Two Poems by Sara Burge

issue 92 cover

Found in Willow Springs 92

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Sexy Fish

One way to begin a new life is to be miserable in the current, so miserable you fantasize about opening a bar or food truck, anything to fool yourself more easily into believing a morsel of what yo do matters. You do a few shots on the first beautiful Saturday night of spring and they go straight to your fingertips while your husband, two drinks deeper fires up the grill and you think about a riverside bar you drank at a few years back, how it's up for sale, how you had years of restaurant experience and are still a pro at gauging the ebb and flow of a crowd, knowing how deep in the weeds the fronts and back of the house are and how to smile when you want to spit. That bar and seafood has always been your favorite, so you decide to open a seafood bar right there riverside, open air patio, little bubblies on the water, where you'll plant sunflowers and daisies and black-eyed susans and you feel yourself surfacing in your drunkenness, in the first dream you've entertained in years. A dream like a fish undulating underwater, serene in its own fishiness. You want to dive down among slick stones, into the clarity of rapids where you've always trusted your body's instincts. You will call your restaurant Sexy Fish. At Sexy Fish, all that matters is eating some fish by the river, knowing you're sexy, having a couple drinks too many until you dip a toe, an armpit, a thought into all that water, trying not to cry at all those bright splashes passing you by.


Harry Styles is The Way

I didn't care one way or the other about Harry Styles
until I noticed him smiling at me
from the sunroom of a house I used to pass by

back when we were all going somewhere.
It was startling until I realized
he was a lifesize cardboard cutout.

At Halloween, he wore a Chewbacca mask
At Christmastime, Harry was
decked out in a Santa hat.

He smiled at me for a couple years.
He never aged.
I started looking forward to him.

He became a custom, a strange jolt of comfort
when the days were too stagnant, too cruel.
Then he disappeared.

I wondered if the family moved,
or a child took Harry to college.
I kept waiting for his comeback.

Despair invaded every breath.
Every turn of the ignition.
Every window passed.

I started overcooking my eggs.
The cosmos called and said Harry would've stayed
but a lot of people didn't like the way he dressed.

A lot of people started crying in my office.
I smiled and nodded empathetically.
We all felt his absence and knew

we had to go home until he returned.
Some CEOs were brought on board.
They told us to keep going out,

even with no Harry Styles watching over us.
They assured us that there was no danger
as long as we're not afraid

and pretend everything's the way
it used to be, even though
Harry Styles is still missing.

I kept hoping he'd return
at Christmas when the son or daughter visited
or someone dug him out of the basement.

But he hasn't come back.
That sunroom is just a room,
and I don't look anymore.

That's a lie. I look every time.


“Coffee With Werewolves” by Teresa Milbrodt

issue 92 cover

Found in Willow Springs 92

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LEAVING TOWN IS AN ESCAPE in slow motion. As I load boxes into the back of Lee's Ford Maverick, it feels like we're in one of those horror movies she loves, fleeing danger when we can't see who's chasing us. With Vietnam, Watergate, and all the Soviet nuclear business on the radio, running away from an additional monster just adds another layer to things that could go wrong.

But nothing has yet," Lee reminds me. "The point is to get out before something does."

I know that's the case, but hearing Lee say it aloud is scary. I'm getting used to the idea of Lee and me, me and Lee, that we have a stake in each other, though neither of us have said We're a couple. We're going to stay with Lee's Aunt Florence and rent her extra bedroom. Aunt Florence knew Lee wanted to be called "she" before Lee mentioned it, and she's never asked questions about the change in pronouns.

I have a new job since I managed a transfer from my old bank to a local branch. Lee is less intent on finding work and more on locating a doctor who'll renew her prescription for estrogen and a therapist who won't tell her she's crazy. Her current doctor and counselor are five hours away in Chicago. Lee would rather not have the long drive but says it's not too far for understanding. She's been on hormones for six months. Any doctor will want her to live as a woman and take estrogen for at least a year before she considers surgery.

"More hospitals are performing them so there's less chance of being denied by some stupid board," Lee says hours later as we hang blouses in our new closet at Aunt Florence's place. "But I'll need enough money to pay for it, and who knows how long that'll take.

Lee has read everything she can find about transsexuality, which amounts to three good books, five stupid ones, and a scattering of magazines. She saw six asshole therapists in three states before she found the one in Chicago who asked non-insulting questions: Is Lee willing to give up her job and take a drastic pay cut? Is she willing to lose friends and family? Is she willing to risk the possibility of assault if someone decides she's not passing well enough?

"She's up front with me," says Lee. "There's no easy path. but I'm done lying. At least when I lose my family, I won't be the first person who's been disowned for stupid reasons."

"You have Aunt Florence and me," I say, though I know that's cold comfort.

Lee kisses my forehead. I feel her mouth strain into a smile.


AFTER THREE DAYS and a few evening chats with Aunt Florence, Lee applies for a bank teller position so she can gather references and practice being a woman in the world full-time. We bought more skirts and dresses for her at Goodwill, and Aunt Florence says Lee can have some of her old clothes. Lee is five-eleven and Aunt Florence used to be that tall before she started shrinking.

"I think of it as condensing," Aunt Florence says.

"At least we're both small-chested." Lee fingers one of Aunt Florence's sweaters as we peruse her closet.

"Give it time," says Aunt Florence. "You're blossoming."

"I'm wilted today," Lee says, rubbing her lower back. I give her a backrub before bed, turning on the radio so Diana Ross can soothe us. Lee was in a car accident ten years ago that messed up her spine. She has the kind of persistent pain that makes doctors shrug and tell her to take more Tylenol.

"The corset helps," she but murmurs I like into the her pillow. "I thought it would be uncomfortable, but I like the pressure. It reminds me to have good posture. Someday I'll get the boobs to fill out the top."

"I don't have the boobs to fill out the top," I say.

"But nobody looks at you twice when you walk into the grocery store," says Lee.

"It's because you have cute clothes, perfect makeup, and you're model slender," I say.

"If you insist," says Lee. "I still worry about my voice every time I open my mouth. It's not just speaking breathy or in falset­to. It's the cadences, the pauses, the rhythms. It'll take a while to figure out."

I massage her shoulders with the heels of my hands. For someone like Lee, vaulting between terror and defiance is a logical course of emotion.


ON THE DAY OF HER JOB INTERVIEW, which is my first day of work at the new bank, Lee gets up an hour before me so she can put herself together. I roll on my stomach and clamp a pillow over my head to steal extra minutes of rest, After a week and a half of sharing a bedroom, I know her routine. She stuffs the top of the corset with pantyhose, shaves her arms and legs (every other day), and spends forty minutes on makeup. Lee pastes down her eyebrows with a glue stick, smooths on foun­dation, lightens the dark areas under her eyes, dusts blush on her cheekbones, draws in clean eyebrows, brushes on two col­ors of eyeshadow, adds definition with eyeliner, and fills out her mouth with lipstick and lip pencil. She accessorizes with two bracelets and three rings.

I get up in time to dig a skirt and blouse from the closet and smear on pink lipstick. Behind my round glasses frames, nobody cares about my eyes.

I don't know how rigorously they interview tellers at the bank, but Lee comes out of the back offie smiling. She's never been a teller, but after being employed as a loan officer for fourteen years, she's familiar enough with the system to fake it. Lee spends the afternoon training with me and Jenny who works at the window on my left and has been at this bank since the beginning of time (according to Jenny). She looks to be in her mid-sixties, about as old as Aunt Florence, and calls Lee and me "Sugar." We wade through the day one customer at a time, supporting ourselves with five-minute coffee breaks and little stools. When we don't have customers, Jenny and I discuss our favorite brands of shoe insoles.

What did you think?" I ask Lee that evening when we debrief in Aunt Florence's kitchen with a beer.

"So much standing," she says. "I'm not used to it."

"It takes a while," I say. We need to get better shoes for Lee, comfortable, stylish flats. I changed into jeans and sneakers like usual after work, but Lee kept her blouse and skirt.

"It's nice to be in this body full time," she says. Before our move when she was still dressing as a guy, Lee stripped her shirt and tie after work and put on stockings and a dress.

On evenings when Aunt Florence isn't pulling a late shift at the diner, she works with Lee on refining her female mannerisms: keeping her legs together, crossed or uncrossed, swishing her hips slightly when she walks, gesturing with her hands when she talks. Lee has practiced these things for years and I think she does fine, but she wants more feedback.

On nights when Aunt Florence works, Lee and I have a quick dinner then drive to a bar near the edge of town where it's easy to be anonymous. I order a beer, Lee has a glass of red wine, and we practice our voices. I'm trying to speak in a lower register so people take me seriously. That was after one of the tellers at my old bank compared my tone to a cheerful pixie. I think she meant it as a compliment, but I was appalled. I want to be a dusky alto who commands respect.

"I'll go doctor hunting next week," Lee says. "That or drive back to Chicago like I said I wouldn't do. I also didn't think I'd be a bank teller."

I pat her hand across the table. "It's a start."

"I didn't burn all the bridges at the old job," she says. "Can't throw away that schooling and experience. Yet."

"Would you ask them for references?" I say.

"When hell freezes over," she says. "But stranger things have happened."


AT WORK LEE PRACTICES her voice in comfortable snatches:

"How may I help you?"

"Would you like ones or fives?"

"Thank you for your business. Have a lovely afternoon." She pops Tylenol in the break room—I think her feet and back give her more problems than her voice—and she stays with the teller job for a month before quitting. The work is repetitive, there's not much problem-solving, and wearing a plastic smile is tiring.

"I have to be okay with making less money," she says to herself and me when we go to the bar. "It's a stupid economic reality. But I need to find something less mind-numbing."

"Gee, thanks," I say.

"You're used the rhythm," she says. "And you want to save energy for your artwork. I need something with more sub­stance, but none of the higher-ups at the bank are women."

I nod. Welcome to girlhood.

'Two days later, Aunt Florence a job lead. One of her regulars at the diner said an office position came open at the insurance agency where he works.

"It's mostly customer service and paperwork," she says. "But I know Steve, the guy who owns the agency. He's a good customer and a fair tipper." Aunt Florence puts in a good word for Lee as an organized person with office experience. After a fifteen-minute phone chat with Steve, Lee wins an interview for the following Monday. She can't sleep the night before, tosses and turns beside me, but lands the job after a half-hour conversation.

"They were desperate," she tells me that evening. "Steve was was overjoyed I could type forty words a minute."

By week's end, she's answering phones, gathering forms, relaying questions to agents, and getting paper cuts. Aunt Florence hears through the diner grapevine that Lee is a hit.

"She has a reputation for retaining customers who call with questions about increases to their premiums," Aunt Florence tells us at breakfast.

"It's not difficult," says Lee. "You help people imagine the worst thing that could happen and say you can help them avoid it."

There's no sales pitch like old-fashioned fear. Over the next month Lee makes an uneasy peace with the job and devotes more time to thinking about her gestures.

"There's so much to remember," she says. "Like your head tilt. Do you think about your head tilt?"

"I have a head tilt?" I say.

"Exactly," says Lee. "It's a very feminine head tilt."

"What's the difference between a feminine head tilt and a masculine head tilt?"

"What masculine head tilt?" she says.

Before Lee and I became friends, my only concern with gender was when I could wear jeans, when I couldn't wear jeans, and when I had to wear makeup. Now I know she watches me shuffle around the kitchen as I make grilled cheese sandwiches and move like a girl, though most days I don't feel very girly.

Before we moved, Lee dragged me out to go roller skating or hiking on the weekends, but being a woman in the world exhausts her. She's started spending Saturday afternoons at the library where she shares cigarettes with Nance, the local history librarian, and checks out books about local ghosts, monsters, and assorted demons.

"Nance wrote two of them based on legends she collected from older folks," Lee tells me. She loves any story that could be the plot of a B horror flick, so I'm not surprised when she asks if I want to take a road trip on Sunday.

"An hour and a half east of here there's a cemetery where one of the stones doesn't want to stay put." Lee coughs. "They move it to the back of the graveyard, but a week later it's by the front again. It's supposed to be the ghost of a young woman. Worth checking out."

WE DON'T TAKE FLOWERS to the cemetery but Peanut M&Ms, which Lee likes, licorice whips, which I like, and Lemonheads, which we both like. We need something to eat on the drive, and something to leave for Gudrun, the girl with the wandering headstone. She was twenty-seven when she died, younger than me, though I know medical care wasn't good at the time.

I'm in charge of our maps and rub my hands together as we drive.

Lee glances sideways at me. "You achy or nervous?"

"Achy," I say. It's not a lie since my joints are stiff from the week at work, though graveyards make me anxious. I blame Lee offer dragging me to scary movies, though I never declined the offer of a ticket and all the Junior Mints I cared to eat.

It's three in the afternoon when we reach the cemetery. Lee had cranked up Carly Simon and Stevie Wonder on the radio, which makes the graveyard seem less imposing until she turns off the engine. The cemetery is appropriately gothic, with ivy-covered wrought iron gates, tombstones with engravings so weathered it's nearly invisible, and no other car in sight.

Lee parks along the shoulder, I grab the bag of candy, and we begin our hunt for Gudrun. Many of the markers are a century-and-a-half old. Some are tiny, and others are much larger and look like four-foot-high replicas of the Washington Monument. Lee and I wander for a good twenty minutes, peering at faint letters until an older lady wearing coveralls and a wide-brimmed blue gardening bat comes tromping through the grass.

"You looking for Gudrun?" she says. "That's usually the case when folks seem like they don't know where they're going. Guddie is real popular."

"We brought licorice for her," I say holding out the bag so she knows we come as friends.

"And Peanut M&Ms," says Lee.

"Aren't you the sweetest," the lady says and introduces herself as Tilda, the cemetery groundskeeper and archivist.

"Guddie's over here," she says, marching us toward the front of the cemetery. "Least for the moment. I'm sure they'll move her back, but the maintenance department is getting sick of it. Takes them longer to come every time. I figure one day they'll just leave her be."

"Why won't they do that now?" says Lee.

Tilda shrugs. "They say the stone has to go with the body. I say it don't make much difference long as they're both in the cemetery, but town council don't mind me on those matters. They want me to keep the records straight and the grass mowed."

As we walk, Lee lights a cigarette. Tilda takes her own pack of Marlboros from her pocket and asks for a light. After an appreciative puff, she tells us more about Gudrun. There are at least eight different stories about how she died, and probably more that don't get repeated as much. In one version she succumbed after childbirth—the county doctor was a twit—and she wanted to be near the front of the cemetery so he'd see her stone every day when he drove past in his buggy.

Another story claimed she died in the county asylum after she was sent there by her husband. He wanted to get a divorce and had her ruled insane, then hid her tombstone in the back of the cemetery after she passed.

A third tale suggests she was run over by a carriage owned by one of the richest men in town, who also had the largest and most expensive stone at the front of the graveyard. Even in death, Gudrun wouldn't let him upstage her.

Here she is," says Tilda, stopping by a rounded marble head-stone with an angel sitting on top. "The angel chipped one of its wings a while back, but that hasn't stopped Guddie from flying where she pleases. That stone may look small, but it's over three hundred pounds. Harold's got a bad back and Guddie's wearing him down. She'll have her way in the end.

I place three pieces of licorice in front of the angel and wonder what kind of expression she had when newly carved. She looks like she's kind smirking, but maybe that's my dream of poetic justice. Lee adds a handful of M&Ms to my offering, then gives some to me and Tilda who nods her thanks and tells us to have a lovely whatever-this-is.

There's a lesson in that," Lee says after Tilda resumes her grass-tending duties. "Someone tries to put you in your place, you just move. They put you back, you move again. And again. And again. Until their back gives out."

"How do we make their back give out faster?" I say.

"Numbers," says Lee, eating another Peanut M&M. "The more of you there are, the harder it is to move you."


NOW THAT SHE'S befriended a historian with a penchant for the paranormal, Lee has a new destination for us every weekend.

"We have to go to this town where there are mutant people living in the woods," she tells me one evening at the bar. "They were victims of a government experiment."

"Its sounds like a movie I saw with my cousin Roger when we were in high school," I say. Lee flips through her notebook undaunted.

"There's a lizard man who lives along the river near Loveland, a ghost dog that haunts the lawn around a county courthouse and sniffs people's rears, and a haunted pond with a farm at the bottom," she says.

"A ghost dog that sniffs rears?" I say.

"The pond was created when a hydroelectric dam was built." says Lee. "This farmer was kicked off his land and wasted away with grief. Now he sits on the bank looking mournful. If you see him, you're supposed to give him a beer."

"What kind of dog?" I ask.

"There's also a haunted bus just outside of Youngstown that picks up passengers and doesn't drop them off. We might not look for that one." She flips to the next page. "A couple of years ago in Defiance, people reported there was a werewolf running around shaking the doors to their houses and trying to get inside."

"How did they know it was a werewolf if they didn't open the doors?"

"The newspaper article said it was a hairy, grunting creature," says Lee. "We could hang out in a park around dusk and see what happens."

"We'll never be seen again," I say. "Except maybe for smeared blood."

"We'll get burgers for dinner," she says. "And an extra for the werewolf. Maybe it would like to chat, but everyone runs away screaming."

"I dunno," I say. "At least a couple of them might be pissed and vengeful."

"You bring the silver bullets, I'll bring the burgers," she says. "This weekend it'll be an easy drive. About an hour from here, there was an old orphanage that burned down a century ago. The ghosts of the kids who died leave handprints on your car if you come at dusk."

"Why can't we go see the dog?"

"That's the weekend after next," says Lee.


ON FRIDAY EVENING we spend a half-hour at the grocery store debating what kind of candy to buy for ghost children. Wrapped or unwrapped? Hard or chewy? Fruity or chocolate? Peanut butter, caramel, or peppermint? We settle on butterscotch disks, peppermints, and Lee's Peanut M&Ms.

"Did the legend explain why the kids died?" I ask Lee on the drive. "Didn't anyone yell an alarm?"

"I don't know." Lee wrinkles her eyebrows. "I'd prefer to think it I was a smoky fire and they drifted off in their sleep."

I nod. The other option is too terrible to consider.

"What if we bring a ghost kid home?'' I say. "They might be bored of hanging out in a field."

"We'll but leave I imagine candy so we they're not tempted to be hitchers," she says, but I imagine we could still get invisible riders in the back seat who'd sneak cookies from Aunt Florence's kitchen and spread crumbs across the floor. We'd need to have a séance. Maybe the kid would be willing to chat. I'd like to know what they thought of the world seventy years after they died, now that we have cars and televisions and radios and indoor plumbing and microwaves and environmental degradation and public service announcements with pictures of mushroom clouds. Maybe after a couple evening news broadcasts about Soviet summits, broken arms reduction treaties, and Vietnam, the kid would go back to the forest.


LEE HUMS IN THE MORNING when she puts on her make­up and kisses me after breakfast, but when I pick her up from work in the afternoon the color has drained from her cheeks. This new life must be a combination of euphoria and fear. She can wear skirts and dresses and cute shoes. She can reapply her lipstick mid-day. She can walk into the ladies' room at work be­cause there is only one toilet, but she worries she'll forget to lock the door. When she orders red wine at the bar, the waiter replies, "Yes, ma'am."

As we wait for our drinks, I note the tension in her shoulders, her fingers, her mouth. So many reminders must be pealing in her brain: Sit up. Tilt your head. Legs together. Cross your ankles. Don't take such a large swallow. At least for now, she can't break the fragile myth of what womanhood is supposed to be.


I ENJOY OUR TRIPS down graveled roads, passing cornfields and barns and country churches with graveyards populated by wildflowers and scattered tombstones. We roll down the windows and turn up the radio, nodding to farmers in pickups. I watch for cop cars and sheriffs' deputies, anyone who might pull us over for going three miles past the speed limit.

For years it's been easy for me to float under the radar as a brand of tomboy. My last romantic relationship was with a guy who seemed vanilla until he turned hippie and moved to California to experiment with psychedelics. But now I'm with Lee. In love with Lee. Terrified at what some guy who says he's in law enforcement might do if he stopped us. I've never confronted this pressure of fear, but the police are more frightening that any ghost, lizard man, or werewolf.

Lee asked her doctor in Chicago to copy part of a letter that Dr. Harry Benjamin described in his book The Transsexual Phenomenon, which she's read three times. It's a note he gives to patients undergoing estrogen therapy:

To Whom it May Concern: This is to certify that the bearer, __________, is under my professional care and observation. This patient belongs to the rather rare group of transsexuals, also referred to in the medical literature as psychic hermaphrodites. Their anatomical sex, that is to say, the body, is male. Their psychological sex, that is to say, the mind, is female. Therefore they feel as women, and if they live and dress as such, they do so out of an irrepressible inner urge, and not to commit a crime, to "masquerade," or to "impersonate" illegally. It is my considered opinion, based on many years' experience, that transsexuals are mostly introverted and nonaggressive and therefore no threat to society. In their feminine role they can live happier lives and they are usually less neurotic than if they were forced to live as men. I do not think that society is endangered when it assumes a permissive attitude, and grants these people the right to their particular pursuit of happiness. Like all patients of this type, __________ has been strictly advised to behave well and inconspicuously at all times and to be careful in choosing friends.

Lee's doctor signed the note at the bottom, a scrawl I can't read, but it looks official. She keeps the note in her purse and has four Xerox copies in a folder in case anyone snatches the original. That's happened to people with similar notes.

"Some cops will rip it up in front of your face," Lee says, but I'm glad for the insurance, no matter how small. I also don't want her traveling alone.


LEE DOESN'T LIKE that I refer to our road trips as the Tour of Terror, so I only do that in my head. This time we're going to a pond where a school bus rammed through the metal barricade and disappeared into the water. No one board bus was seen again, but locals claim the children who were on that bus grew fins and gills and turned into mer-kids.

"Why are so many legends about dead children?" I ask.

"People like tragedy," says Lee. "Have you ever listened to folk songs? Everybody dies."

Twenty seconds later, my heart speeds up when a pickup races past us, skirting too close. A cop car with blazing lights is quick to follow. Lee pulls to the side of the road as we watch dust from both vehicles settle. We glance at each other, exchanging a wordless expletive. She keeps a steady two miles under the speed limit as we continue the drive.

There's a metal guardrail along the road beside the pond and a white wooden fence around the bank. There are no monuments, markers, or battered silk flowers, but Lee says she's sure this is the pond we're looking for. She parks on the shoulder just after the guardrail. We wade through the grass and undo the latch on the gate, then spread our offering of lemon drops and peppermints at the water's edge. Lee skips stones across the pond while I think about being a kid on a field trip, drowsing in my seat or trying to read as some jerk behind me yanks my hair, then sensing the sudden swerve, my body jolting as the bus crashes through the guardrail—

Would there have been time to scream?

The kids must have panicked, then . . . they grew fins? Gills? Morphed into mer-children, their tears mingling with the pond as the gift from a forgotten water spirit changed their bodies into ones that could survive under the ripples?

"How long would it take to get used to eating algae?" I ask Lee. "Once you were part enchanted fish, would it be gross or taste like a cheeseburger?"

"They're only part fish," says Lee. "I'd think cheeseburgers or algae would be fine."

I'm not convinced it would be so easy, but I'm a picky eater. Perhaps the mer-kids expanded their palates and still enjoy peppermints. Can they poke their heads out of the pond to get the treats we left? I was never good at swimming so if I turned into a mer-person it would have benefits, but the algae-eating leaves me unnerved.

On the way home we stop at a silver pillbox diner. The white tile floor looks like it hasn't been mopped for a week, though the smell of French fry grease is intoxicating. The walls are decorated with photographs of the Little League team the diner sponsors, and each table holds a milk glass vase with a red carnation. Behind the counter a solo waitress with gray curls chats with a couple old guys. She waves at us and the expanse of booths.

"Sit anywhere," she says. Lee wears her new pink Vans, trying to cultivate a slight hip swish without the reminder of dress shoes. The waitress brings iced tea. She nods when Lee orders a tuna melt with French fries. I order a cheeseburger, but Lee gives me a long gaze.

"I thought you were easing up on cheeseburgers; she says.

"Mom wants me to ease up on cheeseburgers." I shouldn't have told her about my mother's latest theory that red meat exacerbates hereditary arthritis. I didn't think Lee would take it seriously. "I thought you were easing up on smokes."

"Not while I'm researching local history," she says. It comes in handy that we both have vices.


LEE ISN'T HAPPY TO DISCOVER that the Lizard Man near Loveland is also the town mascot. Drawings of his slim form and a couple grainy photos are featured on T-shirts, postcards, and shot glasses sold at the gas station. They also sell homemade jams, and we buy one for Aunt Florence since we need something to show for our drive. The lady working the register says gooseberry is her favorite.

"Dammit," Lee says when we get back to the car. "I don't feel like looking for the Lizard Man since I've seen him on a T-shirt."

"I'm not surprised they've commodified him," I say. "Look at Halloween. Spooks, sugar, and capitalism."

"Guess we need to find less popular legends," says Lee. "How do you feel about axe murderers?"

"I prefer the Lizard Man," I say.

"It's only two o'clock," Lee says, meaning the gooseberry jam won't be enough for this weekend. We drive an additional three hours to search for the ghost dog that wanders around the county courthouse. The sun is too high when we arrive-the dog only appears at dusk-but we walk the grounds, sit on iron benches, and anticipate the poke of an invisible wet nose.

At six thirty, Lee allows that we can take our jam and go home. She doesn't mention looking for axe murders, which is fine since I'm haunted by too many things already: my stupid joints, fear of being fired if I miss too many days at work, fear of Lee being assaulted in a dark parking lot, not being able to get surgery, or surgery being too expensive.

Maybe the Tour of Terror is Lee trying to direct her search for danger and distract herself from dangers we can't avoid. That's the logic I turn to the following weekend when she convinces me to look for werewolves. That amounts to us sitting in her car in a park at dusk. waiting for something to happen.

"Do you think the werewolf was hunting," I ask Lee, "or being hunted?"

"That's what I want to ask." says Lee.

According to Lee's newspaper reports, the werewolf was going around town pounding on doors late at night. There are many reasons for door-pounding.

Let me in! Something's chasing me!

Let me in! I'm in danger!

Come out! Someone is in danger!

Come out! You're in danger!

How do you distinguish any of those kinds of pounding from I'm a danger!

"What if the werewolf was looking for a safe place to hide?" I say to Lee. "How would you know unless you opened the door? But who'd open the door for a werewolf?"

We pause and listen to the cicadas.

"I don't think I could," I say. Speaking that idea aloud makes me feel strangely ashamed, but it's easy to imagine the werewolf going for my throat.

"I want to say I'd crack the door to see what the werewolf needed," says Lee, "but I forget how dark small towns can get at night."

"You're willing to look for the werewolf now," I say.

"Yeah." She reaches for the Peanut M&Ms in her purse. "While we have a getaway car." I hear the crinkle of the M&M bag, the crinkle of the letter from her doctor, and consider what I'd say if a werewolf came loping by.

"Have some licorice," would be the first thing, which would give us a moment to pause and chew. Not talking can be more difficult than talking, but after we got used to the werewolf and the werewolf got used to us, it might not look that scary. We could go from there.

Two Poems by Julie Marie Wade

issue 92 cover

Found in Willow Springs 92

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What is Far From Heaven? $800

There's a blue car as long as a boat—Melancholy motorized & sailing. There's a woman in a red coat with a lavender scarf who always looks ravishing, especially when she stands on the platform watching a salient train depart. Ravishing is the word she'll convince her husband to use as she coaxes a dance floor compliment: "It's a ravishing dress & a ravishing girl to go with it," he says, looking the part in his fancy white tux. That's how they ring in the New Year—1958—with a twist & a kiss & a lie. Her husband doesn't want to ravish her, in any archaic sense, & he isn't ravished by her, in any modern. He can see how pretty she is, how worried she is, how much she longs to please him, but as we know too well, it's the body that serves as a polygraph for all of our desires. Not what the words say, not what the clothes say, but how the flesh ignites in the presence, or even at the mention, or one desired. This film came out the same year I did. A friend saw it & said "Don't go. It's so depressing." The star is a woman I'd admired for years, not just with my head but also my body. What was that in the presence, or even at the mention, of men? Of course I went to the movie. When Frank sobs on a sofa in the dark, then tells Cathy, "I've fallen in love with someone," my first thought was How sad to be so sad about love! But hadn't I, just a few months before, wept on a sofa in the dark, then told the man I'd promised to marry, "I've fallen in love with someone"? Another friend said, "You'll really like this film. I mean, you were basically raised in the 1950s, with your family's whole generational time-warp thing." Maybe, in 2002, I wasn't as evolved as I thought. Were any of us then—and are we now? Frank still sobbing in the dark: "I tried . . . I tried so hard to make it go away!" Was it like that for me, too, a conscious denial, detecting my own lies & then grinding them down like guilty cigarettes into the earth? Or was I the Cathy of my story, murmuring "I don't understand" & meaning it. She's in the dark, & there's this whole other part of herself she's struggling to admit exists, whether or not her husband ever comes out. Desire, as we know too well, has a way of ravishing us, by rapture & by force. "I think of him, I do," Cathy confides in her friend, & by him, she doesn't mean Frank, & by think, she doesn't mean only with her mind. Anyone watching can feel the swarm of bees humming, can see the hot flush come over her face as she insists, "Nothing happened . . ." And that nothing she protests too much is about Raymond, a Black man in a barely integrated town who becomes her gardener & her friend, who opens the red door of his pick-up for her just that once—the only time he ever picked her up—which led to vicious talk, which led to violence, which led to Raymond & his daughter leaving everything behind as they climb aboard that salient train bent for Baltimore. Cathy didn't seem to know that two men could desire each other, even when she walked in on her husband in another man's embrace. She didn't seem to know that people of different races could desire each other, even when she was one of the ones who desired. On a street corner, uncoaxed by anyone, & harshly scrutinized by a group of white pedestrians, Cathy tells Raymond, "You're so beautiful." This is true, but not the whole truth. She means but doesn't say: "You're so beautiful to me." Afterwards, she runs away weeping. How sad to be so sad about love! I, too, come from a sad, beautiful place. Blue cars everywhere & Fauntlee Hills echoes those homogeneous Hartford vibes, strapped to a past that is perhaps more with us today than we would want, or are able, to recognize. In exchange for the illusion of safety comes that danger Raymond names—"mixing in other worlds." His eyes are wet with tears as he conveys to Cathy his regrets. I wonder: what do we lose, what do we gain, when we realize "things are pretty well finished for [us] here"? And what do we lose, or gain, when we realize here is pretty much everywhere?


What is Rear Window? $1000

Pretend the blinds in the film are theater curtains. They rise at the start & fall at the end, with the smooth efficiency of a stage play. For the audience, everything is clearly demarcated—our living room, his living room; our neighbors milling about; his neighbors mills about. Note elements of the mise-en-scène: Courtyard. Flower bed. Fire escape. Note the extras, whom we now call background artists: Cat scurrying up the stairs. Sleeping man supine on his balcony. Woman brushing her hair before the bathroom mirror. And there's our protagonist in his wheelchair, left leg rigid in a cast. No chance of conflating ourselves with his story, which makes it a safe place to be scared. In fact, it's the kind of place a girl can follow her father to on a Saturday afternoon—popcorn with I Can't Believe It's Not Butter! spray, Shasta in sweating cans—as they begin to lose their easy way with each other. No need to talk about anything but the movie, & no one in the audience to shush & scold them as they do. It's a grisly tale of dismemberment without a drop of blood. It's a sly romance without nudity; no covers undulating with the faintest suggestions of sex. Most of all—& what the girl won't realize for many years—it's the ultimate adventure in meta-viewing: this prolonged occasion of watching someone who's watching someone who doesn't know he's being watched. Until the final ten minutes, that is. (Talk about a quick climax! But don't.) You could argue that productions of stage & screen are consensual acts of voyeurism. The character doesn't know you're watching, but the actor does. In fact, the actor desperately hopes you are. His success depends on your unwillingness to turn away. But this one's different. The whole premise is how rubbery our human necks are, bendier & bendier until they run the risk of being snapped. Jeffries isn't just bored in his last home-bound week with nothing to do but gawk & stare. HIs long career as a photo-journalist confirms he's a scopophile from the start—just as I am, just as you are. Remember the moment early on when he tells his nurse, "Right now I'd welcome trouble"? (Words he'll shortly wish to rescind.) Well, I wanted it too—that trouble. A mystery to solve. A triumph to claim. Some means of making myself useful. This longing to sleuth was something my father always humored in me. He played along with all the whodunnits howdunnits whys. It was easier, I suppose, than facing our actual mystery (my mother, his wife), the story we were living that we couldn't quite allow ourselves to believe. Jeff's nurse, Stella, tells him in a thoughtful moment I necessarily stowed away: "We've become a race of Peeping Toms. What people ought to do is get outside their own house & look for a change." I thought she meant it as a metaphor: Detect yourself! Maybe even meant it biblically: Take the plank out of your own eye & so forth. But then I recalled those lines many years later, slumped down in my seat, idling in a car outside my parents' house before circling & circling the block. I couldn't go in, you see. I couldn't even consider the possibility of a knock. But I could watch. Around the corner was my grandmother's house. I saw the light on in her den, the room where she played Solitaire, left the television blaring. She was hard of hearing in her old age, & I told myself I didn't want to scare her by pounding on a window in the dark. (Convenient alibi for my own fragile heart.) This film's arc spans only four days while min spans twenty years, continues still without an end in sight. No insight either. So when I say I was outside my own house looking in, I don't mean once, & I don't mean metaphorically. I mean, every time I fly across the country, it's the first thing I do. Rent a car at Sea-Tac. Take the back way down slick, suburban streets, wet light puddling in potholes. No intention of going in. No point rehearsing what to say. Just looking, just scanning the landscape for all the hard familiars—camellia tree in the mise-en-scène, weather vane that bears their changeless names. What if Jeffries's inmost truth is that he actually wants to be seen, which is to say confronted, caught? He'll face his consequence in flashbulbs, a string of frantic lights. At least then, when he plummets, he'll be looking up, gaze locked with a knowing stranger's eyes.

“If You Only Knew” by Bill Gaythwaite

issue 92 cover

Found in Willow Springs 92

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BEFORE MY FATHER RUNS OFF, he suddenly showers us all with attention. It's jarring at first, like having someone crowd next to you on a bus when there are plenty of seats in back. There's something desperate about it, but I'm not thinking this at the time. I'm just thrilled to be part of his world, because up until then he has been a shadowy figure, a supporting player in our lives. He's a busy executive, a senior vice-president at a famous insurance com­pany in Boston, coming home late most nights from work after my brother and I are in bed. I wait up for him, for his late-night, one minute check-ins, first to Wiley's room across the hall and then to mine. He stands at the foot of my bed as he loosens his tie, squeezes my big toe.

"You awake, Sport?" he says.

I always make sure to keep my toes peeking out from under the covers so he can grab one, but because of pride or stubbornness I never say a word before he walks away.

He goes to the office most weekends as well, and when he doesn't, he leaves the house at dawn to play golf, which he tells us is work-related, too. For business contacts. He calls golf a necessary evil, as if he's talking about a flu shot in the ass.

It is 1975.

He calls my mother every afternoon, usually to say he'll be tak­ing the last train out of the city to our little suburb.

"Why does he do that?" I ask her once after she puts the phone back on its hood. We are standing in the kitchen, the afternoon sun coursing through the windows, spilling over the Formica counter­tops. "Like he's telling you something you don't already know."

I have just turned thirteen and am getting a mouth on me.

"He likes to keep me informed," Ma says.

There might be an edge to her voice when my mother tells me this, or I might be remembering it that way, adding it in after the fact, like a sound effects engineer.

"Anyway," I tell her, "you should suggest he save his calls for some really big news, like when he's planning to make it home in time for a meal with his family."

"Now, Kevin," she sighs, "don't be so dramatic."

I already have a reputation.

"Ma!" I shout. "He's never here! Wiley pointed to the weather­man on Channel 4 the other day and asked if he was our father!"

My little brother, of course, has never said such a thing; because he's ten years old and knows better, but I still see the impact of my wise-ass words flash across Ma's face like brush fire. Soon after this, it is summer, and they are remodeling my dad's offices and he is suddenly home full time, and this is when the attention starts. He lavishes himself on us. When it happens, I am willing to forgive everything that has come before. I am powerless against it anyway. It's like a natural disaster. He's my dad.

He takes Wiley and me to Fenway three times during those weeks to watch the Red Sox play. We win every time. At least my memory has it that way. My dad gets chummy with the guys selling concessions at the Park, introduces himself to everybody sitting in our section and makes up nicknames for total strangers. He slaps people on the back too, as if he's running for political office. but like with real candidates, this routine seems to divide the crowd. He makes an impression alright, but I notice a few folks tum away and shrink back as if from an exposed power line. My brother 15 crazy out of his mind for Fred Lynn that summer, the rookie center fielder for the Sox who is having a phenomenal season. Every time the big guy comes up to the plate or lopes out to his position, Wiley stands up, waves his arms like a castaway and yells "Frrreeedie!!!!" in his shrill little voice. I am at the age when I get embarrassed by anything that causes strangers to look in my direction. I smack Wiley with my baseball glove and tell him to shut up. We always bring our gloves to snag foul balls, but they never come anywhere near us.

Ease up on your brother, Sport," Dad says and softly cuffs my ear. It is tough to be angry at Wiley. He is a sweet-natured, cheerful kid and we rarely fight, which even then I realize is beyond mirac­ulous for brothers. We love all the usual things about Fenway, the hot dogs, the hum of excitement, the quirky beauty of the place. Some years later, when I am flying over Ireland on my first trip abroad, I finally see colors that can compete with my lush green memory of that painstakingly maintained playing field. In Dublin I buy a postcard with a standard aerial shot and send it off to Wiley at Bucknell, scribbling "Frrreeedie!!!!" on the back. I know he'll understand. We're brothers. We have joint custody over certain memories, visitation rights.

My mother doesn't come to the games, but she loves to hear us talk about them when we get home. Wiley spins with excitement, almost frothing at the mouth with it. He can remember every play, every moment and he acts it all out like a stage production. And Ma says "oohhh" and "ahhh" in all the right places, like she's been waiting her whole life to hear such stories. Dad and I hang back a bit, off to the side, his arm draped across my shoulders, while we watch the show with big wide grins on our faces.


WE DO A LOT OF THINGS TOGETHER as a family that summer. It's just ordinary stuff, but it's more than we've ever done before. We go to the Stoneham Zoo and the Aquarium at Central Wharf in Boston and a Mel Brooks movie which my mother wor­ries about being too adult for Wiley and me.

"Lighten up, Gwen," Dad tells her in the refreshment line, as she gawks nervously at Teri Garr's cleavage prominently featured in the lobby poster. He gives Ma a friendly hug. Then he looks over her shoulder, catches my eye and winks, like we are sailors on shore leave.

We drive up to a beach on the North Shore during the week, when it isn't so crowded. Dad does a perfect backflip on the sand, teaches us how to body surf. The ocean is freezing and Ma forces us to get out when our lips turn a phosphorescent blue. On our way home we are sunburnt and gritty with sand, our hair stiff with salt. An announcer on the car radio mentions the first rendezvous in space between the Apollo and Soyuz spacecrafts. a hopeful sign for U.S. and Soviet relations and it adds to the optimism of the day.

At home that summer, after dinner, which we once again are sharing as a family, my father can't sit still. He moves and moves around the living room, telling jokes, doing his card tricks.

"Pick a card, any card, any card at all," he bellows, fanning the deck out in front of us like some Vegas hustler.

The tricks are lame, and I begin to figure them out, but Wiley ogles my dad as if he's a celebrity. And sometimes I can't help myself, so do I. My father was a jock in high school and college and he still has an athlete's muscular grace. He is handsome and confident, but it goes beyond his good looks, his golf tan and perfect teeth. He is a hot-shot businessman who is used to working a room. We are, I suppose, not unlike the people who report to him, a captive audience. Even that night I am aware he is performing. He wants something from us. Perhaps it is simple adoration, but much later the possibility will occur to me that we aren't in his thoughts at all.

My mother watches him too. She looks pretty and young in a pink sundress, wavy blonde hair falling across her eyes. She has always been quiet, and her movements are often slow and deliberate, like she is trying to coax small animals out of the woods. Like Wiley and me, she seems to be enjoying herself. as if she is giddy with good fortune. Though I wonder now if she was also on to my father in some way, but helpless in the face of his summer onslaught just like me.

The remodeling of my father's office is completed, and he goes back to work. We slip quietly into the old patterns, but the summer memories are fresh and real and they linger. We're still happy for a time. It is late August when I come downstairs and find my mother sitting at the kitchen table. She rarely sits around in the morning, so this is already suspicious. Usually she is preparing breakfast, putting it out for us, clearing it up. On this morning, though, she is dressed, but something isn't quite right about her. I think for a moment she is sick, but that would be truly unheard of. The dress she is wearing buttons up the front, but the buttons and holes aren't lined up right. I can see tiny ribbons of pink flesh through the material, the white of her bra. I am humiliated for both of us.

"Ma," I say, trying to advert my eyes, "your buttons are all messed up."

That's when she tells me that my dad has walked out. Her voice is flat and shocking, not like her own, or anyone's.

"Your father is gone," she says.

I know right away she doesn't mean he has simply left for work, but I ask her anyway, if that is what she means. She sits up very straight.

"He has a new job," she tells me, "a sort of promotion, a transfer to California. I didn't know until he started packing last night. He took all his clothes except the winter things. I have no other way to say it, Kevin, so I am just telling you. He's not coming back. Its not about you or Wiley, obviously nothing you could have done. He needed to leave and that's where we are."

She has rehearsed this in some manner, I think. It sounds fake, practiced, like a bad script. Or something Dear Abby might ad­vise—what to tell your kids when your husband suddenly bails on you. She must have been saying it for hours, over and over in her head, while waiting for me to come downstairs, and this is the terrible way it came out. It is totally ridiculous.

I make her say it again.

I ask if they had a fight, and she says no. She says he told her after Wiley and I had gone to bed, after his nightly check-in. I try to think if he waited at my door or held my toe a little longer, but I can't remember. I might even have been asleep. After the summer we just had, I felt bloated with attention, almost sloppy with it. There had been no need for me to wait up for him anymore.

"Didn't you tell him to stay?"

"I suppose I did," My mother says carefully. She has slumped back down in the chair now, like the air has been let out of her.

"You suppose? Why didn't you kick and scream and make him?" I ask.

I'd seen plenty of TV dramas by this point and that's what jilted women usually did, but that wasn't Ma's style. A year before this she ran up and down the neighborhood cheering and waving an American flag when Nixon resigned, but that was a rare display of emotion. Usually, she's unflappable.

"Kevin, he's been plotting it, okay?" she is saying. "The compa­ny has rented him an apartment out there already. He has a brand new address. It's happening. He's on the plane right now. It's final"

She says this as if she can't quite believe it herself. I notice we are both shaking. I can hear the wall clock ticking off seconds above our heads, a reminder that our lives are moving on without us.

"Does he want to marry someone else?" I ask her.

In those same television movies men were always deserting families for other women.

"He wouldn't say," she tells me, but averts her eyes.

I take that as a yes.

I can hear Wiley pounding around upstairs.

That's when she slips me a plain sealed envelope. I honestly don't remember what my father had written. I know it seemed as phony as what my mother had told me, something about being a man, how I'd always be his son or some other foolish crap he scribbled down on his way to the door. What I do remember is the twenty-dollar bill that floats to the floor when I open the envelope. I let it land there. I don't pick it up. When I finish reading, I hand the note back to my mother without comment. I think she expects me to tear it up into tiny pieces or toss it down the garbage disposal, ever the little scene stealer, but it is totally worthless as it is. She stares at me and her eyes begin to well up. She is sorry for me. I can see that, and that is when I feel my own tears coming, unstoppable as a seizure. .


MY MOTHER HAS NEVER EVEN WRITTEN A CHECK before my father leaves for California. She has to get books about household finance out of the library. She takes it all very seriously and begins to get organized. About a week after my father leaves she gets a small blackboard and writes out assignments and duties for all of us.

"We never had to help with laundry before," I whine, scanning the list of chores under my name. "Neither did dad. You're passing off your own work."

"I have other things to worry about now" she says. "I need your help and your brother's. We have to be like a team."

"Sure, coach," I say, snapping my heels and giving her a salute.

Wiley is looking up at us both with a worried expression on his face.

"I'll help," he chirps.

"Pussy," I mumble at him.

My mother slaps me hard behind the ear, an unimaginable oc­currence until that moment.

The three of us stand there stunned, unrecognizable, like visi­tors from another country, unsure of the official language.

"Do we understand each other?" my mother finally asks.

"Not really," I tell her, but she doesn't hit me again.


IT'S TRUE MY FATHER LEAVES for that promotion my mother mentioned. But I'm right too. There is a woman named Delores Cantwell, a junior executive at his company who is being transferred to California at the same time. She has blown up her own marriage to be with my dad, but not as gross on her end because she doesn't have any kids to ditch. Perhaps she was one of his weekend golfing buddies. I never meet this woman. A few months after my father and Delores arrive in San Diego, feeling, as one can imagine, optimistic about their future he is investigated for some financial and ethical improprieties. It's not quite embezzlement and the company does not press any charges, but my father is fired an finished in the insurance industry. Delores dumps him soon after. But instead of crawling back to us, my father stays in California to explore his options. He's a man who believes in making his own luck. I don't know all this at the time, but the essentials are pieced together later, as I get older, like the clues in a mystery novel.

We have the house, a three-bedroom Cape, in a modest neigh­borhood. My mother always refers to this as a mixed blessing. For years my father had been saying we'd move to a bigger place, in a more exclusive town, something more fitting with his growing importance at the company. He was only waiting for the right moment, but then he takes off for California before it every comes about.

The house has a number of problems, a leaky roof, air in the pipes, a crumbling foundation. It groans at night like someone in the terminal ward. My mother checks out more books—How To Be Your Own Electrician, How To Be Your Own Plumber. We all get pretty handy, in a general way. We can recognize all the tools and tackle the minor repairs ourselves. For the longest time Ma whispers "I can do this, I can do this" over and over, like it's her personal mantra, even if she is only changing a light bulb. And sometimes she mutters it as we pass in the hallway or sit at dinner, when there are no repairs in sight.

When my father loses his job in California, his checks stop coming, so my mother goes to work as a secretary in a law firm and takes classes part-time so she can become a teacher. That's when she is pleased we don't have such a fancy house. She'd never be able to handle higher mortgage payments on her own. I am worried about her becoming a teacher. I am in junior high now and teachers are known to have nervous breakdowns right in front of a class. Once, in Physical Science, we are passing a Playboy under our desks when a substitute, a tiny disheveled woman named Mrs. Hand, discovers it and starts calling us a bunch of dirty little bastards. She is screaming like the building is on fire, waving her arms about. The assistant principal finally has to come and drag her away. The last thing she says before she is led out the door (the magazine rolled up tight, like a baton, in her fist) is that she is planning to pray for us, for our immortal souls. Needless to say, we never see her again. But for months afterwards my friends and I greet each other in the hallways with hoots of, "How's it going, ya dirty little bastard?" while making the sign of the cross.

"You're not going to work at my school, are you Ma?" I ask one night when she gets home from class. It is my night to cook dinner, macaroni and cheese. Wily is setting the table. He has his own system. He doesn't like anything to match. The plates and glasses are an assortment of sizes, the silverware is from two separate patterns and each napkin is a different color. Since Dad left, my mother doesn't care about this stuff, so long as we eat.

"Don't sound so terrified, Kevin," she says.

"I'm not terrified. I was only wondering."

"Well, beggars can't be choosers."

"What does that mean?"

"It means I need to work."

"But Ma," I say.

"For Christ's sake, Kevin, if l get a job at your school I'll take an assumed name and wear a goddamned veil over my head. Okay?"

"You never used to swear."

"It's a new day," she tells me.


A YEAR OR SO after my father leaves us, my mother is still busy constructing our new life, and it is clear we are all going to survive, but that doesn't mean I am prepared for the next development. I come home from soccer practice one Saturday afternoon in September and find Oliver Voolich, the deli man from the First National, sitting on our sofa in the living room. It is a surreal moment for me, Voolich next to my mother, his hair slicked back, dressed in ill-fitting jeans and a plaid shirt. I am used to seeing him at the grocery store, paper hat perched on his head, greasy apron cinched at his waist, shouting our numbers for the next customer in line.

"Kevin, you know Mr. Voolich," my mother says, nodding in his direction.

"Yeah?" I grumble, but it comes out more like a question.

"You can call me Oliver," Voolich tells me.

"Hello Mr. Voolich," I say.

"Oliver has been kind enough to offer to help us put up the storm windows this year," Ma says.

Voolich appears to be blushing furiously, or perhaps his skin just looks blotchier out from behind the deli counter. He has the round, pinkish face and squinty eyes of a newborn. There is defi­nitely something soft and infantile about the whole package, even though I place his age at forty-five or so. He is of average height, though slightly stooped, with wide hips, a mess of curly brown hair, and no discernible chin. When I later find out he lives in a single room above Shoe Town, this feels just about right and com­pletes the picture.

At the deli counter, Voolich is patient and composed, good with difficult customers, scrupulously honest while administering the meat scale. But out here in the real world, hanging out in my living room, he is simply dull as rocks, so dull it hovers over him like body odor.

"We put up the windows by ourselves last year," I remind my mother, making sure not to make eye contact with our visitor.

"And we almost lost our lives in the process," Ma responds.

She has a point. The previous fall I had balanced precariously on top of the ladder while Ma hoisted windows up to me on the second floor. Wiley had steadied the ladder directly beneath us. We were like mountain climbers tied to one another. We knew we were in harm's way.

It's obvious that Voolich wants to be of assistance, but naturally I question his intentions. We don't need anyone new in our lives. The truth is we are doing okay. The three of us have found a certain groove of living together. If l consciously miss my father, it is in the evening when I remember his nightly check-in at the foot of my bed. Unlike most children of divorce, I hold no illusions about my parents reconciling. Although, since Wiley and I now are somewhat aware of Dad's financial scandal and the break with Delores, we half-expect him to show up one day on the doorstep, shame-faced and eager to be forgiven, like a runaway pet. This never happens wither. He barely keeps in touch with Wiley and me, while he's on his own twisted journey. Gifts arrive late, three months after our birthdays or Christmas. We suffer through phone calls laced with awkward silences. We get goofy, bizarre postcards from the guy. If you only knew how much I miss you, my father writes.

In the end, Voolich helps us with the windows, but the gawky sight of him on a ladder, drenched in sweat, laboring mercilessly, puts no one at ease.

"Good work, Oliver," my mother shouts up to him in an encouraging, anxious way as he finishes fastening the last one.

"Yeah, it's poetry in motion," I say quietly to Wiley who gives me a look like he doesn't want me to start anything.

After this, Voolich apparently feels confident enough to insinuate himself into our lives a couple of times a week, often arriving with a smoked ham or a cold cut platter. He is a deli man. If he were a carpet salesman, he might come bearing throw rugs and vacuum cleaner bags. Of course, by showing up with food, he can always count on an invitation to dinner, a fact he must have figured out for himself. My mother is always polite to him, but I notice she makes no other concession to his presence. When he joins us, she doesn't put on lipstick or tell Wiley the table settings need to match. Still, I can't be more disturbed than if my she were sitting on his lap and sticking a tongue in his ear. To my way of thinking, she is treating him far too casually, the way she does Wiley and me, her own family, the fixtures in her life. And I hate the notion of Voolich becoming a fixture in my life. To my now fourteen-year-old brain, his florid face and sagging body represent failure and despair. I am worried about what my friends will saay if they see him out with Ma. I can already hear a litany of hide the salami jokes.

Though my mother is the main attraction for Voolich, he often makes uneasy attempts to engage Wiley and me in conversation. He tells the same stories over and over again, droning accounts of his day behind a deli counter, with one day not any different from the last.

Once again it is Wiley who handles these situations gracefully. He politely answers idiotic questions concerning homework or sports, two subjects Voolich feels compelled to discuss. However,, I don't think the man is ever comfortable around us. He regards us, perhaps the way he views all children, with caution, as if looking over his shoulder in a rough neighborhood. This is brand new territory for him.

Privately, even my super sweet brother admits to his own reservations.

Yep, he is a bit of a freakazoid," Wiley tells me on our way to school one morning.

"Exactly," I say.

"But that doesn't seem to bother Ma," he adds quickly.

"No," I say. "It sure as shit doesn't."

Voolich has been coming around for over a month when I decide it is finally time to confront her about the situation. I approach Ma late one evening as she is seated at the kitchen table, course work spread out in front of her. It's her favorite spot for studying. Books and pencils are spilling out everywhere. I notice she is wearing her hair longer, wilder, less like a housewife's and more like a student's.

"What can I do for you?" she asks, without looking up from the notebook she is scribbling in.

"How long is this going to go on?" I ask.

"What are you talking about, Kevin?"

"You know what I mean. Voolich. Meat and cheese man. Is he going to become a regular thing around here?"

She looks up at me then and I can tell she is slightly amused, giving me a prim, tired smile. She has hours of study ahead of her, the house to pick up, a new day looming tomorrow.

"He's a nice man," she says predictably.

"He bores Wiley and me under the table." I don't mind enlisting my brother in this campaign.


"Don't you think he's boring?"

"Kevin, I've heard enough sparkling conversation to last me a lifetime," she says.

And when she says this, I know she is referring to my father.

"Look," she goes on, "I don't really expect you to understand, but Oliver listens to me. He truly listens to me when I talk about my day, my time at school. This is a pleasure, and something haven't really experienced before with another grown-up. It has never been easy for me to meet new people. I enjoy his company."

"Maybe it only seems like he's listening, because he's too tongue-tied around you to form actual words in the English language."

She doesn't respond to that, so I keep at it.

"Do you love this guy or something? Are you going to marry him?" I am horrified as I even say these things.

"Don't be ridiculous, Kevin," Ma laughs. "He's a friend. It's a harmless situation."

"Is he in love with you?"

"No," she answers cautiously, "Of course not."

I can tell she is weighing my question, maybe afraid to really look at it, like a puncture wound. I pause for a moment, the way a television anchorman switches gears before delivering the really serious news.

"Well, I just wanted you to know your sons are unhappy about this."

"Point taken," she says, but in such a way as to make it clear she has no intention of doing anything about it.

A couple of weeks after this, she comes into the living room where Wiley and I are watching an episode of Baretta. She announces that Voolich has phoned and wants us to join him for an outing the following weekend.

"He wants to take us all to an amusement park, to Treasure Island," Ma say. "What do you think?"

We haven't done much in the way of amusement since my dad left town. Our finances and my mother's schedule don't warrant it. The term entertainment expense has not found its way into our weekly budget. So despite my feelings for Voolich, my anxiety over his future role in our family, I can't help but look forward to the getaway he is offering us.

"Better than a wiener factory," I sigh, and even Wiley can't help but laugh.

When the day arrives though, our adventure doesn't start out well. Voolich shows up earlier than expected and loiters around the kitchen as we finish our breakfast. He follows us from room to room, bites his lip. jangles the car keys in his trousers as we grab our jackets and put on our shoes.

"Are we in a hurry, Oliver?" my mother asks him.

"No, no, no. Take your time," he says, in the sort of clipped, nervous tone which only gets us to move faster.

Voolich is so impatient to get on the road; I make sure to buckle my seatbelt as soon as I settle myself in his car, a worn-out Plymouth. I think he might want to make up for lost time and risk our lives in the process. But once behind the wheel, he reverts to type and we inch our way to the park, practically traveling in the breakdown lane. Treasure Island is located on the South Shore, half way to the Cape. We pass a number of signs for the place on the trip down, advertising water slides and a roller coaster. And on each colorful billboard the park's official mascot, a pirate with an eye patch and a hook for a hand is featured, slyly beckoning to us.

Wiley is excited, bouncing lightly up and down in the seat beside me.

"Do you have to shit or something?" I ask him. But I am smiling when I say it, because I am excited too.

Then we get there.

Treasure Island is not even an island. It sits swelling like a festering blemish at the edge of a faded resort town. It's basically a huge parking lot, with some worn tents and kiddie rides strewn about, all enclosed by a rusty chain link fence. There are about two dozen unsmiling people, grim employees and unsatisfied patrons alike, milling about under the bleak October sky, which has grown more overcast from the moment we pile out of the car. While Voolich goes to the gate to purchase the tickets, I glare at my mother with my arms folder across my chest. She's enjoyed herself on the trip down, chatting easily in the front seat with Voolich about her upcoming midterms, happy to be taking a break and to get out of the house. But now faced with her sons' disappointment, I can see she is concerned.

"I don't know what to say," she tells us, gazing around at our depressing surroundings. "But we're here now. We'll have to make the best of it."

"Okay," Wiley says.

"Dumbass!" I snap at him. "There's nothing for us here."

I get tired of my brother's perfect-little-man-routine sometimes.

Voolich comes sauntering back, oblivious as hell until he takes one look at us and asks what the matter is.

"Treasure Island isn't exactly what the kids expected," my mother says diplomatically. "Not quite what was advertised on all those billboards."

"It's off-season, Gwen," Voolich tells her, as if this explains anything.

"You have to admit, Oliver, that it looks like the place has fallen on some hard times."

"More like hard times have fallen on it!" I say.

"I used to come here as a child," Voolich says, taking a long look around him, blinking at his own precious memories. "I suppose it has gone downhill though."

"And there's no roller coaster," Wiley actually volunteers.

"I asked the fella at the ticket counter about that. Apparently there was an accident a few years ago and they had to tear it down."

We all stand there for a while contemplating mayhem and disaster.

"Well, we don't have to stay," Voolich says in a quiet, defeated tone. I am ready to turn back toward the car, but he continues, "Or we could stay and give it a try."

"That's exactly what I told the boys," Ma says brightly.

The three of them turn and stare at me, waiting for my reaction, but since I don't really have a vote I just roll my eyes and storm past them toward the entrance. Voolich clamors in front of me, back in his anxious mode. He leads us to the basketball toss and the roulette wheel, other games of chance, talking the place up like a
press agent.

"Look at the prizes! There are some fine prizes to be had! Step right up, Wiley! It's on me! Go for it, pal!" Voolich gushes, rubbing the top of my brother's crew cut.

There is a ride called The Scambler, the only one which isn't too infantile for us. Voolich has us ride it three straight times until he gets a smile out of me. He has my mother go to a fortune teller and afterwards he buys her a French beret from an old woman hawking them near the refreshment stands. I can finally see how much this day means to Voolich. He is rushing us like a frat pledge, needing to belong. Whether my mother has figured this out or not, I don't know.

He buys Wiley and me cheeseburgers, hands us ten-dollar bills for the arcade, ushers us to the men's room, all things he considers to be fatherly behavior. No matter how hard he tries, he isn't up to the easy confidence the task requires. I can't help but remember the last summer with my dad. He was lobbying hard then too, but at least he had actual charm on his side.

Voolich is shiny with flop sweat as he continues to drag us from one so-called attraction to another. The half-empty park seems to be shuttering to a halt before our eyes. The wind has picked up too and now it's just a cold autumn day. Voolich's forced jauntiness only serves to accentuate the worst of all this. When he affects the posture and accent of the park's pirate mascot, we all know it's time to go home.

Back in the car, after we finally make our exit, I am almost con­tent. Voolich's failure has been so complete and indisputable; he won't be around much longer. He'll be sent back to his gloomy life above Shoe Town. At least there's that. But on the way home, my mother, still wearing that idiotic beret, resumes their conversation about her exams as if nothing has happened and Wiley sits next to me happily consumed with the Etch A Sketch he'd won at the rou­lette wheel. It suddenly occurs to me they are going to forgive him. Worse yet, I see that they think there is nothing to forgive. Before we're on the road five minutes, Ma and Wiley each thank Voolich for giving us a fine time, how it turned out perfect after all. I am stunned into silence until Ma turns around from the front seat and glares at me until I mumble something tolerable in Voolich's direction.

Then I slump back down in my seat, looking out the window for the rest of the drive, as the South Shore drifts by. I sit there thinking about Ma's fierce optimism and her efforts to reinvent herself, how she has willed us all to move on and how she has pulled it off. And I think about Wiley's knee-jerk cheerfulness and how his perfect-little-man routine isn't a routine at all. I wonder how I've lander here among these people, like an alien spore in a science fiction movie.

Ma doesn't marry Voolich. They remain friends for another year after Treasure Island until he eventually stops coming around and hooks up with another woman, a cashier from his store. There will be other men in Ma's life, but nothing too serious as far as I ever know. She prefers not to get tangled up with anyone else's dreams, she tells me once. She is devoted to her studies, getting her teacher's certificate and taking more classes part-time, eventually earning a doctorate in education and becoming an assistant principal at a high school in South Boston, before she retires happily to New Mexico, to a clean white-washed house on the edge of the desert with cottonwood trees and scorpions in her yard. She just turned eighty, volunteers in the local library, dabbles in watercolors, and still wears her hair too long. Wiley refers to her as Our bootleg Georgia O'Keeffe.

My brother will remain grounded and kind. Kindness is Wiley's special gift. It will follow him around for the rest of his life. He grows up to run a social service agency on the Cape, making a business out of his sweet nature and good intentions. He settles down with a wonderful guy named Grady who sings in a bluegrass band, as if it's still the '70s. They adopt and raise three amazing kids, who I refer to as Wileys Embarrassment of Riches. He's a grandfather now. Like Ma often tells me, Wiley gives and gives, but he gets so much in return. But it's not until we arc on our way back from Treasure Island, in Voolich 's car, when I realize I'm not like them at all, with my high-strung nature and ticking complaints.

It's my father who I resemble. Not his swagger or smooth charisma, but the restlessness, the impatience, the always wishing for something better and just out of reach, all of which will lead to my own failed marriages, an erratic sales career, and a grown daughter who rarely returns my calls. Sometimes I still imagine my dad standing over my bed the night before he leaves us for good. The need to start a new and different life is clinging to him like a wet sheet. Something is propelling him. It's not Delores exactly or the promise of sunny California, but it's something. And I can almost make out the jagged shape of it, feel its clumsy weight, as he backs out of my room for the very last time.

Two Poems Translated by Suphil Lee Park

issue 92 cover

Found in Willow Springs 92

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The day scalds my back
Drops of sweat to the ground
The furrow of buttercups
And foxtails, plowed
My in-laws bring out
Some barley to feast on
Our spoons too thirst
For the sweet, sweet broth
I help myself to the tiny grains
Drumming my belly, I go singing
Food shall follow us the hard workers



Drink up, love
Please, no more excuse
Li Bai is among the dead
Who'll pour you drink after drink

Drunk up, love
Please, without restraint
In a second goes life's joy
I'll be your long sword dancer

Drink up, love
Please, heed no bounds now
Why mind if your wallet's safe
This glass is all I want

Translator's Notes on "Already Noon"

This poems is a milestone in the history of ancient Korean poetry. While many ancient Korean poems feature farmers or sing about the modest lifestyle of the lower class, they were always written by male aristocrats who had nothing to do with farming and who often romanticized life on the farm, which they considered a mode of abstinence. But Kim Samuidang, a fallen aristocrat, had to work on the farm herself along with the rest of her family. She brought the honest reality and firsthand experience of a farmer's life—from the perspective of a woman—to the world of Korean poetry.


Translator's Notes on "Wino's Song"

This kind of poem was recited and written widely by courtesans as a way of making their guests drink. It was highly unusual that a woman from an aristocratic family, though fallen, would write this kind of poem addressing her husband in a playful, suggestive way.

Li Bai, known as Yi Tae-baek in Korea, is a famous Chinese poet who was known for his lyric poetry and for having been a big drinker.

“Love Song” Translated by Suphil Lee Park

issue 92 cover

Found in Willow Springs 92

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사랑 노래



공령탄 입구에 비가 처음 개니
무협은 창창하고 안개 구름처럼 평평해
한이 많아라, 임의 마음 조수와도 같으니
이른 시간 잠시 물러갔다 저물 다시 오네




Rapids takes a pleasure boat
Blue or bluer fog clouds all
Good grief—your heart too is tides
Ebbs at dawn, returns at dusk


Translator's Notes

Love Song: Literally translated, the title refers to a specific verse form (that mostly has to do with love story poetry and folktales) that usually consists of four stanzas. This poem is the first stanza of a longer poem.

Rapids: 空舲灘 refers to a specific river, but 空舲 also means a pleasure boat, so the first three characters are intended for a double meaning and would bring to mind a pleasure boat on this river.