Accidents

Cracks

Veronica Robinson

Cracks

After the Fire

Ian Demsky

Clifford is telling me what happened.
I live on the second floor, he says.

I thought it was another false alarm.
We’ve had four or five this year.

I went out the back. Some of the people
were going up the hill to the store.

But then I looked up.
There was smoke coming from the window.

If I had known it was real, I wouldn’t have taken so long
to put on my shoes, to put out my cigarette.

It’s up there, I said to the firefighters. I pointed.
They said, “We know. We know.”

A man was trying to get the window open.
He was banging on the window real hard.  Then he went away.

You could hear thump, thump.  He was trying to beat out the fire.
Or maybe it was the firefighters trying to get in.

When he was banging on the window
you could see the red on his arm coming down. Blood.

You could hear him scream—
No you couldn’t hear him. It was silence.

That was on the seventh floor.
I live on the second.

Sometimes black guys come in and try to mess with the women.
They mess with the elevators, too.

Platform 25

Drew Falconeer

Platform 25, a train station. Early morning. It’s cold enough so his breath makes clouds. He looks left, no signs of his train. Yawns, painfully. His jaw almost cracks open. He should sleep, but his fractured right hand doesn’t make it easy. Neither does standing up, and the train is not coming.

Less than one hour ago, he was in a bedroom, a modest place, fourth floor, thin walls but lots of padding in the right spots to cover the screams. A girl, short, black hair, maybe twenty-five, was sitting on the floor when he left. Small splats of blood, not hers, on the floor. She was crying.

He looks to the tracks again. Nothing comes. Behind him, an old man with a broom whistles an outdated tune. The old man seems happy with his job, or too disillusioned to care, and keeps sweeping while looking dubiously at the sky. No train, yet.

Only two hours ago he was telling the girl what to do, how to move, what to say. She was wearing only a pair of secondhand black sturdy platform sandals, her back marked with deep, long scratches. She was chanting words that didn’t belong to her; she was obeying every instruction. Happy.

On platform 24 a woman is coughing hard, covering the grossness with a paper bag. Croissants are in the bag. She quickly bites into one, looking around to see if anyone noticed her. He did, and reaches for his left pocket. Pulls out a small digital camera, points it at the woman, makes sure she isn’t looking, shoots while she munches the croissant. He keeps the camera in his left hand, and plays with the controls without looking, making them whirr and click. It’s cold; the train is not coming.

Only three hours ago he was sitting on a couch, sipping wine from a cup. The twenty-five-year-old girl was kneeling at his feet, her face blank, her eyes glassy and empty, her mouth slightly opened. Her blouse still on. She couldn’t talk, couldn’t think, only listen, and probably feel.

It starts snowing. He tries to take a shot of a snowflake on the sleeve of his coat, but the camera refuses to focus, and gets so freezing cold it almost burns his only functional hand. He puts it back in the pocket. Sighs. There’s a young boy a few feet down the platform, black thick beard and a huge backpack, undecided about the snow, who opens his arms wide and looks up to the white sky smiling with an open mouth, then immediately retreats looking for shelter as if he just remembered the ice on his torn up inadequate clothing. The right hand pulses with pain; he tries to move the fingers but gets punished for the attempt. Feels like blood clotted with fabric.

Only four hours ago he was standing in the room, the short girl right in front of him. He was whispering things into her ear, her chin reclined on her breast, her eyes closed. His left hand was placed firmly on her right shoulder while the other one was holding her wrist abandoned along her thigh.

A tall, slender man with a gray uniform and a train company hat approaches him holding a large book and a heavy iron tool. Pens stick out of his front pocket. He wonders what the book is for. And the tool. The pens are probably for the book. The train company guy has a mustache, and passes by. He watches him walk away, and the traces of his shoes on the fresh snow. The train is not coming.

Only five hours ago they were sitting at the table in the living room, the girl giggling while he swung a pendant with a crystal back and forth in front of her eyes. She was amused, she was every time, and excited. Just a few minutes before going completely blank for the rest of the night. The pendant kept swinging, reflecting and casting multicolored lights all across the dimly lit room.

A different young girl walks by, a heavy coat with fur lining, a wool hat that makes her cute, sheepskin goofy boots; she looks for the same train, glances over the horizon tempted to balance on her tiptoes to spy a few inches further. His tummy flies. That is not okay. She makes a sad face at him, meeting his eyes by accident, for the train is not coming.

Only six hours ago in a kitchen the black-haired girl was frying some pancakes, telling him stories about her recent past while facing the electric stove, he sitting at the round table behind her. Her voice happy and full, more so because they hadn’t meet in a long time, and she knew he was interested, waiting for pancakes with anticipation in his eyes while watching her shoulder blades dance under the blouse between the oven and the sink.

The different girl has red hair, barely noticeable under the wool hat. She reaches for her large purse, rummages in it and pulls out a ticket. It seems to match, platform 25. Satisfied, she hides it in a pocket and produces some large audiophile white headphones. Places them on top and around the cute hat and covers her ears with unknown sounds. Savors it for a second, then starts walking slowly up and down the platform. She keeps glancing at him, her eyes seem big and brown, while slowly walking the platform making U-turns every thirty steps, bored because the train is not coming.

Only seven hours ago he stepped down from another train, and the short girl who will have her back scratched ran fifty feet across another platform to leap onto him and threw her arms around his neck. He kept her off the ground for minutes, held her so tight that her breath got heavier and shorter. She was crying and laughing.

The station broadcast system announces a delay. The old man with the broom chuckles at the announcement; he stopped sweeping as soon as snow started cleaning everything in his place. The woman on platform 24 lets the metallic voice cover her coughing. The young bearded boy pulls his knees to his chest, and uses his backpack to further protect from the cold. The uniform dude can’t be seen anywhere and his traces are fading away covered by fresh flakes. But the brown-eyed girl looks directly at him; she smiles while the metallic voice repeats the announcement. As if amused by the delay, she dramatically closes her eyes and lets her head follow the rhythm of the music in her headphones. Just for a few seconds. When she opens them again, he’s staring at her. His right hand tries to reach deeper into his pocket, but the pain is unbearable. His middle finger can only brush the thing it is looking for. Actually, a train is coming.

Only seven months ago he met the black-haired girl in a parking lot. Leaving a cinema he went alone to, he met her eyes while they were both looking for the car. His was a rental one; hers was a beat up van. They seemed to have been assigned the same parking spot, but her ticket had a misprint. She laughed warmly at the accident; he reached in his right pocket for the pendant and the crystal. Left the city the next day, he would have been returning there often.

The train approaches platform 25. He gets a hold of the thing in his pocket, but the pain suggests to let go. A bone protests, reaffirming the fracture with sinister noises, but the pinky reaches it and makes it wrap around itself. Got it. The different girl is minding the train, showing him the back of her head, while actually making a point of getting up on his car. She slowly accompanies the movement of the train to make sure she’ll be where he’s standing when it gets to a full stop. He can’t help noticing that. That is not okay.

Exactly one hour ago the short, probably-twenty-five-year-old black-haired girl with scratches on her back, a blouse that was now on a chair, and only a pair of secondhand black sturdy platform sandals to cover her pale skin was answering questions she didn’t know were being asked, her lips were forming words she didn’t know were being spoken. So happy about it. And he froze at some of those words; he froze at the specific unusual answer to a specific usual question. Hit the wall with all the strength allowed to his right punch. Her eyes snapped back alive and wide awake at the grinding sound
of his bone breaking. She was sobbing on the floor when he slammed the door, leaving behind much more than just some blood splats on the floor.

The girl with the heavy coat with fur lining, the wool hat that makes her cute, the sheepskin goofy boots, the red hair barely noticeable under the wool hat, and the large audiophile white headphones slows down to a halt and with unauthentic politeness lets other passengers get on the train before her. She makes sure he’s in the line just behind her when she finally gets up. Pretends to be confused, lets him choose a seat and only then she turns to him, points to the next one, and asks with a straight face:

“Excuse me, is this seat taken?”

“Yes, I am sorry” he says.

Takes a while for her to realize. His voice is broken. His eyes are heavy with tears. His smashed hand is resting, empty and bloody, on his lap.

The train leaves.

Newgrange

Veronica Robinson

Newgrange

Madeready (Hammer)

Tyler Combs

Madeready (Hammer)

Like the Black Death

Amelia Granger

He sees the bedroom door is open a crack. Not quite closed. He hears someone make a noise, off somewhere in the apartment, the tiny thud of putting a coffee cup down or a cupboard door being closed.

“Someone out there?” He smiles at the partway open door with his troublesome smile, his sparklingly demonic, soul-revealing smile. “Oh, man, when I see a door like this…” He turns the smile to me, his blue eyes lit up like the acetylene of a welding torch.

He considers me, sprawled on the rumpled bed, seeing if he can get away with it. A bad child reaching for the cookie jar. I roll my eyes but it doesn’t stop him. He can’t help himself. He’s off.

“Sometimes, when I used to work construction and stuff, we would work with this guy, Mel Shih. This old Asian guy, this absolute lunatic, he’s the ugliest man you’ve ever seen; he’s fat with like a lazy eye and goiters and just a crazy, messed up face. And he finds a door like this, and he goes like this—” He demonstrates for me what Mel Shih does, squatting and bending over with his ass pointed out towards the door, spreading his asscheeks apart in either hand, so my innocent bedroom door is getting a good view. He pops back up and continues talking. “—And he waits like that till he hears someone coming. And then they open the door and they see Mel’s asshole, and this guy’s asshole, this guy’s asshole is like… it’s like the Black Death! It’s like the end of the world! It’s like… it’s like the most terrifying thing you’ve ever seen.” His face is screwed up now in delight and disgust, clearly remembering the time when he was the one who opened the door and ran straight into this scene. “Then Mel pulls up his pants and acts like he’s so embarrassed. Like you walked in on him. Like,” he does an impression of an old Asian man being embarrassed you saw his asshole. “Like that. That’s his sense of humor.

“So I always wanted to start a punk band named Mel’s Anus,” he says, sitting back down on the bed with me and absently pulling my knee into his lap. He starts stroking the sole of my foot with his long, restless fingers. “You know, people would say, ‘hey man, have you seen Mel’s Anus?’ ‘Oh yeah, man, I’ve seen Mel’s Anus. Mel’s Anus is fucking awesome.’”

“‘Yeah dude, Mel’s Anus is huge.’” I can’t help it. He’s a contagious disease.

“‘Fuck man, don’t go see Mel’s Anus. Mel’s Anus stinks.’” He giggles. “‘Dude, I know the guys in Mel’s Anus.’”

“‘Dude, I know the guys in Mel’s Anus, and they’re all fucking assholes.’” I smile. “‘Oh man. Dude. I heard Mel’s Anus is big in Japan.’”

He laughs at that and bounces up from my bed, not letting go of my foot, so now I’m in the undignified position of trailing one leg upwards, a fish on a hook. He looks down at me, sighting along the length of my bare leg. I look back up at him and think, not for the first time, that he’s the most Russian-looking motherfucker I’ve ever seen. His pale, milky skin sprinkled with golden hair and blue veins. His womanly pink lips, swollen and mischievous. Dirty blond, a round face, a thick, muscular neck, and those wintery eyes. His name is Levin Savka, how much more weird and Russian can you get? I don’t like his name.

Then in an instant his gaze jerks upwards, off into space, and he remembers the story’s not over, the story’s never over. “But fuck, Mel’s going to fucking jail soon.”

“What? For showing somebody his asshole?”

“No, he’s going to jail because he’s a fucking sweetheart, this guy. I mean, he is so crazy, he’s the ugliest guy you ever saw, he’s a raging alcoholic and he always wants to like show people his dick and his asshole… He’s always running around showing people his dick, too, oh my god.” He squirms, and again you can see the vivid memory unfolding behind his wide eyes. “But he. Is the sweetest guy. You will ever meet. He’s going to jail because his wife, his crazy wife, works at this library upstate somewhere. She’s a librarian. And one day she went down into the basement of the library, and she found this book of maps.”

I roll my eyes again. Of course. Of course, this story will touch on all his typical themes: incarceration, some crazy guy he knew once, and old maps. This is his archetypal story, precooked, just add water and Black Death anus. He does not notice my expression.

“These maps are from like 1840. And she looks in the catalog and doesn’t see them in there anywhere, so she steals them. She thinks they’re not in there anywhere, like no one at the library knows they just happen to have these incredibly valuable maps in the basement. And she keeps them at home and waits for like a year. Then she puts them up on eBay, and she’s asking for like $700. The FBI get in touch with her, like, ‘Oh yes, we’re very interested in buying these maps for $700.’ And she drives like 500 miles to deliver them, and that’s how they get her. So then Mel testifies that it was him, that he stole them. And while he’s testifying in court, I don’t know, he changes his mind or something, so they ask him: ‘Why did you steal these maps?’ and he says, ‘I thought it was a loaf of bread.’”

“What?”

“Yeah, he says ‘I thought it was a loaf of bread.’ That’s the quote in the paper and everything: ‘I thought it was a loaf of bread.’ So now he has to go to jail for a month, for perjury and lying to the police.”

“So… they got his wife?”

“Yup, he has to go to jail for a month for perjury, and she has to go for seven months for stealing the maps and trying to sell them.”

“Huh.”

“The weirdest thing about his wife, too, is she’s married to this guy, you know, with the ugliest fucking scariest face you’ve ever seen and everything, this madman, but she’s… blond hair, blue eyes, at least 20 years younger, a librarian…”

“She’s hot?”

“Yeah.”

“Really? So why is she married to this guy?”

“Well, Mel’s not without his charms.”

“What?! What charms?”

“And, I mean, because, obviously… I mean, you know…” He seems at a loss as to how to explain to me this simple, understandable, human arrangement. “Because she’s got her own problems.”

“Hmm.” And the moral of today’s story is…, I think to myself.

“Come on, baby, let’s get up. I got to go. I got to get up early tomorrow. Can I check alternate side parking on your computer?”

We head to the living room and he pulls on his jacket, his boots.

“Hang on,” I say. “Guess what?”

He’s lost in thought, checking his phone, planning his parking strategy.

“Guess what?” I say again.

“Look at this text this guy sent me, he’s fucking ridiculous…” He tries to show me something.

I bat the phone away. “Guess what?”

“What?” He doesn’t look up.

“I got you a present.”

Slowly his eyes move up to me. “You got me a present?”

“Well, I made you a present…” I go through my bag and come up with the little cardboard box, wrapped in a plastic grocery bag to keep it safe. “Here.”

He takes it carefully in his hands and studies the outside. I covered it in maps. The top is from an old guidebook to the Dolomites, the front is a slightly water-damaged street map of Torino, the sides and bottom are from a map of Green-Wood Cemetery (I had two), the back is from a free brochure I picked up two years ago in Verona, “Una Montagna Che Si Chiama Lessinia” (“A Mountain That We Call Lessinia”).

“You have to open it,” I say, embarrassed.

“Hang on,” he murmurs. “I’m looking at the maps.” Finally, slowly, he opens up the Dolomite lid. Silver wrappings of Hersey’s Kisses hit the light like the inside of a treasure chest. On the top of the inside is a little drawing of a clock face with no hands, just a question mark in the center. “What time is it?” I wrote above the clock. “Am I late to meet my girlfriend?”

He laughs when he reads it. He also seems like he’s about to cry.

“See, and then you’ll always remember… And sometimes you’ll look at it, and you’ll be like, shit! I’m four hours late to meet her!”

Sometimes he is four hours late to meet me. He laughs again, still staring at the box. “You waited all night to give this to me?” he asks.

“Well… I was kind of embarrassed to give it to you.” On the bottom, underneath the candy, there’s another note. He can find that later, or not. I’m embarrassed. I’m afraid.

“What? Don’t be, this is like the sweetest thing that anyone has ever done for me.”

He puts the box down on the coffee table and hugs me. “I love you. Thank you so much, baby. Happy Valentine’s Day.”

“Happy Valentine’s Day.”

In a minute we get up and I walk him to the door. He tucks the box in his jacket pocket.

“Shit,” he says. “I forgot to look up alternate side parking. Well, I’ll just call 311. Or, could you look it up? And call me and tell me what it says…”

“No.”

“No?”

“No, I’m tired.”

“Okay, baby, I’ll just call. See you tomorrow.”

“See you tomorrow.”

Tomorrow, while I’m waiting for him to call, I Google: Mel Shih book thief. The first result, from a rare books blog:

One Rebecca Johnson-Shih, former curator at the Rockland Historical Society, was arrested for stealing an 1823 Tanner’s New American Atlas from said society.

Here’s where it gets sad: Outside the courtroom where his wife (and mother of two children) was being arraigned, Mel Shih claimed responsibility for taking the thing, saying ‘I have kind of a drinking problem. I didn’t know what it was. It could have been a loaf of bread.’

There are holes in the story, of course. Including not only that it was Johnson who brought the book to Philadelphia to sell.

Mel’s friend and former co-worker, Levin Savka, said —

I look up in surprise, alone in my dark living room.

—‘It’s sad, really. I’ve known Mel and Rebecca for years and they are fine, upstanding citizens. Mel wouldn’t hurt a fly. He’s a sweetheart.’

If convicted, Johnson faces prison time for stealing the atlas…

He didn’t call me till 1 a.m., drunk in a bar, so I didn’t feel like asking him what he was doing at Rebecca Johnson-Shih’s arraignment. Maybe he was hoping to testify for the defense. He could probably make a good argument.

All Over the Floor

Kathleen Go

In bed, next door, waiting, drunk. Last week I took his virginity and this week he’s taking his time. There’s someone with a pillow stuffed under his shirt sledding down the stairs on a neighbor’s coffee table, and there are girls, fresh from a strip mall pub wearing impenetrable paper-plastic bracelets, cheering him on. Melissa’s on the phone fighting with her boyfriend in Afghanistan, Jessie’s puking in the bathroom, Lauren’s playing beer pong because she just found out she’s good at it. The coffee table sledder jumps up from the ground and exclaims, “My asshole is bleeding!”

I shouldn’t have told him where I am, but there goes my phone, vibrating against my arm. “Just got on I-4.” two more hours and he’ll be here. Two more hours and we’ll fall asleep in drunken delirium. He’ll say “I think love you” and I’ll enjoy it. I’ll ask him to spoon me, he’ll already be asleep, and I’ll find another room to sleep in. Maladjusted lives in happy happy apathy.

“Is he coming?”

“He’s on his way.”

“Patrick said he’s wasted.”

“Well, he just got on I-4.”

I close the door behind Melissa and smash my face into her pillow. Tonight is not a special night.

3:48 comes quickly. Someone drops a beer bottle.

3:50. Someone’s having sex in another room. Jackie’s flushing the toilet.

4:27. Melissa’s kicking people out. “You guys all have to leave. Go. Teal shirt, you can stay.” My phone vibrates again.

“What’s the apt #?”

I turn off my phone. Moron.

4:45. I’ve fallen asleep. A belt hanging from the door handle begins to slink to the floor. On its way down, the buckle ricochets against the handle and smacks flesh. I’m awake but my eyes are closed. Why aren’t I sober yet? Someone’s in the room with me. I peek and see his silhouette floating toward the bed. I feel him lift the sheets and hear him get in next to me. He’s noisy and breathing hard as if he’s been running. His movements are exaggerated and constant and his presence makes me nauseous. His body is too warm and bony and it smells like beer, Marlboro Reds, and sea salt. I’m crammed against the wall. His hands are calloused, clumsy, and uninviting so I just keep pushing them away.

“I texted you. Did your phone die?”

I turn over and face the wall. “Yeah.”

I don’t know what time it is, but the sun still hasn’t come up. The body next to me has moved. It’s standing in front of the door, I think, and the early-morning silence shoves all of its awkward sounds into my ears–the breathing, the eye-rubbing, the face scratching. He falls to his knees. “Is he praying?” I think to myself. “He’s sleepwalking…is he?” the crunch of his jeans zipper pinches my eyes shut and presses my lips together to keep me from bursting out in laughter or screaming in exasperation. He fumbles with the front of his pants, alternating hands to fumble and to hold himself up. Then it happens: he pisses right on the floor. My mind whirls. It’s a steady stream that splashes on the carpet. Then it stops. He starts to stand up, perhaps realizing that something isn’t right. Then he plops back down as if to say, “oh, yeah, that’s what I was doing.” It lasts way too long and it’s way too fucking loud. A stream. On the carpet. My head is buried under the covers now, but he’s still going. I can’t think straight. I’m laughing, but I want to cry out of embarrassment for him. I consider jumping out of bed, hurdling over his body, and changing my number so that he couldn’t attempt to explain this. He’s so drunk, he probably doesn’t even know who he crawled into bed with. But I’m riveted by this moment. This hilarious moment that means absolutely nothing, but will be a hell of a story to tell my friends. So I stay.

I hear him shuffle toward me and instinctively scoot closer to the wall. He plops on top of the covers and curls into a ball. I’m smiling because it’s a funny thing to know something someone else did without his knowing he did it. He begins to snore this earth-shattering snore. My eyes open and I’m forced to stare into the developing morning light. I can’t be here when he wakes up. I push the covers away and lift my legs over them. I shimmy toward the foot of the bed, mindful not to disturb him, and when my feet touch the floor, I glance back at that shuddering heap one more time. He’s stretching. Shit. He’s awake. I assure myself that he’s the drunk kind of awake–the kind that doesn’t even count as awake–and tiptoe softly toward the door. I reach over his puddle, push open the door, and hop over.

Plastic cups, metal cans, glass bottles. No one is awake next door. I walk deliberately toward Melissa, who’s sleeping on the couch and using my beach towel for a blanket, and loom directly over her.

“Melissa.”

She stirs.

“Melissa.”

She stirs again, barely opens her eyes to look at me, and pulls the towel up to her chest.

“Good morning,” she says in a throaty voice.

“The craziest shit just happened.”

She groans. “Ehhhgh. On my bed?”

“No,” I reply, choking on my laughter, “on your floor.”

Melissa chortles.

“No, no,” I say, gasping, “Not that. He took a piss on your bedroom floor.”

Melissa covers her face and violently rocks side to side. “EWWWW EW EW EW!”

“I’m going to hide in the bathroom. Tell him I left, okay?”

“Wha…what? No, go tell him to clean it up!”

“I can’t tell him to clean it up! He doesn’t even know he did it! Tell him I left, PLEASE?! I don’t even want to deal with how awkward it’s going to be.”

“Oh my god. Go hide.”

Sitting on the toilet, I hear murmurs in the living room heavy with upward inflections and apologetic tones. I creep toward the door, conscious of the weight of each step.

“…It was like 3 when I last saw her…said you were coming…”

“…Don’t even remember getting here…”

I snort. Cover my mouth. Wait for a reaction to my impulse.

“…Good ol’ drunk driving, eh?”

“…Such a blur. And the weirdest thing happened this morning, too.”

I hold my breath.

“I woke up…and my socks were wet.”

I Did Nothing Inappropriate

Eric Lagergren

Saturday night I was Larry Craiged by a three-year-old in an IHOP bathroom.

As a get-well gift from a recent surgery, my aunt sent my wife and me a $25 IHOP gift card, which we decided to use for a Saturday night out.

After our meal, I went into the restroom to pee. While standing at the urinal, a tiny tennis-shoed foot emerges from under the stall beside me.  I’m peeing. The foot scoot-shuffles its way clumsily over next to mine, then comes up and stomps down on top of my shoe.

I hear a giggle.

I’m midstream. I don’t try evasive maneuvers.

From the sink, an older gentleman says, “Nathan, that’s not me.” From the stall, “Who is it?”

“I don’t know, but it’s not me.”

From the stall, giggles.

I remain quiet. A recent thyroidectomy has left me mostly voiceless. I decide not to say anything because when I talk it’s difficult to hear me. It’s a creepy, smokey-hookery, late-night phone sex unsexy, puberty Peter Brady.

Nathan exits the stall, laughing. He washes his hands with grandpa’s help, says something about how funny it was to step on some guy’s foot.

They leave. I wash up. I leave.

My wife is waiting. I ask her if she saw the kid and his grandpa leave. She had. Both had huge grins.

I told her I’d just been Larry Craiged by a three-year-old in an IHOP bathroom.

Visual Accident Descriptors (YouTube)

Eric Frey

crane, great white shark, tunnel, funny, helicopter, weight lifting, drunk people, women car, the most amazing, terrible, bad, greek bike, fork lift, breakdancing cat flip, traffic, DC-10, 50000 volt (thai guy gets toasted!), wii, window cleaner, car (old lady), girl basejumper, horrible crane, skydiving, horse racing, awful, wrestling, worst, drag racing, amazing, horribly painful, skateboarding, baby, ramstein air show, hunting, rollercoaster, gymnast, parkour, freak gasoline fight, like a car, anhydrous ammonia, almost kills drill operator, drunk men having, funny airplane, escalator, natasha richardson, military mistakes, fatal tunnel, water, blair was in a car, with rocket launcher, funny baby, will happen!, kitesurf, joe perry frustrated over steven tyler, GT4, cycling, horrific lawnmower, floor, rodeo, wedding, forgetting to eat, tugboat flip, drunk driving mock-, japan bicycle race, horrific christmas morning, exercise ball, fictionalized criticality, rebirth of hayato after serious, SRT-4, de la route, yosemite climbing, horrific blender, neighbor describes, guess the, trike, woman flashes and causes an, update: car, shave your own head by, horseracing, truck racing second, benching 430lbs, chinese traffic, worst air, russia driver, & deer, water slide, pepper spray, -with ejection, freak decapitation, horrific freezer, one more shoe, miracle baby survives train, provokes outrage in communities, dog saves woman after motorcycle, canada, color, many, i robbed a bank by, car wash girl, chaud!, teeter totter, man impaled on a sword in horrific, man destroyed by pneumatic drill in freak, man drowns in 500 gallons of mashed potato-freak, anatomy of an, russian sub, epic parking, nunchuck, daniel’s huge trampoline, winter storm causes, with injuries, space shuttle challenger, the shotgun, cruise ship, wakeboarding, worst skydiving, pastry, texting + driving =, V40, trebuchet, single vehicle, two vehicle, 3 vehicle, 4 vehicle, multi vehicle pile up, back handspring, horrific assault rifle, swing jump, hot air balloon, polo, scooter, treadmill, of any greek woman?, underwear, lego car, motorcycle truck, minivan, vietnam ferry,  peru bus, pakistan train, ukraine air show, equestrian horse, kangaroo, sunbeam, MD21 blackbird, horrific homemade flamethrower, waterskiing elephant killed in bizarre swimming pool, model, big, train, fatal, prone, prone!, basement, lil’, cheerleading, coldwell banker, cliff diving, horrible kite, ferrari, caused by driver watching porn, leaves woman in coma, festival, bar waitress has a late-night, jump, i made an, another, forklift leads to messy, OH MY LORD! lucky guys in different, it’s no, i think i was an, the.

Left Lane

Ania Pietraszek

Left Lane

Don’t Worry, Mom

Adam Bozarth

Hey Mom and Dad,

School’s going great and stuff. I’ve been trying to get involved in stuff outside of class. I don’t know anybody here. It’s kinda lonely and I get homesick a lot. I get along great with the guys on my floor. They’re gonna go out tonight, and I think they want a bunch of guys from the floor to tag along. I promise I’ll be careful! Don’t worry!

They’re calling me now, I gotta go!

Adam

———

Hey Mom and Dad,

School’s going really well. I’ve made a few friends, mainly guys here on the fourth floor. We’ve been out to a couple of parties and things, played some frisbee. I think I’m gonna join the intermural kickball team they are putting together. I used to be so good at kickball. It’s also Rush week for all the fraternities. Marty and some of the others on the floor are thinking about rushing. I don’t know! Could be a good time and meet more people. I won’t do anything dumb.

Adam

———

Hey Mom and Dad,

Sorry I haven’t written in a while. Guess which one of your sons is rushing Alpha Kappa Pi! That’s right, your only son! The guys at AKπ are all super cool. Rush is no big thing. They are really laid back and welcoming. I thought I’d have to do some crazy stunts to prove myself, but it’s like they are going out of their way to be nice to me. I was thinking about going Tau Kappa Epsilon like dad, but Marty and the rest of the 4th Floor crew are going AKπ. They are all nice, caring guys, so you got nothing to worry about.

Maybe I’ll get a cool frat nickname like dad! Something better than Bucket Mouth. Ha ha ha!

Adam

———

Mom and Dad,

I was just initiated into AKπ! I’m going to be a lifelong member! I can’t talk, because we are having a big ceremony tonight to commemorate it! This is so exciting. There are AKπ’s all over the country at the heads of almost every major corporation. They really look out for other members, helping them find a place in the workforce after graduating, grants, scholarships. You name it! As long as I keep up on school, I got nothing to worry about.

Adam

———

Mother, Father,

I know I have not written in many days, but please do not take my absence from e-mail as an insult. Know that I am very involved in my education and with the fraternal organization I belong to now, Alpha Kappa Pi. My course work is exemplary and the high priests of AKπ have told me I am a member in excellent standing. Please do not attempt to communicate with me over the telephone as it is forbidden.

Please do not worry about me as the teachings of Alpha Kappa Pi have brought great peace of mind to me, Martin, and the rest of the members of the 4th floor of my dormitory. We are all looking forward to moving out of said dormitory and into the Alpha Kappa Pi pyramid of power.

My life is entirely enriched after becoming a lifelong member of this organization. They have taught me much about stweardship, community involvement, and the coming age of flames that shall mark the passing of this, the 13th iteration of Gaia.

Hark, I am wanted elsewhere.

Yours until the end of this world,

Moongate

Avocado Innocence

Brenda J. Lemley

While listening to the endless shoppers coming and going, picking up his friends above him and putting them back when they didn’t suit that particular human’s ripeness qualifications or putting him or her into the stifling bag (torturous though it may be to travel in, it is quite an exciting trip knowing your future career lies ahead), the harmless avocado thought of nothing but its tasty purpose. Waiting patiently, he contemplated the dishes he might enhance as his career: as guacamole—chips, tacos, burritos, enchiladas, even quesadillas in some instances, and the ever array of standard Mexican fare to delight a human’s palette; as just him and him alone there were a vast number of creations humans used plain avocado for—for fresh salads, a lemon chicken breast topping mixed with a simple herb like cilantro, on baked potatoes instead of the ever popular sour cream and cheese, and even beating out certain popular toppings on hamburgers. Oh yes, he loved the idea of beating out the traditional favorites! What pleasure it would be to top out all the usuals and become that one unique item that none can ignore, that makes the dish more than the dish itself!

He sat listening for a while, sitting under the crates of avocados above him, wondering exactly how many rows there were of others being chosen before him, how many opportunities he would miss by being so far down in the picking line. Even when he was still on the tree, it seemed so many others were chosen before him. Finally, after what seemed like days, maybe even weeks, he saw a crack of light through the box above him. They were getting closer to the bottom! Every once in a while though, throughout the day the light would disappear as human after human came along and shifted the above avocados around, discouraging him from his hope of being selected.

He sat frustrated as night came and all light and sound vanished but the low hum from the night janitor waxing the floors with his strange machine. All this he knows despite being so far on the bottom of the stack of avocados because, as we all know, avocados like to chat and talk when no humans are around. The upper groups let the lower ones know what’s what up in the human world, about the sites and smells coming from the bakery nearby and the other vegetables and fruits in the area. Oh, how he longed to be on the top, to be one who got to tell the stories of what he saw!

That night he dreamed his crate was brought up to the top of the stack, sitting directly in the middle on top of the other top crates; his crate alone the top most of all crates, the one the humans would look to first. He dreamed himself being selected almost immediately since he was still firm yet with a subtle softness and hadn’t been overly squeezed to the point of potential bruising. The human cared for him like no other avocado had been treated before—no bag for him, no indeed. This human took him in his hands gently and carried him through checkout personally, cradled him in those large and gentle yet rough human hands. In his dream, he is placed on a beautiful windowsill next to a ripening tomato. The two would chat and reminisce about the old days in the grocery store or on the vine and tree, how far they travelled from their birthplaces. He would proudly claim Mexico while the tomato would sadly say California and in a greenhouse no less. They would chat about what was to come for each of them—would it be together or separate? And then the big day would come when he would be picked up off the sill, all ripe and tender to the touch. The fateful human would pull out the very best of all knives, not a rough serrated edged one that would rip and shred his lovely out skin up but a smooth edged and sweetly sharp paring knife that glistened in the sun. To his delight he would be made into an Indonesian-style avocado milkshake—a very unique and avocado focused creation, to be joined only by some chocolate syrup and milk, maybe a cherry or cream on top. He would be the focus of all taste buds! Well, except for maybe the chocolate. It is hard to compete with chocolate. But he would be willing to give up some fame to chocolate because it would still be his name the humans would claim for the overall flavor, his name that would spill from their lips when they delighted the creator with words of gratitude for the tasty avocado drink, telling him what a perfect avocado he had selected for it. “And what kind of avocado is this?” They would ask. And the man would reply, “Why Hass, of course.” Oh, how he would be ecstatic to hear those words coming from some human about him!

Suddenly, he awoke to hustle and bustle of carts being pushed around nearby. He yawned and thought What a lovely dream. He continued to wait, with thoughts of the dream keeping his spirits alive. Many hands touching the ones above him all morning when he overheard someone say, “There are firmer ones I think underneath the upper crates if you are looking for something less soft.”

“Yes, thank you. I am,” a soft voice replied. The avocado’s heart, or pit, leapt with joy inside him as the crate above him was lifted up letting all the outer light shine down onto him. Squinting, he looked up to see a dark haired woman pleasantly smiling at her newfound selection of avocados. He heard all the others around exclaim with delight Pick me! Pick me! I’m super ripe, perfect for a meal tonight! He decidedly kept quiet, thinking how foolish they were to holler and try to tempt this human. He knew perfectly well she would not be listening, humans seldom ever heard the voices of the food they so enjoyed—but he has heard stories of random instances. These thoughts left him quickly as he was touched by her hands, which were soft and gentle just like her voice. She had picked him up and was gently checking his firmness. He began shaking with anticipation that his dream might be coming true! But fortune did not appear to be on his side as she placed him back in the crate with the others and began to feel around some more. He puffed in disappointment near to tears when he saw her hand coming back to him. Beginning to get excited once again, he realized she forgot she had already checked him and was not happy with what she found. So he waited unenthusiastically for her to go through the motions once again only to put him back. Except she didn’t squeeze him at all! She picked him up, looked at him, smiled, and put him inside the bag with 4 others! He had been selected!! It wasn’t exactly his dream but he had been chosen first out of his crate! What joy, what utter joy did he feel at that moment!

He crooned and hollered and chatted up a storm with his fellow avocados, who had also been selected by this gentle human. They too were anxious in anticipation of their upcoming careers. What would they all become? They each shared their dreams of what they desired most to become. He shared his dream from the night before. They all laughed but admitted it sounded wonderful. They were all softer than him except one other who was still quite hard. They did not expect to be on any windowsill long, perhaps their destinies would reveal themselves that day or night. He knew he would be around a little longer to enjoy his surroundings. He tried to imagine what this kitchen would be like that he heard so much about from the others. It was always so vague since none of them had ever been to one; it was only hearsay really, from what they got out of listening to the humans gabbing nearby as they shopped.

His mind drifted once again into the land of his imaginings for a length when he realized they had arrived to wherever it is they were to call home from here forth. He and his friends were being elevated out of the large brown bag they had been placed in at checkout and carried toward some tall boxy looking thing. It was difficult to tell through the initial bag they had been placed in after being selected. Although it was clear, it was still filmy and tinted green making observing your surroundings difficult. He could not wait to get out of the bag! The others began to moan in disappointment. What? What’s wrong? He frantically asked them. We are headed toward the fridge, one of the others replied. The fridge! Oh no! Not the fridge! He new little of it, but he did know is that it was not anything like the windowsill. There was no sun. Nothing to look at but other food, much like the grocery store and only that when the light turned on inside, which was rare. They were squished into a boxed drawer inside the fridge thing next to some vegetables who only humphed when he tried to greet them with a hearty Hello! I’m a Hass avocado! Who are you all? The others just laughed and went to sleep to await their careers.

He sat wondering what will happen, wondering how much longer he would have to wait in the dark again. He missed the days of sunlight, the carefree life of growing on the tree. The chatter with the birds and worms. The deep conversations the trees would tangle with the spiders. He began to get miffed about his situation. His anger and frustration festered further when the one of them who was harder than all the rest was pulled out, knowing that he was going to the windowsill. Why am I not going to0? I am nearly as firm, he pondered angrily. The other three snoozed away while he growled at the vegetables who whispered and looked at him then laughed and tittered, quickly looking away when they realized he was looking at them too. Suddenly the fridge opened, then their drawer! Was it now? Did she change her mind about me like at the store? Alas, no. She reached in and pulled out the other three, leaving him alone with the snickering vegetables. He hated this. This was nothing like his dream anymore. He wanted out. To start his career. To be something. Not this endless waiting. This endless darkness.

Days went by and nothing. Some vegetables came and went while he sat trying to ignore their snide comments, though they were never to his face, no. Only whispers behind his back, but he knew they were about him. Oh, he knew. Despite being in the fridge, he did begin to ripen little by little. Only it was not just his meat that ripened. Anger and frustration, disappointment and torment swelled in his pit. Until at last, his human pulled him out of the bag and placed him on her cutting board. It was only moments before he saw what was headed toward him to cut him open: a serrated and slightly beat up knife. No! He cried out. She cut him in half long ways, diced up the pitless side, and scooped out the chunks into a bowl. He was huffing away trying to calm himself; after all, he was finally beginning his career. Only he didn’t know for what. While she emptied his other half, he looked around quickly for signs of his future. And there it was, a bag of chips. Behind this were sour cream, salsa, and shredded cheese. He was going to be mixed for a dip. Not even a traditional guacamole dip, but some blend with other strong flavors. He was mortified by what his life would end up becoming. There were no other humans around to stop her and tell her to make a tasty milkshake with this avocado instead or something that would give the glory to the avocado. There weren’t any others around to even share in the flavor of this avocado, no. Just this one human. He grrred and growled the way avocados do. She came at him with the knife to stab out the pit. As this happened he tried to calm himself. Perhaps he would be helpful and pop himself loose for her, making it easier to get his pit out. As she was about to hit his pit with the knife, holding him firmly in her left hand, he popped his pit causing the knife to slide off the pit, into the meat of the avocado, and then finally into the meat of her own little pinky—from one side of it to the other. The avocado looked up in amazement and shock at what had just happened. He cried out It was an accident! I swear! I didn’t meant to… But then as the blood from her pinky she was holding tightly dripped onto the floor, the avocado felt a smile emerge on his face and could not help but snicker a little. Suddenly, she looked at him as if she heard him and picked him up and tossed him into the compost.

Someone Will Find You

Blake Hamilton

Our instructor handed us a blue sheet of paper. At the top, in bold, it said Field Trip. All of the continuing education criminology students were required to attend. The instructor said it would be one day a week for the rest of the course, an all day thing; this phrase incurred a series of nods from three of the women sitting in front of me. Kathy brought out a palm pilot, tapped something viciously into it with a stylus, and adjusted her jacket. I’d missed something. One phrase had communicated volumes to these women. They knew, now, what to do with the rest of their lives while they spent a few days, next week, at the coroner’s office and the morgue.

I didn’t own a palm pilot. I knew where my life would be while I spent time at the morgue with four other women. I remained on the periphery of our small class. Watching them, I felt a spike of pleasure and brittle shame from the smirk I held inside. They took the course seriously. Their note taking betrayed them. I didn’t take many notes. Pauline wrote endlessly from the start to finish of the class. I watched her hand move across the page diligently trying to capture our instructor’s smear of words.

Pauline, Kathy, and Susan wanted to write bestselling mystery novels. They sat in the same seats every class and shared stories about their children. During breaks they handed out crafts samples to each other, then to us, me and Saundra. To illustrate points during discussion, Kathy often cited CSI or Law & Order. It was obvious the others never watched these shows. Kathy knew it, too. When she spoke, the room rapidly sucked in around her, while the others nodded at her inflection. Pauline and Susan observed her with boiling interest waiting for some morsel, something left behind that they could snatch, devour, and alchemize into their own offering by next class.

Occasionally, I glanced at Saundra. She was removed like me; we didn’t need each other’s acknowledgement. What I wanted, why I was there, was unknown to the others. I didn’t want it to be known. I suspected the same for her and ignored the comfort it provided me. I had to pretend I needed nothing when what I needed was a way of my own to find my son. Kidnapping wasn’t a topic on our syllabus.

Our instructor finished telling us the details, explaining the hand drawn directions at the bottom of the blue page. Kathy, Pauline, and Susan shook their papers with excitement. I imagined them just having won a trip on a cruise together, or a two-day stay in Las Vegas at Treasure Island. Their skin gained a new, unfamiliar glow: something the serums they dutifully used couldn’t give them. It spilled, filled the room, made the air thicker.

“We’re going to the morgue!!” shouted Kathy, her newly whitened teeth a beacon between the other two.

I looked back over to where Saundra sat. She was gone.

After class was dismissed I walked to my car. Pauline, Kathy, and Susan stood together in the parking lot talking and gesticulating excitedly with their papers next to Kathy’s light blue mini-van. I got in my car and drove past them. For a moment I wanted to look and somehow absorb what had grown around them. I wanted to know what it was like to be on the verge of something.

I drove to my mother’s house. Every Tuesday she made dinner and I joined her. It was not the house I grew up in. My childhood was in sections like a series of bones in different lengths joined at incorrect angles. It formed something but it was inconsistent. My mother moved my sister and me through many homes. In each one we were something different. We were three women but new people. When we left for college our mother moved behind our backs. She would tell us later, her voice always low and distracted as if she’d just bought a new plant.

I pulled into the driveway. The yard had not been cleaned. Leaves like bright wads of yellow construction paper saturated the grass under the two oaks flanking the house. I walked through the debris to the front door, rang the bell, waited. The door opened and I saw only the side of her.

“Come in, come in. I’ll be right back, I’ve got to check something,” she said.

She was a flash of movement away from the door as she entered the kitchen. Baking garlic bread, old wood, and vanilla candles combined in an almost suffocating scent everywhere. My attention went to the living room. I shut the front door behind me and walked into it. All of the furniture was the same. It was just arranged in ways that made it unrecognizable. The brick floors were waxed and led to a sliding glass door that showed the back yard. In it was a swing tied to the bark stripped branch of one tree. Beyond the tree was a dilapidated terracotta birdbath. The swing was for my sister when she visited, not for me.

“Julie?” she called behind me. “It’s ready.”

I walked into the dining room. The dark burgundy dining table was covered in white plates offering large chunks of salmon, fist-sized slices of garlic bread, and pâté on Melba toast. Neither of us said anything and sat down to eat. It occurred to me that we could have just met at a restaurant and had decided to join one another at the same table between flights on our ways to new locations; she could have been anyone.

“A bit too much,” she said to herself. She lowered a piece of garlic bread from her mouth to the plate then made an effort to sit up straight. She cleared her throat.

I ate quickly and sat in silence while she finished. She brought out coffee for the both of us. We drank it among the mess of plates on the table. She lit a cigarette. The daylight outside diminished. She left the kitchen light on, which gave everything a bleached appearance.

“Do you like your new class?” she asked, picking something out of her teeth, sucking with her tongue, trying again.

“Yes,” I said. “We’re actually taking a trip to the morgue, if you can believe that.”

“Your sister’s coming into town next week,” she said, sipped her coffee. “I’ve got to get this place in order.”

“That’s wonderful,” I said. “How’s her new job?”

“You know that Tatum is almost as tall as this table?”

I shook my head, a knot forming in my throat.

“I can’t believe it,” she said. “They just grow up.”

I didn’t respond.

“You, however. You and your sister. You grew up slower, it seemed.”

There was a pause. She smoked.

“I’d like you to meet Sarah, sometime, if you’d like,” I said. My voice was accusatory, which surprised me. I felt caught and ashamed and hoped it was hidden in my frozen posture. “She knows a lot about textiles, interior design. She’s an architect. You would like her.”

“Do you think your sister would want me to do a cook out?” she asked, gently adjusting the plates in front of her. “I’m thinking of getting a pool for the back yard, for Tatum. He would love that.”

“Yes,” I said. “He would.”

She looked up at me.

“You look good,” she said, flicking her ash. “Have you spoken to Mark?”

I looked at her, waiting for her to withdraw her question but her expression implored me to answer her.

“No, Mother,” I said. “We aren’t married anymore—”

“Oh, I know, I know,” she looked down. “I just wanted to know. If you’d talked. That’s all.”

“We don’t talk,” I said. “That’s over.”

“He’s just such a sweet guy,” she said, her voice flat. “He’s still trying, you know? He hasn’t given up.”

I haven’t either. I thought this but couldn’t push it out of my mouth. The knot at the base of my throat had grown and threatened to explode out of my face. The dinner was her punishment. And every Tuesday I went. It was her way of reminding me of my sister, that her successes were inarguably my failings. I let her have the dinner. My accomplishments were my own. I was a good mother. Was it enough to know that even if no one else believed it? What happened was not my fault, but every Tuesday I let her believe that it was; someone had to be blamed.

It was a backwards way of asking for forgiveness. I wanted to prove to her that I was like her. She believed she was a good mother. I wanted her to trust me the way I trusted her when I was small and moved with each of her shifts from place to place, unerringly. I wanted her to see that I was still a mother trying to find her child, that I had never given up.

“I hope your class is informative,” she said. “And fun.”

“Thank you,” I said.

She smiled. We stood and I gathered my things. She walked me to the door. We hugged and I left. I drove home fast but told myself I was taking my time. The clouds were purple fists, broken and split apart, rising up over the highway. I flipped on the wipers. I hummed to a song on the radio then noticed it was off when I reached to turn down the volume.

Home for me, now, was Sarah’s. She owned a condominium in an affluent community for older people. She was one of the youngest since she was in her early forties. I was younger than her by a decade, which didn’t bother her. The chasm between my marriage and Sarah is unmarked, undefined. I found her, or rather, she found me. It was not a decision made out of preference. There was no decision. Three years after Mark sold our house and moved, Sarah invited me to share hers. She never asked for explanations from me. She seemed to accept that the rest would come when it was supposed to come.

When I walked inside the condo all of the lights were off except for the orange glow of a small lamp in the kitchen. I took off my shoes and moved quietly down the hall to our bedroom. Sarah slept, her body divided up in folds of the comforter. The light from the blinds covering the balcony doors drew the black arch of a shoulder in the dark. I crawled onto the mattress, slid in against her, carefully. I wanted to be light next to Sarah. Without waking her I wanted her to know it was me. My arm wrapped over her middle, my ear pressed against her back. I listened for the slowing of her heart. When I heard it, I knew she was aware that I was home.

Sometimes, when we went bed together and were both half asleep I asked her to tell me it was going to be okay. If she were almost asleep, she would say it. If she was still hovering between both worlds, but more awake, she would tell me I’m an adult. I never responded to this but curled up next to her. She always pulled me close and her breast felt soft under my head, her waist small in my arms. When we woke up, I was always positioned like a fetus, my body aligned with the shape of her ribs and side, her arms cradling me along my spine.

The next morning she left early for work. I woke clutching the space that would have been her. I took a shower and dressed in clothes I thought would be appropriate for a morgue, although I wasn’t sure if there was such a thing as morgue etiquette. I drove to meet the rest of the class. My stomach felt cleaned out, my arms numb. When I pulled into the parking lot I strangely wanted to see Kathy standing outside with the others, her legs and ass stuffed into a pair of jeans, bulging under a blouse she’d bought on sale at Layne Bryant. I wanted her to have new crafts for us. This desire passed once I turned off my engine and walked inside the building. The emptiness at the center of my sternum remained like a small finger pressing further and further into me.

The foyer of the building had two empty benches with a dormant ashtray on either side poking out of the wall: a holdover from when it was first built. I expected to see the others here, waiting. I took a seat on the bench near the entrance. Across from me was a dimly lit hallway of offices. I heard voices, small and muffled, leaking around the corner from one of the open doors. A man in gray slacks with thick, black hair and silver rimmed glasses came directly towards me.

“Hi, are you Julie?” he asked, smiling and lowering his head, hand outstretched. I shook it and stood up from the bench.

“Hello, yes,” I said. “I hope I’m not late.”

“Not at all. I heard you come in. I’m Dr. Carter, the coroner here. We’ve got everyone in the meeting room. It’s this way.”

In the meeting room everyone sat in chairs facing a dry erase board. Dr. Carter sat on a stool next to the board facing us, hands folded between his thighs.

“I hope everyone’s doing well this morning. Thanks to all of you for coming and making this a part of your studies,” he said, nodding. “You’re here to experience an aspect of criminology that most consider not so pleasant. But it’s a large aspect and you have to keep that in mind.”

A mutual rumble of timed laughter from everyone followed this, but I didn’t understand what was funny.

“I hope you have come prepared to see some things you might find very difficult to look at. But as burgeoning practitioners in your field,” said Dr. Carter, a subtle layer of irony in his voice, “you will need to become hardened to these kinds of things. If the news hasn’t done it for you already, I’m here to help.”

He smiled. Kathy cackled and shook in her chair.

“You’ve got that right!” said Kathy, emitting another series of laughs. She rubbed her thighs, hands flat, the sides of the chair invisible behind the bulge of denim.

“What we’re going to do first,” said Dr. Carter, “we’re going to take a moment to go over some of the terms we use here and then we’ll show you some pictures. This room kind of acts as my office for now. I have this one here and another office across town.”

Kathy and Pauline nodded and looked at each other in stern agreement of this statement.

Dr. Carter excused himself and left the room. He came back with a manila folder for everyone. He said each one had the same things in it, including pictures of the corpses we were about to see. He said that he wanted us to take a moment to look at the pictures and familiarize ourselves with some of the notes. Dr. Carter explained that this was how some things were accomplished. I watched as everyone opened the files. I opened mine but I didn’t look at the pictures. I watched Kathy and Pauline take notes, their faces etched with forced grim expressions. Kathy seemed to adopt the posture of a character on CSI as if she were about to crack the case from something previously undiscovered in the photo before her, something only she could find. Susan stared at the contents with her hands pressed flat at the base of her throat, her skin drained white.

Saundra text messaged someone. Dr. Carter seemed lost in the file, unaware we were all still there, his forehead creased.

Finally he shut his folder and surveyed the room.

“Are we all ready?” he asked, his voice was leaden.

They all said yes.

“Okay, everyone follow me.”

Dr. Carter stood and walked, legs brisk gray slashes, out of the conference room and through the bare steel door at the of the hall.

I followed behind Kathy, Pauline, and Susan. Saundra was behind me. Kathy and Pauline were practicing deep breathing techniques. Susan squeezed the manila folder in her left hand, her right remaining at the base of her throat. From the side her expression seemed to float. The fluorescent lighting behind the steel door unveiled the rings under her eyes like crushed, smeared charcoal. We moved into a lengthy hall. The cement floors held small elliptically placed drains in the center. The white tile walls contained a stripe of pale green running down the middle.

“Look at that,” said Kathy. She directed Pauline to what appeared to be a steel gurney against the wall by the door of an empty office.

“My God,” wheezed Pauline.

“Can you imagine?” said Kathy.

“I’m just covered in chills,” said Pauline, wooden bracelets rattling on her wrists. “I just got a great idea for a new scene in my novel.”

Oh, share it with me at Starbucks at lunch…I’ve got one too.”

Dr. Carter led us into a room on the right with benches. A few lockers lined the walls. He asked that we put on protective clothing before we enter the morgue. He showed us a rack of lab coats and boxes of latex gloves in different sizes. He said he would return in a few minutes to take us into what he called the Remains Room.

We all got dressed. Kathy went through three different boxes of gloves until she grudgingly settled on a pair of large ones. Dr. Carter returned and led us back down the hall to another steel door behind which was the Remains Room. Inside the walls were dark gray with lamps hanging from various points in the ceiling. Six gurneys filled the space, each at a different angle as if they had been wheeled into the room and left abruptly. The one closest to us was covered with a green cloth, vague shapes pushing up underneath it. We stood clumped on one side of the gurney. Dr. Carter stood on the other side facing us.  He drew back the cloth.

“This came in yesterday,” he said, arms casually at his sides.

No one made any sound. He spoke as if he were discussing an artifact, furniture. On the gurney was a severed head. Blond hair lay around it like stained, tattered plastic. The skin looked rubbery like dried egg. The stump of neck looked chewed. The jaw hung slack, lips curled. I noticed the eyes. The lids looked stopped in action as if she couldn’t decide on something.

“This one was found on the river bank off of the highway,” he said. “Since then we’ve discovered other parts, which we believe to be her. She hasn’t been identified, yet.”

“You mean, she has no name?” asked Kathy.

“We call her Jane,” said Dr. Carter. He pulled the cloth back over the head.

He led us to the other gurneys, one after the next, pulling back each cloth to reveal another set of parts, unrecognizable; forms, shapes, people at one time.

“I’ve got my mind on one thing,” whispered Kathy to Pauline. “Green tea frappucino.”

“Oh, I know,” said Pauline.

Dr. Carter looked up at them then continued speaking. We stood before the last body, a burn victim. The limbs looked shrunken, bent. The torso seemed elongated. It was so black no part was distinguishable from another until we got closer. Black triangles over the head were the arms, the knees pulled upwards, as if trying to block something.

“This one,” said Dr. Carter. “This is a ten year-old boy. He was locked in a shed by his mother, which she burned to the ground. He crawled out of it, somehow, and died a few feet away.”

Everyone listened as Dr. Carter discussed various terms and techniques. The shape before them was just a shape.

When everyone left the morgue for the day I drove to my mother’s house. My sister’s Lexus filled the driveway, gleaming. I drove on, past the house, to the highway, to my home. I wanted Sarah to be there. But when I arrived the condominium was empty. I threw down my things and walked to the bedroom where I sat on her side of the bed. The smell of her was strong. I stared forward at the balcony doors, through the tiny gaps in the blinds. I watched the movements between them, trees motioning back and forth; fluttering green light on the backs of my hands.

My son didn’t have a name. I didn’t get that chance. I had waited too long and someone took him. I only got seven months. Whoever took him, what name would they give to him? Would he know, somehow, perhaps intrinsically, that it wasn’t the name that was meant for him? The name that was meant for him was from me and I didn’t have it.

I realized I wasn’t asking Dr. Carter the right questions. I wasn’t asking anything. I was supposed to ask him how you find missing people. I needed to know what my options were now that I had none left.

I stretched out in Sarah’s place, head on her pillow. I closed my eyes. I did not feel like I was a part of the room, or that I took up space. I could be anywhere. I needed Sarah to come home so I could be there again.

The next three weeks at the morgue continued in the same fashion except for Saundra. She’d stopped coming entirely. No one seemed to notice that she wasn’t there. I wondered if I should say something since no one else did. I stopped looking for her car by the fourth week.

On our last day with Dr. Carter I waited in the empty conference room for an hour before he saw me there. He stopped and stood in the doorway looking at me, coffee mug held up in his right hand, head tilted down. He was quiet and I thought I might have done something wrong.

“I’m surprised you’re here,” he said. “Did no one tell you?”

“I don’t understand.”

He nodded, entered the room and stood across from me.

“Your class has been canceled.”

“Why?”

He waited, looked towards the door.

“I don’t know why no one called you.”

I smiled.

“One of your classmates. She passed away.”

He seemed to want something from me that I couldn’t give him. I almost didn’t ask who it was. I was sure I knew.

“It’s Saundra,” I said.

He motioned with his cup.

“Saundra.”

“I don’t remember her,” he said. “What did she look like?”

I started to answer him and stopped because I couldn’t remember her, either. She was there but I couldn’t put her into words. It was as if she were constructed of different pieces, but unstrung and incongruent.

“Kathy,” he said.

“Who?”

“It was Kathy. Your friend Kathy.”

I didn’t say anything. I began gathering my things.

“She was found dead on Saturday,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

“What happened? I mean, where was she found?” I asked.

“We don’t know, yet. She was discovered in a field just a few miles from here, actually, before the intersection by the old grade school. You know the one? We don’t know what she was doing there, or if she was taken there.”

I nodded and stood from my chair. I walked to the door.

“They cancelled your class because we have her… here,” he said. “We didn’t think it was a good idea to—”

“Do they know how she died?” I asked.

“No,” he said, clearing his throat. “Not yet.”

I thanked Dr. Carter and left the morgue. I didn’t take the highway. I drove towards the intersection Dr. Carter had mentioned.  My cell phone rang. I answered to my sister. She asked why I had not yet come to see her at our mother’s. She asked where I was. I told her and hung up before she could speak again. I drove faster.

Mist began to fall. Ahead, on the right, rose the stained brick of the old grade school. Before that was the empty field where Kathy was found. Thick, tall firs walled it in from every side except the road. I pulled over onto the shoulder and got out. A barbed wired fence protected the field. I surveyed it for an entry point but there wasn’t one. Carefully, I climbed over it. The grass pulled across my jeans as I moved towards the center.

I felt the prick of burs across the backs of my hands and thighs, the slow drag of leaves. I started looking. I knew that if I could find one thing, a knife, a bullet, I could help Kathy; and, at least it would be something, wouldn’t it?

I peeled back layers of grass. I got down on my knees in the wet dirt and dug through roots, old stones. I could make something change if I just kept looking, digging. My jeans were soaked through at the knee and thigh. Mud coated my hands, splattered my throat and shirt, my face. I tore through the roots, going faster. My hair became knotted with dried leaves and dirt. My hands shook, felt raw as I continued. Tears rushed from my eyes to my lips, salty in the wet air. My lungs felt scraped. I let hours pass as I did this.

I heard my name called. Someone came towards me but I paid no attention, just kept looking, hunting. It was a woman. She asked what I was doing. I looked up. It was my sister. I ignored her and moved forward until I stood before the wall of firs. She asked me what was wrong. I could hear something in her voice I didn’t remember, something similar to the sound of compassion.

I stopped and stood in the place between where I was and where I could go. I let myself drop, slowly, as if I had decided to let the ground absorb my legs, and eventually the rest of me. From behind me came my sister’s arms. She held me, her hands tight across my chest. We stayed there, motionless. Wind pushed across grass and the tops of the trees. I looked at my hands and thought only of my son, of where he could be and whom, if anyone, he loved. My sister pressed her face close to mine.

“Come home,” she said. “Please. For me.”

I nodded and we helped each other stand.

Disconnect

Alex Palmer

Disconnect

Unplanned For

Whitney Jasmine

Since the last cold days of February, this significantly older, Italian man has been calling me his “Unholy Grail.” His son is fifteen. They live together in a squatted building, an apartment that he built walls inside and shelves to keep his hoardings. The building’s other occupants are artists, immigrants, and Nam-myoho-renge-kyo chanters. He is the only single father there, and after fifteen years of internet searching he feels that he may be the only one in Italy. He is a writer, self-described as failed, and a secretary. The company that pays him owns some of the large housing structures that fill Rome: the stacked, multi story, all-the-same, overpriced and plain buildings that are filled with traditional families and newly-weds.

He stands out in this catholic city. A non-monogamist since 1993, political activist, and sensitive heart. Tall, always wearing unfashionable cloths, out-dated glasses, and so much confidence and deep perception that no one dares to care.

The beard distracts one from seeing obvious womanliness. His masculinity felt misplaced for years, and while his son was younger, the significantly older Italian man wore women’s skirts, platform shoes, and brightly colored leggings. He wore these things everywhere, to after school pick-ups and cafes. If it weren’t for the beard, he would have been called transexual. Instead he was labeled as socially defiant, seeking attention, or just punkish. The social apathy that allowed him to brave a conservative city in women’s clothing, failed him when it came to his own face. The beard stayed because it helped him hide his own perceived ugliness. He thought of surgery for a while, researched breasts, and realized that nothing would make him happy with his body, his face. He has now settled into baggy cargo pants, second-hand t-shirts, and skateboarder shoes with purple laces. He keeps the skirts and shoes in boxes on his shelves.

Every night he is home, around eight, to make a meal for his boy. The mother, so beautiful while pregnant, so desperately young, became a drug addict, a stripper, a prostitute, shortly after the boy was born. The kid has vague memories of his mother with clientele. She abandoned him, found salvation in her wealthy family’s perception of spirituality, and returned thinking all would be forgiven. Children are not so easy. The son longed for his mother, but hated her touch, her words, and her new forms of apathy and short attention. She abandoned him again, and returned to her affluent new-age commune. So, every night the Italian man is sure to be home. He cooks a meal on top of a camper stove, and stays, always, in the house to vacate the boy’s fears of being alone. Up until I came to share his bed the boy was still choosing to sleep with his father at night.

We don’t like to hear of unhappy parents, perhaps because so many of us separate love from sadness. We think being a good parent means that you enjoy the job. This father is unhappy, he is caged, he hates being a parent, he hates having his life restricted, and he compensates for the mother’s neglect by being overly forgiving, by not enforcing boundaries, by treating his son like a rational adult. He did not choose to keep a baby. He was foolish, and came inside a girl, believing that he was infertile. His son is his bondage to his mistake. His independence stopped when he was twenty, along with the ability to write freely, and the Italian man counts down the years until he can pick it up again. In 2008 he had a surgery to insure that he would never again help create a sad child. He feels that everything in his power is still not enough to save his kid from further pain.

There are no men in my family. I grew up without a father, my mother grew up without a father, and my grandmother grew up without a father. Three generations of women, playing two gender-role parts. My great-grandpa was an adoring alcoholic, who left when my grandmother was young. She was never loved and cared for by her own mother, who reminded her too much of the departed man. A southern Baptist, a great house keeper, seamstress, and secretly a slut, my grandma seduced my Detroit cop pap-pa one night. They were married a month latter. No one, even fifty-six years after the fact, acknowledges that there was any pre-marital sex involved. The Detroit cop was a philandering man,  running rounds on the women of the city, making more babies, and eventually leaving my grandma to fend for herself and the two children he was leaving behind. Feeling there was nothing she could do to make others happy, she attempted suicide, and then quickly remarried a physically abusive man. Third time round she found a sort of stability with a General Motors engineer. My grandma’s answer became money.

My mother, a college liberated lesbian of the 60s wanted to have a child without the influence and abuse of a man. Molested by an uncle, again by the second stepfather, and abandoned by her biological father at an early age, she had good reason to distrust them, excluding the sexual orientation.  Her stressed, religious, materialistic mother made her feel alien and ashamed. She bore witness to family being something that was inflicted and accused, not something that cared and nourished. So she longed and promised to end the cycle, to stop the pain, by being a mother her own way.

She lost a child a year before my conception, to an apathetic musician. They fucked once, without protection, the only man her body had touched in years, and from this fuck came a baby boy who died inside her from a spinal disease. There was a malpractice suit that she dropped shortly after the impregnator refused to speak to her anymore, and the constant reminder of her lost child became unbearable. She grew, she healed, she kept her son’s ashes in a box. His name /is/was Ryan Jameson.

While working in a restaurant a German businessman began to flirt with her. She laughed, how silly, he was wasting his energy. He was persistent. He had plenty of time to kill, several nights alone at a bar. One night she found herself alone with him in his nearby hotel room, intoxicated, and thinking “why not?” One night, no condom, and a deep feeling of shame. She could not talk to him anymore or meet his eyes, but he managed to tell her that he was married and had sons. He left with no trace, not even a distinguishable last name. She was pregnant, and thought hard about keeping this one. She asked to sit in the room where abortions were preformed, alone, so that she could decide. She left the room, got a midwife, but did not get excited for a baby. Other lesbians kept asking how she did it, curious, seeing it as a social defiance, wanting to be present for the birth. She allowed a few close friends, but after hours of pain-killer free pushing, they became overwhelmed and left her alone with the midwife.

I was and still am a difficult kid: fiercely independent, mischievous, distracted, emotional, imaginative, and defiant. My mother and I went through everything together, two cross-country moves, crazy ex-girlfriends, judgmental family, tight bills, torturing kids, and eventually her cancer. We argued daily, despite having a dependence and love for one another. I felt like I had no control in my life, and when I was seventeen I moved out with my twenty-three-year-old boyfriend. I really thought I knew what I was doing. The boy and I lived in a tent that summer, saving money and enjoying the outdoors. I got a bladder turned kidney infection that immobilized me, and began a month of antibiotics. I took each pill until they were gone, even after I was no longer sick. No one thought to tell the seventeen-year-old girl that antibiotics make birth control not work. Two missed periods and three negative pregnancy tests latter, one night while standing in his mother’s bathroom, I saw a pink plus sign.

Not talking to my own mother, deeply afraid, and sworn to secrecy by my boyfriend, I argued in front of a female judge in order to get permission for an abortion as a minor. We drove three hours south to the closest clinic. I was the first one in, the youngest, and I sat in the waiting room with other nervous women, their friends and/or impregnators. Six hours latter, after a psychological examination, blood tests, pills, and an ultrasound, I was handed a yellow, backless robe to change into. Then I entered a room similar to the one my mother left eighteen years before.

One machine, one woman at a time. I can hear the doctor talking to the two nurses just outside the door, one is new and in training. The doctor is a huge black man, with a stern voice. Their three bodies crowd the walk-in-closet space. The numbing does not work on me, and the two nurses have to hold me down, shitty sick-cadmium blinking lights, loud machine, commands to hold still, ceiling tiles, nurses’ fingernails, and no one can tell if I am crying in pain or crying out of fear.

Sent into another waiting room with EZ boy chairs, my body shaking hysterically, handed a blanket, and a cup of orange juice that clears and stings my mucus-filled throat. The second woman that enters was the oldest, a mother of four, she is calm, reserved, and brings some maternal comfort to me without trying.

I leave the room first, and see the waiting men, all with bright faces, greeting me as I leave. My boyfriend is happy, excited it is over: “Let’s leave!” Once in the parking lot I fall apart again and he is completely incapable of offering any help to me, aside from suggesting that we get into the car.   We ate gray hamburgers at a fast food place. He asked me not to fall asleep and leave him alone on the ride home. I bled more then I have ever bled for days afterwards. Constant cramps. We told each other that we would make up for this baby by having kids in the future, and being great parents to them, building our own family and not making the same mistakes as our parents.  My mother did not know of my pregnancy, but tells me now that she had the urge to hold a baby those months, and once she found out about the abortion she mourned for “her.” I still cannot tell if assigning a pronoun has comforted or horrified me.

That boyfriend turned out to be, or became, controlling and abusive. I turned out to be easily influenced by him for the next three and a half years. I stuck it out for a while, feeling like I had something to make up for. I broke free, drove from the disgusting desert of southern California to Ann Arbor, Michigan. The ex was in a car behind me the whole way, driving towards a new job. We parted paths in Toledo.  I arrived that day, on my own, new place, really really on my own.

The first things I did were wander around, get a job, and fall in love with a dreadlocked-hippie. We walked everywhere at night, wrote sometimes, and eventually built up to a kiss. Just one.  Those things started my awkward freedom. I then spent the next year or so, falling in/out of love and/or having sex with a large variation of men. The Mechanical Engineer, The PhD Lit, The Punk, The Marine, The Biochemist, The Brewer, The Schizophrenic, The Activist, The Musician, The Artist, and on.  I felt like the bad kind of slut, but never stopped myself. Got used some, and hurt sometimes. Grew. Eventually, at some point, acknowledged that I really did like sex. I also liked impassioned women. Admitted that I was intimidated by them, but kept trying. I formed my own, proud identity. Got into school, paid all of my bills, built a studio, and began to thrive on my own. I traveled. Then, the life that seemed to fit so well with my past, with the people around me, became foreign and gross. I latter found out that that life is called “heteronormative.” I do not fit comfortably with many titles, but I am comfortable saying that I am not that.

I became more and more radical, and more and more frustrated with the simple nonsense around me. I taught art in a juvenile detention facility. I kept seeing this pattern, in both my lovers and these kids, of parents not doing enough, not doing it right, not being able to do more, and it began to seem that there was no way to prevent humans that caused other humans to hurt, or just pained people. Kids have it the worst. I fought oppression.  I preached, asked Socratic questions, and pushed, hoping. I became obsessed with community and education. I wanted to make a better place for my future offspring. Now, now, I feel like the best thing I can do for my children is not have them. I am getting my tubes tied.

I will focus my maternal natures on the already living, including myself. My sterile, queer lover and I intentionally procreate through art and writing. No more accidents, maybe bad memoirs.

Accidents

Kate Boyd

99.9% of the time are avoidable.
Cover for having too much fun and not enough sleep.
Explain the existence of most of my extended family.
A word that covers the infinitesimal point where space, time, construct, and will are broken.

Accidente Uno

Annie Quick

Accidente Uno

A Snapshot and the Tide

Sarah Van Bonn

I think of driving back into town from the beach. Down the immense hill just before the water starts. A special run off was made, a long straight line of gravel and sand cut into the side of the hill, for “runaway trucks” after a freighter carrying produce couldn’t slow down fast enough on the steep incline and plowed straight into the bay. Cherries bobbing and floating everywhere, I imagine. “Was he okay?” I asked, but Christopher didn’t remember.

I picture it. How safe and strange it feels sitting in the passenger seat next to him, in his hometown. It was months after we started dating before I saw him drive for the first time, and I remember how compelling it was. How I loved to see him perform this activity he’d perfected before knowing me, loved to think of him developing, becoming strong, confident, capable. He is a good driver, aggressive but not unsafe. It only bothers me when he spends too much time looking over at me, into my eyes while he’s driving. I want to look at him so often, but when he returns my gaze, I immediately, reflexively turn away, scared that he’ll be distracted and crash into an oncoming car. Sometimes I berate him: “Don’t LOOK at me!” But he says he is only stealing glances.

Once, I am taking pictures on our drive back from the beach. Because I want a record of everything. Proof. They are lazy snapshots: through the open windows, of our windblown hair, of Christopher’s profile as he laughs. He looks over to me, too long. I am jostled by the car suddenly swerving–the shutter clicks, and the panic, blurriness, the hazy potential register on the screen. He avoids the oncoming car, and we are safe. But later I force him to look at the picture, at the blood and guts and goodbye that could have been, holding it up to his face like a crime scene photo, with the intensity and reprimand, the unearned “knowing better” that comes from an accident narrowly avoided.

Another time we are driving in the dark around a sharp curve hugging the cold water, and he tells me the story of one of the doctors in town. His wife and daughter driving home to him at night, around the same curve, lost control of the car. The water is so much deeper than it seems, Chris tells me. They drowned. And the heaviness of imagining it almost suffocates me–not so much the drowning, but what happens after; not to her, but to him. Chris worked for the doctor for a few summers, including the summer it happened. He was much beloved, this doctor, great with families and children, essentially the benevolent patriarch of the entire practice. And after, he became a bearded recluse, working less and only with older patients.

I tug at my seatbelt and fear, again, that the world will take Christopher from me. Reach down and pluck him out with its blind, indifferent hand. I try to hold on to him as hard as I can, even knowing that can’t make any difference.

Further along, we do break apart. Not because of an accident, or a reason. But because of chronology, the present. Because that’s the way the story goes. Life, roads, coloring in lines on the infinite treebranch of possible futures. You cannot unmake the present once it’s been made; you can’t change a single brick, a single swerve or divot. You have no other choice but to keep following, laying it out as you go. You make your path, and it makes you right back.

Sometimes we want to think that our accidents say something about us, or about the world. But what’s even worse than realizing that normal life doesn’t carry the same weight as dramatic accidents is realizing that dramatic accidents are just as empty as normal life. Bits of life hurl themselves against us as we march along, a tornado of the everyday swirling, encircling; scraps stick to us and we stick to them: tarred and feathered. We choose, but nothing chooses us. We make choices, but the world does not. It simply unfolds. No magic, only realism. We breathe in bits of dust in its wake, try to sort them, shape them, believe that they were given to us, gift wrapped, with a nametag. We pick the pieces off our skin and inspect them. This one looks like a lion, we say. This one has my favorite number on it.

Accidents aren’t happy or unhappy. In the same way that nothing is an accident, everything is: equally accident and miracle.

I remind myself of this when I think of how it felt to let go of Christopher’s hand. When I think of driving down that stretch of road, in different cars this time, separate, the traffic around us ebbing and flowing, and carrying us out to sea.

Premonition of Palin

Christina Fenner

Premonition of Palin