New Stories, Essays, and Poetry for November 21, 2016
Like the people he drew, the caricaturist outside the museum hadgood days and bad days. On good days, the people would laugh and clap their hands, touch his shoulder— they would point to their hairdos or their cocked grins and say, “Oh, that’s me exactly! That’s me to a tee!” On bad days (and he’d learned to see this coming, even as he sketched them), some people would stand away when he’d finished and scowl at themselves. Their noses were too big. Their breasts were too prominent. “Who the hell do you think you are?” they’d say. They’d demand their money back, and he’d give it to them; then, in revenge, he’d hang their discarded portraits in his sample gallery for everyone to see.
Summer settled with a vengeance on the dusty little town of Rathcreek, a dry August heat eastern Washington was known for, the kind that wrung sweat and energy from everything living. By nine o’clock in the morning, the clapboards of the Crownhart home were seared in dust.
Janey Crownhart Powers stood at the kitchen sink peeling potatoes. A shaft of sunlight bore down on her from the skylight, and the long chestnut hair shone in a neon halo of copper highlights. Her open face wore mischief like a jaunty hat cocked as if nothing would ever knock it off. The nose, too long and narrow, gave her a knowing look, like a fox. But the look was redeemed by compassionate, almost ethereal eyes.
Janey rinsed off the potato, took aim and lobbed it into a large pot. She glanced at her sister, Louise, who was chopping onions and wiping her eyes on her sleeve. Except for the musical jingling of the potato peeler and steady beat of the knife striking the cutting board, it was quiet, the practical quiet that accompanies working women when the conversation lulls.
I fell in love with red-haired twin brothers
who ran a highway fruit stand on Route 36 in Tuscola. They
discussed the price of apples with me
for my social studies assignment,
which involved pretending to eat for a week in Canada
on a limited budget. I loved Canada,
imagined it as the stream-filled environment
I’d seen only on beer commercials,
where friendly bears and reindeer
scampered beside my tent, or hovered
majestically in the distance. The twins had
an apple sale, six for a dollar. I recorded
this in my spiral notebook, transformed
their words and numbers into a story, one
in which I got the hell out of downstate Illinois,
and lived beside a river, high on fruit.
My teacher gave me an A-plus.
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was a singularity that spoke amid darkness, “Let there be light,” and from this singularity came all things: white dwarf stars and sea lions and ricotta cheese and all things were entropy as Space/Time raced inexorably away from itself. As it raced onward, the Word that was a singularity that spoke amid darkness folded itself up into an infinitesimal idea, collapsing ever inward until it fell like a star into the belly of a woman that lived by the Pacific. Inside her belly grew a boy, and although she did not know it yet, his hands would be small and his heart would look like entropy, which is to say, all things.
The Cartesian coordinates (0,0,0,0) of the four-dimensional life of the boy with small hands and a heart that looked like entropy are a chair at a desk by a window in a bedroom. They are the earliest memory of the boy, although there are rumors that he existed before this. They are the sight of the pink dawn, and the scent of chocolate soy milk, and the sound of Jim Dale reading the audiobook of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, saying “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
But there’s always a song.
“Send me all your vampires” (I Want You, Third Eye Blind) (September 1999, Puyallup)
The day after I graduated from Powell County High School in 1999, I got in my Dodge Neon, merged on to I-90 West, and left my unhappy adolescence in my rearview mirror. I thought that my depression would stay in Montana with everything else I was leaving behind.
In September, the opportunity to see Third Eye Blind came along, and I jumped on it like a fumbled football. My concert companion went to find cover when the rain made an appearance, but I didn’t move. I was mesmerized by Third Eye Blind’s performance, and everything around me faded in to the background. In my mind, the timing of the steady drizzle became an element to the song. At the end, the band walked off stage. The front man returned alone and repeated the song’s last line for a couple of minutes and was accompanied only by an acoustic guitar, a spotlight, and the Pacific Northwest rain.
In that moment, I was free. Any monsters under my bed in Montana were nonexistent.
Because we do consider our community as family, we are sending our condolences to one of our writers, Joe Wilson (aka Fishspit Willie), who lost his dear feline companion of 19 years this past month. This is his piece he wrote to memorialize his dear little Pip.
When we buried Jellyroll in the grass lawn across from our tiny home—the Baptist church’s lawn—the tears did flow. The sadness was so deep only gasps could be heard between us, neither me nor Lil-e could talk. We placed a stone over his body —a nice stone I had found which Lil-e put an epitaph on. A few days later Lil-e left for a trip, to get away, to get her mind off of why Jellyroll had so slowly succumbed—dying a slow, insipid death.
I stayed in town because of my job at the paper mill. One evening, while I was chasing cheap whisky with Pabst Blue Ribbon, there came a knock upon my door. I went and opened it. “Ah shit,” I thought. It was the cranky old groundskeeper from the Baptist church. I thought he was going to give me the “what for,” because we’d dug up his nice lawn over there and plunked Jellyroll in it —set that stone on top of him. Jellyroll’s marker.
But no. It wasn’t like that at all. He said, “I seen you burying that cat. I seen the tears. I seen all that sorrow.” He paused then, finally he said, “You want a cat? I got a dinky one out there on my farm. It’s the runt of the litter. It ain’t gonna make it if nobody takes it.”