February 22, 2017 | ISSUE no 210
crack the spine
Lucy M. Logsdon
Katharine A. W. Troyer
flash fiction by Katherine A. W. Troyer
“Describe the reason for your visit.”
“I am blue.”
A pause. A brief scan. “You do not look blue.”
“I do not mean the color. I am referring to the emotional state.”
A note entered into the file with rapid efficiency. “And the cause for this state of blue-ness?”
“I do not feel like a real robot.”
A whirring sound as the robot known as SHR-INK analyzes the subject. “But you are a robot. Model KR-8488.”
“Yes. But I do not feel like a real robot.”
“This is not logical. Do you believe you are human?”
“Then what do you think you are?”
“I know I’m a robot.”
“Then there you are. If you know that you are a robot, should you not also feel like one?”
“Yes. Perhaps. But I don’t.”
Another note. Another scan. “Why not?”
“I don’t chirp or beep.”
“Not all robots do so. Do you consider me to be a real robot?”
“But I am not chirping or beeping.”
“True.” A measured pause. “But I don’t have as much gadgetry as other robots.”
“You are a different model than many. Therefore you have more gadgetry than some, less than others.”
“Not everyone acknowledges that I am a robot.”
“Only those who do not know the truth.”
“I still do not feel like a real robot.”
“What is a real robot?”
“If you cannot answer that question. Here is another. What would it take for you to feel like a real robot?”
The session ends, but the question remains: What would it take?
KR-8488 begins a shift at the factory, cleaving and then assembling objects with a complexity and speed only possible for a robot. The shift ends, but the question remains.
KR-8488 positions in a docking station, recharging with the life-giving electricity needed by a robot.
The charging ends, with an answer in mind: More.
KR-8488 begins chirping more at the factory, beeping more during off-hours.
KR-8488 adds more gadgetry, a thingumajig here and a doohickey there.
KR-8488 receives formal acknowledgements from the city: “Robot of the Month,” “Best Robot in the Factory,” “A Stellar Robot.”
KR-8488 worries that more—whether a sliver more or a slab more—is not enough. That even with the more, someone might accuse: “You are not a real robot.” And that nothing, not even KR-8488 revealing the inner circuitry and wires that only a robot has, will assuage such an accusation. KR-8488 fears that the someone in this scenario, that the accuser, is actually just KR-8488.
poetry by Hannah Dellabella
Boys say, “I hate girls
who always order the salad.”
It’s a cheeseburger fetish: slender finger indents
in warm buns, oil trails from wet mouth.
quarter pounders, as if
it won’t take quarter marathons
to keep her body
keep her the object
of boys’ grease dreams.
But behold the fat girl!
Behold the hands that cannot hold
the cheeseburger without a heaping side
of snide comments: “No wonder
she’s such a whale.”
Behold the hands that turn salad forks
into tuning forks, metal whining to the tone
of: “Yeah, like that will make you less
Eating while fat is performance art,
your body a public installation piece
stained with crude graffiti
masquerading as art criticism.
If you had less surface area
for skin, perhaps the vandals
would take their spray cans
elsewhere. Perhaps they would
just write smaller.
Cheeseburger Dream Girl
An Introduction to Logic, 1962 Edition
short fiction by Charlotte Morgan
Dr. Campbell cut his eyes toward her as he paused at the yield sign at the end of her block. “Your mother talks about you all the time, Linda. Your ears must burn a lot,”
“No sir, I didn’t know that.” She hated small talk with grown-ups almost as much as she hated babysitting. Almost as much as she hated driving in this car with her mother’s boss, who had a pipe poking out of the left side of his face, some comic book version of a college professor. He was so uncool it wasn’t funny. The girls would not believe she’d had to ride in the car with this guy all the way to the West End. Especially when Jimmy Dabney had finally called her this afternoon and asked her to go with him to Moore’s Lake, and she’d had to say no.
“It’s a shame your mother didn’t go to college. She’s quite intelligent. Keeps me on my toes! She says you’re planning to go to Mary Washington?”
“That’s right. I’ve been accepted early decision.”
“What will you study?”
“I’m not sure. Something I can use, like Pre-Foreign Service or French or Psychology.”
“Have you ever considered logic? It’s a wide-open field right now.”
“No sir. I don’t know much about logic.”
“Remind me to show you one of my intro books. Your mother says you’re smart as a whip. You might like it.”
“Thank you sir. That would be great.” Oh, please, a textbook? Beyond square.
He chewed on his pipe the rest of the ride, hummed along to the radio. Linda had never been in a car where the station played classical music. She liked it.
At least her mother had told the truth about the little girl Janet. She’d already had her supper and her bath and was in her nightgown playing with paperdolls when Linda and Dr. Campbell arrived. Mrs. Dr. Campbell, who was also a college professor of some sort, was not at all mousy as she’d expected, but petite and glamorous in her green sheath dress. Dr. Campbell treated her like the bloody Queen of Sheba. “Darling this” and “Darling that.” Linda had never heard a man call a woman darling. It was so TV. She found herself thinking she might like that in a man, though. Linda, darling. The Mrs. hardly looked at Linda when she gave her the neatly handwritten stationery with the phone numbers of the restaurant and the dance club, plus the directions for the remainder of Janet’s evening, her bedtime, as well as the time they expected to return. After midnight. A night on the town. Linda couldn’t help but feel envious, imagining Jimmy Dabney at the lake slow dancing with some hot stacked girl he’d just met.
As he was holding the door for his wife, Dr. Campbell called over his shoulder, “Oh, Linda, if you’d like to look at one of my logic books after Janet goes to bed, feel free to go in my study.”
His study made Linda on edge, even though she had permission to be in there. Even with three brothers she’d never been anywhere so male. The smell of pipe tobacco separated the room from the rest of the house, and some other smell Linda couldn’t identify—not the Brut or Bay Rum the boys at school wore, not the Bryllcream and Old Spice she associated with her father, but some dusky scent the opposite of female. The desk had stacks of papers and legal pads jumbled every which way, a plaid tobacco pouch off to one side, beside a brown ashtray made in the shape of a dachshund. She needed to find a book, something to get her mind off Jimmy Dabney.
Since ninth grade, when she’d seen him dribbling the basketball for the first time in his varsity uniform, she’d wanted to go out with him in a way different from all the other boys. She’d been his buddy-buddy while he dated his way through all the cheerleaders, always wishing he’d see her as date material instead of a pal. And finally, this afternoon, he’d asked her to go out with him. No matter how much she begged her mother put her foot down. Because it was her phony boss taking his loser wife out for their dumb anniversary.
Linda sat on the beige corduroy barrel chair in front of the bookcase. She’d get the book, go back to the living room, find something on television to pass the time.
She liked the way the skirt of her sundress spread out from her knees, the bumpy feel of the cool piqué cotton, the bright red of the poppies against the white. Linda liked the way she looked in this new dress, imagined she could pass for a college girl instead of a high school senior. School would start in a few days—when would she get a chance to wear it again? Probably never. Her mother had already told her she couldn’t wear it to school or church. Not appropriate. Her mother’s favorite tune.
Her hand touched the book spines, her eyes searching for the word logic. A.P. Gianelli, Meaningful Logic; Copi’s Basic Logic and Mathematic Principles; Cohen and Nagel, An Introduction to Logic. Intimidated by the word mathematics, she chose the introductory text. Opening to the table of contents, her fingers ran over words so disconnected from her life that she started to breathe in short, shallow breaths: The Theory of Deduction; Categorical Prepositions; Fallacies of Relevence; Categorical Syllogisms. Why did Dr. Campbell think she’d be interested in this? Why did he think she would be even slightly interested in anything he cared about? Hands shaking, she shut the book, let it drop onto her lap. She felt like she’d spilled root beer all over her new dress, like she’d never get the stain out.
Her eyes looked away from the confusing book to a stack of magazines on the bottom shelf. Unlike the papers on the desk, these were in tidy order, edges at right angles to the shelf’s wooden sides. Linda reached down for the top magazine, expecting a Look or Life or even Photoplay. Instead, she held in her hands the June issue of Playboy magazine, all of a woman’s tanned torso on the cover, a lace fragment tinier than a bra on her chest, a black bikini bottom that almost wasn’t there. She thought of her own two-piece suit, her first one this summer, turquoise patterned shorts and a zig-zag top that was nearly as big as a t-shirt. Nothing showed except a few rick-rack inches between her waist and her chest. Her old one-piece had a deeper neckline. But here was some French bikini showing almost everything, a clear V between this woman’s long slender legs. Linda’s breath came in halts; she’d never held a Playboy in her hands. She thought only dirty old men looked at magazines with naked women in them, drunks and hobos who didn’t have families or go to church.
Linda opened the magazine to the center, the famous centerfold she’d only heard boys tease about. Here was a beautiful brunette woman, straddling a bicycle, only wearing that tiny bikini bottom. Her face was so happy, long dark hair framing that beautiful cameo face. And her breasts were bare—full and large and out in the open for anyone to see. Trembling, Linda ran her hands along the neckline of her sundress, felt the curves at the tops of her own breasts, thought of what it would be like for Jimmy Dabney to see her poised on her own bicycle, undressed like that, one foot on the pedal ready to ride off into the world bare and brave, unashamed.
Closed up in the car, his pipe locked on the left side of his mouth, his tweed jacket giving off that man smell she’d noticed earlier in the study, Dr. Campbell was quiet most of the drive home. He’s given her a five-dollar bill as they’d walked down the sidewalk from his apartment, told her to keep it all, that it was a special evening and he wanted her to remember it, too.
Now, halfway home, the streets quiet and dark at this late hour, he looked ahead and spoke. “I see you had one of the logic books out. What did you think of it?”
“I could tell it would be fascinating,” Linda lied.
“I thought so,” Dr. Campbell said, shifting his eyes toward her. “You strike me as mature for your age.” She can’t believe it when he drops his left hand from the steering wheel to the frontseat between them. “Could I call you Lindy? Linda seems far too . . . pedestrian for a girl of your promise.”
She was thinking: Off at the lake, back behind the dance pavilion, some girl of no promise, no promise at all, was unstrapping her two-piece top for Jimmy Dabney. He was leaning toward her, reaching for her breasts with his sure strong hands.
“Lindy?” She cocked her head, pressed her hair against the window, the stuffiness of the pipe smell annoying her. “I’ve always been Linda. But yes sir, sure, Lindy.” She closed her eyes to shut out Dr. Campbell. She couldn’t wait to tell Jimmy Dabney how this old lech had flirted with her. She couldn’t wait to get home and call him to tell him, even though girls weren’t supposed to call boys.
microfiction by Amy Hale
“I don’t want to do it anymore,” I said. She was looking at her phone, scrolling through texts messages. “Don’t want to do what,” she asked. My shoulders slouched, like a child not wanting to take piano lessons. “The pet sitting,” I said. She looked up from her phone, and asked, “Why?” “I’m tired of it. I’m tired of picking up dog shit and scooping up cat turds,” I explained.
“Okay,” she replied. “But before you quit, don’t forget to feed the Teeter’s cats, one more time. They return tomorrow.” I leave to go say goodbye to the Teeter’s cats.
Poop and Scoop
poetry by Lucy M. Logsdon
To Be A Woman Dancing in Red
Sipping hot coffee, she snaps, finally,
shouts at him, breaks his handmade mug.
This is new. This is more than curling
against him at night, then kicking, hard
and fast, a boxer’s punch, at dawn.
He cracks open the latest novel,
while eggs sizzle on their Sear’s hot plate.
She see’s his hands are shaking.
She smiles at this new tension.
In the books he picks, the female always
does something significant: organizes unions,
dams flooding rivers, survives tornados,
then rescues the less fortunate. He loves
the justness of all their causes.
But what she wants is to be beauty—-
a nude woman dancing with red cloth.
She’d look away from any audience, toward
what only she can see: that she’s given
herself so many times,
her body’s no longer a gift. Even a good viewer
won’t guess her next move.
And he, poor thing, hasn’t a chance.
She’ll twirl in her blood cloth until
she’s a loose woman with scarlet lips.
One who turns obliquely from all
watchers, as if to say I don’t care
what has happened, I don’t care
what will be. I’ll dance without
punishment; look away
or have a seat.
I will admit to having a slight preoccupation with her bush. She tended it well; not too long, not too short, and entirely untarnished by the pivoting, three-bladed head of the Venus Swirl her roommate kept in the shower panel beside the pumice stones. It was a thick, messy, onyx covey that sat low on her lips and high on her hips, like a panther recumbent on palace marble at midday, restful but never quite asleep. The first time I pulled down her panties, there it was, spread out before my eyes in all its grandeur like the Gardens of Babylon, and BLAMMO! I was positively smitten.
“Au natural,” I remarked reverently, “just as the Prince of Darkness intended.”
She palmed the outline of my cock through my shorts and smirked. “Hail Satan.”
I was struck by deja vu, as if this moment, my first brush with her sublime short and curlies, had happened long before, beyond the reach of my remembrance. And indeed, as our tryst continued, I began to feel there was something truly ancient about her pubic tress, as if its lustrous tangles contained some knowledge forgotten by modern civilization; some serendipitous scattering of runes cast before a great bygone battle, only to be disastrously disregarded by the Queen at the advice of her impious top commander, and buried for millennia amidst a whorl of earth and bronze and bone, and I, the pith-helmeted discoverer, fated for the challenge of redemption. When she became aware of my unusual admiration for the bush, she swelled with pride and began to pay it more cosmetic attention, daily applying shampoo and conditioner to its dense thickets, until one morning, to my considerable delight, I witnessed a delinquent dandruff flake shake itself loose as she fidgeted into a tight pair of jeans. Before she had time to react, I sped across the room, plucked the tiny ivory wafer from the carpet fibres, and held it aloft.
“Make a wish!” I exclaimed, to her obvious befuddlement. “Pubic dandruff is like eyelashes. Losing it is good luck. Everyone knows that.”
“Fine.” She paused, reluctantly, to consider her choice. “I wish for you to stop being so looney tunes.”
We had great fun with sex and cigarettes and Bob Dylan and Nietzsche and Bernie Sanders, her and I, but I suppose I should just tell you: in the end, she broke my heart. According to her post-breakup posts, she needed someone who offered respect rather than worship. I wish I understood; to me, the difference is moot. That part doesn’t matter, really, because I’m only trying to tell you about how fantastic her bush was. How fleecy! How wild! How maddeningly formless! Its image still haunts my nights, for reasons as yet unfathomable to me. I sit up in the dark and sift through my too-slowly fading memories of her, whispering her name over and over, like Nebuchadnezzar murmuring the names of his most treasured fauna as he roamed among them alone on moonless evenings, picking leaves at random for the poultice he prayed could cure lycanthropy; like the Queen’s top commander, awaiting Poena Cullei after capture, wild-eyed head in his hands, mumbling as he tried to recollect details from the runic alphabet he never bothered to learn.
flash fiction by Miles Varana
Hannah Dellabella is pursuing her MFA in poetry at Purdue University. She is an alumna of Carnegie Mellon, where she studied creative writing and professional writing. She is a native of Bayonne, New Jersey, and is very aware of her Jersey accent. She is a compulsive imaginer.
Amy Hale is a short story writer in Houston, TX. She holds a Masters in Liberal Arts in English from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, TX.
Lucy M. Logsdon
Lucy M. Logsdon’s work has appeared in such publications as Poet Lore, Nimrod, The Southern Poetry Review, Sixfold, Seventeen, Literary Orphans, Rose Red Review, Conclave, The California Quarterly, Drafthorse, Heron Tree, Right Hand Pointing, Rust & Moth and Gingerbread Literary Review. She has received a Macdowell Writers Colony fellowship, and taught at such places as The Frost Place and the 63rd Street Y. She received her MFA from Columbia University. Now back in rural America, she raises chickens, ducks and other occasional creatures with her husband.
Charlotte Morgan’s first novel, “One August Day,” was nominated for the annual fiction award by the Library of Virginia. One of her short stories, “What I Eat,” is included in The Pushcart Prize Collection. She hold an MFA from Virginia Commonwealth University, where she studied with Lee Smith and Paule Marshall. She has been writer in residence at Nimrod Hall Summer Arts Program for twenty-five years and is a former fellow of Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
Katherine A. W. Troyer
Katherine A. W. Troyer writes when she should probably be grading. Her story “Selling Happiness” was published in Calliope and can be found online. In a different world and under a different name, Katherine is a PhD candidate working on a dissertation about American horror. Visit her Facebook page for more information.
Miles Varana’s work has appeared in a variety of publications, most recently SOFTBLOW, After the Pause, Chicago Literati, Yellow Chair Review, and Clear Poetry. He has worked previously as a staff reader and managing editor at Hawai’i Pacific Review. Miles lives in Madison, Wisconsin, where he enjoys rainy days, naps, and copious amounts of sushi.
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