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Patty Lost Her Head, Again
Jason Arias

Patty’s head rolled off her cardigan turtle-neck and down the softness of her chest, and out across the apartment carpet. Her bottom lip rested on the upper part of the baseboard heater. Her locks were swept back in the direction from which they came.

Patty’s eyes became familiar with the place where the carpet met the wall and blended into the indistinguishable.

Patty’s mouth kept moving, but her words were positional-ly muffled, and her teeth scraped metal, and Teddy held his hands to his ears and the sound and focused on the calming sway of his body—the peacefulness of not looking. The hollows of his palms sounded like an ocean in the middle of a storm, in the center of a planet, at the beginning of a black hole gone all white.

From where he stood, Teddy could pick Patty’s head up off the floor and screw it back on, but it wouldn’t fix the cracks in the hallway veneer, or the potato skins down the disposal, or the biological clocks hung at strategic sensual thresholds like open ultimatums. In the end reattaching Patty’s oropharynx to her esophagus could only further the appetite that fed her disapproval—her growing disappointment.

Teddy needed to think clearly and play better war games. Teddy had money to make and papers to staple and sanity to hold onto with a steadfast stranglehold. And Patty knew this. What would happen if grip-strength failed them?

Patty’s needs were hitching rides on the social media superhighways and being left stranded in the strange churches of her mind. The priests of those churches were fading into salt pews, and makeup swirls down drains, and the build-up of age collecting in the P-trap below the medicine cabinet. Their altars were barren. All of Patty’s Facebook friends had minute-to-minute postings of smiling, tiny faces. But none of Patty’s would-be children survived long enough to say “Mommy” for the first time, or even form lips.

Patty’s head was still saying something into the corner of the carpet while her body rose from the hardback wooden chair—the one Teddy and her had found together at the antique shop on 7th before the everything-that-came-after.

Her headless body began groping the air, and pulling out her pockets, and canvassing the floor with her fingertips.

Even disconnected she was beautiful, but it was a hard beauty, a long fall for Teddy to be crushed against the waves below.

Teddy checked the bottoms of his shoes for excrement. He checked the back of his mind for further insight. He checked on Patty, now on all fours, searching the carpet fibers like a braille photo album—each topographical variant a memory of low and high times: a picture of Teddy thinking he was somebody he wasn’t, a picture of Patty playing kissy-face with an image, an ultrasound, an ultrasound, a blank page, a vast landscape, another picture of Teddy, another one of Patty, but now with many nondescript pages between them.

Patty’s fingernails found the tips of Teddy’s pointy shoes carelessly planted in the carpet. Her hand ran up and down the length of his calf. Teddy bent sideways and picked up Patty’s head from its baseboard easement. Her hair was soft like dreams remembered, fading. His belt squeaked with his movements. Her face had a natural lemongrass scent to it.

Patty’s mouth said, “Put me back together, you bastard,” and Teddy kissed her moving lips, until they moved like his, and he wasn’t himself anymore.

He was all stroked calf and lost head and stiffening desperation. He was a dull man supergluing a shattered light bulb together with oven mitts. And Patty was at his groin, climbing up his hips, flattening him in her haste.

Patty was pulling her cardigan over the exposed vessels of her neck. She was and all water and all flesh, and all bucking bursts and exploding planets.

Teddy tried to keep himself together through the rug burns.

“You’re rattling me apart,” he tried to say, but it only sounded like the starting of a motor that never ran.

He tried to hold on to Patty’s head with his hands, but his fingers cracked and his arms became disconnected. His legs shot out of their sockets and stuck out of the far wall. A piece of him broke off inside of her, forever. An egg timer started screaming. A butternut squash fully softened on the counter.

Patty’s eyes rolled back and her body collapsed next to her once-lost head, next to Teddy’s shoulder, next to Patty’s thigh. Their limbs laid strewn about them. Teddy’s chest was on his face. His arm was in a corner, waving.

Whether it was the beginning of the beginning of the beginning, or just an inevitable end, neither of them knew what to say next. They both spoke without speaking, via stumbling smiles and averted eyes, as they went about deciding who’s what went where.


In It
Laryssa Wirstiuk

Most people are familiar with the age-old question about the tree falling in an empty forest, but what I want to know is this: if everyone in crowded Midtown Manhattan is waiting for the moment they can escape, does the neighborhood actually exist? When I’m in Midtown, I try my best to be a tall, seasoned pine tree, conserving horizontal space and towering over the sprawling, many-armed willows. Really, I’m anything but myself.

With you, it’s different: we inhabit a world of our own creation, fully present, no matter what the circumstances or surroundings. So, crossing over 42nd Street on Eighth Avenue, we are holding hands, moving with the crowd outside the Port Authority Bus Terminal like atoms vibrating to make the “here,” the “now.” I catch myself feeling disappointed when you release my grip so we can find our own ways around tourists stopping mid-stride to snap photographs.

As I’m about to step over the double-yellow line, a woman in the passenger seat of an SUV at the red light rolls down the window and calls to me.

“Excuse me,” she says. “Where’s Times Square?”

I hesitate, thinking her question is a joke. Surrounding us are the tell-tale signs: LCD billboards, a sea of yellow cabs, the scent of roasted peanuts, theatre marquees, towering skyscrapers. I assess her face, which reveals its seriousness.

“You’re in it,” I say.

Her eyes project both disappointment and understanding.

You are close enough to hear the exchange.

“Was she serious?” I ask you, once we’ve crossed and rejoined hands.

“Maybe you’re on ‘Candid Camera’,” you say.

I start to doubt myself: is this really still considered Times Square? Maybe the boundary is Seventh Avenue. Maybe I should have told the driver to turn around, head east. Maybe I should stop being so sure of myself.

We continue to our destination, which - for the sake of this narrative - I will call “summer,” since I always want to go there. I maintain a list of places to visit with the next person I love, and I don’t think you realize that you’re the ink I’m using to the check the boxes.

At the end of the day, after you’ve gone home, I have trouble remaining in the present. The woman’s question echoes in my head.

“I can’t stop thinking about that crazy woman,” I text you. “BTW, I had so much fun with you today. Best day in a while.”

I bring my laptop into bed, and the LCD screen illuminates the wall behind my head. First, I consult Wikipedia, which informs me that I had been wrong; Times Square is “at the junction of Broadway and Seventh Avenue.” Then, I visit About.com, which defines the Times Square boundaries more liberally and confirms the response I had given her.

Clicking link after link, I absorb the entire history of Midtown Manhattan before I realize that two hours have passed, and you haven’t responded to my text message. I need guidance and direction. I need boundaries and definitions. Instead, I am nothing but there in the street-crossing mass, with or without your hand: “in it.”


Interviewing God
JT Gill

After Grandma died, I sought answers to my questions regarding death in the little prayer books we were each given at Catholic school. Unfortunately, those few words I was able to sound out I didn’t understand, so I decided to take matters into my own hands.

“Sir, what happens when we die?” I asked my teacher, Mr. Detleif.

He pushed a withered hand through what hair he had left, saying, “Why don’t you ask him yourself, Walter?”

The thought had never occurred to me, that I could interview God myself.

I imagined sitting in front of a TV camera, God across from me in cool jeans and a sweater, casually taking a drag from a cigarette, saying something like, “You know, Walter, when I made you…”

That evening, after an unwanted bath, I sat on my bed in my favorite T-rex pajamas with my hair combed, and raised my hand above my head. “Sir,” I said. “If you have time, I’d like to set up an interview. I have some questions about death.”

I waited patiently for a reply, but He didn’t answer that night, or any night that week. In fact, it wasn’t until a weekend camping trip with my Dad that summer that I finally met God.

The figurines of an emaciated, bleeding man on a cross were the only real references I had as to what He looked like. So when I saw a broad chested biker standing at a picnic table in between the pines, it caught me off guard.

He was staring up at the sun, dark glasses covering His eyes. There was a Harley nearby, propped up at an angle, the kickstand pressed into the dirt.

The engine roared to life as he swung his leg over and turned the key. Heat wavered like a mirage off the sheen of the metal.

“Are we still on for that interview?” I shouted over the jug-jug-jug of the motorcycle.

He smiled through His beard.

“Hop on.”

“Oh, I can’t leave my Dad,” I said, ashamed.

He seemed a little disappointed. “Well, just let me know when.”

I nodded and waved lightly as his back tire shredded pine needles and dirt, kicking up spirits of dust that twisted lazily in the heat between the pines.

Life continued, high school passed, college came, and as a young man, I found myself seeking answers at the bottoms of shot glasses and in dark corners of smoky rooms with girls I didn’t know. None of them called me Walter.

The second time I saw God was at a rave on Third Street, in an abandoned warehouse on the waterfront.

It was hard to see through the chaos of the crowd, but as far as I could tell, He had lost the beard and several pounds to boot. He still had the dark glasses, but was wearing a polo shirt and shorts, laughing with some sorority girls.

Among us sinners, God stuck out like a lion among the lambs.

Masses of writhing bodies blinked into existence underneath pulsing strobe lights as I pushed my way through over to where God was.

“You still owe me that interview,” I shouted in His ear.

“When’s a good time?” He shouted back.

“After this song?”

God was already dancing.

I went home that night with a skinny girl who had a nose ring and an oversized shirt that perpetually slipped off one shoulder. She called me Walter and I called her Jess. We spent the remainder of college together and got married a month after graduation.

I got a job working as a reporter for a local newspaper, which I thought fitting. Jess told me she was pregnant three weeks after I started work.

I still don’t know where God went after that rave, but the third time I saw Him was in the hospital, a little over nine months of pregnancy later.

Jess was propped up in bed, hidden somewhere in the folds of her blue hospital gown, and I was standing, staring into the eyes of my little boy, sleeping in my arms.

“What’ll we call him?” I said.

“I like Max,” she said.

There was a knock on the door, and I looked up to see God peering through the entrance, a wrapped package in His hand. I motioned Him to come in.

“Jess, this is God,” I said softly.

They shook hands and He talked with her about childbirth and the price of sin and all that. Then He looked over at my son and me.

“He’s beautiful,” God whispered. “I think Max is a good name.”

We smiled.

“Do I finally get that interview?” I asked, grinning.

God sat in a chair at the foot of the bed and set the package on a nurse’s table.

“What do you want to know?” He said.

I opened my mouth to ask about death, and all of a sudden it seemed silly to interview Jesus’ Father about death while holding my newborn son.

God eyed me as if He knew what I was thinking.

I looked at Max and felt a rush of emotion ripple through me like waves, each one bigger than the last.

God stared at me, and I think I understood.

I thought He would go then, but He stayed, smiling and laughing with us, sharing in the beauty of life and the immeasurable joy found in love.


The Train Station
R.H. Palmer

Your eyes met mine on the train station, a thin piece of Plexiglas between us couldn’t stop the attraction-spark that made me want to take my child-sized backpack off and forget about running away and sit and watch you for days from a dust-covered couch 30-feet away, and I knew immediately after I sat down that I wanted to go back and see if I could buy you a ticket too, so we could both get lost somewhere together, anywhere in the world, but you don’t seem to notice me, which I understand because you probably think I’m weird, and that maybe my eyelids are too heavy from all this dark makeup (but that’s just how my momma taught me) or my jeans are too holey, but your reasoning will probably be because you wouldn’t want your family to see you with a girl like me (or a girl at all for that matter) but I promise I can make you happy and we’ll travel all over the country seeing the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls and everywhere in between because I know that you want to and that you deserve it after all those years working behind a counter, selling other people passes to explore lands you’ve only dreamed of – and let’s be honest, I’m one of those – and if you just looked up at me right now, right this second, and we made eye contact, I just know that you would see everything I can see for us and that you don’t have anything to be afraid of, even though your brother always warned you about strangers in the run-down part of town, though I don’t feel much like a stranger any more.

If you’d just let me buy you that ticket, we would be off on the 8:05 train that makes stops in Des Moines and Omaha and Hastings before getting out of the Midwest, and we could sit in two adjoining seats and point out all the weird things about people who aren’t like us, though we’re not really alike at all, and then make fun of the places we’re from and find stores and restaurants we like and have been to a million times, but have never run into each other, which will lead to a deep conversation about the sheer magnitude of Chicago and Illinois and the Midwest and the country itself and we would feel smaller and smaller until we just have one another in this huge world where no one cares for us except us, and by then we’d be in the mountains of Colorado and snaking through the deserts and salt flats of Utah (where we’d just have to stop and run out with bare feet and try the salt to see if it really tastes the same as what you have on your kitchen table at home) and we’d make it clear out to the coast of California where we’d have to decide where we wanted our next adventure to take us and we’d rank how badly we wanted to see Yellowstone over the Mexican border or the Great Lakes over the Gulf, and I’d always compromise because I love you and I don’t want you to ever take a train without me, never again.

One day, we’d make it all the way to Harrell, Arkansas, or somewhere just as pointless, and I’d tell you those words out loud, and you’d give me the look you’re making now that tells me you’re a bit creeped out but also thinking really hard about an answer, and I know we’ve only known each other for a few short weeks, but they’ve been the best I’ve ever had, and I know we would be perfect together, traveling the world until we’ve seen everything we can, but I know that you’d be afraid to hurt me because you’ve been hurt too many times before (I can see that in your eyes) and the barrier between us would continue to grow until it wasn’t so thin like the Plexiglas anymore and was more like a mountain, but we could go out and see the mountains, and I’d prove to you that we could do anything in the world we set our minds to, but you’d be too afraid to hurt me if we had to separate somewhere down the line, and you’d worry that blow would make me want to leap out in front of the train instead of board it, so I’m afraid I won’t pluck up the courage to ask you, even though I keep meeting your eyes while you’re supposed to be working.

I guess I’ll just sit here and continue to stare, making you more and more awkward, until the train comes for Los Angeles, but I’ll leave you with the promise that tomorrow will always be better, until the very last, and I’ll see you there sometime, on the train.


Dr. Chapman’s Insight
Donal Mahoney

Dr. Chapman had been valedictorian of his class in high school and college but had finished second in his class in medical school, something that still bothered him after 30 years of successful practice in a small city where no one knew him when he opened his office but where today he was much appreciated by his patients. Many of them came from all over the state to see him.

Over the years, he had hired a number of practical nurses to assist him in his practice and went out of his way to hire those that might have had trouble being hired elsewhere due to discrimination. He was proud of his record and didn’t have much turnover in staff.

Between patients he and his nurses would often discuss weighty topics of the day, delving into difficult subjects such as religion and politics. Most of his nurses had tried at one time or another to get him to vote their way and they always tried to convince him to go to church, even if it wouldn’t be the church any of them attended. Dr. Chapman was always polite but always resisted their efforts.

One day Dr. Chapman got into an interesting discussion with Ruby, who had worked for him for 10 years. She was an excellent nurse who always assisted him perfectly in his outpatient procedures. He paid Ruby very well and valued her as a person and as an employee. Sometimes Ruby would bring extra food from home for lunch and microwave it for her and the doctor so he could try some of her cuisine, food he otherwise might not encounter since they came from very different backgrounds. He had grown to love her collard greens and cornbread. She could never bring too much of either.

One day after lunch, Ruby asked Dr. Chapman if murder was always wrong.

“It’s always wrong, Ruby, except in self defense. I think the death penalty is wrong, too. Why execute a killer when you can lock him up for life and give him hard labor. Any life is important.”

Ruby had brought the subject up because the day before someone in her neighborhood had killed a man who was notorious for stealing from his neighbors when they were not at home. Someone in a car drove by his house and shot him dead while he was getting his mail.

Dr. Chapman told Ruby that the neighbors should have called the police about the man and let them investigate. He might have been innocent and now he was dead.

“We did call the cops, Doctor, but they never could catch him. That’s why somebody killed him. No one knows for sure who did it but even if they did, no one would tell. You don’t snitch on anyone in my neighborhood.”

Dr. Chapman had worked in the area long enough to understand what Ruby was talking about. In fact, many of his patients came from her neighborhood as well as neighborhoods that had even more crime.

Lunch was over now and Dr. Chapman had a waiting room full of women ready to see him. He and Ruby would have a busy afternoon, no time for conversation. But he did have one more thing to say before she helped him don his surgical mask and gown.

“Ruby, before you go home tonight, please empty the bucket of fetuses. Tomorrow’s Friday and the garbage men will be coming around early.”

That was something Ruby did every night. She didn’t say anything but with her many years of experience, she didn’t have to be told.


 
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