Old Women in Trees

old women in trees mean trouble
their wits nimble as cats
won’t come down though you
call sweetly or threaten mega-voce

old women love trees’
whispery embraces
the gentle shade at even
the womb of the morning

if old women ran things
behold a wilderness of trees
auto-carcasses rotting in
the gentle swamp of mater natura

old women don’t want to go
anywhere fast
they are there already
thank you

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Grace Andreacchi is a novelist, poet and playwright. Works include the novels Scarabocchio and Poetry and Fear, Music for Glass Orchestra (Serpent’s Tail), Give My Heart Ease (New American Writing Award) and the chapbook Berlin Elegies. Her work appears in Horizon Review, The Literateur, Cabinet des Fées and many other fine places. Grace is also managing editor at Andromache Books and writes the literary blog AMAZING GRACE. She lives in London.

Untoward Stories: Flowering Judas / Katherine Anne Porter

You say you want a revolution . . .

John Lennon

Callie Russell Porter was born 1890 in Indian Creek, Texas, the great-great-great granddaughter of Daniel Boone. She adopted the name of her grandmother, Katherine Anne, for her writing. When she died at age 90 in September, 1980, she left behind a life filled with four marriages, a spectacular collection of world travel adventures, interesting and unusual friends and a legacy of prize-winning literature. Her only novel, Ship of Fools, the long-awaited, best selling novel of 1962, was sold to Hollywood for half a million dollars, big money at the time, but she’ll be best remembered as one of the most celebrated short story writers of the Twentieth Century.

Her ‘Collected Stories’ won a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. Some of her best short stories were produced as half hour radio dramas for NBC’s University Theatre. By any standard, KAP lived a long, interesting life. She was married at 16 to an older man (Mr. Koontz) who saw to her conversion to Catholicism but abused her to the point where she had to run away. She ended up in Chicago where she began a career as a singer-entertainer. Later in life, she was married twice to men who were sixteen and twenty years younger than she, respectively.

Suffering in a TB hospital, she decided to become a writer and never wavered from that determination. With little education beyond grammar school but a decided knack for the craft, she set about establishing a career in writing, beginning as a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News, later moving to New York to undertake a career that involved among other assignments, ghost writing children’s stories. In New York, she took a job that eventually involved transfer to Mexico City, where she continued her writing. Living in Mexico City, she became involved in leftist politics and befriended a number of well-known people including the great Mexican mural artist, Diego Riviera.

Her most famous story, the oft-anthologized Flowering Judas, is said to have come out of her experiences in Mexico City, so it seems logical that another of her well-regarded stories, one of domestic tension, Rope, came out of her having been married four times. What begins as an innocent trip to the store by the husband (a four mile walk, one way), turns into a violent confrontation between husband and wife. The lead-up is a classical study of marital discord, where irritation with some little issue between spouses builds into a serious problem.

Had he brought the coffee? She had been waiting all day long for coffee.

Because he doesn’t drink coffee, he forgot her coffee. To make matters worse, he bought back a coil of rope, twenty four yards, which they had no real use for, and he set the rope on top of the eggs and broke all the shells. `(N)o eggs for breakfast. . . too damn bad. . .’ Then he was ‘bringing up something she had said a year ago simply to justify himself for forgetting the coffee and breaking the eggs and buying a wretched piece of rope they couldn’t afford.’ Ah, domestic bliss. “She wrenched away, crying for him to take his rope and go to hell. . .” / “(T)ake it back. Why should he? He wanted it. What was it anyhow? A piece of rope. Imagine anybody’s caring more about a piece of rope than a man’s feelings.”

 ***

With Flowering Judas, KAP creates a more subtle and complex set of conflicts, most of them internal to Laura. If there are abstracts about to be believed in, like the rigorous demands of true acceptance of her Roman Catholic faith, or the idea that revolution is the answer to the social, economic and political ills she can observe all around her, Laura still seeks out something more abstract still, an elusive idea about belief itself, a look inside the human condition that forbids all of us from believing the very things we want to believe most, like the possibility of redemption of the soul or the body politic.

 

If the Judas tree is a symbol of the betrayer of Christ, then the sacrament in which Laura participated, —the eating of the buds of the Flowering Judas, —is a sacrament not of remembrance but of betrayal. . .She is, like Judas, the betrayer, and her betrayal, like his, consisted in an inability to believe.” (Symbol and Theme in Flowering Judas / Ray B. West, Jr.)

 

In Mexico City, Laura hangs out with agitators and revolutionists. She “smuggles letters from headquarters to men hiding from firing squads in back street homes in mildewed houses.” These are men who “sit in tumbled bed and talk bitterly as if all Mexico were at their heels when Laura knows positively that they might appear at the band concert in the Alameda on Sunday morning.” She cynically plays off the Roumanian agitator against the Polish agitator when both seek her attentions. Her relations with men in general mirror her inability to commit to anything.

The men in the story, from Braggioni, the great revolutionary leader, who `loves himself with such tenderness and amplitude . . that his followers.. .warm themselves in the reflected glow’, to the foreign agitators, to the young suitor at whom Laura thoughtlessly tosses a flower, all seek to court and seduce Laura, but Laura lives inside a shell she’s created for herself.

Nobody touches her.”

Her knees cling together under sound blue serge, and her round white collar is not purposely nun-like. She wears the uniform of an idea, and has renounced vanities. She was born Roman Catholic, and in spite of her fear of being seen by someone who might make a scandal of it, she slips now and again into some crumbling little church, kneels on the chilly stone, and says a Hail Mary on the gold rosary she bought in Tehuantepec. It is no good, and she ends up by examining the alter with its tinsel flowers and ragged brocades. . .”

A scandal to be seen slipping into a little church?

Sounds odd until you consider that Laura’s friends are as cynical as her, being hardboiled atheistic revolutionists who scoff at religion and consider the religious weak. (Didn’t Friedrich Engels tell Karl Marx that religion is ‘the opiate of the people’?) As with her hidden religion, Laura hides her full breasts and her long, lovely legs under baggy clothes. Taunted by Braggioni, who says, “You think you are so cold, gringita! Wait and see. You will surprise yourself some day! May I be there to advise you!” Braggioni is ‘a leader of men, a skilled revolutionist and his skin has been punctured in honorable warfare.’ Braggioni enjoys the good life and has contempt for the foul men who want to talk to him as their leader; who ‘blow the foul breath from their empty stomachs in his face,’

Laura’s terrible nightmare at the end is captured in the heavily symbolic language style approaching gothic, as a way of emphasizing the enormity of her betrayal (of both Eugenio and herself). ‘Then eat these flowers, poor prisoner,” the late Eugenio tells her in the nightmare, ‘in a voice of pity; take and eat’, and from the Judas tree he stripped the warm bleeding flowers and held them to her lips.’ His hand was ‘fleshless’. His eye sockets were ‘without light’, and Laura ‘ate the flowers greedily for they satisfied both hunger and thirst’.

‘Murderer!’ said Eugenio,’ and Cannibal! This is my body and my blood.

Laura cries out her favorite word, a word she repeats throughout the story. No. No. No. No. No. She wakes ‘at the sound of her own voice, trembling, afraid to sleep again,’

crying out that word.

Lena

The shantytowns began along the outskirts of her organs, like neighborhoods of a newly minted megalopolis, the rural poor moved into her looking for work.

Lena thought, I’m flattered, but I don’t have much in the way of industry.
Lena thought, I’m not in manufacturing; I’m not a tourist economy.

After the shanties crept up her esophagus and into her mouth she felt guilty brushing her teeth.
After the shanties moved into her mouth she didn’t know what to do.

Then a man showed up from the shantytown. He asked her for some change.
She asked him what neighborhood he was from.
He said, “The space between the lungs.”
She asked him what it was like there.
He said, “It’s nothing special.”
She said, “Tell me about it, I want to know about between the lungs.”
He said, “The kids play football down near the sternum. We make great stews. We eat all together. After dinner we play music on homemade instruments.”
“What do you do for work,” she said?
“There is no work. There’s no tourism. There’s no manufacturing. There’s no tech industry.”
“Why did you move here then,” she said?

————————

Leif Haven lives in Northern California because of the trees. His work has appeared & will appear, etc. He is responsible for the publishing venture Persistent Editions, which makes chapbooks. Other things. Other things. Other things

Intestines

I found the book How do you know YOU are Falling from a Great Height when your Eyes are Closed? (40ft Press. Dublin. 1971) at the bottom of a huge bin, under cookery books, romances, children’s books, books on home interior, books on chemistry, math, How to Speak English, it was onionyellow and dogeared, the spine was broken, the front cover was missing. I took a punt; I like books with long titles. I took it home and read it.

I think that Larry Caomhánach was a nom de plume, it has been a futile search for information, I know that he was not Irish, nor was he an American, I have a tenuous belief that he was Norwegian; this tenuous belief has the foundation on Larry Caomhánach’s superfluous use of Faen ta deg. The phrase peppers the book.

I know it is a bad book compared to other books, I know that Larry Caomhánach is a terrible writer, the math gives it away, after all, he published only one book and the publishers were small, lackadaisical, and went out of business shortly after publishing the book, but still I cannot put down Larry Caomhánach’s one and only book, when I get to the end I start again, this is not down to some Joycean trick, but simply through the joy I experience. Being a writer, myself, small, lackadaisical, and penurious, I used the first page of How do you know YOU are Falling from a Great Height when your Eyes are Closed? for a short story, the story was never published, and so like the failed magician irate at the world I now want to reveal my secret.

 

How do you know YOU are Falling from a Great Height when your Eyes are Closed? (40ft Press. Dublin. 1971).

It was hot and the game was nowhere to be seen. It was still fashionable to shoot tigers, lions, and other dangerous animals, so Harry Black held his rifle tightly since he knew that the game was out there. Harry’s guide kept talking, but Harry was at a loss as to what Ozondjahe was trying to communicate. Ozondjahe was very tall, much taller than Harry was. When he laughed, which he did often, he showed the whitest teeth. They were so white Harry was lost for words. Ozondjahe carried a shotgun. The shotgun was Harry’s idea. At first Ozondjahe refused to carry the shotgun. Ozondjahe said all he needed was his walking stick, but Harry wouldn’t hear of it, for Harry the shotgun was better than any damn walking stick, after all, they were hunting tigers, lions, and other dangerous animals. Ozondjahe was deeply upset about having to leave his walking stick at the camp and carry a shotgun. The shotgun was heavy. Ozondjahe also had to carry three bottles of wine, a full meal consisting of roasted chicken, cheese, crusty French bread, and black olives. And the coffee pot, two mugs, and coffee makings. Ozondjahe led the way through the thick bush. The bush made a lot of noise. The bush was dry, so was the land, there was much dust in the air, and the dust turned the sky red. Harry had never seen a red sky. The dust also looked like big insects. It was too dry and so there were no real insects. Harry followed Ozondjahe through the thick noisy bush. The bush was reduced to dust under Harry’s boots.

 

The Whistling Between Your Legs (Unpublished. 1987.)

It was hot and there were many girls walking up and down the Boulevard. The girls were not naked, but the miniskirt had not disappeared. Harry Black sipped his coffee outside the café Loulou and watched the girls walk past. When a beautiful girl walked by with an ugly man, Harry sighed pensively. This happened a lot. Harry smoked a cigarette. It was 1972 and smoking was still considered chic. The year accounted for the number of beautiful girls with ugly men. Harry had visited the Seine, the Eiffel Tower, and the Palais Garnier. He had walked up and down the Avenue de Clichy. He had paid his respects at Père Lachaise. He had sat down at Honoré de Balzac and broke crusty bread and swigged wine. He had seen the Arc de Triomphe. Now, Harry wanted to trap a philosopher. They were out there, lots of them, Harry had read all about them and seen them on the television, sitting outside cafés, smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee, and spouting their ideas. The hotel concierge told Harry which café attracted the most philosophers. It was the café Loulou. It was the best watering hole in the city. The philosophers were always to be found there, drinking coffee, smoking pipes, showing off, and tapping up the young girls. Harry was very excited when his waiter told him that Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir always stopped at the café Loulou for a coffee and a smoke.

 

How do you know YOU are Falling from a Great Height when your Eyes are Closed? (40ft Press. Dublin. 1971).

Ozondjahe stopped and dropped the rucksack that carried the roasted chicken, cheese, crusty French bread, black olives, coffee pot, two mugs, and coffee makings. Before he had a chance to lift up the heavy shotgun, point the heavy shotgun, a lion had him by the throat. Harry stunned fell back. He watched, numbed and paralyzed, as the lion reduced Ozondjahe into a number of nouns, too many to count. The lion finished off Ozondjahe and stalked Harry. Its eyes were enlarged and its mouth was awash with Ozondjahe’s blood and guts. The lion approached. Harry’s legs refused to carry him as his arms refused to lift him. Although, Harry’s body refused to work, his brain worked amazingly. Harry experienced a thousand deaths, all very violent. The lion metamorphosed into a thousand monsters all vile and terrible. The panting lion became a locomotion that would not stop. Harry saw his funeral: the attendance was good. Harry was able to look into the nailed shut coffin, something his family was unable to do, and he saw the thick mush sealed in a plastic bag. Harry screamed. The lion matched the scream with a roar. The sun was a golden disc that was beautiful, romantic, and at the end of the day, impassive.

 

The Whistling Between Your Legs (Unpublished. 1987.)

‘Look over there,’ said the waiter, pointing to a table at the other end of the café. Harry looked, but all he saw was a typical Parisian doing his usual thing, smoking, drinking coffee, and being coquettish. Harry shrugged his shoulders. ‘Don’t you know who that is?’ said the waiter. The waiter was an American student who thought a year or two in Paris would rub off on him. ‘No,’ said Harry. The student laughed, it was a mocking, mirthless laugh. Harry not one to be laughed at stood up and punched the young man on the nose. The young man wiped the blood away and looked, stunned and paralyzed, at Harry. ‘I know his philosophy is frustrating but there is no need for violence,’ said the young man. Another waiter appeared. « Vous at-il touché? » asked the waiter. He was a big man with a big mustache.  «Oui», said the young man, now with a bloody face. ‘I am going to teach you a lesson,’ said the big man with the big mustache to Harry. ‘The lesson will mean more to you than any logorrheic epistemology.” Before Harry could respond, the big man knocked him onto his bottom with a right hook. Those in the café reacted in a myriad of manners, some screamed, some were tongue-tied through shock, but most laughed. Harry managed to get back to his feet. The big man produced two hairy fists as a magician will produce a white rabbit and a white dove. Harry threw a left. The waiter collected it like a paltry tip and threw a right. The right sent Harry back against a table that refused to budge. ‘I think you should leave,’ said the young man who was no longer bleeding from the nose. ‘I have never backed down from a fight in my life,’ said Harry, but before he could attack the big waiter with the mustache but with even bigger fists knocked Harry Black out cold.

I am fascinated with how a writer writes. I write sitting down, smoking, drinking wine, lots of wine, my endings always suffer. I know Larry Caomhánach liked to write naked with a long piece of string traveling through his intestines.

————————

 Paul Kavanagh lives in Charlotte.

Survivors

On their third date, they huddle in her bathtub with her schnauzer because of a tornado warning.  She sings old pop songs, mostly of the Hall and Oates variety, while he paints her toenails fluorescent orange.  She likes his beard, his calloused hands, and his manners.  He likes her legs, her voice, and her dog.  “If there wasn’t a tornado, you’d totally get laid tonight,” she says.  “Mother Nature’s always cock blocking me,” he says. The dog only cries when the sirens stop.

A few days before New Year’s 2000, on their first anniversary as a couple, he’s hopped up on Y2K fever, joking about moving to Idaho and starting a survivalist camp where they could live off the land, make babies, and live like the Swiss Family Robinson, only with high powered machine guns.  “I’ll teach you to shoot,” he says.  She pats him on the head, calls him “adorable.”

For his birthday, she takes him to a Tapas restaurant, tells him they should go to Spain and swim in the nude.  For her birthday, he takes her paintballing, and then afterwards, with yellow paint streaking his hair, he kneels, proposes.

In 2003, when they get married, his uncles from Tulsa come up and take him shooting for his bachelor party.  They give him a Glock, which she hides from him saying he must have lost it when he was drunk.  She goes to an Irish Pub with her sister and cries for a long time.

They honeymoon in Rocky Mountain National Park.  She likes to doddle along the trails, singing old camp songs, while he keeps looking for bears.  It keeps him awake the entire night.  “Relax,” she told him.  “We’re in a campground with a swimming pool and internet access.”

In 2005, after two years of begging, she relents and lets him buy a 9mm semi-automatic with the stipulation that he also buys a safe for it and keeps the ammo in her underwear drawer.  “I don’t want you to shoot me if I get up to pee in the middle of the night,” she says.

In 2006, they have their first child, a boy.  He wants to name him George.  She prefers William.  They settle on Steve.

They stop talking about politics after the 2008 election.  “Just know,” she tells him.  “There are certain opinions I’ll never let you live forget.”  He drinks a beer, clearly crying, tells her “whatever.”

In 2009, they have a daughter.  Both like the name Michelle, but for different reasons.

In 2011, she decides it is time to return to work as a nurse.  He’s always liked her medical skills—just in case, you never know—but he surprises her by his objections.  “Don’t I make enough money?” he asks.  “No,” she says.

In 2015, after October’s Monsoon floods, which were even worse than the September Monsoon floods, he buys a house on top of the largest hill in Illinois (it was about 60 feet high) without telling her.  Yet, the kitchen and bathrooms are nice, so she forgives him soon enough.  A month later, after the Thanksgiving dust storm that blinded the dog, he starts talking about Idaho again.

In 2016, on the eve of her 40th birthday, she goes to that same Irish pub—her husband home with the kids—and makes out with the bartender in the bathroom, giving him a vociferous and thorough handjob before begging him not to tell anyone.  She calls her sister, confessing.  Her sister, ever practical, says just one thing: “Bartenders never rat.”

After Michelle loses a thumb to a snakehead fish in 2019, they decide upon homeschooling.  “You have to quit your job,” he tells her.  “Fine,” she says.  “But this will make you miserable.”

After the great riots of 2021, when farmers with John Deere’s march upon the Post Office and mothers with electric rolling pins burn down the banks, she agrees to Idaho.  Her children, however, are unhappy.  “Mom,” Steve says.  “They have Giant Radiation Wolves there.”  This was not an adolescent exaggeration.  The Giant Radiation Wolves are real, but, fortunately, they mostly eat bears.

Idaho isn’t awful, she tells her sister in 2023.  “Now that we’ve got the holo-Skype working again, its not so lonely,” she says.  Her sister, living in the Lake Shore Chicago compound, laughs.  “Yeah,” she says.  “But how are the bartenders?”

They find themselves in agreement 2024, when Florida and Texas declare independence.  “Let ‘em go,” they say in unison.  They have sex for the first time in two years.

They electrify the fence in 2026 after Michelle nearly falls onto a wounded Black Bear glowing green.  He says it’s time the children start carrying guns.  “And I’m digging a bunker,” he says.  She doesn’t fight him.

In 2027, when the First Great War of Southern Aggression breaks out over an HMO dispute, he wants to go fight for the Nationalists, but she puts her foot down.  “If you leave,” she says.  “That fence will be electric when you come back.”  He chooses neutrality.

They can’t stop Steve though, who, to spite his father, flees to Boston to join up with the Internationalists.  Horrified, his father says he is never to return.   Banished.   His mother, however, gives him all the gold bullion she has stashed in her underwear drawer along with the twenty-five year old Glock.

On the eve of her 53rd birthday, she takes the Humvee into Idaho Falls, to the town’s last remaining Irish pub and fucks the bartender in backroom after hours.  There are no calls to her sister, no confessions to her husband.

About a year later, after too much Barley Wine, they codify a list of topics not to talk about that includes politics, his bunker, his handguns, the Nationalists, the Internationalists, the Red Cloud, the Spider Monkeys, her sister, and their children.  “What’s left?” he asks.  “The dog,” she says.

The next ten years pass in near silence.  She takes up rutabaga farming and he works on his bunker.  Michelle eventually marries a Nationalist captain and they move North Oregon, while Steve occasionally sends a letter from his cell in coastal Atlanta.  On nights when the static storms get so fierce they have to shut down the generator, she plays solitaire by the kerosene, while he drinks shine from his still.

Inside the bunker during the Great Tornado Outbreak of 2053, she begins to cry.  They’re both old now; their children gone nearly twenty years; her sister dead from West Nile III; his uncles long perished in battle.   He puts down his rifle, takes off his night vision goggles, un-velcroes his bulletproof vest.  She’s still beautiful, he thinks.  “What’s wrong?” he asks.  “Nothing,” she says. “Except.  This is so much better than the bathtub.”

————————

Originally from Los Angeles, Michael Gutierrez holds an MFA in fiction from the University of New Hampshire and an MA in history from the University of Massachusetts. His work has been published by Scarab, The Pisgah Review, and LA Weekly. He currently lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina where he is working on a novel about 19th century New York barmaids and teaches writing at the University of North Carolina.

J.J.

One day, our friend J.J. turns into a brick. This is good news for everyone, especially J.J. For example: buying presents is affordable and fulfilling – a silk sock or a velvet boxer – something he can cozy up to. J.J. likes it because now we have to pay attention to how smart he is because he insists we write down his formulas on a big chalkboard in the living room. It is so big there is a ladder to reach the higher-up equations when things get complicated.

J.J. is trying to solve a problem everyone’s pretty sure he can solve. We don’t know math, but we’re confident in J.J.’s abilities, especially now that he’s a brick. It is not a problem, he tells us, his voice low and professorial. I am trying to find the Euler Brick whose space diagonal is also an integer. Because he is a brick, he doesn’t have to bother with everyday distractions (eating, sleeping, brushing teeth, showering). He does, unfortunately, still have to pay his bills.

His girlfriend sits down once a month and presses buttons on the laptop because she is the only one J.J. trusts with his account information. Why don’t you just enroll in auto-pay? we ask him, but he tells us he needs something to keep his foot tethered to reality. His girlfriend snarfs in the corner and then apologizes.

Their love life is quite hard. They tried for a while, but his girlfriend told me it was like rubbing up against something painful and has taken to masturbating with her back turned while Brick pretends he’s sleeping.

We’ve started calling him Brick behind his back. It’s hard, in fact, to remember him as J.J. The face bears no resemblance. The red clay clashes with our memory of his pale, pale skin. Because J.J. was almost translucent – his veins coming through his skin like road maps – and his face still had that boyish charm – curly, blond hair around his ears that set off his blue, blue eyes. And Brick is opaque, matt, red. He is all right angles and corners. You know how looks begin to affect personality? Brick has become hard.

He’s also hit a snag in his algorithm. One morning, he has us erase the board. People we have never seen before fill the living room with a computer that rivals the chalkboard.

Why don’t you solve the problem of how to turn back into a human? we ask him.

I am not a scientist, he retorts. I am a mathematician.

Don’t you think that finding the perfect brick or whatever is a little self-indulgent?

He rolls his eyes like we have no idea what we’re talking about, which, fair. We don’t.

We take shifts sleeping. Those of us who had jobs have lost them. We are worried about J.J. who is now Brick and consumed by his work. There are thousands of pages of data to analyze. There are a million dollars at stake and another mathematician, Brick assures us, right around the corner on the verge of finding this thing. Keep up! he yells to us from his desk.

Sometimes, if you wake up at three in the morning to take your shift and the person before you has fallen asleep in a chair, fingers rested on the keyboard mid-stroke, you can hear him weeping, or trying to weep, and it makes you think about what it must mean to know you’re not human – to have that kind of awareness and be powerless to effect change. We grow old and gray, cut our fingernails day after day, watch the creases grow around our eyes. His disintegration will take time. A few molecules here and there, the softening of his corners.

He worries about it – the disintegration. He worries and worries and worries. He’s taken to having us measure his sides every morning. He worries mostly to his girlfriend who walks around with swollen eyes. Her arms are raw because she scratches them up and down, up and down whenever Brick is talking to her.

Isn’t this what you wanted? she screams, throwing mortar at his face. The saddest fate for a brick, we think, is to be stationed in a wall. We pry the spatula from her fingers and sooth her with chamomile tea. We wipe Brick clean, quickly, before he hardens.

————————

Talia Mailman is a writer and musician. Her stories have appeared in Flyway Journal and Bluestem, and she received her Masters in Harp Performance from Boston University. She grew up on the East Coast and now lives in Texas, where she is pursuing her M.F.A. in fiction at University of Houston.

Subtext at the OK Corral

Even during the honeymoon years of your marriage, dinner meant little more than frozen meat and corn divided by the walls of a plastic-sealed, microwave-safe tray. Grab a Heineken, wash down a Centrum, and pray that the vitamin helps whatever cancer you’re harboring. At your age, probably testicular. But tonight you’re all out of two-dollar Salisbury steak. All out of chicken nuggets. All out of buffalo wings. Tonight it’s the shit that should’ve been trashed months ago. Tonight it’s chalky cashews, stale potato chips, frostbitten ice cream. Not all together, of course, and not necessarily in that order.

You pull the spoon out of your mouth, its silvery face streaked white. Your wife sits on the couch, jabs the keys of her laptop, saying, “You know that the quote-unquote natural flavor in that ice cream is made from beaver anus? You know that, right? Vanilla and raspberry. Beaver anus.” Eyes glowing behind the computer, she jams the delete key, stopping only to glare at you. “Guess you could always fuck a pint of Ben and Jerry’s then, huh?”

You scrape the bottom of the bowl and sigh, because what she’s really saying is: Remember how we were laying in bed yesterday and you couldn’t get it up because we were trying to fuck for the billionth time this year, so I thought it’d be a great idea to discuss our fantasies in hopes that it would send blood rushing to your flaccid penis, and sure I promised that you could be completely and totally and utterly honest and that I wouldn’t judge, and though it all started off innocent enough with us describing all the various places we could fuck, like on a beach or in a changing room at Macy’s, and how we could try mutual masturbation and break out the purple dildo I bought from that sex-toy party years ago, but then I said, Tell me your kinkiest fantasy, and while you should’ve known this was a trick—maybe on some level you did since, after all, you avoided saying threesome like any other guy would—you were stupid enough to believe that I wanted you to be honest, and so you went with anal? Anal sex even though you once stuck a finger in my ass, resulting in me giving you the silent treatment for an entire week as well as denying you sex for an entire month? You dumb, horny, piece-of-shit excuse for a husband.

All that, that’s what she really said. So here’s where you, the shitty husband, should quietly place the bowl in the sink and go somewhere else, anywhere else. Leave before you say something that really gets you into trouble. Go smoke a joint. Whatever. Just leave this conversation. Then, after she’s cooled off, pay her a compliment about her legs, about her haircut. Whatever. Though she’ll reply with something snarky, your chances of getting to sleep in bed will have significantly increased.

And so you’re turning away from the kitchen sink when wifey tells the computer, “Yay, another dish for me to clean,” but what she’s really saying is: I will continue this passive-aggressive nitpicking until you hate life as much as I do right now. You lazy, overweight, piece-of-shit excuse for a husband.

Your jaw tightens, flexes. Air heaves out your nose, vibrating those unkempt nostril hairs. Run, man. Run. Run before you start going off about Labradors not humping this much, or about her brown-spotted underwear littering the bedroom floor, or about her pathetic need to seek her mother’s approval. Or about that ugly, Alaska-shaped birthmark behind her ear.

You lay a sweaty palm onto the railing, a foot onto a step, ready to make your escape when she says, “You aren’t having second thoughts, are you? Is that what it’s all about? Because I’d rather you tell me my vagina was too big or that you’re a gay or whatever. Bisexual. Just please don’t tell me you’re having second thoughts.” She nibbles her cherry-colored fingernails, incessantly blinking like she always does whenever she’s nervous. “You’re having second thoughts, aren’t you?”

What you want to say is: Baby, I’m scared. Scared this could tear us apart more than it already has. Look at both our parents. Divorce occurred after us, not before us.

What you want to say is: Given the choice, I’m not so sure I’d want to be born into this decaying shitscape we call earth. Second thoughts? Shit. Before we even started trying I was having fourth, fifth, sixth thoughts.

Now think of your wedding day, the reception. How Dad hooked his weathered arm around your neck, breath reeking of open-bar booze. How he winked, congratulated you for marrying “a young broad.” How he checked his gold wristwatch just before leaving you with one piece of advice. Lie. Told you that whatever you do, if it avoids a fight, lie. The less fights, the longer it’ll last. It’s easier this way, he said, trust me. Although currently courting his soon-to-be fourth wife, you’ve come to realize he’s right.

More and more, not just in marriage but in all relationships, life feels scripted. Maybe you get to play supporting actor, though usually you’re just another extra. Just another part of the scenery. Whether it’s facing forward in an elevator pretending you don’t smell a fart, or remaining silent while your racist uncle rants during Christmas dinner. It’s a flexible script, yes, but a script nonetheless.

“I’m sorry about the whole, you know, butt thing. Guys at work mentioned something about it.” You say, “And no, I’m not into men and your vagina is fine.”

“It’s fine?”

“Perfect. I meant perfect.”

“Yeah, I bet you did.”

An awkward silence turns into a staring contest, the type fit for a gunfight at the OK Corral. You shift your weight and the wooden stair creaks, prompting you to say, “You think you’re still ovulating?”

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R. M. Schappell writes stuff. Get stoked. His work resides (or will soon) at Monday Night, Urban Graffiti, The Legendary, and elsewhere. Send him your hatemail at facebook.com/rmschappell.

The Joy of Cooking

I stood alone in the center of my empty kitchen, staring idly beyond tattered floral drapes, single-pane glass, and drone of houses hugging the street. The sound of painted white floorboards clacking as I tapped my “Dorothy” ruby red heels was the only disturbance to cut through the thick humid air, inescapable during Atlanta’s oppressive summers. Standing there in a summery polka-dot dress with twin strands of pearls swinging down towards what I know to be perfect breasts, I felt like a parody of myself, an adult caricature of the little blonde girl who dressed dolls in white wedding gowns and always wanted to grow up to be a housewife. Seeing the white peach blossoms outside, I allowed myself to get lost in the afternoon sky, tinged with just the right amount of red. Closing my eyes, I felt the airy sensation of a daydream creep up gently from behind. Bob’s warm calloused hands slid along my waist in an impossibly seductive embrace. Moist lips traced a path from my shoulder to my neck, and came to rest—with a playful suck—on my creamy earlobe. They parted to whisper a deep guttural moan into my eager ear. All alone in my big white house, I let out a moan of pleasure. I was struck by the unfamiliarity of the sound I used to know so well. Imagining Bob behind me, I moaned again, letting the all-consuming noise envelope my dainty body until the misfire of a familiar red Studebaker announced the arrival of the real Bob and shattered the glimmering surface of my fantasy.

Snapped back into reality, I clacked to the kitchen, licked my thumb, and began to rifle through the worn pages of my favorite cookbook. Each recipe required only a glance: I had the book all but committed to memory. I paused at the meat section—salivating as I allowed pork-chop flavored desire to pass just in front of my trembling lips—before flipping to an exhausted section that advertised “100 Ways To Cook Potatoes!” The section failed to mention that no matter how potatoes are cooked, they always taste like potatoes.

The front door opened and allowed the gruff question, “What’s for dinner, Sandy?” to enter into the house. The door slammed shut behind Bob’s words, as if to punctuate the question and assure me of my husband’s foul mood.

“Potato pie,” I answered calmly, bracing for the indignation with which I knew Bob would take the news.

“Potatoes? Oh good! Potatoes! You know how much I love potatoes! Nothing better than good ol’ lumpy potatoes after a long hard day at work.” Bob stormed off to the bedroom, leaving me, alone again, to prepare his dinner. I knew better than to reply to my husband’s volatile sarcasm. I simply watched him leave, staring at the twin curves of his supple butt cheeks, shaped like perfectly marinated chicken cutlets.

Though the heat of the day had dissipated slightly, no evening breeze entered through the open windows. By the time dinner was ready, the sticky air was about the same consistency as my mushy potato pie. I glanced over at Bob, observing beads of sweat as they trickled down his strong forehead. We ate in silence until Bob’s twelfth gut-wrenching sigh of the night made the sinewy nerves that tether my temper to my good sense snap.

“Bob! Is that absolutely necessary?”

“Do you expect me to be happy with this meal?” Bob snorted at me.

“It’s all we have. We have to make do,” my no-nonsense tone startled me. Before the war I’m sure I had been a romantic. Bob didn’t respond. I bit my lip seductively and changed my tactics: “The war’s hard on all of us, Bob.” I advanced towards my husband and brushed the back of a painted red fingernail across his cheek. “We all just need to try and relax.”

Bob shrank away from my touch. “What are you doing?”

“How long has it been?” I watched Bob push his chair away from the table. I didn’t know whether to cry or tear my clothes off and beg. Stuck in between these two acts of desperation, I went on the attack.

“We haven’t made love since the day you got deferred from service.”

Bob started, “I told you not to mention–”

“Look, I know you’re upset. But having a bad ear is nothing to be ashamed of. It means you get to stay here with me… maybe make a baby?” I touched him again, more suggestively this time. I willed him to remember the love and passion we shared before the war. “What do you say?”

“Now you listen to me you… woman. There are certain things your kind can’t understand and how men think is one of those things.”

I sighed into my husband’s words. “Help me to understand, Bob.”

“You want to know? Really? Bob was standing now.” Patches of his collared shirt were becoming transparent with sweat. The shirt reminded me of the taboo fact that Bob worked in a factory where his coworkers were mostly women, and I felt myself immediately cut to the stomach with seething jealousy. I barely heard my husband’s next words. “Well for one men don’t look at sex the same way as women do.”

“Don’t they?”

“No. And there are only two things that get a man’s blood up: that’s fighting and meat. And this goddamn war has deprived me of both!”

That night Bob slept on the couch and I dreamt of the war. It was not unlike my sensual fantasies: I felt totally immersed in the bloodshed around me, but quite certain of the fact that I was immune to it, as if surrounded by a thin silk cocoon that picked up a pleasant, stimulating effervescence from the titillating energy of the war, bringing it to me in pleasurable waves. I woke with the paralyzed face of a slain soldier etched deep in my mind, and was struck by how manly he looked, even in death. Even in death not a boy, but a man capable of all things that men can do. Upon further reflection I realized that the slain soldier looked exactly like my husband.

Breakfast was oatmeal. I added a dash of cinnamon and snuck in a few precious raisins in a meager attempt to add some flavor but, from the look on Bob’s contemptuous face as he moved the lumpy paste in circles with his spoon while reading the morning paper, I had not been not successful. Despite his misgivings, I decided to remain pleased with my effort and wore a determined twinkle in my eye for the duration of the meal. The night had refreshed me, and I passive-aggressively hummed to myself as I washed up after the meal. Coaxing a not-nearly-long enough kiss on the cheek from Bob on his way out the door, I made a quick phone call, urging a charming old friend to join me for my afternoon tea. I then turned my attention to sprucing-up my already spotless home. All morning I worked furiously at the house, dusting, mopping, even beginning to prepare a side of mashed potatoes for dinner. At a quarter after one, the doorbell sounded. An unassuming houseguest waited on the front porch in the sweltering afternoon heat. I took my time answering the door, first stepping into the bathroom to check my perfectly powered visage. My white face glowed. My softly curled golden hair cast shadowed ringlets across my shoulders and cheekbones. My delicate skin and light hair complimented the flushed red paint that coated my voluptuous lips. If nothing else, I was beautiful, and if Bob was going through some sort of mid-life crisis that made him too insecure to sleep with me, then fine. But why should I suffer? I had always been a survivor, and I was going to do whatever it took to make my perfect marriage to the sexiest man (with the biggest piece of meat in Atlanta) endure this war. Even if that meant getting my hands dirty.

I sauntered to the front door and, giddy with anticipation, let my guest in with an alluring giggle and my sweetest southern-belle voice, “Why Father Carter, you certainly got here real quick! I haven’t even had time to straighten up.”

Father Carter was a mildly handsome man in his fifties whose strong hands and sun-worn face betrayed time spent tending to crops when he wasn’t performing his Catholic priestly duties. As far as I knew, Carter felt none of Bob’s confusing emotions regarding not participating in the war, and I assume he was grateful that his age provided him with a legal justification to avoid seeing combat. On the phone I told him I was inviting him to tea because I was thinking of converting to Catholicism; from the moment I opened the door, I could see how excited he was to convince me that I was making the right decision. He was a simple man, certainly nothing to spark wild daytime fantasies, but perfect for what I had in mind.

“Well hello there Sandy, you look… may I have a glass of water?”

“Certainly,” I flounced to the fridge, took out a crystal pitcher, and leaned over as I poured water into a glass, revealing even more of the cleavage that was already swelling over the top of my strapless red sundress.

“Thank you.” Carter glanced towards the heavens to avoid making eye contact with any part of me and breaking the tenth commandment.

I sensed that I was making Carter uncomfortable, so I moved in close to him and traced tiny circles on his knee with my middle finger. I had no time to waste, my husband would be home in a little over four hours, and I had no idea how long the process would take.

“So, Father Carter, I’m dying to know,” I opened my mouth slowly and seductively on the word dying, letting Carter get a good long look at the way my tongue lingered just behind my perfect white teeth during the “y” sound, letting him wonder at just what that tongue, and those lips, were capable of when given the chance, “just how are things at the parish?”

Just uttering these words filled my stomach with a fluttering sensation. I had always fancied myself a type of Scarlett O’Hara, and my excitement at the impending compromise of my good-girl “southern morals” was palpable. And why shouldn’t the possibility have excited me? In the north women wore impossibly short skirts and drank bootleg gin. I had felt the residue of these actions throughout my life as it had trickled down south. Not that I would ever want to be one of those floozies, what with their premarital pregnancies and short hair. I am and always have been better than that, but still there’s something about them that seems so… satisfied.

Carter struggled to put together a sentence,  “Well…things are um well…well. Things are going well.”

“That’s fascinating, you’re a fascinating man, Father Carter,” I inched my hand up the man of God’s thigh, “Simply fascinating.”

“I-i-is that so?” Carter stuttered.

I tried to smile like the devil: as sinfully and seductively as possible. “Yes,” I ran my tongue across my red lips in a way that I hoped portrayed a sexual hunger, “I think you are.”

I thought that I heard Carter whisper, “Forgive me,” as my hand reached further up his thigh and found its mark.

Before long the priest, who had entered my home with every intention of converting a good southern girl to Catholicism, found himself tied to a bed by an apparently sex-crazed woman in a red sundress who was promising to “make all your unrealized fantasies come true.”

“Yes, but is the blindfold absolutely necessary?”

“But of course. If you don’t see what I’m doing, it enhances the sensation.” I gave Carter one last glimpse of my swollen cleavage before I tied a red bandana across his eyes, plunging him in blackness.

Leaving my helpless victim in the dark, I tutted to herself twice before measuredly heading down the stairs to her kitchen.

After a few minutes I heard Carter’s voice: “Sandy, Sandy where are you? What’s going on?”

I didn’t bother to answer him; it was no longer necessary. I stood in the kitchen, letting delicious waves of pure fantasy wash over me: Bob in a soldier’s uniform, holding me at gunpoint and telling me to tear off my clothes. Bob kissing me as though trying to suck the life from me. Bob and myself at the kitchen table with meat fat smeared on our faces and bones on our plates. Before I even knew what had happened I found myself back in the bedroom with Carter, wearing a white apron with red bows and frills and heart-shaped patches for pockets.

“Sorry about that,” I giggled, “I had to use the bathroom. Truth is, I’m a little nervous.”

“Listen, Sandy, can you take off this blindfold? I mean I appreciate you trying to make my fantasies come true and everything but this seems a little excessive. You’re a beautiful woman and…”

I didn’t answer. I just let Carter knead the tense air of the guest bedroom with his anxious babbling. As my hand gripped the butcher’s knife, I felt my heart pounding audibly in my chest. I closed my eyes. Bob’s face swam before me and I spread my blood red lips into a wide smile.

Four hours later I heard the telltale misfire of my husband’s car in the driveway and felt myself grin in the way people with delicious secrets tend to grin.

I heard the front door open as it always did around 5:30, every weekday. I heard the all too familiar “What’s for dinner Sandy?” punctuated by the slam of the  front door.

I let only a small smirk of self-satisfaction play at the taut red corners of my lips as Bob entered the kitchen to find his wife in a stunning red sundress, holding a large meatloaf in her oven-mitted hands.

“What did… how did…” Bob was speechless. Seeing my husband revitalized set me emotionally ablaze. I resolved to tell him later that night how much I loved him: that I might not know what’s it’s like to be a man but that I would kill for him, if it ever came to that. The catharsis was so great that I wondered how I had ever survived in such a repressed state.

I watched my husband inhale the final bite of his dinner proclaiming, “I feel like twice the man I was before.” I let my satisfied smile spill out my ice blue eyes.

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Leah Barsanti is a Bachelor of Arts candidate at Washington University. Her work has previously appeared in Oddball Magazine, as well as on various theatrical stages in St. Louis. Recently her play — If I Were You and Other Elvis Presley Songs — premiered as part of the Washington University Performing Arts Department’s 2012/2013 season, receiving standing ovations and sell-out shows. Follow her professional twitter account at @LeahBarsanti to learn what’s new in the world of her writing.

Seth Sankary is also a Bachelor of Arts candidate at Washington University who recently took an Intro to Fiction Writing class. He is studying biology and will be headed to medical school in the fall of 2013. His upcoming publications include a medical essay in The Journal of Hand Surgery. He is also dating the coolest and most talented girl ever, who just so happens to be his co-author on this story.

FUN CAMP

Question

Dave and Holly, how old are you? And is camp like your whole job all year or is there other stuff?

Too Far

Where were you coming from? Is this part of your normal route? How soon before the prank did you notice the prankster? At what point did you realize you were going to be drenched? What do you think drew the prankster’s attention to you? What did the prankster say? What was your response? Were any props displayed? Did you get a good look at him? Did he have any scars, tattoos, or otherwise appealing characteristics? Did he appear to be a boxer, martial artist, magician, or in any other way more dangerous than a normal prankster? Did the prank seem good-natured in nature? Could you see how it’d be funny had it happened to anybody else but you? Do you think the prankster knew the pig’s blood was pig’s blood? What’ve you been scheming up for the ultimate payback? Do you want to go shower off first or come visit the prank trunk now? I’ve got whoopee cushions, itching powder, diuretics, laxatives, Vagasil, fake knives, fake guns, paint guns, stink bombs. I’d offer you some pig’s blood but a kid nabbed up the last of it this afternoon. Take whatever you need, ma’am, and consider me a resource. This is what I do. My role is to make sure rivalries escalate responsibly. And god—seeing you like this, all nasty, coagulating before me— damned if it doesn’t feel like a vocation.

Suggestion

Maybe some rule where everybody has to be nice and talk to you and not move away when you sit by them since it is hard and I am trying.

Ice-Breaker

You’re riding an elevator with a vacantly beautiful woman who pulls a wad of cash from her purse and says to you, “I’m going to use this to purchase a goat, which I will sacrifice to Satan.” Then she gets off the elevator and leaves the purse behind. Do you call out to her and return the purse? Do you remove the “goat money” and then return the purse? Do you keep the purse and the money, then run up her credit cards to be sure and disable her powers as a conduit of darkness? If so, would you only spend the money on donations to worthy charities or might you take a small portion of the money and buy a sandwich? And if that sandwich is a goat sandwich, are you really any better than the Satanist?

Question

What’s the rule on campers soliciting curly locks from loved counselors?

My Face Hurts

It’s so hard to command emotions, Fun Camp! It just is. But we believe, don’t we, that commanding the good ones, like, “I’m having a smiling time in the managed danger of this hot field,” is a shot at actually feeling happy and that commanding the bad ones, like, “I’m hungry,” or “Trees suck,” or “Fire in the building!” is a shot at nothing at all? Unless it’s Oscar season? Put another way: Is fake it ‘til you make it just for job interviews, or for when flossing too? Or still another: Which would win the genuine face pageant: The “everything is good and ends badly” face? The “not getting as much sleep as I’d prefer” face that’s so popular around here? Or is it the one that implies, as the young pop star once declared at the receipt of her own Commander of Bad Feelings award, that this world is bullshit? God, I hope not. How embarrassing for the friendly and what a coup for the sultry. My closest approximation of sultry is pouty, and I never think I’m being pouty when I’m being pouty. How Holly reminds me I’m being pouty is by telling me it’s important to try and enjoy this. This being anything, whatever’s in front of us.

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Gabe Durham is the author of FUN CAMP, coming May 31 from Mud Luscious Press. Other writings have appeared in Mid-American Review, DIAGRAM, The Rumpus, and Quarterly West. He lives in Los Angeles. Blog: gatherroundchildren.com / Twitter: @gabedurham

CAPTAIN BEEFHEART

Old Floozy sits in the kitchenette athletically smoking cigarillos, discarding stubs
extravagantly on ceramic dinner plates. She puts on Captain Beefheart and unpins
gnarls of tumbleweed hair. Beefheart says hey hey hey all you young girls and she takes a
defiant drag off her cigarillo, pulls smoke sharp through closed teeth.

hey hey hey all you young girls

Not young, but she used to be. Back before her brain was a rock.

Before her skin turned to paper. Before her legs split to scissor.

Beefheart says

hey hey hey all you young girls whatever you do
well come on by and see me I’ll make it worth it to you

And that cold harmonica comes in and plays to her guts and she’s on her feet, pulling at
her blouse, pushing hands slow down thighs, parallel pathways performing complex
computations required to push those soft raw hands over soft raw denim. She knocks
smoldering cigarillo carcasses clean across the room; she don’t give a fig. She dances the
letter S, polished fingernails pressing hard over Jordache. One hundred forty eight
pounds, legs corded with muscle. Ventricles enlarged. Grinds the balls of her feet deep
into rotting peach carpet. She’s drugstore decadence: generic musk and fruit fantasies.
Not a trace of fetal fuzz. Well sure ’nuff and yes she do.

She’s not yours, but she could be. She’s safe as milk.

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Kate Nacy writes. She lives in Berlin, where she’s at work on a chapbook and several unauthorized “tell all” biographies.

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