Jeffrey Zable

Me and My Vagine

I was walking with my vagine when a man stopped me and said, 
“Oh, what a lovely vagine! Do you mind if I pet it?” 

Looking at his face, I could tell he was a decent fellow 
though his expression seemed a bit anxious.

“Sorry to say no,” I answered gently but firmly. 
“I used to let people pet my vagine, but too many of them–
mostly men–have done so in a manner that made my vagine 
feel very uncomfortable.”

Obviously disappointed, the man looked down at my vagine 
and said in a sorrowful tone, “I perfectly understand.
I once had a beautiful vagine like yours, but then. . . 
well, it’s a very sad story. I’ve tried to get on with my life 
but it hasn’t been easy. Whenever I see one like yours, 
it always reminds me. . .”

Feeling sympathy for the guy, I was just about to reverse my decision
when I suddenly remembered that I’d heard the same story before.
After wishing him well, me and my vagine continued on our way. . .

Donna Dallas


I’ll try once more to be
sweet and soft
let it all go
start anew try
deep breath
come undone
calm the nerves
seep into deep space
melt stars
I never get out
of my head enough
to realize
I am nothing
save the few bits of
blood and bone
I’ve left
squandered all the rest
on something
I believed
as love
call it madness
I go again


Originally published in Anti-Heroin Chic 

Jeff Weddle

Swimming Hole

There may be snakes 
in the water 

probably there are snakes 

and sharp rocks 
in the shallows 

there are also leeches 

you can be certain 
there are leeches 

and all manner 
of slick, biting things 

but the water is cool 
and it is such a heavy day 

there may be disease 
in the dark water 
and sudden pits 
for drowning 

there may be ghosts 
of missing children 
and bodies 
still tangled in vines 

there may be broken glass 
and poison 

but it is so hot 
and the water feels 

it is best to jump head first 
someone said 

it is best to get your head under 
right away

it is best 
not to think about it 

it is best to love 
the things impatient 
to devour you

Joe Surkiewicz

The Maltese Chickadee

Private eye setup: A seedy office, a dozen stubbed-out cigarettes in the brass ashtray stand, a bottle in the bottom desk drawer. The usual. 

How did I get here? Early retirement from the police? Thrown off the force for graft? Maybe an ex-military cop? 

Ha, none of the above. My path toward becoming a shamus on the wrong side of town was, to put it mildly, a little unusual.

I made enough to retire, a real bundle, after selling a crime-solving app to police forces across the country. Not that I developed it. No, I’m not that smart. But I went to high school with an IT genius who is. 

The guy’s a real computer geek. A certified neurotic with no people skills. And selling to cops is tough. Way too tough for a guy who routinely gets into shouting matches with store clerks and waitresses.

That’s where I came in. With my years as a cops-and-courts reporter, then later flakking for a medium-sized police department, I knew the lingo. It got me a fifty-fifty deal with my abrasive high school buddy with a multi-million-dollar idea.

See, I knew how to tap dance my way into the hearts of cops who have seen it all. I knew how to break through the stoic, tough-guy veneer. I knew how to pull rank as a last resort, and I had learned enough about crime solving to show how the damned app worked–yes, iPhone or Android, take your pick. 

And the app does work. Plug in the crime scene info, snap some pics, fill in as many blanks as you can, and it instantly coughs up a list of probable perps. 

That’s not all. It lists jurisdictional problems–say, theft under five grand is a misdemeanor unless you make the pinch in the next county where it’s a felony. Or it tells you it’s a civil, not a criminal matter, stop wasting your time. 

The big breakthrough was when the IT genius added voice recognition. Cops with clumsy fingers can just bark into the phone. With that problem licked, it doubled the solve rate, which really got the brass’ attention. 


I sold packages to big city police forces, rode shotgun to show cops on patrol how it worked, solved a few robberies and the odd murder. I learned a few things about crime detection while getting rich.

Never heard of the crime-solving smartphone app for cops, you say? 

Damn right you haven’t. Cops don’t want civilians to know that their success rate in solving big-city crimes is due to a smartphone app developed by a dope-smoking college drop-out and a cops reporter who sold out early and went to work for The Man. It might give the wrong impression.

Once a few big city police forces signed on, the damn thing sold itself by word of mouth. It was like writing a bestseller. The royalties kept flowing in. I sat back and watched my bank account get fat.

Then boredom set in. Ennui, which is French for boredom with money. Financial security, I was learning, isn’t enough. How many sixty-inch flat screens can you own? I got restless. 

Then it hit me. With my recently honed crime-detection skills, I could serve a niche that I had unwittingly created: Solving the crimes that don’t interest cops and the app doesn’t work for–low-level outrages against humanity that don’t rise to the level of state prosecution. Outrages, I might add, that bore cops silly. 

A lot of it is typical private eye stuff: Is my wife really going to yoga three times a week and why is she always too tired for sex? 

Why is hubby coming home tanned from twice-monthly business trips to Seattle and is always too tired for sex? 

What happened to my silver dollar collection? Was it swiped by that worthless ex-boyfriend who only comes around when he’s broke? And is never too tired for sex.

Then there’s not-so-typical private eye stuff. Cyber crime. Identity theft. Blackmail resulting from phone sex. Not sex with a phone, exactly, but the hormonal rush of sending a picture of yourself in a compromised position to someone who may not ultimately have your best interests at heart. 

You know, a man.

I’m in my office. The phone hasn’t rung in a week. The afternoon sun had descended far enough that I had to either get up and pull down the shade or swing my feet over to the other side of the desk. That’s when the door opened. 

A swish. A dame. Va-va-voom.

She stepped into my office, a hand on one hip as she took it all in.

“What a dump.”

I put down my smartphone, tilted my fedora back, and swung my legs off the desk. I pulled open the bottom drawer. 

“It’s the maid’s week off,” I said, pulling out a bottle and two shot glasses. “Actually, she’s been off since 2010.”

She parked a curvaceous haunch on the corner of my desk and watched as I poured. Mid-thirties, the hem of her skirt hiked up her thighs, a tendril of straw blonde hair dangling over one eye. Not big-boned, exactly, but shoulders like a swimmer. And breasts like…

“Here’s mud in your eye,” she said. Then sipped, smiled, and sipped again. “Single malt. I was expecting something a little less smooth.”

I drenched my tonsils with the entire shot, got up and went to the window overlooking, well, not the San Francisco Bay Bridge. It was a scene about 3,000 miles to the east, the alley behind a Thai carryout on the wrong side of a beat-to-shit East Coast city. 

With my back to the gash, I looked down at a collection of dumpsters and wind-blown trash. Sometimes I could spot a rat. 

“What brings a class act like you to a place like this?” I said, surveying the squalor. “Don’t they have private dicks uptown?”

I heard the rustle of fabric as she stood. 

“I deserved that,” she said. I heard her smoothing her skirt. In my mind’s eye I saw her brushing the tendril out of her eye. “I’ve watched The Maltese Falcon too many times, I guess,” she confessed.

“Sorry, lady, but you can’t watch that movie too much,” I snapped. I opened the lap drawer and pulled out a fresh yellow legal pad and one of the better disposable ballpoints I save for paying clients. 

“In the detecting business, when your partner is killed, you’re supposed to do something about it,” I said. “It’s Existentialism 101. How can I help you?”

She parked her curvy behind on a chair and leaned forward. “It’s my boyfriend. I think he’s cheating on me.”

It took a conscious effort not to roll my eyes. “What makes you think…?”

“It’s the little things that only a woman would notice,” she said. “The phone rings and when I pick it up, no one is there…”

“You have a phone? Like, connected to a landline?”

“Uh, no, you’re right. I think I saw that in an old movie.” She stiffened, drawing a little clutch purse to her midriff with both hands. “But if you don’t believe me, how can I earn your trust? What else do I have to give?”

I picked up my empty shot glass and flung it across the room. It shattered against a small figurine of a black bird.

“You’ve done nothing but lie to me since you got here,” I snarled, pointing to the window. “Out there, a pack of assistant district attorneys are combing the city, their noses to the ground, ready to swarm all over me. How much money have you got?”

“Just under five thousand…”

“Give it to me.”

“I’ve got to have a little to live on.”

“Sorry, lady, you’ll have to hock something.”

The fat wad looked to be all fifties. She snapped the bills like a bank teller as she counted them out. 

A light went on in my head. “You work in a bank?”

She pushed the pile of cash into my hand. “Not exactly.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? Either you work in a bank or you don’t.”

“It’s the family business.”

A first. I’ve never met someone who owned a bank. 

Another hunch: “Does the boyfriend work there?”

She nodded. “Until Daddy fired him. He wouldn’t tell me why.”

“Does the boyfriend have pictures?”

Her brow furrowed. “Pictures of what?”

“Look, doll, I’m low on shot glasses to throw for dramatic effect. Does he have pictures of you in states of undress? Or of you and him doing the nasty?”

She extended her lower lip and blew the tendril out of her eye. 

“Get serious. We’ve got a website. Ever since Paris Hilton went viral with her doing it doggy style…”

“Is that how the upper classes amuse themselves these days?”

She ignored my uncouth comment. “What’ll be your first move?”

“The usual.”

“You mean…?”

“It comes complete with diagrams on page 47 of How to be a Detective in Ten Easy Lessons, correspondence school textbook.”

“You’d think there’d be an app for that,” she murmured.

James Diaz

No One To Say it To

Despair is a room in my Father’s house 
it’s too long a story to tell standing up
some days it’s like you aren’t even human 
but you are you are you are 

And you can go tell it now from every mountain 
how Linda danced alone in her mobile home
and no one ever checked on her 
not once did anyone notice the ghost town she had become 
despair just another a room in her bones no one had a key to

And the dark Indiana wind at night rocking smoke stack trailers 
till the hills feel what the road can do
when a car goes over like 48 years of mute prayers
chucking itself into the nameless thing

It’s too much to tell standing up
how she never felt human / not once
but she was she was she was 

Shawn Berman

The Most Bangable Marvel Movie Characters

It’s a question as old as time: which Marvel character would I rather bang? No matter how many times you ask me this, I’m never prepared. 

I run through a list of potential superhero suitors in my head. I immediately cross off Bruce Banner since I feel like he wouldn’t listen to my needs and it would just be a terrible experience all-around. I also fear that he might snap halfway through and I’d be done for.

I recall the one time we were in Union Square, and a tiny green dude dressed up as the Hulk threatened to beat us up if we didn’t give him $40 for a picture he snapped of us after he stole our phones while we were eating lunch. That day we learned our lesson to steer clear of the mascots in NYC altogether. They’re emotionally unpredictable.

I then tell you, that if I had to choose, I’d do Captain America. Not only does he have a nice butt, but he seems like he would be a gentleman and call a cab for me in the morning then text to see if I got home okay. 

You snicker, disappointed with my answer, and tell me I’m vanilla, predictable, and that personally you prefer your heroes to have a little more grit to them. That’s why you’d bang Thanos because he’s so fearsome. So strong. You’re convinced that you would be his queen and the world would be yours in no time.

I laugh at the thought of you and Thanos being the ultimate MCU power couple, people clamoring for autographs, companies begging y’all to sponsor their space guns on Instagram, the eventual reality tv spinoffs getting made.

But the more i think about your choice, the more I’m convinced that Thanos would be boring in bed, and he would most likely just lay there like a dead fish, making you do all the work. That’s why, in my mind, Ant-Man is the obvious answer when it comes to most bangable.

One of the coolest things about Ant-Man is that he can shrink down to microscopic size. I feel like that would be a desirable trait for a partner to have, especially since they could easily sneak into a bank and steal mad money without anyone noticing.

Imagine how life changing 1 million dollars would be?

Probably not that much because I’d quickly spend it all on something stupid like trying to revive JNCO Jeans or lose it in a bitcoin trading scam. 

It’s a good thing this reality will never happen. Way too much responsibility for an idiot like me to handle but I have no shame in admitting that so it’s whatever. I guess Thanos it is.

Noel Negele

Perfect Joy

One of his fondest memories
is from going to Baku in Azerbaijan,
from where, much like Paris,
he remembered little other than flashes
of wild scenes and his rapidly decreasing bank account.

In Baku he had hooked up with a beautiful tranny
who was short and had all the woman parts 
and was as it seemed much easier to pleasure.

They had taken two oxycodins each and had gone
to the zoo where emperor tamin monkeys were 
left free to roam and often steal
and one of’em had climbed on top of him, 
sat on his neck
and searched his thick hair for lice.

The sensation was incredible. Deep into his high
with the monkey massaging his skull, 
he took out a Buprenorphine film, supplied
by the tranny who at that moment 
was an absolute bouquet  of flowers,
and put it under his tongue
and as it melted there
exploding a new high
he closed his eyes
and was as close to zen as souls can be.

The perfect nothingness. 
Black but blonde with light
and filled 
with the most spectacular feeling of contentment.

He had passed out after that.

Donna Dallas


Why write…..Why pour out the ingredients
that I own. Cannot speak—I could never
say it—the messy tangled yarn of words and

what would I say anyway? How could
you know I have died several times trying
to get it right, make us good, make you laugh.

I am bad for you? So is smog and second hand
smoke and a good rare steak and what am I
to them if I am anything at all. People don’t want

for others what they cannot have for themselves.
Why write when I could have told you,
or the mailman, that I believe I am reincarnated.

An old soul, a soul of souls—but I’m through
counting my lives since the end of the world is fast
on its way, an ugly vulture dragging half the

universe. So we must live life—really live it!
But what does that mean? I’m bored out of my skull
so I join the gym to get in shape and now

I’m bored with my own body. What I want
in the deep of a New York night is a good glass
of blood-red wine and the noises the cars make

when passing down my street. People exist.
I forget this sometimes since I am quite occupied
searching for crows feet around my eyes

in every mirror of every room I lay foot in.
I refuse to take all the blame for changing
your ways and probably nine other people’s ways.

We bounce off one another and if I see white
today, maybe then I’ll wear white tomorrow.
Why write about things like this—the stuff

I am made up of. How am I doing? I walk
on eggshells when I talk, stammer
and cough up blood for lack of words.

Originally published in Drunk Monkeys 

Jack Moody

With Feet at the Edge of the Abyss, Part 3

“You know what your problem is? You need to lighten up.”

The man is bald with a trimmed, black goatee. His eyes are sunken and dulled. By the inflection in his voice it seems like he didn’t introduce the conversation with this point. He must be responding to something I said. 

When I fail to answer, he elaborates on his advice to fill the space. “I look at you and all I see is me when I was your age—how old are you?”

“Twenty-four,” I say.

“Jesus. You know what I was doing when I was your age? I was shooting heroin on a mattress in a foreclosed house with four other degenerates believing we were gonna be rock stars. Now, I can see you’re not as far gone as I was. You’ve still got some of that light in your eyes, though you’re doing everything you can to kill it. I’m sure you know that. But I’m gonna tell you something I wish someone had told me before I ruined it all by being a stupid fucking kid. I want you to listen to this. Really listen to me, Henry: Hating the world does nothing but make the world hate you back. I wasted my twenties being angry and sad thinking the world owed me something—thinking I’d never grow old and eventually it would all make sense once I got X, Y, or fuckin’ Z. But it doesn’t work like that. I destroyed what could have been my happiest years because I thought it made sense to feel bad. And now I’m fifty years old. Fifty. Jesus…fifty. You know what I know now? Despite everything I did in my power to destroy my life and feel sadness and hate the world, those were still the best years of my life. Because I was young. I had the whole world ahead of me. There was hope despite it all. That’s why I thought I could throw it all away. I would never have admitted that at the time, but it was true. No matter how much I destroyed my life there was this little flame inside me that said ‘don’t give up. There’s still time.’ But now I’m fifty. There’s no hope anymore. There’s no time. So lighten the fuck up. Appreciate what the fuck you have. Get your head out of your ass and smile, before you wake up one day and see a bitter, miserable old man staring at you in the mirror. And trust me, it will happen. Faster than you think. This whole depressed alcoholic shtick is a lot less charming when you’re fat, middle-aged and bald. You have hope. Do something real with it.”

I blink.

The walls are blood red. The stools are red also, and they have tears in them. My stool wobbles when I sway too far to the right. Black lights glow in phosphorescent blues and purples across the graffiti tags covering the ceiling and walls like an invasive mold. Erratic punk music explodes all around me and drowns out any voices I would otherwise hear. There are paintings of naked women hung next to framed black and white photographs of midgets standing next to slain bears hanging upside down from ropes. The bar is busy. The people look like me—they look like they’re my age—but they have spiked mohawks and facial piercings and wear black leather jackets with patches sewn into them that say things like “SUCK MY CUNT, I’M A FEMINIST” and “BORN TO PAY TAXES AND FUCKING DIE”. I feel as though I’ve stepped into what Hell looks like to a Motörhead fan. I don’t mind this place.

Rebecca must be here somewhere but I don’t care anymore. It’s become far too interesting to play time-traveler and see where this takes me.


My head jolts up from the wood counter. Someone is screaming at me over the music.


I look over. It’s a man. The man is trying to talk to me. He looks like Zakk Wylde. He looks like he sells drugs. Am I buying drugs from him?

“I FORGOT WHAT I WAS SAYING,” I scream back. “I DON’T HAVE MUCH MONEY THOUGH. I GOT FIRED TODAY.” I pull on the collar of my shirt and point to my ex-employer’s logo over the chest.

Zakk Wylde looks at me for a moment. He seems confused. “WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT, MAN?”


He pauses to sort through what I’m saying for anything discernable. “YEAH, NO—WAIT, WHAT? NO, I DON’T HAVE ANY DRUGS. YOU WERE TALKING ABOUT THE BOOK, MAN.”





“THE POINT IS…” I think about my answer. What has me so bothered? There’s this drunken little voice growling something inside my chest. He’s hiding between my lungs, nestled up against my sternum, and he’s growling words. I allow the world around to grow quiet, and when I can make out the words the little drunken man inside me is growling so intently, I mimic the words to Zakk Wylde as if I’m the magnified voice filtered through the other end of a megaphone. As the first word falls off my tongue, I can already feel the avalanche of a booze-soaked diatribe forcing its way up my throat. It’s too late now. 




The man stares at me for a long time. “JUST WRITE ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE,” he says. He drinks from his beer. “WHO THE FUCK IS ZAKK WYLDE?”

I blink.

My face is twisted into a sob. I can feel the heat on the surface of my face as the skin puffs and tightens through the tears and stress. I am curled into the fetal position on Rebecca’s couch. Rebecca is there next to me, her arm loose over my shoulder. She is uncomfortable and doesn’t know how to handle this. Neither do I. I don’t know what’s caused this.

Her image fades in and out between blinks, and once the brief blackness is traded back again for the familiarity of her apartment, Rebecca appears in different positions, sometimes standing across the room, and I call out between terrified wails for her to return by my side.

An exercise occurs to me that my therapist had once taught me to use when amidst the throes of a panic attack. He called it a grounding exercise. I’m not sure if what’s happening to me is in fact a panic attack but it seems similar enough, so I try to retrieve from my fractured memory what the actual exercise is. The most I can pull is that it has something to do with focusing on anything physical and tangible occurring in the direct world around you—the point being to take yourself out of the intangible world within your head, if at least for a moment—but I’m so drunk that the most I can glean from the concept is to call out the name of the object closest to me, so now I’m screaming TABLE TABLE TABLE TABLE over and over like a mentally handicapped person as the tears begin filling the insides of my ears and the world becomes a giant bathtub.

Rebecca is there and she squeezes my arm to stop me, and says, “Calm down. Tell me what’s going on.”

“Did you know that penguins mate for life?” I say. Sobs and chokes cascade across the words like cement poured over a wilting garden.


“Scientists have studied them. They waddle around and find a mate in the colony. Then they fall in penguin-love and they never cheat with other, bigger-dicked penguins or get a penguin-divorce. They stay together forever.”

“Henry, what are you talking about?”

“And then they make an egg and the mom goes into the ocean to find fish to stay strong for the dad and not-yet-baby, and the dad sits there with the egg on his feet for months, Rebecca. He takes care of it. He keeps it warm and safe. And she always comes back.” My sobs are intensifying now. I’ve remembered why I am crying. “She always comes back. They love each other.”


“I want the egg. I want my penguin. Everybody else gets to have the egg. Everybody else gets their penguin. I don’t wanna do this anymore. I just wanna take care of the egg. I want my own penguin.”

Rebecca says, “Henry, I don’t know what to say.” 

And she doesn’t. She doesn’t say anything else.

I close one eye and order an Uber, asking Rebecca to type in her address because I’ve forgotten what city I’m in, let alone what part of town. “I have to go,” I say. “Today is over.” This is the closest thing to a fact that I can think of so it’s what I decide to say. 

And then I blink.

She has brown hair that looks coarse and brittle. It falls flat over her back and shoulders. Her nose is large and angular like a protruding triangle. I can’t see her eyes well enough in the darkness of the car. This bothers me. It’s hard for me to trust people if I can’t see the light in their eyes. Still, I carry on with mindless chatter, excited that the change in environment has measurably improved my mood.

Aiidongowantomayva is what my words come out sounding like, but she responds with, “That sounds like a day” and “Well, you’ll be home soon”, so from an outside perspective I must be making enough sense to sustain a dialogue. My tongue feels like it’s disconnected from my mouth.

Through the passenger window I can see shades of black and orange blending and pirouetting between each other as we pass through wooded roads and well-lit streets. We drive across a bridge and in the distance the city skyline burns with yellows and reds and blues all blinking and buzzing, and below us the river is solid and black. The current doesn’t seem to exist and it looks dead. I can’t imagine that underneath the surface there is anything any more alive than the stagnant river. I imagine that blanketing the riverbed is a graveyard of motionless, decaying fish and that’s all there is. Soon the whole city of blinking and buzzing colors will be no different, and this thought doesn’t feel saddening but only inevitable and I accept this.

The car stops. We’re outside my home. She is looking at me and I say, “You have cigarette?”

“Yeah,” she says. “Do you wanna smoke one with me?”

“Sure,” I say.

We step outside and lean on the back of her car. I light the wrong end of the cigarette so she takes it out of my mouth, turns it around and lights it for me. Under the natural light of the stars her facial features become more prominent, and by the forehead wrinkles and weathered, tired expression I can tell that she is probably in her mid to late-thirties.

She stares at me through the glowing cherry hovering in front of my nose and then says, “Do you wanna keep hanging out?”

Today I have not yet been left alone. I have become lost in the tedious storm of booze, barflies, blinding white noise, lackadaisical supervision, disarmingly poor social etiquette, black humor, masochism and self-hatred to the point where I can no longer recognize myself, all under the guise of either a celebration or a Leaving Las Vegas-style suicide mission, but in truth it has all only been for the sole purpose of staving off this exact moment. For the better part of a half-decade I have driven the hollow and numbing possibilities of excess to the brink of the edge. And for whatever reason it has not been until this night, this day of all days, that I have at last reached that edge, and am now finally left with nothing but the apathetic face before me, and the endless, black abyss of a realization staring back from beneath the ends of my feet: I am alone. And I am terrified. I am very, profoundly alone.

“Yeah,” I say.

She pulls out her phone. “I’ll find somewhere to take us.”

I’m not sure what this means but I want someone to take care of me so I don’t question getting back into the car.

“I’m off the clock,” she says. “Don’t worry, you’re not being charged.”


She brings us to a park in the woods. I know this park. When we were little kids my best friend and I used to go deep down into the creek at the heart of the forest and catch salamanders. They would hide underneath the rocks close enough to the creek that small amounts of water would seep in underneath and provide them with comfortable homes. They were small and black and had two stripes running down their backs. Sometimes the stripes were red and sometimes they were yellow.

“This should work,” she says. “Come on.”

I get out and stumble on the uneven dirt, and she grabs my hand and leads me down the dark path towards the creek. We stop at a bench and she sits me down next to her like a toddler. It’s pitch-black and warm, and I can hear the running water of the creek just beyond the veil of the shadows. This creek is still alive. The salamanders are still alive under those rocks. I know it.

I feel her hand on my face and then her lips on mine, and I kiss her back because that is what you’re suppose to do when someone kisses you. Then she is grabbing me and groping at me, and her arms are around me and she pushes me onto the ground next to the bench. She begins taking off my belt and pulling down my pants and she takes her pants off.

“Put it in me,” she says.

“I think I’m too drunk,” I tell her.

“Kiss me then.”

I do and it hardens, and she takes my hips and pulls me in towards her.

“Condom?” I manage.

“My tubes are tied,” she says. “Put it in.”

I don’t know if I want this. I don’t know where the line is. No one ever taught me this. 

“Are you clean?” I mumble.

“Yeah, yeah, just do it.”

I don’t feel anything. She is silent as I do it. Rocks cut into my shins and knees until I know that in the morning the inside of my jeans will be stained with black, crusted blood. I don’t want this.

“I’m not gonna come,” I say.

“Alright,” she says. “Let’s go.”

We stand up and put our pants back on, and in silence we walk back up the trail I had taken a hundred times as a child. This park was my favorite place in the world. It was magical. Beautiful little creatures hid underneath rocks for us to find and the creek never stopped running and the trees swayed in the wind and protected us from the elements. Fifteen years ago this park was the most magical place I’d ever been.

We drive back to my home and she stops in the street, letting her car idle. We have not spoken.

“Do you even remember my name?” she asks me.

“Jordan?” I slur.

“It’s Jessica. Get out of my car.”

I step outside and close the door, and she drives away. I lie on the driveway and watch the stars until I feel the vomit rising in my stomach, and expel fourteen hours worth of liquor onto a bush. I walk up the steps, weave down the hallway, and collapse onto my bed, falling unconscious with every article of clothing still on me. 

I do not dream.

Two months later the psychiatrist will give me a new diagnosis and I will go back on medication. And I will crash and burn.


With Feet at the Edge of the Abyss, Part 1
With Feet at the Edge of the Abyss, Part 2
With Feet at the Edge of the Abyss, Part 3

Jack Moody

With Feet at the Edge of the Abyss, Part 2

The mall is one of the first places I think of when it comes to environments that reinvigorate my suicidal tendency—along with strip clubs at two in the afternoon on a weekday, classrooms with those florescent lights lining the ceiling that house masses of dead insects like state-run morgues, and the intake room in a county jail—so today of all days a particular and not unfamiliar kind of warm, prickling excitement pulses inside my chest as we pull up to the Jefferson Square Mall.

Rebecca grabs me by the arm and leads me towards the entrance as an obese couple holding overfilled tote bags lumber past us. They smell like grease, like they were standing over a deep fryer for an hour before walking out, letting their odor waft over and sting my nostrils. They are a perfect encapsulation of what I picture awaits us inside the mall, and the prickling warmth intensifies.

Rebecca says something about needing shoes and hangs a left once the doors open. The smell of heavy perfume assaults my nostrils, twisting around the lingering greasy odor of the couple we’d just passed. I don’t know what store I’m in but there are mannequins everywhere and they wear cashmere sweaters and high-waisted shorts and tank tops and I hate it here. Women are staring at me so I follow Rebecca into the aisles of women’s shoes. Hundreds of shoes. The aisles aren’t tall enough to hide between so I plop down onto the carpeted floor at Rebecca’s feet like a hound and light a cigarette.

I can see the wheels spinning in her head before she turns around to identify the smell, dropping a pair of boots onto the ground. “Henry, what the fuck are you doing?” she snaps, horrified. “Put that out.

“It smells awful in here,” I tell her. “I’m clearing my palate.”

A single puff of gray-white smoke floats up over the aisles before Rebecca snatches the cigarette out of my mouth and smashes it into the carpet.

My eyes widen and my face lights up. “That’s destruction of property! Look what you did! Oooooo the mall cops are gonna arrest you!”

“Shut up. C’mon.” She pulls me onto my feet and hurries me away to another area of the store before the old women catch on. “Please just behave yourself for twenty minutes, can you do that?”

“I can certainly try, home-wrecker.”

“Stop calling me that.”

I follow along for a few minutes before growing bored and taking off towards the exit, where the mall proper opens up and my fear of open spaces takes hold. I wander along the storefronts, wearing my sunglasses as a protective shield to combat my social anxiety, until reaching a Starbucks. I order a tall black coffee (“Whatever the small one is.”) and mention to the barista something about how I’d stick my head underneath the espresso machine and flip it on if I had to work her job. I then say something about how the urge to end one’s life is totally normal, and follow that up by asking if they’re hiring. They aren’t.

I shuffle back through the aisles of perfume and lingerie before spotting Rebecca at the checkout desk. She’s talking to a pretty, young blonde who stands straight and looks like she’s never been dirty in her life. They’re talking about the details of returning old clothes and buying new ones, and how much can she get taken off from the price of the new ones for selling the old ones? It’s painfully unriveting so I jump up and sit down on the counter between them.

“What’s your name?” I ask.

She’s taken aback and can only respond with an uncomfortable chuckle and a tap on her nametag with a polished and manicured fingernail. I lean in and close one eye until the word Alicia comes into focus.

“Do you like your job, Alicia?” She shrugs and returns her attention to the transaction with Rebecca, but I continue speaking with the drunken belief that what I have to say is more important than their capitalistic endeavors. “You should quit. Quit right now. You don’t need this job. This job needs you. Empty that register, pocket the cash, and let’s get outta here. You and me, let’s go get drunk—what do you say, Alicia?”

Now that I’m unemployed and thoroughly intoxicated, I’ve decided that the American nine to five job is slavery of the masses, and it’s now my duty as a newly enlightened radical to set free the Great Unwashed, one young, attractive working-class woman at a time.

Content with my enlistment speech, I lean back and pull out another cigarette. A look washes over Rebecca’s face like she’s watching a man gouge his own eyes out with a spoon. Nobody speaks. I try again to elicit a response after recognizing that the silence will go on indefinitely until I fill the uncomfortable space I’ve created. “So,” I continue as I light my cigarette, “you mull that over, Alicia. Decisions like this are a hard choice to make, I get it.” I drag the harsh smoke and cough up phlegm into the back of my throat. “But look at me! This is a free man you’re looking at! You’re looking at pure happiness right now, Alicia. Let’s break those shackles!”

Rebecca grabs me by the shirt, pushes me off the counter, and whispers, “Get the fuck out of here and wait for me outside. You’re gonna get us arrested!”

“Good!” I shout, walking backwards towards the exit, the cigarette hanging limp between my lips and the middle finger on my good hand pointing to the ceiling. “Let ‘em! I’ll become an icon for the free man! I’m Nelson fuckin’ Mandela, Rebecca! See these wrists? No shackles, baby, no shackles!”

With that, I walk outside and crumple over onto the sidewalk to sit underneath the dull white sunshine and wait for Rebecca. With no audience left to witness my antics, the humor drains away, and I’m left again with nothing but the desperate reality of my situation. The thoughts and memories I’m trying to suppress begin to bubble up and spin in circles like a merry-go-round behind my eyes, and the overpowering urge to drink returns. I recognize, as I sit here on the hot cement in front of a Macy’s department store in the middle of the afternoon on a Monday in the summer of 2018, that there is nothing short of suicide that will free me from this bear trap of a life I’ve stepped on.

I tell Rebecca that I’m not getting back into the car unless she drives me to a liquor store, so she does and I pick up a pint of Jim Beam. Typically I’d go for Old Crow to ensure that I’m going to be punishing my body as much as possible, but today I’m still trying to hold onto the vague notion that I’m celebrating. The image of my arm outstretched through the open car window fades in and out behind the formative stages of a blackout. The coffee splatters across the passenger door and wicks off in the wind.

“What did you just do?” Rebecca says.

“Nothing,” I mumble, refilling the half-empty coffee cup with whiskey.

I continue to sip at the bitter drink as we move at a glacial pace through rush hour traffic down the highway. Rebecca tells me a story about how she thinks a guy she’s been seeing is ghosting her because the last time they hooked up she let him fuck her in the ass and when he pulled out she accidentally shit on his dick, but I’m tuning in and out because I’ve found a bump on the inside of my lip and I’ve realized that it must be cancer. My tongue runs back and forth against the unsettling protuberance as I catch some of her monologue:

“It was everywhere. It was all over him, all over the sheets. I’d heard about that kind of thing happening but that has never happened to me before.”

I indulge her: “So, then what happened?”

“I mean—he was cool about it. He was like, ‘It’s totally fine I can change the sheets,’ and then he jumped in the shower.”

I laugh. “And then what did you do?”

“I waited until he got out and he said I could still stay but I was like, ‘I think I’m gonna go home now.’”

“And then you did?”

“Of course I did. I couldn’t even look at him after that.” She grimaces and moans, “Ohhhh my GOD, Henry! That’s so fucking embarrassing, of course he ghosted me.”

“No, see, that’s where you fucked up,” I say. “You have to stand by that shit. Literally.”

“That’s not funny.”

“No, listen to me. You should have owned that shit. Owned it. Said, ‘Yes, I shit on your dick. That’s my shit right there on your dick. You defiled my ass with that thing and this is an all too typical consequence. Now embrace this situation and accept me.’” Rebecca keeps her eyes forward and remains silent. I pull down on my bottom lip and lean over to study the bump in the rear view mirror. “Hey, Rebecca,” I say, eyes trained on my reflection. “What’s the survival rate for oral cancer?”

“Not low enough. Where do you wanna go?”

I forgo the liquor mixture in my cup and pull straight from the bottle. “Bar.”

Rebecca exhales like she’s blowing out a cloud of cigarette smoke. “Henry…”

“Look,” I snap, “either you can come with me or you can drop me off and I’ll go somewhere by myself.” I can hear the anger coming through in the words slogging off my tongue but can’t stop it, my mind too muddled by the mist growing thicker as the alcohol’s effects begin to take over.

“Alright, Henry,” she sighs. “I’ll come with you to a bar.”

“Okay then,” I say. I sit back and drain the contents of the little white cup. “Thank you.”

The bar’s walls are an unattractive shade of white tinged yellow after past decades of cigarette smoke stains. The booths are a deep forest green with black splotches in the leather where past patrons spilled their drinks or bodily fluids. The floors are carpeted. This was a terrible choice by the owners. One should take the same consideration into the choice of flooring in a neighborhood bar that a pet owner would before bringing home a dog that hasn’t yet been housebroken. If I owned a bar I would forgo carpeting entirely, and line the linoleum floors with layers of newspaper. This would cut down on the cost of custodial work and present the ambiance of a hamster cage, but the trade-off would be worth it. 

These are the only details that I can differentiate at this level of drunkenness—obtuse and abstract details, the kind of indistinct shapes and visuals that make up the world through the eyes of an infant. I don’t recognize this place.

To cut down on the cost of a heavy drinking habit I order a tall glass of soda water, situate myself in the last booth at the end of the bar, pour out half the glass underneath the table when no one is looking, and fill up the remaining space with the whiskey from the pint hiding underneath my shirt like an unregistered firearm. I must be dancing between levels of consciousness because I know my eyes have stayed open, but when I turn to the right Rebecca is there looking at me.

“How long have you been there?” I ask. I can feel my tongue swelling and struggling to form the necessary consonants to articulate the sentence.

“I’ve always been here.” Her answer is ominous and I begin to feel uncomfortable.

Her lips are moving again. She starts to say something else but I blink and an abrupt fog overtakes me, and when my eyes settle back into my environment I’m at the bar with a drink in my hand. I’ve forgotten about the whiskey concealed in my clothing, or perhaps I’ve drank it all because when my hand slides down next to my balls I feel nothing in the space where a plastic bottle should be. My back is to the bartender, and as I scan through the sparse crowd for Rebecca, my line of sight is drawn back to a pair of eyes watching me from across the room. The eyes are piercing and appear yellow in the dirty glow of what little lighting this bar could afford. They belong to a large man. He stands hunched over with a hand leaning against the pool table, and he is staring. These are the facts I know. After another moment of discernment I recognize the shadowed form of another man standing beside him. His eyes must not have been trained on mine when I first scanned the room because I didn’t notice him, but now the large man is talking to the other man, and has directed his attention towards me as well. Now there are two shadowed figures, large male figures, staring at me from across the bar.

I’m not unfamiliar with these kinds of looks, whether they’re for good reason or just a false assumption funneled through my skewed, paranoid perspective. In either case, though, this moment demands action, and I vow to fulfill that demand. But whatever my response will be it, it will require a deft and diplomatic approach:

“What the fuck are you looking at?” I shout. 

A few heads turn. I’m not being clear enough. I point at the shadowed pair, who’ve still refused to break eye contact. “You! And you! What the fuck do you want?”

The larger of the two is the first to speak: “Just checking out the view.”

What kind of threat is this? Are these mind games? I can’t think of anything clever or threatening enough to say so I settle on, “Well, stop it. It’s creepy.”

I look away. Where is Rebecca? Rebecca will be able to make sense of this. My feet make contact with the sticky carpeting and I set off across the room, on a mission to leave this place for calmer waters. But as I search, all the faces begin to look the same. They meld together into one swirling soup of eyes and mouths and eyebrows and ears. The people become as inanimate as the walls and the carpeting that reminds me of walking through a shallow bog. I’ll never find her at this rate—she’s become furniture now.

Before I can communicate this realization to the man with the handlebar mustache and cowboy hat standing beside me, I feel the firm grip of a hand upon my shoulder.

“I have a question for you.”

It’s the large man from before. His eyes are no longer yellow but a light brown. He isn’t blurred like the rest of the bar. He’s larger up close and the intimidating energy he exudes demands my attention. 

“What do you want?” I say. I try to appear formidable despite our six-inch size difference and my inability to keep my center of balance.

His face softens. I can make out the shape of a strong jawline beneath his beard. “Well, more like a proposition.” His voice is light and bounces across the syllables almost like he’s singing a song.

“Where’s your friend?” I ask, ignoring his subtle invitation for me to inquire further.

“He’s waiting.” He points to a corner of the bar and waves, but all I see is a small gathering of similar-looking people all crowded together like livestock. “Brandon likes me to interact with our potential business partners; he stays behind the scenes. I’m—”

“Creepy,” I interrupt.

“The star.” He smiles at me—a subtle, crooked smile. This fucking guy is flirting with me. “Have you ever been on camera?” he asks.

“Well, I heard the government watches you jerk off through your webcam.”

“Sure, that counts.”

“Then probably.”

“What’s your price?” he asks.

“Excuse me?”

“Do you like blowjobs?”

I hesitate and squint at the large man. “…Is this a test?”

“Do you like getting blowjobs and getting paid for it?”

“That’s a loaded question. Who’s doing the blowing?”

“Let me clear this up: We’ll pay you a thousand dollars to let”—he points back over to the corner and one of the faceless livestock waves at me—“that guy Brandon over there film you getting head. That’s it. One grand to get a blowjob.”

“Yes, but—”

“Tyler. Pleased to meet you.”

“Tyler, who is doing the blowing? Who’s doing the blowing, Tyler?” I don’t know why I’m repeating myself. I already know the answer.

“I am,” he winks. “The star.”

“Right.” I look back over my shoulder: Rebecca, where the fuck are you?

Tyler takes my arm and pulls me back to focus. “Is that something you’d be open to? You’d be in and out in thirty minutes tops, dude.”

“That may be a conservative estimate.”

“You’d wear a mask; nobody would know it’s you.”

I study the man’s physique and try to gauge how difficult it would be to imagine I’m getting my dick sucked by Scarlett Johansson if I focused hard enough. Shit, I’ve always told people I’m about six percent gay anyway—thirteen if I’m drunk. I’d make out with Frank Ocean. And there was that bartender at the Blue Dolphin with the choker and that ass in those capris that elicited a certain unanticipated reaction out of me. A thousand bucks is a thousand bucks. A hole is a hole, right? “Are you gonna shave that small mammal off your face?” I ask. “I feel any stubble and I’m out, man.”

Tyler laughs and rubs his chin, and before he can answer I feel a small hand touch my waist. Rebecca’s voice twirls over the Motley Crüe song blasting across the bar: “Hey, Henry! Where the fuck have you been?”

I whip around. “Oh, hey. I’m talking to my friend Tyler. He wants to blow me on camera for a thousand dollars.”

Tyler waves.

“That’s nice,” she says. “I think we should go now.”

“Well, hang on, we’re negotiating.” I turn back around and finish the liquor in my glass, misjudge where the nearest table is and drop the glass on the floor. It hits the carpeting and remains intact. So that’s why it’s there. “Fifteen hundred plus thirty-three percent of the sales revenue…thirty-three and a third. You, me and Gomer over there.” I wave to one of the cattle. It doesn’t wave back. I must have waved at the wrong one.

Now that a fourth party has entered the equation Tyler becomes more reserved. “You know what? I don’t think this is gonna work out. You have a good night, man.”

Before I can reevaluate and renege on my counter-proposition, Rebecca’s hand pulls me across the bar towards the exit. She’s saying something but I can’t make out what she’s trying to tell me. I’m fading again. It occurs to me that I can’t recall how we got here or where we were before this.

The last thing I remember is tearing away from her and yelling, “I’m buying a shot for the road!”


With Feet at the Edge of the Abyss, Part 1
With Feet at the Edge of the Abyss, Part 2
With Feet at the Edge of the Abyss, Part 3