The Guardian Angel

Posted on: February 27, 2014

The scream comes from the cottage, and I knock over my lemonade. Thick shards of clear glass float in a sugary puddle. I'm torn by which mess I should clean up first - the lemonade or the source of the scream. When I hear the door slam, I know I won't need to choose. Shawn will be here soon, so I focus on the sticky, dangerous mess on the old hardwood floors. This won't help the resale value.

“She shouldn't be there!” Shawn begins. He has the cool, confident charm of all great pretenders: Jay Gatsby, Tom Ripley - hell, even Don Draper. “I'm trying to entertain a guest.”

Shawn's guest glides across my lawn: short shorts, barely-buttoned blouse, and unruly red hair. She's a knock-out, and possibly out of his league.

The source of the commotion follows her. My angel skips through the grass, her black hair spiked like an anime character. Her sundress has a rainbow of stains, and she has only been playing outside for five minutes. Her giggle cuts through the humid air, and I smile because she's my baby.

“Lauren,” Shawn continues, oblivious. “We've talked about this. Cici needs to stop snooping. It's creepy.”

Shawn was the only person who contacted me about renting the cottage. It was a long shot, being so far from campus; I thought maybe I could snag a grad student, solitary and focused. Listening to the blossoming undergrad track star describe how he would “just, you know, run to campus every day,” I had my doubts. There was something sad in his voice, and I pitied him for being the popular kid no one liked quite enough.

When he showed up on my doorstep, I knew it would be a problem. The full, pouty lips. The small bump in his nose. Eyelids so heavy I don't know how he kept them up. Smooth skin. The clumsy beauty of youth.

Like I said, I pitied him.

“You knew about my daughter when you agreed to rent the cottage. What do you want me to do about it?”

“Make her stop looking at me!” Shawn says.

“Well, that's never going to happen,” I reply without thinking. Shawn stares at me with a look of repulsion and confusion. I sigh. “House trip. Let's go.”

Normally, “house trips” involve the grocery store or the buy-in-bulk warehouse a town over. Normally, Shawn and I make awkward small talk over our lists, dividing up territories of mutual interest and annexing aisles. We bond over efficiency, and the fact that he doesn't mind shopping in the aisles I fear taking Cici: the ones with cookies, chips, and cleaning supplies.

This trip we are quiet, except for Cici's regular chatter from the backseat. My answers are short but soothing; Shawn's are terse and harsh.

“You're taking me to campus?” Shawn finally realizes we're driving his daily running route. The brick buildings loom ahead of us. “Lauren, I mean, we just need to figure this out – I don't have anywhere else to live – ”

“You think I would kick you out and keep all your stuff?” My laugh falls into the same rhythm as the turn signal. “You need to see something in the Sculpture Garden.”

“Oh,” Shawn visibly relaxes in the passenger seat. “There's an easier way, if you go by the English Department and – ”

“No, I like going this way.” It's the last thing I say to him until we arrive at the Sculpture Garden.

“Go play over there, Cici,” I point to a couple of polished metal pieces that I know she likes. With her distracted, I lead Shawn over to the sculpture. She’ll be here soon enough.

“I've never really looked at the stuff here,” Shawn says.

“I brought Cici to campus one day. It wasn't a good trip. She was so excited to meet him; I thought maybe he might change his mind. She’s not used to feeling unwanted,” I look away before Shawn can see me stiffen. The memory still leaves me angry and embarrassed.

I stop in front of a small stone sculpture.

“We were both upset. I brought her out here to cheer her up. She danced through the garden, laughing and twirling. She stopped at this one and started whispering, like she was telling it a secret.”

The full, pouty lips. The rough bump in the nose. Eyelids too heavy, even for stone.

“We come here on her birthday. We can't leave until she's seen this one.”

“It looks a lot like me,” Shawn says.

“Her guardian angel,” I say. “Stories you tell your never know how they'll play out later.”

“Does she think I'm her guardian angel?” Shawn asks.

“Yeah, I think she does. In her little world, that's how you fit.”

The trip back is silent. Exhausted, Cici naps in the backseat.

“Why wasn't it a good trip for her?” Shawn's question interrupts the still serenity of the ride, and it surprises me so much I almost drive the SUV into the guardrail.

“Wh-what?” I stammer.

“You said the first time you were at the Sculpture Garden, it wasn't a good trip for Cici. Why not? Does it have anything to do with not wanting to go near the English Department today?”

I do not answer. I don't want to. I don't know how.

“You don't have to say anything, Lauren, but people talk. I'm not interested in spreading gossip; who would I tell? But – well, I have Professor Lowell this semester and, uh, I'm going to give him really bad eval scores.”

I burst out laughing. Bad eval scores? Like that matters or makes a difference, or undoes any of what happened, any of the denials and fights and lonely, aching nights.

Who is this kid to think he can make a stand with a shitty survey?

Cici lets out a little whimper in her sleep, and her leg spasms. I smile, because she's my baby.

“Thanks,” I say to her guardian angel. “Say he didn't have that 'academic gravitas' you expected from a man with his pedigree. It'll drive him crazy.”

“Yeah?” Shawn says. His smile is so bright that for a second, I see what Cici does.

“Bonus points if you can work in 'esoteric.'”

Written by: Erin Justice
Photograph by: Chris Boyles

The Visitor

Posted on: February 25, 2014

I should’ve worn gloves. I was slowly losing all feeling in my fingers, which were desperately clutching onto the neck of a cheap bottle of red wine. Never show up to a party empty-handed. He’s my best friend, he won’t care that it was only $13.99. The tweed of my father’s hand-me-down Brooks Brothers sport coat was barely keeping out the frigid winter wind. When I finally made it to the heated atrium of Greg’s building, it was as if I had never known warmth until that very moment.

Greg, my best friend from law school, was throwing a holiday party slash housewarming in his newly purchased East Village condo. We had gone to Princeton together too, as undergraduates, but had never crossed paths until our 1L year at Columbia.

A choir of conversation poured out into the hallway as Greg opened his front door, yelling his greeting over the friendly din. He took the bottle of wine from my hand without looking at it, as he led me through his foyer, down the hallway, past two bedrooms, and into the living room. Twelve-foot high floor-to-ceiling windows surrounded the elegantly lit space, providing a panoramic view of the entire city south of 14th Street. Greg handed me a glass of scotch, from where I wasn’t sure.

“Your favorite,” he said with a wink and smile before turning to tend to his other guests. He had always been the consummate social butterfly.

Most of Greg’s guests were from the hedge fund where he was working. He had eschewed the law for a more lucrative career in finance. His guests were friendly enough, but the blanket of shared experience that bound them together as a social unit was too strong for a stranger like me to pierce. Every time I made any conversational headway, it was quickly crippled by an inside joke or reference. In any case, I was content drinking by myself and enjoying the view. It was a familiar feeling. I felt like a ten-year-old again, wandering aimlessly around my own house that was full of handsomely-dressed strangers, my father’s friends, attracting brief moments of their attention and feigned adoration before having to find ways to entertain myself.

I was on my third or fourth glass of scotch and was convinced that Greg had replaced his bottle of 18-year-old Macallan’s with J&B, “The World’s Party Whiskey.” Cheap bastard.

I felt lightheaded and the room was beginning to spin. The banter of the fifty-plus guests began to converge into a singular mass of deafening white noise.

“I was having lunch at Gramercy Tavern today, and you won’t believe who I saw there.”

“Yea, I just got back from Bali a few days ago. It was fun for, like, five seconds, but I don’t think I could’ve handled another day on the beach.”

“Did you see Amy’s new Prorsum trench? I’m so jealous, my regular Burberry one looks so pedestrian in comparison.”

I was beginning to sweat. It felt as if the flame from the pit fireplace was licking at my skin. My sport coat began to feel oppressive. I slid open Greg’s balcony door and stepped out into the cold February air. It was refreshing for a change. The balcony was enormous, obscenely so. Roughly the size of my studio apartment in Queens. And the view of the urban cosmos, beautiful from inside Greg’s condo, was breathtaking from his unlit balcony. Each star, each illuminated window, represented at least one human life.

“Do you realize we are staring, quite literally, from our ivory tower at two monuments of poverty.” I turned to where the voice was originating on my left, not realizing that I wasn’t alone. He was leaning against the glass railing facing the east side, his back to me. I followed his gaze towards two towering housing projects several blocks away, deep in Alphabet City.

“Well, literally, this is a tower of glass and steel.” I replied drunkenly.

The voice turned suddenly, “I’m sorry, I thought Greg was still standing there.”

“Luke,” I stuck out my hand in introduction.

“Yes, Greg’s friend from law school, right? We’ve met a few times. I’m Albert. I work at the fund with him.”

“Oh, geez man, I’m sorry. He has so many friends, I have trouble keeping track.”

“It’s fine, he is quite social.” Albert gave a smirk before continuing, “Your father’s a partner at Monroe & Greeley, right? Richard Adelman? He’s pretty famous in finance circles. Are you at the firm with him?”

“Legal Aid actually,” I replied.

“Ah, sorry.”

“It’s not so bad.”

“No, no, that’s not what I meant,” Albert said quickly, “I really admire the work that Legal Aid does.”

I chuckled, “I’m just giving you a hard time.”

“I think you may be the only person here not in finance though. Aren’t you supposed to hate people like us?” He smirked again.

“Nah, my father always told me, ‘We live in a city of kings, built by kings.’ If it wasn’t for finance, this city wouldn’t exist.”

“You sound skeptical,” he said. “And what about them?” He turned his head towards the housing projects. “Isn’t this their city too?”

For a moment, I thought I recognized the tone in Albert’s voice. That of doubt and uncertainty.

We stood next to each other, staring over the balcony’s edge. From eighteen floors up, the honking horns and police sirens and all the auditory debris of the city sounded like nothing more than a distant backdrop to Greg’s soiree, another accessory for his condo.

For a little while, that was the only noise on the balcony before Albert continued, “Why Legal Aid? With your dad’s reputation, you were probably guaranteed an Associate position with Monroe & Greeley. And Greg said you were one of the smartest students at Columbia.”

I’d been asked that question many times before. “I don’t know,” I said, “I guess I was just sick of feeling like a visitor in my own home.”

“And now?”

The lights in the housing projects were flickering off. It was getting late. I decided that it was time to leave.

Written by: Sam Chow
Photograph by: Jane Silvia Park

Some Dreams

Posted on: February 20, 2014

“You will feel a slight pinch followed by some pressure.”

At least that was my interpretation. What I actually heard through his thick accent was something more akin to “You vil fil a schlight binch follow by some brezher.” And pinch it did. It pinched like a motherfucker. I tried to breathe, to shift my thoughts to anything other than where I was, to put the fear aside. It didn’t help that between the vaguely eastern European inflections of his voice and the monstrosity of a moustache flowing over his upper lip, the dentist gave the impression of a certain long dead Russian dictator. But if he could stop the howling pain in my jaw and wrench free this abscessed tooth, he would be my hero forever.

“I vil be back, you try relax.”

Stalin got up and left the room. As the anesthetic kicked in, the numbness slowly crept through my gums and palate, bringing with it a hope of relief. I sat in an old barber’s chair, slightly refurbished and retrofitted with at least some of the accoutrements of modern dentistry. I glanced around the sparsely decorated office space. Four completely white walls and one solitary window blacked out. Definitely didn’t want the looky-loos peeking in from the alley. A small sink stood in the corner. No framed diplomas, no syrupy inspirational quotes coupled with generic sepia photographs. No saccharine pop music to put one at ease. This space was clearly all business, no play. But in a way the lack of adornment of the room was soothing. It gave the place a sterile feel, one not shared by the surroundings. Stalin returned and I could hear the din of consumerism coming from the dirty little bodega that fronted this illicit enterprise.

“You vant da lavin gas, no?”

He held up a small nasal mask attached to rubber surgical tubing.

Lavin gas? Laughing gas? Oh sweet Jesus yes!

I nodded my head affirmatively and tried to get my deadened mouth to talk. He fit the mask to my nose and started the flow of nitrous oxide. In seconds, a wave of warmth and tranquility radiated through my entire body.

“Open vide.”

I opened my jaw as far as it would go, which wasn’t far. My abnormally small mouth had made for some difficulties in eating sometimes, but at least it didn’t affect my social life. It could have been disastrous if I had other proclivities.

Stalin pried at my mouth, and though the Novocain had done its job, I could feel him grasping at my infected incisor.


A furrow appeared on Stalin’s brow, and I could see him begin to sweat.

I closed my eyes and let my mind wander. It settled on a piece of graffiti I had read outside, adorning the wall of the dank alleyway where I parked my car.

You don’t have dreams, you make them. It was a beautiful sentiment and glimmer of hope for all of the denizens of the ghetto.

“I pull now.”

You don’t have dreams, you make them. I could almost see the grin on the optimistic tagger’s face as his words blossomed to life in front of him.

Just wait kid, just wait. Make all of the dreams you want. One day the inconceivable weight of reality will come crushing down on you and you will find yourself far from your suburban home getting third-rate dentistry from a third-world refugee in a room behind a corner store because you can’t afford anything else.

Stalin put one hand on my shoulder and pressed down, while tugging at my tooth with the other.

You don’t make dreams, kid. You make mortgage payments and you make school lunches and you make sure you have enough Tylenol to make it through the day and you make up excuses as to why you have been stuck doing a job beneath you for the last fifteen fucking years. But you don’t make dreams.

“Open vider.”


My mouth was open as the hood of an old Buick. Stalin dug in, gave a grunt and there was an audible pop as the tooth relinquished its grasp and came free.

The door burst open and a boy of about ten came bounding into the room.

“Papa! Papa! I got an A, Papa!”

Stalin, now hovering above me, turned to his son.

“Good job Alexei, Papa is proud. I vil be done soon. You go tell Mama.”

Stalin sat back down next to me and started to pack cotton into my now empty socket, a new glint in his eye.

“My boy gonna be dentist too.” He cast a forlorn glance at his surroundings. “Not like dis.” I caught a faint smile peeking out from under his shaggy moustache and he started to beam with pride once more. “Real American dentist. Is why we came here. For him. For his dreams. You rest now. I be back soon.”

Stalin left the room but didn’t quite close the door. I could just make out the joyous sounds of true familial love.

For his dreams.

I tried to smile but only succeeded in letting a bit of bloody drool seep out of the corner of my mouth. I couldn’t wait to get home and hug my wife and kids. Every mortgage payment, every morning cursing my alarm clock, every ache and pain, every hardship I had to endure was worth it. For them. For their dreams.

You don’t have dreams, you make them.

Written by: Ben Cook
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe


Posted on: February 18, 2014

Courtney pulled up to Gil’s Glutton Shack thirty-five miles west of town. She had a shitty week, and the scenic drive down the highway was exactly what she needed to get her mind off of the rally tomorrow. Months of social media marketing, meetings with community leaders, and skipping savasana at the end of her yoga classes was wearing her thin. She felt like her brain was shaking inside her skull, a bumping from side to side like a claustrophobic version of Pong.

Her stomach was growling as she opened the iron gate before the door, set against a mural of a heifer divided up into delectable sections. It was dark inside and there was the faint smell of cigarette smoke, a scent that recalled the days before the ban. Red-and-white checked cloths covered the tables, topped off with those classic metal dispensers holding thin and useless napkins that always tore when you pulled them out. Red and yellow squirt bottles held ketchup and mustard right next to the salt and pepper shakers. You wouldn’t expect to get the best steak within a fifty mile radius here.

Courtney sat down at the table by the pinball machine as she reached for her iPhone in her jacket pocket, but stopped halfway and shook her head. She needed to unplug, ignore the impulse to retweet, and keep away from her inbox. Deep breath. No need to look at the menu or ask about the specials. Sandra, the owner’s wife, came up and smiled.

“Well, missy. It’s been quite some time since I saw you last. You look skinnier and that’s no compliment.”

Courtney lowered her eyes and nodded. “Yes, ma’am, but that’s why I’m here. Need to get back to my fighting weight.”

“Porterhouse, then?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Good,” Sandra said, emphasizing the double o’s and turning on her heel toward the kitchen.

Courtney’s mouth was watering just thinking about the beautiful t-bone making its way over to a two-level fire, the strip cooking above the flames as the tenderloin pulled in the residual heat. She heard Sandra yelling at her husband Leo to get off his ass and get to cooking before she came back with a lidless mason jar full of iced sweet tea and a lemon wedge.

“Forget Michelin stars and swanky high-rise restaurants,” Sandra said. “If you want a fine piece of meat, you gotta get out of the city toward places where people still make things with their hands, grow their own food, and raise their own livestock.”

Courtney smiled, daydreaming about starting over, about getting away from the corrupt non-profit sector as Sandra disappeared back into the kitchen. Every organization starts out with good intentions until the donations start pouring in. Courtney was so busy branding the activist non-profit that sometimes she completely forgot what they stood for in the first place. Being the marketing director also required her to portray a matching lifestyle, otherwise how could she live with herself? By running away once every so often to this meat-lover’s paradise and forgetting. Maybe she could cut ties, move to a small town, and do good work for the locals.

“Now, I already let the steak rest a minute so you can dig right in, but if you wait just a bit, it’ll be even better,” Sandra said as she sauntered over with a plate of crispy fried onion rings and red meat.

Courtney leaned back in her chair, resting her hands on her thighs and gazing at the char lines across the cooked flesh. The scent of fire and coal wafted up to her nostrils and she closed her eyes, pulling it into her lungs like the dankest bowl of her college career. Her palms started to sweat and she licked her lips in a moment of primal desire. It was like watching Anthony Bourdain moaning over a piece of pork like porn. Courtney opened her eyes and picked up her knife and fork. It would take her an hour and a half to eat it, but that’s how she liked it. Good and slow.

She cut a piece of the tenderloin first and placed it on her tongue, pulling it from the fork with her teeth before closing her mouth. The juice electrified her taste buds, and she rolled it over to the right. The more she chewed, the more of that salty, smoky liquid filled her mouth. Courtney passed the piece from left to right, tenderizing the meat further. When it became nothing more than a tasteless, flaccid morsel, she swallowed. Shut up, she thought. Just shut up.

It was dark outside when she got in the car, filled to the brim and riding on the waves before a food coma. She didn’t turn on the radio or roll down her windows. She drove in silence back to the city, thoughtless and free.


The next day, she stood behind the stage left curtain, biting on the corner of her iPhone as Katie Marsden, the CEO of Vegan City, took the lectern to an eruption of applause.

“Being vegan isn’t a dietary restriction; it’s a way of life. As vegans, we must stand together for the rights of animals everywhere!”

An intern nudged Courtney’s arm and whispered, “I think this is our best rally yet. Look how many people are out there! And all because of #lookatmeat. You’re a genius.”

The Twitter campaign challenged followers to take photos of animals who are slaughtered for food and tweet them with the hashtag. It was a viral success in less than 48 hours. The intern scurried away to answer a call before Courtney pulled up the photo of her beautiful porterhouse. She began to resent the meatless spread they would offer at the reception, the carrot sticks and soy-based veggie dip. She ran her tongue over her lips, remembering the fiber of each bite from the night before, then blacked out her phone as the CEO thanked her audience and walked away from the stage.

Written by: Natasha Akery
Photograph by: Chris Boyles

Good Girl

Posted on: February 13, 2014

We made eye contact through the chainlink fence as soon as I stepped out of the truck. No barking, I thought. That’s a plus. I held her gaze as I slammed the car door, hiked up my pants, and bent down to tie my shoe. Every fine-tuned muscle taut, ears and tail intact, the color of milky coffee. “Good girl,” I said to her.

Before I could knock on the front door of the red-bricked house, it opened. The man standing there was a head shorter than me, as most people are, and his cheeks were rough with red-flecked stubble.

“Heard you pull up,” he said.

I stuck out my hand. “Ben.”

“Curt,” he said, shaking it. “Come on in. She’s outside.” The house was dark, save for the TV flickering a muted football game. “Beer?” he asked, heading for the kitchen.

“Sure, thanks.”

He handed me a bottle, and motioned his toward the back door.

Standing on the deck, I could smell freshly cut grass, but it must’ve been a neighbor’s, since his yard was about as kempt as his facial hair.

“Holly!” he called, crouching down. “C’mere!” The dog came trotting up the steps and sat right in front of him. “Good girl,” he whispered, scratching the top of her head. She squinted her eyes and stretched her neck, tongue lapping at the humid autumn air.

I crouched down and held out my hand. “Holly,” I said. “Hey girl.” Breaking from her trance, she turned to look at me, head tilted to the right. I made kissy noises at her, and she padded over. Curt stood up and watched us, his free hand in his pocket. I glanced up at him and, in the sunshine, realized he couldn’t have been much older than me, but looked like he hadn’t slept in weeks. “She seems like a great dog,” I said.

He nodded, taking a sip of his beer. “The best. Holly—go get your ball.” The dog sprang from the short steps and sprinted toward a tennis ball nestled in the tall grass in the middle of the yard. Taking it in her mouth, she pivoted and ran back toward us, looking for all the world like some kind of Purina commercial. She stopped in front of me, dropping the ball at my feet. I picked it up and threw it as far as I could, marveling at her grace and speed as she launched herself off the deck, into an arc any quarterback would kill for.

“So, uh, have you gotten a lot of response to your ad?” I asked.

Curt shrugged, watching Holly race back up the steps, her sides heaving. She dropped the ball and Curt threw it again. “You’re the only one I’m considering,” he said. “If that’s what you’re wondering. Only one who seemed normal.”

“Oh,” I said, “that’s great!” Suddenly my voice seemed too enthusiastic, too loud, even in the outdoors. “Can I, uh, can I ask why you can’t have her any more?” I mentally patted myself on the back for not saying why you want to get rid of her. He obviously loved her, had obviously taken impeccable care of her for the past three years.

Curt took another sip of beer. After a moment he said, “The wife.”

“Oh. Not a dog person?” I said, trying to get the volume of my voice to match his.

Another sip. He was still watching the dog, who was now running laps around the ramshackle shed in the back corner of the yard. “She died.”

“Oh, shit, man,” I said. “I’m sorry.”

He shrugged again. “It was a couple years ago.”

I managed to keep my next question to myself: Then why are you just now getting rid of your dog?

As though he read my mind, Curt looked at me out of the corner of his eye. “Do you believe in reincarnation?” he asked.

What the— “Uhh,” I said, shrugging. Is there a right answer?

“Sometimes I think Jen’s soul is in that dog,” he said.

Holly had dropped the ball at my feet again, so I threw it, hoping the action exempted me from having to say anything. Didn’t seem right to tell him that in reincarnation, a soul doesn’t enter something already living.

Curt heaved a sigh, and used his forearm to wipe the perspiration from his forehead. Then he turned on the ball of his foot to look at me, making eye contact for the first time since our handshake. “Don’t laugh,” he said.

“I-I wasn’t!” I said. “I won’t!” Was that a reprimand? Or a warning?

He nodded. “Look, I can’t explain it. But a couple weeks ago, I brought a woman home for the first time since Jen died, and Holly—” his voice broke, and he cleared his throat, “—and Holly walked in on us.”

I wanted more than anything to break this eye contact, mostly because I could feel nervous laughter gurgling up into my sinuses, but his eyes weren’t going to let me go.

“I gave Holly to Jen our first Christmas after getting married. Ever since that night a couple weeks ago, she hasn’t made a peep. Just stares at me all the time. I feel like I’m gonna throw up every time I look at her.”

I nodded. “That sucks, man.” I threw the ball again, and noted the feeling that I didn’t want the dog to hear what I was going to say next. “But don’t you think Jen would want you to be happy?”

Curt let out a half-grunt, half-laugh, and turned away from me. He lifted his forearm to his face again, and I suspected he was wiping away more than just perspiration.

“Sorry,” I said. “It’s none of my business.” Holly was now at my feet, panting. “Well, hey, I’ll take really good care of her.”

Curt nodded, staring straight ahead.

“And if you change your mind, or you wanna visit her, just let me know.”

More nodding. Then he turned toward the door, motioning for me to follow him. “Come on. I’ll get her leash and stuff.”

A few minutes later, Holly was leaping into the passenger seat of the truck. I tied up the plastic bag of her accessories and tossed it in the back. I got into the truck and started the engine. Looking up, I saw Curt standing on his front porch, arm raised in farewell. I waved back, but he wasn’t looking at me. Holly was rapt, and as I put the truck in reverse she started to whine. Even as we drove away, she kept her eyes on Curt. And as soon as he was out of sight, she let out one long, bone-chilling howl, and then was silent.

Written by: Melody Rowell
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe


Posted on: February 11, 2014

Danny knelt down like a catcher and lined up what he hoped would be his final putt. He scanned the three feet of tightly manicured turf for elevation changes and debris. His eyes dug a mental trench from his dimpled sphere to the cylindrical void ahead.

With the line permanently imprinted in his brain, Danny retrieved his ball marker, leaned against his putter and cursed his aching knees as he eased himself out of his crouch. He stood to the left of his ball, spread his feet shoulder width apart, and took three practice swings to gauge his speed.

After completing his 20-point inspection, Danny sidled up to take his final stroke. His arms shifted back and forth like a pendulum, sending the blur of clefts and logos tumbling towards the shadowy abyss.

“MOTHER FUCKER,” Danny yelled as the ball traced the edge of the cup like a skateboarder grinding the lip of an empty swimming pool, coming to rest an inch from the brim.

Danny re-gripped his putter like a javelin and sent it flying towards the golf cart.

“WHOA,” Stephen shouted as the putter sailed over his head. “Chill out! We’re right in front of the clubhouse.”

“FUCK THE CLUBHOUSE,” Danny replied.

“Seriously, man. They’re going to ban us from the course.”


“You’re done,” Stephen said, hitting Danny’s ball towards the cart.

“You’re damn right I’m done. FOREVER.”

“Oh come on, that’s just the anger talking.”

“I AM anger!”

“Well walk it off.”

Stephen hopped in the golf cart, mashed his rubber cleats against the pedal and followed the winding asphalt to the parking lot. He allowed himself to laugh once Danny disappeared behind the building, partially from Danny’s childish outburst and partially from the scorecard sitting in front of him.

Stephen unloaded the clubs, returned the cart and made his way to the bar, where he found Danny sulking at a two-person table in the corner with a couple pints of beer dripping sweat on their coasters.

“I was going to get this round,” Stephen said as he took the empty seat across from Danny.

“I don’t need your pity drink,” Danny fired back.

“Come on, you didn’t do THAT bad,” Stephen said, sliding the scorecard across the table.

Against his better judgement, Danny glanced down at the card to confirm his 20-stroke deficit.

“Didn’t do THAT bad?” Danny yelled, drawing the attention of everyone in the bar.

He further entertained his audience by ripping the paper in half and throwing it over his head.

“You’re seriously going to get us kicked out of this place,” Stephen reiterated.

“And I’m seriously never playing again,” Danny replied.

“Yes, you are.”

“No I’m not. I’m tired of this.”

“Tired of what? Fresh air? Green grass? Good conversation?”

“You know exactly what I’m tired of.”

“I’m afraid I don’t.”

“LOSING. I’m tired of getting my ass kicked EVERY–SINGLE–WEEKEND.”

“So try harder,” Stephen suggested.

Danny ground his teeth so loudly, the bartender winced from across the room.

“Try harder?” Danny clarified.

“Yeah. Go to the range a few extra days. Take a lesson. Don’t just bitch about it.”

“That’s easy for YOU to say, but not all of us grew up with a silver sand wedge up our ASS.”

“Oh, I see. I’m supposed to apologize because my dad was into golf.”

“No, don’t apologize, but at least SYMPATHIZE. I’ve been playing golf for what, three years now? You’ve been playing since you were THREE–YEARS–OLD. How is this even fun for you?”

“Winning’s always fun,” Stephen said with a smirk.

“Well, LOSING isn’t.”

Danny underscored his point by taking a big swig of beer. He returned his glass to the coaster and gazed out the window.

“I don’t want you to quit,” Stephen said, breaking the silence.

“Well I don’t want to keep feeling like this,” Danny replied, keeping his eyes on the eighteenth green.

“Like what?”

“Hopeless. Like no matter how hard I try, I’ll never get on your level.”

“Well, what if I spot you some strokes?”

“I don’t need your charity.”

“Actually, you kind of do.”


“I didn’t mean it like that. It’s like you said, I have a thirty-year head start on you. And since you can’t hop in a time machine, this is the only way to make us even.”

Danny took another swig while contemplating Stephen’s proposal.

“Fine, we’ll try it.”


“But I SWEAR–TO–GOD, if I win, and you throw this in my face, I will neither play with or speak to you again.”



The following weekend Danny knelt down and lined up what he hoped would be his final putt. He stood, swung and listened for the clunk of his ball hitting the bottom of the plastic cup.

“YES,” he yelled, keeping his putter firmly grasped in his right hand.

“There it is,” Stephen said, tossing Danny his ball. “That’s the best round of golf I’ve ever seen you play.”

“That’s the best round of golf I’VE ever seen me play,” Danny shouted.

They returned to the cart and tallied their scores.

“Alright, don’t be mad, but I still beat you.”

Stephen braced himself for the crash of Danny’s high spirits.

“DUH. You were playing out of your MIND today. What’d you shoot, like two under or something?”


“You sicken me. Let’s hit the bar and I’ll buy you a well-deserved brewski.”



Danny tiptoed across the lounge with a foamy pint of beer in each hand.

“Your spoils, Sir,” He announced, placing the chilled glass in front of Stephen.

“Why thank you, Sir,” Stephen answered, folding the newspaper he was skimming. “Did you see they’re raising the minimum wage again?”


“Looks like it.”

“How is FREE money going to make people work harder?”

“You tell me.”

“I wish I could.”

The men sipped their drinks to make room for a new topic of discussion.

“Damn, you only had me by TWO strokes,” Danny reaffirmed after catching a glimpse of the scorecard.

“Yep, just two strokes.”

Written by: Mark Killian
Photograph by: Mike Colletta

Return to Sender

Posted on: February 6, 2014

The cold wind makes me rush into you, and I am well aware this heat between us is not passion. The force of your face toward mine causes my lips to retreat, and you to kiss meat-covered teeth. It’s awkward now. A fallen leaf scrapes a line between us on the concrete. All I can think is how glad I am that I drove. You say, "your lip is bleeding,” and I reply, "Oh," as I hurriedly lick the sweetness away. Our feet start moving because our tongues won't, and three years later we find my car. The night ends with a hug, I hold you too long, and rub your back as an apology for earlier. There are moments between seconds in which I do not want to let go. I do, though.

If only I’d met you before the ex...

But that doesn’t stop me from saying yes to a second date.


I write letters to my ex because I don’t know what to do with the leftovers. Just because he wrote an expiration date on the relationship doesn’t mean I have to throw us out.

I let my best friend read the letters.

You left because you think you don’t deserve me. You don’t. Now someone else is calling me beautiful, and it’s not the same, like when you speak a word over and over again until it no longer sounds like itself. Ex is a misnomer because it implies you aren’t a part of me anymore. There’s not a hole in me big enough to let you out.

She says to me, "I don't know how he can read those words and not respond."
I shrug, "You'd be surprised."

I know in the back of her head she wonders why I do it.
She hopes I receive a return letter, a late night phone call, an unfamiliar knock at my door.

She says, "I think you guys will end up back together."
I say, "No, we won't."

She envisions him reading my letters and six digit dialing me each time.
She doesn't imagine them left unopened, set ablaze on a pyre of cigarette butts and stale chewing gum.

And I can't lie; I can't say there isn't a part of me that indulges in the futile fantasies of failed romantic gestures suddenly being appreciated for their awkward beauty like all those John Hughes movies.

But that's not why I write him.


On the fourth date, you made love to me like broken light bulbs—properly screwed in socket, but never turning on. Walking home uterine contractions force out evidence of tonight’s event. I smiled because you didn't even notice I was bleeding, cried because despite my efforts even my biology will reject you. It reminded me of the time I was cooking eggs and as I broke one open, I noticed the yolk was red and thought oh, my! This egg has a heart. I whisked until it wasn't there anymore, but couldn't bring myself to pour it onto the hot, buttered skillet.

As I painted dotted lines on the sidewalk like a road marking machine, I wondered if it was a mercy not to be eaten, if I cut open my cramping belly would I find the yellow that was missing on that day?


Associations last longer than people.
Songs, smells, locations, a sock, your hair in my brush,
mother saying, "what happened to...?"

The awkwardness of my heart put back in my chest
where it was never meant to be again,
like when you accidentally use a toothbrush that's not yours,
and you know it because the bristles don't fit the grooves of your teeth the right way.

You don't exist anymore, but you live on in all these things,
like step children I want to give back
because they were never really mine.


By the tenth date you said “I love you.”

I convinced you that I was a contemporary woman and those words were meaningless predilections, overused and underrepresented in today's society. I suggested instead that we speak in code, and showed you affection in the only way I still could. In bed, as your body tensed, you said, “peanut butter,” and I said, “jelly.”

I wanted to say it back. In my dreams, I run wildly into the night and collide with you, full force destruction into five second flight, punching the ground, chortling bloody I love you’s. But he stole the phrase from me. Every story you've ever told that ended with the sudden stunning realization of absence, with I was going somewhere with that, is how I feel if I attempt to string those words together. I wish I could say this to you, but these words would give you hope that there could be something between us.

This morning, you woke up and found a note next to you that simply stated, I'm allergic to peanuts.


My mother has a friend who was electrocuted at the age of 9. The injuries she sustained led to her arms being amputated at the shoulder and hair only grew on one side of her head. She learned how to do everything with her feet; she flips burgers, writes down grocery lists, smokes cigarettes, and even drives a car. I wonder was it ever as hard for her not to be able to hold anyone as it was for me not to be held? Did she have a fear of zippers, of slow songs, of falling down? How could she be deformed and not broken?

The ticket ripper at the movie theater was so old that he had growths on his skin like grade school mold experiments and contorted knobby trees. He said, “theater 10 is to the right,” I wanted to respond with your death is showing, but instead said “thank you,” and went to learn what it’s like to watch a film alone. I write letters to myself now.

Written by: Monica Johnson
Photograph by: Whitney Ott

Sorry, Beautiful

Posted on: February 4, 2014

From the top of the water tower, I can see the whole neighborhood—the roof of the library, the buses ferrying everyone home from work. Everyone’s feet hurt because it’s Thursday, and one can expect sore feet by that point in the week, so the men and women are shifting in their seats and thinking about dinner. About the ice crystals melting from frozen burritos. About the chicken and rice in the slow cooker, all of it waiting.

Inside the library, Caroline is helping an elderly man reset his Yahoo password. Or she’s scanning the barcode on the back of Charlotte’s Web. She always liked Charlotte’s Web. If Caroline finished whatever she is doing and went out the side door to take a smoke break, she might look up and see me.

When you fly, just one small passenger in an airliner hurling itself through the atmosphere like a precarious bullet, you look down during takeoff and feel fragile. But from the top of the water tower, I am more like a god. The people aren’t ants, per say. They’re still very real and large in their own way, but up here, I’m untouchable.

Caroline will get off work at 5:15, and then she’ll run the carpet sweeper in the children’s room to pick up the confetti of crumbs—sticky Cheerio bits, beheaded teddy grahams. Then she’ll come outside and wait for the 5:36 cross-town bus, and I’ll yell “Caroline!” and she won’t hear me, but she’ll get a tingle at the back of her neck. She’ll think the tag of her wrap dress from the Loft is irritating her skin, only to reach back and remember she cut it out weeks ago. I’m here, the tingle will say, and she’ll shrug it off and get on the bus, winding through the aching and hungry people until she finds a seat beside someone who hasn’t been sweating or drinking. Maybe a nice, middle-aged woman who smells like lavender lotion.

I’m not going to jump, if that’s what you’re thinking. Caroline breaking up with me won’t send me over some psychotic or literal ledge. Of course I miss her. Of course I miss everything about her. The things, mostly. The human detritus. The twist of her hair she stuck on the shower wall so it wouldn’t clog the drain. Her empty mugs with used tea bags huddling at the bottoms like luggage left out in a storm.

It’s always the things. I could go on: the bleach spot on the carpet where she spilled nail polish remover. The Netflix queue she trained to suggest cerebral independent comedies. The things she doesn’t even know she left behind—a single wool sock, a hairpin, a tiny fake-gold earring back resting near a bathroom baseboard. All the matchless things.

“Caroline!” I yell.

I can see the top of her head, her hair pulled up into one of those awful sock buns that looks like something a bird would construct. She’s shifting her leather tote from one arm to the other. She’s poking at her cell phone screen.

“Hey!” I hear, but it’s not Caroline’s voice. Across the street, Caroline is still gazing into her phone. It’s telling her everything she wants to know. It’s showing her pictures of all the things she deserves—expensive wallpaper, smiling children, the secret to a slender and happy life, one Instagram at a time.

“Hey!” I hear again. “You’re not supposed to be up there!”

Supposed to. So many things that are supposed to be never become.

I tear my eyes from the bird nest of Caroline’s head and look below, near the legs of the water tower. It’s a bald man with a uniform shirt and a blank face.

“This is city property!” he’s yelling.

“Is it?” I say.


“Is it city property?” I say, this time loud enough for the bald man to comprehend.

“Come on down, now, sir, or I’ll call the police!”

I consider a list of my crimes: trespassing, stalking ex-girlfriends, shoplifting a birthday card once when the line got outrageous at the Hallmark store. I needed the card, not the hassle. Caroline is the type of girl who never forgets important moments. I tried so hard to do the same. I needed that card.

“Sir, what you’re doing is dangerous!” the bald man yells.

None of this is building to an epic moment. A graceful dive, at the end of which my vertebrae collapse like a compressed accordian. Or a police chase, where Caroline looks on as I lie gasping like a fish, my skin pierced by the barbs of a pulsing taser. There will be no thunk of the police car door, no smack smack as the cop sends the message to his partner, he’s in, all clear to go.

I have come to realize that actually, bald man, nothing I do is dangerous. There is nothing dangerous about me. There’s no edge. And that, in the end, has to be why Caroline left. I’m the sort of person who is complacent in his car insurance job. The type of person who knows that processed foods will cause me to die an artery-clogging death, but still buys store-brand, frozen lasagna. The person who goes home to Ohio for Christmas and gives his mother a scarf from an upscale store because only quality will make up for not knowing what she truly wants. For knowing who she, and every other sorry, beautiful person, truly is.

So I climb down the ladder to the ground, just as the police car pulls up. The 5:36 cross-town bus glides into the stop, and Caroline boards. She finds a seat by the window. She looks up from her phone. The officer and I have a civil conversation as the bald man watches, his arms crossed over the front of his uniform shirt so I can’t see his name. I promise the officer I will never climb the water tower again. Caroline squints out the bus window. She sees me. The officer writes me a ticket on a piece of flimsy yellow paper. The bus pulls away.

Written by: Dot Dannenberg
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal

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