Monthly Archives: May 2014

Fred Thompson’s Animals

 

by Troy Parks

 

October 18, 2011, 1pm-6pm

 

Hour 5: Fred Thompson shoots himself after releasing fifty-one animals (tigers, lions, boar, llamas, horses, monkeys, two gorillas, and two zebras) from their cages in his private zoo. The gorillas stay in the house – they lived in there. The hillbillies in the area begin an all-night safari hunt.

Hour 4: Fred walks in the door of the cabin on his farm to find his wife, Terry, waiting to tell him she’s leaving him for his longhaired cousin Don. Fred throws a fit and the gorillas start bellowing so Terry leaves and Fred bellows along.

Hours 3 and 2: Fred rides a Greyhound from Mansfield to Zanesville, thinking all the time of his animals and his farm, excited to see his longhaired cousin; his wife would be waiting; it’s always too foggy.

Hour 1: Fred is released from Mansfield State Penitentiary after serving one year for possession of automatic weapons. Fred showers, then collects two wooden bobcats he carved and his DB White books. On the phone Terry says she and his longhaired cousin Don are waiting.

 

Troy Parks is an MFA candidate at Northwestern University. He is working on a novel, a collection of short stories and a 16mm film installation exhibit. A native of Ohio, Troy currently lives in Evanston, Illinois.

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To the Woman Who Pushed In Front of Me at the Avocado Stand

 

by Anna Mantzaris

 

First of all, I understand! These are not just any avocados. Forget the Hass, with its sad, pimply no-one-wants-to-go-to-prom teenage skin, or the pedestrian softball-shaped Reed that just screams boring. These are organic ‘Sunshine’ avies (the adorable nickname you used!), voluptuous and smooth, filled with a nutty, decadent meat that does not compare. After pushing your hand-woven basket that I imagine you were thrilled to find on your three-week trip to Marrakech (maybe your Babymoon?) into my left side and swiping me with your fuchsia-color windbreaker-clad arm, I got the picture: You needed these avocados FAST. Who was I to stop you? And I very much appreciated that you explained why you needed the climacteric fruit a.s.a.p. ‘These are the only avies my son will eat.’ Of course you couldn’t wait until I plopped my little gathering of three semi-ripe on the scale and took out my wrinkled $5 bill. You had places to go. People to see. Avocados to eat.

And let’s face it, my uninspired idea to simply consume the avocados sliced, or maybe tossed into a sad little salad of romaine and cucumber, could not compare with what I bet were your grand plans – freshly mashed guac with lobster chunks and just-snipped dill, or a perfectly smooth and chilled dinner-party soup laced with home-grown fresh garlic and topped with a crouton made from cruelty-free yeast – sure to wow your guests who are also go-getters, people who aren’t afraid to fight for their heirloom tomatoes and free-range squab. The kind of folks to get the last block of Gruyère.

But what I really admired was the way you stood front and center of the patient farmer and ate not one, not two, but all three of the remaining sample slices. Popping each one in your mouth as if it were your birthright. Your magic ‘pills’ that allow you to continue through your day like the urban panther you’ve become.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I initially mistook the slow, small smirk you gave me as you turned on your heels to leave as an apologetic smile. ‘She’s sorry!’ I thought to myself. ‘No big deal!’ But no. As I toted home my crinkled little brown bag that had begun to tear, I realized I was mistaken. You weren’t making amends for a temporary lapse in social skills. You weren’t asking for forgiveness. It was a look of satisfaction that said, ‘You – who apologizes when someone steps on your foot, with your plain brown hair and less-than-average height, who came here with that sweet man in front of the bread stand, smiling and patiently waiting to buy a loaf of pumpernickel, you who is underpaid but always over tips, who would rather wear an ill-fitting sweater than return it to show how much you liked it as a gift – will always be behind me.’

 

Anna Mantzaris is a San Francisco-based writer and editor. Her work has appeared in publications including McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Cortland Review and The Lascaux Review.

 

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On Fault

         

by Austin Eichelberger

 

Allen stood in the bright morning light spilling through the narrow doorway of their bedroom, looking at the patched blanket across the bed where he and Elaine slept, the skin of his bicep molding around the corner of the door frame. His arms were folded and he stood in silence, one leg relaxed and behind him – as if it was dark out and he was pausing sleepily as he came back from the kitchen with a glass of water or a Tums. The bed – that same wooden, four-post frame where his grandfather had been conceived; the sheets Elaine usually smoothed after he had left for the auto shop; the quilt her grandmother had made when Elaine was still in diapers – sat empty, seeming very flat and far too large, as if a body should be resting there, as if a body should always be there. Even the sunlight that fell across the quilt was gray, Allen thought, as his eyelid twitched; all the blues and reds and oranges looked muted.

Across town – in another bed, with a white sheet pulled up to her chest and clear tubes making graceful turns out of her nostrils – Elaine laid awake, nestled between the dull whistles and murmurs of hospital machines. She had been home a few days before while Allen was still at work – after teaching her three piano lessons for the day – when she collapsed from a rare sort of seizure pattern that can pop up in mid-life without warning, a tangled string of syllables that the doctors said quickly and without relief in their voices. Allen had told Elaine that he’d be home at five-thirty, which turned out to be just a half-hour or so after she stopped walking and began falling down the stairs – laid there with her forehead daintily on the bottom step, her dark blonde hair fanned out around her – but Allen had forgotten she was making chicken parmesan and renting a movie – honestly – and went out for a beer with Dave after work.

Allen had not arrived home until six-forty, a full hour and fifty minutes after Elaine’s thigh jerked and her eyes rolled back, and by the time he found her – so still and beautiful, her face relaxed and eyes closed, like she had decided to nap in the strangest of places – her face was slightly puffy and a string of dried saliva ran out of her mouth, up her cheek, past her eye, and onto the carpeted floor. The saliva was specked red, like the glass pendant he had bought her for their last anniversary, and her tongue sat limp against her teeth, pushing slightly against her open lips. Allen had called 911 and rushed around the house, turning off the oven and fanning smoke from the alarm, trying to pin down how long ago it had happened, if he could’ve been home to catch her, how far she had fallen and if it caused any extra injuries, if lying upside down on the stairs like that for long enough could cause brain damage or encourage blood clots. She had been in the hospital ever since on doctor’s orders, despite Allen’s arguments, despite his adamant claims that monitoring Elaine was his job.

Allen blinked against the suddenly harsh light of their bedroom, turned his head from the dust motes settling on Elaine’s quilt, and coughed roughly as he straightened up. He didn’t know how long he’d been standing in the doorway, staring at the bed as if waiting for movement, for Elaine to pop out from under the impossibly flat sheets, smile at him with her twisted grin and apologize for taking the joke so far. Allen scratched the side of his head and decided to go out for a smoke, thinking of what Elaine had said on Monday as she laid between those pale hospital sheets: ‘We can’t blame ourselves, Al. Some things just happen.’ She had smiled at him after she’d said it, rubbed the back of his hand with her soft palm. He’d told her he had to go, had errands to run and a few things to do around the house. ‘Okay, baby,’ she’d said, reaching out for a hug. ‘Be safe.’

Now, on their front porch, Allen snorted out smoke and crushed his cigarette on the wooden railing, leaving a tiny smoldering pile of black tobacco on the clean white surface. He walked back into the house, past her coats hanging by the front door, the slippers she left in the living room the week before, the pan in the sink filled with crispy, blackened chicken and burnt cheese, before stopping by the answering machine and its blinking red light. He lifted the old cordless phone from the kitchen wall and scrolled through the missed calls – four over the past two days from the auto shop’s main number and three missed today straight from his boss’ private line. Allen reached out and held down the delete button before setting the phone back in its cradle, listening absently to the shrill pealing tone even after all the unheard messages had gone, and then padded back down the hall toward their bedroom doorway.

 

Austin Eichelberger is happily still teaching English and writing. His fiction has appeared in Cease, Cows, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Gone Lawn, Extract(s), Eclectic Flash, First Stop Fiction, and others. You can find more of his writing at austineichelberger.wordpress.com.

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The Heart of It

           

by Laura Baber

 

I.

There were twelve robins on the roof today. I saw them outside my window, huddled against each other with orange colored breasts still bundled in winter’s down feathers. Fluffed up in defense of their tender heads and alert, hopping feet; pecking at berries hidden in the black flaps and folds of the roof tiles. I did not know that robins flocked. I think usually they do not, but were together this morning only to protect themselves against the bitter wind. Or the loneliness of a sudden springtime birthing.

 

I turn my head to ask you, but you are not there. The fact of it was 15 years ago, but I still forget and turn my head to talk to you. To tell you stories. To ask you questions about the daytime habits of robins.

 

 

II.

 

It was your fingernails that first told us something was wrong. Where we were, deep in the jungle, no one was whole. There were always stomach revulsions, skin lesions, something that grew red and itchy against the crook of an elbow. We did not pay attention to these minor annoyances. We put up with them for faith, you and I. For belief in the work that we did.

 

The days were long and hot and wet. Even before the rainy season, before the floods, my hair grew mold in it. My belt, the one with the copper buckle that I’d brought from back home, turned a green patina that would never turn back again. I felt the same way, being there. Patinaed with a hue that wouldn’t turn back again.

 

Sometimes I’d complain. ‘There’s no aid work in Paris,’ you’d say then, wiping sweat from your face with the red bandana you kept shoved in your back pocket. ‘These are the conditions. This is the work.’

 

I believed you because I believed in you, in the work we did. I trusted your face, whole and proud, shining in the dying light of a jungle afternoon.

 

 

III.

 

We called them tube wells. Long, six-inch pipes inserted deep into the heart of the earth, bringing up fresh, clean water to those who’d never had it before. For those who had lost child after child to diarrhea, to waterborne pathogens, to poverty. Thinking back on it, I should have seen that nothing was so easy. Nothing, all the way good. But youth has no room for pragmatism.

 

Almost ready,’ I said to the experts, come in to evaluate. On the first day their large-boned white skin shone bright against the dark smallness of the population. By the second, they’d turned red and puffy, burned uncomfortable by a long day in the sun. Still, we pressed on. We measured and scienced, clipboards clutched in hands. These were the conditions, this was the work.

 

The rainy season will come soon,’ they said to me though I knew this. I knew it better than they. I was no stranger with red puffy skin.

 

We’ll be ready.’ I pointed to dates on my clipboard. Calendar rows marked in red. Monsoons that could swing in and out of dates and time, ruining everything. ‘They’ll be dug,’ I said.

 

Every village.’

 

The diesel engines, the ones that create the long holes down to the heart of the earth, they don’t work in the rain. They get clogged and rusted, sometimes carried away by rising water. With the monsoon threat barreling down on us, circled in red just weeks away, perhaps we went too quickly. Did not do all the sciencing we should have done. I can look back now and ask: Did we go too fast? Now that I have the luxury of pragmatism, but not of you.

 

 

IV.

 

All day I listened to the sounds of that diesel engine, fitting and drilling. The electricity of it took something precious away from my days, blanketed them with a constant buzzing and whirring. I tried not to mind that I could no longer hear the wind ruffling thatched roofs or clanking tin tops. That I lost the rustle of the giant palm fronds waving their old, primeval arms. But I noted it, this sign that something was not right.

 

Too much was still good. I could feel the wind blow cool against my skin. I could taste fresh coconut from shoreline trees and drink beer smuggled in on military ships. I could lose myself in the endless varieties of green or nap under a bright white mosquito net. I could stand against you, shoulders together, doing the work.

 

 

V.

 

Fingernails do not lie. Their ridges and lumps and colored marks indicate very specific traumas. This is where that drawer closed on my ring finger. This is where I cut into my thumb bed too deeply. This is where I hit myself with that hammer, turning the index fingernail a blue-black-purple before I lost it altogether.

 

Back in Connecticut, we noticed your fingernails had gone wrong. There had been other signs of course: headaches, stomach aches, dizziness. Days spent in sterile rooms where doctors spoke of Lyme disease and vertigo. One said that sometimes people don’t adjust to coming home. Sometimes it’s in your mind. You laughed at him, that one.

 

Because it wasn’t in your mind. It was in your fingernails. Long white streaks, small round dots. Classic signs of arsenic, they’d say later. But not classic enough to catch the cancer before it spread.

 

The clipboards measured and scienced. ‘Mass poisoning,’ they said. ‘Whole villages succumbed.’ Arsenic from deep in the earth brought up by tube wells.

 

 

VI.

 

I cried when I heard it. Cried for you, and your fallen-out hair and your pancreas that had turned against you. Cried for the fingernail streaks and the skin lesions and the day your shoulders slumped against the world and I knew you had given up hope.

 

I sat by your bedside and I held your hand.

 

We killed them,’ you whispered and I shushed you. I had no answer for that.

 

Laura Baber is a humanitarian aid worker and writer who has lived and worked in Central America, Eastern Europe and Asia. She currently resides in New York City and has just finished work on her first novel.

 

 

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