Tess Drummond

Don’t you know who I think I am?

“I don’t think this wedding will go ahead and that’s sad,” I mumble through tears and smoke. She doesn’t say anything, she doesn’t usually say anything, this is not shocking to me but it is hard to comprehend.

I say everything, not really for her or I but because I have always had this mouth on me and a historical need to fill silence, often with emotion and, as she kindly tells me before bed, drama.

“I don’t know what to believe?”

“Listen, neither do I,” I respond as I’ve responded for the past 5 years. My emotions are loud, intense and manic. We live together in semi harmony and to be reminded again that all of it is too much lonely, predictable and ultimately boring.

This whole life, if I am honest with myself, is deeply boring. Even with the theatrics I struggle to feel connected. Interested. Here.

I tell a friend, “I could pack my life into a suitcase and leave.”
I think I read that somewhere but I use the material as my own.

Often when I feel like nobody I paint the walls with somebody before me. Idols. Villains. It isn’t important as long as it fits the script.

Some lyrics remind me I have been used for my body a few times while in blackout. I try to swallow the psychological reminders. She notices. Asks me what’s wrong.

I am honest, mostly to my detriment. Honesty makes people uncomfortable. Crying even more so. I am honest, and I cry. She doesn’t like this.

People make very little sense to me.
Fragments of them touch my heart and then I fall out of love (if I’d ever been in it) and return to myself. My selves.

It’s all about me still when the cards are down.
I have an escape rope and an internal off switch, perfect for times like this.

No one else can keep up with the rings I run around myself. No one asked them to.

Everyone in my hallucinations plays the marching drums. We go to war all the time. I am not scared of overflowing. There is beauty in my intensity. There is wisdom in my ability to flit in and out of states, timezones, love affairs and sadness.

And there’s carnage. Blood. Guts. Dust.
I’d be alone if I knew how to but I am a child every second day and children… need looking after.

Morning is here. My eyes roll back. It’s happening again. Life. It sneaks up on me and I swallow it like a badly manufactured vitamin. It doesn’t taste nice but everyone tells me it’s good for me.

I feel even less invested in further altering who I am upon waking. I stare at her in bed and think, ‘I don’t like you anymore,’ a strange mantra considering it may not be real.

Spitefully, I make some noise getting my things together and leave without saying goodbye. If I’d have said “have a good day” it would have been dishonest, something I’ve learnt people do not like. I weaponise my authenticity as a way to disarm others when they feel upset with me.

“I am honest.” Now what?

“I don’t know what to invest in!” she half shrieks at me from under the covers. It makes me sick and angry and un-attracted to her. All side effects of the idea she may leave me before I leave her. ‘Get in quick’, I think.

Investment. I’m not meeting my end of the bargain. I am a pyramid scheme who got what I was asking for and never really returned from it. My body is still in the old apartment. Another house haunted. Another ghost formed out of circumstance.

I eat the flashbacks and the bathroom. I blame myself again and move on to the next thing.

Tonight, it is her disappointment and the fact that my battery won’t charge. Fuck! My battery won’t charge.

My priority is distraction, especially after this skull fuck of a conversation.

I piggyback myself home from a free course I was granted due to my Government Standard insanity. I talk my way out of a 10 grand debt and simultaneously force a toothbrush down my throat and pat myself on the back.

My love will destroy you.

Brian Rosenberger

My Therapist

She says I’m depressed.

No shit. Really? No PhD needed for that diagnosis.

Even my Mom says the same and I only talk to her once a week on the phone.

My therapist suggests making new friends, trying new things… Maybe joining a book club or a wine tasting group.

I tell her it’s a Kindle age. I have no time to read and George Thorogood summed it up pretty good already, when he sang “I drink alone.”

I tell her I drink to make the day taste better.

She makes a note in her always handy notebook.

Long fingers, short strokes. Always a pencil, never a pen.

Sometimes she licks the graphite.

She favors green nail polish. Like the skin of some endangered rain forest frog.

I’ve noticed. At $35 bucks an hour, I’m paying attention.

She asks if I’m seeing anyone. That’s therapist code for dating/fucking/sharing my thoughts and feelings with another human being while NOT being charged at a professional rate.

I respond truthfully and say only my co-workers, who are all male, one step up from Neanderthal, and herself. I point out that she’s paid by the hour but so are most of my co-workers.

She looks at her watch, scribbles in her notebook, brings the pencil to her lips.

I’ve never seen what’s in her notebook. Never asked.

Therapy session over, we shake hands. She has a very delicate handshake, like her hand is made of porcelain or egg shells. Then she smiles, all pearly whites, saying I’ll see you next week.

I pay at the desk. The receptionist is young, 20-something, about 10 on the cuteness scale, and always smiling, always friendly.

Maybe she realizes I’m clinically nuts and doesn’t want to provoke negativity.

She’s attractive, knows it, and should be selling worthless products on late-night infomercials in a bikini, or else involved in local politics. I’d place an order and/or vote.

After paying for my session, I stop at the bathroom on my way out. I jerk off in the stall, imagining my therapist, her green nails carving into my hips as my cock fills that pearly white mouth.

I think the therapy is working.

 

Jason Lachlan Christopher

Those Are People Who Died

1988. I’m six. My first funeral. Never met Mike or his parents. Mom is crying and hugging other relatives I’ve never come across. They talk of things from previous decades, remembrances of a time before I existed. I go up to the casket. Overheard the “napping against the tree” story from Mike’s dad. Still looks like he is napping. This is the first dead body I have ever seen.

Mike was mom’s cousin. Was in his early-30s. Been out fishing with friends all day, drinking beers on the boat while they tried to catch walleyes. Sun went down. Mike and friends went back to shore. Friends hitched the boat to their truck and said goodnight to Mike. He climbed in his truck and drove home. Country road twisted and turned back in on itself. Mike, still boozy, going too fast, went off road. Front right end of his truck struck a tree. Mike wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. He burst through the windshield, bounced along the ground and slammed into a different tree. Old man that came upon the accident later said it looked Mike had sat down with his back to the tree and taken a nap.

Mike still has the brown bushy hair and moustache that he has in pictures next to the casket. Pictures from before he died. He wears the kind of glasses friends and I will later in life refer to as “Jeffrey Dahmer glasses.” He’s smiling in all his pictures. Friends hug him. Parents lean on him and give him kisses on his cheeks. Redheaded woman named Roxanne poses next to Mike, her right hand on his chest, her head on his shoulder. Someone told me they were dating. I don’t see Roxanne at the funeral.

***

Grant Medical Center. 1989. I am seven-years old. In a waiting room on a floor high in the building, reading a book called Eating Ice Cream with a Werewolf. Uncle John is sitting next to me, watching a baseball game. Keeping me company while my mom, dad and aunt Cathy go back to my grandfather’s room. Grandpa Jack has cancer. Will be years before I learn that he developed cancer only a year or so after I was born 1981. A period of remission happened, so no one ever told me he was ill.

Aunt Cathy comes out. Takes me by the hand and leads me down the unusually dark hospital hall. It is April. It is spring. Sun blasts through the windows at the end of the hall. Lights above us are turned off. I smell urine, medicinal creams, bleached fabrics and an odor I will later come to think of as the “stink of death.” Smells like rot, like a body being eaten from the inside out. In my older years I consider it the smell of fear.

The stink is making me sad. Cathy leads me into my grandfather’s room. Mom and dad are there. Uncle Pat and his wife are sitting in the corner. Didn’t even know they came. Cathy’s sons, Brian and Andy, are standing next to the large hospital window. Both older than me. Andy graduated high school last year. Came up from Miami University to see grandpa. I think Andy is cool.

Grandma sits at the end of the bed, watching her husband.

Stand in front of my parents. Mom puts her hands around my shoulders. Grandpa talks to Pat about something when he notices me.

“Jay!” He pats his hospital bed. Mom helps me up and I sit next to him. Tubes all over him – coming out of his arms, from under his gown, one hooked to his nose. Rubs my back, asks me how I’m doing. I talk as a little kid would talk, still unaware of how heavy the whole situation is. Grandpa laughs at my stories, wants to know how school is going, asks me why anyone would ever want to eat ice cream with a werewolf.

He points to the state office tower. Columbus spreads out below the window. I follow the aim of his finger.

“See that? I helped build that.” He was a pipefitter, a loyal union man, took pride in his work. Navy guy in the 40s. Drove one of the Higgins boats during the invasion of Normandy in WWII. The opening scene of Saving Private Ryan? He went through that.

Talk a little bit longer before mom says it’s time to get me some lunch. Hug grandpa Jack. He kisses me on the cheek. I leave not knowing this will be the last time we speak.

Weeks later. Lunch. Mom, aunt Cathy, grandma, me. Eat hospital food in the hospital cafeteria. Grandma is crying. Grandpa is unresponsive, on life support. Mom says he looks like he’s sleeping. Time to let him go. Pneumonia has settled in. His cancerous body, too weak to fight anymore, breaks down and allows pneumonia to win the war.

“I can’t lose Jack,” my grandma whispers.

At the funeral, I think he is smiling. Lay my hand on his. My first-grade teacher, Mrs. Kantner, comes to the funeral home to pay her respects. Mom bawls when she sees her, hugs my teacher tightly. I sit on Kantner’s lap later and she rubs my arm, tells me things will be okay.

As they bury grandpa, a bagpiper in a kilt plays “Amazing Grace.”

***

Someone banging on our apartment door. 1994. It is summer. I am twelve going on thirteen. Mom opens the door. A neighbor girl, Ashley, is screaming and crying.

“Jeremy! Jeremy!”

She points to the backyard. Mom and me step outside. Her older brother Jeremy has fashioned a crude noose and is hanging from one of the hook-steps embedded in the telephone pole. His body thrashes. The hands are pulling at the rope around his neck.

“Oh, Jesus! Oh shit! Jason, call 911!”

I run inside, grab the cordless phone, call for a squad. As I’m on the phone, I step back out on the front porch. Mom tries to climb the fence separating the apartment’s backyard from the glass factory behind us. Jeremy’s arms are looser, his body only twitching. One arm gets too weak and falls away from his neck. Mom balances herself on top of the fence and is about to climb the hook-steps when the rope breaks and Jeremy falls roughly fifteen onto the factory parking lot.

Mom jumps down. Woman on the end of the phone says paramedics are on their way, that I can hang up. Run to the fence. Other kids from other apartments have come outside, are spilling over and through the broken fence. Shimmy through an opening. Mom has pulled the noose off his neck and tossed it aside. She gives him mouth-to-mouth and pumps his chest with her hands. Ashley is weeping. There is clear snot rolling out of both of her nostrils.

Mom keeps giving him CPR until the squad arrives. They go to work on him. Mom corrals us kids away from the scene, moves us back to the other side of the fence. Fire truck arrives, and they try to help the boy. Seems like days but is only maybe five minutes when one of the paramedics calmly says, “Call it.” They mean call the time of death. Saw that in some movies. While the others load Jeremy onto a stretcher, two paramedics jump the fence to talk to everyone. Mom tells her story. I tell mine. Ashley says parents are at work. She says Jeremy talked about killing himself every day. They thank my mom for trying to help. Ashley goes with them to the hospital.

Jeremy was only fourteen. Mom and me don’t talk much for the rest of the day. Jeremy’s parents never come around to ask mom what happened. I recommend going over to their place and talking to them. Mom says they probably don’t want to talk.

***

My second grandfather is dead. Dad is sitting next to me in the funeral home sobbing, stifling moans of sadness. It is only maybe the second or third time I’ve ever seen him cry. Once was when we went to see the movie Sling Blade. Billy Bob Thornton’s character has a moment where he berates his abusive, bigoted, now-disabled father. Dad cried at that scene.

It is 1999. I am seventeen, almost eighteen. It is June. Ralph Sharon is dead. He was 84. He was a mean sonnavabitch, meaner than my dad ever has been. He was more physical, more willing to fight, somehow even crueler with his words. He talked of burning his neighbor’s house down in the 70s, when a black lesbian couple moved in. He tolerated them, sometimes even stood in the driveway and talked to them. I think he didn’t burn the house down simply because he didn’t want to go to prison. Had there been no risk, believe he would’ve happily torched the place. Lifelong attitude wasn’t far removed from David Duke, presidential candidate and former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

But he’s dead now, and I feel nothing. Don’t care. Mom kept me away from dad’s side of the family for a reason. Room is filled with sniffles and weeping and hugs and reminisces of the other grandfather I had. The one I barely had any relationship with. I have to be a pallbearer today. I think about dropping the casket on purpose and claiming it was an accident. Nah, too risky. Don’t wanna deal with drama. Just want to get this day over with.

Dad grabs my hand, squeezes tightly. Don’t know if this is legit or part of a show. Hold it for as long as I can stand and break away, venturing toward the casket. Ralph is inside. He is frowning. He looks miserable. The funeral people couldn’t even work their magic to make his dumbass face look faux-pleasant. He is angry, even in death.

We bury him. I go home, play Mario Kart 64 with my friends.

***

January 2004. I am 22. Terrible snowstorm moved in. Have to go to work. I despise snow. I despise winter. Driving is a treacherous, time-consuming. Back end of my car sways if I go just a smidge over 25 mph. Going to take forever to get from Canal Winchester to Pickerington, to my job at the movie theater. Call one of my managers, Zack, tell him I might be late. He says to be careful and take my time.

Crawl down High Street, heading toward Route 33. As I get closer to the freeway, I see a couple cars parked alongside the road. Fucking wonderful. What is going on?

A van is blocking our lane, preventing us from crossing 33. Passenger side is facing us. It is smashed in. Notice another car parked on the opposite side of High Street. Its front end is crumpled, and black smoke is pouring out of the hood. Two teenage girls and a man who looks like their father are standing upwind from the smoke. Man is holding a shirt or a towel against his mouth. A woman, who doesn’t look like she was involved in the accident, is talking to him. Teen girls are crying. One has squatted down, is plugging her ears, body heaving. Man removes the shirt or towel and talks to the woman. His mouth is a bloody void.

I pull up behind one of the parked cars and head toward the van. An older man, probably in his sixties, is pacing alongside it. He looks frenzied. Winter wind is blowing his thinning hair all over the place. His pupils are enlarged. A different woman is trying to keep pace with him, rubbing his back and trying to calm him.

“Oh, god! She’s dead! She’s dead! What—what am I gonna—” Guttural howls erupt from deep inside him.

A guy close to my age comes around from the other side of the van. He is on his cell phone. Moves the mouthpiece away, nods at me.

“Hey,” he says.

“You need any help, man,” I ask.

The guy shakes his head. “We got help coming.”

“What happened?”

“That car—” he points to the car with the man and teen girls, “came off Bowen Road way too fast and broadsided this dude.” He thumbs in the direction of the frazzled old man.

I see the old woman in the van.

I didn’t see her walking up. She was too quiet. Man with his girls and his blood. Older man hollering in terror. They got my attention. Old woman is sitting in the passenger seat. Window is gone. She is wearing her seatbelt. Head leans against the door, like she’s napping. The right side of her face is covered in blood. Never seen so much blood in person. My stomach drops. I’m lightheaded. Could pass out right now, vomit, shit myself.

“You can go on, man,” the guy on the phone says. “Thanks for stopping. A bunch of motherfuckers just kept driving by before these two women stopped.”

“Yeah,” I say. “Yeah, I’ll get out of the, uh, way. Hope everything is okay.”

Everything isn’t okay, you fucking moron. Woman is dead. What a jackass thing to say, Jason.

Get to work. I’m in the projection booth today. Eight hours in a gray cinderblock hallway with no windows. Can’t stop thinking about the old woman. Call mom, tell her what happened. When I get off work, she tells me the local news had a brief story on the accident. The old woman did die or was dead on the scene. News doesn’t specify, nor do they give any names. Just that the woman was 67-years old. Guy with the teen girls did blow through a red light on Bowen Road, couldn’t stop because he was going too fast on the snow and ice.

I despise snow. I despise winter.

***

July 4th, 2011. I am twenty-nine. Driving home from shit-ass job. After midnight. Pull up to my friend’s place. As I walk, my phone rings. Mom.

“Grandma is gone,” she says.

Broken hip sent her to a nursing home. Miserable. Lonely. Unhappy. Still missed Jack. Quit eating. Nurses tried to get her to down some kind of food. Woman was stubborn. My belief is she willed herself to die. Was 84. Knew her body was almost done. Didn’t see any reason to stick around at a party she didn’t enjoy.

Leave my friend’s. Meet mom at the nursing home. We’re the first ones there. Grandma is under a blanket. Looks like she is just asleep. Nurse explains she checked on grandma at 11:30. Things were normal. Half-hour later, she’s dead.

Nurse leaves us alone with her. Grandma’s dentures aren’t in. Jaw hangs open. I try to push it shut, give her some dignity. Jaw drops back open. Uncle Pat shows up. Wife he had when grandpa died at Grant is no longer around. Divorced years ago. Cousins I haven’t seen in years show up, too. Aunt Cathy and uncle John come. All discuss what happens from here. Mom, Cathy and Pat talk with the funeral people who show up. They will transport her to the home in Pickerington.

July 7th. Service, then burial. I am a pallbearer. Tighten my grip to make sure I don’t lose grandma. Watch her casket lowered into the ground. She was the last grandparent I had. Dad’s mom died before I was born. This was the only grandmother I ever knew. She is in the ground next to Jack.

***

I am 35. June 2016. Mount Carmel East. Uncle John is hooked up to a breathing machine. Still wide-awake. Still struggling to breath. Arthritis has limited his mobility. Two strokes have limited everything else. Body winding down. Aunt Cathy sits next to him. Mom and I stand beside him. Keep crying quietly, keep wiping my eyes.

This was bound to happen. All knew John’s time was limited. Last few years have been hard on the man. Maintained his cheerfulness, though. Never felt sorry for self or lashed out at anyone. John is smart. John knows the deal.

He was the main father figure I had growing up. Don’t know if he knows this. He can’t talk because of the machine. I can’t talk because I will fall to pieces. Peter Jackson’s King Kong is on TV. Watch the scene with Kong and Naomi Watts playing on the frozen pond. Scene made me cry when I saw it at the theater years ago. Stomping on my heart now.

Nurses and doctors come in. Time to clean and change John. Cathy, mom and I got to leave. John takes ahold of my hand, squeezes tightly. We lock eyes for a moment and I kiss him on top of his bald head. His other arm wraps around me as tightly as possible. Does the same thing to mom.

Cathy gets the call in the middle of the night. He passed quietly in his sleep. He is cremated. The box is heavier than expected. John was a smaller man.

***

Mom is 70. Older than her father when he died. In good health. In good spirits. I worry about her passing. But maybe I get to have her around for a long time. Cathy is nearing 71. Had a mastectomy years ago. Still smokes, especially because she misses John. Talks about being lonely. Tries to remain happy.

Dad might be dead. Don’t know. Google his obit from time to time. Nothing comes up. Don’t know what I’d do with this information. Satisfaction? Sense of closure? Dunno. Need to stop doing it. Best to continue life as though he’s already gone.

Doesn’t feel like I’m a few weeks from turning 37. Presumed life would be a bore at this point. Thought I’d be nothing more than a husk of a man, with a dead-end job, a loveless marriage and kids that annoy me. Don’t feel old, despite most of my classmates being born when I was in high school. I’ve remained unshackled. Free to bend myself anyway I wanted.

I think of Mike, though. And grandpa Jack. And Jeremy. And grandpa Ralph. And the old woman. And grandma. And uncle John. Their lives stretched before them once, just as mine does. Just as yours does. I saw them in their twilight, sometimes after the light had completely left them. Someday, someone will see me in my twilight. Hope it’s not soon. Hope there aren’t many regrets. Hope I look like I’m only sleeping.

John Patrick Robbins

This Wasn’t Paris

She screamed, as always, fed up with my vices, and that I simply didn’t indulge her rage once only fueled her more.

“You son of a bitch! Do you not feel anything?” she asked.

She was full of shit and mock concern she usually added for good measure.

“Yes, I feel all sorts of things,” I replied as I lit my cigarette from the candle that had been placed upon the table (I’m guessing) to set the mood, but honestly, I didn’t think they had a scented candle called ‘tantrum throwing bitch’ on the market.

“Yeah? What do you feel besides the need for another drink?”

“Sweetheart, there is so little you truly seem to know about me. Now have a drink with me and relax.”

“All you ever want to do is drink or fuck, you lazy bastard!”

“Well… what better thing to do is there than drink or fuck? You have something against orgasms, I take it?”

“You don’t really want me, it’s strictly for the sex, you jerk.”

“Well, I enjoy having sex with you. By the way, your ass looks marvelous in that dress, my dear, any chance I can see you out of it?” I said as I kicked back the last of my whiskey.

“You’re a pig. You don’t need a real woman, you just need a whore.”

“Are they not real women too, sweetheart?” I asked, laughing as I reached for the decanter to pour myself another drink.

She looked at me in disgust. “You’re a drunk!”

“Yes,” I replied. “And your point?”

“It’s all one big joke with you. Nothing is serious, you’ll never want to clean your act up. Settle down, give me a kid!”

“Well, I would have a while back, sugar, but they all run so fast I just can’t seem to catch one for you.”

“Fuck you ! You ignorant son of a bitch!” she said, as I let her go into yet another hissy fit.

I flicked my ashes into a wine glass on the table.

“Hey! What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

“Most, I believe most, call it smoking my dear.”

“That’s a good wine glass. What if I had wanted a drink of wine?”

“My dear, do you not know me that well? Wine is for painters and women or old gay men pretending to be straight. I drink whiskey. That is it.”

“Yeah, and whatever else happens to be around.”

“Yes indeed, I do.”

She sat at the table, looking to me more as some sort of bad child than her equal.

“Why the hell do I stay with you”?

“Good question, sweetheart,” I said as I began to stand. “You know I have many feelings; in fact, right now I’m going to have to run because of one.”

“Yeah? What feeling is that?” she said in mock interest.

“Well, I’m feeling like I have to piss. Excuse me.”

She said nothing as I left the room.
When I returned she was gone.

So I guess, to my question of seeing her out of that dress?
Well, it was a no.

She was gone, and I simply drank till the night bled into the day.

Some people truly need to find a sense of humor.

She yearned for the love of romance novels, not the reality of its existence.

And she yearned for the romance of Paris.

As the candle slowly died I watched the sun creep through the small kitchen window.

Outside the whores yelled at passing cars, and the city breathed life once again.

One thing for sure.

This truly wasn’t Paris.

L Murphy

You Can Go Now

His fingers are inside me. I can feel him moving around and trying his best to get a reaction out of me but I don’t move. I lay perfectly still, I don’t feel anything, none of the normal throes of euphoria rush out of me and I am genuinely bored. I stare at the ceiling and wait for him to give up, wait for him to climb on top of me and fuck me until he cums so he can leave my room and I can fall back asleep. The appeal to fake the entire evening does not overcome me, the appeal to make this fun, easy for him, or really at all enjoyable doesn’t appeal to me either, the only thing that really does is watching him get frustrated over trying to please me. I am dissociated, numb, the small glimmering lights above my bed are giving me a headache, the slow hum of Junior Kimbrough from my stereo is keeping my heartbeat steady.

I breath in slowly and grab his hand.

“Just fuck me.”

I said slow as I coldly pulled his hand away from me.

He looked at me confused.

“Oh? Ok.”

He nervously pulled out a condom and I pulled my dress off over my shoulders, sitting naked in front of him.

He gawked at me for a moment and slid the condom on.

I turned around.

“Fuck me from behind.”

I said sternly.

I think he thought I was trying to be kinky by being demanding.

I wasn’t. I didn’t give a fuck about being kinky.

I just didn’t want to look at his face and historically, men finish quicker when they fuck me from behind.

I bent over and felt him push deep into me. He started out slowly and I could feel every inch of his moderately sized dick. I tried to not yawn, the dizzy feeling I had gained from the wine was wearing off and I was tired, again. My entire body ached, again. I wanted to sleep for an entire day, again. I had to be up early for work, he needed to hurry.

“Harder.”

I said coldly.

He pushed into me deeper and faster, grabbing onto my hips and doing his best not to dig his nails into me. I reach my hand around and grabbed his hands.

“Pull my hair”

I snapped.

He grabbed a fist of my hair, lightly.

“Harder.”

He yanked on my hair and I let out a small giggle.

The searing pain of my hair being yanked made my nipples perk up, the warmth rushed around in my chest.

He pushed in deeper and pulled harder.

“HARDER.”

I shouted.

“Fucking hit me.”

He lifted his hand up and slapped my ass lightly.

“HARDER.”

He slapped harder and I could feel a sting.

An eruption of giggles lifted out of my chest, my body released and my headache ceased. I could feel him pulsing inside me.

I could feel myself tighten around his cock.

I could feel.

I shouted.

“Don’t fucking stop.”

And he turned me around onto my back and pushed into me.

I grabbed his hand and guided it to my throat.

“Choke me.”

I said looking straight into his eyes.

He smiled and gripped his fingers around my throat and pushed deeper inside me.

And my eyes rolled back

The world moved slowly

I could feel the small beads of

Anxiety and anger

Erupt from my skin and

I screamed,

Giggled,

Wrapped my legs around his waist and forced his cock to stay inside me

While he filled me. While I let the screams loose, digging my nails into his back.

He collapsed on top of me inhaling deep heavy breaths and I felt myself come down, the sensation came back to the tips of my lips and my body returned to it’s reserved cold state.

I moved my body out from under him and pulled my dress back over my body and looked at him.

“Okay. You can go now.”

I pulled his pants up from off the floor and threw them towards him while I checked my phone absentmindedly.

Ty Hall

An Open Letter to the Douche Who Put The Moves on My Girlfriend at the Bar Last Night

Dearest Douche,

I can appreciate why you wanted to put the moves on my girlfriend; she is, after all, very attractive. In fact, I found myself in a similar situation five years ago, which is why-and-how I’ve come to write you this letter offering a few suggestions.

If your purpose was to undermine me during the conversation she and I was having at the time, fine, but it would be wise to wait for me to start talking before interrupting to inquire about what the tattoo on her shoulder said. While it was a pretty smooth move, it hinted at your inability to read if not your apparent nearsightedness, as you were unable to decipher its meaning from a distance of roughly three inches. This also leads one to question the efficacy you had as a sniper in the Marines (thank you for your service).

Perhaps your myopia contributes to your deficient skills of observation. For example, the next time you see a woman drinking Glenfiddich, do not buy her a Bud Light. Hedge your bets by at least ordering a Jack-and-Coke. Also, be careful when assuming one’s ethnicity. I see what you were trying to do when you said you didn’t support The Wall, but my girlfriend is Japanese, not Mexican, which I realize you’d be “totally cool with” if she were.

I get why you’d want a lady at the bar to know that you’re unattached, but slipping that information in by letting her know your daughter was taken by CPS is probably not the best way to do it. I can see how you would think this is a twofer, as it allowed you to segue into military history by way of the opiate addiction, but I’d suggest your best course of action is to not bring this up at all on your next meet cute.

And yes, while your arms were sufficiently and demonstrably bigger and stronger than my own, the passion which which you discussed them at length (as well as how you use them to drive your truck and shoot your guns) has no doubt disappointed other women you’ve met in similar fashion who have not read the work of Alfred Adler.

Now, this is just my opinion, but if you’re going to use your “absolute favorite song of all time” as an excuse to vigorously yank on a woman’s arm and ask her to dance, at least know a little bit about it. Admittedly, “Wagon Wheel” is a pretty good song, but that doesn’t make Darius Rucker the greatest songwriter of our generation, or even the writer of “the song that is the theme song of your life.” To that end, I would suggest diversifying your tastes. I understand that neo-redneckery is en vogue, but I would think that wearing nuchal Oakleys kind of obscures your whole colophon.

Anyway, I hope these suggestions find you well.

Best of luck,

Ty Hall

Ian Copestick

Denny Mallory

Denny Mallory was a kid I went to school with, and even then you could tell that there was something seriously wrong.

Both him and his sister always looked kind of feral. They both had haircuts that looked like they’d been done by their mother with a blunt butter knife.

Now, I’m not knocking them for being poor, most of the kids that went to my school had families that were poor, myself included.

But this was something beyond poor, even beyond neglect. Denny missed most of his last year at school because he had ringworm, and this was 1989, not the 1930s.

Anyway after his last day at school, Denny decided to make some money for himself. So he burgled a house in which the parents and 3 children were all asleep. As he was leaving, with his bag marked “swag”, good ol’ Denny noticed that he had left big, dirty footprints all over the floor.

He knew that this kind of forensic evidence would be more than helpful to the police.
So what did Denny do?

Get rid of his shoes, perhaps ?

Maybe burn them.

Not Denny, he decided to set fire to the house with all 5 people in there asleep.

I don’t know what happened, but luckily the family woke up, nobody died, and dumb ol’ Denny got 30 years for 5 charges of attempted murder.

Now, fast forward 15 years to when Denny gets out of prison.

The guy has been locked up since the day he left school, aged 16. Like anyone else, he’s bound to have urges, I don’t know what his sex life was like in jail, but he definitely hasn’t slept with a woman for 15 years.

So, what does Denny do on his first day of release ?

On the very first night that he’s out of jail, he rapes the first woman that speaks to him.
So now Denny is locked up again, and this time let’s hope that they don’t let him out again.
If there’s a factory up in heaven, where God keeps churning out souls, then there’s bound to be some rejects now and then.

I think that’s what our Denny is, a fuck up from start to finish.

Matthew Licht

Eggs

We worked for a magazine publisher downtown. Not exactly together. My job was to write a monthly breast fetish magazine. She was some kind of secretary. Everyone called her Flapjacks, but not to her face. Whenever anyone in the office mentioned her, I saw pennants on sailboats, or prayer-flags beating in the wind that howls from the Himalayas.

One day Flapjacks asked if I’d come have breakfast with her. I thought she wanted to buy pot, since that was how I rounded out my salary.

There was a Cuban diner on the same block as the smut factory’s editorial suite. I ordered cafe con lecheand a medianoche sandwich (recipe below*), she asked for eggs, sunny side up.

“Bon appetit,” I said, when the waitress shuffled away.

“Check this out,” she said, and smashed her breakfast all over her secretarial blouse.

The heavy plate clanked down onto the table in our booth. Grease from the eggs turned the shirt transparent. Everyone stared. 

“Don’t ask me why,” she said, “but I always wanted to do that.” 

  • Bocadillo Medianoche: slice a baguette down the middle, toast on griddle, slather with butter, stuff with boiled ham, cheese, sliced pickles. Spurt some hot sauce on it.

Matthew Licht

The Essence

The doctor said, “Cancer.”

Silence fell. 

“Where is it, Doc?” 

“Where’s what?” Maybe he thought I meant, the Truth, the Meaning of Life, the gold. Even if he knew, he wouldn’t tell me.

“The cancer.”

“It’d be simpler to tell you where it’s not: the reproductive system.”

High school biology was a long time ago. “Could you please be more specific?”

“The gonads. Genitalia. Your cock and balls.”

He didn’t say how much time was left, but the implication was: not much.

Every human being wants to leave some trace of his existence behind. I should’ve painted a picture, or written a book, or welded some car-wrecks together. Too late now.

Life occasionally shows a sign. This is the Meaning. This is the Truth. This is where the gold is hidden. The sign next to The Sign said WE BUY GOLD$$$, but I had none to sell. I entered the Sperm Bank. 

The reception desk nurse didn’t even look up. She was reading a supermarket tabloid with UFOs on the cover. 

I cleared my throat a few times. 

She looked up, eyes glazed with wonder at the existence of heavenly beings who visit the Earth in sparkling streamlined spaceships. She could tell I wasn’t one of them. “What do you want?”

“This is a sperm bank, right? I want to donate.”

She had a good laugh. “You?”

“Payment in cash, please.”

Oh man I slew her. “We pay some donors.” She opened a drawer in the reception desk, scrounged around for petty cash. “How ‘bout uh, two bucks and 73 cents?”

“Hand it over,” I said. “I’ll go get a burger first. For energy.”

“We only pay on delivery, sir.”

“Where’s the delivery room?”

She jerked a thumb at a hospital-green curtain. “Take some fantasy material,” she said, and shoved a worn magazine across the desk.

“Listen,” I whispered. “We could do this together.”

“Huh?”

“Look, I don’t need dirty pictures. I want you.”

“What?”

“You’re a nurse. You’re supposed to help sick people. I have cancer.”

Her look said, I bought this nurse outfit at the Salvation Army. “I’ll bring you a hamburger when we’re done,” I said.

“Got yourself a deal, mister.”

Satan swung his scythe at my colon.

The donation chamber stank of sweat and embalming fluid. She shoved me in first, to prevent escape, and flicked on the light.

“Pull down your pants,” she said.

She sniggered. “Oh man I’ve seen cock-a-roaches in here bigger than that.”

“Gets bigger,” I said. “Open up your labcoat.”

“You lay a finger on me, I’ll put you in the emergency room.”

She could’ve KO’ed Sonny Liston. I got busy. Nothing doing.

“Turn around,” I said. “Hike your skirt and shake it.”

She laughed, but she did it. 

It was warm in the donation chamber. I unbuttoned my shirt.

“Oh sweet Jesus,” she said. “Have you ever even thought about taking a shower?”

“Hot water lowers the sperm count,” I said. “Didn’t they teach you that at Nurse College?”

“Hurry it up,” she said. “Somebody else might come in.”

“You want a rush job? Help me out.”

She reached for my thing like it was a foaming rat. She grunted and tried to get it hard, or tear it off. Sonny Liston would’ve begged for mercy. 

“Quit whining,” she said.

“It’s not gonna happen if you do it that way. Lube me.”

She hawked and spat. 

“Hey! That’s not what I…” Her lunger was magic. “Oh baby.”

“Yeah I know that’s why they hired me,” she said.

“You’re a goddess,” I said. “Wish we coulda…”

“Shut up and concentrate. My wrist gets tired easy.”

“Could I, like, touch you?”

“You wanna wind up in the morgue, go right ahead.”

The lightbulb frazzed and went out. 

“Hurry it up, fool,” she said. 

Holding back was never my strong suit. She slammed something hard onto my penis and unclenched. 

“Oooh-gah!”

The stuff of life squirted into an inanimate plastic tube.

“I love you” I whispered. 

“Sure. Now go get me that hamburger. I’m hungry.”

She didn’t think that what happened between us was love. But I fixed her. I ate both burgers. 

Leah Mueller

The Lust Peddlers

“Hello, this is Tracey. Which ad are you answering?”

“Tracey. This is Bob.” The man paused briefly, and I could hear the furtive sound of rustling trouser fabric. Bob forged ahead: “I saw an ad in the back of the Reader. It says, ‘Meet sexy friends who like to travel. Call Tracey.” There was a deep silence, fraught with one-sided tension. “Will these women really come long distance to meet me?”

Every call began in this manner. Every woman who answered the phone was Tracey, unless one of the men probed further, and we wanted to close the sale. At that point, it was safe to reveal our Phone Slut names, so we could create the illusion of intimacy. My Phone Slut name was Melissa, but most of the time, I preferred the anonymity of Tracey. Tracey got the job done.

My job entailed selling packets of women’s names, addresses, and phone numbers for $25.00 to men who were horny but lazy. It was 1980, and phone sex for hire was still nonexistent. However, the lust for phone sex was raging and omnipresent, and men called Tracey all the time. Sometimes, an especially desperate man actually ordered one of the packets. A few days later, a thick envelope stuffed with the names of traveling swingers arrived at his doorstep. The postal carrier collected the COD charges and left the hapless buyer with a worthless list. Astonishingly, many of the women’s names had originally been obtained through legitimate means. For reasons I couldn’t fathom, 300 desperate females had agreed to have their contact information provided to a nation of sexually starved would-be Lotharios. Now, several months later, most of the phone numbers on the list were disconnected.

The boss, Bill, was rarely around, but his photograph hung in our office. In the picture, Bill and his wife Jo Ann sat naked on a Naugahyde couch. Bill’s legs were spread wide, and an expression of cartoonish ecstasy was plastered on his face. Jo Ann grasped his enormous penis firmly in one hand. Above the photo, someone had written “Our fearless leaders!” in bold lettering. It was best to sit with our backs to the photo and pretend it didn’t exist.

We did have a supervisor — Lorraine, a statuesque woman who was in the midst of an ongoing sex change operation. Lorraine’s salary was so low that the process had to be done in installments. She sported perfect melon breasts, but rumor held that she was still saving up to have her penis removed. Lorraine didn’t talk about her penis. She was a cheerful woman, with a good sense of humor, and she allowed us to do whatever we wanted.

Most of the time, we wanted to ridicule the men who called TNT Enterprises. These fellows believed that sexually ravenous women would spend several hundred dollars on plane fare so they could exchange body fluids with strange men who lived on the opposite end of the continent. Some of the guys were slightly cleverer. They bypassed the sales process entirely and attempted to pull us directly into their fantasies. One of my favorites was a man who liked to play a porn tape in the background while I discussed the benefits of obtaining Tracey’s list. Whenever I picked up the phone for one of his calls, I could hear pre-recorded voices screaming “Oh, YES!” in the background.

A few seconds into my pitch, the fellow always asked, “Can you excuse me a moment?” and turned his face away from the receiver. He then shouted, “Would the two of you be QUIET?! I’m trying to use the phone!” He returned to our conversation immediately afterward. “I don’t know why they’re always going at it,” he’d say with sheepish exasperation.

A particularly frightening man called several times a week while masturbating with a vacuum cleaner. We could hear the electrified sucking noise. It nearly drowned out the man’s voice, which was surprisingly timid. “I’m using a vacuum cleaner on my dick,” he’d say quietly. We ridiculed him without mercy. “Why, is it really dirty?” one of us would howl, to which he always replied, “Yes. Very dirty. I’ve been so bad.”

This wasn’t surprising, since Chicago was a Catholic town. But, as Bill had hugely successful ads in a variety of national publications, it became clear that the entire country was pretty fucked up. He was on a mission to provide sexual relief to as many men as possible, and even appeared on a local radio show, proclaiming, “I’m offering an essential service for a reasonable fee. In New York, I’d be a pornographer. In Chicago, I’m a philosopher.” No one had the slightest idea what he meant.

It was rumored that Bill and Jo Ann lived in a 20-room mansion in one of the northern suburbs. It was also rumored that Bill’s doctors had given him a prescription for the maximum allowable dosage of pharmaceutical anti-depressants. Meanwhile, his minions labored above a secondhand store on Howard Street, while seated at mismatched tables that were covered with nests of haphazardly arranged phones. Our pay was five dollars an hour, plus a five dollar bonus for each guy who actually paid for his packet when it arrived at his door.

My co-workers and I were in our early twenties-a ragged crew of misfits who were unable, for various reasons, to hold any sort of corporate job. The bespectacled, pimply fellow who wrote our ad copy held a journalism degree from Northwestern University. He’d wanted to be a screenwriter, but somehow landed a job churning out porn instead. We had sex occasionally, even though he was in love with Astrid, a blonde German girl who usually sat to my left. All of us were cynical beyond our years, a fact that was exacerbated by the sordid nature of our job. We were too young to handle our daily immersion into the shadow side of male sexuality, so we ruthlessly made fun of it instead.

Other than Lorraine, the only middle-aged employee was a woman named Martha. None of us could fathom why she had decided to work for TNT Enterprises. I suspected that she was in the throes of a particularly difficult midlife crisis. Martha had a comparatively lucrative day job, working as a secretary for the Chicago Board of Education. She was married to a cop, but after 20 years, she could no longer stand the sight of him. Martha’s husband was extremely upset by her decision to moonlight as a Phone Slut. He called constantly, demanding to speak to her, threatening to use his vast network of police connections to shut the phone room down. Obviously, his connections were not as helpful as he imagined, because cops often walked past the door of our building, without so much as a glance in our direction.

All of us had repeat callers, men who requested us by name, but Martha was the worst of the lot. She had several suitors who phoned insistently. They always asked shyly, “Please, can I speak to Miss Martha?” We’d hand Martha the receiver and then watch, dumbfounded and amused, as she spun a completely inauthentic web of enchantment around the poor fools. Martha had a puzzling weakness for Southern men with thick, almost unintelligible accents, men who said “ma’am” and “I’m fixing to come” while they masturbated. Martha egged them on because she had nothing else to do except go home and listen to torrents of abuse. Who could blame her, really?

For several weeks in a row, Martha had carried on with a man named Buddy. Buddy’s accent was straight out of “Deliverance.” He owned a gas station in Alabama, in a town so tiny that he was on a first-name basis with all of its inhabitants. The work was abysmally dull, and Buddy was lonely. All of the girls he’d fancied in high school were married to football stars and wealthy farming magnates, and every day he had to sell soda and candy bars to their grimy, demanding children.

Buddy was in love with Martha, and he wanted desperately to meet her. He proclaimed his love fervently and loudly. We could hear him all over the phone room, as we sat in our chairs with our hands over our mouths, trying desperately not to laugh. There was something poignant about Buddy’s ardor, and we were reluctant to hurt his feelings. Also, the routine was so entertaining that we didn’t want to hasten its ending.

Three days beforehand, Martha had looked especially rattled when she hung up the phone. “I’ve gone too far,” she announced. “Buddy purchased an airplane ticket, and he’s flying out to meet me next Thursday. I don’t have the heart to tell him that I’ve been leading him on this entire time. What the hell should I do?” None of us had an answer.

I was deliberating about the possibility of going home early one uncharacteristically mellow night, when my phone jangled sharply. I lifted the receiver, and Buddy’s thick twang assaulted my eardrums. “Is Martha there, ma’am?” he asked politely. I placed my hand over the mouthpiece and gestured towards Martha. She shook her head vehemently, a look of terror in her eyes. “I can’t,” she whispered. “Could you talk to him? Tell him I quit or something.”

Resolutely, I removed my hand from the mouthpiece. “I have terrible news, Buddy,” I said, without missing a beat. “Martha quit a couple of days ago. She got up from her desk and said, ‘I can’t take this anymore.’ Then she walked out the door, and no one has heard from her since.”

There was brief, stunned silence, then Buddy emitted a low, shuddering gasp. “Oh no,” he said. “Did she tell anybody where she was going? Does anyone know where she lives?”

“I’m afraid not,” I replied. “None of us can say we really knew Martha.” I paused for a moment and gazed around the room. Astrid and Lorraine were convulsed with silent laughter, slumped over their desks, their shoulders heaving. Struck by sudden inspiration, I reached over to a stack of papers on my desk and jostled it slightly. “Wait, here’s an envelope,” I said. “It says ‘To Buddy, from Martha.’ Let me open it.” I rustled the papers again. “Dear Buddy, I am so sorry, but we can never be together. I will always love you and treasure our conversations. Please forgive me.”

Buddy burst into tears. “Oh God,” he sobbed. “I loved her so much.”

“I know, Buddy,” I intoned solemnly. “We all did. At least she left a note.”

“She was a wonderful person,” Buddy wept. “If you see her, tell her I still love her.”

“I certainly will,” I assured him. There was another long pause, punctuated by strangled sobs and gulping noises, as Buddy attempted to get a handle on his emotions. I waited patiently, while my co-workers writhed on their desks, trying desperately to contain their laughter. Obviously, Buddy was irrevocably shattered by Martha’s defection, and I wanted to make sure he wouldn’t fall apart before he even had the chance to hang up. There was nothing left for him now, except for the unrelenting bleakness of the town in which he resided, and his gas station duties.

Buddy’s sobs gradually subsided. “I have to go,” I said softly. I removed the receiver from my ear and prepared to return it to its cradle. “Goodbye and good luck.” Buddy suddenly regained the power of speech. “Wait!” he cried. “I have one more question.”

“Sure,” I said charitably. I was willing to do anything that would offer succor to the poor man. Perhaps I could say something that would help him get through his next few, tortured days.

“What’s YOUR name?” he asked.