ISSUE #41: Nadine Vassallo, Eleanor Leonne Bennett, Steffaloo

Posted: Monday, December 26, 2011 | | Labels:

Photograph by Eleanor Leonne Bennett

by Nadine Vassallo

There was hardly anything left that she knew for sure, but one thing was that she didn’t want to live in the same city where Ray lived, and where-- for as long as she stayed-- she’d have no better option than to hang out with him or people like him.

It wasn’t that she particularly wanted to live someplace else. Given the lack of appeal the possibilities presented, she decided to leave it up entirely to chance. She was willing to move anywhere: a mansion, apartment, shack, house, doghouse, houseboat, Hell. She would exert a minimal amount of effort and whichever possibility came through first, that’s where she would live for at least the next year and that settled it. Whatever, you know?

Issue #41 soundtrack: Steffaloo "The Whale and Me"

So she jetted off to Los Angeles and to her old friend, Eli Adams, who said he might have a room to spare in his new condo in the Valley.

Eli had been her boyfriend once, when they were both fourteen years old. At twenty-seven, they shared the cozy closeness of two people who had kissed each other once, were ashamed of it, and knew they never would again.

“Stay as long as you like,” he said, “and then you can decide if you want to stay forever.”

She’d saved up a pile of money and quit her job at the start of the summer. She got a kick out of being a quitter. On the plane, she read Us Weekly, which was the sort of thing she never did. She felt like she was playing hooky. Or maybe it was more like starting a love affair: she was cheating on everyone who’d ever told her that things were supposed to matter, decisions were supposed to be made with care.

Behind LAX, underneath an outdoor parking garage, she looked up at a sliver of sky peeking through the concrete and was surprised to see palm trees stretching their necks toward the sun. She knew she would see palm trees; it’s not like she’d never seen a picture of LA before. But she didn’t quite expect to see so many or so soon. They looked like confused birds.

Eli pulled up to the curb. He honked the horn three times even though she was obviously standing right there. She tossed her suitcase in the back and hopped in.

Eli had curly ginger hair and too many freckles. He drove a red Pontiac, one-handed; his right arm was in a sling. It surprised her, how effortless it was for him.

Los Angeles was strange and at first she expected to hate it. People always said she would. She was accustomed to the compact cities of the East coast, red brick houses lined up so tight they almost strangled each other. Where she came from, people got around on subways or buses or bicycles; they never drove. She didn’t understand freeways cutting through desert canyons, or streets without sidewalks, or the complex landscape of weird Southern California nature. It spoke a foreign language to her.

One of her favorite LA activities became listing all the reasons she shouldn’t move to LA.

“I don’t own a bathing suit, for starters,” she said. “I can’t tan.”

“You don’t even know how to drive.”

“Right. If I lived here, I’d be that weirdo who takes public transportation everywhere,” she said. She wasn’t sure it was actually possible to take public transportation everywhere, but was trying to ignore that.

“I don’t think that’s actually possible,” said Eli.

She settled into a routine. In the mornings, they rode through the Valley in search of breakfast. She ate a lot of avocados. The phrase ‘June gloom’ found its way into her vocabulary, explaining the distinctly unsummery feel of this city where she thought it’d be eternally summer. Over the course of each day, the gloom dissipated. It even got hot. The desert heat was dry and made her hair look good at least, so that was a plus.

Each day, they’d try to visit one tourist attraction or neighborhood she hadn’t been to before. They spent a lot of time in the car.

One day, at sunset, Eli pulled over by the side of Victory Boulevard and hopped out to take her picture in front of the sign that had her name on it. Her name was not common, so she still permitted herself to get childishly excited about those sorts of things.

“Do you think this is a sign,” she said, “or is it a sign? Like, the kind from the universe?”

“The second kind, definitely,” said Eli.

In every picture he took of her, she threw her arms open wide in an expression of joy. Or was it defiance? Or was it just an ambivalent shrug? They didn’t even notice until later, when they put the photos onto Eli’s laptop.

“Look,” he said, “in this one, you’re throwing up a peace sign.”

“I think that’s a V.”

* * * * *

It occurred to her that they hadn’t gotten really, truly, properly drunk even once since she’d been in town, and it’d been three weeks already.

“Take me on a bender,” she said. “Pretty please?”

They went to a dive bar in the Valley, where she chugged Tecate out of a warm can and watched the Dodgers lose to the Cubs. They went to the oldest bar in Hollywood, where all the bartenders wore tuxedos and she drank a dirty martini and hated it. They went to a trendy, Mexican-ish club where she drank a margarita out of a pineapple.

“Will we see any celebrities here?” she asked. Immediately after the words were out of her mouth she regretted admitting that she cared. She sat between a gossip reporter and a one-time mail-order bride (they were brother and sister, Russians) and wondered how this had become her life. More to the point: how had it become Eli’s?

Eli Adams, her oldest and quite possibly truest friend. Her favorite thing about him had always been his awkwardness. Eli at fourteen was all gangly limbs, oversized teeth, and curly red hair tucked into an ugly bucket hat. He used to get teased for riding a skateboard to school; now he did it professionally. She used to be his only friend; now he had friends like these. He’d become so comfortable in his skin that she almost couldn’t recognize him.

She didn’t believe that her own life was something Los Angeles could hold. It felt like the entire city could drift away at any moment.

“People in California are so laid back,” she said.

“Not really, darling,” said the gossip reporter, “they’re just stoned.” And he winked at her across the pseudo-Mexican print tablecloth.

On the East Coast, people get drunk; on the West Coast, they get stoned, she thought. How perfect! After much internal deliberation, she decided that she was definitely a ‘getting drunk’ type of person. She ordered another margarita and let the gossip reporter pay for it.

The gossip reporter’s name was Boris and he dressed in a style that could only be described as ‘Turn of the Century Newspaperman.’ Ironic, she thought, since none of his writing appears in an actual newspaper. She wondered if she meant ‘ironic’ in the high school English teacher sense or the Alanis Morissette sense. She didn’t really know the difference between the two, just that one was right and one was wrong. It occurred to her that no one in Los Angeles had a sense of irony, which made her respect it more.

The drinks kept flowing and the rest of the night devolved into a thick haze. It was the first night, out of many that summer, when she would black out.

Just after six o’clock in the morning, she awoke to the sound of her cell phone ringing. It was Ray and, feeling the pinch of inevitable regret, she answered.

Since they broke up, Ray called only during business hours and spoke to her like a real estate agent: overly formal, but with a disturbingly cheerful tone. It didn’t help, either, that the only thing they had left to talk about was their apartment. “I apologize,” he said, “You said you were staying with your parents. I had no way of knowing you were out of town, or about the time difference.” But she could tell he was pleased that she’d been sleeping.

“I just thought I should inform you that I spoke with the landlord this morning. I’m keeping the apartment,” he said. She’d expected nothing less. He sure did love that apartment. He considered himself something of a hero for his ability to find sleek, ultra-modern furniture for free on Craigslist and criticized the way she swept the floors.

“I think Jackson should stay, too,” he said. Jackson was a three-year-old Shiba Inu. She and Ray had taught him how to ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ together the summer before.

She cried a little after that.

“Jackson is the only thing I’ll miss about that whole shit city,” she told Eli over an avocado omelet.

“We could kidnap him,” he said.

“No, Ray’s right. I’m not responsible enough for a dog really.”

“And he is?”

“Of course! His whole thing is being responsible.” She stared down into her empty coffee cup. “He’ll never let me see Jackson again,” she said. Silence settled over the table uncomfortably, as they mourned for Jackson. He was as good as dead to them.

Eli drew his breath. “Look,” he said, “I’ve been waiting for the right moment to tell you. There is no extra room. My parents paid for the condo. It’s theirs. And they want to spend the rest of the summer out here, you know, living in it.”

She told herself she wasn’t allowed to get upset. When you leave your choices up to fate, you can’t let something like that break your heart.

* * * * *

Better get what I can out of LA while I can, she thought.

She made Eli take her to try on bathing suits at Abercrombie & Fitch, the one with the real live models modeling minimal amounts of clothing on the sidewalk out front. She tried on bikinis with names like the Mackensie, and the Clarissa, and the Blair. They made her feel like she was putting on someone else’s skin. Eventually, she settled on something called the Abra, which meant it was navy blue with a white moose-print on it. The least summery of all possible bathing suits.

They spent the rest of that day floating on inflatable rafts in Eli’s swimming pool. She ignored the feeling of her skin burning in the sun.

Could this be what I’ve been looking for? she wondered.

At that moment, her phone rang again and she cursed herself for forgetting to turn off the ringer. It was her mother—who had apologetically opened her bank account statement—calling to bitch her out about her lack of fiscal responsibility. And what was she doing just gallivanting around Los Angeles in the middle of the biggest Southern California wildfire in half a century?

For the first time in a month, they turned on the news. And there it was. The Biggest Southern California Wildfire in Half a Century. Not threatening the Valley yet, but it looked like it could head that way.

Eli shrugged. “No biggie. Happens every year.”

But her mother was right: the money was starting to run out. She accepted that the extra room in Eli’s condo was nonexistent, and that she would never learn how to drive. She took what was left of her savings and bought herself a plane ticket.

On the last day, Eli suggested they drive to Venice. “You have to see Muscle Beach,” he said, “it’s totally ridiculous.”

While he wasn’t looking, she stashed her suitcase in the backseat of the car.

They pulled over on Venice Boulevard. “I’ll just catch a cab to the airport from here,” she told Eli, hopping out before he had a chance to protest. She wanted to avoid that uncomfortable moment of goodbye, as well as the questions about where she would go next, and how, and why. He knew better than to stop her.

She walked alone past the tattoo parlors, skate shops, and sunglasses stores. The palm trees and the people, their skin baking under the sun.

The tacky souvenir shop smelled like patchouli oil and played reggaeton so loud she could feel her heart pounding in her ears, but still, something about it drew her in. She could never resist a good tacky souvenir shop. Inside, she searched every last mini California license plate for one that had her name printed on it, but she never found one. She picked one that said MARGARITA instead. She clutched it tightly in her palm all the way to the counter and out the door, like she was afraid someone would steal it from her.

Suddenly, it seemed vital that she not leave the West Coast without touching the Pacific Ocean.

She walked directly toward the beach, stopping at the edge of the sand, under the shade of a palm tree. She shed her sandals and red mini-dress, revealing the Abra bikini underneath. Abandoning her suitcase and clothes in the sand, she charged down to the water.

Up to her knees in the Pacific, she looked at the mini California license plate in her hand. It was such a stupid thing to buy.

* * * * *

Safe inside the plane that would carry her back east, she gazed out over the vast Southern California landscape. She thought she could see the wildfire shaking its fists in the distance. It’s like the city just borrowed this land, she thought, and any day now the wild is going to take it back.

“We are now cruising at a speed of 525 miles per hour,” the pilot said.

She thought of all the ‘getting stoned’ types down there, driving their cars through the canyons. She wished she’d gotten to stick her feet out the car window at least once.

“Our altitude is 33,000 feet, give or take,” said the pilot.

The country seemed so huge, suddenly, spread out like that below her. It was crazy that it could hold so much.

“Our estimated time of arrival at JFK International is 10:30pm.”

She listened to “California Girls” by the Beach Boys on her headphones, paying attention to the lyrics for probably the first time ever. Does he mean he wishes that all the girls were ‘California girls’ instead of the types of girls they actually are, or does he wish that all the different types of girls lived in California?, she wondered.

She never really liked that song.

Nadine Vassallo was born and raised in Philadelphia and currently lives in New York City. Along with working in publishing and occasionally writing fiction, she is collaborating on a series of short films with her twin brother. You can follow her on Twitter @tinygem.

Eleanor Leonne Bennett is a 15 year-old artist who has won contests with National Geographic, The Woodland Trust, The World Photography Organisation, Winstons Wish, Papworth Trust, Mencap, Big Issue, Wrexham science, Fennel and Fern, and Nature's Best Photography. Her photographs have been published in exhibitions and magazines across the world including in the Guardian, RSPB Birds, RSPB Bird Life, Dot Dot Dash, Alabama Coast, Alabama Seaport, and NG Kids Magazine. She was the only UK artist to have work displayed in the "See The Bigger Picture" global exhibition tour with the United Nations International Year Of Biodiversity 2010, and the only visual artist published in the Taj Mahal Review June 2011. Also, Bennett was the youngest artist to be displayed in Charnwood Art's Vision 09 Exhibition and New Mill's Artlounge Dark Colours Exhibition. To view her online portfolio, click to

Steffaloo, a.k.a. Steph Thomspon, is a singer songwriter based in Los Angeles. She’s worked on collaborations with other notable artists such as Blackbird Blackbird, Sun Glitters, Chrome Sparks, Billy Comfort, and Germany Germany. Her own original releases include debut 7" "On fire," released thru JAXART and first full album "Meet Me in Montauk." For more, visit Steffaloo on Bandcamp.

ISSUE #40: Brian Conlon, Edusá, Saint Motel

Posted: Monday, December 12, 2011 | | Labels:

Illustration by Edusá

by Brian Conlon

“Sweetness in sound is not something to be desired, people will vomit,” said Mr. Clorne to the alto sax section.

He was not one to mince words, or speak frankly; instead, he spoke principally to undermine the confidence of his students. But, he had tenure.

Issue #40 soundtrack: Saint Motel "At Least I Have Nothing"

“If you play an F sharp again, when you’re supposed to play an F natural, I will have the trombone section throttle you. You know how they hate F sharps,” he said to a particularly petite flautist. The trombonists smiled, pumping their slides malevolently. One trombonist sprayed water, meant to keep his slide lubricated, in his own eye to prove his allegiance. It burned slightly and he squinted through the rest of rehearsal, sliding his slide, but not actually playing.

“Mud called, it wants its definition back,” he told the tuba section, after one particularly inarticulate version of the 1812 Overture. Say what you will to the flutes, harass the trumpets, berate the saxophones, hell, strip naked and march the percussion section up and down the hallway, but do not, under any circumstances, insult the tubas. Tubists don’t care about being popular. They don’t care about having a marketable skill. They only wish to be left alone. They sit in the back, they play low notes and they get left alone; that’s the deal.

The next day the tuba section, namely Duke and Sara, stole Mr. Clorne’s baton, broke it in half, and stapled it to the bulletin board. Mr. Clorne spent the first twenty minutes of the period shouting, “Who did this? Who did this?” He then tore the bottom half of his baton out from under the staple and waved it hysterically. The tubas started playing some low rhythmic thing which almost coincided with his waving motion and the entire band followed, creating a gross cacophony that reduced Mr. Clorne to tears. When it stopped, he was curled up in a ball in the corner of the band room humming a Sousa march (Semper Fidelis?). It was at that moment, after everyone else had left, that I decided to ask Mr. Clorne to sign my athletic eligibility sheet. He smiled, said absolutely, and then stabbed at the sheet with his broken baton.

“That’s not a pen,” I said.

“It’s not a baton either,” he said.

“I have a pen,” I said.

“So do I,” he said.

“Coach won’t accept this,” I said.

“Shame,” he said.

“Coach will make me run,” I said.

“Who did this?” he asked.


“The clarinets are morons, so they’re out. Flutes are too timid. Saxes, too arrogant. Trumpets, far too arrogant. Trombones, too loyal . . . and stupid. French horns too vain. Percussion, well they do know how to break sticks. I don’t think they know I have a baton though. . . . Gotta be those goddamn tubas! Why didn’t I see this coming? So touchy, can’t insult the precious tubas . . . give me a B flat, that’s all I ever ask of them and half the time they can’t do that right.”

“Will you sign it now?” I asked.

“Blame the tubas will you, just to get out of a bit of running, huh, tubby? Sell your friends down the scale, just to avoid a couple of laps. Is that what this band is coming to?” he said.

“I weigh one hundred and forty-seven pounds,” I said.

“So do I,” he said, rubbing his gigantic belly.

“I never said it was the tubas.”

“So, it wasn’t the tubas? Are you gonna lie to my face? Like I’m some sort of ignorant art teacher, passing kids through. Oh that’s a lovely duck painting Nigel, I think the black and dark purple really contrast well, and that giant spoon in the middle, well done, B-, on you go to the next grade. Is that who you think I am? Is that how you think of me?”

“No, Mr. Clorne,” I said.

“Am I some sort of carnival slideshow? Oh that Mr. Clorne, he’s lost it, he’s really lost it, sad day, sad day, sad day…”

“Uh,” I said.

“Old man Clorne, with his pot belly and his thinning hair, his firm lips, you can’t tell under the moustache but they’re firm, his firm lips, that pouty smile, those gleaming eyes, that strong right forearm muscle that always twitches and nearly glistens when we reach fortissimo, that Clorne, he’s a mean one, he is. Like my uncle after a few drinks.”

“We don’t think that,” I said.

“Well, what do you think?” he asked.

“I can’t tell, or speak . . . for the rest of the band,” I said.

“Yes you can. I grant you permission,” he said.

“Oh, I can? Well then, I won’t.”

“Yes, you will,” he said.

“Will you sign the sheet?” I asked.

“I’ll run the lap for you tubby, now out with it.”

“I weigh one-hundred and forty-seven pounds,” I said.

“Out with it!”

“We think, not me, remember, but we . . . think you’ve insulted the tubas and . . . that’s a bad idea. Best just leave them alone,” I said.

“They made me learn tuba in music school. Do you know how awful it is? Do you have a sense of how awful it is?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

“Good, then you’ll be happy to be our new principle tubist.”

“I will?”

“You will, and what’s more, you’ll be good. You’ll be better than good, you’ll be competent, you’ll be in tune, and you’ll breathe only when absolutely necessary,” he said.

“My parents just bought me a new trumpet,” I said.

“Excellent to hear, I’ve always said rich people should buy their children trumpets,” he said.

“It was my birthday and Christmas gift . . . combined.”

“So, you missed out on some chocolates and shoulder pads . . . What sport is this for?” he asked.

“General sports,” I said.

“What does that mean?”

“My parents just bought a trumpet, they’re not going to be happy about this,” I said.

“Valves are valves, they’ll get over it,” he said. He then went to the band storage closet, pulled out a tuba and pointed to the valves. I have to admit they looked much the same as my trumpet valves, only there was one more and they were about three times the size.

“My hands aren’t that big,” I said.

“They’re bigger than Sara’s,” he said

“I have asthma,” I said.

“Then quit the team. What is general sports anyway?” he asked.

“To play tuba, you need healthy lungs.”

“How do you play general sports then? What is general sports?” he asked.

“I have nightmares about sousaphones, have ever since I was a kid.”

“That’s symbolic, you’re not actually worried about sousaphones,” he said.

“Oh no, I am,” I said.

“This general sports thing, is it some sort of a joke? Are you putting me on with this? I could have you kicked off the team.”

“My parents read me a book when I was little about not doing drugs and the drug dealers in the book used sousaphones to advertise,” I said.

“Are you some sort of mental case, son? This tuba thing might be just right for you,” he said.

“General Sports is when you get cut from the team you try out for and you just practice all the sports, until someone gets hurt, and then they call you up,” I said.

“So you’re like the 16th guy on the basketball team, the 5th leg on the swim relay and the 9th best discus thrower all rolled up into one convenient unathletic package,” he said.

“Something like that,” I said.

“I’ve gotta tell you kid, that sounds awful, like worse than playing tuba awful.”

“No . . . see, you get to just play random stuff until they need you and you still feel like part of a team . . .” I said.

“Even though you’re not,” he said.

“I am,” I said.

“So this academic sheet is for me to verify that you’re eligible to play, in case everyone who is any good gets hurt or decides to quit?”

“Just sign it,” I said.

“You don’t tell me what to do. I don’t care if you’re the best tuba player I’ve ever had, no student tells Mr. Clorne what to do.”

I silently looked down at my sheet and then started to walk away.

“I’ll sign it, I’ll sign it.” he said.

“Thanks,” I said.

“And you’ll play tuba?”

“I’ll play tuba.”

Brian Conlon graduated from Harvard Law School this past May, and with a degree in Comparative Literature and History from the University of Rochester in 2008. He has studied creative writing with Joanna Scott, Amy Hempel, and Rose Moss. Brian won a short story writing competition at the University of Rochester and has had two of his stories published in EST, a small literary magazine out of Burlington, Vermont. He has given readings at the University of Rochester, Harvard Law School and at multiple release parties for EST.

Edusá "used to be a normal kid until the day he put his finger into socket and suffered an electric shock. Since then he draws compulsively." He now lives and works in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, where he creates illustrations, storyboards, animations, and character/environment designs for games. He graduated from Visual Arts at UFMG (Federal University of Minas Gerais) and also holds a technical degree in Design and Graphic Communication from SENAI(Design and Graphic Communication Center). Visit Edusá online at

"At Least I Have Nothing" is the lead track from Saint Motel's new vinyl 7", which released this month and can be ordered online. For more, visit the band's website at

SPECIAL ISSUE #39: Damon & Naomi

Posted: Monday, November 28, 2011 | |

Photograph by Naomi Yang

by Damon Krukowski

At the Museum of the Moving Image, an exhibit on nineteenth-century motion-picture games explains this principle: when vision is interrupted, the mind retains an afterimage of what the eye had seen. If a light illuminating successive images flashes, the darkness between causes us to merge this afterimage with the next, which we sum to one in flux rather than two in succession. If a light is constantly shown on successive images, we see only a blur. That is: interruption is necessary to the illusion of continuity.

In the car driving home, I think this must also be the structure of memory -- images that we retain in isolation, but sum together as they flash in our minds. Perhaps this is also the structure of dreams. Dream logic emerges as we work to make sense of the succession of images, separated by blackness.

Issue #39 soundtrack: Damon & Naomi "Judah and the Maccabees"

Thus Chris Marker’s La Jetée: memory presented as discrete images (stills). If we cannot recall the image immediately before or after, we cannot recall motion. Nevertheless we work to sum these images together, and make sense of them in time. The logic of memory is the logic of trauma.

* * * * *

Visit to the La Jetée bar: C. has given us directions out of a dream -- “Take the only street with trees.” The area is not far from our Shinjuku hotel, but in a direction we never walk. (I remember friends saying on our first visit, “Don’t go that way.”) We keep to the main streets, to avoid getting lost, but see no sign of the old drinking district he had described. And then: a street with trees. We take it away from the neon, into the darkness. There are blue tents in the bushes, shelters constructed by the homeless. It is a weeknight, the street is otherwise empty. We come to a crossroads -- in one direction, more blackness -- in another, the old ramshackle district of bars. C.’s directions worked.

Wandering among the bars, La Jetée is still hidden. We ask another “mama-san.” She graciously leads us there. It is up a flight of stairs. No way to look inside before opening the door…

* * * * *

At the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side -- interior rooms, banned from use by building codes, were walled up rather than changed. Some later reopened, with interior windows added to satisfy requirements for light and air…

When I sang about this, I imagined someone still living inside when those interior rooms were re-opened. I associated the darkness of these spaces with a lost language.
Hide my eyes from the light
And say the words that I can’t understand

Adapted to the singer’s point of view for a later chorus, this becomes:
Hide the light from me
And say the prayers that I should understand

* * * * *

Sitting with my mother at the kitchen table, I ask about the jacket I saw in It Happened One Night -- both Clark Gable and the sleazy character on the bus wear the same cut, they are only tailored differently. She knows the name of the jacket: Norfolk. How did her father buy his clothes? Were they on a rack? Thinking about it, she recalls the view from their apartment on Riverside Drive, windows facing upriver -- warships at anchor. They moved to 86th Street when? It must have been very soon after the war began, because she remembers being on 72nd Street when she heard about Pearl Harbor, and what would she be doing on 72nd Street when they lived on 86th Street? The wind off the river was so strong she had to walk home backwards from the subway on Broadway. Suddenly she remembers: a tailor used to come to the house, and fit her father for clothes. “A Jewish tailor,” she says. “Where did he find one of those?” I say, and make her laugh.

* * * * *

Show at the New York Public Library of 1960s mimeo books and magazines -- this thought: that a “poetics” should enable one to identify poetry in new places, not just in other poems.

This is the test of a useful poetics, because arguing about poetry itself is circular and pointless -- we already know all those things are poems, from someone’s point of view. No need to establish the hierarchy from our perspective.

So poetics does have a function -- it is poems that do not.

Wasn’t this Cage’s insight into music?

* * * * *

On Beacon Hill to see an early music performance of Sephardic songs -- the venue is a building I’d never noticed before, an abandoned synagogue on the north side of the hill.

The musicians are in the center, on the bima. There are two galleries for the audience, at right angles to one another -- these must have once separated men and women. The space has the haphazard dimensions of the interior of a city block, but covered over with a skylight. There are several layers of painted decorations on the crumbling walls. Palm trees.

During the performance, the singer chooses to face one gallery, and then the other, in turn.

* * * * *

At a restaurant, Dad says to me, “Since we see you so rarely, you should order the caviar.” I suggest we split it -- I think maybe he wants the caviar, which is why he’s urging it on me? -- and that way it will cost no more than two other dishes at the table. No, no, he says, he doesn’t like caviar the way I like caviar. Anyway, it always makes him uncomfortable. Uncomfortable? Yes it reminds him of the trans-Siberian railroad. “You know the story,” he says, as he always does when introducing a story he has kept to himself. It seems that on the trans-Siberian railroad, if a train was coming from the other direction, the one he and his family were on would be diverted to a sidetrack, where it would wait for hours, even days. While there the conductors would lock all the doors and windows -- because wherever they were, however remote, people would eventually arrive, with plates and cups, begging for food.

Once, my father and his family were in the dining car as the train sat like this. They were served caviar. Caviar? Apparently the meals came with the tickets. “It wasn’t luxurious, by any means, although after prison camp it was certainly a shock.” And while they had the caviar before them, people were banging on the window glass, hungry.

I say I’ll have something else. He insists. So I insist we split it. We do. He has the tiniest taste. (I eat the rest.)

* * * * *

Saw Sunny Murray with Sabir Mateen, at the Unitarian Church in Amherst: Sunny Murray played as light and free as his records -- that skittery, constant, calming sound. But seeing his body language, I felt he was simultaneously playing traditional tunes in his head: ballads with breaks, turnarounds, solos. When he started a song on the brushes, alone, I was sure he was waiting for Ben Webster or Lester Young to join in. And he hummed -- atonal humming, like the memory of a beautiful song without the melody or the changes. Just the space for its feeling.

* * * * *

As I leave my parents’ house, my father looks away. Is he hurt? Depressed? There is so much he wants from me, I think. Or so much he thinks he wants from me. The guilt I take away is like cases in my hands.

* * * * *

Takuboku Ishikawa’s Romaji Diary -- like Campana’s Orphic Songs -- Boethius’s Consolation -- the dream of a writing so complete that prose and poetry are equally needed. Also Pascal’s Pensées -- these are thoughts, events, that must be recorded, and the form they take is a mirror of that necessity.

And if I wrote in a language no one could read, like Takuboku, could I include it all? Takuboku gave his diaries to a friend and his wife, and therefore to an audience. So from whom was the romaji shielding him? His family -- his rivals -- but not from those closest. Circles widening out.

* * * * *

Dream: with Dad in some kind of basement cafeteria, I am questioning him about something and his face clouds over. He says there are family secrets I don’t know. Like what? I am pressing. Like his middle name, he says. Face becoming completely closed and dark, shrinking away from me behind glasses. “The middle name is Magarshack. Like the writer,” he says. Like the translator, I ask? “The writer,” he says. The distinction is lost on me. Out in the street, 86th Street walking west with Mom, I say Dad told me his real middle name. “Don’t do that!” she yells at Dad, who is suddenly there too. Why not? I say. “Now you know he is born under a blue sign star,” she says. It is a frightening idea. Then in a highway restaurant with Dad, in Vermont -- it is divided over two stories (!), with multiple dining rooms, antiseptic. He tells me how he once worked there -- it was a fine restaurant then -- while commuting to Lincoln, Nebraska. This is somehow connected to the secret of the middle name. He shows me how far it is on a map. Then, he says, he stopped (commuting? working? writing?).

* * * * *

John Wieners walks into the Poetry Room at Lamont Library to give a reading. He opens a book (his own) and begins. But then he stops, and looks at the page like he has never seen it before.

I recognize something in that gesture: looking at one’s work, and finding it at times intimately familiar and at other times foreign and strange.

If Wieners’s work weren’t true, it would never be familiar to him. And if it were always familiar, it wouldn’t be so true.

* * * * *

My own reading at Lamont Library. N. is there. K., who has been staying with us, is also there. A few students.

I spent so many hours in this room, years ago, listening to recordings of poets reading. Stein. Stevens. Ashbery.

The sunlight is low, and the room is overheated, as always.

I am overcome with feeling. Something other than pride. It is hard to read clearly, because for a moment I am near tears. There is a recording being made.

* * * * *

Do we only tell each other’s stories? Ask others to tell our own? Can we tell our own? Or is that what stories are for -- to tell someone else’s, and allow another to tell yours?

Damon Krukowski is the author of The Memory Theater Burned (Turtle Point) and 5000 Musical Terms (Burning Deck). Naomi Yang is a photographer and graphic designer. Together they are musicians (Damon & Naomi, Galaxie 500), and publishers (Exact Change).

"Visit to the La Jetée bar" and the accompanying photograph are excerpted from the new book Afterimage, by Damon Krukowski with photos by Naomi Yang, which released this month from Ugly Duckling Press. "Judah and the Maccabees" by Damon & Naomi with Ghost (2000) will be reissued in January 2012 from Drag City. Yang's work is currently on view at Aviary Gallery in Jamaica Plain, Mass.

For more of their work, visit and

ISSUE #38: Danielle Villano, Ilana Panich-Linsman, RIVKA

Posted: Monday, November 14, 2011 | | Labels:

Photograph by Ilana Panich-Linsman

by Danielle Villano

It’s mid-February and it seems like everything has pretty much fallen into place and the Oscar nominations haven’t even come out yet. My therapist, who generally seems to go by “Call me Linda,” asks me if I think putting so much importance on the Academy Awards is healthy. She seems overly-curious about my need to base my life around the anticipation, arrival, and gory aftermath of the “Who Wore it Best” segment on E!, but I just shrug it off.

Issue #38 soundtrack: RIVKA "Kid Animal"

The way I see it, some people base their whole lives around getting to the Academy Awards. Living in Los Angeles, I’ve seen tons of people drop out of school and starve themselves and fuck movie people: people who “know a guy” that can get them a walk-on in the next Scorcese flick. I’ve known scores of girls who have emailed nude pictures to producers in hopes of getting an audition; these same girls had pictures of Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn hanging in their lockers in middle school, because they looked up to them and wanted to be them, and now they were trying and trying and couldn’t make the cut. So I pretty much grew up with the whole affair against my will, like someone who has to grow up with a mental older brother or something. So blame it on my parents, I guess.

Blame it on my parents. I think this happens in therapy a lot. You bring up one vague recollection of a childhood memory and all of a sudden all of your life problems can be traced back to that moment. I make one mention of a birthday party Daddy couldn’t make it to in second grade and suddenly, BAM, my therapist is scribbling on her little notepad like her life depended on it.

* * * * *

“I want you to write down everything you’re feeling,” Call Me Linda tells me after one particularly dull session.

“Introduce me to your life and the people in it. Talk about your interactions with others. Write about what you ate for lunch.”

She wants me to keep a journal? I’m thinking. What a waste of time. But here I am, sitting on my bed, writing in a composition notebook that I’ve scrounged up from the recesses of my desk drawer. I tell myself it’s because I have nothing better to do, that the episode of Friends tonight is a re-run and not worth the watch. I record this thought, along with some more vague, mope-y sentiments about adult authority, because maybe then Call Me Linda will suggest upping my dosage of Fluoxetine.

I do not write I am doing this because I want someone to read about my life and think it’s important enough to make a movie about it, and I or maybe Winona Ryder can star in it.

* * * * *

So yeah, I kind of mentioned it before, but the nominations haven’t even come out yet and everything about my senior year of high school is already awesome. Last year during this time, when the world waited with baited breath to see just how many nominations Titanic would get, I’d even say my life sucked a little bit. I was on a different antidepressant at the time, which made me gain twenty pounds and my mother became super into Buddhism and we had a Shaolin monk living in our guesthouse.

But life has turned around now. I remember seeing the trailer for Shakespeare in Love earlier on and I just knew: a year with a Shakespearean romance could hardly be a bad year. And so far I’ve been right. A quick switch to Fluoxetine and a few weeks of eating nothing but celery and I lost all of the weight I had put on. And Mom decided that she was so not into the whole Buddha gig anymore and has taken up spin class, instead. It’s my senior year of high school and everyone is exactly as they should be.

I’d say: yes, the class of ’98 certainly has it going on. I’m a drama club star with a promising scholarship to an east-coast film school that a lot of kids would kill to go to. I always get picked to read monologues in English class and make it a point to be seen smoking a cigarette in the courtyard every afternoon during lunch. And yes, that sounds fucking stereotypical, but hello, we’re living in the land where stereotypes are born. The Brat Pack? Yeah, we made that shit up. It’s expected.

* * * * *

Things that are expected of me that I get away with on account of my artistic temperament: Cry when I think of Sylvia Plath. Hack my hair into an uneven mess. Draw on my eyebrows. Storm out of classrooms. Eat only white rice and Sour Patch Kids. Shoplift things that I could easily afford. Take hallucinogenics on the days we’re supposed to dissect baby animals in lab. Know all of the lyrics to Patti Smith’s Horses album. Sell my Adderall.

Things that are not expected of me based on the role I’ve been given but I do them anyway to shake up the system: Excel at math. Date the son of a doctor, and not some thirty year-old folk musician.

* * * * *

Some days it gets dull because there’s only so much sexy, slimming black a girl can wear before she gets bored out of her fucking mind, but I don’t mind keeping my dark cherry lipstick (the same shade Drew Barrymore wore on the cover of Vogue) close at hand. I especially love seeing the color on the collar of Paul’s white lab coat after an intense makeout session in the midway break of organic chemistry lab.

Paul is my boyfriend of a few months and aside from being totally smart and funny, he is ridiculously attractive. He could easily be an actor, for certain, only that he stutters the “t” sound sometimes when things get t-t-t-tense.

Paul’s the son of a famous plastic surgeon (everyone in LA goes to him – my mother included) and is quick to let everyone know that fact. I think he’ll probably take over the family business one day, and he doesn’t seem to mind that idea, although he really, really loves NASA and space exploration but no one ever goes into that for money, I don’t think, and his dad would probably freak out if his son came up to him and said, “Dad, I want to be an astronaut.”

But Paul is sweet and puts up with my bullshit and doesn’t think I’m crazy when I prattle on about Elizabeth Taylor’s wardrobe in Cleopatra. He knows lots of really interesting things and he smells really nice and sometimes I think I love him.

The first time we had sex, we were sitting on his bed in his room and he was telling me about the different type of sedatives they use during plastic surgery, and his voice was kind of lulling me to sleep.

“I kind of like the idea of slipping away,” I said, and leaned back against his chest with a yawn.

“There’s a quote by someone,” he spoke into my neck, “that goes something like: She fought her enemy, consciousness, with sedatives.”

I smiled, because at that moment I figured that Paul totally got it; he totally understood the importance of fighting against the bullshit of daily routine. I turned around and kissed him hard on the mouth.

He started unbuttoning my shirt with doctor-like precision and kissed my neck, still murmuring about barbiturates and benzodiazepines, and I fell back onto the bed thinking: Maybe this is what closeness feels like.

* * * * *

What makes me sad is the fact that I know if Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan wins Best Picture (it will get a nomination of course; the Academy knows what it’s doing), then I’ll have to break up with Paul. This imminent breakup is especially sad because I’ve already bought him his birthday present: a pair of Swarovski crystal cufflinks that would look delicious paired with his prom tuxedo.

When Call Me Linda asks me why I feel I’ll have to break up with my boyfriend if Saving Private Ryan wins, I calmly explain to her that in the years war movies win Best Picture, bad things happen and everything goes to shit. This can be seen in 1986 when Platoon won and I fell off my bicycle and broke my ankle, or in 1978 when The Deer Hunter won and my parents decided the best thing that could possibly happen would be for the two of them to get married.

* * * * *

My parents sometimes like to pretend that they’re supportive. Once a week my mother guilts me into having dinner with her and my dad. I don’t think she actually enjoys sitting down to eat with us (she normally leaves the table before she even finishes her salad and grilled chicken, complaining about a headache), but I think she feels that she needs to force the whole family bonding thing on us all so she can feel like she’s telling the truth when she confirms for her own therapist, “Yes, I am trying.”

My older sister is lucky because she’s away at school and only has to deal with my parents during Christmas and summer vacation. In her absence, I have to bear the brunt of the incessant prodding and analyzing.

“Linda says you’re very fascinated with the Academy Awards, still,” Mom says during one excruciating dinner. “Do you think you want to go into the film industry?”

I shrug over my glass of water.

“It’s a very hard industry to get into, you know,” my father says.

My mother nods. “They’re always asking something different of you. New hair, new cup size.”

Dad starts to push the food around on his plate. He’s become increasingly interested in making his pile of green beans into a miniature log cabin.

“Linda says you’ve been showing resentment towards us in therapy. Do you resent us?” My mother reaches around her wine glass to grasp my hand. “Because, dear, it’s just that we love you. You know we love you, right?”

I almost say, “I know you do,” but Mom has launched into a story about some woman in her book club, and in a moment Dad has finished his chicken and gets up from the table without a word.

* * * * *

Having to deal with all of this bullshit, I think I’d be lost without Alaina. Alaina is my best friend right now mainly because she doesn’t seem to care if sometimes I cry when I think about the ending of Citizen Kane, and she’s also the same shoe size as me, and she has a collection of beautiful patent-leather pumps by knockoff designer brands. She has honey-blonde hair cut into the best “Rachel” I have ever seen; I think even Jennifer Aniston would like the cut on her, and Jennifer Aniston has never liked her Friends haircut, as she told People magazine.

Alaina’s always chewing Vitamin C tablets because she’s afraid of getting sick, and the slightest complaint of a headache or backache has her overly-cautious psychiatrist mother refilling her prescription for Vicodin, which I gobble up greedily despite the annoying itching it causes in my arms and legs, like little pinpricks.

“I’m going to stick with holistic medicine, rather than put all of my faith in some little white super-pills,” Alaina chirps. She’s started hanging out at the organic food co-op and is totally into herbal remedies. I think she’s decided she likes weed, too, even though she complains about only ever getting bad highs.

* * * * *

Alaina never really has much to say about boys aside from expressing appreciation over Leonardo DiCaprio’s charm (we all want to be Kate Winslet, which is the reason I had hennaed my hair this winter in a desperate attempt to reach the same red shade as her Titanic character). She remains close-lipped whenever I mention the phrase “double date.” Most people assume she’s some kind of modish, high-fashion lesbian, but I have my doubts about that kind of chick existing. The only lesbians I’ve ever met brew beer from scratch in their garage and keep pitbulls they rescued from the pound. Blonde, sun-tanned Alaina does neither of those things, and so I assume that she’s just laying low until Prince Charming blips on her radar.

“I don’t know why you insist on letting yourself be tied down,” she said to me one morning as we stood on line for coffee before school.

I poured a packet of sugar into my palm and pushed the crystals into a diamond shape.

“Paul’s hot,” I responded. “He’s fun to hang out with. I get to have sex regularly. And he totally has the hookup when it comes to pharmaceuticals.”

Alaina was quiet for a little bit. We got our coffee and were heading down the sidewalk towards school before she said, “I just think you might be missing out.”

* * * * *

Alaina certainly has a lot going for her, what with her scholarship to UC Berkley (she has the bumper sticker with their motto, Fiat Lux, slapped on the inside of her locker) to study business and all, and some days I feel jealous of the fact that she has a beauty mark on her cheek and doesn’t have eczema on her stomach like I do. My older sister’s always told me I must have been adopted, seeing as how my skin doesn’t seem to be made for the California climate. Some days I’m jealous of the fact that Alaina can use that lotion that smells like raspberries, the kind of lotion that would make my own temperamental skin irritated and inflamed - but then my jealousy kind of floats away, because that’s Alaina. She’s just sweet and perfect and if she could be anything on this planet beside a human, she would probably be a summer fruit.

She’s the only girl I know who doesn’t let her Los Angeles upbringing go to her head (this conclusion was reached based on the fact that she always says “thank you” to cashiers and isn’t opposed to shopping the clearance racks). I think one day if I ever get famous I want her to star in my first film; even though she says she doesn’t “give a shit about Hollywood,” I’m pretty sure she’d be gorgeous on the screen.

* * * * *

And it all starts happening: The nominations came out today and I get that familiar warm feeling behind my eyes. My fingers tingle and it may be from Alaina’s Vicodin, but I think it’s just excitement over the names of films printed in shiny black newspaper ink:

Best Picture:
Life Is Beautiful
Saving Private Ryan
The Thin Red Line
Shakespeare in Love

Best Director:
• Steven Spielberg – Saving Private Ryan
• Roberto Benigni – Life Is Beautiful
• John Madden – Shakespeare in Love
• Terrence Malick – The Thin Red Line
• Peter Weir – The Truman Show

This list of nominations goes on to the next page and I’m satisfied and already circling my predictions in my head. I’m already envisioning the perfect Oscar ensembles for Cate Blanchett and Meryl Streep. I’m already wondering who Edward Norton will have draped on his arm as he strolls down the red carpet.

I hope it’s me.

(I don’t write that last bit in the journal, about Edward Norton, because during my last session Call Me Linda read the summary of my dream involving Billy Bob Thorton drinking a vial of my blood and she asked me if I had ever felt sexually attracted to an older relative.)

* * * * *

Alaina and I have been having all kinds of fun adventures together over the past few weeks, usually with the aid of the credit card my workaholic father has decided to give me out of the guilt of never having been there for me as a child (his own therapy is paying off for him and me, I guess). Like last weekend we met some dark Italian or Hispanic guys on the strip who told us they would rent us a boat for the afternoon for a few hundred dollars. So maybe this sounded a little sketchy but I was feeling rebellious and the men were kind of fawning over Alaina even though she didn’t give them a passing glance. She shrugged and said, “Why not,” so I went to the ATM. We laid out on the deck of the boat in the sun and got tan and one of the guys brought out a Polaroid camera and asked us if he could take our picture. He said he knew “movie people,” and although that’s the oldest trick in the book we let him take our picture because we were bored and it was kind of thrilling, too.

But we’re just as happy to spend weekends barricaded in my room with a stack of Elle magazines and the television perpetually blaring MTV. It sounds like a Valley Girl life, and maybe it is, except we look nothing like that Clueless bunch, and certainly we dress better. We hotbox the room, stuffing old t-shirts underneath the door and around the window. We sit on the floor with the multicolored bubbler between us and I fawn over the idea of starting a pop-rock girl band, something like The Runaways in the 70s, but much cooler, and Alaina presses her perfectly manicured fingers to her eyelids and says, “I wish things would stop fucking happening.”

* * * * *

And it’s finally here: the night my fate is decided. You can find us in my room now, on Oscar night, high and buzzed on a bottle of expensive rice wine. MTV is certainly not playing, though; the television is turned to ABC because everything’s getting serious.

“Seventy-one years,” Alaina whistles. “This show is older than my grandma.”

Alaina, it’s safe to say, could care less about the Academy Awards. She may be the only person in Los Angeles to feel this way. But she’s content to nurse her chipped highball glass filled with wine and sigh in a kind of dreamy way when Aerosmith sings “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” from Armageddon, so maybe there’s hope for her, still.

Saving Private Ryan has already won Best Film Editing and Best Cinematography and Best Sound Mixing and Sound Editing, too, so I’m quiet and tearing at the skin around my fingernails. Even the sight of Kim Basinger in her beautiful, pale green vintage Escada gown cannot lift my spirits.

I can’t have this be another war year.

You’re already born half-dead in this town, because when you’re born they suck most of the childhood out of you and throw it to the paparazzi and the gawkers and the aging divas who thrive on youth potions, so by the time you reach age ten you may as well already be thirty, for all you’ve seen and heard and experienced. And if this is another year for war movies, they may as well just ship me off to The Betty Ford Center now because that’s sure as hell where I’ll end up, after all of this bullshit.

I’ve resigned myself to my miserable fate and motion for Alaina to pass the joint my way.

She hesitates before handing it to me. “I worry about you sometimes, you know?” she sighs. “I know that sounds stupid.”

I inhale, letting the smoke fill my lungs. It burns the back of my throat and I don’t say anything.

“You have so much fucking potential. I just feel like sometimes you’re just kind of floating there in limbo, and no one can help you because you won’t let anyone in.”

I exhale and shrug, my eyes still glued to the television screen.

“How’re we supposed to know exactly what we want?” I ask her. I turn to glance at her, and she stares back at me with big brown eyes that remind me of warm syrup.

“I mean, God. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told my parents I want to be a movie director,” I say. “For some reason they can’t seem to get that through their minds. They talk to me about acting. And then, after hearing about it so much, I start to think: Should I want to be an actor?”

Alaina tucks a stray blonde hair behind her ear. I continue, “And at school. I have people from the drama department up my ass about what I want for the next production. I have my guidance counselor asking me what I want out of my high school career. And on top of everything else, I have my therapist sitting there and flat-out asking me: What do you want?”

Maybe it’s the alcohol, but I can’t stop myself. “And everyone’s pestering me about this fucking awards show. They keep asking, ‘What makes this so great?’ But you know what it is? I just love it so much because everyone goes into the awards knowing exactly what they want out of it. And unfortunately that’s not how life works. So please tell me you have an answer for me. How’re we supposed to know exactly what we want?”

* * * * *

She doesn’t have time to answer because the tables have turned: The Best Original Musical or Comedy Score goes to: Shakespeare in Love! Best Original Screenplay: Shakespeare in Love! Best Supporting Actress: Judi Dench for Shakespeare in Love!

I think I may have started crying, and at the same time smoke is pouring out of my nostrils thick and hot, and Alaina doesn’t quite know what to do so she kind of places a hand on my knee and squeezes.

Best Actress: Gwyneth Paltrow for Shakespeare in Love! I’ve fallen onto my back and I’m suddenly struck by how solid the floor is beneath my palms, and I can feel the pain biting at my fingertips where I’ve peeled away the skin out of nervousness, and I vow that if this good luck keeps up I won’t ever bite at them again, and maybe I’ll even calm it down with my artistic antics for a little while. And maybe it’s the weed that’s making me feel this way, but I suddenly have this idea like I have been let in on some perfect Hollywood secret but I can’t quite pin it down yet.

It hardly even registers that Spielberg wins Best Director (because I am now operating on a higher plane), but when Harrison Ford steps onto the stage holding the envelope with the winner of Best Picture I am brought crashing back down to earth. I sit up quickly and the stale air in the room is choking me but I try to hold my breath, anyway.

And suddenly I am jumping up and down like Roberto Benigni, hollering and waving my arms, because it’s all Shakespeare in Love, and Alaina with those big brown eyes grabs my face in between her hands and kisses me hard on the mouth. And it’s kind of scary but I find myself melting into the softness of her lips and she’s saying, “You just know!”

I break away because I realize that I actually just kissed my best friend, but I don’t feel horrified or nauseated or anything like that; more than anything I feel kind of pleasantly surprised, like I just witnessed some underdog independent film sweep all the categories, and maybe I kind of knew it would all along. And I feel so grounded in the moment, with Alaina smiling at me in this really goofy way, and the pot and alcohol thrumming through my system. She reaches over and squeezes my hand and at least for a moment I can easily say that is all that I want.

Danielle Villano is from Northern New Jersey and attends SUNY Purchase, where she majors in Creative Writing. She was featured in the 2011 Poetry Ark Anthology and Italics Mine, and was the 2011 Ginny Wray Prize recipient in Fiction from SUNY Purchase. When not writing, Danielle enjoys photography, movies, and attending theme parties. Visit her fashion and lifestyle blog at

Ilana Panich-Linsman is a photojournalist and multimedia producer in Western Massachusetts. She is a graduate of the Platypus Workshop (2005); Eddie Adams Workshop, Barnstorm XXII (2009); and the International Center of Photography’s Documentary Photography and Photojournalism full-time program (2009), where she was awarded the Director’s Fellowship. In 2009, she was a finalist at the New York Photo Awards and was nominated for the World Press Photo Joop Suart Masterclass. Her work was on display in July 2010 at the Foto8 Summer Show in London. In June, 2010, Ilana was awarded the Lumix Multimedia Award at the Lumix Festival for Young Photojournalists in Hannover, Germany. Visit her online portfolio at

RIVKA is a Pittsburgh-based electronic band comprised of Reggie Wilkins and Rivka Rose. "Kid Animal" is the opening track from their 2011 self-titled release. Stream or download more of their songs on Bandcamp, or visit the band on Facebook.

P.S. Did you miss Storychord's "Around the Campfire" CMJ event? Artist Andrea Sparacio (Issue 36 and event backdrop creator) has posted a full write up that includes photos plus streaming audio of that night's spooky story readers and musical sets from Will Stratton & Katie Mullins!

ISSUE #37: Brandon Bell, Jessica Brookes-Parkhill, Cloud Seeding (feat. Marissa Nadler)

Posted: Monday, October 31, 2011 | | Labels:

Photograph by Jessica Brookes-Parkhill

by Brandon Bell

Anzel leaned face-first into the chain-link backstop and watched the Little Brewers warm up their arms, bobble balls, lose pop-ups in the afternoon sun. Store-bought fireworks sprayed dim colors in the parking lot. Clarence, playing first, loped to fetch a ball overthrown from third. “Smart gloves,” Anzel hollered. Clarence waved as if swatting a mosquito. Anzel pulled the leash. Moe rose stiffly from her dirt bed and followed along the bleachers.

“What kind of dog’s that?” asked a man from the front row.

Issue #37 soundtrack: Cloud Seeding (feat. Marissa Nadler) "Ink Jar/Unquestioning"

“Bernese mountain,” Anzel said.

“Look at that long black fur. What a big old beaut.”

Anzel led Moe onto the field and told her to sit in the coach’s box behind first base. “You look like Frank Thomas,” he told Clarence.

“You’re cleaning it up when she shits on the field,” Clarence said. “Fireworks tonight.”

“That’s tonight?” Anzel said.

“July Fourth, dummy. I need a ride home.”

“Well yeah, man. So your coach can’t do it.”

The kid at third bounced a ball to Clarence. It clanged off the fence, a foot from Moe.

“So where’s LeBron going?” Anzel said. “I bet New Jersey.”

“Only LBJ knows for sure,” Clarence said. “Why you worrying about him? You need to think about you instead of what some millionaire’s gonna do.”

“You know what? I don’t care what LeBron’s gonna do. I just ain’t got nothing else to talk to you—”

A ball shot through Anzel’s line of sight, knuckled down and crushed Moe’s face. She capsized, legs straight like a stuffed horse, yelping after a second of death. “You’re okay,” Anzel said, holding her head. Onlookers squealed or didn’t breathe. Anzel swathed the blood streaming from Moe’s nose. Her cry cooled to rattled breathing. The coach of the Brewers squeezed Anzel’s shoulder.

“Let me see,” the coach said.

“I’m doing this,” Anzel said.

“You’re smothering her.”

“I said I can fix it.”

“This is scaring the kids.”

Anzel pushed him, inadvertently tugging the leash and dragging Moe to her feet. “Little dumb bastard,” Anzel said to the coach, backing away. He wiped his bloody hands on the butt of his jeans and dragged Moe off the field, the crowd cheering like for hobbled athlete. When he reached the bleachers, a woman pressed a bandana to Moe’s nose.

“You’re lucky. She could’ve been killed,” the woman said.

Anzel shrank into Moe’s neck fur and scratched her pulsing stomach. The Brewers lined up behind the backstop for a pre-game pep talk. One of the kids asked, “Who hit the dog?”

“It doesn’t matter who threw it,” the coach said.

“He shouldn’t have had the dog on the field in the first place,” a parent said.

Anzel kept his head against Moe’s neck. The Little Reds scored six quick runs. Brewer parents muttered about Clarence’s shaky play at first base. After the Brewers lucked into out three and Clarence disappeared to the dugout, Anzel dragged Moe to the parking lot. He didn’t feel bad. Clarence could find another ride home.

* * * * *
Lit by the computer screen, Anzel waded through job websites—Monster, Career Builder, Louisville Works. Hope was soured by pyramid schemes disguised as employment. Moe lied on the bed, eyes scattered, unstirred by the amateur fireworks cracking through the neighborhood. Anzel tipped back the brandy, getting horny, incoming thoughts of Henny. Moe sighed through her nose. “You’re alive,” Anzel said. He stood, planning to pet the dog, suddenly feeling Henny’s pull. He had to see her.

He crept through the dark house, passing his mom’s television tomb.

“Where you going?” his mom asked.

“For a walk,” Anzel said, continuing to the back door.

“Take Moe with you.”

“She’s still all goofed up.”

“Better watch her. Dogs can turn depressive when they suffer brain trauma.”

“You got brain trauma,” Anzel muttered, stepping outside. He swished through the dewy backyard to the alley. Miniature pink explosions popped across the sky. Anzel traced a firework tail, wondering where poor people get money to burn.

He came to a shack tucked in the alley and knocked on the back window. Seconds later, Henny flipped aside the blanket covering the window. Despite the heat, she was wearing a hooded sweatshirt. The smell of Funyuns seeped outside.

“Your parents awake?” Anzel asked.

“Wish they wasn’t,” Henny said. “I stole some stuff from daddy. But he’d smell it if I light up.” She rolled up her sleeves. Cuts on her arms, beads of blood.

“God,” Anzel said.


“Why'd you cut yourself like that?”

“I like the way it hurts. Daddy told mom about you coming around.”

Standing outside, Anzel pulled her against him. “Well, what’s it matter to her?”

“Because, Annie. We need to talk about this.”

“You ain’t pregnant.” He kissed her. She responded with a peck, talking into his mouth.

“I told you I was. I am, Annie. Stop it.”

“That thing could be anybody’s.”

“Now, listen—”

“We can’t have no baby.”

“Well we’re gonna.”

Anzel had never asked her age. He kept hold with one arm and brushed a finger against her lips. “It ain’t mine.” Wide eyed, she took the finger in her mouth. The door swung open. Anzel unplugged her mouth and ran. A man yelled, “Damn you, get back here.” Anzel didn’t look back.

When he got home, he carried Moe to the car and drove to the interstate. “I didn’t screw her,” he whispered, the rear view angled to see Moe. “I never once screwed her. That was the alcohol. Don’t it effect everyone like that? Ain’t everyone got these secrets?”

Driving across the bridge to Indiana, fireworks reflected as pompoms in the Ohio River. Anzel kept the wheel steady and, like a good drunk, abided speed limits all the way to the casino. The alcohol on his breath kept him from using the courtesy valet service. He parked deep in the parking lot, left Moe asleep in the backseat, and hurried into the mall-like casino entry.

When he reached the giant gambling room, slot machines blurted like greeters to hell for horrible noises. His sinuses opened to the chlorine potpourri used to mask the cigarette smoke. He ordered a beer at the bar and took a lap through the casino, breezing by old people wearing oxygen masks and pushing walkers that had tennis ball feet. He entered a row of slots in which a blonde girl sat alone, transfixed by the spinning sherbet glow of the screen. A lanyard around her neck stretched to a card stuck in the machine. Taking a seat, Anzel peeked down the open collar of her American striped shirt.

“What’s this game?” he asked.

Watching the screen, she exhaled a smoke cloud and said, “Green Eden.”

“Good a game to go broke on as any. I like your laugh. Let’s get a drink.”

“I’m rolling here.” She pushed a button on the machine, spinning wheels. He put his face by hers. The formless pixels blotted his eyes and reflected green on her brow.

“You can’t see nothing sitting this close,” he said. “Come on. Just one drink.”

“The doctor really did say I could have one,” she said.

“Doctor knows best.”

“Hope so.” She scooted back to reveal a watermelon belly.


“Baby’s making me fat,” she said.

“You here alone?”

“Mom’s here. So’s my dumb ass brother.”

He put his arm around her shoulder. “I’m Anzel.”

“My name’s Brittany.” She stubbed out her cigarette and then took a new one from the pack. Lost again in the screen, she mis-aimed with the lighter. Anzel stole it and lit the cigarette for her.

“I might go get that drink,” he said, pocketing the lighter.

“I’m jealous. I really do want one.”

“Then let’s go.”

Biting her lip, she yanked the member card out of the machine. The card hung from a lanyard and balanced on her bulbous stomach, shaking as she followed.

“We should go up to the roof,” Anzel said.

“Up there’s boring. You promised me a drink.”

“I’ll get you one, jeez. I’ve just never been up there.”

Going upstairs, Anzel talked her ear off: “These people assume I’m the daddy. Should you be smoking? Nah, playing. Well ain’t this roof nice and private. The casino, big as it is, can’t spring for fireworks? Eh, cloudy now anyway. Let’s check out the river.”

From the railing, they watched the smooth water made visible by moth-fluttered floodlights. Anzel spit into the stream. “So this really is a boat,” he said.

Brittany laughed. “Why you think they call it the boat?”

“It can’t actually pull away. It’s stuck here.”

“Sure it can. It’s got all the rudders and whatever.”

He didn’t mention the mountings holding the casino in place. “I wonder how many people come up here to make out.”

She hiccuped, holding the cigarette inches from her lips, watching the water.

“I bet everyone comes up here,” he said.

“I’m cold.”

“They come up here and do it.”

“They got cameras.”

“You’re beautiful.”

She pushed off the railing. “I want a Tom Collins. I can have one.”

“Come home with me. I’ll fix you a steak.”

“I need to go back down.”

She started across the roof. He paced in her wake, hoping to slow her down. “Stop.” He darted around and blocked the door, her belly inches from his. “So you win big?”

“That was my lucky slot. What you do for work?”

“I’m between ‘em.”

“Everybody is. My brother might injure himself to get the social security.”

“That works?”

She shrugged. He held up his hand and studied it, as if appraising its worth. She watched the hand hover forth and rake her breasts. She leaked out a laugh that cut short when he leaned in for a kiss.

“Stop,” she said.

“Hey. I’m sorry. You wanted a drink.”

He held open the door; she passed through timid, frightened. He slammed the door and ran toward an Emergency Exit sign across the roof, cussed himself down the fire stairs and through the parking lot. As Anzel approached his car, he saw a man peeing on it. When the man saw Anzel, he jumped into a jeep. As the jeep sped away, a woman laughed out the open driver-side window.

Anzel charged to his car and looked in at Moe. She hadn’t moved, never barked at the man, locked eyes with Anzel. The door shined with urine that dripped into a pond on the concrete. Anzel swung the door open and put Moe’s head in a claw grip.

“You let that asshole mark you as his territory,” Anzel said. “Don’t you got no pride?”

* * * * *
The phone woke Anzel at noon. His mom hollered, “It’s for you, damn it.” He didn’t answer, so she brought the cordless phone to his room and chucked at his back.

“It’s Clarence and he sounds pissed,” she said.

“Will you get out,” Anzel said. She did, and Anzel patted the sheets for the phone and then beeped it off. Heat and sun rolled in through the open window. He twisted out of the sheets, head throbbing. “Where’s Moe?”

“Well I don’t know,” his mom yelled.

“Well who opened the window?” Dressed in last night’s clothes, he went to the window and called for Moe. A fly crawled across the sill and flew inside as Anzel climbed out.

“What to do,” he sang. “No dog, no job, economic, economic, economic.”

He cut through the side yard and started down the sidewalk. In ten steps he was sweaty and breathing tough in the stuffy heat. Store-bought fireworks littered the concrete. He kicked a firework that resembled a blown-up party hat. An old woman was watering plants on her porch. She waved at Anzel, pitcher in hand.

“Too hot for that baby of yours,” she hollered.

“Have you seen her?” Anzel called back.

“Well, no. Is she lost?”

“Yeah. Or no. Probably not.”

“Should I keep an eye out?”

“Sure, but she’ll turn up.”

On he went. He passed the alley leading to Henny’s house and continued toward the shopping district. He stared at the sun. He didn’t yell for Moe. Eyes spotty, he cut through a church parking lot. Exploded firecrackers muffled underfoot. Bottle rocket tails and dead sparklers. He spotted an intact Black Cat among the firework remains. He picked up the two-inch dynamite and twisted the short wick and dug Brittany’s lighter out of his pocket. His first swipe at the starter failed, but the second worked and the wick lit. Holding the Black Cat in his open palm, he positioned his lips to blow, but his mouth O just stared at the sizzle.

“Make fist, lose hand,” Anzel said. “Hand flat, all’s okay.”

He shook his head. Subtle differences mean the world.

“What the hell you doing?” Clarence yelled. He was straddling his bike on the other side of the parking lot. “Useless,” the child said and pedaled toward Anzel.

“I gave you that bike,” Anzel said, running away. “What more you want?”

As he ran, the lit firecracker bounced in his palm, the wick burned to millimeters. Clarence stood to pedal faster and closed the gap twenty feet. Anzel studied his hand as if questioning its use. He staggered to a stop and took aim at Clarence.

“Nothing but net,” Anzel said, balling his fist around the firecracker and reeling back to throw. A tick too slow.

Brandon Bell lives in Louisville, Ky. His work has appeared in Apiary, Leaf Garden, Cricket Online Review, and Inkspill Magazine (United Kingdom). He is writing a story collection called Unending that will feature characters from "It Scrapes The Lonely."

Jessica Brookes-Parkhill is a photographer based in New York. In 2010 Jessica was the Chief Photographer for, New York’s primary online resource for Bboys and Bgirls. She is also available for weddings, birthday parties, events, and candid portrait sessions. Visit her online portfolio at

Cloud Seeding is a music project by guitarist Kevin Serra (This Ascension, Lot 49). The project was conceived as a space for improvisational collaboration to showcase vocalists he admires. For the first single, "Ink Jar/Unquestioning," Serra worked with Boston-based singer Marissa Nadler while she was briefly living in Brooklyn. For more, visit Cloud Seeding on Bandcamp.

ISSUE #36: Emily Lyon, Andrea Sparacio, Graham Patzner

Posted: Monday, October 17, 2011 | | Labels:

Illustration by Andrea Sparacio

by Emily Lyon

“Here comes that motherfucker Tom,” Omar said, motioning with a jerk of his head towards the figure advancing across the lawn from the house. Jillian wanted to ask Omar why he called Tom a motherfucker but she didn’t.

Tom sat down across from them, crossing his legs under himself. “Hi,” he said to Omar. “Hi?” he said to Jillian. He took a package of Camels out of his pants pocket and began to pack it absently against his palm.

Issue #36 soundtrack: Graham Patzner "Brother Jim"

“Tom is my housemate,” Omar said. This was Jillian’s third or fourth time hanging out with Omar. She bought her cigarettes at the gas station where he worked, and she was smoking a half-pack a day, so she went there several times a week. He was tutoring people at the University of Connecticut in Arabic and she was teaching Adult Ed classes in beginning to read Hebrew. Somehow this came up as he gave Jill her smokes one day, and they made plans to meet and try to learn each other’s tongues, each very near branches to the other on the Semitic language tree.

“Yup,” Tom said. He took a drag off the Camel, its end glowing like a tiny neon poppy. Jillian studied him and tried not to be obvious about it.

Omar and Tom lived in a house they called Harvey’s Blue House. They shared a common kitchen and bathroom. The first time she came over, Jillian had made kasha and macaroni for Omar on the lone, single-burner hotplate that Harvey supplied on the counter. “It’s a typical Jewish-American food,” she told him.

“And so I have something Egyptian to show you,” he said. There was a small plastic tape deck on the kitchen table, and Omar put a cassette in, shutting the deck’s door with a click.

A-la-la-la… habibi tiiiii,” a plaintive voice sang to them as they ate the kasha. Cars sped past the window. The house was near to the road in the front, so its backyard was a better place to spend time—it sloped down from the house’s back door, away from the road, and twenty yards back or so, there was a little glade of forest that separated Harvey’s Blue House from the neighboring house.

* * * * *
Whenever Omar and Jillian were in the yard, Tom would appear and sit down with them, packing his Camels in his hand. He’d quietly listen to Jillian and Omar stutter across and over the sentences they were teaching each other. Their lessons devolved quickly into explaining idioms and translating questions about weed and cigarettes. Tom just sat there, listening.

“What do you do, Tom?” Jillian asked him one day.

“I work on a tobacco farm. I used to do something else but I was injured in the Navy.” The sound of the plastic hitting his palm sounded larger than the space between the three friends’ heads, larger than the whole backyard.

* * * * *
Jillian knocked on the back door of the Blue House. “Habibi tiiiii,” she sang into the open kitchen window. She heard feet coming down the stairs. “Omar told me to let you in,” Tom said as he opened the door. “He’s cutting his hair.”

“He is?” Jillian asked, looking around the empty kitchen. “Who else is here?”

“Just he is,” Tom said. “You should see it. He does it himself.”

Tom led Jillian up the stairs, where, in the bathroom at the top, Omar had his head bent down, his chin tucked into his neck. He was running an electric clipper over his hair. Chunks of hair fell like black snow into the trashcan perched in the pedestal sink.

“I didn’t know you did this,” Jillian gushed.

“This is what I really want to do,” Omar said, unfolding himself and running his hands over his head. “If I can’t teach English, I would like to cut hair. Or teach people how to cut hair.”

“I am impressed! Your haircut looks so professional,” Jillian said. She and Tom smiled at each other.

* * * * *
They’d made out awkwardly on Omar’s little mattress after the haircut and Jillian gave him a handjob. “I’m a virgin,” Omar told her, as she handed him the nearby box of tissue. “I want to be married.”

Jillian looked at him, suddenly feeling naked without her shirt on, and with her skirt tangled around her waist. “You shouldn’t do this, then,” she said. “You should find a wife.”

“We could get married,” Omar said, as a question. He laughed strangely as soon as the d popped off his palate.

Jillian recoiled, grabbing the hem of her skirt and rolling her hips around as she tried to align it with the tops of her knees. “Omar, you don’t make any sense,” she said. She wanted to tell him that he was crazy and that she knew he was fucking with her, but he was hard for her to read. He just laughed in the way he did, and she got up off the bed, pulling her shirt over her shoulders and opening the door. Tom was in the kitchen, staring at a coffee pot. “Hey,” Tom said. “I didn’t know you were here.”

Jillian could tell, from Tom’s total focus on the carafe, that he hadn’t heard anything. The coffee brewer made its t-t-t-t-t sound and Omar came out of his room.

“Coffee break!” Omar said.

Tom reached up to the cupboard and took two more mugs down, placing them next to his on the counter. “How do you guys take it?”

* * * * *
They still met after that, writing vocab on index cards Jillian had cut in half. Omar had begun to say things in vague, frustrated reference to the event:

“What is the Hebrew word for brassiere?”

“Your body was like cake.”

“Cake, that’s a good word to know,” Jillian replied. “I’ll write it down. That’ll be a fun picture to draw.”

* * * * *
“I know you love orange juice,” Omar said, “and I bought you a bottle of it.” This seemed out of character for Omar: to buy a gallon jug of the most expensive juice, with pulp, and least of all, to share it with her. They behaved now solely as study buddies, almost competitive in mastering the other’s language. Neither had since mentioned the day they drank Tom’s coffee.

Jillian was happy to drink the juice, but there was something strange in its sweetness—a viscosity and tang that hit the back of her throat, making her gag. She went over to the sink and turned on the kitchen faucet, testing its coolness with her index finger, and then filled the glass with water, thinning the juice. Shards of pulp floated to the top. She looked at them there, then stirred the water into the juice with her newly cleaned finger, watching them eddy around.

I like water in the juice,” she said to Omar in Arabic. “And now you?” she asked him in Hebrew. “What could you say now?

This is not mine,” Omar said in Hebrew.

Then he said, “This juice was here. Someone else bought it.” Jillian looked at him with puzzlement. He laughed carelessly.

* * * * *
“I have a girlfriend now,” Omar told Jillian, “and I am in love with her.”

“Mazal tov,” Jillian said. “You remember this phrase?”

“Yes, of course,” Omar said. “I am also tutoring others in Arabic, and she is my most diligent student. I don’t feel it is appropriate to be with two women. She would not like that I continue to see you.”

“Whoa,” Jillian said. She didn’t feel hurt by this. Since Omar had called Tom a motherfucker, and she could never see why, laughed at his own sentences to frost them with an additional layer of code, and then passed off Tom’s unopened bottle of juice as a thoughtful gift, she had soured on the idea of Omar as anything other than a tutor or vague professional ally. The three still smoked in Tom’s room at the top of the stairs or out in the yard, in a purely academic relationship, she told herself.

* * * * *
Tom had begun to talk more around Jillian, and when they smoked together, Omar would invariably fall asleep on Tom’s bed, leaving Jillian and Tom alone to talk in pure English, without any lessons.

Tom drove an olive green Saab 96, which he described his affection for only anecdotally. “There was one time I was workin’ on it and I took out all the seats and I flipped a pickle bucket over and bungeed it to the floor by its handle and the door frame,” he said, smiling thinly, “and I drove by a bunch of cops and none of ‘em noticed anything because the bucket was the perfect height!”

Jillian laughed.

* * * * *
Tom, Jillian, and Omar sat on the floor around a small table and passed a joint around. “You know that you can make a smoking device out of a toilet paper tube?” Tom said.

“You waste very much time with these things,” Omar griped, taking two successive drags.

“You’re wasting my time, bogarting that joint,” Jillian said, extending her hand. Omar passed the joint, got up and lay on the bed. He didn’t sulk, but grumbled in unintelligible quick Arabic before beginning to snore.

“You know how Omar and me punch each others’ knuckles when we see each other?” Tom asked Jillian, looking out the side of his glasses at Omar’s bare feet, dangled limply over edge of the mattress.


“Yesterday he held his fist out and kept saying ‘Respect, brutha, respect,’ and there was a cigarette between his fingers and he fist-jabbed me with the cigarette.” Tom had a welt the size of a dime and the color of salmon roe on his middle knuckle.

“It was lit?” Jillian asked.

“Yeah,” Tom said.

Jillian felt at that moment a tiny facet of surety that she wanted to help Tom in his life. Tom was gentle and quiet. He didn’t seem like a motherfucker. She never understood why Omar was unkind to him, and the way Tom stared down at his hand now made her angry for him.

She stood up, feeling her feet and hands tingle, and the bubble of highness between her brain and skull. She kicked the corner of the mattress where Omar slept. “We exit the room,” she hissed down at him in Arabic, as he opened his eyes. “We are going downstairs, and your girlfriend wouldn’t want you getting stoned up here anyway.”

* * * * *
“Omar got engaged,” Tom told Jillian. “He’s gonna move out.”

As they rolled downhill, she watched Tom’s left foot as it pressed the clutch flat and he pulled the lever under the dash. “This is for freewheel mode, and you can shift without the clutch,” Tom said, not waiting for Jillian’s reply. “You know Saab’s slogan? You know what they say?”

“No,” Jillian said.

“Born From Jets,” Tom said.

“Because of their design?”

“No, ‘cause they were really born from fighter jets. The company made airplane engines. Freewheel is like a coast, like a glide.”

* * * * *
On the mattress upstairs where Omar had always passed out, Jillian and Tom stared at each other. “The way you have sex is so funny and slow,” she said. “You really take time and make it sloooooooow. I’ve never been with anyone who did it like that before.”

“I try to make it like a massage,” he explained. “I try to make my movements aerodynamic.”

“Born from jets,” Jillian said, laughing.

“I wish I was.” Tom looked absently beyond Jillian’s head and bare shoulder to the pointed tops of the spruces in the back yard and the puffy clouds above them. Jillian knew what was behind her, out the window. She imagined he could only see pale fields of green and blue without his glasses.

* * * * *
“I want you to have the Saab. I’m going to give it to you,” Tom told Jillian.

“Why? Are you going to buy a different car? Why don’t you just sell it to someone for what it’s worth?”

“No, no. I want you to learn how to fix it, and I want you to have it.”

After Omar moved out, Tom got the garage spot. Jillian had held a timing light over the radiator’s fan as Tom tried to pull a belt over its pulley, stretching it taut with a screwdriver. “How do you know all this stuff?” she asked him.

“Before I worked on the farm, I was in the Navy. I was gonna be a jet engine mechanic. Then I got hurt. I hit my head. Then I moved to Oregon and bought a Saab out there.”

Tom kept his answers short and vague to almost any question. He took time to draw up sentences.

“Omar told me that you’re a philosopher,” Tom said quickly after this.

“Aren’t we all?” Jillian asked.

“I have this Wittgenstein book that was my mother’s in school, and I want to read it,” he said. “I told Omar that and he said that you were a good teacher, and that you were a philosopher and could do it.”

Jillian realized that something had been lost in translation. “I majored in philosophy, if that’s what you mean,” she said, “but OK. We can read it together.”

* * * * *
Tom brought the book down to the kitchen table. “OK,” Jillian said. “Look. We’ll just read a part, and then you can tell me what you think the theme or crux of that paragraph is, and we can go through the text slowly together that way. He isn’t so easy to understand.” She began to read. Tom looked at her, nodding. “OK, so what do you think he was saying?”

“Everyone goes his own way,” Tom said. He said it bluntly, with a quick snap of his chin, as if it were fact.

“Well, I’m not sure that’s what he said, but maybe we need some more context to find the motif.” She read the next paragraph, much more slowly than the first. “OK, so what did you get from that? He’s talking about some of the same things as in the last section. Do you see any patterns?”

“Everyone’s goin’ his own way?” Tom said, a little bit more tentatively.

Jillian exhaled loudly. “I’m not sure where you’re getting that. What do you mean?”

“Just read some more, let me see what I can get,” Tom said.

Jillian read the next paragraph, but she felt nervous now. She knew from the way Tom looked at her hands on the book that he wasn’t understanding anything she said. She wanted out of this exercise, but she kept reading. She came to a break in the text, and widened her eyes at Tom. “Well?”

“Everyone’s going his own way.”

Jillian shook her head in frustration. “I think you need to start with some more basic philosophy, even just logic patterns and stuff, because he’s not saying that at all. I don’t know why you think that. Which words make you think that everyone’s going his own way?”

“I don’t know,” Tom said. “I wish that I could read it and understand it. “

“I’m not sure what you expect from yourself. Why do you pick the hardest guy to begin analyzing?”

“I feel stupid. I feel like I don’t understand anything and that I’m stupid. I wish that I had skills like you do that make it easier for you to talk. I just can’t get abstract things. “

Jillian suddenly felt sick. Tom’s face didn’t change as he’d spoken, or as he looked at her. “You do get abstract things,” she countered. “How can you just pop the hood and know what’s wrong? You hear a noise and you know what it is, the engine gets too hot and you know why, it’s running weird and you know why. That’s abstract.”

“It’s not abstract, Jill. It’s just not. The engine either goes or it doesn’t. There’s only one answer for every mechanical problem. There’s nothing abstract about it at all. “

“It seems abstract to me. I couldn’t do it. You have this huge gift and you want to write it off and waste your time fucking around with books about theory.”

“You changed the spark plugs last week. You replaced the distributor cap.”

“You taught me how to do it.”

“And if you can’t teach me how to read this, then why not?”

* * * * *
Tom’s headaches were getting worse. Jillian had brought him to the VA hospital a few times. Now she was tired of bringing him, mostly because of the desk staff. She wasn’t sure why the doctors there couldn’t just fix him, why they always seemed to avoid his questions. “Shouldn’t you get another MRI? Can’t anyone do anything? Can’t anyone give you something to help you?”

“Jill,” he’d said into her answering machine, “I have to go to the hospital, but not for my regular appointment. Can you bring me? Or they’ll charge me for parking?”

Tom sounded empty, searching, and Jillian could picture his eyes, squinted up with pain, and the wrinkles running across his forehead. She hit the stop button and went right back outside, driving to the Blue House to pick Tom up.

On this night, Tom was admitted.

They told him to sit in a wheelchair. “I know you can drive the Saab, but don’t,” he said, as a nurse put a plastic bracelet on his wrist. “I think you need to practice more.”

Jillian left Tom at the hospital. She got into her Honda and drove back to Harvey’s. She knew Omar still worked at the Citgo on Tuesdays. She had the key to the Saab, and she got inside it and drove it to the station.

Omar was behind the counter, reading USA Today. “Long time, no see,” Omar said. He smiled at Jillian. Jillian remembered the way they’d sang along with the tape, the way Omar put his face through an oatmeal can and said “Smoke meeee,” the funny fake American accent he used when he was trying to teach her new words. She and Tom had just said to each other that the Blue House seemed quiet without him. Then she remembered the juice and Tom’s blistered knuckle.

“I just brought Tom to the hospital,” she said. “He told them something and they admitted him and now he’s inside there.” She felt her throat tighten and the sweetness of mucus, like she had to keep herself from crying.

“I want to know why you called him a “mooderfoocker,” she choked, imitating his accent and narrowing her eyes. “I want to know why you would be mean to him.”

“Look. He’s going to make trouble for you, Jillian. None of us are perfect. He’s not such a bad guy, but he certainly annoyed me. He always wanted to be in my space.”

Jillian stared at him. “Give me some Shermans,” she said, pulling a crumpled ten out of her wallet and flattening it against her thigh.

“We are never all good or nice,” Omar said.

Jillian thought to ask him about his fiancee and his new place and if he was getting his cosmetology license, but instead took the cellophane wrapper off the cigarettes by its gold ribbon and crushed it in her hand, then pressed it into the counter in front of Omar, where it unfurled, crackling and blooming. “See you,” she said.

* * * * *
Jillian felt sure that Tom would be glad to see the Saab in the VA parking lot, if she could find a space he could see from the window. Visiting hours ended at 8, and she was out at 6. She had begun to always take back roads, so that she could take the corners on the freewheel. She could picture Tom’s wan half-smile when he’d see the car. As she drove, she felt the clutch slipping. It wasn’t grabbing. She upshifted to fourth, gunning it, and heard a grinding sound.

“If you can’t find it, grind it,” Tom had joked when she was just learning to drive it. “You’ll know it’s in the wrong spot if it squeals like that, and then you go back into neutral and try again.” She shifted back into neutral, feeling the shift loosen, and tried this time to third, then to second, as the car slowed. She heard the grinding again, shifted to neutral, and pulled over to the side of the road. She pressed on the hazard lights. A yellow > sign reflected them back at her. She opened her box of cigarettes and pulled her sweater close to her body. She stood next to the car, smelling something vaguely rubbery. She lit her cigarette and dragged on it, waiting. She waited there for someone to help her.

Emily Lyon published 20 issues of her zine, Daffodil, from 1993-2003, has been published in The Long River Review and Noctua Review, and is an MFA student at Southern Connecticut State University.

Andrea Sparacio is a graphic designer, artist, and illustrator based in Brooklyn. Her artwork has appeared in magazines such as Vogue Patterns, Life In Action, Slice, and Hue, as well as on giftware, wall décor, greeting cards, and commissioned illustrations for a variety of clients. Andrea’s first illustrated novel, The Zombie Autopsies: Secret Notebooks from the Apocalypse (author Steven C. Schlozman, MD), released this past March from The Hachette Book Group, Grand Central Publishing. Visit her online portfolio at

Graham Patzner is a musician based in Oakland, California. Stream more of his work on Myspace and Bandcamp.

P.S. NYC! Don't miss Storychord's FREE event tonight!

Kick off CMJ, your Halloween holiday, and's next batch of issues TONIGHT from 7-9pm at Housingworks Bookstore Cafe in New York City.

The campfire-themed event is FREE and will feature performances from past musical contributors WILL STRATTON (Issue #10) and KATIE MULLINS (Issue #1); spooky story readings from fiction writers MILES KLEE (Issue #7), TIM MUCCI, and MICHELLE AUGELLO-PAGE; art by ANDREA SPARACIO (Issue #36); plus freshly-made S'MORES from the Cafe!