Fiction - The Legendary
One Last Story
by Drew Liu
I have been a
sort-of-birch-tree for one year, because I don’t look like any birch
tree you find on google pictures, because I have no roots, no branches
and no canopies. Figuratively, I am a birch tree, or I just have some
features of a birch tree. It’s hard to get my words straight now.
My dad comes to my tree house every week and calls from below with my
lunch or dinner—a bottle of water and a few slices of bread. I don’t
eat much. For most of the time, I am sitting up there with my eyes
closed and legs crossed, meditating or not—I don’t know. Then his voice
retrieves me back. So I climb down the tree, take his basket and turn
around. He always says, “June, you have more leaves on your arms than
“Because I am a tree.” He has grown used to my cold voice. I shed
leaves. Last winter, after all the leaves died, I looked like a normal
kid. He insisted on taking me home but the next day, I snuck back.
That’s just shedding, not transformation into a normal person.
My mom was found lying in the kitchen thirteen months ago, mouth wide
open with pointed incisors sticking out. Her hirsute arms stretched in
the direction of the drawer where dried meat was stored. Dead. In the
third stage of her transformation. She died when she searched for food
on her own. Dad kept his usual face, cold and emotionless. I cried. But
I could do nothing. Three days later, my mom went through the final
stage of transformation—she became ashes.
Three years ago, we were both humans. I was a normal high school kid,
and she was a normal mom who cooked for me and picked me up. Then one
day, she told me she had a tumor in her brain. No mom in this world
would pull her car off in front of a high school, wait for her kid out
and tell that kid on their drive home that she had a tumor. But she
did. The traffic was busy that day, so she kept pressing the horn while
I kept pressing my knuckles. It didn’t work. I cried.
She fell rapidly. The tumor grew bigger. The brain scan showed that it
was the same size as a goose egg. That goose egg was not going to choke
her in throat but in brain. She couldn’t move or speak clearly after a
few months of the discovery and my dad said it was the worst kind of
tumor that wrecks your language and motion nerve systems.
I realized there had been symptoms I hadn’t noticed before. My mom had
become slower in speaking since my last year in middle school. She
stammered when she got angry.
My mom couldn’t move or speak clearly but lied under the white sheets
in hospital. She silently pressed my fingers.
My dad didn’t change much. He went to his lab every day and came back
late. He visited mom every other day. He wasn’t good at speaking. He
didn’t have a tumor but he just wasn’t good at organizing words in a
more meaningful order. He sat at her bed and pressed her fingers and
mine. My mom’s plump, round face was tapered into some ghastly shape.
My dad was always ghastly. His eyes gloomy and his face gaunt. He was
some biologist who went to lab, pressing a pinch of skin tissue here
and a mess of mouse flesh there. Then he pressed our hands. I didn’t
hate him. He was never really close or really distant from us. He was
there, my dad, my mom’s husband.
I think I didn’t hate him even when he decided to take mom home one
day. It was almost two years ago from now. He drove both of us home in
mom’s Honda. He cooked our dinner: soup, traditional Chinese fried
peppers and scrambled eggs. My mom sat in a wheelchair and I fed her.
He offered to help but I refused. He wasn’t good at taking care of
anybody, including himself. Then I wiped my mom’s body with rinsed
towels and tucked her under her blankets.
The next day my mom started to hop around. Her eyes were vaguely red. I
called her. She only looked back at me and hopped away. She crouched in
the garden, sneezed at the grass and tried to lick it. She looked like
a rabbit. My dad came up to me, emotionless, like a statue. What did
you do to her? I asked him. No, I actually boomed at him.
I put some potion in her soup yesterday.
A potion that can transform her.
I can’t forebear to see her lying like dead in that bed every day. Like
she can’t even move or wipe herself. You know what kind of woman she
is. She can’t even stand herself. I know she is painful. So are you and
I. I want to see her happy.
This was his longest speech in my entire life. I didn’t know if he had
ever coaxed such long sentences for mom when they dated. Maybe not. How
did you get it? I asked.
I made it.
He stayed in the lab all day and visited mom every other day. To make
this potion, that left us a human-rabbit.
My mom grew longer and thicker front teeth which protruded out whenever
she smiled. She ate carrots and raw, dry noodles. She didn’t sit with
us at the dining table but at a corner in the dining hall. She crunched
on her food noisily.
Why could she move?
That’s why I transformed her. I want her to move. Though she can’t
move, she is well conscious, so her brain will still beacon her body to
move. This incongruity between the body and the mind will stimulate
certain chemicals in her that try to enable her movements. But these
chemicals are always too weak to be effective. So I created the potion
to amplify the power of these chemicals.
I asked him, so what?
When these chemicals were strengthened, they would awaken the most
primitive and wildest instincts in human bodies, like animal instincts.
They will enable her to move like an animal at the cost of human
reason. She became less human.
Can they kill the tumor?
No, they are not in the immune system. That’s why I can’t cure her but
only strengthen them. That’s the best I can do.
So you just traded her human reasons for some animal spirits that
enable her to move?
He nodded. We slipped back into silence. My mom finished crunching on
her carrots and started to tumble on the floor. I didn’t know what to
make of her. I could call her mom, but she wasn’t.
Her days as a rabbit passed. Her eyes shone like real rubies. Her front
teeth became strong enough to sink through carrots. Sometimes I would
call her, she would hop to me and snuggle her head into my chest. She
didn’t know anything about tumor and death. She didn’t know how to
press my fingers. She only ate carrots and snuggled with me. White hair
on her arm became longer and thicker. When I touched it, she groaned
with satisfaction. Once I even saw her in the garden, plucking grass
with her claw-like hands, and thrust a handful into her mouth. I ran up
to her and snatched the grass out from between her teeth. She bit my
fingers. I didn’t scream but cried. Like the first time I cried in her
car. She snorted at me and hunched her back. The next minute, she ran
back into the house.
She bit me. I told my dad.
She was eating grass and I was trying to take it out of her mouth.
Let her be.
What do you mean? Let her be? Let her eat grass without the least
dignity as a human being? I couldn’t quench my anger anymore. I
wouldn’t believe this man was my dad.
But she was happy then. Wasn’t she?
My mom went through the second stage of transformation during the
fourth month as a rabbit. She became a retriever. Her fangs stuck out.
My dad said the transformation into the second stage depended on the
body’s health condition. If it deteriorated, then more chemicals were
released and stimulated, so the body became wilder.
I wished he hadn’t explained. I wished he hadn’t really treated my mom
as a chunk of mouse flesh piled up on his operation desk in his lab. He
watched mom. He must have been taking mental records of her living
habits for his research. He was cold, emotionless.
My mom became restless after this transformation. She always wanted to
go out. Though she still ran on foot, she liked to squat a lot more
with her tongue stretching out sometimes. I was not strong enough to
take her out on my own. Her forearms were full of strength, suitable
for digging holes on the ground and snatching prey. She needed a
prairie. Whenever my dad and I took her out together, we would cuff her
hands tightly with our own. She didn’t press my hands but struggled and
grappled and sometimes bent her head to bite my hands. I had two deep
gashes on my hands but luckily, neither she nor I needed to be sent to
the vet. We always took her to the piazza at night. There were few
people and ample space for her to run. She ran wildly and howled to the
moon. Every time she squatted down for rest, I would walk up to her and
wipe her sweats. She then looked me in the eye and smiled. That’s when
I knew she was my mom. A retriever couldn’t smile. But my mom could.
We took her out almost every day. One day, I had to buy meat for her so
I couldn’t go. My dad offered to do this on his own. Of course, I
couldn’t trust him. But he insisted. My mom was restless bumping her
body against the door and almost turning the knob. So I said ok.
It was obviously not okay. My mom was missing. My dad texted me when I
came back home. He said my mom was running on the piazza and just
disappeared. I ran to the piazza. My dad was yelling and running around
for her in the manner of looking for a pet dog. I despised him. I
didn’t say a single word but rummaged through every single street,
building, corner and trash can near the piazza.
The wind stroke past my face and coldness made me more than conscious
of the possible results of losing her. I didn’t want to read about her
in the newspaper under the title: Animal or Human? New Discovery! I
didn’t want to be told a few months later that she was found lying on
some other biologist’s operation desk, stomach severed. I have to find
her! The thought pummeled firmly to me.
We spent a whole night looking for her and ended up finding her
sprawling near a trash can patting another dog in her arms. The dog
freed himself from her arms when he saw us. My retriever-mom looked up
at me in great shock. She didn’t say anything but crooked and wagged
her index finger like a dog did with its tail.
The next day, I didn’t go to school but snuck into my dad’s lab. When
he went to the bathroom, I found the potion and drank it. It wasn’t
hard to find at all. A tag propped to it, said “For Lina.” That’s my
mom’s name. I stood in the middle of the lab and held the empty vial to
him. His face dropped. His muscles trembled. What did you do?
He wasn’t asking but thundering at me. I drank it, if that’s what you
want, dad. I can’t let mom live like that alone.
Why did you drink it? Tell me why! He grabbed my shoulders and started
to sway me back and fro. My stomach was bellowing.
Because you stole mom’s dignity and I can’t forgive myself seeing her
suffering like this and doing nothing about it.
I didn’t steal her dignity. I am giving her dignity! Do you think she
has dignity lying in that bed every day like a corpse?
Then do you think she has dignity rampaging around like a dog? Without
the least sense of what she is doing! I stormed out of the door and
heard my dead roaring behind me. I had drunk the potion, whatever.
My mom went into her third stage as a wolf and I started my first stage
of transformation. Instead of turning into an animal, I became a
sunflower. I thought the reason why I didn’t become an animal was that
I didn’t have a cancer and I could move. So there were few chemicals in
my system for me to morph into an animal. I didn’t have roots or petals
or tubes that produced spores. But I did like sunshine and would turn
my head to it despite myself. I also attracted bees and butterflies
somehow. This was strange because I had never seen sunflowers
attracting these creatures before.
I couldn’t rein my mom now. My arms were powerless like strings of a
flower. My mom grew longer fangs and sharper nails. She wanted more
meat than ever, but she didn’t turn on me or my dad. Maybe she was
still there. Consciously and subconsciously. There wasn’t much
difference between her second stage and third except for more meat and
longer fangs and nails. She would still love to go out at night and
run. But she rested more frequently. When I tried to hold her from
back, she wouldn’t resist too much. When I tried to pat her head, she
would moan somehow pliantly. I would always cry green tears as my mom’s
health got worse.
My dad was silent. He would walk out with us but only watched us from
distance. His eyes looked like still water. A coward. He was the only
one in this family who didn’t drink the potion but tricked the other
two into drinking it. Maybe he didn’t trick me. But somehow he did.
My mom became more and more restless. She ate more meat while I ate
less. I hated rainy days and started to sit still for most of the time.
But my reason didn’t fade away. I was conscious of everything—how my
mom gasped deeply for breath every time after she finished her
exercises and how my dad supported his chin with his hands overlapping.
I think my story is coming to an end. That day was the first day of
forever bereavement in my life. I sat in my room, still, though I was
conscious of all the rummaging in the kitchen. My body was hard to
move. Then when I finally came to the kitchen, well, I think I had to
relive the beginning of this story. “Thirteen months ago, my mom was
found lying in the kitchen…” Death marked the ending of her story.
Death marks the ending of everyone’s story. A matter of time.
After that, you know I went through the second stage of my
transformation, I became a birch tree and moved to the tree house on
another birch tree in the forest.
I have been a birch tree since then. I have more and more leaves
growing out and become stiller. I don’t want to live with my dad
because he never belonged to my species. When I was a kid, he was an
adult. When my mom and I drank the potion, he didn’t. When I moved out,
he only begged me to go back. He sucks. He stole my mom’s dignity and
makes me a damn plant.
He never loves anybody. He is a selfish bitch. I can never believe his
crap that he invented the potion for my mom. He did it just for his own
My story is coming to an end. I don’t know when my next transformation
will take place or will it really happen?
There is nothing I am sure about and want to be sure about.
Because I am a birch tree.
Drew Liu lives in
Baltimore and majors in Writing Seminars
Hopkins University. She is a co-editor for Word Planet, a
Hopkins-based community that helps students with creative writing.
by Vani Rao
(Can a monkey assemble Lego pieces?)
Maya was in a particularly good mood this evening. She rolled her
windows down and hummed as she drove home from work. After three months
of brutally long hours, she was going home early.
It couldn’t have been easy for her twelve year old daughter
Chitra. “I’ll make it up to her” Maya thought as she turned
into her Piscataway neighborhood. Raghu had called her earlier in the
day to tell her he would be away for a few days.
The neighborhood was awash in summer colors – green lawns and roses in
full bloom. Folks worked in the garden or sat on their porches drinking
cold beer. Maya pulled into the garage. She noticed that the
side door leading into the backyard was open. She walked towards the
door, her stilettos clacking loudly on the hard garage floor. Outside,
she saw Chitra planting stakes in the vegetable garden and carefully
tying the tomato and bean stalks to it.
“Hi baby” she called out.
Chitra gave a slight wave without turning. Maya shook her head. Chitra
was becoming increasingly moody, almost hostile, of late.
“I’m going in, Chitra. Don’t be late” she said. No response.
She shrugged and went inside. A sink full of dirty dishes greeted her.
Maya opened the window over the sink and started working on the dishes.
She watched Chitra in the garden. The printed shorts and t-shirt
stretched over her buttocks and back as she bent forward to plant the
stakes. Her pony tail swung back and forth as she worked. “She’s
beautiful” thought Maya with wonder. She smiled, feeling like a
sculptor who steps back from his work halfway through and realizes that
he has a masterpiece in the works.
She looked at the sprawling backyard and thought: “So much better than
a one-bedroom Edison apartment”. Chitra was barely four when her first
husband was diagnosed with cancer. He succumbed a year later but the
out-of-pocket expenses had nearly left Maya bankrupt. She had raised
Chitra alone until two years ago when she had married Raghu, an
Engineer like her, and together they had bought this sprawling suburban
house and filled it with furniture from Ethan Allen.
It was quiet except for the distant shrieks of children at play. She
felt peaceful, watching her daughter. A car pulled up next door. It
sounded close, as if it were pulling up on their driveway. Chitra, who
had been crouching over a tomato plant, paused and looked up. Her body
was rigid as she looked over her shoulder at the garage door – one,
two, three beats. Then perhaps realizing that the car was her
neighbor’s she went back to her plant.
Maya looked at her, frozen and unmoving, holding the dish and sponge in
her hands, forgetting to breathe. Her mind was blank, as if refusing to
process what the eyes had seen. Maya shook her head. “It’s my
imagination. The mind’s a monkey” she thought. Besides, such things did
not happen in the Indian community. Did it?
A seemingly random thought bloomed in Maya’s mind: “Oh God. If it is
so…then I have to start from scratch, all over again”. Her shoulders
slumped and a wave of depression filled her heart. She looked at her
daughter and her blossoming womanhood and silently screamed: “Don’t
ruin it this life”. And for a split second hatred coursed through her
veins, making them throb.
Chitra finished tying the last plant and headed back to the kitchen
peeling off her garden gloves. She took her muddy shoes off and paddled
barefoot into the kitchen. She passed Maya without glancing at her and
went to the cereal cabinet.
“Where is he?” asked Chitra.
When Maya had introduced Chitra to Raghu, he had told her “You can call
me uncle or even just Raghu if you wish”. But Chitra had abruptly
stopped saying his name for a few months now.
“He had to go to Boston- some office emergency. He will be gone for a
Maya felt, with the preternatural instinct of a parent, felt Chitra let
her breath out in a silent sigh of relief. She heard Chitra putting
things on the table - cereal, bowl, spoon, milk – and every sound she
made sounded deafeningly loud to Maya.
Thump, thump, thump. Chitra’s hands thumped on the counter as she ate.
Maya felt the walls of the house slip away and she found herself back
in the ultrasound room, looking at the blip on the screen that would be
Chitra and listening to the steady, rhythmic thump of the baby’s heart.
She had stared at the screen, the world ceasing to exist except for her
heart beating in sync with the life growing within her. She whispered
to her unborn child: “Be safe”.
Chitra had stopped the thumping and was now softly tapping the counter
with the tip of her index finger. It sounded like clicks to Maya. And
all the scattered thoughts in her mind, even ones that had been swiftly
sent to the depths of her subconscious, now fell into place one by one.
Her realization that Raghu was not just an introvert but a loner (so
what, still a good guy), his willingness to watch Chitra so Maya could
work (jackpot, girl!), Chitra’s increasing moodiness and withdrawal
(pre-teen angst), her avoidance of Raghu at all times, and finally her
sudden call on one of Maya’s all-nighters screaming and sobbing and
demanding to know why she was always working late (I’m doing this for
you, baby). And on and on her mind arranged her thoughts- like Lego
pieces clicking into place.
She had finished washing all the dishes. The sink was clean now. Chitra
was no longer tapping and the only sound was the soft clinking of the
spoon against the bowl. Maya turned. Chitra was eating her cereal
exactly like she had always done, even as a little girl – never taking
her eyes off the bowl.
“Chitra” Maya called out softly as she walked toward her daughter.
to the Top
by Jessica Barnett
were in the hotel room waiting to leave for supper in a nearby
restaurant, the only one along Wilshire Boulevard that encourages men
to wear at least a jacket, and a tie too, “if convenient.” He
too accustomed to the general sartorial sloppiness of the city to
complain out loud, but it did bother him, even after repeated
experiences in a variety of restaurants in downtown Los Angeles. Maybe
that was why he overreacted when she asked if she should change into
something more formal. He replied that she had fidgeted all
with the neck of her sweater. Why not change into a dress?
immediately marched off into the bathroom, trailing a cloud of
indignation. Dining with her, he thought, would be impossible. He
remembered his Latin: cum pane. They were now not true “companions,”
those who break bread with each other in a spirit of communion. He
canceled the reservation and told her so when she reappeared from the
reasons he never fully understood, she launched into a tirade, shouting
at him for shouting at her about fidgeting, and followed up with
accusations of selfishness and insensitivity. “I hate you,” she cried
at the peak of her crescendo. He had witnessed such an emotional dash
from rationality to rage before, and retorted that she was about to
repeat the same scenario she created when he once tried to reconcile
her with a former friend. She was outraged (as was the friend
thought she was being asked for money), and flew into a fit that lasted
for a week. Yes, she understood that my intentions were good
she missed the evenings in her friend’s apartment where she had
cocktails while being dazzled by the spectacular view of Central Park.
But she didn’t want to be seen as needing anyone.
she admitted to missing the sex of their relationship. He was guilty,
she had “told a friend” (an obvious lie), of not touching her after her
operation for ovarian cancer. Her memory reduced to narrow selectivity,
she had forgotten that she twice warned him not to initiate any
foreplay because she was no longer interested in sex.
her explosion, she developed a physical transformation into what he
later called Mrs. Hyde. From the funny, stimulating, and open woman he
had known for more than twenty-five years, she had become a harpy
without compromise, even when he tried to give her a quick hug. No
sharing, verbal or physical. Of course.
decided that she should leave the next day, Sunday, and not on Monday
as originally scheduled. He didn’t object. Nothing was easy. She could
not raise American Airlines because the phones were always busy dealing
with bad weather on the east coast. They finally had the hotel
Concierge work with a Travel Agent to obtain a ticket for a 6:30 AM
flight for the aggravating fee of $349 for a $630 fare.
rest of the evening was unbearable. He sat in a chair looking out the
window for three hours until it was bedtime. She preferred hovering on
the edge of the bathtub, eating energy bars in place of supper. The
thick and heavy tension might have been alleviated if she had allowed
the distraction of the television. But no, she had no patience for the
spent the five hours between bedtime and the wake-up call at 3:45 AM
pacing the floor and packing her valise—loudly, slamming clothes and
cosmetics into the small case. When she was about to leave the room,
she approached his bedside and said: “I don’t hate you.”
consolation, since he had already figured out that he would never again
see New York, Paris, Berlin, or even Chicago. These are cities for two,
especially at dinner time in 11 Madison Park, or Chez Rene, or Les
Solistes, or Aria. Paul Valéry has written about poetry that “the Gods
give you the first verse.” And so it was with their love affair: after
an electric and easy beginning, the rest was often fitful. They had no
idea when or how they would compose the end. It turned out to be like a
leaf, dead on a tree for months, that finally falls.
Jessica V. Barnett
lives in the Boston area, where she writes, parents, dances, and
practices law, not necessarily in that order. Her debut novel, Freak
Camp: Posts From a Previously Normal Girl, was a runner-up for a 2014
to the Top
by Jia Din
A girl sitting directly across from
me doing a phone interview at the restaurant I was wasting time at
yesterday said she was currently making 95K. I made faces at her on and
off for the rest of our time together. She liked it. Goddamn sociopath.
“I'm looking at 115 to 120 to make a move.” She said. Into her phone. “TO SEGUE INTO MY NEXT POSITION.” She said segue.
Truly I think she owes me some money. I made her smile and entertained her even. For free I did.
If only general jester were a position!
She said segue. She really did.
Jia Din completed a B.A. in English and psychology from the University of
Delaware. After college, she planned to read great works of
literature by day and take in attentive lovers by night. (The plan
isn't quite panning out as she had imagined). Jia has lived in
Washington D.C. as well as New York City where she held various
mind-numbing office jobs. She is now residing temporarily in Delaware
before eventually moving to either Philadelphia or Seattle. She still
holds a mind-numbing office job. Twitter: @asdklfjsd.
to the Top
Contacting the Dead
by Gj Hart
I emailed him one night, very drunk. Subject: Sorry.
I would tell him everything. The reason I hadn't visited, the reason I
had left like I had when I had and how sorry I was. I blamed myself and
when I had it straight I would contact him again.
I pressed send. The email snapped back, unable to deliver. I deleted it and poured another drink.
rang him on the number his father gave me. A women answered, her voice
soft as rubber sole on carpet. He wasn't able to come to the phone she
explained. She sounded unsure and I wondered if he was sitting right
I couldn't visit I explained, impossible due to the
weather, snow had fallen and the roads were closed. But the snow had
melted and the roads were fresh and empty that morning I drove to pick
After eating I fell asleep and dreamed of nothing.
I visited him in October: He opened the door. I was shocked, he was bald and nothing but bone.
My waist had grown two inches, I felt huge. You look great he said. Thanks for nothing I thought. You look great too I replied.
took me round. He'd emptied his account, the rooms were crammed with
stuff he’d bought. I noticed the sweat, it enveloped him and leaked
onto the things he showed me.
With each step he grew weaker,
his pain more irascible untill it kicked against the opiates like a kid
in the rear seat. I have to sit he said.
We talked. At night the
fear came to him in dreams disguised as familiar objects. He asked me
what it meant, I looked down, shaking my head. They had to find a match
he said, but the odds were slim. I couldn’t bear it. I stopped myself
listening. I had to go I said, there was a party, a
Halloween party. I was obliged. But I hate parties, fancy dress parties. I was never going to go.
That night I watched TV alone and ate pizza and drank till my mind stopped. The next morning his words were waiting.
Can't you stay, we left it so badly, I blame myself, tell them you’re with a friend, he's dying.
No I can't, I'd said, they wouldn’t believe me.
And that was true, I thought, swallowing two aspirin, they wouldn’t.
lives in Brixton, London and is currently working as accident prone
butler to two wealthy cats. Pieces accepted at The Pygmy Giant, Flash
Fiction Magazine, Spelk Fiction, Yellow Mama and Squawk Back magazine.Back
to the Top
Covenant Christian Academy, Divested
by Melissa Ostrum
dress code, a baby blue Oxford tucked into pitch black pants, begins
and ends with the bus, so poly-cotton blends shroud the hours between
leaving the house and reentering the house. Like, all day.
Russell, in the homestretch of his education, should be reconciled to
this manner of dress. He’d admit: boys’ clothing, even when not set by
a rule, doesn’t get much more creative than the uniform standard. But
Arthur can barely stand shrugging into the wrinkleless shirt, a
passive-aggressive article that refuses to get ruffled. Only morticians
and congressmen should have to wear these black pants. The milky
buttons down his front are little wide-eyed irritants.
Wing, who sits in front of him in trig, wears a black bra under her
white polo. He can just make out the back strap, a beautiful shadow. It
adds an uncertain variable to the uniform equation. It reminds Arthur:
here be breasts. Joy Sherwood wears white tights as she must. But under
her blue plaid skirt, halfway up her thighs, whiteness stops at her
garter’s snaps. He thinks. The lower half of the girls’ uniform is too
long to confirm this suspicion. However, in the library, during study
hall, Arthur watches Joy cross her legs. He pays attention. He
believes—yes, he’s almost certain—he sees the telltale impression of
the garter ribbons. He decides they are made of red satin. He likes to
think they’re trimmed in lace.
No one gets away with obvious
aberrations. Interesting spikes of hair, saucy high heels, blue dye
streaks, outlandish make-up and florescent green fingernail polish:
each, cause for a trip to the office and, after the phone call to
Mother, a lecture-filled trip back home to rectify the wrong.
Extravagant earrings find themselves in the homeroom teacher’s top desk
drawer. Distracting hair bands, too. Dazzling bracelets never last.
But underneath, underneath
the oppressive blacks and blues, secrets fester. Arthur’s sure of this.
The other students—with their matching blandness concocted out of the
adult belief that sameness will blind young people to appearances and
foster purely academic attentiveness—must
spend some of their schooldays doing what he does: contemplating the
secrets, craving to discover them, making them up when necessary.
one late afternoon, after the bus has brought him home, after he can
change into a t-shirt inscribed with the message, F.R.E.E.
Com-pli-men-ta-ry, Arthur Russell walks three miles to a downtown
parlor, lies about his age and pays a great deal of money to get a
tattoo, all over his right shoulder, from just below his tattered
collar to just above the cuff of the fraying short sleeve. The design
is intricate. It is not remotely decent. Beyond mentioning its
existence to others at school, he doesn’t show or even describe it. It
is the mystery his undershirt protects. He hopes the girls will make
the tattoo whatever they want. It can be the very thing they would most
like to see. Melissa Ostrom
lives in rural western New York, where she serves as a public school
curriculum consultant, teaches English at Genesee Community College,
and writes whenever and however much her five-year-old and
seven-year-old let her. Her fiction has appeared in Juked,
Monkeybicycle, decomP, Lunch Ticket, Matchbook, and elsewhere.Back
to the Top
by Laura StoutAt
the end of a mild October afternoon, Sam’s eight-foot Walker Bay
dinghy, having been patched one too many times, slipped beneath the
lake’s choppy surface. He treaded water inches from his little sister
Jackie, safely secured in her life vest, then grasped a short line he
had tied to her waist and began swimming toward Micks Island. He pulled
her through the swells, turning his head every few minutes to see water
lick her face and mix with her tears.
short time later, Sam’s feet brushed the lake floor. He helped Jackie
shed the life jacket as they lurched from the water. Jackie collapsed
on the narrow beach. Sam squatted next to her and scanned the empty
Jackie sat up and hugged her knees to her chest. “Now what?” The words cracked apart between sobs.
and Uncle Ray will come. When she gets home and sees we’re still gone
they’ll get the Glastron and come find us. She knows I always fish
around this island.” Sam flattened his tone, as though he were
explaining the rules of a game. He stood and brushed sand from his wet
clothes, then paced behind her. After several minutes, she stopped
crying, stretched her legs out, and began pouring scoops of sand onto
“Guess we should’ve stayed home,” Jackie said.
begged him to take her fishing with him as he spread peanut butter
across slices of white bread for her lunch. It was late Saturday
morning and already she’d grown bored with her cartoons. He glanced up
from his sandwich making. She was bouncing up and down on tiptoes,
black-rimmed eyeglasses sliding down her nose, a messy ponytail dancing
against the back of her neck, and she offered him a buoyant and sunny
smile; a sight so rare he gave in immediately.
taken her with him once before. She’d been good, although not much in
the way of help. But she was only ten. The important thing was their
mom trusted him with keeping his sister safe while she worked at the
He stepped close to Jackie, bent down, and gently clutched her shoulder. “You’re not scared, are you?”
She jerked her shoulder out from under his hand. “Heck no.”
He stood, blinking, and rubbed his arm. “I was going to come out anyway.”
“And just leave me at Uncle Rays all afternoon?”
“You stay there all the time. I know the twins drive you nuts, but it’s not that bad.”
time is it?” She wiped her face with the back of her hand, her lower
lip trembling from the chill of wet clothes and a descending sun.
He looked at his watch. “About five o’clock.”
“Mom doesn’t even get off for another hour.” Sam winced. The tone of her voice implied he was somehow responsible for this fact.
we have at least another hour of sun. So we’re good.” Behind them, wind
sifted through a forest of oaks and willows. “Come on. Help me
get some wood. I’ll make a fire.”
He walked toward the trees. She didn’t move. After a few steps he stopped and turned back.
"Was it really that hard to hold onto the fishing rod?"
father had given it to him for his twelfth birthday, back when they
first began fishing together. Back when the world was the way it was
supposed to be. She lifted her chin and stared at him. She'd let the
fishing rod drift from her hand on purpose. That rod had always left
welts of hurt on Jackie's heart, reminded her of what he still had with
their father. He wanted to be angry with her, but his heart stumbled as
He reached down, scooped up a handful of matchstick
thin twigs and walked over to her. She hunched over and dug her hands
deep into the sand. "Look kiddo," he touched her arm, "we need kindling
She inspected the snarl of tiny sticks cupped in his palm. “What if there are spiders?”
I’ll get the sticks, you get branches. They need to be one or two feet
long, like this.” He held his hands apart to demonstrate.
"What if I see a snake?”
"I've told you, there are no snakes on this island."
"How would I remember? I never come here anymore."
was right. They used to come here for summer picnics; all four of them.
He remembered a red-checkered blanket and tuna sandwiches, the coconut
scent of sunscreen, his father tossing Frisbees to him on the shore.
His mother would lie on a beach towel flipping through magazines while
Jackie built sandcastles. One time his father snuck up and threw their
mother over his shoulder and tossed her into the lake. They all laughed
so hard they couldn't speak and collapsed onto the sand in one big heap.
finally rose and limped behind him into the forest. He collected
kindling, feet squishing in wet tennis shoes and crunching through
tangled brush. Jackie seemed to be circling the same tree, humming a
tune, the same melody over and over. Several minutes later he called
her back to the beach. She clutched three misshapen branches in both
hands. Sam rolled his eyes.
“Really? That’s the best you could do?” He smiled trying to cover up the sharpness of his words.
“I’m cold.” She tossed her branches on the ground. “How are you going to start a fire without matches?”
easy.” He turned and headed back to the trees. “Dad taught me last
month when we went camping.” His words hit their mark and now he
imagined Jackie’s narrowed eyes glaring at his back. Even though it was
her fault, even though she was the one who refused to forgive their
After returning with an armful of
wood, he pulled out his pocketknife and carved a small hole in a piece
of bark. He held the tip of a thin branch in the hole and rubbed the
stick back and forth, as if warming his hands. He glanced at her but
she flicked her eyes away, feigning interest in pushing together piles
of sand with her feet.
After a few minutes, smoke swirled out
from the hole that now held a circle of glowing ash. He gently dumped
the ash into a bundle of tinder and soon flames licked the air. Jackie
stood, palms hovering over the fire for warmth. A reddish-yellow glow
radiated across her sharp cheekbones and deep-set eyes. She wouldn’t
look at him.
"That cave I showed you once. I'm pretty sure there's a sleeping bag inside."
She scrunched up her face. "What's an old sleeping bag doing in the there?"
sat on his heels, rested his forearms on his knees and opened and
closed his fists. He stared off across the lake and thought about
copper-haired Emily and their afternoon trips to the island last
summer. Now she wouldn’t answer his texts, wouldn’t meet his eyes as he
called out to her across the hallway at school.
"Look, I'll be right back. I want to go get it while it's still light out."
"I'm coming." Jackie began to get up.
"No." The word came out stronger than he meant. He didn't want to say she'd slow them down, but they both knew it.
"Stay by the fire and keep warm." He sprinted toward the woods.
had been born with a defect. A congenital disorder or limb anomaly were
ways it had been described. But basically she limped and couldn't
participate in most sports. Their mom shadowed Jackie, fetched things,
drove her everywhere, pushed her in a stroller through the mall until
she was seven and Sam pleaded with her to stop. Their dad coaxed and
demanded Jackie walk the five blocks to school, taught her to ride a
bike, never carried her. Eventually, their parent’s differences evolved
into so much more than how to raise Jackie. Each evening their
bickering expanded into yelling matches. Sam would lean against his
bedroom door and listen and wonder how much longer their family would
remain whole and unbroken.
A few months later their dad
gripped a duffel bag in one hand and gently rapped on Jackie’s locked
door with the other. He lingered for an hour begging her for a kiss, a
hug, promising her he’d see her soon. It had been painful enough for
Sam, but for Jackie, her champion was abandoning her.
their dad had settled into his new townhouse an hour’s drive away, Sam
and Jackie went for the weekend. He treated them to Chinese take-out.
Sam and his dad laughed as they stabbed chopsticks into fried rice and
cracked open fortune cookies in search of bright futures. Jackie
retrieved a fork and refused her cookie.
“How’s third grade treating you?” their dad asked. She shrugged and stared at her plate.
“She’s doing the spelling bee next week. She’s going to win,” Sam said proudly.
took her plate to the living room and turned on the TV. “Only the
Disney channel, sweetie,” their dad called out. The din of canned
laughter drifted back.
The next morning she
sat huddled on the front steps, arms wrapped around her skinny legs,
feet tapping furiously, waiting for their mother to arrive. “You could
stay one more day with me and dad.” Sam stood behind her, holding her
backpack. Next door a dog barked at two small children as they
roller-skated up and down their driveway. Jackie didn’t seem to notice.
Sam set the backpack down and went inside. A fissure had begun to split
open inside his heart. And with each solitary trip he made to visit
their dad, it would deepen; become a complicated mixture of guilt and
When Jackie turned eight, their dad
sent her a birthday card. On the front, a white puppy chewed a piece of
chocolate cake. Inside it read ‘Have your cake and eat it too.’
Below the words, her father wrote: Battle on, I miss you Jackie-o. I’d
love to talk to you next time I call. Love, Dad. He also sent a small
package. Inside was a pink ceramic jewelry box, the kind that opens and
a tiny ballerina pops up and twirls around and music plays. Sam smiled
at the gift.
“I don’t have any jewelry,” Jackie had said, her words cutting through the space between them.
“You should talk to him once in a while. He misses you.”
threw the card and the jewelry box in the garbage pail. After she left
the kitchen, he pulled them both out thinking someday she’d be sorry,
someday she’d understand.
Sam returned to
the beach with the sleeping bag. He shook out the dirt and wrapped it
around his sister’s shoulders. He fed the fire and slumped down in the
sand. She poked a stick at the ash scattering out from beneath the
flames. Above them the night had become black and thick and held them
like hostages in the precious silence.
“Sorry about your fishing pole.” Her voice was thin, like air rushing through a hollow reed.
never apologized for anything. Privileged due to defect, Sam had always
reasoned. It had been a spiteful thing to do, letting it go, watching
it drift out of reach. But he understood the brief moment of power she
must have surrendered to.
“It was pretty rough out there. Don’t worry about it. Don’t have a fishing boat to fish with anyway now.”
pulled some long strands of twine from a zippered jacket pocket and
began to loop and tie the ends together. He’d taught her all the knots
he’d learned years ago in boy scouts and now she repeated them in front
of the TV or at the kitchen table in between math problems.
I’m just sorry you were with me when the boat sank.” He got up and bent
over her, rubbing her arms hard to warm her up. “You warm enough?”
“Fisherman’s eye.” She held up the complex twisting of the twine and smiled proudly.
“Perfect as usual.”
He sat back down and tossed small stones into the fire. “Those Bronson kids been bothering you at school lately?”
“I can take care of myself.”
“I know. I was just curious.”
She unraveled the twine and began another knot.
always sat alone when he picked her up from school, a long stretch of
playground away from joyful clusters of children. But she appeared
content with her solitude, as if she never expected anything else. Each
day, Sam thought, she absorbed life’s little inequities and
transgressions and in some ways it had rendered her uncaring, and
“Hey, how come Kit hasn’t been around lately?”
looked at him, her face working at trying to figure something out. “She
only came that one time so I could help her with some homework. Her mom
made her.” She went back to her knot, eyes focused, front teeth chewing
her lower lip.
Long shadows crept out from
the flames, wrapping around Jackie like crooked fingers. The fire’s
glow intensified her pale skin and hollow eyes, the sleeping bag
billowed slightly in the wind, the corners lifting up from her legs.
Her fragility ascended all around her like floodwaters; streaming
currents Sam was always struggling to keep at bay.
familiar burden of love and responsibility for his little sister came
rushing up before him. They were a constant vice around his heart,
sweet and ferocious, and he didn’t know, didn’t want to know, how to
turn them off.
“So why’d you quit? The question startled him. She rarely asked about his life.
“The football team. Why’d you quit?” She insisted.
night Sam missed his first football practice, his mother silently added
another plate to the table. Jackie peered at him over her glass of
milk. "What are you doing here?" she asked him, as if he didn't belong
at the battered wood table where they ate their meals. Sam shrugged and
shoved a spoonful of mashed potatoes into his mouth. "Not playing
anymore." He felt his mother’s eyes on him as if at any moment he
might break apart into tiny pieces she wouldn’t be able to reconstruct.
truth was simple, but there were things Jackie and his mother didn’t
need to know. At the end of summer, some of his friends pilfered
fireworks from their parents stash: spinners, fountains and cherry
bombs. They blew up a couple of mailboxes. Sam watched. Later they
invited some cheerleaders to a beach. When a few of the boys got pushy
with the girls, Sam pulled them away and hurried them into his pickup.
A couple of his buddies shoved Sam against the truck. He shoved back
and doled out a black eye and contusions to the quarterback. They’d
been friends since kindergarten. When school began, his former friends
shunned him on the quad at lunch and taunted him at football practice.
Sam pretended not to care.
Now, when Sam still didn't answer, Jackie tried again. "I wanted to come to your games but Mom could never bring me".
"I know," Sam said gently.
"Those guys you used to hang out with, they’re not nice you know. "
"They weren’t always that way.” A sharp sadness hung beneath his ribs. Emily wasn’t the only one not texting him anymore.
“You didn’t do those things I heard about, did you?”
“Things.” She shrugged and pushed her glasses back up the bridge of her nose. “They say some of them drowned the Millers cat.”
The fire snapped and popped. Cricket chatter rose and hung in the air like a machine breathing.
“Well, I don’t hang out with them anymore.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“Why are you sorry?”
“Because you thought they were your friends.”
were. But not anymore.” He stood and jabbed at the fire with a long
branch, moved some burning logs around exposing bright red embers of
“That’s good.” She looked at him and nodded her head, as if giving her approval.
Out across the water red and blue dots of light appeared, splintering against the blackness.
“Look. It's Mom. I told you.”
kneeled down next to Jackie and motioned her to climb onto his back.
She obliged. He trotted down to the surf where they peered into the
darkness and watched the boat lights grow brighter. She slid from his
back and they stood side by side, the cold night air stinging their
skin. He held her hand in his and took a deep breath.
“I'm moving in with Dad.”
squeezed her hand but she yanked it away and shuffled back to the fire.
He followed, sat close but said nothing. Finally he touched her chin
and turned her face toward him. She wore a look of surrender and
something in her eyes had receded, as if she'd been expecting this.
“Come visit. Dad misses you. So much.”
mouth opened, wordless. She put her hand in his and he curled his arm
around his little sister. He watched the lights approach, glide closer,
heard their Mother’s cry of relief. He felt the hot light of the
fire shimmer and snap across his skin.
graduated from the University of California at Santa Barbara with a
degree in Economics. She has since traded in her spreadsheets for
notebooks filled with rewrites. She resides in Manhattan Beach,
California with her loving husband and two teenage children. In between
dreaming up stories, she ferries her two dogs to local hospitals and
brings smiles to the patients and staff. Her work has appeared in
several on-line literary journals.
to the Top
by Joe Fleck
She was wearing that red sweater again.
For some reason I had the feeling that everybody owned one.
dragging myself into the classroom and noticing that some things seem
more real than others. Sit down in the back of the room. Unzip my
backpack. Pull out my notebook. It’s strange to think that I might not
actually be doing any of these actions. I might be laying in bed back
over the bridge just dreaming it all up.
I know who’s to blame for all of this.
always wearing a red sweater. He’s the one that took those sunglasses
off of his face and gave them to me, telling me that I had to become
the thing I fear in order to defeat it. I should have known that he was
only quoting Star Wars. And he’s talking to me on the hill of the old
elementary school playground, dragging that cigarette from his mouth
like he’s James Fucking Bond. I don’t know why I listen to him.
They say that a good way to determine whether or not you’re dreaming is if you can remember how you got to where you are.
never went to that playground. At least, not until the girl with the
scheming smile and the old camera was there. I told her about the red
sweater. I told her about the black boots that he wore because
“everybody needs a defining image”. I told her about the wise-sounding
words that he rambled to me day and night. But she didn’t help me. She
doesn’t realize that this shadowy figure hiding behind dark sunglasses,
the one to blame for every mistake people think that I’ve made, is
always lurking somewhere in that neighborhood.
He probably knows that I talked to her.
was probably watching from across the street, laughing to himself as he
flicked his cigarette butt over the fence. I could always identify the
smell of his cigarettes. I never figured out what the brand was. He
bought the expensive kind, with smoke that smelled like an old black
and white film. He told me that paying more for something useless meant
that you were powerful enough to be wasteful. He said it was a sign of
strength, not a sign of weakness.
I rolled my eyes and hoped that he got lung cancer.
in class, the teacher is talking about RNA. It seems unreasonable that
this microscopic cell has any idea what it’s doing. Why is the teacher
saying that the RNA just knows to deliver the genetic information? Why
is the teacher saying that the cell knows when to split in two? It’s
doesn’t have a brain. It’s what’s making the brain. I’m finding this so
unreasonable that maybe I really am dreaming. I take notes anyway.
You know that your insomnia is bad when you can fake lucidity this well.
turned the volume down on the universe. It’s like I’m listening to that
faint music they play in Fred Meyer, and all you can hear is the
occasional Audioslave breakdown or a Led Zeppelin wail. Everything else
is lost in the buzz that is my inoperative mind. Words that should make
sense don’t. Words describing impossible things must be true.
She liked my new pair of sunglasses.
doesn’t understand why I’m shaking my head every time I see a red
sweater. She can’t comprehend why I swear at the mention of Thursdays.
I’m trying to tell myself that all of those late nights I stayed on
Skype with nothing to do but listen to his stupid rants about how to
live were just my imagination.
I’m hoping that I dreamt it up.
is just a giant puzzle, he tells me. You’re good at those. You’ll
figure it out. Pop some melatonin and try to tell yourself a story. A
story that just might turn into a dream if you think about it hard
enough. Just pretend that you’re really there. But I am really there.
This dream isn’t some story that I’m telling myself. This is a memory.
I can remember it too clearly. Are these even my memories anymore?
He wanted me to get rid of her.
gave me his sunglasses so I could wear them myself. Become the thing
that I was trying to defeat. It’s just a stupid metaphor, but I suppose
mind games come easy to me. They always have. There’s nothing unusual
about the red sweaters. There’s no conspiracy. It’s not like wearing a
red sweater is a sign that you’re friends with him, right?
I tell myself the same thing about the smell of those cigarettes.
Portland. Half of my high school smokes. It’s just chance that I’ve
caught four different people puffing out the same smell that reminds me
of him. The smell that reminds me of the words that roll off of his
tongue as if he’s speaking the word of God. He can’t be that smart.
He’s probably just quoting philosophers without a clue what he’s
I suppose his confidence is the only reason I listened.
is out of order. Everything is a mile away. The teacher keeps talking
but for all I know this is yesterday’s lecture being replayed in my
unconscious mind. It’s hard to keep track of what’s happening when your
past is just a little different every morning. Has the insomnia made me
forgetful, or has it made me smarter than I ever was before? He
probably would have told me it was an improvement.
Everything I did wrong was an improvement.
I smashed the sunglasses with a hammer.
was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. He recently graduated
from Western Washington University with degrees in Math and Psychology.
For more of his work, visit fleckfleck.com.Back
to the Top
by Christopher James
going to bed at eight to wake up at five, I got a message at four
telling me the meeting was cancelled. I woke up at five anyway,
determined to do something productive with the unexpected day off work.
went for a walk, heading in the direction of the sunrise, and ended up
bathed in milky morning light in a part of town I didn’t know, tired
suddenly of walking. A coffee shop was opening for the day, its metal
shutter lifted in front of me from half-mast to full mast. A pretty
waitress with a black apron wrapped sideways around one hip emerged to
leave laminated menus on the green curlicue outside tables. I took a
seat and asked for a black coffee and a slice of good cake.
“Cheese or chocolate?” she asked. She had a lovely, lazy, Friday morning smile.
“I shouldn’t. I’m on a diet. Which is better?”
“They’re both delicious. The chef’s French. From France.”
“Hang it,” I said. “One of each.”
the street was a bank, and when the waitress left a plate with two
slices of cake on my table, an armored van pulled up. A guard, his hat
askew, not even trying to hide his tiredness, left the passenger seat
and walked round back to open the rear door. There was another guard,
also sleepy, inside the van, and he was armed. It was an odd time for
them to be picking money up, at the beginning of the day, so I assumed
they were there to be dropping money off. They went to knock on the
door to the bank, leaving the back of the van apparently unattended.
What I wouldn’t give to walk over there now and snatch a couple bags of
cash. Might never need work again. Move to some country where they
can’t arrest you and live the good life, sipping margaritas in the sun.
“If I robbed that van,” I said to the waitress, “would you run away with me to Madagascar?”
knight in shining armor,” she said, tapping my shoulders with her
notebook and pen. “It’s a date.” And she tossed me a wink before
meandering off to polish glasses.
Jeff called, no doubt keen to save me from a life of crime. “Where are you?” he hissed into the phone. “We’re starting.”
“Are you kidding me? I got a message at four saying the meeting was off.”
“Well it’s back on. Hurry up and get your ass in here.”
“Would have been nice if someone had let me know.”
“I’m letting you know now. Get a move on.”
left the cake, the coffee and a tip, the bank, the armored van, the
pretty waitress and wealthy exile, and went to work. But, not even a
minute down the road, I stopped, and thought Hang that too.
lives, works and writes in Jakarta, Indonesia, and has been published
in the Tin House blog, McSweeney's and the Smokelong Ten Year
Anthology, among other places.
to the Top
by Jay Hodgkins
How we get down
Pete’s ‘We Are the 1% Party’ got a little bit out of hand last night.
Cristal Beirut. Belvedere Unfiltered Jello shots (for the ladies,
natch). Johnny Walker Blue. Ice luge. Hot new interns (dude interns not
invited, natch). Anorexic models. Spin the bottle. Fuck the bottle.
Prude intern exit stage left. Anorexic transvestite model. Fist fight.
Lines of coke. Eli Manning. Lines of coke with Eli Manning. Bad head:
non-prude hot intern. Puke on non-prude hot intern. Exit stage left.
Good head: anorexic transvestite model. 4:30 a.m.: pass out. 5:15 a.m.:
alarm. 5:33 a.m.: break alarm. Shit-shower-shave. Visine. Advil. More
Visine. Boot coked-up models (tranvestite and original recipe). Depart
Tribeca bachelor pad. Red Bull. 5:59 a.m.: arrive at office.
Not bad for a Wednesday night.
lives for this shit. The last time he showed up at work this bombed,
Ron Chancellor called him into his office. Ron was starting up a new
division – Innovative Investments – and he wanted DP to be his lead
dog, his general in the field.
Ron: “So what do you say, DP? You game?”
DP: “Who are you talking to, boss? Fuck yeah I’m game.”
was a legend at Goldlynch. You don’t turn that dude down when he comes
calling. And Innovative Investments was like nothing the bank had ever
done. No limitations. No asset classifications. Most important, no
questions. Mission: max returns. The recession was over, investors were
tired of conservative bullshit, asset-backed securities were dead.
Goldlynch needed to invent a new game to keep their good name as the
smartest guys in the room. Innovative Investments was it.
you are a tremendous dickhead,” Ron said. “But you’ve got the touch.
You shit money. Pick your team. You get a blank check this quarter. Get
me 15 percent-plus returns and you get another one next quarter. See
how we play this game?”
DP bears off Wall
Street into the dazzling new $2.6 billion Morclays Goldlynch & Co.
headquarters. Great building, slow fucking elevator. Red Bull No. 2.
hipster chick at bar wearing hackneyed square-frame glasses who wanted
the D: “So why do they call you Dickhead Pete? Is it because it rhymes
DP: “No. It’s because I’m a giant fucking dickhead. Are you that retarded?”
SHCABWHS-FGWWTD: “Can we go back to your place?”
“Fine. But if you open your mouth while I’m in you, I will donkey punch
you. And if you give me an STD, I will hire a fucking hit man and he
will kill you.”
Good times. Memories are the best.
arrives at Floor 57. Outstanding view of Zuccoti Park and Ground Zero
Memorial. Mr. Mayor: Excellent decision allowing Morclays Goldlynch to
bulldoze the old Trinity Church to build this state-of-the-art
financial palace of the gods. About time the real estate went to good
use. 9-11 first responder memorial crybabies: Suck it.
a busy morning. Peruse financial headlines. Minesweeper. Sext exposed
penis to girlfriend. Then time to get his game face on. Ron’s coming to
sit in on the team’s quarterly investment vetting meeting. The crew hit
43% ROI in quarter one. Make it rain, bitches! 37% in quarter two. 16%
in quarter three. Oops. Now Ron is concerned.
DP is not. DP
will own Ron. That’s because Ron is not going to be the smartest guy in
the room. Actually, Chinkbait – birth name Bao-Zi Chang – will be the
smartest guy in the room. That’s why DP handpicked him for the team,
der, but he can’t speak English for shit. Ipso facto, DP will be acting
smartest guy in the room.
Meet the band
is 7 minutes early, arms failing under a 2-foot stack of Powerpoints,
financials, SWOT analyses and additional investment criteria. DP is
still in the execution phase of sexting picture of erect penis to
“Get the fuck out of my office, Chinkbait. Out. Out.
Out. Didn’t I say if you came to another one of my meetings early, I’d
hire a hit man to poison your fried rice? Sit in the fucking hall and
do not come in until the entire A-Team is assembled.”
late: Enter Jack Whipple Chesterfield IV, an inbred Cape Cod WASP if
there ever was. Great lacrosse player. Not surprisingly, Grampa
Chesterfield bought Whip’s way into Harvard. Not surprisingly, he
flunked out. Landed at Brown. Shame of the family. Raged like no intern
before him so even though he’s not really A-Team material, DP brought
3 min. late: Enter Marcus Smart. Sample size not
statistically significant, but presented strong anecdotal evidence at
the party last night that black dicks really are bigger.
late: Enter Tony Baloney – birth name Antonio Cacciatore, aka The
Hunter. Wops are notoriously shit bankers, but notoriously clutch at
charming the panties off anyone. That’s what The Hunter does. Chinkbait
does the research and crunches numbers. Marcus analyzes the market,
bullshit tests the strategy and vision. DP, natch, makes the final call
on if and how much to invest. Whip is the new kid so he follows the
money, sounds the alarm when investments are in danger of missing their
mark. The Hunter, though, he’s the key. Most Innovative Investment
targets don’t know they’re targets. They don’t even know Wall Street
knows they exist. The
Hunter goes in with DP for the
face-to-face. Plenty resist. They’ve heard bad things about letting
Wall Street in. The Hunter charms their panties off. They sell their
soul. Works every time.
14 min. 1 sec. late: Re-enter Chinkbait.
A-Team assembles at the custom burr oak hyform boardroom table in DP’s
office. It is now covered with coffee cups, papers, black leather
attaché briefcases, and bottles of prescription drugs for headache and
By the way, the entire crew threw down at the 1% bash
last night. They all entered DP’s office looking like hell. Not even
official Wall Street kit – fitted black suit, black tie, black patent
leather shoes shined daily, custom-fitted designer white shirt with
forward-point collar – can save them.
walked into an A-Team meeting with a custom-fitted designer white shirt
with English spread collar. Whip’s mouth fell open. He looked offended.
The horror in his eyes implied the words of 16 generations of
Chesterfields: You can teach a negro all the tricks to play, but they
will never really understand the game.
DP: “My God, Marcus, are you wearing an English spread collar?”
Marcus: “I don’t know. It’s a collar.”
“Marcus, isn’t it hard enough being a black dude on Wall Street? Go
home and put on a proper shirt. Seriously, get the fuck out of here.
Go. Try not to let anyone see you.” Back to the present. Everyone felt
like shit. Except Chinkbait. He gets really red and sketchy and starts
reciting poems about orchids and cherry blossoms when he’s drunk, so DP
locked him in his home office with a baggie of coke and told him to
crunch numbers all night.
“ Chinkbait, why the fuck are you so
late?” DP says. “I swear, I will fire your ass and replace you with a
new Asian so goddamn fast. Do you know how many Chinamen can do math?
Like a billion, dude. Tell the A-Team you’re sorry for your
“ I’m not Chinese. My family is from Taiwan. I was born in Piscataway.”
“ Oh, you did it now, Chinkbait. That’s it. Whip, call Princeton and tell them I need a new Asian math genius.”
“ I’m sorry for my insubordination, everybody.”
“ Say it right!”
“ Me so sorry for insoobohdination, everybody.”
“ That’s better. Now we can all start to heal.”
Make money money, make money money money
want nothing but solid gold bangers today, men. My buzz is fading, I’ve
got a raging hangover and Ron’s here in 15 minutes. Show me the money,
fuckers. Marcus, you first.”
“Whizzinator. The guys who make
prosthetic dicks and synthetic urine so you can pass drug tests. They
can’t keep up with demand in Colorado and Washington and they need a
cash infusion. Courts in both states have already ruled employers can
fire you for recreational marijuana use, even though it’s legal now.
Those rulings will take 2 to 3 years to reverse. Projections show 500%
growth in Colorado for the next 24 months, low triple-digit growth in
Washington and 10 to 15% growth in other markets. Chang says we double
our money on a $10 million investment by year-end.”
“Good stuff, Marcus. Small potatoes, but we need small potatoes, too. Whip, speak.”
old bro from Harvard is down in Charlotte at Bank of America and he
says this new fast food joint called Deep Frys is blowing up.
Basically, they just dip everything in this dope batter and deep fry it
in peanut oil. Chicken. Even livers and hearts and shit. Hamburgers.
Pickles. Cheesecake. Oreos. Pizza. It’s a fucking heart attack on a
plate, but I hear it’s bangin. They’ve got this deal where you can
bring in anything, I mean, anything, and they’ll deep fry it for you
for 5 bucks. My hombre says he makes BoA junior analysts eat fried shoe
leather as initiation. There are 5 Deep Frys now, but Marcus dug around
and found out they’re trying to expand.”
“Tempting. Marcus, what’s the plan?” DP pops two Percocets, scratches his balls.
Frys ownership wants to hit 20 new locations next year – Raleigh,
Charleston, Atlanta, Columbia, Savannah, Tallahassee – then franchise
out another 50 by end of 2015. I think they can do at least 30
corporate-owned and 100 franchises in that time. What can I say? My
niggas be lovin fried shit. Somebody finally said fuck this fake ass
health food fad and decided to exploit it. Shamelessly. They’re
probably still regional on the 5-year horizon, but they can be national
“Fuck me. Whip, you might have some of your old man’s
stuff yet. I thought you were operating on 46 retarded chromosomes.
Let’s make sure they follow our aggressive growth scenario. Goldlynch
is going into the fast-food business. Chinkbait, go.”
“In China, solar panel manufacturers are in big trouble. But I see a new opportunity...”
God damn it. No. No. No. Do I really have to say this? We’re not going
into manufacturing. Business fucking 101, Chinkbait. Manufacturing
equals low margins.”
“No, DP. Please listen.”
“If you want me to listen, Chinkbait …”
Prease risten. We no invest in China. I hate China. U.S. make a new 31%
import tariff on Chinese sorar parts. So now Chinese send parts to
Taiwan and Taiwan import to America. Duty free. Taiwanese shippers say,
ok Chinese asshole, we charge you equivarent of 25% import tariff.
China say that cheaper than real tariff. We can do undercut of American
panuhs fo’ sho’, my niggas. Okey dokey, Taiwan, we shake hand.”
That’s genius. Taiwanese shippers have an entire new industry falling
at their feet. High margins are locked in by the U.S. import tariff
rate. They need help expanding shipping capacity to take on the new
“Yes, that’s right.”
“I take back everything bad I
ever said about you, Chinkbait. Do you want a blow job? Seriously, I
will put your tiny Asian penis in my mouth right now and blow you.” DP
gets on his knees and tries to unbuckle Chinkbait’s Armani belt.
Chinkbait squirms uncomfortably trying to escape.
“Ey, don’t yoos guys want to know my find?”
DP releases Chinkbait.
You went to Rutgers. Investment thesises aren’t really your thing.
Let’s stick with what we’re good at. Stay in our lanes, ok?”
“Seriously, come on, bro. I got a good find. Hear me out.”
considers. Ron will be there in three minutes. “Share that coke stashed
in your pocket with the whole A-team, then you can tell us.” Tony
disgorges a baggie of coke from the inside pocket of his suit jacket
onto the burr oak hyform boardroom table, then cuts it into five lines
with his platinum American Express.
Cult ritual. The A-Team
stands over their lines and waits for DP’s signal to initiate launch.
Wait for it. Wait. “Thundercats, ho!” DP plunges in.
was a hot shit newbie in i-banking at his first big Goldlynch social.
He and DP were already deep in a budding bromance after an all-nighter
at the Penthouse Executive Club (stripper giving double handy in the
champagne room: 100 bucks. Coworker bonding: priceless). They were both
square-jawed bad asses. Between Tony’s tall, dark and handsome and DP’s
Aryan blond and blue, they had the market covered for ladies cruising
for the D. Tony was (and is) an animal. Fucking Jersey Shore guido. No
Wired from a coke binge, Tony walked this managing
director of equity research into the men’s bathroom. She was smoking
hot. DP had already been there, done that, hit it and quit it. Ditched
her when she started getting obsessed. Problem: Tony’s situational
analysis was less than ideal. The club was super swank. Not the type of
place you bang ladies in the shitter, particularly when the entire
C-suite is there sipping on Scotch or Bordeaux. The analyst was also
going through a nasty divorce (recourse for habitual DP fucking). She
was blackout drunk. She stumbled behind Tony into the bathroom stall
and then promptly passed out. He fucked her anyway.
wake her up when he was done so he went and got DP to help him out of
the pickle. DP looked in the stall and saw the analyst from a familiar
angle: ass up, panties down. Her body was propped over the shitter.
Tony hadn’t bothered to wipe his grand finale off the back of her
blouse. Wouldn’t you know it, she came to right at that moment and
assessed the situation as only an equity analyst can.
Analyst: “Tony, you fucking asshole. You raped me. You raped me. Oh my God, you fucking raped me.” Tears. Drama. DP had to act.
“No, no, baby. You and Tony didn’t do anything. It was you and me. We
just made love. You got dizzy and passed out and Tony came to help me.
I didn’t know what to do.”
Analyst: “Wait. You and me? Us?” She
pulled up her thong and skirt. Ebbing sobs. Dazed confusion. Emerging
glint of happiness. DP looks at her like she’s pathetic. She infers
“You’ve got great tits, hon,” DP said when she showed
up at his office the next day acting like his girlfriend, “but there’s
no us.” Word spread through headquarters that DP tricked a divorcee
research analyst into believing they were an item so he could bang her
in a bathroom at the company social. And that is how Pete became known
as Dickhead Pete. Kind of like the queers, he beat the derogatory
slight by owning it. Boy, did he own it.
Good times. Back to the present.
was on a bar crawl with my buddy from RBS the other night,” Tony
starts, wiping his nose clean. “He was telling me he was onto something
big, but the new Ethical Investments Review Board that RBS started
after mortgage-backed securities imploded put the kibosh on it.
“Time is money, Tones,” DP says. “Come on, buddy. Sell me.”
Ok. He didn’t want to tell me what it was, but I says, ‘Ey, Luther,
it’s me. Tony Baloney. If yoos can’t tell me, who can you tell?
Besides, sounds like those fucks don’t appreciate you no ways so why
don’t you tell me what you’re on to and maybe I can talk to somebody at
Goldlynch about getting you some proper recognition.’ Yeah, buddy, that
tickled his taint. So here it is: Water-free wheat.” Tony puts his
hands behind his head and leans back. Everyone stares at him.
“What do you mean water-free wheat?” Whip says.
wheat that doesn’t need water to grow.” Marcus pops two Advil and
chases them with coffee. His foot starts tapping frenetically. “The
holy grail of a water-starved world. Africa’s salvation. The end of
“How?” Dickhead Pete says. “Fuck how. Who? When?”
not totally water free, but almost,” Tony says. “The seed sprouts
tubers or some shit. They suck up any moisture and feed the plant until
the wheat’s ready to harvest. Some bootstrap small-time R&D lab out
in the San Joaquin Valley figured it out. Called G-Crop Biosciences
Corp. Traded over the counter. Ticker’s GCB on the pink sheets. Word my
guy at RBS got is that Monsanto is moving fast. They’ll probably have
an acquisition by the end of this weekend. Merger Monday, baby.”
“So RBS dropped out because they’re worried about insider trading? Stupid. No one can prove that shit.”
just insider trading, bro. I didn’t tell you the catch. G-Crop’s been
testing the wheat on rats. Three different trials. Every one ended up
with rats full of cancer. Rapid effect, too. Tumors start showing up in
a few months. RBS didn’t bite because when Monsanto buys G-Crop,
they’re planning on folding the water-free wheat into a GMO wheat
program that’s already FDA approved. They’re taking it straight to
“Damn, that’s cold,” Marcus says.
“That’s easy money,” DP says. “Chinkbait, what’s GCB trading?”
“One dollar forty-five cents per share.”
“How much do we see Monsanto paying? Give it to me kung pao style, son.”
five year cash frow vayooation, conservative market base case scenario:
$12 to $15 birr…birr…bilrion. That over one-hundred dorrah per share.”
God, Chinkbait, I think you just made me cum in my pants. Tony, I want
you to buy every fucking share of GCB you can get before market close
tomorrow. Once the cancer cases hit, nobody’s going to look at us for
insider trading. We get the cash from the Monsanto buyout and our hands
Ron gets served
shadow appears behind the frosted glass outside DP’s office. He comes
in sporting mock tortoiseshell horn-rimmed glasses, blue print tie and
red suspenders. What a dinosaur. An aging monarch trying to defend the
kingdom being taken right from under him. This is going to require a
deft touch. DP tees him up with the Taiwan shipping scheme.
“Arbitrage play, pure and simple. Love it. What else you got?”
hits him with the Deep Frys franchise plan. The projections blow him
away. Ron requests Whip procure him a fried dog turd. He has a score to
settle with a neighbor in the Hamptons.
Whizzinator. Ron’s a
little sketched out. But if the numbers work, go for it, he says, “I
guess.” But Whizzinator looks like investing in Disney after they
explain the G-Crop play.
“What the fuck is wrong with you kids? No. That’s insane.”
Ron, you told me to pick my team. You said blank check. No questions
asked. This deal is huge. Just look the other way. You can’t take the
fall for us. That’s how we’re set up.”
“But all those African kids. Cancer.”
fuck’s sake, Ron. You used to be a rock star. Don’t you want to get
paid? Keep your wife happy? Buy her some nice new things? Tiffany’s
isn’t getting cheaper.”
Ron thumbs his suspenders stupidly for a moment. The A-Team stares at him, fidgety from the coke.
“Just hit your fucking numbers. This meeting never happened.” Old King Ron stands, defeated, and leaves the battlefield.
“We’ll do more than hit our numbers, Ronald. It’s on like Donkey Kong.”
The door clicks shut. High fives all around.
“Boys, we’re about to make history. Let’s call it a day and hit The Dead Rabbit. We’ve made Goldlynch enough money today.
Picture us rollin’
power lunch. Bloody Marys. Jaeger bombs. Red Bull and vodka. Chinkbait
red face. Orchid and cherry blossom poems. Wrestling. Broken glasses.
Angry manager. Exit stage left. Sing Sing Karaoke Bar. Tony: Money
(That’s What I Want), The Flying Monkeys. Chinkbait: Material Girl,
Madonna. Whip: Money for Nothing, Dire Straights. Marcus: Mo’ Money,
Mo’ Problems, Notorious B.I.G.
Dickhead Pete: Real American (Hulk Hogan theme song), Rick Derringer.
Executive Club. Lap dances. Hand job request denied. Strike 1. Attempt
to insert silver dollar in stripper’s anus. Strike 2. Puke on stripper.
Strike 3. Exit stage left. Hipster bar. Hipster fight. Grossly
outnumbered. Black eyes. Broken rib. Taxi cab to Indian casino. DP
down. DP way down. DP really, really down. Roulette wheel: one spin,
$10,000 bet. Always bet on black. DP back up. Procure coke. Procure
drunk college chicks. Procure finest Indian casino suite. Additional
coke and alcohol abuse. Group sex. Ugly girl insults small Chinkbait
manhood. Fight. Security. Girls leave. Return taxi to Manhattan.
Shit-shower-shave. Change. Return to work.
Postscript for moralistic pussies who require blatantly didactic endings:
will the A-Team get its come-uppance? Will fate, karma, and the
wrathful morality of God or mankind show these bankers the consequences
of their folly? If you think so, you haven’t been watching the world
very closely. You will never be the smartest guy in the room.
But you want to know. Fine, let’s look into the future.
4 ROI: 116%. Outsize bonuses, bitches! The team makes a mint on the
G-Crop insider trading deal. Water-free wheat gets pulled off the
market in 2016 due to increasing evidence it is behind a third-world
cancer epidemic. Monsanto settles with victims for the bargain price of
$35 billion. Its stock goes up 19% the day the settlement is announced.
Everyone assumed they were toast. Thank their lucky stars Africans have
Year 2 ROI: 44%. Year 3 ROI: 39%. Year 4 ROI:
negative 1,087%, resulting in a corporate write off of $17.8 billion.
The Flash Depression of 2017 sinks Innovative Investments and nearly
sinks all of Morclays Goldlynch. It doesn’t sink the A-Team. They are
long gone. Someone else is left caught holding their bag of shit.
went uptown to join HS-TD Citiwells. Shitty bank, good decision. Marcus
had the goods, but you don’t move up at Goldlynch unless you’re a Jew
or a WASP.
Whip got shot. No, it’s not like that. This isn’t
“Gangs of New York.” He was shooting clay pigeons at his parent’s
country house in New Hampshire. One of his old Harvard lax buddies was
tripping balls and thought he was a giant eagle. Shot him dead in the
face. Birdshot punched out his eyes. He’s now the first blind professor
of finance at Brown. Still shame of the family. He teaches an annual
case study on Deep Frys, now the third largest American fast food
corporation. America’s obesity rate crosses 35% for the first time by
the end of the decade.
Tony got arrested and charged with rape.
Doesn’t matter. Best lawyer money can buy. He got off. He’s now
executive director of Goldlynch’s personal wealth management division.
Chinkbait turned traitor. He sued Dickhead Pete and
Goldlynch for millions, claiming a hostile work environment, racial
discrimination, and psychological pain and suffering. This was a poorly
thought out move. Chinkbait was a math whiz, not a strategy guy. Video
tapes of him soliciting prostitutes were anonymously furnished to the
police. Bao-Zi Chang’s was quietly deported to Taiwan. DP knew that
“born in Piscataway” story was bullshit. He currently serves as Vice
President of Logistics for Taiwan Ship Co.
Did the Chinkbait
fiasco sink Dickhead Pete’s career? If you think so, you’re still not
learning. Dickhead Pete makes the money. The man who makes the money is
not the man who takes the fall. Need proof? See 5,000-plus years of
recorded human history. The golden child shall reign all his days.
short fiction has appeared in Oblong Magazine, Pythia Journal, and the
Eunoia Review. You can read more at www.jayhodgkins.com or follow him
on Twitter @JayPHodgkins. He has worked as a speechwriter and
journalist for more than a decade. He holds an M.Sc. in creative
writing from the University of Edinburgh and a B.Sc. in commerce from
the University of Virginia.
to the Top
Dawn in the West
by Andrew Hogan
clunky engine sputtered to a stop in front of Frank Tombe’s house. He
raised his head from the armrest of the sofa where he had been sleeping
off last night’s hangover. Frank nearly gagged on the fragrance of the
lilacs floating in through the living room window. A loud booming
noise, like a large metal ball slowly descending the staircase, hitting
each step with a thunderous blow, came closer and closer. Then a
megaphone blared in his ears, “Frank, I’m leaving.”
stood in the doorway of the living room. She set down one of the two
large suitcases she’d dragged down the stairs and picked up the photo
Frank had taken fourteen years ago at the Socorro County Fair of their
son William in his cowboy outfit. “And I am taking this with me.”
tried to speak, but his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. He got
out a “Nnngh,” but by this time the cab driver had loaded Harriet’s
suitcases in the trunk and opened the rear passenger door. Frank looked
at the clock on the mantle -- 9:45. The train from Socorro to
Albuquerque would be leaving at 10:30.
Should I try to stop her?
Frank thought. He tried to sit up, but a large rubber band snapped
around his head. Last night he had tried to explain to her again.
this was the last time I’ll need to go to White Oaks. Everything’s set
now.” Frank lied; actually he needed to go one more time.
said that the last time, Frank, and here you are drunk again. I’m
finished,” Harriet said. “First Billy, now you. We have nothing left,
Frank laid back on the armrest. He’d rest a little longer before going to the train station to stop Harriet from leaving.
was one in the afternoon, and, still shaky, Frank decided to drive,
rather than walk, to school. A little hair of the dog would have
helped, but he didn’t want the smell of alcohol on his breath. Frank
pulled his car into a faculty parking space next to Cramer Hall on the
campus of the New Mexico School of Mines. Most of the parking spaces
were empty. Spring classes were finished. Unlike Frank, most faculty
members had already handed in their final grades.
the parking lot hadn’t been full for more than three years now. Most of
the students had been drafted, as had three of the younger faculty
members. Admitting female students had helped keep enrollments up.
Sarah Feinburg had joined the faculty as an adjunct to help teach the
organic chemistry course after Sam Weatherton was killed in Italy.
was all about to change. Germany had surrendered, and the Japanese were
on their last legs, waiting for an American invasion. The department
had already hired Richard Pugh as the unlucky thirteenth member of the
faculty, and student applications were flooding in from newly
discharged soldiers ready to go back to school under the GI Bill. There
was a heightened interest in New Mexico uranium mining, and rumor had
it that something earthshaking was about to happen over at White Sands.
Molly was sitting at her desk in front of the chairman’s
office. As soon as she spotted Frank, she called out: “Dr. Mitchell
wants to see you right away.”
Frank tried to slide past Molly’s desk, but she was up, blocking his way.
“He’ll see you now,” she said.
turned toward the chairman’s door, but before he could knock, Molly had
rushed over and opened it for him. Molly always smiled, but not today.
Mitchell looked up from his desk as Frank stepped into the office.
Molly closed the door with what Frank thought was a deliberate slam,
although Mitchell seemed not to notice.
“Sit down, Frank.” It wasn’t a friendly invitation.
“Sure, Hugh. How’re things? Where are you and Peggy going this summer?” Frank said.
Mitchell ignored him. “Frank, are those grade sheets in your hand?”
them to me.” Mitchell ripped them from Frank’s extended hand. “I don’t
know what happened to you. You used to be a good teacher. The kids
loved you. You had some nice research publications, nothing great, but
still respectable. What the hell happened?”
“What’s going on? Why are you asking me this? It isn’t time for my annual evaluation.” Frank was thirsty.
“Frank, you’re finished.”
“What do you mean ‘finished’?”
mean, you’re fired.” Mitchell sat back in his chair and sighed.
“What happened? For the last year you have screwed up every assignment.
Your teaching stinks. All the students complain about you.”
“Nobody ever complained to me,” Frank said.
course not, you’re never in your office. As far as I can tell, you
missed almost every scheduled office-hour this semester. And when
students were unlucky enough to catch you after class or, God forbid,
in your office, you blew them off with some bull about how they were
doing fine and not to worry about their grades.”
“Well, sure, standards have slipped a bit with the war, but we will all be back to normal next year,” Frank said.
normal isn’t good enough any more, Frank. We’re going from 15 students
this year to over 60 next year. Johnson and Poundstone will be back
from the service. Yarnell is being released from his assignment at Los
Alamos. The new guy, Pugh, is replacing you in engineering drawing and
math. I’m keeping Feinburg for the time being.”
“You can’t get
rid of me, I have tenure. For Christ sakes, Hugh, I’m fifty-two years
old. What am I supposed to do?” Frank was almost in tears.
supposed drink yourself to death, like every other drunk, Frank. I have
confirmed reports that you came to Monday classes intoxicated at least
five times in the last semester. I’m going to do you a favor, Frank,
for old times sake. I’m going to let you resign. If you don’t, I’ll
fire you for cause; it will go into your personnel file, and you will
never get another teaching job.”
“Shit, Hugh. You know I’m not a drunk. It’s my research. I have to drink,” Frank said.
“You have to drink to be a mining engineer? What kind of bullshit is that?”
look Hugh. I mean I need to keep something under wraps for the time
being, you understand?” Frank said. “Can I trust you to keep this under
“You can trust me to fire you unless you have a god-damned good explanation for your behavior.”
“I think I’ve discovered a grave,” Frank said.
great. A mining engineer finding a grave,” Mitchell said, with a look
of feigned astonishment on his face. “In the ground, I presume.”
“Look,” Frank said, “it’s the grave of a famous missing person.”
so Amelia Earhart wasn’t lost in the Pacific, she crashed in New
Mexico,” Mitchell said, widening his eyes in apparent surprise.
make fun of me,” Frank said. Mitchell paused, momentarily out of
ridicule. Frank continued, “I have been stringing along an old greaser,
buying him a lot of booze, drinking with him. You’ve known me for
years, Hugh. I don’t even like to drink.”
“For somebody who doesn’t like to drink, you’re doing an awful lot of it.”
that’s the thing. I can’t let the greaser figure out what I’m after. He
might buy the land before I do, or maybe rob the grave. Look Hugh, this
place is going to explode with all the military research they’re doing
over at White Sands. A tourist attraction like this will be a
gold-mine,” Frank said.
“Frank, I don’t care if you did find
Amelia Earhart’s grave. You’re a mining engineer, not an historian or
an archeologist. What the hell are you doing looking for graves anyway?”
“But don’t you see, it’ll be a gold mine,” Frank said.
you’re paid to teach people how to dig real gold mines, not to find
artifacts that would be as good as a gold mine. What I see is a faculty
member who is more interested in drinking and going on a wild goose
chase than teaching students. Frank, if you’d told me you’re having a
rough time because of William or that Harriet had left you for another
man, I might have given you a second chance. But this crazy-ass story
just convinces me I’m right to fire you.”
“Please, Hugh. I can
get myself straightened out by September. Everything is coming to a
head this summer. I will either find the burial site or I will give it
up forever,” Frank said.
“I had Molly clean out your office and
box up all your things. Move everything out today, or I will have the
janitors take it to the dump.”
Mitchell got up and left Frank
sitting alone. After a few minutes, Frank went to his own office. The
door was locked, and his key didn’t work. His books and papers were
packed into boxes by the door. A moment later, Molly came by with a
“Do you need any help moving the boxes to your car, Frank?” Molly said.
“I’ll be okay, Molly,” Frank said. She gave him a smile that looked more like a wince and went back to her desk.
since the chief mining engineer of the Old Abe Mine in White Oaks had
invited Frank’s senior engineering drafting class over for a field trip
at the beginning of the fall semester, Frank had been making regular
trips to White Oaks on the pretext of giving engineering advice. Frank
went to White Oaks every third Friday of the month, when there was no
faculty meeting, and spent Friday evening, most of Saturday, except for
a quick trip to make an appearance at the chief engineer’s office, and
Sunday morning at Lupe’s Cantina.
Last September on his first
visit to the Old Abe Mine, Frank and his engineering drafting class
were all guests of Old Abe’s chief mining engineer. A goat had been
slaughtered and roasted for the occasion, and local performers
entertained Frank and the dozen prospective mining engineers with songs
and stories of the old west. Frank had had a difficult time keeping up
appearances during the reception, until he heard the local minstrel
tell the story of how Billy the Kid had not gone east to Fort Sumner
after escaping from jail in Lincoln following his murder conviction,
but had, much more logically in Frank’s opinion, gone west into the
mountains through Capitán and into the lava fields known as the Valley
of Fires, where even the Mescalero Apaches wouldn’t be able to track
him. According to the minstrel, Pat Garrett had killed the wrong man in
Fort Sumner, maybe a look-a-like hired by Billy’s gang. Having become
famous for killing Billy the Kid, Garrett would have made a fool of
himself admitting he killed the wrong man -- and so the case of fatally
mistaken identity became part of history.
Frank understood why
Billy couldn’t be tracked into the Valley of Fires. The fields were
treacherous; broken terrain, riddled with fissures, brittle overhangs,
almost no flat surfaces and many sharp projections. Even in late April,
when Billy escaped from the Lincoln jail, the lava fields turned into
an oven during the day because of the black surface and the lack of any
shade. A single slip of the foot by man or horse would likely leave one
or both disabled in a waterless wasteland with no hope of help from
So every third weekend Frank traveled to White Oaks
and, just to be friendly, bought drinks for any seemingly knowledgeable
locals to get them to open up about local legends, history, and gossip.
He didn’t push anyone to talk about Billy the Kid, but when the
opportunity arose he would ask the right question to steer the
conversation in that direction. Gradually Frank learned that Anglos,
Mexicans and Indians all believed different myths about Billy the Kid,
depending on how badly he was thought to have treated their particular
group while alive. Finally during his April return visit to Lupe’s
Cantina, Frank met Miguel Herrera, an aging, part-Mexican,
part-Mescalero Apache miner.
“Muchacho, I’ve seen you working at the Old Abe?” Frank said.
“Si, I work there,” Miguel said. “You work for el ingeniero?”
I teach at the School of Mines in Socorro. I just come here to show the
students how it’s done in real life, not in books. How long’ve you been
a miner there?”
“Long time,” Miguel said. “My father also miner at Old Abe.”
he full-blood Indian. Before there reservation at Fort Stanton. He got
grandmother embarazada over on finca in Oscura. He have regular Indian
wife back in mountains. Go back and forth,” Miguel said.
“What kind of work did he do?”
stealing, like all Apaches back then. He wait for people go in lava
field, fall and die, then he take things and sell,” Miguel said.
“There were a lot of famous people around here back when your grandfather was alive. Did he ever meet any of them?”
“No, he mostly stay away white man, except they die in lava field,” Miguel said.
“Nobody famous died in the lava fields, I guess?”
tell us one time grandfather find dead gunfighter in lava field. He
take gun, knife, spyglass, boots, saddle. Horse already dead from
fall,” Miguel said.
“Really, was it a famous gunfighter?”
sure. Grandfather no speak Ingles. No read. No care about papers on
body. Just things to sell. No know name of gunfighter, but had gun in
holster a la isquierda,” Miguel said.
“Isquierda?” Frank said.
“Si, over here.” Miguel pointed to his left side.
two months after his resignation in May Frank had saved enough gasoline
ration coupons to make the trip from Socorro over to White Oaks. On his
prior expeditions, he had used the ration coupons from the School,
since he was on official business. He had waited for the sun to begin
to set before making the trek across the Jornada del Muerto where the
daytime temperature could easily reach 110° in early July.
left Socorro around 5 p.m., going south on the Camino Real to San
Antonio and then turning his Willy’s east across the Jornada del Muerto
to White Oaks, where Miguel would be on his way to Lupe’s Cantina, as
he was every Saturday night. Once he passed through Farley and reached
Carthage, Frank was stopped at a military roadblock. After assuring the
soldiers that he was on official business from the School of Mines, he
was allowed to pass, but they warned him to stay on the Roswell Road
all the way to Carrizozo and not to make any detours south onto the
military testing grounds.
Lying before him was the Jornada del
Muerto, the ninety-mile shortcut off the Camino Real between Santa Fe
and El Paso. The Jornada was an empty plain filled with lava that the
winds had abraded into a sandy basin covered in low shrubs. There was
no reliable source of surface water for a trip that had taken several
days on horseback. The Muerto whose death inspired the name for the
‘Dead Man’s Route’ was El Alemán, a German trader whose body was now
submersed somewhere under the Jornada’s sea of volcanic sand. A dead
Kraut thousands of miles from home, thought Frank. Dying in a distant
The waning afternoon light hit the desert scrub at an
oblique angle, making the surface appear dark, even though the sand
underneath was a light creamy brown. The desert basin shimmered in the
heat, an ocean of choppy, dark water lying between the islands of the
Fray Cristóbal Mountains to the west and the Sierra Oscura Range to the
east. The late afternoon wind had raised a sea spray of dust. Frank
sailed across this sea of sand in his Willy’s much as the America’s
sons had sailed across the English Channel toward Normandy on D-Day,
now more than a year ago. Sinking beneath the surface, lost forever in
a distant sea, Frank thought.
Passing through Bingham and
another military roadblock, Frank was again warned not stray off the
road. The Willy’s ascended the bumpy road up the Chupadera Mesa, a
bottle of Don Cuervo Especial Tequila bouncing on the back seat. Frank
would use it to pry out the last bits of information about the burial
site of the dead body Miguel’s Apache grandfather had found out in the
Valley of Fires some seventy years earlier. Crossing the top of the
Mesa, Frank descended into the breach in the northern and southern
ranges of the Sierra Oscura; darkness quickly surrounded him.
got to find that grave, Frank said to himself; since losing his job, he
only had himself to talk to. Harriet had wanted to talk to him but he
had lost interest almost a year ago. He didn’t actually miss talking
with her that much. Since she’d left, Frank found he preferred cooking
his own meals and eating alone. Ever since he had heard about Billy the
Kid, talking things over with Harriet at dinner invariably led to a
The next day was July 14, two months since Frank had lost
his teaching job. If everything went well tomorrow, he’d soon be
welcomed back at the School of Mines. His strange and erratic behavior
would all be explained, or at least excused, by the significance of his
find. Okay, it wasn’t a mineral in the ground, but it was a significant
discovery; and it was underneath the earth and it did have to be
excavated, even if it wasn’t exactly a job requiring the skills of a
mining engineer, Frank thought. Uncovering a grave of this historical
importance will show Mitchell a thing or two about the noteworthiness
of my research. More important, it’ll shut Harriet up about how I’ve
lost my mind, about needing to pull myself back together.
wasn’t sure he wanted Harriet to come crawling back to him from her
mother’s farm in Iowa, but he would feel vindicated if she tried.
Don Cuervo Especial had done the trick. Miguel got good and drunk and
told the whole story of his grandfather’s grave robbing. Okay, that was
unfair; Miguel’s grandfather had dug the grave for the gunfighter,
buried him deep enough and covered him with enough rocks to keep the
coyotes from devouring his remains, Frank thought.
the old Indian had unburdened the unfortunate corpse of its unnecessary
worldly possessions -- possessions, which, if left there with the body,
might well have tempted some unscrupulous person to defile it and
disturb the spirit of the recently deceased. The gunfighter might have
led a turbulent life and suffered a painful death, but that didn’t mean
he shouldn’t rest in peace.
Frank left White Oaks the next
morning as early as his hangover would allow and headed south through
Carrizozo. Miguel’s story about his grandfather and the dead gunfighter
had given Frank the landmarks he needed to find the grave. Frank was
stopped by yet another military roadblock on the road to Alamogordo and
again warned not to leave the main road. Reaching the village of
Oscura, Frank found the trail into the Valley of Fires closed by a
barricade proclaiming the area on the other side to be a restricted
military zone; a single sentry sat in a jeep next to the barricade.
was 3:30 in the afternoon; the sentry would change at 4 o’clock. Frank
parked the Willy’s a quarter of a mile down the road and waited. At 4
pm, the sentry drove off toward Carrizozo to exchange the jeep with his
replacement. Frank shifted the Willy’s into four-wheel drive, drove
around the unguarded barriers, following the trail through the
narrowest point of the Valley of Fires lava field.
On one of
his periodic visits to his Mexican wife, Miguel’s Apache grandfather
had seen the gunfighter ride through Oscura on his way into the lava
field. The Apache followed the gunfighter on the prospect that an
untimely accident might provide some valuable prizes. Miguel said his
grandfather had guessed that the gunfighter wanted to cross the lava
field and then ride up its western edge. With a spyglass, the
gunfighter could keep an eye on anyone following him on the eastern
side of the flow; he could be long gone into the mountains by the time
any posse could cross the treacherous lava fields.
gunfighter had a good plan, Miguel’s grandfather had thought, until he
wandered off the established path, probably to make tracking more
difficult. The gunfighter had got himself onto a precarious ledge
running along side a ravine where the brittle lava failed; the
gunfighter and his horse fell, both suffering a painful death.
for Frank, the army had built a patrol road, with an easily
circumvented roadblock, right where the path used to be. Frank had
written down all the rock features he would need to find his way to
where Miguel’s grandfather had buried the gunfighter: The Tortoise with
the Broken Leg, The Coyote with One Foot Raised, and The Hawk Catching
the Ground Squirrel. Before dusk, Frank had found them all.
set up his camp at the foot of the twisted juniper tree, growing out of
a crevice in a black lava platform. Lightning had split the juniper
tree’s trunk decades ago; the separate halves of the trunk had
continued to grow, agonizingly twisting themselves more than 360
degrees in opposite directions. The night air was cooling fast, but the
black lava still radiated the sun’s heat. Just behind the deformed
juniper lay an oblong mound of rocks marking what Frank believed to be
the grave of Billy the Kid.
It only took Frank an hour to
restack the rocks covering the grave into a wall around the edge. After
removing three flat slabs of volcanic lava, Frank saw in the ebbing
light that the remaining dirt had subsided, collapsing into the empty
cavity that had once been a human body. It was too dark to continue;
the rest of the excavation would have to wait for the new dawn.
started a fire and prepared his meal. In the deepening dusk, the split
and twisted trunks of the juniper looked like the desperate arms of a
drowning soldier reaching out of a dark sea, hoping to find someone to
pull him to safety. Frank took a long pull from his flask and laid back
on his bedroll for a rocky night of sleep.
Frank woke before
dawn, needing to relieve himself. He restarted the fire and put on some
coffee. The eastern sky was just starting to blush a soft pale blue.
Another half hour until dawn, and Frank could finish excavating the
Drinking his coffee and waiting for the light, Frank
opened his wallet and took out a worn pocket snapshot of his son,
William, dressed in his cowboy outfit at the Socorro County Fair. Tears
ran down his cheeks.
“Oh god, son, I wish you could be here with
me now. I couldn’t save you from drowning off Normandy. If only they
could have sent me your body to bury, to have a grave where I could
visit with you, to know you weren’t lost forever.”
Frank sat on
the wall he had built from the rocks covering the grave of the body he
believed to be Billy the Kid, holding the picture of his dead
soldier-son. In the west the sky burst open with an enormous flash of
light. The flash was so bright that Frank could read the note Harriet
had written on the other side of the snapshot, William ‘Billy the Kid’
Tombe, 1931. A brief eternity later and the snapshot burst into flames.
Frank’s eyes blistered and went black, but he could still hear. The
earth quivered and the sound of a thousand locomotives raced toward
him. Time passed very slowly; then a tidal wave of wind hit Frank so
hard his burning body was thrown backward into the open grave,
collapsing onto and becoming part of the desiccated remains.
a few seconds the grave was filled with debris. The campsite was
obliterated. Frank’s Willy’s was incinerated and thrown into a nearby
ravine. Another Tombe had been buried in an unknown grave, in an
unknown place no loved one would ever visit. The area was covered with
radioactive fallout and declared off-limits for twenty-five years.
received his doctorate in development studies from the University of
Wisconsin-Madison. Before retirement, he was a faculty member at the
State University of New York at Stony Brook, the University of Michigan
and Michigan State University, where he taught medical ethics, health
policy and the social organization of medicine in the College of Human
Medicine. Dr. Hogan published more than five-dozen professional
articles on health services research and health policy. He has
published forty-nine works of fiction in the OASIS Journal (1st Prize,
Fiction 2014), Hobo Pancakes, Subtopian Magazine, Twisted Dreams, Thick
Jam, Midnight Circus, Grim Corps, Long Story Short, Defenestration,
Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, The Blue Guitar Magazine, Flash,
Stockholm Review of Literature, The Beechwood Review, Short Break
Fiction, Cyclamens and Swords, Children, Churches and Daddies, Spank
the Carp, Pear Drop, Festival Writer (Pushcart Nominee), Flash, Shalla
Magazine, Lowestoft Chronicle, Fabula Argentea, Mobius, Thrice, The
Lorelei Signal, Fiction on the Web, Sandscript, and the Copperfield
to the Top
by George Keenen
I cried today, and I never cry.
almost cried in the morning. I was walking down Montgomery St. and saw
the clouds blow up and hide the sun. This struck me as momentous. I
forgot what I was thinking about. I looked up and down the street:
people walking, noticing nothing at all. But I felt tears gathering,
waiting. They lived there, and no sudden memory of Mother, or of
fishing at Kane’s Farm, or of my second wife, was going to pry them out.
shuddered. Tears were welling up and ready to fly. Those tears I didn’t
shed at my parents’ funeral, still there. Those tears I didn’t shed
over the Red Sox, stored like pearls in a jewelry box. Those tears that
were not shed when I identified the bodies, they were waiting at the
I am a blueprint deliveryman. I carry yellow
cardboard tubes up and down the concrete walks of the Financial
District and Lower Market. It’s hard on your legs; the bicycle
messengers have it easy. When people receive a set of blueprints, they
are activated, they become Doers. Once you have the Blueprint, the
world is yours.
Garfield & Associates was on the second
floor of the Glassic Building. I had been there before. This was
Beverly. I said, “Hi, ma’am. Blueprints,” and gave her a receipt to
sign. While she scribbled a signature, I looked at the photograph of
the Bay Bridge that had been made into wallpaper behind her. I looked
at her boring desk: a rubber band holder, a paper clip holder, an
IN/OUT box, stacks of stamped envelopes ready to mail, and some rubber
stamps on a stamp wheel; one of them said SEE ME FAY. I imagined
As Beverly took the tube from me, I said, “Bet I know what
these are.” I was only guessing because I knew this firm did spot work
on the Bay Bridge, and I knew there had been trouble with some of the
girders because I read it in the newspaper. So I thought it might have
had something to do with that, but I was only guessing. Beverly looked
at me with a huge hostile question mark on her face and said, “Then you
know too much.”
She brought the tubes to a room in the back of
the office where men in long-sleeved white shirts were waiting, and I
could see her talking to them as she removed the blueprints from the
tube and spread them on the table. She bobbed her head toward me, and
the men looked at me through the open door.
I went outside;
the sun had returned, but it was a cheerless day. I headed back for
another yellow tube feeling that old anger rising as I thought about
God. I had been raised Catholic and was still going through a nasty
break-away. Stupendous lies had been told by popes who were crazy rich
from selling indulgences! While we had nothing. I was disgusted,
disappointed. I felt I had been duped by my own parents.
part of me remembered serving six o’clock masses in a stone-cold
church. That wasn’t a lie. It was the kind of tactile link that was
sticky as a spider web to release. I had loved serving mass—the
fragrant incense, the tall beeswax candles, the priest bent over his
chalice in the low light. Those were rare moments, and they felt
exclusive: the old widow in the second row with a black scarf praying
her rosary, she was the only witness, our only accomplice. But the
lies, the lies. . . sin, heaven, indulgences. Back and forth I raged. I
must have looked like a street crazy; but I wasn’t. That’s what they
all say, of course. But I was sober and off the dole. I was just a guy
from Jersey trying to make a living in California, doing a job that was
very hard on my legs, and trying to work out what was true in America
and the immediate cosmos.
I walked back along the piers, past
the bus terminal and the Seafarer’s Home, past the posh new high riser
apartments with a Dry Cleaners or a chiropractic office on the ground
The Dispatch Office of Downtown Messengers was down an
alley off Howard. A long narrow concrete room painted yellow, an awful
yellow, with a high window in the front and a cage in the back. Three
other messengers were queued up on the benches looking bored: Ace, the
oldest and longest tenured of the messengers. He was 65 and had never
found anything better to do. Ernie was more like 20, a college drop-out
reading a comic book. Carlos, a tall friend my age, was from Costa
Rica, living in the Mission at his mother’s, very sensitive and
spiritual. I might as well include myself in this rogues’ gallery. I’m
32, an ex-altar boy, ex-seminarian, ex-rancher, ex-soldier, ex-husband,
I didn’t sit down. I walked to the back and found
Tony, the manager, in the cage writing out delivery tickets; he didn’t
look up when he heard me.
“I’ll take any Garfield you want,” I said.
so great about a Garfield run?” he asked. “All the other messengers
hate it; it’s the farthest we got. Oh yes, okay, sure, you’re a ladies
man, there must be a hot secretary. What’s her name?”
then, what do I care, here’s another one for Garfield.” He handed me
the yellow tube through the slot in the cage and looked up at me
appraisingly. “And let me give you a tip: don’t make us look bad on the
street, Jimmy? Think. And not just about yourself. Be a professional,
not just a mumbler in a t-shirt. Act your age. OK? Good man.”
“People always tell you to think,” I said.
“Do people say that to you often?” asked Tony, squinting at me.
“But they never tell you how,” I said.
I’m not afraid to tell you,” said Tony. “ It’s like listening. If you
listen for the farthest thing you can hear over the noise of the
surrounding world, what can you hear? That’s thinking—being alert to
possibilities, answering the call.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said.
“Go on, get out of here,” said Tony.
“Tony, you rock.”
I left the office I had to pass the boys on the bench. Ace kept his
knees out and I had to go around him. As I passed him he hissed,
“Tool!” Ernie kept reading his comic book. I passed Carlos and
whispered to him, “Nos vemos mas tarde.” He made no reply, sat there
staring at the wall.
Outside again I was happy. I was
un-anchored and changeable as the weather. I looked up—there wasn’t a
cloud in the sky. Happy for no reason.
I had only walked a few
blocks towards Garfield’s when the tide of pedestrians jelled and
surged; everyone was moving in the same direction in a hurry. I
came to the rear of a standing scrum of people, all struggling and
grunting. I asked a straggler what happened. He said, “A man has jumped
or fallen from the roof of the Mayfair Hotel.”
“Maybe he was pushed,” said a man in a broken hat. “You never know.”
saw it,” said another man, one with avid eyes and parched cracked lips
and a wacko look that came up under at you. “He came down head first
and he broke one of the flagpoles in the front there, on the way down.”
Indeed there was a gap in the row of flags hanging out horizontally
from the hotel. “Is he dead?” I asked; the hotel is only three
stories high. “His head is smashed, that’s for sure,” said the avid
man. He was enjoying this. I moved away through the crowd and I was
surprised to see Carlos in the crowd. I went up to him, saying, “That
“I quit,” said Carlos. “I can’t stand Ernie, and
Ace leers at me. Tony is fatherly and okay, but he doesn’t out-balance
the other two. And there are others.”
“I almost cried today,” I said.
“It’s one of those days,” Carlos said.
“Where is the moon, anyway?” I wondered.
“My popi can get me construction,” said Carlos, “but I can’t do construction any more.”
saw a cop giving Carlos the eye. I knew that cop—Donnelly was his name.
Used to see him under the bridge when I was homeless. He saw Carlos was
working the crowd, picking pockets. I said to Carlos, “Get rid of the
wallets!” and moved away.
An emergency medical squad pushed its
way through the throng towards the fallen man. Police pushed people
back and created some breathing space---for whom? The man was through
breathing, I thought cynically. The nurse checked his pulse; blood not
pumping, blood gone to sidewalk, take the sidewalk’s pulse. She held a
small mirror under the dead man’s nose; the breath on life did not
appear. She put the mirror down. Loosening the man’s belt, she checked
for injuries. At that moment she looked my way and there it was:
a black smudge just above where her eyebrows meet. It looked like
someone had put a cigar out on her forehead. This could only mean one
thing. It was Ash Wednesday. Go to church, have ashes put on your
forehead, reminds you you’re going to die. I was non-denominational
about death. I felt I had to be able to learn from everything. I
thought some dust to ponder would make me Hamlet.
like going to my apartment and pondering. But my loyalty to Tony was
immense; I wouldn’t not deliver something he gave me. And so I went and
delivered my package first. The secretary I had dealt with before,
Beverly, was gone. No one was at her desk. I looked in the back and saw
a beautiful woman standing with the men in the back room. She, not the
blueprints, was the object of all their attentions. She handled them
all like a champion fencer holding off five. “Why, be that as it may,
darling, there’s not a real man among them.”
Fay, is that you?
waved my tube in their direction until they noticed me. One of the men
came out to the counter. He had a pipe in his mouth but it wasn’t
lit. He took the tube from me and said, “Hi, I’m William Bailey. I’m a
senior partner here. It’s all confidential, private, need-to-know type
business back here, and as our adjunct worker we require the same of
you, uh, Jimmy. You realize that, don’t you?”
I was choking on
his choice of the word ‘adjunct,’ but I managed a “Yes, sir.” Still
looking at me like a cop, he hit his pipe on the edge of the
wastebasket and the un-smoked plug came flying out. He picked it out of
the basket and showed it to me.
“That’s the dottel,” said William Bailey.
He took a package of fresh tobacco from his pocket and walked away re-filling his pipe.
“Have a nice day, uh, Jimmy,” he called.
soon as he left I reached over the counter and grabbed the rubber stamp
and stamped SEE ME FAY on my forehead. I put the stamp in my pocket.
walked over to the Mayfair Hotel; the dead man’s body was gone. The
crowd has disappeared but some men continued to nose around: Carlos was
still there, foolishly counting money in the open.
Donnelly roared, “Hey, you!” and came after Carlos, who dropped five
empty wallets and took off. I took off with him. We ran down Market and
cut through 2nd St to Mission past the French Horn Cafe. We ran down
Howard. There we saw the old Blessed Sacrament Church, with lines
coming out the doors. We each jumped on a line and put our heads down.
It was the last place he’d look for us. Sure enough, in half a minute
Donnelly came huffing by, and kept on going.
Carlos, riffling the cash said, “Here’s mom’s rent.”
“Later for that. We’re here, it’s Ash Wednesday, we might as well get ashes.”
“You’re a sucker for ritual,” said Carlos.
a sucker for ritual. Stay on that line there,” I said, “and I’ll stay
on this line here. We’ll get ashes. And then we’ll go down to the bus
terminal and you can buy me dinner at Terminal Lunch.”
moved slowly and I found myself remembering what it was like to
identify the bodies of mom and dad, the broken bones pieced together to
make the semblance of a corpse, and I pictured the whole unbelievable
scene by the overturned bus. Where was god then? The line snaked ahead.
Carlos’s line was moving faster. He got to the priest
and closed his eyes, and the priest daubed him with ash.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” said the priest.
“Thank you, padre,” said Carlos, leaving with folded hands by the side aisle.
turn. I got to the head of the line and to my surprise the priest
wasn’t giving ashes. He was giving communion, putting hosts on tongues.
An altar boy stood next to him and held a plate under my chin in case
the host should drop. I was on the wrong line and it was too late to
flee, it was too late to do anything but open my mouth and stick out my
“Corpus Christi,” said the priest. I made no response, but in my heart I said, Fancy meeting you here.
turned and walked down the side aisle, swallowing the host as I went.
Again the tears welled up. I was so confused. This time I cried. I sat
down on the steps of the church and wept for a long time. People walked
around me without commenting.
Carlos came over and sat next to me. He put his arm around me.
“Pura Vida,” he said. “It’s great to be alive.”
George Keenen lives on a ranch in northern California, where he grows the world's hottest Thai chilies.
to the Top