Nicholas John-Francis Claro//Getaway
It was Martha’s idea. Nothing fancy. Nothing extended. An inexpensive—but not cheap—hotel or an Airbnb. Three days. Two nights. Somewhere close. Little Rock. More than a staycation, but not quite a full-blown vacation. “I could leave the bathroom light on all day and night and it won’t cost us a dime,” she joked. It would be the perfect thing for them.
We could leave this afternoon. Danny wouldn’t have to take hardly any time off work. Half a day. With his job, he could do that with little or no warning. No excuses. They needed this. This getaway was crucial.
That was how Martha pitched the whole thing to her live-in boyfriend, Danny. They were sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast and drinking coffee, listening to rain smack against the windows early one morning after they’d had another blowout the evening before. Martha had fallen asleep on the La-Z-Boy in the living room watching The Walking Dead, having picked up where she left off the other night.
Martha said, “What do you think?”
Danny said, “Yeah. Let’s give this a shot.”
They’d been together six months when they started talking about living together. “Makes sense,” Danny said, “when you boil it down.” They would spend sometimes a week at a time at one of their places. It’s like we’re living together already. They were out to dinner and when they finished their meal and drinks the matter was settled.
Martha would move into Danny’s place. Her apartment was small. Even for a studio. She wouldn’t have to break a lease, forfeiting her deposit or anything like that. Her landlady allowed her to live month-to-month after the initial one-year commitment had been fulfilled.
Martha and Danny decided to have a garage sale at Martha’s parents’ place up on Mount Sequoya. Martha advertised this in The Gazette. Danny printed a stack of flyers and drove around town pasting them to telephone poles.
Then it was time to decide what went, what stayed.
Martha had a king-sized bed. That was a no-brainer. Danny owned a twin they wondered how neither of them had fallen out of when they shared it. Martha had a torn up blue couch—a relic of an old relationship. Even if Danny didn’t have the fancy leather one his father gave him, it was still time for it to go. They’d mount Martha’s TV to the wall. It was a 43-inch HD LED she’d got for free as a promotional deal when she purchased her Honda Civic. Whenever they watched movies at Danny’s place, they used his MacBook. They usually propped it close to the couch, or between them in bed. The TV would look like a movie screen hanging there on the wall in the living room. Blenders. Dishes. Silverware. Microwave. Toaster Oven. Crock-pots. Any duplicates were juxtaposed, and whichever one didn’t make the cut was slapped with a price tag. That Sunday, at the end of the weekend-long sale, there hadn’t been much left over: a few scattered items which all fit on a folding table. She set all of that at the end of her parents’ driveway. She taped a piece of paper to the table. She’d written FREE in bold, black lettering. They’d made $400.
Of course they argued. That’s what couples did. But when Martha realized how frequent and constant it had become after the first couple months, she calmed herself by chalking it all up to proximity. It would pass. But one night after Martha woke from a dream where her teeth fell out, she sat in bed licking her incisor, wondering if she forgot to brush before bed. After she finished in the bathroom, she crawled back under the covers.
“Martha. The light,” Danny groaned a moment later. “You left the light on.”
A thin blade of light cut across the room.
“Turn on your other side,” she said.
She felt him roll over. He said, “How hard is it to flip a fucking switch?”
They argued about electric bills. Common courtesy. Household responsibilities. Martha cut him off, saying she didn’t want to talk about it any longer. She was tired and angry, which made her liable to say something she might regret. Couldn’t this wait until morning?
Of course it couldn’t.
Martha got out of bed, taking the top sheet with her. She turned off the bathroom light. Happy now? She stretched out on the couch. It took her a moment to acclimate to the cold leather. She lay there for a while in the dark, listening to Danny snore.
How had this become a part of their routine?
When they merged onto 49 South, the rain had already stopped and started and stopped again. “Make up your mind,” Danny said, turning the wipers off. He placed a hand on Martha’s thigh. He glanced over at her. She was watching him. She was smiling.
They went back and forth between NPR and a classic rock radio station. They held their breath when they passed through the Bobby Hopper Tunnel. Martha fed Danny pistachios, tossing the shells out the window, until she emptied the small bag.
When they were a few miles south of Fort Smith, Martha pointed, placing her fingertip on the windshield.
“You’re going to leave a smudge,” Danny said.
“Look at that,” Martha said. About 30 feet in front of them was a large truck with its tailgate down. There were two deer in the bed. “What a bunch of cowards.”
“Then half of the United States is made up of cowards.”
“So be it.”
“What are you so worked up about?” Danny said. “They’re just deer.”
“Because they’re beautiful.”
“And they taste good. Besides, where do you think we get our food from?”
“Not like that.”
“So farming chickens and cows and pigs is fine with you? Speaking of pigs, how was your bacon this morning?”
He snapped the radio off. She was glaring at him. She knew he was right and that she should stop now. But she couldn’t stand that smug look of his.
“When’s the last time you heard of someone being hospitalized by a chicken?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Fine. What about people who have gardens? Grow their own food?” Danny said. “Deer eat everything.”
“Well,” Martha said, “they were here first.”
“What,” Danny didn’t mean to, but he laughed, and it made Martha want to scream. “Now you’re an evolutionary biologist?”
The truck was just in front of them now.
“Cowards,” she said again.
“I think its great. To go out and kill what you eat,” Danny said. “It takes guts.”
She folded her arms across her chest and looked down at her legs and feet. She shaved this morning and painted her toenails turquoise. How ridiculous doing all of that felt to her now.
She thought if the hunters hadn’t forgot to put the tailgate up after loading the carcasses in the back, maybe they’d be listening to Science Friday or Zeppelin, CCR. Likely though, the hunters were displaying their kills. Look at what we tagged and bagged! We’ll be eating venison for weeks! Sayonara, Bambi! Kathy shook her head. It takes guts? Please. It was enough to make her laugh if she wasn’t so angry. Those deer were killed with a high-powered rifle with a scope fixed to it. No doubt about it. And the hunters were probably a hundred yards away. The deer never saw them. Never stood a chance. Probably never heard the shot. What was so gutsy about that? I’ll teach you a little evolutionary biology. She thought of our earliest ancestors. How in those primitive days they had to confront their prey face to face. Using their bare hands, or rocks or sticks fashioned into spears. That took guts. The playing field was a lot more level then.
Martha thought about saying all of that to Danny. But when she looked up, she saw the truck veer onto an exit and then within seconds disappear around the bend in the road. It no longer seemed relevant—much less made any sense—to say anything more at all.
She reached over and turned the radio back on.
Paul Bluestein//If I Had Known
If I had known, I would have walked more slowly.
I could have watched the dogs chase each other
across the sand and water, like wolves
or children at play.
I might have listened to how artfully
the symphony of the day was arranged,
not for horns and strings, but for bird-flutes,
a wind chime choir, the muted drone of traffic
and woodpecker percussion.
I’d have sat on the rough wooden bench by the seawall,
while the wind turned up the hood of my coat
like the ruffled collar of an aging king,
giving audience to his shell-subjects
and nodding at the applause of the waves.
I would have stayed longer –
until the light faded away
and the moon rose over the horizon
like the beacon of a distant lighthouse.
But instead, I walked quickly,
counting my steps by 50s,
anxious to get back,
because I didn’t know.
Abraham A. Joven//The Things We Never Know
Father’s homily is running long. The criss cross, gold-lined embellishments against the purple stole begin
to dance and swirl before my intense attention is broken.
“Lito?” I see, as if out of a fog, Father pointing to me. “Do you have any words?”
My mouth feels like cotton. I knew this would happen – I am her only child. But my anxiety usually
dictates that I end up unprepared. Losing one’s mother, I’m learning, can churn one’s anxiety through
the roof. I’m woefully unprepared.
And that’s why I’m here, standing in front of an expectant crowd, entombed in my own grief, without a
damn thing to say.
After the reception, I thankfully have some peace. No more, “sorry for your loss”es or variations on
“you know, public speaking is actually the most common fear!” Instead, I can close the door, turn on a
record, and start walking through the things I need to do.
Lists are good. For me, especially. So, in the quiet of my childhood home, I list the things left; the ones
after “bury mom.”
1. Sort through my old things and decide what to trash and what to donate.
2. Repeat for Mom’s stuff.
3. Sell the house.
4. Fly back to Portland.
I’ve given myself two weeks to do this before I head back to Portland and I feel the bile rise in my
stomach as I think about all of it. But it’s better than thinking about her.
I hadn’t realized but I’d been absentmindedly thumbing through the record collection. My fingers have
settled on this: an original pressing of The Beatles’ Revolver. Mom’s favorite. I don’t know if she’s trying
to send me a message, but if so, count me out.
I put the record down, walk to the doorway, turn off the light, and close the door.
When morning comes, it spills in through the blinds and pours itself across the mass of unwashed
clothes and old figurines gathering dust on my dresser – various versions of Batman modeled after iconic
runs from legendary comic book artists. She’d kept my room as I’d left it 7 years ago, when I first
moved out of state. Kung gusto mong ibumalik, anak. You’ll always have room here.
I sigh thinking about that goodbye and wonder if I’d gotten it wrong. 7 years. And I’d only visited a
handful of times. Mom never pressured me to come back. Though, I could hear it in her voice during our
monthly phone calls – the longing, the wondering if I was fine, the hope that I might break up the monotony of her days alone. I know she probably wanted me home. I know it. But I also know that her stubborn mind wouldn’t have allowed her to say it. Her son, her Little Hero, her Rizalito. She spent the
last 7 years without me.
If I’d only known…
I stop myself.
I’m not really sure what I would’ve done, I guess. But then, as was her way, when it came to her household,
she always had the last say. I’d always have a room and it would be kept as she pleased. I didn’t
need to know why we were moving into that house because it was just better – trust her. And so of
course she didn’t tell me of the cancer eating her up the same way it ate her mother. All because she
wanted to make our phone calls “pleasant.”
Unilateral decisions. Zero agency. I was just a tiny boat carried on the crest of her titanic wake.
After breakfast, I make my way over to her dresser, trash bag in hand. Pulling open the top drawer, my
suspicions were born out: a massive collection of papers and documents comes jumping out like the
hoarder version of a jack-in-the-box. Receipts. Instruction manuals. Nothing obviously important.
As I make my way towards the bottom, I find a set of envelopes bound by a rubber band. Yellowing and
a bit frayed, they’re clearly old. They’re also all sealed, each addressed to my father. The father that
abandoned us when I was 6.
Curious, I tear open the first letter. It’s dated October 7th, 2000 – the day I turned 18.
Your son is now fully grown. I wish you could see him – I wish you wanted to see him. I’ve worked for
the past 12 years to lose my anger, pero nandito pa ren sa dib dib ko. Why didn’t you call him? Ever?
Do you know what it’s like to carry the memories of his disappointed face around with you every day?
Talagang magkapal ang muka mo.
I’ve given up on you. I have. But he hasn’t. And it’s clear. But it also isn’t going to last forever. So if you
wish to salvage any kind of relationship with your son – this bright, ambitious, Rizalito of ours – then
you need to get past yourself and reach out. He won’t be waiting forever.
By the time I finish reading, I notice the paper is moist with my tears. I begin to rip open the others and
voraciously read my mother’s words – written so plainly in her voice I swear I can hear her whispering
into my ear. It’s only when I whittle the stack down to a handful of letters that I realize the sun has set
and re-risen around me.
“I don’t get it. You’re telling me that your Mom wrote secret letters to your Dad and…never sent them?”
Coop, my buddy, has always had a hard time keeping up in conversations. Could be my fault with my
tendency to try to weave multiple threads into one coherent conversation. But then I see him struggling
with the ketchup dispenser at our In-N-Out and I’m pretty sure it’s also at least a little bit on him.
“Yes. That’s exactly what happened, man.”
“So,” he says as he shovels some animal fries into his mouth, “why? Like, what was the point?”
“I really, really don’t know, Coop. Like, my Mom was a vault of secrets sometimes. Did you know that I
once asked her why we didn’t have any Filipino friends and she just shrugged? Literally just shrugged at
me then walked away. I was so, so frustrated about that.”
I scan the room and my eyes fall on a mother and son. The boy’s mop of hair sticking to his forehead,
his soccer jersey and shorts pocked with blades of grass. Forgot that Saturdays in October are AYSO
days. The local group meets around the corner from here, at Dana Middle School. I smile a bit as I remember
my mom on the sidelines cheering me on: always running from some event to work, she’d be in
her lab scrubs while the other moms wore sun hats. I shake the memory away as Coop snaps me back to
“Why, though? Like, why would something like that annoy you? I mean, not that I’m an expert on the
Filipino diaspora being that I am clearly black -“
“Clearly,” I interject.
“- but if we’re being honest, Hawthorne isn’t exactly home to the biggest Fil-Am community, right?
Like, it was you and…who? The Cruz’s? And they moved to Torrance after like two years, man. All I’m
saying is that it’s kind of wild to blame your Mom for something that, demographically speaking, was
totally out of touch with what you were hoping for.” Coop punctuates that insightful bit by chomping
into his Double Double.
“Right. Yes…that’s…fair. But here’s the reason I bring that up: in one of her letters, she…” I suddenly
find myself tensing inside, “…she…she indicated that she stopped going around Filipino spaces because
she couldn’t bear to think of my father. He reminded her so much of home; he was home. And when he
left, she felt adrift,” I say as I salt my fries with a few tears.
Coop puts his hand on my shoulder and allows me to have this moment. That’s why we’re friends. And
why even after all this time, Hawthorne still feels like home. I look back up and see the mother and son
raise their heads out of prayer as they smile at each other and tear into their food. I don’t know how
many In-N-Out visits my mom and I made. For a while, it was the only thing we could afford. I see an
image of her getting up to fill up another cup with lemonade, turning to smile at the younger me eating
his food and looking out the window, oblivious to it all.
I don’t shake that memory away.
I’ve extended my stay now, phoning Carl back at the office to let him know that I’ll be taking them up
on using the full five weeks of leave time to process my grief. This first week’s closing and I’ve found
myself returning over and over to the letters.
First, I find myself gripped by a sadness that feels like it’s burrowed deep into my stomach. My mother’s
secret pain; not only in dealing with her illness, but in dealing with that gaping hole in her heart.
Then, I find myself enraged that she didn’t think to ask me. That in her attempt to be selfless, she selfishly
prevented me from sharing in this burden with her. And, more, left me nothing to hold onto but – as
I’m now understanding – a false image of a distant and cold mother.
Finally, I end up exhausted thinking of how lonely it had been in this house for the both of us. Side by
side, pushing our personal torments uphill for 16 years. A pair of brown-skinned Sisyphi – is there a
plural form? – except our sentence is self-imposed.
I fall asleep, again, clutching her letters and meditating on that truth.
Looking on, I start:
Here lies love. I think that’s what you would have liked me to say, Mom. A love so fierce that its vision
sacrificed companionship through your own journey of grief and restoration in service of protecting her
most precious joy. I’m most sad that I won’t have that chance to say thank you – nor to scold you, I
guess, for lifting that load yourself. You didn’t have to, no. But you did. And so, I need to say I’m sorry.
Sorry for the hurt I inflicted. I know I would have reacted differently if I’d known, but I also know I
wouldn’t have lived the life I had if I’d known. You took up this burden and gave me the world. And what
is that if not love? Here lies love.
My phone’s been blowing up all morning; mostly calls from Coop. I’ll call him when I’m on the road.
Just one last scan of the rooms. I’m ready to go home.
I don’t know if peace is a thing I was meant to find; I don’t know how one crafts it out of relationship
forged in secret struggle and played out over distance. But if it’s possible, I’m on my way to healing. As
I leave the keys in the mailbox and turn to fix my eyes one last time on this old house, I pat the stack of
my mother’s letters in the interior lining of my coat. I’m ready to go home.
Boxes are packed and the final pieces on contracts signed. Hopping into my Tacoma, I fire the engine
up, look in the rearview at my things piled high. I take a deep breath and navigate my way to the freeway
entrance: 5 Southbound to Los Angeles, the opening riff to I Want to Tell You blaring through the
Paul David Adkins//Attica Prison Rebellion, September 13th, 1971: Robert J. Henigan, Murdered Inmate, Describes the Hostage Situation as Critical on the “A” Catwalk Immediately Prior to the Assault
I’d like just for once to read about a flower here, see one.
Not any flower, but a buttercup, held still beneath a chin.
What are they? Screws say
they cover the fields outside the prison, even after mowing.
I’ve never seen one, except the pretty boys. We call them
buttercups, and other things;
beneath their prison T’s lie folded fairy wings.
I’ve never sent a flower home, handed to my daughter
a single daisy. And now I’m perched on this catwalk with a hostage.
No time for flowers. No time for kindnesses,
butter, sweets. No time for stroking nervous hands.
But I cup his calloused palm, and shine against his neck
the mirror of this blade for shades of blood, for likenesses of life.
Hannah Rodabaugh//Power Outage
The lights shot on. There was a sort of click—
then everything snapped shut like a guitar
case. Space was suddenly perfect. Electricity
was momentarily as strange as stigmata.
Our old lives shifted together to form a
seamless band. Only I hid in the dark
from florescent streets lights shuddering.
Compartments chafe. Their call is numerical.
You sit in that endless black somewhere
if I squint my eyes and try to see your face.
I waste my life this way. In little moments I
kept undefined. We all do. What we depend
on is their magnitude. I cough. The streetlights
buzz—weeping light out unhappily above us.
Nicholas John-Francis Claro studied English and creative writing at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, where he currently resides. His work has appeared in Existere: A Journal of Arts & Literature, The Idle Class, Pithead Chapel, Gravel, Every Day Fiction, Sky Island Journal, Cirque, and others.
Paul Bluestein is a physician by profession, a self-taught musician and a sometimes poet. He rarely sets out to write a poem but there are times when the poetry Muse unexpectedly calls him and rings insistently until he answers, even if he doesn’t want to talk with her just then.
Abraham A. Joven is a writer and immigrant rights advocate based in Southern California. Working at the intersection of social justice and faith, he crafts art reflective of his experience. His essays have been featured in The Rumpus and The Liverpool Offside, while his poetry will be featured in the University of California, Riverside’s literary magazine, Mosaic as well as in K’in Literary Journal. He lives in Southern California with his amazing wife, inspiring daughter, and loves Liverpool Football Club, Hamilton, and anything related to comic books.
Paul David Adkins lives in NY. In 2017, Lit Riot Press published his poetry collection Flying Over Baghdad with Sylvia Plath. Journal publications include Pleiades, River Styx, Rattle, Diode, Baltimore Review, Crab Creek, and Whiskey Island. He has received five Pushcart nominations and two finalist nominations from the Central NY Book Awards.
Hannah Rodabaugh has an MA from Miami University and an MFA from Naropa University. She is the author of three chapbooks. She’s had poetry published in Anti-Narrative Journal, Berkeley Poetry Review, ROAR Magazine, Horse Less Review, Rat’s Ass Review, and Wire’s Dream Magazine. She was a 2017 Artist in Residence for the National Park Service, and she has received grants from the Idaho Commission on the Arts and the Alexa Rose Foundation.