Rabbit Skin

The rabbit was hiding, shivering under the patio steps. It was Easter Sunday, and we were already late for church. The day before I had trimmed the mimosa tree in the backyard, which had blossomed unseasonably early, and there was a fragrant pile of slim branches by the fence.

I looked at the rabbit for a long time, its half-lidded eyes, its nose nervous about nothing. I was wearing heels for the first time and they sunk into the ground. My ass faced out toward the street as I bent over, but I didn’t notice.

My aunt came behind me and smacked me.

“Quit advertising,” she said.

“Hush,” I said. “It’s a bunny.”

She went inside, letting the screen door slap the jamb and give a metallic shudder. I thought the rabbit was going to bolt, but it didn’t.

“Are you sick?” I asked it softly.

My mother had the radio on inside, all country all the time except for 20 minutes of commercials at a stretch. They were playing ‘Love Lifted Me’. I hated that song—it was all round-mouth voices and too much powder.

As I reached out my hand, the rabbit sniffed at my fingers. I stroked its side, and it leaned into my touch. So I tried to pick it up.

In a flurry of fur it tried to wriggle out of my hands. Its little heart fought against me, and I thought of birds. I tucked it into the inside of my cardigan and ran in the house. I could feel its hind feet flailing against me.

“It’s time to go,” my mother called to me, but I shut the door to my room. We didn’t really get along anymore.

I rummaged in my closet and found an old shoebox. The rabbit quivered on my ribcage.

When I set it inside the box, it didn’t move. It just stared at me with accusatory eyes.

My aunt banged on the door.

“I feel sick,” I said. “I’m going to throw up.”

“So?” she said.

We walked to church, half a mile in the sun, sweat in my armpits and between my legs. My mother held a cheese and broccoli casserole covered in aluminum foil that glinted and winked in the light. Our road wasn’t paved then. I think it’s paved now, but I don’t know. As a kid, clean shoes were one of my many pipe dreams.

As I sat through church I looked out the window. I felt like the pastor was talking in slow motion, like we were all underwater. I leaned my head back in the pew and slumped, holding my stomach. Every so often I’d pat invisible sweat off my face. I was building my case, you see.

After that service that lasted for months, we were all supposed to go to a potluck in the gymnasium. But when I told my mother I needed to go home, she didn’t stop me. She just chased me weakly with passive-aggressive pinpricks.

“Fine. It’s Jesus’ day, but if you want to go, then just go.”

So I went. It really was that simple.

I could walk half a mile easily in 20 minutes, and this time I was trotting to get home to the rabbit shivering inside the box on my bed. I half-heard the scrape of tires and a voice behind me.

“Girl, I like your switch.”

I waved him on with my hand, but he lingered. I could hear the faint hum of his radio, although I couldn’t tell what was playing. When I looked back, I saw it was a face I didn’t recognize.

“Where you need to go?” he asked me.

I tucked my chin into the button-up collar of my dress and shook my head, still waving him past me. Beside the road there was a narrow shoulder, a dip and then just dense woods, on and on for acres. I’d never gone in there before. These were thick, heavy trees with old roots, not skinny pines with scraggly needles. They were the kind of woods where you’d find a witch’s house, or a dead body or an illegal still.

“Come on,” he said, his voice thin and whiny. “Don’t be shy.”

My feet felt heavy, and there was a gnawing, buzzing ache in my stomach. My eyes pricked with tears, but I kept up my pace. I begged for another car to come, to pull up behind him or pass him slowly and realize that no, something was wrong. But there was no one else, the world was presently deserted, sorry, be back soon. He slowed the car to an infinitesimal crawl.

“Don’t make me come out there and get you, girl,” he called in a joking, dangerous tone.

I stopped walking. The church had already vanished around the corner, just a few hundred yards behind us but beyond reach. It might as well have been a few hundred miles, I was thinking. The truck stopped too, and he scooted across the seat and reached out to open the door. Black hair, bushy eyebrows, thick nose. Around my uncle’s age, I figured. Red cap set high on his head, bill pointing up. Blue shirt, blue truck. Large hands, dirty fingernails.

Blue sky, bright sun, thick air. And darkness inside the truck.

“Well, sit over there and buckle your seatbelt”, I said.

He laughed.

“Yes ma’am,” he said. He wasn’t polite, though. He was making fun of me. He was fundamentally impolite.

I turned and ran as fast as I could into the woods. I lost one of my heels. I heard him laughing, heard the door slam, heard him trot to the edge of the woods and call out, “Don’t go, you’ll get lost.”

But I didn’t stop until my lungs contracted and shriveled and I couldn’t get any air. Then I stopped, and then I immediately threw up.

Because the trees were so tall and their canopies so thick, the floor of the woods had that dark, loamy look of topsoil from a bag. I smelled mold and fungus, not in a gross bathroom way, but in an airy, earthy way that made me relax and refill my lungs. He hadn’t followed me, but I wouldn’t leave. Just in case he was waiting somewhere. I would cut through the woods and end up across the road right next to the house. This is how I’d survive. So I could get the rabbit, so that it could survive.

I removed my other heel and left it in the mud. I’d lost its mate, anyhow. I walked silently back the way I had come, until I could just see the sliver of gravel and the outside world. I didn’t see the truck. I kept to the woods, always looking for the road so that I wouldn’t get lost. It was actually a shorter walk this way, but I had to watch for twigs and push through thorny blackberry bushes that didn’t yet have their blossoms. Just sharp defenses and no fruit to defend.

My heart slowed as I walked and breathed in the warm scent of vegetal decay and new, green life. There were a few birdsfoot violets scattered around in clumps, like families that don’t visit their neighbors. They’re pale purple flowers with deep, sunshiny centers, but every so often a violet will have one or sometimes two velvety, deep purple petals, a lovely genetic variation. I picked one of these mutations and blew into its center to force out any insects that might have crawled in there and made their home. I tucked it behind my ear, and I was more or less okay.

Since it was sometime just after lunch, I thought maybe I’d have to wake the vet from his Sunday nap. Or maybe he had plans for the holiday, I didn’t know. But he lived just a few houses down from us, and I was counting on him being home. I called him Dr. Almanac, but that wasn’t his real name. I don’t remember his real name. I hadn’t seen him for a couple of years, since our dog died. We let her deteriorate too far before we finally took her, and there was nothing Dr. Almanac could do. He scratched at the rough skin on his crown, where there was no hair. It was dark and damaged from a life out in the sun. On his desk he had a copy of the latest Farmers’ Almanac in a stand.

“Take her home and make her comfortable,” he said.

He took both of my hands in his, which reminded me of oversized hound dog paws, and smiled. He rubbed the top of my head until my hair stood up in wispy tufts, like peaks in whipped cream. I liked him.

It took a while of walking, but I finally reached the edge of the woods. I had miscalculated where I was, but not by much—the house was less than 50 yards away. No truck, and I sighed out my fear.

I slipped into the house, relishing the warm feeling of afternoon aloneness. The dust played golden in the rectangular light of the back windows as I walked to my little bedroom. My feet left a string of dirty, high-arched prints on the wooden floor.

The box was still on the bed where I’d left it, and the possibility that the rabbit might have died made me hesitate to look inside. Once before I had felt the coldness of a small dead animal, when a stray cat I adopted gave birth to four kittens and one of them didn’t make it through the night. I thought it was just sleeping, and I can still remember exactly how it felt—like a piece of cartilaginous meat pulled from the fridge and draped in cheap fabric.

Incidentally, that was also my first experience with birth, seeing those four mewling blind cashew kittens, three strong and one hopelessly weak. Funny how that works.

I didn’t want to go through that again, but I had to be sure. I sat down on the bed next to the box and looked at my hands for a long time, or at least what seemed like ages. I rubbed my hands on my forearms, just to remind myself of the warmth of life, just before I had to see death.

But I was wrong, and it was still there, still all there and alive and shivering in one corner of the box, looking up at me with wet and woeful eyes.

“Hey, you’re alright,” I said. “You’ll be just fine.”

Its brown fur was just mangled, really awful and raw and a little bit of blood matted between the hairs. It was just a little brown bunny, short in the ears with an oversized head, but I had to keep it alive for my own sense of goodness. It was with a metallic pang of guilt that I saw the marks on the rabbit’s skin, which probably had gotten worse after I caught it. I felt awful for putting the lid back on the box. I slipped on my sneakers, picked up the box and walked with sliding, book-on-the-head grace so that I wouldn’t jiggle it too much.

It wasn’t a long walk at all to Dr. Almanac’s house, compared to what I’d already been through, but my legs felt heavy. I didn’t know anything about adrenaline back then, but I knew whatever had powered me through the woods was leaking out of me like water down the bathtub drain, leaving me very tired and slow. I could feel it.

Dr. Almanac had a pretty little farm in his backyard, and with the early heat some of it was growing before its season. Over his fence I could see the soft tops of his greens, almost ready to be plucked and cooked with a little hot grease to make wilted salad. In a good world, I would come here without a reason except to eat food that had come immediately from the ground. No rabbits, no Easter, no creeps, no sneaking around. There were a ton of happy shining cars parked on the curb outside the house. They were having a party, which I was about to interrupt with a sick rabbit.

The door was open and I slipped inside, clutching the box hard enough to dent the sides. I smelled their Easter dinner, chicken roasting and melting cheese and gravy with the bitter, earthy smell of boiled greens and ham bones. I realized I hadn’t eaten anything all day, and the temptation to let someone fix me a plate and a tall glass of water with plenty of ice would’ve been impossible to ignore if the job at hand weren’t so pressing. Even so, my mouth watered.

No one questioned my presence there – they assumed I belonged to someone, somewhere nearby. I sneaked a marshmallow off of a serving dish in the foyer, and as I pressed into my mouth with one hand and cradled the box with the other hand, a woman came up to me and held my shoulders.

“JoAnn!” she said, tears brimming, threatening to eat away at her mascara. “Girl, you’ve just growed up, haven’t you? I’d know you anywhere.”

She wrapped herself around my neck like an old sloth on a tree branch, and I had to hold the rabbit box out to the side so she couldn’t squish it. She sighed and pressed her tear ducts with her thumb and forefinger, smearing the makeup.

“God, it’s just…so good to see you. I’ll go to the potty and catch up with you, young girl,” she said, pointing at my nose.

As I kept looking for Dr. Almanac, I wondered whom she thought I was, what kind of history the true JoAnn had with this woman who smelled like baby powder with a touch of laughter and loneliness. It was the first time I’d been really hugged, properly bear-squeezed, in a long time, and it felt foreign and relaxing. I took a deep breath and tried to adopt her same amiable eyes and sense of belonging.

I found Dr. Almanac by the celery sticks and ranch dressing, talking to a girl who was older than me but not by much, at least not enough to look at me with those flat, judging eyes and purse her lips and run a hand down her hair, not enough to look at me like the face you pull when you have to clean up after a greasy egg breakfast. Like she had a mountain of better things she could be doing, and me, dirty dress and messed up hair and tennis shoes with no socks, stink foot and sweaty underarms.

I touched Dr. Almanac on the arm, and he turned to look at me, same kind eyes and craning head over stooped shoulders. He hadn’t changed, and I guess I hadn’t changed all that much either because he at least knew that I was not JoAnn. He put an arm around my shoulders and pulled me to a corner, leaving that girl to crack her gum and look from side to side with her bored stare.

“I’m sorry I’m bothering you,” I said. “I just found something I thought you should have. Found something I thought you should look at, ah, take care of.”

He bent over the lid of my box, and I prayed the rabbit was still alive as he looked inside. I realized then that he might not be so inclined to leave his party and tend to a sick animal on a Sunday afternoon. That thought had not occurred to me until that moment. The noise of dozens of people squeezed into a single-level three-bedroom house suddenly felt like just too much.

“It’s okay,” I said, closing the box as he pulled his fingers away. “Never mind.”

“No, not at all,” he said. “I’m bored, to be honest. Let’s see what we can do.”

He swayed as he walked, head bent as though the inside of the house wasn’t quite large enough for him, as though he’d grown too accustomed to open skies and the high, white ceiling of his office. The house was sweetly cozy and cinnamon-colored, but with all the bodies and the early warm weather it was too hot and dim to be truly pleasant.

I squeezed past someone as I followed the broad back of Dr. Almanac. A large hand rested on my shoulder. Dirty fingernails. Bushy eyebrows, black hair, baseball cap the color of a warning.

“Where you going, Dad?” he asked. Same whiny, demanding voice.

“I’ll be back, Paul.” he said in a firm voice. “You just stay here. Go check on your mother.”

The man whose name I knew now was Paul gave my upper arm a bruising squeeze, so hard that I winced. Keep your mouth shut, that was what he didn’t say. Dr. Almanac took my arm at the elbow, in that old-fashioned way, and led me to the door. His car was an old white Buick that needed washing.

We got in. Dr. Almanac was silent for a few minutes.

“That was my son, Paul,” he said. “He’s been away for a few years.”

“Yeah,” I said. The purple tulip-shaped flowers of a nearby saucer magnolia shivered in a warm breeze, and I smiled in spite of my dark, worried feelings. These trees have no greenery on them at all, no leaves or green stems, just upright fuchsia petals that gather around each other like a group of girls in council on a playground. The beauty of it, the loveliest and most optimistic announcement of Easter Sunday I’d seen so far, gave me a little surge of confidence. Sometimes the world is like that, giving you tiny things that propel you to change from the inside out.

“I met him. Out on the road,” I said.

Dr. Almanac looked straight ahead, and I wondered if he was breathing. He said nothing, and I did not offer him any more details. I’d been studying him out of the corner of my eye, and I was beginning to see the shadow of resemblance between father and son. Dr. Almanac had bushy eyebrows, too, and the same ability to fill up a room with the largeness of himself. But it was a totally different interpretation of features, the way a sunflower and a swarm of yellow jackets just happen to both be yellow. I processed Dr. Almanac and his son in opposite parts of my brain.

The office wasn’t too far away, but it was a hazy, slow-moving trip in which Dr. Almanac was unavailable for small talk—leave a message, please. Neither one of us wanted to speak, but we didn’t want to deal with the silence either. I saw another saucer magnolia, on my side of the road. I leaned out the window and took a long whiff, but all I smelled was freshly cut grass and a little lawnmower gasoline. When he roused himself long enough to turn on the radio, I silently thanked him and God and Jesus fresh from the tomb, and the trees outside.

Dr. Almanac’s clinic sat spit-polished and wholesome at the end of a long gravel driveway. As a child I thought it looked like a fairytale cottage—the godmother kind, not the witch kind—and in a way it still did. I could just see the hints of wear and tear, a little loose gutter here, a rusty rumbling generator over there. But the shrubs were brilliant Disney green, and the pansies and Mexican heather along the walk were in glorious bloom. There was something safe and clean about it, even with the faint shimmer of dust along the reception desk and ratty magazines.

“In here,” Dr. Almanac said—the first thing he’d said in 15 minutes. Inside that room was animal hospital, white and just a little messier and more compact than a human hospital.

In my heart I wished that he would make little jokes, like when he took the bottle of rubbing alcohol and pretended to drink a sip behind my mother’s back, just to make me laugh. I wanted it to be fun again, but there was only so much I could hope for. This was older than me, bigger than me.

But as he lifted the shivering, half-dead rabbit onto the soft towel under a small operating lamp, his features began to soften.

“You’ve been through a time, little fella. Hey kiddo, you want to be my assistant?”

I breathed out and nodded.

“Open up that closet,” he said, pointing to a thick door over his shoulder.

At his instruction, I reached on my tiptoes to retrieve a clear box that looked suspiciously like plain old Tupperware. Inside were a spool of medical thread, a few needles and other tools I didn’t recognize, like special tweezers. Meanwhile, he kept one large but impossibly light hand over the rabbit as he pulled a syringe and a vial of fluid from the cupboard behind him. Over the rabbit’s twitching, worried nostrils, he affixed the smallest oxygen mask I’d ever seen.

“This juice will give him a little vacation. Pop the top off that vial,” he said. “Pull the cap off that syringe—careful, now—and hand it to me.”

He pushed the needle into the vial and with his one deft, free hand he pulled the fluid into the syringe. I never asked what it was. The rabbit went from weak trembling to stony sleep within a few minutes.

“Now comes the tricky bit,” he said.

In the harsh operating light, Dr. Almanac and I could really see just how bad it was. The rabbit’s skin hung loose, exposing the raw flesh underneath along his back and haunches. Its eyes were half-closed.

“You know those breakaway pants that basketball players use?” Dr. Almanac asked me. “That’s like a rabbit’s skin. It just pulls away from the flesh so easily. They have weak hearts, too. They can literally get scared to death.”

No one ever told me how fragile rabbits are. I never knew. How could something so preternaturally delicate survive for so long?

“I was trying to help,” I said, and Dr. Almanac smiled softly.

“You didn’t know,” he said.

With that, he threaded the needle and got to work. And he was right, it was the trickiest business I’d ever seen. Pulling a thread through the rabbit’s coat was akin to pulling a thread through antique lace or an old piece of elastic. Pull too gently and you won’t get your stitch. Pull too hard, and you’ll tear right through. It took a very long time, and a second tiny dose of sedative, to get through the whole gruesome process. The stitches were hard to see clearly through the fur, and anyway I’d lost count of how many there were. Twice the rabbit’s breathing began to fade during his surgery, and twice Dr. Almanac coaxed him back to life.

It seemed like a lot of effort for little reward. It wasn’t someone’s pet we were dealing with, here. But I never questioned it then, and even now I only question it when I’m in my most cynical of moods.

“So what are you going to call him?” Dr. Almanac said as we waited for the sedatives to wear off.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “He came back from the dead on Easter, like Jesus.”

Dr. Almanac tossed his head back and laughed so hard the rabbit began to stir from its soporific state.

“It’s a neat comparison, but we’re not calling him Jesus Christ. How about Lazarus? Same ode to resurrection, just a little less blasphemy,” he said.

I said okay, that worked for me.

Dr. Almanac scooped up Lazarus, whom he had wrapped in another soft, white towel. Lazarus peered out of the folds of the blanket like a soldier in a bunker with his slow-blinking, unsure eyes. I followed the doctor as he carried Lazarus to another room, in which there were several cages with various types of animals, each with its own version and depth of impairment. He slipped Lazarus into an empty cage with a fine carpet of wood shavings, a hotel room all made up for a new guest.

I was eyeing a parrot with plucked out patches and a long crack in its beak.

“That’s Tiffany,” he said. He pressed his fingers against the black wiring of the cage, and Tiffany nibbled at them without malice.

We left Lazarus and stood in the hallway, him leaning on the right wall and me on the left. It was late, and I had forgotten about everything—church, my mother, my aunt, the truck, the party, the house I’d left unlocked. Everything but the warm ecosystem of Dr. Almanac and his house of damaged animals.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “This is my fault.”

“It’s okay, You helped, that’s the important thing,” he said.

Dr. Almanac put his arm around my shoulder, and we stood together, not saying anything at all for while.

“Can’t read the future,” he said. “Do what you can. That’s enough.”

I nodded, letting my hair rub against the sleeve of his jacket.

“Okay,” I said.

He felt very heavy, as if he were leaning against little me for support, and as he sighed I could smell the pungency of his sadness. He had red veins in his nose.

“I’m sorry about Paul,” he said finally. “I should’ve done better with him.”

“You didn’t know,” I told him, and I felt lightness go through him, as though he’d been transfused with helium.

Fixing animals, it’s not so hard. And to know that there is the possibility of euthanasia, that you can put an animal out of its misery—I wondered if that concession ever granted him any solace. I doubt it though—I was sure he mourned, in his own way, for every creature he had to put down. Poor Dr. Almanac.

“I’ll just, I’ll have a talk with him,” he told me. “Jesus, I don’t know. I’ll do more than have a talk with him. I’ll do something real, I promise.”

As he drove me home I squeezed his forearm once and he smiled with sucked in lips. He gripped the steering wheel and leaned over it, blowing all the air out of his lungs.

“It’s okay,” I said. “We all need to be saved in some way, even if it’s from ourselves.”

I didn’t make that up—it was from the service I’d gone to that morning. It was the only part I remembered clearly. Dr. Almanac and I didn’t go to the same church, because I wasn’t Catholic and I’m almost positive he was.

He didn’t say anything, but he hummed along with the radio, and I considered that to be indicative of something.

Jesus was outside the tomb before Mary Magdalene even found him. If it’s not blasphemy, I like to believe that the first thing he did was to inhale deeply the perfume of fresh air, of green things and life and the goodness of the world he’d just saved. He needed to rid himself of the vestiges of three days’ death. Maybe he took a long stretch, just to feel the continuity and circulation in each of his muscles. To know he was alive. Yes, that’s what I would’ve done.

Lindsey Sanchez lives in Denver. Her fiction has been published online and in an anthology of ghost stories by Alabama authors.

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Sunset

It was Elaine’s 70th birthday, but she nearly forgot all about it. That’s how it is, eventually. It’s easier to forget than you’d think. But she remembered before it was too late, in the early afternoon, hours before sunset. So it was alright.

“Imagine that,” she said to herself as she buttoned up her white dress. Every year for 30 years, she had buttoned up this dress, walked out to the beach and sat on the rocks to watch the sun set. When she had first bought it, the dress was bright white, like early morning. Now it was faded, yellowed just a little, fraying at the edges, evening moon-colored. Just like her. Everything she had showed its age.

She still carried that ridiculous, too-big leather purse, and it was aged. Inside she had her billfold with $4. There was also a wallet-size photo of her son in a very tiny frame. A bottle of perfume and some receipts. That was mostly it.

Once she remembered the sunset, Elaine couldn’t get it out of her head. She sat on her sofa, flipped through a magazine her granddaughter had left, paced her kitchen three, four times. She didn’t trust herself to take a nap. There was nothing on TV. After a bowl of soup and a sandwich, which she ate standing up at her kitchen island, it was time to go. She had never missed this, not in 30 years, and she wasn’t about to miss it on her 70th, which she believed to be one of her most important birthdays even though she’d nearly forgotten it. It meant something.

She wore flip-flops because her hammertoe was too swollen to accommodate her sneakers. It was warm, and the sun was low and bright. Elaine left her house and walked the quarter-mile to the sidewalk that ran along the edge of the beach. It would take her a half-hour more to reach her spot, and then she could catch her breath before the sun hit the water.

As she walked, the sun was directly in her eyes, so much so that she couldn’t see where she was going. If anyone waved to her, she didn’t see it. She laughed at herself, an old woman walking into the light. But really, it was as beautiful as they said. Even the cement looked radiant and golden in the afternoon sun. Occasionally she would see a person’s form passing her, but it was watery and distorted. She’d had her cataracts removed, but her vision was more abstract that it used to be. That’s what she told her grandchildren. I have abstract vision.

Her spot was a garden of black rocks, a rocky ledge that jutted out of the sea, just behind the aquarium. She had to scale a small fence to reach it, but once she got over the exertion and embarrassment, she could sit on a shallow indentation of stone between two boulders. It was an incredible, quiet place in a busy town, and it belonged solely to her.

She got there with about 20 minutes to spare—she could tell from the height of the sun, from years of watching just how fast and far it had to fall. As she lifted her meaty leg over the railing, her purse swung out from her body, and she almost fell over. That had never happened before. With those slippery sandals, she wouldn’t be able to maneuver the rocks with the anchor of her bag throwing her off balance.

Elaine knew it wasn’t the safest area, but she wasn’t about to miss her sunset. There was a little cement outcropping and a few small black stones near the fence. She could tuck her bag away, and it would be safe. Reaching her arm through the wooden posts, she jammed her purse tightly between those rocks. It was visible, but only if someone knew where to look, and only she knew where to look. So it was fine.

Without the weight of her purse, the descent over the fence and onto the rocks was manageable but not without peril. Her hips were weak. With her hands outstretched, she felt her way like a salamander along the face of the rocks. Some of them were wet and slick, but she made it to her place in less than 10 minutes. Just 10 minutes to wait, and then her birthday would be complete.

She felt the humidity in her knees as she sat on her bench of stone, in between two boulders. The ocean stretched out in front of her without obstruction. The city was still moving, people were still walking and talking and living noisy lives just behind her, but she could only hear the incessant sound of the waves. Two dozen feet below her, the water beat against the rocks. She could feel it in her bones. She sighed and looked over her shoulder at her purse. There, at the fence, two young men looked back at her.

They were practically children, but they had hard eyes and no shoes. They also had a shaggy golden dog with them. One of the boys held onto the dog’s collar. The other was looking from her to her bag, chewing on the hard skin around his thumbnail.

Elaine turned back to the ocean, her hands shaking. The sun was closer to the horizon, its bottom edge hovering over the curved line of ocean.

“Go away!” she cried out, but she didn’t move from her place. She thought only of the photograph, her only photograph. Her favorite.

In reality, there was nothing she could do, anyway. They could snatch the bag and run, and she would hobble over the stones like a lame cat and cry and miss the thing that held her year together. She took a deep breath.

“When I turn my head, they’ll be gone and they’ll have taken my purse,” she said to herself. “That’s all.”

She turned her head, just for a peek, but they were still there. They appeared to be arguing.

The sun was almost touching the water. Elaine steadied herself by rubbing her knobbly hands across the stones. Whenever she looked over her shoulder, she saw them in some state of suspended animation, eyes locked on her. They’re like little puppets, she told herself. As long as I don’t look at them, they move. When I look at them, they stop. So be it, you little bastards.

The sunset had begun, and she couldn’t look back anymore. She forgot them. They no longer existed, and the city melted away as the sun melted into the water. It grew distorted and oval-shaped, flat on each end. The world around her grew shadows, and the tip of the sun finally spread and disappeared, like a dollop of melted butter in a hot pan. She was young again, and her son was waiting for her at home.

When it was gone she turned and she saw them, standing straight up and staring into the absence where the sun had just been. She couldn’t believe they were still there.

“Go away!” she cried out again. She steadied herself on the rocks, moving as fast as she could. The boy who held the dog pushed past his friend, brother, whoever, and grabbed the strap of the leather purse over the railings. The dog wagged its tail. The boy tugged it until it came free with an awful scraping noise.

“Let’s go,” she heard him say. The other boy turned as if the words smacked him. He bolted, empty-handed, out of Elaine’s sight.

“No,” she said.

The boy with the purse clicked his tongue at the dog.

“Come, Boss,” he called.

The dog didn’t move. Instead, it wagged its tail and paced the length of the fence, watching the old woman feel her way over the stones.

“Dammit,” the boy said. He ran, thin soles slapping, until he put the rocks and pavement between him and the dog and Elaine. He called again as Elaine reached the fence. She pulled herself over. The dog was still there, and the boy was almost out of sight, a watery apparition on the horizon of Elaine’s vision.

“Come, pooch,” she said. The dog came to her hand, which was open. It rested its head in her palm. She stood, looking at the boy, the dog at her feet. The sky grew darker, and a chilly wind bit at her exposed skin.

The boy stood on the precipice, trembling but with his feet rooted to the ground.

Lindsey Sanchez lives in Denver. Her fiction has been published online and in an anthology of ghost stories by Alabama authors.

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His Birthday

Old hands. I’ve always been fascinated by the hands of old people, especially old men who have worked hard for their entire lives. Of all the hands in the world, those are my favorites.

The hands resting on the table next to me belong to a very old man. Across from us, a youngish woman reaches into her shirt—she isn’t wearing a bra—to scratch an itch on her breast. She scratches slowly without noticing us, two men who could be father and son. The old man looks at her over his coffee.

“Not self-conscious at all, is she? She just feels what she feels,” he says. “You married?”

“Not yet,” I say.

“Someday. Soon,” he says, nodding. “I’m married. My wife is dead, but it’s all the same.”

I think now that I want to tell him about my interest in hands, maybe remark on the rugged dignity of his own. They’re muscular and knotted, tanned with well-defined, large-knuckled fingers. There’s strength and virility in the base of his thumb. But I can’t say that. There’s no way to bring it up.

Behind the woman scratching herself is an old mirror with an ornate bronzed frame. We can see ourselves in it.

“Look at that,” he says, gesturing with his right hand. “I don’t know that old man. I’ll show you what I know.”

He lifts his ass off the seat to pull something out of his back pocket. It’s an old photo, him and that wife, who probably lingers beside him in the bed and fills the corners of his kitchen like perfume. She’s very beautiful.

“That’s me,” he says, holding the photo under my chin and pointing at his own smooth face. It’s only at this moment that I realize the tip of the ring finger on his left hand is missing.

“What you see now is just…I don’t know,” he says. “What’s left over, I guess.”

Lindsey Sanchez lives in Denver. Her fiction has been published online and in an anthology of ghost stories by Alabama authors.

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Dear Mom

Dear Mom…You were sure right about the foliage. The New Haven Green is ablaze with multi-colored trees and the constant changing hues made me want to draw or paint them so I bought a small colored pencil kit and have included a couple of sketches. Hope they’re not too abstract for your liking. I’m also taking photos of the trees and have purposely blurred them so shapes don’t interfere with the colors. It’s starting to get chilly here now so I’m glad you had me pack those sweaters. I remember that this is the best weather in the Bay Area. I guess autumn (you always call it fall) is the best season on both coasts. Too bad I won’t be seeing you for Thanksgiving, I was looking forward to it; but if you say you’re physically and mentally exhausted and need the rest who am I to argue? Love Daniel

Dear Mom…I don’t know what to say except that I’m sorry about you and Dad. I’ve known for a long time the marriage wasn’t perfect but I had no idea he would just up and leave. Are you sure you don’t want me to come home for the semester break? It’s five weeks and I can get a lot done around the house for you. I was looking forward to sharing my experiences with you, seeing the old crowd and sleeping in my old bed. I do miss that old bed! I understand that I remind you of Dad but I’m not him and I hope you’ll reconsider. Your loving son Daniel.

Dear Mom…You forgot to send me your new phone number when you had it changed and went unlisted. I tried to call you on your birthday. Did you do anything special? The break’s been over for a couple of weeks and the new courses are like the weather—tough. I’m not used to snow and we’ve been getting plenty of it. The other day I got thinking about your cooking and I desperately wanted your chicken fricassee. I couldn’t get it out of my mind so I went down to a Greek diner and ordered it at one in the morning. You could sure give them cooking lessons. Their attempt at fricassee only made me more homesick. I can’t wait to come home for the summer. I’ve been in touch with my old boss at the hardware store and he’s promised to hire me back. Love, Dan

Dear Mom…It’s too bad you don’t have real recipes, just some notes that you improvise from. If you should happen to think about it when you’re cooking one of your old standards please write down the ingredients and instructions as you cook. I’d really appreciate it. The salmon croquets I had at the diner last week were nothing like yours, and the same with the meatloaf and stew. P.S. phone number? Love

Dear Ida…It sure does feel strange calling you anything but Mom, but if that makes you feel better, I’m glad to do it. Are you going to be here for my graduation? It’s been years since we’ve seen each other and I want you to meet my girlfriend and be with me on my big day. I wish you hadn’t returned the yearbook photo of me. I can’t help it if you see “him” every time you look at me. Daniel

Dear Ida…You missed a great wedding and it would have been much greater if you’d have been here. Sara and her parents had been hoping to meet you. We were expecting to see you on our honeymoon trip out west and dropped by the house to surprise you. I had no idea you moved. At least you kept your old PO Box. I started my new job the week we got back. It’s a wonderful career opportunity as assistant to the comptroller of the phone company. Dan

Ida…Sorry to upset you. I had no idea he once worked for the phone company. D

Dear Ida…Haven’t heard back from my recent letters. Hope all is okay. The baby’s six months old now and Sara’s a great mother—like you were. I’d love to send you a picture of Sammy but I have to tell you that he looks exactly like I did at his age.

Dear Mom…Don’t worry, I won’t send the photo. It is nice having my old grade school stuff and photo albums but it’s also kind of sad. The boxes arrived last week. I can’t help it that my handwriting is the same as “his” so I’m writing this on my computer. Hope it’s easier for you to handle. Sammy’s starting kindergarten and Emma’s in nursery school. Sara decided to go back to school for her master’s and I have just been promoted to Comptroller. Daniel

Mom…It’s my way of wording things as much as the handwriting, you say. Some things can’t be helped. Love Daniel

Ida…I can’t tell you how disappointed I have been to not hear from you this past year. If I don’t get a response to this letter I’ll stop writing. Meanwhile, I hope that all is well with you. I never mentioned that Dad looked me up when I was at Yale and visited often? He was at my graduation, wedding and around for the babies when they needed a grandparent—which has been all of their lives. I know that he was a good man and didn’t walk out on you—you threw him out. That was probably one of the best days of his life. He’s been living in an apartment a few blocks away from us. Last week he passed away.

Ida…What am I supposed to do with your phone number now? D

This is a reprint of work originally published in MiCrow.

Paul Beckman was a pin boy, numbers runner & butcher’s apprentice in his youth. He graduated to air traffic controller, builder & realtor. Now he writes and some of his published stories have appeared in: Raleigh Review, 5_trope, The Brooklyner, Metazen, Pure Slush, Playboy & Connotation Press.

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To Commoditize an Angel

she cannot face the book that shrouds her angst, so she ties it shut with a rope and nyquil;
“her beautiful legs were so well-liked,” the eulogy begins

Saint Peter is instantly gratified

Aisha Bhoori is an overworked student who will be attending Harvard University in the fall of 2014. When she is not busy serving as the Executive Director of her non-profit, Dreamers Without Borders, Aisha is drafting poems for Azizah: The Voice for Muslim Women. She has had pieces featured in The Axis of Logic, The Copperfield Review, Dog Eat Crow Magazine, Three Line Poetry, and SuhaibWebb.com.

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Packing

Pink Plaid Blazer

Veronica thumbed past the delicate tweed jacket that she’d only worn once. She had searched all night for the $700 jacket on the internet after Maggie, Jacob’s sister, wore the same one on an episode of her television show. Veronica wore it to a party, thrilled, but left early, scared someone would comment on the coincidence.

Black Velvet Opera Coat

Knowing little about the city, she and Jacob’s mother had found themselves in the basement of an antique shop in London. Veronica couldn’t afford anything, but moving from the crowded aisle, her forearm brushed velvet, and she pulled out a long coat, held it up to her.

Jacob’s mother watched her slip it on. It cocooned her almost to the ankle. Much of the inside was the same velvet, the rest, heavy silk softened with age. She felt like she was wearing sable.

It would cost the rest of the money she had for the trip, but she bought it anyway. As she was counting twenty-pound notes into the shop-owner’s wrinkled hand, Jacob’s mother added a few of her own. She’d never bought Veronica anything before.

Minidress

Veronica found what she was looking for next to the tiny beige and cream checked dress she would never get rid of. She didn’t get rid of anything. The dress, sleeveless, ended in small pleats mid-thigh. She’d bought it her first year off at college, the most bare clothing she’d ever had. The summer after freshman year, back at home, she wore it to a gay bar in the next town, with Jacob. They sat close together, they reasoned, so no one would think they were available. Jacob didn’t say anything about the dress.

Vallie Lynn Watson’s debut novel, A River So Long, was published by Luminis Books in 2012, and her Pushcart-nominated work appears in dozens of literary magazines such as PANK Magazine, decomP, and Gargoyle. She received her PhD from the Center for Writers in 2009. Watson teaches in the Creative Writing and English departments at UNC Wilmington, and lives on a river.

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Pilgrim

At the broad end of a beam of sunlight
that warms the knotted hair
trailing onto his back,
a man dragging blankets behind him like robes
walks along the street
wearing nothing to place him in our century,
rather the Middle Ages
when ragged pilgrims crossed whole countries
to reach the shrine
where their souls would be cleansed
after their bodies had no further use for them.

He moves in a slow manner we could mistake
for grace, hardly raising his feet
as he progresses, and holding his head
high enough to display the clear profile
with brow sloping down to the nose
and the chin pushed forward
where it disappears into his beard.

He doesn’t stop to ask for anything,
doesn’t lie down on a bench in the park
where mothers like to sit
with young children, doesn’t act as if he’s scoping
out the situation for a break-in later,
but the neighbourhood isn’t zoned for him
and we who watch have nothing prepared
to give; even if he stopped and turned

to face us, opening up the shadows
to reveal a medieval heart on fire,
we’d return to our own time
in which we feel secure, kept apart as we are,
from the poor and poorer still.

David Chorlton was born in Austria, grew up in Manchester, England, and went to live for several years in Vienna, before moving to Phoenix in 1978. Arizona’s landscapes and wildlife have become increasingly important to him and a significant part of his poetry. His most recent collection is The Devil’s Sonata from FutureCycle Press. The shadow side of Vienna provides the core of The Taste of Fog, a work of fiction published by Rain Mountain Press.

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