Read the opening of each story
Volume 2 no. 1
A Diner on the Edge of Town
A fly walks into a diner...
(I’ll start from the beginning, sorry.)
As I tore open the sugar packet,
a piece of the pink wrapper fell from the bigger chunk,
sashayed in the air,
and did a medium-sized backflip
There’s a Wait
Millard's will was simple enough. The house and assets would be sold, the investments liquidated, the proceeds placed in trust in three equal shares, thus neatly avoiding estate taxes and any disagreement about who got what. There was only one additional provision. The beneficiaries would each receive one personal bequest, an object to be placed prominently in each of their homes. For the next twenty years, until the trust dissolved and the capital was distributed, the monthly income would be paid only when the trustees had certified by a personal and unannounced inspection that the object was where it was supposed to be and neither altered nor disguised in any way.
The bulbs on the marquee illuminated the crowd pressed close to the door, but the line ran into the half darkness down the street. Orpheum. A word exotic to the boys. They'd been to the movies before, in Bend, to the Bijoux, which their mother—it seemed a long time ago—had told them meant jewels in French. Fielding had wondered about that, jewels? That was when they had already entered the shadow of their mother's illness. She had told them a movie house was like a jewelry box, she thought, they kept the pretty things inside. The sparkling movies. Colors almost unbelievable. Simple stories. Happy endings, she'd said, and smiled her wan smile. And the boys had nodded. Already that seemed like a long time ago.
River Clap Your Hands
Make shadows for me Jack. That's what I always called Jack's drawings when I was a kid. With his eyes squinting into black slits of concentration and a wafting of his gnarled gray fingers gone straight, his hand would make its graceful pass over tables, walls, great pads of paper I eventually bought him, the surface growing gradually darker than its natural shade, darker until I could see the shapes he made. Just a wave of his hand. That's all it took. He was good, Jack. He liked to add a kind of Deco flourish to limbs and fingers and the ends of hair twined with an imaginary breeze. And Jack was drawing his self-portrait across the cracked concrete alley behind the strip mall where I was looking for boxes, the dark spindled sketch of his question-mark figure hanging like a shadow from my heels, when a woman burst through an emergency exit. Like birds scattering off a lawn at the first hint of a doorknob twist, Jack was gone. Just like that.
A Lawyer in Islamistan
Mr. Eblis, a first year defence attorney in the country of Islamistan, sat in his office in the old part of Muhammadiya District and wondered if his solo practice was doomed to fail. Most people avoided criminal law like it was heresy. The trials were complicated and messy, and took an eternity.
He had wanted a high status job. Government. Academia. Morality. Anything that kept him out of court. He had hoped that upon the completion of his twelve year program he would be installed as a lecturer at Jurist’s Inn or invited to become an analyst at the Guardian Council.
An Economic Novel
The scene in which the protagonists (soon-to-be lovers) meet: You’ll know from experience or fantasy what they say to each other, how their gestures convey a tangible longing, how, when they kiss, the world brightens, as if in a nuclear flash.
I was meeting him again after a twenty-year lapse, and I figured he would be reluctant or self-conscious, my father. Time, distance, between us; and yes, it would be his poverty, his house being a ramshackle place with a nondescript living room, and the doors being boards simply tacked together and the roof zinc sheets piled one on top of the other. He’d been ailing too, arthritis wracking his bones, the relatives had said.
When the Frost Comes
The girl and her mother sit at the small kitchen table, eating their cereal. On TV, the weatherman stands in front of his colorful map. He has gray hair and a red bow tie and is the same weatherman who visited the girl's class and explained about Ls and Hs. How Ls meant lousy weather and Hs meant happy weather—For the most part, he said. She and the rest of the class were impressed since he was from the larger city where the shopping mall and movie theatre and hospitals were, and they saw him every night on TV, but there he was shaking hands with Mrs. Lindsey and standing in front of their chalkboard. It was almost as good as the shopping mall Santa making a special visit, but since none of them believed in Santa anymore, the weatherman would do.
Words in Skin
I sit back and enjoy the crunchy skin of the pig my father and uncles have roasted using smoking coals. We’re sitting in a driveway in the Bronx, but the smell of a fire pit and the rattle of dominoes screams of an island lost in their memories. My son sits at my feet with his New York Yankees hat and British character inspired toy trains which were made in China. I don’t give my son a piece because he distrusts anything new.
Every morning, my husband and I grab our briefcases and our stainless steel coffee thermoses. We kiss each other on the cheek and then we kiss the dog on the cheek and then we pull the front door closed behind us and let the screen door give a happy slap. Every morning, I set my stainless steel coffee thermos on the roof of my car and my husband sets his stainless steel coffee thermos on the roof of his car and then we open driver-side doors. And right before ducking into the airtight spaces of our separate, efficient automobiles, every morning, we both see Harold waving at us from across the street, his other hand holding a slack hose above the brown-pocked grass. Like usual, there’s no water coming out of the hose, and, like usual, my husband and I both wave back.
Volume 1 no. 2
He has the blunt, hard knuckles of a streetfighter. Hairy in
multiple ways, he wears a brown serviceman’s shirt with the
name Cal embroidered across a patch on the left breast. He
raises his fist at me.
“I’m gonna knock your teeth in, bud.”
Summer heat like hellfire swoons across the oil-soaked
concrete of the service station, and relentless blasts of it roll
over us in waves as we stand in front of the little clerk’s counter.
It’s a backroad, backcountry, and Plummer’s Sup and Pump
crouches in the shade of a fleshy green hill. I haven’t had water
for hours. My mouth tastes like that grime-caked nickel
Jason Crabtree found on the floor of the bus and dared me to
lick when we were in fifth grade. Twenty years ago? Why can’t
I remember how old I am?
No one had much of a problem with Crazy Dan. He kept
mainly to himself. He lived in a tiny 80-year-old house next
to an even smaller shack on a lot surrounded by walnut trees.
No one knew exactly where he came from, who his parents
were, or if he had always been crazy. He collected disability
checks twice a month from the government—but physically
he was fine. He looked as though he’d always been in his thirties;
his hair and face he kept trimmed enough to not attract
attention; he always wore a bright red windbreaker, no matter
the weather. He drove a 2-stroke 50cc Honda motor scooter,
even though no one else did anymore. Everyone talked about
him and loved him as they would love the town drunk, but
no one really knew much about him. The only other thing
they really knew was that he filmed everything he could with
a handheld camcorder— anything and everything, the most
mundane things. No one could understand it—that’s why he
was Crazy Dan.
Woodchuck Tries a Family
He was in bed with his woman but he was awakened by
something else some creature between him and his lover.
He could tell without opening his eyes that it was still
dark but dawn was near.
He heard his woman snoring and he kept his eyes closed
and rolled over to get back to sleep.
The creature rolled up against Woodchuck and threw out
an only slightly muffled elbow.
Woodchuck winced and looked next to him but saw
nothing only his woman’s stomach protruding.
His gaze seemed to wake her.
She turned toward him.
That’s right she said.
Woodchuck stood up in a field in the sun on a spring day.
By a tree at the end of a stone wall sat a human boy with
his gun who might or might not have been a good shot.
Woodchuck remained still.
It would take some skill to hit the brown animal at such
distance and the boy knew hunting safety knew not to risk a
bad shot knew not to trust the safety switch on his gun that
remained switched on to prevent accidental release.
The boy it was plain to see was bored.
He raised and aimed his gun and put it down again.
He looked up at clouds.
They always said of him at home that he walked around
with his head in the sky.
She drove, not too fast, never over the speed limit but not too
slowly either—the important thing was not to attract attention.
She had the car radio on to the new album the Beatles
had just put out, Revolver. The DJ was playing it all the way
through with interruptions for acne medication, shampoo
and beer commercials. She would have liked to turn it up to
help her stay awake, but if she did, he might wake up. In the
backseat, the man was still sleeping, occasionally moaning or
cursing or grunting. It was better when he was asleep. Awake,
he made her nervous.
No one ever knew why José Antonio came to La Cantina.
La Cantina was not its official name, it was just what the
place was known for, the only cantina as far as a man could
drive in one day.
José Antonio himself knew why he had come here. His
work in the city had not been undistinguished or unrewarded,
he had just tired of unnecessary words.
Yes, that was it. He was tired of the Tower of Babel. It had
been time to rest his ears, his tongue, and so he had moved to
a place where words were few and far between.
José Antonio had traveled as far as you could without
leaving Mexico and arrived at a spot the frequent fliers on Aeromexico seldom saw: the US/Mexico border, a spot where what little crossing there was was usually done under cover
Nicole Louise Reid
She appeared one morning from nothing. We looked at our
boy, eating oatmeal in his chair. Tall for the booster’s four
inches. Day was in his hair like glow, like fluff of weeds to
blow. Our boy.
He looked at her, too. So we knew we were not drunk or
stoned or made loopy with dreaming.
We said, “Hello” and moved nearer.
She was a baby. The light of morning showed just how
bald she was. Nothing like our son. She wore a pink dress.
The kind babies wore when one of us was a girl and had dolls
and called them babies, bought them real Pampers and Gerber
bottles to suck. It was soft pink with smocking across her
chest. An appliquéd squirrel and tree, small at the hemline
splayed out across her fat ankles.
The Trench Angel
The men lined up for their pictures before they died. It was
an orderly, single-file queue snaking through the trench, no
pushing or shoving, none of that childhood hokum, because,
after all, they were Englishman. Each held a letter addressed to
his mum or sweetheart, brother or father, mostly commenting
on the poorness of the weather or the morale of the men
or even razzing the queer ways of the French, but they didn’t
have any words for what was really going on. How could you
remember all of this and put it down on paper? When their
turn arrived, they handed the letter to me, the Yank, and I
raised my camera, the indestructible Miss Constance, then
fired. The pose never changed—head tilted a smidge left,
eyes wide—the same picture over and over again like a broken
projector. You went through that death line enough times
it became rote. Still, if I could go back, if I could somehow
re-enter the mind of my younger self, I’d have kept those photos,
every last one of them, and I’d have put them all together in a book without a title because no pithy phrase, no publisher’s
cliché could sum up those stares.
First Publication Section
A Dream Upon Waking
Unwillingly, Giancarlo Keane awoke.
He sluggishly gathered himself from his bed and walked
towards the kitchen.
After coffee and cereal, he opened his laptop to see if Amy
had responded to his last email. Yes, no, yes, no, he thought. If
she doesn’t respond it means she doesn’t love you anymore. No,
shut up, no, no, yes, no.
It had been 6 months since he last heard from her. But
he still checked each morning. And there it was! He blinked.
She’d responded! She’d actually responded! The air flowed
toward him, sucked and swirled within and around his body.
His heart, his blood, his skin, jumped. Mouse shaking, he
clicked on the email and read:
Volume 1 no. 1
Aaron's Auto Salvage and Restoration, Mackey's Corners, Arkansas
What’s a preacher doing tending a junkyard? First, there was
my own crisis of faith. Our Lord was telling me to take up the
serpents to demonstrate my infinite trust in Him: Behold, I
give unto you the power to tread on serpents and scorpions…and
nothing by any means shall hurt you. But the snakes did hurt
me: fourteen bites in all, three in that last year alone. Thirteen
times I resisted the temptation to go to the hospital, screaming
in pain something awful, my flock holding me down while I
suffered the shakes and fevers. I lost a finger to the venom, it
just rotted and fell off. Can’t feel anything in my right hand, I
walk with a limp, all in the name of faith. Finally, came the last
bite--a timber rattler at a revival, while we all sang “Temptations
are great, but God’s love is greater.” I kept going in and
out of the darkness, pain like black lightening, but I knew I
was not ready for my appointment with God. Take me to the
hospital I cried out in my delirium, and right then and there
the parishioners of the Divine Reflection Holiness Church
lost faith in me. It’s a sign from God, they said, that I resorted
to the anti-venom: Preacher Aaron has lost the anointing.
Enda Wheeler stands alone, smoking a cigarette. Her back
burns from hoeing tobacco since God woke her up, and now it
is suppertime. She accepts hard work as her lot in life, although
every now and again she can’t help but dwell on it. She has been
low-down tired ever since her pa gave her over to a husband
who is a two-fisted drinker and a one-fisted worker. Scanning
the woods-hemmed horizon for Big Man, she rubs the hard
knot over her pelvis to calm the baby who is fretting inside her.
Enda coughs, and her bladder leaks onto already damp panties.
Seems she spends half her day looking for her husband,
the other half in the tobacco fields, and another half trying to
cook and keep house. Today the pondering has brought out her
temper, as it is wont to do. A rock, the size of the head of the
fetus, rests in her apron pocket. Enda caresses the rock through
the nearly transparent calico. It won’t hurt Big Man much, just
get his attention. Do not kill, she knows, is one of the Lord’s
laws. Not ever being of a mind to break His law, still Enda daily
prays to outlive the sumbitch and pickle his dick in a Mason jar,
preserve it in his own moonshine. When there is nothing left
of the cigarette, she presses it into the ground with the blade
of the hoe.
Enda wants him in the worst way, and the worst way is
the only way she has ever wanted him, if you don’t count not
wanting him at all.
To Honor the Fallen
My orthodontist committed suicide when I was ten years old.
He was found slumped over the wet bar in his boxer shorts,
reaching for the telephone, the empty pill bottle and a glass of
ginger ale beside him. His immediate neighbors were shocked,
but in the community we lived in shocks dissipated quickly.
Tragedy in one cul-de-sac was often mere gossip in an older
section of town.
To my parents, though, Zeke Adler’s death was a fresh
hurt. They and the Adlers had belonged to the same left-wing
student group before the war and were two of perhaps seven
couples who had reunited at the war’s end and stayed close
ever since. The group of friends worked together for the causes
they believed in, played together, and — amidst the McCarthy
era’s bad weather — rued the future together. They shared
most of their hopes and fears and the failure of any one of
them was a failure of them all.
At times, we wake happy, or at least as happy as one could ever hope to be in this world. Spring has come to the darkest city. Even the streets, which glimmered icily at us all winter, have taken on a hot moist smell. Girls stalk sidewalks in slutty dresses. Teenagers get desirous on stoops. Purple clusters of flowers emerge like warts from the bark of trees. We could float a hundred miles on these vibrant sidewalks!
After the kid’s mother left us, I tried to cheer him up.“Let me paint your room,” I offered. “We’ll make it look
really cool. You like the Wild West? Or outer space? What?”“I don’t care,” the kid said, so I made the initial decisions
myself. I moved ahead with a Martian landscape, which I
thought a nine-year-old would like. I wasn’t working from a
sketch; I wanted to keep it loose, see what developed. First I
painted a wisp of Martian vegetation, tall and reedy, and then
I started to add a green Martian peering over the top. Together,
the partial Martian and the reed looked a lot like a palm tree. I
painted a large terra cotta tub for it to grow out of, and I added
palm leaves. One thing led to another. Before I knew it, I had
the beginnings of the café.
The kid was a little hesitant. “What happened to the Martians?”
Libby and Sandy
Two sisters, Elizabeth and Sandra, either suntanned or naturally
Indian sub-continent olive, are standing on a tiny square
of the patchy, previously grub-chewed front lawn of a nondescript
building on a nondescript street. “Previously” because
the grubs are all nice and snug in their winter cocoons now,
curled up with their six tiny legs tucked in under their maws.
Their oversized maws. It is the sort of two-storey, semi-detached
house that multiplies itself in various shades of brick
and siding along the slightly seedy but about to be gentrified
residential spaces of the inner city. You know the type? For decades,
they served as the sanctuaries of multi-generational immigrant
families raising children they could barely understand
and then watching those same children fly off to sub-division
monster homes and greener pastures (in some cases literally)
in the distant suburbs. Then being purchased by absentee
landlords to be split into odd-shaped rental units (boarding
houses as the worst scenario) before the children decided that
suburban pastures were often inconvenient and the commute
was an expensive killer and wouldn’t it be lovely to have a
house only a block or two from the subway line and open-air
fruit stands, cappuccino bars, antique shops and homemade pizza parlours? Which is what is happening here (the question
of the hour) with the model family about to whack away at the
walls and divisions so they can restore the house to its pristine
pre-tenant state, complete with central stairway with oak railings
now buried and barely visible beneath a plaster wall.
Does that explain Libby and Sandy, as they are known to
their friends, standing, holding each other tight, in the middle
of their belongings and surrounded by the yellowing leaves
of the now-naked maple?
Titles excluded from $6 offer
The Wandering Heart by Mary Malloy
La bell'America by Anthony M. Graziano
No One's Son by Tewodros Fekadu
Monster, Oil on Canvas by Dmitry Zlotsky
All books by Marge Piercy