No Such Person by Alina Stefanescu

“There is no such person over the long term.”
–Alain de Botton

I.
When I leave my college sweetheart, it’s with conviction in the sweetness of his heart. He’s good in a world where goodness is held against men. He’s my best friend.

He tells me our cats curl their fuzzy bodies into the absence my shadow leaves on the couch. He texts photos of my former butt-marks with kitties inside. The cats thrive.

I leave behind Romanian oil paintings, heirloom tapestries, rattan chairs, CD collection, French sheet music, countless novels that carried me through adolescence.

“Have you lost your marbles?” my mother wonders. She loves him. He is the best.

“I left my marbles,” I say. This is a mantra: an action asserted contra what was left.

II.
The first sign: an ache in the breasts, a tenderness. I have a new man now, but no kitties. Other fellows showing interest. A few dogs. More mammals than one should manage without calculus.

I have a new mantra: “All balls in the air.”

If this is a game, I’m not playing. If this is a set-up, I want to be surprised.

The bra holds my breasts like fresh bruises.

The new man says pro-life. Another man says lesser evil. All men say civil society will take care of it.

I keep the balls in the air, glance around the lobby and wonder, “What civil society?”

Where there is a child, I see a woman attached. Kids are like urchins poised atop mommy rocks and men are like Starburst. Men are like candy, not stars.

Next comes nausea. A sign urges consumer choice. A man laments liberal media.

A darkening of nipples. A different man says job creation. Some men say down-sizing is the future is necessary. Men say what it takes to make America great again.

I lean in–that’s what. I lean into the toilet. What bubbles from my mouth is collateral damage. Or baby thighs, fetus eyes that can’t see the shell they’ve bloomed inside.

III.
“She can’t really be pregnant.”

“Of course she can’t. But she is.”

“Now she’s fucked herself in your mother’s pussy.”

They speak in Romanian, using expressions that don’t pass through customs without gaining weight, without becoming baggage. In my native tongue, the most potent curses are attached to mothers.

The green light of my grandfather’s hearing aid is on. That’s good. He doesn’t know I’m pregnant yet. I imagine his mother’s pussy is still safe.

My grandfather collects communist stamps from the Socialist Republic of Romania. The images are vivid studies in motherland myths, how leaders make complicity popular. Pop culture moves propaganda into hive minds.

On these stamps, the nation is a young mother bearing bread loaves, daisies, and babies.

The man brings an unlicked stamp to his nostrils and inhales the sticky side. It’s pure, untainted, high-value.

IV.
I stay with my childhood friend in her Georgetown mock Tudor. She has a son and a recent divorce.

“Who knew they could be lanky at six?” I wonder.

Her brown eyes thicken with boxed pinot. “I didn’t know anything,” she admits.

As she speaks, a moth flings its gray body against the glass doors. Reggae seeps into the yard, soft enough to sound belligerent.

I head down M street to procure sashimi. Taxies and bureaucrats light the dusk with dull car horns. On the sidewalk near the park, a doe nibbles oak leaves. Her eyes lift, meet mine, in the middle of this furious city, and I know we can live through anything.

V.
A silver locket lacking a photo inside the heart. It was autumn. A leaf fell from the dogwood, orange imposed across the red of his sports jacket.

I brushed the leaf from his shoulder. Laid the locket in his mouth. Said: “speak.”

“It tastes like metal,” he whispered.

VI.
When I left him, the interlude between day and night tangled like underbrush at the edge of a forest. A blur of various light, cats, special pillowcases, embroidery floss, his best soup, our french press that traveled to Paris. The fur and muscle of dark was muzzled by these memories.

Today is April 14th, one day after my birthday, one day after the sweetheart’s birthday, also the day Mayakovsky took his own life. Like a ride-or-die poet, Mayakovsky’s last letter was a script that undermined life.

I want to make love to every human in the hour before their suicide. I want to be the last salt they taste, a final sweat, a swear word.

VII.
Instead, I marry the mammal I can’t forget.

I tell him: “When I leave you, red and pink valentine hearts will be awning the pharmacy aisles.”

He thinks the plot is strong, but the characters need developing. He’s right.

I sit with the notebook and untangle the arms of an unwritten story.

He accuses me of functioning under the availability model for marriage.

My lawyer friend accidentally had sex with a transient man, a regular known round the parks for his avid vagrancies. She didn’t realize it until she volunteered at the Sunday Night Soup kitchen.

“That was just a story. Not your real friend,” he says.

“Are you sure? I miss her. I really like her. As a person.”

“That’s your thing, isn’t it, Alina? Liking people you make up to suit a story?”

In the morning, it’s hard to tell the difference between a dream and a desire. I wanted that Woman they advertised.
Desire inflames hope. I let the man hold my hand. “We can make this work,” he says.

He looks fabulous in my Che t-shirt. I let myself imagine the next part. Imagine men become solid mammals waking to diaper babies. Let myself want more than he promised. All of it.

I want to shepherd a revolutionary love through the strip malls of Alabama. I want a beloved community. And I do. I do. But when I pass the Victoria’s Secret, the eyes of those angels own me. And I want that Woman that flies off the American shelf.


 

AlinaS

Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania and lives in Alabama. Her poems and prose are recent or forthcoming in DIAGRAM, New South, Mantis, VOLT,
Cloudbank, Prairie Schooner, NELLE, and others. She serves as Poetry Editor of Pidgeonholes, President of the Alabama State Poetry Society, and co-founder of the Magic City Poetry Festival. Her first poetry chapbook, Objects in Vases (Anchor & Plume Press, 2016) won the ASPS Poetry Book of the Year Award. Her first poetry collection, Stories to Read Aloud to Your Fetus (Finishing Line Press, 2017) included Pushcart-nominated poems. Her debut fiction collection, Every Mask I Tried On, won the Brighthorse Books Prize and was published in May 2018. More online at www.alinastefanescuwriter.com or @aliner.

Fishing in Ketchikan by Samantha Peterson

Baranof casts its magic over us on a grey Friday morning in June. It starts with a cut, knife angled under its fin, fish still wriggling on the wooden table as he peels away the meat. Flop-flop, as he flips it over, mouth open in a big gaping O- like it might say something. But all we hear is the wind and the water lapping at the rocks and the boat near the shore. He tosses the bones, tail, head in a bucket by his feet. No more stirring, just scraps.

“Food for the eagles, later,” he says, his hands wet, clumps of guts glistening like jelly.

I’d had trouble reeling it in, my palms sore from their grip on the rod, forearms burning, the feel of its tiny teeth still on the tip of my finger from when I’d held it, thumb packed into its mouth.

“Yelloweye Rockfish,” he’d noted, and we’d admired the bright blood-orange of its body, head spines long like flames on its back, the golden color of its eyes wide-wide-open.

“That’s a good-sized catch” he’d said, tossing it into the hatch, and I listened to it bounce, the heavy thwack of its tail against the hard wood, wrestling for breath.

After, we eat our catch by the fire; potatoes, tomatoes, fresh aioli spread out onto our plates, hot coffee, flames thawing our feet still stuck firm in their boots. I scrape my dish clean, suppress the urge to lick it, tongue craving every last trace, mouth full with the taste of pepper, garlic, butter, wild. Across the beach, I watch the boat nod from the water, white meat swimming in my gut, full now, happy. Clouds wrap the sky in gray, but under the small wooden shelter we glow, warm bits of blueberry crumble still stuck on our lips.

When it’s time, he throws the bloody bucket in the boat, the gentle purr of the motor pulling us farther from shore. We watch him throw the carcass to the eagles, wings back, talons sharp, bowed like hooks. We sit like that-still, drifting- the white-brown body descending, the quick whoosh as it grabs at the small head sinking before soaring back up into the trees, carrying its catch deep out into the wild where it belongs.


 

SamanthaPic

Samantha Peterson is a freelance writer and medical biller from Scottsdale, Arizona. She graduated from Arizona State University with a B.A. in English and Creative Writing and is currently in the process of relocating to Juneau, Alaska with her husband and their dog.

In Foxfield by Kara Oakleaf

There are hundreds of plants and flowers native to northeast Ohio, and I think each one must be covered in thorns.

My mother leads me, my husband, and our four-year old through the grasses; she knows this place better than we do, but it changes between her visits and there are few markers to guide us. We’ve already taken one wrong turn, wandered down the wrong path until the slope grew too steep, too shaded by trees taller and older than what we’re looking for.

I’ve told my daughter we’ve come to visit a special stone with her grandfather’s name on it. I didn’t say ‘grave.’
My father’s ashes are buried on the hillside of a sprawling nature preserve, a spot unrecognizable as a cemetery. There are no arched headstones, no groundskeeper mowing circles around the graves, and no cut flowers. There is only wild, green growth. The grass is tamped down along narrow paths where other footsteps have passed, but we can see across the hills and valley, and for now, we’re alone.

I haven’t been back since the burial, when the spot we’re looking for was at the center of a large clearing. But the landscape has shifted since then, and nothing, nothing is recognizable. The world has grown up around this patch of earth where we marked his life, covered it with wild, shifting plants and flowers. Now, we’re wading through an overgrown meadow thick with raspberry bushes and prairie grass, parting thorny stalks that pierce my fingers no matter how carefully I try to grip only the tip of a leaf. Around us, the air is alive with the hum of bees and tiny insects. Weeds and wildflowers reach past my knees, sometimes taller than my daughter, and my husband guides her away from the thorns. Every few feet, we stop so she can watch the butterflies flitting around the flowers, their long tongues dipped into the center of an aster.

She’s old enough now to ask questions about him, the grandfather who disappeared from the world while she grew inside me, readying herself for it, cells in bloom.

When she was an infant, I dreamed of seeing the two of them together, as if everything were normal. But then, he’d ask me her name or how old she was, and I’d go silent, stunned I’d never told him these simple, essential facts. For whole, long seconds after I woke, I would not be able to grasp the reason they’d never met.

Back then, I thought I had plenty of time before she’d ask about him. I believed it would be easier now, but when she wants to know why he died, my throat closes around any possible explanation, and no answer will ever feel sufficient.

<>

My mother and I comb through the wilds while my husband holds my daughter above the thorns. Each time we think we’ve found the spot, we step around and over the plants, pulling vines to the side, the thorns catching our skin. I’m unprepared for this landscape; it’s summer and my calves and arms are exposed, now covered in almost imperceptible scratches, pinprick droplets of blood rising to the surface. A line of stems catches my back and snags three thorns through my shirt and into the skin. I hold still while my mother pinches the tip of the stem between two fingers and pulls. One at a time, the thorns break away from my skin and the fabric of my shirt, and we keep searching. We search for so long the trip feels like more of a quest, one we might not complete.

<>

I tried to explain this place to my daughter before coming, that it was special place to remember her grandfather. But when we first arrived, she looked out the window for a moment and then told me, “I still can’t remember him.”

She had expected a memory, some impossible memory, to appear in her mind when we got here, and it felt like I’d already failed her.

Finally, my mother finds a stand of wild bergamot, waist-high purple blossoms reaching into the air, and knows we’re close. I nudge the raspberry brambles around them in different directions, and then a bit of sunlight falls on the ground and across a piece of stone. Only a corner is exposed, but I know it. Brick-red, a flat rock lying nearly even with the earth. It’s been swallowed by a tangle of plants and grasses growing live and wild around it. My husband finds his way back to us and steps into the thorny vines, pressing them into the ground until there’s the smallest clearing and we can see part of his name, carved into rock. Enough to show this spot of earth to our daughter.

For days, I’ve steeled myself, knowing I’d be here with her. I don’t want her to see me upset, because I don’t want her to stop asking about him. I need these moments, when I can still bring him into her life in some small, insufficient way.

We tell her his name, pointing out the letters etched in stone and for a just few minutes, she sees something of him.

I want to stay longer, but there’s nowhere to sit in this tangle of shrubs and vines. But we’re here, she’s seen it, and I’ve stayed calm. It’s enough, and it isn’t.

We step out of the thorns to leave this place, this strange and overgrown place that looks nothing like a cemetery but seems to understand something of grief – how massive and wild, but so often invisible it is in the face of the living world. It is a kind of reassurance, to return years later to a part of the earth that makes you wade and dig and claw your way through tangles and knots of vines before finding what you’re looking for. Even the thorns catching your skin with every step are a reassurance, a response to a question you hadn’t spoken aloud.

Yes, they tell you. Yes, it is still supposed to hurt.


 

Kara O

Kara Oakleaf’s work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Wigleaf, Jellyfish Review, Monkeybicycle, Nimrod, Stirring, Tahoma Literary Review, and elsewhere. Her fiction has been listed in the Wigleaf Top 50, as a finalist for Best Small Fictions, and appears in the Bloomsbury anthology Short-Form Creative Writing. She received her M.F.A. from George Mason University, where she now teaches and directs the Fall for the Book literary festival. Find her online at karaoakleaf.com.