ISSUE #12: Robert Wexelblatt, Megan Johnson, Sisters

Posted: Monday, August 30, 2010 | | Labels:

Photograph by Megan Johnson

by Robert Wexelblatt

It means middle, center. It means a circle around the world. It is also the name of a town in Mississippi near the Alabama line, which is where her mother’s family were from; she said, “my mama’s people.” Cute, isn’t it? Meridian could switch on the accent whenever she wanted; it rarely erupted all by itself, even when she was angry. “It’s Southern to call people by two names, in case you didn’t know, the second usually being that of somebody in the family—dead or alive, doesn’t matter.”

Her full name was Meridian Louise MacAllister and she was clear about what she wanted me to call her, which was Meridian. “Don’t you ever call me Merry-- and don’t even think Merry Lou. I’d sooner you called me Merde and that’s French for shit. I had a cousin called me that once, but he didn’t know French. He didn’t know a lot of things.”

Issue #12 soundtrack: Sisters "Glue"

Meridian more or less moved into my one-bedroom hole the week before Memorial Day. I say more or less because she kept paying her half of the rent on the sublet she was supposed to be sharing with Monica, another college girl, and made sure I didn’t forget it. I met the roommate only once, on the same night I met Meridian. I liked Monica. She did some card tricks and told us about going to “magic camp” when she was little. “Girls don’t usually do magic,” she said. “No,” cracked Meridian, “we get sawed in half.” Monica smiled politely. “There were about a hundred boys and only three girls and one of them got homesick and left early.” I suppose Monica was used to being on her own, used to people taking off. Or maybe she had a boyfriend waiting for Meridian to move out so he could move in and Meridian was looking for some provisional place to land. For all I know that could have been the plan.

I’d just dropped out of college, Framingham State, not the pricey place Monica and Meridian graced with their presence. I lasted two semesters. But even with a scholarship it was expensive and, anyway, I’d been in school all my life and felt like I’d had about enough. My brother Frank got me a job working construction-- good job, no roofing, and paid under the table. Then I got myself the cheap apartment in Allston and figured I’d found the future, or at least an early draft of it.

My friend Terry and I met Monica and Meridian on a Tuesday night in a sports bar. Terry, a big Celtics fan, was into the playoffs; I was more interested in Meridian. It was one of those sudden things, at least on my side—you know, first you’re hit by this hurricane wind, then everything stops and gravity seizes you. People never rise in love; they fall.

She was suspicious at first and kept a karate chop away from my elbow. Meridian wasn’t easy, not in any sense at all. Monica was actually more forthcoming, paired off with Terry, who couldn’t take his eyes off the fourteen TV monitors. But when I debriefed him later he was vague. He was pretty sure Monica told him one of them was a sophomore and the other a junior, that she had some sort of job for the summer that she seemed excited about; he said he thought they were sharing an apartment. I later learned that they’d only met a couple weeks earlier, when Monica saw Meridian’s flyer on a bulletin board advertising for a roommate. Technically, it was Meridian’s apartment that she abandoned to Monica in order to move in with me which felt significant. Monica had just gotten an internship, unpaid, with an advertising agency. I remember her as a kind of ad herself: T-shirt and tight jeans with labels on the outside, Abercrombie, Christin Michaels. Meridian wore Lee boot jeans and her top was white and had the demure frills over her breasts. But it was her face I couldn’t stop looking at. She made me think of a commercial I’d seen for a health plan. A middle-aged doctor has this little girl up on the examination table. She’s got big eyes and a sweet mouth and curly hair; her legs dangle down adorably. Meridian had the same serious, anxious, irresistible look. The little girl looks up at the big doctor. “Am I all right?” she asks in this tiny voice and the doctor pauses, leans toward her in his white coat, breaks into a kindly smile, and says, “You’re. . . perfect.”

* * * * *

As I came though the door I could hear Meridian singing along to Sparklz’s “But When?” It was her favorite of the week. She was stretched out on the couch in cut-off jeans, barefoot—her hillbilly look. She had on my long-sleeve T-shirt, the gray one with nothing written on it. The sleeves came down over her hands, except for the fingertips.

Say I’m not just your rib,
Say you believe in girls’ lib,
Or was that all a fib?
You promise me a crib,
But when? But when?

“Tough day,” I reported. Meridian nodded but went on singing and I couldn’t tell if she heard me, if she were singing through me or to me.

All those sweet things you said,
They just mess with my head,
Said you want to get wed,
At least when we’re in bed.
But when? But when?

I picked up her feet, sat down on the couch, and lay her legs across my lap. “What’d you do today?”

“Library. You could use a shower.”

Meridian was doing what she called independent research. It wasn’t for a course or even for credit which, she said, made it pure.

The previous summer she had bopped around Greece and Italy, then spent August at home. I gathered that her parents were wealthy Republicans and profoundly alarmed by their younger daughter, who hadn’t turned out at all like their satisfactory older one.

“A whole month is way too long,” she said of her previous August in Valdosta, Georgia. “I told them no more than a week this year-- two, tops. Hey, want to come?”

She didn’t sound serious, so I said, “Think I’ll pass.”

Meridian didn’t offer coherent narratives; I had to piece things together over the first couple of weeks. When I wasn’t working or we weren’t eating, we were in bed, inventing sex. When we did talk she asked me complicated questions and demanded long answers. My questions were answered with a sentence, a phrase. For example, when I asked about her sister, she just said, “Vivian Marie? Married.” She stuffed a lot into that last word.

The one thing she was forthcoming about was her research project.

“I got the idea in philosophy class.”

“What was it, ethics?”

She shrugged. “Introduction to the Fundamentals of Basics 101. Anyway, the professor commented on what was obvious, that, except for him, we were all female. Some of the girls gave a little cheer-- ‘yea, girl power’-- but he said, ‘Do you really want to be married to a guy who can’t get a joke about Plato?’”

I patted her thigh and asked for a joke.

“About Plato?” she said seriously.

“Doesn’t have to be.”

“Okay. Here’s a philosophical joke. Guy’s driving his pickup down a country road. This woman’s driving toward him, just coming over a hill. As she draws up next to him she rolls down her window and yells Pig! So he hollers back, Bitch! Then he drives over the rise and on the other side there’s this huge hog in the middle of the road. Guy swerves into a tree and is killed.”

“Not about Plato, is it?”

“It’s about language, semantics, floating signifiers.”

I let that float significantly a bit before observing with what I thought was a philosophical tone, “It’s also about not understanding, isn’t it?”

She blinked at me fetchingly. “Bingo,” she said with genuine surprise then pulled herself up and gave me a kiss. Good boy. A+.

* * * * *

I’d suggested a Sunday picnic. I’d bought sub sandwiches, sodas, and watermelon and spread a blanket in the weedy little yard behind the building.

“Tell me more about your project.”

“I decided I’m going to include photographs.”

“Pictures of--?”

“Portraits of the guys, of course. The ones I’m going to interview who aren’t in college, like you.”

“I’m part of your project?”

She smiled radiantly. “Sure. The main part.”

I twitched my nose like a guinea pig; I grunted like a hog in the middle of a road.

“Did you know the best schools have had male affirmative action for at least a decade?”

“Male affirmative action?”

“Lower entrance credentials. The want to keep the ratio up. I found an article.”


“Pretty straightforward, actually. They found that if the ratio gets above 60/40 the best women just stop coming. If they didn’t do anything it’d be over 70, probably way above. Don’t you think it’s a problem?”

“What? The affirmative action?”

“No. The absence of men.”

“We’re not absent.”

“Educated ones are.”

“We’re somewhere else.”

“I think that’s a problem.”

“Worried about all those ungotten jokes?”

* * * * *

It was a hot day for June. I’d been painting a triple-decker. Meridian was waiting for me on the steps. I gave her a kiss on the cheek, which she presented for that purpose. She held a book of matches and pulled one off.

“Don’t play with matches,” I said automatically.

“Look at this,” she said. “Really look.”


She struck the match and held it up to my face.

I blew it out when I thought it was going to burn her fingers. I liked those fingers.

She struck another one.

“Watch more closely this time.”

“For what?”

“For metaphor,” she said. “Hey. That’s almost a palindrome.”

“A what?”

The match burned down and again I blew it out.

“I wrote a poem today,” she said.

“Good. That’s good.”

“Maybe. Want to see it? I want to show it to you.” She grabbed my hand and led me up the stairs.

The paper was on the table. She handed it to me and then watched me reading it, watched me more closely than I’d watched her flaming metaphor.

A Match

By abrasion lit
to flare in glory,
greedy for air with
which to declare
a nature that is
to burn itself up
and spare nothing of
its rare and fragile
life, a concise prayer
to lucidity
there in my bare hand
which takes care with fire,
that is aware of
risks too vast to bear,
where extinction waits.
While it burns I stare.

I handed the paper back.

“Well?” she asked.

Meridian’s poem startled me. I began to feel a little of what I imagined her Republican southern parents might have and I knew I’d better be careful.

“It’s intense,” I said. “In fact, it’s about intensity, isn’t it? And all those rhymes—they make it even more intense.” I was going great guns. Then I slipped up. “But remember, I dropped out of college, so what do I know?”

“Shut up,” she said and gave me a shove.

“You’re the match, aren’t you?”

She smirked at me and folded the paper in quarters. “Keep it,” she said. “And take a shower. You reek.”

“Join me?”

“Ugh. Okay.”

Under the spray I had a last thought. “If you’re the match, am I the one watching it burn? Or are you both?”

“Basta, caro,” she whispered in my ear and set about scouring paint off my neck.

* * * * *

There was no way to keep Meridian a secret, not with her interviewing every friend of mine she could nag me into serving up. I didn’t conceal how much I disliked it.

“You aren’t jealous, are you?” she’d said, feigning surprise, as though jealousy were rare as winning lottery tickets, as if it were something people only felt in operas. Then she gave out this teenaged giggle. In fact, she was right tickled.

Anyway, I knew Terry would tell my brother sooner rather than later, so I told him first. The question was whether he would tell our parents. It had been tough enough getting them to accept my dropping out of school and finding my own place-- actually, accepting wasn’t what they did at all, especially my mother. You always knew where you stood with her. With Meridian it was mostly the opposite.

We were both loved by our parents and loved them back and yet were hiding out from them, clearing a defensive corridor around ourselves. Maybe it made a bond. But the Republicans of Valdosta were, after all, a thousand miles away in Dixie, while my folks were barely two miles off, in Hyde Park. I had to see them. For my mother in particular Sunday dinner with Frank and me was like Mass. Even if I had wanted to bring Meridian with me, which I certainly didn’t, she’d made the issue moot the day she moved in.

“No parents. Okay? Agreed?”

She was unloading a carton of books at the time. I picked each one. Emily Dickinson’s poems and four bigger ones: Daniel Deronda, A Raw Youth, Sentimental Education, Tender Is the Night, and Tropic of Capricorn. A whopping lot of words.

“My summer reading,” she explained. “I know, not cool. But I like classics and I’ve already read the famous ones, Middlemarch and Crime and Punishment, Bovary, Gatsby.”

“You trying to impress me?”

“What? Oh, don’t be ridiculous.”

It was then that she said the thing about no parents. It felt a little like an escape clause was being tacked on to an unwritten contract.

She was fine with my going to Hyde Park on Sundays. She said she’d entertain herself, go for walks and read her books. There was the river, the Public Gardens.

Frank was decent. He didn’t even ask to visit. But he let me know how he felt when he drove me home after dinner that first Sunday.

“Look, why are you with this girl?” he asked. “I mean apart from the obvious.”

I tried a lame joke. “For the not obvious, I guess.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Never mind.”

He turned away, as if addressing somebody hanging on to the door. “College girls,” he said.

Frank had had an unfortunate experience. “Look, just because you--”

“Hold it right there,” he warned.


“So, what is it? Summer thing?”

“I don’t know. You’re not going to tell, are you?”

“Why would I do that? You’ve got plenty enough on me, kid. Don’t worry. I’m happy for you. Job, apartment, college girl. No, really. I mean it. World’s your oyster.”

“But... ?”

“But... well, Terry says she’s a little strange.”

I was going to say something about the reliability of Terry’s judgments then thought better of it. “Meridian’s... unusual,” I allowed.

We stopped for a light. Frank turned to me and raised a finger. “Meridian, eh? You just be careful, all right.”

“We use--”

He punched my shoulder. “Ain’t no emotional condoms, kid. Summer’s over she goes back to class; you don’t. Just keep that in mind.”

When I got home Meridian was all excited about a passage in her Henry Miller book.

“Listen to this,” she said. It was about this big old desk he’d gotten out of his father’s tailor shop, full of pigeon holes, weighing a ton, and wrangled it into his place in Brooklyn. “‘I had to fight a tough battle to install it there, but I insisted that it be there in the midmost midst of the shebang. It was like putting a mastodon in the center of a dentist’s office.’”

“Nice,” I ventured. “Midmost midst.”

“It’s fucking beautiful.”

“Writing’s important to you, isn’t it?”

She gave me a closed-off, superior look. “You aware how you always stick 'isn’t it' at the end of things you say to me?”

“Do I?”

She nodded and bent down to retie her shoelaces, something she sometimes did when she didn’t want to look me in the eye. “All the time. It reveals insecurity.”

“Because I’m an uneducated male?”

She didn’t look up. “It’s possible.”

“Maybe it’s you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Oh, drop it.”

Now she looked at me and grinned. “You mean I’m looking for my mastodon? For this enormous, midmost thing? This anchor?”

“Never mind.”

“I want to interview Frank. Please, may I?”


She growled at me and flounced into the bedroom.

Frank was off limits, but I did let her talk to Terry.

“It was kinda weird” was all he’d say about the experience. Saying it instead of she-- that was Terry being sensitive.

I’m sure it was weird. Talking to Meridian could be like walking on little pieces of ice in the Arctic Ocean. She didn’t bother with transitions; you could never tell what was coming next. Poems, statistics, mastodons, matches. She’d get mad and then she’d get sentimental; she’d climb all over me and then shut completely down. You couldn’t tell what was coming so you didn’t know where you stood.

In June she started growing herbs on the window sill and trying fancy recipes out of big cook books she got from the library. I bought her a set of pots and an apron which I had gift-wrapped.

She tore open the wrapping paper. “An apron?” she said, half pleased and half not.

“It’s getting hot. I think that’s all you should wear. Just the apron.”

I suppose she was feeling both sporty and domestic. She took off her clothes and tried it on.

* * * * *

I found an open envelope by the bed. It was addressed to Meridian Louise MacAllister at her sublet and the postmark was Valdosta, GA 31602. The Republicans. What could Valdosta be like?

“They send me money,” Meridian said when I asked about the letter, “and pleas to come home. It’s a tad contradictory.”

“Why the pleas?”

“They’re terrified I’ll become a Yankee. Can you borrow a car for Sunday? I want to go to Plum Island.”

Frank loaned me his old red Corolla. On the way up I tried to get her to talk about why she was going to school in New England. And it worked; evidently she liked talking in cars.

“I made cheerleader. Any idea what that means in Georgia?”

“Big deal here, too.”

“Not like in Valdosta, believe me.”

“So, what happened?”

“I was into it. Everything I was supposed to be into. The hair, the nails, the gossip, the getting thrown in the air, even the football and being a Baptist.”

“And then?”

“And then one day I wasn’t.”

“Why? What happened?”

“I don’t know. Just came over me. I mean it felt sudden but it must have been building.”

“I don’t follow.”

“I started thinking of the girls who’d graduated a year, two years ahead of me. Most of them were already married. Half were pregnant. One was divorced for God’s sake. And everybody thought that was just fine. I needed to get out. Look homeward, angel. Maybe it was all the reading.”


“I read Dostoyevsky and Faulkner and Hemingway the way other girls read trash. Funny thing is I did it for exactly the same reason, in the same spirit. Escapism. I read good books in a bad way, but I knew they were good and not boring. I really had to get out of there before I got pregnant.”

“So there were boyfriends.”

“Oh, that was another thing. The boys.”

“Did they go to college?”

“Every last one of them. But only to join fraternities and drink and screw around.”

“So that’s the... South?”

“Pretty much. Valdosta’s upper crust anyway. Look over here. My back get sunburnt?”

On the way home the car overheated. Meridian thought that was just hilarious.

* * * * *

July began badly then got much worse. On the Fourth we went to the Esplanade for the Pops and the fireworks. Meridian caught a summer cold.

“It was that jerk who sneezed on me. You know what this means, don’t you?”


“Nyquil and no sex. I’m not going to make you sick too.”

It was a bad cold, with a cough. She stayed in bed reading for three days while a Bermuda high suffused Boston with air she described as coming “straight from the mouth of a Houston used-car salesman.” She was miserable and liked reminding me of it.

As soon as Meridian was on her feet again, she started badgering me to line up more interviews. I arranged for her to see Spence then Harry. They were both between jobs and met her at a Starbucks, or so she said when I got home. Tony would only see her at night and he suggested an Irish bar in Brighton. I had a bad feeling. She left at eight and didn’t get back until three.

“Did you sleep with him?”

She laughed. “Sleep?”

“Merry Lou,” I said slowly, nauseated.

“Fuck you. Your friend Tony’s an asshole. Jesus, he loves Ayn Rand.”

I left, walked all over the Back Bay, had an early breakfast and went straight to the work site on Marlborough Street. I decided she’d be gone when I got home, that she’d move back in with Monica. But she was there, sleeping. And that’s what she mostly did for the next week—slept and cried and apologized. She hardly ate; I hardly spoke.

“What is it with you?” I finally asked.

“Can’t you tell? I’m depressed. Styron called it darkness visible. Am I visible? Can you even see me?”

“There you are.”

“But can you see me because I’m visible, or am I visible because you see me?”


“Plato joke.”

The next night she was hysterical and went on about slitting her wrists “in the Roman style,” and I called a cab and took her to St. Elizabeth’s. They kept her overnight and the next day they called me to come and get her. A nurse gave me a little card with the name of a shrink. What scared me wasn’t so much the referral as that they gave it to me.

* * * * *

When Meridian’s parents came for her I didn’t know how to behave, even though I was the one who phoned them. That had been hard enough but seeing them was worse. The MacAllisters were both shatteringly polite to me, though her mother’s eyes were always tearing up. “Oh, Merry Lou,” she keened when she saw her daughter curled up in a chair. The father was a big red-headed man, but his voice was softer than old tomatoes. “Thank you, thank you for taking care of her,” he said and grasped my hand like he might just crush it.

She had been drowning all along, I guess. Hate and love were all mixed up, self with self and thing with thing. I just couldn’t see it until the packaging wore off.

I bought Styron’s little book, the one she mentioned. It’s shot but full of horrors like this: ...I began to conceive that my mind itself was like one of those outmoded small-town telephone exchanges, being gradually inundated by flood waters; one by one, the normal circuits began to drown...

She had cried out to me that last night. “Help me. I’ve fallen down an oubliette and it’s got these stainless steel sides.”

When I phoned Valdosta they asked me not to. When I wrote my letters were returned.

* * * * *

I went back to school in September and signed up for two English courses. I also registered for Introduction to Philosophy in which I was the only male.

Robert Wexelblatt is professor of humanities at Boston University’s College of General Studies. He has published essays, stories, and poems in a wide variety of journals, two story collections, titled Life in the Temperate Zone and The Decline of Our Neighborhood, and a book of essays titled Professors at Play. His recent novel, Zublinka Among Women, won the Indie Book Awards First Prize for Fiction.

Megan Johnson is a 20 year-old part-time photographer living near Seattle. She is planning on going back to school this winter to continue working towards a bachelor's degree in classical studies and art history. Her portfolio can be viewed at

Sisters is a NYC-based lo-fi/noise-pop duo with Aaron Pfannebecker on vocals and guitar and Matt Conboy drums and keys. The band will release their debut record Ghost Fits on September 28. For more info, visit Sisters' Myspace profile.

ISSUE #11: Erika Swyler, Koury Angelo, Brock Enright & Kirsten Deirup

Posted: Monday, August 16, 2010 | | Labels:

Photograph by Koury Angelo

by Erika Swyler

They should have gotten gas. She knew it. Three hundred miles between the car and Las Vegas, miles where rest stops were rare. Before them stretched a vast expanse of reddish yellow sandy nothing with rocks and cliffs fencing in either side of a two-lane highway. The road disappeared into the crease of the horizon. Rena glanced over to the driver’s seat. Benny’s wide, bullish face gazed ahead, his dull eyes barely focused on the road, lips mouthing the words to a Johnny Cash song—one Rena couldn’t stand. Maybe it was because whenever Benny sang it he tried to mimic Cash’s voice.

Issue #11 soundtrack: Brock Enright & Kirsten Deirup "luluby"

“We shoulda got gas.”

“Babe, we’re fine.”

Babe signaled end of discussion, where once it had been a term of endearment it was now a finishing word. Rena thought back to how her breath had jumped the first time he’d touched her cheek and said, “You’re beautiful, Babe.” His hand had been warm and she remembered her face flushing to match it. She’d never had a nickname before. She’d never been beautiful before. She wondered at how the word had faded and the way kindness leached from things.

“I’m serious, Ben. We shoulda gotten gas at that exit.”

“I know this car, Rena. We’re fine.”

“The gas gauge has been broken for what, like, three years?”

“I know the car, Babe. Me an’ the Olds go back.” He rattled on about the exact number of miles they had per tank, how at the speed they were going and with the weight they were carrying they had the optimal amount of miles per gallon; highway versus city; good, solid American manufacturing and the superiority of the 1988 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme.

Again Rena said they should have gotten gas.

“You don’t know nothing about it, Babe,” he said and patted the dash.

She bit her lip and crossed her arms to signal she no longer listened. She turned to the window once more, looking out at the dry. Behind them dirt churned; plumes of dust billowed and marked their path before settling to the ground once more.

In fifty miles the car stalled.

“Why are we stopping?” Rena asked, as slow satisfied pleasure washed over her.

“We’re outta gas.”

“I’m sorry, we’re out of what?”

“Oh, shut the fuck up. You were right. Happy?”

“Very. This trip was a stupid idea.” She watched Benny. He didn’t respond, didn’t move, only gazed ahead—chewing in the way of hulking, stolid cattle. She felt her palm twitch, itching to smack him. “Call somebody, already.” They needed to keep going. It was too hot not to move, her skin already drying out and constricting around her.

He muttered something about not having his phone. Rena sighed. Unprepared for everything, being with Benny demanded a diaper bag. Rifling through her purse she produced her phone. Startled, she stared into the pleasant blank screen. No bars. No reception. Trying to remain calm, she pictured her bathroom sink, summoning each detail, from the way the water dripped over a chip in the basin to the oval pink porcelain, surrounded by jars and canisters. Face cream by the box of cotton swabs, hand lotion next to the orange pump hand soap, next to the bottle of Chanel her mother had given her that she had yet to use. She and Benny never went anywhere that warranted Chanel. Even now, she’d known better than to bring it with her. It was too much. She couldn’t stand to be in the car with him any longer.

“Get out.”

“It’s not that bad, Babe! We’ll siphon gas off somebody. It’s not that fucking bad!”

Rena seethed.

“It is that bad. We’re in the desert. No gas. And I fucking hate you and your car you know so damn well. So damned well we’re out of gas.” Her voice hitched-- a well-practiced modulation. “This is worse than bad. This is worse than Missy bad.” Rena wriggled down into her seat. She’d said it. Missy bad was impossibly bad. The mere mention of her name was a slap that made Benny bark the air from his lungs.

“Why you gotta bring that up? Why you gotta keep bringing her up?”

“Who, Missy?” Rena smirked. Benny winced. “I didn’t bring her up. I just said it’s worse than her. That’s not bringing her up, that’s making a comparison. Missy bad is awful, depraved and shitty. This is worse.” She felt a tiny sparkle of delight at the flare of his nostrils and the reflexive twitch in his neck.

Rena eased into satisfaction and basked in the joy of being right, a privilege she’d grown to relish since Missy. Once the initial hurt dulled, Rena realized she should thank her. Missy had given her control over Benny. Guilt—the great motivator, a weapon she’d seen her mother deftly wield. Guilt had wrangled her father back from poker games and strip clubs, kept him in line and home at dinnertime. Rena never understood the mysterious power her mother held, and had even envied it—until Missy. After Missy, she’d discovered that Benny could be brought to heel with the mention of her name, and that his shame could feel almost as fulfilling as his love. Almost.

“Rena, it was a mistake.” Jaw closed, the words hissed from between squared teeth. “People fuck up. It happens. It’s done.” His foot began to tap against the gas pedal. A serene smile stretched across Rena’s face.

“Oh yeah. It’s done. Missy’s done; that’s fine. But we’re still stalled.”

“Fine. I’m going out.”


Benny lurched out of the seat, slamming the door hard enough to rock the entire car. He strutted around the Olds like a drunken rooster, waves of anger radiating from him, mixing with the desert heat. Rena rolled down the windows, pulled her chapstick from the glove compartment, reapplied, tilted back her seat, stretched her legs and closed her eyes and tried very hard to not think about Benny, being stalled or Missy. Instead she counted the exact number of purses she owned, and tried to remember the order in which they hung in the hall closet. Sunlight spilled through the windows on to her belly. She could be quite comfortable, were it not so dry.

Icy wind and a furious pounding on the side of the car woke her from sleep. The middle of the night surrounded her with unexpected cold seclusion. Benny stared at her, his skin pink even in the dark, glowing with the afternoon’s sunburn.

“Babe. Nobody’s come by. I’m gonna take a walk and see what’s down the highway. Maybe there’s something off the side somewhere.”

Rena blanched with doubt. There was no logic in Benny leaving her alone, despite the fact that she didn’t want him in the car. He was helpless, no common sense about him. No cell phone, flashlight or maps, no gas can. She couldn’t see how walking off by himself would fix the situation. It was a pointless endeavor and she told him as much and he chuckled. The smile split his face in two, showing a glimpse of Benny before Missy—when he’d first kissed Rena and she felt her stomach flutter, when his soft mouth had been charming and laughter was for the way the bed sheets used to tangle between their feet, tying them together.

“Don’t worry. Tomorrow night, we’ll pull up to the hotel, call your mom, tell her what happened, get cleaned up. Then I’m going dancing with the prettiest girl I ever met.”

In spite of herself, she blushed.

“Stay here. If somebody comes by, you get gas and pick me up. I’m heading that-a-way.” Like in an old movie, He went that-a-way, officer.

She worried. Benny was such a little boy. He stuck a thumb in the in the direction they’d been heading before the stall out. Rena nodded, lips tight. Benny started walking, the soles of his sneakers kicking up soft dust clouds. He did have a nice back, she thought. Broad and confident, full of male pride and just Benny. At 100 yards he disappeared into the sameness of night and she could no longer hear his shuffling feet. In the silence her mind played. She listened to blood rushing in her ears until it blended with the sounds of desert night, then she counted heartbeats and tried not to think of Benny, alone and walking. She thought of Missy and her adorable Irish face with its sweet, upturned nose, which led to thoughts of Missy’s perfectly freckled ass on their sheets. No more Missy. She’d won; Benny was with her. No, Benny was not with her; he was wandering down an empty road in the middle of the night. The situation was drastically wrong.

* * * *

Morning light. She rubbed her eyes. A fine film of grit covered them and the rubbing made her skin raw. Slowly her vision righted itself to the too-bright glare of sun on dirt on pavement. No Benny. Why she hadn’t left him after Missy? Missy, who was back home, cleaning tables and serving coffee—not sitting in a rust bucket without air conditioning or gas in the middle of the goddamned desert. She wondered where the hell Benny was so she could beat the shit out of him. She was alone and cold. There had been cars during the night and the road now was empty, save for the Olds, a thought that made her stomach hurt. How many hours had he been gone? What if no one ever came by? She could start walking but knew she wouldn’t get far in heels. Open-toed heels. She thought of the line of shoes in her bedroom, boots, flats, sling backs, sneakers, the scuffed toes and worn heels. She couldn’t walk in open-toes here. What if no one ever came? How long had it been since they stalled—eight hours maybe? No cars in eight hours. The thought did not sit well. No Benny since the middle of the night. Four hours? To her surprise that left her more unsettled. He could be hurt. She pictured his body lying by the roadside, a wolf chewing on his arm. No. Wolves didn’t live in the desert, coyotes did. She pictured a coyote, fur matted with blood, teeth curved and shiny, with little pieces of Benny dangling from its jaws. She pictured his body lying by the side of the road, blistered from snakebites and so bloated his that skin burst. She thought about when he’d suggested the trip.

“It’ll fix us, Rena,” he’d said. “Vacation’s all we need. Let me treat ya right.” Now she saw those words coming from his snake bitten, coyote ravaged body. She thought of every horror movie Benny had ever made her sit through. Most started with a deserted highway, all ended with dismemberment. She kicked the dash with her bare foot. It hurt, so she tried to think about the pain instead of imagining Benny impaled on a meat hook.

Hungry and thirsty, her stomach gurgled and her mouth was dry. During the night she’d had the last of the water. She chewed on her fingers and picked at a hole in the passenger seat. She pulled pieces of the yellow foam and rolled them between her fingertips until they disintegrated in to small particles that felt and looked like sand. Benny must have found gas. He had to be on his way back. Or dead. As the sun climbed the temperature began to rise. The heat stifled and forced Rena out of the car until the glaring eye of the sun forced her back in. She instructed herself not to think about coyotes or snakes.

Benny had to be dead.

A glint in the rearview caused her to snap her head around. A dark dot wavered in the heat lines radiating off the highway. Dust clouds filled the air. A truck. She flung herself from the car. She jumped, waving her arms with frenetic abandon. The dot grew into a dusty red Ford F150. Rena let out a whoop as the truck neared and slowed. It pulled up alongside her and the driver rolled down the window. Rena noticed it was a manual crank from the movement of his shoulder; an unexpected laugh welled up, she’d thought Benny was the only person left with manual windows.

A face emerged from the window. A man in a worn t-shirt, faded and frayed at the edges. From under the curled bill of a baseball cap, poked a strong, squared chin. A few day’s growth of stubble caught the light. She scooted closer for a better look.

“Car trouble?” The hat came off. Brown hair. A youngish man, not so far from her age, with a straight nose and kind looking eyes that squinted against the sun. They had creases of white around the edges, she assumed from working outside. This was a good-looking man.

“Outta gas.” Rena took a deep breath and squeezed her breasts together with the soft insides of her arms, pushing up and forward, creating a curved V of cleavage she kept reserve for mechanics and bartenders. “Think I can siphon some off you?”

He smiled, slow and easy. White teeth, not yellowed from smoking like Benny’s were. “Well, let’s see,” he said.” Gas ain’t cheap.” He thrummed his fingers against the side of the truck.

“It’s not. I can pay you.” Rena smiled back and leaned against the Olds, the metal searing into the soft skin below her shorts. She draped an arm against the cracking white vinyl of the hard top. Someone like this had a girl somewhere, a Missy. Flirting wasn’t a crime, she reminded herself. Flirting was a weapon, and there was no harm in thinking, just for a moment, what things might be like if she wasn’t with Benny. She could be with this man, a man in a position to help her.

“It ain’t a matter of money,” he said. Again the smile, the white teeth.

“What’s your name?” She bet he worked on a ranch, maybe even had a small house of his own or a little bit of land.

“What’s yours?”

“Rena.” She bet he smelled good too, not like axel grease or cigarettes. And his hair was clean. There would be no oil stains on his pillowcase.

“Anybody else come by since you been here, Rena?” The man leaned back into his seat and settled down a few inches.

Rena shook her head. She stared at the man’s eyes and felt them slide up and down her body, leaving a troubling chill in their wake. Something changed. The soft ripping sound of a zipper drifted out the window. The noise snapped her body to tight attention. She pressed her arms to her sides.

“Thought as much. You alone?” He dangled his arm out the window and gave his truck a swift pat. Rena shook her head. “Boyfriend up the road probably? Hope he’s smart. There’s rattlers out here.” She didn’t respond. “Shame he left you, ain’t it? Gets real hot.” His fingers caressed the side view mirror, tracing its curves.

“I’ve got money. I’ll buy your gas.”

“Ain’t a question of money.”

Rena felt the conversation shift, but couldn’t know exactly how she’d lost control.

“Lemme ask you,” he said, running a blunt finger along the truck’s window, “you know how to siphon?”

Rena shook her head.

The door clicked as it opened. He motioned her to the truck with a wave of his hand.

She told herself it would be fine. She’d give him money. Maybe he’d cop a feel. Nothing too bad. Nothing men hadn’t tried before. At least this one was handsome. She smiled. Keep it light and friendly. She pulled the money from her bra—$80 in tips she’d kept that Benny knew nothing about. When she reached the door he caught her wrist and dug his fingers in. When he began to wrench it the last pretense of civility fell away. As he yanked her up into the driver’s side she shouted. In a soft voice he reminded her that nobody traveled this road much. He could leave her stranded and she’d most likely die. Most likely, he’d said, as though it might be just as bad if she lived. He could kill her, he told her, and nobody would find her. That was when he took his penis out. That was when he grabbed a fistful of her hair and dragged her face to his crotch.

“Open up, Sweetheart.” He said it like as if to a lover and released her hair, only to put a hand around her throat, the other at the back of her head. “Open up.” It was the quiet of his voice that made her obey. If he’d yelled she might have been able to hit him, she might have bitten him, she might have kicked, but the quiet alarmed her. He was calm, which terrified. He could break her neck. She opened her mouth.

Rena let her body go limp. She would not participate. She would let this man do what he would until it was over. It would be over. Her fingers brushed against the seat. Vinyl. Her knees hurt, pressed against something sharp. Long minutes later it was finished. Humiliation stung her, and she felt like a child. His fingers grasped then released, grasped and released. He groaned.

He dropped his hands.

Her head tipped up, mouth brimming with the acrid taste of skin, urine, sweat and the other. Her eyes watered and stung. Her neck burned from the force of his hand pushing on it, the small muscles that held her head in place throbbed. Her jaw popped.

His roughened mitt of a hand shoved a thick black piece of hose in her face.

“The siphon?” she coughed.

“Same as you just did,” he drawled.

Rena wheedled the tube into the tank of the truck, stopping when she heard a soft splash. She forced her eyes shut so as not to see the leering face watching her. She tried not to remember the rattling sound of his panting, or the raunchy musk that oozed from his pores. She tried to think of her bathroom sink, of her handbags, of her shoes, but couldn’t remember what they looked like. She listened to the sound of her breath to deafen his dry coughing laugh when she put her lips to the end of the hose and began to suck. A rush of gasoline greeted her tongue, sour and pungent. The fumes stung her eyes.

She didn’t retch until the truck pulled away. Then she leaned behind the Olds’ bumper and let the strings of spittle fall and hit the dirt in soft pools. She stuck her fingers in her mouth and ran them over her tongue, the insides of her cheeks and teeth to no avail. The taste remained. She shoved her fingers down her throat; the bile rose quickly, but did not dull the tang. She grabbed a fistful of dirt and licked it, then finally chewed it. Her teeth ground against the sand, rattling her insides. She tasted clay, salt and iron, but nothing else. He knew her name. She’d told him her name. Rena scraped the dirt over her face, scrubbing his sweat from her cheek. Then she drove.

In the empty space of the highway the pedal molded perfectly to her foot. The gentle pressure was became an afterthought as she slid from one gear to the next. The vivid blues and purples of the sky before her went unseen as she remembered the pain of her throat stretching and the choking feeling. She’d snotted on him; at least she hoped she had. She wondered if Benny had encountered the man and if the man had stopped. She wondered if he’d told Benny about the roadside whore. She wondered if he’d killed Benny.

Missy bad. This was worse than Missy bad.

The road edged into the horizon as Rena drove. She followed the feel of the car, rather than the road. The wheels ran smoothly over the asphalt and gave her mind a clear space to run. She didn’t notice when she began to drift towards the shoulder. She barely noticed when the shadowed form of a denim-clad person had to leap to the side. A mile later she knew that person was Benny. He was whole. He had not met the trucker. She cranked the wheel as hard as she could. The Olds lumbered through a U-turn across both lanes. Benny. What to tell Benny.

She swung the hefty passenger door open, bending in half across the balding plush seat. The powder blue paint had a subtle sheen that cast a glow on Benny’s face.

“I was walking back, but I couldn’t remember how far it was. I thought I’d missed the car, Babe. There ain’t shit out here but snakes. Fucking snakes.” He looked at her face, the dirt that covered it, the bruises. “What the hell happened to you?”

She looked at him.

What she sees is the house they will have, with its leaking faucets and collapsing roof. She sees the children they will have, round and screaming. With each birth she will grow thick around the middle. She sees Benny, ten, twenty, thirty years forward. His face will become fat and wrinkled until it sags in on itself like an old sack. His hair will thin and disappear altogether. She sees the women, the stream of women that will never stop—the waitresses, the secretaries, the girls just out of high school, Missy after Missy. He will apologize. Sometimes he will mean it. She will forgive him. She will cry at the kitchen table when she thinks the children can’t hear. He will hold her now and again and tell her that everything will be fine.

Rena snapped her head to the side and motioned for Benny to climb in.

Erika Swyler has fiction in The Green Flash, Semaphore Magazine and She is an award-winning playwright and a recipient of an InnermoonLit prize for best first chapter of a novel. Erika holds a BFA from New York University, and lives and writes in Brooklyn with her husband and a petulant rabbit. She also blogs at and

Koury Angelo is a rock & roll and portrait photographer based in Los Angeles. He received his BFA in Studio Art from the University of Texas at Austin, then moved to Paris, where he spent a year studying at the prestigious Speos Institute of Photography. Koury then moved to New York City where he began his career as a freelance photographer. His work has been exhibited in numerous group and solo shows in Paris, NYC, LA and Austin. Koury was just selected as one of the Top 160 Photographers in 2010 by MOPLA, Month of Photography Los Angeles. Visit him online at

Brock Enright & Kirsten Deirup's album Torben is named after their son. The LP released this summer alongside a documentary starring Brock and Kirsten called Brock Enright: Good Times Will Never Be the Same. The LP is broken into two distinct sides: “Day” with Brock's vocals and twisted rhythms, and “Night” with lullabies sung by Kirsten. Brock rose to fame after Rolling Stone profiled his company, Video and Adventure Services, which provided “designer kidnapping services” and led to appearances on “The View” and “Good Morning America." Visit Brock and Kirsten's official page at Factory 25.

ISSUE #10: Marcelle Heath, Steph Thompson, Will Stratton

Posted: Monday, August 2, 2010 | | Labels:

Photograph by Steph Thompson

by Marcelle Heath

When Ellie comes into Western Appliance, I’m behind the counter waiting for the owner, Chase, to arrive. I have the package that my Aunt Ginny gave to me in my pocket, and I’m supposed to drop it off across town at eleven. It feels like a key, with baffling grooves and a tinny vibe.

I imagine it’s a key to a mailbox or lockbox or box of some sort. The box is candy-apple red. The kind of red that has unintended results. Maybe it’s not for a box at all but for a piece of expensive luggage sailing on a ship in the Baltic sea.

Issue #10 soundtrack: Will Stratton "Bluebells"

All the packages that Aunt Ginny has given to me are wrapped in thick brown paper I think French butchers must use to wrap fatty meats. The paper is always the same, but the contents vary greatly in size. I had to rent a moving truck for the last one, and spent the night driving it up the mountains in a blizzard. Aunt Ginny thinks it’s better if I don’t know what’s in them, just in case.

"How’s it?" Ellie asks. Ellie is tall and voluptuous, with doe eyes and a severe mouth. Everything about her seems ready to battle. In other words, she looks like how I want to look.

"Who’s on the job?" she asks, unloading her keys, cell phone and spare change onto the counter.

"Tim and Jay." Ellie and I are the only women who work here. All the men have monosyllabic names, and sport mustaches that they caress at every opportunity.

I love this job because of Chase, but my days here are numbered. For one, I page Ellie after hours when I know she’s with him. I also make sure to send her out with Jay, who gooses her when she’s underneath large objects. It was Sam who hired me but it will be Chase who will sack my sorry ass.

At my last job, I was accused of intimidation, of provoking the elderly clients. All I wanted was their stories. What they made of the world in which they lived. Perspective for the younger generation. A little inspiration! The place I worked at was called The Elderhaus. I took care of the independents. When I started I was given a list of activities that my clients might enjoy. Many horrified me. 4) Horseshoes. 9) Make tape recordings. 11) Visit Skyhawk casino. I had nightmares about sweet, arthritic Mr. Parker, breaking his wrist casually tossing a horseshoe, Mr. Allen confessing to his crimes, or Ms. Pendleton gambling her pension away in a single game of blackjack.

That’s where I met Chase Hughes. Chase owns Western Appliance and splits his time between Durango and Telluride. He has a wife from Morocco who lives in Seattle. They’ve lived apart for most of their twelve-year relationship and have a seven-year old daughter. I don’t know where Chase’s cash comes from but I know that he’s forty-six, plays the hurdy gurdy, and is allergic to peanuts. Other fun facts include his fear of dead ringers, the Ice Capades, and safes that might fall from the sky. It’s the sort of lunacy that I want to open up with this key in my pocket.

At the Elderhaus, Chase was a friend of Mr. Allen’s. I later learned that Chase had known Mr. Allen from the Illinois State Penitentiary. Chase was in for possession, Mr. Allen for sexual assault. Mr. Allen had no family, was pushing seventy, and had spent the last quarter century in and out of prison. Chase took care of him. After their release, Mr. Allen wanted to be close to the mountains, and so Chase had brought him here to Durango.

Mr. Allen was a dependent, and so he was not my client, but I knew that he was on dialysis and was popular with the residents. Chase visited twice a week for months, and so I was bound to run into him now and then. He always came with gifts for Mr. Allen and the others: large print books, DVD’s, candy. I had no interest in him until I found out that he wasn’t a relative. Then I took notice. It was silly of me, to think that he came without obligation.

Speaking of which, Aunt Ginny will not be happy if I lose this job. I have to be her eyes and ears in town, as she rarely ventures from her fortress in the mountains. As her transporter, I have to be flexible. While there’s no racket like the tourist industry and therefore no shortage of jobs, the jobs themselves are shitty. Long hours, little pay, and most importantly, no loyalty. It takes a couple of months at the least to build some trust, convince the boss that you’re a hardworking, responsible employee before you can begin to break that trust and get away with it. It gets harder as I get older. I'm pushing forty and have nothing to show for it. I have Aunt Ginny, true, but I don't have a career. Or a family. Or Chase.

Where is he? Sam said he was coming by sometime today. It’s 10:36. I have twenty-four minutes. I don’t want to leave and risk missing him. If I have to, I can be out the door by five, to and back by 11:15. I should be thinking about the logistics of my drop off, which will require me to remember a password, engage in "non-threatening" small talk with the person receiving said package, and make sure that no one sees me.

Aunt Ginny worries that I’ll get my heart broken, and she should because my heart’s a fault line waiting to crack wide open. What can I tell her about his habit of resting his head in his left hand and blowing his bangs from his eyes in one poof? Or that first time that he came up to me in the lobby of the Elderhaus and flicked my nametag with his forefinger and thumb. The pin poked my chest? I looked down and readjusted the tag, which was peeling at the edges.

"Stella Gold." He smiled at me. He said my name again as if it were a problem to be solved. He was careful with each syllable.

"Can I help you?" I said. I was holding my work schedule. I was angry because Ms. Moore had complained to my supervisor. The paper in my hand felt greasy and uncouth, as if by holding it I was revealing more than I wanted to. I flipped it over and pressed it against my leg.

"Perhaps. It’s about Mr. Allen."

"In 2B? I don’t work with him." We liked to put things in productive terms. We didn’t use words like "help" or "aid" or "nurse." We used words like "work with" and "facilitate" and "growth."

"You might want to talk to Gladys." I pointed down the hallway to the Activities Room.

"I might want to, but I don’t. I’d rather talk to you." He smiled again, and I noticed that he had a lot of metal in his mouth. I saw a flash of gold from the upper left.

What did he want? I wonder now. Ah, it was the bedding. Mr. Allen’s bedding. It irritated his skin. I felt a surge of affection for this man’s concern over his friend’s skin. Chase asked about the detergent we used, and the thread count of our sheets. I told him that we used chemical-free detergent (a lie), and that the thread count exceeded 300 (another lie).

"Stella, you’re fucking with me," he said. He put his hand on my shoulder, as if to say-- what?

As if to say, Fuck with me. I won’t mind.

"I know what it’s like to love someone who doesn’t love you back," Aunt Ginny said. We were drinking our morning tea at the kitchen table, watching the sunrise through the trees. It was going to be a busy day. A drop off in Farmington, a place Durangoans like to poach from for its cheap labor force and commercial goods, and which can only be described as apocalyptic.

Aunt Ginny, of course, was referring to my father, the one and only love of her life.

It’s 10:45. Tim and Jay stop in for parts while I handle a call about a leaky dishwasher. Sam is in the back doing inventory. I don’t know where Ellie is. I check the schedule, fax an order, and brush my unruly hair. This task is painful in its futility.

I do it anyway and press my hand against the package in my pocket. From a certain angle, it may look like I’m pressing my hand against myself, in the quick manner of an inexperienced masturbator.

I move my fingers over it. Now, the key feels like it has multiplied into a hundred sharp angles. Conflict diamonds, I think. A funny phrase, conflict diamonds. It’s supposed to elucidate but ends up lessening its meaning. Conflict, as if war were an argument started over a family dinner.

My family tree will tell that we are fluent in the language of war. But I should say branch, not tree, since both my parents were only children and are long dead. Aunt Ginny’s really my parents’ closest friend, Virginia Critchlow, daughter of Llewellyn Critchlow, who worked under Kenneth Bainbridge at Los Alamos. As legend would have it, it was Ellen, as Critchlow was known, who Bainbridge turned to at the Trinity Test site on July 16, 1945 when the mushroom cloud erupted over Jornada del Muerto and said, "Now we are all sons of bitches." Critchlow hired my mother, Ingrid Kohler, a German-born physicist in 1963, just one month after President Kennedy proclaimed "Ich bin ein Berliner."

The tide was changing, indeed. Ingrid, brilliant, imperious, met my father, Raymond Wade, at one of Ginny’s soirées in 1964. Ginny was a rebel even then; she abducted Raymond from her parents’ hacienda in Santa Fe where Ginny was contemplating her future life of crime after being suspended from Texas A&M and Raymond was working as a ranch hand. Ginny took one look at my father and saw her future as one big, bright explosion, and told him she needed him in Los Alamos. Raymond came reluctantly; he had seen pictures of Hiroshima in National Geographic, and he had read Howl and "the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness…weeping and undressing while the sirens of Los Alamos wailed them down." And then there was Ms. Virginia Critchlow herself, and she scared him more than the H-bomb did. She was fast and smart and a looker, and though it wasn’t love for him, it was something like it. Rebellion. Freedom.

When I got the job at Western Appliance, I didn’t know Chase owned the place. It had been six months or more since I had last seen him. He came in the store one day. At first I thought he had come in to see me. Wow, I thought. He’s tracked me down. Foolish girl. As soon as we figured out what we were doing here-- "Oh, you’re the new recruit!" and "Let me guess, you’re the tyrant I keep hearing about." Ha ha ha-- tears welled up in his eyes.

"I’m so sorry," I said.

Mr. Allen had been the only reason that he was staying in Durango full-time. He was building a house in Telluride and was set to move in August.

It was a glorious summer. We drank at the Strater and played pool at El Rancho and chased the wildfires that hopped from north to south and east to west like crickets in Apache Plume. The first question out of his mouth each day was "What are you doing later?" At El Rancho, he talked about Mr. Allen and prison, and I wanted to tell him that I understood what it’s like being an outcast and a criminal. Instead I told him about Aunt Ginny and how she raised me after my parents died in a plane crash outside of D.C. when I was three. My mother had been appointed to serve on the Atomic Energy Commission and was traveling to Washington once every couple of months. My father usually took care of me on these trips but Aunt Ginny offered to take me one weekend. Chase told me about his own daughter, Pauline, and how he hadn’t seen her in more than two years.

"That must be hard," I said, silently cursing the wife. I sunk the eight ball in my anger, and Chase bought us another round.

One night we got into trouble. We were drinking by the river when a mother bear with her two cubs appeared on the bank. Chase pulled me down and held me, and we were still. The family moved on, and he looked at me and smiled. I saw no hope or promise in that smile but I kissed him anyway. I don’t want to go into what happened next so I won’t.

Ellie was hired in the fall. I took one look at her and saw my future blow up in my face. I gave her bogus job orders, pinched tools from her truck, sent her out on wild goose hunts, but my attempts at sabotage were futile. People liked her. She was funny and smart and a good mechanic. What more can I say? She was on to me.

Chase didn’t go to Telluride. At the store they were discreet, but Durango is a small town. I can’t turn a corner without seeing them together and each time the door opens, the first question out of his mouth is, "Where is she?"


I go to the back to let Sam know I have to go. Behind him, in the parking lot, is Ellie. She’s standing next to a light blue sedan, talking with a man in the passenger seat. Another car pulls up next to the sedan. The driver, a woman, walks over to it. I can see a gun holster beneath her jacket. The man gets out and introduces Ellie. The woman shows her something (a badge?) and shakes her hand.

While they were as different as two women could be, Ginny and Ingrid were best friends. As a "lady scientist," Ginny admired Ingrid and sought her advice on everything, despite the fact that Ingrid was woefully inept with matters of the heart. Ingrid was flattered and a little awed by Ginny, who exuded sophistication and worldliness. She also had no interest in the work done at the lab and when Ingrid would talk about her neutron-scattering experiments, Ginny would laugh and say, "Oh, Ingrid, I’m as scatterbrained as your neutrons or neurons or whatever. I’m a capitalist, not a scientist."

Like Ginny, Ingrid was also beautiful, but men were more wary of her. She was too serious. And Ingrid had what was a dealbreaker for any would-be suitor at the time. Ambition. Unlike her good friend, Ingrid was a virgin. So when Ginny introduced Ingrid to the man who she was secretly seeing for months, Ingrid, guileless, shook Raymond’s hand warmly. Ginny, giddy at their meeting and at the success of her party, excused herself to greet her other guests.

The night I drove up the mountain in a blizzard, the snow came down in blue light. It was so lovely that I stopped caring about going over the edge. I almost wanted to, to see the light in the pine trees, gray green and blue.

As I drove, I was sure that I was carrying delicate Indonesian artifacts, glumly hued and stolen from Berlin. I imagined them falling all around me, ornate boxes and sculptures and utensils falling from the trees.

Sam is examining his clipboard. I tell him that I’m taking off and that I’ll be back in a half hour.

"Can you pick up a turkey sub for me?" he asks.

"Sure, you got any cash?" The man and woman look over at our window, but our window is tinted and they can’t see me. The woman is unfamiliar but I’ve seen the man before. He was in front of me at the grocery store two weeks ago. I remember him because he bought loads of gum and a teen magazine, which I thought an alarming combination for someone his age. I saw him later that day, behind me at a stoplight. I didn't make him for a tail.

"Here’s a ten. No jalapeños, and a large Coke."

"Got it." Ellie is walking back toward the building with the man and woman trailing behind her. Ellie looks regal, like a woman accustomed to getting what she wants.

"Hey, Sam, any chance you know who’s with Ellie?" Please, I think.

"No clue," he answers as I make my exit. In the hallway, I hear Ellie, faint but still audible, saying Officer.

I pocket the ten. I have five hundred in my wallet, fifteen hundred sewn into the passenger seat, and a trailer in Abiquiu. What I don’t have is my gun. That’s in the drawer next to my bed. For a moment I’m far away. I’m over the mountain with my beautiful things.

"Ellie?" I turn around. In the doorway of Sam’s office is Chase. When he sees that I’m not Ellie, the lines in his bronze skin arc downward, and his hazel eyes glaze over in a far-off way. It’s a look that I’ll never get used to. A here-but-not-here look that I think prison guards give to ward off need. Which, if I don’t get out of here, I’ll be seeing soon enough.

"Oh, I’m sorry, Stella. I thought you were Ellie."

"She’ll be here any minute." Chase blinks and nods his head slowly, as if he understands the gravity of the situation. I put my hand in my pocket. The key, the diamonds, the lockbox, the sea. I’d give it all to him.

Marcelle Heath is a freelance editor and assistant editor for Luna Park Review. She is also a contributing editor for Fictionaut. Her work has recently appeared in Necessary Fiction, Pear Noir!, The Northville Review, and matchbook. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her partner and two dogs, one cat, and one tortoise.

Steph Thompson is a 27 year-old photographer/artist living in Los Angeles. She currently works in the corporate world, but feeds her creative factory any and every chance she gets. Steph has also worked with many emerging musicians in the Los Angeles area. Visit her online at

Will Stratton is a New York-based songwriter, composer, and arranger. He was born in Yolo County, California, and started making up songs on the piano when he was three years old. "Bluebells" is the opening track on New Vanguard Blues, his newly released follow-up to 2009's No Wonder and 2007's What the Night Said. For more, visit Will online at