may 24, 2017| ISSUE no 216
crack the spine
poetry by Michele Reese
I am air-conditioned, scanning a book dedicated to me
and there is a rhythm for what I write
in randomly placed words, disconnected.
The green surrounds the path connecting small bees drawn to
colored clovers and Queen Anne’s Lace.
Two boys pass a note to the cashier,
“Will you go out with me? Yes? Or no?”
At the local park, by the teeter totter,
there is a fence that goes around a red locomotive,
and it’s all bound and connected
by my black Papermate.
May I blissfully assume that Venice is still
canals, boats, and wine?
Articles foretell that many married couples in America
will leave one another for someone else--
envision if that many included us.
Envision this man, a southern aristocrat always dreaming
only of a blond goddess/woman, envision him fishing in some
bleak backwoods bayou,
with a regimen of manic-depressive pills
“in a pill case.”
The crepe myrtles bloom like Gauguin’s Tahiti
in summer’s late heat.
Like a techno beat on an MP3 player, it speeds my pedal stroke,
not requiring more than exertion at the increased and playful tempo,
while easily enjoying the Tennessee treeline of the Appalachian Mountains
that takes me up from the mass of waterways
connected like tendrils of a hanging spider plant.
And yet it’s so awesome that we’ve stopped by here,
and to know someday we’ll wander away from here
on the way home.
In my hometown I glance up at people from my past.
They try to fit their image for my acceptance, playing guitar,
offering me songs, in what they candidly
consider to be off the beaten path.
When I observe molten glass glowing from the Fenton factory,
clothesless clotheslines in the breeze like birded telephone wires,
and “you” with your blinded eye in the distance,
I try to find that the child in the bed
represents our fate, not happenstance.
For awhile just continue biking and writing
as if in the early springtime,
absent-mindedly touching wisteria.
Nostalgia for the Nineteen Nineties
All these years later it’s become a metaphor, that Bill Murray movie – repetition, déjà vu: more than just the farmer’s tale of how long before winter’s end; Groundhog Day: a surprise hit that everybody loved.
You see it now decades later in TV ads –for the state lottery, the promise of endless repeated payouts; auto dealerships, eyeglasses, restaurants.
But all I can remember is my neighbor Oscar’s wife repeating herself over and over, asking me how old our daughters were, one born in 1987, the other 1990, and feeling annoyed at her inattention – Haven’t I told you already? Weren’t you listening? – before it dawned on me Rosemary was losing her mind to Alzheimer’s, and then what relief I hadn’t lost my temper.
We talked about Jerry and Elaine as if they were friends of ours, their lives a mirror of our own; Kramer, George – we knew people like that, so we might as well know them.
Here we were, just becoming adults – marriage, house, kids, budding careers, parents aging, becoming ill, dying.
And there they were, the ghosts of our youth, still single, still on the make, the future a bright vision of the past, a siren in the distance beckoning with her promising smile. Now you see me, now you don’t.
“Why’d he do it?” Dick asked nobody. We were sitting in the cafeteria on our cigarette break. You could still smoke inside in those days, in the ever-shrinking smoking section in the back near the kitchen with its odors from the deep-fat fryers.
“I mean, if he really wanted to make it with a boy, he could have asked his handlers to pick one up, bring him back to Fairyland Ranch, right? Why expose yourself to lawsuits? These kid’s parents’ must be rubbing their hands at the prospect of all that dough. Ka-ching!”
None of the rest of us said anything, sucking down our Marlboros, sipping coffee out of Styrofoam cups.
“I mean, I’ve known the guy was gay ever since Thriller, at least. You could just tell, know what I’m saying? It was staring at you right in the face. Does a bear shit in the woods? Now look at the pickle he’s in.”
We all thought about it, while Sarajane Rosewater scurried past, holding her nose against the tobacco smell.
Soon enough, we’d be banished to the smoking area outside the building, shivering against the cold as we sucked on cigarettes.
Was he some kind of god? You’d have thought so, listening to the kids marvel about “His Airness,” just as reverent.
The Bulls dominated the decade, Phil Jackson the Zen Master, MJ’s sidekick Scottie Pippin, the sideshow acts from crazy Dennis Rodman to three-point artist Steve Kerr and a bench that seemed to stretch all the way out into Lake Michigan, and just as deep.
All those kids in Jordan sneakers, dreaming of making it big, sticking their tongues out as they drove to the basket, just like Mike. Just Like Mike.
Me, I played pathetic one-on-one at the gym with a friend from work, until I blew my knee out, tearing the ACL like typewriter ribbon, and never went back on the court again, which was a relief, given my talent for team sports: I could never tell a pick from a roll. My disappearance was not noted, not nearly as Jordan’s three or four were.
Nostalgia’s always suspect, a con artist conjuring a vision of a past for which we long, when all along it felt as aimless, then, as the present does, now. We need something to miss, something to yearn for; to return from an exile to a home where nobody misses you.
And the corollary: if things seem too good to be true, we’d better invent a threat, some all-consuming outrage that gives meaning to our lives.
Which brings us to the Clinton years, after the Cold War’d ended, before Islamic terrorists took the times hostage – before the succeeding administration unleashed its foreign and domestic disasters. True, there was Oklahoma City, but those were just American “patriots,” right?
“It wasn’t about the blow job,” Dick declared outside in the new smoking area. “It was that he lied about it under oath!” Oh, the moral indignation, the violation of the holy Constitution! What else could they do? They had their consciences to appease! Impeach! Impeach! Impeach!
O, 1990’s, how we miss you, just like my Dad immortalized the Sixties. But time just unspools and unspools and even Oscar’s wife Rosemary died before the turn of the century. She used to get loose when Oscar wasn’t looking, roam the neighborhoods in her underwear, an old woman in bra and panties in search of the home she really believed was still there, on one of these streets, her mom and her dad, dead for decades now, would welcome her with open arms. “Mama! I’m coming home!”
flash fiction by Charles Rammelkamp
A Perfectly Good Husband
short fiction by Alice Hatcher
Before she finished the sentence, she regretted mentioning the anniversary of the accident and dredging up memories of emergency rooms when he was just trying to have a pleasant breakfast. He’d tried too hard to distract her, though, with French toast and linen napkins and warmed syrup in a small crystal pitcher. The table was, for him, she imagined, a life raft adrift in a house strewn with dirty laundry, unread newspapers and unrecycled bottles. She looked at his face, lined from smoking too much and worn, she knew, by her shifting moods and constant needs. Now, she’d just made things more difficult for him again.
“The accident was a year ago today,” she’d said. “Did you know that?”
In one simple statement, she’d conjured the ghost of the teenage girl who’d tried to commit suicide by driving her parents’ Lexus into a tree and collided, instead, with their Toyota.
He paused. “Yes, I did.” He flooded his plate with syrup and handed her the pitcher. “I knew you’d be thinking about it. You’re alive. That’s all I’m thinking about.”
She pursed her lips and wondered if, over the next few months, they’d drink warm syrup to toast the anniversaries of her waking from a coma. Her trip home from the hospital. Her subsequent seizures and return to the emergency room. The day she’d filled her first prescription for anticonvulsants and discussed side effects with a pretty young pharmacist with long black curls. The first time she’d felt her scalp burning, or the afternoon they’d purchased a drain catch so her hair wouldn’t clog the pipes. He was going through the motions of being happy, all the more painful for being so obvious and unsuited to her mood. She felt his hand on her arm.
“You were scratching again,” he said.
“The itch is really bad this morning.”
“I know, but keep your fingers away from it. You’ll just make it worse.”
She resisted the temptation to tell him he didn’t know how it felt. At least he hadn’t played psychoanalyst and lectured her about picking at literal and metaphorical scabs in the same professorial tone he used with his students. In his desperation, he’d grown more direct.
“Just distract yourself. Try the French toast.”
She ran her finger along the sticky handle of the syrup pitcher. “They say sugar isn’t good for people with seizure disorders.”
“Who are they? These people?” He cut into a piece of French toast with the side of his fork. “Every study will confirm a different opinion. You must have been reading about ketogenic diets for children.”
“I know what I read,” she said, watching a line of syrup running down her thumb.
“I just think it’s time to start living. A little syrup isn’t going to kill you. You’re on medications so you can lead a normal life.”
“It’s because of the meds that nothing’s normal. It all started with them.”
“I know,” he said. “But we have no choice, and we’re going to get through this.”
She bristled at the word “we.” She, alone, took the pills every morning. She weathered the headaches and worked in spite of the mood swings and cognitive problems the doctors said would probably abate in time. She, alone, let nurses comb out clumps of hair and glue each time they removed electrodes after an EEG. She looked into his eyes for the first time since she’d sat down. The skin beneath them had begun to sag. She softened, remembering those first weeks, when she’d been told not to drive. He’d taken time off work to sit in neurologists’ waiting rooms and leafed through glossy magazines to distract himself from children writhing in wheelchairs and old men drooling down the front of their shirts. He’d held her hand after a doctor used the word “epilepsy” for the first time. He’d gone wig shopping with her when her hair started falling out, made small talk with chemo patients in a boutique and urged her to spend $450.00 on the best synthetic wig they could find, so she’d be ready when things got worse. He’d grown pale every time she lost her balance. He’d spent months lying awake at night, worrying about her headaches.
“Maybe it’s time to think about getting off these things.” She looked at the syrup cooling on his plate. “To take our chances.”
“You need a clear report from an EEG first. In the meantime, we can always try something else.” He lowered his eyes. “Another drug.”
“I can’t get on the rollercoaster again,” she said, thinking of different medications she’d tried – the Keppra that caused short-term memory loss, so that she’d feared early dementia, the Vimpat that distorted her depth perception so badly she’d feared to go down stairs, the Topamax that induced mild dyslexia, and then the Lamictal. “I can’t keep dealing with doctors’ shitty comments. The creep rubbing his bald head and asking me if I thought he looked bad. Suggesting he wasn’t sexy without hair when I told him I was losing mine. Or that asshole encouraging me to visit a nursing home so I could see that hair loss is normal part of life. Is this a joke to these people? I’m a forty-year-old woman.”
He stiffened. “Are you arguing with them or me? I’m just trying to get us through this morning. To have a normal breakfast.”
She poured a thin line of syrup across her plate and ate in silence, concentrating on a pat of butter that refused to melt to distract herself from the sensation of bugs burrowing into her scalp and crawling along the base of her eyelashes. It was so hard to distinguish everything imagined – the tiny wings brushing her face and the worms working their way between layers of skin – from the bit of dust in her eye or the loose hair brushing her nose. She twitched and touched her head, dragged her fingers back from her hairline and considered the strands, at least twenty, stuck in the notch between her thumb and index finger.
“Of all the things to have for breakfast.” She dug her nails into her palm and pushed away from the table. “This is my normal.”
In the shower, she held her hands in a warm stream to dissolve the syrup coating her fingers and watched hairs sliding down her chest and legs and snaking towards the drain. She counted each strand until she reached two hundred. When he came into the bathroom, she was standing before the mirror, wrapped in a towel, watching steam evaporate from glass and examining the clouded reflection of her scalp.
“Don’t examine things,” he said. “Please. Not now.”
“I’m not examining. I’m just looking.” She picked a hair off the faucet and pinched its root between her fingertips.
“And don’t count them. It’s only going to make it worse.”
She leaned into the mirror to study her hairline. This time, he didn’t say anything. She sensed him waiting, watching her, and so she peeled several strands of wet hair from her fingers and cast them to the floor, one by one, until he left. When she pulled herself away from her reflection, he was almost dressed.
“I’m sorry.” She sat down beside a tangle of musty sheets on their bed and watched him leaf through a row of suit jackets hanging in the closet. “This is just more than I can take. Of all the days to have to go to a fundraiser.”
“We’ll keep it short. The jackass Provost will deliver a drunken speech, and then we’ll cut out. No one will notice. Believe me, I don’t want to go, either. If it wasn’t for this ridiculous award, I wouldn’t go at all.”
She drew her towel tighter to her chest.
“I don’t have anything to wear.”
“It doesn’t matter. No one cares. Just wear the blue dress you wore to John’s graduation.”
“That was a year and a half ago. I gained so much weight on Lamictal.” She trailed off and looked at a roll of flesh pressed beneath her towel. “And I’d look ridiculous wearing a scarf with that kind of dress.”
“The hell with what everybody thinks,” he said, stepping away from the closet.
She lowered her face into her hands. He sat down beside her and stroked her shoulders.
“I’m embarrassed to leave the house.” She lifted her face and wiped her nose with the back of her hand.
“This is when I get worried,” he said. “When you say things like that. You can’t become a shut-in. You look fine. It’s not as bad as you think.”
“Not as bad,” she repeated. “So it is bad. I don’t look fine.”
“I can’t win.” He stood up and started knotting his tie. “This is what you do. You push me until I contradict myself.”
“I just need you to be honest. I’m the one who has to walk out of this house at the end of the day, looking like a freak. I just want to know if it’s time to pull out the goddamn wig.” She rose from the bed and crouched down before the closet. When she stood up, she was holding a silver lame bag with pink ribbons trailing from its handles. “It’s going to make the itch even worse. It’s going to look so obvious, too. But what the hell else am I going to do?”
“I am being honest,” he said. “You might need it someday, but you’re not there yet.”
“So what am I going to do tonight? I’m going to look ridiculous no matter what I do.”
“Just wear the dress and screw everybody else.” He pushed his hair from his forehead to expose a sharp widow’s peak and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Look at me. I’m losing my hair, and you’re not going to leave me because of it. Whatever else goes on outside, there’s no double standard in this house. We’re equal. In every way.”
She dropped the bag and rested her palm on top of his hand. He kissed her on the forehead and then lifted her chin to kiss her lips. She wiped her eyes and sat back down on the bed.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m just so tired. Growing up, I got beat up by the guys on my street because I was a tomboy. Because I was ugly and strange. They dragged me into the guys’ bathroom in junior high and showed me how to be a girl. That’s what they said.”
He nodded slowly. “You told me,” he said. “Why are you thinking about it now?”
“Every day of my life, I’ve had to be strong. Deal with shit like that. And just when we’re getting to a good place, some bitch plows into me in her daddy’s Lexus. It’s never going to end.”
“It’s going to end,” he began.
“It’s not ending,” she interrupted. “I’m going bald.” She ran her fingers through her hair and held her hand to the sunlight coming through a window. “It’s coming out in handfuls. It’s getting worse.”
He turned back to the closet and peeled a plastic bag from a navy suit.
“It’s a good thing I remembered to take this to the cleaners. None of the others fit. You’re not the only one who’s gained weight this year. Started smoking. Stopped sleeping.”
His voice had grown cold, and she knew she’d pushed him too far again. As he straightened the suit on its hanger, she looked at the pale flesh beneath his chin and the deep creases around his eyes. It had been a hard year for both of them.
“I’m sorry,” she said, rising to her feet.
“Don’t be sorry. I just want you to stop hating yourself.” He smoothed his shirt and kissed her again. “I’ll be home by five. Are you going to be alright?”
“I’ll be ready to go.”
“That’s not what I meant. Are you going to be all right until then? Here?”
She looked at the furrow deepening between his eyebrows, took a deep breath and nodded.
When the sound of tires on their gravel driveway faded, she walked around the house, gathering laundry and dusting shelves, vacuuming rugs and washing pieces of china glazed with cold syrup. She mopped her own sweat from the floor with the stiff tresses of a $450.00 wig and then pushed the wig into a bag of trash beneath the kitchen sink. She touched her fingers to her forehead, where he’d last kissed her, closed her eyes and remembered the moment he placed a pitcher of syrup in the center of the table and forced a smile. She’d been alone then, and she was still alone. In one year, sickness had taken its toll, made their experiences incommensurate and incommunicable. It had driven its ugly wedge. She’d tried to fight their estrangement, but only by dragging him down with her when she’d tripped over the fine line between seeking understanding and craving pity. She had no excuse, she knew. He’d been a perfectly good husband. And she’d always been so strong.
She brushed a fly from her face and stepped into the bathroom. A bottle of Lamictal was standing beside the sink, next to a can of Rogaine foam. She twisted off its cap and looked at the plain white pills remaining. The pills dissolved almost immediately, forming a soft precipitate nearly indistinguishable from the bottom of the porcelain toilet bowl. She turned to the sink and prized open his shaving kit. Inside, she found a small pair of scissors, blunt but perfectly adequate. She worked slowly, close to the skin, and then drew a razor from the soap dish in the shower and shaved the remaining hair from her scalp.
She contemplated her reflection and realized how perfectly right he was. She had irritated her scalp with all her scratching. Certainly, the drug had caused some sort of inflammation, but she could see thin abrasions where her nails had left marks, and open sores where she’d bored into her own skin to disinter imagined worms and exorcise the eggs of countless insects. Faint blotches covered the crown of her head, where she’d concentrated the Rogaine. They paled in comparison to the raised purple scars intersecting where her head had met the windshield. She touched her temples and considered her eyes, surrounded by creases from constant worry, and her teeth, chipped from too much grinding.
She wondered which would come first – a flush of new hair growth or a sudden seizure. For now, it didn’t matter. Tonight, they were going to a fundraising dinner where he’d accept an award for his latest book. Tonight, she imagined, they’d be perfectly normal. He’d wear navy, and she’d complement his suit with her sleeveless dress. She’d ask for coffee and a second desert, drink too much, and in pleasant conversations with strangers, announce with genuine love and pride that he was a perfectly good husband.
microfiction by Fred Vogel
The first customers arrive by 8:00 to claim the coveted barstools near the filthy plastic container of pickled eggs and sun-faded teakwood bowls of beer nuts and pretzels. The crowd will entertain themselves as they do every night by laughing, crying, and telling insensitive jokes; all the while ignoring the young couple on stage, playing beautiful guitar and singing in perfect harmony. Soon the performers will go on to have successful careers, while the patrons at the tavern will continue to be belligerent outcasts, who wouldn't know Paul Simon from Simple Simon; the saddest part being they won't even care.
The Perky Dwarf Tavern
poetry by Kent Leatham
—Zmudowski State Beach
At first we thought the smell was horses,
my friend and I, crossing the dunes,
though what horses would be doing on sand seemed impossible,
such weight upon such uncertainty,
but it was, or had been—
there at our feet were the soft green biscuits, disintegrating,
half-buried in grit,
but that wasn’t the smell
and then we thought kelp,
the great pubic and intestinal coils fermenting at the tideline,
bladders burst that once raised them toward light
then roiled them in through the spin-cycle surf,
but that wasn’t it either,
the odor was harsher, more astringent,
and then we saw the headless seal,
days dead, distended red leather and gaping holes
from which seeped forth a writhing froth, and the
ease with which we fell back to clear air was
like being white and going to the beach
the day after Alton Sterling and Philando Castile
were killed by police for being black: the stench
was only real for as long as we stayed; we
were not bound there; we were free to go; I could
even have written my friend’s presence out of
this poem, relieved him entirely, placed him
instead at a BLM march,
but we were there, careless,
at the beach instead,
and complicity and accountability are the
same wave on its two different pulls,
and what is washed into awareness must
not be allowed to be as quickly withdrawn,
the way we withdrew,
though our footprints in the wet sand remained to testify:
they came, they saw, they turned away,
and, rhythmically, that should be the end
but the poem says no:
men are not seals;
natural death is not licensed hate,
something cultivated through culture’s cult;
the unjust response of a lack of response
does not justify this further dehumanizing;
Sterling and Castile were not even
murdered on the same day; and
if I don’t know beyond what I read,
how dare I hold such ignorance above the putrefaction
my privilege permits me to waft briefly then brush away,
the lives themselves and their sudden stop—
We were at the beach, and two men were not,
and we left behind rot, and we carried it home.
I was thinking the other day about an old friend of mine, Jackson Jackson. Yes, you heard me right. Both times. Jackson Jackson. Like Jean-Paul, Jean-Paul, from Seinfeld.
Jackson Jackson is a born salesman. He and I went to high school together, but instead of going to college like the rest of us, Jackson decided instead to go into sales. If you don’t go to college, and you don’t want to wind up making minimum wage flipping burgers or selling shoes, then you have to go into sales.
Salesmen are actually some of the highest paid people in business. Why? Because they’re right where the money is. If you want to make good dough, sometimes it helps to be right where the money is.
Of course, the amount of money you make depends mostly upon the type of business you’re in. Say, for instance, you decide you’re going to make your first million selling steak knives. If so, maybe you shouldn’t be eyeing down your first BMW quite yet. But there are many areas where you can make a fortune in sales. Like insurance, the stock market, or even spraying paint on people’s heads to cover up their bald spots. That guy, the same TV guy who invented the electric pasta maker and the beef jerky machine, he made billions! For Jackson Jackson, unfortunately, becoming a billionaire wasn’t exactly in the cards.
You’re either a born salesman, or you’re not. The thing about a born salesman is, he’s always selling, whether it’s what he’s going to have for dinner or even what movie he’s going to see. My grandfather was a born salesman. He worked for Grolier Publishing back in the day and was even a founding member of the Playboy Club. I still have the mug and the ceremonial key from opening night in Chicago. I have a picture of him with Hugh Hefner, and him standing next to his brand new Cadillac. My grandfather could sell a fur coat in Phoenix, which was where he actually lived, by the way. He was always selling. AWLAYS selling.
And so was my friend Jackson Jackson, but it wasn’t encyclopedias he was selling. Cadillacs, either. The line of work he chose, well, I have to believe that he believed it would make him rich some day. Why else would he be selling what he was? The thing about a salesman is, if he’s a good one, even he believes his own bullshit. Why else, I had to believe, would he be selling what he was selling?
You see, the line of work Jackson was into was self-defense, and the product was Tasers. Jackson worked at Tasers Tasers Tasers, based out of Jacksonville, Florida. He was the top salesman at the company, but being the top salesman didn’t come without its drawbacks.
And what made Jackson the top Taser salesman? Because he was the only one who would demonstrate the product: ON HIMSELF! That’s right. Jackson Jackson was never one to back down when it came time to demonstrate the quality of his product. Like I said, Jackson was a born salesman. He would do anything to make a sale.
I remember one time he did a Taser demonstration for this woman. The product worked great. She was thoroughly impressed. But when Jackson woke up he found the woman had robbed him blind. Not only had she taken all his money, his jewelry, his watch, she had made off with all his Tasers as well.
Jackson would do anything to make a sale, but now I thought maybe he’d taken one too many to the head. Now that I remember, he never was quite right. He got out of the Taser game, though. Last I heard, Jackson was selling Priapic Rectal Probes. What the heck is a Priapic rectal probe? In short, when scientists need to get a hold of some animal semen, they have one of three choices: they can ram an electric probe up an animal's rectum, shove an artificial vagina onto the animal's penis, or simply do it the old-fashioned way. Since most researchers aren’t too fond of playing the roll of animal vagina, or jerking the ornery critter off, it’s the Priapic rectal probe they turn to. The Priapic rectal probe is a form of electro-ejaculation. It works by sending electricity through the animal's nether regions, thus causing the animal to ejaculate.
"All the normal excitatory signals that stimulate ejaculation, like touch, sight, sound and smell, can be replaced with the current from the probe," says Trish Berger, professor of animal science at the University of California, Davis. "It's fascinating.” Of course, fascinating is the word chosen by a woman. I’m not so sure that’s the word the male animal would choose as well.
Whether there’s a good market for selling electrified ejaculation machines or not, I do not know. I know there’s good money in most things scientific, so perhaps Jackson has finally found his pot of gold. Perhaps, however, he’s simply found a more horrifying and sadistic way of making animals cum. I shudder to think how Jackson demonstrates this product.
My friend Jackson Jackson, the born salesman.
flash fiction by Philip Loyd
short fiction by Katy Reedy
Kaitlyn and Rachel had been hiding out in the nursery school playground for almost twenty minutes. They’d arrived early on purpose. It was only ten thirty, but it felt like it was already two in the morning. The neighboring field was totally desolate and dark, a huge rectangle of wet, calf-high grass with starter homes on three of its four sides. Spotlights fluoresced the fourth side, or the nursery school, playground, and adjacent parking lot with its fleet of sleeping school buses. The buses looked like they were glowing from within, like the greenish-yellow, glow-in-the-dark stars sticky-tacked above Rachel’s bed. The night dew, or whatever, was making Rachel’s ankles itch. She rubbed the chapped knobs against the school’s brick wall, which wasn’t exactly helping matters. The pair arched their backs against the molded bars of fired earth and clay and stared at the unoccupied baby swings, the crumbling rubber bottoms swaying at random without the aid of any breeze.
“Good. We look like we’ve got places to be,” Kaitlyn said, sexualizing her red Tootsie Pop. Kaitlyn’s hair was in pigtails, for effect. Rachel was just happy she’d convinced Kait to let them wear their Patagonias over their freshly-purchased Victoria’s Secret nightwear. Rachel knew it wouldn’t be the shock of the year for anyone to find out that she hadn’t ever owned lingerie before, unless you counted training bras and days-of-the-week underpants. So she could barely believe it, but she found herself here, in the early October cold, with her newly-minted BFF in a black, sheer teddy and matching, butt-cheek revealing panties. Rachel knew she was a far cry from Kaitlyn, who looked like a model, but she wasn’t so bad. Anyway, things were much better than last year, she reminded herself, though she could just feel cellulite bulging unevenly on the back of her upper thighs without even looking down. Weird geometric shapes pushed through the stretched-out fibers of connective tissue under her mashed potato-colored skin, still deforming her outer quads and hamstrings despite all the pervy-looking hip abductor exercises she’d done, despite all the weight she’d lost. At least Kaitlyn didn’t know her last year, as the mega-loser of her middle school. Being shipped up north to an all-girls prep school in the whitest, wealthiest, and basically geriatric-est suburb of Chicago wasn’t completely without its perks.
When they’d met, it was like a fresh start. No one knew anyone, really – maybe one or two girls, tops. Kaitlyn met Rachel thwacking tennis balls and chugging frozen watermelon-flavored Gatorade at tennis tryouts. They had been best friends ever since Rachel accidentally lobbed their coach’s hand with her racket during drills. Kaitlyn laughed without reserve, which made Ms. W think the whole thing had been done on purpose. As punishment, the pair started every practice with extra line sprints, and somewhere between the base and service lines, their lungs burning and lactic acid corroding their quads, they became exclusive. Still, Rachel was all too aware of how much less experience she had than Kaitlyn, or Kaitlyn’s ex-BFF and cool friends from middle school. Every day, Kaitlyn regaled Rachel with stories about her old friends while they rode the commuter train in their itchy, dorky uniform skirts to travel thirty minutes north to a high school that was half the size of Kaitlyn’s middle school. Instead of high school parties, dances, or dates, they attended weekly masses and girls-only, all-school sleepovers with international borders who barely knew the language, troubled girls already into drugs, alcohol, and/or sex, home-schooled prudes who all seemed vaguely cultish and/or incestuous, and total brown-nosing, kiss-ass losers like Rachel who were too fragile for the competitive shark-tank of the highly-ranked public high school in their affluent suburb.
Kaitlyn had been uncharacteristically quiet about the guy they were meeting up with tonight – Tim – and there was zero info at all regarding his two tag-along friends. To make matters worse, as the night progressed, Kaitlyn started throwing out more and more disclaimers on Tim.
“I mean, he’s more your speed,” Kaitlyn repeated. “Like, no experience.”
Pause. Rachel peeled off blue nailpolish and a thin spiral of keratinous nail from her index finger.
“I mean he’s not even cute.”
Kaitlyn grunted, pushing herself off the wall, hopping up and down on goose-pimpled, bare legs.
“Seriously, just think of it as practice,” and she popped that slobbered-on, red sphere of crystallized sugar in and out of her cheek, using her surprisingly long tongue to add to the effect. This didn’t make Rachel feel any better.
Rachel’s problem was that she had no idea what Kaitlyn’s actual plan was, but she was way too embarrassed to ask for more clarification. And this was not the first time of the night that Kaitlyn very strongly suggested the quote practice wasn’t just flirting or even kissing, but sloppy third, or what Kaitlyn called giving someone a hummer.
“Like the car,” she said, biting the insides of her cheeks and looking with attitude at her Hollywood-bulb-lined vanity mirror.
Kaitlyn was getting into the play-by-play of her past hook-ups with ex-BF Nick. The story was dragging on and on, as Kaitlyn relished the dramatic pauses she took to outline her little heart-shaped upper lip in deep purple. Rachel sat on a fuzzy purple toilet seat, gazing in silence as Kaitlyn colored in the pulp of her lower lip. Finally done with her own face, Kaitlyn turned to Rachel’s, which was when she finally resumed her story. She assured Rachel that she hadn’t ever given Nick head, because, unlike some other people she knew, she didn’t want to lose her oral virginity until she was at least a sophomore. This was a decision that had apparently plagued her, given Nick’s decision to basically dump Kaitlyn the day he got his braces off.
“I mean, he wanted to do it, but I just couldn’t,” Kaitlyn said. Rachel started to open her eyes, in an attempt to convey greater empathy, but Kaitlyn quickly reprimanded her.
“Stay shut! We’re not even close to being done.”
Indeed, the process was more involved than Rachel could have imagined. Rachel was pricked, coated, powdered, and pinched. Kaitlyn globbed facial lotion the color and consistency of vaginal mucus onto Rachel’s face, then painted on orange liquid foundation with both specialized brushes and sponges, and topped that off with white undereye concealer housed in a cylindrical spaceman stick. And all of this was before the virtual sandstorm of powders of every earthy tone color ever invented – beige Lock-It Color Foundation, clay-like Nars Bronzing Powder, opalescent Chanel Contraste blush. She greased metallic sugar plum eyeshadow onto the creases of Rachel’s eyes. Jagged shards of wood chipped by Kaitlyn’s broken fingernails tattooed a thick black line onto Rachel’s upper eyelids. A cloud of aerosol-powered hair spray threatened to kill off a whole new section of the ozone layer. When Kaitlyn was finally all done, paving Rachel’s lower lip with the world’s stickiest lip gloss, Rachel looked into the mirror to see a warped version of herself gazing back. But Rachel saw Kaitlyn’s excitement and mirrored it. She clapped her hands, gave a big wide grin, then sipped her Diet Coke ever so carefully, leaving no imprint of her lips on the cold aluminum can.
“We probably should’ve done this like before getting ready.” Greenish, not-yet-ripe bananas in each hand, the two girls suppressed giggles, Kaitlyn still hiding under her lips the blue braces girding her little white teeth.
“Why are we doing this again?” Rachel was careful to say this as casually as she could, her elbows on the island, tap tap tapping green-tipped banana stem.
Kaitlyn snorted. “Dude, chill.”
She scrunched an eye closed and aimed her banana like a shotgun at Rachel’s face.
“What, is this the first time you’ve ever tried this?”
But before Rachel could respond, the oblong, curved banana was halfway in Kaitlyn’s mouth, and then all the way in, stem included. She didn’t grimace or choke, but just held it in there, her water-glazed eyes not breaking with Rachel’s, until she finally proved whatever point she was trying to make.
Wiping her mouth, cool and nonchalant, she said, “Your turn, bitch.”
Rachel was so nervous the banana was vibrating. She steadied her convulsing right hand with her left and opened wide, the smooth green tip squishing her purple belled uvula, tears burning her vision, pharyngeal muscles tensing her throat into an even smaller “o,” tongue charleyhorse-spasming and jaw jutting forward, and saliva pulsing through the purple-striped flesh under her tongue and pooling around the thin frenulum connecting tongue to floor-of-mouth. She pushed the banana in even farther and felt the curved stem at her throat’s opening. But it was barely a third of the way in before she felt something seizing and churning in her esophagus. She gagged it out, coughing and laughing at the same time.
“That’s why we did this now,” Kaitlyn said, cheerily assuming her role as supreme fellatrix. She snapped the mucus-coated stem, peeled back the flesh covering the plump, starchy fruit, and took a big chalky bite.
“Better be careful,” Rachel said, feeling edgy or witty or something, “Cuz if you are what you eat…”
This successfully sent Kaitlyn into a snorty hyena laugh, which she only silenced to avoid waking her Christian-to-the-max parents who were sleeping right above their heads.
Kaitlyn took another exaggerated chomp chomp on Mr. Banana, and grinned.
“I guess that makes me a banana dick.”
Her long, swan-limbs mimed some shape Rachel couldn’t even recognize.
It was 10:43, according to Kaitlyn’s watch, which meant the boys might not even be coming at all. Or maybe they did some recon and found out who Rachel was from friends of friends and decided to bail. By now Rachel had peeled off all of her index finger’s nail polish and was making headway onto her thumb’s. She kept confusing the distant swaying of trees and bushes on the park’s perimeter for human figures. Tall, big-shouldered men came into focus then morphed back into shrubs and oak trees and little chain-link fences.
“We’re kinda like the perfect target for pedophiles,” Rachel said, blowing into her hands.
Kaitlyn laughed, “Oh my gawd, shut up. Like a killer clown would have a heyday here.” She threw her lollipop into the splintery wood chips of the playground. Rachel tried not to think it, but she could just picture some TV show cop carefully handling that lolli with tweezers and latex baggies. At least we’re leaving evidence of our existence, she hoped.
The girls finally heard the faint noise of adolescent boys, and, from their hidden vantage point, they saw three forms lumbering in the darkness. Two were more or less equivalent in height and overall shape. The third, much scrawnier guy appeared to be skipping in the center of the group, and was the only one wearing a backpack. Kaitlyn and Rachel watched the guys cross the street and pass by school’s block-lettered sign at the street corner. The smaller dude’s cartoon voice echoed across the remaining lot, past the school buses and basketball hoops and grassy patch of cement that separated playground from parking lot, his high frequencied pitch vibrating its way from his invisible mouth to the inner recesses of Rachel’s and Kaitlyn’s ears. One of the taller guys jumped up onto the sign, whooped, and nearly fell down on top of cartoon boy. The other tall dude laughed without discretion despite the late hour and the minor injuries of both of his unnamed companions. They were getting closer to the school buses, nearly there, when Kaitlyn finally touched Rachel’s arm and gestured to her.
The girls were as quiet and careful as the boys were loud and oblivious. Following Kaitlyn’s lead, Rachel tiptoed in her borrowed heels, as much as one can tiptoe while already on tiptoe, keenly aware of every stray woodchip and the slight patter its displacement made. They glided in this way around the nursery school, clockwise and at a quicker clip than the boys, once again in the wet grass and weeds, out from under the spotlight of the parking lot and playground, and out from under their Patagonias, Kaitlyn slipping off her red fleece like an actress in a movie shimmying out of a silk robe that becomes a liquid puddle of shiny fabric at her feet. Rachel followed suit, her discarded grey pullover another of the many lumps of unidentified objects populating the park. Now on the asphalt, heels clacking, the pores of their skin sharpened, the fuzz on their arms and legs erect, they saw the boys, and the boys turned around and saw them.
“Heyyyyyy,” Kaitlyn said, her arms linked with Rachel’s.
“Hey,” said tall guy number 1, a.k.a., aggressive laugh dude. This must be Tim, Rachel thought, her face automatically reddening. The guys were still at a distance, paused, waiting for the girls to come to them.
“Ummmm what are you wearing?”
Kaitlyn’s laugh felt more ill-timed than cool. Rachel felt a splotchy rash-like tetter break out contagiously across her neck and cheeks. She was also all too aware that the tall lights of the parking lot were casting weird unflattering shadows all over their bodies as they awkwardly stood at the crease between grass and pavement.
“Oh yah, the party we’re going to after this is like a costume party.” Kaitlyn said this with as much confidence as she could muster, but even Rachel could hear the hollowness trembling in her voice.
Tim exchanged meaningful-seeming looks with the other tall guy, while the shorter, repulsively acned one belched out a sound that held definite sexual implications. All three wore tee shirts advertising whatever lame high school clubs they belonged to under their jackets. The other tall dude adjusted his Puka shell necklace, which appeared to be giving him a neck-rash, and actually scoffed.
“What party is this again?” Tim drummed a beat on his cargo pants, Puka shell punched Acne’s shoulder, and all five of them seemed to be waiting for someone to do something, anything.
“Sooooo….” Acne began. A slight breeze tickled Rachel’s partially exposed butt, reminding her of its existence, and maybe it was this reminder of her bottom and the outfit and makeup, or her desire to get out of the unflattering spotlight, or the weird hour of the night, or the shock of Kaitlyn’s awkwardness, but Rachel found herself taking control of the situation, and she watched herself as if from the outside looking in. She took off her stripper heels and flattened her feet on the uneven pavement, not walking so much as sauntering over the grass to the three dudes, her fingers laced through the narrow arc of Kaitlyn’s fingers, as she sidled up next to Tim, guiding Kaitlyn to Puka and bypassing Acne, her feet sinking into the cold mud, the pale light of the night sky catching at random flickers of her recently highlighted rose-gold hair.
“I know, right? We look so stupid,” Rachel said. All their strange maleness -- their overpowering, cheap cologne despite its obviousness -- made Rachel’s entire crotch thump along with her pulse. She was aware that only a single layer of synthetic fabric separated all of her secretly moving fluid and flesh from the particle-filled air.
“I hate to ask this, but could I, like, borrow your coat? It’s soo cold out.” This was Rachel’s best impersonation of a hot girl from a teen movie or rom-com, and she upped the ante by actually touching Tim’s shoulder.
“Me too,” Kaitlyn said to Puka, not to be outdone.
All three of the guys, including the ignored Acne, took off their outerwear almost immediately, the inflated jackets and sweatshirts like the circus-colored parachutes they’d run under as children in gym class. Not surprisingly, Rachel took Tim’s huge navy blue sweatshirt and Kaitlyn took Puka’s black fleecy number. Both fell to the girl’s knees, hiding the lace and ribbons and underwire and padding so carefully selected to squeeze, push up, and mold the girl’s doughy flesh into something resembling the proper female shape. Puka grabbed Acne’s windbreaker and started whipping him with it, to Kaitlyn’s delight, while Rachel hung back with Tim. Acne yelped, high-kicking Puka, perhaps thinking he might get Kaitlyn’s attention in the process, and then bolted towards the playground, to the creaky swings and plastic slides and abandoned toy trucks half submerged in sand.
For thirty minutes, it was a good time. Kaitlyn was back to her usual animated self, which was mostly thanks to Puka’s destructive energy. Acne suffered many indignities in the process. Puka and Kaitlyn threw a bucket of sand and woodchips over his head, clipped his heels, imitated his voice, grabbed hold of his backpack’s loose straps and shook him hard enough to threaten whiplash. Acne ran up an aluminum slide, Puka and Kaitlyn following close behind, taunting, flirting, squishing their way down, on each other’s laps, then racing, who was faster, Puka tripping Acne or Acne simply tripping, Kaitlyn laughing coyly. Rachel meanwhile lay on the bright red merry-go-round with Tim and faced the cloud-covered infinite overhead.
Tim and Rachel hadn’t actually made eye contact since they started talking. Both looked up though their heads were close enough to be touching, his body pointing due north, hers due south, the ends of her hair actually touching his jaw.
“It’s just like impossible there, and it sucks soo much more than I thought it would,” he said.
“I mean, you have of course, like legions of perfect students like already on Ivy-League track with 4.0s and 1600s on their SSATs, in addition to the hot babes who just” sigh “won’t even give me the time of day, and like let’s not forget the actresses who treat us like shit. I mean they treat the stage crew like we’re their servants, while the actors swoop in and just, boom,” explosion sound, hand gesture, “they’re all like, who are those nerds dealing with the spotlight and props and trying to get an invite to the cast parties. And the cast parties are a fucking joke, but that’s not the point.”
“Yeah, that makes sense.”
“It’s like I figured this year, and I mean it’s insane that I thought this, but I just figured this year would be different. You know? Less bullshit, blue ribbon shit, but more real, you know?”
He let his head tilt just a little to his left so more of Rachel’s dry helmet-hair tickled his cheek.
“It’s all just all the same conformist, sell-out shit. Like everyone in every group is like imitating some version of their group sold on MTV.”
All Rachel could think was this is it. Thoughts swirled in her head, like actual fluids circulating round and round through the hollow ventricles of her brain, and she was trying to grab hold of just one, just one thought she could present to Tim as the perfect complement to what he was saying: to show the depths of her self -- her soul -- to this other strange, lonely being laying next to her, but each one slipped away, seeming too weird, or too hard to explain. The cliques at her school weren’t at all like the ones he was talking about. Her ceaseless pressure to be thin and beautiful – a fucking anvil crushing her heart on a second-by-second basis – wasn’t something guys could really appreciate, she knew, because it was all part of the seduction, and it pained her to realize, while she was laying there, silent and awkward, that Tim wouldn’t likely be opening up his soul to hers were she still 15 lbs heavier.
Tim stretched out his super long right leg off the side of the merry-go-round, kicking the woodchips with his scuffed Converse sneakers to spin them once again, and once again Rachel held on as they spun, faster and faster, the serial-killer-containing periphery and beautiful Kaitlyn up and down the slide and disintegrating baby swings and photoluminescent buses flattening from three dimensionality into planar lines of color. She looked at Tim, and there it was, finally. Eye contact: his big expressive eyes, pupils like black holes sucking her into their gravitational pull. This is it, she thought, this is like love. But, oh God, no … Spinal fluid slushed in the pearly-cased inner ear and waves of saliva tsunamied from stomach to mouth, and that unripe banana, now baby food mush, enzymed and putrefying, plowed like an unstoppable freight train up her esophagus. Please no, she thought, closing her mouth and contracting the smooth muscles under the neck, trying to swallow. But Tim hooted, and pushed them even faster, and out it came, not a discrete dribble, but a fire hydrant: projectile vomit she hadn’t experienced since she spewed Gatorade out of the car window in fifth. A fountain of yellow and red-orange populated the empty sky with vomitous stars. Bile-glazed chunks of banana and Hamburger Helper and whatever else Kaitlyn’s parents had fed them for dinner returned to earth, sliming Tim’s sweatshirt and their still-touching shoulders.
“Dude. WHAT. THE. FUCK.” The merry-go-round stopped, the three companions returned, and Rachel held her mouth, her hands catching whatever else she was in the process of digesting.
“Yo, are you like fucking drunk?”
Rachel couldn’t even look at Kaitlyn, whose perfect right leg she could only feel up against her own very imperfect left leg.
“Yo, you can keep my fucking sweatshirt. Damn.”
Effectively catatonic, Rachel stared at her left foot’s big toe, at the three brown hairs curling on the fat pad of flesh. She listened to the boys jostle and mock their way away from the merry-go-round – away from Rachel and all her dorkiness, and back home where they’d doubtlessly call up Kaitlyn’s ex-BFF and other cool friends to tell them everything. Kaitlyn flexed her right quad, squeezing together the hidden threads of filaments and held them there, tensed. Rachel’s left big toe was shorter than her left second toe. Tim’s voice rose above the mock-vomiting grunts, to say something like “What do you expect from a frigid bitch in the suburbs,” implying God knows what about Rachel or the suburbs or frigid bitches in general. Rachel could only imagine what Kaitlyn was thinking, what Kaitlyn would do on Monday: how Kaitlyn would avoid her at the train station; how Rachel would have to sit by herself on the orange ripped-plastic Metra seats; how Kaitlyn would stop leaving notes for Rachel tacked on the cork bulletin board outside Ms. C’s office; how Kaitlyn would do line sprints right next to her as always, but not as her best friend, as a stranger.
But Kaitlyn draped her right arm around Rachel’s shoulders, flattening the fat-padded area under her bicep onto Rachel’s skin. Her arm was soft and greased with peach scented sparkle lotion.
“Whatever, Tim, you think because you’re, like, judging everyone else that you’re like better or some shit?”
Rachel dared to look at Kaitlyn, who was no longer embarrassed – not at all. In fact, she was smiling.
“I mean, who wouldn’t vomit, being next to you and all? I’d barf just looking at you.”
They wiped off Rachel’s face, legs, and hands on the vomit sweater, rolled it up into a ball, and tossed it into the garbage bin at the edge of the park. Rachel and Kaitlyn didn’t watch the guys walk away. They stood next to the garbage bin, two fat flies buzzing elliptical paths around the chipped forest-green, steel-barred receptacle, the runny puke drying into flecks of color on Rachel’s hands. She could hear Kaitlyn’s breath, a metronome, O2 turning to CO2, the thin skin of their elbows tightening and raw, Rachel trying to hide the fact that she was still dry heaving. All Rachel could do was focus on the ranch-style house at the edge of the park, Kaitlyn’s house, where parents were zonked and candy and Blockbuster tapes and MadLibs awaited, and normal plaid pj pants were laid out on Kaitlyn’s cozy bed, the single light wavering from the den of Kaitlyn’s house the only rays hitting the cones and rods lining the back of her eyeballs as the rest of the field faded into background. Rachel picked up her pace, breaking ahead of Kaitlyn, trying to escape the stank of sweat and barf and whatever else was being emitted from her lingerie, when Kaitlyn finally caught up, and grabbed her arm.
“Slow down, psycho!” And she actually clawed Rachel’s arm, her fingernails impressing half-moons in Rachel’s epidermis. Rachel stopped, wiped the tears burning her face, and avoided Kaitlyn’s eyes. Kaitlyn made a monkey face and mimed some shape Rachel couldn’t recognize – banana dick, vomit merry-go-round, who knows what – and started laughing, her voice loud and pure. The lights turned on in the yellow aluminum-siding house to their left, but they couldn’t stop, and they fell onto the grass, not caring that it tickled their bare backs.
For the first time of the night, the moon emerged from the haze of the pollution-clouds overhead, the buckle of Kaitlyn’s bra sheening and black in the new light, Kaitlyn’s mouth open, eating the air, and Rachel thought she felt something crawling under her shoulder blades, but she didn’t care, she’d stay there with Kaitlyn for as long as she’d let her.
You Are What You Eat
creative non-fiction by Linda Rosen
Through the Peephole
Pungent odors fester in my nose: cigarettes, armpits, tobacco, sweat.
For years that stench jumped out at me unannounced, just as he did that Thursday, long ago. I‘d left the office to have lunch at home. Alone. Something I’d never done before.
There was a knock on my door. I put the tuna sandwich down and looked through the peephole. A tall, thin man wearing a Yankees cap peered back at me.
“Can I help you?” I asked.
“We’ve got water dripping from our ceiling downstairs,” he said, his voice as deep as the onyx of his skin. “Can I come in and look under your kitchen sink, see if it’s leaking?”
“I’ll go check,” I said, and left the door safely closed just like my father advised when I told him I was moving into the city. I was still his little girl, even if I’d just graduated from college, from the womb of dormitory life. He warned me Manhattan wasn’t the same as the suburbs with its trees and grass and doors we never locked.
With two steps I was in my kitchen. It was a small studio apartment. I opened the metal cabinet and peered under the sink, just in case he was legit.
“Sorry, sir,” I called through the tightly bolted door. “The leak isn’t coming from here. Everything’s dry under my sink.” I actually said “sir.” Just in case.
Tuna sandwich consumed, dishes washed and left to dry in the green plastic basket, I unhooked the chain on top of the door, turned the deadbolt and heard the click. Never thought to look out the peephole. Never thought to make sure it was safe.
Like a cat pouncing on a tiny sparrow he jumped inside, shoved me aside, flipped me around, grabbed me from behind and slapped his hand across my mouth stifling my screams.
“Shut up! Or I’ll have to hurt you.”
It was that same deep voice from an hour ago when I did peek out.
My heart hammered, nearly exploded my chest. I gulped down breaths. Tried to stay quiet. Ugly images popped in my head: rape, switchblade, gun, a beating.
With his hand clamped over my mouth, he pulled my head sideways. It felt like I was crushed in a vise. He pushed me into the kitchen.
“Give me a rag,” he commanded, his voice full of gravel.
I squatted. Opened the cabinet. It wasn’t easy moving around with his arm wrenching my neck, practically turning my head a full one-eighty. I managed to reach in and grab a piece of paper towel. Nothing big. Nothing large enough to tie me up, stuff my mouth, bind my wrists.
With a strong grip on my skull, he led me into the living room. And I didn’t fight.
“Sit down and face the wall,” he said, and shoved me into a chair. “Don’t turn around.” Then he growled, “You’re the wrong girl. I thought you were someone else.”
My breath came hard and fast. My carotid pulsed. Frozen as Minnesota in February, I sat staring at the wall. I heard him moving around my apartment, my home. He was in the kitchen. At the door. Was he leaving? Damn. All I heard was the rough squeak of Bounty wiping the brass doorknob. It took forever; he must have wiped down the entire door. No fingerprints. Nothing to show he’d been there. Nothing but the putrid smell he left behind permeating my furniture, my clothes, my hair.
His footsteps came closer. I didn’t dare turn my head. He was behind me. What now? He’s going to rape me, slice my throat, strangle me with his bare hands. No. He dumped my wallet in my lap and hissed, “Give me five dollars for a taxi.”
“Please, take all of it; just leave me alone.” I pleaded and stared straight ahead.
“No! I only want cab-fare. I told you, I have the wrong girl.”
My hands shook like I had full blown Parkinson’s. I managed to pull out five singles and lifted my arm over my shoulder, my eyes still fixed on the yellow paint on the opposite wall. He grabbed the money.
The bare wooden floor creaked as he walked across the room. I heard the door open. Then he barked, “Don’t get up. Sit there. Don’t move for the next five minutes.”
I sat, erect, and stared straight ahead. His fetid odor burrowed in my nose, my memory. I didn’t budge. I wouldn’t. He might find out and come back.
In addition to publishing fiction in Alaska Quarterly Review, The Beloit Fiction Journal, 34th Parallel Magazine, Defenestration and Albuquerque Arts, Alice Hatcher has placed creative nonfiction in Gargoyle Magazine and poetry in Minetta Review, S/tick and Storyteller. Her work received an honorable mention in Glimmer Train’s April/May 2016 Fiction Open. She lives in Tucson, AZ.
Kent Leatham’s poems, translations, and reviews have appeared in dozens of journals, including Ploughshares, Fence, Able Muse, Zoland, InTranslation, and Poetry Quarterly. He received an MFA in poetry from Emerson College and a BA in poetry from Pacific Lutheran University, served as an associate poetry editor for Black Lawrence Press, and currently teaches at California State University Monterey Bay.
Philip Loyd has been published in more than 100 print magazines in 12 countries, and in hundreds of online publications as well. Included in his many awards is the Hemingway Center Short Story Prize. His first novel, “You Lucky Bastard,” is represented by New York Literary Agent Jan Kardys. Loyd lives in Houston, Texas. Learn more on his website.
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore, where he lives, and edits The Potomac, an online literary journal. His photographs, poetry and fiction have appeared in many literary journals. His latest book is a collection of poems called Mata Hari: Eye of the Day (Apprentice House, Loyola University), and another poetry collection, American Zeitgeist, was released this week from Apprentice House.
Katy Reedy earned her Ph.D. in English from Harvard University, where she studied revenge, poison, and contagion in Shakespeare and his contemporaries. When not working on such happy topics, she can be found writing both short and long stories about her favorite things: BFFs, Chicago, and the 90s. She and her toddler currently reside in Northbrook, IL.
Michele Reese is a professor of English at the University of South Carolina Sumter. Her first book of poetry “Following Phia” was published by WordTech Editions. Her poetry has appeared in Congeries, The Paris Review, Poet’s Lore, Smartish Pace and other literary journals.
Linda Rosen lives with her husband in New Jersey and Florida. When she’s not teaching fitness classes or working with private clients, she enjoys creating stories for readers to devour curled up in a comfortable chair with a cup of tea. Her manuscript, “Flourish,” was a semi-finalist in the 2012 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition. She has been published in Foliate Oak, 201 Family Magazine, The Dying Goose, and queenanneboleyn.com. She is a member of Women’s Fiction Writers Association and the Women’s National Book Association where she is Selections Coordinator of their Great Group Reads committee which chooses books for National Reading Group Month. Her website links to her blog, The Literary Leotard.
Fred Vogel is a short story writer whose words have seen the light of day in Literally Stories, Flash Fiction Magazine, Literary Orphans, and elsewhere. He resides in the blue state of Oregon.
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