Categories
Issue 2 Issue 2 Fiction

STUMBLER

By Alan Good

Jes was on the front porch picking. Playing always made it better, even when it didn’t. An uptempo version of “Shady Grove,” faster than his fingers would really go. The mosquitoes were bad, which they had in common with everything else, and dad always said if you picked fast enough the vibrations would shoo the mosquitoes away. Back then it seemed like it was true. A lot of things still seemed true then. Things were more in tune.

There was no one there to clap when he was done, or tell him that someone who didn’t play would not have even noticed how he’d flubbed that change. He drank on his beer and sort of casually looked around the neighborhood, not trying to make eye contact with anyone but still signaling that any and all players, regardless of ability, were welcome to drop in. He thought maybe Sammy or Little t or one of the boys might stop by, even though they hadn’t replied to his texts. There was a time this porch was like a nightclub. Dad would step out with his old Martin and by the time he had it tuned up (by ear) there’d be guys showing up with guitars, banjos, fiddles. There’d always be different players, and strangers driving by would stop and listen. If they had an instrument they’d park and drop in for a session. They’d play into the night and it was so beautiful you never wanted it to stop.

But it did stop.

He finished his beer and wiped the sweat from the can off on his jeans before touching the neck of his guitar, which was really his dad’s guitar. His dad’s Martin. His dad’s house. Nothing had ever really been his, aside from his mistakes. 

He settled on a slower tune, something his less dexterous fingers could keep up with. “No Deal.” Old Townes Van Zandt song. A good song to play when you’re drunk, or just not a great player, just three chords, D, G, and A7, and you can pick it sloppy and you don’t have to sing good to be able to pull it off. If you did sing good it would come off inauthentic. 

On the verses you just talked the lyrics, Woody Guthrie-style, but he really put his heart into it on the chorus. Let his voice crack on the long “Nooooo.” He skipped the third verse, where the speaker is in love with a girl who’s underage. Sometimes he’d just change “fifteen” to “eighteen” but that still felt a little pervy. If the neighbors were actually listening he didn’t want them to get that impression of him, even though it was just a song. The last verse was about him. He really had come through life a stumbler. He really could expect to die that way. These were the facts. This was his biography.

From “No Deal” he went straight into a couple of his own songs. They weren’t any good, and he knew it, but he liked to play them anyway, mumbling the lyrics so he didn’t have to hear how bad they were. They were songs about drinking too much and loving someone who doesn’t love you anymore. Also one about bigfoot, just for fun, because he liked bigfoot. Country songs trying too hard to sound country.

His phone lit up, his heart along with it, until he saw it was just a spam message about ED pills, not Little t heading over with his harmonica. That would make a good song though—“Spam Is My Only Friend.” He played some more songs. He played them loud, with more heart than skill. He didn’t have any embarrassment or sense of shame, the way he once would, singing. Didn’t matter if he was any good or not, singing was better than crying. It drowned out the voice inside him, the one that says life would be so much easier if you were dead. He thought maybe he’d play all night. He had nowhere to be, nowhere to go, didn’t want to go inside that empty house. It’d be more fun if there was someone else to sing harmony or pick out a line while he played rhythm. Used to be all you needed for a party was a guitar and someone who at least sort of knew how to play it. 

He drank more beer. He played more songs. He checked his phone and there was always nothing. He couldn’t blame the boys for not coming over. He couldn’t blame her for leaving. The lightning bugs were out now, asking for an encore. 

Little while later a police car rolled up. Jes held up his guitar as the cop walked up. He said, “You play?” The cop just told him to take his concert in the house. It was late and this was his one and only warning. Jes wanted to say no deal, but he just said, “Oh. Yeah. Okay.” Sure felt dumb. He’d really expected that cop to walk up and want to do “Pancho and Lefty” or something.

You couldn’t have a concert in that house. Bad acoustics and it smelled like death. The party was over. It wasn’t like the old days. A guy and a guitar, they didn’t mean nothing.

Alan Good is a writer from southwest Missouri.

Categories
Issue 2 Issue 2 Fiction

DROP ZONE

By Brendan Gillen

“I feel nothing of the sort,” Alaina said.

We had just ridden the Drop Zone, a two-hundred-eighty-foot asshole tightener. It was her idea. I went along because that’s what you do on the third date. Now we were in some low-ceilinged back room with aching white walls and fluorescence so bright you could hear it rattle.

“Your blood pressure is extremely low,” said the EMT. She was heavy-set and sweet and smelled like baked bread. Her name tag said SCARLET.

“Well, I don’t know what to tell you,” Alaina said. “I’m fine.” Her curly hair was matted to her cheek. She had sweat stains rimming her tank top. She was embarrassed. I hardly knew her. If our roles had been reversed, I would have run away. At least her puke didn’t hit anyone. 

“Take a few slow sips at least,” Scarlet said. She handed Alaina a bottle of Aquafina. Alaina did as she was told. Scarlet then produced a cold compress and applied it to the small of Alaina’s back. Her eyes rolled up into her head and she sighed with pleasure.

“God in heaven.”

It was the same thing she said after tasting good food. I had taken her to an Italian place on Prince that specialized in Arancini. Crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside. Perfectly salty. An umami bomb, as the Food Network psychos would say. Alaina invited me back to her place and we got undressed almost immediately. I’m no mattress hero; she told me exactly what to do with my tongue. 

“You already look better,” I said.

Alaina opened her eyes and looked at me. She smiled. “You screamed like a girl the whole time.”

Scarlet laughed. “You couldn’t pay me to get on that thing.”

“From the top you can see clear to Newark,” I said.

“Yeah, no thank you,” said Scarlet. 

“Maybe we should have just waited longer,” I said.

“What did you eat?”

“We split funnel cake and a milkshake,” I said.

Alaina puffed out her cheeks. Scarlet flinched.

“Are you—”

She retched but nothing came and there was a moment of tension, as though we’d just disarmed an explosive.

Alaina looked at me again. Then she began to cry.

“Oh no,” said Scarlet. “Hey, hey. It happens!”

But I knew she wasn’t crying because she spewed at the apex of the Drop Zone. She was crying because her fiancé was dead. Colon cancer. Boom. Just like that. A year ago, she told me, but sometimes, out of the blue, the pain blindsided her as though it was seconds old. She was crying because this was the kind of moment you needed a partner, someone who knew you inside and out, not just the blurry birthmark on your inner thigh. I had a feeling there would be no fourth date, that this would be a tale we’d tell friends over eggs benedict and Bloody Marys, laugh about with our future spouses on a lazy morning in bed. 

“I’m so fucking stupid,” Alaina said, and my heart broke. She sniffed and wiped her tears with the back of her wrist, so I made a show of hustling for the box of tissues that sat next to the industrial sink.

“Thanks,” she said, and blew her nose with a little honk.

“I’m going to grab you a Powerade,” Scarlet said. She patted Alaina on the knee then ducked out of the room.

We were alone. We were lonely. I tried to offer a smile and Alaina did the same.

“Who knows,” she said. “Maybe this is the spark we need.”

I couldn’t tell if she was joking. 

“I’m still having fun,” I said. 

“Makes one of us.”

“Your aim was impressive. Not a splash on anyone.”

“You should see me on the cornhole field. Field? Pitch?”

“Sounds like a threat,” I said, and Alaina laughed. 

Scarlet came back with an orange Powerade.

“How’d you know my flavor?” Alaina said. She took the bottle and tipped it back for a long glug. “You want a taste, cowboy?”

I took the bottle and drank. It was room temperature and way too sweet.

“Tastes like Little League.”

“You never told me you were an athlete,” Alaina said in her sultriest voice.

“How’s that tummy?” Scarlet said. 

I was dying to know what she thought of our relationship. If the awkwardness hung about us in a way we could never see, or if we were just another couple doing our best to hold on.

“Tummy no longer mad,” Alaina said. “And I bet the line for El Toro has died down by now.”

Scarlet and I shared a glance.

“Kidding,” Alaina said. “Jesus, guys. Half my intestines are baking in the sun out there. All I want right now is my bed and a J Lo flick.”

We were quiet on the drive back to the city. Alaina leaned her head against the seat as I drove. Tom Petty warbled low on the stereo. Occasionally, I glanced over to see if she had fallen asleep. Part of me wished she would so I could be alone with my thoughts. Not that they were worth much. It’s just when someone has experienced as much pain as Alaina has, it gets heavy resting in the knowledge that nothing you can ever do will make it better. 

“Our fair city,” Alaina said. “Majestic. Bold.”

The skyline materialized in the haze as I sped north on the turnpike. Summer was dying, but the heat didn’t get the message.

“Guess it’s your turn,” Alaina said. 

“My turn…”

“To spill your guts.”

She arched her brows in a dare, then read my confusion and laughed, deep and easy. 

“I’m kidding, dude. It’s your turn to pick our next activity. Have some confidence.”

“I’ll think on it,” I said. It took everything I had not to grin like an idiot.

She patted my hand on the gear shift. “Don’t hurt yourself. There’s already enough pain to go around.”

I drifted over to our exit. It was impossible to know if things would last. But if there was going to be pain, wasn’t it worth taking a chance on a balm?

“I’ll drop you off?” I said.

“If you want,” Alaina said. “But I wouldn’t say no to company.” She closed her eyes as we entered the tunnel. “At least for a little while.”

Brendan Gillen is a writer in Brooklyn, NY. His stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions and appear in the Florida Review, Wigleaf, Necessary Fiction, Maudlin House, Taco Bell Quarterly, New Delta Review, X-R-A-Y and elsewhere. His first novel, STATIC, is forthcoming from Vine Leaves Press (July ’24). You can find him online at bgillen.com and on Twitter/IG @beegillen.

Categories
Issue 2 Issue 2 Fiction

2 STORIES BY RILEY QUINN SCOTT

By Riley Quinn Scott

Simone has very little will to do anything but contemplate life’s progression

Simone has a lot to do, a lot on her mind, a lot of caffeine in her system, and very little will to do anything but contemplate life’s progression. She wonders if the stories she writes are worth reading, and if maintaining a friendship with her ex-lover Aldo is retarding her development. Aldo is the coolest man Simone ever met. Aldo has a sublime sense for aesthetics. Aldo wears unisex perfume and fucks so well it is an art. Simone fell in love with Aldo in the span of a month. She has not stopped weeping since. He says they share an artistic sensibility and therefore must stay friends. Simone texts Aldo about literature. Simone is 12 years his junior. Aldo believes she is too young to be his lover any longer but a good age to be his assistant. Simone acts older than she is but knows she has a long way to go. In life. In love. In ways of being. Simone can’t stop writing about Aldo. Two weeks ago Aldo moved to Paris. He texts Simone he is having an existential crisis. He wonders if he’ll ever achieve anything to demonstrate his specialness. He says he knows he is very special. Simone once felt she was destined for great things but Simone doesn’t know anything anymore. Simone feels sad when she sits still so she won’t let herself sit still. If Simone sits for too long she will inevitably wish for a man’s tongue to slip up her legs and flutter at her concentrated center. But it is Aldo she visualizes when she touches herself before bed, and Aldo told Simone today he has a new French girlfriend. Aldo cannot be alone. Aldo does not think about Simone romantically anymore. Simone works overtime at the coffee shop, bookstore, and art gallery. Simone skips meals and drinks excessive cups of matcha tea. Simone starves herself to avoid feeling. Simone is scared of regression. Aldo lives off of cigarettes, bread and black coffee. Aldo makes friends with therapists and Balenciaga goths. Aldo doesn’t think twice about having sex with strangers on cliffs. Aldo is looking for that missing thing. Aldo wants a baby. Aldo wants to make $200,000 in passive income. Simone doesn’t sing in the shower. Simone makes it through one more hour. Simone doesn’t know if she is a writer anymore because she only writes about interiority. Simone knows a story should move. Towards what? Simone picks up the phone when Aldo calls. Simone wants to end it there. Simone laughs like she likes being his friend. Simone cries at the end. Simone pushes 100 on the freeway asking Aldo about his day. Aldo says he is well, very well, maybe he has never been better. Simone says good. Simone switches lanes. Simone doesn’t tell Aldo about her day because he doesn’t ask. 

The Pleasures of Drawing

May I have that? 

The little boy stares at her from behind embarrassing glasses. His eyes puppy-dog her, an effective strategy in his experience. He and her don’t often speak the same language. He speaks her language when he wants something from her. Otherwise, the little boy sticks to his mother tongue. She considers his miniature hand, its pink completeness as it points at the sheet of paper in front of her. She is in the process of drawing a heart, or her idea of one. She is not thinking too much about what her hands are creating. The heart in her drawing has many jagged lines spreading out from its center. She realizes she has drawn a heart of broken glass. Some shards of the heart have been coloured in so they are full of red. Other shards have been left white and alone.

You want my drawing?

The little boy’s careful race car blinks upside-down at her from his side of the dining room table. 

Yes. I like it. I want it. Can I have it?

The boy speaks her language politely. She thinks his face looks cute asking her for things she doesn’t have to give. She, as his au-pair, feels indebted to him for giving her a place in his life. She slides her drawing over to him with curled fingers, hiding her bitten, raw fingertips. The little boy pulls the paper towards him. He is excited to leave his mark, and begins using a green crayon to fill in the shards she left alone. 

The au-pair takes another sheet of white printer paper from the stack she left on the table. Paper is the same weight, size, and shape in most countries. She enjoys how when they draw, they sit in silence. This is a time to feel happy and not like they are pretending. When they draw, they agree without words on the pleasures of drawing, of clean sheets of paper, of sharpened crayons and pencils. Drawing protects them from language.  

She places her phone in the middle of the table and presses play. Minimalist synth music quietly seeps from its speakers. The little boy doesn’t react to the music, too engrossed in coloring the shards of her heart green. Under his hands, her broken heart grows to resemble a Christmas ornament. It is the middle of May. When she first became his au-pair, she would ask the boy what music he liked to listen to, and he would pretend he couldn’t understand her question. She understood. She also wouldn’t like to have a stranger living in her home. In her time with him, she learned the things that matter to the boy most are yoghurt, where his mother and father are, and activities demanding intelligence. This little boy is different from her brothers back home. Those little boys spent their days running and filling the air with foul language. 

Taking in the bug-eyed boy in front of her, the au-pair decides he will emerge from childhood a stoic man. She imagines him seeking a quiet partner to live with in a place populated by trees instead of people. She pictures him taking the train into the city, where he loosely makes use of his creativity working at a profitable business. He could be an architect, she thinks, as the little boy looks up, not at her, but to stare at the ceiling for a moment, before reaching for a different color, blue this time, to shade in around the edges of her broken heart. 

Blue, she thinks. InterestingI wouldn’t have chosen that.

Riley Quinn Scott is a writer from Los Angeles. @stuff3d_rabb1t

Categories
Issue 2 Issue 2 Fiction

INTRODUCTION TO A BOOK OF ART

By Mather Schneider

I had been following Shawn on Facebook for a while when one day he blocked me. If I remember right, it was because I admitted to never having watched the television show “The Wire.” I might have also posted a George Strait video on Shawn’s page, while drunk. And I might have called him a punk-ass punk.

A couple days later he unblocked me and asked me if I would write an introduction to his art book. You see, he often posted his watercolor paintings on Facebook. He walked to St. Pete’s beach and he painted these watercolors. They were childlike. There wasn’t much evidence of skill and his self-portraits looked nothing like him, but I liked them. It seemed strange that he would paint so many self-portraits but that was Shawn for you, that’s artists for you. When he stopped talking about television dramas and conspiracy theories and how the world was out to get him and stopped being a punk-ass punk and just posted a painting, it was like another side of him, a better side. The paintings seemed alive. They probably didn’t look as good in real life as they did on the computer screen and I don’t know if you could call them “art,” but they always brightened my day.

I told him I’d think about it. With this on my mind, I went to work at 4 the next morning, climbed into that stinking taxi cab in the pitch blackness. It was a long day at work, 12 hours, not a monumentally shitty day but an average shitty one. At the end of the day, I still had no idea what to say about art in general or Shawn’s art in particular. After I waited in line to wash my cab, I waited in line so the yard monkey could inspect it to make sure I didn’t damage it. Then I went inside the dingy office to hand in my daily paperwork. It was Friday and there was a crowd in there, maybe 20 cabbies, another line. It was hot and the office was only about 15 feet by 15 feet, the size of a jail cell. The cabbies were lined up at the cashier window where the cashier sat in her cage. The line reached to the wall and then bent and followed the other wall to the corner. I didn’t feel like squeezing in behind that last person, a rare female cabby, so I just leaned against the far counter to wait. All the cabbies were bragging about how much money they made and I knew it was all bullcrap and I just wanted to get the hell out of there. I didn’t make much money and I was in a foul mood and maybe that was clear from my body language and the way I didn’t say anything to anybody. 

While we were waiting for the cashier to do her interminably slow ritual, another cabby came in the door. The female cabby at the end of line pointed at me and said: “He’s after me.”

The cabby looked at me with a red scowling face and said, “Are you in line?”

“Yes.”  

“You just like standing over THERE, or what?”  

The biting hatred in his voice startled me, though it shouldn’t have, it’s common enough.

I said, “Yeah, I like it here.” 

This was a lame thing to say, not even close to a witty retort but, like I said, I was taken off guard. My mind was elsewhere. My mind was occupied with art and all the insightful things that could be said about it.

He was pissed because I was standing 4 feet from the proper place where I should have been, like some kind of corrections officer. Our society is about rules, and the art world is just as indoctrinated and full of that philosophy as anyplace else. And yet, I often heard artists talking about freedom, as if they were the freest robins in the forest, as if they knew something the rest of us did not. Their art set them free, set their spirits free, they sang that constantly. But most of them didn’t seem very free to me. They certainly seemed untroubled and smug. Is that the same as free? There was nothing free about their university degrees where they learned to talk about their art, to explain to dumb people how great their art was, what was hidden in it and how meaningful and valuable it was. There was nothing free about their horse hair brushes, their canvases and beautiful frames, their “studios,” their “retreats.” Not that they made any money from their art. They didn’t make money, they spent money, and where that money came from was often a mystery. They guarded that secret like a golden chalice. They seemed like a gaggle of egomaniacs in love with the fantasy that they were rebel geniuses. At the same time, they dressed fashionably, thought fashionably, lived fashionably, drove fashionable vehicles. They were as well adjusted as your ordinary hairdresser. Many of them had skill, there was skill galore, no denying that. But there wasn’t much light. Or maybe I was blind to it. 

“The line’s HERE, buddy!” the cabby said to me.

Everyone in the room tensed. 

“Go ahead of me, then,” I said. “If that will make you happy.”

He didn’t say anything else. The room stayed quiet. The line moved up and I waited, leaning against the counter. When it was finally my turn, I stepped in front of him and did my business with the cashier and got my reward. I bumped his shoulder when I walked past him and waited for the swing of the fist that never came. It was all gross and surreal and it burned in my stomach for the next couple of hours.

Lines, lines, lines. A whole world of assholes standing in lines, even to the point of feeling righteous about it. And then there was Shawn, that motherfucker, he couldn’t even paint within the lines. He couldn’t even draw a palm tree. His chimneys were crooked, his people malformed, his dogs looked like rabbits. I smiled thinking about it and realized once again why I liked Shawn and why I liked his art. He didn’t use the expensive materials. He didn’t get a degree. I don’t think the moron even graduated from high school. He simply walked down to St. Pete’s beach with his Dollar Store watercolors and made these goofy paintings full of innocence and feeling. 

When I got home I went on Facebook but there were no new posts from Shawn. No watercolors, no rants, nothing, which was strange because he usually made several posts a day.

For the next few weeks there was more silence on his page. I hate to admit it but I felt an emptiness in my life. That’s how pathetic I was. I still hadn’t written the introduction to his book and I didn’t know how to tell him.

Then one day there was a post from someone else on his page. The post informed us that Shawn had been arrested and found guilty of statutory rape. He had been given a prison sentence of ten years. The person told us Shawn would appreciate any mail correspondence and put the address of the Florida prison, cellblock D-2. I wrote the address down and the next day his entire page was deleted.

I thought about writing him for a long time and then one day I did. It was a short letter, mainly platitudes and weather talk. I didn’t know what to say. In 3 weeks, his response came in the mail with the big red prison stamp on the envelope. He thanked me many times for writing him and told me my letter was the only one he’d received. He told me he was depressed and had lost weight and now looked like those stick figures he drew. He insisted that he was innocent and that he missed the beach and his watercolors and that he was only allowed a pencil and a few pieces of paper. The paper was lined and his handwriting was tiny. He compressed two lines of script between each line on the page. At the end he wrote, “Have you written the introduction to my art book yet?” 

I started to write the introduction about a hundred times but never got far and eventually gave up. All I could think about was how transitory everything is, how it all goes away, and the darkness in my soul. Stupid shit like that. I simply could not see the point. I kept driving the cab and paying the bills and fighting the demons. I bought some watercolors and tried my hand at it. He’d inspired me. My paintings were bad and seemed dead on the paper. I thought about sending one to Shawn but I didn’t. The paints dried up and I threw them away. Even though I felt guilty, even though I was guilty, and still am, I never wrote him again.

A few years later I saw a post on Facebook about him. It showed up on my feed like a lizard on the windowsill. The post was a brief statement informing us that Shawn was “deceased.” It gave no details and was posted under an assumed name with zero followers or friends. That’s the way life is. Art struggles against it, maybe. The post got 3 likes and several comments about how he deserved it and good riddance and may he burn in hell and stuff like that. Like these people had been waiting in line for years for this moment. Most of them were artists, free spirits feeding on divine radiance. Hard to feel sorry for a guy who raped a girl, I understand that. But I didn’t know what was true or what was false and doubted any of them knew either. Kind of like nobody really knows what art is or what it’s for. In any case, the post was soon deleted, and I didn’t have to think about it anymore. 

END

Mather Schneider’s poetry and prose have been published in many places since 1995. He has several books of poetry, one book of stories and his first novel, The Bacanora Notebooks, was recently released by Anxiety Press. He lives in Tucson and works as an exterminator.

The Bacanora Notebooks: Schneider, Mather: 9798858639787: Amazon.com: Books

The Bacanora Notebooks: Schneider, Mather: 9798858639787: Amazon.com: Books

Categories
Issue 2 Issue 2 Fiction

4 MICROS

By Cletus Crow

Playthings

I’m thinking about if we were action figures. Your action figure would include a smaller action figure of me. As a boy, I knew boys who strapped bottle rockets onto their sisters’ Barbies. Let’s hold each other, quickly, before something explodes us. I don’t know what tomorrow holds but itself.

Writing

Darwin says we were lizards. Three thousand dollars later my cat’s alive. She swallowed a needle. I almost compare the needle to self-harm or depression. Not that long ago we were fucking in mud, trying to find bugs to eat.

Thursday Night

I play Call of Duty online with my brother. It’s easier to talk when we’re not face to face. My cat kneads my stomach. There’s so much love on me I sink through the couch, through the earth’s crust and into its core. I live where, in science textbook cross sections, the planet has a bullet wound.

Butterfly Effect 

Last night I dreamed of another world where humans had square nipples. This changed our lives for the better in surprising and numerous ways. 

Cletus Crow is a writer. His poetry collection, Phallic Symbols, is forthcoming from Pig Roast Publishing.

Categories
Issue 2 Issue 2 Non-Fiction

@MEGAFAUNA.TAT2

By Crow Jonah Norlander

I made it into my thirties with too few rash decisions and regrets. I was tired of being measured and playing it safe. I wanted a tattoo. I’d had permission from my mom since age 14 so long as I wanted the same thing for a full year beforehand, and even when I had an idea that stuck, I balked. That, and I’m a fainter. 

Then came endless vaccinations and suddenly needles weren’t so scary. I still felt intimidated by the macho shops, so my friend Mary Alice had a tip. Go stick and poke. Sit in someone’s homey living room, admire their fiddleleaf fig, listen to records. She said Frances is the best: clean, profesh, friendly. A few IG DMs and a short sitting later, I had my first tattoo: a tiny molcajete on my forearm. Frances’ easy presence and calm conversation kept me conscious, and I was hooked.

For my ~seventh, Frances spent half a day poking my hero Mark Baumer peeking out from a flowering bush semi-permanently by hand and needle onto my shoulder, and what follows is a condensation of our conversation as we were each half-distracted by intense task focus and moderate physical discomfort.

Were you ever in a bike gang?
I grew up on Vinalhaven up in Midcoast, and me and my summer friends would totally ride around on our bikes. First thing in the morning, you wake up, you have breakfast and then you ride all around the island and look for where the pile of bikes is, because there was no cell phone connection out there until two years ago. I also didn’t learn how to ride a bike until I was maybe 12. 

Was it just not presented to you as an opportunity to learn?
I have a weird phobia of things with wheels. I don’t trust them. I don’t have a driver’s license, I had a really hard time with bikes, I have a really hard time with skateboards, I don’t know. I don’t trust them. They don’t stay still. They roll everywhere.

So you lived on the island? 

Yeah, yeah, so I went to kindergarten, first, second grade in Los Angeles, and then moved from there to Vinalhaven for third, fourth, and fifth grade. It’s an hour and a half ferry ride from the mainland, so not living on the island and going to school there is pretty impossible. I was out there for three years. Probably left the island like three times in that whole stretch.

How big was your class? 

Nine people.

Are any of them doing anything interesting now? 

It’s a mixed bag. Most of them are still on the island. I think one of them went away to college. One of them is starting some kind of cool homestead situation, where she’s rescuing and rehabilitating wild animals, so she has three raccoons just in her house. But yeah, they all graduated. I think for the most part they’re fishin’ and working at the school or the post office or whatever. There’s very much a culture of like, if you leave, you’ve sort of given up on the island, or you aren’t in the inner circle anymore. It’s not malicious, it’s not people being mean. When you grow up somewhere, it’s good for a lot of people to stay. 

Did you finish college?

I did not. I went one year, and then COVID happened. I’m twenty-one, so I would be in my senior year right now. I finished my first year, and that summer, I started tattooing and was like, “hey, this is the best.” If I decide I want to do something else, I’ll go back to school, but for now I’m pretty happy. So I did not finish school. Thank you for coming in a little bit later than we said, by the way.

Absolutely, no problem.

We have lots of bats living in our attic.

Bats?

Yeah. (laughter) Some dudes had to come and check out the attic and the door is right there, so I was like alright, we need to delay a little bit, unless you wanted people climbing over you to get to the attic.

What were they trying to do? Get them out, or just assess the situation?

Maine’s laws on bat infestations in houses are really strict because it’s a protected species, which, awesome, I’m all for that, so basically when you have a bat problem, what you do is seal all of the little microholes that bats could be coming through, and then the population slowly leaves or dies. It’s been three years of them checking up on the attic. But it’s worked, we’ve only had two bats in our apartment this summer, which is awesome. Last summer it was one or more per night.

Wow. You hear them flapping and bouncing around?

No, they get in the house. Flying through the house and everything. Sometimes they get into our downstairs neighbors’, and they have lots of pets so it’s a scary rabies risk for them. When it was just me and my dad living in this building, we didn’t really care. We didn’t really do anything about it. We were like, yeah, we don’t mind having some roommates.

So you’re really moving to California in a couple of weeks?

Allegedly. We don’t have our housing situation figured out at all, so it still feels super abstract, but that is the plan. I’ll probably have to get a real-person job.

Really?

Honestly, spending a little time back in the workforce might be good for me.

What kind of normal job are you going to get?

I don’t know. Anything that pays the bills. I really want to do landscaping, but I don’t drive. You usually need a car for those jobs.

Do you feel like you’ve made a deliberate decision to not drive?

No, I really want to, but I find it difficult to motivate myself to learn. Back to the bike conversation, it’s very similar. There are a lot of things about driving that I do want, like being able to get to nature, get out of the city, just bop around and do my own thing. But those wheels, man, I just don’t trust ’em.

Do you think your nervousness about wheels is your own ability to control them, or other people?

It’s a mixture of everything. Definitely the speed and everything. I dissociate a lot. People say, “I zoned out and I’d gone 40 miles.” I could see that freaking me out a lot. Finding it hard to stay present all the time. It’s a lot of responsibility. You’re responsible for yourself and whoever’s in your car, but also whoever’s around you in their cars. The amount of trust you have to place in other people. I’m a nervous passenger as well. Just something about going real fast is not my normal state.

How do you think about getting to be old?

There’s nothing I’m more excited for in life than being a tattooed grandma. I’m very very excited to be an elderly person. My idea of everything in between is very abstract. How do you say what happens in between being young and being old old? There’s varying degrees to small old to medium old to slightly older old to most old. I don’t know. I guess all that time just fills itself up. I think if there’s one thing in life I’m looking forward to most it’s being really old and hopefully still being able to do tattoos.

What about it appeals to you?

I feel like being young is so unstable, you’re just trying to figure everything out. I guess there is an idea of having things more figured out when you’re older. That’s definitely a nice idea. I don’t know how realistic it is. I have a feeling most people don’t have everything figured out. Just a certain peace with self that is harder to get to when you’re a young person. Less expectation. Less eyes on you.

What’s it like being in your 20s?

Everyone hypes up being in your 20s as the most fun ever. The reasons they give are not reasons that appeal to me or seem like good things to me necessarily. The freedom is definitely real. I feel that, and I value that, but it’s just that they value youth a lot. That is like, an ideal, and I think that that is silly. It just sets everyone up for long-term maybe not being super satisfied. I’m supposed to do all the fun things in my life in these ten years. I’ve been really inspired by my parents. My mom was on one career path her whole life, and then four years ago, decided to go back to school for nursing. My dad is taking a class in film production right now. So just the fact that they were like, okay, we’re not restricted to doing this thing that we said we were going to do, we can always try things out and change, that was really inspiring.

There are always opportunities to explore and try new things, and there is no fixed window for when you can and can’t do certain things.  

I think that has to do with responsibility. You’re still quite low on responsibilities when you’re younger, even if you’re working and supporting yourself before you’re responsible for supporting others. There’s definitely a bit of a window for very certain things.

What kinds of things do you feel are projected onto you as far as what you should want to do right now?

I don’t know, partying, being super social, going out on the town. I really like making dinner at home and hanging out quietly. The one exception would be going to see music. I love going to see music, but I don’t know. I don’t really like drinking. I’m not a super social person. I have a hard time with more than, like, four people. And then I think as a tattooer, people have this perception of you as being super cool and there’s a certain amount of social currency that comes with it. I definitely noticed a change in how people treated me when I started tattooing versus before, but I don’t know. I don’t identify as being cool. I think I’m lucky in that it’s pretty normal for people not to be doing a full, complete four years at college these days. I think I would have a lot more complicated feelings about not going back to school if that was different.

When the bats would fly through your house did you ever have to catch them, or chauffer them outside?

Yeah, you get really good at it when you do it every single night. They’re essentially blind, but they echolocate. So all you need to do is have a really big piece of paper on hand, or cardboard or whatever. Doesn’t matter if it’s thin, it just has to be big. You start at the wall and herd it out because it’ll think that the big piece of paper is a wall that it can’t fly into. So you corral it out the door. Or if you don’t feel like dealing with it, you just get it into a room and open all the windows in there. I would put on my full snowsuit so that I wouldn’t have to worry about walking around with the bat flying around. People have really different reactions when I tell them about the bats. Some people are like, “Whoa, cool.” Some people are like, “Disgusting.” Some people are like, “Why don’t you just kill them?” Which we wouldn’t do even if there were no laws restricting it.

What’s the first thing you wanted to be?

Either a geologist or a hypnotist. There was a long list that I wanted to be all at the same time. I wanted to be a professional archer. I wanted to be a survival instructor. I wanted to be a forensic anthropologist. I wanted to do autopsies and shit. A lot of natural sciences. I wanted to be a paleontologist because I loved dinosaurs. I was like, these are all careers that complement each other, yeah? Why are you going to limit yourself to wanting to be one thing?

Did the geologist thing come from just, like, smashing rocks?

Yeah. Bringing the hammer and the bucket to the beach. For some reason, rocks were always a big thing. Whenever my dad would go somewhere new for work, he would bring a rock back for me. I was a very downward-focused kid. I was always looking at the ground, on the ground, eating stuff off the ground, rolling on the ground. Very much just chilling with the bugs and the grass. And that led to finding a lot of cool rocks and being interested in finding rocks and knowing where they came from and how they got there and what they were made out of. I was a big collector as a kid. I always had a collection of natural artifacts, like bones and shells and rocks and preserved plants and bits of snakeskin and whatever else. And when I would have people over as a kid, the first thing I would do is I had to show them my entire collection, and I had to explain in detail exactly what everything was and where it came from and what it does.

Did you ever give things from your collection away as gifts?

Only for the most special occasions. It was really a big deal if I gave anything away. I was a bit of a hoarder, but not in volume. My dad had a talk with me the other day because I had this box of seal bones that were putrefying on top of the fridge for a while, and he was like, “Yeah, dude, you got to move these. I know they’re doing their thing, and it’s going to take a while, but I can’t have rotting bones on top of the fridge. Sorry.” I was like, you know what? That’s fair. So I just put them outside.

Can they still do their thing out there?

Yep. So basically when you putrefy bones, you’re soaking them to remove any soft tissue because the soft tissue will rot off in the water or get to a point where you can scrub it off really easily. Then the next phase is degreasing, which is you soak it for another week or two in just a water dish soap solution, and that removes all the grease and stinkiness and dark discoloration stuff. And then the third step is a soak in industrial-grade peroxide, which is hard to find. You can also use hair dye remover.

What are you going to do with them after all that?

I was going to give a few, because they’re really beautiful bones, I was going to give some to some of my tattooer friends here when I leave. Just like, “Bye, here’s some bones,” because they’re all weird like me, and they like bones.

Where did you find them?

On the beach. There was a dead seal that washed up and I grabbed some stuff. It was horrifying, disgusting, turning into liquid. It was awful. Something had carried its skull off, which I was really sad about. But I got almost a full set of ribs and a few interesting vertebrae. A part of a pelvis.

How’s the jewelry making going? 

Oh, it’s great. I’m really loving making chain mail. It’s a really good outlet. It’s just super repetitive and meticulous and you don’t have to think too hard. It’s been good. I still haven’t decided if I want to actually do anything with my jewelry. It doesn’t necessarily feel right to be selling it because it’s more of an exercise than anything else. I’ve not had as much time as I’d like to work on certain projects, but it sneaks in where it wants to. Something that I’ve learned is because the materials are expensive, you have to make sort of a troubleshooting version, like a prototype out of a cheap metal, and then make the real thing out of the real metal that you’re using. And that is hard for me because I don’t really plan. I just sort of wing it with a lot of my pieces. And when I do plan, I have a hard time keeping track of what I’ve done and remembering how I pulled something off. So if I make a prototype, I have a hard time replicating it. Unless it’s super simple.

Seems like it would be hard to retrace your steps.

Yeah, you can sort of look at your piece and figure it out. But a lot of people are very good about writing down all the stuff, keeping track of everything, writing down a recipe. Recipes are not really my thing.

What’s on your Vinalhaven tour?

Well, there’s really not much. Main Street is a single block of stores, and then it goes into the woods and it doesn’t come out until it loops all the way back around to Main Street again after circling the island. But as far as nature spots, I’ve got a couple of little secret beach spots. Vinalhaven has these great defunct granite quarries that are all filled with water, so they’re great for swimming. They’re really clean and awesome. There is, like, one place to eat on the island. There’s a few, but there’s one that’s worth it. It’s a little food truck that has really good crab rolls and burgers and simple stuff. But yeah, I mean, mostly it’s nature spots out there. I spend my days bopping between my aunt’s place, which is sort of like a second home, and my place. Having people over.

Do you know how to juggle?

No, I am not a very coordinated person. Like, fine motor skills are strong, but larger scale coordination is not strong. A horrible dancer. Could never figure out juggling. Not even, like, jump roping or hula hooping. Last picked in gym class kind of person. I came in last in a hundred-person cross country race in middle school once. It was horrible. It was mortifying.

Do you like paddling?

I do like paddling a lot. anything in the water is cool for me. I love kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding, what have you. Sailing, swimming. The land is too unforgiving, though. Too solid. I’m going to have you sit up so I can get a proper look at this guy.

I remember how to sit.

How do we be a person again?

Always forgetting.

I remember every morning. 

It’s fun to get excited about tattoos that fewer people will see. 

I would never wear tank tops before I got my arm tattoos. And now I’m like, hell yeah. Flirty and grandpa all the way. Tattooed grandma, here I come. Cool. Yeah. Take a look at that. Let me know what you see as far as inconsistencies go. I can do anything. 

It’s great. I love it. I don’t see anything in need of anything.

Awesome. Cool. Great. So how have you been liking that Saniderm stuff?

Good. Great.

Cool. Some people have a bit of a reaction to it. I just went camping with my dad up in Baxter and had just done this tattoo on my leg two days before and I was like, shit. Living in the woods. Super dirty. The Saniderm kind of saved my butt.

Yeah, I bet.

All right, awesome. So yeah, you know the drill. We’ll take photos and it’ll be good.

Crow Jonah Norlander lives in Maine with his family of humans and hounds.

Frances Eder is an artist specializing in handpoke tattoos and handmade jewelry, and can be found on Instagram @megafauna.tat2.

Categories
Issue 2 Issue 2 Non-Fiction

YOU FIND YOURSELF AT TWO LAKES IN JUNE

By Kirsti MacKenzie

Lilac rot and dirt roads 

Knew you were an afterthought because the text came late. Your apartment building is built like a bunker, made of concrete. Frozen in winter, baking in summer. Top floor. June heat rises shimmering on the road below and it’s not even noon. Every window open in the place, hoping for a breeze heavy with rotting lilacs. Lazy church bells across the street. You lay in bed til noon on weekends because you’re lazy, too. Sometimes hungover. Sometimes nursing rotten guts. 

L—’s name on the iPhone. 

My birthday. D—’s camp. Come party? 

Nothing else to do. 

Sure what’s the address 

Freedom is beating down a dirt road in summer time. Bikini strings tickling your skin. Towel and a bottle of rye in the back seat. Barefoot on the gas, sliding just a little where the road curves. Gravel pinging under your shitty old car. Blaring Because of the Times on your blown-out factory speakers because it’s summer and you’re bored and there are boys at the lake. Boys that stuck together since grade school. Boys that throw parties. Boys that keep girls in their orbit like gently rotating moons. Sweet, stupid boys whose heads turn when you roll down the drive toward camp. 

You hear them when you kill the engine. 

“Shit,” D— says. “Is that K—?” 

Keg stands and sour patch kids 

Somewhere in the middle of the keg stand you realize. Fingers wrapped on cold metal, two of the guys on either side. C— and G—. Their hands grip your thighs, your calves. When they lift you, your shirt falls down, revealing the soft skin of your stomach, your bikini top. B— jams the spray nozzle in your mouth and the boys holler, shouts bouncing off the garage walls while you suck back as much shitty Molson as you can, trying to focus, focus, holy shit are my tits gonna fall right out here, holy shit this beer is bad, holy shit why this song of all songs, holy shit stop looking at my stomach, holy shit this beer is bad, holy shit keep going, don’t pussy out, holy shit I’m drunk, holy shit that means I’m gonna end up in someone’s bed, holy shit you wouldn’t be here unless that was the plan, you absolute dumb ass— 

“Jesus,” B— says. “She’s still going.”

You push the nozzle from your mouth and gasp. Roaring, the guys let you down. G—’s hand lingers a second or two on your thigh. They hold you steady while the blood rushes down and the booze rushes up. 

“You okay?” C— asks. 

“Why the fuck,” you say, staggering, “am I chugging to SOFI Needs a Ladder.” 

Cedar sap and bad tattoos 

They rot you because you have a Finnish last name and you can’t handle top bench. Maybe eight in the sauna. Six guys, two girls. You and G—’s girlfriend. Sweating like hell but you can’t smell it, the sweat. Smells of spruce, instead. Maybe cedar. Something sweet and woodsy, sap bubbling from cracks in the wood. Window on the right, full of a sunset bleeding into the lake. D— tosses water on the stones. Breathe deep, exhale. 

“What’s that,” says D—. 

He traces your lower back with the ladle. You jump. 

“That,” he says. 

“Got it when I was eighteen,” you say. “I forget it’s there.” 

“I can tell,” he said. “It’s contrived.” 

D— doesn’t have any tattoos, far as you can tell. Has a dad body at twenty-six, though. His family is rich, they own the camp. Most of us grew up on lakes. The ones that couldn’t afford to own, rented, or visited friends and family. Yours visited family, then rented, then owned. Sauna and three bedrooms and a wraparound porch. Things you took for granted til you were old enough. Things you still take for granted. 

“Enough,” C— says from the top bench. “I’m headed in.” 

Everyone tumbles after him to the lake. Soft sand, shallow surf. You can run a ways before you have to dive in. Little weedy, in parts. The guys shout as the cold meets their hips. You and G—’s girlfriend stretch your hands, dip below the surface. Almost lose your bikini bottom. Stand and re-tie the strings at the curve of your hip. 

“She looks good,” you overhear someone say. L— maybe, or D—. 

When you peek at them you see G— staring at you. Hungry, kind of.

G—’s girlfriend surfaces next to you with a gasp. 

Your hands at your hip. His eyes on them, just a beat too long. 

Prednisone and warm Coke 

You look good because your guts were rotten. Autoimmune thing. Lost twenty pounds. Sick maybe fifteen times a day, not sleeping. Prednisone and warm Coke cured you. Last weekend you were at another camp, the lake you grew up on, the lake that felt like home. Nana wouldn’t let you rot alone in town. Five-foot-nothing and stubborn as hell. 

“I’ve got a bed made,” she said. “You’re coming.” 

East Loon is a half-hour west on the 11/17. Before you get there you’ll pass the Terry Fox lookout and the KOA campground and Crystal Beach Variety and the fish shop and the amethyst shop and the fish-and-amethyst shop and the power lines and the power lines and the power lines and the truck stop across from Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. If you’d been driving you’d have stopped for penny candy, but you weren’t driving. Great Uncle Jer drove you to camp in his old green Ford. 90km/hr on the nose. Transports and pickups screaming by when the opposite lane was clear enough to pass. 

“New highway’s gonna be divided,” he said. “Saves lives.” 

Cross the tracks and a mile down the road. Lupines blooming, birch trees with shimmering leaves. Lazy monarch butterflies baking in the dirt. He went slow so they had time to flee his tires. Over the bridge. First glimpse of the lake, blinding in the midday sun. Turned across from the ball park, across from the tennis courts. Rolled to stop at the stone path leading to the camp. First stone said DR. STITT, GYNECOLOGIST; old joke. Great Uncle Jer was a dentist. Nana greeted you on the deck. 

“Jesus Christ,” she said, pinching your shrunken waist. “Look at you.” 

“They gave me pills,” you said. 

“Good,” she said. 

They left for a poker tournament so you had the place to yourself. Nana left soup and warm Coke because, she said, warm Coca-Cola is the only thing that fixes tummies. You got sick and laid on the floor of the bathroom for a while. When you felt better you got up and wandered around the camp, taking pictures of everything like it was the last time. Fishbowl full of jelly beans. Ancient piano keys. Dusty knickknacks lining the sunroom window sills. Pegs on the cribbage board. Foot stool held up by two stuffed feet in white tennis shoes. Canoe paddles with smiley faces spray painted onto them. Old tennis rackets nailed to a fence.

Washed your pill down with warm Coke. 

Fell asleep on a deck chair, index finger jammed midway through Keith Richards’ Life. Woke up as though you’d never been sick. Fucking miracle, that.

By the time you made it to D—’s you’d been cured for a week. Stupid to do keg stands, with guts that rotten. But who isn’t stupid at twenty-five. 

Cold pizza and assholes 

Empty keg and the boys chase the girls from the garage down to the shore. Everyone barrels into the inky black, screaming. Beer fucking with your head. L— grabs your waist and dunks you under the water, tumbling over you. When you surface G— gives you a pointed look over his girlfriend’s shoulder. 

In and out the sauna. In and out the lake. 

Thumping baselines from the garage. 

You didn’t bring a change of clothes. Towel off, toss your cutoffs and shirt back on. Feast on chips and cold pizza and rye. Cards scatter across the dining room table. Wet bodies, shouting and dancing in the living room. Someone rapping badly to old Jay-Z. People falling down laughing. Everyone tossing cards. Raise. Raise. Raise. Fold. Different game. Who’s the president? You’re the asshole. I’m the asshole? Dif erent game. Go fish. Go fish. Fuckssake I said go fish. Hands on the neck of your forty, passing it around the table. Shot after shot. Wincing, gagging. 

“Who are you here for?” whispers G—’s girlfriend. 

“L—’s birthday,” you say. 

“No,” she said. “You know what I mean.” 

Gatorade and lemongrass shampoo 

Four a.m. People drifting off to bed. 

G— comes out of the bathroom, finds you in the kitchen. Waiting your turn. Arms behind your back, bracing yourself against the counter. You cut the neck of your shirt out on a hot day after you saw the band in Winnipeg. It hangs off your shoulder now, exposing your bikini strap. His eyes land on it. Holding his gaze, you untie the strings behind your neck. He inhales slowly, frowning.

Brush your hair out of the way. 

Re-tie the strings slowly. 

Fold your arms under your tits. 

“Done?” he asks. 

“That’s my line,” you say. 

L— rounds the corner, grabs your hand. Tugs you toward a bedroom, into a creaky old bed with a frayed quilt and musty sheets. Your bikini is still damp, soaked through your cutoff shorts and shirt. His hands wander a bit, then stop. 

“What’s wrong,” you say. 

“Dizzy,” he mutters. “Who brought the rye.” 

“Me.” 

“Fuck,” he says. 

He runs a hand back and forth over your belly, just above your bikini line. Nobody knows you had rotten guts just a week ago. 

“That feels nice,” you whisper. 

When you wake he still has his arm slung across your waist. You stare at the ceiling. Think about G— next to his girlfriend in another bedroom. Think about G—’s gaze licking your collarbone. Sunlight slices through dusty old curtains. Faded sailboats printed on the fabric. Room heavy with sweat and sour rye breath but no sex smell. He stirs. Takes a deep whiff of your hair. 

“Oh my god,” he says. “What is that.” 

“Lemongrass,” you say. “Maybe mint, too.” 

He moans. 

After a few minutes he asks could you do him a favour. You get up and pull a Gatorade from a pack in the fridge. Sit on the edge of the bed while he chugs. Footsteps outside the door. Hungover mumbling. Someone retching in the bathroom. Screen door slamming. Smell of weed beyond the sailboat curtains. He burps, then groans. 

“You should try warm Coke,” you say. “It’ll fix you right up.”

Kirsti MacKenzie (@KeersteeMack) is a writer and editor in chief of Major 7th Magazine. Her work has been published in HAD, Rejection Letters, trampset, Autofocus, Maudlin House, and elsewhere.

Categories
Issue 2 Issue 2 Non-Fiction

NÜ METAL GOSPEL

By Caleb Bethea

The world record book was full of nü metal bands. I wouldn’t know that term for another twenty to twenty-five years, but I knew the bleached spiked hair, the goatees, the lip and eyebrow piercings, the feeling that God was disappointed in me. I couldn’t tell you what their records were but I can tell you they played on 93.3 The Planet in our room as we read the world record book. There was a man with the world’s longest fingernails and another with something like seven hundred cigarettes in his mouth. There was a bald man wearing sunglasses with his arms crossed hanging from hooks in his flesh. Linkin Park and Deftones made the audio equivalent of smoke in the room. A radio voice promoted a club, “18 to party. 21 to really party.” Those were the years I vaguely learned about sex.

Putting the pieces together from what I heard from summer camp, my brother, some of the movies my parents let us watch when they forgot about a few scenes, I developed a sense of dramatic irony with the grown world. Knowing that sex existed when they didn’t know that I knew. It could’ve been fun, but it really just made me feel like I was cobwebbed with dried sweat. And that’s how I felt in the years after, not sleeping, thinking about God and how it would make more sense if he sent me to hell but thanking God he made his son bleed for me instead, piece of shit that I was. World record sinner. I was eleven or twelve by then and the radio was replaced with a short-lived MP3 player made by Dell, 512mb of mostly Linkin Park songs—the MTV mash-up tracks with Jay-Z too—and I’d listen to the screaming in my ear about becoming nümb and think about how Jesus had to be executed for me.

Hell, I even took that Jay-Z line, “Look what you made me do/ look what I made for you…” and imagined God saying that I made him kill Jesus even though he made a whole world for me. And just like I would eventually piece together that these lyrics referred to Jay-Z’s dominance in the record industry and were not to be used as a parallel to the voice of God, I would learn that I wasn’t such a piece of shit after all. The ones who taught me that should have been reading the world record book instead. I recommend the largest tidal wave ever surfed or the smallest frog on the planet.

The nü metal plays out of my phone now. I mostly don’t like it. I listen to it all the time. It puts me back in a room with a kid who’s learning to loathe himself. And I’ve got some headphones we could share. 

Caleb Bethea is a writer from the Southeast. They earned an MFA at UofSC and now spend the best of their time with their wife and three goblins by the ocean. You can read their work in HAD, Tenebrous, Ice Breakers, Maudlin House, hex, Twin Pies, autofocus, and elsewhere. They tweet at @caleb_bethea_

Categories
Issue 2 Issue 2 Non-Fiction

RESPONSES TO BOOKMARKED TWEETS FROM MASTERPIECES OF JAPAN

By Jon Doughboy

Responses to Bookmarked Tweets from Masterpieces of Japan

Jon Doughboy

Sailing Boats Forenoon, by Yoshida Hiroshi, 1926

My friend told me junk rigs were easy to repair and therefore the superior sailboat set-up. He told me a lot of things. Had me read up on all sorts of boats, on maritime law and aerodynamics, devouring memoirs from solo-sailors adventuring across the world. Off Craigslist we bought a twenty-two-foot Tanzer, a sloop rig, its sail blown out. We happened upon another old sail crammed into a dumpster by the marina and cut strips from it to reinforce our own. I remember my friend’s bald head turning red in the sun as we sat there sewing in the cockpit, eating cold empanadas, taking sips of rum, and talking about our first trip to the San Juan Islands. We sold the boat a year later and we’re no longer friends. Owning a boat is hard. So is keeping a friend.

Hinuma, Hiroura, Mito, by Kawase Hasui, 1946

I ran through a marsh like this in Sterling Forest, stomping on skunk cabbage, boots soggy with Superfund slush. My myopic sister mistook a black bear cub for a Labrador and bolted past me. We had Labs as kids. Street scroungers. I watched them tear a racoon in half once, its guts raining brown-red across the backward on a gray Jersey summer day. Hasui’s marsh is green, cool and clean in the bright moonlight.  

Fowls, by Ito Jakuchu, 1794

Black ink like the Berkshire woods the night I decapitated my first duck for dinner. A clean cut with a hatchet deep in the log we set up as an improvised butchering table. The duck’s bill kept opening and closing even after I’d beheaded it. The old farmhand took pity on me and hurled the head into the woods then helped me pluck the body. But I thought about that head in the woods all night. How long it kept going. Opening and closing in the dark.

Morning at Aonuma Pond in Urabandai, by Kawase Hasui, 1949

The rule of thirds: the mountain reflected in the pond, a traditional Japanese house in the trees, mountains and sky behind it. Rainbow Lake in the Adirondacks. French-Algerian ex-soldiers turned chefs making a venison stew in the 50s for my father, my father as a kid, so just a kid because he wasn’t yet my father. He said he went to a Halloween party once near there and the host had somehow mounted giant jack-o’-lanterns in the trees to guide the guests. The guest list for his memorial was short. Immediate family, estranged, dumping ashes in the lake.

Shore of Lake Chuzenji, by Takahashi  Shotei, late 19th– early 20th century

Light shining through rice paper windows. A boat resting on the shore. A full moon reflecting enough light for the people to walk by like when I was camping and I turned off my headlamp and the night came into dim focus and from the shore I saw my friend’s wife bathing nude in Waptus Lake. She was beautiful, is beautiful. But stiff, too. Arrogant. Occasionally, even mean. My friend asked me to help him build her a flamenco platform in their basement so she could dance at home but we couldn’t get it level so she shot us a dirty look and left. We sat on the new plywood floor, unlevel but sturdy, and watched the making of Top Gun on YouTube, huddled around an ancient laptop and drinking cheap beers. Her legs looked like they were made of pearl in the water that night. Via LinkedIn I found out they got divorced. I never did get to see her dance.

Sunset by Kasamatsu Shiro, 1919

The roofs are half in shadow, half in sun, like the roofs of Nice from the tiny balcony where I sat with a girlfriend after we spent the whole morning fucking on an old squeaky twin bed and eating fruit and cheese and looking through a fat used copy of the Lonely Planet. It was hard to feel lonely then, at that age, with her, in the sun. Hard to imagine what loneliness could be.

Hori River, Obama, by Kawase Hasui, early autumn 1920

The river is low where it meets the sea and two black birds soar low above it. My uncle hated Obama. He’s in Florida, I think. Outside of Jacksonville. No one’s heard from him. He went blind in one eye from some sort of blockage. Coupled with his drinking, he’s caused a car accident or two. When my parents kicked me out, he bought me my first tv in my first apartment and helped me set it up. It had a built-in VHS player. We watched Red Dawn and ate Wendy’s Spicy Chicken Sandwiches and cried when Charlie Sheen died. I miss him. My uncle, that is. I have no strong feelings about Charlie Sheen or Obama.

Night Scene of Mabashi, near Tokyo, by Takahashi Shotei, ca. 1936

A child with a low-hanging lantern leads a woman along the shore in a blue night. Your parents lead you then you lead them but I don’t have any kids so I hope the underpaid nurse’s aide is gentle when she leads me to the piss and bleach-scented senility waiting out there for me. I visited Tokyo once. It was big, busy but lonely. 

Great Lantern at Asakusa Temple, by Tsuchiya Koitsu, 1934

A woman and a child beneath a great lantern. My older sister and I beneath the giant whale at the Museum of Natural History. She was and is a good big sister. A social worker in a mountain town. Last year I visited her and we did hikes and took pictures at different summits and went out for ice cream afterwards. An obese woman in an idling Suburban yelled after her kids to get her the biggest one they had and my sister said, “disgusting.” And I said, “I think you’re a bit fatphobic.” She said, firmly, “yes, I am. I don’t like fat people.” When we went inside, I ordered a small not because I’m fat or I don’t like ice cream. But I could tell my sister was suffering from something and though I don’t believe in happiness, I’m in no rush to make anyone’s life less bearable, especially someone I love. 

Seta Bridge, by Yoshida Hiroshi, 1933

As a kid I was scared of bridges, the Tappan Zee in particular. The height, maybe, or the movement. I walked across the Bear Mountain Bridge after not having eaten for two days because I miscalculated my food supplies while hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail. The last thing I had was a can of smoked oysters. I didn’t like canned fish then and could still taste the briny stink of them when I called my father from a payphone and asked him to pick me up. In a park on the Hudson, we ate Italian heroes he’d brought along. It’s been a long time since I was scared of bridges but I’m not sure who I’d call now if I wound up starving and exhausted stranded on one. Maybe it was the reflections beneath them that frightened me in the first place? The trembling inversion of the world. I don’t hike much anymore. And the Tappan Zee is called the Cuomo Bridge now, for what it’s worth.

Hayama of Iyo, by Kawase Hasui, 1934

The sun sets on two men in the cockpit of a docked sailboat. An island in the distance rises like a camel’s hump out of a pink-gray sea. When I took the ferry from Spain to Morocco, I watched Muslim men pray five times facing Mecca, bowing, pressing their heads to the deck. I’m fascinated by this faith—by any faith—and the big black stone there, the black blood beneath it which makes the region so important to the world. The pirates in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. I want to pray to someone for something but don’t have the words, don’t know which way to face. A series of narrow boards connect the sailboat, and the men on it, to the obscured shore.

Jon Doughboy is a cosmetologist at the Wing Biddlebaum Salon in Winesburg, Ohio. Stop in for a grotesque manicure @doughboywrites

Categories
Issue 2 Issue 2 Poetry

FOR MY UNCLE

By Berin Aptoula

Berin Aptoula is a writer, cartoonist, and devout practitioner of the word “Sehnsucht.” They hold an MFA in Creative Writing from Adelphi University, where they also teach. Some of their other reveries appear in dreamscapes like Passengers Journal, Barzakh Magazine, Red Ogre Review, and elsewhere. If you’re ever looking for them, check your local discotheque for an androgyne grooving under the alias BALKAN VILLAIN.