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July 2022

What's become of us, Virginia?
by Christopher Murphy

          You’ve probably outgrown ghosts, Virginia. You appeared outside my window after midnight. I was talking to myself and there was your glowing face, framed by darkness, your maniacal grin. You slid down the posts that held up your porch. You rolled your ancient Honda Accent to the road before starting it. You waited for me to join you outside in the dark.

 

          We both felt it by that playground. Snuck there to smoke brick weed and wait out the night, I stopped short where the sidewalk gave to the grass, the swings twitching in the wind. You said it felt like facing a wall of roaches. Had a girl hung herself on the swing’s chains by accident?

 

          You saw the shadow people. We both did. One stood behind the car watching us leave. An weak outline, a phantom hunger, a way of looking at you passing peripherally like they hoped to be noticed. We’d talk about them when you slept over and they’d materialize in the corners of the room.

 

          Where have you gone, Virginia? To Jackson Hole and ski-bumming, to baggage handling, to baldness and full beards. To nicknames I didn’t give to you. You didn’t like yours: Virginia, because of that one sweatshirt you wore in traveling soccer. I see you on Instagram.

 

          It’s hot down here in Land O’Lakes. You came down for the wedding. Blitz remembered you and you still called him the furry Buddha. You credited him with saving your live when the pills took control that one night on the Cape, begging to sit in your lap and then lying on your chest and steadying your heartbeat with his breathing.

 

          You never married. From what I can tell on Instagram you have a coalition of friends, male and female, but no one appears solitary with you in those posts for long. You were there for the wedding I didn’t want, the marriage I didn’t know I needed. When Lee is asleep in our house, gotten cheap because white people don’t want to live around black people, with our AC out and the puppies whimpering and money the axe above my sternum, I think of you and wonder how you handle these nights. Without Lee I would be dead. I know that now.

 

          We lost Blitz, and Fenway, and Buddy. Back when you still wanted to be a writer, I said you were the only one that could write about that last drive I took with my mother, home from freshman fall at New Mexico and her seven months from being gone. How much hope there was, how much I laughed at her impersonating my father’s laugh. How that drive was the opposite of what you’d expect.

 

          How you met the father that left your mother before you were born. How you said it felt like nothing at all. A scab that finally fell off.

 

          When we talk it’s about that first Patriots Super Bowl in ’01 and the Sox finally winning it all in ’04. Different kinds of ghosts. Benevolent ones. We talk about those teens materializing from the New Orleans night. How you fought. How my fresh-cracked rib provided a hindsight excuse for watching you scrap that kid. I was crumpled against a wall, unable to stand.

 

          When I finally told you that the shadow people never left, I thought for some reason you already knew. I didn’t tell you the name, ‘shadow people’, gave them a terrible form. I told you it took years to realize their voices weren’t imaginary, came from some fragment of my brain that only spoke in that way, sometimes just insistent and sometimes driven to darkness, a self-destruction to shut us all up.

 

          I didn’t tell you that it’s our history—the whiffleball, laying on our backs with a face full of mushrooms watching the summer sky, the April blizzard we got into the rolling snowball fight with the Newton North kids—that helps keep the voice in another room. I didn’t tell you that our nights—your face in the window, the wall of roaches, the chainsmoked apparitions—were the start of things fracturing.

 

          What’s become of us, Virginia? We wore each other’s coats. Now I see you in pictures from airport bathrooms, mountaintops. That isn’t your voice I hear, Virginia, but I wish it was. I wish it was your face in my window, unwilling to go it alone.

Bio

Christopher Murphy received his MFA from The University of Arkansas. He teaches creative writing at Northeastern State University and reads for Nimrod International Journal. His work has been published at Gulf Coast, This Land, Jellyfish Review, Necessary Fiction, and decomP among others. He has a collection of flash fiction, Burning All the Time, from Mongrel Empire Press.

Story
Word of the Lord_edited.jpg
Jacob and Esau
by Paul Hostovsky

My bar mitzvah portion was the story
of Jacob and Esau and the lentil soup.
At thirteen I was as smooth as Jacob:
I had learned just enough Hebrew to read
that bit from the Torah aloud, impress the congregation
and get the money. It was all a kind of fraud–
I had no idea what any of the words meant.
I had never even tasted lentil soup.
And when I finally did, I didn't like it. The story
of Jacob and Esau and the lentil soup
and the blind father, Isaac, as it turns out,
is a story of fraud. And thirteen isn’t the age
when manhood begins–that was the biggest fraud–
though it roughly coincides with the onset
of puberty. At thirteen I could count the number of hairs
that were growing down there: approximately
thirteen. I learned about approximate equality
in algebra class that same year: when any two quantities
are close enough in value that the difference
is negligible, you use the approximately-equal-to sign
with a squiggly, which looked like one of the curling
tender tendrils growing down there. So it all fit together
approximately. I didn’t have a hairy brother like Esau
or a blind father like Isaac, but I was smooth:
practically all of my friends were hairier than me.
I knew this because of gym class and because of
peripheral vision. I pretended not to see, but I saw.
I saw I would be a late bloomer. I saw that lentil soup
was an acquired taste. I saw I wouldn’t start liking it
until many years later, when I’d grown enough pubic hair
to sport an excellent beard. A beard is technically
pubic hair on your face–any hair that wasn’t there
before puberty is technically pubic hair, a factoid
that I thought the rabbi might appreciate. So I told him
during one of our boring weekly bar mitzvah lessons.
He made a face like he had indigestion, then fondled
his pubic hair and told me to keep reading. Just keep reading.

Bio

Paul Hostovsky is the author of twelve books of poetry, most recently, Deaf & Blind (Main Street Rag, 2020) and Mostly (FutureCycle Press, 2021). His poems have won a Pushcart Prize, two Best of the Net Awards, The Comstock Review's Muriel Craft Bailey Award, and the FutureCycle Poetry Book Prize. He has been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, The Writer's Almanac, and The Georgia Poetry Circuit. He makes his living in Boston as a sign language interpreter.

Website: Paul Hostovsky.com

Poem
CNF

House Sitting
by Susie Paul

          House sitting meant just that, sitting in my friend Barbara’s house, on the screened-in side porch, drinking the chilled white wine she always left for me in her ancient refrigerator. Sitting in her house. While the dog was rarely my responsibility, a very old cat and an array of chickens were, as well as the lush landscaping she’d achieved plant by plant, with her own bucks, her own labors. The job did not include the driveway, either, to be explained later, or underneath her bedroom lamp, also to be explained. These spaces and responsibilities fell outside the purview of the two words, house and sitting.

 

          I may have approached my tasks a bit too casually, then. I was paid a little bit, but that was for sitting in the house, as I saw it. The other stuff was just a gift, from me to my friend Barbara, who was out camping in the Rockies while I was sweating through my socks and descending daily into the blue funk extreme heat and humidity bring on in me in Montgomery, AL, in the summer. I figure Barbara should have been paying me just to be stuck here while she cavorted in crystalline streams and pulled her cardigan on every night to ward off the chill.

 

          I hated her every summer. I did. So maybe there were subliminal elements to the various disasters that occurred every time I sat in her house. As MPD once asked me the 3rd or 4th time they’d been called: “Say, are you doing all this stuff?” Yes, the gold watch she intended to pass down to her daughter was stolen. I didn’t notice the missing pane in the dining room window and the thieves politely closed the window on their way out, leaving me oblivious. Less easy to explain was the morning I walked up the driveway into the house to sit awhile not noticing that the vintage Camaro parked there the day before, many months before, actually, well, always, was missing. It was after this theft that the police began to regard me with suspicion.

 

          I can’t precisely recall the order of the various crises, though they range in seriousness, beginning with some dried up salvia and newly planted something-or-other that were supposed to be drought proof. Drought and proof. Does this not mean they can survive, WITHOUT WATERING, severe heat and the absence of rain? In fact, according to Barbara, she buys her plants at a nursery that specializes in flora either indigenous or engineered to endure drought. Why I was I standing around with a hose, with no nozzle, I might add, watering what purportedly needs no water? Why couldn’t I use a sprinkler, move it around, meanwhile SITTING in the HOUSE, as per her request? And if a few salvia or whatever fizzled, wasn’t that just survival of the fittest, or couldn’t she return the remains to the nursery and insist, “I asked for drought-proof; these clearly are not!” Right? No police were called for the death of plants. Can you imagine? “Yes, 911, I need MPD out her right away. The salvia died.” I had committed no crime.

 

          So the dog, Angel 1 (the next one, identical, was Angel 2, and still lives) died on my watch. This traumatized the young woman hired to take care of her, as I could not be trusted with the dog after the salvia died. But Barbara, knowing Angel 1 was aging, had already dug the dog’s grave. I told Susan, “Just toss her in there and cover her up.” Put that rock Barbara left for a headstone on top of the mound and get over it.

 

          But Barbara failed to dig a grave for the ailing ancient, one-eyed, constantly disappearing kitty, named Kitty. I found her strangely still in the front yard one morning on my way to sit in the house. Given the earlier outrage generated when I dragged one of Barbara’s dead chickens out from under the chain link fence where some critter had been unable finish his business, bagged it in a Dirk’s wine sack, and tossed it in the trash, I dared not do the same with the kitty Kitty. Dig a grave in the Alabama earth blighted by heat and no rain and mostly clay anyway? Couldn’t be done. So I did what I’d read they did with corpses in novels about wintery New England, etc., I wrapped her in a plastic bag and put her in the freezer until she could be buried. I was a little creeped out by this, poking her gingerly the next morning to make sure she was rock solid frozen, which she was. Barbara could dig the damned grave when she got home from the Himalayas or the Galapagos or wherever she happened to be traveling before she flew home to drift through the Great American West in her serial killer white panel van. The kitty Kitty would be waiting for her.

Bio
Dr. Susie Paul has taught secondary English, composition, literature, and creative writing for more than 45 years. Her poems have appeared in The Georgia Review, Kalliope, Negative Capability, Earth's Daughters, and many other journals. Her chapbook, The Whited Air: Mary Paul in Winter, was published in 2021 by Finishing Line Press. House Sitting originated with the comedy show Cheaper Than Therapy, organized by Renea Dearing Shibab with the help of the late Melissa Kent Simms.

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