Save Your Soul

By Kenny Torrella

 

I drove with my hand on Mia’s thigh as we passed by bonfires in the night, and joked about how anything goes in these small towns. I took country roads unknown to us both, the car’s headlights beaming into the trees and lighting up signs for farm stands and churches. Again, she asked me where I was taking her.

“I told you, it’s a surprise,” I said.

It’s already 11:30… Are we going to Detroit?” she asked.

I laughed to myself.

What? What’s funny?”

No, nothing. It’s stupid.”

Tell me!” she said, squeezing my hand.

OK, well, I was going to say, ‘I’m going to kill you and bury you.’”

“What? Why would you say that?”

“It was a joke. It was stupid.”

“But why would you joke about that?”

You know I make stupid jokes like that with friends sometimes. But I shouldn’t have said it. Just forget I said it. I’m sorry.”

We continued in silence. She knew I was incapable of doing that. I’ve never even been in a fist fight. I’m vegetarian. I take spiders outside. In our months together the furthest I had gone was raising my voice to match hers. But I think the sudden awareness of her vulnerability—out in the pitch black night, no phone, no sense of place—had struck her mute. She hadn’t told anyone where she was going; she didn’t know herself.

I rerouted the directions to take 96 and after I merged onto the interstate she sighed. Civilization.

We arrived in downtown Detroit. I parked the car and we stood on the sidewalk next to the dancehall.

“Again, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.”

“Don’t worry. So, what is this surprise?” she asked, trying to smile.

We entered, I paid for the tickets, and we walked down the spiral staircase as Motown blared from the speakers. A poster taped on the door read “Souled Out: Detroit’s Premiere Soul and R&B Dance Party!”

It’s really white in here,” she said, looking around the room.

Yeah.”

My parents and their generation left Detroit in the white flight during the ‘60s and ‘70s. They drove their American-made Cadillacs and Chryslers out to Redford, Dearborn, and Wyandotte, listening to Wilson Pickett and The Supremes all the way there. Now our generation—our friends—had made their way back in, into foreclosed homes and lofts in neighborhoods on the Courier Times’ up-and-coming list. “The venue was in a black neighborhood, in a black city, playing black music—it’s a violation of space,” Mia later said.

But there we were, a part of it. She swayed left to right with her arms by her sides, out of step with the music. This wasn’t like my Mia, who could attract crowds of men and women, at night clubs, weddings, and dive bars—and sometimes in the street—to watch her go at it to whatever was playing.

Before the first song ended I shouted into her ear: “Let’s go home.”

She nodded. “But don’t feel bad, OK? This was a great surprise. I love the music, I’ve wanted to dance, I needed a night out, but—”

I took I-96 back home. We pulled into the driveway and I turned off the car. The crickets droned. “You know I’m a survivor. You know as a woman I already feel scared all the time,” she said.

She rattled off examples: “Men holler at me in the city, at school, in the elevator. They ask me my sign, what country I’m from, where I live. Sometimes they stare, sometimes they follow, sometimes they get really close to me.”

I’m sorry.”

Listen, I know you’re sorry. I know what you said was a joke, and you know I trust you. But when you said it, there was something visceral about it. Like, if you wanted to, you could kill me. I’ve been in these situations before with men capable of hurting me. With men who did hurt me. You know that and you still said it.”

The next morning I woke up early and tiptoed out of the bedroom and into the kitchen to start on breakfast. Between bites Mia circled back to the night before. “There’s power in every moment,” she said.

***

Sometimes, in the dead, silent space of an argument, after each point has been exhausted and apologies have been proffered, I repeat this sentence in my head. The five words echo like some kind of mantra, written by a character on the losing end of it.

Can unearned power ever grasp its inverse? There’s another one. We struggle with these declarations and questions in an effort to make sense of inequity.

There’s power in every moment.” She must’ve written the mantra herself. She didn’t read poetry or stories, only textbooks.

 

Kenny Torrella is new to fiction writing but has been ghostwriting throughout his career to improve conditions for farmed animals. He currently lives in Washington, D.C. with his girlfriend and a wonderful dog named Rihana. His work can also be found in NAILED Magazine.

 

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Our Family

By Bette Pesetsky

 

Stepmothers run in our family the way blue eyes might run in other families.
My own father had a stepmother, and her presence was the dominating theme of his childhood. The past is a warehouse. You knock. Who’s there? That was what my father said, and then he told me how his own father ran off with an opera singer. My father owned a few of her recordings, although he never met the woman in person. Now what makes this pithy is that the man left behind nine children and the youngest still a baby in her mother’s arms. A litter of children taken to the city to stand outside any opera house that had the misfortune to feature the singer and keen loudly while calling out their father’s name as they had been coached and the name of the harlot who stole him away. It was war, my father said, with court battles over money that your runaway grandfather and his inamorata would have to pay. That was a word my mother taught me. Inamorata. I used it on my husband. Get the hell out of my life, I said, and take your inamorata with you.

 

Bette Pesetsky is the author of two short story collections, Stories Up to A Point and Confessions of a Bad Girl. Her stories have appeared in Paris Review, The New Yorker, Vogue, Ontario Review, and other magazines.

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Is, Was, Will Be

By Mallory Chesser

 

Death will catch Gloria naked between the wall and the toilet. Everyone’s aunt and nobody’s mother—a choice she’ll make early in life, without caring who will take care of her at 65, and never really expecting to achieve old age—she lives alone. She’ll be wedged in the crevice overnight while flesh frees itself from bone, while blood and water separate for good, while breasts sink irrevocably. By the next morning, death chill will set in.

Fifty years before, she rides her bike through the middle of the street, coasting from lane to lane with hands in the air, taking corners too quickly, playing chicken with cars, neglecting a helmet over her long, wet hair, a dull brown until the wind dries it blonde. In the sun she is brilliant, stopping traffic at sixteen. At night she rides without reflectors. This is a body to bare, to share. Now she thinks of the new turquoise bikini under her sundress and pumps the pedals faster. She’ll be the last one to the lake, but she’ll make the biggest splash.

Gloria dies on a hot summer, like this one. Not breast cancer, as she was expecting, or consumption, the romantic death she’d imagined in childhood, but a heart attack on the toilet. Within two days, putrefaction will begin. After working their way through Gloria’s last meal—tuna fish sandwiches and a bottle of cheap wine she would not have chosen had she known it would be her last—the bacteria will start on her organs, on her blistering flesh. Eyes will bulge, tongue will unfurl, gases will leak. Mouth will cringe at the lack of dignity.

Gloria at sixteen thinks about the party tonight, the party last night—parties all summer. Pasture parties, bonfires, volunteer work for the resume; days at the beach, kickbacks at the doctor’s house, part-time job at the library. Eli’s father is the doctor, but Eli likes to be called Doc. They all have aspirations. Life is beautiful. This summer Gloria has graduated from white wine to red, from Billy to David to Doc. She believes in the power of names—Billy will be a mechanic, David will go to law school, but Doc will take seven years just to graduate college, because his name is tempting fate. Billy’s arms are warm, like the sun on her skin, and David wears cashmere sweaters in fall. Doc has the biggest house and the father who is never home. If she ever meets a Stuart, she will forget about all of them. She passes the county line and the road opens up before her, stretching out for miles.

She’ll have a fenced-in porch, a screen door, a room she can call a library, and a chocolate Labrador. She and the dog and the house grow old together. Life was, is, will be beautiful.

 

Mallory Chesser is an MFA fiction candidate at Texas State University. She serves as managing editor of Story|Houston, a Houston-based literary journal, and teaches composition. She is currently working on a collection of linked stories set in little-known parts of the Lone Star State.

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Youthful Ads

By JD Louis

for Xhosa Frazier

 

He’s reading dystopias. They rest in bad grammar, in a neat stack, to the right of his desk. On the top of the first page, she’s looking for synonyms for “run” and more specific guidelines, but she can’t find a prompt. At the bottom of the page, there’s silence, he can tell she’s concentrating now. When he turns the page, she starts to write on her own hand and he can’t quite make out her meaning. They giggle. They always giggle. He shakes his head. He’s bored. At home, the plants need water. “It’s the seventh grade,” he says, “Bleak.”

 

JD Louis likes to think of himself as a master of mind manipulation whose mind is warped daily by the students he teaches at The Woodstock Day School in Upstate New York. JD has been heard yelling through the halls of time about how, “It’s time to grow up kids! It’s time to become children again!” JD’s accomplishments will only be found in the future, possibly whispered between former students, and in the work ethic of his students’ children.

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Unsportsmanlike

By Patrick Berlinquette

 

Once everyone’s seated, we turn our phones facedown. If anyone at the table, at any time, flips over their phone, that person must foot the entire bill. Our brunches have revolved around the game of flip-out for more than two years without incident, so I’m still trying to wrap my head around what happened today.

According to Justin A., crybaby, who was detained for his outbursts outside of the Stone Park Café, the conditions were “less than optimal” for a good, clean game.

He claimed the stroller congestion in Park Slope was at a high, which caused “all kinds of subliminal distractions”. I can humor this: simply walking to the café I was held up between gridlocked Mima Xaris and I was nearly enmeshed in the frame of a Stokke Scoot.

But I cannot accept Justin A.’s claim that the birds were out in droves. From the Park to Boerum Hill they went tweet, tweet, and could easily be mistaken for ring-tones. His words, not mine.

Then, supposedly, right after the waiter handed out the menus, a woman pushing a Valco Baby Snap Duo walked up to a pole right alongside our table, procured a giant bike lock from her bag, and locked her stroller to said pole.

I say supposedly, because I missed the whole thing. I was so focused on the game at hand that I only caught the aftermath: the woman’s back as she wiggled across the street, the lock glinting in the sun, and the shadow of the stroller, which stretched over the sidewalk like a charcoal smudge the size of a Smart car.

I could see Justin A. was visibly rattled by all of this. Once his upper lip quivered, I thought about how I would take him down. I wanted him to flip that phone. I didn’t care how long it took, if I had to sit there all day. Finally, I knew exactly how to crush his resolve into powder.

I called the waiter over and ordered the most expensive bottle of beer they had on the menu. Everyone looked at me except Justin A. He was staring down through the grated table at his feet. With that, I knew I had him.

The waiter came over with the huge bottle of beer, white-gloving it like it was a Harlan Estate. I told him assertively that the bottle was for me solely. Then I ordered an 8 oz NY strip, an oyster po’ boy, and several plates of Andouille sausages. I ate all of this methodically, staring Justin A. right in the eyes. I became very drunk. But I didn’t say a word. I just let him unravel his own yarn.

When the broken Justin A. finally turned over his phone, it was not by the usual unconscious jerk we were used to seeing, but a very lucid flick of the wrist. It was a movement that suggested resignation. When I held out a hand for him to shake, he stood up. I thought he was going to turn the table over and punch me. Instead he pulled out his wallet, dumped the contents on the table, and pushed them towards me: greasy receipts made invisible by age, half-used gift cards, even one of those spider rings you buy with tickets at an arcade. “Just take all my goddam money,” he kept saying. But I didn’t see much of it, and I let him know.

The other two guys at the table were staring at me like it was my fault when Justin A. staggered away. And everyone but me stood up when, attempting to put his foot through a planter, Justin A. collapsed through a lean-to and caused a circle of tourists to scream.

In the end, I reluctantly put in for the bill, along with everyone else. But, I argued, aren’t rules rules? You don’t see a snooker player getting a pass because he didn’t chalk his cue.

Today may have marked the very last gathering for flip-out. I do not blame myself, because I did nothing more than read the signs. And that’s quite hard to do these days. We’re liable to run into one before we read it, when we’re all crooked over our phones.

 

Patrick Berlinquette is the owner of a search-engine marketing firm in Long Island, New York. His work is based on the conflicts that he encounters as a luddite who must work with insidious advertising technologies. His essays have been featured in Ithaca’s Our Stories and Cortland’s She Said / She Said and Transitions.

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Another Letter

By Kathryn A. Kopple

 

Dear Marcel,

I woke up today terrified the electro-magnetic field had flipped. The air burned. My sheets were scorching. I’m better now but only because I’ve lathered myself in oils pressed from three-hundred-year-old cacti. Cactus oil costs a fortune. I get mine on the black market.

How I despise this season. It’s as sloppy wet underfoot as Venice when she finally sank into the ocean, despite all attempts to hoist her up with propulsion and anti-gravity devices. She sank any way, and with her the most beautiful man I have known.

Yes, Marcel, yes. He is gone. I should be used to it by now. The only man I ever loved, leaving me behind in this melt, slosh, that by midday starts to let off steam. It’s unbearable. The ozone layer stretched thin and the sun behaving erratically. I was under the impression that the sun destroyed and remade the ozone layer every day, at least that’s what scientists said a century ago when we were still calling ourselves a country. Of course, that was before the last civil war. Or was it the one before? It’s so vaporous around here. Rancid smelling. Who can remember anything in this sauna?

But why complain while the world is sinking, burning, tearing itself apart? What good does it do? I think of him instead. My mind flees to him instead. My body is a map of all the places he touched me. I trace the travels of his fingers, his tongue. He saved me from the heat, this interminable fire. He never ran hot, always cold. It was wonderful to lie with my cheek on his icy chest, listening to his slow beating heart.

When I was a child, I would crawl into the caves near our house to get away from the heat. It was damp and mossy under the rocks. The air chill. A dark, cold space. That was my love. He was my dark, cold retreat from this inferno we call earth.

Marcel, I can’t go on like this. I am exhausted. I need to close my eyes, sleep. But, I am in anguish. I think of the ocean carrying him far from me. I imagine the moment the water took him, the wonderful coldness of his being sucked from his body as the sweltering waves pulled him under. Did he die of drowning or boiling? I must sound as if I am raving asking such a senseless question. It’s just that I am so feverishly warm without him.

Have I made you sad? Don’t cry, Marcel. Don’t cry. It’s difficult, so hard. You loved him too. I know. And he loved you.

Trini

 

Kathryn A. Kopple works in Spanish and English. There are few literary genres in which she has not translated or tried her hand. Her most recent poetry publication appears in Bellevue Literary Review (Fragile Environments Issue, 2014). She is also the author of Little Velásquez, a novel set in 15th century Spain.

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Imprint

By Lynn Abramson

 

The one they called Kumbuka—Remember—reclined against a rock. Opened her eyes, closed them. Let sun in, shut it out. Chewed straw, let it dangle, let it drop.

The air hung thick. Punctuated by the gnish, gnash of insects. The pitter! pitter! pitter! of birds. The humf of the gorillas. The waaarl eeeheee waarl waaaaaarl from the other side.

On the other side, the humans fussed. Mothers shushed sons, snatched at hands that tapped the glass. Fathers hoisted daughters onto their shoulders. One mother ran about looking for her son, a mischievous boy who had slipped away.

To the gorilla, they were smells and sounds. Flower? Food? Fauna? Always there, except at night, they retreated. In the space they left behind she’d recall something. Not quite a memory, an imprint. Motion. Trees rustling … birds fluttering … water gushing, frogs springing, wind rushing, leopards leaping, her blood pulsing thick and strong. And then the sun would rise, and she’d sink back into the hazy day.

Several paces away, her son, the one called Karibu—Welcome—dug holes in the earth with a stick. Found insects, ate them. Kumbuka roused herself from the rock. Lumbered through the clearing, collecting kale, bananas, beets. Satiated, she settled in the shade. Squinted at light oozing through the trees. Karibu came to her. Nuzzled. Picked at her fur.

And then, a scent. Familiar but foreign. She looked up.

If the mother’s screams had resonated with the gorilla, perhaps they would have triggered some shared maternal instinct.

To Kumbuka, the creature above was too close. A threat. Something left behind inside her was stirred.

She stood. The others stood. Moved inwards. Thumped their chests. Grunted. Humf! Humf!

The boy reached for them. Fell from his perch, smacked through tree limbs onto the packed earth. Lay unmoving. The mother crumpled, an animal moan escaping from her.

The gorillas paused. An energy passed among them.

Karibu bounded to meet the creature.

Humf, humf! Kumbuka tried to warn him, her blood pulsing. But Karibu was up-up-up! And then—collapsed.

Kumbuka went. Green rush, swish, snap, humf, up-up-up! Pain.

The humans rushed in, tranquilizer guns drawn.

Kumbuka dreamt of trees rustling.

Lynn Abramson lives with her husband and son in the Washington, D.C. metro region, where she works in energy policy. In past lives, she has wrestled sediment traps in the Mediterranean Sea and floor charts in Senate hearings. This is her first published work of fiction.

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CRISPR

By Timothy A. Clements

 

It appears your daughter has precursors for Alzheimer’s,” the doctor said coldly, “you don’t want your daughter to have to deal with that someday, do you?” he asked.

Of course not,” the crying mother bellowed, “but what can we do?”

While the father chastised the doctor for his lack of empathy and distant demeanor, the doctor removed a key from his white coat pocket and unlocked the lower drawer of his desk. From it he retrieved a metal business card and handed it across his desk, to the desperate soon-to-be parents before him. The father took it.

What is this?” he asked, “What is CRISPR?”

CRISPR,” the doctor began, “is a cutting edge DNA therapy that will soon be approved by the Chinese Food and Drug Administration.”

What kind of therapy?” the mother asked, “how can you give an unborn baby therapy?”

And China?” the father asked, “Why don’t we have it here?”

CRISPR was perfected by the Chinese nearly ten years ago, but due to its controversy it only recently was approved for human trials. All indications point to its legalization within the year. It’s been highly effective in embryos.”

But what is it? And embryos aren’t people,” the father bellowed.

About thirty years ago scientists in the states discovered bacteria that carries a particular virus,” the doctor explained, “To put it simply, biologists can manipulate the bacteria and make it attack bad DNA. Once eliminated, new, healthy DNA can be re-introduced and fill in. It’s simple and easy.”

If it’s so simple and easy why are we just now hearing about this?” the father asked.

The controversial status of CRISPR makes it a hot-button issue, and nobody in office will go near it. They’ll lose the religious vote. They were very vocal against potential embryo trials here, do you really think they are going to approve human trials?”

Is it safe?” the mother asked. She shifted in her seat and leaned forward, hanging on every word the doctor produced.

Very much so,” the doctor replied, “but expensive. And your insurance won’t cover it. That card will connect you with an answering service; ask for Dr. Ming.”

How much?” the father queried.

Thousands,” the doctor quoted plainly, “but a lifetime of happiness and health for your baby—absolutely priceless.”

Money doesn’t matter; it’s my baby!” the worried mother told her husband as she grabbed his knee in a sort of quiet desperation.

I want the best for her too,” he said, tears building in his eyes, “but we don’t know anything about this.” The father slouched down in the chair where he sat, placing his thumbs and forefingers across his head and brows.

I don’t care,” she said with pure confidence, “if the doctor said it’s safe, then it’s safe.”

Absolutely,” the doctor offered, “absolutely safe.”

What are you getting out of this?” the husband asked the doctor, glaring.

A mere finder’s fee,” he promised, “but very small, I assure you. I am only a facilitator, and your wife’s gynecologist, I only want the best for her, and the baby.”

This is serious honey,” he pleaded, “there’s no coming back from this.”

We’re doing this,” she scolded him, now sitting straight as a board and peering through his eyes to the wall behind him, “or we’re not coming back from this.”

The doctor smiled; “You’re going to make great parents.”

 

Timothy A. Clements is a writer, photographer, and aspiring filmmaker. While predominantly identifying as a fiction writer, it was his nonfiction memoir piece “Petty is Dead” that first earned him publication. Currently he is working on a feature-length film script based on one of his short stories.

 

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Lindsay

By Christine Brandel

 

Tonight I met Lindsay. She’s going to mean something in my life. I just don’t know what yet.

When I closed my blinds earlier, I saw a woman heading into my back yard. She was wearing a white shirt and blue jeans and glasses that looked thick and nerdy. That was my first impression. I hope we can laugh about that one day.

I don’t really like strangers on my property, so I stepped outside to take some kind of stand. But she was gone. For a moment, I wondered if I had imagined her. I walked around the house and saw her down the sidewalk a bit.

“Have you lost a pet or something?” I called.

She walked down my driveway. She walked right up to me. “There was a dog running around in the street. He ran back behind your house. I was just looking for him. I don’t know who he belongs to.”

“That’s bad,” I said, because I hate seeing a dog in the road.

“My name’s Lindsay,” she said. She said it like she’d been meaning to meet me one day. “I live across the street.”

Somehow I was shaking her hand – she must have put hers out because that’s not a move I’d have made. “Are those your new gardens then?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said. Our hands had stopped shaking by the time she’d said this.

“I’ve admired them from afar,” I said.

“It was nice to meet you,” Lindsay said. Her glasses weren’t thick at all. They were beautiful because she was beautiful.

I went back into my house and continued my night. When I got into bed, I thought about Lindsay. I turned on my side so I faced the window that faced her house. I wondered if she was thinking about me. I wondered if she even had an inkling about the importance of this night.

I opened my bedside cabinet and dug out a journal I rarely wrote in. I scribbled the date at the top of the page and then put, “Tonight I met Lindsay. She’s going to mean something in my life.”

One day, I’ll dig it out again and show it to Lindsay who’ll be lying next to me. She’ll read what I wrote and love me for it.

 

Christine Brandel is a writer and photographer. She published Tell This To Girls: The Panic Annie Poems in 2013. She is a PopMatters columnist and rights the wrongs of the world via her character Agatha Whitt-Wellington at Everyone Needs An Algonquin. More of her work can be found at clbwrites.com.

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The Sea

By Ened McNett

 

She had not worn pants since he had come down ill.

They were weekend clothes. Every Friday night the coolers were packed, the RV was clean, and she was changed out of the skirts she wore for him all week and into her camping slacks.

They went to the same campground every weekend. It was the one he liked best, tucked into the foothills of the Cascades, along a bubbling creek.

They never went to the sea. Not even before the RV, when the children were still young. He didn’t like the sea.

After changing into her pants she slowly folded the skirt she had removed. She tucked it gently into the very back of the bottom of her dresser drawer. She focused on his face. She focused on it like she had for fifty-two years. One week since that face left this world forever and she still found herself focusing like she always had.

Her study of his face was the survival of herself and her children over a half a century of what her people called “particularities” but what city women had a different name for.

In her memory she studied his face when she was fourteen and the two of them were determined to marry. His face when he was admiring her slender legs or when he was eating his favorite dinner. His face when the beer made his cheeks as red as the hair he was nicknamed for. His face when the children were on the verge of being taught a lesson. His face when he saw his first grandchild, his first great-grandchild. His face when his stomach first started giving him trouble. His face when he took to his bed. His face when he finally let go.

She locked the door behind her and tucked the key under the mat. It was mid-morning and the sun shone through a thin layer of clouds. They were the kind of clouds that seemed to be enjoying the bright day too much to put any muscle into forming.

It took an hour walk into town and changing buses four times to get to Pacific Beach.

When her bus pulled in that bright sun had just set. In the dusk she could see the outlines of her granddaughter and the barefoot baby on her hip. When they got closer to one another, she saw that her granddaughter was wearing dark men’s sunglasses as though the day might sneak back up at any moment.

As the baby crawled around eating carpet fuzz and pulling the cat’s tail, granddaughter and grandmother pretended to argue about who would take the hide-a-bed and who would take the bedroom.

Her granddaughter was putting fresh but stained sheets on the pull-out mattress. She had taken off the sunglasses to reveal a bright bruise on her left cheek. The conversation had veered away from sleeping arrangements. She was explaining how he wasn’t mean, he was just particular. She was explaining to her grandmother how decent it was for him to take in her and the baby. She was explaining how he normally wouldn’t have missed a family visit but he had had a hard week and really needed to blow off steam.

She listened from the rocking chair, watching the young woman smooth the same corner of the sheet several times before excusing herself to go and fetch an afghan.

Some time after everyone had gone to bed she noticed she wasn’t sleeping. She was listening to the creaks of the tiny house. She awoke and dressed. Through the bedroom door she listened to the sounds of her family breathing.

On the kitchen table she left an old photograph that she had kept tucked in an apron pocket every day of her marriage. The edges were soft. More than once it had been splattered with coffee or blueberry pie filling. But the image was still clear.

It was Wynema beach in 1937. It was a picture she took when her family vacationed on the coast of Oregon the year before she was wed. It was the last time she had seen the ocean.

She shut the front door behind her quietly. As she walked down the moonlit road she heard the waves getting louder on the sand.

She was going to the sea.

She loved the sea.

 

– Ened McNett is a queer farmer, writer and stuff do-er living and working out of a 13-foot baby pink travel trailer. Her work has appeared in Wilde Literary Magazine and on The Drabble blog. Her personal blog (www.iknowyouknowmyheart.com), containing short stories, prose and memoir, recently celebrated its third birthday.

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