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Archive for November, 2014

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Photo by Dave Bledsoe, FreeVerse Photography

 

An unfortunate loss has recently occurred in the literary community. Allan Kornblum, the founding publisher of Coffee House Press, passed away on November 23rd. In honor of his generous legacy, the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses is dedicating an entire issue of their newsletter, Fresh Pressed, to remembering his work. Because CLMP is sending out their newsletter first thing next week, they ask that contributions (a paragraph or a few lines) be sent in by Sunday night to info@clmp.org with the subject line “Allan.”

Again, we are sorry for the loss of those close with Allan. We know his influence will live on.

Read more about Allan’s life and work at the Star Tribune.

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How good it is to be fat! How good to be a member of the corpulent class, smelling just baked rolls and fried blood sausages wafting from the open windows on Park Avenue, and not one of the whip thin hoards confined to lower Manhattan with the stench of raw sewage always in the nose.

Except, they aren’t confined down there. Who do you think is doubling all those Park Avenue chins? Each brownstone has an alien busy at its center. Sleeves rolled up on meaty foreign arms, foreign palms pressing into the family dough. You see that house there, the one with the gay yellow curtains fluttering at the kitchen window? Little does that gloriously tubby family know that along with the rich smells of breakfast, that’s typhoid smeared all over the curtains, typhoid glazing those yeasty rolls.

Never fear, the porcine peace will be restored. Into this monied hush chugs and wahoogahs a new twentieth century ambulance automobile. Three police officers clatter behind on horseback in their long blue coats and soufflé-shaped helmets. They pull up to the curb in front of the Park Avenue brownstone with the yellow curtains. Out of the ambulance pops Dr. S. Josephine Baker.

Dr. Jo! A new woman! Fashionably plump, dressed in a man-tailored outfit of her own design, fitted jacket, white stiff-collared shirtwaist dress and tie, jaunty boater with a navy ribbon to top it off. She is the first woman doctor in the new hygiene bureau!

The possibly infected Irish cook in question has already refused to be tested for typhus, but this time Dr. Jo is determined to get a hold of a bit of her urine and blood, come hell or high water. The glass jar and the syringe jostle at the ready in her black leather doctor’s bag. The five, white coated, mustachioed interns, all in black pants creased and cuffed, wait by the ambulance, arms crossed, black boots scuffling and stamping, chatting in low voices amongst themselves. Dr. Jo posts one of the police officers at the front door, one at the back. Then, with the burliest officer by her side, she raps smartly, one-two-three, on the servants’ entrance at the side of the house. They wait, Jo tapping her own black-booted foot impatiently. It annoys her that the police officer, who is stippled with small pox scars on his forehead and cheeks, hums cheerfully under his breath, as if this isn’t an errand of grave importance. She goes to knock again.

The door jolts opens with such force it bangs against the side of the house. Dr. Jo jumps back a step. The cook leaps out on the landing, her cheeks aflame, brandishing a long cooking fork. Dr. Jo glances to the officer for help, but he’s lost his chin in his effort to lean away. “Don’t be foolish,” Dr. Jo says to the cook. “We only want—“

The cook stabs at Dr. Jo with the fork.

Dr. Jo and the policeman rear backwards, then topple together in a heavy tangle on the stone walkway below. The cook slams the door shut.

“Sorry, Doc.” The police officer removes his leg from her chest. “But, say, ain’t that a woman!”

Dr. Jo refuses his offer of help, wrestles herself to her feet. She can feel her own face boiling now. “Onward!” she shouts. They rush in after the cook. Breakfast is still on the stove—white fish in furious boil, stewed apricots and cereal and sausages starting to burn. The police officer stops to remove the pots. “That’s all potential poison,” Dr. Jo says. “Knuckle down, now.”

The lady of the house and her two daughters weep in the parlor. One of the girls is already complaining of a headache from hunger. “What shall we eat?” the girl whimpers. The other servants make their faces as featureless as rising dough, claim to have no idea where the cook is. No use to explain germ theory to them here and now. All they can see is the heavy, dark hair piled high on the back of cook’s head, her well-fed form, her food rich with butter and lard. They cannot imagine what stews inside Mary Mallon.

“Let’s get methodical,” Dr. Jo says. They start at the top of the house, the tidy, nearly empty fourth floor attic where Mary sleeps, and move room by room, floor by floor. But it seems she has disappeared.

Back at the kitchen, the police officer says, “Well, that’s that then,” and looks longingly at the food cooling in the kitchen.

Dr. Jo heaves up the pots and upends them one by one into the garbage bin that sits in the back hallway of the kitchen. She says, “This is a matter of life and death. What are we over-looking?”

And just then, at the end of that hallway, behind several piled up ash cans, Dr. Jo spies a small wedge of blue calico wagging from a closet door. Dr. Jo and the officer drag away the ash cans, evidence of class solidarity, and turn the black doorknob.

Micah Perks is the author of a novel, We Are Gathered Here, and a memoir, Pagan Time. Her short stories and essays have appeared in Epoch, Zyzzyva, Tin House, The Toast and The Rumpus, amongst many journals and anthologies. Her short memoir, Alone In The Woods: Cheryl Strayed, My Daughter and Me, came out from Shebooks in 2013. She has won an NEA, four Pushcart Prize nominations, and the New Guard Machigonne 2014 Fiction Prize. She lives with her family in Santa Cruz and co-directs the creative writing program at UCSC. More info and work at micahperks.com

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Mostly we walked. There was an uneven layer of snow on all the sidewalks that had never been shoveled loose, and the white was speckled with street gravel so that it all looked like graying chocolate chip ice cream. We wobbled along the surface from le Quartier Latin to le Plateau to Mile End. Somehow we had stopped talking. I think there had been nothing said since breakfast, when over strong coffee you stared out the window at the Dépanneur sign on another corner shop and wondered aloud why in Quebec the French word for repair was tied to convenience stores. And then quiet settling in, the two of us watching the sidewalks moving with people, bright in the sunlight.

After, we went nowhere in particular, stopping at places marked in our guidebook but with no idea of stringing them together in any narrative way; there were cafés, public squares, bagel shops, a headstone carver, a wide plate glass window fronting an oxygen bar. Montreal was not single-minded, not a theme park built just for us. Several places promised danseuses nues—nude dancers. And it reminded me of the idea of dance in stripping—the idea, maybe never realized, of women who were dancers first, the way the French language put it, and unclothed only secondarily. I could imagine a fierce and sure woman leaping and then coming to earth in a tight huddle with herself, her spine a knobbed arc in the low light, unburdened by the religion of covering. Here, in Montreal, these places flashed their lights in the middle of everything, between a bookstore and a Vietnamese restaurant, between a hotel and a shop selling soaps and bath salts.

Eventually we were moving through residential neighborhoods, houses with metal or stone staircases sweeping up in a curve from the street to front doors. It seemed like everything had been lifted, the basements all above ground here, windowed and available. Then we turned and crunched along the sidewalks with increasing confidence toward the main park. Several times we had seen the mountain, in moments when the houses and shops cleared out of the way. Now we went to it, though without talking about it first. We just moved that way.

In the park the snow was even deeper, though we couldn’t tell for sure where the ground really was. Once, my leg plunged through to the hip, and my knee struck something hard. I dug into the snow, and found the rim of a public trashcan down there, buried bottom to top. We stared at each other in surprise and pressed on, along broad thoroughfares shared by cross-country skiers and the springing twang of their poles, and sometimes on newly-forged paths between the thoroughfares. Always we moved upward. At one point we scrambled up a slope that threatened to throw us off with every step on the slick packed snow.

At the top of the mountain there was an old chateau with a lookout that allowed us to see the city from above. We thought of other cities we had seen from above, the phenomenon of seeing such places from above. The buildings here, even the tall ones, were not so tall, and it seemed to both of us we had come from such a place at one time or another. Still neither of us said a word.

What were we learning? When it started to snow, the cold making it a dry bright snow, crystalline, I was a person without footprints, a person moving unknown through a foreign place.

Getting down the mountain was more difficult, because the stairways leading toward the part of town that called out to us next were all closed for the winter, under repair or so packed with snow they had become ramps. We took a winding path that seemed promising at first. Then we found a place where the wooded slope dropped off sharply toward the bottom but where we thought we saw the tracks of people who had climbed this way before us. We looked at one another and that decided it.

I hung off the edge and touched the slope with my toes and tried to start backward, all hands and feet and knees. Then the snow dropped out from under me.

The world became motion, flipping me and sending me flying forward, sliding in a way that was flying.

I skidded to a stop near a tree, facing forward, my legs out like skis, still so full of movement that it took a second to realize I had stopped. I was only partway down, sitting in a bath of snow up to my waist. I could feel the cold in my pants, my gloves, my sleeves. And as I looked back up at you, feeling how fast I had been, I opened my quiet lungs and whooped sharp into the air. I saw you and the brightness of the realization. And I looked back to the falling slope, saw the trees and the rocks, thought about the possibility of all my clothes filling up with snow and that ice covering my skin, and felt how my hands and feet were holding me in place. Then, with the sound of you behind me, flying yourself, and ahead of me the speed and the whole natural length of the city, I let go again.

David Ebenbach is the author of two books of short stories—Into the Wilderness (Washington Writers’ Publishing House) and Between Camelots (University of Pittsburgh Press)—plus a chapbook of poetry called Autogeography (Finishing Line Press), and a non-fiction guide to creativity called The Artist’s Torah (Cascade Books). His first full-length collection of poetry, We Were the People Who Moved, won the Patricia Bibby Award, and will be published by Tebot Bach in 2015. With a PhD in Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, Ebenbach teaches Creative Writing at Georgetown University. Find out more at www.davidebenbach.com.

This story, “Danseuses Nues,” was originally published in The Greensboro Review.

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In the sequel, things get bloody. Suspense mutates to horror; body counts escalate. The start of Halloween II recaps the climax of Halloween I: Jamie Lee Curtis stabbing her brother Michael Myers with a knitting needle in the neck, wire hanger through the eye. Donald Pleasence, playing the psychiatrist Sam Loomis, shoots Michael six times. He falls backwards off the second story balcony,only for the camera to reveal the imprint of his body on the flattened grass.

Once it starts moving forward, the sequel allows us to witness the illusion of change over time. Despite the promise of closure, events rarely decloud. The neighbors, hearing gunshots, emerge from their suburban homes; terrycloth bathrobes, cordless phone. The father says: “It sounds like the death out here.” Gravely, without a hint of kitsch, Loomis replies: “You don’t know what death is.”

The conclusion of the previous story: my father, desperate for his mother’s whispery absolution, had forcibly removed me from her deathbed. I was furious (on my way out, I ripped a healthy leaf off the ficus in the foyer), but something in me had softened. My father was, for once, human, vulnerable. Despite his conviction that each of life’s mysteries would, if discovered, submit to structuring principles, his heart still held. As grandma died, I sat in the back of Dad’s car, my knees folded up against the passenger seat’s magazine pocket. I popped honeyed peanuts, kept myself busy with a graduate seminar paper due the next week: why, in Night of the Living Dead, George Romero placed so much weight on the zombies’ orgiastic consumption of the flesh they tore from the living.

At some point, I noticed that one of Dad’s onyx cufflinks lay on the floor mat; probably he didn’t know it had fallen. This resparked my resentment. I hated his mad professor routine. Even then, the man ran into doors.

Whatever benediction he received from my grandma didn’t open him. To his credit, he didn’t videotape grandma’s funeral (as he had taped my twin brother’s funeral). Otherwise, he made no further effort to close the gap between us. When I married Yukiko, our gift came right off the registry. He was skeptical, he said, of inter-species relationships. He sneezed at her relatives from Osaka without covering his nose.

As this sequel gets going, some fifteen years after the original, I am resetting the rubber seal inside my coffee maker, which this morning had leaked sizzling black drops onto the stove coils.

My father, I would guess, is sitting on the rollout couch in my sister Linci’s home office, pouring reduced-fat milk out of his tennis shoe.

The behaviors we once called neurotic or flighty now alchemized into disease.

I take my Gaia Organic Blend coffee onto the front porch. I pick up a snail, set it on my palm. It moves a millimeter forward, then stops. It’s dead, killed by the salt of my sweat. Wait: its slimy head just popped out. Thank goodness it’s still alive.

I set it on the ground. Then I step on it.

In the sequel, I am an associate professor at UC Berkeley. Tenured. I am also, until this afternoon, the pre-eminent zombie specialist on the planet. The one who, at the café, substitutes the word “brains” for “beans” in photo-journalistic captions describing the coffee production process. “Once the brains are checked in and graded, they are spread by hand onto drying patios. The brains are baked periodically to ensure even and complete drying.”

And my father? He’s the man who, mealy-eyed, holds court with some form of invasive and irreversible dementia. He’s the one in the McDonald’s, cutting open and emptying packets of mustard onto the tray while I order for him a Diet Fanta and a Quarter Pounder. Which he doesn’t know to unwrap, and, once unwrapped, can’t bring to his mouth.

 

Robert Glick is Assistant Professor of English at the Rochester Institute of Technology and the Senior Prose Editor of Versal. His work can be found in The Gettysburg Review, Denver Quarterly, Black Warrior Review, and The Normal School. In 2013-14, he has won the Summer Literary Seminars Center for Fiction Prize, the New Ohio Review Fiction contest and the Diagram Essay Contest.
The story this excerpt comes from, “Hotel Grand Abyss,” has been previously published in Copper Nickel 15.

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marina blitshteyn is the author of Russian for Lovers (Argos Books) and the chapbook $kill$, forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press. She works as an adjunct instructor and occasionally curates the la perruque performance series.

This poem, “Gender is Body,” has previously appeared in El Aleph Magazine Volume One, published by El Aleph Press.

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Jeanne

Every night before bed Clara sat in her nightclothes in front of the old clouded mirror of her dressing table, while her friend, Gussie, stood behind her and brushed Clara’s hair. While Gussie brushed her hair, a velvet drape fell around her, closing out the room, the children, the neighing of wagon horses passing on the street—like the raising of a bridge, with no crossing over. Inside this sheltered space, the brush warmed across Clara’s head and down across her neck, and down. Back and forth, the breath of the brush, warm as the bed on winter mornings, warm with sleep and dreams, warmer like melting chocolate, then hot, hot as steam, but pleasant. Pleasant heat. Heat like running.

One night, a slight bead of sweat slipped between Clara’s breasts from this pleasant heat, enough heat to want to slip off her heavy robe, and pull up the cotton night dress, up and up, sliding out the right arm, and then the left, and then pulling it, in a flutter of fabric, over the hair. Enough to want the brush to hold its breath while Gussie stepped out of her skirt leaving it in a pattern on the floor matching the circle of her waist. Enough to want to stand there unaware of time, looking at Gussie clothed in skin the color of the candle flame, drinking in the shape of her, noting how smooth her revealed skin was compared to her weathered face, loving that weathered face, observing her left breast slightly smaller than the right, remarking how her nipples stood, shiny as if already wet, and then Clara, bending her head to suck, finding the taste of peaches in her mouth.

But wanting wasn’t doing.

Wanting wasn’t doing.

So Clara, shocked by her thoughts, said nothing to Gussie and the brush kept brushing the same, brushing Clara’s hair. When she finished, like every night before, Gussie set the brush on the dresser and went away alone to her room.

When Gussie left and the door thumped into its frame, the latch clicked into the jam, and the flame smothered out, its smoke slithering up into the night air, Clara shook off her night dress and went to bed with the brush. Lying in the dark, she touched the brush to her naked skin, sliding its soft hairs across her breasts, pressing the side of the ivory handle into her belly. Then she moved the brush down and crushed the brush between her legs. She rubbed the brush against her again and again. She bit her lip bloody, holding in her scream.

Afterward, she drew the brush up toward her mouth and put her lips on the brush—as if the brush were a living thing, someone to fold your hand around, make love to, love.

“Snow Jewel [5:1] 2014.”

Jeanne Althouse lives in Palo Alto, California. Her flash fiction and longer stories have appeared in various literary journals, including Shenandoah, Pif Magazine, Pindeldyboz , Flash, The International Short Story Magazine, Madison Review, Redlands Review, So to Speak, Porter Gulch Review, Red Rock Review, The MacGuffin, and others. Her story, “Goran Holds his Breath” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. “Children Left Breathing” is her first novel.

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One beautiful spring afternoon full of sunshine and pollen, we had Shawn and Deb over. We barbecued out on the patio, burgers and sausages and whatever the women were having. Plenty of potato salad and baked beans. We drank beers and watched some of the Giants game. We told stories and joked at each other’s expense. While Supreme Leader was distracted, we laughed and laughed and laughed.

We hadn’t thought to run our little shindig by him. He was still only seven or eight years old, going on forty-five.  Some days, today included, he seemed perfectly content to play with his toy soldiers by himself down in the rec room.  (He had hundreds of them; maybe it wasn’t just play.) Still, he eventually heard us clanking dessert plates and clinking beer bottles. He marched outside, glaring at us, each in turn. He wore tiny, black jackboots polished to a high gloss.

Jon-Davis! he screamed.

I took a long drink of beer and said, Yes, son?

He balled his fists. His face went stony.

No son, Jon-Davis! You call Supreme Leader!

Shawn chuckled. He sure is a feisty bugger.

And cute as a cupcake! said Deb.

Supreme Leader fumed but said nothing. I thought his fat little head might pop off.

Honey? said Maggie. Would you like a cheeseburger? Daddy made one for you on the grill. Come sit down. I’ll get a bun and fix it just the way you like it.

Silence! yelled Supreme Leader.

We all sat up straight in our chairs, holding our breath.

No bugger, no cupcake, no honey! You call Supreme Leader!

Always fidgety, Maggie shifted in her chair, fingering up cake crumbs.

Imperialist pigs! he hollered. Stuffing faces!

Don’t get excited, I ventured. It’s just a little Sunday cookout among friends.

It’s a family tradition, said Shawn.

So know-it-all! Supreme Leader shrieked. Yet know nothing!

He paused to catch his breath. He was more worked up than I’d ever seen him, sweat beading on his fat upper lip.  He was starting to worry me. Maggie, too. I could see it in her eyes.

Soon you learn, he said.  Supreme Leader will teach.

He waited for his words to sink in, though none of us had a clue what he was talking about. We wouldn’t have taken him seriously anyway. No one said a word.  We listened to the happy chirp of kids playing in the park. Across the street, the neighbor was washing his Corvette in the driveway. The awkward silence grew like a throat cancer.

Does he talk like that all the time? Deb asked when she couldn’t stand it any longer. It’s adorable!

We laughed our nervous laughs.

We can’t figure out where he picked it up, said Maggie.

Shawn finished his beer and cracked another, gazing at Supreme Leader the entire time.

Know who he reminds me of? he asked. That what’s-his-name over there.

Could you be a little more specific, sweetie?

Hold your horses, he said. I’m getting to it.  It’ll come to me.

We waited. Supreme Leader looked dour.

You know, that Kim Something Whatever?

Where we had the war all those years back? said Deb.

Exactly.

Maggie sipped her lemonade. That’s what we were going to name him, she said. If he was a girl.

What? said Shawn.

Kim, I said.

Deb smiled and said, That’s a beautiful name.

I’m telling you, said Shawn, he’s a dead ringer.

Supreme Leader’s expression softened. He flashed his pointy teeth and said:

I so happy you notice!

We looked on, nonplussed. It didn’t faze Supreme Leader.

Now we ready, he said.

For what? asked Shawn.

Supreme Leader snapped a salute.

You see, he said.

Yet for almost a week, nothing changed. Not really. We went about our daily routine. I filed stories, Maggie cleaned teeth. We only got one call from Mrs. Wallace and none at all from Principal Vernon. Supreme Leader still gave orders and demanded strict discipline, but he seemed less edgy in his drill sergeant routine, his screaming softer, his grimaces less disparaging.

Maybe we weren’t paying close enough attention.

Because Saturday morning a cargo plane landed on our front lawn. We usually would’ve mustered for PT at dawn, awakened by Supreme Leader’s bullhorn screech. We would’ve run eight miles, then sipped bad coffee after cold showers.  Today Supreme Leader let us sleep in. But the roar of jet engines outside our bedroom window was disconcerting.  The panes rattled, the four-poster shook, Maggie’s collection of ceramic elephants clattered to the floor. We thought it was an earthquake and hunkered in the bathroom, adrenaline pumping though we were still half-asleep. Then we heard Supreme Leader shrieking through his bullhorn:

Wake, capitalist dogs!

Soldiers in drab green uniforms with scarlet collars hustled us down the hall and out the door. They shouldered AK-47s and gripped M68 pistols and screamed at us in a language we didn’t understand. Supreme Leader gave orders the soldiers followed.

Where did he learn to speak that? Maggie wondered.

Our boy is a genius! I said, glowing.

It was a beautiful morning, clear and cool. Fingers of fog stretched over the mountains. The blooming azaleas smelled sweet and heavy. We stepped across the decimated lawn, rutted with landing gear tracks. In the driveway, my Ford and Maggie’s Chrysler had been crushed like aluminum beer cans. So had the neighbor’s Corvette. We trudged up the cargo ramp. The soldiers followed us, and Supreme Leader followed them, still shrieking through his bullhorn.

Once we were airborne, I asked, Where are we going?

On Supreme Leader’s signal, the soldiers broke into an anthem of sorts. Not the most melodic in the world. Maybe it was the singers.

Where you think? said Supreme Leader when they’d finished. He grinned his pointy-toothed grin. The Fatherland!

J. T. Townley has published in Collier’s, Harvard Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Istanbul Review, Prairie Schooner, The Threepenny Review, and other places.  He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and an MPhil in English from Oxford University, and he spent time at Fundación Valparaíso, Spain as a fiction fellow.  A Pushcart Prize nominee and Fulbright Scholar, he teaches at the University of Virginia.

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