Category Archives: Fiction

The Good Buoy

Captain Jonah looked out over the bow of the Good Buoy and gazed across the mirror-flat sea. Steely eyes took in acres of clear blue ocean that lay ahead of the stark white luxury yacht, a plaything for the wealthy sheikh of someplace that Jonah couldn’t recall.
As an experienced captain, Jonah’s calm exterior covered his restlessness. The ocean was calm. Too calm. Jonah knew any captain worth his salt had reason to worry. Just as you never turned your back to the waves, you never took a calm day in the Mediterranean for granted.
His passengers dined on caviar while Jonah waited and watched. His crew saw to their tasks with crisp efficiency. Captain Jonah ran a tight ship, and his crew was capable of guiding this expensive vessel through even the roughest waters. His eyes flicked to the right and he spotted it, something a layman would never see, never understand.
A storm head was forming. Imperceptible, but unmistakable if you knew where to look. Clouds were drawing themselves together, gradually turning from fluffy white to roiling black. It would be here soon. Skies grew impatient quickly in this part of the world.
Captain Jonah picked up the radio and hit a button to transmit orders to the crew. “Uh, this is your Captain. We got a mushroom blooming off starboard. Estimated arrival one hour. Begin preparations.”
He knew his words would whip his crew into a frenzy of activity below while he stood at the bridge, eyes to the horizon. He smiled at their efficiency, then scowled at what lay ahead.
He could take care of his crew, but could he manage to save these pampered passengers who knew nothing of rough seas?
Sooner than expected, the storm came on, first in slow tidal rolls, then large, furious waves breaking across the bow.
“Secure all passengers, take cover as needed; she’s bringing a sledgehammer, boys,” Jonah said over the radio, never taking his hands off the wheel or his eyes off the horizon. If he could just navigate to the edges of the storm, the worst might pass.
The wealthy people downstairs might get a bit queasy and unhappy, but if he did his job right, they would survive. Their selfies and social media could never really capture just how easy Captain Jonah could make something this challenging look.
Navigating by gut feelings, he turned quickly to port and threw full power to the engines. He knew what they were capable of and asked for more. The engines wailed and whined as waves two stories high crashed over the boat, tipping it sharply. But the Good Buoy was steady on her feet and pushed herself back upright.
Just as Jonah had changed directions, so had the mighty storm. Its pulsating tentacles reached towards the yacht, to slam down lightning and thunder with a crack, bam, splash. The storm was now directly on top of them, and Jonah held the ship’s wheel as hard as he could, but it bucked like a spring goat in his arms.
“You will not win!” he shouted at the living beast that settled on top of the Good Buoy like a sodden blanket. He could feel the weight of the storm, and smelled ozone in the air when lightning hit the yacht’s mast in an earsplitting instant. Electrical systems onboard flickered and died. Jonah would be flying by wire now; with no high-tech gauges to guide his way. This was what he had trained for.
He closed his eyes and recalled his childhood sailing lessons. How had he navigated the waters around Johannesburg in a wooden sailboat with a weathered canvas fastened to the mast? He’d maneuvered storms with no gauges back then. He could do it again now.
This storm was different. Navigation was not possible. The only option was to ride its back. Survival meant steering into the swell, climbing high up each wave face, then pulling back hard to drift down the backside of the crest. Like a dance, timed with the rhythm of the ocean, attempting to avoid the inevitable bow slam. Wham!
As hard as he steered, the boat was tossed like a toy in a child’s bathtub. The Good Buoy smacked the ocean surface, now hard as concrete. This pretty bucket could survive a lot, but it had limits.
Jonah thought he had seen it all as Captain, until the moment waves picked up and flicked the Good Buoy out of the water, so high into the air that they needed a flight attendant to demonstrate safety features.
This was bad. No training could prepare a Captain and crew for a yacht gone airborne.
     Wham! The slam came from above. Crack, a blast from the side. The Good Buoy was breaking apart. Pieces flew off the ship and dropped into the water. Passengers and crew tumbled from the deck. Pieces that were broken off were slammed into even more pieces. Utter devastation. Destruction. Loss.
“Jonah! What the hell?” shrieked a voice. The voice of his dear, sweet mother; the gentle woman who had held him when he was born would now cradle him to his salty death.
“Put it down, Jonah. Put it down! I’m counting. One! Two!”
Mooom!”
“Craig! Get over here now!”
“Honey, what?”
“Put your beer down and come get your son, who happens to be playing with your sledgehammer.”
“What? Is he okay?”
“He destroyed that toy boat you bought him yesterday. Look, it’s in pieces. Oh my god, he smashed his sister’s Barbie and Ken dolls too. There are plastic boat pieces and doll parts everywhere! Look at his wading pool! Why is there even a sledgehammer lying around?”
“I was splitting wood this morning. I didn’t think he could even pick it up. Jesus, he could really have hurt himself. What were you thinking, Jonah? Huh?”
Captain Jonah shrugged. “Sometimes the seas come on mean, bringing waves like a sledgehammer.”
“He learned this from you,” Jonah’s mother said, her voice so quiet that it terrified both the boy and his father. Like when the ocean goes quiet for a moment, just before the tsunami.
“C’mon, son, let’s go inside.”


Born with the eye of a writer and the heart of a story-teller, Karen Fayeth’s work is colored by the Mexican, Native American, and Western influences of her roots in rural New Mexico and complemented by an evolving urban aesthetic. Karen has been published in New Mexico Magazine, Drunk Monkeys, Hawai’i Pacific Review and more. Now living in the San Francisco Bay area, she can be found online at karenfayeth.com.

The Favorite

Shortly after I was first admitted to the hospital, my mother began collecting dolls. Her favorite was the largest of the collection, which was gifted a place of honor on the bench nearest the front door. At four years old, I had to hurry past it to go anywhere in the house—the kitchen, my bedroom, the backyard—but no matter how quickly I moved, its two inescapable eyes fastened to the back of my retreating head.

Sometimes I’d catch Mama brushing the tangled mop of synthetic curls, and she’d wave me over. “You want to try?” she asked, holding out the brush in offering.

I shook my head no.

Its stiff, lifeless form sat still in her lap, smiling complacently as my mother ran the brush bristles from the top of its head to the nape of its neck. I hated its mouth the most. A full mouth of perfectly straight teeth, lips curled up at the ends in what was supposed to be a smile. We shared the same swollen face, the same blue eyes, the same brittle bits of blonde hair, but the doll’s fixed expression was one of sinister glee that I had never before seen in any real-life child.

“Did I ever tell you,” my mother continued, “when you were a baby, complete strangers would say you looked just like a little porcelain doll?”

I shook my head no.

“Come here.”

I shook my head no.

“What’s wrong?”

I pointed to the doll.

“It’s plastic,” she said. “It’s not real. It can’t hurt you.”

Eyes sharply focused on the smiling figure, I wheeled my child-sized IV stand over to the couch and breathed a sigh of exultation when Mama placed the doll on the floor beside her, freeing up her lap. Hoisting me up, careful not to tangle tubes connecting me to assorted bags, she began running her shaking fingers gently across my scalp.

“Your hair is so beautiful,” she whispered. “Her hair is not as soft as yours.”

As I grew taller, the doll was gifted my favorite red-and-black checkered dress. I made it a point to glare at her to show I didn’t approve of the stolen gown. She’d smile at me in return, as if she knew how much I hated her for taking my things and replicating my face, bloated as it was with infection. I was a sick child, and she wasn’t sick at all. She was plastic. She would never outgrow my clothes. Her body would never fail from frailty. She would never die.

After the birth of my sister, the dolls in my mother’s collection slowly began to dwindle, one by one, room by room, until only my mother’s favorite remained on its seat by the front door.

I began to feel its eyes on me when I’d sneak to the kitchen for sugary treats I was forbidden from eating. Plump fingers tentatively probed the high kitchen counter for half-full soda cans or forgotten juice boxes left near my big brown bottle of medicine. I’d poke and prod and try my best to climb up in search of things that would only aid in the declination of my health. Cold and silent as death itself, I’d sense eyes, watching. Sweaty with an unearthly dread I could not comprehend, I’d leave the items untouched and retreat to a safer room.

Mama refused to bring my infant sister anywhere that might make her sick, so Dad took me to the hospital to remove the tubes from my body. Each of my doctors happily assured me I was out of death’s doorway at last, and what a lucky little girl I was to have such loving parents.

I pondered my mother’s love on the car ride home, struggling for an answer as to why she refused to part with my plastic doppelgänger. I would have pondered her reluctance for the rest of my life had I not offered to throw away my father’s fast food wrappers once we pulled into the driveway.

In the metal trashcan placed on the side of the curb, I found her face-down in the garbage, buried deep in the remains of last night’s dinner, as if she had never meant anything at all.


Candice Snow is the author of The Birth of a Phoenix, and in the rare instance she’s not procrastinating, you can find her hard at work on her next novel. Despite being born in Southern California, her fear of tangling in seaweed and drowning a watery death kept her from learning how to properly surf. She currently resides in Los Angeles. She likes the color pink. She also likes the word “catawampus.”

Sweetness

There was a girl who wanted to be candy. Other children wanted to buy candy, to savor its sweet flavor or torture their tongues with its tartness. This girl didn’t want to consume candy. She wanted candy to consume her.
Her father ran a small candy shop, and she grew up surrounded by sugary scents and artificial flavors. She heard customers beg him to track down one more box of their cherry- or chocolate- or lemon-flavored temptations. As a child, the girl found it all confusing. She had no taste for sweets. She felt out of place in the candy store and out of place in the world.
When she turned thirteen, she was desperate to be noticed, but the boys who visited the store only wanted one thing—and it wasn’t her. She was certain no boy would ever love her as much as he loved candy. Working in the store after school became torture. Every day, her father introduced her to new customers as “the sweetest thing in my life”. Every time she heard it, it sounded like a lie. She was sure there was nothing sweet about her.
In order to sweeten her appearance, she started wearing brighter colors, mimicking the artificial shades she saw around her: pink and purple dresses, lemon yellow tights, red patent-leather shoes. She stocked up on coconut lip gloss, glittery eyeshadow, and cherry-vanilla shampoo. It didn’t help. Beneath the saccharine surface, she felt ugly and dirty. She had body odor, an itchy scalp, oily skin. She was human, and she hated it.
After work each day, she walked a few blocks to the quaint old house where she lived with her father and grandmother and climbed the steep, narrow stairs to her bedroom in the attic. Nobody else ever went up there. One day, while she was taking off her clothes, she felt something in her pocket. She had accidentally carried a packet of candy home. She didn’t want to eat the chewy, rainbow-colored squares, but she unwrapped each piece anyway. Laid out on the bed in front of her, they looked like building blocks. It gave her an idea: She’d create a new version of herself, a better version, made of candy.
The next day she stuffed her bag with treats. The following day, she filled her coat pockets too. Her father thought she’d finally developed a sweet tooth and looked on her petty thievery with pride. Of course, she never ate any of it. Each sourball, each tablet of spearmint gum, each lemon-lime lollipop, was strictly for sculpture. She built her new body inside out, taking great care to make her candy self as anatomically correct as possible. She bought an old medical textbook in a used bookstore and worked to replicate its illustrations, stretching taffy into shapes that resembled organs and using licorice twists to represent her veins and arteries. The new girl had swizzle-stick bones surrounded by muscles made of strawberry gummies, cinnamon coins, and red jellybeans. After a few weeks, she was ready to cover her candy innards with skin.
One Saturday, when she was home alone, she mixed up a large batch of fondant using her grandmother’s favorite recipe and tinted it with food coloring until it was the exact pinkish-brown shade as her skin. She rolled the fondant into smooth sheets and carried them up to her room on wax paper. The candy body, which she now thought of as her true self, lay on her bed. She had started sleeping on the floor, wrapped in a blanket, so that her candy self would be comfortable.
As she tucked the fondant skin over the candy muscles, organs, and skeleton, she felt her dreams coming true. Soon this delicious, desirable body would be hers. She smoothed the fondant over her future calves and her future knees. Once the skin was attached, she inserted eyeballs she’d found in a box of Halloween candy. They were the same warm caramel color as her real eyes. The next day, she lifted a bag of licorice laces from the store. She spent the evening laying the thin black strands onto her new head. She formed eyebrows with a delicate arch and pressed them onto the flawless face. She also applied candy makeup—thin lines of melted chocolate as eyeliner, a dollop of raspberry cream on each cheekbone, and a squeezable cherry-flavored gel on her lips.
The new body was ready. This was a moment of triumph, but also a moment of truth. The girl realized that her soul, or whatever you call it—her essence, her spirit—was stuck in her human body. How could she move it over?
She slept in the bed that night next to her candy twin. She held its hand as she drifted off to sleep, making wish after wish.
At some point that night, the universe listened. In the morning, she opened her eyes and realized her dream had come true. As she sat on the side of the bed, moving her candy limbs for the first time, her former body remained asleep. Was the other her still human, she wondered? She could see it breathing, but watching the chest rise and fall with no soul inside terrified her. She was afraid to leave it alone, so she tied the body to the bed just in case it woke up. Then she went downstairs.
When she entered the kitchen, her grandmother said, “Good morning,” and offered her a cup of tea. Her father asked if she could wash the dishes before she left for school. Neither of them noticed.
When she got home that night, her old body was still sleeping. Over the next few days, it started to smell, and she didn’t know how to handle it. She couldn’t wake the body and force it to eat or drink—she had tried, with no luck—and she couldn’t bring it to the hospital, because she had no way of explaining who it was or why it was unconscious. When she sensed that the body was dying, she untied the ropes and hugged her former self close.
“This is what you wanted,” she said. “This is what we wanted.”
The next day, while her father and grandmother were at work, the candy girl wrapped the dehydrated body in black trash bags. She was surprised at how light it felt without her insecurities weighing it down. She carried the body out of the house and tossed it in the dumpster. An hour or so later, the garbage trucks came through, and the body was gone. The girl pushed away all thoughts of her old self. She was ready for a fresh start.
It was a gorgeous afternoon, and she headed toward the store. As she walked, she found herself smiling at strangers, especially children. They smiled back, and when she got to the store she felt unusually happy.
Instead of busying herself in the stock room to avoid customers, she joined her father behind the counter. She greeted everyone as they came in, and when she recommended popular treats, everyone listened, as if even her words tasted sweet.
For the first time, boys gave her attention. One boy had eyes the color of green-apple gumballs and hair like dark swirls of chocolate. He looked at her as if she made his mouth water. Instead of buying candy, he asked if she’d like to take a walk by the river to watch the sunset. With her father’s permission, she agreed.
She and the boy strolled together, watching the water because they were too nervous to look at each other. They sat on a bench as the sky turned the pale pink of spun-sugar. When the boy leaned in to kiss her, she was thrilled at the warmth of his lips against hers.
Then everything went wrong. His fleshy tongue was in her mouth. He oozed sweat and saliva, reminding her of the human body she’d left behind. His touch made her skin sticky, and she recoiled. She had to get away from him.
She ran for the air-conditioned fluorescence of the candy store, hoping her father was still there to let her in. She would surround herself with candy. She would gulp the candy-scented air and run her fingers over smooth plastic wrappers. She would feel sweet again. She would stay sweet forever.


Lisa Beebe lives in Los Angeles, where she sometimes talks to the ocean. Her stories have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Spectacle, Indiana Review, and Psychopomp, among others. Find her online at lisabeebe.com.

Warm Paws

Having spent the night in a post-apocalyptic wasteland stabbing my enemies, I shuffle into the kitchen heavy-lidded and adjusting to reality. The setting may have been new, but the mood is always the same—devastating. The hellish dreams drag me out of bed between four and five in the morning each day. My psyche can’t endure any more hours of torment than that. My saliva is thick, like paste, and I have to pry my tongue from the roof of my mouth. I sleep with my mouth open wide so that the ghosts can climb in.

As always, the kitchen is eerily bare. Not a single dish or glass in the sink nor a crumb on the counter. No signs that someone actually lives here. It is dimly lit, which I find calming. The Sun has slept through his alarm, zonked from a cocktail of Xanax, ketamine, and jalapeño margaritas. I’ve been there, young Sun. It isn’t pretty. In an Achomawi myth, the Sun tried to escape the sky by falling to the ground, where he then intended to roll away. But the Mole caught him and, with the help of the Achomawi people, the Mole shoved the Sun back onto his shelf, where he has remained ever since. I understand the earnest desire to break free.

I look out the door that leads to my back patio. The sky is separated into two distinct colors that are stacked on top of each other like brothers in a bunk bed. Above me, the sky is black like a bruise days after a bar fight. Behind the mountains, it’s light blue, almost silver. I am dying to interrogate the sky, to ask her how she manages to live as two fractions of a whole:

Is it sustainable in the long run?
Does one part have to eventually die in order for the other to fully live?
Which portion is the more honest representation of your heart?

I imagine the sky listening with a cigarette drooping from her lips and her eyes half-mooned and staring into the distance at something I can’t see.

The flora should be dead this time of year, but the trees are alive with memory. The recollections circulate through their branches, revitalizing them. The towering sugar pine trees shiver under their robes of snow as frozen giants casting off shadows of my past. The shadows scream at me, telling me things I don’t but do want to hear with their voices like thunderclaps. They are right. I can be vicious. There is an inhuman piece to me that I’m trying to unravel. I have treated those shadows poorly. I marveled at how delicious destruction tastes up until the moment I swallowed. The shadows are trapped like fireflies in a jar. I sometimes tease them by unscrewing the lid only to let them discover that they’re stuck inside of a larger jar. In this way, I keep my past alive.

When I press my palm to the window, the shadows duck and play in the muddy snow, balling it up and tossing it at my cabin. The snowflakes explode like frozen fireworks. I’ve always hated fireworks.

There is another Achomawi myth about sugar pine trees. The story goes that the Creator made one of the First People by dropping a sugar pine seed in nutrient-rich soil, where it eventually grew into a man: Sugar-Pine-Cone Man. Sugar-Pine-Cone Man had a family and worked hard. He was a good, honest man. Not all of us are, and that’s okay.

I put on some coffee even though I’m grinding my molars down to the root. The coffee machine gurgles and spits like a person freshening their breath with mouthwash. The shadows of the trees peek into my cabin, their breaths fogging the windows as they whisper amongst themselves like gossiping angels. They know what I keep chained up downstairs. They want to see her for themselves. I wish they would close their pretty mouths.

I flip open my cell phone. Knowing that I won’t have any messages, I quickly close it so that the stupid beach background will stop mocking my loneliness. That’s the thing about solitude—you can pretend it was your choice, but every living and nonliving thing around you knows the truth. Loneliness. It’s the reason children create imaginary friends they can laugh with. It’s the reason I don’t banish the shadows or release the beast into the wild.

Still grinding my teeth, I pace between the kitchen and the living room, listing all of the animals that have exoskeletons. I always do this whenever I wish I had some armor of my own:

Grasshoppers, cockroaches, crabs, lobsters, snails, clams, chitons, spiders, ants, scorpions, shrimp, dragonfly nymphs, cicadas, butterflies, moths.

Pausing by a living room window, I steady my hands on the windowsill. The shadows mutter something in a language I don’t understand. It echoes throughout the snow-brushed mountains. Their whispers are louder than the bombs of my dreams.

Chains rattle beneath my feet, causing the floor to vibrate. I stomp and the clanking stops. I smile. She misses me. We have quite the co-dependent relationship.

By the time I finish my coffee, the Sun begins to peak over the horizon as if to ask, “Is it safe to come out yet?”

No, young Sun, go back to sleep. The world is not made for someone warm and kind like you. It’s too bad the Mole stamped out your potential.

The shadows dance freely to the tune of the chirping birds. What I would give to hear what the shadows say behind my back. I wonder what they tell their new lovers over cocktails in hip city bars. I wonder what they say while sitting on the floor of their bedrooms drinking white wine. Or maybe, in those moments, they don’t speak of me at all. In that case, I don’t know why I have what I have in the basement.

I think of one shadow in particular: Ava, with her late September eyes and saccharine smile. We’d spent a week together, entangled like the roots of a sugar pine. We’d fucked and drank and explored the city with fresh eyes and new fingertips. She hadn’t minded my obsession with exoskeletons; she said that she understood the desire for protection, that she understood the vulnerability that comes with being alive.

We’d shared two bottles of Pinot Noir and soon the confessions began to flow. I’d held her as she told me about her father’s late-night visits, how he distorted her ideas of trust and safety. At some point, I told her about the beast I keep, my most heavily-guarded secret. Ava had listened with her whole body, her fingers twitching against my shoulders as my words traveled through her nerves. And yet, when I was done telling her, she’d pushed herself off of my chest and sat back on her haunches, eyes narrowed. She hadn’t believed me. Said she didn’t think something like that could exist undetected for so long. I hadn’t known what to say. It hadn’t occurred to me that there was a possibility she wouldn’t believe me. Who would lie about such a thing?

“But your father has one, too,” I’d whispered, after a few moments.

“Yeah, exactly,” she’d said, staring at me.

Ava touched my bearded cheek and said that I was a tender man. She urged me to embrace that about myself. I would have been more comfortable if she had berated me, but a part of me liked the reassurance.

“There is no beast, Dimitri. It’s all just in your head,” Ava breathed into my ear, nibbling on the lobe.

I thought that I was in love. I thought, “This is what I want. I want to be with Ava.” It terrifies me that I could have been so wrong about my own feelings. It took hurting many more women, and thus, creating more shadows, for me to understand that I am incapable of love and that no one is meant for anyone else.

When Ava had flown down to visit me a month after our beautiful week together, something was different. I was different, and she knew. After all, you can tell when you’re losing someone. Every cell in your body alerts you. But I hadn’t known how to say it out loud. The words were helpless, caught in the web of my throat. I left her crying at a party so that I could do blow with a fire-haired woman who kept a beast of her own. We let them out in the backyard of her cottage. The fences were as high as sugar pine trees. The brilliant leaves fell in slow motion and the beasts nibbled at each other’s necks, elated to have a friend. But beasts can’t really have friends, can they?

I set the mug in the sink and prepared myself mentally. I walk over to the basement door and undo the metal latches I had installed after the beast had learned how to unlock the door from the inside. Closing the door behind me, I descend the stairs slowly and listen.

I sit on the fifth stair and lean around the wall to observe her without her knowing. The beast is chained up in the corner, baring her teeth, her fangs longer and sharper than I remember, as if she’d spent all night filing their edges. Her eyes are those of a vampire in a blood-soaked battlefield. She is thrashing about wildly as if the basement is engulfed in flames; although, on second thought, she might like that. She seems disturbed. Her muscles are bulging so intensely I’m afraid that with the next flex she will burst out of her chestnut fur, shedding her version of an exoskeleton. Her veins throb and pulsate. This is what the beast does when she doesn’t know what I’m up to. She doesn’t want me to forget about her, even though deep down she knows I could do no such thing. To forget her would be to forgive myself.

When she sees me, she stops thrashing and her eyes know. Her body relaxes like she’s a week-old balloon. She closes her mouth and cocks her head to one side. Her fangs stick out from her upper lip and they look more goofy than formidable. Her jaw quivers and I notice that her teeth are chattering. Her wrinkled paws are larger than cast-iron skillets.

“Wanna go for a walk?” I ask, my breath visible in the cold of the basement air.

The beast does the little where she pitter-patters her paws. Sometimes, the shadows demand that I put her down. Sometimes, they give me grief for not feeding her treats. This morning they can’t decide what they want so they return to their trees and ask the Sugar-Pine-Cone Man, the good man, honest man, what to do.

“You’ll freeze out there so we better put your sweater on, baby.”

The beast groans but allows me to pull a repurposed afghan blanket over her head, slipping her right leg in the proper sleeve hole, then the left. In the beginning, it was no easy task but she grew used to it the way one can grow used to anything.

People don’t understand the beast. They think she is all bad. But no one is all bad. That is what I tell myself. This consolation is different than forgiveness; it is a survival tactic. The beast will be the first to nuzzle your face if you have the courage to squat down and look her in the eyes.

I grab her leash made of braided Kevlar rope and clip it onto her harness. Pitter-patter, pitter-patter. I pet her nose and she closes her eyes as if she’s receiving a spa treatment. She drags me up the stairs where I pause at the front door where I pause to put on my winter jacket, gloves, and boots. The beast looks back and forth between me and the doorknob. I imagine she’s thinking something like, If you don’t hurry up, I’m gonna leave without you.

“Hold on a second, will you?” I laugh, dropping the leash to retrieve my phone from the kitchen. I’m not sure why I get my phone. The owner of a beast must live a solitary existence, or else he risks losing his beast. Then, of course, he would have no excuse for his behavior.

Outside, it is lightly snowing and the flakes look like salt on the beast’s dark fur as she sniffs a pine cone. At first, she despised the cold, as it goes against her very nature, but now I think she enjoys knowing she’s not the only thing that bites. I tell her how beautiful she is, and I mean it. More than I’ve ever meant it. She looks back to check that I’m still there then treks forward on her quest. I look to check that the shadows are still there, then proceed on my own quest. My path is always intertwined with the beast’s; we head in the same direction, but a few steps apart.

Ever since I moved up to the mountains, it’s been easier to hide the beast. No one lives within two miles of me. Now I can take her for walks whenever I want. When I lived in town, everyone had had long necks and binocular eyeballs. The only time it was safe to take her out was between three and five in the morning, and it was really to just let her pee and roll around in the grass, to let her remember herself, the world, and her place in it. Those moments were nerve-racking, though, and I’d kept my hood up as if I were conducting an illicit drug deal. Losing her wasn’t an option. It still isn’t. It never will be.

I wonder where Ava is now. Is she taking care of someone else? Is her ocean hair splayed over another man’s chest as she kisses his stomach? We had moments of bliss, didn’t we? Kissing over a game of checkers in the coffee shop; dancing in the kitchen, her cheek pressed against mine, the scent of her vanilla cardamom perfume tickling my nose; watching her favorite sci-fi film, the weight of her head resting on my shoulder back when I’d thought we were just friends, that thrilling injection of hope. I treated her well until I didn’t.

“You are good. You are so good,” she used to whisper in my ear and every muscle in my body tightening as I thought about the beast attempting to gnaw her own paw off. I wanted to take her to the beast, show her what she was up against, but Ava refused to believe in something she could not see. The beast thrashed and cried, demanding my undivided attention, and I tried to drown out the noise, but it’s impossible to ignore the truth. Ava had made herself into a cozy home and told me to take off my shoes, to stay a while. Despite the love I thought I felt, I was only looking for something bare-bones and short-term. She said that was okay, that she would wait until I was ready, but I never was.

Now I slide one of my gloves off and pull out my phone. I know that I shouldn’t message her, but I feel compelled, controlled by a puppeteer tugging on my invisible strings. I want to ensure that she never forgets me, never fully recovers from her run-in with the beast.

“I hope that you’re happy. I really do wish you the best.” I click send and avoid eye contact with the beast. She jumps up against my chest, resting her front paws on my shoulders. The beast can tell when I’m being dishonest. She can smell the lies between my synapses. The beast is right; I don’t hope Ava is happy and I sure as hell don’t wish her the best. This is what frightens me the most about myself.

The beast’s paws are wet with snow and her teeth happily chatter a few inches from my face. I place my gloved hands over her paws, in an attempt to warm them, and she nuzzles my neck until my skin goes numb. All around us, sugar pine seeds fall from the towering trees, creating new men.


Marisa Crane is a lesbian fiction writer and poet. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Drunk Monkeys, Pidgeonholes, Pigeon Pages, Riggwelter Press, among others. She currently lives in San Diego with her fiancée and their handsome dog. You can read more of her work at www.marisacrane.org. Her Twitter handle is @marisabcrane.

Bike Riding in the Parking Lot

Marnie Gold was menacing.

She chased me all over the beach when we were three.

At five she called me “Salami” in Hebrew school, though my name was “Shulamit.”

At 10 she was reading Simone de Beauvoir and tried to explain what a feminist was—European style.

By 16 she had crushes on boys and chased my friend Max with her bicycle in the Foodtown parking lot. We were more frightened of her on the bike than other car drivers or pedestrians because she traipsed over suburbia as if she were in a rocket.

*

Before she went off to study math in college, Marnie and I did not talk senior year in high school. Indeed, I had more feelings for her when I wasn’t talking with her than when I was.

Marnie delivered, rather than participated, in extensive conversations that included a voracious laugh loud enough to swallow you alive.

“Salami,” she’d whisper in the girls’ bathroom during Hebrew school, “you pee in a very existential manner.”

“What?”

“As you urinate, you experience it.”

She made me squirm and I left the bathroom quickly, sometimes not washing my hands.

*

When I went to summer camp, she wrote me biblical texts, much like her exponential monologues about feminists or boys she liked.

She was particularly fixated on a kid called “It,” whom she accused of stalking her. They were neighbors, and before everyone on their street became Hasidic, which is the present tense situation, Marnie and “It” lived across from one another in a perfect state of irreligiosity.

“It” was also my buddy and whenever we got together he laughed heartily about Marnie and other kids who comprised the I want to get into Harvard cult.

*

“Dear Salami,” Marnie began letters she sent to my Zionist socialist camp, which she called “Concentration Camp.”
“Hope you are having a good time at Concentration Camp. ‘It’ was out this morning waiting for me. I think he might ask me to his Junior Prom.”

Then she’d give an expansive thesis on how “Its” persistence would eventually get him in trouble after her father—whom she never spoke with—filed a complaint.

“It,” who was my friend, was a genius at math and never mentioned Marnie on an erotic level, so I was confused by her pronouncements. In fact, the only time “It” reacted to sexual matters was when we walked along the boardwalk with Max, and I announced to much of Seaside, New Jersey, at the custard stand, “Max! I want to have your baby!” “It” was in tears, giggling by the time Max’s face turned a radish color.

*

I saw Marnie in a dream last night, and she was quite furious with me.

It was reminiscent of the time I called her after our tenth high school reunion, which she did not attend, though she sent her biography for the class reunion publication: “Am a statistician for an obscure Chicago magazine where I turn derivatives into variables.” This was too complex for me, so I moved onto the football player, who, after being kicked off the Penn State team, was now a woman making hosiery in Brussels.

Most people in our high school would not have remembered Marnie except as a spidery creature whose webs fell when she walked. Others, like my friend Beth, who was in Marnie’s honors classes, feared that “M” was mildly radioactive.

I dialed her number.

“Hi, is this Marnie?”
“Who’s this?”
“Susan Ryman. Remember?”

Why are you calling me?”

Why wouldn’t I be calling you?”

“You said terribly mean things to Max about me and your libeling has precluded him from sleeping with me.”

“So, you don’t want me to call you anymore?”

She hung up. It was worse than the time John F. Kennedy, Jr., hung up on me at Brown University.

Getting hung up on is never a good experience, so I phoned again.

“It’s all your fault!” Marnie screamed as I listened from the rotary phone, which would eventually be pulled out of the wall by a neighboring Hasidic Jew we’d sell the house to in 2011, which infuriated my brother K, who thought the Hasidic Jew had no respect for us or our phone.

“My fault?”

“That Max got married to someone else. You said horrible things about me.”

“What…?”
“Listen,” she continued, “I don’t know how you got my number…. click…”

*

I do remember the first time they met.

Max’s house was next to the golf course. Marnie, not knowing who we were going to visit, excitedly rang the doorbell.

Max soon thereafter delivered a sanctimonious lecture on Tom Waits and Elvis Costello. Marnie was enthralled.

Max too (though he didn’t want us to know) relished the curves of Marnie’s diminutive body. There were many lads, some burnouts, who fantasized about Marnie when she visited their sisters—they’d stare at her in the kitchen.

*

Marnie’s bicycle escapades began in the summer. She knew the approximate times that Max did shopping for his mom, and because her house was only two blocks from the store, she’d rush over and hide behind Dairy Queen or Foodtown.

Marnie was not the kind of girl you wanted to cross whether she was an adult or prepubescent. She could make tiger lilies shriek or thermometers reach new and insurmountable levels.

You could feel Marnie’s threadbare gazes during French class, when she snarled at the nasalization of consonants by our teacher Mr. Flame. His mispronunciations caused turmoil in Marnie’s soul as she believed him to be butchering an ancient language.

Marnie was most mortified when Mr. Flame introduced the past tense because it reminded her of how I had fucked up her relationship with Max.

To be honest, I had merely introduced them on his front porch near the golf course. Okay, maybe I had said, “Max, she’s on LSD without taking it,” or “Max, when Mom and I take her to the mall, she bumps against me.”

There was veracity in evil—and it was Marnie fuming when I passed in the hall.

Marnie still fumes, but this time in the imagination, when she tries to hang out with me, because she’s home during college, in the summer.

*

In college, her life would become immensely better. But here, in Lakewood, across from “It,” she wrestled with French feminists, her father, and not leaving the house much, except when the school bus came.

Though my father was a teacher and her father owned a button store—the Marnies were wealthier—we, unlike the other residents, didn’t travel much in the summer, except when I went to socialist Zionist camp in June.

In July, I’d hang with Marnie.

“Hi,” I said to Marnie’s mother at their door. We’d never met before. I didn’t know she was bald. In synagogue Mrs. Marnie had hair.

Marnie’s house smelled like a funeral home after a fire. Everything was old, including her family.

“Can I help you?”
“I’m Susan. Here to see Marnie.”

“Just a minute,” she said, slamming the door.

Marnie came down a few minutes later.

“Back from Concentration Camp already?” she asked. No one laughed at Marnie’s jokes except Marnie.

*

Marnie was the opposite of Hannah Q whom everyone had a crush on, even girls in suburbia who hadn’t spoken with her in 40 years.

They all rushed to be friends with her on Facebook.

Last night, in a nightmare, Hannah Q moved a block away from me, where my old neighborhood became Princeton, NJ, with paved sidewalks, omnipresent coffee shops, and a few communist groups springing up.

Hannah Q was a poetry editor.

She accepted my poems for a literary journal at William and Mary, where she attended college.

Hannah Q was reluctant to make corrections, though I emailed that she needed to correct the spaces and remove typos, which she had introduced.

Hannah Q felt that making such corrections would cause problems for her journal deadline.

A young boy, who wore Ted Baker shirts he purchased on eBay and lived on her block, also had his work accepted.

He and I went to Hannah Q’s dorm room, which she shared with other people who were far above my socioeconomic status, that is, the people who were not born in but now lived in my neighborhood.

Unlike Marnie’s family, which was fallen aristocracy, that is, they lived in a burned-out house that was bound to self-immolate through fire or bed bugs, Hannah Q et al had shag rugs and Fresca in their fridge. Also, cold cans of sliced peaches. Whereas Marnie had bottles of expired gefilte fish that the homeless in Fincastle, Virginia, wouldn’t eat.

Hannah Q had brothers who were delectable and judicious and only attended elite schools and once threw rocks at me while I delivered newspapers. Marnie’s brothers had jobs on Wall Street, before the market collapsed, and we suspected they might have engineered that.

Hannah Q was kinder, better looking, but more elusive than Marnie. Given the choice, one would prefer Hannah Q’s breasts to Marnie’s. For Hannah was sweeter, more scrumptious.

Hannah Q, who would have been great as a human milk manufacturer, didn’t want to publish me in her journal though she liked my poetry. She concluded that I place my work in a blog.

“We’d like to use you,” she said, “but we can’t.”

“But you sent me an acceptance letter…”

“Now it’s the blog. Either that or not,” she insisted.

I emailed her, informed her, that I would never put my poetry in a blog if she had originally promised William and Mary’s literary journal.

Plus, she hadn’t made the corrections.

This morning, after my Hannah Q bad dream ended, I looked at her Facebook profile: she is blank, and slightly less creative than Marnie, who had a photograph of a disheveled raccoon as her profile pic. Whereas I look like a dyke with my hat flipping back and forth—like those “Neolution” creatures in Orphan Black.

*

The nightmare about Hannah Q kept flashing on my screen at work.

There was a pervasive darkness in the neighborhood where Hannah Q held an encampment of men who wanted to sleep with her.

One of the boys said she was as old as me and had no boyfriend. That is always a possibility for me—no boyfriend, no girlfriend, and likes to be alone.

Hannah Q looked the same: thin, ponytail, white, Ecuadorian, and a metaphysical countenance that even Stalin lacked.

Hannah would sit with Amy Z when we were in sixth grade.

Nobody but Felicia Diaz, a big Puerto Rican girl who smelled like bologna sat with me.

“Mrs. Goldstein told us to sit with you because you have no friends,” Hannah and Amy, who were cheerleaders, told me.

“Will you be able to use this experience in an essay contest?” I asked them.

They ate tuna sandwiches.

Hannah was also a goody two shoes with PF Flyers made by smug human rights activists in Berkeley, California, where she had gone to graduate school to study pleurisy, before she accepted my poems.

*

None of my love interests, including Hannah Q, were like Anna R.

I knew her phone number.

I called her.

Anna R was more intriguing than lipids.

More lip-smacking than pot pie.

More compelling than a classics poet trying to decipher modernist poetry.

She was frequently in the elementary school parking lot, doing yoga, expecting me to transpose my mind into her book.

Sometimes she read good books. Other times she laughed like a daffodil too silly to fall in love.

After I graduated college I read that Anna R had gotten married and I was thrilled to speak with her, but quite remorseful after the conversation.

“Hi,” I said.

“Who is this?”
Anna R recognized my voice.

“You’re still alive?” she giggled. She hadn’t heard from me since the time I defended her honor against prickly big shots in fifth grade. I’d still have defended Anna R’s honor had she not been so asinine. “Asinine” transforms eclectic chicks who were once beauty queens in elementary school into inarticulate ladies who shop at Whole Foods and make snubbing/squeaking/grunting noises like primates if you veer too close to them in the strawberry section. In fact, some of these ladies have “service primates” because they have neurological difficulties, which prevent them from loading items into carts. The monkeys are trained to help, though sometimes they eat the fruit before it gets into the basket.

Inarticulate ladies, however, give you more room to breathe than Marnies.

Marnies are insufferable, whereas Anna R and Hannah Q types dismiss trifles such as boredom and make you feel as if there is room, even a possibility, that sleeping with them won’t divest your soul of enzymes.

*

But my incubus revealed that I was more likely to sleep with Pee Wee Herman if he were Hitler than Nicole Kidman if she were Eva Braun. You may not know that Marnie is the future Hitler, but her accessibility makes it so.

People such as Marnie, who were likely Hitler in a previous existence, which makes them excellent candidates as Hitler in their next existence, are so available and easy to sleep with me because they are the only ones who will. Others, who have green hair and soft dispositions, who laugh loudly at Zyklon B jokes and make reference to your inability to be paranoid, are likely to leave you despondent in a motel room.

Because those fleeting moments with Hannah Q and Anna R were transparently unreal, I shall return to the wonder zone of Marnie and recall how one day, while babysitting for a teacher who claimed to have been part of the French Revolution, we, that is, me and Marnie, were almost molested in his Chevrolet.

This was the same person who tried to have sex with his wife’s colleagues.

Females always know when a man is trying to rape them, whether these men do so in the ice cream parlor or the cannoli shop.

Eventually said females will discuss how said perv tried to ply their virginity in a phone booth, and how they screamed so loud, that instead of physically abusing them, he verbally fucked them over.

In this case, he was not a looker, nor was his wife, but he was the man who was supposed to transport me back and forth from my house, in his Chevrolet, to babysit his daughter, who would later become a drug addict and change her name to Cannabis.

*

We were in his car, Marnie and I, when he scrutinized us in the rearview mirror.

Neither of us wanted to sit in the front seat with him, least of all Marnie, who speculated that he should be on a Sex Offender’s List long before New Jersey passed Megan’s Law.

“Dracula is picking me up this evening,” I said to Marnie, “because I have to babysit his daughter. I need you to come over.”

Dracula, the perv car driver, was not okeydokey when he saw two of us leave my purple-shingled house.

He was not expecting James Joyce or any of the characters from Dubliners. He was, however, envisioning just me, my knee, my ability to say nothing, his ability to extend his hand.

Dracula was a landed gentleman in our town.

His family owned a plumbing agency that specialized in draining unquenchable prunes from the drainer.

World over, and even in Ripley’s Believe it or Not, his family was known for plumbing feats that surpassed the average plumber.

They didn’t “plumb” themselves, though their father, Dracula Senior, was so proficient in plumbing he hired numerous liberal arts majors from the tristate area. The only requirement was that you have a slightly intimate knowledge of the quirky and bitchy prose of Erasmus.

“What is she doing here, goddamnit?” he pointed to Marnie.

“She’s my friend.”

“You need a babysitter assistant?” he queried.

“No, Drac, er, Mr. Plu—hey—I forgot your name,” I said.

“You don’t know my goddamn name and you’re babysitting my daughter?”
I looked at Marnie, and Marnie looked at me, and Dracula made shrill noises. We stopped at the corner of my street.

“Excuse me,” Marnie said, slightly nervous, “would you please let us out?”
“Excuse me?” he countered.

“Please let us out at the corner.”

Before Dracula could turn on the children’s lock on the car door, we jumped out of the Chevrolet.

Marnie took my hand and we ran to my house.

It was like when Max and I, in his car, drove fearfully away from Marnie on the bike, but this time I didn’t look back.


Eleanor_LevineEleanor Levine’s writing has appeared in more than 50 publications, including Fiction, Evergreen Review, Fiction Southeast, Dos Passos Review, Hobart, Juked, The Denver Quarterly, Pank, The Toronto Quarterly, SRPR (Spoon River Poetry Review), Wigleaf, Heavy Feather Review, The Breakwater Review, Artemis, The Forward, (b)OINK, Right Hand Pointing, Gertrude, and Bull (Men’s Fiction); forthcoming work in Willard & Maple and YES Poetry. Levine’s poetry collection, Waitress at the Red Moon Pizzeria, was published by Unsolicited Press.

 

Borders

The morning after the law passed, I was already out of bed when Mom came in and turned on our light and told us it was time to go. I started pulling on my shorts, but she told me to put on pants because it was cold out. Fede hated getting up and groaned as Mom shook him. I didn’t know how he had slept at all, Dad outside our window loading up our truck with his tools and Mom’s mattress and plastic garbage bags filled with our clothes and photo albums and anything else that would fit. Continue reading Borders

The Next Best Thing

Brent’s last roommate left behind a case of Tanqueray, so Cate googles “what to drink with gin” because she’s tired of juice and hates the taste of tonic.

“They used to use quinine for abortions,” she says, reading the internet.
“That’s interesting,” Brent says.
After a while she suggests they just shoot it. “To hell with it,” she says and demonstrates her disgust by holding her nose and tossing her head back as she swallows the liquor and lets it burn down her throat.

Continue reading The Next Best Thing