Issue 0 Issue 0 Non-Fiction

Men Who Wear Hats

By Josh Boardman

Now I will prove the nonexistence of God. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not an atheist. I believe in His nonexistence. The language is better you see. I believe in gravity the same way. Relational nonexistence.

This is a good road to go fast down. The boy who lived down the street had stolen his dad’s pickup and I thought this was a brilliant thing to push. The engine growled down the straightaway and before spitting onto the main road my grandparents’ subdivision abruptly doglegged around a blue spruce. The tree drifted leftwise behind the windshield. The passenger window crumpled against the ground. Pineneedles partied into the cab.

The spruce caught our fall. Climbing out the driver’s side window I didn’t remember going over. The last five minutes of my life blurred like a long exposure. Sticky dripped down the tips of my fingers. A hollowness opened inside of me as if I had undergone some violent transformation, a paradigm shift, the way zealots describe epiphany. The other boy will be crying. Holy.

Last week I talked to my mother on the phone. We do this as she gets older—always me placing the call on my way between this errand and that. Last week I was talking to her about I don’t know what (a book? a cactus? wildlife she sees outside?) when she said it’s been too hard—she wouldn’t want to live her life a second time.

A little failure before moving on to other topics. A failure of eternal return.

Maybe we were talking about the book I’m writing. A novel about my brother’s death and our grief after his passing. I’ve worked a year and a half always fearing that it may be too revealing of her as a person—she was my first reader. Unrelated conversation—she told me she wouldn’t have made it through that trying time if not for God. This has become a refrain.

I wonder if she would still cling to God if she hadn’t lost so much. Meanwhile I wonder if my dismissal of her belief is a surer way of forgetting my own hardship.

I turned 33 this year. The age Jesus was crucified. All dwellers in heaven remain 33 years old. Dante wrote 33 cantos to Paradise. Both of the previous entries in the Divine Comedy comprise 34 because they are unheavenly—I have such a small window.

I haven’t gotten very far into the Bible yet but my mother is overjoyed. She shipped a fauxleather New Catholic Edition, the language updated for modern comprehension. When Rachel steals Laban’s household gods and hides them in her saddlebags she declines to climb down because she “is having [her] periods.”

King James—“the custom of women is upon me.”

I am asked to choose between vernacular and poetry. Even Dante brought dowdy Italian to a work of heaven and hell. Like a visit from Aunt Flo. I’m not sure if the Hebrew is euphemistic or not—I assume it is.

I am incapable of choosing between two opposites. Periods or the custom. Hard life or easy. Belief or disbelief. I feel helpless in their binary glare.

My father changed religions as often as his father changed hats. We’ll get to my father in a minute. But first—


People don’t wear hats anymore. Men will wear them once they start to bald but I’m not talking about that. Pick up a book written in the 50s and try to picture the hats so frequently invoked. Imagine the skittering things, pregnant with present nonexistence.

My grandfather (one of those who used to wear hats) died mere months after my grandma. A sixpack nightly in the interim. Maybe he went to church. I doubt it. He died and we cleared out his estate ourselves.

I was between highschool and college. I had just been released from the hospital. I consumed a cocktail of drugs every morning that set my stomach in motion. Atavan. Zoloft. Willing or unwilling. Nexium. Lithium. Another psychoactive I can’t remember. Healthy or unhealthy. A real disembodied fusion on opposites.

I worked my way through my grandfather’s bookshelves to the bedroom closet with my mother. The spare room where I spent every summer growing up. She was mouthing prayers as we reached the door. I stopped with my hand on the knob, noticing.

What are you saying?

 I didn’t know what we had to be afraid of. I didn’t know my grandfather and my father and I all share the same indecision about the most important aspects of our lives.

We opened up the closet door—O God my mother moaned—

A wall of hatboxes toppled across the floor.

Panamas boaters stetsons fedoras ushankas ballcaps newsboys westerns buckets porkpies homburgs stormy kromers sunhats beanies bowlers/derbies ascots watchcaps berets tam-o-shanters visors deerstalkers tophats watersports floppies balaclavas trappers raccoontails bretons stingybrims campaigns gamblers mariners stovepipes 5-panels 8-pieces mortarboards a party hat fascinators cloches cocktail scarves pillboxes—

My father is a man of religious excess. Before I was born it was evangelical (my older brother calls it not pleasant). Most lately Catholic—though he has been characteristically unimpressed with the infallibility of the Pope. He recently pivoted to a radical sect known as the Society of Saint Pius X. When I was young I walked in on him (shame in my guts blush high on my cheeks) meditating.

As many hats as my grandfather hoarded my father gathered religions. The same ambivalence of faith swapped one denomination for another. A man who owns many hats believes in the efficacy of none. I never would’ve made it through that trying time if not for x.

Why do we Americans have such incapacity for suffering? I catch cold and I’m incapacitated for days. Fog rolls down on my mind. Once I stood for something but I no longer do—I chase anything for relief. I buy a watch imported from Switzerland. A pair of Italian leather shoes. A hunting jacket that’s dear. If I were of my grandfather’s generation I would visit the haberdashery to procure a hatbox of my own. A sniffle can be dangerous if you have a little money in your pocket.

When I was young and stupid I called myself an atheist. Even then I was more decisive than I am today. God, Abraham’s original beard, who crackles in the embers of a neverconsumed shrub. If I couldn’t hear His voice then He didn’t exist for me. If I wasn’t one of His Chosen People any belief at all was impossible.

Come closer now prodigal atheists—hear my whisper. I don’t want to convince you of the floating presence of a cartoon beard. An image of the Higher has no use when so concrete. I want you to discern your belief as clearly as a Christian’s. A little closer sweet mouse . . . let’s keep this between us. I don’t want to disgrace God and my country. You know I love them so.

God has grown weak. We are so removed from the tribesmen of Abraham that He no longer approaches us in the robes of three men to warn us of our safety. “God is dead. We have killed him”— and his absence we plated in 24 karats. The cross of history bends towards belief. You can’t disbelieve something that exists nakedly before your very eyes—and the value of currency is as invisible as gravity or God.

Nonexistence hangs heavy. Without privation there is nothing. My mother knows the weight of what’s gone—we learned the hard way. Hard life makes believers of us all.

My father thought my grandparents’ house would never sell for its unseemliness, so he tore up every tree in the yard. The white pine in the center of the front—yanked. The skinny spruce at the foot of the driveway—timber. The rosebush in the elbow between the front door and my window—everything must go.

Blue spruce on the corner of the lot. Maybe it was town ordinance but treecutters had shimmied the middle branches off so passing cars could see through. The remaining branches formed a skirt that is still dented from where it caught me as a child. In her pinecone paunch a marble rabbit crouched beside a tortoise. A fox leered down the seat that separated them.

No metaphor. No religious conversation. When my father finished clearing the estate a large stump was left and that was all.

Like the children’s book the treestump invites me to rest. I am not an old man but I need its generosity. God’s voice does not whisper through the leaves nor croak from vernal pools. It does not echo in the hollow between my eardrums. We are too distant for that.

I sit and look at my hands. They appear before me as two strange worms affixed to my body. They wriggle without permission. They clench in defense from me. I look past the foreign body I see the ravine I see the martyr trees I see the leaves of the branches of the trees. Nothing moves. Breath picks up but the world stands still.

In a single moment I float again in the blurred memory before the tree caught my fall. A woman rushes to the road and hovers around the wreck as we climb free. I do not recognize her at first—she resembles my mother only she is so much younger. There is no birdsong nor wind nor hum from the highway. Normal neighborhood sounds fold up into the skirt of the tree that’s gone.

The woman’s tears are hysterical—that’s the first thing I hear. They mingle with the machinery of the world and then life crashes back in. Blood flows down my hands a ringing splits my ears that lets me know I have returned. My mother looks like herself again—her fists beat my chest and exhort me Don’t. You. Ever. Ever. Do. That. Ever. Again.

I have felt the suck of the void. I have leavened in its peace. The lightest wind brushes me aside. The basest inconvenience. My suffering is too great! God no longer warns us of our fathers—the hats they wore, the trees they tore up.

Everything shimmers. Nothing doesn’t hurt. There is God and He is not for us.


Josh Boardman is from Michigan. He is the author of the chapbook Plantain (West Vine Press, 2018) and conducted the Latin translation project We, Romans (2015). His stories have appeared in journals such as New York Tyrant, Catapult, and Dandruff Magazine. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he is working on his first novel and a collection of stories about his hometown.

Issue 0 Issue 0 Non-Fiction

Just Once Before I Die

By Jillian Luft

Imagine me, swinging in a slip dress in the ephemeral cool of fall, Payless combat boots grazing the playground dirt. Trying to make it make sense, trying to slow it all down. But no matter how much my legs might flail, I yearn to reach new heights. No matter what my eyes might beg, I don’t wanna come to rest. Big Red stings the shine of my cupid’s bow, soft matte brown and lined and never been kissed. But not for long. Sunflowers perfume saturates my scrunchie, making you go harder and harder with one long whiff. Who you are doesn’t quite matter although I like to think it’s you, the one who dated my blonde friend, the 8th grade homecoming queen, the sweet one saving the whales with her smile alone. I like to think it’s you, the one who sang Faith No More songs no one knew and had the facial structure of a late seventies poet. I hope it’s you when the sun spirals away in those still moments before our parents’ punch the clock and we go faster and faster until we both can’t stop.

Imagine me, a girl on the outside. No walls for her to slump against in her imperfect loneliness, no pillows to muffle her screams, to writhe against with want. She no longer needs that kind of comfort. She’s out at the bus stop now looking at the passing cars as detours into PG-13 danger while the bus stop boys salivate and try to stuff their memories of her in their pockets to inspect closely later. She notices but can’t care about what they’ll do with her and those daydream distortions of her naked skin and whatever else they perceive on her as budding and blazing. She’s got bigger things to do in this big, bad world, like whatever she wants. And the next car that slows will ride her off to her next core memory, her next big mistake, her next lesson learned, her next favorite thing further and further away from those defining wounds that reside somewhere deep, deep, deep.

Don’t remember me pre-packaged in the same tight jeans and baby tees as the rest, rendered unworthy of French kissing by SLAM Book criteria, subject to the whims of boys with sweat stains on the inside of their baseball brims and pot leaf pendants jostling against their baby bird chests. Boys who, when they felt generous, rated me a 7.5 with a “pretty cute” or “decent” next to the score. After all, they weren’t total monsters. I was cool; I wasn’t a total dog. My stacked friends with the good hair and real curves were easy 9.5s and 10s with vivid descriptions of their attributes. A robust lexicon devoted to puberty’s great gamble. When those boys were honest–or I’d failed to impress them with my extensive knowledge of pop culture—I earned a solid 6. My stacked friends tried to reassure me, tried their best not to gloat but failed. Their eyes twinkled with ego while they squinted into the shine of my braces. Oh, don’t worry, Jilly, 6 is average, above actually because 5.5 is the median of 10. (The SLAM Book was always shared during Algebra for some reason). Yet, I recognized the rock-hard truth and let it pummel me for the rest of my life. The disturbing open secret that average was worse than ugly. Natural beauty, so close and still so far out of reach. A possibility, no matter how slim, that you couldn’t attain because of physical flaw(s) you, and you alone, failed at obscuring. To be average was to know that your efforts at self-improvement sucked.

I blamed my dead mom and her sisters who abandoned me once she was nothing more than ashes buried beside a pretty beach. If they weren’t gonna stick around, the least they could have done was teach me a cosmetic trick or two. An eye makeup hack for the helpless, the pathetically orphaned by feminine wisdom. Helped me delude others so I could delude myself. 

Don’t remember me, thirteen and motherless, showered and anointed with Victoria’s Secret Freesia lotion, pleading each night with whatever presided on high, most likely some supernal version of a man, for a bigger ass while MTV Jams flashed across my dark bedroom walls like horny hymns to a perverse God who could grant me the one wish that mattered: being a bonafide rump shaker. By spring, I’d manifested my desired derriere and did not care what dark pact I may have made.

I had an ass.

A plumper, thicker and much more prominent ass than that of most girls. It was the stuff of booty bass sonnets. It was noticed. And by default, so was I. Prayers answered, I paid my penance, yanking off willing boys in the woods, anticipating transcendence, hoping to be reborn as something more than a good laugh. But it was better to be a punchline than to never make them laugh at all. At least, I earned a natural reaction. A reaction of any kind.

Imagine me under the bleachers, drinking brown bag hooch, husky voice booming, I don’t care what you do to me. Whatever you do to me has been done and I’ve probably done it better myself.

Imagine me, my smallest skirt snagging on the windowsill, sneaking into a house I’ve never seen when the sun shines and will never remember again. Imagine older men in there, but not too much older, old enough to be dead to their ambitions but still alive enough to what a youthful touch can provide, willing to entertain the husk of me between games of Mario Kart, weak bong rips and pulls of Rumple Minze. Imagine them not crossing lines without my limp go-ahead. Imagine that being enough. 

Imagine me telling my hometown punk rock heartthrob the truth that one night he drove me and my friend to Denny’s and asked me who I wanted to fuck so badly in our school it hurt. Like so badly it was painful. Imagine me cackling from the backseat, it’s you, you asshole, and you know it and that’s why you’re asking. And instead of taking me and my friend back to his house where his old-looking dad sat alone in a tiled room with the good china and a muted blue TV and we strutted on past and waited in his bedroom that was so sparse it looked staged for an open house as he showered for a good half hour, my friend and I giggling at our good fortune for not having a ride home from the mall until he finally emerged, muttonchops dripping, towel loose around his scrawn bod perched on the edge of his bed like such a fragile, harmless thing, big hands playing treacly acoustic renditions of Sunny Day Real Estate that he thought would get us wet as he was, he had dropped my friend off, skipped the shower and the emo theatrics and fucked me plain and silly until he took the pain away for both of us. Imagine that. 

Imagine me telling all the dreamy alt-boys working in the food court at Gyros-n-More what I was willing to do to them, how I wanted to climb over the counter and devour them whole in their Dickies and Sublime tees right underneath the rotisserie spit. I wanted to suck them dry…and more.

Imagine me, in my 20s, an expensive haircut and the hair everywhere else tamed and shamed and groomed and pruned to perfection, just how all the boys and girls all liked it. How I liked it. 

Don’t remember me as I am now, age 40-who cares, welling up in front of the mirror, rubbing my fine lines in the good light, because I’ll never know what it is to be hot. As I age, it’s more difficult to let go of the notion that I should be. I’ve been robbed. 

Don’t remember me as social media reflects: pleasant, inoffensive, sweet. Like a clean smell you barely notice except when it’s replaced by something stronger. And for god’s sake, don’t pity me now and look closer. Just know there are consistent flaws in the makeup: eyes too small and deep-set, nose too prominent, lips too thin. Even now, I’m afraid to point out each of these failings because then you’ll notice them too. You, my unlucky new beholder. 

I’m probably the last person you should trust anyway. My beauty, or lack of it, ultimately belongs to you no matter how much I wish to master it, to bring it into submission. I don’t want to be in control of most things. Judge away and draw your faulty conclusions. I’ve spent too much time (my whole life) trying to glean meaning from my face, my limbs, my hip-to-waist ratio, the size of my tits, the shape of my tits, the size of my ass, the shape of my ass, the shape of my legs, my leg-to-torso ratio, the size of my stomach, the extra fat on my cheeks, the extra fat on my stomach, the fat, fat, fat. I’m bored. I’m boring myself. I hope I’m boring you. Please imagine me boring you.

Imagine me like the better and braver women I notice in movie theater bathrooms, airport bathrooms, any shared and public space, standing in front of the mirror, unapologetically interrupting the illusion of having a natural anything as they spray their tresses, contour their bones, apply, and reapply paints and creams and mists to any outstanding surface. They believe in artifice. They believe in their art while I avoid my reflection. My unwavering gaze is on my soapy hands rubbed clean. I rarely meet my eyes. It’s too painful, too futile. Each time, it feels like a gross admission of defeat.

Imagine me drunk, forgetting the details of my face, or convincing myself I have another one altogether. Imagine every boozy pore of me exuding the charismatic equivalent of a cocktail straw chewed through with carnal ferocity, or a peek of upper thigh when the skirt rides up a bit too much or a waft of shampoo that intoxicates like a hard drug or a head-all-the-way-back laugh when dancing to the best songs on the bar jukebox. Imagine what I could accomplish before the moonlight fades. 

Imagine me forgetting the details of my face when sober, when music alone molds me into what I truly am underneath it all, and I move as if I were the culmination of every man, woman, and organic matter’s wet dream. Who could I be then? The parts I recognize when I forget to look at myself through your eyes only. When I feel the eyes of the universe on me instead.

Imagine all the times men have stopped and ogled and started something I wished I’d let them finish. Actually, you don’t need to imagine this. Just like I didn’t need to imagine my women friends aghast, dumbfounded that these dudes saw something in my likeness that made them pause, that made them hunt and pursue and hunger after me as I appeared, commenting about my good body, my elegance or my entrancing eyes as my friends scoffed within earshot. Regal and mysterious? What were they seeing? I was the girl-next-door. 

Don’t  remember me standing there, my dumb mouth good and shut, while my bedridden mother laid into me for the SLAM book my brother found in my room and brought to her like the chump that he was. In between pages where I rightly kissed my girlfriends’ asses with 10s and “total sweetheart,” “love like a sister” and scored each boy no less than an 8 along with comments like “fine as hell,” “cool freak,” “total sweetheart,” I wrote that my brother’s beauty queen girlfriend was a “SNOT,” “stuck-up,” and “not all that.” I scored her a 3.5. 

Is all this because you know you’re not beautiful like her?

My mom was exasperated, tired. She was near death and did not have time to say things gently. She didn’t know I would remain frozen in this moment of devastating inadequacy for the rest of my life. She only knew her own beauty was fading and she didn’t have patience for those that didn’t accept their fate, their place within the hierarchy. A hierarch her disease had evicted from cruelly and forcibly. But she didn’t know that I’d hold the memory of her beauty dearer than anything I loved about myself. 

Imagine me hot. Truly hot. Cramming my crushes’ mouths with all those verbs that hurt so good. Bangin’, smokin’, slammin’, stunning. Let them burn, let them hurt for once.

Imagine me oversharing about my exploits, doling out tales of my romanticized darkness to an enraptured audience. Imagine me actually relating to all those hot girl memes on the internet, posting calculated mirror selfies zoomed in on my teeny-tiny midriff and disaffected cartoon pout. Imagine me captioning them with moody quotes from suicided poetesses and godfathers of goth rock. Imagine me pretending I’m plagued by insecurity instead of enamored with the way my ribs ripple beneath my too adorbz bralette. Imagine the privilege to look sexy while self-destructing and have thousands upon thousands of followers bear witness to your gracefully planned fall from grace. Imagine enhancing your irreproachable hotness with self-deprecation. Just imagine the audacity in that. The freedom. Fuck, really imagine that.

Don’t remember me with a succession of doting and devoted paramours since age sixteen. Worshipping romantics, each in their own way, desperately trying to persuade me to see myself as they saw me. And sometimes I did. Sometimes I was a beautiful blur. Yet, I dismissed their efforts as lovesick delusion. It’s what love does, I’d say. You inevitably confuse my insides for what’s out here for real. You’ve gone too deep. I’m sorry this happened. My interior filmed your eyes over, glued them shut to any sort of objectivity. All you can see is my wit, my humor, my goodness. My goddamn goodness. It creates this mirage every time. I’m glad you see what isn’t here. If you did, you wouldn’t stick around as long as you do. Thank god for my goodness and my great, big bangin’, smokin’, slammin’, stunning heart. Thank god I have something else to offer you.

Imagine me as the irresistible taste of battery, the spark on everyone’s tongue.

Imagine me never saying please or thank you unless I mean it.

Imagine me taking up space and not thinking about saving room for you. Or thinking about it but not until I’ve thought about all the ways I want to occupy every crevice, every gap that begs for me instead. Imagine me gorging on my fleeting desires and tossing you my scraps. You’ll have to make yourself so small to fit beside me. You’ll have to pretend to know how humility feels. It’ll be a lesson I can teach you. All of you. 

Imagine me pushing myself onto a boy, or a man, knowing he’ll accept the modest roundness of me because it’s enough and fits in the palms of his hand. Imagine me, the opposite of sweetness. No roundness of being. All sharp edges, jutting forth, especially where it counts.

Imagine me not thinking about the shape of me at all. Imagine me ineffable and immaterial like a God. Imagine me on my knees, worshipping myself, sight unseen but felt in the touch of every fingertip that roamed my flesh with the pure intent to fuck. 

Imagine me, as I am now, a pill under my tongue, ready to swallow the night whole, a cat-eye so sharp and on-point that when I blink, my eyes flicker like comely daggers under the blacklight, stabbing through the skin of reality while the party moves around us like a dream. Imagine me, a sleek shimmer sliding around your neck and through your veins. Imagine me enhancing the fantasy. Imagine it isn’t just the drugs talking, but my body. 

Don’t remember me beyond this shell. I want you to covet my slippery surface, not everything slowly rotting within it. I want you to cling in vain to what will always elude us both. Tell me I’m at my peak. Tell me you’re drawn to it only for this moment and never after. 

Don’t remember me making these demands. Pretend it was all your idea. Yeah, imagine telling me I’m hot and making me believe it just once. 

Just once before I die.


Jillian Luft is a Florida native currently residing in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in X-R-A-Y, Expat, Hobart, Rejection Letters, and other publications. She’s currently at work on novel about Florida dirtbag romance. You can find her on Twitter @JillianLuft or read more of her writing at

Issue 0 Issue 0 Non-Fiction

Signs and Wonders

By Mike Nagel

Recently someone started painting arrows on all the sidewalks in the neighborhood. At lunch, the dog and I follow them around. They take us down Royal Oaks to Princess Blvd. Then over to Camelot via Guinevere. They’re poorly done. Freehand. White spray paint on concrete. Some of them look like lower case r’s. Some of them look like capital t’s. I think if you’re looking for signs in your life you can’t be too picky about what they are. I think ⎯ if you’re looking for signs in your life ⎯ you kind of have to take what you can get. 

“Well,” I say when I find another arrow. “Good enough for me.”

It’s May now. The tree pollen is moderate. The ragweed pollen is moderate. The grass pollen is high. Everybody I know is whacked out on Flonase and Claritin D. Even the dog takes a small dose. An entire city experiencing the common side effects of over-the counter antihistamines. Drowsiness. Fatigue. Irritability. Wednesday evening J and I go for a walk. We follow the arrows down Oak Grove and into a cemetery.    

“Wait––is this a cemetery?” she said.


“It says cemetery.”     


“On that huge sign right there.”

There are twenty-two cemeteries in Plano, fifty thousand cemeteries in Texas, one hundred and fifty thousand cemeteries in the United States. Wherever you’re standing, you’re probably standing in a cemetery. We walked around a little. The tombstones are all a hundred years old. Slab grey. Crumbling and faded. You have to put your face right next to them to see who it is.

BOWMAN, one of them said. 

RUSSELL, one of them said. 

BOWMAN RUSSELL, one of them said. 

J stopped at a giant chunk of granite shaped like a human head.

“Sarah E. Gamble Chenault.” 



J teaches American Studies at the high school down the street. She wears themed t-shirts depending on what they’re learning that day. On Tuesday it’s a Richard Nixon t-shirt. On Wednesday it’s a Roe V. Wade t-shirt. On Friday it’s a picture of an American soldier in Vietnam.

“War is hell,” his helmet says.

Maybe they all say that.

I don’t know very much about America. I’m not sure anybody does. The shirts aren’t helping. Yesterday she was wearing a shirt with a pineapple on it. This morning it was an atomic bomb. It’s a common misconception that because I live with a history teacher I have some idea what’s going on. I don’t. I just follow the arrows around like everybody else and hope they lead to something interesting at some point. At night the top of my mouth itches. My tongue swells up. My whole head feels like an over-inflated birthday balloon. It’s tradition around here that once a year all our heads explode. You get used to it. You can get used to anything. In the evening I drink organic allergy-relief tea out of Bulleit Bourbon mug.

“Mmmm,” I say. “Tea.”

I haven’t had a drop of booze for ten weeks but I have this stupid tea. It’s okay. Peppermint flavored. Anti-inflammatory. Tastes like potpourri. I once knew a guy who traded his eight-whiskies-a-night for a liter of Diet Coke and a porn addiction. A lot of things are interchangeable. I read they recently developed the technology to lop off a human head and swap it out for something a little more reliable. I hear good things about papier-mâché.


“Right on cue,” Ron says after the first heatwave hits the first weekend in May. 93 degrees. Overcast and sticky. A chance of rain with a certainty of being miserable. There’s some comfort in the reliability of it. Most lab rats prefer constant abuse to unpredictability. Yesterday I found a dead bluebird in the backyard. A victim of heat stroke and dehydration. The latest casualty of our warming planet. I put out an old Tupperware container filled with tap water and declared myself the interim minister of wildlife hydration.

“Just as the Lord cares for the birds of the air, so will he care for you,” the Bible tells us. 

“I know,” I say. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

In the evenings I sit on the patio swing and watch TV on my laptop. I drink Guava Goddess kombucha. At some point the mosquitos come out. Asian Tigers. The ones with the stripes on their backs. I think they’re attracted to my screen. I don’t blame them. Lately I’ve been watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.

The camera work!

The set design!

If there’s one thing I know about filmmaking it’s the importance of production value. I once asked a semi-famous cinematographer what his secret was.

“Point the camera at something good,” he said.

In the mornings I follow the arrows down Royal Oaks, past Monarch Drive, all the way into Bob Woodruff Park. In Italy all roads lead to Rome. In Plano all sidewalks lead to Bob Woodruff Park. I keep ending up here. It’s hot and green and smells like a Petco. Lately someone’s been leaving million-dollar bills on all the picnic tables. “Here’s the Million Dollar Question,” the bills say. “Will you go to Heaven when you die?”


The temperature rises. The pollen floats around. The mosquitos are fruitful and multiply. Well, I think, at least they’re having a good time. 

Sondra tells me that Asian Tigers feed all day long. Blood thirsty alcoholics. However much they get, they could always use a little more. They live for eight days and lay 500 eggs. The latest prototype in the long history of mosquito evolution. Like me, they arrived on the scene completely uncalled for some time in the late 80s. And ⎯ like me ⎯ they are capable of drinking themselves to death.

“I don’t remember these from when I was a kid,” J says, smacking one against her ankle.

“Yeah,” I say, smacking one against my neck. “They’re new.”

Part or particle of God, Emerson became an all-seeing, never-blinking eyeball. Tuesday night I become a Panavision Panaflex II movie camera. 

“The secret,” I remind myself, “is to point myself at something good.”

Lacking anything good, I point myself to the left, toward the cemetery. I’ve been back a few times. The final resting place of forty-three people who never made it out of the neighborhood. I check to see if I can communicate with them telepathically.

Hello? I think at the ground.

Is this thing on?

Testing testing one two three.

Are you there, Sarah E. Gamble Chenault? It’s me, Margaret.

Like you, I am open to the possibility that I am one special son of a bitch. Like you, I am open to the possibility that there has never been anyone else like me in the history of the world. I stand there between the graves until the mosquitos come out. Sometime after sunset, just before dark. A few at first. Then a lot. Then all of them. I’m a poorly functioning diabetic. 7.8 A1c. My veins are full of Hawaiian Punch. I hold my arms out like that Jesus statue in Rio de Janeiro.

“My blood,” I say. “Artificially sweetened for you. Drink it in remembrance of me.”

You can lose 3 pints of blood before you feel lightheaded. 4 pints before you see stars. 5 pints before your head floats off like a hot air balloon, up past the power lines, in the general direction of Costco. 


On Tuesday J wears the Nixon t-shirt again. On Thursday it’s the pineapple. History repeating itself. A three-week laundry cycle. 

“We’ve seen these ones before,” I remind her.

On Nextdoor I hear about a plan to release ten million sterile mosquitoes around DFW. Decoy fuck toys to keep these things occupied. An obvious-enough strategy, I guess. The day Politico leaks a brewing overturn of Roe v. Wade, my Twitter timeline is full of men vowing retaliatory vasectomies. Solidarity via sterilization. They post emojis of scissors and cherries. 

Well, I think, it’s not like the world needs MORE balls.  

That afternoon I follow the arrows past Queens Way over to Spring Creek Pkwy. Then I follow them back down Spring Creek to Royal Oaks. Then I follow them around in circles for a while. Then into Bob Woodruff Park. It’s 92 degrees. Sunny and clear. I’m out here sweating my balls off. It’s the least I can do. My eyes are bright red and itchy. My head is the size of a beach ball. I have ten million dollars on me. All cash. 

When the sun goes down the fireflies come out. Lampyridae, they’re called. I remember because lamp. They flash around me like paparazzi. I’m famous. Me and my yellow belt. Me and my black skinny jeans. I pump my hips back and forth. I turn around and walk backwards. I give them a show.


Yesterday I Googled my own name and got five million hits. Later my head exploded. It happens every year. I’ve had thirty-four heads. This will be number thirty-five. They’re full of cotton balls and glitter and alphabet soup. Ticking time bombs. Rigged to blow.


Mike Nagel is the author of Duplex. He lives in Texas.