poetry from Issue #11
"Where the Hero Speaks to Others"
by Wendy Xu
Dear mailbox. I have abandoned the task. There is no more glory
to resurrect, spoils of the marriage to pick over. She finds me burdensome and
has moved out into the guest house.
I don’t remember building a guest house.
Many nights I have stumbled out into the unwilling streets and fallen
to my knees before you. O, mailbox. Your throat is swollen
and refuses to sing for me. You no longer bring me news of a timeshare abroad
which I might consider. You draw up from your long, black stomach papers
I will not sign. O, lamplight.
You are equally no friend. Beside you I deliver a monologue
correcting previous scholars about the usefulness of tulips. O, useless tulip.
There is so much I want to say to you when grinning, you mock me
for watching you from the window. I feel ashamed
for wanting you. For sitting quietly in a chair especially
to miss her. O, musty library flooded with sun. To rub her name
from the faces of your books.
New artwork from previously published visual artists
fiction from Issue #11
by Jac Jemc
I’m not one to celebrate, it’s nice to eat a fine meal when it seems like you’re getting famous. It’s nice to fill up your belly until it feels engulfed in warm mischief. It’s nice to drink so many scotch and sodas that the annihilation of your liver cramps and squawks in the morning. When I was in my twenties, I was sure I’d arrived. I was to play a girl one of the main characters, Larry, was trying to date on an episode of a hit buddy comedy. This was most certainly going to be my big break. I had amplified my bangs. I had aerobicized my buns. My line was memorized. That’s right: “line.”
Looking back, it’s hard not to feel crusted. When I press on those memories they exhale a dusty hiss. I showed up on the set and had my lightly padded skeleton sewn into some lint ball of a sweater. The episode was set in a ski resort. The town was heavy with snow and no one could leave the lodge. Of course, all of it was filmed on a studio lot in California, cut with some stock footage of a ski lift climbing a mountain. My character was just supposed to be sitting by the fireplace, when Larry walked in to show his cousin Balki how to pick up a lady. His line was, “Would you like some coocoo?” The character, of course, wanted to say “cocoa,” but was so nervous to talk to me, it came out “coocoo.” I was supposed to say, “I think I’ve had enough, thanks!” and stalk off, a suspicious shell of a woman.
All went according to plan, and I waited anxiously for the episode to air, for my agent’s calls to increase in frequency. But the episode came and went, and the phone never rang. I guess I could have kept trying, but if I wanted to, I would have, or at least that’s what a book told me.
I started to stay home. I watched the old movies I’d grown up with, suspense thrillers and musicals and dramas about aging film stars being replaced by younger ones. I reached into the synapse between the cushions of my couch to find change to tip delivery men. My shoulders grew weak until it was a bother to lift my arms and before I knew it, I wasn’t raising my hands even to the height of the doorknob. It was easy enough not to leave. I had residuals coming in from a corporate training video I’d done in college. I was living in a house my grandfather had left me when he passed away. My sister showed up every other week to convince her limbs around me and eye my scalp oil, unable to tell me to shower. I’d smile and tell her I was fine. “I’m happy!” I’d say and she’d gather the dirty dishes piled on every surface and heave them into the sink before donning her rubber gloves to scrub off the scum. I could feel cavities nesting in my teeth; I knew the root of one tooth was dead. The pain rang and pounded like someone wanting to be let in. I spoke pulverized truths to my sister trying to get her to relax. “I can leave whenever I feel like it” and “I just need a few minutes to be myself.” She’d give up and leave and I’d trace cartoons from paused video tapes for fun. The arrangement felt logical at the time.
I refused to admit my behavior was not normal. The outside world and I were like cracked magnets. We had once been one and the same, but we’d broken apart and now we could do nothing but resist. Every time I considered leaving my home, I wondered what could be waiting for me out there, and never came up with an attractive enough answer. It wasn’t even fear. That’s what I kept telling myself.
I’d sit on my couch and try to catch the sunlight on my watch face. I’d direct the light onto my cat, until she chased the slow burn of the reflection. Bugs showed up, cinching themselves through the pipes and the baseboards. My sister would appear to ask me lists of questions out of pamphlets she got at the doctor’s office. I’d test myself by trying to guess how she was diagnosing me by the questions she asked. My record was guessing bipolar from the first question. “‘I feel so restless or find it so hard to keep still that other people have pointed this out to me.’ Do you feel this way ‘Rarely,’ ‘Occasionally,’ or ‘Most of the Time’?” I said, “Jenny, do I look restless? I’m not bipolar,” and she stared at me like I had pressed her into some impossible place.
When our mother died back in Tulsa later that year, I wanted to pay my respects. I booked a flight and called a cab. When I walked out my front door, there was the proof that that agoraphobia pamphlet didn’t apply. I got on a plane and tried to take the stains out of the memories of my mother. The asshole next to me kept forcing his elbow down on the armrest that my hip meat kept forcing up. Eventually he spilled a mess of words into the air at me and moved to sit across the aisle next to a child flying alone. I adjusted that armrest up and relaxed comfortably for the rest of the flight.
When I returned to my childhood home, I examined the photos my mother had framed all along the staircase: so many of me making smiles like I was dying with forced charm before a dance recital, photos that were 60% ceiling, where I clutched bouquets of flowers after the high school musical. I recognized a lingering pride in my belly, and in the reflected glass of the frames, I saw an abstract smile pulling itself from my lips. I had had such hopes, but now when I thought about my ambition, I felt pity. I’d dreamed of living my life as other characters before my life had even begun. My dream had been to excel at convincing people I was someone else. The intention felt so specific now. It felt sad and misguided. It felt better not to know what the hell I was doing than to think about where that impulse had come from at such a young age. I thought of the bugs roaming the house back in California and how it felt good to recognize a problem.
I held it together most of that day, meeting with the undertaker and going to the florist with my sister and her family. Not until I went out to the garden and saw one of my mother’s footprints still stamped into the waterlogged mud of a flower bed did I cry. My mother had just had the yard re-sodded. She didn’t think she was about to die. You could see the seams stashed all over the lawn where sheet of grass met sheet of grass. I found a single weed that had wormed its way through the newly laid mess. “It’s okay,” I thought. “She would have found you.” And my mother would have. She was ruthless, determined to a fault. She kept after something until she forgot why she was after it. My mother was thrilled every time I got another role, every time I became another option. She seemed sure I’d find someone to be that was better.
That night in the shower so much of my hair washed down the drain that I worried I might disappear, but when I wiped off the fogged-up mirror, I saw my head was still full of locks and tangles. I combed it carefully and emerged in pajamas to find my brother-in-law waiting to brush his teeth. “Don’t bother,” I said. “Come with me.” His face lifted slowly and he followed me down the stairs. My sister was at the counter, flipping through my mother’s address book, making sure we hadn’t missed letting anyone know. I pulled a bottle of rye from under the counter. Surely no one had touched it since my father had passed away. I poured for all three of us and asked my sister who she thought she’d been in our mother’s eyes, and who she’d wanted to be. My sister said she’d never thought of it that way, and I said, “Let’s.”
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