Literary as hell.

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Poetry by Tiffany Firebaugh

The First Day We Met


She found words running loose in the Strand,
fit them for goofy hats
corralled them into a corner
and conducted them into photographs.


She knew how to assemble them.

You kiss like you are,

she whispered
as I sat stumped on eight across,

You’re vulnerable,

Then you’re not.


If Love Felt Like the Water Cycle

Drift out the window
Land in a puddle of silk
Float skyward, unbound.


I’ll Be

I wish that my jealousy
Would stagnate like a dammed river.
Jealousy rages on—swelling, overcoming.
While the only damned thing
is me.



Tiffany Firebaugh is a freelance writer and poet, but by day she works in the non-profit sector. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Rogue Agent Journal and The Fem. If you like, you can follow her on twitter at @tifficaltiff.


“Jerry, at the Construction Site,” by Samantha Kirby

Jerry, at the Construction Site

By Samantha Kirby


“This way,” Rich said, and made an abrupt right turn at the corner.
“This way?” I asked, shuffling a bit to keep up. “Why are we going this way?”
“Jerry’s working in the old East End Theater up here a couple blocks.”

“Oh.” Classic Rich. He was always doing this – stopping without warning: stopping to buy fertilizer or garden tools, stopping to have the car looked at, taking the long way round just to impress you with his knowledge of the back roads – always forcing detours, always springing his projects and his friends on you while he had you balled up as a prisoner in his fist. Jerry was at work for God’s sake. Rich pulled out his cell phone and gave him a ring.

“Hey man, whatcha doin’?” A pause. “Oh, nothin’. I was just down here by the East End Theater and I thought I’d stop by and say hey – can you spare a few minutes?” Another pause. “Cool man, I’m right outside.” I’m right outside. Why not we? Classic fucking Rich.
“So how’s Jerry doing?” I venture to ask.
“Oh he’s doing fine. You know Cameron just got married.”
“Yeah, I heard about that – isn’t she like….”
Rich read my mind. “She’s nineteen, yeah. They’re living with Jerry and Sandy.”
“And Uncle Nate?”
“And Uncle Nate.”
“That’s quite a crowd.”
“Well, that’s just how they’ve got to do things out in Moody.” I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but I let it slide.
Jerry was our dad’s cousin, and I had probably thought about him without his name being mentioned or without him being physically present a grand total of five times in my entire life, that of course being a generous estimate. I didn’t consciously avoid him, or at least the thought of him; it was a simple matter of him doing his thing, me doing mine. A simple, textbook example of two strangers who happened to be tenuously related, one of whom was to the other a representation of distant, half-baked imaginings, the other of whom was doubtlessly to the first just another absent name dropped at Thanksgiving.
The East End Theater was a relic from the 1930s, an ornate stone building stretching for half a block in either direction from its corner view of the last few numbered avenues of Northside. It had closed down in the eighties, just like most everything in this Southern city, when stalled progress turned standards of living belly-up and everyone who could afford it flocked to the suburbs. But recently urbanization had taken on a trendy hipster feel, and the children of the very same emigrants who fled the city to raise them in relative affluence were flocking back like chutes and ladders, revitalizing and restoring and trend-setting and envelope-pushing, and in just one and a half generations the city was making a comeback, baby. Problems never die, of course, but every nadir has its zenith, and we were on the upswing, you could feel it in the air. Jerry’s construction outfit was just the next sign: an old theater with an old history being converted into a new theater with an old history. At the current moment Jerry himself, a graying man in his early fifties, was stepping over its threshold.

*   *   * Continue reading

“Judgment” by Jon Bredeson


The curved lip at the bottom of the
Coffee pot saves the white tablecloth
From a tiny drop traveling down the
Body of the pot with malicious intent.
Nothing saves the waitress or the meal
As food tumbles from the tray to the floor
In a violent crash of humiliation.
Cry for the poor fish sandwich, cut down
Before its prime, and decide not to tip.


Jon Bredeson is a gay poet, fiction writer, and English major at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He is an MFA applicant, and currently at work on his first chapbook. He is likely to be found reading poetry, fiction, and/or comic books at any given time of day, and has no plans to seek treatment for his literary addiction.


Novel Excerpt: “The Kettle Black” by Christopher Albert


The Makings of a Boy

As a fragile, small-framed only child, I would often get teased in school about how I looked from afar, behind or sideways. The consensus was unanimous: I looked like “a big girl,” instead of the small fancy boy that stared me down in the mirror. Even he questioned my genital capabilities. I believe it was because I was always so beyond my time. As was Prince – who to this very day, continues to inspire my every fashion choice. From the purple pair of three inch heels I wore to a friend’s viewing of the 30th Annual Grammy Awards (the one where Jody Watley won Best New Artist of The Year), to the incredibly thick eyeliner I wore under my eyes. Though I looked more like Alice Cooper, the puritan parents of the small town children of Limestone County could have still, at least, taken the time to teach their kids a little politeness. 

Because of my visionary style, I spent much of my youth trapped in long grueling days of mental abuse and name calling. Brushing off the many words that were slung my way, such as Faggot, Girly Man-Boy and Fart Eater, was no easy feat. At times I felt like La Toya Jackson in the original telecast of We Are the World, desperately trying to figure out where my place was. Though honestly, the vast collection of limited vocabulary from the tweens and twits who knew no better never really affected me here nor there. What genuinely hurt me the most, was when some large red-headed nine year old floozy called me a Pill Popping Princess, just before shoving me to the ground. I cried that day, thinking “How dare she?!” My gateway drug of choice was chewables. That bitch! 

What ultimately got me through the scorn were my big dreams of being a big star. It went hand in hand with the item at the very top of my bucket list – getting the hell up out of Alabama. 

Though my mother was born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York City, and my father, an import from Cuba to the city of Chicago – clearly both from more cultured and sophisticated parts of the world – I had the awesome luck of being raised in Alabama. I still know nothing fascinating about the state, except that the pecan is Alabama’s official nut – making the Alabamian who made that decision, an official nut. 


I’ll never really understand why Mom abandoned her fashion making dreams to live there, but she was obviously devoted and dedicated to Dad – a Navy Pilot – with active duties that moved them around for some time. By the time I was born in 1980, both of them were already in their early forty’s, and they somehow settled down in Alabama, to begin a late family of their own. My oddities and eccentricities can all be attributed to the old egg sac I was developed in. It could have been worse – I could have been raised in Mississippi or Texas – places they also once lived.

My priorities as a child were different than those of my peers. Instead of trying to keep up with the latest and greatest cartoon (by the way, nothing was greater than My Little Pony), I was busy studying the evening news. Not because I enjoyed watching the same stories of murder, robbery, drugs or prostitution busts being played on loop, but because I wanted to ensure that I would never acquire an Alabamian accent. I wanted….no…..needed to keep my diction and accent stripped of any regional characteristics as much as possible. How else would I book all of my future gigs if I sounded like Britney Spears all the time?

My robotic, monotone, newscaster voice helped to further alienate me even more from my classless classmates of course. Getting the hell out of Dodge couldn’t come soon enough, but there would unfortunately be a few more years of “not fitting in” to do.

Though the big chalkboard in class was always filled with angry, illiterate equations such

as this one right here: 

b3f14edb49fd763ec19df7dcf1ff087e, I wasted no time in trying to decipher its meaning, and instead dozed off to boldly go where no lady boy has ever dared to before – the back of my subconscious. (If you’re stuck trying to figure out why my teacher, Mr. Grubs, tried to explain the formula for General Relativity to a bunch of third graders, you’re sadly out of luck. Only Einstein had that answer. Gravity weighed Mr. Grubs down so hard and heavy in his chair, he never got around to another lesson all year.)

Like clockwork, once the school bell rang, I was off. The bike ride home was my absolute favorite part of the day. The escape from the educational institution that inhabited the most common of folk, and inhibited me from being anything more than common, was a freeing release. I pedaled along on what in my mind, was supposed to look like a fancy yellow brick road, but in reality was a black asphalt path, plagued with small sinkholes and weeds. It was my purple, seven-speed bicycle that made it fun to navigate. I was always in a mad dash to make it home, so I could stretch and live out my atypical imaginations, in the comforts of my very own eclectic environment.  

Mom, who was the endless caretaker of our home, could always be found attending to the beautiful garden she created out back. As soon as I would run in, I knew exactly where to greet her and her green thumbs, before spurting upstairs. My first call of duty was to strip and head for the bathroom for a much needed unwinding. In my imaginative mind, I was exhausted, busy shooting bad commercials all day. There was always a hot fresh bath drawn, in part, thanks to my mom, and in part, thanks to the person who created water. This awesome hot bath would often take place in, what my own mind perceived to be a very large, marbled bathtub. A large round white marbled tub to be exact. With a black, white and gold mosaic, three-tiered staircase leading up to it. To say that I imagined in precise detail would be an understatement. This by no means meant that the humble, claw-footed cast iron tub my parents provided me with wasn’t sufficient enough. That couldn’t be further from the truth. It just wasn't good enough. At least not for the next part of my pseudo excursion, where I would then pretend that my shaggy, short black hair magically grew high up in a bouffant, and my furry unibrow suddenly transitioned into two sharply tweezed arches. My small pinkish lips were also somehow ravenously full with a severe red hue. Lying naked in my glorious tub, I saw myself as someone else – the fabulously overindulged, one and only Joan Collins – cast in a role of a high class hooker, her sister Jackie would write specifically for her.

Playing a character who then played another character should seem to anyone with common sense, that I was borderline schizophrenic. But in theory, I was just another young lad taking advantage of his Only-Child syndrome. In hindsight I probably was schizo, but I’m afraid I could very well be something else by now.

To clarify, I didn’t want to be a woman, or Joan Collins for that matter. The thought of one day waking up to yet another orifice on my body was exhausting. No way Jose’ Maria! I just had a great appreciation for an actress’ talent and technique. Specifically, I was in awe by the begrudged, yet powerful female character, a role that Collins played so well. She always held great power despite living in a man’s world. The very idea of this cunning woman was what Joan captured so well. It was out of admiration that I impersonated her, not aspiration.

I learned early on that women such as Collins were more than women – they were minx’. A minx was the type of woman who gained her power by not only successfully beating her male counterparts at their very own sport of Business and Showmanship, but it also didn’t hurt that these ladies mastered the art of unbuttoning their blouse a little. Dame Joan Collins was great at all three. She knew that all a man really had to do to grow his wealth and power, was to convince his rivals that his dick was bigger than theirs. And so she studied their behavior, and skillfully learned how to spot one in need of an ego-boost, lured him in, and then manipulated him into doing her bidding. Joan was able to uncover the world’s most ancient secret: a man’s reverence came swiftly to those who were affluent enough to drive around in beautiful red vehicles, wearing big black sunglasses. She also became privy to the most undisclosed information of her time: those very same men, gladly undid some of their own buttons, for other men as well.

Armed with her pearls of wisdom, she went on to become a pearl-wearing, on-screen bombshell. The scenes that Collins found herself in were magnificent. She showed the world just how talented she was, by wearing nothing but jewelry over her bosoms. The gaudier the piece the better, as it also covered up her freshly painted hickeys. With a sparkling glass of champagne to match, she would lie back and pour the bubbly all over her chest. These scenes, needless to say, went straight to the director’s vault, and played out in the same fashion, in my own bath.

What I loved most about Joan was that whenever she felt appeased to do so, she would yell cut then storm off set. She reveled in the fact that she could do anything she wanted to, having the production team already so enchanted by her awesomely erotic breasts. As soon as she was sure she had had enough of the whimsical directions she was given, and the god awful bad acting of her co-stars, she’d run unhinged to her trailer. Once there Joan would smear lipstick on the mirror, and in a slow but decisive tone, order the production assistant to get her another glass of champagne and a syringe full of Botox. “Immediately,” she’d insist.

Joan could never keep her face from melting just before the fourth take. So she learned how to inject her poisonous makeup into her supple cheekbones, from her good old friend Elizabeth Taylor. Ever as crazy as Liz was, she was never wild enough to continue to embalm herself into a living corpse, as Collins did. Instead Liz bowed out gracefully, à la Amy Winehouse.

I of course made up that last part to coincide with my phantasmal bathtub playtime. The pure side effect of a maddening mind fuckery, my tender eight year old subconscious would play on me. Often.

The damsel in me could never resist the temptation to be roused by anyone who possessed the title of Legendary Leading Actress. I was even more impressed with anyone who managed to accomplish the title of LIVING Legendary Leading Actress, but how many of them actually die before this status could be achieved is uncanny. Judy Garland. Marilyn Monroe. Heather O’ Rourke. The only one who holds a title remotely close to that is the Outliving Legendary Leading Comedic Actress Betty White. I am taking a big gamble that by the time you read this, she is incredibly still Outliving.  

Out of everyone on a set, it was the leading actress who got to wear the finest of jewels and frocks. The exception however, was when she had to share a scene with Mr. T. The bling budget almost always, immediately went to him. Production companies spared no expense on his adornments, and spent even more moolah on the special effects it took to make him look human and relevant. Yet with all that weight around Mr. T’s gargantuan neck, the cleverest of audiences knew better than to be swayed away from the leading actress.

A female actor is a fine creature, and one with the lines of a robust leading role is lovelier than a goddess with thighs too big for her ankles to bare. Her job was – and still is – to make the portrayal of a self-assured and dignified fem seem that much more effortless. It’s the very reason why Jennifer Lopez will continue to smut around on screen, until she finally achieves that for herself.

Regardless of gender, those who pursued a career in bringing a character to life were very much a part of the fabric that was structurally sewn into me. Just a bit part though, as my life could not have actualized without the influence and talent of the everyday human beings I knew as well. It was the eerie stares of my neighbors, the incoherent speeches from my teachers (warbling on about what they considered inappropriate attire for school), the sex-crazed, flat-chested babysitters who could never hold a decent conversation, and of course the few clergy folk who continually urged my family to attend their characterless service – have all had an effect on the characteristics I slowly developed. These people may not have amounted to the significance of the women on television I adored, like Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Phyllis Diller or Marla Gibbs. Yet, they all somehow inspired me, sharing in my composition. It would be no wonder that out of everyone I have ever known (or pretended to), it was my very own parents who were my biggest influences.

My mother, the ever amazing, self-proclaimed proud housewife, was a modest woman of sorts. One who worked hard, kept her house in order and made sure I was fed, sheltered and most importantly, secured to be and do whatever I needed to, in order to express myself. She was also quick witted, smart and funny as all bloody noses! Her honest and free approach to living life kept me straight and narrowly narrow.

You were painted on a unique canvas,” she always said. “A very very very special kid indeed,” she described me to her friends. It was only natural, as she herself lit up any room she occupied.

Mother’s Day was an event in our household. My father and I would gather as many flowers from her cavernous garden as we could; sunflowers, roses, daffodils, petunias and beautiful hydrangeas, to fill the entire home with. We’d get up early Sunday morning to start snipping away, artfully placing the deliciously scented blossoms in and around almost every corner. To achieve this we had to beat Mom’s clock by at least two hours, uprooting the fruits of her labor by four-thirty am. Mom would never mind of course, greeting us with kisses and her famously chocolate-filled pancakes and whipped cream.

In comparison, my father was someone who had just as much meaning in my life. He always did his very best to try and include me in his many hobbies of fishing and rock climbing, even soliciting me to play sports, even if he knew I was haphazard at best. Conversely, when he reluctantly caved in to my enthusiasm for running away from any ball with the words foot, base or basket attached to it, it was mom who showed me how to alter the seams of my jerseys and make them into lovely, fashion-forward scarves.

After those little baths of make-believe I invested much of my time in, it was my father who also encouraged a good book to read to me. As hard as I tried to duly rinse and dry off properly, the way my father had shown me, a collection of sudsy bubbles would magically accompany me on our literary quests. To fully attest to my peculiarity, my authors of choice were Oscar Wilde, Woody Allen and Bill Cosby. Dad’s library contained many kick ass books I enjoyed. Occasionally, at my father’s behest, I’d also enjoy some wonderfully penned titles from the Dr. Seuss collection. My favorite was Bartholomew and The Oobleck. King Derwin – the well-meaning antagonist – who wanted to rule the weather with magic, reminded me of the hefty Ms. Garrett from The Facts of Life. Like King Derwin, Ms. Garrett was beside herself with unnecessary power, always trying to convince the girls in her boarding school that she had all the answers and knew what was best for them. There was no green, slimy Oobleck to rain down upon her, but she certainly looked like she ate a few pounds of it. With a little balance of television and awesome books, I was kept firmly in the clouds I was already adrift.

I loved hanging around dad. He always made me feel normal. Mom did as well, but as expected, she nurtured my every effeminate quality. Dad did more than that. He made me understand that the boy I was, did not have to feel any less masculine than he was.

I loved watching my father. The way he read the newspaper, drank his coffee, held my mother’s hands, brushed his teeth, shaved his already bare face, tinkered with the car, dressed in his best for weekend outings or caught fish with his bare hands. There wasn’t anything my father did that didn’t amaze me. I was entranced by his every waking move. Even observing him watch television, was a pastime for me. I would often view my favorite program, Alf, through the reflection of his glasses, just so I could keep my gaze upon him. One could probably conclude he’s the reason I grew up to be a man-loving-homo, without ever having to molest me. Way to go Dad!

I just found him beautiful. Actually, I found both my parents beautiful. I loved both the sensibilities of my father and the sincerity of my mother. He was a tall, six-foot-even, distinguished and lightly greyed gentleman. He wrote the handbook on what it meant to be dapper. Mom was a petite, naturally graceful, bewitching creature. Sure she had an air of innocence about her, but she was also loosely stern, and decisive about everything our family needed. Yet she was celebratory, and always so generous and eager to grant me and my father’s every wish. And though he was happy to do it, it was Mom who convinced Dad to tap dance into character, for my sole enjoyment.

The first man to leap into a Santa costume for me was my father. (The second, and only other man to do so was Charlton Heston – but we aren’t going to cross that bridge just yet.) My father made every attempt to try and bring Christmas cheer, every year. Despite my mother’s discontent with anything Christmas, Kris Kringle, Jesus Christ, The Easter Bunny, or any sitting President of The United States, she enjoyed the joy it brought me. And so there were times where Dad was also a Tooth Fairy. Even still, my mother made sure that I knew that all these characters were fictional. Including Ronald Reagan. She blamed these figures for war, drugs and crime. War being a factor of religion, drugs that the government secretly helped to manufacture, and crime due to the over indulgent act of gift taking at the end of each year. She rationalized that it made people insane enough to steal their neighbors perfume bottles, pajama bottoms and television sets. If I recall correctly, she referred to the magic of Christmas as “Poppycock.” This confused me for some time because I didn’t understand how Santa, Jesus or Reagan the Red Nosed President, resembled my father’s nether regions, at all.

(If you need clarification as to how I could have a comparative view of his nether regions – Dad was an artsy, liberal hippy at times, and walking around the house naked was a normal occurrence for him – though mom didn't allow it as much as he liked.)

From what I know – these two lovebirds met at a square dance. It wasn’t the most optimal place to first meet, but both my parents were fun, loving spirits who enjoyed anything that had to do with culture. Unfortunately, it was this fun loving spirit that led to my father’s early demise.

Though we lived modestly, a special engine part my father designed was licensed to the US Air Force for a considerable amount of money. It was supposed to have been able to secure our family for over a lifetime, but my parents insisted that we had more than enough to get by. While the money was collecting some dust, and interest in our names, you could tell my father was aching to do something exciting with at least a handful of it. Though my father loved being a dad, he loved the open air even more. And who can blame him, he was a flying junkie before he and I ever met. So, when the opportunity to take his family and invention to New Zealand – for some kind of prototype testing – arose, he didn’t even bat an eye. Mom however, insisted that I not take off from school until summer break, and kept me behind.

Thanks to mom’s instincts, I scored all A’s before the year was out. Not to mention our diversion from death. Somewhere along their route, Dad and three other colleagues reared off course, and collided smack into the Southern Alps. Misfortunes like these were a rarity, but for my family, it was now reality.

Dad’s funeral was oddly somber. I remember meeting characters of all kinds, who seemed to have wept in silence. Though there wasn’t a dry eye there, you could still hear a pin drop through their sorrow.  My mother somehow kept it together. It was actually her who comforted most of his family and friends through their loss. I wasn’t too sure what to feel after his passing. I guess just like Mom being there for those who needed her, I just wanted to be there for her.

As he was a military vet, there were Guards of Honor present, and a beautifully crafted flag was carefully draped over his coffin. The detail I adored most about his funeral service was the band. Interestingly enough, they played a little gem called Mr. Sandman by The Chordettes. Apparently it was a song him and my mother shared. She said he was every dream come true. As sweet as the song was, I couldn’t have been the only one who thought the opening verse to the song was Mr. Sandman….Bring me a drink.

Back at home, Father’s absence was surely felt. For a time, there was nothing but empty laughter at the dinner table. Dad always had the best jokes, and knew how to arouse the loudest of chuckles. As me and mother quietly ate her baked apple pie – that was once again unintentionally over-seasoned with cinnamon – we suddenly stared at each other and knew, that HE would have had the best Dad Is Dead puns to break the tension. Pops was the master at ‘Yo Momma’ jokes too, and they were always fondly about Mom. He could roast the mess out of her, which she always enjoyed. Even through the pain and loss, she managed to fight through and continued to support us.

Some time elapsed, and because money was now tied in bureaucratic red tape, Mom was finding it more and more difficult to make even our simple lives thrive. Even though she was able to stash away some money in her new role as a part time interior decorator, we had no choice but to consider downsizing.

It’s probably safe to say I never cared for my hometown. Alabama started to look even more dreadful once Mom quit tending to her spellbinding garden. To live anywhere other than our home seemed absurd. We managed to make it through some minor tornadoes throughout my short eight years living there. But without Dad, it seemed rather pointless, suicidal even, to hang around for another one to return. It took some convincing, but mom finally agreed to sell our home and head off for greener pastures. In California.

Mom felt San Diego would be a great place to start small while we awaited the liberation of Dad’s small fortune. She also was keen on its schools. But I had other ideas. It took some convincing, but Mom finally agreed, and we were soon set to colonize the beautiful city of Los Angeles. I imagined their earthquakes were much more fabulous than Alabama’s tornadoes.

Just before deciding on a small two-bedroom rental, an old friend of my father’s referred my mother to a woman in LA who was looking for a live-in housekeeper. My mother thought it was worth a shot and arranged an initial meeting with the owner.

With nothing but the clothes on our backs, and a few small keepsakes, such as pictures, books, records and Dad’s old sock collection, we were on our way. I never understood the point of lugging around the latter, but Mom thought it would be the funniest thing of his to keep, considering they were all mismatched and way too long for the weather. I managed to get her to let go of them. All but the one pair she kept. She wanted to keep it handy as a reminder, that she wouldn’t be alone when cleaning the handrails with it.

Enter Mia Fortunato.

The Makings of a Girl

There is never a better time to take a long awaited trip somewhere, than in the middle of abysmally cold weather. Especially when there’s a discount involved. It’s the very reason why Mia planned a get-away, every winter, to escape the delightfully comfortable LA weather, and immerse herself into the numbing chill of New York City. Ironically she likes to spend that time, in a summer home located in The Hamptons of Long Island. Mia typically preferred any property that Mr. Sean Combs, a.k.a Puff Daddy, a.k.a. Puffy, a.k.a Career Killer hadn’t previously inhabited, as she liked to spill her own brand of flavored Vodka onto the furniture.   

Late fall / early winter is a season that is particularly special for Mia. In the months of November and December, she celebrates not one, but two birthdays! It’s an odd scenario, but let me break it down for you: Mia was born on the calendar date of November 20th, but due to the fact that she wasn’t immediately ripped from her mother’s umbilical cord until a month later, she considers the physical freedom another reason to celebrate. Mia’s mother didn’t actually plan on a “Lotus Birth.” She just continued to self-medicate herself into a numb state. It actually wasn’t until Mia finally became detached, that her mother took to noticing she just had a baby.

When Mia was a little girl, for her first birthday, her mother would get her a doll to play with, and for her subsequent birthday, something to rip apart. It symbolized what she did to her mother’s uterus and dating life. When Mia was nine, she requested that they celebrate just the one birthday that finalized their physical separation, and amicably, her mother accepted.

Though Mia’s life giver has always loved her unconditionally, she still held resentment toward Mia for almost turning her body into a mud slide. This was evident the last time a sitting president almost saw her mother’s naked body. She snuck into the White House to flash her chest to then President Clinton, but before Bill could get a good glimpse of her dangling bosoms, the White House Rottweiler confused them for pig intestines and gave her a chase. Though Mia’s mother has since paid to get her breasts tucked back in, it was Mia’s scholarship fund that footed the bill.

Elder Mia – as I called, and still call her – was a working Hollywood actress. She loved herself so much, that she inherently paid her name forward to her daughter. She thought it would be another way to show the world that she meant business. If her dreams of becoming a successful Academy Award winning actress was no longer within her reach, then there would at least be a slight second chance for redemption, with a mediocre procreate. Of course Mia has not and will never be mediocre by any degree. She was just led to believe so, after her mother’s insistence on burning up Mia’s science fair projects. All for fun, of course. Bob Hope always got a good, great laugh out of it.

This is not to say Elder Mia was unsuccessful or evil. She just had a peculiar way of showing her daughter how much she loved her. Even if that meant she set aside a large bowl of cookies and ice cream for her daughter, whenever she locked her in the attic, while she hosted dinner parties.

As for her career, Elder Mia has after all, made a few films that were critically acclaimed by the critics of her time. Those critics however, were all men. Men of any generation, you name it, were/are fairly easy to please. Women on the other hand, were not so relaxed. Once women critics and audiences pan you, that’s when you know that showing your breast in every film isn’t prolific anymore. (For some reason everyone keeps forgetting to pass that memo on to Sharon Stone.)

Back then actresses were depicted as elegant beings, with an air of class. And though Elder Mia was a scene stealer, she unfortunately was also a man grabber, and after getting caught with a picture of innocently pulling Marlon Brando’s pants down, so he could pee, her career was done.

Even with a stalled movie career, Elder Mia managed smaller gigs throughout the years, and even collects to this day, residuals from Kotex and Palmolive commercials she once starred in. For some time, she also lived off her ex-husband, Chuck Norris’ small fortune. They got married for a brief period in the year of 1969. Elder Mia filed for “Irreconcilable differences,” when Chuck devoted all of his time to his Total Gym workouts, instead of her. They settled on a handsome alimony, which was nothing to scoff at. Contrary to what one may assume – Chuck is not Mia’s father. Elder Mia was sadly too preoccupied in many married men’s bedrooms, to take notice to what the sperm donor looked like!  

A rumor in little Hollywood would have it that it was Aaron Spelling who begat the younger Mia. Aaron courted Elder Mia for some time, and even offered her a role in Charlie’s Angels – as Jaclyn Smith’s mother once – to which Elder Mia turned down, stating she was deathly allergic to his old penis. It was 1976 however, and her daughter was already born by then, and coincidentally, so was his. The only other person that came close to a possibility of being the actual begetter, was Rock Hudson. But since Mia is AIDS free, that has also been ruled out.

Mia, being the byproduct of her environment, learned early on how to get what she wanted from men, way before learning how to tie her shoes. I’ll argue that she got more attention from her mother’s boyfriends, than her own mother. Nothing sexual – just a young girl looking for a father figure. In turn, she also learned how to harvest her feelings. Mia became a woman who bottled up her emotions with actual bottles. It was her mother’s bad boy boyfriend in 1977, Richard Dreyfuss, who taught Mia how to pop a cork with her feet. And that was at age six.

I remember meeting the Mia’s for the first time, when my mother and I arrived at their doorstep. It was like meeting the Odd Couple. Elder Mia was radiant in a red satin housecoat, while Mia looked dark and bizarre, like Wednesday Addams. Only pudgier. Before leaving the hip, cool, non-sodomizing state of Alabama, my mother received a call from an old friend of my father who was then working on a project with Sissy Spacek. That friend was asked by Sissy herself, to help her find someone who was domestically enchanting. And since we were already on our way to the beautiful West Coast, my mother, determined to go balls deep, obliged.  

Sissy frequented Elder Mia’s company, during her self-imposed “break” from films. They would spend hours together, drinking tea, writing song lyrics and laughing at how blue the sky was. The tea was always spiked with some sort of medicinal cannabis Elder Mia found in Mia’s room. Elder Mia preferred the unsuspecting Spacek in a “high” state, as it made her more susceptible to lending her money. It was then that Sissy suggested Elder Mia hire someone to water her plants and wash her drinking glasses. Sissy got tired of funding Elder Mia’s habit of throwing them away after each and every use. And so goes the beginning of our story together. Mia & Rocco. Just as I’m used to hearing from the stranger’s – who I hold doors for – I can also say, Thank You Sissy!

I have only seen the woman in a couple of old black and white films from the 50’s, and a horror flick in the 70’s, but even as Elder Mia was about to push fifty (or eighty – no one is ever really sure), she was stunning. I may not have been able to tell her age, but her jewelry radiated and bounced light off her silky bronzed skin. Her uneven colored blonde streaks of gold, somehow magically blew to a fan machine that was never on. Elder Mia was petite and serene. She was also made of armor, as I found out when she threw a delivery man down a small flight of entryway stairs – just for traipsing in and trying to sneak out a glass of water. That was no generic tap water he was trying to smuggle. Her desalinated sea water took years to find and collect from below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, right off the island of Hawaii. She was more than a diva, she was King Kong – in heels. Take that Denzel.

Mom and I had our own separate living quarters, the guest house off to the side of the sprawling 14,000 square foot landscape, Mia and Mia called home. Otherwise known as the “Mia & Mia Compound.” We each had our own bathroom and bedroom, in our own sanctuary to start anew. Though I was already used to being pleasantly spoiled by the woman who always made sure to tuck me in with freshly washed and warm sheets, the new Egyptian cotton, 650 thread-count was beyond amazing. Without Dad it wasn’t exactly paradise. But having Mom around to enjoy some of it with, made it my own personal Neverland.

As a curious young man, I roamed the main house often. I spent the first few weeks pervading our new ample dwelling – inspecting, admiring and sitting on every piece of furniture I could find. Come to think of it, I never quite fully achieved that undertaking to completion. Elder Mia’s infinite furniture collection consisted of any and everything antique and Victorian. It was like stepping into an interior design spread – pages ripped from an Architectural Digest magazine. I would spend hours shuffling through her wardrobe, in which my mother meticulously took care of as well. One night, after playing dress up and rummaging through the books in the library, which all amazingly turned out to be book boxes, I accidentally fell asleep in one of Elder Mia’s beaded gowns. I woke up to find her grabbing a pair of shears and cutting the full length garb off of me, delicately conforming it around me, to fit my small frame.

“If I had a daughter….” she said, “….that’s what she should look like in it.”

I never knew whether or not to be flattered, as truth be told – she already did have a daughter. And from my opinion, was quite beautiful, despite being robust. They shared more than just a name, they shared each other's humor. For anyone listening in on an everyday conversation they may exchange, would think they were rivals, and found their relationship irregular. Most people thought it strange already, to have a daughter of the same name, yet when men name their sons Junior, no one ever bats an eye. I always found it endearing, regardless of Elder Mia’s reasoning for imparting her name.

I rarely saw Mia. It wasn’t until about a month of living there, when I caught Mia dancing and singing to Samantha Fox’s hit “I Wanna’ Have Some Fun,” in front of the incredibly large hallway mirror. It wasn’t intentional, but I howled so loud and hard that she ran off, to be back in her solitude. I was sad because I enjoyed it immensely. It seemed that she stayed locked up in her room alone for periods at a time, hidden from all the luxuries she grew so resentful of. I would have never known it then, but now I can understand why. There was no normalcy for her. Her educational experience was limited to homeschooling, and up until she was nine – she was bathed by strange black mammies. Not to mention the endless stalking from Kirk Douglas.

He remained a regular at the estate, and couldn’t help but to wish he could have a slice of that seventeen-year-old virginal pie. Mia was no virgin of course, but I wasn’t going to tell him that. Though it was rather creepy to have a seventy-two year-old man roam free in a house full of supple kids, outwardly, he posed little harm. Again, Mia already lost her virginity by then, so Kirk really had nothing to look forward to.

It was at the tender age of eight, when Mia found out the true meaning of love, and believe it or not, it wasn’t with a man. It was Little Richard in fact, who first gave Lil’ Mia a good fisting. However gross that may sound, it was actually an accident. Richard could never keep his sweaty paws off of a well-made, appliqué lace, and on that day, Mia was wearing a heap full of it. As soon as she bent down to pick up her first cigarette, and as Little Richard followed in for a closer inspection, he smashed right into her pelvis. At first Lil’ Rich thought he was fist deep in a lump of samples, not the lumps inside of her, but shrieked and ran away at the first sight of blood. Little Richard couldn’t stand to think what it would have taken to remove that awful stain from her garment. Mia on the other hand, did the only sensible thing she could do in that situation, and topped the experience off with the cigarette she had her eye on.

It was easy for me to grow fond of the lovely Elder Mia, I was already an instant fan. But, it was the fruit of her loins that I grew overwhelmingly in love with. It was obvious that Mia didn’t like me at first, seeing me as an overtly impressionable fruit. Yet, I’d hang around her anyway, admiring her taste for bad food, clothing and men. She was almost ten years my senior, and always treated me as a lost kid she found in a department store. It was awkward at times. Sometimes I felt that I was a mere invasion of her space, something that was once, all her own. My mother however made every attempt to intercept. She cared for Mia as if she were family just the same. Mom would fluff Mia’s pillows, make her favorite meals and heave off any advances Kirk Douglas would try to make. The hardened, debilitated Mia slowly melted, showing small amounts of embracement to us, especially after my mother helped to make her nineteenth birthday, something really special.

Whether Mia realized it or not, like her, I too was a loner. An only child, who also, no longer had a father. I never was sociable as a child, though I learned rather quickly that if I remained so, it would be counterproductive to my future success. Living in Hollywood, with a mother of modest means didn’t make it any easier. Sure we lived in a great big house, but it wasn’t ours. My mother tried her very best to make us fit in this new world any way she could, and making the people around her feel good, was a gift she could afford. Mom was more than excited to help plan for Mia’s nineteenth birthday / Christmas bash. She made sure to include elves, candy canes, snowflakes and snow men in G-strings. Anything Mia wanted, Mom made sure to spend Elder Mia’s money on it. Mom even made gingerbread cookies that were engulfed at the turn of every refilled plate. My mother was so good, she even convinced Mia to perform for everyone, an encore of Samantha Fox’s 1989 hit “I Wanna’ Have Some Fun.”  

The biggest surprise was that Elder Mia secured a cameo appearance by Charlton Heston. As I remembered, he was too young to die, yet too old to be considered alive! He surely looked amazingly sad. I wasn’t sure whether or not it was because Elder Mia hadn’t given him the green light to sleep with her yet, or if it was because he had to wear a big lumpy red suit, to prove to her just how badly he wanted to. Either way, he wasn't the acclaimed big screen star he usually played, he was just Santa Claus. He was actually the second man I have ever seen try so hard to convince children that Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick mattered, and indeed existed. Poor Charlton, his efforts were made even harder as this party had only two children who attended. There was me, a not so gullible nine year-old, and Bobby – who was not a child – but a dwarf who came for the free liquor.

In accordance with the festivity, I sucked it up and thought I’d ask Santa for a gift anyway. Other than the gun this Santa had stashed in his glued-on beard, I figured it couldn’t hurt. I was ready for my few minutes on Charlton Heston’s lap. He had to have put a few away by then, he smelled like Gin, with a hint of Rice Krispy Treats that my mother made. I could still see the chunks of Snap and Crackle on his beard, whereas Pop was the sound of his belt, not being able to support the turkey he used to stuff his suit with. I entertained him anyway. At first I asked for my two front teeth, thinking the absurdity of it would crack a smile on his face. His smile shortened after his top row of dentures came loose. Charlton blew a gasket, then threw me to the floor in a rage. Mia, the ever protecting sister she slowly became, punched Heston right in his nose. Before he could grab his own gun in defense, Mia already had it in her cold, dead hands. Everyone screamed for dear life, and, well, party over.

Throughout her many birthdays, it became increasingly important for Mia to get away. From everyone. One such birthday that had a lasting impression on her was her thirtieth birthday-celebration-bash-a-thon that Martha Stewart hosted for her, where Mia lost her favorite pair of earrings. Again, another party that ended in disaster. Police were called, and shots were almost fired. As it turned out, it was Jennifer Aniston who came across them, and never bothered to return them to the lost and found.

There was a time Jennifer and Mia were friends. But every time Mia scored a boyfriend, Jennifer would try and lure them in for herself. The only ones Jennifer failed to seduce were the ones who discovered her Holy Bible tucked decoratively under her satin pillow. King James Version of course. Mia has since forgiven Miss Aniston for her thievery, but not Elder Mia for inviting Jennifer. Mia’s mother loved to make her life as miserable as possible, in the simplest forms. So a stunt like that was standard.

In keeping all of this in mind, Mia stressed time alone away from her mother. She considered it well deserved for being given the title of “America’s Next Top Bastard Child” from conception.

After years of being religiously tormented by her mother’s insults and delusional standards and expectations, Mia finally clutched onto the “glamorous” life her mother always wanted for her. Unfortunately, this also erupted into a lifestyle full of excess, extravagance and addiction. So her birthday time alone often included the most important things to her – booze and sex. You would think for someone like her, embracing this part of the Hollywood lifestyle would have been too cliché, but Mia latched to it anyway. She stated that the drugs alone were the only way to understand what actresses were saying, and the elite had the best stuff money could buy. Mia once had a hit of acid with Molly Ringwald, but it ended badly as Ringwald turned out to be nothing more than a terrible kisser. Not to say that Miss Pretty in Pink was a bad catch, but Mia swore to never go all the way with women, after bearing witness to her mother’s nude rampages. Men and only men suited her. She hated criers, and women for some reason, always cried around her. It didn’t help that Mia’s been known to mace female celebrities' drinks.

Being brought up in the Hollywood scene, Mia built a resentment toward them. “Brainless, sad little lemmings of the world,” she called them.

When asked to tune into a Friends re-run episode, Mia would yell, “They’re just recycling made up garbage over and over again. Since when did anyone need a giant talking box to entertain their unimaginative minds? I’ve heard better dialogue coming out of a child’s ass than what has been produced by Courtney Cox.”

She ignored anyone who used the words Television, American Idol, Dancing with the Stars and Julia Roberts. The boob tube was nothing more than a reminder of the glamorous life, she knew did not really exist.

“Those propped up puppets and mannequins, with fake hair are all made to look like heroines, but they look like cheap, wasp robots instead,” she’d say.

No wonder Katie Holmes has lost her identity. She’s been molded into rotting Hollywood furniture. Now she looks and feels like a rocking chair with no arms. Tom Cruise has those parts shoved up his ass.”

I still keep my interest in any of these things and people to myself, for fear she’d scold me. At the very least, all I wanted for her was to at least enjoy the novelty it was all meant to be.

Mia did find some entertainment delightful though, and quite enjoyed Bea Arthur. She always reminded Mia of what a woman could be, if she had a mustache. Plus Mia admired her work – especially in Maude and The Golden Girls. Mia’s mother once had a stand in roll as Estelle Getty’s wicker purse holder. Backstage, Mia got to meet the woman behind the Dorothy character, in which Bea shared with her that she hated the cheesecake they served on set, and made Mia swear she’d never tell a soul. Of course Mia told her mother, who in turn left a heaping plate of it on Bea’s chair. Once the cleaning crew learned of Elder Mia’s cost on wardrobe, food and time, she was booted off set. Of course Elder Mia argues to this day that Bea needed to be changed anyway. They ended up replacing her with Susan Lucci. For some reason that woman loves holding hand bags! Either way, Elder Mia now has Miss Lucci’s penned headshot hanging at home, in her freezer.

On the night Mia went to the Hampton’s to celebrate her fortieth, she consciously made an exception, and planned to go with a guest. Not just any guest, but an actor. Mia may have had some pent up angst against some of her fellow Hollywood neighbors, but she always enjoyed herself younger, washed up stars. She spent all month looking for an outfit, to impress the one and only, Luke Perry with.

Mia was hoping that Luke had forgotten all about their first rendezvous, where Mia left him outside of The Ritz Carlton in Battery Park, NYC, without any clothes on. She thought it would help him get over his “I was on Beverly Hills 90210 – I’m a star now” attitude. Instead it turned him into a bigger pussy, and he never returned to act again! For you readers who have been in wonder about him…now you know.

Luke never forgot unfortunately, and in turn, stood her up. Another birthday. Another bust.

But Mia is resilient. She will continue to strive for bigger and better birthdays as the years may go by. This is a woman who once sought out the company of a Wall St. executive just so she could hustle a grand out from his wallet, and spend it on a new bike for a strange stoner in Brooklyn. She once even managed to squeeze a five-thousand dollar pair of shoes out of a gentleman by the name of Mark Zuckerberg. Before he could tell her that he was a billionaire – due to his work on some sort of internet face collecting – she told him to fuck off.

She’s bad ass like that. Not only does she love the fresh smell of dying trees, but she scours Craigslist for light, dry humping action, from dirty old men. She drinks a glass of Dom Perignon Rose’, every day, for breakfast. I am proud to say, this is now the most important woman in my life.

Even after my mother had passed away, it was Mia who made sure that I was taken care of. My lifetime connection to both Mia and her mother remains. Though Mia’s communication with her mother is now limited to e-mail only, as has been court ordered, I still keep close contact with both. I just hope this year, Mia decides to spend her birthday with me.


Armed with an acquired wit and intelligence that was born from the streets of NYC, Christopher Albert, now a Los Angeles resident, is set to emerge as one of the funniest, charming, yet eccentric writers of our day. With a background that spans over 10 years, Christopher’s more pragmatic endeavors include writing and producing copy and content for Fortune 500 companies and small businesses alike. He has assimilated his many talents in the fields of finance, marketing, broadcasting, entertainment and – you guessed it – comedy. Christopher has had the fortunate and unique opportunity to study with the best – including veteran comedy writer Frank Santopadre. Christopher’s honest and emphatic approach to the art and craft of humor is evident in his litany of fearless content. Moreover, as a performer, Christopher has been awarded opportunities to share his talents on many stages including the historic Apollo Theater, and appearances on The Rosie O’ Donnell show, Billboard Music Awards and features on MTV and PBS. He has also performed and produced an array of successful live shows, featuring many top performers and comedians. In the works is his yet to be published first novel The Kettle Black: The Chronicles of Mia and Rocco, and his sophomore effort, a memoir entitled A Crack Baby's Bible.

Poetry by Changming Yuan

Breaking Out

During the yard time 3 days ago
My inner self finally managed to flee
From the prison heavily guarded
With the high walls of my yellowish
Skin and electrical wires
Made of my id nerve endings

However, once free wandering
In the endless desert nearby, I
Felt like a gold fish jumping out of
The glass water jug: shall I return
To my cell and continue my chained life
Or die a free death in the wild open? Continue reading

Cold as Winter by Larissa Swayze

Cold as Winter

by Larissa Swayze

The freshly fallen snow glows blue beneath the Alberta moon and Christopher wades through knee-high drifts. He reaches into his coat, pulls out one of his grandfather’s cigarettes and lights it. He inhales deeply and the winter air mixes with the smoke, biting all the way down before leaving his frostbitten lungs in a puff as thick as ice fog.
He squints in the direction of the subdivision, his cigarette hanging off his lips. His hands return to his coat pockets. His frozen right fingers still curled around the lighter, Christopher flicks the striker to hear the sound. Once. Twice. Three times.
He watches the sky above the distant peaked roofs, breathing in his cigarette and the cold and the car exhaust from the highway. Where there used to be only stars—the streetlights throw a dull haze across the sky. The city has been creeping toward them for as long as he can remember. One day it was going to open its hungry maw and swallow them whole.
The night is strangely quiet. Christopher scans the field for his grandfather’s dogs. They usually follow him around during his evening smoke—bounding about, snapping at the air, barking at him, at each other, at nothing in particular. He inhales once more, then pushes through the snow. Each step invites the cold deeper into his bones.
Twenty feet from the barn, he widens his mouth to call the dogs’ names, but no sound comes out. He drops the cigarette. It melts the small patch of snow that catches it. He stares at the trail of blood, no longer wondering why the night is so silent.
The warmth of the farmhouse burns his cheeks and the smell of baking biscuits invades his nose. Christopher passes through the living room, where his grandfather sits in front of the television—crooked fingers wrapped around a glass of something dark, and enters the kitchen.
His grandmother barely looks up from the stove. “Damn it child, take off your boots when you come in the house. I just washed the floors.”
“What the hell happened to my dogs?”
His grandmother’s voice is smooth. The hand she stirs the pot of broth with steady. “They weren’t yours. And you smell like cigarettes. Go wash up.”
Christopher’s hands tremble. “What the hell happened to my dogs?”
She picks up a knife and begins slicing an onion. “Your grandpa kept saying if they wouldn’t leave the cows alone he was gonna do something about it. Well, guess what? One of the heifers damn near lost her calf because those mutts wouldn’t stop yapping at her. So grandpa called Uncle Joe over and had him take care of it.”
Christopher stares at his grandmother’s lined face, willing her to look at him. She dumps the sliced onion into the pot and moves on to a carrot.
Christopher’s voice is soft and flat. “Uncle Joe did it.” His hands stop shaking, but they remain cold as winter, even in the heat of the tiny house.
“Well, your grandpa sure couldn’t. You know how he loves them dogs.”
From the living room, the voices on the television grow uncomfortably loud as his grandfather turns up the volume.
“He didn’t have to kill them.” Christopher’s voice is lost beneath the laughter of a studio audience. His grandmother adds the carrot to the pot, then buries her head deep in the pantry.
Christopher moves back to the front entrance. He yanks off his boots and drops them on the linoleum. Thunk. He turns to the back of his grandfather’s head for a reaction. The older man coughs and Christopher can see spit spraying from his uncovered mouth. He watches his grandfather’s bald patch a few seconds more before turning away, unconsciously touching the back of his own head.
In the bathroom, he leaves the lights off and stands next to the sink. Through the two-foot by two-foot window he can see a cloud has moved over the moon. Still, the rolling hills on the horizon seem to radiate from within. But Christopher knows that can’t be. The snow is just reflecting the lights from the subdivision.
He turns on the tap and lets it run long enough that steam begins to rise out of the sink. He holds his hands beneath the scalding water until he can wiggle his fingers again. He looks in the mirror. His grandfather’s sharp eyes narrow. His grandmother’s wide nose steadily drips.
In the distance a coyote howls. Christopher’s ears twitch. Here come the dogs. Then, he remembers. He turns off the tap and heads back toward the kitchen. Shuffling his feet like an old man.

The Hands of Our Brothers by Paul Lewis

The Hands of Our Brothers is a short play by Paul Lewis. Click here to read.

Paul Lewis is a Seattle-based playwright, composer and lyricist whose staged work includes musicals, a children’s opera, and full-length plays. His ten-minute plays have been staged across the country, and include Guess What? which won the Audience Choice Award at FUSION Theatre’s short works festival, “The Seven” in 2012; Music Box; Timmy Perlmutter Goes Flying; and Oblivion, which won the Audience Favorite Award at the 2013 Driftwood Players Theater Festival of Shorts, and which is to be published in “The Best Ten-Minute Plays of 2014” (Smith & Kraus)Paul’s musical The Hours of Life premieres in Seattle in December.

“Forever Now and All I Might Have” and “In Paris” from “Love Poems” by Charles Bane, Jr

The Furious Gazelle is continuing to serialize poems from Charles Bane, Jr.’s book Love Poems. Last week’s poem can be found here.

Forever Now And All I Might Have

Forever now and all I might have   been. I have never loved like 
this. Never everything. Never from  town to town, or where I lay asleep;  
or my hand straight and deer watching  
as they take, hollowed before dark  
and venturing to where day breaks.

Continue reading

I Miss Her All Wrong by Alyssa Cooper

I miss her all wrong

My dad called me today, and the first thing he said was, “You haven’t been returning my calls,” as if I didn’t already know that. After, he asked me to come home. He wants me to take a semester off. He wants to look after me. And I told him that I want to be alone, which isn’t true, and I lit a cigarette even though I don’t smoke, and I yanked viciously at the hair behind my ear, wincing. I’m turning into her without meaning to. My body has absorbed her tendencies, so that I’ll never be alone again.
“I know what you’re going through, son,” he told me. “I know that you’re probably too young to remember what it was like when your mother left, but I know. I can understand what you’re going through.”
I hung up the phone slowly, very gently, wondering how long it would take him to realize that I wasn’t on the other end. She used to do this to me sometimes, and when I called her back, hurt and confused, she’d laugh at me. I tried to laugh like she would, but it sounded like a cough. My mother is living with her new family in Detroit, her handsome husband and her pretty little daughters. Sometimes, she still sends me colourful postcards.
Last night I fell asleep clutching her photo album and I woke up with bruises where it touched my chest.


Today, it has been three weeks since the funeral. Last night I dreamt of her, just like I always do. When I woke up, she was my first thought, the way she is every other morning. I closed my eyes and after a moment of trying, I conjured a perfect painting of her face in my mind, even her crooked teeth and scarred chin. I am faithful in my recreation. I thought that these things would fade by now, but they haven’t. I’m losing faith that they ever will. There are some things that we’re not meant to forget, and that girl, she was one of them.
With every day that passes, I gather more regrets. I never thought that I’d have any, I promised myself that I wouldn’t, but time teaches me to be more critical. She used to ask me to skip lecture with her on Friday afternoons, but I never would. She’d ask me to pick her up at night, and if it was after midnight, I wouldn’t bother. I’d tell her to wait till morning. She’d send me text messages of song lyrics and poem stanzas, and, unsure of the appropriate response, I never replied. Not until she said something else. I didn’t kiss her in public enough. I should never have twisted my hand out of hers for something as trivial as switching the song on my iPod. I should have stayed awake to watch her sleep. I should have filled her room with roses. Should have picked her up and spun her as we kissed.
I know that I couldn’t have stopped what happened. She was slipping over the edge long before I met her. The first time she stripped away her clothes in front of me, she was shaking. She tried to hide the scars that criss crossed her tiny body. The ones on her chest were risen and white. She had carved the initials of everyone who had ever hurt her across her belly. Including my own. The word ALONE stretched over her hip, distended by the ridge of her bone. FUCK UP flared purple and swollen across one thigh; FAILURE marked the other. A neat lace work of thin, pale lines decorated her left arm from wrist to elbow. I was horrified, and she knew, and she begged me to tell her that she was beautiful. But I couldn’t find the words. I’d found them so many times before, but in that moment, when she needed them most, I was frozen. She was already hovering, teetering, barely managing to balance. I could never have been enough to hold her.
Now that she’s gone, I find that I have to count the reasons to get out of bed in the morning. I lie in the patch of sun that she had once claimed her own, staring at the ceiling, trying to remember that there are good things in my life. Sometimes, it doesn’t come, and I turn off my alarm clock and I go back to sleep. I pull the blankets over my head so that I don’t have to stare at the room that she existed in, once. I press my face into the pillow until I cant breathe, until the pressure builds behind my eyes and I’m dizzy enough to pretend that I can still smell her conditioner in the sheets. There are so few things good things these days. Warm weather. Cheap food. Sympathetic professors.
She took everything with her. The smell of her hair. The glow of her skin. Her smile. Her slender, grasping arms. The skip in her walk. Her quiet voice. The way she kissed me. The soft, sweet sleep-sounds that she made. Every little thing. The pieces that are left behind seem so trivial, now, even the ones that were once so glaringly important. I don’t care about going to class. I don’t care about getting to work on time. I don’t care about eating, or cutting my hair. So I just go back to bed. I navigate my dreams and I pretend that the world isn’t passing by without us. I make believe that it’s standing still for her. Waiting for her like I am.
It has to stop soon, though. I know that. I’m getting too skinny and my homework is piling up. I‘m running out of sick days, and I can‘t afford to get fired. My father is worried that I‘m killing myself. It’s only appropriate to be sad for so long. After a while, it just makes people uncomfortable. After a while, they’re just waiting for you to be normal again. Like they are. One thing I learned when I lost her is that the world won’t end just because you ask it to.
To be honest, I think things would be easier if it did.


When I think about the night that we met, I can’t help but think that she deserved better. She deserved something romantic, a beautiful moment to hold onto. She deserved a love story, and I didn’t give it to her. I thought it was something that we’d be able to laugh about in twenty years, but she won’t be here in twenty years, and it’s not something that I can laugh at alone. Not now. I wish I’d given her more than I did. Maybe if I could have changed things, just that one night, it would have been enough to make her happy.
We met in my first week of university. She had already been there a year, and had moved on from the dorms, living alone in a small apartment downtown. But I didn’t know that yet. All I knew was that there was a party down the hall with open doors. I hadn’t been invited, but it seemed as if no one had, as if the entire dorm floor was flooding towards the room and its pounding music pulse. So I slipped in with them, basking in what I saw as my first true moment of freedom. A cold bottle was pressed into my hand as a guy I’d never met grabbed my shoulder and laughed so hard that I missed his name. I know it now; that guy was Kyle Watts, and without him, I might have never had her. He still lives down the hall. I could go and knock on his door, and ask him if she was better or worse before she met me. I could ask him if he had ever longed for her, if he had asked her there that night because he wanted her. Did I steal her away? I could tell him everything that happened because of that night. I could tell him about the gift he gave me. But he wouldn’t understand. He would give me that patient, pitying look.
This is my burden.
I went to that party because I had no friends and I wanted some. I went because they were playing the Beatles, and I could hear it even with my door closed. I stayed because the beer was free, and because it seemed like every person I met was incredibly happy to see me. The room was small, the people crammed inside, laughing and sweating and pressed together. More and more kept coming, until it seemed like all of the breathable air was gone, and my view got blurry and damp. Everyone was happy and smiling and dancing, except for her.
She was perched on one of the narrow beds, the only one in the room who was sitting. Her legs were crossed under her, hidden beneath a long cotton skirt. One bruised knee escaped the shroud, the purple patch of skin looking sick and diseased in the dull yellow lights. Her hands rested in her lap, wrapped loosely around an un-opened beer bottle. The glass was sweating at her touch, fat glistening beads of moisture that dampened her legs, so that her achingly thin skirt turned transparent and clung to her thigh.
It took me a while to notice her, sitting alone, leaning against the wall and smiling mutely at the people who stood near her. I watched as a small group turned towards her, encircling the bed as they tried to draw her into conversation. I watched her through the haze of my sixth beer, they way that she smiled and nodded, but never parted her lips. I watched them give up on her and move away, and the way that her heartbreak shone as bright as headlights through her eyes. A part of me I’d never met before swore vehemently that I’d never do that to her. She was already smiling up at another group of people, one that hadn’t noticed her yet. Her face had turned away from me.
I had an urge to cross the room. I wanted to sit beside her, offer to open her beer, and tell her how beautiful the curl of her hair was. Instead, I gulped down the rest of my drink and I waited to be offered another.
I stood alone and watched her as she watched everyone else. I barely noticed the subtle shift in her features that led from smile to frown. She started pleating a small fold of her skirt in her fingers, her beer still unopened, now resting on the pillow beside her thigh. A line appeared between her eyebrows as her frown deepened. Her eyes started to gleam as her shivering lips pressed into a tight line.
I should have left my beer on the desk as I pushed past a few clumsy dancers to get to her. Instead, when I dropped down beside her, I forgot the bottle in my hand. The neck tilted down, and a bubbling river poured into her lap. I stared at the growing puddle, unable to move; unable to speak. Finally, I lifted my gaze to her enraged face.
Her mouth opened and closed, and pressed tight again. She looked at me with vicious eyes. “Thank you for that,” she hissed between her teeth. The words hit me like a punch in the gut. I reached for her immediately, grabbing clumsily for her skirt, lifting it up off of her legs as she slapped my arms and squealed, begging me to stop.
“I’m sorry,” I said earnestly, clutching to the fabric, trying to ring out the beet as she twisted away from me, pressing into the wall and shoving my shoulders.
Her strength was surprising.
I stared mutely from the far side of the bed, searching for words that wouldn’t come. I said again, “I’m sorry.”
She stared at me for a tense moment as the party moved on around us. And then she sighed, dropping her eyes as she fanned her skirt with both hands. “It’s okay,” she said gently, “You didn’t mean to.”
I nodded gratefully, and for the third time, I told her, “I’m sorry.”
She glanced up at me, and she smiled. “Don’t worry about it. It’s not that great of a skirt anyways.”
I swallowed thickly as I sat back down. She didn’t say anything. She stared at me, the smile gone, her amber irises swimming with threads of pale yellow. There was far too much power in her gaze for a nineteen year old girl. It was like a weight on my chest. I said the only thing I could think of.
“I’m Shawn Hailman.”
She said nothing, with those eyes burrowing into me. A bead of sweat started a slow crawl down the back of my neck, and I was sure that she knew about it. There were too many people in that room, and she was stealing my air.
I leaned closer to hear, and she leaned in to meet me. “I feel sick,” I said, louder than I needed to.
She frowned, pulling back in distaste. “Are you going to throw up?”
My stomach roiled at the thought. “I don’t know.”
She sighed heavily. “Do you want me to take you to the bathroom?”
My pride shrivelled and died under her pity. But I nodded. “Please.”
Sighing again, she crawled to the edge of the bed and then stretched out her scrawny legs to stand. “Come on,” she said, reaching out her hand.
My heart fluttered as my fingers found hers; how cliche. She pulled me to my feet and I let her lead me through the throng and out into the cool, quiet air of the hallway. There, as the door closed behind me, she let go of my hand.
“Come on,” she said again, and she floated away. I followed on my heavy, graceless feet.
When we reached the bathroom door, she held it open for me, and for some reason I was scandalized when she followed me in.
“What are you doing?”
She stared at me incredulously. “Really? Nobody cares. Would you rather sit in here alone?”
Chagrined, I shook my head and trudged into the nearest stall like a beaten dog. I heard the sink start, and the slap of wet fabric as she started to wash away the stains I had left. I dropped with a thud to the floor beside the toilet, and I leaned my head back against the wall. A moment later she joined me, locking the stall door behind her before she sat against the opposite wall. She asked gently, “Are you okay?”
Embarrassed, I nodded.
“Good. Shawn, right?”
Again, I nodded.
She smiled at me. She was so beautiful. “I’m Anna,” she said, and I smiled back.
We never did anything right.


She had nightmares. She never did tell me what they were about, or why they made her sweat and gasp the way that she did, but some nights, I’d fall asleep with my arms around her, her tiny frame moulding to my chest, and hours later, she’d start to scream so loud that she choked on them, or she’d start to fight against me, biting and clawing, or she’d start to shake so badly that the reverberations through her body would wake me up. I’d hold her, and say things like “it’s just a dream,” and “I’m here” and she never said anything. She always let me know that it wasn’t good enough.
Some nights she would set the alarm on her cell phone, so that it would wake her up just a few hours after she fell asleep, before the dreams could take such a solid hold over her. She always switched off the alarm before it could wake me, hiding the screen with her palm so that the light wouldn’t touch my face.
Somehow, she managed to get out of bed every night without waking me up. She’d stumble around in the dark, plugging in the kettle and scooping instant coffee into clean mugs as she waited for it to bowl. She would sit at my desk and doodle on the top with permanent markers. They’re still there now, a reminder that will last until some new soul claims this room at the end of the semester, or until a well meaning janitor scrubs them away with bleach.
A moment later, she would pour the hot water, and the smell that filled the room would wake me in a way that sound never could.
We’d sit up together until sunrise. She’d drag the desk chair across the room, beside the open window, blowing cigarette smoke into the night. Sometimes, once the sun had finished its bloody climb into the sky, we’d wrap each other in comforters and curl up together on the floor as I coaxed her back to sleep for a few more hours. Other days, we’d crawl back to bed with the taste of morning still on our tongues, and we’d find oblivion together in the sheets.
Now, for some reason, it’s those nights that I miss the most. My body doesn’t understand. It yearns for sleepless nights and solemn gifts of caffeine.
Sometimes I wake in the dark and I swear I can smell the coffee. I’ll stretch out my arms and throw my feet onto the floor. I’ll cross the room, where my kettle rests on the tabletops. I’ll look around for a few minutes, wondering where she is. I turn on my heel, glance around the room, feel the first tendrils of panic–
And then I remember that she’s dead.


She emailed me naked pictures of herself once. She called and woke me in the middle of the night, using a smokey voice she had learned from old movie stars. “Wake up,” she crooned, and I imagined dark red lipstick and those hard, stiff flapper curls. “Turn on your computer.”
“And then what?” I asked her, the anticipation building, my blood rushing. I ached for her.
“Check your email,” she whispered, her words kissing the receiver. And then she hung up on me. I tangled my legs and almost split open my skull in my mad rush to the desk and the secrets my computer suddenly held.
The only email waiting for me was from her. No subject, no message, just thirteen attachments; what a prophetic fucking number. I should have known.
The photos were clumsy. She took them in her living room, with no room mates to interrupt her as she fought with her digital camera. She was wearing too much make up, just like I thought she would, her lips glistening like apple skin and her eye lashes clotted with mascara. She was trying too hard to pose, and she had the lyrics to my favourite song written all over her skin. My name marched across her chest, in marker this time. My hands moved towards my waist, kept creeping lower, until I groaned as if she was with me.
After the funeral, when my well-meaning friends had finally retreated, I pulled my laptop onto my knees, and I clicked open the folder that I had hidden so carefully. I went through them slowly, staring at every detail until my face was smothered with salt and I pawed at the shape of her on the screen. And then, I deleted them, one at a time, and I made sure that I could never get them back.
I can still see them painted on the inside of my eyes; frescos that are plastered into my very anatomy. The way that the smudged ink melted into her skin, sliding over her bones. My name sinking into her heart, the ink poisoning her in a way neither one of us could see. It makes me crazy.
I don’t know what I’d do if I still had them. I think of her half closed eyes, the high colour in her cheeks; the pucker of her lips and the tangle of her hair. It makes me ache. It cuts me up from the inside out – I wish I had them, but I wouldn’t survive seeing them. My sanity saved me before it deserted for good.
She had a constant kind of panic that hid inside her eyes. Her scars left her skin thick and uneven, but so soft in my hands. If I could find a marker, I’d scribble the story of us all over my body. Bright red. I want to carve her memories into me. I think I’d like that; her ghost hovering in the corner, watching me use a razor blade so clumsily, when she had become so adept with hers. She would smile at me. She would guide my hands. Forgive my mistakes.
And this is how I remember her. I miss her all wrong.


Each morning, she crawled to the foot of the bed, and she would stretch her arms over her head as I watched the pull and twist of the tight muscles in her shoulders. She would scrub at her hair with both hands, igniting it to a frizzy cloud around her head before she flattened it back down. Her skin glowed in the semi-darkness of morning. When she stood, her legs always shaky for the first steps, I could spot the secrets hiding in the damp bend of her knees.
Wondering with aimless steps, she’d twist her hair up off of her shoulders. The sun kissed the golden down that grew on the back of her neck as she tied her tangles into a graceless knot. She kept bobby pins wedged into the frame of my mirror, and she’d pull two down to hold back her bangs, bearing her face and her arching forehead. Only then would she turn back to me, her eyes still half closed as she smiled. Usually she came back to bed. We’d lean against the headboard and crawl all over each other as we waited for the day to start. She’d scream with laughter and yank handfuls of my hair as I chewed on her skin.
Sometimes, though, mornings were hard for her. Sometimes the thought of stepping outside my door and back into the world was enough to reduce her to tears.
A few weeks before she died, she turned to me in the morning and she wasn’t smiling. She wrapped her arms around her waist like an embarrassed child, and her face collapsed under the weight of her own sadness. She tried to say something; I saw her lips move, but the words wouldn’t come. And I was frozen. I screamed at myself to go to her, I berated myself violently, wishing I could break my own bones. But I still didn’t move. Her tears started to flow as I watched, and even when she sobbed, I simply sat and stared. It wasn’t until she dropped to her knees and let her head hit the floor that I finally got my feet under me. And even then, I moved with sluggish steps. It seemed to take an eternity to get to her, as if her misery slowed time to a crawl. Finally, though, I reached her. She was there, at my feet. Hold her, my mind told me. Wrap her up in your body. Show her.
But I had never been in love before. I was so afraid. So I laid my hand awkwardly on her shoulder, and I rubbed her back as I leaned my head against hers.
“Come on,” I said gently, trying to pull her to her feet. “You need to go back to bed.”
She looked at me with wet, wild eyes, gasping for air behind the tangled cage of her hair. “I’m sorry baby,” she cried out, reaching for me with both hands. She pulled my face close to hers, clutching handfuls of fabric and flesh. “I’m sorry. I wish I was stronger. I’m so fucking weak.” She collapsed against me, a shaking ball of muscle and tendon.
I sighed. Sadness is tiring. I knew this, before I took hers on.
“What do you mean baby?”
“I wish I was strong enough to end it,” she whispered, burying her face in my chest, hiding her eyes from mine. “I can’t even fucking kill myself right.”
To protect myself from those words, I set up cold, hard distance. I could hear the callousness in my own flat voice as I locked my hand around her wrist and stood, pulling her with me even as she cried out in surprise.
“Come on,” I told her, “Let’s go back to bed.”
And she went with me. We took a funeral march back to my bed, and I tucked her in like a child before I crawled under the sheets beside her. I closed my eyes, and wished sound could be blocked as easily as sight as she cried to herself beside me.
She was reaching for me, and I had swatted away her hand. It was just so hard for me to accept the truth. I couldn’t believe that she was so miserable, that I wasn’t enough to make her happy.
And so I pretended that she was fine, every day, until the very last.


I wanted to give her everything.
From the first moment I saw her, I decided that she deserved the world, but I didn’t know how to give it to her. I tried so hard, but she still needed more. There was never enough to keep her happy, to satiate the beast that lurked in the back of her mind. She never really trusted me. She was never really happy; I couldn’t give her that.
Even when it seemed okay, even when she spent her days laughing and smiling and turning her shining eyes on me, she still needed more. She still glanced over her shoulder like a caged animal. Her lips still bowed down when she thought I wasn’t looking.
She was a constant struggle, and I was willing to suffer through it, but the time came when I ran out of ways to fight
“Make it better,” she said, and I tried, I tried. But she said, “No. Make it better.”
So I did the only thing that I could.


There are still nights when I miss her so much that it’s hard to bear, when I can feel her absence as a weight on my chest. So that I can’t breathe, so that my heart struggles to beat. I wake up alone in the dark and I can see her everywhere. I can feel the shape of her beside me, the warmth of her breath at the back of my neck, her tiny hands on my shoulders. I can see her in the shadows at every corner, her face in the folds of the sheets. I can smell her hair and very nearly hear her voice, and it makes me so lonely that my stomach roils and my throat feels so tight that it might burst.
And on nights like those, I want something. I don’t know what; it’s like a hunger that I can never feed. A deep, gaping hole that will always be empty. I don’t know what I need. I just need. I need a stranger to take my hair in their fists and yank, pull my head back until I can’t breathe. I need someone to suck my lips and hit me harder than I can stand. I want to see the vessels burst under my skin. I need to cling to someone and bite, harder, harder, harder, until their skin splits and the blood flows hot and salty down my throat. I need to go out into the night, find a seedy bar, say something stupid. Bump a stranger. Start a fight. Tear someone apart. Step out in front of a speeding truck. Anything.
But before I do it, I think of her. I wonder if this is how she felt. And then I start to cry.


Yesterday, when my alarm went off, I didn’t think to count the reasons to get out of bed. I swatted the clock off of my nightstand, kicked the blankets to the foot of the bed, and stood nearly naked in the morning air. The blood rushed out of my head, leaving me dizzy and breathless, and without waiting for my thoughts to clear I bent to step out of my boxers. I tipped forward, with no hands to catch myself, and my forehead hit the hard floor. I picked myself up slowly, I knelt, and listened to the pain sing.
I dressed quickly, and I reached into the box on my desk for a granola bar as I headed out the door. I flew down the three flights of stairs and out into the lobby, pausing in the blinding light. It was as if I hadn’t seen the sun in years. Outside, there was a chill in the air, and it made me smile as I unlocked my bike and carried it out of the courtyard. It felt good to be moving. I straddled the bike and started to peddle. Usually, I take the bus to work.
After twenty minutes of thoughtless mechanics, beautiful numbness, I missed a turn I need to take. But instead of turning around, I rode my bike out of town. I found long stretches of road that I didn’t recognize, peddling faster and faster, until my legs ached. The pavement turned to gravel, and bright, leafy trees closed in on me. I laughed at the new world I had found. I kept going until I was exhausted, until there was sweat streaming down my back and I could hardly breathe, and then I left my bike in the ditch. I wandered into the field I had stopped beside, and I fell down in the corn, staring at the sun through the stalks. After a moment, my breath to came easy, and my heart stopped pounding. I rolled onto my side and fell asleep without thinking of her. I didn’t wake up until night fall.
It’s okay to be me, sometimes. To be honest, it still feels pretty damn good. Today, there is a purple bruise blooming beautifully above my eye.


My dad called me today, and the first thing he said was, “You haven’t been returning my calls,” as if I didn’t already know that. I looked out the window at the setting sun, lighting up the sky with bloody fire, and I listened to him talk until I couldn’t stand it anymore.
And he said “Yeah?”
I shook my head, just for me. “Me and her, we were terrible together. I told her that once. I said to her, ‘I know that you make me angry sometimes, and that I make you cry sometimes.’ I said, ‘We’re a total disaster and everyone knows it, but we were made for each other.’ And i think I meant it. Do you know what I mean, dad? She was like a burning building to me, and I think it was the same for her. You look at it, and you know that it’s dangerous, and people keep telling you to just go home, that there’s nothing to see, but you’ve already caught a glimpse. And its just so damn beautiful that you have to get closer.”
Sounding overwhelmed and confused, he said, “Shawn…” and I shook my head again.
I said, “I’m sorry, dad.” And then I hung up the phone.


She didn’t like to talk about her life. A listener, an observer, she was never a storyteller. When it was clear that she knew everything there was to know about me, I was sure that I had learned absolutely nothing about her. Every time she offered a glimpse into her past, it was like a gift. Every offhand comment about the boys who broke her heart or the girls who threw their garbage at her was precious; I filed them away like video reels. She didn’t want to give me her past, but I needed it, I craved it, like a drug. I needed to know as much about her as she knew about me. I needed to make her real.
A few days before she died, we were sitting on my bed going through old photo albums. I showed her pictures from a camping trip I had taken when I was twelve or thirteen, when our campground had been over run with squirrels. They crawled into our hands and onto our shoulders, sitting while they ate. They seemed to know to pose for the cameras. They were performers.
She had laughed at the pictures of my dad buried up to his neck at the beach; had smiled at the pictures of me covered in melted marshmallows. When I came across a picture of a red squirrel sitting on my head, a shelled peanut held in its tiny paws, I was sure that she would like it. I would have let her keep it, if she had asked. With a smile, I offered it to her, and watched as she looked closer, waiting for her to react. But the smile faded from her face very slowly. It seemed to melt, as if it had never been there at all.
“Cute,” she mumbled, tossing the photo into my lap and dropping her eyes.
I didn’t know what to say. She looked up at me, forcing a tense smile, waiting for me to keep going, but I couldn’t. I had to understand. I knew that she wanted to tell me, even if she wouldn’t admit it on her own, and so for the first time, I pried. She wanted me to. She was letting me in deeper, the only way that she knew how.
So I said, “What’s wrong?”
She dropped her eyes, shook her head minutely. “I used to catch squirrels that looked just like those when I was younger.”
I almost laughed. Almost. “How the hell did you catch squirrels?”
But she was stoic. “I found traps in my old shed.”
Some strange instinct tried to warm me, chilling my stomach, but I didn’t listen. “Did you try to keep them as pets?”
She turned her wide eyes on me, shaking her head slowly. “No.” She frowned deeply, starting to twist a thin lock of hair around her fingers. She yanked on it viciously, her head jerking to the side with the force. But finally, she said, “I killed them. I set out traps and I caught them and then I drowned them.”
Words disappeared. language became meaningless. I could see her like a silent movie, reaching into the rusted cages. Young and scrawny, the way that I had seen her in photos, her dark hair falling into her eyes. i could see her sink a thrashing ball of fur under the water in a hard plastic kiddie pool. Holding them under. I shook my head, certain that I had misheard her.
I opened my mouth with no sound. It took time to remember where I had hidden my voice. “What?”
She put her hand on my knee gently, as if she were afraid that I would push her away. She looked up at me with huge eyes, suddenly swimming with the threat of tears. “I didn’t do it because I wanted to, it wasn’t for me.” She paused, her nails digging into my skin even through my jeans. Clutching me, clinging to anything real. “You believe me, right? I didn’t do it for me. It wasn’t like that.”
All I could feel was her claws in my leg, and it made me wonder if she had felt the rodent claws tearing at her wrists, begging for air.
“They were in our backyard all the time,” she said. “They’d come right up to the windows and put their feet on the glass, and at first I thought it was fun, but there eyes, Shawn. They started looking at me with those little black eyes, and they just looked so sad. I tried everything, but nothing made it better, they always just looked at me with those eyes. I had to.
I stared at her, at her face that was dissolving into hopeless tears. And here’s the really fucked up part. Looking at her? I understood.
“They were so sad, Shawn,” she whispered. “They were so sad, and I didn’t know what else to do.”

Alyssa Cooper is a born wordweaver, swallowing stanzas like sustenance and leaving thumbnails of poetry everywhere she goes. She was born in Belleville Ontario, where she lives with her vintage typewriters and her personal library. She is the author of two novels, Benjamin and Salvation, and a collection of poetry called Cold Breath of Life.

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