Adam and Eve, flash fiction by Marcus Speh

1

Adam couldn’t help noticing the fear in her eyes even though it was concealed by an unusual set of props, which included: thick glasses, strong makeup heavy-handedly applied, and light brown hair that was styled to appear accidentally artistic if artistic was the right word, but Adam was fairly sure it was because she had mentioned art, artists and the world artists lived in or could live in if the world outside art would only make it a little easier for them to exist on their own terms…Adam lost his thread over contemplating the varied viewpoints representing ways of living. In any case, behind that curtain of creative persona, he assumed a rather unusually large amount of fear and it made him want to run away. Instead he proceeded along the path chosen by him earlier when he had offered her an immediate appointment after she had come to the door, quite against his habit, solely based on her opening sentence, which she had given him instead of the weak, flabby greeting that he was used to. His clients, he reckoned, were keen on appearing even more normal and mediocre because of the pretext of their sessions with him. She had said: My name’s Eve, I’m forty-five years old, I’ve never had sex, can you please help me. But once she sat down she had begun to speak of nothing but her desire to create, to make art, to paint, sculpt, cut things out, combine them, perform pieces, and so on. Any attempt on Adam’s side to get her back to that extraordinary opening sentence had been met with silence and with a smirk. Still, there was that undeniable fear in her eyes and there was his equally undeniable fame as the foremost sex therapist of his generation. He asked her what she was afraid of and she said: I’m afraid to die as a number, I’m afraid to die like a reed, like a forgotten cookie at the bottom of a box. By this time, her angst, wherever it came from, had already taken posession of him and he hoped she’d let him hold her hands or even crawl on her lap later on.

2

The man is brought into a dark room. The windows are covered by heavy curtains. It could be day or night or even a lightless time of day without hours, without anybody counting hours. There is a desk in one corner. Behind the desk sits a woman in a leather suit. She has long black hair and wears a lot of make up. when the guards have closed the doors, the man goes to the desk. There is no chair for him to sit. — So, says the man, why am I here? The woman doesn’t say anything. She opens a drawer, takes out a lighter and a pack of cigarettes and lights a cigarette without offering one to the man. This room, says he, proves nothing. She exhales. He inhales, almost as if he needed her to breathe. The man sits on the floor so that the woman can only see his head. I am more comfortable down here, he says. She nods, which he cannot see and continues to smoke. The telephone rings. The woman answers, but all she says is yes, and no and no and yes again. The man says: I like your voice. Thank god that I like your voice. The woman in the last room sounded like a saw. The woman chortles. And she looked like a nun, adds the man. That is interesting says the woman. No it isn’t says the man, I’m only passing the time until you tell me why I am here so that I can move on to the next stage of the game. No game, says the woman, a test. Okay, says the man, call it what you like, it feels like a bloody game. And you’re just another pawn. And so am I. It cannot be a game because there are no rules, says the woman. She stands up. Why dont you try the chair, she says. Sure, says the man, smiling for the first time since he entered. As he gets up and walks around the desk past her, he feels some of the power that Adam felt towards Eve. He stops standing very close to her. What if I actually sat down, he says. Would this be the end of the game? It’s not a game, she says. The man shrugs. I tell you what he says, I will sit down if you kiss me on the mouth. With or without tongue she says. With, he says, or it doesn’t count. She nods, leans over and does it. Longer, much longer than he had expected. In the end it is he who pulls back. Alright he says and wipes his mouth. You wiped your mouth, she says. Yes, he says and sits down. It was just a test, I wanted to test you. At that moment, the door opens, a hand with a gun appears as if created by the black background and shoots the man in the chair. His upper body falls forward on the desk. The woman extinguishes her cigarette on the man’s head. Not a game, she says and leaves.

3

It was a most memorable moment when…why do all my sentences begin that way? It strikes me as terribly…moralistic almost, as if I was trying to tell you what to think, feel and so on. Which is not, I think not, what I want. Or perhaps I begin this way because it gives structure to my inner chaos of mementos, of remembered shards, of a time when I witnessed Eve, experience everything not just as if for the first time but actually for the first time, when every one of those memorable moments cut like glass, or burnt like fire. This was just it: fire. I lit a cigarette with a match – I loathe the smell of gas – and I habitually held the match in my right hand waiting for it to burn down until it hurt while already inhaling. I would then blow my first cloud of fresh smoke and rub the burnt match to ash. Eve stared and said “again” in her heavy German accent. Okey, I said. I somehow knew she was talking about the match. Asking her wouldn’t have helped since she was unlikely to know the word. Do it, she said, do it. Okey, just give me a second, I said. Her impatience had the innocence of fire. As always the contrast between her childlike manner and her grown-up body confused and tickled my senses. Her dress had inevitably slid half down her shoulder and it was clear she didn’t care. The first woman didn’t have to prove anything, hide anything. I lit another match. This? I asked and held it up. Ja, Ja, she cried and held out her hand. Here, she pointed with her other hand. Alright, I said but it’s hot. The match was almost over. I dropped it in her palm. She took it like a man, in a way, and yet not at all. Her hand kept perfectly still when the flame of the match flickered one last time, went out and gave way to the glowing, smouldering state of fire that is so much more terrible because it looks like nothing, like bright red sauce on a stick perhaps and yet is so much hotter. Only her eyes, and then the skin around her eyes and then her face began to show a reaction to the pain she must have felt, a being who had not known any pain before. But I cannot describe it, not with words. I’d have to paint it on your face in fiery coals, I’d have to write it under your nails with needles. It was, I said it, most memorable, mostly inhuman, but memorable. Her face holding that expression, Eve did to the burnt match what she’d seen me do, and then she said: again, but with just ever so little more hesitation.

~~~

 

Marcus Speh is a German writer and author of Thank You For Your Sperm (MadHat Press, 2013). He lives in Berlin, blogs at marcusspeh.com and is on Twitter @marcus_speh.

The Crusade, flash fiction by Marcus Speh

When the virus began to ravage the land, ripping families apart, taking brother from sister, mother from son, husband from wife, the children’s crusade began. At first, there were only the orphans who walked from village to village, but when the pestilence continued to kill, others joined who had lost a relative or a friend, and finally even children who had not lost anyone went with them. They walked by day and by night and they only rested long enough to gather strength so that they could move on. The bigger kids carried the smaller ones, who often were dozy and groggy from lack of sleep, and when those bigger kids needed to rest, their littler companions brought them drink and put palm leaves under their heads, which were still small by comparison with our heads. There was much love among the kids, as much love as necessary to hold them together and help the crusade grow, day by day, child by child, village by village and city by city. There was perhaps as much love as there was hate between those who had lost a loved one and those who hadn’t. As much as between a man who stays and a woman who leaves. Enough love for those who felt abandoned by God, by the West or the East or the North or the South: when they looked at the kids who walked tirelessly though they were exhausted, the desperate caught a whiff of courage and forgot their grief. The crusade had no leader though a few of them walked at the head of the line to find the way or give directions, but they changed all the time depending on where they went. They went everywhere, there was no place they didn’t get to, no oasis they did not touch, no settlement they did not see. And wherever they went, they lived on what the people gave them, the simplest things, bread and water, and the sweetest stuff, hugs and strokes and shy, tender looks.

The occurrence of a wandering group that sets out to heal the land always is a sort of miracle and engenders a melancholy. Now everyone begins to dream the same dream, both inside and outside of the group. Is it more sad that it doesn’t happen more often, or is it more joyous that it happens at all? And wherever the children went, where people began to dream, the disease left, not suddenly, grudgingly like someone who is owed a life or a serious debt. Like a merciless mercenary, like a lecherous merchant of death, it left scars and piles of bodies, but still the plague slowly retreated as if the edge of the children’s crusade was a sword.

As they were walking, the children prayed. They prayed hard. They prayed for clean water. They prayed for calm. They prayed for the help that comes from Angels and for the healing of the sick. They prayed even when they didn’t know what they were doing or saying. In their hearts they tightly held the patients who were shitting themselves, who were oozing pain from every pore to make it harder for them to slip away. They prayed the hardest for the dead who had not made it through. Some said they saw the souls of the departing hanging thickly around the heads of the children like glow worms. The children were not praying like men and women, they were chanting and singing and dancing and bringing down the rain that washes evil away.

The reporters had been transfixed by the dying and the failing to stop the dying from happening. By the time they began to pay attention to the childish crusade, thre were thousands of children and they had found their song and their stride. They were like a wave now, a wave of warm and well-meaning water. But waves bring memories of storm and some journalists were asking what if and wherefore: what if this cute crusade (it was already so much more than that) became a human tsunami. What if it swept through a continent already besieged by unrest and weakened by illness. Shouldn’t the children leave the serious work to the grown-ups? Catastrophes are best dealt with from above, these journalists said, with force and not with fantasy. They said, we need 100 hospitals rather than an army of stomping, singing teenagers who play. They asked, where were the parents of the children?. Had they given their permission? Were they behaving responsibly? An influential Berlin newspaper columnist, a stuffy man doing stuffy things with a stuffy nose, dug up the old German legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. With his sociological sorcery he linked the story that had laid dormant for 800 years to the children’s crusade, summoning old anxieties.

 

Finally, the movement had become a story. The need for rescue attracted the concerned, and helpers flocked to the country from everywhere. Within a short time the children were followed by a convoy of hundreds of jeeps filled with broadcasting technology. Soon they could not take a single step without someone thrusting a microphone at them, asking for interviews, picking up morsels of misunderstanding, fleshing out fears, ferreting for forebodings, filming, recording, tweeting, blogging. With the reporters came scientists, scholars and politicians. They were protected by the umbrellas of science and wealth. Their entourage included soldiers and servants, doctors and nurses, and much money. As if guided by an invisible spirit, or perhaps moved by the prayers of the crusaders, the riches channeled towards the media found their way past the pockets of thieves and into the hands of the carers and helpers of the dying sick, enough money to finish off the plague and defeat the disease. The ancient germ and the deadly virus need quiet and neglect to thrive. Where many gather in one place and pray, healing will happen. When many focus their love, fear must leave.

One morning, the reporters woke up to an unusual silence and when they left their cabins and hotels there were no more children waiting and chanting. They had moved on, gone home, and some had died. And the reporters left, too, for other crises.

~~~

Marcus Speh is a German writer and author of Thank You For Your Sperm (MadHat Press, 2013). He lives in Berlin, blogs at marcusspeh.com and is on Twitter @marcus_speh.

Boredom and Malaise, fiction by Rod Dixon

It is sunny the day Joe takes Terrie to the abortion clinic. The mid-morning sky is deep blues and whites. The air is crisp and pleasant. “Be a man and take care of that baby,” one of the elderly protesters yells at him, her face red, her voice all volume and no soul.

He feels a flush of involuntary shame and excitement. This is real, this is happening. “Being a man is what got me into this,” he yells back, surprising even himself.

“Joe,” Terrie says, clutching at the heavy, metal door. He turns back for a last look at the old woman’s denim jacket and all her religious buttons. The door hisses shut behind them and Terrie goes about the business of getting herself checked in.

“I don’t know why they let them get so close.”

Not knowing if she is talking to him or the receptionist, Joe hands over his credit card and says, “They have a constitutional right to protest.”

“What about my right to privacy?” she asks.

He does not know.

They walk into the waiting room, a square of off-white walls, tan base molding, and teal-flecked vinyl tiling. The choose seats as far away as possible from their neighbors. Terrie roots unhappily through a pile of magazines on the table, finally settling on a glossy celebrity tabloid. She is wearing grey sweats, one of his wrinkled t-shirts, and the navy-colored bathrobe they bought the day before. She spent nearly twenty minutes at the store going through every robe on the rack, pinching the fabric between her fingers, opening the robes wide like sheets in order to inspect them from every angle. Joe willed himself to stay calm despite his impatience, certain the robe would be forever sullied by what was to come, and likely never worn again.

“I want to be comfortable,” Terrie had said.

Joe opens the copy of Huxley’s Evidence as to Man’s Place in Nature that he brought along from Terrie’s apartment. He skips the introduction.

“Why did you bring that?” she asks.

Joe recalls the memory of standing in front of her unfinished pine bookshelf earlier in the morning. He watches his finger move past a collection of E.E. Cummings poetry, a clothbound anthology of Hungarian folktales, then hanging indecisive over the ape skulled Huxley cover.

“I haven’t read it before,” he answers.

Her brow furrows, the nostrils of her aquiline nose quiver almost imperceptibly, and he doubts himself. Had he chosen the book to soothe a buried moral qualm about what they were doing? Had his unconscious decided the best thing for him was to sit here, smug in the knowledge all humanity was the result of history and accident, and nothing that happened here really mattered? They both had agreed readily enough that morning three weeks before when she came out of the bathroom, the double blue-lined home pregnancy test in hand. They had to abort it. They had no money. They weren’t prepared.

It occurs to him he said all those things. He cannot remember what precisely Terrie said.

A nurse calls her back and Joe, already tired of Victorian prose, observes the other occupants in the room. They are mostly women, undoubtedly mothers and sympathetic aunts, though there are two middle-aged men there as well. It occurs to Joe he is the only one there who is likely the culprit of this situation, and this fills him briefly with a dumb sense of pride. It is a vapid and fleeting feeling, which is quickly overshadowed by the depressing, institutional colors of the room surrounding him. When he was younger, the church his parents made him attend hosted a Hell House, a kind of evangelical haunted mansion whose horrors, rather than focusing on murder and monstrosity, depicted sinners receiving their comeuppance. Some of the scenes were miniature morality plays. Joe, for instance, played the role of the young man seduced by the allure of illicit drugs. His only lines: “I don’t need Jesus; I need weed,” and “Woe is me, my life is ruined.”

Other scenes were more panoramic in nature. The one entitled “The Abortion Clinic” looked like a cross between an assembly line and a witches’ Sabbat. A teen girl upright in a hospital bed, her face painted in harlot red and mystery Babylon blue. Her legs and knees peek out of the blanket draped over her lap. A doctor crouched at her feet, catching a plastic baby in both hands. He passes it off to the waiting bucket brigade of red devils, whose grease painted hands leave red smudges as they send the baby along. At the far end of the room sits a papier-mâché Moloch, who looks something like a fat toad, its mouth agape in anticipation. Hidden in its belly an electric fan blows its red, Mylar tongue, which snaps and crackles like a bulbous fire.

Joe remembers this and looks at the tan and teal room around him. The old, Catholic women outside no doubt believed that that cautionary panorama was an accurate enough depiction, and perhaps if the clinic looked anything like that he might more keenly feel what he was doing mattered. Did Bulgakov not write something to that effect? If the devil was real, so God must be, too. He nods to himself, feeling empty and weightless.

On their fourth date, Joe accompanied Terrie to an adaptation of an 18th century German play, “The Tutor.” A friend of hers was in the cast—a chubby gay man whose face he has already forgotten. The play was about the seduction and consequential impregnation of a young girl by her older, private tutor. The program said the play was the supreme example of the Sturm und Drang movement, which translated roughly to Storm and Urge. Sturm und Drang was an emotional rebellion against the intellectual strait-jacket of The Enlightenment, an angry-young-man’s movement, theatrically reminding the world that a man was composed not only of a brain, but of a heart and balls as well. The climactic moment of the play was when the tutor recognized the bastard child as his own, and in a fit of furious guilt castrated himself onstage. The actor looked at the audience, reached up his nightgown with a long knife, and after much blood and screaming, plopped his testicles into a wooden bowl.

“Jesus,” Joe said, “I thought this was a comedy.”

Terrie laughed her tilting laugh, because it was.

He closes his eyes and breathes the neutral waiting room air. It is not his manhood which has brought him here. He wants a life of fury and ecstasy, but he lacks the requisite virtues. The current setting is more than fitting—nothing particularly outstanding is happening.

Terrie emerges later, distant and calm. Joe asks if she wants lunch. Outside, the old women are gone—no good news to spread now that the deed is done. He drives her across town to a home-cooking restaurant with nostalgic tin signs and rusted antiques hanging on the wall. The tables around them are surrounded with old couples, young professionals out for lunch, families taking a break from the grueling monotony of the road. A few patrons cast open stares at Terrie. She is still wearing the bathrobe. Her head dips while she reads the menu. For a moment she looks the way saints do in those gold leafed paintings—impassive and unreal.

They order their food. “Did it hurt?” Joe asks.

“Don’t,” she says, her voice warning and ice. An angel of silence gasps breathless between them. It is present and heavy with possibility, and Joe averts his glance, and it is lost forever.

The waitress hands him his soda. It is cool on his throat. Silverware clinks, and light shines through the windows, loud and uncaring. The earth spins on its axis and revolves around a sun, which hurtles around a galaxy racing through the vacuum of space on a collision course with its nearest neighbor. One day, long after both of them are in the ground, or ashes in the wind, the planets and stars of Andromeda and the Milky Way will crash together in inextricable union. It will be a silent killing, but it will be a holocaust of stardust and heavy elements all the same.

He stares at Terrie’s stoic face. This could be the last meal they share as a couple. Would that be a tragedy? Or perhaps more importantly, could he convince himself it is? The abortion and the romance it ruined— He could have the memory of this moment forever, a black badge of recklessness, destruction, and finality in a lifetime of otherwise dubious drudgery. Their eyes meet across that small distance, and he thinks, what could be more dependably vivid than the joy of regret?

 

~~~

 

Rod Dixon lives in Kentucky with his wife and two children.  His short-stories have appeared in several journals, most recently Red Rock ReviewEuphony, and Edge. He is the former non-fiction editor of the now defunct Ontologica: A Journal of Art and Thought. He can be followed on Twitter @rodldixon.

Empathy, by Donora Rihn

 

after Jeffrey Dahmer

 

You would not have eaten me. I would have seen the Ohio in you, how this place never breathes, and we would have held one another, eaten sugar, then something green. Then. Your boyfriend would have sat with us at the kitchen table while my husband asked, Jeff, how is the human animal? I would have looked out the window and remembered you sleeping over, how I told you everything would be okay, you could begin again. Everyone is a bleached skeleton, but I see you, your soft, sad belly, you do not have to shoot acid into my brain, friend, I am standing in front of you with my wrists turned all the way out.

 

~~~

 

Donora Rihn is the author of the play The Plagiarist (NEA, 2015) as well as The Aphasia Poems (2014) and several other works by hybrid texts, poetry, and theory. Find her at http://www.donora-ann.com and on Twitter @donora_ann.

sunday night tough guy jamboree at the old root down tavern, poetry by John Grochalski

one tough guy comes into the bar
he starts pacing back and forth and then he leaves

my wife says, i don’t like the look of him

all people look bad when you give them
more than a glance, i tell her

the tough guy comes back with two tough guy friends
making three tough guys pacing
at the old root down tavern on a sunday night

he goes over to the bartender
and says, hey man, who was your bartender on friday night?

the bartender is reluctant to answer
but in the end tells the tough guy that it was seth

why do you want to know? he asks

because he man-handled me, man, the tough guys says

his two tough guy friends start nodding
they look around the bar just in case people start getting any ideas

look at my neck, man, the tough guys say
he puts down his collar and the bartender barely looks

did you see it? did you see what he did, man?

i don’t see shit, the bartender says

see, i told you that i didn’t
like the way he looks, my wife says

you have a very keen eye and discerning taste, i tell her
as the tough guy continues arguing with the bartender

i’m pissed, he says
i want that motherfucker fired

the tough guys looks around the bar
his eyes meet the row of mugs and pints drying on the rack
man, i could’ve smashed this place up, he says
i could smash it up right now

that’s when some of the tough guys
who are regulars in the bar get up

they stand behind the tough guy and his friends

the bartender has his hand underneath the bar
there’s a bat under there, a knife

at one time seth told us there was a gun

it’s a regular ol’ sunday night tough guy jamboree
at the old root down tavern

are you threatening me? the bartender asks

i’m just saying, the tough guy say
as his tough guy friends start pulling him out of the bar

he heard what you said, the bartender says
he points to a regular

and so did he

i heard what he said, too, i tell the bartender

and so did this guy, the bartender shouts

on his way out of the bar
the tough guys leans in and screams in my ear
i don’t give fuck what you heard!

as his buddies carry him out in to the sopping wet night
but not before he leans back in the bar and shouts

faggots!

like all tough guys have
down throughout the centuries

when they are finally safe and free
in the open air.

~~~

The Practice of Intensity: An Interview with Charles Dodd White

There’s something to be said for a writer who can edit as well as pen a good story. Whatever that may be, and it should be flattering, it should be said about Charles Dodd White. White, along with Page Seay, edited the anthology Degrees of Elevation a couple years back and included numerous cutting edge contemporary Appalachian stories in its pages. The anthology has garnered a great deal of attention, much like White’s two novels, Lambs of Men and A Shelter of Others, as well as his short story collection, Sinners of Sanction County. Charles took time recently to jaw with me here at Revolution John about endless bus rides, the practice of intensity, and writer’s writers. For more from him, visit his website here.

Charles_Dodd_White

SHELDON LEE COMPTON: The first time I met you we were at Spalding University in Louisville. I’d been there a couple semesters for the MFA (a friend of mine said this stood for Mother Fucking Asshole degree, which I found pretty witty and sometimes true) and I think you’d just arrived. You were sitting at a table during a lunch break not eating a thing. You had a notebook out writing like a demon. I remember someone said to me, “Hey, that guy with the hat on, he hitchhiked here from Canada.” I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it made for a hell of a mythology if not. Nowadays, with your prolific output well underway, I sometimes think it’s because you’d rather write than eat.

CHARLES DODD WHITE: The story is close enough to call true. I took a Greyhound from Toronto to Louisville with some questionable customers. Guy sitting next to me was awfully insistent that I share that bourbon I’d foolishly told him I had packed away for the duration of the trip. Let’s just say that the next nineteen hours of riding was not the most peaceable I’ve experienced. If you want to see the truth of the American bizarre ride a bus cross country. You will be edified.

Yes, I write to write. I want to render sentences to the point that they cause envy. There’s enough crap out there that’s written to popular formula. I think we have to justify another story or book by the practice of intensity. I guess this makes me a writer’s writer, since pushing toward extremities is not always popular with a general reading audience. That’s fine. I love doing what I do. I like the development of rare expertise.

SLC: I love that – “I think we have to justify another story or book by the practice of intensity.” Never heard it put that way and it fits perfectly for anyone working this craft and really doing it with the idea of rolling up their sleeves and offering something worthwhile. Great way of putting it.

You mention being a “writer’s writer” and I would agree, man. I think of James Salter in particular when discussing this, and your writing hits a similar mark for me. The full story is always there, but you can also slow down and really chew on your individual sentences, really get a taste of the work that went into them.

schism6-web

So you accepted a new teaching position just a few weeks back. Congratulations and well-deserved. How is all that going? What do you think of teaching as a writer in general, or the ping pong debate about whether WRITING can be truly be taught?

CDW: Thanks, I’m really happy about being settled into a place. I’m teaching at a community college, so a lot of the focus is on helping people develop skills that will tangibly benefit them, either in the workplace or down the line at a university. So, my teaching of writing is more practical than aesthetic; there are definitely ways you can help a student discover his or her own voice and feel comfortable engaging with the world. I like the work a lot, but it seems quite different if not entirely diametric to my own work as a fiction writer.

When I have taught master workshops as a guest faculty, I’ve seen my role largely as a curator. I like to bring passages and stories that excite me as a writer and share those things with the attendees. It’s a great deal of fun to see someone become enthusiastic about a writer they’ve never read before.

SLC: That is a pleasure for sure, turning someone on to a new writer. Also, being turned on to one. That’s what happened to me with Breece Pancake, the best writer to breath air, in my opinion. A friend told me about this writer who killed himself when he was 26, said he kicked much ass, too. Read some of his stuff, he said. A creative thesis later and even a short story based on his last day, and I’m still thinking about Pancake. I visited his gravesite a few days ago and, man, I thought to myself, “Why the hell isn’t there a statue somewhere around here for this man? Why is his grave behind a novelty store that sells dildos? I could have gone two houses from the cemetery and asked and I guarantee the residents would have had no idea who the hell I was talking about if I asked them about Pancake. And there are a ton of great writers in this same sad situation. Do you have any close to your heart and gut that you’re just jumping to tell people about?

CDW: Well, you mentioned Salter, and I think he’s greatly underrated by the reading public. His last novel, All That Is, was as good as anything I read last summer. You have yourself published Taylor Brown’s work, and I think the world of his writing. His stories are uncompromising both at the level of style and content. Another writer who has been getting a lot of attention lately and who deserves it is John Williams. Stoner is every bit as good as it is hyped to be, and I’ve just started reading Butcher’s Crossing and that one, though completely different in tone and intent, is just as impressive. Really, pretty much anything that New York Review of Books Classics has been reissuing has been excellent. That’s where I found Williams and Don Carpenter, who is another great writer rescued from relative obscurity.

SLC: It’s always nice to see these sorts of writers rescued. I’ve just put John Williams on my reading list. Thanks for that, man. You’ve written both novels and collections. How are the two different for you? Do you have a preference?

CDW: I go back and forth between the novel and short story form. I really think writing stories tightens up what you do in a longer form, and it suits my style well. I love Hemingway, but Hemingway for more than 200 pages can start to wear thin. I think my ideal form is in the very short novel, somewhere between 55,000 and 65,000 words. Anything much longer than that and I feel a collapse of structure, a messiness that suits many great novels but which I struggle with personally.

SLC: Can you talk some about what’s up next for you? What can we expect to see from you in the next few years?

CDW: I’m slowly writing a new novel about an eco-terrorist in hiding with his teenage daughter in the Southern Appalachian mountains. The working title is Feasts of the Sun and I hope, I stress hope, to have a draft by fall of 2015. I’m giving myself permission not to rush to another book. It seems like the big publishers demand a new novel almost every season, and I don’t care to pulp my stuff like that. If I can get three more books published over the next decade, I’ll be happy with that. Probably a few stories as well.

SLC: Okay, let’s say you’re back on that bus heading to Spalding University. Give us a paragraph or two about what you see, spin us a little yarn from that moment.

CDW: My yarn would involve the hypnotic march of the road itself, the liquid qualities of time and night. Ideas are always out there on the edge of what we’ve found in the unlikeliest places.

Brain and Crows, fiction by Garret Schuelke

 

I forgot to get the beer. I looked around for store, and saw Madison’s Community Bar behind me. I ran in and got some Oberon.

 

Back at the same spot I was before, I gave Mick a call. I stopped at the building that had his address.

 

“Huh, Floyd?” Mick answered.

 

“Yep, minus the ‘Huh’,” I said.

 

“Cool. Are you in Chicago yet?”

 

“Yep. I think I’m in front of your place. You didn’t tell me you were shacked up in a closed veterinary clinic.”

 

“We’re above it. I’ll be down in a sec.”

 

I looked up at the window above the clinic. I looked down the street and thought of how cozy this neighborhood looked. Mick opened the door. I held the Oberon out with both hands, bowed my head, and presented it to him.

 

“O’ Mighty Mick! Thank you for your patronage!” I said. “Please, accept this K-zoo elixir!”

 

“Why didn’t you get any Pabst?” he asked, taking it.

 

“Forgot the beer until I at your doorstep.” We headed up the stairs. “If this doesn’t satisfy you, I promise I’ll buy you the biggest pack of PBR I can find sometime this week. How’s that sound?

 

Mick spun around and looked at me. “A week? You said you would only be here for the weekend.”

 

“I asked you if I could stay the weekend. Then I told you I had the following week off and was planning a different trip. You said I should forget those plans and stay with you the whole time.”

 

Mick narrowed his eyes and looked off into space. He hummed and tapped his foot.

 

“It’s what you said over Facebook,” I said.

 

“I gotta recheck that,” he said, continuing up the stairs. I rolled my eyes and followed.

 

Mick opened the door, then nearly closed it on me after he entered. I stopped it with my foot and stepped in. Mick was putting the Oberon in the side of the fridge. A guy sat on the couch browsing a Youtube playlist.

 

“Hey, Sufjan, let me see my computer,” Mick said.

 

Sufjan minimized the page and looked over. He noticed me, smiled, and stood up. “Hi, I take it you’re Floyd?” he said, extending his hand.

 

“That’s me.” We shook hands.

 

Mick plopped down on the couch and opened his Facebook.

 

“He’s just been gushing about you all week—even got me pretty excited.”

 

I looked over at Mick, who was looking over our conversation. “I knew we were tight, Mick, but this reverence on your part surprises me.”

 

“Uh-huh,” Mick said.

 

“So, is this your first time in Chicago?” Sufjan asked as he walked across the living room. I followed, taking my backpack off.

 

“No, but this is my first time in Bridgeport.” Sufjan went into his room and scanned his bookshelf. I gazed out through the same window I looked up at from the street. “Bridgeport is really beautiful in the fall.”

 

“I know, right?” Sufjan took two computer textbooks from the shelf. “I’ve lived in this area for nearly four years.”

 

“How’s the rent?”

 

“It’s affordable—cheapest I could find this close to downtown.”

 

“For now, anyway,” Mick said. He put down the computer and picked up a bowl and examined it. “It’s slowly getting gentrified. Give it a few more years.”

 

“So, you cool with me staying here?” I asked.

 

Mick put down the bowl and picked up the other one that was underneath the table. “Yeah, we’ll see,” he said, examining it.

 

I shrugged. Sufjan went into his room. The bike repair station that Mick told me about was right next to me. Three bikes were leaned up against the wall.

 

“Which one of these is going to be my ride? I asked.

 

Mick began scraping the bowl. “The black Raleigh.”

 

I stood it up. “Speed?”

 

“Ten. I’m selling it for $100. You want it?”


“No thanks, I’m cool with the bike I have back in Kalamazoo.”

“Okay, you can wear the For Sale sign during the ride.”

 

“Which one’s yours?”

 

“The silver Schwinn. I’ve customized everything on it these past two months. You should see how I transform it in the winter.”

 

“Nice.” I put the bike back in place and joined Mick on the couch. He packed the bowl, looked it over, and nodded his head.

 

“Sufjan!” he yelled. “Recession bowl! You want the first hit this time?”

 

Sufjan came out and Mick handed him the bowl. He took two hits, handed it to me, then went back to his room.

 

I passed it over to Mick. “No, be my guest,” he said.

 

I lit up and inhaled. I kept in for a few seconds and exhaled. I immediately began coughing. I handed Mick the bowl and headed to the sink.

 

“Still a beginner,” Mick said, shaking his head, then taking a hit.

 

“It’s because I don’t smoke cigarettes,” I said, drinking deeply from the faucet. I calmed down, filled up a glass, and rejoined him. He handed me the bowl and I took another hit.

 

“We got two hours until Mass.” Mick picked up the remote and turned on Netflix. “There’s this series I think will be of much interest to you.”

 

I tipped my head back and blew the smoke towards the ceiling. I let out a little cough.

 

Mick and I stood in front of a map of Chicago that showed the bike lanes. He schooled me on the ways of Chicagoan bicyclists while we drank the Oberon.

 

“The easiest way to adopt is to become an adherent of Bikerism,” he said.

 

I finished my beer. “You got a religion for this shit?”

 

“No, philosophy. I created it.”

 

“Oh boy.”

 

“First tenet, you go fast. Second, you don’t stop for anything.”

 

“What about red lights and stop signs?”

 

“Blow through them. They don’t matter.”

 

“Cars?”

 

“They’ll stop for you.”

 

I snorted. “That’s faith, not philosophy.”

 

“This is Chicago—they’re used to this type of behavior.”

 

Sufjan came into the kitchen and opened the fridge. He took out an Oberon and used his shirt to open it.

 

“Sufjan, are you a follower of Bikerism?” I asked.

 

He swished the beer around, then swallowed it. “Totally. Mick showed me the light.”

 

“It’s slowing growing.” Mick said.

 

“Way to go, L. Ron,” I said, raising my empty bottle. I looked at the clock. “We got 45-some minutes until Critical Mass starts.”

 

Mick nodded. “It won’t take us long to get to Daley Plaza.” We walked over to the bikes. “It never starts on time anyway.”

 

He taped the For Sale sign on the side of my bike. “You got another one?” I asked.

 

“Second shelf.”

 

I wrote down the info and handed it to him. “Tape it to my back.”

 

Mick did so with four pieces of duct tape. He picked up the marker and wrote something on it.

 

“What did you add?”

 

“A downward arrow. We want to sell the bike, not you.”

 

“But I’m such a good deal!

 

Mick led his bike to the door. “That’s what you believe.”

 

“I’m really digging the price,” said the man. He wore spandex, had a goatee, sunglasses, and a baby blue bandana. “Can you tell me its history?”

 

I tugged Micks sleeve, and Mick proceeded to tell him all about it. I held the man’s bike as he rode it around. A bike cop walked across the plaza. The man stopped to talk to him. Mick and I looked at each other, then back at them.

 

The man screeched to a stop in front of us. “That was good,” he said. “I’ll think it over this week. What’s your email?”

 

“What were you talking to that cop about?” Mick asked.

 

“Oh, Brent and I have known each other for a decade now. We’re partners on occasion.”

 

“Partners?” I asked.

 

“Yeah, I’m a police officer.”

 

I looked at Mick, who had his head down, biting his lip, arms crossed. The cop look confused.

 

“I’m off-duty right now,” the man said. “I enjoy attending Critical Mass. I really do believe in its mission and goals, though I think their tactics should change.”

 

“How so?” I asked.

 

“Well, I think the Mass has to become less confrontational.”

 

“That’s what Critical Mass is about,” Mick said, “taking back the streets and defying the culture that automobiles have created.”

 

“Agreed, but the prevailing attitude amongst the riders is often too toxic.”

 

Mick nodded. “Uh-huh.”

 

“Spitting on cars, disrespecting drivers—these things do nothing to take advantage of the positive energy that the Mass could bring to downtown.”

 

“What about your fellow cops?” I asked, thumbing towards the line of bike cops. “I’ve heard enough stories and seen enough YouTube vids to know how you guys usually interact with us.”

 

“Yeah, both sides feed off each other’s negativity.” He intertwined his fingers. “But unity is possible. The universe works in ways that will always surprise us.”

 

“Uh-huh,” Mick said.

 

“Are you really a cop?” I asked.

 

“I am.” He took out his wallet and fished out a card that identified him as a CPD officer. His name was Gerald Collins. He then covered up his last name with his thumb.

 

“What are you doing?” Mick asked.

 

“Oh, you know, security,” Gerald said. “Don’t want too many people knowing who I am.”

 

“Gotcha…GERALD COLLINS,” I said loudly, giving him a thumbs up.

 

He laughed. We resumed the conversation about the bike, though Mick was more reserved than he was before. Gerald said he would be in touch, shook our hands, and left.

 

“That’s how you sell a bike,” I said.

 

Mick glared. “Fuck no, are you kidding me?  The pigs get enough bikes and cars and money from us. I’d rather sell it to someone I don’t despise.”

 

I watched Gerald ride past the police line. He waved at them and they all smiled and waved back.

 

Mick received a tap on his shoulder. It was a girl with a frizzy ponytail.

 

“Hi, can I take your bike for a test run?” she said.

 

“Absolutely,” Mick said, handing her the bike.  “Looking for a change?”

 

“I’ve had my bike forever!” she said, hopping on. “I think I’ve worn it out.”

 

She went off around the Plaza. Mick looked over the bike over and felt the tires.

 

“Chipped paint, dents,” Mick looked closer, “rusted everywhere…”

 

The girl stopped to talk to another girl, who joined her as they rode back over.

 

“Both of your tires are really low on air,” Mick said. “You should get them filled up at the station over there.” Mark pointed towards a guy who had a wagon tied to his bike that was filled with tools.

 

“Thanks much,” she said, swapping bikes with Mick. “I want to talk more about your bike when I get back.”

 

“We’ll be here.”

 

The girl left, but her friend stayed behind with us. She was looking us over.

 

“Do you want to take the bike for a spin?” I asked.

 

She snapped her fingers. “NOW I know it’s you!” she said. “Floyd Spicer! I recognize your accent.”

 

“I have a deep voice, not really an accent,” I said. I went through my memories, and realized who I was talking to. “Anita…crap, I forgot your last name.”

 

“Kubert, not crap,” Anita said.

 

“I was close.”

 

She tried to slap me. I blocked it, laughed, and we embraced.

 

“I’m confused now,” Mick said.

 

I turned around, my arm around her waist. Anita put her arm around my waist and pulled me into her. “Mick, meet Anita. Anita, this is Mick, a friend originally from Kalamazoo.”

 

“How long have you’ve lived here?” Anita asked.

 

“A year in Bridgeport. Where do you live?”

 

“Emily and I are from Forest Park.”

 

“We know each other from Key Club,” I said. “We met at the International Convention in Indianapolis.”

 

Mick stared vacantly. “Uh-huh.”

 

“We also hung out at the St. Louis and Atlanta conventions,” Anita said.

 

Mick nodded and said “Uh-huh” again.

 

Emily rolled up. “So, is this that Floyd guy you were talking about?” she asked Anita.

 

“There’s no other ‘Floyd Guy’ around here but me,” I said.

 

Anita and I caught up with each other while Mick and Emily discussed his bike. Anita worked in the photography department at Walgreens and had her own house. She was previously taking classes in early childhood education at Concordia University. I told her that I graduated from Western Michigan University last winter.

 

I used my fingers to count. “Two years. If you count the year at Alpena Community College and the year at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse, then four.”

 

“That’s quite an educational journey.”

 

“God, I know.” I shook my head. “I still have nightmares of failing math classes at least once a month.”

 

Whistles and horns started going off. Everyone begin making their way onto the street.

 

“You guys want to join us?” I asked.

 

“We plan on meeting some friends in Wicker Park in a little bit,” Emily said. “You guys are welcome to come hang if you want.”

 

I looked over at Mick. He shook his head.

 

“Sorry, but I guess we have other plans,” I said.

 

“Gimme your phone number,” Anita said. I told her it, and she sent me a text that said: i got u babe.

 

Mick and Emily shook hands, and Anita and I hugged. She pecked me on the cheek, and I did the same to her.

 

“Call or text me later,” she said.

 

“I’ll be here the entire week,” I said. “We’ll get a drink or something.”

 

They went off. I grinned at Mick and gave him the V sign. He rolled his eyes, hopped on his bike, and sped off. “Fucking hater,” I mumbled, getting on my bike and following.

 

The man in the Trailblazer honked his horn repeatedly. The bicyclists in front of him flipped him off and spit on his windshield. We didn’t do anything, but the bicyclists behind us continued spitting on his car.

 

The bicycle cops formed a line up front. They were attempting to get us to turn left. Everyone started chanting ‘LET US THROUGH!’ A few riders broke away to talk to the cops. Others got up front and began encouraging us to continue forward. Mick joined them, his fist raised.

 

Sufjan pulled up suddenly, making me jump. “What did I miss so far?”

 

“A lot, but you’re just in time for this mess,” I said, pointing at Mick.

 

The cops stood still. We went towards them. Behind them, I spotted another group marching down the street towards us.

 

“Who’s that?” I asked

 

“That would be Occupy Chicago,” Sufjan said, “here to save the day.”

 

The cops looked back at Occupy, then talked amongst themselves. One of them pointed to the sidewalk. They moved out of the way, and we continued on our route.

 

Occupy went to the side and cheered us on. We slapped hands and bumped fists with them as we passed. Mick caught up, smiling, breathing heavily.

 

“Bikerism in action!” he said.

 

“We gotta hang out with Occupy sometime this week,” I said.

 

“I try to go to their occupation as much as I can,” Mick said. “I think they march every day.”

 

The cops were now on each side of us. They were trying to herd us into the right lanes.

 

“Let’s go!” Mick yelled, swerving into the left lane. We followed, and the cops started yelling at us.

 

The Mass started to chant ‘CORK!’. We sped up and joined some other bicyclists in blocking traffic.

 

“Get out of the intersection!” one of the cops said into his microphone. By the time they chased us away, the mass was too big to stop from going through. Cars honked, and the cops went back trying to push us to one side.

 

A cop pulled up beside us. “You need to get into the right lane!”

 

“Officer, we have every right to be riding on these streets,” Mick said.

 

“I’m not going to argue this with any of you today.” The cop got closer to Mick and pointed. “That side, NOW!”

“Not gonna happen, sir.”

 

The cop tried to grab Mick by the shoulder. Mick dodged and stopped his bike. We stopped beside him. Someone behind us yelled ‘That pig tried to grab him!’, and a small group formed behind us.

 

“You have no right to touch me!” Mick yelled.

 

“You threatened me first,” the cop said.

 

“Bullshit!” I said.

 

His fellow officers came and surrounded him. “That’s the kind of little bitch you are, huh?” the officer said. Another cop put his arm out in front of him. “You gotta have your friends protect you?”

 

“Sir, he tried to attack me while I was riding,” Mick said to the cop that had his arm out. “I want to file a complaint.”

 

The officer shook his head. The cop who tried to grab Mick attempted to lung forward. Another officer came to help hold him back.

 

“Are you being serious right now?” Mick asked. The cop nodded. “Fine, I want both of your badge numbers!”

 

The cop covered his badge with his hand.


“Hey, little bitch!” the cop who tried to grab Mick said, still being restrained. “Me and my boys are gonna have a hot dog party with your mom down in her basement later tonight!”

 

“And now he just said he was gonna to rape my mom!” Mick said. “You guys gonna do anything about that?”

 

“Just move on, man,” the officer said.

 

Sufjan tapped Micks shoulder and nodded his head towards the Mass’s direction. Mick bit his lip, got on his bike, and we left.

 

Mick bitched about the encounter. A few people asked him if he was alright. He asked us if we had recorded the confrontation. We said we didn’t, and he proceeded to bitch us out about it.

 

A cop passed by and got in front of me. He slowed down, making me nearly have to stop in order to not hit him, until he was riding next to Mick.

 

“Hey, you!” he said, waving. “I heard what you said back there. Things could have gone a lot smoother.”

 

Mick glared at him, snorted, and sped away. We followed, zigzagging around the other bicyclists until a wall of people made us slow down. The cop caught up.

 

“None of that would have happened if you didn’t open your fucking mouth,” he said.

 

We turned down a street and stopped in front of a convenience store. We stood up, breathing heavily.

 

The cop pulled up. “If you want to make this hard, we can make it hard.”

 

“We’d prefer not to, sir,” Sufjan said.

 

“Good. Remember this chat of ours.” He rode back to the Mass.

 

“So, we’re done for today?” I asked.

 

“Oh yeah, definitely,” Mick said. “Let’s go home.”

 

“Wait, Anita said that she and Emily were gonna be hanging out in Wicker Parker. Wanna check it out?”

 

Mick shook his head. “Fuck that,” he said, hopping on his bike and riding off. Sufjan shrugged his shoulders and followed.

 

“Dammit,” I muttered, following them.

 

Sufjan and I couldn’t keep up with Mick once we got on Halsted. We gave up after nearly getting hit twice while trying to blow through the intersections. We stopped by Madison’s and got more beer, only to find out at the apartment that Mick bought a 12-pack.

 

We drank, smoked, and watched Netflix. Mick was silent most of the time, sunk into the couch, pounding Pabst after Pabst. Sufjan and I conversed about everything and played random episodes of The IT Crowd.

 

Mick said he had heartburn, spent some time in the bathroom vomiting, then went to bed. Sufjan hung around till 3 a.m., then went to bed. I put up my hoodie and stretched out on the couch.

 

Mick vomiting into the kitchen trash can woke me up. I rubbed my eyes and swirled my tongue around my mouth. When I opened my eyes, Mick was leaning over the counter, head in his hands, a glass of water next to him.

 

“You clog up the toilet?” I asked, sitting up.

 

“The floor was killing my knees,” he mumbled. He took a drink, then laid his head on the counter.

 

I rumpled my hair. My hand came out greasy. “Mind if I use your shower?”

 

Mick lifted his head and rested it in his palm. “Yeah, you need to leave.”

 

“Uh, what?”

 

“I want you out of here. Right now would be good.”

 

I scratched my head. “Dude, what the fuck? Why?”

 

“You being here isn’t going to work.”

 

“My train doesn’t come in until next Saturday!” I stood up. My leg hit the table, making the can, bottles, and bowls wobble. “You said it was all good!”

 

“I need to job search, okay?” Mick stood up straight. The top of his shirt was stained with vomit. “I don’t have the time to fuck around with you.”

 

I put on my backpack and adjusted the straps. Mick opened the door and stood there, hand on the knob. I walked up and we glared at each other.

 

“Fuck you, Mick,” I said, grabbing the outside knob. “For real, fuck you.”

 

I yanked on the knob as I walked out. Mick held the other side, leaving the door partially open.  I yanked again, making the door slam. I head Mick lock the door click and put the deadbolt in place.

 

I walked outside and went down towards Madison’s. My phone vibrated. It was a text from Mick. Below it was the text Anita sent yesterday.


I gave her number a call. I got her voicemail. I walked into Madison’s—ignoring the bartender—and went into the bathroom.

 

~~~

 

Garret Schuelke is a writer and blogger residing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has self-published two poetry ebooks, and has had his work featured in publications such as Revolution John, A Thousand and One Stories, Eskimo Pie, and Schlock! Webzine. He can be reached at garretschuelke.tumblr.com and @garretschuelke

Black Doom of Option, fiction by Garret Schuekle

 

 

“There’s nothing that can be done?” Imogene asked.

 

“Nope. He wants us out by Sunday afternoon.”

 

Misty handed Imogene her phone. Imogene scanned the landlord’s texts. She gave Misty her phone back and walked into the living room. She kicked the bean bag chair at the bookcase.

 

“D-FLY! YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE!” she shouted, banging on D-Fly’s door. D-Fly’s dogs started barking. Imogene tried the doorknob. The dogs began jumping onto the door.

 

“I’M GOING TO BUST YOUR FUCKING DOOR DOWN!” Imogene looked at Misty, who was still in the kitchen. “Mist, get the sledgehammer!”

 

Misty ran to the basement. Imogene wandered away from the door, breathing heavily, hands on her hips. Misty came into the living room and presented Imogene with the hammer. She tapped D-Fly’s door knob with it. “Last chance, D-Fly, or I’m busting in.”

 

The dogs continued barking. Imogene stretched her arms, threw her dreads back, and positioned herself. “Oh shit, take these,” she said, handing Misty her glasses. She re-positioned herself, carefully lifted the sledgehammer, and brought it down on the door knob. The dogs yelped. Imogene grunted as she lifted the sledgehammer and again brought it down. She missed the knob and graced the door, taking some of the siding off it. She bent down and thrust the hammer at the spot. The wood gave away.

 

Imogene looked inside. D-Fly walked out of view. She heard shuffling and muttering. D-Fly’s stomach came into view. Imogene stood up and backed away.

 

D-Fly cracked open the door, letting Buster and Trick out. He slammed the door and re-locked the deadbolt.

 

“NO YOU DON’T, MOTHERFUCKER!”  Imogene yelled, slamming herself against the door. She got down on her knees and peered through the hole. “We want our money back!”

 

Buster and Trick came up and licked Imogene’s face. She pushed them away. They started sniffing her dreads. Imogene watched D-Fly drag his dresser across the room. A book and an ashtray fell off as he jerked it. He put the dresser in front of the door.

 

“FUCKER!” Imogene yelled, banging the door.

 

“Come on,” Misty said, pulling Imogene by the arm. “I just saw Zachary pull up. Let’s go talk to him about this.”


Trick was trying to hop on Imogene. Imogene kicked her away. Trick shook her head and whimpered as Imogene, Misty, and Buster went outside.

 

“More like he took YOUR money,” Zachary said. “I told you guys to use checks or money orders.”

 

Imogene and Misty stared at the ground, smoking.

 

“Well, if he’s gonna boot us, I want my money back!”

 

“You can worry about that,” Imogene said, lighting another cigarette with her nearly finished one. “We gotta get our shit out of here.”

 

“You don’t want to battle this?”

 

“We’ve been fighting everything since that junkie motherfucker moved in here! I don’t care about my deposit or any of that shit. I just want out.”

 

Misty snapped her fingers. “Storage unit, again?”

 

Imogene pulled Misty into her and kissed her forehead. “That’s my girl! You want in, Zach? We all go in on the smallest one we can find. ”

 

“Thanks, but I got some people that’ll let me store my shit if it comes down to it.” Zachary took out his phone. “I’m gonna give it a shot.”

 

Imogene rocked Misty, who rested her head on Imogene’s shoulder. “If you wanna deal with the D-Fly too, be my guest.”

 

Zachary flipped her off and walked towards the fence, phone next to his ear.

 

“The captains going down with the ship,” Misty said, “so don’t be so mean to him.”

 

“He took D-Fly in.”

 

“No, Trent brought D-Fly over, and D-Fly wouldn’t have moved in if Trent didn’t fuck up.”

 

Imogene held the smoke in, turned her head, and blew it in Misty’s face. “That’s one thing we’re gonna do when we get our own house: fuckin’ screen the applicants.  None of this ‘Oh, this guy wants to move in and we need another housemate ASAP’ shit.”

 

Misty sat up and rubbed her eyes. “I don’t ever want to live with someone like D-Fly again.”

 

“Does this mean that next time you see a strange amount of ‘dots’ on a person’s arm, you won’t think they’re just mosquito bites?”

 

“Bitch, shut up,” Misty pointed at her. “I mean crusties. And for the record, I thought they were bed bug bites.”

 

“But we’re crusties.”

 

“Not like him, though.”

 

“Oh, you mean junkie punks, then. Got it.”

 

I’d be more than happy to settle this in court with you, mothefucker!” Zachary yelled. Zachary realized that Imogene and Misty were staring at him. He walked behind the shed.

 

“Now it’s gonna get good,” Misty said. “I’m gonna use the bathroom and get a beer. Want one?”

 

Imogene lit another cigarette. “Yes. I’m gonna enjoy listening to this.”

 

Trick slipped past when Misty opened the screen door. She tried to jump on Buster. Buster growled. She then attempted to take away the tree branch he had in his mouth. Imogene giggled every time Zachary raised his voice.

 

Buster and Trick stopped playing. They looked to the driveway, their ears perked up.

 

“Yo! Buster! Trick!” Imogene snapped her fingers. “Over here, now!”

 

They ignored her and walked to the driveway. They started barking. Imogene picked up two empty beer cans and threw them at the dogs. Buster and Trick stopped barking, looked at her, and came to her side when she snapped her fingers again.

 

Six teenagers walked up. Buster started barking again. Imogene slapped him alongside the head.

 

“Hi, ma’am, how are you today?” said the teenage who led the group.

 

“Could be way better, actually,” Imogene said, flicking away her smoke.

 

“Damn, we’re sorry to hear that,” one of the teens said, causing the others to laugh.

 

“FUCK! YOU!” Zachary yelled. The shed emitted a loud band, and shook.

 

“What’s going on back there?” the leader asked.

 

“Slumlord shit,” Imogene said. “Can I help you guys?”

 

“Yeah! We’re taking up a collection for our baseball team to get new uniforms.” Two teens behind him shook their garbage bags. “Do you have any empty bottles you want to part with?”

 

“No, but we have plenty of empty cans.” Imogene swept her arm around the yard. “You can have all the cans we got laying around back here.”

 

“Thanks, but we can only take bottles,” one of the teens said. He tapped his shoulder with the bat he was holding.

 

“Why?”

 

The group laughed. “We don’t know. That’s what our coach told us.”

 

Buster started to growl. Imogene grabbed him and Trick by their collars. Misty came out with two beers in hand.

 

“Can we have some money, then?” one of the teens asked.

 

“No, I’m broke as fuck.”

 

“How about the guy behind the shed? Or her?”

 

“No, he’s busy, and she’s as broke as I am.”

 

“How can you all afford to live here if you’re all bums?”

 

Imogene glared at him. “You can either take the cans, or you can fuck off.”

 

The group looked at each other and nodded their heads. “Perhaps you have some bottles in your house?” the leader asked.

 

Imogene stood up. “All right, get the fuck out of here!”

 

One of the teens tapped the leader on the shoulder and pointed to the basketball hoop that was attached to the tree. The leader grinned, held his hand out, and was handed an empty bottle from the garbage bag.

 

“Here’s the deal: I put this bottle through the hoop, and you give us twenty bucks,” the leader said, winding up.


“ ‘Gene, what’s he talking about? Misty asked.

The leader whipped the bottle at the tree. It smashed above the hoop. “Another!” he yelled.

Imogene walked up and punched the leader. The teen behind him rushed forward and pushed Imogene. Another one threw a bottle at her. It flew past, sailing over Buster, and smashed into the screen door.

The group started to throw bottles at them. Misty dropped the beers and covered herself, screaming. Buster and Tricked charged at the group. The leader kicked Buster and the teen next to him swung at Trick with his bat.

Imogene shielded Misty. She opened the door and pushed her inside. She called Buster and Trick. A bottle smashed against her leg. She grimaced. The dogs ran in. A bottle bounced off the side of her head. She went inside and locked the door.

The dogs were down in the basement, barking. Misty stood at the bottom of the stairs, wiping the make up from her eyes.

“God, what the fuck ?!” she yelled.

Imogene walked into the kitchen. She lifted her leg on the table and examined it. Blood covered her thigh, and started to drip on the table.

She heard the living room window shatter. Imogene watched as bottles flew into the living room. The group hollered and laughed.

The bottles stopped. Imogene heard another window shatter, followed by thumps in the wall. D-Fly let out a scream. Two huge smashes followed the thumps. D-Fly’s door burst open. He ran into the living. He stepped on the broken glass, howled, and fell onto the carpet.  He got up, staggered the rest of the way, and fell to the floor.

“Fuck, fuck,” he muttered, getting onto his knees. “Please help me. Fuckin’ help me!”

Imogene waited until D-Fly steadied himself on the counter. She grabbed him by the throat and squeezed.

“YOU PIECE OF SHIT!” she yelled, shaking him. “WE’RE GETTING EVICTED BECAUSE OF YOU!”

D-Fly’s head dropped to his chest.  Imogene grabbed him by the hair. He coughed in her face.

“ASSHOLE!” She pulled D-Fly down the hall. He walked along, banging against the walls. Imogene unlocked the door, and threw him outside.

“Is it over?” Misty asked.

“Keep the dogs downstairs,” Imogene said.

She went outside. D-Fly was curled in a ball, shaking on top of the broken glass.

Zachery ran up the driveway, shovel in hand. “Hey, you guys okay?”

Imogene pointed at her leg. “I’m damaged.”

Zachary pointed at her head. “You got a cut on your noggin, next to you ear.”

Imogene touched it. She cringed.

“What’s this dumbass doing?” Zachary asked, pointing the shovel at D-Fly.

“Hopefully dying,” Imogene said, as D-Fly tried to stretch out. He quickly curled back into himself.

 

Trick sniffed the blood on the kitchen floor. Imogene noticed her and yelled, “TRICK! GET AWAY FROM THAT!” She stopped the vacuum and marched towards the dog. Trick ran back to the basement.

“What’s up?” Misty asked, looking up from her laptop.

“Trick was about to lap up some of D-Fly’s infected blood.”

“Infected? As in AIDS?”

“Wouldn’t surprise me.”

Zachary walked in. He saw the mess in the kitchen, and retrieved the mop and bucket from the closet.

“Any luck gathering clues?” Misty asked.

“The neighbors said they weren’t attacked.”  Zachary put dish soap in the bucket and turned on the water, “but they did say they heard of these of these kids doing this kind of shit around Vine all week.”

Imogene nodded, and finished vacuuming. Zachary started mopping the floor.

“Found one!” Misty said. “Giving them a call now!”

“Still going with the storage unit?” Zachery asked.

“Yep, we’re getting the fuck out of here,” Imogene said.

Zachary sighed. “I understand. This is my fault.”

“No, you’re just the one that does all the paperwork. It’ll seem like it’s your entire fault.”

“The neighbors offered to call the police. I told them I’ll take care of it, but I think they’re still gonna do it.”

“Tell them to wait until we’re gone first.”

“Calling them myself might save me somewhat on repair bills with the slumlord.”

“Yeah, go for it, but you might want to clean out D-Fly’s room first.”

“Why?”

“Junkie shit.”

Zachary shook his head.

Misty tapped Imogene’s shoulder. “The same place as last time on the corner of Vine and Portage has a unit open.”

“Still less than a hundred a month?” Imogene asked.

Misty nodded.

“Do we still get a student discount?”

Misty nodded again.

“That’s our cue,” Imogene said, setting the vacuum against the wall. They walked past Zachery. “Good luck with the law.”

Zachary swiped the area they walked on “Yell at D-Fly on your way out, will you?”

The screen door slammed.  Zachary heard Imogene shout, followed by a grunt by D-Fly. He put the mop in the bucket and walked into D-Fly’s room. The dresser that D-Fly used to block the door was tipped over. Glass covered the floor. Dents and holes littered the wall. A needle, pipe, and an ash covered stand stood next to the bed underneath the broken window. A pool of vomit laid on the right side of the bed, and a dark stain stood out in the middle of the mattress.

Zackary kicked an empty beer can into the closet. He heard Imogene and Misty walk by. A plume of smoke appeared outside the window, which was then blown away by a breeze.

 

~~~

 

Garret Schuelke is a writer and blogger residing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He has self-published two poetry ebooks, and has had his work featured in publications such as Revolution John, A Thousand and One Stories, Eskimo Pie, and Schlock! Webzine. He can be reached at garretschuelke.tumblr.com and @garretschuelke

I WROTE THIS BOOK ONE TIME, MAYBE YOU’VE HEARD OF IT, BUT PROBABLY NOT, BECAUSE NOBODY READ IT, INCLUDING MY FATHER. I CALLED IT BEND WITH THE KNEES & OTHER LOVE ADVICE FROM MY FATHER. HA! GET IT?, fiction by Benjamin Drevlow

 

Here’s an image: Yours truly six feet tall, but probably closer to five eleven these days, three hundred and fifty pounds of straight trans fats, triglycerides, and stretch marks as far as the eye can see. Or as far south as the frayed threads of my wifebeater will reach down my distended beer gut.

A half-assed mohawk because I’m over compensating for being so incredibly fat and a lowly adjunct professor at some no name community college—not even a tech school—instead of working with my hands like my old man—who doesn’t have a mohawk, doesn’t need a mohawk, he has his hands—those hands, I’ll get back to those.

In addition to my thread-bare wifebeater, I got my boxers with holes in the crotch and so bunched up under the insides of my sweaty thighs right now that if you were about to give me a blowie under the desk, you’d think I had on a pair of really saggy man-panties, which is just one of the reasons you wouldn’t be under the desk in the first place.

I had a girl put her hand down my pants once to get a feel of things, and that was the last I ever heard from her. She couldn’t quite get over the fact that it was all shaved off down there. Something queer about it, she was probably thinking. Both strange and homosexual is what I mean by queer.

Sure she was a good sport and tried to get things going down there for a while, but she kept bristling at the way the stubble felt against the palm of her hand. That’s my pun. Bristle. Anyway, she couldn’t stop stopping between strokes to wrinkle her little nose at me and sigh this big sigh as if I were asking her to give me some butt play.

This was back before I was quite such a tubbo, but after the hernias, which were just a couple of the reasons. She was my one and only redhead and I never held that against her, nor the fact that she wasn’t shaved or waxed, that goddamned jungle of ginger pubes my fingers had to untangle just to reciprocate. And I did reciprocate by the way. And with none of this sighing and nose-wrinkling business either.

I’m trying to get you to like me, if you haven’t noticed, this bit about me reciprocating and how the ungrateful bitch never called me back after that.

Or maybe just pity. That’s been my whole life probably. Pity and trying to get people to like me.

Like my father, for one.

And hot chicks with low self-esteems for another. Some of them being redheaded and unshaven.

In my book, pity and liking somebody are basically the same. But also why I’m so goddamned fat all of sudden.

Another of the reasons. I live a block from Culver’s and all their glorious butter burgers. I got about fifteen empty Mountain Dews cluttering my desk, a handful of Red Bulls, which are my favorite, but sometimes taste a little too much like Crystal Meth, which I’ve never had, but from what I’ve heard.

I was a fry cook for a couple years. The sous chef from nights, he used to tell me how he’d have to tip back a forty for breakfast every morning just to come down before heading off to work.

He tried to stab me once to make a point about never walking behind another cook who’s dicing a tubful of onions.

He probably wasn’t really trying. It seems like he was the type of guy who would’ve gone ahead and stabbed me if he was trying. Not to get into any character assassination or anything. You don’t even know him. And he wasn’t half bad to work with. A helluva cook.

Ha!

Sorry.  Another pun. Or maybe not even.

Back to my dad’s hands. Hamhocks but with these stubby little sausage fingers. Strongest goddamn fingers you’ll ever feel patting you on the back. I never did, but I could imagine. Man could twist out fully imbedded wood screws that I couldn’t even get with two hands and all my weight on the screwdriver.

You probably don’t believe that but it’s true. Or it was when I was ten years old.

Which is sometimes what I do.

Lies by omission, half-truths.

For instance I haven’t told you that I’m married now. Or that after ten years and a hundred pounds, she wouldn’t be caught dead under my desk eyeing up my bunched up undies.

Or washing and folding them for that matter.

Once way back before we’d started messing around, she asked my friend what to give me for my birthday. What did he say?

He said The fuck you think you give him, lady. You give that man a beej. Christ. Hasn’t he been through enough?

That’s what my friend called a blowie. He was from West Virginia. This accent like Yosemite Sam doing an impression of Barney Fife. But don’t worry. I’m not going to try to capture that shit on paper. It’s too good.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. My father, my book.

Maybe you’ve heard of it? A little self-help thing called Bend with the Knees and Other Love Advice from My Father.

Which is hilarious to me because my father has never given love advice to anyone so far as I know. Never even kissed my mom while I was around.

But it ain’t like my old man molested me or anything, if that’s what you’re thinking.

Seems to be what those publisher people thought the implication was, that somewhere in there there was a metaphor for my dad giving me the old bad touch when I was a little kid. The subtext is what they kept telling me. Or maybe the title.

Metaphors coming back to bite me in the ass again.

Ha!

Probably the only reason they agreed to publish the damn thing in the first place. Thinking they could’ve gotten me yelled at by Oprah on national television or something.

But then maybe that was the problem: too much subconscious molestation subtext, not enough loud and clear molestation in the text.

My dad didn’t molest, you gotta believe. I would’ve been more than happy to’ve used that to sell books if he had.

But he did always used to yell at me for lifting hay bales with my back and instead of my knees. But then I went and showed him. Broke the school record for deadlifting in high school. Then about ten years later went and got me a couple of double hernias for my trouble. The ones where they have to shave you down there and then you gotta go and shave your treasure trail yourself otherwise things look a little funny. The road to nowhere.

Goddamn high hilarity, right?

Sometimes I just kill me.

But god’s honest truth, I did write a book a few years ago and they even published the silly little thing.

A mem-wha! that’s what they called it.

Local farm boy goes and tries to kill himself six different times and lives to write about it, the feel-good story of the year.

And there I go trying to make you like me again.

Or feel sorry.

No molestation though.

Prescription painkillers, which accounted for four of those times, are the teenaged drama queens when it comes to methods of suicide. The last time, I didn’t even have to get my stomach pumped. Everything was coming back up red and purple by the time I’d gotten to the bottom of that bottle of Wild Turkey.

And again with the half-truths.

It was Kahlua actually. Only thing that girl had to drink at the time.

Ha! That girl was me.

But don’t worry. In the book, I made sure to exaggerate everything and make it seem as if I really might’ve had it in me to kill myself in a manly fashion, like say with a well-placed lasso hanging from the hay elevator up in the barn. A lot of long lingering gazes at my father’s hunting rifles locked up in our basement.

My mom said that it hurt my old man the worst. The book, the blaming—not the not being able to kill myself, nor the attempt thereof.

She said it always embarrassed him when people from around town would ask him about it.

What’s it called then, Boss?

Bend with the Knees and Other Love Advice from My Father?

Sure is a funny title there, eh Boss?

It any good?

You even read it yet?

As if my father would’ve read some sissy little mem-wha from his only boy who all he ever could do was piss and moan about everything, and now low and behold, he’d gone and found a way to make a living off it.

There was no talk of if my mom or dad had thought that I had any molestation subtext in there or how they interpreted the title of it.

Figuratively, you know?

I’m not a healthy man, you know, but then again that’s why I had to write myself a book. A mem-wha.

Except the molestation part, which probably would’ve made it more successful.

Not that my father has ever said anything to me about it. Never even read a page of it so far as I know, thank God.

But my mother’s read it, and she’s said more than enough for both of them.

And there I go again trying to make you like me.

In case you haven’t noticed I don’t have much of an ego, which is another reason I wrote a mem-wha about how sad and pitiful I am.

But then you already probably know that by now. I’m not exactly “Hills for White Elephants” or whatever that Hemingway story is where it turns out the elephants are abortion.

Seriously, that’s the type of shit they make kids write papers about and then they wonder why people hate writers and writing and give guys like me a bad name.

Anyway, my wife and I had an abortion once, or more accurately, she had an abortion and I went to work to teach college kids how to cite sources.

And that’s not just another sick joke.

She had to walk past eight of those praying protesters and everything. Or my wife said she had to. Of course she wasn’t my wife at the time. Which is one of the reasons we probably ended up tying the knot after so many years of just plain old no-hassle cohabitating.

You wanna know what that whole scene looked like?

Fuck you, it looked like the type of scene that you’d wanna punch somebody over.

But then probably I was a bit sensitive because I didn’t even have the stones to cancel class and go with her. I mean, I she was pretty adamant about not making it a big deal and just wanting to get it done.

But seriously what kind of man doesn’t even have the stones to go along with his girl to get his unwanted baby aborted? What kind of man lets his girl go and walk past all those damn Jesus freaks and their fetus signs by herself?

Seriously, I’m asking because I don’t know and now I’m afraid I’ve let this woman down too many times to go ahead and try to kill myself for a seventh time, though I’d be lying if I said I don’t have the box cutter and a juicy vein on my wrist all picked out.

But what’re you gonna do? We weren’t even sure if we were going to make it through the winter at the year. Do you know what two adjunct professors make for a yearly salary? At a community college? Do you know what they get for insurance coverage so their newborn babies don’t end up retarded or dying from the polio?

Do you know how high those therapy bills would’ve been? How much mine cost my parents?

And just so you know, there’s more than a good chance my wife probably won’t never be able to have kids now even if she wanted to, which I sure as hell don’t, but she’s still on the fence, especially in lieu of this all.

It’s like that door at the loony bin locked from the outside, I guess. One day you go and try to turn the knob and realize everything in the sterile hallway lighting’s been taken away from you and you’re a prisoner of your own suicidal mind with no shoelaces or belt to hang yourself with.

Sorry, I’ve always been real shit for similes.

And puns.

But one of things I did write in my mem-whas was how my dad used to try to make a man out of me by having me reach my slender womanly fingers on up the sheep’s love canal during lambing season in the dead of winter. Middle of the night. Sub-zero temperatures.

Just go on now, he’d tell me. You gotta get up in there abouts elbow deep. You’re looking for a hoof or a head to snag.

Don’t worry, son. You’ll damn well know it when you get those fingers around it.  

Talk about metaphor, eh?

Maybe this is part of where that subtext came from, I guess.

Which is really just somewhat of an exaggeration. I’ve never had my little hands up the love canal of birthing sheep. My old man would’ve never trusted a lamb’s life in these hands.

But he did make me castrate them ram babies sometimes. Grab on to them testes and yank until the lamb quit bleating, til the lamb went soft and slumped over dead and de-rammed in your lap.

Which is traumatizing enough to write mem-whas about, don’t you think?

My mom sure didn’t. And she said my dad wouldn’t’ve either if he hadn’t’ve been too embarrassed to read it in the first place.

On upside, after the abortion, I’ll probably never have to worry about some whiney little mama’s boy of mine going and writing some mem-wha about me not hugging him enough and telling him how he’s the greatest thing since sliced bread even though he can’t even be bothered to roll up his sleeves and get his hands a little dirty and sticky up in the love canal during lambing season.

But there I go again.

Trying to make you like me.

By the way, just so you feel like this was all poetic somehow, I want you to know what all I can see out my window right now: a dog shitting next to my mailbox, some dude in short-shorts and a tank top who’s not getting out a baggie, not bending over or kneeling down.

I can smell the stink of the stale sugar pasted to my teeth and gums, the teeth I haven’t brushed in a couple, two three days. The sour smell of my sweaty balls, how it lingers on my fingernails for hours after twentieth time I’ve had to stop writing long enough to unstick them from the sides of my thighs.

And sometimes when I just cradle them for moment or two to comfort myself.

I can hear the spastic tapping of the computer keys as I use my slender fingers to type these words.

I can hear a lawnmower going somewhere down the block, probably a rusty one. There may be duct tape I imagine. I think it’s Saturday, but it’s summer and I haven’t checked a calendar or taught a class for a couple months. What I’m saying is I’m not entirely sure of why anything is anything today.

I can see the sky, the sun, and a bunch of clouds up there scattered all over the place. Some of them are probably Cumulus, some probably Cirrus or Stratus. Or could be none of that’s true.

Could be I don’t remember jack shit from seventh grade science.

Could be I’m just fucking with you.

Could be I’ve been making this thing up the whole time and calling it true.

Could be I’ve left out so many key details, so much subtext, told so many half-truths that you’ll never ever trust me again even if I laid my conscience bare. Even if I said I really wanted you to listen for once, I really had something to get off my chest, something you needed to know. Something that might help you begin to understand.

It’s like they say, I guess. Never trust a three-hundred-pound white man with a mohawk.

Never trust a writer, not the least of which, a mem-wha-ist.

Just ask my mom, my dad who never molested me. Just ask my wife, all my friends I never talk no more. My aborted son, the rest of the kids that’ll never have to call me dear old dad. All my many adoring fans.

It’s just that I can be a real son of a bitch like that sometimes. But I guess that’s just what comes with the territory, you know. What with me suddenly being this big time writer and all.

 

~~~

 

Benjamin Drevlow was the winner of the 2006 Many Voices Project and the author of a collection of short stories, Bend With the Knees and Other Love Advice From My Father (New Rivers Press, 2008). His fiction has also appeared in the Fiction Southeast and Passages North. He is the fiction editor at BULL: Men’s Fiction, teaches writing at Georgia Southern University, and lives in Statesboro, Georgia.

In Memoriam, Wes Craven by GB

 

While in jail, I read Wes Craven’s novel, Fountain Society. My parents sent it to me with some other books I don’t remember. I barely recall what the book is about because I mostly read it to turn off the noise from the other inmates screaming or talking. They spoke so loud you couldn’t always tell the difference. The guy who pretended to run the cell (there were about 10 of us crammed in) told me all sorts of tall tales about having been incarcerated in different parts of the world (he said that when he was in a Dutch jail the inmates were were provided marijuana periodically) and asked me if I could lend him the book whenever I wasn’t reading it. He clearly didn’t understand English but he pretended to be going through its pages. He wasn’t very bright either. He was in jail because he tried to fake his death and cash in on his insurance. For that, he was known as “el muerto vivo,” a nickname that’s appropriately Craven-esque. I also saw him confront another inmate in a knife fight, but that’s another story.

A few years ago, that jail burned down and several inmates died. I was already living in another country, so I don’t know if any of the guys I met there were harmed. I hope not, because most of them seemed to feel at home after having spent so much time in there. Maybe they were just pretending, but I’d like to think they had gotten used to living in jail. Anyway, RIP Wes Craven.