Child Support

Posted on: April 30, 2015

 Read more of the Anna the Extractor series here: Introduction | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8

Anna peers at the family photographs hung up on the walls as Nancy’s dog Sadie sniffs her legs and hands. She stops at a photograph of Nancy’s daughter, Mira, a close up of her profile as she blows bubbles.

“When did Mira stop sleeping?” Anna asks.

“It’s been a year. I usually find her on the couch in the mornings. She says she just sleeps better down here, but I think it’s something else, because it bothers the dog, too.”

Sadie sighs through her wet brown nose and lies down on the floor at Nancy’s feet, chin resting on one paw. The front door opens and Mira comes in, cheeks flushed from running around outside.

“Nugget, do you mind coming in here and meeting someone?” Nancy calls.

Mira steps into the living room, wiping her nose on the back of her arm.

“Hey, I’m Anna.”

Mira offers a tight smile.

“Anna was wondering if she could see your room. Would that be okay?”

Mira nods and heads up the stairs, ponytail bouncing as she jogs the steps. Anna follows close behind, and Sadie harrumphs as she gets up to her paws and makes her way past to get to Mira first. The young girl is already sitting on her bed, running her fingers through a Barbie’s long plastic hair. Sadie hops up on the bed and curls her body around Mira’s hips.

Anna doesn’t even have to walk into the room to feel the presence of something otherworldly, resonating against her ears.

“You’re very organized,” Anna says, observing the color-coordinated bookshelf.

“I didn’t do that,” Mira states.

Anna glances at the girl before approaching the closet door, and flinches when her palm touches the knob. This is where it haunts, but she can’t see the ghost unless she knows its name, or it chooses to reveal itself to her.

“Mira, I have a friend who would like to sleep over with you tonight if that’s okay? She’s really nice, about your age but your Mom won’t be able to see her. Only you will. Do you want to meet her?”

Mira nods then jumps a little when the ghost of a young girl appears next to her, wearing a blue Easter dress and matching ribbons in her blonde ringlets. The dog moves her rear paws to accommodate the spirit, not even bothered by her presence.

“This is Lydia Marie,” Anna says. “She’s going to help us figure this out, okay?”

Long after Anna is gone and the lights are out for the evening, Mira and Lydia Marie lie on their sides facing each other in the dark, nose to nose.

“You’re not cold,” Mira says. “The one in my closet makes my room chilly when it comes out.”

“It’s because I’m happy,” Lydia Marie says with a smile. “We’re only cold if we feel sad or confused.”

“Is it scary being dead?” Mira asks.

“It used to be before I met Anna. I help her help people like you. And we help ghosts, too. We’re trying to help this one so it stops bothering you.”

“But why would you help a ghost? They just wanna scare people.”

“Ghosts don’t want to scare people. They’re here because they’re stuck, reliving a part of their lives that they can never have back. That’s why we help them. So they can move on and not have to hurt anymore.”

The temperature of the room drops as the drawers begin to slide open and clothes end up in piles on the floor. Lydia Marie sits up and squints, then sees the ghost of a small boy, shirtless and covered in dirt, squatting as he separates Mira’s clothes by color, obsessing over anything blue.

“Hello,” she says.

The boy turns to look at Lydia Marie then shakes his head violently from side to side. She slides off the bed then kneels next to him, placing a hand on the back of his neck with care. He lashes out at first, but she persists and runs her fingertips over the skin. His eyes close as he clutches one of Mira’s sundresses to his chest.

“What’s your name?” Lydia Marie asks.

The boy mumbles. Lydia Marie asks again and he mumbles once more, but she catches it this time.


The next morning, Anna stands once more at the closet door, placing her hand on the knob and whispers.

“Jack, come out.”

The door opens and two eyes peer at her from the darkness. Anna smiles and offers her arms to him as she sits down on the floor. He rushes at her, throwing his arms around her neck, burying his face in her shoulder, and wrapping his legs around her waist. Anna laughs, almost falling backward as she extends her legs out in the air to keep her balance.

“He’s just a little boy,” Mira says, holding Sadie’s collar as the dog leans forward trying to get to the shirtless spectre.

“Tickle?” Jack asks, moving Anna’s hand to his neck.

Anna can feel Jack’s life blend with her existence, the chill melting against her body as she holds him close and caresses the fine hairs on his nape. Her eyes well up as memories fly across her mind; Jack’s father locking him in the closet, his mother drunk and emotionally flatlined. She sees him looking out the window at the other kids in the neighborhood, noticing who wore red the most. And she feels his lungs give out beneath the pressure of a pillow, and the dirt cover his body somewhere in the woods behind the house. All because they didn’t understand his autism, didn’t understand his desire for a world organized by color, because he wanted them to help him build rainbows.

“Oh, Jack,” Anna whispers, rocking back and forth with him. “It’s okay, now. It’s over.”

The chill begins to dissipate in the room and Jack fades, his heart known and full as he crosses over to a place where Anna can’t yet go.

Written by: Natasha Akery
Photograph by: Erin Notarthomas

Mo Takes a Wife

Posted on: April 28, 2015

Cold months are the hardest for Muhammad. The winter always reminds him how far away he is from home. In the summer when it’s warm, he could almost forget how foreign this place is, but not really, not once he steps outside and meets with the empty streets with all the wrong sounds and smells.

Here they call him Mo.

That the origins of his name mattered to him was of little consequence. Here, people’s names were without meaning, chosen to set a certain image; to sound friendly or powerful. They were named after movie stars and television characters. Some were named for books, but not many; fewer were named for God and it wasn’t the same God that Muhammad was named for.

Muhammad misses the busy streets from home. He misses the noise, the people. Here there is too much empty space. He misses the food, the spice and the heat. Here everything tastes of salt and sugar. Most of all he misses the women. The women here smell all wrong, too sterile and floral -- something about those perfumes tickles his nose. He misses the cinnamon and butter smells of the girls back home. He dreams of them with chrysanthemums in their hair -- gentle, warm and enticing. Nothing like these twiggy creatures that giggle at his accent and make him blush, flaunting their long legs and pushed-up breasts. They take his discomfort as a compliment; it isn’t meant that way.

Muhammad trudges into the office and is met by Alice and her giggles.

“What are you wearing, Mo?”

“It’s cold out.”

“Yeah, so buy a real coat. You’ve got like seventeen sweaters on. You look like a hobo.”

Muhammad gave Alice a polite smile and tried to push past the reception desk.

“Mo, since you’re still bundled up will you do me a favour?” Alice draped herself over Muhammad’s arm, fluttering painted lashes over big blue eyes. She does this to him, she gets close and acts seductive when she has a favour to ask. Muhammad purses his lips. It bothers him that she thinks this is the way to get what she wants. He will do whatever she requests, regardless of her hands on him or her clingy clothing.

“I was supposed to pick up a pie. There’s a client coming in, and the boss asked for pie.”

“Yes, fine, just tell me where.”

Alice tucks the scribbled address into his hand and Muhammad wraps his scarf back around his face before venturing out into the cold.

“Ask for Susan.” Alice calls after him.

The bakery windows are covered in steam, blocking the view to the street. The occasional drip forms in the condensation and spills down the glass. The shelves are lined with sweet, puffy things, warm confections, golden brown from the oven. There is no one in sight, so Muhammad removes his gloves and rings the bell on the curved, marble counter. Its melodic tinkle is answered by a cheerful voice from the back room.

“Be right there.”

As she emerges, Muhammad forgets everything that had been wrong this cold winter morning. Her hair is like spun sugar, coiled tight on her head, her eyes are the warm soft brown of sticky dates and her skin is like toasted marzipan. The sweetness of this woman catches him off guard, and he stands stupidly, gazing at her while she waits for him to speak.

“Are you Mo?”

“Muhammad. My name is Muhammad.”

“Alice told me you were coming, Muhammad. I have your order all set.”

Her voice is a caress. His full name, his real name, falls so perfectly from her lips. For the first time in a long time he doesn’t feel alone.

“Thank you Susan.” He tries out the exotic sound of her name.

She passes him the neatly boxed pie and smiles. Her lips part to reveal slightly crooked teeth. She is sweetness and subtlety, she is everything he misses of the women from home.

“So is that everything?”

He knows he has to leave, but he lacks the strength to tear his eyes away, to move out the door and leave her in the warm cinnamon and butter scented air of the bakery.

“Actually I need some other things.”

Muhammad selects an assortment of buns and pastries, muffins and squares and watches as Susan’s soft, plump hands carefully wrap each one. She bags the packages for him, chatting the whole time about how best to enjoy the treats. When she is done and he can delay no longer, Muhammad moves towards the door and away from the woman he has so quickly and completely fallen for.

“Wait, you forgot your pie.” Susan leans close to tuck the pie safely on top of a bag of dinner rolls. He can smell her hair, like coconut and almonds, and despite his shaky nerves Muhammad finds himself asking her to join him for dinner.

“Sure,” she laughs, a perfect musical sound. “Meet me back here at six.”

When Muhammad returns at a quarter to six, he finds Susan ready. She has tried to tame her wild red mane, but it has resisted. Her lashes have been smeared with a coating of mascara that adds to the warmth of her eyes. Her comfortable baker’s clothes have been replaced with a simple yellow dress. She blushes when she sees him and grabs her coat from the hook by the wall.

All through dinner, Susan talks while Muhammad watches. She talks of her father from Scotland and her mother from Trinidad. She tells of childhood joys and woes and of all her hopes and fears. She speaks with her hands, and the movement is hypnotic. Muhammad thinks of the women back home. The coy dances of those familiar girls with their intricate hand gestures have nothing over the perfect opera that is Susan telling a story. Through dinner, she uses her musical voice and her dancing hands to weave her way deeper into his heart, and by dessert he is sure.

Outside in the cold, Muhammad overcomes his insecurities and wraps Susan’s hand in his own. She smiles at him and leans forward meeting his thin, hungry mouth with her sweet, warm lips. Muhammad looked down on the woman in his arms and pulling away he lets her name fall again from his lips.


Written by: Sarah Scott
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal

The Hand of Zeus

Posted on: April 23, 2015

The universe is still on his ceiling.

Some of the stars we can see, anyway. Many have fallen to earth over the past few months, leaving miniature stalactites of old blu-tack. It took her days straddling the duvet with a raspberry tongue poking out the side of her mouth, twisting each constellation into place. He lies in bed for hours, planting memories in each little piece of cheap plastic.

‘You’ll slip a disc or something. You’ve been in that position for hours. It can’t be good for your spine.’

Maps are getting crushed under her bare feet, The Big Dipper winks between her toes. He imagines her striding across space in her sandals, kicking up galaxies like road dust.

‘Evie, Do you think I have a brain tumour?’

She drops a glo-star and it vanishes into the sheets. He found it again later, a long time afterwards. It must have been launched into private flight over the room during giggly love-making; a solitary comet skittering over dust balls in the carpet.

‘I’ve always known there’s something wrong with it.’

He feels his hair between his fingers. He hasn’t washed it for a couple of days. Hasn’t really washed at all, only reapplying cucumber-fresh stick over armpit hair stiff with yesterday’s cucumber-fresh. ‘I think I might be getting seizures, or something.’

She turns then; the glimmer of regular white teeth. He catches a flicker of distaste as she watches him paw through his hair. His stomach twists, a small, secret part of his body folding in on itself. It’s stuffy in here; the sun boils little patches of threadbare floor. Melchior lies in a boneless feline heap in one of these solar flares, dust motes glittering around him.

‘I don’t know what happens exactly. It’s like a shivering in my head, like my brain has stuttered.'

He doesn’t tell her about the rollercoaster heart, or vertigo, or breaths wrenching themselves out of him like fists full of hot glass.

‘How long does it last?’

‘Not sure, a few minutes?’

Her eyebrows quirk upwards. He knows from experience that this isn't surprise; that she is turning new information around so she can see it from all angles. He wonders if it’s something to do with being a sculptor.

‘That sounds like an aura.’

‘An aura? I thought that was spiritual?’

‘Well, yeah, but it’s an epilepsy thing, too.’ She turns a star over and over in her long fingers.

‘You can’t just suddenly get epilepsy, though, can you?’

‘I don’t know, I’m not a doctor. Why don’t you go to a doctor?’

‘I don’t like them.’

‘You’re a hypochondriac, Frankie. You love doctors.’ She feeds a long, silky strand of hair into her mouth. ‘I feel sorry for them, though. They probably turn the lights off and get under the desk when they hear you coming.'

‘It’s not hypochondria if there’s something wrong with you.’

‘There never is anything wrong with you!’ She flicks her eyes over him again, taking in the stains he knows are under the armpits of his tank top, jeans freckled with grease, the dirty soles of his feet. Beside the bed, one of her empty pots of face cream is filling up with cigarette ends. Her face closes like a door. The sun streams through her red cotton top, turning her torso into a glowing ruby.

He puts this memory in Capricorn:

When he was painting, she would often come up behind him and watch the great sweeps of cerulean and lemon yellow rasping over the canvas until he had created another sky-scape, roiling clouds shadowed with the threat of summer thunder. He can feel her eyelashes flickering against his cheek.

‘It’s lovely.’

His wrist aches, the tendons are lines of fire. He smells clay on her fingers as she strokes his neck. He wants to reach up and fold her hand in his, streaked with barley and sky.

‘How was the shrink?’

‘Okay.’ He hates the way he sounds; like a sullen child, but he can’t push the words past his lips. ‘Evie, I’m getting this all wrong, I’m getting everything wrong and I can’t stop. The doctor said those things were panic attacks.'

She has made a new bracelet of tiny old keys collected from flea markets and vintage shops. He hears them jingle as she runs a hand over his shoulder, smoothing his shirt. The phone rings, and soon her laughter comes from another room, strangely distant as though the house is haunted and he is hearing a ghost laughing. The scrape of an opening window and his brain is suddenly soaked in honeysuckle.

This memory in Aldebaran. Io. Cassiopeia.

When the breeze shifts he hears the jangle of empty hangers from the wardrobe. Naked steel skeletons stripped of their cotton gypsy skins. He exhales a fine stream of bitter smoke, watching it drift across their little miniature universe. Sometimes it obscures the smallest stars, amorphous billowing Nebulae.

Arcturus. Andromeda. Bellatrix.

Fragile chips of white china are spilled across the floor like milk teeth, and she cried because she really loved that set; the one with delicate blue violets around the rim.

Scorpio. Sirius. Aquarius.

The Water-Bearer is an actually an Air sign, Evie tells him. Her fingers stroke the tablecloth repetitively. A lot of people make that mistake, she says, but Aquarians tend towards the intellectual. Her earrings flash like tiny blue fish when she throws back her head to laugh.

He knows it’s a dream, some warped land between consciousness and annihilation. He’s pressed into underwater weightlessness, and he reaches out and grabs Evie’s hand because she is suspended beside him; hair unfurling like a bolt of silk. He feels his legs move in the sheets as he begins to kick upwards, and he knows that he’s sad, that he’s torn apart by sadness, but he tugs her heavy body towards the surface; the water around them turning green and clear and luminous, rising slowly towards the infinite mirror of the sky.

Written by: Natty Mancini
Photograph by: Rob Gregory

The Clearing

Posted on: April 21, 2015

                          Continued from West, This is It, The Story of Everything, and Living the Dream

“So Chuck is really okay with us having a bonfire out here?” Dena asked.

“Yeah, it’s cool,” Jennifer said. “I think this place used to belong to his mom or something. But then they tore the house down. I don’t know.”

Dena swore as a thorny vine wrapped itself around her bare leg, almost making her drop the cooler of ice.

“Fucking jungle.”

“Mowing doesn’t seem to be high on Chuck’s to-do list,” Jennifer said, laughing.

They came to a clearing someone had hacked in the weeds. Dena gathered limbs and sticks while Jennifer scuffed a makeshift pit with the heel of her boot.

“We’ll just get everything set up and light it when Shelly gets here with the beer,” Jennifer said. “So what’s the deal with Chris, anyway? Is he coming later or not?”

Dena snorted.

“Maybe? He’s trying to get Bon Iver tickets, which basically means he’s camped out in front of the laptop clicking refresh for two hours until the disappointment sets in. That’s why we didn’t leave after lunch.”

“Where’s the concert?”

“LA. Next month.”

“He’s got it all planned out, doesn’t he?” Jennifer rolled her eyes and crouched in the dirt to dislodge an uncooperative rock.

“I know, right?” Dena’s eyes traced Jennifer’s spine from her black-and-pink ponytail down to the bare skin above her jeans, where her tank top was riding up. She had those tiny, shadowy dimples on her lower back, as if someone had held her waist from behind and left lasting thumbprints.

“You should stay here for a while,” Jennifer said. “LA's crap. I bet Chuck would give you a job.”

“I only know how to change tires.”

“Maybe he could use you in the office? Or grading our quizzes.”

“I’m super impartial,” Dena said, elbowing Jennifer in the ribs as she bent to unload kindling into the fire pit. “I can’t stay in Texas. It’s Texas, no offense. And it’s too fucking hot.”

“Are we in Texas? Austin is not Texas,” Jennifer said, arranging the firewood into a teepee.

“Denial’s the first stage of grief, you know.”

Jennifer didn’t answer. She pursed her lips, then sat down on the cooler.

“Not that you’re grieving,” Dena backtracked. “I mean, there are worse places to be from.” Jennifer sloshed fire starter on the branches. “Sorry, I’m totally projecting,” Dena said. “It’s been kind of a shitty year.”

“You should just leave him. He doesn’t really seem to get you.”

“Who, Chris? What do you mean?” Dena probed, her heart picking up. She took a step closer to Jennifer, watching her extract a half-smoked cigarette from her pack, then flick her thumb across the wheel of her American flag BIC to light it.

“Just the way he is around you. Like you’re some fixture that’ll always be there,” Jennifer said, standing and blowing a trail of smoke over her bare shoulder. “Like you could be anybody.”

“Shit,” Dena whispered.

“Sorry. That’s what I see. But I’ve only known you for a week, right?”

Jennifer reached to tug on the hem of her tank top.

Dena saw her own hand move to Jennifer’s wrist, saw it slide around her bare waist, saw it pull Jennifer close to her, until they were hipbone to hipbone.

Jennifer’s eyes locked on Dena’s, surprised, but not offended. It was the look of a girl who was often wanted, but also in control. Dena remembered watching her stomp down the sidewalk by the Starbucks. Goddess of grunge. She felt Jennifer’s hand stroke the back of her neck, then grip a fistful of her hair. Defense--or intensity? She paused for half a second until she heard Jennifer’s breath quicken.

Dena pulled her closer and kissed her. Her lips were softer than she’d expected, her tongue slow and smoky. Dena ran the tip of her finger under the waistband of Jennifer’s jeans, then up, until she found the indentation of one dimple. Jennifer tugged Dena’s hair, sending a jolt through her body. Then she unbuttoned Dena’s chambray shirt, leaving her in her bra and cutoffs, the breezeless Texas heat intensifying like a blanket, like a cocoon--forcing them closer.

“Is there anyone around?” Dena breathed.

“Shelly won’t be here until five,” Jennifer said, prying her feet from her boots as Dena slid her hand up the front of her tank top.

They flattened a nest in the weeds, not caring about briars or dirt. They didn’t think of their own individual histories--identities or proclivities or commitments. They were outside of their stories. Or were they? Dena could feel something inside herself unfold, the bulb of sadness she kept nestled in her core beginning to loosen, to bloom. Jennifer gasped.

“Slow down?” Dena asked.



It billowed ten feet high, at least, and so thick they couldn’t see as they tried to dress, grabbing shirts and stumbling back to the clearing.

“Your cigarette--” Dena coughed.

“This isn’t my fault! Why the fuck is there so much smoke?”

Jennifer staggered around until she found the cooler.

“A little help?!”

The two women, half-dressed in each other’s clothes, upended the cooler of ice and melted water onto the fire pit.

As the fire hissed and the smoke died down, Jennifer crouched to look closer.

“What the fuck--all this wood is green, Dena!”

“How was I supposed to know? You think I’ve ever done this before? You must have dropped your cigarette!”

“I wouldn’t have if you hadn’t--hadn’t--”

“I’m sorry, okay? Jesus. Look, it’s okay if you’re straight or--I mean, I am, too. Mostly.”

“No, no--it’s whatever,” Jennifer said, locating her jeans and sliding back into them. “There is something you need to know about me, though, okay?”

She took off Dena’s chambray shirt and tossed it to her. Dena looked at Jennifer, standing in the still-smoky clearing, wearing only her jeans. Her breasts were small and pert, but uneven. Her hair had come out of its ponytail and was adorned with bits of dry grass. Dena knew that even if Jennifer could see herself, she would be entirely unapologetic.

“What is it?”

“I have a kid,” Jennifer said.

“What? I don’t understand.”

Jennifer turned her head in the direction of a rustling sound.

“Hello, hello! Girl scouts! Where are you? I come bearing s’mores and concert tickets!”

As Chris entered the clearing, a breeze, the first of the day, carried the remaining smoke away from where they stood. It was all in view: the green branches, the upturned cooler, Jennifer’s tank top pulling tight across Dena’s stomach, their shoes scattered apart, Jennifer’s arms, still not ashamed, still not crossing over her bare chest.


Chris dropped his grocery bag of graham crackers, and the bulb inside Dena’s heart curled up tight.

Written by: Dot Dannenberg 

Photograph by: Marshall Blevins


Posted on: April 16, 2015

The florescent lights beam, brutal and unforgiving. Her computer monitor flickers, one speaker making a low humming sound. Joy taps the speaker against the dirty gray cubicle wall and the hum subsides. The flicker continues, a blip Joy notices on days when she feels terrible and everything annoys her.

Today is one of the worse days. Joy chugs a fizzy orange concoction of water and Emergen-C and devours a lukewarm Sausage McMuffin.

Like I always say, drown your allergies and feed your hangover.

Joy checks her calendar for the day and groans, slumping down in her chair and jutting her chin with a childish pout.

“What’s wrong?” Her cubicle neighbor Shawn pops his head over their shared wall. “Jesus, Joy. You look awful.”

“I feel awful,” Joy admits.

“Is it your allergies?”

“And nausea.”

“Maybe you’re pregnant,” Shawn says. He walks around to prop himself on the corner of Joy’s cubicle, crossing his legs and blocking her escape.

“I doubt it,” Joy says — but she sits up straighter and sucks in her stomach a little, angry at her body’s treason, for giving Shawn a reason to think he could be right. She tucks a swath of braids behind her ear and glances back at the Outlook calendar on her screen. “I have an early meeting I forgot about, and since I’m not feeling 100%—”

God, I should not have had a second margarita. Who gets hungover from two margaritas at dinner?

“You’re at that age, you know. You should be careful. I mean, it’s possible, isn’t it?” Shawn presses.

Joy’s brown eyes meet his blue ones, soft and kind. She twists her gold bracelet around her wrist, searching for a response that doesn’t involve expletives.

I got nothing.

“Just think about it, Joy. And let me know if you want to talk. Or need some aspirin,” Shawn says. He withdraws back to his cubicle, the wall separating them once more.

The speakers emit the same long, low hum. Joy unplugs them and throws them in the trash, watching them fall to the bottom and the plastic trash bag billow, an insulated bubble forming and absorbing one of the morning’s grievances. She collects her warped legal pad and the pen with the fewest visible teeth marks on the cap and heads to her boss’s office.

When Joy returns she has six pages of notes to transcribe, the imprint of her bracelet on her wrist, and Paulo pawing through the top drawer of her file cabinet.

“Can I help you?”

With a wrinkled Oxford and Ray-Bans perched on the edge of a broad nose, Paulo looks how Joy feels, but without the benefit of being able to slap on some makeup and minimize the reanimated corpse effect.

Chalk one up for the beauty myth.

“My highlighter ran out. Hey, do you not want those speakers?” Paulo gestures to her trash can.

“You can have ‘em, but they don’t work. They keep making noise,” Joy says.

“Isn’t that what speakers are supposed to do?”

Joy feels like her whole body is blushing. Maybe it’s just the hangover. She shakes her head and takes a swig of tepid vending machine Vitamin Water that cost her $2.50.

And what little appetite I regained.

“No, I mean, they make a weird feedback sound like every few minutes. It was driving me crazy,” Joy bites her bottom lip and presses forward. “And you can have a highlighter, but ask next time, okay? It’s rude to go through someone else’s desk.”

“Mee-YOW!” Paulo quips as he curls stubby fingers around her favorite purple highlighter. “Someone’s in a mood today.”

Shawn takes the opportunity to wheel his desk chair around and mortify Joy.

“Mood swing?” He looks at her with the same kind eyes. “Could be hormones.”

Oh for fuck’s sake.

“Thanks for the highlighter,” Paulo retreats to his cubicle at the end of the row, his usual swagger diminished to a sluggish stumble.

“Sunglasses inside? Yikes,” she jerks her thumb in Paulo’s direction, hoping Shawn will take the bait.

“Probably out late last night. It happens!”

Ladies get hungover, too.

“Probably. Happens to all of us,” Joy agrees. She pauses, twisting her bracelet around until the largest chain centers over her pulse point, faint but dark veins underneath. “You know, Shawn, asking someone not to go through your desk isn’t a mood swing. It’s basic common courtesy.”

“You’ve never gotten mad at Paulo before,” Shawn waves his hand dismissively.

“He’s always asked before,” Joy counters. “You’d say something if you came back and he was clawing through your stuff.”

Shawn mumbles an agreement. The arm of his office chair connects with the cubicle wall, the smack punctuating his retreat.

That night, Joy slides her heels off as soon as she steps into her apartment. She slides the bracelet off her wrist and lets it fall onto the counter, the clatter echoing. After half a dozen makeup remover wipes, the fresh healthy face she wore most of the day lies in layers in her trash can.

Paulo never took those speakers.

A spring storm settles in for the weekend and Joy binge-watches the first two seasons of Orange Is the New Black and eats only oatmeal and the dregs of her frozen dinner supply, refusing to leave or pay delivery fees.

Joy thinks about Shawn, too: his misunderstanding, but also his kindness. The way he asks about her weekend and saves a corner seat for her in department meetings. How large and bright his smile was when he came back from meeting his first grandchild.

He doesn’t know any better. He doesn’t mean it.

The sunrise wakes her on Monday. Her routine is slow, deliberate: selecting the perfect outfit, packing her gym bag. Before she leaves, she slides her gold bracelet back on, the metal cool but comforting.

Carpe diem.

Written by: Erin Justice
Photograph by: Rob Gregory

The Violent Acts of Poets, Part I

Posted on: April 14, 2015

They found the body in late March, and from there I suppose it was just a matter of time. Regardless of what you think of cops, it wasn’t too hard to put two and two together. Lily and I disappearing like we did. Even then, without foresight, there was a sort of irony to our adventure. A narcissism, I suppose -- to think we’d get away with it. Such a product of our times. Oh well. Guess everyone is.

Wish I could claim some sort of thematic importance to Durhams Corner, but honestly, it was just where the road ended. A candle that’s got no more wax to burn. No rhyme or reason in such a place.

In a way it makes sense for this story to begin where it ended. Like a snake that eats its tail. The circumstances that led us there seemed almost incidental, so incidental, in fact, that it must have been destiny all along. To this day, I can’t imagine these particular series of events unfolding in any way other than the way they did. I suppose that’s life though, isn’t it? Sometimes I think fate is as indiscriminate and omniscient as God, and then other times I fool myself into thinking they are the same thing.

But I’m getting ahead of myself now.

We did what we did out of love. We did it out of survival. We did it because my father once told me that a woman is to be respected at all costs. We did it because we were young and didn’t know no better.

We always said we never meant to kill those folks. Nobody could ever understand such a sentiment; couldn’t reconcile the action to the consequence. But it was a true statement. We never meant to kill them. Not any of them.

They say everything happens for a reason. Better to talk from the beginning.


Lily Miller. Lord, that girl lit a fire under me. Sitting in the back of Scott Reynold’s truck like that. She was small. Small hips. Small breasts. I’m not a tall man, but we fit together. She felt like the right answer. She had freckles and I had none. She had light brown hair and mine was dark. She had hazel eyes above those few freckles and mine were blue. Are blue. I saw her in the parking lot, and then later that night, I remember, I saw her again out at the bonfire. Few of us carved out a spot in the night, and she was there. Drinking beer. Rubbing bare legs to stay warm. Fine and at home in a lawn chair. And I was staring at her, across the fire, waiting to match eyes and when we did, well, it was like hearing the best song, loud, your face naked to the passing winds of an open car window, telephone poles flitting by.

This was before the realizations of her situation came clear into view. It started as passion, and before it sunk into desperation for the both of us, well, we made sure we fell in love before that happened. Fell in love before we started to need each other. We wanted a solid base, like we were building a house. And sometimes we would talk about building that house on a few acres, far away from her daddy. And the graves of my folks, sitting there like domino fossils in the ground, waiting to be unearthed by some far-off civilization; far away from them.

We should have high-tailed it out of Dodge that first night. We’d already done enough by then. But we didn’t. We parked to do some thinking and while we were thinking the whole wide world blew up.

It was cold that night. I don’t remember the day of the week or nothing like that, only that it was chilly as all hell. I had on my Dad’s old navy-blue mechanic’s jacket. Had his name on it -- Eli. He had blue eyes too, just like me. We were parked in Lily’s car, north off Waterloo Road, listening to the radio whispers of Tulsa. Dark night. Lights of town a few miles west, bouncing off the clouds, making that green glow.

At the time we didn’t know nothing about Macalester Freeman. Nothing about the accident up the road, about the bus that slipped on black ice, went sideways into a ditch, or how that bus was from the state penitentiary and carried in its confines a man such as Freeman. Capable of such violence.

Speaking of that violence, it’s in there, isn’t it? In your gut. In your blood. Maybe I didn’t use to think, but now I do, that it’s born in there. Right along with your fingers. Right along with your lungs.

He came up on us with a rock to bust the window. Went for the driver’s side because he knew someone got to be in that seat, and he was right. It was Lily. The window popped and shattered, and before I could reach he’d pulled her out of the seat. She was screaming and I could hear him beating on her. It sounded like she’d got the hiccups, and in those first moments there were only those sounds as I rounded the corner of the car. Meat packing sounds.

What happened next I’ll never be sure of. I remember seeing his shadow from the light of the moon, and I went for it, and I tackled it. The beast still had on handcuffs, and I remember he ended up on top of me, and he bashed down with his fists balled together, and I remember the metal scraping my throat. There was something wet on my face. Blood or spit. Probably both. He was bigger than me, I remember, but he was handcuffed and I was stronger. I could feel that strength. My strength. I remember getting on top of him and choking him with my left hand while my right crawled like a spider across the red dirt of the road, and I remember the feeling of that rock in my right hand, and I remember the instinctual way it rose up above my head, and I remember the way it went down. Meat packing sounds again. Wet splashing up into my eyes, nose, and mouth. Certainly blood this time. I remember how when I finally made full contact I pinpointed the spot and hit it again and again in the darkness. I can’t remember stopping.

After it was done I went to her and she was bloodied and pulpy. She was having trouble breathing and I cradled her in my arms. Neither of us spoke. We looked to the sky. Listened to the far off rumblings of the highway.

I dragged the body off the road to the ditch that ran perpendicular. Through the ditch I was blocked by a barbed wire fence, but I hopped it in the darkness, tearing the navy blue jacket, and dragged Freeman underneath by his feet. A seclusion of trees offered itself not far from the road, and I left him there and made my way back to the car. Lily was in the front seat, fingering her cell phone nervously. I told her that we needed the police and a hospital, but she shook her head. That road led nowhere. Not after her daddy and what happened in that goddamned trailer.

I opened the door to the passenger side and the overhead light blinked to life and I could see the bruised eye and bloodied nose of her, puffed lips and sniffs like allergies.There was a blanket in the back seat and we slept there, huddled together. Coyotes howled through the busted window and I blinked awake all night, until the pink glow of dawn showed, pregnant with life.

Written by: Logan Theissen
Photograph by: Anna Westbury

Cyclones in Kansas

Posted on: April 9, 2015

“Pass me those papers will ya, Thea."

His fingers always draw my attention. They seem more capable than the rest of him, like they belong on a different person. His arms are okay, and his eyes are nice enough, but his hands, his fingers, always pull me in. Whether they are picking away at guitar strings or unbuttoning my jeans, I just can’t help but marvel at them in action.

“You start them at the same time and turn down the movie volume. It totally works?”

I turn my attention away from his mouth and back to his hands. I would much rather watch those capable fingers as they roll the joint than listen to another one of his half-true stories. He holds the first puff of smoke in his lungs, and continues talking without expelling any air. Then he leans back and breathes the cloud up into the rafters.

It smells like crap in here, and it makes me want to gag. The shop, which is busy Monday to Friday, is home only to us on weekends. His dad said it was okay for him to bring some friends over to hang out in the break room when the shop is closed. He doesn’t mind about the occasional night of drinking, and he pretends not to know about the pot. We always open the doors wide on Sundays, and the place is aired out before the mechanics arrive on Monday, covered up by the smell of motor oil and gasoline.

I take the offered joint from his fingers, though I don’t really want any. The thought of the skunky smoke in my mouth makes me want to vomit again, so I pass it back to him without bothering to take a toke. He doesn’t notice.

“I watched that movie a million times as a kid without having any idea how trippy it was.”

I manage a grunt to make it look like I care what he is telling me. Satisfied, he continues talking, leaving me to my thoughts, thoughts I don’t want to think anymore.

He taps out the ember of the joint against his shoe before stuffing it in his cigarette pack and shuffling closer to me.

“So you wanna watch with us next weekend?”


“The Dark Side of the Moon thing.”

“I don’t know.”

He tugs a strand of hair from my ponytail and twists it around his finger. I am again watching his hands, trying to ignore the rest of him pushed up against me.

“You feel okay?”


“No more puking?”

“I’m fine.”

He starts kissing my neck and his hands leave my hair.

"No, I can't."

"What's the harm? It's not like it matters now anyway."

"I'm not having sex an hour before I get there. Fuck off."

I push away and go outside to call Aunt Milly. She answers on the first ring. She said she understood that I had to see him, but I know she worried he would change my mind. He always talks so big, so full of bullshit. I guess she thinks I could fall for it, in my condition; that I might run away with him.

Back in the garage, he is stretched out on the couch smoking the rest of the joint. I pull my school backpack out from under his feet.

"K, so I'm leaving, I guess."

"Wanna come back over after?"

"I don’t think so."

"Call me when it’s done. I just can't be there when they do it. Ya know?"

I nod. Of course I know. I don't want to be there either.


One more hour until I get to be on the other side of this, done with the waiting, done with the vomiting, done with the fucking conversations that always end up at the same place.

“Health card?”

“Yes, I have her card right here.” I watch Milly pull the stack of plastic from a flap in her purse, a card for each of us kids.

I try to stand taller as I enter the waiting room. I don’t want to look so young among these women in their polished shoes with their ruby-painted lips. I am old enough, old enough to understand, old enough to consent, old enough to pay the price, but I don’t look it. I feel their eyes on me, I feel their pity, and I look down at the scuffed toes of my red leather boots, clunking my heels together, wishing I was home.

“It’s okay, Thea. This will all be over soon. One day, when you’re ready, you will have a real baby.”

I wish Milly would stop fidgeting, stop touching me so much. It doesn’t help me; maybe it helps her. They call my name, and I walk away from her. This part I have to do alone. I can share the rest with her. She wants to take the guilt, the sin, away for me, but when it comes down to it, I am walking on my own two legs.


They said it wouldn't hurt much, and they were right, but the tight, pinchy feeling drives me nuts anyway. The nurse, the same one who handed me a blue gown when I arrived, strokes my hair like Milly used to do when I was little. She smiles at me, but I can’t smile back, not with the rubber mask clamped tight against my face. I suck the gas deep into my lungs. As the world begins to stutter, I picture a black hole, swirling in the dead, flat centre of my body; deep where my insides are being scraped clean. I focus all my thoughts on the twirling mess of anti-matter filling me up.

The hungry tornado gobbles the contents of my womb, leaving me empty. Alone again with my own black and blue heart.

The cramps confirm that it’s over. The question has been answered, the decision has been made, I will not be a mother today. I will go back to being just Thea, Thea the lonely, the selfish. My body knows it’s done, confirmed by the ache, and later the finality of the bright, slick blood. Done.



Written by: Sarah Scott
Photograph by: Marshall Blevins

I'm Positive

Posted on: April 7, 2015

You deserve this.

After countless days and nights spent scouring every byte on your external hard drive for the most pixel-perfect representations of your photographic eye, you deserve this.

After staging sit-ins in all of your teachers’ offices until they agreed to write you a glowing letter of recommendation, you deserve this.

After considering your competition–Shelly, the Sepia Queen; Oscar, the Overexposer; Lauren, the Lighting Illiterate; all the other hacks who call themselves photographers just because they own a DSLR–you definitely deserve this.

Then you get it, the envelope you’ve been checking the mailbox for every day since your submission. It’s thinner than you expected, but hey, how many pieces of paper does it take to say YOU’RE ACCEPTED?

You can’t answer that. All you know is it takes one to say you’re rejected.

You’re speechless.

You check the envelope to make sure it doesn’t say Shelly or Oscar or Lauren. All you see is your name, a name you’ve never been that fond of, and in this moment you absolutely fucking hate it.

You hate your parents: for giving you that name, for not giving you a camera until your freshman year of high school, for getting divorced.

Whoa. You’re spiraling.

This isn’t about them. This is about you. You suck. You failed. You should kill yourself.

No, no. You shouldn’t kill yourself. You should go back inside, your neighbors are watching.

You need to turn over the letter. Maybe it says PSYCHE on the back, and you’re actually accepted–those kooky artists types. Nope.

You get a text. Did you see Shelly’s Instagram?

You didn’t, but you will now.

SHIT! Why’d you do that!? Couldn’t you tell by Sam’s syntax that you were walking into a trap?

Guess who’s going to be posting a ton of pictures from RISD? This girl!

No shit, Shelly. We could infer from your stupid, sepia-toned selfie and that giant Rhode Island School of Design envelope you’re holding in your non-dominant hand that you are This Girl! You WHORE! You should kill yourself.

Not YOU, you. Shelly you.

You should find a distraction. Video games? TV? Pornography?

No, no. You should lie down. You should stare at those fan blades until they suck up all your pain and chop it into teeny tiny little pieces. Never mind. It’s summer, which means they’re moving counter clockwise. Which means you should stare at them until they blow your sorrows out the back of your skull like Marvin’s brains in Pulp Fiction.

You hear that? It’s a car. Your mom’s car. You should hide.

No, no. You shouldn’t hide. You should just tell her. She’s going to find out sooner or later. She’s going to know something’s up when fall semester rolls around and you’re still lying on her couch, staring at fan blades.

“Any news?” she says, every syllable drenched in hope.

You should lie. Tell her no. Buy yourself a little time.

Too late. She knows. She knows if the answer were no, you would’ve said so by now. She knows if the answer were yes, you would be flipping your shit like when you were a onesie-wearing, teeth-missing little brat and she asked, “Did the Tooth Fairy pay you a visit?”

“I’m sorry, Sweetheart. Mommy’s here when you’re ready to talk.”

You wish you didn’t feel that tear hit your forehead when she leaned over to give you a kiss. You wish your pain was yours alone, and that it didn’t pile on to the heap of hurt she’s been carrying since her marriage toppled over like a crumbling wedding cake, but empathy is at the heart of every great parent.

You wait until she leaves the living room and grab her keys.

“I’m going for a drive,” you say.

“Whatever you need,” she answers from the kitchen.

You fire up the engine and promptly turn off the Sheryl Crow CD she’s had on heavy rotation since the day she and your dad finalized the divorce papers.

You pull out of the driveway with no destination in mind. You just know you have to steer clear of your favorite coffee shop. Beth is working, and she can’t find out what a shitty photographer you are. Not yet. Not until you’ve helped her put together her modeling portfolio.

Sam. You should try to find Sam so you two can talk shit about Shelly until you’ve convinced yourself that the only logical explanation for her acceptance is that she must’ve blown the Dean of Admissions.


Shelly has never been anything but nice to you. Shelly has never been anything but nice to anyone. Maybe that’s why she’s going to be a huge success, and you’re going to die a miserable piece of shit. You should try being nice for a change, starting with Shelly.

Shelly, what’s something nice you could do for Shelly? Oh! You could like her Instagram post!

You scroll to the photo and hover your finger over the empty heart while trying to drain the dangerous mix of envy and spite from the one in your chest. You go against your wicked nature and press the button. A giant heart eclipses her post and another photo pops up on her feed. It’s her camera lense, shattered across the pavement like your hopes and dreams.

This celebratory photo shoot is not off to a good start :(

You smile, but quickly wipe it off your face. You’re nice now, remember?

You text her.

Hey Shelly. Congrats on RISD! Bummer about your lens though. You can borrow my extra for the summer if you want?

Thanks Gareth! That would be amazing! Are you sure?

I’m Positive.

You’re my hero! I’ll be sure to drop it off at your dorm ;)

I’m afraid that’s not possible. I didn’t get in :(

WHAT!!!!!!!?????? But you’re like, the best photog in our entire class! Maybe even the entire WORLD!

Ha! Well, now I guess you are.

Ha! I guess so.

Fuck it. You still hate her.

Written by: Mark Killian
Photograph by: Josh McGonigle

The Shulamite

Posted on: April 2, 2015

Nessa was thirteen years old when she was baptized by her handsome youth pastor in a country club swimming pool. That afternoon, she bought her very own Teen Study Bible that included bright colored articles about abstinence and honoring your parents. Nessa took it with her wherever she went, including Ruby Tuesday’s after church on Sundays. For some reason it made her father feel like he couldn’t have a beer with his meal.

Her boyfriend Stephen lived on the other side of the Internet in Oregon. He was the one who lead her to accept Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior one night after they had cyber sex in a private chatroom. Stephen loved Jesus so much, sometimes he’d cry when they talked on the phone late at night after Nessa’s parents went to bed. She didn’t care that he was so much older than her. She was really mature for her age. He was praying about whether or not to get his GED, but if that didn’t pan out, he’d keep making swords.

Shortly after being baptized, Nessa made a habit of playing Christian worship songs while lying on the floor in her bedroom, staring at the ceiling as she imagined dancing on the beach with Jesus. She loved the sound of the CD beginning to spin, and the words would push the tears out of her eyes. She would do this for hours because she wasn’t allowed to go out, and Stephen wasn’t around. Jesus was her best friend, her only friend. He wanted to give her the desires of her heart, and she wanted to give them to Him.

One night, she read Song of Solomon from the Old Testament. The introduction in her Bible said it was a love story about King Solomon and a beautiful woman, but it was really a metaphor for our relationship with Jesus. Nessa figured she should start thinking of Jesus not only as her Lord and Savior, but as her lover, too. Sometimes, she would lie in bed late at night after using up her calling card to phone Stephen, feeling a little turned on, thinking about how perfect Jesus is. He would know how to hold her, how to touch her, how to kiss her. He would say all the right things and treat her right. But then she would cry a little because she knew that Jesus loves everyone else just as much, and He would never be just hers.

It was awkward having a boyfriend who lived so far away. Nessa envied the couples holding hands on the way to class, the quick peck on the lips. When she felt alone, she would remind herself that Jesus is always with her in her heart. She would pray for freedom from a covetous spirit, for wisdom and discernment to be a good girlfriend, and one day a wife. Stephen told her they were already married in God’s eyes. That’s why it was okay that they had phone sex. Nessa was really grateful that Stephen knew so much about pleasing the Lord and doing what was right in God’s eyes.

When she masturbated thinking about Jesus, Nessa felt conflicted. Stephen was spiritually her husband, but so was Jesus. Should she feel bad? Should she tell Stephen? Was Jesus mad at her? She imagined being Mary Magdalene, sitting at His feet and listening to Him tell her everything about God the Father. She imagined His piercing blue eyes and long brown hair falling over the shoulders of His crisp, white tunic. Nessa imagined kissing His feet, then Jesus reaching down and caressing her face. She imagined Him whispering in her ear, “Come to me. My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

But then she knew it was becoming a problem when all she could think about was sex whenever the pastor preached on Sundays. Nessa’s palms would sweat as she bit her lips and tried to push the thoughts out. It was so hard not to think about sex all the time. Stephen was always talking about how excited he was to have sex with her one day, and boys at school would tell her it was so hot that she was still a virgin. Nessa had been reading Genesis over and over again because somebody was always “knowing” somebody else and women were seducing their fathers or getting raped by men from other tribes. Faith was no escape from the onslaught of careening hormones, whether they belonged to her or someone else.

Nessa told Misty, one of the leaders in her youth group, about having phone sex with Stephen. Misty was really upset and told Nessa to confess it to Jesus, but they never talked about it again after that. On a mission’s trip, Nessa was fond of her counselor Lauren, and told her about her sexual thoughts. Lauren sat and prayed with her, saying Jesus forgives her for everything. When Nessa told one of the pastors at her church about masturbating while thinking of Jesus, he said there is no condemnation under the blood of Christ, then kissed her on the mouth. She didn’t tell Stephen about that.

One night, Nessa dreamt about heaven. She sat at a farm table covered with bread, cheese, and fruit as Jesus served her wine. Out the window she could see a beautiful vineyard and sprawling green hills. She no longer felt the sinfulness of her sexuality, and she was finally with her beloved. How many nights had she asked Jesus for this? When He sat down next to her, she took His hand and turned to Him, her knee touching His.

“I know this is a dream, but can I stay?” she begged.

“No, Nessa. Your time isn’t finished.”

When she woke up, she went to the bathroom and sat down to pee, resting her chin in her hands. Nessa saw her razor sitting on the bathtub ledge and realized she would have to take heaven by force.

Written by: Natasha Akery
Photograph by: Rob Gregory

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