Posted on: June 30, 2015

Dallas imagines that she can still smell the couch’s aroma of cigarette smoke and burnt bacon as she stands at the edge of the porch, just out of the rain. The old quilt shrouding the couch hides the faded forest green fabric that withstood spilled beers and barbeque sauce. The couch that had cradled Jasper during Sunday afternoon naps, hangovers, and sickness. The rain hammering on the old roof sounds like thunder. A puddle has gathered on the concrete in front of the couch, creeping towards the dragging edge of the quilt. It’s been two years since she visited, but the twist of pain in her chest hasn’t dulled. She can’t count the summers spent on the porch, stuffing herself with crawfish and slapping away mosquitos. The screen door swings open and for a moment, she expects to see Jasper there, grinning and banging the door back against the house before running across the porch. But instead his father Joel—Big Joel, everyone calls him—steps out.

“Dallas, honey, come on in.” He holds out his arms for a hug.

His smile makes her throat constrict and she tries not to look at the couch again as she walks into the house.


Eight years earlier, the couch was still in the living room. Dallas sat on its sagging cushions, staring straight ahead at the TV. Jasper was inches away, but the narrow space between them felt like miles; any accidental brush of his fingers against hers brought the blood into her cheeks. She went to retrieve two cold beers from the fridge, holding one against her flushing cheek before she walked back into the room. She handed Jasper his beer and sat beside him. His fingers traced over her shoulder blade, creating a trail of goosebumps; the contact anything but accidental. His lips were warm as they pressed against the skin on her back, just at the top of her white cotton tank.

After, she could taste the salt on Jasper’s skin as she pressed her lips to his collarbone, feeling the gentle hum of his snoring. She breathed in his familiar smells: spearmint toothpaste, sweat, and sun-bleached hay. She watched his eyelashes catch the last rays of the afternoon sun as it slipped behind the back of the couch.

“Hi,” he said, opening one eye, his face inches from hers. “What time is it?”

“Almost six.”

Jasper nearly rolled off the couch, and she laughed. He reached for his jeans and pulled them on, buckling his belt and yanking his shirt on over his head. She watched the muscles move beneath his sunburned skin, feeling them ripple under her fingers again. Dallas reached for one of the beers on the table. Empty. She hugged the blanket to herself and sat up looking around for her bra, suddenly awkward.

“Hey.” Jasper turned back to her.

She didn’t look at him, poking her hands down into the seat cushions. “We should probably get everything ready for the party,” she said, finally finding her bra and struggling to put it on under the scratchy blanket.

“Hey,” he repeated, tugging on a strand of her hair. When she met his eyes, he kissed her lightly on the nose.

She pulled on her top and her shorts and slipped down the hall to the bathroom. It seemed too quiet without Jasper’s father listening to NPR or banging around in the garage, swearing. She splashed water on her face and felt it drip down her chin, erasing the ghost-touch of Jasper’s fingers. Sweat darkened the hair that clung to her neck and shoulders. Gripping the edges of the sink, she took a deep breath, feeling the thin fabric of her shirt strain against her chest, remembering how the top floated to the ground like a discarded feather. She heard him singing off-key in the kitchen, punctuated by the cascading sound of ice being poured into a cooler, and smiled.


The screen door bangs shut behind them and Big Joel leads Dallas through the hallway she knows almost as well as her own face. She asks how he’s been. He’s doing well, he tells her. Her brother Carson came by last week with his new baby, and they’re lucky she took after his wife. Joel’s trademark booming belly laugh fills the hollow silence of the house, if only for a moment.

He clears his throat. “Can I get you anything, hon? Sweet tea, water, beer?”

“Tea would be great, Mr. Lee, thank you.”

“Mr. Lee,” he shakes his big head. “You call me that and I feel about a hundred years old. I’ve known you since before you could walk. And these last few years—” He breaks off, rubbing a hand over his mustache, gone almost completely white. “I’ll get you that tea. You still take it sweet?”

Dallas nods, looking around the living room as Joel lumbers off to the kitchen. His favorite armchair still sits to the right of the TV, at the perfect angle to catch every Saints game. There’s a new couch: a massive sectional that still reeks of fresh cowhide. Dallas doesn’t blame him, probably would have done the same. She remembers her hands shaking as she shaved off clumps of Jasper’s thick, sandy hair, remembers sitting on the old green couch, every nerve ablaze with the strain of listening to him retching down the hall, forbidden to help. She remembers kissing the top of his sweating, stubbled head, remembers the metallic smell the chemo brought out in his skin. She remembers how he didn’t smell like himself anymore. At the end, he said he didn’t want to die in the hospital, that he wanted to be at home, so he came back to the couch. Dallas looks at the replacement, the shining leather monstrosity, and feels a pang. She wants to bury her face in the cushions, to see if she can find a trace of the hay-and-sunshine smell.

Written by: Hannah Sears
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal


Posted on: June 25, 2015

The melodic tune pulls Kasha from sleep. The warmth in the room and the softness of the alarm disorient her, and for a moment she forgets what it all means. She forgets that if she is being woken, it is because they have arrived at the outer rim. It means that her eyes are about to open for the first time in thirty-five years. Kasha is about to become the first human to ever look directly upon this quiet corner of the universe.

Despite the distance from Earth, the images from this part of the galaxy are familiar to almost every human being alive. For years, the human race has watched as the pictures and data have poured in from the Hannu Satellite. The human civilization that remains on Earth has explored and discovered all they can about this place while Kasha and her crew slept--preserved for this mission while time moved on relentlessly outside their vessel.

Kasha was only seven years old when the satellite launched, but she remembers the day clearer than any other day of her childhood. Her parents hushed her and her brothers so they could hear the broadcast. She stood watching over their shoulders, her eyes unable to make sense of what she was seeing. The satellite was unlike any other in human history, built from a crystalline material, cylindrical and hollow, divided into multiple sections, separated by ridges. It reflected light like glass and moved with beauty and grace.

The satellite was sent to investigate a distant moon. It was evident, even back then, that the salvation of the human race lay in the discovery of habitable planets and not in recovery or preservation of what was left of Earth. It was too late for that. Years of warnings from experts and climatologists, and still change had proven too difficult for humanity. After the launch was announced, the distant moon--previously known as ml9 J29w--was nicknamed Arcadia by the media. The name stuck. Arcadia, a small moon on the edge of our galaxy, more likely to support life than any other landscape investigated thus far.

Three days after the launch, Kasha asked about the satellite over dinner, wondering if it had arrived at Arcadia.

“You will be a grown woman when the satellite finally arrives.” Her father laughed before gulping down his last sip of water and tipping his ice cubes onto his dinner plate. He held the empty glass on its side demonstrating how the design of the Hannu Satellite was unlike any other. His tiny satellite whizzed through imaginary space while Kasha and her brothers giggled at his antics until their mother told him to put down her good crystal. The family moved on to other conversations, but Kasha remained transfixed--the crystal tumbler was no longer a cup peacefully reflecting light on the dining room table; it had become the Hannu satellite, thousands of miles away on the most important mission in all of human history.

35 years later, working at NASA, Kasha was one of the first to look upon the images that poured in once the satellite arrived at Arcadia.

“It’s amazing, Kasha. The mountains and oceans, forests and clean air. It is like a second Earth empty and undamaged.”

“It’s a second chance.” Smiling at her colleague, Kasha held back the tears as the words escaped her lips. “We need to go there.”

“Of course. NASA will eventually send a manned mission.”

“Not eventually, we need to go there now. If we leave today, it will be 35 years before we can send back word of what we find. How long do you think we have left before things start to really unravel? We need to be ready to colonize. We need to go soon.”

Kasha was the natural candidate to lead the mission. She never hesitated when the proposal was put before her, not when she realised it would be a one-way trip, or when her mother cried at her feet.

As the team leader, she is the first to be roused from cryo-sleep. She will wake her team once she has gotten her bearings and reviews any urgent messages from Earth. The cabin is warm and dimly lit, the monitors blink and hum peacefully from across the room. Kasha swims through the air, weightless now that she has been removed from the pressurized environment of the cryo chamber. She propels herself smoothly towards the only window in the cabin.

Arcadia shines with familiar luminescence. The water is blue and the clouds are white, but the land masses curve in new and unrecognized shapes.

Kasha withdraws from the window and awakens the monitor to retrieve the messages from Earth. There is one marked urgent, which does not surprise her. In thirty-five years, of course something urgent would occur.

Kasha waits for the message to load while stretching her muscles, and pulls a water packet from the pantry. Returning to the monitor, she sees that the images have loaded while the audio message continues to encode. She flips through the first few, confused by what she is seeing. The mounds seem at first to be nothing more than hills nestled in close to a cliff. As she flips through the pictures it becomes clear that the mounds are man made. She doesn’t understand why they have sent images of primitive villages. She flips through the images taken from far above, shots of rough roads and orderly linear fields and dams and simple irrigation canals. Kasha has the mind of a scientist; she is not quick to jump to conclusions without proper evidence. The pictures unfurl on the screen and the truth they reveal solidifies in her mind.

The words pass Kasha’s lips just as the audio message finishes encoding. Her voice is mirrored by the far distant voice recorded years ago on Earth.

“We are not alone.”

Written by: Sarah Scott
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal


Posted on: June 23, 2015

Read the rest of the "West" saga: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

“Higher!” Brooklyn squealed, pumping her legs out of rhythm, as if her knees were over-oiled hinges.

“You want to go higher?” Drew asked the toddler, tickling her under the arms as he pushed the swing. She squealed in response, tipping her head back as she swung away from him.

Jennifer watched her brother and her daughter from the edge of the school playground. She liked these quiet moments, watching Brooklyn with someone else. She felt she could see her more clearly. Tell if she was happy.

“Hey! How was work?” Drew called, noticing her.

“It was good,” Jennifer said, crossing the playground and taking the swing next to Brooklyn’s. “The almost-feminists have discovered the shop. How was your day, Brooklyn? Is Uncle Drew pushing you so high?”

“Yes! I’m a Neverbeast, and Drew’s a Tinkerbelle, and we’re FLYING!”

“What the fu--crap--is an almost-feminist?” Drew asked, catching the curse before it escaped into Brooklyn’s ears.

“You know. The women who come in and talk about how much they love Chuck’s shop because male mechanics treat them like they’re stupid and overcharge them for oil changes. The real question is, what the crap is a Neverbeast?”

“Some movie Mom streamed on-demand. Brook’s obsessed,” Drew said. “I still don’t get it. Why ‘almost-feminists’?”

“If they were real feminists, they’d learn how to change the oil themselves.”

“I don’t think that’s how it works,” Drew said, laughing.

Jennifer rotated her swing in circles so that the chain twisted all the way to the top, then let go. The schoolyard blurred around her.

“Whoa, Mommy!”

“Today is totally throwback Thursday,” Jennifer said. “You remember? They used to sell ice cream over by that door.”

“I would pay some serious money for an orange push-pop right now.”

“Sick. Those were so nasty.”

Brooklyn slid out of her swing and wandered towards the monkey bars.

“You remember when Jimmy Pincetti broke his collarbone on that thing?” Drew said.

Jennifer grimaced.

“Honestly, that wasn’t as bad as when Katie McAlister fell and knocked her teeth out,” she said. “Monkey bars are a death trap.”

Brooklyn was squatting in the dirt inspecting a discarded cereal box, probably nicked from the school cafeteria.

“Brooklyn, don’t pick that up!”

“But Mommy, it’s Corn Flakes!”

“It’s trash!”

“You sound like a mom,” Drew said.

“She-ittttt,” Jennifer said, dragging the word into two syllables.

Jennifer’s phone vibrated in her pocket. For a second, her heart leapt into her throat at the flickering thought that it could be a text from Dena. She swiped the screen. An email coupon from Baby Gap. Jennifer rolled her eyes at herself.

“What is it?” Drew asked.

“Nothing. I’m a total mom.”

It wasn’t that she’d wanted anything. Dena was with Chris. Dena didn’t even live here. Dena was totally freaked out by the thought of Jennifer as a mother. Wasn’t she? Everyone else was. Jennifer could predict the rest of her story--people would see her kid as baggage for another ten years, and then half the dating pool would have kids, and it would be no big. She’d end up thirty, dating some goateed guy with two children from a previous marriage. Someone who thought it was sexy she could fix his motorcycle. Fucking basic as hell. She should really go back to college.

“So I’m thinking about quitting Best Buy,” Drew said.

“Uh, that’s stupid,” Jennifer said. “Hello? Money?”

“Kurt keeps making me chase people off the iPads if they’re not going to buy one. I know it’s not the public library, but Jesus. Give people a chance, you know? Not everybody can afford internet. Plus he keeps cutting my hours.”

“Kurt’s a dick. But isn’t that part of having a job? Being managed by dicks?”

It was conversations like this that made Jennifer feel out of place--as if she were the older sibling, not Drew. Drew’s life was on the cusp of getting really great. Sure, he still lived with their mom, but he wasn’t the brunt of her criticism. My son, the college graduate, she was always saying.

“Don’t you want to move out?” she asked, eyeing Brooklyn as she piled pea gravel into little hills by the slide.

“Yeah, but I don’t think Best Buy is the best I can do with a computer science degree. I was thinking I might see what’s up in California. Carl has a friend who works at Google.”

“You are a total fucking cliche, Drew,” Jennifer said.

“Whatttt. Kill me. It’s not like I’m going to turn into a surfer.”

Jennifer felt like trash. Everyone else, even her own brother, could pick up and head out at any point. And here she was, clinging on. First Dena, the only person in forever who had looked at her like she was something special. Now her own brother? Who would help her stay sane around their mom? She itched for a cigarette, but resisted.

“Whatever, it’s cool. I’m sure it’ll be awesome,” she said.

“You could come with me?” Drew said, turning his palms up in a pleading shrug.

Brooklyn’s scream more than answered Drew’s half-assed offer.

“Brooklyn? What’s wrong?” Jennifer ran to her daughter, who was still sitting in the gravel next to the slide. “What happened?”

Brooklyn’s legs, only just starting to lose their rolls of baby fat, were covered in fire ants. Jennifer picked up her daughter, smacking the ants from her legs. Brooklyn shrieked a noise so high it felt supersonic, like it was scraping Jennifer’s eardrums.

“Shh, shh, baby, it’s okay. Those mean bugs bit you, but we got them,” she cooed as Brooklyn wailed.

“Fuck,” Drew said, unfastening Brooklyn’s sandal where her ankle was starting to swell from the bites.

“I’ve got it,” Jennifer snapped, pulling Brooklyn’s foot away.

Drew looked at his sister and noticed what he didn’t understand before--the pain that could weave between one connected body and another.

Jennifer’s phone buzzed in her pocket again. She didn’t bother to check it. She cradled Brooklyn against her as the child’s heaving sobs turned to sniffles. She set off in the direction of her mother’s house, her brother trailing a few paces behind, still holding Brooklyn’s tiny pink sandal.

Written by: Dot Dannenberg
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal


Posted on: June 18, 2015

We recap the year with pitchers of overpriced margaritas at Chili's, procured less by our fake IDs and more by fortuitous seating in a section manned by a frazzled waitress. Her name tag reads Jessica, but we all swore she said her name was Beth. Either way, she's tilting at windmills trying to get a good tip from that six-top of frat boys.

It's the three of us: Naomi, queen of problem sets and keg stands; Yara, wannabe director, actual drug dealer; and me, future M.D. unless the system breaks me. A third of our freshman class entered in some kind of pre-med track; after four days a week with 7 AM chem or bio from the dullest profs the college could hire, survival of the fittest has whittled it to a fifth of our class.

I'm still hanging in there, but Yara sometimes mentions adding two more to our crew to keep the pre-med proportions right and when she does, there's a good chance Naomi will say something about three-fifths and give me this look.

If we've been drinking it's hilarious like Chappelle's Show, but if we're not it's just sad and awkward, like explaining Key & Peele's magical negro sketch.

I'm about to lose faith in Jessabeth the waitress, but a timely refill of margaritas and bottomless chips and salsa keep her in Naomi's good graces, and Naomi's picking up the tab (with her mom's AmEx).

And oh God, when I think there can't be a more bittersweet moment, when we're laughing till we're crying and refusing to consider how this summer we'll be bound only by FaceTime and Instagram, Naomi slips and mentions Levi.

It's how I imagine a stained glass window would melt in an inferno: searing heat, crackling glass, the vibrant colors pooling together and hardening, a warped lump once beautiful.

Yara's face scrunches up. She's trying not to cry for real this time, and Naomi looks down and we're conspicuously quiet. Jessabeth checks in, but probably because her waitress senses are tingling and she's worried we realized we don't have enough cash to cover three rounds of margaritas and counting.

One of us should say something, break up the mood before we all descend into memories of the great night that turned into a bad morning.

I know I should say something, but I can't.

I remember sickly-sweet vodka, flavors manufactured to market to teen girls. Cake and cotton candy; didn’t even need a chaser.

Bailey was there and I tried to play it cool, tried to make my way over to him gradually. He was all suburban prep: J. Crew closet, lacrosse scholarship, poli sci and econ double major. Such a vanilla choice, but he captivated me with that orthodontia-perfect smile and New England charm.

He offered to make a s'mores shot in my mouth, and when we finally kissed the cigarette smoke on his lips made me taste campfires and cool nights.

We all left and stumbled through the freshman quad, everything in soft focus and blurred to perfection.

Yara and Levi slipped away. I watched them go, her hip pressing into his thigh and his arm around her shoulders, their silhouette illuminated.

Naomi and I made it to the frat house, the bass thumping, a beacon for the wasted. I don't remember much other than Bailey's hands against my hips, furtive kisses tasting less like smoke, more like sweat. I woke up in his bed the next morning, and we didn’t kiss or cuddle.

I don’t even remember my first time.

Maybe I should be more upset about what happened and why we haven't spoken since, but I don't want to think about it, and if you don't think about things they can't make you upset.

I went back to our room, walk of shame mercifully short. Yara was single and heartbroken. Naomi had spilled coffee all over my floor trying to juggle my hot pot and french press.

At least she wasn’t injured, she pointed out. At least I was here, the subtext. And the evidence: Yara’s blotchy cheeks streaked with tears. She shook with sobs and choked it out: how Levi’d confessed he loved her, but thought he was in love with a girl from her film class.

And I couldn’t say why or what happened, because what would I say? Why would I take the comfort Yara needed more than I did?

"I don't want to talk about him," Yara says, dragging a chip around the perimeter of the salsa bowl, and I know how she feels although I can't tell her why.

"I'm sorry,” Naomi replies. “Guys are assholes. Especially that one."

"Where are you working again this summer?" I turn to Yara. She's told me half a dozen times in the last week but her gray eyes light up, eager to think or talk about anything other than Levi, her first real boyfriend. Her first real ex.

"The community theater at my hometown. They're letting me do some of the programming for the youth performance camp," Yara sips on her margarita. "Oh, and my job from last year. It's so much easier to sell pills there, you have no idea."


A month into summer and the three of us have talked less than I thought we would. A text here or there, maybe a Snapchat. No phone calls, no FaceTime, no sound other than the static of friendships on hold. We communicate through pixels.

I try to convince myself that I don't feel abandoned, just neglected when Yara texts me from work. Golden arches leer at me in her photo.

Making bank. 1st brunch on me as thx. xoxoxo.

One day I'll tell her things I remember about that night. How I saw a couple wrapped up in each other, backlit by hazy possibility and walking into the future together. How I wanted that moment, to be so caught in it I didn’t know it was happening, dizzy in love and invincible in ignorance, unaware that anyone could hurt you.

Written by: Erin Justice
Photograph by: Matt Crump

Do I?

Posted on: June 16, 2015

Hello! May I have everyone’s attention?

I’ll let you get back to guessing each other’s baby pictures and bobbing for nipples in a moment, but first, there’s something I’d like to say to the lady of the hour.

My dearest Amber Beasley. As Jerry Maguire said, “You complete me.”

For those of you who don’t know, that’s our favorite movie. We watched it on our first date, once she told me she hadn’t seen it and I insisted we go back to my place and watch it. I won’t tell you what else happened that night, but let’s just say it led us to where we are today; sorry Mom.

Amber, you are my Dorothy Boyd, and not just because you’re as beautiful as a young, pre-plastic-surgery Renee Zellweger. You embody what Jerry would say is the most important quality in a mate: “loyalty.” No matter what I say or do, you are always right behind me with your special kind of silent support.

Most girls would’ve dived right back into the dating pool the minute I told them my plans to quit my job and create the next Facebook, but you just nodded your head and said, “Go for it.” And just a month into our relationship, when I asked if I could move in with you to save a little money, you welcomed me with open arms and half your closet. Even though Brenda was NOT having it--no hard feelings, Brenda.

Things started off better than I could’ve imagined. You’d go to work, I’d spend the day taking online coding classes, and we’d meet back in bed, where we’d eat dinner and watch Hulu until we fell asleep. Then you started gaining a little weight.

Hold your gasps, folks. It wasn’t her waistline that tested our loyalty. It was the little surprise floating inside that ever-expanding belly.

I found out the Monday after season three of House of Cards hit Netflix. I know this, because I was trying to catch up on all the sleep I lost while binge watching every episode over the weekend--spoiler alert, Frank is a terrible President. The key word there is “trying.” My slumber was disrupted by the guttural grunting of Amber trying to squeeze into her skinny jeans. Understandably, I was a little angry, and I may have said something about her mooing like a cow--those details are a little blurry.

Whatever I said, it did NOT go over well. She turned on me like Siegfried and Roy’s tiger, forcing me to hide under the covers until the pummeling turned to sobbing and it was safe to fold back the comforter and put my arm around her. That’s when she told me I was going to be a father, and that’s when I knew our story was far from over.

It took Amber a little more convincing--to keep me and the baby--but having that argument made me realize my true life’s calling. That same day, I deactivated my account, kissed my SocialGoGo dreams goodbye, and started studying for the LSAT.

Amber, once again, your loyalty was put to the test, and once again, you aced it. You--and your parents, thank you Mr. and Mrs. B--helped me pay for all my books, all my prep classes, all my law school applications--which should be coming back before this little bun pops out of the oven--and I am more than ready to spend the rest of my life paying you back financially, emotionally and romantically--not you, Mr. and Mrs. B, at least not that last one.

Amber, you may not see it now, but I’ve had a glimpse at our future, and it is beautiful. I’m a partner at some reputable law firm, we have a gaggle of healthy children, and you’re sliding back into the same skinny jeans you wore on our first date with the greatest of ease.

With all the loyalty you’ve shown me in our less-than-year of dating, I have no doubt you’re going to be the greatest mom on the face of the planet. I can already picture you: joining the PTA, carpooling our little darlings and their friends to school and soccer practice--or dance, or whatever extracurricular activities they partake in, keeping them on a healthy diet, reading to them before they go to bed, and leaning on me whenever you’re in need of love and support.

In return, I vow to take on as many cases as I need in order to make sure you never have to step foot into an office again. I’ll enforce any rules or punishments you dole out. And, most importantly, I’ll make sure to be a strong, male role model our children can look up to.

WOOOO. Boy. Is anyone else having an allergy attack?

All tears aside, Amber, when I first discovered Tinder, I thought I would NEVER want to get married--I mean seriously, it’s the dating equivalent of stealing candy from a baby--but in the last seven-months, you’ve made a man out of me. A better man. A stronger man. A driven man. And after all we’ve been through: all the surprises, the fights, the financial hurdles, the hospital visits, etc; I am ready to step up to the plate and take charge, like a real man.

This union of ours may have started off on the wrong course, but I’m going to take the wheel and redirect this ship towards a lifetime of love and loyalty.

Amber, to repeat my favorite quote from my favorite--no--OUR favorite movie, “You complete me.” Will you let me complete you by: caring for your every whim and need, protecting you from any physical or emotional harm that may fall upon your beautiful face, “Showing you the money”--eventually, spending whatever time I have left outside of the courthouse with you and our kids, and last but not least, giving you my name?

This is the part where you say, “You had me at ‘Hello.’”


Written by: Mark Killian
Photograph by: Matt Crump

Stanley Cupid's Eulogy & Coda

Posted on: June 11, 2015

Varying Degrees of Murder

On a rainy-day Tuesday I murdered Cupid. It was an accident of course. No amount of spit-in-my-face romance would drive me to murder the entire industrial complex of love. I loved love. Love made singing birds, giggling babies, and the most honest smiles ever smiled.

Also, there was no body. It had vanished like a sock after a dryer run. Poof.

“Manslaughter,” I sighed. “A case of murder-lite. At most.”

“I’m not a lawyer,” said Van, “but I don’t think there are degrees of murder.”

“Yes, there are, you idiot. There are literally degrees of murder. Second degree murder. First degree. Etc.”

That was Joan Newman. I was in love with her, though it was a new love, the age of which was approximately three, call hours.

“No body,” I said.

“True,” said Van. He struck a thinking man’s pose. “A guilty verdict might be tough to…”

“Should we, like, do something for him?” she interrupted. “Some sort of eulogy? I mean, he was a man…”

“Was he?” I asked Joan.

We both looked at Van.

“What?” he said, like an idiot. Like Van. Like the oblivious assistant: King of the Fuckboys.

How We Got Here

My path to murd… err… manslaughter, began with a harmless crush. A crush that would have made Aphrodite proud. One of those attractions that, even if only for a moment, makes you believe we are more than walking sticks of DNA, bumping and fucking our way to the grave.

I worked at a place called “Charlie’s Books” which was a goddamn awful place to work. Don’t let the name fool you - there were dozens of them. They gave 5 Ways to be Wealthy: Get Rich Bitch (Or Your Money Back) prime real estate and buried Nabokov in the back with Joyce and Fitzy. We had to wear name-tags, and mine said Jonah. That’s my name, BTW. There was also a place to write your favorite book on the name-tag, and so I wrote Moby Dick.

“I love that book,” a nice older woman said to me that very same day, the first day of the name-tag.

“I’ve never read it.”

“So why did you write it on your name-tag?”

I shrugged. “Seemed like low-hanging fruit.”

She wandered off, and I felt pretty bad. I don’t think she got it. People say I have issues with my tone, young man.

I got written up by the manager (on my first fucking day!), so I had to change my favorite book to How to Win Friends and Influence People because fuck you, Charlie. And your books.

Anyway, I fell in love with Joan Newman because she was a writer, and wore black frame glasses, and white high-top Converse below a dress and a sweater. Also because I fall in love easily. I tell people that I’m a romantic, which is different than actually being a romantic, but I’m one of those too. My brothers call me a pussy, which is just not cool, bros.

Joan was a pretty great writer on a book tour. She hailed from the west coast and was trudging her way across the Great Plains via a host of Holiday Inn Expresses, dodging Oklahoma’s imperfect smiles and aggressively Christian billboards while, she felt, her artistic integrity lit itself on fire. She found herself bible-belt sequestered, stuck in the rain.

She read from her book, Woman in the Mirror: My Decade of Dancing Like Beyonce and Being a Bad Bitch, and complained that she couldn’t buy wine at the grocery. We told her it was because Jesus didn’t want her getting too drunk, but she was still pissed. Nobody told Joan Newman what to do. Not even Jesus. Especially not Jesus.

Love’s a Battlefield w/ Crossbows

Joan Newman, damply fabulous under a red and white umbrella, was cutting through an alley to cut some time. It was late, near midnight. Post book-reading. Her white Converse were muddied but gaining character by the step.

I wasn’t following her, so much as walking a respectful distance behind in the same direction. Could I have walked with her? Sure! Did I? Hahahah...

Either way, she wasn’t being safe. The neighborhood gentrification had set and dried (which was kind of shitty, and also kind of historically inevitable), but nitrogenated cold-coffee shops or not, there were always pockets of danger in the witching hour. We should have been in an Uber. One of the cheap ones.

Even though I was on high alert, it was still pretty surprising when a Hobbit-like figure slide into the alleyway behind Joan. Most appearances are pretty surprising in dark alleyways around midnight, I suppose. Per my nature, I immediately thought, Nothing good can come of this. Fuck.

I had no idea where he’d come from. His appearance was some kind of magic trick. He was very short and round, with hair that was long but afraid of the crown of his head. The little fat man shined by the light of the lone streetlamp. He was also struggling to carry something, dragging it behind him like a third leg.

Right around the time the short-round lifted the third leg up to his arm, it struck me that life is sometimes stranger than fiction. That the world will never make sense. That we are all flawed beings, fucked and beautiful, and oh my god is that a crossbow?!?!

Yes. Yes it was.

Something came over me. It was love. Not a boner, but courage. Courage! Unheeded! So I squawked my battle cry into the night, and ran at him. I thought he would, you know, stop whatever it was that he was doing. Don’t criminals say, “Fuck it,” and bail when some good citizen intervenes?

But the little troll didn’t bail. Instead, he spun around and pointed the crossbow at me. I zigged and zagged like I was playing capture the flag at motherfucking summer camp. (Falls Creek Runner-Up, 1995 & 1996. Screw you, Barry “Beaver” Bevinson. You didn’t deserve it.) Unfortunately, I got to him quicker than planned. Having nothing better to do, and not having an arrow in my gut, I just...kept going. I didn’t so much tackle as run into him. We both tumbled into the side of some dumpsters.

The Recycle one knocked me unconscious.

Stanley Cupid’s Eulogy & Coda

When I woke, Stanley Cupid was gone and Van, his assistant, had appeared. Van said that Stanley had been his name, and Cupid his title. He said that Stanley Cupid was the one true Cupid, and that his crossbow was not only harmless, but actually, “more important than the wheel and fire combined.”

I found that claim dubious at best.

Van said without Cupid, without the crossbow, there would be no love.

“It’s a partner system,” Van said. He held up a small black address book. “This,” he said, “this is the little black book of love. It tells us who our targets are.”

“And then?” Joan asked.

The rain had stopped, and so the three of us gathered around the death dumpster of the hobbit. Van gave both the eulogy and some much-needed background info on Stanley Cupid.

“It is with great regret,” he began, head bowed, holding back tears, “that I say goodbye to the only boss I’ve ever known. Stan, you were a good matchmaker. The best. You shot the world with your arrows of love. You shot children and old people. Penguins. Swans. Some Bald Eagles, I think. Sometimes you would shoot, like, ten people a day.”

I looked at Joan Newman who was, like, what the flying fuck is going on? But then she smiled at me and...I dunno...we were a team.

“I told you who to shoot,” Van continued with cracking voice. “The names appeared, dispatched from Le Factory del Amore. I’ve never been to Texas, but I’ve heard it’s there.”

Van sneezed, and wiped his teary eyes. I felt bad for him. Whoever this Stanley Cupid was or wasn’t, he meant something to someone. After it’s all said and done, I hope someone sneezes and wipes teary eyes for me.

“Rest in peace, Stan the man,” he finished.

We sat there in that humid post-rain silence. The halo of dawn peeked from the east, and with it came a Wednesday.

“What’s next?” Joan Newman asked.

“Well,” Van said, “I don’t know. I guess we go to the factory. They’ll tell us what to do.”

“Where’s that?” I asked.

“Somewhere in Texas,” Van replied. “Down by the border. They make tortillas there. And love. Tortillas and love.”

“Good luck,” Joan scoffed.

“Oh, well, you have to come with us,” Van said.

“Us?” I said.

“Fuck that,” she said. “Topeka awaits me.”

“If you don’t,” Van said, pointing at me, “then he dies.”

“What???” I yelled.

Van scratched his head, and with trademark confusion said:

“’s possible. I think. I think it’s possible.”

It’s possible our quest will continue with…
Eros Wants Revenge

Written by: Logan Theissen
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal

Fifteen to Life

Posted on: June 9, 2015

Most days I eat my lunch outside. There’s a break room with a vending machine and microwave and everything, but I bring my own chips because the machine don’t carry the ones I like and I don’t need to nuke my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches anyway. And the break room always smells like bleach. Whole place actually smells like bleach most of the time, but other than that, it’s not bad as far as jobs go.

There’s a nice bench that I sit on when I eat. It’s made out of wrought iron and looks uncomfortable as hell, but it don’t hurt my back or butt at all. Plus it’s right next to this table where two of the fellas that live in the nursing home play dominos all of the time, and they don’t mind if I watch. They don’t play the same way that we used to on the inside, though. They’re real quiet and don’t slam the dominos down or keep score or anything.

It’s funny, watching them play, almost makes me miss being in. Crazy, huh? Spend ten years of your life locked up, dreaming of freedom, and once you get it, you sit around missing the times you had. I guess good memories are good memories though, no matter where you make them.

I hope you got some good memories. I’m sure you do. Probably none of me, though. That’s ok. I wish it was different but I understand. You were only five when I got locked up. I don’t remember much from before I was five, so maybe you don’t either. I kind of hope you don’t, because it will give us a fresh start. I wasn’t a good person back then. I hope I am now.

Your mom says you’re doing great in school and have lots of friends. I think that’s one of the hardest things about being out so far. Inside, I had all sorts of friends. Like Preacher and Demetrius, the guys I used to play dominos with. Preacher wasn’t his real name. We just called him that because he was real loud and was always saying “Jumping Jesus Christ”. Except when he said it with his thick southern accent it was long and drawn out. Like when he’d slam the domino on the table and shout out “Jump-in Ju-eee-sus Ca-rist boys, thats a-nudder fi-deen for me.” I would crack up every time. That’s why they called me Giggles. Everybody gets a nickname on the inside. Except Demetrius. He was just Demetrius. He was in for killing a couple of folks. It’s funny, he was a bad man but a good friend.

My friends from school--because being locked up at twenty, that’s all I’ve ever really had, school friends and prison friends--were always guys I had something in common with. Girls. Cars. Fights. Drugs. Whatever. Inside it wasn’t like that. Preacher and Demetrius and me, we were all complete opposites. Preacher was white and loud and his hair was long and scraggly. He was about sixty and so short and wiry that it looked like you could fit two of him in his jumpsuit. He was doing eight years for burglary. Demetrius was black and bald and thick. It was like his muscles had muscles. He didn’t talk much, and when he did, his voice was real soft and low. Like thunder off in the distance. I don’t know how old he was. Probably in his late forties, I guess. We were like the weirdest Three Musketeers ever, an old white thief, a big black killer, and a young vato drug dealer. But it was all good. And now who knows, I’ll probably never even talk to those guys again.

I don’t even really know how to make friends anymore. Most of the people who work at the home don’t really talk to me. I think they get a bunch of ex-cons through here, and most of them don’t last long before they screw it all up and get thrown back in. And I’ve been trying to stay out of the bars and stuff. I don’t need any of that temptation.

I went to church last Sunday. The sermon was all about how only God can judge somebody, but when I was talking to the preacher afterwards and told him I just got out, I could see the worry in his eyes. Made me miss my friend Preacher even more. I think he could show them all a thing or two about judging folks. It is what it is, though. Guess I better get used to it. But I don’t want you to feel bad for me. I’ll be okay. I promise.

I can’t believe you’re going to be fifteen next week. It’s funny, when I was in, time seemed to drag on forever. Probably because I wanted it to go fast. Like when you’re waiting for Christmas. But now I realize how fast life really goes, and if you spend your time looking forward to the future you miss what's going on right now. I don’t want to miss anything that's going on now anymore.

Fifteen can be a pretty tough age. Remember to be a kid, okay? You don’t need to be a rush to grow up. You’re going to get there someday, and when you do, you’ll probably wish you had a chance to go back and be a kid again. I know I do. And remember to be safe out there. Make good decisions. I know I don’t have the right to tell you how to live your life, seeing as how bad I messed up mine, but try to learn from your mom’s and my mistakes. Not that you were a mistake. Far from it. Matter of fact, you’re pretty much the only thing ever in my life that I’m proud of. Hopefully someday you’ll be proud of me too.

Anyway, I hope your quinceanera is amazing. Your mom says you look beautiful in your dress, and I believe it. I wish I could come but I understand why you don’t want me there. I would love some pictures of it though. Maybe we can have dinner next weekend? For now, I’ve got to get back to work.

Written by: Ben Cook
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal

Just Three

Posted on: June 4, 2015

Sylvia hadn’t touched a piano in eight years. She was distraught to find out that one came with the house she had purchased, the keys exposed and teasing her with their silence. She considered selling it, but days turned into weeks, and there it remained neglected in the living room. Months went by before she touched it, placing her hand on the top board and closing her eyes. Her lips parted as if to ask a question, but she thought better of it and slid around to the front instead, pulling the bench closer. Sylvia rested her fingertips on the keys, caressing them as she would a lover’s skin. She was afraid to love the sound again.


A substitute teacher didn’t show up to cover Mr. Baldwin’s absence in music class one Friday, and a lot of the students skipped. Sylvia stayed because Richard asked her to sit with him at the piano. Her right hip pressed against his left as he showed her a simple progression of chords, assuming she didn’t know what she was doing. She feigned ignorance to stay close, to have him place his hands on her hands. Sylvia played the same three chords as Richard improvised higher up the keys. He sang lyrics to a song she didn’t know, and he was high, but she didn’t care.

“Get on top of the piano,” he said.

Sylvia shook her head, but Richard insisted. He helped her climb on top of it, and told her to lie with her chest against the top. She rested her cheek on her hand and watched him as he began to play again. She could feel the sound vibrate against the front of her body, radiating in her.

“The music doesn’t matter if you don’t feel it in your skin,” he said.


There was a piano on the first floor of her dormitory where she would play early when no one was around. She would open up the top board and stand as she played, tilting her head toward the strings and leaning in. She would think about Richard, and keep the ache of his absence to herself.

Richard died in a car accident just a few days before high school graduation. Sylvia never spent time with him outside of that one class, but there was a sickness in her that stuck throughout the summer and into her first year of college. He taught her something that she had never gleaned from all the piano lessons she had taken since she was four years old. She needed him now, but all she had was his ghost resonating from the strings.


Sylvia frequented a cafe on campus that hosted an open mic night every Wednesday. At first, she was an ardent observer, until a couple of her dorm mates pressed her to perform one of her songs. The crowd was attentive and the room was quiet. They were listening to her, to something she had made with her hands and her mind. She couldn’t shake the pleasure of having all eyes on her as she exposed a part of herself that no amount of clothing could cover.

After a while, no one else signed up for open mic. But soon the glamour faded when the same man showed up every week, staring at her from the back, following her from a distance when she would leave, and failing to take a hint when she wouldn’t give him her phone number. Each time she saw him, he grew braver, closing the distance until he could almost touch her. He wasn’t put off by her circle of friends and admirers - he could wait them out. No matter how tight she hugged herself, she didn’t feel safe.


One Sunday afternoon, Sylvia went to a music shop with her friend Malcolm and played around with a few keyboards. She played the same three chords that Richard showed her before, and smiled. She heard someone improvising with her at another keyboard. Her body swayed as she kept up with her unknown accompaniment, until she looked up and locked eyes with him.

“Are you scared of me, Sylvia?” he asked.

Sylvia swallowed, recognizing the source of her dread, knowing his stare. He walked over to her, pushing her hair away from her neck and leaning in to catch her scent.

“You should be.”

And he was gone.

Malcolm shrugged it off when she told him what happened, and insisted that the guy was probably just bent out of shape because she rejected him. She still begged Malcolm to wait another forty minutes before heading to the car. When her friends asked why she didn’t play at the cafe anymore, she said she was busy, and she was - busy being afraid of someone waiting in the shadows.


Did her body remember how to play, she wondered as she sat at the piano in her new house. Sylvia thought of Richard, thought of him pressing the keys and singing, thought of him dying. Could she put aside the terror of an unseen predator long enough to feel the music in her chest and resonate in her head? Her answer was the press of a black key, followed by a white, then another black. Her answer was a hum vibrating against her lips, and she lifted the top board so that the strings could ring out through the room and tickle the fine hairs on her face.

The pleasure was painful, the emotion contorting her face. Her brow furrowed and her lips pursed. She squeezed her eyes shut as tears spilled onto her cheeks. It was like a reunion, finally being in the arms of your lover after years of separation. It was like an apology expressed with limbs instead of words, with rhythm instead of excuses. No one came out of the darkness to take her life, but Sylvia knew that this ache was worth that risk. The rapture was far too great.

Written by: Natasha Akery
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal

Portia's Suitor

Posted on: June 2, 2015

We made love with the taste of wine and olives on our tongues. We made love the way new couples do, pretending to be something we no longer were. It was careful and pretty, untainted by the ugly laziness that comes from years of togetherness. I liked to be on top, hair cascading across my breasts; he held me with his arms flexed, hands massaging me. He teased that I could only cum with a pillow over my face, and I laughed from behind my cotton fortress until my giggles turned to moans, then shivers.

Three weeks we had in Italy. Three weeks to save our relationship. Three weeks of romance and adventure, to spice things up.

Three of the longest weeks of my life.

It wasn't that he was always ogling the Italian women. That was understandable, I couldn't stop gawking myself. They danced across cobblestone streets in stiletto heels, impervious to the heat, navigating heart stopping traffic circles with graceful aggression. I fumbled my way around, tripping over my own blistered feet.

I also wasn't surprised by his behavior in the museums. I knew he wouldn't appreciate the treasures of antiquity. He would stand in front of a Botticelli just long enough to read the title, checking it off a mental list of things he had seen, without bothering to actually look.

I knew he would be a jerk to the locals, so I was prepared for his arguments. I hid my face behind my map while he hollered about the fact that the Italian economy depended on tourism and they should value him and his money. It always came back to money.

I expected all of those things. What surprised me, what murdered our dying relationship, was his drinking.

I learned quickly not to suggest guided tours; those all lingered too much for his tastes, delaying his reunion with the bottle. He flew through the Coliseum in a mad dash, suggesting we sit down for a "bevi" the second we made it to the exit. Who the fuck says bevi anyway? He always used cutesy words like that, trying to make it seem like no big deal.

“Time for a drinky-poo babe?” I was in the land of Chianti, Grappa, Sambuca, and it all tasted like vinegar sitting across from an alcoholic. I suffered through the vacation committed to a silent strike of sobriety. I realized that this relationship would end the instant our tires touched tarmac back home.

As the trip drew to a close, we descended on Venice. We had three nights in the city before catching a train back to Rome for our flight home. On our last night, with our bags stowed safely in a locker at the train station, we travelled to the island of Burano. There wasn't much there--handwoven lace and fishing boats against a backdrop of brightly painted buildings. He sat sipping cocktails in the warm August sun while I watched.

“How great has this been, babe?”

“Italy is beautiful.”

“I know how to take care of my girl.”

He said it with such swagger in his voice, forgetting I had paid my own way. The desperate need to distract myself coupled with the lure of the electric orange Campari coaxing me, I leaned full tilt into the bender I knew he wanted.

We eventually stumbled down to a restaurant, ripe with smells of garlic and anchovies. We ate a feast of clams and pasta, port and parmesan, and of course, buckets full of red wine. When we were done the restaurant manager rented us a room upstairs. It wasn't much--an ancient bed, a miniature sink, and a toilet.

In the quiet of our shabby hideaway, our bodies collided. I knew it was our last time together, a pleasure usually reserved for firsts. I put him to work, giving myself over to him with uncommon laziness. I let him smear me across the well-used mattress, his tongue pushed through my petal folds. It stroked, smooth and methodical, like a mother cat cleansing the fur of a kitten. I wanted him to have the tongue of a snake; quick stabs, tasting me, smelling me, and deciding to swallow me whole. When I came, it was without my usual pillow shield, and he followed soon after, before collapsing in a heap on top of me.

We lay like that, in a hot, tangled mess, watching Italian phone sex commercials until we fell asleep. I woke up hours later in the dark room, bile rising thick and bitter in the back of my throat. The darkness was complete, my head was pounding, and the unfamiliar room made my poles spin. Naked and drunk, I stumbled around in a useless panic before suddenly and violently vomiting on the floor.

It was a spectacular puke. A heroic puke. When I had finally purged the contents of my stomach, I searched for a light. I flicked the switch and as my eyes adjusted to the glow, relief gave way to fresh horror. With all the empty floor space in our spartan room, my vomit had landed squarely on my own clothing. I tried, unsuccessfully, to wash them in the tiny sink, peeling red-wine-soaked clams off the fabric, and rinsing the Campari orange noodles down the drain. None of it was salvageable, not my clothing, socks, or underwear. I threw the whole pile in the trash and cried in bed till morning.

In the morning, I remained useless in bed while he scoured the town for supplies, returning hours later with a very tight, very short, green lace gown. Clad in my skimpy lace disaster, we made it to the ferry in time. We sat waiting to leave, when I realized I’d forgotten my passport. If this ferry left without us, we might miss our flight home. The idea that I could be stuck here, for even one extra day in relationship purgatory, horrified me. With the end in sight, I ran through the tourist-clogged streets like I have never run before or since. I cut through carefully posed photo shoots, I knocked over chubby-cheeked German children, I hurdled a man in a wheelchair. I ran in all my puke-breathed, bare-bottomed, green-laced glory and somehow, with passport in hand, I made it back to the ferry and out of Italy.

I've never been back, and likely never will, but if you ever make it to Burano, I recommend you try the fettuccine alla vongole.

Written by: Sarah Scott
Photograph by: Sophie Stuart

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