AUTHORS

  • Allie Marini Batts
  • Leonard Chang
  • Susan Taylor Chehak
  • Katherine Dykstra
  • Karl Dunn
  • William Henderson
  • Sara Taylor

ARTISTS

  • Eleanor Bennett
  • Robbie Durose
  • Jeremy Lynch
  • Jean Oei
  • Jeff Renfroe
  • Prophecy Sun
  • Roderick Zalameda

Sex.

Death.

Resurrection.

An Anthology of Transformation©

Download this collection to your eReader

By The Dark Light of Mermaid Scales

By The Dark Light of
Mermaid Scales

By

Sand on the beach at night is an expanse of silvery glitter. It is glass worn down to powder; you do not feel the cuts until later, when the salt hits it.

He’s stopped the car at the Speedway station on the way to the beach to get coffee. Outside his beat-up Datsun, Dania Beach’s nighttime sky wraps around the windows and the rearview, the clash of humidity and the cold front coming together to make the glass fog over from the breath I am holding. He drives on to the Barnett Bank and parks in its empty lot, near the hotel whose name I never can remember. The lifeguard station, empty at night, is where we’re headed. The hotel was built in the 1940’s, Dania’s tourist heyday. I’ve never seen it in the daylight, because the only time he takes me here is at night, when there’s no one around to see us. The hotel is pastel under the moon, with a spiral staircase to the second floor, where a carved stone chair overlooks the black waves of the ocean just before midnight. On the wall behind the hotel throne, there’s a mosaic of a mermaid, made from grout and colored sea glass. Tendrils of her hair are fixed like ropes of crimson, colored goblets that once fell from cruise ships and shattered on clamshells, buffeted by the sea and its stones to become smooth again, finding their way into the hair of a mermaid pinned to the wall, forever looking back home. The waves are quiet as they hit the damp sand, packed tight on the shoreline. She smiles like Guan Yin and follows me with eyes of opaque crystal. It could be compassion or the coldness of glass, but I sometimes swear she blinks.

The cold front was unexpected, because no one expects it to be cold when there are palm trees outside. He pulls his sweater around my shoulders, and the bright smell of Drakkar overwhelms the salt smell of cold waves and sand. He is kind to me, tender even, when there is no one around to see it. It is as though I am only visible to him in shadows and darkness, the dim slats of my locker the only witnesses to the notes slipped between them:

Beach tonight?

Need a ride home?

Even with a sweater, I am still shivering, looking across the expanse of water without sunlight, an endless scope of sparkling black that feeds toward the line of demarcation where bleak waters become midnight sky. My legs dangle off the edge of the lifeguard station, its boards painted and peeling, cracked from the sun and the salt of the daylight I will never see it in. His arms are around me, from behind, so he does not have to look at me. His lips on my neck, with the lie that we’re platonic. My tail, split into legs for him, burns like the million cuts of sand and the understanding that I will be disappointed. The mermaid and I are face-forward to the water’s horizon, to the vast depths of homesickness that only comes from those who have thrown themselves on the beach and are now trapped. Miles away, two ships pass each other, their lights twinkling deep blue against the mournful skyline at night. I wish he would say that the lights look like my eyes, but it is always dark when he sees me, and he never turns my face toward his, so there’s no way he could know. Staircases spiraling both upwards and down, thrones carved in stone and the shine of glass under starlight should have warned me. By the dark light of mermaid scales, I am giving up my right to swim. When salt hits the skin, it will find the millions of soft cuts that sand has tricked me into. Whether it’s a trick of the glass under moonlight, or whether she pities me, the trails of her hair are like bloodied ribbons across her cheeks that underscore the blue of her glassy eyes: the mermaid pinned to the wall of a tourist’s hotel, whose silvery scales shine with magic only at night, when there’s no one around to see her.

Things I Could Tell You

Things I Could Tell You

By

Late afternoon sunlight falls through the loft window in heavy bands, like the folds of the red velvet curtain at the Downtown Playhouse. When he squints his eyes, the dust swimming in the light looks like the mosquito fry in the rain barrel, floating up and down in aimless circles. He can feel the dust more than smell it, prickling thickly in the back of his throat and all behind his eyes. It prickles more than the hay beneath them, covered by the blue cotton tablecloth she brought, the one with the smudge of red wine at one corner. It’s rucked up a little, and he can feel the hay itself pricking at the back of his head. She’s lying back next to him, resting with her head on his shoulder, one leg thrown across his hips, and it doesn’t prick enough to bother moving. He hears chickens squabbling and scraping distantly.

The loft smells like Sundays, full of books and pet mice and wild tumbling games across the springy bales and sounds like horses eating, so deliciously like the sound of peppercorns in his mother’s mortar. It smells earthy now too, a soft damp smell like rising bread and baby skin, offset by a sharp muskiness that he can never get enough of, no matter how deeply he breathes.

She stirs and sits up, pulling herself slowly from him, and though the day is hot he immediately misses the warmth of her. In their earlier exuberance her hair had fallen all about her face, and she slowly gathers it up again. He watches her do this, watches the languid movement of her glowing white arms, the trembling rise of her small breasts, the in and out of her softly rounded belly. The bodice of her dress is a pale green puddle around her waist, and he thanks God for dresses -- the long filmy skirts catching on even longer legs, the smooth curving buttons up the front, the decorous nature of the garments. His mother says that only fast girls wear trousers, but this he’s never understood: skirts seem so much more convenient, for men at least.

He reaches up and cups her breasts, runs his rough fingers over the velvet smoothness of them. They’re soft, like the last apples in the back of the root cellar in the early spring, when time and darkness have condensed them into perfect handfuls of yielding sweetness. She sighs and bends into his hands, and he wraps his arm around her so he can take an entire breast in his mouth and flick his tongue over the rising firmness, so much like butter candies.

“I should be getting back,” she murmurs. “It wouldn’t do for him to find me not at home.” He pulls her down on top of him and kisses her slowly, and she lets him. For a moment they lie there together, in their own tiny nucleus of heat and breath.

There was a time when they somersaulted across the springy hay together and made nests in the corners, waiting out rainy days. Sometimes she made him play house with her, stuffing her pullover up under her dress until she looked like her mother in miniature. He had awkwardly mimed whatever it was he had thought men did all day, making long furrows in the hay and dropping seeds in carefully, then let her bully him around their dinner table. He in turn bullied her into being kissed, even though he knew she wanted him to. It was part of the playing.

It had been accepted as fact, or so he had thought, that it was all practice for a nebulous one day, when the lump under her dress would be more than fleecy red pullover, and he would know what it was that a man did. He had even looked forward to that day, in a sort of half-expectant way, when he would be kissing her gleaming cheek instead of his mother’s steam-reddened jowl when he returned home in the evenings. He should have known by then that she wasn’t the sort to wait.

Slowly he pulls the bodice up and helps her guide her hand into the short sleeves. As he does up the glossy buttons he notices, for the first time, the purple shadows up her ribs and across her left breast.

“Did I do that?” he asks.

“No, it was there before,” she says, and hurries the buttons into their slits. There are fingerprints around her wrist, dark ovals like smears of soot. He is ashamed that he didn’t notice, that he’d hurried off her clothing so quickly that he hadn’t read her body.

“He shouldn’t be doing that, not if you’re –”

“He doesn’t know yet.” She doesn’t look at him as she says it.

“Are you going to tell him?” he asks.

“He hasn’t touched me in months…”

She sits for a moment, staring at the straw near his knee. He wants to reach out and touch her, but her body has closed in on itself, like a hen setting a clutch of eggs.

It felt like being hit in the stomach with a fencepost when he’d heard. It was at Church, of course. He hadn’t seen her that morning, but there had been many Sundays when he hadn’t seen her, so he’d thought nothing of it. Afterwards, a neighbor ambled up, shook his father’s hand, and asked if he’d heard about the local girl running off with that slick insurance salesman. Of course they hadn’t. The news had elicited the expected reactions from all present, but he’d gone around behind the church and been sick in the ditch. He shouldn’t have expected her to wait.

They had come back when her father died, three years later, and taken over the farm on the far side of the creek. When he saw her again, buying a paper of quilting needles on a leaden summer Saturday, there had been shadows on her neck and thumbprints on her arms.

He thought that it would be the last time he saw her, that day in town. She belonged to someone else; she was beyond his reach.

But some weeks later she had come, stepping neatly over the stile at the bottom of the north field, to ask his mother for her recipe for spaetzle. She hadn’t stopped, hadn’t said a word to him, but when she passed him, buried to his shoulders in a litter of half-born pigs, there had been a weight to her look, a significance that immediately erased all of the years between them and those rainy hayloft days.

She had returned the next day, in the late afternoon. His parents had gone into town, and he had been alone, slowly mucking out stalls. She had appeared at his side, taken his hand without a word, and led him up into the loft and pulled him down into the hay. When they had played before at being adult they had lain together, kissed hesitantly at each other’s cheeks and foreheads, but this was quite a different fruit. Her lips had been soft against his, her tongue probing and searching, and when it touched his own it sent chills down his spine.

A part of his mind had resisted. He wanted to sit back up, hold her and talk about where she’d gone, what she’d done, what they would do now that she was back, but the featherlight pressure of her fingertips drove thought and logic farther and farther from his mind, until he finally surrendered. There would be time for talking, afterwards.

As he watches her now, so many weeks and kisses later, he realizes that he still hasn’t returned to that initial question. She stands slowly, swaying to balance, feet sinking slightly into the hay, then bends to scoop up the table cloth and fling it over one arm. He scrambles across the loft to retrieve his trousers and hops back to her to put them on. They stand together for a moment, breathing in the dust of the loft and listening to the chickens. He leans down and kisses her, cups her belly in one rough palm, the curve of it harder now than it was the last time. Then they go down.

Heavy bands of sunlight cut through the trees: the day has nearly gone. She scatters the chickens with her green skirt and climbs the fence crisply. Her home is more than a mile distant, the same white house with the buttery window frames that she grew up in, and he worries that she won’t get back before her husband does. He watches until the forest swallows her.

There is nothing he can do. He turns towards his own home, to his red-jowled mother and silent father, and a watery cabbage-and-potato dinner. The evening smells of wood smoke and hay, but he carries her smell with him.

Clutch by Eleanor Bennett Clutchh by Eleanor Bennett Circle of Stone by Eleanor Bennett Slaps That Don't Fade by Eleanor Bennett

Photography by Eleanor Bennett

Red Becomes Green

Red Becomes Green

By

“I want to be cremated,” I told him one night. Or maybe I didn’t tell him that I want to be cremated. Maybe telling him that I want to be cremated was just something I thought about doing and didn’t. One thought turning into another thought turning into talking myself out of saying things like I want to cremated, since talking about my wishes for then means admitting that this now he and I are sharing will lead to a then.

Them: how others look at us; us: how we look at each other.

Not look, but refer. How we refer to ourselves. Us.

I’ve learned, with others with whom I grew entangled, not to introduce him to someone as my boyfriend and then by his name. He is who he is, separate from who he is when he is with me and we are an us. Still, the word us makes me think of possession.

“Mine,” he says, pointing at me and then pointing to himself, to where we are taught our hearts live. The center part of our chests, under the ribcage. His heart beats loudly, so at night I cannot help but hear how loudly his heart beats and, since I have trouble falling asleep while listening to something loud, I often have trouble falling asleep listening to him sleeping.

Trade-offs, learning to sleep with someone. I take on his loudly beating heart; he sacrifices the side of the bed where he used to sleep. Even when he and I are not sleeping together, he sleeps on the side of the bed where he sleeps when I am there.

“Why should I get used to something that I don’t always have?” he asked once, when I asked him why he didn’t go back to the side of the bed where he used to sleep when I am not there next to him.

“Isn’t that part of being in a relationship?” I asked.

Before he met me he would read when he took a bath. Comic books, the newspaper, a magazine that came in the mail that afternoon. Nothing of mine, the things he would read, and even after I met him he read when he took baths. Then I loaned him things to read, and the loan came with one condition: do not read in the bath.

“I’m always careful,” he said. “It’s not like I’ll drop anything into the bath.”

“But your hands will be wet.”

“I don’t have to read in the bath,” he said.

Already I’ve changed him, and I didn’t intend on taking on a fixer-upper.

For months we didn’t label our start as having a beginning, but we’ve picked Halloween as our start date. Perfect, since who I am in relationships is a costumed version of myself. Not drag, though. He has a wannabe drag-queen ex. If I ever said I wanted to put on a dress and lip sync to something horrible and, well, gay, he’s already told me he would be done.

I told him he didn’t have anything to worry about. I don’t intend to tuck anything away, out of sight.

Scattered, thinking about this he with whom I’ve become a we. How he irons his shirts in the morning, wears the same pair of pants two days in a row, and leaves his ties knotted when he takes off his ties at night. Or when I take off his ties at night. Before his bath, the buttons on his shirt are only hard to undo if I’m using my left hand, which would mean my right hand was busy. It might be. I do most things with my right hand.

Scattered, but also static. Facts I can Google. The weather on the day I met him. How many people were born in the hospitals in the city where he lives. If there were funerals. Or if there were car accidents. Collisions going on outside, while he and I collided inside. Out of breath and loudly breathing.

He wears flannel. And I tease him for wearing flannel. Not because I have anything against flannel, but because I made a comment once and he responded kind of defensively, which led to me making a second and then a third comment, which led to teasing him for flannel becoming part of our shared vocabulary.

Foreign language instructors swear that they can teach you a new language in 10 days. Learning him has taken, and will continue to take, longer.

And he learning me will take even longer because I don’t want to be learned. Devoured, enjoyed, even loved – especially loved – if you’re asking me to pick a verb. “A verb,” as Pat might ask, during a very different version of Wheel of Fortune.

I’d like to watch game shows with him. I’m competitive. So is he. Drinking games based on how quickly and with how few letters we can solve phrases. Or how quickly we can give an answer in the form of a question.

In his living room or in mine, not sitting separately, since he asks me to come sit with him, which often becomes lying on the couch with him, which often becomes a reason to unbutton his long-sleeved shirts, with my left hand, since my right hand will be busy.

So the teasing. About his flannel shirts. That he wears. Often.

“Lesbians wear flannel,” I say to him, or have said to him, most often when we are places where lesbians also are, often, wearing flannel.

Once at a concert, before the concert, a woman passed by, one drink in each hand, and she and he were wearing the same flannel shirt. The woman handed the drink that she was holding in her left hand to a woman who had a visible tattoo, the words “I’m with her” on her collarbone. Helvetica, I think.

“See,” I said. “Lesbian.”

“Not a lesbian,” he said, kissing me.

I have gotten used to how he kisses and how his beard feels against my face when he and I are kissing. How he kisses me in the morning, and when he gets home for lunch, and when he gets home after work.

Subtle, the difference between a kiss goodbye and a kiss hello.

“Hipsters wear flannel,” he said, when we were done kissing.

“They also wear jeans that look like they’ve been painted on,” I said.

Outside, earlier, when he and I were on our way to the grocery store, a gay couple walked across the street, against the light.

“Don’t hit them,” I said, pressing down on the non-existent brake pedal on the passenger’s side of the car.

He didn’t drive into the men, who were less walking and more sauntering across the street. One or both of these men are probably drag queens, or wannabe drag queens. So we hate them. They’re holding hands. The taller of the two men was wearing a burgundy pair of jeans and orange shoes. The jeans looked like they had been painted on. The shorter man was wearing horizontal stripes. A mistake, this man wearing horizontal stripes.

“I give them six months,” I said. Easier to judge when you don’t know the people, and even easier when your only basis is how they appear, separately or together.

“Too generous,” he said. “I give them six hours.”

“And five-and-a-half of those hours will be spent trying to get those jeans off,” I said.

He laughed.

“I love you,” he said, reaching with his right hand for my left hand. Our thumbs fell as they have learned to fall, mine on top.

Red becoming green and we on our way someplace where we have not been before. A then that our now is becoming, or will become, once we arrive.

Jean Oei - 12345_lr

Fibre art object and photography
by Jean Oei

The Sum of His Parts

Sum of His Parts

By

He told me that he wanted to shoot a time lapse — of moving clouds or melting ice. I suggested a plant breaking through soil, baby green, to which he responded, plants grew too slowly.

Rather than buy a new camera, he told me, he would build an intervalometer to count off the time. But before he could do that, he needed to teach himself electronics.

He had begun to work from home not long before, and in my head I questioned whether this pursuit constituted the best use of his time. But to him, I said only, “cool.”

I blew in from the following day to find him bent over the coffee table, a thousand tiny pieces splayed out before him.

“Look!” he said, rising, a small green board in his extended hand. “Press this button.” I did, and a light blinked on, red, insistent.

He beamed.

I sighed, drew the curtains and asked what was for dinner. He cooked. I drank cheap red wine out of a tumbler, he, Bud Light from the can. We ate, watched a show, climbed outside on the fire escape to smoke a cigarette. But when I went to move to the bedroom, he begged off, back to the coffee table. “I’ll be in later.”

I left the light on, fell asleep fretting the future. What if.

Sometime in the wee hours he slipped in beside me, curled his body around mine. I remember asking the time but not his answer.

And that’s how it was for days, weeks after that. I would leave in the morning and return after dark to find him in the same spot. He’d hand me a board with wires arching off, silver nodes, maybe a button. “Put these two wires together!” “Press this!” “Watch this!” I turned a lever, and a tiny motor revved. Pressed a button, and my name skittered across an LCD screen. Held a shiny silver rectangle in the sunlight, and it made a noise, like an out-of-tune violin.

Kits of tiny plastic components arrived in the mail, and he filled little boxes with their contents. They reminded me of the red steel Craftsman toolbox my father kept in the garage -- rows of miniature plastic drawers, each holding a tiny surprise: a cluster of bolts, nuts, washers, a coil of string, an eraser.

One morning, he called me into the office.

“Now?” I asked.

“Yes. It’ll only take a minute. Sit here.” He pointed to his big leather office chair, one of the only things he’d taken with him to our new home. It reminded me of our early days when he’d sit me in it, show off a movie he’d made, or music -- how impressed I had been. I looked up at him and remembered us then.

“Here.” He handed me a wire with a button affixed to the end. The entire thing attached to a board carrying two bulbs, one green, one red. Each had a piece of college-ruled paper tented over it. The green one said ‘yes,’ the red one, ‘no.’

“Push this button, and ask a question at the same time.”

I did and the two bulbs flashed back and forth a dozen times before stopping on green. Relief.

“It’s a yes/no machine!” he said. “It’s completely random!”

He told me he had made it so that next time I couldn’t decide between going or staying, doing this or doing that, he wouldn’t have to say, ‘Pick a number, one or two,’ and then be accused of switching the numbers in his head to keep me close or send me away.

I came home one afternoon to find a glass of ice standing on a dark blue towel set up like a stage. A black plastic box with a camera attached looked on, and every few seconds clicked and flashed.

“Ice melts slower than you would think,” he said, coming up to me from behind.

“But you did it,” I said.

Over the holidays, while we were away, he with his family in Colorado, me with mine. He e-mailed me a video titled ‘Timelapse.’ I opened it, and my screen filled with the weak light of winter, clouds, purple/grey and whipping over treetops, a snowed mountain. How fast it moved. How quickly it all came and went. What luck that I had been able to see it.

 

The Sum of His Parts was first published in Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts.

Big Ol' Bloody Heart

The Sum of His Parts
Visuals & Music by Jeff Renfroe

Knives

Knives

By

I couldn’t look away, so I saw clearly my father’s backhanded slap cutting across my mother’s cheek and the spittle spewing from her mouth as her head whipped to the side. But my mother kept her feet planted, squared. Her body twisted, her back arched, but she didn’t stumble. She straightened slowly, faced him again without touching her cheek. Her eyes narrowed.

Once, during another fight, I’d seen her smile with bloody teeth.

My father was short and thick with tree trunk legs, and despite his mass he was surprisingly fast. He had once been in the South Korean Special Forces, part of a commando unit that was equivalent to the U.S. Navy SEALs and had blown up bridges and interrogated POW’s during the Korean War. He died from a brain tumor about eight years ago. I hadn’t seen him since I was fourteen years old. I didn’t go to his funeral.

My mother passed away a year ago, and while she was sick she began telling me stories about herself, about my father, stories I never knew. She told me how she had learned about my father’s military background. She had known about the navy, but she hadn’t known about his reputation, his kills. She said to me on the phone, I never told you the whole story. They were at church. It was a Korean Methodist church in Costa Mesa rather than their regular church in Santa Ana. My father had fought with the reverend at the regular church—something about not being appointed a deacon and my father calling the reverend a weak shit-eating coward (in Korean, of course)—and he was asked to leave by the reverend’s wife. They quickly found this new church in Costa Mesa and dragged me there.

I wasn’t religious at all. I’m still not. I didn’t believe in God, even back then, and didn’t believe in Heaven, Hell, or any kind of afterlife. I didn’t believe in church, but I went for the girls.

The story my mother told me was of a man who had recognized my father and said to her, Do you know who your husband was during the war? This man at the Costa Mesa church, a tae kwon do teacher, a former Special Forces commando himself, apparently saw my father as soon as we climbed out of our Dodge Dart. The tae kwon do teacher stared at my father, then touched his wife’s arm. Who are they, he asked.

I don’t know, she said. New family it looks like.

And the tae kwon do teacher continued staring, then slipped out of my father’s line of sight and avoided him for the rest of the day. However, at one point he saw my mother alone and pulled her aside. He asked her, Do you know who your husband was during the war?

The sounds of my childhood were of screams in Korean and rapid, heavy footsteps as my father chased my mother on the hardwood floors. The pages of my comic books had sweaty hand prints on them. I started grinding my teeth back then and continue to do so now. It has gotten so bad that I once cracked my upper right molar, and it soon became infected. Decay seeped into my roots. I needed a $3000 emergency pulpotomy, root canal, gold crown, and resin restoration. Because I couldn’t afford another procedure like that one, I started wearing a night guard—a plastic mouthpiece—when I went to bed. Sleep is a battle.

My wife left me last year, a few months after my mother passed. I never hurt my wife as my father had hurt his—I had never even came close—but we fought as aggressively as my parents and her parents had. I am terribly saddened by this, because we tried so hard to be better, and I think we succeeded on most fronts. But we still failed on others.

No, the most violent I ever became was directed at myself. My wife was deteriorating from the stresses at work. She would stumble home crying every other night, her cheeks flushed, her eyes red-rimmed, and this misery would eventually turn to anger at her bosses, her co-workers, and invariably, as we moved through the evening, anger towards me. I was not without fault. I was not as sympathetic as I could have been. I accused her of melodrama. I urged her to quit. She retorted that I didn’t make enough money for her to quit, which of course accented my own failures, and our fights degenerated from there.

One night she seemed to be worse than usual, and I thought that she could actually have a nervous breakdown if she continued working there. She had a cold, and this, combined with some mix-up at the office being blamed on her, was too much. Her small, frail hands shook as she told me about her boss yelling at her. She began shivering. Her thin hair covered her face. She couldn’t stop crying. I told her she had to quit, she just had to. Then we began fighting. The blow-by-blow is irrelevant. It was the tone that’s important. We started screaming. I was afraid for her mental health and ordered her to write her letter of resignation tonight, now, this instant, and she said that she could not. This same argument had infected us for many months, and I knew I was not making my point clearly enough. We needed a root canal. We needed an emergency pulpotomy. I yelled, If I was hurting myself wouldn’t you want to do something to help? She replied that we were in bad financial shape and without her job we couldn’t afford the Bay Area, which we both liked. Perhaps our screaming made it difficult to get our points across.

I was crying. She was crying. I felt an utter frustration I had not felt since I was a child, and I needed to make a dramatic point. I yelled, If I was hurting myself, you’d want me to stop, wouldn’t you? We were in the kitchen. I was next to the counter. She was standing rigidly by the dining table. I yelled again, If I was hurting myself, you’d stop me.

So I grabbed a knife. It was the Wüstof-Trident twelve-inch cook’s knife, part of the set I had bought her for her thirtieth birthday. $250. She had read about the set in Cook’s Illustrated , her favorite magazine—she had once wanted to be a chef—and David Kimball had rated this set the best for the home professional. The six knives came with a wooden block. I had listened to her talk wistfully about a good knife set, and I wanted to make her happy. Of course we couldn’t afford it, but I had four credit cards with only two of them maxed out. I copied the article and went to the Home Store and showed the attractive clerk the article, and she smiled and recognized the clipping. She said, Oh, I just read that! She showed me the knife set. I bought it. When I presented it to my wife, she jumped up and down, her cheeks flushed, and although I saw a glimmer of concern in her eyes—the cost, she was thinking, it’s so expensive—she shook it off and kissed me, and told me she loved me. I was so happy she was so happy.

The tae kwon do teacher at the Hempstead church pulled my mother aside after the main service when the congregation moved downstairs for an extended lunch. It was a Korean church thing, everyone bringing food and socializing. My father had cornered the new reverend near the kitchen, and the tae kwon do teacher saw my mother outside alone; he hurried over to her.

Do you know who your husband was during the war?

She didn’t really know and told him so. Maybe she was even flattered by his attention because the tae kwon do teacher was handsome with an angular jaw and deep, dark eyes, and he wore a sharp tailored suit. Maybe she even smiled. The tae kwon do teacher told her who he was, a former commando who knew of her husband. Then he told her that her husband was well-known among other commando platoons because her husband was almost court- martialed for murdering North Korean and Chinese prisoners of war. The tae kwon do teacher told her that my father had interrogated and killed POW’s, and although he had not been in technical violation of the Geneva Convention, since South Korea hadn’t ratified the guidelines, his superiors did not like his methods. He was well-known because he used a seven-inch diver’s knife on his prisoners --

Stop, my mother said to the tae kwon do teacher. Stop telling me this. After her head snapped back from my father’s blow, my mother would slowly straighten up. She’d clench her fists and say something threatening to my father. Because I couldn’t understand Korean—they both spoke English to me, and I never bothered trying to learn their language—I became a great interpreter of tones and inflections. I read the stabs of animosity amidst the static of incomprehensible sounds. Back then I used to think she was saying something like, You pathetic drunk. Or: You disgusting coward. But now I realize that the tone was more like, Is that the best you can do?

Once, I saw his hand coil back, but instead of a quick hit, he shot his arm out and clamped onto her throat. She had taunted him. She had known exactly what to say to anger him even more. She then tried to laugh at him, but gagged, and ended up kicking him in the groin. He doubled over and dry-heaved. Then—and this was the only time I can remember his using martial arts on her—he gave her a forward elbow strike to her mouth, and she crumpled. That was when she slowly looked up from the ground, saw me, and smiled. Neither of them realized I had been watching. I saw her teeth outlined in blood. It was an odd, victorious smile. It was a See-Who-He-Is smile.

This happened before she learned of my father’s infamous reputation during the Korean War. Even though my mother stopped the tae kwon do teacher from telling her anything else at that time, my mother soon sought out the wife of the teacher, looking her up in the church directory. Through the wife my mother learned of my father’s misdeeds and near court martial. She learned of his seven-inch diver’s knife, which, she vaguely remembered, might actually be somewhere in the house. Hadn’t she seen it when they moved from Oakland to Irvine? Wasn’t it in that wooden chest where his manuals on outboard engine repair were stored? She was certain she had seen a long thin knife with the leather sheath and leg straps cracking and moldy.

Even with a mouth guard I wake up in the mornings with a sore jaw and a vague, humming headache. I often have dreams that I’m chewing gum. Because I wore down the mouth guards that the dentist had made for me, and because these particular guards were expensive, I’ve since begun using hockey mouth guards I buy in bulk from Target. Instead of the $50 guards from the dentist, I pay $3.95 for the hard black plastic guards that I have to boil for three minutes then shape to my upper teeth.

I am protected from flying hockey pucks in my sleep.

In the mornings, I take out my mouth guard and rub my jaw, then brush the guard clean. I spit tiny black specks into the sink—the plastic bits from my night of chewing. The black bits dot the porcelain and look alarmingly like cavities or bugs.

When my wife was still with me, she sometimes woke me up to tell me to stop grinding my teeth. Once, when this happened, she told me that I was also raking my hair back, tugging it. I saw small clumps of my hair on my pillow. I hope I don’t still do that, but I often find a lot of hair on my pillow in the mornings, and I’m not sure if I’m just experiencing normal male pattern baldness or if I’m pulling my hair out when I sleep. I am now considering wearing some kind of ski cap when I go to bed.

When we first met and began spending the night together, my wife and I would fall asleep in each other’s arms. But after ten years of marriage we needed to sleep not only on the opposite sides of the bed, but with two pillows between us. Sometimes I thrashed my arms when I slept, and on a few occasions I hit her accidentally and woke her up. It was a joke between us at first, but I knew it was beginning to annoy her by the end.

My mother told me she had married my father because it was the only way for her to get out of Korea—she came from a poor farming family, and she desperately wanted to emigrate to the United States. My father had already lined up a job with an engineering company and was looking for a wife. He would eventually lose that engineering job because of his drinking and would end up, after a series of progressively worse jobs, at a boat repair shop in Marina del Rey, working on outboard Evinrude motors.

She also told me about their fights, which were usually about money, his drinking, his cheating, and her anger at him for being a failure. He had promised many things to her, and except for having me, none of them had been delivered. She admitted to me that she couldn’t leave him for many years because she was scared to be alone. When I told her about my failing marriage, although my wife wouldn’t leave me for another year, my mother was quiet for a very long time. She liked my wife, even though my wife had never gone to church, and was in fact an atheist. My mother finally said, I hope my marriage to your father didn’t ruin yours.

Ruin mine? I asked. No. It didn’t. It taught me what not to do.

But you’re having problems, she said.

We’re having problems, I replied.

It never gets . . . physical, does it? she asked.

I said, Never.

Before I pulled out the twelve-inch cook’s knife in front of my wife, I tore off my shirt. I ripped it off my body. Yes, it was dramatic, but I was trying to make a dramatic point. I yelled, If I was hurting myself you’d want to help me, wouldn’t you? I guess I wasn’t being particularly rational as I reached towards the knife block.

Honestly? I had actually intended to pull out the smaller paring knife, but I had miscalculated its location in the wooden block and ended up pulling out the long cook’s knife, and of course I couldn’t replace it to find a smaller one because that would’ve defeated the drama of it all, so I continued pulling out the very long blade after tearing off my shirt. I was crying. I couldn’t handle all of this happening. I was disoriented because when I had pulled off my shirt I had twisted my head too quickly, and that, along with my blurry vision and the pounding headache from a night of teeth-grinding, made it difficult for me to steady myself. I was watching my wife to see if she was understanding what I was going to do, and yes, she did understand because she flinched as soon as I pulled out the cook’s knife, the stainless steel blade bright and freshly sharpened just that day, because my wife loved those knives. She would get them in the divorce settlement.

Perhaps my wife did not realize what was happening as I pulled out that cook’s knife, because for some reason her hand went up to her own throat and she stepped back. It was an odd reaction and I wasn’t sure what it had meant—if she was simply scared or if she was trying to protect her own throat. There was a suspended moment when both of us stopped crying simultaneously, when a brief silence fell between us, and I thought with some horror that she might actually believe that I could hurt her in some way, when in fact I would sooner kill myself than to do anything to her. I started crying again, shaking my head, thinking, It has come to this; she doesn’t know me at all.

Then she started crying again, perhaps analyzing her own reactions and seeing my reaction to her reaction, and she begged me to put the knife down. I thought of my dead mother telling me stories about my father, and I remembered how he had grabbed her throat and choked her, and how she had learned about his reputation, and I yelled, really yelled at my wife now, because I was hurt that she might worry about her own safety with me, and I brought the knife up to my own throat, and the steel was very cool against my sweating skin, and I yelled in a hoarse and desperate voice, If I was going to hurt myself, you’d want to stop me, wouldn’t you? You’d want to save me, wouldn’t you?

When my mother’s friend called me in the middle of the night a year ago to tell me the news of my mother’s death, I was grinding my teeth. I woke up with a headache. My mouth guard was soft and chewy. My wife rolled over and buried her head under her pillow as I picked up the phone, knowing what this would be. I pulled out my mouth guard and whispered a hello. My mother’s friend told me it had been painless and my mother had been calm. I thanked her and hung up. My wife asked who it was, her soft sleep-lined skin glowed from the street lamp outside our window. I kissed her forehead and told her it was a wrong number. I told her to go back to sleep because she had to go into work early tomorrow. She mumbled a thanks, and drifted off. I stroked her hair for a while, then stood up and wandered around the house, my steps creaking quietly on the hardwood floors, and I listened to my heartbeat. I put the mouth guard back into my mouth and chewed on it, feeling my jaw click and ache.

Knife by Jeremy Lynch

Multimedia art object and photography by Jeremy Lynch

The Bubble Creatures

The Bubble Creatures

By

When you live somewhere for long enough, things that seemed odd to you at first become the norm. What was glaring is now wallpaper, what was bizarre is now day-to-day. It’s only when you have visitors come to your town that the veil is lifted and you see things afresh through their eyes.

We’ve recently had a couple of friends through town, Karen from Australia and Uli from Berlin. And the two immediately honed in on the LA Woman as one of the odder creatures on Earth.

I’ve made jokes about them before. I mean, how can you not? Made famous by Hollywood and immortalized in countless films and shows as the vapid high school/co-ed/young woman, perpetually blonde and valley-girled in accent. Ripe fodder for laughs.

But that’s just it. I did make jokes about them. But now I don’t, because I don’t see them anymore.

So we’re at dinner with Karen and she is taking in a table of women who’ve rocked up for a birthday. To the other side of us we have a Kardashian look-alike contest going on. There’s a lot of make-up and sequins and hair and shoes ablazing.

Of course there is the obvious. The vapid conversations, the video-clip styling, the war of accessories. But it was Karen who made the observation that they all felt the same. Not looked, felt.

And right she was. Physically, they are all variations on a theme of what it is to be a girl in the City of Angels. But what I’d never noticed before is that they are the same girl. The vibe they project is that of a princess.

Raised to believe that they are special, entitled to the Nth degree, taught that every second outdoors you must project your correct image which has been accorded from on high by the movie industry. So you must glitter and glow as you look down on all around you.

As royalty has been reared for a life in the court, so too has the LA Girl been raised for a life in Tinseltown. Where royals may have the odd hunting trip or ceremonial visit to town, The LA Girl has the odd trip to a resort in Mexico and dinners at the Roosevelt Hotel.

The difference, though, is that a royal is to the manor born, whereas the LA Girl spends a lot of her life trying to get into that manor that’s she’s been raised to think she automatically deserves. So perhaps the vibe of a princess-in-waiting is closer to the truth.

Like every court , so too is there a special dialect that the LA Girl practices. Uli was the one who commented that there is no other place on the planet where women speak in that Mickey Mouse voice.

“Thank you” becomes, “think yew”. “I love that” becomes, “aye lah-ve thyat”. And “So awesome” becomes, “soo ahh-sum”. All cranked up and tweaky, like an elf sucking helium.

Zone in on any conversation and the discussions are alarming. As members of the chattering class, there are never serious issues being debated. Conversation largely revolves around celebrity news and he said, she said. But the most alarming thing is that the level of vocabulary is so limited. Words tend to be no further along than when they were at high school. And there is something immature about the emphases and where they land in the sentence; it gives the impression of a toddler trying to make a point as opposed to an adult holding a conversation.

In Japan, there is a male and female accent and even special words reserved for only one of the sexes. Women there very much know that the women’s Japanese foisted upon them is a cage in which they are kept. Women here in LA are clueless to this. The accent, the behavior, the everything keeps them in a bubble they don’t even know they’re in.

It got me wondering about how a woman like this might do in other cities around the States. LA girls would be crushed in the street by the New York woman. A woman from Seattle would wonder why this LA girl can’t play an instrument or raise a chicken. And the women down South would wonder why she can’t cook or throw down in a fist fight.

As for the rest of the planet, forget it.

So amazingly, this city has produced a woman who can only survive within its city limits -- a pampered creature who grazes the strip malls, wears dresses too short and knows every manicurist in a ten mile radius of her home.

The crazy thing is that after five years here, I think she’s what a normal woman is like.

Oh My Gahd LA, like, think yew.

Playlist by Robbie Durose

Resurrection

Resurrection

By

This was how it began…

Was she alive?

Julia was alive.

The novel she’d been reading was still open in her lap.

She had been dreaming.

Awakened by a sound, she opened her eyes.

You might know her; she could be anyone; she worked in an office downtown.

She would have read the same stories you’ve read.

Maybe she thought she wanted something to happen to her.

She turned off the light.

Her coat was in the closet.

She closed the apartment door behind her and locked it up again.

You can’t be too careful.

Double. Bolt.

Lock.

Her key is in her purse.

Her boots are loud on the stairs.

She hurries past the widow who lives on the second floor; she prefers not to talk to anyone just now.

Her scarf trails after her.

Her coat is torn and one button is missing, at the throat.

She has lost her gloves, and she jams her bare fists into her pockets to keep them warm.

Around her now, the city teems.

Loud noises.

Shops with clothes.

Windows.

Lights.

Music.

Cars.

Her heels on the wet pavement.

At the newsstand she sees a paper with a headline about a murder: “Woman Found Stabbed.”

Passing the coffee shop across the street, she hurries on.

A man in a doorway is watching her as she rounds the corner, and when she sees him she thinks he might be the one.

All she knows to do is run.

But he puts out a hand to stop her.

He says he only wants to help her.

He pulls her to him, but she shakes him off.

He grabs her, holds her up.

His teeth gleam when he smiles.

The man speaks softly, as if he means to comfort her.

A shadow falls across her.

She is in pain.

She is lost.

The alley is dark.

She is alone.

She is sure that no one will come for her now.

She leans against the wall.

Then she’s on her knees, gasping for breath.

She coughs, a rattle, wet, deep in her chest.

She slumps; she is still.

Is she dead?

She is dead.

So this is how it ends.

She is dead.

Is she dead?

She slumps; she is still.

She coughs, a rattle, wet, deep in her chest.

Then she’s on her knees, gasping for breath.

She leans against the wall.

She is sure that no one will come for her now.

She is alone.

The alley is dark.

She is lost.

She is in pain.

A shadow falls across her.

The man speaks softly, as if he means to comfort her.

His teeth gleam when he smiles.

He grabs her, holds her up.

He pulls her to him, but she shakes him off.

He says he only wants to help her.

But he puts out a hand to stop her.

All she knows to do is run.

A man in the doorway is watching her as she rounds the corner, and when she sees him she thinks he might be the one.

Passing the coffee shop across the street, she hurries on.

At the newsstand she sees a paper with a headline about a murder: “Woman Found Stabbed.”

Her heels on the wet pavement.

Cars.

Music.

Lights.

Windows.

Shops with clothes.

Loud noises.

Around her now, the city teems.

She has lost her gloves, and she jams her bare fists into her pockets to keep them warm.

Her coat is torn and one button is missing, at the throat.

Her scarf trails after her.

She hurries past the widow who lives on the second floor; she prefers not to talk to anyone just now.

Her boots are loud on the stairs.

Her key is in her purse.

Lock.

Double. Bolt.

You can’t be too careful.

She closed the apartment door behind her and locked it up again.

Her coat was in the closet.

She turned off the light.

Maybe she thought she wanted something to happen to her.

She would have read the same stories you’ve read.

You might know her; she could be anyone; she worked in an office downtown.

Awakened by a sound, she opened her eyes.

She had been dreaming.

The novel she’d been reading was still open in her lap.

Julia was alive.

Was she alive?

This was how it began…

This multi-disciplinary anthology was made possible by the authors and artists credited above with Kathryn Pope and Diane J. Wright, Editors,
and by you, our readers. Special thanks to our Board of Advisors who generously gave their time and attention to creating this work.


Sex. Death. Resurrection. is a publication of Seedpod Publishing ©2013. All rights reserved.
Digital design & development by Diane J. Wright.

Three of Swords