Storychord's 2015 Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominations

Posted: Monday, December 7, 2015 | |

In these last three weeks of 2015, takes a break from posting new issues to take stock of this past year's offerings and prepare exciting new ones for the site's SIXTH(!) year of publication.

(Please note, if you've considered sending your short fiction, visual art, or songs for consideration, this month's formal reading period is a prime opportunity to do so. Click here for submission guidelines.)

Today Storychord is very pleased to announce that the following four short fiction pieces have been nominated for 2015 awards consideration:

"The Rental Heart" by Kirsty Logan (Issue #99)
Pushcart Prize & Best of the Net nominee

"Eddie's Dead Dog" by Stephen Langlois (Issue #100)
Pushcart Prize & Best of the Net nominee

“Cleo” by Joe Okonkwo
(Issue #104)
Pushcart Prize nominee

“The Cut” by Sara Levine
(Issue #108)
Pushcart Prize nominee

Congratulations to these super-talented authors, and many thanks to them for allowing to host their beautifully-crafted work.

Lots more good stuff is ahead for 2016. Subscribe via RSS or e-mail so you don't miss a thing!

In the meantime, wishing you happy holidays and a bright start to the new year,

--Sarah Lynn Knowles
Editor/Founder of Storychord

ISSUE #111: Sara Lippmann, Judith Linhares, Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings

Posted: Monday, November 23, 2015 | | Labels:

Issue #111 Guest Editor Alice Kaltman is a fiction writer whose work previously appeared in Issue #92. She writes novels for kids and short fiction for adults. For more, visit Alice online at and follow her on Twitter.

Painting by Judith Linhares

by Sara Lippmann

The mikveh murder was another thing we did not understand. We didn’t even know if it was a murder – it could have been a drowning, an accident, an ill-timed aneurysm, an averse reaction to a freak eel bite – all we knew was a religious woman, one of those turbaned, dark-skirted ladies from the next town over had died in the lake, our lake, while performing her monthly ritual bath.

Issue #111 soundtrack: Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings "Elizabeth"

We knew this because Pete Topper came at us like he was being hunted, or chased. His brother Marc had found the body. Marc ran the Bait & Tackle down the road. Hours before the cops came, before they cordoned off our pristine swimming area in official yellow tape, shutting down any last hope for summer fun, Pete tore through the brush and slalom of white birch and down the hill – his face flushed, his teeth lunging for California, mud splatter on his knees. At 11, he was a wild, gangly thing. We were sprawled out on the floating dock as always. Occasionally, I’d read a book. Amy had zero interests. She was 17 to my 15 so 95% of the time I followed her, loading up a bag each morning with lemons, spray bottle, a six-pack of diet soda and pretzels: salted, extra dark. If we had batteries, we’d lug a cassette player, a handful of tapes. We wore towels like tube dresses down to the lake, the effect more Tampax than Grecian.

Amy swatted the air. Pete was blocking her sun and panting.

“His breath stinks,” she said, and flipped over, as if he weren’t standing right there. Amy had been in a mood all summer. This with our first vacation with Diane, our father’s new wife – the first time back at the lake in three years, the one place our mother had loved – and no one felt like being nice. Instead of talking we tanned. Amy’s skin deepened to a rich caramel whereas I burned, not that it deterred me; rather, we relished the char, waiting for it to bubble and flake in a thin white crust around the blistery edges. “Peel me,” I’d say, and Amy would twist up my hair in a clip and link behind me like a chain. This was the extent of my sister’s affection: stripping the skin on my back in flat, dead sheets.

When Amy heard Marc’s name, she shot up. Marc Topper was an ambassador of all forbidden things. Either 23 or 32, he had strong arms and angry brows and high, sharp bones, shit kickers, and cut-up dungarees. If he ever made eye contact he looked like he might strangle you or devour you whole, just like in the movies. The only glint of a smile from Amy I’d seen all month was when our father found the tangled poles in the shed and proposed trout fishing. Diane stayed home with her saltines. The smell, she said, the sway of the current, but we did not understand. Our mother would have been the first out the door. While our dad readied the dock, Amy and I went over to the Bait & Tackle for live bait. The shop was damp and ill lit and reeked of fish guts but Amy plopped her tin can on the counter, bit her bottom lip so it puffed more than usual and told Marc Topper, “Fill me up.”

Now, to Pete, she said, “No fucking way.”

“Waaaaay,” Pete said, satisfied.

I told him to slow down, back up, start over, but he was sweating, dirt streaking his freckles, he couldn’t get the words out fast enough. A naked woman. Face down. Hair splayed. Pale as the underside of a smallmouth bass. Her body hadn’t been in the water for too long, maybe overnight. There were no identifying markers. No cuts, birthmarks. No signs of rot or foul play. Unadorned as the day she was born. He said it all with a shiver, his eyes alive with the story.

“Where is he?” Amy hooked the straps of her bikini top.

Pete said Marc probably was where he always was: in the garage or at the shop or down at the station, how the heck did he know. He stuck out his chin.

“I’m not my brother’s keeper.”

Amy opened her mouth but caught herself and reeled back into her pout. So I left it, too. I didn’t ask what Marc was doing in the lake or at what time he found her. Marc was an angler. When he wasn’t fishing, he pulled live bait, night crawlers and minnows, from the muck to hock at the shack. Day, night. That’s what he did, what his own father had done, what Pete likely would do. It was their family business.

A pair of geese skidded across the lake in a ripple of less-than signs. The wind broke through our flesh. It was almost September.

But the ritual aspect, that made no sense. How did they know? I’d never even heard the word mikveh. Who the hell goes out in a lake, naked, alone, in the name of God?

Pete shrugged. He was just repeating what Marc had said, assumed we’d know all about it being as she was our people. But Amy and I were Jewish in the manner of patent leather pumps and pleated fall skirts once a new year. That was it for belonging. We hadn’t any exposure to faith. With our mother gone, there was little to believe in beyond our own self-pity. The truth was, we still saw our mom a few times a year. She didn’t give us up as much as she did the bullshit of laundry and regular roast night, trading the strip mall for wheat germ and yoga in her adobe home filled with aroused body parts she’d carved with her own hand. She was the sculpture artist-in-residence at some institute in Santa Fe. Mental institute, Dad said because it was still hard to believe anyone could pass on what he had to offer. That May, he married Diane. She padded around the house in aerobics tights and braided headbands and had no problem with his shirts and socks. She hired someone else to do it. Soon, she’d hire a nanny.

“Let’s ask Lech,” I said. Ira Lechbaum was our neighbor slash landlord slash godfather. Technically, he owned our house, he owned a gazillion acres all around Scout Lake, but we’d been renting from him for so long, cluttering the place up with our albums and board games we’d just as well laid claim to it. That summer he’d lent it to our dad for free, not that we knew it. Lech lived in a shitty bungalow he’d had hauled by flatbed from Max Mendel’s Mountain Village before it shut down, planted his dinky Catskills memento deep in the woods about ten minutes from us. It smelled like boiled cabbage, was maybe 500 square feet. I could count on one hand the number of times I’d been there.

Amy did not argue. She threw on a Pink Floyd T-shirt she’d hacked at the neck. It slid off her brown shoulders. Pete Topper bumbled behind us.

Lech was on his porch.

“My, if it isn’t the Wiener girls.” He rose from his Adirondack chair in a flannel and khakis, the versatile survivalist kind you can unzip and turn into shorts or a rope, blow up into a flotation device, but everything was twisted, stuck to him, wet. Beside him, the switch and slow whine of Neil Young on the player – there is a town on North Ontario – the abrupt scratch of a needle signaling an end. Lech sucked his teeth as if all this time he’d been waiting.

“To what do I owe the honor?” His voice carried the coarse lilt of an uncle we’d all forgotten. Over six feet, squat thumbs and hairy knuckles, Lech possessed a beastly quality – both lovable and imposing. I simultaneously felt sad for him and feared him and somehow wanted to protect him, from what or whom I had no clue. Then Lech saw Pete.

“What’s with the toothpick?” He waved him off. “Dream on, Slim. These princesses are out of your league.”

The word “princess” made me cringe almost as much as our last name, whose cruelty persisted regardless of the pronunciation. Amy vowed she would change it when she turned 18. She had a new one picked out, already, without any irony: Gold. Her monogram would be AGE, which she planned to tattoo on her hipbone – if only to aggravate our father. Pete reddened and retreated, but Amy yanked him and dug her nails into him. In awkward sync they climbed the stairs of Lech’s cabin, a poorly hammered patchwork of lumberyard scraps.

“What can I do you for? Pilot light out again?”

He struck a match and blew. There was a staged aspect to him, although Lech meant well. His parents had also come from an unspeakable place, so he and my father shared a silent history even before they’d met in swim class at City College where, like so many, they’d first learned to float. After graduation, Lech made the big time. He bought and sold the schlocky company his father worked for to some middle-of-the-road sportswear designer, similar to but not Tommy Hilfiger. While our father flopped around, Lech relocated his folks to Florida, married a beauty queen, enrolled a couple of kids in private school, and then precipitously pissed it all away without more explanation than he had but one life, one lousy shot to squeeze meaning from this cold world which led him out of Manhattan and up to Sullivan County where he’d been living like a hermit for I don’t know how many years.

He hadn’t always been a loner. There was the time we all camped under the stars, my mother’s laughter, the smooth gray edges of skipping stones, but few others. His children were ten years older, an eon when you’re young. We’d stopped asking about them. Before she left, our mother would feed Lech, carry over pots or have him up for soup and beans and homemade bread. Those days were over. Dad said he no longer understood him.

Like everyone else, he was a stranger to Diane.

To us, Lech was as inextricable from the landscape as the lake and dock. We never gave a thought to what he did all day. But the guy knew from Jews. Whenever Dad was unsure, shoes or stocking feet, boxes or straight-backed chairs, floral arrangements or stones, if we could postpone Grandma Pearl’s shiva until after his precious vacation, he consulted Lech. The man was a Yeshiva Yoda.

“I wasn’t expecting company,” he said, dusting his thighs in a funny bow. The bunk sank to one side like 1959. He disappeared through the screen. We chipped at the railing’s green paint, exposing pulpy gray wood. He brought out a funky brew in mason jars, a sleeve of cookies. Kombucha, he called it, like a magic word. We did not eat or drink.

Asked about the mikveh, Lech made a sour face. He tightened his ponytail. He studied the three of us for a few minutes without speaking. He stroked his beard, grown not for fashion but from disregard. If he was basking in it, his eyes trailing shamelessly over Amy’s body, that was OK. She loved attention. I doubted he had many visitors. How lonely he must have been. Even if this was the path he’d chosen, it’s impossible to know from the start of things how anything will pan out.

“Why the sudden interest in tradition?”

“No interest.” Amy held his gaze.

He slurped his glass and told us about niddah. A wretched practice, he said, swallowing, to treat women like lepers, to banish them from the bedroom, when in reality they were God’s gift. The mikveh, he said, was an attempt to make things right again for the gentler sex, to redeem a wife’s purity after a spell of impurity.

“The gentler sex?”

“Like baptism,” he went on, ignoring Amy. “Dunk after bleeding. After the plunge she’s deemed clean. Ready to engage in – ” He paused, searching the threaded clouds. A hawk soared overhead. Lech sucked his teeth. “Marital play.”

I laughed.

“How am I funny?”

“You’re not.” Amy nudged Pete’s arm. Pete stumbled forward and told Lech the rest.

“Jesus Christ.” Lech’s expression changed. Color drained from his lips, which moved like worms, barely audible. Baruch Dayan Ha-Emet. He rocked on his feet in prayer, clutched his chest as if it’d been punctured, as if he was trying to hold himself together at the site of injury. And yet, Lech said. How very strange. Curious. Downright peculiar – albeit not forbidden – for a woman like that to use a lake and not the designated bathhouses of her community, some of which could be quite spiffy, like a spa. Any flowing body of water is acceptable, he said. In theory. Lech paced the porch. He scratched his nose. So what. So maybe the mikveh was out of order. But there were bodies of water throughout Sullivan County. Why leave the shtetl? He spun a finger. What was wrong with her lake? It didn’t add up. What kind of woman would have schlepped all the way out here?

“And another thing,” Lech said, “If I’m not mistaken. A woman needs someone to watch over her during the immersion, to make sure the ritual is kosher.”

The bottom line - she should not have been alone.

Days later, her name was released in the paper. Chani Roth – it meant nothing to us. We were packing up. Even though the lake had been dredged and reopened you couldn’t pay us to go back in. The weather had turned. Inside the house there were horseflies everywhere, black and slow as licorice beans. Dad and Diane were fighting. Amy and I sat on the couch. We stared at Chani’s face in newsprint. We’d never seen her, and even if we had driven past her at the Glatt Mart in Monroe, or along Route 17 on a Saturday afternoon, where throngs of bearded, hatted families gave us the evil eye as we offended their Sabbath strolls down the middle of the street, it would not have registered. Her head covering snapped to her skull like a shell, it was difficult to imagine what she might have looked like under other circumstances. In a different world. Her features seemed delicate and untouched, her eyes raised slightly as if in question. The image was grainy. She was the mother of four girls, the obituary reported. She was not yet 30.

Before we left, we stopped by the Bait & Tackle. It was raining and raw, the kind of cold that felt worse than it was. I wasn’t dressed for it. Amy’s sweatshirt drowned out her shorts, making her look naked underneath. We stood on an orange stack of milk crates and spied through the back window. Locals loitered with coffee cups, suspenders and waders. Marc Topper parceled out bait. Through the dusty pane we watched him count his lures and feathers and arrange them in little boxes, his eyes, large and stormy, silent as always. The radio was playing Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail? Maybe he was stoned. That summer heroin had arrived in the county, and the paper was all over the story. Maybe he was just bored. Who could blame him? I was antsy. I wanted to go in or go for good. I tapped Amy on the shoulder but she wouldn’t budge. She was practically weeping. She could cry like that – from anything. From nothing. “Last chance,” I said. I kicked the base. Amy lost her balance. She whipped around to slug me but there was skinny Pete crouched innocently over a puddle of baby frogs. Could we believe it? He said. He opened his fist. Only last week the suckers had tails.

Sara Lippmann's debut collection, Doll Palace (Dock Street Press) was long-listed for the 2015 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award. She was the recipient of an artist's fellowship in fiction from the New York Foundation for the Arts, and her stories have appeared in Carve, Slice Magazine, Tupelo Quarterly, Joyland, Fiction Southeast and elsewhere. For more, visit

Judith Linhares’s paintings have been the subject of 40 one-person exhibitions. Marcia Tuckers’s inclusion of her paintings in the Landmark Bad Painting and Venice Biennale encouraged this fourth-generation Californian to ride the New Figuration wave to New York City. She has received three National Endowment Awards, a Guggenheim fellowship, a Polllock-Krasner, Anonymous Was A Woman, and a Joan Mitchell award. She also was honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. For more, visit

Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings is a band built around Davis' love of traditional American music, the collective eclectic backgrounds of band members Sam Petitti (guitar), Dag Markhus (drums), and Dan Stein (bass). Based in New York City, Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings released their first full length album I Wasn't Planning On the End in September 2015 on Lindisfarne Records. For more, please visit them on Bandcamp, Facebook, Soundcloud.

ISSUE #110: Jillian Eugenios, Eliza Plumlee, Party Nails

Posted: Monday, November 9, 2015 | | Labels:

Issue #110 Guest Editor Chloe Caldwell is the author of the novella Women (SF/LD 2014) and the essay collection Legs Get Led Astray (Future Tense Books 2012). Her work has appeared in Salon, VICE, Nylon, The Sun, Men's Health, The Rumpus and a handful of anthologies. Her next essay collection, I'll Tell You In Person, will be released by Coffee House/Emily Books in November 2016. For more, visit

Art by Eliza Plumlee

by Jillian Eugenios

She’s a model. You have never met a model before, let alone dated one.

You meet at a party. It’s the closing of a play. It was your job to do the light projections.

Issue #110 soundtrack: Party Nails "No Pressure"

The play is about a woman who gets lost everywhere she goes because she suffers from a neurological disorder that affects her memory of space and time. The woman has to draw maps so that she knows how to get to work, the grocery store, the doctor. She wanders the stage the entire show, trying to get home, because that’s the map she’s lost.

To get home she follows the other maps, and asks if anyone knows her address. She has friends and family, but she is embarrassed to call them and ask for help. She resolves to find her way on her own, as if she is on a treasure hunt.

“Do you know where I live?” she asks the man where she gets her shoes soled.

He does not. She shows him her maps. They are in a large binder. She opens it for him like she is trying to sell him something. Every time she opens her binder, a ray of light shoots out, as if it has a spotlight inside it. You made that happen.

“I want it to look like every time she opens her binder, God is coming out of it,” Claire, the director of the play, who is also the writer, said to you.

The man at the shoe repair shop suggests to the woman that she go ask at the grocery store, because people usually go to the one closest to their house, and maybe the staff there will recognize her. He adds that the map she has isn’t a very good one, and draws her a new map on the back of a receipt.

She thanks him and adds it to her binder.

The projections light up the walls around the stage and turn into different scenes as the woman moves through the play. At first everything looks normal -- just your regular shops, bus stops and crowds -- but as the play continues the projections become more abstract, and darker.

“Scare the audience,” Claire told you. You study the faces in the audience every night, trying to determine if they are scared. Some of them seem interested, but not necessarily afraid. Night after night, you wonder if you’ve failed.

“Just ask someone how they feel,” says your roommate, Shaw. She is a flight attendant, and is comfortable asking strangers questions.

“No, I can’t do that,” you say.

Nobody reviewed the play, so you don’t know if it’s any good, or if a critic would like your trick with the binder.

You don’t know many people at the party so you go and sit alone in the dressing room behind the stage. There are some bottles of wine, and you hold them to the light. All empty. The only thing left is some red wine in a coffee mug.

You sit at the mirror, with its classic light bulbs on the sides, and look at yourself. Your roots are coming in, silver against brown. Your mother, who blames your dad’s side for the gray, has recently sent you prenatal vitamins because she thinks your hair is also thinning and she read prenatal vitamins help. You don’t take them, but they are in your medicine cabinet, and every time you open it a happy woman cradling a baby is smiling at you.

“I hate that woman,” Shaw said when she saw it. You do too, but neither of you throw the box out.

The first time you see the model it is her reflection in the mirror. She has blonde hair, no gray. She looks at you, and you feel a warm eruption in your chest. It catches you off guard because you’ve never felt like that around another woman. It just hits you, and, suddenly, there it is, lodged in your heart.

“Booze gone?” she asks. You whirl around. She is tall. You hope she didn’t catch you examining your roots. She’s so tall she takes up all of the space in front of you, and the light from the stage is behind her, through the door, and you catch the shadows jumping from her shoulders. She is wearing all black, and something that looks like a cape, but you aren’t sure if it is.

You want to give her something.

“You can have some of my wine,” you say. You hold the mug out to her. She takes it, gives it a sip. You hope there isn’t something gross in there.

“What are you doing back here?” she asks.

She cradles the mug in both hands, like it’s a hot cup of coffee. You imagine her on the porch of a cabin in the woods, in a cable knit sweater, her hair a mess.

“Hiding,” you say. You hope this sounds mysterious. But she doesn’t ask what -- or who -- you’re hiding from.

“What do you do?” She gestures around the dressing room. “Actress?”

You’re reminded of your friend, who hates it when people ask, “What do you do?” Instead, he asks, “What are you passionate about?” This friend has also stopped wearing underwear and socks, because he says he wants less between himself and the world.

“I’m a visual artist,” you say. This is a new line you’re trying out. Before you would say “projector artist” or “I do lights,” but your friend Millie, an actual actress, said visual artist sounds better.

“More marketable,” she said.

Millie made you a greeting card when you moved to New York eight years ago. She wrote, “Let’s make lots of money and sleep with beautiful people.” Neither of these things have happened to you. Millie has done better. She has a boyfriend who has been in national commercials.

“What do you do?” you ask. What are you passionate about?

“I’m a model,” she says. No one has ever said this to you before.

You don’t know anything about fashion and you don’t know what your next question should be. Your pants are secondhand and cost $12. Aware of this, you cross your legs, and wish you had worn the black dress you had on first, that cost $100. That dress is so tight you have to wear special underwear with it. You wonder if the model is famous, and you suddenly can’t remember what one model looks like, except for the German one.

“Are you German?” you ask. She laughs.

“No,” she says, and looks at you.

You look down. Why did you ask that?

Claire saves you. There she is, peering into the dressing room from the stage. “Conrad,” she says, “beer run.” Claire insists on calling you by your full name, instead of what everyone else calls you, which is Connie. You hate that the model heard your full name.

Later, you’re in the theater seats with the beer, the model, the actress from the play and Claire. Most of the party has moved on, but you stayed, hoping the model would look at you some more.

Claire has a new play she’s working on. Everyone looks at Claire when she talks. She is very pretty. Her pants definitely cost more than $12, or even $100.

“It’s about a woman who is the opposite of a hoarder,” she says. “She throws everything away. She would rather buy a thing and use it once, throw it away and then buy it again than have it in her house.”

Claire loves people with disorders. It does not seem to bother her that no one who matters cared about her lost woman show.

In Claire’s new play, the character is constantly buying and throwing away essentials -- toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant. Her house is spartan, because everything has ended up in the trash, so she starts going to her friend’s houses and slowly taking their things and throwing them away. Sometimes she sells the items to support her habit, which gets expensive.

“The character likes really nice shampoo,” Claire says, laughing. “She’s like a drug addict kind of. It’s like the behavior of a drug addict, but an addiction to throwing out stuff.”

Claire says it’s a real disorder. “I looked it up.” The model says she thinks she’s heard of it. As she listened to Claire, she was stroking the actress’ arm. You aren’t sure if they are a couple.

The actress, Georgia, is from the South. You wonder if she knows that her name means farmer. You know this because your mother is an onomatologist, a person who studies names. More often than not, you can tell someone what their name means without having to look it up.

Your name means strength. It’s also a last name, and a boys’ name. Your mother says she did this to challenge you.

“I wasn’t about to name you something easy, like Jennifer or Sarah,” she has said to you, many times. “We’re fighters in our family.”

Your mother was born Lucille but she renamed herself Elsbeth when she was old enough to change it. People constantly think her name is Elizabeth and that they just haven’t heard it right.

Georgia looks nothing like a farmer, or even someone familiar with dirt and sweat. You also just realized she hasn’t said anything about your lights, but you have complimented her acting, even though you don’t think she’s very good. Millie is much better.

Claire doesn’t mention if she’s going to need light projections for this new play.

You hear Millie’s voice in your head. She would say you should send over lighting ideas the very next day, to show you are motivated. Claire pays -- and pays well, there’s family money -- so you definitely should. But you can’t think of one idea for the lighting.

You do think of the bags and bags of clothes in your closet that you’ve been meaning to donate.

Once, you saw that show about hoarders. A man had a beautiful Victorian home in San Francisco and he filled it with garbage. On the show, there is an intervention, and then people in hazmat suits start taking everything out and putting it into dumpsters.

The hoarder guy seems to handle it okay, but then, a worker wheels out a wheelbarrow and inside is a cracked fish tank, big enough for several big fish or eels. The hoarder runs to the wheelbarrow and throws himself over the fish tank.

He cries, and tries to hold the tank to his chest, but he can’t fit his arms around the whole thing. If only he could keep his broken fish tank they can throw away everything else.

“Just please,” he says, “let me keep this one thing.”

He isn’t allowed to keep it. He wails as it crashes into the dumpster, breaking into pieces. There is a voice-over of the show’s therapist, who says hoarders need to know that they can’t keep anything.

In the next shot, the man is sitting under a tree, his face pale and vacant. You wish you knew him. You would send him a fish tank. Cracked, too, if that’s how he wanted it. You would find out how to crack it without destroying it, and you would give it to him.

You have a cigarette outside before leaving the party. The model comes out, alone. She sits next to you.

“Hi,” she says. She smiles. When you smile back, she looks down.

“I love you,” she says. Her eyes are fixed on the ground.

You look at her. It’s dark outside, but her blonde hair glows.

The last time someone said that to you it was your older sister, who is the only person in your family who says that. She started saying it after she had kids.

“I love you, I love you, I love you,” the model is saying. She is looking down as she says it, and then you realize. She is looking at your shoes.

One of your nieces, the one who is seven and hugs strangers, wrote “I love you,” several times over, on the side of your left shoe, in the white part of the rubber. You told her she could, because you’ve had these shoes forever, and who notices old black Converses, anyway? The model does.

“My niece wrote that,” you say.

“That’s cute,” she says. She is stroking your arm, but you feel it in other places. “Nobody has ever written that on my shoes.”

Then she is gone, running into a cab with the farmer.

Later, home alone, you think about the model’s face. You touch the place on your arm where her fingers were.

You turn off the lights and click on your projector, which faces the largest, whitest wall in the living room of your apartment. This is your wall. Shaw has one too, at the opposite end of the room, and it is covered in photos from her travels.

You queue up one of your favorite projections from the computer that’s attached to the projector. You call this one The Universe, and you made it years ago but use it often, especially at parties after everyone has smoked something.

The background is dark blue and there are white dots everywhere, in different sizes, like stars. It takes up the entire wall. This projection animates, and turns in a circle, so it is like looking into a whirlpool. You sit on your couch and watch it turn, imagining it would be like this to float in space, spinning and spinning in an infinite pool of darkness and light.

The next day there’s an email waiting. It’s from the model, whose name is Ponie. There’s no last name, just Ponie. That can’t possibly be her real name, you think. And it’s spelled wrong, anyway, if it is. Your mother would never approve.

My Little Ponie, you think, and imagine her surrounded by plastic horses with fuschia manes and tails.

She wants to take you on an adventure. There is a date and time. It is in two days.

You write back immediately. What kind of adventure? You can make that date and time.

In the hours that it takes her to write back, you paint trash can lids and try not to look at your email. You paint the lids red, with white stars along the inside. You plan to cut holes in the tops for light bulbs. It is a birthday gift for your other sister, the one who also has a boys’ name. It’s going to be a chandalier.

You’ve never thought about dating a girl before. It’s always been men, and that’s been fine. Shaw slept with a girl once. It was in Brazil, and she didn’t like it.

“I got her stuff all over my hands,” Shaw said. She was sitting in front of your projector, whiskey in hand, as you tested different lights.

“I’m too clean for that,” she said. “Girls are all messy down there. You know what I mean.”

You nodded, and thought of yourself, and wondered if the men you’ve slept with thought of you as messy down there. You switched the light on Shaw’s face from red to blue so she went from looking scary to looking like a cartoon character.

“The Brazilian girl had good boobs though,” she said. “I wish I had her boobs.”

You think about Ponie, and that she probably has good boobs. Model boobs. You don’t think you would mind the girl mess.

You imagine telling your parents about Ponie. Not coming out, because you aren’t gay, but telling them you are dating a girl. You decide they will be accepting. You hope your sisters will be shocked.

When Ponie writes back she says to meet her in Little Italy, which is not anywhere near where you live. You’ve only been to that part of the city once, when your parents came to visit, and you went on a historical walking tour. The only thing you remember is that the guide said there aren’t any Italians in Little Italy anymore.

Ponie sends exact coordinates. Mulberry Street and Grand Street, northwest corner. She ignores your question about what kind of adventure it will be. You hope that it will involve something with the Mob, because you love those Mob shows.

Ponie is looking forward to seeing you, she says. “I hope you will write something on my shoes,” she writes.

You respond and say you don’t think she is ready for that yet.

Flirting with girls is so easy. You tell this to Millie.

“How do know it’s even a date?” Millie asks. You have called her the day of the date, to discuss outfit choices.

“It’s a date,” you say. “She touched my arm.”

“Is that supposed to be some kind of girl-on-girl code? I touched the arms of at least three girls today.”

Millie didn’t like your last boyfriend, who always asked where you were, and who you were with and was usually offended when it wasn’t with him. He was jealous of Millie.

“I’m a lesbian now,” you tell Millie.

“You are not,” she says. You can tell she is smiling. “Wear that one dress.”

You hang up, and go to your closet. You move the $100 black dress out of it, and hook it over the drawers of your dresser. There are some little bleach stains on the skirt. You take out a black marker and touch it up. Perfect.

You are at the corner 15 minutes early. When you get nervous you stamp your feet, like a horse, and that’s what you are doing now. You’ve worn boots because Millie said heels were too much.

30 minutes later, you think about what will happen if Ponie doesn’t show. You check your email on your phone. Nothing. She just wouldn’t not show, would she? You realize she doesn’t have your number. Maybe you got the day wrong, or the time. You check the email again. You did not.

Your nerves have made you start to sweat, and when you wipe your forehead makeup comes off on your fingers. Your rub your hands together.

You walk half a block to a convenience store and take as long as possible to buy a bottle of water. The woman behind the counter is young, and has very short hair. You wonder if she is a lesbian. You want to tell her you think you’re getting stood up, and ask if that has ever happened to her. Is this what girls do? You want to know.

On the walk back to the corner, you think, okay, if she’s there you will pretend you are arriving 25 minutes late and be very apologetic. You got held up at work! These clients! Artists are never on time! You didn’t have her number so couldn’t let her know.

Nobody is on the corner. Not even anyone trying to cross the street. It’s just you.

You sip your water, tap your toes. Wait. You watch a family across the street argue about which way is north. They go south.

Once it has been nearly an hour past the meeting time you know she isn’t coming. You let this sink in. As it does, you start to feel exposed, as if everyone knows, and they can all see you, standing there in your dress, The Girl Who Has Been Stood Up.

You peer down at the skirt of your dress. You can see the spots where you touched it up with the marker. Everyone can probably tell. Who are you fooling?

Underneath your dress, you are wrapped in the special underwear, which is nude spandex. You’re squeezed, a mouse trapped by a coiling boa constrictor. You stick your arm out, and decide to spend all the money you’ve budgeted for this date (who pays when two girls go out?) on one cab ride back home.

You spend the entire ride with your eyes closed, and feel very small. You think about what you will write her, and then decide you won’t ever speak to her again. But, if she writes you, you might write back, depending what she says.

When you walk in the door, your peel everything off and throw yourself on the couch, naked. Shaw would hate that you are doing this but you don’t care. You don’t know what to do now.

The room is silent. You check your email. Even if she wrote now, almost two hours late, and said she could meet, you would meet her. But there is nothing in your inbox but ads. You wonder if this was all a joke she and the farmer were playing on you.

Stretching from the couch you click on the projector, and queue up a piece you rarely use. It’s an animated drawing of a man sitting on a bench. You drew him. He is old and wearing a hat.

It was a commission that was never used because the artist couldn’t pay. You kept it, hoping to sell it to someone who needs a man on a bench. There’s something strange about this man, though, so he’s hard to sell.

The artist wanted the man to move, as he said it, “like a plant underneath the surface of the ocean, moving with the waves. The idea is that he can’t ever sit still, and even when he sits, his body ripples.” You didn’t ask why or what it was supposed to mean. You never do.

You click from your computer and the man is suddenly on your wall, waiting. You sit in the dark and watch him ripple on his bench.

You think about Claire’s play, and think of Ponie, and wonder why you care so much that she doesn’t care at all.

I love you, I love you, I love you.

You eye your shoes, which are across the room.

At the end of Claire’s play, the woman who can’t find her way becomes one of the projections. She is a tiny figure walking along a bridge that ends abruptly on the edge of a cliff. When she comes to the end she stops and looks out.

And then, the man from the shoe repair shop is there on the stage, and stands beneath the projection. He holds the binder out to her. This time, there is no light of God coming from it. The woman jumps off the bridge, falling into her collection of maps.

Everything goes dark.

There is a pause, and then the audience applauds.

Jillian Eugenios is a journalist and writer. She lives in New York. For more, visit the author at and follow her on Twitter.

Eliza Plumlee is an artist, writer, aspiring muralist, fruit connoisseur, language enthusiast, and world traveler. She currently is lives nowhere, but has a storage space in Portland, Oregon, and few boxes in her parents Tucson, Arizona garage. For more, visit the artist online at

Party Nails is the pop incarnation of songwriter/performer Elana Belle Carroll. Veering off the dark electro path of her first NYC solo project Vernous, Party Nails takes the opposite path towards fun party times and lands sonically in a pop space somewhere between Haim, Charli XCX and Robyn. Visit Party Nails online at

ISSUE #109: Kayli Scholz, Christopher Brown, Killer Whale

Posted: Monday, October 26, 2015 | | Labels:

Art by Christopher Brown

by Kayli Scholz


“This is happening, Trish,” Brooke says. “Are you even listening?”

Not closely so much, no. My girlfriend, Brooke, home at dusk and pouring out the details of her emails she punched out to her dickhead office staff. “They're all bullies,” I say, but that isn't good enough. Sometimes what could you say?

Issue #109 soundtrack: Killer Whale "Why Can’t We Be"

I peel back the lace curtain in the kitchen of our bluegrass hammock-like trailer town, looking at the half-collapsed bleachers in the grass. The meadow has been blanched down to weeds for a long time, and lately there'd been a grazing. It wasn't a rabbit and it wasn't a deer. It wasn't a person. My nerves are wound up like a coiled spring, ready for recoil.

“I'm sick of this shit,” Brooke says. “The corporate drama circuit is a fucking gut punch.”

“Rough Friday.”

“Rough Friday? I really don't know what's wrong with you.” Brooke sniffs into the milk carton, deciding it isn't sour enough to throw out. “This isn't an after-school party squasher, Trish. This is my work.”

Yeah, well. Brooke was a new HR manager and gave everybody a self-important cold lip, but turned into an electrical storm when somebody looked at her funny in the grocery checkout. That's how some people were, all churned up all the time, a furious bullshitter. The drag of Brooke's cadence indicated a 'here we go again' when she thought a sensitive neurotic time of mine was near.

No, this time I'm not a fink. Here is my proof, and I'm looking at it through lace curtain. It isn't the antidepressant, not the mood stabilizer, not the new sleeping pill. I take my phone out and shoot a video of a skeletal body moving up the edges of the saplings above the husks, across the street and down the dipped brook.

“Just what are you doing?” Brooke says, as if the phone is the bother.

“I invited Scott and Mindy over. There's an extraterrestrial out there.”

“Jesus Christ,” Brooke hunches over the dishwasher, clinking glass.

I can still see the old version of swing and sandbox, the baseball diamond and the clearing stump of tall corn. I film The Thing, and it floats like a drift wind. There's a cutting sound that drags with this Thing, but it's nothing but a hum in the background of Murder, She Wrote on the TV, turned up all the way.

I don't get upset about things. Brooke would get up in arms over a waitress that didn't put her coke refill down gently, but she worried about me? I wanted her to be gentler. But I'm crazy looking out the window at an alien? What does it matter, nothing lasts forever.


I was a semi-fuckup but I had passion behind the fuckups. Trish would never screw me over, and fuck me, could I say the same for myself? That was the roll of the dice. Sometimes you had to stomp your foot and yell about the delivery clerk. Cussing about Phil in the mail room made coming home to Trish easier. She was sick upstairs – in her head, the worst place for the lights not to come on during a storm.

I think my problems help her with her problems. When she suffers, I suffer everywhere. I hurt my back lifting her spirits up. I spy on her to make sure she's keeping up with life, with her meds, with her shit. When I touch her, I feel the earth move under my feet, sang Carol King, and me too before the paranoia takes its spin. I double-check what we've got in the refrigerator, no caffeine. Caffeine kills. If she wants to smoke a doobie with me, you got it like rocket, but if she starts on coffee again I'll spring a leak.

I call and tell Scott and Mindy not to come, that it's just Trish doing her thing again. They address their concern and I'm all, no, no, no, I got this. They want to come over anyway and I say alright, have it your way. They're newlyweds and our best friends. When you're married you have the same friends, and even though Trish doesn't care about my work drama, she knows good people.

I make egg salad, put some garlic bread in the oven, get out the bourbon.


To be fair, there is a groveling figure among the husks in the video Trish shows us. Brooke gets so fed up, she finishes eating and goes outside to weed at eight o'clock at night.

“Is it a landscaper, I wonder?” Mindy says, squinting at the laptop screen. “Could it be that?”

“At six-thirty on a Friday night? Repeatedly for fourteen days, traipsing around like a field cat? No way, girl,” Trish says, stiff as a wood plank.

“Why does it appear angular – pause – what's that?” I say.

The zoomed-in look of the shaggy dark trees makes the extraterrestrial business sound almost credible.

“What about calling the Parks and Recreational department? Or the property manager of the trailer park?” I suggest. The way it came out sounds like a classroom order.

“You think I haven't thought of that?” Trish stirs. “With my history? With the pharmacy in our spice cabinet? I'll be humiliated up the hill.”

What she meant was possibly psychiatry, or prison, but I wasn't positive. Once Trish tried to commit suicide by climbing a tree and putting a shotgun to her temple. It was unloaded. When was that again? I'd say to Mindy some nights, pretending I couldn't remember the date of March 29, 2004. What sticks with you are dates that made you quit your day and run for help. Early summer had spread itself over the land, the sky went on for days as I'd grappled with my faith.

“Play it again,” I say, trying to ignore the alien as clear as glass in the frame.


I go out like a trooper into the summer night, infested with moths and sticky mosquitoes, dogs barking in the distance at the neighbors' weekend hollering. I feel up to no good like a big burly man was going to stop me from going out there. “Oh please, dangerous is your favorite word,” I'd hissed at Scott, who thought Trish's video should be uploaded to an online media channel and let the free world put their two cents in, share, inform to inform. “Stranger danger, relax, she's fucked in her head.”

Trish was mentally ill, a loaded gun at the end of the day. She'd spent more time in a psych ward than she had in a nine to five job. Additionally, aliens don't exist!

The sky is crowded by trees in the torn-down smear of the stricken field. This sudden crystallization of anguish comes over me like a furious twitch when I hear the distinct clicking sound, like a motor running on its last battery. I say 'Hello?!' like a polite auntie coming over unannounced.

I quit smoking five years ago because I was scared of the arsenic, our most important areas of the brain seem the most delicate, making fear not only lucid but attack-like with hallucinations if you get enough in your system. Driving, mopping the floor, when you were looking for aliens in the corn. Does Trish still smoke? No, she was a clean eater or something now. Scott showed me a blog about it.

And then I became very ill after what I saw in the trees, and returned to the trailer.


We watch the video again and this time I send it to my cousin, Sal. Sal lives in Ruskin, Florida, where UFO sightings are all the time and not news. I'm happy for a minute because I know Sal will text me in the morning and tell me cross my heart and hope to die, I believe you, kid.

I stretch out on the couch while Mindy is out trying to be a friend and prove my point, and ask Scott if he wants any frozen key lime pie.

“Just … how far can we go with this do you think?” Scott says. “Will they set up camp? Will the authorities be involved and to what extent? Camera installation?”

Brooke snaps. “This isn't 90210, have you looked around? Where do you think the cameras would go?”

Scott acts as if he hasn't heard her, giving her a wink that means something. “We can't demand media attention from this. Other people have to see it for action to be applied.”

“Thank you, Scotty, thank you,” I say, feeling the floor seesaw underneath me.

Mindy comes back and she talks to Scott. The crickets are singing outside, mating, who knows, getting as worked up as our dog, Pudding, feeling the reverberation of an attack piloting in the near future. Animals know before humans.


I've cried in every room of this place, including on the toilet, around the sink, down on my knees by the washing machine. Most of the tears have been for Trish, and now she's convinced we have to escape to a hotel for safety? We could be harvested? We have to figure out a game plan? What form of insanity is that? I've choked on my ass all day, babysitting co-workers, hustling for lost emails with proof numbers, and I come home to Trish telling me she's been watching over an alien all day.

Do you know Pudding hasn't been walked?! Our baby Bulldog, holding in her pee. Another bladder infection on the way, cramping my wallet. My anger is a sharp pulse in my throat. Could enough sulking fix this? I strike the kitchen window with my palm, hard, everybody looking up.

“We can take a walk together instead,” I say. “Then we can think about the hotel.”

I love her, I love her, I love her.

“I'll call the Parks and Recreation department first thing tomorrow morning.”

Kayli Scholz is a short story writer from Ft. Lauderdale. Her fiction has been published in The Fem, Atticus Review, and the forthcoming Minor Literature[s]. Follow her on Twitter.

Christopher Brown is a musician and artist living in Austin, Texas. For the past year he has developed a Candy Minimal photo series, which is entirely shot and edited on his mobile phone. His work was recently featured in Mashable. Follow him on Instagram.

Killer Whale is based in San Francisco and self-released the Ocean Blood LP in January 2015. For more, click to Killer Whale's Bandcamp.

ISSUE #108: Sara Levine, Claudio Parentela, Magnetic Poetry

Posted: Monday, October 12, 2015 | | Labels:

Art by Claudio Parentela

by Sara Levine

The block had changed. Money, of course. New demographic. The check-cashing place was now a baby boutique. Ed's Plumbing, in whose window a dusty clock-face toilet seat had, for fifteen years, told the time wrong, now sold gelato. She tried for indignation, distaste, a rueful sense of loss, but a smile played over her lips. Where to go first? Her eyes scanned the new shops.

Issue #108 soundtrack: Magnetic Poetry "Not Alone"

On an impulse, she stepped into the salon, hypnotized by the oxblood walls, plump black leather chairs, gilt-framed mirrors. Stylists glided up and down the narrow corridor, self-contained and subdued, like servants in an enchanted castle.

No, she didn't have an appointment, she had only been walking by on her lunch hour, but if by chance—

"One of our junior stylists is available," said the receptionist.

The stylist was fifteen years younger than Helen, blunt-cut bangs, hooded eyes, cheeks lightly spangled with glitter. Helen shook her hand as if they were about to begin a life-long partnership.

"I don’t know what I want," Helen said brightly. "Something different."

Mandy washed her hair with a reticence that was almost truculent, then led her to the station, where she began to pull a comb through Helen's hair.

Non-conciliatory, Helen thought, trying to find reasons to stay in the chair. Exactly what I need. Unforgiving. She’ll make it better.

"I’ve worn it this way since I was twenty," Helen said.

Mandy combed and combed, examining each section so carefully Helen feared that she had found a nit.

"Is it way too long? I want a surprise, so whatever you do is fine. I’m due for a change. I’m not sure he really sees me anymore. My husband. Of course a man doesn’t have to look at you to—. Oh, never mind. You're probably too young to even know what I’m talking about!"

"You’ll have to take those off now," Mandy said, meaning her glasses.

With her glasses off, Helen could only make out a blur in the mirror. She heard the shhh-shhh-shhh of the scissors and listened sleepily to the techno music, which stringed the air with beads. Minutes passed, Helen didn’t know how many. Mandy’s hands put something in her hair, a thick waxy styling product that smelled like grapefruit, the stringent smell wafting up, the girl’s hands rough as she pulled the wax from root to end, so hard that tears sprung to Helen’s eyes. Abruptly, without warning, came the brash heat and nerve-shearing sound of the hairdryer, the nozzle close enough to burn her ears. Then Mandy said, "All right, take a look," and, as if roused from sleep, Helen fumbled for her glasses.

There she was. Mandy stood behind, her face impenetrable. The bulk of her hair was gone, and what remained had been tweaked into a spiky landscape around Helen's face, which momentarily looked like somebody else's face, shock-eyed and pale. Mandy unsnapped the cape and pumped down the chair with her foot.

"How do you like it?"

Helen instructed herself to be calm. Don’t say anything. You asked for it. Be gracious!

"It's very nice," she said. "It's certainly different."

"Six inches," Mandy said, nodding at the damp nests of hair on the floor.

Face hot, legs faint, Helen paid the receptionist, stuffed a tip of thirty percent—there! that’s fine—into a tiny envelope, and slipped out.

Her lunch hour was over. Newly blind to the charms of the neighborhood, she reeled down the sidewalk like a drunk, shaving a little too close to other pedestrians, bumping into baby strollers, confounding shoppers exiting the doors. At a bank she paused to look at her reflection in the black-tinted windows. Ungodly! She laughed, the barking laugh of a seal, her face breaking into a thousand points. Abruptly she sobered up, patted the hair, its stiff waxen texture unfamiliar, like a plant, and hurried along. As a girl she had loved to pull the head off her Barbie and put in its place other heads, the head of Ken, or Skipper. This was a perfectly plausible head, she mused, just not mine. But why should a change of hair change everything? A sob rose in her throat and she stopped again, retreated into the doorway of a kitchenware shop, and rummaged in her purse for a pocket mirror. She peered, aghast. I don’t know my own face, she thought.

At the office, she settled immediately at her desk, and others came with papers to sign, questions to settle, complaints to make about the speed of their new wireless. She waited for a remark, but the others gabbled on as usual. For years she had done nothing more than trim her hair two inches, and still somebody would say, "Get a haircut?" as if to acknowledge that Helen was an object of consideration. With this haircut had she removed herself from the range of their concern? When Cynthia, who noted when Helen wore a new shade of lipstick, leaned over Helen’s desk to discuss brochures and made no mention of the hair, the question was settled. The haircut was worse than she'd thought. Like a goiter, or a rash of acne, the world politely conspired not to mention it.

At two o’clock Helen called her husband. He didn't answer his cell. He never answered his cell anymore. She left a brief, casual message, and hung up. At two thirty she called again, as if seized by a great event. Then she called his office. The new receptionist answered, a young woman who had been hired just for the summer, who spoke in a tight and garbled voice as if she had just drunk lighter fluid. She was competent, Jason said, but nervous.

"He's with a client. He's at lunch, I mean. I believe he went to lunch with his wife."

"This is his wife."

"Shit," the receptionist said. "I’m a terrible liar."

Helen pretended not to have heard.

"Thanks, I'll call back," Helen said.

She hung up.

What I need is to really look at it; I didn’t look at it when Mandy first showed me, only because the hair seemed, oddly, at that moment, to belong to her.

She left her desk and went to the office’s private bathroom. On the way she passed Cynthia's desk, but Cynthia, pretending to be busy, didn't look up.

Her fingers stiff, her breath audible, she produced her pocket mirror, stippled with face powder, and held it up to study the angles. What had she done? Her hair, her perfectly fine hair, gone, gone, and for this! She groaned, pinching and pulling at her cheeks. What did this haircut reveal to the world, if not that she hadn’t a clue who she was? That she wanted something different but had no idea what? Battering herself with such thoughts she seemed to swell, like a tick filling with blood. You idiot, she thought, what self-respecting person gives a teenager with scissors carte blanche to their hair; you might have just as well have made an announcement to the world: I am unhappy, I am desperate, my husband is having an affair!

This thought brought her a sense of shock and relief— as if she had been choking on her own saliva and finally swallowed.

She slid to the cold tile floor and wept, her head dizzy, her voice absurdly hoarse and whimpering, a child’s cries. At last she quieted, smoothed her clothes, washed and blotted dry her face—impersonally, as if she belonged to someone else—and tugged a bit on the hair to see if it might be arranged. The haircut was lousy, but she could compensate, of course. She would get in shape; she would dress better; she would treat this unfortunate haircut as a release, as if her former style were in fact a crutch. I’m a constitutional liar who has decided from now on, I’ll tell the truth, Helen thought. This god-awful hair, she said aloud, with sudden affection. Why not be free? I'm not old, I could leave him. Wouldn't it give Jason a shock if she made a scene? She would pack up his things and when he came in, cut him cold. I know about your stupid affairs, she would tell him. It had been in the back of her mind— the hushed phone calls, the new email account, the long hours with clients about whom he never had much to say. Hatred rose in her throat. That morning, after her alarm clock had gone off, Jason had flung an arm over her torso and trapped her in a neuter embrace, his mouth half open, expelling little gusts of bad breath. Kick him out.

Oh god, she said and laughed aloud at her own dizziness, fragility. What on earth was the matter with her today?

A haircut does not have to change everything. She tugged again on the bangs and smiled to herself. Hats, she thought.

Sara Levine is the author of the novel Treasure Island!!! and the story collection Short Dark Oracles. She teaches at the The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and sometimes remembers to post at

Claudio Parentela an artist and freelance journalist based in Italy. View more of his artwork at and follow him on Tumblr.

Magnetic Poetry is a Moscow-based pop synth duo comprised of Oksana Ivashinina and Dmitry Ivashinin, who are also husband and wife. For more, visit the band on Bandcamp, Soundcloud, and Twitter.

ISSUE #107: Robert James Russell, Christine Stoddard, Thin Lear

Posted: Monday, September 28, 2015 | | Labels:

Digital collage by Christine Stoddard

by Robert James Russell

They came in the night for Lee Cabell’s things—two men, August and John, sent to take back what the old man could no longer afford. They had parked a quarter mile down 23½ Mile Road just after midnight, could just make out the farmhouse silhouetted against the dark sky and flanked by moonlit swatches of chapped and scarred fields that went on for acres and acres before butting up against great spans of maple and beech and basswood.

Issue #107 soundtrack: Thin Lear "Second Nature"

August sat perched at the driver’s side of the rental sedan with the night-vision binoculars affixed to his face, alternately watching the house and the road headed east. “What time is it?” he asked after a long silence between them.

“Look at the dash,” John said flipping through printouts provided by the bank illuminated by a penlight wedged behind his ear. “It’s right there.”

August scanned the house again, then the distance between them and it. “Can’t. Don’t want to miss anything.”

“There’s nothing. They’re asleep?”

“Have to be sure.”

John sighed. “Ten after.”

“Good. Okay. You ready?”

“Yeah, I’m ready.”

They exited the car with little noise and walked slow down the gravel road, savoring the crunch under their boots as they navigated the November cold lit by the dim moonlight showing the brown gashes smiling in the freshly-plowed fields—what, only weeks before, were rows of soy ready to be plucked from the ground.

“And you got the plan?” August asked, hands stuffed in his black military-style jacket.

John studied him, the black backpack slung over his shoulder. “You take this real serious, huh?”

“My man,” August said, “you have to. You’re taking something of theirs, something they don’t want to part with. You’re ripping it from them forcibly and asking them to be okay with it.” Pause. “They usually aren’t. So yeah, I take this serious.”

“Alright. Fair enough.”

“And you remember the meet-up?”

“Best Propane Station back on County Road Twelve.” John held up the copy of the inventory, squinted at the words.

“Fendt 936 Profi Vario. How big is that?”

August smiled. “It’s not your granddad’s John Deere.”

“Granddad didn’t have a John Deere.”

“Well, maybe his granddad, then.”

“Maybe.” Pause. “And the bank don’t want nothin' else?”

“Used these babies go for upwards of two-hundred thou.”



They walked the rest of the way with that satisfied quiet between them and the farmhouse, the whole of his property, grew larger and more impressive the closer they got. The house, based on photos they had received weeks prior, was rotting: paint chipped, wrap-around porch bowed and sunken in the middle parts from years of wear, and they could just make out the whispered creaking of the place as it shifted with the winds, each slap against its hull moving the very foundation of its existence inch by inch. Beyond the house: a pair of faltering silos and a faded-green bank barn converted for storage.

“We start there,” August had said on their drive in. “That’s where he’s keeping the tractor.”

“Map says there’s another barn on the lot too.”

“Had new alley doors installed on the bank back in May.”


“Only one reason to do that: Protecting an investment.”

And now, walking up the drive, both men studied the windows of the old farm house, watched for any indication the old man and his wife had changed their habits this evening, but found none. John took to watching the property as well, making note of the ancient Volkswagen alongside the house, ensnared now by wild grasses, hood rusted plumb like some forever-yawning steeled beast.

Just past the house fifty or so yards was the barn, silos poking out just overhead from behind it, keeping watch. They circled it, made note of the various paddock doors boarded up from the inside and what used to be open-facing side sheds long since converted to walls. John traced his finger over the green paint of the vertical boards, looked back out to the tree line and couldn't help wonder how old it was. How long it had been around and how they, now, were set to challenge that.

When they reached the alley doors, August inspected the three-eighths binder chain and a padlock holding the pair of them together. John looked back at the house—still dark, quiet—then back to August who was now removing a lock pick set from his pack.

“Well?” John asked.

“Easy enough. Padlock’s garden variety.”

“I mean how long’s it going to take?”

“The lock? Couple of minutes.”

“And then?”

“As long as it takes me to jack the ignition.”

“Which is?”

“As long as it takes, alright?”

John met August’s gaze, ran his tongue over his bottom teeth. “You think there’s a chance we can do this quiet? That they won’t wake up?”

August laughed, kneeled, and started on the lock with the first of the tension wrenches and the hook pick. “They’ll wake. I can promise you that.” He paused, looked up at John, sullen, looking as if he had only now realized the full weight of the job at hand. “Look, man, you signed on, Julian vouched for you. That’s all good and all. But this isn’t just taking a goddamn toy away. You said you knew that, told me you understood what we were up to.”


“Just remember, we’re taking them to their rightful owners—”

“—the bank.”

August sighed, turned back to the lock and inserted the tension wrench again, shifted it, found the right direction and held it in place. With his other hand he took the hook pick and felt around, feeling for the pins. “They signed a contract, man. You know this. We’ve been over this. You can’t pay back what you promise to, why should you get to keep it? Houses, farms, cars,’s all the goddamn same.”

John looked at the poked and prodded fields, felt the wind pick up. He could just make out the navy-colored clouds against the sky, the hint of rain to come, and as August reached for the snake rake pick John turned—perhaps by habit, perhaps out of paranoia—to look at the house: but now, instead of the pitch-black home, a single yellow light shone bright, the kitchen window, and between the parted cloth curtains a sunken and hollow face stared back at him—a woman, Ursula Cabell.

“Shit….shit…” John said quietly, not looking away from her. “Fuckin shit.”

August kept at the pick. “What?”

“There’s someone….someone looking at us. From the house.”

August turned his head, smiled, wondered if it was a joke, then saw the woman just as she fled the window frame, only the slightest outline of gray hair and big bugged eyes before she was removed from the portrait. Then, the faintest scream erupted from inside the house, Ursula waking her husband up. “Fuck,” he said. “Okay, we gotta move. Know your role, okay?”

August went back to the pick, calm, collected, and John crumpled the inventory and other bank and legal documents in his hands, winding them and gritting his teeth as his palms sweated, watching as an upstairs window flicked on, bright against the darkness, then another and another, the light spreading like some horrible disease.

“They’re coming, man.”

“We knew they would,” August said. “Just a bit earlier than we expected is all. It’s okay…Mr. Cabell isn’t going to do anything.”

Then, through the cold night air, through the darkness, a gravel voice shouted: “What the hell are you doin to my barn! I swear to Christ I’m gonna blast ya!”

Lee Cabell strode toward them shirtless, sinewy still in his old age, dirt-gray beard down to his chest with only hints of black throughout, some form of youth still clinging on. He wore jeans and was barefoot and carried a Marlin Classic Model 1895 like he meant business.

“All you,” August said finishing up the lock. “Keep him away while I get this popped open.”

“Keep him away? Jesus.” John paced, nervous, then took three quick breaths and stepped out to meet the old man. “Sir, we’re here by accordance of the bank...your bank…”

Lee slowed, stopped about ten paces back, lifted the rifle and aimed, steadier than he should’ve been able to. “Got three shots loaded, boys. And I’m a crack shot. Well within my right to fire.”

“John!” August screamed. “Talk to him. Now.”

John lurched forward, stopped. “Sir, we’re from the bank. You haven’t paid on the tractor,” he paused, held out the papers, then: “The Fendt. We’re here to take the Fendt.”

“It’s mine,” Lee shouted back. “And you two, sneakin around in the middle of the night...callin yourself men. You ain’t from the bank.”

John took another step. “Sir—”

“—take one more goddamn step and I’ll blow you away. I promise ya. And I’m well within my right.”

“There’s two ways we can do this, Mr. Cabell—”

“Swear to god, take one more step.”

“You no longer own the tractor, alright? You can be mad as you want, can cuss us out, but my partner and I are taking it back to the bank. You got any other issues you take it up with them.”

John felt good about that, about what he said, watched Lee squint down the barrel through the sights, poke his head upright again as August popped the lock off, then lower the gun at his side. “I don’t got any idea what you’re talkin about.”

August stood, grunted. “Mr. Cabell, you owe a great deal of money to the bank on this tractor you got squirreled away in here. They’ve sent notices, lots of notices, which my partner has copies of, and until you work it out with them, the bank, that’s all there is to say about it.”

“How in the hell you expect me to get by? Don’t got no sons.”

“Not our concern, Mr. Cabell. We’re employed by the bank, don’t have anything in the way of answers. Just telling you how it has to be.”

“You don’t understand,” the old man pleaded. “I just need—”

“—enough,” August said. “John, go hand him the papers while I get the doors.

John nodded, walked toward Lee while August slid open the alley doors, smooth on their new runners, greeted with the smell of hay and old oak timbers and stray animal shit. He could just make out the outline of the machine, the giant beast resting in the cold and darkness, the wheels taller than himself like some big toy. He smiled.

Lee snapped out of his stupor, watched August take a step in the barn as John approached, lifted the gun back up, and aimed again. “You just stop, goddamn it. Don’t take one more step.”

John complied, showed his hands like he meant no harm. “You aren’t going to hurt us, Mr. Cabell. You’re a reasonable man.”

Lee studied him, then August. “Tell your partner to get out of there. He’s got no business—”

“—we do have business, sir,” John said.

August sighed, loud enough for the others to hear, stormed toward them, fuming. “Goddamn,” he said. “We can do this the easy way or we can come back with the police, make it a lot harder on you and your wife. You understand? And I don’t much appreciating having a gun trained on me so please, before you make this any worse, lower the damn thing.”

August stood next to John now, panting. Lee lowered the gun. “You sneak onto my land, my livelihood, like a bunch of thugs,” he said. “Expect me to just go quiet? I don’t need to see no papers. I know who you are, why you’re here.”

August snapped and strode forward. “I don’t know how else to tell you this but you’ve lost here. And I swear to Christ if you don’t put that damn gun away—”

But it was too late and the old man, again quicker than either of them would’ve figured, raised the rifle and shot off a single round that hit August in the chest, just above the heart, sending him back and down with a snap and a thud, the echo of the blast shot out over the fields until it hit the trees and cracked between them. The whole thing happened so fast it took John a moment to register what had happened, believing it only when he saw the blood exit August with alarming conviction, staining his black clothes even darker. August couldn’t speak, just gasped and reached out and John knelt to be with him but Lee yelled at him to stay put.

“What the fuck have you done?” John screamed. “You killed him!”

“Not yet I didn’t. Get your hands up. Don’t know what you got hidin' on your person.”

“You crazy fuck,” John said watching August’s eyes roll back in his head, fall flat on the ground. “What have you done...”

The back door of the house flung open with a loud groan, Ursula Cabell standing in the doorway with her arms folded along her waist, near-white hair twisted into a long braid hung over his shoulder wearing a white dressing gown like some haunted specter.

“Ma’am!” John yelled after registering who it was. “You need to call the police. Your husband shot my friend, and I think—”

“—shut your mouth!” Lee said pointing a thin finger his way, then turned back to his wife. “Go call Joe. Tell him I’ll have two for him and he needs to get over here tonight, alright?”

Ursula stood there for a moment longer, hovering over the scene, then nodded solemnly and disappeared back into the house.

“Who’s Joe?” John asked, only then realizing he had already pissed himself, could feel it now running down his legs, warm. Then, pleading: “Sir, you have to let me go. You have to let me get my partner here to a hospital.”

“Too late for him,” Lee said pointing the barrel of the gun at August who now lied crooked and limp like some stuck animal. “He’s long gone to the other side.”

John began to weep, fell to his knees and raked his fingers into the cold earth. “We’re...official,” he managed to get out. “The bank sent us...just let me go. Please. I have me a wife at home. I have—”

“Son,” Lee said through thin, distorted lips. “Don’t care who you are. Ain’t no one, ever, gonna get between me and my land. That tractor there, what you came to take from me, that’s all I got left to work my plot, do something of substance. Otherwise, what the hell am I but an old vet in house falling down with no money or future.” Pause. “No, a man ain’t worth a damn thing if he don’t have no land. So bring the entire goddamn Reserves—I got enough gall to stand here take em all out. Promise you that.”

John wiped his face, calm now, thinking about the old man’s words as met his gaze, then caught himself wondering about the barn again. Wondered how many generations it had been standing and watched as Lee lifted the rifle and squinted through the sights, sniffed loudly, took the shot. The bullet hit the trespasser square in the head, knocked him back to the ground, askew like his friend, a killing blow, Lee would later recount. One that had been predetermined by those with knowledge of such things. He kept the rifle aimed for a minute longer, wasn’t sure for what, perhaps to be sure death had come to take them both, then lowered the gun as the echoes of the shot faded and the quiet of the night had absorbed him once more.

He turned to see Ursula at the back door and sniffed again. “Fetch me a shirt, jacket. Got real cold.”

“Sure,” she said.

“Put on a pot of coffee, too. I know Joe likes his coffee,” Lee said looking back out at the barn, doors ajar and the Fendt tucked into the darkness, then way out into the fields he knew intimately, knowing there was work yet to be done.

Robert James Russellis the author of the novel Mesilla (Dock Street Press). He is the managing editor of the literary journals Midwestern Gothic and CHEAP POP. Find him online at and @robhollywood.

Christine Stoddard is a Salvadoran-Scottish-American artist and the founding editor of Quail Bell Magazine. A Puffin Foundation emerging artist, BinderCon NYC scholar, and Folio Magazine Top 100 Media Visionary, she lives with her shiny new husband in their kingdom by the sea. Christine's words and images have appeared in Cosmopolitan, Bustle, The Huffington Post, The Feminist Wire, So to Speak, The Southeast Review, and beyond. Recent gallery and publication credits include: The New York Transit Museum, The NYC Poetry Festival, The Brooklyn Quarterly, and WriterHouse (solo show). Upcoming gallery and publication credits include: Raw DC, The Story Shack, and Figment DC. For more, visit the artist online at

Thin Lear is the moniker of Queens, New York-based musician Matt Longo. His new EP is a lush concept album that takes its baroque-groove cue from Village Green-era Kinks and The Zombies. For more, visit Thin Lear on Facebook, Soundcloud, and Bandcamp.

ISSUE #106: Charlie Clements, Mary Goldthwaite Gagne, Bunny's a Swine

Posted: Monday, September 14, 2015 | | Labels:

Art by Mary Goldthwaite Gagne

by Charlie Clements

My dog is very coy sometimes, like a girlfriend early in a relationship. Often, just after I get into bed, she clambers up next to me like she wants to cuddle. She will turn around a few times, smelling, and then curl herself into a tight ball way on the other side of the mattress, looking at me out of the corner of her big, wet, beagle eyes like “tonight you sleep alone.” Right when I resign myself to a no-cuddling-situation, she delicately stands up on the bed and steps over to lay down next to me.

Issue #106 soundtrack: Bunny's a Swine "Labrador"

The weirdest part in her bedtime ritual is when she takes advantage of my being half-asleep to nuzzle her little, black nose around in my junk. It makes sense, I guess; the sexual parts are the ones that smell the most to animals, right? All the sweat and hormones. But it's still sometimes a little sensitive and weird, especially when she does it in public. Just before she asked me to not call her anymore, Shannon made it clear that she couldn't stand that I let my dog invade our people-only spaces like that.

I haven't named my dog because I don't think it's right to impose a name on a natural creature who doesn't even speak your language. I don't want her to forget all the wild beauty she has. I think of this story I heard about these feral children in Germany that were raised by wolves, and how they would sometimes show up in towns and didn't know how to live in human society. I don't want my dog to be like a feral German child. If she ever left me, I'd want her to be able to live as a dog.

So I try and be as “doglike” with her as I can. I roll around on the floor, and butt at her neck with my nose. I sniff behind her ears too, and once I bit her on the back, like mother dogs do. I want her to be as natural as possible, to know she's safe and protected, but there has to be some limit, I guess. When she does the nuzzling-my-groin thing, it's a little uncomfortable, especially in the Piggly Wiggly parking lot. I love her and I care about the Earth and I recycle and I'm vegan, but, I shouldn't let my dog look like she's blowing me just because she thinks my nuts smell like food.

* * * * *

I think just the two of us alone at home is where me and my dog felt the most natural, so she really didn't like it when Shannon started to spend more time at the apartment. I met Shannon at a People for the Earth and Animals meeting in Ilford Park last spring. It was windy and Shannon's red hair had this thing that it was doing: it curved away from her head, off into the sun, and fell back towards her face in soft red corkscrews. Shannon introduced the topic of mountaintop removal in mining. The way she talked wasn't like she knew more then anybody else there, but that she had a confidence that no matter how few of the facts she knew, she cared enough in the right ways for facts to not matter. I think this is the more human way to be: lead with your heart and maybe the facts will fall into place. So what if she was basically inferring everything she knew about mountaintop removal? She still knew it.

I didn't bring my dog to the meetings because I was scared other dogs would be there. She's a pack animal with only me in her pack, so she's kind of a bitch around other creatures. I tried to bring her to dog parks for a while but she just chased other dogs so hard they ended up running off and escaping. I had to stop bringing her out because she wasn't willing to obey all these bullshit rules society imposed on wild creatures. That's what I'm saying about us being alone at the house: it's like our most wild state, without the barriers of “good behavior.”

* * * * *

I introduced myself to Shannon after she stepped away from the tree stump we used as a podium. I told her about how much I loved the tops of mountains, and how evil this corporation was for planning on blowing them up for coal.

“Right? It's not like we even need more coal. Who uses coal as fuel anymore? Trains? It's bullshit.” Shannon seemed really happy that I had picked up on what she was saying. “They just need to take all the money they put into finding coal and reapply it to researching solar and wind power.”

“Yeah. We're not even going to have anywhere to travel if we keep blowing up the earth to find oil and coal.”

We smiled at one another and got quiet as the next speaker stood up on the stump. I think Shannon was proud; that's the feeling I got off of her. She was very happy that she could have opinions and emotions, and it made her so beautiful. Right in the middle of this guy talking about the destruction of the North Carolina skyline and how it would affect local nematode populations, Shannon turned to me and sort of opened her eyes extra-wide, and right then, for just a second, I didn't give a crap about the environment.

* * * * *

She, my dog, not Shannon, does this other thing that's probably not okay, but I let her. She loves lying on her back and rolling around in other dogs' crap. I'd rather that she didn't do that, because then she gets onto the couch or bed and it smells. But it's an instinct. How can I erase an instinct from this beautiful furry thing that sometimes keeps me warm and happy at night? I spray a lot of antibacterial Febreze. It doesn't take long to get used to the smell and now, really: not a big deal. So sometimes it smells a little like dog crap in here. It's natural and my dog sleeps happily wherever she wants. She's got really short black hair, so it's not like she's much of a mess or anything, and I walk her whenever it rains so she can wash off.

Whenever I get home from taking her out on a walk, she does this other funny thing. When we walk up the stairs, she rubs her nose and back on everything. At first I thought she was trying to clean herself off, but she does it even when she hasn't been around crap. I think she's just so happy to be back home that she can't stop herself from touching every surface. She loves, almost as much as I do, to be back inside and able to rub up on everything and be herself. She's so happy when we're just left alone and she can sit with her head resting on my thigh.

* * * * *

After that first meeting I asked Shannon if she wanted to pick up my dog and go for a walk. My dog ignored Shannon mostly. She rolled around in the dry leaves and I prayed that they were only leaves.

I imagined her reaction to the smell of my apartment and asked her, “Why do you think people are so worried about dogs' shit? I mean, if we were in the wild there would be lots of animal crap everywhere.” I asked her.

“You're right. I mean, it's not like they're poisoning us, or the water sources. Everything we're standing on is basically just old animal shit.” She paused to look me in the eyes and added, profoundly, “People shit, too.”

After the park we went back to my apartment to drink some of the organic maté that I buy from my Amigos De La Tierra catalogue. I was scared because of the shit-dance my dog might do, but Shannon said, “Oh it smells so fresh and natural in here! Like a pasture, not at all sterile like most apartments.” She probably understood what I was going for.

While we drank our tea my dog refused to get off of the couch, so I had to stand awkwardly above the two of them. It was like my dog was showing off that she wasn't happy and wouldn't obey me. “It's either she goes or you stand there.” After we finished our drinks Shannon stood, saying she better get back home. She lingered in the door of my apartment and I felt like I was supposed to lean in and kiss her, but I didn't want to impose, and asking her somehow seemed to take the romance right out of the moment. I put up my hand and touched her red hair in a weird way, and she just leaned in and kissed me herself.

“I hope that wasn't too forward. I just felt like we were really on to something just then.”

“No,” I stammered, “It was great. I was thinking the same thing.”

“I don't believe in any of that soulmate, psychic crap. I just think we really connect, you know? It's been a really nice afternoon.” She took a pen from her pocket and wrote a number on my hand. “Here, gimme a call if you want. My roommate is probably freaking out about where I am. He's really overprotective with me. His sister was disemboweled by the dude who sold ice cream in the park when they were kids. But we should get together again soon.”

* * * * *

The next time we got together I met Shannon at her house. She worked at Guardian of the Rivers during the day, because even though she hated getting wet, she still respected water's right to exist. She walked from house to house asking for donations and taking signatures. I got there a little early and sat in the kitchen with her roommate, Stem, who was fermenting something he called Fungus Elixir on top of the fridge. It looked like cloudy pee, but he told me it was really natural and healthy, so I tried some. It tasted like really cloudy pee, but usually the things that taste the worst are the most natural, so I trusted it and drank a second glass.

“So, Shannon tells me you guys met at a People for the Earth and Animals meeting? She said you're a pretty hardcore animal rights activist.”

“Yeah. I guess. I don't think I'm an activist, just an animal lover. I don't like the word activist because it makes it sound like I'm different or something. I'm just natural and try to live as naturally as I can with my dog and the other animals I meet.”

“So, like, if your dog was starving and tried to eat you, would you kill him to survive?”

“Her. My dog is a female.”

Thankfully, just then Shannon came in the front door and apologized for being late. The three of us sat watching TV for a while, but Stem kept staring at me like I was going to spit on the floor or something. His eyes had this really weird intensity in them and I was glad when Shannon offered to read my star chart in her bedroom. She got out a big purple book of astrology, but started kissing my neck before we got very far.

It was nice to make out, even though I was sort of scared that I didn't know how anymore. I was sure I was supposed to do more than just kiss her, like, pretty sure she wanted me to. I forgot all of the signals and hints that girls give. I haven't had a girlfriend since high school because things just get so confusing. At home we we have natural rituals and habits and no subtext.

Shannon kept unbuttoning my shirt and pressing herself against me in a way that felt really good, but too dirty for me. I wanted it to feel that way, I wasn't a prude, but I didn't know how to be that dirty. I've always felt more comfortable when there are clear rules for me, so I know how to respond to things like an instinct. As Shannon rubbed her pelvis on my hip I thought about how when people, or any other animal, are in touch with instincts then behavior is almost automatic. That's the best way to be, the closest to how we're built as a species, so when all of these quick feelings in my crotch and the palms of my hands happen, I freak out and get trapped in my own brain, which is the least animal kind of behavior.

While I buttoned my shirt I pretended panic at having forgotten to feed my dog. I told Shannon that if she wasn't fed at just the right times, my dog loses it a bit and wrecks the apartment. I called it her hunting instinct, but I was just running away. Shannon was obviously frustrated but seemed to understand.

“I never realized just how much work it is to try and keep an animal natural in our awful world.”

“It's a struggle, yeah, but I'd rather be annoyed at having to leave now than make her hungry and tear up my apartment, you know? I just wish I hadn't forgotten her schedule.” When I closed Shannon's front door behind me and was outside it was like my body lost some heavy, hard casing that was holding it upright. I slumped over and breathed out and moved my erection in my pants so it hurt less.

* * * * *

My dog could be nicer, but what? Should I blame her for being a dog? Sometimes she growls at me when I push her away in the mornings. When she was a puppy I used her as a pillow and apparently this showed her that I was the alpha dog, because I was on top. I tried to get Shannon to do this while we were watching movies all on my floor one afternoon. Shannon leaned on my dog from above, acted like a conqueror. My dog cocked her head forwards like she was going to catch a thrown stick, and clamped right down on Shannon's ear. I could hear teeth clack together as they went through skin and cartilage. It took so long to calm her down. I brought her into my bedroom and let her lie down. I said, “It's okay” really softly, but her breath was ragged and the hair on her back was sticking straight up. When she finally calmed down I went back out to the living room and Shannon was gone. There was a note on the counter that said Stem had picked her up to go to the hospital.

* * * * *

I didn't hear from Shannon for a couple of days. She wasn't picking up her phone, and didn't call me back. But finally on Friday she called and invited me over. When I got there she was sitting with Stem in the living room drinking Fungus Elixir.

“Hi. Look,” she took a big gulp of her cloudy drink. “I'm sorry I freaked out the other day. It was just … I was bleeding and you were gone with your dog all of a sudden.” She paused and looked at me, standing on the other side of the room. “I mean, you kind of abandoned me, but...” Here, she smiled. “I thought about it, and it's pretty clear that you love so much. You love your dog so much. Part of me thinks I was just being a dumb human, just jealous that I don't get any of that attention.”

“I just didn't want her to think she did anything wrong, you know? I knew you weren't hurt, and she was just playing the way dogs play.”

“I needed seven stitches.” Shannon rubbed the bandage on her ear.

“She didn't mean to hurt you, and I was really scared she would think we were angry with her, and it would make her into some pathetic pet.”

“Yeah. 'Cause that's not how a psycho would act,” Stem said, from the corner.

“I'm just not used to people taking such good care of their dogs.” Shannon got up and hugged me, and we sat on the couch watching Animal Planet. I pointed out to Shannon and Stem how close the families of ferrets were, and how they were basically one unit that protected one another.

Stem let out a long whistle and rolled his eyes. “Real anti-domestication activist! Damn, man. That's some hardcore stuff.” He walked off to some other room in the back of the house. Shannon and I sat and started making out in the living room and David Attenborough told us about how giraffes fought. She asked me if I wanted to go to her room, but I told her no, because the light in the living room was way nicer. Shannon sighed loudly and asked me whether I'd understand her more if she barked so I started to kiss her more forcefully, but trying not to bump her wounded ear.

After a few more minutes of moving my mouth around on her neck, she sighed and said she was going to bed. She took off her shirt as she walked out of the room. I think she wanted me to follow her, but her torso curved slowly in the setting sun, and her red hair, almost brown in this light, lit up and I remembered the word corona and thought about how, just a few weeks ago, in the park standing on the tree stump talking about mountaintop removal, Shannon had seemed so happy in the sunlight with her hair blowing in the wind. I almost started crying, so I stood up and let myself out. I shouldn't have left my dog alone for so long anyway.

* * * * *

That morning I woke up to my dog nibbling at my fingernails. It felt sort of good so I let her keep going for a while until I noticed my fingers getting all slobbery and pulled them under the blanket. She started nuzzling at my balls through the blanket, which also felt sort of good, but I pushed her away.

I called Shannon to see if she wanted to go for a hike after the farmer's market. She sighed and seemed hesitant but told me she would meet me there in an hour. Walking there, my dog pulled on the leash until I let her off, and she ran around the forested development that we cut through because it's trails were less rough.

“So you just went home last night, huh?”

“I didn't want my dog to feel abandoned. You could'a come with me!”

“Yeah. We wouldn't want that. You know, I'm pretty sure your dog's just fine without you. It feels sort of like it's the other way around.”

“What is?”

Back in town and walking on the leash again, my dog once turned really suddenly and the rough strap wrapped around Shannon's legs, making her stumble. I know my dog didn't do it on purpose, but when Shannon lost her footing I was able to grab her and stop her from falling in a way that made me feel like a big hero. I think that, plus the fact that we were surrounded by people at the farmer's market, put us both in better moods.

We had been talking about trying a raw food diet for a few weeks, having heard that it was not only more healthy, but more natural, as no human technology was used to cook the goodness out of the food before it was eaten. We got some supplies at the market and that night I made a big deal out of making a raw Italian feast until I realized that that raw pasta wasn't really a thing I could do, so we just ended up eating the cold marinara I had stirred together like it was soup

After dinner, my dog quickly occupied the couch and neither Shannon nor myself felt like fighting her for it, so we sat on my bed and watched a documentary about how factory farming cattle destroys the rainforest. She put her arm around me and we snuggled like that for a bit, but when she rubbed her pelvis against my boner I felt awkward and went to pee. From the bathroom I could hear Shannon talking under her breath, but to me.

“It's like you're allergic to me or something.”

When I came back into my bedroom, pretending I couldn't hear, Shannon told me that my dog had gotten onto the bed and I thought, great! She's starting to like Shannon, but really my dog had just been sniffing Shannon's crotch. “She was really aggressive. It was kind of weird.” She paused, and then said under her breath, “At least one of you wants me.”

I got into bed with Shannon and we made out for a while. When I tried to do what I thought she wanted, to put my hand on her boob, she told me that she just wanted to go to sleep and so we did.

“If you don't know how to get it done yourself, I'm not gonna hold your hand through it.”

I worked hard overnight to not spoon her, because I didn't want to get a boner and have her think I was being rapey.

In the morning when I woke up Shannon was gone and my dog was wrapped in a ball on the end of the bed and didn't want to go out for a walk. She took a huge shit on the floor while I was in the shower. I think it was because it was raining, and not because she was trying to mess with me or anything.

* * * * *

After a few hours of doing nothing around the apartment my dog finally let herself be taken for a walk around the block. There were a bunch of clouds and a heavy wind that was making the clouds move really fast. They were whipping around in the sky like crazy, and it reminded me of all those old vampire movies where the moon is full for like, five days straight. While my dog rubbed her nose and hind quarters in a pile of shit I thought about the disappointing dinner I had made for Shannon, and thought she might be mad at me for it. I fingered her number into my phone. When she answered I could tell she didn't want to, on account of the way her voice seemed like it was all air.

“Hi. Listen. I need some days alone. This is really intense, and I'm not sure what the point of all this is.”

I wondered why here had to be a point, and I stood there looking up at the clouds sliding over the surface of the town. I tried to remember Shannon's kiss, if her lips were thick or thin, and if her kiss was wet or dry, how much she used her tongue. I couldn't really remember specifics. They were never the part that seemed to matter, so I just told her “Don't worry about it.”

My dog started licking my shoe now, because I spilled some tomato sauce onto it the night before when I made pasta. I looked down at my dog and told Shannon that she should just call me when she wanted to get together. I walked home and let my dog rub herself all over the wall on the way up the stairs.

Inside, I stared at my shoes, the point of my dog's nose was rubbing urgently against each of them. I put away the empty poo-bags I carried for appearances, but never filled, and watched my dog look hopefully up into my face. She was such an innocent natural thing, with such huge wet eyes. It's like we always share emotions, and here she was trying to make me happy when I needed it. I sort of threw myself down on the couch and tried to make myself cry. I said out loud, “I would have ruined everything on the planet. I would have killed every fucking species.” I made myself sound extra anguished. “I would have fucking kicked down down every tree, just so I could be alone with Shannon,” but I knew it wasn't true, and my dog looked at me, confused.

I tried and failed to feel the big questions. I tried to feel much of anything, but just felt like a feral German kid not knowing what to do. My dog nuzzled my calf, curling herself around it, wagging her tail and sort of sticking her nose into my shoe, smelling tomatoes. I stood up and her tail beat the air faster, just as I kicked my dog really hard, right in her ribs. She cried out and she slid across the six feet or so of slippery linoleum floor and hid there, sitting on her tail, pressed against the ground between the base of the fridge and the trash can, breathing shallowly and only cautiously making eye contact​​​​​​​​​​.

* * * * *

I can tell my dog knows I'm really bummed because, even thought she didn't like Shannon, she knew how I felt. She knew I could fall in love. My dog isn't coy at all tonight, and right when we get into bed she curls her little black torso extra close to me and I feel her warmth through the blanket. No matter what, I've got a fan. Nothing I do to her will scare her away, because she needs me as much as I need her. I'm her alpha, no matter what, and I've always got a buddy who's gonna take care of me, who's going to sort of irritatingly nuzzle my nuts around 6 a.m., and who will always be here.

Charlie Clements has lived as far south as Georgia and as far north as Vermont, though he currently lives in Boston, just a few miles from his high school. His short story collection Superhero Questions was published in 2014. His work has most recently been published with Queen Mob's Tea House, theNewerYork, Tin House Flash Friday, 3:AM Magazine, and Versal. More information can be found at

Mary Goldthwaite Gagne's identity as an artist is inextricably linked to her identity as a parent, teacher, partner, community organizer, and lifelong New Hampshire resident. She teaches art at ConVal High School in Peterborough, NH. In 2008 she co-founded The Glass Museum with her husband, Eric Gagne. They are now a 501c3 non-profit entity, which produces Broke: The Affordable Arts Fair and the Thing in the Spring concert series. Visit her online at

Bunny's a Swine is an awk-pop rock band hailing from Northampton, Mass., comprised of Emerson Stevens, Candace Clement and Dustin Cote. Hear more at and follow the band on Facebook.