad enough to dip his head, broad enough to hold a child. The faucet is chrome like a dream. It’s not running but he hears water. The sink tapers to pale yellow tiles. The sink is full of blood. He’s surprised by the dark color of droplets spread like constellations across the floor, some big as pupils. Rorschach violence. Rivulets crawl from puddles to the drain. Lines drip down the tub. He thinks of legs. How much alcohol in wine. Sip and watch legs run down the glass. He assumes the tub is also filled with blood. Clumps of red toilet paper hang from the trash bin. There are clumps of something in the blood, too. He sees a blue coat with black patches on the floor, next to a tattered pair of shoes. He kicks one and its sole comes loose. A memo on the sink offers toiletries, toothbrushes, and shower caps, if you forgot yours.
 He turns off the light. In the dark, everything looks normal. He sees a little blood by his feet and turns the light back on. The shower curtain is crumpled in a pile. He props his shotgun against the doorframe and enters, careful not to slip on the blood. He looks into the sink. Jesus fucking Christ, there’s a baby in there.

*

 The 60s are over, Toniver tells himself. No time for mistakes anymore. Toniver tries to sleep in the backseat of an Oldsmobile rolling into Oakland, though his long legs don’t fit. They pass grocery stores and parking lots flooded with white light. Squat motels, like the one they were in earlier, before the hospital. Rain rolls against the windows. Toniver pulls his leather collar up and massages the bags forming under his sloping eyes. He wrings his slender hands. The 60s are over, their time is running out, they can’t make mistakes like this. They can’t run into the wrong motel room anymore.

*

Jamal: It’s weird.
Toniver: What’s weird about it?
J: I changed my name to Jamal Shabazz for a fresh start. I shed my old self and made something new. It was like...being reborn. Like a phoenix. You know?
T: Not really.
J: When a phoenix dies, it bursts into—
T: I know. But I don’t understand why you need to be reborn. How’s that better than changing?
J: I changed. I used to be Michael W. Smith. A new name brings you power.
T: I changed my name.
J: No, I changed mine to Jamal Shabazz. Shabazz is Malcolm’s real name. There’s history there. The ancient scientist who led the first tribe to Africa.
T: You changed your name to what Malcolm changed his from?
J: The name’s got power. What the hell kind of name is Toniver?
T: I thought we could choose whatever name we wanted. I thought it was cool. Now everybody’s giving me shit.
J: I just don’t want us to look bad. We’ve got enough of that. People waving guns around, I mean, Jesus. It’s the Party for Self-Defense. We’re just trying to hold our own.
T: I agree, Jamal.
J: Speaking of looking bad. Why do you spend so much time with that white baby?
T: What are you talking about?
J: Come on, man. The baby from the motel room. I know you know what I’m talking about. Why do you keep visiting that baby? People are gonna start talking.
T: Why’s it your goddamn business?
J: I’m just saying it’s weird, Toniver.
T: Why?

*

 The punching bag is heavy at the bottom, full of sand. Toniver pushes it as he walks by, feeling its leather cave under his hand. The other two men walk past, to the ring, where they engage a man with a heaving chest and wet forehead. Toniver makes fists and bounces in front of the bag. He’s quick, but too pigeon-toed. He thinks of the baby. The men point to a fourth, at the door, holding a shotgun. Community Protection. Toniver throws a fist, but it hurts.

*

 By now, the nurses know him. Hey Tone, can I get you anything? He asks for an orange juice cup, every time. They wouldn’t let him see her at first. Who’s gonna let a 6’4”, 200 pound black man in a leather duster hold a white newborn to whom he doesn’t claim relation? He’s also got crooked teeth, and in his experience, people with bad teeth lose trust. After no one claimed the child, they gave up. He comes at night because the night nurses have different rules. He did bring her there. And the first time he held her, he showed such tenderness they had no trouble trusting him. Like she was his. He gets a look in his eyes when he’s over her crib... like fear, but good fear. There’s a whole room of white babies but Toniver always knows where his girl is. Angela, he calls her. Pretty name.
 He cried the first time he held her. Big man in a room full of babies, cribs all around him like headstones, cradling a little package and weeping. She was wrapped in white blanket, and his big hands, not moving. Angela—no other name—has more hair than most babies, orange as a creamsicle, clashing with her turquoise eyes to make her a colorful child. Those big-little eyes connected with his, and in a curious reversal, she stayed calm while he broke down. Like she was comforting him, visiting him. They stood for an hour, that night and every night after. He sits at the end of the hall and bottle-feeds her until he can’t keep his eyes open. Then he goes.

*

 Toniver has a dream where they catch him stealing a car, but it’s his car. They toss him onto the ground and cuff him. He’s fifteen in the dream. The cuffs are too tight and hurt his wrists. The men arresting him—who he can’t see—put him in his backseat. You’re the ones stealing, he says, but his voice doesn’t work. They drive him to the edge of the woods and tell him to go. Follow the moss. The trees are birch and their paper bark peels up high, fluttering like moths onto the trail. When he walks, moss eats his feet like mud, and he has to pull hard. It’s a white day. Night, with a moon so bright he can see everything, which is nothing, nothing but birch. He hears Angela cry but can’t find her in the underbrush. He tries to leave the moss trail but the trees are too thick, so he keeps going.  At the end of the woods is a parking lot. He crosses and walks into a Woolworth’s. Inside, where there should be a check-out station, is a noose. The executioner wears a mask but he knows it’s J. Edgar Hoover. It’s inevitable, rehearsed, calculated. When he gets there, he doesn’t even care. That’s the worst part. He climbs up and J. Edgar puts the noose around his neck. He doesn’t pray or anything. When the lever is pulled, the noose falls free and tumbles to his ankles. Toniver looks down, where the rope has become a snake. The snake bites him and he dies anyway.

*

Malea: Don’t you understand how this puts me in an uncomfortable situation, Toniver? Toniver: What does?
M: Where were you just now?
T: I don’t know, in my car?
M: Don’t play games with me, Tone. Were you at the hospital? Don’t you see how that puts me in an uncomfortable situation?
T: Honestly? No.
M: How long have we been dating?
T: Malea, don’t—
M: Six months. Do you think that’s long enough to have a child together? It’s not. What do you expect me to do? Let you adopt it? What am I supposed to be? Its mother?
T: Her mother. And I never said I wanted to adopt her.
M: Why the hell else do you spend every night there? What’s your plan, Tone, if you aren’t gonna adopt her?
T: I don’t know. She’s so alone... If I don’t come, nobody comes. I knew we had a connection when I pulled her from that sink. She was barely alive, you know? Barely breathing. Blood in her lungs. Born an hour earlier, is what they said.
M: What the hell happened there?
T: I don’t know. The doctors think someone wanted to have her in secret, and when the blood wouldn’t stop coming, they rushed the mother to the hospital and left the baby behind. Poor thing. All I know is that I gotta take care of her.
M: And why were you there?
T: I told you, we had the wrong room number. I don’t have to adopt her.
M: Don’t you think the real father will come back?
T: After seeing that place, I don’t think her parents give two shits.
M: I’m taking no responsibility.
T: She’s starting to make noises. Boop boop boop.
M: What?
T: That’s the noise she’s making. Boop boop.
M: Whatever, Tone.
T: Boop.

*

 Handmade letterpress, two-color. One of six thousand. Toniver levers the press plate down. Thick black border. Blue trim. Blue circle, black crosshairs, blue trim, black cat. Prowling. Black title: MOVE ON OVER OR WE’LL MOVE ON OVER YOU. Impact Bold, centered, all caps. Black body, Courier Bold, centered.

*

 If you listen close, you’ll hear the rumble of Highway 101. People driving out there have no idea. You can’t hear the ocean, which is three miles away, unless you put an ear to the cup on the defendant’s table. You can’t use the prosecutor’s cup because it was knocked to the floor and its shards are an impossible puzzle. The ceiling fan’s thatched blades swing at the same pace as yesterday. Sirens mix with screams puncturing the large room. Everybody’s screaming except for you. A lawyer is losing his mind because it could have been him. A journalist is losing his mind because the story is so rich. A peacenik is losing her mind, either because she’s waited so long for action or because it’s too real. They cluster in the back of the courtroom and hug each other, weeping, shaking. Strips of crumpled duct tape are scattered on the floor like snakeskin, next to the glass, spent shell casings, and bent piano wires.
 You remember the piano. Your grandmother used to play Scott Joplin on her baby-grand. You hated ragtime then, but now its popping notes carry a warm breeze. Her delicate hands jumped like crickets. Maybe the strings from her piano where the same kinked and rusty strings tied around the wrists of four hostages in the hall. Maybe not. There’s blood on the floor, but not much. You hear a gunshot outside, followed by more, like knuckles cracking. They fire in bursts, then a hollow boom. The sawn-off shotgun, muffled by tape and a body. The crowd rushes for the door. There’s not enough blood in here. They want more.

*

 Toniver thanks his purple sweater when it’s over. It’s served its purpose. Made him look harmless in the courtroom. His duster would’ve gotten him locked up, so close to the holding cells, or shot, so close to other black men being shot.

*

Huey: Brother, I appreciate your contribution. The flyers you make are beautiful. I keep a copy of every one, for my records.
Toniver: Thank you, Sir.
H: I wanted to ask you about the Mossberg in the courtroom. Was it yours?
T: Mine’s at home under the bed.
H: Since ’67, when a gun shows up in a courtroom, it comes back to us. So if it’s your Mossberg, you should tell me. You’re an asset to our community, Toniver.
T: Thank you. Not my gun, sir.
H: This lifestyle requires commitment. I don’t mean to call yours into question, but this is a time of serious change. It’s important we keep an open dialogue.
T: Is this about Angela?
H: No, it’s about the baby. I caught wind from my man at the Chronicle. He wants to write a piece on it. Heartwarming shit. Panther Bursting with Love for White Baby He Saved. It has a tug-at-the-heartstrings factor.
T: What are you saying?
H: This isn’t how I want to operate.
T: But she’s got no one else.
H: It’s not a good look. I like the posters, Toniver. Find a black baby.

*

 Toniver puts his beret on the baby. It sinks over her face and she swats with her balled-up fists. He smiles, but sensing she’s about to cry, takes the hat off. When she sees him again, her face untwists and smiles. He smiles back and moves his arms a little, rocking, something her crib can’t do. That’s why he’s here. To provide a little motion, a little rock. He brushes a hand against his waist and feels a curious empty space.
 He cradled his Mossberg when it was new. He’d oil it up, shine its barrel with a microfiber rag, and polish its grip. A gun is different than a vase, or even a woman, because it’s something you can’t drop. Not just shouldn’t. The hospital doesn’t allow guns, which makes Toniver feel weak, which is not bad. Weak can be gentle, or beautiful. He can’t hold the Mossberg and the girl. Not enough room in his hands. He worries about who comes in here. She can’t have too much motion, or too much rock. There are bombs going off every day. It’s difficult to find a still place, let alone make one, and she is so fragile. Maybe it’s himself coming in here. Maybe that’s what he’s worried about.

*

 Toniver wakes at home and wrinkles his nose. Smells like demolition. Like his empty apartment is coming down. He feels heat by his ear and swats at his face. A burning cigarette tumbles onto the carpet. He feels the side of his hair. The follicles are balled up, rough, like a dog’s coat. Jesus. Where’s his mind at? Can’t keep doing this or he’ll burn his goddamned house to ashes.

*

Malea: I can’t keep up.
T: You’re leaving me?
M: No, I’m not leaving you, Toniver. But I’m not joining you. You’ve been weird. Spacey. I feel like you’re asking me to take care of you. I can’t keep up with your changes. You feel like a different person each week.
T: I’m the same person, Malea. Swear to god.
M: Do you notice what you’re doing? When I ask you a question, you suck your teeth instead of answering. It’s weird. What do you think about when you suck your teeth?
T: I suck my teeth? My face hurts, like, behind my cheekbones. My muscles feel tense. My head hurts.
M: What’s up with you?
T: I feel... like I’m being pulled. You know? Like I’m tied to things moving in two directions. I don’t know. I feel my body pulled.
M: I wish I could help, Tone. I can’t take care of a baby. I can’t take care of you.
T: It has to be now, Malea. The nurses say there’s someone been coming around the hospital. Suspicious-looking white guy. They say he might be her father.
M: Well good. Maybe she’ll have a family after all.
T: No. This is bad news. These people can’t be trusted. Not after what I saw. The nurses agree. They say if I come and get her tonight, she’ll be in my custody. Don’t you see? I’m her real family. We can be her family. We have to protect her.
M: I can’t be responsible for another life, Tone. I can’t take care of you, let alone her. One extra life is too much. Two lives? Sorry.
T: I can.
M: What?
T: I can be responsible for a life outside my own.
M: Baby, you can’t handle yourself right now.

*

 There, Toniver hits the second floor button, but the elevator isn’t going fast enough. He darts between the doors before they close and sprints towards the stairs. His lungs are filling deeper than ever.

*

 The lights at the end of the hall are dark. The linoleum there looks blue, instead of yellow like the rest. The rooms lining the hall are also dark. In them, Toniver sees a few small blue lights where life support systems blink, and he hears quiet beeping. Vents overhead hum, a noise only present when everything else is quiet. The faint ringing he hears when he tries to sleep is there, too, like crickets. He thinks of what comes with crickets. Constellations, wet grass, cigarettes, warm wind, and other things that aren’t now. The little blue lights are lightning bugs.
 The end of the hall looks like a mouth. There, outside the nursery, is a white man holding a baby. Holding Angela. He’s got a ratty mane, a blue coat with black patches. Brown loafers that look eaten up. Toniver’s throat makes a noise and the man turns his mangy head. Angela’s eyes light up. The man looks at him, spins, and runs into the dark, towards the exit, swallowed by the hall. Toniver hears a loose sole flapping, echoing in the dark.

Caught

Scott Nadelson

 He’d seen her. The one they’d called “Blonde Poison.” It was early 1944, in a café on Kurfurstendamm. He’d taken a table in back, near the rear exit. Through the closed door came the sound of rain in the alley, the smell of rotting vegetables. He had little appetite for coffee, even less for public spaces, but if he didn’t leave his furnished room on Wielander Strasse for at least a few hours a day, his landlady would grow suspicious. He always faced the door to the street and kept his feet flat on the floor, ready to spring and run. Most nights he dreamed of shots fired at his back.
 This afternoon he’d hardly touched his coffee when the young woman entered. Tall and shapely, with striking eyes and a dimpled chin, a scarf covering her head. Ella Goldschmidt. He was sure of it. By then she was legendary among the community of so-called U-boats: Jews living illegally around Berlin, most carrying forged papers and blessed with Aryan features. A photograph had circulated, though Bruno hadn’t seen it, only heard a description of the blue-eyed beauty who’d once been one of them. Ella, too, had lived underground, using a false name, until a friend betrayed her, turned her over to Dobberke, head of the collection camp on Grosse Hamburger Strasse, who threatened to deport her parents unless she cooperated. Now she’d been working for him almost a year. According to rumors, she’d turned over hundreds, many her former schoolmates, sent them all to the trains heading east. And after Dobberke deported her parents anyway, she kept at it, even more ferociously. Maybe to save herself, maybe for her own enjoyment. She made men go wild for her and in the throes of passion got them to divulge the hiding places of cousins, ex-girlfriends, co-workers. She’d report them all, including the lovers, as if it gave her extra pleasure to wield such power over them.
 So at least Bruno imagined. Thus far he had been both careful and fortunate not to cross her path. Fortunate in other ways, too. He’d lost contact with his family three years earlier, but they’d left him enough to live on for the remainder of the war. He was a good-looking boy, as German as any of his peers. His entire childhood, no one in his house had spoken a word of Yiddish. They’d celebrated Passover with four glasses of wine as prelude to an elaborate Easter brunch with neighbors. By nature he was reserved but intrepid, willing to take risks when he recognized the possibility of reward. These past five years he’d frequently depended on women, often homely ones, too surprised and grateful for his affection to question his motives. They’d take him into their beds, they’d feed him, they’d help him find new accommodations. He told them he was hiding to avoid military service, he didn’t want to be sent to the front, he was too much of a coward. And they took pity on him, these brave girls with long faces and blemished skin. They forgave his cowardice. They would have taken his place at the front if they could. He wished one were with him now, to deflect the attention of the woman entering the café, who untied her scarf, shook out thick blonde curls, and scanned the room for a table for too long, with too much deliberation. He lowered his face to his cup, as if to make sure no coffee would spill over the edge when he sipped. He felt her eyes pass over him, or imagined they did, lingering a moment and perhaps taking in the worn collar of his shirt, the unpolished toes of his shoes, any hint that he’d been in hiding and unable to attend to daily upkeep. She would know the signs. She’d once lived them, and since being recruited by Dobberke, had studied and exploited them. Yes, he was sure she could see he hadn’t shaved this morning, though he was mostly smooth-cheeked, only a few light hairs sprouting along his jaw and on his chin. He was caught, after all this time. How fitting and absurd that it would end with a beautiful woman, after he’d been around ones he would not call so, for so long.
 His feet already pressed against the floor, backside just lifting from the seat. Before standing, he forced himself to look up. If Ella’s gaze had touched him, it had since passed on, now focused on a couple across the room. A girl in a black raincoat, a man still wearing a hat. Too obvious, Bruno thought, too nervous. With such poor skills, how had they stayed free so long? Ella spoke to the waiter, who raised eyebrows in alarm. He deposited his tray on a counter and disappeared into the kitchen. Bruno stood slowly. He knew he had only a few minutes before Dobberke and his men arrived. He wanted to warn the girl in the raincoat—pretty but too thin, big eyes swimming in their sockets—and her companion in the gray tweed hat, but to do so would risk too much. He took his time putting on his coat. The key, he knew, was to show no fear. A man expecting arrest would be arrested. Now Ella did glance at him as he fed buttons through buttonholes. For a moment she held his eye and smiled. A smile, he thought, of recognition. There was no doubt, she saw in him one of her own, one who’d get away with escape today only because she let him, because she had easier prey. Next time, who knew?
 He turned to the back door. If he ran, he might trigger her instinct to chase, like a dog’s. He forced his feet to move slowly, even when they crossed the threshold into the alley, the cold rain blown by a sharp breeze into his eyes and over his cheeks. He kept a casual pace down Kurfurstendamm until reaching the intersection of Joachimsthaler Strasse, where he slipped into a movie house. A picture was already playing. He watched without seeing, keeping an eye on the entrance. When it ended, he stayed and watched through again. Only when the screen went dark a second time did he leave, heading straight to the apartment of a girl whose face had been scalded in infancy, a red mark, smoother than the dull skin around it, crossing from left temple to lower right jaw. He told her he’d had a run-in with a recruiter for the Wehrmacht, described a close call and his cunning dodge. She held him for a few hours before finding him a new place to live. He switched rooms. He bought new papers. He survived.

 More than a decade after the war’s end, he attended Ella Goldschmidt’s trial. It was in the old courthouse on Turmstrasse, built like a medieval fortress with turrets on each corner, high vaulted ceiling in the lobby. But Room 500 was small, drab, devoid of character. He crammed in with three, four dozen others. Families of her victims, survivors of the camps, people who’d read about her in gaudy headlines in Nacht Depesche and other tabloids. The bloodthirsty, the curious, the bored. They jeered and whistled as she entered in a new maroon dress and matching shoes, with ramrod posture, hair recently styled and loose to the shoulders. She looked hardly older than the last time he’d seen her, though thirteen years had passed, ten of which she’d spent in a Soviet labor camp, convicted already by a military tribunal on the other side of now-divided Berlin. That would make her thirty-seven, while Bruno was thirty-five. The number still surprised him, he who’d once believed with certainty that he wouldn’t live to see twenty-five. Even if he somehow managed to hide day after day, year after year, he’d thought, surely the world couldn’t withstand so much chaos and horror, couldn’t possibly continue turning for so long.
 And yet here they both were. If not age, then imprisonment should have worn her down, and manual labor, and illness. In the camp, she’d contracted tuberculosis. So he’d read in one of those tabloids he’d tried to resist, finally picking it up from a newsstand despite knowing it made light of her victims’ deaths with its pretense of shock and outrage. “Jewess Sent All Her Friends to the Gas Chamber!” read one of the headlines. Perhaps if he stood closer he might have seen how the disease affected her pallor, hollowed her cheeks, but from the back of the gallery he could make out only the color from the blush she’d applied, the dark lipstick that seemed to harden her indifference to the angry glare of the prosecutor, the somber demeanor of the judge. She didn’t turn toward those who shouted and whistled at her, didn’t face the first witness to take the stand, a former schoolmate whom she’d trapped in early 1943. This was soon after she’d first become a catcher for Dobberke, who’d reported to Hoss, who’d reported to Eichmann. She stared straight ahead, at the wood-paneled wall between judge and gallery, a pair of white gloves pinched lightly in one hand.
 The witness described how she’d come to him asking for help, claiming she needed new papers, that her false identity had been compromised. Moments after he brought her to the forger, soldiers appeared. Even then she feigned innocence, the witness went on, weeping as all three were arrested. But when they arrived at Grosse Hamburger Strasse, she dropped the act, walked free through the prison halls, laughed with Dobberke, taunted those locked in tiny cells, deciding on the spot which would be deported to Theresienstadt, which to Auschwitz. He was sent to the latter, he said, though he escaped by breaking through rotten boards on the transport car and throwing himself from the train. As he spoke, the courtroom quieted, and by the time he ceased, it was silent. Ella’s fist crumpled the gloves, but otherwise she showed no hint of emotion.
 Bruno remembered this forger, the one who’d provided his first papers, on them a name he could no longer recall since afterward he’d changed it so many times. Now that he’d reclaimed the original—Bruno Gelbert, Bruno Gelbert, he’d recited often in the first years after the war ended, in disbelief, still prepared to give it up at any moment—he felt, with unease, that the young man who’d carried those other names was a different person altogether from the one in the courtroom. This Bruno Gelbert had taken a degree in biology, one of the first to graduate from the Free University, and now worked in a laboratory testing drinking water. He’d married a woman ten years his junior—with clear skin and bright eyes and a coy smile—who’d been a child in Tubingen during the war, daughter of a soldier killed at Stalingrad. Yes, a different person, wilier and less fragile than the one who cried at the birth of his daughter, who flushed with shame when his supervisor suggested ways he might work more efficiently.
 That other young man, who’d moved from room to room, who’d gone to bed with girls he cared nothing for in exchange for their protection, who’d snuck out of a café knowing that soldiers would soon swarm an oblivious couple several tables to his left, had thought highly of himself for his daring and evasion, had believed it was his acumen and effort alone that kept him alive, while the Bruno in the courtroom now knew it was simply chance, out of his control. The same fickle, indifferent chance that had sent the forger to his death and allowed the first witness to escape.
 When the latter returned to the gallery, Ella spoke only one word: “Lies.” She said the same after the next witness described her chasing a man down a crowded street, shouting, “Criminal! Jew! Stop him!” to bystanders who tackled and held him until Gestapo police arrived. She said it without anger, without passion of any kind, the only inflection a glib arrogance not so different from that of the prosecutor who strutted in front of each witness, a dark-haired Bavarian with a drink-reddened face and double chin. How had he survived the war? What dubious acts had he committed to come through unscathed? Not so different,either, from the derisive laughter of those in the gallery, one of whom quoted another tabloid headline, “The Catcher Caught!” It was an arrogance Bruno knew well, that of people who believed they were responsible for walking free while others were in chains, convinced they’d worked for their good fortune, that their unique qualities had merited it.
 His thoughts had been similar as he’d left the café. The couple had been less savvy and therefore deserved their fate, while he’d earned his. Such convictions were necessary then. They helped him get through each day. It was an illusion of course, to think that all he needed to survive were his natural abilities and enough will. But without it he would have given up the first year.
 And he guessed now, watching Ella Goldschmidt sitting stiffly before the stout judge, that she’d nurtured the same illusion, continued to hold onto it still, unaware how desperately she clung. Fear might have driven her to send hundreds to their deaths, fear of her parents’ deportation and her own, but fear alone wouldn’t allow her to live with what she’d done, to deny it with such half-hearted gestures, as if the accusations were nothing more than mildly insulting. Those people she’d caught were merely weaker than she was, less ingenious, less resourceful. When she’d smiled at him in the café, she was acknowledging the instincts they shared, which set them apart from the girl in the raincoat and the man in the hat.
 Bruno had hoped to spot those two in the courtroom, though he realized it only now. Why else would he have come? It was his opportunity to see that they’d survived despite their bad luck in the café, despite his having turned his back on them. He scanned the faces around him, trying in his imagination to scrape away ten years from these pitted cheeks, or those sunken eyes, or that sneering mouth. Who knew if he’d recognize them even if they stood right beside him? Yet this was all he wanted, not revenge or even justice, just a glimpse of good fortune having landed, a nearly weightless bird, on someone else’s shoulders with the same caprice or happenstance as it had on his.
 “All lies,” Ella said after a third witness described the outfit she’d worn while out searching for U-boats, a tailored green suit and matching cap, which she’d boasted was her “hunting outfit.” And again after the fourth, a middle-aged man who’d lost wife and three sons to the ovens, told how she’d spied his family with opera glasses during a children’s play and had them arrested as they left the theater. Not smarter, Bruno wanted to tell her, not savvier, just luckier. Luckier to be heartless and cruel and selfish when compassion and dignity would have gotten her killed. And the couple in the café, unlucky and dead, but fortunate never to wonder as Bruno did if they’d been just like Ella Goldschmidt, willing to do anything to survive.
 But then he was luckier than Ella, too. He’d never been forced—never been given the chance—to doom others in order to save his parents or himself. If he had, he wanted to believe he would have acted differently. Of course he would have. But because he could never know for sure, he almost pitied her as the first day of her trial ended and she strode out of the courtroom with the same rigid posture, the white gloves now pulled to the elbows. He almost tried to forgive her as someone in the gallery spit in her direction, a bit of white froth landing several inches short of her shoes. He didn’t return to Turmstrasse the next day, or any other day. He’d seen enough, more than he needed. But a part of him remained in the courtroom, heard the testimony against her many times on sleepless nights, when his wife and daughter were lost in dreams. He didn’t know if he’d ever fully leave it.
 The trial, on the other hand, lasted less than two weeks. The tabloids announced Ella’s conviction and sentence: ten years imprisonment. Then they forgot about her. Some months later he read in a legitimate newspaper that her lawyers appealed the sentence, which was remitted for the time she’d already served. She was freed to live the rest of her life.

Woman’s Intuition

Liz Breazeale

  I went to college with a man two decades ago and this year he killed his wife.
  My ex-boyfriend, the man I loved back then, emails me after the arrest.
  How did you know, he asks. All that time ago, how did you know?
  I remember a moment between the three of us, the murderer, my ex-boyfriend, and me. We were walking home. It was dark. The men were drunk.
  A cat shot past us, paused in the deserted street.
  My boyfriend shouted, shoo cat. Shoo.
  Going to get smashed, slurred the murderer, pitching forward.
  The cat, soft grey and shining, its coat a haze in the streetlamps, glared.
  I’ve hit cats, said the murderer.
  She did once, my boyfriend said. Coming back from a concert.
  I threw up after. The glint of its eyes, the solid soft hunk of contact. Outlined in the night, splayed on that dissection tray of road.
  I’ve killed nine, said the murderer. Nine cats. Or the same cat in all of its lives. He barked a laugh. All nine cat lives.
  I asked, why?
  He snatched my arm with a dead weight, like a child grabs a toy he does not want to share. They were just cats. And they were there.
  I yanked my arm, could not dislodge him. My boyfriend retched behind us, a wet sound of slapping on the pavement.
  Let go, I whispered , not because I wanted to sound soft. This was all the volume I could manage under the other man’s presence, under the density of his hand.
  My boyfriend was the one who broke him away, not by choice but by chance; he leaped up, no longer sick, and Red Rovered between us like a kid, chattering to me as the murderer jumped into the street, made a jabbing movement toward the animal.
  The cat hissed, raised itself until it was all claws, all fang.
  Sometimes things are just there, he said. He slunk toward the cat.
  In a blur, it spun and sprinted down a storm drain.
  When he walked back to the sidewalk, he smiled showing all his teeth, the way a dog growls.

  The next morning I told my boyfriend what he missed while he was puking, how the murderer seized my arm, how it felt like jaws around a throat.
  He said, well, he’s always been nice to me. I don’t think he was trying to scare you.
  I told him how the murderer had laughed about killing those cats, the way he seemed to take up all the air.
  Why didn’t you tell me you felt like that?
  But it was more than that, I insisted. It was how the mass of him filled whole corners, how his silences bled into my bones with a weight and a predatory bird’s feel. How the slope of his shoulders was an avalanche, how being with him was somehow off, like a phantom tingle, finding nothing on your shoulder, your thigh. How every movement he ever made was in an empty room, like he was always rehearsing how to be a human.
  I asked, have you ever looked in his eyes?
  Because they were two drums of oil, opened to the world.
  He took my hand. He asked me, has he ever—with that pause, that pause of all men
comprehending the depths of other men as though for the first time—done something to you?
  No.
  Woman’s intuition, said my then-boyfriend. How can you expect me to believe that?
  The insistence of the murderer’s touch, the blunt instruments of his hands. How emotion entered his voice too late, noticeably late. The slits he cut in conversation, his interjections swift and spilling like he was gutting a deer.
  But there was too much, too much to explain to someone who can survive without the necessity of noticing, of tracking the million tiny motions of men.
  We broke up two weeks later.
  In my reply, I tell him it is woman’s intuition.
  LOL, he sends back. You should let us in on that once in awhile.
  As though it is a mystery, some form of feminine magic we can gift to others.
  We catch up, emails brief and spotty. He is married still. His daughters are getting ready for college. He has included pictures.
I told them to be careful, he writes. He drops the words like he is waiting for my assurance. Like this is the best of advice, like this will help them, his girls, probably lovely and energetic and excited to exist on their own. He wants me to promise him this is the only advice they need, that they do not need to memorize that crinkling of voice and that tone and that swinging low glance that travels all the way up and that crick of the neck and that pitch of the head and that narrowing of eyes and that slanting of brow and that forward motion of hands and chest and body. They do not need to learn to recognize a touch that is barely too harsh, a movement that is barely too forceful, a gaze that becomes barely too hungry, an intonation of one syllable of one word of one sentence that rings barely too sharp, too knifelike. They do not need to stitch together one memory and another one and another one all the time, they do not need to learn to survive how animals do, from the corners of our eyes.

Pearls

Nate Lippens

A story I read once: Peggy Lee onstage in Las Vegas, pilled into oblivion. Her strand of pearls breaks and they scatter. She crouches down, crawls, picking pearls up one by one. An anguished and angry voice from the audience: "You were the American dream!" Her band plays on and on. Finally, she stands and steps to the microphone, enters back into the song, smooth, unruffled. Her hand, a fist of stray pearls.

•••

A lot of my problems stem from living my life according to a declaration made by Truman Capote: “I’m an alcoholic. I’m a drug addict. I’m a homosexual. I’m a genius.” Well, three out of four isn’t bad.
  I have none of the signposts that make a life. I have no family, no children, no calling, no formal education, no accomplishments, no real career. What I do have: a former drug addiction, a history of depression and breakdown and suicidal ideation, various disgraces, and an ability to lie in bed for long stretches of time not sleeping and not waking, not daydreaming and not even really thinking.

•••

I have many pens with pharmaceutical companies’ names on them. That can’t be a good sign. What was the medication I took last year to help with anxiety and sleeplessness? Its side effects included cloudy thinking and memory loss. Was that last year?

•••

Life right now feels like lost film, like the placards in old movies: scene missing. But I am living the lost film.

•••

Most days I am a mix of Rip Van Winkle, Jack the Ripper, and Rip Taylor: comatose, murderous, and frivolous.

  Sometimes the chase is so convoluted, strange, errant, and ongoing, there is no way to cut to it.

•••

The television, phone, and computer. A feed scrolls along, and I send a series of texts three time zones away. Outside late night traffic rushes along through the rain. I haven’t left the house in days. Since Wednesday, maybe even Tuesday. No matter. It reminds me of living on drug time but now without the drugs, particularly pointless. The true north of that need gave me a way to always move forward. Now I hear directional navigation from every screen, the eternal now of the internet where each thought is subsumed in a tidal wave of more of the same.

•••

Context is everything, a friend tells me. He texts with authority from his context, a good address in the city or his getaway where he unplugs and unwinds. I’m poor and don’t use summer as a verb. Someone texts to tell me of some party on a beach or near a beach, with fairy lights and finger foods. I have a miniature fridge full of what I consider to be old man picnic food: cold cuts, pickled vegetables, cubed melons, and berries.

•••

Apparently I have tried to write an entire novel on matchbooks and dry cleaners’ tickets and credit card slips (and I take the merchant instead of the customer copies).

•••

The poet Alice Notley said, “The obvious problem is that you can only catch a mind with a mind, so you never get where you’re trying to be, again you wind up making art. Why shouldn’t you?”

•••

A breakdown? My sense of it isn’t that things shatter. It’s that the fragments all start to come together and point insistently toward one conclusion. So, clearly I’m still all right.

•••

Late night, over drinks, I make the mistake of telling a friend about how I’m feeling. I say it lightly, or as lightly as such a thing can be said. It’s only a feeling to me. Ambient, like the bar’s soundtrack, like the free-floating lust that hums in the room.
  “Promise me you won’t hurt yourself,” he says.
  I have never understood this. If one is close to killing oneself it means being beyond promises, beyond connection, beyond love. It means the pain must stop any way necessary. Promises have no hold there.
  “I promise.”

•••

When I ask, “How are you doing?” what I’m saying is: What are you thinking? I notice that when someone transgresses or makes a mistake, people often ask them, “What were you thinking?” when they mean, “Why did you do that?”

•••

I have left my phone off for days and holed up at home, watching old movies on cable with the sound muted. I drink in bed and watch the lambency on the walls. I don’t have to do laundry because I don’t change clothes. Dishes are piled up. Apples brown on the kitchen counter and smell of sweet rot.
  I am less dependable. A gregarious hermit maybe. A voice on the phone or words online. I like being alone at home, unshowered, drifting between desk and bed. Working, not working, reheating cold coffee, slipping outside to smoke and watch people passing by.
  Plans are malleable. Dinner at eight is canceled and moved to drinks at ten. At nine-fifteen I phone to say I can’t make it, unable to imagine walking to a crowded bar for a half-yelled, half-heard conversation about how exhausted and busy everyone is. I make myself a drink, lie on the bed with a book, and watch the people on the bar patio diagonal to my window.

•••

The white noise machine is supposed to be the gentle shush of ocean, but it sounds like the crackling fire of papers burning.

•••

I am monastic but without the discipline or the silence. The apartment fills with songs. Dreamy fingerpicked melodies with nasal men’s voices and later at night, warped cabaret with garage orchestra strings and smoke-scarred women’s voices.

•••

The city’s energy makes my inertia more pronounced, so I prefer hiding in the apartment, making quick trips to the bodega around the corner, dropping off my laundry because I can’t bear to sit and wait at the Laundromat where people I recognize show up and make small talk.

I wake too early and am tired within hours of getting up. I won’t seize the day; I won’t even brush its hair. I’ll lie here until it starts to fade and I can get up suddenly afraid of my dwindling time. I could call someone and release myself from this time warp, but that’s usually when things start to slip.

•••

I listen to scraps of conversation on the street and hear someone––a movie star, a pop singer, someone that the word icon or diva can be attached to––described as ageless. When it's said that someone is ageless, I assume it means they're dead.

•••

Things are built to change, by which I mean to fall apart. Entropy unto death, not only of the individual but of the idea, society, everything visible and knowable and unknowable.
  When entropy becomes a comforting idea, you know you’re fucked.

•••

Without premeditation, out of laziness, indecision, and dread of the weekend grocery store, I have eaten two slices of toast, some pretzel sticks, a handful of popcorn, and a couple jelly beans: A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.

Editing amends: I have done that. I have sat and confessed my sins. I have refined them. Whittled away. I want to believe that I took the measure of the damage I had done and distilled it. But it is likely I subtracted what I could to preserve some small dignity for myself.

•••

Scene missing. I am living the lost film.

•••

We all know the self is constructed. Some of us more than others. But what is it constructed of? The material is stolen. Our selves are plagiarisms.
  "Act natural" is the ultimate fascism. "Be yourself." Who is talking and who is expected to shape a self to that instruction? Act natural means conform to the falsehood of authenticity.
  Everyone is an actor and each role is derivative and yet we are ourselves: authentic fakes. Always failing. Always falling short.

•••

As terms go, spatial anxiety sounds positively expansive compared to agoraphobia.
  It started out small. Working from home. Ordering groceries for delivery. Laundry pickup. I’d laugh about it with friends. Use the old Dillard line about being a gregarious hermit. But then it became increasingly true. I didn’t leave the house.

•••

A Yelp review of Manhattan Central Booking: "Two stars because I've been to clubs worse than this with a longer line, and the car was returned unscratched. Thank goodness they didn't find what was under the tissue in the cup holder."

•••

The New York Times runs a correction to an article on a movie director: “Because of a transcription error, an interview misquoted him. He said, ‘You must leave out the painful parts, or you would never do certain things’—not ‘live out’ the painful parts.”
    I agree with the misquote.

•••

I am listening to jazz and Nico, the sounds of heroin. Before Nico gets to moan the chorus of David Bowie’s “Heroes”––“And we can be herrroooeees just for one day”––by way of introduction, she asks the fervently applauding audience, “Why do you give me so much gratitude?” Indeed.

•••

The phone brings questions and the questions either don’t have answers or have the wrong answers. And that only brings more questions. Before long I have said the wrong things, and there are expressions of concern, or I have fallen mute. The caring voices on the line speak to me gently as if I am lost and they can bring me back, when it is precisely these voices that have silenced me and sent me into a small place where I cannot speak.

•••

“Insomnia is like a kind of torture,” Lorna says. “Seriously, sleep deprivation can make you crazy.”
  She has information: Vitamin D in fish oil, magnesium citrate twice a day, and three milligrams of melatonin at bedtime. “They should have it at that health store by you. The yuppie-hippie one.”
  I pause, pretending I’m writing all this down.
  “And try rubbing lavender into your feet,” she says.
  “Unless it’s cut with morphine, that’s not going to work.”

•••

I’m not interested in meditating to empty my mind. I’ve already lived that. I grew up with people who hated thought.

•••

An hour before dawn I lie in bed and feel myself somehow both waking and dissolving. My limbs and my neck feel like they are decomposing into the bed but my head with its pulsing insistence keeps me here. Some nights my insomnia is almost soothing, a private time in an already private, quiet life; the one I’ve scooped out since he left.
  Usually when I can’t sleep I watch foreign movies with the sound turned down, reading the subtitles. Anything with Isabelle Huppert will do, but especially ones where she takes younger lovers. Her silent face orders the world, and soon enough it’s dawn. But tonight I came home from the bar and got a bottle of whiskey from the kitchen cabinet and drank more, and then, with all the reflection of turning off the TV, I took a few painkillers, and soon a shadow grew at the edges, getting darker as I shrank down. But then I resurfaced a few hours later, replaying bad times, remembering the wrong things: the fights that left me raw, the words that cut me for years.

•••

On TV, cops interrogate a necrophiliac.   Perp: Can I get a glass of water?
  Cop: Lots of ice, the way you like it?

•••

I turn the channel to a documentary. Something about war with grainy footage of dark projectiles in smoke, which look like crows in a snowstorm. A man intones more numbers and more carnage is shown. He says, “War talk by men who have been in a war is always interesting while moon talk by a poet who has never been to the moon is often dull. Mark Twain.”
  I would rather hear the poet’s moon talk. That’s always been part of my problem.

•••

In a New York Times profile of Peggy Lee from January 31, 1988, Stephen Holden writes, “Clad in a white silk gown with long winding strands of pearls draped around her neck, Miss Lee conjured up images of an etherealized, vaporous Mae West.” And then: ''I don't like marking time,'' she said with a rueful, tough-sweet smile. ''I like to think of everything as now. Haven't the scientists more or less proven that that's true?''

New Pedagogy for Sleeplessness

Helen Hofling

I. MAKING THE BED

At bedtime, I wasn’t in the mood for stories, so my caretaker read me a story within a story. She called it a “mise en abyme” and brought up Velázquez.
  After much tossing and turning I said, “This is what it’s like, learning not to sleep.” It isn’t too often you pause in life and name its movement so successfully; you should relish this recursion. So I said it twice and licked my teeth. It’s what I was there for, after all.
  Sleep deprivation had been proven to cure all kinds of maladies—weight fluctuation, epilepsy, environmental panic, misery. The clinic had developed a new method for teaching sleeplessness, one that didn’t require electric shocks. It was highly exclusive and had a waiting list longer than the Ivy League. I was lucky to be there.
  “What is it you’re doing,” my caretaker asked me.
  “I’m relishing, relishing this more than meat loves salt.”
  “Salt is the most common preservative,” my caretaker told me. She was already going off in a different direction. “That’s where the expression derives from. Not fairytales. Not gourmets. It’s not about flavor; it’s about prevention of rot. You can pickle almost anything. All you need is salt water and something to soak in it.”
  She put so many thoughts in. “What about a jar?” for instance.
  I already wanted to stay up all night curing vegetables and making potions, narrating a cooking program to an adoring audience. I yearned for the release of it, for the apparition of myself who stirred air each night while I lay with my arms fixed to my sides, my body wriggling like a nocturnal eel.
  “Did you ever go to the Museo Prado?” I changed the subject. “Did you ever see Bosch’s earthly garden? The infanta and her nursemaids?” I could already see myself flying through the dark sky in my trundle like a train of thought, greeting constellations, “pilot O pilot,” landing in Spain, front of the museum line.
  My caretaker adjusted her eyeglasses. “Stop tossing! Don’t wiggle your feet! Art isn’t an unmadebed.” She tucked me in with pin straight folds, twirling and screeching extravagantly. I was impressed. A practiced insomnia tutor, she had a lot of wonderful tactics for keeping me up. She behaved like a kind old woman who was pretending to be a witch in order to teach some misbehaving children a lesson. “Art isn’t an unmade bed and I don’t care if you’re in it.”

II. PARABLE OF THE COOK

The next night, painfully exhausted, I tried to run away. The clinic wasn’t for me. I didn’t like what I was learning. The benefits of sleeplessness weren’t worth it. After one night I felt like I was disappearing into infinite pools of myself. One theory held that the treatment was so effective because the misery of insomnia replaced or refocused all other miseries. Another held that it was because the profound desire for sleep replaced or refocused all other desires. I barely made it past the front hedges before I was spotted.
  After she’d secured me, my caretaker told me the “Parable of the Cook.” The cook was famous for her weasel dumplings. She seasoned them with leeks and used tears for salt. She ran a café out of her houseboat, down by the harbor. The café had a poor Yelp rating but was nonetheless a favorite venue for children's birthdays. The cook, an old woman, had a long front tooth.
  Everyone knew that under a new moon she joined a chorus line of lobsters in naked dancing on the beach. The townspeople assumed this made her a witch, but really that is just how she went fishing. If her methods of collecting shellfish were misinterpreted as occult practices, and if resulting excitement drummed up extra business, well, she couldn't help all that. She employed a loyal local sea doggie with sleek whiskers and a shiny pink nose to serve customers as she prepared the meal. After 40 years spent on ships, the fool was hooked on liquor and more seal than man. If the cognac bottles were an inch lighter now and then, she looked the other way.
  The birthday party was heating up. A child had turned seven that week and invited the whole class. They started with dumplings and had lobster pizza as their main. The child's mother had to put in a special advance order for the pizza. It was one of her three wishes. The cook prepared the crust in a secret way using crushed-up lobster shell for added texture. The children crunched their pizza dutifully and tried to peep through the kitchen porthole to steal a glimpse of the cook's tooth. The old sea doggie staggered around, refreshing their little cups of punch. Dessert was sticky bread pudding with horsehair and marigold. For entertainment, the birthday boy's grandmother demonstrated the mambo. My caretaker watched it all through a telescope, from her bedsit across the wharf. I promised myself I’d visit that night. The minute my eyes shut, I’d do it.

III. TRUE LOVE

On the third night, I still hadn’t slept. My caretaker had poisoned me into permanent wakefulness. I suspected that her stories replaced my body’s need to dream. She refused to discuss her methodology and chided me to trust in the process. She decided to spin me a love yarn, to distract me from my paranoias. This is what she said:
  We met on Halloween. I was the iceberg that sunk the Titanic. I wrapped my body in tin foil and bubble wrap and built an ocean liner out of two pieces cardboard and some house paint. The boat hung over my shoulders. The effect was remarkable; people kept spotting me and freaking out. I worried they thought my costume in poor taste, as all the icebergs are gone now. Like dressing up as someone who died before enough time has elapsed since their death. But I’m iconoclastic by nature, so I say, rip off the band-aid and let that controversial baby out to play!
  Aby dressed as a set of Russian nesting dolls. She made suits of unbelievably intricate paper mâché shells that stacked one over the other, each painted with her likeness. The first time I saw her I couldn’t even see her face, just her own interpretation of her face as a nesting doll, rendered on hardened newspaper. Anyway, one glimpse at those rosy cheeks and I was hooked. We hovered around each other all evening not talking. I knew a lot of other women at the party from grad school, I tried to pay attention as they summarized the plots of their new novels, but Aby was very distracting. She took off a layer of doll about every half hour until she was just herself, barefoot, wearing doll makeup and a babushka. I decided to make my move.
  “You’re a mise en abyme,” I whispered in her ear seductively. “You contain infinite copies of yourself.”   “Tell that to my homunculus!” she giggled. “She thinks she runs things around here.”
  I removed my Titanic so we could grind on the dance floor as iceberg and matryoshka. I took off my shoes so I wouldn’t stamp on her toes. A disco ball revolved above us slowly, breaking up our reflection into a million parts.
  The plastic wrapped around me didn’t breathe well so I started sweating a lot. Aby made a really twisted joke about glacial melt; I was obsessed.
  Towards the end of the night she started telling me secrets, she’s that kind of drunk, and babbled all about how she was the queen bee in her high school but all that drama is behind her now, and she has body issues from her years as a dancer, so sometimes she can’t stop eating tomatoes instead of regular foods. She was a virgin, she’d never had a girlfriend before. She’d stolen two of the college’s antique telescopes, right out of the case, and replaced them with lobster tails. The secrets kept coming—under each veil, another. The sudden intimacy was charming at the time, or something, but of course what I learned that night became alternately maddening and bolstering to our love as it grew.

IV. DORIS

Things were getting desperate for me. I didn’t know how many days I’d been at the clinic. I was wired and ravenous for rest. My vision shivered violently, and I wasn’t always sure when I had stopped talking and my caretaker began. My caretaker appeared unaffected by my deteriorating condition. She was too committed to her work, consumed by her persona as a self-styled Scheherazade. One night she asked me:
  Have you seen a cartoon where a woman had a geometric shape for a face? Not like a rhombus, but misshapen, and pale green, an irregular trapezoid, if that’s a thing. Flat. Well imagine that character when I talk about Doris. In this story, the whole world is tinted. Muddy green. Not just Doris, everything, murky, like the inside of a pickle jar. It will come as no surprise to you then, that Doris has very little to look forward to.
  Doris works in admissions at a midsized college. The students she accepts have unremarkable test scores. She accepts them by stamping “yes” on manila folders. She rejects them by stamping “no.” She waitlists them by stamping “wait.” If she can’t decide at first, she stamps “maybe.” The stamps are so old they barely function. They are worn down in places and gunky with ink. Sometimes “no” even looks like “wait” and “maybe” looks like “yes” because of the smears and faint patches. Doris suspects that they are responsible for more than a few dud students and worse, eggheads lost to more forward-thinking institutions. Still the college won’t replace them. No one makes the stamps anymore except as novelties, so they are outrageously expensive, like typewriters, turntables, telescopes, snow boots...
  She’s having an affair with a married man in the same office. His position is technically lateral to Doris’s but for some reason he approves her vacations. Or would, if she planned any. Remember, she doesn’t look forward to things. Besides, who would feed Rosebud? Doris is as free from desire and as flat as can be. Doris and her coworker give each other blow jobs in the car every day at the same time. They don’t look forward to it. After, they have dry sandwiches while he rubs her feet. She is extremely embarrassed by her toes. Doris doesn’t even look forward to a nice, relaxing lunch, do you see?
  It isn’t hereditary, her parents were both highly excitable.
  It isn’t that Doris lives in the past, she doesn’t care for reminiscing.
  She wears an itchy checked skirt that is too tight around the middle and a top with a high ruffle around the neck.
  She makes herself go to exercise classes and hobby classes and happy hours, hoping that something will catch. She joined a hiking group and a birdwatching group and a classic cocktails group and a pinch pot group and a life drawing group and an aperitif group and a digestif group and a group of whalers and a wife swap and a den of survivalists and a cult of personality and a gang of narco traffickers and a political caucus but she never found a thing she didn’t have to force herself to go to before giving up after a few weeks.
  Rosebud is a little mutt that she adopted. The shelter wouldn’t take Rosebud back when Doris had tired of her. Doris named her as a proxy for unfelt longing. She doesn’t care if it’s a little on the nose. She takes Rosebud on boring walks in an undeveloped area behind her apartment building several times a day.
  There are a series of empty doorframes set up in an overgrown field like a long hallway. Each time Doris and Rosebud passes through one they change shape. She passes through doorway #1 and is a black-and-white Ingrid Bergman in a nightgown; Rosebud is a flickering gas lamp. She passes through doorway #2 and becomes an elegant lemur, draping its grey furred limbs here and there, with decadent malaise; Rosebud is her child. Then a Ziegfeld girl in gold tinsel, flashing like a sparkler; Rosebud is a sparkler. Then a barrel of soda bread, like to give substances to a ship of fools; Rosebud is a pickle. Then a Saint Sebastian, riddled by arrows; Rosebud is an arrow. And so on and so on until she returns to her original, that muted mint hexagonal (was it?) form; Rosebud is a fuzzy mutt again. Every day some version of this recurrence.
  Doris has a motto: Nature insists on altering itself.

V. Dream Network

I cried to my caretaker. I cried and I begged. She was unmoved. I bribed her with boxes of Leibniz crackers. She had her own supply. I tried to seduce her. She denied me. I plugged my ears with cotton. She plucked it out.

I told her a story:

Three of them set out to look for it. The Golden Net.

They were told it had many wonderful uses. That it would allow them to catch unlimited shellfish. That it would unlock many doors and strengthen their friendships. That it would give their hair luster and add years of happiness to their lives.

They were told that placed on a table it would provide bounty. That it would enable access to all the coins from all the eyes of all the dead.

They were told it could cure certain ailments. That it would restore chill to winter, love to the loveless, sleep to the sleepless. That it could change apples into birds. That it might gather up their dispersions.

They were told that, if they chose cleverly, each seeker might be granted one request.

Of course one asked for the gift of beauty. Another—the gift of health. The third wanted the gift of gold.

They followed a map carved into a slab of marble. It was dreadfully heavy. They took turns carrying it. They walked day and night.

Late one night, deep in the forest, they came across a circular clearing filled with shining pools of water. They dove into one of the pools. Then they dove into another. All of the pools led to the same place. At the bottom of the pools there was a box.

She spoke over me:

To protect humans, the angels hid the most merciless form of desire in a box in a pool in the forest. This happened a very long time ago, but it’s still exactly where they left it. Inside the box is another box. Inside the box is a pair of lost shoes and inside the left shoe is another box. Inside the box is a bed and inside the bed is another box. Inside the box is an expensive painting leaning against another box. Inside the box is lobster-crust pizza served on top of another box. Inside the box is Rosebud the dog chewing on another box. Inside the box is a fern growing in the shade of another box. Inside the box is a pristine set of telescopes and inside one of their lenses is another box. Inside the box is a snifter of cognac twirling around on another box. Inside the box is jar of brine and floating inside is another box. Inside the box is a real iceberg and frozen within it is another box. Inside the box is a birthday party and the present is another box. Inside the box is a painted doll making eyes at another box. Inside the box is a disco ball hanging from another box. Inside the box is a vial of poison seeping into another box. Inside the box is a blow jobhapping in front of another box. Inside the box is your true love holding another box. Inside the box is everything you’ve ever wanted and another box. Inside the box is everything you’ve ever done wrong and another box. Inside the box is a dream about an angel balancing another box on its wings. Inside the box is a dream about the golden net and caught in the net is another box. Inside the box is a dream about making a phone call and on the other end of the receiver is another box. Inside the box is a dream about going to work and on top of your desk is another box. Inside the box is a dream about lying in bed and you look up atthe creepy mirrored ceiling and realize that you are a box.

 Poetry

Happy

Jill McDonough

We can make each other happy, Harry Nilsson screams

from our speakers, and I say, Oh, Harry: no we can’t.

We turn it up, drive up the coast with the windows

down, sing every part, even the wack-ass Whoa–oa-oa

-oa-oh!s. I had never heard of Harry Nilsson, being

younger than Josey, a fact I mention as often as I can.

Like me, it never gets old. So I knew all the songs,

didn’t know they were all by one guy. This makes me

happy, makes me remember, or invent, a babysitter

who played this tape in her black Trans-Am, wore

feathered roach clips in her black feathered hair.

Probably now she’s Josey’s age. We were happy then,

we sigh sadly, when we hear ourselves remember

anything out loud. Remember when we caught all

those mackerel in the harbor, saw a hundred seals?

My two men from Cameroon, your guy on Flexiril?

You didn’t know where you started, where I began.

Too broke to go to the movies, we biked a Bustelo can

of coins over there. The ladies’ room at the Meow Mix!

The Independent, election day! The Swedish doctor brought

her perfect breasts to your house and said she loved you.

You said you didn’t care. We were happy then, we say, making

each other so happy, trying and failing to keep a straight face.

Fawn Bleat

Jill McDonough

Linda dabs on Pure Earth smell and waits in a blind,

whispers what to do once you shoot a porcupine.

One was the size of a baby seal, its chubby corpse

a five buzzard one. Undertaker beetles, black and orange,

live in dead animal bodies, invisible to us. Problem solved.

We look online for perfect calls to imitate: Rabbit Screaming, Fawn

in Distress, Rabbit in Distress—Rabbit in Distress? It drives us

crazy. I need to hear that again, Josey says, while the rest of us

cringe and moan. I dated him in high school,

Rachel says. Linda tried out her Fawn Bleat call

by suggesting her friend try it at Mary Baker Eddy’s

coyote-haunted grave. Why not? We make the Fawn Bleat

so many times—Michael is terrific at it, Michael Kusek

is the best—Susan and Rachel send me a whole set:

Death Chamber Grunt Call. Witchy Woman. Squirrel, or

Wet Willy Box Call. And finally, my favorite: Squawler.

organist

Candice Wuehle

vince, i could see the world without its edges.

i placed an empty woolen glove

across my naked lap not to remind anyone

of being handled, but to remind them of bonelessness. To show how easily anything can be turned

inside out. Spread across an unsunned body,

a tanned hand belies the filth of light. Becomes

its own glove of damage done

by exposure. Freckled witness, gothic romance.

The heroine wears a large medallion like an angel

wears a body—a silver snare

that loops her back into the world of lines. vince,

it’s because it’s easier

to think over a figure divided, to

organize into erotic zones, to make

a tattoo that goes:

and here is naked and here is naked. Heretical adorn

ment. Once a vulnerable

fence has been built, i can name the insides. i wound

my hair around and around to make it obvious that they could ccut the braid at its base but i would still

be braided. i would still have the word

b r a i d. i mean the extra

embellishments make the emptiness, make the model

more bare, make it feel more to be touched. i sit on

my hands and feel the empty glove. Sure, it makes it easier

to imagine his keyed fingers.

It makes the materials of the world the bars

of a song being alive is the same as singing.

projectionist

Girl in the fashion library chewing

chocolates and spitting. A reel re wo und , alive on

only film. On a slick of cocoa,

the aftermath of wa x.

A stage set seen from the side

is diagramatic of how the world plays. Invisible

drapery between the watched world and the w

atcher.

Ignore the idea of observing

from above. Don’t make the girl a specimen

in a godded petri dish. To

understand bacteria, become bacterial.

The projector’s beam is blended into our light

by dust. D irty image. To understand, i swallow

strings and strings of lights. i become the orb

in between.

An artist’s life is about eating, is about the twisted

constellation inside the stomach. Is glowing

metabolized. You really are

here. You can wear the curtain that cuts you off

from the bulbs like it is a bridal

gown. vince, you can get married to a tthing

they say doesn’t even exist. You can make a promise

to yourself.

A SMALL OPENING

Caroline Crew

Inmate for another month,

my meat house does nothing

to compete against its nature.

What is built cannot be unbuilt—

erosion an act of faith

I put on in colder mornings

when a robe is not enough.

The window is painted

to resemble a window opened

an inch enough to soothe

a sense of the possible,

in which tulips lean toward

the light, the ridges of their skulls

unwed to the graves promised

in their cutting. I open too

for the season, the sea waiting

for its daily bread outside

these shapes, a craving.

I have bought my rot

to its edges, a bitter mouth

my mouth, the month unending,

the end only undone.

WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT BABIES

Chris Brunt

When the baby dreams of flying, the dog sleeping next to it also dreams of flying.

+

The baby’s fussiness is not what it seems. He conducts a Byzantine choir in his mind. They are making numerous, unforgivable mistakes.

+

Babies are born knowing already the cardinal directions: to the north and west is Mother. To the east and south and to the Holy Land is Mother. To the prophet’s cave, to the upper reach where the basalt flows and cools, to the dog star sliding in the liquid sky, and the beveled tip of every drop of rain, and even the warm root of the lote tree in Paradise, she is.

+

The original baby never ate, never slept, never cried or executed bodily functions of any kind, and all subsequent babies persevere in the august shadow of this baby. That is why these activities are so fraught with effort, fear, and we must say it, rage. How sad this is, their merciless self-appraisal against an impossible standard.

+

All babies are born knowing some rudimentary Arabic, a little Greek. What they do not know is how when speaking one must slash one’s meaning into pieces, an infinite rug divvied up for each solitary believer.

+

Some babies are assigned to cruel mothers, mothers who are mad, mothers who have drunk moonshine and left them out in the drowning rain. These babies do not pull rank or pass judgment, their wails are still experiments, a sounding-out to the unseen, unmanned borders of our city.

+

The more arduous the baby’s journey into this realm of existence, the harder they must sleep, for it is only when asleep that they perform the necessary labor of forgetting the terrible faces of God.

+

Every baby who was ever born was born immortal. All the dying is done by us.

WINK

Dalton Day

None of my clothes have sequins.

Thus, the world is one

of great sadness and great possibility

in equal measure. We,

the ones who wear our clothes,

love to measure.

We measure how high

we were thrown as children

by a person we trusted.

Three me’s worth, at least.

I got good at the changes in air,

would use my lungs accordingly,

like abandoned things

who would never abandon another.

In the mirror in the morning,

I practice what I could not master.

One eye closes, one eye dims.

Taman Ayun Temple, Bali

Khaleel Gheba

There's so much gold in the dance—

the kris' handle, the attendants' necks,

Rangda's eyes careening toward

the audience. It's two men in a tarp,

you don't say as the sun drops

to distant surf. I can tell your shadow

is impatient, ready to return to

greener things, out there. Barong

is too, whipping his body until it

cracks. Heavenward tooth, hellbound

fang: which shall it be today? It's his,

I say, All of this is his. The dancer trips,

palms the ground, aligning all souls

with a smack. When the witch queen

is struck, she comes back tomorrow

at eight, and six on Sundays. Each

body’s volley is the hinge on which

we bend; one failure will create a roar.

FOXFIRE

Sarah Bates

I should have known when he sent me

the kissy face. Maybe the point is not to

choose. There is a poem in the desert

and there is a bike in the middle of it.

I can’t see it, but it’s there above the red

cliffs, the blue paint, hunters moving

fast toward primary colors. I still don’t

know what to do with all these bones.

I remember the bee dying one afternoon

in between the lime green cushion

and rotting wood. My friend was there

and I didn’t cry for two days. What

I remember most was you stopping

to pick up the piece of broken kindling

to tell a story of ecosystems, this extinct

fungus glowing on the red rocks. I get so

tired of men asking me for a blowjob

over coffee. I want a helicopter to fly over

and to know that it’s there. I want the bee

to move one of its wings in the middle

of the oil slick and for the blue paint

to scatter. I want to see your grocery lists

in book spines, the desert sky, in knowing

that all things end. I want to be the bike

that is hard for colonists to reach, to be

leaving, always leaving. Months later,

a student writes, muscles are some of

the first organs broken down, and the most

important muscle in the body is the heart.

I should have known that in order to take

from the body, you have to give to the body.

I should have known that I was only building

a small empire to put things on.

Anima Helena

Tessa Bryant

Left to the night, we are pagan. Our eyes

moons, which pull us like spring blossoms

from the earth, settle us like petals in the

grass. We are many-armed, frightening

beasts with legs spread wide in supplication.

We no longer hide in caves and tents as we

bleed and mourn ourselves. We create our

sex from dirt, from emptiness, from bruises.

Our eyes roll back in our heads as we please

ourselves, as we break and re-mold our flesh

into blades of sunlight. This is how we will

give birth to the new world. We are accustomed

to needle pricks and dismemberment.

The threats of men die, shriveled, in their mouths.

They may stay as long as they like; they cannot

smoke us out.

SO LONG

Heather Christle

You want a mind tight like a drum

but you are given two friends

whose love is over

        and the street

full of admirable dogs moving through

the freezing sunlight

         and if the world

changes

    if it blinks and gathers pictures

you will understand I think

            that it is still

just one long shot

        and that is mostly

how our knowing things will go

              except that

with the captured looking there are shared meals

and anger

     as when yesterday the advertised

man shaved his face at the camera

as if to challenge us to what I do not know

and cannot say

       though I mind this less

than I did before

We survive the end of love

and then one day find ourselves

all well at the movies

          We thump

our hearts and they respond

            It is

surprising

     It is the world not looked at

having changed

       and we are in it

getting ravaged getting calmer going on

And I’ve seen pictures of the moon made

to look like a close lantern

           A sweet mistake

I'm a mistake

      my mind keeps making

all the better

to eat you with my dear

In her (son’s) new house Aunt Lina says

Philipe Abi Youness

close all the windows  and let

the onions soften

exhale their old life into these walls

let the cinnamon stick

sink and languish

with whatever ghosts

split this home

they may flicker the lights

dig cracks into the windows

and we will float

bay leaves in a pot of beans

makhlouta  mixed

the long dwellers and the past

half living  even ghosts

traverse body  or brick before arriving

the way we bound  from Beirut to Cyprus

Philadelphia and New Jersey

forgetting the lamb bone  still on the stove

coming up for air  over and over

and sinking back down

to love the water  over and over

flick  the rose water

on all the glass  wrought from

ancestral dirt  a ghost

is anything  that remains  and this home

is not rented is not sprout  in a field of war

this can be left  with our claw marks

and our bites and our bodies sleeping

the rice has softened

and the pot is rife with spices

all to tell the ghosts  freely hanker

this can be ours together

collect and gather  for dinner

you have had a long way here

ABSTRACT—

Constantine Jones

in which we all learn how to make our own bodies, just fling ourselves together outta whatever kind a materials we need, to where you’d be walking or maybe hovering through the alleys a cluster a brass coathooks & PVC & permafrost & you’d brush circuits with a handsome something passing by made up outta fresh cabbage leaves & Christmas lights & the most rusteaten bicycle chains you ever did see & maybe later on at the bar you’d catch auras with a pretty splash a green, CD booklets from every single one a Bjork’ s albums swirling around their lampshade & the two a you might could get a room somewhere or maybe even might could become a room somewhere together & fit yerselves up into some corner a the town square looking up at the clouds pulling em down having the whole sky over every Tuesday night for dinner

*
New Pedagogy for Sleeplessness

Helen Hofling

I. MAKING THE BED

At bedtime, I wasn’t in the mood for stories, so my caretaker read me a story within a story. She called it a “mise en abyme” and brought up Velázquez.
  After much tossing and turning I said, “This is what it’s like, learning not to sleep.” It isn’t too often you pause in life and name its movement so successfully; you should relish this recursion. So I said it twice and licked my teeth. It’s what I was there for, after all.
  Sleep deprivation had been proven to cure all kinds of maladies—weight fluctuation, epilepsy, environmental panic, misery. The clinic had developed a new method for teaching sleeplessness, one that didn’t require electric shocks. It was highly exclusive and had a waiting list longer than the Ivy League. I was lucky to be there.
  “What is it you’re doing,” my caretaker asked me.
  “I’m relishing, relishing this more than meat loves salt.”
  “Salt is the most common preservative,” my caretaker told me. She was already going off in a different direction. “That’s where the expression derives from. Not fairytales. Not gourmets. It’s not about flavor; it’s about prevention of rot. You can pickle almost anything. All you need is salt water and something to soak in it.”
  She put so many thoughts in. “What about a jar?” for instance.
  I already wanted to stay up all night curing vegetables and making potions, narrating a cooking program to an adoring audience. I yearned for the release of it, for the apparition of myself who stirred air each night while I lay with my arms fixed to my sides, my body wriggling like a nocturnal eel.
  “Did you ever go to the Museo Prado?” I changed the subject. “Did you ever see Bosch’s earthly garden? The infanta and her nursemaids?” I could already see myself flying through the dark sky in my trundle like a train of thought, greeting constellations, “pilot O pilot,” landing in Spain, front of the museum line.
  My caretaker adjusted her eyeglasses. “Stop tossing! Don’t wiggle your feet! Art isn’t an unmadebed.” She tucked me in with pin straight folds, twirling and screeching extravagantly. I was impressed. A practiced insomnia tutor, she had a lot of wonderful tactics for keeping me up. She behaved like a kind old woman who was pretending to be a witch in order to teach some misbehaving children a lesson. “Art isn’t an unmade bed and I don’t care if you’re in it.”

II. PARABLE OF THE COOK

The next night, painfully exhausted, I tried to run away. The clinic wasn’t for me. I didn’t like what I was learning. The benefits of sleeplessness weren’t worth it. After one night I felt like I was disappearing into infinite pools of myself. One theory held that the treatment was so effective because the misery of insomnia replaced or refocused all other miseries. Another held that it was because the profound desire for sleep replaced or refocused all other desires. I barely made it past the front hedges before I was spotted.
  After she’d secured me, my caretaker told me the “Parable of the Cook.” The cook was famous for her weasel dumplings. She seasoned them with leeks and used tears for salt. She ran a café out of her houseboat, down by the harbor. The café had a poor Yelp rating but was nonetheless a favorite venue for children's birthdays. The cook, an old woman, had a long front tooth.
  Everyone knew that under a new moon she joined a chorus line of lobsters in naked dancing on the beach. The townspeople assumed this made her a witch, but really that is just how she went fishing. If her methods of collecting shellfish were misinterpreted as occult practices, and if resulting excitement drummed up extra business, well, she couldn't help all that. She employed a loyal local sea doggie with sleek whiskers and a shiny pink nose to serve customers as she prepared the meal. After 40 years spent on ships, the fool was hooked on liquor and more seal than man. If the cognac bottles were an inch lighter now and then, she looked the other way.
  The birthday party was heating up. A child had turned seven that week and invited the whole class. They started with dumplings and had lobster pizza as their main. The child's mother had to put in a special advance order for the pizza. It was one of her three wishes. The cook prepared the crust in a secret way using crushed-up lobster shell for added texture. The children crunched their pizza dutifully and tried to peep through the kitchen porthole to steal a glimpse of the cook's tooth. The old sea doggie staggered around, refreshing their little cups of punch. Dessert was sticky bread pudding with horsehair and marigold. For entertainment, the birthday boy's grandmother demonstrated the mambo. My caretaker watched it all through a telescope, from her bedsit across the wharf. I promised myself I’d visit that night. The minute my eyes shut, I’d do it.

III. TRUE LOVE

On the third night, I still hadn’t slept. My caretaker had poisoned me into permanent wakefulness. I suspected that her stories replaced my body’s need to dream. She refused to discuss her methodology and chided me to trust in the process. She decided to spin me a love yarn, to distract me from my paranoias. This is what she said:
  We met on Halloween. I was the iceberg that sunk the Titanic. I wrapped my body in tin foil and bubble wrap and built an ocean liner out of two pieces cardboard and some house paint. The boat hung over my shoulders. The effect was remarkable; people kept spotting me and freaking out. I worried they thought my costume in poor taste, as all the icebergs are gone now. Like dressing up as someone who died before enough time has elapsed since their death. But I’m iconoclastic by nature, so I say, rip off the band-aid and let that controversial baby out to play!
  Aby dressed as a set of Russian nesting dolls. She made suits of unbelievably intricate paper mâché shells that stacked one over the other, each painted with her likeness. The first time I saw her I couldn’t even see her face, just her own interpretation of her face as a nesting doll, rendered on hardened newspaper. Anyway, one glimpse at those rosy cheeks and I was hooked. We hovered around each other all evening not talking. I knew a lot of other women at the party from grad school, I tried to pay attention as they summarized the plots of their new novels, but Aby was very distracting. She took off a layer of doll about every half hour until she was just herself, barefoot, wearing doll makeup and a babushka. I decided to make my move.
  “You’re a mise en abyme,” I whispered in her ear seductively. “You contain infinite copies of yourself.”   “Tell that to my homunculus!” she giggled. “She thinks she runs things around here.”
  I removed my Titanic so we could grind on the dance floor as iceberg and matryoshka. I took off my shoes so I wouldn’t stamp on her toes. A disco ball revolved above us slowly, breaking up our reflection into a million parts.
  The plastic wrapped around me didn’t breathe well so I started sweating a lot. Aby made a really twisted joke about glacial melt; I was obsessed.
  Towards the end of the night she started telling me secrets, she’s that kind of drunk, and babbled all about how she was the queen bee in her high school but all that drama is behind her now, and she has body issues from her years as a dancer, so sometimes she can’t stop eating tomatoes instead of regular foods. She was a virgin, she’d never had a girlfriend before. She’d stolen two of the college’s antique telescopes, right out of the case, and replaced them with lobster tails. The secrets kept coming—under each veil, another. The sudden intimacy was charming at the time, or something, but of course what I learned that night became alternately maddening and bolstering to our love as it grew.

IV. DORIS

Things were getting desperate for me. I didn’t know how many days I’d been at the clinic. I was wired and ravenous for rest. My vision shivered violently, and I wasn’t always sure when I had stopped talking and my caretaker began. My caretaker appeared unaffected by my deteriorating condition. She was too committed to her work, consumed by her persona as a self-styled Scheherazade. One night she asked me:
  Have you seen a cartoon where a woman had a geometric shape for a face? Not like a rhombus, but misshapen, and pale green, an irregular trapezoid, if that’s a thing. Flat. Well imagine that character when I talk about Doris. In this story, the whole world is tinted. Muddy green. Not just Doris, everything, murky, like the inside of a pickle jar. It will come as no surprise to you then, that Doris has very little to look forward to.
  Doris works in admissions at a midsized college. The students she accepts have unremarkable test scores. She accepts them by stamping “yes” on manila folders. She rejects them by stamping “no.” She waitlists them by stamping “wait.” If she can’t decide at first, she stamps “maybe.” The stamps are so old they barely function. They are worn down in places and gunky with ink. Sometimes “no” even looks like “wait” and “maybe” looks like “yes” because of the smears and faint patches. Doris suspects that they are responsible for more than a few dud students and worse, eggheads lost to more forward-thinking institutions. Still the college won’t replace them. No one makes the stamps anymore except as novelties, so they are outrageously expensive, like typewriters, turntables, telescopes, snow boots...
  She’s having an affair with a married man in the same office. His position is technically lateral to Doris’s but for some reason he approves her vacations. Or would, if she planned any. Remember, she doesn’t look forward to things. Besides, who would feed Rosebud? Doris is as free from desire and as flat as can be. Doris and her coworker give each other blow jobs in the car every day at the same time. They don’t look forward to it. After, they have dry sandwiches while he rubs her feet. She is extremely embarrassed by her toes. Doris doesn’t even look forward to a nice, relaxing lunch, do you see?
  It isn’t hereditary, her parents were both highly excitable.
  It isn’t that Doris lives in the past, she doesn’t care for reminiscing.
  She wears an itchy checked skirt that is too tight around the middle and a top with a high ruffle around the neck.
  She makes herself go to exercise classes and hobby classes and happy hours, hoping that something will catch. She joined a hiking group and a birdwatching group and a classic cocktails group and a pinch pot group and a life drawing group and an aperitif group and a digestif group and a group of whalers and a wife swap and a den of survivalists and a cult of personality and a gang of narco traffickers and a political caucus but she never found a thing she didn’t have to force herself to go to before giving up after a few weeks.
  Rosebud is a little mutt that she adopted. The shelter wouldn’t take Rosebud back when Doris had tired of her. Doris named her as a proxy for unfelt longing. She doesn’t care if it’s a little on the nose. She takes Rosebud on boring walks in an undeveloped area behind her apartment building several times a day.
  There are a series of empty doorframes set up in an overgrown field like a long hallway. Each time Doris and Rosebud passes through one they change shape. She passes through doorway #1 and is a black-and-white Ingrid Bergman in a nightgown; Rosebud is a flickering gas lamp. She passes through doorway #2 and becomes an elegant lemur, draping its grey furred limbs here and there, with decadent malaise; Rosebud is her child. Then a Ziegfeld girl in gold tinsel, flashing like a sparkler; Rosebud is a sparkler. Then a barrel of soda bread, like to give substances to a ship of fools; Rosebud is a pickle. Then a Saint Sebastian, riddled by arrows; Rosebud is an arrow. And so on and so on until she returns to her original, that muted mint hexagonal (was it?) form; Rosebud is a fuzzy mutt again. Every day some version of this recurrence.
  Doris has a motto: Nature insists on altering itself.

V. Dream Network

I cried to my caretaker. I cried and I begged. She was unmoved. I bribed her with boxes of Leibniz crackers. She had her own supply. I tried to seduce her. She denied me. I plugged my ears with cotton. She plucked it out.

I told her a story:

Three of them set out to look for it. The Golden Net.

They were told it had many wonderful uses. That it would allow them to catch unlimited shellfish. That it would unlock many doors and strengthen their friendships. That it would give their hair luster and add years of happiness to their lives.

They were told that placed on a table it would provide bounty. That it would enable access to all the coins from all the eyes of all the dead.

They were told it could cure certain ailments. That it would restore chill to winter, love to the loveless, sleep to the sleepless. That it could change apples into birds. That it might gather up their dispersions.

They were told that, if they chose cleverly, each seeker might be granted one request.

Of course one asked for the gift of beauty. Another—the gift of health. The third wanted the gift of gold.

They followed a map carved into a slab of marble. It was dreadfully heavy. They took turns carrying it. They walked day and night.

Late one night, deep in the forest, they came across a circular clearing filled with shining pools of water. They dove into one of the pools. Then they dove into another. All of the pools led to the same place. At the bottom of the pools there was a box.

She spoke over me:

To protect humans, the angels hid the most merciless form of desire in a box in a pool in the forest. This happened a very long time ago, but it’s still exactly where they left it. Inside the box is another box. Inside the box is a pair of lost shoes and inside the left shoe is another box. Inside the box is a bed and inside the bed is another box. Inside the box is an expensive painting leaning against another box. Inside the box is lobster-crust pizza served on top of another box. Inside the box is Rosebud the dog chewing on another box. Inside the box is a fern growing in the shade of another box. Inside the box is a pristine set of telescopes and inside one of their lenses is another box. Inside the box is a snifter of cognac twirling around on another box. Inside the box is jar of brine and floating inside is another box. Inside the box is a real iceberg and frozen within it is another box. Inside the box is a birthday party and the present is another box. Inside the box is a painted doll making eyes at another box. Inside the box is a disco ball hanging from another box. Inside the box is a vial of poison seeping into another box. Inside the box is a blow jobhapping in front of another box. Inside the box is your true love holding another box. Inside the box is everything you’ve ever wanted and another box. Inside the box is everything you’ve ever done wrong and another box. Inside the box is a dream about an angel balancing another box on its wings. Inside the box is a dream about the golden net and caught in the net is another box. Inside the box is a dream about making a phone call and on the other end of the receiver is another box. Inside the box is a dream about going to work and on top of your desk is another box. Inside the box is a dream about lying in bed and you look up atthe creepy mirrored ceiling and realize that you are a box.

 nonfiction

Lake under the sea

Schantz

If you were to travel from New Orleans to the ocean, charter a boat, ride for about a day, drop anchor at a specific spot, and suddenly dive down to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, you’d eventually reach a dark void on the ocean floor known by scientists as the Midnight Zone. Within this death-trap void you’d encounter a bleak, murky place that would probably kill you. You would encounter, of all things, a lake under the sea. It would probably kill you but if you were very, very careful, it might not.

Scientists say that in the lake under the sea, salt brine is so dense that it sits on the bottom, forming a cauldron of toxic chemicals. Some say that when the water’s muddled, waves of ghostly brine roll to the lake’s phantom shores.

For living things that wander into this lake under the sea, it’s usually lethal. Yet within its danger lies a wonder. Tube worms as well as a special kind of shrimp can survive there. Giant mussels with symbiotic bacteria live there, too. It’s believed that these beings could resemble life on other planets in our solar system, or beyond.

They have a name for miraculous creatures that can dwell in these perilous shadow places of nature: they’re called “extremophiles.”

Often imperceptible to the human eye, extremophiles comprise 98 percent of the ocean’s biomass and are responsible for most of the biological activity that happens there. Yet safe upon land, we humans remain largely unaware of our legion of remote neighbors.

Extremophiles. These are the creatures that can adapt and survive, even within life’s most formidable places. They are the ones who can dance on the edge of a volcano or dally within a drop of rain; the ones who risk being dragged through the event horizon of a black hole; the ones who manage to survive in murk beneath a billion-ton weight of a black universe pressing on their heads.

Years ago I was an extremophile.

I dwelled in dark dreams; in the nightmare bioluminescence and mirage of clinical depression, somatoform disorder, and post-partum depression. For a time I mourned within my own shadow places, populated with phantoms trailing what I perceived as death.

What was conjured lived there and stared up at me from the depths. There was always something terrifying waiting; something always ready to charge at me with Devonian teeth and dead eyes. Something that lives without the sun.

It could overwhelm and drown you at any moment without warning.

I learned to live in two realms; in the realm of the air and in the realm of water. It’s a duel reality; one swims through the other; they’re portals into each other, superimposed.

When I was a new mother, there were mornings when I couldn’t get out of bed. I knew I must get up and make breakfast. I’d move my leaden legs and sludge through a wall of water to get there. It took all of my will, because there was no point. There was no future. I wept often, afraid I’d die any moment. Why pretend that life was good or normal, or that it would continue? I had to plan how I’d move my left arm under me to support my weight, how I’d sit up, how I’d stand and put a foot in front of the other to lean my weight through this odd ocean pushing against me.

I’d tried to breastfeed my baby in the hospital, but I was sick and exhausted. Labor had lasted 21 hours. I couldn’t sleep for very long. It was a time of great confusion. I wandered the fluorescent halls, not sure if I was actually awake. The natural bonding with my baby was supposed to take place. The nurse kept asking me to breastfeed; I was ill with something respiratory. Although she kept positioning the baby against me, he wouldn’t latch on. Secretly I wondered if they’d made a mistake and given me the wrong baby; some sort of changeling.

All of the other mothers in the group were nursing. They were all chatting together. I’d look at them and smile vaguely through the void. They were certainly polite to me, but so distant. I must have seemed so out of it, so weary, so far away. “Breast is best!” they’d say brightly, citing the anthem of many articles about nutrition and how important breast milk is for your child’s immune system. They’d say this often. Their mouths formed the words and the sound would travel through the water in slow motion and I’d finally hear it as it washed over me. And my son was too thin, too frail. He couldn’t latch on. I read the scrawled words “failure to thrive” on a clipboard. Yet even after he was given formula and started to gain weight, I felt my own failure to nurse; failure to mother. And I felt profound isolation: my husband didn’t visit me often; the circling green waves started to flood and rise up over my head. I don’t know why.

I only know that for several months after, I remained in this dark place of slow motion. I thought that perhaps when I left the hospital and came home, the sense of this ocean would go away like a bad dream, but it didn’t.

How can we explain that the life-altering event of new motherhood can also give birth to sadness? How can joy and sorrow be simultaneous worlds like air and water and mist that flow through each other?

I once read about an artist who creates beautiful underwater sculptures; figures of humans in a museum beneath the sea. He describes how light plays across them, and algae, corals and other sea creatures make them their home.

With the passage of time, I’ve been able to perceive sculptures of myself down here in the ocean. I’ve moved closer to the shore to touch them; there’s visibility here. Slats of sunlight from the water’s surface stripe my primitive face. I see phantasmal statues of myself in different stages of life, altered depending on where I’ve been facing the tide.

In these statues, I’m posed in many ways. Some of the sunken figures are of my son. In one, he’s tiny and has just been diagnosed with autism. There’s another where he’s grown into a beautiful toddler, playing alone in watery half-light. He’s mesmerized by the spiral shells in his hand. Some sculptures are of a second baby (who I believe was a girl) lost in pregnancy at three months. Many statues are of this lost little daughter, the way she might look at ten, at sixteen or twenty. She has a mischievous expression. I miscarried her one afternoon, sitting in warm bath water; the blood bloom heralding death, soft wings of blood flowing from between my legs like undulating fans, and now, here in my dreams, flowing above her head like a descending vestment. Her memory lives down here, too.

You may find these thoughts morbid. I once heard someone say that on land we look at people every day who seem happy and we think we know them. We think everything is what we see at the surface, and we look past it to the obvious and pretty horizon.

But for years I was down here under the waves. And none of you saw me.

I did manage to smile up through the water sometimes. And I’m aware that there are those who dwell down here in a much darker void than I did; in overwhelming depths they perhaps can’t return from because the world at the surface is simply too big, too bright, too noisy, too much to fathom . . . there’s the beloved comedian; a rock star adored by family and fans; a woman who always made others happy; the adventurous chef for whom the world was a wild culinary playground.

Many of them used to smile, too.

But they were in a far different place than I was. And they must tell you their own stories.

I do know that when you’re unwell, if you’ve given birth; if you’re different from other people; in pain, if you feel old, or invisible, or if you must mourn, heal, or rest . . . sometimes you’ll dwell, if temporarily, in slow motion; in a cavern of echoes, in sea drift, wreck and ruin.

It’s here to this abyss that you’ll sink. And as you go about your normal day, your soul will live a half-life no one knows about.

But now, many years have passed. Like the artist’s sculptures, the statues of me have become part of the sea bed; largely unrecognizable. From my face and outstretched hands, reef creatures have dramatically altered my appearance. Balloon-like beings breathe water like air.

Purple vines snake round my face. Tunicates sprout from my medusan hair, and schools of spectral fish pass silently by, grey ghosts in the current. Life now teems about me and in me.

I reach out and touch my own stone effigy embedded in a gradient of sloping sand, in the slumbering marine light. Yes, there is life here.

Somehow, and I’m truly not sure how, I’ve managed to pull myself out of them, and out of that dark region below. I’m no longer in the Midnight Zone and the dead brine lake. I’ve moved onto a higher shelf; my mind is a living reef.

I no longer dwell in daily grief and hopelessness, although I can still see the old drop-off point in my memory, somewhere between the strange and the estrangement; between solitude and that first dim descent into sorrow.

But these days I’m standing in a different place, in a higher realm of light, of photosynthesis.

My face is painted, festive in white lines from fire worms. I’ve been baptized in the volcanic vents of the deepest ocean crevasses. Still, as I find myself in this new lighter reef of the mind, fine coral flowers are blooming in my eye sockets, and the surf is breaking joyfully in the distance over my head.

Endnotes

• Specific information on The Midnight Zone and extremophiles comes from oceanographic maps, from articles on the websites Seeker, Science Alert, and Business Insider, and from reports by Erik Cordes, associate professor of biology at Temple University, in the journal Oceanography, Vol. 29, No. 1, Supplement, March 2016.

• The metaphoric description of my appearance as a submerged statue was informed by the sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, describing physical transformation in his underwater art installations which he discusses in his TED talk and its accompanying image gallery.

Josepha

Lucie Bonvalet

Monday, November 3rd 2003
Vladivostok - Hotel Primorye
  From my window, far away, I can see the sea. The sounds remind me of the sounds of Paris. But here everything is sad and ugly. Yesterday, after a long Sunday walk in November fog, for the first time in my life, I passed out.
  Oh, not for long. Just enough time for my head to hit the corner of a shelf in front of me. Then I fought to stand back up but my legs would not obey. This morning I have a black eye. I passed out in a cybercafé. Then I sat down again and started sweating from head to toe.

  I do not know when Josepha was born. In one diary I have 1871 crossed out and 1903 written down underneath, probably years later, with a question mark next to the two dates. In one of the rare texts I wrote about her I mention she was five in 1894. It would be very easy to verify. I have a copy somewhere of her birth certificate. But a part of me is scared that if I dive into the archives my mother collected and sent me throughout the last decade, I will turn into a statue of salt and I will never be able to write. So instead I will invent my own Josepha, made of fragments of my own faulty memories, of what I knew of her and what was passed on to me.
  Marie Josèphe Poëx was the mother of the mother of my mother. She was born in Exaltación de la Cruz in Argentina. She died in her nineties in Brantôme in the Dordogne in France. She was born and she died in places where she had no roots. She outlived her three daughters. No one ever goes to her grave. I went once. The tomb was small and non-descript. It had been so neglected throughout the past three decades, it took me a very long time to find it. Yet I found fresh flowers in a small vase placed near her name. A mystery.

Wednesday November 5th 2003
In the Transsiberian. In the restaurant car.
  This morning, one must be careful when going from one car to the next. The doors are frozen and one's fingers remain glued to the handle. I have no idea where we are. Birch trees everywhere remind me of Babayaga. It never snows. Snow is everywhere. (...)

  She was beautiful. The picture of her wedding shows a very young bride, nineteen, with striking ebony black hair tamed in a thick chignon, sharp bird-like features, dark sad eyes, not looking at the camera but with an inward gaze. Her image is confused in my memory with a drawing by Félicien Rops called "Le Plus Bel Amour de Don Juan". It depicts a terrified young girl, naked, with two amulets tied around her neck, sitting with both hands joined between her closed thighs, as if frozen both by inner panic and a cold wind, on the edge of an armchair wrapped in fog. In the shadows behind her bare back, the terrifying figure of a giant man in a floating black cape hovers.

(...) Yuta and I stepped outside of the train in Mogocha. Quickly it was so cold that tiny icicles formed inside my nostrils. That brought me joy.

  She was rumored among her grandchildren to be insane. They collected countless anecdotes of her erratic behaviour, her outbursts of anger, the long-standing feuds she'd nurture through the decades, against complete strangers as well as her daughters, and her husband she seemed to have loathed so fiercely.

  She was consistently hostile towards me the few times I remember being in her presence. Once, during a family dinner, she gave me a hard slap across the cheek. Perhaps for having talked too much. Perhaps for having expressed too much joy. Perhaps just because. I was four. The only clear memory I have of her is the hard look on her wizened face.

Friday November 7th 2003
In the Transsiberian. In the restaurant car.
  What did I eat this evening? Food found on the platform of the last train station. Women wait for us on the platforms and sell all they can hold in their arms:
a thigh of smoked chicken
pickled cucumbers
boiled potatoes
large raviolis made of potatoes
little breads stuffed with potatoes
potato beignets
A tenacious hiccup took hold of me while I was eating a boiled potato and now it's coming back as I am reliving that meal through writing it. I drank vodka to make it go away.

  The first time I started to compulsively write about her was on the Transsiberian. At the time I was twenty-eight. I had been living in Japan for two years. I had just quit my job in Kyoto. I had left the apartment I’d been sharing with my Japanese boyfriend. We loved each other but I could not see a future together. I could not see a future. I had no roots. No ambition. No desire. No direction. Nowhere I wanted to go back to. I gave myself a few months break. I would go back to France, where I was from. At least for a while. But instead of flying back, I would travel back by boat and by train. It would take weeks. I hoped that somewhere throughout this long journey something inside of me would shift and the incomprehensible despair would recede.

  On the Transsiberian, seven days and seven nights from Vladivostok to Moscow, I thought I would write both about everything I would experience inside the train and everything about my own changes. Perhaps too about the books I had brought with me: The Magic Mountain, Les Liaisons Dangereuses. Instead, very quickly, I found myself writing about Josepha's childhood. What I thought I understood about her.

  Her pony. My favorite Josepha story from when I was a child. Josepha grew up on a farm in the pampa in Argentina. Her parents were from the Savoie and immigrated to Argentina to escape from the great famine there during the 19th century. The government of Argentina at the time was offering free land for people willing to immigrate and become farmers. The legend says that at the age of five Josepha had her own pony and was riding alone everywhere in the pampa. One day she got trapped on the back of her pony among a large herd of cows. She was rescued, but severely scolded.

  On the Transsiberian, I shared my compartment with three other passengers: Yuta, my Japanese boyfriend, Cola, a fifty-year-old farmer, and a grandfather whose name I never knew, with very sad very pale blue eyes and a uniform from the Second World War (in which he slept too but it remained perfectly ironed throughout the journey).

  At night, I could not sleep. I would do stretching exercises in the corridor pretending that the round wooden ramp underneath the windows was a ballet barre. I looked at the blue hills made of blue snow that glittered and glowed as if lit from within. The train furrowed through night and through snow. I went deeper and deeper backwards in time.

  Then Josepha's mother died. She hemorrhaged after giving birth to her third child. Josepha was five. Soon her father remarried. He chose a sixteen-year-old girl who did not want to take care of Josepha. So she was sent to a Catholic convent in Switzerland. She never came back.

  In my Transsiberian diary, a blank page is entitled "le sphynx-vampire". The page is covered in ink drawings of black-blue eyes. Eyes with exotropia. An image of a deformed Josepha, as a nightmarish creature, part cat part owl. Or an image of my own attempts to look within and outward, at something too distant both in time and space, not reachable with words. On the opposite page, I wrote: At the age of five she lost simultaneously her mother, her house, her country, her pony. I do not know if she ever saw her father again. She was commited to a convent in Switzerland. She left the convent only to marry, at the age of nineteen. (To someone she did not know, eighteen years older than her). To her greatest misfortune she was vivacious and pretty. Consequently she became insane.

Tuesday, November 11th 2003.
Moscow
  Yuta took fifty pictures of the statue of Dostoïevski in front of the library. It exasperated me. In Moscow, the buildings of Stalin say that you cannot escape, even in death. They come to block your view, your sky, your spirit. But the churches come to tell you that it is false, there will always be an elsewhere. That makes me want to sleep so as to escape
[...]. I found the sunniest spot of the entire room. Sun water trickles on my forehead. Tomorrow, it's my birthday.

  Three days at sea. Seven days and 5,772 miles on the Transsiberian. Twenty-nine years on earth now over. Josepha's ghost giving birth to a silence inside my head. A long silence that spreads like a shadow across the past and future, continents and bodies of water. The body of her ghost superimposed on my own body, the extremities of my body, now and forever cold. As if I could no longer reach that far inside myself. The ground, unknown, unstable. A void beneath our feet, at every step.

END.
Mastectomy: Instructions Before Surgery:i

AUTHOR

What to Bring to the Hospital

Recommended items to bring with you to stay in the hospital include:

• Personal items, such as a toothbrush, toiletries, pillow, earplugs,
and your breasts. Remember that you cannot bring your breasts home with you from the hospital.

• Music player and headphones as well as your favorite music, books on tape, etc. You may want to listen to music during your surgery. If so, aim to compile a mastectomy playlist that will last for the entirety of the operation. You may find it challenging to select the appropriate music for breast removal. You might wonder: what pairs well with amputation? We suggest asking friends for recommendations.

Some people get cold feet. We recognize that you are never cold now, not since the chemotherapy stopped your periods. You have reported that the unrelenting heat of menopause makes it difficult to sleep—that, although it is December, you lay in bed sweating with the windows open while your husband shivers beneath a down comforter. When we recommend that you bring slippers and extra socks, therefore, we are referencing your metaphorical cold feet (as in, your loss of nerve or confidence in this surgery). Cold feet are not acceptable. You must have this surgery. Without it, you will die.

• Bathrobe that opens in the front, a sweater with buttons or a zipper If you do not have any good options and are too tired to go yourself, you can ask your husband to pick something out for you at Target. He may come back with a variety of button-down flannel shirts (the kind you used to wear in high school) and he might joke that the 90s are back. As you run your fingers over the soft fabric, you may remember buttoning your teenage body into material just like this; how your young breasts grew into themselves beneath colorful plaid. You may wonder if you were wearing a flannel shirt the first time your high school boyfriend felt you up, both of you hesitant and curious and eager. When you try the shirts on, you might calculate the amount of time that has passed since that first touch and startle at the math. You may look at yourself in the mirror and see a thirty-four year old woman who is puffy and bald, exhausted yet strong. Then you might unbutton the flannel and ask your husband to kiss your breasts one last time. When he does, his lips tender, you may linger there until the pain of goodbye is too great.

• List of important telephone numbers Both before and after surgery, you may want to call your mother. We understand why her advice would be useful to you: she had a mastectomy too, after all. Unfortunately, however, you cannot call your mother because she is dead. Despite our best efforts, despite her mastectomy and chemotherapy, she still died of cancer. Due to the recent nature of her passing, you may continue to call her sometimes, out of habit. You may dial her number just to listen to those first few rings when anything could happen. We understand that you may have an instinctual (even desperate) need to talk to your mother—to tell her that you are having surgery tomorrow, to wrap her words around you like a warm blanket. But again, we regret to inform you that this is not an option. To avoid confusion, we recommend that you delete her number from your phone.

Do not bring valuables with you to the hospital or give them to family and friends. To clarify: when we say “do not bring valuables with you to the hospital,” we do not mean your breasts. You must bring your valuable breasts with you—they are necessary to this surgical procedure. We recognize, of course, that we are stating the obvious. We understand that you can’t not bring your breasts with you to the hospital because, for the moment, they are still integral to your body. It would be impossible for you to leave them behind.

i Bolded text was excerpted from: University of California San Francisco, “Mastectomy: Instructions Before Surgery” https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/mastectomy_instructions_before_surgery/ Accessed September 15, 2018.

Succession

Erin Ruble

  We celebrated my eighth birthday on the day of a pack race. The competition was a convivial affair put on by the Sweet Grass County Chamber of Commerce. To win the glory and the prize, a rifle valued at $500, the entrants had to ride across seven miles of rough country, leading horses or mules loaded with three 50-pound sacks of horse pellets, known as “cake,” and a dozen raw eggs. Contestants were allowed to keep both the cake and eggs after the race ended, but time penalties were levied for every broken shell.
  The course edged around the valley that held our vacation cabin. Situated at the edge of the Beartooths, a range that saws across southern Montana, the place was made for scenic calendars. Shining flecks of fools’ gold stud the rocks. Flowers grow thick enough to paint hillsides. The mountains draw so close the morning sun comes late, even at midsummer. Some of the peaks have no names. Some may never have been climbed.
  The air always smells better there, sweetened by waist-deep grasses, sharpened by weather that gathers in minutes and bursts out of drainages, pelting the ground with hail or throwing lightning around. My parents never took the mountains lightly, but we were kids; what did we know? All we saw was the green, so different from our house on the brittle-dry plains, where everything bears thorns.
  I didn’t expect a party, not one with other kids. The crowd I went to school with favored makeup and designer jeans. I sported a coonskin cap all summer long. In the mountains, I would slip away from my family, ducking beneath quaking aspen and three hundred year old Douglas firs until I reached the stream where I was building a shelter out of driftwood in the half-articulated hope that I could one day move in, escaping everything and everyone that haunted me.
  I’d guess that my mother built the cabin from a similar impulse. In the mountains, it was easy to pretend that we were surrounded by wilderness, somewhere with no history but the stories each of us would write.
  So I was happy enough to have my birthday at the cabin, and was even willing to spend part of the day watching the race. I was less pleased to include my grandparents, up from Denver for the week. Children did not hold their interest for long, and their attention, when it came, always slightly alarmed me. They belonged firmly to the generation that sipped dry cocktails and danced every weekend, that sent their kids outside to roam in Darwinian packs while the women cleaned in nylons and heels and the men drove the car to work. They were all legs and shadows, tall strangers in doorways.
  Mom fixed steaks for dinner, and cake made from a Betty Crocker mix, smothered as always with chocolate frosting. Afterward, I opened a few presents. The best was a plush My Little Pony the size of a cat, with a lurid turquoise hide and a mane and tail the color of a Pepto-Bismol bottle. It was resplendent.
  I had to leave my new stuffed horse behind when we piled into a truck and lurched up the rutted road. Clouds of dust billowed from the tires and hung suspended in the air, tracing our passage.
  We planned to watch the race from a way station in the course, near a cluster of buildings known as Clark’s cabins. They sit on top of the bench that rises above our place, near the flank of one of the highest mountains. The story was that the cabins had originally belonged to a family of homesteaders. God knows what they grew up there; it’s too high, dry, and cold for most crops. Whatever it was, the woman undoubtedly had the worst of it, which isn’t feminism talking but plain truth. If there was planting or harvesting or branding or calving, she’d be in on that, plus meals and clothes and water and wood and the brutal round of chores that never really got done because the same dishes stared at you the next morning, just as dirty, the stove just as cold, the water edged with ice. The husband would take a pack train down to Big Timber or Livingston, days away, to sell or buy stock or lay in supplies. The wife, who had no doubt grown up in a town surrounded by people, stayed at home on the plateau with no one around except for an endless swarm of children, and wind that keened or blustered or breathed or wailed but never stopped. People said the kids were so wild that they rode bareback naked, though as someone who had been on her share of horses, I was skeptical of the naked part. But something must have gotten to their mother, because she seized a knife one day—or was it an ax?—and went after them. One of them grabbed the baby and they fled.
  We met one of the old homesteader kids once when he (now an old man) came to the valley to look around. He told us that he always walked to school, rather than ride, since one section of the route was so steep that “you could beat a horse up it.” I knew the hill, sheer enough that you could reach out and touch the sod while standing upright. It was friable ground that broke and shifted underfoot. He and his brothers attended just for the three months of summer, traveling miles each way to sit in a one-room schoolhouse with other ranch kids as unruly as they. Mom told us afterwards that she nearly asked him about the crazy woman, realizing only later that she might’ve been his mother.
  Once the pickup disgorged us, my grandmother settled into a seat on the jackleg fence. She was a little fuzzy from the hooch she’d stashed in her suitcase, though nothing like how she would’ve been in Denver. Her voice, always husky from the cigarettes, was even thicker, and her throat must have burned, eaten away by the gin she drank straight, in a highball glass filled to the brim and camouflaged with a tinge of orange juice. Everybody drank back then, or everybody they ran with, though not everybody drank surreptitiously all day until they were someone else, someplace else, entirely.
  My grandmother, or B.B., as she had us call her (so as not to seem old), had been born into one of the first families of Denver. A generation or two past the frontier days, that meant, in addition to gowns and society papers, rides above tree line where lightning descended in blue balls from an irate sky, and (in B.B.’s case, at least) shooting out the streetlights with a .22 when they troubled her mother’s sleep. A contradiction in a society of contradictions, her life was defined by what it wasn’t. A debutant without wealth, a bohemian captured by bourgeois concerns, an artist with no outlet, she tried to wrestle my mother into bobby socks and cotillion steps, my mother who wore jeans and found dogs and horses better company than nearly all people. They did not get along, especially when my mother refused to overlook her drinking. At the dinner table, Mom would point out the dropped threads of conversation, her mother’s strange humming, her looping, disjointed speech. In return, B.B. would lay into Mom with a surgeon’s skill, peeling back the skin with exquisite delicacy. When Mom reached college, my grandfather suggested that she stop coming home.
  B.B. loved our cabin, though. She and my mother built a kind of truce there, riding across meadows in grass so high it brushed their stirrups, scanning for wildlife and attentive to the animals beneath them. They were always a little easier together after those rides. Maybe it was the way you can lose yourself in the synergy of motion. Maybe it was just that the cabin always felt like a place apart, where life’s rules slackened.
  I bring my own children there every year or two. I would like to show them the beaver ponds where my sister and I floated on rubber rafts, the vernal pools where we caught frogs, the hillside, hoary with cascades of beard lichen, where I would sit and think, but those places are gone.
  The year before my son was born, lightning struck a stand of lodgepole pine a few days’ ride into the mountains. No one lives that far in, and there are no roads, so the Forest Service decided to let it burn. It was hot that summer, with humidity levels in the single digits. When the wind picked up, the front came roaring down the drainage. People covered the old cabins with foil but by then there were rotating smoke columns 30,000 feet high that generated their own lightning. The whole valley would’ve burned but for a freak shift in the wind that pushed the flames back onto themselves.
  Even so, it’s a different place now from the one I knew. The fire swallowed the pools and the forest they grew in, leaving endless gleaming charcoal trunks. Bark beetles have invaded what didn’t burn, and the river has flexed, changing course.
  I shouldn’t mourn. Much of the West evolved in symbiosis with fire. Lodgepole cones are sealed with resin that must be seared away before they can release their seeds, ensuring that the new generation grows only from the ashes of the old.
  The dense pine stands that once cloaked whole hillsides have given way to aspen the same age as my son. Each summer my husband and I mark their growth by our own bodies: knee, waist, shoulder. Now they are above our heads. When my children think of these mountains, they will not remember the creaking dim conifer forests, but billowing leaves, their green brilliant against the old, charred trunks. But aspen are just the first step in the ecological succession; quick growing, quickly crowded out. My grandchildren or great-grandchildren will see something different: Douglas fir, or lodgepole again, readying itself for fire.
  For now, my kids regard the burn scars and the frog-rich muck of the river bottom with equal solemnity. This year we spooked the local mules by setting off firecrackers. Later, I knocked a stick against the one my daughter held, describing to her the art of fencing, teaching her how to fight.
  We start our hikes in the same place the race began. The contestants were given five minutes to bring up their animals and another ten to load them with the cargo. The route ran up a long, steep ridge—one I always feared tumbling off if my horse put a foot wrong—over the plateau, and down an even steeper grade into the next drainage. When they reached Clark’s cabins, the packers had to stop for a vet check, unsaddling the horses and mules and waiting until the beasts’ heart rates returned to an acceptable threshold.
  No one took the contestants’ pulses as they heaved fifty-pound sacks of crumbling cake to the ground—but gently, so as not to crack the eggs—and slipped the saddles off, panting as the vet ran the stethoscope over the animals’ chests.
  B.B. watched the medical equipment flash in the sunlight. She had been to the doctor, received her warning, but she couldn’t conceive of how she would go about quitting. In just over a year, she would be dead.
  One after another, the contestants struggled into view. The horses were breathing hard, sweat darkening their tack. The saddle leathers were so slicked by use that you could no longer see the flowers and curlicues tooled into their sides.
  We watched the bags, so hastily packed below, swing off for inspection: the weight of cake, the occasional resilience of eggs. The examination, a frenzy of reloading, and they disappeared beyond the rise.
  The wind murmured to itself. My grandfather made some acerbic comment—his humor was always barbed—and my sister, the artist, admired the patterns the lather made across the horses’ hides. As the beasts strained forward, ears pinned, nostrils flared, I thought of my new plush pony, with its bright columnar immobile legs. And none of us thought much at all about the woman who had cried there, or screamed, or sworn as the wind blew and her children grew around her into people she did not recognize, into Westerners. You don’t dwell much on these stories around here.

What I Will Say About Rebecca

Carla Panciera

  Rebecca convinces herself that she wants a fox skull. From a fox that is already dead, of course. Rebecca is no hunter. She is, instead, a strange curator. A woman who buys cartons of tiny test tubes in which to insert five or six grains of sand, or a stray eyelash, a beetle antennae. On her bookshelves are books, of course, and then sand dollars, whatever it is an owl vomits up and you discover when you dissect its pellets, assorted moth wings.
  For her job, a soul-sucking position writing ad copy for dental implants and teeth brightening, she drives an hour over roads that wind through the Allegheny Mountains. Drives a beat up Jetta missing hubcaps, a car that thunders through the darkness. Drives too fast because it takes her so long to paint on her eyeliner, to decide which black skirt to wear with which black sweater, to rub one oil or another over her elbows, that she is late. Besides her desire for the fox skull, she has also decided to write poems about roadkill. Well, what other people called roadkill but what she describes as “furless flesh illogical and blue/with bits of bone and fat bright marigold/(How intimate the violet and honeydew.).” She can do the beautiful thing. She sees it everywhere. Sees it, and is distracted by it.
  So many dead animals on her way to and from work. Deer, possum, raccoon. In the late summer, snakes that have slithered out onto pavement in the mornings to warm up. Why a fox, I wonder, but in the way I wonder how she manages it: the wildflowers blooming where most people have a front yard, the rowboat she pulls to the shore of her creek trusting in strangers to know it belongs to her, the time she wore one skirt beneath another and didn’t realize it until we were seated in a restaurant and then reached up, removed it, and handed it to me to carry in my purse. So I don’t ask. I just make a note: If only I could find a fox skull for her.
  I live six hours northeast of her creek in central Pennsylvania. Well-lit roads. A short commute. No curiosity surrounding entrails. But my family and I vacation on the Sakonnet River in Tiverton, Rhode Island. A salt water strait, technically, subject to tides. The place where we stay does not belong to us. We could never afford its location, its privacy, its unpeopled stretch along that body of water. We swim in it in warmer weather. Even in October once. Even in May. But I also love the desolate winters there. How the wind furls and unfurls the water. The muted light. Our daughters are young and can be amused by repeat viewings of the Swiss Family Robinson VHS tape we discover in a closet, by afternoon trips to the empty playground, by walks along the water in search of unbroken conch shells and sea glass.
  On one of these trips, we discover the coyote’s carcass, already decomposed so much that we have only the bushy tail to remind us of what color it had been. A silvery creature, a pewter landscape. What’s the difference, I wonder, between a fox’s skull and a coyote’s? Between vulpes vulpes and canis latrans? This particular head, however, is still attached to its spine and still strung with the leathery remains of the creature’s former face. I’m no scientist. Have none of Rebecca’s resourcefulness in me. Not her brand of curiosity, either. But it is February. The beach will be deserted for months yet. The carcass is far enough up the shore so that the high tide will not reach it, but the salt air will. The salt air, the sharp winds, the rain and snow. It can’t take long for the meat to fall away from those bones.
  I am also unlike Rebecca in that nothing will get me out of my car on dark roads, lonely stretches. And I can’t bear the thought of her there, either. Dressed in black, the kind of person unaware of the periphery.
  I lie in bed that first night, listening for the pack’s yips. I consider what might be out there on a bitter night like this to scavenge. On the other end of the loft bedroom, my daughters sleep side by side. I sit up in bed, just to make sure.
  To keep Rebecca safe, I will watch this collection of bones on a stretch of shore whose only danger is a stinging wind.
  I could say something too, about Rebecca’s gifts. Her giving. A chronically, hopelessly, unchangeably late person, she always remembers to offer you something on her arrival. A pinecone, unopened rhododendron blossom, white stone still life on your dresser, a perfume stick—the scent a mix of grass, mandarin orange, ylang ylang—chewable ginger that reminds you of Bit O’Honey, a box of black skirts she thinks would look better on you, a small sterling silver heart on a chain. Oh, and words. She gives me words in groups of four. Poem titles. She loves to share her vodka. She’ll bring enough mustaches for the whole party to tape one on.
  And what do I have to offer in return?
  In April: progress. The pelvis is clean, the vertebrae countable. But the grimace remains over the animal’s jaw and forehead. Soon, I reason. What the winter hasn’t worked away, the spring sun, its rains, certainly will. Besides the place where we stay, only one other house shares this stretch of beach. That house’s owner has never traversed the one acre meadow between her back door and this resting spot in all the time we’ve been coming here. I sit downshore and try to predict where diving cormorants will surface.
  I will never ask Rebecca why she wants what she wants. When I wonder, I think of the way she hands me things. The one silver ring she sometimes wears as her wedding band. She can manipulate an almond, or the end of a hand-rolled cigarette, or one pearl stud she has only just remembered to remove before bed, and it is the way, if you could read one, you would hold up a crystal ball. Everything offered up to the light. Rebecca is prophecy to my certainty. She is questions. I, advice.
  June. We have a series of hot days. I am far away from the river and from Rebecca. I am putting in screens, dragging fans down from the stifling attic and plugging them in so dust kitties skitter out from under every surface. My coyote must smell today. Now that the air is close. I consider what parasites might still pick away at those remains when fleshier kills must exist. Recognizable tissue. The memory of blood. Next time I will be able to take the prize home with me.
  We arrive at the end of the month. This time of year, we have crossed paths with a turtle on her way to lay eggs. The bullfrogs and peepers chorus from the pond outside our bedroom window. Blue water. Still as a lake. Wild pea vines shoot bright green tendrils along the seawall. Water’s edge is quiet, the last storm’s detritus—rope scrap, bleach bottle, pine plank soft with rot—assembled. The coyote rests on the edge of the neighbor’s meadow and this makes sense. Field mice, moles, the eggs of meadowlarks and bobolinks, all here. But somehow, on a final trip, winter coming, the predator had lain down. The neat arrangement of bones suggests it was a natural death, the animal stretched out the way his cousin the dog might on linoleum on a hot day.
  I see it there still as I approach, the tail gone now, except for a final few strands, the kinds of wiry hairs horses lose in barbed wire fencing and that birds sometimes claim for nests. Dried pompoms of seaweed cover leg bones, the vertebrae hinged, ribs extending a spiky embrace.
  Only the skull is gone.

  This is the way Rebecca swims in her creek: She keeps her head up, breast strokes, frog kicks. She is incapable of sinking. Beside her, her dog paddles, panting. If Rebecca gets too far away, Amelie whines until Rebecca turns over on her back and calls to her:“Well, come on then.” They never swim separately.
  And on a day like that, on a day when Rebecca is, no doubt, swimming in her creek despite that the snow melt’s influence will not completely have left it, I am in the post office in my own town. Attached to the post office is a bakery that sells a few loaves of bread, some shrink-wrapped frosted cookies, and I keep thinking I should be able to smell things baking, but I don’t. The woman in front of me is deciding which stamps: Breast Cancer? Birds? The kind of people who keep PO boxes are peering and twirling and reaching in, their street addresses safe from strangers, at least those who are unfamiliar with the Internet.
  “Anything flammable, liquid, explosive?” the clerk asks. I shake my head. And, let’s face it, why would I admit that? If I was the kind of person who would try to mail those things? Though I am the kind of person to mail this kind of thing. I am now.
  I pay the clerk a few dollars and change, head back out into the garish light of June.
  In a few days, the postal worker assigned to rural routes in the Allegheny Mountains of Central Pennsylvania, will make her way through the small meadow of columbine, bee balm, field daisies, wondering if anyone uses the front door. Everyone does. She will most likely leave the package on Rebecca’s front steps because Rebecca will be sitting now on the banks of her creek wondering how it is she’s missed fiddlehead season again. Beneath the water’s clear surface, she’ll see the tricycle left by the flood, a spoon, a chunk of road with a double yellow line. She’s trolled an underwater camera over the side of her rowboat to capture the footage, this American Atlantis. She spent a season painting neighbors’ houses, dragging sodden sheetrock and rotted floorboards out to dumpsters. She’s been knee-deep in creek mud several miles from its banks. She’s that kind of person and the kind of person who leaves work midday to photograph the migrating snow geese. No one will wonder how she knows they are coming. If she happens upon a deer in a field, washed pink with sunset, she has all the time in the world to stop with her camera. Often, she forgets to eat, but when she does, it is with small bites of cheese or figs on a plate.
  When she comes home, barefoot, she might not see the package. She will be calling to Amelie to come into the shower. They shower together. Then, she will be toweling them both off and twisting up her hair. From the refrigerator, she will pull a few pieces of meat from last night’s chicken. A taste for her, a taste for the dog. She will run the tap so the cat can drink. Her son, maybe, or her husband, will set the package on her dining room table. It is not blueberry season yet. If it was blueberry season, there would be no room on her table, only the berries drying on a white cloth. She might cry a little when she realizes who the package is from. When she thinks about what we think about: how impossible it is to live so far away from so many people we love.
  Inside, wrapped in tissue paper will be my wholly inadequate gift: the picked-clean pelvis, its eye holes and horns. She will lift it, the way she lifts things, always the gesture of an offering. She will consider the animal’s sacrifice, its loping steps through my world. In a few days, into my own mailbox, I will find a note: You always know just what I want.
  The way she is blind to shortcomings. I forgot to say that about her.

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