ISSUE #92: Alice Kaltman, Jackie Ferrentino, Blanche

Posted: Monday, December 22, 2014 | | Labels:

Art by Jackie Ferrentino

by Alice Kaltman

The bell rang twenty minutes earlier than expected. I took one last look around the studio, then raced through the apartment towards the door. I hadn’t brushed my teeth yet. My mouth was coated in a fermenting residue of coffee and bacon. At least it’s grass-fed bacon from the farmer’s market, I told myself, as if the provenance of my breakfast would make any difference to how my breath might stink.

Issue #92 soundtrack: Blanche "Sunday"

I opened the door, inhaling as I said, “Hi, Anita! So great to see you again.”

It had been almost 15 years since I’d seen Anita Mego in person. Still tiny, height-wise, she was now round and squat, cloaked in a red cape with beaded fringe, her forehead in line with my boobs. Anita’s hair, formerly brown and Brillo pad-ish, was platinum blonde and cut in a stick-straight bob. Red-tinted glasses perched on her chubby cheeks like the headlights on a Toon Town car. No, it wasn’t great to see her again. It was disturbing.

She squinted at me. “How do we know each other again?”

“Um, I think Donald told you about me.” 

“Oh yeah,” she smiled. “Donald. I love Donald. Don’t you just love Donald?”

Donald, my well-connected culturati second cousin, was successful enough to be friends with Anita, and nice enough to call in a favor for less successful me. Anita was an art star in a sub-section of the New York Art World I aspired to be part of. She was the big cheese planted in the center of the platter. I’d been sitting at the edge of the platter for more than 10 years, a shriveled grape no one wanted to eat. Inclusion in a few group shows at crummy galleries and not-for-profit spaces, a handful of sales to friends of my parents, one mention on an obscure culture website, and one review written by my former college roommate. This was my pathetic resume of meager success. 

Pathologically shy as a child and still socially inept, I’d been to my fair share of art openings and tried my best to schmooze. But all I’d end up with were countless headaches after too many truncated conversations and plastic cups of cheap white wine. The artists I knew personally who had made it big had done so by overcoming their insecurities and basic insanity by constantly networking with awe-inspiring relentlessness. But Anita Mego seemed different. At least to me, she was the real deal. I thought her work was pure and unpretentious. She was an artist’s artist, rarely seen at openings or pounding the Chelsea pavements on a Saturday afternoon.  So while I didn’t exactly love cousin Donald, I liked him well enough, more so now that he’d recommended me to Anita who was known to foster the careers of younger female sculptors. Women she considered her creative off-spring. God, how I longed to be adopted.

“Sure. I, ah, love Donald,” I said. “But actually you and I met 15 years ago. At RISD,” Please remember, I thought. I was an eager, starry-eyed 21 year-old artiste, and you were a 30-something sprite, 90 pounds of white heat with a punk hairdo. You were, inspiring, urgent, insistent. You spoke about "the feminist imperative to reclaim the three dimensions." You told me my work was "cool."

“RISD?” Anita squinted again. “It’s a bitch to keep track of all those school visits. What the hell did I do there?”

“You gave a lecture on your work. Afterwards you did crits on senior thesis projects.” She had stood in front of my cubicle squinting-- not unlike the way she was squinting now-- at my ‘body’ of work; semi-realistic, but lop-sided and lazy figures in groups of three to five. Each ‘family’ had one shared attribute; purple wormlike arms, lop-sided breasts, no ears. One group was blessed with cloven hooves. It was pretentious, as student work usually is and, arguably, should be. If nothing else, it did a good job hiding my weakness at proportional rendering. 

How well I remembered when Anita said, “Now this. Yeah, this. This is some cool stuff,” before she pranced over to Adam Schechtner’s adjacent cubicle, where she grunted hostilely at his Judd-ian cubes and said nothing. At 7 p.m. she was ushered away by the head of the department for a dinner with selected faculty. As the double metal doors closed behind her and her academic entourage, Adam snarked, “She’s full of shit. She’s not even that great an artist.”

I nodded in agreement. But secretly I prayed Anita was a seer and a saint.

Now, 15 years later,  Anita Mego stood in my grown-up vestibule peering at me as if I were an indecipherable set of directions to a place she didn’t want to go to. “I’m sorry, doll,” she shrugged. “No recuerdo. You’ll have to bear with me. This menopause stuff is for the birds. I can’t even remember if I took a dump this morning or not.”

“That’s okay,” I shrugged. “I mean, that you don’t remember me. Not that you’re going through menopause. That sucks.”

“Just you wait,” she examined me over the rim of her glasses, tipping her chin down, her double chin bulging like a bullfrog’s. “Before you know it, hot flashes, crankiness, dementia, insomnia.”


“No libido. Dry everything, actually. Hair, skin, the works.”

“Oh, really?” I nodded sympathetically.

"You have any?”

“Any what?” I asked. 


It would’ve been an innocuous question, if asked by someone else. But from childless, successful Anita Mego to younger, wannabe me, it was a loaded inquiry. Motherhood was viewed by many artists of her generation as the kiss of death to any ‘serious’ career. Not that my own generation was any clearer on the issue. At 36, I was still clinging to my last few biological clock years, swimming in a gobblety-gook of imagination, ambition, creative drive, and inertia.

“No,” I finally answered.

“Oh,” she lightened up.

“Not yet.”

“Oh,” she darkened.

“We haven’t really decided if we want to. My husband and I, that is.” 

That was a lie. Milo had wanted to start a family for years, having happily shed his artistic mantle immediately after graduation. “Enough of that,” he said as we rattled our way south on I-95 in our crappy Toyota truck, away from art school and bound for the first in a series of roach-infested far, far East Village walk ups. “You can carry the torch for both of us.”  Milo wasn’t simple, but he had simple needs. He was the lucky one, free from the burden of creative aspirations, happy with his well-paying job as head systems administrator for a hot shit, everybody wanted to work there, web-based corporation. I was the unlucky complicator, dragging my ambivalent parenting heels, waiting for a sign from the procreation gods. 

Anita snorted. “It’s your life.”

Was it? I wondered. “So, um, please come in.”

“I hope it’s okay that I brought my baby girl,” she said, beaming suddenly.

Holy shit. I had totally misread her. She wasn’t anti-baby. She had a baby. A baby! What did this mean? Should I have answered the ‘B’ question differently? But where was the baby? Maybe she had it hidden under the folds of her poncho.

“Of course it’s okay,” I said. “Where is she? I can’t wait to meet her.”

Anita turned back towards the hallway and called, “Scarlett, come, come girl…thaaat’s it, come to Mama.” 

A tiny rat-like dog skittered from around the corner, where it had been doing god knows what in front of my neighbor’s door. 

“Oh. A dog,” I said.

Anita grunted as she stooped to scoop Scarlett up, then stood triumphantly, holding the mongrel under her arm like a football. “Is that a problem?” 

I thought of my sculptures, fragile little beasts themselves, covering my studio floor. 

“No,” I smiled. “Not a problem. Come on in.”

Anita pushed past me into the living room, scrutinizing my belongings as if she were an estate assessor. She picked up a vase, brushed her hand across a lamp shade. She stared up at the chandelier I’d inherited from my grandmother. She examined the collection of tiny clay pots lining the mantle, then repositioned them in a different configuration. She might as well have been plucking out my fingernails. 

“Is that a Daniel Wiener?” she finally spoke, pointing with her free hand to a carved colorful wall piece, that was, in fact a Daniel Wiener.

“Yes,” I said proudly. “My husband bought it for me for my 35th birthday last year. I’m a big fan.”

She shrugged. “Daniel’s always good. But I liked his earlier work better.”

Scarlett started wiggling and barking. 

“Do you mind if I put her down?” Anita asked.

“I guess, but-“ 

Anita didn’t wait for my response. She plopped Scarlett down on the shag rug, professionally cleaned two days earlier for the first time in ten years. Scarlett went gaga, rolling around as if the wool fibers were covered in dog pheromones. She twisted and rubbed her bristly little back, spread eagle and panting. Next she flipped over and burrowed her snout so deep in the pile that all that remained visible were two pointy, devilish ears. 

“She really digs your rug,” Anita giggled. 

All I could think of was doggie dandruff and drool.

“Could be because I don’t have any rugs in my loft,” Anita gazed around at my tchocke-filled home. “Actually, I don’t have much of anything. I’m a minimalist when it comes to home decor. I find it gets in the way of my creative drive.”

I forced a smile. “Shall we go into the studio?”

Anita shrugged. “I’m easy.” 

I looked down at Scarlett, who’d resumed back-humping. “Would you mind holding Scarlett while we’re in there? My work is all over the floor.”

“Whatever,”  Anita sighed.

“Great! Thanks!” I chirped, hyper-cheerleader, hoping to turn this game around. 

Anita crouched again. “Come on, Scarala. Come to Mama.” Scarlett scurried towards her, executing an impressive doggie leap into waiting arms. “That’s my girl. My wooshy, mooshy girl.” Anita closed her eyes and let Scarlett go to town, licking her fleshy cheeks, chin, nose, her rubbery neck.  

Blech, I thought as I walked towards my studio. Blech, blech, blech. I expected Anita would get up off her haunches and follow me. She did, eventually, but I had to wait by the studio door for a few awkward minutes while she finished her lovefest and finally rose from the floor.

* * * * *

Earlier that morning, hours before the premature arrival of Anita Mego, while the coffeemaker gurgled and Milo listened to the radio, I headed towards my studio, the spare room at the rear of our apartment. I opened the door slowly, pretending I was about to see my work for the first time. This was one of my pre-studio visit rituals, a mind game that rarely ended well. I don’t know why I kept up with this stupid charade. It was masochistic. Whenever I tried to look at my work with "fresh" eyes, I felt a wash of disappointment. 

The door swung open, and I gazed at my sculptures.  I made tiny figures. Each one could fit in the palm of a hand. They were delicate little beings, constructed of glass, feathers, and thin wire. There were hundreds of them arranged like a battalion of toy soldiers on my studio floor. 

During her lecture at RISD, Anita had said, “Art that is diminutive in scale can have the resonance and power of a nuclear bomb.” It became my mantra. I tore out the page I’d written it on and tacked it to every studio wall I’d had in the intervening years. I planned to show it to Anita later that day. She would be blown away by my loyalty to the cause, 15 years hence.

“They’re your embryos,” Milo exclaimed. He’d abandoned Morning Edition to join me, slurping his coffee as he looked over my shoulder and down at the floor. “Ours, maybe.”

“Well?” I said.

“Well what?”

“Do you think Anita will like my work?”

“Gimme a break,” he groaned and started back towards the kitchen.


“Wait for what?” Milo stopped but didn’t turn around. “Are you ever going to be ready?”

“Ready for Anita?” I could see the hints of a bald spot. Pink scalp skin, newly naked at the back of Milo’s skull.

His shoulders sagged. “I could give a flying fuck about Anita Mego.” Milo finally faced me, looking tired even though I knew he’d just gotten a solid eight hours of sleep. “I’m talking about babies, Stella. Not art.”


“Your little sculpture dudes are brilliant,” he smiled weakly. “Just holler when you want to make a flesh and blood one.” 

I was about to say, sure, I’ll holler. Soon. Maybe. But Milo had already turned, leaving me knotted, ready to start his straight-forward day. 

* * * * *

Anita stood in one spot, looked down at my precious battalion, and said absolutely nothing. Not a word, good, bad, or indifferent about my sculptures or anything else, until Scarlett started to squirm in her arms.

“I’m sorry,” she said to Scarlett. What I got, without apology, was, “I could put her out in the apartment while we’re in here.”

Wow, I thought. Anita wants to stay in my studio alone. “Sure,” I said, back in cheerleader mode. My rug would pay the price, but I was willing to let Scarlett run amok with her odd little doggie urges while I hopefully got something-- anything-- from Anita.  

Anita put Scarlett down next to one of my favorite figures. The dog sniffed it and knocked it over.  

“No, no, Scarlett,” Anita said calmly. “We don’t play with the art. You know better than that.”

Better than what? I wanted to yell. She’s just a fucking dog doing what dogs do naturally: sniffing, rubbing, licking. Wreaking havoc.

Anita herded Scarlett towards the door. “Now scoot. Go on. Play out there. Mommy will be done soon.”

Scarlett raced through the apartment, tiny claws click-clicking like castanets on the wood floor. 

Anita smiled at me. “Don’t worry. She’ll be fine.” 

“She’s adorable,” I lied. She knows exactly where she’s going, I thought. Creepy little alien beast.

“She is, isn’t she? Oy. I need to plotz.” Anita walked to the far end of the studio and collapsed into my studio chair. She pulled out her iPhone and held it face-up in her hand. “I may be getting an important call from Germany. My dealer over there is giving me major agita. Wants me to accept a huge discount on a sale to some Baron Somebody-Somebody. Don’t you hate it when dealers start to pull rank?”

I’d never had a dealer of any nationality. I was a free agent, better known as a nobody. I had nothing to say. I was all out of pep rally enthusiasm, which didn’t matter because Anita did all the talking. She leaned back in the chair, letting off hot air like a slowly deflating Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloon. She bitched about the German. She moaned about her lagging overseas sales. She criticized a well-respected female artist of her generation. She trashed a contemporary of mine. 

For half an hour, she went on and on with no mention of my work, no acknowledgment of the tiny labors of love strewn at her feet. All I got was her wide ass plotzing on my favorite chair-- ironically, a chair I’d had in my cubicle studio at RISD at our only other encounter, the encounter Anita had totally forgotten. It was an authentic Saarinen Womb chair I’d bought my sophomore year. A wealthy Brown student was going abroad, thus hastily divesting of all her worldly goods, and so the chair became mine for a song. I’d accumulated other cool stuff over the years, but none of it was ever as good or worldly as my beloved chair. Which Anita abruptly rose from when she was done venting, pontificating, and blatantly bragging. 

“Jesus,” she said, looking at the old-fashioned alarm clock I kept on a shelf. “Is it really 11 already? I've gotta split. Scarlett’s going to the vet. She needs her shots for China. Did I tell you about the retrospective I’m having in Shanghai?”

“No,” I sighed. “You didn’t mention that one.” 

Anita almost stepped on one of my pieces as she left the studio. I told myself that if she had, I would’ve raised bloody hell and not continued in woozy suck-up mode. But she didn’t step on one. And to be honest, I probably would’ve sucked it up anyhow. My desperate art outsider nose was still that ridiculously brown, even after this lame excuse for a studio visit.

“Scarlett,” she called as we approached the living room. “Come to Mama!” 

Scarlett poked her head up from behind a sofa cushion. I noticed tufts of white batting attached to her whiskers. We locked looks, Scarlett’s gaze all guilty teenage shoplifter. You fucking rodent, I screamed inside. You’ve eaten my couch.

Scarlett broke eye contact and beelined for Mama. They had another slobbery lovefest, fifth wheeling me to the ozone. I felt like pelting them both with the sea glass I kept in a bowl on my coffee table. 

Finally the licking and panting ended. “I gotta pee like a racehorse,” said Anita. “Another menopause affliction. The whole inner apparatus down there shifts in some cockamamy way and puts pressure on your bladder. I’m up at least three times a night. And don’t get me started on what happens if I drink more than one cup of coffee. Where’s your bathroom?”

“It’s in there,” I hiked an unenthusiastic thumb. 

Anita thrust Scarlett in my direction. “She has this thing about flushing toilets. They scare her to death, poor little sweetie.”  

Scarlett snarled. I could see bits of couch thread stuck between her tiny, sharklike teeth. 

Anita chuckled. “Maybe I’ll just put her on the floor again.”

“Good idea,” I said through clenched teeth.  

Scarlett ran back to the rug as soon as the bathroom door shut. I walked up behind her. She was deep in nose-burrowing, a goddamn shag addict, unaware that I towered over her, eyeing her tiny rump. I inched closer. Scarlett snuffled obliviously, obsessively, undeterred.

I waited until I heard the toilet flush and the sink water run. It was something between a kick and a lift. Scarlett flew through the air like a punted hackey sack. She yelped midflight, then landed on her belly with a dull thud. Motionless, her eyes blank, her little doggie legs splayed unnaturally wide like a miniature bear rug. 

Honestly, my first thought was: There goes any chance you ever had of being one of Anita’s chosen few. Instead you’ll be the sculptor who killed her Chihuahua. That will be your one and only Art World claim to fame.  

But wouldn’t you know it? Just as I began feeling overwhelmed with guilt and remorse, Scarlett righted herself. No broken doggie bones, no obvious signs of injury. She stared at me, shivering like she was on an ice floe in Antarctica. 

I bared my teeth and growled. Scarlett scrambled under the couch, whimpering until Anita returned. 

It was a pathetic victory, but one I held firmly as I ushered them out the door and watched as they kerplumbled down the steep steps of my building’s stoop, Scarlett trailing behind Anita at the umbilical end of a lime green leash. 

Afterwards, I went back in to the studio and sat in my chair, reclaiming my throne. My Anita quote was still tacked to the wall by my window on yellowing paper.  Meanwhile, my tiny army stood at attention, awaiting orders. I felt restless, ready to fight, but it wasn’t this battle. 

I stood to leave. “Don’t worry, guys,” I said. “I’ll be back. Sometime.”

Then I called Milo.

“I’m hollering,” I whispered into the phone. “I’m ready. Can you hear me?”

Alice Kaltman is a writer, a surfer, and parenting coach. Her stories have been published in 34th Parallel, Halcyon, The Rose and Chestnut and are forthcoming in Luna Luna, Dialogual, and The Stockholm Review. TOSSED originally appeared in Across The Margin. Alice is super stoked that it is now getting the Storychord treatment. Alice's articles on Parenting can be found at Family Matters NY, Babble, and A Child Grows in Brooklyn. Follow the author on Twitter, or visit her online at

Jackie Ferrentino is a freelance illustrator and designer bouncing between New York and Providence, Rhode Island, where she studies at RISD. She is left-handed and thinks broccoli is the best food ever. For more, follow the artist on Twitter and Tumblr, or visit her online portfolio at

Blanche is a new collaboration between Los Angeles musician Steffaloo and anonymous producer nknwn. Check out the project's first EP, One, which is now available on Bandcamp, and follow Blanche on Facebook.

Guest Editor Series Round Up & Call For Submissions

Posted: Monday, October 20, 2014 | | enters a formal reading period this month and will return with new issues in December.

If you'd like your work featured in an upcoming issue, now is a perfect time to submit it. Consult the submission guidelines and send in your art, short fiction, or songs for consideration.

To tide you over until then, I've rounded up past installments you may have missed from Storychord's Guest Editor series. In January 2013, Storychord debuted the series, wherein issue-curation reigns are periodically turned over to Storychord alum. Since then, 19 past contributors have taken on this role, and that full index is below.

ISSUE #60: Kelsey Ford, Jocelyn Spaar, Single Ben
Guest edited by Michael Barron

ISSUE #62: Carianne King, Kelly Shee, Mal Blum
Guest edited by Leda (Heidi Vanderlee and Amy Klein)

ISSUE #64: Katherine J. Lee, Eve Biddle, Astronauts, etc.
Guest edited by Miles Klee

ISSUE #66: Kat Asharya, Niki Boghossian, Weed Hounds
Guest edited by Strawberry Fields Whatever (Elizabeth Barker, Laura Jane Faulds, and Jen May)

ISSUE #69: Jooj Brooks, Zac Thompson, Bdlnds
Guest edited by Steffaloo

ISSUE #71: Edan Lepucki, Regina Mamou, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper
Guest edited by Amanda Bullock

ISSUE #74: H.B. Sizemore, Mickie Winters, Jamie Barnes
Guest edited by Leesa Cross-Smith

ISSUE #76: Elisabeth Donnelly, Fabio Sassi, No Other
Guest edited by Tobias Carroll

ISSUE #78: Sean Adams, Jamian Juliano-Villani, Anawan
Guest edited by Will Stratton

ISSUE #79: Mary Cool, R.J. Caputo, Scott Barkan
Guest edited by Erika Swyler

ISSUE #80: Stephanie Gruessner, John Bent, The Motion Detectors
Guest edited by Emily Lyon

ISSUE #82: Sean H. Doyle, Langston Allston, The Beauty Shop
Guest edited by Lindsey Gates-Markel

ISSUE #83: Elise Winn, Susan Connor, a million creatures
Guest edited by Esmé Weijun Wang

ISSUE #84: Madeline McDonnell, Esmé Shapiro, Hannis Brown
Guest edited by Edan Lepucki

ISSUE #86: Lauren Becker, Jayme Cawthern, Luray
Guest edited by Amanda Miska

ISSUE #87: Jenny Hollowell, Thomas Voorhies, V0
Guest edited by Duncan Birmingham

ISSUE #88: Lena Valencia, Giulia Palombino, Mt. Royal
Guest edited by Allegra Frazier

ISSUE #90: Colleen Diamond, Emily-Jane Robinson, Bruce Peninsula

Guest edited by Helena Kvarnström

ISSUE #91: Jacqueline Colette Prosper, Morgane Santos, Mike Williams
Guest edited by Dan Lopez

ISSUE #91: Jacqueline Colette Prosper, Morgane Santos, Mike Williams

Posted: Monday, September 22, 2014 | | Labels:

Issue #91 Guest Editor Dan Lopez is a San Francisco-based writer who previously appeared in Storychord Issue #8. He is the author of Part the Hawser, Limn the Sea. His work has appeared in The Collagist, Mary Literary, Time Out New York, and Lambda Literary, among others. Follow his humorous, topical musings on Star Trek on Instagram where he goes by the handle Sissy_That_Trek.

Art by Morgane Santos


by Jacqueline Colette Prosper

I’m stuck under my neighbor Mrs. McHenry’s elevated cement deck. It’s dawn and I’m watching the old lady water her overgrown plants. Her garden has no free space. Three high fences and two apple trees shield her from surrounding neighbors, and every inch of ground is blanketed in ivy, clovers, rose of Sharon, dandelions, prickly lettuce, thistles, raspberry bushes, honeysuckle weeds, and morning glories, all in record abundance. Along the perimeter of her property are three raised rectangular plots of irises and gladiolus, tall, sword-like and lovely. She seems upset, treading lightly in her brown plastic sandals, observing a gaping hole where some trees used to be, presumably. The early morning glare causes my eyes to squint, making it appear as if she’s being absorbed by light.

Issue #91 soundtrack: Mike Williams "Airmen Calm"

A wind arrives, fast and harsh. Mrs. McHenry holds a black opaque bonnet with lace trim close to her head, trying to pull down her knee-length nightie, which features a fat tabby cat laying flat like a starfish in front of a roaring fireplace with the caption I didn’t choose this rug life. The rug life chose me. I notice her high cheekbones, cracked leather-worn skin, and her brown legs swollen with edema, as thick as tree stumps. Her thick Jamaican patois is hard to understand.

“What you gon' cut my tree for? Gawd made dis tree!” she yells, stomping her feet, clapping for good measure.

Maybe she’s carrying a watering can, not a hose? Perhaps she was more bereft than perturbed? Why is this woman upset over a tree or two, and why am I in the least bit interested? This is obviously a dream with too many details to remember. But what I do recall is a seizing pain in my right wrist, a tight sensation, like a foreign object was wedged in there.

I taught you clip bran-chaises but you cut to root! she continues, hands to the sky as the wind presses the back of her shirt against her silhouette.

I can’t see the wind, just the plants bending like musical keys and patio furniture screeching toward me, trees vibrating with air. Mrs. McHenry is strangely stationary, her feet lodged in a bed of weeds. Tree branches take hold of her arms and hands, lifting her off the ground. Soon all of the plants from every direction reach long, curling themselves rapidly, mightily around her body, leaving a tall cocoon to dangle off one of the trees like a hangman. Twisted into a long swirl suspended in the air, it pulsates an incessant lub-dub heartbeat sound. Lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub... I look down to my wrist; a weird bump shaped like a bean protrudes from the base of my thumb, pumping to the same rhythm. My body is seized in fear.


It’s a man’s voice, a warm moisture heating my ear.

“Do you think she’s talking about me?”

It’s Paul, my husband. I open my eyes to the view of our three bay windows, high and curved to the shape of our Brooklyn brownstone. I quickly realize that it’s Mrs. McHenry, not inhabiting my dreams, but actually ranting in real time.

“I pray under dees trees in summa time!”

I begin to understand that Paul is worried that he might have cut too much sage growing into our side of our shared fence. Even though we’ve lived in Flatbush for over five years, we’re insecure gentrifiers scared to upset the natives.

“No, there’s no way. You didn’t cut much, let alone a tree,” I whisper then yawn dismissively, a loving tap on his hip. “She needs medication.”

My husband’s warm, long arm holds me against him tighter in fetal position, hand grazing my knees. My daily six a.m alarm goes off, a marimba ringtone. I reach for my iPhone to unlock it, and I immediately feel a hard bump at the base of my thumb. I begin to rub the sore point, do some circles with my hand, bending it back and forth. It’s red. “I think I have carpal tunnel,” I think out loud.

“You don’t. Maybe you banged it on something.” My husband, always quick to dismiss my ailments, turns away from me.

I walk to the far right window to see Mrs McHenry in a white blouse and khaki pants, holding the bible she carries at all hours. She’s slender; a bald spot in the center of her head from years of over-processing is clearly visible from my vantage point. I watch her standing at the back fence in her garden, staring out at an empty space where a gigantic fig tree used to be. I surmised that the neighbor behind her house cut it down. I am suddenly reminded of its extensions that once stretched from their house to ours. During our first summer here, Paul and I used to eat the fruit with Roquefort, tangy, smoky, crumbly, delicious.

“Guess she’s pissed at Mrs. Foster for uprooting that fig tree,” I shrug and reach for my black stretch pants on the floor, then grab my phone off the nightstand. I want to Instagram something about the kooky neighbor talking to herself/whoever would listen about a tree that she can no longer pray under with the hashtag #caribbeanqueens but I don’t know if anyone would find that funny, and I need to head out to my food co-op shift. I speed-scan Facebook instead, scrolling for news, maybe a cute pet video. I want to write books about my life as a Haitian-American so I’m constantly searching for inspiration. But all that is striking my interest is a link about a man’s sexual relationship with a dolphin.

“Did you see the thing about the Wet Goddess?” I ask Paul, walking to his side of the bed to kiss him goodbye before biking to the Park Slope Food Co-op.

“Dude, I know!” Paul puts his phone down. “I just don’t know see how you could want to fuck a dolphin?”

* * * * *

All of Flatbush is quiet and there are hardly any cars whizzing around me, no vans double-parked in the bike lane. Clarendon Road has severely cracked sidewalks. The hair salons are— surprisingly— open this early in the morning. There are several neglected trees lining the road, full with empty drink cans, beer bottles, candy wrappers and chicken bones. The streets smell of hair grease, fried food grease, and car grease. I hang a right onto Flatbush Avenue and I’m hit with another foul stench. Fish, perhaps? Not sure. Growth and development is slow to start in this part of Brooklyn, which makes us feel like pioneers. I laugh to myself spotting some tumbling pieces of hair, seemingly disentangled from someone’s weave. “A diaspore in diaspora Brooklyn,” I think. I tweak my wrist while twisting the gearshift on the handlebar. “Fuck!” I shriek, shaking out my hand. The bean-shaped bump is now hot to the touch. I decide to ice it down later, go to Urgent Care if needed.

I walk into the loading zone at the members-only food co-op to find Lalou the seven a.m. Receiving & Shipping squad leader talking someone’s ear off yet again about the bike documentary that he’s raising money to produce. He’s the only Frenchman I know that consistently sports a beret— almost as often as the black nut-hugging, cycling jumper he wears at every monthly shift. His movie is about his six hundred mile bike trip through Denali National Park in Alaska. He loathes Kickstarter and would rather hit people up for money in person.

“Film iz shit, man!” Lalou explains to a tall Nordic-looking hipster in a red skullcap and turquoise, short-sleeved button-down.

The squad leader is holding the sign-in book and communal pen against his chest. I wait, annoyed.

“What I’ve learned about modern culture is that you can’t make any movie without haute cheeks.”

“Cheeks?” asks the hipster, confused. The Nordic dude looks like an extra from The Life Aquatic with Bill Murray. Everyone is their own distinct character in this market, yet I don’t feel like there’s anything distinct about me. He’s straining to hold a rather cumbersome box of Greener Tomorrow pork loins steady in his arms as he politely listens to Lalou’s sales pitch. I find the tagline on the box “responsibly raised to taste extraordinary” to be mildly amusing.

“Cheeeeks, like SHEEken. You know, bok bok.” Lalou’s arms become less-than/more-than symbols, signifying wings. He even flaps them for effect. I reach for the book, startling him.

“Sorry, I just need to sign-in?” I’m quickly looking for my name, releasing Life Aquatic from the torture of hearing another word about this movie.

“$2,165 for a studio in Crown Heights? What the fuck?!” I hear someone shout. I turn to see a blond man wearing a small, sleeping baby in a hot pink one-shouldered sling entering the loading zone with another woman, also blond, carrying a crate of egg cartons. “Yeah, I read it this morning in the Times,” she tells the young dad in amazement as he follows her to the main conveyor belt. “It’s like, supposed to be conveniently located to her medical school or some bullshit like that.” The woman presses the red ‘down’ button to send the crate to another section of the market. “Wow, so I guess that neighborhood’s a wrap.” says the man, hunched over, knees slightly bent, doing what appears to be a rocking/swaying dance to keep baby asleep. “We’ve been looking at Flatbush anyway. It’s cheap and I heard Swallow Coffee is opening up a spot on Clarendon.”

“Excuse me,” Lalou breaks into my people-spying session. “Can you please help dem throw away milk en de basement?”

“Sure, no problem.” I close the ledger, handing it back to Lalou.

“Ask for Ruby,” he says, taking the book, scanning the loading zone for a new mark.

I find a U-boat stacked high with boxes and Ruby behind it, attempting to pour gallons of grass-fed, locally-sourced milk down the drain of a gigantic stainless steel utility sink that is now plugged up inexplicably. I reach the quiet corner of the basement to find a tall, heavy-set, dark-skinned black woman in a large lavender wide-brimmed hat pouring a gallon bottle of milk into a large plastic storage bin. Puddles of white liquid everywhere, a messy display of empty bottles and milk caps strewed about the squared off space.

“Hey,” says Ruby brightly, wiping her hand on her black cut-up "ACAB" t-shirt (which she later explains means All Cops Are Bastards) before extending it to greet me. I immediately zero in on the highly unflattering shade of black lipstick that’s not right for her complexion. As we press flesh, an acute pain alights on my right thumb like it’s just been attacked by a thousand blowgun darts. I recoil, wincing. “I’m Colette,” shaking out my hand again. “I have carpal tunnel. It kills, but I can still help out,” I say, assuring her. Ruby looks at me blankly, making me feel uncomfortable. “I like your hat?” I say nervously, trying to change the subject. “It’s so… fancy!” The straw headpiece has white coq feathers and horsehair curls— a sharp contrast to her brown matted coils of hair, red sarong and overall Goth aesthetic. Her genteel chapeau seems more suitable for the Kentucky Derby than the food co-op. Ruby giggles, handing me a gallon of Better You Bet Pastures. “You know, I put it on at a store in Oakland, California and just walked out with it,” she recounts with a laugh. “I don’t know,” she adjusts her hat, pulling at the ends with both hands, giving a side-glance to the tin ceiling as if she’s a diva. “It’s just me fucking with the fabric of time… You know what I mean, of course.” Ruby, head down, resumes pouring contents into the tub.

“Um, can’t say I do,” I smile at her, mildly perplexed, peeling the lid off a bottle. Everyone at the co-op thinks whatever comes out of their mouth is fucking organic, politically correct, fair-trade brilliance.

There are a ton of boxes that we need to go through for the next two hours of our shift, but with the sink backed up, I’m not sure how we’ll dispose of it all. “You know, they’re making us get rid of this because one person called the co-op office complaining of a sour smell,” Ruby says frustrated. “It’s such a waste. We could’ve donated this to a soup kitchen,” she tells me as I concentrate on pouring into the bin without a spill. “I made an announcement on the intercom earlier about the sink, but no one’s come down to check it out yet” she says. I’m quietly plugging along, absorbing her words.

“We’ll just send it up on the food lift when this container’s full. Okay?” she offers.

“Or couldn’t we just station ourselves at another sink?” I think to myself.

“That’s a pain in the ass,” says Ruby, waving off my suggestion.

I accidentally splash myself, startled. “I didn’t say anything.” I look at Ruby, pausing. “Did I?”

How did she know what I was thinking?

“Oh,” Ruby catches herself. “I thought you said you wanted to move the U-boat.” she squats before switching to cross-legged sitting. “I was like, you know how hard it is to push this cart?” she laughs, averting her eyes as she fits a number of flattened bottles into a translucent blue recycle liner.

We hear a man’s voice on the intercom, inquiring after minimally processed, free-range spotted dick.

“Yeah… we have it, next to the Greek tapenades,” a woman responds on another line, then hangs up the intercom.

The amount of milk in the plastic tub is quickly rising to full capacity. I stare into the sink as Ruby crushes more hollow gallons, attempting to jam them into the liner, already tied and ready for the recycling dumpster. “Don’t you want to just swim it?” Ruby moves closer to me, her eyes motioning to the sink as I glance at her face. “Gross,” I say, laughing off the thought, taking the bag from her, placing it under the basin in order to keep our workspace more open.

My gaze returns to the clogged basin with gobs of sour stuff floating, a revolting odor of yogurt. “I’m sorry,” I add catching myself in one of my weird introspective moods. “For some reason, all this milk’s reminding me of a night when I almost drowned,” I share, reluctantly. “Really?!” Ruby sounds surprised. She’s probably not interested in listening to me, I think. “Was it at a milk silo or something?” Ruby shakes her head and guffaws. “I’m kidding, you know.” She brings out a spare bin for more spoiled milk, ostensibly. “Let’s fill this one up, too, before we send them upstairs on the lift,” says Ruby, now using her box cutter to jab through cardboard to liberate more gallons for us to dump. “I’m sorry. You were sharing...” She hands me a gallon of Better You Bet.

“Um, no, it’s cool,” I say, peeling the purple strip off the bottle lid. “I was four, hanging out at our town pool with my brother who was a lifeguard.” I search for the right terse phrases to quickly recount a story from my life. “He’d let me and his friends in after hours… let me dangle my feet off the shallow end.”

I sit on the wet cement floor, still pouring milk, and I look up to see Ruby, who is stepping firmly on freshly dried bottles with her sandled foot.

Cut to the chase, I remind myself.

“Anyway, you know the black divider lines at the bottom of the pool?” I ask. “Sure,” says Ruby, opening up to a new recycle liner to store more empties.

“They looked like gigantic letter I’s and I wanted to touch them.” I hand her a voided gallon to crush.

“Shit… so you jumped in?” Ruby seems amused by my story or at least happy that I’m almost done telling it.

“Yeah, and all I remember afterwards was waking up, wrapped in towels on the front seat of my father’s car with him behind the wheel, screaming “Jamais le faire ça encore!

“What’s that?”

“Oh, never do that again.” Catching myself. “We’re Haitian, my parents speak French.”

“You’re Haitian?!” she asks glowingly. “I’m Haitian!”

“Really?” I’m pleasantly surprised, yet I know she’s probably not from the same social class as I am. To prove it, I ask for her last name. If I don’t know it, she’s a descendant of peasants as suspected.

“Well, I was taken away at a young age. I grew up all over, but lived mostly in California,” she shares.

“So you’ve never been to Haiti then?” I probe.

“Not exactly… It was a long time ago, but… I feel like you know that already.” She walks over to me, staring intently.

“How would I know? Do I know you from somewhere?”

Suddenly, a whirlpool of white miraculously spins down into the sink's drain, gurgling productively. We stand up to watch the sink finally perform its function. Ruby grabs my hand and holds it to her chest. I turn to her, bewildered. She rests my palm flat, fans out my fingers. I feel her thumbs rise up the inside of my hand. I’m seized by her stare; I acquiesce in her hold.

“You’re holding a lot of tension in your metacarpals,” she says, massaging my hand, peering closely. "When did you see this bump?” she asks, gently touching the top of the injury. We’re standing over one of the open full plastic tubs that we’re supposed to load onto the lift. Her arms, neck and a small part of her face are blanketed with tattoos of random objects like a pair of scissors, a chanterelle mushroom, and something that resembles a gourd or maybe a beehive. The one I can’t take my eyes off of is the one on the base of her thumb, same location as my painful bump. It looks like a kidney bean from an old-timey botany book. She accidentally kicks the tub, resulting in a slap of milk against my pant leg, but I continue to stare at the tattoo, unfazed.

“Oh it’s a stick-n-poke that Frantz did on me,” she smiles matter-of-factly, noticing my gawking. “It’s just a needle and ink, like they do in prison.”

“Um, it’s cool,” I say, awkwardly realizing we’re alone in this corner and I’m unable to move. “It really looks familiar…” My eyes move up to the rattling tin ceiling. I can hear food co-op workers’ foot stomps above us, accompanied by sporadic laughter. I wonder if they could hear me if I need someone to intervene.

“I know.” Ruby’s hands move down my forearm; she presses into the bump, now as firm as a golf ball. An intense bolt of pain radiates to my kneecaps. “Tu ne me rappelle pas, Makini?

Her face is squarely locked into mine. I’m flustered, at a loss. “I don’t know you?” I shake my head, not completely understanding her French. “What is a Makini?” I attempt to push out of her grasp. Too tight. “I don’t know who you are or what you’re talking about…you seem to be mistaken.”

I immediately examine our environs. The U-boat of milk blocks us from sight. The food processing team to the left of us is too busy cutting cheese, packaging nuts and dried fruit for the bulk section. A few of the Receiving & Shipping guys are yards away at the basement conveyor belt unloading heavy boxes. It’s just us. Alone.

Ah Makini, t’as vraiment changé, mais… Ruby reaches for box cutter, pierces into my wrist, dislodging a black, curved stone, which falls into the tub of milk below us.

“Let me go!” I yell.

Ne bouge pas, Makini. We’re almost done.”

A stream of emerald green oozes from my wrist, coating my arms. The milk makes a sizzling sound as green droplets fall from my wound into the plastic tub. I tremble, frightened.

Tu ne peut pas cacher de toi,” Ruby says, admonishingly.

“Please! I yell, still trying to break free, but I’m too weak. The attempt is unsuccessful. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

All too quickly she takes the back of my neck, and I’m on my knees. Ruby slams my body into the ground, pushing me into the milk bath. I struggle, stunned under her hold, gulping liquid, choking. She is murdering me. Her words reverberate in my mind: “You can’t hide from yourself…”

I suddenly feel like I’m glowing. My view is no longer opaque. I’m no longer struggling or fighting to break free for breath. It seems as though I’ve been transported to a park. I walk along a path, a lush, rugged wood that’s defined by a steep narrow gorge. Diverse trees and foliage line the forest, and the cool whisper of water makes me wonder if I’m still in the middle of a bustling Brooklyn. I spot Ruby, standing between large trees, waving to me. It’s a picnic setting.

As I walk towards the group, I look down to notice my wrist has completely healed. Why has Ruby brought me here?

“I hope you robbed her,” an Asian-looking man says jokingly as I reach the convivial group. A blond woman adds, “White transplants to Brooklyn have a serious problem with asking other ostensibly white transplants to validate their racism.” Ruby meets me back at the picnic blanket, falling onto her knees, thighs perpendicular to the floor in perfect yogic Hero’s pose. She introduces me to the group as Makini. The bold 70s pattern of burnt orange roses, yellow blossoms, purple zinnias, and white daisies are disorienting. She’s casually welcoming me as if it’s a normal day at the park with friends. I’m quiet, hoping for some answers. I keep my gaze down, crestfallen, press flesh with Andreas, waving awkwardly to Polly as she glances in my direction, holding a baby to her breast. Andreas, scruffy and bearded, looks uncomfortable, keeps tugging Polly’s hair, biting the top of her left shoulder. She puts the sleeping baby down. “No biting,” Polly says to Andreas flatly.

“Sorry.” Andreas, now contrite, wipes his nose with his forearm, eyes steady on her, hungry. Polly reveals her left breast and the man shifts his legs forward to lie on his side, cocks his head up to meet Polly’s nipple, and then opens his lips to latch onto her teat. Polly tenderly watches as Andreas begins suckling at her breast, breathing a sign of relief as her milk lets down. She grabs her phone, using the free thumb to snap a selfie with her nursling. “I’m supposed to post pics of breastfeeding friendly spots around the city for our collective,” Polly chortles. “If I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it.”

“And, you remember Frantz right?” Ruby points to a brown-skinned, 30-something-looking man with a bike messenger cap, brim flipped up to reveal the word "Philadelphia." I don’t remember him. I don't know any of these people.

Who is Makini?

What am I doing here?

Frantz's arms are also heavily tatted with odd symbols like a shovel centered on his knee-cap and a five-panel door on the back of one of his hands. Frantz’s eyes bulge out from deeply swollen sockets. His nose is flat and wide, reminding me of a housefly.

He nibbles on what looks like a brick of tempeh. His gaze is fixed on me as if he’s ready to pounce should I attempt to dart away.

Ruby stares at me quizzically. A thoughtful smile appears on her face.

What was lost is found again, I guess.

“Am I dead?” I ask her, low and searchingly.

“I don’t know yet...”

Jacqueline Colette Prosper discovered her love for pop culture when her teenaged sister forced the then five-year old Ms. Prosper into a Prince and the Revolution fan club and soon kicked her out when she couldn’t pay the dues. A former office assistant at Miramax/Dimension Films and a survivor of New Jersey suburban angst, she bounced around from film production to print media. Ms. Prosper has also contributed articles to Time Out New York, Huffington Post, Zink Magazine, New York Magazine and Metro Newspaper. She is most inspired by her colorful and often uptight Haitian family as well as her husband Sean. You can follow her on Twitter: @yummicoco.

Morgane Santos is a programmer-photographer-poet living in San Francisco. She has always lived near the ocean and has only recently seen what the night sky looks like without light pollution. It's beautiful, if you were curious. See more of her work at

Mike Williams makes music in San Francisco, California. In 2008, he had an idea for a music blog where original music would be posted every day. He started the blog Hella Gems and recruited musical friends in both California and Atlanta to participate. At its peak, each person had roughly two weeks to compose, record, and then post a new song. You can listen to some of Mike's latest work at Hella Gems and on Soundcloud.

ISSUE #90: Colleen Diamond, Emily-Jane Robinson, Bruce Peninsula

Posted: Monday, September 8, 2014 | | Labels:

Issue #90 Guest Editor Helena Kvarnström is a Swedish photographer and writer living in Toronto whose work previously appeared in Storychord Issue #1. She has exhibited internationally, and her novella, Violence, was published by Lazyline in 2005. She is currently working on a novel. For more, visit Helena's web site at

Photograph by Emily-Jane Robinson


by Colleen Diamond

When we first started dating, I used to say it all the time. I would say, “I love your dick,” or just: "Your dick!" I would say it in bed, or in the hallway on the way to the fridge. It was one of the only things that I said. I was so quiet. Not shy—quiet. I said it sentimentally. I said it like it was something deep. Like that was the reason why we were together. Like that was the reason I loved you. It was the first dick I loved. But I also loved everything about you. How clean you were. How organized. How sweet. Your laugh. How hard you worked at all your jobs. Spreadsheets and music. Spreadsheets and film. Spreadsheets and money. Spreadsheets and everything. What you looked like when you were tired. Laying on the couch. Face in the cushions. Mouth half open. How much you liked to plan things for us to do. What other people meant to you. Every part of your body. The black curly hairs on your legs. Your butt. Your feet. How you farted at the same time every day. How you thought I was making fun of you because I laughed when you did it. 8:30 in the morning.

Issue #90 soundtrack: Bruce Peninsula "The Leaves"

The first time we spoke to each other, you were working. I walked up and I put my hand on your face. I’d seen you three times. But it felt like I knew you. That face. Tan and hairy. Italian. But Arab Italian, you know?

I remember our first date. I left early the night we met. So you asked my friend for my name. You sent me a message on Facebook. You said, “Do you want to step out with me?”

I said yes. I was late. I took a cab. I wore a black dress with white wool tights and brown boots. I wore my hair up. I walked to the table where you were sitting and we smiled at each other. You were reading about baseball. You said, “Hi.” I said, “I feel like I know you.” You smiled. You laughed. We drank wine. The music was terrible. I was nervous, but not the same nervous that I am now. You told me that your Mom believes in God and that she sent you the name of a book where you could read about him. I was already in love.

We didn’t sleep together for 4 months, maybe more. The first time was…I don’t even know. I just lay there. I held my breath the whole time. The second time was better. We moved together. The third time we found it. And after that, if I was naked, your dick was hard. “Pheromones,” you said. “Your dick,” I said.

We ate hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches. You picked me up in your car. We watched movies and fucked in your office. We never fought.

It was perfect. Until it wasn’t.

There was always this thing. This thing I didn’t know what it was. This thing that I wanted.

I would open my mouth to ask you for something, but only sobs or screams would come out—like when a little kid is hungry and they wave their hands around. Shouting nonsense and making little fists. Like the grown up is supposed to know what they need, like you were supposed to know what I was asking for. I'd scream like that when I was little. Stomp my feet. My Mom would say, “What is it, sweetheart? What?” But I didn’t know the words. “Maybe you’re tired,” she would say. “Maybe you should go lie down.”

So I laid down. I cried at you: “Will you lie in bed with me?” And you did. But it wasn’t it.

So I’d tell you I couldn’t do it anymore. I’d make you leave. I’d sit on the floor. Watch your text messages come in. Hold my phone. Hold my phone. Stare at it.

My friends would call and I wouldn't answer. They'd email and I'd write back: "I'm busy." I'd think, "I'm busy forever! Fuck you!" I'm busy forever sitting on my floor hating all of you.

I had a dream about us. You called me. You invited me out to a bar. I wore a black dress. The place was owned by Wes and Leon. David Patrick Leonard was sitting at the end of the bar in a white t-shirt. He was sitting with an anonymous rock star. I touched his arm and he looked at me with wide eyes.

You led me through a doorway. It could have been to a set of stairs, or to the bathroom. It was to the backyard.

It was so beautiful out. The sky was light enough that we could see each other. But dark enough that we could see the stars. The yard was lined with rose bushes the size of trees. Rose trees. The blossoms were a deep pink. They glowed in the night light. They went on forever. Further back than you are imagining right now. The yard was grass. We walked for a while. Then walked back.

I asked if you had been on a date earlier tonight. You said yes. I asked if it had been a double date with David. You said yes.

“She is a marketing manager,” you said. “For Kraft. Kraft Cheese.”

I asked if she’d met all of you, or just half. You said half. I nodded. We breathed in the night. We looked at each other. You led me back inside. We walked upstairs.

We passed Wes on our way. He was coming out of the bathroom wearing a too small Blue Jays t-shirt. We went into a room, we sat down on the bed. I could see your red jacket now. Your grey pants.

You asked if I was interested in dating anyone. I said no. I said I couldn’t handle the responsibility. I couldn’t make out the response your eyes gave me, so I asked, “Are you—interested in dating anyone?” You said yes. You lay back. I said, “Let me be clear. I am interested in being with you.”

You sat up. Red jacket. Face. You said, “But you have to know that I am looking for The One.”

I nodded. I said, “You have to know that I didn’t know what love was before. I thought love was going out for dinner and asking your partner to do things for you. Take out the garbage. Lift heavy things.”

You leaned back. You were so suddenly you and Beyoncé all at the same time. Beyoncé said to me, “How do I know that you are ready?”

I said, “I’m not ready. I’m getting ready.”

You were holding a black baby. Bouncing her in your lap as you sat with one leg crossed and one leg on the floor.

Your manager came in. She said that the people were waiting. They’d been waiting 15 minutes to come in and watch the video tutorial. We looked through the door out into the office and saw kids waiting. Caps on. You said it would only take a minute to cue up the video. It shouldn’t be long.

You handed me the baby. And I knew what to do.

The dream was over.

I still had your gold watch. I looked at it. I wondered where you were. I refreshed Facebook. There were all these photos of me wearing pink and red lingerie. Laying in a bed. My vagina half showing. Laying next to Alex holding roses over my forehead.

I felt such shame. I felt panic.

I’d stare in the mirror. I’d pick at the skin on my feet. I’d go for a walk. I’d text you or not text you. Call you. Take a cab to your house. Bang on your door. Bang on your window. Stand in front of you. Tired.

I said, “I get wet whenever I’m near you.” I said, “I want to be in bed with you." I said, "Let’s fuck.”

I said it because I know that you liked that. Talking like that. Hearing me talk like that. I said it because I knew you’d say yes.

So we’d fuck. And it would be good, or it would be not good. It didn't matter because it was over. We were over.

I wished I had said, “Can you open up to me?” I wished I had said, "Cry with me." I wished I had said, “My body is dead so I can’t really feel you.” I wished I had said, “Bring me back.”

You said, “My heart isn’t in it anymore.”

And I knew. That was the thing. You. Your heart. It was never fucking there. I was always alone with pieces of you. The whole time. Gold watches and screaming babies. Beyoncé.

Colleen Diamond was born in a small town and raised in a rural forest. She currently lives and works in Toronto. Her writing has been described as honest and hysterical (not the funny one). She writes what comes to mind, mostly about human relationships. She is interested in body sensations and mind images. She likes short works that span long periods of time. She is a student of Psychotherapy. Visit the author online at

Emily-Jane Robinson is a London-based cinematographer, filmmaker and photographer. She was born in 1986 in Birmingham, England, and raised in the beach-side suburb of Leucadia in Southern California by her single mother, a watercolourist and landscape designer. She received her BA in Design & Media Arts in 2009 from the University of California, Los Angeles, with a minor in Women's Studies, and in 2010 she returned to the UK and began her MFA at UCL's Slade School of Fine Art. After finishing her MFA in June 2012, she integrated her research and fine art work into more commercial contexts and began shooting and directing music videos, commercials and most recently two feature films. Emily-Jane has exhibited internationally, and her film and photographic work has been featured in Vice, Vogue Italia, Beautiful Decay, Creative Review, Zooey Magazine, Art Wednesday, and Storychord Issue #29. For more, visit the artist online at

Bruce Peninsula is a rolling soul revue that originally formed in 2006. The band’s constant core is made up of Misha Bower, Matthew Cully, Neil Haverty, Andrew Barker and Steve McKay, but swells to include many of Toronto’s local luminaries in live performance and on record. In 2009, Bruce Peninsula’s self-released debut full-length, A Mountain Is A Mouth, was nominated to the Polaris Music Prize long-list. In 2010, they provided the soundtrack to Small Town Murder Songs, a feature film by Ed Gass Donnelly that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2010. Bruce Peninsula entered a lengthy hiatus due to illness in 2011, but unveiled a b-side series called The Bruce Trail Fire Sale that ran throughout the year, comprised of one-off videos and performances offered for free online. In October, Bruce Peninsula returned with their sophomore LP, Open Flames (Hand Drawn Dracula). For more, visit

ISSUE #89: Jane Liddle, Brad Beatson, SW/MM/NG

Posted: Monday, August 25, 2014 | | Labels:

Art by Brad Beatson


by Jane Liddle

Deedee buzzed Omar’s apartment to no response. An old lady came out of the building, pushing an empty plaid cart in front of her. Deedee smiled at the old lady as she slipped past her into the apartment building. She walked up the M.C. Escher staircase that was falling in on itself as if the building were deflating. The hallway smelt like cat litter. On the third floor she knocked on Omar’s door and it opened slightly. It had been left ajar. She went into Omar’s apartment and felt uneasy. She walked through the kitchen and noticed that dishes were drying on a dishtowel on the counter. There was a fresh bouquet of tulips on the dining room table, yellow with orange accents. Tulips were Deedee’s favorite flower and she tried to remember if she had ever told Omar that. The apartment smelt like lemon floor cleaner and looked like it had been mopped that morning. The remotes for the TV system were laid out in a row on a glass coffee table that bore no fingerprints despite the sunbeam angling through the window. At the end of the apartment was Omar’s bedroom. The bed was made strictly. Deedee noticed the closet door was open and she looked in. Omar was hanging there. It was ugly.

Issue #89 soundtrack: SW/MM/NG "We Do It All the Time"

Ocean sounds filled Deedee’s ears. She walked back to the kitchen and shut the apartment door all the way. She knew she had to call the police, but she didn’t want to call from Omar’s apartment or from her phone. She was there to deliver weed and she didn’t want to interact with the cops.

She managed another look at Omar, and said, “Oh, God.” She didn’t believe in God. She believed in outer space and brains on drugs and not much else. Wait, that’s not true. She believed in dogs.

Deedee stood in the middle of the kitchen, smelled the tulips. They didn’t smell like anything. They were bred for looks only, and they were beautiful. Deedee looked out the window and saw the old lady on the corner talking to another old lady with a different plaid cart. She waited until the old ladys’ conversation was done and for them to walk away. Deedee left the apartment, closed the door behind her, and heard the lock latch.

She continued with her deliveries, consuming the early-spring sun like water. She stopped by the sixth-floor walkup right on the BQE, and when Sandra asked her what was new Deedee said, “Nothing.” She went up to Queens, to a block away from the cemetery, and when Darrel asked her what was up, Deedee said, “Nothing.” Deedee then walked to the new condo building by the Pulaski Bridge, telling herself to just get though the evening, to pay a little extra attention to the sunset. When Lizzy asked her what was new, she said, “Not much.” She told Lizzy she really liked the new couch. “It’s like a canoe.” It really was.

Deedee finished her deliveries. People were out in the newly warm night like fireflies. She stopped by Sister’s, the bar where Omar worked as a bartender. Parker stood behind the horseshoe as Deedee sat down, ordered tequila. She noticed Parker’s scowl was more pronounced than usual. “What’s up?” Deedee asked as she finished the tequila in two gulps.

“Just had to work an extra shift because Omar never showed.”

“Is that normal for him?” Deedee was unpleasantly surprised by her own nonchalance. She ordered another tequila.

“No. He’s usually early. But he recently quit drinking.”

“Why’d he quit drinking?”

“Guess he was an alcoholic.”

“Tough gig for a bartender.”

“His phone is going straight to voice mail.”

“He seems nice.”

Parker looked at her wisely. “Didn’t you have a fling with him?”

“Not really.”

“Yeah, you don’t seem like his type. I actually thought you’d be good for him.”

“I don’t think he’s interested in anyone being good for him. Or to him. I’d be useless.”

“Don’t start. I need one customer who doesn’t use me as a sorry repository.”


Parker studied Deedee’s face. “Come with me to the soup kitchen tomorrow.”

“How good are you at keeping secrets?”

“Medium. Why?”

“I’m pretty good at it.”


“I’ve been delivering weed for eight years but my mom thinks I’m a receptionist at an acupuncture clinic.”

“Why acupuncture?”

“I know she’d never try it.”

Parker wiped down the bar top next to where Deedee was sitting. It smelled like semen.

“She probably would be okay with me being a bartender. I could work here.”

“Omar’s only missed one shift, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. He makes the best mojito I’ve ever had.”

“Right. I’ll see you later.”

“You sure you’re okay?”

Deedee placed her money on the bar top and left before she said something really stupid.

* * * * *

During the walk home, Deedee thought through the details of her relationship with Omar, and everything she knew about him. She had been delivering weed to him for almost a year. Five months ago he came on to her. She wasn’t against sleeping with customers as a principle and she wasn’t against sleeping with Omar as a matter of attraction. At thirty-nine he was six years older than her, and seemed lost, like her, scrounging up a living that was part customer service, part psychotherapy. Their date was a quick dinner at a burger joint. In bed afterward they talked about their families: his a family of immigrants and engineers, hers a family of educators and beach-lovers. Their siblings were successes. Their parents were still married. They talked about abnormal psychological disorders and what had been removed from the latest DSM. He was impressed that Deedee knew the Latin names for insects, an odd party trick that gave the impression of a scientific mind with a touch of Nabokovian romance. The truth was her mom was an entomology professor and used to read her scientific papers when she was a kid to put her to sleep.

Omar told Deedee that really beautiful women made him angry. He told Deedee that there was a really beautiful woman with reddish pink hair who came into Sister’s who always bitched about her boyfriend. The beautiful woman told him that she had recently begun turning off the ringer and vibrate on her boyfriend’s phone so he’d miss calls from other women. Omar said that he didn’t understand why someone wouldn’t just break up with the person, why she didn’t just date him instead. Deedee said that maybe the beautiful woman didn’t really do those things, just thought about it, as if she was trying on actions like clothes. Maybe she was a liar. Omar said that Deedee didn’t make him angry. Deedee said thanks then realized it wasn’t quite a compliment. He asked for her real number and she gave it to him. In the morning, she left before he woke up.

When she got home after their date she Googled him. At first the usual social network profiles camp up. After some deep Googling she found his blog written under just his first name. She read his thoughts, analysis, and rants on the unfortunate state of American women and the anti-male, anti-social destruction of feminism. She read about how there was a beautiful woman with reddish pink hair who always came into his place of work and would beg him to go home with her. But he knew she got off on her boyfriend’s jealousy so he never took her up on it. He hated her for it, hated that she wanted to turn him into a beta under her boyfriend’s alpha. He described what he really wanted to do to her. He used the word “hate” a lot in his blog posts.

What was especially confusing to Deedee was reconciling the ugly way Omar talked about women with the tameness he had demonstrated to her during their night together. Sure, he had negged her with that “doesn’t make me angry” comment, but otherwise they laughed a lot. He gave her the impression of listening to her advice, though now Deedee suspected it was just his resting face, something perfected by way of being a bartender. If his writing was any indication, he’d have nothing to do with Deedee, she being about thirty pounds heavier and six years older than his ideal. She had recently developed a permanent line on her forehead, which couldn’t have improved things. She wasn’t shaved. But most important, she was a feminist, and not a secret one.

She felt proud that she was able to break through his wall of hate and insecurity and that he accepted her. She felt disgusted by that pride. This guy was supposed to hate her. If he didn’t, then she was doing something wrong.

Three days later he had called on her personal cell but she didn’t answer right away. She waited four hours before returning his call, during which he asked her to the movies the next day. She said yes on instinct.

When she met him at the theater he told her he had already bought the tickets.

“What movie are we going to see?”

“It’s a surprise.”

“Okay. Anything but Spring Breakers.”


“Seeing a group of barely legal girls in bikinis dance around a racist portrayal by Franco isn’t my idea of romance.”

“Didn’t know you were such a prude.”

He took her to see Spring Breakers. Afterward Omar tried to bait her into telling him what she thought but she just shrugged in a variety of manners. She did concede to get a drink with him because she was thirsty. At the bar he drank a large glass of scotch. She had white wine. When he went to pay he sloppily took out his pocket contents and laid them on the bar top. She noticed the ticket stubs were for The Hunger Games.

She didn’t go home with him after the date. She went to her apartment and drank her own scotch.

The next day she went to his blog to see if he wrote about her. He called her fat and a gold digger, which she expected, though it still stung. She continued to read his blog for a couple more months after that out of curiosity and also to see if he wrote about anything else about her. He never did.

He had only called her personal cell one more time before switching back to her business cell, which she responded to.

The next time she was at his place to drop off weed they acted as if nothing had occurred between them. He showed her a video on the Internet of an elephant drawing an elephant and she laughed. He told her that his older brother accidentally killed many of his pets when they were younger, usually by stepping on them. His chameleon lasted a month, a turtle two, the hamster four months before his brother crushed it with a door. She told him that was horrible, trying and failing not to laugh. She considered dating him again to change him but remembered that she had given that up for her thirtieth birthday.

He started ordering deliveries with greater frequency and she entertained the idea that it was a ploy to see her more, but no, he was just getting high more. Then he stopped. The morning of the suicide was the first time he had contacted her in two months.

* * * * *

When Deedee arrived back at her apartment from Sister’s, she didn’t even take off her jacket before turning on her computer and opening Omar’s blog. This was the first time reading his blog in a while, having got caught up in a series of phone games with nonsensical levels and diminishing maneuvers in reaching them. The last entry, which was the day before:

The girls at AA are even dumber than the drunk girls at last call. At least the drunk girls know what they are. The AA girls like to convince themselves that they shed the sluttiness with the alcohol, but they don’t. They’re still sluts. Just boring in a different way. On top of that it’d be considered a dick move to have sex with drunk girls while sober. Can’t fucking win.

It went on like that, a bunch of nonsense about perceived levels of sluttiness that managed to deny any sort of internal life on the part of the sluts. Deedee read previous blog entries but there weren’t any references to suicide or even out-of-the-ordinary depression, just the general ennui that had settled over an entire generation like an astrological cloud combined with the defeatist, depressing posturing of a man that found no sweetness in heartbreak or magic in people.

If that wasn’t bad enough, there were the comments, disturbing in their thorough misogyny and pitiful in their praise for Omar. The men, and some women, wrote to Omar in the comments as if he were some kind of older brother or guru, offering him advice on protein drinks and the correct frequency one should masturbate. They wrote with the certainty and fervor Deedee had only seen on medical forums about homeopathic solutions for psoriasis. Was this the world? Deedee’s faith in humanity sunk to a low depth, and that’s not even factoring in her own current actions of walking away from a dead man.

Deedee shut down the computer and went to bed, playing a game on her phone called “Cosmic High,” the premise of which was to accumulate large quantities of drug paraphernalia in record time by clicking on the correct planets. She played until the early morning, then slept terribly.

The next day was usual. The sun glowed and the sidewalks smelled of hose water. Birds played in street dust. Deedee’s first customer was Frank, who invited her in for some mint tea, which she accepted. Frank seemed distraught and Deedee asked him what was wrong and he relayed a dilemma about how his sister kept telling him to lose weight, which just made him want to eat more. “But I can’t bring it up with her because she is really sensitive and doesn’t take criticism well. I want her to stop, but I don’t want to hurt her feelings.”

“Sometimes being sensitive is an act of manipulation.”

“That’s cynical.”

“Maybe you overestimate her sensitivity.”

“I don’t, trust me.”

“Sounds tough.”

“But what do I do?”

Deedee shrugged. She knew enough to know that he wasn’t really asking.

By the afternoon Deedee admitted to herself she wasn’t going to call the police ever. She went back and forth between shame and excitement. Shame, for obvious reasons. Excitement, because she had discovered this new dark part of herself that she could peek at when she needed a little thrill, like discovering a longtime husband wanted to be tied up. A little something she could whisper over hard alcohol and ice, over a cigarette smoked during late pregnancy. “I found someone dead and left him. Don’t worry, he was an asshole. Kind of. I think.”

That evening, Deedee helped Parker at the soup kitchen, where she met a lot of people doing great small things, and other people who were more good than bad except when it came to luck. It was the last place she wanted to be. She couldn’t talk about her problem there, and the longer she was there the more she felt she couldn’t talk about her problem at all.

Deedee, Parker, and Parker’s friend Terrence went out for drinks afterward, at a dive with a terrible jukebox and a pool table with three eight balls.

“So have you heard from Omar?” Deedee asked.

Parker shook her head, said, “Wow, you really want his job, don’t you.”


Deedee ended up going home with Parker’s friend but stopped things before they made it to his bed. Terrence asked her what was wrong and she said that the Earth had gotten heavy, that humanity was putting on weight. He nodded like she said something deep and kept kissing her. She was a little drunk. This didn’t stop Terrence from trying, right up until she got up and was at his front door, which he didn’t walk her to. She gave him a little wave and he nodded at her, began texting someone.

* * * * *

Omar had posted on his blog every day. Sometimes twice. Sometimes it was short, just a “Good night, idiots,” type thing. But nothing was posted on his blog for two nights.

The next day, a Friday, Deedee dropped off weed at Lucy’s, who had a new puppy. It was hard for Deedee to leave there. Then she went to Donna’s right off St. Marks. She had cancer. Donna offered Deedee some ginger tea but for once Deedee declined. Her day went like that, until Manhattanhenge, when she stood a few blocks from Union Square and watched the sun make sense of humanity. For a few minutes.

That night there were more comments on Omar’s last blog post speculating where he was. Maybe he was in Thailand! Deedee signed in under a pseudonym, “Darling,” and wrote a comment about how she slept with Omar six months ago and how he was really sweet and made her pancakes and sent her flowers. She was describing someone else, someone’s dad when the kid was at the mom’s. She wrote how it didn’t work out between them because beautiful women made Omar angry. Many of the commenters sent her private messages asking her if she wanted to hook up and to send a pic. A few women sent her messages that were hostile. She wrote back to some of the women, telling them not to waste their time with Omar, that they could do better. From the messages she received, it was obvious that they didn’t believe a word Deedee said. As the week continued, commenters continued to speculate about Omar’s absence. They became irritated that Omar wasn’t posting, begging him to post again, angry that he was letting them down. They got into little fights about who among them was a pussy.

Then news broke that a man named Omar was found decomposing in a Brooklyn apartment for twelve days. The police were called when his coworkers said he was missing. That, coupled with the smell in the hall, convinced the police to break into his apartment. Within hours people on Omar’s blog put two and two together. Commenters were heart-broken and shocked. They detailed personal virtual interactions and memories. They struggled to make sense of the suicide and came up with the caricature of a man troubled by demons and women but mostly demonic women. Also, AA, that fucking cult. It was scientific fact that people were more likely to commit suicide after AA than when they were still drinking. Some commenters were helped by AA, though, so an argument broke out over that.

And after another month, the comments dried up and the blog stood as an untended gravesite.

Deedee comforted Parker and other coworkers and patrons over the tragedy, on what they all could have done differently and what they should have known. One patron even brought up the fact that Omar had a blog, but Deedee just nodded as if uninterested. She took over his shifts at Sister’s, called her mom the minute she was hired to say she was a bartender now. Soon enough talk of Omar turned to talk of difficult girlfriends and crappy bosses and ugly stalkers. Deedee did shots with patrons late at night and managed to not go home with them. She didn’t volunteer at the soup kitchen again. Sometimes, when she was feeling particularly burned by the human race via nasty subway altercation or shady locksmith, she reread Omar’s blog, searching for clues not just about why he killed himself, but why he chose her to find him, why he chose her at all. She came up with nothing.

Jane Liddle grew up in Newburgh, New York, and now lives in Brooklyn. Her stories have appeared in Two Serious Ladies, Wigleaf, Whiskey Paper, Specter magazine, Luna Luna Magazine, and elsewhere. She recently finished a short story collection and a flash series about murder. You can find her on Twitter @janeriddle or at

Brad Beatson is an artist living in New York City. He is the art director for Passion Of The Weiss, and he recently designed a pair of shoes for Bucketfeet. For more, follow him on Tumblr and Twitter.

SW/MM/NG is a Fayetteville, Arkansas-based quintet comprised of Brian Kupillas (vocal, guitar), Jared Hennessy (guitar), Joel Paul (bass), Jack Lloyd (keyboards), and JD Paul (drums). The band is currently touring (see dates here) in support of their long-awaited full length debut "Feel Not Bad," which releases this week from Old Flame Records.

ISSUE #88: Lena Valencia, Giulia Palombino, Mt. Royal

Posted: Monday, August 11, 2014 | | Labels:

Issue #88 Guest Editor Allegra Frazier is a writer, editor, and visual artist living in New York whose work previously appeared in Storychord Issue 19. Her flash fiction work is frequently published at Wild Quarterly, and more of her work can be found within Paragraphiti, Story Magazine, Norman's Journal, Bayou Magazine, and elsewhere. For more, visit

Art by Giulia Palombino


by Lena Valencia

The crow swooped onto the branch of the Sycamore tree, which quivered under her weight. Two startled chickadees flapped away. It was a smooth landing, considering her size. She dug her talons deeper into the soft bark. She had grown to be enormous, a giant among her murder in the past few months, and had to be careful of where she landed—not all branches could hold her. She blinked a shiny black eye and reached her beak into her wing to peck at an itch. The tree she was resting on stood above the backyard of the Bentons' apartment. Light green sprouts of a small herb garden poked out from a plot of earth in one corner. Vines dotted with pink blossoms concealed a chain link fence. Two women sat in rusty lawn chairs around a rusty table, picking at a bowl of almonds. Maggie Benton, the younger woman, took a sip from a glass of white wine. Her baby sat on a thick blanket on the ground near her feet. Splayed around the baby: a rubber giraffe, a chunky orange cardboard book, a stuffed penguin, hard plastic shapes on a plastic ring. The baby picked up the giraffe and stuck it into her mouth, causing the toy to emit a series of airy squeaks. The crow watched intently.

Issue #88 soundtrack: Mt. Royal "Mockingbird"

Claire Benton, Maggie's mother-in-law, pulled up a third chair, untied her sneakers, and rested her feet on top of it with a sigh. Her grey hair was pulled back into a single braid down her back.

“Talk about shopping 'til you drop!” she said, taking a sip of her iced tea. The last few times she'd visited Bruce and Maggie, she had been eager to leave their sleepy Brooklyn neighborhood for Manhattan sightseeing. The caffeinated jitter of the city was everything Arcata, her foggy little Northern California town, wasn’t. This trip, however, she seemed especially tired.

“I'm just glad it's over,” Maggie said, “the fluorescent lights in that store made me nauseous.” She leaned back in the chair, closed her eyes, and put two fingers on each of her temples.

A light breeze started up and Claire broke into a sneezing attack.

“Allergies?” Maggie said, her eyes still closed.

“It must be the dirty air here. I never get them in California.”

“Let me know if you need anything for them. Bruce has an arsenal of allergy medication.”

* * * * *

That morning, Maggie's husband Bruce had insisted that she spend some time with his mother out of the house. It was a Saturday, and he had to run to the office for some emergency, a regular occurrence on weekends.

“It will be good for you, honey,” he said to Maggie, as he shoved his laptop into an over-stuffed messenger bag. Looking in the mirror, he ran a tiny comb through his brown moustache. Maggie stared at it vindictively. He hadn’t started wearing a moustache until they were married. It made him seem smug and slightly effeminate, Maggie thought, and reminded her of the snobby bookstore clerk at the shop down the street who had made a face when she had timidly asked him to recommend a book that wasn’t too demanding.

“I just don't feel comfortable leaving the baby alone with Perla all morning. Can’t you take her with you?” They spoke in low tones, trying not to attract the attention of Claire, who was in the living room getting dressed.

“The woman has four kids. She knows what she's doing,” he rubbed her shoulder. Maggie shrugged him off. Bruce had forgotten to book a hotel room for his mother, and the small apartment felt even smaller.

“So you're meeting us here at 5:30?”

“Yep,” he said, taking a final glance at his reflection. He kissed her on the cheek. His moustache tickled. “I love you,” he said, before sailing out the door.

* * * * *

The baby let out an ecstatic gurgle at the squeak the rubber giraffe emitted when she squeezed it. Maggie's eyes shot open.

“What a happy little girl!” cooed Claire, sniffling. “She looks just like Bruce when he was a baby. Except for those monkey ears.” She reached down and pinched the baby's ear. The baby gurgled and stared up at her, giraffe head in her mouth, transfixed. Claire switched to a baby voice: “'Don't make fun of my silly ears, Gramma!”

A loud snap startled Maggie as one of the branches from the Sycamore tree fell into the herb garden. The baby started bawling.

“Holy crap!” said Claire, “what on earth...”

Maggie bolted out of her seat but quickly sat back down, her hands digging into the chair’s rusty arms. “I’ve been bugging Bruce about getting that taken care of,” she said.

Claire walked over to pick up the sobbing baby.

“Don't!” snapped Maggie.

“What?” said Claire, bewildered.

“Not allowed 'til she's nine months.”

Claire froze and stared at her, her lips parted.

“It's this thing we're trying. You know that woman who wrote that piece for the New Yorker? The one with the baby mice?”

“No,” she said, sitting down shakily.

“Naturally. Well, apparently, baby mice who receive limited affection from their mothers for the first few weeks of their lives can complete mazes faster and perform simple tasks that mice who received constant affection can't.” She unclasped her hands from the arms of the chair and began tapping on the tabletop with her fingernail and exhaling deeply through her nose. The baby continued to wail.

“What are you doing now?” asked Claire, “some sort of voodoo telepathy?”

“Breathing,” Maggie said between breaths, doing her best to ignore Claire’s jab. “Infants can sense when you’re anxious.” She drew another breath. “They are actually highly intuitive when they’re this young.” She exhaled. “Dr. Archer says that when you ease tension in your own body,” she inhaled, “the baby’s tension eases too.” She let her eyelids slide shut as Claire stared at her, horrified.
Eventually, the cries began to die down.

“See?” Maggie opened her eyes.

“That just doesn't seem right, I mean...”

“Well, it worked.”

“You guys just let her cry? In the middle of the night?”

“We both have noise canceling headphones.”

“That just doesn't seem right.” Claire scratched at her ankle, gazing at her granddaughter.

Maggie snatched up her phone from the table and poked at it. “I knew it. I knew we should have just met Bruce at the restaurant.”

“He should be here by now, shouldn't he?” Asked Claire.

“He was supposed to pick us up an hour ago. No kids are allowed in the restaurant after 6pm, and it's 6:30.”

A horn blared in the distance.

“Well, that's silly. I don't think I've ever heard of anything like that. They love kids in all the restaurants back home. They even have high chairs, crayons, the works. Did you try his cellphone?”

“He just texted to tell me that he's running late.”

“We could always eat here. I'll make something.”

“You don’t need to do that, really. We’ve been eating heavily as it is these past couple of days. Why can't he just show up when he says he will for once?” She took two long sips of wine.

Bruce worked as a senior producer for Vortex, a production company that created commercials for high-profile corporate clients. It was a job that required many late nights and weekends. Maggie knew that when Bruce said that he was working late, he was indeed working late, but she couldn't help but wonder if it was a voluntary decision on his part. Maybe he was avoiding coming home. The thought made her shiver a little.

There had been a time when the two of them both worked late—Maggie surrounded by fabric swatches at her boutique interior decorating firm in DUMBO, ordering dinner in at her desk, flipping through her Pantone chips. There was a different feeling for each color, and she was an expert at building rooms that conveyed these complex formulas of emotion. Had been an expert. But now it was all baby all the time. She was not an Interior Decorator, she was a Mother. One of the ones who had given up.

Claire yawned. “He'll be here. You know how his job gets sometimes.”

It was then that Maggie noticed the gray half-circles under her mother-in-law's eyes. “Oh, Claire, why did you sleep on that leaky old air mattress. I told you we could have taken it and given you the bed.”

“No, the mattress was fine. Someone was blasting rap music on the street all night, it seemed like. I didn't get to sleep until pretty late.”

“Those would be our neighbors,” Maggie rolled her eyes.

“It's terrible. The baby I can sleep through, but that street noise is too much.”

“Tonight I'll give you some earplugs.”

The baby squeaked her toy.

Maggie pursed her lips. “That fucking giraffe,” she muttered, gulping the last of her wine.

Claire let out a little gasp at the profanity and walked back over to the baby. She crouched over the blanket and pulled a beanbag bear from her purse.

“Who wants Mr. Bear?” she said in a sing-songy voice, making the floppy animal dance.

The baby stared at Claire, mesmerized by the toy. Cautiously, Claire placed the bear on the baby's belly with one hand and swiftly grabbed the giraffe from the mat in the other. The trick seemed to have worked, until Claire lost her grip on the giraffe and it dropped, releasing a tell-tale squeak. A pause of realization, and the child broke out in sobs.

“Not again.” said Maggie.

“Maybe it's nap time?” said Claire.

“No, no. Perla gave her one earlier. Let the little beast cry. She'll get over it soon enough.”

* * * * *

The red-faced, wailing infant below caught the crow’s attention. She eyed the bowl of almonds. The branch on the ground. The younger woman, with her glistening black hair, her flashes of white teeth. The older woman, with her braid, hovering over the pink child. Gnats buzzed around the crow. Ants crawled between her talons. She could smell the termites through the bark. The crow began to sing to the baby, in her own crow way. She sang what she'd sung to her own children to calm them.

The baby continued to cry, letting out a series of strangled yelps. Maggie began to deep breathe again.

“How do you do it? How do you not pick her up? I don't get it,” said Claire, wincing.

“Will power.” Each cry seemed to slice through the middle of Maggie's face, bringing back memories of months ago—that dreadful colic—when she had almost grown used to the crying. One night she slept through it entirely. She remembered Bruce standing above her, holding the baby, his face stone, with that stupid moustache, “You didn't wake up,” he said, “so I got her.” Maggie had thought it was a dream upon waking in the morning, until Bruce said, “I really think you should take her into the doctor.” It wasn't until then that she realized the baby was still crying.

She began to deep breathe again.

“Maggie,” said Claire, “please.”

“Oh, pick her up then. Maggie adjusted her ponytail and poured herself another glass of wine. She wasn’t sure if she was lightheaded from the wine or from her deep breathing. She watched as Claire picked up the baby and began patting her on the back and cooing to her. The crying subsided. Maggie noticed the baby was paying no attention to Claire but to something in the tree above them. “There we go...” whispered Claire, and gently set the baby back down on the mat. The baby's gaze remained fixed on the tree.

Dr. Francine Archer’s Hands Off! Practice was the most recent parenting fad she and Bruce had adopted. That was what it was, she was sure, a fad, but what if it wasn’t? Sam and Rosa had used it on their daughter Juniper, who had gotten into one of the neighborhood’s most competitive preschools. Her head spun from all the advice that was out there—centuries of it. Why should something as ancient as motherhood come with so many restrictions? After chatting with some of the moms and dads in the park, though, she realized that here in the city, child-rearing practiced by those in her demographic was akin to raising a prize racehorse. There were rules for getting it right. The neighborhood parents swore by Dr. Archer's practice, so Maggie did too.

“Doesn't it get to be too much, Maggie, looking after her all by yourself, with Bruce gone?” asked Claire.

“You raised Bruce without a father.”

“Well, yes, but it's different where I'm from. There were moms around to watch him while I was at work. He had neighborhood boys and girls to play with. And there was plenty of room for them to run around and be kids. I just don't know how you do it out here—the strollers on the subway steps, the crazy bums, just the stress of the city—it's enough to make anyone lose it.”

“You get used to it.” Maggie was trying to follow the gaze of her daughter. What was in the tree?

“But you shouldn't have to!” Claire sat straight up in her chair, making it squeak as she gesticulated, “redwoods, big backyards with trampolines, fields of yellow grass in the fog, the Pacific Ocean! Maggie, it's paradise out there. And best of all, I would be there to help watch the baby. You could probably even go back to work. I know you miss it—I'm sure folks out there would love an interior decorator from New York to arrange their houses...” she trailed off, perhaps, Maggie thought, realizing the fantastic nature of the proposition.

“Claire, come on. Has anyone in Arcata ever hired an interior decorator?”

Claire frowned. “Well,” she said, “maybe you're right. But have you two talked more about it? About coming West, permanently?”

“Yes, Claire. And we can't. Not with Bruce's job.”

“It's just I'm getting older, you know, and travel will be hard, and soon the baby is going to be an extra ticket.”

“We've been over this before. It's just not going to happen.” Then, noticing Claire's pained expression, she added, “not right away, at least.”

Claire shoved a handful of almonds in her mouth. She began chewing vigorously, gulping her iced tea to help wash them down. The baby was sucking on her teething ring, staring into the tree.

“You can't hoard my grandchild,” she said, between bites, bits of chewed up almond falling from her lips onto her quivering chin.

“Oh, for crying out loud,” Maggie plucked her phone from the table and began tapping the screen, “don't be such a drama queen.”

Claire stood up, pushing her chair back with a screech. A crow called.

“Caw. Caw.” said the baby. Claire sat back down.

The crow let out another caw. Both women looked up and saw it perched on the branch of the tree above them.

“I hate crows, don't you?” said Claire.

“I always liked them,” said Maggie, “they seem smarter than the rest of the birds.”

“Just the other day I saw one picking at something,” said Claire, “and when I went to look closer I realized it was a dead pigeon. How gross is that?”

“We all get hungry,” said Maggie.

“Caw,” said the baby, imitating the hoarse rasp of the crow's call.

“You're right, it's a crow,” said Claire, “a very big crow.”

The bird cawed back.

“They're talking to each other,” said Claire. The crow cocked her head, taking stock of the scene below.

“Caw caw caw.” said the baby, again, as the bird swooped down from the branch and onto the fence, giving the women a chance to admire her shiny, intelligent eyes, her sleek black feathers. She cawed again and began hopping back and forth. Soon the chatter between baby and crow grew so loud that the two women sat in awe staring at the baby, then at the bird.

“I've got to get a video,” said Maggie, over the din, “this is just too good.”

“Maybe we should take her inside,” said Claire, “what if the bird...tries something?”

Maggie laughed, fussing with her phone. “Oh, nonsense!”

She stood up and crept backward to get both baby and crow into the frame, gesturing for Claire to be quiet, as the great bird let out a final caw, pushed off of the fence, dove into the yard, talons extended, and in one smooth arc plucked the baby up by its fleece jumper and was back in the air. She paid no attention to the fading screams below as she flew over the blossoming Brooklyn greenery, toward home.

Lena Valencia is the managing editor of A Public Space and co-host of the HiFi Reading series in New York City. She holds an MFA in Fiction from The New School. This is her first published piece of fiction. Follow her on Twitter as @lenavee.

Giulia Palombino is a freelance illustrator and animator based in Berlin. She graduated with a BA in Visual and Performing Arts from IUAV University of Architecture in Venice, Italy, then completed an MA in Communication Design, specialising in illustration, at Central Saint Martins, University of London. Her drawings, animations and collages are generally delicate and full of open space. For more, visit the artist online at

Mt. Royal (h/t is a Baltimore-based band founded November 2012. The band is comprised of Katrina Ford (vocals), Ed Harris (bass), Matt Pierce, (keys), Woody Ranere (guitar) and Mike Lowry (drums). Katrina is best-known as the vocalist of Celebration, leading lights of Baltimore’s music scene. For more, visit Mt. Royal on Facebook, Bandcamp, and Tumblr.