Lost & Found

Tin Cans

Kate Boyd

Gran died at the age of 67, when I was 18 years old. I don’t recall any of my four aunts crying at the funeral. “She was old,” said one. “She was sick,” said another. The funeral was terrible, and I bawled all through the service—my ribs aching from having a sharp-elbowed aunt on either side, each alternately digging as I snuffled into one of Gramps’ handkerchiefs. Gran had always been one of my staunch supporters, writing to me almost every week during the three years I spent in the mental hospital, even though I almost never wrote back. Gran sewed me costumes for plays and Halloween. Each summer, I’d draw her a picture of what I wanted, and the next week when I’d visit she’d have the fabric picked out. She’d deftly swoop the fabric around me, pinning here and there, her hands swollen and purple from Rheumatoid Arthritis. I used to call her “Bionic Gran” as she had so many artificial joints. Gran wrote me letters about her childhood, memory carried around for 50 years and given to nobody else. I’m happy that she had someone to share those awful secrets with; ten years with my own was almost too much to bear.

The last time I saw Gran alive was at her home in Pontiac. Aunts, uncles, and a few family friends drifted around the house in quiet chaos. I walked into the back room where Gran was installed. She was propped up in a hospital bed, in what used to be her sewing room. The translucent skin on Gran ‘s face showed a fine tracery of blue veins. She was piled with cotton blankets, her frail shoulders, clad in a pink dressing gown, hitched up and down with each labored breath. I sat down next to the bed, and gently brushed a few gray strands of hair off of her face.

Gran’s eyes opened and they were a wild electric blue—her pupils fine as a brushpoint. “Ah, honey—can you bring the horses around the front of the house? There’s a girl . . .” One of my aunts bustled into the room, “She’s high on Morphine. We’re trying to keep her comfortable.”

Gran’s eyes locked on mine—and in a thin voice that gradually gained in power said, “Oh honey, I don’t want you to see this wreck, this mess of a body, I was so athletic! I also want you to know, I talked to God last night and he promised he’d let your Mother live another five years.”

My mom, Gran’s oldest daughter, had been suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease for the past three years. She was in the living room in her wheel chair, unable to get through the narrow doorway into Gran’s room.

One of the other aunts came in with a bowl of red Jello—she dripped medicine on top from out of a bottle and spooned it into Gran’s mouth. Then, I was half-lifted by the arm and propelled out of the room. The arm’s owner was complaining how “Oh, she’s talking that bullshit nonsense again . . . it’s the drugs!” I quickly glanced back over my shoulder. Gran’s eyes were half-closed, her mouth a smear of leaking red.

Gran died early the next morning.

After Gran died, the Aunts swooped into the house. Within the first two weeks after the funeral, every single thing of Gran’s was sorted, compiled, weighed, or given away. A month after that, I received a typed note in the mail, along with a hinged silver bracelet. “Dear Katie, we had this leftover, and figured you’d like this bracelet—it was Grandma’s.” I don’t recall ever having seen Gran wear it. I’d only ever seen her wear gold as she was allergic to most metal.

The next time I was at what was now known as “Gramps’ house”, I wandered into Gran’s old sewing room. The bed was gone, in it’s place a modern desk and computer—Gramps was apparently getting dragged into the computer age by the relatives.

On the right side of the room was the mirrored door of the small walk-in closet, where Gran used to store her folded fabric scraps, buttons, and winter coats not in use.

I opened the door to the smell of old fur—a dry, sad, dusty smell. The closet was bare except for a few cedar blocks hanging on strings, and a grocery bag. I bent over and picked up the bag; it was surprisingly heavy.

I carried the bag out into the living room, where Gramps and a few aunts and uncles were drinking coffee and watching baseball on Gramps’ new TV. I sat down on an ottoman and rummaged around in the bag. It was full of can openers.

One of my aunts noticed what I was doing and said, “Oh yes! I found those—sad isn’t it? Mom was really slipping at the end there . . . you know, it’s common for some old people to hoard things when they get senile.”

I sat around the living room for the next hour; then there was a frenetic 30 minutes while the aunts scrambled about, making sure nothing was left behind, yelling at uncles, and eventually making their way out to their BMWs, SUVs, and down the street in a fading cacophony.

I was left sitting alone with Gramps in the living room; it would be another hour until Dad came to pick me up.

After a while Gramps said, “Remember how your Gran used to volunteer at the Lighthouse?” I nodded; the Lighthouse was a homeless charity where Gran had volunteered for over 30 years—I knew it. “Well, a few months ago, as she was leaving, she mentioned she’d seen a homeless man sitting on the curb with a bag of those groceries they give away . . . he was trying to open a can with his teeth.”

Gramps gruffly rose. “How about some ice cream? I’ve got Butter Pecan . . . or Pralines ’n’ Cream?” I nodded, grateful, through a film of tears as he moved into the kitchen. Thought the purposeful banging of the freezer door, and clatter of silverware—a thin keening, like a lone firework going off, far and away.

Ancestor

Timothy Leland Shores

Ancestor

Reduce Reuse Recycle

Veronica Robinson

Reduce Reuse Recycle

Alchemy, Heresy, and Panel Transition

William Prince

A comic book writer discusses faith and stories

A few months ago, a friend graciously invited me to attend an Easter service at the church of her preference. It was an olive branch—an offering of communion to someone she knew to be wildly secular and thus wildly alone during the long weekend. I balked a bit, reminding her via gentle caveat that I am a devout atheist; I believe in Darwinian evolution, graded ramps of progress, and, through a scientific consciousness-raising predicated on those two notions, the profound absence of a guiding hand in the way the world operates. But I ultimately assented, happy to be thought of, and fully aware that I’d likely disagree with every word of the sermon.

The church was a modest affair, a borrowed space utilized by a number of local Presbyterian groups seemingly without alms to fund a proper home. The congregation was, for lack of a better word, scruffy—an amalgam of Brooklynites boasting tattoos, consignment clothes, and interesting hair. I suppose I was an alien two-fold. But, all told, they seemed a tender bunch, buoyed by their faith and enthusiastic about their communal gathering in celebration of their death-defying Messiah. (I insist that this is in no way meant to be interpreted in the pejorative-sarcastic sense, as I think will be more clearly indicated a little later).

The sermon held all the typical trappings of Easter storytelling: the crucifixion, the despair, the empty grave, the zombie. It was, more or less, much like many other Easter sermons I have heard or read through research and a variety of other gentile invitations I’ve accepted over the course of my life.

There was, however, one poignant moment, the denouement and overall message of the sermon, that made my ears perk, thrusting me forward in my seat, probably drawing the attention of both my host and the other members of my pew. The sermonizer was calm, with a sort of mawkish soprano voice that seemed to belie his station in the hierarchy. Though not verbatim, it went something like this: All you need to do is recognize the inexorable and unequivocal truth of the resurrection, and you will be lead to take Jesus into your heart. There is no denying that this man, once dead, rose from the grave. And since no one can deny that happening, because it most definitely happened, everyone, whether they know it or not, has taken the first step towards salvation.

This was, disregarding its fallaciousness and oversimplified conceit, something I thought to be absolutely brilliant. He was saying, on a certain level, all you have to do be saved is understand that this fiction is a reality. If you take a story, something not so concretely engraved into historical annals, and understand its binary value as true, then you are on the righteous path. Moreover, everyone understands that this story most certainly is true, and thus we’re all “getting there,” in our own way. It was magical to watch/hear—he seemed to be performing some sort of alchemy or reverse sublimation, transforming the gaseous matter of an a priori occurrence into a solid, densely moleculed version of the truth. Science, as it were.

I’m an atheist, as stated. But even more heretical and loathsome is my identity as a comic book writer. I currently pen a book called Judah, a fantastical/mythological romp positing that Judas and the twelve apostles were cursed with immortality for failing to save the son of God. They have thus roamed the Earth, essentially becoming a cadre of weirdos, for centuries ad infinitum. Considering my scientific predisposition, and well-known lack of rearing in the ways of biblical lore, writing this book requires an exhaustive amount of research on my behalf. I’ve read the Bible, countless versions of such; I’ve studied the Gnostic gospels, the Acrostic gospels, the George Carlin gospels; I’ve read innumerable fictions regarding the position of Christ (and those possibly better suited for the job) as Messiah. I am, for all intents and purposes, knee deep in scripture, constantly learning new things, new merits, new plot holes, new pratfalls, and new stories of the most sacred text on the planet. And though he might disagree, I believe I do the same thing that diminutive sermonizer suggests: I alchemize a fiction.

Now, I’m not indicating that there is any historical truth to the tale of an immortal apostle grueling his way through demon transvestites and rapacious gnome-librarians, all towards the mission of dispatching himself. (At least, no more truth than that of man rising from the dead and ascending). It’s a fantasy story after all; I’m creating a world. But I think there’s something to be said about the alchemy of fictions; the rendering of a fantasy, either in rhetoric or pen-and-ink, as something veracious—a living, breathing, happening thing.

That was sort of the idea with Judah. What if we took all that magical stuff as the truth? What if it just happened? Well, if it did, wouldn’t it occur in the same sort of world where naughty British children stumble through a wardrobe into a magical realm, or at the very least, share some sort of fictive real estate with monsters and mutants? Simply put, if one magical thing must be real, then shouldn’t all magical things?

I’m reminded of two Borges quotes (who, by no coincidence, greatly inspired Judah with his fictional meta-essay “The Three Versions of Judas.”). The first states, “What good is a story if it isn’t true?” The second, diametrically perhaps, “Reality is not always probable, or likely.”

Both quotes, in the labyrinthine dialectic perfected by the Argentinean goliath, seem to speak to the well-flogged notion of the confluence of actual and fictive worlds; we are, for better or worse, exiled to the borderlands between the two nation states, living in a very real, but ultimately very surreal playground of joy, rapture, horror, and the absurd.

I sat in awe of the sermon’s coda, not converted by any means, but awakened to the harrowing congruencies between faith (or belief) and disbelief (or, maybe more precisely, an acknowledgment and full-fledged enjoyment of fictional worlds—which, of course, relies heavily on a judicious suspension of one’s disbelief). So that’s all it is, I thought. Some reality chemistry—two drops of liquid skepticism, four parts fantasy, seven sprigs of selective dismissal, and a mortar and pestle mashing the bits together; cold hard science resulting in a mythological world taken as the Real McCoy, if only for a moment.

I may not be a Christian, but on these grounds, I most certainly am a McCarthian, a Borgesian, and a Chabonian. I expressed these feeling to my friend who responded, rather aptly, “I believe that Jesus speaks to us through narrative.”

And as a raspy Faulkner character calls to me from the pages of a book, as Lester Ballard scares me from the murky black waters of Child of God, as Denis Johnson taps out Morse code through the dot-dashes of waifs, mendicants, and fiends, I find myself buoyed by my own faith, just like the congregation. A man of science, a man of fantasy. A man who renders biblical characters as gluttons, pimps, and honorable chaps. A man whose fictions must be real, because it’s the only path to salvation he knows.

My point is that whether in a comic, a sacred text, or a tidy State of the Union address, we are forever creating our own realities. We forge fictions, bring the two-dimensional into stunning 4-D corporeality. Our minds are great Think Machines, capable of taking the most far-fetched of cartoony inanities and transforming them, irrevocably, into something we can believe in or rely on. I am not a man of God, this much is true. But I am a man of stories—a willing lab assistant in the great scientific experiment that is storytelling, fashioning a world of escapism and intrigue in direct opposition to the a posteriori. Though it never happened, I imagined pulling the man standing before the congregation aside, and telling him that he was doing a good job. “You’re getting there,” I told him. “You just need to add some more lasers and dragons to get me on board.”

Read pages from Judah and find out more about the author at judahnowandforever.blogspot.com

Too Late

Drew Falconeer

Found it. He was driving home, a hard day at work. Pushing the car fast on an empty highway, speeding through trees and houses quiet as if no one ever lived there. Cobwebs gleamed at the corners of his imagination. Tired, dazed by the gray of the road, the green of the fields, the white and the red of the signs, a long forgotten scent hit him right in the face and combed his memory backwards in the shape of a girl, and a book. A closet he removed from existance opened, flooded his vision, blurred his awareness. Dozens of expired love letters randomly piling up with the vehemence of a hundred falling houses of cards. Hazy days consumed by spying on each other through the pages of a textbook, dropping a pen for an excuse to sneak in just one more accomplished smile. Chilly nights spent camping with a patched up backpack, hungry for a future made of uncertainty. Holding hands, making love in the lake and laughing as if there were no water that could drown them. Holding hands, crying for a breakup that only made sense for a day, and then was already too late.

He got home, spotted the house through a line of identical ones perfectly placed side by side, lined the car with the clean, organized pathway to the garage. He rushed inside, forgetting the neat briefcase on the passenger seat, forgetting to scrub his shoes on the doormat, straight to the storage room. One box said “dad,” another one said “summer,” and a large, sturdier one said “parts.” He moved them away and finally reached for the one that said “books.” Opened it, coughed his way through the dust, grabbed the blue, lean one with a foreign author’s name on the side. Turned a few pages, and there it was. A discoloured, yellowed photo. In it, he was yelling something, rage in his eyes and in his long unkempt beard. His left hand was raised in a fist, while his right was gently holding a girl with curly and long black hair. The girl was holding a sign with bold, firm words on it while sitting on a fence made of people and sneering at a line of expressionless guys wearing uniforms and helmets. Her left hand, though, was locked on his wrist, barely noticeable due to the bad aging of the picture. He stared at that for what he thought was twenty years. But was instead just one minute.

From the hallway echoed a woman’s voice: “Honey? Are you back? Where are you? The kids are waiting for you to drive them to the mall like you promised. Are you there?”

“Yes,” he heard himself replying without thinking. “Sure honey. Yeah, I remember. I’m coming.” He put the photo back in, closed the book. He lost it again.

Sock

Annie Quick

Sock

The Last Piece

Karla Sutton

I found another piece today. On the sidewalk.  It’s iridescent, like the inside of a seashell.  Perhaps, the most beautiful piece so far. I stuck it in my pocket but then kept rolling it around between my fingers until I got home where I placed it in the jar with the others. It’s small in comparison, the size of toothpick, a shard, but it’s true. It is the best piece.

Daunting task: to choose form, design, color scheme, to start from the beginning. To fasten them back together.  There are thousands of them, a horde of shapes and hues inside the big, glass jar, reminding me of my brother’s old marble collection.

These are the little pieces of me that I’ve found on sidewalks and rooftops, under pillows, next to piles of books left on the stoops of brownstones, behind the reflections in shop windows and neon signs, in emptied dryers beneath the last warm sock, beside coffee mugs, and between couch cushions.

It was so easy to lose them.

But finding them has taken years.

And piecing them together without imposed direction—it’s enough to make me stare at the looming jar indefinitely, years streaming by in the foreground.

I shake the jar, let the pieces clink against the glass, jangle down into place against one another.  Today is as good a day as any to spread them out on the floor and make myself up from scratch.

Spied

Emily Liu

Spied

Lost & Found

Ian Demsky

Police were dispatched to a report of a missing person.
The missing person was S.S., DOB 07/17/92.

The defendant claimed that he had bumped into S.S. at the mall
and that they had walked around and then sat down in the food court.

He was unwilling to tell the police what he and S.S. talked about.
The defendant claimed that he returned home and did not know
where S.S. went or how she was getting home.
He denied any dating relationship with her.

When asked about the telephone call earlier, he acknowledged
that he had spoken with her for about an hour.
He had informed her that he would be at the mall but claimed
they did not have plans to meet.

The defendant was unwilling to offer information
unless asked direct specific questions. He kept repeating
that he did not know where S.S. was.
He denied knowing anything about her disability.

S.S was recently informed by her school
that she will never be able to live independently
or function on her own. S.S. told her father
she wanted to prove she is capable of being independent.

Police contacted mall security and located video footage
of the defendant and S.S. holding hands.
S.S. was found the next morning at a transit bus station in Parkland.

When S.S. was interviewed by police, she indicated
she met the defendant four weeks prior on the bus
and had given him her phone number.

S.S. related that the defendant called her
the day after they met and asked her to be his girlfriend.
When they discussed the fact that he was 20 and she was 15,
he said he didn’t care, she looked 17.

The next week they met at the Tacoma Mall Transit Center and walked to his house.
While in his room, he put his finger in her vagina. (Count I)

Then they went out in the hallway. He asked her to perform oral sex on him.
He was standing up and she was on her knees. (Count II)

She told him she did not want to do it anymore and they returned to his bed.
They both had their pants off.
He was trying to put his “dick” in her vagina. (Count III)

He was unable to do so, and he had her flip over
onto her stomach and attempted intercourse from behind her.
This attempt also failed. (Count IV)

She claimed that the last time she saw him was at the mall.
He told her he was going home for five minutes
to get money to turn on his cell phone.

She waited about two hours for him to return, eventually going to a friend’s house.
She went to sleep and then went to catch a bus. She was found
by her aunt’s boyfriend at the Parkland Transit Center.

———

XIX

Savannah Born

XIX

Food and Other Expenses

Chris Smith

The weekend I walked into a crime scene I also discovered I was a failure at laughter yoga. Friday, two hours before five o’clock, we were required to attend a mandatory professional development meeting for all employees.

We piled into the meeting room, which had been emptied except for one skinny, plastic tree in the corner.

We were asked to sit on the floor cross-legged in a circle. Facing us was a man who wore black biking shorts, a pair of green Birkenstocks, and a loose, stained tank top. Every time someone entered the room he greeted them with a long, stretched cackle, his dark eyes wide, his mouth a rictus. My boss stood next to the door nodding her head in approval.

I sat between two people I had never met before in front of the window overlooking the office-building courtyard. I noticed other professionals walking by, glancing casually, then staring with horrified expressions when their eyes landed on the laughing man.

Once everyone had filled the meeting room, my boss shut the door and leaned against it. She had her arms folded over her chest, her peacock-shaped hair moving with every shake of her head. For a few minutes the laughing man just cackled while people looked around the room for answers. Finally, he stopped laughing, which was followed with the deepest silence I’ve heard—deeper than when I walked out of Alien Resurrection on opening night. My boss stepped away from the door and began clapping. All heads in the room immediately turned and looked up at her, faces drained and hungry for some explanation.

“Everyone,” she began. “Everyone, this is . . . Ya- uh, Ya-”

“Yan Sut Sut Oon Yut.” The laughing man stretched his smile wider and panned his head around the room.

More silence followed by a shakily whispered “Jesus” behind me. Everyone leaned forward, their faces longer and some seeming to look for other potential exits.

“Yes,” sang my boss. “Everyone, I want you to pay attention because this man is here to bring us a side of life we may never have had before.”

She stood quietly for a moment, looked at the laughing man, and seemed to expect direction from him as to what to do next, then continued talking, her attention on the windows behind us.

“I know you have been very stressed lately as the month is closing,” she swept her arm through the space above our heads. “Yan Sut Sut, uh, he’s here to introduce to us a new phenomenon. Laughter yoga.”

Some gentle sighs of relief followed this. Others chuckled and sat up straighter. Faces appeared with renewed expressions of excitement. I felt clenched between two different thighs on either side of me, both stretching poly-blend cotton to unimaginable extremes. Yan Sut Sut Oon Yut seemed to notice my discomfort and stared into me, his eyes like two lidless white eggs trying to produce light. I felt a sharp need to cry, which passed as soon as it hit, but he would not look away. He had locked onto me, his mouth opening to allow subtle chuckles. I wanted to ask why he was doing this to me, but my boss was building into a shapely crescendo about the benefits of laughter and our decomposing team morale. The thighs on either side of me felt hot. The air had grown dense with the warmth of our bodies, our collective colognes and perfumes, latent after-lunch farts that trickled out unheard.

“Bring us to peace, Yahoonie,” said my boss with a strategically reverential tone, her arm sweeping back in the direction of the laughing man. He didn’t show any offense at her having called him by the wrong name. He jumped up from the floor, bounced on one foot, balanced himself, and bowed. He belched out a giant laugh, put his hands together like a sideways book, and shouted at us to stand and to look at our bills, to look at our debts, to look at our obligations in our hands. He shook his palms at us indicating we should do the same as he. I put my hands into this shape, watching as others hesitantly did the same. The laughing man moved around the room, moved through us, laughing directly into our faces while glancing at the space in his hands that was supposed to signify bills and obligations.

“Walk, my friends,” he shouted. “Move with each other, laugh at the bills and debts in your hands, show how fearless you are in the face of your suffering.

“The only rule: You cannot stop laughing.”

Everyone began to shuffle in a congested circle. Forced chuckles spilled out of some, others genuinely shook with laughter. Many breathed heavily, gasping air between exhausted laughs. I watched as people faced others they hated and gossiped about and churned out laughter while showing them the empty space between their hands. Sometimes the laughter was so hard and choppy faces turned red, veins pulsing in the center of foreheads. Yan Sut Sut Oon Yut gestured with his hands as if he were orchestrating a group of children with anger management issues.

He simply smiled, beatifically, his head nodding in approval. After we finished the exercise we were asked to repeat it again and again, only each time it was a different mode of suffering: constipation, ex-wives, ex-husbands, dead relatives.

“Laugh,” he said. “Laugh. Give birth to your laughter.”

He told us to let go of everything unfinished in our lives. Yan Sut Sut Oon Yut reminded us that if it wasn’t solved now, it would always remain so; that the trick was to accept its natural condition as unsolved, unfinished.

When my boss concluded the professional development meeting, everyone quietly departed the room. Clean air pushed in from the hallway outside the open door depleting the humid stench of baby powder and AXE body spray. Everyone sighed, already settling back into their former selves, the people they were before Yan Sut Sut Oon Yut forced them to be someone else.

I was one of the last to leave the room. The laughing man stepped into my path, his smile gone. In its place was a simple flat line.

“You never laughed once,” he said.

I stood speechless.

“You are a failure—”

“Excuse me?”

“The only failure at laughter yoga I have ever met in my long, long life.”

A sound issued from my mouth that attempted to become a response, but I could only stare at his stoic face. He burst into laughter once more before moving out of my path. Silent, I walked down the hallway to my cubicle. I fell into my chair. My body felt empty and brittle. Yan Sut Sut Oon Yut had called me a failure. His confidence in my failure at laughter yoga struck deeper cords, places I had forgotten existed. It drifted through me like a bullet on Xanex, slow and hard.

Houdini’s Ghost

Sarah Van Bonn

The water underneath, dark and deep, secrets buried under rocks, hors du temps, current carving patterns in the face of the earth. It goes by, always.

We were walking over the bridge, and you held it in your hands.

You opened them up and it flew away. Like a helium balloon. Like a bird, I imagined. No longer tied to us, its flight unpredictable, and in a way free.

I tried to look up into your face, but the sun was too bright; tried to follow its flight path with my eyes, but instead saw the blinding blue, washing over me, swallowing me. Caught maybe a silhouette.

We were its keepers. Its liberty and its cage.

———

I searched everywhere but never found a trace, and one day, down a dark back alley somewhere, I turned—from peeking under boards and bricks and wood and lids and doors and pavement—to look beside me, and noticed you were gone.

———

There is a picture of your faced etched onto a wall somewhere. When I see it, I think maybe that is where you disappeared to. I still sing. To it, to you.

It could be that your hands weren’t sheltering, but concealing. An empty space, the ghost of our lost love.

Finding Oneonta

Kevin Dugan

We passed the third intersection without street signs before Evan and I decided to stop and check the map. We were somewhere outside Oneonta, on gravel roads since the others were flooded, and the moon was yellow. He spread the map on the hood and we speared it with two-pound flashlights.

“What kind of flashlights?”

“LED,” he said. “I found them in Virginia.”

He mapped out routes. I noticed a bend in an adjacent road and explored it to get a sense of the terrain. The foliage collapsed into the road and rustled like summer locusts. In the night, everything looked sick with crepuscule or diodes, like the color had been drained out and replaced with fright.

Walking back, the moon hung over the illumined hood. It looked hot and flat and white as a cataract, quaking numbly in the stygian hum.

I told him about the bend and we looked at the lines on the paper. We negotiated roads with the map, and retraced the routes in the air with the butts of our pens, both of us. I looked at the vacuous streets but was really parsing my memory for the few ghosts I knew off the grid.

We made all kinds of turns and ended up home. Along the way we found new ways to tell old jokes and would pause to listen to the upstate radio. None of the roads looked like the whisps in my memory, but Oneonta was a nice town whose gas stations I can still recall.