Monday, September 26, 2011

“A Visit” by Dylan Eitharong

Ray stood in the kitchen and poured another drink into an old chipped coffee mug. Jess sat on the couch, turned around and watching him while she smoked a cigarette.

“Aren’t you going to offer me something?” she asked.

Ray turned around and opened the fridge and grabbed a can of beer, tossed it to her. She caught it.

“You can have one of these,” Ray said quietly. “Careful when you open that.”

She popped the tab and took a sip.


Ray drank a little bit of his whiskey. Outside it was dark and raining heavily. Jess was hanging her head and arms over the back of the couch, looking down at the floor with her cigarette dangling from the side of her mouth and holding the beer can by the top. Ray grabbed his mug, dimmed the lights, and walked out of the kitchen and sat down on the couch next to Jess. She stayed in the same position. He leaned back and put his feet up on the coffee table, on top of some magazines and papers that were scattered about, and grabbed the remote that was resting on the arm of the couch and turned on the TV. He flipped through the channels until he came to some old black and white movie that was on, turned the volume almost all the way down, until just a quiet murmur came from the speakers. He drank some more of his whiskey as the smoke from Jess’s cigarette floated up past his head. She sipped on her beer. Neither of them said anything for a while. Neither of them was sure what to say. She had picked her gaze up from the floor and was taking in what she saw around Ray’s apartment – to her left was a bookshelf that was horribly messy and unorganized, books laying on their sides or looking ready to fall out at any moment. At the top of the bookshelf there were some vases filled with flowers – all dead – along with a few standing picture frames displaying old photographs, one of them a portrait of much younger versions of both Ray and herself. In front of her was the counter that separated the kitchen from the room that they were in – which she guessed was the living room, or den, or whatever it was called. There were several dirty dishes and utensils on the counter, and an empty whiskey bottle. She wondered if Ray had drank it all himself. That would have been normal for him. To her right there was a brick wall and a window, out of which she watched the rain for a moment. She turned around and sat up straight and crossed her legs and adjusted her skirt, seeing the movie that Ray had put on. On the screen there were two characters kissing, a man and a woman. It was boring. This could have been any old movie, she thought. They all seemed the same. Ray was raising his drink to his lips again. She watched him. She examined his face in the dim flicker of light cast by the TV. He looked so much older than the last time she’d seen him. He obviously hadn’t shaved in a few days, and there were dark circles under his eyes. His cheeks were bony, as was the rest of him.

“Why are you here?” he said quietly.

She leaned forward and set down her beer, rubbed out the rest of her cigarette in the ashtray next to his feet. She thought of something to say.

“I wanted to see you.”

He was looking intently at the TV. He drank some more.

“Why would you want to do that?”

She didn’t know.

“I don’t know,” she said.

“Think about it. Give me a cigarette.”

She gave him one. He lit it, put it between his lips. He was silent again.

“I love you,” she said.

He got up, walked back to the kitchen and began pouring himself another drink. Jess turned back around and watched him. Moments later, he replied.

“Well that’s good. I would hope so. You keep doing that.”

He leaned against the refrigerator and looked up at the ceiling. Jess sighed and looked back at the TV. It was still boring.

“I’m sorry,” Ray said. “I’m no good. Finish your beer, please.”

“Do you want me to leave?” she asked, not touching her beer. She didn’t think she wanted any more.

“I don’t think so.”


He finished the whiskey in one long, drawn-out raise of his mug. He grimaced as he hit the bottom.

“That’s good stuff,” he said. “Maybe you can have some.”

“No thanks.”

“Suit yourself.” He poured himself some more and sat back down on the couch. He grabbed the remote and turned up the TV. A scene in a lounge was playing. There was a woman singing an old love song and people were sitting around and watching.

“Beautiful,” he said as he blew a puff of smoke from his mouth. Jess looked at him, then at the TV, then back at him.

“What? That woman?”

He coughed.

“No. This music. They don’t make music like this anymore.”

She watched the woman on the screen.

“I think she’s beautiful.”

“Good for you. So are you. I’m drunk.”

Jess rolled her eyes.

“What else is new?”

He suddenly turned and slapped her on the knee. It was a light slap, but it surprised her, causing her to draw back and curl her legs up onto the couch, wrapping her arms around them. She looked into his eyes. He looked angry.

“Don’t talk to me like that!” he snapped.

She didn’t say anything. She just stared at him. He stared back. They stared at each other for what seemed like minutes but was only a few seconds. Then his eyes left hers, and he looked down at his lap.

“I’m sorry,” he said.


She wasn’t sure if he meant it. He turned back to the TV, looking a bit uneasy. As he reached out to grab his drink, his hands trembled a little.

“Can you not put your feet on the couch?”

She unfolded her legs and set her feet on the floor. She thought about apologizing, but didn’t. The two were silent again. She listened to the rain outside and watched the movie on the TV, seeing what was happening but not really paying attention. She thought about Ray’s question from earlier – “Why are you here?” She didn’t know. She thought about getting up and walking out without saying a word right then, wondered how he’d react, wondered if he’d even care. But she stayed in place, sitting next to him on the couch while he drank and smoked and watched TV. It went like this for a long time. Neither of them got up. When Ray was done with his cigarette, he flicked the butt onto the ground, and when he finished his drink, he just set the mug down on the coffee table. He didn’t get up for another. After a while, the movie finished and the credits were rolling. Ray picked up the remote and turned off the TV. He turned to Jess. He opened his mouth to speak, but didn’t say anything at first. Then he did.

“I’m sorry. Thank you for coming to see me.”

She nodded.


“How…how are things for you?”


“I’m glad. Are you still with that boy?”

“Yeah, I am.”

She looked into his eyes as she said this. He suddenly appeared serious. He leaned forward a bit.

“Do you love him?”

She smirked, and laughed a little at his question.

“Yeah…I think I do.”

He put his hand to his chest and coughed and shook his head.

“You think? I think you need to stop thinking with your cunt.”

He laughed hysterically at his own comment. She just rolled her eyes and groaned, continued to look at him. When he was done laughing, he smiled. She looked at his teeth. They were yellow and unclean looking. He continued talking.

“You know…I think about you a lot. I wonder how you’re doing. You live so far away, now. I’m very lonely here. No one ever comes to see me.” He reached out a hand and put it on her thigh. She stared down at it, his uncomfortably familiar gesture sending a chill up her spine.

“I – I’m sorry,” she stuttered. His hand began to rub her flesh, moving back and forth. She pulled her leg away just a little, but his hand stayed. He kept talking.

“I spend all day here. By myself.”

His hand moved further up her thigh, closer to her crotch. She watched as it then casually made its way between her legs and under the fabric of her skirt, and felt his fingers as they tried to move aside her underwear. A sudden panicked feeling came over her as she immediately stood up, leaving his hand resting on the space on the couch where she had just been sitting. He looked up at her, a drunken confused look on his face.

“I have to go,” she said. Ray stayed on the couch, his eyes following her as she walked around the other side of the couch and towards the door of the apartment. He watched as she bent down and put on her shoes, hurrying to lace them. When she was done she turned towards him, shaking her head. She didn’t say anything. She couldn’t. She watched as the look on his face went from confused to angry. He narrowed his eyes and clenched his teeth. She’d seen him look at her like that before, and she knew what it led to. He snarled, then began to open his mouth. As he did, she quickly opened the door and left, slamming it behind her and shutting out Ray’s screams of words that she’d always hoped she would never hear again.


When Jess’s boyfriend called her the next morning, she was waiting at the airport with another hour to kill before her flight back home.

“I’ve missed you,” He said.

“I’ve missed you too. Sometimes I wonder why I got into this business. Too much travelling…”

He laughed, then continued.

“Well at least you got to see your dad. How was he?”

There was a long pause on Jess’s end. He waited until she finally said something.

“Oh, well, that didn’t really work out. There was a terrible storm last night and I didn’t leave the hotel. But that’s all right. I don’t think he’s too upset about it. Next time, I guess.”

Monday, September 19, 2011

“untitled” by Evan Swenson

...dead footprints trail off in every direction. The sensation of liberation fades just as quickly as it came. The sun is down, the tide is low, and the course of this road is fixed. I walk on, indefinitely, toward new arms, new lips, new streets and sensations, yet I can’t help but feel that the soul and substance of these things will have been recycled from all that I’ve left and am leaving.

There occurs, with every rising thought, the subsequent death of something undefinable, unrecognizable, but infinitely vital. It has something to do with the soul, as though little pieces of it were being broken off until finally it has become a veritable vacuum, consuming all--the self included--and destroying. Given this fixation upon endings, that is to say, death, I can give only uneasy speculation that my soul has been lost and drained and there remains nothing but the roots of a suicidal being, securing their places even further within, tightening their grips with every empty thought and wasted experience.

The dream burns...the rocks are tall, worn, glossed over with the lush moisture of the tide. On the lip of the ocean, among the faded ships coasting lazily atop the horizon, the presence of fire and flame makes itself felt as the bloodied sun sinks down with the tragic brilliance of a fallen soldier. The waters, though calm and composed in themselves, hand the sky a reflection of pure, unfiltered chaos as the bold colors massacre the serene surface like words of hate or war or vengeance massacre the neutral face of a sheet of paper.

Somewhere something makes a noise and the noise fades. In the distance, an old man walks slowly along the shore, his hands clasped lazily behind his waist. With nowhere to go and nothing left to say, I close my eyes and wait for patiently for something to begin.

Monday, September 12, 2011

“Porch” by Corinne Lee

Wings whirring––to break into the light––hitting our porch lamps. Spitting like drops flung into flame, falling shorn. In the morning, a toad by my mother’s front door, so sated with wings that he sprawls sleeping on WEL, insect crumbs screening COME.

My mother on the porch bench after breakfast––spine a fiddlehead over Folgers––struggling to remember. “Lake Constance” is all she can say. I know the story. Other Jews, each night swimming through the lake, fleeing Germany for Switzerland. Ice water opium slowed them. Then the one-eyed searchlights, gun cracks.

For months of winter dawns, my mother and her sister, four/six, on the Swiss shore after blintz breakfasts––exploring the beached dead. Their poking sticks, rubbed bare as flesh, lifted, peeked: locked blue mouths, silk scarves now chill ropes, pale ankle throats in weedy, cashmere hose. The dead dressed, no, the living had dressed as if yachting to a romantic gourmet tryst, not to black water.

Instead, late evenings, after hunting them at the lake, the Nazis were the ones among Riesling and sauerbraten, Bierdermeier and beeswax candles––cozy fire, yet cold rain so taut they often could not open the door afterward to go home. Nor could my mother: grandparents, parents railroaded into gas, she later became American, a Philadelphian, a corset Episcopalian.

But now, only sister hours dead, she reaches toward the beached phantoms they once found together. Yes, they stole from them. The only item she kept her entire life was a child’s watch, glass back and front to show the metal works inside. She stored it for six decades––and clutched it like a lucky coin in times of trouble.

This morning, she does not clench the watch, but slips it in her mouth and holds it there, like a lozenge. She can’t remember her sister. She can’t remember the drowned. Yet like the toad, she feels oddly full and content. The timepiece is smooth against her tongue. “Metal soft-run,” she mutters after I pull it from her lips––perhaps yearning to absorb the dead and time, to make them live, her own.

Monday, September 5, 2011

“Retrospect” by Dara Cunningham

I now watch the teenagers through the lens of adulthood. Today at the train station there’s five or six of them with skateboards and bikes, their heads bouncing to hip hop music that pulses from their iPods. When I was their age, we were sutured to our walkmans and listened to Nirvana; we wore flannel and dreamed of moving to Seattle. When did I start using the expression “when I was their age”?

These are the kids who worry guidance counselors and teachers; solemn and cynical with no direction. The girls wearing low-slung jeans, heavy eyeliner and piercings sit on a bench watching the boys perform risky stunts on their skateboards. They are supposed to be the bad-ass girls, the anti-cheerleaders, but they behave exactly as their sugar and spice counterparts do, passively applauding boys’ daredevil maneuvers that result in stitches and broken bones.

My observations are melancholy, but they seem happy for now. They’re happy to be away from classmates who don’t like them and from teachers and parents who insist they aren’t living up to their potential. These aren’t delinquents; just ordinary, bored kids trying to create excitement where there is none.

They are not yet afraid of what they will become. They don’t yet see themselves in the struggling families shopping at Wal-Mart or eating at Denny’s, stuck in futureless jobs and married to people they settled for simply to stop being lonely. No, these kids are completely absorbed in the present. All but one.

She is ever so slightly different. Her clothes are the same, adhering to the rigid tribal codes of adolescent fashion, but her face is kinder, eyes dreamy. She is happy to be included but is clearly on the fringes of the pack. When the train whistles as it rolls toward the platform, she is the only who looks up.

I know what she’s thinking.

Will I ever get out?

I hope she’s smart enough to know that she can’t stuff her treasured possessions in a backpack and take off one day after another fight with the parents or stepparents who don’t understand her. She can’t flee small town misery at sixteen with a wad of cash she saved from babysitting. The ones who try to don’t survive; they sink anonymously into sordid gutters until they become tragic headlines.

Getting out takes planning and preparation. She has to study the map others have left behind; study in general. If she stops hanging out here and gets good grades, she can go to college in the city, it will buy her time. If she can find a job, endure the criticism and cruel competition, she can get a place to live there, even if it is up six flights of stairs and smells like a litter box.

Those were my plans.

She’s watching me. Do I cut a glamorous figure with my highlighted hair, my new winter coat and high heels? Is it me she wants to be?

You shouldn’t envy me, I want to tell her. I’m a fake, a phony, a poseur. I don’t have an exciting career or work on a famous street; I’m not even traveling to meet a lover who does. I’m a washed up local who takes the train on her day off to walk around a gallery, buy something cheap but unique, and hope that someone spectacular will smile at me.

I’m just like you, trying to create excitement where there is none.