Category Archives: Fiction

The Summer with No Mosquitoes


I’m about to make a left turn into the YMCA on Spears Road. The traffic light turns red. I hate this traffic light. It must be programmed to turn red whenever I’m here. The parking lot of the Y is filling with cars of other moms who have just dropped off their kids at school. After circling three times, I find a spot.

Rushing in, I take my phone out of my pocket to check the time. 9:05. This is my life: always five minutes late. In the changing room I realize that I’ve accidentally brought a bikini with a zebra-patterned push-up bandeau instead of a schoolgirl tankini. Shit. You’re supposed to take a shower before entering the swimming pool, but I just pass through the area and open the door to the pool. In the water float a number of white-haired heads, bobbing up and down to the blaring Olivia Newton-John. A portly man in the corner throws a woo-hoo look at me. I shake my hands and head, pretending to be shivering after a cold shower.

On my way back from Aqua Fit I pass along the glass panes to the gym, and look inside. Now Step Fit is going on, women in Lululemon tops step up and down the small, slim risers in front of them, jabbing their arms straight up in the air. Isn’t this the right age group for me? I wonder. Someone at the far end catches my eyes. It’s an elderly Asian lady. Totally lagging behind, though not seeming to care, she steps up and down, slowly, with her arms up, elbows bent, as if she were holding a huge watermelon in the air. It reminds me of the Japanese bon odori dance at summer festivals.

The moon is out, out, the moon is out,

Over the coal mine, the moon is out, eh, eh …

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Prologue to Green River


The village of Green River is inhabited by two groups, insiders and outsiders. The insiders move. No matter which direction they travel, it is always away from reflection, away from thought. As a result, they live sane lives. They are deliberate. The boxes of their calendars are sketched with deadlines, whole weeks blocked off for travel, for the flight schedules of their visiting kin. They are charming, as if they had never thought to be afraid. Whatever despondency they have met with, they have either conquered and are too humble to be proud about it, or they have refused to acknowledge for so long that they are certain it no longer exists. I envy their blindness, their courage. I envy their children who fit neatly into society, smiles reaching over the crowd as if they were above it. At least they feel that way. Perhaps that is their consolation. If so, it is also their delusion.

The outsiders are still on the inside. Their exile is social rather than geographical. They own their margin. They are the filthy, drug-addicted rednecks. The trailer-bound white trash. They have dirty elbows and the rotting teeth. They wear grease-stained jeans and sleeveless shirts. These are people I come from, the people I love most on earth—and hate most. Who could not hate a people who always require a victim? Who could fail to love a people who protect their poverty as fiercely as they reject the culture that shaped them? They improvise like stoics, throwing nothing away that doesn’t burn in the garbage pile behind their house, keeping all dead machines in the backyard, and over the decades they pick them clean until all that’s left is a chassis, and from it they build a buggy and get drunk and go mudding. Their ingenuity is endless. They are moths to the flames of mischief. Among machines, they move like insects, with the stealth and knowledge of a tick, attaching themselves with precision to the point from which they can draw the most power.

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Exit…Stage Left


My Uncle Mark was the black sheep on my Mom’s side. He moved to Windsor during Vietnam, saying, “Good luck with that bullshit war – I wanna live.” When he got back he hustled the pool sharks at some east side Ferndale bar and made so much money that he bought a double-wide on Harsen’s Island, an hour north of Detroit, and never came back. My dad and I would go up there for a week every summer and Uncle Mark would drink too much Canadian Club and smoke too many cigarettes while watching reruns of Snagglepuss – an obscure Yogi Bear Show segment about the misadventures of an ebullient pink mountain lion – telling everyone what was wrong with them.

He pissed off everybody; that’s what he was good at. I always found it funny. I mean, the only reason he did it was to get a rise out of people, and you’d have thought they’d catch on after a while and just roll with it. I always belly-laughed, and I’d like to think he appreciated that, like some washed-up comedian honing in on the one son of a bitch in the stupid, bloated crowd who appreciates his act.

So it didn’t necessarily floor me when he dropped dead at 58 from a heart attack after all the whiskey and Marlboro smoke, but it did surprise me when he left some cryptic note in his will for me.

“Let me read it again,” my mom said after the funeral.

For Ryan, I leave you the relic behind the holy water in my cathedral.”

She shook her head. “He’s pulling your leg. Isn’t this just like him.”

The rest of the family said they didn’t mind that Uncle Mark was gone because they didn’t care for him, and that at least the holidays would be peaceful now. Christmas was a week away, and they chatted excitedly about the absence of tension, rudeness and condescension during the Advent season.

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On election night, Dory sat in front of the TV eating the gamey, greasy stew from the night before. Her name and Falk’s jockeyed on screen—Dory ahead by three, Falk closing in. Margins stayed in her favor, but Dory didn’t relax. She lifted the spoon and chewed the stew—meat, carrots, and potatoes gone tepid—until she had no choice but to swallow.

She had represented her neighbors on the county board for twelve years and never campaigned. Never had to. (They knew her from childhood; what they cherished she cherished.) Meanwhile, Falk—tall, baby-faced and rich, recently relocated from Boston—took his false humility, his do-gooder grin, and yard signs door-to-door. Word got back to Dory about how he was met: with an incidentally lifted crowbar, a loosely held rifle.

Even so, the race was a “nail-biter,” according to the toothy TV anchor.

What had Falk heard and said about Dory? In the neighbors’ wallpapered kitchens and paneled dens, did they call her a lowlife because of her bear kill? Hunting was fine, hunting was good, but the kind she’d done, on the state’s northern border, with a paid guide, was something like cheating. Did neighbors wonder why? “For once,” she said how-many-times in imaginary debates, “I wanted the thrill of taking down a beast twice my size.”

Two weeks ago, Dory had followed the hunting guide into a doughnut shop at dawn. Locals lifted their hands and Dory waved back as she passed them, her boots rasping the shiny linoleum. She thought they’d stay for breakfast, but the guide drove her straight to the woods, where, as instructed, Dory placed the box of crullers in a clearing and lifted the lid. A half hour later, a bear swaggered past. Like a toddler he plopped his bottom onto the bed of pine needles. He scooped out pastries two at a time. Paws as big as headlights. Frosting-smeared snout. Downwind in the tree stand, Dory smelled the bear’s musk and appraised her stance. You don’t squander opportunity. You don’t waste a hundred-dollar license, the hide and the meat, even if it’s gamey. You act. You win.

Afterward, the guide snapped photos of Dory with her giant prey, sun splintering through the branches behind her. The man pointed to the ivory muzzle and grinned. “You’ll make headlines.” This boar must have been a legendary menace, she’d thought, terrorizing dogs and children, smashing grills and birdfeeders. Driving home, feeling heroic, she guzzled a half liter of Coke. She worked up a story about the hunt, but by the time she had the chance to tell it, everyone knew.

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Sculptural and Spatial Practices

Screenshot 2017-11-18 12.53.24BY AMELIA HAWKINS

I come from flyover country. That’s what people here call it. My grandparents slaughtered pigs. Strung porkers and sucklings up by the feet to bleed out, collected the blood in mason jars that I carried from slaughter shed to my grandmother’s kitchen for Sunday blood sausage. Mitch likes this part of me best—little girl holding jars of black blood, warm in her hands. My gritty farm girl, he murmurs. With hair the color of straw. I like when he calls me his.

I don’t tell Mitch that my dad is a dentist. That my mom drove me forty-five minutes into Omaha to go to a private girls’ school on partial scholarship. Checkered pinafores and white bobby socks. Parties at friends’ parents’ lake houses and bumps of cocaine on granite countertop. That, in biology class, I liked slicing through cat belly, pulling out uterus and pink clump of intestines, inhaling formaldehyde. That my family took vacations to Branson every year, and that, for fun, I stole refrigerator magnets and shot glasses from the hotel gift shop. That I am so terribly unremarkable.

I want Mitch to think I’m special. Any version of me. Milk and corn fed farm girl. Good girl. Middle American beauty.

Mitch has a condo in Park Slope that I’ve never seen. He lives there Thursday through Sunday with his wife, a visual artist, whom he doesn’t talk about, at least not with me. I Googled her, and found out she’s known for a critically acclaimed series of videos she took of herself visiting the homes of old men, stripping down to her underwear, then watching them do the same. Belts unbuckled and pleated pants pulled down to reveal sagging folds of pale skin, faded boxers with tears in the waistband. You think they’re about to have sex, but they don’t. She just stands there, staring at them, like she’s fascinated by how ordinary they are. She has the kind of body people like to call unrealistic to feel better about themselves—curving hips and full breasts, but petite, tight, contained. Almost like a teenager. There are pictures of them on the internet—Mitch and The Wife. At her art shows, at her gallery talks, at her book party. Mitch looks old standing next to her.

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Sitting Guard

Screenshot 2017-11-01 07.15.47BY VICTOR WALKER

Some days are better than others,

some days are worse than others,

some days just are.


This was going to be one of those better days, I hoped.

Did I resent my mother’s remarrying?

It was Dr. Runner who suggested that I write down my feelings between sessions.  So that’s what I’ve done:

I was happy for her.  I even gave her away at the wedding.  She made a beautiful bride.

I showed Dr. Runner the pictures I had taken on my cellphone.

He’s a year younger than she is, I told him.

Does that bother me?  Not really.

My dad had been almost ten years older, however.  That can be quite a lot when a couple gets up in age.  Personally, I don’t think most people can stay married for more than seven years before serious problems begin to appear.  It’s like owning a car.  After seven years you get another one.

Your first car is just about speed and fun and driving with the top down.  You’re not thinking about the long haul—the countless errands, the endless lines of traffic, the forty dollar fill-ups at the gas pump.

Where the highway was once a chance to air her out, that open road is now just a place to close the windows, turn on the air, and hit the cruise control.  Seven years is all any car really has in her.  And maybe only two really good ones at that.  The way I look at it, my mom and dad were way ahead of the game.

Next week would have been their ruby anniversary.  I looked it up.  That’s almost six new car lives.  Ruby is also my birthstone.  I’ll be forty this July.

Does that bother me?  Not really.

Anyway, I’m very happy for her.  For both of them.  It’s no good getting old by yourself.

They’re going to Costa Rica for their honeymoon.  You know, my mom’s sixty-one—no, sixty-two—and this’ll be the first time she’s ever really been anywhere outside of the country.  I had to drive her down to our post office to help her apply for a passport.  She refused to wear her glasses.  She wouldn’t wear them to the wedding either.  To tell the truth, I was a little afraid that she might trip when I walked her down the aisle, but she didn’t.

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Earrings by Leslie Brown imageBY LESLIE BROWN

I never been on this part of Hastings Street. This part is not like Grandma’s street. Maybe it’s different here cause all the buildings come up to the sidewalk, and the street starts right next to the sidewalk, so the only place that grass has to grow is between the sidewalk’s cracks.

Even in this heat, there are a lot of people on the street around here: People are standing in front of buildings fanning themselves, playing checkers, or just standing around and gossiping. Ladies and girls standing on the street, all made-up red lips, like the ladies in the movies, fixed-up for a party. There was one lady who didn’t have on make-up. Her hair was messed up, and her face was puffy; she looked sad.

Sometimes Grandma and me have to step into the street to get around the people. I don’t think they were trying to keep us off their street. They just didn’t have no other place to be, the sidewalks around here is just too skinny for people to be sitting and for people to be walking.

Even the cars on the street act funny, the people driving them didn’t seem in a hurry. I saw a car stop near the ladies and the sad looking lady went over to the car and lean against its door, and talked to the person inside. Then she opened the door and got into it.

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Dear Ms. Ainsley


April 2, 2003

Ms. Wendy Ainsley

Greenmoor Country Club

Winnetka, Ill.

Dear Ms. Ainsley,

I wanted to phone you after receiving your voice message last Thursday but thought it would be better if I wrote as I can put my feelings down better on paper. I purposely didn’t call either because of the guilt I felt for leaving such a rude message on your voice mail. I sincerely hope you can forgive me ‘cause I’m not a bad guy. I’ve been married for almost 56 years to the same blond girl I met after I got out of the Navy in 1946; I helped raise three great children the oldest just retired from Warner Brothers record Co. as their Senior VP, in charge of business and legal affairs; A Cum Laude student at Harvard University; a daughter who was rated the best attorney at the U.S. Government Legal Office in Portland, Oregon; the youngest son an anthropologist and an instructor at Stanford University. So what I’m saying is, I must of done something right although they didn’t get the brains from me; they all came from the blonde. I majored in football, baseball, and tennis in high school and college.

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God Hates Cleveland

By Frank J. Aleksandrowicz, via Wikimedia Commons

By Frank J. Aleksandrowicz, via Wikimedia Commons


It was still an hour until tip-off and Dad was already ashing his cigarette into his coffee. This was the moment he’d waited his entire life for, he said. The moment that his father had waited his entire life for—may God rest his soul—and goddamn it, he would’ve deserved it, he said. We were born and bred and exiled in Cleveland and we deserved this. It was game seven. The Cavs and the Warriors. The blue collar versus the Silicon Valley yuppies. LeBron James had come home. Cleveland deserved this. I know we deserved this, and Dad didn’t need to tell me that.

“Where’s Joe?” I asked.

“He’s on his way, Jerry,” Dad said.

“He better be,” I said. “If he ain’t here and we lose because he had to get his nuts licked, this is on him.”

“He’ll be here,” Dad said.

We’d watched every game of the Finals together. Me, Dad, and Joe. Joe was Dad’s childhood friend. He’d started coming around more when Mom died six years ago when I was eleven. Occasionally Dad’s whores from earlier in the day would stay for a little bit and watch the beginning of the games, but Dad always kicked them out. Dad didn’t want commitment. He just wanted someone to make him a sandwich and suck his dick every now and then.

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A Dam Is a Promise

Courtesy Ohio DNR

Courtesy Ohio DNR


Before Buckeye Lake dam failed, Noah’s Ark was a Little Golden Book on Jon Fortner’s daughter’s bookshelf.

Before Buckeye Lake dam failed, it had gone by other names. In 1750, the area that would become Buckeye Lake was described as a great swamp known as “Buffalo Lick.” When filled in 1830, the lake was known as “Licking Summit Reservoir.” And in May 1894, the lake was repurposed for recreation, the area being dedicated as a public park and renamed “Buckeye Lake.”

Before Buckeye Lake dam failed, engineers from the U.S. Army Corps said there was a high likelihood of a dam failure and the safest measure would be to drain the lake permanently. The cause of concern stemmed from the homes, which began sprouting up about a century ago, after the state’s approval, as well as the docks placed into the lakeside of the dam that have now “displaced or disrupted large portions of the embankment, significantly weakened by the more than 370 homes and other structures that have been sunk into the 4.1-mile earthen dam.” The 177-year-old dam no longer met current safety requirements.

Before Buckeye Lake dam failed, recommendations were made for immediately replacing the dam to prevent a ” catastrophic failure.”

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