Dear Orphans & Orphanettes,
We live in a world of heroes and monsters, gods and mortals, giants and mice. Five minutes on Facebook will tell us that. What that five minutes won’t tell us is that beneath the shares, the re-shares, the hot takes, the likes, and the comments lies something magical. A well that has no name — one that we can reach into and conjure up anything our hearts desire. Much like a blank page, an undeveloped roll of film, or an empty canvas, this magic is just waiting to be formed. It’s waiting for one of us to breathe life into it and give it a purpose.
Mention the name Ray Harryhausen around a group of creatives, and you’re likely to hear one of those creatives talk about how the late special effects wizard sparked their imagination. Harryhausen was a creator known for breathing life into works of art. As a stop-motion animator, he took a vague concept of a creature, reached into that ethereal well, and transformed it into a living model, one complete with personality and character traits sometimes more human than the lead actors occupying the same movie. Whether he was creating an abomination for a by-the-numbers creature feature or bringing to life mythological monsters from ancient texts, each one of Harryhausen’s creations felt relatable on some level. These creatures felt pain. They conveyed a sense of logic and reasoning. That’s what made them unique, and that’s why Harryhausen’s name continues to inspire. His creations were more than just puppetry, they were pieces of himself that had been shared with the world, inspiring a generation of audiences to do the same.
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In Conversation with Scott McClanahan
Meg Tuite: Why do we call it a mental illness when everyone has one?
Scott McClanahan: Yeah it’s funny when you go to the library and there’s whole shelves about abnormal psychology but no shelf that says normal psychology. I’ve always thought that was strange as well. Adam Phillips is one of the great writers on Freud and he always says that psychoanalysis is an art and not a science. He catches all kinds of hell because of this. Freud and Jung were poets. Not doctors in my mind. But I’ve been soothed by poets as much as doctors in this silly thing I call my life.
MT: Absolutely. I asked you before about how you got sober. You said you married a woman who was eight years sober and you replaced beer with cigarettes.
MT: Did you ever relapse?
SM: Oh gosh. I can’t stand most 12 step talk. Relapse. Recovery. It makes me feel like I’m on Oprah.
MT: I’m sorry. I get it. I don’t know how to even talk about it. I went to a 12 step program once when I first moved here and it was insane. It was a group of vets and I was one of the only girls and had to run for my car and never looked back.
SM: Oh, no worries. Yeah it’s just weird. I’m probably more addicted to soda than I have been to anything else in my life. Who knows what Aspartame or Yellow 5 has done to my body. But nobody asks you about those things. [laughs] I guess it’s weird because that character in the book is a drunk but only for story reasons.
I think I’ve made a big mistake with press for this book by talking about my own life actually.
MT: You did talk about Coors Light in the AM and now it’s been replaced by Mountain Dew and kombucha? I have this weird deal about setting a time when I start drinking, but does it really matter? It’s just a time and the time changes according to how shitty the day is or how good.
SM: Yeah for sure.
MT: Have you ever gone through a period when you couldn’t read? Or the books you picked up seemed to be dragging?
SM: Nah, not really. I’ve always ripped right through them for the most part. Maybe that was always my problem about anything. Consumption. I’ve always felt like that robot [in] the movie Short Circuit. Need more input. Need more input. I can always tell if I’m depressed if I have problems reading though.
MT: That’s a yes.
SM: I don’t know if it’s age but I don’t really deal with that anymore. Sometimes I have problems trying to pick what to read.
MT: I just read through all of your books in one solid wind and am now ripping through Juliet Escoria’s books. You both bring to the page that mix of straight-up “this is who I am” and it’s hard not to believe the written word because it’s so relatable to my life and I get that it is as well for so many others after reading some of the reviews.
SM: Yeah, but those are characters too. I don’t think Juliet is anything like her books in real life. I mean she is. But that character she writes also really exists only in those stories. It’s weird: writers and their books that way. Because now that I think of it she is exactly like them, but she’s not too, if that makes any sense.
MT: We are always trying to read the writer into the book, I know. But a truly great writer is like an actor in that we forget they are acting.
SM: Yes. Exactly. I think about this a ton. I just read Thackery’s Barry Lyndon and we have this tradition in the 19th century of trying to tell people this is true. Jane Eyre is even subtitled an autobiography.
MT: I love it and that’s the beauty of getting lost in a book when the roar of outside and all the shit we’re setting up to do goes away and it’s just the story and us. And also, as a reader, I like to find myself in a book. Do you ever do that?
SM: Yeah we all do that I think. Flaubert makes fun of readers like us in Madame Bovary. He puts readers like that just below readers who are looking for a moral. Hah. Trying to find their experience in another experience. I guess I read now for the tricks.
MT: Have you read Tristram Shandy? Another beauty that brings us in to a story within no plot and I LOVE Sterne so much for that.
SM: Yes, that’s such an AMAZING book.
MT: And how difficult to do.
SM: Do you know the story about Sterne’s head?
MT: No. But, I need to now.
SM: No one knows where his skull is now. I guess when he died we were in the midst of bodies being stolen.
MT: A phrenologist must have grabbed it. I would have.
SM: An acquaintance of his who was a doctor recognized his face on a table of stolen bodies.
MT: Don’t you wish you could study a skull by its bumps and get something from it? Did the doctor grab it?
SM: I don’t believe he did. But they picked Sterne’s skull out of a bunch of skulls and put it back with his remains. I think that’s how the story goes. Poor Larry.
MT: [laughs] Poor Larry.
SM: Picked his skull out a year or so later from the lab where the grave robbers would sell the body parts. Yeah. I love all those 18th century guys.
MT: I used to read backwards. Start with the writer, say Poe, and then find the writer he mentions the most and then move from there. It was a happy three years in Montreal in a library every day. Have you ever spent days not talking to anyone?
SM: Oh of course. That’s the best way of reading. When I was 13 I found out about writers by reading a Jim Morrison biography.
MT: I believe we have a similar background in the self-taught arena. I hated school, but loved reading what I wanted. You didn’t get an MFA, did you?
SM: No. I didn’t. Never even took a creative writing class.
MT: Now that’s true grit. I’m not as brave as you are.
SM: It’s all there in the books. All the tricks, etc. You can get a public library card and do it for free.
MT: The best place and the only place where nothing is bought or sold and you can sleep all day if you want.
SM: Juliet has an MFA though. It worked for her.
MT: Yes. It sure did. DAMN! I love the interview you two did. Did you fall in love then?
SM: No it took a little while. Gian Ditrapano doesn’t even believe you pick a writer because of the book. You pick a writer because of the heart. A good book will come out of the vibe of a person. I sort of believe that too. Like Sterne.
MT: I get that from Clarice Lispector. All of her books, though. She is what I would call a philosopher, but all great writers are. Have you read her?
SM: Yeah I like Clarice Lispector. Think the stories more than the novels. That Benjamin Moser bio is pretty good too.
MT: Or Fernando Pessoa. I did get Carrere’s books. Working on Kingdom right now.
SM: Word to the wise: Don’t smoke in bed.
MT: I love the Moser bio. [laughs] Absolutely. Shit. And her friend had the premonition and called her, but I believe her son got her out. That was amazing.
SM: Yeah I really like Pessoa. The Book of Disquiet is Morrisey’s fav book too.
MT: I love him. I keep The Book of Disquiet with me at all times. Also Bruno Schulz’ Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass.
SM: Yeah, I found Schulz from this series of Eastern European Writers that Roth helped edit. There’s a really great bio of Schulz too called The Great Heresy. I think that’s what it’s called.
MT: I have that and everything of his! Even a tattoo on my arm of him with the quote “reality is as thin as paper and betrays with all its cracks.”
SM: Oh man, that’s awesome.
MT: Have you had premonitory dreams?
SM: I don’t really believe in all that dream stuff to be honest. My grandma and my folks do though.
MT: Do you remember your dreams?
SM: Not anymore. Not really. For instance, last night I remember two dreams but that’s rare. In the first one I was at the beach with Julia and her dad and they were marking off a camping space for us to sleep. The second one I remember is this guy Kris at Talking Book. I was at a parade with him and his wife and their son took off running in traffic and I ran out and saved the kid. But they didn’t even say thank you.
MT: Dreams can be crazy amazing! I used to write them down but then had between seven and ten I remembered each night and never got any solid sleep. Well, maybe got too much REM.
SM: I like the post-modern dreams that people have. You know when a dream is meta. When you realize inside the dream that you’re dreaming.
MT: Love that. Have you flown in a dream?
SM: I’m on psych meds now so it’s more just like a nice black pit you fall into with sleep. Yeah, I fly and crash quite often.
MT: Can you control it sometimes?
SM: No. It seems like I like it. Like if I’m flying I’ll want to crash. Like I’ll will myself to fall.
MT: [laughs] I like that.
SM: I like the losing your stomach part of falling and crashing in a dream. It reminds me of roads on my way to my grandma’s. My dad was a master of speeding up and slowing down on hills to get you to lose your stomach.
MT: [laughs] Do you ever talk aloud in your sleep or walk?
SM: Yes I’ve done both. I wandered naked out of this woman’s apartment one time. And I said “fuck” in my sleep when I was in the 7th grade.
MT: [laughs] Beautiful. Where did you end up?
SM: In the hallway of her apartment building. I think I was only out there for a second. Then she came and got me.
MT: I would have loved to hear that you ended up at the Piggly Wiggly or something like that and needed to buy some licorice or tampons.
SM: No. We’d been drinking and taking pills all night and you know how that goes. When I said “fuck” in my sleep I got in trouble. My argument was [that] I was asleep but my mom said, “Well if you’re dreaming it then you’re thinking it.”
MT: Did you really live with your Grandma and Uncle Nathan?
SM: No. I mean I used to go and visit them sometimes. But no. Living with them made the story easier to tell.
MT: Great story telling. I did hospice work for a long time and had a few guys ask for me to pour booze into their feeding tubes. Did Uncle Nathan get his beer?
SM: Oh no. That wouldn’t have been allowed. It was a joke he said once though. Saying he wanted some.
SM: Yeah. He had mother issues. She was always watching him like a hawk. I don’t think he got to do much of anything he wanted to do. They were like an old married couple in many ways.
MT: Maybe I was a felon for giving the booze when they asked, but I thought if I had a feeding tube then I damn well better get what I want.
MT: You really portrayed that relationship well!
SM: I made up all that stuff for the book though. The majority of it. Their relationship is probably more interesting in the book than real life. Lots of sitting around. Lots of watching trucks passing on the road.
MT: But the beauty was in their companionship and fights. That’s how they showed their loyalty. I know many relationships like that.
SM: Oh yeah. Fights are good for books. There’s a John Ford story that if a movie is getting boring just have a stranger ride into town. Same with books. If the book is getting a bit slow just have them get in a fight.
MT: Yes. Do you still love Carrere and consider him the best or one of the best out there?
SM: I don’t think you see enough fights in fiction. Everything feels very Updike and Ford. Like people are mad but they never say it. In my experience people say it.
MT: Oh yes.
SM: I love Carrere and Javier Cercas. Sophie Calle is one of my favorites too.
MT: I’m putting them on my list.
SM: They’re showing a new path to jumbling all these forms together rather than more literary historical fiction. So tired of that shit.
MT: Have you read June Caldwell from Dublin, Ireland?
SM: No, I haven’t.
MT: Room Little Darker is kickass.
SM: Cool. I’ll check it out.
MT: Have you been listening to any new podcasts?
SM: I like this podcast. Best new literary podcast.
MT: Adding it. Thank you. Bud Smith, oh yes! I’m on it. Living inside a boiler.
SM: They’ll probably get a Nobel.
MT: Nice. Are you still thinking of doing a podcast with Juliet?
SM: Yeah, I am. I’ve just been so busy here recently. And our friend we used to live with moved to Charleston so we have some geographical issues to deal with.
MT: Do you have a publicist? Or do your publishers pay for you to travel?
SM: Yeah. Oh wait. Let me hunt up this other podcast quick. This is pretty amazing!
MT: How does all that come through?
SM: Yeah. Tyrant is good about the travel stuff. And also these book festivals are usually a good racket.
MT: The readings you mean? Nice! When are you going to read in NM? Not many come here. Would be so cool to have you and Juliet together.
SM: [laughs] I’d like to make it to NM. Usually people contact you or Fat Possum asked me where I wanted to go with this book. I’ve been kind of lazy about things though. I’m really burned out with readings. So I just did NY and Oxford, MS and Asheville, NC and the Decatur Book Fest and then next month I’m doing Chicago and St. Louis. Might try to do an LA date but that’s probably it for me.
MT: Collected Works is a great bookstore here in Santa Fe to read at and you and Juliet could stay at our house. We call it the compound. We have a 2000 square foot barn. How about music? I know I need to update my old lady music list. Any good ones?
SM: Listen to Fat White Family. Insecure Men will have an album out soon but it’s not out.
MT: Love the names. Look forward to it.
SM: Been listening to this crazy ‘60s singer Bobby Jameson. But you can only find his music on Youtube.
MT: Don’t know him, but love that you talked about Tom Jones as an artist.
SM: Yeah. You should listen to Robin Gibb’s first solo album, too.
MT: When my sister turned sixteen we chased her around the table singing “Well she’s a lady, wo wo wo wo, she’s a lady.” She’s a lesbian and beat the crap out of us later.
SM: Robin’s Reign is the name of it. [laughs] That’s funny.
MT: Spending time with you is damn fun. I can’t thank you enough for giving up the lawnmower for this back and forth.
SM: Oh, of course. It was fun. Thank you for asking me.
MT: Are you working on something now? Just a last question. I may send you some weird package again with corn nuts and Mountain Dew.
SM: Nope. Think I’ve given up writing.
MT: Bullshit. It’s in the blood, bloke.
SM: Nah. I’m done for a good long while. At least publishing. I’m sure I’ll get back to it. Writing anyway. But I’m kinda spent.
MT: Do you take periods off from writing, and then when it comes to you, get back on it in a frenzy?
SM: Yeah, sometimes. But it’s just getting to be a bit much for my nervous system to handle. Feel like I could write a really shitty historical novel if somebody gave me some more money. [laughs] So I’m just gonna step back for a bit. Maybe I’m just getting old. Don’t really have anything to say either. [laughs]
MT: You’re a storyteller! I see the podcast. A new venue for your blood.
SM: The worst thing to be in the world would be Joyce Carol Oates. That just seems like a nightmare career to have. Cranking out a book cause it’s what you do. Yeah, maybe. We’ll see.
MT: Or Stephen King.
SM: Yeah. People like money, though. I guess I do, too.
MT: And just want to end on the Bible. I tried to read that bastard over ten times and wanted to make it through from beginning to end, but you get me to numbers? Are you shitting me? SORRY! End of game. Although, I do love Job and Ecclesiastes and the new testament’s wild ride.
SM: Yeah. Numbers and Chronicles is like John Barth or Thomas Pynchon.
MT: [laughs] Thank you. Hope to meet you in real life someday. Sending Meg LOVE to you and Juliet! xoxo
SM: back atcha. Oh, and this is the best album of the past few years.
MT: On it. Thank you so much, Scott! You and Juliet always have a place to stay in Santa Fe.
SM: Thank ya. I’ll tell her.
Scott McClanahan is the author of The Sarah Book, Crapalachia, and Hill William. He lives in West Virginia.
Photograph in banner cited from: Tom Woodward (flickr)
Edited by Literary Ophans
Mom clung to the hamhocks of a smack-mouthed infantry of a man and all the kitchen utensils for over fifty years. She baked pies, cakes, cookies, casseroles, broiled chops, steaks, turkeys, and bacon while his face and ass blew out the windows, the children, the TV.
Rose-scented and silent, she cooked and heaped plates; kept family from expecting anything more than a second helping from her trembling hands and lips. Dad’s jaws were wrenches, screwdrivers, drill bits, shears, bottle-openers. They unhinged, turned, flipped, severed, chiseled through, blasted foundations, and stifled oxygen.
The daughters grew up fat with fear. Winds battered inside them every time Dad slithered into rooms grinding his sour stench into their soft folds, while Mom dissolved into the ingredients. Bent as far away from Dad until brittle enough to crack–Mom and the girls had a knack for burning and cutting the underbelly of things.
The word ‘mother’ meant tepid, undercooked, bland. Her daughters took on the flapping pages of a history that walked ahead of itself while Mom cleaned and cooked. When they were kids they slumbered in single beds with wallpaper that cascaded some kind of Disney phantasmal parade of shackles. Beds were perilous as depression. They gazed into their father’s pasty skin more often than the ceiling’s scarred indents. Gnawing and gnashing asleep, had them in braces until their teeth grew together out of one prison.
When polyp’s crowded through Dad’s colon in a buffet of stuffed mushrooms; the rectum, lungs, liver, brain, and spinal cord had already saturated through the bloodstream in one creamy, rich sauce.
Mom was unconscious in bed one month after Dad died. The daughters sat for what clocks could never decipher and listened to the dying woman’s open-mawed mouth gurgle in what sounded more like a pot simmering than words.
When the final breath steamed out of her, they witnessed the act of a body hardening into a slow freeze. Her eyes had long been fishhooked by other worlds.
The daughters picked at invisible stains, didn’t know what to do or say. They searched through the back of her closet until they discovered a turquoise dress that flared out like their mother never did. They put the dress on her, carefully moving awkward, heavy limbs. Arms flopped and contorted without protest. This dead mother of the pseudo-living was finally transported from an artifice dicing onions, scraping bowls, forking piecrust edges, rolling dough, and stuffing turkeys.
They took turns spraying her decaying body in lavender water, but her orifices were open caverns of festering ulcers and release.
They studied a moldy old photo album. The woman in the photos wore a vapid smile and hair that wrapped around her head like overcooked noodles.
The dead woman in the turquoise dress had a translucent sheen to her skin. The bruises matched her outfit, spreading precious opalesque storms up to the surface. Her veined hands folded over each other.
“Look,” said the younger daughter. “She isn’t shaking anymore.”
The older daughter studied the immobile limbs. A quake shuddered inside her.
Meg Tuite is author of a novel-in-stories, Domestic Apparition (San Francisco Bay Press), a short story collection, Bound By Blue, (Sententia Books) and won the Twin Antlers Collaborative Poetry award from (Artistically Declined Press) for her poetry collection, Bare Bulbs Swinging, as well as four chapbooks of short fiction, flash, poetic prose, and multi-genre. She teaches at Santa Fe Community College, is a senior editor at Connotation Press and (b)OINK lit zine. Her work has been published in over 400 literary magazines and over fifteen anthologies including: Choose Wisely: 35 Women Up To No Good. She has been nominated nine times for the Pushcart Prize, won first and second place in Prick of the Spindle contest, five-time finalist at Glimmer Train, finalist of the Gertrude Stein award and Bristol Short Story Contest. She is also the editor of eight anthologies. Her blog: http://megtuite.com
Melting Man (Banner) by Christian Arthur
The Woman by Ted Taffe
The summer I was five, I had a lot to worry about. We moved into a new house when my sister was born. Two big adjustments—the house and my sister. But that wasn’t all. Every Wednesday at noon an air raid siren went off. President Eisenhower said on the radio that the siren was to help us but it scared me. I had to hold my breath the whole minute so we wouldn’t be attacked.
I’d been so happy living at Edgewater, but my parents said three kids couldn’t fit into a two-bedroom apartment. I’d loved sharing a room with my big brother, Steve. He knew lots of things, especially how to keep the night monsters away. And I had a million friends. Mother even let me walk to my friend Chi Chi’s house by myself.
All that changed at East Boston Terrace. I can’t tell you why, but it never felt like a friendly house, even though my parents loved it. “It was designed by the architect Paul Thiry. He’s called the father of architectural modernism in the Pacific Northwest, you know,” my mother told Auntie Lil, using her Queen of England voice.
In the beginning my sister was in my parents’ room. I had my own bedroom and Steve had his. I didn’t like it. During the day my wallpaper was a pretty design—bunches of flowers on a blue striped background. But at night the flowers bordering the ceiling turned into skulls and crossbones. My parents were so busy with a new baby, a new store, and a new house that I didn’t want to add to their problems. And Steve seemed so far away, even though he was in the next room. So on the nights I felt too scared to close my eyes in case one of the skulls grabbed me, I slept in the hallway.
Then there was the baby. When they first told me about it, I thought a baby in the family might be fun. Boy, was I wrong. First of all, she cried a lot. Second, I thought I’d be able to hold her and maybe feed her a bottle. After all, I’d had a lot of experience doing it with my doll, but my parents and Allie Mae wouldn’t let me near Pamela.
Allie Mae was our maid. We didn’t have much money, but on and off we had a maid because both my parents worked. They’d bought a jewelry store in downtown Seattle and worked long hours to get it going. It didn’t give them much time for anything else. Before the baby, no matter how busy she was, Allie Mae always had time for me. I remember sitting in her lap and playing with her hand. While the outside was brown, the skin of her palm was white, the lifelines darker. I’d trace those lines with my white baby fingers, feeling the softness of her skin and the sandpaper roughness of her fingertips.
But those days of cuddles were gone. Everyone forgot me unless someone said, “Shhhhh, don’t wake the baby.”
One day I decided I’d had enough. “Daddy,” I said, “I don’t like how the baby cries. It’s so noisy.”
My dad patted my head absentmindedly. “Give her a chance, Cynthia. If you still don’t like your sister, we can mail her back.”
“How would you do that?” I asked.
“We’d put her in that big mailbox at the top of the hill.”
That gave me pause. She was a pain, all right, but I didn’t want Pammy stuffed into a box.
“Okay, I’ll give her more time,” I said.
After another few weeks I knew it wasn’t going to work. “Daddy, I gave her a chance, but now I’m ready to send her back,” I said.
Daddy looked up from his newspaper. “Well, the thing is, it’s too late now. We can’t send her back—we have to keep her.”
“But you said we could.”
“I know but I can’t do anything about it now. If you’d said something sooner…”
I went to bed that night thinking life was so unfair. I was so mad, even the skulls and crossbones didn’t bother me.
I wasn’t much of an eater in those days. One night Allie Mae put a plate of pot roast, peas, and potatoes in front of me. I could only stare at it. She’d cut up the meat for me, and I finally put a piece in my mouth. I chewed the stringy chunk until it was a glob that I moved from one side of my mouth to the other. “Sugar, you be sure to eat up your roast and those peas, you hear,” she said from around the corner of the kitchen.
Swinging my legs, I chewed the beef and worried about how I’d eat the peas. I didn’t want the little pea girl to feel lonely as she slid down my throat. I decided to put five peas on my fork so the whole family could go together. Since I couldn’t stand the mushy feel of them in my mouth, I began to swallow them whole. But no matter how hard I tried, I could never swallow the meat. It seemed to grow larger until it crowded my tonsils. I spit it into my napkin when Allie Mae wasn’t looking. That worked well until she found the wadded-up napkin in the trash can in the bathroom.
“Shame on you. Why, there are starving children in China,” she said, swatting my bottom and sending me to my room.
I sat on my bed, hugging my teddy bear and sucking my thumb. Nobody loves me, I thought. Nobody cares.
The next day was Sunday. Daddy always made pancakes and little piggies on Sunday. I got up and started for the stairs. Somehow I tripped and rolled from the top to the bottom. I lay there, unhurt but stunned. Then I started to cry.
“What’s the matter?” Daddy called from the kitchen.
My brother came to look. “Oh, she fell down the stairs again,” he said. “Come on, baby, get up.” He held out a hand.
“I’m not a baby.” I ran back up the stairs to my bedroom. I got onto my bed and held my teddy tight. The Swensen girls, who lived four houses away, had told me about a girl who knew her family didn’t love her.
“She was adopted,” Linda said.
“Yeah, and they were mean to her. So she ran away,” Barbara added.
I put my thumb in my mouth. Maybe I was adopted. Everyone always asked me where I got my blue eyes because no one else in my family had them. Mommy told me to tell them I got them from the milkman. When I said it, it always got a big laugh. I didn’t know why.
Had they wanted to send me back but waited too long and had to keep me? I wondered.
“I bet that’s what happened,” I said aloud. “Just like with Pammy. They’re stuck with me.”
I sucked my thumb and thought. Then I stood up. “I better run away like that other girl. They’ll be sorry when I’m gone.”
In the wardrobe closet I took out my black and white checked case and threw some things in it. I put Teddy under my arm and carefully walked down the stairs.
At the front door I called out, “I’m running away from home.”
No one answered. With a heavy heart I opened the door and stepped outside. I walked very slowly out the front yard and past the driveway.
I was sure Mother would come out to scold me for making her nervous. “You get right back into the house this minute!” she’d say.
But no. No one came.
I kept walking, Teddy in one hand and my suitcase in the other. Halfway up the hill I started getting scared. I had no plan. Well, my plan was that someone would stop me. I wasn’t allowed to go farther than the top of the hill. And I didn’t really want to. I could get lost. Or there could be a bomb. Steve told me if Korea threw a bomb at us, he’d throw it back. But if I was alone, I wouldn’t be able to throw it back myself. What was I going to do?
I sat down on the curb and started to cry. I knew it, I thought. No one loves me. Nobody cares about me. They don’t even care if I run away. They’re probably happy I’m gone.
After a while I trudged back down the hill. I let myself into the house and climbed the stairs as quietly as I could. I didn’t want them to know I’d backed down. I unpacked my overnight case and put it away. Then I got under the covers. I held Teddy very close. It was just him and me.
When Daddy tapped on the door and came in, I turned my face into the pillow.
He sat down on my bed. “You’re having a tough time, aren’t you, Cynthie?”
I shuddered back a sob but didn’t say anything.
“Aww, sweetheart.” He began to pat my back. “Don’t cry. It’ll all work out. You’ll see.”
The next Saturday, before they left for work, Daddy took me aside. “Cynthia, Mommy and I have a real treat planned for you,” he said.
“What is it?”
“Steve is going to stay overnight at his friend’s. You know, Harvey?”
I nodded. “Uh-huh. He lives by Volunteer Park.”
“That’s right. So he’ll be at Harvey’s, and you get to go to Allie Mae’s tonight. Then tomorrow you’ll spend the whole day with her.”
“Really?” I clapped my hands together. “Can I go pack right now?”
He smoothed back my bangs. “Sure can.”
In August the sun sets late in Seattle, so even though it was after my bedtime, the sky was bright as we set off from home that night. Daddy was in the driver’s seat, Allie Mae next to him. I was in the back, practicing snapping my fingers. I’d been working on it for a while and was getting close. It was quiet in the car except for the radio playing a jazzy tune. Every once in a while, I heard Daddy murmur something to Allie Mae.
When we got to her house, it was getting dark. Daddy walked up the wooden stairs onto the porch with us, but I got to carry my suitcase by myself.
“Watch your step here,” Allie Mae said, pointing to a place where the wood was splintered. We walked around the hole to the front door. Allie Mae had her key out and she unlocked it. When we stepped inside, the air felt thick with heat.
Allie Mae turned to my father. “You go on now and don’t worry about Cynthia. She’ll be fine here.”
“Okay, but call us if you need to,” Daddy said in his worried voice.
She patted his hand. “We won’t need anything, Mr. Thal.”
Daddy smiled at her and then leaned down to me. “Now, be good and mind Allie Mae.”
I put my arms around his neck and he hugged me tight. By the time he drove off in the Chevy, Allie Mae had rolled up the Venetian blinds to let in a little light.
“Follow me and I’ll show you where the bedrooms are,” she said.
We walked down a short hallway, and she led me into a bedroom that had pink curtains and a pink bedspread.
“This was my little girl’s bedroom,” she said.
“Where’s your little girl now?”
Allie Mae began turning down the spread. “Ella moved down to Los Angeles.”
“Do you miss her?” I asked.
“I do,” she said. “I surely do.”
I moved over to where she stood and hugged her around the waist.
“You’re a sweet child,” she said.
In the morning when I opened my eyes, Allie Mae was standing right by my bed.
“I was just going to wake you up,” she said. “Breakfast is on the table and we need to hurry. Church starts at ten o’clock.”
Breakfast was delicious. Bacon and eggs and something Allie Mae called grits. I ate every bite.
Then Allie Mae took me into the bathroom to clean up. She brushed my hair one hundred strokes and bobby pinned the blue, satin bow into place. She helped me into my white dress and starched blue pinafore she’d ironed at my house. I put on my Mary Janes, which had been polished to a shine with Vaseline. Allie Mae was already dressed in a gray suit. She pinned her straw hat with the matching gray ribbon into place before she locked the door, and we started down the front stairs.
“Goodness gracious. I don’t know how we got so late,” she said, hurrying me along the sidewalk.
The church was pretty far away—at least four blocks. When we walked up the stairs and inside, the vestibule was empty. Allie Mae looked me up and down to be sure I hadn’t gotten mussed along the way. She refastened the ribbon on my head, and then she pushed open a swinging door. We walked into the church. The walls were painted white, and there was a large cross behind the pulpit in front. The service hadn’t begun yet, but most all of the people sat on benches in rows.
As we started down the aisle, one lady called out, “Allie Mae, is that your sweet little Cynthia you talk about?”
I turned to beam at her. She had on a straw hat that was twice as big as Allie Mae’s. And it had flowers all over it.
Several people stood and called out greetings as we walked by them. Many touched me on top of my head. Allie Mae smiled more than I’d ever seen her smile. We moved into an aisle just as the pastor started the service. I liked the way Allie Mae stood so straight, the strap of her pocketbook over her wrist. I liked listening to her voice when she sang the songs.
“They’re called gospels,” she whispered to me.
I managed to sit quietly for most of the service. Some of the time I practiced snapping my fingers and some of the time the choir sang. When they did, we got to stand up and clap to the music. A woman swayed her arms back and forth so I did too.
The pastor’s voice got real loud when he talked, and I scooted closer to Allie Mae. Sometimes people shouted out, “Amen! Amen!” after he said something.
“Amen,” I said, trying it out. When I got fidgety, Allie Mae slipped me a Lifesaver.
After the service Allie Mae led me to the line where people waited to greet the pastor. Several people patted my head as I came near them.
“Look at those blond curls,” a man said.
A woman who had a fur around her neck smiled at me. I leaned into Allie Mae when I saw little fox feet on the fur.
“How sweet,” the lady said.
I basked in all the attention, but soon after we’d said our hellos to the pastor, Allie Mae wanted to leave. “Let’s go,” she said, taking my hand.
As we stood on the sidewalk, she straightened my bow. “I surely didn’t like all those people patting your head,” she said.
I tilted my head back so I could see her face. “How come?”
“I just didn’t,” she said.
I knew that voice. It meant I better not ask any more questions.
Because we weren’t in a hurry, we walked home at a leisurely pace.
“Look, Allie Mae. A leaf just fell off the tree.” I pointed to the brown and green leaf floating to the ground.
She sighed. “It’ll be fall before we know it.” She sounded sad so I held her hand tighter.
When we were on Allie Mae’s block, I saw a Chevy parked in front of her house.
“Goodness gracious,” I said, “my daddy’s here.”
Allie Mae clutched my hand for a second and then let it go. “Yes, it surely looks like it.”
Up ahead the car door opened and Daddy got out.
“Daddy!” I called and ran to his open arms. He scooped me up and hugged me.
By then Allie Mae had reached us. “Hello, Mr. Thal. I thought Cynthia was staying ’til this afternoon.”
“We missed her so much, I had to come get her early,” Daddy said.
Allie Mae nodded. “I see. Well, come on in while I gather her things together.”
Daddy put me down and we followed Allie Mae into the house. Daddy and Mommy missed me, I kept thinking. They missed me!
Allie Mae helped me out of my dress and into play clothes. Then we went into her kitchen, and she packed up fried chicken and potato salad from the refrigerator. “I’ll never eat all this by myself,” she said, handing it to Daddy.
When I kissed her good-bye, I thought I saw tears in her eyes. I hugged her extra hard. She must be lonely with her own little girl so far away.
In the car I sat right next to Daddy. “Me and My Shadow” was playing on the radio and we sang along.
At a stoplight he looked over at me. “Did you have a good time?”
I nodded. “It was fun. And all the people in the church were so nice to me.”
“Of course they were,” Daddy said. “You’re a special girl.”
I smiled a smile as wide as the ocean.
“I felt Allie Mae was sad that I was leaving,” I said after a minute. “I think she misses her daughter.”
“I can understand that. Mommy and I missed you in one day,” he said.
As the light turned green, I leaned against his arm. I didn’t feel so worried now. I was going home with my daddy and I felt safe.
Cyndy Muscatel’s short stories, poetry and essays have been published in many literary journals. A former journalist and English teacher, she also writes two blogs. She teaches fiction writing and memoir in Kona, Hawaii, and is also a speaker and workshop presenter. She is writing a memoir of her years teaching in the inner city of Seattle.
Photograph in banner cited from: vanessa lollipop (flickr)
Edited by: Literary Orphans
Michelle Reale is the author of seven collections of poetry, including The Marie Curie Sequence (Dancing Girl Press, 2017) and Confini: Poems of Refugees in Sicily (forthcoming from Cervana Barva Press, 2018), as well as three books on librarianship with a fourth due out in January 2018. Much of her work focuses on Italian-American aspects of memory, narrative and immigration. Her work has been published in many journals both online and in print. She has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is an Associate Professor and Librarian at Arcadia University.
Michelle Reale’s latest collection, All These Things Were Real: Poems of Delirium Tremens, is powerful vulnerability (which I consider the same deal) with a mastery of language that Reale wraps around the struggle of a mother’s trapped son who is an alcoholic, and her attempt to make sense of their world together. It’s heartbreaking and relentless. Reale gives the reader a harrowing account of what it is to watch a son rock between the fragility of life and death. Here are some quotes from this unforgettable collection:
“When he thrashes in the narrow bed, when they forget his name, when the male nurse argues about who’s on break next, try not to gouge the glibness from their hollow frames.”
“Tug the thin gown over the bare buttocks, the spine contorted, writhing in disintegration.”
“I could wallpaper a house with receipts for Nikolai Vodka, for Rumpleminz schnapps, one you can’t detect, the other could be nothing more than assiduous oral hygiene.”
“The doctor is thin as a lemon slice…”
“My son froths a verbal manifesto…”
“I wear ICU delirium like a hairnet.”
“I step over and around her voice that splinters on the floor like glass.”
“There is a twig growing from his ear and he waits for the glue to put it back, to hold it all together.”
MT: Michelle! I am continuously blown away by the force of your being within your mesmerizing lines. Can you share what this specific collection means to you? How it relates to you as a mother?
MR: Thank you for your kind words! Actually, it was cathartic to write the poems and very difficult to read them now, in bound form. As a mother, going through this with your child, no matter how old they are, is one of the most agonizing feelings in the world. There was literally nothing I could do to help. As a woman, a mother, it reinforced what I have always felt and believed: that the world is fragile, and we, ourselves in it, even more so.
MT: I am almost positive that most families have dealt with addiction. This is a subject that we, as a collective, as a family, as a person, all relate to and struggle with. Can you share your thoughts on this?
MR: I have been that person, I am ashamed to say, who would look at someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol and think “How could their family not know?” But now, I understand all too well how it can happen. It was right in front of my face, though I failed to read all the signs of alcohol abuse. I made all sorts of excuses for his red eyes, for instance, and kept urging my son to use eye drops, etc. I used to tell people his allergies were awful. I also understand, in ways that I never, ever have before that addiction of any kind is a true disease—an awful one. In my son’s case, he told me he never wanted to drink—-it was like a ball and chain—but he knew that he risked severe withdrawal or death if he quit. He really didn’t know a way out. He fell down the steps in my home and suffered a horrible injury. After 9 hours in surgery his body went into withdrawal for which he was hospitalized for a month in ICU. It was touch and go. To see the physical torment, the hallucinations, etc was devastating, to say the least.
MT: That is heartbreaking and must have been absolutely terrifying! I know that you are living in the same house/block that you grew up in. Does that manifest in your work?
MR: I live in the same town in which I grew up in. My world is very ethnically nuanced—I guess that is a good way to put it. Very Italian-American. This is not only manifested in my writing, but in my mental and emotional worlds, too—which of course bleeds into my writing whether I realize it or not. A lot of my current work is what one of my friends called “accented,” meaning that it has a preoccupation with the Italian-American world which is warm, close, loving, connected and strong, but can also be claustrophobic, judgmental, gossipy and exclusive. The two sides of every coin, I suppose. But I have to say, that I embrace all of it.
MT: You are one of those ‘warriors of writing’, as I call them. You let the filters drop and give your reader a vivid and palpable experience through your words. What is your process as a writer? Do you have a specific time/place that you write or does it come when it does?
MR: I write every single day. EVERY SINGLE DAY. I also hate writing advice and I discard most of it. With that being said, I have an MFA and was incredibly grateful for the experience—it definitely made me a better writer, but I am very, very self-directed and single-minded: I just show up for my writing life every day and get it done. It gives me joy.
I keep a lot of notebooks. I like to say that I live by the notebook. I write in them every day, several times a day. I am highly reflective and my work has a contemplative component to it in that I sit with it for a bit and let images work through me. I despise gimmicks—and the writing world is full of them in the form of gimmicky online lit zines in which clever repartee gets in the way of just telling people plain and simply, how to submit! It comes in the form of too many readings that blunt the force of the work, or crazy antics in which writers have zany contests or do weird things on stage at readings. In fact, I am not big on readings and go to very few. I participate in even less. I don’t need to hear a writer read their work for it to have resonance with me. In fact, it sometimes ruins the work for me. My experience with poetry in particular is one on one: me and the page.
I do walking meditation on most days with my dogs Vanzetti (a little Chihuahua) and Miso (a Shih Tzu) and I might know what I want to write about and maybe I don’t. But I let the subconscious work on my thoughts. I write my ideas down in a Kelly green moleskin which is falling apart, but I am so attached to it! Sometimes a poem will come out whole, but most times it doesn’t. But it is a good feeling when things come together. I am working on two themed collections right now—something I love to do.
MT: I get this feeling that you have this huge extended family that live near each other? Is that true? And if so, how are the family gatherings? Any tension between siblings/parents/kids?
MR: Yes, it is true! I have a ton of aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews etc. and we all enjoy being with each other so much. Two of my collections focused on each of my grandparents —The Legacy of the Sidelong Glance: Elegies was written about my paternal grandmother and the life of misery she led, before being diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 44 —she was dead 3 weeks later. Birds of Sicily was written as an exploration of my paternal grandfather’s life, a reluctant Sicilian immigrant who was a very dangerous and difficult (to say the least) man. My extended family holds up and supports the work 100% even if some of the things I have revealed in the writing hurts. And often it does. Most of the time I spend with others is spent with family. We all get along very well!
MT: Who are some of your “go-to writers” that inspire you when you are writing? Or are you a writer who doesn’t read while in the midst of writing a collection?
MR: Actually, I am always reading, sometimes several books at a time. My go to writer for a bedrock of truth is Adrienne Rich—whose work is so brave, so true and at times so raw, when I read her work I feel that this is what poetry was meant to be. Wislawa Zymborska, Joseph Brodsky are others that I study. I love the Eastern European aesthetic and sensibility: a bit brooding, dark and spare. As well, two Italian poets I love are Alda Merini and Patrizia Cavalli. I am drawn to them over and over again.
MT: What are your thoughts on how we, as a country, a community, can deal with mental illness and addiction?
MR: I think awareness is one way, and by that I mean educating ourselves about what addiction looks like, how to support (and not enable) someone with an addiction and make oneself aware of resources to recommend. Also, it is very important to adopt a stance of non-judgment; it is simply too easy to think that someone is beneath us in some way because they drink or are addicted to drugs. That simply isn’t the case.
MT: I have huge, huge love and admiration for librarians! My mother was a librarian and enveloped all her children in the beauty of escaping in books. When did you decide that you wanted to be a librarian?
MR: I probably over identify with being a librarian, but I love it! I have worked in libraries for literally my entire life and consider myself incredibly lucky to be in such a vibrant atmosphere every day! I am an associate professor and librarian at Arcadia University in the suburbs of Philadelphia and love my job. I think I always knew that I wanted to help people with access to information. Books are one aspect of librarianship, but there are a million others. I am so glad to be a part of a changing information landscape!
MT: Can you share a quote that really resonates with you as a human and a writer?
MR: I collect quotes and so that is such a difficult question to answer, but right now, this quote reinforces how I feel about showing up every day to write: “Ritual is power; habit is stimulant.”
MT: Can you share a poem that you LOVE!!?
MR: Adrienne Rich’s poem “Transcendental Etude” from her collection from The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems 1950-2001, (W. W. Norton) is perhaps my favorite of hers. The poem is too long to reproduce here, but my favorite stanzas are these:
No one ever told us we had to study our lives,
make of our lives a study, as if learning natural history
music, that we should begin
with the simple exercises first
and slowly go on trying
the hard ones, practicing till strength
and accuracy became one with the daring
to leap into transcendence, take the chance
of breaking down the wild arpeggio
or faulting the full sentence of the fugue.
And in fact we can’t live like that: we take on
everything at once before we’ve even begun
to read or mark time, we’re forced to begin
in the midst of the hard movement,
the one already sounding as we are born.
At most we’re allowed a few months
of simply listening to the simple
line of a woman’s voice singing a child
against her heart. Everything else is too soon,
too sudden, the wrenching-apart, that woman’s heartbeat
heard ever after from a distance
the loss of that ground-note echoing
whenever we are happy, or in despair.
Everything else seems beyond us,
we aren’t ready for it, nothing that was said
is true for us, caught naked in the argument,
the counterpoint, trying to sight read
what our fingers can’t keep up with, learn by heart
what we can’t even read. And yet
it is this we were born to. We aren’t virtuosi
or child prodigies, there are no prodigies
in this realm, only a half-blind, stubborn
cleaving to the timbre, the tones of what we are,
even when all the texts describe it differently.
MT: That is brilliant. I am also a fan of Adrienne Rich.
One more question. Tell me about the brilliant artwork of your son, David, who created the painting on your cover.
MR: David lived in New Orleans for quite a few years and he produced a lot of paintings when he was there. He painted the one on the cover about 5 years ago, just from an artistic vision. Who would have known, five years later, that that painting would adequately portray his nightmarish experience!
MT: He is so talented, like his Mom! Thank you so much, Michelle Reale, for your unending inspiration and love of life! It resonates in all of your work! LOVE!
MR: Thank you, Meg! Always a pleasure!
Purchase Michelle’s collection here
Meg Tuite‘s writing has appeared in numerous journals. She is author of two short story collections, Bound By Blue (2013) Sententia Books and Domestic Apparition (2011) San Francisco Bay Press, and five chapbooks. The latest is Lined Up Like Scars published by International Flash: Short-Short Fiction (University of Chester: UK). She won the Twin Antlers Collaborative Poetry award from Artistically Declined Press for her poetry collection, Bare Bulbs Swinging (2014) written with Heather Fowler and Michelle Reale. She teaches at the Santa Fe Community College, lives in Santa Fe with her husband and menagerie of pets.
Photograph in banner cited from: Karl Herler (flickr)
Edited by Literary Orphans
Dear Orphans & Orphanettes,
The act of writing takes patience. It takes dedication, quietness of the mind, and an innate ability to create rhythm and voice on a blank canvas. Before one can even begin to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard), the act of writing demands an indeterminate length of time where the mind can travel down any number of roads without interruption. To write, we must voyage outside of ourselves. We must hover above our earthly bodies and examine ourselves and the worlds we inhabit objectively.
In a world of ceaseless streaming, advertising, and background noise, finding the right environment for creativity can be difficult. With each object we interact with and each digital screen we glance at, we risk opening the doorway to a deluge of chatter. Buy this! Buy that! Your life is incomplete without the NEW and IMPROVED…
It’s almost like living in a horror story where supernatural voices direct every waking moment of our lives. If it’s not an advertisement whispering in our ears, it’s a strongly worded opinion piece shaming us for something we did or didn’t do. These ghostly voices encourage us to strive for something better than ourselves. They tell us we’re not good enough and that we shouldn’t be content with who we are as individuals. We need to be more. We need to be better.
Read more »
Her paws scrape against the road’s surface as she slowly hobbles up to the back end of my post. My bunkered position rises from the middle of the road in a half-assed tower of stacked sandbags on top of boxes of sand wrapped in metal mesh and plywood. I pull back the heavy red blanket that serves as its back door to see who is approaching. It’s our dog. She bleeds from multiple bullet holes as she climbs up the sandbag steps to where I stand, watching her.
She forces her way to the third step, turns slowly, and sits down, facing outward. Her body wheezes and shifts as she gazes as evenly as possible, stretching her neck so she can scan back and forth across the road. I want to touch her, in spite of orders not to. But her body is in pain. Petting her will only punish her more.
This is a memory, and I never trust memories. I blocked them out for years, and now they hit harder. I remember that pain, the way her face wore it. She looks out steadily with her nose tilted up, her eyes focused even though her breathing is forced and her body shudders in pain over and over again. I wonder if she knows she is going to die, her pups will probably die, and that will be the end. Riddled with bullets, she protects me still.
I can see the house in the distance where I have lived for the last couple of months and wonder how she made it back. I can’t believe I’m mad at her. But I am.
I stand in the stuffy wooden box, encased in a sweat-stained shell of assorted gear held together by interwoven straps, buttons, and Velcro. My gear weighs down on my shoulders more than usual. It’s been a long post. I let the curtain fall and return to facing the front. The smell of burning shit suffocates the senses. I listen to the wheezing creature as I ponder my options. I tell them she’s here, they kill her. I say nothing, she lives until the next shift begins and my relief makes the call. I move her into the woods, she walks back over again.
My machine gun sits crookedly on the bipods with a belt of ammo resting on the can. The road beyond me disappears into the horizon, cutting through one-story houses with palm trees dotting little farm plots and an occasional lonely oasis. I’m currently on the outskirts of Fallujah. I’m in the Marines, in an infantry battalion, and we are on our third deployment to Iraq in less than two years since this thing started. We hold an area of large multi-story houses that stretch along the highway just outside city limits. Each house holds a full platoon, and each platoon has set up a perimeter to ensure the entire infrastructure is watched closely.
Since we replaced the last battalion here, it’s been our job to manage the ebb and flow of traffic that enters and leaves the city. My post is the farthest out from the house my platoon inhabits on this side of town.
I reach for my radio and call in to command.
“Snowball is here, and she’s sitting on my post. Looks like she’s been shot up pretty bad.”
“What?! Okay, hold on.”
I wait. My squad leader, Corporal Fisher, must be checking with the lieutenant on what happens next. I look back outside at our girl, and remember how we got here.
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As he demonstrates in his outstanding story collection, Crossing the Lines, Tony Press is a keen observer of humankind. Perhaps it’s due to the Buddhist path that he follows, but as almost all reviewers point out, in so many words, Press’s stories have heart, they reveal us for what we are, they remind us of the lessons of life. And they do so subtly, in a masterful but also entertaining way. The 32 stories range from a single page to about twelve pages in length, but most of them weigh in at about four, five pages. These are flash fictions of the compressed, short-story kind, you might say—with beginnings, middles, and ends, as opposed to stories that come and go in a flash—impressionist, employing poetic techniques. They take place mostly in the U.S. (various locations), with several in Mexico and Spain. Some take place in present day, others during the 1960s, and a few are historical.
I have many favorites in this collection. Among them: “Take Me to Your Heart,” “A Nica in Blighty,” “Always Another Straw,” “Pancakes,” “At Last,” and “Hunger.” There’s a special place in my memory though for three of these stories. In “The Viper’s Smile,” a writer on retreat in Spain finds himself trapped in his cabin with a lethally poisonous viper. Given his predicament, the first-person narrator’s tone is admiringly restrained, adding to the story’s black humor. Take the story’s understated, opening line: “With the exception of the viper on the floor, it looked to be a beautiful morning.” And without revealing too much, let’s just say the ending is deliciously open-ended, and amusingly invokes a New Yorker cartoon and the classic image of Death, hooded, with scythe.
Next, deservedly nominated for a Pushcart Prize, “Funeral Season” builds a story about life-long love and friendship that culminates with this mediation on loss:
“One tired week later, Nils sat at the kitchen table at mid-day. The apartment, once so cozily cramped, was large and empty, a shell of itself. Yes, the furniture had not changed, and yes, all Tommy’s albums remained. In truth, the sole material difference was that his clothes had been donated and his toiletries and stunning array of medicines tossed in the trash. What did ‘larger than life’ mean, Nils wondered. He had always thought it trite but the absence of Tommy was so much more than his mere corporeal self, and that self had been dissipating for months anyway. No, there was a palpable vacuum. He didn’t like that term anymore than he did ‘larger than life.’ Language. Life. Shit.”
And perhaps my favorite of all, “What the Storm Brought,” shows us the whole of a budding romance that unfolds over two years during World War I, and does so unhurriedly and vividly, in only five pages. Memorably, the opening sentence is the aphorism-worthy, “January was the month of truth but some truths were harder than others.” As the opening paragraph develops, the snow storm promised by the title arrives. I won’t spoil the O’Henry-ish twist at story’s end, but again comes snow and these lyrical sentences:
“When he took pen and ink to her thigh and scripted his name in blue, however, she clutched his hands and wanted to hold them forever. And each year after, she never failed to rejoice at the first fall of snow.”
Ray Nessly hails from Seattle and lives near San Diego with his wife and their two cats. He is forever at work on a novel: If A Machine Lands In The Forest. His writing appears in journals such as Literary Orphans, Thrice Fiction, Boston Literary Magazine, Apocrypha & Abstractions, MadHat Lit, Yellow Mama, Do Some Damage, and the Irish magazine, The Penny Dreadful.
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Photograph in banner cited from: Andy Morffew (flickr)
Edited by Literary Orphans
Dear Orphans & Orphanettes,
As you may have noticed, Literary Orphans has two “orphans” this month. We originally thought about dedicating an issue to Bonnie Elizabeth Parker, but the more we talked about it, the more we realized that you can’t mention one of these orphans without bringing up the other. Apart, each of these orphans makes for an interesting character study, but together, these two made history.
It was 83 years ago, as of yesterday, May, 23, 2017, when Bonnie & Clyde met their demise down a sleepy stretch of Louisiana road. Six officers fired more than 130 rounds into Bonnie and Clyde’s vehicle, ending a crime spree that affected over a dozen banks, gas stations, and stores and took the lives of at least 9 police officers and civilians. Their deaths were among a handful of famous Depression Era criminals who taunted the FBI and made a living of robbing banks across the country. While Bonnie Elizabeth Parker and Clyde “Champion” Barrow were some of the most notorious public enemies of the Great Depression, it wouldn’t be until some 30+ years later that their story would enter the American lexicon as a romanticized tale of two rebellious lovers.
In 1967, Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway reintroduced Bonnie and Clyde to the public by way of the silver screen. Though criticized for its glorification of violence, the film Bonnie and Clyde was a smash hit that quickly became one of the highest-grossing movies of its era. At a time when the antiwar drums were growing in response to the Vietnam war, and as a prelude to one of the most momentous displays of paranoia and distrust by a leading government official, the American public found itself wooed and courted by the wrong side of the law. A new breed of rebel, in constant flight from dark-suited G-men, stole our hearts. Those who would carve out a life for themselves, no matter how illegal or ill-fated, became our protagonists, and we sympathized with them. Bonnie and Clyde weren’t just star-crossed lovers with a violent streak; they embodied a rebellious spirit we yearned for when we felt the system had failed us.
In an era when we’re bombarded with news about our government leaders having secret meetings with Russians, it seems only fitting to look back at America’s criminal sweethearts. At a time when the National Security Agency (NSA) helps to create two major global cyber security threats, it feels only logical to question the ethics and laws of our governing bodies.
When Bonnie and Clyde were reintroduced to the American public in the late 60s, our collective rebellious spirit was on an upswing. It’s only fitting that we bring their romanticized tale back to the public eye when similar sentiments are once again reverberating through the American consciousness.
In Literary Orphans Issue 29: Bonnie & Clyde, we embrace our inner outlaws.
We’re all in this together,
Find Literary Orphans Issue 29: Bonnie & Clyde Here.
It’s difficult to talk about The City, Awake by Duncan Barlow (published by Stalking Horse Press) without spoiling the mystery, but the novel is unlike any thriller I’ve read before. It’s dark, moody, and buried deep within the towering skyscrapers of a cityscape that seems larger than life, and it’s also a thoughtful exploration of the mind. In Barlow’s thriller, noir is married to a dense fog of mysticism, and with each flip of the page, one isn’t quite sure as to whether one is reading a crime novel or something more sinister and macabre. This is what makes The City, Awake compelling, as most other books that set a similar tone plant themselves firmly in one genre or the other.
It’s Barlow’s prose that makes this novel work, as his writing is sharp, concise, and poetic. He’s able to set a consistent ambiance that beckons readers to willingly take this hidden road with him. While the plot itself is an enigma, Barlow’s words are direct, making sure that there is clarity in the metaphysical ride he’s asking us to step into. This is key, as with each turn of the page, the foggy cityscape gets denser and denser.
I found myself reading The City, Awake slower than I have read other novels, taking breaks between chapters to pause and reflect. Part of the reason behind these breaks was to admire the beautiful prose, and the other part was to reflect on the dreamlike world he builds. In this world, the skyscrapers rise to no end. In this world, the lens through which we view it is constantly in soft focus.
It’s noir, but it isn’t. The City, Awake by Duncan Barlow is undefined, unique, and demands readers’ attention. As I said, I’ve never read a book quite like this before, and I probably will never see another one quite like it again. It’s truly an original experience all on its own.
The City, Awake is available from Stalking Horse Press. Find more information here.
Photograph in banner cited from: Joi Ito (flickr)
Edited by Literary Orphans