Category Archives: Fiction

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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Far Behind


You’re out of the car, I’m afraid you’ve been declined

You shake my hand while you’re pissing on my leg

“Are you playing that stupid Social Distortion song again?” Chloe calls from outside the bathroom, for what seems like the thousandth time.

From behind the bathroom door, Roge ignores her again, for what seems like the thousandth time.

“Why are you doing this?” she says, her voice fluttering somewhere between bored and irritated.

Roge can hear that edge in her voice, especially through the hollow-core bathroom door, which he has found to be a rather effective conductor of anger.  He takes a deep breath to compose himself.  “I’m not doing anything.  I’m just getting ready for work.”

“You play this fucking song every morning is what you’re doing.”

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DETROIT: from “Your Life Idyllic”


The following is a character sketch from the short story “An Affliction of Starlings” from Bernier’s forthcoming collection “Your Life Idyllic,” which won the St. Lawrence Book Award, available April 2014.

My parents were both Quebecois, but stopped speaking French after moving from Quebec City to Buffalo. My father, a welder, eventually followed the trade to the auto industry in Detroit. That was the extent of his travels. He came from a line of trappers but had failed to master the wilderness. Factories saved him from starvation. My mother’s people were transient folk: stevedores, mercenaries, and rail engineers. Bougainvilles were strewn in every sea, buried on all continents.

My parents were naturalized American citizens by the time I was growing up, but they frowned on the idea of cultural identity. Good guests assimilated, at least that’s what my father thought. Aside from their clunky accents and occasional slips for covert speech, French was dead in my parents. Or at least for the most part.

On rare occasions, my father would drink sherry. He’d nip from the glass while sitting at the kitchen table. He’d watch me watching television while he sorted through pocket change, then he would send me off to bed at some point. I’d head to the second floor and he’d clomp down the wooden stairs into our unfinished basement. Later, my father’s music, records from the basement, would wake me. Louder and louder, songs in his native tongue would travel through the ductwork and returns of our old brick home, carried on the currents of the furnace cycling on and off. He would sing along, his voice shabby and out-of-tune.

That sad singing bear howling from his cavern was a mystery to me. That was not the quiet fellow who sorted through pocket change separating silver coins into coffee cans for the basement and alloys back into circulation. That was not the man always shutting off the television, the radio, the record player, or any burning light.

I would head to the basement in the morning to find that bear, but Dad worked first shift and never missed a day. Only the albums remained, their maudlin covers depicting men of the wild, sullen folk clad in flannel, scarves, wool caps, and always at least one raccoon hat. They drank from flasks and enameled coffee pots teepeed over a fire. They played wooden pipes, makeshift drums, banjos strung with lament it seemed.

It was harder to catch my mother speaking French because it came without the fanfare. When she did it, it was in calls to her family: her brother, an open ocean fisherman in British Columbia or up to Quebec for her mother who kept late hours as a radio operator on the St. Lawrence for the Canadian government. I knew when my mother was speaking because it came with the smell of breads and pastries, as she’d always bake during these evolutions. I’d wake to sweets in the air, cinnamon or jams, then murmurs from the kitchen downstairs. I’d creep from my room to the stairway’s edge careful not to incite wooden groans. Her chain-smoking would overpower the finer aromas, but from my mother, French was enamoring. Beautiful, husks of liaison fell from her alongside her speedy riffs of fluency. To me it was like listening to the dizzying run of notes from my dad’s jazz records.

When I think of her now, it is never as the bag of bones fighting cancer until the end, but instead speaking in French while baking; using two ashtrays for one cigarette—one on the table and one by the oven; jockeying back and forth between checking the oven and sitting to listen; sipping red wine from a Mason jar while twirling the long phone cord like a jump rope with her free hand. The meager luminescence of the oven’s overhead sepia bulb bathes her progress into the wee hours while the exhaust fan drones a blanket covering the entire home.
Outside these instances, little French was spoken in my childhood home. I acquired a deep shame years after they were both dead when I realized I’d never asked either of them to teach me, never expressed interest or concern. Not once.

Craig Bernier has worked a range of occupations from technical writer to bartender, carpenter to dish washer, cryptologist to kennel cleaner. Most recently he was employed by Duquesne University as an Instructor of Writing. His stories have been published in The Roanoke Review, Western Humanities Review, Dogwood, Gigantic Sequins, and in a story anthology from Akashic Books titled Detroit Noir. His nonfiction has appeared in the journal Creative Nonfiction. Originally from southeastern Michigan, home is currently a stone’s throw from Pittsburgh, in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania. He is at work on a novel and a collection of essays on motorcycling. Find him online at


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Milwaukee: Home


An excerpt from the 2013 Fall issue


Flight 115 from Tampa to Milwaukee left at 2:25pm, she had gotten to the airport the usual two hours early, and four drinks in. It had been over three years since she had been back to her childhood home and there was a reason for that, a damn good reason; she swore she never would again. Oh my God, what the hell am I supposed to do now? I have two hours before the plane even begins boarding, I can’t just sit here and watch all these moronic Mickey-Mouse fools. Her stomach was jumpy, nauseous, her hands unsteady and shaky. She ran to the bathroom and began ripping through her carry on. She liked to drink, a lot. But she didn’t consider herself a drunk, and she was pretty sure nobody else did either. Well maybe the cab driver did. Fuck him, she thought. He couldn’t even speak English for Christ sake. She had called the cab from a bar near her house, The Hideaway. She had been there many times, and everyone knew her face and name. It was kind of her new hangout on the weekends, and now, apparently, when she was going home.

“Go ahead girlfriend, you’ll make it. Just do what you gotta do up there then come on back. I’ll have a bunch of shots lined up for us when you get here.” Lana was a very sweet, flamboyant, and (use to be) Leonard. She always took good care of me when she worked. She was from Vegas. She never talked about her past much. I figured she probably wasn’t ever going back home either. She had her reasons. I had mine.

“I can’t do it Lana.” I started to lightly cry. “I can’t go back there and relive all those fucking memories. I just can’t do it.”
“Then don’t go, baby-girl. No one is forcing you to go, hun.”

But I knew I had to go. My father had been good to me, real good. I couldn’t let him down, and it was because of him that I was finally going back; back to Milwaukee. “One more Lana, then I have to go before I lose my nerve.” She watched Lana slowly empty the bottle of tequila and then it was gone.

Read more in the Fall 2013 GLR print issue. 

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