Category Archives: Issue 7.

the only monster here is me

By Jeremy Maxwell

Audio recorded live during gutwrench. issue 7 release event.

The monster is laid out on the front steps like the end of the world, like the party was yesterday and here he is, Mephistopheles, askew against the bricks and forcing everyone to go around. It smells like sulfur and piss on the stoop, puke on his shirt and spilled beer soaking into his hair. He won’t know how he got here, but this is where he’ll find himself, if he ever wakes up. The morning is soggy and hot and the monster smells worse by the minute.

The little girl stands there looking down at him for a long time. The other kids are coming, she’s going to have to make a decision soon. She looks over her shoulder, hoping they’re still out of sight and knowing they won’t be for long. She bends down and wrinkles her nose.

She pokes the monster on the shoulder, one, two, three times, poke, poke, poke. “Mister,” she says. “Mister, wake up.” He doesn’t move or twitch but the dark spot on his pants becomes a patch, grows darker, starts to spread. The smell gets worse and she scrunches up her nose till it hurts. “Ah, jeez,” she says, and leans in all the way. She takes him by the shoulder and shakes, saying mister and shaking and shaking until he stirs.

His mouth falls open and he begins to groan. It is deep and low and wide, the sound of gravel kicked up on the road.

,” he says. The sound starts small and swells to fill the stoop, fighting the smell for the space. One eye pops open wide but the other is crusted over with sweat or sleep or beer and doesn’t budge. He lays there making the sound, staring out at her through one half-blind busted eye.

,” he says, and the eye swivels up to look her in the face.

“You,” the monster says.

“Mister, you got to get up,” the little girl says and lets go of his arm. “You got to get up right now.” She looks over her shoulder again and there they are, Tommy and Tina and the rest of them, trying to cross the street. “Mister, please get up,” she pleads, and behind his broken, leaking eye, the monster begins to move.

* * *

There used to be a bathroom here but all that’s left is a piece of shattered mirror on the wall and a hole in the floor where the toilet used to sit. The monster pisses into the hole with his pants pooled around his ankles while the little girl stands in the other room. Somewhere down there are flies and a few of them swarm up to investigate his pants, his feet, the puddles on the floor. He makes the sound again and kicks at the flies as he pulls up his pants.

“Mister, you got to learn some more words,” the little girl says as he stumbles through the doorway and staggers past. The counter is lined with liquor bottles in varying stages of emptiness and he turns them up one by one until he finds one several fingers deep and collapses into the only chair in the room. It is plastic and weak in the legs and flops over sideways, spilling the monster into the floor.

,” the monster roars, and the little girl shakes her head and glances back toward the door. She shouldn’t be here, she’ll catch a beating for sure if anyone finds out, from Tommy or Tina or maybe even her mom, it just depends who finds out first. You never go into the monster’s lair, they’ll say. It’s where he keeps his power. Even if she knows better, she knows it won’t do no good to argue. They’ll beat her up for sure if she does that. His other eye is open now and he watches her watch the exit. “Good,” he says, flopping over onto his back and clutching the bottle to his chest. “GTFO.”

“That doesn’t spell anything, mister,” the little girl says, “but at least you’re trying now.” She looks down at him and wrinkles her nose. “Don’t you got anymore pants?” He stares up at her through both bleary eyes and then scrunches up his face and laughs. It starts small and slow and like all else the monster does, swells to fill the room. She’s not sure why but she’s just a little girl so she laughs with him, the two of them roaring there together in the empty house.

They’re still laughing when the knock comes at the door.

* * *

The sound is tiny and she knows it’s Tina even if she can’t say how. She quits laughing and then he hears it too and the silence that follows is as loud as the laughter ever was. It presses in around them and the knock comes at the door again. The monster sits up and drinks from the bottle, throat working against nothing even after whatever he’s drinking is gone. The tiny knock returns and the monster throws the empty bottle at the door. He’s making the sound again and she wants to cower there in the room, she wants to run for the door but the bottle bursts against it and she backs toward the bathroom as glass sprays at them both.

The tiny knock goes away and the monster climbs to his feet. She does cower then, in the doorway of the decrepit toilet, the monster’s lair, the monster’s lair, where have you gone, oh what have you done you stupid little girl. She cowers there still when he snatches open the front door and lurches out onto the stoop. She can see past him and across the road where Tommy and Tina and the rest of them are gathered, but they aren’t all kids, there are policemen there too, looking and pointing at them from the other side of the road, the other side of the world.

“Tommy’s gonna kill me,” she wails and there in the dilapidated doorway the little girl begins to cry. The sound starts small and slow and swells like the monster’s to fill the room, bigger and bigger till there is nothing else. The monster turns on the stoop and leans hard back into the house as the policemen rush across the road.

“Look here, little girl,” the monster says, holding the doorframe with one hand and pointing at his crotch with the other. She knows better than to look but her eyes are wide with terror and there is nothing else to see. “Look,” he roars again, and she does, and there’s nothing there to see, he’s just pointing at his pants. He turns away from her and heaves himself off the stoop, pitches himself toward the crowd. He’s making the sound again but she can barely hear it for her own sound bouncing off the broken walls.

He throws himself at the first policeman and then ducks as the group of them tries to grab his arms, his hair, his soggy pants or puke-stained shirt. The monster dodges and jukes and his clumsiness might as well have belonged to somebody else because his eyes burn with a clarity the little girl has never seen, not in her own eyes or her mom’s or even Tommy’s or Tina’s when they are working her over. He stops there at the bottom of the steps and looks back at her, across the stoop and the empty room and the upturned plastic chair. She is still cowering and wailing in the doorway of the bathroom and the dark spot on her pants becomes a patch, grows darker, starts to spread.

The monster turns back to the nearest policeman and kicks him square in the nuts. It is full and strong and has the weight of a full-grown man behind it. The policeman crumples to the ground and the monster doesn’t dodge or juke, just lets the rest of them reach in and grasp, his pants, his hands, his throat. He just stares and laughs at the little girl as she cowers deep inside the doorway of the abandoned house. She stops crying then, runs forward to the stoop where the smell of sulfur fills the space. She wrinkles up her nose and laughs.

Facedown in the street the monster laughs with her, he laughs until they pick him up and throw him in the back of a car, cuffed at the hands and the waist and the feet. The little girl leans out onto the stoop as Tommy and Tina and the rest of them come running up the steps. She stops laughing and grabs onto the doorframe with both hands.

“What the fuck is wrong with you,” Tommy yells as he reaches for her arms, her throat, for anything. Her leg is already swinging back before he has time to stop, and when she connects with his nuts he goes flying, off the stoop, off the steps, into the street facedown and the sound he makes is so familiar, so full of outrage and despair, it’s not just the monster laughing, not even just the two of them, the monster and the little girl. It’s the policemen, it’s Tina and the rest of them, the whole world laughing at Tommy, laughing as he makes the sound.

Remnants of a Smoldering Fire

By Cat Taylor

Twirling in my grandmother’s kitchen
To the sound of bluegrass
And the smell of something vaguely
Apple Cinnamon
I declare myself
A princess
She whirled around
Hand on hip
Looked at me
And said sharply that NO,
In this family, we are witches
And I called myself a Good Witch
And I wonder
If I had been a bit older
And she a bit more tired
If she would have told me how
Redundant that is

My family is full of witches
And it has been so watered down
So distilled that
Once it reached me
The only thing left
Was the memory
Of the fire

Witches were not burned for being witches
They were burned for being women
And I think
There might be a metaphor
Waiting to be picked from their ashes
About women and fire
Or powerful women, and men’s fear of them

My grandmother told me
When I brought her the 2nd bumblebee
That day
To keep this fire
And she taught me
That this fire in the belly
In the brain
Can be the gentlest sort of thing

And yesterday
When I looked in the mirror
I saw her eyes
And what a joy it is
To see that this witch’s fire
No longer burns you
Or puts you on trial
But holds you
Keeps you safe

And a week ago a wasp got caught in my bedroom
And as I held her
Gingerly
In a cup with a half-written poem below her
I marveled
At the way her fire kept her alive
And fighting
And how my fire kept me alive
And fighting

But this is not just a self-reflection
This is a call to arms
That when you feel that fire
In your belly
In your brain
That restlessness
And quiet displeasure with the world
Remember
Your ancestors were witches
Or at least
Strong women
And I think that is mostly the same thing
There is so much light
To be spread with your fire
But also, so much
That needs to be burnt down
Call it a rampage
Or a reclamation
Or a controlled burn but
Use it, passionately
To spite the ones
Who used it against your mothers so long ago
But please
Don’t forget
That your fire
Is the most witchy, gentle thing
And you can use it
However you damn well please

Dogs Rolling in Carrion

By Anthony Elmore

After months of toting cinderblocks, sweeping lots, gutting fish, my boss asked me a life-changing question. “You got a pair of brown pants?”

I put myself through college through a mix of student loans, petty theft, and temp jobs, back when that was actually possible. I worked as a dishwasher, a bricklayer, a fish cleaner, a flavored ice vendor, and a janitor, and that was in just in one week.

“Take the first gig offered no matter how shitty, dirty, or dangerous,” my roomie advised on my first day as a day laborer. When you proved yourself reliable and kept your bad habits off-site, the agency offered the premium gigs. Like the Gold Leads in Glengarry Glen Ross, I longed for the premium gigs, the ones that paid a staggering $5.75/hr.

At 6:00 am, five days a week, I packed my backpack with my textbooks, that day’s lunch, and a water bottle – with a “Yes” on the tip of my tongue. The company, Labor Ready, occupied a cinderblock building near the corner of Nebraska and Fowler in Suitcase City, Tampa. A sign stating “Daily Work. Daily Pay.” in English and Spanish was posted over its barred window. I parked and locked my bike on a fencepost, signed in and took my bench among haggard men, and waited for my name to be called. Many of the laborers, a mix of white, black, and Hispanic, lived nearby in cheap trailers, cramped hotel rooms, the Salvation Army or homeless camps. These men seemed born with a roofer’s tan, a janitor’s stoop, dimeslot eyes, and stained work pants.  A handful were drug addicts or alcoholics who worked for that day’s score. I was the only college student in the mix, and I kept that fact low key to avoid explaining why a “rich kid” needed to do dirt labor.

After being placed on academic probation at college a few years earlier, my parents felt they had exceeded their parental generosity and said, if I wanted to try college again, the tuition was on me. I traveled overseas for two years, returned to the States, and moved to Tampa to attend USF. I’d prove to them, and myself, I could work myself through college without any of their help. That meant being carless and sharing a Suitcase City bungalow with no A/C with two roomies.

For months, I said “affirmative” to pushing brooms in damp basements, to toting bricks and sheetrock up three flights of stairs, to stacking lumber, to demolishing old buildings with a sledgehammer. Lunch was a PB&J or a baloney sandwich and fruit, but the work demanded more from my body than my stomach could store, and I’d leave the site ravenous with hunger. After work, I’d turn in my hours, get my check, and cash it at the Shell station next door for a $.75 fee. I biked to school balancing a Taco Bell bean burrito or a McDonald’s burger in one hand and arrived to class reeking of sheetrock dust. Only two years of this, I convinced myself, I’d have my degree and slip into an indoor job in an air-conditioned office. This was me, feeding dues tokens into the Capitalist vending machine and earning that “character” that is only found after belittling labor.

After a savage construction lot gig, my day had come. Like Jacob’s seven yearlong toils, the agency found me worthy of the coveted golf resort gig and my sunburned face brightened. My brown slacks were ready. I would report to the agency at 12 noon that Saturday, and in one day, I’d earn my share in utilities with leftover cash for a cheap 6-pack.

That Saturday, I reported to the agency where the agent paired me with three Hispanic men. Like myself, a majority of the laborers didn’t own cars, and car owning laborers got $2.00 a head for anyone they drove to a job site. I climbed in the backseat of the late model Buick land yacht and said nothing as we drove to the resort.

The golf resort lay in New Tampa, a housing development of beige-hued and Spanish tiled micro-mansions a safe distance from Ancient Tampa’s bad roads and working poor. At the resort’s security gate, our Land Yacht queued behind a Lexus, a Mercedes S-Class, and a Range Rover. The driver showed the guard at our worksheets.

The guard panned his eyes to survey the car and its occupants. “Report to the administration office, and only there.” He radioed ahead, and golf cart with two security guards sidled beside us to escort us to our destination.

The admin office stood among a cluster of newly planted palm trees buttressed by 2×4’s. Inside, we met David, our crew boss who was in his late 20’s and always had a Styrofoam coffee cup in his hand, who gabbled and fast-walked us to a swimming pool.

“We got simple rules. Do as I say. If you don’t have something to do, find me. Don’t stare at the guests.” He halted at the pool gate. “Especially at the pool. We had guest punch out a server for staring at his wife’s rack too long.”

David tasked us with breaking down a kid’s birthday party and setting up poolside tables and chairs.

With the pool job completed, David sent us to a banquet room to set up tables and chairs for a sports shoe trade show after-party. The fresh vinyl cologne of new sneakers insulted my Payless sneakers with duct tape patching the hole in the sole.

At lunch break, I couldn’t afford the employee menu at the snack bar, so I ate my warm process cheese sandwich and Lance peanuts. The meal barely replaced the spent calories, so I held a dim hope that I’d get kitchen work, where I could sneak some bites of food. And for the second time that week, fortune smirked at me.

David passed us to the banquet boss, Frank, who assigned us to the dishwashing room, a steaming chamber of white tile and dull stainless steel. The permanent dishwasher, a tall, elderly Black man introduced himself. “I’m Robert Johnson, not the one who made a deal with the Devil. Now y’all don’t grab any food from the kitchen, because they’ll probably be leftovers later. Y’all might get lucky. I hear the rich folks are partying it up tonight.”

Robert assigned another temp and me to unload the bus tub carts and scrape the dishes. The next man rinsed the dishes, loaded the dish racks and fed them to the into the dish machine’s steaming maw. A train of three-tiered metal carts arrived overflowing with dishes and silverware and times; it took two of us to haul them. Two hours under the near-deafening clatter of dishes, my hunger resisted the stomach-turning stench of decaying meat and vegetables.

To our relief, the bus carts arrived overflowing with chafing dishes and banquet platters, signaling the end of the party. Frank sent us to the party tent to break down tables, chairs, and banquet ware. A long party tent abutted the kitchen’s service entrance and stretched the length of the golf green, the sand traps shined like porcelain disks under lithium lights. The muggy weather was a touch better than the noise and fug of the dish room. The band onstage packed up their instruments, ice sculptures dribbled, people lingered at the bar.

I pieced together intel about the party from nuggets of server banter. The fete was a charity event, and the guest of honor was retired General Norman “Stormin’” Schwarzkopf of Desert Storm repute. Settled into retirement, he held court at the bar with a covey of admirers men, talking and intermittently sipping his drink and toking a cigar. His new uniform was a short-sleeved cabana shirt, dock shoes, and a relaxed mien of accomplishment and earned rest. Transfixed by the general’s presence, a gamey smell caught my attention.

I wondered how I missed it, its blackened tusks and heat seared eyelids. The stripped carcass of a boar lay on its belly on a bed of wilting lettuce on a table not far from me. It was a medium as boars went, about 200 pounds, and mostly stripped bare of its flesh. The sight made my gut seize, first out of disgust, then out of hunger when I noticed healthy bits of flesh clinging to its bones.

I nudged a banquet server for more intel, and he said the general went boar hunting in the Florida scrub the day before and took the beast down with a single rifle shot. His hunting party cooked the beast in a Hawaiian style fire pit that morning and brought it to the resort in the bed of a pickup truck. When the banquet began, the general and his companions carried it like on a board like pallbearers into the banquet tent to thunderous applause.

Servers moved the boar’s table to a curtained section of the tent where the bus carts were stored. Frank gave us a 15-minute break, so everyone gathered around the carcass, waiting. A banquet worker arrived and said, “Boss says it’s okay. They don’t want it.”

We meekly looked at each other to confirm what we’ve heard, then we seized on the carcass. Hands thrust into the greasy cave of the boar’s chest cavity and tore off strips of meat and hind parts. Fingernails scraped on bone. We jammed fistfuls of flesh into our mouths and juices dribbled onto their clothes. I thought it indecent, but my bones and stomach lusted for lean protein. I reached over their heads and yanked a tendril of flesh from the boar’s thigh. It tasted like dark meat chicken with a grassy aftertaste, but it silenced my gnawing belly. We fought and fed on the carrion left behind by the rich. An eye popped out and hung from a singed nerve.

One of my Hispanic car mates cut off the boar’s cheek off with a pocket knife. “The head. It’s the best,” he confided and offered me a piece.

He was right, the fat melted like pudding in my mouth and left a grassy aftertaste and satisfaction.

The chefs arrived with their cutlery sharp and ready and ordered everyone aside. They severed limb bones, tore them from the joints, exclaiming how they made excellent soup stock. One of them decapitated it and hauled the head away on his shoulders perhaps to make boar’s head cheese or to display the skull in his living room.

The slick sounds of chewing brought stories. A Robert Johnson recounted how as a child he’d go boar hunting with his uncle, once taking down a legendary 500-pound hog. People once lived or died by the rifle, and bullet’s width away from life or starvation. Now we scraped at the bones of rich men’s kills.

Frank returned and ordered us back to work. Food drunk and my energy renewed I worked until midnight until all the dishes and banquet ware was washed and stowed, and tables and chair sets locked into storage. After David signed our time-slips, we slung the stained grease t-shirts into the hamper, dressed in our street clothes, and climbed into the Land Yacht to return to the agency to get paid. My exhausted co-workers barely had the energy to light their cigarettes. As we approached the guardhouse, two security guards blocked our path, stern, judgmental faces bathed by the headlights.

The guard from before approached the driver side. “Everyone step out of the car, please.”

Puzzled, we climbed out of the car. The other guard ordered the driver to open the trunk. They argued some, but the driver popped open the trunk. “We had reports someone stole shoes from the trade show,” he said to us.

He centered on the smaller man and asked him. “Those look new. Are those the shoes you came here with?” His sneaks looked new and resembled the ones from the trade show display, but bore a couple of scuff marks. He didn’t speak English or pretended not to, so the driver translated what for him. A chrome badge and a dollar an hour more enabled the guard with god-like authority over our fates.

“He came with those shoes,” I said, defending him, probably lying. “I drove here and have been staring at them since Tampa.”

The guard pulled me aside. “Between us. Are you telling the truth?”

“Yes,” I defended. “Those are his shoes.”

White people expect other whites to share their prejudices, regardless of rank and station. Whether he stole the shoes or not, I wasn’t going to lose my ride by flipping on him.

“Well I guess I’ll have to call the sheriff,” he bluffed.

“Okay then,” I bluffed back.

The guards commiserated at the guardhouse for a minute and returned. “Alright, we have your driver’s license numbers. We’ll report the theft to the police so you’ll all be getting a visit from the police.”

Sure, whatever, we all thought.

A mile down the road, certain the police weren’t following; a chuckle emerged from the driver, which set off a round of laughter.

“So white boy, we Mexicans are trouble. No?” the accused man asked.

“Don’t matter either way. Even if he did steal the shoes, I wasn’t going to say shit. Sometimes you need a pair of shoes that bad. I was thinking about taking a pair for myself.”

One of the guys lit up a thin joint and as it made the rounds, and we marveled about the boar. We laughed and bitched about the resort, the rich folk who paid fortunes to eat and get tanned away from us poor folk.

“In Honduras, man, we have javelina. Big sonofbitch. Good meat,” the driver said.

We returned to the agency, got paid about $45 for the whole day, my share of the power bill. They put my bike in the trunk and drove me home. I took a lukewarm shower; clean soapy scents conquered the odors of the Florida Wilds. I never got the Honduran men’s names, and I’m ashamed of that fact.

I slept for five hours, and reported to the agency that morning for a new work adventure, to scrape at the bones and scraps and rags they wealthy allowed us, like dogs rolling in carrion.

 

Still Life with Mason Jars

By Shannon M. Turner

Every time I go home to visit my grandmother, certain things occur.

  1. My grandmother asks if I’m dating.
  2. She bemoans the state of the world, despite the fact that all the people she prefers are currently in power.
  3. At least one painfully long silence descends. I would rather watch even Wheel of Fortune or Jeopardy! than talk about the topic she has chosen (which is usually politics or my dating life).
  4. I give her a pedicure. She presses a twenty-dollar bill into my palm, like I’m a politician she’s trying to bribe. I make ardent protests. She mentions how much she’d rather I do her feet than “those people in the shopping center” (her coded language to disguise the racism).
  5. As I’m preparing to leave, she asks if I’m “doing OK.” Others might mean this question in a health or spiritual manner. She means money. She fills my arms with canned goods and leftovers.

At times in my young adult life I bristled at the final step, felt she was implying I wasn’t taking care of myself properly. The hidden message was that I needed to try harder, get out of my nonprofit lifestyle. Until I reached a comfortable plateau – perhaps marriage? – she needed to keep me alive, nine cans of Hormel Frank and Beans at a time.

One day, after I’d had enough therapy, it hit me. It happened when I was standing at her door, arms loaded, and she said, “Oh, but what about some tuna?”

I just looked at her square in the eyes and said, “I love you too, Ma.”

She stared back at me blankly, caught at her game.

I’ve made this joke with her many times since, and it only works about half the time. She hates it. This is not a woman who likes to talk about feelings, even in the most roundabout way.

As I’ve grown more health conscious, I’ve gotten better at saying no to her store-bought canned goods and yes to home-canned goods. These days the supply of the latter is dwindling. They’re like gold to me.

* * * * *

Two years ago, my father did something shocking and awful. It tore our family apart, breaking everything in reality as we knew it. In response, my mom did something very brave and left him within the week, ending their 44-year marriage. We’ve spent the better part of the last two years living in this through-the-looking-glass-world.

In the final years of my parents’ marriage, they lived on a small farm. They canned a lot of delicious food, and for the rest of my life, my nose will recall the smell of fruits and vegetables in Mason jars cooking on a stove. I can close my eyes and see the beauty of all those jars, their gorgeous colors. The orange-red of the tomatoes, the khaki of the green beans floating in their salty juices, the deep purple of the blackberry jam, the strange off-white of the sauerkraut. All lined up on their own shelves like stripes in an Appalachian pride flag.

Often asked to come home and help with canning, I never wanted to. I found any excuse to be unavailable. The thought exhausted and sickened me. I enjoyed the results of their labor, but I never wanted to see how the figurative sausage got made. Part of me, I think, could feel the growing resentment in their marriage.

My father loved to garden, and spent many hours out on his little square of land. I think the only peace he ever really knew came when he worked the soil and then stood in the evening air to survey his work. I watched him there in the gloaming, wondered what he was thought about in those moments, and wished I could preserve him there so he wouldn’t shuffle back inside with all the anger that seethed under his crooked front tooth.

Middle of the summer, he would start to bring in his crop. He ceremoniously plopped his yield on the kitchen countertops. The piles grew and grew. He spread tomatoes of every variety and size on newspaper and towels.

The remainder of the work was left to my mother. She didn’t want to do it – had never been asked – and some of the produce began to spoil before she started. She was tired from a lifetime career of nursing, in a lot of pain from a body that betrayed her, and the last thing she wanted now was to be a farm wife. This was how other aspects of their relationship worked, too. Or didn’t.

Anyway, their combined efforts paid off. Despite the mood of creepy, controlling tension in the dining room, we smiled and nodded over the saved food.

* * * * *

One day recently I found myself staring, yet again, at the wall of my grandmother’s pantry.

I know it probably feels important to you to know to which of my parents Ma gave birth. She’s my mom’s mom. Thank goodness his mother didn’t live to see this time in our lives. It’s still important, though. They were all a tight little unit. Ma has had a very hard time wrapping her mind around all that’s transpired.

The pantry collection has slowly turned from half glass jars to mostly Food City brand metal. As I was saying no to this and maybe to that, she picked a couple of “real jars” of green beans from the bottom of a far right shelf.

Although both had the same year on the lid in my mother’s beautiful handwriting – I always meant to make her some labels – one looked a funny color, the juice pinkish. “That jar’s not right, Ma. I think it’s turned.” She smirked at it dismissively, set it back on the shelf, and handed me another, which looked fine.

For many years, out on my own, I maintained a special shelf dedicated to my parents’ jars. I went to it for special occasions. I might be cooking dinner for a gentleman caller or friends and wanted to impress them, or maybe I was feeling homesick.

Since The Great Departure from Reality, the designated cabinet has dwindled like my grandmother’s stock. I stopped thinking about that shelf. It made me sad.

But a week or so after bringing home the green beans, I had just the right plans for them. I would fix one of my favorites – a meal made completely of summer veggies. Green beans, corn-on-the-cob, new potatoes in garlic and rosemary, and (of course) sliced tomatoes.

I opened the beans. My nasal passages were immediately assaulted by the most rancid smell I have had the misfortune to encounter. And I’ve encountered some pretty bad smells.

Working at a camp while in college, I cleaned Porta Potties – one of which had been misplaced and forgotten for an entire season. In my twenties, my basement apartment in the Virginia woods featured one wall in the bathroom closet so attractive to mice that, trapped, they died in it. My roommate and I endured the ripe fragrance of their decomposition on a regular basis. Once, when I worked for a dance company, the grease trap shared by several restaurants in our parking lot baked in the sun every blessed summer day. Awful.

Yet, I have never smelled anything like these beans. It was like a dead man’s halitosis.

I pulled my shirt up over my nose, raced outside and dumped the contents in the far corner of the backyard. Then I put the jar in the dishwasher and forgot about it.

When, a couple of days later, I thought to put a few more things in the dishwasher’s unwashed half-load, I opened the door and again was nearly knocked off my feet by the stench. I ran the dishwasher half full, which was appalling to me.

Later – as an amateur environmentalist who eschews the heat cycle – I opened the dishwasher to let things air dry. That smell? Still. There. Now it had invaded all the other dishes.

I ran a second cycle with soap and bleach, mourning the waste of water. Afterward the stink remained, only somewhat less. In surrender I put away the dishes, then placed ramekins of bleach, vinegar, and baking soda inside the dishwasher and put the offending jar away in a cabinet with all my beautiful, now-empty collection.

A few days had passed when I went to the cupboard for a jar to store some trail mix. The whole area smelled like fetid compost.

How was this even possible?

I became locked into a pattern. About twice a week, I’d visit the dishwasher, then the cupboard, and inhale their atmospheres like a drug-sniffing dog. The smell stayed unpleasant, but I was fascinated with its slowly receding awfulness, lured unconsciously into my own ritual. It was like when someone says, “This smells awful – here, smell this!” That urge to make a horrific sense experience communal and shared, witnessed and justified.

Eventually, I got one of those car deodorizers for the cabinet. My jars now smell like Ocean Breezes or Spring Rain or some such.

I started to think about the green beans episode as a sign. A message, but of what I wasn’t sure. After two years of not speaking to my father, was the jar a final revenge he managed to exact upon me? All the previous humiliation wasn’t enough? Maybe it involved a wider curse, the sins of my family handed down to me with a screw-off lid.

If I could have seen the tragedy coming, I would have hoped the relief after would have been so much greater and more explicit. If you actually ‘open a can of beans’, isn’t there supposed to be some revelation in the exposure?

In the end, I concluded that smell was the specter of deep, persistent, near-impossible-to-shake grief. There’s no covering it up, and no absorption rate that’s measurable. Gradually, so slowly you barely even notice, by throwing the doors open, letting the light shine in and the air blow through, one day an empty jar becomes, not a reminder of what once filled it, but a vessel for something new.

any kind of home

By Jeremy Maxwell

They’ll tell you the Panhandle is part of Florida, any map or GPS will say the same, but anybody that lives around here knows it’s just more Alabama, and it’ll stay that way for the next fifty or sixty miles. It stretches out in either direction and it doesn’t much matter if you’re headed east or west, it’s all just loblolly pines and the slow creep of kudzu tearing everything down. Two-lane roads that lead god knows where and tattered billboards that haven’t been legible for years.

I drain the last of the beer from the can and toss it out the window, watch in the mirror as it sails neatly into the bed of the truck. You would think I’ve been doing this forever, because I have. I crack open another and take a long pull.

Pantera gives way to Behemoth and I hear the tires move across the paint, feel the truck begin to shake as it starts whipping through the grass. I snatch it back onto the asphalt and take another pull from the beer. By the time Behemoth is giving way to Hank III, I’m flicking my half-smoked cigarette into the wind and tossing the empty can behind it.

There is no destination; there’s nowhere out here anyone would want to go.

I’m standing beside the truck staring at my phone, smoking a joint and trying to figure out if I still have service. I haven’t decided one way or the other when it rings in my hand.

“Hello, wife,” I say.

“Hello, husband,” she says, and I hit the joint and wait. “Are you at the show?” she asks.

“You know, I don’t think I’m gonna go.”

“Scared they won’t let you in?” she says, and I stand there, stupid. I flick the roach into the weeds and watch it burn; unbuckle my pants and piss on it, stagger back against the truck.

“Why the fuck wouldn’t they let me in,” I say, putting my pants back together and reaching through the window for another beer.

They’ve all rolled into the floorboard and I have to climb in up to my waist to get ahold of one. I pull myself out and walk around the back of the truck, open the tailgate and sit down.

“It hasn’t been two weeks since you blacked out and started doing snow angels on the floor in front of the merch table,” she says.

“I don’t remember doing that.”

“Well, they do,” she says, and I know she’s right.

I’m staring at the woods listening to her tell me it’s fine, to be careful and come on home when I see the cut. You could drive by a million times and never notice it there, even if you were looking for it. I tell my wife I love her and end the call and climb back in the truck, start it up and turn toward the ruts between the trees.

The road goes on forever, it even forks a couple of times and I’ve got no idea where I’m going, just picking left or right and hoping I don’t get stuck in the mud out here in the middle of fucking nowhere in the middle of the fucking woods. The truck is bouncing back and forth and the daylight’s fading and there’s only one more beer rolling around in the floorboard. I’ve just about decided to turn the whole thing around if I can find someplace to do that when the trees open up into a giant clearing of freshly mown grass. It happens fast and I hit the brakes at the treeline and sit there staring straight ahead and wondering what in the hell I’m doing out here. The Kills are singing loud and I turn them down and down and down until the sound is gone.

Out in front of me, seven single-wide trailers are set in a wide semicircle. They’re pushed back almost against the far edge of the trees with very little space between one and the next, enough for a clothesline and a couple of plastic chairs between each one. Some of the chairs have been turned over and there are no clothes hanging on the lines. A pair of jeans and what could be a sundress are strewn across the ground like everything was snatched down in a massive hurry and I get the feeling there were people out here moments ago.

“What the fuck is this, then,” I say, and I want to turn around and get the fuck out of here but there’s not enough room to do that without leaving the trees. Large vegetable gardens line both sides of the clearing. I’m getting visions of meth cooks and cartel weed trimmers and I reach under the seat for the pistol, set it on the center console.

I pull forward and I can see that all the windows are covered and the doors are closed and I know I should just go but now I can’t help myself and I keep moving toward the trailers. I stop a few yards short of the middle one and before I can get it in park the door snatches open and a woman comes storming down the steps with a shotgun. I’m out of the truck before I know what I’m doing and she’s got the thing leveled at my chest and I didn’t even pick up the pistol so I just stand there in the grass and put my hands above my head.

“Put your goddamn hands down,” she says. “Who did you come out here for?” I lower my arms and glance around and now there are bends in all the blinds but I still can’t see inside.

“I didn’t come out here for nobody,” I say, and she doesn’t say shit so I tell her I’m just trying to turn around. I’m drunk and stoned and I should’ve just gone to the goddamn show where the bouncers and bartenders all hate my fucking guts but nobody wants to shoot me.

She asks if I have a gun and I tell her in the truck and she asks what I’m really doing out here and I tell her, really, nothing. A young girl comes out of the trailer behind her with a walkie talkie in one hand and puts the other on the woman’s back. “Nobody knows who he is,” she says, “nobody’s ever seen him.”

“Jesus Christ, you stupid bastard,” the woman says and points the shotgun at the ground. “Well come on in and at least get some tomatoes.” She backs toward the steps without turning around and the girl disappears through the door and I don’t even like tomatoes but here I go inside.

When I ask what they’re doing out here, the woman glares at me as the girl piles vegetables into a paper sack. “Growing tomatoes,” she says, and takes the bag and shoves it against my chest. The place looks more like an office than any kind of home, and again I ask what’s going on.

“Look, I’ve got a dozen ladies out here hiding from assholes just like you,” she says, “and you’ve got them all scared half to death. Couple of bad decisions and you end up married to some prick with shitstains halfway up his back from twenty years of wiping his ass in the wrong direction. Creeping through the woods that way,” she says, shaking her head. “Got them all scared to death. Now please,” she says, “take these and go.”

She follows me out and watches as I climb in the truck and stow the pistol, open the last beer and set out for home. When my wife asks what I’m doing with tomatoes, I set the sack on the counter and pull her close, saying, I love you, I’m right here. I love you. I’m here.