Category Archives: Prose

The Key: Sarah Samudre

She handed him her key to the front door. She wanted to ask if he was sure, if it was really better, both of them being alone? Starting over seemed impossible just then, learning to breathe again without the one arboreally absorbing the sighs and rambling words of the other.

Had this been her idea? Or was she the one being kicked out? She couldn’t remember as the dull, serrated edge of the key slid over her fingers into his palm. This had to have been his idea. His fingers closed over the key. His torn nails, swollen-knuckled fist, a tan line where the ring had been, pulled away with her key, her last permission to be a part of her old life, embedded into his hand.

“Okay. Well.” She rubbed the air in between her fingers and looked at the doorknob. His hands disappeared into his pockets as he rocked back on his heels.

“Yeah,” he replied.

She frowned. This was the reason why she was leaving. Or was asked to leave, whichever it was. There was a silence that had been stretched between them like a rubber band. When it finally broke, there’d been no snap, no release, no violent explosion of the words they’d held back from the other. There was just more silence, a realization that the words they’d suppressed for so long had evaporated. She’d been afraid of that once, years ago, if she stopped talking to him she’d forget why she ever had in the first place, that one day they’d wake up, not from a dream but from the restless pre-waking sleep that follows a dream, and barely remember that once they’d filled days with single conversations that were only ever punctuated with sex and the kind of ridiculous puns that only the truly in love can bear to tell and hear from one another.
Continue reading

Big Alabama and the Pearsal Bully: James Valvis

      Big Alabama barreled down Pearsal Avenue in her Led Zep jacket and Converse sneakers looking for the four punks who beat me up and when they saw her they scattered as fast as you ever saw any four bullies run, all in different directions, all screaming. So my sister went after the gang’s leader and he was supposed to be the fastest kid in all of St Paul’s but Alabama caught him like he’d spent seventy years chain-smoking and she grabbed him around the neck, and said, Apologize to my brother, you little shit.
      I had just managed to catch up to them. His name was Jimmy Stovekin and Jimmy was giving me that bully-stare like we would settle this once my sister was gone but he was also giving me a pleading look that said, Please stop this girl from killing me.
      And Big Alabama could see this eye-talking too so my sister slapped him in the face two times and he started crying and I felt bad for him even though he had just been making me cry and had beaten me up every day for two weeks. But I didn’t see the point in all this violence or the benefit in shaming him into an apology, so I told my sister to leave him be and she glared at me and said, You pansy ass; I ought to smack you around for being a pansy.
      For a second I thought she might do just it, but instead she released his neck and walked away while I stood by Jimmy who rubbed his red throat and we watched Big Alabama strut down Pearsal like a creature returning to the Black Lagoon.
      Jimmy said in a voice made raspy from choking, I wish to God she was my sister.

0609060029James Valvis is the author of How To Say Goodbye (Aortic Books, 2011). His poems or stories have appeared in journals such as Anderbo, Arts & Letters, Barrow Street, Hanging Loose, LA Review, Nimrod, Rattle, River Styx, Vestal Review, and many others. His poetry has been featured in Verse Daily and the Best American Poetry website. His fiction was chosen for the 2013 Sundress Best of the Net. A former US Army soldier, he lives near Seattle.

Tiger Heaven: Patricia Marquez

      On December 3, 2010, thirty-one people died when a bridge in Pittsburgh collapsed into the Ohio River. That same day, outside a small town in northwest Russia, two hundred and ten Siberian tigers were rounded up and slaughtered by poachers, depleting the total number of the existing species by sixty five percent.
      Walter Rice, a recently unemployed busboy, was one of the victims to perish on the bridge. That afternoon he had driven to his ex-fiancé’s house to return a dish he had borrowed at her baby shower the night before. Walter had used the small porcelain plate to bring fudge-cake back to his apartment. Admittedly, he only returned the dish to see her again without the company of her husband, who was at work. An awful fight ensued regarding the intentions of his unwarranted presence, which ended with Walter declaring that he sincerely hoped her baby came out physically disfigured and brain-damaged, to which she retaliated with her own sincere hope that Walter die a horrible and unexpected death, after which he could burn in hell forever.
      Terribly distraught, Walter fled the house in his 1999 Toyota Corolla and decided to take the aforementioned bridge instead of the usual side streets back to his apartment. Had he decided to leave her house only five minutes sooner…well, never mind. This story is not concerned with happenstances but rather with the fates of our protagonist Walter and a few hundred Siberian tigers.
      As Walter felt the asphalt tremble underneath him, and glanced up to see the bridge’s suspension cables snap apart one by one, he had exactly four seconds to reflect on his unhappy life before his car teetered head-first into the icy water a hundred feet below. His first thought was of Mindy, the ex-fiancé, and not how she had forewarned him of this terrible demise, but instead how she had laughed while opening her baby’s presents the night before. His second thought was to curse his stupid self for even thinking of the bitch in the first place. And then he thought nothing at all.
Continue reading

Red Planet: Jo Ann Heydron

      At the San Francisco airport, I keep my seat near the Crab Pot as the first passengers from Vancouver hurry around the security check. My sister, Mars, will be, as always, the last one off the plane. She’ll drift into the terminal in a shapeless sweater and her Battlestar Galactica cap, blinking as if emerging from a cave.
      When I spot her, she’s dressed as usual, but she’s in the middle of the pack, wedged into a posse of suits speed-talking into their headsets—to their families, I hope, since today is Christmas. She sees me and comes running. “Ron!” she whispers, more relief in her voice than joy. She hugs me around the waist, cheek against my chest, her thin body fragile and chilly. I’ve gained twenty pounds since I turned fifty, but Mars seems to have skipped middle-aged spread and passed, in the year since I last saw her, into shrinkage.
      I step back. “Mary Margaret?”
      Through thick lenses encased in elephantine frames, she stares up at me. “I’m perfectly fine.”
      She’s carrying only a blue hemp purse. “Where’s your duffle?” I say. “Did you check it?”
      She never checks baggage. “Don’t pack a bag you can’t carry,” our mother has advised us, and Mars, in this one area, has obeyed—although in the past she’s made a point of handing me her carry-on when she arrives and saying, “Don’t pack a bag your little brother can’t carry.”
      “I didn’t bring a bag,” Mars says, adjusting her gray ponytail, thrust through the back of her cap.
      She’s due to leave at 7:00 this evening for Atlanta, where Mom is dying. “Did you ship your stuff ahead?”
      She says nothing. Maybe Wendell, her fiancé, did the shipping.
      “Are you hungry?” I say as we cross the pedestrian bridge to short-term parking. “I thought we’d run home—to my place—and eat some turkey with Deborah and the boys.”
      “No, Ron. I want to go to the zoo.”
      “The zoo? Is it even open on Christmas?”
      “It is,” says Mars.
      I make a show of checking my watch. 2:00. Mom is expecting Mars tonight, and since it’s the last thing Mom is expecting, I’d hate for my sister to miss the connection.
      Mars never wears a watch. “We have plenty of time,” she says.
Continue reading

Life on Mars + Devil’s Racetrack

Life on Mars

July, 2012. If we look to the west shortly after sundown, we can see Mars from our front porch, a faint red glow in the twilight. The astronomy website tells us that “Because Earth in its orbit is traveling away from slower-moving Mars and Saturn, these planets will fade in brightness and will sink lower in the evening sky. Even so, these planets will still shine as brightly as first-magnitude stars…” Mars will disappear from view in about a month—right about the time that I have to leave you.

Barsoom–Abbot and Costello went there; Ice Cube fought ghosts there; it’s where Dr. Manhattan exiled himself; Yvonne Craig was one of its needed women; its natives grafted Sarah Jessica Parker’s head onto her Chihuahua’s body; Santa Claus conquered its inhabitants.

I wasn’t much of a David Bowie fan, before I met you. Like everyone else, I knew he was a rock and roll legend, and I appreciated the fact that he produced Lou Reed’s best albums. But I didn’t really appreciate him until that first time we danced together, at that club’s “Retro 80s Night.” The song was “Modern Love.” We were only friends at the time, just getting to know each other, but you said, “It’s Bowie—I have to dance.” So we put our drinks down and went to the dance floor. That was when things began for us, a decade ago.

In October of 2010, The Chronicle of Higher Education ran a story about two researchers—Dirk Schulze-Makuch of Arizona State University and Paul Davies of Washington State University—who proposed sending two humans to Mars on a one-way trip. These hypothetical explorers would go to the red planet and begin construction of a habitat that would, one day, house 150 people, decades after the explorers’ own deaths. At the time, we were frustrated at our jobs and with small-minded, small-town living. “So let’s go to Mars,” I suggested, joking, but also secretly longing to get away from work, away from people, away from the stress of writing and teaching and worrying about tenure and the mortgage and student loans and getting old and realizing I hadn’t done anything significant. “They probably wouldn’t let us take the cats,” you replied, knowing that would cause me to lose interest. You’re sensible like that.
Continue reading

Practice: Paul Vega

      On the deck of Nerka John and Angela run the gurdies. Their gaffe hooks swoop through the air and the hydraulic lines pulse like arteries clean of plaque; they have a rhythm that deckhands, that husbands and wives get with years of practice. They are “in them,” gliding the boat and their hooks through a large school of salmon, and that is all they can ask for.
      John is captain and Angela is first mate and at sea that makes sense. At sea there is a plan. We will fish here. We will eat then. We will work until dark. We will love each other in this way. At sea there are problems, yes, obstacles, yes, but not confusion; at home there is much confusion. There are the usual problems: John drinks too much and Angela feels herself getting too old. Fishing does not make them much money and Angela is thirty-five with a feeling like glass shards in the tendon of her left index finger from shaking fish from lines (she’s done this since her dad first put her to work on his boat at eight years old after he failed to have a son) and she has sharp lines around her eyes from too much time outside and too much work and too little sleep and too much worrying about buyers and by-catch and frayed timing belts, and and and…paperwork? No one told her when she bought the boat with John there would be so much damn paperwork. Why didn’t her dad ever tell her this? That fishing was really only ten percent about catching fish and the rest of it filled in all the corners of your life like silt. How can she even think of having a child when half the year she is on the boat and the other half she is fixing and recovering and filing papers promising the federal government she will clean all salmon on only kosher surfaces (kosher surfaces, really?) and mark all boxes containing salmon with the word “salmon” (being sure to also include the species) so in case someone breaks into the wet locks and starts eating the fish they will be aware that what they are doing is eating raw coho and that that might not necessarily be a good thing. She tires of this. She tires not of life itself, just of all the tasks in it, the way they stack up, the way they repeat themselves in a way that makes the meaning so hard to find.

Paul Vega was born in Kansas and recently received his MFA in fiction from the University of Washington. Since moving to the Northwest he’s worked as a writing instructor and held various jobs in the commercial fishing industry. Most recently, he was a deckhand on a troller named Charity.

The Dusk Hours: Ross McMeekin

      In the late afternoon sun, little reflective flashes of trout and salmon fry make it look as though someone is striking a piece of flint on the river bottom, and small but growing clouds of insects orbit just above the surface of the water. It feels familiar; Ben has been here before at this time of day, though not for years. If he remembers correctly and nothing has changed, with the onset of the dusk hours these small swarms will become thick as snow flurries. That prospect would have excited his father because the trout would then rise to the surface to feed. But Ben never understood the point of fishing. He never understood the point of a lot of things his father found important.
      Laughter scratches the silence, erupting from somewhere out in the forest. Ben flinches, mid-cast, and scans the bank as his white fly-line drops to the water and drifts tangled downstream. Adrenaline fans from his shoulder, bathing his hands then out his fingertips. He absently touches two fingers to his neck to feel his galloping pulse. He can’t remember ever meeting another person out here. This was his father’s secret spot.
      He paws his vest, making sure his wallet and keys aren’t back in the glove compartment of his sedan, a mile away on the gravel turnoff along Forest Road 679. There have been stories: meth addicts mixing in abandoned cabins on the outskirts of state parks, gangs breaking windows and jacking cars from wilderness area lots. But those stories always seemed somewhere else.
      He takes out his phone. No bars, and the sand dial on the screen spins.
      Then it’s quiet again. He waits. He waits. He waits. Nothing. Only water over and around rocks and trees and brush.
      Maybe they’ve left, he thinks. Hopefully they’ve left. Hopefully there is no they. Just someone who thought something was funny. Someone who’s now gone.
Continue reading

Edward Hopper’s Women: Kirsten Rue

“In Hopper’s paintings there is a lot of waiting going on . . . They are like characters whose parts have deserted them and now, trapped in the space of their waiting, must keep themselves company.”–Mark Strand, Hopper

      Apparently, watched women have a phosphorescence about them. I went through the museum exhibit downtown and looked at all of them. Girls sitting at restaurants and glowing, pearly, their lashes dusky, their legs bared like ghosts. They read alone and tried to ignore the men staring at them. They tried to ignore Edward Hopper. Up close, their eyes were violet. They ate Chinese food.
      I looked at all of them, by myself, because I am lacking a kind of solvency at the moment. What do I do?
      I write my halting sentences, send out form letters to anonymous job postings, whittle down my time with sleep and eggs, crackling in the pan. Sometimes, I see Mr. Anxiety, who has skinny fingers and an iPhone and takes beautiful photographs. I cannot honestly say more about him. He even bought fingerless gloves so that his hands would be free to touch his phone at all times, even though he doesn’t necessarily want to touch the living girl who lives right here. The living girl – me.
Continue reading