NOVEMBER 2, 2017| ISSUE no 225
crack the spine
Eli T. Mond
Jamie Elliott Keith
T. E. Wilderson
Alle C. Hall
by Jim Zola
poetry by Eli T. Mond
In these formations, I lied, an ocean;
My only companions, you and the belly
Of the serpent that struck your thigh
—there was a keendissonance in its rattling.
If only you could’ve heard its warning,
If only your grace had followed you here.
You used to be a dancer—a songstress of the body—
With feet like fluttering flutes
And arms reaching for a purpose beyond
That of those carnal hymns
You’d grown so used to singing.
You’d fallen into the swelling shade of a dune,
Drifting off into a dreaded slumber
Induced by the venom that danced to the rhythm
By which you’d lived your younger days.
In my arms, you dreamed your final dream;
And from your lips, a wistful song was whispered:
“Is death a lonely thing like me?
A sole vibration of ivory and string?”
The Death of a Dancer: Narrated by the Desert In Which She Passed
The bird said, What color are my eyes. The cock scratched his balls—he dressed right—and he said, Doesn’t matter. The bird said, Fooey, tied on an attractive bonnet, and flew in search of a cage.
The next cage was lined with heretical thoughts. She could spend years here, but her parents were pulling the worms. They agreed to pull for four years. And, they insisted, their birdy would live in a big, safe, cage with lots of tweety birds. The bird said, Fooey, bought a Jackie O. hat, and flew to The Sorbonne, where she met a French fox who dressed left. He shat prose poems. He introduced her to rooms full of radiant parrots and glamorous flamingos. How wren-like she felt, amidst their artistic intellectualism, their sexual politicization.
Mais non, cherie, they cooed. It was polymorphous non-perversity. It was the end of rectilinear thought.
I prefer merely to fuck, said her French fox. Defying stereotype, he stayed faithful—aside from that one time at Burning Man that he begged her to help him win the Beaver Eating Contest.
The bird thought, “We need a little more normal around here.” As you see, she re-instated the use of quotation marks and flew to South Korea, where she quickly found a cage in which to teach English. It was boring but well-paid—and teaching English in Japan was soooo 1980s.
flash fiction by Alle C. Hall
short fiction by T. E. Wilderson
A toddler with a dozen plastic barrettes clipped in her matted hair was crawling around, wailing like a strangled cat on the scuffed linoleum floor in front of the Ray of Sunshine Homeless Shelter’s lobby check-in desk. That morning, there was a ragtag group of loudly clacking people hanging about. All but an older white-haired woman wearing a badly pilled yellow crochet poncho quietly seated on the bulky beige sofa next to the stairwell were indifferent to the tense scene unfolding between a young couple near the entryway. The young woman’s eyes were damp and red-rimmed, and her slack posture smacked of defeat.
“Dylan, don’t go,” said the young woman. She swiped her tear-soaked cheeks with the back of one bony hand, which she then dried on the hem of her holey pink T-shirt. Old marks from where she’d found escape in the prick of a needle heavily peppered her rail-thin arms.
“I gotta go,” Dylan replied. “She’s my mother.” His attention was split between the young woman, April, and his yowling daughter.
“You don’t gotta. What about me? I’m your baby’s mother. Remember that?” April put her hands on her narrow hips and sniffled.
“I’ll be back in a coupla hours. I already told you. We’ll party when I get back.” He seemed only vaguely sincere.
“Party? Party how?” April challenged.
“I dunno. We’ll do something. It’s early. Why don’t you take Jasmine to the park.”
“It’s fricking freezing out.”
“So wear a jacket. Christ, do I have to think of everything?” He shoved past April, and pushed open the wide glass doors.
April followed behind him, and held the door ajar as she watched Dylan tromp down the steps and zip up his fleece jacket. The loose fabric of the sleeves flapped backward in the wind. She remained in the chilly doorway, watching, until he’d disappeared down the street. When she turned around and closed the door, she noticed the old poncho lady staring at her.
“The hell you looking at?” April asked.
Dylan was on the #7 bus that was slowly making its way through the downtown stretch of its route. He had his head leaned against the window, and was gazing out. The bus passed an open florist. It was Sunday, and they were the only place doing business on an otherwise shut-down block. He pulled the signal cord, and got off at the next stop. He had to double back a block and a half past a bank, a smoke shop, a Starbucks, and a FedEx to get to the floral shop. He also had to pass Shinder’s bookstore––which mainly sold comic books and girlie magazines––and is where he’d amassed his preciousX-Mencollection, buying up editions of the comic when he had the money, and filching them when he didn’t. Which was often. He’d come by his sticky fingers honestly from his mother, who knew how to secrete packs of luncheon meat and loaves of Wonder Bread in her large patchwork leather purse with the stealth of Houdini.
Dylan stood outside of the florist, and peered in at arrangements of irises, lilies, tulips, and bird-of-paradises through the plate glass window. He reached into the pocket of his scrubby jeans and pulled out a clump of cash. A number of coins fell to the ground as he uncrumpled the bills. He cursed under his breath as he chased a dime that was rolling away, picked up the other change, and counted what he had. Twelve dollars and sixty-two cents. He went inside.
“We’re out of roses,” said the taut-faced woman fashioning an elaborate bouquet behind the counter. She looked up, and smiled tepidly at Dylan.
“That’s okay,” Dylan said. “I don’t think I have rose money anyway.”
The woman finished putting sprigs of baby’s breath in the vase on the counter in front of her, and met Dylan where he stood just inside the entryway. She gave him a cool once-over. “What are you looking for?” she asked.
Dylan laughed to himself. “What can I get for twelve dollars?”
Dylan was standing in front of a brokedown, sooty, mint-colored duplex with torn shades in the bottom windows in the part of town considered the wrong side of the tracks. He was holding a bunch of eight cellophane-wrapped daisies, waiting for some sort of sign––exactly what he did not know––to propel him forward. It was May, but this was Minnesota, and he bristled at the crispy wind blowing about and cutting through his lightweight garments. His fingers were stiff and blanched from the cold. He slipped his cell phone out of his faded jeans pocket and checked the time: eleven forty-four. Tapping his finger on the weather icon revealed that it was fifty-one degrees––below average for that time of year to be sure, and did not account for the wind chill. He put the phone back in his pocket, took in a deep breath, then went and rang the doorbell on the duplex’s lower unit. The dingy door’s white paint was peeling in flaky tendrils, and the dry-rot wood was cracked in spots. He waited. When no one answered he pounded hard, then stepped back and to the side as if he were halfway expecting buckshot to come spraying through the door at any moment. Dylan was turning to leave when he heard the door creak open. A fragile middle-aged woman appeared in the open sliver. She had mussed dark brunette hair, wore a drab, threadbare terry cloth bathrobe, and was missing a tobacco-stained upper right incisor.
“Hey,” said the woman. “What time is it?” She had clearly been asleep. Pillow marks creased her puffy, sallow face.
“Hey, Mama,” said Dylan. “Happy Mother’s Day.” He held the flowers out to her, but she just stared at them.
“Aw, hell. Thanks. You wanna come inside?”
“Nah, I gotta get back.”
Dylan’s mother, Crystal, let out a phlegmy laugh, and opened the door wider. “C’mon,” she said. “Get your narrow ass in here––it’s cold.”
Dylan stepped inside the squalid home, and it took his eyes a moment to adjust to the dimness. The air was skunky with the smell of cigarettes, beer, and a whiff of dead rodent. He handed his mother the bouquet again. This time she took the daisies.
“I can’t believe it. Flowers from my boy on Mother’s Day. Lemme go get something to put them in.” She shuffled off into the kitchen.
Dylan looked around for a clear place to sit. Finding none, he shoved some of the clothes piled on the sofa aside, and sat down. He dolefully surveyed the familiar junky surroundings. The place was as oppressive as always, just as it had been when he had moved out shortly after his seventeenth birthday. It made him feel anxious and hemmed in, and in want of a long shower. His mother returned with a blue Tupperware pitcher.
“I guess this’ll have to do,” she said. She put the whole cellophane-wrapped bunch in the dry pitcher, then set it on top of the enormous cabinet television set, which was tuned to a pre-game football show. “Hey. Can I get you a beer?”
“No, Mama. I’m clean now, remember? Besides, it’s not even noon.”
“I’m clean now,” she mimicked. “Look at me––I’m Mr. Clean. What’s a beer gonna hurt? And it ain’t noon yet? I didn’t miss kickoff?”
“I don’t think so. And I’ll skip the beer, thanks. I’m this close to getting my one-year chip.” He gestured with his fingers, pinching them about an inch apart. “It’s going on ten-and-a-half months I’ve been clean and sober now.”
“Hmmph. Again? How many times this make? I guess it’s been a while since I seen you. You still with that skinny girl? She clean and sober too, I guess.”
“April, Mama. You know her name. April. And yes, we kicked together.”
His mother sat on top of some unopened mail, old magazines, and tattered chenille throw gathered on a tan pleather recliner that faced the television, and her eyes slipped shut for a split second. She caught herself about to fall asleep, then straightened herself in her seat.
“How’s that little girl of yours? My grandbaby. Jasmine, ain’t it?” she asked.
A corner of Dylan’s mouth curled into a smile. “She’s good. Real good.” He laughed nervously.
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing,” he shrugged.
“Y’all still living over in the projects?”
“Nah, we got put out. After I lost my job. Well, laid off. Downsized they called it. And April, you know, has to take care of Jasmine, so she can’t work.”
“The hell she can’t. That’s what daycare is for.”
“I didn’t come to fuss with you.” Dylan’s head drooped, and he kicked at the clutter by his feet.
“I’m sorry. I’m glad you came. My boy. Remembering his old mama on Mother’s Day.”
“I wanted to show you how good I been doing. I even got a job interview on Tuesday.”
Crystal slapped her thigh. “Well good on you,” she said. “What they gonna have you doing?”
“Sorting mail at this health clinic. Hopefully. If I get this job, I can get a place for me and April and Jasmine.”
“Where you say you living now?”
Dylan shifted in his seat as he spoke. “For the time being we’re staying in a shelter. But it’s a good one. One that takes families, and they don’t, you know, separate us like in most places. We’re all together. It was hard getting in there. There’s a waiting list. We waited over two months to get a spot.” He glanced at his mother for approval, but all that he found was insouciance in her half-closed eyes. She crossed then uncrossed her legs, and there was a stiff silence buffered only by the chatter of the television sportscasters. She crossed her legs again, and began to wriggle the shabby, fuzzy house slipper dangling on the tips of her right toes. On the television, the kickoff was announced. Crystal glanced too late to catch it. She turned her focus back to her son.
“Say, how about we go by Liquor Lyle’s so I can show everybody my flowers?”
He shook his head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Aw, c’mon. You don’t gotta drink. Have a Pepsi or something. I just wanna show you off.”
Dylan leaned his elbows on his knees, placed his head in his hands, and closed his eyes to avoid his mother’s gaze.
“Just for a little bit,” Crystal said. “You came all the way over here. Watch, I’m gonna get dressed, then we’ll go.”
Dylan sighed, then leaned back into the sofa, and folded his arms across his chest. “Can I bum a smoke?”
“Sure. There’s a pack on the coffee table. Somewhere. I’ma go get dressed.”
He rummaged through empty beer bottles, dirty dishes, and fast food wrappers until he found a pack of Newports and an ashtray with a dead fly in it. He tapped a cigarette from the box, pulled a silver Zippo from his jacket pocket, and lit the cigarette. No sooner had he taken in his second deep puff than his mother reappeared wearing a lavender velour jogging suit with dirty cuffs and a splotchy stain on one leg.
“C’mon,” she said. “Let’s go.”
“You ain’t gonna comb your hair or nothing?”
“Nah, they know me there.” She shrugged on her tan corduroy jacket, then raked her hands through her messy mane. “Let’s go.”
They left the house, and she locked the door behind them. Halfway down the walk his mother stopped and said, “Wait! Let’s go show Old Gladys upstairs what you brung me.”
“Why? I thought you didn’t like her.”
“I don’t, but I bet she ain’t got no flowers today. And, she’s always looking at me like I ain’t shit.” They went back up the walk. Crystal rang her neighbor’s doorbell, then impatiently rapped on the door. She bounced on her heels as they waited. “Shit. It’s cold, ain’t it?” she said.
Dylan nodded. “You know, we’ll stay a minute, then I really gotta go.”
“That’s crazy talk. Don’t let that little heifer run you ’round.”
Dylan was about to speak when the upstairs neighbor’s jowly round face peered briefly at them through the small, paned window above the broken-hinged knocker. Recognizing Crystal, she opened the door. She was dressed in a navy-blue, boiled-wool suit with a garnet brooch pinned to the lapel, and thick ivory hose. Her feet bubbled out of wide patent leather pumps with gold buckles across the instep.
“Hey, how you do?” Gladys said. She regarded the duo on her doorstep cautiously, as if they might turn out to be selling vacuums.
“I’m doing great,” Crystal said. “You remember my boy, Dylan.”
“We just came by to say ‘Happy Mother’s Day.’ ”
“Oh. Thank you.” She made no move to open the door any wider.
“He brung me these.” Crystal shoved the flowers so close to Gladys’s face it caused the old woman to lean back a bit. “Ain’t you gonna invite us in?”
Gladys, taken off guard, opened the door and asked them inside. Once she’d hobbled upstairs with mother and son trailing behind her, she told them to make themselves at home in the pristine living room. Dylan sat close to his mother on the plastic-covered, olive-green damask sofa. The older woman sat across from them on the edge of a matching plastic-covered armchair, her hands folded in her lap. Crystal cradled her bouquet of daisies like a baby. No one spoke for a good minute, and they just exchanged uneasy glances at each other. The only perceptible noises were the ticking of a sunburst wall clock, and the low strains of gospel music coming from a radio in the kitchen toward the back of the house.
“So. I guess you went to church this morning,” Crystal finally said.
“I go to church every morning,” Gladys responded tersely.
“You shitting me. Every morning?”
“Hmmph. That’s something. I ain’t been to church since I don’t know when.”
“There’s something to be said for keeping the Lord in your life.”
“The Lord gave up on me years ago,” Crystal cackled. “But he’s looking out for my boy, ain’t he? He got a interview coming up for a good job. A real good job.” She nodded at her son. “Don’t you, Dylan?”
Dylan forced a timorous smile and nodded.
“And, he’s living uptown now. He and his family. He’s got a little girl, you know. She’s how old?”
“She’ll be three next month,” Dylan said meekly. He couldn’t bring himself to correct her about where he lived.
“You got any pictures of her? Show us some pictures. You got any on your phone?”
Dylan fished his cell phone out of his pocket, and pulled up a shot of his daughter holding a Mylar balloon next to a Chucky Cheese figure.
“Lemme see.” Crystal took the phone from her son and squinted at the screen. “She ain’t got no teeth yet?”
“Well, she lost her front teeth.” He fidgeted with his fingers. “They say it’s because we let her sleep with a juice bottle at night. . . . Not that she was born addicted to, you know, the methadone or anything. She’s got a few teeth in the back she chews with.”
“Well, at least they’re baby teeth. I guess. Her grown-up teeth’ll come in, won’t they?”
“They say they will.”
“I hope so. Go show her.”
Dylan took the phone from his mother, and brought it over to Gladys so that she could take a look. The old woman glimpsed first at the phone, then at Dylan.
“She’s cute,” Gladys said unctuously. “Real cute.”
Dylan thanked her, then returned to his seat next to his mother, who took the phone from him.
“She look a lot like you,” Crystal said. “Especially them eyes. And ’round about the nose. Mmm hmm.”
“Most people think she looks like April,” Dylan said.
Crystal scrunched up her face, then handed back his phone. She looked at Gladys. “You got plans for Mother’s Day?”
“As a matter of fact, my niece is on her way to pick me up for brunch. We’re going to the buffet out at the casino.”
“Well, good on you,” Crystal said. Insincerity coated her voice. She scratched at her scalp. “We got plans too, don’t we, Dylan? As a matter of fact, we oughta be going. C’mon Dylan.”
Crystal stood, and Dylan followed her lead.
Gladys rose to see them out, relief washing over her face.
“Being so holy and all, I don’t see you as the gambling type,” Crystal called to Gladys over her shoulder.
“I’m not, but they’ve got a special brunch today, and I love a good buffet,” Gladys replied. She lumbered slowly down the stairs behind them to the door, her grasp firm on the handrail.
“Happy Mother’s Day,” Dylan timidly said to Gladys as she swiftly closed the door behind him and his mother.
Liquor Lyle’s never closed. To call it a dive would be generous, with its worn high-backed red Naugahyde booths lining the back wall, tall tables along the front, and horseshoe-shaped bar commanding the center of the room. The concrete floor was sticky. Neon signs promoting Coors, Rolling Rock, Miller Lite, Pabst, Schlitz, and Budweiser provided most of the light in the dank place, along with what little was filtering in from the yellow plastic transom window. There were a half-dozen denizens hunched over their drinks. A few of them looked up when the shock of daylight burst in the place when Dylan and his mother stepped inside. They took seats at the bar, and were greeted warmly by Aaron, the bartender.
“This here’s my boy,” Crystal said with a broad smile. She caught the eye of one of the other patrons. “You hear that, Billy? Don’t think I don’t see you down there.”
A slovenly man in a brown leather bomber jacket down the bar raised his glass, and nodded at Dylan and his mother.
“Yeah, you know it’s Mother’s Day, and my boy brung me these here.” She waved the bouquet of daisies in the air for all to see. “Get him a drink, will you, Aaron.” She turned to Dylan. “What are you having?”
“I’ll have a ginger ale,” Dylan said to the bartender.
“That’s it? We’re celebrating. Live a little. Gimme some Southern Comfort––and make it a double. Hey, you know who drank Southern Comfort? Janis Joplin. Drank it day and night. Southern Comfort––it’s not just for breakfast anymore.” She hacked a bit, and thumped her chest a couple of times with her fist. “We still can’t smoke in here?”
The bartender shook his head.
“Fine,” said Crystal. “Hey, put a little Jack in that ginger ale!”
“No, Mama,” said Dylan. He wagged his finger at the bartender. “Forget the Jack, just the ginger ale.”
“Since when did you become such a killjoy? What’s one drink gonna do?”
“Nothing good. I’m doing my best to stay straight, Mama. I don’t want my girls to have to stay in a shelter. I gotta stay straight, get this job, then get us outta there. Besides, we can’t stay in shelters and halfway houses forever. Getting split up and all that half the time. It’s no way I want my baby to have to grow up. Living on the street . . .”
“Yeah, well,” Crystal said. “We made it on the street when we had to. Didn’t we? Or is Miss April too good for that kind of living?”
“Nobody should have to live on the street. Ever. I gotta take care of my girls.” He looked at his mother with disbelief tinged with dismay.
“I’m just saying we made it is all. It’s not like we were always totally homeless. We had a car to live in for a while. Remember that?”
“No. I don’t remember.”
“Well, we did. And you don’t know what I had to do to get that car.” She soughed to herself. Dylan didn’t need to be reminded of the steady stream of men that used to come through the house––when they had a house––clearing their throats and buckling their belts on their way out the door. He’d been invisible to them, as he sat on the floor playing his Nintendo, heeding stern instructions not to disturb Mama while she was “entertaining.”
Aaron came with Crystal’s Southern Comfort, and a tall glass of ginger ale with a sidecar of Jack Daniels for Dylan. Crystal loudly slapped the bar when she saw the whiskey.
“Now that’s what I’m talking about! Thanks, handsome!” She gave the bartender the thumbs up as he headed down to the other end toward Billy.
“Happy Mother’s Day,” Aaron called back.
“Now we’re in business! How you like me now!” she hooted. She swung her daisies in a circle above her head.
Dylan stared at the glass of liquor for the length of the car commercial playing on the muted television hanging in the far corner of the bar. He ran his finger in circles around the rim of the tumbler of whiskey, while absently dunking the thin red straw in and out of the ginger ale. He focused on the sound of the ice cubes knocking around in the tall glass.
“C’mon,” said Crystal. “Let’s toast. To mother-effing Mother’s Day!” She raised her glass, and looked eagerly at her son.
Dylan dropped his head. He paused for a long moment and stared at the two drinks in front of him. His shoulders shuddered as he let out a quiet, sardonic laugh. “Nah, I really can’t,” he finally said.
“Seriously? You won’t toast your old mama? After all we been through?”
“I’ll toast you with my ginger ale.” He picked up the tall glass.
“Forget it. It ain’t the same.”
“C’mon Mama . . .”
“No. That’s alright. I got but one boy, and all I’m asking is he share a toast with me. On Mother’s Day.” She sat with one elbow leaning on the bar, her glass poised in the air, and regarded her son through narrowed eyes. A slight smirk smudged her face.
Dylan heaved a huge sigh, then picked up the whiskey and clinked glasses with Crystal. “To Mother’s Day,” he said.
The day had faded into the starchy darkness of a chilled spring night.
Jasmine was sprawled out, flailing and wailing, in dirty footy pajamas on the floor of the homeless shelter’s lobby.
“But he’s only ten minutes late!” April shouted at Nate, the counselor who had the misfortune of manning the check-in desk that night. He had the build of a heavyweight boxer, slicked-back black hair, and the unflappable air of a Buckingham Palace guard.
“Rules are rules––you know that,” Nate replied calmly. He looked at Dylan collapsed outside in a heap against the glass doors. “And more than being late, he’s drunk. You know the rules.”
“Screw your rules!” spat April. “Come on Jas, get up.” She reached down, grabbed the toddler’s hand, and dragged the child kicking and screaming toward the locked lobby doors. When the little girl saw that it was her father outside, she stood up and began slapping her small hands on the glass.
“Dada!” Jasmine cried, but went unacknowledged.
“I just called my mom,” Dylan gurgled, as he fumbled to put away his phone. “She said she’s still at Liquor Lyle’s and meet her there.”
“Don’t do that! Baby, just don’t. Go find a shelter. Go to St. Matthew’s. Or Crossroads. Then come back tomorrow,” April said.
“She said I can crash at her house. It’s just for tonight. I swear it.” He leaned his back to the doors, and sat legs splayed, facing the street.
April furiously banged her fists on the glass. “Go anywhere but your mom’s!”
Dylan grappled his way up to leave. April cursed riotously at Dylan, then railed against his mother: What kind of mother was she? What had she done to him? What had he done to them? She turned around and looked at Nate, exasperated and desperate, tears coursing freely down her face. When the man just shook his head at her, she spun back to face Dylan, who stumbled as he turned to go.
Jasmine grabbed onto her mother’s leg. She threw her head back, her crying jagged and delirious.
“Dylan, please,” April plead. “Please . . .”
The young drunk scrubbed his hand over his face, then careened sideways down the steps to the sidewalk.
Dylan paused, wavering unsteadily, as if to get his bearings. Then he shoved his hand into the right back pocket of his jeans, and pulled out a crimped bus pass.
If only he were to look back, he’d see April and Jasmine pressed against the Ray of Sunshine’s glass doors, hoping. Hoping.
Instead, he lurched forward into the wind a few steps, then stopped.
It started with our new house, with its brick veneer and white gravel driveway. It started with the baby green of our new lawn, the rye grass just beginning to poke through the straw, and beyond it like a nation’s border the soybean stubble of our twenty-acre field, framed by the Pannings’ red barn and the bare branches of Shirley Kaeding’s cottonwoods. It was the innocence of everything new against the wisdom of things that hibernate.
My little sister and I were sitting outside the garage. Mom was in the field with a paper Meijer bag filled with the week’s flammable trash—MasterCard bills, utility bills, credit union statements, dried Kleenex, paper towels, dryer lint, dental floss, Kellogg’s Müeslix bags, Jack’s pizza cardboards, Wendy’s wrappers, chewed gum, peanut shells, egg shells, hair from Saturday’s trim. Now it stood in the field like a gravestone with a head of fire and a halo of ash, like Captain Kidd’sAdventure Galley, burning as it sank, like Moses’ column in the wilderness. Mom was keeping watch, the tree limb she used as a stirring stick in her right hand. This is my mother: warrior of the free-range trash fire, of smoke and ash, of the charred remains of eggshells.
I missed the moment it happened. There must have been a moment, when the first strand of straw caught fire. It must have spread at least a couple feet toward the road, but still I didn’t notice. To me, everything seemed normal until Mom turned and walked toward us, her body tense with potential energy but her voice calm and at a normal volume: “Rachel, run and get the phone.”
Then I saw that the fire had spread, though I assumed it was spreading toward the house and failed to notice it wasn’t. (Blame my inattentiveness or tendency toward melodrama or both.) “Rebecca, go get the Little Tikes fire truck,” I said and sprinted into the house for the phone. Meanwhile, I tried to manufacture worry: I imagined flames reaching for air out of our windows; I pictured the foil-colored stickers on those windows, the silhouette of a fireman poised heroically with a blonde child draped in his arms. I thought of my baby brother napping in his room and wondered who would rescue him.
Mom called 9-1-1 with the same calm voice and went to the field to try to keep the fire at bay (which, because there was nothing else to do, could only mean standing near it hoping that, like boiling water, a watched fire never spreads). She moved deliberately, as if she were forcing her limbs to move more slowly than they wanted to. Rebecca and I pushed our Little Tikes fire truck into the driveway, mimicked sirens, and climbed the squat plastic men up and down the ladder.
The volunteer fire department brought a whole fleet of trucks. They parked in a line along the road while a pickup with a hose—not even a real fire truck—drove halfway up our drive, parked in the lawn in front of the field, and extinguished the fire. It had spread maybe 150’, still safely away from the road.
Within a week, Dad borrowed Kerry McAtee's F-150 and bought a 55-gallon stainless steel drum from Momper Insulation. He set it up in the northwest corner of the lawn, close enough to the field to catch corn husks from the combine at harvest. It immediately rusted, branding the ground with a perfect circle, but, together with its successors, has adequately contained trash fires to this day.
I can’t remember how the field looked when the fire was out (all traces erased with the next crop), but Mom tells me it was charred in the shape of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. All I remember now are the fleet of fire trucks and the pickup with the hose, the Little Tikes fire truck, Mom with her back to us, my mind trying to grasp the idea of disaster. It was my first something, my first encounter with something, but I don’t know what. Maybe I learned something cheesy about resilience or destruction. Maybe it was the first time the older world of wisdom crossed the border into my own world of innocence, first falsely in my imagination then tactilely in a perfect circle of dead grass. Or, more probably, I didn’t learn anything at all, and this is just another story about a rogue trash fire.
flash fiction by Rachel Belth
poetry by Devon Balwit
We are all waiting to go home, promises made, but not kept. We face the firmament, the hollows of our eye sockets especially wistful. Heat lightning slices a bright jag. If we had legs, we would dash its bridge. Instead, to outsiders, we look ridiculous, like a line of plebes, stiff before a breezeless flag, chins jutting to cover our embarrassment.
Arthur David Densby searched for a new life. A life far away from high rises and highways, away from the endless crowds of man and machine. A natural life.
Arthur started over.
He quit his job: seventeen years behind a desk with nothing to show for it. Nothing but things. So he threw them out: books, cars, TV. Gone. His wife too, Mrs. Judith Anne Densby, though he didn’t actuallythrowher out. When Arthur said “Honey, let’s give everything away,” she slammed the door on him, locked it, and went back to playing bridge and drinking gin. Let her live out that fantasy, he thought, ignorance is bliss after all.
Arthur turned to the streets. He moved to a forgotten landscape, living among the garbage heaps and abandonments, like the sewer rats and stray cats. Hints of sun peered out from behind the smog clouds, smiling at Arthur’s new life. It was a nice change. Arthur slept in alleys under blankets of newspaper, ate scraps from the dumpsters of Indo-Peruvian bistros and Russian taco shacks, drank acidic rain from downpours and leaking pipes. In a way, he recycled the waste, siphoned it off and put it to use. It was a start.
Asceticism kept him content for a time, but his very presence contributed to the endless waste, smoke, and flesh. There was no escape.
Arthur left the city. There must be somewhere unstained, untouched: a hidden virginal landscape, a pastoral paradise. Days, weeks, months spent wandering the no man’s land between cities, under skies of smog, over streams of Styrofoam. Miles later – hundreds, thousands – the search ended at the bend of a river nestled within an intact grove. Now that he found the site, he wasn’t sure how to start his new home. No contractors, bulldozers, hammers or nails. No, he could use only the tools bestowed upon him from birth, the tools that nature intended.
He thought about digging a great tunnel network. How different are human hands compared to those of a mole? With long nails he could break up and remove dirt until he too lived within the earth. He waited and waited for his nails to grow, staring at them until he truly thought he saw them growing, however infinitesimally. After weeks of waiting he thrust his fingers into the ground, clawing through clumps of dirt and bits of rock. As he dug he picked up unearthed pillbugs and ants, setting them away from his soon-to-be tunnels. The moles, gophers, snakes and rabbits, all those subterranean neighbors, watched Arthur dig. He liked having company, an audience cheering him on, a welcome change from those lonely waiting weeks. A mole crawled toward the beginning of Arthur’s tunnel, as if peering in with its near-blind eyes. After a moment’s inspection it shook its head and left, joining the others. As the rocks became bigger, Arthur’s hands wore down, his nails cracked, bent back, and tore off. The earth ripped into his fingers. The digging ceased.
He looked to the trees next for inspiration. Twenty feet up a woodpecker perched atop a branch, feasting on the trunk of a tree. Could a man gnaw through wood as well? Teeth are the hardest part of the human body; if his fingers couldn’t handle nature maybe his teeth could. After finding what he thought to be the perfect tree, he chewed. A dozen birds perched above him, a crowd for Arthur’s pecking. They chirped and whistled songs. More birds joined in and the song echoed across the forest. Arthur smiled at the encouragement. The bark was easy enough to get through, it splintered and chipped away, but the meat of the tree cracked his teeth and cut his gums. He gave up again.
Giving up on the earth and the trees, Arthur thought back to those city rats nesting in any washed up refuse they could find, repurposing the trash of the world. A blue tarp floated down the river. Man’s ubiquitous presence. He fished it out and draped it over himself before curling up into the foot-deep start of his would-be tunnel and closing his eyes. Sleep.
This was cheating, no different than relying on anything else man-made. He cast the tarp away, leaving himself shivering and unprotected from the chilled night air. He had one idea left.
Arthur shed his shoes and clothes, stood in his hole, and piled dirt upon himself until he was rooted in place. The mole rose out from the ground, approached Arthur, and burrowed itself at his feet. Others joined, creating a tunnel network beneath Arthur. Arthur spread his arms. The wind picked up, blowing leaves from the trees. They fell onto his chest and arms, sticking to his bare flesh. Clouds formed, rain fell. Each drop hardened his skin and, together with the leaves, turned his flesh into an icy bark. Birds flocked to Arthur: cardinals, blue jays, woodpeckers, all gathered together. They perched upon his arms and pecked at his frozen skin. Bird songs carried through the forest, welcoming Arthur to his new home. A blue and yellow tit the size of a fist landed on his hip. It cracked through the ice bark on Arthur’s side then pecked at the soft fleshed underneath, pecking till it formed a shelter from the rain. Worms crawled through the dirt, up his half-buried legs, and into his hips and chest and arms. The birds pecked at these too. Yet Arthur felt nothing; he was just glad to finally be of use and accepted by the forest. Accepted even though he was technically man-made too. Roots stretched under the ground and grasped his buried feet. They reached higher, up his ankles, his legs, and round his waist, holding him ever tighter till he stood as strong as the trees. Branches bent toward him, their leaves touching his outstretched hands.
The wind blew and Arthur smiled one last time as he swayed to and fro with the trees.
flash fiction by Nicholas Marcus
The New Green
North Alabama, 1969
Wilbur Sands rubbed his hands together and would have heard the dry rasp of hard-worn farmer’s hands if he’d been listening. His ears were as keen as when he was a boy tracking squirrels for dinner, but he had his mind on the load of firewood he’d just piled into the back of his Ford pickup. He slammed the tailgate, in a hurry to get going. His knuckles, knotted like the kindling he’d piled on top of the split logs, ached from the damp and the skin on his forefingers was cracked. He’d have to start with the Corn Huskers lotion again in spite of that fruity smell.
Last week he’d struck a deal with Abner Reaves, known to everyone who knew him as Abby. He’d deliver a load of wood to Abby’s house up to Hamilton this afternoon in exchange for some replacement gears and new seals Wilbur needed to tune up his tractor for spring planting. The catch being Abby planned to get the parts off his brother-in-law. Having dealt with Abby in the past, Wilbur suffered some serious doubts about whether this deal would actually come to be. Abby, a cagey little man who combed his thin hair back straight from his forehead—slicked it down with Brylcreem or some other goo—had practice at shirking his side of the bargain. Then, again, when you’d least expect it he’d come through.
Wilbur didn’t have much of choice. He needed the parts and he couldn’t show his face around the hardware store with his long running account in arrears again. Earl hassled him the last few times he’d gone in. Earl’s daddy lived his entire life as a farmer, as had half the Padgett Brothers customers, so you’d think he’d cut Wilbur some slack. Wilbur blamed all that new construction business. Padgett Brothers used to carry their long-time customers when they got in a pinch. Now they could turn their backs on the people who’d kept them in business all these years.
Though they’d called for it to rain the entire day, there’d been a break in early afternoon, so he’d loaded the wood in a sparse drizzle. About five minutes ago the branches had begun to thrash, pocking hickory nuts against the ancient toolshed’s rusted roof. He raised his eyes to the low sky as a mass of dark clouds barreled in, a rerun of this morning. And sure enough, heavy raindrops began to spatter like scattershot. Time to get on the road.
Soon Wilbur was on the paved county by-way, and though it still poured, he could see better than down between the socked-in ridges where his house sat. He hated to think he had to unload all this wood in the drenching rain. Someone else might offer to help unload the truck, but no way would Abby lend a hand and pass up a chance to treat Wilbur like hired help. Wilbur could already see him warm and dry inside the old two-story house, with its fallen-down porch, peering out as Wilbur got soaked to the skin. Wilbur regretted he hadn’t checked around more to find someone else willing to barter. Maybe Jeff Barnes or Charlie Proctor. Too late now for that now.
Wilbur reached into his shirt pocket and slipped out a crumpled pack of Lucky Strikes. Almost empty. He’d have to stop at the 7-Eleven on the way back; they’d be open on Sunday. He tapped the pack against his leg. A couple of cigarettes slid forward, and he wiggled one out with his lips. At least the cigarette lighter still worked. He slipped the pack back into his shirt pocket, pressed the glowing lighter against the end of the cigarette, and took a long pull. Okay. Might as well relax between here and Hamilton. It would be a slow trip with the rain. Besides, he planned on taking it easy so as to conserve gas. His wallet held a single ten dollar bill and he hated to stop for only a few gallons. Made it look like he couldn’t afford a whole tank. Which he couldn’t.
He cracked the window and took another long draw. Not such a good idea to open the window in rain like this, but it was force of habit. Rosy gone now for four years and still he cracked the window. She didn’t like him to smoke. Said it would kill him one day, and then she was the one to up and die. Four years.
A low groan like the dying note of bass fiddle rose from his gut. His Rosy. Sometimes it made him grind his teeth in anger. All those years in the last row of church, listening to Brother Vickers rant, standing to hum along with the hymns, closing his eyes in prayer, and sometimes even believing there might be someone out there listening. What had it bought him? Days like today, the dark skies, the soggy feel to everything. It made him sorry for himself.
Not a healthy thing. A man in his prime without a woman. He knew how to take care of things, but when he got done he felt dirty, like someone was watching. Surely Rosy would avert her eyes if she ever happened to be looking down on him. She understood the needs of a man. Wilbur felt a stirring and switched on the radio to get his mind on something else. Mostly static, so he kept fiddling with the tuning knob. Finally he turned the volume off with a sharp twist. No matter. Even if you caught a station, half the time the radio shorted out. He’d get down under the dash and check the wires one of these days, but the only time he thought of it, he was behind the wheel.
He headed south to catch Highway 78. Even though Hamilton lay northwest of his place, he’d get there quicker on the state highway to 171 and then a straight shot north to Hamilton. Abby and his wife Dell lived on the far side of town. Less than ten minutes and he steered the truck west along the smooth asphalt of Highway 78. The tires slogged through the standing water. Only now and then did a spray of water from an oncoming vehicle splash across his windshield; there seemed to be more traffic traveling east than Wilbur’s way.
As he slowed the truck to keep from skidding along the slick road, Wilbur saw a new model sedan pulled to the right shoulder, hunkered down in the rain, dark and empty. Ran out of gas he guessed. Bad luck on a day like today. He pumped the brake. He was relieved not to see anyone hitching a ride. A good Christian would stop, despite his wanting to get home to watch at least part of the Jets football game. Wilbur never liked to pull for a yankee team, but Joe Namath, a University of Alabama boy, played for Bear Bryant, quarterbacked the team to the Orange Bowl, and Wilbur’d followed him ever since.
Wilbur kept an eye on the side of the road and wondered who’d abandon a sharp-looking car like that. Could be a woman. He didn’t know about that. If it was Rosie out here alone or his daughter Darlene he’d want someone to stop. Maybe. Hard to tell about who might do the stopping. He thought about it some more. It might be best to drive on by, act like he didn’t see anyone. No temptations then.
He’d vowed to Rosie she’d always be the only one. And he stuck to it. Except the one time. He’d gone up towards Muscle Shoals to visit his mother’s cousins and there was that girl. Fresh as a dew-kissed plum. She seemed kind of simple, not retarded—he wouldn’t touch a retarded girl—but not all there. She acted like she wanted it. Only that one time; well, two if you counted the time he’d just turned fourteen. It was just touching and the little girl was too young to remember anything anyway. Besides, he hadn’t met Rosie yet, so it didn’t really count.
There, on up ahead. He saw two forms crowded under a small umbrella. Women best he could tell; no man would fool with an umbrella on a day like today. Two women. A pity to pass them by in this downpour. He slowed alongside, the right wheels, front and back, crunching on the gravelly shoulder.
Wilbur leaned over and rolled down the passenger window. “Need a ride?”
The two women looked at each other. One was tall, a big woman. The other, small and pale with dark eyes and hair.
“I’m Wilbur Sands from over by Brilliant.” Wilbur saw the blank glance pass between them. “I’m headed to Hamilton.”
“We ran out of gas,” the big gal said.
“Well, get on in. Hamilton’s probably the closest.” The two women climbed in, the big redhead next to him and the other woman, with dainty features and a timid way about her, near the window. She reminded him a little bit of a citified Rosie.
“You two young ladies look like drowned rats.” Wilbur laughed. Definitely not farm women. He noted the soaked raincoats, the stained high heels on the smaller woman. Dressed up, out in the rain. “I’ll bet you clean up pretty nice. What in the world were you thinking driving out alone in a gully-washer like this?”
“Trying to get home to Tupelo,” the tall red-head said. Wilbur wagered she wouldn’t put up with much from anybody. Still, he was the one with the truck.
“Y’all got husbands? Somebody gonna be worried about you?” Wilbur reached for his half-smoked cigarette perched in the ashtray. “Don’t mind the smoke, do you?” He took a drag. Not too smart these two, out in weather like this, accepting a ride from some unknown man.
“We sure appreciate the ride.” The big one laughed. “I’m Charlene. Charlene Farris. And this is Evvie Carroll.”
“I don’t know if I’d like my girls taking a ride from a stranger. Couldn’t see driving by without checking on y’all, though.” He caught a whiff of flowers. Perfume. He wondered if they could smell the dried sweat on him, lathered up when he’d loaded all that wood.
“We sure appreciate it.” Charlene laughed again. “That one little umbrella wasn’t doing us much good.”
“It’s a far walk to a gas station from out here. ’Specially in them fancy shoes.” Wilbur nodded his head toward the far floorboard. The small one, Evvie, had torn her nylons. The bare flesh showed through, above her knee. Soft skin.
“If we’d planned on running out of gas, I guess we would’ve worn our walking shoes.” Charlene, the one next to him, had a sharp tongue on her. Smart-aleck, she was. Ought to be more grateful for the ride.
She smiled as if to make up. “You think there’s a payphone anywhere nearby?”
“Hard to say. Maybe at the gas station.” They’d be wanting to call their husbands to the rescue. He nodded toward Evvie. “What about you, little missy? Cat got your tongue?”
“What’s that thing hanging from the mirror?” She glanced at the rearview mirror where a small clay skull encircled by a miniature wreath of bright yellow flowers swung on a braided turquoise string.
“Kinda strange looking, isn’t it?” Wilbur Sands smiled. His Dia de los Muertos memento. He didn’t mind it, her nervousness. “What do you guess it is?”
Charlene spoke up. “It looks like Halloween, or something to scare little kids with.” She said it like a taunt.
“I don’t think it’s scary,” Evvie said. “Just weird.”
“It’s a remembrance,” Wilbur said, a tiredness nudging at him. “An offering for the Day of the Dead. Those yellow flowers on the skull? They’re marigolds to honor them that’s passed. My nephew in Arizona sent it when my wife died.” It made Wilbur feel better about things, the little skull, a reminder of Rosie. It merely observed—no judgments, no talking—that knowing stare on its face.
“I’m sorry,” Evvie said. She sounded sweet, sympathetic.
“When I seen you girls, it made me think of how I’d feel about my Rosie out here all alone.”
“You’re a good man, Mr. Sands,” Charlene assured him.
He wasn’t so sure about that sometimes.
You’d have thought Abby would have been watching for him, but Wilbur was forced to climb out of the truck and go up to the door and knock. A chorus of deep-throated barks rounded the corner of the house as Wilbur mounted the front porch steps. Abby’s curs must be tied up, else they’d be slavering all over him. The cool dusk ran up his exposed forearms. The cab of the truck had warmed up, the windows steamy from the two women inside. Even after he’d dropped them off at the filling station, he had to mess with the defroster to try to clear the windows. Now, the late afternoon was chilly, and the damp didn’t help any. He’d warm up some when he unloaded the wood. Probably gin up a sweat again slaving on his own. Made him mad already, the thoughts of Abby in front of the TV while he worked his butt off.
Abby swung open the front door. “You finally made it.” The warm light of the living room, the flicker of the TV spilled out onto the rough planks of the front porch. “Thought you weren’t going to show.” Abby was short and about ten years younger than Wilbur, despite his sparse hair and furrowed forehead.
“Told you I’d be here.” What an asshole, Wilbur thought.
“Ask him in.” Wilbur heard Dell’s voice call out from inside.
“Aw, he probably wants to get unloaded and on his way.” Abby stood squarely across the doorway. “Right, buddy?”
“You got my parts?”
“Need you ask?” Abby laughed at him. As though he knew that Wilbur knew the whole deal had a big chance of falling through. As though it was funny Wilbur had loaded up all that wood up and drove forty-five minutes in the rain not really sure if Abby would live up to his end of the bargain.
“Your phone’s out.” All Wilbur had to go on was Abby’s assurance the previous week that he’d have the parts from his brother-in-law by this weekend. Wilbur had given him a specific list of the exact parts he needed, written down so there’d be no reason for Abby screw it up. When Wilbur tried to call and confirm yesterday, all he got was an out-of-service message. No surprise; it was out as much as it was on. Abby always had some sort of excuse: they lost his payment, Dell forgot to pay the bill, their mailman was a no-account who stashed the outgoing mail in the woods when he wasn’t of a mind to make the trip back into town.
“Ha. What else is new? Those fools at the utility company.” Only half an excuse this time. Abby stepped out onto the front porch. “Come on. You can unload at the back of the barn. I’ll show you. I’ve got your stuff in the basement.”
“I’m not unloading till I know you have my parts.”
“Hey, you don’t trust me?” Abby laughed again, slapping Wilbur on the shoulder. “Come on. I’ll help you unload.” He placed his palm on Wilbur’s back trying to move them away from the door and off the porch.
Wilbur stood stock still, his boots solid against the porch’s uneven planks. “Abby. I’m telling you.” Wilbur’s arm twitched. It was all he could do to not grab him by the neck.
Abby lowered his voice, confidential, man to man. “Look, I don’t want Dell to find out. I promised her I wouldn’t get her brother mixed up in any more of my deals.”
But Wilbur didn’t trust Dell any more than he trusted Abby. His jaw tightened. “Just get the parts for my truck.” Like he expected. Weaseling out again. What ticked him off most was he could never prove Abby’s deliberate intent to screw him over, his excuses always at least halfway plausible.
“Okay, okay. Hell, if you don’t want me to help with the wood . . .”
That damn Abby. Wilbur was stuck with the loaded-up truck one way or another. If they were going to make the deal, Wilbur would get better than expected if Abby helped with the wood. Wilbur needed those parts so he could get his corn out. It would be April in a week. He’d lose precious time if he was left to hustle up another buyer.
“Forget it. I’m not fooling with you.” Wilbur stepped out from under the porch eave into the rain. “I can get good money for this wood.”
“Nobody needs firewood in the spring, old buddy.” Abby grinned.
Wilbur stopped and thought, I could take him down.
Abby laughed. “Hey, I’m jerking your chain. I’ll go get your stuff. Dell’s watching TV, so I’ll bring it up through the kitchen and out the back door. You can pull up to the barn.” Abby turned to go inside then looked over his shoulder. “It’s good to see you, buddy.” And he disappeared into the house.
The time hadn’t changed yet, and the weather brought on an early dusk. Wilbur parked the truck on the right side of the decrepit barn. Even his own barn looked to be in better shape. The closest place appeared to be under the overhang against the south-facing wall, not the back of the barn, like Abby said. Might as well get at it before dark took over. Considering he’d split the wood, loaded the truck, and driven near on an hour up to Hamilton, Wilbur was way more than halfway in at this point. He’d get his truck parts one way or another. And he’d stack the wood here, just to spite Abby.
Wilbur got into a rhythm and he’d emptied the truck about two-thirds of the way by the time Abby showed back up with a cardboard box.
“Hey, what are you doing? I said the back of the barn.” Abby peered from under the hood of his rain jacket.
“Doing you a favor.” Fool, Wilbur added to himself. “It’s protected here; the wood’s going to dry better.” Wilbur motioned to the box. “Here, let me see that.”
Abby set the box next to the back bumper and Wilbur peered in, moved aside the seals, counting. Two seals, three gears. Wilbur looked up. “There’s two gears missing.” Shoulders tensed, his blood rolled towards a slow boil.
“Who’s counting? How many gears does it take?”
“I gave you the list.” Wilbur saw things slipping away. Again. “I gave you a list, goddammit.” He lunged at Abby, grabbed hold of his jacket.
“Aw, man. It’s not my fault.” Abby tried to move away, slipped in the mud, and started to fall backwards. He snatched at Wilbur’s arms to catch himself, pulling Wilbur down with him.
“Let go of me, you queer.” Wilbur fought to get away from Abby’s awkward embrace and they both rolled into a muddy patch. Down there in the muck of dirt, rain, and moldering leaves, it flitted through Wilbur’s head that he could easily shove Abby’s face into the slime. Hold it there till he sucked the mud into his mouth, into his nose. Till he smothered.
They both struggled to stand and Abby slipped again. Wilbur heard a thud. He stared down at Abby lying there still as an old rag doll. Wilbur leaned in to take a closer look. Not a twitch and then a low moan. Abby slowly made it to his knees and then holding the back of his head, he stood, groaning still.
Abby jerked his hand away from his head with surprise on his face and peered down at his hand. “I’m bleeding. I told you it wasn’t my fault, and you assaulted me.”
“It’s never your fault, butthole.” Wilbur took a step toward Abby. “I warned you the last time.”
“Stay away.” Abby raised his hands and edged backward towards the house. “You’d better get out of here. I’m calling the sheriff.” A braver tone, once he’d sidled out of Wilbur’s reach.
Wilbur turned and stalked around to the driver’s side of his truck. “Your phone’s not working, asshole.”
As he pulled the truck door to, he heard Abby yell, “It was off the hook!”
The rain petered out to a drizzle, and by the time Wilbur reached the turn off from the state highway headed towards home, every bit of wet had been wrung from the sky. The clay skull grimaced at him, lit by the dashboard light. Not as friendly-faced as usual. Wilbur hadn’t expected much from the day, and he hadn’t been disappointed.
A third of the firewood was still piled in the back of the truck. Maybe he could persuade Charlie Proctor to buy it off him and the day wouldn’t be a complete loss. And he’d taken off without his truck parts. He’d have to wait and see if the sheriff showed up. Probably an empty threat, except you never knew about Abby. It wouldn’t go any better than the last time, if the sheriff did come round.
He crushed the butt of his cigarette against the metal tab of the truck’s ashtray. The pain had crept back into his knuckles. I helped those women, though, he thought. They were city girls, but the rain had evened things up. He probably could have made some kind of impression on that dark-headed girl if there hadn’t been the two of them. Two changed things.
He pictured crunching over the gravel driveway and Rosie waving at him from the front porch, the windows a warm glow behind her. That, instead of a cold, dark house. He’d tell her about Abby—what a snake. Tell her how he almost punched him out, but kept his head. How he stacked the wood on the side of the barn, not where Abby said.
short fiction by Jamie Elliott Keith
Our jeopardy was palpable when I was behind the veil. I held a weapon, but my vigilance was drowned by my restraint.I don’t want to hurt her. She stabbed me twice in the heart and fled. I slumped against the stone and moss pavement, crimson pooling and spreading over my skin and into the fabric of my shirt, my organ in spasm from emptying too fast. Its pounding desperation was so loud that I woke. There was tightness in my chest, real pain. I’d been crumpled in a knot around her pillow, until the ache finally tore the shroud.
micro fiction by Blake Kilgore
Emptying Too Fast
Devon Balwit writes in Portland, OR. She has five chapbooks out or forthcoming:How the Blessed Travel (Maverick Duck Press);Forms Most Marvelous(dancing girl press);In Front of the Elements(Grey Borders Books),Where You Were Going Never Was(Grey Borders Books); andThe Bow Must Bear the Brunt(Red Flag Poetry). Her individual poems can be found in The Cincinnati Review, The Stillwater Review, Red Earth Review, The Fourth River; The Ekphrastic Review; Anti-Heroin Chic, The Inflectionist; Muse A/Journal, and more.
Rachel Belth is an instructional designer, creative nonfiction writer, and poet. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Prick of the Spindle Online, Hypertext, and Embodied Effigies, among other places, and she volunteers as a copyeditor at the literary website Identity Theory. She holds a B.A. in Technical and Professional Communication from Cedarville University. She writes from a south-facing window in Columbus, Ohio.
Alle C. Hall
Alle C. Hall recently received her first Best of the Net nomination from Word Riot. Additional publications include: Creative Nonfiction, Brevity (blog), The Citron Review, Bust, Literary Mama, Seattle Times, Seattle Weekly, and The Stranger (Contributing Writer). She won The Richard Hugo House New Works competition and was a semi-finalist for The New Guard Machigonne Fiction Contest. Claim to fame: interviewed Leonard Nimoy. He was a bit of a pill; disappointing. Alle blogs at About Childhood: Answers for Writers, Parents, and Former Children atallehall.wordpress.com.
Jamie Elliott Keith
Jamie Elliott Keith lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, where she writes and volunteers in the community. Her poetry has been published in a number of journals, and she is co-editor of the anthology Familiar Landscapes, Iris Press, 2015. She is working on a series of short stories set in Tupelo, Mississippi, in the late 1960s to early 1970s.
Blake Kilgore lives in Burlington, New Jersey, with his wife and four sons. People there treat him with kindness, and he is at ease living among the old and tall forests of the Garden State. His lingering accent, however, verifies that his heart is still Texan and Okie. Blake’s writing has appeared in Forge, Lunch Ticket, Midway Journal, The Stonecoast Review, Thrice Fiction and other fine journals. To learn more, please visitblakekilgore.com.
Nicholas Marcus is an attorney and writer from Detroit, drifting between short fiction, plays, and screenplays. His latest script recently finished filming and premiered this past year.
Eli T. Mond
Eli T. Mond is the creative alias of David Davis; a writer, artist, and mystic from Detroit, MI. He is the Founding Editor of The Ibis Head Review, a quarterly poetry publication, and has had poetry published in GFT Press, Lyceum, Sick Lit Magazine, and Young Ravens Literary Review.
T. E. Wilderson
T. E. Wilderson is a Minneapolis-based writer, who also works as a graphic designer and copy editor. Once a PEN/Rosenthal Fellowship finalist, Wilderson’s work has appeared in The Opiate magazine, The Ekphrastic Review, The Roanoke Review, and is forthcoming in The Louisville Review. Currently a student in Spalding University’s MFA writing program, Wilderson is at work on a short story collection and a novel.
Jim Zola is a published poet and photographer living in North Carolina.
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