The fish heads were just there, in the ravine, at the spot where the creek goes into the pipe under the road. I bet someone just threw them out the car window. They looked like swordfish heads, swordfish heads in a white box at the end of a ravine in Rock Island, IL. And they stank. That’s what I remember, that and the kid who stuck one through with a stick, lifted it up, ran at the rest of us. The fish had pale skin, clouded eyes. The kid’s name was Jimmy, and sometimes he was my best friend. When he pushed the fish head in my face, he wasn’t, but I knew I’d still spend the night at his house.
We’d been in the ravine most of the day, our arms red and raw from the nettles we had to walk through before we gave up on the trails and began walking through the creek. We were wet and heavy, beating water striders with sticks. Every once in a while, we’d stop and pour water out of our shoes. I kept my eyes open, looking for dirty magazines stuffed into hollow logs – a millipede crawling across naked breasts.
Jimmy pulled a pack of cigarettes from his back pocket, but it was too late,
It still seemed wrong, the swearing and the cigarettes, like pissing on a building wall or hearing your parents having sex in the other room.
“Maybe you could get a pack from your sister.”
“No, she’s pissed because I stole a bunch out of her purse. I know someone who could get us some, though. You got any money?”
“Why don’t you ask your mom, tell her we’re going to order pizza tonight.”
“But we’re not.”
“God, don’t be such a pussy.”
I looked at him, his blond hair hanging in his face, skinny like me, but shorter, brown eyes, t-shirt and jeans, clothes even cheaper than mine.
“I’ll ask her, but I’m not a pussy.”
“OK, just get the money.”
We looked up to the houses above the ravine, tried to figure out where we were, who’s backyard we’d end up in, if it was one with a dog, a bastard with a b-b gun, or someone who’d tell our parents.
The Williams, no problem unless Shawn saw us. It wasn’t like he was going to beat us up. We just didn’t want to hang out with him. He was younger, and it was fun to exclude him.
He wasn’t there, just the junk cars his dad planned to fix and sell but wouldn’t, the cars that pissed off my dad and made him threaten to move. But my dad had gotten his garage just the way he wanted, so he wasn’t going anywhere.
Out of the William’s yard and in the street. We looked out of place, muddy and wet, ship-wrecked kid-sailors just crawled on land. Jimmy started down the street towards my house. I followed to the brown two-story with asbestos shingles, the big green Dodge in front. My dad was at work, so it would just be my mom.
Jimmy stayed on the porch. I figured she’d be in the bedroom, nursing a headache or in the bathroom where she kept her stash of Butterfinger candy bars.
“In here.” I found her in the bedroom reading. “You stink,” she said.
“Yeah, I’ve been in the ravine with Jimmy.”
“I thought you were in your room.”
“No, we’ve been hanging out all afternoon.”
“Are you having fun?”
“Good.” She sat there waiting to go back to her book.
“Can I have some money?”
“For pizza, Jimmy and me are going to order pizza when I stay over.”
“You’re staying over there tonight?”
“Yeah, we’ll deliver our papers together in the morning.”
“Ok, sure. Take a five from my purse.”
“A ten would be better.”
“Take a five.”
The screen door banged behind me. “So?” said Jimmy. He was lying on the porch.
“I got $5.”
“It’s enough for cigarettes isn’t it?”
“Then, what are you complaining about?”
“Nothing. Let’s go.”
“To get some cigarettes.”
We went back down the ravine, and I got the fish head in my face, and I wanted to tell him to fuck-off, but I didn’t. Instead, we came up the end of a dead end. My waist was sore where by belt bunched up my jeans. We walked till we hit the first house with a big dog and a porch with torn screens.
The dog was on a chain that didn’t quite reach the porch door. Jimmy walked just outside the chain’s length. The dog’s jaws snapped. We walked through the porch, past motorcycle parts and beer cans to the front door. Jimmy banged on it. A girl answered. She was big, too big for her halter top and jeans. Her large breasts were barely held in place, a fold of skin hung over the waist-line of her pants. I stared at her, but she only looked at Jimmy. “What the fuck do you want?”
I’m here to talk to Billy.”
She turned and yelled, “Billy, you’re little shit friend is here.”
“You wish… Billy, get over here.” She walked away. Jimmy and I didn’t say anything, just another person Jimmy knew that I had never met.
Billy was tall, wearing jeans and boots, no shirt. He was probably around 20. His hair was long, and he had a mustache. He had a beer in his hand. He looked like he just woke up.
“This is Dave. He’s the one who rides mini-bikes with me.”
“Oh yeah, cool. Come in.” The girl was on the couch, drinking a bottle of Pepsi. There was a motorcycle engine on the coffee table in front of her. The TV was on. “You want a beer?” Billy said looking at both of us.
“Sure.” said Jimmy.
“No thanks.” I said.
“OK…Hey Pam, get me and Jimmy a beer. This one’s about empty.”
“What do I look like?” she said, barely turning from the TV, “the fucking maid?”
“Come on Baby, for me?”
“All right, but the little shit can get his own.”
“Screw you,” said Jimmy, “I don’t need you to get me a god-damned beer.” She laughed, and he followed her out the room. I watched her.
“You like her?” said Billy.
“You like her? She’s big, but those tits are great, and she can really fuck.”
“She’ll jack you off if you want.”
“Just tell me if you want her to jack you off. All you have to do is bring like ten bucks. You can touch her tits too if you want.”
“It’s fine. She likes it. Ask Jimmy about it.” She came into the room followed by Jimmy. Billy stopped talking then started again. “So you got a Honda 50?”
“Suzuki 75.” I said.
“So you have any cigarettes or what?” asked Jimmy as he sipped his beer.
Yeah,” laughed Pam, “Give the little shit his cigarettes so he gets the hell out of here.”
Jimmy swore. “I thought I already told you to fuck off, or do you need me to help you with that?”
“Fuck You!!” There was real anger in his voice. Pam just laughed and walked out.
Billy laughed too. “So you got some money? Money’ll get you whatever you want. You want a pack of Marlboros? two bucks.”
“Two bucks? Are you trying to rip me off?”
“Hey, I need a little something for my trouble.”
Jimmy turned to me, “Give him the money.” I did. Jimmy took the cigarettes.
The ravine was even stickier now. It was a little cooler down by the creek, but not much. We were both smoking. My throat was raw. I had already given up on the paths and was walking through the creek. I was ahead of Jimmy when I hit the pool. It wasn’t much, but a fallen tree and a shopping cart had damned the creek enough to create a spot four feet deep. I walked in. I bent my knees and brought my head under water. I lifted it out and looked around. Jimmy was sitting on a log, so I took off my shirt, threw it on the ground, next my shoes, pants, underwear. Jimmy smoked. I jacked-off under the dark water, keeping my face tight and still. After I came, I got out of the water, dressed and followed Jimmy up and out of the ravine.
Jimmy’s dad was in the kitchen when we got there. He was smoking a cigarette. He was balding and tried to make up for it with a bushy mustache. Jimmy went to the refrigerator and pulled out a Pepsi. “Hey Dad, Dave’s spending the night, OK?”
“What?” He looked at me, then back at Jimmy. “Sure… hey, don’t drink all those. I’m not made of money you know.”
“Got any food?”
“You’re the one in the refrigerator; you tell me.”
“There’s nothing in here. Let’s order pizza.”
“We had pizza last night.”
“Alright, order it.” He looked around the room, then at me. He took a drag from his cigarette. The TV was on. My Dad didn’t smoke and hardly ever watched TV. He just worked on cars in his shop while listening to the radio.
“You guys going to deliver your papers together?”
“Yes,” said Jimmy.
“Well, make sure you get it done on time. I don’t want The Argus calling ‘cause your papers are late.”
“They’re not going to be late. We’re going to be waiting for them when they get dropped off.”
“At 4am? Why the hell are you doing that?”
“Because we want to… Shit.”
“Hey!!” His dad blurted, looking at me,”watch your language.”
“Because I said so. That’s why.”
Jimmy took another Pepsi out of the refrigerator. “Come on, let’s go.” He gave me the pop and headed up the stairs to his room.
“Hey!!” his dad yelled, “where are you going?” Jimmy didn’t stop. We stood there for a while, his dad and I. I opened my Pepsi, took a sip, and went up the stairs.
The sun was just going down, and we were already bored. We had 7 hours before the papers arrived, at least 3 hours before we could really explore the neighborhood. We were still in Jimmy’s room, our shirts off, but it made little difference in the heat. We were looking through old Hot Rod magazines. I didn’t care about the cars, but I liked reading the cartoons. Jimmy looked up and said, “let’s go back to Billy’s.”
“Why? because there’s nothing else to fucking do, that’s why. Wait here. I’m going to see if my sister’s got any money in her purse; then, we can head out.”
“What do you need money for?”
“To buy something. What the fuck.”
“Well, we’ve got cigarettes, and I don’t want a beer, so why should I want to go?”
“Maybe we can get into something.”
“I don’t know. Don’t be a pussy. I’ll get some money, and we can go.”
“I told you not to call me a pussy.”
“Well then stop acting like one.”
I surprised myself and hit him, in the face; his lip popped. Blood ran down his chin and dripped on his bare chest.
“Fuck You!” he yelled, spitting the blood. “You don’t do that. You don’t fuckin’ do that.”
“I know,” I said. “I know. I’m sorry.”
He looked around the room for something to wipe-up the blood. He grabbed my t-shirt. I didn’t stop him. When he was done wiping his lip, he threw it to me.
“Don’t do that again.”
“OK,” I said. “OK.” We both put on our shirts.
“We’re going, right?”
“Yeah, right.” I followed him out the door, his blood and my sweat coloring my chest.
We Are Arrows
It’s a frantic
place in times
of war, but
this is why we
need faith in
bodies. I believe
they can be
can be never-
much smoke our
lost loves can
the bodies you
We Are Arrows
The torn, the
that not the
trances we all
those songs is
sang with any
actions of my
longing of the
I have a
wife, I have a
will be their
finally put me
and they will
We Are Arrows
float, we are
angled to dig,
we are angled
to grave, we
are angled to
be shovels, if
we didn’t feel
so much like
we came from a
we didn’t long
He’s going to ask me. I stare out at the filmstrip of postage stamp backyards flashing by through the window and I feel my throat constrict.
I close my eyes and try to surrender to the chugga chugga rhythm of wheels beneath me. I have time. I’m just outside the city, somewhere in Queens judging by the abundance of above-ground pools and aluminum siding. I think of the people who live in these identical little houses, how they probably didn’t labor over their decisions to buy white plastic patio furniture, and I catch myself wishing for fewer choices.
I still don’t know where he’s taking me. I only know to get off the train at Greenport: the very last stop. 6:45pm at Greenport Station. Dress to be romanced and bring your toothbrush. Those were my only instructions. He’ll take me somewhere by the water, some bed and breakfast that one of his associates couldn’t stop talking about. He’ll have scoped out the best lobster roll and a tiny out-of-the-way place that roasts its own coffee.
It’s just a weekend, I tell myself. He likes these extravagances, trying out the great places he hears about at work. But it feels different. He’s been dropping hints and talking about “the future”. He’s giddy. Since when is he giddy?
The yards are getting bigger. I move past parks and tudor homes with manicured gardens and I know we’re approaching Garden City, where we both grew up, total strangers just blocks away. In a few minutes, we’ll pass the football field where I tossed pompoms and he did lines under the bleachers. I feel so old.
Us Weekly gets me through the next hour, lulling me into a merciful stupor with its colorful celebrity spreads. But the panic returns when I see the flicker of a farmstand. Hand painted signs that pass by too quickly for my tired eyes, but I’ll bet I can pick my own strawberries just beyond them.
The train is slowing down and it’s all coming into focus. Southold. The second to last stop. The vineyards, the sunflowers and the quaint old homes scattered between them. Southold. The second to last stop. “Not yet” is all I can think.
I grab my bag and, before I know what I’ve done, the door is closing. I’m out on the platform watching tall grass sway, languidly, like seaweed underwater. My heart is pounding and I suck in the air. It tastes warm and delicious. It’s all wide open. And I’m not ready.
Portrait of the Artist as a Purse
A small notebook and a mechanical pencil, always. The notebook is unlined and the mechanical pencil—a Pentel GraphGear nicked from the art school—never needs sharpening.
There is a ticket stub in there, pressed between two pages, between a Rembrandt self-portrait and a study of Dr. Tulp. I have a thing about doctors, not in a good way. In The Anatomy Lesson, their faces float like masks against the gloom. The one hovering in the back looks just like Dr. Boushey, concerned but distant, as if he had a migraine coming on. I didn’t draw the cadaver, though I stared at him for a long time. Yes, I thought, I’ve had days like that. That is the promise of art.
There’s also a brochure from the museum’s Rembrandt exhibition, tucked against the notebook, its map much consulted. The edges are curled and the glossy paper feels a little damp to me still. I got caught in a downpour on the way home and barely had the strength to keep one foot squelching in front of another.
I walked so much that day, more than I had been able to do for months. Even simply standing in front of the paintings, extracting faces from them for my own practice, was tiring. That night my feet swelled to the size of bread loaves and I had to hobble from the kitchen to the couch with my supper. But it was still the best day I’d had in a long time.
The front zippered pocket contains a salad of green bus tickets and white transfers. Breadcrumb trails from my journeys to and from the medical building on Sheppard Ave.
Lipstick—Pink Sand by Motives—because you never know where the day might take you. I’m as prepared as a boy scout. Cover-up for the dark circles under the eyes and to camouflage the three tiny blue dots on my chest. My only tattoo. Something for the technicians to aim at.
And there’s Sam’s number on a small triangle of paper, ripped from his notebook. While I was sketching Rembrandt, he was sketching me. It wasn’t a good likeness; I didn’t recognize myself at all. His eyes were very blue and his hair, grey and thick and wiry, shot up from his head like someone’s cartoon depicting surprise. He’s an art teacher, like me, only he teaches high school.
He caught up with me on the museum steps—I had skipped the gift shop—and right there, a stranger, as thunder detonated in the air around us, asked for my number. And gave me his.
A brand new travel pack of tissues. I buy them in bulk now and always have one or two packages on hand. You have probably never had reason to imagine how your nose would keep running, a thin constant irritating trickle, in the absence of nose hairs.
A red plastic travel comb. This is a token of optimism. The hair that has grown back so far is thin and soft, like a newborn’s. I don’t even trouble it with shampoo.
Another ticket stub from a few days later, this one screwed into a tight little ball and fallen into a corner, wedged beside the seam. I would never have saved it otherwise. Sam and I were supposed to see World War Z. It was freezing outside so I bought my ticket and went in. The concession stand had a clear view of the front doors. There was no possible way to miss him.
I waited. The movie started. No Sam. Sick and headachy from the smell of synthetically buttered popcorn, I left.
A seven-day pill dispenser, rattling with the usual suspects. Tamoxifen, Gravol.
My phone, with several texts on it, saved and unanswered.
Two green and white striped mints in clear wrappers that rustle invitingly whenever I rummage around for something. Souvenirs from Sam’s “I’m sorry” dinner at La Dolce Vita.
“You were sick,” he said, like it was an excuse. “I didn’t realize at first. I didn’t want to get into all that.”
“But I’m not anymore.”
He reached across the table to where my hand would be resting if we were in a movie. He stroked the white tablecloth, damp from my water glass. I kept my hands to myself. One non-clinical touch, I thought, would transform me into an ebullient puppy, all licks and yips and tail whipping so hard from side to side that it would set my whole body vibrating. Not to mention the danger to the glassware.
I bit hard into a piece of garlic bread, surely a preventative against kissing him too soon. But Sam had ordered the zucchini soup, which came with tiny slices of garlic toast floating on its surface. By the end of the night, it didn’t matter. We ended up tasting like each other. I pretended to be what he wanted.
An appointment card for Dr. Boushey. Nine o’clock, Tuesday, on Sheppard Ave. Exactly a year since the biopsy. I won’t be taking the bus this time.
Sam said he would drive me.
I have a sketch in my notebook, drawn from memory, of Sam, of the expression his face held as he made that promise. It’s something I can hold him to.
The Broken Escalator
Halfway up the flight of stairs, his mother’s grip loosened on the handrail and as he watched, sweat spotted the back of her neck like weary stars. Then her rhythm of breath ruptured. He had helped her at first, placing a firm hand on each side of her waist, but she shoved him off every time with her arm. Remaining always a step behind, he kept his palm poised near her back.
Onlookers with their Christmas worries rushed past the frail lady on the left clutching the handrail. A few scowled. A haggard man in his bank suit stared at his shoes behind them.
His mother paid no attention.
Her back heaved–slightly more hunched, as if the weight of this task and not just her arthritis had finally begun to bring her down. Her grip softened. Her head started to sway. He thought her concentration unraveling like a ball of string. She clawed now at the rail, but his mother’s body tipped back and with all too much familiarity he lunged, hopped up behind her and slid his left arm around her waist while he clamped his right hand to her belly. He cradled her back into the pillow of his chest and balanced on his heels. She squirmed inside his embrace as wet, silver hair scattered his cheeks. A slow exhalation, and she settled, like clay molding into its final shape.
He raised his left foot to the next step, simultaneously moving her leg up with him. He repeated this with his right but it was like kneeing sudden cement. His left foot planted on the next step, he nudged her leg to move with him but it wouldn’t. Again, with more force, he encouraged with his right leg her right leg to move. With stubborn reluctance, her resistance finally melted, and he pushed her leg up to the next step. He felt a more concentrated weight sink into his chest as she tucked her arms in and cupped her hands beneath her elbows. He moved his left leg with hers to the next, and did the same again with his right. He moved her where she needed to go. He repeated this process of moving his and her left and his and her right until they arrived at the top. There, he stood behind her holding each of her arms. He let go and stepped to the side. But he noticed a sweaty clump of silver hair hanging in front of her eye so he brushed it aside with his thumb. The haggard man behind them began whistling.
She straightened herself and exhaled. “My slacks are this way,” she pointed, and walked up to the counter, where she opted to add three more pairs of slacks to her order.
The bag hitched on his shoulder and his right arm curled around her waist, they walked back to the steps.
“Now let go of me, Bradley,” she said. “Go off and look for those Nautica and Tommy Nilfiger clothes you like and I’ll meet you where we came in.”
“Julia,” the haggard man in the bank suit remarked with hard irritation.
Bradley slipped his mother’s hand inside his and placed her other hand around the handrail. She side-stepped away from him, at first. The man in the bank suit behind them checked his watch.
After repeating more or less the same process down the stairs, the three of them made for the exit. The man in the bank suit, without looking back, jingled out his keys and rushed ahead. Bradley curled his arm all the way around his mother’s waist. As they waited just inside the doors, and waited, and waited, and waited still, he bravely glanced over his shoulder, at the strip of gold tape warning its caution: the black railing had skewered off, some of it lying in a twisted heap on the ground like a dead python. The rest of it trailed in a zig-zag, draping the steps, and these steps tilted weirdly all the way up, as though a massive weight had crushed the left side. Broken and neglected, locked in time this thing waited, for help that was taking too long to arrive.
the delicate pinks
clear and opalescent
of a blushing sky
of midnight trees
of obscure dreams
for tender flesh
of a female form.
You Into Me Or Me Into You
To be buried inside your heart
Everyday, seven days a week
From fairytale love to infatuation
To true love;
I encircle about your beauteous body
Though the genesis of whistling aloud
Into your ears failed at first, I am here
On the podium of love, giving this
Testimony; of you into me or me into
Love in the Rain
I am fond of her
This girl I encountered in the rain
Cats and dogs. Johannesburg in June.
Raining in winter. Thunder strikes
Directionless. My heart beeps
Egregiously; from solid to liquid to
Gas. I evaporate into thin air.
Blowing the wind of love in the unceasing
Cast of rain.
She is called upon as thunder
Strikes. ‘I love you’, the rain sings. Makes love in the
Splitting scope of Heaven and earth. The earth weeps,
Soils herself in the rain; sperm flows.
Magnetize the rain. She bath with a lathering soap,
Spume washed away by the rain.
But the rain never stops. Falls
Late into the night. Unceasing. As
if Heaven come down. Until she metamorphosed
into a child once again; singing rain, rain, go away.
Glorious joyous rhythm like a poem of love, in which
the boy woos the girl, wins her over; turns her into a sex
machine and eats of her.
To A Wife To Be
Enough of the promises
Now its time, the time that belongs to you and me
You know from the first day the pledge:
From under the neem tree that began it all
The long chats, the doting laughs, the pull and push; till it came to be
Your body bearing fruits of plump and beauty
The last time I saw you, just a second ago, you changed me
One in tune with the body, soul and spirit; yours and mine
A sum of ours; looking ahead the days of our union
The coming so timely, when you have left home
It keeps reminding me, the loud voices echoing from house to house
The lone compound keeps calling out to you
You ought to enter to see, prepared inside is a man
Waiting for his women. The end of the story begins from today
When you shall enter my house and make our home.
William Ogden Hayes
The Truth About Marcus Tidwell
They all sat on the front porch on a summer evening in their raincoats, Marcus Tidwell, his Mama, his younger sister Emily and older brother Mack. It was raining so hard that they could hardly see the swollen gutters on Juniper Street struggling to displace the flooding. They had looked for Betsy for two hours, slogging through the rain in different directions, then meeting back at the house at four o’clock to see if anyone had gotten lucky. Betsy was a black Persian cat who had been a fixture in the Tidwell home for twelve years, as long as Marcus had been alive. When Marcus was a baby, Mama kept Betsy out of his room because she had heard from her mother that a cat can kill an infant by sucking its breath. Mama didn’t really believe that, but why take chances? So, she waited until Marcus was three before she let Betsy sleep with him and after that, the two slept together every night.
The night that Betsy went missing, she didn’t show up for her can of tuna at six o’clock. Betsy had always been strictly an indoor cat and had never been outside, even by accident. However, she had the run of the entire house and divided her time between the upstairs bedrooms, the main floor and the basement which contained her litter box. Wherever Betsy was, like clockwork, she always padded into the kitchen at exactly 5:30. Then she would weave back and forth through Mama’s legs for half an hour while dinner was cooked, waiting for Mama to open the cat food. Betsy would listen as the old manual can opener rode the rim of the can as Mama turned the key. And then, she would stand up on her hind legs with paws on the cupboard door as the tin top made its characteristic sound when it finally sheared off. But that night, Betsy was not in the kitchen at all, even after supper was cooked and the can opened. She didn’t show up even after the family had finished eating, dishes were washed and the cat food was put in the refrigerator under a plastic lid. It was beginning to drizzle and the family knew that it would be difficult to find a black cat in the dark and like most cats, Betsy did not come when she was called. So, they decided to wait until the morning to conduct a search. That night, Marcus did not sleep well without Betsy’s warmth pressed against his back and the sound of her soft purring. He also had trouble sleeping because he knew it was his fault that Betsy had disappeared.
The first thing you need to know about Marcus Tidwell is that he was an inveterate liar. At school he told the other students he had a dog, but he actually had a cat. He bragged to Sarah Robinson that he could play the guitar, but he played no instrument at all. And when he was caught in a lie, other falsehoods accrued like layers of an onion. If someone asked to see his dog, he said it was at a training academy learning the etiquette of behavior in dog shows. He planned to show his dog at a major kennel club when it was ready. When the boarding period was over the dog became deathly ill and was confined at the veterinarian’s office for weeks before it died. If asked to play the guitar he said his left fingers had paper cuts and he couldn’t touch the fret board for several weeks. After those several weeks passed, his guitar had suffered water damage from a leak in the attic. Well, you get the idea.
The morning of the day Betsy vanished Marcus woke up with her back plastered against his chest as he lay in a fetal position. It was one of those lazy summer days in the small town of Jasper, Alabama where he had nothing else to do but walk down to the bowling alley and meet his friends. They would bowl a few games and drop by McDonalds for lunch. Then he would come home and get ready to mow the back lawn to earn his allowance. Emily was gone to Susan Mason’s house to play, Mack had baseball practice with a local league and Mama was at work at the insurance agency.
After lunch at McDonalds, Marcus turned the key in the front door of his house, went upstairs and changed into some work clothes. The back yard was about a fifty by fifty foot square surrounded by a four-foot wooden slat fence. Most of the yard was planted in Bermuda grass, but a small garden hugged the fence on one side. At the rear of the yard was an aluminum storage shed for lawn and garden equipment. The steps from the back door led down to a small cement slab with a grill on one end and a patio set on the other. It was as Marcus was decending the steps that Betsy came charging through the screen door held open briefly by its pneumatic closer. He watched her run all the way across the yard and begin sniffing the plants in the garden. “Come on Bets, you know you ain’t supposed to be outside” said Marcus. He started easing his way toward the garden, trying to remain calm because Betsy could be very difficult or impossible to collar if she didn’t want to be caught. She had only gotten outside into the back yard a couple of times in her life and that was one of the reasons they had put up the fence. Even though it was fenced, they didn’t let Betsy out there because four feet was an easy hop for a cat and she could be gone in an instant. As Marcus stepped off the cement slab, he noticed a movement on the left side of the back of the property. And almost faster than his head could turn to follow the motion, a fox ran across the back yard, grabbed Betsy by the back of her neck and vaulted over the fence out of the yard. Marcus ran to the point where the fox disappeared over the fence and saw it run into the woods carrying Betsy in its jaws. Marcus climbed over the fence and headed for the woods but when he got there he could see no signs of the fox or Betsy. He heard no sounds of rustling branches or cat howls. Betsy was gone and his last vision of her was with teeth gripping her neck strongly enough so the fox could run carrying fifteen pounds.
Marcus sat on the back steps and was no longer in the mood to mow the lawn. All he could think about was the fox killing and eating Betsy and that it was his fault for letting her get out the back door. Everyone in the family loved Betsy and he didn’t want to be blamed for killing her out of negligence. So, he did what he had done for years. He decided to lie.
After Betsy didn’t show up for dinner the day she disappeared, Mama asked the kids if anyone had seen her. Marcus said, “I got home from lunch about one o’clock and I didn’t see Betsy. But I wasn’t looking for her neither. You know how she curls up in the strangest places to sleep.” That wasn’t really a lie, but it certainly skirted the truth. They did a search of the house. Marcus took the basement, Mama the main floor, Emily the upstairs and Mack even went into the back yard to see if she had gotten out and was still there. They found nothing. Then his Mama said “Did you open the back door? I know you were gonna mow the lawn today.”
Marcus said, “I was plannin to mow the lawn out back, but I hurt my wrist bowlin and didn’t wanna make it worse tryin to start that old mower. Sometimes it takes twenty pulls to get it goin. I’ll do it later this week.” And that was the beginning of the lying.
The next day after the long search in the rain, everyone had pretty much given up hope. Marcus sat on the basement steps agonizing over his situation. In the basement there were two small windows that looked out the sides of the house, one side toward the driveway and the other toward the neighbor’s side lawn. It was then that he got the idea. He had been the one to search the basement the night before. What if one of the basement windows had been broken and the cat escaped through it? The window on the driveway side would have been noticed because of parking cars, but the one on the side yard facing the neighbors would not be seen from the outside. Even the neighbors didn’t go out there except once in a while to mow the grass and its possible that the mower threw a stone and broke the window. If someone searched the basement at night, a broken window could easily go unnoticed because it was dark outside. Marcus could say that he didn’t see the window the night he searched the basement.
The rain let up a bit on the following day and everyone but Marcus was gone for the morning. He went to the basement and stood before the neighbor’s side window. He didn’t want to break it from the outside because someone might see him. The window had hinges on the top and opened from the bottom, so he opened the window and used a hammer to break the pane from the outside. Marcus had seen enough crime shows to know that where the glass lands tells the story of which side of the window was hit. All the glass fell inside the basement as if it were broken from the outside.
When Mama got home Marcus caught her as she came through the front door. “I think I know how Betsy got out. Come down to the basement.”
Marcus pointed to the broken window and said “I didn’t see this when I came down lookin for Betsy the other night. When it’s dark outside it just looks black. Plus the light down here ain’t very good anyway.”
Mama said, “How’d it get broken?”
“I don’t know for sure, but Mr. Collins coulda shot a stone at it from his mower when he was cuttin the grass I reckon” Marcus replied. “But now we know how Betsy got out.”
Mama furrowed her brow looking at the broken window. “It still seems funny to me that Betsy could jump six feet to the window and not get cut by the glass around the edge. I guess she could, but now I worry that she might bleed to death out there wherever she is.”
That night the other kids went down to the basement for a tour led by Marcus. They had less questions about the window and Betsy’s escape as if they had already taken her loss in stride. Marcus missed having the cat to sleep with and started to have nightmares about the fox dismembering Betsy in the woods.
Then one night two weeks later when all the kids were out with friends, Mama heard a howl on the front porch. When she opened the front door she said, “Oh my God!” Betsy was lying on the welcome mat covered in blood and barely breathing. She scooped up the cat, put her in the car and called the veterinarian on her cell phone for an emergency visit. At the animal hospital the vet said “She’s lost a lot of blood and there are jagged wounds like teeth marks around her neck. Some animal must have got her and she somehow managed to get away.”
Mama said, “Well she got out through a broken window in our basement and it had jagged glass on the edges, could that have caused it?”
The vet looked at the wounds. “I supposed it could have, or she might have got cut by the window then been caught by an animal later after it smelled the blood. Whatever the case, I’m going to keep her here a day or two and give her some blood and antibiotics. I think she’ll pull through.”
When the kids got home later that night she told the family about finding Betsy and taking her to the vet. “It’s amazin that she found her way back here after being an inside cat her whole life, but I’m glad she did” said Marcus. “And the vet said she cut herself on the window, just like I told you?”
“He said it was possible, but an animal could have got to her too. I’m just glad she’ll be home soon” Mama replied. And true to form, despite the multiple explanations, Marcus would tell all of his friends that he solved the mystery of the missing cat.
When Betsy came home from the animal hospital all she wanted to do was sleep. And she still slept with Marcus who told her every night that he loved her and that was the truth. He promised her over and over as he petted her to sleep that he would protect her from that evil fox and never let her out into the back yard again. Unfortunately, that turned out to be a lie. Marcus had to catch her on several occasions to bring her back inside. But, in spite of that, Betsy lived a long life to the age of eighteen when she died sleeping under Mama’s sewing machine in an upstairs bedroom. Marcus is currently majoring in political science at the University of Alabama.
Rachel Van Sickle
The Gospel According to Brit
1 Jesus Christ materialized before Brit and me on Spanish Town Road.
2 He wore a gray cabby hat, brown tweed jacket, and baggy khaki pants.
3 At first, we thought he was a lonely, clownish man, but the fact that he knew so much about us, and had such wisdom to impart, soon revealed his true identity.
4 As with all the great teachers–Buddha, Socrates, Elvis–Jesus greeted us with a question.
5 ”Do I look old?”
6 Brit and I were brought up right and told him he looked 27.
7 ”Bless your hearts,” he said.
8 ”I’m between dye jobs.”
2 Brit and I were trying to relive the 90s.
2 All hope had been lost in ‘99 when the ball dropped, and we were still here.
3 Brit had hoped aliens would return her to the mothership.
4 I had wanted the faulty coding to break the banks: twenties blazing from ATMs like clay pigeons at a firing
5 My student loans gone in a shot.
6 Nothing happened except divorces and thankless jobs.
7 Twelve years later, we were grasping at the past.
8 Our chance came when Scott Weiland had sobered, and Stone Temple Pilots was touring the Deep South.
3 Christ told us he was going through a nasty break-up.
2 ”Fourteen years wasted.”
3 When we tried to give generic sympathy, Jesus gave us our first lesson.
4 ”Fuck him; my ex-girlfriend was
more of a man than he was anyway.”
5 She had offered to kill the ex.
6 Brit interrupted to say, “We all need friends like that.”
7 He said, “She killed her husband.”
8 Apparently, she had finally snapped after one too many beatings.
4 Jesus told us he was a “90% protective personality,” and he would smite anyone who messed with us.
3 He had once loved everyone, but he had seen friends beaten, murdered, raped, and it had filled him with rage.
4 The cruelty of men.
5 ”I know now some people deserve to die,” he said.
5 He could not explain why those who didn’t deserve to die did.
2 My friend Amy had not deserved the sadness that put the bullet in her brain.
3 Brit’s father had not deserved the cancer that gnawed his body until there was nothing left but the hand she
clenched as his spirit slipped away.
4 Not all cruelty was of men.
6 Many may have walked away at this point.
2 The conversation had evolved into mysteries Brit and I did not want to deal with on our night of adventure.
3 Christ must have noticed the slight nod I gave Brit, indicating we could escape down an alley.
4 He said, “Listen to me going on with you girls looking so sexy.
5 Relieved, Brit complimented his jacket, and he told us the last time he had been to the Wine Loft, the bouncer
said he wasn’t dressed right.
6 ”They can’t tell me that tonight,” he said.
7 ”Hell no,” I agreed.
7 The bar was full of what Jesus called, “rich buffoons.”
2 He drank Bud Light and ordered me (attempting sobriety) a gin and tonic before I could refuse.
3 ”How did you know?” I asked.
4 ”Girl, I know you better than you know yourself,” he said.
5 We tried to buy our own drinks even though we were barely surviving on graduate stipends.
6 Jesus pulled out a band and insisted.
7 ”Never leave without taking anything,” he preached.
8 Christ counseled Brit first and said, “I got a feeling you’re tied up with a man that ain’t good enough for you.”
2 She asked, “You psychic?”
3 Jesus could have been smug; he was, after all, the progeny of the Almighty Creator, but he just said, “I got a
feeling we’re all getting out of relationships.”
9 The bartender–classic blonde hair, erect posture, tight ass–strolled our way.
2 Jesus looked at me and said, “You two should hook up.”
3 Always Agnostic, I doubted Christ and argued that I had a boyfriend.
4 “He chasing you,” Jesus asked.
5 I had to admit that he was not.
6 Christ grew intense and preached, “Why you wasting your time?”
7 He continued, “You know what you got between your legs?”
8 Brit and I thought we did, but we were hearing the Word and didn’t want to interrupt; Christ was on a roll.
10 Christ said, “Men are reincarnated miners; they’re still searching for gold, and you got it between your legs.”
2 ”Why would you give up gold?”
3 Damn; we saw the truth in what he was saying.
4 Every man Brit had ever dated was a tortured artist–all of them in a perpetual state of unemployment as they
pursued their dreams of painting, singing, playing the mandolin, writing poetry, acting, dancing, or just generally finding themselves.
5 I had the opposite problem.
6 My ex had been an ambitious lawyer/farmer/landlord/politician who barely grunted at me over the dinner table
before retiring to the living room to sleep on the couch.
7 After passionate courting, the new man was traveling a similar path toward taking me for granted.
11 The Almighty noticed our defeated expressions and said, “Don’t feel bad, Girls.”
2 He told us he had spent the first thirty years of his life not knowing how powerful he was.
12 Wait a minute,” I said; “You’re sending me mixed messages.
2 “Am I supposed to hook up with the bartender or withhold?”
3 “You’ll get what you want by being loose,” Christ said.
4 He left us to ponder this odd truth.
13 The clock over the bar said it was time to go to the concert, and we asked Christ to come with us.
2 When we told him we were going to see STP, he sighed and said, “There won’t be any queers there.”
3 We promised we would see him later that night, but, of course, we did not.
5 We strolled from bar to bar, dancing with people a decade younger to songs we didn’t know, but he was not at
any of the clubs.
6 Better disciples may have stayed with him, skipped the concert, but we believed that we had heard what we
14 We did see him one last time.
2 Weeks later, we had left yoga and were eating a Louisiana lunch–Mimosas and Bread Pudding– at Bistro
Byronz when I saw Christ eating beside an 6attractive, gray-haired gentleman.
3 We wondered if he was the lawyer returned or a new catch.
4 Whoever he was, we knew as we caught Christ’s glance that the man would be paying.
Richard Wagle is a writer/artist from Moline, Illinois. He has an MFA from Wichita State University, lives in Cleveland, Ohio and works as a doorman at a rock club.
Darren Demaree’s poems have appeared, or are scheduled to appear in numerous magazines/journals, including the South Dakota Review, Meridian, The Louisville Review, Grist, and the Colorado Review. He is the author of “As We Refer To Our Bodies” (2013, 8th House), “Temporary Champions” (2014, Main Street Rag), and “Not For Art Nor Prayer” (2015, 8th House). He is the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology. He currently lives and writes in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children.
Ann Tomoko Rosen is a Chinese Medicine practitioner, mother of three and wife(of one) residing in Westfield, NJ. Her work can be seen in the highly anticipatedannual Rosen Family holiday letter and in pocket journals throughout her home.
Jennifer Falkner is a writer based in Ottawa, Canada. Her writing credits include American Athenaeum, The Steel Chisel and THEMA. In addition to writing short stories for fun and very little profit, she is the founding editor of Circa: A Journal of Historical Fiction (circajournal.com).
A recent graduate of the Bluegrass Writers Studio at Eastern Kentucky University, James Hartman lives in Lexington, Kentucky with his wife and their two dogs and two cats. Other work has appeared in Gravel Literary Journal and Spelk. He is currently sculpting his novel.
Ken Simpson is an Australian poet. A collection (Patterns of Perception) is to be published this month, and another from Poetry Spice in 2015.
Geosi Gyasi is a book blogger, reader, writer, and interviewer. His work has appeared in Kalahari Review, African Writer, Poem Hunter, Poetry, The New Black Magazine, Visual Verse, Writers Cafe and other places. He blogs at geosireads.wordpress.com.
William Ogden Haynes is a poet and author of short fiction from Alabama who was born in Michigan and grew up a military brat. He has published three collections of poetry, Points of Interest, Uncommon Pursuits and Carvings, all available on Amazon.com. Over a hundred of his poems and short stories have appeared in literary journals and his work is frequently anthologized.
Rachel Van Sickle holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Louisiana State University and completed a BA and MA in English from the University of Toledo. At LSU, she also worked as Assistant Editor for New Delta Review. She’s moved all over the country but currently resides in Georgia where she teaches (or at least attempts to teach) high school English. She has been lucky enough to meet unique people throughout her travels.