“Untitled” by Hanna Rajs Lundström

You can pick out the music. She won’t argue with you, she’s not listening. You know that, you don’t care. You can sing along, use your mouth for something. Go to a restaurant, buy her food, she’s not even a lesbian. Buy her drinks, watch her drink them, buy her a t-shirt. She’s not afraid of you, she doesn’t care enough to be. You’re drunk, get a grip. You can drive somewhere, watch the sunset, smile into the air. God damn, she’s really pretty. She has a boyfriend somewhere, you can’t remember his name, you don’t care. You’re unable to talk to her. Don’t spend your time trying, you look like a teenager in love. When you open your mouth, you will realize that you have no idea what it would say. You can go to the beach, it’s so lonely, not shared with anyone. Take your clothes off, and think for a moment that you can see her heart beating red under a thin layer of skin and ribs. The water is cold. Close your eyes. Maybe they broke up, maybe that’s why she’s so quiet. You can throw her a towel, you’re prepared for this, she’s shaking from the cold, you can go get coffee somewhere. Maybe you could ask her to sing, make her use that beautiful voice of hers. She’s a great singer, you already know that, that’s one of the things you like most about her. Also, she’s a smoker, you like that, you offer her a cigarette, she takes it, smokes it. You watch her, oh man oh man, she’s really pretty. You want to ask her something. What’s your boyfriends name again? What’s your favorite band? Do you wanna go get a beer or something?


Profile: Hanna Rajs Lundström

Advertisements

“The Looking” by E.W. Hare

He sent me a message celebrating my return to the city we once again shared. He expressed his happiness for me. He confided he felt his profession, the one I had left, was soul-sucking. He said “good for you”. I pointed out his soul still seemed to be in tact. He wasn’t so sure but thanked me for the compliment. He said he was so worried for me when I vanished. He was so worried, I thought. Anxiety consumed him, I thought. I was in the forefront of his consciousness, despite every other possible preoccupation. See, I said, proof of your compassion. For selfish reasons, he continued. You are eye-candy.

It made me wonder how satisfying looking was. Sometimes I am all they see and I wonder if it is such a bad thing. What if a person’s life purpose was only to be seen by others? I suppose it wouldn’t be terrible. Maybe they find a comfort in the crook of my nose, I thought. Maybe my height gives them a sense of security. Regardless of cause, their looking was capable of more than seeing; their eyes knew things. I was repelled by this idea, by the focusing agents they had been rewarded, seemingly upon birth. I mused about how stifled I would feel traveling the lines of my palm as they laid there. What should I do in the meantime, I wondered, while they looked? Perhaps I would try looking too, as a stunt, as an experience. Where do people go when they want to look?

The Mall.

I strolled through the biggest store I could find. I had only been to The Mall as a small child, the guest of a regular, never since. I bought clothes on the Internet, plain t-shirts of solid, dim colors, no discernable brand. It isn’t that I was apprehensive to pledge allegiance to certain clothing companies, it was just another of my feigned attempts at disassociation. Once you commit to a brand, you commit to a people. Once you commit to a people, you commit to a lifestyle. A brand of living. Soon you are amidst a career suited for the lifestyle you have hung in your closet, you have found a certain select people amongst the larger people you’ve adhered yourself to. You make one decision and the rest follow. The clouds become the earth. After you learn to crawl, then toddle, then walk, then run, there is the briefest period where you learn to float. Some skip this step entirely. I would rather make a home here, in the clouds.

I journeyed through the store and collected some research samples. I stuck myself in a dressing room I tried on a tailored sports jacket with a pair of grey sweatpants, which had elastic around the ankles that felt like shackles. I tried on a pair of denim jeans with a slimming wash and thin leg openings, situated with a turtleneck, both of which felt as if they were suffocating me. I tried on a floral print button-up shirt with a pair of brown corduroys and a yellow bowler hat in hopes of emulating a landscape, but the hat seemed to cause a flash of heat to sear my face and travel down my spine. I tried on a head-to-toe camouflage ensemble, but my shadow appeared darker behind me. The store finally was about to close, someone rapping on the door saying your time’s up! and asking me to take my final selections to the checkout counter. What if I haven’t made a final selection? I thought. I need more time. The store attendant only continued her assault on the other doors. Time’s up, time’s up, even though those doors were unlocked and no one was inside of them. Everyone seemed to have already made his or her final selection.

I passed by the line of people at the checkout, all of whom seemed to be in a hurry but were nonetheless pleased to be standing there with their with success folded over one arm, each with at least one thing that felt right on them. I leave wearing what I wore when I got there, only now less satisfied with it as the search for something that “works” has left me empty-handed. Where is self-actualization for sale? I wondered. They seem to have found it in their blouses and their trousers. In the looking.

I wanted to have made a final selection, too. I wanted to feel part of this experience but I didn’t want to have to make the choice and I didn’t want to wait in a line and I didn’t want a salesperson or a stranger to need to validate me. I finished this thought and picked up the first thing my eye rested on, which happened to be a plain white v-neck t-shirt, from a pile of other plain white v-neck t-shirts. I looked both ways before breaking into a sprint, heading toward the farthest exit. This is what it feels to be chased, I thought. I am teaching every one of these people a lesson. A lesson in being seen.

This is how it’s done.

When I lose myself in thought I drive ever so slowly, creeping along the highway, even when a foray into illegality increases my blood flow. I tried to distill this moment of floating and replicate it, to drift again as the snow over the road, but it wasn’t possible. My cloud had wrung itself from the atmosphere. I watched as a man drove past on my left at higher speeds than I. I watched in my periphery as a deer glided from across the beams of light emanating from in front of me closer into his. There were no horns or fireworks; the moments after revealed neither actor but I knew the road was stained, and so did the deer, and so did the other driver. We didn’t have to look to know.

When I was home, I wondered what about the incident I would remember, if anything. I had already forgotten the make and model of the vehicle. Was it an SUV? A two-door coupe? The night made it hard to see, and I was going fast. Was the deer a buck or a doe? Was its tail white or was that snow? The stain I remembered. The stain resembled a constellation of stars on a map.
My looking had become running. You can’t run on clouds, though it may seem all too possible sometimes. Soon my run would slow to a walk, to a toddle, to a crawl.

It turns out the t-shirt didn’t fit. It was much too small. I painted the t-shirt in the way I remembered the stain and instead of a closet I hung it in a frame. You look for something for so long and it’s as good as gone. You see something for long enough and it might as well be.


Profile: E.W. Hare

“The Dad” by Luke Weldon

The dad dozes in front of the television with his feet propped up on the couch.

The dad has a dream of being overtaken by a stronger woman. The woman is on top. She takes off her bra. He feels her slip herself on top of him. The dad looks at her breasts. She grabs his arms, elastic with fat, and holds him down. He turns his head to her shorts on the chair, then to his jeans on the floor. The woman’s eyes are closed hard. She bites his lip. The dad thinks about the stretch marks on his thighs.

The woman collapses next to the dad. He looks down at himself. All there is is wiry tangle and a small mole and flatness. He turns toward the woman. It is inside her like a cork.

While the dad dreams the television becomes blue and full of water. It rushes out the bottom of the screen in currents.

The dad dreams the mom is holding their child. The dad slaps it out of her hands. It falls to the floor like coins. He takes the mom’s hair in his fist. It pokes out in clumps. The dad thinks of straw.

On the television a commercial for a news program appears. The water reflects it upside-down.

The dad dreams he falls into the painting Wheatfield with Crows by van Gogh. He flies through the fat oily brushstrokes.

A cat sits on the porch and peers in at him.

The dad looks at his wrists and his hands are clocks.


Profile: Luke Weldon

“Hunger Holes” by Blank White

Note: the packing material utilized suggests that what once was inside has now been removed. It took a bow in its own filth. There was a statue made from duct tape corroding contrapposto in the alleyway. Some leaves stuck on the reaching fingers as doves shat on it. Homeless men chewed on it, sucked the nutrients from the silver skin. When they were children, urchins living in the street multiplying like rats bursting at the seams of their denim they would steal the buckets of food from restuarants, the ones that are kept secretly under the table, where everyone deposits their masticated meals.

In the floor in the basement there is a giant garbage disposal gnashing its whirring teeth gears in a starved machine shooting out little jets of oil like bursting veins the foundation of the house cracking like pie crust under its ardor its clashing the feathered splintering of wood

Exhibit 1.b
This fence post has a clown face drawn on it with Dorito powder. Underneath it is scrawled
“I AM A FUCK ON COCAIN”

Exhibit 1.g
Beneath this lampshade there is a Barbie suspended by her melted hair tangled on the incandescent bulb. The heat has warped her face. She looks like a child underwater, looking away from the sun.

I WOULD MAKE A LOVELY ORIFICE

“Watching people eat is sort of like watching people masturbate. To me, personally, it might be sicker. I feel guilty when I watch people mash glue and glitter into their gums. The smacking, the machinery of the thing frightens me…the noise, the noise is eruptive, consuming me consuming my hair and not letting go that Cabbage Patch Kid that scalped a fourth grade girl comes to mind something dead in the eyes jaws moving

IN A MOMENT YOUR OLFACTORY SYSTEM WILL RESUME NORMAL FUNCTION

“Cut the shit and fuck the hole inside of the hole the secret passageway of your entrails excites me what can I probe out of you what can I soak up with cotton stuck to the head of my dick with a piece of gum what can emit from my breasts what will blister in my palm a wetness left too long becomes the mold that mosses my email account my hourglass is breaking itself because it is a logo and not a thing

bwhite11

NOTE: The basement is completely full of sex dolls made from a variety of objects. Wood. Gum. Rubber. Ice. Oil. Leaves. A crowd of cameras are pointing towards a green screen with a kiddie pool in front of it. The kiddie pool is yellow and full of petroleum jelly. There are drawers with masks, wigs, teeth, eyes. A table with makeup and a wall-sized mirror. There are dildos and buttplugs and a faux Christmas tree. There are coolers of meat, oats, creams. There is a bookcase of cassette tapes. There are microphones in the doll holes. The dolls are in compromising positions. Some are missing limbs. There is a torso made from granite, so detailed it could be real.

Over 32 hours of video footage were recovered.


Profile: Blank White

“Ripe” by Gwil James Thomas

First published in Perhaps I’m Wrong About The World: Issue 2

It’s time to wake up. You rub your eyes and briefly contemplate going back to sleep. The soft imprint of your girlfriend’s body is still on the sheets; the clock reads 10:09. You try closing your eyes to get back to the dream you were having. You were dreaming of Claudia Corbett; you were still older, but she was as you remembered her, somehow untouched by time. Already the dream was fading. But you get flashes of it, her standing there smiling, somewhere outside, hard to tell where exactly? The brushing of her dress, the peach-like fragrance of her perfume and more bizarrely how there seemed to be some flickering in her eye. Teenage impulses still running ripe. The pleasures of a life. Just a dream though. Nevertheless, what did happen to people like Claudia Corbett?

You have the day off, naturally you hate the job and boss you work for. But it’s time to get up and you make haste. From the minute you stand up, it suddenly dawns on you that there’s something strange about the day; it’s seems similar to others but at the same time very odd.

You hit the toilet and shower; you stare at yourself for a moment, give the reflection a glance, pull in your gut and slick back your hair. You briefly think how it’d be to see yourself as others see you.

You head downstairs. Be a while till anyone’s back home and you’ve got it all to yourself. You find a blueberry muffin and sip some coffee. You really want a cigarette. You turn on the T.V. It’s the Male Channel; Football’s Worst Injuries, Police Speed Chase, Wrestling and Hair Product Advertisements. Once that audiovisual sate has concluded, you pull the car keys from the side and close the front door, checking twice to see if it’s locked. You’ve got some work to do.

A few drops of rain hit the windscreen, but you wind down your window and fade in some music. It feels pretty good and you stop at the lights. You notice some girls walk past—one looks over at you. Behind them a youth, blows out a ring of smoke looking like he’s running from something. What’s that, nostalgia? Where did the years go? You were that age once; but that’s not the point. If only you could go back in time but go back with what you know now. There’s so much you could do, you’d probably have a better chance if you did it all over again right? But you overlook the fact that that’s what has brought you here, your own choices and maybe a few things that were out of your control. That might even be powerful if you used that, it’d make you really start to do things. Like paint that bloody front door, maybe. You stroke your eyebrow, subconsciously trying to feel for something to bring you back to the now and all there really is. A driver hits his horn. Lights are green. You move a little slower than usual and this causes a driver from behind to try to overtake you. By this time you’re already going forwards, he tries racing up to you. Getting a taste for some kind of thrill in your life, you keep your pace.

Before you can do little else you notice the face of the other motorist and you continue to stare with little idea of what he’s saying. Then it strikes you that his features bear a striking resemblance to a ripe butternut squash. Incredible. You laugh at his misfortune. He’s probably had this a long time. He keeps his eyes locked onto you, angrily putting his foot down and does this for a minute before failing to notice the car that’s parked at a strange angle. Slam, the side of his car hits it and bounces like a pinball changing course, until his car jolts back and also sticks out an angle too. Can’t have hit anymore than 30mph, though. There’s glass sprinkled all over the floor, he gets out and screams at you, he pulls off his shoe and tries to throw it. But you’ve already gone. Butternut Squash Head looks truly like an enraged bull.

“Peace and fucking…” you say, two things you doubt he gets very little of. You speed off and have soon passed by like seasons to trees. A clean getaway. You swing a left and stop for a moment and pull up the handbrake. You can’t help but laugh. He deserved it, wasn’t your fault. At the bottom of the street you can see what looks like a bodybuilder lifting weights while another man spots him. You really need to get in shape again. Though those two aren’t really selling it. When you get back home you tell yourself that you’ll do some exercises or go for a run. In the back of your mind you know you probably won’t. You should take up that free boxing lesson your brother got you for Christmas; that’d be something. At that moment your phone slides down the dashboard…. Back to reality.

“Hello love, how’s your day?” you ask your other half.

“Not too bad, I can’t talk for long. But I was just going to ask, have you been to the shops yet?”

“Just on my way now, got stuck in a bit of traffic.”

“Oh, well I was going to remind you to pick up the paint and some toilet paper as well. You remember which paint it was don’t you?”

“Yeah, white.”

“Not white; the shade was Arctic White, remember? I just want the house to look perfect for when my parents come down at the weekend. You haven’t forgotten that have you? What’s gotten into you today?”

“Calm down, of course I haven’t forgotten. Listen, you sound stressed. How about we rent out a film tonight? We’ve earned a free customer rental on our points card. I’ll pick up a bottle of Rosé. It’ll be nice.”

“It’s fine, just a bit hectic. That does sound nice though.”

“Well, just think of something for us to watch later.”

“I will, I better go now though. I love you, Pickle.”

“Love you too, Pumpkin.”

You hang up. A brief drive further and you’ve parked up. You show your membership card and head inside. It’s spacious and cool in there and with the added advantage of the shiny floor it makes you a little relaxed. You push your trolley. You pick up the paint, Arctic White; you know because you check the label twice. Then you walk about and pick up some nails, toilet paper, beer, bread, a bottle of rose wine and salted peanuts for next weekend. A little less off the to-do list. Behind the counter you can just make out that the girl’s nametag reads Alicia. She looks very sweet, with delicate features and you queue up, hoping that when it comes to you, you’ll be served by Alicia, so much so that you don’t even check to see who’s on the other counter. As luck would have it, you’re passed onto Alicia. Of course you’d never cheat on your girlfriend. This relationship finally looks like marriage. But you tell yourself that just like shopping, you know what you want to buy but you still look around, right? That’s only human. For a brief moment Alicia stands there in her navy blue polo shirt, then she wets her lips. In the background some workers lift things from the mountainous shelves. You imagine playing a game of tennis with her, that’d be great.

“Morning sir, did you find everything that you wanted?” she asks you as your eyes meet.

You pause for a moment and come up with a really good answer to that question.

“Yes, I’ve got everything thank you.”

Alicia smiles and starts finding bags for everything. You pay by card. As Alicia keys in the amount, you really stare at her, then she swings around; catching you red-handed.

“If you’d like to verify the amount and enter your pin sir,” she says.

This isn’t going too well.

You really want to think of something suave to say, but you can’t. What’s up with you? You just smile at her instead. Alicia looks a little confused. Your precious ego’s shattered. You’re humiliated. You take out the card and say goodbye. As she serves the next customer she looks at you from the corner of her eye. It’s a little sly you think. You’ve still got it, you remind yourself. She’s a pro, probably had people mentally undressing her for most of her young life. As you near the exit, you turn your attention to a girl whose nametag reads Charlene. She hands you their Autumn catalogue. They have a lingerie section, you’ll give that a good study when you get back home and Buddha willing, eventually paint the front door.

From just over your left shoulder you hear some commotion over the authenticity of a blind dog. What happens next is unbelievable. Or at least, a bad coincidence. It’s Butternut-Squash Head. Having now dragged himself from the wreck, probably rushing to work, he stands there in his uniform still fuming. That’s commitment, if nothing else.

You walk hurriedly to your car and start it up. It’s fine, looks like he didn’t notice. You’ll need some food before you start work on anything else though. You drive across the concrete expanse of parked cars and head to the nearest drive thru.

Luckily you only have to head into the next parking section. Before you are able to drive up to the menu, a board reassures you that the food’s “100% real food”. To keep you entertained, they’ve left cute plastic dinosaurs amongst the surrounding plants and chips of wood. Eventually you saddle up to the window and collect it. Once you’re passed the brown paper meal bag, you take extra care putting it down. You don’t want to get sauce on the seat again.

You pull off the plastic casing of the straw and throw anything unnecessary out of the window. Doesn’t matter, someone’s going to pick it up. Their job’s bad enough anyway, they’re hardly going to get picky over that. Ready to feast you park up again. While your body digests it all you feel a little tired and wait there for a minute yawning and stretching.

Something in the distance approaches. Its shadow briefly pans on the dashboard, then just as quickly, you’re yanked from your seat. It’s Butternut Squash Head. His head seems to be throbbing. He hooks you in the gut before connecting a fist with your head. You fall on the floor. You lay there a moment a little dazed. Before you can do anything, a woman runs to him and yanks his arm. Like he’s there defending her honour or something stupid. Her face, although animated, looks worn, but her breasts bounce up and down as she screams to Butternut Squash Head, who’s already moving away rapidly back through the maze of cars. You get up on your elbows ready to find the prick, as tiny specks of grit fall from your shirt. In the heat of moment, you hardly took note of it, too preoccupied to really stare; the girl looks a perfect match for an older Claudia Corbbett. It was possible. Anything was possible really. That shatters that fantasy. But at least you knew what happened to people like her now. After a quick glance to make sure you’re still breathing, she’s gone too. Maybe Butternut Squash Head was on his lunch break. You know where he works, he knows that too. You’ll be back.

You go back home and paint the door. You’re pretty pissed off though. You crack opem a beer and while you drink it, you recall the events of the morning. You can’t believe that Butternut Squash Head had the audacity to do that. You sink into the depths of the seat, take another swig and imagine really fucking him up. Yeah, that’d be good. Make him taste the grit.

You’ve told yourself that you’d quit smoking a thousand times, but you’re so pissed off now you grab another nail from the packet. It calms you down slightly. Then suddenly you hear the keys in the lock and stub the cigarette out and putting what’s left into your pocket. Your girlfriend stands there at the door, like a hound sniffing out cocaine.

“The door’s looking good… Why can I smell cigarette smoke?”

“Don’t know, I bumped into an old mate earlier, who stank of the stuff. How was your day love?”

Your girlfriend stands there in the door speechless. You stare across the carpet; the catalogue you picked up earlier is there, folded open at the lingerie section. But she’s a woman of the world, not some precious character from a Victorian romance novella. No it’s something beyond tobacco filled air and possible self-appreciation.

“Was your day good then love? I picked up the wine,” you add.

“Your head…” she says.

“Oh yeah, hit it on the door knob when I was painting didn’t I.”

“No really, your head…” she says, still speechless.

You take the last swig of your can and rise up to the mirror. Your head, it’s throbbing and looks like the beginnings of a perfectly ripe Butternut Squash. Your girlfriend takes two steps back. It’s really throbbing now. You stare at the can and read the back label and spit out all you’re able. You close your eyes. This must be a bad dream, this is impossible. Could it have been something in that fried food? That sauce was a little funky. You run outside, then back inside feeling your head. You smash your phone against the wall. If you’re dead, it’s not too bad, nor worth the fear anyway. This is how it was though? It’s all little strange. Maybe it’s purgatory? Just don’t look in the mirror, whatever you do don’t look in the mirror. You run to the car, this isn’t quite over.

Momentarily you consider switching on the radio, but with the risk of bad music, makes your head violently pulsate. Another trip back, you park up and wait outside Butternut Squash Head’s place of work, though Butternut Squash Head sounds a little ironic coming from you now. Like the beautiful distraction she is, Alicia steps outside, she stares at you in the car, but quickly looks away. With less of a spotlight, you see Claudia Corbett waiting. She doesn’t look so bad. She shouldn’t be in this place. She should be in a high-rise career in London, Paris, Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo, or what not. You want to tell her that now. Eventually a man comes out and she wraps her arms around him, like a child to their blanket.

The man looks a little like Butternut Squash Head. But his head seems a little deflated now. A man ready to get lucky and have dinner cooked for him. You want things to be like that again, you want to hand him back the curse and you get out and slam the door. With no pun intended, it suddenly dawns on you that maybe this is all in your head. It’s a coincidence, people can’t really go around with heads that morph to vegetables can they? God, your head hurts too.

There’s a sudden clanking sound like another car’s trying to mount yours, as you turn your head a 4×4 veers itself from the now dented side of your car and you’re catapulted across the bonnet, rolling on the broken glass of the 4×4, tearing your skin across it, like your name’s Iggy Pop. Before the driver can stop, they smack into a signpost, with the clunk of twisted metal and once again you fly forward through the air now; you see flashes of things, a vapor of blood, a swarm of hungry seagulls above, a skyline that looks more beautiful now than it ever could have been, some horrorstricken shoppers, then you hit the floor. A surge of pain arrives followed by numbness.

The day really was full of surprises. You flicker your eyes, you hear someone screaming. Shut up you idiot, you think. Your mind goes somewhere else. This is what you imagine it’s like to be able to meditate like one of those monks. It’s like you’re in bed again, stuck in the dream with that exciting taste of fresh love.

You want to laugh, this is where we’re all going, what we spend our time trying to prolong, are supposed to be afraid of? Something’s running thin and there is neither light, nor sun. From somewhere else, you laugh. Yes, there was something strange about the day, similar to others but at the same time very odd.

Very odd indeed.


Profile: Gwil James Thomas

“The Dark Mandevil Bird” by Joshua Thomas

First published on Alternative Literature

One of the cages that I saw seemed very interesting so I stopped and stood in front of it for a while.

Inside, there was a small bird that was covered with bright green feathers. It seemed nervous. It moved around quickly – the way that a lot of small birds move – and made occasional little noises – like small birds make. It was a small, green bird.

But, unlike most small birds, the little green bird in the cage had a very big shadow. It looked like the shadow of a far bigger bird than the one I was looking at and, moreover, even though the bird in the cage was standing still on a perch, the shadow looked as if it was in full flight. It was the shadow of a much bigger bird.

I looked at it for a while and it looked at me. Its shadow circled over the wood chips on the bottom of the cage in a way that made me feel as though I was alone in the desert or tied to the top of a sun-baked rock somewhere that no one could find me.

The small green bird tweeted.

“Tweet.”

After a while, a keeper came by and I asked him what was up with the little green bird’s shadow. The keeper really cared about his job and spent a lot of time trying to make sure that everything was as perfect as it could possibly be. He said that the bird was called a Dark Mandevil Bird and that it was extremely rare.

Its rarity, he said, he could not understand because Dark Mandevil Birds seemed to thrive wherever they went and did well despite any bad conditions they might be exposed to. He had no idea why there weren’t Dark Mandevil Birds everywhere.

I asked him again about its shadow.

“What’s wrong with it?” asked the keeper. He sounded a bit annoyed.

“It’s far too large,” I said. “Can’t you see?”

The keeper looked at the shadow. It was a look that was more for show than anything else. The shadow was, if anything, even larger and more obvious than when I’d first noticed it. It was more like a parachute than a shadow. It sat preening its black feathers on the wood chips at the bottom of the cage. It didn’t care about me.

“That’s just how they are,” said the keeper after a while. “Big shadows.”

The Dark Mandevil Bird cocked its head and tweeted.

“Tweet.”

Again, I felt as though I was trapped in a desert or tied to a rock. This time, I felt much smaller and more confined – like I was at the bottom of a well. The bird’s shadow looked as though it could get out of the cage whenever it wanted to. It made me feel very vulnerable.
I asked the keeper whether the Dark Mandevil Bird was dangerous. It certainly felt as though it was dangerous.

The keeper looked at me.

Like everything, he said, the Dark Mandevil Bird could be dangerous. It really depended on the situation.

He hesitated.

I wanted to hear more about the Dark Mandevil Bird so, while he was hesitating, I waited. The combined effect was very quiet, but also very heavy. It was like an unplayable piano being delivered to a top-floor flat. We both noticed it.

The Dark Mandevil Bird broke the silence for us.

“Tweet.”

“So,” said the keeper – finally sitting down at the piano. “Sometimes you do hear bad things about these birds in the wild. In captivity they’re different – this guy’s no harm to anybody – don’t worry!”

He patted my shoulder to help me stop worrying.

“Tweet.”

“The birds are pretty rare, so it’s not like you hear a lot anyway but, still, some people will tell you that they can be dangerous.”

I waited for the keeper to carry on. In the cage, the shadow was getting all worked up over something. It looked as though it was trying to use its claw to remove something that was stuck in its beak. Every time it got close to getting it out, it lost its balance and silently flapped its black wings. I tried to ignore it.

“The last time that one was reported in the wild,” the keeper said. “It was in the news. This little boy was out with his mum and sister when they saw one.

“They were down by some train tracks picking wild garlic. They were down in the South somewhere. I don’t know. The story said it was a really hot day and that they were picking the wild garlic and that, every time a train came along the tracks, they all had to stand back and get out of the way. I remember reading it in the paper because I’m interested in Dark Mandevil Birds and I wanted to know more about them. I remember thinking that the trains sounded much more dangerous than any bird could be.”

I looked at the small green bird in the cage and, for the first time since seeing it, I smiled. The keeper was right. There was no way that that bird could be as dangerous as a train.

“They were perfectly happy, down by the tracks, and were having a nice day in the sunshine. They picked a lot of wild garlic and counted a lot of trains. The boy was particularly happy; the paper made a point of mentioning that.

“It was in the afternoon that the little girl reported seeing the Dark Mandevil Bird. She described a small, green bird sitting on the branch of an apple tree that they were near. According to both the girl and her mother, the bird was very small, very green and chirped the way other small birds chirped. It also, according to their statements, had no shadow.”

I looked at the Dark Mandevil Bird.

“This one’s got a shadow,” I said. “You said yourself, that’s how they are – they’ve got big shadows.”

The keeper looked at his shoes. He looked at them for a long time.

I once had a music teacher that spent a lot of her time looking at my shoes. She hardly ever looked at my face when she was talking – always my shoes. Her name was Miranda. One day I wrote ‘Hello Miranda’ on one of my shoes in Tip-ex. She never looked at my shoes again after that.
While I was thinking about this the keeper must have looked up from his own shoes and started talking again because now he was in the middle of telling me about possible tricks of the light that the paper said might have made it appear as though the little green bird had had no shadow.
“They looked at the bird for ages,” the Keeper said. “Before one of them realised that the little boy was no longer with them.

“They freaked out and started shouting and calling and looking for him everywhere.

“There was a little pile of wild garlic lying on the ground where, presumably, he’d dropped it, but the little boy was nowhere to be seen. After a while, they were just searching blindly, checking the same places two or three times or looking for him in really unlikely places, like under rocks or up trees. The little green bird stayed where it was, sitting in the apple tree, and watched them curiously.

“Anyway, they found him in the end. He was down by the train tracks, next to the mouth of a tunnel. He had his face on the ground, really calmly, like he was kissing it, and he had his neck resting on the track.

“They started shouting and ran towards him. They didn’t know when the next train would be coming through. When they got a little closer, the girl said that they saw the shadow of a very large bird circling the little boy on the ground. In the paper it said ‘wheeling’. I don’t know if that’s a very good way to describe it. It’s too noisy. Wheels squeak, and when things wheel they squeak too. I don’t know. There was no noise though. The paper said that the shadow ‘wheeled’ around him but that there was no sound at all, not even normal sounds like the gravel crunching, and that, when they looked up, there was nothing in the sky but the sun.

“They rushed to get him off the tracks and he was fine. He didn’t even try to fight them. The shadow of the big bird went away and all the little boy wanted to know was where his garlic had gone. He couldn’t tell anyone why he’d behaved the way he had – not even the doctors afterwards could work it out.

“They got him checked out and he was fine. There was nothing wrong with him.

“As soon as they mentioned the bird, though, it became a newspaper story. A passing doctor had heard something similar about the Dark Mandevil Bird and, after hearing their description of the bird, suggested that this might have been what the mother and daughter had seen. I can’t believe you haven’t heard about it!” He said. “It was in all the zoo keeping magazines for months afterwards. The story ran for ages with people trying to trace the bird.”

All the time I’d been listening, I’d been pushing some of the gravel on the floor around with the toe of my shoe. Without thinking about it, I’d dug a hole about the size and shape of the Dark Mandevil Bird.

“So it was the bird’s shadow that made him behave that way?” I asked. I’d had no idea that shadows, let alone birds’ shadows were able to do that. It wasn’t an idea I liked.
The keeper shrugged his shoulders.

“It’s just a story,” he said. “All sorts of normal things become weird if the papers get hold of them. They’re rare birds and there was a little boy involved, so, naturally, people got all worked up about it. I mean, they’re not magic. They’re not predatory or vicious. They’re just stupid birds.”

The keeper said this in a very affectionate voice. I felt as though he was defending the bird in the cage from the story he’d just told.

“This one’s been with us since he was a chick,” he added. “And he’s never caused us any trouble.”
The Dark Mandevil Bird sat on its perch. I don’t know whether it was very interested in what we were saying. It didn’t seem to be. Its shadow looped around the floor of the cage as though it was a black kite. Either that, I thought, or it was like a bucket on the end of a piece of string, doing an experiment on centrifugal force.

“Tweet,” said the Dark Mandevil Bird.


Profile: Joshua Thomas

“One Last Celebration” by Suvi Mahonen

I’m brushing my teeth when I hear the crunch of tyre on gravel. Kyle looks startled when he opens the door.

‘Hi honey,’ he says. He tries to kiss my cheek.

I lean away. ‘You’re late.’

‘Sorry. Got stuck in an operation.’ He locks the door and bends to take off his shoes. ‘How’s bub?’

‘Why didn’t you ring?’

‘Sorry.’ He puts his shoes in the shoe chest. ‘I didn’t get a chance.’

He starts heading towards the living room. ‘Something smells nice,’ he says. ‘What did you have for dinner?’

I throw the toothbrush at him. It misses and hits the stairs.

‘You want to know what I had?’ I yell. Fine flecks of toothpaste foam fly from my mouth. ‘One little square of cheese. That’s all.’

‘What are you brushing your teeth for then?’

I let out a scream of frustration. I go over to pick up my toothbrush.

‘Hon, what’s the matter?’ He holds out his hand to help me up. I ignore it. I point the toothbrush at him.

‘You can make your own dinner. I’m never going to waste time on you again.’

I storm back to the bathroom.

‘Honey.’ He’s right behind me. I slam the door in his face.

I’m all sweaty now. I undress, turn on the shower and get in. I close my eyes and breathe out as the water hits my cheeks. By the time I’ve gotten out and into fresh PJs I feel calmer.

I find him at the table eating a bowl of instant noodles. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t call,’ he says with his mouth full.

‘Well don’t do it again,’ I say, pulling out a chair and sitting down.

He chews and swallows. ‘What’s with the fancy plates and candle?’

‘I had this crazy idea that we could have a nice sit-down dinner together,’ I say. ‘You know, one last celebration where it’s just the two of us.’

‘I’m really sorry,’ he says, staring into his bowl.

‘It’s not your fault,’ I say, rubbing under my ribcage where it’s burning. ‘I guess you can’t help it if you’re stuck in an operation.’

He tips his bowl back and drinks the juice.

‘Is she okay?’ I ask.

‘Who?’

‘The patient you were stuck with,’ I say. ‘What was it, a cancer operation?’

‘Something like that,’ he says. He gets up and goes to the sink.

‘Do you want anything else?’ I ask.

‘No thanks.’ He glances at the clock. ‘I’m going to have a shower and then go to bed.’

I stay sitting while he washes his dishes. My hands are itchy. I feel queasy. My head is starting to throb.

‘Was it ovarian cancer?’ I ask.

‘Sorry?’

‘The case you were stuck with. Was it ovarian cancer?’

He reaches for the tea towel. ‘Actually it was a couple of Caesareans,’ he says, his back turned to me.

I’m confused. And headachy. And tired. And nauseous. And over it.

‘What were you doing on labour ward?’ I ask. ‘I thought you were still doing your gynaecology oncology rotation.’

‘I am,’ he says. His face looks flushed. ‘One of the consultants asked me to assist her though.’

‘That’s not fair,’ I say. ‘Why wasn’t someone else rostered on to help her?’

He opens the fridge and takes out a bottle of water. He takes a long swig. I’m standing glaring at him when he closes the door.

‘Were they private patients?’

‘Why?’

‘Why?’ I’m yelling again. ‘You know why! You promised you wouldn’t do any more private assisting.’

‘Settle down Bunny.’

I jab him in the chest. ‘Don’t you “settle down” me! I spent hours in the kitchen making a nice dinner and you let it go to waste.’

‘Look, I’m sorry. I wish you’d told me.’

‘So it’s my fault is it?’ I yell. ‘It’s my fault you’d rather spend time at work than with your family.’

‘I never said that,’ he pleads. ‘Anyway, I didn’t look for private assisting okay? She just rung up and asked me.’

I stamp my foot. ‘Then why didn’t you say no?’

‘Look, I’m sorry.’ He’s sounding impatient now. ‘I’m going to have my shower.’

He’s halfway up the stairs when he turns back. ‘Why do you think I said yes?’ he says. ‘There’s a little thing called money you know. You use it to buy things like food and electricity and clothes and stuff. If you earned some for once you’d know what it is.’

He keeps heading up. By the time I scream out ‘Arsehole’ he’s disappeared.

I’m sweaty again. My body feels like it’s been stuffed in a barrel and thrown over a cliff. I need to lie down.

Upstairs in our bedroom I curl up on top of the doona. I feel so miserable I can’t lie still. I get up and go down the hallway to the nursery. As I walk past the bathroom door I kick it.
I sit in the recliner couch. I shut my eyes and count my breathing. A whirring ball of sharp panic is growing in my chest. I scratch and scratch my palms until I force myself to stop. I open my eyes and focus on the stuffed toys. I look at Paddington, I look at his wellington boots, his red hat, the note pinned to his coat. ‘Please look after this bear. Thank you.’ Please look after … Please … Please … It’s not working. I look at the jumperoo instead. That doesn’t help either and now I feel like crying. I give my bump a jiggle and wait.

I am crying when Kyle comes in, dressed in his tartan boxers and Bonds T-shirt. He comes over and sits on the recliner’s armrest and runs his fingers through my hair.

‘Why do I keep doing it?’ he says.

I wipe my nose on my sleeve. ‘Doing what?’

‘Being a cranky arsehole.’

Despite myself I smile. I reach and take his hand.

He squeezes my fingers. We don’t say anything for a while. I look at the empty picture frame waiting for our photo. I start sniffling again.

‘Hon.’ Kyle kneels down in front of me. ‘What is it?’

‘I’m scared,’ I say.

He rests his hand on my bump. ‘Try not to be,’ he says softly. ‘I won’t let anything happen to the two of you.’

‘You promise?’

‘I promise.’

He leans forward. He kisses the bump. He rests his head against me. ‘Only a couple of days to go,’ he says.

I smile. I stroke his hair. I run my fingers over where it’s thinning.

We stay like this for ages.

Eventually he looks up.

‘Bub’s having a snooze,’ he says.

I frown. ‘I know,’ I say. ‘I’ve hardly felt any movement all afternoon.’

***

The lights in the room are dim. Outside the night sky is black. The midwife’s half turned away from me. Her shoulder-length brown hair casts a shadow across her face. I lie still holding my breath. As we all stare at the CTG I’m desperate for a sound other than the distortion and the static.

Suddenly there’s something else. ‘There!’ I sit up and point at the machine. ‘There!’

‘Please lie back down.’ The midwife puts pressure on my shoulder. ‘Let me check your pulse.’

She fumbles for my wrist. Her name’s Nikki. She’s young, mid-twenties. She shakes her head.

‘No, that’s your heartbeat.’ Her eyes are wide. She looks scared and out of her depth.
The CTG squeals as she squirts more gel on the probe. She tries listening above my bellybutton this time. It still sounds the same—hisses and pops, like white noise from a TV.

My throat feels tight. I’m almost at the point of screaming.

I look up at Kyle. He’s dressed in the crumpled work clothes that he fished out of the laundry hamper before our quick drive down to Mount Surrey. His forehead’s furrowed. ‘Let me have a go,’ he says. He reaches for the probe. Nikki snatches it away and clutches it to her chest.

‘I’m not allowed to,’ she says.

He folds his arms and glares at her.

I close my eyes and try counting my breaths. I feel Nikki pressing in with the probe, waiting, angling, waiting, moving on to another spot. Nothing matters except hearing that heartbeat. My own is deafening, the blood surging through my ears.

‘Oh for fuck’s sake!’ Kyle shouts. My eyes fly open. He storms over to the window and slaps his palm against the glass.

Nikki stands up. ‘Look,’ she says, her hands trembling. ‘I understand you’re worried but you need to calm down.’

‘And you need to know what you’re doing!’ Kyle yells. ‘If you can’t work the fucking machine then go get someone who can.’

Nikki looks like she’s about to cry. She turns and hurries out of the room.

‘Why can’t we hear the heartbeat?’ I say. My voice breaks.

Kyle comes over, turns the CTG machine off then back on, turns the volume up and replugs the probe’s lead. He’s pressing it firmly into my belly when Nikki comes back. She’s got another midwife with her.

‘My name’s Helen. I’m the midwife in charge,’ the other midwife says in a firm voice. She’s much older. Around sixty. Medium height, solid build, short curly grey hair. Kyle ignores her. She taps him on the shoulder. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ she says.
He looks up briefly, lips thin. She reaches for the probe. He pushes her hand away.

‘Don’t,’ he says. ‘I know what I’m doing.’

‘I’m not debating that,’ she says. ‘But you know you’re not allowed to treat family.’

‘Ssh!’ He holds his finger to his lips. He keeps searching.

Helen reaches over and switches the machine off. Kyle turns, face livid.

‘I’ll call security,’ Nikki says, poised near the door.

‘Don’t be stupid,’ Helen snaps. She turns back to Kyle and speaks gently. ‘You need to pull yourself together,’ she says. ‘You’re upsetting your wife.’

He looks at me, eyes wild, he looks at her, he looks back at me. ‘Where’s Dr Auburn?’

‘He’s coming,’ Helen says. She touches his shoulder. ‘Now come on, take a seat. I’ll have a listen but you need to try and stay calm.’

Kyle nods. Eyes on the ground. I’m so scared I feel like retching.

‘Now first things first sweety,’ Helen says. ‘Sit up for a sec.’ As I lean forward she plumps the pillows behind me and asks Nikki to go check on room seven.

When it’s just the three of us she switches on the machine. The screen flickers then glows a faint blue.

She squirts gel on the probe. She looks up and tries to smile.

‘Now let’s see what we can hear.’

***

‘I need some water,’ I murmur.

I’m slumped over the beanbag. Kyle’s rubbing my neck. ‘Here hon.’ He brings the straw to my lips.

I can feel another contraction coming. A tight excruciating cramp. It starts in my belly and spreads all over. I close my eyes and rock back and forth on my knees. I bury my face in the beanbag and groan. I take in a deep breath and push.

‘That’s the way,’ Helen says behind me.

My arms are shaking. I gasp and push again.

The contraction is starting to ease. I pant, open my eyes. Focus on Kyle’s jeans.
A heavier hand rests on my back. Dr Auburn’s bent down face comes into view. ‘That last push was very good Sara,’ he says. ‘We’re starting to see some hair.’ I nod. I’m out of breath.

Dr Auburn steps away. Kyle strokes my cheek. ‘I’m really proud of you honey.’ I reach up and squeeze his hand. He squeezes back gently, avoiding the needle in the back of mine.

I let go when I feel another contraction building. I bite the beanbag. It tastes like vinyl and soap.

‘That’s it.’ Helen’s voice. ‘Let your body tell you what to do.’

I bear down. I strain so hard I see red. It’s burning. It’s stinging. I take a shuddering breath. The urge is still there. I push again. More pain.

After it’s gone, I lie there sobbing.

Kyle wipes my forehead. ‘It’s okay hon,’ he says. ‘You’re almost there.’

‘Do you want to try another position sweety?’ Helen asks.

I shake my head. All of a sudden nausea hits me. I lean forward and vomit.

‘I’m sorry.’ I start crying again. Drool runs from my nose.

‘Don’t be silly,’ she says. ‘I’ll just get you to sit up.’

Kyle helps me to turn around so I’m sitting upright on the birthmat. He supports my back while I hang my head between my knees. I hear Helen wiping up behind me.

Another contraction is coming. I start to panic.

‘Don’t waste your energy,’ Dr Auburn says. ‘Push!’

My body takes over. Pain and pressure roll forward. My teeth clenched. Eyes shut. Chin on my chest. Every muscle fibre straining. There’s so much pressure now. I feel myself give way.
Helen’s kneeling between my legs. She looks up at me.

‘That’s it sweety,’ she says. ‘The head’s nearly out.’

***

Later that morning there’s a soft knock on the door.

I’m sitting in the armchair. Kyle’s on a chair facing me. Benny’s in the cot between us. We’ve been like this for the past hour. Not talking. Just looking. Not really knowing what to say.

Kyle goes and opens the door. It’s Dr Auburn. He’s in a fresh white shirt and clean pants.

‘How are you feeling?’ he asks.

I don’t say anything.

‘I’m sorry.’ He stands there, fingers fidgeting, like he’s not sure what to say next.

‘I need to ask you two a difficult question,’ he finally says.

‘Is it about an autopsy?’ Kyle says.

‘Yes.’

Kyle’s hand tightens on my shoulder. I sit here. Nothing seems real.

‘Have you examined him?’ Kyle asks.

‘I did earlier,’ Dr Auburn says.

‘And …?’

‘There’s nothing obvious. Though it’s hard to tell when …’ He stops and studies his thumbs.

‘When do we have to decide by?’ Kyle says.

Dr Auburn glances at Benny. ‘No rush,’ he says. ‘Tomorrow morning will be fine.’

I look out the window at the grey sky.

‘I don’t want to stay another night.’ My voice is hoarse.

‘You don’t have to,’ Dr Auburn says. He sounds apologetic. ‘But I’d prefer if you did.’

‘Why?’

‘I’d like to see some improvement in your liver and renal function profile first.’

I close my eyes and lean my head back.

‘Plus it will give you a chance to see the social worker,’ I hear him say.

‘What for?’

‘To help you with the forms and funeral arrangements. And also to provide you with options for counselling.’

‘I’m already seeing a psychologist,’ I say, my eyes still closed.

‘Okay.’ There’s a pause. His shoes squeak. ‘Is there anything you wanted to ask me?’

I count my breaths.

‘Sara?’

I shake my head.

‘Once again I’m terribly sorry for what’s happened.’ His voice rises. ‘I’ll see you later then.’

‘Thanks,’ Kyle says. I feel him lean forward. I imagine them shaking hands.

‘Good bye Sara,’ Dr Auburn says. His footsteps head towards the door.

‘Why didn’t you induce me?’

‘Honey.’ Kyle squeezes my shoulder. I ignore him.

Dr Auburn stands still, face straight, with his hand on the doorknob. He comes back over and sits down on the edge of the bed.

‘I can understand your anger,’ he says.

‘I’m not angry,’ I say. ‘I just want to know why.’

‘When I saw you in my rooms last Wednesday,’ he says cautiously, ‘there wasn’t really an indication.’

‘What do you mean there wasn’t an indication?’ I yell. Dr Auburn recoils. ‘What about being alive? He was still alive!’

I drop my face in my hands and cry. And cry. Kyle strokes my hair but I barely notice.

Eventually I slow down. I take a handful of tissues and blow my nose.

‘Now look.’ Dr Auburn leans forward and touches my knee. ‘I’ll come back and talk to you later this evening, okay?’

I nod.

He stands up again. ‘Now try and get some rest.’

After he leaves Kyle squats down in front of me.

‘How about I pop out for a couple of hours,’ he says. ‘Give you a chance to nap.’

I look at our son lying there. His little face peeking out between his red pom-pom cap and his blanket.

‘I want to hold him again,’ I say.

‘Honey.’ Kyle squeezes my hand. He looks into my eyes. ‘How about later. Have a rest first.’

‘No,’ I say. ‘I can rest for the rest of my life. But I’ve only got Benny for today.’


Profile: Suvi Mahonen

“Horror Films” by Annaliese Downey

Tarantula 1985

Our brother was good at making himself look like a giant tarantula. When my little sister and I played in the backyard on bluish summer evenings, we would see through the tall grass and trees the long black legs of a tarantula scuttling towards us, and even though we saw as it approached that it had only four limbs and a little nub of human head, never until the tarantula had straightened itself up and walked past us without a word did we realize that it was our brother.

We had an understanding that every time he was not the tarantula meant that the tarantula had not yet come. And only that.

When the tarantula did finally come, on a white day when my sister and I sat on her bed in our room, we did not turn our eyes from the television even as the tarantula crept closer, close enough for us to see the array of black globular eyes in its recessed face and the one hundred thousand barbs of its eight slender legs. We could not let ourselves believe, although our limbs were now dead and our tiny mouths open, that it wasn’t really our brother.


Feast 1958

Any cooked meat on a table at all. For example: the turkey. Stripped, basted, and made to wear paper slippers like an asylum inmate. While no one in the family openly reproaches the turkey its insanity, they are implicit in its binding and breaking. Not even the most progressive-minded among them indicts the cook for what in virtually any other case would be an indisputable violation of humane practices.

Therefore I cannot feel much sympathy for anyone who, upon realizing what the youngest sister’s and my hands were doing to various parts of our respective persons under the table at the most recent Thanksgiving dinner, responded with an expression of anything other than hunger. Which is to say, everyone but the dog.

“I just prefer to think of you as a brother,” the youngest sister said later, after we had been put to bed, and fed me some leftover turkey. I did not object then, though after some subsequent rumination, was forced to conclude that to eat anything—anything at all—is unforgivable.


Night of the Living Dead 1999

My sister came over to my little house in the woods unexpected, but not unexpectedly. She had to stoop under the doorway, which made me cringe. I’m sorry, I said.
Can I get you some water, I said, but it won’t taste good, my well’s gone all weird and I’m too lazy to call anybody.

She said yes she’d like some water, she’d taste and decide.

I said okay but stay right here in the hallway, don’t turn the light on, don’t go in the living room, it’s all in disarray. She went in anyway. I followed after her saying all right but don’t turn that light on either, or sit on the furniture, it’s covered in filth, I mean literally shit.

“I want some meat,” she said. I had no choice. She was after all a blood relation. I brought her a piece of steak and she lapped at it.

The light was upsetting me and I could see that her shoes were getting dirty.
Please stop that, I said.

She kept on eating the meat, silent except for the gristling of her tongue, and looking right at me.

Okay, I said, you win, you got me. Mom and Dad are all ripped apart in the basement, I know that’s why you’ve come, but don’t go down there, I mean it this time, don’t look at them, I did such a sloppy job of it, and I haven’t made my bed, either.

She went down anyway.


Profile: Annaliese Downey

“One Hundred Years of Servitude” by James Vachowski

Tonight’s the night. My hands shake as they adjust my bow tie. Showered, shaven, not a hair out of place, I flash the mirror my most sincere look of appreciation while rehearsing the speech yet again. I know it word for word, yes, but practice makes perfect.

Still, I am nervous.

I feel her arms upon my shoulders. She reaches around in a warm embrace. Her hands close on mine and cinch the knot about my collar. Our eyes meet in the reflection. Her warm brown gaze is a loving vote of confidence. She makes not a sound.

She doesn’t have to.

With a sigh, I bare my soul to her. “Ah, my Bobo. Where would I be without you?” Fully dressed now, I turn to face her. “You know, I couldn’t have done any of it without you. You know that, don’t you?”

She smiles at me. She knows. She stands high on her toes, reaching up to plant a wet kiss on my cheek.

She smells of ink.

I glance at my watch. A Rolex. I bought it new, to match my success. “We’d better get moving.”
The limousine awaits. We ease into its luxury and set off. Outside, the crisp dark of a wintry night settles over the boulevard as we roll along. I lean back and stretch my legs, warm in my cocoon and content to watch the city’s lit windows pass by in a blur. “Ah, Stockholm.”

We arrive. The door opens. I emerge to flashbulbs.

“Sir, can you comment on the recent allegations of torture!”
“What do you have to say about the accusations of cruelty! Of the captivity?”
“Will you comment on the statements in today’s New York Times? Are they true?”

I give my Bobo a gentle wave, her signal to remain in the car. A patient smile from her, coupled with a nod of understanding. She’s been through this before. At times her entire family has. I close the door firmly, shaking my head the same way. No interviews. Thankfully, a policeman parts the crowd and shows me through. Once inside the foyer, I breathe easier. Where there used to be crowds of protestors, now there are crowds of reporters. These days, my quiet moments have all but disappeared.

As I am late, they escort me directly to the stage. Seated in the wing, I hear my introduction but miss the words. The bright floor lights flash me back to other times, other places, so many years before.

Back to the thin roads of blacktopped highway I would drive late at night. The truck’s worn springs jolted with each bump in the road as the cardboard crates full of discount typewriter ribbon jostled about in the bed.

Back to the cold sidewalk underneath my Bloomsbury flat, the front door chained shut and posted with an eviction notice. They called me a fool then for squandering my entire inheritance on banana futures.

And back to my beloved farmhouse in the Cotswolds, with the lines of PETA activists stretching out along the lane. Many a sharp elbow I caught while forcing my way through their ranks, defenseless as both arms were laden with manuscripts.

And the shipping! Thousands of pounds sterling over the years! Enough money to feed and clothe a small East African village, spent on what?

Stamps.

My reverie is broken by the announcer’s change in tone. “…and so, in recognition of all his accomplishments, from his groundbreaking debut work ‘Simian’ to his most recent bestseller in thirty-two countries, ‘Jane Goodall? She Ate My Head Lice,’ I am proud to present this year’s Nobel Laureate for Literature…”

I smile at my cue and walk briskly onto the stage. The audience smiles back. They rise in a wave of thunderous applause. I am reassured.

It was all worth it.

An embrace from the announcer whose name I have already forgotten. A wave to the crowd. The briefest moment of awkwardness while the applause dies down.

I step to the podium, stand tall, and pull the speech from my pocket. The fresh ink on the note cards has smudged onto my white dress shirt. I look down and smile upon seeing the familiar rows of neat typescript. Ah Bobo. You don’t miss a trick.

The spotlights glare from overhead as I examine the printed text. It may be a simple message of gratitude. It may be a work of oratory genius. It may be sheer gibberish. There is no way for me to know. Though the tears cloud my eyes, I have one last vision.

I see the dank basement of my farmhouse, swirls of cigarette smoke hanging thick in the air. I hear the hard clatter of hairy brown paws striking down on typewriter keys. The sharp noise fills my eardrums as I ponder my shameful secret.

I lick my lips, preparing to recite from memory. The speech comes naturally, the result of years spent practicing for this very moment.

My hands remain steady, holding the note cards I have never learned to read.

“Success…is truly a team effort…”


Profile: James Vachowski

“Piemonte. January.” by Douglas W. Milliken

In a village in northwestern Italy, three Americans enter off a stone-knuckled street into the sterile light of the local milk dispensary (just a single mopped-clean room and no people: an aluminum refrigeration unit, a case laden with cheeses on display) to deposit a Euro into the humming milk machine, to fill their dirty plastic liter container—frothing, the cream already separating—before taking turns drinking straight from the bottle, white rivers unfurling from the edges of their mouths, purling through their beards or across stubbled cheeks and chin, heads thrown back and eyes closed, as if this were the best the world would ever offer to touch their needful lips.


Profile: Douglas W. Milliken