Collection

The Florida Keys

Kara Smith

The Florida Keys

Gone

Karla Sutton

“I walked into the house,” my father says to me on the phone, “and everything was gone, and I mean everything. There were only picture hooks and dust bunnies. At first, I just thought… maybe she was having the house painted, and that’s why all the furniture was gone. But the kitchen table? And the waterbed? I mean it’s NOT easy to move a waterbed. The only thing she didn’t take was my busted up RCA television. It was sitting there in the corner of the living room.”
I can picture that old box of a TV, its bug-like antennae and pudgy glass screen, left in the corner like a lonely totem. Worse maybe than if she’d taken everything. Completely empty, you might forget where things had been, you might be able to defamiliarize yourself from what had been so familiar, from what had been home. But no, she had left the TV there to taunt him.
Now he’s in therapy and quoting Deepak Chopra. As much as I hate the thought of going out there, I’m afraid if I don’t he’ll do one of those e-reading stress tests at the mall and before I know it, he’ll be prosthelytizing the good news of Scientology. Or worse, he’ll end up on my doorstep.
So, I decide to go out there, to Columbus, Ohio, to help my dad pick up the pieces of the life that my stepmom has left him. I can hear my mom’s voice already. There’s no need to call her. “What goes around comes around. But it’s too bad,” she’ll add. “I really liked that one.”
I walk through the jetway and he’s there by the window, looking undone, more lost than usual. His hair is longer. And greyer. There’s a piece of his shirt that’s not all the way tucked in. He’s wearing white socks with loafers. Airports have a way of un-doing people though. His face spreads into a smile when he sees me. I stand on my tip-toes to hug him; his beard bristles my temple, and I can smell the froth of the beers he’s had while waiting to see me.
“Hi pumpkin. It’s so good to see you!”
“Hi Dad. How are you?”
“I’m hangin’ in there. Here, let me carry your bag.” Something my last five boyfriends would not have thought to do.
We head side-by-side through the terminal. And somehow it still feels like when I was five and I have to take three steps to keep up with each one of my father’s. So, I tell him I have to use the restroom so that I can take a deep breath and a look in the mirror. I smooth down some stray blonde strands and suck in my stomach, butterflies and all. Look straight into my own eyes to remind myself that I’m grown now. And he seems to need me.
It’s December and snow has managed to drift its way into the multi-level lot. I run my hand along the railing and ball some snow up in my palm. My fingers get numb from the cold. I breathe out a puff of warm vapor and smile. That trick never gets boring. But now, I live in Florida where the air’s thick and swampy. Where I can stay warm on my own.
Inside my dad’s American-made SUV, I reach across to the driver’s side to unlock his door through a scent-cloud of stale cigarettes and Old Spice after-shave; pungent but familiar. There are ashes and crumpled scratch-off lottery tickets on the floor of the passenger side and a plastic bottle of Mountain Dew in the sticky cup holder between the seats. We’re mostly quiet at first, aside from small talk of cousins and weather, a ritual that allows me to relax a bit, to settle into place. But, people always talk more freely in cars, or maybe it’s just my father.
“Do you mind if I smoke?” he asks.
“Uh, no go ahead,” I’m surprised I still can’t refuse him.
He turns on the stereo as he takes his first drag. His car is so old that it still plays cassettes. It’s “Ophelia” by the Band, and I wonder if it’s from the mixed tape I made him, one of many sent over the years. And if so, was it left in the car, or did my step-mom return them?
“I got the divorce papers last week. And we put the house on the market. It’s all happening pretty quickly. I’ve been sleeping on a futon in the living room. Ordered it on the computer. Still blows my mind I can do that. A couple of clicks, and they deliver it to your door. I finally got rid of that damn television set too. Bought a new one at the Wal-Mart. One a those flatscreens. Man, she knows how to make an exit. Just imagine walking through your front door, and the whole place is empty. Not just people empty– Empty, echoing-the-walls, EMPTY. I almost called the goddammed police. But what thief is gonna take the time to empty a waterbed? I wandered around for a good 20 minutes, then I saw that TV, and I got this feeling in the pit of my stomach– I knew. Oh man, I knew…” he stops at a stoplight, hits his fist on the steering wheel. “Oh, pumpkin! It’s so good to see you!”
And I feel a little bit guilty because my stepmom has called me; her side of the story seems to seep into all of my father’s long pauses.
She’d called a few days after I first heard from him.“What happened?” I asked.
“Look, I just want you to know that I love you and I always want to stay a part of your life.”
“Thanks, I love you too.”
“So, what has your dad told you?”
“He’s a mess. He said you took everything. What happened? What did he do?” I ask, although I know how it goes.
I’d met this stepmother at a park for a picnic lunch. I had just turned eleven. She handed me a plush teddy bear with a green ribbon, and hugged me close like she knew me even though we’d never met before. I can still smell her perfume. We ate Kentucky Fried chicken. My dad looked at her with dream-goggle eyes. Later, when I was pushing my brother on the swings, I could see that he was holding her hand. He walked her to her car after buckling my brother and I into his. I remember my dad’s grey-blue eyes in the rearview mirror on the way home from that picnic. He told us it was best not to mention our picnic when we got home to where our current step-mother was waiting. My brother, age 7, turned to our dad in the front seat,“Why?”
“It will just be our little secret.”
At that moment, I’d had this feeling, this tight knot in my stomach. I asked my dad to pull over. “I don’t feel so good.” It might have been the warm coleslaw. He should have pulled over. Instead, I threw-up all over the middle-console.
The woman from that picnic, my step-mother of the last twelve years had left my dad their empty house, and the RCA TV while he was in Detroit for three days on a business trip.
“I was just sick of it,” was all she said and then silence.
“He said you took everything in the house,” my voice so much meeker than I intended.
“I knew about someone at his office, and that was one thing, but the waitress from Red Lobster? That’s the first place he ever took me to dinner. He told me if I didn’t like the way things were that I should leave,” she said. “So I did.”
I couldn’t argue.
Now here I am, three days before Christmas, my dad saying something about keeping a journal, puffing on Marlboro Reds, remembering his regrets. “I know I’ve made lots of mistakes.”
Oh, shit I think. Isn’t this the conversation you have after martinis? We’re not even out of the car yet.
“I know I should have done things differently with your mother.”
Oh, God, please God, make him stop.
“My therapist says that making amends is the first step toward healing.”
This is a man who has scoffed at psychiatry. Apparently, some things change. We pull up to a stoplight, and I look over. He’s looking out into the distance, and I think he might be starting to tear up.
“It’s really good to see you, Dad. How long has it been?”
The light changes, “Uhm, I guess about a year, since Thad’s wedding.”
“So, have you found a new place yet? You said you’ve been looking. That’s always an adventure!”
“I’ve looked at a couple of condos, small ones, and also apartments. I’d like to find something closer to the office. You, know, at least temporarily. Something with a pool, or maybe something near the river. Something with a view. Maybe I could go fishing.”
“Fishing?”
“I think I need a new hobby. Have you spoken to Di?” He asks it so suddenly even though I knew it was coming. I think about lying, just saying no, but most likely they’ve spoken.
“Uhm, yeah, just briefly. She called a couple of weeks ago. She didn’t say much.”
“I wondered if she’d call you.” We’re about two blocks from the house and, out of nowhere, a white pick-up pulls out from a side street. My dad swerves quickly, just missing the truck, but the road must be icy, because as he breaks, the SUV slides, and he almost loses control. Almost spins into on-coming traffic, but he does what he’s always told me to do when driving on ice. He turns the wheel in the direction it’s already going, and regains traction.
“You okay, pumpkin?”
I’m jostled, but fine. It all happened so quickly. “I’m fine. You?”
“I’m okay.” My dad pulls into a gas station. “I’m just gonna run in for a pack of cigarettes,” he says. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Yeah,” I smile.
While I wait for my dad in the car, I notice a Christmas tree lot across the way. I haven’t had a Christmas tree in years, because I live by myself in a small apartment on the beach, and it just doesn’t seem quite justifiable to trim a tree for the seagulls. My dad’s never seen my new place. He loves the beach. He loves raw oysters and beer. Most of my favorite childhood memories are of us at the beach, playing frisbee, building elaborate sand castles, burying each other’s legs in the sand. I remember my dad teaching me how to catch a wave for body surfing. How to look for a wave that’s just the right size, and when to start swimming. And that feeling, when you time it just right, straightening out your body as it rushes you into the shore, like you’re just a part of it for a few seconds. Then you brush up against shells and sand, the wave tossing you out of its grasp like an unwelcomed intruder. But you stand up, exultant, and swim back to try it again.
Looking out the window, I notice it’s started to snow, and then, I notice I’m crying because the gas station attendant has knocked on the window. I wipe my cheeks with my shirtsleeve and roll down the window.
“Hey, miss, you gonna fill-up you’re tank or what? This ain’t a fuckin’ full service station. It’s a do-it-yourself operation and you got people waitin’.”
Now I see that my dad has accidentally pulled up to the gas pump. The attendant, who has long, greasy hair sticking out of a ball cap, and a red nametag that glares “Kenny” pauses for a second noticing my cheeks, tear-stained and puffy. Lucky for me, I have a complexion that hides nothing. “I mean, you know,” he continues, “you really can’t park here. Ah, shit. Are you okay?” He smiles, revealing not one, but three missing teeth. “You want me to clean off the windshield? What happened anyway?” He leans in close. He smells like gasoline and chewing tobacco. “A fight with your boyfriend?”
“Uhm, no,” I stammer, “Uhm…I’ll go ahead fill up the tank.” I reach down for my purse and slowly open the car door.
Kenny starts to wipe the snow and salt off the windshield using one of those rubber squee-gees. “You know,” he yells over, “I hate seein’ people sad durin’ Christmas. I mean I know it’s none of my business or nothin’ but it’s not really worth it. I mean if someone’s treatin’ you bad, you just gotta high-tail it. I mean, pretty thing like you, you deserve better.”
I ignore him. I slide my credit card in and out of rubber slot, positioning it so the black magnetic strip is at the top, facing out, like the picture on the machine indicates. The electronic screen on the pump flashes, commanding me to select a grade and remove the nozzle. It beep-beeps, and I obey, savoring the satisfaction of completing simple directions.
“You know, I ain’t got a girlfriend.”
Oh no, I think. I squeeze hard on the nozzle’s pump trigger.
“I mean it just ain’t right makin’ a girl feel bad near Christmas. Maybe you and I could go out to dinner. You like Mexican?”
I pretend not to hear him. I’ve never been happier to see my father. Kenny looks at my dad, then looks back at me, shakes his head, and mutters, “It just ain’t right.” The pump stops, and he glares at my father. For a minute, I’m worried. I return the nozzle and walk up to my dad.
“I got us some scratch-offs,” he says handing me one.
I give him a big bear hug before walking back to the passenger side. Even though there’s a small line of cars forming behind us, we sit in the car and my dad pulls out some pennies. We rub the mysterious opaque substance off of our “Fat Cat Tripler” cards. Mine’s a dud. My dad’s won another free ticket.
“Hey, dad,” I say, “Do you have a tree yet?”
“No, I keep passing by that lot, thinking I’ll stop in tomorrow.”
“Let’s get one,” I say, with genuine excitement. “A big one.”
And we do. We pick the fattest one on the lot, then go to the Wal-Mart. We buy strings of colored lights, silver and red balls, some eggnog and brandy. It’s not long before we’re singing along to Jimmy Buffett as we trim a tree that fills up the hungry living room. Between the music and the eggnog, it seems like the best idea in the world to run around the tree twirling masking tape behind us to fasten on a stuffed parrot that we’ve decided would make the perfect tree-topper if we could only reach up to the top.

Keys Barn Door

Kara Smith

Keys Barn Door

Fragment 320

Zachary Bushnell

Again today the baby was there in the vestibule. It only takes one of these sorts of incidents to realize, wherever you live, it’s better to keep the doors locked—at least at night. The neighborhood’s really fine. Sure paranoias of masked armed intruders may enter through a window or the basement during a blackout, when the lightening’s blasting burdened coathangers into crazy animated silhouettes and thunder rocks Julia’s grandmother’s antique china tea-set and the glass-fronted cabinet it’s kept in with the mirrors on the back the old pre-sleep brainscreen every once and again, but that’s just horror movie stuff, and hardly credible, as we know at least by acquaintance most of the people who live around us, and robberies here are extremely rare, especially of the B&E variety, and never—not once that we’ve heard of—when anyone has ever been actually in their homes. Burglars watch for that kind of thing, I think. But this, I mean…it’s… Who would commit such an act of negligence—to orphan something so crudely? Maybe, right, it’s not unheard of?—you know you have this thing, but you don’t want it. But the least you could do then is make sure it’s going to be taken care of. To just leave it is—it’s…

It has soft skin, to look at it, and bright eyes. We don’t know whether it’s a boy or a girl. It hasn’t once cried. We called everyone whose we thought it could be, or who might know something about whose it was, but nobody claimed it, or knowledge re: it. Any number of them could be lying. What’s hard is where they left it. (Though “they” is an assumption, a desire for someone with whom to place the action of its leaving. Perhaps it would be better to say: ‘What’s hard is where it’s left.’ Could it have left itself?) See because if it were outside the vestibule, on the porch even, the situation would be different. We live in an apartment complex, Julia and I. We’ve lived here for three years, and have seen some tenants come and go in that time. Could it have been forgotten in some hasty eviction, some frenzied shadow-transition of keys and leases? They’re left on roof-racks in baskets all the time. But if it were outside this would be simpler, outside of the vestibule where it now is, and has been for several days. If it were outside this would be a community issue; would could call for a tenants’ meeting; perhaps someone would volunteer. Out there it’s Complex property.

Like, the board meets to approve who does the landscaping, for instance. And at these meetings opinions are voiced about the state of the landscape, based on which opinions a movement is carried either to retain the current service or find a new contractor. In the case of the latter, a panel would be assembled for that purpose. If this could be like that it would be easy.

We keep the inner door locked. The vestibule has two doors: one that connects it to the building’s exterior, and one connecting it to the apartment’s interior. Just this side of the inner door’s our living room. How this got started I’m not sure, but the basic premise is, anyone can enter the vestibule at any time from the outside. Should they feel crooked, they could conceivably relieve us of whatever effects are in there, but the haul would amount to little more than an old pair of running shoes, some sandals, umbrellas, maybe a winter coat: we wouldn’t be bereft. Never had it occurred to us that the space could be used to deposit something.

I’m a jogger, so every morning—five, five-thirty—I’m lacing up. It’s me who found it. Julia does pilates, so she has a morning routine she’ll go through generally while I’m out, and then when I get back we’ll both have breakfast. I wouldn’t touch it, no. And neither would Julia. Not that it’s a bird, I know, but it’s not ours, you know? Even elephants who’ve had humans touch or ride them are ostracized by the group. It doesn’t seem to have any papers with it. I looked around. It’s awkward. That first day, I mean, I didn’t go for my run, and Julia didn’t do her pilates; we just looked at it dumbfounded for a while and I said ‘I said we should keep the front door locked’ even though I hadn’t and that morning we started calling people. Since then I’ve jogged, which means I enter and exit the vestibule at least four times a day with that baby just lying there in the blanket that came with it (or it brought?), and at first I’d almost stumble over it or be shocked by it there in the early morning or late evening hazy sort of dark. At this point I can glide right on by. The only major difference from before is that I have to put my shoes on the other side of the room, or sometimes near the baby’s feet.

We’ve talked about keeping it ourselves, but neither of us is sure we want that kind of responsibility. I suppose we’re both getting somewhat used to its being there. It’s funny: It hasn’t made a peep.

Body Parts

Salvador Olguín

a yellow death of yellow fishes
floating down the window, in the mist
 
for some reason: gold, the sun, and liver cancer
also bones: the same shit, twice, and certain varieties of maize
 
it tastes like being tied around the wrists and ankles
blindfolded, six bullet holes in the chest
two in the head
yellow thighs and wet
 
an open pit to bring everything back into the ground
from where it came: this planet is a graveyard

Caught on Film

Sunny Park-Johnson

Caught on Film

The Drift

Abeed Hossain

Humans build upon the works of their forerunners. We consolidate tribes, refine and enforce norms. We go forth and multiply. Enemies are dealt with; absorbed by the tribe, maintained as tributaries, or else destroyed entirely. Lands are settled and resources extracted. Resources deplete and expansion presses outward, towards a final, forbidding obstruction: the roaring river, the desert, the jungle, the mountain range, the sea.

And still we persevere, to please our gods or ourselves. The rivers are conquered, their waters redirected. Barren earth grows green. Dense jungle falls before the axe-blade and bulldozer. We shatter stone and jagged rock; taming altitudes, terraforming depths. Vast sea becomes a causeway to exploding heat, to turbines and steel.

This is our progress. Inexorably, unaccountably, we grow.

***

She said “Fend for yourself, you’re alone.”

The woman’s name is Elcin and she claims to possess the power of second sight. The power introduced itself to her in a dream she later understood to be a vision. In the vision there is a woman, scared and naked and engulfed in flames. The woman runs out of gray concrete building until a bullet explodes from the side of her head, leaving her body limp and crumpling.

“The woman had set herself on fire,” she explains to him. “She invoked Palden Lhamo but he did not grant her protection.”

Her apartment’s main sitting area, large for the City and brightly lit by Eastern sun, manifests as a shrine. A giant map of Tibet adorns the back wall. Situated just in front on the floor, a bronze statue of a lotus positioned Buddha. The statue is flanked on both sides by bookshelves filled with volumes devoted to Tibet and related subjects. He notices that some books appear multiple times in different editions or sometimes just duplicates of the same pressing: The Autobiography of the Dalai Llama, the Tibetan book of the Dying, etc.

“Love is not a visible sign which could help identify the dead,” she says, while thumbing through the pages of one of her Tibetan texts. It’s not clear whether she’s reading those words out of the book or not, but she seems to expect some kind of reaction from him.

Elcin gestures towards the door.

“I’m glad we got together,” she says, and it’s clear now that she means for him to leave.

The door closes behind him. Locks turn shut and a chain fastens; the rusty cables of an elevator, another glass door, and then a return to the street, to the void.

Here he found himself wrung from the depths of solitude not by a love for others, but by a hatred for them; he could no longer discern the people from smoke. He closed his eyes and blackness poured into him like quicksilver. He opened them and saw only human selfishness recurring as a twisted meme, a sort of wisdom gaining vogue in the culture. Accept the self as idol, the brutal truth of it, and be, if not free, at least ready for what is and what’s to come.

On Bridges

Salvador Olguín

City dwellers
sometimes walk on iron bridges.
From these bridges it is possible to see the river.
 
Once they’ve seen it, joy, sadness
and many other ordinary feelings
are transformed into matter.
 
The river is inhabited by rocks
of various shapes and sizes.
People collect them.

Collection: Sneakers

Ania Pietraszek

Collection: Sneakers

Young Prince

Jason Ed Collins

From “Lessons From My Pops,” a Collection of Flash Fiction

In our kitchen, sitting at the table for one of those serious talks. Even my dog Rascal obeyed, and lay on his bed, tail between his legs. My sandwich smelled good, but I didn’t touch my BLT. These talks with my mom and dad got me uptight.
“Auntie’s not letting B— drink,” they said. “So no drinking at your graduation party.”
I nodded my head, asked to be excused, and walked away. I was due at the Steakhouse for work: another twelve hour day, paying for the car I’d bought because I’d mowed down a telephone pole with the Chevy Corsica my parents had given me back in February.
Long ass day, man. Sweaty and pissed off after work, I returned home and sparked one up on the back steps with my dog, Rascal. Darkness and clouds allowed no stars, no light.
The sun rose high and hot that next day. I parked my Firebird Formula at the century old family farm on Rock Road and walked down Dwyer with a 12 pack of Mich’s in hand. Long hair tied back, sunglasses on, I left my shirt half unbottoned and still felt sweat bead on my belly.
I needed a sip.
Helloes, handshakes, hugs and kisses everywhere, as I stepped onto Uncle Brim’s property. Parting the crowd, my mom gave me that look—you know that look, kinda look says, “Boy, I’m gonna have yer ass soon as people aren’t around to see it.”
My old man nodded his head from across the football field and kept talking to the fire chief. It was time—my time. I popped a bottle and got to it.
My Ibanez got lonely about 8 beers in, so I took the guitar out of its case and stepped on stage with cousin R— that afternoon. Smiles, laughs, dancing, and still my old man across the big lawn. He nodded his head once more, as I put the guitar away.
Adrenaline pumped, I was ravenous. I played horseshoes and ate steak before nightfall. That night, I made out with five different lovelies in the dark, ate steamed clams and drained a keg of Labatt Blue around the roaring bonfire.
My old man sought me out in the black night.
“I’m getting ready to head home,” he said. “Auntie wants you to stay away from B—’s friend. Be good, ya heard?”
“Man, you’re like a stop sign and I’m trying to go places.”
My old man laughed and walked away.
I took that ex of mine to the camping trailer my pops had left in the rear of the big lot, so I didn’t have to drive—an unspoken gift; the mark of a father’s hand making sure his son got home safely, when it was time.
I was down; she was down. I got the good good she’d held out on giving me three long years ago. That mouth was wonderful.
I said an Our Father and made the sign of the cross before closing my eyes.
That night—that one night—I slept the sleep of a prince. God bless the Summer of ’99.

Inheritance

Ricardo Ortiz

I sat in the chair, restrained and left alone for my thoughts to devour me whole. The chair was beautifully uncarved, a masterpiece of nature left unmarred by human hands, yet still uncomfortable enough for a prisoner like me to hate it. It felt like days had gone by sitting in this chair, awaiting my fate, arms and legs bruised from the cuffs that dug into my flesh. My mind was racing, yet muddled, confined by the boundaries that They have placed on my thoughts. Memories repeating, left in a loop for me to regret for the rest of eternity. “Prisoner 339264. Rise for your Arbiter.” The loud hollow voice filled the room and the cuffs released me from their clutches, as I stood for someone who I am to respect, yet have never met. The Arbiter entered through the large steel doors previously hidden by the shadows and motioned for me to take my seat. I hesitantly sat back down, as the Arbiter flooded the room with his voice, “You may not know why you are here. And that is why I have been appointed to you. As a reminder, and as a final decision as to what is to happen to you.” He moved towards the pulpit, and laid out his documents for inspection.

“What you have done is nothing new, a case like yours comes along thousands of times every year, from insignificant, pitiful people like yourself, to more tragic, meaningful people like that American that smelled vaguely of adolescent character, and that famous writer who was found in his house holding his favorite shotgun. But you are lower than them. Theirs was understandable, but not yours, you had everything lined up for you. Presented on a platter to choose for your own liking. You left children, both legitimate and illegitimate, in your wake. Open your mouth, what do you have to say for yourself?” My mouth was parched, and my throat was in a knot. “Who are you?” I finally asked. “Me? I am your judge.” He came around the pulpit, walking towards me as the cuffs restrained me once again. “Your Fate, your King Minos. I am Your Arbiter. That is all you need to know.” I searched my mind for why I was here; one of the vague memories that have been placed off limits, torturing me with its escape. As he walked back, I gathered the nerve to finally ask the question that has been prying at my psyche. “Where am I, and what am I on trial for? I have a right to know!” “YOU HAVE NO RIGHTS HERE! You lost all rights when your cowardice came over you, and you took your own life, leaving behind your wife, children, siblings, everything! You gave it all up, and for what? Nothing! And look where has brought you. In front of me.” An evil grin spread like the plague across his face. “I have the pleasure of deciding how you spend the rest of eternity.”

Shaken, my heart began to race. I didn’t know what he was talking about. “What do you mean? I do not remember having any children! I cannot even remember what brought me to this horrid place. Explain!” His eyes glared at me, and for once in a long time I felt intimidated. Genuinely afraid of his sick twisted face. Mocking me with his furrowed brow. His voice became eerily soft “There are things that cannot be explained at this moment, what I can say is that you are in limbo. This is where everyone passes as they wait for their judgment. You are here because you have taken your life, and left a wife and a mistress to raise your children.” Distant memories suddenly became a realization, Carmen’s beautiful smile, My daughters letters as she learned Spanish abroad, Hector’s diligence. I remembered. “People like you cause rifts in The Writing. The only thing that cannot be accounted for, you humans have managed to exploit and cause panic not only in your dimension, but here as well.” I finally understood what was happening, it sunk in. “Why did I do it?” I asked. The Arbiter replied quickly “None of us know, it is the only thing that has escapes us seven for all of eternity. We have seen people do it for pride, out of fear, anger, even curiosity.”

Seven? “Are you the only Arbiter? If not why are you the one judging me?” His face twisted with a curious look, as though he was surprised, yet elated that I wanted to know about him and the Others. “As I said before, there are seven of Us. We reign over your dimension and through a combination of us, we form every human being as their characteristics, or “Feelings”. Some people reflect some characteristics more than others. We make them Unique.” “And as to the reason why I am being judged in front of you?” I beckoned for an answer. “Simple, out of the seven of us, I was the one most inflicted by your final moments. More people felt my presence because of you. And that angers me. Why should a human as incompetent as yourself be able to send shock waves to dozens that I myself am not able to feel?” His piercing eyes became soft and glazed over. He turned away from me, snatching the files from the pulpit and briskly flipped through them. “So what am I to do?! I’m sorry that I offended you, but there must be something I can do to redeem myself!” The outcome of angering this entity could not be good.

“What you have done is irrevocable and irreconcilable. The verdict has been decided. You will return to Earth as your daughter’s son. You will be stripped of a father at a young age as you have stripped yourself from your children. You will raise yourself and your siblings, as you left your oldest son to do so without a father. Left to fend for yourself in the tidal wave that you, yourself, have caused in your past life.” I squirmed in my seat at the thought of being sent back to that dreadful place. “NO! You cant send me back there.” I wasn’t even sure what I was afraid of. “There is nothing more that I can do, I have judged according to the Laws. You have done the crime. You must now suffer the repercussions.” And with that he faded back into the shadowy corner. As the door closed softly behind him, my cuffs became undone. Rubbing my sore wrists, I began wondering what I should do now. When would my punishment begin. And if there is still a way to get around it. The voice boomed once again, “Prisoner 339264. You have been tried and judged. You know your fate.” And with that a dark fear consumed, and pushed me towards a light into a realm so bright, cold and intimidating, it is a wonder how anyone could find comfort in this unrelenting place.

Collection: CDs

Ania Pietraszek

Collection: CDs

Reasons

Hakim S. Floyd

Heart beating slowly in my chest, heavy breathing for reasons unknown to man. I live in a society where my freedoms are nonexistent or miniscule at best, I am hurting. I have a 93% chance of being murdered by my neighbor, my peer, my brother. There is no peace, just a piece, weapons formed against me shall prosper and no Bible scripture can tell me otherwise. I will die; I will be murdered like the other 49% of the people that share my likeness. I see blue uniforms and black guns, hard sticks and tight cuffs. I see a system where my appearance is more important than my character. My judgment can never be based on a fair and equal system because one does not exist for me. How can a population of 13% equate to 40% of the prison system, there cannot be justice behind all of these convictions. Fairness and freedom were never breaths made for me to breathe, I may never see peace. 64% of us will make it out of the 12th grade, only 43% of us will make it out of college. I’d be lying if I say I was surprised. They say education is the key to success, to a great future, to a better tomorrow. How can I focus on tomorrow, when I don’t know where my meal will come from today, I don’t know if my rent will be paid, if my lights will remain on. We struggle; we are bottom feeders, scavengers, lost souls searching for a way out. We didn’t ask for this, but are we doing all we can to better it? Was Trayvon not enough? Sean Bell? Amadou Diallo? Abner Louima? Rodney King? We must do better, we must be better. The death of us, the black plight, the deadliest collection.

Joe Andrews

Marshall Anderson

(In the smallest hours of the morning, the sun rose faint and vibrant.
A trace of peach magnolia stretched across the Eastern horizon.
Dank manure blew heavy in the breeze as he walked to the barn.
He fed the five mares two trash cans full of hay.
Drank his coffee, smoked a cigarette and began his day.
He imagined he would die this way.
His name was Andrews, and on Sundays he attended a church of forty-two.
He’d been a member twenty years.
One day Andrews got to feeling pretty blue,
Like his train of thought had burnt through all its gears.)

Leroy the Hustler: Pass the collection plate kid.
Andrews: Passes the plate slow like molasses,
Can’t concentrate, adjusts his glasses.
Leroy the Hustler: I got to go man, give it. I got to get on my knees.
I’m gonna drop this tithe loud, so everybody sees.
Andrews: Better make sure you ain’t giving too much,
It’d be time better spent outside in the sun
Without a crutch, or any reason to run,
Or be unkind, and if you don’t mind have a little fun.
Leroy the Hustler: I understand what you are saying.
It’s just sometimes I don’t know whose law I’m obeying.
What’s your name anyways buddy?
Andrews: Joe, Joe Andrews.
Leroy the Hustler: I was taking a drag across the street at the grocery store
When the urge took me to meet a lady standing at the back door,
She was so fine, I never felt that way before.
So I wanted her to know that I got a little dough,
And I ain’t afraid to lay it on the line.
Andrews: Listen Leroy, you gonna be just alright. Mind your intentions and live in the light,
And don’t ever make decisions out of spite. Sometimes you’ll want to daydream
Other times you’ll want to fight. When it’s time to move you gots to move,
When the animals need feeding you better provide.
Or else each morning more and more will have died.
There is nothing to prove, ‘less its etched in your heart,
And even then, to say you improve,
Is to take for granted where we all must start.

(The collection plate was passed with smiles on each face. The silver metal ring reflecting color stained beams onto the ceiling of the old wooden church house. Hands dropped their offerings, slowly covering the purple felt which lined the plate’s inner bottom. Deacon’s moved down the aisles until they reached the last and then the preacher began to pray aloud. Leroy quietly rose and passed through the space between the pew and Andrew’s knees.)

Specimen 7 & 8

Kara Smith

Specimen 7 & 8

A Clearwater Collection

Sarah Van Bonn

1.
A woman in a pink bikini lies on the beach right at the surf—she’s composed looking, like it’s for a photo you see on a postcard, but also you get the sense this is every day of her life. She’s propped up on her elbows, face tilted back in serene bliss/maximal sun absorption.

2.
That may be my worst experience eating an ice cream, says a man wearing a Detroit Pistons shirt as he exits the beach.

3.
I’ve got a bad back from all them waves hittin me! says a little Scottish boy. His dad wears a speedo. His older sister has long thin hair and long thin limbs. Their family looks like something from a Sylvain Chomet movie. I wonder what people from other countries think of Florida.

4.
There are rogue packs of seagulls everywhere. Their snide round black faces contrast against their dingy white bodies. They caw and congregate and on some days are so bold that they’ll swoop down and hover in the air above your head using an impressively sophisticated wing back-beating movement that seems to be specially designed to enable terrorizing and then darting in to attempt to snatch away the sandwich you are eating.

5.
Inexplicable law of physics: how children’s tiny legs can make such enormous Great-now-I’ve-got-saltwater-in-my-eye splashes.

6.
Someone has sculpted a couch out of sand on the beach, across from it a similarly sculpted TV. Two sticks stuck on top form the antenna. It is surprisingly realistic. I imagine some bored parent made it while their kid carried cups of water up from the surf to dump on the sand or whatever kids think is exciting. The artist is nowhere in site. Later a kid, maybe 7, comes over and I think, Great. He’s totally gonna ruin it now. After a few minutes, a lady in bikini comes over. Did you make that yourself, she asks in exaggerated-loud adult-to-kid voice. He must say yes because she goes, “You did??!! Your TV looks awesome!” I hope he is not lying because if he’s not, he’s got a good future ahead of him. When I look over again, he is slowly circling his maybe-creation, holding a plastic shovel, delicately shaping. He pats sand with small hands onto the couch’s baseboard. Later, people come over to sit on it and have their photo taken. What would Baudrillard say, I rhetorically ask no one.

7.
A girl has a small heart-shaped pale area above her hipbone, from where she must have placed a sticker while tanning; another young woman proudly showcases the art of belly bedazzling.

8.
A kid is slapped in the face by a wave.

9.
A man apathetically sweeps the sand with a metal detector.

10.
A herd (is that the proper term?) of jet skis bob at the ready in the surf, waiting to be ridden into the field. Their names: Reel Fast, Beach Buoys, N 2 deep, Get Reel, Cool Breeze.

11.
A businessman and -woman weave across the beach—carrying their shoes and socks, picking their way through the cabanas, umbrellas, and towels.

12.
Two freckled sisters lay on towels feet-to-feet, holding them in the air and pressing them together.

13.
A family of fat people lay out a giant blanket. They have an enormous cooler with them. Every time I look over, one or more or all of them are eating homemade sandwiches, drinking Dr. Pepper, shaking the crumbs from chip bags into their mouth. They stare forward through sunglasses. They don’t look unhappy.

14.
The setting: the town square separating the beach from the roadstrip of restaurants. A fire-eater informs the sizable crowd surrounding him about the whereabouts of the pier’s fire extinguisher and then asks people if they “are ready,” which earns him much enthusiastic vocal assent.

15.
A bar sign on aforementioned roadstrip advertises the band playing there tonight; they’re called the Black Honkeys.

16.
The characters are a “mix-and-match-the relationship” trio of mom-and-daughter and/or sister and/or friend strolling along sidewalk next to aforementioned roadstrip. A gay friend—they’re the best, says one of the younger (sister or daughter or friend) two. I just made a new one the other day, says other friend/sister. They are the best. I haven’t had one in like 5 years. You’ve GOT to have a gay friend, says the mother/sister/friend.

17.
Two big-bellied tan dudes board the elevator, each carrying a 12 pack, one of Diet Sunkist, and one of Bud Light Lime. One of them says during the ascent, Sure hope this is enough beer for them girls.

18.
A kid of about 11 or so dangles a fishing pole over the side of the cement into the marina water, and a few minutes later, he pulls out a wide flat ugly and surprisingly large fish. Good for you, says a woman walking by. He tells her what kind of fish it is: it’s called, like, a spearhead or a razorhead or a pointyhead or something. It looks prehistoric. It gulps weakly through its gills and flaps around on the hot pavement.

19.
“What the heck? I can’t find it! Oh my gosh! It’s in the water!” child shouts from hotel poolside about a ball that’s flung over the pool fence and landed in the marina water behind it. His “surprise” is obviously a sham created to hide his culpability. “We’re gonna need something very, very long,” kid assesses.
“Like a net! a helping kid adds.
“Maybe a dolphin will swim up and start doing tricks with it,” a short-haired (in a Florida, not lesbian way) woman on the sidelines observes.
“Brock, no!” screams mom of original offender.
A man (guessing dad) holds a net pole and a woman (guessing mom) holds a long-handled pool broom, and together they try to fish it out of the water. They almost rescue it but it tips back in.
Man loses his balance and falls backward on his ass onto some shrubs. Fuckers! he yells. (The shrubs?)
Attempt number two successfully brings the ball back up to the concrete ledge. Short-hair woman unhelpfully yells from the sidelines: “Don’t let it roll back in!” It does.
Attempt three. “This time bring it all the way in,” shouts orig. kid. “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” chorus the rest of them. Their outstretched hands receive the reward.

20.
These Michigan people know how to party, says a sun-leathered, wiry, twangy-rather-than-drawly-South Southern guy below the balcony. At least they come down to the pool. The rest of these people don’t even leave their rooms!

21.
From far away, the two sides of the suspension bridge look like they are reaching out a hand toward one another across the river.

Gun Family Portraits: Dan Gun

Holy Ghost Machine Gun

Gun Family Portraits: Dan Gun

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Gun Family Portraits: G. G. Al Gun

Gun Family Portraits: Magdalene Gun

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Gun Family Portraits: Magdalene Gun

Gun Family Portraits: P.Q. Gun

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Gun Family Portraits: Sargent Gun

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Gun Family Portraits: Bear

Holy Ghost Machine Gun

Gun Family Portraits: Bear