NOVEMBER 20, 2017| ISSUE no 226
crack the spine
William A. Greenfield
Adam Michael Nicks
"Scope" by Jean Wolff
short fiction by Greg Jenkins
The unfortunate business with Dean got started when I heard a strange noise coming from outside our cabin. A clopping noise, down near the forest. It wasn’t what I expected to hear at that hour or any other, and it grabbed my attention like somebody’s hand grabbing my arm.
I’d just put my wife Kyoko to bed. My precious Japanese flower. We always went to bed at dusk when we stayed in the woods, and I told her I’d join her soon enough, but not quite yet. I was still on edge. All the demons of the city were still hovering around me, buzzing in my ear, biting at my neck with their sharp, pointy little teeth. After they went to sleep, maybe I would too—but not till then.
I closed the bedroom door and wandered uneasily through the cabin, through the flickering yellow light thrown by a kerosene lamp. The light felt warm on my skin, and I was trying my best to appreciate it, but it wasn’t easy. Same with my mug of chamomile tea. A part of me was clamoring for something stronger—a drink with some alcoholic zing—but I thought no, let’s hang tough. Yellow light and chamomile tea were what my sylvan retreat was all about; I should try to make them work.
Up on the wooden walls were some photos Kyoko had taken. Browsing them always soothed me, and I browsed them now. Some of them were scenes from her native Japan—gorgeous flower gardens in and around Hiroshima, every bright color you can think of—while others had been snapped just outside the cabin’s front door in Vermont. Sweet: a pair of sapsuckers high in a white birch. A pile of scrap lumber—the facings of pine and hemlock logs. The sky at dawn, salmon pink. I was asking myself which do I like better, a sunrise or a sunset, and I was having a tough time answering the question.
That’s when the clopping noise hit me. The sound of a horse’s hooves. Well, I told myself, there was nothing illogical about a horse in this rough country; it’s just that until then I hadn’t noticed any. Four-wheel drive was the accepted mode of transportation.
Curious, I went to the door and opened it. Apart from the milky fireweed, what I saw mostly was a sloping carpet of late-summer green. A very dark green, what with the slanting, fading rays of the setting sun. Here and there the moss-covered clearing was knotted with spirea bushes, patches of wild raspberry and blueberry, and a few maple, spruce and balsam fir saplings. No horse was in sight, though, and somehow I felt good about that.
But I didn’t feel so good about the guy I saw stepping out through a gap in the forest wall. A long, lean fellow with a high and tight haircut, he was wearing camo fatigues and carrying something in his right hand. He paused and stared straight at me, and of course I was staring straight back at him. Neither of us, I guess, was particularly savoring the moment. Then he lowered his head and made his way toward me, slogging up the green hill like poor Sisyphus wrestling that boulder. As he drew nearer, I saw that the thing in his hand was a rifle.
It occurred to me that I could’ve gone back inside the cabin and brought out my own rifle. Not to be belligerent necessarily, but just to hold it in my hands—to even the situation up. Instead I opted to stay where I was, waiting. The guy looked more lost than threatening to me, and I figured I’d learn very soon how right or how wrong my instincts could be when it came to gauging armed men in the woods.
“Evenin’,” he said, standing in front of me. “Don’t mean to be trespassin’ on your land—”
“But I seem to’ve lost my horse. Don’t reckon you’ve seen him, have you? He’s a good-size roan.” The man’s eyes looked like two pieces of flint; his face was sheathed in a light sweat. His voice came rasping out of him like a couple of dry sticks scraping together, trying to spark a fire. “He’s all saddled up,” he said.
“Haven’t seen him,” I said. “I may’ve heard him, though.” I explained about the sound of hooves.
Turning around, the man gazed with a pained expression at the blank wall of the forest.
It grieved my better judgment, but I told him: “Here. You look tired. Why not sit down for a while and rest.” I fetched two foldaway lawn chairs from what would’ve been my front porch if I’d had one.
He propped his rifle against the cabin and tossed himself into a chair. “If that simple-ass horse thinks I get my jollies outta chasin’ after him all day and all night . . .”
“Name’s Henry,” I said, sitting down beside him. “Most folks call me H.D.”
“Dean,” he replied, which left me to wonder if “Dean” was his first name or his last.
I asked him how he’d managed to lose his horse.
“Misplaced him,” Dean said.
No doubt the height of my eyebrows implied some disappointment with his answer, and when I glanced over at him he shifted his weight in the chair.
“You know how it is,” he said, “when you put somethin’ some damn place, and then a minute later you can’t find it? Well, that’s what I did with ol’ Roadrunner.”
“Did you tether him?”
“Did I what him?”
“Tie him to something.”
“That horse is supposed to be trained.”
One of the things I love about the nature is the way it smells—fresh and clean. So I sat there for a bit relishing the open air, noting three or four individual fragrances, and then I offered to go pour my guest a cup of water or tea.
“No, thanks,” he said. He reached into his fatigues, hauled out a scarred, pewter flask and had a long swallow, after which he emitted a sound like a distressed owl. A screeching Whooooo-ooh! “Black Jack,” he said, and held the flask out to me.
I shook my head no, and he put the flask away.
I was tempted to tell Dean how I’d built my cabin, my little abbey away from the world, with my own two hands. Tell him how I chopped dozens of sap-filled spruce and fir logs with an ax and peeled them with a bark spud, the cover splitting away like human skin. How I used oxen to drag the shiny white logs to the clearing, and how I flattened them on two sides and notched them at the ends. How I used ropes, levers and inclines to piece the cabin together as if solving a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. How proud I was of my work.
The tale probably would’ve scored me some points, but it also would’ve been a crock. I’d hired someone to do the job for me. I believe there’s enough baloney in this world without my adding to it, so I just sat there quietly till he looked straight into my eyes and announced:
“I’m a patriot.”
The way he said it kind of spooked me. “That’s good,” I ventured. “You love your country.”
“No,” he said, “I can’t stand my country. Or whatever the hell it’s turned into.”
Now I had him pegged. “You belong to one of those citizen militia groups.”
“You got a problem with that?”
He let his tense mobile eyes settle on something—or on nothing—in the forest. “The end times is comin’, H.D. All-out war between us and them. That’s what me and the others was doin’ out there. Maneuvers. Gettin’ ready.”
“Others? You’ve got friends out there?”
“More ’n you know,” he said with a wink.
“Not to be nosy or anything, but what happened to ’em? Where’d they go?”
Once again Dean shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He gave me a petulant shrug. “We got separated,” he said.
Unbidden, he began to spell out his guiding philosophy, or his worldview, or his creed—whatever he might’ve called it. Parts of it were dimly familiar to me, and parts definitely were not. His lean craggy face glowing like a pale half moon, he spoke in a dry flat declarative voice that only now and then sounded scared or desperate.
What we used to know as America, he claimed, was dissolving away. The stuffed shirts in Washington no longer gave a damn about the people. Individualism was being supplanted by socialism, which was just another name for communism, which hadn’t been defeated at all, but which had taken on new and insidious shapes and energies. The United Nations was out to destroy us, he insisted, as were the Council on Foreign Relations; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; the Trilateral Commission; FEMA; ICE. He complained sorely about international bankers, gun control and the New World Order. By the time he wound down, night having fallen, Dean was speaking in code words only: Waco, Ruby Ridge, black helicopters.
“We got C-4,” he told me.
“C-4. An explosive?”
“Yep. More powerful ’n dynamite.”
“What’re you gonna do with it?”
He produced his flask and had another taste, the hard eyes squeezing shut, then flinging open again. “Whatever we need to, I reckon.”
Koans. His comments reminded me of certain koans—word puzzles—that Kyoko had shared with me. A big part of Zen, they’re designed to teach, to nudge one a jot closer to enlightenment. I wondered: was it conceivable that Dean was a magus of sorts? An instructor? A Bodhisattva come to show me the Way?
Frankly, I doubted it.
“Admit somethin’, H.D.,” he said. “Admit it here and now. Don’t you believe, way down deep, that our country’s goin’ to hell in a bucket?”
I admitted that yes, the thought had crossed my mind. Dean dipped his moon-shaped head with satisfaction.
“Damn right you believe it,” he said. “You believe it ’cause it’s true. What’s more, every clear-thinkin’ man believes the same way, whether he’s willin’ to ’fess up or not. That’s why we gotta band together before it’s too late, protect what’s left, fight for survival, fight to the death. . . .”
Evidently pleased at my willingness to hear him out, he proposed to let me in on an alarming secret. I tilted forward in my chair.
“You know who runs the world?” he asked.
I shook my head.
“Nippon,” he said. “The Land of the Risin’ Sun.”
“Japan runs the world?”
His demeanor was serious. Slightly fevered, but serious. “They couldn’t take over the world with their military—we whipped ’em there—so they decided to do it with their economy. Nowadays they own most everything, and what they don’t own, they control. I will guaran-goddam-tee you: every time a pack of smokes goes up another nickel, it’s because the Japanese moneymen wanted it to.”
A silence followed, disturbed only by the scattered sounds of the forest, and extended itself for a full minute. His remarks about Japan seemed to beg for a competent response, but more than that they made me think of my wife. Alone in bed. I knew I should get up and go join her.
Yet what finally ended the silence was a soft, terribly soft, slithering noise that insinuated itself between us at ground level. I looked at Dean, he looked at me, and we both stared down anxiously at the dark space between our chairs. It was almost impossible to see what might be moving through the brush.
“SNAKE!” he screamed wildly, and lurched sideways out of his chair. “SNAKE! COPPERHEAD! MY GOD, WATCH OUT!”
Stumbling, flailing, grunting like a boar, he heaved himself headfirst at his rifle. But before he could reach it, I somehow stopped him with a shout of my own.
“No!” I said. “Wait. Just wait a second.”
Still in my chair, I reached down carefully and scooped up Dean’s “snake,” which turned out to be a small salamander with a fat, kinky tail. Its smooth black skin speckled with yellow spots that looked like drops of mustard, the little guy seemed nearly as rattled as Dean. I held it up so Dean could see it. I stroked the top of its head gently and put it back on the ground.
Recovering his poise but keeping his distance, Dean clambered to his feet and said: “Where’d the snake go?”
“What snake? There wasn’t any snake.”
“I’m talkin’ about that copperhead snake I saw—”
“It was a salamander.”
“—that sumbitch copperhead snake I saw that was windin’ along beside that salamander.”
“I didn’t see any snake,” I said.
Guardedly, as if stealing barefoot into a vast cave writhing and hissing with poisonous reptiles, Dean tiptoed toward me and began spinning theories about what had become of his alleged snake. It’d scooted over to one side . . . it’d dived down into a hole . . . it was still lurking in the grass between the chairs, but absolutely motionless and hence invisible. . . . Put off by his oddball notions, I stood up and shivered, ready to hit the sack.
“Anyway,” he said, “you just remember what I told you about them Japanese. Way things are goin’, they’ll move in tomorrow with their army of investors and lenders and lay claim to everything. They’ll take over our homes. They’ll be sleepin’ in our goddam bedrooms—”
He broke off his rant, gasping in shock, when he noticed Kyoko looming drowsily in the lamp-lit doorway; she must’ve heard the racket. Petite as a porcelain doll, she was wearing her favorite blue silk kimono, her shoulder-length tousled black hair not quite obscuring her eyes. Those beautiful, telltale, Asian eyes.
“Samishii,” she murmured. The word means lonesome.
“Good God,” Dean said, staggering in the weeds. “Good God a-mighty.”
I started to wish him luck in finding his runaway horse, but before I could, he too was running away, rifle in hand, galloping madly down the hill and straight at the waiting forest. Kyoko pressed herself warmly against my side. She didn’t bother to ask who or what the visitor was; perhaps she already knew.
“Grab your camera,” I said, “and take a picture of him before he’s gone.”
“It’s too dark.”
I nodded, and together we watched the shadowy figure gallop and dwindle and finally disappear. Silently she continued to press against me, sending me what reassurance she could.
“Too dark,” I whispered.
poetry by Mike Faran
Mornings I hear the
whoosh of cars trucks & buses on
the damp windy boulevards
Sometimes I wonder about
waffles & wish I’d
paid more attention when she was
still here.It’s called a waffle iron,
she’d whisper as if I couldn’t
And I always wanted at least three -
hot enough to make butter scream &
to bubble the syrup
but cool enough to eat after stirring
my mug of black coffee
Now there’s only this one-eyed cat
knocking around an
empty beer can in the dark corner &
these two eggs that I’m afraid to crack
Living Alone With
a One-Eyed Cat
When you and I went camping we accidentally erected the tent near a nest of wasps, or were they yellow jackets? Our camping kinesis unleashed the mustard bodies of floating stingers that lived in a hollowed out base of a rotting tree. We took shelter twenty feet away, leaving the angry yellow cloud to their stump. Insects in summertime Maryland were angrier than we’d imagined.
In the shade of the nylon, we shared a joint while sweat beaded on our bare limbs – droplets caught in the date-colored hair of your arms. Your body smelled like a ripe fig. Camping dilettantes, we rustled through our plastic bag of snacks looking for tepid bottles of water to quench the thirst that came with the end of summer fog. Dressed in only underwear, we unzipped the mouth of the shelter in the hopes a nonexistent breeze would cool us down.
The land below the camp was bouncy with damp grass and the smudge of muddy, rain-bloated earth. We poked our living room floor and watched the below-us-perspiration splotch at our fingering.
The cicadas hummed in swells as the evening descended; I told you that I wanted to live in the tent forever. Our thighs touched as we surveyed our domicile. I suggested we name our new home like elegant people did in olden days. La Felicità.
While you slept, I admired the perspiration that stained your forehead. As I looked at you, I tried to find a word that meant “love” but was not "love" – a word that people chomp on too often, turning the syllables into beige gum. Our mansion-tent swayed in the fire fly nighttime, and I fell into dreamlessness thinking about how this existed before you and it exists now with you. The wordless feeling is the same as the old feeling, but somehow not the same at all.
flash fiction by Jane-Rebecca Cannarella
Rushes of white light came at the girls as cars streaked by underneath them. They felt the wind on their legs, tanned and dangling through the overpass rails like the bendy straws in their Cokes. Annie’s flip-flop had slipped off once and the two of them had shrieked with laughter and horror watching it fall onto the highway below.
On these summer nights the damp air coated their bodies and coaxed out their goosebumps. They ached with dangerous wonder (hormones). The lights kept coming.
They screamed to know what it felt like, guttural and deep and loud as they could.
micro fiction by Christina Wiseman
The Red Coat
short fiction by Lindsey Little
“Wear your red coat when you go out, Tommy,” his mother said over a dish of questionable ingredients. “The forecast says we’re going to have a bit of snow.”
Tommy knew better than to talk with his mouth full. Still, he liked to take long walks through his parent’s multi-acre property regardless of rain, sleet, and sundown. His parents knew better than to convince him to find other hobbies. He wasn’t into music, sports, art or any other activity that entertained other kids his age. While his mother argued to get the boy a dog, his father was against it, stating that he wasn’t going to take care of “anymore stinking animals,” and pointed to the numerous felines that haunted the property.
The cats weren’t feral, friendly even. There was one that would even hike with him sometimes and allow no more than three or four pets before getting just out of his reach.
The cat did not accompany Tommy on his walk. For that matter, he didn’t see any of the cats prowling the grounds. He had heard about animals having a sense for the weather but he attributed the reclusiveness as typical catlike behavior. He had no reason to suspect the light flittering of snowflakes to turn into a blizzard.
Flashlights were big, clumsy things and Tommy liked to be hands free on his hikes. His mother got him a headlamp one Christmas but he found it too bothersome to worry with. He paid attention to the moon phases and felt the earth under his shoes, knew the ridges and dips. He wanted to see complete darkness, how all the lights faded and one could see the entire night sky in all its starry splendor.
Sometimes he would lay on a flat-topped boulder and look out at the sky. With the pelting snow that was growing larger and falling thicker by the minute, he doubted he would be able to climb up the rock. Ice and rocks meant slipperiness and not even the thickest of rubbery treaded boots could help him. Still, he traveled towards it. It was about a mile and a half away. Tommy could walk the entire time at a meandering pace without getting winded before breakfast.
His mind wondered freely during these strolls. The reason for this jaunt was not to admire the cosmos, or even to listen to the silence of snowfall, but to blow off steam. It was that Tommy was feeling the pressures that have haunted mankind since the barring of Eden. Without these walks, he would have nights of fitful sleep.
His mind wondered from the bouncing ponytails to the eye-grabbing garb of his female peers and what marvelous secrets they hid behind them. Their lips painted eye-catching colors, their perfume nagged his sense of smell, their teasing demeanors all demanded his attentions and Tommy was attentive.
He came to the boulder, slightly winded. The walk shouldn’t have had him feeling so tired. Perhaps it was the heavy thoughts. The fact was that the air hurt for him to breathe. Each inhale burned his throat with icy claws.
He pressed on until he walked a bit further to a small club house he built in his boyhood. The ceiling that had once seemed so distant was now scraping his scalp with the rows of oak tree branches. Here, he stopped to catch his breath. His heart pulsed slower and his breathing became more even, his mind was still racing.
Snow was usually light and never more than a couple of inches. Shouldn’t the clouds have exhausted themselves of snow by now? Has it ever been this cold before? He shivered.
The snow was the only sound he could hear besides his own breathing and that too was beginning to settle. His teeth began to chatter. He focused on the soft pitter patter of the individual flakes as they completed their meandering decent to the ground as he sat cross legged in the ramshackle hut. He remembered entire summers spent here, away from the hounding presence of his parents.
His thoughts were the typical ideas of a teenager, not at all of school or of his future. He stuffed his hands in his pockets. He wished for one last summer where he wasn’t pressured to think of the future. He would be graduating soon and the idea of adulthood and having to seek employment weren’t welcome in the sanctity of his daydreaming.
A somber reflection was disturbed by another set of footsteps crunching through the snow. Who dares intrude into my sanctuary? He peeked and saw a boy.
At first, he was puzzled. This land was private property with only a highway bordering the property’s edge. There was no subdivision blooming from the valley, chasing away the natural wilds. Fifteen acres of unsoiled land were his and his family’s most prized possession. Who was this trespasser? He followed at a quiet distance.
The snow plummeted to the ground and Tommy couldn’t control his chattering teeth. He couldn’t feel his feet. He would have gone back but his curiosity forced him after this other wanderer. He noticed that the boy was growing slower. Tommy felt empathy. His own gate was lumbering and tired but when he saw the boy, he called out. “Hey,”
The echoes drowned out the pattering of snowflakes. The boy stopped ambling and looked at Tommy. The boy looked familiar but Tommy shrugged it off – probably from school. He trudged towards the boy. His lips were pale, nearly blue. The boy looked in Tommy’s direction with red-rimmed, colorless eyes. White.
A knot formed inside of his stomach. Tommy felt as if he were threatened even though the other didn’t say a word or any gesture. He felt a perverse darkness pierce his mind. Fear. His breathing quickened. His lungs grasped at the air. This is my birthright. Shoo, you!
He was dressed like Tommy, right down to the red coat, even looked like him if it weren’t for those creepy eyes. The white-eyed boy walked behind Tommy the path from which he had come. He made a coughing sound from deep in the back of his throat that made Tommy sweat. Heat prickled on his body.
Spellbound, Tommy couldn’t move. His skin itched and he couldn’t scratch. He’d heard of sleep paralysis, even experienced it once but he was far from sleep. He tried to wiggle his pinky, a toe, and even blink but until he couldn’t hear the crunching snow beneath the other boy’s boots was he able to break his stillness.
Tommy was wet. He could feel the sweat trickle in between the hair of his head down his neck. It was snowing and here he was running a fever. He recognized the other symptoms of a fever: fatigue, muscle aches, and the more he thought of it, the more symptoms appeared. Only, he was hot too. He felt unbalanced and sat down in a snowdrift. Probably an unwise thing to do but he really felt faint and it was either that or fall on his face.
He plucked off his gloves and hat. The flurry-thick air felt cool against his skin. It took him awhile to grab the zipper from his jacket but his red coat was off. He left the coat in the snow. It was cumbersome to deal with. Still, the heat. He walked to the shamble of logs that kindled nostalgic memories. There, he thought, would be safe. The thing could not get him there.
What was that thing anyway? Images of its nostrils flared wide and white, placid eyes haunted Tommy. It looked an evil twin. That’s silly. I don’t have a twin. He got on his hands and knees. He looked for a branch or a small tree to help himself up with but when he reached and grabbed, it slipped.
Fine, he thought. I guess lying here isn’t so bad. He looked up at the sky. The snow had stopped. The clouds parted and Tommy saw a brilliant sky full of stars. With the stilling of snow, there was a sudden silence. Tommy realized that he hadn’t come across a single living thing throughout his entire walk. No night birds, no nocturnal rodents, nothing living. Unless he counted that thing in the red coat, which he didn’t.
They each twinkled and changed colors. Tommy had never seen so many of them. Among the brilliance, he saw one star that was black. Was it even a star? Afterimage stung red and green into the sky. Sure, the sky was black but he was sure that the star was an even darker black. The stars hid behind the black object as it came closer and closer. When the stars were all but hidden, Tommy saw it – the complete darkness and with it came a bone-cold chill that could never be forgotten.
When Tommy blinked, the sky blinked back and then Tommy was not.
poetry by William A. Greenfield
Typically at three a.m., just before
you come awake, the wolf, stalking
in some vague recollection, becomes
human, no longer threatening to
sink canines into your neck, but a
menace nonetheless, smirking and
brandishing a deadly blade with
an abandon that is so human.
The bear that threatens to invade
your home- you’ve seen him many
times- becomes an old woman,
angry because you will soon
toss her to the wolves.
I’m still waiting for the dream
where my dead uncle becomes
a small tiger, where my chemistry
professor becomes an eagle.
It’s always animal to human. I
don’t get it. Yes, my dog loves
the softness of my blankets,
loves lying in the warm sun,
loves the caress of human hands;
but she was never an old girlfriend
at three a.m., never the cashier at
Home Depot. Is it a nightmare
that I subconsciously suppress,
where a hungry child becomes a
scavenging rodent, where a fair
haired bully becomes a snake
in the grass?
JoJo the Sign-Language Gorilla Abducted By Delusional Trainer
JoJo “The Greatest Ape™,” the phenomenal primate known for her incredible ability to communicate using over 1,500 gestures in sign language, was kidnapped last night.
Dr. Linda Graves, the primary researcher with the Ape Institution, has been employed with the privately funded entity for the last twenty-five years and is the sole suspect. She was arrested around 1 a.m. last night at Quay Dock waiting for a cargo boat that she had illegally bribed to transport her and JoJo to Maui, where she intended to live in secret with the gorilla.
Police say the gorilla was taken from her cage around 9 p.m. and was transported, via the front seat of Graves’ Jeep Wrangler, to the local drive-in showing of Mr. Meow-gi Saves Christmas. Authorities were called to the scene after the ape attempted to flip a family of four’s minivan when it saw their dog in the backseat. The family and their vehicle were unharmed and first responders were unable to locate Graves or JoJo.
Kim Tedford, an employee working the drive-thru at The Shaky Shakin’ Shake Shack, said that they were visited by JoJo around 10:15 p.m., and that the primate assaulted her with one of the beverages Graves had purchased.
“Yeah, I’d say it was probably one of the last things I expected to happen to me on the late shift,” Tedford noted. “All I asked was, ‘wow, is that a real gorilla?’ And then it whipped the banana shake at me. We had to stay late to get it all cleaned up.”
Their whereabouts from there are unclear, but several eyewitnesses claim they visited an elementary school playground and Dawson’s Hill. Adrienne Riggs, a student at Northward High School, was at Dawson’s Hill at 12:30 a.m. and told police that Graves laid on the hood of her car with the gorilla, staring at the stars “like they were going to make out, or something.”
Last week, it was announced that the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services branch of the USDA was shutting down the Ape Institution’s facilities for their discovery of gross misconduct amongst the researchers.
In the press release, the USDA claimed they found the apewas in “poor health” with “little exercise” andgorging on a human-like diet that included “chocolates” and “salted meats.”
Instead of regular play, the lethargic gorilla would nap and watch countless hours of television. A female in the wild normally weighs 150-200 lbs, however JoJo is now catalogued to be at a staggering 350.
Graves had been investigated once before, a decade ago, after numerous disgruntled volunteers cited “degrading harassment, mostly in a sexual manner,” for their cause of leave. The media dubbed the complaint “The Nipple Incident” after headlines picked up on a specific event of handlers being forced to expose themselves to the gorilla. The internal Board of Operations released a statement soon after defending Graves’ work: “We have the utmost confidence in Dr. Graves’ experimentation and we trust that she handles herself and JoJo: The Greatest Ape™, with professionalism and care.”
The Ape Institution refused to comment on Graves’ latest indiscretions, but assured the public that “JoJo: The Greatest Ape™ is safe, and back in good hands.”
flash fiction by Adam Michael Nicks
Lesson in Hugs
The physiology of hugging works like this: hugs lasting 20 seconds or longer release oxytocin into the bloodstream, helping to regulate the nervous system. Hugs induce feelings of comfort and personal security, resulting in lower blood pressure and improved cardiovascular health. Hugs are good for you.
When I was a little girl, my father scooped me up in his arms in the front hall as soon he came home from work. He held me against his chest, right next to his beating heart, and asked me what I had done that day at school. I rubbed my palm against the scratchy bristles on his cheek and whispered my tiny triumphs in his ear. Inside my father’s hug, feet dangling midair, I imagined all kinds of futures.
A Montreal man offered free hugs to strangers in a subway station. Was he tired of sitting alone in his room listening toEleanor Rigby? On the evening news, I saw his shabby cords, his bushy beard, his bilingual green T-shirt with chunky white letters: Câlin Gratuit/Free Hugs. He spread his arms to passersby, inviting them to enjoy a fleeting moment of human connection. Transport authorities did not agree that indiscriminate hugs, even if asexual in nature, were better than none. They fined him for giving away comfort in a public place.
Language of Lovers
In the early stages of romance, hugs pulse with desire. I remember my lover’s arms entwining my body with heat just before his mouth found mine. I remember our late morning after-hugs in twisted sheets. After years of marriage, my lover-now-husband enfolds me in the warmth of longstanding love. A walk-by squeeze in the kitchen, a quick hug before leaving for work. When I toss and turn beside him in bed, his arms reach for me in a half-asleep hug, that moment of nighttime intimacy still so sweet.
Not everyone likes being hugged. Dr. Temple Grandin, a woman with autism and a PhD in Animal Science, invented a squeeze machine for herself. The deep pressure of her hugging machine calmed her atypical nervous system and reduced her anxiety. I heard her speak once at an autism conference. Temple Grandin’s words shone with humanity. Sadly, the woman thanking Dr. Grandin put her arm around Grandin’s shoulder in a casual half-hug, making her flinch in front of all those people. Recoiling from hugs is not always a sign of a miserable childhood.
My son loved to cuddle as a toddler, but shrugged off my hugs as he grew into teenaged life. I clung to his childhood as he got ready to launch into his own space. The day he moved to his first apartment, he gave me a bear hug in front of all of his buddies. He headed off with them to figure out Ikea instructions and feast on pizza and beer. He comes home for dinner most weekends, and even when I don’t offer left-over pot roast in Tupperware, he hugs me goodbye every time. Precious au revoir hugs in my empty nest.
I hugged my friend when she walked away from a bad relationship. She packed up her belongings, snuck away when the SOB wasn’t home, took her red eyes and wet cheeks across town to a new house. At the end of my one-week visit, we stood at my departure gate in the airport, and I wrapped my arms around her in sisterly support. Her body trembled against mine as I tried to squeeze away her self-doubts, her second thoughts, her fears. I gave her one final hug, tight enough and long enough to last, because you can’t hug over the phone.
After her stroke, my 92-year-old mother languished in a nursing home bed, silent except for her wheezy breaths. Day after day, as the hours ticked away, caregivers moved their hands over her withered body, turning her, washing her, feeding her. When I visited, I leaned down toward her pillow and draped my arms around her shoulders. Her gaze fluttered towards my face. Vague recognition? A weak spasm of memory? Even though she couldn’t hug back, even though she was dying, I believe my mother knew I was there.
What to Remember
Science explains the workings of the limbic brain. Human touch, like a poet’s words, reveals the fullness of life.
creative non-fiction by Karen Zey
Jane-Rebecca Cannarella is the editor of HOOT Review, a genre editor at Lunch Ticket, a cat lady, a contributing writer at SSG music, and a candy enthusiast. She received her BA and M.Ed from Arcadia University, attended Goldsmiths: University of London, Sarah Lawrence College, and is an MFA candidate at Antioch University. When not poorly playing the piano, she chronicles the many ways that she embarrasses herself at the websitewww.youlifeisnotsogreat.com. She occasionally drinks wine out of a mug that has a smug poodle on it, and she’s not wonderful at writing in the third person.
Mike spent his childhood in the UK. After his return to California, he served a four year stint in the USAF and then went on to graduate from Cal State Fullerton. His poetry has appeared in Big Muddy, Iodine Poetry Review, and The Midwest Quarterly. His work has been influenced by the beat school of poetry.
William A. Greenfield
William A. Greenfield is a writer of poetry, a part time public service worker, a fairly good poker player, and a fairly poor golfer. He resides in Liberty, NY with his wife, son, and a dog; always a dog. Winner of Storyteller Magazine’s People’s Choice Award in 2012, William has had poems published in dozens of literary journals, including The Westchester Review, Carve Magazine, The East Coast Literary Review, and others. His chapbook, “Momma’s Boy Gone Bad”, was published in February 2017 by Finishing Line Press.
Greg Jenkins is the author of four books, including his recent novel “A Face in the Sky,” and roughly 55 short stories. His fiction has appeared in such journals as Prairie Schooner, Prism International, South Dakota Review and Mensa Bulletin.
Lindsey Little can owes her means of writing to the local regard of invasive kudzu taking over abandoned buildings, backyard brushfires floating embers to untraceable wind currents, and the secret riptides of sugar sand beaches. She lives in Pell City, Alabama.
Adam Michael Nicks
Adam Michael Nicks is a Pushcart Prize nominated writer and the recipient of the 2017 Leonard Trawick Award. He is currently finishing up his MFA and his work has appeared in Typehouse-Ink and ReCap.
Christina Wiseman has completed the Novel Generator program, a competitive-entry intensive workshop at Boston’s GrubStreet creative writing center. She lives in Somerville, Massachusetts and is currently at work on her first novel.
Jean Wolff studied fine arts at the Center for Creative Studies in Detroit and at the University of Michigan. She attended Hunter College, CUNY in New York, graduating with an MFA in painting and printmaking. She’s had group and solo exhibits in numerous galleries in New York City and internationally. In addition, her work has been published in various literary and art journals. Jean currently lives and works in New York City. For complete exhibition list and bibliography please visit artist website atwww.jeanwolff.com
Karen Zey is a Canadian writer from la belle ville de Pointe-Claire, Quebec. Her work has appeared in Burningwood Literary Journal, Hippocampus Magazine, Prick of the Spindle, Toronto’s Globe and Mail and other places. She received her first Pushcart nomination in 2015. Karen is currently working on a memoir about her many years teaching and consulting in special education.
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