We Called it our House / Tyler Norris

It was two brothers balancing chemicals

between one moment’s oxygen and

another moment’s hydrocarbons-

on four hundred dollars’ rent

and all the new clothes we could buy;

 

it was dripping air conditioning

mixed with the solemn sound of redemption

running through the halls of our apartment building

like a stream waiting for rain

 

and it was the absence of a woman’s whisper

behind the bedroom door each night,

a ghostly lack of noise crawling along the walls

in a haze, resting without a word

in the silence of every room,

 

it was a lapse in consciousness,

in a gram and a ten dollar handle,

two skeletons searching for flesh,

and the marrow in their own bones.

 

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Listen! / Andres Fernandez-Morrell

Listen!

Thy desire shall be to thy husband…

– Genesis 3:16

Bucket List

ITEM #1: Go to Kilimanjaro with Jim.

PURPOSE: I’ve wanted to go since I read that Hemingway story about the dying guy who hears the hyenas howling and senses the vultures hovering and dies and flies to the peak of Kilimanjaro (and who, coincidentally, tells the woman that she doesn’t know anything). His deathbed doctrines suck. Listen to your wife or die might have been (and is) a better code. He chooses the latter, as in die.

ITEM #2: Install black quartz countertops.

PURPOSE: To replace the current faux-stone spray-painted particleboard counters. Black quartz would resist the knife nicks, the spaghetti spills, and the protein pongs.

ITEM #3: Start my home business.

PURPOSE: Not many people know this (and by not many I mean no one – at least no one alive – and especially not Jim), but I am an expert seamstress. Under my grandmother’s tutelage (God bless her soul) I mastered the curved seam, the chiffon hem, the mitered edge, the perfect bias, and the invisible zipper. Then one day I came home from school to find her sewing machine (sans shuttle and shafts) mutilated on the ceramic tile – one of many casualties (inanimate, of course) during the drunk dad days, which Jim and I never discuss, ever.

ITEM #4: Read the Bible from cover to cover.

PURPOSE: I am a lover of lists and plans and charts and diagrams and all else organization. But Bible reading plans are an exception. I’ve tried them and failed them, all of them (some twice). I’ve tried the Fifty-Two Week Plan, the Five by Five by Five Plan, the Bible Reading Chart Plan, the Chronological Plan, the Historical Plan, the Professor Grant Horner’s Plan, and I even wrote my own plan. The main problem (I think) is that the plans give a list of passages to read each day, but then in the passages there are more lists of names (like Methuselah or Enoch) and ages (Methuselah lived 969 years; Enoch didn’t die) and who begot whom (Eve begot Cain and Abel and Seth; Sarah begot Isaac) and who “went in” to whom (Abraham – Sarah’s husband – went in to Hagar, who begot Ishmael) and how many wives and concubines they had (David had a few; Solomon, his son, had a thousand), like lists within lists within lists.

ITEM #5: Travel to the Iguazu Falls.

PURPOSE: To experience the beautiful Argentinian scenery (and men – so, perhaps I’ll do this one without Jim?)

ITEM #6: Plan an evening of spontaneous romance with Jim.

PURPOSE: To mix up to our love life (which nears non-existence). I read an entire Cosmo article about it: married couples stopping for love on the side of the road, at the nearest hotel, on a secluded beach, in the upstairs bathroom of their neighbor’s house during the Christmas party, etc. I could easily plan something spontaneous like that.

ITEM #7: Compose a list-list.

PURPOSE: To give to Jim (hopefully), to make him understand how much I do, so that he will listen to me.

To-Do List (Business)

ITEM #1: Compose a list of supplies needed.

PURPOSE: To be prepared. Like Jim told me on Italian night, mise en place makes the pasta. (No, actually, I make the pasta. How’s that for mise en place, Jim?)

ITEM #2: Order fabric samples.

PURPOSE: To test for quality. Perhaps I will also use one to make myself a new blouse, since Jim tore my J. Crew (which I loved) during the spontaneous romance I planned at the Omni (which I didn’t love).

ITEM #3: Research new sewing methods.

PURPOSE: I’m determined to prove Jim wrong. I told him about my business, and he told me to read Proverbs 31:13, about the excellent wife who “worketh with hands willing,” which I did (read, that is), and then told him I did, to which he responded by telling me I am nothing like (and could never be like) her.

ITEM #4: Create a logo.

PURPOSE: To market my business. I’ll get feedback from several friends: Linda, Isabella, Steve, Tami, Ethan, and Nestor (the Argentinian!) But not Jim, I won’t get feedback from Jim, because I don’t want to hear it, and neither does he, really.

ITEM #5: Order all supplies.

PURPOSE: Jim would never let me do this. But my good friend (Nestor, whom I love, and who listened for a whole hour while I explained by business plan to him) is lending me the money for the initial investment (he’ll send it to the separate bank account I opened up).

ITEM #6: Set up a work station.

PURPOSE: I need a work station that will be conducive to productivity. Jim’s office (which he keeps locked, even when he is in it, which he is, mostly, late at night, while I’m asleep) has plenty of extra space. Anyways, it’s time for his old, nasty, green-covered, stain bespattered futon (which does not, and will not, ever, serve as a venue for spontaneous romances) to go.

ITEM #7: Set a goal for each day of the next year.

PURPOSE: To stay organized. I’ll compose fifty-two separate lists (one for each week of the year) with seven items on each list (one for each day of the week).

To-Do List (Pleasure)

ITEM #1: Schedule hair appointment.

PURPOSE: I should not yet be in the going gray generation, and I could not yet bear for Jim (or Nestor) to find out that I am. Plus, my stylist is Tanzanian, and she grew up in Moshi. She woke up every morning to the snow-capped peaks of Kilimanjaro reflecting the rays of the sun into her bedroom window (quite a wakeup call). She says plane tickets to Kilimanjaro International Airport are relatively cheap, and that there are plenty of lodgings in Moshi, and even more Chaggas (native tribesmen) who are expert porters and who will guide you to the peak (and back) for a reasonable price (though I doubt Jim would actually go – I might as well scratch this off the Bucket List.)

ITEM #2: Get a manicure.

PURPOSE: Last week I found an old list (from the delightful dating days, I think) of Jim’s likes and dislikes (gathered and compiled from date conversations). I had forgotten about many of the items on there, like his like of yoga (what the heck led us to talk about that?), his dislike of Latin American cuisine, his dislike of old church ladies (one of which, now that I think about it, alas, I am slowly becoming), and his like of me (which, now that I think about it, alas, is probably slowly fading in direct proportion to my transformation into an old church lady). But the one that surprised me the most was his like of French manicures. Well, I think this time I’ll get the reverse French manicure.

ITEM #3: Call my mom.

PURPOSE: Ever since my grandmother died (God bless her soul), my mom has had it pretty rough, especially being alone, all the time, with my dad. While I may have entered the cursed connubial chapter (for now, at least), she’s still living in the drunken dad days (a worse fate, to be sure).

ITEM #4: Beat Jim’s high score on Piano Tiles.

PURPOSE: Even though I have unlocked more pieces than Jim, including Liebestraum 3 (Liszt), Invention 13 (Bach), Sonata 34 (Haydn), Tempest 3 (Beethoven), Etude 9 (Chopin), and Nutcracker (Tchaikovsky), his single highest score still exceeds mine by 117 points. I think I’ll try to surpass him with Por una cabeza (Gardel and Le Pera), since he hates Spanish tango, and Nestor loves it (and dances it very, very vertiginously well).

ITEM #5: Make a meal plan for this week.

PURPOSE: Since Jim is out of town this week, I’m going to change things up. I’m especially looking forward to the Choripán (Nestor’s sausage dish, which he made for me after tango night, and which I love, especially when finished off with Dulce de leche).

ITEM #6: Try the new ice cream parlor down the street.

PURPOSE: While Jim was in his office the other night (it was late, and it was locked, I mean the door), I pulled out the delightful dating days box (to put in that old like/dislike list), and I came across a couples’ quiz book. The first question is: “What is your partner’s favorite song?” He (Jim) answered: “Brown-Eyed Girl” (I should have known then, my eyes being blue). The right answer is: “Ice Cream” (or, “I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream”). I’ve screamed for ice cream enough (we all scream for something, don’t we?) He doesn’t listen. So, I’m going this week (or the next, I think). Really, I’m going.

ITEM #7: Schedule Saturday brunch with the girls.

PURPOSE: There’s so much to tell: Jim (or lack thereof), Spanish tango, Argentinian cuisine (with Nestor, whom I even told about the drunk dad days), our trip to Iguazu Falls, the possible end of the cursed connubial chapter, the possible beginning of the satisfactorily separated season.

Cleaning List

ITEM #1: Reorganize the house.

PURPOSE: To figure out what to bring to Argentina. I’ll need a few bikinis, sunglasses, flip-flops, snorkel gear, and especially sunscreen. I’ve spent the majority of the cursed connubial chapter cooped up inside of this house: cleaning, cooking, composing lists, and homemaking, and all in silence (dark, cold, damnable silence). It’s time to step into the light, into the warm arms of a man who listens. But I will need sunscreen (100 SPF).

ITEM #2: Wash all the bedding.

PURPOSE: It was Sunday night, and Jim’s flight from Kilgore got cancelled (it was snowing, I think), and Nestor’s Malbec from the Lujan de Cuyo got decanted (it was rich, and spicy).

ITEM #3: Clean the kitchen counters.

PURPOSE: Knife nicks, spaghetti spills, and protein pongs aside, I feel like I need to scrub off Sunday night’s adultery (not even sure if the black quartz would help with the guilt, or anything, really, even after what I found in Jim’s office, which is why I called Nestor that night in the first place).

ITEM #4: Clean Jim’s office (once more).

PURPOSE: After last week’s cleaning while Jim was out of town (during which I made the discovery), I’m glad that this will probably be the last time. I wouldn’t even bother, but it seems right to put my eyes on the magazines (which I found in his bottom desk drawer, which he apparently forgot to lock) one last time, to be sure I’m doing the right thing. Plus, I’m going to leave my list-list inside the top one. Then he’ll know that I know (and wish he would’ve listened).

ITEM #5: Do the laundry.

PURPOSE: Mount Cotton (consisting entirely of unfolded laundry) must be conquered. Jim is as unlikely to help in this conquest as he is to climb Kilimanjaro (though he’s always done his part in the creation of it).

ITEM #6: Brush all of the dog hair out of the sofa.

PURPOSE: And out of the fire place, and out of the armchair, and out of the closets, and out of the dryer vent, and off of the baseboards, and off of the tables (I will not miss Cooper).

ITEM #7: Vacuum.

PURPOSE: To finish cleaning. One last thing my grandmother (God bless her soul) taught me was to leave the house clean. I’m going to leave this house (and Jim). It’s decided now. It’s done. And I’m going to leave it (and him) clean.

List-List

ITEM #1: Bucket List

DONE (in part).

ITEM #2: To-Do List (Business)

DONE.

ITEM #3: To-Do List (Pleasure)

DONE.

ITEM #4: Cleaning List

DONE.

ITEM #5: You should have listened to me, Jim. I just wanted you to listen.

I’M DONE.

ITEM #6: By the time you read this, I’ll be in Argentina with Nestor.

WE’RE DONE.

ITEM #7: List-List

DONE.

Strawberry Feels / RaeJeana Brooks

S T R A W B E R R Y   F E E L S

I. The first time I ever thought of jumping was from the ledge of a pink staircase.

No, I was wearing pink. No, the building was pink. No, the world was pink:

The world was pink and humid the day I first attempted suicide. I may have fallen in love with gravity that day, the way it tugged at my shins  from the top of that ledge like my mother pulling off my tights after dance practice and neatly folding them away. The world was always doing things for people.

I wanted it to fold me away.

Kei spotted me from the other side and swung her legs over the railing. She locked her arms around me and I submitted to her embrace out of love, but for a moment, I felt folded.

II. Caravaggio is dying. He is not dying in the passive way that we have all acknowledged from the day we were born, but urgently. The waves loudly curl into a thousand sizes of the letter “C,” knowing fully well that Caravaggio has a terminal fucking illness that starts with that letter and I want to scream back at it. We are callousing our thumbs trying to light sparklers and the wind is contorting the flames like an almost birthday wish. I am seething quietly.

“Look,” he says, resting his hand on my shoulder. The moon is coming up. We hold each other for a moment. When  Caravaggio  wheezes it is gentle, as if to say  “I will not be alive someday soon, but I am right this second, and that’s pretty neat. Thank you for that, universe.”

We watch the moon grow fat and red, then pink, then pink, then white, over the ocean.

III. The next time I thought about dying, it stopped being cold outside. Madi sent me a message reminding me of what nice weather we’re having, and that she loves me. I love her, too. I found new lingerie in the mail and a fruit stand that reminded me of the word “serendipity.” I left with a watermelon, three mangos and three baskets of strawberries, though I hadn’t decided whether or not I like them. I grabbed a handful and ate four on the drive home, thinking that I don’t really want to die, but I also kind of do. Unfortunately, strawberries remind me of death now. Fortunately, if  I had died in a car crash, at least I’d have known I kind of like strawberries.

IV. Nathan wears his sister’s ashes around his neck in a willow tree urn. He tells me, “she’s always with me.” I stare toward the cotton candy cloud painted on the wall. “Yeah,” I whisper.

V. Mackeral was sleeping when I walked into his room. I sat on the bed next to him and tousled his hair. It’s pinker than I remember. His eyes blinked open and I could see his eyes grow excited as I came into focus. He exhaled loudly, reaching up to me.

Mackeral spoke gently, warm even as he pulled the plate of cocaine off his nightstand.

“What have you been up to?” he asked.

“Spiraling into madness,” I beamed. “How about you?”

“Same,” he chuckled.

We don’t stop laughing.

VI. Everyone I’ve met since the world turned pink is not okay. Everyone is overwhelmingly not okay, in fact, but we are all kind of okay together.

Stone’s Story / Kathryn Shapiro

None of this happened, but that is not important, and actually, nothing is. Stone didn’t know this when he signed up for the United States Army after 9/11. He lived in Seattle when it happened, knew no one who died in the attack and knew no one who knew anyone who died, except for a schoolmate’s second cousin. His schoolmate talked about it loudly in class, how fucked up it all was, then would weep when no one paid him any attention. It was a sad time but Stone felt absolutely nothing, yet he would nod his head when friends and family talked obnoxiously and incessantly about how depressing the news was, and stuck a miniature American Flag made of plastic and more purple than blue in his front yard to pretend he cared. Stone, twenty-four and tall, depending who you asked, and not particularly attractive, less debatable, had trouble feeling. The purest spring day with the purest girl, both of which he experienced, did not make him happy, and the darkest day in the darkest of times, and yes I mean the day when the terrorist hijacked our airplanes and attacked our cities, did not make him sad. In a plea for passion, Stone enrolled in the army, hoping to be sent to a far off land to be screamed at, attacked and hurt, to feel the triumph of victory and unity of brotherhood and maybe save a life and whatever else the pamphlet said that he didn’t really read, nor did he have to. On the plane to Iraq, Stone listened to a recording of a slow Southern voice thanking the men for their service and talking about the vile Iraqi Government, how they’d surely attack us again and next time probably their family too, and the voice from inside the radio told the boys not to be afraid to kill et cetera et cetera. Somewhere over Russia Stone fell asleep.

The war was like every other war that has ever happened and will ever happen and rest assured there will be more. Unsurprisingly in this war as with all the other wars, Stone did not feel the American Pride, the American Passion that was promised to him by the voice on the airplane that crackled through the speakers. Not when he shot the gun you see in your nightmares, not when the heat was unbearable and the cold felt like the war surely must be over, not when men from the States stopped by to tell allegedly funny jokes to men who thought nothing was or ever could be funny, and not when he made love to two different girls under the same stars. With a week left on his tour, Stone thought he might defect and join the “enemy” whoever that may be. To feel guilt, afraid, excitement, regret or if he was lucky he’d form a bond with the said enemy and finally be passionate about something or even someone, none of which has happened before. Of course the world is unlucky and so is Stone and none of this happened and a week came and went and Stone left the warzone and none of his brothers noticed he was gone and he wondered if they knew he had ever been there. He tried to remember their real names and the throbbing of his hands after firing that nightmare gun and what the girls felt like under the stars. It was too hard and too much and not enough and somewhere over Russia Stone fell asleep.

Stone came back but not really and wanted to move to New York to become an actor, a fucking actor, so he moved and found a cold apartment that had two windows and wooden floors and decided to hang an American Flag on the wall that was more purple than blue. In acting class Stone read the lines from the pages, shouted when instructed to and cried on command and mimicked feeling passion one evening to which the acting coach, whatever that is, said Stone did a good job and was a decent actor but maybe he should spend some time studying the craft and maybe travel the world to realize “there’s a whole other land out there that’s not New York, ha ha ha” et cetera et cetera. The coach thought maybe traveling would make Stone’s acting more convincing and Stone agreed because it was easy to do and thought the boys he knew in the war might know of some nice travel spots but he could not remember their real names and could not remember what the girls from the war felt like and could not remember the noise of that nightmare gun. Weeks came and went and then acting class was over and on a bright day with a friendly breeze and the noise of songbirds in the air, Stone decided to become a writer, a fucking writer, to make up stories he thought happened but was not so sure, and planned to write about the names of the boys he fought with but fought was not really the right word, and to write about the girls under the stars and that nightmare gun.

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