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0SAM FINSTER

 “Hey hey, guys,” Mr. Whitlock crowed, and motioned Sam and Trina inside the house with the spatula he held in one fist. Toad’s uncle was a big man with a handlebar mustache and any number of blurred and explicit green tattoos lacing his arms. They looked like they’d been drawn there by a child, quite possibly a drunken one, and Toad had long ago informed him it meant his uncle had done various stretches of county time. “Back before I came into the picture,” Toad said. Mr. Whitlock had, over the years, insisted that Sam call him by his first name, Stacy, but somehow Sam just couldn’t do it. He looked fearsome, even more so than Sam’s dad, and like a man who brooked absolutely no shit. But a Stacy? No.

Transcendental Meditation 

51VevgN9+YL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_When I was five, my father, an alcoholic playwright, left $50 on the kitchen table and vanished. My mother quickly found herself broke, unable to keep up with the rent for our Upper West Side apartment in New York.

She had no money, but she did have something else very precious to her: a guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who earlier that year had issued a call to his followers around the globe. Come to Iowa, he’d said, to meditate and create world peace. So after a tumultuous year of moving, getting evicted, and living with my grandmother in Florida, my mother decided that our path to stability would be found in the endless cornfields of Fairfield, where Maharishi was founding a Transcendental Meditation community, complete with a university and a private school for the children of his followers. My mother, my brother, and I moved to the heartland along with 7,000 others. It was 1982.

Dancing in the Baron's Shadow CoverHe adjusted his visor and gazed at the photo tucked into the flap: a small boy with a melon-shaped head Raymond lovingly stroked and a little girl with red ribbons in every tiny braid. Both were flashing giant smiles. Enos was the spitting image of his father, his skin always glistening in the blaze of summer. Adeline favored her mother, with brown, bony cheekbones and a spear for a tongue. Raymond smiled. Just this morning, as he dropped them at school, she’d tried again to convince him he didn’t need to take the time off work to pick them up. “We can walk home,” she assured him, squeezing her little brother’s hand.

They could. He knew that. But he wanted to give this to his children: the gift of transportation, something he’d never had himself. Raymond had walked several miles to school in bad shoes, on harsh country roads of gravel and stone. Whenever he reminisced about his country days, his wife Yvonne would smile at the children. “See how much your father does for you?” But it was true. Now that he had a life and a family in the city, he wanted to afford his offspring the luxury of a car. Even if “luxury” was this old beat-up Datsun taxi, a red ribbon tied to the rearview mirror to signal that he was still on duty.

9781501116100Hannah

It is certainly strange, to live the first few weeks in my new body. Perhaps the strangest part is how inconsequential the change feels sometimes. Not dying, no longer being in pain, these differences are so startling and so complete that it’s easy to forget that I was ever sick to begin with. There is no scarring, no residual damage, no daily reminder of the months I spent being mutilated by tubes and wires and needles. I have a full, thick head of hair. And I’m no longer as frail as I was in the beginning; slender stretches of muscle begin to form under the skin of my arms and legs. I look like I’m closer to running a marathon than dying of anything.

There are other things, too. Little things. My hearing is pin sharp, instead of muted by my years of rock concerts and riding on Jake Mariano’s motorcycle as a teenager and the clattering din of taking the Red Line. The little aches and pains I used to carry with me—waking up with a stiff neck, cracking the ankle I sprained playing soccer as a kid, the enduring tightness in my hips and the backs of my thighs from painting for hours on end—are gone. They are removed so thoroughly that I can’t remember exactly what they felt like. Any and all excess fat has been spirited from under my skin, leaving a thin, supple sort of body it its wake. The dimpling in my thighs and the small crevices of stretch marks in my sides, the handful of scars I’d amassed in my twenty-seven years, all have been replaced by tight, flat skin. It’s a body so perfect it is difficult to inhabit sometimes, because it’s difficult to imagine it’s really mine.

the children's home3.inddThe children began to arrive soon after Engel came to the house. It was Engel who found the first one, an infant girl, in a basket, with a bundle of neatly folded, freshly washed clothes. The basket had been left on the steps leading up from the kitchen into the garden. Whoever had put it there must have known the way the house worked, because days might have passed before any of the other doors were opened; left anywhere else, the child would probably have died. As it was, no more than an hour or two had gone by but already the creature was blue with cold. Engel picked her up and held her, the small soft body pressed to her bosom, the small wrinkled face in the warm crook of her neck, for she didn’t know how long; a living daylight was how she described it to Morgan when she brought the baby up to him in his study. Looking across from his reading with amusement, Morgan explained that the living daylights were always plural and that they were supposed to be the part of the human soul most susceptible to fear. She nodded, fervently, that’s exactly right, it just goes on and on. That’s exactly how it was, she said, with the child’s small heart barely beating and the breath like a short hot knife blade on the skin of Engel’s neck. Engel lifted the baby away from her body and held her out to Morgan, who shook his head. She said they should tell someone perhaps, someone would know what to do with her, but Morgan disagreed. Left to himself he might have been tempted, what use did he have for a child, after all? But he could hear that Engel’s heart wasn’t in it. Just look at you both, he said. What could be better than this? Don’t you know how to deal with her as well as anyone? Let her stay here with us, where she will be clothed and fed, and kept out of this wicked weather. At least for a while. Perhaps, he thought, the child’s presence would encourage Engel not to go.

unnamedA trail of fencing rode up and down the hills, cutting through the farmland. Small hand-lettered signs surrounded by black-eyed Susans and Queen Anne’s lace advertised tomatoes, squash, honey, apple cider, and peach wine. Al wasn’t slowing down, so Lum realized she’d have to ask. “Al, you mind stopping at Smiley’s a bit?”

“Sure thing. It’ll have to be quick. I could spend hours looking at his stuff.” Al pulled off the highway and Smiley strode toward the truck. Large freckles sprinkled his broad nose, spilling across caramel-colored cheeks.

“Howdy, folks.” He opened the door for Lum.

“Hello, Smiley.” Lum had known Smiley for most of her life. Five years younger than Lum, he’d accompanied his mother, the washer-woman, to their farm. “How’s your aunt and uncle?”

MHamiltonStela, September 10th

 

Dorogoi Mr. Chomsky,

Greetings, or privyet, as I would like to be able to salute you; I know you must know your Russian given your parents’ background. My name is Stela Sidorova, I am 56 years old and immigrated from the Soviet Union with my then-husband when I was only 20 years old. We moved to Ohio, where I now own and run a used bookstore. Alone, I might add. My husband, the chyort, deserted me nine years after our arrival here. I should have pounded his balls, but he was not a real man as you are, a man who stayed with his wife and supported his offspring. Oh well, forgive my frankness as I have forgiven him. At least he contributed to the creation of two little boys who then became mine alone. And because of him, I learned I must pray to God, but keep rowing to shore—an important lesson.

9781451678284Before I died the first time, my husband left me broke and alone with our two tiny children and it made me feel very depressed, etc. It’s the same old story: He went to buy cigarettes and never came home. Really. Wouldn’t you think you’d want to pack a bag or two, leave a forwarding address? Couldn’t he have at least taken the dog? These were the things I wondered in the beginning. Not: was he having an affair, or: was he mixed up in something nefarious, but: I can’t believe he wouldn’t bring his datebook, his favorite loafers; I can’t believe he didn’t change the lightbulb in the hallway before deserting us. He knew I couldn’t reach that lightbulb. The whole thing was unlike him. Then again, I was the one who died, which was unlike me, too.

Mapmaker's War Final Cover book jacketTRANSLATOR’S NOTE

This narrative is an exceptional rarity. The source language scarcely has been heard spoken outside its cultural borders. Until the acquisition of this work, the presumption was that no writing system existed for the language. In remarkable condition despite its age, the handwritten manuscript is not only one of the earliest known autobiographies but also one of the first attributed to a woman.

The author’s rhetorical structure defies the conventions of any period; she addresses herself throughout and appears to be her own audience. Further, while matters of war and society are so often the domain of chroniclers, historians, and philosophers, this author offers a concurrent, heretofore unknown representation of past events through the story of a participant and a survivor.

Simplified pronunciations of several proper names are as follows. Aoife [ee-fah]; Ciaran [keer-ahn]; Wyl [will]; Aza [ah-zah]; Edik [ed-ick]; Leit [lite]; Wei [why]; and Makha [mahk-ah].

—S. Riven

978-0-9836932-6-0-Stupid-Children-cover-low-Emergency-Press-214x300The very first thing Virginia and I did when we escaped the Second Day Believers was get tattooed. Thinking back, I can’t remember why we chose to do this, or why we chose to do it where we did, which was at a small tattoo shop that played death metal at top volume in South Beach. Death metal and South Beach are two things that don’t necessarily go hand in hand—perhaps the awkwardness of the shop is what appealed to us. We didn’t really make a hell of a lot of sense standing next to each other, either. Virginia, with her blonde hair and large breasts, she just screamed sex—a characteristic likely linked to the specific types of abuse she’d endured up to that point in her life— and me. I had dark brown hair, almost black, really, and my tits were very small and I looked younger than my age. Virginia looked older than her eighteen years. Add to that, we brought Isaac, the impetus of our absconding, to the tattoo shop with us, and he was only twelve, and he definitely looked younger than that. As we walked into the shop, it occurred to me that we looked, quite literally, like a bad joke—a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead walk into a tattoo parlor, and so on and so forth.

PART I/July 2010.

 

I see him, but I hope no one else does. The guy leaning over between the train tracks and the station bar has a guitar in one hand and a plastic baggie in the other. I am stopped at the tracks waiting for the gates to rise, watching him on the platform, hoping no one else sees him because it’s the kind of thing that makes everyone involved uncomfortable.

Taylor is sitting next to me in the passenger seat, and she is not watching him. She is going through her purse looking for her checkbook so she can pay for the hour-long session with Lisa she is about to attend.

We had only been sleeping together for a couple of months when he died of a sudden, inexplicable, deadly illness with no known treatment which killed him before I’d even heard he’d been hospitalized. The day after he died a friend of a friend let me know, a girl I’d never met whose voice kept breaking up. I’d thought it was bad reception. She was sobbing. I didn’t know what to say so I hung up and went to the bar.

“How terrible,” people at the bar said.

It was terrible.

“You must be shocked.”

I was shocked.

It isn’t until much later, after her second child is born, in those early months of little sleep, or short deep sleep punctuated by a scream, rolling over to offer her breast to this baby, trying to fall back to sleep but unable to do so until he finishes eating, until she knew he was asleep first, that she has the dreams.

In the first dream she is back in a hospital. She is in a group meeting. There are three others in the meeting. Others who were there. The group leader says something, and she answers. She says that she has a lot of feelings about having been there for such a long time. She tells the group that she found it terribly stigmatizing, if maybe in some ways helpful. She tells them that there have been studies, that this is now considered a very bad idea. Experts agree, she is explaining to the other patients in the dream. Experts agree that this kind of extended hospitalization, institutionalization, she calls it now–though it was never spoken of in this way, save for on the hospital letterhead used as scrap paper in art group or writing group, letterhead with the imprint of a building and in gothic font: ROCKLAND STATE PSYCHIATRIC INSTITUTE—is now considered to in fact impede recovery.

I have a thing about last meals. Not as in prisoners about to be executed — they know it’s going to be their last. But as in just about everyone else, most all of us. Whatever’s coming, there’s going to be that last thing we eat. My folks, for example. They did pretty well in the last-­meal department, beautiful restaurant, family all around them, perfect sandwiches made by someone who truly cared about food. Lunch, as it happened. Their last meal, I mean. For my sister it was breakfast, but that was years later, and I’ll get to all that. The point is, I like to eat every meal as if it were the last, as if I knew it were the last: savor every bite, be there with the food, make sure it’s good, really worthy. And though it’s an impossible proposition, I try to take life that way, too: every bite my last.

PART ONE
tape 1, sides a & b
MAYOR

If you set aside love and friendship and the bonds of family, luck, religion, and spirituality, the desire to better mankind, and music and art, and hunting and fishing and farming, self-importance, and public and private transportation from buses to bicycles, if you set all that aside money is what makes the world go around. Or so it is said. If I wasn’t dying prematurely, if I wasn’t dying right now, if I was going to live to ripeness or rottenness instead of meeting the terminus bolted together and wrapped in plaster in the Madera Community Hospital, if I had all the time in the world, as they say, I would talk to you first of all about the joys of cycling or the life of the mind, but seeing as I could die any minute, just yesterday Dr. Singh himself said that I was lucky to be alive, I was unconscious and so didn’t hear it myself, Carmen told me, I’ll get down to so-called brass tacks.