Issue 27

 

Ready to Wear


By Saundra Mitchell

When my brother went away to college, he left me everything.

He left a bed with a Sean-shaped dent in it. Pillows that smelled like aftershave. A closet full of clothes that didn’t fit, but I wore them anyway.

The jeans hesitated at my hips. They gaped at my waist; they were tight and wrong, but I made them fit, because Sean left a son-place in our house that somebody had to fill.

I’d already failed at ice. Ice, slick and smooth—I could go forward, around in circles, then into the boards, every time. Sean figured out how to pull a single axel out of a pair of hockey skates—magic with no toe-pick. Sean breathed impossible.

Once, he fished a fat, pale catfish out of the sewer, just past our driveway. We went to the pond sometimes, but nothing bit. Nothing ever did, really, and what would we have done with a pail full of runty sunfish anyway?

It was the blues catfish, Blind Blubber Wally, that mattered—more everyday impossible, like asking, “What’s the first line of the third paragraph of page thirty-seven of the “’The Wind and the Willows,’ Sean?”

”Well,” he said, pretending I’d stumped him.

”You don’t know, you don’t know,” I’d sing, then shut up so he could recite pages thirty-seven, thirty-eight, and thirty-nine from memory. He could do it for any page, any three, but three was the limit.

When Sean went away to college, he left me his Playboys, though really, I think he was probably just hiding them from Mom. The back of the linen closet in our bathroom, that’s where he stuck them—maybe he knew The Shrine was coming.

Maybe he knew Dad would stand at the doorway to stare into Seanless space; maybe he knew Mom would go through all the drawers and refold his leftover clothes. Maybe he knew that our parents would gut where he slept and read and walked and lived to make the room an architectural son—a son gracious enough to hide his whack magazines.

My magazines, now.

The girls in those pages looked like parfaits, the kinds in commercials. They glistened and they stood unnaturally tall, creamy or chocolate, but perfect—nutmeg freckles, cherry blush.

They were like and unlike the girl I brought to Sean’s bed: same ingredients, different result.

Since I had the room, the clothes, the book, the magazines, the fishing pole, the legacy, all of Sean’s essentials down to DNA, Sherry didn’t have to be a lesbian, and I didn’t have to be the leftover stub in the family, the accidentally-smooth-between-the-legs Not-Sean. The daughter; the useless, the merely decorative.

God knew we needed a Sean, to make the sun rise and the sun set, to direct the wind and pull in the tide, to work blind catfish miracles on ice. We needed a Sean and he left me his skin.

I just had to learn to wear it.

Copyright © 2006 Saundra Mitchell

 

Time Change

by Claire Eamer

He had picked up the old clock and was about to smash it down on me. I couldn’t dodge. I couldn’t even move. The last swing of his fist had caught me on the side of the jaw and somehow disconnected my thoughts from my body. All I could do was lie there and watch the second hand tick toward the top of the clock.

Two a.m., I thought foolishly. Time change. Spring forward in spring, fall back in the fall. That’s what started this whole thing—a stupid argument about whether to put the clock forward or back for the time change. Spring forward in spring, I said, but he wouldn’t believe me. Or he didn’t care. Stupid arguments are as good as any other kind of argument when all you want is an excuse to light into someone.

He was taking his time, holding the clock high above his head, enjoying my helplessness. Tick, tick, tick, the second hand jerked on its way. He snarled and started the clock on its downward swing at the same moment that the second hand reached the twelve.

The moment vanished. So did he.

I blinked and shook my head carefully, thinking the blow to the jaw must have been worse than I thought. But he was gone. The clock was back on its shelf, the second hand ticking steadily away from the hour. Three a.m. Spring forward. The time change had happened, and we’d lost an hour.

The police have stopped looking for him. They think he’s on the run from the assault charges, but they don’t really care. I’m healed, not a bruise anywhere. I’ve got a new job, a room of my own, new friends who don’t know anything about him.

They always say, with the time change, that you lose an hour in the spring and get it back in the fall. I’m not sure what happened last spring, but I know I don’t want that hour back. I’m sorry about the clock—it was a good friend and a legacy from my mother—but I can’t take the chance. The flames are licking up around its base now, as the second hand marches around the face and the minute hand glides toward midnight.

By two a.m., the clock will be gone, and the room, and everything. The lost hour will be lost forever.

Copyright © 2006 Claire Eamer

So this is Love

By Curtis Smith

Eric swoops down our unpaved lane, a scene of fury and kicked-up dust not witnessed this side of gladiator movies, his brake lights flashing only when his Camaro bucks to a chassis-squeaking stop. He rushes me into the passenger seat and orders me not to unlock the door for anyone but him. In the moth-fluttering halo of the Camaro’s headlights, he fights my stepfather. Eric light on his toes at first, a circling dance of brisk jabs, my stepfather plodding forward, a sadist’s grin plastered across his fat mug. Each time my stepfather lands a punch, I cringe, my hands squeezing a purse, which contains not only the seven hundred sixty-eight dollars I’ve saved from my shifts at the supermarket but also the asswipe’s wallet. Blood flows. Three times my stepfather knocks Eric down, and three times Eric gets up, a series of wobbly resurrections, his cautious jabs abandoned for wild, grunting haymakers. Finally, the asswipe gives up, spitting on the Camaro’s windshield before lumbering back to the house. Eric staggers in the headlight’s shine, his knees buckling but his fists still raised. “I ain’t licked yet!” he yells. I help him back into the car, and we speed off. I honk the horn, a final, cursing goodbye to all this drama and small-mindedness, goodbye to my stepfather’s precious hunting dogs, their howls and pen-rattling frenzy receding by the time we fishtail onto the road. The speedometer’s swift climb testifies to my deliverance from this hell.

Silvery clouds shroud the moon, and with the cool, heavy scent of the green fields rushing over us, I know I’ve never been more alive. I hold a T-shirt to Eric’s bloodied face, and the fact that the asswipe has busted my boyfriend’s nose matters less than knowing that Eric won’t stand for anyone, not even a half-drunk bear who outweighs him by a good hundred pounds, cursing me or making me cry or peeking in at me through the bathroom keyhole. When I show him my stepfather’s wallet, Eric tosses it out the window, saying he wouldn’t take a million dollars from the jerk-off. This is my kind of love, a two-fisted and bloody adoration, the kind of love people write songs about. The kind of love people die for.

With a twist of his chin, Eric works his face away from the sopping T-shirt. “You didn’t tell me he could punch like a mother fucker, darling,” he says in an airy, pinched voice.

I put my lips on his and kiss him. The gearshift stabs my ribs. Our wheels veer onto the shoulder, the gravel pinging beneath us in a hundred chunky notes. Blood coats our tongues with its coppery taste. “Damn, girl, you are something else,” Eric says when I pull away. I settle back into my seat and place a hand over the thumb-sized baby floating inside my belly. The night road hums beneath our speeding tires, our car a God-sent chariot taking us anywhere, anywhere but here.

Copyright © 2006 Curtis Smith

 

Blues

By Avital Gad-Cykman

A song about a golden morning played in her head. That unexpected bit of cheer brought her out of bed and to the kitchen, where, for the first time, she had a cup of chocolate milk with her father dead.

Yesterday, the grief had caught her in her chest and overflowed her body, filling, then breaking her. She screamed, unprepared.

And yet, as the next morning broke loose she was up. She needed forgiveness for the song. She heard the music evolving inside her, playing her organs, and she listened as if the radio played it. She would have to put her heart aside to play in her head and listen like any audience, to be able to go on.

All it took her to learn to walk again was the first day of her father’s death. She would count those days like birthdays. For the dead, her father was a baby, only one day dead. Almost alive.

The blues played inside her, a scratched vinyl record that repeated bitter-sweet chords. It was never Mozart or Beethoven, no, Mozart and Beethoven had been her father’s, and Father had taken his classical music wherever he had gone.

Sometimes, a passing scent of warm masculine skin or a dad’s kiss to his daughter broke her, and she screamed in her dreams, and hoped the daylight could glue her pieces together.

One morning, the air smelled of the dry southern wind and the nearing summer vacation. Her mother raised her tired eyes, the radio beside her still quiet. She had struggled to save Father and lost, and the radio had been silent since that day.

The blues took over the house, disregarding the pop and rock records the girl played too high to be able to hear anything else.

“Turn it off!” Her mother pleaded.

“Fine,” the girl said. The door closed behind her. She blinked at the sun, but didn’t go back. She hoped that Mother wasn’t crying inside for her long-beloved Beethoven and Mozart.

The skin on the girl’s forearm felt unfamiliar and fresh when she crossed her arms. It was summer. She was wearing a short-sleeved shirt for the first time that year. She started running, wildly flailing her arms in the air, and for a brief moment, joy swept away the shards in her chest.

She stopped to breathe. The neighbor’s parrot shouted disconnected words with a nasal voice, surprising in a creature without a nose. The woman from the first floor yelled for her son to come home, and he didn’t reply. At the top floor, a dark-skinned mother and her two teenage daughters leaned over the balcony, not to miss a detail of what was going on. Business was as usual.

She entered her home and closed the shutters, then, sitting close to her mother, she listened to the silent radio as if it had been playing all along.

 

Copyright © 2006 Avital Gad-Cykman