11

September 2022

Pornography is in the hand of the beholder.

CREATED BY JEREMY TENENBAUM AND KEVIN TRAVERS

AND ALSO EDITED BY

BETSY HERBERT, BRENNA DINON, BRITNY PERILLI, EMILY ZIDO, HEATHER BOWLAN, KELLY RALABATE,
NICK PERILLI, ROSANNA LEE BYRNES, AND VICTORIA MIER.


Laura Hope-Gill
“Last Call Cave”


Years before he became a giant, Eric taught Archeology. His heart always raced when he told students the story of how a dog named Robot found the caves when he chased a rabbit into a hole and discovered a system of caves all drawn with plants and animals, a magical world no one but they had known about for seventeen thousand years. When he told the story, Eric always lowered the lights in the room and used multiple projectors to give the students an immersive experience in the small auditorium. It was always his favorite day of the semester, watching his young students' faces light up with the colors of the Upper Paleolithic. He felt it was the screen onto which they projected their history and untold knowledge.Eric's father died during Eric's tenth winter as a university professor. At the reading of the will, the executor handed Eric a handwritten note from his father:Explore your cave.The executor then read to the siblings another handwritten letter from their father, Ralph.Dear children,You are the light and life of my and your dear mother's hearts. And it is with great sadness that I even imagine the day you read this letter, for when you do I will have left this world and all I love behind in it. My life has not been as I had wished, save for you four, Ralph Jr., Eric, Sam, and Eloise, and of course the love I had for your mother and that she generously shared with me. I had great fiery dreams as a young man, dreams that being in a war tend to quell in a heart and draw their dreamer closer to the bloodstained, echoing earth. I made the mistake of trying to live a safe life, ever prepared for the worst and often denying myself the best. That is, as I've said, except when it came to family. After the war I never traveled. I never took you traveling. I never ate the best food, and the food we kept in the house was moderate at best in quality and flavor. I didn't indulge fancies that your mother often had of renting cabins or going to the seashore. I made sure we had enough but not so much as to excite your senses to the impossible things in life. I wanted you to be safe, and to me that meant making sure you were sane. I made sure you did your homework. I made sure you were home by dark until you were old enough to stay out a few hours after. You were my pride, my joy, my love, my home. I kept you close. It was all I knew to do.Now, bear with me, there are a few things I didn't tell you about, and I hope you will forgive my delay in doing so, as it was only to protect you from making mistakes that come with thinking you're different or better than anybody else.The letter continued with the information regarding the possibility of one male in each generation turning into giants. Ralph made it clear that Eloise, his only daughter, need not be worried about the impact this might have on her, save the inevitable additional responsibilities it might pose on her should the abnormality manifest in one or all of her brothers. The three siblings sat in shock as the executor read aloud. By the time he reached the end of the letter with the addendum that each sibling would receive an inheritance in equivalence to $2,000,000 in real estate holdings and cash amassed through their father's unrelenting thrift, they were in a shock even deeper than the first stage of grief. They could not even lift their eyes from the hypnotizing pattern of the Oriental rug on the living room floor, a gift from one of their father's clients, nothing he would ever have spent a penny on. Becoming millionaires mattered less than waking up one day a giant.Eric inherited the warehouse of the family-owned uniform factory, a path neither he nor his siblings took any interest in. His father knew of Eric's obsession with the caves and had helped fund his research in Dordogne when fellowships and grants weren't enough.One month later, after giving his father's words about his cave some thought, Eric submitted his resignation in ample time for the university to find his replacement. He paid a man who worked in an abattoir to save and deliver plastic canisters of cow and pig blood, bone marrow, albumen, urine, and fat, which he mixed in water using shoulder bones of the slaughtered. With these materials he replicated the Hall of the Bulls, the rotunda just inside the entrance to the Lascaux Caves. Painting the animals filled him with an energy he had never known. He had studied them for so long that now it seemed he was merely translating them with his body. He moved up and down the tree-limb scaffolding like a hamster in a habitrail, placing pigments in places he seemed to remember from some great collective unknown. He navigated by intuition as the seventeen-foot-long bison emerged from the concrete warehouse wall exactly as it had emerged from stone seventeen thousand years before. He painted on instinct. He painted primordially. He painted wildly.As he completed the mural, all sixty-six feet of its length and sixteen feet of its height and fifty or so of its animals, a woman walked into the warehouse."My name is Joan. I own a spa down the street. I heard you were opening a bar and thought I'd come down and say hi and welcome to the neighborhood."Eric moved forward in time to greet her. He hoped Joan wouldn't smell the blood he was using instead of paint. He was relieved she wasn't from the health department."I'm Eric.""Is that --?""The Lascaux Cave.""Yes, I recognize it from my high school humanities class. The Hall of the Bulls. We had to memorize two hundred works of art. What are you --""I'm an archeologist who lucked into owning a warehouse. My dad left it to me.""I'm sorry," said Joan, "about your dad.""Thanks." It was that difficult kind of gratitude that comes with being shown kindness while also dislodging the thing we don't like to think about. "He was a good dad."Joan sniffed and wrinkled her nose, inhaling the scent of blood, but said nothing, dismissing it as preposterous. She spotted the small wooden table with papers on it, a license to sell alcohol, an electric bill. "Last Call Cave. Is that the name of the bar?""Yeah, it came to me a long time ago. I always thought it was a great name for a bar. So now I'm opening a bar. What's the name of your spa?""Om Mani Pedi Om.""Brilliant. I like it."

#

They were in her bed on a Thursday afternoon when he told her he might become a giant. She said she had pills on the nightstand to manage a chronic illness this and that. Joan had recently rearranged her bedroom so two people could climb in rather than one person, herself, as it had been for five years. She'd hung actual curtains in place of the painting cloths she bought at Lowe's for $20, and she'd brought some lamps from her basement to create soft lighting. Nesting, her mother would call it, but really she was just making the room look like more than a stone hut on a cliff where an early Christian monk would meditate and pray, gazing out over the North Sea, waiting for something to happen. Afternoon sunlight shone through the space between the curtains, which were tan and white with the French fleur-de-lis pattern. Over his shoulder she studied the pink of a rhododendron blossom."Since we are sharing medical information, every few generations," Eric said as Joan propped another pillow under her head, "one male in the family turns into a giant." He motioned to his own body by running a hand through the air over the pale-blue sheet, four hundred thread count bought on eBay for $25 the previous week. Joan had never had such nice sheets. She didn't realize when she clicked "Buy Now" they were the same color as her walls. Exactly the same color as Eric's eyes. Eric had said, when she noticed this, that it was the universe mirroring her back to herself. As his hand flourished at his arm's full length and returned to hold her own between them, she remembered being relieved by his height on their first date."All of a sudden he'll just spring up and add another two feet or more.""To his height.""Yes, he'll suddenly be two or so feet taller.""Suddenly.""Suddenly.""Like he wakes up one morning and is --""A giant.""Does his body change other than height?" Joan pictured the Incredible Hulk from the 1970s TV show."No, everything remains proportionate.""He doesn't become all gruesome and gruff like the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk.""No, more like Paul Bunyan.""Still handsome and whoever he was before.""Oh, yes, everything remains the same, just taller.""Much taller.""Yes, he's just a giant.""How tall are you now?""I'm six-foot-two.""So if you're the one in your generation, you could be eight feet.""Suddenly.""Suddenly.""You're not the first giant I've met," she said."Well, I might be a giant. What other giants have you known?""When I was little my father brought a giant home from work one night.""Where did he find the giant?""He was an endocrinologist so a lot of his patients had either dwarfism or, I guess the term is giantism. When we lived in Florida later on, many had played Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz." Eric now propped a pillow under his shoulder to listen. "Anyway, my father felt it was important for me to see how many different kinds of people there are in the world, so he often brought his patients home for dinner.""Maybe he brought my uncle home.""This was in London.""Ah, there are many giants in England.""In folktales.""Maybe," said Eric. "So your father brought home this giant.""Yes, he was so tall he had to hunch over in our kitchen, and at the table it looked like he was standing, and he never had to ask us to pass him anything because his arms spanned the entire table. He asked anyway. Pass the salt. Pass the pepper. Just to appear normal and polite.""So you're not shocked?""No, not at all.""You'd still want to be with me if I'm the giant of my generation?""Well, there might be something else about you that does you in for me, but being a giant isn't it."The afternoon faded into evening. They dressed and cooked. All the time Joan pictured Eric two feet taller. If everything is proportionate in the event of becoming a giant, she figured, then Eric's arms would extend (she tried to do giant math) maybe a foot. His feet would lengthen also a foot as well. How would he find shoes? She remembered her art teacher friend taught her about an exercise called the seven-headed man, in which she could draw a person using seven circles, explaining that the head is one head, the torso two heads, arms and legs two each, but that left her with short arms and legs. She needed more heads. Or maybe it was true, and she just didn't understand men the way she ought to.In the morning Eric scooped three scoops of French Roast into a paper filter, then placed the filter mechanism into the machine. He poured three cups of water into the reservoir and replaced the lid. His movements were succinct and fluid. Together they leaned against the kitchen island and waited. She measured her height against his. She felt a bit sad when she thought of herself coming up only as high as his belly button. How would they go to parties? How would he fit in the car? A list of larger vehicles flowed into her mind like a small mountain stream: Humvee, Land Rover. When the list presented Monster Truck, she said, "Are you sure there's no timeline for when you might turn into a giant?""There's no telling. Just later in life.""What if you don't know how long you'll live?""You mean what if later just means I'll turn into a giant at a moment in proportion to my unknown deathdate?" The coffee maker sputtered that last exhale. He poured. "That's a little heavy for morning conversation, don't you think? I don't ask you about when you're going to die."Joan poured a magnolia blossom of milk into both their cups. Neither liked sugar. "I'm not asking when you're going to die. I'm asking when you'll turn into a giant.""Is this going to be a thing with you?"They both sipped. Joan looked into Eric's eyes. They were bright blue, like the edges of a Chagall where people and animals just fly around. She felt her heartrate calm and her breathing slowed. "No, not at all."

#

The following evening Eric met her at Last Call Cave. A band she hadn't heard of was playing, called The Tallest Man in the World. At least she thought it was a band, but it was really just one man, who was tall but probably not the tallest man, especially for now, knowing that her boyfriend could wake up and be twice his height. "It plays a trick on me the same way the band called 10,000 Maniacs isn't really ten thousand maniacs," she said to Eric as he poured them IPAs, then leapt over the bar to join her. They were talking in normal voices that somehow managed to navigate between the notes of the music."Or the way 99 Pilots isn't ninety-nine pilots.""Fine Young Cannibals was a whole other issue.""I always felt disappointed that these names did not accurately describe the reality." A band was a band, a singer a singer."I suppose the more creative names develop a vastness in fans' imaginations.""I liked the idea of ninety-nine pilots getting together and singing.""The pilots with their pressed white short-sleeved shirts under their navy-blue or black jackets, their ribbons sewn to sleeves, little wheely suitcases," Eric added."Ten thousand maniacs filling a stage, playing musical instruments!"Eric paused and pursed his lips before adding, "Band of Horses," releasing an entire herd into the club, surrounding them before vanishing into the replica cave painting from Lascaux on the wall."They Might Be Giants," said Joan before stopping herself. When Eric laughed, she laughed too.Joan felt they had connected on a very deep level.Eric drew one side of his mouth back, opened his eyes wide, and shrugged as he nodded. "I feel we connect on a very deep level," he said at a volume just slightly above the volume during a louder song.Joan nodded and sipped her beer. The horses remained safely back in place in the painting while the hooves of her heart struck solid earth.As their relationship progressed, Eric started to come into Om Mani Pedi Om each week to relax. Joan reserved the largest chair for him in case he started to grow. She glanced over at Sheryl, her most experienced and kindest employee, who massaged his feet. If Sheryl winked, it meant Eric's feet were bigger. As weeks passed she developed a reference for which of the little lines on the massage chair his head reached. If his head reached the same spot, all was good. He wasn't turning into a giant yet. During Eric's treatments she often went into her office so as not to hover. She started going over the accounts in QuickBooks, then found herself googling Giantism, and Gigantism came up. Unusual or excessive largeness. Excessive growth due to hormonal imbalance. Excessive size in plants due to polyploidy. She tried "gigantism late in life" and only got information confirming that height does not increase in adulthood. She then googled a movie she had seen in childhood called Jack the Giant Killer, then Jack and the Beanstalk. She leaned back in her chair and peeked at Eric's pedicure chair and noted that everything was exactly as it had been.It was the thing they never discussed and the only thing Joan thought about. Eric called her in the evenings to ask her how her day had gone. He asked her questions about Om Mani Pedi Om. She asked him questions about Last Call Cave. What she really wanted was to ask if he was transforming into a giant early. During the day she wanted to text him "How tall are you right now?" One afternoon he called her from the auto body shop, where he was getting a repair done. She pictured him standing in the auto body shop at the corner of Hendersonville Road and Long Shoals, where she could always fill her tires with free air. She pictured the men who worked there, with their kind faces and beer bellies pushing the limits of their coveralls. They always gently laughed at her when she was surprised they didn't charge for it, as though they didn't know every other gas station in town charged a dollar for the stuff we breathe. She worried what they'd experience when Eric started the process. First he'd just be sitting in the plastic chairs fused to metal next to the vending machine, then the plastic would crack suddenly. The people next to him would fall to the linoleum floor, the ceiling panels would crumble as her boyfriend's head reached through to the pink, cottony insulation above. Would he get fiberglass in his lovely hair?When a new restaurant called The Beanstalk opened in their city later that week, Joan wondered what on earth was going on in the universe and made a reservation. She scanned the corner booths and requested the empty one far from the kitchen. If Eric began his transformation, she wanted him to have space to expand. She also didn't want his suddenly very long legs tripping the waitstaff. Eric didn't ask her reasons.She simply said, "Booths are cozy." They scooted into the vast booth. "We'll tip double," she assured their server, who eagerly smiled and brought them water.Everywhere she went now, Joan measured everybody's height, very aware that everything she had been told about height, that we reached a maximum by a certain age and that is that, might be a lie. When the server poured a sampling of the shiraz from California, Joan watched his fingers swirl the glass, measuring its legs, as they said. Long legs in a wine were good. His fingers appeared the same size as when they left the car. He nodded his approval and the server poured more into the glass and a second glass for Joan. Things were normal, she felt assured. It wouldn't happen tonight. She leaned back, raised her glass in an unspecified toast, and sipped, smiling at her yet-six-foot-two boyfriend, who asked her for the story behind the name of her meditation spa."I learned about Om Mane Padme Om," she began, "from a Buddhist roshi who resided for a semester at my college in central Florida, just twenty minutes from Walt Disney World and EPCOT, which I found to be a peculiar consortium of the most touristic kitsch imaginable with absolutely zero awareness of the suffering that people endured in every nation all around the world. Just look at the pretty parts, it said. At least Walt Disney World called its locations Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. At least it was called the Magic Kingdom, a place that you didn't expect any reality at all from. EPCOT purported to show what real places were like: all of Germany a Heidelberg, all of Canada a tipi and beaver meadow, no Africa at all. Even now park representatives say they hesitated to represent any African nations to avoid war and political infighting, but that was only because Disney planned one African Pavilion, as though Africa was one country while Europe was many."Eric listened and waited for the part about the roshi to come back."The roshi, though, in those early morning meditation sessions in the stone Religious Studies building, made it very clear in her first presentation that the entire world was an illusion. Looking out over the trees of the campus and farther out to the glowing white orb of EPCOT, I'd whisper, 'And nothing is more illusory than you.'"The food arrived and Eric ate while Joan continued."I didn't understand a lot of what the roshi said, but something about her gave me a sense of meaning in the world I had never quite felt I belonged in. Not in a suicidal sense, not in a way that made me want to leave here. On the contrary, it was something that held me to it, how fascinatingly odd it was, how magnificently weird."Eric felt he was listening to a mirror, if a mirror could talk. He understood exactly what she was saying. "Weird things happen all the time that people around me don't seem to notice," Eric said, allowing some time for Joan to take a few mouthfuls of her pasta. "Stuff that when I try to make a list of it in my mind, I can't because it was so barely perceptible.""It's like it had not even registered enough to become memory, the way things people said or did formed memories," said Joan."Stuff that I'll catch through the corner of my eye and wonder if anybody else caught it," said Eric. Their waitperson listened in and could swear that if it wasn't for their different voices, it was one person talking to itself.It became clear in this conversation that both Eric and Joan, in order to proceed through their days, had been tamping all this down, keeping it to themselves, or else they would just be two constantly amazed people nobody could relate to."I was always like this," they said at the same time."I was the first person classmates came to, though, when they needed help understanding symbolism in short story or a novel, or help interpreting a poem.""Same for me with history and geology." They both felt what was happening. Eric said, "Tell me more about the roshi.""At the time I wasn't fond of meditating at all. All it did was show me how crazy I might be. Thoughts and dreams didn't drift gently past on my breathing, to which I was supposed to gently return as the roshi taught us. 'Become the cold and you won't feel cold,' said the roshi in her soft German or Swiss accent. 'Become the menstrual cramp and you won't feel the menstrual cramp,' the roshi said when I tried to make an excuse not to sit on the hard cushion for thirty minutes in the cold building with my uterus screaming for heat and lying down. 'You are here,' replied the roshi. 'You are here so be here. Be brave and gentle with your pain.' I felt hatred for the Zen teacher, even though I knew I had drawn myself out of bed for a reason. I could have stayed in bed. That was the beginning of my seeking, I guess, the feeling that something was beyond everything, even if getting to it felt awful. Something inside me had taken over, and it would relent only for brief passages from which I'd return again and again, apologizing to the long-moved-on teacher.""What's the most valuable lesson she taught you?""'We are like bubbles in a stream,' the roshi had taught me one afternoon when I drove her to a grocery store for provisions in the guest apartment the college provided. 'We meet, we become one bubble for a time, then we become our own bubble again.' I had asked her if Zen roshis can fall in love, seeking some rest from the angst I felt when my boyfriend ditched me for another girl with less going on in her life than I had going on in mine, which hadn't been a lot. He and the new girl had sex on a tour bus to a rowing regatta. I couldn't get the image out of my mind. I had really liked him."'We fall in love all the time,' said the roshi. 'We are all always falling in love. We just don't land in it.' I had wanted to pull over, not just from the road we were on but from the whole road of the world. She had landed in it. 'How do you unland from it?' I asked. That was the day the roshi taught me the mantra that now is painted in pun in Sanskrit-looking English letters next to the door of my shop, with the original Sanskrit over the door. Let go. Let go. Let go.""I've landed in it," said Eric."I have too," said Joan.

#

Falling in love came as easily to Joan and Eric as falling through a hole in the earth into a system of caves had been for the dog named Robot, the first discoverer of Lascaux, which had merely been chasing a rabbit in the underbrush. Slightly disoriented at first, Robot entered extreme disorientation when his human arrived with a small oil lamp and illuminated the vast swaths of dream surrounding them. Robot couldn't even remember how to bark. Everything was so immense and hurrying and surrounding and, somehow, bestilling, for Robot felt a connection to the bucks and the oxen and the aurochs that he had never even thought about before. He ran the length of the caves back and forth, running with his herd, his pack, his long-lost family of four-leggeds, across the vast plains of unconscious canine existence. As he ran he heard their calls, their whinnies and snorts, and the thrill was so great that every day for the rest of his life, he ran with them, even when he slept by his human's side as they both guarded the entrance to cave. This is how time felt for Joan and Eric for the next ten years, until their dog passed away when their children were in eighth and ninth grades, prompting Eric's transformation into a giant.

#

After two years of going out for dinner together, Joan no longer thought about Eric's height. They settled into a peaceful rhythm of a life together. They adopted a dog from the Humane Society and named him Robot, after the dog that discovered the Lascaux Caves. They met Robot at the shelter through a pane of glass first, then in an Astroturf play area enclosed by cinder blocks. Robot only saw large animals on cave walls when Eric and Joan stepped toward him, knelt, then invited Robot to jump into their arms, which Robot did without thinking. Robot smelled the musty cave air on the pair of humans. Robot heard the hooves of distant and not-too-distant animals in their blood. When Robot pressed his ear against Eric's heart, Robot's own heart synched with it, beat for beat. He pressed his ear to Joan's, and he synched them all together.Eric and Joan traveled to Dordogne and to Lascaux for their honeymoon. Using his credentials, they were able to explore alone the underground prayer to animals as tourists had been forbidden from doing for seventy years. During the trip the caves became a part of their story. Back at their home, when they closed their eyes to kiss, the backs of their eyelids filled with images of horse-like animals, buffalo-like animals, deer-like animals, some expanded to gargantuan proportion while others, though of similar species (what were the species back then, they both sought to know), were small, small, small, and no one will ever know why. When Joan and Eric made love, they met in ancient timelines and found themselves surrounded by hooved creatures running. Sometimes they became the hooved creatures and ran with them, sometimes they chased them, others they were chased by them. They did not speak of this when they nestled together after, returning to the acceptable politeness of everyday life. Eric sometimes saw a doodled antlered mammal on the edges of Joan's handwritten grocery list. Joan sometimes saw one on a Post-it next to her computer keyboard and couldn't recall if she drew it or did Eric. Sometimes the images appeared on the magnetic whiteboard on the fridge, and each thought the other had drawn it. Sometimes the images disappeared and each thought the other had erased it.They moved into Joan's house because it had higher ceilings than Eric's and an open floor plan that would come in handy when Eric became a giant. They decorated their home with murals of Lascaux in the colors of bodily fluids. Nonpathogenic acrylic paints using the right blends of burnt umber and burnt sienna and yellow ochre hue proved to be decent substitutes, as maybe he should have done at the bar, but the health department had yet to ask. They talked about having children one day. Robot, the dog, watched by the Lascaux animals Eric and Joan had painted on the walls of their home, thought, I'd like to stay here forever. Undetected by any humans in the home, an ear twitched, a mane shook. In the afternoon Robot lay on the floor near the giant bull. Joan and Eric thought he might have a crush.Robot died naturally and peacefully on the cool-tiled bathroom floor in his sleep at three in the morning. Joan and Eric both woke up and knew. Their kids, Milo and Wendy, found them still sitting and sobbing on the bathroom floor hours later when breakfast was nowhere to be found. The family of four spent the day on the bathroom floor while the sun arced the sky into evening, when Wendy and Milo got up and brought their parents some food. Together the family painted many Robots into the herd on the living room wall.Two days passed and Joan said to Eric, "We have to bury the dog."Eric put his hands to his face and pulled them down as though removing a mask, but there was no mask, just the same defeated, bereft face that everyone wore during that week and for the many after. Eric and Wendy dug the hole at the end of their garden. Milo and Joan crafted a wooden coffin they all covered with paintings of the Lascaux animals. At the gravesite they all chanted "om mane padme om" once Robot was lowered into the earth, covered, and left as the family went back inside, enclosed in a cloud of earth-toned grief that ran herd-like through their blood as they moved across the grass to the softly glowing interior of their home. Let go. Let go. Let go.Eric's grief went bone deep and set the transformation in motion."The bones grow first," Eric recalled his father's words in the letter the executor read in their living room as first his left femur, then his right extended, causing his feet to strike the floor once his kneecaps and shin bones lengthened. When his spine followed he screamed in pain. Joan held him as he grew two feet taller and all his limbs lengthened. "This is it. It's happening," she said to herself."I am here," she said to Eric."It's pretty neat that the house you bought on your own actually is just the right size," said Eric between growth spurts. Joan nodded. She had wondered about that as well."Maybe we were supposed to find each other," she said. "I mean, not just because you're a giant.""I guess we always knew that.""The kids will take some time to adjust. They'll be fine. We'll all be fine." She remembered her Buddhist reading: Everything is workable. Even this. "The important thing is that we keep them at the center of attention while everybody around us adjusts. The children always come first. Wendy has her student council election. We can't let your becoming a giant overshadow that.""We will do our best. We always do." He screamed in pain and the young teenagers ran into the room to see if everything was okay."Daddy's turning into a giant," said Joan."I'll be okay," said Eric. "Everything will be okay." He then screamed in pain and grew the final few inches, bringing him to a full eight-feet-two-inches in height.It was at that moment that they heard their dog bark. At first it wasn't startling, but once they remembered that they'd buried Robot the night before, they looked at each other, then all four walked down the hall to the living room. Several of the animals they all had once painted on the walls now walked around the house like it was their home. The walls continued to expel them as only tiny footprints and massive footprints remained. Their paleolithic fur emitted strong odors, but other than that they were perfectly like animals at a zoo, except the extinct ones. It was a lot for the family to fathom and even more for them to feed. When little Robot came barking up to Joan and Eric and the children, Eric wrapped his massive arms around them all as Robot curled up in Milo's lap, then Wendy's. Then the other Robots they had painted on the cave walls (they hadn't considered this might happen) came running up to the family as well, nosing their ways between the hooves of the other beasts. The walls were now bare of anything but outlines as the animals found their way through doors into the greater world.


Evalyn Lee
Four Poems


“I Have… Seeds In Me”


“The Next Generation Of Stars”

I only stand here because of you.
My life's a stellar wind, good to go.
The truth hurts: Our life's a stellar wind.
They thought they knew, but they didn't.
I thought I knew, but then I didn't.
We travel in the dark to see the stars.
I see darkness travel in the stars.
I don't pretend to know know what's going on.
Will faith usurp an unlevel path?
Just because we think we know what happened
Doesn't mean we know what the hell happened.
Denial of body, denial of self,
denial of soul: catastrophe.
I only stand here because of you


“If You Learn Something You Should Not Know”

Bury it deep. Stones cold in a jar.
I tell you: You are not cleared to know.
You want to know. I do not tell you:
Those who are dead can come back to life.
You who are dead will come back to life,
the torn-off skin of a face gets up
to blanket a skull's coronal pit.
This truth changes everything. I swear.
Everyone wants to change truth. It happened.
Narratives and counternarratives
coexist. We all live in the gap.
Our hands, tied behind our backs, clap.
Clap your hands in time, it's time to know:
The stones in the jar grow hot.


“A Concustador Kadiddled The Last Crumplecack”

And the world swerved,
oceans upended, galaxies
spat back black holes
which got busy bladaling
and extincting all the concustadors
for their sin, leaving me to to ask:
Who will grow in the gafen now?


Lindsey Marie Siferd
Three Poems


“an instagram post in which vin diesel's daughter is a bridesmaid at meadow walker's wedding”

in the fast and the furious there's always one more job to do
one more chance to get the crew back together
what if you were skydiving
but it was in car?
what if you took down a plane
but with a car?
what if you broke into a bank
but using a car?
the twist at the end of the first fast and furious movie:
paul walker was a cop all along
it takes three movies
before he quits for good.
vin diesel lets him get away because
he knows he will come back for him one day
vin diesel loves his woman, his car, and his friends,
but he loves paul walker most of all
everyone loves paul walker most of all.
..that's one thing everyone can agree on:
he was a good man.
he died doing what he loved.
that is to say, he died in a car crash
..wrapped around a tree
leaving behind a daughter
but more importantly vin diesel
i've been in four car crashes in my life.
each time, inexplicably i was on the phone with my mother
vin diesel, who on screen drives like he fucks,
or rather, fucks like he drives
a quarter mile at a time is a luxury
only allowed to men, i think
the body cannot sprint a quarter mile
the body can only run 300m without oxygen
so a quarter mile at a time
takes planning
the men who make the fast and furious movies
dream at night about being able to drive like vin diesel
dream of being able to fuck like vin diesel
so they write a movie where they can destroy 300 cars
and they also do it
..300 cars, and one man
four car crashes and hit by a car too
an suv, my brother hit later by a minivan
my uncle by a convertible
two cousins, an ice cream truck
but when paul walker drives the hypersport
across the towers in dubai
for a moment you forget: he's dead
you forget, you forget
does a car crash sound the same over the phone
as it does when you watch it on the screen?
as it does when
it's happening to you?
because when it's happening to you
it sounds like the absence of sound
thank god paul walker
doesn't die a cop
and vin diesel lets him
and we let him


“silk straw”

there's a storefront in la called a home for wayward blondesthe ultrasound tech says, well that's pretty interestingin the town i grew up in there's a house where the firefighters practice putting out firessomeone spilled lemons all over the groundthe back of the yellow cab acts as a liminal spacei once told b. that loving him was like drinking milk so new the bacteria still rims the surfaceoil rigs on the side of the 405 we didn't think we would see themmy ovaries a dark mass, one bigger than the othera boy who used to do drugs with my brother asked me out over instagrama man is locked alone in a room with a wild coyote, masturbation happens below thefloorboardsseven years later, b. lives one block away from mewhen i kiss you it tastes like grass: without a swimming pool what is a forest firelook! it's a beautiful picture of a horse in a field!when i go to tune the orchestra my strings break, the pianist kisses me on the couchin the pastel light of evening on the beach everything turns to godgrandfather drosselmeir sits on the clock and clara screams in fright each timehow do i tell b. i don't want to have his baby but i want him to be the fatherthe house is burnt down to the bricks then burnt again"it's only a matter of time until you say yes”


“milkshake”

there's that one about the lamps, the stillborn baby, wild animals, and the plane to dublin fromjfkmemory: it was 1940 and i lived in a hotelfrançoise gilot speaks to the new york times about her relationship with picassok. sings my girl, my girl, don't lie to me tell me where did you sleep last nightsomeone hugged me inside an elevatorgrew a tail covered in scaled green and shined pink, fucking on wet sand next to craggy cliffsthey called it a crime of passion! they were friends!wintertime, cottages and sneaking around: waking up with salt crusted on my lips"i was simply trying to look beautiful,” she told himit was the pool behind my parents house and i was thirteenthere's one in the hand and two in the bushk. cries, my girl, my girl, where will you go, i'm going where the cold wind blowswhen i was in college i came to gertrude stein through les demoiselles d'avignonsugar sugar sugar sugar orange rinds and red winemy father says run 200 meters then run it again, then run it again twenty two timesi cried a bucket of ice when k. leftthere's still emmett, and the horsesin my dream they're all still alive


Andy Plattner
“Unique Forms of Continuity”


You stood in the empty parking lot at Benihana's, considering the adjacent apartment building, the pattern of shadows made by the balconies against the almond paint. Obtuse triangles. You listened to the sound of cars whooshing by out on Piedmont Avenue. A man stepped out onto a balcony. This was on the first, second... the eighth floor. He wore a black robe and smoke rose from his shoulders. He yelled in your direction. Then, he began to motion, waving one arm. Was it a sign? Mistaken identity? For some reason, you proceeded from the lot to the front of the building. The courtyard had neatly kept grass, a garden of white orchids and lilies. With your phone, you took a picture. You lingered by the entrance, far enough from the doors so you could see out to the Benihana lot. When you heard the buzzer, you hesitated. But then you were opening the glass door, heading across a carpeted lobby. You took an elevator to the eighth floor. At the end of the hall, you spotted a door ajar, and you opened it further. Come in, a voice said. Inside the apartment stood the man in the dark robe. The hem was just above his knees. He's here, finally, the man said. From somewhere inside the apartment, there came another voice, a woman's. Come in, come along! The carpeting in the living room area was sapphire-colored, the living area overall larger than your entire apartment. You noticed a painter's easel in one corner, a drop-cloth draped around its base. You edged closer to the glass doors of the balcony. The sunlight glowed along the top of the railing. You considered the Benihana lot below it. In a doorway stood a slight woman with reddish hair piled atop her head. Where in the fuck have you been? She wore black yoga pants, and a butterscotch, western-cut shirt. She held a palm up to her right eye. You were supposed to be here yesterday. Wait a minute, is this the guy? James, is this the guy? The man in the black robe stood behind her. He said, Yeah. I guess. He's a friend of Lee's, Lee vouched for him. You know Lee, right? You said, Lee? The man said, And you're Russell, right? He told you what we're doing? After a pause, you said, Painting. The woman said, Well, gimme a minute to get some coffee. You can just put your clothes on the couch there. I'm Stephanie and my buddy there is James. Her voice rang out: Why weren't you here yesterday? You said, Yesterday wasn't a good day for me. She said, What's that? You didn't answer. You took off your denim jacket. Then you found yourself removing your shirt, shoes, socks, jeans and underwear. Carrying a mug of coffee, Stephanie walked across the carpet for her easel. She gave your penis a glance, kept walking. She placed her coffee on the shelf of a cupboard, began opening cabinet doors, removing supplies. She said, Good, you're lean, got some muscles... That's actually a terrific pose, where you are right now. You faced in the direction of the balcony windows. In the distance, you could see the downtown skyline. Your hands were folded over your stomach. She said, I'm gonna do some charcoals. James appeared again. A balding man with a pinkish scalp. Now, he wore a Hawaiian shirt and faded jeans. He stood near the couch, took notice of the discarded clothes. From behind the easel, Stephanie said, How about some music? An entertainment system was built into the wall beyond the couch. In your periphery, you could see James point the remote. The result: Billie Holliday, "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?" Near the conclusion, from the phone somewhere amongst your clothes, came "Bad Moon Rising," by CCR. You said, My ringtone. I know who's calling. It's my brother. James said, Maybe you should take it. He'd remained by the couch, looking kind of starry-eyed over the Billie Holliday song. You said, I know why he's calling. I can see his Ford from right here, in the Benihana lot. I called him to pick me up. I called him last night, told him I was fed up with everything and I wanted to move back home. He's waiting for me right now. I chose the Benihana lot because it would be easy for him to find. Stephanie had lowered her arms, stepped out from behind the easel. She said, You're not Lee's friend, are you? Goddamnit! James said, It's not easy to get models to come to your home. After the "Bad Moon" ringtone abruptly ceased, you aid, He'll leave a message. Stephanie said, Shouldn't you go down there? You said, We agreed to seven-thirty this morning because he'd need to get back... to his job. I feel like walking out to the balcony, wave for him to go on. You turned to Stephanie at this point and said, I was fed up yesterday. This morning, I thought I was ready to go home. But James, who doesn't know me, waved me up here. I don't know him, but I came anyway. Do you know what that means? She'd placed a hand to her chest. She said, You don't really want to go? You said, That's what I think it means. I'll leave your apartment, don't worry about that. If you don't mind, I'd like to wait until he's driven off the lot. Her eyes went to James. You're getting really, really sloppy. James wiped a palm across his forehead. Stephanie said, Yes, you can stay. She moved closer to the balcony windows. You said, When I was ten years old, he threw me down into a well. He won't sit there forever. James had made his way over to the doors as well. He said, Anybody mind if I step out and have a cigarette? She said, You hang on. The stereo played "All The Things You Could Be By Now If Sigmund Freud's Wife Was Your Mother," by Charles Mingus. In a minute, "Bad Moon Rising" could be heard from the clothes on the couch. You said, He won't wait much longer. He has an hour and a half drive. He'd rather die than show up late for work. Stephanie said, The world needs people like that. She glanced at you, then held her eyes on James. The Ford sped off the Benihana lot. You said, I'll get dressed now. She said, Make sure to call your brother to tell him you're okay. As you pulled on your clothes, Stephanie and James were exchanging looks. Reaching into his pocket, James stepped in your direction, and he said, Take this. Two twenties he held out. You said, I couldn't. But then you did. The door front closed after you, and inside you could hear the voices of Stephanie and James. The music began to play again. Chet Baker? You took the elevator down to the ground floor. Outside, you stopped to take another picture of the garden with the white lilies and orchids. And, at the far end of the Benihana lot, you turned in the direction of the apartment building you'd just left. The sun had climbed upward, and the pattern of balcony shadows had disappeared. Traffic increased, especially in the direction you were going. Your place wasn't far, just a few more blocks. It wasn't even nine o'clock in the morning.


Gale Acuff
Five Poems


I don't want to die but I'm out of my

hands, ha ha, at church and Sunday School it's
God who decides everything including
exactly when I'll croak and how and I'm
only ten years old but I'm still ready
for anything though I do sin a lot
so when I die that will fetch me Hell if
I don't get saved and born again and all
that and I have tried but it's not easy
because I always fight the Holy Ghost
off, I'm not sure why, it's like refusing
to fall asleep even though you're sleepy
and need some z's or the time I was in
in surgery and woke up like rising
from the dead so they bombed me one last time.


When you die you don't, not exactly, and

that's religion at least at our church, there
you go to Heaven or Hell, you'll find them
in Eternity, far above the moon
or in the center of the Earth and folks
are halfway between so when we kick
it's one place or the other for our souls,
as for ours bodies (lucky stiffs) they get
to hang around forever at least 'til
they've rotted back to basics and come to
-gether, yours and mine, and our dead pets and
every other thing living and nonliving
into something new or at least well re
-cycled. I hope to be stuck forever
in Forever one day that's forever.


One day you die and then where will you be

but in the Afterlife they tell me at
church and Sunday School, not that the After
-life is at church and Sunday School, In the be
-ginning was the Word but I'm not so sure
about the grammar but nobody
lives forever is what I'm coming
to, we're all coming to, unless we die
and live eternally, Heaven or Hell,
like the choice of rice or potatoes at
the buffet where my folks take me after
Sunday School, when they come to church with me
that is, it doesn't happen every week
-- I asked Father why and he answered Call
it God's will. I call it tickling Mother.


When you die you're dead but not religious

if I understand what God is up to
at least at our church and Sunday School but
I've been wrong before, Mother sometimes says
(although she hollers it) that I was just
a mistake and I'm ten years old and that
every birthday and not just mine but hers
and Father's, too, and that homely guy's from
Aerosmith, we celebrate our sorrow
but I just smile, it makes her so angry
that she falls asleep, she's special that way,
she could be on TV or Youtube or
even the street corner picking up some
extra bucks and I told her so but she
laughed and laughed. Just like your father, she cried.


I'll die someday, I don't have any choice,

and join the Afterlife in Heaven or
Hell, one or the other my Sunday School
teacher says and I choose by living my
life good or bad, I mean the way I be
-have and what I believe and if I read
my Bible and pray like I mean it and
when I sin don't sin terrible sins but
whatever kind they are I must beg for
-giveness from God and Jesus and for all
I know the Holy Ghost--I'd better
ask my teacher since I don't want to fuck
up and when I die wake in Hell instead
of Heaven although I don't want to die
not even to live forever. Damn it.


Christopher Hadin
“The Dome”


On the beach he stripped, going naked except for a red bandanna around his neck. She clambered out of the boat, holding the few tools he wanted to bring. The island was deserted now, but on weekends, boaters anchored nearby and came ashore to see the abandoned commune, clustered among the shady trees of the island's wooded interior. Most of the buildings were ruins, but a determined individual with deep pockets could salvage the central structure, a large geodesic dome with Plexiglas panels that allowed sunlight in. The panels were cloudy but still intact, though several had become mossy where rainwater collected. Sections of the building branched off the main dome like spokes. Nearby there were two structures that may have been workshops.When they met, he seemed like the rest of the people in her co-op, easygoing and pleasant, but once they were together, she found he was hard inside -- harder than any of the people she knew. He was guarded, like a little fortress unto himself. While the rest of her friends were open hearted toward life and each other, he alone treated newcomers and visitors with a guarded surliness. But when the semester was over, they left her friends to travel in his van. She was amazed at how resourceful he could be when he had to. Things they needed just seemed to appear. Favors happened out of the blue. He got food when they had little money, seasonal jobs in a marina, and a boat to use when they wanted to go to the islands offshore.A very large eye, four feet across, was painted above the double doors of the main entrance to the dome. It had faded but was still full of detail. A small square of reflected light on the pupil showed a tiny curved landscape, heightening the effect of the eye's roundness. After staring up at it for a moment, she blinked then noticed a human figure painted in the foreground of the reflection, as though the eye contained a tiny mirror."The fucking Doritos were here," he yelled from inside the dome, using his term for the mainstream middleclass, people with houses, cars, and children. "They threw their Dorito crap everywhere." She didn't go in, leaving him to explore and salvage anything that might be of use. She pulled a rickety wooden chair over to the door and stood on it to examine the eye.When she looked up at the eye from the ground, the reflected light in the pupil seemed to only show a simple figure landscape, but now, standing on the chair, she could see it was more richly detailed than that. Up close, she could see the tiny figure was a man, glowering down at her. In the background, a New England village nestled in the rolling hills, with stone walls separating trim white houses, all clustered around a white church steeple. To her amazement, by getting closer to the pupil of the eye she could see even smaller details that tested the limits of her vision. She pulled an elaborate army knife out of her pocket and extracted the tiny magnifying glass. He had given it to her after they had been together for one week. "You will learn to use every tool on this knife," he said, and so far he was right. She used it every day.Leaning against the doorway, she brought the image into focus. The eye seemed to have a layered depth that was not apparent without magnification. In the distant background, a crowd gathered around a large platform. The speckled daylight that penetrated the forest canopy behind her made it hard to see exactly what the platform was for. It made the image blink, like single frames of a movie flashing by on the screen.How was it done? she wondered. With a single hair of a paintbrush? She glanced down to rest her eyes a little and heard him moving something heavy in the building. Or was it something outside in the woods that made the noise? She couldn't be sure. He would probably be angry, she thought. Encountering the Doritos, and especially their litter, could set him off for hours.She returned the magnifying glass to her eye and leaned in close to the painted wood. It was different now. The figure was no longer directly facing the viewer. The village looked closer. My eyes are adjusting, she thought, trying to reason out the changes that took place in the image. The platform now seemed to have an upright part, and the crowd was more visible, with men in dark coats and women in large old-fashioned dresses. More loud noises came from the building. What was he doing? Knocking down walls? Without taking her eye off the magnifying glass she called to him but he didn't answer.She got down off the chair and peered into the huge center room of the building. There were beer cans and fast food wrappers scattered around three large chairs with stuffing bulging out of the cushions and armrests. A large, galvanized tub stood in the center of the room. She called him again but again there was no response. Something around the side of the building thumped. He was probably into some found object. He could be deaf to her when he focused. She got back on the chair to look at the eye.There was no mistaking it -- the whole scene had gotten closer. The figure in the foreground was gesturing back to the crowd. On the platform's scaffolding, a naked man hung from a red noose around his neck. Individual people were now turned toward her and appeared closer than before. A dull, cold fear touched the small of her back. She called out for him to please hurry the fuck up when something large blocked out the light behind her, casting the painted eye and the doorway into deep shadow.


Aria Braswell
“Roots”


The day that Margery Sump's soul was sent hurtling towards earth, it was headed for the seed of a banyan tree, but the winds were especially strong that day.Now Margery Sump stands with her arms out straight and her fingers splayed and she stretches the roof of her head towards the sun and her feet towards the earth and she thinks about her toes searching down into the dirt to seek out the dampest soils.Living living alive. And living living in a house on a house on a house, four stories up.When she should be deep, deep. Seed deep.Margery Sump was born in the city and her mother found her one day picking apart cracks in the pavement to find some bit of ground where she could cool her fingers. And Margery was seen sitting on the asphalt of the school yard, cupping a fallen leaf in her palms and screaming at the sight of death.When Margery was hungry she'd long for sun. When she was thirsty she'd long for ground. And when she wanted sex, she'd long for wind and to break herself into pieces and be carried away with it."Some people aren't cut out for the city." Wes Trent said to her once when they were seventeen. "Maybe you need to put down roots somewhere green. Like Staten Island." And so Margery moved to Staten Island, with Wes's older brother, the day she turned eighteen, but quickly found the soil didn't run deep enough before it hit pipelines or concrete or poison. It tasted like poison. All of it. The pavement, the water, the earth. Even the sun glinting off the tall silver towers across the water were poison. She took in big gulping breaths of pre-breathed air and choked. And when winter came she dropped twenty pounds.Mike Trent found her shivering and naked in front of a window, her hair falling out in heaps at her feet. "Jesus, Margery. Some people aren't built for cold like this. We'll move somewhere warmer. Put roots down somewhere else."But the soil in Nevada was dry, coarse, even where it wasn't sand. And Margery grew thirsty at the sight of the land and her tongue turned white and rough as chalk and she smacked her mouth and looked up at the sky, wishing for rain. Her skin grew rough and her hair thin and her cheeks sallow and lips puckered and chapped and they would bleed and bleed if Mike tried to kiss them and "Jesus, Margery," he'd say. "Some people aren't cut out for desert like this. We'll move somewhere wetter."Florida suited her skin and her hair and lips just fine. And there was water when she needed it and sun and there was ground soft enough to dig her fingers into and catch the mud up under her nails. In fact, Margery liked the mud so much she would wade into it, up to her knees, and stand perfectly still. Stand there all days sometimes, if Mike was at work, and she'd stand and stand and didn't mind if anyone stopped a moment to look. And it was alright if a bird sat out on her head or if a deer stopped to chew or if a caterpillar built its chrysalis from her ear lobe. And it was alright when the wind blew hard enough to break her back and she'd hardly bend. And it was all alright until Margery started growing.It was only inches at first. The thickening of her skin. A centimeter here, a finger suddenly long enough to scratch her cheek without needing to bend her elbow. Her hair more lush. She could only wear flip flops, once her toes were too long to fit inside her sneakers and then long enough to click against the pavement when she walked to the Walgreens."Margery's really thriving." Mike would tell his coworkers when they asked about his poor sick wife. "She's really spruced up these past few months. She keeps on like this and we'll need to get a two story house. Stands so tall these days, her head nearly bumps the ceiling."And Margery kept growing. So much that her arms were nearly long enough to drag along the ground beside her. Soon her bed became too small to be comfortable and her couch too short to watch tv, and so she'd resorted to standing outside all hours of the day and night where she could be as big and tall as she'd become and not scratch her head on the sky.Margery painted her long strong nails come spring, and the neighbors took note of how Margery had really blossomed. She wasn't the same woman they'd met when she'd first moved. They marveled at how she'd grown and discussed around their dinner tables how she'd come to reach great heights. The neighbors would stare out their windows in awe at the woman, standing perfectly still in the front of her yard, twelve feet up at least since the last time they saw her. Nails so pink and hair so full.At the company barbecue, Mike showed her off, a smile wide across his face. "She keeps me safe from the Florida sun." He'd beam. "I just stand here in front when the sun is behind and I never get burned." And Margery planted her feet and the company ate hot dogs on the grass in front while the sun was behind and she delighted in divine purpose.The trouble started with her belly.It was different the day it grew, round and all outside her. Different from all the other stretching, reaching, bigging changes. This change made her heavy. Made it harder for her to stand up straight all day and thirsty for even more water, more sun. And no matter how much rain fell in Florida or how deep she'd wade in its mud, her skin was growing dry again."My vampire bug." She'd call the thing inside her.And soon Mike noticed the little black patches on her skin."You're molding, Margery." He'd say, with tears in his eyes. "You don't stand as tall. You're hair's falling out and you bend with wind. I never expected something as big as you, Margery, to wither so fast."And Margery thought perhaps, her fingers would fall off from all the reaching and never growing."More water! More light!" Mike cried. "More enough for the both of you!"But it wasn't enough for Margery and she wasn't enough for the vampire bug and she'd shrink and she'd fade until no one could stand in her shade anymore at barbecues and they'd marvel amongst themselves and discuss around their dinner tables, how something as big as Margery could wither so fast."Some people just aren't cut out for vampire bugs." They would say. They'd whisper.Margery found herself one night in the mud, not up to her knees, but up to her thighs. She'd waded in deeper that night, drying out the ground looking for enough water to soften her lips again so that Mike might kiss them. Then on her back, she spread herself wide, and dipped herself into the earth. But as deep as she sank, and as deep as she searched, there was never water enough or life enough inside her left to keep her above the soil. There was nothing much left inside her at all, aside from the vampire bug. And soon even her head, once tall enough to bump the ceiling of their new two story house, to scratch the sky, was deep, deep. Seed deep.And when Margery was gone, Mike wept into the earth and his coworkers did too, and the neighbors all whispered in their houses until the mud was just mud again with no more prints from her long long toes.And after all the stretching and reaching and thickening up she did, still they'd say, "Some people just aren't cut out to grow."


Gabrielle Fernandez
“Bob Barker Had The Right Idea”


Harold sat on a metal bench, watching the train he'd missed disappear through the tunnel. There was no doubt he would be late for work now. He checked his watch, a plastic piece he'd won from his nephew's birthday pinata. It only fit with the addition of a rubber band laced through the notch, but a free watch was better than nothing. The dinosaur hands confirmed he was going to be late.Harold leaned back, shifting in hopes of making the bench grow more comfortable. A jingle crackled on the speakers. The arrival time for the next train had been pushed back another twenty minutes.The station collectively groaned.Harold watched the platform empty until he sat alone, wondering if this job was worth having to smell subway urine every morning.He leaned down to grab his threadbare bag but paused as a tabby cat appeared. It took a seat next to Harold, gazing off toward the tracks as though it were waiting too. Harold gazed around the platform, but no one looked like they were missing a cat.The cat scanned Harold, as if it was assessing his appearance and deciding whether it should stay."Ps, ps, ps," Harold stuck out a hand. He clicked his tongue and wiggled his fingers. The cat's eyes narrowed."No?""No." The cat replied.Harold's mouth fell slack. He blinked a few times, sure he had imagined the cat responding. It must be the lack of sleep… or maybe too much caffeine? His doctor did say his blood pressure was too high. Were hallucinations a symptom of that? He'd had a second cousin who had gone insane after inhaling too much helium as a part-time clown, but surely that wasn't hereditary.The cat began cleaning itself. Every few seconds its eyes darted up to Harold. When it finished washing its face, it resumed staring at the tracks."Off to work?" It asked.Harold didn't respond. He stuck a finger in his ear and shook it vigorously."I've never had the displeasure of a job myself," The cat sighed. "Much to busy for that. Do you enjoy your work?"Harold opened his mouth but couldn't find his voice. He shrugged."I'm not the employable type. Companies prefer the mindless drones who don't think for themselves. I prefer to travel."Harold scrunched his nose, trying to decide if he'd just been insulted or not. "There's nothing wrong with having a --""Have you traveled to New Mexico before?""No but I've always wanted to go. I just can't get the time-""I've been to New Mexico. Ghastly weather in New Mexico. Too hot. Too humid. Do you like the heat, Mr.?""Harold," Harold replied. "I don't mind the heat so long as-""I hate the heat." The cat continued. "Does horrible things to fur. What I prefer are temperate climates. As the Honorable Hepzibah Montigo once told me, 'You find the most agreeable people in temperate climates'. I'm partial to Charleston in the spring. Excellent weather there.""Wait, who is Hepaba Mon-""I knew a fellow by the name of Colonel Bixby who'd always say Philadelphia was the place to be. Of course, he was mad. Most people from Philadelphia are. I went to Philadelphia just to see what the fuss was about. You can only go so long hearing about a place before you must investigate for yourself. Sadly, the only thing there worth going for is the food. You must travel for the food."The furthest Harold had ever journeyed was New Jersey, and his cousin's bachelor party to Atlantic City wasn't exactly something worth bragging about. It wasn't that he didn't want to travel. He had, in fact, purchased an expensive backpack just after college in hopes of a grand European tour. It wasn't until after it arrived that he realized he had no money for the plane ticket. He took the first job offer he could get in hopes he could have his expedition soon.That had been ten years ago.The cat, unaware of Harold depressing spiral, was still talking about places it had been."- I once met a French chef who was staying at the Algonquin, and I told him he just had to try the crab from Maryland. It is the only way to eat crab, fresh from the harbor. And he of course took my advice. It would be silly for him not to.""You've been to Maryland, too?""No," the cat snapped. "I never said I've been there.""But you just -""As I said, the crab in Maryland is just superb. The Frenchman wrote me a letter not long after, thanking me for the recommendation. Decent fellow."Harold shifted uncomfortably. The cat grating on his nerves, not that it noticed.A woman appeared at the end of the platform, too engrossed with her phone to notice the cat. She came to a stop a few feet away, smiling at whatever was on the screen."Hey!" Harold shouted. "Can you see this cat?"The woman looked up with wide eyes. She spotted the cat, who was sitting unnaturally still. "How cute. What's its name?""It's not mine." Harold said with disgust. "It just showed up and started talking! It won't shut up. Couldn't you hear it?"The woman's smile instantly disappeared. She took a step back, but Harold would not be deterred."I'm not crazy, lady. It talks. Listen! Go on, cat. Say something!" Harold snapped. The cat began cleaning itself. "It was talking! Wait don't go-"The woman began running in the opposite direction. Harold slumped into the bench."Here's some advice," The cat continued. "A nice bath goes a long way to making a good impression."Harold discreetly sniffed his shirt. "I don't need advice,""I wash at least five times a day. In the mornings I wake up, bathe, and then take my tea with exactly two lumps of sugar. It must be exactly two or it is undrinkable. After tea I enjoy going to a local café to meet people and tell them stories of my travels. In the afternoon, I take my second bath, and -""And I don't need a rundown of what you do every day.""-like to take a stroll in a park. It is there I will enjoy my third bath of the day, preferable in a sunny spot to watch the birds. A park is no park at all unless there are birds.""I don't care," Harold groaned. "Listen, kitty. Why don't you go find someone else to talk to?""Have I ever told you of the time I went to the town of West York?""Do you mean New York?""It all began when I had learned that West York had an annual competition for yodeling and as you know, I've held the title in Boston for years -""Why would I know that?" Harold mumbled."So of course, I had to continue my legacy and travel to West York. If I recall correctly it had started as a sunny Monday. After my black tea with exactly two lumps of sugar, and a bath -- as I said before it is important to maintain hygiene if you want to be taken seriously -- yes two lumps of sugar exactly, I began my trip to East York. No, West York. I was on my way to East York, and there happened to be a wonderful café with exceptional scones. I only eat tuna on Mondays as I've said. I hope you are paying attention."Harold dragged his hands down his face."Now the yodeling contest was in West York. I had been in Galveston, which as you know, does not allow dogs in hotels. So, I went to West York to claim another title as Best Yodeler. I will sing some for you now."The cat began to howl, its little paw tapped to a beat Harold could not hear. He clamped his hands over his ears, but the tabby sang on. One of its paws gave a flourish in the air as the song ended."Thank you for the applause." It said, bowing.Harold slowly pulled his hands from his ears, which had not clapped once. It seemed the cat had said all it could think of and was finally finished speaking. Harold let out a long sigh, glad for some silence.When it wasn't talking, he had to admit it was cute. He pictured giving it some little goggles to wear as they rode a shoddy moped in Phuket; they could share a bowl of vichyssoise in Marseille and collect seashells on the Amalfi coast.The more he thought about it the more Harold loved the idea. The cat was a fuzzy little miracle, here to shake him from his routine and introduce him to the wonders of the world! It was time to embrace adventure. He'd name it something refined, like Duke or Mr. Fuzzy Toes. With this cat, there was nothing he couldn't do.The signal for the incoming train pulled Harold from his thoughts. He turned to the cat, ready to seize the day. He opened his mouth to profess his need to travel but the cat beat him to it."As I was saying, I began my journey to West York on a Monday. After my morning tea and exactly two lumps of sugar I found my way to the yodeling contest. On Tuesday --"Harold snatched his bag and sprinted to the oncoming train. The doors had barely opened before he threw himself into the car. The people around him muttered as they shuffled around him to exit. He didn't care. He collapsed into a seat beside a shirtless man carrying several bags stuffed with fake birds.Harold's eyes were glued to the cat. It was watching him in return. For one terrifying moment he feared it would try to follow. As the train's doors closed, he sighed in relief."Merry Christmas," the man beside him said. He reached into his bag and removed a gold finch with missing eyes. Upon closer inspection Harold realized it was a very real, very stuffed, taxidermized bird. He eyed the man's hands, whose nails were encrusted with what looked suspiciously like blood. "Bob Barker reminding you, help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered."Harold leaned back into his seat with a smile. "You've got that right, friend."


Michael Loyd Gray
“There Isn't Any Sense In Love”


It's a long drive over to Pewamo, a funny name for a town, but I avoid joking about it, given Cam's mood and burden. We're on the way to see her old man, who was a sonofabitch to her, and now he's dying from too much booze and too many cigarettes, from too much hard life.Too much meanness, to hear Cam tell it.But still, he's her old man, and so there's that.We have plenty of time to talk on the way, but for a while there's just silence, only the sound of tires humming and squeaking on blacktop as I drive back roads. It's like there's smoldering embers inside her and I half expect smoke to drift out her ears.The old slow burn.Finally, she turns on the radio and surfs stations, finding a country station and I nod no, emphatically, and that at least gets a slight grin out of her. She settles on a classic rock station and soon we have the Fab Four riding with us, singing about a girl with a Ticket to Ride.I don't think the song is about us at all, just a random song on the radio, but there is sadness in the song, and it's a day for sad, for sure. It can't be dressed up or avoided. She's going to pay her respects, maybe say her last goodbye. To a sonofabitch old man.I'm just the driver for now.There's a script and I probably don't have many lines.I'll be an extra, just a face in the scene.That's if this deal goes like it tends to in a movie. I figure to be ready for just about anything. I'll be just over her shoulder when she wants it, ready to step in and -- do what?It'll come to me.She rolls down her window and leans her head out a moment, the wind scouring her face, her hair flying madly. Probably a welcome distraction for her. When she pulls her head back in, she pivots the rear view mirror her way so she can put her hair back together.She smiles at me -- not like Hepburn, but like Cam. I haven't seen Audrey Hepburn in her in quite some time."Sorry," she says. "I've just been thinking."I nod."It's a lot to take in," I say."Not really," she says after a moment. "He's on the way out and so I show up. I do what's required and then that's that.""That's your part," I say."Yeah -- I play the dutiful daughter.""Who else would you be?""That's a good question.""Well, it's the right thing to do, you going over there to see him at the end.""This isn't something that has any right in it, Marlowe. It just is."I know that my response in the script is to just let her be for the moment and drive.Chauffer.

#

We finally reach a rundown farm a couple of miles southeast of Pewamo, near Lost Creek. Turns out there's a good many acres to the farm. Real estate. One of the great contrived values of our time. And the house isn't so bad. A few repairs here and there would bring it up to snuff. I don't know the particulars, but I wonder who gets the place once the old man takes the off ramp.But that's poking my nose too deep for the time being.There's a home healthcare person helping her old man out. A woman perhaps mid-forties with close-cropped dark hair and a big nose. I don't know how old Cam's old man is, but he looks as old as Methuselah. He's thin, pale-faced with a Gandalf-like beard, and the covers are pulled up to under his chin on a warm day. I know a little about Methuselah from Bible school days and recall the guy supposedly lived 900 years.Cam's old man doesn't look like he has ninety minutes left in him.But he doesn't look mean. His face is calm -- placid.Resigned?I've heard of people lingering for months and even years, perhaps out of sheer willpower. Or in this case, as Cam mentioned, maybe out of sheer meanness and a refusal to leave. But what do I know? I'm just along for the ride. And whatever else I might be called on to do.Cam sits in a chair by the bed and the healthcare worker gives me a look suggesting we step out of the room and I'm happy to do it. I squeeze Cam's shoulder slightly and she places her hand on mine for a moment and then I stroll out to the porch with the healthcare worker, into brilliant sunshine. Like going from one world to another.The worker's name is Raven. That's the first name. She doesn't volunteer the last name, which is fine by me. I vaguely wonder if she's lesbian. Or just odd, just -- diffident. She lights a cigarette, exhales blue smoke, and looks off across a field. I lean against a porch railing, focusing on chirpy birds in a nearby tree. Already I know I don't want any long conversations with Raven."You the husband?" Raven finally says, not looking at me but staring at the scrub grass in the field. A breeze is bending it back and forth."We're not married.""The boyfriend.""If you like."I attempt a smile but figure it doesn't quite qualify.She looks at me, smirks, and finishes her cigarette. She stubs it out on the porch with a foot.Now, something about that strikes me as not right -- as rude. I'm thinking she could have eased down a couple steps and dropped it in the dirt. Or just flicked it out into the yard. Instead, it's an unsightly brown smear on the porch. I've already decided I don't like Raven worth a shit. Sometimes you just know these things right away.But I hold my tongue. It's not worth the trouble. I remember the script -- there's no scene in it where I pick a fight with a healthcare worker with a big honker of a nose and who lacks good manners.I think maybe this Raven has simply seen too much death and it has affected her. Maybe she's one of those people who claim they can handle it, but deep inside, it's eating them alive, and they don't know what to do about it and so they bottle it up down deep and put on this hard-boiled veneer that's horseshit. It corrodes them from the inside out.Raven goes back inside, and I stroll the yard aimlessly. I feel bad for Cam, having to sit by the crotchety old man's side and pretend they were ever a real father and daughter. It's like Cam's an actress who signed a bad deal and has this movie to do that's pure bullshit and she's just trying to survive it, see it end and move on, hoping for a better part next time. A starring role that makes her look good.Life can be a series of bad movies, of ugly roles.But I wonder about the house, the property. It goes to somebody. There's land and a decent house. Maybe it goes to the wife who had the good sense to finally skedaddle for Nevada. I don't know the details. Maybe she's just as bad as the old man. Maybe she's a saint who just prefers Nevada.Raven comes back out and waves me in. My cue to go back in front of the camera. My last scene in this little drama, I figure. Just hit the marks and do the thing and that's that.When I get back inside, Raven has lit another cigarette. Blue smoke fills the foyer and I think that's another violation on her part, smoking in the house while this old man is knocking on heaven's door. Or, more likely, that other place, where he won't need a good coat in winter."They asked for you," Raven says, exhaling more smoke, and she goes out the door and leaves me in a blue cloud. I'm thinking that if she stubs out another cigarette on the porch, I'm going to say something. I won't let it pass.I head down the hallway to the bedroom, not in a hurry, kind of taking a few steps and then hanging back, not looking forward to stepping into the scene. I can hear their voices when I'm just outside the door. His voice is surprisingly strong for an old man leaning hard against death's door. I stay out of sight a moment, hearing Cam tell him that everything will be okay, which is what people say when everything is falling apart. Lines from a script.I hear him say, "Do you love him.""Yes," she says after a few seconds. "Yes, I do."I don't know what to think. There it is. Out in the open. I'll be damned. A new door has opened between us.While her old man is dying.She is talking again, and he says something, too, but the words are now not distinct to me. Just sounds. Wordless sounds. My head is clouded by this notion of love. Standing there, just out of sight while she holds the hand of her dying father, I think, there really isn't any sense in love, but I should take it. I really should. I shiver on such a warm day. I allow myself to smile for a moment and then I let it drop and I go in. The script summons."Mr. Gentry," Cam's father says, but his voice trails off."Marlowe."I glance at Cam, and it takes real effort not to smile but I manage to play the part and look grave, and she doesn't look up at me. I move over to the bed, behind her. I don't know what to do with my hands and they just dangle awkwardly. Her old man's eyes are fluttering. She is holding his hand and I wonder how much of a chore that must be for her. Or maybe it's easier than I realize. Instinct, really. In the end, a lot gets forgiven, I suppose. At some point, maybe all that water under the bridge really is far downstream.Her old man's eyes manage to snap open, and he moves his head a little, toward us."You'll look after her?" the old man says.I nod but quickly realize that's not enough. It might be enough for him, but not for her."Yes, sir. I'll do my best."I wish I could see her face. But now isn't the time for all that."Well, then that's that," he says, nodding slightly. It even looks like a thin smile is trying to take hold. Maybe his last one, I'm thinking.I place a hand on Cam's shoulder. She puts her hand on top of mine and squeezes lightly. Her hand is cold. The room suddenly seems a little darker. Maybe the sun has slipped behind a cloud. It feels cooler in there, too."Marlowe," he says, his voice now quite weak, raspy. "I need to speak to my daughter now."I don't know what to say. There really isn't anything to say at all. I squeeze Cam's shoulder one more time and leave and go outside, where the sunshine is again brilliant. Raven is smoking another cigarette.Just as she finishes, I smile sweetly and say calmly, "Raven, if you stub out one more cigarette on this porch, I'll toss you off it."She stares at me a few seconds, sneering, but she sees I mean it. She flicks the butt out into the yard and wheels around sharply and goes back inside. It's not so long before Cam comes out, head down, and I slip an arm around her and walk her to the car.


Royce Drake
“If the Sheep”

A Novella


PART III


EDITOR'S NOTE

It has been a while since the last time updated you on the contents of T.'s hard drive. The last part ofIf the Sheep ended with a surprise delivery of sheep for T.'s fiancé, Benjamin, right as T. was about to leave for your Kippur services. And of course, there was the continued conflict with T.'s student Meredith who has some unusual student-teacher relationship with Benjamin. I've digitally spelunked as best I could given the time constraints of publishing and found, as would be the case for anyone's hard drive, a lot of files that were junk, unrelated, or corrupted. And though I had hoped publication would bring T. out of hiding, I still don't know what has become of her. But that's neither here nor there, as far as you the reader are concerned. I'm sure your biggest question is whether or not there is an ending to this serial publication. Short answer: yes. Long answer: T. possessed a hard drive filled to the brim with terabytes of material and I will probably continue mining this whenever the writer's block strikes or T. comes to reclaim the drive -- whichever comes first. So without any further prefatory remarks, here isIf the Sheep, Part III.

KolNidre.txt

I am distracted throughout the Kol Nidre service, unable to focus. I thump my fist mechanically against my chest during the litany of the sins, Al Chet, which had always been my favorite part. This year it has none of the feeling it usually provokes in me. It is only near the end, the hunger of the still young fast already gnawing at my patience, that the rabbi says something that grabs my attention: Prayer, and the descendants of prayer, poetry, art, entertainment, are replacements for sacrifice, for that bloody connection with the divine and the cosmos. Sacrifice, even human sacrifice, is human, she said. But all that is human is not necessarily good.

HisandHers.txt

It took only what, two, three days after the arrival of the sheep and the garden is gone. Eggplants, lettuce, insect-ridden kale, my pumpkins that were just starting to put out their soft little orbs: everything nibbled to their roots. All but a few struggling tomato vines that they will certainly nibble into oblivion soon.Benjamin apologizes, and promises to get a pen to contain them, to divide the yard into a his-and-hers like a pair of bathroom sinks. But first he rushes to his study to look up whether or not my nightshades could have poisoned his dear sheep.


THEY WERE IN MOURNING NO LONGER FOR THE FLOWERS, BUT FOR THEIR OWN SELVES.
-- Longus, Daphnis and Chloe


Dolly.txt

I can't tell the sheep apart so I jocularly name them: Dolly, Dolly, and Dolly. Benjamin wishes I hadn't given them even these silly non-names, but who has pets that they don't name? Even pigs destined for slaughter get a name -- at least in books they do.

CountingSheep.txt

Before the Dolly's, my imagined version of sheep were cute cartoonish things: clouds, cotton candy, softness, foam. But they are not those niveous, pillows, inherited from Western imagery. If their wool is white, we couldn't know it -- their surface is matted, brown with mud and shit and, along with their legs, smell of piss. They are not pretty things. The bleating, which some Disney film at some point had convinced me was melodiously cute, is a gurgling belch, like the start of some drunk's puking before it transforms into a child's high-pitched scream. I'm on edge for the first few nights, Benjamin and I side by side in the bed, with sheep-induced insomnia. Benjamin uses the time to read up on proper sheep husbandry.

CancelledClass.txt

Even after the High Holidays, I continue to cancel class often. Every time I feel a bit like I'd like a break, or would rather work on my own art, I make up a new holiday that's coming up. I use whatever Hebrew comes to mind: Yom Sabra, prickly pear day; Yom Sefer, book day. It isn't a good lie, but most students are happy to not have class. I have them upload their projects online and send each other feedback via email. It is of course Meredith who calls me out, of course she knows some Hebrew (it was a prerequisite to take Benjamin's course), and it took only a little googling to learn that these holidays were made up.

FarmLife.txt

Benjamin receives help from a number of his students. It isn't so unusual around here, he says, for young people to have some experience with farm life, either their parents or aunts, uncles, grandparents. They know the work that goes into animal husbandry -- at least much better than Benjamin. They provided rough plans for the proper construction of the paddock, the correct feed, the right time to have a ram come rut.

079Sheep. jpeg

There are looks unexpected in sheep; through all their portrayals after millennia of domestication how often are they represented as strong, sly, courageous. The camera frees them from all that cultural weight? This sheep, she smirks with all the sarcasm of a human. She observes the photographer and passes judgment.

EDITOR'S NOTE

Are there really 79 pictures of sheep on T.'s hard drive? Yes, and then some. Notice that initial 0 in the filename. By my count there are 427 still images of sheep as well as 41 videos with file names like SheepPrance04.mp4. T. had become a woman obsessed.

Tails.txt

I don't think I had ever really looked at a sheep before, not properly. But each morning, I perch on the edge of the fence and record them with my phone. I focus on different parts of their bodies: the way they move their legs, the gaze they give with their strange nearly reptilian eyes, the motion of their tails (never before had I considered the length of a sheep's tail before and they surprised me, those little fans of wool and fat). I come to see, from the way each Dolly move her body, something of distinct personalities. Each movement seems to suggest some internal self, one is more playful, another serious, stoic, and standoffish. One of the Dollys eats constantly, grows fat from the hay and the weeds of our backyard. They are each individual selves.Don't be ridiculous, Benjamin says. He finds the idea that the sheep have anything as complicated as mental lives to be ridiculous.

AJewishThing?.txt

I find those three women, the Fates whose names I still haven't learned, standing by the fence. Their necks craning, loose skin flapping in the autumn wind. A loud baa carries from the backyard. See, one of the women say to the others, I told you I've been hearing sheep. Is that even allowed, the middle woman asks, in the city limits? I think there are rules against farming in town, remember when Zachary Little had those -- Maybe it's a religious thing, the last of the women interrupts. Then all three women notice me watching them. Is it a Jewish thing, they ask me directly, Passover or the Jewish Christmas one? The one where they kill the sheep and paint the door ways with its blood. One of those has sheep right (and she seem's very proud of her knowledge). No, I say, It isn't a Jewish thing. You're thinking of Exodus, but Jews haven't done animal sacrifices for almost two thousand years.They ask if we plan to use them for milk, wool, or meat. Either way, the Fates opine, doesn't seem worth the expense of feeding them. I hadn't considered the cost of hay. And later, I discover that he is paying from the savings account we set up for our wedding expenses.Benjamin assures me it was a loan, temporary until he gets his next paycheck at the end of the month. The money was just sitting there, not even accruing interest. It doesn't hurt to use it in a pinch.

Footnote.txt

Very few people will read Benjamin's work: a handful of specialists, a doctoral student perhaps once a decade or so, an ambitious undergrad. I've only read a few papers and they went far over my head. I don't know what that's like, if he is remembered for his life's work it will be at most a footnote to a citation: a last name and a page number.

HumanSacrifice.mp3

T: Did the Mesopotamians ever practice human sacrifice?Benjamin: There is little evidence of it as a wide spread practice, despite what the Hebrew bible might have you believe. Archeologists have found evidence of what are called royal death pits, but these are rare. As rare as kings and queens. And they have none of the features of the divinatory animal sacrifices. There was a gulf between the human and animal that couldn't be bridged, one could not stand in for the other. It wasn't until the Greeks that we find a form of thought that could see a sheep's liver and a human's and think these two are the same. Aristotle opens The Politics by saying a wife, an ox, and a slave are essentially the same laboring thing.

Rumination.txt

The sheep chew as if machines designed for this single purpose, the condensation of one movement, one thought. In English, Dani tells me, the word "ruminate" arrived as a metaphor for recurring thought, decades before it was ever used to apply to the actual act of cud-chewing. A property she says of our predecessors, the lettered-classes, replacing the older Saxon-ish words with Latinate ones. Sometimes the metaphor comes first.

CudChewers.mpeg

17 min. Color

The video consists largely of footage of sheep chewing. The audio alternates between the wet sounds of rumination and a nondiegetic voice reading from a twitter feed on an already outdated political squabble.

Escape.txt

One of the Dollys escapes. I text Dani, Urgent!!!! She replies: 🙄 Isn't that Benjamin's problem? It isn't when I left the gate open -- not when it is all my fault. Dani says if I don't find the thing by the time her office hours end, she'll help me look for it.Of course, I'm no shepherd and when she is done she picks me up and we cruise around the neighborhood looking for signs and calling out for the sheep from the window. Dani drives us around slowly in an ever widening spiral. If Dolly had been a dog or a cat she would have a collar, a name tag with our phone numbers, and a chip for a vet to read. But our sheep don't even have a brand. She's as likely to end up as BBQ as to be rescued.Eventually we make it to the outer edges of campus. Did Dani think the sheep could have made it this far. Who knows? We pass the quad and see a large huddle of students. I get out of the car and approach. Inside the huddle is Dolly and Meredith feeding her an apple.Meredith looks up and smiles at me -- no need to worry, she says and pats Dolly on the rump, I already called Ben and he's bringing the car around to pick this girl up.

WeddingPresent.txt

Benjamin's mother has been calling, but Benjamin rarely picks up -- he's always busy with work. The voicemails are piling up and he mentions before bed, as if it is a new thought, that he needs to call his mother back tomorrow. But he says this every night as he looks through his phone before bed.In the morning, I get a text from her saying simply, "Call me." I think about under what conditions my mother would send a text like that, and I worry that Benjamin's father is dead, or his sister had a car accident, or his mother has some terminal diagnosis. I call her back.It isn't a life threatening emergency. She wants to know what we're doing about wedding dates. She needs to know, Benjamin's grandmother needs to know, Benjamin's rabbi , Benjamin's aunts, Benjamin's cousins. All the women in Benjamin's life want to know when the wedding will be, to get planning. When she says this I say that I too am a woman in his life and would like to know, but we haven't settled on anything yet. In response, she gives me the number of a wedding planner, one who she has already paid. We are to consider it our wedding present.

Babysitters.txt

Benjamin persuades students to care for the sheep after the escape. Staying at home is no longer my refuge away form the students and they are over constantly: feeding, mucking shit, flirting with each other, and scrolling endlessly on their phones. Fortunately, most of them also have no interest in interacting with me. To them I am this strange older woman, an appendage to one of their professors. They slip through the gate, do their chores, and leave. I don't think Benjamin is paying them. I bring up exploitation, but Benjamin assures me that the students don't mind. For them this nothing: a small favor for a professor they like.

Depression.txt

It isn't depression -- I've just become obsessed with my own work. It takes different energies than teaching. Art is more selfish, teaching focuses outward. When the muse strikes there is no patience with students, department heads, or emails. I want to surround myself with my own work and I suddenly have the energy for it. Unfortunately, the last of the students have emailed me their final projects, and I promised that I would write feedback for each of them. I'll get around to it later.

Acceptance.txt

I open my email and after deleting my way through political donation requests, virtual sales fliers, and social media notifications I find two emails from actual people. One is from the administrative assistant in the film department with a subject line that reads "Urgent" and the other is from a small video art and experimental film festival that I submitted work to ages ago. I delete the email from the administrative assistant and open the second. They are excited to inform me that my work has been accepted to the festival in the spring. I'm also invited to be on a panel about process and showcasing current works in progress. Do I have any work that I'm currently working on? I jot off a quick acceptance as well as a link to download the current edit of as of yet unnamed liver-reading, animal sacrifice project.I tell Benjamin about it over a dinner of takeout and he says that he is proud and he puts the dates of the festival in his calendar.When I tell my mother about the festival, her first response is to tell me that my cousin lives there. Call Sean; I'll call his mom this weekend. I'm sure it would be nice to see him. You remember Sean right, as if he and I and our other cousins hadn't seen each other every summer of our childhoods. I remind her: Of course I remember Sean, I went to his wedding not that long ago.

Wedding.txt

Maybe Sean's wedding was longer ago than I thought. I look through Instagram, and find that his wedding had in fact been four years earlier. Benjamin was my date, but we must have only recently started dating. It had been a nice ceremony, blissfully short during the August heat. The longest part had been when they asked anyone in attendance to share a bit of wisdom or a blessing for their marriage. People love giving advice. I wanted to give advice and I had no clue what marriage is like. Most of it had been forgettable: the usual lightly sexist jokes, the advice about arguing well, never going to bed angry, variations on "happy wife, happy life." But there had been a bit of advice from Liz's grandmother who had been married three times: Even compromise can be its own joy, but sacrifice -- never.

Surveillance.txt

There is a difference between video as art and video as utility-and the difference is in the edits, the cutting and stitching together. Otherwise you have the always on of surveillance footage. That's what the virtual meeting with the wedding planner feels like, like we are constantly being watched, judged for our indecisions.The worst part was the little square in the corner showing us ourselves. It brings on what David Foster Wallace called "Video-Physiognomic Dysphoria." I can't stand it, this form of video. The planner is fine, kind and understanding. Benjamin's mother paid for the biggest package -- the planner can handle everything within our budget: the caterer, the florist, the venue and as she speaks I realize that any romance is secondary. Weddings are business, and she knows all the right people so that we get good deals for our money. I can see my face in that little corner of the screen -- a look of horror that she kindly ignores.
She mulls over a thought and then invites me out to her farm. They're going to slaughter one of the male goats. She says I should bring my camera. We won't be sacrificing to any gods, she says, but slaughter is slaughter.

Acceptance.txt

I open my email and after deleting my way through political donation requests, virtual sales fliers, and social media notifications I find two emails from actual people. One is from the administrative assistant in the film department with a subject line that reads "Urgent" and the other is from a small video art and experimental film festival that I submitted work to ages ago. I delete the email from the administrative assistant and open the second. They are excited to inform me that my work has been accepted to the festival in the spring. I'm also invited to be on a panel about process and showcasing current works in progress. Do I have any work that I'm currently working on? I jot off a quick acceptance as well as a link to download the current edit of as of yet unnamed liver-reading, animal sacrifice project.I tell Benjamin about it over a dinner of takeout and he says that he is proud and he puts the dates of the festival in his calendar.When I tell my mother about the festival, her first response is to tell me that my cousin lives there. Call Sean; I'll call his mom this weekend. I'm sure it would be nice to see him. You remember Sean right, as if he and I and our other cousins hadn't seen each other every summer of our childhoods. I remind her: Of course I remember Sean, I went to his wedding not that long ago.

Wedding.txt

Maybe Sean's wedding was longer ago than I thought. I look through Instagram, and find that his wedding had in fact been four years earlier. Benjamin was my date, but we must have only recently started dating. It had been a nice ceremony, blissfully short during the August heat. The longest part had been when they asked anyone in attendance to share a bit of wisdom or a blessing for their marriage. People love giving advice. I wanted to give advice and I had no clue what marriage is like. Most of it had been forgettable: the usual lightly sexist jokes, the advice about arguing well, never going to bed angry, variations on "happy wife, happy life." But there had been a bit of advice from Liz's grandmother who had been married three times: Even compromise can be its own joy, but sacrifice -- never.

Favor.txt

When I'm finally asked not to return for the spring semester, Benjamin is upset. I'm not the one to tell him, but he heard through the college rumor mill. He knew before the department head even sent the email to me. It isn't the money -- adjuncting contributes very little to the bank account. No, my firing reflects poorly on Benjamin. Do I know the strings he had to pull for me to be able to teach, the favors his own department head had to cash? My teaching was a bonus for his employment -- like vacation days and conference funding -- and now they'll think twice about doing nice things if I'm involved.

Grading.txt

Some of the students email complaining about grades -- they think they did better than their classmates, so why did everyone get an A? What does it matter? I write back, your gpa is safe. If I graded rigorously, I don't tell them, they would have gotten B's and C's with the exception of Meredith who, though I hate to admit it, is a good video artist.

Ram.txt

As the semester winds down, Benjamin brings in a ram. The Dollys bleat a special erotic cry for days. We receive a number of noise complaints as well as a visit from animal control to check for any abuse.

Delivery.txt

During Finals Week, Meredith comes to feed the sheep, muck out their pen. Unlike the others, she rings the door bell when she arrives. She gives me a perfunctory hello and is disappointed that Benjamin isn't home. I go back to my office in the attic, and slowly make edits to an old project with my headphones on. When I take a break, I think I hear voices at the front door.Meredith and a delivery man are on the front steps. Before I open the door, I hear Meredith say that she can sign for it. The delivery man must hand her a clipboard of some kind, and asks where she wants it. I think he wanted them around back, Meredith says, which feels like a usurpation of my role. I have no idea what Benjamin has ordered now, and I fear that there will be even more animals. As the delivery man goes to his truck, I open the door and ask Meredith what's being delivered. She shrugs and suggests that I ask Benjamin -- it really isn't her place to say.The man unloads his delivery and there is now a heap of stone in our yard, some of them boulders the size of lawn furniture, black stone, like something a volcano would spit up. They crush the grass beneath them, and look quite alien in this otherwise suburban scene of neighbor's neat yards and squared shrubs, but then, the neighbors already think we are strange.

FreeMilk.txt

Our mothers were the first to make sure we thought about marriage. When we first moved in together, Benjamin's mother told him to be sure, that I was getting up there in age, and that it isn't kind to string a woman along. Benjamin assured her that he would never do such a thing.My mother did not warn me about stringing Benjamin along and instead told me to be careful. Benjamin seemed nice but all men do when you're in love -- but who buys the cow when they can get the milk for free. I interrupted her and told her not to be so patriarchal. I have always hated the equivalence between women and livestock that hides here and there in phrases and images, but, looking at the sheep and the care Benjamin has given them on the weekends, I couldn't help but wonder if there was some truth to the equivalence.Dani often offers me books after I mention some passing thought. She has an internal bibliography that allows her to recommend just the perfect thing to realize I have no original thoughts. I usually skim them and hold onto them just long enough for Dani to think I may have read each one. When I go to campus to clean my shelf in the office and return my keys, I share my thought about free milk and the cultural equivalence of woman and animal. Dani hands me a book from her own shelf by the second-wave feminist, Carol Adams -- The Sexual Politics of Meat.In my skimming, I find a quote form a John Berger essay that I read once during undergrad: "the first metaphor was animal." I look through my shelves for a copy to no avail, but I end up finding a PDF of a poorly Xeroxed copy online. I discover two things:1) Adams has half-quoted Berger, which when you think about it is about as bad as misquoting and fictionalizing.2) Elsewhere in the essay Berger claims that language is the bridge that allows two humans to surmount the abyss that exists between two beings, a bridge that is inaccessible to animal-kind; but that is not my experience with Benjamin. We talk constantly: about the house, about the wedding, about teaching and working and editing. We discourse on our families, climate change, what Donald Trump tweeted, the nature of art. I have hours of interviews with him about liver omens. But still language feels less a bridge than a heap of stuff that we chuck in to try and fill the abyss. There are too many things that language can't say.

CourseEvals.txt

Benjamin doesn't share his course evals with me. Mine are for the most part terrible -- poorly organized, unclear rubrics, unfair grading, always late when she doesn't cancel class altogether, condescending, piracy and copyright infringement. Though the students who use the website Rate My Professor are the reverse; to them I am chill, relaxed, and fun. I take pride in that.

Night.txt

The sheep bleat through the night, crying for attention as if there is some predator out to get them. I roll over to blame Benjamin, but he is absent. I feel some responsibility for the sheep, so I slip on clothes to go check on them. I forgot to plug in my phone, so have no idea what time it is. Benjamin might not be home at all, he's taken to working in the library until it closes at 1am. He likes to work in the reference section, among the dictionaries and encyclopedias, he said. Among the students cramming last-minute, he did not say.The sheep cry out again and I imagine what predator could be threatening them here in the middle of town -- coyotes? A black bear? Do wolves live in this part of the country? I don't know without Google. Or maybe it is some stray dog.I remember a video I once saw, down some algorithmic rabbit hole, of a farm with dogs slowly starving. Or so claimed the description of the video posted by a neighbor. The dogs, normally friendly, tail-wagging creatures, helpful beings, had been starved until survival was their only goal. Somehow, they got into a llama enclosure (this is where the video started) and destroyed the llama -- began eating it before it was dead. The cries from the backyard are similar to that llama's. I don't know what I could do if there was a feral dog or bear in the yard, so I turn on the back porch light hoping that illumination will scare it away.The yellow light falls short of revealing the sheep, but hopefully whatever has terrorized them has fled, afraid of discovery by a human. The bleating stops. I open the door to find the silhouette of a person in the dark, a shadow across the purple dark night and stars. I call out Benjamin's name a few times. Ask if that's him. The figure begins walking towards the house -- scarier than any wild predator. I slam the door, cursing myself for not having a charged cell phone, until the figure steps into the porch light's glow and I see that it is in fact Benjamin. When I ask what he was doing out there, Benjamin says he just got home from the library, and went to check on the sheep. Did you hear me call your name?

IftheSheep.txt

An Amazon truck comes by our house almost every day. It was bad enough when we lived in a big city, but now we live in a town with only a college bookstore -- a store that sells no books after the start of the term. So between the two of us, there is a constant flow of books. I open every package as it comes in, and anything for Benjamin I put on his desk in his office. One of the books, I slip into my own stack. I'm not sure why -- it is yet another tome on Babylonian omens, but it isn't about reading the sheep's organs, but about their behavior before a sacrifice. If the sheep does this, if the sheep does that, then such and such will happen or did happen or is happening. I'm intrigued, and copy out a bunch of the omens into a notebook:If the sheep opens her mouth -- the army clamors
If the sheep sticks her tongue in and out -- famine comes
If the sheep wrinkles her nose -- money will be lost
If the sheep cries -- a storm is coming
If the sheep gnashes her teeth -- your wife will leave you
If the sheep farts -- the god has accepted your prayer…

CouplesTherapy.txt

Dani says she went to couple's therapy once with a long-term boyfriend. They had dated for six or seven years, much longer than Benjamin and I have been together. Did it work? Dani shrugs: She told them to recollect the best memory of their time together. To put themselves in it, could they recreate those positive feelings in their day to day lives?And, I want to know, what happened? It wasn't that good of a memory and they broke up right there on the therapist's couch. Maybe it was worth the two hundred dollars, she says, to learn exactly when to end things.

Berlin.txt

I like it here in the winter; the town empties of students, and the town is suddenly middle-aged, and I get called miss at the grocery store. Without the students around town, I am a young person again. And without students, faculty meetings, and pedagogical email lists I have all my time to work on my video for the festival. I edit, I go on walks, I nap.This reminds me of the first trip I took with Benjamin, after grad school, a month in Berlin. We didn't call it a vacation, as we were both working. It was then that I knew that we could share a life together. We stayed in an Airbnb and in the mornings we would go our separate ways. Benjamin would go to the various archives, looking at the holdings of Near Eastern tablets or rare books by German Assyriologists. Meanwhile I would work by going to museums, galleries, small movie theaters, the small cheese shops and bakeries. I shot everywhere I went. How I wish I had thought to use my phone's camera in those days, but instead I carried a heavy camera with me everywhere and hoped that I didn't look too muggable.We would meat up for lunch, usually a picnic with the cheese and bread I had found that day, or else a cafe where we would drink small beers and share what we had learned so far that morning. We separated for the afternoons and came back together in the evenings for walks along the river and dinners out. It was how I imagined a good marriage could go, like Rilke and his mutually guarded solitudes.

Mistake. txt

The spring flies by and my time is my own, and I prepare for the video festival. The festival organizers have given me a deadline. A contradiction, a deadline for something incomplete but I don't want it to be embarrassing, so I work on getting "If the Sheep..." ready for a sort of viewing. There are other deadlines of course, for residencies, festivals, grants, and I work on those too. Teaching was a mistake -- it took me further from my own goals.

Pregnant.txt

The ewes are heavy, the lambs are almost here.

Hardscape.txt

From the window I watch the students move black stone from the front yard to the back. Under Benjamin's instruction they are building…

Birth.txt

Benjamin worries the Dollys will give birth while we're at the festival. He apologizes profusely about not coming to the festival, but he can't risk not being here for the birth. Next time, he promises.To make it up to me, Benjamin takes me out to dinner at the nicest place in town. I ask him how he is able to order lamb at the same time he is so worried about the soon to be born lambs at home. He shrugs, all the meat we eat comes from babies, or at most adolescents.

Altar.txt

Dani is going to give me a ride to the airport. When I lug my suitcase downstairs, I find her at the fence overlooking the backyard.An altar, Dani says, they are building an altar. It is true, it looks almost like a large table or counter, a flat stone serves in the center as a surface for placing objector. Think about the sheep, the stone, Dani says, it's as if he's reconstructing some Babylonian cult.

Desert.txt

The West, the Southwest in particular, is a different sort of nowhere -- different from my new Midwestern home which feels like a province of the East Coast. I feel as if I am in a different country all together. I knew nothing of it except for the materials of pop culture: rattlesnakes, roadrunners cacti, six shooters, border patrol, and six-shooters. An empty expanse that stretches tanly to the horizon. So it is a surprise, as Sean drove me from the airport, to see how green everything was. He explains that despite what I have heard they do have water here; pipes, sprinklers, all the stuff of modern civilization.

Festival.txt

I don't know what I expected of this festival, but it was less grand than that. It is hosted on the campus of a state university and besides the updated auditorium where the main screenings are held, it feels like being at any other conference; it might as well be for lawyers or dentists. Panels are held in large classrooms with worn out podiums and thin grey carpets. With only the minor exception of undergraduate students the attendees the usual mix of networking filmmakers, artists, and appreciators. We all dress, act, and same. I'm in a bad mood throughout; I'm even annoyed by my panel, which on the schedule is called "Self-Sacrifice: Images of Self by Women Artists of Color." It turns out that despite my hopes of being original with what I'm now calling "If the Sheep," the organizers have seen it as just part of a genre shared by at least 3 other video artists. Something in the air, one of them says during the question and answer panel after the screenings.Another of the panelists, a Mexican animator, made the most interesting video, a sort of psychedelic stop-motion with different colored and patterned textiles and paper. It opens with a character sacrificed from the top of a pyramid her heart ripped out and held up to the sun. The heart transforms into a number of different things throughout the video: a feather, a flower, a portrait of the artist's grandmother, an obsidian knife glistening in the sun, a butterfly, an atom, the muscular forelegs of a bull, and then finally the sun which shines with increasing intensity until the entire screen whites out. I like it though I am embarrassed of my own video. We were supposed to show work in progress for the panel, only my work feels incomplete.

TVsChild.txt

Video is the child of television with all the flaws and shame that comes from that; it sprang, as Hollis Frampton puts it, from TV's "Jovian backside." So I shouldn't be surprised that the comparisons during the panel q&a to procedural dramas, Blair Witch knockoffs, and the plot tricks and pseudo-realism of the latest Netflix series. My life isn't a horror story, I said, surprising myself at the feeling that "If the Sheep…" could be "my life."

Cactus.jpeg

Of all plants, prickly pear cacti look the most similar to their cartoon selves; they have green balloon paddles just as a cartoonist would draw them, a quick-handed round shape. In the beige expanse of the desert, they have a neon lushness.[EDITOR'S NOTE: this jpeg had a note for the file: Even I could grow a garden here.]

Security.txt

Security stops me at the airport; they need to hand search my bag. The TSA agent lifts things out o discreetly, almost apologetically. When d see a stray tampon I realize suddenly that I am late.Why do none of the stores in this airport sell pregnancy tests? Is this not a realization that happens in transit? Perhaps other women are more patient than me, better at paying attention to their bodies and time. But now I pay attention to time, the flight is an eternity, the layover, the next flight. A text from Benjamin, something has come up and he can't pick me up from the airport. Fuck you, I say out loud. A family of four with their matching rolling suitcases gives me a wide berth.I take a very expensive Uber home, handing him an extra-large cash tip if we stop at a Walgreens on the way.


BEHOLD THE FIRE AND WOOD…
-- GENESIS 22: 7


Heartbreak.txt

It is dark by the time I get home. From the front of the house, nothing looks awry. You couldn't have known, but for the faint smell of what at first sniff smelled could easily have been a barbecue, what had just happened in the backyard. I shout for Benjamin, but get no response as I rush to the master bathroom and pee on the test. How to kill 15 minutes? I go famishedly to the kitchen, ignoring the voice in my head that suggests I may be eating for two. I hear sobbing from the backyard, and it is only then that I realize that I have not heard the sheep baaing and bleating since I got home. I open the door and the yellow light from the kitchen reveals my nemesis Meredith (who else could you hope to find when you get home from a trip) her face crinkled and ugly with tears and mucus. She says: Oh great, when she see's me, I didn't know you were back.Suddenly everything is so clear. How could I have felt intimidated by this love-sick puppy of a girl? I know why she is crying before she even tells me. Benjamin rejected her, but she (hiccup) loves him. Everything she did, she did for him. But he only loves his work. She knows she shouldn't complain to me, of all people, but… But, I am the only one who can even guess what she's feeling. What's she even doing here? Extra-credit she says with a bitter laugh. Extra-fucking-credit. Why did I do it? Why did you do what? I ask before noticing the blood on her hands. She gestures to the night-shrouded backyard. I walk out half expecting to find that she has murdered my fiancé.

Eye.jpeg

Ants crawl over the unblinking eye of a dead lamb. Each ant carries a bit of flesh or wool in her mandibles.


THE ESSENCE OF BUTCHERING IS TO FRAGMENT…
-- Carol J. Adams, The Sexual Politics of Meat


Aftermath.txt

Benjamin had gone to campus with most of the students, so I only see the aftermath: the pile of ewes and lamb corpses, the smoldering fire where their fat was burned, the livers neatly arranged on the black stone altar and photographed for posterity. I find out about what happened from the students, from rumors, from the brief series of local news coverage on the curiosity of a ritual sacrifice here of all places, and the handouts.Yes, Benjamin made handouts, diagrams adapted from clay liver models, prayers in cuneiform and transliterated for ease of recitation. Benjamin is not a star teacher for nothing, he treated the sacrifice as if it were a seminar and the offal any other text for analysis.There were differences of course. An anonymous observer uploaded a video of the sacrifice to youtube. Benjamin and his acolytes wear robes and masks to get into character, candles are lit. Only a few minutes into the video and I recognize the editing style as Meredith's. She focuses the camera on Benjamin. He takes the first lamb and clumsily rips more than cuts its neck. The lamb cries out and its mother gnashes her teeth and strains against the pen. One of the students removes his mask and vomits as the lamb expires, blood running through the grass. The students hold up their printouts and, with the practice of a church choir, sing praises to Shumash, the divine judge and writer of tablets, asking for good and accurate omens. The process repeats as each sheep is cut open, its liver removed. Students take turns going up to the altar to read the liver. They take notes, jotting down every word Benjamin says about the process, the history, the influence of these livers on all academic study. This is the first science, he says. The students nod.I download the video, just in case it gets taken down. I fool around with some edits, and try to get it to fit into "If the Sheep…" I'll try and make something more of it later, once I can wrap my head around all that's happened.

Livers.txt

I am half-packed when Benjamin comes in the door, I can hear him take off his shoes and jacket downstairs.I take only what I need a couple of hard drives, my cameras, my computer, a few books, and clothes. Everything fits in a backpack and a duffel bag. Benjamin comes up to my office attic. He has the pregnancy test from the bathroom downstairs and asks: What's this? I zip the bags, and walk past him towards the stairs. I take the car keys. He follows me to the front door and now he is full of questions: Didn't you just get back? Where are you going? How long will you be gone? I give him a hug. What do the livers say, Benjamin?


To Be Continued


Contributors


ANDY PLATTNER lives in Atlanta. Of late, his stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Lincoln Review, Ponder Review, Big Windows Review, and The Spotlong Review. His collection, Tower, was published in April 2022.ARIA BRASWELL is an emerging writer and Broadway performer based in New York City. Her work has been featured online and in print by Dark Recesses Press and Dark Lane Books. As a neurodivergent artist, she works to bring a voice to less represented members of the artistic community.CHRISTOPHER HADIN is a writer, naturalist, and environmental educator. His work has appeared in Sky Island Journal, The Thieving Magpie, Better Than Starbucks, October Hill Magazine, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and others. Chris lives in Ferndale, Michigan. He thinks he might get a cat.EVALYN LEE is a former CBS News producer currently living in London with her husband and two children. She has produced television segments for 60 Minutes and the BBC, covering both Gulf Wars and numerous investigative pieces. Evalyn has studied English literature both in the U.S. and England and had the opportunity to interview Joseph Brodsky, Seamus Heaney, Dick Francis, Margaret Atwood, and other writers. At graduate school at Oxford University, she studied with Joyce scholar Richard Ellman and literary critic John Bayley. Most recently she has worked with American novelist Joyce Maynard and the English novelist Louise Doughty. Her broadcast work has received an Emmy and numerous Writers Guild Awards. She won the Willow Review prize for short fiction in 2016. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in dozens of publications, including Letting Go: An Anthology of Attempts; Hawai’i Pacific Review; War, Literature, and the Arts Journal; Broad River Review 2016; After the Pause; Amarillo Bay; California Quarterly; Cider Press Review; The Ear; Euphony Journal; The Fourth River; Glint Literary Journal; The Indianapolis Review; The Louisville Review; The Paragon Journal; Plainsongs Poetry Magazine; Potomac Review; Schuylkill Valley Journal of the Arts; Sheila-Na-Gig; and many others. Evelyn is currently at work on her first collection of poetry.GABRIELLE FERNANDEZ’s fiction has appeared in The Racket Journal. She has had a passion for writing since childhood and loves scribbling stories on napkins. Check out her Linktree for more of Gabrielle’s work.GALE ACUFF has had hundreds of poems published in a dozen countries and has authored three books of poetry. He has taught tertiary English courses in the US, PR China, and Palestine.LAURA HOPE-GILL is a deaf writer and painter. Her work appears in 13th Moon, Bayou, Briar Cliff Review, Cape Rock, Carquinez Poetry Review, Chattahoochee Review, Cincinnati Review, Cold Mountain Review, Diagram, Denver Quarterly, Hampden-Sydney Review, Illuminations, Laurel Review, Madison Review, Mindprints, North Carolina Literary Review, Parabola, Phantasmagoria, Poet Lore, Primavera, Owen Wister Review, Rivendell, South Carolina Review, Spillway, Xavier Review, and other journals. She holds an MFA in poetry from Warren Wilson College and is the founding director of the MFA program at Lenoir-Rhyne University. She founded the multicultural poetry festival Asheville Wordfest and was named the first poet laureate of the Blue Ridge Parkway. She has published several books, including co-authoring Look Up Asheville: An Architectural Journey: Vol. 1 (2010) and Look Up Asheville: Collection II (2011) by the Grateful Steps Foundation. Her memoir of her deafness, Deaf Sea Scrolls, will be published by Pisgah Press in 2022. She enjoys playing the piano, dog sitting, and sailing.LINDSEY MARIE SIFERD is a college admissions counselor who moonlights as a poet. She has been published in Cimarron Review, Atlanta Review, pif, DUM DUM, and Vagabond City. She lives in New York City and is currently an MFA candidate at Columbia University.MICHAEL LOYD GRAY is the author of six published novels: The Armageddon Two-Step (2019, Book Excellence Award), Exile on Kalamazoo Street (2013, and co-authored a stage version), King Biscuit (2012), Well Deserved (2009 Sol Books Prose Series Prize), The Canary (2011), and Not Famous Anymore (Elizabeth George Foundation support grant), plus a book of creative nonfiction, Sort of Still Original in Unoriginal Times (2016). Michael won the Alligator Juniper Fiction Prize and The Writers Place Award for fiction. He earned an MFA in English from Western Michigan University and bachelors degree from the University of Illinois. He was fiction editor for Third Coast, WMU’s literary magazine, and studied with MacArthur Fellow Stuart Dybek and novelist John Smolens. Michael has been full-time lead faculty for creative writing and American / British literature at Aiken Technical College and staff writer for newspapers in Arizona and Illinois.ROYCE DRAKE has an MFA from Temple University and teaches creative writing. He is currently splitting his time between Colorado and Philadelphia with his wife, Lily. He is at work on his first novel.


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Submission & Contact


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The SORTES List

Join our debonair mailing list for news about upcoming issues, in-person events, Radio SORTES performances, and whatever else we dream up to make all our lives more complicated and exquisite.


SORTES is?

SORTES is a spinning collection of stories, poems, songs, and illustrations to help while away the wintery June nights. It’s an oddball grabbag wunderkammer mixtape offering distraction and refreshment.We have neither theme nor scene. Each issue is its own creature. We publish both the sufficiently strange and insufficiently boring: swart stories, hoity poetry, magical surrealism, beatnik travelogues, hard modern haiku, pulp, fantasia, antibiography, crooning balladeering, experimental sentimentalism, and grainy sideways photography.We also host online readings, old time radio performances, and other beloved gimmicks as they occur to us. Previous issues are available via the site’s Archive link.

Submitting

SORTES considers unsolicited submissions of poetry, prose, illustration, music, videos, and anything else you think may fit our format. Feel free to poke us; we’d love to find a way to publish dance, sculpture, puzzles, and other un-literary modalities.SORTES is published quarterly. Each issue includes approximately ten works of lit, visual, or performance art. We like a small number of works per issue: artists and readers should have a chance to get to know each other.SORTES, you’ll notice, is primarily a black-and-white publication, and we like to play with that (by featuring monochrome videos and photography, for example), but we’ll happily consider your polychrome submission.Submissions are ongoing throughout the year. We consider artists with both extensive and limited publishing experience. We accept simultaneous submissions but please inform us if your work has been accepted elsewhere.There’s no need for an extensive cover letter or publication history but please tell us who you are, what kind of writing or art you do, and a bit about what you’re sending us. There are no formatting requirements for text submissions. There is no fee to submit. Please send submissions as email attachments whenever possible; multimedia submissions may be sent as links.

Rights

You asked and we provide: what's up with publication rights and ownership?Simple: When you publish with us, you give SORTES one-time publication right for your work. You retain all right to your work after publication. Work published with SORTES will remain available via our online Archive.While SORTES retains the right to link to or excerpt your published work, we do not have the right to publish your work in new formats (including print). If we would like to pursue publication of your work in new formats, we'll ask you and hopefully agree to terms.

Mahoffs

SORTES was created by Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum and Kevin Travers. Editors include Betsy Herbert, Brenna Dinon, Britny Perilli, Emily Zido, Heather Bowlan, Kelly Ralabate, Nick Perilli, Rosanna Lee Byrnes, and Victoria Mier. Most of us live in Philadelphia but we invite writers and artists everywhere to live the SORTES life.


Events


SORTES regularly offers readings and performances.
For upcoming events, please check here and our Facebook page.


Coming Up:

A Reading for

SORTES 11, “Rum Lot”

Friday, September 30, 2022 @ 7pm EST

Despite opposition from our many enemies and the literary deep state, SORTES 11 arrives! Now please JOIN US for our CELEBRATORY READING featuring as few as none but as many as TEN of our Issue 11 freedom fighters:Andy Plattner
Aria Braswell
Christopher Hadin
Evalyn Lee
Gabrielle Fernandez
Gale Acuff
Laura Hope-Gill
Lindsey Marie Siferd
Michael Loyd Gray
Royce Drake
Your host will be SORTES editor and unproud unboy Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum. All SORTES events are free, public, and compulsory.


ID: 858 3046 0491
Passcode: 556712
Call in: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kDqkdF0fM


Radio SORTES



Archive

A 1950s Western / Sci-Fi Double-Feature, February 25, 2022

The talented Radio SORTES Players performed two old time radio episodes broadcast live via ethereal wireless right to our audience's home receivers.We galloped into the unknown with a 1950s western / sci-fi double-feature: The Six Shooter episode “Battle at Tower Rock” and the Dimension X episode “A Logic Named Joe” -- each with music and convincing sound effects.The all-star Radio SORTES players were: Abbey Minor • Betsy Herbert • Brenna Dinon • Brian Maloney • Britny Brooks • Daniel DiFranco • Dwight Evan Young • Emily Zido • Evan Myers • Iris Johnston • Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum • Kailey Tedesco • Kelly Ralabate • Kevin Travers • Luke Condzal • Nicholas Perilli • Rachel Specht • Rosanna Byrnes • and Victoria Mier.Radio SORTES -- an unnatural extracurricular extension of SORTES magazine -- was produced and directed by Kevin Travers and Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum. Radio SORTES is always free, open to all, and less than two hours. See SORTES.co for upcoming events.


The 39 Steps, February 19, 2021

The Radio SORTES Players performed this classic adventure story, written by John Buchan and adapted by Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum from Hitchcock's 1935 film and the 1937 Lux Radio production. It starred Brenna Dinon • Heather Bowlan • Rosanna Byrnes • Betsy Herbert • Iris Johnston • Warren Longmire • Brian Maloney • Britny Brooks • Nicholas Perilli • Kelly Ralabate • Dwight Evan Young • Emily Zido • Victoria Mier • Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum • and Kevin Travers.


Halloween Eve Special, October 30, 2020

Introduction

Suspense, "The House in Cypress Canyon"

Commercial

Inner Sanctum Mysteries, "Voice on the Wire"

The Radio SORTES players presented a live Halloween Eve special: two programs of classic old time radio horrors. The shows -- including dialogues, music, and sound effects -- were performed for a live Zoom audience.The Suspense episode “The House in Cypress Canyon” was originally broadcast December 5, 1946 and the Inner Sanctum Mysteries episode “Voice on the Wire” was originally broadcast November 29, 1944. Both programs were performed by Kevin Travers • Sean Finn • Britny Perilli • Don Deeley • Brian Maloney • Betsy Herbert • Kyle Brown Watson • Nicholas Perilli • Emma Pike • Susan Clarke • and Jeremy Eric Tenenbaum. Between episodes, we presented an original commercial in period style written and performed by Kevin Travers.


Odd Lots

Announcements & Correspondence


Like any worthwhile literary journal, SORTES would love contributors and audience to fight amongst themselves. Our sweeter readers should email us to compliment our stellar authors and artists, while spicier fans may want to howl and snip and issue manifestoes. Between the two groups, we know our favorite.Or perhaps you have an announcement about an art project, band formation, upcoming travel, impending marriage, &c? Why look beyond quarterly SORTES and your local society pages?Be a part of the problem! Comment on our stories and poems, other letters, and the SORTES demimonde in general by emailing


Announcements

"peeling the yellow wallpaper" by Monica Robinson is an experimental collection of prose, poetry, and art created as a reaction to (and distinctly not a retelling of) Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper," which is unfortunately more and more relevant by the day. This eclectic collection was released September 10, 2022 at a party held by The Spiral Bookcase and is available both from spiralbookcase.com and the author's own sites mrobinsonwrites.com and etsy.com/shop/captalucem.


Correspondence

No Gimmicks

“SORTES continues to ascend the summit of artistic authenticity with every new issue its editors publish, showcasing the works of talented writers in a clean format that is accessible to the reader. There are no gimmicks here or busy links to click through, just the authors and their words. Read em'.”

James Feichthaler, September 8, 2022

James, we appreciate your words mammothly but we delicately disagree: SORTES is one transparent gimmick after another. It's a ruse wrapped in a gambit baked inside a flaky shenanigan potpie.


Missed Connection

“You: M/early 30s olive skin and a nose like a fleur-de-lis, burgundy sweater, pumpkin scarf.Me: F/38 eating olives out of pumpkin rind, lily patterned dress
The bartender sent me a glass of burgundy 'from the gentleman' and you tipped your hat. We talked about SORTES, the paper magazine on the internet, and sang karaoke of our favorite submissions. Drunk on bons mots and pithe, you knocked over the wunderkammer and were ejected by the bouncer. Let's meet and collage a poem!”

Iris Johnston, September 12, 2022

Me: That's the nicest thing anyone has ever said about my nose.


Archive