Happy Holidays from Storychord.com

Posted: Monday, December 10, 2012 | |

Dear readers,

This week, Storychord pauses from publishing to celebrate the holiday season and begin prepping issues for the new year.

March 2013 will mark three years(!) since I launched Storychord with Issue #1, a three-way collaboration between fiction writer Tao Lin, art photographer Helena Kvarnström, and singer-songwriter Katie Mullins. To commemorate this milestone -- and to spice things up a bit -- I've got a few exciting developments in store.

My favorite of these is a new Guest Curator series, in which prominent contributors from Storychord's past will take the reins as one-time issue editors. Stay tuned for these special installments, which will appear once per month starting in January.

Past events -- like Storychord's 50th issue "birthday" party, the CMJ "Around the Campfire" event, and 2011's SxSW day party -- were great fun. And, though Storychord sadly won't be trekking to Austin this year, another in-person event is most certainly in the works for 2013. The best way to stay informed of this and other developments is via the @storychord Twitter feed.

As 2012 draws to a close and a new year approaches, I'm feeling quite grateful to the talented writers, artists, and musicians who've trusted me to play "matchmaker" with their work. Each three-way installment presents a challenging new experiment in synergy, and I'm psyched to curate even more unique juxtapositions in the new year.

If you've ever considered submitting fiction, visual art, or songs for consideration, this formal reading period is a perfect time to do so. Please consult Storychord's simple submission guidelines, and get in touch!

See you in 2013,

Sarah Lynn Knowles
Storychord editor

ISSUE #58: Jon Morgan Davies, John Berry, Jane Boxall

Posted: Monday, November 19, 2012 | | Labels:

Painting by John Berry

by Jon Morgan Davies

Linda had gotten her mother to take her son, Toby, for us so that we could spend the day by ourselves in Santa Monica--all the usual romantic crap: a walk along the beach, lunch on the pier, an afternoon at a spa, dinner at a restaurant on the harbor. It wasn't what I'd have chosen, but she'd planned it all, so I figured I owed her the courtesy of appreciating it. It was my birthday. Forty-seven. All I had to do was work the morning, up through lunch. No big deal.

Of course, I wasn't even supposed to be at work, but April, the shift supervisor, had called in sick. I'm the store manager, so things like this happen to me all the time. No big deal really. Though it was my birthday.

Issue #58 soundtrack: Jane Boxall "Pyramid"

Still, I couldn't help it--I spent the morning counting down hours. We'd found a couple of packages of burger buns gnawed into overnight--the extermination had failed again. Louise and Tamika got into an argument over salad prep. Pablo dropped a carton of milk-shake mix and had to mop it up during the breakfast-lunch switch, when he should have been stocking meat patties for rush hour, which meant Kenneth had to take drive-thru for the first half-hour of lunch all by himself. This, in turn, created a lineup of cars so long one could see it from the front of the store. Eventually I had to leave Antonio to dress burgers by himself so that I could fill in at drive-thru register.

It was a typical day.

* * * * *

The man was wearing all white and was driving a white SUV. He had long blond hair, a muscular build, a dark tan, and in his left earlobe, a tiny gold-loop earring, which swayed with his beat-bobbing head. He was one of those guys who thinks he owns the world.

He ordered the Grand Slam meal with a shake, our special for the month, which earned him a plastic keepsake Burger Shack mug. The total was five sixty-nine. I had just one half-hour to go. I gave him back four thirty-one.

"I gave you a twenty," the man sneered.

The man hadn't even bothered to turn down his radio--some top forty crap with an hysteric deejay--how would he know?

"You gave me a ten," I said.

One of the first things I train my cashiers to do is to keep the cash out of the drawer while they make change. Someone tells them that he--and it usually is a he--gave them more than he did, they can whip the bill back out, show him the money. That usually shuts him up--and it prevents fraud, which we get a lot of. But a cashier can't do that on drive-thru. Put the money on the counter, next to the window, and it blows into the kitchen, and someone's got to go traipsing through french fry grease and abandoned tomato slices to recover the bills.

"I gave you a twenty," the man repeated.

"You gave me a ten," I repeated.

I make good money as a store manager--better than I could as a school teacher, but that doesn't stop people from thinking they're better than me--just because I wear a uniform and get ketchup on it. Hey you, I'm always wanting to say to those people, you in your white button-down, what makes you so special? Maybe you're thirty and have a desk job and immaculate clothing, but do you make more than 50k? Do you have a girlfriend? A nearly adopted son who got four A's last semester?

The man and I went back and forth I don't know how long--thirty seconds, a minute. Eventually he called me unprofessional--what the regional manager had called me a month ago because I haven't been able to get the drive-thru times under the company's new two-minute limit--but this guy called me that because I wouldn't give him ten bucks. And he still hadn't turned down his radio. He stared at me like he owned me--lips pursed, eyebrows raised--said there was a reason I was still working fast food. The drive-thru line was building up again. If I hadn't been so angry, I'd have taken down his number and told him I'd send him the change--standard procedure--if he was right. Instead, I said: "Pull into the parking lot and come inside."

I went into the office, grabbed another cash drawer, and returned to the register. It was the height of the lunch rush, but I keyed in my password and closed out the drawer anyway. I let Kenneth go back to managing drive-thru by himself. Our times were going to suck, but sometimes you just have to prove to these people how right you are. I put the old drawer on the counter facing the dining room and waited for the man to enter.

His impeccable white clothes turned out to be pajamas--something like that.

I counted out the drawer in front of him, starting with the coins--I didn't want him getting antsy at the end with me counting every last cent.

He was antsy anyway.

"Oh please," he said, as soon as I started in on the pennies. "We're talking ten dollars."

I did the big bills for him--after the pennies--working my way down to the ones. He was jumping all over the place. I was about halfway through those when I knew he'd been right. You count enough drawers you know how a hundred eleven ones feels in your hand. I had more than that, quite a few more.

Five hundred twenty-two. Five hundred twenty-three. Five hundred twenty-four.

The drawer total had rung out at five hundred fourteen dollars forty-six cents.

I slapped a ten down on the counter for him.

"Freaking loser," he said, stuffing the ten into his pants pocket. "I got customers to see, just like you. I don't have time for crap like this."

Back in the office, I counted the drawer again. Five hundred fourteen dollars forty-four cents. He'd been right. I shook my head, dropped the drawer into the safe, and strode into the kitchen. There were fifteen minutes left in lunch, but we'd already started to slow. I returned to the drive-thru, expedited a couple of orders, and then headed back to the office and grabbed my jacket. No one said anything. "I'm heading out," I told the assistant manager on my way into the dining room. I didn't wait for him to say anything.

* * * * *

"Don't ask," I told Linda, as I headed into the bedroom to grab a change of clothes. She wanted to know how my day had been.

"Good news," she said, when I got out of the shower.

"What's that?" I asked.

"The masseuse called to say he's running late," Linda said.

"Masseuse?" I asked.

"The spa package I ordered," Linda reminded me. "That means we still have time for lunch at the pier."

I nodded. I wasn't into strangers touching me, but I'd never had a massage, and Linda insisted I'd love it. Okay, I'd said. Whatever made her happy.

It seems kind of gooshy to think, but Linda may be the woman of my life. We've been together two years. Before her, women never had enough patience for me. Glenna decided I was too moody. Heidi, by contrast, said I wasn't emotionally open enough. Barbara wanted me to tell her I loved her, so I did, but she said it didn't sound like I did--I had to mean it. I'd said it--I didn't know what else I could do. Each of them had lasted six months. I keep waiting for things to fall apart with Linda.

* * * * *

We did all the things Linda set up for us. Well, half the things--all the things we were to have done that afternoon, though we had to settle for eating at a sandwich shop on the promenade because the pier would have taken too long, and Linda wanted to make sure we made the spa by three. I kept thinking about the man in the drive-thru.

"Is something wrong?" Linda asked, as we ate.

"Nothing," I said.

"Something's wrong," she said.

"I don't want to talk about it," I said. I try hard to be open about my feelings with Linda, but it's not something that comes natural to me, and a day like this, all the stuff I was already doing for her, I just wasn't up for it.

She nodded. "The pigeons here look fatter," she said. There were pigeons all over the promenade. You couldn't walk an inch without stepping on one. "I think more people feed them."

"Well, don't start," I said. She had her sandwich in her hands. "Last thing I want to be around right now is a bunch of pigeons."

"Sorry," she said.

"For what?" I asked.

"For saying stupid things," she said. She put her sandwich down. "You're not tired of me, are you?" she asked. "I feel like you're tired of me."

I rolled my eyes, took a bite of my sandwich. It was my birthday. If only I hadn't had to work on my birthday.

* * * * *

Linda had ordered the half massage package, which was fifty dollars instead of a hundred, forty minutes rather than eighty. We'd be out of there by four and on our way to Malibu for dinner.

We were taken to separate rooms. The men and women at this facility didn't mix, and that was fine by me. I wasn't keen on being naked in front anyone but Linda, and I wasn't keen on her being naked in front of anyone but me. I'd have a male masseuse, she a female.

I took off my clothes and laid on the table, a towel draped around my buttocks, as I'd been instructed. I wondered what kind of wacko would want a job like this, rubbing all these naked people's behinds.

Another fifteen minutes passed before the masseuse showed up. I knew it wasn't fast food, but a wait like this, they could have at least had a couple of magazines to look at--U.S. News and World Report, Business Weekly, something. I'd have fallen asleep if hadn't been for that man at lunch. I felt like punching something.

The masseuse walked in.

It was him. He was still wearing the clothes he'd gotten his meal in. And he still had that stupid earring in his left ear. His hair, I noted, had been pulled back into a pony tail.

Just my luck.

"If you'll just relax, Mr. Spencer," he said. "I'll take care of the rest, and you'll be out of here feeling like a new man." I wondered if he was being sarcastic.

He spread some lotion on his hands and ran his palms down the lower portion of my spine. I gritted my teeth, trying not to jump off the table. I let him mesh his skin with mine, let his hands pass over every muscle of my back.

"You seem tense," the man said.

I grunted. What? Did this guy want to have a conversation now? I wondered what he'd been doing out at my Burger Shack. It was almost an hour away. Did he do house calls? His hands moved up and down, grinding into my shoulders and my hips. Then he was working my legs. I farted a couple of times. I felt like a freaking little kid. I bet he was loving this.

We didn't talk after the first question. I let him work, and he let me try to ignore him. Somewhere in here, he asked me to turn over. I watched him for a few seconds as he worked the flesh around my pudgy pecks. What a poor excuse for a human being, I thought--not of him, but of me. I thought, that's what he'd be thinking. How old was he? Thirty-two? You just wait, Bud. I closed my eyes.

"Feeling pretty good, now, Mr. Spencer?" he asked, when he was done.

"Sure," I said--now that his hands were off me.

"I can go on," he said, "do the whole eighty if you want, but Linda only paid for a half."

I shook my head.

He crossed to the other side of the room with his lotions. Somehow, he hadn't seemed to recognize me. But that's how it is with guys who think the world of themselves--they don't remember anyone they don't consider important.

"You don't have to worry about tipping me either," he continued, stuffing the bottles into a leather bag. "Linda already took care of that."

I nodded.

"She gave me twenty dollars," he said, turning back to me. He had something in his hand, a mug. He took a sip. "I hope you don't mind." It was the Burger Shack mug. I'm pretty sure he was sneering.

* * * * *

"Wasn't it amazing?" Linda asked when we were back in the car.

"It was fine," I said.

"You didn't like it?" she asked.

"It was fine," I said.

I drove to the end of the parking lot and pulled into traffic. I thought of that man with his mug. A man like that--doesn't he make enough money not to rub it in? He didn't even need that ten dollars. "Why'd you give the masseuse a twenty-dollar tip?" I asked. "It was only a half."

"Was that too much?" she asked.

"It was forty percent," I said.

"I know," she said. "But it was your birthday. I wanted him to do a good job."

I shook my head. "Twenty dollars was too much."

"You didn't like it," Linda said again.

"It was fine," I repeated.

I suppose I should have said something then, told Linda about the register drawer, the money, but why prolong the misery by talking about it? I don't like being at work when I'm not there.

We drove on in silence. I don't know how long. We couldn't have gone more than two or three blocks. I was focused on the road--that man, my lousy birthday. We had to turn right to get on to the freeway. That's when I noticed she was crying.

"What's wrong now?" I asked.

"You didn't like it," she said.

"It was fine," I said.

"I spent too much money," she said.

I sighed. She wasn't going to stop crying. What was I supposed to do now?

I turned off the road, came to a stop. "Honey," I said, "it was fine." I turned off the engine, pushed myself toward her, put an arm around her shoulder. But she was still crying. I held her like that I don't know how long, the cars rushing past us, on to their various destinations. I was forty-seven. I had a woman, a kid, a job. I was trying to hold on.

Jon Morgan Davies is a native of California currently residing in Georgia. His work has appeared in such publications as Adirondack Review, Cutbank, and Southern Indiana Review. Visit him online at no1bag.angelfire.com.

John Berry paints spaces of opposition that appear as vacant puzzles or forgotten video game levels. He holds an MFA in Painting from Indiana University and a BFA in Illustration from Rhode Island School of Design. View more of his work online at johngberry.com.

Jane Boxall is an award-winning international concert artist. Born in the UK, Jane completed two degrees in music at the University of York before relocating to the United States in 2004. She studied with renowned percussionist William Moersch at the University of Illinois, earning a doctorate in percussion performance. Jane has performed and toured in the US, UK, Italy, Belgium, France and Ireland. Currently living in Vermont, Jane is an enthusiastic music educator, working with students from pre-school to University. Jane keeps a busy schedule as a solo marimbist, playing new music and vintage ragtime. She is one half of piano-marimba ensemble Ricochet Duo, one half of Snap-Drag drum duo, one third of Drumshtick percussion group, one third of riot-grrrl punk band Doll Fight! and an in-demand session drummer and percussionist. Visit her online at janeboxall.com.

ISSUE #57: Joshua Isard, Sarah Certa, Bern & the Brights

Posted: Monday, October 29, 2012 | | Labels:

Photograph by Sarah Certa

by Joshua Isard

His mom asked for pictures.

“OK,” Hewitt said, keeping his eyes on the road.

He knew he wasn’t going to take any, and saw himself showing Owen’s Facebook page to his mother the next time he saw her. Hewitt had seven or so pictures on his phone, mostly of bizarre signs he’d seen. His favorite was in front of a church: Need a lifeguard? Ours walks on water. He had none of his girlfriend, his family, his friends—and certainly not his friend’s toddler.

Issue #57 soundtrack: Bern & the Brights "Thieves, Creeps, and Automatons"

“I can’t believe you’re going to Maddie’s third birthday party. I remember taking you to Owen’s third birthday… it just makes me…”

“I know, Mom. You have to stop the tears.”

“It was so cute! You were close with him even then.”

“We were three years old. I wouldn’t read too much into it. Look, I have to go. I’m still on I-95.”

“Pictures, Hewitt, lots of them.”

“You got it, Mom.” He hung up and tossed the phone on the passenger seat.

He didn’t get along with Maddie, mostly because he didn’t know how to act around a kid who couldn’t articulate more than being hungry, happy, or tired. He never did kiddie talk. When Hewett got his dog from the shelter, a four pound runt of a lab-collie mix, he talked to her like she was a person with a house and a job. “Can you believe the potholes in these roads?” he asked the dog. “Try not to fall out of that box, OK? Trust me, it’ll hurt.” The puppy could barely open its eyes.

Talking like that when it’s just you and your dog is fine, but at a third birthday party with who knows how many parents around… it could be strange.

While he drove in the left lane down I-95, Hewitt thought about how long he’d known Owen, and how he only got along with him a little better than he did with Maddie. They were friends by inertia. They’d grown up together, gone through elementary school, middle school, and high school together, visited each other at college, backpacked through Europe together after graduation. But a decade after all that, with jobs and mortgages, Hewett thought that if they met for the first time today, they wouldn’t be friends.

He took the exit off 95 and merged onto Route 1 which took him into suburban Delaware. He saw Wilmington’s mini-skyline fade in his rear view, and then the developments appeared on each side of the road with their exotic, rural sounding names: Caledonian Woods, Normandy Hunt, Brandenburg Estates. He turned off Route 1 and in less than a mile pulled into Owen’s development, Lapland Run. Hewitt wondered if anyone living there knew just how inhospitable Lapland was.

* * * * *

“Why are you sweating, Hewitt?”

“I had to park about ten doors down,” he said. It was the first spot he’d found and as he walked over, Maddie’s present under his arm, he noticed how little shade there was on the sidewalk despite all the trees in the neighborhood. “How many people are here?”

“The Longs are also having a party today.” Janel said. “They live over there.” She pointed down the street, but he had no idea at which house.

Hewitt never liked Janel. She was too honest, refused to polish her freshly quarried thoughts before speaking, which gave him the idea that she didn’t like him either.

“You probably want to see Owen,” she said. “He’s in the kitchen.”

“Yeah,” Hewitt said. “And Maddie, too, you know.”

“She’s also inside.”


“Maybe wash up a little in the bathroom.”

“Right,” he said. “OK.”

He went into the house and found himself among people he’d never met, half of whom were kids. He had to weave and bob around three year-olds running in straight lines as if they’d bounced off something and were unable to avoid obstacles, like Hewitt’s shins. He imagined a full-on impact with his leg and his gift crashing to the floor. Or on a kid’s head. He gripped the package tightly.

Hewitt made it to the kitchen and saw Owen at the island, manning what appeared to be a juice station for the toddlers.

Owen saw him, got another parent to take over drink duties, then walked to his friend.

They shook hands. “You really didn’t have to come,” Owen said. “You might be a little over age.”

“I’m not going to blow off your daughter’s birthday party when I get an invite.”

“Well, thanks for coming.”


Owen looked down at the gift Hewitt still held under his arm.

“Is that for Maddie?”

“Yeah,” Hewitt said. “Do I give it to you? I’m not really sure how this works.”

“Yeah, I’ll bring it upstairs so no one runs over it.” He took it and looked back up at Hewitt. “Did you jog here all the way from Philly?”

Hewitt tried to laugh a little. “No, I had to park pretty far away, and it’s kind of hot out.”

“OK, well, you know where the bathrooms are if you want to wash up.”

Then Owen went upstairs and Hewitt went to the bathroom, but he found it locked. Suddenly a woman wearing a floral print dress and Birkenstocks stood next to him. Her hair looked like it hadn’t been brushed in a week, and Hewitt thought that the heat couldn’t have helped that. She announced, “My son is in there.”

“Oh,” Hewitt said, “I’m sorry.”

“I don’t recognize you,” she said. “Whose father are you?”

“I don’t have kids, I’m an old friend of Owen’s.”

The woman’s eyes narrowed and Hewitt noticed that she had a serious uni-brow.

“This is Maddie’s party,” she said.

“I know,” Hewitt said. “I’ve met Maddie once or twice, too.”

The handle on the bathroom door started to move back and forth, but the door didn’t open. Hewitt decided to let the woman help her son. He wondered if there was something about having a kid that prevented her from properly grooming herself.

He went upstairs, but the door was locked again. He didn’t want to go back downstairs until he’d had a minute to make sure he didn’t look ridiculous.

He saw that Owen and Janel’s bedroom door was closed, but figured they just didn’t want anyone in there during the party. Hewitt opened the door a crack and looked in. No one there, just a few gifts on the bed, including his. He closed the door behind him and went into their bathroom.

Hewitt’s face was glazed, but he didn’t see any stains on his shirt. He splashed cold water on his face and felt himself cooling down, then dried himself with one of their monogrammed towels and made sure to fold it exactly as he found it before he put it back. He noticed their matching electric toothbrushes, the wicker basket of potpourri on the back of the toilet, and the copies of the Delaware Bar Association newsletter in the magazine rack.

He thought, “They’re boring even when no one’s looking.”

* * * * *

When Hewitt returned to the party he went to the refrigerator to look for a beer, but decided against grabbing a Yuengling. He hadn’t seen anyone else with a beer, and already felt like everyone there, kids included, felt like he shouldn’t have come.

He saw some bottles of water out on the back patio and went out to get one.

A half dozen kids kicked a rubber ball around the back yard with seemingly no aim, and no parental supervision. Lots of parents were out there, but none looked to be paying attention to the children. Hewitt thought that maybe when you have one, it gets easy enough to watch them and have a conversation at the same time.

The water bottles were warm, just placed on the table next to bowls of pretzels and Doritos. No cooler, no bucket of ice.

He stood back and looked at the parents. They wore jeans, t-shirts, polos, flip flops…and white sneakers. That’s what Hewitt focused on, the dads with white sneakers. Almost all of them. The ones wearing shorts had socks pulled up, some as far as the middle of their calves.

Hewitt saw that as a sign of failure—a man with white sneakers and white socks pulled up on his pale shins, his straggly leg hair out in the harsh light of day. To Hewitt it meant that a guy no longer cared if he’d made the world a little more awful.

Don’t shop at Armani. Just cover up, man.

He drank the bottle of water in three gulps and felt not the least bit refreshed, then went back inside to the air conditioning. In every room he heard the din of conversation between mothers and fathers, punctuated by the yelps of their children who all still ran in straight lines and nearly into Hewitt. It sounded as if the kids might be hurt or something when he heard those yells, but no one reacted. The adults and children could have been at two separate parties, at different houses.

He weaved around clusters of parents and dodged the projectile-like children, then went out into the front yard. No one else was there. He took out his phone and called Elena, who was working at the vet that afternoon.

“Hi,” she said, “how’s the birthday party?”

“Not for me,” he said. “No one’s drinking, Owen’s got to play host, and the other parents think I’m just a pedophile or something.”

“Didn’t you tell them you’re Owen’s friend?”

“Yeah. Doesn’t sound too legitimate to them.”

“I’m sorry, Hew.”

“I don’t even know why he invited me.”

“Because you’ve been close since the two of you were toddlers.”

“My mom brought that up this afternoon.”

“What did she say?”

“She reminded me about how I went to Owen’s third birthday party. He had this Spider-Man birthday cake, and his mom gave him the first piece, but then he slid it over to me. Apparently we’ve been friends ever since then.”

“That’s the cutest thing I’ve ever heard. I love how you guys have been loyal to each other for so long.”

“Yeah?” he said. “Want to show me how much you love it tonight?”

“Oh god…” she said, “you’re around children.”

“I’m outside,” he said. “No one’s near me.”

“Well, I’m around some sick kittens I have to take care of, so how about we talk about it later?”

“Sure. I’ll be home by eight. That too late for dinner?”

“No, it’s fine. Enjoy the rest of the party.”


* * * * *

Hewitt spent the next hour trying not to look too creepy, which he found difficult without a wife or kids. At one point he found himself in the kitchen, standing next to a father.

“How do you know Owen?” Hewitt asked.


“Maddie’s father.”

“Oh, right,” the guy said. “I just met him today. My wife knows Janel. Our kids are in the same school.”

“Cool,” Hewitt said, then asked, “Which one’s yours?”

“Oh,” the guy said, and then gave a quick look around. “I don’t see her, probably running around the backyard or something. Do yours go to Fitzwater too?”

“My what?”

“Your kids, do they go to the Fitzwater School with Maddie?”

“Oh, I don’t have kids. I’m Owen’s friend.”

“I see,” the guy said. Then they both paused, tried to think of something else to say. “Well, I have to find my wife, it was nice to meet you.”

“Yeah, you too.”

A little later, Owen and Janel brought out a cake decorated with the faces of cartoon-ish animals, a zoo scene airbrushed on the icing. Maddie took three tries to blow out three candles, and then Janel cut the first square of the cake from the corner, one of the pieces with the most icing flowers. She put it on a little paper plate and gave it to Maddie.

Hewitt watched her carefully.

She took her fork and dug into the cake, getting some on her cheeks with every bite. The other parents laughed and whispered how cute she looked. Owen cut the rest of the cake and Janel brought pieces to all the kids, then the parents, then Hewitt.

After everyone ate, the kids had one last sugar rush and ran around even faster than before. Hewitt tried to break into a conversation between Owen and a few other dads, but he ended up just standing near them and listening to their discussion about the neighborhood’s property values.

At one point a kid finally did thump straight into Hewitt’s shin and fell backwards. It was Maddie. He squatted down and helped her back on her feet. She smiled, like Hewitt’s leg was just part of a kids’ obstacle course. He thought that everything’s more fun when you don’t have far to fall.

“Hey kiddo,” he said. Even squatting, he wasn’t at eye level with her.

“Hi, uncle Hoo-et.”

“You having fun today?”

“Ya!” she said, and then ran off into the traffic of the other kids.

Hewitt looked up at Owen, who laughed.

* * * * *

Within a half hour of eating their cake all the kids crashed, and their parents, as if a telepathic alarm went off through all their minds, stopped talking and rounded up the children to leave.

While Janel stood by the front door and said goodbye to everyone as they left, Hewitt brought in some of the trash from the patio and Owen loaded the dishwasher. Hewitt and Owen found themselves alone in the kitchen. It was late afternoon, but at this point in the summer the sun still shone high overhead and flooded through the windows.

“Thanks for helping out,” Owen said.

“Sure,” Hewitt said. “You want to take a break and have one of those beers in the fridge?”

“You go ahead, but I’m good.”

“Come on, man, one outside. It’s summer time. Janel’s with Maddie. Humor your guest.”

Owen put down the dishes he was rinsing off in the sink. “OK,” he said, “sure.”

Hewitt grabbed the bottles from the fridge and they walked outside. Owen slid two chairs near each other while Hewitt twisted off the caps, then they sat down. Hewitt took a gulp of his beer, Owen took a sip.

“My mom called me while I was on the way over here,” Hewitt said after the fizz from the beer no longer tickled the back of his throat. “She reminded me about your third birthday party.”

“The Spiderman cake?”


“My mom tells me about that all the time. Do you even remember it?”


“Me either.”

They each tipped their bottles back again. Hewitt had gulped nearly half his beer already. Owen hadn’t drank down to the label.

“I’m sorry Elena couldn’t come,” Owen said.

“Me too. But work’s work.”

“You two have been together for a year now, right?”

“Not even,” Hewitt said.

“Is it serious?”

“I don’t know,” Hewitt said. “What does that even mean anymore?”

“It means: do you want to marry her?”

“I’m not really thinking about that.”

“Guess it’s not serious, then.”

Hewitt hated when Owen said things like that. He took another drink from the bottle, nearly finishing it. He wondered if he’d had enough cake to soak up the beer and keep him from feeling a little buzzed.

“Anything new with work?” Owen asked. “Find the next huge band?”

“I don’t find the bands, really, I just produce their albums.”

“Yeah, but, you had a lot to do with Lucy 54, and even I hear about them all the time.”

“It was good to get hooked up with those guys, yeah.”

“So everything’s still going well?”

“Very well, actually. I just got offered a job in London.”

“Wow, when did that happen?”

“I got the offer last week, but I was out there all of May to work on Blaylock’s new album.”

“You were?”

“Yeah,” Hewitt said, “I texted you a picture from the top of the London Eye.”


“Anyway, this label wants to take me on as their staff producer.”

“That’s great. Are you going to take it?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. I’ve got the condo here, the dog, and a pretty good client base.”

“But you still love all the travel and adventure,” Owen said, “this seems like a great job for you.”

“I get plenty of travel with my job as it is now.”

“I know, I’m surprised you don’t get sick more often, the places you go.”

Hewitt couldn’t believe he had a friend who thought that every city outside the U.S. was somehow third world. He’d been to Stockholm and Tokyo in the last year, not Mogadishu and Calcutta.

“It’s a big deal to move overseas,” Hewitt said. “I’m going to take a while to think about it.”

“What does Elena think?”

“I haven’t talked about it with her yet. I mean, if I decide I don’t want to go, then why have the discussion at all?”

“Sure,” Owen said.

Hewitt finished his beer. Owen wasn’t half way done. They both put their bottles down between their chairs.

“How are things with you?” Hewitt asked. “Everything good at the firm? You a partner yet?”

“A couple years more, I think.”

“Nice. And Maddie’s good?”

“Yeah, well, you saw her today. Bouncing around, talking up a storm. I swear that kid remembers everything anyone says. A few weeks ago my dad was over and we had the Phillies game on. He said something about how Ryan Howard can’t lay off the inside curve ball. Then yesterday, I’m reading the sports page and Maddie asks me why Ryan Howard can’t hit an inside curve ball.”

“No shit.”

“Kids are pretty amazing sometimes.”

“That’s funny, I was thinking that everyone seemed kind of removed from their kids. The little ones run around, parents talk.”

“I guess that happens at these parties,” Owen said, “but that’s not how it is most of the time. I don’t know, I never get so deadly focused as when I’m doing something for Maddie. I see the best parts of myself in her. Well, so far it’s the best parts.”

“What happens when it’s not?”

“I don’t know. I’ll find out.”

Hewitt looked down at his empty bottle. “So,” he said, “I got her a present.”

“I know. Thanks.”

“I should kind of set it up for her. It looks a little weird.”

“What do you mean?”

“Maybe it’s best if I show you.”

They went inside, leaving the bottles by the chairs, Owen’s still half-full, Hewitt’s lying on its side. As they climbed the stairs they heard Maddie’s muffled crying from the bathroom and Janel trying to calm her.

“Everything OK?” Hewitt asked.

“Sure, she probably just doesn’t want to take a bath or something.”

“This happen often?”

“Sometimes, yeah.”

Owen went into his bedroom and brought out the package for Maddie. He motioned them both into her bedroom. The walls were painted sky blue, and the molding was pink. Hewitt saw stuffed animals on every flat surface.

They unwrapped a cardboard box, then cut open the flaps and found a pink speaker surrounded with crumpled tissue paper, and a little rectangle wrapped separately next to it.

Owen pulled out the speaker, but its cord caught in all the paper. When he yanked on it several balls of paper flew out of the box.

“Where are we going to put this?” Hewitt asked.

“Over here in the corner’s fine.”

Owen moved a stuffed toys off of a small square table and put the speaker down. “This is cool.” Owen said, “What can we hook it up to?”

“What? No, you missed it.” Hewitt reached into the box and pulled out the wrapped rectangle. “This is the important part.”

Owen unwrapped the matching pink iPod, then noticed the little dock on the front of the speaker.

“I just wanted to set it up because I’d already taken it all out of the original boxes. Didn’t want you to think it fell off a truck or something.”

“It’s cool.”

Hewitt took the iPod from his friend and turned it on. “See,” he said, “I loaded it with, well, everything I thought Maddie might want.”

Owen looked as Hewitt scrolled through the bands.

“Aimee Mann, Jeff Buckley, Beth Orton…”

“The Breeders?” Owen asked.

“There’s also some stuff on there for when she gets older.”

Owen said, “Thanks, that’s really thoughtful,” but Hewitt saw in his eyes that that Owen was wondering what he was going to do with this pink box.

Hewitt scrolled down to The Who and put on one of their earlier singles, “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere.”

“Speaker sounds good,” Hewitt said. “Remember this concert?”

They’d seen The Who on tour right after John Entwistle died.

“Who is this?” Owen asked.

“The Who.”

“Right. We sat on the lawn for that concert, right?”

“Yeah. At Camden.”

“Man, I’ll never do that again,” Owen said.

“Go to Camden?”

“No, sit on the lawn at a concert.”

Then they heard the bathroom door fly open, and Maddie run out screaming. She was wearing her pajamas, and her hair was soaking wet. Janel followed her out of the bathroom with the towel she was using to dry off her daughter. Maddie ran into the bedroom, jumped on her bed, and curled up in a little ball where she continued crying.

“What happened?” Owen asked Janel.

“She got shampoo in her eyes. Or that’s what she says.”

“I thought that was supposed to be no tears shampoo.”

“Yeah, well, here we are,” Janel said. “What’s all this?”

“Hewitt got this iPod and speakers for Maddie,” Owen said.

“No,” she said, “the mess, all this tissue paper.”

“It was in the box.”

Janel said, “I’m not in the mood for this—” She stopped before swearing in front of her daughter and her guest.

Hewitt, kneeling by the speakers, looked at both of them and then Maddie. He was confused, and a little embarrassed to be there. “Maybe I ought to go,” he said.

“That might be a good idea,” Janel said as she sat next to Maddie and tried to calm her by rubbing her back and shoulders.

Hewitt stood up and said to Owen, “You’ll show them everything, right?”

“Yeah,” he said and led his friend out of the room.

When they were about to go down the stairs they heard, “What is this?”

It was Maddie.

“What is this?” she asked again, no longer crying or even sniffling.

Owen and Hewitt went back into the room and saw Maddie and Janel sitting on the side of the bed, looking at the speaker and iPod. “Happy Jack” by The Who had just started playing, with its soft bass hook and Roger Daltrey’s young and unblemished voice. Maddie started bopping her head back and forth to the music.

Janel looked at her daughter kicking her bare little feet in rhythm with the song, incredulous at what she saw.

“She only likes music when it’s on TV,” Owen said. “We just thought she was more spacial-visual.”

Hewitt watched Maddie let the chords and rhythms control her limbs like they did for him at concerts and even around his condo. Elena always teased him for working with such cool music without being able to dance well.

He looked at Maddie as the song wound down and got a feeling like when he nailed the perfect mix on a single, but that wasn’t quite it. This was something else.

* * * * *

When Hewitt got home to this condo he found a pizza box on his coffee table, along with two bottles of his favorite Yards ale, both sweating condensation into a little pool on the coasters. Elena stood up from the couch and gave him a hug.

“You ready to eat?” she said.


They ate and drank while watching episodes of Nurse Jacky they’d recorded over the last few weeks. Once the beer began making them drowsy they took the dog for a walk around the block, came home, and got into bed.

Hewitt lay on his back and Elena on her side. She put her arm around his chest, pulled herself towards him and kissed him.

“You’ve gotten to like Maddie, haven’t you?”


“Before, you came home and complained about having to see her, but not this time.”

“Yeah. I guess she’s more of a person now.”

“That’s great, hun.”

She kissed him again, kept kissing him, put her bare leg over him, then got on top of him. Hewitt kept his arms at his sides.

“Not really into it tonight?” she said, looking down at him, her hair tickling his chin.

“No,” he said. “I mean, we should talk.”

“Oh.” She slid back over next to him, sat cross legged and pulled the duvet up to cover herself.

“I got offered a job in London. A good job as a house producer.”

“You’re moving to London?”

“I got offered a job, I didn’t make a decision yet.”

Elena looked over to the window. Since it was dark outside, only their distorted reflections stared back.

“I want to talk.” he said.

“To me?”

“Yes. I don’t want to make a decision without you.”

Hewitt lay on his back, his head on the pillow. Elena sat next to him. Neither of them moved for a long time, but eventually they started talking about jobs, and London, and what came next.

Joshua Isard grew up in the Philadelphia area, earned his BA in English at Temple University, and then went on to study creative writing at the University of Edinburgh and literature at University College London. His short stories have appeared in Northwind Magazine, The Broadkill Review, Press 1, and Inscribed, and his first novel is forthcoming from Cinco Puntos Press in 2013. He is currently the director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Arcadia University in Glenside, Pennsylvania.

Sarah Certa is a poet pursuing an MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She uses photography as a way to get out of her head when she's spent all weekend reading and writing in her room. She lives in central Minnesota with her daughter, Evelyn. Find her online at sarahcerta.tumblr.com.

Bern & the Brights formed in 2008 in Montclair, New Jersey, and have since been sharing their brand of danceable, romantic nerd-rock. "Thieves, Creeps, and Automatons" is a track from Bern & the Brights’ latest EP, "Work." For more, visit the band online at bernandthebrights.com.

ISSUE #56: Deborah Mead, Jeanpaul Ferro, Twin Oaks

Posted: Monday, October 15, 2012 | | Labels:

Photograph by Jeanpaul Ferro

by Deborah Mead

Some days I see you everywhere. Beside the steel flagpole in front of school, or in the next line at CVS, or walking through the video store, just the back of your copper hair disappearing down the aisle. Other times you’re nowhere to be seen, as of course you shouldn’t be. There is a name for this, probably, for believing that you’re seeing someone when it’s really someone else. You would know what this is called, and if you were here, you would tell me and crack that half-smile you always wore when you knew something I didn’t.

Thursdays I park by your house. Sometimes I see your mom. She used to tell me to let go, we’re too young, Cal Tech too far. She would remind me you’re seeing someone new and tell me about all the fish in the sea. But now we do not speak. She comes and goes, shutting the heavy front door while I watch from my car. When I get home, my mom asks why it takes me so long to run so few errands.

Issue #56 soundtrack: Twin Oaks "Not An Exit"

Today I see you across the street from the bus stop, in that coffee shop we used to like. You sit right in the window, head bent over the paper, paper cup steaming by your hand. I want you to look up, to see me, too, dressed in your favorite halter top, the low-cut indigo one you said matched my eyes. I want you to look up and watch me board the bus and leave you behind. And then you do look up, and it isn’t you or even anyone who resembles you, really, but you look at me and our eyes meet and I shiver as if it really was you. I climb the steps, clink my quarters into the coin box and take a seat by the window. I look again. You are already gone.

Your brother looks like you. Your dad looks like you. When your mom walks to her car, she takes long hard strides like you. But these people are not you. I do not want them to look at me. They look at me and shake their heads. They do not tell you I come by.

J.P. said it’s a thirty-minute ride, thirty-five tops. The bus will stop right across the street, I can’t miss it. I settle in. Across the aisle, a man who is not you stares at me. It is November and I am not wearing a coat. Goosebumps erupt on my arms. The man asks if I am cold. I do not answer him. The high school, its wide lawn empty and brown, passes by the window. The bagel shop, Top-Line Nails, Mike’s Bird World. Someone requests a stop. The man who is not you does not get off.

Your old friend Brandon asked me to come to a party. He said it was time to move on and he talked about the fish in the sea. I watched his mouth move, tiny teeth biting off each word. The words washed over me like little waves until suddenly they stopped. He was looking at me, waiting, so I said yes. He smiled with the tiny teeth and told me to bring my lip gloss.

The bus passes the movie theater where you and I used to go. I liked to sit with you in the dark, the lights of the movie washing over us like waves. I listened to the words but could never forget you were sitting beside me. I would turn and watch you watch the movie, smiling or laughing or nodding or serious but not thinking about me, and I would feel myself disappear. Then I would blow on your cheek or rustle the popcorn and you would stir and there I would be again.

Brandon said it was called a rainbow party. He said you used to come to them on Saturday nights when you were too tired to go with me to the movies. Eleven boys sat around the living room, their pants down, their penises quivering in their hands like eels. A few girls kneeled in the center of the circle, lips a shimmering rainbow. Brandon said, it’s time to move on. I put on my lip gloss.

In my lap lie the photos. Doris took them with my mom’s digital, the junky one she got in that raffle. There are head shots and body shots. Me in the hammock. Me on the boardwalk. Me in profile. Me smiling. Me with no facial expression. J.P. said “u r a natural beauty, u just dont see it yet.” Every day I study the pictures. I do not see it yet.

J.P. says “no prblm, no prblm. Even Gisele looks horrible w/o makeup, lights, fans. Have u seen Pam Anderson? Scary! LOL! I’ll take gr8 pix when we meet IRL.”

In algebra, Mr. Boller likes to solve for x. The whiteboard swims with blue marker, Mr. Boller’s tenor rippling in the background. Factors, coefficients, polynomials—beautiful empty shells. I am failing algebra again. You used to laugh and tell me it didn’t matter, that I had a poet’s soul. I liked that idea, and for a while I dressed in black and carried a notebook around. I wrote six poems, all about you.

The bell rings for a stop and the man who is not you moves into the aisle beside me. His shoes crunch the gritty floor. I have a daughter your age, he says. He looks down at me, coughs, looks away. You should wear a coat. He shuffles off the bus. We pull away and I cross the aisle and take his seat. It is still warm.

Last week I drove to Koehler Beach. It was cold and dark and I sat in the car while the wind whipped the ghostly foam up over the sand. I thought about the time we were here last spring, when you drank so much Crush you peed orange into the ocean. I laughed until I peed in my jeans, and then you rinsed them in the waves. We sat on the scratchy plaid blanket and ate your mom’s cream cheese sandwiches and wordlessly watched the churning water. You ran your hand down my back, fingertips bouncing over each vertebra. I silently counted each bony nub you strummed, and when you turned to me and smiled, I knew you were counting them too.

Billboards line Route 156, ads for car insurance, technical training, missing children. They tick by the window, a steady dull rhythm, until the one for Borden’s Jewelers. The blonde woman gazes into the bus, glossy lips parted in pleasured anticipation. Her face is ten feet tall. Someday this will be me, high above a California highway. You will see me a mile off. You will look and look, but it will not matter. You will not exist for me.

On the boardwalk, a whiteboard awash in green numbers. High tide, low tide. Air temperature, water temperature, wind speed. Sunset. In the background, the face of the sea curls and darkens, breaks and heals in familiar rhythm. There is no knowing what may be lurking beneath.

The gray county courthouse fills the window and I get off the bus. The hotel is across the street, where J.P. said it would be. Men scurry along the sidewalk, laugh into cell phones, dig through briefcases. Steam wafts from a yellow pretzel cart. I stop in the middle of the street when I see you enter Jake’s Bar and Grill, your brown jacket black, your copper hair darker. Then you turn to hold the door for an old woman, and it’s not you after all.
Mead, p. 6

Every time I call, you answer with the same cheerful voice. Every day, the same rising and falling timbre. Every day, the same background laughter. Who is laughing? There is no knowing. You tell me to leave a message at the beep and every day I flounder in silence.

Heavy drapes darken the lobby. The air is odorless, denser than outside. I spot the yellow striped chair by the front windows, right where it’s supposed to be. I sit down. Beside me the glass door opens to the outside, admits a rush of noise, shuts the world out again. Luggage trolleys glide silently over the deep green tile. In the center of the room an aquarium quietly bubbles. Six unblinking guppies nibble and spit the pink-pebbled floor.

Last night I dreamed we were at Koehler Beach. We were eating sandwiches on the plaid blanket, seagulls eying us from the empty lifeguard chair. You spotted the remains of a whale washed up far down the beach, its white ribs poking through dark flesh. You ran down the beach, laughing come on, come on, but the harder I ran, the farther away you got, while the bleached bones sank deeper and deeper into the sand.

An unshaven man crosses the lobby toward me, hard heels biting into the carpet. He is not you. I do not want him to be J.P. Hello, he says. I’m J.P. He quickly scans the room, studies me, my halter top. He carries a plastic room key in his hand. There’s been some confusion, a double-booked conference room, he has to audition the girls in a suite upstairs instead. He shakes his head. Unavoidable, but hey, at least there’s a mini-bar. He bares yellow teeth, his darting tongue poking saliva bubbles through the wet crevices.

Mr. Boller says in algebra there is only one right answer. It is simple logic. Move the constants to the right, the variables to the left, you’re left with x, now solved, now known. Inevitable. Inexorable. Mr. Boller beams like his whiteboard. Beautiful.

The man who calls himself J.P. tucks the envelope of photos under his arm. I am even more beautiful than he hoped, the camera will love me. He extends his hand to help me to my feet. Shall we go, then? Beside us the glass door opens: laughter, hot salted pretzels, gust of cold air. I gulp a deep breath before the door closes once more. I take his hand. Yes. Yes, let’s go.

Deborah Mead is a published writer, with essays and articles appearing in the Boston Globe and Disney's Family Fun magazine. Her poetry chapbook, Topless, was published by Main Street Rag last year.

Jeanpaul Ferro a novelist, poet, short fiction author, and photographer from Providence, Rhode Island. An 8-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Ferro's work has been featured on NPR, Columbia Review, Connecticut Review, Contemporary American Voices, Arts and Understanding Magazine, Emerson Review, and others. His photography has been featured in Houston Literary Review, Bartleby Snopes Literary Review, Barely South Review, Decades Review, Cleveland Review, and others. View his art portfolio online.

Twin Oaks is a two-piece dream pop/folk band out of Los Angeles, consisting of singer-songwriter Lauren Brown and multi-instrumentalist Aaron Christopher. Their new EP "Not An Exit" is due for a late November release. For more, visit the band online at twinoaksmusic.com.

ISSUE #55: Juli Min, Jen May, Ruin/Renewal

Posted: Monday, September 10, 2012 | | Labels:

Illustration by Jen May

by Juli Min

In a white undershirt and khaki shorts that he pulled up and belted high on his waist above the little pouch of belly, Sung stood at the sink in the bathroom and twisted the water handle all the way to the left. Hot. He needed very hot. He waited patiently as the water turned, looking around at the floor of their bathroom as he did. It had grown dirty over the last two months, ever since Hanna had been too weak to clean. His eyes glazed over the tiles and the toilet seat with disgust. The toilet was stained with what he knew were drops of his dried, badly aimed urine, and the tiles surrounding it needed a good scouring. But he looked away so that the grime was out of his range of vision. It would get cleaned up somehow.

Issue #55 soundtrack: Ruin/Renewal "When I Return to the River"

He looked into the wide mirror that lined the bathroom wall and looked at his hair. It was almost all gone now, except for the two grey patches above his ears on both sides and the line of hair that grew around the back of his head like the rings of a planet. He picked at a large brown mole that had formed as if by magic one day last month. A long coarse black hair grew from it, and he took that between two fingers and pulled it straight out. He studied the hair for a second before flicking it away onto the floor.

The water was steaming, so he placed his hands under the stream and let them soak. The routine of washing his hands was not so bad. He quite liked the extreme heat. It woke him up four times a day. He pumped two spurts of antibiotic soap into his hands and scrubbed his palms, the backs of his hands, his fingernails, and his forearms. When he was done he washed everything in the steaming water and repeated the process twice. His wife was waiting in her bedroom, getting everything ready - the bags, the table, the tubing, the solution, and the clips.

Sung was finally getting the hang of the procedure. He was finally finding his own way of doing things. He first opened a new box of liquids and pouches. He gave those to Hanna to set on the table in an organized way: the empty pouch first then the pouch filled with liquid. He left her to set up the stand where the IV would attach to the tube in her stomach, and he went to the bathroom to wash his hands. By the time he was back, everything would be ready. He’d hang the empty bag on the stand, and Hanna would sit down on her bed, a Korean drama playing on the television.

He first had to clip closed the tube on her stomach so that when he opened the cap, the liquid from inside of her wouldn’t come gushing out. He’d once forgotten to do this early on, and a thick, green almost grey liquid had come gurgling slowly out of her body and onto the bedroom floor. He panicked, managed to screw on the cap to her tube, and cleaned the carpet with bleach. A lumpy white stain was all that remained. It was a constant reminder to always pinch the tube closed with a clip first. It was a mark of their permanent place for dialysis at home.

He clipped her tube shut and then screwed the cap carefully off. He opened the empty pouch that would receive all of her poisoned waste and connected it to the tube that connected her to the pouch. He hung it low on the metal rack they had like the ones that are in the hospital. He unclipped her tube, and the liquid came gurgling out of her, through the tubes, and into the empty pouch, filling it slowly. Hanna sighed and closed her eyes, as she always did at this part.

Hanna did look much better now that she was doing dialysis. She had regained the color in her skin, which had turned gradually over the past few years into a dark, ruddy color. This had been sad for both her and for Sung because both prided themselves mainly on her beauty. She was a very thin and good looking seventy-five-year-old woman. For the past fifteen years she visited the salon regularly to maintain her jet black hair, and she still applied dusty makeup on her soft eyes and red color to her lips. Whenever they met new people, at church or at the supermarket, people always commented on Hanna’s beauty and Sung’s luck at having married such a woman. And really, it had been her appearance and her lack of acute pain that had kept them from getting help for all those years.

It was only after the two emergency room visits just a few months ago and the extended two weeks in the hospital that they had come to accept that her kidney was dying. Hanna needed surgery right away to insert tubes into her stomach and neck for dialysis. There had been warnings, yes. There were the sometimes terrifyingly swollen ankles, the fatigue. But things had always generally been fine. Their daughter Gina was always bothering them about taking vitamins and medications. But who was she to tell them what to do? Sung knew what was best for him and for his wife. Gina listened to all the doctors and experts and thought she knew everything, when in fact she was only just a child in life.

Sung remembered vividly those hospital visits. Hanna was tied up to all sorts of tubes and wires. She looked horrible. The nurses would come in every few hours, wake her up from her sleep, and inject her with medicines and fill her with prescription pills. Her blood pressure was high; he understood that much. And her kidney was failing. They kept repeating that without surgery, she could go any second.

Hanna didn’t speak English; she never had. So Sung had to be there to translate whenever the doctors or nurses came to give new information or to question her. Sung had wanted so badly to go back at nights to their home to sleep. But Hanna wouldn’t let him. She put up a big fuss and yelled at him whenever he tried to leave. He couldn’t blame her. She was scared. So he stayed in the family lounge in the evenings and slept in the chair beside her bed during the day.

Before deciding to operate, Gina and Sung needed to explain everything to Hanna and get her permission. She was, after all, of sound mind. He and Gina explained in Korean what the procedure would be like. They would have to cut a few of her veins open and connect them to make one large vein that would be used for hemodialysis. Her blood would enter and exit through that large vein, going through a machine that would clean it and put it back into her body.

As she heard this news for the first time, she looked back and forth to her husband and then to her daughter. She couldn’t understand why they would do such a disgusting thing to her. They would open her veins and her blood would exit her body. It was not normal. She shook her head and said again and again, “No, no. I will not do it.” Gina spun extreme stories about death in a month’s time if she didn’t operate. When she said those things, even Sung, who had initially also been opposed, started to come around. But he still didn’t like the idea of someone foreign going into his wife’s body and mutilating it.

Hanna said for days on end, “Just let me go. Just let me die. God has a plan and maybe this is his plan for me. I’ve lived seventy-five years. I’ve lived long enough.” The words hurt him because Sung knew that if she ever left he would be alone. Alone to wash the dishes, alone to cook, alone to clean the house, alone to attend morning prayer services, and alone to die. He could not do any of those things on his own. He had never imagined that she would go first.

Sung headed into his bedroom to wait. It would take about ten minutes to finish filling the bag. His room was connected to his wife’s through the bathroom. He passed through the doors and was careful not to breathe in the growing stench of urine. Hanna had become complacent after her surgery and during her dialysis. He knew that she could cook and clean now. She was healthy and could move about. But she liked being treated like a princess. She had always been so spoiled.

He moved into his room. It looked like a small museum. It was filled with pieces of furniture he’d saved throughout the years, large pieces he’d moved into their small condo from the big house on Willow Drive that Hanna had loved so much. The dark wood furniture was much too big and tall for the smaller room. The cabinets and wall units towered above the bed, as though they might collapse onto it any second. Every other available empty space on the walls was plastered with framed photographs of the family. Sung loved those photographs. He dusted them every day.

At the entrance to his room above the doorpost were two portraits: one of himself and one of Hanna, right after they’d gotten married. The pictures were taken in the late 50’s, before their first child Dan was born. Hanna had been beautiful then, with her pearly clear skin and her delicate features. In that picture she was smiling ever so slightly. Next to her, he’d also been quite handsome himself. The face above his room was one of confidence and hope. His cheek bones protruded in a way that his parents had always said signaled confidence. His hair had been full and jet black, parted and gelled to the side. Hanna’s hair then was permed in a loose wave, much fuller and blacker than it was now. Her skin had since freckled and grown saggy, loose. He saw her sometimes in her room staring at the mirror. She would be pulling back the flaps of skin on her face, pulling everything up and taut, pursing her lips and sucking in her cheeks. He knew she wanted cosmetic surgery, but he did not have the money to get her a face lift. And if he thought about it realistically, what use would it do at her age?

He was surrounded by the smiling young faces of his children and grandchildren. Pictures of babies and children filled every crevice and corner of space in his room. They were crawling on floors, sitting on knees of family members, laughing, and sleeping. Small, medium, and large frames fit shoulder to shoulder on each shelf of his bookshelves, on each space on the walls. Every space was covered with pictures of his three children, Dan, Jason, and Gina; as well as his five grandchildren, Clem, Molly, Ari, Sam, and Kyle.

The largest picture in the room was a framed 8x11 color photo that sat on his dresser, leaning back on the mirror. It was a picture he and Hanna and their three grown kids had taken in 1984 in front of the big house on Willow Drive.

Sung remembered that time as he now remembered most of his life: bittersweet. They were all living together again because Gina had returned from her husband in Korea to discuss a possible divorce. She had left their daughter Clem behind. She ran out of the house and straight to the airport after he had beat her for needlessly turning on the air conditioning.

For the two months Gina was back, she argued with Dan and Jason constantly. Her brothers had both graduated from Rutgers, but they had no jobs. Gina yelled at them for being lazy, irresponsible, and living at home. She told them to get out of the house or to help out at the cleaners. Sung thought with regret about all the times he’d defended his sons, how he’d shout at Gina instead for creating drama and for leaving her own life and daughter behind in Korea. Hanna would always leave the conversation to sleep upstairs.

During those two months, Gina helped out at the cleaners like she had throughout high school and college. It worked out well because Gina could man the front counter and Sung didn’t always have to stop his work to greet customers and take orders. Hanna worked in the back, as always, running the steam machines, tailoring, and dealing with stains.

They had taken that photograph on a warm fall day. Everyone was in a good mood because Sung and Hanna had just announced that they would fund new businesses for their sons. Finally Dan and Jason would be independent, running their own lives. Gina had made some good points, and it was time the boys started getting serious about their futures.

Dan and Jason were to open film development studios in neighboring towns. Everyone agreed this was a great idea. After all, everyone took pictures, loved pictures, and needed to develop pictures. The time was right. After his sons established themselves, they would get married and live on their own. Sung and Hanna would retire shortly thereafter.

But of course nothing had happened the way he’d wanted. Gina returned to Korea only to give birth to Molly and come back for good three years later as a divorcee with two daughters. Digital cameras exploded onto the photography scene, and Dan and Jason’s studios folded in a matter of six years. Dan and Jason never found stable work after that. Sung and Hanna kept working at the cleaners for ten more years instead of planning their early retirement. They bought houses for their sons, but by then it was too late. All the money was gone and nobody could sustain the properties.

Sung looked at the photograph in front of him. The old house had been so beautiful. It was a large brick colonial settled on two acres in the nice part of town. Four large pillars stood in the front of the house, and the long front yard had been landscaped with trees, flowers, and plants by Hanna throughout the years. They’d had to sell it to finance their sons’ wedding gifts and homes.

He looked up at the clock. A baby picture of Molly was taped to its left and a baby picture of Clem was tacked to its right. Ten minutes had passed on the dot. He left his room and went back to Hanna. After years of measuring ten minutes here and there, he could feel time, knew what ten minutes was worth. Hanna sat reclining on her bed, watching the drama with all her attention. Nowadays, she only liked the dramas involving extremely wealthy Korean families who lived in mansions and paid off illegitimate children. She required that the dramas also feature an old matriarch of the house, an elderly grandmother or widow who made the important decisions.

Not a lot of liquid had come out of her stomach. Or, technically, wherever that tube was inserted into her. Some days more liquid came out and some days it was less. He clipped her tube, cleaned the opening, and capped it. He sealed the bag that was half full with her waste, and he put it into the trash. He set up the bag filled with solution that would then enter into her through her same tube. Hanna liked this part less, getting filled with solution. But she sat silently while Sung worked, her eyes glued to the television drama.

There was a flashback on the screen. A cast of young characters had come out to replace the cast of older characters who had just been on the TV. A young woman was embracing a young soldier who was leaving for military duty. She was visibly pregnant and distraught.

Sung left the room and thought about going into the attic later that afternoon. He felt like going through his early documents and photos but didn’t know whether or not the attic could handle another visit. He looked up at the ceiling from the hall. Was the bulge sinking?

The last time he’d pulled down the hatch door and gone up to the attic was probably a couple of months ago. The attic was a pyramid shaped room above their second floor condo that he’d filled with storage that was important to him and his family. There were boxes and boxes of newspaper clippings, old pieces of used furniture, awards, trophies, and certificates from his children and grandchildren, even old kid’s bikes with dusty pink streamers that had once belonged in turn to Clem, Molly, then Ari.

He had to be careful when walking up there because the storage was so heavy. The floor might give way at any moment if he didn’t take careful steps to walk around the weak areas. Last month, the ceiling had begun to crack right above their dining room table. Sung had fixed the problem by buying long strips of plastic and stapling together the cracks with an industrial sized stapler. Their dining room looked like it had just endured invasive surgery and was healing from the stitches. It would hold, but Sung hadn’t risked going up there since.

What he had the urge to see and feel were his certificate papers from the 40s. He’d entered the military then, served with distinction, and had been awarded a medal of honor from the Korean government. Sung had seen two wars, lived in Japan, spoke three languages, and had headed the labor union of factory workers. He could map in his mind exactly where his boxes were upstairs - the ones that held photos with his union leader friends, his diaries from his trip to India, the velvet box that held his medal. He could see them lying quietly in the far corner. To get to them he would have to walk along the weak parts of the cracked ceiling and risk having everything collapse. He imagined the decades-old boxes and furniture and photo albums and stacks of loose newspaper tumbling down onto the dining room table and into the hallway. He imagined them disintegrating immediately upon contact with sunlight. He closed his eyes and slowly made a mental trip around the attic. It was almost as satisfying as going up there, being amongst his things, and touching them in the dark.

As a labor union leader after the Korean War, he had been on track to a promising political career. His family was moving up in the ranks, and in their neighborhood they were the first to own a color TV. But they’d been forced to move to the States because of political blackmail and threats. When he came to the States, he wasn’t qualified for anything. Instead, he worked in a dry cleaners for the rest of his life. He was a great man born under the wrong circumstances. He knew it, but no one else did. To them, he was just the balding Asian man behind the counter who took their expensive soiled shirts and said Thank You with an accent and a pathetic smile.

He thought about Clem and Molly and how they would restore his family to greatness. His eldest granddaughters were the smartest and most capable and ambitious of all his five grandchildren. He had given up long ago on his own sons. Yes, the girls would restore to his family name the glory it deserves.

Sung felt the sudden spasming of his bladder and walked back to the toilet. He pulled the door shut and for some reason, locked it firmly. The stench of the small bathroom rose up in his nostrils, and he felt the hint of a vigor returning to him. He opened his legs in front of the toilet without lifting the seat, pulled out his penis, and looked around him. The tiles were old and off white, the beginnings of mildew forming in the bathtub. He looked into the mirror at himself. He was still alive. Still healthy. How much longer would he live this life?

Sung squinted his eyes and aimed for the sink, for the mirror, and then even for the tub further away. He grunted as he felt the release, flailing his penis around, wetting everything around him with his bright yellow urine. It was on the floor, on the walls, and on his clothing.

He finished, zipped up his pants, and took a deep breath. It smelled wretched but fresh. He called out to Hanna, “Hanna, come here. The bathroom is dirty! It must be cleaned!” But there was no response, just the sounds of the television and the music from her dramas. He knew she was ignoring him, that she was hooked up to the tube that was filling her with dialysis liquid.

He stood still in front of the mirror for a long while, looking himself in the eye. His chest was heaving slightly. Finally, he looked away. He bent to open the cabinet beneath the sink. He gathered the Clorox, a sponge, and rubber gloves. He spilled some bleach onto the sponge, got down on his knees, and began to wipe it all away.

Juli Min is a graduate student at Columbia University studying modern Korean literature. She is based in New York but is currently away in Seoul practicing literary translation. She also keeps a photo blog of her travels in Korea at ennuianddecadence.tumblr.com.

Jen May's art has been featured in two-person shows at Rock Paper Scissors in Oakland, CA, The Dirt Palace in Providence, RI, and Ghost Gallery in Seattle, WA. Her work has also been featured in group shows in NYC, including shows at Brooklyn Arts Council and Little Cakes Gallery (RIP). Currently she is working on Strawberry Fields Whatever, a collaborative book about feeling feelings and embroidery about Mary Todd Lincoln's despondency. Visit Jen online at jenjmay.tumblr.com.

Ruin/Renewal is the Boston-based music project of twin brothers Joshua and John Pritchard. Where Ruin/Renewal's debut EP is a guitar and drum work, their follow-up Chess Club EP (May 2012) trades in similar mood swings using more eclectic and orchestral currencies. Bass player Rob Ignazio joined the band in April 2012. Ruin/Renewal will release its full-length debut in 2013, and play a CMJ 2012 showcase October 19th at the Rock Shop in Brooklyn. For more, visit the band online at ruinrenewal.com.

ISSUE #54: Kate Senecal, Corey Pandolph, Leda

Posted: Monday, August 27, 2012 | | Labels:

Illustration by Corey Pandolph

by Kate Senecal

The afternoon when Timothy comes over for a haircut, Mom makes me and Billy bologna sandwiches and tomato soup for lunch. She cuts mine in fourths, and gives me Billy’s crusts. I wish she had made grilled cheese instead, but I know better than to tell her this. I like bologna okay, as long as there’s both mayonnaise and mustard on it. With my mother, it’s like someone is always pinching her. Leaning over the table to hand us our sandwiches, her blond hair spills around her tight face. She keeps pulling on her hoop earrings and tugging at the tails of her shirt.

It’s a new one— the shirt.

It occurs to me that she is hoping Timothy will kiss her, and I think about this while chewing my sandwich and looking out the window. When our dad lived at home, he kissed her a lot. In the kitchen. He’d put his hands on her waist, and make like he was going to bite her ears and neck in the corner between the sink and the oven. Mom would just stand there and swat at him like he was a mosquito.

Issue #54 soundtrack: Leda "Halfway"

“Jake, not now.”

“Christ, Grace,” he said once when he pulled away to get beer out of the fridge, “you’re like a fucking ice princess.” Then he walked past us to go into the basement and work on those model cars he always built on the weekends.

Sitting at the kitchen table with Billy that day playing Go Fish! I liked the idea of my mother as an ice princess. It fit her. She was already so pale and tall, like my Swedish Barbie who I imagined ice-skated in the Olympics. She would wear a blue, shiny dress with a skirt that billowed out like a snow-covered mountain.

“Momma,” I said, “that’s a nice idea Daddy has. You could wear a blue dress that sparkles and stuff.” Bobby asked me for a seven, and I told him to go fish.

“Chelsea, shut your mouth,” she said, as if I had wounded her, and marched down the hallway into her room.

“What’s wrong with Mom?” Billy asked.

“I don’t know.”

“She’s so weird,” he said, and I laughed, took a sip of my orange juice, and asked him if he wanted to play Chutes and Ladders instead.

She stayed in there until dinnertime.

Today is the fifth snow of the season, though it’s barely November. It looks like we might have gotten a whole foot, which is enough for a snowman and a fort. I swallow before I’m done chewing, Billy drinks his soup straight out of the bowl, and my mother washes the dishes with a sloppy swish of the sponge and then puts them on the drying rack even though there are still suds on them. We’re all ready to do something else.

Mom’s slippers stick and un-stick down the hallway to the bathroom, where she heaves the hair-cutting suitcase out of the closet and carries it into the kitchen. She puts it on the counter next to the flour jar, opens it and lays all kinds of clips and combs and scissors out on top of a towel. I wonder how much hair this Timothy guy has, and I miss my dad. I liked it better when he lived with us. He’s in California with a new wife and new children. They’re her kids who have a different dad. He sometimes sends us letters, just to me and Billy, that tell us he misses us, but nothing else. I don’t really believe him, but Billy does. That’s because I’m eight and know more about when grown-ups are lying. I figure if he missed us so much he’d come back. I get up from the kitchen chair and ask if we can go outside, taking Billy’s bowl and plate with me to the sink.

On my tiptoes I can wash dishes.

She says we can, though I can tell she only half-heard what I asked, and I open the coat closet and fumble for our winter things.

“Why are there candles? Did we lose power?” Billy asks.

“They’re nice. You don’t think they’re nice? She’s different than when Dad was here-- hungrier-- and she is looking at Billy and me like something urgent is happening.

“They’re too much,” she decides, but then looks again at Billy, who is standing next to me waiting for me to give him his hat and boots, the fringe of his bowl cut so long it almost covers his eyes.

She blows them out like it’s a birthday party, and then stands back to get a full view of the counter that is covered in candles and hair-cutting tools and cookie jars.

Billy shrugs and puts his boots on. I zip up his and my snowsuit, tuck my braids inside of my hat, and then sweep his bangs into his.

“Maybe just half as many,” I say because she wants us to have an answer for her. Mom fumbles in the pocket of her jeans for her lighter and moves her mouth into a tired, grateful smile.

Outside we go to work, and I feel better. I am tired of all of these men, and how my mother is when they’re coming over. On my knees I let the snow soak my suit, and I palm a softball-sized chunk of it until my hands are too cold to hold it. The men are usually all right, and sometimes they bring us things like candy. Or this one guy, Jason, brought me a Little Mermaid T-shirt. I don’t wear it, though, because one time, a few weeks later, Mom came home from a date with him and cried and drank wine on the kitchen floor in the old, yellow bathrobe that Dad bought her until one in the morning. I sat with her, with our backs against the broiler drawer on the oven and held her hand, and she told me stories about how Dad was in high school.

“Your daddy doesn’t think I know how to be happy,” she told me while she poured the last of the wine into the jar she was drinking out of. “Fuck him, right?” I was so tired, and I didn’t say anything because I thought that what Dad had said was true.

I feel really serious about the snowman. I want it to be good. I push my snowball toward the driveway, and by the time I get to the mailbox, I’ve made a snow-boulder as tall as my belly button. I think about how Dad’s new kids don’t know anything about how good he is at making a snowball in California, then I feel sort of bad. They’re probably nice, and anyway, it’s not their fault.

Timothy drives a green truck, and as it barrels down the hill into our driveway, it spews the new snow all over the curb. He slams the door when he gets out, and waves like he knows us, and walks toward the house.

Billy stands still in front of his snow boulder, which is lopsided, and waves back excitedly.

He looks over at me and says, “He’s short.”

And he is. My dad would call him a “stocky son of a bitch,” which is what he used to say about the owner of the hardware store down the street that one time sold him a broken hammer. Timothy looks like him except he has a weirdly long, almost curly patch of hair on his chin.

He is not carrying gifts.

Billy is wiping his nose on his mitten, and I tell him to cut it out. “It’s gross.”

I swat at his hand that is little and round like a kitten paw. He jerks it away and a grating, whining sound comes out between his teeth. “No telling me what to do!” I let him walk to other side of the yard to roll some more snow around.

Sometimes he does this thing where when we’re at the store or something, he puts his hand down the front of his elastic-waist pants, and Mom is never paying attention, so I have to tell him not to. He always takes my Barbies and puts their heads in his mouth. Then he cries because the hair tickles his throat, and Mom yells at me for leaving them on the floor.

Sometimes I yell at her that it’s my room. “He shouldn’t be in here!”

“He’s only four, Chelsea,” she says.

“Right, old enough to be in a different room by himself!”

But arguing with Mom is useless. Even when I’m right she doesn’t ever change her mind about anything.

I tell Billy I’ll be right back, and head towards the house even though I already know Mom will be mad if I go inside. I stomp up the stairs trying to sound loud, but the steps are very slippery and I have to lurch forward to catch the handle of the door so I don’t fall. Once I get my balance back, I take a deep breath before opening the door, which is what my dad always told me to do before doing anything that was a big deal, like tap dancing for my dance recital.

I open the screen door first, and let it lean against my back. I know the metal must be cold, but I can’t feel it through my snowsuit. My whole body goes into the wooden door behind the screen, and it swings open, the way it does when there is a big storm and my mother doesn’t close it all the way. On the landing, I stomp my feet, and flecks of snow go everywhere.

“We want hot chocolate.”

This is an announcement. I am trying to make my voice big, like Cassandra’s who lives up the street and does morning announcements on the school intercom. She makes chicken nugget day at lunch sound important.

Timothy is already in my dad’s chair with the hair-cutting smock on. I think he looks stupid and shaggy, and I tell him so with my face while I pull off my boots. I take a long time getting undressed, partly because I’m trying to make curly-beard-guy feel squirmy, but also because the zipper in my snowsuit gets stuck. I jump up and down trying to get it to go, and finally it works.

The kitchen is smokey, and the lights are really blurry and dim. I think Mom will have a hard time seeing his hair, and I, just for a second, worry that she’s going to nip him in the ear or on his neck. Once she accidentally did that to Billy. It was only his second haircut ever in his whole life, on a night that Dad didn’t come home from work until after eleven. Mom left his dinner sitting on the table for those four hours, and got so impatient waiting for him she decided that it’d be good to give us haircuts. I put on Billy Joel because he was her and Dad’s favorite, and danced around to “Uptown Girl.” I sang every single word to her because I know all of them. She sort of laughed a little bit, but she was so mad at Dad that her hands were shaking, and she cut Billy’s ear and got blood on his shirt.

Mom and I went to a Billy Joel concert while Dad was packing his things into a U-haul. Billy stayed at Grandma’s house, and it was just me and her. The security guard guy told us that some people got upgraded to sit in the front row, and walked us up there. I couldn’t believe his hands on the piano, and I tried to think about how many times he must’ve played all of these songs. I mean, he’s pretty old. But my mom cried a lot, and I had to hold her hand even though I really wanted to ask her how many times she thought Billy Joel has sung “She’s Always a Woman.”

When we got home that night, the house felt strange. We were missing things like the toaster and the blender my dad used in the mornings to make smoothies because he doesn’t like to eat breakfast. There were two pans left instead of three hanging on the pot rack. I imagined my parents sitting at the kitchen table making a list of things that were my mom’s and things that were my dad’s. Maybe they ate Arby’s Roast Beef sandwiches, and fought about that pot.

“You don’t need four pots,” my dad might have said.

“You don’t need four ladies to kiss,” Mom might have said back to him.

“Be quick, Chelsea,” Mom says, but I take a long time opening cabinets where I know there is no hot chocolate, and climbing all over the counter to get mugs for Billy and me. I watch how careful she is with Timothy’s unruly hair, how she lets her hand rest on his neck and laughs in a high pitched, weird way when he tells her about the yoga class he teaches.

“I used to do yoga when I was in college. I always think I should get back into it.”

“Well, you definitely have the body for it,” Timothy’s voice is low like a dog growling. In fact, he sort of looks like he’s going to bite her, and he’s putting his hands on her middle and rubbing it. She giggles, and I hear her say something like, “Chelsea’s still in the room,” and this makes me want to take longer.

The water starts boiling, and the teakettle makes a screeching, hissing noise. I start humming, and turn off the burner, pour the water into the mugs, and stir the powder so that the spoon clanks.

My mother is cutting Timothy’s hair now. Long locks of it are floating to the floor like cartoon feathers, and he’s saying something about the importance of breathing. “Mrs. Martin, my teacher, says that it’s better to breathe from the bottom of your belly and then hold it until you think you’re gonna puke. She says it’s a test of strength,” I tell him, interrupting. Actually, George Christopherson said that at recess the other day, but I don’t think he’d carry that much weight with Timothy, so I lied about Mrs. Martin.

“That’s actually a terrible idea, Chelsea.”

My mother looks sideways at me a bunch of times, and mouths the words “Outside. Now.”

I pretend not to see her. I saunter past the kitchen table and Timothy, and make sure I walk through the pile of thick hair on the floor. I track it all the way to the mat where my wet boots made a puddle.

“Well, I don’t think you know anything about it because you’re probably stupider than my teacher.” I say this matter-of-factly, with my arms over across my sweater that has cats on it, and I raise my eyebrows at him the way Cassandra from up the street does to me when she wants me to know she’s older and better than me.

My mother slams the scissors on the table, and brushes hair off of the thigh part of her jeans in time to this huffing breathing she’s doing.

“Chelsea, I have to show you something in my room,” and she tells yoga-teacher Timothy that we’ll be right back. It’s like she is talking through her teeth. He nods, and slouches in my dad’s chair with sopping wet hair that’s too long for a man to have.

“You do what you have to do, honey,” and he gives me some sort of triumphant look that I don’t think grown-ups are allowed to give children.

In her bedroom there’s an old crucifix my grandmother gave her on the wall. It is above her bureau where her wedding ring sits, and I stare at it and cross my arms. My mother kneels in front of me, and she cups my chin, pinching my cheeks with her fingernails.

“You have to be nice to Timothy, Chelsea. Stop acting like a baby.”

“He’s stupid, Mom. I don’t like him,” I say. I don’t even know if this is what I think, if that’s really the thing I don’t like.

My mother sits on the edge of the bed, and rubs her eyes- her thumb in her left eye, her pointer finger in her right. She scrunches up her nose, and makes a sighing sound.

“You should be outside with your brother. Don’t you want to be a good big sister? He needs you to take care of him. I need you to take care of him.”

I can feel my nostrils flaring. Like a rabbit. My dad used to be able make his nostrils flare really fast, and sometimes he could move the top of his ears up and down. I tried to learn how to do this, and it would make me snort, and then he would tickle me on the carpet of the living room.

I stare at the throw rug near the bed, and the red, blue, and yellow woven stripes blur and swirl together.

In the next room, Timothy is whistling. My mother stops talking to me for a second, and leans her head toward the doorway to listen. Her eyes get soft and wet, and she smiles toward the doorway. She looks far away, but beautiful. Like she’s in a movie, and even though she’s standing right in front of me, I feel like I miss her very much. I wish that my father would come home and bring my mother with him.

“Chelsea, I need some grown-up time. Don’t you know that this has been a very difficult for Mommy since your father left? ” She trails off and does the eye pinching thing again, like every word requires a huge effort.

Her hands fall into her lap, and when she looks up at me I can tell she is so tired. There are purple shadows under her eyes, and the skin on the sides of them look like a crumpled piece of paper. She wants to know if I understand, and I do. I understand that she is doing something that makes my stomach hurt and my cheeks burn, and that she feels like she deserves whatever this is. I don’t tell her this.

Instead I say, “ It isn’t just you. He didn’t leave just you,” and the words feel hot in my mouth, like they are right but too old for me, too sharp for her.

There is what looks like a flash or a ripple that runs through her face, it changes so fast.

Then she slaps me.

I know I sort of deserve it. But I don’t care.

She cries a little and holds my chin again.

“Chelsea, don’t you ever….” But she can’t finish, and I know by the way her eyes are shiny that I have broken something. We are separate now.

I shake my head out of her hand, and reach for a tissue on the dresser. I hand it to her, and walk out of the bedroom, down the hallway, and to the door. I leave the hot chocolates on the kitchen counter.

Outside, Billy has almost finished the snowman, but is having trouble getting the head on top. My boots stick in the snow, and it feels hard and frustrating to walk towards him. When I’m next to him, Billy lets the head roll along the body of the snowman to the ground. His mittens are so big. Like giant oven mitts. I’m crying, and when he asks me why it feels better to be talking, as if since I left the house I had become a helium-filled balloon, and my little brother’s voice tugged the string and put me back into my body.

“Mom is mad,” I tell him.

Billy frowns, and asks why.

“Because she’s crazy.” Together we heave the snowman’s head on top, and I punch the snow around his neck to make sure it stays on.

“I told that Timothy guy that he was stupid and didn’t know about breathing. Now Mom says we can’t go back in there until he leaves.”

“Is he stupid?”

“Wicked. And his hair is way longer than Daddy’s.”

Billy waddles over to me and puts his head against my middle. I think he’s trying to hug me but the sleeves of his coat are too thick and his arms are barely touching me.

“I hate him, too,” he says. I rest my chin on the top of his head.

“Snowman needs a face,” I say.

So we walk around the yard looking for rocks and sticks. The snow man ends up with one eye that’s bigger then the other because most of the rocks are all under the snow so we can’t get to them. The tops of my mittens are starting to be soaked through, and I have to pee. We can’t go inside, though.

At least an hour passes. We’re tired. We stand on our tiptoes and look through the window of the kitchen door. Timothy has a new haircut and his hands up my mother’s button-up shirt. She is sitting on the counter, scissors and clips on the floor.

I sit on the steps, and the ice against my butt makes me have to pee more. I shake my leg up and down, and look at Billy with big, desperate eyes. He holds his knees against his chest.

“Can’t we just go in?” he asks.

“No. She’s too mad.”

So we sit, and the sun goes down, and the snowman starts to stoop forward, and my bladder burns. I start to walk in circles in the driveway, and think about how I shouldn’t have said anything. How I don’t do enough to make things better for Mom. And for Billy. Who, sitting on the steps, all small and cold, doesn’t have any idea that Dad isn’t ever coming home.

Finally Timothy opens the screen door and walks past us toward his truck. Then my mother comes, and I can’t hold it anymore so I do it. I pee. I feel it pool in the creases of my vinyl snowsuit. My knees are wet. My mother runs toward me just as Billy scurries into the house.

She kneels in the snow in front of me in just her blue jeans and that button-up shirt, and she hugs me and says, “Chelsea, baby, why didn’t you come inside?” She repeats the “why didn’t you come inside part” over and over. I make crying sounds like hiccups, and say I don’t know, and am glad just for right now that I’m not in trouble anymore.

Kate Senecal is a writer and copy-editor based in Northampton, MA. Her fiction has been published in The Foundling Review, and she will complete her MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts in July of 2013.

Corey Pandolph is a cartoonist and writer living in New York City. His work can be seen in The New Yorker, The Huffington Post and MAD Magazine. He avoids pants whenever possible. Follow him on Tumblr and Twitter.

Leda are a five-piece indie rock band from Brooklyn. They represent the natural evolution of former Titus Andronicus guitarist Amy Klein's solo project, combining punk guitar lines and heavy drums with poetic lyrics, dramatic cello, and soaring vocal harmonies. The result is a sound that harnesses beauty and raw power in equal measure. For more, visit the band on Facebook, or catch them play in Brooklyn on Sept. 6 as part of BUST Magazine's August/September issue release party.