Monday, February 27, 2012

“Women and Men (Both Little and Small)" by A.M. Taureau

Underneath us Los Angeles is a peach-white blur, with the shadow of the plane growing and shrinking in shaky rhythm. In the middle of the endless low landscape is the laughable downtown, near a ridge of almost-mountains that give the Hollywood sign a place to sit. The shadow of the plane gets darker, more defined, more stable, larger, stretches out indefinitely, and then Mike kisses me and we land.

Once we are on the ground and outside the airport, the city loses its peach softness, and becomes stark and white, its shadows harsh.

“Happy?” Mike asks me, and I nod. We are happy to get away, happy to meet up with his old mentor Ray, who is going to introduce us to his newest wife, before they embark on a yearlong trip around the world. Mike and I travel well together; it should be us taking this sort of trip, but we both have mid-level jobs, able to accommodate a short three-day trip from San Francisco, but not much more than that.

I’ve only met Ray once, about six years ago, when Mike and I first started dating, and Ray came out to visit. He was in the midst of his second divorce then, and after he left Mike told me that Ray’d been uncharacteristically quiet, that he was usually dynamic, but I had liked him all the same. He’d treated us to nice restaurants, and had danced with me when we went to places where people danced, since Mike doesn’t. I learned how to rumba from him, a skill I haven’t used since.

At the hotel, they are already there, waiting in the lobby, and Edison hugs us through the introductions. She wears diamond earrings shaped like starbursts, and smells like coconut sun cream. She is even younger than me, though Ray is older than Mike by twenty years, and Mike is older than me by two.

We go out to dinner that night, to a restaurant with thick white linen tablecloths and valet parking, and then shopping the next day. Edison helps me pick out a dress almost like the one she wore the night before, which I admired. “This one,” she says, without hesitation. “This one will suit you better; it complements your coloring,” and I buy it, without even checking the label.

“You have to take it back, Grace,” Mike says, sprawled out on the bed that night, when he sees the price tag, but I convince him to let me try it on for him, and when he sees me in the dress he capitulates, admitting that Edison might be a good influence on my wardrobe, but I should look at price tags next time she takes me shopping.

I say, “She should take you shopping,” and instead of laughing he raises an eyebrow, looking thoughtful.

The hotel has a pool, though there is the beach just across the street, and Edison and I stretch ourselves out in the deck chairs. She is more tan than I am, despite the fact that we live in California, and they have come from Philadelphia. I go to the hotel store, and buy a sunscreen with a lower SPF; it amazes me that in Los Angeles one can still buy tanning oil. Edison rubs the thin lotion on my back while the men swim laps.

That evening Mike dances with Edison, while I dance with Ray.

“What’s your first stop?” I ask him, the hem of the new dress fluttering against my legs with the wind of our movement. Edison is wearing another beautiful dress, a silver one that makes me feel dowdy and too tall, though she answers my compliments with her own.

“We fly to Hawaii on Tuesday,” he tells me. “Then after about a week there we’ll hitch a ride on a friend’s sailboat, to Australia. Then Indonesia, and Vietnam, maybe.” We switch partners, and Mike and I sway back and forth, trying to remember the name of his former coworker, the one who transferred to Australia three years ago.

It is while we’re leaving, and Ray is helping me on with my coat, that he dips his head and lightly touches his lips against my shoulder absentmindedly as he is talking to Mike.

“Oh my god,” he says, when Mike coughs, and looks back and forth between us. “I thought she was Edison. She has the same dress, I think.” We all laugh about it, and then Mike makes a big show of helping Edison on with her coat. For the rest of this last night we go back and forth like this, jokingly, with Mike bringing Edison drinks as Ray gives me a shoulder massage and calls me “honey.” While we are in the ladies’ room together, Edison lets me try on her diamond engagement ring, which turns out to be too small; even her fingers are delicate, while mine are the same size as Mike’s.

We fly back early the next morning. They drive us to the airport in their rental car, and as Edison hugs me goodbye she presses a bag into my hand; inside is the dress from the night before. “I won’t have any need for it again on this trip,” she tells me, “and when we get back we’ll be trying for a baby.” I smile and thank her and congratulate her, and board the plane, watching the city dissolve back into softness below me, straining to catch a glimpse of the vivid blue ocean that stretches between Los Angeles and Hawaii. When we reach San Francisco again, I often try on the dress, but I can’t make it fit just right, and I never wear it out.

Monday, February 20, 2012

“No More Stories About The Moon” by J. Bradley

“Do you think Jesus believes in giving women oral?” Nancy stares at the cancer spreading slowly across the moon.

“I think that’s still considered sodomy, even if Jesus did it.”

“That’s probably why we don’t really believe in Jesus. I mean he could work miracles but couldn’t let Mary Magdalene ride his face once in awhile?”

“He’d rather eat ham than pussy.”

Nancy and I watch the cancer spread further.

“When we have a child, I hope it’s a boy and I hope he’s old enough so I can show him a lunar eclipse and explain that’s God’s way of showing men how their mouth should act when a woman willingly opens their galaxy to him, prayerful and slowly widening.”

“What if he wants to eat ham instead?”

“His cheeks will burn like Sodom and Gomorrah by my hand or by the fact his mother is talking about giving women oral.”

“So while you give life, you can take its dignity away?” Nancy nods. Our lawn chairs creak as we settle in, her thumb rubbing ozone in my palm.

Monday, February 13, 2012

“Sunken Treasure” by Daniel Cooper

We’re sitting outside on the back porch. It’s Thanksgiving day. It’s the afternoon, or maybe it’s night. It’s hard to tell. He’s sketching in a notebook.

‘Fine,’ he says. It just happened.

‘I guess.’

He has a face like mine, but better. I hardly ever look at him. We aren’t really friends; he’s just my brother.

‘Are you hungry?’ he says.

‘No,’ I must seem lost in thought, but that’s how I always am.

‘You sure?’ he says.

When I don’t answer, he draws in the notebook. That’s James. Always wanting to draw, always wanting to eat. He doesn’t try to hide it from anybody. Maybe he does, but that’s just James.

‘Let’s talk about it.’

He shuts the notebook and tosses it on the table. ‘I can’t remember what happened,’ he says. ‘Do you remember anything?’

‘Not much.’

Some grad school student is sitting right next to me in group. He’s crying his eyes out and I couldn’t care less. Actually, I’m just trying to look unimpressed so he won’t look at me anymore. He’s paying two hundred dollars a week to take his turn crying and talking about his problems. I don’t remember his name. He’s bald. He’s fucked up. Like really fucked up. His childhood was shitty. His parents abandoned him and he was lived in shitty foster care. I almost cried at some parts. He was beat up, he was raped. Now he’s confused and he wants to end it all. I sympathize with that last part.

Mary’s in my room sitting on my bed. She has my laptop and she’s listening to some of the songs I’ve recorded. I get angry for some reason and slam the laptop shut and leave the room. I go into the kitchen to get a beer. When I get back she has the laptop open again. She’s looking through my browser history.

‘You know,’ she says. ‘Usually when I open a guy’s computer the first thing I see is porn.’

‘Yeah,’ I say sitting.

‘But yours is clean. You’ve even cleared your browser history.’

‘Fuck,’ I say. I accidently sit on my guitar. A long crack opens up on the body.

Mary looks at me. Like she knows I’m about to lose it.

A year ago I accidently killed my friend Rory. That’s not totally true, he actually killed himself. He’d tried to before too. He was in a coma for a couple of weeks before he finally woke up. I always wanted to ask him about it. What it was like. What he had seen. What he had felt. Would he try it again? But when I saw him I never brought it up. Then, later, he killed himself. This time for good.

‘Did you ever sexually abuse me when I was younger?’

‘ I don’t know. I don’t think so.’ I text back.

‘’Cuz I need to figure this shit out and I want a real fucking answer. ‘Cuz I’m so fucking confused it makes no sense.’

‘I told you. I don’t know. I don’t think so.’ I text back.

‘Fuck you,’ texts James.

My Dad told me later that after he talked to me he went and tried to chug a liter of Drano. But he threw it up before it did too much damage.

I check my email. There’s just a bunch of junk mail from paranormal themed sites, except for one. It’s from Mary. For a moment I think she still loves me. That there’s a chance. ‘I miss you. I wonder where you are and how you're doing, if you still think you're crazy and your parents still don't get you and your brother's finished his meltdown yet. I wonder about how things would be different if I'd never ruined your life by sitting on that guitar.’

‘But you didn’t sit on the guitar,’ I reply. ‘I did. And now I’ll still never know what happened. I’ll never know if I’m gay or not. I’ll never know who I am or what I want. I’ll continue to get angry or cry and not know why. Fuck, where does this fucking shit come from?’

She lets that sit, and I guess thinks. I’m too tired to feel out the silence. Or else everyone and everything’s tired except me.

‘You just over think everything,’ she finally replies. ‘Both of you. I don’t care. You two are in love with each other. I have problems of my own.’

Last night I looked through James’ notebook from cover to cover. I’d been avoiding several parts. I wanted to know what Mary thought about it. She sat on that stupid guitar; she fucked everything up and made it sick. I wanted to show her the pages of James’ notebook that were filled with sketch after sketch of me. I wanted her to be the one to say it.

‘Yesterday I was helping Dad in the garage take down the Christmas boxes when and I found a box of Papa’s old journals. There were about fifty of them, bound in red leather. I couldn’t help myself. I opened one and started looking through it. It was from the seventies, it was a meticulous list of his day’s activities. Before I knew it Dad was shaking me and telling me to go away, to leave it alone. He’d finish moving the boxes by himself.’ I tell James. We’re on the porch. It’s Thanksgiving day. We’ve just gotten back from one Thanksgiving dinner and have another one to go to in a little bit.

‘I’ve seen those,’ says James. ‘I feel like if I looked through them I’d have a schizophrenic breakdown.’

‘I left the garage and just started punching the walls. I wanted to beat the shit out of the dining room table. I tried to tell Dad that we should get rid of those stupid notebooks, but I think I yelled it instead.’

They found a shotgun in Rory’s room after his first suicide attempt. He had taken a bunch of anti-depressant pills, but had a shotgun in his closet. I didn’t ask how he did it the second time. It was a closed casket. But I don’t know if that means anything.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

“The Jordan Flea Market” by Jesse Prado

The drive to my grandma’s house is off of E.14 Street in San Leandro and it usually only takes me five minutes to get there from my house in Hayward, off of Royal Avenue and A Street, so I had no idea why the ride going down E.14 Street ended up feeling a lot more like the roads going out towards the outlet malls in Gilroy or Petaluma.

I owed Steve money so I guess he figured this would be the best form of a repayment when he realized that this would mark the last week of the Jordan Flea Market. Everything at the Jordan Flea Market was said to be 90% off up until the last day and the way Steve told me about it made me feel like he was one of the only people that knew of its’ existence.

For that reason amongst others is why I wouldn’t believe this until I saw it. Another reason was because he told me it was at the end of E 14th street and until he told me that I didn’t even know there was an end to that street. Not to mention he couldn’t explain to me what the end of that street was like at all.

When I asked him, he said he had never been there, himself. So three days away from the last day and at supposedly the third light away from this Jordan Flea Market, Steve offered me a shot of five hour energy which I accepted right away after realizing how tired I was of him, his car and his rap music, and how obvious my overall demeanor was making this. However it may, after that shot the scenery suddenly changed from busy to desolate.

On either sides of the road we were driving all I could see as any sign of life were what appeared to be shoe displays off in the distance. What told me that they were shoe displays were the lifesize shapes of Jordan sneakers ranging numbers, I could see clearly from the twenty-first sneaker to the first where we stopped at the last light, which I now couldn’t see the point of after seeing beyond that there was no more of E.14 street left to drive.

After the light changed Steve suddenly got very excited as we passed what appeared to be a clerk at the only register there was in the middle of this desert and as we passed him up slowly the clerk turned around from whatever it was he was doing to follow us up until we parked not too far away from him. After so many attempts of trying to get out of Steve’s car as soon as it’s parked I had by now learned that his locks were automatic, which was why he got so pissed off when passengers of his vehicle tried to get out before he turned his car off. That impatience could potentially jam his automatic locks. With this knowledge I waited patiently for Steve to turn his car off when an outside force tried to open my door for me causing the same sort of jam.

Rejected, the outside force waited for us to step out of the vehicles ourselves before he introduced himself to us as Hafazz, the owner of this Jordan Flea Market, decked in a cream colored polo, tucked into a pair of khakis, cuff linked over a pair of what looked to me like Alfanis. With a strained smile worn before, during and after his greeting, I noticed his nametag before I looked around and also noticed him as the only one working. After that recognition I walked away from them and towards the first display where my hallucination had been confirmed as a reality as I reached out to touch the giant styrofoam replica of the first Jordan sneaker ever made.

Hafazz asked me right away what I think of the giant styrofoam replicas that his son had designed himself.

I told him I thought they were excellent before I asked him where his son is.

Delorious, Hafazz said he is no longer with us as that strained smile changed into a sort of frown.

Not wanting to start anything I asked him if he had given everyone the day off.

And after he said no to that he wandered off back to his desk with his head looking down at the sand.

Surrounding these styrofoam replicas were the sneakers that these replicas were made to replicate so there were only twenty-one of them and they were a fair amount away from each other up until the twenty first. By the time we got to the eighth Jordan styrofoam replica we sat on the sand because there were no benches, which was weird to me. Usually shoe sales consist of an area somewhere nearby to permit the trying on of their products but there was no place to sit down or mirrors to look into for miles, probably away from this lot at one of the gas stations before the twenty-first styrofoam Jordan replica.

Steve had that pair of Jordan’s on his feet so I knew he wouldn’t want to walk that far just to see that unless he thought there were something else over there for him. When I approached the eighth replica of the number eight Jordan sneaker Steve got up in a crouched position next to the shoeboxes surrounding it scanning sizes.

‘Don’t you have that pair?’ I said.

‘I sold them.’

‘To who?’



‘I don’t know.’

‘How much did you sell them for?’

‘I don’t remember.’

Steve knew why I was interrogating him about this and he was desperately searching his head now for a reasonable price when he didn’t have to name one after he found a box that marked his size. All in one motion he yanked the box from the bottom of the stack throwing the top off only to find that there was nothing in there at all. Taking the top off of another all he found was the same thing.

This frustrated him, causing him to go through several boxes before he finally gave up saying that Hafazz must have them up at the front. During his tantrum I found a pair of size eights with the pair actually inside only I didn’t want to tell him this because I wanted to leave now. I knew he would want these, even though they weren’t his size and paying Steve back this way didn’t feel right to me anymore.

By the time we got back Steve had his shirt off and I had a cigarette being occasionally placed between my lips for a drag by my own willful hand and my eyebrow raised some when we found Hafazz missing from his desk. Exasperated with defeat Steve gave up his search for the shoe salesman after one look under his desk and finding the same results as he did in that box he threw hard into the sand. Twelve feet away from where we stood I could see a blue Porto potty that I missed on our way in so I dismissed myself to go use it.

Steve would be in his car when I get back, only I didn’t use the Porto potty. Someone was in there crying and with one knock the sobbing accented voice told me two things; one being that this was indeed Hafazz behind that door, and a plea to go away. Something about his sobs reminded me of the sobs you hear from a failed artist and I had no idea where Hafazz failed, but I had an idea of where I might have failed and where Steve might think he had too and by the warmth I could feel gathering in the pits of both my own eye sockets I had to get away from this Porto potty, this place in general.

Confused and irritated I walked back to the car when those feelings turned into a legitimate empathy for the hysterical, loud and elongated wails coming from Steve off in the distance outside of his car’s driver door. With both hands stretched out to the furthest length on either sides of him I could see Steve with his back to me letting out long wails into the distance.

Instinctively without questions, I ran up to him wrapping him up in an embrace that I would not withdrawal until he stopped screaming.

All I had to keep telling him is that everything would be ok.