The Assimilation of Boyboy Santos by Elison Alcovendaz

On the morning of the Annual Santos Sibling Karaoke Contest, Boyboy told the police he was Justin Timberlake. Previously, he’d been other famous, white, American men: Bill Clinton, George Clooney, and, for one inexplicable weekend, Batman. He never dressed the part, not that it would’ve mattered; of my nine brothers, Boyboy was the shortest and the darkest and owned the flattest face. No amount of makeup or costuming could make him pass as a white man. In fact, he looked so Filipino that random strangers automatically spoke to him in Tagalog, as though he’d just arrived from Manila and hadn’t yet adopted his new American skin.

Or maybe it was his name.

The genesis of Boyboy’s name is one of contention. According to Junior, Dad’s nickname was “boy” growing up, so he named him “Boy’s Boy” though Mom, the stickler that she was, thought apostrophes didn’t belong in people’s names. Thus, Boyboy. Robert says that, since Boyboy was the youngest and the smallest, Dad thought calling him “boy” twice might someday make him a man. I, however, know the truth. When Boyboy was born, our family was months away from moving to the States. Dad and Mom, worried their youngest would have no ties to his Filipino roots, gave him the most absurd Filipino name they could think of. With that name, they said, there’s no way he will ever become one of them.

I found Boyboy on the corner of Calvine and Mack dressed in a plaid shirt and jean shorts. He held a comb to his mouth as a microphone. He danced, too, though most people wouldn’t call it dancing. The cops had arrived before me. They stood against their cars with their arms folded across their chests, laughing their white faces off. Boyboy smiled at the audience as he pumped his fist and spun on his toes. I stayed in my car and watched. It would be better for him to be arrested again, I thought. I drove off. Boyboy waved as I sped by.

None of us expected Boyboy at the Contest, but after we had already sung, he arrived. He didn’t look at any of us as he strutted through the house, stopped at the microphone stand, picked up the remote, and selected his song. For five minutes, he sung without his usual accent. In fact, he sung so perfectly, all of us closed our eyes. When he finished, we opened our eyes to find our brother standing in the middle of the room, though he was tall and blonde and his skin was the color of ivory. Robert jumped off the couch and tackled him while Junior called 911, but all I could think about was that he finally did what Dad and Mom said he’d never do.


 

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Elison’s work has appeared in The Rumpus, The Portland Review, Gargoyle Magazine, and other publications. He has an MA in Creative Writing from Sacramento State and once won a short story contest in sixth grade. To learn more, please visit www.elisonalcovendaz.com.

A Mrs. Dalloway Kind of Day by Reshma Ruia

Nose buried in a bouquet of flowers. She strides through the park. The distant hum of traffic. A bee’s snore in her ear. Easy enough to be happy. Toss a coin. Swipe a card. Buy the dress. The shoes. The jewels clap away spider web shadows. Lurking in the rooms. The hurt. The bruise. The dripping faucet of an eye. They belonged to another day. If only she could run back to her ten-year-old self. Chasing butterflies on the village green. Cheeks freckled with sunshine not age. A heart somersaulting in joy. Limbs dripping youth.


 

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Reshma Ruia is a writer based in Manchester, England. She has a Masters with Distinction and a PhD in Creative Writing from Manchester University. Her first novel is called Something Black in the Lentil Soup. Her second novel, A Mouthful of Silence, was shortlisted for the 2014 SI Leeds literary Prize. Her short stories and poetry have appeared in various international journals and anthologies and also commissioned for Radio 4. She is the co-founder of a writers collective that aims to encourage emerging British South Asian voices.

The Sound of Ice by Megan Furniss

They say you can only see us from space. From there we are tiny flicker pinpricks, a join-the-dots circle of light, bobbing on a dark sea. You would need to go to space to know we exist.

I wake up to the sounds I know. There is the lonely yawning of the big ice, a creak and scream. There is the huge, continuous slam of ocean against that wall of ice. Closer. I know that ma’s hands are pulling the rope and I can hear her arms brush up against her skirt and apron. Shook, shuck. Shook, shuck. Every day the rope is pulled. Sometimes the wooden bucket attached to the rope has hand written notes of greeting, bits of precious chocolate or scraps of fabric for sewing. Messages from the other lighters; women like sharing small gifts. And of course, there is our daily block of ice.

We are known as the lighters. In our circle there are 167 tiny boats, each with their own mother and daughter crew. We light a circle of protection for the iceberg. We defend it with our lights. We protect this valuable resource of pure water from thieves and pirates who might stumble upon us. You would say how could we do anything? Ma says we are nothing more than an early warning system. They don’t mind losing us. But we are safe here.

The waves slap against wood. I peep out. It is dark. We sleep in the day and wake and watch at night. Let them know by radio if we see anything strange. We have learned the sounds of water and ice.

Ma says my thirteen-year-old body is typical. I need sleep. Hours of it. Ma says, “Lucky we out here, with all the time in the world. Lucky for you.”

“Ma, ma. Let’s have tea. It’s cold ma.” I drag my coat off the floor, pull it under the bedclothes, grunting and struggling to put it on without letting any air in at the sides. Inside the coat pocket is my purple woolly hat and I stick my head under the blankets to put it on. It smells and I gag. When I burst through ma is laughing and my heart lights up. “You been warming yourself with farts again?”

She is chipping at the ice block and scraping the shards into a pot. Then straight onto the burner to boil for tea. Each boat gets a tiny block of the iceberg every day. “It’s the price it has to pay, poor thing.” Ma says.

I shuffle across the creaky wooden floor to the tiny cupboard and open the tin. Wrapped in oilcloth with tissue paper on the inside to keep them dry are ginger biscuits; one for each of us, one for every day of the month. There are two left. That means a delivery tomorrow. A month’s supply of everything we need will be parachuted into the water near us and we will haul it in. Also, once a month the circle of boats is ruptured when the huge icebreaker comes to take a chunk of the iceberg to shore.

The bell tinkles. A fish. Ma gets there first, opening the hatch in the floor and pulling a thinner thread this time, until a silver fish flops up, gaping, bringing with it the cold, and salt on the air. I stand with the hammer and aim perfectly, crushing its head. I whisper thanks, like a prayer. I hate the moment of killing.

“Put on the TV and I’ll fry it up ma.”

I clean the fish. Silver fish scales collect like extra nails on the ends of my fingers. The TV screen shows the sea, the camera moving in a circle and following the light, over and over, forever and ever. The light makes the waves white, then grey, then black. Suddenly the beam passes across the surface of the iceberg and the TV screen goes completely white, no end or beginning.

Whenever I see that I cannot breathe. It is the same cannot-breathe-feeling from before, when we were not here, just a family, and the man-my-father has me in a chokehold, his body behind me, and shoving.

“Ma!”

“It’s ok, Luce, it’s ok. Here, here’s a towel.”

I come back. I have pressed the scaling knife along my palm without noticing. Ma hands me the tea towel and I wrap my hand. She looks at me and I start breathing again. There is sorrow in her face, deep and long, but the fear is gone.

Before, at the women’s shelter, ma had panicked. We had run with nothing when she had come home early from work and caught him up against me and me not breathing, in a chokehold. She had struck out at him and we had run, even as he got to his feet, threatening to kill us both. “He will find us,” she had cried, “and then he will kill us,” over and over. The shelter knew where nobody would find us. We would be invisible, but we would be the lighters. Like many before us, and many to come. That’s where people like us go.

The fish sizzles in the shallow pan. I sip tea, holding the mug one-handed and watching the liquid move in time with the waves outside. Waves slap wood. Tiny tea waves slap the china wall of the mug. The ice groans and sighs. Ma runs her fingers along the tiny bookshelf. “We’ll have some new ones tomorrow. Just think.”

She holds up a worn copy of Roald Dahl’s BFG. “Imagine, the queen of England. Imagine a giant, even a little one.”
“And snozzcumbers ma, and whizzpoppers.” Imagine.

I look at the TV. The beam moves across the waves. White, then grey, then black. We dip our ginger biscuits in the tea, just long enough for the edges to start crumbling away, then we stuff them in our mouths and suck.


 

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Megan Furniss is a playwright, writer, theatre director, actor and improviser. She loves words and stories and making stuff up.

Revival, or The Mistakes Made by Those Stuck in Porcupine Plain, Saskatchewan by Kaitlin Ruether

You must be desperate or something, because you haven’t looted in ages, and your fingers tremble when your eyes fall on the wall of spices, the second biggest you’ve seen (the first you witnessed when your mother dragged you by the wrist to another Saskatchewan farmer’s market, the Big River Market, three hundred kilometres from where you stand now) and you are mesmerized by the pale carmine chilli and the gamboge curry, the staples of your craft; of course, in a town as small as Porcupine Plain, there are eyes that follow you, know you by reputation, so you move from the wall of spices out into the world (you still have a baggie of nicked onion powder in your glove box, next to the weed), but you are stopped in the parkade by a woman, mid-fifties, with smudged eyeliner and a too-large tank-top who blocks your path and stares you down as tears streak her cheeks, and she begs you to do her a favour, whimpers, “My son-in-law … he’s hurt,” so you follow her back to her blue sedan and see not a child like you imagined (caught on the word “son”) but a man of maybe thirty passed out in the passenger seat, and the woman eyes your sleeve of prison-gained tattoos with expectance so you rattle the door handle, but it’s locked, and behind you she sobs so you look at her and wait until she says, “He’s been drugged,” then shakes a breath from her lungs, “I drugged him,” she finishes (ah, so expected criminal empathy is why she cornered you), and you think of the turmeric in the aisle, the forbidden tangy nip of the dust, and you ask why, though you’ve never had a good answer to that member of the 5 Ws family yourself, but “I love him,” falls out of her mouth like too-hot makhani eaten with impatience: it slops to the pavement and you are uncomfortable to watch, so you look at the man and the dribble of drool that pools on the strap of the seatbelt, and you can hear music from the stereo — Jethro Tull’s forty-four minute “Thick as a Brick”: one song, one album, no full-stop — and the man in the car inhales and you exhale and the breeze dies, and the woman begs you again to get him out, but you’ll need a coat hanger, which you tell her before you tread back towards the market where you remember a young woman who sold tie-dyed t-shirts, but on your way you pass the spices, and your fingers wrap smooth along the glass of golden curry powder, the thrill in your blood returned — tonight you’ll craft kashmiri lamb and potatoes, or tikka masala and palak paneer — and the man in the car will wake to the tune of a rock ’n’ roll flute and a mother-in-law in crisis and you will be far, far away.


 

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Kaitlin Ruether is an MFA candidate at the University of Guelph in Toronto and a graduate of the University of Victoria’s Creative Writing Program. Her work has appeared in New Limestone Review, Freefall Magazine, and This Side of West.

You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory by Max Hipp

Mitch sees a man in the patch of yard between the apartment buildings banging his head against the wooden lamppost. He’s not leaning into it. It’s like he’s testing it, thinking about hitting his head harder, trying to get used to the pain bit by bit. With each strike the gas flame on top flickers, the lantern casing wobbles.

“Hey,” Mitch says. “Need some help?”

He cocks an ear at Mitch and hits his head against the post again. The gas flame dances.

“Why?” he says. “Do you have a better way of doing this?” He’s blond and medium handsome. He doesn’t seem crazy. He’s in a sweated-through, pink Izod shirt and khaki pants. Perfectly normal. Too normal, maybe.

Mitch sits on his steps and fires up a Camel. After all these years, there’s still a hint of that first inhale the neighbor kids dared him to take. He was twelve, on the school bus. He got suspended, sure, but he’d shown who had the guts.

“I can get a bat,” Mitch says to the man.

“Would you do that for me?” he says. “Because that might be what I need.” He goes down on one knee, sits Indian-style against the post. Blood trickles onto his pink shoulder. Real blood mixed with sweat looks like fake blood.

“It’ll cost you.”

“How much?”

Mitch flashes fingers on both hands five times.

“How much is that? It’s hard to concentrate.”

“Fifty.”

“That’s a goddamn deal.” He gets up and sticks out his hand. “Call me Adam.”

*

Mitch punches through the radio stations until Adam comes out of the bank. The tellers have given him paper towels for his head. He opens the door and throws the wad on the dashboard. Bright blood seeps into the quilted pattern.

He pushes cash into Mitch’s hand, a newly minted picture of Grant, and cranks the car. Mitch holds it under his nose and closes his eyes smelling the otherworldly ink. It reminds him of the ballpark where he sold cokes, hotdogs, snowballs, nachos. Counting money at the end of the night, straightening bills. The ping of baseballs off metal bats.

Back in the apartment, Adam stands in the hallway as Mitch rummages through a closet, pulling out knee pads, helmets, gloves, racquets, and finally a thirty-three-inch, Eastland baseball bat. He grips it with both hands and whiffs it through the air.

“Beautiful!” Adam says.

They go out to the parking lot. People are walking dogs around the doggie-track section of the complex. Adam kneels down, khaki knees on the asphalt. Mitch grips the bat and takes a few practice swings.
“This is going to do the trick,” Adam says to the pavement between his hands, smiling. “I can feel it.” He sticks his neck out to provide a cleaner target.

Mitch grips the bat. He widens his stance and crouches like he did in the batter’s box so many years ago. He looks at Adam, dried blood in his hair. Dried blood on the side of his face, his neck muscles tensing.
He drops the bat. It rings and rolls to the curb. He sits on the pavement and lights up. Maybe, somehow, he lost his guts.

“What happened?” Adam says.

“I thought I could do it,” Mitch whispers. He looks at his hands like things are slipping through his fingers.

Adam nods and stares at Mitch’s apartment. “Mind if I use your bathroom?”

After ten minutes of staring at the bat, his hands, his happy neighbors with dogs, Mitch goes into the apartment looking for him. He finds the pink Izod and the khakis. He looks outside beyond the cracked patio, half expecting to see naked Adam hiding in the trees. He checks back at the lamppost. He walks around the whole complex, peering behind hedgerows and even the back fence where everybody tosses dog poop.

At the end of the night, when Mitch empties his pockets, the fifty-dollar-bill is gone too.

The next day Mitch feels unlike himself. Something is missing. He puts on the stinking pink shirt and khakis and goes outside to the lamppost. He feels dull and slow since Adam disappeared. He believes the man’s name was Adam but can’t be sure. He stares at the post. Seems there’s nothing to do now but hit his head against it.

The impact seems to jar something loose inside, a flash of what it feels like to waterski, the wake, wind, and sun. Holding his body rigid against the pull of the boat. A little more shakes loose when he does it a second time. The summer his family went to Pickwick Lake and he got so sunburned it itched under his skin when he showered and there was no way to scratch.

It hurts to hit his head, but the hurting helps.

The girl from the apartment next door, the waitress with the lip ring and neck tattoos, sits on her stoop, smoking and watching him.

Mitch feels blood trickling behind his ear. It’s not bad, just bloody sweat. He hits the post and remembers his grandmother’s face, how cold her hand felt on his feverish forehead.

Something’s important about these flashes of memory. He can’t quite get the full picture, the meaning and feel of them, but he can’t bring himself to hit his head against the post any harder. Hitting it harder, though, might help everything shake loose at once, everything he’s been tucking away and losing little by little.

“Hey,” the girl says, flicking ashes. “Need some help over there?”


 

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Max Hipp is a teacher, writer, and musician living in Mississippi. His work has either appeared or is upcoming in Black Warrior Review, Bull: Men’s Fiction, Bridge Eight, New World Writing, Pidgeonholes, Unbroken Journal, and Five 2 One. Tweets @maximumevil.

On My Day Off by Benjamin Niespodziany

On My Day Off I was getting my hair cut when my wife, a midwife, called. I let it go to voicemail. In the voicemail she said, “You have an envelope waiting for you at home.” She said she was afraid, said she didn’t like how it felt in her hands. I told her to please place it on the table before leaving for work. My wife worked nights. “I’ll be home in a bit.”

//

I paid the barber in good bread and silence: the same amount since I first started seeing him nineteen years ago. Almost two decades of haircuts and we’d never said a word to each other. I hoped to never know his name, considered him to be one of my best friends. The earth spins just fine sometimes.

//

After my hair cut, I walked to my car down the street and noticed a struggling veteran with handfuls of roses that sat in a bucket of juice. He held a sign that said, Free Hugs But Not Free Flowers. I bought a dozen reds and hugged the man twice. Twelve flowers to bring home for my wife.

//

Our divorced friends used to come over for dinner and couldn’t believe that my wife and I were still together. They rolled their wedding rings down our hallway and laughed at me as I chased after the gold in hurried silence, thinking about how my uncle once placed his wedding ring into the church basket’s offering. He called it his contribution. He called it his shed.

//

On the car ride home from my hair cut, I saw a wolf fighting both a man and a dog. Two against one. I stopped my car and offered to help. I recognized the man from fencing. The wolf was really aggressive. I had a sword in the trunk of my car. “Brand new thing!” I shouted at the man. I was still trying to find ways to use my sword ever since buying it a few months prior. My wife didn’t understand the purchase. Asked its expiration date. The man yelled, “Go on, get the hell out of here! This is between me, my dog, and this wolf! Don’t bring swords into a personal matter!” The man’s leg was bleeding pretty bad. I noticed a dead owl in the front yard. Sitting still to the side of their battle. Its eyes open wide. Was it their prize? Like always, I didn’t ask questions. Like always, I said nothing. I got back in my car and kept driving.

//

By the time I arrived home, I’d forgotten all about the envelope described by my wife while I was getting my hair cut for some bread and some silence. The letter was the first thing I noticed when I walked inside. It was on the table as I’d asked, and it sat next to a burning candle, one I’d never seen, one that dripped with wax a bit too freely. The power was out, the place more silent than a mime fight. Usually my wife left music playing for me. An entrance song. Smooth jazz. “Honey?” She was probably already at work. An acclaimed midwife who used to be a nurse. “Honey?” I heard nothing. For the first time all day, I cleaned my glasses. “Honey?” I placed her flowers in a vase and opened the letter with my sword, something to be read slowly by candlelight, something to close out my only day off in months.


 

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Benjamin Niespodziany is a night librarian at the University of Chicago. He runs the multimedia art blog [neonpajamas] and has had work published in Pithead Chapel, Cheap Pop, HOOT Review, Ghost City Press, and a handful of others.

The Kissing Disease by Jeffrey Winter

It is strange the way they encourage us to seek out and squirm into places which are usually forbidden to us, but we are having too much fun to waste time questioning. Miles has spent most of the morning under Ms. Collars’ desk, rummaging through the small collection of shoes she keeps there, searching through the drawers for confiscated phones or the giant wad of gum she is rumored to fashion from the pieces we spit into the trash can throughout the year.

I have chosen the coat closet for my hiding place. For most of the morning I have been burrowing into a giant pile of coats, each bearing a tag marked with its owner’s initials. I have been bathing in the various smells, luxuriating in the strange imagined home lives of my classmates. I have always wanted to do this; I have fantasized about it for hours on end while Ms. Collars droned on and on about the branches of the government and the water cycle. For me – for all of us, I think – this day is a dream come true.

One of the other teachers is said to have rappelled down from the roof to the window of her classroom, tapping on the glass with a ruler and shouting, “I can still see you!” to a number of students who didn’t reckon on being looked for from that particular angle, sending them screaming delightedly to find new, more secure spaces in which to secrete themselves. Ms. Collars is far too old and hefty to pull off such a stunt; she strolls up and down the hall, past the windows, gripping her own ruler at shoulder-level and peering into the room with the same squint with which she searches our class daily for “cheaters and malingerers,” as she calls them. One glimpse of a cowlick, one flash of the sole of a shoe, and she barges into the room and bellows out the name of the student she has spotted. She asks him or her how his or her parents would feel. Then she exits the room and we try again.

The lights are off; anyone passing by would assume the room is empty. Signs have been placed on each door: LIBRARY. FIELD TRIP. BACK IN A JIFFY. The silence is delicious. Some of us fall asleep, safe in the warmth of our hiding places. Some of us whisper to friends across the room from our secret stations. Some of us shush each other while others start giggling and cannot stop. Then comes the tapping of the ruler on the glass, and all noises immediately cease.

The whole afternoon is like this. In the morning, up until lunch, we ran No Time to Hide drills, in which we are given ten seconds (counted over the loudspeaker by our principal, Mr. Weller) to search for items which could be used as weapons and then present them to Ms. Collars. I brought up an English textbook and was awarded a single star. Miles brought a staple remover he keeps in his backpack and was given three stars, which he stuck to the front of his shirt. Later in the morning Mr. Weller poked his head in the door and said, “Oh, look at this! A whole galaxy of stars!” Then he moved on to the class next door and we could hear him use the same line.

In a few minutes teachers from all over the school will storm our classroom, brandishing their rulers before them and screaming. They will uncover each of our hiding places, and when we are found we are to stand up and hold our “weapon” out in front of us. The longer we can stand still without laughing, crying or running – all while the teachers scream and jab their rulers within inches of our faces – the more stars we will be awarded. The winning class receives the Bravery Star and is given a picnic lunch on the last day of the school year. The act of standing still with our “weapons” in front of us is supposed to signify an “attack.” When Mr. Weller told us about it at the assembly he grinned and said, “That’s right! You actually get to attack your teacher! About time, right?” Then he kept nodding his head and everyone was quiet.

I lie back on the coats and listen to the sounds of the raid taking place a few doors down the hall. Next to me a purple coat – I can’t see the initials – begins to move. I pull at it and and uncover the head of Sara Guidry, who begins to giggle up at me. I had not realized she was here. I thought I was alone. I smile back, then reach over to pluck a purple sequin from her cheek. And then, not understanding what I am doing or why, I lean over and kiss her. I kiss her on her lips, which taste like syrup and stick to my own. And neither of us says a word.

My father once told me to keep away from girls, winking at my mother and explaining the dangers of the kissing disease, which he said could keep me laid up in bed for up to a month. Later, when I asked about it again, he said, “Honestly? It’s probably worth it,” and I wasn’t sure if he was talking about the pleasure of the thing that caused it or the time away from school that would result from contracting it. Lying on the coats next to Sara I hear the classroom next door erupt in shrill squeals and laughter – a voice I recognize as Ms. Collars’ cries, “Don’t you know how much danger you’re in?” and rulers rattle on desktops. I stare up at the ceiling and I can feel, deep inside me somewhere, the first tentative movement of the virus.


 

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Jeffrey Winter is a married father of two young children and a high school English teacher in Cypress, Texas. He has been published in The Collagist, Pif Magazine, Eunoia Review, and others.