Tipping the Jug*, poem by GC Smith

Red­necks and black­men
old bud­dies and friends
will stand now together
with a clay jug of corn
they'll drink to their health
and com­fort each other with lies
and com­fort each other with lies

They'll talk of their dogs
and the ducks that they've shot
of hunt­ing through Low­coun­try win­ter
with their brag­ging of deeds
in the depths of dark piney woods
they'll not men­tion who shot the cow
they'll not men­tion who shot the cow

They'll avoid the com­mo­tion
of the farmer's vile notion
to sim­ply be paid what he's due
They'll vow to hide from him
and never men­tion that cow
as they drink deep of the old moun­tain dew
as they drink deep of the old moun­tain dew

*apolo­gies to Rob­bie Burns

GC Smith is a south­erner. He writes nov­els, short sto­ries, flash fic­tion, poetry. Some­times, but not in nov­els, he plays with dialect, either Cajun or Gullah-Geechee ways of speak­ing. Smith's work can be found in: Gator Springs Gazette, F F Mag­a­zine, Igua­na­land, Dead Mule School of South­ern Lit­er­a­ture, Naked Humorists, The GLUT, Flask Fic­tion Mag­a­zine, N.O.L.A. Spleen, NFG Mag­a­zine, Cel­lar Door, The Beat, Dis­patches Mag­a­zine, Beau­fort Gazette, Coyote's Den, South­ern Hum, Lam­oille Lamen­ta­tions , Quic­tion, The Land­ing, The Haunted Poet, Fla­vor a Deux, The Bin­na­cle, Stymie Mag­a­zine, Ban­nock Street Books. He has four nov­els, WHITE LIGHTNING –Mur­der In the world of stock car rac­ing and THE CARBON STEEL CARESS, A Low­coun­try P.I. novel, IN GOOD FAITH, A Johnny Donal P.I. novel, and Mud­bug Tales: A Novel In Flashes, wit' recipes. His poetry book is A South­ern Boy's Meanderings.

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The Hills are Alive, essay by Anna Lea Jancewicz

Yeah, every­body has a dead grand­mother story. They’re not sexy and nobody’s buy­ing. But this story is mine, and it’s not so much about the woman as it is about the place. I’m from a lit­tle coal town, McAdoo, in North­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia. A place where peo­ple still use clothes­lines, and it has noth­ing to do with being green. A place where wed­dings and fam­ily reunions mean at least a fist fight, and maybe one of Aunt Vera’s boys piss­ing in somebody’s car to teach them a les­son. A place where it’s hard to say whose sin will draw the nas­ti­est whis­pers, the cousin who’s sus­pected of covert abor­tions, or the cousin who had the gall to earn a PhD. A place where aunts will still rec­om­mend spik­ing a baby’s bot­tle with Karo syrup, and stare slack jawed when you reveal that all of your chil­dren made it through infancy with­out ever touch­ing lips to a rub­ber nip­ple. A place where a cousin can snarl about all the ille­gal Puerto Ricans and not under­stand why you burst into laugh­ter and shake your head. A place where uncles cap­ture snakes from inside houses in paper gro­cery sacks, where a black bear might just amble out of the strip­pins, where great-grandfathers sit with Phillies base­ball games on their tran­sis­tor radios eat­ing tomato and oleo sand­wiches before they die of black lung and are buried in their Knights of Colum­bus uni­forms, swords by their sides. A place where Grannies yell at kids in words that are not Eng­lish, and the onion domes of Byzan­tine churches rise once-resplendent in once-golden paint above streets crammed with clap­board houses and Amer­i­can flags.

Because this is Appalachia, but this isn’t the Appalachia you think of, with blue­grass and corn­bread and kids named Billy Bob. This is where kids are named Stan­ley, and you can’t pro­nounce their last names, what with the sz’s and cz’s and w’s that sound like v’s. And the Stan­leys all say youse guys. This is the Appalachia where grand­moth­ers don’t flinch to say cock­sucker in front of you when you’re lit­tle enough to only pic­ture an awk­ward sit­u­a­tion for a chicken, but Protes­tant is whis­pered, a dirty word. This is the Appalachia where you vaca­tion Down The Shore, and pep­pers are man­gos and you sit on your dupa and shut your trap for two-tree min­utes now, henna?

The colos­sal maw of an aban­doned strip mine yawned behind my grand­par­ents’ house, the house that my Pop­pop built him­self, just down the big back lawn and across the alley from the loom­ing house that he was born in, the house that my Granny and Grand­pap lived in until they died, where Granny’s par­ents had been laid out for their home-funerals, back when such a thing was what was done. My sec­ond cousins lived in one half of that house, and the youngest was just my age. The sum­mer they finally paved that alley, she and I got in a fight, each of us on either side of the cool­ing asphalt, and one of us hit the other in the fore­head with a well-pitched rock. I can never remem­ber which one of us threw the rock and which one of us bled. We were that close. When she got knocked up at fif­teen, I thought Well hell, I can’t judge. There but for the grace of God and my par­ents’ trusty pick-up truck go I.

Because my mom and dad got out, had packed up every­thing we owned and moved us, pick-up truck­load by pick-up truck­load, to Vir­ginia in 1979. I was four. The world had been all of a cou­ple miles squared, and every per­son I’d ever seen had known my name, known my fam­ily. I’d thought black peo­ple were only on TV. But you’ve heard the Billy Joel song, so you know that part of the story. The coal was gone, the fac­to­ries were clos­ing. “It’s get­ting very hard to stay…”

But back I came, each sum­mer wowed by the hori­zon appliquéd with ghosty blue sil­hou­ettes of moun­tain tops, back to this place that seemed on one hand burst­ing with magic and wild­ness, and on the other just plain back­ward. Down at the bot­tom of Logan Street, behind Poppop’s house, there was the Shit Crick, into which all the borough’s raw sewage was emp­tied. There were no big box stores, no fast food restau­rants. We’d get on the high­way in Poppop’s big green Oldsmo­bile, cruise-control it to the Frackville Mall for that. I’d perch on the arm­rest beside my grand­fa­ther as he sang Sina­tra, keep­ing my eyes peeled to catch sight of the golden arches high atop the hill as the mall came into view. Or we’d wind down the moun­tain to Walt’s Drive-In for soft serve ice cream cones, watch golfers on the dri­ving range behind, bring back a CMP sun­dae for Nanny. Her favorite, chocolate/marsh mellow/peanuts. What McAdoo had was the fire­house, with booze at night. An Ital­ian place, for pitza, the kind that drips orange grease to bleed through stacked paper plates and needs to be folded in half to fit in your mouth. An inex­pertly hand-painted sign nailed up crookedly out­side somebody’s door, adver­tis­ing ETHNIC FOOD, and that means pierohi, halupki, halushki. There was a roller rink, but that was closed down every sum­mer, or maybe just closed down for good.

My cousin and I roamed, played all the make-believe games. We watched Hatchy Milatchy on black and white TV, and put on dance shows for Aunt Peggy when she came home from work­ing at the Kmart in Hazel­ton, and dressed up in Granny Palmer’s old hand­made floor-length slips and her other acces­sories, antique hand­bags and scarves, that my Nanny still had saved in a trunk. We picked Queen Anne’s Lace and put the flow­ers in glasses of water and food col­or­ing, watched the blooms turn col­ors. We argued over which celebri­ties we’d marry, we argued over which of her teenage sis­ters’ boyfriends was the cutest, and when we got a lit­tle older we’d skulk in alleys and sneak cig­a­rettes and sing Guns N’ Roses.

These were my sum­mers, until Nanny got sick.

***

It’s a few days after my four­teenth birth­day, and I’m stand­ing in the Decem­ber rain, strad­dling one of my cousins’ old ten speed bikes, watch­ing some strangers dump back­hoe shov­el­fuls of cold wet dirt on top of my grandmother’s cof­fin. Nanny is down in that hole, not wear­ing the col­or­ful poly­ester pantsuit she asked to be buried in. She’s wear­ing the mint green gown that she wore for one of the twins’ wed­dings. They said what she wanted was tacky. I went back to the house with every­body else after the funeral, but they were all eat­ing and talk­ing, and I didn’t feel like doing either. I came back, by myself, to watch this.

There are sev­eral acres of ceme­tery out here on the edge of town, butting up to the rail­road tracks, before you cross over to the long road through the woods where wild huck­le­ber­ries grow in sum­mer, where cold, cold water bub­bles up from moun­tain springs, the road that leads out past the cigar fac­tory, over to Tresckow, where both my aunts live. Chain link and crum­bling stone walls sep­a­rate sundry grave­yards that belong to dif­fer­ent churches, fences that keep the dead Poles from the dead Ital­ians, the dead Irish from the dead Slo­vaks, the dead Rusyns from the dead Hun­gar­i­ans. I look out and see a wide expanse of gran­ite head­stones jut­ting from the var­ie­gated drab greens, browns, yel­lows of grass that’s been frost­bit­ten. Look­ing back toward town, I see the slop­ing streets crowded with clap­board houses, and the squalid onion spire of St. Mary’s against the low gray clouds.

***

She hadn’t been my favorite. My Pop­pop was ded­i­cated to spoil­ing me, sneak­ing me sug­ary cere­als in tiny boxes and buy­ing me cheap toys at the IGA. She was ded­i­cated to tough love, mak­ing me spend the whole sum­mer writ­ing out my mul­ti­pli­ca­tion tables, and telling me that wear­ing those tight jeans like my cousin did would give me crotch-rot. But then she got sick. Really sick. She had at least two kinds of can­cer at the start, one of which required bed rest, the other of which was best man­aged with an active lifestyle. We would walk two miles every morn­ing, in a big loop, very slowly, very care­fully, and then she would spend the after­noon in her reclin­ing chair. I spent a lot of time with her. We talked a lot, like we never had before.

She told me sto­ries. Her toes curled up girl­ishly, and she rubbed her feet together as she told them. Sto­ries about drink­ing fresh hot milk from the goats her par­ents had kept in their yard over on Jack­son Street. Sto­ries about her father Wasyl com­ing to Amer­ica from Rus­sia, how the coal com­pany owned him, how he never really learned Eng­lish. Sto­ries about dat­ing my grand­fa­ther, illus­trated by black and white pho­tos held into the albums with those lit­tle paste-on cor­ner frames; pic­tures of Pop­pop with slicked-back hair, in white tee shirts and blue jeans, look­ing like Mar­lon Brando, her by his side in bobby socks, the cap­tions call­ing her Katie when I’d never heard any­body call her any­thing but Kath­leen or maybe a few times Kathy. Sto­ries about my mother when she was lit­tle, about how she finally got so tired of wash­ing and brush­ing and iron­ing my mother’s hair that she one day sur­prised her by lop­ping it off with a sly pair of scis­sors after her bath; about how she got so sick of my mother sneak­ing out of the house with her bell-bottom jeans rolled up beneath her school skirt, those hip­pie jeans embroi­dered with a big pair of hands grab­bing the ass cheeks, that she stole them and burned them in the fur­nace. Sto­ries about nurs­ing school, work­ing at the hos­pi­tal, trav­el­ing on her cruises. The story of when I was born, two months early, tiny but strong, and she was there in her crisp white uni­form to assist Dr. Lee with the delivery.

But most of all, she liked to tell me about her favorite movie.

I’d never seen it, The Sound of Music. We never watched it together. It was the mid 1980’s of course, and my grand­mother didn’t own a VCR. The idea of pop­ping a tape in and watch­ing a movie when­ever you wanted to was still an absurd exoti­cism. But this was even bet­ter. She recalled the plot for me a thou­sand times over. She described the char­ac­ters, recited dia­logue, sang the songs. I felt like I knew the whole movie by heart. It made her so happy, even when she was exhausted and strug­gling, even when she was so bent that she couldn’t lie in the bed any­more and had to spend all her time in that brown reclin­ing chair. She died in that chair.

We’d come up to visit for Christ­mas. My birth­day is the day after. I heard her the night before, up all night with my mother by her side, beg­ging my mother to help her kill her­self. Ask­ing for her sewing scis­sors, as if she’d be able to do the job with them. She told my mother that she could see her par­ents, stand­ing in the hall­way out­side her bed­room door, wait­ing for her. Then in the morn­ing, on the day I turned four­teen, she took one last gur­gling, labored breath. She was 54 years old.

***

The rain has soaked through my clothes and I am freez­ing. The grave is filled and I’m alone here, the work­men are gone and it’s get­ting dark. I pedal back up to the Slo­vak church, and I slip inside. The doors have never been locked, day or night, any time I’ve tried them. That would never hap­pen in the city where I live. But I’ve come here a lot, this is famil­iar. I kneel in front of the painted plas­ter Blessed Mother in the dim and quiet. Her eyes are like anthracite slag. I light one of the votive can­dles, add one more flick­er­ing flame to the field of squat red glass cylin­ders. I reach deep down into the pocket of my jeans, and I pull out my rosary beads.

***

I’m sure I’ve been gone a long time, but nobody seems to have noticed. Most of my rel­a­tives have got­ten pretty drunk, even the ones for which it takes a hell of a lot. As I walk in, I hear an aunt say She held out for Christ­mas, she held out so she wouldn’t ruin Christ­mas for every­body. My Pop­pop turns his head slowly, slurs, one thick fin­ger pointed at my chest, She died on your birth­day, so you can never for­get her.

I change into warm, dry clothes. I ghost past them, between them, eat a lit­tle frost­ing from my cake; it’s still in the fridge, pris­tine, with the plas­tic bal­le­rina on top. I go into my grandmother’s bed­room; nobody wants to be in there. I shut the door and curl up in the dark, in her chair. My hair is still damp. I’m remem­ber­ing when I was scared to sleep in the dark, in this room, and she told me The dark is noth­ing to be afraid of. God made the dark so that every body and every thing can rest.

I’m sob­bing now, chok­ing and heaving.

And when I’m done, I breathe deeply. I rub the brown velour uphol­stery on the arms of her chair. I notice the remote con­trol for the tele­vi­sion on her bed­side table, just where she must have left it last. It’s barely vis­i­ble in the dark, but it some­how catches my eye. I sigh, and I pick it up. My fin­ger touches the power but­ton, and there it is. In Tech­ni­color. Julie Andrews, twirling around and around and around:

“The hills are alive with the sound of music,

With songs they have sung for a thou­sand years…”

***

My grand­mother left me her wed­ding ring when she died, she left it to me. My mother took it, said I couldn’t be trusted with it yet. My mother wore it on her own fin­ger, for years. As my birth­day approached, in 2004, she asked me if I wanted any­thing spe­cial for turn­ing thirty. Yeah I said I want Nanny’s ring. She gave it up reluc­tantly, but now I wear it. It reminds me of where I’m from.

When peo­ple asked, I used to say Oh, from around Allen­town. Or maybe Do you know where Scran­ton is? Wilkes-Barre? But those answers are not quite true. So, you ask me now, ask me where I’m from. I’ll look at my fin­ger, and I’ll tell you:

Yeah, every­body has a dead grand­mother story. They’re not sexy and nobody’s buy­ing. But this story is mine, and it’s not so much about the woman as it is about the place. I’m from a lit­tle coal town, McAdoo…

Anna Lea Jancewicz lives in Nor­folk, Vir­ginia, where she home­schools her chil­dren and haunts the pub­lic libraries. Her writ­ing has recently appeared or is forth­com­ing at Bartleby Snopes, The Cit­ron Review, the­New­erY­ork, Rivet Jour­nal, and else­where. Yes, you CAN say Jancewicz: Yahnt-SEV-ich. More at: http://​anna​jancewicz​.word​press​.com/

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Where to Buy Your Weed, fiction by Misty Skaggs

Her trailer was a ripe patch of excess, bloomed con­spic­u­ously at the base of a cliff on the edge of a bone dry, Bap­tist county in East Ken­tucky. The half-acre around it was lit­tered with faded Moun­tain Dew cans glint­ing in the sun­shine and dec­o­rated hap­haz­ardly with a half dozen busted toi­lets turned planters. Mary had filled them to the brim with rich bot­tom soil and planted sturdy annu­als that burst forth in bright col­ors come spring­time. And you could hear her racket from a ridge over. Never music, just the strained voices of lonely peo­ple seek­ing solace over air waves. Her reg­u­lar cus­tomers learned to lean in when she hollered them across the thresh hold and into her home. They learned to brace them­selves against the blast of cack­ling talk radio hosts crack­ling out into the hill­billy breeze via AM radio, the reg­u­lars planted their feet against deci­bel after deci­bel blar­ing through the stacks of sec­ond hand speak­ers that tow­ered and teetered close to the droop­ing, water-stained ceil­ing. If you were a brand new cus­tomer just look­ing for a qual­ity buzz, it could be down­right overwhelming.

Mary her­self was too much–too big, too loud, too self-assured, too self-righteous. She’d answer the door in a muu-muu splat­tered with crusty, sausage gravy and tacky flo­ral print. She’d tell you how Jesus don’t mind pot, but you bet­ter stay away from that ol’ Detroit dope. She con­ducted most all her busi­ness out of the kitchen. There was always an abun­dance of food bub­bling over on the stove and her rum­bling old refrig­er­a­tor was always stocked with strange, left­over smells and cold beer. The mis­matched can­is­ters lin­ing the counter tops were stuffed full of prod­uct. On the rare occa­sion she wasn’t cook­ing when you’d show up to score, she’d take your money all flopped out and sweat­ing across the queen size bed crowded into the built-on, back room of the mobile home. And she’d pro­duce a thirty bag or a sixy bag or even a whole ounce or two out from under the folds of her dress. Or maybe out from under the folds of her pale, fleshy body. Nobody ever dared to ques­tion the hygienic aspect once they real­ized that sticky, hairy, bud smelled even stronger and danker than the dealer.

No one knew where she kept her crop, but she gave the liv­ing room over to the house plants. The ivy grew up over the arms of the couch and she warned guests to avoid the moldy Lazy Boy. Not for the sake of their pretty, clean clothes or pretty, clean lungs. Because once, the rot­ting plaid arm­chair had belonged to her Granny, and now it belonged to the rosary vine. Her favorite. Her Granny’s favorite. Mary kept the room cool and dark so that the thick, durable foliage of it shone under the light of a sin­gle lamp that faked sun­shine. And the blos­soms were back lit, flick­er­ing red and waver­ing like can­dles at the base of a shrine to home­grown botany. Every­body on this side of the state knew she was thank­ing the good Lord for her green, green thumb.

Misty Marie Rae Skaggs, 32, hardly ever leaves the holler anymore.

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Uncles Charlie Loves You, poem by Misty Skaggs

I remem­ber tired, washed-out women
warn­ing us young’uns
with his name -
“Uncle Charlie’s gonna come,
gonna come all the way
out here
and get you."
I remem­ber we believed it.
I remem­ber the good ol’ boys
round­ing up a posse
fueled by bore­dom
and Pabst Blue Rib­bon
every damn time
he went up for parole.
He might get out,
he might come home.
No-Name Mad­dox,
back­woods bas­tard,
prog­eny of a pros­ti­tute
with no paved streets to walk.
He could’ve been one of them,
with a Mamaw out on Mauk Ridge.
Might’ve been another nobody
puffed up on Ken­tucky windage,
bed­ding high school girls
in the bed of a beat-up
pick-up truck
say­ing,
“I don’t know
what some­body is.”
Or maybe

Uncle Char­lie
could’ve been a coun­try preacher,
a pow­er­ful, prim­i­tive, bap­tist
run­ning the church house like a fam­ily.
A short feller filled
plumb up to the brim
with rural route right­eous­ness,
briar-hopping the pul­pit
instead of hitch­ing to Haight-Ashbury.
The Holy Spirit in his wild eyes
instead of homi­cide.
I know

I hear Ken­tucky
in his voice.
Hid­ing in the space
at the end of the words
where con­so­nants drop off
and disappear.

Misty Marie Rae Skaggs, 32, hardly ever leaves the holler anymore.

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Lock No. 10, essay by Megan Lewis

Parker and he went out to the lock.

He drove fast down dark roads. Roads that remem­ber us still. He parked. Next to the his­tor­i­cal marker—

I think.

We stum­bled through a star­less night, right down to the water. Right down to the water’s edge and we sat on the grass—cool, damp.

Took his pipe out of his pocket. A lighter too. Inhaled.

Kissed her, blew the smoke into her mouth. She didn’t cough.

Didn’t cough lying on the grass there. Down by the water. Out at the lock. And we laid back, sight­less, the night warm, and passed the pipe back and forth.

Tongues and spit and his hand beneath her shirt. My nip­ples hard and his fin­gers harder.

His pants slid down easy, even if her fin­gers were unsure, and there he was—and we both high—and in her mouth as he mur­mured all those words sixteen-year-old girls need to hear.

Honey, baby, oh yeah, so good.

And his hand in my hair.

Not the Erie canal, not the one in the song, but a dif­fer­ent one along the Shenango—near the dam. Lock No. 10. That’s where we went. It was dead then—the rail­road came and killed it. And then the steel mills died and killed the rail­roads too.

Miles of track they ripped up.

She sucked him hard, moved her head up and down, her hand too, hair wild and messy and falling into her eyes.

The rail­roads killed the canal and the steel mills they killed every­thing. Killed my friend’s uncle, cut him right in half.

Beneath my tongue and in and out of space and a time and place we want to for­get but which remem­bers us still and will come for us when we’re old.

The mill jobs are gone, but only a few escape. They go and live in the city, by the three rivers, and pre­tend they got away but as long as the water is near they remain sight­less in the night and it’s all the same as if no one left.

We never left.

Parker and he went out to the lock and we’re there still. He eager in my mouth, press­ing toward the future, dying to escape, and her believ­ing if she sucks hard enough he just might—

He just might like me.

Oh honey, baby, maybe next time.

he grass is cool and damp and we can’t see any­thing. The trains killed every­thing and I hear the whis­tles. The trains killed every­thing except the mills and the mills killed them.

Miles of track ripped up. Came across some rail­road ties aban­doned in the coun­try­side once. Out there fish­ing with my dad and the dog he shot. A Sun­day after­noon and I stood pre­car­i­ous on the ties they had forgotten.

He put a bul­let in her and claimed it was ’cause she was too stu­pid. Too stu­pid to live, that’s what he said.

Actu­ally, he said, he said that he took the dog to a farm.

Just for­got to men­tion that he shot her when he got there.

For being dumb.

When we were eight the union went on strike. A mill job was a good job, the kind you could keep, retire on and live a respectable life.

Even if the smoke made you cough and the asbestos scarred your lungs, like my neigh­bor. They gave his widow a set­tle­ment and she put in a swim­ming pool and started res­cu­ing dogs, some of them vicious; you’d be too if you had been kicked around like that.

He made good money, the kind your widow can dig a cement hole with, a respectable death.

The union lost and the mills died off, mostly, and the town went on. Mostly too. A ser­vice econ­omy now and the jobs pay less—but our hands are clean and no one gets cut in half anymore.

Mostly.

My mom called me up the other day, said so‑and‑so’s nephew shot him­self at the big hotel, the big hotel where she used to work.

A ser­vice econ­omy and a bul­let in your brain, just like the dog. The best you can do when there’s noth­ing more to be done and the Steel­ers are on TV.

You know the water’s down there. And you hear the whis­tles in the dis­tance as he pulls his pants up and the shift ends at the mill and the train goes by and your throat is sticky and maybe your hair a lit­tle bit too.

The men stag­ger from the mill to their cars and from their cars to the bars and drink Yuengling. And you stum­ble blind and high and stu­pid back to the car.

And he turns to you, turns on you. Turns as he puts the car into drive and says—

He says, if you tell Mag­gie about tonight, I’ll lie. And she’ll believe me.

You won’t tell. Won’t say a word about any of it—the trains, the town, the guy who got cut in half, the dead dog. And you’re going to leave here some­day soon and you won’t come back.

The dark roads remem­ber us still and he dri­ves fast. Through the town’s only stop­light. Past the bars where the men drink Yuengling and PBR. Past the boarded‑up mills. Down dimly lit streets, stop­ping in front of her par­ents’ per­fect lawn.

A dog barks and he doesn’t kiss her good­night, don’t know why you expected him to. He just dri­ves away.

I hear the water still and the ties are some­where. Some­where we ripped them up.

Some­where. And there’s a dog.

And the men drink beer. And talk about the good old days. And watch the Steel­ers’ game and don’t talk about the guy who got cut in half.

And he’s one of them.

We’re out there, some­where, down by the water. And you—you got away, got cut in half a few times any­way, but you opened your eyes and you got away.

Sticky hair and all.

Pre­vi­ously pub­lished in Prague Revue

Megan Lewis writes a weird mix of erot­ica and lit­er­ary fic­tion and has been known to occa­sion­ally mas­quer­ade as Parker Marlo, usu­ally when refer­ring to her­self in the third per­son. She is also the nar­cis­sist behind Mug­wump Press (www​.mug​wump​press​.com), a shame­lessly cap­i­tal­ist endeavor. When not pimp­ing writ­ers or writ­ing fic­tion, Megan works as a free­lance edi­tor. Find her at www​.park​er​marlo​.com and @parkermarlo.

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A Happy Ending by Murray Dunlap

How are you doing, Ben?”

The cam­era man crunches down to take advan­tage of a bet­ter upshot.

Well, I’d tell you, but there is a stranger in my house who seems to be film­ing us,” I say with sin­cere astonishment.

`        “Pre­tend they’re not there. None of them,” my buddy says.

And who are they?” I ask.

They are mak­ing a movie of “us,”” he replies.

They obvi­ous ques­tion here, is who are “we?””

OK pal, you asked…  “We” are you and I. No fak­ing this. And “we” are the focus of a movie that “they” are filming.”

This is seri­ously messed up.”

You asked,” my buddy says.

And I assume my injuries will be the focus of this ‘movie’?” I ask.

You betcha, Ben. Just maybe make your limp a bit worse for the sym­pa­thy vote.”

That is not nec­es­sary, bud. I limp, plain and simple.”

Ah, thank you,” my buddy replied (for you guys at home, his name is Michael).  “That sort of detail will make this movie make sense.”

And what is the point of this ‘movie?’” I ask.

It’ll have peo­ple amazed to see what you have been through. How you man­aged to press on. To ‘hang in there.’ Par­don the phrase,” Michael says.

Ah, so you’ve seen this movie,” I say.

Yep. Watch­ing it right now.”

My TV is busted,” I say. “Watch­ing it how?”

We are it.”

This is a movie?”

Yep.”

Ter­ri­ble movie,” I say. “Who wants to watch a guy named Michael and a guy named Ben sit around talking?”

Well ‘we’ do, we’re watch­ing it right now!”

Hmmm. Weird.”

Hey, why don’t you tell us all about the wreck?”

Cut,” a dis­tant voice calls out.

Michael, what the hell IS this?” I ask sincerely.

OK guys,” a man who I assume is a direc­tor of some sort steps into the room. “”Let’s try to be more con­cise. And knock off on all the meta­nar­ra­tive crap!”

Um, well, you are the direc­tor of some film in my liv­ing room about me. How exactly do you think I can pos­si­bly have this NOT be meta­nar­ra­tive?” I ask.

Just keep going,” the direc­tor says. “And talk about the wreck.”

Fine.” As con­fused as I am right now, I’ll do just that. “The wreck. Not inter­est­ing. A man none of us knows ran a red light. The end.”

And…” Michael con­tin­ues, “Ben, tell us ALL what your injuries are.”

ALL?” I stam­mer. “This is ridiculous.”

Action!” the direc­tor calls out.

OK, OK, Ok… I have 3 frac­tures in my pelvis, a bro­ken clav­i­cle, 9 sutures in my head, five stitches in my ear lobe, and a severe trau­matic brain injury,” I state.

Brain injury!” The direc­tor calls out. “Per­fect! You should riff on this… Brain injury, and trau­matic too, and even SEVERE!”

Riff? Do you want our audi­ence, who­ever they are, to think I’m nuts with a brain injury?”

If that works…” the direc­tor stam­mers. “Then sure, you can be crazy!”

I’m get­ting crazy mad,” I reply.

Action!” our direc­tor shouts.

I’m really becom­ing angry, brain injury or not!” I shout.

Just try again,” our direc­tor says.  Fol­lowed by, “Action!”

And so I made a movie, try­ing very hard to be ‘me.’ I played along, ended up on Oprah, and every­one went home happy..

Cut!” our direc­tor shouts. “This is get­ting WAY too meta­nar­ra­tive!   And give this dread­ful drea­ri­ness a happy end­ing! Action!”

Hmph,” I start. “How to end this on a happy note?  Well, the fact that a movie is being made about me is exactly a happy ending.”

But your audi­ence,” the direc­tor shouts. “What will they understand?”

OK.” I say. “How about a new house?  You know. The cabin that I’ve always wanted…”

Out of the damn bud­get…” our direc­tor cries. “How on earth do we pay for a house?”

Well, you could chip in?” I stammer.

Horse­shit! Cut!” Our direc­tor looks as if he has given up.

Hmmm,” I start. “What about Oprah?”

And why exactly, do we hope for that?” Michael says.

Because I do care,” Oprah appears from the shad­ows as if the whole thing was scripted out.

Oprah… uh, uh, hello there?” I scratch my head in disbelief.

Dar­ling,” Oprah cuts my ques­tion in half. “Any­thing is pos­si­ble in a movie… You know that.”

So what is your part, excuse me, your ROLE.”

Dar­ling,” Oprah begins, “My role, as you call it, will be to help the pub­lic get a glimpse of how it is, in fact, pos­si­ble to “hang in there.”

And will this movie be it?” I ask.

Of course Ben,” Oprah says. “And I’ll give your story a happy ending!”

How does this end?” I ask in confusion.

Let’s go see your cabin in the woods,” Oprah states.

What cabin?” I ask in utter disbelief.

Fol­low me…” Oprah waves her hand to the front door and pro­ceeds to exit my house.

Really?” I ask as I fol­low Oprah onto the front porch. My ques­tion is answered when I see a shiny black limo in the drive. And of course, we then are dri­ven to a pic­turesque cabin.

Here we are my good pas­sen­gers,” the limo dri­ver says.

My good­ness! I am utterly bewil­dered. A porch over­hangs a beau­ti­ful lake.  My gosh! And once the dri­ver opens the front door, a dog comes bound­ing out to greet us!

Now THIS is a happy end­ing!” I scream with utter amazement.

Dar­ling, my dar­ling,” Oprah begins, “You know that I love to give people’s sto­ries happy endings!”

But I had no idea…” I drift into silence.

Ahhhh, I see you like?” Oprah gives Michael and I a great big wink.

This is awe­some!” Michael interjects.

I agree, I agree.” I have to admit. “Awe­some. Per­fect really.”

Are you happy?” Oprah asks.

My good­ness, Oprah,” I state. “Happy.”

 

The End (cred­its roll for our view­ers at home)

Mur­ray Dunlap's work has appeared in about fifty mag­a­zines and jour­nals. His sto­ries have been nom­i­nated for the Push­cart Prize three times, as well as to Best New Amer­i­can Voices once, and his first book, an early draft of "Bas­tard Blue" (then called "Alabama") was a final­ist for the Mau­rice Prize in Fic­tion. His first col­lec­tion of short sto­ries, "Bas­tard Blue," was pub­lished by Press 53 on June 7th, 2011 (the three year anniver­sary of a car wreck that very nearly killed him…). His newest book is the col­lec­tion "Fires." The extra­or­di­nary indi­vid­u­als Pam Hous­ton, Laura Dave, Michael Knight, and Fred Ashe taught him the art of writing.

See www​.mur​ray​dun​lap​.com for a look at hiswork.

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Making Art, poem by Tim Peeler

Mak­ing Art

He down shifted the Opal from third to second

As they approached the inter­sec­tion of Hooker Road

And Arling­ton Blvd, swivel­ing his neck in an instant

Assess­ment as they sped on through the red light.

You crazy son of a bitch, his room­mate hollered,

Fight­ing the hot sum­mer wind to re-light a half-burned joint.

He was late; they had spent too much time arguing,

Then fight­ing after the intra­mural soft­ball game,

And now his model would be wait­ing at the house,

The art class project due in the morning.

Two more run lights and a near crash at Elm and 5th

And he skid­ded to a stop on Avery Street,

Clat­ter­ing in his cleats down the sidewalk,

Smil­ing at her with his busted lip and reach­ing out

His bloody-knuckled hand; thank you so much

For wait­ing, he said in his puppy dog voice;

Her hand held the green night­gown she’d picked out

For this por­trait he’d promised to copy for her

Boyfriend, and her beau­ti­ful face had the dark

Wor­ried look he would draw with­out the mark

He left there when she first refused to strip.

His room­mate lis­tened to them fight for the hour

It took the bong hits to do their work;

He’d heard it all before.

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A Wave of the Burger, by Dale Wisely

I'm in my patrol car
and I ges­ture to let a big guy,
dusted with white paint,
make a left in front of me.

He's dri­ving an old pickup
bur­dened by lad­ders.
There is a thick layer
of debris on the dash­board.
Cig­a­rette packs, food wrap­pers,
maps, receipts, work orders.

He cuts a big, slow,
sloppy arc across my path,
turn­ing the wheel with the heel
of one palm.

He's eat­ing a ham­burger
and has it in the other hand.

As he passes,
he salutes me with
a wave of the burger.

Fail­ing to do so would be
ill-mannered.

Dale Wisely grew up in Arkansas and lives in Alabama, where he edits
Right Hand Point­ing, White Knuckle Press, and One Sen­tence Poems.

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Two Poems, by Larry Thacker

I swim the vacuum

between your atoms
sing along the dark
mat­tered strands
between galax­ies
beyond imag­i­na­tion
wit­ness­ing the base
pat­tern of all worlds
the mys­tery scripts
hang­ing orna­mented
about your thoughts
I hum under your feet
within the val­leys
of fin­ger­print ridges
shrink­ing, expand­ing
destroy­ing, cre­at­ing
my laugh and smiles
wrap­ping your world
in scales of D flat major
be still, and know me

Mean­ing 

There are days when every­thing means every­thing,
polar­ized against oth­ers when all is the fright­en­ing
pit of mean­ing­less­ness. Who is immune to the inner
script of the empty end or, on bet­ter days, a hero’s
mys­te­ri­ous story in a world that screams both
sym­bol­ism and blank­ness as the bit­ter­est of kin.

We must lean in, and we do, and we fail and fal­ter,
some­times emerg­ing slightly scathed and hard­ened
against our silly demons, real­iz­ing how sky quakes,
earth sounds and flock deaths, fish kills, bee plagues
and rivers of snakes and win­ter tor­na­dos are nei­ther
curses nor bless­ings, but are just sim­ple questions.

 

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Indian ID, fiction by Eric Ramseier

I have this plas­tic lam­i­nated card that says I'm an Indian.  It has my name on it, the tribe I'm from—some kind of Chero­kee, and my pic­ture.  It needs my pic­ture because I don't look like an Indian at all.  I could be the cover photo for some neo-Nazi's utopian novel.  My dad made me go up to the reser­va­tion north of town to sit for the photo and get the card.  You never know, he said and left it at that.  He meant that I might need it because of the minor­ity sta­tus, like if I didn't get into the col­lege I want or I needed to get a schol­ar­ship or some­thing, I would just mark down that I'm Amer­i­can Indian and they would bend over back­wards to wel­come me.  He never had to use it, he made me well aware, but, again, you just never know.  I mostly use the card to buy beer.

The ride up to the reser­va­tion is always the same.  When we cross the bridge over the Kansas River and I look down and think what a great place the banks would be for paint­ball with all the tall reeds and sand bars and cot­ton­woods.  I feel a bit guilty for dream­ing this sort of thing.  It's like when I catch myself star­ing at the base­ball cards in the gro­cery store—I am too old for that kind of stuff now.  At least I believe I am sup­posed to think and feel that.   The high­way north is always empty except for semi trucks and farm equip­ment, and the sky is so blue that it appears purple-gray.  Maybe I always think there is a storm.  That is where they always come from, dump­ing rain, mak­ing the air smell stale and dan­ger­ous, caus­ing the dogs to howl then cower under fur­ni­ture.  There is a bizarre mix­ture of cookie-cutter fake-mall sub­urbs encroach­ing on wild prairie.  We'll see all this tall grass and farmer's weed, then all of the sud­den there's a Casey's Gen­eral Store, a strip mall with a Chi­nese food place and a fire­works stand, and a half com­pleted sub­di­vi­sion of houses.

It's always the two of us.  Dan and me.  We aren't pop­u­lar, and we aren't nerds.  We are just there.  Con­nected only because we are neigh­bors and known each other for­ever.  Dan wants to be pop­u­lar.  He asks me, "What's your favorite kind of beer?"  We are in the gas sta­tion just inside the reser­va­tion bor­ders.  It's not like reg­u­lar gas sta­tions.  It's not bright and clean with aisle after aisle of candy and chips.  The walls are wood pan­el­ing.   There's fish­ing bait on one aisle.  There's only two refrig­er­ated cases.  There's almost no name-brand food.  The plas­tic wrap­ping on the food looks old, like it's brit­tle and ready to crack.  "I don't have a favorite beer," I say.  And I don't.  It all tastes like I'm suck­ing wet bread through a straw.  I just like what hap­pens when I drink a lot of it.  The world isn't the same any­more.  Things slow down.  Thoughts come slower.  If I move my head fast, I can still see the out­line of what I was just look­ing at.  "I like the high­est per­cent beer."  I say.  "Jen likes Heineken.  We could see if they have it," Dan says.  But I don't want to buy beer for every­one.  I don't want to be known as the hookup.  I don't want the atten­tion.  I don't want the respon­si­bil­ity.  I shrug at Dan.  We both know there is lit­tle chance that there will be Heineken in this store.

The cashier eyes us the whole time.  He knows we aren't eigh­teen.  He looks like an Indian.  Straight black hair.  Looks like he played foot­ball.  I won­der what his life is like.  How is an Indian that dif­fer­ent from me?  I am the legal limit of Indian to have the card I have and to get the pos­si­ble gov­ern­ment ben­e­fits.  I think it was my grandmother's grand­mother who was full-blooded some kind of Chero­kee.  I've seen pic­tures.  She looks severe.  The cashier looks severe, too.  Maybe that's the main dif­fer­ence.  No one has ever described me as severe, and I do not think of myself this way.  I pull the card out of my wal­let and place it in front of the cashier.  It's like a pass to under­age drink­ing.  He unfolds his arms and exam­ines the card.  I think I detect a smile form­ing.  "Okay, man.  Just the beer?" he asks.  Dan has a suit­case of a brand of beer that we have only seen on the reservation—they cer­tainly don't adver­tise it on TV—in each hand.  He knows the drill.  He lifts the beer up to the counter with­out let­ting go—as though this were all a ruse and it might get taken away from him—while the cashier runs a barely-working laser wand over the bar code.  I have a twelve pack in my free hand.  We pay the money we earned from our after-school jobs and walk out like it's any other trans­ac­tion at any other store.

When we get to the car, though, it's a dif­fer­ent story.  War cries.  It's like we got away with some­thing, and I sup­pose we did.  None of us are even close to eigh­teen.  We are barely old enough to drive.  It's like liq­uid gold, what we have.  "Is there some place around here where we could start drink­ing it?" Dan asks.  He has a shitty life, though no one can quite fig­ure out why.  He likes to drink even more than me.  But Dan always has answers, and he always comes off as being full of shit.  He always wants to take that one step fur­ther from the edge.

***

            Dan's house is where we drink, though.  His par­ents are always off on busi­ness trips or vaca­tions, and his sib­lings have all moved out.  We never start at his house, though.  Most of the kind of kids that hang out at our high school hang out in the park­ing lot of the fur­ni­ture store.  It is tucked away in a res­i­den­tial sec­tion and isn't well lit.  The only times cops come out are when there is a fight that gets too loud and an elderly neigh­bor calls in.  I don't like to adver­tise how much beer we have, so we park and take it one at a time.  When­ever some­one pop­u­lar asks where we got it, we always say my parent's-fridge-and-this-is-all-we-could-score.

"Aw, shit, Jen is here," Dan says.  "Act cool."  We don't do any­thing dif­fer­ent.  Except Dan makes it clear that he is in pos­ses­sion of beer.  He pokes a hole in the bot­tom of the can with a screw­driver, shot­guns it, crushes it with his hand and smashes it against the pave­ment.  Jen sees this.  On some level, every­one sees this.

Jen has a pla­toon.   She is not the leader of the pla­toon, but it's easy to imag­ine a sit­u­a­tion in which she over­throws the cur­rent leader and becomes despot.  "Do you have more of that," Jen asks.  Dan reaches in the back­seat and pro­duces a can for her.  The rest of her pla­toon huffs and snorts, so he gets cans for them as well.  I move to the other side of the car, not want­ing to par­tic­i­pate.  "Fuckin' party," Dan says just below a yell.  The pla­toon, includ­ing Jen, roll their eyes.  The beer by now is warm and cheap, so of course they don't like it.  It offers no relief from the sweat­ing night.  "What is this swill?" Jen asks.  One says, "I'm so trashed right now," after three sips.  They ask for more, and Dan deliv­ers.  "So what are we doing after this?" Dan asks.  "Uh, we have the car wash fundraiser tomor­row for the dance team, so we are out of here after this," Jen replies, all atti­tude.  "Nice, maybe I'll have to drop by and get my car washed," Dan says.

The god damned dance team.  Dan's blinded by sperm backed up so far in his brain that he doesn't real­ize he's being played.  But I'm not.  Rela­tion­ships in my high school are always about give and take and I'm not aware of any com­mod­ity I might offer beyond the abil­ity to get beer.  It's not sta­ble enough.   I learned just like every­one else that I am my own unique indi­vid­ual and that some­thing about that is spe­cial, but I can't stand the thought of being rejected.  Every­one talks to and about each other.  I don't want peo­ple talk­ing about me.  And if there is one thing the dance team does, it's talk.

I sit on the hood of the car, my back against the wind­shield.  My head rests on a piece of the metal trim bent up from the seam.  It's painful, but a good kind of pain.  The kind of pain that lets me know I am present even as I drink can after can of the foul smelling beer.  Some­one says, "I almost vom­ited in my mouth.  Isn't that so funny?"  And there is the cor­re­spond­ing laugh­ter.  I sud­denly real­ize I am in a hideous town with hideous peo­ple and I need to get away from here as soon as pos­si­ble.  I sup­pose I have always known that, but star­ing up at the stars, I rec­og­nize this isn't the only place in the world, that there are peo­ple liv­ing in com­pletely dif­fer­ent places and doing com­pletely dif­fer­ent things.  I want to be one of them.

***

            The beer runs out.  That hap­pens when a pla­toon of peo­ple share it with you.  They march off, and Dan is left with blue balls.  "It's all about mak­ing head­way," he says.  "I've laid a foun­da­tion for future encoun­ters.  This is the leg­work, and you don't always see results with leg­work.  The results present them­selves later on down the line."  I see how I'm like Dan, too.  I don't let on.  I keep my suf­fer­ing to myself.

Dan is in the back seat kick­ing the empty card­board boxes and empty alu­minum cans out of frus­tra­tion when I hear a dull thud.  "Thank fuck­ing Christ," he says, dig­ging out the twelve pack I had bought.  "They didn't take all our beer."  We end up at Dan's house.

Both of our houses are set up basi­cally the same way.  Above the front door of our split lev­els are the typ­i­cal trap­pings of sub­ur­bia.  An entrance way with embar­rass­ing fam­ily pho­tos from ten years ago, a liv­ing room with down-home charm and the occa­sional kitschy dec­o­ra­tive touch, the par­ents' con­ser­v­a­tive mas­ter bed­room, the teenagers' rooms with ques­tion­able smells ema­nat­ing from within.  Down­stairs, though, is another story.  Tucked away into the little-used sec­ond TV room amongst the fur­ni­ture that didn't match any­where else and the Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions stood the fam­ily com­puter which dou­bled as a depos­i­tory of the most depraved pornog­ra­phy we could find.  I am no dif­fer­ent.  I would like to say that I am, but I am not.

Watch­ing ter­ri­ble movies is usu­ally how we fin­ish off a night like tonight, but when we go down­stairs, there is already a blue-green glow com­ing from the tele­vi­sion.  Dan's brother is sit­ting on pais­ley couch, his legs crossed, smok­ing a cig­a­rette.  If there was one thing you didn't do in any of our houses, it mess with the care­fully cul­ti­vated san­dal­wood scent.   There are sto­ries about Dan's brother.  He was this straight-laced guy all through high school.  He was 4.0, clean cut, and going on a free ride to KU.  But some­thing hap­pened to him after he graduated—nobody, not even Dan, knew what—and he sim­ply didn't go to col­lege.  It was sort of unthink­able.  Then he grew out his hair and grew a beard.  He started tak­ing all kinds of weird drugs no one we knew could even imag­ine get­ting.  He went on a vision quest in the desert.  He went to Mex­ico and robbed banks.  He started a folk band in Lau­rel Canyon, Los Ange­les.  Dan never talked about him, so who knew what was true.  I could never con­nect my mem­ory of his brother with those sto­ries, but he looks every bit the part.  He's wear­ing mis­matched plaids and a blazer even though its humid out­side.  His eyes are glazed over.  His hair is stringy and greasy.  He looks as worn out as the knees of his trousers.  "Look what the cat dragged in," he says as we file down the stairs.  "One of those beers for me?"  I look at Dan.  "You're not sup­posed to be here if mom and dad aren't," Dan finally says.

Dan even­tu­ally steps for­ward with a  beer in hand.  "What do you say to a trade?" he says.  "How do you mean?" his brother replies.  "I mean you got any­thing stronger for our trou­bles?"  I want to say 'what the fuck are you doing?'  I want to say that I'm fine with beer, that's tame enough, but there are sto­ries, and I don't want things to get out of con­trol.  I say noth­ing, though.  Maybe he just has mar­i­juana.  Who cares about that?  I look at Dan and he looks deflated, like he's crum­bling to pieces on the inside.  And I don't get it.  "Sure, lit­tle Danny, I've got some­thing stronger."  I real­ize just how much I don't know Dan and why he does what he does.  Dan's brother con­tin­ues, "But we should get out of here.  I need some air."

We pile back into the car because what else could we do, and Dan's brother cracks his beer—something we would never think of doing.  Dan starts dri­ving, as per his brother's instruc­tions, with no des­ti­na­tion in mind but mind­ful of where cops typ­i­cally have DUI check­points.  Neigh­bor­hood streets shouldn't be a prob­lem, though.  I look at Dan's brother in the rearview and won­der how that hap­pens.  He has a men­ace about him that was never there before.  I wanted to pre­tend it wasn't there, but this was not the same guy I knew.  "How'd you kids even get this beer?" he asks fin­ish­ing off the can and toss­ing it out the win­dow.  We explain about my card and how Indi­ans look the other way for other Indi­ans.  "No shit?  You're an Indian?  I did not know that."  I didn't like him tak­ing a per­sonal inter­est in me.  I kept quiet, only nod­ding at his ques­tions.  "This will work on pretty damn well, then.  Let's head up to Burnett's Mound."

***

            In ele­men­tary school we all learned that when this city was founded, the city father's bought a bunch of pas­ture land from Chief Bur­nett.  We didn't learn that he was plied with whiskey and then booted from his prop­erty.  Not to be out­done, he did as the affronted often do and cursed the land.  He said that so long as no man-made struc­ture was built on his mound, the city would be safe from  nat­ural dis­as­ter.  He knew man-made struc­tures would be built there as soon as pos­si­ble.  There was a lot of spite both ways back then.  Even­tu­ally, he was buried on that mound, though the grave marker was long gone, and tor­na­dos tore through city in 1966 and then one time in the 80s and again when I was in fourth grade and cow­er­ing in the hall­way with my hands folded over my neck.

We drive to the top where a barbed wire fence sep­a­rated us from the enor­mous beige water tower that was built into the side of the mound.  Dan's brother wraps his blazer around a sec­tion of barbed wire and scales the fence.  Dan tosses the rest of the beer to him and climbs the fence as well.  I feel left behind.  I don't remem­ber many preg­nant pauses shared with Dan, but we share one now.  I'm not so drunk that I don't know what's going on, but I am drunk enough not to care, so I fol­low.  We are not walk­ing through vir­gin prairie back there, as I had thought we could be.  Crum­pled candy wrap­pers and plas­tic bags lit­ter the ground.  We see a few used con­doms and lost fris­bees.  The grass is over­grown and our socks col­lect cock­le­burs with every step.

We fol­low Dan's brother up the iron lad­der welded on to the side of the water tower.    It's smooth and slick on top.  The metal is sweat­ing from the heat.  From there, though, we can see the lights of the entire city.  It's so depress­ing see­ing the ter­mi­nus.  We each open our last beers.    From his pants pocket Dan's brother pro­duces a hand­ful of brown but­tons.  "This is straight up Anasazi  pey­ote.  I got it off an old med­i­cine man.  It's totally legit.  Take one and swal­low."  We each swal­low a but­ton and wash it down with the beer.  It tastes bit­ter, and I won­der if I'm going to throw it up before it has a chance to work.  "Why do we have to be up here to take this?" I ask.  I have never taken the stuff before, obvi­ously, and don't know what it does.  I start to have con­cerns for my safety.  "This is cursed Indian land.  This is Indian drugs.  This is the only place in town wor­thy of tak­ing this stuff.  I want to see if it messes you up more," he says.  "I want to see if you can sum­mon the spirit of Chief Bur­nett.  If you can kill a buf­falo with your bare hands."  Dan laughs, but his brother seems serious.

My face burns.  I feel like I'm being asked to per­form.  The two of them stare at me, so I turn my back on them and step to the edge.  Far off to the west I see heat light­ning.  I crouch down hop­ing the pey­ote will take pos­ses­sion of me, and I'll no longer be here.  I won­der what the cashier on the reser­va­tion is doing.  I won­der if I could get a job at the gas sta­tion.  I could take the shift after him and sell beer only to peo­ple that have their lam­i­nated cards.  I real­ize that, too, is a night­mare, and I just want to go home.  I want to go to bed.  I won't even mind tomor­row when I'll wake up with that feel­ing of not know­ing whether I'm hun­gry or sick.

The two of them stand behind me.  "Oh man, you should do a dance and see if you can call the storm this way," Dan's brother says.  "Yeah," Dan adds, "Maybe it's like this innate thing you can do."  I look up and Dan, but he's not help­ing.  He won't see that I don't want to par­tic­i­pate, and I feel betrayed.  "Come on, man."  "Yeah," they urge.

I get up but do so too fast.  I lose my foot­ing and fall off the water tower.  It's prob­a­bly twenty feet, but I feel like I'm falling for­ever.  I do finally land.  I know I'm not par­a­lyzed because a dirty news­pa­per ends up on my face, and I remove it and am once again look­ing up at the stars.   My body tin­gles, and I hope it's the pey­ote.  All is silent, and I think about what I was about to do.  My nat­ural incli­na­tion would be to just do a goofy dance to remove the ten­sion and move on to another topic.  But I'm not so sure that's what I was going to do.  I might've been con­fronta­tional.  I might have really laid into those insen­si­tive pricks.  Told them to go to hell and they weren't going to be using me any­more.  That it was cruel how they were treat­ing me.  That I wasn't even really an Indian.  I knew noth­ing about it.  My heart pumps harder as I grow more and more con­vinced that this is what I was going to do.  I feel sweat bead­ing on my face.  Or maybe it was rain;  per­haps I did con­jure a storm.  I close my eyes and hope it is the pey­ote.  My body quakes.  I hear rustling in the grass around me and open my eyes.  Two fig­ures sur­round me.  "Jesus, are you dead?" one of them asks.  "If you aren't, get up.  We want to go get more beer."  I wig­gle my fin­gers and toes and reach out to the stars.  They looks so close, yet I know that I won't touch them.  I mouth 'Fuck you,' but I don't think I actu­ally say the words.  I shut my eyes tight, and I feel weird.  I hope it is the pey­ote.  I want it to be the cool light of day, and I want to be run­ning through the grass with a smile on my face.  I want to grab an orphaned fris­bee or my Indian ID card and loft it into the air.  I can't do this.  I just can't do this.

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