"Diatomaceous Earth" by Sara Schaff on Garo

Garo‘s apropos slogan, “Work that connects people to the land and each other”, did just that with their feature of “Diatomaceous Earth” by Augury’s forthcoming author Sara Schaff last Friday.

“Diatomaceous Earth” is from Schaff’s short story collection, Say Something Nice About Me, our prose selection for 2016 which we will publish this fall.

Like much of Schaff’s prose, “Diatomaceous Earth” is a haunting, naturalistic tale, heavy on dialogue, showcasing the many forms intimacy between two people can take.

After combing through online chat rooms devoted to households plagued by indoor ants, Ella, Stephen, and I finally settled on a remedy that sounded feasible and only mildly dangerous: diatomaceous earth, a powdery, porous substance that occurs naturally, is safe near food preparation, but illegal to sell in Ann Arbor. I purchased a bottle online.

When it arrived, days after my afternoon with Ella and Stephen, Gerry was downstairs with me. He thought we should celebrate me being done with all my papers. Also, he felt hopeful about getting the job in Dearborn. “The interview went great. They responded well to my enthusiasm.”

Gerry’s enthusiasm. My secret, gloomy future. I guess that’s why he and I had ended up in bed again, which is where we were when I heard the mail delivered. I put on a robe to go outside, and when I returned to the bedroom, I held out the package to Gerry. “I’m being proactive about my ant problem, see?”

Together, we laid the trail of diatomaceous earth: behind the toaster, leading from and to the hole Ella had spotted. “That’s where they’re coming from,” I told Gerry. “They’ll come out, gather the powder on their little bodies, and without realizing it, take it back with them to their nest.”

“And then?”

I shuddered, in spite of my new conviction. “Eventually, they all dry out, become little husks of their former selves.”

Sara Schaff’s fiction has appeared in FiveChapters, Southern Indiana Review, Carve Magazine, and elsewhere. A graduate of Brown University and the MFA program at the University of Michigan, she has taught in China, Colombia, and Northern Ireland, where she also studied storytelling. Sara is a visiting assistant professor of creative writing at Oberlin College. Find links to her work at saraschaff.com.

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"Wee Hours and Other Stories" by prose finalist Ellen Winter, and a tech apology

**Below is an excerpt from prose finalist Ellen Winter, which, due to a glitch in technology and spam folders on our end, we’re getting to you a few weeks late. We hope you’ll take a second to read and enjoy Ellen’s prose as you did our other finalists.**

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“The Little Mission” from Wee Hours and Other Stories

Swede was slowing for the cattle guard that marked the final fence line when something shifted in the clearing below him, catching his eye. He braked hard, cranking down a window sluggish with mud. At first glance it all looked normal enough. The pasture was a small one, backed by woodlands and divided by Little Mission Creek. There were a couple of outbuildings he’d never found a use for, an old loading pen that held cattle in its day. The creek ran right through the middle, all but a glint of it hidden by the trees.

In the shadow of one of those willows, a large animal was trying to be still. It was a horse, a well-groomed bay, head lowered to the ground as if grazing. The gelding was saddled—that was the first thing that struck Swede as odd. And it wasn’t grass he was nibbling at, but the collar of a woman’s shirt. The woman lay on her side, hands tucked beneath a cheek. She looked peaceful, so much so that Swede nearly opted to drive on by. But most folks wouldn’t nap so close to a roadway. He would have to investigate. Pulling onto the grassy shoulder, he parked.

The truck’s heavy door opened with a screech and the horse spooked. Swede approached the woman with stealth, worried he might catch her in an act of a private nature. When he was close enough he crouched, hands on knees, peering cautiously into her face. It was Elsie Tarnower; Swede should have known that by the oversized clothing. Elsie was fond of menswear. Long-legged Wranglers were cinched at the waist by a wide leather belt. Her shirt was a well-worn flannel. Pointed flaps held the pockets closed with pearly snaps. If there were breasts under there, Elsie did her best to conceal them.

It was the look on her face that undid him. Only babies should be capable of such repose. That peacefulness was odd to see on the likes of Elsie Tarnower. She was a big gal and a busy one, proud of the fact that she could outwork most of the neighborhood men. She’d been called antsy by some and hyperactive by others. One rancher had gone so far as to say she was spastic—annoyed, no doubt, that she’d been hired by someone else.

Swede tried whistling. Then he tried shuffling his feet. Spurts of dust settled on her head and shoulders, but Elsie Tarnower was unperturbed. He called her name, softly at first and then louder. Bending close, he whispered a string of obscenities in her ear. If she was faking, he’d know it by now.

Ellen Winter’s short stories have appeared in a number of magazines including Fiction, New Letters, The Antioch Review, and Brain, Child. Her first collection, The Price You Pay: Stories, was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award, and went on to be published by Southern Methodist University Press. A second collection is being circulated, and there are a couple of novels in the works. Awards include fellowships from the Arizona Commission on the Arts and Bread Loaf. She lives with her husband and three children in Livingston, MT, where she makes a living as a housekeeper.

"Woman, Running Late, in a Dress" by prose finalist Dallas Woodburn

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What happened was, William had a stroke. A mild one, the doctor said. But he was out for a few minutes. I found him in the living room, collapsed beside my bag of knitting, his cheek against the carpet, the television blaring Larry King. The window was open; from outside came the rumbling of a truck, the laughter of the children next door playing in their front yard. It was an early autumn evening, hot and dry from the Santa Ana winds. The breeze coming in through the window offered no relief from the stifling heaviness in the air.

Of course I was scared when I saw William like that. Of course my heart started beating fast and I ran over to my husband and stroked his face and tried to wake him. Of course I called 9-1-1 and cried into the phone for an ambulance.

 
Later, when I sat beside William’s hospital bed and he reached over and squeezed my hand and smiled, I felt relief like none I’d ever felt before. That I wasn’t alone in this world. That he hadn’t left me yet.

But then he came home from the hospital, and he started going on and on about God and Jesus and being “saved” and “seeing the light.” At first I thought it was just a phase, just something he had to get out of his system. But it’s been four months now, and if anything he’s just getting more belligerent about it. He wants me to go to church with him. He wants the two of us to get baptized together. He keeps a Bible on the nightstand and reads passages out loud before bed, like a preacher in a movie. I always roll over and pretend to be asleep. Any response from me would just encourage him, make him dig in his heels even more. William is stubborn as the waves crashing onto the beach, breaking rocks down into sand.

 

Dallas Woodburn, a recent Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing,
has published fiction and nonfiction in Zyzzyva, Fourth River, The
Nashville Review, The Los Angeles Times, North Dakota Quarterly, and
Monkeybicycle, among others. A three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, she
won second place in the American Fiction Prize and her work appears in
American Fiction Volume 13: The Best Unpublished Short Stories by
American Writers (New Rivers Press). Her short story collection was
previously a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short
Fiction and the Horatio Nelson Fiction Prize. She is the founder of
Write On! For Literacy, an organization that empowers young people
through reading and writing endeavors: www.writeonbooks.org.

"Girl with a Goat's Voice" by prose finalist Nate Liederbach

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“Selvin the Christmas Elf” from Girl with a Goat’s Voice

Winter bedtime legend, our family favorite, of Selvin the Christmas Elf—how Grams tells the tale: Dear sweet Selvin driving his pretend-dead girlfriend south to Arizona and going in no direction but beams bouncing ragged over cracked two-lane highways, to that place where cliffs go to die, where cliffs drag themselves like the worms of Dune across rock seas and deaf clay thirsting—or so Selvin imagines—for newness, for lush grass, for supreme flatness, oh, but finding only heaps of dry ancestry, and on that first night how Selvin the Christmas Elf sleeps with her body in the truck bed, his huskies curled over their shins while an autumn storm converges from Baja to ping the camper shell, winds abiding ever stronger, winds pugilizing, weaving, heave-whistling each window slit and colding every bolt to where, at one point, a terrific gust agitates the axles and Selvin the Christmas Elf thinks the pretend-dead girlfriend has moved—unnerving, sure, but in morning’s drab reality, nope, so Selvin makes a campfire from sodden cardboard as ravens circle like cursed Girl Scouts and he burns everything he can find, burns it into a different earth of vibrating floors of smoke that resuscitate pretend-dead girlfriend, who, with a loose cough, slinks over the tailgate to take up a plastic spoon, to feed them pre-stirred yogurt, its icy nips, and soon their site’s warmed and soon she urges they stripped off those road-spiced North Pole uniforms to fuck gratefully on a rain-beaded truck hood (even though, way before release, Selvin the Christmas Elf, still stuck in that Arctic pall, in that long-gone crevasse of a toy builder’s mind, scowls at the huskies for scampering around their love-making, for chasing chipmunks, for rearing back and boxing, the fruitlessness of their mock battles, which make Selvin think, All life as just play? Is that why I left?), though suddenly now the haze is clearing and beyond the girlfriend’s myth-sharpened ears an unbundling sun reminds Selvin the Christmas Elf to concentrate on this present, on rasping, twining, not violently, but steadily, his tool attuned as horologist finger, as so patiently trained, yes, for he’s the worker who works for wonder alone—or no, better, the man with the plan, the one who escaped, who wouldn’t rectify revolution and individuation, who saw through the hoary-white lies but couldn’t do it alone, had to let her drag him into it, as if it were his idea, as if it were ever his, just like this: he’s done, yanked loose, condom cast on the last smoldering log, all noxious smoke but no chimney, no plate of cookies, nothing to keep it ordered.

Nate Liederbach is the author of the story collections Doing a Bit of Bleeding, Negative Spaces, Beasts You’ll Never See (winner of the 2014 Noemi Book Award for Fiction), and the forthcoming Blessings Galore and Tongues of Men and of Angels: Nonfictions Ataxia. He lives in Eugene, OR and Olympia, WA.  

"True Love and Other Dreams of Miraculous Escape" from prose finalist Micah Perks

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“Ghost Deer” from True Love and Other Dreams of Miraculous Escape

Colin’s story:

“This happened before my Dad took off, like a long time ago.” Colin’s blinking a lot, because he just got contacts, and it makes his eyes look big and wet, plus with his reddish brown hair and brown freckles, and the fact that he’s skittish and slim, he looks a lot like a deer himself.

Fiona turns from the sink and says over the rushing water, “What did you say about a deer?”

“Is this your Seder story?” Little My asks.

“It’s just this deer, okay? One day Dad was like, Get your nose out of that video game, Son, we’re going hiking.”

“He never called you son,” Fiona says.

“Whatever. You know I hate hiking. So then we were walking in the gorge, like a long way up, up by Taughannock Falls, and no one else was there because it was like October and grey and cold and no one wanted to be there, obviously. Then we saw this deer. It was tiptoeing along the cliff edge above the falls. When we saw it we were all, Whoa, holy crap! The deer heard us and freaked. It tried to turn around on the ledge or whatever. And it fell off the cliff. Like a long way.” Colin’s face is so pale now his freckles seem to pulse. His eyes blink.

“Are you serious?” Fiona says, turning off the faucet.  Daniel’s shirt floats winey, salty and abandoned in the sink. Fiona’s standing by the table holding the kosher salt. “I thought deer were sure-footed, like cats.”

“It was lying half in that pool at the bottom of the gorge and half on the like, gravel,” Colin says. “Its back was broken or something. It couldn’t move even when we got up close to it, except it’s eyes were rolling around. We realized if we left it there, the coyotes or dogs would get it.”

“Did you call the cops?” Little My asks.

“We put it out of its misery,” Colin says, “or whatever you call it.”

“Coño,” Daniel says. “When did you say this happen?”

“Nobody ever told me this,” Fiona says. “What do you mean you put it out of its misery?”

“Dad was like, ‘Son, you have to put this deer out of its misery.’ And he handed me a big rock.”

 

“Ghost Deer” won and was previously featured in The New Guard’s Machigonne Fiction Contest.

The Los Angeles Times called Micah Perks’ first novel, We Are Gathered Here (1997, St. Martin’s),  “a tightly woven story that is as fanciful as it is grimly real.” Her memoir, Pagan Time, came out in paper in 2009 from Counterpoint, has been translated into Korean and is an audio book from audible.com. In 2010 The San Francisco Chronicle listed it in Best Summer Reading and Adirondack Life listed it as Adirondack Required Reading.  She’s published short stories in Zyzzyva, The Massachusetts Review, and Epoch, amongst many others, and her stories have been anthologized in The Encyclopedia Project, Viz Inter Arts, The Best Underground Fiction and others. Four of her stories have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes. She has been given multiple residencies at The Blue Mountain Center and received a Saltonstall Foundation For The Arts grant. She won an NEA in 2008 for the first chapter of her novel-in-progress. Recent essays have been published and are forthcoming from The Rumpus andTin House. Micah lives with her family in Santa Cruz California, where she co-directs the creative writing program and is a professor in the Literature Department at University of California, Santa Cruz. She’s at work on a novel.

"Too Smart For Her Own Good: Stories" by prose finalist Evelyn Somers

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“Roy” from Too Smart For Her Own Good

“Let’s do the wine,” said Roy. He’d forgotten a corkscrew, but Francis’ things were in the back, and Roy used the carpenter’s rule to force the cork down into the bottle. At first it kept bobbing back up, blocking the opening, but finally he managed to wedge it sideways, below the neck. He swigged from the bottle and held it out to me, but I waved it away; I was scrounging around for the plastic go-cups that were always lying around, among the marker stakes and graveyard inventory forms. I found two, and Roy poured, nearly draining the bottle. I thought of Rushing Rapids as I watched the wine chugging over the cork.
“To Francis, for providing the wheels and the brandy,” said Roy, raising his cup to toast.

“And to Mom, for the wine.”

Roy frowned but he drank; his Adam’s apple rose and fell. Noticing it—noticing him—I felt much too large and awkward for the car, suddenly: the cow Mom was always saying I was. So I got out and walked around to the cemetery behind the church. The place was ancient, part of it was, anyway—old enough to please Roy, who like Francis, his idealistic, historic preservationist father, was in love with the past. At the farthest end, some of the marble tablet stones had sunk so deep that you wouldn’t have known what they were, if not for the church and the other, newer graves. Others lay toppled beside their bases. In the middle of the yard stood a cluster of lichen-covered obelisks.

Close to the church were the newer stones: granite blocks with polished faces and roughened tops, like Dad’s. There were vogues in tombstones, like everything else. There were even vogues in whether it was best to live or die. When Mom’s brother, my uncle, got sick they’d told him six months, given him painkillers and sent him home to wait for his end. That was the first time Mom nursed anyone; she was only fifteen. But with Dad it was, We’ll try everything, to give him as long as possible. Though his prognosis was better, too: kidney failure was more treatable than metastasized cancer. So there was the transplant, and afterward, when his body rejected it, two years of dialysis, during which they somehow made me. Mom was six weeks pregnant when Dad had his stroke. Even then they kept him alive for two more months on a respirator. The second stroke was a blessing, said Mom. They should never have tried to save him. And now they probably wouldn’t have, she believed—wouldn’t have recommended the respirator, at any rate. Now ideas were swinging back the other way. In a few more years, Mom predicted, they’d be packing people home again, telling them, “Don’t worry. Dying is perfectly

natural.”

She was right about that, but she’d been wrong to remarry before Dad’s body was even cold. Wrong as well, to do what she did to Roy. And wrong to say all the terrible things she said to me.

 

Evelyn Somers is the associate editor of the Missouri Review and a past contributing editor for Bloom. Her fiction has appeared in Crazyhorse, Georgia Review, Shenandoah, the Florida Review, South Dakota Review, Pank, the Collagist, and others. She is the recipient of a Barbara Deming Foundation grant for fiction. Books she has edited as a freelancer have won the John Simmons award, the Drue Heinz, and the Peter Taylor prize for the novel and have been published by both university and small presses and larger, commercial presses. She is at work on a novel and a variety of shorter projects. Her website is evwords.com.

"The World Is All That Does Befall Us" by prose finalist Thomas Walton

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“Seeing the Problem” from The World Is All That Does Befall Us

Stanza I

Dear L,

I’ll start here, but this doesn’t start here. If I’ve done this right, you can start anywhere.

‘Starting over’ is an oxymoron, whether or not it’s advantageous is beside the point. If (and I know it’s a little early in the piece for this kind of reasoning, but who’s to say you’re starting here anyway) I were truly starting over, then this would end here. It would end before it had even begun. Starting over … why would I want to do that? I’m too full of thorns now to start over.

I have a daughter. Her name is Tuuli. She’s 5.

‘Tuuli’ is derived from Finnish, meaning wind.

 

Verbal actions imitate human actions or the actions of wind or river or rain.

-A.R. Ammons.

 

You can’t be with the one you love if you want to love them still. Desire can only be for what is lacking. Everyone knows this. It’s been known for thousands of years. It is the crux of desire, and oceans of ink have been spilled into it.

As you can see I’m spilling this in prose. Prose is derived from Latin provertere, to turn forward. This then, is an attempt to turn forward, not to start over.

‘Catastrophe’ also comes from a word meaning to turn (the Greek strephein). Is prosethen a catastrophe? Is something catastrophic inherent in saying?

 

I won’t name you. You will be anonymous [< Gk. an, without + onuma, name].

In the dictionary, the word following ‘anonymous’ is ‘anopheles’ [< Gk. anopheles, useless]. I’m obviously trying to use you, which is, perhaps, a bad idea.

 

Thomas Walton’s work has appeared most recently in Gold Man Review, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, and the anthology Make It True; Poetry from Cascadia. He edits PageBoy Magazine in Seattle WA, where he lives, builds gardens, and volunteers in his daughter’s fourth grade class … yeiks! 

"Home for Wayward Girls" by prose finalist Melanie Bishop

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“Home for Wayward Girls” from the eponymous collection

It’s a Thursday night when the police knock on our door.  The knock is like any other but when I open it, they fill our front stoop with their largeness, their dark uniforms, guns and billy clubs.  Through the open windows of their car, I can hear the police radio reporting crimes.

The bigger of the two asks to speak to my parents and since my father has had Beefeater’s all night, I call out “MOM!”

“Oh my,” is what she says when she rounds the corner, like she is expecting the paper boy collecting, or girl scouts selling thin mints.  Renee is right behind her and the three of us face them but nobody asks them to come in.  Renee’s got a piece of lace showing at the scoop of her pullover. It’s from the bra she just got at Sears and I know because I was with her when she tried it on.  It’s tan, but Renee is so fair, it might as well be brown against her vanilla. The guy doing the talking, the bigger one, whose navy blue uniform shirt is all untucked on one side, where the billy club dangles—he’s not even pretending to know that staring’s impolite.  He is focused on where that lace disappears.

“We’ve got a warrant to come in and find a runaway—Larissa Kramer?”

“She’s here,” my mom says. “She’s staying with my daughter.  Her parents kicked her out.”

“Well, they may have, but they want her back now.  You can send her out or we can come in and search, Ma’am.”

“Amelia, go get Larissa,” she says.  “Hurry,” she adds, so I run, even though we are not allowed to run in the house.  I barge in without knocking, another rule I’m breaking, because the New Orleans Police Department is at our front door. But what I see is Larissa already halfway out that bedroom window.  Gina’s standing there holding the pulled out screen, like it’s a poster board presentation for school.

I take my time walking back to the front door, not knowing whose side to be on—let Larissa get a headstart, or let the policemen know she’s escaped, and halfway to Kabel Drive by now. I give her some time, since she’s on foot, barefoot, and they’ve got cars. Worse than that, guns.

Melanie Bishop’s young adult novel, My So-Called Ruined Life (Torrey House Press, 2014) was a top-five finalist last May for both the John Gardner Award in Fiction and CLMP’s Firecracker Awards. Bishop has published fiction and nonfiction in Glimmer Train, Georgetown Review, Greensboro Review, Florida Review, Puerto del Sol, The American, Potomac Review, Vela, and Family Circle. She received a screenwriting fellowship from the Chesterfield Film Project, co-sponsored by Universal Studios and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. For 22 years, she taught creative writing at Prescott College in Arizona, where she was Founding Editor, and Fiction/Nonfiction Editor of Alligator Juniper, a national literary magazine, three time winner of the AWP Directors’ Prize. Currently Bishop lives in California, where she’s an editor and a writing coach, and hosts retreats in Carmel-by-the-Sea. She reviews books for Carmel Magazine, New York Journal of Books, and Huffington Post.

"The Heart is a Slow Learner and Other Stories" by prose finalist Mary Larkin

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“The Night of the Leonid Showers” from The Heart is a Slow Learner and Other Stories

I have gone back in time and am on the porch, writing the Great American Novel, waiting for my father to die.  It has already happened, but I have undone it and am enjoying the moments with the words and the slick writing pen with its fluid stream and the paper, not to mention the drill-beaked hummingbird that hovers, hums and sucks at the red plastic flowers that are little fructose ducts to the kool-aid-red sugar water within. The tiny bird reverberates, then flits away spilling one droplet, and the past is gone, time shifts back to the present, and my father is dead.

I do not go inside to get the phone when it rings; I know my husband will answer its toll, just as I know he will open the screen door and take two tentative steps onto the porch and say, “Your father has died.”

There is nothing much for me to do with this choice piece of news my husband has just handed over to me like the Sunday Times.  The big blue jay sits in a low branch, parallel with me in my canvas butterfly chair which has wings of its own, and we eye one another.  I do not trust him at all.  He will smash other birds’ eggs and sup on the unhatched chicks. Like Cronos, I think to myself.  But some will survive.

The news is no good.  You wonder if it ever was, but when these things happen, you’re sure it has been better than this.  This is the worst.

Mary Larkin won the Southern Indiana Review Mary C. Mohr Editors’ Award in Fiction for her story “All That Was His,” 2012. She received Honorable Mention in Broad River Review’s 2013 Ron Rash Awards judged by Jill McCorkle. Larkin’s fiction has been anthologized and appeared in many journals, including Shenandoah, TheChattahoochee Review, The Nebraska Review, Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts, Inkwell, and others. She is a Pushcart Nominee, a Writing Fellow of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, a 2015 Writing Fellow of The Hambidge Center, and the recipient of Hollins University’s Andrew James Purdy Award as well as their AWP Intro Journals Award nominee. Larkin received her MA in Creative Writing from Hollins, and her PhD in Creative Writing from Florida State University. She has work forthcoming in Arts & Letters, Spring, 2016.

"Swarm" by prose finalist Harmony Button

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“This Word Is Earth” from Swarm

I have a story that I’ve told myself so many times I no longer know if it is true or not. It has to do with the fireplace in my parents’ house, and a face I dreamt I saw there. The face was made of spirals – eyes and mouth  and if I got too close to the cold hearth, the face would loom up from the void and suck me into darkness.

For the next year, I avoided the living room at all costs after dark, skittering past the fireplace and bolting out the other side of the room like a startled calf. My parents were used to such odd behavior. There had also been a period of time in which I became convinced that a skeleton who lived in the upstairs toilet would crawl up the pipes and grab me if I didn’t leap off the bathroom tile and onto the safe-zone of the hallway carpet before the toilet finished flushing. There was also a texture-sensitive zombie who did nothing but stand by my bedroom door at night because he couldn’t cross from carpet on to wood. 

I had a rich imagination. 

But then, years later, I read something about the Mound Builders of Ireland, and how they worshiped an earth goddess. Her image appears in tombs built under dolloped mounds of earth that dot the landscape. She was the goddess of the hearth, worshiped at the center of the home: the fireplace. 

And then, there was her picture. Her eyes and mouth were spirals. 

I felt a sting of recognition, as if I had discovered her, myself. 

I was convinced that I had dreamed the image of the Mound Builder’s goddess before she had even been discovered by scientists of my generation. Perhaps I was psychic. Perhaps I was born of Druid blood and felt, at heart, as if I’d always known her. Perhaps I called back the distant memory of a dream and made it fit the image I had seen in National Geographic. 

My mother took one look at the picture and told me it looked nothing like the face I used to draw.She told me that the face I used to be afraid of was from a picture book  Uncle Wiggly’s Bedtime Stories  and I hadn’t dreamed it at all.

Harmony Button’s work has been included in Best American Notable Essays of 2015, she has been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Web awards, and she was awarded the Larry Levis Prize (Academy of American Poets). Her work as appeared in journals such as Colorado Review, Chicago Quarterly, Southwestern American Lit, Cobalt, Rock & Sling, Bayou and Drafthorse. Find out more at www.harmonybutton.com.