Ostdick, past contributor to THE2NDHAND, today lives and writes from downstate Illinois, land of tempestuous weather — and temperaments.
Laurel and I are lying naked on the back porch. It helps ease the effects of the relentless August heat, on full even in the evenings, our skins soaking in the dampness. Her head is tipped back against my chest, her caramel-colored hair in a knotted, hippie mess. We’re not saying much. This is normal. With a glass of red wine against her lips, Laurel says the cicadas are chattier than we are, and through the open porch windows we listen to them bark through the steamy rain splashing around us. Storms are rolling in: thunder and lightning, giving us our newly fenced-in world in flashes. When everything goes bright, I can see the eaves on the east side of our new home clear as day, sagging like Ziploc bags full of water. Brown, dried patches of grass spot the back half-acre. An old green shed at the very back of the property has settled on a slant, still unsure as to whether it wants to tumble or not. Even though the house is old, it’s new to us. We’ve just moved in and we’re getting married soon, and even though there’s much to be done tonight we’re watching the lighting and counting the seconds between the thunder. Laurel kisses my index finger, asks me what I’m thinking, and I tell her about this time my father told me the thunder was his father and Able Lincoln and Aristotle bowling through the clouds in heaven, shooting for that perfect ten. Laurel says that’s cute, tells me her old man would say it was God dropping ice cubes into an empty glass. The rain, the scotch that goes in. The lighting, God taking the liquid down in one pinched gulp.
I tell her I think it’s time. Time we start a family, time to get her pregnant. She tells me she hates how that sounds, the phrase get her pregnant, and that we’re still so young. I tell her thirty really isn’t that young, not for this, and that we have the house now: the backyard, the shed, the space. Laurel hated leaving Milwaukee, but after her father died and left us the house we packed up and headed north along Lake Michigan to the bungalow in the country. Laurel makes a pssh sound and rolls on my stomach, snatching up the murky bottle and tips more red into her glass. She asks me why in the hell I’d want that, and then tells me about the perils of pregnancy. Vomiting. Like a lot. Like a lot a lot. Mood swings. Cravings. Heartburn. Stretch marks. Stretch marks, she says again, and traces invisible craggy lines down the length of her pale Wisconsin torso. She downs her glass in no time and gropes around for the bottle, which I’ve pulled from her reach. I keep it at arm’s length, watching her swat after it, telling her she’s so close. Keep swinging. Oh, strike two. You’re behind in the count. She grows frustrated quicker than normal tonight and lunges out with both hands for the bottle. We collide with a dead thump, head to chin, and she moans and covers the site of impact with one hand and says, Just give it, you asshole! There’s something desperate in her voice and I give up the bottle and ask if she’s alright and she doesn’t bother with her glass anymore.
She gets drunk now. This, too, is normal. After she’s done she rolls over to apologize. I feel her move on me, kiss my chest then my chin, getting ready to go again. She says she loves me and I say she’s lucky she’s so beautiful, placing my hands at her bare hips, and she lets a small grin slip and then grinds down onto me. In the aftermath everything will seem calm, manageable, but after a few weeks, on the heels of her promotion at the co-op, Laurel will find out and tell me that ten year-olds know to put a fucking condom on, for Christ’s sake. We will decide not to tell anyone, preferring to keep a secret between us, at least for a little while, until suspicion arises. September will come and Laurel will disappear into Milwaukee for a day to meet up with some old friends while I unmuck the gutters or replant a row of dying juniper trees along the side yard. As I turn up dirt and bury roots, I will be able to revel for the first time in what our lives are about to become, in the stillness of it. But she will come home very late that night with Styrofoam food containers from my favorite Greek restaurant in the trendy part of town-lamb chops with a bean and rice couscous and stuffed grape leaves. She will plate the couscous and lamb for me, sprinkle some salt on it, and then cry in the kitchen holding my plate to her chest. She will tell me she can’t describe it: that what she has done is just awful. She will say I would not have let her do it. She will say I would have had no right to say so. She will say it’s her body after all. Outside it will begin to rain and she will drink Jack and coffee and tell me she knows deep down she did the right thing, for both of us, and what will kill me is how sober she looks, her face as crystal as the moonlight. It just wasn’t the right time, she will say, and I will tell her I am not going to comfort her and that I hope she is torn up inside. I will wonder what we would have named the child and what color hair it would have had and how on earth Laurel can be so cruel. Most importantly, I will wonder how we get on from this, and there will be this sharp, sad tug in my chest like pulling an accidentally shot staple from your finger that tells me we won’t. This is how it will go.
But tonight we’re just watching the clouds circle around each other, watching the lightning split the sky over our heads. Laurel says this is another conversation for another time, and I don’t want to argue, so I let it go. In a flash, I can see her lips pull back in a sleepy grin, the enamel of her front teeth smeared red. I put my hand across her forehead as if feeling for fever and tell her she drinks too goddamn much. She tells me to shush. She says we’re due for a big one, a tremendous bolt followed by an even more impressive crash. Laurel sits up, rests her head on my shoulder in a sweet way, and tells me to close my eyes and this time to count the seconds between out loud with her. I ask why. She says just do it. I ask why again. She tells me to just have faith. I think about how everything will go tomorrow and the next day and the next after that, and after a few moments I acquiesce. When the lightning finally hits I get a dull blast even through my eyelids, and right after it goes dark I hear Laurel start to count out loud. She takes my hand, which I don’t object to, and whispers one, two, three, and I mumble along with her, waiting for the boom.
With a month left in THE2NDHAND’s Kickstarter.com campaign to fund the printing of our mammoth 10th anniversary anthology, I’m starting what may amount to the final big push to reach the goal. It’s most definitely in sight. As of today, we’re just more than $250 shy of it. Contributors, T2H partisans and others who’ve helped spread the word about the project, a big shout to you. Your efforts have clearly born fruit. Now would be the time to start shooting out those reminders to those who may have been distracted by the holidays or just, well, distracted… I know I was, to one degree or another, but still managed to, just prior to said holiday, get the second in our All Hands On special-edition broadsheets out. If you missed Chicago writer and lit scene force Fred Sasaki’s “Pressure Billiards” minisheet (here pictured, front side), read it here or download the minisheet directly by clicking on the image. Part of Sasaki’s “Letters of Interest” series, which might well be the “Lazlo letters” of the internet age — marketing its target, manipulation through on-the-spot digital, textual interaction its method — the piece is also featured in the 10th anniversary collection, after debuting to a crowd at the East Nashville Portland Brew back in September last year.
Speaking of Portland Brew, two events will cap the fund-raising campaign. Here in Nashville, a crew of All Hands On-contributing writers spanning THE2NDHAND’s 11-year journey from Chicago to Birmingham, Nashville, and Louisville, with faces new and old, gathers 11 years to the Saturday, Feb. 12, we hosted our first release party on the fourth floor of 1278 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago. The reading will be in large part collaboratively focused, with Birmingham’s Nadria Tucker and Nashville’s Matt Cahan presenting work from the book and C.T. Ballentine, myself, Susannah Felts and Henry Ronan-Daniel performing under the Pitchfork Battalion moniker.
Martin Cadieux, too, the wood-block printmaker I’ve written about here, will table with certain of his prints, including examples of the envelopes he did for us to house collections of past broadsheets.
And if you’re in Chicago, Feb. 1 is the date of our next Nerves of Steel event — this one features the hip-hop of the Tomorrow Kings, Nerves of Steel alumnus Mairead Case, presenting a graphic novel, and All Hands On contributor Marc Baez, among others.
Here’s our Kickstarter link: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/the2ndhand/all-hands-on-the2ndhand-after-10-a-reader.
And for media folks among you, I’ve updated our press release to reflect the upcoming events associated, at http://the2ndhand.com/T2HKICKSTARTERRELEASE.doc. Full text is below. Again, big thanks for helping spread the word, likewise to those who’ve contributed.
Nashville and Chicago-based THE2NDHAND passes halfway mark in pledge campaign for ‘All Hands On’ 10th-anniversary anthology; ending campaign events in Chicago, Nashville Feb. 1 and 12
All Hands On: THE2NDHAND after 10, 2000-11, a Reader will be published in 2011 to celebrate and lay down the best of the broadsheet and online magazine’s 10+ years of publishing writing by the budding insurgents of the American lit landscape and other more established writers. THE2NDHAND reached the halfway point in a 90-day fund-raising campaign on Kickstarter.com a week after its launch on November 18 to raise $2,000 to cover printing costs.
By pledging $14 or more, readers can preorder a copy of the 300-plus-page book, which collects work all told from 40 writers, 3 illustrators, four editors, and a couple janitors. Visit http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/the2ndhand/all-hands-on-the2ndhand-after-10-a-reader for the campaign, or http://the2ndhand.com/books.html.
True to form, the book begins with a section of new, as-yet unpublished work representing the full range of the magazine’s long local presence in Chicago (with new work by Chicagoans Patrick Somerville, Michael Zapata and Fred Sasaki), Birmingham, Ala. (Nadria Tucker) and Nashville, Tenn. (Matt Cahan), as well as its far-flung influence in the world of new literary writing the nation over. Contributors to the front, new-work section of the book represent regions from New England to the West Coast, and the large majority of the collection is devoted to special sections highlighting short fiction by the magazine’s best repeat contributors, from Joe Meno (The Great Perhaps), first published in THE2NDHAND in its third issue in its first year, 2000, to more recent contributors like Chicagoan Heather Palmer, whose novella “Charlie’s Train” was serialized at THE2NDHAND.com as its 11th year began in February of 2010.
On Feb. 1, Chicago writer and All Hands On special-section contributor Marc Baez will perform as part of THE2NDHAND’s SoYou Think You Have Nerves of Steel? literary/variety performance series, hosted THE2NDHAND coeditor Jacob Knabb and All Hands On contributing writer Kate Duva, and in Nashville, THE2NDHAND founding editor Todd Dills and coeditor C.T. Ballentine (of Louisville, Ky.) gather with contributors Nadria Tucker (of Birmingham), Cahan, Susannah Felts and others for a reading on the exactly anniversary of THE2NDHAND’s first-issue Chicago release party in 2000, Feb. 12. See below for full reading details.
(Zapata’s “White Twilight,” a speculative fictional take of sorts on the first U.S. census to come back with those checking “white” in the race/ethnicity box in a solid minority, is the featured story in THE2NDHAND’s broadsheet No. 35, out now as a sneak peek into the book; also recently released was an installment — broadsheet No. 35.1 — of THE2NDHAND’s mini-broadsheet series featuring Fred Sasaki’s “Pressure Billiards,” part of his “Letters of Interest” series, a sort of Lazlo letters for the Internet age. )
Other pledge rewards include, in addition to a copy of the book, THE2NDHAND’s signature bergamot-infused bar by Alabama soap maker The Left Hand (thelefthand.net), several books by contributors and editors (from All Hands On cover designer and past contributor Zach Dodson and contributor Patrick Somerville to THE2NDHAND’s founding editor, Todd Dills) and, among others, packets of 10 and 15 broadsheets spanning the 10-year history of THE2NDHAND packaged in custom-designed and -printed envelopes by Nashville-based wood-block fine-arts printmaker Martin Cadieux. At the highest pledge level, $150, a limited number full boxed sets in packaging likewise printed by Cadieux are available.
For more about THE2NDHAND, visit THE2NDHAND.com and peruse past broadsheets and online-magazine archives. THE2NDHAND’s editor will be sharing previews, likewise, of some of the artwork to be included in All Hands On – Chicago artist Rob Funderburk, formerly THE2NDHAND’s principle designer, is at work on illustrative portraits of special-section writers included, for instance. Some in-process photos of Cadieux’ wood-block-printed envelopes are already available in this blog post from early November by THE2NDHAND editor Todd Dills. A fact sheet of sorts about the book, its contributors and the history of the broadsheet and online magazine follows. For interviews with any of the writers listed, please contact THE2NDHAND editor Todd Dills.
Tuesday, Feb. 1, 8 p.m.
@ Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont, Chicago
SO YOU THINK YOU HAVE NERVES OF STEEL?
*Longtime THE2NDHAND contributor, Chicago experimental writer Marc Baez
*Mairead Case w/ a graphic novel slideshow
*hip-hop by the Tomorrow Kings (http://empworldwide.com/tomorrowkings)
Also: A special public service announce from Seth Dodson and Kellen Alexander
*House band: Good evening (http://goodeveningmusic.com)
*Hosted by Monsieur Harold Ray (the janitorial-services-type, still-West Virginian v. of T2H coeditor Jacob Knabb) and T2H regular Kate Duva
Saturday, Feb. 12, 7 p.m.
@ Portland Brew, 1921 Eastland Ave., Nashville, Tenn.
THE2NDHAND AFTER 10: A NASHVILLE READING
Four days before the end of its Kickstarter.com campaign to raise $2,000 to print its 10th-anniversary anthology, All Hands On, THE2NDHAND’s editors and contributors gather at this event to present new writing and work to be published in the book, with performances by:
*T2H shapeshifting collaborative writing crew of the Pitchfork Battalion
*T2H Louisville, Ky.-based coeditor C.T. Ballentine (whose “Friedrich Nietzsche Waits for a Date” novella is featured in its entirety in the All Hands On book)
*Birmingham-based Nadria Tucker, a frequent T2H contributor, with a special section in the book
*Nashville’s own Matt Cahan, whose “Coyote Business,” a short exploring the cultural connections between Mexico and the United States excerpted from his “Straight Commission” novel in progress, via the tale of a group of would-be Mexican migrants and a U.S. chemical salesman
*Susannah Felts, Nashville-based author of the novel This Will Go Down on Your Permanent Record, Watkins College of Art & Design writing professor and regular contributor to Humanties Tennessee’s Chapter 16 literary website
*Nashville-based Henry Ronan-Daniel
Nashville-based wood-block printmaker Martin Cadieux will be on-hand showcasing his print work for THE2NDHAND’s Kickstarter campaign, among other work.
THE2NDHAND KICKSTARTER campaign main page: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/the2ndhand/all-hands-on-the2ndhand-after-10-a-reader.
VIDEO: A photographic tour through 10 years of THE2NDHAND’s broadsheets, with audio selections from editor C.T. Ballentine’s introduction to All Hands On and more is available via THE2NDHAND’s Kickstarter fund drive page or www.youtube.com/the2ndhandutube.
All Hands On: THE2NDHAND After 10, 2000-2011, a Reader, cover image:
THE2NDHAND Broadsheet No. 35 pdf:
THE2NDHAND Broadsheet No. 35 front side image:
Some other things that are known:
75: Percentage of THE2NDHAND’s current editors who have once lived/worked or are currently working in the mag’s co-HQ of Chicago.
25: Percentage of THE2NDHAND’s current editors who have once lived/worked in West Virginia.
25: Percentage of THE2NDHAND’s current editors who have once lived/worked in past co-HQ of Birmingham, Ala., and current co-HQ of Nashville, Tenn.
50: Percentage of THE2NDHAND’s current editors who have once lived/worked in Louisville, Ky.
42: Number of total THE2NDHAND broadsheets, including numbered half-issues 6.5, 13.5 and 16.5 and our recent 8.5-by-11-inch mini-sheets for primarily digital distribution, begun with No. 33.1 in January 2010.
Today, THE2NDHAND is:
Editors Todd Dills (Nashville, Tenn.), C.T. Ballentine (Louisville, Ky.), Jacob Knabb (Chicago)
FAQ editor Mickey Hess (Philadelphia)
Janitors: Rufus Beady, Harold Ray (all over and everywhere)
And many writers
When it began with a launch party Saturday Feb. 12, at 1278 N. Milwaukee, Floor 4, in Chicago, it was:
Editor Todd Dills (Chicago)
Design men Jeremy Bacharach and (now children’s book illustrator) Matt Cordell (matthewcordell.com)
And fewer writers
Between 2002 and 2004, it was:
Editors Todd Dills and Jeb Gleason-Allured (Chicago)
FAQ editor Mickey Hess (Louisville, Ky.)
Design man Evan Sult (later of band Bound Stems, of Chicago)
Propaganda minister Eric Graf
And more writers
Between 2005 and 2007, it was:
Editors Todd Dills, Jeb Gleason-Allured (Chicago) and C.T. Ballentine (Chicago)
FAQ editor Mickey Hess (Louisville, Ky.)
Design man (Chicago artist) Rob Funderburk (robfunderburk.com)
Propaganda minister Eric Graf
And more writers
Between 2006 and 2009, it was:
Editors Todd Dills (Birmingham, Ala.), C.T. Ballentine (Chicago)
FAQ editor Mickey Hess (Philadelphia)
And more and more writers
Of those writers:
Contributors to All Hands On: THE2NDHAND After 10
It’s been a long run for THE2NDHAND, the little magazine — not even a magazine in any traditional sense, but rather a broadsheet, perhaps the last periodical on earth to be launched without a prefabbed website to bolster its offset-printed pages (though ‘twas to follow shortly, publishing flash and serial fiction weekly from late 2000 on). We mean: THE2NDHAND is a page. A big one – 11-by-17-inch block of black text peppered variously with photo-illustrations, comics, line drawings, distributed in storefronts first in Chicago, then in an ever-growing list of cities around the U.S…. “New writing,” simply, has been its focus since 2000, when THE2NDHAND editor Todd Dills founded the broadsheet working from a crackerbox hole of an apartment in Logan Square, Chicago — small-format has been its watchword physically, but a loud mouth and a big heart its most important parts.
True to form, All Hands On’s front section features new work by Michael Zapata, Nadria Tucker, Jamie Iredell, Patrick Somerville (The Cradle), Fred Sasaki, Amanda Yskamp, Ben Stein (Amherst, Mass.) and Matt Cahan, as well as a collaborative short by Susannah Felts & Todd Dills and a mini-epic poem (“Chicago”) by Doug Milam.
**Cover design by Featherproof Books’ (and T2H contributor) Zach Dodson
**Illustrations for the lead section by comix artist/cermacist Andrew Davis
**Author illustrations by Chicago artist and T2H occasionaljanitor-in-residence Rob Funderburk
**Special sections with multiple short stories by Marc Baez, coeditor C.T. Ballentine (including the entirety of his “Friedrich Nietzsche Waits for a Date” novella; Ballentine also penned, with copious editorial footnoting by Todd Dills, the book’s introduction), Philip Brunetti, Al Burian (the Burn Collector zine and associated books), Tobias Carroll (“The Scowl” blogger), Spencer Dew (Songs of Insurgency), Kate Duva (cohost of our Chicago “So you think you have nerves of steel?” reading series), David Gianatasio (Mind Games), Mickey Hess (Big Wheel at the Cracker Factory), Joe Meno (The Great Perhaps, Hairstyles of the Damned), Jonathan Messinger (Hiding Out), Doug Milam (Still the Confusion), Anne Elizabeth Moore (Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing, and the Erosion of Integrity) with comic adaptation by Josh Bayer, Greggory Moore, Kevin O’Cuinn, Heather Palmer, Michael Peck, the Pitchfork Battalion (a collaborative crew with roving membership, including many of those already listed, plus, featured in the book, Sean Carswell, Jim Murphy, Emerson Dameron, John Minichillo, Motke Dapp, and Dominique Holmes), Lauren Pretnar, Patrick Somerville (The Cradle), Jill Summers, Paul A. Toth (Finale), and Nadria Tucker.
I-65 U.S. Interstate Highway within 40 miles of which 57 percent of all AHO contributors live.
30: Percentage of AHO contributors who live in Chicago.
ABOUT Special section authors in AHO:
Chicago writer Marc Baez’s work first appeared in THE2NDHAND in its second year, with a minidrama involving two men and two women seated on a floor after having played a game of Twister, speaking quite baroquely amongst themselves about the personal, artistic and philosophical gulfs that keep them together–and apart. Part 1 of his most recent, tricornered contribution, published in 2009, is featured here, among others. Baez teaches writing at the University of Illinois Chicago. Baez’s work was also featured in THE2NDHAND’s 2004 All Hands On: A THE2NDHAND Reader, 2000-2004 anthology.
C.T. Ballentine has been an editor with THE2NDHAND since 2007 and a contributor since 2005. Also a sound engineer in various music halls and opera houses, he lives, writes and loves between Louisville, Ky., Chicago and Huntsville, Ala.
Philip Brunetti lives and writes in Brooklyn, N.Y., and has been contributing to THE2NDHAND since the fall of 2008.
Al Burian wrote the first issue of the Burn Collector zine in the mid-1990s and continues to write it — and much else besides — today. He’s behind a book of the same name collecting previous installments of the zine and Natural Disaster, collecting later work. When not touring with his work, he lives in Berlin, occasionally Chicago and elsewhere.
Tobias Carroll lives and writes in Brooklyn, N.Y. His work as a book and music critic has been published widely, and his fiction has appeared semi-regularly in THE2NDHAND (since 2007) and other mags. Find more at his indie-culture blog, The Scowl (yourbestguess.com/thescowl).
Spencer Dew, based in Chicago, authored the 2008 “Songs of Insurgency” collection, out from Vagabond Press, and his shorts have appeared in great frequency in many online and print journals, including THE2NDHAND. In 2010 Another New Calligraphy is publishing his Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres book. Visit spencerdew.com for links to pieces of his prolific online lit presence.
Kate Duva grew up in Chicago in a bar; she still lives in the city, where she writes and serves as cohost in THE2NDHAND’s ongoing So You Think You Have Nerves of Steel? reading series, first Tuesday of the month at Hungry Brain on Belmont. Other of her work can be found in Fugue and Opium, on Vocalo Radio and at kateduva.blogspot.com.
David Gianatasio is the author of two collections of short stories, most recently 2008’s Mind Games (Word Riot). He’s published prolifically online for years. He lives in Boston, Mass.
Mickey Hess is a professor of English at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J. His work for THE2NDHAND has included serving as progenitor and editor of our FAQ section, and his stories and essays have been published in journals and magazines ranging from Punk Planet and McSweeney’s to more scholarly affairs. He is the author of the memoir Big Wheel at the Cracker Factory and the editor of Greenwood Press’ two-volume Icons of Hip-hop, among other literary and scholarly works.
Longtime THE2NDHAND contributor Joe Meno is the author of several books, including most recently the novel The Great Perhaps (2009), as well as short story collections Demons in the Spring (Akashic) and Bluebirds Used to Croon in the Choir (Northwestern University Press) and the novels The Boy Detective Fails and Hairstyles of the Damned. He is on the faculty of Columbia College in Chicago, where he lives and writes.
Jonathan Messinger is Time Out Chicago’s books editor and the driving editorial force behind the Chicago-based concerns Featherproof Books and the Dollar Store reading series. A prolific short-story writer in his own right, his first collection, Hiding Out, came out in 2007.
Doug Milam lives and writes in Bellingham, Wash. He is the author of a chapbook of shorts, Still the Confusion, and has been published in a variety of other literary magazines. Visit him at milam.blogsite.org/wordpress.
Anne Elizabeth Moore is the author of Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing, and the Erosion of Integrity (The New Press, 2007), and Hey Kidz, Buy This Book: A Radical Primer on Corporate and Governmental Propaganda and Artistic Activism for Short People (Soft Skull, 2004). Moore served as associate editor of the now-defunct Punk Planet magazine and was the founding editor of the Best American Comics series from Houghton Mifflin. Today, she teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago when she’s not traveling the globe speaking on freedom of speech issues.
Greggory Moore is a lifelong southern California resident, freelance journalist and fiction writer and poet.
Kevin O’Cuinn lives in Frankfurt am Main but is originally from Dublin; he coedits fiction for Word Riot.
Heather Palmer lives in Chicago. Her work has been published in a variety of magazines. In 2010 THE2NDHAND serialized her novella, “Charlie’s Train,” at THE2NDHAND.com, parts of which are excerpted in AHO.
Michael Peck, after a time in Philadelphia and with roots deep upstate New York, lives and writes in Missoula, Mont. His fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in The Rittenhouse Revue, 34th Parallel and others.
The Pitchfork Battalion is THE2NDHAND’s answer to the Wu Tang Clan or to any collaborative artistic group, really. Typically, we collaborate on a theme, or do individual riffs on a phrase in prose – sometimes poetry, as the case of Jim Murphy’s addition to the 2009 “Extraordinary Rendition” is evidence. In AHO are some of our best. For the lot of them, written at the initial instigation of our FAQ editor and continuing contributor Mickey Hess, from 2005 to the present, visit http://the2ndhand.com/archive/archivepitchfork.html.
Lauren Pretnar lives and writes in Chicago.
Patrick Somerville is the author of a novel, The Cradle, and the Trouble collection of stories (patricksomerville.com). In 2010, his genre-busting The Universe in Miniature in Miniature was released by Featherproof Books. He lives and writes in Chicago.
Jill Summers’ audio fiction has been heard via Chicago Public Radio and the Third Coast International Audio Festival. Her writing has appeared in numerous magazines, including THE2NDHAND, where she is a continuing contributor.
Paul A. Toth is the author of a triptych of novels — Fizz, Fishnet and Finale — and lives today in Sarasota, Fla., after years in Flint, Mich. Visit www.netpt.tv; Toth also works in multimedia, poetry and nonfiction.
Nadria Tucker hails from Atmore in South Alabama, though she lives and writes in Birmingham.
Socol’s fiction has been published in three dozen literary journals. His first collection of short stories, “Ear of Lettuce, Head of Corn,” will be published in 2011 by Ampersand Books, and his plays have been produced at the Pasadena Playhouse in Los Angeles and the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Massachusetts.
Before the tornado, the population of Placid numbered 4,000. After the tornado, that number plummeted to 600. For those who lost spouses and children, the future seemed a frightening, unknown purgatory with piped-in grief.
When the twister struck in the late afternoon on the last day of September, Pam Postlethwaite managed to flee to safety with her one-year-old boy Jensen in her arms. Her husband Wayne missed the safety zone by a matter of seconds.
When the tornado hit, attorney Colin Klock found himself in Ponder, one town north of Placid, at a client meeting. The moment he heard the news, he zoomed toward home, only to be pulled over and issued a speeding ticket. Then he faced the unimaginable. His wife Margaret and two-year-old daughter Tara were entombed in the rubble of their decimated rustic style house. The tornado gobbled the entire structure and then spit out what it didn’t digest.
Placid’s mayor Ray Herring happened to be on vacation in Waikiki when he got wind of the tragedy, and he caught the second flight home. In an emergency town hall meeting held in the shallow part of Lake Wanahoo (the town’s Town Hall had been decimated), the mayor explained, “Never has a tornado hit Placid, especially in September. April and May are the popular months for tornadoes. However, as we witnessed, tomatoes can be unpredictable and deadly. Because Padgett was struck in such a devastating way, my office will allocate funds for future tomato outreach and education. In the meantime, most of the businesses in our beloved city have been destroyed. I will read a short list of those that are still standing. Please patronize our friends before driving north to Ponder. Still standing: McDougal’s Mattress Emporium, Gigi’s Cute Cuts & Curls, the southern half of Swan Lake Children’s Ballet, and Sherman’s Famous Hot Dog Shack. Sherman has agreed to expand his hours and open at 7 a.m. with a special menu that includes all-beef hot dogs and eggs, and hotcakes with hot dog slices. And that darling Gigi of Gigi’s Cute Cuts & Curls has generously offered the use of her salon’s shower in five-minute installments except for men between the ages of 18 and 30, who will get ten to fifteen.”
The town’s newly homeless took refuge in makeshift quarters under a huge, sturdy tent. October tinged the air with an early chill, but the survivors were too numb to feel it. The majority of them spent their time in quasi-catatonic stupors, eating some form of hot dog for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
It was Colin Klock’s parents who spearheaded the movement that some called controversial and others labeled downright demented. Ada and Buddy Klock were just about to leave for a wilderness vacation in the Smoky Mountains. Their cabin, with its scenic view of Appalachia Lake, had been reserved for months, and their plans for canoeing, kayaking and whitewater rafting were all set. When they heard about the tornado in Placid, they scrapped their plans, choosing to pile into their red pickup truck and drive ninety miles to help their grieving son as well as the other survivors.
Dressed in basic camping clothes (breathable polyester fiber) and exuding warmth and sincerity, Colin’s parents were instantly pegged as wise, compassionate people. Still, nobody in Placid was keen on forging new friendships at this particular time. Even Colin couldn’t muster much affection; he was shell-shocked by the loss of his wife and child, not to mention his comfortable home.
When the Klocks came upon the fair-skinned, russet-haired Pam Postlethwaite, she was sitting on a small patch of uncut grass, her back straight and head bent as if in prayer. Jensen was asleep in a cotton blanket in her lap. “Hello. Ada Klock here.”
Pam looked up, puzzled. “It can’t possibly be 8 o’clock,” she replied. “No, that’s my name,” Ada quietly explained. “And this is my hubby Buddy. We lost our daughter-in-law and grandchild in the tornado.”
Pam conveyed her condolences. “Mother Nature whisked my husband away in a matter of seconds. If he hadn’t stopped to grab Annette, he’d still be alive.”
“What kind of a net did he need in a tornado?” Ada said.
“Annette was our year-old kitten,” Pam explained. “To tell you the truth, I didn’t want that darn cat to begin with. I never trusted anything feline.”
“Did Annette survive?” Buddy asked.
“No, she’s gone with the wind along with Wayne,” Pam said. “But that animal has eight other lives, and my Wayne used up his one and only.”
“You have to be grateful for your own life,” Ada said, “and for the life of that precious boy in your lap.”
“I find it very difficult to open my eyes in the morning,” she sadly said.
“Of course you do,” Ada said. “But you have to, for the little one.”
By the end of the conversation, Ada and Buddy were no longer strangers to the young widow.
The following morning, the Klocks escorted their son to Pam’s cramped quarters. “Do you know Colin?” Ada asked.
“We’ve seen each other,” Pam said. Just then, Jensen began crying, and Pam instantly went into “Rock-a-bye Baby” mode.
“May I hold him?” Ada asked. “Some toddlers love my wavy white hair.”
Pam hesitated a moment before handing Jensen to Ada, but within twenty seconds the baby stopped crying. “Amazing,” Pam said.
“Will you trust us?” Buddy asked.
“Trust you about what?” Colin asked.
“We’re going to ask you to do something,” Buddy said, “and we want your cooperation.”
“What do you want us to do?” Colin asked.
“Get married. To each other.”
Colin and Pam froze in shock, their expressions devoid of emotion. “Pam and this precious baby need a husband and a father,” Ada explained.
“And Colin, there’s nothing you need more than a new family to care for,” Buddy said.
The message hovered in the air with no fanfare, no bells ringing or balloons rising. The concept had nothing to do with grand passion or everlasting love. Two separate individuals shattered by circumstances would merge lives in order to survive with the most possible ease. It was that simple.
“You’re not capable of thinking rationally right now,” Buddy said, “so we decided to think for you.”
“Is it all right with you, Pam?” Ada asked.
“Whatever you say,” she replied as if agreeing to purchase a new frying pan. “You’re not a cat person, are you?” she asked Colin.
“No,” he said.
After the official ceremony took place, Ada and Buddy arranged similar unions for other survivors who seemed suited to each other. Some of Placid’s more conservative citizens were outraged. Distraught dentist Willy Frimmer spoke up. “On behalf of my wife’s memory, I’m deeply insulted,” he proclaimed.
“We’re sorry for your loss,” Buddy said, “but we’re sorry you feel this way.”
“To be honest, I think you’re all cuckoo, which makes you damn cuckoo Klocks.”
“Look at the state you’re in,” Ada said, “tired, disheveled, weak, eyes red, spirit dead. Probably constipated from all those hot dogs. Do you think your late wife would want you to spend your life this way? Wouldn’t she prefer to see you move forward productively, surrounded by a supportive new family?”
As the days passed, the skeptics who initially rallied against the idea came around; their daily human needs began to eclipse long-held ideals about love and marriage. Perfection was no longer the goal. The goal was simply making it through the day.
When Mayor Herring heard about the Klocks and the surge of weddings taking place in Placid, he held a town hall meeting on the empty lot where the emergency supply store once stood. “This has been the most trying time of my term,” he said, unaware that he was wearing two different shoes. “For those whose homes were ripped apart or blown away, it’s probably been trying for you too. Eleanore Midgen called her insurance company and was put on hold for three days,” he said. “It wasn’t until yours truly paid a visit to her Pontiac that she realized her cellphone battery had gone dead.”
The mayor sneezed four times in a row, then wiped his nose with the sleeve of his sky blue shirt. “In case you haven’t heard, Sherman ran out of mustard at the Hot Dog Shack. Should have some more tomorrow. And there will be no more showers at Gigi’s Supreme Cuts and Swirls. Now, onto the purpose of this meeting. I’d like to stop the Klocks. Right now! Ada and Bud, go jump in Lake Appalachia like you were planning to. I understand the need to bond in times of crisis, but let’s not act too fast, folks. As some of you might know, I married my fifth wife Rochelle for one reason only: She was blessed in the breast department. Best breasts in the west. Plus, she promised to start a program to educate inner-city youth. Unfortunately, her definition of the word educate clashed with mine. An empty calorie, that’s what she was.” The mayor took a deep, mordant breath. “I urge you to think carefully before tying the knot because the knot may wind up tied very tightly around your throat. Remember this, gentlemen: the average woman’s thighs are one inch larger in circumference than the average man’s.
“Do not let anyone force you into marriage.”
By this time, dozens of weddings had already taken place in Placid, and new families had formed, strengthening everyone’s desire to forge ahead and rebuild. Deep in their hearts (where it mattered), the Klocks felt their mission was complete. They climbed into their clattering old pickup truck and headed home, smiles sewn on their mature, satisfied faces.
Mayor Herring was not re-elected to a second term.
Matt Pine, a Chicago native, lives in the city’s Logan Square neighborhood. Frequently he flubs even his own name.
–Well, the story’s simple, really. I just… Or, one day I… OK, it’s like this: What’s it matter? The point is I’m giving it up. Gave it up, I should say. One day off of it and I feel fine. They say that the first 24 hours is the hardest part to suffer in any dramatic change, and I’ve gotten past that. Just barely, maybe, but I’m past it… But then, it couldn’t have been yesterday. If I’d stopped yesterday, because this morning… And where are the shakes? And the irrational anger? Which means that last night I… So I couldn’t have… Doesn’t matter. I’ve given it up. Behind me and done. Over. No more.
Somewhere along the Night Moves highway a solitary car speeds towards Daylight City. A long-forgotten, sloppy parking job crumpled the car’s nose so that now, as it has for years, one headlight beam slightly overlaps the other. For hours Detective Heinz has watched empty road pass through the cockeyed illumination. The night is nearly finished and he is exhausted. Home calls out to the detective, but he finds the tone not entirely inviting. A flickering light bulb beneath cracked yellow plastic heralds the car’s shift into the exit lane. The detective pulls in beside a gas pump, though he can’t need more than half-a-tank.
Another night, another eight hours sacrificed to his questions, his searching. Who, what, when, where — there was a time when these questions were his tools, he used them expertly, physically, but lately the only person he interrogates is himself and all he asks is, How did he end up here? The detective starts the pump. Gently he rubs his temples, counting up, counting backward — there was a time when incremental numbers soothed him. He gives up and heads into the convenience store.
The store is brightly lit and the windows are quite large. The man behind the counter stands tall and twitchy, eyelids trimmed off, as if he has sampled all of his goods: coffee, candy, cigarettes and caffeine pills. Detective Heinz pours a cup of the self-service, long-past-burnt joe. Somehow the smell has a little good left in it, and this pleases him. At the register, the transaction completes without words. The attendant’s hand shakes as a trickle of change spills from it.
The detective rests his coffee on the car’s roof while he returns the nozzle to the pump. He gets behind the wheel, starts the engine, then remembers his cup. He rolls down the window and cranes a hand up to the roof. He feels something then loses it. Coffee pours down the windshield. The wipers, which for months now he’s been swearing to replace, muddle the coffee with splattered insects, creating pasty, parabolic streaks. Pulling out of the rest area, an empty cup tumbles over the back window.
An hour later, at the last off-ramp into Daylight City, the detective yawns and rubs his eyes. Vision cleared, for a moment he is not the detective at all but an entirely different man who is breathing heavily and lying on his side in an uncomfortable bed. The hairy taste of rot is smeared through his mouth and stale garlic packed into his armpits. Through the gauze of eyelashes he sees that haunting room again. The detective blinks and he’s back in the car. The streetlights are still on, but they’ve begun to pale before the gathering red at the horizon. From the passenger seat he picks up a notepad and records this experience. He eases the car back on the expressway.
–Don’t ask me about my cases. That business is done. Forgotten. Ask and you’ll get nothing. And anyway, it’s confidential. Probably. The point is I’m looking forward. And frankly, I’ve earned a little rest. I was an accomplished detective. Highly regarded, really. Still am, I mean. The reputation lives on. Each solved case was an illustrious decoration. The Rothschild girl, well there’s one I can talk about. All over the papers like it was, no pretense of privacy there. Who wasn’t moved by those pictures of the pale little girl crawling from the blown-open bank vault? You remember that, I’m sure. She’s entirely recovered her hearing, by the way. The little ones, they bounce back. The papers, of course, they write as if they have privileged knowledge, but that’s the classic con of journalism. It was no surprise they didn’t have the name of the private dick who tipped off the police. But those who should know, know. Important people are familiar with my work. Very important people. High-ups. But I don’t like to brag. Ah, my work. My work! Why am I talking about it again? Done. Behind me. Over.
Buildings take solid shape under the sun like pottery beneath a kiln fire. The detective has reached the city, and the highway transforms into a boulevard. He passes a garbage truck. Next, a milk truck. Soon will come the newspapers and then a trickle of early commuters, grey-suited men with briefcases. The growing energy of the day does not beget the calm required for good sleep. One fact of the detective’s life is that he must toss in bed when the streets are noisy and the draped windows leak strong light.
Daylight City, the climatic repetition is repulsive: hot, bright, cloudless, all day, year round. Weather like that changes people. You start to think that all of life is easy, transparent, that it slowly delivers reliable niceness. Urgency is lacking but so is suspicion. When a lie is discovered (and it doesn’t need to be a big lie) the whole operation of person and city becomes suspect. It’s easy for a detective to sign clients going through an uprooting like that. They want it, their wives, their homes, politicians, business partners and children, strangers, neighbors, celebrities, persons from long ago, and others whose existence is suspect, they want it all re-evaluated, brought back into focus, they want life built again on solid, no-deception facts. The truth, out with it. Even with no client, he searches.
Traffic hits and he is puttering. Several slow miles of side streets separate the detective and home. He has stayed out too late again, and once more getting home will be a struggle. The day is warming. The detective gives the air conditioner its 100th chance to work, but its tepid hiss does not cool so he rolls down his window. The car isn’t moving fast enough to create a breeze. All that’s let in is bluish exhaust and the cyclic disappointment of start-and-stop traffic. From the windshield, the detective faintly smells the dried coffee.
He pretends that the congestion requires his full attention, both hands on the wheel. He inches forward, then is still. Forward, then still. This should keep him alert. The detective rubs his eyes and feels himself turn sideways. Again, stuck in that slob. With great nausea, he realizes that he can feel what the man feels. If a wet towel were wrapped around his head and allowed to dry and shrink, tightening boa-like, it would just compare to the feeling in his skull. His skin is a wriggling conglomerate of pores and grease, his stomach a wet ashtray. How can one man reek of so many things? Cigarettes, dirty clothes, dirtier sheets, newspaper ink, bacon, coffee, earwax, piss. For all of the times the detective has experienced the interiority of this man, he has never learned anything about him, except that he sleeps a non-nourishing sleep. The detective pulls his car over to collect himself. Sweating, he reaches for the notepad and waits for his hands to steady.
–And I was tough, too. Not just fit or trim, that appearance of tough that those gym rats put on. I was hard. I’ve taken my licks. I’ve been twisted, bruised, broken and crookedly healed into a rough-hewn thing. I could take them. Two or three of them. Four, if one’s a pansy. No one has ever slipped me a mickey without my going back and asking for seconds. So why did I give it up? Same reason every other hardworking American gives up their career. To retire. I’ve got enough saved, the 20 percent of every retainer that I never failed to bank. And on top of which, despite my most firm-yet-polite declining, some clients insisted on the payment of reward money. I’ve squirreled away enough to move near the beach. Maybe, should I get bored, I could use all this photographic equipment that’s just collecting dust to start a postcard business. Sunsets and pretty girls holding pina coladas. Snapshots of paradise, right? Sounds like it to me… That is, assuming people on the beach don’t ask why I’m not out there still fighting and solving. Assuming no one I’ve put away should happen to find me. My reputation and accomplishments, as proud as I am of them, they can be a burden. You see, when you’ve been important… But there I go, talking about it again. So why am I here still if I’m retired? Why ain’t I at the beach? These are good questions, but let’s not confuse which of us is the detective here, alright? My answer is plain and simple: I’ve just given it up. I’m still getting used to it. The hard part is past, but it could take a few more days. When my strength has returned and I can withstand a fresh start, then I’ll go. Yes, I’ll get going. Much like you should be doing.
During the night the streets have changed. Identifying landmarks, an unusual house or a large dead tree, have been hidden under a sheet of pastels and manicured lawns. Detective Heinz is having a hard time getting his bearings. He is sure that it was around here. Somewhere. If only traffic would lighten, then he could cover more ground quickly. He is tired and needs to get off the road. He is distracted. Who is this man that he sporadically channels? Why does the man only come to him in a state of near waking? Is the man even a real person? Is he a living person? The detective cannot stop his questions. It is so bright out now; with the asphalt glaring, he can hardly see. Sweat rolling from his forehead only worsens the squint.
–Your tone is starting to sound like a tin trumpet, mister. Real shrill. Now I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt, but I’m starting to suspect that you don’t believe me. But then, what does it matter what you think? I’ve got boxes full of newspaper clippings and letters of gratitude. I’ve gotten recognition from mayors and even a senator thanking me for the service I provide to the community. There’s a certain police chief who wrote me a letter once. I’ll spare him the indignity of having you hear his name, but I can tell you that he gave me an award of civic distinction for being a rough and hard private detective that has, not by accident, never interfered with the procedures of mainline police work. A model private detective, he calls me. A credit to the private detective system, the letter says. But why should I show this all to you, if you’re already doubtful? I know they’re real — they are real. Maybe I could show you a thing or two by digging up dirt on you. What would you think about that? Let’s see what happens when your dirty laundry is hanging out. But no, I’ve given it up. A schlub like you won’t get me to come out of retirement.
–Because the thing you’re not understanding is that I’ve made a difference. Cases come and go, and I worked through them because it was my job. But the people — a woman who learns the truth of her husband’s infidelities, a dancer who discovers in a secret will that the old man wasn’t as gullible as he seemed, the parents of a suicide that turns out to be a murder, bank robbers, back-stabbing bootleggers — the people who came to me left with different lives. Better lives, or at leased morally aligned lives, or else lives attuned to reality. I have made a difference. My work cascades. Truth carries on. And who are you? A nobody, that’s who.
–Listen, my story has all the parts. I’m at the last act now, when I rest and relax and live a normal life. And doesn’t every good guy have a point where he comes out of retirement? Well maybe I will fall into it and it will be necessary and inevitable. But look how you got me thinking! It’s so hard to quit this, I certainly don’t need you, a nobody, with moron thoughts, distracting me, ripping down my strength.
Traffic lightens as the day scalds into noon. Too fast now, the detective goes up and down the streets, certain that his place is there, just around the corner, just over on the next block. But speed makes the houses look all the more similar. None of them have numbers. The streets are unnamed. What was his address anyway? Is he looking for his home or his office? The day is going to be a real scorcher. And he wishes that he had not spilled that coffee, because he is getting very tired. Thirsty and hungry too, but overwhelmingly he is tired. What I am doing is unsafe, thinks the detective as tires squeal and the car fishtails around another corner.
–I’ve got nothing left to say to you. So if you’ll excuse me mister, it’s time to say get lost.
Involuntarily the detective closes his eyes. He gets stretched sideways again. The heavy man roles over and, half awake, coughs up a glob of dusty mucus. He wonders how he got to sleep. Maybe last night he abstained. Maybe for once he found straight sleep. Maybe today is the first day of something new. Maybe, just maybe. But then why would his head hurt? Why would his mouth have carpet? Memory flashes a glint of the night before (a bottle smashing into a blank wall). No reason to get up, the man rolls over to sleep a little longer. He was just dreaming but what was it? He hates that clumsy feeling of a pleasant thought slipping away. If he closes his eyes, maybe it will come back to him.