“your rightful home,” nouvella books…

To play dress-up, you have to believe in the power of the clothes. You are not you anymore. You are Snow White. You are Joan Jett. You are a pirate slave girl with shackles on your wrist. You are your mother, circa 1968. You are a bird. You are Lydia, sometimes, and she is you.

The following items, and more, are available to you in the dress-up box that your mother filled with her old clothes: A blue knitted shawl with a furry fringe. Beaded leather sandals. White plastic sunglasses, huge and round―Jackie O on the cheap. A rhinestone bracelet with rhinestones missing. A tangled knot of men’s ties.

You and Lydia play princesses. You have on the long yellow flower-girl dress from the seventies, which drags on the floor behind you, a regal train. Lydia wears a sparkling silver tube top, a flouncy black skirt and a paisley tie wrapped around her head. She tosses her dark, unbrushed hair out of her face, slides on the white plastic sunglasses.

Lydia is your best friend, mostly because she lives next door, in a one-story ranch house exactly like yours, exactly like everyone’s in this small scrappy neighborhood on the north side of the island. The same faux shutters, the same cracked asphalt patios and whining screen doors squealing up and down the gravel road before it turns off towards the nicer houses up the hill. Turn the other way and you end up on a rocky beach that smells of rotting seaweed and sometimes, sewage. This is where the older boys go to drink and hurl their beer bottles at the lights of Canada, the sparse stars of Vancouver Island winking across the channel. You can hear them through your bedroom window late at night―their raw, adolescent voices echoing through the trees like the brash and terrorized cawing of crows.

~ Nouvella Books, e-book for Kindle or EPUB

“same as it was when you left,” the best of the west 2011: new stories from the wide side of the missouri…

So, Fiona says in a dull way, What’s new.

We’re in our father’s room, pretending that he is just sleeping, that we’re just hanging out. We haven’t actually discussed this, but we’re doing it anyway. Fiona acts teenagerish and put-upon, as though his coma is something he’s doing on purpose to irritate her, like the time he picked her up from school with a dead deer tied to the front of his truck. The silver grill was painted with purpling blood, and he had not sawed the antlers off, so they bobbled on the front of the truck like some kind of gruesome hood ornament. I thought it was funny; Fiona did not.

I am less sure about what my role is. I am not yet surly and hormonal, but I know I will be soon, because the school sent us home with a crappy pink booklet with a photo of a smiling girl with wispy, windblown blond hair and sunlight all over her cheekbones. It was called Congratulations! You’re Growing Up! A Guide for Maturing Young Women. It had drawings of naked people with their cartoonish genitals and exposed reproductive systems labeled. Hannah and I flipped through it and laughed until we couldn’t breathe and our faces were streaked with tears. But later, after Hannah went home, I actually read it. I learned that I will soon be on a rollercoaster of emotion, elated in one moment and plunged into the depths of misery in the next. I am intrigued by this, and want to be ready to play my part. I want to perfect the glassy stare, the moody sighs, the things I remember Fiona being so good at.

So I cross my arms and say, Nothing.

~ Best of the West 2011: New Stories from the Wide Side of the Missouri, edited by James Thomas & D. Seth Horton, University of Texas Press

the daughter of a squaw man smuggles wool and other goods, american short fiction

Her father says: A man has to do whatever it takes. A man has to watch out for himself, first and foremost. A man has to survive.

They are in Echo Bay in the dark and the fog, the sails slack, the boat drifting. They are listening. She flips her collar up against the cold. It doesn’t help. The cold is damp, ghostly. It seeps in under cuffs and trouser legs. There are no stars, no moon. She can’t see more than a few feet—beyond her fingertips, the world ends.

They’re coming round the other side, her father says. Hear it?

Too close there is the chug-a-chug of a steamer, the hiss of a hull slicing water. On their schooner, a metal halyard tings against the shrouds and her father reaches out a deft hand and silences it.

Beneath the boards there is an empty space, a space her father fills with the things he brings across the border. Sometimes the space is filled with crates of liquor, or tins of opium, or raw wool. Tonight the space is filled with people, lying face to toe, stacked together like sardines. They are mostly men but there is at least one woman, if she saw right at the docks, but it was dark, and they were all long-haired and filthy and hunched over and she couldn’t really tell. They’ve come here from across the ocean, from China. They come to work in the mines, or at the limestone sites, setting the dynamite. Her father gets a lot of money to bring them here from Nanaimo, where the freighters come in from across the Pacific. Her father is a smuggler, a limeworks owner, a hunter, a fruit farmer, a silver prospector up on the mountain.

A man has to be many things at once, her father says. A man has to be a chameleon.

~ American Short Fiction, vol 15, issue 55, Summer 2012

the lives of the pioneers, the carolina quarterly…

Husband. It is a strange word, archaic and vaguely kinky. She’d used it for the first time that morning, in the Five Points diner where you could get spaghetti and meatballs for breakfast if you wanted, which she did. When the waitress appeared, sweet-faced and sweaty and destroyed, Spencer was in the bathroom.

“A coffee for you, sweetheart?” she said, laying down paper napkins and water-stained silverware, her large bosom sloshing from one side to the other as she bent over the table.

“Please,” Zoe said. “And one for my husband.” Her head buzzed with the word, filling her ears like a circling wasp.

The bus carrying her north rocks side to side gently, like a cradle saying shush, shush, shush. She puts her hand against Spencer’s sleeping face, where the long red tongue of his dragon tattoo curls around his neck from his back, licks his jawline. She likes it when Spencer is asleep—he is so still, so quiet. Awake, he is restless as a city pigeon, always moving this way and that, jiggling a leg, combing his fingers obsessively through his fringe of hair. When he wakes, she knows, the quiet hypnosis of travel will be shattered. Like a child, Spencer talks incessantly, leaping from topic to topic as the whim takes him, demanding that she answer his wistful, hypothetical questions: If we had a baby right now, what would we call him? If you could snap your fingers and be instantly transported to any country in the world, where would you go? If you were an animal instead of a human, what type of animal would you be? If she hesitates before answering, he is astounded. He has already mulled over the answers to these questions deeply and thoroughly, and seems shocked that she hasn’t, that the questions have not occurred to her. He has his answers at the ready, and waits impatiently for her to turn the questions around so that he can answer: Murphy. Denmark. A wombat.

~ Carolina Quarterly 61.3, Winter 2011

the good you, brooklyn magazine…

You sleep with him because you lose a game of pool. It starts so easily. It starts like this—

He says, Let’s bet, and you say, ok.

He says, If you win, I pay your tab. If I win, you sleep with me.

He laughs when he says it, as though it’s a joke, but he steps close to you and puts his hand on your hip, so you’ll know that it is not one.

His eyes—holding your gaze a beat too long—are green and shattered, like a windowpane hit by a stone, or the surface of a lake, disturbed. He’s thirteen years older than you. He’s handsome, in a damaged kind of way—one of his front teeth is cracked, and his smile is a crooked slash in his short beard. He smells of gasoline, of fresh rain, of cigarette smoke. You have a pool cue in one hand, fifty cents in the other. You’re in a bar on an island in the cold dark surf of the Pacific; you have a backpack and a rented room and a job for the summer and the dregs of your college graduation money. It’s almost midnight, and you’re as far from home as you’ve ever been.

~ Brooklyn Magazine, Fall 2011

house of wind, avery anthology…

November, the month of forgetting. Mona puts on layers, can’t recall what the sea looked like on a sunny day, what Ben’s hands felt like on the bare skin of her back. He is vanishing in stages, like a photograph bleaching in the sun. Already gone: The shape of his face, the exact color of his eyes, the way his voice sounded when he called her name, slamming the door as he breezed into the trailer with the paper-fresh scent of winter air and sawdust, varnish and crushed grass.

At night she butterflies open her legs, puts one finger, then two, into the warmth between them, but no. Nothing stirs. There is no body for this fantasy—he has been reduced to ash and thrown into the sea.

She buys a space heater for the trailer, wonders if she’ll burn to a crisp in her bed. Plugged in, it glows neon, throbs with dry heat. When she goes to change the bed sheets—they smell of skin, hair, night-breath—she finds Ben’s socks bunched up at the bottom of the bed, pushed off in his sleep.

She leaves the sheets on. She leaves the socks at the bottom of the bed.

~Avery Anthology vol 5, 2009

hatchet, sou’wester

To kill a turkey, you have to catch it first.

You enter the pen. The turkeys shuffle into one corner and then the other, always with their heads turned to the side, watching you with one bright black eye. They are tense and alert, tail feathers up. They have sparsely feathered heads, like a man going bald in patches, and blood-purple gizzards. They make a collective sound that is like pennies shaken in a coffee can. You feel tenderly towards them, though they are ugly. You remember when they came out of their eggs, devil-red under the incubator lights, breath moving through their tiny, damp bodies – in and out, in and out.

You wade into the birds and when one tries to dart past you, you turn, bend, and wrap your arms around its body from behind, pinning its wings, hugging it close. You lift the turkey, and as you do it folds its legs and kicks, hard, against your hands. Long toes, pale blue and smooth as the skin of a lizard, wrap around your hand, your wrist, and cling tightly. Mud and shit all over your hands and your clothes.

Your grandfather is out by the stand of hemlocks, adjusting the flame of a propane burner under a large metal garbage can full of steaming water. Large clouds of steam build, build, build, and are pushed away by a low breeze. There is a loop of stiff orange twine hanging from the rafter of the sawmill, and as you walk towards him your grandfather says, Go ahead there, baby, put her up on the block.

Sou’wester, Spring 2009 issue

when no one rakes, meridian…

Elliot took off two of his four sweaters.

“So, friends,” he said. “Are there leftovers?”

Sadie made him a plate and warmed it up in the newly-clean microwave. Gus introduced Elliot to Sam, not realizing that they already knew each other. More cheap bottles of wine were hauled from the cupboards.

“Elliot,” said Marianne, “Elliot.”

She drew the syllables out fondly, savoring the sound of his name.

“So,” she said, putting her hand on his corduroy knee, “how are things?”

Elliot, who had a mouthful of rice pilaf, started to weep. He dropped his fork on his plate and tried to cover his face with his hands, but various features kept showing anyway. He pushed his glasses off to cover his eyes and they all stared at his poor quivering mouth, then he pressed his hands over his mouth and nose, his eyes mashed closed, his forehead turning an alarming shade of salmon pink.

“Oh Christ,” said Marianne. “I broke him.”

~ Meridian, Issue 23, May 2009