Misty Morning

Posted on: May 30, 2013

At 5:23am, Helen resigned herself to the fact that she wasn’t going to go back to sleep. She sat up, swung her feet over the side of the bed, and put her hands in the air, arching her back to stretch. Through the transoms above the gauzy white curtains, she could see the purple sky promising sunrise.

Four minutes later, Helen was in shorts, a t-shirt and running shoes, striding down the pavement. She felt her limbs begin to warm, and as she crossed the street into the park she broke into a run. She was alert to every change in her body—the minute rate at which her breath quickened, the number of times her heart beat against her chest, and the mantra that always kept her rhythm:
Get there faster. Be tough. Get there faster. Be tough.

The mantra had been with her as long as she had been a runner—first as a pep talk, but now as a prayer so deeply embedded that she could repeat it in one compartment of her brain and still have plenty of thinking room left over.

She was particularly focused this morning. The mist that clung to the trees around her kept her from seeing more than fifteen yards ahead. Not that she needed to see any farther. She knew this trail by heart. Like her mantra, it was something she had cultivated to the point of automation. These morning runs were no longer something she did; they were something that happened. And while they happened, she did her best thinking.

Without missing a beat Helen lifted her shirt to wipe the sweat from her face. The morning’s humidity caused her perspiration to cling to her, rather than roll off. She began to go through her checklist, as she had on every run for the past two years. Pyramids? Check. Skydiving? Check. Studying at one of the world's most prestigious universities? Check. Incredible sex? Check. Seven-course meal? Check. Led Zeppelin reunion concert? Check. And completing all of Shakespeare's works? As of 4:47am, check.

Surely she had missed something. She was only 25! She had meant for the list to take much longer to complete, but now there was nothing left.

Get there faster. Be tough.

She had gotten here faster. And now, the tough thing to do was right in front of her, seemingly hidden in the mist ahead.

She rounded the pond and checked her watch. Right on time.

A prickly feeling in her sternum surprised her—was it fear? Doubt? Reluctance? Whatever it stemmed from, she could only view it as one thing: interference. To dissolve the prickles, she switched on a secondary mantra, which she always thought of as The Reason. Unlike the list, which had been in various stages of development for the better part of two years, The Reason was unchanging. I will never be happier than I am now. It really was remarkable, the inherent human desire for longevity. Sure, better times could be ahead, but why risk the possibility of sixty years of heartbreak, pain, and adversity? She had seen everything she wanted to see, felt everything she wanted to feel, tasted all that she wanted to taste. She wasn't smart enough to make any life-saving medical breakthroughs, patient enough to write the next Great American Novel, or maternal enough to get hitched and have a gaggle of offspring. She was amazed at the gall of most of humanity, to persist in the name of self-preservation when it made more sense to quit while the going was good. I have lived the life I wanted to live, she thought. Like any artist, Helen knew it was time to initial the bottom corner, dot the final sentence, call That's a wrap!

As that thought crossed her mind, a small smear of pink caught her eye, only a few strides ahead. As she passed over it, she saw that it was a dead baby bird, apparently flattened by some other inattentive runner. Feeling the prickles threaten to begin again, she picked up the pace.

Gettherefaster. Betough. She ran through the park's gate and started up the hill to her flat. Her t-shirt was completely soaked through, and her calves cried out for her to stop.


Finally, she turned into the gravel drive in front of her flat and trotted to a stop. She raised her arms over her head and walked in small circles, her chest heaving. She briefly thought of stretching to prevent soreness, but on second thought decided against it.

Inside, Helen disrobed and got in the shower. Under the water she whispered, "I will never be happier than I am now. I have lived the life I wanted to live." And it was true—she felt almost delirious with happiness. Happiness that was multiplied infinitely by the guarantee that nothing would ever dilute it.

Out of the shower, she stood wrapped in a towel in front of her closet. Black was too somber-- they'd surely think she was depressed. Floral would seem like she was taking the piss, that she wasn't taking this seriously. But her green dress, that was perfect. In the back of her mind she vaguely remembered someone telling her that geniuses pick green. It was the color of growth, of hope. While drying her hair, she looked around her room. For a moment she felt bad for the person who would discover her, but she quickly remembered the pains she'd gone to in order to make this whole ordeal as spic-and-span as possible. She curled her hair, put on her makeup, and debated whether or not to wear shoes. She turned off the thermostat and made sure the front door was unlocked, with the keys and next month's rent check on the entryway table.

It was now 7:42 am, and the sun was burning off the morning's mist. Helen sighed with satisfaction as she took one last look around. Finally, she lay down on her made bed, smoothed her hair on the pillow, folded her hands across her stomach, and closed her eyes.

And then, she waited.

Photography by: Jaemin Riley
Written by: Melody Rowell


Posted on: May 27, 2013

Leigh and Tara sit on a white seersucker blanket with rainbow stripes spread across the lawn of their Aunt Mary’s backyard. Leigh wrinkles her nose to push up the bridge of her thick, black-framed glasses as she chews on the last blackberry and leans back on her hands. She wears a black Macgregor hoodie and cut off shorts, the lining of her pockets peeking out across her thighs. Tara pulls her dress over bent knees and wraps her arms around her legs, glancing at her toenails and wondering if she should paint them gray. The wind rustles the canopy of leaves above, casting shadows that sway back and forth like seaweed underwater.

“Are you okay?” Leigh typically asks Tara once a week, often prompted by a sobering Facebook status or blog post.

Tara is both appreciative and annoyed by the inquiry, not understanding why something must be wrong in order to inspire serious reflection and discussion.

“Oh yea! Why?” She sounds overly chipper.

“I dunno.”

Leigh tugs at a few strands of denim. Just five feet and four inches, her long limbs and narrow face suggest a much taller frame than her sister. Tara is the same height, but her legs are thicker and her torso shorter. Even next to each other, she seems closer to the ground than her younger sister.

“Remember when you asked me if I had an eating disorder? We were on the swings and you were upset when I threw up after lunch.”

Leigh doesn’t say anything, but looks up at Tara and meets her gaze. Her posture straightens, conveying that she’s listening.

“It’s not that I think I’m fat. And I don’t count calories,” Tara continues. “I’m really not even aware that I’ve gone for a while without eating. I just get so hung up on my thoughts that I forget I need fuel to sustain them.”

She picks at the corner of a toenail, annoyed at its length.

“So, what about throwing up?” 

Leigh remembers listening to her sister regurgitate a super expensive meal and feeling confident that her concerns about Tara’s weight were officially justified.

“I make myself vomit when something doesn’t feel right, like if I eat too much or I feel like my stomach can’t digest whatever’s in there.”

Tara’s face feels really hot, not because she’s lying, but because she feels scrutinized.

“It’s not punishment. I promise. I do it because I feel like my body needs me to do it.”

A dove coos from a powerline, a sound Tara and Leigh always mistook for an owl until today, looking up and noticing the tail feathers press down as the soft murmurs tumble out.

With a sharp intake of breath, Leigh sings, “Ooookaaay-eee,” to signal her surrender.

This is a significant difference between them; Leigh has no problem dropping a discussion if it’s causing more harm than good. Tara, on the other hand, is mildly confrontational and likes to get to the root of a problem, even if it means stalking the opposite party and hounding her with questions until she’s reduced to tears. A couple years ago when the sisters were still in high school, Leigh walked in on Tara standing in the living room gaping with confusion just as their mother was slamming her bedroom door and weeping hysterically within.

“What the hell happened?” 

Leigh dropped her purse to the floor and threw her keys on a side table as she slipped off her Birkenstocks.

Tara turned to look at her and shook her head. 

“I don’t understand why Mom gets so upset when I want to talk to her about something serious. She gets all defensive and says her blood pressure is too high and she can’t listen to me anymore. How are we supposed to work on things if she can’t even talk about them?” 

She slumped onto the sofa, propped an elbow up on the armrest and cupped her cheek in one hand.

Leigh walked to the fireplace and sat on the cold stone hearth, sneering at her older sister. 

“There’s a huge difference between having a conversation and being interrogated, Tara. You’re really stubborn and don’t let up until you get answers.”

“Well, I didn’t get any answers outta Mom. She’s in there crying and I feel like a shithead. Why should I feel bad for wanting to know the truth?” 

Tara sat erect, her hands flat on top of her thighs, staring directly into Leigh’s eyes.

“Tara, you’re immune to pain or something and as much as you preach practicing empathy, you pretty much have none. You’re a bully. You want people to be able to process stuff the way you do and honestly a lot of us can’t because we’re too busy just trying to get through our own crap. Not everyone spends all friggin’ day trying to figure out the meaning of life.” 

She leaned back against the masonry, palms together between her thighs, eyes heavy with exasperation.

“Why doesn’t anyone give a damn?” Tara asked.

Leigh closed her eyes, careful not to sound pissed after forming her reply. 

“We do, Tara. The truth is, you’re the one who doesn’t give a damn about anything other than what you think is important. And while you spend all your time looking down on other people and accusing them of living shallow lives, you end up alone. Are your deep thoughts worth it?”

Leigh never found out what Tara was hounding their mother about. As she sits on the blanket across from her now, she notices the perpetual furrow between her sister’s brows and that her shoulders are rounded forward as if she might cry, but Tara’s face is blank and her gaze without purpose.

“Is it worth being sad all the time?”

Tara looks up, blinks. 


“All that thinking and not eating. All your truth-seeking and isolation. Is it worth it?”

Tara’s eyes close as tears stream down her cheeks and drip onto the dress stretched over her knees.


Photograph by: Whitney Ott
Written by: Natasha Akery

Family Blood

Posted on: May 23, 2013

Freddie MacNamus sat in his truck and looked down at his hands. So many stains. Blood, sweat, and tears covered those hands. And black oil that would never come out from under his thick, yellow fingernails.

But mostly blood.

His boy once told him that blood ain’t red inside you. It ain’t red ‘til it hits the air.

Well now Freddie knew a secret. The pits of hell sure ain’t black. When you walk through those places where nightmares are born, all you see is red.

It’s mostly blood.

His boy was smart. They gave him a fancy name at birth. Kissed his wrinkled, old-man head and said, “Prescott, all we gots to give you is a name. It’s your leg up. Reach high, son. Maybe you’ll make it to some other family tree.”

But blood runs thick, and old habits are hard to break. Within a year, Prescott MacNamus was just Mac. Plain and simple. But boy, was he sharp.

It damn near stopped Freddie’s heart, the night he saw all that thick, red blood pouring out of Mac, staining the pine slats of their front porch.

Freddie knows deep down he done it.

He was so mad that night. So God damn mad. And the sad thing is, he didn’t have nothing to be mad about. His boy would sit at the supper table, making his wife laugh til’ she begged him to stop, tears rollin’ down her face, sayin’ her insides hurt. They were happy. But Freddie couldn’t be happy. Just livin’ made him mad back then.

Bein’ just a mechanic. Selling just tires. It wasn’t enough. He always thought he should be doing more. His family deserved more. He felt guilty every time he looked at ‘em. So he stayed mad. And he stayed away. Always sippin’ that awful, burnin’ drink.

And the night they were killed, he wasn’t there to help.

It hurts to think about it now.

He can’t take more than three breaths without prayin’ to God they died quickly. That they didn’t see it coming. That they weren’t scared.

Freddie figures, lookin’ back, that he got home about twenty minutes too late. ‘Cause Mac was still warm when Freddie scooped him up. He ran to the truck, piercing the still September air with his screams. Pleadin’, “God. Please God. Please.”

He thought his boy might have a chance. ‘Cause he could still smell the milk and cookies on his breath, see, and lil’ Mac had his dinosaur jammies on, and Freddie was pretty sure those were his favorites. They were the ones Mac was always wearing when Freddie tip-toed through the house late at night after another bender, to peek through Mac’s cracked bedroom door and love him from afar.

He layed his boy down across the seat of the truck. He’ll never forget the way those tires squealed as he ripped out of his driveway. Surplus stock from the shop. He’d put ‘em on a few weeks ago, shooin’ Mac away when he asked to help.

He drove like his own life depended on. And it did. But after a mile or so, he couldn’t see the road. He couldn’t see Mac.

It was all blood.

He opened the door and puked. Whiskey and snot came out between wails. The putrid mixture hit the dirt road only a few seconds before Freddie did. He lay there, heaving, sobbing, covered in family blood, til a State Trooper pulled up.

Somewhere along the line, they realized Freddie wasn’t a killer. Just a worthless piece of shit.

They let him go. His penance? That the world kept turning.

He had to keep showin’ up at the shop. Keep on sellin’ tires. Every day he stepped into that place, the smell of old rubber filled his nostrils, reminding him he ain’t got nothing left to work for. He made barely enough to keep his home, but not enough to sell it.

So at night he’d come home and lie on that porch. Put his head down on that dark brown stain. If he was still enough, he could feel heat comin’ off the planks of pine. It was because the porch soaked up the western light all afternoon, but Freddie liked to think that warm spot was Mac.

And this morning was no different. Until it was.

He got out of bed. Got in the shower. Smelled his wife’s shampoo. Gently closed its cap. Then he put on his blue coveralls and went to work.

But when he got there, he couldn’t walk in the door. He walked out back, tore an old piece of tarp in half, and wrote “Closed” in clumpy motor oil on it.

He stepped back and looked at it. The shame of everything he’d done–everything he was– hit him hard. He couldn’t keep nothin’ alive.

He threw it out and started over on the other half.

He thought for a second, and wrote:

Moved to 1897
Metropolitan Park
Flea Market Plaza

Freddie didn’t have enough room to finish the word “park.” It didn’t make no difference. Something he made would live on, even if it was just for a day. Even if it was just for an hour. Even it was a lie. Soon enough, somebody would find out the truth. But that shop, the one Freddie never thought was good enough, was the only shred of worth he had left.

Sitting in his old truck, Freddie finally felt some peace. He couldn’t wash his hands of what he’d done, but maybe God would clean his soul.

He looked out the driver’s side window one last time, then put the truck into drive.

He turned onto the dusty highway, and slowly pressed the gas. He didn’t let up as he watched the speedometer reach 60, 70, 80, 100.

The pedal ground against the metal floorboard. There was nowhere else to go. Freddie jerked the steering wheel to the right.

For a second, everything was quiet, and then the deafening sound of blood rushed into his ears. And right before everything went black, he saw his wife. And his Mac. But mostly blood.

Photograph by: Jaemin Riley
Written by: Sarah Gatling

Bug Man

Posted on: May 20, 2013

The best thing about his job was seeing inside all the houses. It wasn’t like house hunting, all the homes reduced to shells of themselves. It wasn’t a suburban nightmare, like when his prissy girlfriend in high school had dragged him through progressive dinners and tours of historic homes. There, the spaces are decked out in the appropriate seasonal décor—every table runner in place. No dried wax on the candlesticks. That sort of thing.

No, when he entered someone’s house, it was at its most living, breathing state. No one cleans up for the bug man. Sometimes, it’s a lesser state than that—the emergency jobs—the termites, the bed bugs. All the embarrassing intimacies are exposed, and no one cares. The bug man gets the crusted dishes in the sink. The untamed dust bunnies exploring new territories like tumbleweed on an open prairie. The beds stripped and yellowed mattresses exposed, tainted with creatures, as sheets spin in an extra-high-heat dryer, and Mrs. Scoffield or Johnson or McAlister scratches her arms and cries when he leaves.

But seeing how the mighty had fallen wasn’t what he loved most. Sure, he had grown up poor. He’d done a stint in the navy and ended up exterminating bugs when his previously undiagnosed sleep apnea got him honorably discharged. He’d only had chance encounters with the rich and famous until he took this job, but peering into their nooks and crannies didn’t do it for him. Besides, wealthy, educated people didn’t tip well.

What he really loved were the houses where people lived alone, especially Emily Conyers’ house, though he couldn’t admit that to anyone for fear of being labeled a predator.  He had never lived alone. He moved from his childhood home with his mother, four sisters, and an aunt, the lone man in a gaggle of women, to the ship, where the men at first overwhelmed him. And now he lived with Raye, who was more girl than all his family members, yet cruder than anyone he’d met at sea. She spent hundreds at a hair appointment, slept in makeup, pissed with the door open, and drank milk from the carton.

The loner-houses weren’t anything like his apartment with Raye. The men lived unapologetically—entire rooms with no furniture. And the women’s spaces, especially Emily’s, intrigued him most of all. Women alone didn’t sacrifice anything for anyone else. If Emily wanted a pastel pink dresser and intricate lace doilies on the wall, she had it, and yet it didn’t come across childish. Just true.

Emily was twenty-five, divorced, and interested in stargazing and staying fit, but he only knew this from her OKCupid profile, which he wasn’t supposed to be viewing, as he was in a loving, committed relationship with Raye. He visited Emily’s house once a month for a routine cockroach/spider/centipede spraying, and each time he found himself lingering in the corners, taking his time. He knew this was counterintuitive. She’d never call him with a brown recluse problem if he took such pains to keep her pest-free, but he couldn’t imagine her, all alone, sleeping in fear on her tiny living room loveseat because of a rogue cockroach in her bedroom at night. 

His OKCupid profile featured an unrecognizable photo of himself, ten years prior, at boot camp. He wore sunglasses and had the requisite close haircut. Raye would never discover him, as long as he cleared his computer history, and Emily wouldn’t guess that Chris, “I like to work out and live life to the fullest,” was the Chris-the-bug-man-Chris.

He was building up the courage to send her a private message.

“I hope you haven’t had any problems with those Japanese stink bugs,” he mumbled as he sprayed poison in her kitchen.

“I’m sorry?” she said.

“Stink bugs. From Japan? They came in on a boat…invasive species.”

“Oh. No. I don’t even know what they’d look like.”

“Kind of like little origami kites, actually. But, you know. Smellier.”

“I’ll be on the lookout.”

“Yes! Let me know if you see any. You can call me any time. I mean, call ExpressPest any time, and someone will come out and take care of it.”

“Thanks. I will.”

He ran the conversation over in his mind. Her voice had risen when she said thanks. Like she genuinely meant it. It was a start.  He’d send the message.

Dear Emily,

You seem like a cool girl I would like to get to know. Would you like to chat sometime?

Over his shoulder, he heard the sound of smacking gum.

“Who’s Emily?”

It was Raye.

“Um. A client with a stink bug problem.”

“That’s what she said,” Raye snorted.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

“Whatever. Oh my god, is that OKCupid? What the hell, Chris?”

It would take a trip to Jared’s Jewelers and a lot of groveling to unwind Raye from this one. Raye cried that she shouldn’t have to feel insecure because she worked so hard at being confident. That he should know how far she’s come with trust after her last boyfriend and the mess with her step-dad, and she built a home with him, right, don’t you understand that we’re a family?

He looked around at their apartment. Raye’s purple bra hung over the bathroom doorknob, drying from the laundry. There were tampons in plain sight on the toilet tank. Over the fake fireplace was the art Raye had bought from TJ Maxx, the wooden plaque that said, We didn’t realize we were making memories—we just knew we were having fun! He realized he did live in a loner-house, but that house was Raye’s loner-house. Where did he go?

He got a message back from Emily.

Do I know you? You look so familiar from your picture.

He thought of Emily sitting on her double bed, the room dark but for the twinkle lights strung above her doorway. He envisioned himself disappearing there, too, tucking his work shirts away in the bottom pink dresser drawer.

He hit reply.

Photograph by: Whitney Ott
Written by: Dot Dannenberg


Posted on: May 16, 2013

Shooting Big Sneak, he hit a hung-up sycamore that bounced the kayak toward an undercut rock. He turned just as the shoulder of fall-line granite thumped him in the temple. There was no blackout, no ringing bell in his brain – just a dull pain, skull against rock, followed by a faint buzzing like a sweat bee against a nylon tent wall. He righted himself, shaking it off, glad he’d had the spray skirt on.

At first he thought the weather had turned – the sky glowering down to the dull, horizon-wide mica-shine that meant storm. Then he saw that his bright boat (Tequila Sunrise, the sticker had said) had lost color. The river, too, was black as burned oil, the foam on the standing waves as dull and lightless as mortar mix. He was as absent of color as his granddad’s ancient television. Dashing his face with the inky river didn’t help. He closed his eyes, opened them, rubbed them. The world stayed the same flat monochrome.

What could he do but paddle through? He tried, but in grayscale the river’s eddyline disappeared: the current grounded and spun him. The dimness felt malevolent. As he passed under the first of two bridges, the span against the flat chalk sky was a long, black shadow, an underbelly alive with the chittering of bats he could perceive only as a faint, teeming seethe. He knew they must be bank swallows, not bats, but couldn’t convince himself. He saw what he saw. When two dozen swarmed from their unseen mud nests above him it was all he could do not to panic. Against a glaring patch of sky the veering wings appeared and disappeared like ghosts.

Just past the second bridge, at the take-out, he pulled the spray skirt and saw his legs, gray as a dead man’s, the hair stark as black wire. The pallid sand of the shallows made a soft sucking sound against his keel. Again he shut his eyes. He beached, got out. He slung his head side-to-side, up and down, went to his knees like a Muslim pray-er, forehead to the damp riverbank. Nothing worked. He thought of whacking himself with the paddle.

Is you hurt?

The voice came out of the yawning darkness under the end of the bridge.

Who’s there?

Nobody. Just me fishing.


Hey. You eyes – they failing on you?

I hit my head.

You not seeing me?

You’re under the bridge. I can’t see anything under there.

A shadow moved against shadow, its edges indistinct until a pair of black rubber boots became clear, stepping down the sapped granite rip-rap that shelved down from the bridge. First he saw the knee-high boots, then knees and thighs, carrying wide, round hips. A woman. A stick or cane helped hold her up.

You seeing me now?

I see most of you. Not your face.

She came further until she stood ten feet away.

This close as I’m coming, mister.

That’s fine. I see you, ma’am.
Her eyes were black as two cliff-face caves.

What ail you?

I can’t see right. Everything is black and white.

Everthing is. Sure enough.

Now that he’d said it he realized there was no white, only the bleached gray of dry bone.

Everything’s shadows. No color.

How long?

Two hours, maybe. Seems like forever.

What you hit?

A rock. In that rapid below the old ferry.

You laid down yet?

No ma’am.

You lay down, then. Lay down with that same rock as your pillow.

It was in a rapid.

Then find one like it.

What good would that do?

Rock took your sight. Rock can turn it back.

I thought of hitting myself already, if that’s what you mean.

I said what I mean. You lay down.

So he did. He was on his knees still, a flat slab of granite within reach of his head. He stretched out, putting his temple to the stone, freckled and shot with graininess – dark and light specks and every colorless gradation between from pencil lead to pen ink. Charcoal, soot, ash-tipped reed -- every medium hands had ever scribbled in. He rested his head on the hardness.

The woman’s face above him was a black hole against the sky. For the first time he feared something other than this dead world he had crossed into. He closed his eyes.

In the dream his stone pillow was brought to him on a wooden paddle. It was rounder – almost spherical, the size of a large orange – but it was his pillow. The surface, too, was like an orange’s, minutely pebbled, glossy. He lay still looking at it, his eye entering the crevices of its roundness until a translucent leathery wing was spread over his sight. He blinked. The stone had become an orange, halved -- a ruby wheel, white-spoked, its colors muted but there. His waking heart lurched at the redness and accelerated, as if a lost heat had rekindled his blood.

When he woke, a weight held his eyes shut – the woman’s warm hand, rough with dirt, smelling of snuff, earthworms, Jergen’s hand lotion. Her long middle finger spanned his eyes, her other fingers his brow and upper cheeks. The calloused ridge of her palm draped his temple, as soft on that side of his head as the rock was hard on the other.

You keep them eyes shut, she said.

She drew her hand away. He heard riprap shift as she withdrew up the bank – heard her call from under the bridge Look now. Look at old muddy first.

He cracked open his eyes. He saw first the river -- clod-colored, flowing under a still, dim reflection of the sky -- then the gray-mottled sycamore trunks of the far side, then the brown-shot, green-and-yellow spatter of their leaves. Beyond, the blue sky.

Thank you, he said, to the clouds, the trees, the water, the woman. He was too glad to cry.

Photograph by: Whitney Ott
Written by: Gordon Johnston

Connect to Charger

Posted on: May 13, 2013


This is the happiest moment of my night, and it will be ending any second now.

*Knock, knock, knock*

Speak of the Devil.

So long, chair. We will meet again.


“Happy Birthday, muddahfuckah!”

It’s Brent, some of his college buddies and a group of girls who may or may not be above the age of consent.

“Brent, I told you in the text, my birthday is two weeks from now.”

“And I told YOU in the text, I don’t give a shit. It may not be your birthday, but we’re gonna party like it’s your birthday!”

Brent clearly didn’t know how I party on my birthday.

“Where do we put the keg?”

“You got a keg?”

“Hell yeah! I spare no expense for my best-work-buddy’s birthday!”

“It’s not my birthday.”

“Then why are you holding THIS?”

Brent tossed a plastic chalice, with “B-DAY PIMP” emblazoned around the rim, in my direction.

I didn’t catch it, and it cracked.

“DUDE. What the fuck? That thing cost me like, twenty bucks!”

“ONLY twenty bucks?”


The number of people in my apartment has quadrupled since Brent and his entourage invaded my personal space, which is why I’m surprised William, our colleague, has decided to cling to me like the stench of fried food on my corporate-mandated apron.

“This is an epic birthday party, dude.”

“Is it?”

“Yeah, man! You’ve got a keg and everything!”

“It’s not even my birthday.”

“But Brent said…”

“Brent’s an idiot. He just needed an excuse to get wasted and I was foolish enough to let him know it’s my birth month.”




Will and I broke our awkward silence by taking a sip of our drinks. As I peered down the ribs of my red-plastic cup, Angela passed through my sights. What was she doing here? If my stalker-ish calculations were correct, she should be visiting her boyfriend this weekend.

“Will, it’s been a pleasure, but I need a refill.”

“Want me to get it for you, Birthday Boy?”

“No. No I don’t.”

“Alright, man. I’ll be here.”

“Good to know.”

Note to self, avoid that area for the rest of the night.




Oh, God. She’s going in for the hug.

“Happy Birthday!”

It feels like it.

Oh, man. She gives good hugs.

“I didn’t think I’d see you here.”

“Yeah, well, Blake had something to do this weekend, and I didn’t want to just stay home alone on a Saturday night like some kind of a loser.”



“This is a great party!”

“I spare no expense for my birthday.”

“I can see that. You got a keg and everything.”



Kill me.

“I really like your apartment.”

“Thanks. Me too.”

Another uncomfortable silence and another sip from my cup. As I lowered my drink I heard a raised voice coming from the bathroom.



“Angela, it’s been a pleasure, but I need to see what that’s about.”

“No problem. I’ll be here.”

“Glad to hear it.”

Note to self, immediately return to that area.


“Oh no.”

“Jake threw up EVERYWHERE.”

“I can see that, Brent. Jake. Jake. Come in, Jake.”

“He’s out, dude.”

“I can see that, Brent. Get him out of here so I can clean all this shit up.”

“I’m sorry, dude. I really am.”

“Yeah, well, you should be.”

And just like that, Brent was gone. So was Jake. It was just me, a bucket and the second coming of our “award winning” baked potato soup.

Through the door I hear Brent persuading William to give Jake a ride home. Will was the newest addition to the wait staff, thereby making him everybody’s bitch. His sheepish demeanor wasn’t doing him any favors. I guess that’s why he flocked to me. We wear a similar wool.


Things were shaping up. The puke was gone. Will was gone. And as far as I could tell, everyone assumed I was gone. My insignificance was working in my favor. Now, to keep my presence unknown while I take these vomit cloths to the dumpster.



Shit. It’s Karen.


She “discreetly” discards her cigarette and goes in for a hug.

“Happy Birthday!”

Even in the great outdoors, her breath smells like a bowling alley.

“Still smoking, huh?”

“Come on, it was just ONE. Give me a break.”

“Hey, I’m not your oncologist. Puff away.”

I used to be more vocal about her deadly habit. Then she started mistaking my general disapproval of self-destructive behavior for genuine interest in her well-being. And now, I’m her Angela.

“Need help with those?”

“No thanks.”

“Want me to walk with you?”

No thanks.



Karen talked from the dumpster to my doorstep. About what, I had no idea. I put my social skills on autopilot and let my mind drift off to a happier, lonelier place.

As we came in, Brent was on his way out.

“Hey, man! I was looking for you. I think me and some peeps are going to get pancakes. You down?”

“Nah. I think I’m going to stick around and tidy up a bit.”

“Want me to help?”

“Thanks Karen, but I’ll be fine by myself. You go enjoy some breakfast food.

“I’m not really hungry.” 

“Well, I’m pretty sure they have a smoking section.”

The light in Karen’s eyes extinguished like the cigarette she smashed into the pavement.


The door closed with Karen, Brent and Brent’s peeps on the other side. I checked to see if Angela was still lingering around the kitchen.

She wasn’t.

It would’ve been nice to take one more swing at wooing her from Blake, but beggars can’t be choosers. All I’ve wanted to do since Brent knocked on my door was return to my lonely throne and let the solitude rejuvenate my spirits like a cold compress.

Just let me step over a few empty beer cups and…

Oh, yeah.


Photograph by: Jaemin Riley
Written by: Mark Killian

...And the birds eat desire

Posted on: May 9, 2013

My wife’s mother told her a story the night before we were married. She was an old-fashioned mother, and a petite creature that seemed prone to mishandling, as if she might fold at any moment like a card table after an AA meeting.

Contrary to her size though, she held inscrutable beliefs, and she held them tight.

It was a crazy story - a voodoo story. A tale my wife and I used to mock in early morning romances between cotton sheets and hushed, private fucking.

We smiled at her imagination the way you smile when you’re embarrassed – tight lipped, head down, and contained. We smiled because we were in love and that’s what lovers do; they smile.


The girl’s name was Naomi and she was beautiful and small and calm in the way an only child can be.

She came from the city.

She loved to read, and when she told people this she emphasized that girlish word love because she did not yet know what it meant.

At twenty, she met a boy like her mother told her she would. His name was Mario, and he was handsome and tall. He had a sturdy jaw, pursed lips, and nice hands.

It took some time, but eventually, they thought it fate – the pair of them.

They married and settled. They fucked like rabbits. They fucked like newlyweds.

They spent afternoons reading out loud to one another because they both liked Hemingway.

“For his prose!” they said aloud and she would giggle and he would laugh.

They held hands often.

One year…

Two years…

And then, as if a curtain had been drawn, they fell out of love.

It was fast how it happened, how quickly their love soured.

It flailed and gasped and drowned in the ocean. It fell from the skyscraper and smashed into the ground and it bled everywhere.

Then came her obvious regret, as his love still thrived. He still kissed her neck. He still held her hand. He bought her things, little stupid things that she had once adored but now despised.

And so she dreamed where her guilt could not reach and she dreamed that something would happen, something terrible, and in the end he would be gone and she would be allowed to start over.

One night she slept, and she dreamed of a white room with a white bed and a single window. Outside the window it was black. Not darkness, but rather the absence of color – as if outside the window did not exist and there was only this room and this bed and this girl, Naomi.

She was dressed in a white gown, and her black hair was curled underneath her.

 Her eyes were closed and she lay on the bed, dreaming of a boy.

But not her Mario.

Instead, this one had tattoos and she lusted for his arms. He worked in the same bookstore she worked in. He had a wonderful haircut and he used to make jokes and when he laughed Naomi could feel it in her belly, the red-hot glow, the bleeding, licking carnality that filled her up like Thanksgiving turkey.

And so she closed her eyes and she dreamed of the new boy’s hands as they explored her. And she became more and more excited until all of it had to go somewhere…

And then the window burst open and in came the birds.

Hundreds of nondescript black birds, all of them screaming human screams, and they hurricaned around her and then they attacked.

They ripped at her belly. They pulled at her clothes. They tore at her skin and blood erupted from her and it sprayed against the wall, TAT – TAT –TAT, like machine gun fire.

The red blood clung and dripped from the white wall and she looked and saw a macabre mural of her creation.

She beat at the birds with her fists and her screams infused with those of the birds and it created a swelling, ghastly, cacophonous melody and still the birds screamed louder and their pitch went higher and higher and higherandhigherandhigher until she shot from her dream like lightning from the earth.




Mario held her but she knew something was lost, something in her belly, something she would never be able to replicate.

But they never divorced – the pair of them.

They grew old together. They never had children but they shared memories. They made love, and they cooked and their pastoral pleasantness compensated one another in some way.

But for the rest of her life, Naomi never felt any sort of sexual fervor for Mario, or any other man for that matter. It had taken her a bit, but eventually she accepted what the birds had stolen from her.

When she died she did not weep.

Instead she glanced to the walls around her, and in their sparkling whiteness, she searched for traces of red.


In the winter they congregate on the telephone line like fossilized old men at a country club, like a bunch of Chatty fucking Cathy’s, and with these goddamn birds come my mother-in-law’s story.

They appear and it appears and they are one in the same – these birds and their story. Recently, I’ve stayed inside and watched them through the window there on the wire. The word isn’t comforting, but they keep me company nonetheless.

I’ve done this since my wife came home from the hospital.

I do this as she cries in our bedroom, as she sleeps alone, as she refuses my eggs and toast I’ve made for her.

With the doctor and he keeps using the words mishap, mistake, mischance, and not once does he say MISCARRIAGE and I want to pin him down and fucking scream it at him and tattoo it on his face.

Instead, he says that we can try again when she’s ready.

“There are no second chances!” I yell. “There is no false start! There is no replay!”

I can no longer be a part of my wife. Not spiritually. Not physically.

It feels as if I can no longer be a part of myself.

And so I sit at the window.

I think of the story.

I think of my mother in law.

I think of my wife.

And the birds eat the desire.

Photograph by: Whitney Ott
Written by: Logan Theissen

A Singular Purpose

Posted on: May 6, 2013

“What is this?” Heidi held up the wooden object, perplexed.

Jackson peered at the object from behind the refrigerator door where he was grabbing fresh oranges. “A muddler,” he replied.

“What’s it for?” Heidi moved to the living room couch, it’s back facing the kitchen, and turned her body to watch him.

“You’ll see.”

Jackson set the oranges down on the kitchen counter and began shaving strips of rind off the fruit. He looked up from his task, pleased that he had finally invited her back to his apartment.

Heidi ran her hand along the stiff threads of the fabric couch, fingering a loose strand along its edge. She admired Jackson from where she sat, aware that his charm was in-part due to his playacting of good company, as one would for a casual date. She glanced about her surroundings, inhabiting the role of detective, pretending that she could deduce Jackson’s true character and personality by the contents of his apartment. Jackson’s bookshelf, replete with literary novels, must have meant that he was an intellectual. His television was set askew of the couch, so his free time was not spent lazing about. Rather, the wear on his running shoes and the ragged gym bag by the front door must’ve meant that Jackson lived dynamically, in constant motion. She already knew that he was handsome and well-dressed, so she convinced herself that he was exactly what she was looking for in a partner.

Jackson glanced up occasionally from his makeshift cocktail bar, a tray on his kitchen counter, and watched as Heidi scanned his apartment, quietly hoping that he had not left anything out that would undermine her perception of him.

“What are you making?” Heidi asked.

“Old Fashioneds,” Jackson replied, still working the orange.

“What’s in that?”

“Whiskey, bitters, maraschino cherries, and orange peel.”

“So what’s the muddler for?”

Jackson laughed, “You sure do ask a lot of questions.” He began crushing the maraschinos in a glass tumbler. “This is what a muddler is for,” he said.

“That’s all? Why can’t you just use a spoon?”

Jackson paused and thought for a moment, “Well, you probably could. This exists for just one reason, not that it makes it any less important, but it means it must do that one thing particularly well. And this,” he held up the muddler red with juice and the pulverized bits of cherries, “exists to muddle.”

Decades later, after Heidi had settled down with Dr. Anson Maguire, a podiatrist from Westchester, and after she had reared their two children, Alex and Morgan, when all she had left to do was reflect on her life, she remembered with surprising ease that first date with Jackson and the conversation about the muddler. She remembered the unnatural heat of that Indian summer and the oyster bar he had taken her to in the East Village. She remembered the briny shellfish and glasses upon glasses of white wine they had enjoyed together on the narrow outdoor portico. She remembered how lightheaded she felt, either from the wine or from the date, as they made their way to his apartment, hands clasped tightly together. She remembered the bright sunlight of the early evening hour and the way it had illuminated the entirety of Jackson’s studio apartment, its windows facing due west, directly in the path of the setting sun. Heidi smiled in her waning years, bemused by the fact she was able to recall such unremarkable details of that relationship, though she could recall little else about it. She thought it curious how complete that memory was, and how much she truly loved Jackson during their brief affair.

Jackson handed Heidi one of the glass tumblers, moist with condensation. He held his own tumbler close to his face and inhaled deeply before taking a measured sip. Heidi observed him from the corner of her eye and followed suit, unaccustomed to drinking with someone who appeared so self-assured in his ability to do so. Jackson later confessed he had been terrified that she would not find him interesting and had been deliberate in his every action. He had been so preoccupied with impressing her, exerting so much energy in being impressive, that he had not realized how little they had in common.

“You know, this isn’t bad. I don’t usually prefer whiskey cocktails.”

“Why didn’t you stop me when I told you what was in these?” Jackson shook his glass lightly, the ice clinking against the inside surface.

“I don’t know, I guess I wanted to try something new.” Heidi smiled as she said this.

“I’ve got a bottle of gin. If you’d like, I can make you something else.”

“No, honestly, it’s wonderful.” It would be the only time Heidi enjoyed a whiskey cocktail.

“Why is it they call them that?” Heidi asked. “Old Fashioneds, why are they called that?”

“There was a period of time where it became unfashionable to order the drink, so it was ‘old fashioned’ to do so.”

“How can something so simple fall out of favor?”

“The tenor of human fancies is a fickle thing.”

“So what were they called before?”


“Old Fashioneds, before they became old fashioned.”

“That’s a good question. I have no idea.”

There was a break in their conversation and it was silent for a moment inside Jackson’s apartment. His wall clock was broken, the second hand shifted back-and-forth perpetually on the fiftieth second.

“Jackson, do you like me?” The dark liquor had emboldened Heidi.

Jackson was slightly taken aback by the bluntness of the question, but answered truthfully, “Of course.” He took advantage of the moment and leaned in for a kiss. Jackson wasn’t sure if Heidi was the one. What he did know was that, at that moment, she was all he wanted.

They went to bed together that night. When Jackson woke the next morning, Heidi’s scent lingered on his bed, though she had not, and the glass tumblers he had set on the nightstand were gone.

Photograph by: Whitney Ott

Written by: James Mo


Posted on: May 2, 2013

I am a festival of feminine contradictions: I wear makeup to the gym, where I jump on the indoor track and run laps around the men. Talk of blood and needles nauseates me, but I have five piercings, three tattoos, and big plans for more. I straighten my hair daily, but I can't be bothered to color my grays or even wash it on a regular basis. I learned to bake when I was three, but at thirty, I can’t so much as sew a button on a coat. The latter is more of a problem than the others.

Case in point: I ordered a pair of pricey, lacey, black knee socks from Etsy. They arrived yesterday, I wore them to work today, and at 9:15, my boot buckle ripped a hole in one, right across my shin. Son of a bitch, I thought. I’m always doing that. I’m always ruining nice things. I rummaged through my desk for something to stop the snag. After deciding against a staple, I opted for scotch tape, which stood out against the black like a disco ball in a cabin. I tried to keep my legs as still as possible and made a mental list of friends who knew how to sew.

Trygg, my ex-fiancé, did. He said he would teach me, but then he left me for a twenty-year-old, and that put the kibosh on sewing lessons and, well, everything else. I should’ve known he’d drop me for a child. “Trygg” is not a grown-up name. “It’s Scandinavian,” he once told me. “It means faithful.” I should’ve thrown that in his face when he confessed that he’d been cheating, but I was too busy throwing plums—a dozen perfect red ones, which I’d bought to make a cobbler. Instead, I made a mess all over my carpet, though I hit Trygg with every one. I can’t catch to save my soul, but I pitch like a major leaguer.

I think of that day now, standing in the household supplies aisle at Fred Meyer, where I’m examining the two mini sewing kits I have to choose from. Each comes with sixteen colors of thread, and neither gives the option of grey-scale only, which would better suit my monochromatic wardrobe. The only difference is the price. I grab the more expensive one and turn to leave, when something jolts inside me, and I stop short—there she is. My replacement.

This is the second time I’ve seen her. The first was when Trygg and I exchanged boxes of our stuff. I met him on my porch and saw her in the driver’s seat of his car, like an accomplice ready to hit the gas as soon as the robbery was complete. I didn’t get a good look then, but today, I know it’s her. She’s wearing a pink polka dot smock with a sweater and tights to match. It’s almost too much, and then she shifts so I can see her face. She’s not pretty. I’d feel better if she were pretty. That would mean Trygg dumped me because he’s shallow and not because of my personality, which isn’t exactly something I can fix.

She’s perusing vacuums, oblivious to my presence, and I can’t pull my gaze away. I don’t want to think about the home she’ll bring the vacuum to, the strands of Trygg’s red hair she’ll clean off of her (their?) carpet, how he probably told her he’d buy the vacuum, and she said, No, I’m happy to do it. That’s the kind of guy he is, and these are the kind of women he finds. Here’s another contradiction: I’m meticulous about sanitizing the bathroom, but I only vacuum twice a year. Whenever Trygg and I made out on the floor, he’d leave with hair, dust, and pine needles stuck to his sweater. He never seemed to mind. Or maybe he did, and he just never said it.

My replacement is side-stepping down the aisle, back and forth, as though this is the most important decision she’ll ever make. I’m still staring, and right as I realize that, she looks over. I freeze, squeeze the sewing kit, don’t even blink. She smiles and lifts a hand to the vacuums, like Vanna White turning an illuminated vowel.

She says, “Do you know anything about these?” As though I’m just another woman shopping after work, buying a household item to fix the snag, the mess my man has made.

“No,” I say. “I’m sorry,” and I am, though I’m not sure for what.

She shrugs. “That’s okay. I mean, it’s a vacuum. As long as it does the job, right?”
I manage a smile that strains every muscle in my face, then back out of the aisle and speed-walk to the checkout.

At home, I Google “how to mend a sock” and find a YouTube video that’s easy to follow. But then I have to Google “how to thread a needle,” and by the time I figure that out, I’ve forgotten where I found the YouTube video. I think, Screw it, and start looping the needle in and out of the fabric, pulling the hole back together. I have to go over each stitch four times to make it hold.

I tie the knot, snip off the excess thread, and examine my handiwork. I’m less than impressed. It looks like a keloid scar, the kind I have on my chest from when I wiped out on my bike—a preteen riding in a purple bikini—and hit the gravel so hard an ER surgeon had to give me six stitches. I flaunt that scar like a badge of honor. It will not be the same with the socks. I’ll be self-conscious every time I put them on, until I decide to only wear them around the house. Whenever I do, I won’t look down, taking small comfort in the fact that, this time, no disaster will erupt from what I’m choosing not to see.

Photograph by: Whitney Ott
Written by: Jessica Lynne Henkle

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