1:1 - Tabitha Blankenbiller

Posted on: January 31, 2014

interviewed by Dot Dannenberg
Welcome to 1:1, the first in a series of interviews in which 1:1000 sits down with 1 writer or photographer, and they tell us all their secrets.

Last week I chatted with Tabitha Blankenbiller, the author behind “Border Town” and “Plump Insides.” Over Perrier and crudités at an exclusive restaurant you haven’t heard of yet, we sat down to discuss life and work. Tabitha looked chic in a hand-made headband and steampunk-inspired boots, gazing into the distance as she professed her love for Sriracha and Disneyland.

1:1000: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

TABITHA J. BLANKENBILLER: I wrote a bunch of stories and such when I was a kid, but I also made a lot of Play-Doh blue hamburgers, and I didn't decide to seriously pursue that. I think the moment that made me realize that this is what I wanted to do happened in 2005, when a college professor assigned our class "The Love of My Life" from The Best American Essays 2003, written by an up-and-comer named Cheryl Strayed. College hadn't turned out to be the marvelous misadventure with friendships and sexy sidequests that I'd always dreamed of. I was desperate and lonely and trying to validate my existence in the lowest places, and reading Strayed's exquisite, raw account of her early-twenties low--losing her mother and destroying her marriage--it was a heart-taser. I remember curling around the paperback on my bed, crying for at least an hour: my pain, Strayed's, the incredible revelation that I wasn't alone. When I woke up, it was with the promise that if I was going to write, I wanted to write like that. It's what I'm still trying for, every damn day.

1:1000: What's the first thing you can remember writing?

TJB: When I was probably eight years old, the first issue of American Girl Magazine came out, featuring an article about a girl who was the same age as me and had published a book already. I can still see the damn excerpts in my head. It was called "Punt, Pass and Pointe" and it was about a football player who took ballet lessons to become more agile on the field. I was so pissed. Bitch writing a book before middle school. I wanted that crown, dammit. I wrote and illustrated a book called "The Candy Capers" about two scampy kids who planned an epic candy store heist. I did the cover up with a sweet candy cane font, and sprinkled an unspoken romance between the main characters. I found the address for Scholastic in one of my picture books and sent it off to them, and got back a letter informing me that they did not accept unsolicited manuscripts. That was my last submission for about 20 years.

1:1000: Oh, gosh! That’s so harsh! I know that jealousy so well--it’s how I feel when I think about being the same age as Lady Gaga. But that’s the mark of a true writer, maybe--seeing great work and turning around to write your own, rather than collapsing in a puddle. What are some of your more unusual sources of inspiration?

TJB: I'm really nostalgic, so I'm sparked by anything that can bring me back to a time when I was a different person, however small or random. I just finished a piece for Hobart based around the Snake game on old Nokia cell phones.

1:1000: Beautiful. And I love that other essay you wrote about blowing the dust off the old N64. In the spirit of nostalgia, if you could tell your fifteen-year-old self three things, what would they be?

TJB: 1. Buy Amazon stock. All of it. 2. WEAR YOUR RETAINER. 3. Every single thing that you hate about yourself right now, what you think stands between you and being accepted, is exactly what will make you an adult people want to be around. Your people are out there. They just don't live in Buckley, Washington.

1:1000: And aside from Cheryl Strayed, what's the last thing you read that blew your mind?

TJB: A few weeks ago, Jezebel ran an article about the (almost) abandoned Lisa Frank factory titled "Inside the Rainbow Gulag." Apparently Lisa Frank and her husband ran their color-vomit binder and eraser factory in a coke-fueled narcissism and sex haze, which to any girl of the 90's looking back, makes pretty much total sense. And the world headquarters, which has dwindled down to just a couple of employees, is like five miles from my new Tucson house. Apparently there's a unicorn with a broken horn in the parking lot. I think there needs to be a 1:1000 scout mission for that one.

1:1000: Tuscon photographers, TAKE NOTE. Speaking of Tucson, your new essay deals a lot with place and identity--especially this overarching idea of figuring out who you are since moving from Portland to Tucson. How has this relocation affected your writing?

TJB: Honestly, it's flipped everything over. I'm not saying everything is bad in opposite-land. It's January and 70 degrees out right now. I had lunch on a patio today like I'm staying at Sandals resort or something. But the thing is, it happened so fast. My husband was offered a job relocation package from thin air, and within about a month we were headed down to a house in a place we'd never been, never even looked into moving to. I think my writing in the Northwest had a sense of certainty and root to it, that this was who I was and where I was. Now I have a much tougher time committing to an identity or idea of "home", not out of spite and insolence (at least after the first seven months or so), but because who and where I am is so up in the air. We could move back to our Portland house for a year, or we could end up here indefinitely; at this point, we don't know. I think there's a new perspective in my work. I hope it's a better one. Something's got to be worth driving around with all these damn snowbirds.

1:1000: Tell me about your memoir.

TJB: It's called Paper Bag: Tales of Love, Beauty and Baggage, and it's a memoir-in-essays about the price of perfection. I grew up with so many "ideal" versions of myself and my life, and being fixated on fulfilling these giant, impossible expectations of my appearance, my career, my relationships--it just made me into a really desperate and lonely version of myself. It's told in essays, much like Jo Ann Beard's The Boys of My Youth or Nick Flynn's Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. I like when memoir is less stringent with chronology, which is what I tried to do. It's built around understanding, and overcoming, the madness of becoming a woman who can stand the fuck up for herself.

1:1000: The flash fiction genre has been around awhile--where do you think flash-memoir fits into the literary scene?

TJB: I think that flash-memoir is such a natural fit for the genre, since it's the way we experience our memories. Little snippets and scenes, suddenly triggered and wispy. When you look at the power in pieces published in short-form nonfiction journals like Brevity, the economy of space speaks for itself. It's why, I think, memoir is often compared to poetry. You can often do much more by keeping the moment contained instead of letting it sprawl out into a bunch of backstory and exposition.

1:1000: What's your strategy been for working within the 1,000 word limit?

TJB: The word limit was more of a challenge when I wrote "Plump Insides", because I was uncovering so much emotion that I had forgotten or thought was "over." The incident with my teacher launched me into the worst depression I've ever experienced, which lasted through virtually all of middle school. The guilt and confusion just ate me alive. The word limit prevented me from going into that, and kept me focused on the event rather than allowing the narrative to amoeba out into what happened later, which would have diluted the story. When I learned that I couldn't fit all of it--the event and the repercussions--I focused on making the scene as powerful as I could, so that the reader would know it would reverberate out later without being told. It's a great lesson I probably need to remember more often. With "Border Town", it's a simpler story, but I still wasn't allowed to go into the tangents I considered about cartel violence or Tucson immigration politics or whatever else. The word limit kept the heart of what I felt without giving me the freedom to make a mess.

1:1000: At 1:1000, we're rather partial to "A picture's worth a thousand words." What sayings/mantras/philosophies are you living by this year?

TJB: I'm not sure who said "quit being such a social anxiety-riddled nutcase," but they were wise indeed, so I'm going with that. Come to think of it, I believe that was Thoreau.

1:1000: Wise words, indeed. For people out there who might be considering writing, or considering submitting their writing for the first time, how do you manage to balance your day job with the work you really want to be doing?

TJB: By day, I'm an editor at a company that writes training materials and manuals for the mining industry. I know, isn't that riveting and sexy? The great thing about it is that as soon as I leave, none of it comes home with me. I stop giving a shit about grinding circuits and flocculant at exactly 4:57 p.m. Up until now I used to work in Marketing, and there was always stress that walked out to the car and through the front door with you. Wondering if you missed anything on that proof for ten thousand light switch catalogs, if the burger patties will thaw in time for the customer appreciation barbecue--not to mention, doing graphic design and copywriting, that ate up so much creative energy. I'm relieved to be free of that and have a legitimately boring job. But it's still difficult to write on worknights when you pack in the long commute, throwing some garbage together to call dinner, and acknowledging my husband's existence. It's kind of just a sheer matter of will. If you want to write, you have to carve out the time even if it could be used to do a bazillion other worthy things with, like keeping your kitchen cleaner or watching the stars come out on the patio. I miss a lot of Jon Stewart, and I secretly don't have Netflix. I complain a lot. Kind of constantly. But then I remember Stephen King writing "Carrie" in his laundry room or whatever in between janitor gigs, and I keep stepping forward.

1:1000: You heard it here, folks. Cancel your Netflix and write more.

Tabitha Blankenbiller is a Pacific Northwest native, originally born in Seattle and raised on the Mt. Rainier plateau. She graduated from the Pacific University MFA program in June 2012. She is a staff writer at PDXX Collective and Spectrum Culture, and writes The Wordstalker column for Barrelhouse Magazine. Her personal essays have been published in journals including Owl Eye Review, Sliver of Stone and Brevity. Her memoir,"Paper Bag," is represented by Jennifer Chen Tran at Penumbra Literary.

Border Road

Posted on: January 30, 2014

The end of the world is near.

We are driving southbound on I-80 toward Bisbee, Arizona. My husband Matt drives while my parents and I stare silently out the windows. Matt and I moved to Tucson nine months ago from Portland, Oregon, and my Seattle-ite parents are our first visitors from the homeland. They watch the miles of desert flit past with wonder, asking me the same questions I used to ask them about the mountains and trees as a child. What kind of cactus is that? Why do they only grow on hillsides? How much rain falls? Are we close to Mexico yet?

“In Bisbee, we’ll be twenty minutes from the border,” Matt tells us. He points to the hills in the distance, hunched lower than the Pacific Northwest crags that wallpaper my memories of all life before now. These are rounder, sparser, taking the hottest and coldest temperatures the earth is capable of churning in stride. “I know I’ve gotten calls from the truck out here before.”

This is the reason we’re here. Matt’s company creates mobile surveillance units for the government, used to watch the drug-runners skittering through the nothingness. The invisible line in the Sonoran sand separating America from Mexico, comes into focus when you are close enough to touch it. The hills, the dust, the agave, the sunsets flamboyant enough to put neon to shame, they don’t end where we drew the line.

We pass the gaping Lavender Pit mine across from old Bisbee, which folds like steps to the bottom of the earth. The day before our Bisbee trip we walked through the Tucson Desert Museum’s Ancient Arizona exhibit, with a wall of alien minerals glowing in the almost-dark. Blocky chunks of malachite, like coral from an otherworldly sea; wulfenite, an amber cluster that looked like butterscotch shards; and alcoves of azurite that were like gazing into an alien cave. I imagine each piece carried up the steps, wonders one by one stripped from their home, leaving nothing but dusty ledges and a pit no one felt inclined to fill. A blue road sign tags the crater’s mouth as a “Roadside Viewpoint.”

Around the corner, the GPS throws up her hands. “Due to insufficient data, navigation has been lost,” she tells us.

Fortunately the town is miniature, and our destination appears through the road’s next bend. A smattering of tent canopies in a block-sized park making up the local farmer’s market. Unlike the superstar farmer’s markets I left behind in Portland, the ones crammed with Food Network featurette food trucks and famous chef demonstrations and corporate “artisan” bread overlords, most of these booths didn’t even have signs. The fancier professionals broke out some poster board and Sharpies to announce their Gluten Free-ness to the passers-by, but most let their tabletop wares seduce alone. Olives cured in local oil, sourdough breads studded with jalapenos and goat cheese, tortillas so warm and puffy they seem to hover. While I am mesmerized by steaming bundles of fresh tamales, my dad wanders over to a man and a woman I assume to be his elderly mother. They sit next to a grill crammed with golden bundles.

“Chile rellenos,” Dad says, and I know he has won the Find of the Day game. He offers me a bite, and the kerchiefed woman’s eyes light up as mine roll back in my head.

“This is the best thing I can remember eating,” I tell her, and she grins twenty years off her face. I want to follow her away, to learn how to make just, exactly, this. I’m dying to discover whatever magic exists to make the batter so light and yet crunchy, the chile pepper snap, the cheese to ooze without gushing. But the world for me ends twenty minutes away.

“I could get a passport,” I’ve told Matt a half-dozen times. With each mention he gives me a look I can read with eight-years-together couple telepathy. We’re not going to Mexico; it’s not South America Disneyland. He thinks I expect to be serenaded by mariachi down curls of brick street unfurling into piazzas full of piñatas and flamenco dancers. I want to refute the image, to tell him that I know that Mexico isn’t a cartoon playland with chile peppers. But in his mind, my desire to visit is proof enough that I don’t understand what’s at the end of the Arizona highway at all. This is the view of a man who watches criminals smuggling into hills, who has heard every horror story the border patrol agents are at liberty to share. It is the Mexico of news snippets and grainy indie films, of machete executions and white slavery.

And then there are my co-workers and new neighbors, the ones who talk about having to head down to Chihuahua or Sonora on the weekend for a niece’s quinceañera or a grandmother’s 94th birthday party, the concept of driving south as breezy as heading a couple hours north to Phoenix. They are not kidnapped and beheaded upon arrival. They aren’t thrown in jail as bribes are wired back home.

“That’s because they’re Mexican,” Matt reminds me. “And you’re not.”

Then suddenly, my insurmountable boundary makes sense. After all, the U.S. doesn’t open its gates for curiosity. People aren’t welcomed over here to sample local cuisine, take selfies next to road signs, poke around at the art. I have a place; I need to know what it is. I need to stay on my side. The road isn’t pavement. It is contradiction and friction and complication and politic and personal, and I am incapable of understanding.

I drop the subject, but then when I’m alone with my no-judgment laptop, I set Google Earth on our house in Tucson. I grab the screen with the little cursor hand, and drag the map down, down, through whole blank screens of desert, until I reach the United States-Mexico thick gray line. I reach down, where the streets turn into calles. There is a grocery store. A fire station. Tons of dentist offices. Gourmet coffee café. Cities, people, lives further down the stretch, across the line in the sand.

Written by: Tabitha Blankenbiller
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe

The Ballad of Maria

Posted on: January 28, 2014

There before us is Mexico. It is dry and clean, framed by the hard edges of the car windows. There is a kind of architectural brilliance to this sterile landscape, to it’s lack of mess. So, I ask, “What am I doing here? What is there to say of Mexico?” I am offered no answers, so I’ll make my own.

My answer is Maria, dying of cancer. She is being removed from this world, systematically at times. We are desperate, and because we saw it in a movie and because we are American we believe in the ability of the road to heal.

The road heals, cancer kills, and Mexico sucks; I hold these truths to be self-evident. Thou shalt not cross the border into this fucking hellsuck of a desert that swallows souls.

I’m driving a white 89’ VW Cabriolet with the top up. I’m not a car guy and the only reason I know this particular model is because Jorge at the car rental place kept repeating “Cabriolet” over and over again as his selling point. Maria tried to dust off her Spanish but Jorge kept saying “Cabriolet” and finally I said, “Fuck, fine,” and Jorge smiled and walked to the back to get the keys.

And so now I’m driving a fucking “Cabriolet.”

Maria says, “You’re so angry. Please, be calm.”

Of course I’m angry. Why aren’t you angry? You should be fucking angry, too. Instead, she smokes a joint. She leans her head back against the seat and blows the smoke out of the open window and into the Mexican desert and then she offers the joint to me. I decline because I don’t smoke anymore. Since she was diagnosed, I can’t risk losing control of my emotions. I have to stay on point, so for her I decline the joint. I have to pilot the Cabriolet.

Here, we learn what Maria looks like. My description would be different if the desert and the cancer hadn’t stolen all of my romantic impulses, but they did, and now I am committed to realism. Maria is wearing a white dress with no bra; it’s a perfect dress to wear in a desert. She is twenty-two years old, half-Mexican from her father’s side, with dark skin that seems as if it was made to be in the sun. She had brown hair until she lost all of it, and at that time she wore a blue headscarf that had a little pink chicken on one corner. For reasons unknown even to her, she loves chickens. Now that she has stopped treatment her hair has grown back, but she still wears the scarf. Underneath, she sports a pixie-cut and her hair is a lighter shade of brown. When she got sick she fell off the edge, emotionally, I mean. I was of no assistance to her at that time and we went three weeks without seeing each other or talking. Before she got sick, I hadn’t been away from her for more than twenty-four hours since middle school. Eventually, she walked through the door back into the light, I suppose, and she was pretty much like she was before, except she no longer smiled with teeth. All her smiles were tight-lipped from that point on and it was a real shame. She had a great smile.

If you can’t tell that I love her, then I haven’t done a good job describing her.

She smokes more of the joint and keeps her head tilted toward the window so I can only see half of her face. She’s wearing sunglasses. The sun hangs above us in a blue sky buttressed by billowy, white cumulonimbus clouds. The red clay and dirt of the desert run beneath us. Mesquite trees, bent grotesquely by the wind, look like frail, hunkered witches and pockmark the land around our small highway.

I asked Maria where she wanted to go and she said, “I want to drive into the sun,” so we’re heading West. I’m hoping when we get there it swallows us up, both of us, and we won’t have to worry about Mexico or cancer ever again. But before we make it to the sun, we pass a small restaurant on the side of the highway, the first of its kind that we’ve seen, and Maria has the munchies so she instructs me to pull over. Once at a stop, she gets out the car and stretches and looks around and I wonder if she’s counting the times she’ll partake in normal, regular things. I know that I’m counting. There is a finite number of times that she’ll get out of a car after a long ride and stretch and look around at new environment. Does this make her moments more special? Yes. Should it? I don’t know.

The restaurant is actually more of a cantina and there are chickens. Because the universe makes no sense, Maria has cancer and will die before twenty-three, but at least there are chickens. She is pleased. We sit at one of the few tables and a teenage girl in jean shorts, sneakers, and a baby blue t-shirt greets us. There is a sign in English that says “Fresh eggs” on the gate of a wood fence behind us. The teenage girl’s name is Violet and when Maria tells her that her name is beautiful the girl grins and says in broken English that she’s the only person that she’s ever known named Violet. Maria replies that she’s never met a Violet either, and then asks me. I knew a Violet in third grade. “Nope,” I reply. “Never.”

We order pastor tacos with diced onions, peppers, and pineapple bits. They will be served on fresh corn tortillas. Maria is humming a tune and I know what it is before she says, “Do you remember my song?” I recognize it because I wrote it. It’s called “The Ballad of Maria,” and I wrote and played it for her in college. It’s a waltz with twelve verses and even though it’s insanely over the top, she loves it, and therefore so do I.

The tacos will arrive and they’ll be delicious. Night will come as well, and we won’t drive into the sun and disappear, not today. Instead we’ll stay at the cantina and drink tequila with Violet’s father who will have a guitar and I will play “The Ballad of Maria,” and when it’s over everyone will clap except for her. No, Maria will just smile at me, with teeth.

We’ll stay in Mexico until her penultimate month, where she’ll smoke weed and I’ll count the things she does as she does them for the last time; the last time Maria swims in the ocean, the last time Maria drinks a beer, the last time Maria showers in a Mexican motel room. Before it’s too late, we’ll go home. Her sister will sit next to me at the funeral and we’ll hold hands as we watch the progression of Maria’s life through a series of pictures being projected on the back wall of the church. You know the kind of pictures I’m referring to, so I don’t feel the need to explain.

She’ll select a Beatles song, “Happiness Is A Warm Gun,” to be played during the slideshow and toward the end, there for everyone to see, will be the picture I took of our Mexican cantina. Here’s the last time Maria smiled with teeth. Here’s the last time she hung out with chickens. Here’s the last time someone played her song, the one she used to hum, the Ballad of Maria.

Written by: Logan Theissen
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe


Posted on: January 23, 2014

"I brought this," Tony pulls out a package and unwraps the chicken foot as though it is precious treasure. In fact, it is raw offal dangling from twine.

"Damn, man, what's that for?" Jamal reels back like the foot is the most disgusting thing he has ever seen.

"Good luck," Tony shrugs. "It means good luck, right?"

"Naw, man - that's a rabbit foot," Jamal laughs.

"What's this?" Craig emerges from the alley, and the wind wails his arrival. He fingers the twine and shakes his head. "This is some hoodoo shit, Tony-o!"

Jamal and Tony lean in close to listen to what Craig will say next. His family is old NOLA, hanging on with sheer Southern stubbornness and tracing their roots back from Craig through the Jazz Age, Reconstruction, and, if Anne Rice adaptations are to be believed, when vampires had Tom Cruise's crazy charm and Brad Pitt's bone structure.

"Gramma's big into hoodoo, you know? She told me once a chicken foot is like, a protection charm," Craig says, "Not exactly good luck, but probably better for us if shit goes down."

If shit goes down.
Tony thinks about the bad reception on his mom's tv set, grainy static interspersed with satellite images and doomsday prophets in the form of news anchors and politicians.

If shit goes down.
Jamal pictures Big Ray and his swagger; Jamal sees the man’s face, an unfazed mask devoid of remorse every time the police arrest him.

If shit goes down. Craig remembers Gramma's stories of the past Big Easy, how families can float without a care in the world and then spiral down the drain as quick as dirty bathwater.

"Y'all still want to do this?" Craig's voice has the unmistakable shake of nerves and fear.

"Where'm I gonna go, motherfucker?" Jamal barks. "Ain't got money to leave, ain't got another place to stay."

"Yeah," Tony chimes in, his voice a tinny echo after Jamal's baritone bravado. "I came home and Mama won't leave, says the place'll stay up. I try to tell her what the people on the TV say, but she won't listen."

Come with me, please!
No, Antonio, no. It's safe here.

"Fuckin' language barrier," Jamal says, as though it can boil down to that.

"We should go," Craig says.


"I should have stayed," Tony says during a moment of relative quiet. The light is dim and the air is thick with humidity. Years later, they would tell people they were in danger of slowly suffocating in the Superdome, and the only thing that ever cut through the heavy air was the stench of rot and disregard, poor planning and impossible expectations.

"You can leave if you want, Tony-o," Craig replies. He does not say it with the anger or malice Tony expected. "If you're worried about your mom, it's the right thing to do."

Tony realizes he thought less of Craig than he should, and feels bad that it took a literal disaster to recognize this.

They have been in the Superdome for three days, and something has changed among the three friends: they will always be fellow survivors, bound by the knowledge they were once refugees in their own home.

"Yeah, but can you leave?" Jamal asks. There is a slow, unhealthy wheeze in his breath that makes everyone nervous. "They say there's already looting, but you know that's ridiculous. If you're taking food and cases of water, that's not looting; that's survival."

"You don't know what's going on out there," Craig says.

"I know no one's wading out for some DVD players when there's no electricity and no black market," Jamal retorts.

"Do you think she's okay?"

Craig and Jamal stop bickering and exchange glances in the dim light. Jamal coughs and the search for an un-empty water bottle in the ration kits distracts them from answering: no, probably not.

They don't have anything to steal, so they don’t catch anyone’s interest until the fifth day.

"Diablo," the old man says to Tony, pointing a crooked finger at the chicken foot. The old man looks like he may keel over any second.

"Oh, shit," Jamal whispers.

"Why didn't he throw that thing away?" Craig says. "Maybe that's adding to the smell."

Tony tries to explain to the old man, to reason with him, but everything sounds stupid: see, I abandoned my mom because she refused to leave, but I took this chicken foot for good luck, and then it turns out that a rabbit foot is good luck, and maybe I shouldn't have thought hacking off the limbs of small animals was good, period.

The old man has the crazed, delirious look of near-death in his eyes, like Greek mythology and the Fates--Atropos grasping the old man's thread of life. She'll sever it at any moment. Craig doesn't know the words that slip from Tony's cracked lips, but he can see the same panic that Grandpa had at the end. There is no reasoning with Death.

A stout black man approaches the group. Jamal bristles; they're now attracting attention.

"What's this? You piss him off?" The man says. Jamal doesn't care that his shirt is stained with sweat; it's the dried blood that has him worried, and that look he's seen from Big Ray so often: defiance and cool cruelty. This new guy doesn't care about the old man; he wants to fight.

The tense undercurrent was bound to surface, and no one is surprised when someone falls to the ground. The surprise, at least for a moment, is that it is Tony who throws the first punch.

Craig knows they only have a temporary advantage, so he kicks the fallen man in the ribs, eliciting muffled cries.

Jamal watches the chicken foot whip through the air and connect with the man's face again and again. Blood covers the tiny claws like nail polish and scarlet stains the twine.

Shit goes down.

Written by: Erin Justice
Photograph by: Jaemin Riley

Pas de Deux

Posted on: January 21, 2014

A boy of 12, Edward and his mother prepared to leave Uncle Isaak's dinner party when Edward ran upstairs to give Min a kiss. Min, a girl of 3, was Uncle Isaak's goddaughter, who abruptly entered Edward's life only 4 months prior, after her parents were deemed unfit to care for her. The boy entered Min's nursery to find her bed empty; he was confused.

"Eddie", Min's delicate voice came from the closet. The closet door was ajar, and Edward approached slowly. Opening the door, he saw Min lying on the floor with her blanket and stuffed animals.

"What are you doing in here?" Edward asked.

"It's safe here," Min replied.

Edward knelt down to kiss her forehead, and she took hold of his hand. "Don't go!" she begged. Edward laid down in the closet beside her as she snuggled into him.

"What are you afraid of?"

Edward's mother entered the nursery. "Edward?"

Before Edward could respond, Min covered his mouth: "Shhhh..."

The closet door opened. "Time to go, my love," said Edward's mother. She lifted Min into her arms and carried her to bed.


He was her protector, and this memory often replayed in his mind during moments of insecurity. Min was 18, and beautiful. She had just been accepted into Juliard's Dance Division, and would now be close enough to Edward that he could stop making up excuses to come back home to Millburn every weekend. He'd been living in Manhattan for 3 years, and just purchased a beautiful 4-bedroom condo for the bargain price of $12 million. There was no reason why such a good-looking bachelor needed so much space. Everything he did was for Min.

Min was petite with dark features and full of life, in contrast to Edward's broad frame, red hair, and reserved demeanor. She devoted her life to ballet and becoming the woman she believed Edward would want her to be, leaving little room for a social life. The one time she invited Edward to a party her freshman year of high school, he told her his presence would be inappropriate. After that, she never partied and rarely hung out with friends.

Min loved Edward, and never bothered with boys from school. She possessed a physical confidence unlike most girls her age, but Edward was self-loathing and had developed somewhat of a dependency on porn and prostitution. He was a loyal client to an exclusive escort service in the city, although he had been in unpaid relationships before. The escort service proved to be significantly less complicated, and the women never expected Edward to introduce them to his family. He never wanted Min to think there was any woman he would put before her.


After moving to New York, Min would go to Edward's condo most nights, usually sleeping over. She would often crawl into his bed in the middle of the night, resulting in him moving to the sofa in the living room. For years he'd fantasized about Min being old enough to take out on a proper date; fantasized about being able to provide for her and own a big enough home for them to have children, and for her to have her own dance studio like the one she had at Uncle Isaak's house.

It was on the sofa, late at night, with Min in the other room, he convinced himself he could never touch her, and that he was a pedophile for having been in love with a girl since she was a toddler. Even though now she was old enough, now that she was so close, the fantasy world in which he’d once felt so safe was becoming real, and he didn't know how to exist in it.


As Edward became more detached over the next several months, and his birthday was approaching, Min decided to surprise him at his home with a gift. She called his mobile, but as had become the norm, he didn't answer. She let herself into the condo with the spare key he kept in the stairwell, walking to the dining room table to set down his present. She saw movement in her peripheral, and turned to see a naked woman standing in the doorway of the kitchen; the woman was petite with dark features, though Min was too consumed by her own humiliation to notice.

"I'm… I'm so sorry," Min said as she grabbed the card from the gift bag, leaving the present on the table as she made her escape.


Edward was mortified upon discovering Min had been in the apartment, but couldn't bring himself to chase after her and look her in the eyes. He wasn't one for crying, but as he opened the gift bag she'd left behind, a sharp pain pierced his heart that made him wince; the gift was a Knight carved from wood.

Edward called Min every day for weeks, and even sent her her favorite flowers. Making his way to her apartment late at night, Edward had gone from being hesitant and fearful to becoming the determined and tenacious man he knew Min would want him to be, but she was traumatized by the incident involving the naked woman; her virginity had become shameful to her, and her lively spirit faded into bitterness. She never answered his phone calls for fear he would patronize her innocence, and the vulnerability she had always wanted to feel in front of Edward had now become a weapon against her; she could hardly stand to be within her own skin.

As Edward made his way to her apartment, Min was running a bath, taking the pink roses he’d sent her and picking the petals out, letting them fall into the tub. Immersing herself under the water, it was in the tub, late at night, with Edward ringing the buzzer downstairs, that Min would convince herself Edward could never love her because she was a child, and that the life she had envisioned with her Knight would never be anything more than a fairytale.

Written by: Rebecca Lee
Photograph by: Whitney Ott

The Regular

Posted on: January 14, 2014

“Knock on wood,” Charles chuckled, rapping his knuckles on the bar and fumbling for the light in his pocket.

The bartender, Dan—Danny as he was known by regulars at The Poodle Dog Lounge—had just finished another of his perpetually optimistic “if/then” arguments on how the ’Boys were destined for the playoffs.

But Charles knew better. He’d seen—and heard—it all before.

Still, Danny is a good kid, Charles thought.

I was a good kid once, too. But that was before.
Before the long days. Before the late nights. Before Linda.

His hand passed to the next pocket of his stained microsuede jacket, fingering every familiar crevice, the seams surprisingly intact. Sure, the cuffs were frayed and the smell of smoke—black and white—lingered permanently, but the coat held its own.

And to think what that Injun sold it for. It’s funny what booze’ll do to a man.

The door screeched open and light poured in, illuminating the ever-present stream of dust and particleboard wafting from the over-cranked A/C. A young couple stumbled through the entrance. Charles caught the glint of what he thought was a Volvo keychain.


Their giggles dying down, the fresh meat came to a standstill a few feet in. Scoping the scene, they began to whisper to one another.

Charles hated that.

“Why can’t people just say what they mean? I mean, this is America, God damn it! Land of the free speech, home of the bravado, and all that crap,” he’d say. But Linda wasn’t listening.

Linda never listened.

The newcomers reeled around, herding themselves toward the door. Above it: a half-rusted exit sign next to which the word “only” had been carved, alongside a rough caricature of someone’s rear end.

“That’s a real pain in the crass,” Charles used to joke with Buck, the previous barkeep, who couldn’t help but groan.

Buck had passed a few years back. Charles was sorry he couldn’t make the funeral, but he’d poured one out while watching the game. There had been a lot riding on “that one.”

Fuck the ’Boys.

Fuck Linda.

“Fuck, that’s bright,” came a cry from the shadows as the tourists took their leave. “It’s like the land of the rising sun in here.”


Pat, the patron—that’s what Charles called him anyway. He’d never known Pat’s given name. But he didn’t need to; they’d shared drinks and stories and Marlboros—none of that American Spirit shit. They’d shot pool together. They’d swapped life lessons with Buck. Hell, they’d bled together. Pat; Pat was a blood brother.

The hinges swang shut. “I didn’t know!” Charles thought he could make out one of the outsiders chirp at the other.

“That’s the problem with kids today,” Pat bemoaned. “They can’t tell if they’re coming or…” he broke into a half cough, half laugh, half gasp. Then he turned the tank nozzle half-a-notch, or thereabouts.

Pat knew. Pat was wise beyond even his years.

There was a special place in Heaven just waiting for Pat: a stool with his (real) name on it. Pat was one of the good guys.

“I hope he outlasts us all,” Charles had toasted once, before tossing back a shot of Jack with the boys, while some sissy onlooker sipped his Scotch.

He’d cracked the glass on the first slam and cut his finger. “Amazin’ how the littlest cuts’ll bleed forever and a day.”

He’d soaked the back half-seat of Linda’s pickup straight through to the foam. But the man had problems of his own.

“Where the hell is my light?” he muttered aloud, having reached his limit on time spent without the lucky striker.

The lighter had been a gift from his father. Stainless steel. Emblazoned with an eagle—an eagle killin’ a snake, nonetheless! God bless America.

His father had been a true American, a red-blooded American. A patriot, as the French would say. And dagnabbit if he hadn’t been willing to do whatever it took to preserve that way of life, including swapping a fat cash cow or two (who could count?) with that dirt farmer from down south for that fine fire-starter.

“Aha!” he proclaimed, finally finding the prized heirloom behind the two empty glasses in front of him. “Sneaky bastard, ain’tcha?”

It was there. It was always there. It had always been there.

It was there to light candles on his eighteenth birthday. It was there to fan the flame of Lord knows how many cigs on his first tour. It was there to stoke the celebratory stogie when his first-born was… y’know.

It was there on the Fourth, when the kids needed to fire up the roman candles to burn out each other’s eyes.

And it was there when that first “LATE:” notice came; for all the overnights; the 12-minute “lunch” breaks; the 5 a.m. “happy” hours.

It was there at the end. It was there to burn the papers she had signed—and made him sign. It was there. It was always there.

Just like The Poodle Dog. The Poodle Dog was always there. The Poodle Dog had always been there.

For birthdays. For holidays. For that promotion. For funerals.

R.I.P., Buck.

Chuck crossed himself, or rather, backward-J’d himself, forgetting where the fourth tap should land.

“Aww, to hell with it.” And with one, two, three strikes came the flicker of flame and the sweet release. Paradise in his lungs—his haven on Earth.

“Hey, hey… Charlie! …You can’t do that in here,” Dan chided from across the bar, one eye on Charles, one eye on the girl he was (over)serving, and another on the front door.

What? Does he think Serpent Co. is about to bust the joint?

“Since when?” Charles inquired, earnestly.

“Since so-and-so said so… whenever… awhile ago.”

“Oh, come on, Danny boy! Be a team player. You’re a good guy.”

“It’s Donald,” spat back the young buck, rolling his eyes and snatching the smoke. “Danny only works Tuesdays. And those things will kill you anyway.”

“Knock on wood.”

Written by: Josh McGonigle
Photograph by: Chris Boyles

Even Cows Dream of Darlings and Death

Posted on: January 9, 2014

“Do cows dream?”

Yes, of course, and if this is the last question you ask of me, then at least it’s a good one. If this is the last question you ask of me, then I reckon I’ll elucidate. When you grow old like I’ve grown old I hope that you remember to answer the questions of the young. How are we supposed to learn if we cannot teach?


Nevermind. For a smile I’ll tell you a story, a story of my darling, and how she made it to the sun.

“Tell me the story, please. The story of your darling.”

See us walking those dew-crusted prairies in the morning, before the sun comes up. In that darkness you feel it in the air, and you know that this is God’s country. It ain’t no man and it ain’t no being but Mother Nature and Her generosity, shining down like summertime heat in squirrely waves of grace so powerful they distort your vision. Say you walk out with me, out to the prairie, and we stand there while the sun comes up and you tell me that you love me. I know love. I might be dumb, but I know love.

My darling? She was more beautiful than the rest of us had any right to be. She was like the moment it stops raining on a summer afternoon. She was sultry and smiling and her warmth sunk into you, not around you, like a fire will dive past the skin and right into the marrow of your bones. She would inhabit those she loved like a specter and she was with me until the end.

“Like when sister dresses in Mama’s clothes?”

I suppose. But don’t interrupt, dear boy. The sun rose and set on her last day, and when it raised again it was not the same. It had changed and she was a part of it. I can close my eyes and she shines down on me now.

“How did she make it to the sun? Was there a ship?”

No, child, there was no ship. And what did I say about interrupting?


Now don’t look to the ground, young man, don’t hug to your teddy. Not even Teddy can help you now. One day when you’re older you’ll know what it means to look a thing in the eyes. To peer into that darkness like you’re looking down a well into their soul.

“Like Ol’ Sally’s well, out in the east pasture?”

No, that well is shallow.

“Member’ when sister fell down in Ol’ Sally’s well and Papa…”

Child, please. If you don’t want to hear about my darling, maybe you’ll hear of my other dreams? I suppose you can hear of the time I killed a man.


Well, well. I take it them saucer eyes mean I have your attention, young man.

It was during a storm, the likes of which I will not see again. Your Daddy and his brothers, they were caught in it, out there on the plain trying to keep us stitched together like a moving, breathing puzzle, shouting and cursing to the heavens above, lost in that darkness. You couldn’t see nothing. Couldn’t see the ground below your feet. You’d get adjusted to the dark and the sky would split open with light and scare it out of you, scare you running like mad. He was on a horse, I remember that. He was young, still had bangs, blonde bangs that swept low across his face, underneath the brim of his brown cowboy hat. The hat was catching rain like a basket, dripping off the sides and down into the eyes. Looked like a fountain overflowing. Then the light broke the sky and spooked me, spooked us all, and he went down off that horse at just the right time. I couldn’t stop.

“What happened then?”

Oh, dear boy, that is not a story I have the strength to tell anymore. Just know that I see his face, in my dreams. But not all faces in dreams are bad. In your life I hope you see beautiful, smiling faces and I hope some of them make it to your dreams, as my darling nightly makes it to mine.

“And what do I do when the nightmares come?”

Know that we all have nightmares, and breathe deep when you wake. Take your eyes to your hands and tell them to move. Then you will know you are dreaming no longer.

“You have nightmares, too?”

All living things have nightmares, and I am like all others. I have nightmares. I have dreamt of a cool night, lit by the moon and the stars, a night that I will see my breath as I run across the prairie, my home, but I will be caught by what’s chasing me as we are all caught by death in the end. And now my time has come and this is why I speak to you, this is why I answer your questions. Because tomorrow I will be the stars and tomorrow will be a great day of jubilation. I will run through the streets of heaven with my darling and things will be good. But know that I will miss you child, and the man that you will become.

“Where will you go?”

Don’t mine for them sorts now; you are too young to dig. Rest in the sun and dream while you sleep and know that I’ll be looking down on you.


Yes, you.

“And sister? And Mama? And Papa?”

If you wish. But it’s time for you to go now. Take Teddy. Take him with you.

“But where? Where are you going?”

To the stars, dear boy. See, my darling? Where the darkness meets the horizon? She waits.

Written by: Logan Theissen
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe

The Judge

Posted on: January 7, 2014

Gene wakes up to the sound of a baby crying. He turns his head to face the digital clock on his nightstand, lime green letters glowing 3:30 AM. The room seems blue as bits of moonlight slide through the blinds. Gene is disoriented, pondering the origin of that persistent wailing. A neighbor perhaps? But something inside him suggests that the sound is much closer, making his feet itch. It’s been so long since the last time he heard a baby cry. His children and grandchildren are grown now, and he lives alone - a widower.

Pulling the quilt from his body, he slides his legs from the bed and plants his feet on the floor. As he stands and makes his first step, he feels something sticking to the bottom of his feet. He turns on the lamp next to his bed and squints his eyes to investigate. Perplexion knits his brows; thousands of toothpicks litter the hardwood floor of his bedroom. Gene’s heart picks up pace as the wailing reaches a terrible volume. What the hell is going on? Someone must be in the house…

He opens the door and steps out into the hallway, thinking only of his Remington sitting in the gun cabinet in the den. The nightlight cuts on as he moves forward, but strange shadows play on the walls on either side of him. There are sheets of paper taped haphazardly over the wood panels, covered with child’s script. Gene steps toward the most illuminated one and reads a sentence written in black crayon: The monster comes out at night and gets into my bed. His mouth is dry as sweat builds in his armpits, soaking through his shirt. Seventy-five years old and only now does he know terror.

Panic propels him into the kitchen, but before he can grab a knife, the corners of rectangular silhouettes scratch at his eyes and face. He flips the light switch and discovers photographs, hundreds of photographs, surrounding him. Each one bears the image of one person, his estranged granddaughter Miranda whom he has not seen for twenty-two years. One picture shows her dressed up as an Indian princess for Halloween. In another, she stands on a diving board in her purple swimsuit, smiling for the camera. She is no older than six years old in the photographs, her age when Gene last saw her.

The wailing baby fuels his horror as he rips through the suspended images and all but falls into the den through the swinging door. He stumbles toward the gun cabinet and reaches for the lock, but it isn’t there. It’s already open. The shotgun is gone. And then, the lamp beside his brown microsuede recliner cuts on. He turns, clutching his chest as if his heart might burst and beholds a person dressed in black from head to toe. Only the mouth and eyes are seen, the gender questionable. With the press of a button on a remote control, the stranger stops the recording of the crying infant playing from the stereo. Gene’s Remington sits across the figure’s lap.

He falls to his knees, tears welling up in his eyes, nausea overtaking his insides. The stranger watches, listening to Gene blubber words like “please” and “don’t”. Snot dangles from the old man’s nostrils and spits drips from the corners of his lips. On hands and knees now, he crawls toward the intruder in supplication. He is begging for his life, pressing his forehead against the floor as if hoping he’ll fall through. The stranger takes the shotgun in both hands and pumps the slide, aiming at murder.

“Get up,” says a woman’s voice.

Gene weeps and hiccups uncontrollably, shaking his head.

“Get up.”

With weakness of spirit and knee, he stands up and covers his face with his hands.

“Now,” she continues. “Tell me what you did to me.”

His jaw shakes and teeth chatter.

Her voice calm and controlled, the stranger repeats, “Tell me what you did to me.”

Gene drops his hands and looks into Miranda’s eyes. He remembers taking her fishing on the lake when she was five years old, getting up before dawn to gather their supplies. She slept in the crook of his arm as they drove out in his pickup truck, country music playing and the volume low. He remembers slipping into her room in the dead of night, studying her face by the streetlight coming in through lacey white curtains. She was beautiful and she loved him. He hungered for her love more than any other because she worshipped him. Miranda wanted nothing more than to please her grandfather.

Now, she sits before him and listens to his last confession with silent severity. She knows that he has never told anyone these things, that this horrible occasion is also the release of a heavy burden. She recalls the day her father received orders to be stationed overseas, wondering if her grandfather would be angry, if he would kidnap her one night as she slept. But as months turned into years of living in one country and then another, the stomach aches stopped and the nightmares waned. In time, she grew new innocence.

Gene, silent now, stares at the floor. Miranda stands up and hands him the shotgun as she walks past, out of the den and out the front door. She slips through the open gate of the chain link fence and reconvenes with her motorcycle, pulling on her helmet and kickstarting the engine. The early morning hours and long highway shield her from the sound of an empty shotgun breaking her grandfather’s heart and the sight of his fruitless search for the shotgun shells in the small pack on her back. The miles that multiply between them hide an old man’s tears spilling on the photographs he holds in his hands as he lies in a heap on the kitchen floor. Miranda rides, cocooned by wind and an aching dawn.

Written by: Natasha Akery
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe

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