DECEMBER 1, 2020| ISSUE no 266
crack the spine
Carol Everett Adams
Edward Michael Supranowicz
Don't Forget to
short fiction by Dani Hererra
I don’t feel myself being devoured.
I don’t crunch between his teeth like I thought I would.
Instead I splatter.
The smatters of blood and pieces of brain that fall from my skull and onto the sidewalk look up at the rest of me and wonder if it hurts.
The rest of me sits, forever in his brain, me and him.
Just as he had planned.
He calls me “my love.”
This is supposed to be a pretty thing but all I can think when he says that is, pecas.
I usually follow that with punches and thrashes. I think in Morse Code they mean,
I hate you. I will rot you from the inside out.
I thought that if decaying bodies smell then surely live brains had to smell too. But they don’t. It’s just another part of the vacuum here.
And maybe we color and paint and sketch brains a light pink but in reality, when you’re trapped in one that isn’t your own, it’s gray. It’s all just a sickly shadow of pink.
There’s really nothing to do here but wait for memories to float by, and hope they’re mine.
I was standing in that small restaurant’s bathroom not wanting to come out.
I texted my friend, asking how she could possibly put me on the worst blind date ever. She said he likes me, that he caught a glimpse of me once and couldn’t get me out of his head.
It’s not a happy memory but I hold on because that girl in the mirror with dark hair ruffled by wind and darker eyes even more ruffled, but by something else, some other kind of storm.
That girl was me.
And she was looking at herself— I was looking at myself—and it was for the last time but that face in the mirror didn’t know it.
She should have been scared but she wasn’t. She was annoyed, inconvenienced. I like to think that was how I faced death.
I hold on to this bitter memory because I’ve missed that mark under my eye. The pores on my nose. The way one eyebrow is higher than the other.
I miss the way I was still whole with these things.
It was so cold outside.
Sometimes in the night he can hear me crying.
And even when my sobs don’t wake him, the tears trickling out of his ears do.
He always asks what’s wrong because he can’t picture the world he created for us to be a prison.
So I don’t answer.
He lays very still so he doesn’t jostle me. He stays up with me the whole night.
And I don’t want him to, but who else can?
He asks questions, trying to get to know me.
It never works.
He thinks back to each bite of my brain and how he licked the inside of my skull clean. He picks out the flavors and finds the memories he wants.
I wish I didn’t have to see this. I wish his brain didn’t light up when he remembers killing me.
If I could go back, to the winter day of the crowded booth, the only thing I would say to him is: “I’m not who you think I am, and I can never be.”
I have to be careful of the memories that float by in his mind.
Sometimes they’re mine.
And sometimes they’re his.
It should be this code, this A, G, T, U, of getting to know him. To maybe love him or at least be resigned to this life stuck inside his brain.
But it’s not at all.
I see him, gangly as a kid. I see his imposing mother. His even more imposing father. I see his stripped bare room. His hiding of candy and stickers in his mattress.
And maybe I could learn to pity, to love, that eight year old version but that doesn’t excuse this version of him now.
He walked up to me in the restaurant, he was so tall he blocked my eyes from the overhead lamp light in the booth.
So tall his legs bumped the table when we sat down.
I tucked my legs under the booth’s seat, holding my knees together. My body was already curling into itself, trying to protect, trying to hide.
He leaned across the small table, trying to touch my hands, my face, my hair. He was memorizing me.
There was so much of him back then.
How can I be trapped in such a small place now?
I realize, I said he was so tall.
But he still is.
He still gets to be.
I wish I knew what happened to the rest of my body.
I only hope some piece of me died with it. That piece of me in my heart instincts, buried deep where his teeth couldn’t reach. Maybe there is some part of me he can never have.
So I say it’s rotting and hope I will follow it someday.
I wonder if it’s possible to live an entire life in memories.
To live all the days over and over again.
To remember each mundane detail.
I wonder if I could do that and callit living.
“Your summer memories taste like blueberries,” he whispers.
It’s late at night. I’m such a ghost he gets lonely. He has to remind himself that there is another person living in his brain. He doesn’t feel crowded even though there is barely enough space for me here.
“And they sound like yard sprinklers,” he says.
I can see him standing in the memory. My family and I are in the backyard. I have a hot can of soda in my hand. I’m reaching for roses as they’re being watered.
Careful, mija, my mom tells me, they have thorns.
Pecas, I say.
“This summer we can go out, if you want,” he says.
“There is no out for me.”
“You know, pecas, in Spanish is freckles.”
He steps deeper into the frame of the memory and blocks out the sun.
I hold onto the important words. I catch them on the tongue and press them into the roof of my mouth; the way I hated cold cans of soda, the way pecas meant thorn.
But I let him have these words. “I will rot you from the inside out.”
He sighs. This is a part of me he couldn’t anticipate. It’s under the smile, coded in the laugh, rooted in the pride and imagination.
I am melodramatic.
And he’s not sure how to overcome such a horrible miscalculation in a human.
He is sitting on the couch, still and quiet.
I know he is trying to draw me out. At least my quips make me a participant.
“It’s almost our one year anniversary.”
“It’s a death anniversary,” I say, “You killed me.”
It’s easy to forget that I’m gone. My parents know a world without me and they’ll never know another world with me.
He ignores me and is probably filling the silence with what he imagines my laugh to sound like. But softer, kinder, bashful.
“Oh, the crazy things we do for love,” he says.
“This isn’t love. And if this is for the rest of my life, I’ll never know it.”
He gets up. He shouts at the ceiling. That’s what happens when the person trapped in your head makes you angry, you look up and you shout.
“It’s love. A grand gesture!”
“Where was it supposed to go?”
“Here,” he says, “it was always going right here.”
It’s four a.m. on the morning after the anniversary of my death.
“You’re still alone,” I tell him while he sleeps.
“You can’t take me out of context and remember blueberries and hot soda. I had a temper and a nasty cursing habit. I was critical, peticular. I loved to laugh but it wasn’t a giggle.”
But even this is half the story.
“You’ve seen me once. You’ve seen me see myself a million times. But you’ve never seen other people see me. And that matters.”
“Love,” he calls me.
“You don’t even know who you stole.”
That day of the blind date, I left before we even got formally introduced or shook hands.
Now I’m just ashes on the side of a building. Bloodstains on the sidewalk. And brains trapped in a brain, corroded and decaying in its own amber.
But everyday I try to feed those stains in the city. I let go of little pieces and hope they find their way home, to my heart instincts. I hope the ashes become a pile, the bloodstains a figure, till someone can find me.
Unrhymed Sonnet Constructed with American Sentences
After you turn ten, you toss and lose your pink clackers on power lines.
This summer, the rain swells creeks—the mad orange raging across your yard.
The woods fill like a sink basin, the red playhouse slipping off its bricks.
You race home, scudding a muddy slope in another July cloudburst.
On the steep driveway, your bike’s wet brakes fail, and you carom off the wall.
The front wheel’s crimped, and your chin’s split open, and you limp a blood-trail inside.
I’m so sorry, you cry as you ruin the rug, I’ll pay for it all.
Your E.R. visit drains your mom’s savings, and your family blames you
As usual, not the black clouds, You were trouble from the get-go.
Still not blessed, you plan to meet your divorce lawyer at the library,
Where moisture from June humidity slinks in, loosens glue on books’ spines.
And you wander the stacks where homeless men hide from summer—it’s fucking hot
In Periodicals, where you skim articles about royal weddings
Before your attorney arrives. You bail, blaming yourself, not rainstorms.
flash fiction by Cate McGowan
poetry by Katherine Fallon
You ought to be ashamed, having kept me
from this magnolia so long. After all,
this year, winter suffocated every
living thing and now, nearly nothing blooms.
This tree spits petals, white as un-sunned breasts,
across your wilding yard—rife with onion
grass and bees that slam against the windows,
doors, then off with deafening attitude.
You wanted me to see the show but this year’s
dull, glowering flowering disappoints you:
each blossom a reluctant party guest en blouson,
you missed it: how exquisitely each bud
peeled wide open, fanned out fleshly, was seen.
is highly unsatisfying. Frank looked it up. He suffers from it. Frank has the world at his doorstep, but doesn’t look forward to anything but nothing. There is a hamster wheel he forgot to get on, and now he’s hunkered down in aspen wood chips, gnawing on a toilet paper roll. It keeps him busy. He refuses to listen to advice, read even the most obvious signs.Frank, I say,This tank was designed to hold fish!Frank’s not even crepuscular anymore. In a past life, he must have eaten his young. He’s at the mercy of rich children.
micro fiction by Maura Way
The Etymology of Dread
Border Crossing (1937)
short fiction by Burton Shulman
Ike kept the forged papers hidden in his shirt. If stopped by KGB, he could tell half the truth: He’d traveled from Moscow to Proskurov to marry Hannah (true). He was taking her to meet his relatives in the hills (false).
Ukraine was farmland covered with snow. Between towns, long, flat stretches were interrupted by ramshackle houses and small stands of low trees. At intervals, hills hugged the horizon, low and gray, before giving way again to snowy fields. The views were so unremarkable that it seemed Ukraine was as desperate to go unnoticed as Ike and Hannah.
Deep channels cut by the wheels of carts were frozen into long stretches of dirt road, brittle in the biting cold. Their cart bent and shook,several times almost tipping over. If that happened, it would probably be a death sentence.
Ike’s mind had become a cave of pain. No peace, not a second. One part seemed to have decided to devour another, taking up its task eagerly. It embossed a recurring thought onto everything from sunny days to weird images of blood and pandemonium: You’re going to die.
If a bit of hope poked through this darkness, it was quickly pounded into dust.
One morning he awoke to find he’d capitulated. Dreams had convinced him that this was the first time he was seeing reality in pure form. Perhaps if he hadn’t been so afraid all along to see what life really was, he’d have escaped some of the pain. Moments of peace were difficult to remember—foolish efforts to anesthetize himself against terror. Pain had watched and waited in shadow.
Echoes of this extended beyond the present. If the tiny possibility of escape came to pass, if they survived this mad trip across Ukraine and reached his home in Brooklyn, the best they could hope for was another exhausted surrender to delusion, as reality went on wreaking havoc. Feeling better was just a prelude to feeling worse—around and around and around. Happiness was hallucination.
These thoughts circled like wolves, attacking him in rhythm, each assault biting into bone.
Yet when he thought of suicide, it was only in the abstract. He was a newsreel cameraman by trade, and for now he was also a spy, but his deepest conviction was that he was a witness. He’d held on to the buttonhole camera he’d used for the Moscow trials. Hannah didn’t know.
He was as careful as he could manage, both with what he shot and how he shot it: a napping Cossack patrol, dead stalks bent by the wind above the snow line, the broken faces of peasants.
There was no visible evidence of the famine of ’33, but Ike had learned that buried a few feet beneath some of these fields were many thousands of dead. Stalin’s Bread Basket was a mass grave, its wheat nourished by blood and bone.
In daylight, if he dozed, he was tormented by images of a trench stuffed with twisted limbs. Whether these were self-punishing inventions or fragments of memory, he didn’t know and didn’t care. To stay awake, he imagined editing what he was shooting into a coherent record of what were surely their last days.
He felt responsible for Hannah; he’d given her false hope. But he also believed she felt responsible for him. This was more practical than romantic; neither could survive without the other.
They drove the horse slowly to avoid drawing attention. By studying the behavior of the people they passed—peasants, farmers, soldiers—they learned to become invisible. After a day or so, no one gave them a second glance.
Each night they hid the cart behind trees and shivered together under their coats.
Between sunset and sunrise they hardly spoke. To ease Ike’s trembling, Hannah let him cling to her as if to a tiny handhold on a sheer rock face. When despair pushed so hard that his chest seemed ready to burst, Hannah unbuttoned her dress and his shirt and pressed against him. As her body heated, its softness and sleekness diminished the pressure in his chest. In this way, Hannah saved his shrinking life.
The first time, Ike worried about his sexual inexperience and couldn’t get hard. That changed when it became clear that Hannah didn’t care: Her need was for contact. She would breathe hard and fast, take his head in her hands and lick his teeth, as if he were a sweet she couldn’t get enough of. She would move and press and rock and this would awaken his own hunger, burying his thoughts. He kneaded and sucked and bit at her like an infant. His first climax would happen almost immediately, but if he stayed hard and kept moving Hannah would soon arch her back, dig her nails into his shoulders, groan. Sometimes he’d climax again.
Afterward, she’d drape her body over his and hold him inside for as long as she could, their arms wrapped around each other, his body emptied and softened by what he nicknamed “love.” He would haul in deep draughts of air, as if he’d been suffocating all day. They’d sleep for a few hours.
But the sun had to rise again, and when it did pleasure vanished under fresh assaults of pain. In daylight, Hannah showed only indifference and contempt, as if convinced that affection in the presence of despair was dangerous, perhaps combustible.
By day, they ate bits of bread and cheese.
By night, they ate each other.
Once, Hannah muttered that the men passing on horseback were a Cossack killing squad. The dried blood on their tunics bore this out, but they, too, looked exhausted. Perhaps Hannah’s fatalism was a kind of camouflage. Perhaps Ike’s despair made murder seem redundant; there was so little of him left to kill. For whatever reason, the Cossacks, too, ignored them.
Impossibly, after ten days they reached the Finnish border.
The guards were transitioning to the next shift; both teams made their impatience clear. Asked why they were leaving, Hannah announced imperiously that her husband was late for Party-mandated work in the West. They were only in this silly horse-cart because they’d grown tired of train delays, cattle crossings, spot-checks.
Perhaps she seemed too annoying to be a liar. Ike’s papers looked legitimate; perhaps the text was too dense to bother examining. There seemed a consensus that no defector would be so stupid—now, of all times—as to believe that it was possible to lie their way across the border. After a few questions and a perfunctory check of the cart’s contents, the guards waved them through.
Ike tried to feel elated. But reaching the border was a wasted miracle. He felt no gratitude toward God: First He’d ruined them; now, on a whim, He seemed to be saving them. Perhaps He took pleasure in thumbing His nose at the Bolsheviks for their insistence that He was imaginary. More likely, He was imaginary, and the miracle was an accident.
On the slow walk between the Russian and Finnish gates, Hannah fainted. Ike held her up and kept moving. He struggled to appear calm, even as he waited for someone’s second thought to end in a burst of gunfire.
Suppose that they as siblings as they were and they peered over jagged and caked mud dried and powdered--a polished creek, shined and silver--and saw splintered sun as reflections of their eyes and heads. What were they to think upon such transparency where their faces dissolved with sculpin scale and streamed hush of river thinned and slept. To imagine otherwise would distort and entwine and softly they transformed into glowed balloons of red or yellow or peach dependent on day's tenure. Their locks and curls straightened and ironed--rays like shimmered mills twirled and cut as such into air and air they lifted above and hand in hand they rose with fitted clasp. Consider a thought of goose and stork and crane to play witness upon flight and crossed paths in vertical manner to view these strangers as mirage and magic. Perhaps a sounded beak of awe or ponder, to tilt their feathers aside before dive and nest--the stories to be told to their clutch and brood on horizon's eve. Conglomerates they became, sibling and sibling as celestial bond they floated to star's reach whereupon they gathered their sight and found the world below, a pebble in galactic ratio, how they would to place in their shredded pockets or their tongues atop. And so with keen and curious eyes they saw upon a palace of wood and nails, their mother and father lost from their lives amid storm and thunder and with pined pleas and helium tears they left from sun's shredded limb to soar as meteorites through maze of constellations and dust and gently landed aside. Hand and hand again, they lay their simmered heads against familiar chests and wished for breath and heave. Ventured in, a blanket flower from raised wind's mouth, they each took and placed on bark and mound and closed their eyes to dream of voice and laughter under lowered sun, their only friend.
flash fiction by Shome Dasgupta
Each ride spits us into a shop
where we can’t spin far without Walt.
He loves his Fantasia flowers.
We giggle, pick Minnie sunglasses,
peer over rims to watch boys
play the crowd with cap guns
smuggled from pirates. Little red dots
pop, smoke rises and rides the wind
to the next Land. We can’t decide,
one souvenir or ten? I resolve
to stick with fifty. Walt clicks his tongue.
You are out of control, girls.
He snips our hair in the barbershop,
takes our money. Come again! Come any time!
He puts his cigarette out in a topiary
and I shout, Stop! Thief! But I’m in bud,
and so he shapes me,
plants me where I stand.
I Shoppe at Disneyland with Walt's Daughters
poetry by Carol Everett Adams
Carol Everett Adams
Carol Everett Adams writes poems about Disney theme parks, organized religion, UFOs, and other topics. She lives in the Midwestern United States and has a day job in the tech industry. Her poems have been published in California Quarterly, Euphony, The MacGuffin, The New York Quarterly, Owen Wister Review, Quercus Review, Soundings East, and others. You can connect with her at caroleverettadams.com.
Shome Dasgupta is the author of “i am here And You Are Gone” (Winner Of The 2010 OW Press Fiction Chapbook Contest), “The Seagull And The Urn” (HarperCollins India), “Anklet And Other Stories” (Golden Antelope Press), “Pretend I Am Someone You Like” (University of West Alabama’s Livingston Press), and “Mute” (Tolsun Books). His stories and poems have appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Puerto Del Sol, New Orleans Review, New Delta Review, Necessary Fiction, Atlas And Alice, Magma Poetry, and elsewhere. He lives in Lafayette, LA and can be found at www.shomedome.com and @laughingyeti.
Katherine Fallon’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in AGNI, Colorado Review, Juked, Meridian, Foundry, and others, and will be included in Best New Poets 2019. Her chapbook, “The Toothmakers’ Daughters,” is available through Finishing Line Press. She shares domestic space with two cats and her favorite human, who helps her zip her dresses.
Dani Herrera is a 24 year old writer living in the Central Valley of California. She is currently getting her Masters at St. Mary’s College of California as part of their fiction cohort. Follow her on Instagram to see posts on her writing, daily life, and her border collie, Blu. This is her first publication.
Cate McGowan is the author of the short story collection, “True Places Never Are” (2015), which won the 2014 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award and was a finalist for The Lascaux Book Prize. Her debut novel, “These Lowly Objects,” is forthcoming from Gold Wake Press, and her fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in Norton’s Flash Fiction International, Glimmer Train, Crab Orchard Review, Tahoma Literary Review, Phoebe, Shenandoah, Vestal Review, Split Rock Review, and elsewhere. A Georgia native and current Florida resident, McGowan’s an assistant prose poetry and fiction editor at Pithead Chapel.
Burton Shulman has published a collection of stories, “Safe House,” and completed a second collection, “Success,” and the novel “Long Wars.” His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bottomfish, Elm Leaves Journal, Forge Journal, Global City Review, Litbreak Magazine, The Paragon Journal, The Penmen Review, and SLAB.
Edward Michael Supranowicz
Edward Michael Supranowicz has had artwork and poems published in the US and other countries. Both sides of his family worked in the coalmines and steel mills of Appalachia.
Originally from Washington, DC, Maura Way lives in Greensboro, NC, by way of Boise, Idaho. Her work has previously appeared in Otis Nebula, Verse, The Chattahoochee Review, and Hotel Amerika ,among others. Her debut collection “Another Bungalow” was released b yPress 53 in 2017. She has been a schoolteacher for over twenty years, most recently at New Garden Friends School.
Creative Non-Fiction Editor
Kerri Farrell Foley
Short Fiction Editors
Crack the Spine Staff
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