Something For Nothing by Kimberly Glassman

We see it on Saturday on the road to Rayeville: the wicker love seat, right out there, straddling the center median.

We see it on Saturday on the road to Rayeville: the wicker love seat, right out there, straddling the center median. “Pull over!” Mother’s voice is high-pitched, excited. She is always on the lookout for something for nothing and here is a perfectly good piece of furniture that clearly belongs to no one—hers for the taking.

Daddy sighs and obeys. The car rolls to a stop on the shoulder, fifty yards beyond the gleaming love seat.

“Back up, Tom! We’re too far!”

Daddy regards the Ford logo in the center of the steering wheel for the briefest moment, then carefully moves the gear shift to Reverse, turns, and backs the car until it sits even with the love seat.

Mother is already clambering out of the car when he shifts to Park. The car gives a little jump and she squeaks her alarm. My sister and I look at each other in the back seat. How long will this take? It is stifling hot with no breeze coming in the open windows.

Mother scampers across the two lanes of Route 9; she looks like The Roadrunner with her pale thin legs and khaki Capri pants. Daddy climbs out more slowly, leans against the maroon fender of his lovingly restored 1989 Thunderbird, arms folded across his broad chest, straw fedora pulled low to shield his eyes against the sun. We all watch Mother circle the unlikely median décor. Hands on her hips, she appraises the ornate wicker feet—three on the concrete median, the fourth on the southbound lane—the smooth rounded arms, the red-and-white striped seat cushions perfectly and invitingly in place. Mother will want a good estimate of how much she is saving by getting this for free. Satisfied, she gives the high curved back an affectionate pat and turns her shining face to my father.

“Where would we put it?” he asks, reasonably. He has to repeat the question louder so she can hear him across the road. I know she is reluctant to leave her find, now that it is hers. Reluctant to risk anyone else thinking that perhaps it might be theirs.

“Well, lots of places, Tom! Use your imagination! We could squeeze it into the front room or maybe build a patio out back …”

“I meant, where would we put it to get it home?” he says. “I don’t think it’s gonna fit in the trunk.”

Mother dismisses this with a wave of her hand. “Girls!” she calls. “Come and get these cushions!”

Lacey scrambles out of the back seat and would have raced straight across but Daddy catches her by one sunburned arm. Lacey is only nine: Everything is an adventure to her. I follow as slowly as I can and stand beside Daddy at the edge of the shimmering asphalt. I am fourteen: Everything is a mortification to me.

Mother is fairly hopping at the side of the love seat. “What are you waiting for, Tom?”

“We’re waiting for traffic, Lydia.”

Two, three cars and a tomato-red pickup pass by. I avert my face, although we are thirty miles from home and no one is likely to recognize me. They all slow down—“rubbernecking” as Mother would say—but none of them stop. When Daddy releases her, Lacey streaks across the highway and plops onto the love seat, swinging her feet. “Can I have it in my room?” she asks. Her voice is high-pitched, excited. Like Mother’s.

I walk across with Daddy, my hated garage sale sneakers pinching. Up close, the love seat is amazingly pristine, the wicker intact, the white stripes on the cushions blinding in the late afternoon sun. I see at once that it cannot possibly fit in the car and I wait for Daddy to explain this to Mother so we can get back on the road. It’s still five miles to Rayeville; the ice cream social we’re heading to ends at six o’clock and it’s already after four. We are not members of the church that is holding the social—we aren’t even Methodist— but Mother is particularly fond of free ice cream and has no trouble telling puzzled ministers that we are thinking of joining their church. I usually stay in the car and read, but it’s ninety-two today and I’m thinking I might like some ice cream, too.

Daddy is checking traffic for Lacey to cross back to the car. Her skinny arms clutch a fat striped cushion to her chest; she can barely see over it. He holds the second one out to me. I can’t believe it. “Daddy! There’s no way—” I begin, but he turns away and squats to grip one end of the now empty love seat while Mother hoists the other end with surprising strength for someone so thin. I follow them to the car and shove the cushion into the back seat. Lacey is already seated atop hers, bouncing, trying to bump her head on the ceiling. Her dark hair clings to her dripping face. The car is like a sauna.

In the tangled grass just beyond the gravel shoulder I find a fallen fence post partially shaded by a clump of sumac. Behind the strip of grass and scrub, an Iowa cornfield stretches off to the horizon, tassels nodding gently, leaf blades drooping in the heat. I settle down onto the fence post and pull my knees to my chest, wrapping my arms around my shins. This could take a while. I resign myself to no ice cream.

Daddy has opened the trunk of the car and now sits upon the edge of it, mopping his face and neck with a white handkerchief. He is sixty-two and the heat always gets to him. Daddy is a planner: He always has his hat and a couple of handkerchiefs with him when it’s this hot. He has recently taken early retirement from an insurance company in the city where he helped other people plan their money and their lives. He has done a good job of planning for our family, as well: I know there are college accounts growing for Lacey and me and he’s promised me a car for my sixteenth birthday if I keep my grades up. I want a Mustang.

Mother dances between the open trunk and the love seat now hunkered in the dust. She tips her head this way and that like a bird, looking for a way to cram a big, big object into a small, small space. She is twelve years younger than my father and pretends not to notice the heat, although her faded brown curls are limp and her sleeveless gray blouse—three dollars on clearance at Wal-Mart—has a dark ring under each arm and is stuck to her chest. It is a remarkably good chest on an otherwise bony frame. Mother’s breasts are her finest feature and the only thing I hope to inherit from her. I rest my chin on my knees as she starts pulling everything out of the trunk: a set of jumper cables, an army blanket, a bag of kitty litter from last winter, Lacey’s old roller skates, three bungee cords. Daddy even helps her haul out the spare tire and the jack, although I can see his lips are pressed tightly together.

Thirty minutes later, they have wrestled the love seat into the trunk at an angle; it lies mostly on its back, more than half of it well outside the car. The trunk lid is tied over it with a rope cobbled together out of bungee cords, my favorite leather belt—thirty-seven dollars, purchased with my birthday money—and a couple of tennis shoe laces.

“It’s not gonna stay there,” I tell them from my perch in the grass; I’m pretty sure my dad already knows this.

“Oh, sweetheart,” Mother sighs. “You’re such a negative Nelly.”

Everything they’ve removed from the trunk is piled behind the sumac bush, covered with the army blanket. Mother tells Daddy he can come back for it tomorrow. I want him to protest the sixty-mile round trip for a bag of cat litter and roller skates that don’t fit anyone. I want him to dump the love seat by the side of the road and tell her to get in the car and stop being such a crazy pants. I want him to dump her by the side of the road and drive his daughters off to a life that’s normal.

He does none of these things. He wipes his face again with the grimy handkerchief, settles his hat back on his head. He gazes away to the west for a moment, then turns back and tells me with a look that it’s time to go.

Lacey has fallen asleep in the car. She is slumped across both of the cushions, sweaty and sweet-faced.

“Isn’t she an angel?” Mother says. “Don’t wake her, Lily.”

“Where am I supposed to sit?” I have a very bad feeling about this.

“Well, you know, I’ve been thinking,” says Mother. “It might be a good idea to add a little extra security back there.”

I turn to Daddy, horrified. He hesitates.

“It’s just a few miles to town, baby girl,” he says, not looking at me.

“There’ll be a nice breeze through there,” says Mother, smiling brightly.

“This is probably illegal,” I tell them as I shoehorn myself into the trunk next to the love seat. I brace my feet against the sidewall and push my back against the white wicker. There is no way I will ever allow this thing in my room.

I hear the slam of the car doors and feel the shudder as the engine turns over. Then Daddy is easing the Thunderbird back onto Route 9. The trunk lid bounces ominously. The love seat shifts and I press harder with my feet. There’s a blast from a horn behind us and a car zooms by in the left lane, honking like an angry goose. Daddy is driving well under the speed limit, and I close my eyes and await my fiery and humiliating death. But miraculously no one rams us and it’s only ten minutes until the Thunderbird is turning off the highway at the outskirts of Rayeville.

I see the flashing blue and red lights just before I hear the siren.

Daddy pulls over, the police car right behind. Another car door slams and footsteps crunch on the gravel. I squeeze down as low as I can get and try to be invisible. This is a nightmare.

The Rayeville police officer peers into the trunk, shines his flashlight briefly into my face. He puts a hand on the wicker love seat, gives it an exploratory wiggle. Then he straightens and walks on to where Daddy waits by the open window. I can hear their muffled voices as I ease myself out of the trunk and move to the shadow of a roadside oak tree, taking another shot at disappearing. The policeman is very young and achingly handsome. Of course.

“Problem, Officer?” my dad is saying.

“Well, sir,” says the policeman, looking at Daddy’s driver’s license. “I’d say you’re driving with a load not properly tied down. Looks a might unstable.”

Mother leans across Daddy and beams at the policeman. “It’s our new love seat!” she says. “Isn’t it pretty?”

“Yes, ma’am, but you probably should have had it delivered.”

“You are so right!” Mother exclaims. “But the store wouldn’t deliver it. Can you believe that?”

“Also,” the policeman adds, “it’s illegal to drive with a person in the trunk. Particularly a child.” Unnoticed in my shadowy hideout, I wince. A child.

“It is?” cries Mother, all astonishment. Daddy is gently pushing her back into her seat.

The policeman hesitates. “Well, yes, I’m pretty sure it is,” he says, but he seems less certain.

“I’m very sorry, Officer,” Daddy says. “It was something of an impulse buy. We were unprepared.”

I see Lacey’s head suddenly pop up from her back seat nap. Her pink, freckled arms fly wide in a long wake-up stretch and then she’s bouncing again.

“Are we at the ice cream church? Where’s Lily? Where’s my new bench? Who are you?” as she spots the policeman at her window.

The policeman has his ticket pad out. He smiles at Lacey, but speaks to Daddy. “I’ll give you a warning on the girl in the trunk; looks like no harm done there, but don’t do it again. The furniture hanging out the back I’m gonna have to cite you for. Too dangerous to drive like that, it could fall out and endanger other drivers.”

“It’s a new bench for my room!” Lacey squeals. “We found it in the street!”

His pen pauses above the ticket pad in his hand; the officer looks at my dad inquiringly. This is it, I think. We’re all going to jail because of her.

I can see Mother eagerly leaning forward and Daddy’s right arm holding her back.

“Kids,” says Daddy

The policeman tears off the ticket and hands it to Daddy, who thanks him—thanks him!—and tucks it into his shirt pocket. The policeman helps Daddy unload the love seat from the back of the car and suggests a hardware store in town that rents trailers.

“Best get going, though,” he says. “He closes at six on Saturdays.”

Mother will not, of course, leave her find unattended. Daddy will not leave Mother unattended. Lacey is too young to leave by the side of the road, even in a small rural town where nothing ever happens.

“Lily, you stay and keep your mother company. We’ll be right back.”

“Love to, Daddy,” I say with awful sarcasm.

The Thunderbird pulls away, sending dust swirling in the furnace-hot air. I watch until it turns a corner a half-mile up the road, following the policeman’s directions. When there’s nothing left to watch, I turn back to Mother.

She sits on the love seat, of course. It can’t be very comfortable–the cushions are still in the car–but she wears a look of contentment. She looks up at me and her smile widens. She pats the wicker seat next to her, inviting me to join her.

“I’ll stand,” I say. Mother’s smile fades a little and she looks away from me. I am embarrassed by my petulance, but can’t bring myself to join her right out here where everyone can see us. Right on cue a minivan passes, all heads inside turning to stare at the woman on the love seat. Mother waves. I cringe and retreat to the shadow of the oak tree.

A silence settles upon us. The heat has quieted the birds. The oak leaves hang limp in the thick, still air. It’s early September and some of them are starting to leave green behind, anticipating the cool of autumn. A sigh escapes Mother and she pushes her thin hair back from her face with a hand that trembles a little. I step out into the sunlight.

“Come on, Mother,” I say, trying to keep the exasperation out of my voice and face. “Let’s move this into the shade.”

In the relative cool of the oak tree’s shadow, she resettles herself and looks up at me expectantly. I hesitate, then relent. Who knows how long Daddy might be? Might as well sit.

Mother pats my knee happily and then suddenly points at a tired-looking farmhouse across the road. It sits way back behind an overgrown lawn and has the dispirited air of the abandoned.

“I used to live in a house just like that,” she says. “For a few years. When I was a girl.”

I am startled. Mother has never spoken of her childhood. Of course, I have never asked her about it.

“My grandma and grandpa were farmers?” I ask, curious in spite of my annoyance with her.

“Oh, no,” she replies. “They were gone by then. It was just me and your Uncle Bobby. And the Baxters,” she adds after a moment. “Yes. The Baxters.”

“How old were you?”

“Well, let’s see. Bobby was about your age, so I was … seven. Seven,” she says again.

I wait. She is still smiling, but I can tell she is someplace else.

“So you lived with a farm family when Grandma and Grandpa died?”

She looks up at me, surprised. “They didn’t die,” she says. “Not then, anyway. No, they just wanted to move to California.” She leans forward, looking up the road. “Where is your father?” she says. “All this heat and dust is bad for wicker.”

I am silent. I remember a sunny Saturday two years ago when the temperature had dropped suddenly on a January thaw, glazing the streets with the refrozen snow melt. It had made us forty minutes late retrieving Lacey from a birthday party on the other side of town. The birthday girl’s mother had been easy-going, waving off Daddy’s apologies. Mother had been distraught, scooping Lacey up in her arms like she had just come home from war.

Off to our left the sun is sinking lower in the sky. I check my watch—fifty cents at a church rummage sale—and see that it’s nearly six-thirty already.
Mother is staring up the road towards town, fidgeting in her seat.

“When did they come back for you?” I ask.

She stands, walks a few yards up the way the Thunderbird went.

“I can’t imagine what’s taking him so long,” she says. She looks at me and laughs, but it’s a cracked sound. “They better not have stopped for ice cream without us, right?”

I can’t leave it alone. “When did they come back for you?”

She sits next to me again, gazes off at the farmhouse.

“Well, honey, they didn’t. But to be fair,” she adds quickly, “they never said they would.”

It’s another forty-five minutes and getting close to dark before we hear the familiar thrum of the Thunderbird coming down the street, a trailer with three-foot-high wooden sides clattering along behind it. Daddy makes a U-turn and pulls onto the shoulder just in front of us.

Lacey is leaning out the window in the back seat. “We had a flat tire!” she shrieks happily. I picture the spare tire and jack tucked neatly under an army blanket five miles back. Daddy is barely out of the car when Mother launches herself at him, wrapping her arms around his neck and tucking her face into the hollow beneath his throat. I can’t hear what she says, but Daddy gives a little laugh and strokes her hair.

“I’ll always come for my girls,” he says matter-of-factly. I stand next to the love seat, watching them, my throat tight. Daddy catches my eye and smiles and seems surprised when I smile back.

We load the love seat into the trailer and secure it with heavy-duty straps. Lacey wants to ride in the trailer with it, but Daddy laughs and tells her he can’t afford another ticket. My eyes ask the question. He leans in close to me with a smile and in a conspiratorial voice says, “Altogether, four hundred and twenty-six dollars. Not counting gas.”

Lacey flings herself into the backseat of the Thunderbird. “This is the best day ever!” she declares.

In a few minutes, she is asleep again, her head against my shoulder, her sticky hand clutching mine. I listen to Mother make happy plans for the love seat, her voice quieter now, more serene, Daddy murmuring his support for each new idea. A three-quarter moon is rising as we swing back onto Route 9, heading south for home.

The Platform by Kandi Erwin

The whistling of the teakettle was deafening. It reminded her of the passenger trains that regularly departed from the Amtrak station in town. Anonymous people lined up along the platform, waving and blowing kisses to obscured faces pressing against the inner panes of glass. She wished the sound would cease, wanted to scream out for someone to turn the damn burner off or open the kettle spout, but this was not her house. She had no right to make demands of a friend so worthy of the designation. Tanya, selfless as ever, had taken her and Jennie in and given them a place to stay. She couldn’t lash out at her for the whistling of a teakettle. Besides, it would take too much effort. She closed her eyes tightly and slid underneath the water, slipping into the silence of the tub and allowing it to subdue her.

She was standing alone amidst the rubble of a collapsed railway station, watching dumbstruck as a black steam engine began slowly rolling away. The only passenger aboard didn’t press his face against the window or glance in her direction. He just sat there in silent reverie, carrying off her hopes and dreams, riding the rails far away from her, from their life together. She couldn’t make out anything beyond the station’s ruined platform, yet the engine was speeding up, as though it knew where it was headed, as though a destination awaited it out there in that dark oblivion. The train accelerated, its rhythmic thud echoing the one in her chest.

Upon surfacing, the consistent thud evolved to a knock. “Em, are you okay? Em? I made you some tea. It’s chamomile.” Emmaline didn’t respond. She merely stared in the direction of Tanya’s voice, the question reverberating in her head. Are you okay? Are you okay? Oh my God! Todd! Are you okay?

The traffic had been at a complete standstill. Red taillights lit up the night, like hundreds of angry eyes glaring at her. Occasionally, her body tensed and her heart froze as the screech of tires on asphalt rent through the night. She had little sympathy for morons who waited until the last second
to brake, who had plenty of warning to slow down and join the endless parade of sleeping engines.

She had spent the time surfing radio channels, cleaning out her glove compartment, and hoping her gas needle wouldn’t dip too much lower before she could get to a station. The traffic idled and crawled, idled and crawled. Her head began to ache from the reflection of the headlights in her side-view mirror. After a while, she called Todd and left him a voice mail asking him to order take-out, preferably Chinese–a lot of Chinese: spring rolls, crab rangoons, deep-frind wontons–all of it!

Forty minutes later, she crested the hill and colors swirled in her vision: red, blue, yellow, white. Emergency vehicles were everywhere. Dozens of turn signals blinked, out of tandem, ahead. She felt a small flash of relief that she was in the correct lane, that she would have a slight edge over others to get home to her family. It had been a selfish thought; one that disappeared quickly as she pulled alongside the accident. She easily recognized what was left of Todd’s car, thanks to the unusual bumper sticker featuring three rubber duckies. It had been a gift from the girls. They had each painted an outfit on one of the ducks: goofy hats, odd outfits, and sparkling jewelry. It was one of a kind. Unmistakable.

In one of those moments when our sense of invincibility surfaces, she had jerked the car off the road, slammed on the brakes and crossed through the turtled traffic. Two emergency crewmen were yelling obscene warnings as she ran toward the wreckage. They swiftly picked her up between them and began carrying her far away from the accident. She kicked violently, screaming and cursing, choking and begging. She had to see her husband. She had to know what was happening. Did she still have a husband? Was he dead? Broken? She could picture him lying on the pavement, twisted and mangled. She needed to see the truth. They had to let her see what was happening. Why weren’t they letting her in?

“Emmaline, please! Can I come in?”

A reflection materialized in the full-length mirror on the back of the bathroom door. Eyes: dark, puffy, and swollen. Hair: drenched, making it dark and straight, so unlike her usual dirty-blond, curly hair, clinging to milky white skin. Her own reflection, yet it was so unrecognizable. “Oh, um, yeah,” she dried her face with a washcloth. “Yeah, you can come in.”

Tanya came in carrying a wooden tray. “Here, I brought you some tea.” Tanya didn’t immediately release the mug.

“I’ve got it,” and despite her shaky hands, Tanya finally let go.

“How’s the bubble bath? Are you feeling better?”

“Better?” A simple question, but was she? “I don’t know.” But she did know. “No.”

“Oh, Em.” Tanya pulled up a stool and began caressing her hair. “I wish I knew what to say.”

“Everything. Lost.” She took a deep breath, inhaling the calming chamomile aroma before taking a careful sip of the steaming tea. “I just wish I could understand.”

But she didn’t understand. She kept replaying it all in her mind. She had been blatantly honest with him from the beginning, thanks to a lesson she had learned long ago. Shortly after they began dating, she had disclosed some of the more painful parts of her past.

They had been eating lunch in the courtyard of their office building when Todd had invited her and Jennie over for a barbeque. To her, this had meant it was time for disclosure. She didn’t want Jennie getting too attached to Todd until she knew how he felt about her situation. She glanced around the courtyard, ensuring their privacy. Laying down her fork, she said, “Look, Todd. I’ve really enjoyed spending time you, but before we start introducing our families, there is something I need to tell you.”

Feeling the gravity in her voice, he laid down his own fork and wiped his mouth. Then, he interlaced his fingers, propped his elbows on the tabletop, and leaned forward. With a slight nod, he rested his mouth against his hands and waited for her to continue.

“Well, you already know that I raised Jennie on my own because my boyfriend disappeared shortly after she was born. What you don’t know is that his leaving wasn’t about him not wanting to be a father.” She took a deep breath, searched for the words to continue, and glanced around the courtyard, again. “Well, a while back, you told me that, before your wife died, you had been hoping to have more kids. Jennie’s father wanted the same thing. He left because I can’t have any more children. I am ‘damaged goods,’ as he put it.”

Todd’s face looked as though he was wincing, but no sound escaped him. She wasn’t sure if he was wincing because she couldn’t have children or because of the words she had used. Once, she had lived in shame and embarrassment because of her hysterectomy. Now, she had simply grown tired. She was tired of having to dredge up her past, but mostly, she was tired of the way men acted when they found out. It was like she was telling them she was a murderer or something. They looked at her differently, if they looked at her at all. Any flirting immediately ceased and some even outright avoided her. Watching him closely, she continued. “So, anyway, I just thought you should know. And, trust me; I’ll understand if you want to just be friends from now on.” If you can manage just being friends.

But Todd had surprised her. He had said it didn’t matter, that he was happy with his daughters and no longer really wanted to start all over with a new baby. “Plus,” he had added, “if it works out between us, I’ll gain a stepdaughter, too.” He had promised it would be enough for him. So, before he left her alone in the elevator, she accepted his invitation to the barbecue.

That weekend she and Jennie had gone to Todd’s barbecue, where they met Jill and Tammy. Todd had set up three tents in his backyard, but by the end of the night only two of them were needed. The girls, instantly friends, had piled into a single tent. Peeking in at them, Emmaline couldn’t help but smile. She would never forget that first sight of them all curled up together: Jennie, age 6, sleeping contentedly although she was crammed in between her future stepsisters: Tammy, age 8, and Jill, age 7.

Six years later, house full of teenage girls, her worst nightmares had come true for the second time in a matter of months. A simple declaration, really: You’re not enough, I’m leaving you. Six years together and he was leaving. Three months out of the hospital and he was leaving. She had spent every day at that hospital with him, full of tears and prayers. And despite it all, he was leaving. He wanted a son, an heir to his nonexistent throne, the next king of the James’ auto shop legacy and, well, she couldn’t give it to him. It was as simple as that.

“That’s cold, Todd. You know I would give you a son if I could,” she had sobbed as he threw another T-shirt into the suitcase that was lying on the bed. “You don’t think I wanted to have more children? That I wanted to have a hysterectomy at twenty-four.”

“I know that’s not what you wanted, but this really isn’t about you. I need this.” He sighed deeply, allowing his eyes to close while he rubbed his temple. “I can’t talk about this anymore. I’m sorry.” He turned toward the door, which forced him to look in her direction. The lack of emotion on his face shocked her.

“You’re sorry?” she gasped. He deftly stepped past her and began walking down the hallway. She stood rooted in place, confused. “But … but I was honest with you. I told you up front and you told me, no, you promised me, that it didn’t matter.” She finally turned and followed. She stopped in the doorway of the bathroom, hoping to block his retreat. “You said my love and the girls’ love was all you would ever need. I guess it was your promise that didn’t matter.”

“Uh-huh,” he said, absentmindedly. He was digging through the third drawer down. “You know I … will always … love you … in some way. Need … son.” She could tell he had already been through the top two drawers and the medicine cabinet, as they all stood ajar. He was hastily pitching items into a plastic grocery sack: shaving cream, razor, cologne, toothpaste, and toothbrush. “Can we please stop talking about this? I’ve made up my mind.”

As she watched the bag swelling up with his belongings, her throat began to constrict. She struggled to hold back her tears. “Where is this coming
from? Is this about the accident? Look, I know it was a close one, but–”

He spun around, “Damn right it’s about the accident.” As he moved towards her, all thoughts of holding her ground dissipated. She stepped aside demurely and, once again, began trailing him through the house. “I can’t really explain it, but it sort of, well, it sort of woke me up. I realized I had always wanted a son, an heir.”

“An heir?” she shouted at his back. “You have heirs; they just happen to be female. For God’s sake, Todd, Tammy knows more about cars than most of the boys I’ve ever met. And Jill could already run the business, probably better than you. Plus, what about Jennie? After six years you’re going to abandon her just like her birth father did? Don’t the three of them mean anything to you?”

He threw the plastic bag on top of his clothes. “Just stop okay; it’s not like that.”

“It’s exactly like that.”

“No, it’s not,” he said, closing the suitcase. “I still love ALL of my daughters. I just want to have a son, too! Is that so much to ask?”

“Of course not, but why does it have to mean the end of us?” She dared to put her hand upon his shoulder. “Remember all the options we discussed? What about adop … ”

“No.” He shrugged off her touch and began zipping his suitcase. “We’ve been over this. I want it to be MY son. MINE. My DNA.”

“What about … ”

He snatched up the suitcase and spun around. “NOR will I have him made in some damn petri dish or pay some stranger to carry him. I just won’t. It’s not happening.”

“Well, how nice it must be to have options! So many, in fact, that you can exclude all of the options that keep your family together and still get what you want. I will never be able to have another child, but I’ve been willing to stand by you.” She saw his eyes soften as she continued. “I’ve been willing to choose alternative routes to keep you in my life, but you won’t do the same for me.”

Eyes downcast, he gently grabbed her hand. “Look, I really am sorry, Em, but this is just too important. I will always love you, but I need someone
who can give me this.” He dropped her hand. “Look, it’s late. I’ll take the couch. Goodnight, Em.” The resignation in his voice made her realize that following him would be useless.

“Fuck you, Todd,” she whispered to his fading silhouette before sinking onto the bed.

Yet the next day she had prepared to fight for him, again. She followed his figure through the house, pleading with a bobbing mound of hair and broad shoulder blades. She weaved past the hand-crafted china cabinet they had commissioned her brother to make for them and around the refurbished coffee table with the fleur de lis engraving. Every time she tried to reach for him, he was suddenly farther away, as if this despair was inevitable.

“I’ll be gone for a week. Tammy and Jill are with my mother. Just drop the key through the mail slot when you’re done moving out.”

She was blinded for a brief instant as he opened the front door and the sunlight flooded in. The sun is still shining? He walked out the door. She raced toward him. His arm swished behind him and a teal green sea inundated her vision. She halted, sobbing, and rested her head on the door, drowning in its ocean, allowing the last words he had said to her to pull her farther and farther under.

She had still been floundering in that water when Tanya had found her. And though she could now hear Tanya’s voice, reassuring and loving, she was still sinking.

“You haven’t lost everything. You have great daughters, friends, people who will always be there for you. You and Jennie can stay here as long as you need. Please, let our love help diminish your pain. You deserve to be happy. It won’t be easy, but one day I promise you will be happy again. Please believe that, Em. We love you. ”

Love. She had been told once that love always won. Not today, though. Today, love had stowed away on a black steam engine. Today, she had stood on a station platform surrounded by destruction. That destruction’s name? Pain. No, she could not leave this dark place. At least not today.

Deceitful Love and its Glorious End (Translation of El Amor Tramposo Y Su Fin Glorioso) by Alberto Bejarano

I could not believe it. When he walked into the party, Juanito seemed so mad he might have escaped from apsych ward. His hair, usually well groomed, was a mess and his soldier costume was so dirty its green color looked more like a deep purple. I wanted to disappear because I knew what was going to happen. Juanito walked in with a purpose. He saw Chucho and quickly approached him. Chucho didn’t even have a minute to react let alone defend himself. Juanito hit him so hard he fell and almost fainted from the force of the blow. I could not wait any longer. I had to do something.

“Juanito, dear. What’s wrong? You can’t attack people without a reason.” I had to feign innocence. Otherwise Juanito could kill Chucho – something I couldn’t take.

“Without a reason, without a reason! Is it really without a reason? Didn’t he take you from me? Aren’t you two going to get married now? And he didn’t have the balls to tell me?”

“I wanted to tell you, but I didn’t know how to. Besides, it’s not Chucho’s fault, nor yours. If you want to punish someone, punish me. I knew I was going to hurt you, but I couldn’t avoid it. I love Chucho. I want to be with him for the rest of my life, and there’s nothing you can say to change my mind.”

All of a sudden, pain radiated up my leg and a heavy wetness made my skirt stick to my skin.The red color stained the white cotton, and when I saw it I felt as if I were going to faint. The dance music filled my head with a fast beat that mimicked my racing heartbeat. All of a sudden, the party’s colors became dark and my head filled with silence. The lights, the music, and Juanito’s face were all gone. What happened to me? Did I die? I have no idea.

You did it. You have been successful. Now you can breathe, relax, and start again. You freed yourself from your obsession. After killing her, after seeing the blood, you don’t feel guilty. You feel justified, strong … you finally feel normal. Shouldn’t a person who commits a murder feel guilt or at least sadness? Now, without Marta, you can be happy knowing that she can’t be with Chucho; that no one can be with her. When you see her cold body, you notice the white skirt stained with blood, the bluish sweater you always liked, and the pretty face that just spoke to you as if you were no one, as if you were nothing. Devil, manipulative whore … she deserves it. You don’t care what happens now. Now you can be at peace. Hearing Chucho’s criesfills you with joy. You are so sublimely happy, as happy as a greedy lottery winner.

“Now you can suffer like I have suffered. I am free. I have freed you too. You’ll see. You will see.” Chucho’s face, filled with confusion and pain stares back at you. You turn around and leave the dance. You walk slowly, calmly toward your car. You don’t make it. The police arrive. They attack you and put you in the car to take you to jail. What are you going to tell the judge? The truth? Are you going to make him understand why you killed her–that you had to free the world from this devil.That you murdered a woman who deserved it. You can tell him that she manipulated you, that she has manipulated you for years. Tonight, what she said determined her fate. She chose it. This is her doing.

The crime finally committed, Juanito felt calmed, relaxed, justified. He couldn’t see his actions as those of a crazy, dangerous man. Poor Chucho, he held his beloved thinking he had never met a woman so good, so pretty, so passionate. He had no hopes of finding a similar woman. She was unique, almost a saint in his opinion. He could not understand what had just happened; neither could he find a single flaw in her. It’s true what they say: Love is blind. He hoped Marta did not feel too much pain as she died. He hoped she did not understand what was going on. He did not know that Marta, when she realized she was dying, felt neither pain nor fear: she felt relief, the relief that only a guilty person can feel. She knew she had orchestrated the crime. What Juanito had done was not fair; but it was she who had written the tragedy. She knew hell awaited her, but she did not care, she welcomed it. Her end was the way she wanted it – dramatic, painful, and violent. Committing suicide has never been so easy, so glorious.

El Amor Tramposo Y Su Fin Glorioso by Tracy Dinesen

No lo podía creer. Juanito, al entrar la fiesta parecía tan enojado que quizás pudiera escapado de una sanatorio. Su pelo, normalmente bien peinado, era desordenado y su disfraz de soldado era tan sucio que el color verde parecía más un morado profundo. Yo quería desaparecer ya que sabía lo que iba a pasar. Juanito entró con propósito, vio a Chucho y caminó hacia él rápidamente. Chucho no tenía ni un minuto para reaccionar ni protegerse. El golpazo que Juanito le dio le hizo caer al suelo y casi desmayarse. No podía esperar más, tenía que hacer algo.

“Juanito, querido, ¿qué te pasa? No puedes atacar a gente sin razón.” Yo tenía que fingir mi inocencia, si no Juanito pudiera matar a Chucho, algo que yo no podía soportar.

“Sin razón, sin razón….¿de veras es sin razón? ¿No es que él te robó de mí, qué ahora te vas a casar y ni tenía los cojones para decírmelo?”

“Quería decirte pero no sabía cómo decirlo. Además no es culpa de Chucho ni de ti, si quieres castigar alguien debes castigar a mí. Sabía que te iba a dañar pero no podía evitarlo. Le quiero a Chucho. Quiero estar con él para el resto de mi vida y no hay nada que puedes decirme para cambiar mi opinión.”

De repente sentí un gran dolor en la pierna y mi falda comenzó a mojarse.
El rojo manchó el algodón blanco y al verlo sentía como si fuera a desmayarme. La música del baile llenó mi cabeza con el ritmo rápido que imitaba la lato de mi corazón. De repente los colores de la fiesta se pusieron negros y no escuché nada. No había ni una luz, ni una nota musical ni la cara de Juanito. ¿Qué me había pasado? ¿He muerto? Ni idea.

Lo has conseguido, finalmente tuviste éxito. Ahora puedes respirar, relajar y comenzar de nuevo. Te has librado de tu obsesión. Al matarla, al ver la sangre no te siente culpable sino justificado, fuerte…normal. No es qué una persona que comité un crimen debe sentir culpable o por lo menos debe sentir triste. Ahora, sin Marta, al saber que ella no puede estar con Chucho, que nadie la puede tener puedes estar feliz. Al ver su cuerpo frío notas la falda blanca, manchada de sangre, el suéter azulejo que siempre te has gustado y la cara guapa que acaba de hablarte como si fueras nada. Puta, manipuladora, diabla…ella la merece. No te importa lo que te pasa, ahora puedes sentir paz. Los gritos de Chucho aun te hacen alegre, tan feliz que te sientes como si acabaras de ganar la lotería.

“Ahora puedes sufrir como he sufrido. Estoy libre. Te he liberado también. Lo verás. Lo verás.” La cara de Chucho, lleno de dolor y confusión te miró. Giras y sales del baile caminado despaciosamente hacia tu coche. No consigues tu meta ya que la policía llega. Te atacan y te ponen en el coche para llevarte al cárcel. ¿Qué vas a decir al juez? La verdad. Te vas a hacerle entender por qué la mataste, que tenías que matarla para liberar al mundo de esta diabla, que estabas asesinado una mujer que lo merecía. Puedes decirle que ella te manipuló, que te ha manipulado por años. Esta noche, lo que ella dijo decidió su destino. Ella la escogió.

El crimen ha cometido, Juanito sentía tranquilo, relajado y justificado. No podía entender que sus acciones eran las de un hombre loco y peligroso. El pobre Chucho abrazaba a su amante, llorando y pensando que en su vida entera no ha conocido una mujer tan buena, tan bonita ni tan apasionada. No esperaba encontrar otra parecida. Era única casi una santa en su opinión. Él no podía entender lo que acaba de pasar ni podía ver ni un fallo de su novia muerta. Es verdad lo que dicen: el amor es ciego. Esperaba que Marta no sintiera demasiado dolor al morirse, que ni entendiera lo que estaba pasado. Lo que no sabía es que Marta, al entender que estaba muriéndose no se sentía dolor ni miedo, sentía alivio, el alivio que solamente una persona culpable pudiera sentir. Sabía que ella ha causado el crimen. No era justo lo que hizo Juanito pero ella era la que escribió la tragedia. Sabía que el infierno la esperaba pero no le importaba. Su final ha sido como quería, dramático, dañoso y violenta. Suicidarse nunca ha sido tan fácil ni glorioso.

Unclean by Caitlin Dicus

So you think you can jump in my pool and leave
Dirt, filth, anger, marks of you behind for
Me, a child wielding sandpaper against freckles,
To feverishly scrub away with only my own pale arms?

I blame you for baptizing me in your unclean water with this
Muddy hair sticking to my neck, a familiar leech of my lifeblood,
And slathering my face with your dimples and expressions
So that I will laugh, cry, and scream like you.

But your bludgeoning words calloused my small
Weak body against your kind, who kill and crush
The tentative dreams of farm-grown daughters.
I thank you for making me strong.

Though even now you follow my name like a parasite.
With the precious Gaelic charm comes a stinking
Germanic afterthought better off forgotten.
I blame you for sullying my very existence.

But one day your filth will fade
When my mother gives away my hand
My years of feverish scrubbing will finally
Wash away your marks.

So you think you can leave me,
Like a single achene from a long-rotted dandelion
Blown into the dirt between the fence cracks?

Thank you for the strength to wait on the rain.

On and Off by Caitlin Dicus

On.

Shield my chest with these
Vulnerable arms, naked
To the inevitable pain,
Shock.
“It will only hurt
For a second,”
I think.
Now.

Rivulets of fire snake down
My legs and stomach, burn
My back like the lashing
Of a whip, and singe
My face, boiling,
But I breathe.
Breathe.

The steam curls in my nostrils
Nursing ice from my bones
Slow and sweet, pain
Flows from toes
And away.
Gone.

Let down my shaking shield
And fire course in my heart
Holding it close
In love. My skin
Is alive.

Scorching me inside and out
This fiery game I play
Drenches me in need.
My fix.

The first one always hurts.
But in the end,
Pleasure.
Until I turn the
Handle.

Off.

Mountains by Caitlin Dicus

The family is playing hearts,
And I am biding time,
Biding time before we leave one another.
Before we return to our own kitchens and sofas
Seemingly sitting in park or in neutral
Only to wait for the next Sunday
When my grandmother will do battle again
As I silently wish to myself
That she’d wave the white flag on the fight.

Gallantly she wages an endless war against filth.
It accumulates across the garish maroon linoleum in
Tiny man-made mountains of dirt that snake
Around thin rivers of spilled water left behind
By the thinner pink tongue of my coonhound.

But each time the landscape disappears,
My heart aches for your tiny world that has been swept away
I wish she’d allow the mountains and valleys,
Palm-sized and beautiful, to stay where they were,
Right where your muddy steel toes left them.

It’s always like this on Sundays
When you’ve spent all day outside changing my oil,
Painting the Thunderbird,
And getting a Sunfire ready to sell.
I know you’ll come in later
With a fresh sheen of sweat
That makes your face glint in the sinking sun.
Your grease-stained fingers will pinch the bill of your hat
And hold it in your hand as the back of your arm grazes your forehead.

New scuffs and rips have piled up on your jeans,
To match the small white circle
Worn into the back right pocket–but
You’d expect nothing less from a long Sunday
That ends in a hand of pepper always
With your niece as your partner.

So each Sunday I will bide my time
Until your tinkering is through.
Because I’d never dream
Of having a clean-shaven pepper partner
Who didn’t smell slightly of earth
Like you, a maker of mountains.

Psycho Therapy, That’s What They Want to Give Me by Tierney Israel

I hated counseling. (Or therapy or whatever you want to call it.) Whatever it was, it wasn’t me.

I had gone for the first time at age 16. It was DHS-mandated. And I’m pretty sure forcing a 16-year-old to do something they absolutely do not want to do is about as helpful as giving a map to a blind person. I did not want to go. As far as I was concerned, the whole thing was bullshit. I hadn’t said the things that they said I did, so needing counseling was crap. I wasn’t suicidal. I hadn’t said I wanted to die or that I was going to kill myself. I hadn’t.

But they said I did. And when you’re sixteen, there’s no arguing with adults. Especially the ones from DHS. So I was going to counseling.

The DHS place was in Knoxville, not too far from the square. The waiting room was small and dingy. There were only about six chairs, most with stains that made me reluctant to sit in them. The fluorescent lights flickered overhead. On a small table, there were magazines that were older than the ones that sat in my dentist’s office. My mom was reading one anyway. There were tons of pamphlets in a display hanging from the wall. I passed the time by mocking the illustrations and ridiculous names on some of the papers with my sister. She was stuck doing mandated counseling as well. Some of the pamphlets announced help with parenting, being pregnant, most things involving children, sporting misshapen babies in colors that don’t exist in the natural world, some generic AA pamphlets, a couple about drugs. Most of the pamphlets were printed in odd colors, like they got them on discount because nobody else wanted those colors on their pamphlets.

Finally, it was time to go in. I was nervous, to tell the truth. I’d never done anything like this before. I wasn’t really sure how the whole “spilling your guts to a therapist” thing worked. The receptionist opened the locked door next to the bulletproof glass that separated her from the waiting area (seriously, bulletproof glass and a locked metal door, what did they think was gonna go down in there?) and led me back to the office of the doctor I was seeing.

She seemed nice enough at first glance. Short brown hair, cute smile, she introduced herself. I can’t even remember her name now, Julie, Jill, something like that. Her office was small. Her desk was pushed up against one wall, with two chairs and filing cabinets lining the other walls. It was cramped. There were papers tacked to cork boards above her desk and a lone plant squished between the door and the filing cabinet.

She asked me about myself. Did I play sports, was I in any activities at school, my age, grade, whatever. (No, yes, 16, junior, blah.) Then she dug right in.

“How long have you been cutting?”

“I don’t know, since I was, like, 14.” I remembered the exact day I started.

She looked down at her notepad as she quickly jotted this down. I think she knew that I wasn’t telling her the whole story. I didn’t care. I didn’t even know her. Why should she be privy to all my deep dark secrets?

“So you told someone you were thinking about suicide?”

“No.” I don’t remember.

“Well, someone thought you did and they were worried about you.”

I noted the careful avoidance of gendered pronouns. As if I didn’t know who it was. I did. It wasn’t too hard to figure out when I saw the report that it had been said via text message. There was only one person I talked to about cutting over text messages. Then she changed the subject.

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

“No, but I have a girlfriend.”

“So you like women?”

No. I just have a girlfriend for the hell of it. I’m actually straight as an arrow.

“Yeah.”

“Does your family know, or your friends?”

“Yeah. Everyone knows.” It’s kind of hard to keep a secret like that in a town as small as the one I grew up in. I told one person and it was around the entire school in minutes. Well, maybe I’m exaggerating, but it took less than a week.

“When did you come out?”

“When I was 14.”

“Around the same time you started cutting?”

“Yeah, I guess.” I didn’t like where this was heading.

“Do you think they’re connected?”

“No.”

She looked unconvinced. She jotted something down on her notepad and looked at me. As if she was waiting for me to change my mind or something. At this point, I decided she wasn’t going to help me. It’s like, if you’re gay and a cutter, they have to be related. Nobody can fathom that I could be comfortable in my gayness and still be a cutter. But I was.

Being gay was never really a big deal to me. It’s just how I was, how I am. For as long as I’ve been aware of the differences between boys and girls, I was always drawn to girls. When I was 11, I was obsessed with Sigourney Weaver. I even went as far as to name my sugar baby (you know, those 5 lb. bags of sugar that you dress up and carry around as if it were a real baby for weeks) Sigourney in 6th grade.

Instead of telling her any of this, I remained silent. She asked me a few more questions and I replied with short, mostly one-word answers. Then our time was up.

The next time I went, two weeks later, she didn’t remember much about me. As the only DHS counselor in the area, Jillian or Julia, whatever her name was, was pretty busy. She asked me some of the same questions and looked through her yellow notepad full of things she wrote down about me during the last session. We never really accomplished much. I was only required to go four times, and as soon as those sessions were done I informed my mom that I didn’t want to go back. She didn’t make me. She believed me when I told her I was fine. Even though I probably wasn’t.

The next time I went to counseling was around a year later. I was a few months shy of 18 and ready to head off college. My sister had been seeing a psychiatrist for a couple months; after being diagnosed with mild ADD and put on medicine, she was doing much better. Her success prompted my mom to suggest that I give the place a chance. I didn’t really want to, but I knew that she’d force me if she had to. I agreed. I didn’t want to see my sister’s doctor though; I wasn’t really that comfortable talking to guys, let alone spilling my most private thoughts and secrets to one.

A week later I was in the office of a middle-aged blonde woman. The office was filled with Barbies, a dollhouse, and bright pictures. I was horrified. It was a counseling center for kids, aka anyone under 18, which technically I was, though not for much longer. I figured they had someone for teenagers, not a multipurpose doctor with an office so full of crayons and toys and rainbows my head wanted to explode. But the guy my sister was seeing had done wonders for her, so I was willing to try. Or at least willing to go. I didn’t know if I would bother trying yet. I didn’t know this lady; she didn’t know me. I might hate her, she might annoy me, she might not care about me, she might not remember anything about me. So for now I’d go.

During the first session my mom came in with me and told the doctor about my cutting. From then on, that was the focus of our sessions. I wanted to talk about my girlfriend and the fights I was having with my sister and the rest of my family. She wanted to talk about cutting.

I’m a cutter. I get it. Even if I stop for a long time, it’s still a part of who I am, and it’s always going to be. But it isn’t the most important thing in my life. Not now, not ever. It was and is an important issue that I have to deal with, but it’s not the only thing that defines me, nor is it the only problem I had. But that’s not how it seems to everyone else. They want to talk about it always and analyze everything about it to death instead of letting me talk about other things that might be bothering me. I am a cutter. But I’m not just a cutter. Then, I was also a gay, teenage, high school senior who was confused and worried about the future. There were more pressing matters in my life than a few cuts on my arm. There were other things I wanted to talk about. I only went to counseling a couple times before I decided that this lady wasn’t going to give me the help I needed. Not only that, I was going to be too old soon, and really, probably already was, to go to a children’s counseling center. My mom bought it.

The next time I considered counseling was my sophomore year of college. Like many people, I had been struggling. I was learning that I wasn’t really prepared for much of what my professors expected me to do. I hadn’t made many friends, so a professor or two suggested that I go to counseling again. When I started cutting again, counseling was very strongly recommended, but I didn’t want to go.

I could handle it on my own. I knew how to deal. I didn’t need some person who didn’t understand me analyzing the hell out of everything I was trying to deal with. I was fine on my own. I was coping just fine.

Halfway through my junior year the shit really hit the fan. I was depressed and cutting again. I had just been dumped by my girlfriend of six months, the woman I thought I was the love of my life, the woman I had been living with, working with, spending most of my time with. My best friend was in Germany for the semester, so any contact we had was sporadic. I didn’t know what to do.

When one of my professors assigned me a story about Eating Disorder Awareness Week that required me to talk to the head of counseling services, it was like the answer I was looking for. I met with Dr. Ellie Olson. She was nice. She answered all my questions about the events planned for ED Awareness Week and gave me a paper that listed all the events as well. After about ten minutes I left her office with all the information I needed. As I was leaving she said I could email her if I needed anything else.

I did.

The next day I emailed Ellie about making a counseling appointment. She was glad that I emailed her and gave me a rundown of her available times in the next week. I scheduled an appointment for the next Thursday at 3.

I came in fifteen minutes early to fill out paperwork before my session. I was nervous, just like the first time I had gone to counseling. The waiting room was totally different, as it was the main area of the Student Development office. There were computers, tables and people. It had the same fluorescent lighting, but not in the same depressing way as the DHS office had been. Ellie led me back to her office a few minutes later. It was small, but not cramped. There were no Barbies or dollhouses, just a small couch with a chair opposite it. She had the paperwork that I had filled out. It told her that I was cutter. It told her that I was gay. She asked me about my job.

When we finally did talk about the cutting, she said something that no one had ever said to me. She told me that cutting was my way of coping. It was coping. It did help me deal. She didn’t try to tell me that it wasn’t helping or that I was just ignoring my problems. She acknowledged that it was something that was helping me.

For the first time in my life, I don’t want to stop going to counseling. I know that I’ll be graduating and moving on to new parts of my life and I won’t be able to sit in Ellie’s office once a week and talk about whatever I want to. And it scares the hell out of me. But Ellie thinks I’ll be okay and that makes me feel a little more confident. It makes me believe that I can do things I didn’t think I could before. Like quitting smoking.

It hasn’t been that long and I want a cigarette. But I don’t need one. I don’t need this craving to mask another. I have a support system. I have friends who will be there for me. I have a counselor who has helped me figure out new coping skills that actually work for me. I don’t need to pretend to be alright because I’m actually getting there. I still smoke and I still cut sometimes.

Atlas by Caitlin Dicus

You are my Atlas.
Nothing can shatter those shoulders
I feel that fool my fingertips
Sliding slowly over their glassy surface
Convinced they are treasures breakable but
Heat rippling beneath the hard
Olive surface whispers secrets
Of something god-like and I
Would be false if I did not believe
That only the shoulders of a god would fit
So snugly behind my knees when you
Push them toward my chest.
Oh hold me high, Atlas.
When the coarse Greek curls that
Cover your heart are
Dripping, every inch of
Me suggests your heavenly scent
And only your lips can hold
The small gasps sliding from
My mouth, breathing frantic
Fire into my lungs and
I beg you, hold me high and fast
On your celestial shoulders so I may
Scream and sigh when you lift me to touch the sky
On your Grecian shoulders of Atlas.

Meet Me On the Bench by Anais Boulard

Meet me on the bench
Like a call vanished in the sand
Like a sad song sung by a drunk man
Like another bad best seller.

Meet me on the bench
The park is pretty just like you are
The leaves, the kids, and the green floor:
A bed for true lovers.

Meet me on the bench
See, I brought you a box
Full of sorrow and rain
Full of the stories I forgot.

Meet me on the bench
You never come, though.
Lonely foolish loving a fairy
Lovely fairy who the loner banished.