March 2018 (No. 70)

Lindsey S. Frantz//Dry Land Fish

When I was a little girl
I picked dry land fish with my mema.
We walked up the road—
gravel then, now paved—
to the falling house where her brother once lived.
In the backyard,
in the shade of oaks and silver maples,
we shuffled, bent-over, through tall, soft grass.
The smells of water and damp earth,
the spongy stalks and caps,
were everything.
We went after the sun had come back,
before the rain had left the dirt.
We filled the brown plastic bag
all the way to the top.
I tired before she did.

On the way home, I walked behind her,
followed her slow, even steps.
I splashed in the tiny stream
on the side of the road—
overflow from the rain
coursing down the hill.

She wiped her feet on the mat
and I took off shoes and socks,
my feet cold and wet and pruned,
and we soaked our find warm salt water
to prepare them
for tomorrow.

 

J.S. MacLean//Periodicity

The braced air drifts on me
like tectonic plates of time.
I blend into whiteness,
softly at first, leaning
like those blasted trees
that stroll the highlands alone.

The glacier retreats
like a handkerchief
revealing mementos
of oceans and tribes
that came before.

I stop and scan,
turn my face from the peak
that is only
another descent.

I will follow
the babbling traveler
down to the turning.

Already air attends

as anamnesis.

 

Unconcluded

A huddle of dreams draft
in the rush of dusk
persistent as a hollow sea
and hopeful as dew webs.

Cries from coastal caves
and last sighs of battlefields
tremor the cilia groves
as intellection fabrics stir.

Like fables on ancient cloth
detail and depth have faded
with no legend of beginning
and no scene beyond edges.

Hadal fissures imagine
return from recollection.
Nightmares scent breezes
for the prophecy of hope.

 

Bradley Samore//Con Mi Padre

Walking with my dad in Madrid
I let him lead

his beret
brown leather boots
offhand cigar
and tweed jacket
spell classic Madrileño

inside the Plaza Mayor
artisans line the square

Mira he says
and points at a painting of El Metrópolis
a building that stands tall in his memory
in the background of a photo taken fifteen years ago
my brother and I leaning against him

successful haggling tips the scales
and the euros cross the border
from my dad’s pocket to the painter’s hand

afterwards
the two of them chat
about family and God
traveling and art
not burdened by haste
but lifted by exchange
each
curious of the other’s ways

 

Thomas Cook//Your Time Will Come

The plan was to remember
how to talk about other people,
and we succeeded with help of cold cuts
and soft-baked cookies.

There was much cardboard,
and everyone showed off more
than a t-shirt. For large portions
of the day, I looked at my hand,
which is not a clock.

I thought over waterfalls
from my past, moments like these
that I imagined were nothing more
than what I was passing through.
Now I realize the experienced cling,
of well-known meals easy on the placards.

When afternoon turns into more afternoon,
you know you have tomatoes in the fridge,
the snowpack foretells a verdurous spring.

 

Mark Bonica//Signaling the Stars

luckily for my wife’s sake
we live out in the woods

because tonight
while she was watching TV

I slipped out the back door
barefoot
(but otherwise clothed –
it’s not one of those stories)
and standing in that patch of lawn
that we maintain,
beating back the assault
of maple and oak

I began, again, to send hand and arm signals
to the stars.

You know, communications
like the ones you see in the movies
with soldiers directing helicopters
coming in for a landing
over blowing sand or
waist high elephant grass.

I was signaling for them to come down –
any of them,
even one of the small ones –
a red dwarf would do.
To explain, in their heavenly wisdom,
the unfathomable nature of earthly existence.

I raised my hands above my head
to signal that I was ready to guide them in,
and then began to indicate
they were to advance and descend.

If you didn’t know what I was doing,
you could easily have mistaken me
for a madman.

They haven’t obliged me yet,
those stars,
but they will.
Once they understand.

 

Carl Perrin//The Whips and Scorns of Time

Franklin pulled himself out of bed and got dressed, except he could find only one shoe. He went into the living room and saw Mosca sitting on the couch. “Have you seen my other shoe?” he asked.

“The apparel oft proclaims the man,” Mosca replied.

“What are you talking about?”

“ I do not like the fashion of your garments ,” the robot answered.

“How come you’re talking so funny?”

“All the World’s stage.”

Franklin went into the kitchen and took a coffee mug from the cabinet, but there was no coffee in the pot.

He went back into the living room and asked, “Did I eat breakfast already?”

The robot glanced at him and said, “He hath eaten me out of house and home.”

“Oh.”

Franklin turned back toward the kitchen and then turned back. “Have you seen Elizabeth?” he asked.

“Alas, Poor Yorick.”

“Yorick? Who’s Yorick?”

Franklin looked down at the front of his shirt. “There’s something wrong with this” he said. “The collar is supposed to be in the back.”

“Costly thy habit as they purse can buy, but not expressed in fancy: rich, not gaudy.”

“Did I eat breakfast?”

“Unquiet meals make ill digestions.”

“Huh?”

Franklin sat down beside the robot and looked squarely at him. “Did Elizabeth die?” he asked.

“Out, out, brief candle!”

“I’m getting tired of your silly talk, Mosca.”

“Brevity is the soul of wit.”

“Have you seen my other shoe?”

“A little month, or ere those shoes were old.”

Franklin went back to the bedroom and lay down for a nap. He had barely closed his eyes when he heard something. He sat up when he saw a thin, middle-aged woman standing over the bed. He knew that he was supposed to recognize her, but he couldn’t quite place her.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“Don’t you recognize me, Dad? I’m your daughter, Florence.”

“Florence? Well, of course I recognize you. The light was in my eyes at first.”

“Are you all right, dad? You don’t look right. That robot was supposed to take care of you.”

“Oh, Mosca. He’s been talking nonsense all day.”

“Let’s go out to the living room and talk to him. If he’s not going to help you, we might as well get rid of him.

“But first, let’s fix you up. You’re wearing a black dress shoe and a white sneaker. Here’s your other sneaker.” She bent down to replace the dress shoe with the sneaker.

“Now your shirt,” she said. “You have it on backwards.” She helped him turn the shirt around. She ran her hand along his face. “It looks like you haven’t shaved for several days. Where’s the nice electric razor we got for you?”

“It disappeared. I haven’t been able to find it.”

“Have you eaten today?”
“I’m not sure.”

“That means you haven’t. Let’s go into the kitchen. I’ll fix you some eggs and toast.”

The kitchen counter was piled high with dirty dishes. “Mosca was supposed to do the dishes for you. How come he hasn’t been doing them?”

“I don’t know. He’s been in a bad mood lately.”

“We’ll deal with him later. For now I’ll start some coffee and clean up.”

She started putting dishes into the dish washer and then lifted a milk carton from the counter. “How long has this been out? Ugh, it smells. It’s gone bad.”

She opened the refrigerator and said, “Oh, here’s your razor. Why don’t you go shave while I cook your eggs.”

While he ate, Florence checked his pill caddy.

“It looks like you haven’t taken your pills for the past four or five days. No wonder you’re so forgetful. Here, take these. Then we’ll go talk with Mosca.”

Mosca had not moved from his spot on the couch all day.

“So why haven’t you been taking care of dad?” Florence asked him

“Men are men; the best sometimes forget,” the robot answered.

“What are you talking about?”

“All the world’s a stage, and the men and women merely players.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“Sharper than a serpent’s tooth is a thankless child.”

“That’s Shakespeare, isn’t it?”

“There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”

“Okay, I’m going into the kitchen and call Bob” she said to her father. “You can talk to Mosca while I’m there.”

Franklin and Mosca just looked at each while Florence talked to her husband.

In a few minutes she came back. “Mosca had been hit with a virus that has been attacking robots,” she said. “The virus causes them to quote Shakespeare when someone talks to them. Bob is going to take him to the shop to get rid of the virus and get a better antivirus. In the meantime Elizabeth is out of school for the summer. She will stay with you and make sure you have everything you need.”

“Didn’t Elizabeth die?”

“Oh, Dad, I’m not talking about Mom. I’m talking about your granddaughter Elizabeth.”

“But she’s just a little girl.”

“She’s not so little. She’ll be fifteen next month.”

Mosca turned toward her and said, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

 

Patrick Jonathan Derilus//Racist Societal Views of The Black Male Body & Appreciating My Black Body for What It Is 

Sophomore year in high school, I started exercising in the gym after school almost seven days a week. I willed myself to motivation to start doing it. I didn’t now how to start, but I knew the schemata to exercise: you spend thirty minutes to two hours running outside, or on a treadmill, and lifting a few dumbbells in repetitions of ten to fifteen. And after two weeks of doing that, I started to see results. I created my own strict routine and discipline. I lowered my food intake. I only drank water. Ritually, I stopped eating at 6:00 PM every day. And that worked for a while.

Whenever my mom, or my aunts would make food, sometimes they’d ask me if I wanted to eat. I’d militantly say no. I always took account of the time. Say it were thirty minutes past the designated time I decided to stop eating for the day; I’d punished myself with twice as much exercise the following day. So in the gym, men: from freshmen, juniors, some seniors to a few sophomores commended me for my perseverance in keeping up with exercising and losing weight with questions like, “how’d you do it?”

For a while I was brought to have lost this weight. I even felt like my depression was lifted off my shoulders for a while. Previously, I had the idea that exercise would be what would alleviate my stress. Years later, I soon understood that exercise keep me moving, but in no way did relentless exercising mean the suspension of my mental illnesses.

At first, I used to believe everything was changed because of volition—sheer individual conscious decision, that ‘willpower’ was center to what ameliorated, destroyed, or abolished all things permanently. I previously thought will was what would allow me to will my mental illness away, that will is what would advance my exertion toward losing weight, but will isn’t everything.

This logic was horribly flawed, antiquated, rigid, arrogant, and was actually in part of my upbringing, imposing onto myself the expectations of how I thought society and my family, viewed this logic, how I thought they viewed me. It was toxic, untrue. It didn’t make any sense. Sadly, for whatever I didn’t believe did not become a reality, was a result in unmerciful victimized self-blame onto myself.

“Why isn’t this working? I lost weight? Shouldn’t my depression be gone?” would be the nature of my internal dialogue. This was what my train of thinking was like for a long time, unknowingly did I felt overstressed and worried about not following their expectations. Not feeling that my mental illnesses had gone away made me worry of what, for example, my mother and my aunts would believe of me. Excessively did I make my interpretations of how they would feel about me not feeling ‘happy’ from having lost weight an invented belief that floated over my worries.

It was long after Monroe Woodbury High School, after SUNY Orange, that I learned that maybe what influenced me to exercise was not what I wanted. Jokingly, Broly the Legendary Super Saiyan was my influence for wanting to be brawny. A former friend or two I had who would slap my arms and yell to me that I was ‘too big.’ I used to laugh and take these sayings with lightheartedness. My aspirations to be so-called ‘big’ wasn’t really a thing to me anymore. I think what it was, was that I thought that if I was this size, I would be attractive.

I did gain some of the weight back at some point, and lost it nearly as quickly as I gained it back. I read somewhere that losing weight quickly after gaining it is prone to me experiencing severe heart conditions. That wasn’t the main cause of me gaining the weight back the third or fourth time. It was more indifference.

Little thoughts here and there appreciating my body in the state that it was, and sometimes disliking it, disliking my own body so much that whenever I put underwear or pants on, I’d make sure the sides of my stomach were above the pant line over my the sides of my stomach fat. Other times, I’d leave it right at the pant line. It was never consistent. Even now, while I’ve been away at SUNY New Paltz, I’ve gained a bit of weight, but it wasn’t so much sadness that overcame me.

It was more indifference again, like, what was wrong with my body? Nothing was wrong with it? I still had muscle from when I used to exercise strenuously as I first started back during my sophomore year in high school. Don’t get me wrong, I think I’m attractive, sometimes in the colloquially bastardized sense of the word, narcissistic, like “shit, I look good.”

I’d admire how I look when I look my deltoids and my arms, but I guess I’ve learned to start appreciating the all of my Black body, too. And while I should be exercising more often, something affects me differently when I visit the gym than how it did years ago. I’ve learned that when I was appreciated for my arms, my muscularity, by nonBlack people, I was being racistly objectified.

And with time, I guess, I became afraid of having exercised to reach that level of physique again? To avoid looking like a racial archetype? I love my Black body, but I would become disoriented as soon as some covertly or overtly racist white person would objectify me. They would even desexualize me via their white racist imagination with this whitewashed assumption that I am somehow…”not like other Black men.”

These people are whom I call covert racists, and what I also call white supremacist credentials: morality, virtue, intelligence, accomplishments, and mostly our labor. Whenever a white man or white woman says they love Black men, or praises a Black man, alive and or dead for our accomplishments, academic, artistic, philosophical, linguistic, physical, spiritual, or otherwise, we are worshipped for our service, under their Whiteness, as if we are indebted to it. White people value Black male life insofar as we subject ourselves to their racist credentials.

They love our Black male bodies and our creations, but look over the fact that we’re human, BLACK HUMANS. Thus in these regards, white people objectify me, whether it be my Black body, my Black dick, or my natural Black hair, making these verbally sexual advances to justify in their minds that I am nothing more than their racist object, and they whitewash and tokenize me to make themselves feel safe, yet, irrefutably, they perceive me as less a ‘danger’ insofar as I am not being unapologetically Black and resistant.

Digressing back to my experiences in going to the gym, I viewed it differently. It wasn’t just me, a Black man, going to the gym, exercising then leaving. It was weird as well walking in there sometimes. I wasn’t looking at my physique as if it needed to be “corrected.”

Before, I ascribed self-worth to my muscularity, but I also learned that at the same time, it was dangerous because of the Black and white male symbiotic homosocial activity that took place there. Whether a man lifted two fifty pound dumbbells with ease and he sounded these weird grunts as if he was plummeting toward his death, or a man looming over another man, voyeuristically observing him as he attempted to bench press 145+ pounds in three to four sets of ten, it was all the same. I wasn’t there looking to be better or stronger-looking than the next man exercising. I’d be there to take care of my Black body.

And it’s so easy to get caught up in long-winded competitive talk about what muscles in my body I’m working out on, or what my technique was, or that I even cared about these things now than I did as an eighteen-year-old teenager. I’m not saying exercise is unimportant, or that a Black man making himself fit is wrong. I’m saying there will always be sociopolitical implications that follow the choices a Black man would make in how his representation might be used against him in imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchal culture. It’s important to be aware of what my Black body is getting itself into, whether it be in the gym, at the gas station, in a classroom, everywhere.

My views changed drastically. I don’t believe that my weight determines my worth, and I’m not saying this to earn SJW points. I’m saying this because it’s wrong, ignorant, and fatphobic to think in that way. I might be overweight, but over time, I’ve honestly come to like my body in the shape that it is. How muscular or refined my face might look shows only how much effort I’m putting into my exercise and that I’m obviously dedicated to fitness, yes, of course, but it doesn’t define my Black beauty.

Aestheticism (noun.) — the belief that our main efforts in life should be focused on creating and enjoying beauty, in all its forms.”

 

Mike Goodwin//Restless

I
My knees ached in the night, or morning, so I mixed a drink
Switched on a small television for added distraction
And found ourselves inside

Another skirmish
Another conflict
Another battle

Whatever word cable news uses to cheapen
The truth in which people are dead
Let’s go live to the scene

II
The vilest of humanity, or those hoping to seem it,
Leave comments at the bottom of stories
Corrupting our capacity

For veracity
For validity
For legitimacy

Colleagues, friends, and family
Share their trite opinions
On the social networks

III
The masquerading tethers everyone
To the same pathetic, repetitive existence
And, let’s remember, I’m no better than others

I mix another drink
I take some pain pills
I watch more television

And I’m still awake

 

Claire Verbeck//Uptown

Kansas City wears tonight’s fog
like a fur coat.

Meek rain drums
my scalp, thrums

on my eyelashes
down Broadway.

A beggar with a black eye. Husband
got drunk again. She asks

twenty dollars cash
to get to my sister’s, please.

I look at the ATM down the block
and hand her seventy-five cents.

At home: a still room.
I put on a bathrobe;

pour a glass of Tanqueray.
The evening slips

from my grip. My left ear falls
to a twenty-dollar pillow

packed with down feathers
from a flightless bird.

 

Diane Kendig//Stays

Eight houses line Walcott Street,
four one side, four the other,
a linden in front each, oaks
in back. After Walcotts didn’t pay
taxes, the city took their land,

plotted and planted it. Today the trees
flower in lindenhood, that smell sweet
as maple candy, shocking as ammonia
the first time a friend pulled a branch
down to my nose, the way I held

the nurse’s hand with its catheter
asking him to let my sister go on her own,
though she’d remained unconscious
all day. He slid the bed pan in,
and she did. The small stays we work.
The piss and the perfume of them.

 

Emma Johnson-Rivard//The Suicide of Dorothy Hale. 1938. Oil on masonite. 60.4 x 48.cm

In college, April keeps a Frida Kahlo print tacked above her bed. There is a post-it stuck next to it with all the information; name, year, dimensions. April’s first roommate calls it creepy. She transfers schools two weeks later for unrelated reasons. There is no need to remember April’s roommate. It’s Matthias from back home who notices the print and it’s Matthias who calls it beautiful.

No one else has done that before. It’s almost enough to get April to reconsider buying weed from him, but that’s a thing friends do and they are not so acquainted.

Matthias hasn’t finished high school, but he’s suffered through a love affair with Poe more than once, an affliction more common to graduate students than childhood neighbors. April grew up next to the bungalow that Matthias’s parents used to own, before the hurricane knocked it down, and occasionally he comes up to see her. Ostensibly he’s visiting, but April knows he’s really just selling weed to the frat boys and graduate students. She’d be offended if he wasn’t so polite about it and April figures she owes him anyway, one small town faggot to another.

Besides, Matthias always brings her coffee. The good kind, from a shop with a grinder.

“It was done as a memorial, painted in the retablo style,” April tells him. She drinks her coffee. It’s perfectly black and bitter. “One of her friends commissioned it. Four hundred dollars. It was a lot at the time.”

“That’s pretty morbid, isn’t it?” Matthias nods at it, hands in his pockets. He never brings coffee for himself. “You must not have nightmares or anything.”

“Why wouldn’t I have nightmares?”

“It’s tempting fate otherwise,” Matthias says. “Like reading James Joyce before sex.”

“I don’t read novels,” April tells him. “And that’s hardly the point. I like Kahlo. It’s not even her most graphic piece.”

“I wish I could do that,” Matthias says. He’s looking at the print and not at her. “Nothing bad ever happened to me but I have nightmares all the time. Did they put it up at her funeral?”

“What?”

“The painting.” This time he looks at her. “Did they hang it at her funeral?”

“No,” April says. “The woman who commissioned it loved Dorothy very much. They were close friends. She thought it would be tasteful. A portrait, or something. But the frame was stained red – for the blood, see? The woman – her name was Clare Luce – she almost destroyed the whole thing when she saw it. The title should’ve given her a clue, but I guess not. Anyway, it was painted after the funeral.”

“It’s sad,” Matthias says. “But it’s real. It feels like something you’d make if you missed someone.”

“Maybe.” April drinks her coffee. “There’s no evidence that they met. Kahlo and Hale, I mean.”

“You don’t have to know someone to be sorry they’re gone,” Matthias says, ever so softly.

If she were a better person, April thinks she’d hug him then. “Are you staying long?”

“No. I gotta get back to Deon.”

Deon is the reason Matthias has a boyfriend and not a family. April finishes her coffee. “I always liked him.”

Matthias smiles a little. He meets her eyes briefly. “I’m gonna ask him to marry me.”

“Shit, really?” April whistles. “Probably don’t talk about retablo paintings, then.”

“I’m gonna get him something special,” Matthias tells her, as if relaying a secret. “Something poetic.”

“Better get him a ring too.”

“Poetry’s better. He’s romantic.”

“You’re an idiot,” April tells him, fondly.

“Will you pick something?” Matthias asks, meeting her eyes. “A painting for when we get married. It doesn’t have to be nice. It just has to be real.”

April looks at the print above her bed. It’s coming loose in one corner and she needs to repair the border with scotch tape if it’s ever going to hold. But it’s still hers. It’s always been hers.

“Sure,” April says, “I can do that.”

 

Mark Thorson//A Good Piece Is Hard to Find

It was in the Hard-Tack Saloon, Big Horn, Wyoming. Ellen Ray was at the bar, drunk, staring downward into a mixed drink. Hank Jr. was singing about whiskey and women on the jukebox.

“You okay there darling?” a man’s voice said.

The voice was to Ellen Ray’s immediate left. She did not answer.

“Can I give you a lift or anything?” the man asked. He moved closer to Ellen Ray and slid an arm around her. “What’s your name?” he said. Then his hand began a subtle massage along her shoulders.

Ellen Ray did not look up. She didn’t move. She just said calmly, “I don’t need a lift, and git yer goddamn paw off me.”

“Hey, hey, come on,” said the man. He seemed suddenly surprised, partially retracting his hand. “Just thought maybe you’d had a few too many to be driving, that’s all. Just thought I’d, you know, offer you a ride or something.”

Ellen Ray lifted her head, not looking at the man. She blinked, then focused her liquor-weighted eyes ahead, staring into the glowing bottles behind the bar. . . .

“I mean a nice looking girl like you shouldn’t be sitting alone in a place like this,” said the man. “Just thought I could maybe, you know, help you find your way out of here or something. Maybe I could take you someplace a little more . . . civilized. What’s your name?”
“Where?”

“Huh?”

Ellen Ray turned to the man and then repeated: “Where?”

“Oh- well hey,” said the man, “anywhere you say!” He stepped back with a smile and open arms like he was willing to accommodate.

Ellen Ray just looked at the fellow. He was older than her — by a good ten years she figured; forty-five or so; in a business suit.

“Then what?”

“Then what? Well then it’s . . . hey, whatever you say!” said the man.

He stepped closer to Ellen Ray again, eyebrows raised.

“Whyyouwannagive me aride,” saidEllenRay,”because you’re concerned I can’t drive,orbecause you’re after somethin’ else?”

The man suddenly broke into a laugh and ran a hand up over his hair. He tugged at his ear and glanced around the bar. Then he said, “You ah, you certainly are a blunt one, aren’t you?”
“Well what is it?
“Ah, well, gosh, I don’t know.”

“Whata’yamean– you‘don’tknow’?’’

“Well, you know,” said the man, and he laughed again, pulling up on his pants. He reached up and pinched his nose, then glanced around the barroom again. “Let’s put it this way,” he said, “let’s just say that I’d like to, ah . . . be with you. How’s that?”
“What for?”

“What for?”

“Yeah, why not that old gal over there? Why me?”

The man shrugged, leaving his shoulders upwardly suspended.

“Well, maybe I think you’re -”

“Drunk and easy?”

The man laughed politely, then said, “No, actually I think you -”

“Have a nice ass?”

“What? No!”

“You don’t think I have a nice a -”

“Well yeah — I mean, yeah, but -”

“Have you looked at it?”

“What? Looked at — well, no, not really, but -”

“Then how can you say, ‘yeah’?”

“Well, I can just sort’ve, you know, I can tell.”

Ellen Ray slid off her barstool. “Take a look.”

“Huh?”

“I said, take a look. Look it over and tell me what you think.”

Ellen Ray turned for the man, turned around slowly in place. . . .

The man’s eyes dropped down over her — lowering over the white

western shirt to her firm, slender curves — her thin, delicate waist

and tight denim thighs . . . then back up again to her long sun-

streaked hair laying flat against her back — soft and smooth —

disheveled finger strokes pushed through the top . . .

“Well, whata’ya think?”

“Wow,” said the man.

“What does that mean?”

“I mean, that’s . . . pretty nice.”

“Now let’s see yours.”

“What?”

“I said, ‘let’s see yours’. I showed you mine, so show me yours.”

The man chuckled again and reached for his drink –

“C’mon, turn around! Let’s see!”

The man retracted his reach and put both hands up in front of

himself like he was being arrested. He started to utter something,

but then just shrugged and began to turn.

“Hold your suit up, so I can see.”

“Whatever you say baby,” said the man, and he held it up,

turning like Ellen Ray had, except in a hastier manner.

“That sucks.”

“What?”

“How much money you got?”

“Money?”

Ellen Ray put a hand on her hip. “Yeah, money.”

The man began to squint slightly, then ruffled his brow into a

curious frown.

“What — you don’t know?”

The man looked both ways, up and down the bar, then leaned in

closely towards Ellen Ray. He cleared his throat and in a discreet tone

said, “Hey, ah . . . are you ay uh . . . you a professional?”

Ellen Ray cracked a broad smile and glanced away.

“No, I mean . . . Are you?”

Ellen Ray looked at the man again. “You tellin’ me you don’t even

know who you’re talkin’ to?”

“Well . . . I don’t know,” said the man. The smile had returned to his

face, a growing smile, a knowing smile. “Why don’t you tell me . . . who

ah . . . who am I talking to?” He said it like a man who was about to

receive a prize.

Ellen Ray’s smile disappeared. She moved in towards the man’s

ear, lowering her voice to a serious tone that was soft but direct.

“You’re talkin’ to the best piece of ass in the state of Wyoming, boy.

That’s who I am.”

The man swallowed deeply. Then licked his lips.

Ellen Ray stepped back again. “Now, how much you got?”

The man’s hand went to his pocket. “I ah — I don’t know, I -”

“You got a hundred?”

“A hundred? Yeah.”

“Yougot two?”

“Yeah.”

“Three?”

“Three? Well, I don’ -”

“You gotta understand, it takes money,” said Ellen Ray. “I mean

you’re not exactly what I’d call great, you know.”

“Oh yeah — no, I know,” said the man. He seemed suddenly anxious. “I mean, I don’t claim to be Brad Pitt or anything.”
“That’s good. ‘Cause you’re not. Let’s see your dick.”

“What!?”

Ellen Ray rolled her eyes. “I said, ‘let’s see your dick.”

“My d -” the man broke out laughing again. He reached up and pinched his nose, same as before. “She-zus,” he said. “You ah –you’re kind of a crazy one, aren’t you?”

“‘Crazy’?” said Ellen Ray. “Hey, all you’ve got is a flat ass and a couple hundred bucks. It’s gonna take more than that.”

The man put his hands up in front of himself and glanced both directions again, then reached for his drink. “Well, uh . . . maybe we could go to my roo — go to my room, and I could — you know –accommodate you there.”

“Accommodate me here.”

“Good God, you’re a crazy little thing, aren’t you.“

“Alright, if you’re gonna be chicken-shit about it, you could at least describe it to me.”
“Describe it?”

“Yeah. Is it like big or huge or what?”

The man laughed again and pulled up on his waist. “Hey come

on, what kind of bullshit is this?

“Alright, to hell with it then,” said Ellen Ray. She turned away from the man and sat back up on her stool.

“Hey wait,” said the man. He set his drink back on the bar and quickly lowered his tone again. “Look, I ah — I have an extra hundred, okay? How ’bout that? Well make it three then, okay?”
“No,” said Ellen Ray.

“No? Well, what then? What do you want — four? Alright, four.

I’ll give you four hundred bucks — but let’s just go then, okay?”

“No.”

“No? Well, now what?”

“Forget it.”

“Forg – ” the man glanced away and pursed his lips. He took a big

breath and moved closer to Ellen Ray again, lowering his voice even

further. . . .”Look,” he finally said . . .”How much do you want?”

“I toldyouwhat I want.”

The man just looked at Ellen Ray, then released a big sigh. “That’s

craze — what — you really want me to describe — I mean this is

ridiculous!”

“Yeah, I know,” said Ellen Ray. “You’d probably lie about it anyway.”

“Look, I’ll give you five hundred bucks.”

“Spend the money on your wife.”

“My wife — what?” said the man. He picked up his drink and took

a quick sip. The Judds were singing from the jukebox by this time,

harmonizing sweetly over the barroom.

“Yeah,maybe you’re right,” saidEllenRay. “Spendit onyour kids.”

“Oh Christ,” mumbled the man — mostly to himself. Then he set his

drink back on the bar.

“Youdothat,” said Ellen Ray, “and I’ll appreciateit.”

The man let out another huff and looked off across the barroom. He smiled and shook his head but did not say anything,

Ellen Ray turned away from the man and rested her elbows back on the bar. She watched the man’s figure in the mirror, out the corner of her eye. He remained like a statue, not moving. . . . Then he turned and walked away and was gone.

Ellen Ray pushed her drink ahead, out of the way. She just wanted to sit for a bit, listen to the music and relax her thoughts –let them wander for awhile, wander freely. . . .

. . . And soon they were . . . and she was thinking of other things again . . . difficult things, troubled things . . . things that were good for a short while . . . a long time ago. . . .

. . . She could still see him, breaking out of the chute, riding high on that wild animal, his white-bloused upper and pearl-snapped cuffs flailing forwards and backwards and sideways, his narrow belt line centered over the turmoil, his Championship buckle glinting in the sun, and all those thousands cheering. . . .
. . . Thousands. . . .

. . . She could hear him too — his voice — telling her that he could’ve had anybody and that the only reason he picked her, was because of her ass.

Yeah, that was him. He liked to walk around the house like some sort of stud and tell her that the only reason he didn’t dump her was because she just happened to have the nicest ass in the state of Wyoming — and then would quickly remind her that that wasn’t necessarily saying a whole lot, so she’d better keep her cooking good and keep her housekeeping in order, just to be safe.

It caused Ellen Ray to smile — those thoughts mixed with the whiskey. She didn’t know why, because she felt disappointment. A lot of it, mostly in herself. Why had she done it? He was so full of himself, so cocky. He didn’t even realize his own shortcomings. He was, for the most part, numb to areas where he was so . . . lacking.

Ellen Ray’s thoughts slid slowly deeper. Her smile faded and her eyes stared idly downward again at nothing. He had been a star for a short time, for a brief moment — one whose fifteen minutes had come and gone a long time ago. . . . She wanted to go back. Do it over again. Do something different. Would she actually do something different? Take a different path, pick another option? What had she missed? There were so many lives she could have lived, but she had chosen this one. Why? There were so many opportunities she could have taken, but she settled with him. Why? Maybe there was still time. She still had some youth on her side. She still had the looks, a pocket-full of smarts and a little bit of wit. She had been given the

whole package in life but what had she done with it? What had it gotten her, where had it landed her? Here. Right here — in a dusty little western town, where she was sitting on a barstool, medicating herself amongst a bunch of drunken baboons.

Ellen Ray thought of him again. She thought of different times she’d given him hell over the years. Thought of times he had disappointed her, and she’d criticized him and gotten after him for not measuring up — times she’d put him down for not being what she’d expected him to be, for not being what he was supposed to be, for not being what he’d once been when he was riding high and all those thousands were cheering. . . .

. . . But when she got to the bottom . . . the very bottom . . . there was still something good about him. He was honest at least. And he did have heart. And for a short time, a long while ago, he had actually felt like something . . . special. . . .

. . . And it was sitting with those thoughts in the Hard-Tack Saloon, that Ellen Ray recalled that feeling. . . . And for a fleeting moment, like a passing breeze that would soon be gone, she felt it again, the same way she had felt it those several years ago on that sunny afternoon in Cheyenne — after the two of them had left all the cheering thousands behind, and were alone and close. . . . Feeling like the luckiest girl in the whole USA.

Ellen Ray sensed another figure in the mirror moving back across the barroom towards her. . . . He sat down on the stool next to hers.

“The kids are asleep,” he said. “I told the sitter we’d be back by

eleven.”

Something was coming over Ellen Ray, rushing up through her, a warm, weightless sensation — maybe it was the whiskey, she didn’t know, but she suddenly felt like she was going to cry. She turned to the one next to her and wrapped her arms around him, and buried herself into his neck –

‘Hey, hey, what the hell,” he said, “what’s goin’ on?” He was surprised, but he put his arms around her and held her in return.

“I love you,” said Ellen Ray. She said it into his ear, her voice weak, almost a whisper. . . . Then she tried to say it again . . . but couldn’t . . .

His arms wrapped tighter, holding her just as they always had, holding her gently, but firm.

And Ellen Ray also wrapped tighter . . . just as she had on that sunny afternoon in Cheyenne, those many years ago. . . . Giving the best she could . . . with the little she had left.

 

 

Contributors:

Lindsey S. Frantz was born and raised in Appalachia and earned her MFA from Bluegrass Writers Studio at Eastern Kentucky University. Her first novel, The Upworld, was published by Line by Lion Publications in 2017. Her stories and poems have previously appeared in numerous literary journals, including Main Street Rag’s Villains Anthology, Ruminate Magazine, and Emerge Literary Journal. She currently lives in sleepy, art-rich Berea, Kentucky with her husband, Vince, and their two young children, James and Sadie.

J.S. MacLean lives in Calgary, Alberta. He has had about 140 poems published in journals and magazines in Canada, USA, UK, France, Israel, India, Thailand, and Australia. In 2007 he won THIS Magazine’s Great Canadian Literary Hunt in Poetry (1st Prize). He has also two collections; Molasses Smothered Lemon Slices and Infinite Oarsmen for one. He strives for the lyrical and hopes for the accidental.

Bradley Samore currently lives in North Carolina and is a high school English teacher. His writing has been featured in various publications including West Texas Literary Review, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, and SLAB Literary Magazine.

Thomas Cook edits and publishes the journal and chapbook press Tammy. His fiction has recently appeared in Chicago Quarterly Review and is forthcoming in Bennington Review. He lives in Los Angeles.

Mark Bonica is husband, father, and former soldier. He retired from the Army after 26 years of service and currently teaches at the University of New Hampshire. His poetry and prose have appeared in a variety of print and online journals.

Carl Perrin’s stories have appeared in Mountain Laurel, Northern New England Review, Short-Story.Me, Commuter lit, and Kennebec among others.

Patrick Jonathan Derilus lives in Chester of Orange County, New York. He is an independent writer. He writes poetry, short stories, and creative nonfiction essays.

Mike Goodwin has lived in New Jersey, Mississippi, and both sides of Pennsylvania. He currently resides with his wife in Pittsburgh where he teaches at both Ohio University Eastern and the Community College of Allegheny County. His poetry has previously appeared in Slab and Radioactive Moat and has fiction in New Rivers Press’ American Fiction Volume 15: The Best Unpublished Short Stories by New and Emerging Writers.

Claire Verbeck graduated from Wellesley College in 2016 with an honors degree in English and Creative Writing. She lives in Kansas City, Missouri, with her pet cat Nala and several stubborn succulents. Read more at claireverbeck.com

Diane Kendig’s five poetry chapbooks include Prison Terms (2017), and she recently co-edited the anthology In the Company of Russell Atkins. A recipient of two Ohio Arts Council Poetry Fellowships and other awards, she has published poetry and prose in journals such as J Journal, Under the Sun, and Ekphrasis. Find her at dianekendig.com, or at her blog “Home Again” (dianekendig.blogspot.com).

Emma Johnson-Rivard is a Masters student at Hamline University. She received her undergraduate degree in Film Studies at Smith College in Massachusetts and currently lives in Minnesota with her dogs and far too many books. Her work has appeared in Mistake House, the Olive Press, and the Santa Ana River Review.

Mark Thorson is the author of several screenplays, including the award-winning American Passage and most recently, of the collection of short stories, Final Delivery. Mark is also an alumnus of the prestigious American Film Institute.