Today I Am This Boring Apocalypse Posing For Hustler: Notes on new books by xTx, Brandi Wells, and Andrea Kneeland by Brian Alan Ellis

 

Today I am a book reviewer.

 

Today I am picturing the mysterious author of this book to look like a tattooed vegan straightedge hardcore chick because of the two x’s she uses in her penname.

 

Today, if the literary scene were a slammin’ mosh pit, xTx would be commanding that shit using windmills and crazy roundhouse kicks.

 

Today I Am a Book is a collection of darkly comic vignettes (flash fictions/prose poems) highlighting wives, farmers, short order cooks, genies, hunchbacks, basketball coaches, babysitters, failures, lions, time machines, and shitty tattoos, written by the phantom queen of darkly comic vignettes (flash fictions/prose poems) highlighting…

 

Today I Am a Book is like the music video for Van Halen’s “Right Now,” except it makes sense, and it’s funny for the right reasons, and it isn’t as preachy.

 

Today there is a whore:

 

I wasn’t a whore two weeks ago. Only since this meteor business. Only in the past 5 days.

 

Today there is a meat cutter:

 

There is so much meat in the world, and every day I am so sad to be cutting it.

 

Today there is a bulimic:

 

The last thing I ate was my back fat. I paid a young neighbor, a young man, to come over my house and slice it off of me. He’d done similar before. He brought the belt again. He brought the knife. He helped me into the tub. He was quick.

 

Today there is a burglar:

 

The best thing I ever burgled was your mom.

 

Today there is a missing ten year old:

 

New kids keep coming and coming. Nothing is clean anymore. It is never quiet. I can’t get warm. I am always hungry. Even when I’m sleeping. I can’t stop rocking now. My hands around my knees. Back and forth, back and forth. And even though it scares me I can’t stop. It’s the only thing that feels good.

 

 

Today I am an xTx fan.

 

Today I totally recommend this book.

 

Today you should listen to me.

 

Today I might be onto something.

 

*

 

Without arms she cannot drag herself to work. Without arms she cannot drag herself anywhere. We will stay here together in the house we’ve grown accustomed to with its floral couch and claw foot tub. We have made a home for ourselves and she will respect that.

 

“Like if Donald Barthelme had been hired to transcribe Jeffrey Dahmer’s wet dreams for Lars Von Trier,” which is how Blake Butler described this book of miniature, beautifully-wrought nightmares and “screamscapes” (sorry, couldn’t resist), where the love theme is dissected and spread out on a picnic table; its many subversions—madness, possession, jealousy, betrayal—mutilated and/or physically transformed (yeah, that works).

 

This Boring Apocalypse is like The Notebook meets Re-Animator.

 

But only almost.

 

Only not at all.

 

Really, it’s a sadistically imaginative child playing house then burning down the house.

 

It’s very funny.

 

And scary.

 

I make a fort that looks like tortured people. I have always been good with tortured people. It is my talent…. When I go into the house of strangers and torture them, I expect a thank you, and a mint, and a sweater, because it has been cold lately and torture is tiring work and I do not like to be cold. I do not deserve to feel uncomfortable, because I have a skill and this skill should earn me something. It should matter.

 

How about: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Grime?

 

How about: If This Boring Apocalypse were a Depeche Mode song, it would be “Master and Servant”?

 

We search for lemons and I grow tired of her desires, but this is the way with most relationships, so we continue our search.

 

Both cruelly adventurous and psychologically in deep shit, This Boring Apocalypse is unlike most books you’re likely to experience, and Brandi Wells is some kind of disgusting, clever genius.

 

Mad respect.

 

*

 

Andrea Kneeland’s How to Pose for Hustler begins with the best opening paragraph I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading:

 

I realize with certainty that my husband is an asshole about three years into the marriage, while I am delirious with a flu-born fever, freezing beneath cold yellow sweated through bed sheets, bones shaking like cage mice. Instead of going to the store to get me Nyquil, he forces my legs into the harness of a strap-on, sits on top of me and fucks himself while I try not to die.

 

“The Difference Between,” a story about an aging woman who flees an abusive marriage to live with college-age kids and who drinks wine and gets stoned and then loses her job before gradually losing her remaining inhibitions, is a real beauty, and it sets the tone for this punch-packed collection of mini juggernauts, many of which deal with women coming to grips with loneliness, depression, and sexual abuse.

 

I need a certain amount of misogyny in my life if I am to be happy.

 

Kneeland takes us on an uncompromising funhouse ride of damaged women attractions: mistresses; self-destructive party girls; females who begrudgingly text naked pictures of themselves to their porno-obsessed boyfriends; teenaged goths who fool around in churches; suicidal lesbians coping inside treatment facilities; strippers; bulimics; tragedy fetishists who hoard bad relationships as though they were family photo albums.

 

Susan, for example, is the only one who can see her own talent at all, which is to make herself fit unobstructively into any one person’s life. To fold herself up neatly like a piece of paper, to let herself be torn, crumpled, origamied into any shape necessary. She is the only one who knows that she’s being folded.

 

There is nothing overtly feminist about Kneeland’s writing, nor does it invoke man-hating sentiments; it is too open, too deep, to be pigeon-holed as such.

 

Kneeland writes with cold, honest clarity.

 

She brings her characters’ hopes, faults, and fears to the surface.

 

She lets them bleed.

 

How to Pose for Hustler is a stunner.

 

No doubt one of the boldest and best books you’ll read this year, or any.

 

Promise.

 

*

 

These books are now available through Civil Coping Mechanisms.

 

~~~

 

Brian Alan Ellis is the author of King Shit and Something Good, Something Bad, Something Dirty. His writing has appeared in Juked, Crossed Out, Zygote in My Coffee, Monkeybicycle, DOGZPLOT, Conte, Sundog Lit, Connotation Press, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, HTMLGIANT, That Lit Site, Diverse Voices Quarterly, The Heavy Contortionists, flashquake, Out of the Gutter, Spittoon, Spry, NAP, Electric Literature, The Next Best Book Blog, Entropy, Revolution John, The Round Up Writer’s Zine, Gravel, and Atticus Review, among other places. He does windmills and crazy roundhouse kicks in Tallahassee, Florida.

The Man Who Is Drawing My Next Tattoo: An Interview with Robert Gipe by David Joy

RobertGipe
photo by Joseph Jones

Robert Gipe is one of those people that everyone else is always talking about, someone that all your friends keep telling you, “Oh, you’re going to love him! You just have to meet him.” These things seldom pan out, at least for someone as skeptical and jaded toward humanity as me, but Gipe foots the bill. He’s a man after my own heart and flat out one of the most talented people I’ve ever encountered.

 

I first became familiar with his work through the serializations of his novelTrampoline in the pages of Still: The Journal, which if you haven’t read them that would be a fine place to start. I remember thinking immediately that there was something entirely unique about his work. Mark Twain said, “There is no such thing as a new idea,” and for the most part I think he’s right, but then again, he never met Gipe.

 

So when I was asked by Ohio University Press to blurb Trampoline (due out March 2015), it wasn’t anything I had to consider. I was frothing at the mouth to get my hands on that manuscript. The loose pages arrived not long before a flight I had to take to Tacoma, Washington and I took that novel along and read it in one delicious bite on the trip out, only to read it again down the road to savor just how brilliant it was. I immediately knew that I was reading something that needed a tremendous stage.

 

I sent off my blurb along with a lengthy email to Gipe’s editor, an email explaining that the narrator Dawn Jewell reminded me of Holden Caulfield except for the fact that she would’ve flat out whooped Holden’s ass. A few months later I read the other blurbs that came in on the novel—blurbs from George Singleton and Silas House and Ann Pancake and Gurney Norman and Darnell Arnoult and Pam Duncan—and there was one string that tied many of those blurbs together. Almost everyone connected Dawn to some blend of Holden Caulfield and True Grit’sMattie Ross. The bottom line is she’s just that memorable. So if you take no other recommendation this year, take this one: read Robert Gipe’s Trampoline. I think it’s the best debut to come out of Appalachia in many moons.

 

Buy Trampoline here.

 

 

David Joy: Dawn Jewell is one of the most memorable narrators I’ve ever read. Her voice is authentic and filled with a gritty honesty, and the bottom line is she’s just a young woman who will absolutely take no shit, something too seldom created on the page and rarely done well. So where did the voice of Dawn Jewell come from?

 

Robert Gipe: Like Dawn, I live in the coalfields of east Kentucky. Things have always been rough here. Making a living has always been a grind—subsistence farming, hunting, logging, coal mining, and worse than all that—not much of anything going on economically. There hasn’t been a lot of time for self-pity, and Dawn is heir to that. I’m not saying nobody here gets to feeling sorry for themselves, or gives up, but I think the real story is how many don’t. I work at a community college in Harlan County, and I hear Dawn every day—young women striving, figuring how to stay themselves but get smarter, grow into their potential, and make a living—all while dealing with life challenges that would have reduced me to tears when I was their age. A big motivation in writing the book was to amplify that voice, in all its feistiness, despair, hope, humor, and anger. Dawn is also heir to a love of language, of good talk. I try to put that in her voice, but trying to stick as much as possible to words I’ve heard people here say. Dawn aint no MFA. She don’t need one. She got hers on the streets. Or the creeks anyway.

 

DJ: “Dawn ain’t no MFA,” sums it up quite nicely, and I think that’s one of the reasons she’s so strong is just that beautiful honesty about her. I remember one of the lines I was taken by so early on was in the first few pages where she’s stuffing her face with M&Ms and it reads, “I was eating M&Ms straight out of a pound bag, about to make myself sick. They weren’t normal M&Ms. They were the color of the characters in a cartoon movie that hadn’t done any good and the bags ended up at Big Lots, large and cheap and just this side of safe to eat.” That may sound really funny to folks, but when I read that I thought, “Shit, he gets it.” You get the people that I’m most interested by, the people that I come from. That authenticity is a beautiful thing, and I think that’s at the heart of what you do so well.

 

Speaking of authenticity, for folks who aren’t familiar with your work, you illustrate this novel. And let me preface this discussion by saying this is in no way a graphic novel, nor do I think it is intended to be. It is literary fiction at its finest with interwoven illustration that becomes inseparable from the prose. That being said, this is kind of a two part question: 1) I’m fascinated by the figure on Dawn’s t-shirt on the front of the novel. Is that based on anything in particular, or just an abstraction? and, 2) How did you come to mix mediums the way that you do in your fiction? Is this something you’ve always done?

 

Trampoline

 

RG: The figure on the front of Dawn’s t-shirt is a veiled reference to the figure of Mary in Titian’s painting “The Assumption,” which figures in the novel a couple times. The reason the reference is veiled is I can’t draw that well.

 

I probably would have done a graphic novel if I had the patience or talent. I have bottomless admiration for the work of people like Alison Bechdel, Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman. But it’s too dang hard to work at their level. And I like more words in the mix. I was also interested in oral storytelling. So I found that having Dawn speak throughout the book in cartoons was a way to scratch my graphic itch and remind the reader that the narrator is, for the most part, speaking, not writing. Of course, none of those qualities are absolute—there are a few things no one would say aloud. I was just going for a feel, trying to put some stuff in play for the reader to fool around with.

 

Here’s that painting. I liked it cause it kind of looks like Mary is on a trampoline and all those hairy men, disciples I guess, are spotters.

 

TheAssumption

 

DJ: I certainly wouldn’t say you “can’t draw that well.” Your work has always come off to me as having a sort of folk art simplicity, something like Howard Finster or RA Miller, where simplified line work composes subjects rich with complexity. That being said, do you start with images in mind or do you find your way to these images as you write? Do you get to a place where the image presents itself, or is that there in the beginning with you then building toward that image?

 

RG: I’m not sure if this answers your question, but I was worried I couldn’t pull off all those drawings, because I have trouble making a character look the same drawing after drawing. I’ve seen documentaries where Charles Schulz draws Charlie Brown and it is so effortless and perfect, Charlie Brown after Charlie Brown. It is as beautiful a thing as I’ve ever seen. I weep with awe and envy every time I see it. I drew all those pictures in Trampoline on graph paper, trying to get some consistency, and because I saw Chris Ware does that, but by the end, I was just sitting in bars drawing them as fast as I could, getting my folk art on. Now that I think about it, maybe the sitting in bars affected the consistency of the product. Probably not.

 

DJ: I think the consistency of the illustrations work well in the novel, but typically, I think, artists are seeing things and critiquing things in their own work that the audience can’t see. All of that to say, I love the work you did. Switching gears a bit, there are two issues that arise in this novel that I’d like to spend some time discussing. Let’s talk first about the drug culture that exists within the narrative, particularly that which Dawn witnesses as a result of her mother. I think often times Appalachia is portrayed as a drug-infested region, primarily as a result of poor media exposure. Nevertheless, the prevalence of drugs and crime and violence are things that those of us who live in the region can’t deny. Rather than question why this is incorporated into the novel or question what that might say about the region, what I’m interested in is how that culture comes to affect the dreams and aspirations of those born into it. Specifically, how do you think Dawn’s mother comes to shape her daughter’s views on the world, and is this something you see as indicative of growing up in poverty?

 

RG: With Dawn, I was interested in putting a character between two facts of life in the coalfields: A lot of people fall into substance abuse, and there are a lot of people willing to fight for justice—environmental, social, political—with slim hopes of winning any substantial material victories. As somebody who has been an activist, and been around activists, I was interested in how that way of being in the world affects the children growing up in it. The fight for justice in the coalfields has been hard on the people leading the fight. Hard on their families, hard on their having any kind of “normal” life. It makes it easy to see why people give up trying to change things. It’s hard. So Dawn is inspired by her grandmother’s fight to save Blue Bear Mountain, but she also wishes she didn’t have to fight all the time. Then when her mom is having trouble dealing with her own pain—triggered mostly by the death of her husband, which resulted from unsafe working conditions at his place of employ—a justice issue—Dawn finds no peaceful, normal life there either. And she is left largely to fend for herself. If one gets caught up in a world like this, my hope is it makes it harder for people outside that world to think people’s choices absurd. And for people who live in a similar world, I hope the book communicates an understanding of how complicated thriving in such a world can be.

 

DJ: Not only does your work communicate an understanding of that struggle, your work does something that to me is of the utmost importance, it does justice to the people born into this circumstance. These are not caricatures and these are not cliches, and when you’re dealing with the type of circumstantial complexity that is illuminated in this novel, that type of honesty is what the work hinges on. The door of this novel couldn’t be caved with a battering ram.

 

So now, getting back to the second major issue I wanted to talk about, and you’ve already gotten there a bit in this last answer, but lets talk about the environmental warzone that is Eastern Kentucky coal country. I was having this conversation recently about how hard it is to define Appalachia because it’s just so vast geographically and one of the things that I always think about is how different where I live is from a place like Kentucky. If you were to ask most people what is the biggest environmental issue facing Appalachia they would probably say mountaintop removal and coal mining, things that thankfully aren’t a reality where I live in Western North Carolina. Our biggest environmental issue is undoubtedly unrestricted land development. In a lot of ways, that is our coal mining. So assuming that someone doesn’t know anything about that issue, talk a little bit about the role coal mining plays in the area of Kentucky you’re writing about. What does it mean for the land and the heritage of that land, and what does it mean for the people who grow up in it?

 

RG: Coal mining has had over a hundred year run in eastern Kentucky. Our landscape was once a plateau, which has been eroded over the eons. Before that, over the millennia, it alternated between shallow seas and forest. The forests fell into the rising seas, and over time compressed into coal. I share that geologic yarn so outsiders know we don’t have high peaks here. We only have one or two mountains that rise above all the others, and from one of them, Pine Mountain, you can see the whole plateau sprawled out before you like a frozen sea. The other thing to glean from the geology is that our geologic past lies in level layers. One generally doesn’t have to go down to get coal here. One cuts into the mountain from the side and digs out the coal, or one blows the top off the mountain to get at the layer or layers of coal beneath. That’s the other thing: most mountains that contain coal contain multiple layers, between layers of stone and clay like icing in a layer cake.

 

Corporate interests bought up the mineral rights and the land in the late nineteenth century. Around 75% of the land here is owned by outsiders, corporate interests. The railroad came shortly after the land titles were secured. There were some people here before that, a few thousand, making a living as subsistence farmers, whiskey makers, politicians, etc. After the railroad came, the mines opened, and because mining at that time was very labor intensive, people came pouring in to the company-built mine camps. The first thirty years of coal here was a rough and tumble time. The usual boomtown antics, crazy cycles of manic coal production followed by long dead times, high levels of workplace death and injury, and intense conflict between labor and management leading to labor union organizing, strikes, and violence galore.

 

With the help of Roosevelt and the Democrats, the union, the United Mine Workers of America, came to represent most of the miners around here. But that was short-lived. Mine mechanization and the advent of strip mining reduced the need for miners radically. That led to a massive outmigration from eastern Kentucky, and a descent into poverty for many that remained. But the coal industry thundered on. The amount of coal coming out of this place did not diminish and in many cases increased all the way to the last few years. Coal mining didn’t disappear, but most of the work did.

 

Delbert, Dawn’s dad got into mining in the 80s. By that time, the unions were about done in Eastern Kentucky. Delbert worked in a highly mechanized underground mine, but by his time, much of the coal was being mined by using strip mining techniques. Underground mining creates its own environmental problems, but strip mining is very disruptive to the local environment. Water gets polluted by runoff from the mine sites. Some of nature’s most complex forests are destroyed hundreds of square miles a year, and the blasting used to open up strip mines shakes houses from their foundations. All that’s in Trampoline.

 

The effect on the people of all this is as varied as the people. Some people get rich. Some people are solidly middle class working as coal miners—but even they have to deal with chronic layoffs and a future more uncertain than that of most middle-class Americans. Some people have the pride that comes from doing a difficult, dangerous job and doing it well. A lot of people are injured. And a lot of people don’t/can’t find work in a community where the dominance of one industry has made it difficult for others to set up shop. And of course, the other looming presence in this community is the federal government. When the bottom started dropping out in the 1950s and things just got worse in the early 60s Kennedy and Johnson ran for president on promises to help the poor in Appalachia. And this area was solidly Democratic, from the days when Roosevelt backed the UMWA. And so in the 60s, federal anti-poverty money came pouring in here—food stamps, black lung benefits, Head Start, a variety of other offices and agencies designed to help people survive and that define work for many here now—started during this period.

 

And so that’s the way we careened along into the time period of Trampoline, the principal action of which takes places in 1998 and 1999, right at the cusp of the prescription drug abuse nightmare. OxyContin makes the scene in the last chapters of Trampoline, and it is a central presence in Trampoline’s sequel, which I’m working on now.

 

DJ: That answer brings us to, perhaps, the best news of this entire interview, which is that all of us readers have more Dawn Jewell to look forward to! That being said, tell us a little bit about your process and also what direction you’re moving with this new novel?

 

RG: The new novel takes up in 2004, during the full flower of the OxyContin epidemic in Canard County. I hate to say too much before the first novel has been out a while, but the setting is the same. The families are the same. The new one is in first person. There are multiple narrators. One is a man who makes his living working in people’s yards, among other things. His name, like the novel’s, is Weedeater. I expect to draw. Themes include the relevance of art, the futility of love, the possibility of saving somebody, and the importance of proper oil-gas ratios. As far as process goes, a character gets narrator status when I figure out how to draw them. I planned to publish Trampoline as a bunch of zines, appearing serially, before fate intervened. I like writing that way, thinking of the chapters as episodes, working towards cliffhangers and ending chapters in the middle of something or on the brink of something. I’d like to say I’m inspired by Dickens, but it probably has more to do with the two-part episodes of the old Batman TV series. In any event, that’s how I’m approaching the writing of Weedeater.

 

I took an extended novel workshop with Darnell Arnoult back around 2010. I met with a cohort every three months for eighteen months, and Darnell drove us all to a first draft of our novels. It was an excellent experience. I recommend it highly. Carrie Mullins was in there with me, and the novel she worked on with Darnell is coming out on Old Cove at the end of the year. One of the exercises Darnell had us do is name every novel we would ever write, dream out our whole writing careers. I went three novels deep. Their titles are Trampoline, Weedeater, andPop. That’s been a very helpful thing to have. Now that I have the titles, I just have to figure out what the story would be in a novel named that. I like working backwards from prompts. I’m too old to think about side projects. If somebody asks me to write something short, or something on a theme, I figure out some way to write something that will both meet the request and work in the novel I’m working on at the time. Everything gets recycled. I like to keep my literary carbon footprint small.

 

DJ: I think I speak for everyone who knows and loves your work when I say that all of us can’t wait to meet Weedeater, and, as you say, more importantly to learn the proper oil-to-gas ratio that makes that son-of-a-bitch run.

 

With all the important stuff out of the way, it’s time we move into the five question lightning round. You must answer with the very first thing that pops into your head whether looking back afterward it’s an answer you want to stand behind or not. I do this because, as you know, I’m an ass, and because, as you also know, I love you dearly. GO!

 

LIGHTNING ROUND:

 

DJ: What is the one song that defines Trampoline?

RG: “Nervous Breakdown” by Black Flag, especially when coupled with the Whiskeytown version. Also, “Shut Up” by Savages. Dawn is crazy about them.

 

 

DJ: What wrestling move would Dawn Jewell use to finish Holden Caulfield?

RG: Suplex.

 

DJ: If you were a drag queen what would be your stage name?

RG: Roberta Gipe. Got to own it.

 

DJ: As a Kentucky insider, what’s the best bourbon ever produced?

RG: Elmer T. Lee. RIP

 

DJ: If you were asked to give my eulogy in one sentence what would it be?

RG: “He didn’t leave one drop of liquor behind.”

 

Thanks so much for your time, Robert. I can’t wait to see what the world thinks ofTrampoline, and to see the future of Canard County. All the love I can muster, my friend.

Shinebone, fiction by Andrew Gray Siegrist

Shinebone tucked hawk feathers into the laces of his boots and lit a cigarette. He had been scared of snakes ever since he’d seen his brother’s arm swell up from a cotton mouth bite when they were kids. He thought if they smelled a hawk coming they’d stay coiled up in their holes. It was early morning, before dawn. He stood on his porch listening. It was the hour of silence. He smoked down to the filter and flicked the butt into a lidless Styrofoam cooler that was in the yard. It was half full of month-old rain and bloated cigarette butts. Shinebone knew the grass beneath it was dead. Shinebone and Darcy both smoked Marlboros. Shinebone only smoked Reds, and would joke that he must have been a lousy parent to raise a boy that smoked 27s. But Darcy was dead and Shinebone knew there were a couple 27s somewhere in the cooler, and couldn’t bring himself to clean it out.

He stepped off the porch and headed toward the woods. He wanted a drink, felt the thirst calling to him, promising that old comfort he used to know so well. Not today, he told himself. Even in the dark he could make out the short-cut path that led to the neighbor’s trailer. The woods were quiet around him. Birds still sleeping. Possums and coons done savaging for the night. When he got to the dry creek bed he stopped. He knelt and gathered a handful of silt dust. Millions of years of rock and animal bone crumbled to sediment. Darcy’d told him that. As a kid, Darcy had kept a box of fossil stones beneath his bed. Shinebone would take him down to the creek to hunt for them. Darcy would flip the stones and check their bellies for the outline of ancient shells. Shinebone taught Darcy how to lift the rock in case there was a snake underneath it. You always lift the edge of the rock that is farthest from you, keeping the rock between you and whatever is sleeping beneath it. In high school Darcy said he was going to leave the mountain and go to college to study geology, but he dropped out after his junior year and never left the mountain. Never will.

Shinebone wiped his hands clean on his pant leg and crossed the creek bed. Day was beginning to burn at the horizon, an ember light slowly warming. Shinebone bent at the neighbor’s mailbox and picked up some driveway gravel. He circled to the back of a hard-worn trailer and tossed a rock gently against the boy’s window.

Shinebone’s brother had told him about a woman at the foot of the mountain that caused miracles by praying to God and floating candles downriver, out toward the sea. When they released Darcy from Brushy Mountain, Shinebone started paying a neighbor boy ten dollars a couple times a week to climb an old oak tree and burn candles in the highest branches. Shinebone hadn’t prayed in fifty years, figured there was no use starting now. God didn’t keep an ear open for people that’d done the things Shinebone had done. But he burned those candles anyway, always at dawn, and hoped his son would straighten out, hoped for a miracle.

After three rocks the boy slid his window open and gestured with his hand for Shinebone to wait a second. A moment later the trailer door opened and the boy came out carrying his boots. He sat down on a cinder-block step with chipped-off corners, and laced up his boots.

“When’s your daddy getting out?” Shinebone said.

“They got him up for parole in eighteen months.”

“My boy was in there for a bit.”

“He out now?”

Shinebone nodded. He had never talked to the boy about Darcy, never told him why he burnt those candles. Ten dollars to climb and keep quiet, Shinebone had told him the first morning. He couldn’t have explained it anyhow. Burning candles to keep his grown son safe. Didn’t make any sense, not even to him. But he had to do something, and he had kept at it with a parent’s patience.

The boy stood up. “Where’s the candles?” he said.

“We ain’t going down there no more,” Shinebone said.

“Then what’d you get me up for?”

Shinebone reached into his pocket and handed the boy five twenty-dollar bills, tightly folded.

“What’s this?” the boy said.

Shinebone tossed the gravel he was still holding back into the driveway. “I’ll be around from time to time,” he said. “To check up on you.”

The boy and Shinebone both looked at the fold of money, then back at each other.

“I won’t waste my money if I hear you’ve been finding trouble,” Shinebone said.

The boy put the money in his pocket.

“All right then,” Shinebone said, turning to leave.

“Thank you,” the boy called out.

Shinebone kept walking.

The last time Shinebone saw Darcy, Darcy had come by looking for money. Shinebone told him he couldn’t help him. Darcy said he had figured as much, but had to check anyway. He only stayed long enough to finish a beer he’d brought with him and a cigarette. It was almost dusk. No stars visible yet, but a sliver of crescent moon. Darcy got in his truck and rolled the window down.
“Ever heard the Grundy County mating call?” Darcy asked as he pulled a pill bottle from his breast pocket.
Shinebone tried to force a smile but couldn’t. He sipped his coffee. Darcy had been telling the same joke since he got out of prison. Shinebone wanted to tell Darcy to flush those damn pills and straighten up, but Darcy knew all the old stories about his father, about the drugs and drinking, the arrests and the fights. Shinebone had lived like Hell burned inside him when he was Darcy’s age. Darcy wouldn’t listen to a word of advice from Shinebone’s mouth. Shinebone wished Darcy would hide those bottles from him at least, like he used to do. But since he’d been out he’d treated Shinebone more like a friend and less like a father. Even called him Shine like everyone else did.

Darcy shook the pill bottle. The pills clattered loudly against the plastic. “Grundy County mating call,” he shouted. He laughed and put the truck in gear.
That bottle sounded more like a rattler to Shinebone.

When he got home from the neighbor’s, it was full morning. His yard was wet with dew. He stood outside, not wanting to go in. Today he was supposed to identify the body. Opening the back door would put him one step closer. He stood and listened to the morning birds test their sleepy voices. Dogs barked at truck engines starting. Shinebone went inside.

He buttoned up his shirt from the bottom, misaligned the holes and the buttons and had to start over. He fumbled at his tie, and when he finally tied it right it didn’t even reach his belly button. Shinebone looked at himself in the mirror, his sleeves came down to his knuckles, pant legs touched the floor. He felt that old thirst inside him telling him to take a sip, just one, and feel all of this start to ease away. Two sips and it’ll all feel okay. He walked into the kitchen and took the jar of corn liquor from beneath the sink. He’d kept a jar there for the last twenty years, and never taken a sip. When he felt that thirst he’d take out the jar and feel the weight of it, just to know he could sip if he needed to. He held it up to the light and slapped it. High-proof bubbles formed on the surface. Not today, he thought.

In his truck, Shinebone turned on the radio and listened to the weather. Rain was predicted to come in after midnight. He turned the radio off and rolled down his window. He felt the wind strong against his palm. He thought of Darcy coming home from first grade with plans to catch fish with a kite. They had learned in school that clouds are made from water sucked up from rivers and lakes and seas. Darcy’s face lit up when he told this to Shinebone.

“There must be a thousand fish up there,” he said. “Just like the ones we caught in Uncle Fez’s lake.”

Darcy spent the rest of the afternoon tying rusty fish hooks to the kite’s string and trying to fly it high enough to make a catch. When the wind died down the kite got caught in a tree limb and Darcy threw rocks at it until the sun went down.

Shinebone parked in front of the coroner’s office and turned off the engine. He lit a cigarette. He tried to take the whole thing down in one long draw, but he started coughing spit all over the steering wheel. A mother and son passed by on the sidewalk. Shinebone tried to hold a hand up to tell them he was okay, but they hurried by and averted their eyes. He wasn’t okay, they could see that. He tossed the cigarette into the parking lot and went to the door. He saw his reflection in the dark glass. He’d forgotten to comb his hair. The knot of his tie was crooked. His suit was too big. The skin beneath his eyes was wrinkled and drooping. He went inside.

They led Shinebone into a room bright with a light so white it seemed almost blue. The stainless steel countertops were clean and empty. The floor made squeaking sound beneath his shoes. All the drawers were shut, cabinet doors closed. Everything had been put away, everything except for Darcy.

A man whose name he had forgotten led him by the elbow to the side of a table. Darcy was covered by a sheet.

“Are you ready?” the coroner said.

Shinebone nodded.

The man pulled the sheet down just enough to reveal Darcy’s face and the tops of his shoulders. His eyes were closed. His skin was pale and cold, as if a light had been switched off behind it. His hair dark brown and just long enough for it to be worn messy. Shinebone noted the scar that separated Darcy’s eyebrow. He remembered the cut was too close to the optical nerve, so the doctor couldn’t give Darcy a numbing shot. Darcy was eleven years old, had slipped in the bathtub and split is eyebrow in two. The doctor strapped him to the table in something like a straightjacket to keep him still. Shinebone held his hand as the doctor sewed his eyebrow shut. Darcy didn’t even squeeze. Shinebone had wished he had, wished he had sqeezed hard just so Shinebone could share some of the pain.

Shinebone wanted to cover his son’s body back up and carry it out. Darcy wouldn’t have wanted to be in there, he didn’t like places like this, so neat and orderly. Darcy liked weeds that came up through the sidewalk, kitchen sinks full of dishes, jeans with holes at the knees. Shinebone wondered if he still had the strength to sling Darcy over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. When Darcy was little Shinebone would call out, “Bedtime for Bonzo” every night before bed. Darcy would run around the living room begging for thirty more minutes. When Shinebone caught him he’d shout out, “Sack of potatoes” and sling Darcy over his shoulder, carrying him to bed.

“Would you like a moment?” the coroner asked.

“No,” Shinebone said. I’d like a drink, he thought. He felt that old thirst inside him promising to make everything better. Just a couple sips and this pain will start to loosen.

The coroner covered Darcy’s face and handed Shinebone a one-gallon Ziploc bag. “Everything that was on him,” the man said.

Shinebone took the bag without going through its contents. He signed some papers and left the building. He breathed deep, relieved to be outside. He could go home now and hold the bottle, give the thirst the chance to change his mind, uncap it and descend back into it all. He started his truck and drove home. Not today, he told himself, not today.

Shinebone took off the suit and laid it on the bed. He stood looking at it, knowing the next time he wore a suit he would be laying in his own casket. He got a wire hanger from the closet and hung the suit on the nail he’d half-driven into the bathroom door. He’d been hanging things from that nail since before Darcy was born. Twenty-seven years, and it wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

In the kitchen Shinebone put on a pot of coffee and waited. Through the window above the sink he watched the sun struggle to keep the world alight. Only a sliver of sun still visible above the tree line. When his coffee was ready he took it to the porch and lit a cigarette. He smoked it down and listened to the paper sizzle when he took a deep drag. When he finished he flicked it into the cooler and heard the sound of the ember tip hiss as it hit the water, all its heat gone in an instant. He set his coffee down, unsipped, and walked to the cooler. The water was murky and crowded with cigarettes and a few dead leaves. An insect floated belly up, legs kicking for something to grab onto. Shinebone wondered if Darcy had fought, had kicked and struggled to grab onto something as life slipped him, but with so many pills in his stomach he’d probably just fallen asleep.

Shinebone tipped the cooler over with the toe of his boot. The water spread across the yard and pooled, only for a second, before soaking into the ground. Soggy cigarette butts littered the grass. The insect righted itself and scampered away. Shinebone went to the garage and came back with a shovel and a rake. He carefully dug up a clump of grass and set it aside. Daylight was no longer on the horizon, but he could still make out the cigarette against the dark blanket of grass. He dug two shovelfuls of dirt from the hole and raked all the cigarette butts into it. He filled the hole with dirt and returned the grass clump, tamping it down with the heel of his boot. He imagined what noises could be heard underground. Blind creatures tunneling their way through the darkness, scratching roots as the passed. Footprints from the above ground world, like slow rolling thunder.

Shinebone unwound the garden hose and washed the cooler out, cleaned it as good as he could but the nicotine had soaked in deep. He placed it back where it had been. He knew what he was going to do now. He was going to leave it there, let it fill back up with rain. But this time he would keep it clean. No more cigarette butts. He would buy a goldfish net and skim the water each morning. The stain would always remain, but unable to bleed back into the water. The water would be clean. He would watch storm clouds come in slow and unleash water that had evaporated from rivers and oceans halfway across the world. He would drink coffee on the porch, watching the cooler fill, watching till the water rose up and spilled over the edges.

Shinebone returned to the kitchen and took the liquor jar from beneath the sink. He uncapped it and breathed in the fumes. The scent burnt his throat, made his eyes threaten to water. Not today, he told himself. He took the jar into the yard and set it where he knew the sun would find it when day returned. He left the cap off. Let it mix with rain, he thought, let it dry up in the sun.

Shinebone took the lid back inside and threw it away. This was the first time in his life that he was living in a dry house. From that moment on when he felt the thirst tightening its fist around his organs, threatening to rip the life out of him, he’d kneel at the cooler and drink the storm water. Handful after handful of clean water scooped from a tarnished cooler, until his belly was tight. But tonight the cooler was empty, tonight he would sit on the porch and wait for the rain.

# # #

Andrew Gray Siegrist is a graduate student at the University of New Orleans. He is  from Nashville, Tennessee.

Someplace Else, poetry by Heather Sullivan

 

I’m walking around the hotel pool at 10pm,
hoping that the kids are deep enough in sleep
to not wake up when we giggle trip our way
back into the room at whatever ungodly hour
my husband decides that this late night foray
into titty watching can finally draw to a close.
Alternating from his towel to the shallow end,
he imagines I’m lost in my cock-watching search,
but chubby Midwestern phalluses snapped tight
in Speedos long overdue for Goodwill do nothing for me.
Deciding to call his bluff, I go back into the water,
And he retreats to the deep end, where
I can’t follow – my long known tendency to stone –
He’s chasing the appearance of Shangri-La,
but in all reality it is the walking personification
of hepatitis C. He still flirts like he’s nineteen.

~~~

 

Heather Sullivan has appeared or has work forthcoming in Corium Magazine, Busted Dharma and Chiron Review.  She lives in Revere, MA with her family and a small herd of cats.

A Proper Party, flash fiction by Kathy Fish

 

The mother stands at the kitchen counter assembling hors d’oeuvres for her daughter’s graduation party. She slathers peanut butter into the canals of the celery sticks, positions raisins on top. She makes maybe forty-five of these until it occurs to her that she may have enough. She watches the little tv and tries to think of what other foods her daughter liked. The county is under a tornado watch until 6:00 p.m.

Her brother and his husband walk in, holding bunches of balloons. The balloons are black with CONGRATS GRAD on them in gold.

“What a great idea,” the mother says, as they release the balloons and allow them to roam free. “I’m making food.”

Her brother says, “I could use a drink.” So the mother pours her brother and his husband good, strong gin and tonics.

Her brother’s husband opens the sliding door and steps out onto the deck. “The sky’s green,” he says.

“Tornado watch. Hold on, they’ve upgraded it to a warning,” the mother says.

She wonders how many will show up. A few had called to say they couldn’t come but that they would be thinking of her.

Her brother sits on the stool at the counter and slurps his drink. “Can I help with anything?”

“Do you think fish sticks are a weird thing to serve at a party? Fish sticks and salsa?”

“Yes. Definitely,” he says.

A gust of cold wind blows through the house. The balloons mingle and dance. A door slams shut. A small vase of daisies topples and spills over the counter. Breathing heavily, the woman hustles about closing windows. Her brother cleans up the daisies as his husband comes back in shivering.

“Oh my,” the mother says. “Now what?” She wanders into the family room and sits on the sofa. She has made a display on the mantel there. Photographs, her daughter’s awards, a drawing of a cat and a rooster from the third grade. Her brother and his husband follow the mother and sit on either side of her. The tornado sirens wail.

“I love that sound,” her brother’s husband says. He takes the mother’s hand. “We should go down to the basement.”

“He’s right dear,” her brother says. Nobody moves. The windows judder.

“But I made a cake,” the mother says.

“We can celebrate another time. We can celebrate any time we want,” her brother says. “You know she wouldn’t mind.”

The balloons skirt along the ceiling, their strings dangling. The mother stands and gathers a few of them.

“We can take these down to the basement. I have a radio down there. You two can carry the food.”

It’s an old house and the basement has a cement floor and some boxes of old things, the daughter’s things, and not much else. The lights flicker and the mother’s brother lights some candles just before the power goes out completely. Outside they hear a roaring sound. The mother’s worried about the batteries in the radio but they turn it on and it works. Her brother’s husband tunes in to the local station but it’s just the Emergency Broadcast System and not the cool jazz they were hoping for so he switches it off again.

“We could sing,” the mother says. The roaring gets louder.

“Come here,” her brother says. They sit on the floor together and he wraps her in his arms. His husband kneels and wraps his arms around them both.

The tornado sounds like an approaching locomotive. Upstairs, crashing, a window breaking.

“I wanted a proper party,” she says.

Her brother and his husband squeeze her tight.

The house goes still again. The balloons settle into their places. The candles burn steadily. The three of them untangle themselves. The brother wants to go upstairs, check the damage, but the woman says, “No, I’m not ready yet.” So they eat the celery and the fish sticks. And when they finish, they cut the cake and eat that, too.

 

~~~

 

Kathy Fish’s stories are forthcoming or have appeared in The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers (Black Lawrence Press, 2015), Slice, Guernica, Indiana Review and various other journals and anthologies. She is the author of three collections of short fiction: Together We Can Bury It (The Lit Pub, 2013), Wild Life (Matter Press, 2012), and a chapbook in A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness (Rose Metal Press, 2008). She has recently joined the faculty of the Mile High MFA at Regis University in Denver where she will be teaching flash fiction.

Bully-Boy, flash fiction by Paul Beckman

 

 

I loved pushing kids around when I was in junior high and high school. Sure, taking their lunch or lunch money was fun but making them cry too—that was the best. I seem to have been born with muscles and strength and no conscience.

My father stopped trying to discipline me when I was twelve. I pushed him around because he yelled at me so he left the house and returned with his brother and the two of them gave me an ass whipping.

They paid for it. I got them separately; my uncle with a two by four that had his arm in a sling for a couple of months and my father sneaking up on him with a tire iron, hack saw or kitchen knife and watching the fear in his eyes when I coughed so he’d turn around and see me. I didn’t have to lay a hand on him in order to do what I damn well pleased.

I became a professional wrestler at eighteen—was considered a phenom but after two years they dropped my contract when I wouldn’t play ball, if you know what I mean. I wasn’t going to let some moke beat me every time I was told to hit the canvas. Instead I beserked out and broke something on my opponent—usually an elbow or knee.

One day I was sitting in a bar and a college football playeR I’d pushed around in high school came over to me. “You don’t look so tough. Still feeling your Wheaties, bully boy?” Even though I had no doubt I could take the jerk, I didn’t want to chance putting another challenger in a wheelchair so I left without finished my beer, his taunts following me out the door like silent farts on an escalator.

I married had a couple of kids and had to work and support them. While I don’t enjoy whacking someone I’m not bothered by it either. I’m good at it. One or two every couple of months and I live a pretty comfortable life. I don’t carry or own a weapon other than an old cop’s leather sap and a length of 50# fishing line garrote. Most of the time I walk up to someone and twist their neck till it snaps or push them in front of a train or toss them off an overpass.

My eldest son’s been getting mouthy with his mother so she asked me to have a talk with him. I caught up to him at home just after his high school football practice and before dinner and I laid out the rules about what he can and can’t say or do as long as he’s living off my dime and to my surprise he took it well, didn’t argue or anything but when I turned to walk into the house he smacked me across my back with his Louisville Slugger and told me I should consider this time a simple warning.

 

~~~

The Organ Donor, fiction by Tom Leins

 

 

The first time I met Adrian Strange he was carrying a meat-axe.

It was never my intention to hospitalise his step-brother – things just got out of hand…

*

“I’m sorry, Mr Rey, have I arrived at a bad time?”

The man is prune-skinned, with long, creaking limbs. His voice sounds like blood sloshing around in a rusty bucket.

“Is there any other kind?”

He laughs sourly, abruptly.

“My name is Delaney. I’ve been told you can help me.”

I shrug. Maybe. Things must already be pretty bad for him to come and see me.

He passes me a photo. It’s a glamour shot. A teenage girl. I can see a hint of pubic curl beneath her underwear. I adjust my seating position to take a better look, but my ribs still ache from yesterday’s beating, and I slump back into my patched-up swivel chair instead.

“Your daughter?”

“Don’t be obscene – what kind of man hands out pornographic photographs of his own daughter?! Loretta is my wife.”

I nod, like it makes sense.

“For reasons I would rather not go into with a stranger, she requires a new kidney. I would like to hire you to obtain a healthy kidney for me, Mr Rey.”

I shake my head.

“Sorry, Delaney – not interested. I don’t know what you have heard about me, but I’m not into that kind of shit.”

His claw-like, liver-spotted hand dips into his jacket pocket and brings out a wedge of cash the size of a house-brick.

My palms feel sweaty just looking at the money. I scratch irritably at the lumpy ridge of scar tissue on my left arm.

He nudges it across the scarred wooden desk with a yellowed finger.

“Wrong answer, Mr Rey. Try again.”

*

The north-easterly breeze carries the dead fish-stink of Paignton Harbour into the town centre. I turn up my collar and keep my head down. I generally try not to make eye contact with too many people on Winner Street: my life is a horror-show already, and I don’t need any more aggravation.

In recent years, my back story has degenerated into a cautionary tale, and while I have done bad things to bad people on a regular basis, my good deeds are far less memorable.

The procurement of human organs has never been particularly high on my list of saleable skills, and when I flicked through my shabby mental rolodex I came up sadly short.

The only medical professional I know is a disgraced gynaecologist named Marwood. He was struck off years ago, and now he drinks coffee liqueur for breakfast. I doubt he could find his dick after a drinking binge, let alone locate a spare kidney. Regardless, he represents the best chance I have of getting hold of Delaney’s fat stack of money.

*

The man who opens the door has a grey, sunken face and crooked little brown teeth. His hairpiece is two shades lighter than the rest of his hair. Fuck. He’s uglier than East Paignton in winter.

“Good morning, Marwood.”

He steps aside clumsily, and I walk down the dingy corridor into his kitchen. Second-hand daylight seeps through the gaps in the blinds. I place a fresh bottle of Tesco own-brand liqueur on the table.

“Breakfast. The most important meal of the day.”

His eyes gleam when he sees the label, and his trembling hands reach for the booze.

I snatch it away, abruptly.

“Talk first, drink later, Marwood.”

He visibly deflates. Shrinking beneath his ludicrous hairpiece.

“I need to locate a kidney at short notice. I have a buyer lined up, and he is willing to pay big. Enough to keep you in coffee liqueur for a whole year, at least.”

He looks up, curious. I’ve piqued his interest.

“Let me make some calls. I know a man. Very talented surgeon. Lax moral code. Dubious associates.”

“Thank you.”

I relinquish the bottle, and he grins, woozily.

As I stand up to leave he gestures to a nearly-empty bottle on the sideboard.

“There must be something in the water, son. You are my second visitor of the day, and I’m usually about as popular as a turd in a Jacuzzi…”

*

Paignton Yards.

The sun is an orange blur on the horizon. I sip from my hip-flask as it slowly sinks into the sea. The hip-flask was an anniversary present from my ex-wife, Alouette. We didn’t make it to a second anniversary.

The stink of burnt animal fat lingers horribly in the air. There is no breeze up here, just rancid sky.

I seem to spend half my life trudging between these warehouses, peering behind corrugated sheeting and greasy plastic curtains, seeing the worst that this town has to offer.

I’m loitering outside the building that Marwood directed me to, stamping my feet to try and keep warm.

I’m dazzled by full-beam headlights as a transit van rumbles across the rutted concrete towards me. The van grinds to a halt.

I shield my eyes from the devastating glare as two silhouettes shuffle towards me. I hold my hands up, unthreateningly. The larger of the two men clubs me across the face. I bring my arm up to protect myself, but he beats me like a fucking drum. I feel my wrist crack, and drop to my knees. Then everything goes blank.

*

When I come round, I’m sat on raw concrete, handcuffed to a rusted steel pipe. The building looks abandoned. A rat the size of a cat glares at me from two feet away. I reach for my nose. It doesn’t just feel broken, it feels shattered.

“Bite his windpipe out, Adrian.”

Gareth Greene’s nostrils are flared. His piss-coloured eyes glow with fury. He’s a no-mark, a bottom-feeder – a henchman to the Strange brothers.  His skin still smells charred, and large strips of his prison-inked flesh look red-raw. He is wearing mouldy-looking dungarees and clutching a billy-club.

Adrian Strange fondles his meat-axe lovingly. He used to do strong-arm work for Remy Cornish, back when Remy was still a man to be feared. Someone once told me that Adrian was mentally defective, but undeniably effective. I always hoped I would never have to find out.

He pushes his sellotaped National Health glasses up his nose and walks towards me, limping slightly in mismatched orthopaedic shoes.

“Herman needs a kidney, Mr Rey. He got burned up pretty bad in that explosion.”

His breath feels hot and vile on my cheek.

“He asked me to take one of yours.”

I laugh, in spite of myself. Those dumb motherfuckers handcuffed me to the pipe by my busted wrist. I’ve still got skin in this game.

I slowly start to reach for the pig-knife in my boot, laughing all the while.

One blade, two men: I fancy my chances.

One way or another, it’s going to be an interesting evening.

 

~~~

YEAR OF THE DEATH METAL SHOW by Peter Schwartz

 

 

x: show me your donkey kite.

 

y: show me your adrenaline jewelery.

 

x: show me your ozone.

 

y: for eggshells?

 

x: for helmets.

 

y: not in submarines though.

 

x: not in submarines.

 

y: no apostrophes.

 

x: yeah, sandwiched.

 

y: no, show me your stampede architecture.

 

x: show me your trampoline museum.

 

y: show me your craters.

 

x: show me your invisible giraffe.

 

y: show me your cabin goggles.

 

x: show me your loyalest hostage.

 

y: no, free her.

 

x: no, show me your jellyfish island.

 

y: that’s dynamite.

 

x: show me.

 

y: okay, but it will sting.

 

x: we need concrete bodyguards.

 

y: yeah, we need concrete bodyguards.

 

~~~

 

Peter Schwartz has 5 chapbooks: ‘the nowhere glow’, ‘amnesia diary’, ‘TELL ME’, ‘IN PRAISE OF all PARANOIAS’, and ‘Old Men, Girls, and Monsters’. He recently completed a full-length poetry collection ‘disciples (singers and destroyers)’ and is also the Poet-in-Residence at Revolution John See more at:http://publishingproject.wix.com/peter-schwartz.