NOVEMBER 29, 2017| ISSUE no 227
crack the spine
"Cracked Window" by Manit Chaotragoongit
I’m obsessed with this Japanese woman.
She gets rids of things. Sometimes she gets rid other people’s things. She does this for a living. Wild, isn’t it? I genuinely think her power to discard is a talent; one many of us were born without or never developed, or however it is that talent works.
I buy her books and dog-ear them and tell myself that tomorrow I am doing everything she says, and my rooms will empty themselves of everything that gathers dust. But tomorrow doesn’t come. I don’t have her gifts.
But she’s young, yet. In her thirties. At that age you still have former selves that you’re eager to shed like a snake sheds its skin.
I’m older. It’s harder.
At my age you want to remember: you are the woman who posed for that picture in that swimsuit, or wore that ribbon in her hair. You can’t let go. You hold on until your hands are raw, and you kid yourself that if you could just braid these scraps together – a bit of silk and a dried flower and a piece of the baby’s blanket – you might get yourself back.
flash fiction by Victoria Large
poetry by Robert Fillman
The vanishing glow
of December sunset
through a bay window
betrays a daughter,
her wet moon smile,
breast bones exposed
like sweating basement pipes
no longer concealed
by sheer rose-print.
She slides backward, feels
the shriveled yank
of an incision,
at the thought
of her own mother,
eyebrows like cleavers,
brown, bloody gauze,
over and over
the way she reassured
men would still love her
like so many
Commercial for a Midlife Crisis
Angie Gets a Job
short fiction by Linda Boroff
Angie was not qualifying; she was crying. With one hand across her eyes, she groped for the tissue box that her interviewer extended without looking up as he checked her typing test. From between her fingers, Angie watched him circle errors; the sharp red pencil reminded her of a bird’s beak: peck, stab, scratch. It left bloody little wounds all over her page. This abysmal performance confirmed every pessimistic prediction of her destiny that Angie had ever heard in her seventeen years.
“Miss uh, Morris.” The man, gray-haired, with swinging wattles and rheumy brown eyes, held the flimsy page at a slight distance, like a soiled diaper. “You type thirteen words per minute, once the errors are subtracted.” Angie ducked behind her tissue. “We cannot very well hire you as a typist, now can we?” He arched his brows, as if seeking agreement.
“But I must have a job,” Angie wailed. A child still, she believed in the magical power of her own needs to drive the decisions of others. “Or… or else I have to move home.” This was a lie. In fact Angie needed a job precisely because she was not permitted to move home. But she didn’t dare confide in this grandfatherly personnel director. That would open a window on her past even more prejudicial than her terrible typing.
To Angie’s surprise, her inquisitor hesitated at her mention of moving home, and she, with the canny intuition of the delinquent, sensed a weak spot in his perimeter and pushed on through.
“I’d be so ashamed in front of my parents. I moved out to live on my own and now I’m failing.” Her head drooped, and her long, curling black hair swept forward to obscure her face, which rather disappointed her interviewer. He liked gazing at the pretty thing in her cheap gray cotton skirt — two runs in her hose — and worn red sweater. Charming. But hopelessly unqualified. She huddled penitently before him, peeking out from her tissue with reddened blue eyes. Angie’s distress seemed sincere enough. And anybody who needed work as badly as she did would surely strive to improve her typing skills.
“Well,” he said with mock reluctance. “I’m going to go out on a limb.” Angie’s heart gave an extra, tripping little beat. “I’ll hire you conditionally. But…” he frowned, stern as Jove, and Angie’s eyes widened in flattering response, “you must raise your typing speed to forty words per minute” (the eyes grew huge) “within three months. If you can do that, you’ll go on permanent status.” Caught in mid-sniff, Angie searched his face. Her grin blazed out like the sun from a ragged rain cloud.
“Oh, Mr....” she glanced at the black and gold nameplate, “Mr. Trueblood! I don’t know how to thank you. Oh, I’ll work so hard.”
“I’m sure you will, Angie.” For a moment they beamed almost conspiratorially at one another, and into Mr. Trueblood’s mind suddenly flashed the word “snookered,” although that did not diminish the width of his smile.
Angie danced out of the office past the scowling old receptionist, who handed her a packet of employment forms with the trepidation of a cold war operative passing classified information to a suspected mole.
Since this was Friday afternoon, Angie now had a whole weekend to luxuriate in idleness and dissipation. She knew of a party Saturday night. And she had a date on Sunday with a man she met at Larry Blake’s Rathskeller on Telegraph Avenue, where she and her roommate Kati were drinking on fake IDs. The man, who confessed to being forty-two, claimed to own a gull-wing Mercedes and a luxurious home in the Oakland Hills from which his wife had recently exited. The anticipation of a restaurant meal and all the liquor she could hold made Angie euphoric as she jolted along on the bus back to Berkeley.
For weeks, fear and uncertainty had kept Angie awake at night. While her roommates slept, she would sneak into the bathroom and weep, rocking back and forth on the seat, wiping her eyes with toilet paper. Only yesterday, Angie had dialed her mother collect from a pay phone and received a histrionic response. Mrs. Morris, an inventory clerk in a Los Angeles department store, had her hands full just supporting Angie’s younger sister, Frances. Even now, Mr. Morris was refusing to pay child support for Francie, in defiance of a court order. The woman he lived with hung up on Mrs. Morris when she called. You have to get a job like everybody else, her mother shouted.
And now, when all hope had fled, Angie was saved. Her roommates, Kati and Maryellen, could reinstate the phone, cut off due to Angie’s arrearage. And they could finally give the air to Butch, their pesky landlord.
For the last two months Butch had accepted two-thirds of the rent, on the assurance that Angie was seeking work with the determination of an Everest summiteer. But since the girls owed him money, he had taken to dropping by and hanging around, asking suggestive questions and snooping through the rooms, “inspecting” for bogus leaks or electrical shorts. He complained that he was in trouble with his wife over their rent. Butch had a crush on Kati, who was Hungarian and beautiful. If Kati was home when he came by, she had to pretend to leave in order to get rid of him.
Maryellen had curly, platinum blonde hair, a deep dimple in her chin, and heavy thighs. She wore no makeup, which made her look washed out and churchy. But when Kati had suggested a little mascara, Maryellen just snorted.
Maryellen’s brother Kyle, who studied psychology at the university, had taken Angie on a movie date the week before. When she got into his car, Kyle had pulled his penis out of his pants and driven like that through the city streets all the way to the theater. Angie, uncertain what to do, had chatted away nervously about Berkeley, politics and such. All the while, out of the corner of her eye she could see Kyle’s penis bumping along like a third, silent passenger. When they reached the theater, Kyle had zipped himself back up and the evening had proceeded quite normally.
In the car on the way home, Kyle took himself out again, which Angie had kind of expected. Upon arriving, she had leaped from the car and thanked Kyle for the movie. He bid her good night amiably from behind the steering wheel, still exposed.
When Angie told Kati about the date, they agreed that Kyle seemed weird, but neither could say for certain what was truly aberrant among college men.
“I think Kyle is a pervert in the making,” said Angie. And Kati must have reported that to Maryellen, because Maryellen shortly thereafter quit speaking to Angie at all. Nights, she would sit knitting on the couch, addressing her comments to Kati as though Angie did not exist. The bitch, thought Angie. She reminds me of Madame de Farge in A Tale of Two Cities, counting her stitches. “A Tale of Three Girls,” Angie thought,composing a story in her mind. Secretly, she yearned to be a writer. But Angie’s new job only carried her farther away from her dream, and nobody seemed to care.
Angie needn’t have worried about raising her typing speed. She was in demand at Croft & Comstock the way fresh recruits had been in the trenches of World War I. The company’s East Bay headquarters was located off Webster Street in downtown Oakland, in a five-story building as grim and practical as a penitentiary. A gray-walled reception area held only a green metal desk; the door behind it opened into a cavernous arena containing countless rows of desks eight abreast, with an IBM Selectric typewriter and a woman at each station. At opposite ends of the floor were the glassed-in cubicles of Mr. Kincaid, the manager, and Mr. Caverley, the East Bay Regional Director.
The typists ranged from teenagers to veterans whose backsides had broadened over the years to fit the office chairs, solid foundations for their atrophied upper bodies. Their arms served only to connect the torso to the gnarled and calloused hands, the fingers hammered spatulate on the QWERTY keyboard. The office was lit from above by fluorescent lights that cast a chill, greenish glare on every blemish, wrinkle, and scar.
Promptly at 8 a.m., the Selectrics hummed to life with a deafening clatter that lasted till five. And weren’t they all lucky to have today’s advanced technology? Not like in the old days, declared Marie, the pool’s champion typist, when their fingers would crack and bleed after hours of pounding the manual keys.
Marie had been with the company for fifteen years. She had a way of sliding the keys together in a sort of arpeggio that generated line after smooth line of perfect type like black cuts across the paper. She was the Vladimir Horowitz of credit report typing. Marie had an unhappy home life, as did most of the typists. Men tricked the women into bed, spent their puny wages, beat, cheated, and abandoned them. Merciless rigor kept the office superficially calm, but beneath was unstable magma. The younger girls had not yet learned the lessons of discretion; they trusted one another with their hearts’ secrets and were regularly betrayed. Screaming battles and deep simmering feuds erupted.
Mr. Caverley, gray and flinty, took little notice of the typists, reserving his conversation for the younger manager, Rich Kincaid. He relished humiliating Mr. Kincaid, delivering ripostes from the side of his mouth in a jocular, hearty way, so that Mr. Kincaid had to laugh along, as if he too enjoyed the jibe.
“Hey Rich,” Mr. Caverley shouted suddenly above the din. The typists instinctively slowed to listen. “You got the March receivables bassackwards again!”
“I don’t think so, Mr. Caverly.” Rich Kincaid rose and sidled hippily across the office, through the too-narrow aisles, knocking papers, staplers, and files from the typists’ desks.“What the deuce, get this stuff off here.” A ripple of suppressed laughter followed his progress like a grass fire. The consequences of an outburst were too terrible to imagine—and that was dry tinder to the urge.
Mr. Kincaid took out his own rage on the women beneath him. No petty infraction escaped his notice. And he went beyond that. “Don’t get caught late here with him.” Angie was warned. “He’ll be all over you. “ As if there were a chance of that! On the stroke of five, Angie was out the door, bypassing the balky elevator to race down the stairs two and three at a time.
At home, she exchanged her shabby dresses for jeans and tie-dyed shirts, wishing she could disappear into their infinite fractals. Then she and Kati cruised Telegraph Avenue, “looking for trouble,“ as they called it. Late at night, Angie might have to find her way home alone, crossing the dark campus, dodging through clumps of trees, hugging the shadows of buildings. By 7:30 a.m., she was at the bus stop in the early drizzle, wobbling on her high heels, eyes half closed.
One morning Angie looked up, and there was Mr. Kincaid in his new Oldsmobile, right at the curb. He smiled and waved, beckoning her into the car.
“It’s my boss,” she blurted. The other bus riders look at her enviously.
“You waitin’ for an engraved invitation?” asked a tubby woman. “Wisht it was me he was askin‘.” I do too, thought Angie, but a cold, rainy wind was whipping her thin skirt around her legs. She got into the car beside Mr. Kincaid, squeezing herself against the door to stay as far away as possible. The car was warm and smelled of leather.
“I didn’t know you lived in Berkeley,” said Mr. Kincaid.
Angie smiled with the corners of her mouth. “Do you live here too?“
Mr. Kincaid mumbled “Livermore,” which was nowhere near Berkeley. Angie wished the Oldsmobile really could gobble up the street the way it did in advertisements. Each stoplight lasted forever; traffic was snarled.
“And where do your parents live?“ asked Mr. Kincaid.
“My my, far from home.” Well, thought Angie, here comes his hand on my leg. But Rich Kincaid said, “My son is dying, you know.”
Angie blinked. “What?”
“He has a rare genetic disorder. I can hardly pronounce the name, even though we’ve been living with it for five years.”
“I’m sorry,” Angie said.
“Would you like to have dinner some time?” said Mr. Kincaid. “It’s just... my wife...has to be with Todd all the time. If his head is not held up, he can choke to death..”
Mr. Kincaid had dark, thin hair cut very short, and sad brown eyes. He looked like a person whose son might be dying.
“How come you yell at everybody all the time?” Angie said suddenly, dizzy at her own nerve.
“I have a temper,” said Rich Kincaid. “I admit it.“
“Well it’s not their fault.”
“No,” he said, “it isn’t.“
When they got to the parking lot, Angie let Mr. Kincaid kiss her and feel her up. He was so grateful he almost cried. They agreed that he would pick her up at her apartment from now on so she didn’t have to walk to the bus stop.
So Rich Kincaid drove Angie to work, and after a while he brought her home as well, and it was just as easy to stop for a bite of dinner on the way. Afterwards, they sat in the garage at Angie’s apartment building and necked like high school kids.
“We’re Catholic,” he said. “I don’t break God’s law, just bend it a little to keep my sanity.”
“Me too,“ said Angie, a wave of euphoric relief washing over her.
Every morning now, Marie looked sharply at Angie, though she and Rich were careful to separate blocks from the building and enter several minutes apart. Sometimes the entire typing pool was looking at her. So they know, thought Angie. So what? Whenever Rich hollered at a girl, he looked quickly at Angie, who tried to keep her features neutral. After work, he apologized.
“Don’t say it to me,” Angie turned away, arms folded. “Say it to her.” But Rich never did.
Marie had a black eye. She didn’t even try to put makeup on it, and everyone elaborately avoided asking her how it happened. The eye seemed to hover over the entire office as a dark and silent reminder: no matter how perfectly you typed, how punctual you were, how many rules you followed, it did you no good. The fundamental cruelty and unfairness of life could not be buffered or deflected.
Butch had a black eye. Kati’s brother, Miklos, a fiery, brilliant graduate student who could not decide whom he loathed more, communists or capitalists, had been visiting on a Saturday afternoon, when Butch walked right through the door without knocking. There had been a scuffle and Kati had screamed. Now all three girls were being evicted.
“You’re our hero,” said Angie to Miklos, who wore a tattered, oatmeal-colored scarf around his neck and whose shock of brown hair fell across keen gray eyes.
“He’s not MY hero,” said Maryellen, who had been trying to call Kyle, but for some reason their telephone was again disconnected.
“Maybe because Miklos doesn’t whip it out the minute he’s alone with a girl,” said Angie. Maryellen charged and would have given Angie a black eye too, but Angie raced out the door and down the street. Dusk was falling, and a faint aroma of patchouli incense on the mild air gave Angie a sudden aching sense of life’s ineluctable passing, of dreams abandoned. The old Victorian homes converted into student apartments looked wise and decadent and seductively inviting. Psychedelic curtains hung at the windows; Country Joe and the Fish reached her ears: “Well it’s one two three, what are we fightin’ for?”
“I’m in love with your brother,” Angie told Kati. “Please tell him I’d like to go out with him.“
“He would never go out with a typist,“ Kati replied. “That sounds cruel, but it’s really kind. He would only use and discard you. Sex alone is meaningless to him. He is seeking his spiritual and intellectual equal.“
“I’ll go to school then,“ said Angie.
“He would never love a girl who got an education merely to snare a man,” said Kati. “So it’s hopeless.”
“Hopeless,” said Marie the next morning when Angie told her of this, “is what you are right now. Believe it or not, I once did the same thing with Mr. Caverly.”
“Yuck,” said Angie.
“If you can find a way to get out of here, do it. Before it‘s too late” Marie turned her misshapen body back to the keyboard.
Someday, Angie had once believed, all would come right, even if only in the kingdom of heaven. The just God existed transparently, so much a part of the usualness of things that his workings went unnoticed. In the end, though, all the good and deserving, living and dead, must at last heave a mighty sigh of relief and be at peace. But the truth was, Rich’s son would soon die. Angie’s father would never return. The typists would labor away, and love and prosperity would always, always elude them.
Angie sent for her high school transcripts, and made an appointment at the University with an admissions officer named Trevor Beardsley. He was a young man with a prominent Adam’s apple, long thin blond hair and a faint mustache.
“How can we admit you to the University of California?” Trevor said, holding Angie‘s transcripts at a slight distance. “You meet almost none of our academic criteria, plus you accumulated more than one hundred hours of detention for truancy.”
Angie began to cry. “But my parents were getting a divorce,” she wails. “I had nobody to talk to. I didn‘t care about anything.” This was a lie. Angie had cared deeply about a number of things, none of them having to do with school.
Trevor Beardsley looked around frantically for a tissue, but all he found was a crumpled paper napkin left over from his lunch. He offered it anyway, and Angie groped for it, one hand across her eyes. It’s really a shame, Trevor thought, that the older generation had to lay their sick trips on their kids like that. Angie seemed like a very bright young woman. And anyone working in a Croft & Comstock typing pool would certainly study hard to keep her grades up. Trevor hesitated...
Call of the Void
You pretend to yawn so your tears are less suspicious. You mumble something about allergies, nod and smile when the bland-faced woman asks you to mind her cooler while she takes a water to her son, who just finished the 800 meter race and is probably feeling very thirsty. Her smile is earnest. Her blue eyes apologize for asking so much of you. You instantly dislike her, and you want to say,Yes, sitting next to your little blue cooler is going to be so hard, I don’t know how I will manage. You know that’s just the terror talking, so you grin and nod instead. The bottle is nicely chilled. Rivulets of condensation course down its grooved sides, soaking the label and obscuring the print. You hate this woman for being so caring, so well prepared, so genuinely concerned about her son and his parched little throat. You hate him for having such a perfect mother. She says his name is Jacob and points him out on the field below. You hate Jacob with an unreasoning fervor, though you know you shouldn’t. You check your phone. Nothing since the last text from your oldest son, age 20, one hour ago. You have no idea where he is or how to find him.
I can’t do this anymore. I’m sorry, Mom. Goodbye.
Where are you? Can I come see you?
You search for your youngest son’s, curly, brown head among the kids warming up on the field. There he is. Stretching. His gentle, brown eyes search the stands, and you wave. “Hi Josh!” You call out. The worry lines between his eyebrows smooth; his tense frown relaxes into a happy smile, and he waves back. You wish you didn’t see relief in his eyes. You remember how your older children used to ignore you in situations like this. You wish he felt self-assured enough to pretend not to see you. You know you may not be able to stay.
My life is fucked. You can’t help me no matter how much you wish you could. I’m sorry. You won’t find me. Don’t try.
I know how hard it is. Please let me help. Where are you?
The track is the rusty color of old blood, and you watch children race around it. They run as if hellions are chasing them, their faces contorted with effort, with pain; you watch your son overtake another racer. “Go!” you yell with the other parents. “Go!” Your heart is beating a wholly unnatural rhythm. You have already had one heart attack. You don’t have time for another.
You focus on breathing as you watch race after race. Children circle the track, round and around again, and an ancient poem by the Tang Dynasty Buddhist recluse, Han Shan, comes to mind:
Man, living in the dust,
Is like a bug trapped in a bowl.
All day he scrabbles round and round,
But never escapes from the bowl that holds him.
The immortals are beyond his reach,
His cravings have no end,
While months and years flow by like a river
Until, in an instant, he has grown old. (1)
(1) Burton Watson, translator.
Right now, you crave an answer from your son. His face swims before your eyes. You know he is probably unshaven, and his dark brown eyes have that dull, empty pall you have learned to fear. The left side of your chest spasms as you imagine pulling him into your arms, something he would never allow. You imagine him sobbing and breaking into a person who has hit bottom and is ready to do what it takes to get proper medication, begin therapy and heal. You imagine him realizing how much you love him, forgiving you, and being grateful for your support. You know this is a fairy tale, that you are casting your son in the role of errant prince and yourself in the role of princess-savior, and you see yourself, short, overweight, and ridiculous, crammed into a shiny pink gown, more beast than beauty; that much is certain. You reflect how Han Shan understood how to let go, to find peace. But Han Shan was a recluse who lived in a cave and scurried about writing his poems on cliffsides and boulders. You are no mystic wise man. You are a mother whose son is in danger, and there is nothing you can do unless he lets you.
I need to know you are ok
You can get through this. I can help you.
Mom, there’s nothing you can do. It’s too late.
You are relieved, at first. He is still alive, as of right now. Then you think about the words:too late. What does too late mean? Is he thinking it’s too late to repair his life? You can work with that. Or is some chemical coursing through his bloodstream even as you read this text? Is blood slowly seeping out of his sliced veins? Is carbon monoxide staining his skin cherry red? you run past the concession stand to the gray, cinder block bathroom and vomit. Then you sit on the toilet and let the tears come.
If you just hang in there, you can get moving in the right
You splash your face with water and return to the stands. Your youngest son has one more race. You’ve almost made it through, kept your promise. “Please Mom,” he asked. “Can you please come?” His final race is the 3200 meters—2 miles. 8 times around the track. After 1 mile, the top three runners, your son included, are fighting for the win. Sweat rolls off their bodies; their faces twist into masks of agony, of hope. All around you are parents, watching. Sometimes, they call out encouragement. Sometimes, they simply shout out the name of their loved one and cheer. You check your phone again.
I need to know you are ok.
Please just answer me and I will stop texting.
Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
You feel like you are rising out of your body. When you look down, your arms seem to belong to someone else. Those hands, the ones with the nails bitten to the quick and punctuated with bloody hangnails, feel surreal and terrifying, as if someone has sewn another woman’s arms to your body. You look up at the field, cross your arms, and pull them in tightly, so you can’t watch them. You want to shake them free. To run and scream. Instead, you focus on how your arms feel. You pinch the inside of your elbow, hard enough to leave a bruise. It feels good. It feels real.These are my arms, you tell yourself.They do not belong to someone else.Still, there is the sensation of rising, of leaving this body and its pain. You recognize that cowardly part of you, and you bear down, cram yourself back inside you. It’s like giving birth, within.Push!You remember Joshua, consider how it would affect him if you cried or screamed or did any of the other things you feel like doing right now. You study the scar on your arm with longing. Pain. Physical pain would feel so good right now.No, you think.I am here with all of these other caring, concerned parents. We are here to support our children as they strengthen their minds and bodies. This is important. This is real. This is who I am.The woman next to you leans in to ask, “is this the fifth lap?” You tell her you’re not sure. All of the sights, sounds, and smells of the stands tilt back into your consciousness, and for a moment, you are falling backwards. One parent says, “Tyler is really not having a good day today.” Another shouts, “Jake! Catch that guy! Pass him! Make your move!” You see coaches interspersed along the track, calling out to the runners. One taps his watch and shouts what is clearly a warning. The runner grimaces and surges forward, fear and pain etched on his features. And suddenly the stands reek of an ancient wrong, men and women shrieking and howling as gladiators battle to the death.
I’ll never be able to do anything Mom. I’m sorry you raised such a loser.
You are not a loser! You are just going through a hard time. Things can get better. Let me help you!
Later, when Joshua finds you, you congratulate him on his excellent run. You give him $1.50 to buy a water bottle at the concession stand. He thanks you for the water. He thanks you for being there. Later, he thanks you for the ride home. He thanks you for stopping and getting him dinner. Tentatively, he asks if ice cream is possible? You get him ice cream. He thanks you again. Every thank you is a glass shard to the chest. You know that he thanks you for being there because so often, you drop everything and leave to handle things so painful you cannot explain them. An overdose. A poisoning. Guttering sobs that simply will not end. He thanks you for the ride because so often he has to find one for himself. He thanks you for dinner and ice cream because he knows you work four part-time jobs so you can pay for health insurance, medicines, copays, and all the rest of it.
You think about texting your boss because you might be planning a funeral tomorrow. You don’t. You are already on thin ice because the last time this happened, you ran out of work crying to search for your son. Sobbing, you drove past the bridge, along the riverfront, up and down the highway. It was completely pointless. The world is bigger than it seems when you go from place to place, living the things that you know. You suppose you thought you could find your son simply because you love him so much. You imagine this is how people feel when their children are kidnapped by strangers. Your son has been taken by a stranger.
The evening wears on, and you wait for the highway patrol, or the sheriff, or the medical examiner to call. You wonder whose job it is to contact you. You despise the part of you that aches for the call because it just wants the torment of not knowing to stop. And yet, every time a car drives by or the dogs bark, your heart tumbles and your hands shake. Your guts clench and you run to the bathroom over and over again, until your ass is red and raw. You turn on the television, look for something to lose yourself in.
Please answer! I love you!
Please answer! I love you!
Please answer! I love you!
Please answer! I love you!
Please answer! I love you!
Please answer! I love you!
You pour yourself a glass of cabernet and laugh at the irony. You drink the whole glass fast. There is a commercial for a famous hospital that treats children with cancer. Sweet, bald children who suffer through no fault of their own ask for your help. A parent makes a heartfelt plea. She explains how unbearable it is not knowing if her child will live to see his next birthday. You know that people are picking up their phones. They are logging in on their laptops. No one can bear the suffering of the innocent. Your son is not innocent, nor you.
Please let me help!
Once, you tried to have him hospitalized, gathered evidence for a judge. His doctor called all of the nearby hospitals. There were no psych beds available, not in your town. Not an hour away. Not two hours away. She explained that if he was hospitalized against his will, he would be there maybe 96 hours, at most. Since there were no psych beds available, all of that would be spent in an ER. Maybe a psychiatrist would see him, if one was available. Maybe not. No guarantees. Then, when the 96 hours were up, he would walk out. All he would have to do is sound reasonable. Calm. Better. And he would. You know this. He is good at pretending, just like you. You know another thing. He will walk out of the hospital. He will get into a car. He will accelerate until the car can go no faster, and he will drive it into a concrete wall. He has promised to do this. You believe him. He has promised to do this because the idea of being a psychiatric patient is worse than death. You have not taught him this. You wonder who did.
I need to know you are OK.
I love you so much.
For a moment, you wish he had cancer. He would not be ashamed to get treatment. People would want to help. No one could blame him for cancer. No one could blame you. You would not blame you. You run to the bathroom and vomit the wine. You want to text some more, but wonder if too many caring texts can, just by themselves, drive someone to despair. You whisper the word:suicide.
Another commercial comes on. This time, it’s asking you to save abused and neglected puppies. They stare soulfully at you through wire mesh or metal bars, or from the end of long chains, lashed in the snow. Your son is not cute and fluffy, but he is no less trapped. You think it is strange that you can help a puppy in another state, but you cannot help your own son.Sometimes, when you fear he is dead, you imagine how it will feel to hold him in your arms one last time. You know that you will stroke the stubble on his cheeks and remember a tiny baby’s purple-faced howling, a toddler’s plump-cheeked grin, a teenager’s cocky leer. These faces slip by as you retrace his life. There are so many things you would change. What’s left of the wine roils and churns in your gut. You vomit again. You wait.
creative non-fiction by Lisa Haag
The man is adrift, seated in the center of the black night in a small wooden rowboat, bobbing like an abandoned cradle in an unfinished fairy tale. In the breathless night, all is black, except for the stars and an occasional point of amber light from one of the summer cabins along the shore. Around him, stretches the inky, formless void of Eel Lake with it’s drowned stars, an extension of that measureless black universe above. The boat has two, pine plank seats, bulwark-to-bulwark, one seat now empty. There is the metallic tang of damp lake air, the strange lack of temperature, the ticking of lake ripples against the lapstraked cedar hull, the soft slosh of warm bilge water covering the man’s feet. He has completed his task, delivered his father to the next life. The son is not spiritual, nor did he care to be. His father had crossed an ocean to get to America, and simply let his son know that he wanted to go out the same, watery way. Ten, 5 lb, lead sash weights had helped. The large, cigar-shaped weights had been saved by the man’s father whenever he’d replaced old-style, double-hung windows for customers; the weights had been stored over the years beneath his workbench in the woodshop, waiting to be useful again. The son had attached the weights to his father, tied the final knots in the dark. He’d hugged his father one last time before he rolled him over the transom. A carpenter’s well-worn body returned. The same body that will be missed tomorrow at the funeral home where they had planned on cooking it in an oven like a Sunday roast. The son had peered into the lake awhile, followed the ghostly form of his father’s descent. For a moment the son had felt disoriented, sensed that it wasn’t his father sinking, but rather him, the son, rising. Finally, he inserts the two oars into the brass oarlocks, takes hold of the worn handles, and extends the oars like featherless wings over the black sky of the lake, brings them down, begins to row.
flash fiction by Guy Thorvaldsen
poetry by Moss Ingram
On the outside
the young man is rigid, sitting in a pew inside the small church
his friend lies in the casket at the foot of the small stage
he pretends to listen, their sentiments spray his ears like BBs misting a tungsten drum
he is well-trained, having also quit the wrestling team for all their talk and torment
On the inside
the young man has had enough of all the talk and crying
he stands and maneuvers his way to the foot of the stage
the preacher pauses and stares, the murmuring congregation crescendos to a communal gasp
nothing can stop him from lifting the lid
On the outside
he endures all the sideways glances, stoic and calm, having seen and heard it all
he kneels and lowers his head, closing his eyes when he is supposed to pray
On the inside
the young man is certain that if he cradles the back of Michael's head
Michael will blink himself awake and they will laugh together as they flee the church
On the outside
the young man has retraced where Michael walked barefoot, deep into the woods
he has seen where his friend wore his blue pajamas late one night and waited
listening for a reason to return to bed, to wake up in the morning like any other
instead of cradling his father's favored waterfowl shotgun
On the inside
the young man pretends to pray, squeezing his clammy intertwined fingers together
he hears the cacophony of winter tearing away the last remnants of fall from the trees
he sees Michael kneeling in the icy wet muck of leaves
he feels himself grasping at the clumps of soil underneath
Sometimes my eyes look brown likes yours, but sometimes they’re green like Mom’s.
They were brown when we pulled weeds in Mom’s flowerbed. You held a dandelion to my face and said the clumps of dirt clinging to its roots matched my eyes.
They were brown when you threw the last suitcase into your truck and slammed the door.
I pull a dandelion. The stem is light green with yellowed streaks from dehydration in the summer heat. I shake dirt from its roots and toss it aside.
micro fiction by Hannah Kidder
Linda Boroff graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in English. Her writing has appeared in McSweeney’s, The Guardian, Hollywood Dementia, Drunk Monkeys, Word Riot, Hobart, Ducts, Blunderbuss, Adelaide, Thoughtful Dog, Storyglossia, Able Muse, The Furious Gazelle, JONAH Magazine, The Boiler, and others, including several anthologies. She was nominated for a 2016 Pushcart Prize for fiction and won first prize in The Writers Place short story competition. She has written one feature film which played in theaters and film festivals in 2010. Her short story published in Epoch is under option to Sony and director Brad Furman (The Lincoln Lawyer) for development as a TV series. She wrote the script for the upcoming biopic of film noir actress Barbara Payton, currently casting with producer Don Murphy (Transformers).
Manit Chaotragoongit was born September 30, 1983 in Bangkok , Thailand . He is a street and conceptual photographer who has received photography awards from Globalhunt foundation, India and Burggrun institute, USA.
Robert Fillman won the poetry contest at the 2016 Pennsylvania Writers Conference and has been featured as a “Showcase Poet” in the Aurorean. Recently, his poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Blueline, Cider Press Review, The Comstock Review, Kestrel, Pembroke Magazine, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Salamander, Spillway, and others. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate and Senior Teaching Fellow at Lehigh University, where he also runs the Drown Writers Series. He lives in eastern Pennsylvania with his wife, Melissa, and their two children, Emma and Robbie.
Lisa Haag’s work has appeared in a number of literary journals, including Passages North, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Lindenwood Review, The Examined Life, Spoon River Poetry Review, Spillway, and others. Her essay, “On Sea Cucumbers and Flying Solo,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She has published two poetry chapbooks, Recombinant Loves (Main Street Rag Press) and Stiletto Moon (Aldrich Press/Kelsay Books). Another poetry chapbook, A Benign Sort of Cannibalism, won the Clockwise poetry chapbook contest and is forthcoming from Tebot Bach.
Moss Ingram earned his MFA from Queens University of Charlotte and his MBA Certificate in Design and Innovation from Ferris State. He is the co-recipient of an Edison Award for Innovation and recently workshopped under Margaret Atwood at the Pelee Island Bookhouse in Ontario. He lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan with his wife and two children, where he is an associate professor at Grand Rapids Community College.
Hannah Kidder graduated from Nicholls State University in marketing and creative writing this past May. While flash fiction is her favorite writing style, she is also working on a novel. Hannah has been published in The Oracle, Sucharnochee Review, and Mosaic.
Victoria Large holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College. Her short fiction has appeared in various print and online publications, including Carve Magazine, Monkeybicycle, Painted Bride Quarterly, and Soundings Review.
Guy received his MFA from Vermont College and teaches writing at Madison College in Madison, Wisconsin. He is also a journeyman carpenter, husband, father, and contributing poet/essayist for community radio. His first full-length book of poetry, Going to Miss Myself When I’m Gone comes out in October 2017 through Aldrich Press.
BECOME A MEMBER OF CRACK THE SPINE
CRACK THE SPINE LITERARY MAGAZINE