Good People

Posted on: July 30, 2015

Read the rest of the "West" saga: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

Dena woke to the unmistakable sound of an angry palm smacking the Chinook’s window. Blam blam blam.

“You can’t park here!”

Dena jerked up, whacking her forehead on the low ceiling of the bunk.


“Hello? I said you can’t park here. This is private property!” Blam blam blam blam.

Dena stumbled outside, still massaging her head. Goose egg, her father would have said.

“Listen, you can park at the Wal-Mart down that way, but you can’t be on this land, you hear me?”

“Sorry,” Dena said. “I didn’t--I was asleep.”

“You got a self-driving camper? First Google Glass, and now, miracle of miracles!”


“Jesus, girl. I’m joking. I may be old, but I don’t think technology’s magic.”

The woman’s wrinkled hand still pressed against the camper’s window, where she’d been smacking it a moment before. Her hand wasn’t the only part of her that was wrinkled--the entire terrain of her skin was leathery. She wore seafoam green shorts, a faded t-shirt with a picture of a raccoon on it, and wrap-around sunglasses. From underneath a wide-brimmed hat, a white braid snaked down her back, ending below her belt.

Dena opened the driver’s side door and checked the ignition.

“Shit. Sorry. I don’t have the keys.”

“Well, isn’t that the predicament,” the old lady said.

Dena unlocked her phone. Still Thursday. She hadn’t slept for that long. She texted Chris: Where are you??!?

“Is that the iPhone 6? My grandson keeps begging me for one of those.”

“What? Oh. Yeah. Look, my boyfriend--well, I think he’s still my boyfriend--he went somewhere, and I can’t move my camper until he gets back.” Dena thought of Jennifer and sucked in her breath.

“Lovers’ quarrel?”

Dena glared at the old lady.

“It’s my business if you’re on my property!” the woman said, bending to adjust the velcro on her sandals. Her toenails looked like the scales of something large and reptilian.

“Is this Santa Fe?” Dena asked.

“They call it Agua Fria.”

“Cold water.”

“I see you took your EspaƱol .”

“So we’re not in Santa Fe?”

“Oh, practically,” the old woman said. “We’re right near the airport. That’s why me and Benny have to really crack down on the parking, you know? It’s nothing personal. But people will do anything not to have to pay weekly airport rates.”

“We’re not flying anywhere,” Dena said, willing Chris to text her back. The screen stayed black. She sent another text. Hello??

“You sure about that? Looks like your boyfriend might have flown off. Took the keys too! What a hoot.”

“Look, as soon as he comes back, we’re gone, okay? I promise.”

“I can wait.”

The old woman fished a cell phone from the cargo pocket of her green shorts. “I’m an Android fan, myself,” she said, her thumbs flying over the screen. “Better for customization.”

“Are you calling the cops?”

“The po-po? No!”

The woman laughed until phlegm caught in her throat and triggered a coughing fit.

Dena extended her hand to pat the woman’s back, then retracted it, thinking better.

“I don’t trust cops,” the old lady hissed, catching her breath.

“My dad was a cop,” Dena said.

“Ha! And what would he say about you trespassing on private property?”

“He’s dead.”

“Life’s a bitch,” the old woman said.

Dena had expected a different reaction, even from this human sun-dried tomato.

“Well,” Dena said, feeling a flicker of warmth for the old woman, “I think there’s a lot of stuff about me my dad wouldn’t have liked.”

“Do tell. Humor me, and I’ll have Benny bring you some chili. You’re not one of those vegans, are you?”

“What is this, confession? You want to know all the bad stuff I’ve ever done?”

“Being vegan’s a sin.”

“I’m not a vegan,” Dena said.

“Go on,” said the old lady, wiping spittle from the edge of her mouth.

“Uh, okay. Marijuana.”

“Child’s play.”

“Dating a drug dealer.”

“Well, that’s your answer for where he went! Drug run.”

She may be right about that, Dena thought.


Dena’s father was always critical of cheaters. Though he never talked much about Dena’s mother, he had once let it slip that, before her death, she had been unfaithful. But Dena didn’t remember her mother. How could she become her?

The old woman nodded, plucking her huge sunglasses from her face and wedging them onto her hat. Her eyes were beady and too close together.

“Cheating happens, even to good people,” she said.

“I don’t think I’m actually a good person,” said Dena, processing this for the first time. She noticed a cactus near the Chinook’s back wheel. It looked like spiny hands reaching up from the earth--hands pleading for help before wounding whoever came to their aid.

“Isn’t this the part where you give me wise life advice and then vanish with the wind?” Dena asked.

“I’m not that kind of old woman.”

The woman’s phone shook in her wrinkled hand, blasting Nicki Minaj.

“Benny! Bring the chili out to the lot! We got us a trespasser!”

Benny appeared from a squat pre-fab across the road. Dena hadn’t noticed it before. Benny was thirty-ish, six-and-a-half feet tall, and looked like one of the wolfpack from the Twilight movies.

Team Jacob, Dena thought, before her guilt took over: You are a cheating piece of shit.

“I hope you like spicy,” he said, glaring at Dena. “Don’t stay out too late, Mae.”

“That your son?” Dena asked, watching Benny lumber back towards the house.

“Hell no,” Mae said, shoveling chili into her mouth. “My son’s locked up. Benny’s my boyfriend.”

Dena checked her phone. Still nothing. She called Chris.

The number you have dialed is out of service…

“What the fuck.”

“That’s a lot of judgment coming from someone who’s breaking the law and eating my food,” Mae said.

“No, not you and Benny. My boyfriend--his phone’s disconnected.”

“Sounds like you better find somebody who can give you a tow or hot-wire a camper.”

“But--” Dena pleaded.

“I’ll give you twenty-four hours. Then, sorry, but you’ve got to move that RV. You done?”

Dena handed Mae her empty chili bowl and watched as she headed across the road towards the trailer.

Dena tossed the Chinook. No note, no keys, and no fat wad of cash--he’d taken all the money left over after they bought the RV. Dena considered her options. She could call Chris’s dad, which might result in more panic than necessary. She could call Kimbra, but she was what Dena’s father would have called “a complete space cadet.” Who did Chris still talk to? She and Chris had been so intertwined for so long that they didn’t have many close friends anymore.

She pulled out the floormats and rifled through the center console. In the glove box, she found a tiny bag of weed held closed with one of her bright pink ponytail holders.

I’m not the only sketchy one, she thought. Chris said he sold it all.

She rolled a joint and hunched down in the passenger’s seat. When she felt her head begin to loosen, she composed a text to Jennifer.

I need you.

She hit “Send.”

Written by: Dot Dannenberg
Photograph by: Caleb Ekeroth

The Violent Acts of Poets, Part III

Posted on: July 28, 2015

Continued from The Violent Acts of Poets, Part I & Part II

A rumor of money brought bad men to my door. Payback sought for Mr. Miller and the debts of a deal, no doubt. These things sometimes happen. We are wandering souls like spokes on a ferris wheel, always ending up where we’ve been, and sometimes that love of money is too much. The greed spills out like oil from the gulf until we can’t stand it no more. Round and round until eventually we all get chewed, spit, swallowed, and fed to the worms.

The bad men were three in number, with one shotgun, and poor timing. They roped around the house in the early morning hours, drunk and amateur, whispering commands seen on television. The valley walls enclosed my father’s house, and echoed muffled spits of “Go round back,” in the dark.

The leader held the gun, and I did not like the look of him. He had a shaved head and wore an earring in the shape of a cross. He also wore a white t-shirt, under an un-seasonally heavy coat. He must have sweated through it, because the trapped summer heat lingered until October in the valley. The coat covered the gun. The gun covered the man. Some kind of evil covered the house in the valley; its windows broken past midnight, the hell-bent wood floor creaking. You could hear things below the floor at night. Critters holed away from the elements.

The one with the crucifix ear was first through the front door, reaching around and unlatching the lock through the broken window. Lily and I huddled together and watched the knob shake, before the glass shattered and the faceless arm reached around to open the door. The arm did not sufficiently make it back to its owner.

Grabbing the wrist I pulled as hard as I could toward the hinges of the door. I meant to break it in half. I did not plan for the glass. The remnants of the window looked like ocean waves frozen on some far away alien planet; abstract and artisan in the moonlight. They ribboned the meat of the bad man’s arm like there had been some sort of accident, the sound of scraping bone punctuated the screaming, and blood spurted across the door and wall unlike anything I have ever seen. My grip slipped and for a second I thought I had sawed his arm off, but it retreated from the window and disappeared around the closed door like a wounded animal. There was a howling. The man was clutching the arm, wrapping it with shreds of shirt, and when I walked to the porch and looked down at him, there was nothing but a strange, abstract, tangled movement; like watching a bag of snakes at night; like there was a black-holed well where his stomach should have been.

“There is a hole,” I said, picking up the shotgun, “In your soul.”

I don’t know why I said it. I was not the biblical hangman that he would soon face. It rhymed and simply slipped out of my mouth. I chose to let it linger.

I could hear his accomplices running across the field, up the slope to the main road and the gate of the property. It was a full moon and you could see them stumbling back and forth, too slow and drunk. They fell, and got up. Cursed. Coughed. Hollered. Repeat.

Lily swept by me, off the porch, taking the shotgun with her. I yelled after her and kept pursuit as she tracked the other two. I made progress but she was not slowing, not stopping, not aiming. She held the shotgun from the hip until she tripped and fell forward. The shot ripped the night and echoed through the valley. Some animal howled back like they were accepting the challenge.

Most of the pellets went through the man’s back. They ripped through muscle and lung, so by the time we stood over him he was coming up blood. It flooded him and his insides and bubbled from his bearded face. Lily handed me the shotgun and turned back down the slope to the house.

I used to believe that it was an accident, her tripping and killing that man. But later I was not so sure, and finally I believed she would have killed him tripping or not. Either way I took the kill as my own, when they asked me later, and sometimes if you believe something hard enough it becomes true. Such is the stability of truth.

The body on the porch had kept its arm but lost its life. He was small, but the amount of blood that haloed around his sunken frame was astounding and leaked through the wooden slats of the porch. You could hear it dripping. A coyote punctuated the night with a reedy cry.

“Where is the shovel?” I asked Lily.


After the gas station, we drove in our new car until the county fair beckoned us inside. What county I could not say, but it had children with cotton candy faces, and fathers wearing cowboy hats, and mothers wearing infants on their shoulders.

Teenage girls wore the rainbow in their hair, bunched in groups, and chattered at teenage boys who wore tank tops. Ringing jackpot bells sold tiny fortunes of knick-knacks. Carnies pulled clientele like Bourbon Street salesmen.

“Baby, what are you going to win me?” she cooed at me.

Fluttering eyelashes, and a turn of the head. A shadowed smile. She was all of it to me, and I hoped to be everything to her.

“I suppose I’ll win your heart,” I replied.

“Boring,” she said. “I want one of this ridiculous stuffed animals.”

Of course she did. So I won her a giant teddy bear by throwing balls through a rigged hoop until I ran out of tickets, and then by stuffing a twenty dollar bill, one of my last, into the hands of the hazy teenager with drugged eyes.

Eventually we went back to the car, back to the road for another night. Later we pulled over in the darkness and had sex, for the last time, in the back seat with her giant teddy bear as awkward company until we set it outside.

The sun came up and we fell asleep being forgetful and dumb to waste another day, not knowing then that our hourglass was dripping empty.

Written by: Logan Theissen
Photograph by: Garrett Carroll

One Little Push

Posted on: July 23, 2015

The floorboards wheeze with each step, an asthmatic echo through the attic. Grace nudges a flimsy cardboard box with her toe, testing whether it will disintegrate on contact. It remains intact, but sighs a dusty breath. Grace sneezes and wipes her nose with the back of her hand.

Blankets and old, worn clothes sit in lazy piles. Mattress pads are like discarded melon rinds after a picnic. The whole place reminds her of a garbage dump, unused things collected to decompose and die.

Grace remembers coming up here with Ava when they were younger, trading scary stories and contorting their hands like origami figures, trying to cast the best shadow in their imaginary menagerie.

Ava always won. Grace could only manage birds, but Ava could bend her fingers and twine her arms together to make rabbits and camels and once, with the clever integration of tortilla chips, a dragon. It wasn’t cheating, it was damn clever.

Next-door neighbors, best friends, practically sisters. And Grace is the good one in the equation, coming home to take care of an ailing mother: Ava’s.

Grace ignores the fact that she’s being paid as a caretaker, and that coming home was her only option after she flunked out of med school and racked up student loan debt. She’s not a selfless, dutiful pseudo-daughter. She’s broke and desperate.

Grace plops down on the floor and begins her search for an old turntable and vinyl records. It’s to satisfy the latest in a string of odd requests, regret masked as nostalgia. Ava’s mother thinks classic rock and folk music will take her back in time, back to before she was a mother and when she was untethered, unclaimed, unencumbered.

Grace can’t blame her. She wants to go back in time, too.

The first box reveals a stack of photo albums, decorated with Ava’s signature glitter-glued spirals and squiggles. Grace opens the first one, even though she is not supposed to be looking for old photos.

Junior year. There they are, two mismatched twins joined at the hip. Grace’s long, tanned arm thrown over Ava’s shoulder. Short blonde hair, pulled back in a half-braid at her crown. Eyes the color of a foggy morning, deep and inquisitive. Ava’s long, dark hair tumbles down to her slim waist, her hazel eyes looking through the camera, looking into the future and meeting Grace’s eyes. Grace runs her thumb along the curled edge of the photo and blinks back tears. Her father’s sharp words ring out in the attic.

That girl’s trouble, Grace. You won’t get anywhere hanging around with her. She’s a bad influence. I don’t want my daughter turning out like that. You’re on the edge. She’ll push you off if it means you’ll go down with her.

And where’s Ava now? In Reykjavik, where her latest script is being lovingly shaped into a film. She doesn’t have to be there of course; the cruel twist of it is that she can be.

And Grace, good Grace who didn’t run around with boys or smoke pot or sneak sips of Bacardi her senior year, who buckled down and focused and told her best friend she was too busy studying or going to prayer group? She’s in that same attic from her childhood, and those scary stories are her life: sleeping in the same bedroom back home, single and not loving it, caretaker to her best friend’s mom, listening to her own father lament why she isn’t more successful.

Be good, but not too good. Have fun, but not too much. Grace was never good at chemistry or fractions or anything that required her to mix parts of a whole. She couldn’t find that balance.

She’s full-on crying now: loud, angry sobs that make her body shake.

What happened to that girl? The one that stood in the center of every photo and commanded attention? Grace didn’t know if she could ever be the girl she once was, but she hoped so.

“I wish,” she chokes out, and something by the window moves.

Grace looks over and watches something roll itself up from the floor. What she thought was a heap of old clothes was actually a figure sitting on the floor. A figure now in front of her, with dirty, scaly skin and copper eyes peering from under a navy hoodie.

Ava used to tell her the attic was haunted. A cute prank, one that neither believed. Grace would play along, pretend to be scared and nervous.

The figure feels too corporeal, too present to be a ghost. It stands, not floats; shifts, not wavers. And Grace is neither scared nor nervous. Something supernatural is before her, and all she feels is a beautiful lightness like endless possibility, like a balloon being filled with air and sailing up into forever.

“What do you wish?” Its voice sounds like the creaking floorboards she previously ignored.

“How long have you been here?” Grace asks, hoping the figure does not ignore her question.

“I don’t know,” the figure admits. “Maybe forever. Maybe no time at all. It does not matter.”

Maybe Ava wasn’t joking.

“What do you wish?” The figure asks again.

“To go back,” Grace says. “To do it all over again, from junior year until now.”

The figure lingers, considering the request. An appendage reaches out for her and Grace does not hesitate. Nothing claims her here. There is no post to which she can hitch herself. She is grounded entirely in the past.

Grace wraps her hand around what feels like soggy leather, a spongy knob protruding that could have once been the bone in a wrist. Grace nods, the unspoken question hanging in the air between them.

The figure siphons itself into her, a shadow in reverse. Grace feels the tight embrace of something curling itself around her, and the sick, sweet pain of release as she tilts forward and falls into infinity.

Written by: Erin Justice
Photograph by: Skyler Smith

Boy & Chain

Posted on: July 21, 2015

“Is that Trent?” Allison asks, pointing at the only picture remaining on the kitchen wall.

Allison,” Steven hisses through gritted teeth as everyone takes a seat around the table.

“Hush, Steven,” Ms. Haas responds. “Allison, you’re welcome to ask whatever you’d like. And yes, that’s my Trent. My little angel. God’s little angel.”

An impromptu moment of silence rushes through the kitchen like the chill from an open freezer.

“Sometimes I still see him, you know,” Ms. Haas says, disrupting the silence, but maintaining the tension. “Not in a horror movie sort of way. More like one of those dreams where your body’s asleep but your senses are firing on all cylinders. I’ll be sitting here, reading the newspaper, and before I can get to the Sudoku I hear, More oatmeal, Mommy!

“That was me, Mom,” Steven interjects. “Trent hated oatmeal. He was terrified of that creepy Quaker on the container.”

“Are you sure?”

“One-hundred percent.”

“Oh, well maybe it wasn’t oatmeal. Maybe he says, More Cheerios, Mommy! Regardless, I look up and he’s sitting there, smiling at me, joy radiating from that adorable little dimple in his left cheek.”

“Do you see a dimple in that cheek?” Steven asks, pointing to the picture. “Jason is your dimply son.”

“I know Jason has a dimple, Steven,” she says, turning around in her chair for confirmation, “but I could’ve sworn Trent did too.”

Ms. Haas studies the picture like a Magic Eye, squinting in hopes of making a crease appear on Trent’s frozen face.

“Nope,” Steven says. “The only creases on his body were the ones circling his chubby little arms. That’s why we called him the Michelin Man.”

Ms. Haas draws a deep, shuddering breath and turns back around.

“Oh right, right, right,” she says. “I remember that, you big meanies. Brothers. Am I right, Allison?”

“I’m afraid I wouldn’t know, Ms. Haas,” Allison answers. “I’m an only child.”

“We won’t hold that against you,” Ms. Haas says, attempting to lighten the mood. “One thing’s for sure, his hair is still as blonde and bright as the summer sun bouncing off a hubcap. And he has those piercing baby blues too, like the ones that follow you when you walk past an issue of Parenting Magazine.”

“We all did, Mom,” Steven says. “Our family portrait looked like a fucking Nazi propaganda poster.”

“Steven, don’t curse in front of your girlfriend like that,” she says. “And stop being so flippant! Allison asked about Trent–which she had every right to do–and I was just getting her up to speed.”

“She already knows everything,” Steven says, “I showed her the article.”

“You let her read that slander?” Ms. Haas scolds.

“What slander?” Steven asks, spreading his fingers like he’s being tasered.

“That reporter made me out to be the worst mother on the face of the Earth.”

“No she did not,” Steven moans, bored by the redundancy.

“Then why’d she have to mention me locking Trent’s tricycle to the pole for putting Play-Doh all over the car?”

Steven slaps his forehead with his palm and drags his fingers down his face like egg yolk.

“Because you did,” he says, firing sass between his middle and ring finger like a slingshot. “But she put all the blame on the girl who was texting and driving, not you.”

Ms. Haas closes her eyes and shakes off his logic until flashbacks of skid marks and blood splatters jolt her back to reality.

“Well, there’s nothing I wouldn’t give to hop in a time machine and prevent that day from ever happening, but it does bring me a tiny bit of peace to know Trent’s name and memory have been immortalized in the court of law.”

“You want to know something ironic,” Steven asks rhetorically. “I was actually pulled over for Trent’s Law once.”

“You were WHAT?” Ms. Haas says, putting every tooth in her mouth on display.

“Hey, blame Apple Maps. That shitty app was trying to tell me to turn into a creek.”

“How did I not know about this?” Ms. Haas asks, pursing her lips to put Allison at ease.

“Because I told the cop Trent was my little brother, and he let me go with a warning.”

“He should’ve thrown the book at you,” Ms. Haas spits without a drop or pretense. “If anyone should know better, it’s his own brother.”

“At least I know what he looked like.”

Allison’s posture stiffens as Ms. Haas melts into her chair. Her excess body mass oozes through the wooden slats like the clay Trent squished through the grill of their family car.

“Sorry, Mom. I didn’t mean that,” Steven says, tears welling in his eyes in pace with his mother’s.

Ms. Haas thrusts her hands towards the table and catches her face before her head crashes into the bare wooden surface. Her fingertips bend like barbs, fastening her palms against her eyes to dam her tear ducts.

“I’m going to take out another box,” Allison mouths to Steven, standing up with her chair pressed against her backside to avoid making any noises.

Steven nods and shuffles his chair back with no regard for the acoustics of the empty kitchen. He walks to his mother’s side of the table and wraps his arms around her shoulders, squeezing her tighter to bring his mouth closer to her ear.

“I know it still hurts, Mom,” Steven whispers. “It always will. But you will never hurt alone.”

Ms. Haas removes one hand from her face and places the dampened skin against her son’s forearm.

“Thank you, Trent,” she says.

Ms. Haas and Steven open their eyes. Steven remains still until his mother’s shoulders begin to quake. He leans in to hear muffled laughter sputtering from her nostrils. He does the same and kisses her on her cheek, the hairs of his beard tickling her into full-blown laughter.

“Okay,” Ms. Haas says, tapping Steven’s arm to signal she’s ready to stand up. “I think I’ve been moping here long enough.”

Written by: Mark Killian
Photograph by: Florian Klauer

Uncle Pug

Posted on: July 16, 2015

When walking, Uncle Pug’s crutches went huff-plat, huff-plat, telling us he was coming. Two loud crutches made up for one dead leg. Tee cut and stapled all his pants at the right knee so his stub didn’t get cold, except in the summertime, when it stuck out the bottom of his shorts like a turtle head.

“What good?” he said, screen door sizzling shut.

“Ain’t nothing,” Tee answered from the kitchen. I didn’t say anything. I stayed out of grown-folks business.

I got off the couch so he could sit. Tee said he hollered when I didn’t get up from the couch because the crutches hurt his armpits like feet walked too long. But Pug fussed like an old lady, that’s just what he did. Whooped like one too -- stung, didn’t really hurt hurt, except when that crutch whapped your forehead.

Like I knew he would, he flipped the TV channels and stopped on the Golden Girls. He only walked up the path to our house to watch TV and eat. Otherwise he stayed in his house out back. But he’d walk that path every day to catch his woman. He loved him some Blanche.

“Ach,” he sucked his teeth. “Get it,” he said when she sashayed.

“Dorothy, sit yo ugly ass down,” he said when Dorothy came on the screen, dismissing her with a flinging of his wrist.

“Mind me of Sophia,” and then he’d say, “not that old Sophia. My Sophia.” And then he’d wait for the air to breathe the questions he teased up. By thirteen, I didn’t care any more. I’d played hide and go get it, let a white girl touch my thing, felt Keisha Frye’s titties at the movie theatre. What’d I care about some old wrinkly broads on the television and a man with no leg? He never talked about the nasty stuff anyway. Bet he never seen a coochie up close. But Raynard dumb tail goaded him every time, making me miss all the jokes.

“Who Sophia? Some white girl?” Raynard, Tee’s man, sipped wide from a Steel Reserve, eyes leaky red.

“Oh, can’t say.” Pug teased, waiting for someone to beg.

And Raynard gave Pug what he wanted. “Aw man, you don’t said something now.”

I sat on the floor leaning against the couch. Pug’s full leg stretched out no further than my thigh. He had the family look -- Tee called him “petite,” raisin-brown with cool Indian hair cut low, but long enough so you can tell it curled up. Pug was old and lived in a shack, but he never left the house without a crisp ironed shirt, one shined shoe, and his hair slicked back.

“Sophia’s legs -- creamy white like drumsticks covered in buttermilk, long and lean, my boy.” Pug smacked his thigh.

“What you say!”

“Don’t get him riled up, Raynard! I ain’t trying to take his old ass to the hospital cause he done caught wood up in here.” Tee yelled laughing.

“Aw Girl, hush up now. Let me tell this boy how a real man does it,” Pug said.

It was the episode where Blanche goes on the date with her gym instructor, a much younger man.

“Sophia was in France. French women love black men.”

Blanche sat at the dinner table, trying hard to connect to the hot young thing across from her.

“Saw me in my uni-form. Can’t no woman resist a Mitchie man in uni-form.”

Blanche laughed, desperate.

“Well, how you get with her Pug? Back then and all? She was white right?” Raynard asked, disbelieving the tall tale.

“This was France, young man. I was a soldier, young man. That’s the only excuse I need. But we hung out in secret clubs. Won’t nobody in there to bother us cause they were all doing the same thing.” Pug’s back straightened, taking a plate from Tee.

Blanche’s young man said she reminds him of his mama, and dignity flees her face. Pug dribbled green collard juice down his crisp plaid collar.

“She was a queen.” He stared at his hands, “We went together. Then I lost my leg. Then I came home,” he said.

“Well damn? Some French white woman…” Raynard looked like he wanted to say more, but Tee shook her head. Let it go.

Blanche rose from the table, purse in hand, chest high, head high, and marched back home to her girls. She wasn’t lonely, never lonely, she had her friends. Thank you for being a friend, she said.

Uncle Pug just had us. No kids, never married, no women except the ones on TV.

One time I went in Pug’s house. His piss-and-shit pot, one of them portable stands from the hospital with a white bucket underneath, had not been changed and Tee told me go down there and put it outside the house. Said when she walked by, she couldn’t breathe right from holding her breath, didn’t want the ghost of that smell getting in her. She made me put on a doctor’s mask because she didn’t want the ghost in me neither. I went in his house while he sat on our couch, watching his Blanche. I held the cold handles out, trying not to look down into the swishing brown mess, praying I didn’t trip on a pulled up sticker-board tile Raynard help put down when the plywood rotted. Made sure all four corners of that stand set solid in the grass behind the shack before footing out there fast. Ripped off my mask once up the path and breathed, breathed, breathed.

That was the stench he took in every day when he left our couch and huff-plat, huff-plat back home in the darkness. Sugar took his leg, you know, not some damn war. But, who was I to tell an old man about lies.

Written by: Tyrese L. Coleman
Photograph by: Garrett Carroll

A Mother's Song

Posted on: July 14, 2015

The labor of my love for you resides in weary bones, in the dark circles beneath my eyes, and in the ways my body aches. Motherhood is a life of conflict, not between love and hatred, but rather adoration and aggravation. So strange to oscillate from a desire to run away and the overwhelming need to hold you, to gaze into your eyes, to press my lips against every inch of your face. You are my everything, which is both my gift and bane.

I am often torn between what is right and what is easy. There are mornings when you and I lie together on the sofa, sunrise pressing in through the shades and illuminating the dust in the air. You watch television as I spoon you, closing my eyes to get just a little more rest. Then an hour passes, and another, and sometimes another. The refrain in my head when I finally rise is, “I’m a bad mother,” as if just one more episode would cause permanent brain damage or increase the risk of an attention deficit.

You relieve me just a little when you repeat something you’ve learned from public programming.

The grocery store is another battlefield of my morals and mind. There was a time when organic was necessary, and natural was the only exception. Lured by bright red strawberries and banana bunches, you would point and demand with delight, “Nana! Srawberry!” And I felt proud, comparing myself to other moms and assuming other shoppers gave a shit. “Oh, her daughter is so healthy!” But sometimes cost and need are not friendly, so conventional produce made its way into our cart. I watched you place nectarine slices in your mouth, and I imagined the chemical residue basting your insides with cancer. The chorus played again.

I’m a bad mother.

Our weekly schedule often crumbles beneath the weight of my introversion. Mothers have an arsenal of excuses: vomiting, diarrhea, night wakings, and doctor’s appointments. Any can be sent with the touch of a screen, and never questioned when a rain check is offered. But the guilt settles like sediment, stirring up whenever you ask to go outside or see a playmate.

You’re so selfish.

She’s not socializing enough.

She needs more stimulation.

You’ll make her depressed.

Sometimes I give in, and sometimes I don’t as I suffer the brunt of my shame.

You flirt with other mothers at times, wooing them with your black hair and blue eyes. They pick you up, marveling at your lightness, wanting to hold you and kiss your cheeks. I don’t know if jealousy is the word I would use to describe the burn in my chest and the purse of my lips. When you giggle in the arms of another mother, I question my methods. I wonder why I’m not as playful, not as silly, not as energetic as other mothers. I wonder why I don’t plan sprinkler runs, craft activities, and tea parties for you and your friends. I wonder if I do more than meet your basic needs. Do I make you happy?

Why am I not as good as other mothers?

The heat is oppressive this summer, and the plastic blue swimming pool in the yard has a puddle of murky water, surrounded by overgrown grass. We spend so much time indoors, which seems to result in too much screen time and cabin fever. These humid days are perfect for considering my shortcomings. The refrigerator is full of poisonous produce, I’ve resorted to cookies and fruit gummies as suitable snacks, and I’m just not motivated to load us up in a car that feels like a solar flare. Your voice, like a song heard from another room, tries to summon me out of my contrition.

Then there are moments when I am free, when I abandon my worries and false expectations. There will be a morning that crawls by like a sloth, and I have the energy to get us in our swimsuits and into the car. I drive us to the spot that I found with your father, a secluded beach with a view of the city beyond the bay and the bridge that brought us. All we have is a bucket, a shovel, and a bottle of water as we run across the sand and careen against the waves.

I forget how awful I think I am, and instead am consumed by the light in your eyes and the joy in your laughter. I forget about nutrition labels and meal plans. I root down in the shallows, hands on my hips with the sun spreading itself over my skin. I forget about snack times and nap times and fill in the blank times that rob me of the love I have for you. I meditate on the images of you digging holes, studying crabs, and running from the tide. You are so happy, and I don’t have to do much at all.

Nature saves me. She knows the pain of bringing life into the world and sustaining it. Like a grandmother, she spoils you with blue skies and pelicans, seashells and horseshoe crabs. She lets me rest as I lean back on my hands in the shallows and remember that I am also a child. I also require love and care. And as she loves on you, she loves on me. She massages the labor of love out of my aching body with an ocean breeze. Nature sings gently over me with a song of her own.

“You are a good mother.”

“You are so selfless.”

“You give your daughter so much.”

“You make her so happy.”

You fall asleep in your car seat as we drive back home, and you wrap your arms around me as I carry you into the house. Like a rag doll, your body hangs as I lower you down into your crib. The house is dark and quiet as the chorus plays in my head.

I’m a good mother.

Written by: Natasha Akery
Photograph by: Garrett Carroll

Under the Desert Moon

Posted on: July 9, 2015

Jasmine felt a sharp jolt of pain as her ankle rolled beneath her, twisting her foot at an awkward angle and sending her crashing to the ground. Her heart thumped furiously, slamming around inside her chest like a grasshopper trying to escape the cupped hands of a child. She pressed her back against a stone outcropping and tried to melt into the shadows of the cold desert night. Tears cascaded down her cheeks and bile rose in her throat as she watched the scene unfold in front of her. In the pale moonlight, she could barely make out Alec, twenty yards away, lying on his stomach, trying to crawl back towards the car. The blood pooling around him had the color and sheen of spilt motor oil, and the creatures--small, shadowy, and elusively fast--danced around him in a loose ring, taking their time as they toyed with their prey.

From what she could see, the creatures seemed to be about the size of chimpanzees, but looked much more human than ape. They would dart in and out, stabbing at him with their little spears. With each jab, Alec would let out a low moan and they would respond with a wild high-pitched yip. Soon their voices took on a cadence, building up to a crescendo of demonic shrieks and cackles somewhat reminiscent of the nightly songs of the coyotes. And then silence as one of them stepped forward.

The creature wore a loincloth, but no shoes, and its skin appeared leathery. Coarse, dark hair covered its arms and legs, and it had nappy dreadlocks that hung to its waist. Jasmine guessed it was a female from the look of her swollen belly and pendulous breasts. A jagged scar ran across her upper chest from shoulder to shoulder. The creature let out a sharp yip and was soon joined by another one, this one smaller, a juvenile. It raised its spear above its head. Jasmine could just make out the savage sneer on the young creatures face. Alec tried to push himself up.

“Jasmine, run, get help.” Alec’s voice was muddled. “Please Jasm…” His words ended abruptly as the spear flashed down, again and again.

A scream, shrill and piercing and full of loss and pain, escaped from between Jasmine’s chattering teeth.

The creatures, swift and sure in the darkness, scampered towards her, screeching and hissing. As they got closer, she could smell them, their pungent musk making her gag. Once again they started to sing, their voices reverberating in the stillness of the night.

Jasmine closed her eyes. Sobbed prayers poured out of her mouth. She whispered apologies to her parents, hoping that by some magic they would carry on the wind. She took a deep breath and prepared for the end.

The bellowing BOOM of a shotgun startled and scattered the creatures. Jasmine opened her eyes and could see the outline of someone racing towards her. She saw the second shot, a stab of flame leaping out of the barrel, before she heard the sharp report. Something landed next to her with a heavy thud. It was one of the creatures, its lifeless eyes staring back at her, its innards splattered all across the rocks.

Jasmine looked back towards the armed silhouette. She could barely make it out as her rescuer kicked one of the creatures in the chest, sending it flailing backwards. A dark hand reached down and grabbed her, pulling her to her feet.

“Come on, we’ve got to get out of here quick.” Jasmine was startled by the surprisingly soft and feminine voice.

“Alec,” Jasmine said, her eyes searching in the dim light for her boyfriend. “We’ve got to find Alec.”

Her rescuer grabbed her by the arm and started towards the road. Jasmine saw a truck parked next to their car, running with its headlights off. She heard the creatures scurrying around in the underbrush surrounding them.

“Forget it. He’s dead,” the woman said. “And we will be too if we don’t hurry up.”

One of the creatures suddenly appeared before them. The woman let go of Jasmine’s arm and swung her shotgun like baseball bat, the stock end of the gun hitting the creature’s head with a sickening thwump.

“Let’s go, NOW,” the woman shouted as she grabbed Jasmine’s arm again.

Pain lanced up from her ankle as she hobbled to the truck as fast as she could. As she hopped inside she was greeted with the soothing sounds of Joan Baez and the faint scent of patchouli incense. The woman jumped behind the wheel and slammed the truck into gear. Gravel launched into the night as the truck accelerated and raced from the shoulder of the road to the worn asphalt of the old highway.

When they were safely down the road, the woman clicked on the dome light and Jasmine got her first good look at her savior. Two long, silver-streaked braids framed a soft and delicate face that was just beginning to show signs of aging. Little creases encircled her gentle brown eyes and her smile radiated a motherly warmth. The woman grasped her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. Jasmine’s mind flashed back to the way she swung her shotgun, crushing the creature’s skull. She pulled her hand away and recoiled in horror. She tried to look out the back window but saw nothing but her own scared reflection.

“We need to go back, we need to find Alec.”

“I’m sorry, there’s nothing we can do for your friend.”

“What the fuck were those things?”

“Did you know that every Native American tribe has legends and stories about a race of little people? Not some, not most, but all of them? Every single tribe, did you know that?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I’m talking about those little demons that just sliced up your friend. Every tribe has a different name for them. Around here the Shoshone and Paiutes called them the Nimerigar, the People-Eaters.”

“What? Who are you? How do you know all this?”

“I used to teach anthropology at the University of Nevada. Folklore of indigenous cultures. I’m Gaia. Gaia Garcia.”

“We need to call the police,” Jasmine said.

Gaia stared at the long, straight Nevada highway stretching out in front of them.

“Calling the police won’t help,” she clicked off the dome light and turned up the radio, letting darkness and the voice of Joan Baez fill the cab of the truck. “The cops around here aren’t really big on helping with things they don’t understand.Trust me.”

Written by: Ben Cook
Photograph by: Caleb Ekeroth

The Girl with the Ponytail

Posted on: July 7, 2015

I didn’t want to be with Vick. But it was only temporary and it's not like I had a choice, what with the “below living wage” from the cafe. Mom was gone now, so it would have been Vick or some other guy. The old apartment was being fumigated, so I just left all my stuff there. It had always been an iffy place because of the bugs, but bed bugs don’t kill you, and neither do cockroaches. Other things might kill you, but not those things.

I still had my coat and bought some new underwear from Giant Tiger. Vick’s mom said I could stay, as long as “I knew this wasn’t a free ride or anything.” That’s how I got a mother-in-law who lived in the front of the house, and how I found myself frying things on the stove top like I was a short-order cook. I had only just met Vick, and it didn’t take long for the whole mother-in-law and son thing to get old. I was stuck pretending I was so damn thankful, because I had no-where else to go.

I thought I only had a week, maybe a month at most to put up with them. But now, because I’d lost my money, I was years away from not having to fuck when told, or scrape broken eggs off their chipped, Teflon pan. And why was it my job to answer the door? Letting in all those ugly, cooked people. Drug-poor and broken and without a lick of hope but for what Vick would hand them in small bags.

When I thought about my money, my stomach hurt. It had been from Grandma’s estate, the amount paid off on her mortgage. It was that lawyer’s fault. The lawyer had listened to Dad about me being too young and he was the only other person with access to the bank account. It had to be Dad who stole my money. He probably took it to pay off a debt. Dad wasn’t a drunk or a druggie, but he was a frivolous type.

The teller at the bank wore a posh suit, and she looked at me, her eyes full of a pretty sort of pity. I must have been a sight for her to see, with dark bags under my eyes and a homemade hair cut. I had to used a rubber kitchen elastic because my hair was too short to hold back properly. The elastic pulled out hairs, but it gripped tighter, held harder. The teller had to say it to me again, clear and even: “The money was withdrawn last week, the day after it was transferred from the estate account. There has been no more activity on the account since then.”

I stepped outside and threw up on on their grey, concrete steps. There was greed and then there was greed. Grandma had always been nice to me, and I had been touched by her intention to leave me that money. I’d never liked her all that much, but I respected her. She’d always told me to stop eating whatever I was eating so that I wouldn't lose my figure, and it was decent advice.

“You gotta get away from these people, your mom, your dad. This part of town is full of their types.”

With the money gone, my get away plan was ruined. I woke up on that mattress on the floor, beside the spiny beast that was Vick, not able to get up. I had a weight pressing on my sternum. A fist of anger and disappointment. I have never expected anyone to give me a break, but that didn’t stop me from wanting one. I worked hard at the cafe, refilling coffees and bringing people their orders and ketchup. But it would never be enough. I wanted to go to school, to be a nurse or something like that, where if you kept your mouth shut, you’d get paid and good. They said at the employment office that maybe in a year or two I’d be moved up from part-time to full-time, and in a few more years I’d have enough to save up for school. That is, if I kept myself in the clear.

Because of Vick’s business, there was always money lying around the house, tucked away in drawers or behind bottles in the medicine cabinet, sometimes for a few hours or just overnight. Stored until it was passed on to the next person. Vick told me he trusted me. But that morning, there was $3,000 in one hundred dollar bills in the cabinet above the toilet. Karma-wise, I knew it wasn’t meant to be replacement for the $5,000 my Dad stole. I also knew that the money didn’t belong to Vick. He likely had dibs on a percentage of it and would be in trouble if I took it, but it was almost enough money to get my plan back and start new like Grandma had intended. I slipped the envelope into the back waist of my jeans and flushed the toilet to hide the creak of the cabinet closing. I bent over and tied up my laces by the door so I didn’t see Vick in the hall. I flinched when he grabbed the envelope out of my pants. I’d never really seen him mad before, at least not at me. He looked at me with his eyes drug-red rimmed.

“Who do you think you are? I let you sleep in my fucking bed. You think you should steal from me?”

He shoved me hard, and I lost my balance. On the ground, he kicked me in the face a few times, and I almost didn’t feel the pain. Instead, I thought about Grandma because she’d never been the type of woman a guy would shove around. Each time I tried to get up, he hoofed me back down again. If this happens to you, you’ll worry about the blood in your eyes and the bones in your fingers, and all the things everyone else wrecks of yours or takes from you. Until you learn how to take, too.

When he stepped on my neck, I was praying that it wasn’t a serious injury. I couldn’t move, and Vick was pacing around the room, yelling at his mom who was talking loudly, trying to decide what to do with me. That was when I remembered Grandma saying that the world was a hard place. I wouldn’t make it unless I was the type to get lucky. I guess I was a different type.

Written by: Elisha Stam
Photograph by: Hannah Chertock


Posted on: July 2, 2015

The memories are strongest when you sit across from me, knee to knee. We close the circle and hold the moments between us like trapped spirits called in a candle-lit vigil.

“Could’ve just gone to my house. There’s whiskey there,” you say.

I drop the planchette on the wooden Ouija board and the sound echoes across the empty tennis court. There haven’t been real matches here since the seventies; the court taken over by the wilderness and other foreign things. I don’t ask if you remember last year’s discovery: that red plastic lunchbox with cartoon Beetlejuice, hiding other people’s secrets. I wonder what secret you left behind, but I don’t ask, because some things are better left in lunchboxes. I think about the memory belonging to this place and know you must remember too. And that’s enough.

“Here,” I say, handing you my flask.

You close your eyes and squeeze the bridge of your nose. I’m not sure when you picked up the habit, but it’s part of you now. You shift over the only existing corner of the boundary line, tracing the edge with your sneaker.

“Can’t believe we still do this,” you say. It’s strange to think about our first time here, before it became a tradition. That summer before high school exists in a sort of haze now, but I remember the first storm of every summer since because we spent them all here.

“Your question first,” I say, savoring the burn of the booze as I sip once and then twice.

You take the flask again and tip your head back with it pressed to your lips. The etched seven disappears in the shadow of your chin and I miss it. Because you’re twenty-one and still a muggle you said on my birthday two years ago. You forever memorialized my love for Harry Potter in just one small etching.

“Okay,” you say. “What word am I thinking of right now?”

The planchette slips across the board from the rain, but our fingertips stay on either side.

V. E. N. U. S. 

“Just because we’re on a tennis court,” you say. “Like, how do you always guess?”

“And deprive the Goddess of our connection?” I ask and you smile.

I don’t bother the board or the universe with my own question. Sounds of the storm are all around us, the rain softening beneath the ink-stained sky. We swig and pass the flask back and forth until the court crumbles and cracks and we laugh and laugh like lost echoes.

“Know the story about Echo?” I feel myself ask, feel the words on my tongue. They are full and sure and not mine even though they are.

“You’re drunk,” you say.

“Mmhmm. But the story is just so sad. Because she gets trapped with no real voice. And she can’t tell him she loves him because she really doesn’t and he doesn’t so it’s not, you know?”

“But she fell for him anyway?” you ask.

I can’t focus on your face when you ask because the words don’t match your mouth. Your lips have left so many sentences here already and the rain makes listening too difficult. So I close my eyes and I hear you nine years ago. Together, you said, pulling a book from your sweatshirt pocket. We started reading beside each other and we made a promise.

We keep promises. And you are here and I am here and we’re a different kind of we sitting in the rain at our court. It’s just us, but we’re never really an us.

“The first summer storm,” I say.

“Last one, maybe. I don’t think I’ll be back.” Your voice drifts away because I don’t want the words.

“You won’t come home?” I ask. I drain the last dregs and the whiskey no longer burns, just numbs my tongue. I’m not sure I asked the question right because you don’t answer.


I don’t say your name back because I can’t. Instead I pull my letter to you from my coat pocket. I don’t think I can watch you reading my words here because they will sound so much better on the streets of Seattle with more rain than our court could ever offer.

“Don’t open this until you miss me,” I say, handing you the letter.

“So right now, then?” you ask, tracing the seal. “I always miss you. But this isn’t home anymore.”

“What’ll happen to us? Like we die and then what happens?”

“Why do you always start life talks when we’re drunk?” you ask.

“Maybe there are just some conversations you need to have drunk. And maybe the memory just sits with you for days, like a dream.”

“Babe’s so wise with whiskey,” you say and you pull me to you. I tuck my chin into your neck and you hug me and the shoulder of your shirt is damp. Maybe it’s the rain or maybe I am crying.

The world spins beyond you and stars leak dry dust somewhere out there in the universe. And maybe the ghost of Venus watches us. I don’t have to say soulmate or kindred or best because you know. I don’t have to love you to love you because that wouldn’t be the same as hiding in your neck where it’s safe.

“You think the rain’ll sound different there?” I ask. “That’s the reason you’re leaving.”

You don’t answer. The wind and the rain chink the fence and I don’t see us as caged birds, but the kids we were years ago. The early summer smells thick with worm bodies and rehydrated leaves and whiskey breath. And there is the bitter arugula taste of an ending left in my mouth.

“I’m sure it sings lullabies because—what else?”

Our foreheads meet and they are skin against skin, skull to skull and memories against each other, seeping and sharing this life we’ve had for so long.

“You never asked your question,” you say. We cross our legs, resting the old Ouija board on our laps. I remember finding it in your grandmother’s basement and the way you cried when she died. No one said anything when you curled into me at the funeral. Everyone thought they knew us because they just knew us.

You hold your hands above the board and there are charcoal smudges, the long ago painted letters finally imprinted on your skin. I move the planchette and you follow my lead as we spell words we need. We’ll never be anything more than this because we’re already too much.

T.O.O. M.U.C.H.

T.O.O. U.S. 



When I wake, you’re gone. The ground is mapped with cracks like state lines we’ll have to cross to see each other again. Your folded sweatshirt is nestled between my head and the white painted corner of the court. The morning air is cool, and I slip your sweatshirt over my windbreaker. The pocket crinkles.

When you’re missing me. The words are scratched on the back of a Food King takeout menu.

I read on until there are no words left. I’m already missing you, too.

Written by: Kayla King
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal

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