November 26, 2019| ISSUE no 256
crack the spine
Gwen Namainga Jones
James C. Ryan
short fiction by Gwen Namainga Jones
“I hear there is a very special letter for us at the general store,” I announce. “They say the envelope is the color of breast milk with ribbons the texture of Inshwa’s wings wrapped around it.”
My husband, Tenda, makes sounds as he sips from his cup of hot, milky tea.
“Puma, we are not a family that receives letters.”
“Everyone at the store was talking about it…”
“I will go to the store to collect it tomorrow to find out what it is all about.”
Tenda nods his approval.
Later in the afternoon, I walk to the neighboring compound. The sun follows me down the narrow dusty path; the air is filling with aromatic odors carried in the tendrils of smoke that rise to the sky as far as the eye can see…All our neighbors are preparing their evening meal.
The acrid scent of dried fish lures me as I near Dora’s hut, and I picture the gnarled fish frying—popping and sizzling in the cooking oil.
As I approach I see the door is ajar and I walk inside. “Odi, Odi.” Knock, knock.
Dora crouches over, concentrating on that popping fish, which twists in the hot oil, almost as if it is caught a second time, and must writhe to die.
I can see Dora’s white teeth flash in a smile as I enter the darkened room.
“Puma, I will accompany you with pleasure, and I can be ready to leave at dawn so that we are back home before noon.”
We set off at seven o’clock while the morning dew still clung to the grass alongside the path and wet our feet as we passed. We walked the three miles alongside the schoolchildren who walked to the only primary school in the region.
They carried their shoes in their little hands for fear of scuffing them on the road. Their little feet bare and dusty with white sand, hard-calloused from hardening on this road each day. In the other hand they tightly clutched their notebooks and pencils, tools of learning, signs of hope, signs of an education.
“How will we read the contents of the letter?” Dora asked.
“Perhaps we can ask the storekeeper to read the letter to us?”
“No, we cannot open it. Tenda has instructed me that I am to take it home so that he can open it himself,” I replied.
“But Tenda himself cannot read,” Dora pointed out.
Dense clusters of palm trees marked the outskirts of Mwila Central, and we removed our chitenges and used them to dust the white sand that now clung to our feet from our walk.
We donned our good shoes to complete our attire, feeling more presentable to receive this much-anticipated, illustrious letter.
Our heels clicked on the concrete steps as we walked up the veranda of the store; all eyes were on us. I could hear whispers behind cupped hands.
We walked on. Click, click click…our heels clicked to the onlookers—their eyes bore into us as we crossed the concrete floor inside the general store.
For a while, all commerce and transactions stopped as we approached the counter. The shop was filled with farmers and housewives, all busy with their purchases.
“Please wait; the shopkeeper himself would like to give it you personally.” My heart raced, my mouth opened, waiting.
“Here, Puma, this is the letter,” said the shopkeeper.
We stood for a while just staring at it in wonder and awe. What could it be? we both thought as our eyes met looking up.
I surveyed the top of the envelope. All I could see were what looked like little black ants with fattened bottoms marching across the envelope. Peering closely, I made out a couple of a’s and b’s, this recognition a throwback from my third-grade education, but nothing else made sense. I could not decipher the strange squiggles and symbols I knew were words and sentences. But I had to know what the letter said—it was so important-looking, so beautiful and alluring.
I raised my face up, away from the incomprehensible paper; I realized the crowd, as well as the shopkeeper and his assistant, were all waiting for my response.
“My husband will be the one to open the letter, so I will return to him immediately.” I smiled to myself; Tenda could not read either—at least we were on the same level—and I relished the anticipation of watching him surrender to helplessness too.
Safely out of view, we relinquished our hauteur and turned to one another, squealing in delight. We had collected the letter—it was in my hands. Victory! We clapped our hands and laughed out loud at the sheer rush of exhilaration and excitement. We were one step closer to solving the growing puzzle of its contents.
Then—disaster—we caught our breath and gagged on our laughter. I dropped the delicate cream-colored envelope.
Dismayed, we watched as it fell to the ground in slow motion.
Dust particles rose around it, coating the silken ribbon.
My heart skipped a few beats; I picked up the envelope and, using the edge of my skirt with care, I tried to wipe the dust from it. My eyes met Dora’s in trepidation as the dust sifted to the ground. The envelope appeared almost entirely clean. We had almost soiled this beautiful letter.
Sobering up, we resumed our brisk walk, stopping only out of courtesy to chat with passersby who asked the same questions about the letter. It seemed that overnight we had gone from hardly being noticed to becoming the village celebrities.
We arrived back at our family compound in time for the main meal of the day, prepared by Ikwe, wife number two.
“Mother of Aubulu, I am ready to see you now,” I heard Tenda call out to me. Aubulu was our oldest son.
I struggled up off the mat, tidied my chitenge around my waist and called out, “I’ll be right there.”
Our husband occupied this fine house alone. When he wished to see one of the wives, he would visit us in turn at each of our huts. We never stayed overnight at his house; it was purely for his purposes and official duties of the family. Thus this visit was akin to entering a royal palace, and I sat down on the floor at his side and handed him the letter with both hands.
He stared at the creamy envelope for a while. “It is even more beautiful than we have heard; look at the fabric crossing over the paper, and all these small cloths,” Tenda wondered aloud. M
“Mah weh,” he exclaimed. “Truly this is important.” Attempting to read the contents, he squinted at the black lettering. I peered at him out of the corner my eye, and for the first time I saw him as helpless as I was.
If only I could read…
He stared at it for a long time and then gave it to me. “Can you understand what it says?” A silly question.
The letter had stirred up more than dust in our village; it brought with it a realization of the power of transfer of one’s thoughts on paper.
“Send for Bona; perhaps he will be able to read it,” Tenda ordered.
“Well, what does it say, Bona?”
Silence. Study. Bona was embarrassed to say.
“I am afraid I do not understand the writing; I don’t know, perhaps we should take it to the Chief’s court tomorrow and someone there should be able to interpret what it says,” Bona confessed.
Tenda agreed and said: “Very well, that is a good idea. We will go to visit the Chief and get this letter translated.”
That night, to my utmost delight, Tenda spent the night in my hut instead of the hut of wife number four; this was a very special occasion—I could not remember the last time he shared my hut.
Having received approval for the meeting before the Chief, we set off early in the morning
We arrived twenty minutes later at the Chief’s residence, which was already a hive of activity; we watched, awaiting our hearing.
Tenda began: “We received this elaborate letter but have failed to read it and have come seeking assistance for someone to interpret the contents…”
“Let me see it,” instructed the Chief.
A respectful silence filled the air; we wondered if the Chief could read English. Even a small amount would help.
“Interpret the contents of this letter.”
We all leaned forward to hear what the letter conveyed.
In the distance a dog barked.
Silence. The sound of cattle mooing.
Silence. Children laughing at play. Silence.
“The honor of your presence is requested at the marriage…,” began Jameson. He frowned on the next line.
“El honor de su presencia se pide en la union de…”
His dark eyes seemed to dart up and down the page, lightening up as he recognized a few words: “Thomas Moodie.” The son of Mukale’s daughter Jinni who lives in America. He cleared his throat and continued.
He read “Saturday the tenth of August, two thousand and sixteen,” faltering again on the strange words that read: “sábado el ventiocho de agosto.” His hands shook as he held the paper.
“Dos mil y once.” Jameson looked up, meeting all eyes on him. “Cinco de la tarde.”
“It is…” He stopped. He squinted at the paper again. More silence. “It is a…” Everyone leaned closer.
His face now shiny with sweat, scrunched in concentration, the struggle to decipher the words visible across his long angular face. Breathing a loud sigh.
“It’s a wedding invitation,” he declared finally, although he still seemed troubled by the contents.
“A wedding,” chorused two or three voices.
“Yes, a wedding.” He smiled. Shoulders relaxing, he seemed to gain confidence as he proceeded. “It is for a wedding of the eldest son of Jinni Thomas, Mukale’s child.”
“And?” Tenda prompted him. “A wedding of Thomas, go on.” We had heard that Thomas was marrying a woman from Mexico.
Sitting up straight, Jameson’s features became brighter as he declared, “The wedding will take place on the tenth of August this year in Mutonga.”
Repeating himself, “Yes, it is the wedding of the eldest son of Jinni, the one called Thomas Moodie, and the wedding to his Mexican bride, Karen, will take place in Mutonga on the tenth of August this year.” He finished with a big broad hyena-like smile showing all his brilliant white teeth for effect.
That was it; he surveyed the entire room now as he laughed out loud, big eyes popping in excitement.
“Yes, people, a wedding, a very important wedding, will take place on the tenth of August this year.”
Thanking the Chief and the magistrate we excused ourselves from the court and walked back to our vehicle.
I could hardly contain my excitement and scurried to keep up with the men ahead of me, almost tripping on my loosened chitenge.
“Mother of Aubulu, you will accompany me to the wedding in Mutonga,”declared Tenda. “Bona, you will go with me as well.”
“We shall stop at the general store before going home; we will need to begin our preparations for the wedding,” Tenda instructed.
Turning to me, he said with a softer tone in his voice, “Mother of Aubulu, you may choose a dress for yourself for the wedding.”
“Of utmost importance as the head of the family I will have to donate two head of cattle to the wedding to feed the guests.”
“How will you take the cattle to Mutonga?” asked Bona.
“The cattle will be herded by foot. Once selected they will need to leave seven days before that as it will take three days to get there. On arrival they will need to be watered and fed to be ready for the wedding feast,” said Tenda.
Stopping at the general store we climbed out of the vehicle. Tenda reached into his pocket and peeled off a few hundred kwachas and handed them over to me.
“Here, buy yourself a good dress, new shoes, and whatever else you need for the wedding.”
When I returned to the general store, I walked in and I noticed two of my friends, Eneres and Prisca, standing at the entrance of the store.
“A wedding?” the shopkeeper inquired. “And whose wedding would that be? And where? Are you attending, or sending your regrets?”
Regrets. What did he mean? Of course we were attending.
“I need a dress for the wedding.”
At this point the shop assistant, who suddenly came forward, had already begun presenting various dresses on the counter. Spread out in front of me a profusion of color, navy-blue, peach, red, brown, and pink hues. I stared at the bundle.
The shopkeeper took over, sensing my confusion.
Eneres had followed me in; she did not want to miss out on this part of the story too.
Dress after dress I tried; none felt quite right. It was such a big decision. I needed the right dress.
Then a new bunch came through with the assistant and I spotted the dress!
Underneath, peeping out of the new bundle she brought me, was a burnt-orange, shiny, colored fabric, and I knew this was the dress that would be the one.
“May I try this one on first?” I asked while Eneres kept sentry at the door, looking over her shoulder.
“Yes, this is the one; this is the one I will wear to the wedding. It is perfect. I don’t need to try it on. I will take it with me…”
My heart stopped. Perhaps, just perhaps, in this dress looking as grand as I looked, Tenda would notice me again—notice me as a woman, his woman. Not as his first old wife but the way he looked at me those years before.
“I need a pair of shoes to match the dress.” I shouted back.
Soon a pair of shoes in my size appeared at the door which I slipped on. We returned home with my ensemble.
The next morning Tenda held a meeting with all the wives and the family to give them the news. We gathered at the big house where he played chief and addressed us all as he sat on his chair, throne-like.
Wife number two, Ikwe, was the old Chief’s daughter. Ikwe was alright; we got along best, and our relationship had improved with the acquisition of wife number three. Similarly, wife number three had trimmed her feathers too, once wife number four had arrived.
Holding up the luxurious envelope for all to see, he began:
“Thomas, the grandson of my sister Mukale is getting married in Mutonga. I will be attending the wedding on the tenth of August with wife number one, Ba Puma, together with my old friend Bona,” he informed us.
“We have sent word to Aubulu to return home from college in Namwala to accompany us to the wedding, as he speaks English and will help us to communicate.”
Meanwhile, preparations were in full swing. The two fattest cows, thick-girthed and ripe for slaughter, had been selected early the next morning. Milo the herdsman was ready to proceed with the herding of the cattle all the way to Mutonga.
He was all puffed up like a fattened bream in winter, as he assumed he, too, would be going to the wedding.
The days wore on without any sign of Aubulu. By Wednesday the air was thick with worry. What would we do if he did not arrive in time?
The loud shrieks from my eight-year-old Talia woke us from our somber state. “He’s here. Aubulu is here. Look, Mama, look.” She was staring toward the gate.
Talia broke out in a run, followed by a dozen of her bare-breasted and barefoot siblings; they almost knocked Aubulu over in their excitement.
“What took you so long? Mom and Dad have been waiting.” Each one of the children chimed in to say something.
Tenda roused himself and emerged from the big house. “You have arrived finally, Aubulu. We have been waiting for you.”
Aubulu undid the fragile organza ribbons and opened the envelope, retrieving the matching invitation inside, and began to read.
The children giggled even though they did not understand the words: the austere presentation of what was being read tickled them. The women smiled at each other.
Tenda stared at Aubulu. “Go on.”
“There is a line underneath I do not understand.” Aubulu concentrated on the invitation. “Wait, it says, ‘El honor de su presencia se pide en la union de’…” Aubulu frowned.
“I am not sure what this means; it seems to be written in another language. There are two languages on the letter.”
Undeterred, Tenda said, “Well, go on, go on, and finish reading the letter.”
Aubulu’s brows knit together. “I can’t go on…” he said. “I can’t read this…”
Tenda and the crowd detected something was not quite right with Aubulu’s silence and look of consternation on his face.
“What is it, Aubulu? Continue with the reading,” urged Tenda.
“Yes, Father, I apologize. I will do a better job at reading the letter.”
The rows deepened as he continued to read. “The marriage ceremony will take place at the San Jose Mission in San Antonio.”
He then stopped short at the next sentence.
“What is it, Aubulu?” Now Tenda could sense there was something wrong.
Aubulu’s eyes widened, catching the reflection of the pretty ribbon in his pupils; he looked up to his father.
The invitation was bilingual English and Spanish for the benefit of Thomas’s wife’s family who lived in Mexico.
“Ta…Tata.” He started using his childhood name for Father now.
The children’s voices rose as they continued playing with each other, cajoling and rolling around.
“Stop it! Quiet!” shouted Tenda. He was exasperated now.
The noise and the clatter of what earlier had added to the charm of the occasion now disturbed him.
“Children, away from here. Go and play somewhere else.”
“Tata.” Aubulu attempted to speak.
“What is it? What is wrong, Aubulu?” Aubulu looked up into his father’s eyes; he seemed to search for a sign, perhaps some form of encouragement to deliver what he had read on the paper.
Finally he blurted out. “weh” He stuttered in Ila. The wedding is not in Mutonga.
“Ma Weh!” Oh dear, everyone gasped.
Ma Weh! was a beautiful expression and when said in unison it had even more significance.
“Ma Weh!” the family chorused in unison.
“Muchato, ili kwi?” Where is the wedding? Tenda demanded.
“Sa, iliku Lusaka?” shouted wife number three.
“Eh, muchato sa taili ku Lusaka?” I piped in, making sure to mark my territory. Was the wedding being held in Lusaka? I asked.
“Pepe.” No no, said Aubulu.
“Ili Kwi Aubulu. Muchato Ili Kwi,” shouted Tenda. Where is the wedding, Aubulu? Where is it?
“Sa taili ku Lusaka?” Is it not in Lusaka? continued Tenda.
“Pe.” No, protested Aubulu.
“Hold back,” I shouted to them. “Can’t you see he is trying to tell us?”
“Calm down, order family.” Tenda stood, holding his hands up.
“Sa Muchato ili kwi, Aubulu, na ku Harare. Ambweni, Ba ushi Thomas watola muchato Ku Zimbabwe.” Perhaps Thomas’s father is taking the wedding to host it in Zimbabwe? Tenda surmised.
“Pe pe, Pe. No, no it isn’t,” Aubulu stated in a more controlled voice now.
Seemingly he had gathered the courage to speak up now.
“Muchato taili ku Zimbabwe,” he said calmly, looking up at his father.
“Muchato ilaba ku America, kulale, koku ku San Antonio, ku Texas.” The wedding is not in Zimbabwe, the wedding is being held in America, far away from here at that place called San Antonio in Texas.”
Silence followed this statement.
Tenda’s shoulders drooped down; he stared at his son.
He heaved a big sigh and muttered under his breath. “I wonder how far Milo is with the cattle.”
That night Tenda did not join me in my hut. I walked there alone and remained alone. But before lying down, I donned the satin orange dress, and slid into the beautiful brown shoes. I stood tall. I needed no mirror to reflect how I looked.
I drew myself up and made a vow. I would never be at such a loss again: I would learn English. Tomorrow I will find a way to learn to read if it is the last thing I do.
I would never be helpless or unknowing again. I would never depend on anyone, ever again. I smoothed down the silken dress and drew myself up to my full height. I whispered to the empty room my answer to this fancy but useless invitation:
“I send my regrets.”
If I talk about space exploration at the bar-b-que, eyes will glaze and subjects change. Mason will need to refresh her lemonade. Cathi will need to help Robin in the kitchen. Chuck will have to help Benton with the grilling, and I’ll be alone with Steve who is all about basketball because he coaches for St. Rocco’s. “What’s a March Madness without Duke or Gonzaga in a Final Four?”
A black hole?
Yet, here I am, stag. The smart kid who made it to the big time at thirty-three: NASA. The no-need-for-secrets NASA still going where no one has gone before. I’ve got a four-bedroom, two-bathroom ranch house outside Houston, and lease a new Beamer every year. It comes with an AI unit named Giselle who talks science with me.
“The more you talk to her, the more information you give her, the better she can respond,” the salesman told me. Car dealers require their employees to be tech-lit now. No wonder everyone has to go to college to get a job. “Eventually, she’ll figure you out. Don’t ask me how. Sometimes it can be spooky.”
Astronauts are accustomed to spooky. I see odd things in the sky other people don’t and perform rituals with odd names like ‘debriefings.’ I’m told what I can and cannot say. There’s a part of me that’s always in a cloud.
“Why don’t my friends want to hear about my adventures?” I asked Giselle on the way to the backyard bash. “I was almost gobbled up by a black hole last year. It made the news for Christ’s sake, and I’ve got the PTSD to prove it.”
“This is space control, Major Tom,” Giselle says. She calls me Tom although me name is Harrison. “They have seen many narrow escapes and video games, superheroes have saved the world many times. Your stories have no impact.”
“You’re saying reality is boring.”
“I’m saying you are boring.”
“I always was. When my college friends were blowing weed and giggling over Sartre, I was calculating the distance between me and Robin’s boobs, and landed a peanut in her bra.”
Giselle said, “Suppress that memory. Robin is allergic and you almost killed her.”
“Where did Steve learn how to do a tracheotomy, I wonder?”
“I do not have that data, Tom.”
“Okay. Tell me how I can be popular at this shindig.”
Giselle went silent for thirty seconds. “You can be popular with Steve, Chuck, and Benton if you tell them you had sex with an alien. However, you will be less popular with the women if you tell that story. You will never be popular with Robin.”
Steve and Benton were hovering over the grill discussing the benefits of onion salt over sea salt. I walked over to cast my vote for onion, when Steve asked me, “What have you been up to these last six months?”
The time frame limited my choices. No harrowing space encounters allowed. “I walked into an alien bar on Lavos, picked up an alien with three boobs and a vagina where her navel should have been, and had sex with her.”
“Without paying for it?” Benton said. He was referring to a trip we made to Brownsville when I interpreted a lady’s attentions as sincere. The question had become a “thing” over the course of a decade, asked about everything I acquired from hedge clippers to mud-flaps.
Steve waved Chuck over. “Harrison claims he screwed and alien,” he whispered and winked.
Benton nudged Chuck with his elbow. “Sure he did.”
“If you don’t want to hear …”
“No. No, go on,” Chuck said.
I finally had their attention. I was the big act in small circus. “How can I put this … it sucked. I just laid back and enjoyed it. No exertion, no fuss.”
“How can I get a ticket to Lavos?” Steve asked. “Cathi still wears flannel nightgowns.”
“You ain’t leavin’ Cathi,” Benton said.
“Adventure calls me, my man,” Steve said.
I almost believed him. Then Cathi’s head popped out of the patio screen door: “Fixins’ are done guys. Come and get the potato salad and baked beans!”
“Comin’, Honey,” Steve sang out. He and Benton scooped up paper plates full of red-brown chicken thighs and legs, and sprinted across the lawn. Once again, adventure and sex had been beaten out by man’s first love. Food.
But Chuck stayed behind. Not for details, I hoped. I hadn’t planned the story that far out.
“St. Rocco’s has never won a division title, and I’m still coaching. Hanging back at the fringes. Afraid to win, I guess. Afraid of other teams because we’d have to compete with players better than us. You know what else?” he said. “I have Stage Two colon cancer. The doc told me yesterday.”
“Oh, Chuck, I’m sorry…”
“Please, no sympathy yet. He says I can beat it. But I wanted to tell you, last night I went outside and looked up at the stars. For real. I almost called you to find out what it’s like up there because I’m afraid of black holes. We all are. You’re the only one of us who almost knows what nothing is like … you must have been scared too. Maybe sometime you’ll tell me how you escaped. Were you recued?”
I have to admit, I was tempted to tell him that art reflects life. It always has. The avant garde is always years behind the times. Like politicians. Black holes and Lavos are real. So is PTSD because it seems no one is brave enough to listen. I stayed silent except for, “Yeah, I was rescued.”
Chuck beat the shot clock, but I doubt he realized it. I asked Giselle about it as I drove home. “Did Chuck know I was planning on cashing in my chips tonight?”
“Major Tom, I do not have that data,” she said. “But you can be a point-guard for Chuck. Friendship is an adventure. Robin will never be your friend.”
flash fiction by Jenean McBrearty
poetry by Anuja Ghimire
Jaha na pahuche ravi
Waha pahuche kavi (A Hindi saying)
--Where sun cannot reach
there poet arrives
Ganesh, you cannot fit in my eyes
men wheel you first to the prayer hall, center, stage
drumbeat cannot sit in my heart
we clap in the air and near our knees
circle, left foot front, back step, right foot front
dear god, I’ve chanted your 108 names
Ganesh in Texas, Ganesh in 2019
we pray loud
Ganesh, the baby boy wails
dear son of Shiva, the toddler won’t sit on the floor
when we lift open palms to the ceiling
Ganesh, I didn’t fast before I came to see you
O, one who absorbs all obstacles
O, holy holy light
my daughters forgot and sat with their backs to you
but they sang your name
dear god, I am afraid
the ghee-lit prayers are not enough
“Veronique, look at Monsieur Bones like you’re smitten,” barked Emmanuel.
Veronica thought she’d go mad staring at that ugly, ancient skeleton. But $150 for 45 minutes naked on a couch was a good gig. Someone threw open the door blowing icy wind into the studio. She shivered.
“Veronique, you’re slumping like a bad souffle.” Charming Emmanuel had a mean mouth, especially in front of his students. Afterwards, he’d pour her a drink, call her beauté, and pleasure himself as she sipped her Rosé. She never met his stare, just heard his moan, her eyes fixed on that skeleton’s splintering dead bones.
micro fiction by Andrea Marcusa
short fiction by Marisa Crane
By some irrepressible yet dull series of events I have found myself both unemployed and loveless. And by proxy, I have found myself doing things just to watch them take up space in my life. Things like baking surf and turf pies, stalking my ex, Kat, on a tiny screen, ordering delivery beer, and learning how to paint big beautiful pterodactyls with my toes.
I also eavesdrop on my neighbors, who are dating or married or both. The walls are thin. This complex is a dollhouse and some of us make better dolls than others. The neighbors, they seem to possess an uncanny ability to say anything other than what they actually mean. I envy them.
Man: “What do you want for dinner?”
Subtext: “Do you think we’re ready for kids?”
Woman: “We could get Chinese.”
Subtext: “Better sooner than later, don’t you think?”
Man: “Sure, I guess.”
Subtext: “Sure, I guess.”
Woman: “Is that what you want, though?”
Subtext: “Are you going to be an involved father?”
Man: “I can find something to eat on every menu.”
Subtext: “I’d like to sleep around some more before we have kids.”
And so on.
More about me? Like most, I consist of a spherical object, which sits on top of a deceptively strong column, which is rooted in a sloppy, meat vehicle, which of course, is no longer required to move itself to any particular location on any particular day at any particular time, and in fact, this meat vehicle finds great pleasure in resisting all activities which require flexion, with the one exception of climbing into the bath, now lukewarm, now causing me to amend the earlier statement to include the climbing out of the bath, an action I find regrettable.
In the bath I am safe. In the bath I am myself. In the bath I am filled to the brim.
The bubbles cling to my hairy vagina and legs as I stand. I wipe them off and call them anxiously-attached to their little bubble faces, a term I picked up from my ex-therapist, a hippie moon goddess who used to invite me to the bar every Tuesday to spin the drinking wheel of death and talk about sugar daddies and mommies.
I haven’t left the house in months. And why should I? Last time I went outside, I met one of those people who insisted that they’d been born in the wrong decade, and if that wasn’t bad enough they then proceeded to follow me home and assault me with all the reasons why they belonged in the roaring 20’s.
I can be a likeable person under very different circumstances.
I say all this to say, that as fate would have it, I am home and primed for a fresh scare when the UPS guy knocks on the door, sending my pit bull, James, into a barking fit.
I answer the door in my gray fleece robe, hood up, and shadow-box the air to show the UPS man that I mean business while James repeatedly runs into the back of my legs like a battering ram, Kat’s ghost yelling at him to sit the fuck down. I make sure not to cross the threshold that separates the Outside from the Inside. The delivery man’s reaction to my performance is somewhere between inviting himself Inside and confessing to stealing jumbo hot dogs from 7-Eleven.
“Package for Savannah,” he says, looking down at his tablet to double-check my last name, “Uh, Cream?”
“Yeah, that’s me. What is it?” I ask, my voice raspy from lack of use. I lower my hood because that’s the polite thing to do.
“I don’t know. Shouldn’t you know?” he asks, shifting his weight from foot to foot. He reminds me of a defeated woolly mammoth.
“That doesn’t look like a package. It’s more like a burlap bag,” I say.
“I know,” he sighs. “Can you sign here please? I have a long day ahead of me.”
“Not until we open it together. I need to know that it’s not a creepy doll,” I say.
“Why would you assume that it’s a creepy doll?” says the woolly mammoth.
Now I’ve got his attention.
“I don’t. I’m just using the process of elimination. Ever heard of it?”
He scratches his beard and grumbles a bit, says he’s going to bless himself with an edible when he gets home, which must mean he’s come to the conclusion that he’s not going to get out of this, so he loosens the string around the bag and pulls it open, glancing inside.
“Oh,” he says, raising his eyebrows and kinda sniffing his nose.
“Well, there aren’t any dolls. Creepy or otherwise.” He hands me the bag. We brush hands and it makes me want to crawl back into the bath.
Inside is a pile of bones. Source unknown.
“Did you leave a tusk in here by any chance?” I ask. “Tell the truth.” I feel like a school teacher. It’s not a good feeling but it’s not not a good feeling.
“Make my day,” he says, holding out the tablet.
“Do you think any of these are my bones?” I ask, ignoring the tablet.
“You don’t look that wobbly, no.”
“You don’t know.”
He waves the tablet in front of my face. “You talk like a bot,” he says, complimenting me.
I consider growling at him as I imagine a saber-toothed tiger may have one done to a woolly mammoth, then make my one good decision of the day and sign Kat’s name on the designated line. The woolly mammoth gives me a tight-lipped smile then takes a few steps backward before he’s a safe distance away from this prehistoric threat then turns and jogs back out through the gate to the comfort of his posthistoric truck.
“Tusks are stupid by the way! If given the chance, I’d always choose having antlers over horns, tusks, or otherwise,” I shout after him because I have to.
Back in the house, I dump all the bones out on the carpet. I stare at the dirt-covered bones while they inexplicably stare back at me.
James, full of hysteria, grabs what looks like a wing bone from the largest raven I’ve ever fucking seen and takes it to his bed, knocking the jar off my coffee table and spilling all the black hairs I plucked out of Kat’s chin over the years. He plops down with a joyful look on his face and begins to gnaw. He is as happy as a young gay at his first pride parade.
“Ravens know that you know that they know you are imagining stealing their food,” I say to James, who sucks at listening. I’m pretty sure he just cracked the bone in half.
“They’re capable of abstract thought,” I continue. “They’re smarter than, like, 76% of the people that I know. Including myself,” I add, checking to see if James is looking at me, which he is not.
I examine each of the bones one by one. There is what looks to be a pelvis of some small mammal. It’s beautiful. I wish I knew what animal it came from.
“Fox,” the pelvis whispers to me, reading my mind.
“Oh, okay. Thanks,” I whisper into the hip socket. This one is going to serve me well, I can tell.
I think I hear James say, “Wow, what a mess you’ve made,” or maybe that’s not it at all.
There are a few other bones that I can’t identity, although they are hollow so I know they’re from birds. I feel very close to them, like we’re sisters.
I dig around in the bag to make sure I haven’t missed any bones and find a small slip of paper in there rolled up like an ancient scroll and secured with a piece of black hair. It’s a note. Addressed to me. It reads:
“Meet me at The Caliph at 8 pm and I’ll show you how you die.”
I don’t recognize the handwriting. Could be anyone. Seems risky. Don’t want.
“I don’t care to know how I die,” I say aloud, looking around the room as if waiting for the author of the note to jump out from behind a dresser and try to convince me to care.
When I look down, I see that the content of the note has changed. It now says: “I’ll show you who’s in love with you.”
Now, that is a fascinating idea, that someone could find it in them to love me. Kat needed me until she didn’t. It wasn’t the same as love.
I crumble up the piece of paper and shoot it into the trash can with flawless form, and I immediately feel much better. What I may have glossed over earlier is that I haven’t left the house because I can’t leave the house. At least not anymore. I’m terminally afraid. My anxiety makes me avoidant. My anxiety makes me unsmile. Unlaugh. Unlove. Unwant.
I think I hear James say, “You will be dead in less than 48 hours,” or maybe that’s not it at all.
Who does this person think they are, mailing me the most perfect bones I’ve ever seen then suggesting we frequent my favorite gay dive bar from before I became trapped indoors? Kat used to love that place. We'd go on dates there and she'd sing “My Neck, My Back” and spill whiskey gingers on the crowd then lick their faces. They loved it. She was mine and it was only a matter of time before she wouldn’t be. I can't possibly go meet this stranger. I’d probably spontaneously combust the second I walked in.
But what if Kat’s there? What if she’s the one who is in love with me? Even after all those stolen chin hairs.
In an effort to erase the note from my mind, I turn on the distraction box across from my couch. It is full of very stupid ideas and very stupid people. A true blessing of our time. Just when I think the stupidity is crawling out of the TV and into my frontal lobe, I catch movement in my peripheral vision.
The note, it is unfolding itself, blooming like a flower in spring, and not only is it blooming but it is fucking vibrating. It slowly rises from the trash can and floats over to me, hovering in front of my face.
“No, thank you,” I say in my best decisive voice. It hums loudly in response then dive bombs toward my nose. It backs up a few feet as if to survey the damage, then dive bombs again, cutting the skin under my eye.
“Fuck, okay, I get it,” I say, grabbing the note and stuffing it in my pocket. “You could have asked nicely.”
There are at least two bottles of Robitussin in the bathroom closet that I know of. I have at least two flaws. One being that I don’t swallow my saliva when I go down on a woman, which means I wind up leaving huge wet spots on the sheet then saying things like, “Someone was really into it,” and two being that I happen to prescribe myself Robitussin for the off-label use of leaving the house.
I rip off the wrappers off both bottles and quickly chug them then burp and play tug with James, who loses for the 87th time this month. I mark a tally in Sharpie on the floor next to his dish, just to remind him of his place in the world.
I think I hear James say, “I’m sick of arguing with you,” or maybe that’s not it at all.
I can’t be held responsible for my actions while under the influence of Robitussin. In the past I would blackout at work and when I came to, I’d be playing Blackjack at an unfamiliar casino. A weird fur coat around my shoulders. Cigarette burning between my fingers. Usually a rich older woman by my side, feeding me White Russians. The woman I remember most clearly had lip implants and a furry pink jacket and she kept asking me, did I know how to tell if someone was a Mormon just by looking at them? Her face looked like it was in the middle of an allergic reaction. She said to look for underwear lines. They were required to wear long underwear. I wanted to tell her that I wear boxer briefs that tickle the backs of my knees, but I couldn’t speak. I would look around the casino at all of the hipsters and horse-racing people and think, There are way too many terrible hats here.
Kat liked spending my winnings but didn't like me putting chemicals in my body in an attempt to show it who’s boss. When I reminded her that whiskey was a chemical she kissed me and said, “We don't have much time” so I smashed all the clocks.
While I’m waiting for the Robitussin to kick in, I change out of my robe and into something sensible, like my leggings and cut-off Kiss shirt. I look out the window at all the outsideness. God, it's obnoxious. The trees are proud to be trees. The blades of grass are all snug in their cell walls. The people behave as if it were the best thing in the world to be a people. Even my neighbor who offers me homegrown purple tomatoes and his donated sperm, free of charge, peels his lips apart and shows his toothless grin off to the world. His joy makes me want to die. Everything Outside makes me tremble. You never know what could happen when you leave the house. It’s much safer in here with James and the bath.
James seems to sense something kindling. He drops the bone, sniffs the air, then gets up to pee on a leg of the couch, staring me dead in the eyes the whole time.
“So what?” I say. “It still has three other legs,” and then he proceeds to pee on the other three legs, not once breaking eye contact. I forget if I’ve ever witnessed James blink.
“I’m writing you out of my will, James.”
He groans then comes over and wags his tail at me. I think I hear him say “We need human intervention,” or maybe that’s not it at all.
In order to prepare myself for the bar, I begin to tell James what I expect the environment will be like.
“The bar patrons are going to recognize me from the old days, James. They’re going to stare at me. Some will stick stirrers in their eyes. Some will lie face-down on the floor and let their friends drop darts on their butts. Some will refer to me as That Dead Girl. Some will bang their heads on the bar. Some will pour drinks on my hair. Some will honk. Some will cat-call me. Don’t look at me like that, I have a great body. What? I’m allowed to say that. People like to look at it, even sniff it if the opportunity presents itself. It’s when I open my mouth that I become a problem. I slip into the wrong universe and come out feeling filthy. That’s why I take so many baths. To get the grime off. Anyway, I don’t have to tell you that. You already know.”
James licks his butt, snorting. I think I hear him say, “I’ve put a casting call out in the paper,” or maybe that’s not it at all.
“James, I can just see it now. I’m going to walk into the bar and there will be two women as untouchable as the sky and they’ll be sitting on stools by the window and I’ll take a seat by the window, too, but then one will look at me and I’ll be able to tell by the look in her eyes that she knows I am made of stuffing and frayed fabric and lies. I will let the window press its cold hard cheek to mine. Everyone will be there to drink and have fun and even to talk. That’s a nice thing, I think. To want to talk and share things with others. Don’t you think, James?”
A lot of things could happen if I go outside. I could get hit by a car. I could fall off a cliff. I could get raped. I could get stabbed. I could make a fool out of myself. I could kiss someone with too much tongue or too little. I could forget the name of someone I’ve met hundreds of times. I could get carried away at the taco stand and eat the entire kitchen, ceiling, walls, and all. I could climb up a flagpole and wave helplessly like some other flags I know.
“You stay here, son,” I say, rubbing James’ ears the way he likes.
I open my door, take a deep breath, then take one step out my door. I hear the male neighbor saying, “It'd be nice if you would just tell me what you want to watch tonight.” The woman says, “The cats won’t stop peeing in the tub.”
The night is cool and alive. I wait for death, but it doesn’t come. I pick one leg up, then the other. This is the way we move, one foot after another toward our anguish.
Drive fast enough, and you’ll retrieve hours. The speeder delusion. Never mind that you only cut a few minutes, the speeder flies blindly ahead. I’m a pedestrian speeder. The same lie leads me rushing down hallways, and whipping around corners. I bump into people, flinging doors in their faces, and startling everyone. The embarrassment never stops.
Lupe’s office sat at the buildings center, and why not, she ran everything. She had bosses. We all had bosses, but Lupe ran everything. I went to talk to her for the third time that morning, because I didn’t understand where they wanted the labor for the theater remodel charged.
I tore around the corner into her office, pulling up in time to keep from crashing into another victim.
“Oh, sorry Nina.”
“God Bobby, you scared me!”
“You’re always lurking around.”
“I don’t lurk.”
“You do too. Why else would you be dashing around here.”
“I had a question for Lupe.”
“Ugh,” Nina sighed.
“Do I charge the labor and …wait, did you just grunt when I asked for help?”
“I didn’t grunt!”
“Yes, you did. It wasn’t even a grunt. It was the sigh women give when they’re approached by creepy guy at a fucking bar!”
Lupe had a great laugh, the kind that could be heard anywhere in the building and no matter what, it made you feel better about the day. Nina and I went on like that for a bit, back and forth just to keep Lupe laughing. I even forgot why I’d gone over there and had to go back later, but it was worth it. Moments like that could keep the department going for days.
flash fiction by Skylar Nielsen
I found you hidden
on a shelf
you with your rain cloud fur,
and bald spots
across your back
Father paid for you,
and soon, I dragged
your small lion body
everywhere I went:
to the ketchup-
smeared kitchen table
where Father’s face
turned pepto-bismol pink
when he couldn’t decipher
I clung to you
in the cold
linoleum waiting rooms,
where I shook like my family’s
old rusty dryer
for the loud shout of my name
as Father zoomed off
to the grocery store.
I buried my face in your mane
and told you about my day
in the fusty office
where Father worked as a chef.
The office father visited
from time to time
to ask me how I was—
the dark freckles of grease pulsating
on his shirt,
the scrunch of his face
as he shouted,
Speak up, bebe.
poetry by Jean-Luc Fontaine
Rhythmic Bob in Afterthought
When the old campaigner approached the end,
had fought the good fight, and kept his faith,
his heart was still young enough not to have forgotten
the fear and trembling of his youth.
—Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling
The fast-fading world of reminiscence leaves me astonished. What was four years at West Point over a half-century ago seems to belong to someone else in the mirror. Forever young faces in the yearbook ring false. Unlike today, few of us then had cameras. Time sped past unmarked. Parents passed on and the italicization of names on the class roster inexorably mounted. Suddenly we have become trembling, solitary eyewitnesses of our remembrances. Can it all have been true? Can we be trusted?
Most of all I remember the physical education instructors, the denizens of East Gym. Perhaps because they were civilians like we once were. Perhaps because they had authority that did not derive from rank or insignia. Or perhaps because the strenuous physical side of life was a comfort to us young men repressed by choice from fully enjoying a rebellious youth.
I see these gentlemen vividly through the darkening glass of a half-century past—I could barely write those words. A half-century, so impossibly true! Yet I remember Messrs. Palone and Kroeten and Alitz and Maloney and Lewis and Kress—boxing, wrestling, gymnastics, afternoon happy-hour exercise classes, and the dreaded indoor obstacle course. I see them on Saturday at Michie Stadium in the lowering dusk of football afternoons. I see them demonstrating left jabs, wrestling takedowns and escapes, a dislocate on the stationary rings, push-ups and pull-ups the West Point way—chest touching the floor, no swinging on the bar. I see them most easily when I think of hand wraps, wrestler’s bridges, rope climbing, and carrying medicine balls on the penultimate lap around the track running the gut-wrenching obstacle course. And then there’s that certain scent that abides in gyms…resin, rubber, leather, adhesive tape, sweat, a hint of soap combining in a potency that rivals Marcel’s petite Madeleine. When I catch it, there are no decades, and I am with those memorable men, my classmates and my youth. But there is another aroma, one of chlorine coupled with dank air, the smell of swimming pools. One day it came to me and my mind rummaged deeper. I remembered the coldest, dampest, most uncomfortable place in the entire West Point universe—the corridor leading to the swimming pool in East Gymnasium. And I remembered Mr. Sorge, the ending “ge” pronounced hard as in “cyborg.”
There we stand, at attention, in our black swim trunks and that’s all. We await Mr. Sorge. He will teach our twice-a-week morning “section” in survival swimming. I cannot remember ever seeing him except at the pool and always in swim briefs. Our class section numbers fifteen chilled cadets. He will refine our strokes and teach us lifesaving and survival swimming for the next year. Earlier, during our first summer at West Point, the new cadet population of seven hundred twenty tormented souls had been divided into two camps—swimmers and rocks, those who could save themselves and those who sank. The rocks would learn about swimming in the privacy of “rock squad” instruction, more sensitively dubbed Remedial Swimming. This is a part of the A.I. program, as in Additional Instruction. At West Point anyone slipping between any proverbial crack in any category—academic, disciplinary, or physical—was snagged in the safety net of A.I. under the panoptic gaze of the Tactical Department, widely referred to as the T.D. At West Point initialisms are lingua franca.
The door swings open. The air is full of cold.
“Proceed to the pool,” says a tall, blond man with a no-nonsense voice that reverberates against the tile wall like a timpani in a telephone booth. He exudes action. This is Mr. Sorge. Like diligent monks we proceed through the door to the pool.
“Enter the water and form two ranks facing me,” he orders.
A choice—we can dive or jump. A hint of democracy. We paddle into ranks and instinctively look to the right to make sure we’re evenly aligned. It’s called dressing-off. At West Point it’s compulsive, like a nervous tic. For cadets alignment is the sine qua non of their human condition. To be aligned is to be invisible, to be like everyone else; our individual figures fade into the ground of uniformity. There is a time and place in all men’s lives when sticking out is dangerous. For first-year cadets conspicuity invites catastrophe in the form of upperclassmen rendering corrective advice at the tops of their lungs. Being unseen, also known as being in “sight defilade,” is the plebeian nirvana. The tic of tidiness had been installed that first day when we were instructed to always, always, always have our shirt buttons, belt buckle edges, and trouser flies aligned. Oh, and ties are tucked inside shirts between the second and third buttons. Such was yet another precondition to our achieving a fully examined life.
“The secret to good swimming is good breathing,” says Mr. Sorge. “Inhale when your mouth is out of the water, exhale when your head is in the water.”
Sounded simple enough.
“But you must coordinate breathing with stroke. And the way you will perfect your breathing is by rhythmic bobbing,” he says. “Every class will commence with performing sets of rhythmic bobs. Watch me!”
He dives gracefully into the water with hardly a splash. He surfaces all business.
“Gather round,” he bellows and we swim into a circle.
“This is like the aquacade,” mutters the cadet next to me.
“This is how you perform a perfect rhythmic bob,” says Mr. Sorge.
He takes a breath and sinks. A few seconds later he rises, takes another breath, and sinks. Three more times he does this.
“The basics are simple,” he says, “just breathing and bobbing. Inhale through your nose, slowly sink below the water, counting one-two-three-four, the while exhaling into the water, then rising on five, breathe again, and repeat… Everyone understand?”
“Yes, sir,” we gurgle.
He takes one gliding stroke to the side of the pool, grabs the edge with both hands, and leaps out of the water.
“Okay, you men. Two lines. Gather your intervals.”
We paddle into two waveringly straight lines.
“Five rhythmic bobs,” he commands. “Ready…GO!”
I emerge from bob number one flailing, coughing tears. Others share the experience. Jesus, I can already swim. What is this?
“You must bob rhythmically,” Mr. Sorge intones over the choking sounds. “You there!”—he means me—“This is not an exercise in octopus wrestling. Remain calm and relaxed. Then you can swim to Bora Boraaaah….”
His extended aaaah moves ominously over the swirling water.
“Again!” he orders.
And fifteen human corks sink-and-rise, sink-and-rise, eyes closed and gasping.
I descend counting, wondering what Bora Bora has to do with anything. I rise on five, catch a breath, and hear “GOOOOOD” resonating.
I more or less complete five rhythmic bobs and am completely gassed. Forget Bora Bora, I couldn’t make it to the side of the pool.
A whistle blows.
“AGAIN!” commands Mr. Sorge. “This time fifteen.”
We descend. We rise. I look. Everyone is bobbing. And so am I. I breathe. I descend. I rise. It seems to be working, this rhythm of going down and coming up, going out and coming in, emanation and return, inhalation, exhalation. GOOOOOOOOOD…rolls over the pool like the breath of God.
Mr. Sorge nods approval. “You will begin every class with three sets of fifteen. And no hanging on the side of the pool. Remember, there are no walls out there.” There? Where? we wonder. We will soon find out.
“Now for the next fifteen minutes, let us consider the art of survival floating…with faces in the water.”
What did he just say?
So passed our lives that year in the watery world of Mr. Sorge. Mastering strokes, qualifying for lifesaving badges, learning artificial respiration and rescue holds, swimming for survival in fatigues and combat boots, carrying rifles, ditching gear, inflating our trousers for life preservers. Swimming to Bora Bora entailed many components.
We climbed a rickety, chain-link ladder to an indistinct platform high above the water. I remembered the trapeze artists at the circus when I was a child—how effortlessly they had scaled that squirming rope ladder to the rafters of Madison Square Garden. That they had worked with a net never comforted my stomach.
“You must learn how to abandon ship,” said Mr. Sorge. “Imagine being on a transport in the South Pacific. It’s torpedoed. And you stand maybe two hundred feet above a rolling sea. You don’t just jump like lemmings. You’ll lose your noses, break your ankles, or much worse. And never wear your helmet, it will tear your head off.”
We had to know many things in order to swim to Bora Bora. First was exiting a sinking troop ship.
“You jump straight,” he said, “eyes on the horizon. Never look down. Be confident. You will always get there”—Mr. Sorge’s only attempt at mirth, adding, “Gravity is your friend.”
Who knew then that Søren Kierkegaard[i] had written about similar situations? He called them leaps of freedom. One must become a knight, he said, and not a Black Knight of the Hudson either. But a knight of infinite resignation, one who no longer hides in vacillation, who bears “no trace of a stunted, anxious training.” Such a knight is one who leaps straight and thus “joins the dance of life.” A courageous soul who concentrates his entire life’s content in a single conscious act of leaping on the strength of the absurd. And in doing so becomes an eternal knight whose gait is “gliding bold.” In our particular case, a knight who jumps freely and safely into a tossing sea.
The great Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges tells of grasping one’s entire existence on the strength of an absurdity; that is, standing in a place that contains all the places in the world, an aleph, the point that contains all points. One of Borges’[ii] characters found his aleph while lying on the tile floor of Beatriz Viterbo’s cellar while absurdly staring at the nineteenth step of the descending stairway. That’s what we were doing by climbing the absurd ladder to the top of the absurd gymnasium to stand on that absurdly tiny platform in the rafters, having first perfected the complete absurdity of rhythmic bobbing. As Kierkegaard proposed, “to grasp the whole of existence on the strength of the absurd.” And in doing so we will achieve the joy and wonder of a bold confidence born of the absurd bobbing as taught by the infinitely resigned knight, Mr. Sorge.
Up we climbed and down we plunged, concentrating our thoughts into one conscious act of leaping. Eyes up, hands welded into proper position—one cupping the chin, the other clasping the elbow tight to the body—feet crossed at the ankles, down we hurtled, out of control yet in full control. We concentrated all of our lives in a single wish, a single conscious act, one solitary step. “Purity of heart is to will one thing,” wrote Kierkegaard.[iii]
That’s what we did fifty, one hundred—it could have been one thousand—feet above the absurd pool in East Gymnasium. Factual height no longer mattered. We would make it anyway. “What a lark! What a plunge!” wrote Virginia Woolf[iv] about the joy and danger inherent in a beautiful morning. One after another we consciously stepped into space. And one after another down we came, plummeting human missiles ker-thudding into the welcoming pool. On a beautiful morning now frozen in time’s memory, we took the plunge of our lives, a leap of survival, an inevitable leap of infinite resignation and faith.
“GOOD,” said Mr. Sorge to each of us as we surfaced, “VERY GOOOOOD…”
We had all come out of the water to climb the treacherous ladder of life, a climb of wavering certainty and danger. We were ready yet had no understanding of our ripeness. We can still feel the cold, the dampness of the corridor, the wavering platform high above the pool. Beyond that door awaited the watery world. There we would leap. Sooner, later, we all must, even the few who stood transfixed, the ones who had shuffled aside on the rafter to stand and wait. They would plunge later, after class and without vacillation, leaping in their solitude before lunch.
“Enter the water,” said Mr. Sorge—but he never ordered us to leap. That boldness would come naturally as we later decided to join the dance of life. He taught us to see ourselves in water. After all, we are 80% watery stuff. He taught us the mystery that Herman Melville[v] had called “the ungraspable phantom of life.” That we and the watery world are one, that we are indeed living water, bold and gliding.
Joe, Herb, Leroy, Tom, Bill, John: their first names came to me so easily. But I drew a blank on Mr. Sorge’s. I just now looked it up. It’s R.E. Sorge, first name: Robert.
Ah, at the end, more absurdity—Bob.
Rhythmic Bob of bold and gliding stroke. What a laugh! What a leap!
When learning how to make swimming movements,
one can hang from a belt in the ceiling;
one may be said to describe the movements all right
but one isn’t swimming.
—Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling
[i] Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling (New York: Penguin Books, 1985), 64, 67, 68, 70, 79.
[ii] Jorge Luis Borges, The Aleph and Other Stories (New York: Penguin Books, 2000), 128.
[iii] Søren Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing (Radford, Virginia: Wilder Publications, 2008), 1.
[iv] Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1953), 3.
[v] Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (New York: Penguin Books, 1988), 5.
creative non-fiction by James C. Ryan
Marisa Crane is a queer writer whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Wigleaf Top 50, Jellyfish Review, Hobart, The Rumpus, Barren Magazine, Longleaf Review, and elsewhere. She is the author of the poetry chapbook, “Our Debatable Bodies” (Animal Heart Press, 2019). Originally from Allentown, PA, she now lives in San Diego with her wife.
Jean-Luc is a part-time middle school teacher and a part-time grocery bagger. He hails from New York and enjoys hot coffee and long naps.
Anuja Ghimire is from Kathmandu, Nepal and currently lives near Dallas with her husband and two daughters. Her chapbook “Kathmandu” is forthcoming from the Unsolicited Press. Most recently, her work found home in Glass: A journal of poetry, Finished Creatures: London, Prakhsya Review: Bangladesh. She is a two times Best of the net and one time Pushcart nominee. She writes poetry and flash fiction. She works as a senior publisher in an online learning company.
Gwen Namainga Jones
Gwen Namainga Jones was born in Zambia to an indigenous teenage girl of the Ila tribe and a middle-aged prosperous Trader and Rancher of British lineage. She was given an English education but also spent time visiting in her mother’s hut. The result is a writer of both cultures, whose fiction and nonfiction is a new look into tribal life in Zambia. Her first novel, “Three Miles Too Far,” tells the story of her parents’ divorce when she was an infant and her shuttling between their disparate ways of life. Today, she lives in Arizona and returns often to Zambia with the aim of aiding impoverished and ill native women. Her work is forthcoming in Evening Street Review and Mount Hope Magazine.
Andrea Marcusa’s literary fiction, essays and poetry have appeared in The Baltimore Review, River Styx, Citron Review, New South, and others. She’s received recognition from the writing competitions Glimmer Train, Third Coast, and New Letters and been nominated for several Pushcart Prizes. Andrea divides her time between creating literary works and photographs and writing articles on medicine, technology, and education. She serves as Director of Readings for The Writers Studio. To learn more, visit: andreamarcusa.com, or follow her on twitter @d_marcusa.
Jenean McBrearty is a graduate of San Diego State University, who taught Political Science and Sociology. Her fiction, poetry, and photographs have been published in over two-hundred print and on-line journals. Her book, “Writing Beyond the Self; How to Write Creative Non-fiction that Gets Published” was published by Vine Leaves Press in 2018. She won the Eastern Kentucky English Department Award for Graduate Creative Non-fiction in 2011, and a Silver Pen Award in 2015 for her noir short story: “Red’s Not Your Color.” She lives in Kentucky and writes full time ⸺when she’s not watching classic movies and eating chocolate
Keith Moul is a poet of place, a photographer of the distinction light adds to place. Both his poems and photos are published widely. His photos are digital, striving for high contrast and saturation, which makes his vision colorful (or weak, requiring enhancement).
Skyler Nielsen grew up on a family farm in California’s San Joaquin Valley and graduated from the University of California, Riverside with a degree in History. His work has appeared in Crack the Spine, Adelaide Literary Review, Main Street Rag, Oddball Mag and The Literary Nest. Skyler’s first Novel, “One Left Inside the Well,” was published in January of 2019 from Adelaide Books.
James C. Ryan
James C. Ryan’s work has been published in The MacGuffin, Shenandoah, Entropy, Wellspring, Eureka, Inkwell, WHO WHAT WHY, Gravel Magazine, Euphony Magazine, Monthly Review, Turkish News and others. While living in Turkey, he was a columnist for Aydinlik newspaper in Istanbul. A graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, he holds advanced degrees in economics and literature, and an MFA from Columbia University. He has studied with James Salter, Frank McCourt, Mary Gordon, Maureen Howard, A. Walton Litz, Alan Ziegler, and Michael Cunningham.
Creative Non-Fiction Editor
Kerri Farrell Foley
Crack the Spine Staff
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