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October 2022

Image by Jakob Braun
Directions to Love
by Noel Cheruto

          Turn left at nineteen. Your first. And your last, you think. Uproot your heart and plant it deep within his. He, with bulky thighs and action-hero arms, plays rugby for Team Kenya. Watch him on TV in his team jersey with its red-black-white flag. Watch his legs running across the screen, his short black shorts riding up under his perfect, rounded bottom, every muscle pulling the camera along. Watch the crowd in the stands, waving tiny Kenyan flags and chanting his name as he scores a touchdown. Feel your cheeks taut with joy as he stands behind microphones after the game. Feel your life ebb away as he walks away from the camera into the arms of a long-braided, narrow-waisted woman. See your phone buzz alight with messages. He has eight other women who claim to be his. Eight that you know.

 

*

 

          Turn left at the zoo. Your heart is padded with cynicism, but you are willing to bargain away pieces of it for love. Stumble upon a lion lying out on the path, big, with broken claws and ragged mane. Why is he lying unclaimed; does nobody want a lion?

 

          No one wants a sick lion, an untamed lion. But you do. You can heal him. You can shampoo his mane with joy and seal his wounds with love. So you take him home. He is sick and tattered, but he is a lion, his past glory better than your present hurt. Give him everything. Your first salary, your home, your all.

 

          Drag him around to show him off to everybody. They look away, jealous that you, a wallflower, tamed a lion.

 

          Know the cold, antiseptic smell of rehabilitation clinics. Know the sucking sound of a stomach getting pumped. Drag him still, from one promise to another, through excuses, through near-death experiences. One evening, over a table where he has fallen asleep, his face hugging a plate of fried plantain, a friend points out that a dead lion is not a lion.

 

*

 

          Turn left at the cemetery where souls go to die. Sift through shovelfuls of men. Thick men, foolish men, beautiful men, tall men; have them on a roster. Some you like, most you don’t. Rate your joy by the number of texts beeping through. If everyone wants a piece of you, does that not mean that you are valuable?

 

          One, with a ring around his finger, stands naked over you in bed and says: Please, my love, don’t fall in love with me. I cannot afford a complication right now. My family. . . Let us keep it light, okay? You want to poke his bulging beer belly until you pop it like a balloon. Poke him and say, I am a thousand stars dancing in the sky. I am a million waves rising out of the ocean. You, don’t fall in love with me! Instead, you lie back and cross your ankles, with your arms behind your head. Close your eyes and follow him around your bedroom by the sound of his movements. Hear him zipping his pants, his belt buckle falling apart and clattering on the floor. Feel him sitting on the bed to lace his shoes. Follow his footsteps along your narrow corridor to the door.

 

          Hear your front door lock behind him. Breathe once. Breathe again. Fall into a light sleep. Get startled upright by the doorbell. Walk naked to the door to meet his one-sided smile. I forgot my belt. Find it under your bed, exactly where you knew he left it. Yank his salmon shirt out of your closet. Shove them in a brown paper bag, along with the hurt from your father, whose face you can’t remember. Push everything through the narrowly open door. Slam the door against his promises to call you later and slide your back along the door to the floor. Stay there until you remember who you are.

 

*

 

          Turn left again. The fourth left is always a right. Right back to where you began. Right your wrongs. Undress your loneliness and put it on a plate in front of you. Poke at it until, hungry, you begin to eat. Devour your loneliness. Fill your stomach so there’s no room for any man that comes your way.

 

          Get promoted at work. Move to an office with windows for walls. Look down at the cars on Harambee Avenue, and laugh at how toy-like they seem.

 

          Gichuru from Human Resources comes to help you around your new office. His beard is peppered grey, his smooth skin darker than midnight. Appreciate his beauty as you would a garden: with no need to possess it. He comes every day after that at lunch, pokes his shiny head around the door to ask if you are okay. His eyes are eager, but your heart is locked. One lunchtime, he lets himself in and sits on your desk, with his checker-shirt chest twisted towards you. He doesn’t offer anything or ask for anything.

 

          And then it is a Saturday morning, in bed. Gichuru’s phone is vibrating through the mattress. Hear him grunt awake, fumbling his fingers towards it. Feel the cold of his fingertips raking your scalp as he listens. When he hangs up, he says, sorry babe, I have to go to work.

 

          Nod okay and burrow into the linen. A day spent with him is good. A day spent without him is equally good.

 

Arrive at love.

Bio

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Story
Poem
Image by Ganapathy Kumar
Bobcats who break bad
by Brian Yapko

The high desert looms just beyond the freeway overpass,
near the Pueblo-revival sentinel of the tribal casino. Its dry
thirst creeps into the city, near the studios shooting Westerns,
past the tortillerias, past the laughing women who wear halter
tops as they flirt with mustached men in tight muscle shirts.
It stops just short of the Rio Grande. Albuquerque thinks of
itself as any-town but it’s anything but. It has more edge,
more spice than some visitors can handle. A city of ancient
adobe where piñatas come from Walmart and nuclear-hot
tamales from Tia Astra’s. Tourists, exhausted by the elevation
and lack of humidity, seek escape in an exaltation of balloons.
Then they hunt Breaking Bad film locations and traces of the
Manhattan Project. Albuquerque is muy caliente, a hundred
shades of brown dressed in Navajo blankets, peppered with
turquoise doors, haunted by the couture skeletons of the
Dia de los Muertos. Cultures collide here. Nature, too.
Scorpions sting. Vultures wait with sinister patience; coyotes
and roadrunners race and African lions, Bengal tigers and
Amazonian jaguars appear only as centerfolds in the
carnivore-lust porn magazines of the New Mexican bobcat.

 

Bobcats – not the mealy creature you see in old reruns of
Davy Crockett or Bonanza but that strangely magnetic
cat of tawny and tan which blends enticingly with the
parched terrain. No roar per se but a throaty snarl. Bobcats
enter the city just like the rest of us: to show off their fur,
sow their wild oats, shake up their monotonous meals of
rabbit and lizard, and grab a piece of the action. I see them
prowl the trash bins behind Burrito King, sensual,
stretching their lean muscles, ducking into shadows with
the sound of traffic, fleet of foot, offering their rugged
brand of feline charisma in exchange for table scraps left
exposed in the dumpsters. They strut and slink like the
macho hunters they were born to be, no more
stereotypical than we and no less famished for something –
anything – to fill them. Don’t believe what National
Geographic tells you on TV. Bobcats are sexy, feral, ready
for an illicit encounter. They cruise the alleyways and they
crave guacamole, salsa, frijoles from fine purveyors of
Mexican fast food. Let them be. They fend for themselves
and they’re fierce. Rub their bellies at your peril.

Bio

Brian Yapko is a lawyer whose poems have appeared in multiple publications, including Gyroscope, Apricity, Tofu Ink, Dreaming, Cagibi, Grand Little Things, Hive Avenue, the Society of Classical Poets, Chained Muse, Tempered Runes, Garfield Lake Review, Sparks of Calliope, Abstract Elephant and others. His debut science fiction novel, El Nuevo Mundo, was recently published by Rebel Satori Press. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

CNF
God bless you,
Mr. Ahern

by Rebecca Trimpe

About ninety-five percent of the time when I talk, I’m lying. What I’m saying is true, sometimes painfully so, but the accent I use is a flat-out lie. I sound like a television news anchor from the great Midwest. There was a time this served me well, but the space dedicated to translating what I want to say from the way it sounds in my head to perfect for the six o’clock news when it comes outta my mouth -- that’s taking up too much real estate in my brain. I’m too old for this shit and can’t be bothered to give a damn anymore.

 

Anchor-speak is a skill I picked up because I had to. First-grade teacher sent me to the speech therapist. Said my accent would keep me from “succeeding in the world.” Therapist listened to me talk for a while then gave her diagnosis: “You have a Southern accent. You’ll grow out of it.” I was an overachiever. I began to grow out of it immediately. Once word hit the playground that I talked funny, which no one had noticed before our teacher made a big damn deal out of it, every kid in my class started pointing it out. It was hell. I had to blend in, so I started developing an ear for accents about thirty-seven seconds after it was made clear I had one I needed to bury. I soak 'em up like a wrung-out kitchen sponge left on a sunny windowsill all day. If your accent is particularly delicious, let me apologize in advance. I am not mocking you. I’m a speech chameleon.

 

I wasn’t gonna get any help at home. The first time I managed to say the word “five” halfway properly my mother laughed at me just like the kids at school. If I was going to fix this thing that needed fixing, I had to figure it out myself as silently as possible. Then I discovered the source many people turn to when they’re told they need to improve the way they speak: television. This was the era of local teevee kiddie cartoon programs and I watched two every chance I got. I liked Janie but didn’t want to copy her speech. I enjoyed Chuckwagon Theater, but not enough to adopt the way Cowboy Bob spoke. I might have tried on Walter Cronkite’s accent, but the Vietnam War was part of the national evening news every night and my parents wouldn’t let me watch. Local news was not off limits and my family was loyal to WISH TV, Channel 8. Mike Ahern began his broadcasting career a couple years before I started fishing for a new way to talk. I was an Eliza Doolittle and needed a Henry Higgins. We were perfect for each other.

 

I grew up in southern Indiana but anyone who tries to call me a Hoosier will get corrected. The only English I heard when I was learning how to talk was spoken with an Appalachian accent thick as sorghum. My original speech and the place where I was born are like a pair of little chips on my left shoulder. After more than fifty years of pressure to conform, they’ve become a pair of twinkly diamonds. What’s left of the coal-camp town where I was born is in the valley of the tallest mountain in Kentucky. I did not do any of my growing up there. I’m sure there are Kentuckians who would accuse me of trying to appropriate a connection to a place that isn’t truly mine. I might concede a point to that argument but it would be the size of a period in 4-point type. My parents were born and grew up there. Every long weekend or school vacation was spent in Letcher and Harlan counties among grannies, grandads, aunts, uncles, cousins, and enough other relatives to populate a small town. They all sounded just like I did. I don’t want to appropriate anything but the way the brave little girl I was in first grade sounded when she spoke. She’s my hero.

 

Mr. Ahern didn’t sound like a Hoosier, even though he is one. Most television news anchors have no discernible accent, at least to American ears. Perhaps that’s why he made such an impression on me. I usually say Watergate was the reason I wanted to go into the news business, a career I had for over 20 years, but I’m sure Mr. Ahern also helped steer me there. A handful of months before Nixon resigned, my fourth-grade teacher sent a note to my mother. Suggested if I read the newspaper out loud at home it might help me stop transposing numbers and let me practice my accent. I burst into tears. My accent was still a problem? My mother rolled her eyes and handed me a copy of our local newspaper. It had started picking up the Watergate stories through the Associated Press. Here was another symbiotic match. Woodard and Bernstein needed to uncover the truth. I needed a career to aspire to.

 

I didn’t realize I’d perfected anchor-speak until high school. I was in journalism class and interviewing sources for news stories for the first time. No one asked me where I was from. My fake accent stayed in place throughout college, where a man from Chicago I dated briefly said he was glad I didn’t talk like a southern person because “they just sound so ignorant.” My first media jobs after graduation also were free of questions about my speech. I’m far removed from that young girl trying to re-teach herself to talk and yet to this day, when I ask a source a question for a story I’m writing, I wonder who this person is, posing these questions. She sounds entirely foreign to me.

 

I’m an educated, intelligent human. I’ve always known I was code switching, though I wouldn’t have called it that in elementary school. I was in my early fifties before it occurred to me I didn’t need to code switch anymore because I had, in fact, “succeeded in the world.” I was listening to a co-worker give a talk when I tuned into her voice and heard the southern place of her birth. This woman had just earned her Ph.D. and anyone in doubt of her intelligence needs to be called out for the ignorant asshat they are. She sounded like her authentic self and while I admired her for it, I envied her too. Then I decided to not envy her anymore and stop editing myself. Turns out, that's more difficult than it sounds. Mr. Ahern did this job he didn’t know I gave him a little too well.

 

My internal speech editor eases up on me when I’m around another southern person. Or maybe she just tosses her hands in the air and casts her eyes skyward searchin’ for Jesus because I am hopeless when I get a chance to talk to someone who’s got an accent from south of the Ohio River. This can get sticky. People who don’t know I was born in southeastern Kentucky and raised by a pair of hillbillies give me an odd look and ask: What happened to your voice? My speech editor has been on the job a long damn time, cleaning up my diction, slammin' the brakes on the pace, and flattening out my accent. The old girl is good at what she does, but it’s way past time for her to retire. She prevents me from saying things like “he’s bein’ ugly” and instead has me say “he’s being difficult.” “Oh my goodness” gets put in place of “lord have mercy.” She insists I utilize the proper pronunciation of the word “tired” instead of saying “tarred.” She makes me tired.

 

I Eliza Doolittle’d myself once so I can do it again. From now on, my “eye” sounds will lengthen and issue from the back of my nose. G’s at the end of gerunds may disappear entirely. R’s are likely to vanish now and then. The pace is gonna accelerate considerably so buckle up and hang on. Y’all and all y’all are valuable plural nouns and will prolly be utilized liberally. And should I be disposed to think of you with affection, you’re liable to be called “darlin’” now and then. You have been warned.

Bio

Rebecca Trimpe is a writer and editor in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she lives with her husband, three cats, a large dog of indeterminate breed, and a small collection of succulents. She worked as a journalist for over 20 years before becoming a communicator in higher education. Her work can be found in genesis and The Bookends Review.

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