Friction

Statika/Lectricity

Scott Schuer

The word itself abrades, itches, holiday sweaters from
Winter’s domain. Conflicts dangle from family trees.
Sweat, heat, thrusting grunts, balance a
sterile scent.

Sweet, human honeyskunk evokes the guilt, the foam,
the poem of seasons. Grandparents and elders wait with
auras of paint remover, rust repellant, and curb
feelers.

The brave, the unafraid, confront seasonal
Dioramas. Entering the peephole, they scrape and
scratch, flesh and
form into shapes
which heal.

Shapes that
calm the
soul.

The Day He Left

Sunny Park-Johnson

The Day He Left

Kinetic

Sunny Park-Johnson

Kinetic

The Oilers Jacket

Alex Koplow

When passersby call my dad “Dave the Dog Man,” I’m told that he smiles, accepting the name along with any spare change. If they leave food, he divides the scraps among his ever-growing pack of mutts before taking anything for himself.

Discarded furniture and stacks of mess filled the muddy alley where he camped. Towers of waterlogged magazines. Pyramids of baggied dog shit. Jagged-lipped plastic buckets of rainwater.

I kicked a shopping cart against the brick building so I didn’t surprise him. Dogs tied to a torn box spring howled and whined. Loose ones leapt at me. Others squatted, pissing and licking.

Gripping that Saturday’s skinny paper, Dad emerged from behind the green dumpster, his face wrinkled but shaven. I clung to the cardboard boxes I carried to prevent a hug.

His clothes had lingered in those boxes in Mom’s garage since the divorce. On the drive there that chilly morning, the stuck-on stench of a decade of exhaust and turpentine had forced my car’s windows open. But the noxious smells were lost in his alley.

He sat on one of the several rusty patio chairs arranged in the alley like the dumpster was leading a meeting. I told him that Mom finally sold the house. She was moving back to Birmingham.

“Al-a-ba-ma?” He tongued the syllables like they had a funny taste. “Figures. Nashville was never hick enough for her.”
He asked me about work and Janet. I was surprised he remembered her name.

“Everything’s okay,” I inched my weight onto the sturdiest chair. “She’s on another round of fertility. We’re still trying.”

“The trying’s the best part.” His red-gummed grin was a crooked reminder that, if we ever can conceive, my kids would be related to him.

At my feet two lean terriers humped both ends of a complacent black dog. I slid the boxes away from them. Harsh growling erupted behind the dumpster. Dad pulled himself up and separated the fighting dogs with a wooden pole.
Next to me, the humping accelerated. Asthmatic panting wheezed from the dog staring at me. I popped up from my chair, jealous of whatever it was every day from the past two years that convinced me not to come looking for him. “Dad,” I begged. “Come look through the boxes.”

One at a time he draped the items on the lip of the dumpster. Blazers, khakis, monogrammed dress shirts, wingtips, and a flashy silk tie I remembered borrowing for a school dance. Mom must have sent me there because she knew the clothes were so impractical for him.

He burrowed his nose into the soft wool of an expensive suit. I remembered as a kid hearing him joke that the best part of suing the pants off a Korean was that they’d be steam-pressed.

Bunched up in the second box was the baby blue jacket he bought when the Oilers relocated from Houston. He got two season tickets and we spent game day weekends in Memphis for the year they played there until Nashville finished their football stadium. I was only 14 but he let me drive the two of us all the way down there in his Jag.

After the first few trips, Dad would leave me in the hotel after dinner, encouraging me to go through the mini fridge and order movies. Hours later he’d call the room with raspy directions to an apartment building. He’d climb in the car reeking of JD and a slow cut through the perfume counters in Macy’s. Sunday morning we’d get pancakes and holler for the team that would be renamed the Tennessee Titans.

Behind the dumpster he tucked away the folded cardboard boxes and took off his black sweatshirt. The tattered layers had concealed his stump well. His skinny elbow prodded the air like a mangled question mark.

Mail Truck Hits Dog Man, the story whipped around the web, although most sites glossed over the gruesome details of his severed forearm. Blogs mentioned how his family refused to comment, as if we were somehow guilty. He received a large settlement and donated it all to an animal shelter.

“Come on,” he ordered me and the dogs, after snapping the red buttons on the shiny Oilers jacket. He hooked the leashes of three of the tamer dogs around the patchy scar of his stub.

“Forget about her,” he said when I pointed at a straggler, a scrawny lab with nipples that nearly scraped the pavement.

Before the Oilers’ second season Dad got me a cell phone, and he tried our Memphis routine at home. I still didn’t have a license, but I picked him up from a hotel bar downtown. He passed out before the first stop light.

I swerved his convertible into potholes to shake him alert so we could think of a story for Mom, but he instantly bobbed back asleep. Outside our house I shouldered his drunken heft, and we stumbled up the semi-circle driveway. My younger sister was in the foyer, cussing and yelling that she knew what was going on.

He swung at her with shocking precision. The punch split her lip and knocked her head into the banister. Dad collapsed on the stairs, re-defeated by booze.

“I know how to drive,” I kneeled and confessed to my bleeding sister. “I can sneak you to the hospital. No one has to know.”

But she scraped herself off the tiled floor and ran upstairs to Mom’s room, exposing everything.

The sneers equaled the waves as the people downtown watched our parade of dogs pass Polk’s tomb. Tugging him up the hill, the dogs yapped and fought and shat. When a squirrel darted from the base of a dying pine, the pack pulled him to the ground, dragging him across the cold grass.

With the city and the stadium circled around us, I helped Dad off the ground and handed him the leashes of the escaped dogs. I brushed the brown grass off his Oilers jacket, admiring the clean lines of the blue and red derrick.

His bruised cheeks twitched. The wind ballooned his jacket, narrowing his feeble legs.

“Dad,” I whispered, rattling my car keys like a treat. Janet had warned me to never bring him or the dogs into our house. But there would be time, I thought, to slip him in and let him have a fast, hot shower.

Monsters of the Sea

Rebecca Nison

Monsters of the Sea

What?

Adrian Miller

She called me. We spoke briefly, and I hung up on her. I decided to get out of my chair and leave the office. Thirsty, I loosened up my necktie and placed a washcloth soaked in lukewarm water over my forehead. I kept trying to balance it there, but it kept falling down as I walked with both and all of my feet. Birds barked loudly in the distance while the storm was subsiding. I grabbed my washcloth violently and bit hard down on it.

Transplanted from the office to the homestead, I found her there in the bathroom, hovering over a tub filled with biscuits and gravy. I saw the thirst in her eyes, so I threw my washcloth at her and ran out the backdoor.

In the backyard the cows were coming home to roost. There she was again, up to her usual antics. Hazy rays of sunshine sliced through the rosy colored clouds. She began to sob uncontrollably. I soothed her gigantic toe and gave her the Heimlich maneuver. This induced laughter and caused her to suffer a massive orgasm. With tears now in my own eyes, I quickly ordered Chinese food. Dynasty Delivery made great haste, and the dumplings soon came to the door.

After making love with the food, we knew what we had to do. There remained only one option on the table to purge our souls of the great mundane that existed between us. We needed to take a nap. We laid out cots along the floor of our tool shed, located precisely in the backyard of our dreams. She lit a candle and shut the blinds; I held on for dear life. Then we went to bed in our individual cots.

Banana Fundamentalists

Farid Nassif

Is it your fault because you don’t want to join them? With their crystal pendants and their coffee houses. The smell of vegetarian shit coming from the bathroom. Their organic soap that comes in gallons and their eyes like portals to the world of Mac computers from hours of stroking their cats (that somehow just won’t die) and staring through black-rimmed glasses at their Helvetica Palatino Garamond existence while sitting in the lotus position. Their carrot ginger soup and political correctness, always sparring over whose hybrid automobile is more environmentally sound. Wearing a patchwork of designs that hide every possible curve of their body like a smock. Supporting the poor children of the month by skipping that second cup of coffee. Their collection of Himalayan horns, perched by the hundred dollar kaleidoscopes, illuminated by the seventy-dollar aromatic candles. Their dreams of tilling a Japanese rock garden for all eternity. Oh and the books. Timeless Healing, The Buddhist Anthology, The Path to Nirvana, The Zen Plateau, The Enlightened Age, The Astrological Significance of You—all the literature to keep one on that blissful monorail of hope, love, and patience; centered and warm.

This is your audience while you stand center stage wearing a codpiece and doing that bit about the man with elephantitis of the genitals who goes into cardiac arrest—one of your charmers. The humility of what you’re telling is in itself funny and you know it. You’ve made it a practice to embody your character, understanding that there is purpose in profanity.

You know they don’t like you. You know you were eight the last time you had a rock collection—never mind crystal pendants—until your sister dumped them all into the ocean and said, “fetch.” You know you use bar soap, sometimes shampoo. Your only computer is at your day job (which you have until this comedy thing comes through) and this particular IBM model hates you for making it speak on high volume words like “prophylactic” and “enema” on the Merriam Webster Dictionary site for the blind as you watch the disturbed expressions on the faces of your co-workers. You love clam chowder and calling your roommate a fag. Your car takes diesel. You drink at least two cups of coffee a day and you hate children. You know your shit doesn’t smell like vegetables.

You begin to wonder if your tour bus had dropped you off in the wrong city. You fear that somehow during a rest stop you were left jettisoned at some elitist oasis for people with an affinity for expensive tie-dye, or some rehabilitation center for the comically disabled. They all wish the worst on you as they peer over their Chamomile, cursing you with thoughts of ants in your wheat germ or even evoking some new age voodoo spell where they prance nobly around the house carrying a mobile of driftwood, wearing a dream-catcher on their head and chanting to Enya.

Their babies will grow up to hate people like you. In fact one of the babies suckling on their mommy from afar paused to give you a very distasteful once-over.

You could always dismiss them as they do you. They just aren’t getting it. They’re just what you thought. Mother and daughter, father and son, in love with nature but afraid of a natural.

I Am I Be

Sarah Grieb

I Am I Be

Where Two Meet

Sunny Park-Johnson

Where Two Meet

Sobre los desastres

Salvador Olguín

Sobre los desastres

Súbitamente, todo se desploma:
las rocas, los espacios vacíos entre un ladrillo
y otro, las personas
Todo se derrumba
Todos caemos

On Disasters

Suddenly, everything collapses:
rocks, the empty spaces between one brick
and the other, people
Everything crumbles
We all fall down

Sobre los trenes

Salvador Olguín

Sobre los trenes

Se sacuden
y producen un sonido parecido al de las piedras
cuando chocan unas con las otras. Las personas que llevan dentro
también se sacuden, y tratan de evitar
mirarse unas a otras
a los ojos

On Trains

They shake
and make a sound that resembles that of rocks
crashing against each other. People inside them
also shake, as they try to avoid
looking at each other
in the eye

Somewhere to Be

Jason Ed Collins

John, my favorite Canuck, and I were sitting over our second round in the dark Herna bar near my flat, a stratus cloud of silvery-violet smoke hanging overhead, the four digital slot machines on the opposite wall unattended, only six people sitting underneath the neon lights at the bar, the same six when we’d walked in, MC Hammer dancing on the television screen over the door, “2 Legit 2 Quit” playing on the video-jukebox, steady bass pulsing through the legs of our chairs amongst the host of empty tables in the back of the room.

I reached up to rub my eyes, and John asked: “What’s wrong with you?”

I shook my head. “Just tired.”

“Lenka keep you up all night?”

“More bad dreams.”

“Oh.” John looked disappointed. He reached for his beer.

“But I did spend the day with her.”

“So what are you doing with me?”

“She’s getting married.”

Beer sprayed from his mouth. It soaked the table and dampened my lap.

“What!”

“That’s what I said. She’s getting married.”

“What are you talking about?” He wiped suds from his goatee. “She’s not wearing a ring.”

“I know. I asked the same question.” I cleared my throat. “She’s marrying some Norwegian bloke. He’s thirty-three. He doesn’t give a fuck if she wears a ring or not. He doesn’t care if she refuses to be branded. He just wants to marry her. She’s crazy. This guy’s way too old for her.”

John shook his head. “I don’t believe this.”

“Believe it, dude.”

“How old is she?”

“She’s newly nineteen.”

“And how old are you?” Cocking his head, squinting suspiciously: “She’s in high school, man. What are you? Twenty-four?”

“Funny asshole. I’m twenty-three.”

John reached for his chub, laughing.

“Fuck off,” I barked. “I’m not pursuing her.”

“Right, uhh huhh,” John said. “Is that what you tell your girlfriend?”

“Ohh, now he wants to hear about her.” I plucked my smokes from the table and leaned back. “For months he refuses to listen to me speak of her, but now he wants to bring her up. That’s convenient.”

“Well?”

“Where was this concern when you were telling me that people come, people go, that I should get over the past?” Butane filled my nose as I lit a cigarette and sucked down a piney drag. “You seemed little concerned when I told you that’s not how it works.”

“Well?”

“Well, you should have seen it, man.” I stared into his bulbous brown eyes and sighed. “I’m sitting there playing it cool, trying not to lie, but trying not to commit; and she keeps hammering away with questions.” Shaking my head, I sucked down another drag. “Should have known there was a reason she was playing the Grand Inquisitor.”

John laughed. “You of all people.”

I looked up to see the bartender approaching with two shot glasses in hand. Dropping the shots on our table, he tugged awkwardly at his tee shirt and stuck his thumbs in the pockets of his jeans. A mischievous grin played over his ruddy face.

“Dvě Becherovku pro Američanky.”

“What’d he say?” John asked.

I lifted my eyebrows. “How many months have you been here?”

“Quit fucking around. What’d he say?”

Laughing, I looked back and forth between them.
“Two Becherovkas for the Americans.”

“Hey now,” John piped up. “I’m Canadian. Get it?” He thumped his fingers on his chest. “I’m not American. I am from Ca-na-da.”

The barman pointed to a couple thirty-something blondes at the bar. They smiled. One waved with a roll of her fingers. The bartender said they wanted to party.

“Děkuju vam,” I said, raising the shot and giving them a nod. I threw it back, the smell of Christmas trees opening my sinuses. “Tell them we’re not interested.”

“What are you talking about?” John reached for his shot. “Who says we’re not interested?”

“You might be. But I’m not.” I puffed on my smoke. “Go have a good time. I’m not trying to get in the way.”

“You’re not helping any.”

“Tak.” The bartender looked back and forth between us.

I sighed.
“Tak, můj tlustý kanadský přítel by zde rád servítky s krásných dívek. Ale budete muset říct, nejsem k dispozici.” John looked on with interest as I continued stumbling over my words with the bartender. “Je velmi ráda party a má hodně peněz v kapse, a tak dámy měly přijít a připojit se k němu. Já, já, nebude moci zůstat. Musím být někde.”

“Tak, mluviš dobry Čeština.”

“Díky moc.” I smiled. “A můžu mít ještě dvě.”

The barman nodded and walked back across the room. Once behind the hardwood, he told the ladies what I’d said. They looked at us askance, giggling and covering their mouths, and turned back to their drinks.

“What’d you say?” John asked.

“Don’t say I’m not any help.”

“What’d you say?”

I took a final drag and snuffed out my cigarette.
“Told him you were down.”

“What else you say?”

“Nothing.”

“That’s it?”

I nodded.

“Seemed like you said more than that.”

I shrugged my shoulders. “Hey, man, I didn’t invent the language. You’ll have to bring that up with the ladies. I’m just dealing with seven cases.”

“Prosím.” The bartender set two fresh pilsners down. He yanked the towel from around his neck and wiped up the beer that John had spat all over the table.

“Diky,” I said, as he turned and walked away. Turning back to our conversation: “And I also took the liberty of ordering a couple more drinks. Thought we’d get you good and lubed up for the big party, eh?” John shook his head, laughing.
“Na zdraví.”

“Ahh, you know that one.”

We toasted and thumped our glasses on the table and lifted our beers. My throat tingled from the cold. Hearing Guns ‘N Roses howling on the video-jukebox, I looked up to see Axel Rose twisting and shaking on the screen. Slash and Duff in the background, Axel screaming through the bar:

Sweet child of my—eeeee—eye—eeee⎯ine. Sweet child of mmmiiinnnnnnneeeeee.

I felt the blonde’s eyes on me from across the room.

“When are they getting married?”

“This summer,” I said, turning my gaze from the ladies. “She’s off to Norway this weekend to be with the husband-to-be. ‘I know I’ll probably be with him forever,’ she says. ‘I’ll never find anyone that treats me better than he does. He would do anything for me.’”

“Sounds like a good reason.”

“Yeah, of course, it makes perfect sense to stay with someone for fear of not finding someone else. Fuck that! I told her she was crazy. ‘You’re nineteen years old!”’ I said. “‘What kind of a motive is that?’ And she goes on to make me feel like a dick. Turns out it’s not so nice growing up a half-breed⎯that’s what she calls herself, dude. She had to tell the kids in school her father was Korean because the Czechs hate the Chinese and Vietnamese so much. Her teachers used to stand up in front of class telling everyone how inferior mixed-race children are, taking no notice of her crying in her seat. Marriage to her is bullshit, bro. It’s nothing. It’s just a means to a maroon passport.”

“She wants to move away?”

“Yeah, for a while,” I said, snatching my pack and pulling out another smoke. “She plans on marrying this bloke this summer and staying with him in Norway for ten days. Then she’s coming back to Prague for the summer to study English.”

“That’s convenient.”

I lit my cigarette.
“What are you talking about?”

“Just that it’s convenient,” John said, offering a coy smirk. “That’s all. I’m just saying it’s convenient that you teach English and she’s coming back a short ten days after getting married to study for the summer. Do you not see what you’re getting yourself into?”

I shook my head.
“What are you getting at?”

“You know what I’m getting at.”

“She’s taking lessons at a language school.”

“Yeah, followed by private lessons with you every night.”

“Whatever,” I barked, blowing a stream of smoke over his words. “Anyway, then she’s going back to Norway in the fall to study psychology for three years. She wants to be an analyst. And by the time she takes her degree she’ll have learned Norwegian and she’ll have full citizenship. Then she can come back to Prague. ‘As a foreigner,’ she says, ‘saying fuck off to all the Czechs.’”

“This girl’s nuts.”

I reached for my beer, slogging down a gulp, and set it back down. “Look at this.”
John’s eyes followed the nod of my head.

“Ahoj, Američanky.” The girl who’d waved at me stepped up and ran her cold fingertips over the back of my neck. Her smiling friend followed and sidled up beside John. “Slyšeli jsme, že chcete strany. Tak pojďme na party.”

I dropped my cigarette into the ashtray.

“I am not American, okay?” John slapped his hand down on the table, our glasses chattering. The girls jumped in fright. “I heard American in there somewhere. I am Canadian. Ca-na-dian. Do you know what that means?” Laughing by now, he looked over at me and then back and forth between the ladies. “I swear, you hear somebody speaking English and you automatically think he’s one of these assholes who sews the Maple Leaf on his backpack and pretends he’s not running from daddy GW just so all you Europeans will be nice to him.” Brandishing his bag from the floor, he went on. “Do you see this? This is for real.”

The girls didn’t understand.
I shrugged my shoulders, smirking, and said that even Canadians like to party.

“Jo, a co vy?” my leggy blonde asked. She squeezed my neck and ran her fingers over my scalp; tugging on my hair, she yanked my head back and fell in my lap. With her arm slung around my neck, her firm buttocks shifted back and forth over my swelling cock. I latched onto her bony hips and picked her up.

“It’s been fun, dude, but I’ve got to split.” Rising from the table, I turned to the ladies. “Musím někde být.”

“Wait a minute,” John said, his brow furrowed. “Where you going?”

“I’ve gotta run. Don’t worry, you’re a big boy. You’ll be all right.”

I pulled my coat from my chair and plucked my smoke from the ashtray.

“Ahoj, kočky!”

I gave the bartender a nod on my way out, my cigarette hanging from my mouth, and looked up to see Axel Rose still prancing around on the screen; his jarring voice grew louder as I neared the video-jukebox.

Sweet child of my—eeeee—eye—eeee⎯ine. Sweet child of mmmyyiiiiinnnnnnneeeeee.

“Sweet dreams, Goldilocks,” John shouted behind me. “Hope the nightmares don’t keep you up for too long.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I murmured, walking under the glow of neon lights. I raised a blind middle finger over my shoulder and burst through the door, stepping into the eerie, dark night.

Survival of

Sarah Van Bonn

Survival of

Happy’s Landing

Jeni McFarland

Summer camp. I must have been fifteen. I was an LIT, a Leader in Training, meaning I was too old to be a camper any more, but I didn’t have enough of a life to do something else for the summer. Kids like me, they let parents still pay to send us to camp, but they had us do work helping out the counselors. On this occasion, we were taking a canoe trip. Our canoe trips were nothing to write home about. They consisted of paddling around the tiny little lake, to the tame harbor around the bend, which backed up into Happy’s Landing, a greasy spoon that made pretty edible milkshakes. The counselors would have called our orders in ahead of time, chocolate, strawberry, or vanilla, and the milkshakes would be waiting for us. We’d drink them on the grassy bank, play some games there, then paddle back. The whole thing took something like an hour. I remember milkshakes at Happy’s were ridiculously sweet, and this coming from the fat girl with the sweet tooth. They were so sweet, they gave me a sore throat, right in the back where the nasal passage meets up, it would sting from the sugar. But I would always forget this from year to year, and the following summer I would still order my strawberry milkshake with gusto.
This was during one of the sessions when the camp was harboring scholarship kids from the projects. Each session had a handful of kids who weren’t the nice rich kids from nice rich families. They were kids from broken down families, kids who, at the end of the week, had no money to buy tee shirts, because the scholarship only gave them a little bit of spending money at the camp store, and they’d have blown through it all on ice cream bars and Snapple. Which was pretty easy to do.
Actually, I probably had more in common with the scholarship kids than with the regular campers. I only attended camp because my mom worked there, running the office, keeping the books, and, later, after many failed attempts by other staff members, running the camp store to profit for the first time ever. These scholarship kids were black. I was black. Sort of. The scholarship kids were from the projects. I lived in the government subsidized apartment buildings in the booming metropolis of Constantine, Michigan—heavy sarcasm here; Constantine was a town that’s so small, it didn’t even have a fast food joint. It had a taco bell in one of the gas stations for a while, but the place went out of business. It had a grocery store when we moved there, but soon that was sold to a Dollar General. A lot of the townspeople bought their groceries at D&S, another one of the gas stations, not the one with the taco bell. The town had three gas stations and one stop light, but only because highway one-thirty-one ran down main street. It was huge news when, during my sophomore year in high school, the town got a second stop light. Truth be told, the town wasn’t even a town. It was so small, it was technically classified as a village.
This, of course, is where the similarities between me and the scholarship kids depart, because the scholarship kids were from inner city Chicago. In all likelihood, this trip to summer camp was probably their first time out of the city. I grew up surrounded by corn fields and pig farms. The scholarship kids didn’t sleep well at night. It was too dark, too quiet. The sounds of bugs and beasts in the forest were probably terrifying. They didn’t really want to go on the canoe trip; they didn’t know how to swim, and felt foolish wearing their life vests. They hated being surrounded by so many white kids all wearing their GAP clothing, their grunge band tee shirts, their life vests, paddling canoes, splashing each other with the paddles, and all the time singing, singing, singing those inane songs. They couldn’t wait for their sessions to be over, so they could go home. I cried at summer’s end, to be returning to Constantine.
Yet somehow, we’d been thrown together by fate, strapped into bright orange, mildewed vests that cinched so tight around our necks they gagged, and piled in a canoe together. And I was supposed to be in charge of the scholarship kids. I was an LIT, a position of privilege and authority. So when we’d paddled to the middle of the lake on a calm, balmy day, and the scholarship kids thought it was a good idea to counteract our shouted camp songs with chants of their own, chants of profanity and mischief, their voices carrying, no doubt, across the glassy lake to the shore where the little children were having their swim lessons, it was somehow, impossibly, my duty to shut them up. In a moment of desperation, I did what any good leader would do. I played to their fears.
I rocked the canoe.
“Did you see that?” I said.
The scholarship kids grew quiet at once.
“I think it was the lake monster,” I said.
They eyed each other.
“Nu-uh,” one of the scholarship kids, the oldest one, said.
“No. You’re probably right.”
I rocked the canoe a little more. I looked around, terrified.
“Do you know how to swim?” I said.
“No.” The oldest one again. “They made me take the test anyway. I was a minnow.”
“I know how to swim,” I said. “I’m a shark.”
One of my fellow LITs in a neighboring canoe pulled up beside me, clued in to the game.
“I think I saw a tentacle,” she said.
I widened my eyes as wide as they would go. The scholarship kids were better at this than me. Their whole faces became the whites of their eyes.
“Paddle,” I said.
We paddled. We paddled together. We paddled in silence, pouring all our energies into driving the canoe forward, toward the relative safety of the shallows, the harbor, to Happy’s Landing.
It wasn’t easy to coax them back into the canoe for the return trip. They wanted to phone their families from Happy’s. They wanted to go home. But we told them the phone was out of order. We told them that if we didn’t go back, we would have to sleep out in the woods tonight, after the owners closed up the diner. We told them whatever we had to, fighting to maintain straight faces in response to their horror. But we got them back in the canoe, eventually, their life vests cinched a little tighter, their paddles gripped in white knuckles, all of us paddling in unison, in search of one common goal: A peaceful docking on the sandy shores of the camp.

A Sliver of Year Seventeen

Sarah Van Bonn

It was after the turn of the millennium–when something was supposed to happen, but nothing had.

Too young for bars, and too suburbanly removed for walking, they spent most of the time at someone’s “place” (generally a run down house where older friends lived in semi-squalor and at least one over-21-year-old enabled the stock of booze to stay high), or in a car on the way to someone’s place, or—during the 2.5 months of decent weather—outside.

In the spring (which barely was one), best friend took Rosa to some new guy’s place. He was a friend of best friend’s boyfriend, and now he and best friend were “such good friends” Rosa “just had” to meet him. New guy made them tea and asked thoughtful questions and they went home before it got too late. He was undeniably fat but almost excusably so, more like “pudgy” and very tall, with stylish glasses and decent hipster style (this was before the word hipster was really THE word for that kind of person–they were sometimes called scenesters, or mostly just “indie” kids).

They all went up to someone’s absent parents’ Lake House for a weekend, drank too much and played barefoot soccer, skinny-dipped and hooted at the cold, and when he put his arms around her in “that” way, she didn’t run away.

He made her a mixed CD with a hand-painted blue-and-orange watercolor cover. It had Arab Strap on it and Cat Power and Jurassic 5 and Sam Cooke and the Last Nite single from before the Strokes got a video on MTV and blew up and everyone shook their heads all ruefully about it. She made a tape of it to play in her car and learned every word and was happy when someone else rode with her because it was a mediumly impressive compilation. He worked at a record store. He was 26. He thought she was a goddess and would stare all intently at her when she played guitar and sang. Given all of that, she figured it was probably okay to date him.

She watched him play basketball at the local outdoor court, relieved that he was actually good at it so she didn’t need be embarrassed. She waited on the warm black asphalt, observing silently, or picking tiny black stones from the palm pock-mark pattern she’d gotten from leaning back on her hands, or reading bits of Bartheleme’s 60 Stories, holding the book up to her face to smell the sunscreen that had saturated the pages on her trips to the Big Lake that summer. (She would sit on the beach next to record-store guy and make sure not to focus on his swimsuit body. She would read her Bartheleme—slowly, because she didn’t want the stories to end—trying to absorb it, or more accurately, trying to let it absorb her. She’d wade out into the freezing lake, open her eyes underwater, and imagine what it would be like to stay there.)

In the end, their relationship was brief and didn’t leave much of a mark on her. When they broke up, she pouted on his porch for a bit and he pushed past her to leave. Where are you going? she asked with maybe a hint more sniffle than the situation called for, given that she’d never even liked him all that much. To David’s place, he said. But David’s MY friend! she protested in genuine shock. You didn’t even know him until we met. He’s my good friend, and you just broke up with me! What if I wanted to go to David’s? But he went anyway and she lingered on the porch for a while before driving back to her parents’ house because there was no place else to go.

It wasn’t a bad breakup or a good breakup. Just a hashmark on a wall. A few but not many years later, she felt secure enough to express to a man she actually loved her puzzlement over why this was a trend: for men to kiss the ground she walked on so much that she’d let them in a little, though she wasn’t really smitten, only to watch through narrowed eyes as they’d then abruptly retreat, blaming some non-excuse that a person would only believe because it was better than the truth, which was unknowable anyway. Loved man waved it off, saying, “They were probably just after one thing and once they got it, they lost interest.” A sense of feminism and pride compelled her to object, but that remark sank its teeth in too, helping itself to her insides like a parasite.

The sounds of the basketball court that day echoed like they’d traveled a very long road from somewhere far away to get there. She felt the air change, grow heavy. Was it thunder in the distance, or something else, some unidentified darkness hidden just out of sight over the horizon?

Nevermind

Jane Fleming

Nevermind