January 24, 2018| ISSUE no 230
crack the spine
Susan L. Leary
Lynn Marie Houston
Weeknights at Café Suicide
short fiction by Christina Dalcher
It was lovely watching them die.
Mostly, I thought as I set the tables—Spode Stafford Flowers for Mrs. Stansbury’s hen party, ultra-modern Mikasa geometrical for Mr. Ashton (a walking dictionary entry for ‘spoiled frat boy’), crazy Sally Carmichael’s own handmade pottery for her group of six—it was lovely getting paid for it. Without Tuesday nights, the bistro I’d been running for nearly a decade on my own would have bled itself out of business.
Euthanasia cafés had been popping up around the city selling everything from fifteen-dollar design-your-own ramen bowls, to fusing Korean with Tex-Mex with Nova Scotian, but I’d always been—in Mark’s words—a stubborn old bitch. So fuck the trends, I would stick with the classics.
I laughed as I laid out plates and arranged silverware, remembering how squeamish I’d once been.
“I couldn’t,” I’d said ten years ago over a batch of Hollandaise. I’d managed to avoid boiling it into a mess of yellow curd—barely.
Mark dipped in a pinky, tasted the sauce, and nodded his approval. “You’re one hell of fast learner, Janie.”
I had no choice but to cram four years of culinary school into the four months Mark had left to live.
“Let’s work on the consommés and estouffades now,” he said, decanting my Hollandaise into a storage container. His hands shook as he sealed it closed. “Nail them, and you’re golden. And, by the way, yes you can.”
What Mark thought I could do wasn’t listed in the index of his soup-stained and spine-cracked Guide to Modern Cookery. Escoffier had a recipe for everything—except murder. I told him again I wouldn’t do it.
“Euthanasia,” Mark said. “It isn’t murder if the victim wants to die.” Then, pointing to one of the bubbling All-Clad saucepans on the six-burner stove, he added, “You need to stir this. Until your arm falls off.”
I looked at Mark’s arms, the ones that held me tight on the Ferris wheel that night he proposed, the ones I sank into when he returned from a year-long stint in Paris brushing up on his continental butchery skills. Most of the muscle had softened from lack of use, and Mark’s culinary adventures consisted of rolling himself from stove to fridge to pantry, supervising me while he still could.
The hallucinations were the worst. And they always came at night.
“Did you take your meds?” I said, glancing at one of the three kitchen clocks.
Mark now consumed a daily cocktail of antipsychotics, but those first nights, when he woke up in a sheet-tangled sweat, were unforgettable. Lying beside me, he screamed of the bisque tasting of gasoline, or the crème brûlée smelling of the burnt flesh of infants. Each evening invited a new chapter in the nightmare edition of Larousse Gastronomique.
And there was the time I woke to him standing over me with a knife. Some nights, it would be the cleaver from his sacred bag of cutlery; others, it might be a paring knife. The one that frightened me most, though, was the fine blade of the filet knife. I’d seen him use it on countless trout and salmon, prying away skin from meat and bone with the skill of a surgeon.
Maybe that was the first time I thought of it, staring up at Mark’s shadow-darkened face, moonlight glinting off the steel. “It’s me, honey. It’s Janie.” I said my name until the sounds ran together, Janiejaniejaniejaniejanie, until, finally, he put the knife down and sank onto the bed, sweat sticking to his body in a thin, sticky film.
He’d only gotten sick after what should have been a simple operation.
Tuesdays were my busiest times; only two of my staff had the nerve to work the private parties. Kate, a young blonde with more curves than Monroe, served; Emma, small and dark and more of a perfectionist than I, assisted in the kitchen. Neither of them had any hang-ups where death was concerned, although a faint shadow of something I couldn’t quite place darkened both of them, a shadow I thought out of place on such young girls. I never asked questions, and they never volunteered answers.
Kate also doubled as my sommelier, curating the carte du vin and guiding the guests in their selections, some of which would be the last wine they ever tasted; Emma wrote out the menus in fine calligraphy. Tonight, while Mr. Ashton and Sally Carmichael would be content with pinot noir and a modest sauvignon blanc (Sally was so goddamned cheap), Mrs. Stansbury’s request had Kate hopping. The old bat wanted elderberry wine; said it reminded her of ‘those bygone days.’ Whatever. They were paying me oodles. If they wanted fried sheep’s balls and Schlitz on the rocks, I’d give it to them.
So far, all of my Tuesday guests happily chose from the menu. A tomato aspic would start Mrs. Stansbury’s party, followed by a consommé Florentine (I had steered her toward this soup, thinking the chicken and spinach might serve as a pleasant foil to the tartness of the aspic). For the entrée, Kate would serve poached trout on a bed of parsleyed white potatoes. It was a plain dish, but who would want to give Mrs. Stansbury heartburn at her last supper? I was an opportunist, but no one could call me unkind.
“How are the crêpes coming along, Emma?” I said, checking over my sous chef’s shoulder as she shook and swirled a shallow pan of batter.
Emma flipped the pancake, thin as gossamer, with the same flick of her wrist Mark had made me practice a thousand times. “Last one, chef. They’re gonna love these.”
They’d fucking better, I thought. Two bites of Emma’s crêpes Suzette would be the last thing Mrs. Stansbury ever tasted. Her guests would finish their plates, assuming they still had an appetite.
Death has been known to put a damper on such things.
“And the sauce?” I said.
“All finished.” Emma chuckled. “Well, mostly. Kate will straighten it out at table after she does her fire thing.”
“Flambèing,” I corrected, and checked the clock near the stove where Emma worked. Quarter to six, it said—only thirty minutes until the Stansbury party arrived. “Where’s Kate?”
Emma tilted her toque-covered curls toward the dining room. “Setting up out there.”
I called Kate in and reviewed the plan for this evening. Make sure she’s comfortable. Keep the water and wine flowing. Offer to take a photo if they want. “And remember, flambè first, serve the others, and then tip the bottle over the chafing dish.” I demonstrated, palming an empty glass vial in one hand while making stirring motions with an invisible spoon in the other. “Don’t let them see you.”
Kate nodded. “Got it, Janie.”
Mrs. Stansbury would be easy. The Ashton party, on the other hand, had demanded plated desserts, which meant getting the order sorted out in the kitchen. It also meant drumming the system into Kate’s pretty little head. No one wanted a repeat performance of last year’s screw-up—it almost drove us out of business. Worse, Kate’s mistake with the Boudreaux family might have sent me to prison, if Alain Boudreaux hadn’t been so understanding when we accidentally killed his wife instead of him. Legal or not, there were still regulations, rule number one being Don’t Kill the Other Guests.
“She didn’t have much time, anyway,” Alain had said, holding his lifeless bride of fifty years. “Francoise knew it, but she couldn’t bring herself to see things my way.” There, amid their children and grandchildren, he had asked me to prepare a second plate of fraises Chantilly, with an extra helping of cream. Fifteen minutes later, Alain Boudreaux had been as dead as his wife.
I remembered him smiling as he had spooned up the laced strawberries, holding Francoise’s ringed hand for as long as he had the strength to do so. The children wept as Kate and I cleared nine dessert plates, and Kate herself wept when, back in the kitchen, I laid into her next to a pair of stainless bowls smeared with remnants of whipped cream.
“How could you screw this up?” I’d screamed.
Kate had blubbed something about the china all looking the same. “Mrs. Boudreaux was supposed to get the rosa and salvia plate, but I gave her the one with rhododendron and prinsepia. I’m so sorry.”
I wiped the two switched plates clean. Kate was right—they did all look the same. Fucking Spode.
After the Boudreaux incident, we started marking all the special servingware with an unmistakable cross of blue masking tape on the bottom of each plate. Emma had suggested a black X on the rim, but I killed that idea. My guests didn’t need a reminder that their savarins and soufflés were laced with a lethal dose of sodium pentobarbital.
“Well,” I said as the girls unmolded shimmering aspic onto a silver platter, “at least the Ashton party will be too drunk to notice. Put an X on Mr. Ashton’s plate.” With that, I set about touring the three private dining rooms that would host our Tuesday evening parties.
Mark’s last supper hadn’t been at the bistro, but at home in our own dining room. He’d insisted—when he could still insist—on an exact replication of the 1903 menu served to President Loubet, a post-opera party that, in Mark’s words, would prove me a master of all things Escoffier.
“Turn this one out, Janie, and I’ll die a proud man,” he’d said, stroking my hair with a trembling hand as I pored over the ingredients list. My husband was dying, and all he was interested in were glazed quails and crayfish mousse with a side of petits pois.
“Stop talking about death,” I’d said.
But we both knew it would happen. Mark had three good months, on the outside. After that, the degeneration would have been too far along.
Spongiform, the surgeon had told us. Form of a sponge. I hated those words almost as much as the man who spoke them.
Mark’s brain, Dr. Fletcher had explained, was in the process of turning into a mass of hole-ridden tissue as defective proteins ate their way through his cells. Five other patients had been infected; all were dead by the time of our meeting.
“How did that happen?” I asked.
Fletcher shifted a little in his leather chair. He was a stocky man with iron hair and a fat face that wore a permanent flush. His next lines sounded like a well-rehearsed monologue. “There were complications with your husband’s tonsillectomy.” He checked his notes. “This past March. The risks were all enumerated in the waivers he signed prior to admission. And, of course, the Board has reviewed the case, as well as the standard procedures for sterilizing surgical equipment. I’m so sorry.”
That was it. That was what passed for an explanation and an apology. He might as well have told us what a pity it was a few loose prions on a pair of forceps transmitted spongiform encephalopathy among the six patients he’d operated on that spring morning. So sorry your husband has Mad Cow Disease, ma’am.
We left Fletcher’s office without shaking his hand, and I never saw him again.
Until a week ago.
I walked slowly through the main dining room, which would remain empty this evening as my Tuesday guests always dined in private nooks. That benefit was included in the price. Still, Kate had taken pains to set the tables, turning them out with fresh linens and flowers, straightening any wayward chairs, and filling salt cellars with pink and gray crystals we imported from Normandy. Salt from France, pentobarbital from the pharmacy, I thought.
I supposed we could have accommodated the few regulars who might drop in, but the survivors often used this main room to congregate after the business was done. At a cover of a thousand dollars per diner, I was happy to give them their privacy.
On the way past table nine, I noticed an ugly crimson stain on the silk wallpaper, just to the left of the four-top.
Kate shook her head. “Nasty bunch of assholes, those guys. If they show up again, can you serve them? One of them actually asked me to sit on his lap. ‘How about a ride on the pleasure train?’ he said. As if anyone could find his thing in all that fat.”
I remembered the party, mostly because I remembered Fletcher’s face. He’d grown a pair of jowls since that day in his office, but he was still as florid as he was ten years ago. If I hadn’t been struggling to pay the girls, I’d never have served Fletcher. Or I’d have dished him up a purée of Alpo and called it mouse au chien.
“That bad?” I said to Kate.
“Awful.” She pointed to the chair nearest the stained wallpaper. “Drunk as a fucking skunk. That’s where the wine stain came from.”
“If they come back, let me handle it.”
Kate began sorting the menus for tonight’s parties. “And another thing. They all had beepers. The fat guy’s kept going off. Beep. Beep. Beep. I mean, like constantly. I told him no cells were allowed in the restaurant, and you know what he said?”
I shook my head.
“He said ‘I’m a doctor, sugar-britches, and this isn’t a cell phone, it’s a beeper. It’s called being on call, so why don’t you move that perky little ass of yours and get my guests another bottle of wine.’ Swear to god, that’s what he said. Word for word.” Kate wiggled her ass. “You think it’s perky? Anyway, the bottle of wine—it was their fourth—wasn’t for his guests. The fat guy drank it all.”
“As perky as a ninth-grade cheerleader,” I said absently. What I was thinking was that I would definitely not be serving Dr. Fleltcher again, budget be damned.
By Friday night, I’d be eating those very words.
Mark had finished every bite of his last meal, save the dessert, a dish that was supposed to be Pêches et Fraises Sainte-Alliance. The peaches and strawberries weren’t a problem in the late summer, but neither one of us had any idea what an alliance sauce was, saintly or not. I made two bowls of peach Melba as a substitute, lacing half of the raspberry purée with ten grams of pentobarbital after dissolving it in a sugar solution.
“Stay here with me?” he said.
“Of course.” All it had taken was a half-hour with Google to convince me Mark’s way was the right way. You eat, you sleep, you die. Better that than spending your last month as a blind vegetable with the jitters. And I’d had four months to get used to his plan. I didn’t like it, but the alternative was unthinkable. No one survives what Mark had. No one.
Mark picked up his spoon with a trembling hand, then set it down again. “I need to know you’ll be okay,” he said. “You and the bistro.”
“You want to talk about business? Now?” The raspberries topping my dessert had all the appeal of clotted blood, and my own hands shook more than Mark’s. “Screw the bistro. I’ll let two of the girls go and run it myself. We’ll manage.”
He took up the spoon again and started eating around the edges, avoiding the sauce. If he didn’t do it now—right now—I’d take the plates up and throw the whole mess down the sink disposal. “Janie, I think you should apply for a euthanasia license.”
I listened, first in horror, then in absolute disbelief.
“So,” he said. The vanilla sauce and peaches were now stained a deep scarlet, and he paused. “Think of it. Cancer, HIV, Lou Gehrig’s disease, multiple sclerosis—who wants to live with that shit? All you’d be doing is giving them one hell of a send off. And they’d pay, Janie. They’d pay.”
Mark looked up at the ceiling as if it had turned into a giant chalkboard, and I watched him work through the numbers. “The noodle guy on Main Street charges two hundred fifty a head.“
“You’re kidding. For noodles?” We’d eaten there once, when we couldn’t stomach another bite of unsold goose liver pâté. I remember seeing the empty ramen packages in the dumpsters out back.
“For the drugs, Janie. For the drugs.”
Mark poked his spoon at me. “You could charge them a thousand a head. Party of eight means you net—I don’t know—seven thousand. And they get a bargain. You could do a few groups a week. Say on Tuesdays. Tuesdays are shit in the restaurant business.”
They were. Everyone knew that.
He took my hand and leant over the table. “Promise you’ll think about it?”
“I’ll think about it. I love you, Mark.”
“Love you more,” he said, scooping up a heaping spoonful of peach and vanilla and raspberry. “Remember what we talked about.”
I hated watching him eat, but I’d promised. And I knew the story I’d tell when the time came to make the call. It would be the same story family members of my guests would relate years after—the Boudreaux kids, Mr. Stansbury, Ashton’s handsome young friends, Sally Carmichael’s pottery group. All of them. With every relation singing the same song, self-euthanasia was a matter of some medical examiner signing on the dotted line.
On his third bite, Mark’s speech began to slur. His grip on my hand slackened and I had to feed him the rest of the peach Melba, one poisonous mouthful at at time.
It was done. Mark slept, I grieved, and the coroner signed off on suicide.
Mrs. Stansbury was the first to die tonight.
She went peacefully, a dribble of orange butter from her last bite on her lips as six blue-rinsed bridge players dabbed at their eyes and mopped up their plates with Emma’s perfect crêpes. Sally Carmichael went next, at exactly eight-twenty-three, a number she deemed auspicious because the digits added up to thirty-one.
“Why thirty-one?” Kate asked as we cleared the ceramic goblets of mousse au chocolat from the Carmichael party’s table.
“That’s how many years she’s been turning out pottery,” I said.
Kate picked up another misshapen plate, all angles and scallops. “We did the art world a service, Janie. She needed about thirty-one more.”
“Don’t speak ill of the dead, Kate,” I said at the time. Later, in the kitchen, I thought about Kate’s words. It would be a service, and one the right kind of people might be willing to pay for.
Like Dr. Fletcher’s dead patients.
Kate came storming in. “They’re still not done upstairs. It’s eleven o’clock and they want a round of brandy before dessert. Christ.” She began filling a tray with snifters.
“What?” I said.
“It’s worse that that. I don’t think Mr. Ashton’s ready to go.” Kate popped off a shoe and began working the muscles in her right foot. “I mean, they only have the room for four hours, right? I need to go home and let the babysitter off.”
The plates in the sink could wait. “I’ll talk to him,” I said, and headed upstairs.
Mr. Leonard Ashton—Lenny to his friends—glowed with a light I hadn’t yet seen in the terminally ill. Five individual plates of the Charlotte Russe à l’orange I’d slaved over all afternoon sat untouched in front of each guest, the dessert’s once sturdy lady fingers growing limp before my eyes. Lenny’s pentobarbital-laced serving had been pushed toward the center of the table. He held court with the same fussy pedantry he’d used on me when reviewing tonight’s menu, apparently not having registered my presence at the door.
“And I told her,” he said, “I wanted the salmon poached until it was just flaking. Just flaking. Stupid bitch. No wonder this place is empty most nights.”
Kate arrived with the tray of snifters and a decanter of Armagnac.
“Is that XO?” Lenny said.
“VSOP, sir. I’m sorry, but this is the only Armagnac we’ve got. It’s very good.”
He waved it away. “I only drink XO.” Then, to the four men at the table, “See what I mean?”
Kate turned to leave.
“And take this mess back to the kitchen,” Lenny said, pointing to the Charlotte Russes.
“Are you deaf?”
I stepped into the room. “Is there a problem?”
Lenny enumerated seven of them, one for each of the courses he’d been served. “I’m not paying a cent for this shit,” he said. “It’s dog food at best. We got better food from the fat cook at our fraternity house.”
My blood started to boil. I wasn’t Mark, but I was still the best chef in town. I’d put the noodle guy out of business in my first month, the Tex-Mex place in my second. It took every ounce of self-control I had in me not to fling the uneaten charlotte in Lenny’s face. “Payment has already been charged to your card, Mr. Ashton. As your contract stipulates.”
“Fuck my contract. I’ll take it up with American Express.”
Five thousand dollars down the drain, I thought. Most of the money had already been spent restocking my supplies of barbiturates.
Before I could open my mouth, Lenny hit me with his version of how the game would play out: Either I would find him a bottle of Armagnac XO in the next fifteen minutes, cancel his card payment, and get the hell out of his room, or I’d be spending the rest of my days in a brick hotel cooking institutional quantities of shit on a shingle. He pushed his dessert in front of the smirking frat boy on his right.
“I’ll say you screwed up the order. That clear?” he said. “Meantime, bring us another two of these.” He shook a nearly empty bottle of wine. “It tastes like piss, but it’s got alcohol at least.”
“As crystal.” I nodded to Kate and we left the room, Lenny and his guests laughing behind us.
“That one’s an asshole, isn’t he?” she said on the way downstairs. “All of them.”
It took me ten seconds to make up my mind. I gave my car keys to Kate. “Go to my house. Call your sitter on the way and tell her she’s staying the night.”
Kate started to protest.
“Tell her you’ll pay her five hundred. That should shut her up.” I gave her instructions on where to find the booze in my house. “Make sure it’s an unopened bottle,” I said. When Kate was out the door, Emma and I went to work with a pastry brush on the brandy snifters, painting them thickly with a clear coat of death.
Lenny’s party had turned into a drunken brawl by the time Kate reappeared with the Armagnac.
“How about a little lap dance, baby?” Lenny said, his voice thick with the last of my pinot noir stock. He picked up his phone and held it out. “Or I make a call and you can help your boss dish out prison food for the next fifty years. Unless you get the chair, of course.” Another roar of laughter filled the room as Lenny circled Kate’s waist with one arm and grasped the back of her head with his free hand. “Dance for me, honey. Now.”
The men began thumping the table with their fists. “Dance, dance, dance,” they chanted. One of them raised a glass and drained it dry. “My turn next!” he said, and flung the empty crystal at a wall.
Kate’s eyes widened with fear.
“At least let her pour the Armagnac,” I said. “Then you can do whatever you want with her.”
Lenny grabbed the bottle from the tray, considered it, and pushed Kate off of him. “Fill ‘em up, girl, and then come back here. I’m not done with you.” He looked at me. “Leave. We’ll take the room for the rest of the night.”
“Of course,” I said, and left them, standing outside the closed door until I heard five solid thunks.
Kate, Emma, and I buried them in my backyard.
“Two of them are still breathing,” Kate said.
I checked five pulses before rolling Leonard Ashton’s party into the trench we’d been digging all night. “Five, actually. Do you care?”
“Nah,” Kate said. “They were jerks. Same as that doctor the other night.” She paused as if remembering something unpleasant. “And my ex-husband. Sonofabitch sent me to the hospital once because we’d run out of beer.”
Emma stiffened. “I’m never getting married. Not to a man, anyway.”
A low moan came from the pile of bodies. It was Lenny.
“Asshole,” Emma said, and kicked him once, twice, three times. Then she rolled him into the mass grave and dusted off her hands. “He looks like a guy I knew once.”
We backfilled the gaping hole with dirt and rocks until our backs were sore. In my kitchen, over tea and shortbread, Emma spilled everything.
“He lives here now,” she said. “Two streets away from me. One day—that time we ran out of cream and I had to go to the Giant, I ran into him. He asked me out. Like he didn’t even know who I was. Like he didn’t remember getting me drunk and fucking me in his dorm room. Can we kill him, too?”
I poured another round of tea and smiled.
It had been Mark’s idea, and was now my business. Tuesdays for the self-euthanasia crowd, Wednesdays for the vengeance jobs, and Thursdays for the frat boy rapists and wife-beaters Kate lured in with promises of a good time for all. We had a few regulars in over the weekend, mostly older couples who talked about how Julia Child changed their lives and how they’d rather hear her say “Just give it a good whack!” than watch that foul-mouthed British guy or the one who says “Bam!” every ten seconds. I charged them almost nothing for a nine-course tasting meal that rivaled anything they could get in Paris.
We started with Dr. Fletcher, Kate’s ex-husband, Emma’s date rapist, and a five-pound box of Gopher Go. Pentobarbital was too kind; strychnine, on the other hand, had a nasty bite—two to three hours of painful, backbreaking convulsions and muscle spasms.
Emma did a hell of a job forging the contracts while Kate set up the private rooms and served bowls of rich boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin, bouillabaisse to our guests. We’d spent a fair amount of the earnings from our partnership soundproofing the private dining areas, but the money hadn’t gone to waste, not when Dr. Fletcher and his party of three began to dig into their meals, when the drunk surgeon who had killed Mark started to twitch and jerk and gasp. I put my arms around the girls after we served the next two rooms.
It was lovely watching them die. Slowly.
In Lieu of Flowers
In lieu of flowers, please wear a Hawaiian shirt to the memorial service. Or a funny t-shirt. Wear sandals with your cargo shorts. Slip into torn jeans and well worn Converse sneakers. Keep it casual. While in line, tell a joke to the stranger in line behind you. Laugh.
In lieu of a charitable donation, treat yourself to a piece of art. Visit a gallery and purchase one drawing, painting, or a photograph that stops you in your tracks. Browse through a craft fair and pick up a multi-colored knitted wool cap, a beaded bracelet, or a piece of stained glass. Rummage through yard sales until you find a kitschy ceramic sculpture that makes you smile. Put the art on your walls, the sculptures on your shelves, the hats on your head. Hang the stained glass in the window that gets the morning sun. Enjoy.
Remembrances may be made by taking a mental health day and sleeping in. Read a poem before rolling out of bed. Make yourself a greasy cheese omelet and home fries while your favorite rock ’n roll music blasts through the kitchen. Dance in your pajamas with a mimosa in your hand. Take a vow to use all your vacation time. Later in the morning, stop in at your local used book store. Rummage through the shelves slowly, noting the titles and authors. Smell the worn pages and tattered covers. Choose a torn paperback you wouldn’t normally read, preferably one with a tawdry cover and a subversive plot. Conspicuously read your book at the local coffee shop. When finished, scribble a personal message inside and drop the book into your local little free library box.
In lieu of lighting a candle, stop into an indy record shop and ask the tattooed woman behind the counter, the one with the nose ring, what pop-punk vinyl she has on her turntable. Look through the bins and buy an album from an obscure young band with a funny name. Listen on repeat. Find the rhythm. Memorize the lyrics. When said band comes to the dank basement venue in the city, buy a ticket. Study the band photo so you can say hi when the drummer walks by. At the show, bang your graying head in unison to the hipsters. They won’t mind. Breathe in the humid air, inhale the fragrant communal sweat. Stand at the edge of the mosh pit and watch the kids dance in rhythm to the music. When the scrawny kid stumbles, reach out. Lift him back to his feet and hand him his lost sneaker. He’ll high five you with a smile. Drink in the frenetic energy. As the purple haired girl in a flannel shirt dives off the stage, hold up your hands and catch her. She trusts you. Observe the unabashed joy on their youthful faces. In this moment, they are alive. You can be too.
flash fiction by Jim Breslin
poetry by Barbara Greenbaum
Nothing ambiguous about a shotgun shell.
They taught me that word here, along with
dichotomous, binary, transient, obtuse.
A whole new world of words. Gratifying,
that shell, red with the gold tip just a bit thicker than
a package of Rolos. Shorter too.
They slipped right into both barrels and then snap,
it was loaded. Completion. That happened at the
discharge, at least for him.
Today in the yard, birds perch on the razor wire.
Can’t figure out how they can do that
without slicing up their little claws.
Small brown birds, watching us inside the wall
like they are trying to tell us something
’bout what’s on the other side.
My kid writes letters in crayon. I miss you, momma,
next to the picture she’s drawn of me and her
and the tree in my mother’s backyard.
She’ll be more than thirty by the time they let me go.
And I wonder if my kid’ll be different.
If she’ll listen when the boys come sniffing.
I sure didn’t. Never cared when my momma cried.
Something about those shells slipping in, so neat.
That snap of the barrels closing, so definite, so infinite,
too. First time in a long while, I felt like a possibility.
He looked so surprised, as if seeing me for the first time.
I told him to stop, and for a moment he did, then
he raised his fist and there was nowhere to run.
He was like getting lost on a one-way street,
in a part of town you didn’t want to know.
I play checkers in the yard with a blind woman named Blue.
She pretends she can see but feels the board
the way a baker kneads bread.
What do you see, El, she’ll ask me. Today
I will tell her about the birds. Two little brown ones,
plain. Probably sparrows. I don’t know the words
for birds. I want better ones for those little guys
watching us up on the razor wire.
How come they don’t get hurt, I ask her.
She shakes her head. Don’t rightly know.
Suppose they don’t hold on too tight, she says.
I nod, knowing she can’t see me,
or the fact I watch the birds instead of the game.
I don’t want to miss it when they fly.
“He’s crying in his spaghetti, for God’s sake.”
Danny wasn’t crying, but he poked at his noodles with a fork, stabbing the smiley-faced snowman on the bottom of the bowl. His mother cried into the phone as she paced frantically around their dining/living room, stepping over broken Christmas ornaments and rubbing her faded makeup onto her sleeve. Danny’s father left that morning, slammed the door behind him, and his mom threw the Santa ornament they got from Disneyworld against the wall. Danny quickly gathered the shiny Santa pieces and shoved them under their cluttered, juice-stained sofa, his eyes perfectly dry.
micro fiction by Petrula Laudato
The husband looked dead already, and the wife, too. Only it was a calm dead they shared at the table with their daughter, gazing at the shoemaker, sunken eyed, through the steam twisting up from the chicken that the husband had hacked with a dull machete and the wife had plucked and stuffed with her yellowed, nail bitten fingers.
"I have seen the machines before," warned the shoemaker, staring at the family from the doorless doorway. "When they come, they come raining fire and blood, riding on the clouds."
The wife's rosary beads rattled, swinging as they tumbled through her fingers. “Trust me," he said.
The daughter started to cry as the shoemaker yanked them one by one from their chairs. He watched patiently as they strapped on their sandals, the shoemaker finding it difficult not to admire the leather riveted soles. As he hurried them out the door, the shoemaker yelled at the husband for slowing to scoop up the cat, ripped the rosary beads from the wife’s grasp when she paused to say a prayer, and told the girl she must be brave. After they were all outside, the shoemaker set the hut on fire, to keep it out of the enemy’s hands, he explained.
The family made their way from the burning hut. The shoemaker passing them one by one, turned toward each. He urged the husband to move faster, the daughter to run— he pleaded with the wife not to look back to the hut, to forget about where the rosary beads had fallen in an uneven pile on the dirt floor.
"Follow me," the shoemaker yelled to them, swinging his arm, pointing forward and away from the heavy dark smoke billowing up behind them into the blue sky.
The four ran through a large open field which led to the safe cover of trees on the other side, the most dangerous leg of the journey.
“Don’t stop,” warned the shoemaker. “No matter what.”
The daughter followed closely behind the shoemaker, at first, and next, the husband with the cat, directly in front of the wife.
The tall grass bent beneath the shoemaker's boots— most stalks yielding, some snapping, and others breaking clean. The family trailed behind, the distance separating mother, father, and daughter growing as they, the sandled-others, each followed the shoemaker’s path at different paces. He tried to put them out of his mind and focus on his own survival first. He knew that anyone was an easy target with no place to hide until the trees— that getting caught in the open would mean certain death if the mechanical beasts came.
The shoemaker was breathing harder, but with each exhale he drew nearer to the cover of the trees and the images of the family faded; his own breathing grew louder, as the shoemaker thought about every single pair of shoes he had made over the years, each nail driven into every sole and all the rivets he had pressed into place. The shoemaker's heart swelled with pride each time the rivets in his boots caught a glimmer of the sun.
Approaching the other side, the shoemaker’s pace slowed as he caught his breath near the tree-line. As his breathing eased, he could hear the daughter's shrill crying somewhere behind him. He heard the wife, too, further back, sobbing profusely, the husband silent, or maybe, his coughing and wheezing unheard above the shoemaker’s own heart; it still thumping hard within his chest.
“Stupid farmer,” he found himself saying out loud when he thought of the cat wiggling in the husband’s arms. The shoemaker shook his head— his mouth locked in a frown, even as he struggled again to run forward.
After limping the last 50 yards, dragging his left leg when the hip, knee, and ankle all seemed to pop at the same time, the shoemaker staggered as far as he could under the canopy to get safely out of sight. He was afraid to drop to the ground in case he could not get himself up from it again, so he propped himself against the trunk of a tree to catch his breath and cool down under the trees’ shade and in the light, cool breeze. After a few minutes when he felt he could stand again, the shoemaker scanned back across the clearing, but he could not see any sign of the family, could no longer hear the daughter’s cries or the mother’s sobbing. There was no evidence of them at all.
In the middle of the field, the husband lay wincing, hand on heart, his breathing labored and irregular— the cat no longer in his grasp. The wife kneeled at his side, patting his forehead dry with a strip of cloth she had ripped from the tattered edge of her skirt, doing all she could to use herself to block the sun from him. The daughter had dropped to ground somewhere between her mother, father, and the shoemaker, eyes swollen and her mouth trembling, arms around her knees, rocking in the tall grass, confused and alone.
It was then that the blades' rhythmic chopping could be heard approaching from the west under cover of the setting sun.
The girl sunk, lowered her head, with eyes shut tightly and ears covered, crying hopelessly. Desperately searching around her, she began pulling up grass and gathering it in a pile to slip beneath as the blades grew steadily louder.
In the arms of his wife, the man looked up weakly, raised his hand to her hair. She smiled back down at him, eyes full, hair slapping with force in the wind as the shadows swept across them.
From under the canopy, the shoemaker saw the dust clouds kick up as bullets slashed the ground in parallel lines, turned as he heard the dull echoing retorts begin.
As he staggered deeper under the canopy, the shoemaker felt the shock rise through his leg each time his left boot stamped awkwardly down through the muddied leaves to the forest floor. The pounding of his heart echoed the rhythmic chopping of the mechanical blades, the sound of which he couldn’t get out of his mind. As the slashing changed pitch, faded to a contorted echo, the shoemaker crouched, shivering against a fallen trunk. He stared at the mud clinging to his boots, watched the steam rise from his damp, dank skin into the cold air.
Boots, the shoemaker thought. Boots . . . He did not want to think of sandals.
The shoemaker tried to rub the mud from his boots. He remembered forming them from nothing: from leather, wood— from rubber. He could hear the blows of his hammer. Odd, how hollow the sounds of it now seemed. Still, his eyes twitched with each strike as the nails forced their way through the wood, screeching, screeching, one by one, heads flattened against the leather, carbon steel sunk deep into the rubber.
The red earth smeared beneath his fingers and a rivet surfaced, jutting up out of a divot in the leather. As he worked the mud back over it, the shoemaker could still see their faces. He thought about the cat, wondered whether if he went back, he might see the tail make its way through the grass.
The shoemaker followed a beam of sunlight as it slanted toward the earth, noticed how it broke from the sky through the winding outline of a tree. He wondered if he listened long enough, hard enough, whether he might just hear the cat meow, questioned what right he, the shoemaker had had, to disturb their dinner.
short fiction by Rod Zink
“Bill. We buried him last week.”
“Oh right, Bill. That was an unusual case.”
“I’d say. Not often we lose a corpse and keep the coffin.”
“The family find him all right?”
“How should I know?”
“I don’t know.”
They took a break from shoveling the fresh dirt. It was getting to winter quick this year and after a day wasn’t so easy to move.
“They still paid, right?”
“Oh yeah, up front. All at once.”
“Grieving people, they got no sense.”
They started digging again and soon after made contact.
“I wonder if he’s buried in the same plot. Has to be, right?”
“Oh yeah. I’m sure. Something in the law.”
The lock picked easy.
“Careful. Lid’s heavy on this type.”
The smell wasn’t so bad. The mortician was a fan of formaldehyde. Not a lot were this far west. Once they had thoughts of cutting a fellow in. But he croaked and they got his cross too.
This one had that—maybe silver—as well as a bottle and wedding band.
“Nickel silver. Both of’em.”
“Yep. Surprised this ain’t a pauper’s casket.”
“His hands ain’t swelled.”
“Ain’t.He’s frugal, family’s religious, he’s dead. They get the say.”
They repaved the dirt and stretched out their backs.
“So you sure Bill’s at the same plot?”
“That’s around here, right?”
“It was daytime but yeah, I think so.”
They passed the bottle back and forth.
“His mama sure smelled of perfume.”
“Oh yeah. The real good kind. Could taste the money.”
“How old was she?”
“Eighty, ninety. I don’t know. Old. Why?”
“Love to catch a whiff of her sometime soon.”
“You and me both, brother!”
They finished the bottle when they finished Bill’s plot. The sun was beginning to show and the morning vapors were like ghosts to haunt them.
“Oo-wee, that smell!”
“Smell of success.”
“Is that what that is?”
“Was, bud. You hear that? Those birds?”
“They’re looking out for us.”
“Hey man, I been meaning to ask—”
They walked back to town for a bath and comfy night’s rest.
“No if it was you, no way I’d throw my back out digging when I already know you ain’t got a red cent to you.”
“Red cent? I got gold, stupid.”
“Means you’re broke.”
“Did you not hear me? I’m rich!”
“Broke and you can’t be fixed.”
“You know any proctors round here?”
“Yeah but he’s out of town.”
“Should’ve asked when you seen him.”
“Mhm. And his mama runs the inn so we got some walking to do.”
Next sunset they made a graveyard. Best man standing did all the work. The ground was hard but least this time there was no heavy box to lug.
“Pray for our sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
Half a mile that sunrise there was an itch to double back for his boots. The first snow of the year prevented that. It didn’t stop for six feet. Hard living off only gold for that amount of time.
The natives who found him must’ve known this.
We come from the dirt and go back to it. They believed that and saw to it. Naked as sin, rich as hell. Till springtime came. The greatest robbery of his life.
flash fiction by Patrick Hackeling
As Joseph of Arimethea,
of whom must I beg permission to build this tomb
for your disappearing? To throw seed
among the crags of rock in hope of mistake
of the briefest flower?
What will Pilate—or anyone—care if I endure
the prick of steel and thorns upon my fingers:
if with grace, it is I to cut
the fibrous cord: loosen the self-hammered
nails: look upon the open mouth that cannot bear
its own breath?
If mild and softhearted, I will lick not dust from my lips,
but a miracle from yours:
ready they might be for wine
or supper or a story—after your body is washed
in aloe and myrrh,
the limbs made gentle in sweet-smelling cloth.
Might it be that you come dressed
That I find resplendent the imprint of your face:
truthful, holy, never treasonous?
Might we be moved—
as was Joseph—with the first appearance of the sun
to speak our own implication?
I cannot know.
But tilled among the fetal sobs and woolly screams
for mercy—(in the cellar: Get him down!
Don’t touch him!
they say)—a sinew of lung, heart, and spine:
my body a tomb that gardens
your suffering. Yours, Grandfather:
forever into blood-red roses.
This Girl, Your Disciple
poetry by Susan L. Leary
Who Can Say What War Has Done
My students, in their teens and twenties, bend their heads over words they don’t understand. I’m struggling with the essay, too, but not its meaning. I’m struck by how the author braids an autobiographical narrative of her 1950s childhood in America with an exploration of the devastation of World War II. My students and I read the rationale Susan Griffin gives in “Our Secret” for combining these historically incongruent topics: “I sense now that my life is still bound up with the lives of those who lived and died in this time” (383). The web of life. But how far does that web extend? I had my own secret about the lives that had touched mine, a web of connections that I was just beginning to see and understand.
Although I was teaching Griffin’s essay in a freshman composition course, I was thinking of my own writing which had often linked my autobiography to a war I’d never known except in its aftermath. A handful of years before we’d opened our books in that classroom, I published an essay about my father’s service in the Vietnam War whose title, “My Father’s Secret,” was so similar to Griffin’s title, and whose main idea was also similar to Griffin’s. I asked my students whether they felt that Griffin was permitted to claim a personal connection to a war she had only researched, had never seen firsthand. I asked if it was “ethical” for Susan Griffin to write intimately about the horrors of war when she had never served in the military, when she had never been in a firefight. And by asking what they thought about Griffin, I was really asking what they might think about me.
Predictably, the students’ answers were mixed, ranging from someone who felt she had to defend her friends who had served (“It’s just not right to pretend like you’ve seen something you haven’t”), to others who stood up for Griffin’s right to bear witness, not necessarily to what happened in World War II, they argued, but to its aftermath, its consequences that live on in the world. “A war like that,” one of them said, “is everyone’s responsibility.” I felt my muscles relax, not even aware that they had tensed up in anticipation of their answers.
Earlier that day, I’d read a Facebook post by Siobhan Fallon, an author who writes about war and military life, sharing her frustration over a reader’s Amazon review of her book You Know When the Men Are Gone. The reader had claimed that Fallon was trying to “get rich” off of the experiences of veterans and had suggested that, as a civilian writing about military matters, she was disrespecting the people who have served in the Armed Forces. Fallon lamented the reader’s ignorance about the economic realities of the book trade (in the post-Amazon, post-Kindle publishing world, writers make no money and presses are barely scraping by), and she mentioned that her intent was the opposite of what the reader claimed, that in writing about war she was hoping to draw greater attention to the suffering of veterans, to honor them by describing the events they lived through, their hard work, and their sacrifices. After all, Fallon is married to an officer in the Army and has been with him through several deployments. Also, Fallon’s father, like mine, is a Vietnam veteran.
I don’t bring up this question about who has the right to write about war purely out of an objective curiosity. I have a book coming out shortly from the Heartland Review Press, a book called Unguarded, which is a collection of poems made from the letters I sent to my boyfriend during his deployment with the National Guard. I am already at work on two more books of poems about veterans. And although I write about veterans’ wartime experiences, I have never served in the military. What’s more, unlike Fallon, I have never even been married to someone who has served. How close does my connection have to be to a veteran before I can write about war? Do I have to be someone’s wife or does being a girlfriend count? Do I have to be a battle buddy or does being the daughter of a veteran count? I’m struggling to understand what gives me the right to imagine the things that veterans have been through in combat.
I sit across a table from my father’s older brother. Over lunch, we’re talking about some of the political differences in our family. My uncle’s eyes dampen with tears as he tells me about the distance he feels now from my father: “We were so close when we were kids,” he says. “I don’t know what happened. I don’t understand your father’s politics or his love of guns.” For months, I’d been trying to think of an answer for my uncle. And then, just a few days ago, my father gave me a folder that contained all of the letters he’d sent home to his parents while he was serving in Vietnam.
In early December, 1970, my father sends a letter home: “I have accepted the fact that I am in Vietnam and I will do my best. Even though it still doesn’t seem possible.”
I’m reading the letters my father sent home from the jungles of Vietnam. He writes the first few in his tent, after pulling guard duty all night, before he attempts to sleep through the hot afternoon. My father is twenty-two years old when he begins writing these letters. He will celebrate his twenty-third birthday somewhere north of Cam Rahn Bay.
On December 25th, 1970, my father writes “For me, it doesn’t seem like Christmas. I really feel sorry for these people. They have nothing, except flies and mosquitoes. I hope this war ends soon.”
My father turned seventy this past May. The people he addressed these letters to, my grandparents, have been dead for over a decade now. My father will tell you that he is not good with words, and my mother cannot talk about his time in Vietnam—she becomes incoherent with tears. Susan Griffin believes that “[t]o a certain kind of mind, what is hidden away ceases to exist” (404).
In January of 1971, he writes: “I am fine and have started counting the days. This place is not the most luxurious I have ever been in.”
In 2006, four men are traveling through a desert in a Humvee when the vehicle hits an explosive device buried in the road. One man wakes up in a ditch with a concussion. Another breaks his pelvis. The driver has both of his legs blown off. The man thrown from the vehicle will lose part of his hearing and sustain permanent damage to his knees. Almost ten years after the explosion, I meet him through mutual friends. We date for a few weeks before he deploys again. I wait for him to return—write letters, bake cookies, wake up in the middle of the night to log on to Messenger. I count down the days in blocks of hours that seem to pass as slow as the molasses I watch fall into another bowl of cookie batter. I can’t be there to help him through the difficult and stressful things he has to do, and he can’t tell me much of what’s going on, so I only feel better when I think I am making his living conditions better. Meanwhile, my living conditions deteriorate—I worry about his safety constantly; I don’t eat well or sleep enough; I wake up with panic attacks. I think of all the things that would be better, more fun, if he were there to do them with me. Then I feel guilty about being so selfish. I wonder if my mother felt all of this when my father was in Vietnam. It was probably even worse for her.
When my boyfriend finally comes home, he becomes increasingly stressed about returning to his civilian job. After a month during which he snaps at me and blames me for things that couldn’t possibly be my fault—the weather, the fact that cigarette smoking causes cancer, when he finds out a brewery he likes is closed on Mondays—he admits to having anger issues that require a therapist. On the day he is supposed to board a plane to visit me, to meet my father as he had requested, he breaks up with me, saying that he just can’t be in a relationship, even though (I find out later) he’s already seeing someone else. He never speaks to me again. How much is my life now affected by the wartime events he survived? How much is his story now my story? After he breaks my heart, I have trouble believing anything guys tell me. It takes me over a year to date again. How much of my happiness fell away as the man I would know as my future ex-boyfriend kneeled alongside a desert road and tightened the tourniquets he applied to his friend’s legs?
My father writes, “Please forgive the dirty stationary. There is red dirt all over this place. This firebase isn’t much, but it will be my home for a while.”
On October 3, 2009, U.S. soldiers at Command Outpost Keating are involved in a 16-hour firefight called the Battle of Kamdesh. They lose eight men. Twenty-four more are wounded. One of the team leaders takes off his Kevlar, strips down to shorts and a t-shirt, and sprints around the base to locate all of the bodies of their fallen. He has shrapnel in his arm and a bullet wound through his shoulder. Sniper bullets strike the dirt behind him as he sprints. If they do not recover the bodies, the Taliban is likely to desecrate them and broadcast it on YouTube. Eight years after this event, I meet him at a bar in Nebraska, where I’m visiting for the summer. We date for over a month—late night conversations, texting for hours, laughter, future plans. Then, a week before I have to return to the East Coast, he blocks my number. No conversation, no explanation. He ghosts, and I’m broken hearted again. All I have left are a few memories, and they’re not even very good ones. I remember waking one night to the jerks and twitches he was making in his sleep, trigger finger firing on top of the sheets. I remember wrapping my arms around him in the dark, holding him until the nightmare passed. A firefight in Afghanistan, a country I’ve never been to, has now become a part of me. And yet there’s no term to describe my relationship to war. I’ve been touched by it, and yet I’ve never served. I’ve dated veterans, but never married one. I’m just a bystander. And yet, I’ve been shaped by the combat experiences that broke these men, just as they broke the men of my father’s generation who went to Vietnam.
On January 12, 1971, my father writes, “I have been in the jungle for two days now. I cannot believe how heavy my pack is and how rough the terrain we have to go over. . . We will not get out of the woods for at least another 20 days.”
Griffin writes, “Often I have looked back into my past with a new insight only to find that some old, hardly recollected feeling fits into a larger pattern of meaning” (382).
I’ve started to wonder how my father’s service in Vietnam formed me as a child. And writing about it has been the means I’m using to explore this self-discovery. I remember an anxious childhood. Not deprived in any material way, nor lacking love. But I remember feeling “on edge,” unsure whether my father’s time in Vietnam was something to fear or something to be proud of. I possessed an understanding at perhaps too early of an age that everything good in our lives could be taken away suddenly. This was certainly the truth my parents lived when my father was drafted one month after they graduated college and got married. What our parents believe greatly influences us. Some biologists say that the trauma suffered by previous generations is passed down to us in our genes. Is this how as a civilian I have come to write about war? My father’s contribution to my genetic composition? I gravitate now toward other people whose lives have been shaped by the notion that everything—our lives themselves—could be taken away in an instant.
Susan Griffin’s theory is that “every life bears in some way on every other” (402). She believes that “the self is part of a larger matrix of relationship and society. Had we been born to a different family, in a different time, to a different world, we would not be the same. All the lives that surround us are in us” (411). I am a composite of my father’s service; my mother’s tears; the grandparents I hardly knew before they were gone; and the wounded, broken men I have tried, and failed, to love. Griffin explains, “For there is a sense in which we are all witnesses... The way of life we live, a life we have never really chosen, forces us to walk past what we see. And out at the edge, beyond what we see or hear, we can feel a greater suffering” (409). Why does writing about this suffering make a claim to owning it in a way that makes some people uncomfortable? If every act of writing requires empathy and imagination, how is it any different for writing about war? Writers whose lives have been touched by war may not only have the right to write about it; they may have a moral obligation to do so. Civilians writing about how war has affected them build bridges to the experiences and voices of veterans, who may not able to tell their own stories. I recently attended an off-Broadway production that explored the difficulties military personnel and their families face when the former come home from war. As part of a panel discussion after his performance of Outside Paducah: The Wars at Home, playwright and actor J.A. Moad offered an inclusive definition of a veteran as “anyone who has been touched by war.” I think Susan Griffin would agree. Every one of us who has had an intimacy with veterans as friends, family, or lovers are permitted to write about their wartime experiences with compassion, to help tell their stories from our perspectives, so that no one forgets the work it has taken to preserve the freedoms we enjoy, or the mistakes that have been made in their pursuit that have cost the lives of the dead and also the lives of some still walking, breathing, dating.
by Lynn Marie Houston
Jim Breslin’s writing has appeared in Hippocampus, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Turk’s Head Review, and other journals. He is the author of “Shoplandia,” a humorous novel about the working lives of show hosts, producers and crew at a home shopping channel. Jim is the founder of West Chester Story Slam, and the co-founder of Lancaster Story Slam. He lives in West Chester, PA.
Christina Dalcher is a theoretical linguist from the Land of Styron and Barbecue, where she writes, teaches, and channels Shirley Jackson. Find her work in Split Lip Magazine, Whiskey Paper, and New South Journal, among others. Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency represents her novels, one of which currently lives on the MsLexia Novel Competition long list. www.christinadalcher.com
Barbara Greenbaum’s work has been published or is forthcoming in The Alembic, The Binnacle, The Dos Passos Review, Eclectica, Fiction Fix, Forge, Hawaii Pacific Review, Hog River Review, Inscape, The Louisville Review, Pearl, Prick of the Spindle, The MacGuffin, Marathon Review, The Massachusetts Review, Noctua Review, The Penmen Review, Underwood Review, Verdad, and Willow Review. She has studied with Michael White, Suzanne Strempek Shea, Brad Barkley, and Jack Driscoll. In 2011, Barbara was awarded a Teaching Arts Fellowship from Surdna, now known as the National Artist Teacher Fellowship (NATF), to develop a memoir. In addition, her work won second place in the 2006 Fiction CT Authors and Publishers Association (CAPA) contest. Barbara has a B.A. in English from the University of Hartford, an M.A. in secondary education from St. Joseph College, and an M.F.A. from the University of Southern Maine Stonecoast. She is presently retired from her career as a creative writing teacher at a public magnet arts high school in Willimantic, CT. In addition to teaching, she is also involved in land conservation. She writes using the pen name B.P. Greenbaum.
Patrick Hackeling is an award-winning filmmaker from New York. His films have won Best Picture at NYC and Oregon film festivals and been nominated in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and abroad. His written works have appeared in The Monkey Collective, Akashic Books, The Oak Wheel, The Michigan Journal of History, The Phoenix, and Pagan Publications.
Lynn Marie Houston
Lynn Marie Houston holds a PhD from Arizona State University and an MFA from Southern Connecticut State University. Her writing has appeared in over 40 literary journals and in her four books of poetry, including “Unguarded” (Heartland Review Press), a book of poem-letters to a deployed soldier. Please visit lynnmhouston.com for more information.
Petrula Laudato’s fiction has appeared in Haunted Waters Press, Panoplyzine, and The Magnitizdat Literary. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
Susan L. Leary
Susan L. Leary is a Lecturer in English Composition at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, FL. Her most recent creative work appears or is forthcoming in Gyroscope Review, Sweet Tree Review, Clear Poetry, Steel Toe Review, The Copperfield Review, Antiphon, Dime Show Review, Cold Creek Review, Dying Dahlia Review, The Big Windows Review, After the Pause, and elsewhere.
Rod Zink is an Assistant Professor of English and Humanities at Penn State Harrisburg. Alongside Creative Writing, he teaches and conducts scholarship in Composition Studies, Technical Writing, New Literacies, and Genre Theories. When not writing, teaching, researching, or collecting typewriters, Rod enjoys exploring the convergence of art, earth, the human animal, and all things mechanical or dreamed through the metal sculptures he builds— thoughts that adorn the walls, tables, floors, and ceilings of his apartment.
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