Category Archives: True Stories.

Don’t Lift a Finger

By Tawny Powell

Mark was a drunk, though he wouldn’t admit it.

Instead, he said, “I don’t really drink,” which I know means he can’t because he already told me he’s a writer.

He carried a water bottle full of tobacco spit, discreetly, as if to carry shame like a cheap umbrella, halfway hidden under his arm but still needing it anyway. At least that’s what everything else about him said.

So he’s a writer. A “famous” one. God bless his heart.

I wouldn’t know. I don’t follow anyone famous but Beyonce, but he spoke Needy like a language he’d denied himself. Which might be to say Mark denied himself things like booze on any given night or any real sense of accomplishment. Or himself.

Supposedly, Mark was the last to interview Hunter S. Thompson before he blew a bullet through his skull. Said he’d been asked to interview him specifically because their writing styles were so similar.

Mark, edgy, resourceful, his legs taking up the entire aisle of the bus, as if he needed that much space, plenty of weight to throw around but not much to hold onto.

If he wanted your time, consider that a gift because he didn’t like most people.

Besides, he’s “famous.”

Outside the old school bus window, I get lost in the lush green jungle. Hungry and thirsty for the freedom of nature, I’m so at peace with ‘getting away.’

My ex would be here if I had my way, next to me on this dark green seat, devouring the other Conch Fritter I picked up at the bus station in Belize City. I never invited him. Too afraid he’d say, ‘No’ and of the empty despair that would follow that kind of rejection. From him.

It’s my birthday, anyway. No need to messy this trip with what isn’t.

Mark asks if I want to get a drink later, as if that was something I might actually say ‘no’ to on my birthday. I know this because I had already said, “I can’t wait to get a drink when we get there!” Mark takes the easy way out with women. Perhaps I am a little too available. Perhaps he, too, is fearful of rejection.

Either way, he never called. I got plenty of drinks anyway. At the bar. On the walk back to my hut. In a tent. In the backyard. Of the nature lodge where I stayed.

The tent belonged to the owner’s cousin:  a late 30’s gentleman whose wife recently left him and took the kids. He was devastated. And handsome. He kept a tall bottle of rum and tequila in his 1-person pup tent home. He even fetched me a fresh coconut as a chaser. I played popular, emotional American R&B music from my cell phone over the WiFi.

He never tried to kiss me.

An awkward thing happened when we arrived to Hopkins Village via taxi. Myself, Mark and this guy named Will, who seemed pretty cool but didn’t say a whole lot, shared a cab literally from the side of the highway in Belize to the center of Hopkins Village.

Mark said that someone had made his reservation for him and that he was staying at the guest house just across the street from Will. Sounds convenient enough, I thought. But after dropping both of them off and carting out their luggage, the taxi driver took a slow U-turn toward the direction of my lodge, and out walks Mark from the hotel where he supposedly had a reservation.

He mumbled something like, “they’re not being very nice ‘cuz they won’t let me to leave my bags there while I go to the gift shop to get my reservation info” and … I dunno Mark.

Kinda sounds like bullshit to me. But like a kind Belizean, our taxi driver dragged Mark’s enormous, “it’s really heavy” backpack back into the trunk of the Isuzu Rodeo, again, and gave Mark a ride to the gift shop, where he left him to sort out his business.

Seems like Mark gets a lot of free things out of the kindness of strangers. Or by exasperating them.

In hindsight, my solo-travelin-ass is glad that Mark didn’t see where the taxi dropped me off and had no idea where I was staying. Something really tells me:  be grateful for that.

And I lied earlier.
He did call. Two days late, like any good drunk.

I had already left Hopkins Village. It was cute but quite boring. My highlight was a motorcycle ride from this tiny restaurant back to the nature lodge, by this adorable but way-too-young-for-me cruise ship singer.

I told Mark I was leaving on Thursday. He must’ve forgotten that too.  But he did call.

I was half a country away at that point and totally disinterested in a phone conversation with a man I barely knew who talked way too much about himself for my taste. He gave me the excuse via text that he must’ve “butt dialed” me “on accident.” Of course, followed by, “though not that I wouldn’t want to talk…”

I am not sure what made Mark think I was desperate. Maybe the way I longingly gazed at the Belizean countryside, instead of him. Or maybe because I was alone. He really wasn’t cute though, not even in the pathetic, self-deprecating but I-want-to-help-you-see-the-value-in-yourself-because-you’re-an-artist kind of way.

He wanted praise and compliments – that he would never actually accept – because no one’s opinion mattered more to Mark than his own. Though he wouldn’t dare admit that or give himself any credit.

Mark is the worst kind of person to date.
Or even befriend.
If you meet a Mark, don’t fuck him.
He won’t call you back.
And not because he doesn’t want to. Because he does.
He just doesn’t believe he deserves you.
Don’t fuck Mark.
It’s an empty hole of dread and remorse, like Mark is to himself.

Maybe he is just like Hunter S. 
1 interview away from a headshot.
And not the celebrity kind. Or, the celebrity kind.
Either way, I think you know what I mean.

Don’t expect him to call.
Or even lift a finger.
He won’t.

No need to messy your life with what isn’t and will never be.

Trouble and The Good Girl

By Lena Kotler-Wallace

I was born a Good Girl. In sweet, pinafored dresses, hair tied neatly with a ribbon, hanging down straight and shining to the small of my back – because I brushed it every night 100 times like someone from somewhere once said to. I was precocious, but not in that obnoxious way, so as not to challenge the adults around me. Like a good Southern child my “pleases and thank yous” were always followed by a “ma’am” or “sir” strung out with a charming drawl that hinted at more of the kind of genteel South, sweet teas sipped on porches, than it did of the banjo-playing, cousin-screwing hillbilly variety.

I was a Good Girl, and good girls got praise. They got love. They got fathers who paraded them proudly in front of friends to recite their multiplication tables or mothers who hugged them tightly as they stood tall, a perfect doll-like trophy. Good girls got parents who told stories hinting not so subtly that their daughter was not just pretty but SMART.

Good girls did not get the terrifying father who slammed doors while their hand was still in the frame, or who left them sprawled out on the floor, his handprint welling upon their cheek when they corrected his math.

Good girls did not get that glaring look from their mothers. The ones that let them know that with a single childlike misstep such as forgetting to clean their room or making a B on that quiz, they could be too much for the Good Girl persona to bear.

That look and those words inevitably let me know I had suddenly slipped from being The Good Girl to (capital T) Trouble.

I learned very early on that I did not want to be Trouble.

As a child growing up in one of those houses that the neighborhood kids were told they couldn’t play at as their parents pretended they couldn’t hear the horror show going on behind closed curtains, I learned bad things happened because you deserved them, and, if only I had been a Good Girl, then daddy wouldn’t hit, and mommy wouldn’t say those mean things that honestly left wounds much deeper than any punch my dad could throw.

I avoided trouble like it was my sacred mission. The Holy Grail of Good, however, proved to be a difficult thing to achieve. Turns out living in a fear-filled, abusive household tends to give a person some mental health issues, and things like depression and bipolar disorder are not something that Good Girls contract.

I soon learned that Good Girls also only come in sizes like thin or straight. They are only that 1990s kind of liberal that’s really just a Republican in a blue power suit. They are not radicalized. They are not queer. They don’t fucking curse. They are not any of those things that can’t politely be put on the family Christmas card.

Good girls are silent trophies you put up on a shelf. They aren’t me.

Now, staring down the barrel of 35, those people who taught me to fear trouble are all dead and buried. The monsters in the dark are gone, and I can finally face the truth that chasing the phantom of the Good Girl won’t protect me. That actually it never did.

And maybe that’s okay.

Being silent. Being good. Well, it’s no longer an option.

Because life can’t be lived in perfection. The very act of living and existing in our world means that at one point or another you will be too much for someone, not enough for someone else.

You will be too smart.

You will not be in the right body.

You will be tired, and you will say the wrong thing.

You won’t be tired at all, and you will still say the wrong thing.

No matter what you do. No matter how carefully you try to pass in our fucked-up world, you will somehow not fit in that straight cis/het mold of the Good. The day will come when it is your turn to be trouble, and that is not something we should be scared of.

We can’t.

I can’t.

Not just because I deserve that kind of unconditional existence. I do. But so do those three kids who now call me Mom, who are looking to me for love.

And I’m going to love the ever-living shit out of them. I will love them when they bring home A’s, and I will love them when they forget to do their homework entirely. I will love them when their rooms look like a hazmat team is needed, and I will love them through all of the messiness of life. They will know that they are safe and celebrated, and, no matter how much trouble they may be, they will know this is not a home that worships at the altar of The Good Girl.

This is a house that makes trouble.

Worn Thin

By E. Wilson Young

White with “guest” written on their front in calligraphy and framed by embroidered leaves like early spring shoots poking up from beneath snow, the napkins blanketed the backseat as though deposited by a freak storm.

My friend Maggie was the first person to notice them. Happening to glance behind her as I was driving us from my place to My Parents’ Basement, she said, “Oh. You have napkins in your backseat.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Mom gave them to me. I just… I still haven’t gotten around to taking them inside.”

“Do they… do they say something?” she said, reaching back.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Oh my god, they say ‘guest!’”

“Yeah, they say ‘guest.’ They’re guest napkins!” I said.

Giggling, Maggie asked, “Why do they say ‘guest?’”

“What do you want them to say?”

“I don’t know! But it’s so weird that they say ‘guest.’”

Catching Maggie’s giggles, I said, “Well, as a guest, feel free to help yourself to some napkins.”

Other passengers have had similar reactions. But only after that initial question had been addressed would guests think to ask why the napkins are there in the first place.

Before they’d been strewn about the backseat, they’d resided for months in my car’s trunk where I’d left them – unable to transport them inside. The napkins’ promotion to the backseat came about because, one random afternoon in the middle of the week, I happened to notice that my car’s rear right tire had become flat. A regular MARTA rider, I didn’t necessarily need my car and waited until the weekend to see about it. The next Friday evening, to reach the spare, I took off the detachable ledge that covers the trunk, aiming the felt board for the space in between the backseat headrests. Underneath sat the loose mound of guest napkins. I grabbed clumps of them, tossing the napkins into the backseat, letting them flutter wherever they could.

After digging the jack out and removing the spare, I positioned the jack underneath the car and slowly raised it until the car let out a disconcerting metallic-sounding shriek. I lowered the jack, repositioned it, and tried again. The car remained silent this time. With the car in its lopsided position, I tried to loosen the lugs, but they were on too tight. Thwarted, I called the number on the back of my insurance card to request a repairman, scheduling it for early the next day in hopes that I could score a walk-in appointment at a mechanic’s.

Before sunup the next morning, the repairman and I surveyed my car – the repair man, sitting on the ground. “This tire ain’t flat. It needs air.” He leaned forward to peak at the others. “They all do.”

Not knowing what to say in response and feeling ridiculously formal, I presented him with the spare, like I were handing him an award. He snatched it from me, grumbling, “Spare needs air, too.”

With everything he said, I heard an unspoken, You damn fool.

Once he’d put the spare on and I’d signed a form for my insurance, I headed for Pep Boys. I soon noticed an ominous looseness in the rear of the car that became worse the longer I drove. At the Freedom Parkway intersection, I considered my options: the longer route on side streets or the faster highway.

The longer route seemed more perilous, and I decided on the Connector where the looseness quickly evolved into fishtailing, and no matter how hard I pressed the gas, the car would barely reach higher than sixty. With every curve and lane change, I careened more wildly, but, as alarmed as the drive made me, I thought it best to press on. At least Saturday morning traffic meant I could go a little slower. The connector split, and I took I-85 North. Soon, I rounded the curve of the expressway and could see my exit when a terrible scraping noise filled the car. I put on my hazard lights and headed for the breakdown lane – the only thing I could think to do. On the shoulder of the highway, I turned the car off and watched traffic for several moments, catching my breath, before I climbed to passenger side and stepped outside for a look around the car. The spare had been shredded, broad ribbons of rubber unfolding from the rim. I called my insurance again to request a tow.

After the call to my insurance, I called Dad. It seemed like something I should do. “I can come pick you up, son, and we can get you some tires out here.” “Out here” meant back home in Covington – about forty minutes east of Atlanta.

“Dad, that – I appreciate that – I really do – but that doesn’t make any sense. I can see the exit. I was so close. I almost made it.”

“I can pick you up, buy you some tires, and put ‘em on for you.”

“Dad, I’ve already called a tow. It’s okay. I only – I wanted you to know what was going on.”

“There’s some great tire prices out here, son.” He repeated his offer: he could pick me up and buy tires for me out in Covington. The news had short-circuited him. He didn’t know what else to do. It must have reminded him of Mom and how all he could do was sign the DNR. That had only been five months ago.

“Dad, I have to go. There’s a cop. Someone’s getting out.”

A massive truck with flashing lights had pulled up behind me on I-85’s shoulder. Wearing a reflective vest and with a walkie-talkie on his belt squawking away so loudly I heard it above the roar of the highway, a man climbed out. Carefully walking on the shoulder, he approached the front passenger’s side door and knocked on the window. “Is everything okay?”

“I have a tow coming.”

“Oh okay,” he said, visibly relieved — an attitude made me question whether he
was a cop. “Man, what happened?”

“The spare shredded.”

“You’re kidding? Really?”

“No, really!” I said, nodding vigorously, happy that someone else – an official of some nebulous sort, no less – also appeared taken aback, dumbfounded at how such a thing was possible.

He looked at the rear tire and let out a whistle. “Man, you know you’re having a bad day when that’s what the spare looks like! It’s barely hanging on!”

“Yeah.”

“Do you need me to stick around?”

“No, … Officer,” I said, but if I was wrong, he didn’t correct me. “I’ll be fine.”

“Well, take care. Glad you have someone on the way,” he said, and, staying on the shoulder, walked to his truck. He flipped on the truck’s flashing yellow lights and merged back into traffic. It was the benign and reassuring – yet simultaneously vague – encounter Mom would have attributed to an angel.

Waiting for roadside assistance, I noticed early white blossoms on a tree a few feet away in the median – the first early sign of spring. The wind tugged a few petals loose, and I saw, already, a smattering of white on the ground around the tree, like my napkins on the backseat.

Soon, the tow truck pulled up behind me like the last vehicle had. “It almost looks like you hit a pothole going too fast,” the driver said in a rather accusatory way after he had conducted a preliminary inspection to confirm that I did require a tow.

What pothole? I wanted to ask. I wished the non-officer were still there; he’d believed me. The driver escorted me to the cab where I sat and watched traffic while he secured my car to the truck’s bed.

“So where we goin?”

“The Pep Boys up on Ponce.”

“What’s the address?”

“Um…”

“You drivin’ your car, and you don’t know where you was goin?”

“I knew where I was going. I just don’t know the address.” Shouldn’t a tow driver know that address anyway? Where was he taking all these cars? Out to Covington?

A few minutes into the drive, sensing that we had gotten off on the wrong foot, the tow truck driver said, “So what else you got going on today?”

Sir, when this interminable errand is done, I’m going home to cry, I thought. Aloud, though, I said, “I don’t – I don’t really have any plans. I might go to a board game thing.”

“Board game?”

“Yeah.”

“Huh. I hear they got some bars with video games you can play at the bar.”

“There’s one like that – Joystick – near where I live.”

“Man, that sounds great. You play video games?” We hadn’t driven far but were already on the exit, slowing down for the sharp curve that would spit us out on Piedmont.

“I go through spurts where I play.”

“Where’s this Joystick at?”

By the time I gave directions to Joystick, he’d swung around to the service area of the Pep Boys. While he set to work unloading my car, I went to the help desk inside and explained what I thought to be the problem – a flat – and requested a patch. I had made it by ten in the morning – only an hour later than I’d intended, but there were already several people ahead of me in line.

Still dazed by the accident, I sat in the waiting area and read and drank coffee, before calling Dad to update him. I assured him I was fine and then told him my plan about getting the tire patched. “Son, I really think you need to ask them to see what’s wrong,” he said before offering to pick me up and buy tires in Covington as an alternative to the whole rigmarole.

I considered what he’d said and finally approached the service desk to ask the technician if she would take a look with me and let me know what she thought I needed.

“Oh, they all look low!” she said as we approached the car. “They might be dry rotted.”

“What?” I had never heard of such a thing.

“Dry rotted. It’s from being out in the air and not being driven a lot.” She gripped one of the tires, squeezing. “Oh yeah. This is dry rot all right. Feel,” she said, inviting me to grab a hunk of my tire like I was judging the ripeness of fruit. “Feel how there’s no give, and it’s so hard?”

“Uh…”

“That’s dry rot. Yeah, if you park it outside or don’t drive it too much, it can get like that. Now, I can patch the worst one. Or I can have all them patched, but really you need new tires.”

“… Let’s do that then,” I said numbly. I took MARTA to work! I lived in Cabbagetown and walked to Little Five! I used the Beltline! I would sometimes go weeks without driving! Now, I was being punished for doing the right thing.

Queasy from adrenaline and the thought of buying four tires, I couldn’t concentrate on reading. I began pacing up and down the aisles instead.

Usually, at this point in a car trouble episode, I’d call Mom and vent all my fears about the money. She would offer to help; I’d refuse, and I’d feel better. I’d remember that I could handle it and would then find myself reassuring her.

But now I couldn’t talk to her.

The reality of it all hit me then.

That’s how, early on a Saturday morning in January, I wandered throughout the Pep Boys, among the aisles of Looney Tune mud flaps and cherry-scented air fresheners and shiny rims and tires and batteries.

And cried.

As I walked all over the store, I realized how easily I could have died and that I’d gone almost as quickly as she had. Mom had been so busy attending to others, being the perennial hostess, and seeing to everyone else’s needs that she never saw to her own health. Once her sepsis infection became insistent, she went quickly.

Meanwhile, I had almost died because my tires had dry rotted from disuse.

Unable to call her, unable to be comforted by her, I had no other choice. I summoned up my own strength and talked myself down.

Hours later, my tires had been changed and aligned. I signed more forms, and then, finally, headed outside to the car. As I called Dad to let him know I was on the way home with new tires, through the car’s windows, I saw the backseat full of the Mom’s guest napkins.

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.

For Sale: One Uterus, Never Used

By Rykie Belles

FOR SALE: ONE UTERUS, NEVER USED

Well, wait, how are we defining the use of a uterus? To clarify, it has never been occupied by a sentient being that Seller is aware of. There was some question a year or so ago, but that turned out to be nothing. Probably. Most pregnancies end before the individual in question even knows they’re pregnant, though, so who can really say?

Anyway!

It’s a newish model. Roughly 35 years old taking into account gestational time and fetal development. Fertility declines after 35, or so they say, but honestly that’s all the ovaries, so don’t worry about it. If you’re looking to gestate a human being, this beauty will do it for you. Probably. Seller has never tried, cannot confirm–

–Wait, sorry, no. Seller would like to make it clear that she has engaged in sexual intercourse to completion with a human male, both parties being presumed fertile. More than once. Many times, even! Seller was a late bloomer but bloomed PRETTY WELL, thank you very much. It’s just that there has never been an attempt to, ya know, create a child.

Still under limited warranty, which is to say the Affordable Care Act. Thanks, Obama!

(Seller cannot guarantee said warranty will continue to exist; see also: the Voting Rights Act, civil and human rights in general, the U.S. Constitution, and a habitable planet. Buyer assumes all responsibility for costs of care and repair post-warranty or post-apocalypse.)

As an added bonus, this uterus is currently playing host to a small object of plastic and hormones known as an intrauterine device, approximately two years old. Seller was told by doctor to expect that to function approximately seven years total due to declining fertility mentioned previously. Do you want a new uterus but not a baby? Then this bad boy is just the ticket! Skip the hellishly painful insertion process and get all the benefits of nearly infallible birth control with few side effects! Do be aware that you’re gonna have to get it taken out at some point, and that’s probably gonna hurt a lot. Seller does not know, cannot confirm.

Price….? Well, now, before we talk money, let’s look at the facts. Surrogacies can run up to $45,000. And remember, this bad boy is in mint condition. Never taken out of the box, never unwrapped, raised in a smoke-free environment. Cleans itself every 28 days like clockwork for the last two decades. No history of STDs. This is an A+ uterus.

On the other hand, Seller is hella motivated. She just wants to fuck without worrying about getting pregnant, right? Honestly, she thought that an IUD would help with that fear, but anxiety is a bitch. And speaking of a bitch…

Look, I like you. I feel like we’ve got a good rapport—like I can trust you. So let me just tell you a secret: Seller is real, real tired of having a menstrual cycle. Some people find that a hormonal IUD will eventually taper off their bleeding, but that hasn’t been the case here.

So I think if you’re willing to talk to the seller, you can probably strike a deal. You take on the twice-monthly aches. Now, that’s during menstruation and during ovulation, mind, and that’s not just cramps. It’s also excruciating hip pain, and headaches, and pain in the lower back and the actual pelvic bone that makes moving around difficult and keep Seller awake at night. You also take the monthly depression spike. It’s a big one! PMS is not a joke—and speaking of which, you take the lifetime of being a punchline for dudes who say they’re “comedians” or “artists” but secretly just hate women, and the way that some of them still giggle when a tampon falls out of your purse even though they’re in their goddamned 40s

You take all that, give Seller $10, and I think you can walk away with this bad boy tonight.

What R U Made Of?

Gutwrench Journal conducted this interview with artist and letterpress printmaker Lennie Gray Mowris in December 2018. Mowris’ work is available at lenspeace, and she is also the designer of the Gutwrench logo.

GW:  Hey Lennie, what would you say the highlight of your year has been?

LM: The highlight of 2018 is that it totally took me by surprise. I started this year with a whole plan, and then had every intention except for one derailed. This year the AIGA National Design For Good Task Force, which I have served for the last three years, published The Path to Impact. It is a social impact framework that guides the creative process from 0 to sustainable & socially responsible design. Our team won a $30,000 grant to continue developing the work, and it took off in ways I never expected. I started traveling to chapters to talk about Design for Good and combating social bias. I found myself on a platform for every philosophy I’d ever built my studio or artwork around, and I was leading dialogue, facilitating strategy, inspiring creativity. I fell in love with my strategy design career all over again, but it came with some sacrifices to my print studio for the sake of time.

IMG_0902

GW: Tell me what keeps you passionate about your art.

LM: Art for me isn’t about passion, it’s about process. I never considered myself an artist until I found printmaking, which is the foundational craft for graphic design. It’s an intentional communication to an unknown person in an unknown environment, in order to motivate an outcome or change human perspective and behavior. The print studio was always a way to do that by my own hand. I want to facilitate the communications that resonate with diverse groups of people and physically hold on paper the intention I put into the ideas. So for me, it’s problem solving— an exploration in how words, pictures, and colors bring us closer together or drive us further apart. How sensitivity to the nuances of each culture can strip communication of inherent violence and foster inclusive peace.

If passion comes into it, I’m passionate about the people who help me understand humanity better by way of their vulnerability with me. I care. Deeply. About all the humans. I feel honored to have been trusted with so many people’s grief, pain, trauma, relationship woes, and also their hope, love, resilience. Humans are complicated but amazing nonetheless. I cherish my community and my relationships that live from their heart.

GW: What I love about your work is that it is creative, beautiful, political, hand-crafted and timeless, and that seems like an incredibly difficult balance to maintain.

How do you start something new?

LM: It’s funny you ask this because right now everything is new – but also old. Since my work is about process, it’s always in a state of becoming, just as I am. It’s organic and alive. It informs me as much as I inform it. At first I was a sustainable graphic designer, I made logos and flyers, but that was the surface. Then, I built the print studio, and I was a letterpress printer… and graphic designer then came second. The public persona built ended my identity there. But those things were just the steps I needed to take first in order to build the studio into what it was always meant to be. Path to Impact is the strategic process I’ve been using and refining with other industry leaders in impact design, I’ve bet my entire career on the strategy work, my presses were always a tool for that goal.

Reconciliation is my favorite word, my whole life is about finding that sweet spot in complicated problems & systems so they flow better with less violence in the process. I’ve learned a lot along the way, I’m about to let some of the ways lenspeace has been before go. My print work is going to become more fine art and mixed media, and less production art. I’m about to disrupt my whole process as I bring in new people to help. Everything is new to me right now, and I’m learning every day, but I’m terrified. That’s the long answer.

The short answer is, time. I start something new when what is old isn’t working anymore, or when opportunity defines my path forward for me. I commit, but I’m not afraid to cut ties and pivot into something new if it isn’t working.

GW: When we last spoke, you were asking ‘What are you made of?’ In what ways are you still addressing that? Are any other questions on your mind now?

LM: Well, I never addressed it in the art I intended to create this year. I hope to correct that next year. I was hoping to have a discussion about what it means to be human through art, instead this year was literally about what I’m Made Of.

I’ve been pushed to every emotional extreme and had to not to lose my chill. I’ve had to heal- unpack the social problems we’re complicit in during one of the most troubling political periods of my life. I’ve had to find flow I never knew I had. Master the 24 to 48-hour trip to new cities. I crawled out of the collective depression that has befallen society the last three years. Being an empath doing empathy work is a lot of emotional labor, and staying in touch with joy is an interesting exercise. Whatever I’m made of, it’s a beautiful blend of rage & love, and I’m OK with that.

I’m still exploring this question, but I want to make a switch in the language as I focus more on the idea of WE.

“What Are We Made Of?” I want to explore what happens when people come together to achieve common goals. Because life isn’t about any single one of us, it’s about making it work for all of us.

The Great Moonbuggy Race

By Sarah Beth Nelson

My father called to tell me and my sister that we had a new baby brother on the day I was leaving for the Great Moonbuggy Race. I was a senior in high school. My sister was a freshman. I went off to school that morning thinking how strange it was to suddenly get a new sibling when I was almost 18 years old.

img_3867After my last class, I went to the parking lot to meet up with the rest of the moonbuggy team and our physics teachers. We piled into two rental vans, one of which was hauling a trailer with the moonbuggy inside. Then we set out on the four-hour drive from Suwanee, Georgia, where our high school was located, to Huntsville, Alabama, where the Space Center was hosting the moonbuggy race.

On the drive, I kept thinking about my new baby brother. And the more I thought about him, the worse I felt. I had had a good relationship with my father when I was young. I especially appreciated that he supported my dream of becoming an astronaut. When I was four years old I decided to become an astronaut after learning about Mars: The Red Planet. Red is my favorite color. I had to get there, and being an astronaut was the way to do it. Maybe it seems silly to choose a career based on a favorite color, but think about it. If I could go to a whole planet that is red, what else could I see as a space traveler? A lot of kids want to be astronauts when they’re four. But I was different. I was really going to do it. Even then, I had a sense that you can’t always count on adults. I knew that if something is important, you have to make it happen for yourself. So, I promised myself that I would visit another world someday.

I started planning right away. In elementary school I worked hard at math and science. I entered science fair competitions and Invent America. I was that kid who’s projects always looked a little too good and people would wonder, “Did she do that herself?” The answer is, “No. No, I did not.” It wasn’t that my dad did the projects for me. They were my projects. But he would get excited about helping, and maybe ended up helping too much.

My mother also encouraged me in my love of space. She signed me up as a member of the Planetary Society. A few times a year I got their publication, The Planetary Report, full of color images of stars and planets, and articles about things like what elements scientists believe must be present for life to be possible.

Both of my parents saved up to send me to Space Camp, at the Space Center in Huntsville, as soon as I was old enough to go. That was the summer after fourth grade. The next summer, after I graduated from elementary school, my parents got divorced and my father moved out. He was remarried before the end of the year.

My sister and I went to see him and our stepmother every other weekend. He no longer helped me with my experiments and inventions. And after a couple of years, he called one week to say that, from then on, when it was our weekend with him, he would pick us up on Saturday morning, instead of Friday night. He and our stepmother were tired at the end of the work week. Everyone would have a better weekend if we came on Saturday. But I didn’t have a better weekend that way. I missed my father terribly after he moved out. I was incredibly hurt that he could so easily give up even more of the small amount of time we had together.

In high school, I joined the marching band. The first time I had a competition on one of my father’s weekends, he said, “I’m not taking you to that. Just don’t come this weekend.” I had more competitions. I joined more activities. By my senior year, I hardly saw my father at all.

I was jealous of my brother. My father couldn’t tell him not to be there on Friday nights, or when he had activities my dad didn’t feel like driving him to. He would have my father in his life in a way I hadn’t for half my childhood. But at the same time, I desperately wanted this for my brother. Even though I hadn’t met him yet, I loved him. I wanted my dad to be better for him than he had been for me. Late that evening, we arrived at a motel in Huntsville. I shared a room with the only other girl on the moonbuggy team.

In the morning, we drove to a parking lot outside the Space Center and took the moonbuggy out of the trailer. It didn’t fit in the trailer fully assembled, so we had made the wheels detachable. We screwed the wheels onto the axles and a couple of the guys started test driving the moonbuggy around the lot.

Our moonbuggy was a feat of engineering. It had a rectangular metal frame that was pinched in the middle. There were four bicycle wheels – one at each corner. It was pedal powered, by both the front and back driver. We had levers to steer. There were two things about the moonbuggy that we were particularly proud of. The first was the universal joint in the middle. From that joint, the moonbuggy could bend up and down, something it would need to do while going up hills and into craters. It could bend side to side while going around corners. And it could twist, if diagonal wheels were both going over boulders at the same time. The other thing we were really proud of was the limited-slip differential we had put on each axle. An axle and the two wheels attached to the ends can be a solid unit, all moving together. But, if the two wheels need to rotate at different speeds, like while going around a turn, that can put strain on the axle. The limited slip differential allowed the axle and wheels to act as a solid unit most of the time, but also permitted a little give under pressure. Our moonbuggy was truly a masterpiece.

I should have been mentally preparing myself for the race. When it was our turn to do a timed run of the course the Space Center had created to resemble the surface of the moon, I would be one of the drivers. But I wasn’t preparing myself. I was thinking about my brother.

My father had become so disappointing in recent years that I had been considering writing him off – just not going to see him anymore. That seemed less painful than trying to keep him in my life and being constantly reminded that he didn’t care if I was in his. I couldn’t do that anymore, though. Writing him off would mean not seeing my brother. I wanted to be there for him. I thought he might need another adult in his life that he could count on.

I looked up just in time to see the guys run the moonbuggy into the curb. The front wheels moved on their axle as they hit. “Stop!” I yelled. “You’re breaking the moonbuggy!” They didn’t listen to me. They backed it up and got it going even faster. This time the moonbuggy jumped over the curb and came to rest in the grass. The front wheels were spinning freely now, the threading completely stripped where they were screwed onto the axle. I was right: they had broken the moonbuggy. But it was important to know about that weakness before the race. They took it to the repair tent and welded all the wheels onto the axles. It was much stronger that way. We would have to well and truly break it to get it back into the trailer, but that would be after the race.

My physics teacher had seen me yelling at the guys. She led me behind the trailer. “Sarah, you are showing signs of panic. You don’t have to do this.” She thought I was panicking about the race, and was offering to replace me as a driver with someone else from the team. I had spent the past fourteen years preparing to drive a moonbuggy. I could drive a moonbuggy. I wasn’t ready to have a new baby brother.

My opportunity to drive the moonbuggy was slipping away from me, though, and it meant so much more to me than my teacher realized. I started my senior year still on the trajectory of becoming an astronaut. I was in advanced placement (college level) physics and calculus, even though I had already met my high school’s science requirement and could have taken an easier math. I wrote a research paper for my physics class on how scientists search for extrasolar planets (planets outside our solar system). And, I signed up for the moonbuggy team.

At the same time that I was using all the math and science I had learned over the years to help design and build the moonbuggy, at the same time that I was researching conditions on the surface of the moon to anticipate what the race course would be like, I was applying to colleges. And it was a moment of truth. Was this really the path the rest of my life was going to take? I was also in my fourth year of marching band and my third year of Latin. I was in advanced placement English. I had been taking piano lessons for almost as long as I had been an aspiring astronaut. I loved all of these things. And I knew that I wanted to have kids someday. I had no doubt I could find a way to both have children and be an astronaut. But I figured that a round trip mission to Mars would take at least two years, probably longer. I knew what it was like to have a parent who wasn’t around as much as I would have liked. I didn’t think it could be part of my plan to have kids and then leave them behind. In the spring semester, I committed to starting at the University of Georgia the next fall, as an English major.

After that, the moonbuggy project became bittersweet for me. It was the culmination of a lifetime of astronaut training. Driving in the race would be my big send off to my childhood dreams. But only if I actually got to drive.

I needed to stop panicking. I told myself I could figure out how to be a big sister to my new sibling later. Right then, I had another child to think about: myself. I had promised my four-year-old self that I would visit another world some day. It was time for me to drive across the moon.

N64

By Mauree Culberson

Dear Daddy,

I hope you are enjoying Thanksgiving. I bet you can have all the dairy you want in the afterlife and the salt crystals fall from the sky like snow on your dinner plate, and no one tells you that’s too much.

I was sitting watching some awful film in the living room with our relatives, and I overheard mom and sister asking Andrew if he’d ever carved a turkey before. It was a stupid question or, at bare minimum, rhetorical. Of course he’s never done it. You have always carved the turkey.

It’s just another example of a hole left in the family without you in it. The gunmen stole you from us. They left holes in you that ripped through the seal of our family, leaving us ragged, like a scorched kitchen towel from some long-forgotten mishap.

This Thanksgiving lacked what you provided. No one was there to egg on rivalries or differences of opinions between relatives for the amusement of the rest of us. No one was called out for their exaggerated claims to shame the unreliable narrators who tell you parts of their dramatic life stories. No one complained too loudly that my sister only made fourteen desserts. No one challenged the decades-old tradition of me doing almost no cooking whatsoever. (I ‘stir up’ cornbread from scratch and then crumble that and other breads for the dressing. Then I go back to doing nothing. Little sisterhood has its privileges.)

There was no one to command all the males to do all the heavy lifting. There was no one to pack the car with our luggage the night before we left or to insist we don’t bring it in ourselves. No one handled trash and recycling without being asked. No one conducted the ‘now what are we watching’ TV council. No one was there to hear my aunts yell, ‘Shut up, Maurice,’ when they’d had enough of being teased. No one rolled their eyes when discussing who was invited to drop by and who was told to …. ‘Have a blessed holiday.’ No one lamented all my mother’s good deeds that go unthanked.

I slept next to mommy in your spot. Mom still sleeps neatly on her side of the bed. Your reading glasses are still there. There’s an opened pack of gum which I bet was yours still sitting on your dresser. Some of your mail is there, next to your Sunday school book. I laid there and cried. I whispered to my sleeping mother, while looking down at your slippers which are still on the floor on your side of the bed, “Mommy, I want my daddy back.” That was dumb, I know. I just long for the days when my mother could fix anything. She could fix a toy, break a fever, make broccoli taste good somehow, and soothe me to sleep. She can’t fix this broken heart, though.

In the morning, I looked in your closet that you share with mommy. All your suits are pressed. Your best suits remain in plastic … minus one, the one you’re wearing right now. Your ties are in color order and displayed for easy selection. I put my feet in your shoes, like I did when I was smaller, and flopped around a bit. I remember putting my feet on top of yours as we danced around once.

When I took a shower, many of your toiletries were missing. It’s sensible, I reminded myself. Yet I felt sad until I went looking for toothpaste and found it all neatly put under the sink. When I stood up, I saw your bathrobe still hanging on your hook on the back of the bathroom door.

I stepped out to the vanity to do my hair. I wondered and couldn’t resist opening the drawers on your side. The bottom drawers contained clean, perfectly folded white underwear, undershirts, socks paired and separated in white black and then all other colors. The top drawer hid an item I’d never thought I’d see again. I saw your phone.

Your phone is way outdated but bright red because black phones are hard to find in the dark, you’d said. Sometimes you’d forget to take it with you. I used to think this was rebellion against  technology in general but I later came to realize that a built-in GPS and calculator was an intellectual affront to an accountant who lived in the same city for 60 years. Nestled next to it was the car charger. That’s where the gunmen found you, in the car. The car is now back in the garage. No one drives it, it just takes up its usual space.

For a few glorious moments, I imagined you were just out of town and traveling light. I smelled your deodorant and your cologne. I fake yelled back at you complaining that my showers are so long they take up all the hot water. I danced around the room a bit putting my mother’s many brooches to my chest, as if I’m trying them on at a store. I get carried away and bump the dresser holding one of the brooches in my hair, when a card slips out that’s tucked next to a jewelry box. I open my mouth to fake sassy reply ‘Nothing is broken, geez!’ to your usual grumble when there’s an unexpected noise … but I’m deflated by the piercing words on the pointy white index card.

You’re not here.

That realization coats me thickly like giblet gravy. My relaxed shoulders tense. I close the drawers and put your slippers away back where I found them. I take off your robe and pull the plastic covers back down on your suits. I put back the piece of gum I took out of the pack on your nightstand. My mom left or put all these things this way. I better put them back before one of y’all catches me and … before mom catches me. It could get weird, or she could get angry. Discussing our innermost feelings is prohibited per the roaring lion standing firmly atop a box securely locked, marked ‘Feelings, etc.” on our family crest. Plus, if she cries, I’ll cry too, but I won’t be able to stop.

The white index card asked for an opinion on the care of your gravestone and burial plot.

You’re not out of town. You’re not complaining about my shower time, or the bumping noise, nor are you carving the turkey. I’m not a little girl who snuck into her parents room to play dress-up.

You’re not here.

You’re at plot N64 in a hole in the ground. All that is displaced in the soil is nothing to what has been displaced in me. I cannot patch these holes. We will not be whole again, this family, not like we were.

I spotted a pair of your socks on the floor. I’d let them escape the drawers, but, when I went to put them back, I opened the wrong drawer first. I opened the undershirt drawer a bit wider than before, and I found bags and bags of them. I lost it. My mouth covered on my knees, and I heaved, letting gigantic tears bombard the plastic bags.

You seemed … we seemed like we didn’t love each other sometimes. We fought so much. You could be harsh and angry, and so could I towards you. You were stubborn and gave me that stubborn quality that has served me well.

In those plastic bags were decades’ worth of Father’s Day and birthday cards. Some were on decaying newsprint with dashed lines clearly made by tiny hands. In the bottom, the bags had collected confetti, glitter, ribbons, macaroni pieces and other bits from the temporary medium of cards. Bunches of paper scrawled on in purple ink, pencil, drawn on hearts, scriptures and glued-on cotton balls kept tucked away but kept in preservation and reverence.

Encased plainly and put in the drawer, buried memories lie yet unmarked. That drawer has no holes. It is full.

Your BabyGirl (still),

Mo

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