by Aurelia Lorca
Grumpy is my cousin and she is a spaz. She has just little too much junk in her trunk and wears her jeans so tight you know she has to lie down to zip. She is a tragedy waiting to happen. She has been skating since she was a kid. Every Saturday, she takes the morning lessons and skates the afternoon skates. Her mom says it is good exercise. My mom started me skating because of Grumpy. My moms says letting me spend my Saturdays at the skating rink is a nice way to get me out of her hair for the day. Like most of us, Grumpy has no-where else to go: No friends, no brothers, no sisters, only me, her younger cousin. She has a dad, but he is never around.
Nobody really liked her until a really fine guy started showing up on Saturday afternoons with his little brothers and sisters. We had seen his picture in the papers- he was some sort of basketball hero. He was so fine, when Grumpy first saw him she couldn’t stop staring and skated into the wall. Dude musta felt sorry for her banging against the wall so he asked her to skate couples.
Grumpy freaked and hid in the bathroom, crying that she had never held hands with a boy before. Everyone cracked up. But Happy felt sorry for her and said she had to do something. Happy always claimed with a little hairspray she could transform anyone, anyone. So she dragged Grumpy out of the stall, told her to quit crying and not move while she sprayed up her bangs proper.
After Grumpy came out of the bathroom, the situation became only more pathetic. Turns out dude didn’t speak much English. We could hear Grumpy repeating the same thing each time she skated by us- “Yo tengo un gato el se llama ‘Merlin’ el es blanco, negro, y muy gordo.” Of course we never saw the boy or his family again. And that was that.
But because of their bonding over a can of hairspray, Grumpy became friends with Happy, which made her cool with the rest of the Shorties.
“She has the best hair,” Happy said. “She doesn’t even need a pick to keep it up.”
When her mom finally allowed her to go to the Friday and Saturday night skates, Grumpy officially became a Shortie, and was given her name, “Grumpy,” the Seventh Shortie. Yeah. She thought the name Grumpy gave her an edge, thought they were giving her props, but girl couldn’t stare down a Care-Bear much less kick her way out of a wet paper bag. Grumpy was the only name left- the one none of us wanted- what guy would wanna get sprung on a chick named Grumpy? Even Sneezy was better.
Once she was a Shortie, everyone thought Grumpy was ok. The only downer about night-skates for Grumpy is me. My mission is to skate in the line and pick up on older guys by pretending I am fifteen. Though army guys are horn-dogs and easy targets, most don’t buy my hustle, at least not yet. One army dude told me that he had seen mosquito bites that were bigger than my tits, and little girls like me should stay home. But Grumpy’s mom, my aunt, won’t let her come to the night skates alone. So she drags me with her, only to ditch me. If I don’t leave her alone, she calls me “mosquito bite”.
I have to give Grumpy credit, she does try, but she can’t help looking like a freak. Her mom won’t allow her to have a job- it will take away from her schoolwork- and girl thinks “stealing was wrong.” So she has to beg and beg for jeans straight from the clearance rack that are just wrong, straight funky, not enough zippers, or too much neon paisley and plaid. She carries a Liz Claiborne, like the rest of us, but it too is from the clearance rack and was green instead of tan. Making things worse, Grumpy stuffs her pick in her purse instead of her back pocket because she is scared it will make her butt look funny. That pick along with her can of Aqua Net, gum, and a brush with a handle covered in scrunchies, pokes its sorry yellow head from a sorry small hole, like it is gasping for air or something.
Her pick, her purse, her jeans and her ass are all sorry. Grumpy is sorry. But in that line with the Shorties, she is different. She is cool. They make her cool.
Every Friday and Saturday night the Seven Shorties ruled the rink. They never skated unless it was a good song. When the bass started bumping, they did their thing, rocking the floor in line with the Shortie in front of them. Get in their way and they were Rocka-bye baby. BOMPA BOMP BOMP. Just skate to the side, give props and stare. They looked good and they knew it. The Seven Shorties rockin’ that bass, aqua-net and ass.
Except for Grumpy, they were all of their names: Doc was going to be a senior and knew things so she was Doc. Happy was the state freestyle champion who could get mad height on her jumps and was pure genius with a curling iron and a can of hairspray, and was well, Happy with the loudest lamest laugh you ever heard. Bashful you never heard, but we learned everything we needed to know about makeup from Bashful. Sleepy was hecka chill and never got up before noon. We all know what Dopey was, and why, but she had a thing going with the floor-guard, Miguel, so it was cool (even though he was a 19 year old army guy, with a wife and kid back in Brooklyn). Sneezy had asthma real bad but she had been skating since she was old enough to walk and wore 32DD bra-size. Dudes never cared about her wheezing.
Each of them rocked black satin jackets with a white skate and their names stitched in red on the back: Doc, Happy, Bashful, Sleepy, Dopey, Sneezy, and Grumpy. The Seven Shorties.
Really, they all of could be called Dopey, except for Happy- she thought it was ‘gross’- and, of course, Grumpy. Grumpy never fooled with it, wouldn’t even try and left when we smoked in the parking lot because she feared getting contact high. Never mind that we were outdoors. Shit, Grumpy left even when we snuck wine coolers in the bathroom. She claimed she couldn’t even have a just a sip because of an accident she had on her ten speed in middle school.
“I had a head injury and the doctors told me that if I ever drink I could end up in fetal rat position like this,” she would say, curling up her hands under her chin like they were little paws.
On the Friday night skate of Labor Day Weekend, the floor is shining with fresh wax but the rink is silent, stinking of new carpet, and so empty it is hollow. Everything smells like new carpet instead of old skates. Everything is too shiny, too clean.
“This is bunk,” Dopey says.
“What about Miguel?” Grumpy asks.
“What about him? “ Dopey shrugs. “It’s not as if he is the only reason I come here.”
The skating rink had shut down for the entire month of August to remodel, dumping us all with nowhere to go. Grumpy spent most of the summer at home anyway, recovering from a bad sunburn. She looked like that dude from the movie “The Fly”. Her shit was red, puffy and flaking. She had been using a zit cream and didn’t believe the label when it said, “no sun exposure.”
Lame. Gave new meaning to the word.
The rest of the Shorties were almost as lost. Dopey disappeared, no one knew where until later, when it all went down. Doc worked more hours at her job. Sleepy started waking up early and got into soap operas, until Sneezy got her driver’s license and they started cruising. According to Sleepy, Bashful spent most of the time on the phone with some ridiculously fine army guy, talking about what she didn’t know because girl never talked.
Grumpy doesn’t hang around to listen about Dopey’s latest beef with Miguel and races to put on her skates.
Her skin is still red and flaking. All night she has been complaining that her braces are too tight.
“I FEEL THE NEED FOR SPEED!” she screams.
I am the only one to follow her.
“What the fuck?” Sneezy says. “Does she think she’s in Top Gun or something?”
“Hurry up!” Grumpy shouts. “Put on your skates! The floor is so smooth its like skating on butter!”
“What a spaz,” Doc says.
“A total spaz,” I say, as Grumpy skates around the floor alone, rockin’ out without any music.
I follow Grumpy onto the floor, laughing to myself how she doesn’t even seem to notice the way things have changed. The rink has finally fixed the marquise so it no longer said, “Del Monte Gard s.” The floor is still a giant wood rectangle, but it is polished, too polished. To the right of the entrance is still the the trophy window and photos of skaters, the skate shop, the rental skate booth, the lockers, the bathrooms. Alongside the photos of skaters, are still the autographed pictures of Laverne and Shirley and The Fonz, all on skates, and the sign, “Skating is Fun,” with a Coppertone blonde in a blue skating dress. But the carpet is too new, too fluffy.
Grumpy continues to speed around the freshly waxed floor, shouting at the rest of the Shorties to join her. The dj must have been feeling Grumpy’s elation, because all of a sudden L’Trimm’s “Cars that Go Boom” starts blasting. Grumpy claps, squeals a cheer, and, I’m sad to say, jumps a little hop. So, I clap, squeal a cheer, and jump. Grumpy just ignores me and starts to Cabbage Patch, her fists jiggling with the beat. So, I begin to Cabbage Patch.
“Get lost mosquito bite!” she screams over her shoulder. “It’s the Seven Shorties, not eight!”
“You guys, get out here!” she shouts. “The floor is like butter! Mosquito bite- scram!”
She skates off the floor screaming, her hair flying, her hands waving, “Come on you guys!”
“We like the cars, the cars that go BOOM!” she sings.
I trail behind her and then stop. Normally, we roll off the floor onto the carpet no problem, never had to slow down because the carpet was so old. But the new carpet is fat, I mean, fat, F-A-T. Just as Grumpy says “BOOM” her wheels hit the carpet and she straight launches horizontally into the air three feet, her arms out like Superman. Her bangs are like a tidal wave of hair sprayed into a horn charging towards the rest of the Shorites, and then BOO-YAH.
Absolutely fucking beautiful.
Grumpy lays spread-eagled, face down on the red and blue swirls of the carpet. The music stops playing.
“Is she alive?” Sleepy asks.
The Shorties all roll over to her. I want to laugh but my cousin appears lifeless so all I can do is wait in anticipation with my fingers in my mouth.
None of us can move.
“It’s like skating on butter”, Grumpy whimpers, her face still down in the carpet.
We can’t move. We can’t speak. We can’t get the image of Grumpy flying out of our heads.
Grumpy never notices anything. Just like she doesn’t notice how all of the Shorties are upset. How and why Sneezy’s Uncle is not around tonight.
Sometimes Sneezy’s Uncle works as a rental skate guy, though he is not in the army. He says he likes us because we made him feel young. He is twenty-nine going on thirty. Turning thirty makes him feel old he says. Doc is seventeen. Sneezy, Happy, Bashful, and Sleepy are sixteen. Dopey and Grumpy are fifteen. I am thirteen.
He is old, we say.
We loved the attention he gave us. We thought he loved us. He knew Siouxsie Sioux back in the day, and even showed us the record she had signed for him. He always said Happy was so beautiful, and gave her a little teddy bear on Valentine’s Day when the guy she had been hanging out with dumped her. He said Grumpy would be pretty if she lost weight.
Grumpy’s mother refused to let her go to the beach when he took everyone, even though my mother let me go. His brother and sister-in-law, Sneezy’s dad and step-mom, had their wedding at the rink. My mom said he was safe, after all we knew his family, and Sneezy was our age. My aunt said he reminded her far too much of the Pied Piper.
That August, when the rink was closed, Dopey started hanging out at his apartment. At first we didn’t understand. But then we found out she was pregnant, and her mom had kicked her out of the house. Sneezy’s Uncle said it was cool to stay with him. He said we could all hang out. His apartment became party central. None of us knew that he and Dopey had also been doing speed. What did it matter? We all drank and smoked at the rink anyway. He was the one who always bought us wine coolers and kicked us down weed. What difference did it make that we were at his apartment? He was pretty much family. It was cool.
Except one night, at his apartment, Happy got too drunk and she semi-blacked out. He put her into his bed, and later, we found out, he had sex with her. She had been a virgin. She didn’t like him like that, she told us. She didn’t think of him that way. She had thought of him like a dorky uncle. She thought he was safe.
He always greeted us with long hugs. Whenever he hugged me I could feel the “T” shape of his torso under his shirt.
“You have a bangin‘ body,” I told him. “Too bad it’s attached to your head.”
Another night at his apartment he let me touch his cock through his pants. It was disappointingly small. We all felt sorry for Happy because it was her first time, and he was so pathetic. Afterwards he cried and tried to blame it on the drugs and the booze. We agreed to not tell anyone. Not our moms, not our other friends, and especially not Grumpy.
Grumpy is still laying face down on the carpet. We still can’t move. We still can’t speak. We still can’t stop seeing Grumpy soaring through the air.
“Did you see the height she got on that jump?” Happy finally says.
“Damn,” Dopey says.
“It’s like skating on butter,” Grumpy says again into the carpet.
“Can you move?” Happy asks.
“Like butter,” Grumpy says.
“Help her,” Happy says.
Doc and I each take one of her arms and pulled her up.
“What?” Happy asks. “Are you in pain? Did you break something?”
“My jeans!” she cries.
Her black jeans, one of the few pairs she has in a normal color, are split in two at the zipper.
We can not stop laughing.
“Just wear your shirt tucked out,” Happy says. “No-one will notice.”
“I’m leaving in ten if no-one shows,” Dopey says in between laughs.
The Shorties all skate out onto the floor. The rink is empty, silent. The dj has left his booth. They get in line anyway.
I trail behind them, flipping up Grumpy’s shirt whenever I have the chance, trying to make everyone laugh, but I can’t see anyone’s face. I am in the back of the line. Grumpy keeps slapping my hand away. Dopey has her hands in her sleeves, Happy’s shoulders are stiff, Bashful is playing with her hair, Sleepy keeps skating off to the left, and Sneezy keeps skating off to the right. Only Doc, in the front, holds her head up, nodding ever so slightly. The joke is not funny anymore.
The dj gets back into his booth, starts playing “Cindy” by the Armani Crew.
“This girl,” the Armani Crew sings. “She pulled up her skirt and said slap me ‘til it hurts.”
It is a good song with a good beat, so we begin to dance.
photo by mahfrot
by Jeff Von Ward
“We write about what matters most to us, about what we believe to be true of the world and of humankind, and that’s what shows up on the page…” – Ethel Rohan
Goodnight Nobody: Stories (Queen’s Ferry Press), by Ethel Rohan is a collection of short and short short fiction set in Dublin and San Francisco. I recently had the opportunity to talk about the book with the author. What follows is a slightly edited transcript of our discussion.
Q: You’re a master of compression. I feel like you cover more ground in a few short pages than most writers do with much longer forms. What is it about the short-short story that attracts you? In other words, why have you gravitated toward this form?
ETHEL ROHAN: Less can be more. Storytelling is the art of selectivity and I enjoy whittling down my work to its bare essentials. I find it enormously satisfying to parse and rewrite my early, dense drafts until I’ve cast off the extraneous and brought forth the juice and heart of the work. I’m attracted to the short-short form because I believe in the potential brilliance of brevity and I delight in how contemporary writers are broadening and elevating just how much we can do with compression.
Q: When I was in an MFA program, we were told “the publishing industry” has no interest in short stories. They simply aren’t best sellers in the same way that novels are, so most debut collections are paired with to-be-written novels by enterprising agents. I suppose I find it a little ironic in an age that heralds the wit of 140 characters or less. Do you feel like there is anything afoot in contemporary life that might rekindle interest in the short story?
ETHEL ROHAN: I give the adage little credence. Thanks to a plethora of excellent independent publishers and literary magazines, both in print and online, the short story is flourishing. While agents and the big publishing houses might insist on keeping the flag at half-mast for the short story, don’t heed the pessimism. This is an exciting, opportunity-filled time to be writers and readers. We need to celebrate that more. Praise be for the Internet, editors, indie publishers and bookstores, literary magazines, savvy readers, and writers who are willing to repeatedly show up to make art of our stories.
Q: What, as readers, can we do to prevent the further marginalization of fiction in all of its forms? Or do you think that’s an issue?
ETHEL ROHAN: Support books and writing. Buy, read, and talk up books and literary magazines. Writing teachers, use stories from literary magazines in your classes and workshops. Everyone, support your local independent bookstore and writing communities, not just by buying books, but also offer to write reviews on index cards for display, volunteer to work events and the shop floor—anything you can do to share your enthusiasm for your favorite writers and books. Also, attend literary events and readings, they’re often free, fun, and can be excellent.
Q: What inspired you to write Goodnight Nobody? How did you know the individual stories would work so well as a collection?
ETHEL ROHAN:I didn’t write Goodnight Nobody so much as I wrote the individual stories and arrived at a point where I realized I had produced enough work to compile what I hoped would be a strong collection. I’m a serial writer and thankfully I had a lot of stories to choose from to include in Goodnight Nobody. The original manuscript Queen’s Ferry Press accepted for publication contained 40 stories and during the editorial process I decided to parse the collection down to 30 because, as with my individual stories, I wanted to cut away at the overall work until I felt only the best remained. I compiled the collection based on a number of criteria, largely choosing those stories I felt were strongest, those that contained themes of loneliness, and, ultimately, those stories that when put together inside a book hopefully delivered a sum greater than its parts.
Q: I noticed a series of repeating motifs in the stories (families (mothers and daughters), tattoos, adolescence, immigration, violence, drinking) and I enjoyed how the stories resonated and riffed off of one another. I wondered, from a craft perspective, how consciously were you surfacing these moments for the purposes of overall cohesion, say in the editorial phase? I guess I’m asking the age-old question: Does the writer choose the themes or do the themes choose the writer? If the latter, how do you modulate and control them with the sort of precision you’ve brought to bear here?
ETHEL ROHAN: We reveal ourselves in our writing. I never consciously set out to write on any particular theme or thing, but inevitably the same obsessions and preoccupations surface. We write about what matters most to us, about what we believe to be true of the world and of humankind, and that’s what shows up on the page. The repetition of motifs in my work has sometimes frustrated me. This again? I’ve thought, exasperated. I’ve found, though, that when I consciously try not to write about certain things, the work stalls. Now I allow the repetition to come out, particularly in the early drafts. In revision, I decide whether or not the repeating motifs best serve the story or if they’re born from habit and that same tired old tool box, and that’s what determines whether they stay or go.
Q: What is your revision process? How long will you typically work on one story? How many are you writing at the same time usually? How do you know when a piece is finished?
ETHEL ROHAN: Some of my stories begin as strong first drafts and those take less revision and time. I’ll usually focus exclusively on strong first drafts and complete the work over a matter of weeks. Most stories begin as meandering messes, though, and those take many rewrites and months, sometimes even years, of revision during which time I’ll work on a number of projects at once, leaving one for another and returning after time has lapsed and distance has been gained.
There’s a certain satisfaction the work has to deliver and a level it has to reach for me to feel a piece is finished. It’s always a bitter-sweet compromise, though, an admission that I’ve done my best and this is as good as I can get the work. For me it’s less about the work feeling finished as it is about letting the work go, confident that I’ve taken it as far as I can. I will say that I’ve learned the hard way to wait beyond the point of first feeling a piece is finished before I submit it for publication. I’ve been guilty of excitement and impulsiveness when I’ve “finished” a piece and too often I submitted work prematurely. I’m more disciplined now and I let the work sit when I think it’s finished for a week, two, three, and then return to it, always striving to do better.
Q: From your perspective, what is it that makes someone an Irish writer? Do you consider yourself one? Are these kinds of labels useful or instructive?
ETHEL ROHAN: I was born and raised in Ireland. I immigrated to San Francisco when I was 22. I’m Irish everything, so, yes, I consider myself an Irish writer. Labels are convenient in that they order things. Labels also have their limits because they box things. The label “Irish writer” explains my origins, my sense of identity, and my deep connections. It also encapsulates the great legacy to which I aspire.
Q: What is the SF Writer’s Grotto? How does it help to be a member?
ETHEL ROHAN:The San Francisco Writers’ Grotto is coming up on its 20th anniversary. The downtown office gathers narrative artists–writers, filmmakers and the like–who welcome structure in their work lives and the opportunity to interact with a community of peers. Residents rent private offices and communal corrals. The grotto has provided me with hallowed space to work amidst a collective charge and allowed me the opportunity to make some wonderful friends. I find it a warm, inviting, instructive, and inspiring place.
Q: What’s the one thing you’ve learned since Goodnight Nobody has come out that you wish someone had told you as you were preparing for its release?
ETHEL ROHAN: That Goodnight Nobody, no book, will ever matter as much to anyone else as it does to me, and the self-promotion needed to try to get the book into readers’ hands is exhausting, and often uncomfortable, and sometimes crushing.
Q: Do you have any advice for other writers?
ETHEL ROHAN: Write and read. Persevere. Network. Don’t get paranoid, bitter, or stuck in self-doubt. Be a good literary citizen. Write and read.
Q: What are you working on now?
ETHEL ROHAN: My tiny memoir, Out of Dublin , published on May 14, 2014. Out of Dublin is an ebook single from Shebooks, a publisher devoted to publishing women writers in fiction, memoir, and journalism. I’m also hard at work on what I hope is the final revision of my novel manuscript. We shall see…
by Kevin Ridgeway
the familiar whistle-rattling theme music
would play endlessly on our ancient television,
the lump-jawed visage and bulbous appendages
of my animated underdog hero and his
broken record chuckle, fighting bearded lummox
brutes in honor of his lank-legged brunette sweetheart
propelled by canned greens that helped him clean up
shop in a masterfully awkward dance that came to a
climax at the second of two reels
I worshipped this odd character, donned a secondhand
sailor suit, kept a plastic toy pipe tucked firmly in my
cherubic jowls and mumbled witticisms for the
kindergarten nerd girls that I fancied; I ate straight
out of aluminum cans and tried my hardest to flex
my arms until they swelled like balloons and chased
fools across schoolyards in the name of lunch pail
justice while they all laughed at my devotion to
I grew too big for the sailor suit, switched to
cigarettes and grew enough hair and flab to
resemble the mean old mad-eyed heavies that
my quirky idol detested; I even switched to organic
vegetables, no more strength out of the kitchen
dry goods pantry…and I’m too deranged to join
deep inside my sweet and salty exterior, beyond the
scars from the savage licks of adult life is that
strange boy in the sailor suit shadow boxing the
nightmares and evil goons away, squinting at the
bright lights of the old Technicolor cartoons that
are playing on the decaying television sets of
Kevin Ridgeway is from Southern California, where he resides in a shady bungalow with his girlfriend and their one-eyed cat. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Trailer Park Quarterly, My Favorite Bullet and Cadence Collective. His latest chapbook of poems, All the Rage, is now available from Electric Windmill Press.
photo by laap.mx
by Mitchell Grabois
She’s got an image of a vagina
tattooed on her finger
and invites all comers to ask about it
She wants to talk
about the rings in her nostrils
glittering gold and diamond
in the dark New York
She wants to talk about
fourth wave feminism
She wields the Oxford comma
like a weapon
It’s also called the Serial Comma
She’s a Serial Comma User
a serial grammarian
a serial monogamist
and lipstick user
and likes the idea of her central core
as being serial
She contemplates becoming a serial killer
just something to ponder as the subway
clickety-clacks her toward home
She already has a list
She adores my “high-low” take on life
so I think I’m safe
until I remember that
she also worships rain
and in the Borderline world
is the other side of worship
She has all the signs
of living on the Borderline
so I’d better watch my back
I’d better be careful
M. Krochmalnik Grabois’ poems have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines in the U.S. and abroad. He is a regular contributor to The Prague Revue, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, most recently for his story “Purple Heart” published in The Examined Life in 2012, and for his poem. “Birds,” published in The Blue Hour, 2013. His novel, Two-Headed Dog, based on his work as a clinical psychologist in a state hospital, is available for 99 cents from Kindle and Nook, or as a print edition
photo by AdobeofChaos
by Philip Kobylarz
“You’ve got to breathe,” I told her. “You’ve really got to breathe, afterwards. I don’t care how good it is.”
“Oh, you don’t care?” she asked from behind the black veil of hair that concealed her face. I couldn’t see her mouth moving.
“You know what I mean.”
Marie had a tendency to give her all, to go all out. She was really wild when we were together. But afterwards, she would stop breathing and lie there as still as a sleeping body. I would have to nudge her or watch her back to see it rise and sink, to see if her lungs were tenuously pulling on a thread of air. She could be so still. Sometimes she wouldn’t say a word for a half an hour. Sometimes it scared me.
We were at the Blufftop Motel somewhere in the arid zone of southeastern Colorado. Our bodies and minds were drained as we both rested quietly while staring at the red glare of a digital clock. There must have been a recent storm that knocked the power out. It’s common knowledge around here that you wake to sunny skies, clouds roll in late afternoon, it rains fiercely, then clears up. The rain stops you for a minute from whatever you’re doing to watch the sun light up the dust in the air and extinguish behind cloudbanks that look like another distant range. It’s been so long since I’ve been West I had to spot the scud and smell the cold dirty rain to remember what it was like. Most days it worked like clockwork.
The transparent white curtains were split open and in between them we could see a creme-colored plateau, streaked in green stripes of some kind of vegetation, maybe sage or juniper. I doubt pine, at least not yet. We hadn’t come far enough to see a forest. This city seemed to be surrounded by tableland that was fissured into a million canyons like hidden mazes leading somewhere way beyond our gaze. And in them, the bones of dinosaurs sequestered. We would never find them though. Maybe no one would. Anyhow, we were just passing through.
We were going to the ocean. What we were really doing, who knows? Perhaps eloping. Maybe leaving our lives behind in a city where we had decent jobs and happy lives but not enough ways to get out. Maybe just taking a few days of vacation in the dying weeks of summer knowing we would return to our old selves safe and locked behind the deadbolt of an apartment’s door.
The day after, we rose early and crossed Utah and the wretched desert of Nevada. The sun shone blindingly the whole morning of driving and our car hummed over the pavement like a well-oiled fan. She drove for hours with her eyes fixed on the unending slit, sometimes jagged, line of the horizon, switching the radio dial around to find any kind of music. Anything. A lot of rockabilly, low-budget classical, and whiny, excitable men talking about the divine tricks of Jesus. How Our Lord walked much the very same landscape as these wastelands speaking of fecundity and the God in man. How he could make wine out of water and fish out of nothing but stones in baskets.
I was seeing the illusions of Palestine myself come to life in the vapors of heat above the highway. A sidewinder was really only a streak of orange desert sand brought to life by a gust of air. The mountains in the rearview weren’t moving and the Santa Fe train line underlining them wasn’t moving backwards. The wooden sign marking the playa couldn’t have said “next exit 150 miles.”
There were tens of different brands of gas stations and hastily erected warehouses. Sometimes a Calder of a refinery lit up with circus lights. I thought of ranch houses on the moon. Cattle trails were ground into the land like directions cut for the single engine airplanes flying above us. The few cactuses were in bloom with feathered hats of yellow and orange-like red.
“Pull over!” Marie yelled, waking me from my road dream. A rooster tail of dust enveloped the car. She ran out, leaving the door open, onto the scrub and piñon of wilderness. Flinging her leather purse along, at full-sprint, into the dying light of the desert, where the only cover was bush and rock streams of arroyos. Her glasses were sitting on the dashboard, fingerprints about the edges of the lenses.
Fourteen minutes passed before she was back. Her hair in switches and her cheeks blushed by the wind.
“What’d you do?”
“I had to pee. It’s really beautiful out there. Everything’s alive. Even the dirt. I think I saw a scorpion. There was something out there. I mean I saw something moving on the ground.”
We guessed we were still in Nevada. Tumbleweeds and gray stone hills in rows like monuments to nothing. The gas stations petered out on the highway where only fence poles marked the highway’s direction and served as civilization’s minimalism. A mantle of cool air was descending. A naked hand on the windshield left a stain of condensation. I began, I believe, seeing cradles of fog here and there, ghosts of clouds for seconds under the brights. Seeing is believing.
Marie drove for the rest of the night. One arm on the door, the other changing the dial or adjusting the mirrors. I wondered: to see what? She found a station that was on the frequency of short wave, emitting only beeps of sound, static and eerie feedback “There,” she said “that’s it.”
When I woke, we had come all the way to Sacramento. The plains rolled at the same speed as us and buckled into a crease of hills behind. After them, the ocean. Further west, Asia. She pointed to a jack-knifed trailer. Four cars had piled up behind it. There was an ambulance and the few cars of traffic were slowed down at the scene. A man lying on a stretcher, tied to it, with a reflection of red in his eyes similar to that of a wolf’s I thought I saw once as a boy in the north woods. Two men were carrying him to the open doors. He could have been seeing angel wings. The Greek becoming visible in the blue writing on white background: PARAMEDIC.
We had miles to go before we would reach the Grapevine, then the unending patchwork of Los Angeles, if the city could be seen under the blanket of early morning fog to be replaced by the opaque grey of afternoon pollution. We had arranged a place to stay somewhere along the coastal highway. It was an abandoned shack on the beach that was formerly used as a summer house by Marie’s sister who worked from time to time as a writer for television. She was now in between jobs and wanted the consolation of company. We would stay there and visit her in her new place in the hills. She warned us that we might become enchanted by the larger than life billboards on the road to her house and would never want to leave the glorified brand of reality that Southern California breeds. She referred to the region as “So Cal.”
“You wanna drive now?” Marie yawned.
The suburbs began and never did they cease. There was so much visual stimuli that I could barely keep my eyes on the road. Road sign. Call box. Weeping willow. Little Saigon. Traffic light. Palm trees ruffling their feathers in the breeze. We had made it to the end of a continent. The odometer changed over. Warm air filtered through vents and smelled of pavement and ocean sand.
A sidewalk extended into the sea. On the concrete platform, the iron railing had rusted to a deep maroon. Blotches of deep blue paint remained like thumbprints of limpets. Wooden benches with mainly seagulls aligned on them. It smelled of the cheap seafood restaurants burdening the pier. The word crab in Chinese and an airbrushed watercolor of the bright orange spider on a poster fluttering on a false kiosk. Marie got out of the car. The ocean was just across its empty parking lot.
The Santa Monicas leaned into the water, green in the distance, a mist beginning around their base and the lip of the ocean. The arcade was lit up. There were the musical chords of a carnival.
The first thing Marie said was “Oh shit.”
“Look, it’s not that bad. There’s seagulls, a mist coming in, look at that, down there, those models. It looks like there doing a fashion shoot!”
There were women dressed to kill behind lights and some men in leather. One had a camera. Another was telling the women where to stand.
“My pants. They’re ruined.”
I looked over the top of the car. Marie had a dark halo around her lap. What she called her monthly curse had followed her. I remembered the cactuses in bloom.
“So what,” I said. “Put a long shirt on. We’re here.”
We walked along the pier breathing it all in. At a tall, wooden building that had the word “Sinbad’s” painted on it, we stopped. It was abandoned but once must have been an arcade or a bar. Its gabled roof with warped planks peeling apart from one another seemed really western even if it wasn’t. Truth was the only thing that wasn’t a commodity in this town, maybe even this era.
The continent lay behind us. If there is such a place, or feeling, or state of something called happiness, we had found its momentary location. But like a hungry seagull, it took off on the next ocean breeze.
Marie, with her eyes scanning the distance and the ends of her hair feeling for the salt in the air, said, “Well, we made it. We really made it.”
“Where’s that?” I asked.
“From there to here,” she whispered. We breathed in the iodine of coastal air.
Philip Koblarz’s most recent works appear or will appear in Connecticut Review, Basalt, Santa Fe Literary Review, New American Writing, Poetry Salzburg Review and has appeared in Best American Poetry. His book, Rues, was recently published by Blue Light Press of San Francisco. His collection of fiction, Now Leaving Nowheresville and his book length essay Nearest Istanbul are forthcoming.
photo by WouterKiel
by Jeff Von Ward
The Wolves, Jason R Jimenez’s debut novel, is the story of two men’s obsession and possession of two women, separated by 600 years of history. I recently had the opportunity to talk about the book with the author. What follows is a slightly edited transcript of our discussion.
Q: Congratulations on your debut publication! How would you describe your novel, The Wolves, to the uninitiated?
JASON R. JIMENEZ: The Wolves is an erotic historical novel. It’s broken up into two sections. The first, Wolf, is about two people who do a lot of drugs, have a lot of sex, but then also starve themselves. All sort of set to the tune of early 1980s New Wave. They are trying to transcend their reality. The second section is historical. It’s based on a real book called The Life of Catherine of Siena by Raymond of Capua. For my retelling I’ve made it much more about Raymond and his relationship to Catherine. Instead of doing drugs Catherine and Raymond recite from the Bible. They don’t have sex but the erotic is still present in their relationship, in Catherine’s relationship to Jesus, etc. The songs of monks would be heard here. Both sections have to do with bodies, obsession, the imagination’s limits. It’s also political, because Catherine of Siena is/was a political figure. The same could be said about the character Wolf. It’s also about love and the unbearable nature of it. Loving someone or something so much you want to become them or devour them as in the book. I like the idea of people initiating themselves into a wolf cult. All are welcome.
Q: When did you know your novel would consist of a story told in two parts, one set in contemporary San Francisco, the other in 1370 Siena?
JASON R. JIMENEZ: To start it was just the story of the two nameless characters in San Francisco/Oakland (before I even lived here). I set it in the Bay Area because, when I began, I wanted the Wolf story to appear as if it were about me and my friends. That idea generally went away, except for the location. Now I think the modern and urban environment of San Francisco/Oakland contrasts well with the medieval town of Siena. Catherine’s story came to me via John Waters’ late night special. He tells this story about these crazy Catholic saints and they starve themselves. At the time anything about anorexia piqued my interest because I was already writing the first drafts of the Wolf story. At some point I decided to bring the stories together in one volume. I knew I didn’t want to mix them together. I wanted to keep them separate. I didn’t realize writing a novel split between two different stories would present so many difficulties when it came time to publish, but obviously, explaining what The Wolves is about takes almost twice as long as a more traditional novel would. But I don’t think I could separate the two parts. They wouldn’t function as well without the other.
Q: How do the two parts relate to one another?
JASON R. JIMENEZ: I knew the historical Catherine of Siena’s story and used it as I wrote the first part, Wolf. So Wolf is roughly based on Catherine’s story and then as the writing developed Catherine began to transform into a retelling of Wolf. They share each other’s DNA. The historical Catherine was a high point in terms of women’s access to the spiritual for Catholics. After her there was less reverence for female mystics. That her story and life were then appropriated by her confessor, Raymond of Capua, is saddening and typical. I think what is true then is true now—so you have the story of Wolf and her narrator who tries to consume her.
Q: Are Wolf and Shark based in whole or part on people you know?
JASON R. JIMENEZ: When the story was first being sketched out, it was much more autobiographical and so Wolf and Shark were based on real people. There are people in my life who go by the names Wolf and Shark but mostly as a joke. Now the two characters bear no resemblance to the real life people who share their name.
Q: What were your sources for the story of Raymond and Catherine and what have you hoped to accomplish by retelling or recasting their story?
JASON R. JIMENEZ: As I mentioned, Catherine of Siena and Raymond of Capua were real people and how I’ve portrayed their story is roughly equivalent to their actual lives. Naturally, I’ve falsified and altered their interactions to my own ends, but essentially, this was their life. Or rather it was Catherine’s life and Raymond played a small part in it. However, she likely wouldn’t have become a saint without Raymond’s help. Their story is fascinating and I hope people are prompted to seek out the history of it after reading the novel. I started out with a lot of fictional accounts of Catherine’s life written by women. I think she was in vogue in the 1930-50s. Then I read Raymond’s actual Life of Catherine of Siena—which, though exciting for me, would probably bore most people to death. What I hoped to accomplish by recasting their story was to illustrate Raymond’s own pride in being associated with Catherine. His status was elevated by his proximity to Catherine and he rose high in the hierarchy of the church because of it. That’s what I saw him doing in his hagiography of Catherine and so I just distilled that into the wildness of The Wolves. At some point though they became their own characters and so like Wolf and Shark, Catherine and Raymond don’t always bear a perfect resemblance to the real life people they are based upon.
Q: What is the trick to writing something sexually explicit in a way that is new and not pornographic?
JASON R. JIMENEZ: This question has come up frequently. It was at its height when I was in grad school and Wolf was called pornography often. If pornographic means explicit sex or just sex for sex sake then I would say The Wolves is not pornographic. People could see the explicit language I’ve used, most often in the Wolf section, and say that it is pornographic, but then I would think they’re missing something. The characters use sex and their bodies to achieve something they cannot achieve on their own. It’s not symbolic of anything else but it isn’t just getting off. No one’s just getting off. Definitely I am not. How is it new? I would say I’m continuing a way of writing about sex which has been around for at least 25 years with the New Narrative writers. So I don’t know if it’s new. It might be surprising to some because of the specific ways I’ve written about the body and sex. On the other hand, I’m intrigued by titillation and arousal. And I don’t want there to be any sense of shame in displaying and openly discussing sex and the body. In the end, I don’t really want to bother with anyone who would call writing or any other type of art “pornography”—whether it was or wasn’t, whether that meant good or bad. There are clearly more productive ways to talk about sex.
Q: What if any influences did you turn to as examples of models to potentially emulate?
JASON R. JIMENEZ: Cunt Ups and The Letters of Mina Harker by Dodie Bellamy. I modeled almost all the hyper sexual and disembodied scenes in Wolf on how Bellamy mixed up the bodies of Cunt Ups. Margery Kempe by Robert Glück. This was the first novel I read where Jesus became a character of flesh and blood. I can’t really think of anything as intriguing. The story “Trolley’s Kind” by Rob Halpern. There’s this part in Rob’s story where he’s describing a mole or something inside his lovers armpit. That moment has meant everything to my own writing. I want to recreate that moment in every story I write. I actually borrowed a lot from Rob’s story. For the Catherine section I modeled a lot of the scenes on David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. I love Mitchell’s storytelling. In Thousand Autumns he has a particular way of narrating a scene which I tried to follow for Catherine. Like I said before, I was also reading fictional accounts about Catherine’s life from the early-mid 20th century. I borrowed heavily from them. Outside of writing, I feel like Todd Solondz’s film Storytelling gave me permission to split a narrative into two completely different parts. Other influences worked on me in various ways (sometimes specified in the book), like the artists Kiki Smith, Adrian Piper, Robert Mapplethorpe, Vito Acconci. I have to thank my partner for introducing me to all those artists.
Q: You have one of the best book trailers I’ve ever seen. How did this come about?
JASON R. JIMENEZ: The trailers were made by my friend Jessica Yatrofsky. She began this project called I Heart Boy, where she takes photographs of attractive young men. I was drawn to her art first because her photographs are beautiful but then second because she was sexualizing the male body—a needed reversal. I think we are doing different things in our creative projects but we are more alike than dissimilar. So I wanted to promote the book and I like collaborating so I reached out to Jessica. We emailed back and forth about ideas but it wasn’t some long drawn out discussion about what she would shoot. We had similar ideas about what the book was about and what should happen. It was really easy, and it was exhilarating to see Jessica bring the characters to life, even for that brief moment. I am still hoping she emails me back sometime to tell me she wants to make a full film out of the story. Oh I would also like to acknowledge the actors/models Jessica used in the trailer because I think they did awesome: Rhyan Hamilton and Rachel Rossin.
Q: What are Publication Studio and The Fellow Travelers Series?
JASON R. JIMENEZ: Publication Studio is a small press and printer based in Portland Oregon, though they have them all over the US, Canada, and some in Europe. I first heard about Publication Studio when they published Dodie Bellamy’s book the buddhist. Later they published Kevin Killian’s book Spreadeagle in the Fellow Travelers Series. The Fellow Travelers Series is based on Olympia Press’s Traveller’s Companion series of the 1950s and 60s, and is meant for books which have been effectively censored by the market.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about how the book came into print and what the response has been so far?
JASON R. JIMENEZ: I did receive my fair share of rejections from other agents and presses. When I was sending it out to agents and publishers the response was always something like, “We like your writing but this is just experimental for us.” That was frustrating. Both Dodie and Kevin championed The Wolves. Kevin sent Publication Studio the manuscript and asked them to consider it for the Fellow Travelers Series. A few months later Publication Studio emailed me and said they wanted to publish the book. It ended up being a really easy process. The response has been great so far, though the book hasn’t been out that long. I think people appreciate the sex and wildness of the book. Like anyone else who publishes I appreciate hearing what people think about my work.
Q: Do you have any advice for other writers?
JASON R. JIMENEZ: To other writers who are attempting to publish I would just say keep hope alive. Trying to publish a book is a humbling experience. It’s often frustrating and nonsensical too. As for the actual writing part, obviously this is the most important thing, I can offer what I think has helped me the most and that is the revision process. I might as well have thrown away my first drafts, that’s how terrible they were. I rewrote almost everything, multiple times. This took a lot of time sitting alone in my house and just working. I guess that’s it. If a writer finds herself talking about what they’re going to write more often than they do actually writing then she needs to stop that.
Q: What are you working on now?
JASON R. JIMENEZ: I started writing another novel about a year ago and I’m still working on it now. The book is tentatively titled The Infinite Revolution of Axel Fersen. It’s going to be an epic. I’m modeling it after books like Les Miserables and The Idiot. The main character is Axel Fersen, the real life Swedish count who was supposedly Marie Antoinette’s lover. So Axel and Marie escape from the French Revolution and time travel to the modern day US where they meet and befriend a struggling family. This family’s ancestors are all tied together in a series of historical narratives having to do with different revolutions. I’m still planning it all out. I am responding, though, to our current political and spiritual situations. I won’t be disguising in this new book my hope for a revolution. If I can’t have a revolution here in the real world then I will make my own through Axel’s story.
by Ali Znaidi
upon the ground:
Piles over piles.
See! Even autumn
has its red tape.
Nothing remains in the memory
but the image of pomegranate
—A bribe to the swallows
not to migrate .
Ali Znaidi (b.1977) lives in Redeyef, Tunisia where he teaches English. His work has appeared in The Rusty Nail, The Tower Journal, Mad Swirl, Stride Magazine, Red Fez, BlazeVox, Otoliths, streetcake, Ink Sweat and Tears, & elsewhere. His debut poetry chapbook Experimental Ruminations was published in September 2012 by Fowlpox Press (Canada). From time to time he blogs at – aliznaidi.blogspot.com
photo by Muffet
by Nick D’Annuzio Jones
Pre-crack, circa freebase, back when Richard Pryor a la flambe was the news, a professor asked me, told me, to be honest, to leave Boulder–the university, not the town, the big university, not the Buddhist joint where Corso and Ginsburg chilled nude and hairy in round redwood hot tubs rented by the hour, a past-time very much in vogue apres-sixties, pre-Reagan. I guess lack of attendance, low grades, late papers, a lackadaisical attitude and lots cocaine, lots of cocaine, continents of cocaine–along with the aforementioned hot tubs, long hours zoned out in early-model sensory deprivation tanks and a soft wet parade of young women, including a six-foot-three volleyball player whose name I forget; a 16-year-old cute-as-a-peyote-button sales girl who often wore her Kmart blue smock (and sometimes nothing underneath) in public and whose name I also forget; an undergraduate from Canada (how exotic, how hip, how Margaret Trudeau, that seemed then) named Heather who liked to sit on my roof in Wonderland (a townhouse development in the foothills), get high and watch the hang gliders; a ski bunny from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, also named Heather, who was miffed when I warned her that I probably gave her the clap because of a dalliance a couple weeks earlier in Barton Springs, in Austin, Texas (I was being responsible, no?)–all played a role in my expulsion after one semester; the executioner-professor, a former scribe from ciudad de los fallen angels, an authority on the Black Spring, the Prague thing not Henry Miller, strongly, compassionately, perhaps, suggested that I find another career path, as writing, at least the kind that required consistent adherence to facts and religious faith in professional ethical codes, didn’t seem to be my métier. Yet another professor, one who had slammed her condo door in my face when I visited her one night to deliver a tardy plea for an extension, seconded the motion–tiempo grande. She was particularly disturbed by my final paper in which I wrote about taking part in a line up at the local police station. Hey, a little first-person, Plimptonesque participatory journalism, no? Granted there was a long prologue-preamble, perhaps not quite appropriate, about perambulating around a porn shop across the street. But, otherwise, the paper was well within the research parameters for a course on Journalism and Public Affairs, I thought. Anyway, I took the plague professor’s advice, left and switched gears for awhile; I spent the next semester slicing warm plastic off the lips of Hanson ski boots, while dating a skinny chick with a chipped front tooth who dug dirt bikers but settled for me. I still did some stringing for the local rags that paid by the inch. Funny, no one thought that paying by “the inch” sounded funny back then. Incidentally, I usually received a less-than-studly buck an inch; in later years, before the end of high-paying print media, I would get about $2 a word or maybe $100 to $200 an inch, I guess, depending on the font and kerning. Coincidentally, if I deigned to do such work today, a buck an inch might be reasonable again. Or, more likely, I’d just get a slug for my slug and a nostalgic laugh. As they say, we’re all poets now.
 Every writer from my era (and the preceding one, in particular) has a Plimpton story. Here’s mine: The only time I ever met George was in 1997, when I was attending the Adult Video Convention in Las Vegas. Plimpton, well-aged and taller than I expected bounded into the ballroom, smiling, happy, eager for something. I introduced myself. “Well, don’t write that I’m here, he said, in his familiar nasally patrician voice, the tone a half-octave higher and somewhat to the left of William F. Buckley’s. He then mumbled something, chased with a charming laugh, about doing a piece for Harper’s. I understood. Often on these sex stories, one spends hours, days observing, sometimes taking part (“Calling Mr. Gay Talese! Calling Mr. Gay Talese!”), but never puts the experience down on paper. Hell, it’s all research, right? I didn’t have that problem that week; I banged out 1,500 words and my expense account in a day. The Living section, however, killed my “Lunch with Ron Jeremy” piece – a crustacean hack named Marty Arnold went apoplectic over the art, I heard. Plimpton’s piece? I never saw it. I don’t even know if he wrote it. I do, however, keep waiting for an adult video featuring George to appear on a celebrity porn web sites one day.
Nick D’Annunzio Jones, a nom de plume, is a poet and conceptual writer in Seattle and a former reporter for The New York Times. His poetry has appeared in numerous literary journals in the United States and abroad. He is at work on a memoir in prose poems, from which this piece is taken.
photo by istolethetv
by Akhil Katyal
It was late evening,
near the I.T.O,
I saw him running behind the 541,
and as it happens whenever you see
someone running behind a bus
your heart shadows the man
and runs with him,
and hopes he catches
what he is after
and if he scores,
you brighten up,
for his pursuit had always been yours,
and if he falls back in his trail,
you, even sitting in that bus,
Akhil Katyal is based in Delhi. He writes poetry and non-fiction both in Hindi and English.
photo by eli.brown
by Tim Kahl
They blackened the head of the standing Buddha
with smoke from a pile of burning tires.
They hid their weapons in caves at the Buddha’s feet,
this Buddha in a toga. And this is the year
they hold statues hostage because the world
has not sanctioned any relief for their haggard lives.
So their soldiers are purging the supreme being’s image,
purging it with their Kalashnikovs, their rocket
launchers and their dynamite planted in
the brain of the Buddha. The head of the Buddha
explodes here in the valley, where an ancient
Silk Road traveler once said the mind was strong.
The Buddha falls on its knees and crumbles.
It was a stranger in a land it could not flee.
The monks in yellow robes who carved it out of
the cliff are gone. The wind made their pennants
and silk canopies flutter, but now it is obligated
to carry condemnations and solemn edicts. This is
the year the past became a luxury that could
no longer be afforded. Sanctuary could no longer be given.
The Buddha has become another weary traveler,
famous for his knowing smile. He knows that
knowledge passes. But traces of it are found all around
in the blossoms and the drooping willows. The willows
only wish to be acknowledged. The Buddha
knows this and listens. He hears the men coming
for him, armed with their laws, shouting
all we are breaking is stones.
Tim Kahl is the author of Possessing Yourself (CW Books 2009) and The Century of Travel (CW Books, 2012). His work has been published in Prairie Schooner, Indiana Review, Ninth Letter, Notre Dame Review, The Journal, Parthenon West Review, and many other journals in the U.S. He appears as Victor Schnickelfritz at the poetry and poetics blog The Great American Pinup and the poetry video blog Linebreak Studios. He is also editor of Bald Trickster Press and Clade Song. He is the vice president and events coordinator of The Sacramento Poetry Center.
photo by philborg