Seventh Grade

Every day Amanda Treese would draw hearts on her math warm-up when she finished it, and finally Matthew Taylor, who sat next to her, couldn’t take it anymore and he said, “What do you love?”

“What?”

“What are you saying that you love with all these hearts?”

She looked at her paper. “It means love.”

“I know it means love. But what are you saying that you love?”

“It’s just love.”

“It can’t be just love. It has to have a point behind it. Like as in you love something or somebody.”

“Why?”

“Because otherwise it’s just floating out in the air and it doesn’t have a…”

“A what?”

“A destination. A place to land.”

“Why does it have to land?”

“Why does it have to land? Because otherwise of course love. Of course love is nice, but…”

“Do you like love?”

“Of course! How is anybody going to be against love? But…”

“You should draw a heart too then.”

“I can’t draw a heart. I have to have some purpose for drawing a heart.”

“What is your purpose?”

“I mean suppose I loved somebody. Then I would draw a heart and write their name. That would be a purpose.”

“Do you love somebody?”

“Not like that.”

“What do you love?”

“I love my family.”

“You could draw a heart and write your family.”

“I already know I love my family. Anyway this is just a math warm-up.”

“It’s still a good place to draw a heart.”

“If you say it like that, then any place is a good place to draw a heart.”

“Any place is a good place to draw a heart.”

“Then people would just be putting hearts everywhere!”

“What is wrong with that?”

“Well, somebody would want to know what is the thing that all these hearts are saying they love?”

You would want to know that.”

“Yes, me. And some other people. Everybody who thinks that if you’re going to draw a heart, you should say what you’re talking about.”

“What if I just say that I love love?”

She drew two hearts on her paper next to each other.

“That’s better at least. But everybody loves love.”

“Do you love love?”

“Yes.”

“I’m going to draw two hearts on your paper.”

“All right.”

“You don’t think it’s girly?”

“I’m not worried about girly. Girls are people. I just don’t understood having something about love without talking about what you’re talking about.”

She drew two hearts on his paper.

“There,” she said.

“All right.”

“You don’t mind?”

“I don’t mind. This has some purpose to it at least. It’s not just out there floating by itself.”

This happened near the start of seventh grade. For the rest of that year and through all of eighth grade, Amanda Treese drew hearts on her math warm-ups. She always drew two hearts together.

 

Siamak Vossoughi

 

Siamak Vossoughi was born in Tehran and grew up in Seattle. She has been published in Kenyon Review Online, Missouri Review, Glimmer Train, and Chattahoochee Review. Her collection, Better Than War, received a 2014 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction.

Twirling

 

Miss Jeanette Theresa picks up a fallen branch from the water oak. Ozeal Autin watches her march around the front year. He thumps, thumps, thumps the top of his head. Miss Jeannette Theresa slams her feet into peat moss, an earthy sponge. Her hand dances around alligator bark. Her wrist rotates in perfect circles. She twirls. She twirls and twirls and twirls. She shines silvery. Light reflects off of her. It finds Ozeal Autin.  The Light says, “Ozeal, you love that Miss Jeanette Theresa.”

Miss Jeanette Theresa circle the tree. Her hand rolls raw, tender. She nimbles the edge of a blister in the crescent of skin that links her thumb and forefinger. Ozeal wants to lie still in that space, let her rock him to sleep in the hammock of her hand.

Miss Jeannette Theresa lets the fluid drip into her palm. She gathers it there. She reaches with her tongue.  Ozeal Autin thinks: salty. She sprinkles the drops into the puddle beneath the water oak.  Ozeal watches them fall.

When Miss Jeannette Theresa goes inside for her lunch, Ozeal pulls a cane fishing pole from inside the flatboat he is working on. He breaks the pole in half, sands the broken edges down and sticks corks on either end. He tucks it between the trunk of the water oak and a thick heavy branch that swings down low to the ground.

For one solid week, Ozeal Autin checks to see if Miss Jeannette Theresa find the cane baton.  Her sleeps under the flatboat in Mister Salmen Fritchie’s shed that rides up on the side-yard of her house.

On the seventh day of Ozeal watching, Miss Jeannette Theresa discovers the cane baton.  She picks it up, runs her holy hands across its smooth surfaces. She twirls the cane baton round and round her palm. She twirls the cane baton round and round, inside and across her fingers. Ozeal thump, thump, thumps the top of his head. He wishes he was that cane baton. He wants her fingers to twirl his body. He wants to move inside her hand, between her fingers. Ozeal wants to be silvery.

From morning till noon, from noon to dusk, Miss Jeannette Theresa twirls. Ozeal like the way her skirt flares up, showing her slippery petticoat. On one twirl he sees her underpants; he grows hard.

On the ninth day, he climbs from under the flatboat before the sun rises. He washes his face in a bucket of rainwater that collects behind the boathouse. He takes a sip and rinses out his mouth. Ozeal is hungry. He pulls a pickled egg out of his pocket, but forgets to eat it. He leaves it rolling on the open lid of the tackle box that sits on a bench inside the flatboat.

Ozeal Autin crosses the yard and pulls himself over the chicken wire fence. He sits down under the water oak, on a thick root balancing his feelings. They teeter-totter inside. They burst into his throat and burn.

Ozeal takes off the steel-tipped boots he inherited from his daddy, and wipes smudges of creosote from the shipyard of the toes. Socks peel off like second skin. He washes his feet in the puddle that holds the driblet of Miss Jeannette Theresa’s blistered palm. Then he pulls his boots back on again.

 

Betsy Woods

 

Betsy Woods is a native New Orleanian. Her fiction has appeared in The Louisville Review, The New Orleans Review, Alive Now, and The Literary Trunk. Her nonfiction has appeared in ACRES USA, The Times-Picayune, Citizens Together, and Sophisticated Woman. She is a writer, editor, teacher, and narrative therapist. She has an MFA in writing from Spalding University.

 

 

Trombone

When I was a child, my father’s trombone hung from a hook in the utility room in the basement. It was the color of dull brass, with a few greenish patches. It was an unremarkable piece of household flotsam among the extra furnace filters, metal folding chairs, and boxes of old clothes to give to charity.

He played it a couple of times a year. Played? He would blow into it for a few seconds and move the slide up and down, seldom conjuring up a sound that could be called musical. He puffed his cheeks out comically and crossed his eyes at us kids. We would shriek with delight that our strict, straight-laced father was clowning for us.

When my father came up the stairs with the trombone, my mother, grim-faced, would walk out of the room. If she was in the kitchen, she banged the pots around. Sometimes she left the house entirely.

My father was not given to explanations and we kids were too timid—no, afraid—to ask: Why did he have a trombone if he couldn’t play it? Or could he play it and he just didn’t let on? And why did it upset our mother so much?

When I went back to visit my parents as an adult, I always meant to ask him about it. I’d mostly left my fear of him behind, but each time I visited I had other things on my mind—dating, career, marriage, children, divorce, my parents’ health—and I never got around to it. To that and many other things.

My father died five years ago, but his presence remains vivid to me: his smell, his V-neck undershirts, his anger. Above all, perhaps, his guardedness. I never felt I really knew him.

My mother’s memory is failing her, and now she is moving to a nursing home in another city to be closer to my sister. As we were packing the contents of the house my mother had shared with my father for forty years, my sister asked me whether I wanted the trombone. I didn’t have to think twice.

The trombone hangs on a hook in my basement. I take it upstairs a couple of times a year and blow furiously into it. My children howl with laughter at the fractured sound and my red face. They never ask me why I have it. I’m not sure I could explain if they did.

 

Joel Streicker

 

Joel Streicker is a writer, poet, and literary translator based in San Francisco. His fiction has been published in Hanging Loose and The Opiate, and is forthcoming in Kestrel and Great Lakes Review. Another story of his was a finalist in Epiphany’s spring fiction contest in 2016. Streicker’s English-language poetry appeared in the fall 2016 issue of California Quarterly, and his Spanish-language poetry was recently featured in El otro páramo (Bogotá, Colombia). Común Presencia (also located in Bogotá) published a book of his Spanish-language poetry, El amor en los tiempos de Belisario, in 2014. In 2011 he won a PEN/Heim Translation Fund grant for his work with Argentine writer Samanta Schweblin, and in 2012 he was a translator in residence at Omi Translation Lab. His translations of Latin American fiction have appeared in numerous journals, including A Public Space, McSweeney’s, and Words Without Borders. Streicker’s translation of a story by the Argentine writer Mariana Enríquez is forthcoming in Freeman’s. His essays and book reviews have been appeared in The Jewish Daily Forward, Moment, and Shofar, among other publications.

 

A Rural Life

When the birds and bees die off because of chemical misuse, where will procreation be, who will make love? Only the Doomsday Clock will keep moving and gasping.

Every field is being stripped. Big Dude tractors, and grain hoppers the size of two car garages. Harvest is part of mid-America; it’s what we do; it’s how we feed the world.

A slow and steady rain follows two days of harder rain, chides us for cranking up our diesel tractors and ethanol plants here in corn country, and causes this climate shift which accounts for alien-warm Midwestern winters with too little snow and too much gray. We call these downpours toad-stranglers.

It’s here where thighs turn thick as oaks in an abandoned field, where the waist takes on a tractor’s tire, and where breasts grow a valley between sagging hills. We don’t kill ourselves anymore like Karen Carpenter did because we know we must live with our choices. One too many flavored coffees and we forget how we once loved the pain, would do anything for a compliment.  Now we find little shame in comforting ourselves in a weeping world where the only true love lingers along a crowded sky.

My gentleman farmer ages with the seasons. At fifty, the wear is evident. At sixty, a tractor becomes a ten-story building to scale. He wanted to climb Devil’s Tower once, but that was before his days ran together into a jumble of moments called Time.

See this mishmash of days, see it clear, this is life, this here and there. To forget to fight, to uncurl the fist, to close the lips, is not surrender. Peace comes to the quiet heart. And to pray upon the fertile land for an end to war is virtuous.

 

Chila Woychik

 

German-born Chila Woychik has bylines in journals such as Silk Road, Storm Cellar, and Soundings East, and was awarded the 2017 Loren Eiseley Creative Nonfiction Award (Red Savina Review) & the 2016 Linda Julian Creative Nonfiction Award (Emrys Foundation). She craves the beautiful and lyrical, and edits the Eastern Iowa Review.

The Martyr

Who are you?

You don’t know?

No.

I’ll come closer.

Your face.  What happened to your face?

You don’t remember?

No.

Are you sure?  Look.

It’s horrible.  The holes in your face.  Your chest.  Your stomach.

Yes.  So many.

Why are you laughing?

Children laugh.  Don’t you know children laugh?

Stop.  Stop it, please.  The sound. It hurts.

Yes.  It’s supposed to hurt.

But why do you hurt me?

I asked you that, too.

Please. Please I am begging you.  Don’t look at me.

I have to look at you.

The sound, the sound!  But who are you?  I don’t understand. They said there would be virgins.

 

Marc Simon

 

Marc Simon’s short fiction has appeared in several literary magazines, including The Wilderness House Review, Flashquake, Poetica Magazine, The Writing Disorder, Jewish Fiction.net, Slush Pile Magazine and most recently, Everyday Fiction. His debut novel, The Leap Year Boy was published in December, 2012.

Marco and Nothing

Marco looked at the empty space that his sculpture was going to occupy.  What the hell did he have to say that would be worth occupying this space with?  His collection of found objects that were going to be used for the assemblage lay in boxes and sat in bags all around him.  He had metal and wood and plastics of all sorts.  No paper.  He had given up on paper and on vocabulary because words had only ever gotten him into trouble in life.  But even without words, his sculpture was supposed to mean something.

The empty space before him was more profound than anything he could fill it with.  He could add pieces of his life: the slights, the insults, the bashings in the head he’d endured at the hands of so-called friends who’d only ever left landmines for him to be exploded by later.  No, they did not deserve any acknowledgment in his work.  He could talk about his great loves, the ones who sliced him open, threw him onto funeral pyres, and, even worse, ignored him when he needed them, especially when he’d dedicated entire weeks to their problems.  It was always the same thing: I love you if you are helping me, but if you need anything in return, well, then you are just out of luck.  Yep, that was it.  He was out of luck.  He was completely out of luck.  And what can one do when one has no luck left at all?  What is there left when all hope of anything ever going right again has completely gone?

That is what he needed to figure out.  That was what the void before him needed from him.  It was the artist’s job to stare into the gaping maw of nothingness and pull from it something.  That was a profound obligation.  But now that he stared into that gaping maw, all he found was nothing.  His ability to pull anything out of nothing was gone.

He picked up the bags and boxes and carried them out to the dumpster.  He had nothing left.  Without the objects, perhaps the silence could finally overtake him.  Perhaps the noises that kept hurting him would finally quit, quiet. Quite.

He had left nothing.

 

Eckhard Gerdes

 

Eckhard Gerdes has published books of poetry, drama, and fourteen books of fiction, including the novels “Hugh Moore” (for which he was awarded an &Now Award) and “My Landlady the Lobotomist” (a top five finisher in the 2009 Preditors and Editors Readers Poll and nominated for the 2009 Wonderland Book Award for Best Novel of the Year). His most recent books are a tongue-in-cheek work of creative nonfiction, “How to Read” (Guide Dog Books); a novel, White Bungalows (Dirt Heart Pharmacy Press); and a collection, “Three Plays” (Black Scat Books). He lives near Chicago and has three sons and three grandsons.