“Grow Heavy,” by Leigh Claire Schmidli
Jun24

“Grow Heavy,” by Leigh Claire Schmidli

First rule, he makes sure to look in the lady’s eyes when he smiles. Second, he crinkles his like Clint Eastwood. Tonight, many nights, he practices his smile in the tri-fold mirror, locks the bathroom door so his four-year-old can’t get in. He thinks of that Eastwood who could swagger about with a rifle in hand, but could also touch a lady, tender, at the small of her back. Who could work rugged days, eyes creased by the sun, but also meet you with a word, warm and measured. Eastwood once said, manhood is really a quiet thing. * He meets a lady now and then. A new clerk at the burger joint, the one close enough for morning break. Or at the liquor mart, there always seems to be a different set of hands stocking his rolling paper. Then there’s the drug tech. Transferred from the next county, now she’s the one who measures out his wife’s monthly dose of meds. Last month, when the tech turned away to retrieve the pills, he could see a scar on her cheek, a tiny furrow where a scratch once healed. When he talks to a lady, he touches the table or the counter where she stands—as if the surface were made of hardwood oak and his fingertip traces the grains. He favors the ring finger. Of the five digits, the ring finger has the gentlest touch. Reed-like and gentle. He heard Della say that once. His wife. In her brief Mary Kay venture, advising homemakers on how to dab and daub, all with the softest of touches. * From the living room comes the sound of a sitcom laugh-track, the repeated rumbling like a hungry belly. He knows the scene well. His wife and two daughters lounge on the floor, their faces close to the TV screen, heads propped up by their hands. Della refuses to open the curtains, and she has stripped all of the bulbs from the living room lamps; he can’t find where she’s put them. And now, all the cigarette smoke that she’s exhaled through the day—it collects, catching in the brightness of the television. A foggy-blue palette shades the room, and there, his daughters and Della lie, their heads of dark-hair dimpled with plastic curlers. Later, when they’ve turned in for the night, he looks in on them sleeping—Della, the two girls—all three piled together in the twin bed. They still wear the rollers in their hair. Plastic the color of cornflowers. As for himself, he will settle into the living room couch. The infomercials have begun, with a deal you just won’t believe. He...

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“They Look Like Angels,” by Anna Scotti
Apr15

“They Look Like Angels,” by Anna Scotti

  The best weapon for little hands is probably the Kimber Solo, if you’re looking for conceal-carry.  You’ve got your three L’ s to think about, when you’re training a child– you need a weapon that’s lightweight, low-recoil, and low trigger-pull, because if you can’t get your shot fired off, all the training in the world is for nothing.  Mike Clark lets us shoot when the range is cold; it’s against code but I taught Mike geography in the seventh grade more than twenty years ago. I don’t think he’d dare say no to me now. Marty’s got to climb on a stool to sight her weapon, and it’s the cutest thing you ever saw.  It takes both her hands and mine beneath to steady the Kimber, but she’s got the hang of it.  We like to fire off three or four mags and then take a break and sit on a blanket with our sandwiches.  It’s pretty on the range, and the air is fresh and clean. We sit with our backs to the building and look out into the forest, enjoying the outdoors and knowing we are safe together, Marty’s Kimber and my .38 special Colt Diamondback side by side on the checkered blanket, within easy reach for us both, since Marty shows signs of turning out leftie.  She catches a ball leftie and usually fires leftie, too, but she buttons her little doll dresses with her right hand, and switches back and forth to color, so we’re not sure. Audra and Tom are having a rough time, still, so Marty stays most nights with me.  She’s wonderful company and we enjoy the same things; our television stories, the comfort of a big warm quilt on a cold evening, fixing supper together in my kitchen and washing the dishes after, me at the sink and Marty scraping our plates for the dogs.  I might spoil Marty some, but that’s a grandmother’s prerogative.  You knock yourself out to raise your children; with grandkids, you should get to enjoy the fun, and I do.  Last Tuesday Audra called and said they were coming over for Marty, but I told her we had practice on the range, so she could come late in the afternoon.  I knew that by mid-afternoon Tom would be on shift and Audra would be too tipsy to drive over, so we were safe. Little as she is, Marty isn’t a pure novice; she’s been after her brother’s Savage Rascal from the age of three.  But the Rascal’s a single shot rifle you use to teach them to focus; with just one round, it’s all about...

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“Moon Shiny Night,” by Michelle Wright
Sep01

“Moon Shiny Night,” by Michelle Wright

Good Friday morning. The streets are calm as cats. And the salt-soaked mist, creeping up from the beach. We leave the sliding door open at night and through the flywire it feels its way like braille. Before dawn it hangs from the balcony rails and now it’s just a shiver in the hairs on our bare arms. By early afternoon the sky is a cracked crust out past the glimmer of the roofs. Too hot for April. We recline on banana lounges like Lolita and smoke. When the sun angles in from the west it flashes against the water tank and stings our eyes. The summer seaweed on the stairs and in the laundry trough has dried out; its edges sharp, smelling of old blood. In the next-door house, there’s an ancient old bloke. We watch him up on a platform on his garage roof watching the sky. At first we think he’s an old perv, taking photos of us in our bikinis. But he calls us over to sit with him and shows us his cloud photo albums and teaches us the names – cirrus, cumulus, stratus, nimbus. His name’s Taffy and his eyes are shot from cataracts, so when he looks up now, everything is blurs and halos. That’s why he takes photos. He looks at them on his big screen computer with a magnifying glass. I say it’s like with all the looking up, the clouds have drifted in. He nods and says, “Well put.” Back home in the evening we lie with our knees touching and listen to the geckos clicking from their lookouts on the greasy kitchen walls. When we get up to eat, sweat-damp hollows, like wet sand, stay behind us on the sheets. In the morning it’s raining, so we stay in and play Scrabble and paint our nails. At lunchtime we cook chicken nuggets and chips and run over to Taffy’s with a towel on our heads. The inside of his house is full of pot plants and it’s damp and rainforest cool. He introduces us to his cat. He calls him Ernest because it’s a Hemingway cat with seven toes on its front paws. He tells us about his life. His marriage and divorce. He had a roof tiling business and a boy fell off a house and died. Taffy did two years in jail for manslaughter. That’s where he got his passion for clouds. He drew them with charcoal. “Clouds are the great equalisers,” he says. That’s because you can see them out the windows of palaces and prisons. He still draws them now but his drawings aren’t as...

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“The Banshee and the Chef,” by Katie Umans
Jan01

“The Banshee and the Chef,” by Katie Umans

“Can you sense anything from the kitchen?” her mother asked one evening at their table in the new restaurant, tucking the girl’s hair behind an ear. “Blood? Recent suffering? Anything?” The family had gone to the restaurant a few times since it opened, enough that the girl was starting to get embarrassed, though the chef was always warm and welcoming when he came to their table to ask how they liked the meal. It was a small town, houses in a forest really. It was something to have a restaurant. “So…. anything?” her mother repeated. The girl shook her head and studied the appetizers. Terrible at foretelling anything, these were the days she had begun to wonder if she would ever be able to please her mother. And tonight, when the chef came over, she could see her mother was making urgent small talk, being overly friendly. “This one here” – a gesture with her head – “loves to cook. Do you ever take apprentices?” Next thing she knew, she was moving into a spare room in the house attached to the restaurant. It seems good workers were hard to find. “Remember,” her mother said when she dropped her off, “to sense things. There’s death everywhere. You’ll get better and better.” It started with the obvious. Fish heads in the trash, bones in a long-simmering broth, a pig carcass barreling through the back door in the arms of a delivery boy. She let out a little mewl at seeing these things, but her cries were tentative, reactions more than premonitions. She might as well have been an unsettled vegetarian in those early days. For a while, she practiced foretelling by being a predictor of taste and found she was quite good at sacrificing peaceful herbs and spices to boiling pots. Standing beside a dish in progress, she would grow bold. “Sage!” she would say suddenly and, curious, the chef would try it. “Sumac! Paprika!” At first he seemed irritated, but eventually he came to trust her predictions, though she never tasted anything. She had it already, on her tongue. He called her his prophet, which was close. She felt mostly as if her tongue were growing thicker, mossier. That was what knowing must be… at least if you start doing it in a kitchen. She had heard of this, different banshees having different sensing organs depending on where their skills first began to grow. Thus an ice cream scooper might detect a gnawing pain up the right arm’s fortified muscle or, in older times, a corset fitter suddenly be embraced by a cold vise’s grip around her middle. And...

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“Eye See You,” by Toni Martin
Jul01

“Eye See You,” by Toni Martin

That girl broke down. Back humped up like a kitten, breaths jerky, crouched in the leatherette chair. “You okay?” I say. Loud, to carry over her inward grieving. Head flips up. Scared her. Black hair curtain parts. Looks all around, for someone else. I been here so long, never speak. A big brown statue. Other chairs in the waiting room empty. “You okay?” Yeah, me, I tell her eyes. Black as the hair. She don’t talk. Maybe don’t understand. She smile and nod at the doctor. Vietnam, the nurse said. Like the war. I seen her father, in the next bed to my sister. Today the doctor brought a mini-man, another Vietnam, to talk to her. No smile today. Her father gonna die. He as yellow as bad pee, skin tight like a Voodoo doll. Worse than Gloria, and she set out to kill herself. They in ICU. Eye See You. Rooms with three walls. In front, everybody watching. Vietnam eyes on me. Who knows what them eyes seen? I seen Vietnam on the news, years ago. Mud, jungle. Rice and bodies growing out of the ground. Maybe she ain’t been inside a hospital. I spent years in this hospital, between Mama’s heart and Glo. I bet Vietnam scared of the machines. They sigh and creak and buzz, like spirits inside. “Don’t be scared.” I smile. She sit up then, drop her arms beside her. No smile, no frown. She dressed in black pajamas, seem like, with a tiny black purse, nothing else. Mistake. This here’s a waiting room. I got my blanket over me, a ham sandwich and lemon drops in the bag. I got Oprah magazine and a crochet hook stuck in a ball of pink yarn. I dig out the lemon drops, fresh from Walgreen’s. “You want one?” I reach out and lean over. Knees too bad to be jumping up. She uncurls and stands. She take one, I take one. Sits back down and smiles. Everyone like lemon drops. I show her Gloria’s framed graduation picture, her deep smile. She point to me. “Mama?” I nod yes. It ain’t true, but it is. Vietnam’s mama must be dead, like mine. She ain’t been here. Vietnam come and go. I stay. The nurses need me. When Glo wake up, she curse them out and pull the tubes. They tie her down and call me. I talk her through the bath and the treatment for her leg. She my baby sister, twelve years younger. I close my eyes. She got smooth skin, shiny. Good Glo, Honey girl. I open my eyes. She got scarred up tracks from...

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“Our Lady of Sorrows,” by Katherine Van Dis
Jan01

“Our Lady of Sorrows,” by Katherine Van Dis

You think the priest has gone easy on you – ten Hail Mary’s and one Our Father is a light penance. You double the order. If you had told the entire truth, you may have been assigned an entire rosary. You make it all the way through the Our Father and halfway through a Hail Mary before you start reciting, instead, the new words he has taught you for your body: Hail Mary, full of graceful thighs, hallowed be thy neck, thy elegant neck. Blessed are your limbs like water, your breath like honey. Even if you are smiling strangely over your grandmother’s mother-of-pearl rosary, even if you are breathing more heavily than you should, no one will notice. Unlike the other girls who kneel in the pews to face Jesus, you do your penance before the hushed cave of the grotto, hundreds of tiny candles flickering at Mary’s feet, the robin’s egg blue of her shawl veined with dust and cracks. Her heart pulses out of her chest – pierced with the thorns of the rose wrapped around it, a heart so big her upturned, alabaster hands could never contain it. She looks down at you. Your cheeks burn. You burn all over. At the commencement ceremony, it is impossible to see if he is in the church, all those downturned heads kneeling behind the pews, all those shadows. But you know he’ll be waiting for you outside when it is over, the engine idling in his brown pickup truck. You cannot sit still in your white cap and gown, the polyester itching your crossed ankles. When your name is called, you walk through the pews towards the altar like you would walk towards him, your eyes narrowed and your lips pursed, cat-like and smooth. Not how a high school girl should walk, you will hear your grandmother whisper to your mother later, when you are eating cake in the basement beneath midnight blue crepe paper that hangs limply in the humid air. You are flush with a new knowledge that eclipses everything else you have learned from Saint Joseph’s Academy. You know only the geography of your own body, the physics of his skin on yours, the short history of his love for you. His words are a prayer ready on your lips. When you reach the altar, you flash the principal your angel white smile and grasp his hand, the cool of his palm foreign and dead, as meaningless as the piece of paper he hands you. When you all file out of the church, you turn one last time to Mary and wonder if this...

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“Sister,” by Sarah Elizabeth Schantz
Jul01

“Sister,” by Sarah Elizabeth Schantz

Because all the silverware is dirty, Krystal uses an aluminum tablespoon to smear the yellow glue into the plastic bag. The same kind of bag she uses for Baby Girl’s bologna sandwiches on those days when she packs a picnic and takes her little sister to the park. Krystal likes to go. She likes the sound of the running water, how the creek carries the air, the way this air feels cold as she stands on the rocks watching Baby Girl play. Krystal watches making sure this sister gets to be a little girl. The tablespoon is rectangular, the shape of a bulldozer scooper, only smaller and more shallow. The glue acts like honey, thick and impossible. Krystal transfers it to the bag from the blue tin with the three black Xs on the label. Industrial strength: Tandy Leather Glue. Krystal stole it from Preacher’s shop—dropped it in her bag when no one was looking. The same bag that carries everything she might ever need. Preacher is her sister’s boyfriend. Her oldest sister, Jewel. His shop is along Highway 6, a converted orange caboose he sleeps in the back behind a curtain. The shop smells like rawhide, leather dye, cheap Mexican weed, and the inside of new cars. Preacher works leather. Makes jackets, chaps, custom saddle bags, belts, and even whips. His signature is fringe. He sells the gear to the bikers who pass through town late summer. August smells like motor oil and coconut suntan lotion. And sounds like Harley Davidson motors, long whistles, and chirping cat calls. Krystal loves to sit on Preacher’s deck and watch the bikers drive by. Chewing her Big Gulp straw, Krystal sees herself hitching a ride. Sees the day she stands on the side of the road with her thumb stuck out. And once she’s gone, Krystal sees how she’ll never come back. This is why she carries a bag with everything she might ever need. Preacher rides a vintage maroon Indian. A bike with slender contours and curves like the egg-filled abdomens of an insect Krystal once saw on TV when she was stoned. Preacher proposed to her sister five years back but Jewel still hasn’t given him an answer. Krystal sits on the counter in the kitchen wearing the black fringed leather vest Preacher made for her this year—a gift for her fourteenth birthday. She wears it over her favorite shirt, a white tank with airbrushed roses splattered across the chest and spaghetti straps. Krystal hides the lump on her shoulder with the vest just like Preacher thought she would. The kitchen sink is no bigger than a large-sized Tupperware...

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“The Geography of First Kisses,” by Karin Davidson
Jan01

“The Geography of First Kisses,” by Karin Davidson

Compass Points The first was Leon. A small, muscular boy. A midshipman at the academy. He knew about compasses, easterly winds, how to bring the boat about on white-capped seas. I went for his blond hair and his deep voice, both like honey, thick and golden and crowded, the waxen chambers, the echo in my chest. Summer grew brighter, and I refused to go back home to New Orleans, nearly sixteen, without that first kiss. Sweet sixteen and never been. We never said it aloud. Those of us who stayed in the corners at dances, at our own tables. All girls, all the time, not too shy, but not quite pretty enough. For the month of August I was away from that southerly place, where algebra notebooks got left behind and streetcars rumbled past and boys sat on the cafeteria steps, smoking because they could get away with it, and girls sat by them, the kind of girl I wanted to be. In that northerly summer spot called Castine, where the great aunts played games of Hearts and Gin in the afternoon, where the berries were small and bright blue, where the beaches were covered with rocks and sea glass and broken pottery, the rules seemed different. I dared myself to walk near the academy and its giant ship, moored by the town’s public dock, and when I did, the boys appeared. And then, even when I returned home, they kept appearing. Leon with his bright curls. He had an arrow in his glance and shot me through the heart. My heart had room for so many more arrows. Little did I know. Geoffrey with his roaming hands. Small, sweet hands that like to untie things. Apron strings, kerchiefs, the little gold clasp that held on my bikini top. His eyes were dark pieces of eight that blinked hard, sizing me up and then down, putting me in my place. “You baby,” he’d say, reaching out to pinch me. Buzz with a laugh that broke apart the stars. He liked to drink and do it in his car. He took me to drive-ins and ordered iced cokes in paper cups that he laced with Jack. The smell of whisky on his breath and his breath against my neck. The only film I remember half-seeing is Lipstick, Margaux Hemingway looking down and me looking up through the strands of Buzz’s long hair, the vinyl seat pressed against my bare back, the twist of double-braid lashing around my ankles. North On the beach of rocks and glass and pottery shards, Leon’s hand in mine, I walked away from hair ribbons and...

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“Crossing,” by Branden Boyer-White
Jul01

“Crossing,” by Branden Boyer-White

When Clara first saw him Virgil reminded her of a horse. He was tall, two hands above the other men in the street; he wore his working life on his body in the strength of his upright back, the stomp of his gait. Wind and sun marked the skin of his cheeks. The War was over, the Union had won and men were returning from the battlefields ready to make a life. But this man was not a soldier. He had a wagon that Clara watched him hitch to a post. She trailed him, into Nearcy’s Grocer where he bought whiskey and matches and salt, and then to the hotel on Second Avenue. She caught him on the front porch. “Where are you going?” she asked. Virgil looked. The girl before him was tall and held her chin high. Hair dark as dogwood. She had strode up him in her laces and stays from the frills of the Madison city crowd: men in trousers, women with parasols and pearls on their ears. It hit him then. Virgil had the sudden sense he had just seen the girl step out of a river and all of this, the city, flowed back and fell away from her, dripping down—her skin naked and her hair loose and wet. He blinked and it was gone. He answered her question. “I’m going West.” “Yes.” She waited, pressing him with her waiting. “Wyoming territory.” “Are you a farmer?” Virgil turned his head and spit into the street. He wondered briefly what it would be like to kiss her. “Trapper. That’s mountain land.” “I’m Clara.” “Clara,” he repeated. Men like Virgil came East in the spring to sell and buy—crops, fur, provisions, wives. They posted ads, stayed in hotels and found girls looking for a place to travel to. They hoped for daughters with ruined names and unmarried women nearing thirty. Clara already had several prospects. She would have a home and children and the comfort of a husband’s business, her own match set of everything she had ever known. She looked at the man in front of her. Clara knew that if he could carry her, away from there to someplace else, she could hold on. “What’s your name?” she asked. They married the next day and went West. *** Virgil’s cabin sat in a clearing in a valley. Clara imagined the valley was how the bowl of the sea would appear if you emptied it: impossibly wide and re-flooding with sky. The air smelled clean, cold and dry. The grass in the clearing waved thigh-high and the pines on the mountains were so green...

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“A Strange Woman,” by Laura Brown-Lavoie
Jan01

“A Strange Woman,” by Laura Brown-Lavoie

In her home there are no kinfolk, only unexpected visitors whom she always sees coming long before the usual portents, a certain species of moth splayed out in the wax of a candle, or the wax itself pointing a knobby finger towards the door. There are no kinfolk, which is to say everyone who stays with her quickly forgets that he was born in a place where women could pronounce his name, and leaves in the morning with her kitchen smells on his overcoat making him homesick on the train. “Lila,” the regulars say, “if it wasn’t keeping me alive, your cider would kill me,” and they laugh and fill each others’ mugs and get back to talking in the foghorn voices of men with full mugs. On cold days she makes dumpling soup with a whole bird slowly falling away from its bones in the broth. “Lila,” the regulars say, leaning over their bowls, “if I ever saw you in church, I’d marry you.” She smiles and tells them fear of husbands is why she’s never been to church. Her accent makes the words rounder than they are. “Where on earth did you come from, Lila?” they ask, though the question has become rhetorical. The regulars call her Lila, but only strangers stay the night. Sometimes they ask her opinion on things. “Lila,” Ed Greene slings his arm around her waist as she passes his chair, “Campbell here claims that one of his ewes is in my flock.” On the far end of the room, Campbell leans forward with both elbows on the table. “See, I didn’t notice she was a stranger,” Ed continues, “and she’s been feeding with the rest of my sheep for weeks. But suddenly it’s close to lambing, and Campbell wants her back. Now, that’s all well and good, she’s his animal and so is her baby, but what about all those weeks of feed?” Both neighbors are red-faced, and the other men lean back in their chairs to avoid the heat. But Lila’s voice has a way of settling over a conversation like snowfall, and there is laughter in it when she tells Ed to give the ewe back, but why not shear her first and keep the wool to knit himself bigger pockets. The estranged neighbors accept more cider with sheepish smiles, and soon everyone’s back to their bellowing. Once the regulars are too loud to talk over, she gets their attention with absences. “Lila,” they call from the bottom of their mugs, “Lila?” and when she finally comes in from the back they are quiet enough to hear that it’s just...

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“Heart of a Locust,” by Nahal Suzanne Jamir
Jul01

“Heart of a Locust,” by Nahal Suzanne Jamir

My son runs into the wind, and his shirt billows out behind him. He says he will sail away. I grab his arm, hard, and pull him away from the wind, from the street, from the cars in the street. “That hurt,” Jake says. “Too hard.” “I told you about running,” I say. “You can’t run. It’s dangerous. Only on the playground.” “There aren’t any cars. I looked.” “It’s always the car you don’t see.” He squirms and squiggles, using his body weight against me. He’s too young to know how to use his body. Years from now, he will come home drunk, and I’ll remember this seemingly drunken walk down 4th, past the bakery, the independent bookstore, the paint-your-own-pottery shop. All the way to the clinic on the corner, where they’ll swab our cheeks and compare us on trays where our parts will become, as theydescribe it, glow-y—I think separate and luminous, luminous like those deep-sea creatures that I saw on television one night, late when the house was quiet. Then, they’ll help me figure out who Jake’s father is. I was too young then, and I’m too young now. When I was a teenager, my grandmother said that Man’s heart was evil from his youth. When I was a teenager, I told her that I was no evil thing. She said that God always got the first and last Word. My grandmother’s got an unwavering faith, but her way of speaking and worshipping has changed. Now, she’s more inspirational than damning. Now, I’m twenty-something and potentially evil-hearted. My grandmother thinks Jake’s father was my first, that I should know who the father is. I couldn’t tell her. She’s at home getting ready for the “senior” prom at church tonight. She has a handsome date, a Sean Connery look-alike. My grandmother is starting all over. She says we all need to start over, start living for real and not like a bunch of old rock’n’roll stars trying to make it big with a twilight-year comeback. Grandmother says we need to purge and then go after what we want, what we need. She’s going after true love, the second-time around. She’s told me that I must go to a community college in the area. Grandma always said that I was smart before—before the you-know, which is my own mother’s crazy. I don’t remember being smart, but Grandma says that I was creative-smart. She says I was smart and against-smart at the same time. I asked her if against-smart isn’t the same as dumb, and she said, “It’s smart like a dream.” Grandma says that we can do it. I...

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“Quick and Clever,” by Allison Alsup
Jan01

“Quick and Clever,” by Allison Alsup

Sing little bluebird Fly round and round I am eight and reading out loud to my mother, showing off the English I have learned in school. I am the third or fourth best reader. Soon I will be first. My mother pulls a needle, ties a knot and clips the thread. She is mending. Her basket is full as it is every New Year and fall, when the men return from the fields, from Castroville, Fresno, Stockton. She sews busted collars, broken frog clasps, fabric sliced by wheat stalks, the mean tips of artichokes, the frayed baskets of shrimpers and abalone fishermen. If ever there is a time when she does not work, I do not know it. The lantern on the table gathers us in its yellow circle as I follow each word with my finger. Tell of the spring The glad news bring Come blow your horn. I have said heart not horn. I repeat the right word. But my mother does notice the mistake. For her, the American words are just sounds, nothing more. Days, she washes and irons in a laundry on the edge of Chinatown, next to the bunk houses that hold the newcomers and the drifters: miners, fishermen, pickers. The laundry is owned by a Sunning County man. Like us, she says. The laundry also takes in American clothes from the big houses on Nob Hill that look down on Chinatown. When she first started working, my mother laughed at the stiff American clothes — their tight fits in the chest and waist. She shook her head at the wealthy women who dragged the hems of their white dresses over muddycobblestones. Ah Bao, she said, rich American women are strange, they do not bind their feet; they bind their ribs. But now she does not find such things odd. Their owners sometimes leave coins in the pockets, pennies and nickels that are dropped into a jar and split among the workers. American forgetfulness buys salty plums and sweet bean cakes, sesame balls and once, a wooden rickshaw that clicked along the sidewalk. Yet now there are never any coins for sweet things; any money must go to pay for our room, candles, rice and tea. It is easier to forget about wanting treats when I read. I pretend that I am one of the American boys in my book, curly haired with round eyes and a wide white face, a clean sailor suit and a toy boat, a sand pail or sometimes (I do not tell anyone this), I imagine I am one of the girls with the ribboned bonnets who carry dolls...

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“The Flat and Weightless Tang-Filled Future,” by Lyn Hawks
Jul01

“The Flat and Weightless Tang-Filled Future,” by Lyn Hawks

Ronalda lights a Camel but leaves it burning on an egg-crusted plate. Everywhere she sees what needs doing: stovetop glazed with grease, counters studded with crumbs, corners laced with cobwebs. She swabs the counter while the boys’ jeans clink against dryer walls, while the baby squalls from the living room, while her head spins as fast as that silly, don’t-go-breakin’-my-heart song jabbering on the radio. Thank goodness Diane’s coming through the door, no knock needed. Diane glides in, all legs in her shiny red running shorts. She points at the cup on the counter. “Let me guess — cup’s full but the coffee’s cold?” Ronalda starts to say, “Fill her up again,” the cue for Diane to make a fresh pot while Ronalda changes the baby. Instead Ronalda says, “This cup’s half-empty and I’m half-dead.” “I’ll fix us a fresh and we’ll have us a good sit-down.” Diane pours coffee down the sink and rinses the cup. The baby’s wailing so hard he’s choking. Ronalda says, “Sit down? I want you to look. This filth — and all the beds unmade.” She heads to the tiny living room where the sun is already strong like a fist behind the shutters. Maybe one day it will melt the whole world and send a flood of tar and creosote and pop tops pouring through these windows. Even then they still won’t have the money to paint or furnish the room that could make a home civilized. Things get dark at the edges as she leans over the playpen and lifts Bradford, red-faced and snot-nosed, heavy as a stone. “Stop it,” she snaps. “This ain’t the day. This ain’t the day.” Funny how Diane could just pass him by when she came in. Then again, she’s done her time with her own three. She carries Bradford to the kitchen, jouncing and shushing. She runs a dishrag under cold water and wipes his face. Crying turns to hiccups. “I think you’re a poet,” Diane says. Ronalda laughs. “Law, me who never graduated?” She grabs a diaper from the stack on the kitchen table. “You’re smart, emotions kind of smart.” “I sure hope I’m something. Crazy’s more like it. Maybe I am a poet.” “Remember how you said boys only bring trouble and traction while girls bring the high drama and heartache? Where’d you get that kind of stuff?” “I don’t know, I just get stupid sometimes.” “How about the time you said we got to have flowers so our hearts can grow back every morning?” “You know my zinnias are doing great. Only this one don’t smell like a flower.” She taps Bradford’s...

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“Smoking Demon,” by Leslie C. Youngblood
Jan01

“Smoking Demon,” by Leslie C. Youngblood

Inside our lime-green Buick Regal, Mama hid from God. She had promised the Holy Rock Baptist Church and sworn directly to Him three weeks before that she’d stop smoking. On the night of her vow our short, stocky pastor jumped like he had caught the Holy Spirit right there in the center of his ring-cladhand. Then he smacked his palm across Mama’s high forehead, drenched with honey-colored sweat, to rebuke her “smoking demon.” “Out! Out!” he demanded while the first lady, an easy five inches taller than Pastor Tuttles and draped in white, loomed over the two of them, her arms flapping like a trapped bird’s wings. Mama’s neck snapped back and her arms flung up above her head. She was trembling, as if the spirit had leaped from his hand and burrowed its way through her full, winding frame; she chased it as though she wanted to leave us and go to God that second, springing in the air, her beige slip peeking from underneath a peach-colored dress. “Hallelujah,” she yelped each time her feet hit the floor. Mama was the halleluiah type. “Halleluiah!” she cried to her girlfriend two months ago when Daddy was called back to work after “laying his lazy ass around all day.” “Halleluiah!” when she stuffed his gray metal lunch box with a tube of Ritz crackers and two cans of Dr. Thunder cola and thick bologna sandwiches, not bothering to remove the red tape from the edges. “Halleluiah!” after she forced me to take a pregnancy test because I’d vomited one morning from her meatloaf, though I pleaded with her that a boy had never stuck it in. As I peed on the stick in our bathroom that smelled of Daddy’s Magic Shave and Comet, she slammed pots around and mumbled her mantra of “I’m not raising no babies…” that I’d learned long before memorizing the Pledge of Allegiance. “Halleluiah!” she hollered when she saw the minus sign, plucking it from my hands began fanning the air with it like an impatient nurse shaking down one of those old mercury thermometers. When the first lady and a deaconess had mollified Mama, she wrapped her arms around herself like a straightjacket, her breasts oozing up, and she screeched God’s name with such crescendo that He would be unjust not to answer. As if that wasn’t enough to close out the scene, she kicked her leg up and collapsed on the emerald green carpet that it had taken the church nearly two years to save for, another six months to install. I tipped forward in the pew to make sure not too much of...

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