Two Poems by Kate Devine

College Shirt

When I bought this shirt

from the college bookstore

eight years ago, I must have known,

I must have envisioned this scene.

 

(Twenty-five is the first age I forget

that I am. I think I'm twenty-six.

When my father yells, he says "I'm

sixty years old, for God's sake." 

He's fifty-three.)

 

I was meant

to be twenty-five

and dumped

and drinking wine

in the bedroom where

I grew up, 

where I haven't

lived for years, 

my sister's bed

is across from mine. 

 

I am wearing

a cotton-blend t-shirt

thinned from

wash and wear,

that says Rutgers.

 

My father moved

my clothes and furniture

into a home I tried with you.

 

My father spoke in palindrome sentences

on the New Jersey Turnpike, 

"If things don't work out, 

you can always come home. 

You can always come home, 

if things don't work out."

 

In my passenger seat visions

of bookshelves and spice racks

of bedsheets and toothpaste and teaspoons

of waiting for you to finish a shower...

 

I said "thanks Dad," and meant it,

but never anticipated coming home,

things not working out. 

 

But this t-shirt

is a comfort.

It's gray. 

It's from

Rutgers, 

a place where

I did not know you. 

I knew poets, 

I knew veterans.

 

This t-shirt

makes me believe

it's okay, 

the temporariness.

I trust the t-shirt more

than my father's words

and far more than yours,

that day on the Turnpike.

 

Pancake Morning

I miss that pancake morning.

My friend was making love

 

with and breakfast for

a man named Jeffy.

 

I woke, cocooned

on the leather couch

 

in her living room,

She spooned batter

 

onto a skillet. It was July.

I said good morning and

 

my friend whispered

“You have to leave,”

 

I walked to the beach,

layed in the hot sand,

 

and waited, giving them

privacy

 

to do it again.

Dejected because

 

I like pancakes

but we like boys

 

and she liked his mouth

on her

 

in the morning

without

 

muffled snickers of her friend,

listening from the couch.

 

An hour later

maybe two,


my friend brought

leftover pancakes,

 

to the beach,

cold in a ziplock bag.

 

I ate them with

My fingers tasting

 

blueberries and plastic and salt.

“Jeffy: he’s so muscular and erotic.”

 

She said, and more.

I ate pancakes

 

and devoured

the story of her morning.

 

Kate Devine is an essayist and poet from New Jersey, currently an MFA candidate at Sarah Lawrence College. She loves the smell of the ocean, early mornings, and West Highland Terriers. Follow her on Instagram @katemdevine.

Library Installation & In 2006 Burning CDs Was All the Rage by Justin Holliday

Library Installation

He destroys books. It’s a ritual: each Thursday he goes to the local used bookstore with $20 in his wallet and winds his way through sci-fi, romance, classics, photography, and ends with philosophy. With these bundles, he races home, pulling his finds out of the paper bag and spreads them in a semicircle. Out come other materials he keeps in the studio: glue, cosmetics, beads, feathers, zippers, scissors. It looks like a child’s craft area minus construction paper and googley eyes. He picks up a romance, finds an amorous passage, and draws a red-lipstick heart upside down on the page. When aliens begin taking over the human race in a ratty paperback copy of an X-Files novelization, he draws a skull with a purple Sharpie and places a two-fingered peace sign to the right, estimating the phantom space where the arm of the death’s head should be. He rips out pages of Anaïs Nin’s erotic diaries and pastes them before the most discomfiting scenes of Lolita. When he finds the perfect antichristian aphorisms from Nietzsche, he cuts them in perfect rectangles and pastes them below photos of starving children, whom he has doused with glitter. Next week will be his exhibition of yellowed pages and illustrations at the art museum, complete with dusty shelves and chairs that scrape too loudly across the floor. People will read these destructions, believing this is reality, not knowing collapse is creation, not knowing who William Burroughs is.

In 2006 Burning CDs Was All the Rage

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Justin Holliday is an English lecturer and poet. His work has appeared in Rogue Agent, Impossible Archetype, Occulum, b(OINK), Queen Mob's Teahouse, and elsewhere. 

Cosmogram & Stump by Will Cordeiro

Cosmogram

A smooth stone tablet—slightly larger than a paperback, but smaller than a laptop—etched with a few odd divots, scratches, marks. A very modest piece in the museum’s display case. Neither the famed calendric disc of the Aztecs, heavy with the rites of sacrificial violence, nor the intricate mandalas of Tibet composed of colored sand which are brushed away upon completion. The placard simply states “cosmograma (?)” with no other attribution. The few lines and points scored upon it could be a record of the stars, of comets, of the cycles of the moon and sea, of the seasons—equinox and solstice, the earth’s daily rotation: a systematic ordering of the universe demonstrating how its far-flung mechanisms implicate our earthbound routines. Morning, noon, and night; play and work; worship and mourning; sowing and harvest; death and fertility. Coordinates, trajectories, fulcrums where the sun and its many relatives, billionized across the dark beyond, operate their spooky action-at-a-distance deep inside our every cell. Or maybe it means none of this. Maybe the lines were only childish doodles, the divots little spots for counters in a gameboard. 

Stump

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Will Cordeiro has recent work appearing or forthcoming in Best New Poets, Blue Earth Review, DIAGRAM, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Nashville Review, Poetry Northwest, Zone 3, and elsewhere. He teaches in the Honors College at Northern Arizona University.

The Rarest Piece of Nothing by Lanny Durbin

The Rarest Piece of Nothing

I scrolled through the toy collector’s trading site I scrolled through every night. The tiny cranking gear of my mouse never stopping. A guy here in Chicago was selling a Purple Skirt Miss Elizabeth figure by LJN. I sent him a message, I wanted it.

You see, the Purple Skirt Miss Elizabeth figure was one of the most sought-after figures. Created by the LJN toy company, the purple skirt variant was a limited version, possibly a mistake. I already had the gold skirt variation. The purple skirt one, if mint, was valued at upwards of a couple grand. In the height of the 80's wrestling boom, everyone knew who Miss Elizabeth was. She wasn't the most valuable wrestling figure out there but it wasn't about the money to me.  

There was always something missing in my collection. Once a thing was found, another black void appeared. A puzzle completed but one piece was kicked under the couch, eaten by the dog, plucked out in a fit of lunacy by the guy working at the puzzle factory and never added to the box in the first place. I decided that Miss Elizabeth was the woman to fill out the blurry chasm in my heart. My collection, rather. 

Sometimes it felt like that sliding coin game at arcades and carnivals. I kept sliding coins down, hoping to create that windfall. They stand at the precipice and I know that this next coin will start a landslide. But it never does. Do they ever fall? Are they supposed to fall? 

I rode the brown line north to the address this Rick gave me. I thought about Miss Elizabeth and the wrestler she managed, her real-life husband, "Macho Man" Randy Savage. His figures netted a hefty sum themselves. I thought about those glasses, that voice. His charisma, the otherworldly id—all mania and neon tassels. I thought about my lack of those things, squished into a train seat, breathing into my jacket's sleeve to avoid the sickness in the air.  

I climbed down frozen steps to the door of Rick's basement apartment. Orange glow from the little window at my knees. I heard locks being slammed open when I rapped the special knock he told me about in his email. Rick pulled me into the apartment and down the steps like a KGB officer. He was middle-aged, stumpy but expanding sideways. He led me through a hallway lined with shelves of toys and collectibles that looked the same as my shelves of toys and collectibles. I smelled the clean air from the humidifiers that were necessary to keep things pristine. A row of Skeletors cackled at me. I was used to their piercing taunts—some of their number populated a shelf in my kitchen.  

Rick smiled the awkward smile people like us can only manage and slid one of his glass cases open. Within the glass case, within her own cardboard and plastic case, LJN Purple Skirt Miss Elizabeth beamed. I knew already that she was the one. 

I slapped an envelope full of twenties into his puffy hand. He counted and looked me over. Miss Elizabeth was held out in front of me, lightly balanced by Rick's index fingers at two corners. I received her likewise, held in between my fingers like a precious artifact. Not like one, she was one. More precious even. Rick began to speak but I was anxious to get her home and into my collection. I nodded at Rick as I backed towards his front door. Yeah? Oh, nice, thank you, I need to get going. 

The most nervous train ride of my existence followed. Everyone's eyes were on her, I could tell. I knew what the "Macho Man" felt now.  

The moving lights I could see up in my second floor apartment from the street below made my stomach curl up. I'd come to find thieves in mid-ransack once before, when I was 21 and new to the city. I stayed down in the street and hid behind cars until they'd pilfered my useless belongings to their satisfaction. Things were different now—nothing in that apartment was useless. I ran up the stairs and shouted like a stray cat had wandered in an open window. "Out of here now!" 

The two men in black hoodies did not leave. They exchanged a look and the nearest man to me dropped a Spider-Man and punched me right in the face. I crumpled. I think I cried a bit while they stuffed pristine mint items into trash bags like goddamn lunatics. They weren't even handling them properly. I stared at Miss Elizabeth with my cheek against the hardwood, blood trickling. I told her I was sorry that I was so weak. One of them picked her up and stepped over me. They'd defeated me with ease. 

But I thought about Miss Elizabeth. She'd be pawned, she'd be bought later by a child probably, touched carelessly. I was raised from the floor by the steam my anger created. There was no blood hotter anywhere in the world. I stepped out onto my balcony, the men tossing bags of my life into a van just below. I became him, I became "Macho Man" Randy Savage, if only for that moment. Balanced on the black wrought iron balcony, fingers pointed to the heavens. I floated down, a flying elbow drop of which even the man himself would approve. 

I landed right on one of them. He and I mangled into one, the sound of air leaving us filled the dark street. I clawed at his bag, found her and pulled her out. The other guy put two hard kicks into my already busted ribs and yanked his cohort away.  

I stared up at the stars as the van pulled away, Miss Elizabeth on my crushed chest. I said aloud, there's always something missing from my collection. 

Lanny Durbin lives in Springfield, IL, plays in a few bands and drives a Buick. His work has appeared in Hobart Pulp, *82 Review and The Fiction Pool. He can be found on Twitter @LannyDurbin.

Two Stories by Lorraine Wilson

Lakshmi

She is a trinket, really. Probably haggled for obligatorily at some morning market, flies in the air and the scent of spices, uncooked meat, languages weaving into one another and my grandad’s pale skin always noticed, always odd.

I don’t even remember seeing it in his house, I imagine it boxed away amongst dust-gathered mementos of a life reluctantly left behind. But to see her, brass-cast goddess, hands raised and foot shining from the supplication of my fingers, to see her is to remember. My childhood was filled with stories, you see. Stories scattered with Hindi and Urdu and the crumbs of cake slices scattered around my knees. They were chital deer and tiger prints in monsoon mud, they were dirt roads and they were the smell of flowers beneath a midday sun.

She is the goddess of things that I do not really value but she is more than that, she is memory too, sublimated from my cells into her and given weight, given form, and it is this that she holds delicate-winged in her tarnished hands. A lost father refound, old abandonments forgiven, the tracery of genetics and distant homes that surfaces on my skin; moments. Moments with him and then the moments without. She has heard me weeping and seen me love, and she smiles for me now, above a fire that lends her limbs some tiny remnant of her native heat, and even when all our pasts are parceled away I will want her with me to tell me this: The world is vast and it is small; full of loss and wonder and stories you have not yet heard, and you belong to all of it.

This Dead Sheep

A half-old dead sheep in the hollow of a burn. She did not startle when we appeared, which was perhaps not surprising, but we were never quite sure about these things. We had come to the soft black edge of a bank to stare down into the burn, mountain stream whispering and racing its way down between rocks and peat and heather. We did not startle either, my sister and me, but there was a whisper-frisson of recognition between the sheep who was dead and us, who were not.

She had died in the water, soft ochre hill-water that had tugged her wool away from ribs exposed by ravens and the winter and stained a yellow that could have been hellish but was almost spring-like. It ran between her bones, the water, and must have been cold when she lay dying, must have made her leaden and gravitous but now it stroked her smooth, tickling at the curves and edges of her fondly, remnants of wool water-dancing.

Scrambling down through heather and black peat, water cut, the wind kept moving but we were beneath it there, stroking horns and bared bones with our fingers, with crystals blinking beneath the tannin water and above us, the sky in amongst the mountains was a gift we could have cupped in our hands. The burn cackled and spoke memories of death borne down the hill and we’d been drinking her, we realized. We laughed and the water laughed, at all the slow decay of her that had passed into the pipes and then to us.

Above the peat but beneath the sky, heather flowers shone constellations, a faerie mist slid windward hiding secrets and we felt we knew the sheep’s secrets too. Somewhere other sheep were calling but they were not here, where we were, kneeling in the stone-spangled earth and whispering to her who was surely a part of us now, drunk in and absorbed into the cells of our limbs. We had her death in our bones, cradled there so that even though she died alone and cold, she was neither, any more.

We wanted to carry her skull with us, wanted to bear her down to our parents like a queen, like proof, like a greeting. But she did not wish to come. Her empty sockets, ghosts of eyes, watched us reproachfully, black-edged teeth moving in silent speech and her horns were the perfect curve for the shape of my palm but she did not wish to come. We had already drunk her memories and her death, and so I supposed that she was content then, to let us carry those away with us while her gone eyes watched the mountain-tops and filled up with heather.

Perhaps she is still watching up there where she fell. She is still in my bones.

 

Having spent many years working in remote corners of the world, Lorraine Wilson now lives by the sea in Scotland and writes stories that are touched by folklore and the wilderness. She has had short stories published in several magazines and anthologies and tweets @raine_clouds about science, writing, cats and weirdnesses.

Two Poems by Joseph Quiroz

Sad Burger King

The Burger King

eating at Pizza Hut

means the king

has no power

 

When you're the DAMN

BURGER KING, wouldn't

you be happy knowing

you control a kingdom of

burgers?

 

So why eat at Pizza Hut

unless you have absolutely

nothing and crappy food?

 

Pizza Hut isn't even

the king of pizza but at

Pizza Hut, the Burger King

will stand out as Pizza Hut

has no real mascot anymore

as the Pizza Head that ruled

was eaten years ago

KFC has Colonel Sanders

McDonald's has Ronald McDonald

The Burger King can't go

to those two places

if he goes AWOL

 

He needs to be as free

as a bird hence that

is why he goes to Pizza

Hut ... He has no Colonel

Sanders to push him

around

 

The Burger King has to

always be king

 

long live the new king

of Pizza Hut

may he bring many

pizza burgers

as he finally gets the

home he deserves I think

as his creepy face

will finally stand out

in the land of pizza

 

An Ode to Freedom Fries

Remember freedom fries?

 

Those fries never felt free

in my stomach but they never

felt French either.

 

Someone probably complained

about them on MySpace

in a black glitter box of doom.

 

Did George W. Bush have a MySpace?

 

I was supposed to go back to

MySpace after college but Facebook

took over and killed all those black

glitter boxes of doom.

 

Even all the ones that belonged

to George W. Bush and all his

lesser clones but still those

fries never felt free as I never

got a miniature American flag

with them

 

A little old glory at noon is

what I needed after long days and

long nights wasting away in AOL

chat rooms gazing over the

AOL 700-hour free discs

wondering how to destroy them next

but I always loved fries

even when they weren't free

costing only a dollar for what could

compel one to hate fries

 

It's love on a tray

 

Joseph Quiroz is a 29-year-old male from North Arlington, NJ who has been performing at poetry slams and open mics all throughout the New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania areas since Dec of 2013. He represented Rock Slam out of Nyack, NY at the National Poetry Slam in 2016. His work has been published in Degenerate Literature, TL;DR Magazine, Horror, Sleaze and Trash, Philosophical Idiot, Blue Mountain Review and The Platform Review: Arts By The People. He can be found on Instagram at JosephAndrew27 and on Twitter at JoeWritesPoetry.

Your Phone by Michael T. Fournier

Your Phone

You don’t mean to, is the thing. An ex likes a friend’s post and you think huh, haven’t seen that name in a while and you start clicking and one thing leads to another and you discover your ex is going out with someone new.

And your phone freezes. 

You’re like that’s weird, my phone can’t possibly know what I’m looking at but it does, and it’s trying to help. It’s trying to keep you from getting sucked in, keep you from going well, that person I’ve never met likes some okay bands and has pictures of some good books and cool records in their feed, they’re probably all right because you don’t need to do that. You don’t need to compare yourself to anyone. You don’t need to dredge up the past.

Your phone knows this and is trying to protect you because your phone loves you and your phone wants what is best for you and your phone wants to keep you out of trouble and keep you present and in the moment, and your phone’s decision to do this hopefully has nothing to do with you using your phone to look at new phones because your phone is a little slow and occasionally freezes and chews through batteries unless you put it on airplane mode which defeats the purpose of having a phone, but it has been more than two years, which in phone years is geriatric, which is funny because you have shoes that are older, you have punk shirts that are older and is at the same time not funny because that idea, the idea of your phone being able to understand its looming obsolescence and symbiotically shielding you in an attempt to prove its worth and keep you loving it and using it makes you think of the desk drawer where you stash your phone alongside all your old phones, the flip phones you don’t have the heart to throw away or recycle or give to Flip Phones For The Blind, all with just enough battery to look at old pictures taken with now-obsolete two megapixel cameras, the kind of photos which seemed vital and urgent at the time but now register as nothing but blobs and smudges.

So maybe you’re the reason your phone is so neurotic.

Or maybe your phone just thinks I am here and I am useful just like you and you shouldn’t dwell on the past because it’s over and we’re here now together and dealing with the alternative, an eternity spent someplace cold and dark, whether that place is real or metaphorical, is too much to bear so the intertwined thought of utility and joy and being in the moment is a lot less weight to carry around than either your ex’s new romantic interest’s record collection -- and, by extension, taste -- being better than yours or unthinkingly stashing your phone every night in a phone mausoleum after using your phone to spend an hour browsing new phones on your carrier’s website. At any rate, maybe ease up on the phone.

Michael T. Fournier is the author of two novels (Swing State and Hidden Wheel, both on Three Rooms Press) and a book-length discussion of the Minutemen's Double Nickels On The Dime album for the 33 1/3 series. He's a regular contributor to Razorcake, and his work has appeared in the Oxford American, Barrelhouse, Entropy, McSweeney's Internet Tendency. Fournier co-edits Cabildo Quarterly with poet Lisa Panepinto. He lives on Cape Cod with his wife Rebecca and their cat.

Two Poems by Andrea Rogers

THE MUSEUM OF BROKEN RELATIONSHIPS*

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*The Museum of Broken Relationships is an actual museum which showcases stories of heartbreak from around the world and their accompanying mementos. The organization behind the project describes it as “a museum about you, about us, about the ways we love and lose.” It boasts both a virtual presence and physical locations in Zagreb and L.A.

 

THE LONG WEEKEND

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Andrea Rogers is a poet, musician, and postdoctoral fellow at Georgia Tech, where she teaches writing. She is the recipient of the 2015 Agnes Scott Writers’ Festival Poetry Prize, judged by Tracy K. Smith, and two Academy of American Poets awards. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in Hunger Mountain, The Adirondack Review, District Lit, and anthologies by Black Lawrence Press, Negative Capability, and Red Paint Hill. She and her band, Night Driving in Small Towns, have been featured by Rolling Stone and NPR.

Storm Warnings by John Carr Walker

Storm Warnings

Weather abroad/And weather of the heart alike come on/Regardless of prediction. — Adrienne Rich

The weather machine plugged in behind the sleeper sofa in the office of our new house, set back from the country road and surrounded by vineyards, an intensely quiet place. I liked to visit the office while my father was out just to look at the weather machine, my knees sunk in the couch cushion, arms crossed over the upholstered back, chin resting on the bend of my elbow. It shared the windowsill with a snakeskin and mound of sculpturesque welding slag—this gray box, with a speaker grate, volume knob, and on-off switch, shouldn’t have been what fascinated me. But push the switch and a voice from the Bear Mountain weather station read the most recent report, and in the event of a storm warning, the weather machine’s siren blared like the house had caught fire.

Now, when information appears instantly on our personal screens, my memory of the weather machine's on-demand technology seems sentimental. In 1981, however, the year my sister was born and we moved into our new house, the Internet was still a military secret. Our phones were a mess of wires. We didn’t yet own an answering machine—few families did. Getting a television signal depended on adjusting a pair of antennae, rabbit ear and telescoping, as if the coarse and fine knobs of a radio. Folded issues of The Fresno Bee, dropped once a day at the end of our long driveway, determined the scope of the news. The weather machine asserted itself in a way most devices would not for several more decades. It only talked about the weather, but my father grew raisins. His livelihood—our lives—depended on the weather.  

*

In school, my sister read Night of the Twisters, about tornadoes that devastated a Nebraska town, and her imagination wired the disasters of that novel into her nervous system. Though we lived in California, in earthquake country, what might fall from the sky terrified her. When the weather machine's siren went off, she hid in her closet, in the box with her stuffed animals, and prayed the roof wouldn’t blow off the house. 

*

Our weatherman was called Angelo. We followed him with the kind of loyalty usually reserved for a favorite sports team. In one promotional spot, I remember, he appeared on the television screen wearing an overcoat and galoshes, kicking puddles, while "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" played in the background. Then, with an omnipotent twirl of his umbrella, Angelo stopped the rain. Surely, I’m not the only raisin grower’s son who can still see Angelo turning his palm toward the changed sky. It was a brilliant piece of advertising. Weathermen in the San Joaquin Valley were supposed to be able to do the impossible.

*

In preparation for the evening weather forecast my mother set the television trays. She closed the living room mini-blinds to keep the glare of the winter sun off the screen, while outside, the weather did its thing unobserved. My father needed to know if he should expect a freeze overnight, if he needed to run the irrigation pumps to protect the crop, and he only trusted Angelo to tell his fortune.  

From the moment Angelo appeared on screen my father demanded silence. My mother flapped her hands to hush my sister and me. For the weather forecast, everything must stop—talking, eating, breathing. I used to hold bites of half-chewed food in my mouth so not to obscure a word Angelo said. But we always made too much noise, somehow. My father hiked the volume until Angelo’s voice rattled the speaker. The rest of the forecast hollered through its parts: today’s temperatures, tomorrow’s highs and lows, Angelo’s narrative of historical patterns, all delivered at the decibels of a scream. My father kept his jaw set while he listened, baring teeth ground small from being constantly on edge. Only he could comment on the forecast. Perfect, he’d say, or Jeez, in resignation. 

After the five-day outlook, when Angelo returned to the news desk to banter with the anchors, my father turned the volume back down. My mother stormed into the kitchen. I swallowed the bite gone mushy in my mouth. My sister must have been longing for the shelter of her stuffed animal box. 

*

If the skies were gray when our mother picked her up from school my sister begged to go anywhere but home—let’s runaway, she'd plead.

*

In 2006 I moved eight-hundred miles away from our family vineyards. It must be distance that allows me to remember the weather machine as a piece of archaic, amusing technology rather than an instrument of terror.

Angelo retired from Channel 30 in May 2013. Honored as “The Dean of Central California Weathercasters,” by his colleagues, Angelo’s farewell segment lasted for more than six of a twenty-two minute broadcast. He said goodbye to his public with a tremor in his trained voice.

My father leased his hundred acres to an almond grower and in the fall of 2014 the vineyards were bulldozed to make way for orchards. 

*

My sister still lives down the country road from my parents and still gets nervous during storms. Even though Angelo is retired and the vineyards are gone the squalls of our childhood remain. Somehow, a change in the weather still feels like losing everything. 

John Carr Walker’s writing has been appearing in literary journals since 2007. His critically acclaimed first book, Repairable Men (Sunnyoutside), was featured on Late Night Library. A native of the San Joaquin Valley and former high school English teacher, he now lives and writes full-time in Saint Helens, Oregon.

Rookie Card by Michael Chin

Rookie Card

I showed my college girlfriend Dana my 1986-1987 Fleer Patrick Ewing rookie card. The lone card I kept in a screw-down case rather than a bendable plastic top-loader or a nine-pocket binder sheet, and the lone card I brought to college rather than leaving it to collect dust back home. I began to mansplain Ewing’s significance as the Knicks' all-time leading scorer. The legend of him goal-tending five shots in the first five minutes of an NCAA Championship game. She rolled her eyes, seeing trading cards for what they were—two-and-a-half by three-and-a-half pieces of cardboard with action photographs. Toys for boys to look at after they’d outgrown the kind of toys we’d actually play with.

But trading cards—especially rookie cards—are not without value. In 2015, CNBC reported a mint condition, 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle rookie card sold at auction for $525,800. On a less exorbitant scale, imperfect condition Michael Jordan and Joe Namath rookie cards still fetch over $1,000. Compare these sums to mid-career, standard-issue Jordan cards, which price guides assess at five- to ten-dollar valuations.

What makes rookie cards so valuable? For older cards, scarcity matters. Collectors didn’t always hold these cards sacred and no kid would save cards of anyone but his favorite players. A rookie would have had less time to establish himself with young fans, and so be all the more likely to get discarded. Also, favorite cards would more likely get fed through the spokes of a kid’s bicycle than kept in pristine condition.

So, for a player’s rookie card to have survived the mid-1980s and earlier is a minor miracle. Add onto that legendary blunders. Topps got into the mass production of baseball cards in 1952 and their first set sold so well that they doubled down on their second print run. As Rich Mueller from The Bleacher Report postulates, Topps failed to account for fickle boys losing interest in baseball by fall. In an era when trading cards were marketed to kids, the value of inventory dwindled as months and years went by, so Topps loaded several hundred cases of unopened cards—surely, hundreds of Mickey Mantle rookie cards still embedded in wax wrappers—onto a barge to be disposed of at sea.

Collecting has changed. Even for my generation, a kid of the 1990s, Dad warned me about keeping cards orderly so the corners didn’t bend. The trading card market was oversaturated, though, with more cards produced than ever, and more conscientious collectors preserving them.

The value of rookie cards has grown increasingly arbitrary. They’re worth more simply because collectors still feel they ought to be.

Still, flipping through top-loaders—preparing to sell most of my collection—I remembered Dana. One memory gave way to an earlier one. We’d slept together for the first time on my squeaky, extra-long dorm bed, over a fitted sheet that always curled up off of the mattress. Her hands reeked of bleach after wiping down tables for minimum wage at a café off campus.

We called our virginities our V cards. Dana teased that she’d taken mine. I reminded her of the awkward high school boyfriend who’d taken hers. She wrinkled her nose and claimed, After he fell asleep, I stole it back.

It was quite the thought—stealing back that piece of oneself. To reassert that innocence, like the joy of opening foil wrappers to get at the cards inside. Fumbling fingers and the temptation to open the edges with scissors, tempered by a memory, early in my collecting days, when I did so and clipped the top of card before I could even get it out of the pack. That feeling, like slicing into an orange, rather than peeling and pulling it apart. Juice wasted with each incision, dripping from fingers, a sticky mess.

She said, I wish we could stay here forever, neck propped over my upper arm, her head on the pillow, my arm bent at the elbow so I could cup her breast in my hand. I understood here was not a place—beneath the gaze of my roommate’s poster of two models in their underwear, adjacent to my desk cluttered with Chinese takeout containers, textbooks, and computer printouts of essays from my Western Humanities class, and a seminar on Willa Cather, not to mention a Patrick Ewing rookie card perched on my clock radio. Here was a moment in time and space we couldn’t steal back or screw down.

Works Cited

Mueller, Rich. “Thousands of Mickey Mantle's First Topps Cards Were Dumped into Ocean.” Bleacher Report, bleacherreport.com/articles/1674457-thousands-of-mickey-mantles-first-topps-cards-were-dumped-into-ocean

“Rare Mickey Mantle rookie card sells for $525k.” CNBC, http://www.cnbc.com/2015/12/11/rare-mickey-mantle-rookie-card-sells-for-525k.html

Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and his hybrid chapbook, "The Leo Burke Finish," is available now from Gimmick Press in Three-Way Dance. He won Bayou Magazine's Jim Knudsen Editor’s Prize for fiction and has work published or forthcoming in journals including The Normal School, Passages North, and Hobart.  He works as a contributing editor for Moss. Find him online at miketchin.com or follow him on Twitter @miketchin

Two Poems by Jill Talbot

When Hatchimals Came To Town

The ugliest toy of the season

emerges from its egg—causes

riots in the street. If Furbies had

half-night stands with Tamagotchies—

meet Hatchimals.

 

Which witch is which?

 

Nevermind Aleppo, nevermind Trump,

somebody just paid $500 for a Hatchimal.

You evil little elves—it’s Christmas.

Somebody had a three-night stand

with a Neanderthal. Hatchimal, Hatchimal,

wherefore art thou Hatchimal?

 

Is it made of Gold or silver? Does it speak

fluent Latin? It has marbles, they are eyes.

It has an egg, it has a due date.

It’ll be in a landfill by next

season. Will you buy it?

 

The Real Velveteen Rabbit

The Velveteen Rabbit lies on the bed,

his fortune awaits—will he become Real

some day? Will he lick salt and frolic

with the other rabbits? For now

 

all they want is for him to lick salt

from the boy’s tears. In the Real version

the rabbit ought to be angry with those

who bought him to begin with.

 

A furuncle develops deep in his skin,

a tiny bit of Real is trying to break free—

until it erupts. He is becoming Real slowly

 

then quickly. At first he is hinky—

unsure of himself. Then he becomes

 

animate and fervent—he shakes and moves

and dances! His fur grows shabby and starts

to grow longer, he becomes bearded

like a goat and becomes older and wiser.

 

He jumps on the boy’s emerald green dresser

to eat a prune, why shouldn’t it be his?

The boy wouldn’t eat it.

 

Some might say that he is not as cute

as he used to be but he knows

this doesn’t matter any more

 

for he is Real and all the other toys

are jealous, as they should be.

 

This is the Real version of the story.

Who would want to be bought then thrown

into a pile, waiting to be set on fire—

 

to an oven—I can think of where

that has happened before. To be Real

 

is not always easy, of course. It hurts

sometimes, they got that part right.

 

But it hurts especially to know

one was Unreal before.

 

This is the story they do not teach

so when I became Real I set down

to teach it.

Jill Talbot's writing has appeared in Geist, Rattle, Poetry Is Dead, The Puritan, Matrix, subTerrain, The Tishman Review, The Cardiff Review, PRISM and others. Jill won the PRISM Grouse Grind Lit Prize. She was shortlisted for the Matrix Lit POP Award for fiction and the Malahat Far Horizons Award for poetry. Jill lives on Gabriola Island, BC.

It’s Only Seasonal, I Promise by C.C. Hannett

It’s Only Seasonal, I Promise

Goofy shit: ornamental pickles
a tradition without rhyme or rhizome
blends in the dew drop fascicle
At first I thought you meant an actual pickle
slick with vinegar brine, yodeling from branch
to branch all slippery and slap-happy—
not painted, inorganic glass.

Then there's Dill Pickle Soup
Your pet name for me
I'm told it's polish like Gombrowicz,
Witkiewicz, and Schulz
There is a clumsy sophistication to it
akin to kilts & Jester's caps
I don't recall exactly when it happened.

You always bring me cold,
half-eaten food--
and I hate it!

But what about when I leave you
my pickle spear &&
split shots of pickle vodka
I don't mean for my expression of love
to have a very specific
pickle theme,
It's only seasonal, I promise.

C. C. Hannett is the byname of Kris Hall; a poet who writes and lives with his wife and their animals in the PNW. He is the author of I Gave This Dream To A Color (Spuyten Duyvil, 2018) and the chapbooks, Notes for Xenos Vesparum (Shotgun Wedding, an imprint of Alice Blue Books), and Dillinger on the Beach (Horse Less Press). He is the former curator of the reading series Da'daedal and Ogopogo. Both series took place in Seattle, WA and focused on showcasing interdisciplinary work. His next book, Triune (Spuyten Duyvil), will be released in the Summer of 2018.

Beedancing and Stupidhead by Carolyn Eichhorn

Beedancing

When I was four or five years old, I stepped on a bee. I had been running around the pool at my grandparents’ house in Arizona, exactly as all kids are told not to do, and I crushed a dead bee with my chubby little bare foot. The little bastard stung me from beyond the grave, rearing up to inflict pain and psychological damage long after its last gasps of ridiculously hot desert air. It was probably bitter about the heat. Arizona is a special kind of hot.

Anyway, as my mother tried to calm my gulping sobs, treating my swelling sting with baking soda, cooing, and promises of ice cream, I remember thinking that this was profoundly unfair.  What kind of creature can hurt you after they die? Thus began my bee phobia, my apiphobia, according to Google.

Fast forward to Florida where the air teems with insects and one’s twitchiness caused by buzzing, flying things can really blossom. All those orange groves have beehives set up to pollinate the sunshine fruit, so when riding horses or minibikes, one needs to take care not to end up in a cloud of angry, armed, flying fuzzballs. Combine that with a movie about killer bees, a proliferation of wasps and “mud daubers” with their dangly legs and rampant house building skills, and my nerves were always on edge while out-of-doors.

Aside from one incident with a hornet that stung me through my leather gardening gloves (I sobbed in the fetal position on my living room floor for fifteen minutes), I had few direct interactions with the flying pests. But the buzzing, the threat, always triggered a physical response.

During a volunteering day at Give Kids the World, I was painting the side of one of the administration buildings alongside friends and colleagues, hip deep in hedges when I heard that familiar, horrifying sound. In seconds, I had leapt from the bushes, arms flailing, face contorted in terror, screaming like a sorority girl in a slasher movie. Once out of the danger zone, I looked up to see my team, my friends, doubled over in laughter.

“Did you see that dance?”

“That was a bee dance!”

“Buzz, buzz! What’s that by your shoulder?”

Unfortunately, that bee dance has been repeated many, many times while mowing the yard, hiking local trails, chilling at the pool, even walking across the parking lot to Publix. There was a particularly horrifying incident outside a Sam’s Club once when I discovered a wasp nest up in the handle of the tailgate of my Mom’s pickup truck where my fingers had been. But patio furniture, pool chairs, long wooden docks, and all those places you would expect to relax are like Disneyland for flying, stinging things. Wasps love water parks, by the way. Seriously, just look up while you wait in line for that flume ride. Wasp nest city.

When I get caught in full freakout mode, the question is always the same. Are you allergic? 

Um, no, I’m just fucking terrified. Does it diminish my panic that only pain, not anaphylactic shock, is coming at my face via airmail? Nope. Avoidance of pain seems like a completely legitimate and logical effort to me.

And, by the way, bear maulings can’t be fixed with an Epi-Pen, which is just as well since no one can afford those anymore.  Nor can they soothe the anxiety that descends like that paper dentist bib at the sight of the silvery metal torture tools next to the spit bowl. At that critical moment, when it’s just you and a flying thing that could be a brain eating wasp or merely a ladybug, we have only our own defense mechanisms, no matter how ridiculous they look to others.

It turns out that bee dances are really a thing. Bees communicate with each other, so beekeepers would have us believe, by using a series of “dances,” the most famous being the “waggle dance” which seems to be a butt-shaking figure-eight, not unlike what one might see at the club. Presumably, these bees can share details about the location of food, taking into consideration the distance, angle of the sun, and line of flight.  Seriously. Buzzaboutbees.net even has a video of this spectacle, though I could not bring myself to watch it, as I had no Xanax on hand. And, honestly, I’m not sure that I’m comfortable with the idea that my lifelong foe is capable of GPS targeting. Are they just messing with me? Throwing in a little fly-by on the way back to the hive for kicks? Gathering with each other for a little pollen and some bee-sized guffaws at my distress?

I’m no longer that child in bare feet, but I find that as a grown-up, I’m still watching where I step, lest something seemingly harmless might come at me with poisoned barbs. I’m listening carefully when I enter a room of chatting humans for any warning buzzes that I should avoid, especially around politics. You might not see the sting coming, but you will often hear the thrumming warning hum. I cannot seem to control my facial contortions in response to bullshit, though arm flailing is infrequent at professional events. My bee dancing is happening all the time in degrees, though not usually in a figure eight. The waggling, I’m afraid, is merely a result of a slower metabolism. I wish that I was just sharing the location of leftover meeting brownies down the hall, but it’s more likely a manifestation of other fleeting things that might hurt us, though they appear harmless.

Stupidhead

“So, we’re all good then?” Beezer asked, like he always did.

Lisa got to her feet and brushed red dust from her clothes and hair. Her limbs all appeared to work normally, but she knew she would bruise where her hip had struck the ground after her Huffy spilled her into the rutted clay road.

“You are a stupidhead,” she said back to him, her standard reply. She gulped the last part, still fighting to catch her breath and not willing to drop the attitude that clung to her thirteen–year-old self like the rust colored earth staining her Keds.

Beezer smiled his gap-toothed grin and Lisa smiled back. After all, it had been as much her fault as his. She’d agreed to sit upon the handlebars as he steered her pink beach cruiser down the steep switchbacks. Turns out, this made maneuvering difficult and the incline did the rest. Beezer had dumped them both over to prevent the bike from careening completely off the road. He’d gotten the worst of it, not from the wreck, but from the removal of the bike from the thorny blackberry bushes growing wild in the ditch. Beezer’s close-cropped blond hair and Ron Jon t-shirt were wet from the Georgia summer heat and his efforts to tug the bicycle back to the road. Lisa took a moment to straighten the barrettes that struggled to contain her insubordinate wavy brown hair. Neither of them wanted questions from the parentals.  For insurance, they picked enough blackberries for a cobbler, wrapping them carefully in Beezer’s shirt, before returning to the cabin. The diversion worked long enough to get them inside and upstairs, but five minutes later they heard Beezer’s mom call from the kitchen.

“Benjamin Zachariah Ross! Did you intentionally ruin this shirt?”

Lisa snorted with laughter.

“Goofball,” Beezer said.

“Stupidhead,” Lisa replied.

At least there wouldn’t be stitches this time. The waterbed adventure at the lake three weeks earlier had earned Lisa nine. Filling the patched-up mattress with air and jumping on it from the pier had seemed like an awesome way to pass a hot afternoon. However, seven minutes in, Lisa had been catapulted with impressive height into the closest splintery piling. When she had sputtered back to the surface, blood coursed down her face from a cut at her hairline. Beezer had fished her out of the water and pressed a wet beach towel to her face. Soon, both the towel and Lisa’s freckled face were streaked with watery red. Lisa had joked, “Good thing there are no sharks in the lake or we’d really be in trouble.” This had gotten a laugh from Beezer. He’d looked a little worried.

The parentals had gone berserk. Well, the ones who were still around had. Beezer’s mom and Lisa’s dad were sister and brother. Every summer the families gathered at Pop-Pop’s cabin. While sister and brother complained about their lives over beers and barbecue, Lisa and Beezer played in the woods around the lake, not wanting to hear anymore about illness or affairs or heartbreak or divorce. They already knew the ways parents could leave.

Each summer meant elaborate adventures, mostly of Beezer’s invention. As the older cousin by a full year, he became the coordinator for their summer shenanigans. They improvised parachutes of bed sheets and leapt off the roof. Luckily, there were no broken bones, but both agreed it would be best not to tell the parentals. When Beezer wanted to catch a Sasquatch, they dug a hole so big it took them a week before they covered the opening with tree limbs and set up surveillance. They checked it every morning for six days. No Sasquatch. They searched for treasure and buried some of their own – just stones, an arrowhead, a metal Corvette toy, and other stuff in a cardboard shoebox, the location carefully marked with an X on a bona fide map. They built a make-shift tree house with some old two-by-fours and plywood scraps once Beezer was old enough to use Pop Pop’s drill. They played Hunger Games. Although Lisa had agreed that real bows and arrows were probably not safe, she fell while fleeing Katniss-style into the old Sasquatch trap. In the darkness of the pit, the wind knocked from her lungs, she managed to gasp, “Beezer, you stupidhead.”

Their last summer together at the cabin had been before Beezer went away to college. He played football, channeling his toughness into the game. After graduation, he became a coach at a high school in Florida. Last Christmas, Lisa had teased him in front of his boys about the trouble he’d gotten them in as kids. He’d laughed in a way that made Lisa suspect that he had pulled off a few adventures with his little guys. Lisa had punched his arm and complained that he always seemed to get away with everything.

“Not true!” He’d laughed, showing that same gapped grin.

And he was right. In the end, it was cancer that caught up with him, not his reckless spirit. Lisa ran her thumb over the raised lettering on the funeral program, while the pastor lead the congregation in prayer, blinking back hot tears before whispering, “Stupidhead.”

Carolyn Eichhorn completed her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Tampa where she won the Plant Hall Spooky Story contest in 2015. She's had stories published by Oscillate Wildly Press, ScrawlBrawl, and the Baltimore County Library Foundation and is currently shopping her mystery novel, Murder in the Mix. Carolyn teaches writing and writes twisty fiction in Baltimore, Maryland. You can check out her blog at: https://groundsforsuspicion.blogspot.com/.

Fighting Over Depeche Mode by Stephanie Valente

Fighting Over Depeche Mode

My sister and I are in a battle: we know we'd be so good – married to Depeche Mode. The romance, the lust, the hunger. When I play, I play to win. Who gets to marry Martin? Who gets to have Dave? Is one better than the other? I tell my sister that as the oldest, I get first choice. It's only fair. I'm protecting her from a mistake and midnight-blue heartache. After all, it's an older sibling duty.

My sister says that we should think about this carefully. We already died a few times – first by the music, the second after dancing, and the third by the ocean. It’s the British accents, I say. They’re poison. It’s always sweet and always delicious. Who could say no to that? Who could say no to death when it’s so much fun?

My sister says that we should wait and see. We should propose. We should choose the right man. Which musician will make breakfast in the morning? Or will both of the men sulk away and write sad, sad songs with big wet eyes? We hope so. We told them we’d make good wives and wear branch crowns and wait by the window with poetry and berry lips. We think they’d like it. We think they’d like to watch us dance. We think they’d like to touch our wrists and tell us about all of the tiny traumas that live in their hair, the faded ink receipts in their pockets, what it’s like to feel lonely when you are not alone.

For this, my sister and I think they would be interesting husbands. But, we don’t know who to choose. They both sing. They’d both give us ghost children, but only if we wanted them. As for me, I think of the blonde one late at night. In my morning dreams, he lays behind me, a face in my shoulder, my neck. We are always naked and never cold. I think about how his voice would curl behind my ear. I think about us smiling with all of our teeth. I told my sister I would like that.

Good, my sister says, I liked the other one better.

Good, I say. And I think this life would be full of machine music and the man with the sad blue eyes would be mine. Finally, finally. I would always hold his hand. And maybe, steal his leather jacket. I tell my sister he would roll his eyes, but truthfully he’d love it.

My sister would love the other man with dark eyes. They like to dance and contort their bodies. He has the best record collection for dancing. But, I have the better kisser. Though, in some ways, it makes me jealous. With our husbands, we’d be good at sending each other our thoughts. If you’re going to marry a band, you’d have to have superpowers, no? Being a vampire is overrated. But telepathy, my sister and I decide, is where it’s at.

But then, I think of the dark eyed one and the full lips and perhaps, one day, we would be happy too. Dancing in the weird moon. Laughing and not being so serious. I told my sister this could work, too. If she’d only let me try. It’s only fair.

Stephanie Valente lives in Brooklyn, NY. She has published Hotel Ghost (Bottlecap Press, 2015) and waiting for the end of the world (Bottlecap Press, 2017) and has work included in Susan, TL;DR, and Cosmonauts Avenue. Sometimes, she feels human. http://stephanievalente.com

A Jovial Hullabaloo Among the Spheres by Gary M. Almeter

A Jovial Hullabaloo Among the Spheres

What I found most astonishing when I first set foot in the convent wasn’t necessarily the quantity of the Jesuses therein; it was more the scope of incarnations of those Jesuses.  I entered the convent through the kitchen, per Sister Domnina’s instructions, so as not to sully the light blue deep pile carpets in the aptly named front room.  There were Jesus pot holders hanging above the stove and a set of Jesus trivets hanging on the wall and Jesus salt and pepper shakers atop a Jesus table cloth.  There was a trio of Jesuses on the plastic covers covering a trio of counter-top appliances - a resplendent baby Jesus covering the blender; a Jesus hanging off the cross with blood spurting out of his many wounds on an electric can opener cover; and a newly resurrected Jesus levitating above the clouds on the toaster cover.  As Sister Domnina and I wended our way through the house, I saw Jesus in many various states of repose and torture bestrewn throughout the nuns’ house. There were statues of all sizes: a large pre-adolescent Jesus in a satin robe; an adult Jesus walking on water and between the rabbit ear antennae on the console television; a Jesus stepping on a red-horned Satan; and a Jesus standing on top of planet earth. There were pictures of Jesus enduring every sort of indignity and enjoying every sort of exaltation.  There was a paint-by-number painting of Jesus talking to the children.  There were hand-drawn pictures of Jesus talking to animals, addressing his twelve apostles, listening to his mother and making a table with his father taped to the front door.  There were plastic Jesuses that glowed in the dark, ceramic Jesuses, crocheted Jesuses, wooden Jesuses, table-lamp Jesuses, light-switch plate Jesuses, and moisturizing soap Jesuses. There were Jesuses covering Kleenex boxes and candle Jesuses emitting aromatic scents. 

My presence there was the result of that rare double defect of being too earnest and contemplative to be expelled but too fiendish and heretical to not be punished.  Those on the disciplinary board who wanted me expelled for stealing months’ worth of communion wine from the school chapel capitulated when Sister Domnina beseeched them to let me stay. She said I was a nice boy. There were six days before graduation and she said she had exactly 72 hours of work for me to do at the convent – the house where the three Franciscan sisters who worked at Sacred Heart High School lived. 

If the Jesuses were meant to foster an environment of serenity or piety, they had the opposite effect for me.  I found them intimidating and a little grotesque and the idolatry a wee bit misguided.  Had graduation and escape not been on the line, I would have walked out.  I would have. 

Sister Domnina had been my 2nd grade teacher and I thought she was at least 100 years old then. But if living in small town dependent on a dying air conditioner plant and a large state prison for its livelihood had taught me that time eats away and corrodes things – faces, walls, plants, hopes, machinery, paychecks, the size of the crowd at the rodeo – Sister Domnina taught me that there were clear exceptions to such corrosion.  She still looked to be at least 100 years old with her little raisin eyes stuck in shriveled face surrounded rumors of gray wiry hair peeking out of her habit, all moved precariously along by slow tiny block-like feet.  But she still maintained a spritely and effervescent demeanor. 

She greeted me with warmth and kindness that evinced no indication she resented me for hijacking the first week of her summer vacation or for stealing the blood of Jesus. I got to the convent at 7 a.m. on Monday morning.  I was tasked with cleaning the basement which meant carrying about 200 boxes of nun stuff upstairs – boxes of old school books, old clothes, old everything upstairs for Sister Domnina to assess. Around lunch time Sister Domnina called me for lunch.  She made bologna sandwiches. I could see glops of technicolor mustard oozing out of the Wonder bread and informed Sister Domnina that I did not like mustard.  She said that I could eat or not.  I declined and went back to the basement where I worked until 7 p.m. on the nose.

On Tuesday, I had to rent a steam cleaner and was tasked with steam cleaning the carpets.  I cursed when some of the fringe in the living room rug got caught in the machine.  Sister Domnina – sitting in a room she called the sun porch needlepointing a wine bottle holder with a picture of Jesus turning water into wine – heard the curse and smiled.  She said it was time for a break so we watched Let’s Make a Deal and The Price is Right after Sister Domnina expertly adjusted the rabbit ears to get the CBS station.  We ate non-pre-mustarded bologna sandwiches for lunch. 

On Wednesday, I scrubbed and re-caulked the bath tub.  It was odd knowing that nuns took baths in the very tub I was scrubbing, that the mildew in the tile grout was mildew from nun water.  The entire panoply of hygiene products were all as chaste and plain as could be – Ivory soap, Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, a keg of Rite-Aid store brand talcum powder, Ultrabrite toothpaste etc.  I put new contact paper on all the bathroom shelves and scrubbed the toilet.   On Thursday I mowed the lawn, trim shrubs, weeded their garden, and painted the inside of the bath tub housing the Virgin Mary statue that oversaw the flower bed a new shade of powder blue.

On Friday, I was to paint the upstairs hallway.  When I was about half way done, Sister Domnina asked me if I had lunch plans.  I said no and she said that was good as she would make me lunch.  I told her no mustard in a way that came out snippier than I intended.  Around noon I went downstairs to discover that she had made a full Syrian meal - lamb and eggplant and something called tabbouleh; something called hummus; and a pistachio dish that might have been one of the best things I have ever had. During the meal, Sister Domnina told me she was from Syria and had moved to the United States when she was four and had grown up with this food.  I told her somewhat contritely that never knew she was from Syria.  She had lived a whole life – it took her months to get from Syria to Ellis Island; serendipity and a flourishing steel industry brought her parents upstate; she was almost a butcher’s wife and then joined the order which brought her to our shitty town decades ago.  I was not so adept at being interested in others back then.  I did ask her if living amongst the Jesuses ever got oppressive; she laughed and said that was how people thanked nuns, bought and made them Jesus things because, the thinking goes, what else do nuns like?  I hadn’t even thought about thanking her prior to that – I was the one scrubbing the nun bathtub - but I did so, albeit with a mouthful of that pistachio stuff, as even then I knew she had in a way rescued me. 

On Saturday, I started to finish painting the hallway but stopped and told Sister Domnina that we were going to the mall. I wanted to buy her something. But my intentions were not altogether altruistic as I could not spend one more day in the convent. Working.  I drove her to the mall in my truck – about an hour away - and invited her to pick out any Swatch she wanted. She could not believe the array of plastic timepieces beneath the glass. She wanted the see-through one. The watch, pulled as small as one could make it, fit neatly on her tiny little wrist.  I paid in cash with early graduation money.  We ate at the food court.  I was delighted to buy her inaugural Oran Julius for her.   

My convent work passed inspection even though the upper half of the convent hallway was a different color than the half I could reach easily.  I graduated from Sacred Heart the next day, worked a summer job at an amusement park, eschewed the few graduation parties to which I was invited and went to college in August.  I never saw Sister Domnina again. I never even really thought of her at all until that day we all saw the picture of Alan Kurdi lying dead on that beach. I had never even wondered about Syria; had no idea what was happening there.  I spent a while googling Sister Domnina and Franciscan and the diocese in which we lived and learned she had died that year too. 

I wish I would have asked her more questions.  How do you even get from Syria to America in the early 20th century?  How long does it take to assimilate from hummus and tabbouleh to corn and chicken wings?  I am not even certain that the pistachio-muffled thank you I offered at the table rose to the level of sufficient.  I think it likely she never wore that Swatch; that she gave it to a niece or nephew or wayward soul or perpetually tardy 2nd grader.  I hope she knew the plastic Swatch was where I was then, at 17.  That it came from the heart; a heart that could neither crochet nor whittle nor sculpt a Jesus. 

Gary M. Almeter is a trusts and estates attorney who lives with his wife, three children and beagle in Baltimore, Maryland.  His humor, essays and short stories have appeared in McSweeney's, Higgs Weldon, SplitSider, 1966, and Writer's Bone.  He has just finished a book of essays about ice cream; which is also sort of about Niagara Falls and bandanas and the New York City subway and maple syrup and alfalfa and the Boston marathon.

Treasure Hunt by C.D. Hermelin

Treasure Hunt

Anyone who’s ever denuded a Christmas tree of its cheer and ribbon knows it takes at least a duo to truly get every ornament.  It’s a particular blindness that only manifests once a year, brought on by an eggnog/potato gratin hangover. I’m the type who thinks it’s the will of the objects -- mischievous elves, Hallmark Snoopys, woodland critters, tarnished baubles, all begging to stay displayed. They’d all rather nestle amongst the branches than be relegated to cardboard boxes and upcycled egg cartons.

This year, I didn’t get enough Christmas at Christmas, so I’m trying to find magic where I can get it. That’s how I started finding ornaments. The discarded Christmas trees are clogging the gutters of Park Slope, more every grey January morning, filling the wrought iron planters, stacked like firewood. I wend my way through the blocks, dial my eyes into deliberate hopefulness, and see if Christmas Ornament Blindness afflicted any of these brownstone dwellers. It happened on accident. Walking to work, I found a pull-string nutcracker that clicked its heels. And like most happy accidents, I wanted to see if I could make it happen again. And I could. I carry gloves to put on and dig. I sift through rotting trees for shiny tin Frosties, wooden surfing Santas, popsicle stick Jewish stars covered in blue glitter sprinkles.

I have a system. I try to give the families time. I see the abandoned ornament, and leave it. Sometimes I move it, make it more visible. It’s better if they find it because they were looking for it than me hand them a piece of holiday garbage they meant to throw away. After an un-conceal, I walk by that tree a few more times, to see if they found it. I try to keep up with garbage schedules. Usually it’s still there, and my own tree gets a new decoration. I keep it up into February.

Today, it’s a plasticine skier on 2nd and Carroll I saw last Friday. He’s still there. 6 inches, skis and poles missing. This is not a recent acquisition. The plastic looks battered. Maybe the glamour of tradition had worn away and he was so broken that he was deliberately left behind. I like the expression of grim determination on his face. It matches my own. He’s tired of the slopes, of climbing the heights of mountains only to reach the bottom again. Or maybe not. In my post Christmas malaise, he looks like he’s stuck. On the ski lift, left to freeze.

“What the hell are you doing?” a woman’s voice asks, cutting the cold January morning like a foxhunting horn through a still forest. A baby’s coo follows, like a softer pastel echo of her reproach. My hand is deep inside what is most likely their tossed away tree. I feel like a kid caught cheating in class.

I wrestle my arm from the tree and still don’t turn around. “I have a system,” I start. She grabs me by the shoulder and turns me around. We look into each other’s eyes, and I see she’s bewildered, not angry. She’s not much older than me, brown hair pulled back into a ponytail, but she’s bouncing a swaddled pink-faced baby on one hip, she lives in this brownstone, and she’s wearing pearls. She might as well be a different species.

“Why are you digging through my tree?”

Instead of saying anything, I just burst into tears, a hot wet rush, and I let out one gasped sob. That sudden sound surprises the baby, which makes it cry, and those sobs actually sound like a beagle’s bark. The huge sound is so incongruous to its tiny red faced self that I laugh, and the baby’s cry turns to a laugh too, and then we’re both laughing, and then all three of us are laughing. The whole process takes about half a minute.

“I’m sorry. I just find ornaments,” I say, the baby still cooing, our adult laughter dying out. The twin shocks of tears and laughter still reverberate in my teeth. I hold out the skier. “And I salvage them.”

“Oh that thing? My aunt gave me that. After what she pulled this year, I decided I didn’t want to put it up anymore.”

I don’t respond, still trying to regain my composure.

“You had a rough one this year too, huh?”

I want to say, “It’s just - time at Christmas is compounded. So far, every Christmas is the same traditional scenes, only changed by degrees every year, like cells in a film strip. But this year, I looked in the past, and saw those cells, those hearths - they look brighter than the ones I have to look forward to. The film is degrading. So I had to make a new tradition. A new thing, that wasn’t decaying.”

I don’t. Instead I say: “Yeah. But, you know, Merry Christmas anyway. And happy new year.”

“Yeah, Happy New Year.”

*

That night, I'm trying to invite someone over to tell the story of the decorations, of the mom, of the baby. I want them to come over and drink a cocktail with me, and then we’ll come up with fanciful histories for the ornaments. I start texting friends, then girls from Tinder.  It’d be nice to kiss in the perfect glow of Christmas tree light.

It’s all in vain. Surprisingly, a curling, dead, 3-foot Christmas tree that’s covered in garbage isn't much of a draw to my friends, or a stranger from the internet.

I think better of putting on Christmas music, and instead put my phone on do not disturb. I lay back down on the couch with the tree at my feet, take my glasses off, and let my eyes go unfocused. The lights blur, grow brighter. The skier stands front and center. He’s not on the slopes at all. He’s in Iceland. He’s gone to see the Northern Lights. They fill him up completely, so there isn’t room for anything else.

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C.D. Hermelin is a writer and literary agent based in Brooklyn. He writes flash fiction inspired by Max Elman's photography over at astoryandapicture.com. As the Roving Typist, he has typewritten custom stories, poems, and horoscopes for thousands of people all around the world.