by Chandler Jenrette
My friend’s baby was born with skin made of paper. They didn’t know how it happened; no one in the family had ever had skin that wasn’t made of skin before. The doctors said this baby will need to avoid fire and water, but should otherwise be okay. The baby was named Helen, after her grandmother, but her grandmother was afraid to pick her up. The baby’s skin was white white, so white you could see the veins running blue underneath, white like perfect snow, white like sugar, white like the white of the world after you stare at the sun too long. So white that it was hard not to make a mark on her if you were holding a pen.
I wrote three things on the baby before anyone caught me. I wrote advice to the baby in the crook between her thumb and forefinger, where she would be able to read it if she used a magnifying glass. I wrote a poem down her side, where the people she would love could run their fingers over it. I wrote my three worst secrets on the back of her neck, in between her fine hairs, where she couldn’t see them, but they would be there. I don’t need to repeat them now; they’re out there somewhere.
Her parents found the words after my second time babysitting, which was the fourth day she was alive.
”Why would you do this?” my friend asked, pointing at the baby’s side. “It won’t come off. This skin is paper.” She paused and cleared her throat. Her skin turned red, her eyes filled up. “I would never ever do this to your baby.”
My friend’s husband rubbed on the words to see if the ink would come up, but he just tore the baby’s skin. The baby cried out loud, a scream that ran up and down my spine. “Fuck,” the baby’s father said, and put a piece of tape over the tear.
”I just wanted to leave a mark, you know? Put something out there that I knew would last longer than I would.” I reached out to touch the baby’s arm but my friend jerked her away.
”Fuck you, she’s not yours to leave a mark on. That’s for us to do, not you.” My friend took the baby upstairs and her husband pushed me softly to the door. “I wrote on her, too, under her toes,” he whispered to me. “Someone comes along that special, you have to do something.”
We stood on the porch for a minute and blinked at the darkness together. The stars here are not very bright, and it’s hard to make out any constellations. You just have to be satisfied with the knowledge, my father once said to me, that you’re in the universe with everyone else, stars or no stars. We don’t need proof that we’re alive.
Copyright © 2006 Chandler Jenrette
A Story From Our Boyhood
by Kevin J. Wilson
There was a time when you stood on my father’s dock, in your swim trunks, in the lull of early evening. Your bare torso muscular and tanned, its blond hairs catching glints of twilight. You held a fishing rod, cocked like the hammer of a pistol, over your shoulder. You snapped it forward. The line sang free and cut through the humid delta air into the water.
I sat next to you and watched. At fifteen, we looked like brothers. You fished with my license. You’d pull the rod close as you reeled, then let it go again back towards the water. The steady rhythm was hypnotic. I reveled in it, followed each movement of your arms and chest until you finally switched to bait, sat down and let the line lie still.
You spoke in soft tones of the girl you loved and pined for. You knew just where you’d take her if you got the chance —the seafood place by the harbor. You’d sit at the narrow table for two overlooking the boats moored in dark water, while the candle’s flicker lit her face. Dance on the parquet floor after ten, hands on her hips as you swayed to the beat.
I believed you could do it just that way. Gazing into the murky depths, I saw my reflection, distorted by the river’s currents. My dream girl stared sadly back at me. I knew her, tried to shape her with my words for you—
Tawny hair that sometimes fell over her eyes; how the fabric of her dress would lie over her breasts and hips; how delicate her hands; how long thin smooth her legs, stretching out from their covering skirt; how she could fling her bangs back and swallow someone up with her eyes; how she could fold her body into the envelope of two strong arms.
You asked, “Who is she?”
I wondered, “How could you not know ?”
Silence fell between us. Night’s blue now covered the dock. I watched you long after you reeled in that final cast, after your whisper ceased, your face a blue outline in the dusk, arms crossed in your lap, moving with your chest as you took in each breath.
Copyright © 2006 Kevin J. Wilson
by Bruce McAllister
There’s a place my father takes me day after day, a little lake—a name I can’t quite pronounce—so that I can hunt for the snakes, lizards and salamanders I love. When my mother complains, it doesn’t bother him, not anymore. We get up the next morning—she’s screaming, her face twisted in rage, trying to hit us with her fists, the palms of her hands, a coat hanger, anything she can grab—and we leave the house again. Her screams fade as we close the windows of the car. She is standing like a hunchback, her entire body twisted now, in the driveway, telling us that we’ll never add up to anything, that a decent husband and a loving son wouldn’t leave her like this, and every day.
We drive away and soon are among the trees. I try to get a glimpse of the water and, when I do, I shout, “There it is!” and my father, though he never spoke like this before, says, “Yes, and it’s going to be there every day, Brad—every day that we come here.”
We get up early the next morning, too, and though she’s still screaming, we barely hear her. We hear her less and less each day until she is but a ghost on the front steps and we, father and son, are what is real, like the ring-neck snake, so tiny and perfect, and the fat salamander with its gold spots, and the blue-bellied fence lizard that suns itself on the split rail high over the moist soil that makes the other two happy. I take them home and put them in the terrarium my father has bought for me (though he shouldn’t have), the one I keep in the little redwood cabin (the one he built for me and shouldn’t have) in the back yard, where we sit in the rain watching the water drip from rafters and laugh and eat cereal for dinner in little bowls. The lizard blinks on its piece of wood under the lamp, behind the glass. The salamander hides under its log. The snake comes out and blinks, too, as if trying to understand, and the rain doesn’t stop until night falls and we sleep and wake to day and get ready to leave again.
As I turn to look back at the house this time, my mother is gone. Where, I have no idea, but she can’t keep my brother locked in his room anymore. I run back for him, laughing and shouting. We can take him with us now. He smiles, chubby and nearly as big as I am. He doesn’t like snakes or lizards, but he wants to come with us—of course he does—and we leave with our father, and it’s just like heaven.
Copyright © 2006 Bruce McAllister
The Man from the Train
by Nicole Walton
His name was Ifran and he was maybe six foot two. I wasn’t in danger, but to tell the story you would think I was. I met him at the
Wal-Mart snack bar; we shared a diet coke and went outside so he could smoke.
Okay, so maybe someone from work might see me there and tongues would wag. What was I doing holding hands with this tall Pakistani
guy at two in the afternoon on a Tuesday? A tall Pakistani guy who pressed me up against the cement block wall with my arms pinned overhead and kissed me so hard I had to check to see if my mouth was bleeding.
Up and down the sidewalk we walked, and his mouth tasted of Tarytons, and I liked the way his hips moved and the sing song of his
We were in my car and the windows were tinted and in the back no one could see.
The commuter lot.
Where the train station is.
And it was dark.
Maybe you can get arrested for this, I thought, but not until afterwards, and then he left.
And we had said, did you bring a condom? And we had said, no did you? And nobody had one and we did it anyway and it was an
impulse and he told me about Pakistan his deaf son his brother the pilot his wife who wore a veil and was his cousin and I gave him
my phone number.
Copyright © 2006 Nicole Walton
What If World
by Randall D. Brown
I alight upon the branch in the willow tree with the secret knothole full of crystals, stream-smoothed rocks, dried daffodil petals.
“There you are,” Annie Rydell says. How strange to see the elfin features —the milk-white face, the thin layer of freckles, the tiny nose and ears, the wild red hair—that appear in the stories I tell myself. Annie as the porn store clerk, the subway R.E.M. fan, the wife behind the surgical mask, the agoraphobe confronting the white birch woods.
We are ten. In the next moment my mother will reach up and grab Annie’s leg, will get in the way of Annie’s tumble through the branches. My mother will pick her up, shake Annie as if she isn’t real, and spit, “I’m tired of your mother fucking my husband.”
The white streak of my mother’s hair will burn. Her face will curl up into a fist she will hurl at Annie. Annie could fall backwards from the blow, except my mother will hold her in her too-tight grasp.
I will fall too, unhook my mother’s fingers and push my mother away from Annie and to the ground. Her head will bounce off a root. She won’t wake up right away.
I will hold Annie’s arms, imprinted with my mother’s nails, only she will twist away, run past the ten houses on Meadow Lane to her own house. I will climb back up to the branch and gaze down with my bird’s eye upon my fluttering mother under the umbrella of the weeping willows.
But that is the next instant. Now Annie and I sit, our hands interlaced. Her breath smells of Swedish Fish; her lips glitter with pixie stix dust.
“I could never unlove you,” she says. The crystals in the secret knothole, only the ones she sprinkles with the dust and breathes upon seven times, protect me at night, allow me to sleep despite the fact that someone could bury me alive, the house could catch on fire, or murderers could come with swords and firebrands.
“But what if you didn’t live here?” I ask. “What if you were born in France or Australia?”
“That could never have happened.”
Sometimes there’s silence and I cannot even hear her breath.
“The stars,” she says. “Let’s wait for them. I think they’re just there.”
“Why just there?”
“So we can wait for them.”
I didn’t understand completely, not then.
Maybe I tell Annie then how she is my best friend. How I cannot sleep without her breath, cannot talk without halting when she’s away. Maybe I tell Annie Rydell there is the willow tree and her—and all the rest is unlove.
Maybe we just lean against each other, baby cheek to baby cheek, and maybe this time the door never opens and my mother never strides toward the willow tree and I don’t ascend from the branch and disappear back into what-if world, far away from Annie Rydell, just there like the stars, to give the world its wonder.
Copyright © 2006 Randall Brown