“Bodega Cat” – Fiction by Tabitha Laffernis

Cats – Otto Dix, 1920

The grand finale of our Summer 2018 issue is “Bodega Cat,” Tabitha Laffernis‘ fantastically frisky tale of a young woman seeking companionship & discovering primal urges in New York City.

{ X }

THE BODEGA AT NIGHT IS LIT UP WITH AN ACID BRIGHTNESS.

She smells freshly juiced. “That’s a real injustice of a person,” the cat said, whiskers twitching. “Exquisite face and dimensions. Sharp as a tack,” still talking, like it was normal. “But the real injustice is how they treat her. See how they’re complimenting her lip color instead of asking what her book is about? She comes in here, nearly every day, and they don’t know what she’s studying at grad school. They’ve never asked.” He looked at me. “She’s just the pretty girl, to them. Not like you. You’re not pretty enough to be distracting. They asked you.”

He was right, and as I started to ask why on earth he’d be qualified to say this, the answer made itself known. He was shaggily handsome, but not awww-inducing, nice eyes, slightly scrawny limbs, a shiny, healthy coat. Not the best looking cat I’d ever seen, but well-cared for with an inquisitive stare. You, it said. Yes, you.

“Are you negging me?” I asked.

“No,” he said, and I believed him.

“What’s your name?” he asked me.

“Kayla,” I said. “What’s yours? I should’ve asked first.”

“Gus,” he replied. “You’re interesting, Kayla.”

“Thanks.”

“What do you do?”

“I’m a physician’s assistant,” I replied. “Derm.”

“Derm. Which one’s that again?”

“Dermatology. Skin.” Cancer and vanity, I sometimes say, but of course that’s reductive and I don’t want to seem petty. I flushed at the thought.

“Skin. Right. I wouldn’t know.”

The joke melts the ice a little.

As the girl walked past I saw a textbook sticking out of her bag. Aleinikoff, Martin, Motomura, Fullerton and Stumpf, Immigration and Citizenship: Process and Policy. “That looks intense,” I told her, and she gave a half-smile. “Yeah,” she replied. “I’ve barely slept this semester.” The shadows under her eyes looked Sphinxy instead of tired. Her other hand held a plastic bag of potato chips, mac and cheese, frozen burritos. My moment of investigating her as a person immediately dissolved. Idiot bitch, I think. It just popped into my head, no warning. She’s skinny as a rake, except where it counts. My own basket contained some yellowing broccoli, corn popped in coconut oil, a sad but large carrot. This bodega is convenient; the produce is lousy.

“Come visit me again tomorrow?” the cat asked.

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, I will.” And I felt something I hadn’t felt in a while.

{ X }

It was innocent enough, to start. It was so hot. That night I’d lain on top of sweat-damp linens, sprawled so that each joint of my body hung as if off ball bearings. I lay there waiting for the man on the news that had been breaking into houses to steal money and stroke women, unable to sleep a wink, though I was so, so tired. I was tired because it was in my bones, that exhaustion of having to explain myself, of having to check myself at every second-guess. I was tired because I walked everywhere, a remnant from the days when I said I walked because I wanted fresh air, but really the air was fetid and I couldn’t afford a subway ticket.

I wondered if the man who was breaking into houses was maybe a nice guy. If he was just looking for something. He was just running his fingers through women’s hair; I wanted to run mine along the cat’s flexed spine, and I’m a good person, I thought.

Before he started breaking into houses my greatest fear was waking up with a mouse between my legs. Mouse shit appeared on the kitchen mantel, the vanity where my hair dryer sat, even on fresh sheets. I wondered where the cat was, slinking along a roof or a fire escape. Or if he was keeping the bodega clear of rodents, protecting it in the night, a service he hadn’t even thought to offer me.

That night, my torn underwear looked like an invitation. Not for vermin, I reminded myself. Not for the man pushing in A/C units to find sleeping beauties. And slid a hand into my knickers.

Continue reading “Bodega Cat” – Fiction by Tabitha Laffernis

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“We Have Always…” – Poetry by John J. Trause

Still Life with Skull, Candle, and Book – Paul Cezanne, 1866

“We Have Always…” is John J. Trause‘s mysterious and musical poem from our Summer 2018 isssue.

{ X }

NAIL A BOOK ONTO A TREE
Memorize a word or three
Bury coins and golden watches,
Curios and witchy swatches.

Run around the yard and garden
Let your heart and feelings harden
Tidy up the little hollow
By the creek, both deep and shallow.

Put the sugar in the cupboard
Hide the watch behind the floorboard
Entertain the guests at tea
Memorize a word or three.

Store the books and don’t return them
Someday you will have to burn them
Memorize a word or three
Someday you’ll live merrily.

And remember, come September,
To be kind in May, November,
Even when the world’s an ember
And you are its only member.

{ X }

photo by Jill Greenberg

JOHN J. TRAUSE, Director of Oradell Public Library, is the author of six books of poetry and one of parody, Latter-Day Litany, the latter staged Off Broadway.  His translations, writing, and visual work appear internationally in many journals and anthologies, and Marymark Press has published his visual poetry and art as broadsides and sheets.  He is a founder of the W.C.W. Poetry Cooperative in Rutherford, N.J., and the former host/curator of its reading series. For the sake of art Trause hung naked for one whole month in the summer of 2007 on the Art Wall of the Bowery Poetry Club.  He is fond of cunning acrostics and color-coded chiasmus.

“Loveless” – Fiction by AJ Ogundimu

The Lovers – Rene Magritte, 1928

This modern romance may start with a “classic meet-cute,” but things soon get all too real in “Loveless,” AJ Ogundimu‘s subversive anti-romcom from our Summer 2018 issue.

{ X }

WHEN HE TELLS HIS BIG EX THAT HE MET SOMEONE, SHE LAUGHS.

It doesn’t matter where in New York they meet, but they don’t meet on Tinder. This is a classic meet-cute.

She is 22, he is almost 30. He is skinny-fat and probably white but doesn’t have to be. He is a poet or photographer who studied English or Music. She is a metalworker or essayist who studied Comparative Lit or Gender Studies. They have mutual friends, but never go to the same bars.

He has an appeal, not ugly but not Hollywood or even Sundance. He doesn’t go to the gym, but if he does he’s not a protein powder, stock-option, Alpha Male. He wears graphic tees and his hair is messy, unlike everyone else’s.

She is not conventionally attractive, but (this is important!) she is not conventionally unattractive either. She has an undercut, bangs or a half-shaved head and she wears a lot of dark colors. She is not a gym-goer. She is white, and if not she’s Korean, and if not then Lebanese, but he makes an effort not to ask or comment about her ethnicity even though he wants to know. He wanted to talk to Blonde Friend or Leggy and European. He will tell himself that it’s because he likes quirky, not because he is settling. She talked to him because of his funny and nonspecific sexual charisma.

She wears Forever 21. He shops at thrift stores. She drinks chai lattes, he drinks black coffee, she drinks cider, he drinks whiskey. He asks if she likes Edith Wharton, she says yeah. He says he’s a feminist. He won’t say he wants to fuck her. She kind of wishes he’d get it over with.

They will hang out, at parks or museums, but they won’t go on dates. They will hash out the usual questions of family and occupation, while laughing at how typical these questions are. They are unconventional people doing conventional things.

When he tells his Big Ex that he is seeing someone, she says, That’s not a good idea.

During his worn and shiny monologue, he says marriage is a capitalist institution designed to keep women in bondage by treating them as property, wherein domesticity and child-rearing are handled while the man is left free to pursue career and conquest, relegating women to second-class citizens. He says all of this in a copious breath while she tries to eat a Japanese-fusion quiche with nori and raw salmon he insisted they try.

She wants to get married, but ignores his conversation and refuses a green tea mochi ice cream taco.

He shows her his vinyl collection so she fucks him to make him stop talking. He’s goofy but earnest and book smart, and if she never fucked anyone goofy she’d never fuck anyone. His breathing is too heavy and his head game is sloppy but he’s good enough. He doesn’t kick her out even though she leaves. He makes sure to say he wants to see her again. He texts to make sure she got home alright.

When he tells his Big Ex that he fucked someone she says, Well, that’s too bad.

When he talks about her she’s beautiful, never hot. He will not give sexual specifics. I really like her, he says. I think this might be something.

She talks to friends about Shakira and Roxane Gay. She demands her life pass the Bechdel test. She throws herself into work, eats croissants or berries, and drinks kombucha.

When they ask about him, she says he doesn’t seem like a creep. She describes his dick when they ask, in detail. Critiques his sexual performance. She defends his awful text messages. He’s kind of an underachiever, she says. I still like him though…

She shows up at his job and brings him a donut. They kiss in public now. They stay over. She is emotionally unavailable and has trust issues. He is unsure of his future and willing to take it slow.

They have a soundtrack. They have a favorite restaurant (It’s not the fusion place.) They compromise on the cider/beer question by always keeping wine around. They go clubbing, or eat brunch and walk around Central Park on Sundays. They take road trips. They smoke American Spirits even though they don’t smoke.

When he tells his Big Ex that he has a new girlfriend, she asks, Does she know what you’re like?

Continue reading “Loveless” – Fiction by AJ Ogundimu

“Knock Knock” – Poetry by Todd Dillard

Laughing Boy – Steve Wheeler, 1949

“Knock Knock” is one of three vivid & tender poems of love, parenthood, and mortality by Todd Dillard in our Summer 2018 issue.

{ X }

YOU WILL LAUGH
after I am dead

today I laugh knowing
after I am dead
we will laugh together

today you laugh
and do not know
one day I will not
be there to answer the door

I have a secret: I laugh especially
when things are not funny

a mouth without laughter
is a river that’s lost
its water

I laugh to forget
I laugh too to remember

the autumn air saddles the tree
and the tree whinnies with laughter

I laugh for the times
I could have laughed
but didn’t

I laugh for the times
I would laugh
but will not

my laughs love and mourn and see
they are like living that way

just now your tiny finger
touched my nose
and you laughed

and when tears
tripped down my cheek
that same finger
touched their snail-shine

you said, No cry

and I laughed

you are
so young and wise

I will take
your advice
to my grave

{ X }

TODD DILLARD ‘s work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous publications, including Barrelhouse, Nimrod, Superstition Review, Crab Creek Review, and Split Lip Magazine. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and daughter. You can find him on twitter via @toddedillard.

“Rating” – Fiction by Olivia Mardwig

Woman with a Coffee Pot – Jean Metzinger, 1919

Health inspections and sexual fantasies occupy the mind of a café cashier in “Rating,” Olivia Mardwig‘s realistic yet dreamlike short fiction from our Summer 2018 issue.

{ X}

EVER SINCE SHE TOOK THE CASHIER JOB AT THE CAFÉ SHE’S HAD OVERLY REALISTIC DREAMS. The most frequently recurring is of her grocery shopping for the things she actually needs. Waking up, it’s an odd, unwelcome surprise to realize that there is no almond milk, there are no bananas.

The café is on the first floor of an office building so far west of the city it’s almost touching water. On certain days, when walking from the train, in the wind tunnel of the avenue, it feels like you could be scooped up and carried away.

The only customers are the people who work in the building and in this way everyone is a regular. Some are more friendly than others, but no face stands out in the check-out line. No person, by however small a margin, are you happy to see.  Admittedly, much of that is caused by the lunch rushes, the only action between the hollow hours of mid-morning and afternoon. It’s hard to make an impression when like clockwork, they have their $6.99 turkey sub in one hand and exact change in the other.

Two springs ago she graduated college. She’s not sure what kind of day it was, and her only memory of the ceremony was an image that feels borrowed from someone else. Graduation for her meant the moment everyone threw their caps into the sun-filled sky, into a bright, blue beginning. She thinks about that image sometimes, whose experience it actually was, from what movie. But mostly she uses the blank stretches of time to fantasize about having sex with the dishwasher, the sandwich guy, the bread delivery guy, his brother. Inevitably someone takes the elevator down for an unnecessary cup of coffee and suddenly it would be here that she is.

After lunch, the day manager called the staff into the office for an announcement. She said that the following day the health inspector would visit to evaluate and issue a letter grade to the café. She looked more worried than usual. Her knee-length cardigan wrapped visibly tighter around her underweight self. Her crumb of morale was offered in the hardly audible, “We can do this”, as the wireless printer inked out next week’s order forms. Continue reading “Rating” – Fiction by Olivia Mardwig

“Anonymity is Life!” – Fiction by Sola Saar

Envy – Raphael Kirchner, circa 1900

A young writer grapples with envy & artistic integrity in “Anonymity is Life!”, Sola Saar‘s delightfully unorthodox short story from our Summer 2018 issue.

{ X }

IT STARTED WHEN I WROTE “CRAIGSLIST OPERA,” a short story based on the time my sister tried to produce “La Boheme” by placing several ads online.  People were so desperate for theatre jobs they actually came to our house to apply, though lost interest in the project once they met her. Katrina, 16, was taking a vow of silence at the time.

In the story, which was somewhat dramatized because I had not been there when it happened, a local Soprano singer named Clara came to our door singing Puccini. Katrina typed “$20 per show” into her phone and shoved the screen in the singer’s face, violently turning her head in the other direction. “I am worth much more than that,” Clara belted. “No you’re not,” Katrina typed back. Clara tried to argue, still singing. My sister stayed firm with the price, and the opera singer eventually left, unnerved by the interaction.

It was the only piece of mine to be positively received by my writing workshop. The story was published in my school’s literary journal, and my mother, whose pride took the form of gloating, photocopied and sent the story to all her friends, not considering how Katrina might react. When she found out, I got an angry slew of text messages demanding I retract my “fake article” about her.

“It’s not an article, it’s fiction,” I texted her. “I got the idea from a woman I saw on the news.”

“I see, dear,” she wrote back.

My response seemed to assuage her, or so I thought. A few days later, my mom told me Katrina expressed interest in writing a novel about my life. She said she wanted to write an entire novel, because it was “much more difficult than short stories,” which I mainly wrote. A week later she updated me that Katrina wasn’t going to write a novel because she was “retired,” but her roommate Caroline was in the process of drafting my life story. Caroline went under the pen name “Anonymous.” Caroline was a large brunette doll.

Caroline wrote the novel with her own hands, not idiomatically speaking. Katrina sat Caroline on her lap and gripped the doll’s tiny webbed fingers, delicately pressing each key. It took them half an hour to write a paragraph. Still, they were a diligent machine, producing several pages a day.

I envied Katrina’s discipline. I hadn’t written anything since I’d found out I’d gotten waitlisted for an advanced creative writing class two weeks ago. Most of the time I delegated to writing I spent staring at my laptop, hate-stalking this girl Hannah Brown who was the instructor’s favorite in our last workshop. She wrote these really inane stories about getting drunk with her friends at her Beverly Hills prep school. As the only freshman who’d gotten into the creative writing course, she boasted about how it had really inspired her to finish a novel draft over the break.

I rejoiced every time Hannah looked sloppy or dehydrated in a photo on social media. I knew I was being petty and mean, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I felt much more compelled to do this than write. I don’t know why I was so obsessed with her success. I wasn’t really threatened by her. Her stories were bad. I was certain they were bad. I knew my writing was bad also, at this stage of my life, but her writing was hopelessly, irredeemably, numbingly bad, and it would never get any better. I could tell because of the kind of human she was.

Whenever I saw her out at parties she had this stumbly air about her, it was more than tipsiness, it was a lack of composure that was almost embarrassing. I like to drink but I had a lot of composure, too much composure. I was like a fucking mannequin. Most close friends told me they rarely knew what I was thinking. But I knew the lack of composure she showed in public translated to how much writing she produced. She had what I didn’t, not talent, but a lack of self-consciousness that allowed her to sit down and fucking write.

Less than a month after Katrina declared she was writing a book about me, I got a PDF of her novel, Midget Utopia, via email. It was going to be self-published that week. The book wasn’t about me; it was about Katrina’s family of dolls, whom she referred to as “midgets” because of their inability to grow. I was scarcely mentioned in the index: a compendium of characters featured in the novel that included our family, her dolls, imaginary friends, and every person she could remember encountering in her life.

Vera Gunarsson, age 19: Vera is a pale human with long black curly hair and brown eyes. She is 5’5” and 105 or maybe 110 lbs. and is somewhat of an online writer. She is the sister of Katrina and godmother to Marissa. Vera lives in Northern California. 

She waited until I returned home for winter break to throw a book party. I told her I didn’t know if I could make it, but congratulations on finishing a whole novel. She reminded me that she didn’t write the novel, Caroline did. She had, however, translated the book into Russian, I assume using one of those free computer-generated translating websites.

My mom’s entire family and some of our neighbors came to the Midget Utopia release.

“I thought you were the writer,” my aunt said to me at the book party. “I didn’t know your sister wrote.” She looked at the cover, which had an image of Katrina surrounded by her dolls on the bed, and opened it to the first page and began reading.

December 8, 1996: Kat Zlovesney is born in Russia at the Moscow Presbyterian hospital. She weighs 8 lbs. and 5 ounces and is 13 inches long with dark brown hair. She is immediately adopted by an American family and brought to Los Angeles.

“Russia!” she cackled. “I love it! Where’d she come up with that?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “She’s so creative.”

My mom announced it was time for the reading. We gathered around the couches and waited as Katrina fuddled with her phone. Her vow of silence remained intact; she wasn’t going to read the selection herself. She had an app on her phone that robotically read her typed words aloud. It sounded like Stephen Hawking reading the dust jacket cover:

My name is anonymous

Why be named? Not all people will remember you nor each other

Most people forget names anyway

Names are arbitrary and some people do not like their names or feel they were

Given the wrong name

 In reality, we are destined to remain anonymous and not be forced to have a name

 Anonymity is life!

 Everywhere I go I will remain anonymous

I will remain anonymous in peace

I remain anonymous on internet

When I do my individual job or working at an

Organization, I remain anonymous

When I write, I remain anonymous

I pledge to be anonymous everywhere

anonymous and ageless in timeless life

I was born to be anonymous. I die to be anonymous

I forever to be anonymous

  Continue reading “Anonymity is Life!” – Fiction by Sola Saar

“Too Late for Anarchy” – Poetry by Marc Harshman

The Funeral of the Anarchist Galli – Carlo Carra, 1911

“Too Late for Anarchy” is one of three (or five) wry and wistful poems by Marc Harshman in our Summer 2018 issue.

{ X }

I SEE THE PRESIDENT ON THE NEWS.
I curl up on the floor.  Play dead.

I open the envelope containing my paycheck,
              accidentally tear its little cellophane window.
Carefully, close all my windows.  Weep, regret,
              and think how a pound of flesh is inadequate.

Sorry excuses come across my desk.
I’m sorry they do, sorry they are,
              sorry they’ll not be enough.

It might have been a victory.
By the time we got there
              it was just blood and roses; not quite
              a cemetery, but something solemn, sacrilegious
              about which words fell like ashes
              into and out of history.

I look the winter in the face.
The bare trees straighten
              their crooked branches
with heartbreaking enterprise.
              The pond freezes over.
The arthritis flows through me
              one sorrow at a time.
I’m no longer sure I can
              clench my fists, let alone
              close my eyes.

You asked me to tell you.

I no longer watch the news.
Sometimes I remember who we were.
Sometimes I open my eyes.

{ X }

MARC HARSHMAN’s collection, WOMAN IN A RED ANORAK, has won the 2017 Blue Lynx Prize and will be published later this year by Lynx House/University of Washington Press. His fourteenth children’s book, FALLINGWATER, co-written with Anna Smucker, was published by Roaring Brook/Macmillan in 2017. His poetry collection, Believe What You Can, was published in 2016 by West Virginia University Press and won the Weatherford Award from the Appalachian Studies Association. Poems have been anthologized by Kent State University, the University of Iowa, University of Georgia, and the University of Arizona. He is the seventh poet laureate of West Virginia.