“Chico the Child-Eater” by Miguel Murphy

Willow Springs issue 55
Willow Springs issue 55

Found in Willow Springs 55

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I spit one

seed of the watermelon to the floor

it shakes its six legs & walks

back into the ear of the dead orange cat. You

bark like the son of dogs

living triumph over the corpse

of small lion. What purple

night did you trot out of in your sick

yellow mask? Yellow like a killed

killer wasp, hungry & jaundiced

with abandonment, mutt you bare teeth

sharper than a breadbox stuffed with forks

at night. You smell fear,

a mother over the stroller of a newborn.


When you steal

your first child the blue morning's clean

as a drink from the wrist

of a blonde-haired virgin, her lips softer

than rain pearls on coxcomb.

If you've come out of darkness it must be the past.

A family that tied you to a pole

in the yard-white hiss of grass

to gnaw your own paw

before the rope tore off a crooked tooth.

Now eat what you can little lost coyote,

scavenging railroads

until one day the sweetest


small cry from a window

makes you weak. You smell it, breath

of breast milk, sour clover, pears. Whiff

of love, because you heard it call ......... And when

you lift your snout from the fat bowl

you're wearing a red beard! O mongrel,

no mother can escape the dream of your third eye

the curl of your lip like a politician's

hysterical smile. I lie

to my landlord & say

you don't exist. I feed you crisp apples & you tongue

one long fang dean in a moon yawn.


“Andy Warhol and the Art of the Bullet ” by Sean Lovelace

Willow Springs Issue 59
Willow Springs Issue 59

Found in Willow Springs 59

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You return

from shopping. Isn't there something you forgot, baby aspirin or turpentine? Raspberries, razor blades, Hula-Hoops? Oven-fried-Corn­ Flake-chicken? Or maybe a tulip? You clutch two T-shirts and a bottle of hand lotion, its plastic the color of wet plaster bones. Color of cor­rection fluid. Its plastic so grease-beady,  so spooned.  Its  plastic smooth in your paper tissue fingers, like ambition, only ambition is made of rice paper, imported from Japan on a listing freighter, rice paper dipped in oil paint, twisted into marbled shapes, thrown to  tumble, to dry sideways in the center of the room. Your art covers the floor like piles of autumn leaves. You sit cross-legged and wonder about the saleslady, Sarah. Did she like you? Did she notice your A-bomb hair? You enter the bathroom, pop open the mirror and  swing the  lotion  into  the medicine cabinet, its yawning maw, and along its silvery jaws Colgate and cold cream and compresses and baby aspirin, jar after jar. All unopened .

Desiring to repeat things.

Desiring to swim below the mirror.

Desiring love in a curvature of blotted ink, a perfect slinky curl, eyelash angle, lips, but until: settling for red.

I'd faint to paint you.

Excuse me? Sarah says.

Desiring to unwrap the T-shirts. Not unwrapping the T-shirts. Stack­ing the T-shirts on the top shelf alongside T-shirts. All unopened.

Desiring biscuit dough. You see your self as biscuit do ugh in the pres­ surized roll: strike it on the counter edge and you may explode, unravel, expose. Have a gulp of air. Think of a certain type of chalk. Outweigh the emptiness with things: lotion, T-shirts, a can of tomato soup. Or just flinch. Spaz out. Light the fuse on your A-bomb hair. Or cough, lightly, like fallout dust. Return the dough to the cool shelves. White shelves of Pillsbury and pillow-shaped pasta and pills. All unopened.

The mirror whispers in the next room; it waits for you. It sees a man of angles, edges, of thumbtack, eight-track, and spatula bone. It has a question: Why do you lean so skinny? Why is your voice so milky thin, so half-beaten egg? Why do you blink your lashes against the light? Is it because you're afraid to open things?

"No, no," you stutter.

"I just know if I use something, it's gone."


that day you worked, as usual, a six-step process: You

  1. found this grainy video (your old SX-70 camera; smeared a layer of Vaseline and cigarette ash on the lens) of Marilyn Monroe digging the cotton from an asthma inhaler  and  eating it with a loopy smile.
  2. froze the video and took a photo of the TV screen with a Polaroid and then dropped the developed image into a pan of milk.
  3. heated the milk on a hotplate.
  4. tweezed the photo from the saucer.
  5. used three Q-tips and a burnishing tool to manipulate the emulsion inside the polaroid.
  6. admired the unexpected surprise of the TV lines (monitor phosphors caught on film), but the final image was less than pleasing. Less than art, certainly. So you ate a slice of tangerine, smoked two low-tar cigarettes, and went shopping for lotion.


The first two

shots, the first two shots—she misses you! This door slamming, sparkles of humming light, flashbulbs, or Benzedrine, pulsing glow-cut lemon breeze, with two bees zipping by—yellow, yellow, yellow—and you don't see her and then you see her and she has this little pistol, this shiny toy pistol, from Schwarz—this is your brain now, the flux—only it's not a toy and Who is she? and that's your problem, your situation: to know everyone and so not really know anyone; and she gets you! Lifts you into music, up, up, into ricochet of lung, spleen, stomach, liver, esophagus, lung—all of this one bullet. But how? By art. Magic and art and silver bones blending with the wind.

Hey, hey come here, you plead, a gargle in your throat; clutching someone's lapel and tugging them dose. This, this lady, this is large. She shot me. She shot me? This is so large, so much talent, a thing done well Wow. This taste in my mouth. I wonder if I'm dying.

Yes, she  shot you. With bullets she spray-painted silver.

Silver bullets?

Yes. You see... she thought you were a vampire. Or a werewolf Something not of this world.

The anesthesia

tasted like eggs, raw eggs lining your mouth, and you always thought of eggs as coffins for tiny chickens.

They removed your wig while in surgery.

The press said you were dead for a while, but the press always says that, particularly with the famous, so you read all the papers, watched the TV, and felt unoriginal, a cliche.

Everyone who phoned with condolences eventually got to their genuine concern: What's it like to get shot? Oh I don't know. I... Go ask Mario. Ask my manager, Fred. She shot him too. Hey, go shoot yourself if you really want to know. That would be terrific. All I can say is the god of jammed guns is a good god.

 The first day your toothbrush was a stick with a foam cube. Perfect execution of design.

What you found in a hospital room—the angles, the cleanliness, the teal and white and blue, the astringent air, the awesome solidness of the space—was a feeling of separation, a divorce, almost afloat , a chasm forming, two sides: in here, and out there. Terrifying.

Only the very old nurse could find your veins, and she worked nights. So when they needed your blood they would miss the  target, collapse it, prod and probe. You heard one  nurse say you had  the capillaries of a child. One  nurse opined you had no blood. One nurse hit an artery and blood sprayed the wall, a vibrant arch of lip gloss. You said, You're a regular Jackson Pollock, and she did not respond.

For some reason, the toilet water was a deep, iridescent blue.

Gasoline, turpentine, razor blades, and epoxy were not allowed. An open flame would ignite your oxygen. After much pleading, they did release a copy of the video tape of your surgery, but what could you do with it, how could you create—in there? Sometimes you sat all night counting in your head the canvases you weren't painting, their subjects, their prices, the empty spaces on someone's wall.

Gee, I don't

do that—lawyers and judges and that whole world. There's so much, so much heavy polished wood in that world, and loud voices. I think loud voices are really unnecessary. I saw it all on television. Television is amazing. This one erupted from the ceiling on a shiny black neck. It was in my room and I never let them turn it off They say she shot all these people, you know. Shot all these people and only got three years; and I, I say, So? I think the word justice is a cloud in someone's dream. I don't believe in justice. I think people would prefer a large slice of pizza to justice. Do you believe? I once believed. I once believed and that's how I worked with my art: mak­ing sense of it all, framing. But I don't do that anymore. Nothing makes sense anymore. I know this artist who was walking through Central Park on a windy day and a tree branch fell on her head. She's in a wheelchair now. She's in  this, this institution. When she wants to talk she has to point a little light at a computer and a metal voice talks for her, only mostly it doesn't work so then she can't talk at all. Wow. She has a television in her room, though I've only visited once. I like to watch the television, to see the shoes, to see what type of shoes people are wearing. I've always drawn shoes. Sometimes I'll spend all day listening to sirens up and down the street and I'll draw shoes. Styles haven't changed much. But then here comes the news channel.  Look there. Look. At what? RFK, MLK, all gone, and  then they say a human being, for the first time, has seen the  dark side of the moon. I had to let it all go. These people, they don't believe in art. They believe in virgin births. In Silly Putty, soup in a can, McDonald's. The most beauti­ful thing in Tokyo is McDonald's.The most beautiful thing in  Stockholm is McDonald's. Peking and Moscow don't have anything beautiful yet, but they will—for everyone. Psychic phone lines they believe. Napalm, which I think you can make at home if you have a laundry room, and... well a car. There's this TV show, it's terrific. Gilligan's Island. And I saw on the news how this show really annoyed the Coast Guard off California. These people, these people who watch this show would phone, all hours. They wanted to know why the Coast Guard didn't go and rescue the castaways.

It was only a three-hour cruise. They don't believe in art, these people. I saw a bird plucked out of the sky yesterday. I did. I think you add to this world, or you subtract from this world. That's my theory. So, so... I didn't testify. You know, I really couldn't.

 For weeks

you lay in bed on all these drugs-Valium, Darvon, Doxepin, all these futuristic Vs and Xs, spaceship names so you know you're fly­ing—and then it came to you like inspiration: her face. She was a young girl, hyper. Her hair was this bruised blue. At The Factory one morning she had this play. It was called Up Your Ass. You never filmed it—the writing wasn't much, except for that title. You gave her some work as an extra. You watch the film now; she's always smiling.

My, my...

final thoughts? I think I wear this corset to keep my guts in. It rubs my skin on the left side so I pinch my right side to make it even. The pain, I mean. I like it to be balanced like that. Symmetrical. I think the important things are never pretty, no matter what I try. I think silver bullets. I think the delicate powder that coats bubblegum is the same as a moth's wing. Or fallout. I think of making 4,000 paintings in one day. It's a goal of mine. I think this corset, everyday. Every single day now. I think Brillo Box, Flowers, Cow Wallpaper, and Silver Clouds. I think I love my Trinitron color TV. I think I love beauty, which I mean as sin. I think about when I finally woke and the first thing they tell me is why the gun jammed: those spray-painted silver bullets. My mind just flipped on that, just flashed like a strobe. Yes. I said I thought that was beautiful I said, Well there's art for you.

5 Stories by Aurelie Sheehan

issue 60
issue 60

Found in Willow Springs 60

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It is a night like any other, except for the visitation. I put my head on the pillow, ready for bed. My eyes are focused on the night table, on the clock, the lamp, the books, the glass of water. My eyes see the little bit of busy fabric on the pillow. My eyes see the gentle stripes of the quilt.

I smell it.


Just a tiny—just a fragment, a trace, a little ghost trace. It's on my pillow. But—no one smokes here. I haven't smoked for years. No one has visited us. It must be from long ago, from last night, when my lover and I smoked together, after we made love on these sheets, this pillow, from when we were smoking and laughing and drinking seltzer with lemon and eating chocolate—yes, we smoked a cigarette then, after the red; we lit it tenderly, a shared moment of repose, contentment, letting our hearts slow down, become quiet; sweat drying off, blood pumping slower and the quilt pulled up.

But then I don't smell it anymore. Perhaps I can re-animate this—­just this one moment. I sit back up. I lie back down. I sniff at the fabric eagerly-—faith, memory, desire—and smell nothing at all.


My husband and his girlfriend, his then girlfriend, bought a blue couch. He tells me they had a fight about couches—he wanted a cheap, expendable one; she wanted one you could plant a garden around. I guess he won, for this couch isn't exactly the cat's pajamas when it comes to couches—though he used to nap on it while watching golf, and he proposed to me on it one Valentine's Day, too. So you could say, in a sense, that it has held up.

I was reading On the Road the day we moved into our new house, the first house I'd ever owned. I had become nervous the day we signed all the papers. I chatted away and it was only later I realized that my blouse had stained armpits, quite stained, and so while I thought I was exhibiting charm and ease, I was an example of fear and stress, then and now. Later, when talking about On the Road to a student who seemed to have some On the Road characteristics himself, I couldn't help myself from saying, "But I still can appreciate some of the qualities of the book, the concept... " I realized then that I was thirty-six years old, with a baby, a husband, a job, and a house, the vast and  literal opposite of anything old Jack Kerouac considered worth adoring.

There was a man I knew a long time ago—I think I told you about this—who was cracked and loquacious and charismatic. A few months ago my husband and I were watching a rented movie and the baby was asleep and the phone rang. "Hello?" I said, and he—cracked, loquacious, charismatic—said something back to the effect of "What are you wearing) sweetheart?" or "I still think about you all the time, baby." I hung up. He hadn't identified himself) and though I thought I recognized the voice, I wasn't absolutely sure—actually I did know who it was, my body rang with certainty, but I wasn't absolutely sure he'd call back if I hung up on him. I wasn't absolutely sure I had to follow through with this call. "Crank caller," I said. The phone rang a minute later, and my husband answered, and cracked, loquacious, charismatic asked for me.

I pretended to have hung up by accident, and I felt awkward and falsely nice. He was saying something—a scheme of some kind, what he was doing, still in Nantucket, lost all his belongings, a new philosophy maybe. I couldn't make heads or tails of it, which I enjoyed in a sense, but it also scared me a little. Even though I hadn't had sex with this man for a long time, talking to him on the phone made me feel like I was cheating on my husband, and there my husband was, sitting calmly and unperturbed on our new red chair, watching TV. Our child was upstairs. Then the man said he wanted to tell me something. He had been  thinking about me. He  remembered  how  beautiful and  amazing I was twenty years ago, and he still loved me.

"Oh, well, thank you," I said.

The wood floors seemed shiny and long, like I could skate on them if I were wearing socks. This was a rented house, but I'd made a commitment. Probably the first commitment I'd ever really made to anyone—or, in any case, one that I had not broken.

In this new house, no one knows my number yet. No old boyfriends, hardly any friends, just my parents, and while my mother has probably already put the number on speed-dial, my father has probably lost it even though I've given it to him three times. When I visited my father last, I had to tell him that his mother had died. He was playing tennis. When we went to the wake, all the cousins had become the aunts and uncles, and the aunts and uncles had become grandparents. I get the sense that charming, loquacious is spinning around in a time warp, on the other side of the continent, but that is surely not the case at all. He must have changed in all this time. When I last saw him, my grandmother had her wits about her, and we still talked, sporadically, on the phone. When I last saw him, my father and I were still at slight odds, and my mother and I hadn't found our disagreement yet.

Now my husband and I are considering—well, more than con­sidering—having a second child. If I use the urine test to monitor my hormone level, or if I put a pillow under my ass and lie still like a feverish waiting person afterward, or if I tell him we've got to make love today, tomorrow, and Thursday, do I change the course of fate?

Does this potential new child live differently than if things were catch­ as-catch-can, off the cuff?

We  have two couches now, my  husband and I, but we also have lizards, little golden and  black lizards that leap and slither in the corners of our walls and around our houseplants. Last night, making love, he smelled different than he'd ever smelled before.


The table is sticky. "Butcher Block"—a new concept for the era. You need to oil it every couple of months to keep it fresh. There's a fine sediment, a film, that never comes off. If you keep your elbows on it too long you make a slow noise when you tear away.

The clock stares from above the door. It ticks; the  refrigerator makes a warm hum. The mother fills the refrigerator and the daughter empties it, basically. The  daughter enters the kitchen and, nine times out of ten, opens the refrigerator, looks in, maybe gets something, closes the door, and turns away. It's as if she's checking on incubating eggs. She doesn't have to be hungry.

Out the window in front of the kitchen sink you can see the garden and part of the yard. Sometimes you can see the dog rolling around in the grass, or one of the family cats walking one of the railroad ties that separates the strawberries from the herbs from the cucumbers, or sitting, head bent, waiting to pounce on something.

The kitchen is all orange. It's got brick orange floors and bright bright orange linoleum counters. Everyone in the  family knows the map of the cabinets, knows where the raisins are, the teaspoon, the pudding, the matches.

Even when the daughter  is relentlessly interested  in everything else in the world, the smell of her mother's brown rice or her mother's broccoli or ratatouille or her mother's pesto fills her like no other food, no other smell. Right now there's something boiling, and  the daughter is sitting at  the table, elbows glued to the wood, and she is staring at the clock aimlessly and telling her mother about the guys he likes, Dan.

The daughter is fifteen and the mother is thirty-seven. The mother loves love stories.

It's a lost, delicious feeling, knowing you have a lot of time. Besides the radical joy of her feelings about Dan, there is the additional joy of telling the story of Dan to another, to her mother, and thus to make it more real... to make it tick like the clock.

Now there is no trace of Dan, but the kitchen remembers the conversation, the color orange, murmurs strong and regular against the clink of the metal bowl and the hush of the tap water and the chop, chop, chop of tomatoes for dinner.


Some days it seems like I have a lot to say, that life holds important and beautiful stories. Other days life isn't shaped like that—into stories and whatnot. Some of those other times I feel, you know, tired, lazy, nothing to say, nothing to do, no interest in anything, irritated with myself for not holding to various standards, not thin enough, don't remember enough dates in  history, shouldn't have treated A or B human that way, how will I feel when  they are dead, wouldn't it be nice to have a drink right now, maybe a gin and tonic, or maybe a shot of tequila, or maybe a glass of cognac in bed with the long book I'm reading at the moment—the author of which feels life when he writes, or at least it seems that way.

When I see a woman in stretch pants and a push-up bra and lots of eyeliner, I make a vague mental note to dress more like her tomorrow. Tomorrow, I'll put the effort in. So then tomorrow comes and I put on a T-shirt and jeans. (Although I do have these basketball sneakers­—they're blue.)

Cocteau says you aren't free until your parents are dead, but I think the main problem is with my name. I've got to start going by Sheehan. Sheehan says you are free even if your parents aren't dead. Sheehan says that green eyeliner and stretchy pants are the thing. And also that you don't need to have eighteen cats, or write naked, or wear all white, to be somebody.

The problem with life is that it isn't over, that's the problem with that story.

What about sounds? I can do sounds. The way I sounded out mag-nif-i-cent when I typed it, or the beeps and wrinkles that count for words from my baby, her voice the sweetest sound I've ever heard. Or the sound of my husband's voice at night, the sound of our voices together, in the dark, murmurs of assent after lovemaking, like two shoppers who've come across a very nice brass lamp, or two giddy senior citizens who've come upon the shrimp bowl at the buffet. I  think Rushdie is good, too, and Hemingway. I think writing about sex in general would be fine, and also writing like a fucking maniac, in a cafe. Sheehan writes like a fucking maniac, in a café, sources will murmur quite confidentially.


The friend had done you a favor. The friend had done a generous thing. No one had any money back then. The idea was, maybe the friend would take the boots as payment. They were blue—­ turquoise, really. The friend tried on the boots in your bedroom. You and the friend were on the skids, man. You and the friend—something bitter to the taste, something  poison. The friend sat down and  pulled on the boots. They were boots you'd given yourself for your birthday one summer in New Mexico. Whatever, the friend could have them. Maybe it would help. She pulled on one  boot then the other then got up and walked around a little, looking down.

"They fit?"

"They fit, maybe. Maybe they're a little tight."

"You can have them you want." The friend shrugged. Took them off. Neither of you mentioned them again, the turquoise boots, the transaction, the failed transaction, the thing the boots were payment for, the friendship, the failed friendship, the possibility of change.

“The Receiving Tower” by Matt Bell

Issue 65
Issue 65

Found in Willow Springs 65

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NIGHTS, WE CLIMB to the tower's roof to stand together beneath the satellite dishes, where we watch the hundreds of meteorites fall through the aurora and across the arctic sky.Trapped high in the atmosphere, they streak the horizon then flare out, with only the rarest among them surviving long enough to burst into either mountains or tundra, that madness of snow and ice beneath us.

Once, Cormack stood beside me and prayed aloud that one might crash into the receiving tower instead and free us all.

Once, I knew which one of us Cormack actually was.


THE TOWER IS TWENTY STORIES TALL, made of blast-resistant concrete and crowned by two satellite dishes twisting and turning upon their bases, their movements driven by the powerful electric motors installed between the listening room and the roof. The larger dish is used for receiving signals and messages from both our own commanders and our enemies, the latter of which we are expected to decode, interpret, and then re-encrypt before passing them to our superiors using the smaller transmitting dish.

It has been months since the larger dish picked up anything but static, maybe longer. Some of the men talk openly now about leaving the rower, about trying to make our way to the coast, where we might be rescued from this place by the supply transport that supposedly awaits us there. These men say the war is over, that—after all these years—we can finally go home.

The captain lets the men speak, and then, calmly, asks each of the dissenters where they are from, knowing these men will not be able to remember their hometowns, that they haven't been able to for years. The captain, he always knows just how to quiet us.


AS  I  REMEMBER  IT—which is not well—young Kerr was the first to grow dim. We'd find him high in the tower's listening room, swearing at the computers, locking up console after console by failing to enter his password correctly. At night, he wandered the barracks, holding a framed portrait of his son and daughter, asking us if we knew their names, if we remembered how old they were. This is when one of us would remove the photograph from its frame so that he could read the fading scrawl on the back, the inked lines he eventually wore off by tracing them over and over with  his fingers, after which there was no proof with  which to quiet his queries.

Later, after he had gotten much worse, we'd find him on the roof, half frozen, sleeping beneath the receiving dish, his arms wrapped partway around its thick stem, his mind faded, his body lean and starved and frostbitten.

None of us realized he was missing until we found his body, trapped in the ice just inside the compound's gate. What pain he must have felt after he threw himself from atop the tower, after he tried to crawl forward on crushed bones, heading in the direction of a coast he must have known he would never live to see.


MY  NAME IS  MAON, according to the stitching across the breasts of both the uniform I am wearing and all the others hanging in the locker beside my bunk. This is what it says beside my computer console in the listening room, and what the others call out when they greet me. It is what the captain snarls often in my direction, growling and waving his machine pistol to remind me that he is the one giving the orders, not me.

My name is Maon: Some mornings, I stand before my mirror and speak this word again and again, reminding myself as I stare at my reflection, surprised anew by the gray of my hair,  by how the winter of my beard mimics the snow and ice outside. I have begun to put on fat, to find my stomach and face thicker than I believe them to be away from the mirror. Caught between the endless dark outside the tower and the constant fluorescence of our own gray halls, it is too easy to mistake one time for another, to miss meals or repeat them. My mouth tastes perpetually of cigarettes and salted beef, and my belly grows hard and presses against the now strained buttons of my uniform. Sometimes, I can't remember having ever eaten, though my stomach is so full of food I am often sick for hours upon hours.


IT WAS ONLY AFTER KERR DIED that I discovered our personnel records had been deleted: birch daces, home towns, the persons co be notified in the case of our deaths, all these crucial faces gone. From chat moment on, we had only our tattered uniforms to prove our ranks, only the name tape attached to our chests to remind us who we each were.

Without the personnel records, it also became impossible to determine the date we're to be released from service and taken to the coast for transport home. According to the captain, this meant none of us could go home until we re-established contact with the main force, something he see ms increasingly uninterested in trying to do.

Once, Macrath and the others came to me and asked me to speak to the captain, to inquire after our missing records. The next morning in the mess hall, I did my best to convince him to honor their requests. It would only cake a few minutes, I said. You could do it right now.

Probably there's no one out there listening, but even if there is, they won't respond without your authorization codes.

The captain finished chewing before looking up from his breakfast of runny scrambled eggs and muddy coffee. His eyes flicked from my face co where Macrath stood behind me, then back again. He said, Are you trying co give me an order, Maon?

No, sir. A suggestion, maybe.

The captain's voice was stern, providing no room for argument. When I turned to leave, I saw Macrath still standing  there, his eyes murderously red-rimmed and locked onto the captain's own implacable black orbs, on those irises as shiny and flat as the surface of burnt wood. Macrath only wanted to go home. He had a family, a wife and children, a little house, a car he liked to tinker with on weekends. That's what he always told us, what he believed he remembered.

When the captain acted, it was not me he targeted but Macrath, ordering some of the men to haul him into the frozen courtyard, then following behind to deliver the fatal bullet himself. The captain explained that the orders to execute Macrath had come from higher up the chain of command, in a coded comm unique meant for his eyes only. Even though it was I who had manned the silence of the listening room all morning, I said nothing, counseled the others to do the same. As I had once warned Macrath: We must not cross the captain too often, and certainly not when he is in a killing mood.


T H E CAPTAIN IS UNSHAKABLE in  the face of our questions, but perhaps he, too, knows nothing more than what we know ourselves: that there are no more signals, no signs of either friend or foe. When we ask if our transport is still moored at the coast, waiting for our return, he refuses to answer. He says that information is only available on a need-to-know basis, and that we don't need to know. We disagree. If the ship is still waiting, then we could make a try for the coast, leaving this wasteland behind. Perhaps then we could find a way to stop our fleeing memories, to slow the dimness that replaces them. In the meantime, we blame our forgetfulness on anything we can, scapegoating the tower first and the components of our lives here second. It could be the radiation from the satellite dishes, or the constant darkness, or the fact that the only foods we eat are yeastless wafers of bread, jugs full of liquid egg substitute, tins of dry, salty beef, plus powdered milk and powdered fruit and powdered everything else. Together, we all eat the same three meals, day after day after day, our taste buds grown as dull and listless as the brains they're connected to, until the repetition steals away our past lives, until our minds are as identical as our gray beards, our curved paunches, our time-distressed uniforms.


STANDING IN THE DARK among the mechanical workings of the two satellite dishes, I work swiftly to repair a series of frayed wires splayed out from the larger dish, my fingers shaking beneath the tight beam of my headlamp, frozen even through the thickness of my gloves. It has been dark as long as I can remember, long enough that the sun grows increasingly theoretical, abstract. My own memories of it faded long ago, so that all remembrances of places lit not by torches and floodlights are suspect, at best, just more evidence of a past increasingly faked and unlikely, stolen from the remnants of the others who share this tower.

When I finish my task, I stand and look out from the rower's edge, studying the ice and snow and wind and, above it all, the aurora, its bright curtains of color cutting a ribbon through the darkness, obscuring much of the meteor shower that continues to fall. I linger until the cold penetrates the last of my bones, then I turn the metal wheel atop the frost-stuck hatch, descend the rickety ladder leading back into the tower.

An hour later, lying in bed, I am unable co remember the colors of the aurora, or even what exactly I went outside to fix. The events of my life increasingly exist only in the moment, too often consumed by their own bright fire, lost like the many meteorites tumbling and burning out across the already unimaginable midnight sky.


ONCE A WEEK, after we're sure the captain is asleep in his quarters, we gather in the basement of the tower, amidst the stacked pallets of canned and powdered foodstuffs, the whole rooms of spare wiring kits and computer parts and d rums of fuel oil, where there is enough of everything to last another hundred years. There are six of us who meet, the only ones who still remember enough to work, who can still log into our computers. Weeks ago, we changed our passwords to "password," so that as we continue to dim we will still be able to log in and listen for the orders we hope we might yet receive.

In the basement, we take turns telling whatever stories we can. Tonight, Camran tells us about playing baseball in high school, about how the smell of the grass stuck to everything, to his clothes and hair and fingers, and then about the sound of the bar striking the ball, how he once hit three home runs in a single game. Lachlann brags about all the sex he got before coming here, going on and on in his gravelly voice about all the tits and ass, about the pussies as slick as ice, over and over until our eyes bulge, until we beg him to stop.

Earc speaks of his parents, who he still misses, a strange bur touching admission for a man his age, and then Ros tells us about his favorite dance club back home, about the heaving crush of the dancers. We look around at the meagerness of our group, and when we try to imagine hundreds of people in one place, we find that we cannot.

I talk—as I always do—about the ship and the base camp and the coast. I have forgotten everything so chat I might remember this, for myself and for the rest of us. Better that I never again recall my family, my friends, my former home, if it means remembering the ship, our last hope, because if I forget, the captain will have won and none of us will escape this tower.

We go on speaking until we've exhausted ourselves, until we've shared everything we still have left to share. Every week, this takes less and less time. Where there were once eleven of us, soon there will be only five, then four, and  then three and two and one. And then the treason of these meetings will cease to exist altogether.


CAMRAN IS DEAD by the captain's hand, shot at his station in the listening room. The force of the bullet shatters his face, spraying his monitor and lodging wet flecks of skull and teeth between the once cream-colored letters of his keyboard. The captain surveys our shocked expressions, then accuses Camran of trying to use the transmitting dish to send an unauthorized message, an act of disobedience as punishable as any other. As we watch, unable to see around the bulk of his body, the captain silently reads the sentences typed across the flickering green screen, his lips moving wordlessly as his eyes scan from left to right. When he is finished, he fires a bullet into the computer, showering the leftovers of Camran with sparks. We beg him to tell us what the message said, but he only gestures to his lieutenant, Dughall, the only other who'd seen the screen.

The captain puts away his pistol, then takes a deep breath, sucking in a lung's worth of cordite and blood smoke. He says, Let Dughall tell you, as he told me.

But of course Dughall has already forgotten—it's been months since he's been to one of our meetings—and so there's no one to tell us what message might have gotten out, or if there has been any response. All we want is something to hope for, and this the captain refuses us.

We could push the captain further but there is only so much we can risk. We all have our sidearms, but he's the only one who still has bullets, having convinced us to surrender our own to his care some time ago, when our troubles first began. Now the threat of automatic fire from his machine pistol prevents us from asking too many questions, from arguing against even his harshest orders.

After silencing our protests, the captain orders Dughall and some of the other dim to carry what's left of Camran down the stairs and our into the courtyard. The rest of the men go back to their work, but not me. I climb to the roof, where I watch the dims stack Camran atop the pile of our other dead, our frozen and forgotten friends.


THE CAPTAIN IS IN A FOUL MOOD TODAY, in response to our persistent nagging about Camran, and to our continued speculation about the chances of making it to the shore if we were to try as a group. He rants at us for planning to abandon our posts without leave, then decides to make an example out of two of the longtime dim, Onchu and Ramsay, both so far gone they can barely speak. He dresses them in their furs, then shoves loaded packs into their arms—already provisioned to the point of bursting, as if he knew this day was coming. He pushes them both out the door, kicking at them and threatening with his pistol when they protest. He points toward the south, which I myself only know because it is the opposite of where I see the auroras over the mountains, then forces them across the courtyard,  through the gate and out on to the ice. Within minutes they're out of sight from the ground, but from the roof we watch through our night scopes as they wander against the wind and blowing snow, unable already to remember which direction they've come from or where they're going.

Only a few hundred yards from the gate, Onchu sits on the ground, facing away from the rower, too far to see or hear us above the howl of the wind. We scream anyway, begging him to get up, to keep moving, to make for the coast, to save us all, only he doesn't move. He just draws his limbs in, hanging his hooded head between his knees. By morning, he will be frozen to death, and then, some time after, we will forget his name. Ramsay—somehow— finds his way through the dark and the blowing snow back into the courtyard, where the captain shoots him dead, as he has so many others who have refused to go into the wastes, who have returned without his leave.


EVENTUALLY, THERE IS A MEETING at which I wait alone until dawn before returning to the barracks. With no one to tell stories to, I walk the rows of bunks instead, watching my men slumber, their gray heads full of dim dreams. A week later, I find Lachlann dead by his own hand, hanging from the rafters in the supply closet. The captain cuts the body down himself, has it dragged outside and stacked with the others. He asks if anyone would like to say a few words in Lachlann's memory, shakes his head when we cannot.


I WAIT UNTIL IT IS NIGHT AGAIN—true night, not just dark, as it always is—and then stuff my backpack with foodstuffs and bottles of water, with chemical torches and the thickest blankets I can find. I am leaving, but first I consider murdering the captain in his sleep, perhaps smothering him with one of his own battered pillows, or else choking him with my hands. I sneak easily past the sleeping, dim guards outside his quarters, then through the creaking door of his bedchamber.

Once inside, I stand beside the captain's bed and watch his creased, stubbled face until I experience an unexpected moment of doubt: If it is only he and I who still remember anything, then who will  be left to lead these men after he's dead and I am gone? If one day the signal does come, who will be here to lead them out of the receiving tower and across the ice?

What I have to admit is that, in the face of my pending abandonment, perhaps even this captain is better than no captain at all.

Instead of killing him, I wake him up, and for the last time we talk. Seated across from me in his room, the captain makes me promise that I will leave the tower when we've finished, no matter what he tells me, and because this is already my intent, I agree.

Three questions, he says. No more.

I ask him if there are other receiving towers, and he says there are, but when I press him for details about who mans these towers, he refuses to give me a direct answer, offering only shrugging misdirections and half-truths that tell me nothing.

Next, I ask him if others will come to take our place after we are all dead. He looks over my provisioned pack, my donned furs, then says, No. You are the last Maon. I am the last captain. Everyone here is so old now, and all of them have finally grown dim. What we did, no one else will have to do.

The last question is even harder for him to answer, but I press him, begging for honesty, for confirmation, and finally he nods his head, his coal-black eyes saddened for the first time I can rem ember, but maybe, I realize, not for the first time ever.

He tells me how, long ago, when we were both young and strong, we stood atop the receiving cower in the dark, watching the waves of debris tear endlessly through the atmosphere, their terrible truth still disguised as innocent meteorites.

Already this was years after the war ended, after we'd each accepted we'd never go home, that there was no home to go to.

Already this was after we'd started to forget, to go dim. Not all at once, not everyone, but enough of us, starting with Kerr.

The dim demanded to know why they were being kept in the receiving tower, why they couldn't travel to the shore to be relieved of their duties. They grew restless and angry, and before long there were enough of them that something had to be done.

The captain says, Everything we did next was your decision.

He says, Before there was Maon, there was the major, and just for a second I see us atop the tower, grimly shaking hands. I hear myself say to him the name that was once his, the one I have claimed  myself for so long now, ever since I stepped down from this command.

By my orders, he tells me, the captain took over my abandoned duties administrating the useless routines of the receiving tower, while I joined the men in the ranks, a major no more, so that I could better watch over the dim and keep them safe. At night, I held basement meetings with those whose wits remained, explaining how, to protect our ailing friends, our brothers in arms, we would pretend the war was still being fought. To give them purpose, we would start manning the listening room again, searching for signals that did not—could not—exist, since there was no one left alive to send them.

According to the captain, this is how we saved our men, how we kept them safe long enough for our beards to gray, for our bodies to grow stooped and fat.

Still, the dim turned increasingly dangerous, first to themselves and then to the rest of us.

We waited until they began threatening murder and mutiny, then the captain had them shot and stacked one by one in the courtyard, or else pushed them out across the ice to seek the meaningless shore, the phantom promise of the waiting transport ship, a ship that existed only in the stories I told the men. That existed only to give them purpose, to give them hope they might yet be saved.

The captain says, At first, you chose who would stay and who I would force from the tower. You were still the major, even if no one remembered. You said it was my duty to give them someone to hare, if that's what it took to hold them together, to unite them in this new life they had no choice but to live.

Later, after you dimmed, too, I had to decide myself when it was time to use the pistol or to drive a man our of the tower and onto the ice.

I have done my best, he tells me, but I am not you.

I have had to be cruel.

I have had to become a monster.

All these decisions, I have had to make alone.

The captain stops speaking, turns his face toward the wall. There is only the sound of his breathing, of mine in turn, until he says, I wish you could remember for yourself.

He says, It's not as if this is the first time I've told you.


NOW IT'S MY TURN to look away, ashamed, for him and for myself. For what we did together.

I say, You have done your duty well, my captain.

And you yours, he says. Better than you hoped, even.

But why switch places? How did we know? That you would remember, and I wouldn't?

He shakes his head. You've had your three questions, and now you must go.

No, I say. Tell me. How did we know?

We didn't, he says. We guessed.

The captain says nothing more. Eventually, he falls asleep in his chair, resuming his quiet snoring, his hands folded over the ampleness of his belly. I cry to stay awake, to hold on to what he's just told me, to try to see how these newly remembered truths might save our men, but they can't, or perhaps they already have. Exhausted, I doze myself, and when I wake I can recall only a little of what was said between myself and the captain. Maybe it is for the best. Maybe whatever he remembered is an illusion, another hallucinated landscape we dreamed up together to replace all we have lost. Perhaps all there has ever been is this receiving tower and the others like it, separated by ice and snow and mountains, and then, somewhere else, some lose continent, shapeless now in my mind, where some interminable war cost us everything.


I LEAVE THE CAPTAIN ALIVE not because I have promised to, but because I am afraid that at the end of my journey, it will be proven that he has always been right, that there is no ship waiting, that to lead these men out across the tundra would be to lead them to their deaths. I walk the halls of the receiving tower one more time, making one last effort to remember, to hold onto what's left of the captain's words. I meet some of the dim going about their duties, each of them following my commands to leave me alone, obeying me as they would the captain. I take my time, knowing they will not remember seeing me, will not report my small betrayal. Eventually, I find myself wandering the rows of empty bunks at the far end of the barracks, too many beds for the number of men I can remember being lost. I try to remember who these others were, but  I cannot. Their bunks are covered in dust, their bedding stripped to replace our own threadbare blankets and pillows. These bunks must belong to the dead stacked in the courtyard, but perhaps also to others like me, men who took it upon themselves to reach the sea long ago, further back than I can remember.

There must have been so many men here, and now they are nearly all dead and forgotten by us, the very men they'd meant to rescue.

As a final act of defiance, I climb the tower to the listening room, where I make one last attempt to hear something, anything. I put on my headphones and slowly move the dials through the full spectrum of frequencies. I hear nothing but  the hum and  hiss of the omnipresent static, just a blizzard of meaningless sound falling unceasingly upon my ears.

There was a time when I knew over one hundred words for static, but now, there is only the one, so insufficient to the complexity of the thing it describes.

I take off my headphones, then move to shut down my console. Before I do, I change the password to some new word, some gibberish, something I would never have been able to remember, even in the prime of my life, all those long decades ago.


I DO NOT LOOK BACK as I cross the threshold of the receiving tower, nor when I open the gate at the far end of the courtyard, but I can feel the captain watching me from atop the parapets. I wonder if he has kept vigil for all the others who began this desperate exodus, the lost men who once slept in those long-empty bunks. I wonder if, like now, he kept quiet, hurling neither threat nor warning against the piercing wind, leaving those brave men to question and to doubt, to wonder if it truly was the captain who was wrong, or only themselves.

I wonder how long he waits for me before going back inside, at what point I will no longer be able to sense his heavy eyes darkening my every step.


I DISCOVER ONCHU—who I had forgotten, who I beg forgiveness of now that he is found again—while the aurora shimmers overhead on the first night of my journey. I scrape at the snow and ice around his face, revealing the black frostbitten skin that will never decay, this place too cold and removed from the earth even for maggots or worms. After I have stared as long as I dare, I use my pick to dig his body from the ice, so that I can get at the backpack clenched in his arms, the limbs immobile with frost. I have no choice but to snap the bones with my pick, then peel them away from the bag's canvas.

I open the pack's drawstrings and  plunge my hands inside, where I find fistfuls of photographs, frozen into unidentifiable clumps, then bundles of wrecked letters, misshapen ice balls of trinkets. At the bottom of the pack is a threadbare dress uniform, rolled tightly and creased with frost, unmarked except for its insignia of a major's rank, belonging to some higher-ranking officer I can no longer remember. All these artifacts might once have told me who I was, who we all were, but not now. If I reach the coast, I will have to become some new Maon, a man who remembers nothing, who did not see his only friends frozen to the earth, who did not see his compatriots gunned down by their captain, the man who—as I remember it now— once swore to keep them all safe.

I leave these relics behind, scattered around Onchu's frigid form.

Let our memories keep him company, if indeed they can.


EVEN WITH ALL THE BLOOD, it is easy to forget the sudden shift of the ice, the fall into the crevasse that followed. To forget the snapping of bones, which sounded so much like the cracking of the centuries-old ice beneath my feet. Eventually, I reach down to find again the ruin of my shattered shin, and then scream until I black out, unable to remember enough to keep from shocking myself all over again once I wake.

In my few lucid moments, I stare up through the cracked ice, out of this cave and into the air beyond. I want to survive until the aurora blooms one last time, until the falling ruins of space streak across the sky again, but I have no way of telling which direction I'm facing, which slivered shard of sky I might be able to see.

Rather than take my chances of dying in the wrong place, I decide that I might be able to splint the bone with the frame of my backpack, if l am brave and if I hurry.

I can at least hurry.

Twisting painfully, I open my pack to find all the chemical torches broken open and mixed together, so that all my meager possessions glow a ghastly shade of yellow, just enough to work by. I cry out more than once, but eventually I manage to set the bone, binding it with the wrenched steel of my pack frame and torn strips of blanket. After that, there is only the climb, only the hard chill of ice cutting through my belly and thighs as I drag myself up the frozen incline, each inch a mile's worth of struggle, all to return to a surface as inhospitable as the underworld I am leaving.


BACK ATOP THE ICE, night falls, replacing the day's darkness with something worse. Away from the illumination of the receiving tower, night is an even blacker shade of dark, and I crave a new word for it, crave a vocabulary I have mostly forgotten now, words that could have described more than simplest night, snow, ice, failure, all of which have more than just the one degree. I have to keep walking, one crooked step at a time, or I will freeze. Everything I have left encircles me: my death, the aurora, and there, just beyond it, the veil which obscures this life from the next.


WHEN I CANNOT WILL MYSELF to try again to stand, I struggle instead from my back to a seated position and retrieve my pistol from its holster. It glows yellow where I've touched it, smeared with some chemical I no longer recognize. I pull back the slide, then put the muzzle to the fleshy muscle beneath my jaw. There's a tenderness there already, and although I wonder where it came from, I push hard anyway, feel the pain ignite my frozen nerves. I close my eyes, take a breath, and squeeze the trigger, howling as loud as the wind when the pistol produces only a dry, useless click.

I return my pistol to its holster, force myself to my feet. I start walking, leaning heavily on my one good leg, dragging the other behind, until a stumbling collapse delivers me to the ice. I struggle to sit, surrounded by the loud creak of my frozen muscles, of tendons contracting away from bone.

Then with the pistol, with the confusion of the muzzle-press bruise, with the frustration of the empty chamber. Then the struggle to my feet, the few awkward steps, the next painful crash to this ice.

I drop the pistol and fail to find it in the blowing powder.

I try to draw the pistol, only to find it missing, lost somewhere behind me.

Lying on the ice in the darkness, I hear a bird cry far above me, riding the currents of rising, warmer air that must flow even here. I cannot recognize its speech, cannot remember how to differentiate between the ravens and owls who hunt the tundra and the gulls and terns found only near the shore. As useful as that information might be, I know it doesn't matter. I do not open my eyes to look, or even strain to hear the bird again. I am sure I have dreamed it, as I am dreaming all the other, older things I now see flashing behind the closed curtains of my eyelids. And then the rest of me breaks free, flies away, rises above, taking the words that tied these dreams to me, and afterward there are no ships, no shores, no signals, no static, then no towers, no captains. Then there is no Maon, and then I run out of words, and then I

“Copycats” by Lucas Southworth

Willow Springs 75 Cover shows pink pressed flowers on rough paper.
Willow Springs 75 Cover shows pink pressed flowers on rough paper.

Found in Willow Springs 75

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THE SUN WAS BRIGHT in the airport windows, shining through without any heat. At the counter you gave  the  name s  you'd rehearsed: yours from a comic book few would recognize, and another, the name of a girl you remembered dying in high school. She was your wife, you explained, off parking the car. Security didn't yet scour IDs or paw through the insides of luggage, but workers were trained to identify men like you. You had to be sure your voice didn't falter, that there was no sweat, no quickening of pulse. Behind your sunglasses, your eyes had to remain clear and true. The woman at the counter smiled, handed over your tickets. She warned you that the storm you knew was coming was coming and assured you that your flight would take off before the roil of rain and fog. You nodded because you'd done the calculations already, checked them; you'd chosen this plan e for its bulk, its ability to fly through weather.

At the gate, you watched yourself from many angles. You had a tendency to slouch as if hiding or turning away, and you felt a rush of frustration as you straightened your spine, pulling you r shoulders back and up. The other passengers rose, and you grabbed your brief case and joined them, one ticket in your hand, the other forgotten somewhere in your pocket. The slow procession led down the stairs to the tarmac where the wind was stronger now, but the clouds were still far off, not yet visible. In your seat, you arranged the briefcase on the floor so its lines paralleled the edges of the aisle, its corners coming to a perfect point. You lit a cigarette, smoked, folded it into the armrest ash tray. Soon the plane lurched. Clouds flooded the window before thinning and stretching all the way to the horizon. The engine oozed its monotonous hum; heads of passengers scalloped toward the cockpit. You asked the stewardess for your first scorch, and rested a palm upon the empty seat beside you. You let our a long breath, drew in another through your teeth.

TWENTY-ONE MINUTES LATER, THE stewardess placed a second drink upon a napkin on your tray. Courteous, gregarious, you grinned at her, signaled her to sit, gave her a piece of paper that said URGENT. Stay quiet, it told her when she opened it, do not talk or scream or show concern. The stewardess saw you now; her face drain ed under her makeup and under her thick, black hair and red cap that was part of her uniform. The note told her that her life and the lives of others depended  upon her next actions. You could feel the power of your words shivering up her arms as she read, flowing into the metal of the plane that hung so precariously on nothing but air. Cracking the briefcase, you watched her study what she could see. Then she folded the paper, composed herself, and hurried down the aisle to the cockpit door. As she disappeared, you considered the repetitive actions of waitresses and stewardesses, the dependence on nametag and uniform, the regulars who came in every day and every day ordered the same breakfast or lunch or dinner. The scotch spread across your tongue, its smoke and burn lingering , sinking in. Other men had tried this. All had failed. You wondered if they had similar thoughts as they sat where you were now, cradling bombs, real or fake, in brief cases on their laps.

The stewardess reappeared and drifted up the aisle; the pilot's voice filtered about the cabin.

We aren't in any danger, he announced. We're simply returning to the airport we just left.

The passengers met this with groans, but none seemed to notice the strain in his voice or the lightning sparking in the clouds outside. They were bothered by the fact that they'd gone up in the sky and would come down in the same place. A man in a row behind you let our a snore; a baby howled and sobbed. The stewardess buckled herself into the seat next to you, and you lit another cigarette, offered her one. The briefcase was on your lap. You explored its latches with one finger and then another and another.

FOR TWO YEARS you'd monitored everything, scrutinized the math, tried to predict possibility after possibility. You'd eaten dinner standing over maps and papers strewn across the kitchen table: notes on the barometer and wind, on flights and planes and rolling weather. You hardly noticed the house growing darker, dreary, cushions threadbare, rips larger in the upholstery. You scoured articles about the other men, learned from them, used their failures as rehearsals for yourself. You needed a demand, so you calculated one: 10,000 twenty-dollar bills secured in 100 bunches, each bunch approximately 3.54 ounces. The $200,000 would weigh 22.05 pounds, or about 25 when factoring in rubber bands and the sack to hold it. It was the limit of what you could carry when you jumped, found your bearings in the woods, and trudged eight to twelve miles as rain and mud and fog erased your path.

The plane's engine idled and droned. Droplets collected on the tiny windows. Back on the runway, minute crept after slow minute. Your thoughts surfaced and dove, discovered cracks in your plan where they were to be found, fabricated them where they weren't. The stewardess hadn't spoken; the passengers settled in, their faces weary, expressionless. Again you watched yourself from above, saw the slouch, the scotch, the cigarettes. You saw the haircut, every four weeks exactly, the new suit every six months exactly, the shave every morning against the grain, the two cups of coffee with two creams and two sugars, the hard-boiled egg. You saw your comfort in straight and parallel lines, your knowledge of engines and machines, the way you scanned the entire newspaper, headline to headline, before reading a single article, the way you played jazz records over and over until you could anticipate every note. Once, after you'd returned from the war, you'd taken a woman to the movies and left her there. Another time, you'd opened the Bible and read passages at random until none of them made sense. You still had family somewhere on the other side of the country, and for a while you'd kept track of their phone numbers.

THE  PILOT RETURNED after fifty-six minutes, hauling four bags: one with the money and three stuffed with parachutes. If any of the passengers had recognized they were hostages, none voiced that concern, and you were grateful to nod and release them, to let them gather their things. As the last one shuffled from the plane, the pilot pulled his hands from his pockets and shoved them back in. He insisted he could not take off in this weather or fly as low as you demanded. You listened knowing differently.

It's just the three of us now, you said. If we don't leave, all of us will surely die. If you follow my instructions, most of us will probably live.

The pilot's knees buckled as he slumped coward the cockpit. You inhaled a long breath, held it. The stewardess's wrists lay heavy on the armrests, and outside, wind whipped across the runway, making no sound in the cabin. Far away, beyond the airport's fences, trees bent and swayed as if dancing or supplicating over the sick and defenseless.

In the air, the plane spiked and shifted like a dead leaf, its engines grinding against the storm, louder than you'd ever heard. Sometimes it rolled almost all the way to the side and you could feel the pilot crying to catch and correct it. You demanded another scotch, and watched the stewardess totter off. Clamping a cigarette between your lips, releasing your safety belt, you wedged yourself between the seats, trapping the briefcase and other bags with your hip to keep them from rumbling away. You cut the lines from one of the parachutes, used them to tie the sack of money to your chest. The floor dropped away. You pitched forward. There was a creak, a metallic lurch, and you lost your breath, couldn't find it again until the plane steadied. The stewardess returned, and you grabbed the tiny bottle from her. The alcohol burned your throat, gathered in your stomach, stayed there.

You strapped on one of the other parachutes and pointed up the aisle, following the stewardess as the two of you grappled from row to row as if climbing a giant ladder. With the bag of money tied to your front and the parachute to your back, you felt like you were sprouting wings from the wrong places on your body. The stewardess finally clamped onto a safety bar and refused to move again; you pushed past her, knelt at the passenger door, slipped the latch. The handle wrenched, the door sprang open. Cold water and air gusted in.

The pilot was flying along the base of the clouds just as you'd requested. From here, the woods resembled blades of grass under lightning. Mountains stood like tall shadows in the distance. Shivering, choking on the cold rush of rain, you lowered the stairs by hand until they hung, flailing as the plane flailed. Somehow you hadn't lose your sunglasses, and you laughed at that. Behind you, the stewardess had abandoned everything but fear, her eyes white and wide.

Do I kiss you now? you shouted to her.

She didn't answer. The plane  tilted and  righted itself, tilted and righted itself. It dipped and rose at random. You kept a hand on the wet railing, tiptoed out from seep to step. Below, the ground was a patchwork quilt, soft and beckoning to whatever might fall from the sky. You tossed the briefcase over the edge. It disappeared, and you followed.


YEARS LATER, YOU WOKE with the sun through the curtains, your head screwed into an uncomfortable space between pillows. You were in town to sell insurance, staying in a small hotel where the doors opened to a parking lot outside. This new job required travel, but you rarely had to fly, and every morning you watched your reflect ion in a different mirror, lathering, shaving against the grain as your father had taught you. You showered with the soap and shampoo you carried in a plastic bag; you dressed in clothes a decade out of style: the same suit, shirt, and tie you'd worn on that day. The same sunglasses, the same frames. On the sidewalk, men rushed past, already sweating. You hadn't turned on the television in your room, so you didn't see the news until you grabbed a paper from the front desk and scanned the first headline.

Okay, you said, folding it and fanning your face. Okay.

You smiled and then you didn't.

The bell above the diner's door announced your presence, and inside the waitress ate standing, reading the newspaper she'd spread over the counter. A blank television hovered from bolts in the corner. Portraits hung on walls at haphazard angles, their frames so old they appeared to be  disintegrating at  the edges. The only one  you recognized was a painting above the radio, Elvis with a microphone. Beside the cash register was a red rose in a vase smudged with fingerprints.

The waitress didn't glance up, so you took a table near the window, opened the paper and began reading from headline to headline. You found the FBI sketch seven pages in, small and in the lower right hand corner. At least they were still publishing it, you thought, the face close to resembling yours, the hair short, exactly as you wore it now. But you'd been thinner then, and in the last ten years you'd struggled to keep yourself at that weight.

The waitress approached, and you adjusted your sunglasses. You removed them and tapped the newspaper next to the drawing. You put the sunglasses back on.

Coffee, you told her. Cream, sugar.

You lit a cigarette while she centered your cup on its saucer. There's been another hijacking, you said.

The waitress nodded. They've been talking about it, she said.

For the first time you were aware of the radio, turned so low you could barely hear it.

Copycats, you said.

Yes, she agreed. That's what they call them.

You touched the sketch with a finger. Don't forget the one who succeeded, you said, the one who got away.

The waitress frowned. Your cream and sugar, she mumbled as though she'd forgotten to bring them. Both were already there, on the table.

The bell above the door chimed. A family bustled in and toward a booth in back. The waitress went to them, and you were alone again in front of the window, in front of the town. You read the rest of the headlines as fast as you could before flipping to the front. According to the article, the hijacker hadn't made a single demand. Instead, he'd taken the cockpit and attempted to fly. You felt the word copycat as you always did, a solid thing. You shook your head. These men commandeered planes to Cuba or slammed them into targets on the ground. They were a tribute to your success, and you couldn't help grinning as you poured two creams into your cup, scooped two spoonfuls of sugar.

The waitress wrote down the family's order before refilling your coffee and taking yours. Through the window you saw a man stumbling forward. Then the bell rang and he was inside, retching, out of breath. The waitress calmed him. You stared at them as they talked, and you began to stir your coffee louder and louder. They didn't look back. Nobody ever looked back. Ten years ago, you'd clutched those floating stairs in the pounding rain; you'd buried $200,000 in the woods and hadn't spent any of it. You'd done the impossible because you could, and then you disappeared.

In the booth, one of the children upended her plate. The waitress took her time cleaning it before retrieving your food from behind the counter.

Two boiled eggs, she said, placing it on your table, three strips of bacon, hash browns. A popular order this morning.

I used to fly too, you said. I used to fix planes in the war. But she had already turned away.

Don't you want to know how I did it? you asked. Don't you want to know if the bomb was real?

The man at the counter was scaring. You gave him a small salute, and he glanced away. You focused on your napkin, arranging it on your lap until its straight lines paralleled the edges of the table, the corners coming to a perfect point.

THE BLACK SEDAN EDGED CLOSER, another dark silhouette behind another timed windshield. You placed a hand on your wife's, sheltering her thin fingers with your palm, her veins and skin. You shifted, slammed the accelerator, rook a corner at random. The wheels screeched; your wife yelped, deep in her throat. Your five year old started co cry. Glancing between the windshield and the rear view mirror, you calculated a path ahead while watching the car in pursuit. It was toying with you, you decided, like a lion crouching in the grass as its prey exhausted itself with fear.

Finally, you pulled over.Three minutes and the sedan didn't emerge; five, and there was still no sign of it. You let out a long breath, leaned back, rubbed your eyes. You lit a cigarette and put your hand on your wife's knee. She was beautiful on this sad day for her aunt, the sun framing her and  her black dress. Your daughters  wore dark dresses too, beautiful themselves, the oldest still whimpering, the youngest sleeping, snot inching from her nose. The FBI had never come to your door, never handcuffed or questioned you, but you were sure they still had agents on the case, and they always showed up at times like these. You could never tell if your wife actually believed any of this or if she saw it as another game. Not long after the jump, you'd taken her to the movies for the first time and touched her in the dark. You left her there and didn't come back and she called and called. After you married her, you told her everything, and she'd simply asked why. Why? To force my life forward, you said, to give it a jolt. She gave you the grin you loved, that wild glint in her eye. She wrapped you in her arms and held you there. Now she cradled your hand in the same way, between two palms, on her lap.

You started the car, drove for another hour before parking next to a diner with air conditioning. A bell chimed above the door. The stools and bench seats were patched with tape, the white tiles that alternated with black were scuffed. The photos on the wall were glossy and benign, as if salvaged from an old photographer's studio. The TV was off, and near the cash register a flower slumped from its vase. Above the radio hung a cheap painting of Elvis posing in his white jumpsuit.

You led your family to a booth in back. With hours of driving to go, your shoulders and  knees were already stiff. You looked forward to your brother-in-law's scotch and retreating quietly to a corner as everyone told stories about a woman you and the children had never met. Removing your sunglasses, you eyed the only other customer, a man in a dark suit the same color as yours at a table near the front.

Your wife ordered scrambled eggs and oatmeal, pancakes for the kids. You asked for an egg hardboiled, bacon and hash browns, coffee with two creams and two sugars.

The waitress scribbled on her pad.

Shout if you want a paper, she said, or if you want me to turn on the television or turn up the radio. Her voice was worn and fit the place. Another plane went down, she said. I don't know if you've heard.

You exchanged a glance with your wife.

Did they say anything about the hijacker? you asked. Did they say who he was? If he got away?

The waitress's eyes clouded. No, she said.

We're going to a funeral, your wife told her. We don't want to scare the kids.

Of course, the waitress replied.

Your wife leaned into you, her shoulder brushing yours. Under the table, her hand crept between your legs and you nudged it away. Your eldest daughter drew pictures on the place mat; the youngest made noises that sounded like words. There were hints of your face on both of theirs, the eldest showing your gift of concentration. You lit a cigarette, picturing the bag of money buried  in the woods, the worms turning it to soil. A new copycat had emerged this morning and failed. You had done it when nobody else had. You had disappeared. Now you were almost back.

The waitress brought your food and you stabbed out your cigarette in the ashtray. A man rushed in wearing a suit that wasn't anything like yours, and when he calmed, he began co discuss the hijacking with the waitress. You tried to listen, but couldn't hear much over the prattling of the children and the sound of the man near the window stirring his coffee. The waitress said something  about being on one of the planes, about being a stewardess, and suddenly the whole place went quiet, the silence stretching out, expanding. The TV was blank; it was as if some invisible hand had turned off the radio. To break the silence, you flipped your youngest daughter's plate, knocking over your wife's orange juice and a glass of water. Everyone stared and you returned their stares. The waitress hurried over.

It's okay, honey, she said, guiding the liquid back to the center of the table, the wet rag refusing to sop it up. She spoke to the child in a baby voice: Like it never happened, she cooed.

The baby smiled, toothless and happy. You caught the man by the window saluting the man by the counter. They both seemed to nod in agreement before glancing away. When one of them said something about a bomb, the bacon turned to rubber in your mouth. They'd finally caught up to you, you thought. You glanced about frantically for a way to disappear, but there was no way to hold on to everything you'd found and everything that had found you.

IN THE CAR, in the summer heat, you heard  about an explosion, another hijacking, all the passengers dead. The road blurred; oxygen didn't quite fill your lungs. As usual, the radio suggested there'd been a copycat, and as usual you felt as though something heavy had settled on your chest. Swerving into an open space, you rolled down the window, tried to force a breath past the shallows of your body. Waves of heat writhed across the sidewalk and when a small restaurant advertising air conditioning materialized through the windshield, you left the car and staggered forward.

The place had worn booths and stools, a worn checkered floor and a marble counter, its edges round and smooth. Photographs and paintings were scattered about the walls; a rose sat in a vase near the register. It was empty except for a family in the far corner and a man at a cable near the window. You felt better in the air conditioning, cooler, so you slid onto a stool and asked for coffee and a menu. The same voices murmured from the radio here, but the volume was low and the television was off and all of it was drowned by the laughing and talking of the children. The waitress set the coffee down beside an open newspaper on the counter. She centered the cup on the saucer with her fingertips. When she asked if you wanted sugar or cream, you shook your head.

Black, the waitress replied. The hard stuff. I guess it's too early for scotch.

I've never tried it, you told her, not even once.

The waitress smiled. She had a square jaw and eyes that were kind and clear, stolid and brown. I've had more than a drop for everyone who's ever come through this place, she said.

She splashed more coffee into your cup and circled the restaurant. As you waited, you couldn't help straining toward the voices on the radio, and you noticed the sketch in the newspaper, the drawing of your face. In it, you had sunglasses on, so you refused to wear them now; you were thin, so you'd gained weight; you were clean shaven with short hair, so you'd let your hair grow. In the report, you drank and smoked, so you'd quit. Still, when you heard about another copycat, when you saw the drawing, the tightening returned as if someone had his hands around your lungs and had started to squeeze.

The man near the window stirred his coffee, clinking his spoon around the inside of his cup. The waitress scratched your order onto her pad, repeated it, asked if you wanted the radio turned up.

I've heard it before, you said. I don't want to hear it again.

Suddenly, she was close to tears. I was a stewardess once, she whispered, on one of those planes.

A silence followed, punctuated by murmurs from the radio and the man by the window stirring and stirring his coffee. The air conditioner hummed; a newspaper rustled even though there wasn't any breeze. Your cup shook against it saucer, your eyes stuck on the crude and colorful painting of Elvis. You felt an affinity with the waitress, as if she saw those years you'd spent in the dark, weighing the physics, scouring the maps, predicting the strain of weather on engines and wings. It was as if she saw the money, too, buried in the center of a ring of aspens. Back then you'd told yourself that if you did it, if you disappeared, nobody would have to do it again. You sat up straight at the counter, watching yourself from a distance. You wondered if the waitress also saw your arrogance, if she knew how many copycats you'd caused. You hadn't done it to save anyone, you thought. You'd done it because you could, and now you'd lost yourself. Now you'd disappeared.

We can't stop them, you told her. We can't stop them and it's horrible.

A crash of plates and glasses made you jump. Food was all over the table in the booth, and the mother was flushed with embarrassment. The father sat frozen, his fork hanging in his hand.

The waitress wiped her eyes. It's okay, honey, she sniffed, although it wasn't clear who she was talking to.

It happens all the time, she said.

As she cleaned the mess, the cook hollered from the kitchen. The waitress lit a cigarette and let it dangle from her lips. Skating around the counter, she tossed the wet rag in the sink.

The man by the window stirred more frantically. The waitress placed his breakfast on the table in front of him. He said something to her and caught you peeking. He gave you a tiny salute. When you found your breath and the courage to glance back, he was shaking out his napkin, situating it carefully on his lap.


THE MORNING SUN couldn't pierce the cool of the air conditioning. You slouched over the counter with a cigarette as usual, ate your hardboiled egg with bacon and hash browns, read the paper, headline to headline. With the radio on, you sipped coffee, two creams, two sugars. A decade had passed and you'd undergone three operations before starting at the restaurant. Now you barely noticed the photographs on the walls, the painting of Elvis, the fake red rose someone had left on a table for you once. With its counter and row of stools, its breakfast and lunch menus, its familiar patterns and tables, this could be any diner. Even in the army, even before, you'd always had a talent for disappearing, and you'd put that talent to the test. Now, only when you woke to news about another copycat did you remember where you were. Only then did you fear that others might see it.

A man in a suit and sunglasses entered and sat near the window. You finished the headlines, and when you glanced up, you saw he was reading the paper as well. You recognized something in him, even if he had never come into the restaurant before.

He took off his sunglasses, and you saw the sketch of yourself under his hand.

You pretended not to notice. You let out a breath you didn't know you'd been holding.

There was one who succeeded, the man said. We shouldn't forget that.

Tears formed in your eyes and you blinked them away. The air conditioning felt cold and you shivered. You mumbled something about cream and sugar, the words sticking in your throat.

A family arrived and sat in back. The husband and wife leaned into each other, and you saw they were wearing black; you saw her hand creep between his legs.The husband's neck was red, shaved against the grain, and he ordered the same breakfast you'd just eaten. Moments later the man by the window ordered it too. The bell above the door rang, and a third man burst in, doubled over, breathing in gasps. He was upset about the new hijacking; he described it as horrible, and the word hung, awful and true. You told him you'd been on one of those hijacked planes, a stewardess way back when.

A silence followed. Out of the corner of your eye, you caught the husband tipping over his youngest daughter's plate, splashing coffee and juice. You let out a long breath, grabbed a rag. The little girl watched, her gaze soft, seeing everything, understanding none of it. You gave the man at the count er a compliment, delivered breakfast to the man by the window, avoided eye contact. The story on the radio repeated itself. You lit a cigarette and settled into routine. You thought about the scotch you'd pour after a long walk home.

You had changed yourself, you thought, you had disappeared. But you had to put the lives of others in danger to do so, and now more people were dying. These copycats were killers, which made you one too. On mornings like these, you had to remind yourself that the men coming into the diner were not like you, were not you. None of them had done what you had done. The air conditioner sputtered and hummed against the morning heat. Whatever the cook was doing sounded like metal on metal, and it made you nervous. You felt as though you were about to crystallize and shatter across the tile. Out the window, almost nothing moved, almost nobody walked by. The newspaper on the counter was still open to the sketch, and you closed it when you thought nobody was looking. Your hands shook as you shoved it into the trash.

YEARS BEFORE, you'd tossed the briefcase over the edge into the mist and cold and rain, and you followed. The bomb wasn't real, didn't have to be, and  wind rushed past, your arms and legs fluttering as if they'd lost support of their bones. Your stomach disappeared, the last of the scotch inside it, and you were freezing, the dark line of trees rising up. Above, the lights of the airplane hazed through the fog, separating, merging back together. You imagined the stewardess peering over the edge, her face growing smaller and smaller.

You had jumped before, twice, both times in the army, but this time the cord didn't work. You yanked it with more force, the parachute finally snapping through the air. Again you watched yourself from a distance as you tried to swim against it. You watched your body collide with the wet ground, your muscles loosening, your joints bending into themselves, your skin somehow holding it all. Moments of clarity crept through waves of panic. You were the property of physics now. Your favorite jazz song played. Lines from the Bible presented themselves before cluttering, growing incomprehensible. Then the parachute caught and your fall became a jump again. You floated, breaking through branches, the trees picking at you, scratching your face. The parachute snagged and released. On the ground, rain pattered against mud; leaves rustled. You vomited, your head heavy on the pillow of your arm. A string of saliva ran down your cheek; mud clung to the entire length of your body.

You stood up, helpless. The wet air stretched for miles in every direction. The plane was gone, invisible, somewhere beyond the mountains. You tugged the parachute down from the trees and gathered it, heavy with mud and rain. The sack of money still tied to your chest, you stumbled for hours through  the woods, exhausted, using the movement of the clouds to help you circle toward the spot where you'd hidden the shovel under piles of moss. Without much footing, you dug a hole, the mud slipping down and replacing itself. When the money was finally buried, the shovel concealed with it, you paused to catch your breath. Two miles later, you emerged from the trees in a town you knew only from the map. You bought a sandwich and soda from the drugstore and paid for a hotel room where you removed your wet, mud-covered clothes. The bleeding you'd felt inside your sock had stopped, and you saw in the mirror that the scrapes from the trees on your face and arms weren't as noticeable as they felt. You showered and changed, balling everything up, cold and dripping, to throw in the dumpster outside. You had to leave, but you stripped the blanket off the bed and wrapped yourself in it. You sat on the white sheets, trying to quell the sickness, your hands shielding your face. You could not see yourself anymore. You'd done it, you thought; you'd disappeared.

Two Poems by Charlie Clark

Willow Springs 71
Willow Springs 71

Found in Willow Springs 87

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Devil Collecting Roadkill


So often little pieces of the bodies stay.

Not just insects or the bleaching

the roadside grasses take,

but actual fur and bone.

That's just shoddy work to him,

and puzzling, given

the county's distaste for decay.

He goes out sometimes to scrape the leavings.

Not that it's much fun for him.

It's not like he's saving them for jewelry.

He prefers that drivers see

the clean white lines hashing over black,

the sun and its dead beaming.

That's what he wants them rushing toward.


Devil's Materials (Partial List)


Sand he spits his blood into.

Buffed glass. All reflective surfaces.

Light, however weakly he corrals it.

Young men and their enthusiasms.

The way a wooden window slides.

Air, still or moving. Apples, obviously.

But also mango and wild flowers.

Commuter traffic ambulance sirens holler at.

The collected works of Jack London.

Wax museums. The writing on park

benches out in front of them.

Rawhide or any other skin.

The difference between them.

The sight of that gap closing.


“Our Own Kind” by Ann Pancake

Willow Springs 71
Willow Springs 71

Found in Willow Springs 71

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IF THEY CALL ME ANYTHING behind my back, they call me tomboy. For my brother, they have many names. Where we live, there are several ways to be a girl. To be a boy there's only one.

I'M THIRTEEN, AND IT'S THE COLDEST WINTER I've ever known. The river behind our house freezes twenty-four inches down and stays that way for two months. There is a wildcat strike in the southern part of the state, our county can't get coal for the school furnaces, and we're out for weeks. I escape the house to walk the ice.

I wear a pair of my dead grandfather's boots that my father dug out of a closet for me when I outgrew my others. Lucky for me, my grandfather was a small-footed man. The boot tread is worn nearly as glassy as the ice, so after I climb onto the river, I move with a deliberateness that makes me feel bigger than I am. I know the safest ice is a beautiful and transparent bright brown, and I lie on it face down to marvel at paralyzed bubbles, wonder how it holds given all the vertical cracks. The risky ice is opaque or white, and sometimes I play with it, creep out on it until the thrill capsizes into panic. If I'm really worried, I throw rocks ahead of myself and listen. My father has taught me thickness by ear, and not once do I crash through without knowing that it's coming. Never have I walked an openness as long, as wide, as this frozen river, so few passages in my Appalachian world untreed, unhilled, like this one is. Solitary, unwatched, emboldened by the boots, on the ice I fill myself clear to my skin.

I know what my brother is doing while I'm out on the river. He's holed up under his covers in his frigid bedroom rereading his books about Hollywood stars. There are fifteen months between him and me, so neither of us can remember a time the other wasn't, and neither can remember a time we didn't fight. Sometimes we go at it body to body, shoving, punching, hurling each other to the ground. More often we tease and goad and name-call—"pick" our mother calls it, but we both know the word "pick" isn't  brutal enough. Occasionally I enlist our four younger siblings to gang up on him. We lie in the bushes and pelt him with crabapples when he rides by on his bike. He tries to do the same, make a let's-get-Ann club, but he's usually less successful than I am because I'm the oldest.

As I leave the river and head home, everything is hard. My boots shatter dirt clods in the front field. Grass hummocks crunch under my weight. Puddles that should have evaporated weeks ago hold solid as wood right to the ground. It is a dry winter with little snow, and the snow that has come cannot melt and doesn't lay, but coasts around until it catches on fencerows, tree trunks, steep banks, and crusts over. Even without touching it, I feel the parchedness of that snow in my mouth. Back at the house, Sam closes his Hollywood book and puts a piece of paper on top. Begins another in the tornado series he's been drawing for the past couple of years. Wizard-of Oz-inspired, he rides his pencil in urgent black loops until he's coiled a funnel cloud, then adds, spinning out of it, bathtubs, houses, children, pets—all that it's sucked into itself on its rage across the land.

I DON'T KNOW HOW MUCH PEOPLE SAY to his face, but I do know he is never beaten up, never even touched, at least not outside the family. Decades later, he will tell me that back home in West Virginia no one ever called him "fag." That didn't happen until he went to college, where Pennsylvania and New Jersey boys did. But when we are kids, people occasionally do say things to me. "What's with your brother? Is he gay?" Or, "Why's your brother such a woman?" Some of the questions are sneering, jeering. Some are innocent, uncharged; the asker genuinely wants to know. In grade school, the questions are confusing. By junior high, they mortify.

When we play cowboy as pre-schoolers, our sister Catherine and I are Little Cal and  Big Cal, thrusting on our  rocking horses—there are only two—in hats and holsters. Sam always volunteers to be Mary Jane the cook, happy to trail along on foot with a tea towel around his waist for his dress and a diaper over his head for long hair. His pretend friend is a girl named Judy. Mine is Boogle, of indeterminate gender. I like Daktari and Lassie. He favors Bewitched and The Julie Andrews Show. I want to be Newton, the centaur in the Hercules cartoon. He wants to be Mary Poppins.

As we get older, Sam stages plays featuring himself, the four younger kids, and me when I deign to join in. He cobbles together ingenious costumes pulled from beds, closets, curtain rods, all to fabulous effect until one of our two audience members recognizes them. "Look at how much stuff you all dragged out!" our mother yells. "This better all get put away!" Before we are teenagers, we have just two "rock" records at our house, Jesus Christ Superstar and Hair, purchased  by our parents in a futile effort to keep up with popular culture. Superstar is okay, if a little close to Sunday School, but on Hair you can fly clear out of the county. We spend hours doing just that, all six of us flinging our bodies round and round the dining room table, barely conscious of each other, spellbound by our spectacular dance moves. We've memorized every word whether we understand it or not and wail, "Sah-duh-MEEEEEE. Fuh-lay-shee-OOOOOHH. Cunni-LIN-gus. Peder-ASTY," while in the next room our mother, in her perpetual state of seething duty, cooks dried-out deer meat and canned vegetables for eight. Sam and Laura, the only feminine female in the  family, don tablecloths and  stand on chairs so they can watch themselves in the mirror. One arm wrapped around the waist of the other, torsos swaying, Laura's head not reaching Sam's shoulder, they croon "Frank Mills" into Ping-Pong paddle microphones.

Our parents don't divide chores by gender, with one exception: It's Sam's job to dispose of dead animals the dogs drag in. Otherwise, we both load the hopper for the coal furnace; we both run the vacuum cleaner; we both cut grass; we both clear the table; we both work the garden. So outside the family, I'm always surprised, then embarrassed, and finally mad when people separate us into boy work and girl work. Because our father is a part-time minister, all eight of us are regularly invited to oven-fried chicken dinners at the homes of old ladies with reverend crushes. After we arrive, the old lady will press us three girls into kitchen service, and while we fold napkins, fill water glasses, haul platters to the dining room, I shoot dirty looks at Sam, who gloats from the couch. Before we are old enough to work legally, he and I earn under minimum at a packing shed, me on the line with the other women and one old man with a bad leg, weighing, bagging, and binding apples, then placing the plastic bags on a long table behind us, where Sam piles them in partitioned boxes and stacks them. It's the most  boring work I'll ever do. Once, after a morning and half an afternoon, I ask Sam if he wants to trade, and we work that way for another hour, me relishing the heft of the boxes, the good push-back in the muscles in my arms, the understanding that at least I'm using my body if not my mind. Until the boss walks in and immediately orders me back to the bagging line.

But although work at home is androgynous, fun is a different matter. In small town West Virginia, the three most valued activities are church, hunting, and sports, in that order. As a girl, I'm barred from two. Sam is obligated to all three. For years I watch our father march him off with his .22, then his .30-30, Sam's ears scarlet with revulsion, while I pine behind, livid with injustice because I love the woods ten times more than Sam does, and disgusted that women's rituals—canning, sewing, quilting, cooking—are all work and all indoors. Our  county doesn't have a girls' sport until Girls Athletic Association basketball in 7th grade, and by then, I'm too self-conscious to put myself on a court. Before that, when I'm still yearning, I sit tensed in the bleachers while Sam flounders through Biddy Buddy basketball, his flailing arms, his dark cloud of hair. I watch him stumble bespectacled around Little League right field, the only kid with a blue glove. At home, I borrow the glove to play searing games of catch with Catherine, and when she and I tire of that, we face off in impassioned one-on-ones, dribbling, guarding, swatting, stealing, all without a hoop. I run as fast as I can through the pasture, the cold burn livening my lungs, then veer up onto the deer paths strung along the mountainside. I forget myself in balance and speed and leaps over logs.

OUR FATHER HEARS IT ON WELD. The strike is still on. Another week of no school. The only thing worse than going, I know by this time, is staying home. Sam's in his room, spiraling his tornadoes and worshipping his Hollywood books. I'm in mine penning furtive sketches of the boy I'm in love with and laboring, without success, to draw the stories I hear in my head. We have been banished to our rooms for...fighting each other? Picking at the little kids? Teasing Laura, excluding Catherine, flicking Michael in the head? Despite the circumstances, Sam and I are always guilty, because no matter how young we are, we're still the oldest.

I roll off my bed, stand over the  trash can, and rip my sketch into a thousand dirty snowflakes. I pace from window to window to window, then stop in my doorway, lap each foot halfway over the threshold, mentally daring my mother to storm up the stairs and catch me. But whatever it is we've done, I know that even if we acted out of rage, out of what I have no other word for but hate, I know this, too: Sam and I stay away from faces. We never bloody lips. We rarely pull hair. We don't physically fight the three youngest kids at all, and our fighting each other and Catherine is mostly a ferocious and infuriate wrestling with punches to biceps and struggles to throw each other down. Only the little kids bite, and we pinch with fingers, never with nails, this rule we even say aloud. I know what happens when you kick a boy between the legs, I've resorted to it several times at school. It never occurs to me to use it on Sam.

So when I, and I assume, Sam, fight family, we fight always from a not quite conscious restraint, in the frustration of the always-hold­-back. We get only the short-lived release of fist meeting undamageable muscles, the half-catharsis of pinning the other one down. And what is it that holds us back? Responsibility? A preservation instinct toward shared genes? Fear? Love? Regardless, we have no unfettered outlet except tears and self-hurt, me punching one palm with my other fist, banging my head against the wall.

I press my body against my bedroom window, savor the cold from my belly button up. One dog jogs along the edge of the yard, her mouth flopped open in happiness. I grind my forehead into the condensation on the pane and listen to my younger siblings downstairs chasing each other, laughing. I've already asked three times if I can come out, and I hear Sam call the same and my mother yap, "No!" I feel my mind lift out of my head, I feel it rising. I feel it grating against my stained ceiling, I feel it force and squeeze and press. I feel it bust into the attic where my father says blacksnakes live, I watch it thread those snakes, hear it butt the underside of the roof. Soft thuds. Good hurt. The fourth time I call, "Can I come out?" my mother groans, "Yeess."

I make a face at her she cannot see, grab my hat, gloves, and boots, and hammer down the steps.

ON THE ICE, THE DOGS RANGE OUT ahead of me, vanish into duckweed, corn stubble, multiflora rose, check back in. At my heels pads a yellow cat named Mr. Paul who, having lived only with dogs since kittenhood, doesn't know he's a cat, much less that cats don't trail humans for hours. The ice reveals to Mr. Paul and me secret places, places I can never reach during a regular winter when the river, if it freezes at all, doesn't freeze this solid and never this long, places I've never explored despite their being less than a half mile from my backyard. Frozen lagoons carry us into bough-arched coves on the river's far side, and I can prowl the banks where summer would never let me with its thickness of brush, the itchweed and snakes. We're given passage to islands I've seen all my life and my father has names for, but that I have never been able to reach, and on one of these islands, I discover the abutments of a century-old bridge, softened in grapevine and leafless poison ivy. Elsewhere, crumbles of smaller buildings, skeletons of rodents and deer, a washed-up johnboat half eaten by a mound of silt. Mr. Paul patient beside me. The good give of my grandfather's boots.

I'm exquisitely warm except where my face meets air, and that sear­-your-cheeks cold is exquisite, too. I move in the counterpoint between the sound of my breath and the sound of my soles, on solid ice, on honeycombed ice, on the stray patch of old snow. In the middle of that river, me moving in the open treeless flat, I'm not thirteen. I'm not the mean older sister, the shy junior high student, the weird smart girl. Time softens, and in this place and this moving, I am exactly who I was playing in the creek at age four, exactly who I will be thirty years from now along some Northwest alpine lake. I am in step with everything else, I feel it, the rhythm of what beats behind. Even though to the ear nothing sounds except breath and ice, to the eye nothing moves but clouds and dogs, cat and me.

One dog skitters back, scramble-pawing the surface. I pull off my glove, take the hot nose in my hand. I lift my face and see the moon in the day sky like a boot heel track on waterlogged ice.

IN  FIFTH  GRADE, A NEW KID  APPEARS in our class. At first, no one can tell if it's a boy or a girl. His soft neat brown hair curls just over his collar, and he wears plaid pants. Both his half-smile and his huge eyes quiver like match flames, delicate and incapable of shielding themselves. I like Kevin Stephens very much. One Monday  morning, Kevin shows up with all that soft hair shaved to the scalp.

Some kids tease him about it, but when I ask him at recess what happened, I am honestly confused and a little concerned. His dark eyes glisten under the stripped skull. "My dad did it so I'll look like a boy."

Our father never pulls anything like that. I never see him punish Sam for his effeminacy or deride him. Not for the pre-schooler drag, the athletic fiascos, the jumping out of trees with umbrellas in Mary Poppins impressions. Not when the Women's Club dresses him as Minnie Pearl for their Hee Haw fundraiser—and Sam doesn't mind it—not when he and Laura roller-skate to Donna Summer albums on the concrete slab out back. Our father deals with the aberration that is Sam by removing himself from it.

Our father deals with all of us this way to some extent, and it's a method I much prefer over our mother's relentless surveillance and hotheaded "discipline." In truth, she's the only parent who directly comments on Sam's difference: "Stop that prissing around!" But our father stays more remote from Sam than he does from any of us others. And this aloofness sinks a barb into each of Sam's cells.

When I am young, I don't understand. Sam rails nonstop about how much he hates our father. Then why does he still crave his attention, want intimacy? I also don't understand why he can't just see how our father is. Because although this is not something I know in a way I can say, not even in my head, I recognized at a very early age our father's fragility. His self-absorption and remoteness and passivity are in part, I  understand, the fallout of a dark sensitivity that nearly disables him. I hear this when he tries to yell at us and can't manage anything louder than a desperate whine, watch it in his defenselessness when our mother yells at him, in how the only thing he ever asks for for Christmas is "a little peace and quiet." Most nakedly I see it in the way his eyes look without his glasses. I witness this rarely, usually only when I wake him from one of his naps, but when I do see it—the short reddish lashes, the small wet blue eyes, his face completely  unprotected—his vulnerability is so exposed I have to turn away.

I know he is simply unable to behave like a "regular" father, and for the most part I accept this, like I accept his bad back, which means he can't play running games or pull us in a wagon. But there is this, too: It is through my father that I have learned the refuge of woods. Have learned it by watching him disappear into them alone, but have learned it also through the many times he has taken me with him. Yes, while my father disappoints me and often angers me, he's also given me the outdoors, and because I expect so little else, I have little to forgive.

But I am not a son.

When Sam is six and then eight, our youngest brothers are born, and with their arrival, our father's detachment from him is finalized. Because "the little boys," as we call them well into their twenties, are real boys at last, who love football and guns and Tonka trucks and chopping down trees, much as Laura, born right before them, likes dolls and dresses and arranging hair. The three youngest fit their boy-ness and girl-ness exactly as they should, as though my parents bumbled along procreating for six years before they finally made gender right. And the love and attention the younger children seem to receive, which we do not, always feels, rightly or not, tied to the way they match up with what they're supposed to be.

BY THE WINTER I'M THIRTEEN, even I understand that the charge I feel around Sam's difference, my aversion to it, my shame when it's mentioned, is out of proportion to the usual embarrassment one feels for a sibling's oddities. Even that early, I sense murkily that something else is at stake. If I shovel deep enough and am then brave enough to look for more than a second at what I turn up, I know this: Sam's being more girl than me also means I'm more boy than him. My brother's "woman-ness" puts into sharper relief the lack in me.

I've recognized I'm not your usual girl since at least kindergarten, and it becomes more distressing as the fork between "boys" and "girls" widens with each successive year, climaxing in the eighth grade. Makeup confuses me, nail painting I find absurd, and I'm only drawn to jewelry like the leather bracelets we engrave with names during 4-H camp craft time. I never feel totally safe in a dress. In grade school, my mother and I compromise and I wear one just three days a week, but on tights I will not yield and instead yank on mismatched white kneesocks, even in temperatures in the twenties and teens. By junior high, clothes bewilder me and hair I regard as something you comb in the morning then hope for the best. All this worries my feminine friends who tamper with my sweaters and shirts and belt at lunch, and experiment with my hair at slumber parties.

I do compensate for my less-girl tendencies in small ways that don't make me a complete traitor to myself, like reminding myself not to sit with my ankle on my knee.  I carry my books against my chest when I think of it instead of dangling them naturally at my side, and I know never to wear my grandfather's  boots to school. It's not that I feel like a boy. I don't. But I don't feel like a girl, either. I just feel like myself.

For the most part, I accept my deficiencies with a muted, what-can­ you-do-about-it regret, not unlike the way I accept my father's inability to be a normal dad. Besides, even in my state of diminished girl-ness, there is no shortage of boys interested in me, even if they are almost never the ones I'm interested in. The culture in which we grow up grants far more leeway for expressing oneself as a woman than it does for expressing oneself as a man, and while at first thought this seems strange given the  sexism of the place, on second, it makes sense: If everything  male is superior, why wouldn't a masculine woman be more acceptable than a feminine man? Catherine is a bigger tomboy than I am, but no one ever asks me questions about her. We grow up with loads of kick-your-ass women stomping around, I-can-run-a-chainsaw-AND-nurse-a-baby types, almost all of them married or once married to men.

Not until junior high do I really grasp what "gay" is. I learn about "queers" through rumors about Mr. Simon, the mysterious tight-panted eighth-grade math teacher, condescending and fox­ faced, who came from someplace else. None of our female teachers appear to be gay, and "lezzies" are discussed less frequently. And because I'm obsessed with boys in general and madly in love with one in particular, that I might be a lezzy is not one of my myriad anxieties.

My mother's not much of a coach on young womanhood, which, as far as I'm concerned, makes her more of a blessing than a curse for a change. Other girls' mothers teach them how to apply eyeshadow and some even seem to siphon a thrill off their daughters' adolescent romances. To my mother, my gender is only pregnancy potential, and she lectures me about this incessantly in brusque, veiled language. The only other measure she takes is to order me to wear a bra.

Since fifth grade I have observed with cold dread bra straps appearing under other girls' shirts. My mother doesn't mention "bra" to me until seventh grade, and by that time, my breasts are peculiarly sore, but no bigger than an unspayed beagle's. No one can tell if I'm wearing a bra, I decide, unless I'm in a nearly transparent T-shirt. So I don't wear one whenever I think I can get away with it.

I'm in one of my favorite shirts, flannel, with just a few girl flairs—­a billowiness, buttons only halfway down—to rescue it from full-fledged boy clothing, on the day the vice-principal surprise announces the scoliosis check. I march off with the other eighth­ and ninth-grade girls, happy to get out of class. Until we're ordered to remove our shirts and stand in a long line in our bras and jeans. For a second, I think I'll throw up. I immediately invent a lie, beckoning the vice-principal and confiding in her that my mother doesn't want me to  have this examination. I've already had one. My mother said I don't need another. Mrs. Kelley smiles, tells  me it won't hurt, and ushers me back into line.

Most of the girls hunch over, shielding their bras and giggling. A few of the breast-brazen stand erect and defiant. I huddle humiliated, my arms crossed over my almost flat chest, the only bra-less girl in the eighth and ninth grade.

This does not go unnoticed. Later that afternoon, while we're changing classes, the boy I'm in love with corners me on the blacktop. ''Are you wearing a bra?" The tone is punitive. Not sexual. Not even curious.

"Usually I do," I say.

"Well, you better," he says. He turns and jogs away.

ONE FROZEN INTERMINABLE SUNDAY THAT WINTER, our father rises from his afternoon nap and announces he's taking us kids on a walk up the river. Often on Sunday afternoons, he'll do something like this, climb out of his detachment and usher us on outings. Our mother, famished for alone time, never comes along. On these outings, which began as soon as I could walk well, my father has taught us the names of trees and tracks, of hollows, ridges, and river eddies. More important, but without speaking of this other, he's showed me how to be with those things he names. How to look at them and behind them. How to hear the silent vibration that drums through and between them, as palpable as my own heart pushing blood.

Today, the solace of outside is muddied by my mortification of being seen with my family, whom I know, in their dishevelment, eccentricity, and sheer numbers, are even worse than the families of most teenagers. I decide I'll accompany them until we get to the river, then take off on my own in the opposite direction. But when we reach the ice, I find myself turning upstream with them because, I tell myself, there won't be a soul on the river to witness my presence in this pathetic entourage. And, I don't tell myself directly, because I can only think it under words: time with my father, even diluted by five other beings, is precious.

I keep to the outskirts, range twenty to thirty yards off the perimeter of the group. Sam orbits the outside, too, but closer in, him like Mr. Paul, me like a dog. Ahead of us, the four little kids bubble around the pole of my father, them in their motley hand-me-downs, their hoods and tied-on hats with tails, the brown cotton gloves with cowboys on the backs worn by all the little kids in town because Santa hands them out at the bank party. Sam and I are dressed almost exactly alike, each of us in a plaid wool coat we got for Christmas, identical in cut, different only in pattern and color. Our boots are nearly the same, too, only Sam, because he's a boy, gets a new pair at Western Auto each year. Sam is in the kind of knit cap we call a toboggan, forest-green with a maroon stripe around the brim. I wear a Miami Dolphins toboggan not because I'm a fan, but because it's the only team our town's clothing store had on the rack.

We move in our disjointed troop over the ice, under a sun dampened by rumpled clouds, between the skeleton-work of naked trees on the banks. Once in a while, a little kid will kneel, drop their face to the surface, and try to see through. When we reach the giant sycamore where we usually turn around, we take a break. The younger ones run and slide in their rubber boots on the rumpled, pitty ice, ice-skate-pretending. I turn my back on them and climb the steep bank to the cornfield above us.

Up here, on the side of the river opposite our house, the fields hold the mountains back a little. I can squint across more than a mile of broad bottom, spot the dogs in the stubble snorting groundhogs and rabbits. This valley is the biggest open I ever enter, and I can reach it alone only by swimming or by way of the ice. It's even colder up here, with more wind than on the river, and I pull my chin into the collar of my coat. In this wide open, there spreads out of me a yearning, without shape and with nothing touchable at its end. Up here, there is no place for it to stop against, like there is in closer-in mountains, like there is on the frozen river, a more narrow open than this up here. I stand with this widening feeling until it's just about to frighten me. Then, quick, I turn away and scrabble down the bank to a ledge not far above the ice.

And jump.

My boots slip when I hit the ice. I pitch forward, and one hundred ten pounds crash onto one knee. At first the knee doesn't understand, then the pain missiles in, ricochets through my whole right side, and missiles back to the knee. I'm collapsed on my hands and the unhurt knee, and before I can stop her, the child in  me swim-kicks  straight to my surface, open-mouthed desperate for sympathy. And hears Sam burst into laughter.

I jerk my head, and through my dangling hair I spy Sam pointing at me so the others can see how funny it is, too. I surge to my feet to go after him, the knee shrieks, the tread less boot slips, and I fall back on my hands on the ice. Then I remember our father's here. And he hasn't laughed. But he also hasn't said a word of comfort or of reprimand.

"Why don't you do something?" I scream. "I hurt myself, and he's laughing at me."

My father doesn't look at me. As I sprawl on the ice gasping with rage and injustice and hurt, he herds the younger children  together. I tug at my pants leg to show the damaged knee, but the denim's too tight, and now the others are floating away. Anger tears, the only ones I ever make because they're the only ones I can't  control, heat my lashes, my cheeks, and my anger at those tears makes even more. I finally hoist myself to my feet, still clutching the knee, my hair wild in my face. Watch the ice expanding between my family's bedraggled backs and  me.  As usual, Sam follows a little ways off and  behind. He turns for a moment and smirks at me.

THE TRUTH IS, WHEN WE WERE IN GRADE SCHOOL, I spent almost every Friday night in Sam's room. On his top bunk until the bunk beds were given to the little boys, then on a pallet of blankets I'd heap on his floor. The truth is, even though I was fearless outdoors, I was terrified of indoors dark. When I slept alone it was always with covers over my head, and more times than I wanted to admit I was reduced to bleating for my mother who would shuffle, exhausted, into my room, murmur that I was all right, then shuffle away. She wouldn't let me sleep in Sam's room on a school night because we talked too much. On Friday nights, if I'd been good, I could.

And we did talk, about school, about movies and TV, he listened patiently while I rambled on about my classmates. We turned the way our parents injured us into jokes, we invented codes, intoned, "Sweets for the sweet, macaroon" as our secret phrase for our mother's ability to don a saccharine public face seconds after verbally flaying us. As Sam and I lay invisible to each other, the fights had never been, would never be.  With our bodies vanished, our spirits touched. Twin outsiders, conjoined scapegoats. Solitary together.

By grade school, Sam sleeps silent and still, even through mysterious nosebleeds that wash his pillow red. But when he was a toddler, he was a headbanger, and right after that, a bedrocker. I can't remember why I slept in his top bunk then, I didn't ask to, but I was often put there. In those times, when we were three, four, five years old, I'd lie in that top bunk, swaying, and let Sam rock us both to sleep.

I CONSTELLATE AT A DISTANCE. The pain-pulse in my knee is the perfect background beat for my righteous indignation. My lips are parted, my teeth bared, the ache of intense cold against them both provocation and perverse comfort. I feel the hackle of my shoulders, my arms forked off my sides. I am cocked. I move in that aural paradox of frozen dry air, the way it mutes background hum yet amplifies each individual sound, me steal thing along in the hah of my breath, the snuff of my running nose, the shatter of my grandfather's boots on brittle surface ice. No one in the family looks back at me after that one Sam smirk. My father like a stake with the four younger ones tethered off it.

As I draw nearer, I step carefully around the crusty places. I let my nose drip. Sam is about forty feet off to the side of the others.

I rush him from behind.

He yelps as I knock him down, his voice immediately muffled by his scarf and then my body. I'm on his back punching him through his plaid coat, kneeing him in the butt. He twists out from under me, my toboggan-padded head thumps the river, we grapple on our sides to keep each other down, our bodies spinning together across ice, no purchase for feet, for elbows or hips. My bad knee slams the ice and I suck air at the shock. Until the year before this one, I was always a little bigger, a little more powerful. Now at twelve and thirteen, we're exactly matched. I snake one hand up his sleeve, the surprise of the warmth even through my glove, and clutching him by that bare arm, I make a fist with my other hand and pound his coat-covered ribs while he grabs my face with his spread palm. But I shake free. Then Sam rips loose, screams some insult, and darts away, slipping and catching himself, adjusting his glasses as he goes. I'm left slumped on the ice, heaving for breath, hot enough to melt a hole.

He trots after the family, all of them currenting slow down the river under the dimming sky. I see one of the little boys point off to the side at something, and they all look. No one looks at me. I roll to a squat, and then I hunch there, a human bonfire of hatred. The kind of hatred one only feels for family, that very hottest hatred because of how much else is in it—the history, the allegiance, the jealousy, the way they look and smell like you, the play and work and make-believe, the love. How all of that, instead of diluting the hatred, concentrates and magnifies it, as though the complicatedness opens up crevices and shafts and craters inside, giving the hate more places to penetrate. Yet despite that, and because of that, even now I fight him with maddening restraint, with half-powered punches, under frenzied self-control not to really hurt, fury screaming against responsibility. I stagger to my feet, not even feeling the knee anymore. Nothing in me any longer thinks. I am animal and I am ancient, hypnotized by the heartbeat in my ears. This time, I don't even walk. I hover over ice. The last stretch I sprint without touching down.

I slip right as I reach him  but pull him down with me anyway, then we're thrashing on ice, and I taste, familiar, his bare fingers in my mouth. I hear his glasses skitter away, he seizes the ends of my scarf to choke, I recognize a great idea and do the same. The cotton burns my neck like carpet on a bare knee, Sam gnashing a steady stream of hate words while I can manage, as always, only hisses and grunts, and he finally pins me under him, still sawing the scarf, the spit from his names spattering my eyes, and then he pivots into a position from where he can both hold me down and kick, his boot hammering my shoulder, me so adrenalined I feel only dull thuds. Then I seize his kicking leg, and he topples so hard I hear a crack way down in the ice. And  behind all this, a vague awareness that our father knows, may even be watching. But does not intervene.

The next time it is Sam who attacks. I see him coming, I brace, I meet him chest to chest. From then on, we ambush each other by turns, ripping off toboggans and sailing them away, grabbing arms to reel the other down, at least once me riding his back, him knocking me loose by dropping and rolling. Then we retreat, panting like boxers, him scurrying to the edge of the others, me taking refuge in the aloneness of the ice. The other kids glance our way occasionally, but they've seen us fight a hundred times, and lose interest fast. If our father were asked why he doesn't step in, I know in the dark of my brain what he'd say: I'm just sick of your all's fighting. And I don't have the energy to  fool with it today. In a thin pinched voice while his eyes roam away.

By the time we reach the old grape arbor that runs the length of our backyard, I am so wrung out I can barely stand. We must all pass the arbor to get to the house, its grapes long dead from blight, the wooden trellis still supported by cement posts the girth of my thigh. I'm of course in the rear, Sam a bit in front of me, one wary eye over his shoulder, my father and the little boys just ahead of Sam. I see Laura and Catherine racing ahead, I hear the screen, I know the fight will be over the second my mother finds out. I inhale, and in that swell of lung, I gather every particle of power I have left. I harden my face, my teeth, my hands. I barrel across the yard and fling myself at Sam.

We have each other by wads of coatsleeves, each of us bent-kneed and panting, desperately trying to swing the other down. My eyes blur with exhaustion, it's only colors and textures I see—the over bright green of the frost-sharp grass, the gray-blue quilting of sky, the already dark mountains leaning all around—and I cannot think at all. We are too tired even to punch. He tears off my toboggan and I rip away his. We stagger there, deadlocked in our embrace, until I hear our father say, in a voice unloud and without emotion, as though he's offering mundane advice:

"Hit her head against the post."

At these words, some last reserve volcanoes into Sam. I feel it before he moves. Then he shoves me, hard. My body finally fails. He slings me across the short span of yard between us and the arbor. He slams my head into the cement post.

I feel first just raw scrape of scalp, then a ring—more light and sound than hurt—until it ripples out. The agony hits in the echo of it. I drop on my side, blinded, and inside my skull, a hard black wave batters side to side. I don't pass out, and I feel nothing—no anger, no self-pity, no righteous indignation, no vengeance, not even hate—except my struck head.

Then I'm on my hands and knees, crawling away from the arbor across hard grass to retrieve my hat. I half-see, half-sense Sam and my father—I register the anomaly of the two of them together—almost to the door. I hear my father say, "She won't be fighting you again."

EVEN NOW, THIRTY-FIVE YEARS LATER, I feel more surprise about his telling Sam to do it than I register injustice or brutality. Simple surprise because our father—passive, self-contained—had never before so explicitly stepped in. I'm not surprised once he got involved, he took the boy's side—even if that boy was one he held at a distance all his life—because convention deemed it "natural" that he would. "Natural," too, the roles he assigned us: conquering male, victimized female. I am not surprised he broke the subtle rules of our fights, our code of restraint, of responsibility for each other, because his all-or-nothing perspective seemed to me the way grownups "naturally'' thought.

But perhaps the unfairness and brutality don't faze me because the "natural" order of things was exactly what Sam and I had already learned to give the slip. I don't remember in detail what happened after I went down, but obviously I picked myself up, no doubt sought comfort from the dogs, and after some time feeling sorry for myself, returned to being me. In the end, the boy slot and girl slot our father slammed each of us into held not much longer than the ringing in my head. Even if we weren't aware of it at the time, Sam and I had started the process of making ourselves our own kind of boy, our own kind of girl.

TWO WEEKS AFTER, the temperature spikes. The river breaks. I hear it in the night. Table-big slabs of ice wreck up along the banks, and the secret places on the islands and the far side are once again shut away.

I climb over the stranded ice chunks with my coat hanging open, no gloves, no hat. My boots are mud to their laces. Thaw smell richens my head, the softening soil, the rotted plants, the fecund dead. In the ice I discover barrels that used to be docks, a hellgrammite seine, a woman's plastic raincoat, the corpse of a great blue heron, all of these surprises, along with the aroma of spring, the river's compensation for binding me again to one bank. I range over and under the puzzle of sycamore root, balance on exposed rocks, relish the hold of boot leather below my calves. The dogs are intoxicated, too, but the ice is too sharp, the ground too mucky, for Mr. Paul. He labors behind me for a little while, and then he vanishes home.

Back at the house, the little boys ride their Big Wheels. Our father takes a nap. Our mother stirs the chili. Catherine pounds a basketball. Laura comforts a doll. The blacksnakes prowl the attic. Sam pores through his movie star books, creates a fresh tornado.

I don't know that in just ten years, Sam will move to Los Angeles, step into his books and eventually onto the screen, a place and a profession where he can be any kind of man he chooses. I don't know that I'll be less certain, live in ten different places in my twenties and thirties, love both men and women. I don't know that many women in other regions are more choked than women in Appalachia, but if I skirt the prevailing current, there are ways to be a woman never imagined back home.

What I know, along this thawing river on top of muddy ice, is how to stand still enough long enough that the front of my chest falls completely away. How to feel dogs, water, sky, trees, beating in time with what moves behind. How it's only when I find that rhythm in myself that I reach my realest me.

“Night Prayer of a Woman Living Alone” by Meggie Monahan

Willow Springs 71
Willow Springs 71

Found in Willow Springs 71

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Lord, make me a glitter ceiling that sings Billie Holiday songs

to distract me when the men start shouting down the street

and I only want to hear crickets and a dishwasher hum

and Billie's sweet croon. Make me a tree house

full of sandwiches, Lord--Thanksgiving stuffing sandwiches

with extra butter, tomato & pesto sandwiches, peanut butter

& cinnamon sandwiches--and let all of my sandwiches

be on my favorite thick white bread, the kind my shitty doctor says

I'm not supposed to eat anymore. Lord, let me just rest

on a bed of ciabatta, plug my ears with dough and disappear

into the spongy holes. Make me a romantic comedy marathon

and a German Shepherd that won't shed and won't piss the house.

Make me a party with bite-sized appetizers, loafers and heels,

and let everybody laugh for all the right reasons, and let them stay

and stay. Lord, just make me an invisible cape, and the next time

my boss straightens his tie to tell me everything I'm doing wrong,

I'll be out the door and into the sun. Make me camouflage

from the alley fence, the broken glass, the flattened pigeon wings,

and let it wrap around my stupid heart and make me stand,

unseen. Make me small and forgettable, Lord. Or make me a taser.

A faster runner, a black belt, a booby trap--I'll be crowbar,

blowtorch, razor blade, and fresh ice on concrete. Make me

the eight-inch chef's knife under the mattress, the one I stole

from my parents' kitchen. Make me a padlock and a panic button.

Make me a night-light, a cell phone that won't die in the dark.

Make me sleep. Make me wake up on time. Make me a fist,

a gun, a hit list of my own. Or, Lord, just make me a man.

“An Etiquette for Eyes” by Cate Marvin

Willow Springs 72
Willow Springs 72

Found in Willow Springs 72

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I don't know if
l wore glasses
when I met you


but I know
the last time
I saw you


you drank a                                                                                                                        drink I bought                                                                                                                  you with another


woman who
was far uglier
than I have


ever been. I have brown eyes, did I ever tell you?
Your eyes are too too blue, tell-all awful, and too too
pretty; you make all the girls swoon, and then
lament how harpies pound on your door, plucking
the very shingles off your roof, conducting through
their unanimous will. A plot to kill your hive's queen,
fix a hose from the car's tailpipe, to pump barnyard
dread straight into your ken, therefore you demand
I ought never wish to lie in your bed. I have black eyes,


did I tell you? Your eyes are damp blue, fingers in
winter blue, worrying about a prom date blue, never
washed a dish blue. Have I mentioned my eyes are
dead brown, dirt brown, stone brown, done with you
brown, screaming out in the streets I'm so drunk brown,
I'm just ignoring the noise rising up from streets asleep
brown? As in, as brown as dead leaves because my love's
eyes were dead brown and when he shouted down at
that drunk on the street that New Year's Eve from


my third floor window that drunk man called him
Whiskey Whore Boy. His eyes were not wish­
wash blue, his eyes were mostly moss and trees,
not mojitos in a barroom, no, his eyes all gin-lit in
a hotel room,  last night were ice-cold, even
in his farewell he was bold, his eyes anyone might
have called plain, but they could at least cry. I am
sick to death of your blue eyes, fabric eyes, flower
eyes. I have brown eyes, plain and seeing eyes behind


thick frames, glassy eyes handing themselves over
to you in buckets. Eyes, dig your hands into my black
soil eyes, my ugly eyes reaching into your eyes for
my twin eyes, look back at me eyes while your eyes
crawl the walls, cloud -blue, wandering off as milky
bosomed maids will look away from the eyes that
seek the crevices deep between their heavy breasts
that sway beneath the cows they bend no milk eyes.
Won't you have another drink from my silty yonder


eyes? I may look
plain but I've got
roses in my blood,


can bloom right
out the soil of these
here brackish eyes,


wander a limb across
the chest of your
country, unlock


the footlocker of your
desire with the tip
of my vine eyes.

Issue 72: Maxim Loskutoff


About Maxim Loskutoff

Maxim Loskutoff grew up in Missoula, Montana. After graduating from Pomona College, he worked in hospitals in Dallas and Chicago, on campaign trails, and in the Middle East. He holds an MFA from NYU, where he was a Veteran’s Writing Fellow. He’s received fellowships from the Jentel Arts Colony, Caldera Art Center, and NYU Abu Dhabi. His stories have been published or are forthcoming in Narrative MagazineWitnessHobart, and The Minnesota Review, among other publications.

A Profile of the Author

Notes on “Prey”

The idea came from a true story. A friend of a friend woke up in bed with his giant snake. I never met the guy and only heard the thirty second version, but still, it was helpful. It’s one of the first short stories I ever finished, so to have that thread of truth gave me confidence. To know I could get as weird as I wanted because, hey, real life is even weirder. Much of my writing I’ve done since then continues to explore the relationships we form with wild animals. How we want them to love us and guide us when—in my experience—the very thing that draws us to them is their essential wildness: the fact that they’d just as soon chew your leg off and drag it into the woods as snuggle.

Growing up, I was exposed to a great deal of Native American literature and folklore, and I always found the role animals play incredibly beautiful. Then I’d read in the local newspaper about some dude who tried to pet a bison and got trampled. There’s a tension there that I love, and more than anything in my work, I want to feel that awe of the wild, that shivering feeling you get when you walk a little too far and night is coming.

Notes on Reading

Honestly, I have a somewhat mixed relationship with reading. Growing up in small-town Montana, I read voraciously and it was purely a pleasure. Earth-shaking discoveries on the regular, running from Salinger and Hemingway to Didion and Carver—tears and getting turned upside down. I read a book called Warlock when I first got to college that made me want to run through a wall. That much joy.

Now, it’s become work in some respects. I’m so aware of the seams, the joints, trying to figure out how a story works, that it can burn me out, and only really really special stuff retains that transportive power. And I have to be careful of the really, really special stuff too, because I can be such a mimic. If I read too much Cormac, too much DFW, too much Denis Johnson or Lydia Davis, I start to sound like them. Or, to put it right, I start to sound like a pale, flailing imitation. So reading can be a fraught experience. All that being said, I do read. Most recently, I stumbled on a book of Kafka’s parables—absolutely killer. I sit down with them and never want to emerge.


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