T2Hers, a couple-few bits of news to share today:
1. Triumph of the Ape, the story collection I released as an ebook-only affair last year and then rather quietly took to print earlier this year is now on a run on Kickstarter to raise money to fund an initial sizable print run. You can contribute to the campaign — $12 level gets you the book and there are several other rewards, from past books of mine to THE2NDHAND’s past big anthologies (All Hands On, 2004, 2011) — via this link. Thanks in advance if you do! It’ll be live through around the end of June.
2. In the interim, for any writers out there: I do have a limited number of print review copies (as well as ebook versions) that are available should you be able to place a review someplace (or simply devote a blog post to the book).
3. Finally, Nashville folks, there’s also a reading Tuesday (May 21) where I’d love to see you in attendance! I’ll be reading a bit from the book. Find more details about all of this in the release-type text below, or in a new essay I wrote for the Tennessee Humanities’ Chapter 16 lit/review site here.
May 21 marks the first of the readings Todd Dills will be doing in support of Triumph of the Ape. In Nashville, Tenn., where he currently lives, he joins songwriter Mike Willis (of the great and awesome Cumberland Collective — you can check out my odd fictional paean to the group here) and East Side Storytelling host Chuck Beard at Fat Bottom Brewery, 900 Main Street, in East Nashville at 7 p.m. The reading and performance will be recorded and broadcast on Nashville’ WAMB radio, 1200 AM and 99.3 FM, at 2 p.m. the following Saturday.
Longtime THE2NDHAND contributor Patrick Somerville (author of Trouble, The Cradle, The Universe in Miniature in Miniature, a couple of T2H broadsheets — 24 and 32 – and, most recently, This Bright River) was on NPR’s Talk of the Nation today telling the story (and more) of the bizarre and hilarious and sad and terrifying consequences of his latest book’s panning in the New York Times. If you’ve missed his “Thank You for Killing My Novel” essay, published on July 5 at Salon, go read it.
Then tune in to his segment on Talk of the Nation that aired this afternoon. It’s well worth it.
After reading the thrashing the Times gave River, Somerville couldn’t help but notice that the critic had misread a character’s identity in the first few pages of the book, and which in some senses colored her entire reading of it. At once, after the book review had been out for a couple days, Somerville logged into an email address he’d created for the character she’d misidentified (and which he’d been encouraging readers to email questions to, etc., having gotten just one) to find an email from a Times editor seeking to clarify the mistake, which a Times reader had pointed out to him. (How’s that for after-the-fact fact-checking, eh?) In any case, definitely check out the Salon piece, which details some of the email conversation that ensued, with Somerville writing in the voice of his character with the Times editor to the point that the two developed a “ghost friendship,” the subject of the NPR segment.
And hey, I don’t believe the Times. Pick up Somerville’s new one — though I haven’t read it myself yet, I’m certain, from everything I know about him and his past work, that you won’t regret it.
You can find three rather long-ish shorts of Somerville’s (some of my faves among work we’ve published) — among them the exclusive-to-the-book “The Tale of the Time I Accidentally Fell in Love With a Girl Across the Bay” — in our 2011 All Hands On: THE2NDHAND After 10 10th anniversary collection.
Mattern, of San Bernardino, Calif. (where he lives with his dog, Wrigley, and still calls Chicago home), has been published in Burning Word, Criminal Class Review, The Toucan, This Paper City and Pacific Review. He is an active member in POETRIE, a reading series dedicated to showcasing the literary voices of California’s Inland Empire.
This is where we come, you and I, neighbors and friends as we are known by your husband and everyone else. On top of the hill that hangs over our quiet desert town, we sit like how we are told Indians sit on a giant boulder that has been painted to look like a skull. We come here at night and wait for all the porch lights below to flicker out. It is then, in the safety of night and assurances of townspeople’s dreams, that we tell each other our secrets.
You tell me when you were a little girl you stole a candy bar from a convenient store. You tell me in your shy, secretive voice that you were too scared to eat it and that you hid it in your neighbor’s mailbox.
I close my eyes and imagine you as a child, in a bright yellow raincoat, sprinting from the store with the candy bar in your hand like a baton, your little hummingbird lungs firing fast as you turn down your cul-de-sac.
The thought of you scared makes me brave, so I tell you the things we could do if you had not married the wrong man. You sigh and rest your head on my shoulder. Our lips are inches away and they want to be closer, we know this. But the air is thick between them, polluted with microscopic spirits whispering, If only. We sit here on the edge, not talking, until it is time to leave.
Our town has many problems. But mainly our town’s problem is this: Lately, birds have been falling from the sky without reason. Their wings just give out. Their hollow bones lose heft and they fall like feathery meteors. Scientists have made our town a destination. They flock here to collect data on air pollution, to take blood samples from rodents, to find some hidden chemical in our soil with hopes of explaining the mystery to the community.
We are watching them from the hill. A research team in white lab coats, all holding up binoculars to the sky and lowering them as a brownish-red hawk in a tailspin smashes into a parked car with a thudding puff of blood and feathers. Some rush to the scene. The others mark the time and trajectory of the fall in their tiny notepads. You look away as they lift the broken bird by its talons and slip it into a plastic evidence bag.
My secret is one I do not tell. When we sit up on the skull boulder and you remind me that it is my turn to tell you something personal by playfully elbowing me in the side, I do not tell you what I do most nights when I am alone. Instead, I tell you that when I was seven I wanted to marry my cousin and that we even kissed once up in the crooked arm of a Joshua tree behind my Aunt’s house. You are not sickened by this, and it makes me think I love you. But I do not tell you this, or even what I wish I could. I do not tell you that after we leave the hill every night, I sit with my back to the wooden fence that separates our houses and listen until I am too tired or too cold to try. I do not tell you that I listen to every sound loud enough to leave your house. I do not tell you that I know exactly how you sound in the arms of another man.
The problem with the birds has gotten worse, so our Mayor has begun recruiting citizens for the cleanup effort. At a town hall meeting, held in a cramped portable classroom at the high school, you and I sit and listen in the back row of desks. The Mayor, a feeble man with tan liver spots on his head and large glasses that make him look like a turtle, stands at the front of the room with some of the scientists at his sides. He is drawing names out of a shoebox. While he unfolds each slip of paper, the townspeople quietly hold their breath and exhale with relief when their name is not called.
You look beautiful this afternoon. I write these same words on a scrap of paper and pass it over to you like a student would. You smile as you read it. You look back at me and blink twice and I think this might be a secret message to me saying thank you, that I am handsome, that tonight on the hill you might finally tell me a secret I’ve been waiting to hear. I quickly scribble another note that says this:
Do you like me?
[ ] YES
[ ] NO
[ ] MAYBE
You prop open a faceless child’s clam-shell desk and rifle for a pen. Thinking for a moment, you look up at the particleboard ceiling and tap the pen against your lips. You pass the paper back to me with the MAYBE box checked with red ink. I gently fold up the note and place it in my shirt pocket. In my head I am thinking of places in my house to tack it up.
The Mayor opens the final slip of paper and reads my name aloud. Maybe the classroom is getting to you because you scrunch your face and point at me like a schoolgirl, as if saying, Ha ha you have clean up the bi-irds. Suddenly I feel stupid for feeling proud to be selected for the task force. I try not to think about it. Instead, I focus on your black hair and how you don’t realize a strand of it is stuck to your lips. I think about what it might mean for me to reach over and tuck it behind your ear.
The first time we kiss is less than magical. There are no bursts of color or throngs of music, as I’d had fantasized while lying in bed at night. It is dark and secretive like the rest of our nights on the hill. It happens like this:
I ask you if you are ever going to leave your husband. You tell me that your relationship with Tom is not easy to explain. You use his name, Tom, hard and fast like how I imagine he makes love to you and it makes my heart grow cold. You take my hand.
“It’s complicated,” you say, like a math problem or an inoperable tumor.
Upset about the birds or Tom and desperate to show you that love is not complicated, I grab you by the shoulders and kiss you like a man who has something to prove. But you push me away. You look at me with terrified eyes and blink twice and I wonder what the message is this time.
“I can’t,” you tell me. But you do. You fall into me and kiss me so hard I think we might slip off the boulder and go tumbling down the hill. It is not a romantic kiss but a ravenous one. It is meat and we are starving. “I can’t be that woman,” you mumble onto my lips. But we don’t stop, even though I know you are crying. I can feel warm tears dribble down our cheeks and into our mouths. I can taste the salt and bitter of running mascara as we push black streams back and forth between our tongues. I try to pull away but you just yank me in closer. I try to speak, but my words get lost in your whimpering.
This morning there are two dead sparrows like balled-up paper napkins in my driveway. While I stand there and stare at them, your husband comes out of your house and stands behind me. I think for sure you have told him about our secrets, about our kiss. He is a short, overweight man, so I think I can outrun him if I need to.
“I don’t think it’ll ever quit,” he tells me. I look over my shoulder at him and then up to the sky. “Shoot, just yesterday a crow fell right into my damned windshield while I was driving. Cracked it up good.” He comes up next to me and looks down at the two birds. “Poor bastards.”
We stand there silently for a few moments, both staring at the mess on my driveway.
“Kinda makes you think, doesn’t it?”
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“Just that, I don’t know, maybe things were never meant to fly. Like, you can’t cheat gravity, you know?” With that he turns and makes towards your front door.
“Hey Tom,” I call.
I think about telling him everything. About how I cheated him. How we cheated him. But I don’t.
“Nothing. Never mind.” He nods and disappears into your house. I go around to the side of my house to get a shovel. With your husband’s words swimming in my head, I scrape up the remains and flip them into the trashcan. I grab the hose and wash away the tiny heart the adjoining pools of blood have formed, feeling terrible as the brown water rushes to the gutter.
We look like convicts on the side of the highway in our orange vests and hardhats. There are two jobs: picking and sorting. The pickers are given black garbage bags and trash claws to pick up the birds. When they fill their bags, they bring them to the sorters. The sorters, assisted by a team of scientists, separate the carcasses by species and place them accordingly into plastic bins.
I am a picker. I have spent all afternoon hefting dead birds, crows with stale wings and hawks with broken legs and crooked beaks, from off the asphalt and into bags. There are eight pickers out here on this four-mile stretch of road, but it is nowhere near enough. One of the pickers, a young guy with a head too small for a hardhat and a midsection too bony for a vest says it best:
“It’s like the bird holocaust.”
A local news team is covering the cleanup effort. The guy smiles with pride when the reporter refers to the incident as “The Bird Holocaust,” giving the phrase he coined a place in history.
It has been three days since we kissed and I have yet to hear from you. For the past three nights the skull boulder has been empty and your house has been silent. I am usually too cautious to call you on the phone but there is something about the sour stench of rotting birds that gives a man guts.
On my break, I sit on a red ice chest and dial your number. It is then, as the sound of your phone ringing vibrates in my ear, that a stray pigeon comes careening down from the sky and smashes right into my face. The blow knocks me off the cooler and onto my back. It sends my hardhat rolling off into the desert and my phone spinning, splayed open in the middle of the road. I lay there holding my face with both hands, feeling the hot rush of blood flow through them and down my arms as the crew panics and forms a circle around me. They offer me towels and water, all pulling at my arms to assess the damage. The news reporter breaks through the chain of pickers and sorters and shoves a microphone into my face, hoping to get a statement from the first potential casualty of the “Holocaust.” The crew’s voices and the reporter’s questions all blur into a low hum, almost silent. Through it all I can hear you crying. With my vision blurry and equilibrium nonexistent, I stand and push my way through the crowd. I follow your voice, staggering. Your cries are louder now as I crawl around on the cracked blacktop. By the time I reach the phone, your sobs are desperate and guttural. I stand up and say your name into the phone, but you do not respond. Holding it to my ear, I realize the sound is coming from somewhere else.
On the ground near my feet lies the pigeon who let me have it. Despite a broken neck, it has hopped to the center of the highway. It looks up at me, its head right-side-up but body upside down. It is blinking slowly and cooing like a sad woman. I sit down beside it and wait for it to go completely silent, then carefully carry it back to the scientists.
My face is a rotten plum. My left eye is purple and completely closed. My nose has a dent in the bridge and my upper lip is swollen. If headaches were tornadoes, mine would turn the earth into a cloud of dust. Though none of this hurts as much as your car being gone for five straight days. After getting hit by the pigeon and the news story that followed, the Mayor relieves me of duty. So I have had plenty of time to steep in your absence.
But today, after a week passes, you call.
“Hi,” you say.
“Hello,” I say.
“I saw your face in the paper. Are you all right?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Listen, where are you?” I ask.
“At my Mom’s.”
“Oh,” I say. “Are you coming back?”
“I don’t think so.”
“No,” you say.
“Does Tom know?” I ask. “I mean, that you’re not coming back.”
“And what about us?”
“I’m sorry,” you say.
“I don’t understand.” I can hear someone in the background with you, perhaps your Mom. You begin to whisper.
“I said I can’t be that woman. Not to Tom. Not to you either. I’m sorry,” you say again.
Tonight I hike up the hill to be alone. Next to the boulder, there is a small bird skeleton that has been picked clean by scavengers. I pick up its tiny skull and roll it between my fingertips.
After a few moments of waiting for the town to get dark, I hear footsteps crunching sand behind me. I know it’s you and my heart begins to flutter. I hop off the rock to greet you only to find Tom, looking broken and empty.
“What are you doing up here?” he asks.
I can’t tell him the truth, so I say, “I come here to think sometimes.”
“Ah. You know I’ve been looking up at this skull for years and not once have I ever come to see it up close.” I sit back down on the boulder and he follows. “Quite a shiner you got,” he says, pointing at my eye.
“Yeah,” I say, showing him the bird skull and then tossing it off the side of the hill.
“Yeah I read about it. You won’t have to worry about that again, though.”
“You didn’t hear?”
I shake my head.
“The birds have quit falling. Scientists said it was some freak thing like the Bermuda Triangle or something.”
“Yeah,” he says, nodding. Then, he says, “She’s gone, you know. She left me.”
“I’m sorry,” I tell him.
He just nods.
Neither of us say anything for a while. I just stare out at the remaining porch lights and Tom looks down at his folded hands. Sitting here with Tom has made me realize what you mean by being that woman. The type of woman who leaves two grown men sulking and wondering where they went wrong. I understand how much harder this is for you. “I’m sorry,” I say again — not to Tom, but to you.
I wait for the last light in town to burn out before I ask Tom if I can tell him a secret.
This installment of THE2NDHAND’s Chicago “So You Think You Have Nerves of Steel?” performance series brings host Harold Ray back from the home front in West Virginia to Chicago for an evening program combining two fiction writers, a poet, comic duo and more than one band for more of the now prototypical mixture sure to rattle your sensibility, if you had one. The show gets started after 8 p.m. at the Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont, Chicago on Tuesday, July 5. This installment features:
Warfield lives and writes from Philadelphia.
1) Xavier sat in his room, the uncurving walls wrapped around him like a prism. Something clawlike was reaching down at him, talonless but grasping. He looked at his watch and realized he was going to be late. He dived gently, a controlled dive, out from the clutches of the claw and rolled beyond its reach where he got dressed and left the apartment. He got to the posture night school 15 minutes late.
“Sorry, everybody,” he said. Everybody looked at him. Were they angry? He looked at the teacher. His teacher had immaculate posture and well-defined calf muscles. He felt obligated to fall in love with her, though he didn’t want to.
“I’m sorry,” he told her, gazing directly into her eyeballs, which looked back at him full of forgiveness. She did not love him. Her name was Monica.
He had really bad posture. It was true. At the posture night school they did not balance books on their heads. They carried buckets of water to and fro, they placed orders for Chinese food and walked down the block to pick it up, they watched Marx Brothers movies. A student once asked about the teacher’s methods.
“What does walking your toy shih tzu have anything to do with good posture?”
Monica arched an eyebrow. “Good posture is not arbitrary. You cannot sit up straight in the movie theater and then slouch on the bus ride home. It is essential that you be consistent. Who has straighter posture, you or me?”
“You do,” the student said.
“And between the two of us, who gets paid to teach proper posture professionally and who is paying because he doesn’t have good posture?”
“Um, that would be you and me, respectively.”
“That’s right. So why don’t you get back to programming my VCR and straighten your back.”
Xavier spent the evening cutting coupons out of the newspaper and sneaking looks at Jalinda, who had gotten the privilege of painting Monica’s toenails. Malibu Pink.
Everyone milled around the exit after class was over. It was almost midnight and some of the students were making plans with each other. No one invited Monica. Xavier’s sweat was wet and cold in his armpits.
“Would you care to possibly…” he formulated the words in his brainbox. But there was nothing that he would care to possibly do with Monica. Couldn’t they just spend the rest of their lives together without having to get to know each other?
The post-midnight air on his walk home, alone, was like the skull of a squirrel. Returning home was like denture sores, an oozy chafed hole where the prosthetic of his life wore down on him. He batted at his inflatable punching doll, which fell to the floor and then rolled back upright.
There were only 32 installments of the class, after which he would walk tall but perhaps still alone through the garlanded arches of night school graduation. The time in between threatened to be a minuet of anticipation and dread.
2) Xavier thought of pizza. He paced his apartment contemplating the efficiency of the pizza pie. He yearned, longed for the pinnacle of pizza consumption. It was all too easy for pizza to be sullied. For it to be a rushed and hurried affair eaten in conjunction with watching television. Xavier pined for a transformative pizza. He would ask Monica if she had any recommendations.
In the pocket of his winter jacket, Xavier found a $20 bill. He would use it to purchase pizza for himself and Monica.
A millennium passed and Xavier took a time machine back to the past, to this moment, and killed his past self and replaced him with his future self, himself. He still forgot to set the alarm clock. Was it his future self that had put the $20 in his pocket?
Xavier walked outside and remembered the smell of nitrogen as he experienced it. He walked with a confidence and posture that he should not possess yet. He arrived early to the posture night school. Monica was alone, slumped over her grade book. The classroom door banged against the wall. She looked up at him. There was a mist of fog that was something else filling up the room, emanating between them. He unclasped his hand from the doorknob. He could sense her pulse; she had one. There were tigers and pumas fighting each other in her eyes. He wanted to eat an apple.
They didn’t move. They were unmovable. She started to say something. His finger was on her lip. He kissed her. But mostly he kissed his own finger. It tasted like dirt and skin.
Two eternities passed and then were rescinded.
“The best pizza I ever had was at Calvino’s,” Monica proclaimed breathlessly.
“I know. I ate there about 400 years ago,” Xavier gloated, staring straight into the pores of her face.
“I had to give you an incomplete,” she apologized, gesturing at her grade book.
He wanted to say something witty like “I’ll give you an incomplete.” But instead he just shrugged. Awkward silence erupted all around them. It bit at their lapels.
“Let’s get out of here,” Monica almost said.
“Let’s get out of here,” Xavier almost remembered her saying.
Xavier went back to his apartment, where the other Xavier was still lingering, dead and sprawled on the floor. Xavier wondered if it was even possible to change the past. He remembered what had happened, what now would happen, and he had no idea what he was doing, what he was going to do, what he had done. He stared at his prone body and decided maybe he should just go back even further into the past to when he was still alive, before he had met Monica. Maybe maybe. He smoked a cigarette. He ordered a pizza, but it wasn’t from Calvino’s so it was only mildly awesome.
He thought that maybe instead of killing himself, he should have made friends with himself and kept himself company so he would have someone to talk to. Oh well. Next time, maybe. Maybe maybe.
3) He went to the posture night school. There were only five classes left. Monica was sick. This hadn’t happened the first time. Or had it? He couldn’t remember. Everything was clouding over in a cumulonimbus of forgetting. What had he come back here for, to aright? What decision had he wanted to undecide? The new teacher was more strict but also more traditional, not having them do her laundry but instead kneel on rulers and grasp for golden rings.
Time was fraudulent. He was an embezzler. He couldn’t make any two things co-align. He read in the newspaper that Monica had died. Had that happened? Was he happening? Xavier felt unmoored, like a flour-coated hound. He would wait a millennium and come back and fix this. Somehow it had been his fault, his meddling from the future. He would come back and kill his future self and leave his past self alive. But, of course, he hadn’t done that, had he? Or had he?
He stood up straight, the posture night school was dissolved, he wandered the streets trying to locate a smell, he cried himself to sleep, he woke up with regret.
And then one day he saw her. Monica. He wasn’t dreaming. She was clad in a trench coat. She looked him in the eye. There were calliope horses racing against real horses in his eye. She’d come from the future. She’d killed her past self. His heart beat like a wax model of a heart.
She took his hand. It felt like plaster. He understood everything. Everything was understood.
They went to Calvino’s and had the best pizza in the world.
Monica looked achingly into his eyebrows. “Is it possible for two people from the future who have killed their past selves in order to be with each other, to be with each other?”
“Yes,” he intoned with a resounding s. “It is. It might be. I’m not really sure.”
In the first installment of this short, a neighborhood woman, Roselyn, made moves to visit a bereft father, and Ana’s grade school class’ teacher left the students alone, all after a massive storm has visited the island on which they live.
“Just let me see the first one,” said Philip. “I know I got it right, I just want to make sure you didn’t get it wrong.”
Ana put her head on the desk. Turtles. Armadillos. Hermit crabs.
“What, you think I’ll tell on you?” He kneaded her shoulders. “So tense.”
She wriggled her shoulders. Philip tightened his grip.
Richard, taking an interest, pulled a soaked, chewy pencil out of his mouth and stuck the eraser end into Philip’s ear.
“This idiot boy bothering you, Ana?” asked gallant Richard.
Ana kept her head on the desk, ready for any and all attempts at a choreographed paper-thieving maneuver.
“Get your own girl,” said Philip, shaking Richard’s spit out of his ear.
“Ana’s already my girl. Haven’t you heard? We’re engaged.”
“Engaged!” Philip flung his arms around Richard. “Well! We should start planning your honeymoon.”
“Anywhere the lady fancies.”
Ana wanted to jam her elbow into Philip’s eye, gouge a prize chunk from Richard’s neck.
“My parents went to Amsterdam for their honeymoon. I found a box of pictures from the trip at the back of their closet.”
“You’re a liar, Richard. Everything you’ve ever said is a lie.”
“Not the first time I’ve seen them naked.”
Clusters of girls formed around magazines and pilfered cosmetics. They took turns primping each other–applying globs of mascara and lip-gloss to their infantile faces. Some students took the opportunity to nap, head resting on the desk, or bent backwards at the neck. A boy stood watch at the window while his cohorts stole chalk from the cabinet. Miss Meade’s manila folder had been compromised.
“We’re not talking to Amy today,” Carol grunted into Ana’s ear. “So don’t try to sit with her or we won’t talk to you either.” Wet, putrid breath.
Like Ana, Carol was of mixed descent, but something had occurred during gestation that made her distinct. It was as though Carol’s mother’s African genes had repelled those of her Irish father’s, and the two ethnicities stood their ground, proudly and individually presenting themselves, stubborn as oil and water. The result was a motley of light and dark skin, of misplaced freckles and coarse coils of hair. The tension between the backgrounds was clearly and most sinisterly manifest in the lower half of her face, where a wide and flat nose sat above thin, bloodless lips.
Not surprisingly then, Carol was acutely aware of her advantage. She had been endowed with the power to manipulate. The innate mischief implemental in her creation had matured to govern the creature glaring into Ana’s eyes. Carol was a bully.
“Look at me when I talk to you.” Carol’s was the voice of a rottweiler.
Carol selected girls daily — girls to be excluded from all social activities. She passed the word on at the beginning of the day, and by lunch, the chosen girl would be sitting alone on the ground drawing designs in the dirt with a stick. The girl would be too distraught to eat and so would forfeit her lunch to Carol.
“What’s that in your pocket?” said Philip, prodding at Richard’s khakis.
Cellophane crinkled inside Richard’s pants. “You bring condoms to school?” Philip snickered, flicking the side of Ana’s face.
“You’re right, they’d just fall off.” He snatched a ruler from a nearby desk and swatted at Richard’s crotch.
“Alright, fine, alright.” Philip leaned in closer to Richard, lowering his voice. “Tell me. You brought sweets?”
“No,” said Richard, covering his pocket.
“Give me one,” Phillip whispered.
“I only have one left.”
“Cut it in half.”
“It’s too small.”
“Fuck off, that’s my favourite! Cut it, quick, before she comes back.” They both glanced at the door. Philip produced a Swiss army knife and knelt at Ana’s desk. “Give it here.” The operation was rushed and clumsy. Richard passed the sweet to Philip who held it down and pressed the blade across its centre, widthwise. The sweet shattered and sprayed purple shrapnel. After salvaging the larger pieces for himself, Philip handed the dregs back to Richard.
“The shit?” Richard stared at the broken mess of candy in his palm.
“There were cracks in it from before, fat ass.”
Roselyn creaked up the stairs, clutching the banister to lessen the strain of her weight on the house.
“In here.” Stewart’s voice came rasping down the corridor, followed by a hard wet clearing of the throat.
He was seated in a wicker chair by the bedroom window. Roselyn exercised the same caution approaching a man’s room as she did entering the stalls of public restrooms. She opened doors with a knee or a foot. If knobs or bolts were involved she would first wrap her hand in a tissue, or if that was not available, the fabric of her shirt. She would stand, or she would squat, but she would never, ever sit.
Stew was large of belly but otherwise insubstantial, the kind of man often seen sitting with his knees wide open and the neck of a beer bottle dangling from between two knuckles. The room was dim, its only window facing away from the sun, and contained the palpable musk of unwashed hair and perpetually damp fabric. “Well, Mrs. Posey, surprise surprise. What can I do you for?” He scanned Roselyn’s body several times over, lingering for a moment or two longer on those areas where skin was exposed — thin shins and a canal of chest between the top few buttons of a cambric blouse.
“I’m so sorry, were you sleeping?” said Roselyn, focusing her eyes on the floor in front of her.
“No, not at all. I’m watching the children,” said Stew, scratching between his thighs.
“Right. Your youngest told me you were up here. I hope I’m not disrupting you, it’s just, I saw a girl sitting on your wall and I hadn’t seen her in the neighbourhood before.”
“Must be from next door. Audrey’s girl.”
“I know Audrey’s girl. This is not Audrey’s girl.”
“What does she look like?”
“It’ll be a friend from school,” said Stew, belching into his shoulder.
Roselyn held onto the doorframe, taking discreet breaths out of the air drifting down the corridor. Amidst the quiet unique to houses without electricity on a small mountain scheme, she could make out the sound of a dog scratching itself behind the ear with a hind leg, digging deep into its flesh for ticks and fleas; birds carrying out lengthy conversations; pipes dripping onto plants and cement; driveways being swept with stiff brooms.
Stew’s bedroom contained only the essentials. The bed sheets were of a cheap, thin cotton, darkened by years of unclean bodies settling in its centre, worn thin where they had been stretched over the corners of the mattress. There was a single pillow, which looked about as soft as a stack of newspapers, and a ratty quilt stuffed between the bed and the wall. At the foot of the bed was a standing fan, rusted and sullen, its blue blades angled like a sunflower at dusk. A chest of drawers stood next to the closet, topped with a single crocheted doily.
“I’m sorry we rushed off after the funeral,” said Roselyn. “Arthur had to get back to work. I had the kids at home. You know how it is.”
“Tell me how it is.”
Roselyn hesitated. “We were all very sorry to hear.”
“It wasn’t terrible.”
“Sue told me. Peaceful. It’s all any of us can hope for.”
“In her sleep, in her chair. Book on her lap. Can’t for the life of me remember which book. I’ve been trying. Seems important, doesn’t it?”
“I’m so sorry.”
“That’s three times now.”
“Three times now you’ve apologized. It’s all I heard at the funeral. Sorry, sorry, sorry. I’m starting to think Mother’s death was the result of organized crime.”
“It was her time.”
“It was not her time.”
“Of course it wasn’t.”
“She walked up this hill no problem; got around fine on her own. Everyone in the house could have been sick, but she never even so much as coughed.”
“I really only came to ask about the girl.”
“On the wall.”
“The friend from school.”
“Your nieces didn’t seem to know her.”
“Not surprised. They’re oblivious to everything that goes on around them.”
“Your mother was a remarkable woman.”
Stew laughed. “Do you think I don’t know my mother was a remarkable woman? Saintly woman. Stubborn woman.” He yawned. Another stench. “She’s still here, you know. She hasn’t left us.”
Outside, the girls chased and tormented each other. Rapid heels punched pavement while continuous laughter was punctuated by yelps, piggish squeals, and what could only have been the impact of open palms against unsuspecting bottoms.
“Last time I saw her, she was in the kitchen. The girls talk to her like it’s nothing. We’re lucky. Some people just up and leave. She didn’t have to come back. We came home after the funeral and there she was, waiting for us in her chair. You know the one. It’s funny, in my heart I knew I couldn’t open that door without seeing her.”
“You don’t looked shocked,” said Stew, smiling at Roselyn with half of his face.
He stood and moved past Roselyn toward the stairs. “After you,” he said, sweeping the air with an upturned hand, indicating the path she was to follow.
“I’ve taken up too much of your time,” she said.
They walked down the stairs, Stew following closely behind. There was no denying that there was something of Grandma Smyth still lingering in the house. It was an atmospheric disposition. The light sifting through the drapes belonged to her. Roselyn had seen her embroidering pillowcases and handkerchiefs in this light. Other times, she sat reading the paper, or she drummed her fingers while she waited for an oven-timer to sound. After a death, Roselyn felt that light should change, dampen, amass weight. Here nothing had changed. It would not have been at all out of the ordinary if Grandma Smyth were to walk in from the adjacent room holding a platter piled high with shortbread cookies.
“What can I offer you?” Stew asked. “There’s water in the pitcher but no ice. Or there’s tea, but you would have to make it yourself. I wouldn’t know what to do with a bag of tea.”
Kudos to Shya Scanlon. His debut novel, available now via Flatmancrooked, marks the release of something long in the making that I’m happy to say we could be a part of via THE2NDHAND.com. Last summer, we published a small piece of the book in Chapter 8 here, one in 42 separate online pieces published in 42 separate online mags and blogs Scanlon proved marked logistical prowess by roping together in an uninterrupted chain of publishing.
He recent wrote all of us to announce publication of the ultimate results in a single volume, calling it “something I hadn’t, at the start, foreseen,” but I cry wolf to that. Anyone with that much pull on the imaginations of that many editors could well be forgiven for expecting as much, if not more. Get over to Flatmancrooked and order a copy.
And hey, in case you’ve missed the news making the rounds on the social networks and at our site, we’re live both with a new special edition broadsheet (with an absolutely kick-ass short by Chicago’s Michael Zapata) with a Kickstarter.com campaign to raise funds for printing and related expenses for our All Hands On: THE2NDHAND After 10 collection next year. You can preorder the book for $14, and there are other associated rewards at various pledge levels, including broadsheet packets and some full sets with block-printed covers by Cadieux (see previous post), bizarre “buy a header” schemes (think of it as a sort of satirical/whimsical take on vanity publishing, or textual/print tagging).
We’re doing well thus far, but still have plenty of ground to cover. Check out the vid below, and following find a link to a press release we’re updating with facts/figures as they are remembered/recorded.
A QUESTION: When did you first encounter THE2NDHAND. Tell me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Can’t remember? Hey, we like to read fiction, of course. -TD
From the release:
Nashville and Chicago-based THE2NDHAND launches pledge campaign for ‘All Hands On’ 10th-anniversary anthology / “Nerves of Steel” event Dec. 7.
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 launched a 90-day fund-raising campaign on Kickstarter.com November 18 to raise the money needed to cover printing costs, and will host a kickoff party as part of its regular So You Think You Have Nerves of Steel? reading series event Dec. 7 at Chicago’s Hungry Brain.
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, and http://the2ndhand.com/events/events.html for details on the event.
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 and Michael Zapata), 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.
(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.)
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.
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:
NERVES of STEEL DETAILS:
SO YOU THINK YOU HAVE NERVES OF STEEL?
8 p.m., Tues., Dec. 7, Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont, Chicago
THE2NDHAND announces to Chi-town, city of its birth in 2000, the T2H Kickstarter.com campaign toward publication of its 10th-anniversary book, All Hands On: THE2NDHAND After 10… and of course much more, with performances by:
**THE2NDHAND No. 35 (just released) writer Michael Zapata
**the team of Matt Bell (Wolf Parts, among others) and Michael Czyzniejewski (Elephants in Our Bedroom)
**and Natalie Edwards, Mary Hamilton (of Quickie’s reading series) and Lindsay Hunter (Daddy’s) in a collaboration that will melt faces like that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when they open the ark…
**Puppetry by Brandon Will
**music by Nerves of Steel house band Good Evening
**and a PSA by T2H regular Spencer Dew (touring a little with his Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres book out from Another New Calligraphy)
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 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.