red bricks

The first thing Jean—aka Pinkroadster—was concerned with when I met her for coffee in White Plains was how she appeared to me; that is, did I mind that she was much plainer in person than she had been in the picture she had put up of herself online. That is, until she had changed her photo for another the night before. That is, did I mind that she had done that? That is, could I like her this way?

Before that, she was absolutely, drop dead stunning. In person, she was attractive enough, but no head-turner. Still, it’s embarrassing when no sooner than two people from Match do meet, they start analyzing Match itself. It means it’s dead in the water: if that, Match itself is the only thing two people can muster up to talk about together, if the only common denominator between two people is the online dating service they used to bring them together, and to discuss their past experiences, all of which ipso facto must not have worked out, then there is equally as little promise they will either.

Still, I remained intellectually curious to hear Jean, a well-paid accountant, break down in percentages the men she found eligible candidates. Just by showing up, by my not cancelling at the last minute, or wishing to change the date, I realized, by her reckoning, I was already in the top 10%.

From there, though, the odds seemed to decrease exponentially. There, in that last 2 1/2%, by keeping to schedule and my word, is where Jean let me know I happened to be. Somewhere there she was being saved, by her own calculations, it seemed, for some lucky sonovabitch who’d give her the whole farm and a promissory note for collateral.

She told me a tale of being taken out to an expensive steak dinner by a Wall Street executive. When he asked her, she related, “Do you like sex?” she stopped at appetizers, claiming to the gentleman that she was no longer hungry. Her point, I suppose, was to show me she had morals, and that she would not take a man for one single steak if she found his values repellent or unattractive.

“What,” she asked me, “do you think about a question like that?” Naturally, hoping not to just as abruptly end our date at the cafeteria-style coffeehouse we were seated at, not at some fancy joint where the big boys pumped up their cholesterol and balls over a thick slab of Angus, I concurred with Jean’s assessment; without, at the same time, wholly condemning my own semi-salacious and libidinous tendency, so as not to possibly, however slim the chance, find myself in a contradictory bind of logic I could not surmount should the evening pan out in such a way that I was questioned again by Jean over wherefore my fingertips were prowling at the top of her underpants.

But this, I doubted, would ever happen: for by her bringing up the past steakhouse episode and the serious affront to her character it had caused her then, now being displayed as a lesson to me through symbolic narration meant clearly that her response, had she responded to the gentleman in question over her liking of sex, would have have to have been “No”; and if not “No” itself, then something punitive for sex with her, something like offering to her the stars and moon and one’s firstborn’s toenail clippings drowned in Aramaic vinegar and then sealed forever in amber in order to get her pants off, would be required.

She took me entirely wrong when I suggested we go somewhere else to continue our talk. She felt interrupted, dislodged, and altogether, I suppose, minimized. My forehead was hot from all the intellectual fervor. I just needed a change of location, I tried to explain to her, along with an unnecessary apology, as she now stood on the curb of the sidewalk and pointed to the direction she was crossing to, and pointed to the direction perpendicular from hers, where she told me I was to go.

More stories, letters, dates . . .

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Xavier Hellespont


There hadn’t been a reason to recant a single thing. Why, my memory had been blown anyway, so the point on it was lost. Tulips had been supposedly planted for the dead. Termite mounds rose out of nowhere. Morning shadows stretched over fallen brown leaves. Jupiter had fled. My incendiary reaction to politics notwithstanding did not undo the fact that I had been time ago a pretty good shot, prone or standing. The acres and acres of corn had stood. Ears had been popped off here and there. Some joke of some kind, someone had guessed. That I had been doing nothing at all, facing southwest on the porch overlooking some fallen paradise, why it made me perfect for it. Everything about it was in my files anyway. I could talk a storm but I had nothing to say about any burn marks on my fingers nor the stubble on my cheeks.

Daimon Philips

One hour I had worked in the dirt. And one hour I had worked in the sun. One more in the rain. And the hour that I had liked most was filled with filth and mud. In that were stones, roots, and glass bottles tossed by careless men meandering down drunkenly the backside of the sinuous mountain road away from the police and human desires. And each of these bottles, smashed and whole, I tossed gently into a glass heap. For decades since, the rain had washed the dirt, and the bottles’ broken colors had shone. Now that I had become old, about to die, I had recalled my venal life, uncorrupted by most things most were corrupted by. For me, it was never women, and it was never gold. But the glint of glass, old roadside bottles broken to pieces, all these jewels, all this rubbish had become my Aqaba, my final shipwreck, my Pyrrhic victory against fortune and time.

Bethany Rose Sherwood

tibetan crystal

My last bout with mild hallucinogenics had been largely ineffective. That wasn’t because of either their lab source or the destination. It had been a chimerical sort of venture to begin with. It had been one step Minotaur, one step Peter Pan. I hadn’t been able to keep pace between monstrosity and fantasy. And the dull end of the uxorious rainbow of experience had once again been caught up with my promiscuous appurtenances. Licorice beans and flax seed concoctions mixed with almond butter syrup had been to me like the Promised Land. And a day behind Adobe Illustrator had also worked as the burden’s ideal distractor. Mention of Velázquez, Goya, and the Prado always a plus. A lift in spirit like a hem line just above the knee. An eyebrow raised. A half-fortuitous glance from afar, coming from across the street anointed. A purposeful roving down the track tracks of the northeastern corridor, the risen daily sun already losing its splendor and its golden color overhead. The pastel shading of memory could not have been more delightful at times than drinking by frozen hand in my palm the cold spring water in the Ozark Mountains where legend had it a lone bandit was time ago shot and had died six or seven generations before, some years before even the invention of the internal combustion engine and the early oil derricks began covering the world’s deserts and plains alike.

Elsa Alyse Roquefort

baker dancer

My other occupations had been less salubrious. I had meant to say ‘salutary,’ but memory device had already been in play, so that was what what had become recorded. There. Then. It had been once a taxidermist’s workplace time ago, as the phrase is wrought. Like cast iron. Sheet metal. Silversmith. Filigree of horses mated with each other over great green meadows tromping about until the penned in moment with such stallion blind to his own mandated purpose. Anyway, (effective enough segue into the next non-related segment due to similarity of sounds but not perhaps necessarily meaning or meanings) I had not been aware, or made, or made to be aware, that my little log cabin office’s pedigree had been in the recent or in the distant even faraway past ever been used to disembowel and stitch up hunted animals, hunted for their to-be on plaque mounted heads, or whole body’s glass-eyed standing in some mock in situ pose. Fair place to offer my own journeying services of soul, of psyche, of etymological butterfly dreams of the nonce. Like starlight I suppose stuffed inside Cassiopeia, a real-life constellation of another’s myth, and myth-making, co-opted to be our own. Like Heidegger’s Third Reich, if he had ever had one…even yet encore autrefois, etc., I had slightly suspected his little Bavarian shack on the hillside had not been dreamed of like that, when pondering van Gogh’s boots. And a day’s bricklayer. And even a supermarket cashier. Once. And only once. “Ein Mal jedes, nur ein Mal.” And so forth, beaded and threaded. Here. Now. And of all I had preferred ditch-diggers at the foothills of these sedimentary precipitously slung mountains for planting small trees, butternuts, doomed ashes, hemlock which had once, alongside the great Eastern Pines, populated the Earth. Where, spaciously, I had best been, O Best Beloved: woodcutter, steadfast and sure, trim and full of the day’s finely drawn muscle, hewn, with the fine sinew of slack-limbed Prince Achilles.

Tomás Bretterbint

wilted yellow roses

Half the stuff that I had had had been obliterated. And in order even to see it I had had to put the CD-R into the pop-out side-drive on a machine that had been my own daughter’s from 1999. My thought had been to copy over the back-up folder that had held everything, a folder called “Bane,” which had been at one time the name of an old machine, and then destroy both. But that did not work. Even going folder by folder, copying one folder at a time one folder at a time, did not work. Files got mangled, and I got curious along the way about what had happened to the pictures. I had had to suppose that in a fit of smooth drunkenness I had either a) deleted the whole self-incriminating lot, or, b) stored it in a place so secretly secretive that eighteen or nineteen years after the beginning of the recording and accumulation of these facts, the information was just as good as gone without a trace. The apparent neutrality of this present account notwithstanding, however, belied the uncertain corruption of the words and images that had been, for all intents and purposes, believed to have been destroyed. Like the small bit of pain when biting down on a bagel in the back in between back teeth that promises some sort of eventual root canal in the rotting nerve end’s ineluctable dying history, I had had to face the prospect of biographers pulling out the thousands and thousands of loose digital ends, prying loose the files, searching through extensions, making multiple attempts to pry out rotted bits of biographical gold that would further complicate and baffle any coherent understanding of my otherwise muted character; or, I had had to have destroyed the nearly one dozen machines in my possession already themselves. Though I had been once told by a friend decades ago that even then I had overestimated the ripples of my importance, the willful destruction of as much of my one-time presence on Earth by all means necessary, by anything I could dream up at night, more than anything else, this sort of human self-cleaning had become for twenty years already my lifework. There had been only so much attachment to grief and horror, misery and disappointment, misdirection and recklessness, amidst a vast sea of accomplishment and generally regarded renown, that I had been able to take. In lieu of this, I had opted to turn back to what had become, in retrospect, some of the oldest public technologies, and had had to use these against themselves to erase, step by step, everything as successfully as they had made it possible.

Mercedes de Salvo

rocks low tide

The sunlight had glistened on the tops of trees. And it was the tops of the trees that had glistened. So, it meant that the sunlight had shone there. And each morning that I had risen from bed, from my sleep, I had looked forward to this. I had looked forward to cold winters, winters during which the snow had never come. And I had looked forward to summers whose rains were just as hot as sweat. Autumns whose colors were like brightened memories. All that had come back again and again, like a sweetness I could almost touch, almost taste, almost see. Everything had hinged on the “almost.” Had I lived in perpetual sunshine, perpetual warmth, the human comfort of love, I could not have been more than a day. It had become like a gaze in whose stark absences longing made me a sort or sorceress, dreaming up tubers of recollection, prophecies of others’ pasts, and soft unguents tending to the morrow. My rake and shovel had kept me company most of the time. I dug more trenches with my hoe, planted more seeds, grew more to eat. I had counted on nothing. I dropped a stone at my feet and was amused by the ever oppressive force of gravity. It alone had never changed. Its certainty could be depended on, relied on, predicted. Even the day’s next coming had seemed a contiguous moment in space and in time. And even death, like a common penny left outside an envelope containing a hand-drawn letter posted to the beloved, was not possessed, was not known, was not held or cradled or kept.

Tracey Freytag

corn field path

Nobody had seen my raincoat. And nobody had seen my gloves. My adze was missing as well. All the accoutrements of living were long gone. In between the bramble bush of tomorrow I had strolled and wept. I remembered the northeast climate I had had. What was that? A curling vein of smoke from a faraway chimney pipe? A loose cannon of confederate recollection came back to my graveyard destined bone bits. A melancholy after-mint of a weekend once spent sailing upon a glass-smooth lake in Switzerland, landlocked and suffocating. The instrument panel of my once crashing plane had been a twirling in madness, a sort of mechanical failure of an immeasurable human kind. Nostalgia for the homeland was mixed with lost sentimentality for a pretended bluebird’s song that never quite was. My carnival clown conclusion had been several quotation marks away from some offbeat Hobbesian doom. Somewhere in the offing, at the foot of an invisibly seen rainbow, I had felt in the heels of my feet the looming sortie of a great relief.

Hecuba M. Sneath

money man close-up dc 2

Having understood the process by which the people had been elected, I had long stood my ground. I would have given no quarter, I would have not flinched, I would not have stepped aside. Readers of the Ark, transcribers of the Infidels, methodologists of Unity, behold yourselves, I had exclaimed. And all, like wooly lovers, had bowed their necks, their heads hanging low near the ground where the trampled grass had once grown. Truly, my at times pilfered run down the cinder path had been stupendous, my knees scarred here and there from my having tripped and healed later on. Still, I could proclaim quite loudly: My votes had been cast for you and for you and for you. Ah, though my chiasmatic cynicism rang like silent bells in the stars, I had successfully enslaved the bright lights of their imagined moments of universal fame household by household by household, like starving potato eaters crumpled around a tabletop too poor to really think on their own beyond the next starvation-sized portion of comestibles, heaps and heaps and heaps of them well-deceived into the sodden belief that they themselves would become earls, dukes, princes, queens, and kings.

Justine van Praagh

old ruts in forest

I had had no visible means of support. No web extended from corner to corner holding in place itself where I was crouching waiting for a kill. Not a bunch of leaves packed high up in a tree with all sorts of gathered autumnal debris between forked branches to keep my fur warm during the cold winter. Not a pyramid of gold on which to lay my body nightly and dream. Not even a mountaintop on which to rest my fog. Mine had been entirely invisible. It had been kept there deep inside my mind. It was a place that nobody saw, and nobody had ever seen. The blackness of space of holds itself forever there. And in between there nothing falls and nothing rises all the same. The closest I had felt this once before had been sitting in a yellow wooden chair in a room quietly by myself alone. My arms had been crossed, resting on my thighs. Even my shoulders had been slumped rolled forward just a bit. And my eyes had floated down. For some while of uncertainty all had been so easy. Like the rains of November, it had passed me by like sleep.