april 14, 2020| ISSUE no 261
crack the spine
Edward Michael Supranowicz
short fiction by Clay Holt
Kayla spent ten minutes combing the ground for a big enough rock. Then she remembered that there were some broken bricks behind her apartment building. One of these was the right size and she put it in her bag before taking it out again and deciding that a rock was somehow more appropriate and natural. Down by the creek there was a shard of granite, pointed and heavy. She gave it a kiss and took it with her.
After driving to the store, she sat parked in her car with the rock in the passenger seat. Was it a mistake, this last minute addition? It was not strictly necessary, but it was important to make a statement. A scene of herself giving an impassioned speech outside of a courthouse flashed through her mind and gave her strength. She stepped out and began to prepare.
These are the things she had, the tools of liberation: the brown canvas bag hung over her shoulder with only the rock inside, a plastic bucket in a size that was not immediately conspicuous, a phone placed in her front shirt pocket with its camera facing outward, running shoes in case things got hairy. The time was almost eight o’clock on the dot, one of the few hours, as far as she had seen, when there was no security guard at the front of the store.
Her heart was beating so fast as she went inside. Her hand shook when setting the phone to start live-streaming. When it indicated a successful connection, she said, not loudly, “We’re in.” Almost immediately a few viewers joined to watch.
Of course she knew exactly what to do. A premeditated beeline towards the back, through the narrow gap between the expensive cheeses and the floral department counter. None of the other few customers gave her any attention. Just a normal person on a normal day, with a bucket for her groceries.
She came to the lobster tank. As expected there was still only a single one inside—she had came and checked on the numbers last night. It was a poor limp thing with blue bands on its pincers, clearly miserable, probably female judging by what she had read on the internet about pleopods.
“Hi little lady, we’re here to help,” she told it through the glass.
Around her there were only a couple shoppers minding their own business and an employee behind the bakery counter engaged in some duty. Conditions were about as perfect as you could expect.
“Alright guys, here we go.”
She lifted the top off of the tank and submerged the bucket deep down into it, filling it up well then pulling it out and setting it down. The water was so cold it gave her goosebumps when she plunged her arm in and seized the animal. It kicked its legs frantically in the open air and had to be wrestled with to get it down in the bucket where it sank to the bottom, to hopefully rest comfortably.
“Oh no, sweetie!” She swung her head around to find the source of the voice. It was a middle-aged lady who had abandoned a cart and was barreling straight for her. “Sweetie, that’s not how you do it!”
She had to think fast. Originally her plan had been to free the creature without any notice at all. The problem with this, her friends had explained, was that it lacked spectacle. It saved only one person while leaving untouched the vast system of cruelty that enslaved their siblings. To produce real change we needed radical public actions that would wake the people from their ignorant slumber. That’s what the rock was for.
The woman received a very serious look to deter her from coming any closer. Kayla set the bucket down and took the rock out of its bag and hurled it twenty feet to go crashing through the glass counter in the meat department. She turned again to the lady to catch her reaction—her mouth agape and shuffling a couple steps back—then yanked the bucket up by its handle and began hightailing it towards the door, shouting her slogans.
“Humane slaughter is a lie, animals don’t want to die!”
The bucket was heavier than she realized so she could not run as fast as she liked, instead having to sort of shuffle along though still spilling quite a bit on herself.
“Marine animal lives have declined 50% in 40 years! It’s not food, it’s violence!”
No one was prepared to interfere with her. Everyone she saw just stood motionless and staring as she passed by. When finally outside she quieted down and fumbled for her keys. In the car she dropped the bucket on the floorboard of the passenger seat and started driving, maybe a little unsafely, out of the parking lot..
“Oh my gosh, we did it you guys! What a rush! Anyone can do this! We can make a difference, I really believe that.” She checked to make sure the phone was still streaming. It was. “Okay, I’m signing off, please let me know what you think.” She ended it. There were a lot of notifications about comments coming in and she was dying to read them. Her head was buzzing on the way back to the apartment. So many emotions. She felt exhilarated and proud of herself and was already thinking about the next action she could participate in. This was the start of a new way of life.
When safely home, she jumped on the couch and opened up the comment history for the stream. The first ten or so, apparently sent during the time of her entrance in the store, were words of encouragement and praise from her liberationist friends she knew online. She was so grateful for their support and clicked to add heart emoji reactions to all of them. A bit further down, around the time of her pulling the lobster out, there were exclamations of shock and excitement and she felt the thrill of the moment all over again.
After this point the comments became more puzzling. Reactions like “???” and “holy shit” and “WTF DID SHE DO.” This was when she had thrown the rock. It occurred to her that they probably just couldn’t see what had happened in the video. They only heard the glass maybe. She scrolled down and it was more of the same and so she started to feel anxious.
She opened a new group chat and added Kristen and Antoine, her two best activist friends. They had mentored and encouraged her to do an action of her own, and had definitely been watching during the stream. It was actually strange she hadn’t already heard from them. She typed.
Kayla: “Hey. Why is everyone freaking out”
Antoine: “I don’t even know what to say”
Antoine: “our principle is nonviolence”
Kayla: “violence?? we debated about using the rock. I know it was for the tank but the meat counter was right there”
Antoine: “did you mean to hit the guy?”
Kayla: “??? I didn’t hit anyone”
Kristen: “yes you fucking did we watched it five times”
Kristen: “This is going to look so bad for us I cant believe you”
What on earth were they talking about? Nothing bad had happened. She played the video and skipped ahead to the right part. It was shaky but pretty clear. She watched herself. After she put the lobster down, the camera showed the woman who tried to stop her, just when her voice was heard. You couldn’t see her take the rock out but it was there in her hand. Then she threw it and the meat counter became visible.
Oh god. She dropped the phone and covered her eyes. They were right. Someone had been crouched down and leaning forward to work inside the display case. You could see them just before the rock hit, and after, when it crashed through the glass inches in front of their head. The person slumps forward and the camera turns away.
That woman. She had been so focused on how that woman was reacting.
It felt like the floor dropped out from beneath her. For a while she covered her mouth and stared at the wall, listening to the blood rushing in her ears.
“What should I do?” she messaged them. The response took a long time to come.
Kristen: “probably dont go back to that store again lol”
She began to cry. Did the person get hurt? She watched the video again. It seemed like they probably did. She told herself how stupid she was. They probably called the police. Would she get caught? Her parents were going to be so upset. Was there a way out of this?
No, it was on the internet! Hopefully no one had shared it. She went to check. A loud desperate groan escaped from her when she saw that it had been. It was still possible to delete it from her page though. Did that erase the shares? No. She wished she could go back in time. Her life could be ruined.
She did her best to control the damage, hiding all she could of the evidence of her actions. As vaguely as possible, she reassured the people who had expressed concern in the comments that everything was okay, and could they please keep it to themselves and refrain from sharing anything. It was a losing battle to convince some of them. Hours passed and she did not feel better.
Again and again, she replayed the video, searching for something that would exonerate her. Eventually she was able to tell that it was a man she hit, a butcher she had seen before and hated the sight of. They wore black aprons so you couldn’t see the blood that always covered them.
But a really amazing thing happened. When she had been chanting during her march out of the store, the video showed a glimpse of a little girl standing by the self-checkout machines. The girl was smiling and clapping her hands as she passed. Cheering her on.
Someone appreciated her. It made her heart ache. Her actions were understood.
There was a way to salvage this. The plan must go on.
She went out to the car and brought the lobster inside. Its water had warmed up a bit. During the past couple of days she had done some research to understand how to care for crustaceans. They needed cold salty water. The two gallons of distilled water in the fridge would work fine, if mixed with sea salt in the proper ratio.
After preparing the solution in another bucket she gently lifted the lobster up and put her on the counter.
“Hey girl, I’m gonna get you home, okay?”
It stared at her, antennas waving. It had a beautiful mottled shell of blue, brown, and orange, and two impossibly large claws. Kayla took a pair of scissors and cut the rubber bands that bound them. It pinched in her direction as thanks.
She placed it in the new bucket and brought it back out to the car. There was only one thing left to do before they went on their way. Sitting in the driver’s seat, she began to record another video.
“Hey everyone. First off I’m really sorry that things didn’t go exactly as planned. I know I let you all down. It was absolutely not my intention to hurt anyone. Please believe this. I’m so, so sorry for that. And I will accept whatever the consequences are. I was just trying to draw attention to the abuse these animals suffer. As these events show, it really just causes pain for everyone.”
She paused for a moment and wiped her eyes.
“But honestly… And let me say it again, no one deserves to get hurt. But consider why that man was where he was. What he was doing.” She shook her head. “That’s all I’ll say about that. I have the lobster that I rescued. I don’t know where it’s from but I’m going to take it to the fishing pier at Wrightsville Beach and return it to the ocean. I hope she’ll be okay there. We thank you for your support.”
She sat watching the reactions come in. It got a couple of likes and hearts. Someone called her crazy in the comments, and she got a confused note from her elderly aunt. It occurred to her that she should stream again on the beach so she could show the lobster going home. That would be a nice moment everyone could appreciate.
Another notification buzzed her phone, from the messaging app. The name was new to her, but the image in the profile picture instantly triggered recognition. It was him. She nearly dropped the phone.
“You broke my fucking nose,” the message read. “Watch your face bitch.”
She could not believe her bad luck.
Was it smart to respond? Maybe she could explain that it was an accident. But was he threatening her?
She tapped a couple buttons and blocked him.
The pier was half an hour’s drive. She made no attempt to plan past releasing the lobster and the next video. Thinking beyond that seemed impossible.
During the drive she talked with the lobster.
“I hope you find some friends down there. I hope it’s nice and cool and nothing eats you. Maybe stay close to the dock and look out for nets. What do lobsters eat anyway? Clams, right? That doesn’t sound very nice...” She leaned over and looked into the bucket. It was just poking its antennas around.
The navigation app announced that they had arrived. She parked and surveyed the area. It was getting dark and cold and there weren’t any people around. The dock itself jutted rudely out into the massive ocean like a finger. Gulls cawed overhead as she carried the bucket across the sand. Seashells littered the ground like many broken bones.
When she stepped onto the grayed wood of the pier she heard a shout from behind. She had to look though she did not want to.
There he was, stepping over the rope fence and through the beach grass. His face was red and covered in a patchwork of bandages. They watched each other as he moved forward. She dared not speak.
Quickly she turned back and ran down the pier, clutching the bucket to her chest, splashing out nearly all the water. Soon the butcher’s footsteps were pounding on the planks behind her.
As she approached the end she tried to stop abruptly but the wood was wet and slimy and her feet slid out from under her and she toppled over, landing with a hard smack. The bucket flew into the air.
Dazed and scrambling to pick herself up, the man, who was nearly upon her, let out a yelp. She saw the astounding sight. The lobster was attached to his face by a claw, half jammed into his mouth and pinching his cheek. He twirled his head around desperately, screeching a word like “help” as the creature clung to him.
The poor thing. It must have been terrified. “Hold still! Oh my god, let me get her off!” She reached for the lobster, hoping to gently free it from that awful person. Suddenly, like a dart, its other rust-colored claw landed around her hand and crushed down with a freakish force.
She and the man, both made stupid by the pain, slipped and spun about the end of the deck like drunkards, screaming, tethered together by the implacable spidery creature. Inevitably they tumbled, one and then the other, over the edge and down into the depths where they could be seen struggling for a time and then no longer.
At therapy we pass around the feelings plant and talk about our feelings. The counselor brings in a succulent and we hold it carefully and say one tiny victory from the week. People talk about their families, their co-workers, their pets. Their neighbor’s, the parole officer, the piss test place.
We go into greater detail than when we all held the acorn, which was just our names.
Jan says her son called this week and they didn’t fight on the phone. Tiny victory.
A pipe burst at the hospital and flooded the parking garage. Everyone’s car got frozen in ice, but Jeff took the bus that day. Tiny victory.
Ron says every time he went outside he saw someone get hit by a car. Today he didn’t so that’s a big victory. The counselor says it still counts, but maybe it’s time for the fern, so we hold that and go into greater detail like Ron did.
Jan and her son mostly talked about how bad the Bears are, and not the money she needs to borrow to get high.
Jeff hasn’t had a car since 2016 or a license since Bush was president. Jeff hugs the fern tight to his chest and we all worry he’s going to break it. Jeff says I won’t break it. I promise. I promise. I promise.
We’re not allowed to smash the feelings plants or we’ll get in big trouble. We’re supposed to hold it delicately with two hands in our lap. The feelings plant is our second chance at life and Jesus Christ and yadi yada, etcetera.
Jeff says Jesus works in mysterious ways. This is something the counselor also says.
The counselor brings in the Ficus and says Jesus is inside all living things or, something like that, and gives it to Jerry.
Jerry rests the Ficus on his lap and looks around the room at all of us. He says it was -20 degrees on Thursday and work still made him come in because they needed him to run out to the parking lot and start people’s cars. There’s a lot of free time when you’re doing that so now Jerry isn’t going to pass his piss test.
Linda tells Jerry her boyfriend passed a piss test by running four miles at the high school track right before he had to take it. He sweated the drugs completely out of his system she says.
Jerry says he hates running.
Ron stands up and points at Linda and says: Your boyfriend’s a liar. Linda opens her mouth and then closes it. She stares at the floor and counts the tiles around her feet.
The counselor reminds us that we can only talk if we are holding the feelings plant. Ron has to sit back down and we all do a group inhale and exhale.
The counselor rolls in a big Douglas Fir on one of those moving dollies and we all write apologies and hang them with red yarn on the tree like ornaments.
Dear Mom, Sorry about the hole in the wall. I miss you—Jerry.
Dear Shelby, Sorry I left you and the kids at that gas station. I’m working to be a better man now—Ed. P.S. Maybe we can go to a White Sox game when it’s warm.
Steve, It was me who crashed your tracker. I hope you’ll forgive me—Paula.
Linda hangs her apology on the tree as tears collect on her cheeks. She wraps her arms around the tree and squeezes tightly. The branches bend and jostle. Needles fall to the floor. She keeps squeezing. The counselor says Linda, and then Linda again, but a little louder.
Jerry steps forward and hugs Linda and the tree. Then Ed wraps his arms around Linda and Jerry. Then Paula. Then Ron. Then all of us. We’re all hugging each other or the tree or some combination. We squeeze tighter and tighter and let it all out.
flash fiction by Kevin Sterne
poetry by Natasha Deonarain
There’s no shame in carrying around a Dead Body;
anyone with any claim to equal rites
seems to have one these days.
Used to be you’d leave your dearly departed
in the back of your closet amongst relics and skeletons,
being considerate not to lament
his last words in public,
but now that they’re all out, large deposits of remains
get spread out over every conceivable safe space.
This Cadaveric Craze has swept the nation,
finding many people who are willing to take
good care of their undead; willing to
feed and clothe them every day,
let them out for a breath of fresh air once in a while,
bring them to mummy’s office or to school for tell and show.
Some even escort them around airports,
pointing proudly to their
Bright Red Vests, or dress them up and
take them on dinner dates
to barebones restaurants buried inside downtown
and suburban streets—
just about anywhere large congregations
At any given time and in any given place,
more inanimates are present than fully alive,
pickled so strikingly well
it becomes virtually impossible to tell the difference
between the living and the half-baked.
There still exists, however, a few unfortunates
who see dead people everywhere,
but as a general rule, these irreverants are quickly
pronounced afflicted with a terminal illness,
heavily medicated and conveniently
kick the can,
providing opportunity for us to be reminded
that yet another untouchable problem
has been put to rest
with a quick fix.
If you one day decide you’re sick and tired
of your stiff and would like to let him go,
all you have to do is pry his cold, dead hands
from around your neck,
tell him his services are no longer needed
your beloved will turn to ash, leaving you quite free
to get on with your life.
Mother asks Nick to go to a movie. They can throw Junior Mints, discard rules, like when he was little. Tomorrow, he promises, practicing piano. Tomorrow, he’s still practicing, dreaming of polish and shine. Unlike Dad, run off. Sister Nancy, crushed beneath train wheels.
Tomorrow, he says, surrendering to Tchaikovsky.
Mother smiles, crooked smile.
He feels fleeting sorrow. But he must achieve.
Years later, all he has is yesterday.
He imagines movies, mother’s love so vibrant. Scent of perfume and love and youthful energies among dissolving family.
He tries to capture yesterday.
Yesterday won’t surrender. He believes in it, keeps trying.
micro fiction by Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri
short fiction by Emily Costa
My boyfriend, his right ankle in a plaster and gauze cast, tipped his Coors at the crying girl on TV and shook his head. "There's no way," he said.
"No way what?"
It was a Saturday night, and he couldn't sleep because he couldn't get comfortable so we’d started watching a made-for-TV movie: a teenage girl is seduced by her softball coach; she becomes obsessed; someone kills for someone–something like that.
"He wouldn't," he said.
I sighed. "Wouldn't what?"
"Don't get like that," he said. "No, she's just…she's not attractive. He wouldn't realistically want her."
The actress looked—a rare thing in these movies–like she was playing the right age. Natural makeup. Braces. "She’s a fucking kid, Jeff. I think the problem’s beyond that."
"What's your issue?" he said.
I'd already had a few beers. Maybe that's why it came out. I had that butterfly feeling you get when you make a mistake and don't want to be caught. "Something like that happened to me."
He sat up as best as he could. "What? Turn on that little light." He pressed mute. He looked concerned and I was happy about that in a way.
I pulled the chain on the table lamp next to me. "Well, it wasn't like that. I mean, I didn’t play softball. And I didn’t kill anyone."
He was propped up awkwardly on his elbows, but with his legs extended. We have one of those L-shaped couches. "Why haven't you ever–what happened?"
"I don't really think about it much. It was in high school," I said. "There was a new teacher, a new science teacher. My whole grade had come into high school when there were some old teachers retiring and new ones coming in. The school was failing, too. The whole city, I guess. You've been back to Waterbury with me. You know."
He looked at me with his brow wrinkled, and I realized I better hurry up. He wasn't saying so right then but he thinks I go off on tangents.
"Anyway, I had this friend Lizzie, and I always sat next to her in class. We were late all the time because she liked to talk to boys in the hall and stop at her locker between classes. She had a mirror there and wanted to check her hair or whatever." I sipped my beer and wiped my mouth with my fingers. "So we show up on that first day and the only seats left are the front seats, so we have to take them, no choice."
I could see the muscle in Jeff's arm bulging, like he was straining, propped up like that, his head twisting to see me sitting scrunched on the short part of the couch, perpendicular. I could see the tendon in his neck as he listened. It stuck out in the lamp's weak light.
"I never liked sitting in the front. You can't see what's going on behind you, you know? And so the guy was sitting there at his desk, this little guy from another country, like Lithuania or Romania or something. Dr. Gavlik. He wrote it on the board and told us that these were now our seats. He had a thick accent. Lizzie and I looked at each other, you know, not happy about the seats. And he said, I remember, he said," and here I tried an accent, badly, "he said, 'I am not Mr. Gavlik. I am Dr. Gavlik. I had many years at university and I am a doctor so you will call me this.'”
Jeff exhaled. He tried to move the pillow behind his head a bit more. I could see how it was all wrong, how he couldn't get it the way he wanted. He had tripped over something, a rock maybe, while he was out for a run. Just fell on the pavement, hard. Something twisted.
"Do you want to switch positions?"
"It's pointless." He stopped straining and just looked straight up at the ceiling. He was so used to moving. This was killing him. "Continue. Sorry."
"Okay. Stop me if you want, though," I said. But I waited until he turned his eyes back to me. "So, the first day of class we had to do that thing teachers make you do, where you have to go around and give little intros. He asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up, and I think I was going through this phase where I wanted to be in the movie business, so I probably said director or something, but he said, 'Oh yes, Rebecca. I love films. I have a hobby. Maybe we can make movies together.'"
"Ew," Jeff said.
I moved closer to him. "Yeah. I mean, so people laughed obviously, because what, we're kids."
"Was he old and gross?" He pulled up the blanket that was half-flopped over him.
"No, he wasn't…he wasn't old," I said. I picked at the edge of the beer's label. Dr. Gavlik hadn't been much older than me–I mean, me now. He was probably in his mid-thirties. If he shaved off his little mustache, he would have looked younger. I remembered his dark hair, parted and slightly waved. "He wasn't a disgusting old perv or anything."
"Huh," he said. "So he was good-looking then?"
I tore off a wet strip of the label, fast. "No. He wasn't good-looking, no. Why?"
"Do you want to hear the rest? Maybe I shouldn't have–"
"Go ahead, go. I'm listening," he said. He moved the pillow again, rolled it up. I almost went to help him, but I just waited and watched, and pretty soon he settled down and looked at me again.
"Well, then the eye contact started. I wondered if maybe there was some cultural thing about eye contact being important, but see, he was only making it with Lizzie and me. It was like we were the only two in the class," I said. I could still see Dr. Gavlik looking at me. He'd try jokes sometimes, and it was like he was only telling them to me, waiting for a laugh. So I'd laugh.
"You guys were in front, though, right?"
"Yeah, but we still weren't the only two people in front, you know?" I said. "Oh. And then he started doing this thing where he'd get up close to my desk. Lizzie's sometimes, too, but mostly mine. He'd get close and our desks were crotch-height, for him, you know? So he'd get close to my desk, and no one behind me could really see, but he'd rub up against the desk and sort of…set his balls on top. Like, I could see it, it was right there. But he'd still be lecturing. It was either his…balls there, or that eye contact. Something was always watching me."
"Jesus, Becks." He turned more on his side. He stretched his arm straight out and put his hand on my leg. It was an awkward gesture, him reaching a bit, but I let him.
"And then it was near Halloween and all the girls somehow got away with dressing like, well, not appropriate. Not school-appropriate. But we were taking group pictures. Halloween was sort of a free-for-all. And Dr. Gavlik said, 'I want a picture with you girls.' So, you know, we were just all taking pictures, and he jumped in, and one of the other kids used Gavlik's camera."
"What? So you're in a picture with this guy?" He pushed up a little on my leg to look at me.
"I didn't really mean to be," I said.
"But there's a picture floating around somewhere of my girlfriend, underage, barely dressed, with some creep."
"First of all, I didn't dress up. God, I just stood there." I moved to the side of the couch and pulled my leg out from under his hand. "I don't have to tell you this, you know. It seemed like you cared."
"Come back. Come on, I do," he said. He reached his hand out again. I just looked at it, his fingers stretching and then giving up. "I just…I don't know why you didn't tell me this."
"Well I did tell someone, eventually, so. I don't know," I said. "He gave me a B and called me to his desk after class. I was totally fine with a B. I was bad at all sciences. I was bad at high school. Well, not bad, but just okay. Nothing outstanding ever. But he told me, 'Rebecca, you can get an A, you know.' I remember how he said my name. The 'Re' was weird. Re-becca. Anyway. He said, 'Rebecca you can get an A, just stay for tutoring after class today and I will give you the points.'"
I looked at the blanket that was over Jeff's body, his foot in the cast sticking out. I had signed the cast and drawn a little bear on it. It was hard to get a straight line over the bumps, and I messed up a little. He told me it looked like a kid drew it. He told me it looked like a dog, or an ugly baby. "So did you go? To get tutored?" He looked up at me.
"What? Why would–what's wrong with you?"
"Nothing's wrong with me." I stared at him, felt tightness in my jaw. "I just went."
I didn't know why I went. I guess part of it was because Dr. Gavlik could've asked other kids, kids that were actually failing. But he wanted to help me. He asked me.
He exhaled. "And?"
"After school, I just started walking to his room. It was down this flight of stairs, into this weird hallway that was all cinderblock, the hallway with all the science classes," I said. "His pants were always tight. That's something else."
I felt Jeff's eyes on me, but I had to look away, down at the carpet. These things were just getting clearer.
"And he always brought up that doctor part," I said. "How he wasn't a Mister, he was a Doctor. You know, when kids would say like, 'mister,' like, 'hey mister can you help,' instead of the full thing. And he had copies of his degrees on his desk. Like, all in frames, facing out towards us. No other teacher had that. They always had like wacky pencils or pictures of their families, or fun things," I said.
I remembered there were so many of those certificates, like I wondered how one person could go through all of that and then just end up at some failing high school. I knew sometimes genius people from other countries came to the U.S. and they'd have to get all new degrees because the ones from back home didn't mean anything here. The people giving you manicures are astrophysicists. That kind of thing. It's sad, to work that hard, to never be appreciated.
"But what did he do?"
"Besides teaching? He played guitar. One time he asked if anyone played and I had been teaching myself so I said yes, and that was just stupid. That just about pointed a neon, blinking arrow at me."
"No, God, Becks. What did he do?" He was still staring at me.
It took me a minute to understand. But that was the point of the story, or at least I thought so then. "Sorry," I said. "Sorry. Yeah. Well, I chickened out. I walked by his class and saw him sitting there and I got worried and I just kept walking. But he saw me. He called me in."
"And no one was around? What did he say?"
"'Rebecca, come with me. Come with me right now and I will give you an A.' I said no. I just said no, I didn't want an A. He looked nervous, or out of breath, and so I just turned around and ran."
"So he didn't do anything then?"
I looked back at Jeff for a minute, to try to tell what he meant, if it was relief or what. But I couldn't figure it out. He moved a little and winced.
"Well, no," I said. "I mean, he did all that other stuff. He didn't get to do anything then, though. He didn't have the chance." My throat was dry. I went to take another sip of beer but the bottle was empty. "Do you want another one?"
"No," he said, stretching. He rested his hand on his stomach.
I went into the kitchen and flipped on the lights. I started to outline the rest of the story in my head before I went back in to tell him because I didn't want it to get out of order, especially because of the beer. I hadn't thought about it in a long time, so I had to make my brain slow down and stay on track. But while I was doing this, the end of the whole thing came to me, suddenly.
I saw Dr. Gavlik one more time. I was in the lobby of the school waiting for my mom to pick me up. She didn't know about any of this. I never told my parents. It was all up to me, which was weird, which I should have done something about. I guess I should have done a lot of things differently. But there was nothing I could do about that now.
I was waiting for my mom there, and then I heard shouting. It was Dr. Gavlik. He was walking out of the main office, and his jacket was sliding off of his shoulder. It was sliding because a man was gripping his arm and telling him to come on, but he was pulling away from the man, trying to shake him off. Dr. Gavlik was pointing into the office. "I did nothing! Nothing!" he was saying.
I rubbed my face. It felt hot. I stood in the kitchen for a minute. I tried to reorder my brain still, but I didn't know which parts I should tell him. I walked over to the sink. It was full of plates and there was no room to rinse the beer bottle. I put it on the counter and dragged a chair in from the kitchen so I could sit closer to him. When I came back in, he had moved and was sucking in air, groaning.
"I'll call the doctor on Monday," I said. “See if he can get you something for sleep."
"Thank you," he said, exhaling.
"So… do you want me to keep going? I mean, that's pretty much it."
"How the hell could that be it?"
"I don't know."
"Tell me the rest." He was bundled in the blanket, looking up at me. He looked like a kid, like he needed me, like he wanted me there, telling him this.
"Well, there was just a lot of questioning. I told Lizzie about the tutoring thing that night and she told me that we should go to the principal first thing. That we had to do it. And then we talked to a lot of people. Administrators. And I heard lawyers got involved."
"Was he fired?"
I shrugged. "I think so. We got a new teacher, this old woman. She was kind of a bitch, but maybe she was just old and you know, done with all the bullshit from the kids."
I looked at him but he was looking beyond me, at the TV. "Hmm," he said.
I waited for a minute to see what he was getting at, but he didn't say anything. "Hmm what?"
"It’s sad," he said.
"Yeah, I guess."
His eyes stayed on the TV. I could see its lights fall different-colored across his face. After a while he said, "I can't imagine being like that."
"Like him, like Gavlik."
"What do you mean?"
"It's just sad. His whole life was ruined."
I kept watching him. "You feel bad for him, you mean?"
"Well, yeah. I guess. In a way."
I got up and started dragging the chair back into the kitchen.
"Come on," he said. "Don't get all mad."
I stopped in the threshold with the tipped-back chair and looked at the TV. Commercials were on and they were even louder than the movie, those terrible local commercials with bad actors, for car dealerships.
"How could you feel bad for him? He was a fucking creep."
"No, wait, listen. I do feel bad for you. I do. That's terrible." I didn't know if this was what I wanted from him, exactly. I didn't know what I wanted. "I'm sorry."
I saw his whole body twisted towards me as I dragged the chair.
Maura stares down the anti-abortion crazies, throngs it seems, cramming the parking lot the walkway, all the way up to the clinic. She locks eyes with a geezer in a Marine Corps Veteran’s cap. He shoves his sign toward her, arms shaking as he waves it in her face, the close-up full-color image of a ghost-baby floating in its mother’s womb. “Sinner!” he hisses. She steps around the man—around his pathetic walker, American flags duct-taped to the basket—and bolts ahead. Just before the clinic doors whoosh open, though, she turns, thrusts a fuck-you finger in his direction, and ducks inside.
But Maura can’t stop trembling as the nurse draws three vials of blood from her arm and inserts the magenta-filled tubes into their slotted plastic tray. Maura turns away, her empty stomach soured and churning. She thinks about her mother. Imagines her at the kitchen table, ashtray overflowing with butts. Her mother, squinting through the curl of smoke, a Camel dangling from her lips, her eyes drawn like magnets to the TV and its endless parade of QVC treasures.
The nurse hands Maura a clipboard. “Take these forms with you to the waiting area. It shouldn’t be too long.” Tears slide down Maura’s cheeks. “I can’t,” she whispers. The nurse holds out her hand for the clipboard and when it clatters to the floor Maura slumps into her capable arms. A year’s-worth of bottled-up grief pours out of Maura and soaks into the nurse’s lilac-colored scrubs. Maura accepts this interlude of comfort, the woman’s baby-powder scent of safety, the warmth her plump body radiates, as she sinks further and further into the nurse’s institutional hug. Maura understands that hers is not a special case. The nurses and counselors here have probably seen it all. Girls in trouble. Stupid girls. Invisible girls. Even girls hell-bent on college.
The nurse pulls back—one strong hand still clasping each of Maura’s shoulders. Already, Maura is shivering again, the temporary comfort vanishing like her father’s casket. Down into that precise rectangle of fresh-dug earth. When she closes her eyes, she hears the thud as a shovel-full of dirt strikes the wooden casket. Her mother had pleaded with the pastor. Suicide, it seems, is a sin.
At home later, Maura finds her mother in the basement, shoving a sodden load of darks into the dryer. A single lightbulb hangs from the raftered ceiling and, in its dim glow, Maura sees how diminished her mother’s body has become—brittle but also somehow waxen, as she stoops to shove in more jeans and tops, threadbare and pilled.
When Maura’s foot hits the last stair, her mother glances up and says: “Where’ve you been?” Not: Hi, Kiddo. Not: Hey, Shortcakes!—nicknames Maura had paid no mind while her father was still alive. “Work,” she says. Maura’s mother nods. When Maura bends to pick up the laundry basket from the concrete floor, her mother rests a hand on Maura’s shoulder. Maura remembers the nurse, that fleeting sense of safety, but she recoils now, remembering also, how it had been her mother who’d found him. Her mother who’d scrubbed and scrubbed their tiny bathroom, scoured the remains of her father from the grouted tiles. The smell of bleach returns to Maura.
Her mother pulls a navy-blue smock from the pile—Stop-N-Shop name-tag still attached—and drapes it over her arm. “I’m filling in for Katy,” her mother says. “There’s chicken-noodle in the fridge.” Maura’s fingers tighten around the handles of the laundry basket until they go numb. She follows her mother up the stairs to the kitchen. She wants to tell her. She’ll have to tell her.
~ ~ ~
Maura’s baby has been growing inside her for eighteen weeks now. It’s time for her ultrasound. Glen agrees to drive her, to help with the bills. In truth, if Maura hadn’t felt that first ghost-flutter a week before she wouldn’t believe there really was a baby. She tells herself she still has options. Her mother says to give it away. Glen says he’ll marry her. Maybe, Maura doesn’t want him.
Squirt of cold jelly on Maura’s stomach. The technician presses down on the wand, circles it rhythmically. Soon, this motion synchs with the shifting images on the screen—swooshing and churning—a great ocean inside her. “Look,” the technician says, auburn hair almost brushing Maura’s belly. Maura follows the redhead’s eyes, sharpens her gaze on the pulsing shapes—one moment static, the next instant undulating. “Your baby’s heartbeat!” Beads of sweat tremble on Maura’s forehead. Her own heart thumps harder. The technician circles the wand, stops. “I can’t say for certain, but it looks like a girl.” The redhead smiles.
Maura’s eyes widen as she stares at the screen. She hears: whoosh/whoosh/whoosh…Then, in the vast ocean, a swill of choppy words. Words carried by the waves now, too.
never could/just until/ just between/he/never should/she/always knew/he just/can’t/I
can’t/sleep/cope/she/never could/shortcakes/she/never cared/only/a sinner/a coward would/just/a sin/just for now/he/always knew/you/know/
just until/no one knew/couldn’t cope/no one’s fault/never/too/late/sleep tight/too//late/only/a coward/would/just a sin to/sleep tight/no/one’s fault/shortcakes/sleep tight/
just for now/his/fault/just/no one knew/always knew/just/until/a sin/never coped/
just until/no one’s fault/just/not/his/fault/always knew/no one’s fault/no one’s fault/not yourfaultnotyourfaultnotyourfaultnotyourfault—
“Stop!” Maura says. The technician pulls back the wand. Maura’s gelled skin chills. Goosebumps race up her arms and her legs.Maura hears: grave. Maura hears: ghost.
~ ~ ~
Maura’s labor is long and painful and, again, unremarkable. She’s allowed no one to attend the birth: not Glen, not her mother, not even her older sister who’d birthed three babies by the time she was twenty. In the hospital room, Maura holds her baby girl. She names her Lacey. She feels the sensation of a tiny mouth suckling at her breast. Maybe Maura loves her baby. But maybe she hates her, too. Terrified, the new mother closes her eyes against the slipstream that haunts her. Those crashing waves of sorrow that carry the dead in the wake of the living.
flash fiction by Dina Greenberg
Lamps flicker and cough, hiss blubbery blue,
as we split bellies and dislodge entrails,
axing slabs to sell to greasy men who
slide through perpetual dusk on oiled grins,
bartering leviathan knuckles, gifts
for stockowners’ bone garden archways.
This bearded, myth-made masculinity,
unbroken by blue gas breakers, sails ships
that drift past clouds floating on the ocean:
hold harpoons and let go of sanity.
Whaling on Neptune
poetry by Alex Pickens
The Nice Man
creative non-fiction by Timothy Caldwell
Something isn’t right. “Why are you turning? We go straight here.”
Mr. Givens smiles. “I know, Buddy, but it was so hot in your dad’s church that I thought you might want to cool off some before I drop you off. Besides, your mom said we could go for a little ride in my new car before I got you home, remember?”
“I guess.” I did ask Mom. He pushes a lever and chilled air envelops me. There are no other cars around. As the heavy car floats over the dark gray road, I remember the day I met him.
~ ~ ~
My buddy Toby and I were fishing off the Sarasota pier. He was my age, eleven, and my best friend. We were talking about who is the coolest hero, Superman or Plastic Man, when a shadow passed over us. A voice from behind us said, “You guys catchin’ much?” We squinted as we looked up to see who was talking.
“Okay if I sit beside you?” he said as he sat down next to me. His hairy, tanned, short-sleeved arm appeared in front of my face as he pointed to where our bikes sat. “Those your bikes?”
“Yessir,” I said. Toby was not talking. I glanced over at him; his eyes were focused down on the water like he was searching for fish.
“My name’s Ken Givens. What’s yours?”
In my head, Mom’s voice said not to talk to strangers, but Dad’s voice said I should invite him to church in case he wasn’t saved.
“Teddy,” I said. “Teddy Bertson.”
“And what’s yours?” he asked Toby. As he leaned toward me, his shoulder brushed my bare arm.
“My mom says I shouldn’t talk to strangers,” Toby muttered.
“I told you my name, so I’m not a stranger now, right?”
“So your name is…”
“Marty Wilson,” Toby said, using a classmate’s name. I frowned at his lie.
“I…I guess we have to go now, Marty,” I said. “We told the guys we’d play some ball later,” I said to Mr. Givens as I reeled in my line. I noticed that the hook below the float was bare, as usual. Darn pinfish.
“What about our bait?” Toby asked. He hauled the small, aerated bucket that held our fifty cents’ worth of shrimp. I was standing on the pier securing my hook, and Mr. Givens leaned against a post, lighting a cigarette.
“Guess we can just dump ’em,” I said.
“Hold on,” Givens said. “How many are left?”
Toby looked into the bucket. “’Bout ten or so, and a couple of halves.”
“You guys do what I do—cut your shrimp in half. Pretty smart. Tell you what, I’ll take the rest of them, but I’ll have to use your bucket; I don’t have anything to keep them in.”
“That’s my dad’s bucket,” I said. “I can’t just give it to you.”
“Course not,” Mr. Givens said. “Tell you what, I’ll take it to your house later this afternoon. How’s that sound? What’s your address?”
I don’t know why, but I didn’t want to tell him where I lived. “Church,” I said.
“You can bring it to my dad’s church tomorrow. I’m a PK.”
“What’s that?” Mr. Givens asked.
“He’s a preacher’s kid,” Toby/Marty said, helpfully.
Givens hesitated before saying, “Sure, I can do that. What’s the name of the church, and when are services?” Dad’s gonna be happy that I brought a grown-up to church.
On the bike ride home, I asked Toby why he lied about his name. “The guy gives me the willies. I don’t want him to know nothin’ ’bout me. You shoulda done the same.”
The next day, Mr. Givens was at the morning service, bait bucket in tow. I introduced him to Dad, proud that I was the one who told him about church. Dad was a “soul winner,” and as a Christian, I was supposed to be a soul winner too. I had an odd feeling when Givens was around, but I tried to ignore it.
Shortly before the evening service, I was sitting with two church buddies when I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up. It was Mr. Givens. I said hello and asked if he wanted to sit with us. I was relieved when he said, “Thanks, but I’ll sit here,” pointing to the pew behind us. After the service, Mom invited him to have dinner with us the following Sunday. On the way home, Dad said, “You’ve done a good thing, inviting Ken to church.” It sounded odd to hear his first name. “I’ll talk to him about accepting the Lord next Sunday when he comes to dinner,” he said, glancing at me in the rearview mirror. He caught my eye and winked.
Sunday dinner with Mr. Givens seemed odd; Mom and Dad acted sort of different, but I figured it was because they’re adults. As Mom set about putting dinner together, Dad and Mr. Givens stepped out into the sunroom. Dad slid the glass door closed behind him, a sign that he was talking to our visitor about being saved.
I wanted to see what was going on, so I talked my eight-year-old sister, Rachel, into playing pick-up sticks on the terrazzo floor close to the sunroom. Dad was a small man, so he had to tilt his head up as he talked to Mr. Givens. After a few minutes, they both sat down, bowed their heads, and closed their eyes.
~ ~ ~
Mr. Givens says something, and I’m jerked back to the car.
“I asked if you’re getting chilly.”
I had goose bumps. “No, sir.”
“I have it cranked up high. I’ll turn it down a notch,” he says as he fiddles with the lever. “Tell you what, why don’t you scooch over here next to me.”
“I’m okay. Where are we going?”
“If you slide over, I’ll let you steer some.”
“Really? Dad says I’m pretty good at steering.”
“Well, come closer and show me.” The plastic seat covers crinkle as I scoot across them. He’s wearing a sweet-smelling aftershave, almost like perfume, not like Dad’s Old Spice. I can barely see over the dashboard when I lean back against the seat, but if I sit up…
“Here, get real close. You’ll see more if I do this.” He puts his arm around my lower back so I’m levered upright. He lets the car slow down, takes his hand off the steering wheel, and I put both hands on it, one on the top and the other on the side like I do with Dad.
The road is a black ribbon, invisible beyond the leading edge of the headlights. A narrow, sandy shoulder kisses the road edge before sliding into a deep drainage ditch. I steer toward the center line. He nudges the car back into our lane, even though there are no cars on the road. I’m sitting like this for a few minutes when I feel his hand moving on my leg.
A pair of glowing eyes appear in the headlights, as a small animal skitters across the road. Mr. Givens stomps on the brakes, and I pitch forward. He catches me and grabs the steering wheel with his other hand.
“All right,” he says, “that was interesting. I’ll take it from here. You okay, Buddy?” He moves his arm from behind my back and pulls my legs against his.
“Yeah. Yessir.” I can feel the heat coming off his body. He moves his hand on my leg like he’s massaging it.
“Here it is,” he says to himself as he slows the car.
“Here’s what?” I ask as he swings onto an unpaved road. In the distance, the streetlights in our subdivision give off a warm glow onto the lowering clouds. I know this road—I ride my bike here sometimes. He stops the car, shifts it into park, and leaves the engine running. The headlights go off next, leaving only the pale green dashboard lights. I imagine the blackness outside trying to squeeze inside the car. He doesn’t move or say anything, just stares out the window.
“Why have you stopped?” I ask, barely above a whisper.
“You’re a good boy, aren’t you, Buddy?”
“Teddy,” I say.
“My name; it’s Teddy, not Buddy.”
“I know. It’s just…I had a good friend named Buddy when I was your age, and something about you reminds me of him.” His hand is still on my leg. Out of the corner of my eye, I see he’s looking straight ahead, moving his lips, talking to himself. He doesn’t turn his head as he takes my hand, puts it on his crotch, and holds it there. At first, I don’t know what’s happening, then I feel something move underneath the cloth, growing harder.
I yank my hand away, slide across the seat, and press myself against the door. He twists his upper body and looks at me without a word. His eyes are shadowed. I’m moving my hand slowly, trying to find the handle to open the door, but I can’t feel it.
“Don’t be afraid,” he says, moving toward me. “You’ll like how this feels.” He reaches for me. I try to shout, but nothing comes out as I flinch away from him.
His mouth opens like he’s about to say something, but he doesn’t. Instead, he takes a deep breath and shakes his head. The plastic seat cover sounds like paper being crumpled as he puts his hands on the steering wheel. He’s squeezing it so hard that his arms shake. He does this a few seconds, then lets go. His head tilts back, and he’s breathing hard, like he’s been running. He leans his head on the steering wheel and sits like this for a long time.
I wonder if he’s having some kind of fit. I’m barely breathing, trying to be so quiet that maybe, just maybe, he’ll forget I’m here. He raises his head, looks over at me, takes a big breath, then flicks on the headlights, puts the car into gear, and rolls along the sandy road toward home—I hope.
We turn the corner onto my street. The house is dark—there’s nobody home. I find the handle, so when he pulls into the driveway, I’m out of the car before it fully stops. He calls my name. I run through the carport into the sunroom, through the glass door that separates the sunroom from the kitchen, then lock it. I check the front door—it’s locked; the back door is locked too. When I’m done, the lights in every room are lit, and the curtains are pulled. In the living room, I peek through them. His car is gone.
I’m shaking and sweating. The house is stuffy. I sit in Dad’s easy chair, and my nose catches a hint of Old Spice. I feel my insides unwind a little. That’s when I hear a car pull into the driveway.
He’s come back! I want to hide, but I can’t move. A car drives into the carport. Doors slam. The screen door of the sunroom bangs, and someone is pulling on the glass door.
“It’s locked. Why is this locked, Teddy? Open up!” It’s Rachel. I unlock it and hug her as she steps into the kitchen.
“What are you doing? I have to go to the bathroom,” she says, pushing me away and making a beeline to the half bathroom off the kitchen.
“I expected Mr. Givens would be here,” Mom says.
“He, uh, he…”
“Teddy, why are all the lights on?” Dad says. “How many times do I have to tell you to…”
My face gets hot; my stomach heaves. I throw up.
“For Pete’s sake! I just got these pants back from the cleaners,” Dad says.
“Goodness!” Mom says. She grabs a paper napkin and wipes my face as she guides me into the bathroom down the hallway. Behind us, I hear Rachel come out of the toilet into the kitchen, then gag.
“Ellie, you need any help?” Dad calls.
“You could clean up the mess.” She holds my head as I empty my stomach into the toilet. She wipes my face with a warm washcloth as she calls me her baby boy. I’ve told her I don’t like to be called a baby, but I’m too weak to protest; besides, I kind of like it right now. She makes me gargle some mouthwash that burns my mouth, but it gets rid of the bad taste in my throat.
“No fever,” she says after she puts her hand on my forehead. “Does your stomach hurt?”
I shake my head.
“What would make you throw up like that?” she asks. She’s talking more to herself than to me. She asks if Ken had the air conditioner on in his car. I nod.
“Just this week, I read something in Ladies’ Home Journal about people getting sick from too much air conditioning. Next time you ride in his car, tell him to turn the air conditioner down.”
“I won’t be in his car anymore.”
“What? Why not?”
Why did I say that? She’ll ask why…maybe his hand slipped. Why’d I let him put his arm around me? My stomach rescues me—I gag, and she gets me over the toilet. Nothing comes up.
“I want to go to bed.”
She gives me a dose of Pepto-Bismol then says she’ll check on me in a couple of minutes. I strip down to my underpants and flop onto my bed. I’m chilly, so I pull the sheet and bedspread over me. It’s sweltering in the house, but I feel weak and shaky. The darkness of my room is closing in on me, so I turn on the lamp next to my bed. Mom comes in, checks for fever, then kisses me goodnight. She’s about to turn off the light, but I ask her to leave it on.
She tilts her head for a moment. “Teddy,” she says, “did something happen with Mr. Givens tonight?”
My entire body feels like it’s blushing. “N…no,” I say.
“Your daddy and I were both a little surprised that he didn’t wait for us to get home. I don’t like it that he left you all by yourself like that.”
I hadn’t thought about that. “He said he had to…go home to make a long-distance phone call, an important one.” She frowns.
“Okay,” she says, drawing out the word. “I’ll leave the light on. You turn it off when you’re ready.”
The door closes and I relax. Lying makes me tired. I kick the covers off, open the curtains, then turn the handles of the jalousie windows, opening them to the slightly cooler, humid air. Don’t be a baby—turn off the light.
In the darkness, I try to sleep, but every time I close my eyes, I see him in the green light, watching me, waiting, deciding. I remember what I felt under his pants and shiver. Why didn’t I listen to Toby? Why didn’t I jump out of the car? Why am I afraid to tell Mom about what happened? I’ll never tell anyone about this!
And I didn’t, for many years. I thought I could bury the memory of Givens as I wandered my way through school, marriage, the Vietnam War, two sons, a divorce, a comfortable career as a performer, and university professor. My subconscious, however, would not be denied. Several years after returning from the war, there were occasional minutes of forgetfulness, times when it seemed I was viewing my life by peering through a camera, untouched by the emotions that friends, students, and family were experiencing. And, for no apparent reason, I would feel ashamed.
Eventually, I sought out a psychologist who worked with Vietnam veterans suffering the effects of the war. His diagnosis was PTSD. As we surveyed the personal loss and anger I carried with me, it was easier to look at other unwelcome events in my life. Memories of Mr. Givens wormed their way back into my consciousness.
I talked about Givens, telling my story, I thought, in the same offhanded way that I described my experiences in Vietnam—such and such happened but didn’t affect me much. Besides, I concluded, he didn’t go through with…well, with what he might have done.
The psychologist kept prodding. “Just like the war, his assault on you changed you in ways you don’t understand.”
“I don’t think so,” I said.
“Well, did you tell your parents about it?”
He looked at his notes. “You said that you occasionally feel humiliated by the mistakes you’ve made. In my experience, humiliation and shame are siblings.” He tapped his pencil on his notes. “Givens assaulted you, a young boy who was trying to make his dad proud by being a… a…”
“A soul winner like him. Givens took advantage of that, of you.”
“Why would I feel ashamed?”
“That’s my question,” he said.
~ ~ ~
Years after those sessions, memories of the assault reappeared at odd moments, like a baited hook dangling before a fish. Viewing them with my adult eyes eventually reduced them to impotent shadows of a child’s memory, like Givens himself became to me.
Six decades have passed since that dark night, and still, I wonder what it was that caused him to stop. When he looked at the skinny little kid huddled across the seat from him, did he see himself? Was there a shudder of conscience, a whisper of shame, a fear of consequences? Perhaps he never knew why. As for me, my anger and disgust waned and were joined by a, perhaps misplaced, kind of gratitude that he chose to stop. This is not forgiveness, but as close as I can come.
Timothy Caldwell was a professional singer and university professor for forty years. When he retired, he returned to his early love–writing. His novel, “The Chaplain’s Assistant: God, Country, and Vietnam,” was published in 2012. Caldwell’s essays and short stories have been published in Amarillo Bay, Blue Lake Review, Crab Creek Review, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Ginosko, The Penmen Review, The Storyteller, and Westview. He is working on a collection of short stories.
Emily Costa teaches freshmen at Southern Connecticut State University, where she received her MFA. Her writing can be found in Hobart, Barrelhouse, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Atticus Review, and elsewhere. You can follow her on twitter @emilylauracosta.
Natasha Deonarain lives part-time between Arizona and Colorado. Her poems are published or forthcoming in NELLE, Rigorous, Packingtown Review, Thin Air Magazine, Dime Show Review, Prometheus Dreaming and Canyon Voices Literary Magazine.
Nominated for The Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions, and The Millions, Dina Greenberg’s writing has appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, Pembroke Magazine, Split Rock Review, Tahoma Literary Review, Barely South, and Wilderness House Literary Review, among others. The opening chapters of her novel “Nermina’s Chance” were recently featured at Embark. Dina earned an MFA in fiction from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where she served as managing editor for the literary journal Chautauqua. Dina enjoys the privilege of teaching creative writing to a multi-generational group of community participants at the Cameron Art Museum, and also provides one-on-one writing coaching for victims of trauma. Much of her work is available at www.dinagreenberg.com.
Clay Holt is a writer and programmer living in the American South.
Alex Pickens grew up in the mountains of Virginia, where he spent his spare time reading the Classics, hiking, and fingerpicking the blues. Recently his work has appeared in Gone Lawn, Barely South Review, Jersey Devil Press, The Inkwell Journal, South 85, SFK Press, Pretty Owl Poetry, Eastern Iowa Review, and Moonpark Review. His work was most recently nominated for Best of the Net 2019.
Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri is a graduate of Colorado State University’s MFA program in fiction. His story, “Soon,” was nominated for a Pushcart. He has also had work nominated for The Best Small Fictions. Mir-Yashar’s work has been published or is forthcoming in Plum Tree Tavern, Ephemeral Elegies, 34 Orchard, and Ariel Chart, among others.
Kevin Sterne is the author of “From Your Jerry” (No Rest Press) and the editor in chief of Funny Looking Dog Quarterly. His writing has appeared in The Nervous Breakdown, Smokelong Quarterly, Maudlin House, Literary Orphans ,and some other places. He loves running and trees. kevinsternewrites.com
Edward Michael Supranowicz
Edward Michael Supranowicz has had artwork and poems published in the US and other countries. Both sides of his family worked in the coalmines and steel mills of Appalachia.
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