11:00 PM

11:00 PM

by Nate Sumislaski

 

midnight moon creeping up behind my back

and as eyes glare

beyond the horizon of desperation,

I’m praying for thunder.

Is it more or less moral than hoping for lightning?

 

anyhow,

my heart in the house of life

brings me back to death

for my hours are short

and my minutes shorter.

 

Do Beauty, Truth, Revolution

mean anything anymore?

well,

maybe not now Love

 

but they did at some point

 

in Time,

I will breath my fatal breath.

 

That I can be certain of

 

to inhale the black poison

of your heart

was worse

than all the alcohol I’ve ever had

 

and you used to seem like a crescent moon

in your youth

or maybe my youth’s imagination

but you were there.

I’m certain.

and I never got to know you

barely even said “Hello.”

 

is the blood stained on my saddle?

or brown brisk branches snap

like that one picture I have of you on my phone?

 

I tried to forget everything we had together

but it’s almost midnight

and the moon has clouded my           mind.

 


Nate Sumislaski is an English major at the University of Connecticut. In his free time, he enjoys strumming an acoustic guitar, going on hikes in deep and treacherous woods, and listening to Bob Dylan (but never all three at once).

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Fabrice Poussin: Three Photographs

Communion

 

 

communion

 

Death of the Artist

 

death-of-the-artist

 

Home Once

 

home-once

 


Fabrice Poussin teaches French and English at Shorter University. Most of the time he feels like a newborn in a strange world moving at the speed of light.  In consequence he is still exploring his surroundings and finding more and more intriguing details about everything he sees. He believes it is good to create a home within one’s own creative mind.  

R.J. Fox: FBI’s Least Wanted

FBI’s Least Wanted

A couple of years ago, I ventured into Detroit for a scouting expedition for what I thought was going to be my first feature film – a gritty, crime drama using Detroit as a backdrop. We were in search of the most run-down, decrepit locations imaginable – which is something Detroit has an unfortunate abundance of. Accompanying me on our mission was an international crew of immigrants and fellow Americans – a Polish storyboard artist, a British director, an American location scout and my fellow American producing partner.

It was a dangerous undertaking for four white suburbanites, venturing deep into inner city Detroit and into abandoned structures in various degrees of decay, ranging from neglect, to arson. Many were clearly currently being used as halfway houses and crack dens. Although it may have looked like we were traversing on a grand-scale, post-apocalyptic movie set, we know full-too-well that we were miles away from a Hollywood ending.

Well past midnight, we ventured into the infamous, virtually desolate Delray “neighborhood” of southwest Detroit, running concurrently along the Detroit River. We approached the entranceway to the man-made, industrial wasteland of Zug Island, which resembles the skyline of Gotham City (which Detroit later was used for in Batman vs. Superman. Although I was vaguely familiar with the island, I had no clue what actually happened there. I was naturally curious and rolling in the safety of my “crew”, I decided to take the plunge and see for myself.

“Let’s go check this out,” I chirped, turning onto the gravel driveway leading to a one-way bridge leading to the island.

“What is it?” my director asked.

“Not really sure,” I said. “But just look at it. We have to have this in our movie!”

“Yeah, but it says no trespassing,” said the storyboard artist, referring to the enormous “NO TRESPASSING” sign posted on the bridge.

“Guys, think about it,” I began. “What do you think we’ve been doing in all the other places we went to tonight?”

“Well, this isn’t abandoned,” said the director. “And they didn’t have ‘no trespassing’ signs on them.

“But it was still trespassing,” I said, holding serve. This point seemed to do the trick, as everyone finally agreed to “Fuck it” in the name of art. And when it was all said and done, in the face in of stupidity.

We traversed onto what resembled a post-apocalyptic, industrial wasteland of an island, we observed what was at least 100 cars in the massive parking lot wrapping around the endless Habitrail system of a factory. Despite the cars, there wasn’t a single human soul in sight. It seemed unfathomable that any human life could possibly survive – let alone work – on such a God-forsaken property. For those fortunate few who somehow managed to escape from the island had one possible outcome: death by cancer. This, theory, of course, assumed that there was any human life on the island at all. It was becoming increasingly apparent that we were in the human-less domain of robots – soulless cyborgs – hell-bent on destruction, programmed to wipe out any sign of life.

As we drove deeper into the abyss, none of us said a word, as though in mutual fear of voice-activated robot snipers. Or, as was more likely the case, we were paralyzed with the realization that robot snipers were already targeting our car.

From a distance, the flaming towers of Zug Island resembled an enormous, scrambled pipe organ. Up close, the island resembled the gateway to hell, as enormous flames gushed out of industrial smokestacks, accompanied by the cacophony of various clicks and clanks, bleeps and bloops of whirligigs, gremlins and what-not overlooking an industrial wasteland devoid of human existence.

“Welcome to Cyberdyne Systems,” my co-producer said.

“Cyberdyne?” I asked.

“You know … where Terminator and its ilk are manufactured. Skynet and shit.”

“Oh, yeah!” I said, realizing, as flashing lights approached us from behind, seemingly out of nowhere. I couldn’t help but think of mind the driverless police cars in a Ray Bradbury story. A human voice (or something programmed to sound human) commanded: “Pull over at once. I repeat, pull over at once.”

Since it was clear we were the only humans in sight (clearly, the police were robots), we had no doubt that the command was intended for us. Since we were traversing across a parking lot, there was really nowhere to “pull over” so I just stopped the car, awaiting my final moments on earth.

The cop car’s spotlight was blinding and nobody was coming out of the vehicle.

“What the fuck is happening?” the Polish storyboard artist said with genuine panic in his voice.

“Great idea, Bob,” my producing partner said. “If we go to jail because of this…” His voice trailed off.

“I’m sure we’ll just be asked to leave,” I said, trying to remain calm as any captain of a ship should, simultaneously shitting my pants.

“What is this place?” the British director said.

“Zug Island,” I said. “That’s all I know.”

“But I mean, what goes on here?”

“I honestly don’t know,” I said. “But I have a feeling we’re about to find out.”   The fact that we didn’t find out only deepened the mystery and intrigue of our trespass.

After five excruciating minutes, a figure finally emerged from the vehicle, swallowed by shadows. If it weren’t the cop from Terminator 2, it would be Robocop. This was Detroit after all.

Finally, a grim-faced, human-looking security officer approached my window, draped in a jet black security uniform, adorned in a red shield on his shoulder that read “Zug Island Authority Patrol”.

“May I ask why you are trespassing on the premises of Zug Island?” the officer asked, with a steely gaze and eyes that seemed incapable of blinking and emotion.

“We’re scouting locations for a feature film. We come in peace.”

“IDs please,” the soulless officer said, not buying what its programmer downloaded into his memory as a bullshit excuse.

We produced our IDs and Officer Android disappeared back into the blinding light of his vehicle. We waited 10 minutes for him – it – to process our data.

Once again, nobody said a word. We were frozen with fear.

While we waited, it dawned on me that in my car was a Polish national and a UK national. On the surface, nothing overtly suspicious, but just off-kilter enough to alert at least some suspicion.

The droid officer finally returned.

“Do you have any cameras on your person?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“How many?”

“Two, I think. Right guys?”

‘Yes, two.”

“Please hand them over.

We turned our cameras in and I felt deep despair in the pit of my stomach, as I thought about that hundreds of personal photos from various vacations and family events that I would probably never see again. This was before the days of the Cloud and Dropbox.

The cop pocketed out cameras, before handing us back our IDs and issuing a stern warning.

“If you come back onto the premises of Zug Island again, you will be arrested. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes,” we all replied in unison.

“Now go. Leave the premises of Zug Island at once,” leaving me fully convinced that we were communicating with an automaton.

“Can we get our cameras back?”

“No. Your cameras are now the property of Zug Island.”

“Just curious,” I began. “What exactly goes on here … on the premises of Zug Island?”

The cop simply glared at me with his beady, soulless robot eyes, before heading back to his car. It was clear to me that he wasn’t programmed with a response to this particular question, which made perfect sense. He then proceeded to follow us right off of the island until we were safely back on the mainland of inner city, abandoned Detroit.

“Well, that was fucked up,” the British director said.

“Yeah, probably a dumb idea on my part.”

“You think?” said my producing partner.

“But so worth it!”

“Was it?” the director said.

“I think so.”

I would later change my tune on this assertion. At that moment, however, I assumed that this ordeal was over at that point. I also knew sure as hell that I would not be returning to the premises of Zug Island … ever … again.

When I returned to the safe confines of my domicile, I immediately Googled Zug Island in an attempt to uncover just what exactly was so top secret about it. The only thing I could find was a vague reference to “top-secret government projects”, which – in its ambiguity – clearly explained the tight security and confiscated cameras. The lack of specific details was even more confounding.

A few days later, my theory that it was all over was proven bunk when I received a phone call from my mom, which served as yet another reminder why being named after your father has its disadvantages.

“The FBI left Dad a message on his work phone,” my mom began, filling me with dread. “They want to interview him about his trespassing incident on the premises of Zig Zag Island … or something like that. Do you know anything about this?”

“As a matter of fact,” I told my mom. “Yes.”

“What did you do?” she asked.

I explained to her what happed. She questioned my judgment, then gave me the number to the FBI Special Agent awaiting my phone call.

I’m not quite sure why they contacted my father to begin with. Sure, we shared the same name, but not the same address. Yet somehow, they tracked him down at his workplace.

Shaking in fear, I called the number, already envisioning my future life on Guantanamo Bay.

“Hello, this is Robert Fox. I’m calling about trespassing on the premises of Zug Island. You guys called my father, but it was actually me.”

“Oh, yes. Mr. Fox. We need to talk.”

“Am I in some sort of trouble?” I asked.

“We would like to question you regarding your involvement trespassing on the premises of Zug Island. Can we come to your place of residence at your earliest convenience?”

My convenience? Are actual terrorists given such courtesy? I definitely hoped not, while simultaneously grateful in this particular instance. Realizing I really had no choice, we arranged a meeting for the following afternoon, imagining myself slowly turning into a character out of a Kafka story.

The FBI had me pegged me as a terrorist suspect. This was my new reality.

Fuck.

I immediately called my international “crew” to see if they, too, were contacted. They were not. I was sure that it was only a matter of time.

“What do you mean by the FBI?” my co-producer asked.

“What do you mean, what do I mean?” I asked. “The F-B-I. The one and only.”

“This is the last thing I have time to deal with.”

“Well, hopefully, I can clear the air and everyone else will be off the hook. “

“Just like you said we wouldn’t get in trouble for trespassing to being with?”

“Yeah, well ..”

He had a point.

“Right now, it’s only my fish to fry.”

“It better be.” Click.

Subsequent conversations with the rest of my crew followed a similar script. I scratched my head over this, asking myself repeatedly … why just me?

And then it dawned on me. I lived in Dearborn, Michigan. Dearborn is home to the largest Muslim population outside of the Middle East. Not only did I live in Dearborn. I lived in east Dearborn, where over 90% of the largest Muslim population outside of the Middle East called home.

Having a (now ex) wife from the former Soviet Union certainly added to the suspected international espionage. However, if that was the case, then why weren’t my international crewmembers also being spoken to? The only explanation I could discern was that I was the driver. My passengers, on the other hand, could have been held captive, against their will, for all the FBI was concerned.

I decided it was probably a good idea to let my wife know that the FBI was planning on stopping by.

“What?” she asked, flabbergasted.

“The FBI. They’re coming to talk to me.”

“Why? What the fuck did you do?”

“I trespassed.”

“Where?”

“On the premises of Zug Island.”

“Where’s Zug Island?”

“In Detroit. I’ll explain later.”

“Why does this type of shit always happen to you?”

I had no clue what she meant. Nothing even remotely close to this had ever happened before. But I didn’t have the time, nor the energy to inquire further.

“Everything is going to be fine,” I said, suddenly realizing that his conversation was in all likelihood wiretapped. It was only a matter of time before I would hear the whirring of a helicopter.

“I have to get back to work,” I finally said to my wife, realizing that I was now more afraid to tell her about our confiscated camera more than I was the FBI.

I continued to feel a growing sense of paranoia, despite my rational self being fully aware that I had absolutely nothing to incriminate myself with, aside from a simple trespassing violation. Yet, somehow, I couldn’t help but feel that I was a marked man. That my top-secret life as a terrorist was so top-secret, that not even I knew that I was a terrorist. These are the overriding thoughts one has when the FBI IS COMING OVER TO INVESTIGATE YOU!

After work, I rushed home and prepared to meet my maker. I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I somehow guilty beyond a simple act of trespassing – that I was truly a terror suspect. It was similar to the irrational feeling I get in airport security lines. I am overcome with the paranoid sense that security is on to me and therefore, I start looking guilty, which only makes me look even more suspicious, giving them an actual reason to suspect me, rather than the imagined one in my mind which kicked off the whole thing. It’s a vicious cycle.

As I was straightening up my flat, I reminded myself that acting nervous and jittery wouldn’t help my cause, but this thought was only making me more nervous. No amount of deep breaths or medication could help me now. And then it dawned on me that it probably didn’t help my cause that my walls were all bare in preparation of a paint job we were about to do, creating a sense that my living space was simply temporary, a terrorist cell awaiting activation. So I did the only thing I could think of to neutralize the situation: I put a nail into an empty hole and grabbed my crucifix from my bedroom. It was my only defense.

With over an hour to spare, I sat down in my La-Z-Boy and turned on Fox News to appear as patriotic as possible when the SWAT team arrived. I tried to take a nap, but it was no use. Time continued to trudge on in a slow drip.

My hour of reckoning finally arrived when the doorbell rang, alleviating my fear that their entrance would be heralded with the abrupt, crashing of windows. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad, after all. Maybe I would live to see another day – that I wouldn’t be stripped of both my freedom and my dignity.

I let the two agents in, trying with all my might to appear as calm as possible, despite my rattling nerves. I politely offered them a seat, as well as something to drink. They sat down, and politely declined my drink offer, likely fearing a ricin attack, or an apartment full of explosives.

The two agents seemed nice enough and far more “human” – not to mention humane – than the emotionless, droid officer from Zug Island. Agent #1 was tall and thin, with an almost scholarly demeanor. Agent #2 was short and stocky like a prototypical blue collar beat cop and probably reported to Agent #1. Neither agent fit the profile of the stereotypical FBI agent that I envisioned, nor did I resemble the stereotypical profile of a terrorist. Then again, my olive skin tone from my half-Italian heritage might lead one to suspect that I was of middle-eastern descent.

Once we were settled, the interrogation process began. I tried to remain as calm as humanly possible. Other than the uncontrollable, repeated wiping of sweaty palms on my pants, I think I did okay, considering the surreal, nerve-wrecking circumstances. If I was this nervous being an innocent man, how does an actual suspect keep it together?

Agent #1 did all the questioning, as agent #2 scribbled down notes.

“So, what were you doing on the premises of Zug Island?”

“Scouting locations for a feature film.”

“A future film?”

“A feature film. And, I suppose, future film.”

“About what?”

“A gritty crime story set in Detroit.”

“Sounds interesting.”

“Thanks.”

“Have you ever been involved in terrorist activity?”

“No.”

“Are you affiliated with a terrorist organization?”

“No.”

“Are you aiding or abetting a terrorist organization?”

“Have you ever conspired with a recognized enemy of the United States?”

“No.”

“Okay, I guess our work here is done. Thank you for your time.”

The agents stood up, in perfect, synchronized unison.

“Wait, that’s it?” I asked, realizing that I sounded disappointment that my interrogation was over so quickly.

“Yes. We had to interview you as a formality, but we weren’t really worried,” Agent #1 said, as he handed me his business card. And then he threw me for an even bigger loop:

“By the way, since you live here in east Dearborn,” Agent #2 began. “We’d appreciate it if you could be our eyes and ears around here.”

And just like that, I was no longer a terror suspect…I was a quasi-FBI informant. God bless America.

“If you see anything suspicious,” Agent #1 began “Let us know immediately. And whatever you do, stay off of the premises of Zug Island.”

“I can assure you of that,” I said. “But what exactly goes on those premises?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know…” Agent #1 said.

Yeah, no shit. I do want to know.

“Any chance I can get my camera back?”

“We’re afraid not,” Agent #2 said.

And he meant it.

As I led the agents to the door, I still couldn’t believe how easy I was let off the hook. I was never more relieved, despite the lingering paranoia the whole experience left behind.

I never saw anything suspicious lurking in my neighborhood, so never had the need to call. But it sure felt pretty cool to have a direct connection to the FBI. I still have the business card till this day. Despite the unfortunate misunderstanding, I continue to experience minor inconveniences at the airport, but nothing that leaving early doesn’t rectify. Call me paranoid, but I’m pretty sure my brush with the FBI has at least a little bit something to do with this.

Regarding the future, feature film that was indirectly the catalyst for this experience, it is still yet to be produced, but I remain as determined to get it made, as I am to get off of the FBI watch list. Of course, if I had my druthers and had to choose one outcome versus the other, my dream takes the cake.


 

rugburn

rugburn

by Marnie Cozzens

 

 

because it’s just,

i can’t ever turn my mind off

because it’s on a constant live stream projecting onto nothing

because everything is a fragment

because everything jumps from one thing to another

before finishing

because they call this a “mixed state”

because it starts with something like realizing

i’ve never had sex on carpet before

and wondering if i’d get rug burn and

why they call it a burn

because is it an actual burn and to what degree?

because who came up with carpet muncher

or munchies?

because i spend so much time sitting on the carpet, half naked,

munching on bacon and brussel sprouts and wondering

why kids don’t like their vegetables

because when you put caramelized fat on anything

it becomes edible

because when you say i love you

i can swallow any negative feeling i’ve ever felt

except for the fact that i still hate

because i can’t stop thinking about how beautiful rap songs can be

but when you say them one line at a time

they sound broken and that’s how i feel

like those times i get parking tickets

because i forgot what days street cleaning are

or when i fall asleep on my heating pad and

it sears patterned waves into my back

because this isn’t mania

because if drake can create beautiful one liners, why can’t i?

because “the square root of 69 is 8 something?”

because i spent most of my math classes figuring out why

word problems never made any sense to me

because numbers held no emotion and words made me feel

because before pre-algebra her brother slid his hand down my

hello kitty underwear and

because after geometry i learned what i was like to be bent

at an acute angle

by three boys

at a time

because everyone told me to keep quiet

because i promise this wasn’t mania

because when i told you my story you delicately helped me flip the pages

because in january you read Bluets

and quoted prose to me all winter

because blue is the warmest color

because we laid in bed like belugas

under white sheets

because i could tell you were mad when i stained your pillowcases

with cough drop colored drool and

because i know you didn’t know what anxiety actually looked like

until my sweat pooled on top of your comforter

because our shared comfort is

baby food and frozen juice boxes

because you don’t make fun of me for still feeling like a child

because this isn’t mania

because most of the time i’m still alone on my carpet

because i’m debating if i can give myself rug burn

because who knows

when i’ll be on carpet with you

because carpet isn’t clean

like numbers, like you are towards me,

because I want you to crash and burn into feeling something

uncontrollable towards me

because sometimes i like uncontrollable

because this isn’t mania

because nowadays survival rates in burn victims are higher than half

because even though i know those aren’t perfect odds,

i’ve always been a survivor

because you don’t have to say it,

but i know you love me better when i’m strong

because that one time when i got picked up in an ambulance, i saw your face

because that other time i got out of surgery

and i could feel you pushing me away, but

because that one time i shit my pants at the ferry building

you took a nap with me afterwards

because you took a photo of me naked,

a photo of me vulnerable

because i asked you if I could afterwards,

and you laughed in my face

because i like your laugh and

because i’ve never laughed so hard with anyone else

because you make the weird spill out in me and

because you tell me that it’s lovely

when i’m not sad

or mad

or in an uncontrollable state

because even though it’s not mania,

you don’t have time for anything else

because you still don’t have time

because you can’t do serious

because i gave myself a rug burn

because burns are too serious and

because you said you didn’t really like the concept of rugs

because now,

you.

because this is not mania

because

because i promise you,

this is not mania.

 

Two Poems by Isabella Barricklow

Speak

by Isabella Barricklow

 

There is a word for the exact moment that you are suddenly very aware of your own heartbeat.

It sounds like the syncopated syllables of bare feet on sidewalk,

rain falling on piles of brown leaves

in November.

 

There is no word for caring intensely about the molecular makeup of the ground in front of you.

 

There is a word for the hypothetical conversations that you play out in your head.

All the things you would say to your legs if they would listen:

Why are you so pale?

What is the point of running

if you’re not going to get any thinner?

How do we make each other

beautiful?

 

There is no word for loss.

 

There is a word for the feeling of frustration that you can only inhabit one place at a time.

You have to be in the kitchen

or out of it,

you can only put out one fire at once

but you have enough water

to turn them all to piles of smoking char.

 

There is a word for the feeling of being inside during a thunderstorm.

You think you might know it, but even when

you are pressed into bodies so sweaty

that their beads of salt sting your eyes,

there is no one to ask,

you are still

alone.

 

There is no word for you. But they choose one anyway.

 

 

where i’m from

by Isabella Barricklow

 

it doesn’t ever

rain.

 

the only coffee brand is called “thunder”

and we sprinkle the grounds

on our morning

grapefruit halves.

 

where i’m from, all our pants

are spandex

or leather leggings.

 

our favorite color is red

 

like the reflection of a wolf’s eyes at night.

 

we don’t let anyone call us baby.

 

where i’m from there is no wine,

only whiskey.

we collect the bottles and throw them

at our windows,

enjoy the spiderweb splatter.

the glass can’t protest,

is compelled to

destroy itself

 

every time.

 

where i’m from we have knives

tattooed on our shoulders,

one

for every time

we’ve bled out.

 

we light fires by squeezing

our fists and

fry eggs

in our palms.

 

i collect the egg shells.

 

in this world they are illegal fractures,

fragile pieces

that no longer fit.

 

i keep them hidden

in my pillowcase

 

next to a brown-edged peony petal

and a bluebird’s cobalt feather.

 


Isabella Barricklow is an undergraduate student at Central Michigan University who loves all things Spanish, social justice, and dark-chocolate flavored. She has been published before in The Central Review.

Southbound in February

Southbound in February

by James Croal Jackson

 

Almost swerved to Akron

to delay our southbound silence

before another car skidded into steel.

We smoked exhaust

with sedans which scrunched

around us. Wiper squeals

revealed hymnal landscapes

through murky glass.

I revel in footprints buried by snow

yet do not know what–

if our black tires composed

cadenzas in the slickening slush,

ambulance’s red, beating

bongos thumping toward us

–what we could have said

that would have ever been enough.

 


James Croal Jackson graduated from Baldwin Wallace University with degrees in Film and Creative Writing. After moving to Los Angeles to pursue film, he realized he would rather pursue poetry. His work has since been published in magazines including The Bitter Oleander, Rust + Moth, and OxMag. Find him online at jimjakk.com.

Busted

Busted

by Bill Teitelbaum

 

Except that he’d been arrested everything would have been fine, Walter Roman said.

He’d been home for several hours by then, but now that supper was over and the boys were next door at the Bensons watching a ballgame, he asked Dorothy to sit down with him at the kitchen table.

“Look, let’s try not to kill the messenger, okay?”

Plus, it was a lame bust to begin with, Walter said. The hooker was a cop. With appropriate counsel a case for entrapment would have been child’s play. The charge would have been vacated prior to arraignment.

Still, he had been busted, and the police had impounded the car.

“But you said it was being fixed,” Dorothy said.

Dorothy was trying to focus her attention. But how could she not have known about this?

“The car, too?” she asked.

“But she wasn’t a hooker, she was a cop,” Walter explained.

“But what did she say? Was she pretty?”

“Dorothy, she was a cop. What difference does it make?”

“But why didn’t you tell me yesterday? Why did you wait until now to tell me?”

That’s what made it so confusing, Dorothy realized. He had made love so gently to her last night. They had been so happy. Afterwards they talked about remodeling the kitchen.

She looked about now at the scarred cabinets and crowded countertops, the electric stove she had never really gotten used to. All that would have to wait now, Dorothy thought.

But it was all in the way you looked at it, Walter said. She knew perfectly well that his family had been uncommunicative. That’s why it was so hard for him to talk about things. Until the arrest in fact he had taken some pride in this. He didn’t like to bother people. He considered this one of his more commendable qualities.

But she had trusted him, Dorothy said. How could he have betrayed their privacy that way?

Walter sighed, offering his upturned hands at first but then settled them in his lap. You would have thought both of them had been arrested.

But how could he say he loved her, Dorothy asked, if he could have sex with someone else?

*

Had she really asked him that? Well, she had asked for it then. You’d have thought she was prepared for his answer.

While Walter to his unending regret had seized the moment as an invitation to unburden.

Did she think it was easy for him, he asked. A sex-life with teenaged kids in the house was difficult enough. Two sex-lives was work.

There was no remorse or even sorrow in this travesty of a confession. He was only being honest with her. Who was he hurting, Walter asked.

“But Walter, it’s disgusting. Can’t you see it’s disgusting?”

He nodded ruefully to this, but apologizing in the circumstances seemed pointless by then.

“I always knew you would feel that way, but I was sort of hoping you would understand it.”

“You mean that I would tolerate it?”

But he never did it to the exclusion of the important things. It was like stopping after work for a beer, he said. Like getting a haircut. It wasn’t like he was involved with them.

But he had always been so considerate with her, she said. She couldn’t understand it.

But she liked him that way, Walter reminded her. It wasn’t her fault that she was nice. “I always thought you were right about those things.”

For her sake then, he took care of those other things himself. He didn’t want to trouble her with it. It was like everything else he took care of, Walter explained — the jiggly light switches, the float valves in the toilet tanks? She could look around the house, he offered.

Dorothy was still struggling with these putative analogies when Walter returned from the basement with the waxed canvas duffel in which he kept his collection — postcards and playing cards, DVD’s, magazines, comic books and calendars, almanacs, peephole viewers, flip-books that he riffled to create the illusion of animation.

“You really like this stuff?” Dorothy asked.

But ‘like’ was not the word, she discovered. Those little panel books, with their scabrous parodies of popular comic-strip characters — Popeye the Sailor, Nancy and Sluggo, Maggie and Jiggs, Joe Palooka — those were collectors’ items, Walter told her.

*

Dorothy saw now that she had probably gone a little crazy during those first weeks.

Who was she, this prostitute he’d solicited? What did she look like? What had she said to him? Had he approached her, Dorothy asked, or had she approached him? Wasn’t he afraid? What if he brought something home to her? They had parasites those people. They hated people. Spreading diseases was fine with them.

Or did he hate her — maybe that was it, she said. Why else would he humiliate her that way? Didn’t he see how insulting it was? What had she done to provoke all that? Didn’t he realize that trusting him might already have cost her life?

Her heart would explode if she didn’t talk to someone, but her friends were not the kinds of friends she could confide her confusion to. She had phone-pals who probably would have been happy to listen, but the occasions whenever more than two of them got together almost always took on that breathless, chittering quality of a slumber party, and the women seemed so hungry for these reliefs that Dorothy didn’t see how she could impose on them.

Dorothy’s doctor had called by then with the reports from the lab. All negative thank God, she was fine he told her. But despite the leavening effect of this news, she felt curiously undercut by its dearth of consequence.

“Dorothy, I really don’t see why we have to make such a big thing out of this. It was wrong but I’m not a different person all of a sudden and if you could calm down for a second, I think you’ll see you’re really sort of over-reacting a little.

“I know you don’t want to hear this,” he added, as if talking about it could make it all right, Dorothy thought, like anything else they might be talking about.

But it was not all right, Dorothy said. He was her husband, or he was not her husband.

*

Walter offered to move out then, to give her some space as he put it, but wandering those formerly familiar rooms seemed only to heighten her confusion. Their familiarity itself seemed to mock and reproach her. But when she tried to explain her decision to the boys, it seemed as if they, too, had lives that were their real lives. They understood everything, you would have thought. They stood patiently, letting Dorothy embrace them, but they felt sorry for her. Her tender mind embarrassed them. Obviously, they too had humored her with assurances of regular habits and wholesome companions, just as they stood now humoring her admonitions to take care of the house. She had known all that for years, she saw now. In their sullen way they had probably imagined themselves protecting her. Even now they had that look.

*

Dorothy had taken a small apartment within walking distance of the mall where she was the day-manager of a jewelry franchise and two evenings a week she attended a re-entry class at the high school where she worked at planting herself and living in the present. There was also a mental aerobics class she was thinking of joining, a combination of reading and meditation, competitive discussion, board games, low-impact calisthenics and interpersonal problem solving. That, too, would be good for her, she thought. But at night she lay awake and in a few weeks convinced herself that everything had been her fault. Though not fat she was soft. She had short legs, stupid hair, dull skin, and though her butt was small its droop depressed her. If he’d cared for her at all, she thought, wouldn’t he have said something?

*

Naturally all her friends disappeared— she was a carrier now, a home-wrecker herself. Answering the door in a bustier and hose? Even the most loyal of them had fixed her in place. Suddenly it was as if her husband’s arrest was the only thing that had ever happened to her, and whenever the ladies spoke to her now it was always with the same tiresome, condescending concern. Not how was work, or do you feel like a coffee, or would you like to go shopping? No. “How are you, Dorothy? How do you feel today?” Their pity seemed only to magnify her losses. Cheerfulness would have felt reckless to those terrified women.

*

And now he wanted her back? But it didn’t make sense. Why, she asked at their weekly dinners. For what, if she wasn’t good enough? She wasn’t sexy, she wasn’t alluring. As in the costume romances she favored, her erotic imagination peaked with kisses, languid in a fugue of waves, a surge of brine, a falling away.

I always thought you liked my kisses, Walter said.

She did, she said. She had. But it wasn’t the same anymore. She would have felt childish and stupid kissing him now.

But I miss you, Dorothy. I loved making love with you, Walter said.

Yes, she thought bitterly, like home-cooking?

Yet Walter for his part seemed to think she was being petty. “Dorothy, why are you doing this?” he asked. It was as if he was embarrassed by her severity, as if he would never have expected such willfulness from her. “You’re my heart, Dorothy. I count on you. How can you be this mad at me?”

She loved him, too, that was the madness of it. Angry, hurt, diminished  as she was, nevertheless her impulse was to help him. She felt unfaithful resenting him so much.

“I just don’t understand how you did those things, Walter. I don’t even know really if I want to.”

Had their whole marriage been a joke? The memories of her life seemed impossible to her now. Her devotion to him? Her self-respect?

“Dorothy, you’re going to drive yourself crazy this way. We have our lives in each other. How can you walk away from that?”

“Don’t you dare tell me what I can do,” she replied. “You don’t care about me. You never cared about me.”

“I know you’re upset, Dorothy, but that’s not fair.”

*

 “Men are scum,” one of the women in her group said.

Yes, that made it easy, Dorothy thought. Reduce half the world to a petulant generalization.

A part-timer at the shop, Charlotte Buhler, had recommended Dorothy to this church-basement forum, which Dorothy appreciated in principle, but she felt pity for these slack and tentative, rather furtive women. They brooded and nagged but seemed lacking in the ordinary gumption to belong to themselves. Indeed all they truly seemed to yearn for was the ordinary affection one might offer a pet, for rather than be manless and somewhat vague as a result on the question of their necessity, they would suffer rapes, thefts, disfiguring assaults, public humiliation, financial abuse, and then, in pursuit of revenge, they would humiliate themselves further by having sex with people who didn’t care about them. They seemed shallow and unfeminine to Dorothy, perhaps vengeful and cunning, but broken and without character.

Nor were they supportive of her particularly. He was not a gambler or a drug addict, they observed. Presumably she was supposed to be grateful for this. Was he ever violent with her? Did he drink? Did he run up bills? Did he write bad checks? Was he into pain? Did he ever choke her, or force her to have sex with him, or take stuff from her parents, or lock her out? Did he ever destroy anything of hers, a doll or a keepsake or a pretty dress? Was he jealous of her? Did he distrust her? Did he follow her around? Did he ridicule her to the kids? Did he show up at her work and pick fights with her colleagues? Did he make her get high with him? Did he try to take over the money, or criticize her shopping?  Did he force her to say that other men were attractive to her, or that she had fantasies of being with them?

You don’t get it, Dorothy said. That wasn’t what she was for him. He was a very sentimental man, this Walter Roman. Once they went to one of those lovers’ retreats — one of those spas with the heart-shaped beds and the in-room whirlpools? The women waited patiently then for the drowning scene, and when it didn’t come they seemed confused. “Who paid?” someone asked.

*

Dorothy made it her business to be in court for Walter’s appearance, and it gratified her that the presiding judge was a woman. She wanted him to be punished, and it puzzled her that the judge could be so skeptical about the arrest and so cynical about the charges. He was found guilty of course, but when he was sentenced to only eight hours of community service, Dorothy felt betrayed all over again, and at their periodic meetings, ostensibly to resolve matters of household administration, somehow the conversation always turned on the question of what she had done to warrant disgrace.

But he had never made comparisons, Walter protested. He had never asked her to do things that he knew she wouldn’t do and he never complained that she was unimaginative or incurious. He accepted her as she was, he said, narrow maybe but her sincerity touched him. There was always something of the wedding night about their lovemaking. She was always new for him that way. He had never wanted to spoil that.

“You adjusted,” she said.

Walter made an effort to maintain a neutral expression, but his head seemed to swivel away from her despite him.

“I was dull so you adjusted,” Dorothy said.

“It really wasn’t that bad for me, Dorothy. It was nice that you were like that. I respected it.”

He looked on the bright side, he was telling her. He used his imagination. She was old-school, this little Dorothy of his, a loving, home-made, one-man woman. She was limited but she could see the compensations for him in her limitations. He would never have to worry about her. She would never be unpredictable enough to constitute a problem.

No, of course it wasn’t always wonderful, Walter said. But neither was it ever disappointing for him. How could it be, he asked.

It was just that he couldn’t understand why she struggled to hold onto these petty resentments when with even less effort they might put the past behind them.

Open-mouthed, Dorothy sat back behind another untouched salad, the spit drying on her teeth as Walter renewed his commitment to their marriage. It could even be better now, he said, he should have been more open with her, he should have trusted her more, since at least where the sex was concerned he saw now that he might have been as old-school as she was.

“You mean I can be a whore too now,” she said, “if I put my mind to it.”

*

That fall Dorothy began taking evening classes toward an accounting degree at the community college and the boys, apparently growing up, were taking better care of things. They washed their own clothes and saw to the grounds, they kept the cars repaired, and to Dorothy’s relief they seemed also to have discovered themselves lacking that serendipitous combination of math skills, menace, prudence and gall that was essential for selling drugs at a profit. But money worries kept Dorothy in a constant state of crisis — she was still waking in the small hours of the morning with that sudden vacancy of water dropping from beneath a raft — and though her classes were supposed to be improving her earning power, her fatigue made it difficult for Dorothy to think about the future in terms of concrete objectives. The counseling center at the college had helped her with the budgeting, and when Walter petitioned for child-support, Dorothy finally dismissed her lawyer and retained another to renegotiate the settlement; but she had no savings, no retirement plan, nothing put aside for the kids’ educations, and since each month saw her carrying a higher balance on her cards, each day seemed to take on its own wretchedly precarious quality. She found herself counting and recounting her change at shop counters, triple-checking her bank statements, and repeatedly verifying the deductions itemized on the coupons attached to her salary checks; yet for all these pains she would neglect to enter the odd payment or ATM transaction in her check register and fail regularly to debit the account for minor service fees. Inadvertently she would hang the A-line jumpers that comprised most of her wardrobe on the same hangers as her tailored skirts and then spend days in circular and futile, broken-English quarrels with the dry-cleaning people. She would misplace her house-keys, neglect dental appointments, forget the names of regular customers. Often there was a feeling that information essential to her happiness was deliberately being withheld from her. But by whom? For what reason?

She might have been ready to see men again, though, and she wondered if those intermittent throes of anxiety and revulsion might really be a kind of anticipatory excitement. Yet the whole idea of getting to know someone seemed preposterous and impossible to her. Dorothy herself was not to be trusted. What else had her own life taught her except this? She was supposed to feel tougher but only felt exhausted, her best ambition to avoid risking challenge.

But it was supposed to be fun now, her coffee ladies assured her. These were her new companions, shop-women like herself employed at the mall, cynical and funny, rudely affectionate. What was at stake they asked, shaking her playfully by her upper arms.  She knew more now, they reminded her, she could take it easy with herself.

But she felt pathetic, she complained. He’d made such a baboon of her. It was like those sieges of premenstrual malaise she used to suffer in adolescence when her own body had felt uninhabitable. That she had lived this long and what had it meant? She was like one of those dismal young girls who got pregnant and had babies as a kind of magical way to compel all the rest of that spun-sugar flummery to materialize, the hubby and home with the cheery fire, the holiday dinners with life-long friends, the tinsel-draped tree, the pie in the oven, Daddy proud and Mom content. Her soul had been mortgaged to those lace-paper doilies. It had all been so easy that way, like a child’s belief in Santa Claus, some delusional faith that everything effortlessly would be all right and that life like someone’s kindly Uncle Ned would make an exception for her.

What do you take me for, she had asked Walter over and over. Had she really said that? You would have thought she still had her dignity. She used to flatter herself that way, that there was honor in her simplicity.

But it was only a kind of incompetence really. She wasn’t principled, she was just lazy. Maturity was too difficult so she dismissed it as cynicism.

Well, look at her then. Look where her spurious naiveté had gotten her.

*

Although maybe in the last analysis that’s what hope was, Dorothy thought, that you could still be appalled by things.

It didn’t sound like hope though, did it? Or were hope and despair just different responses to the same abject helplessness?

She took the sputtering saucepan of canned soup from the stove and then poured another small glass of the white jug-wine she had taken to drinking recently to help her sleep.

The question was how did you say yes to things without asking to have your brains knocked out? She envied those women who seemed able with such apparent ease to fill that space between before and after, who seemed to take themselves so casually, who had that happy faculty for attributing a uniform care to whatever they might be doing. They were stylish women. You couldn’t hide those powers. Their wisdom showed in the angle of their heads, in their languor, and in the infinite gradations of expression they could draw from the corners of their mouths. She envied that capacity for occupation they seemed to have, diverting themselves with small pleasures of the senses. For herself the yard-sale excursions they invited her to join seemed always to take an extraordinary effort, but for them there seemed immense satisfaction simply turning things in their hands. They bought flowers for themselves. They traveled together. They bought season subscriptions to local theaters. Doubtless, whenever that old itch came upon them, they would simply go out and get someone to scratch it for them.  “Wrapped in plastic,” they laughed. “Always get it wrapped in plastic.”

Had they always been that way, she wondered, or was it simply an age they had reached? They felt like outlaws to her, like the bad-girls she had feared and condemned in high school, casually defiant, bending their resentments to resemble pride. Indifference like that had always seemed disreputable to Dorothy, a sort of dirtiness, but now she wondered if a bit of defiance might be just what she was missing.

Except that was a lie, too. She knew what she was missing.

But more vivid in its absence was the simple, incidental, day-to-day touching, those dozens of small casual pecks and pressings  that seemed now to have anchored her in place and stitched the pieces of her life together. She glanced then at the soup and found she had no appetite for it. In the bathroom she undressed quickly and waited for the shower to run warm.

The Cambodian woman who did her nails had recently told Dorothy a happily-ever-after story about one of her clients, a widow who ended up marrying her former brother-in-law, and from time to time Dorothy would hear similar stories from her coffee ladies, about women recycling old beaus recovered like rummage-sale items at class reunions, but when Dorothy assessed her own chances for one of these fairy-tale redemptions, her best prospects seemed either the state lottery or perhaps some pensioned halfwit with a passion for stretch marks.

The water was hot and after dialing the taps to adjust the temperature, she stepped into the tub. This was better. The percussive warmth quickly penetrated her muscles, lifting the tension from her shoulders and carrying it down the backs of her legs. She turned and leaned forward, supporting herself with the towel bar, to let the water massage her lower back.

Relaxed now, she began to lather her body, but almost immediately her own hands embarrassed her so that she had to start over, soaping herself again but this time with a coarse washcloth. Probably it was the wine, Dorothy thought. Lately it had become a little too easy to drink. But a moment later, lathering her hair, she had to wonder if she might be truly drunk. The water tracing the rounds of her body felt strangely thick, like a warm syrup, and beneath the thrum of the shower she seemed to hear a rising din in her own body, a pulling heaviness at first like a weight of fatigue but almost immediately more insistent, like something warm and boneless turning over in sleep, yawning and then gathering itself. Her spine seemed to shrink. She felt knotted, but then the knottedness seemed to melt in her, opening like a peeling open of wings. For a minute or more she couldn’t trust herself to move.

Though she couldn’t deny the relief she felt. Apparently she was a lot like Walter, Dorothy thought. She didn’t want to bother anyone.

 


Bill Teitelbaum studies writing at the Kitchen Table College of Continuing Education in Lincolnwood, Illinois. His work has appeared in journals such as 2 Bridges Review, Bayou, The Iconoclast, Jewish Fiction and Rhino, and in anthologies such as Western Michigan University’s Art of the One-Act. His short story, “Busted,” is part of a collection about the newly single called Are You Seeing Anyone?