by Gordon Haber

I Pity the Fool

It happened fast. Frank went to the counter for a Coke and they were singing Happy Birthday—for one thrilled second he thought for him—but no, it was for some kid with bristly black hair in an A-Team t-shirt, while the dad, a guy with the same bristly hair, brought the kid a slice of cake with one candle. Jesus Christ who doesn’t give a whole cake?

Everybody at the bowling alley snack bar applauded as he blew out the candle looking wary, like he knew something fucked up was coming. And it did. This lady with him, a slim woman with black hair pulled back, she's wheezing and going through her purse with desperation, like she lost her diaphragm and Patrick Swayze’s waiting.

What the fuck, the dad says. Again?

The woman nodding, flaming red spots on her cheeks.

The dad turns to Frank.

Watch him, he says, pointing to the kid.

What? Frank says. Watch him how?

But they’re gone, and the kid is looking at him like, see? I knew something shitty was coming. Frank looking back, half expecting Allen Funt to pop out saying, Smile! You’re on Candid Camera! Which didn’t happen. So Frank asked around and nobody knew the boy, they just sang Happy Birthday to be nice. Frank, sweating, noticing how loud it was with the bowling noises, the thumping and knocking, the pinball machine clanging, and Journey singing true love won’t desert you.

The Gooch came over. He was a slouch with stringy hair and bad skin. His real name was Todd, but in the tenth grade he started calling himself the Gooch, thinking that would make him cool, when in fact he could have played guitar like Eddie Van Halen and he’d still have been uncool. He had something shifty about him people didn’t take to. On the other hand, Frank knew he himself had certain drawbacks, but he was not yet a complete write-off as a human being.

The Gooch said, Where’s my Coke?

Frank said, Some guy left me with this kid.

He left you with this kid?

Not like forever. I don’t think.

Now the kid spoke. My stepmother’s got asthma. She lost her inhaler, I guess they went to the hospital.

Frank said, Is this like a thing they do?

Yeah, it’s the third time she lost it this month.

No, I mean leaving you with a stranger.

The kid shrugged. You seem all right.

The Gooch said, I’m getting a beer.

Frank said, Get one for me, and then he said, No, because he wasn’t supposed to be drinking. He said, Get me a Coke and one for the kid. What’s your name, kid?

Leo Aiello.

You got a sister Angie?


Christ, Frank thought. What the fuck am I supposed to do with him?

He said, You want to bowl, Leo?

Can I finish my cake first?

The kid went to work on his cake, slowly, with relish, as if it were a rare treat, which made Frank feel sorry for him. Frank had his own problems, though. He checked the time: almost three. He had to get to the bank before five—he needed cash for his date with Marie. She’d offered to take him out for his birthday, but he was like, no, I got it. And she’d said, Okay, I’ll do something special for you later. Frank could have wept with gratitude, because she’d caught him cheating and then he did six months for burglary. Basically he was on probation with both the county and Marie.

Leo turned out to be a natural bowler, nothing but strikes and spares. He even showed Frank how to smooth out his delivery. The Gooch was pissed about losing to a child but fuck him. Frank was into the rhythm of the lane, the kid’s shy satisfaction in his own ability. He was sweating again, but in a good way. Any minute now Leo’s dad would claim him, and Frank would have a good story for Marie.

But they were scoring their second game, and it was four o’clock already, and no sign of the parents. Frank thought about calling the cops. Maybe he should have done it first thing: Hey officer, some guy abandoned this kid. But that wasn’t such a hot idea, really. Frank was going straight—at the Rockland County Correctional Center, he’d seen a guy stabbed and he was like, Okay, I’m corrected—and in his experience the best way to stay out of trouble was to avoid the police.

The kid said, I’m hungry.

Frank said, How about a cheeseburger?

The Gooch said, Sounds great. 

No, Gooch, you gotta do something for me. Frank took the check from his wallet, made out that morning for a hundred dollars cash. Take this to the bank? Please? When you get back, I’ll buy you a cheeseburger and some beers.

Okay, the Gooch said, eyeballing the check, which made Frank a little hinky. He wouldn’t be that stupid, would he? After the Gooch slouched off to his Tercel, Frank bought cheeseburgers and a side of fries to share, and they ate by the TV hanging from the ceiling, watching a rerun of Gilligan’s Island. The Brady Bunch was next, the one where they enter a talent contest.

Frank said, I had a fucking huge crush on Marcia when I was a kid.

Laurie Partridge is prettier. But she must be old now.

Nah, I saw her in People Magazine, she looks amazing. What’s your favorite TV show? 

Leo pointed to his t-shirt. Duh, the A-Team. 

I like that show. I pity the fool. I’m not gettin' on that plane.

The kid laughed. You don’t sound anything like Mr. T.

Thanks a million.

Frank made a pile of their empty paper plates and lit a cigarette. He looked at the kid, Leo, wondering what kind of life his parents subjected him to.

So how old are you, Leo?


Cool. I’m twenty-six today.

Today’s your birthday too? Awesome.

Yeah, I guess it is.

Do you have a job, Frank?

My uncle has a gas station with a convenience store, I work there. 

Do you like it? 

It’s okay. He took a drag of his cigarette. I got out of jail a few months ago. 

Leo’s eyes widened, like, now this is interesting. He said, For what?

I was a second story man.

Who told the first story?

Frank had to think about this, and then he kept his face straight, remembering how he’d hated it when grownups laughed at him for saying something cute.

I didn’t tell stories. I was a burglar. You sneak up to the second story to steal shit.

Oh. Did you make a lot of money?

No. No I didn’t. You know the pawn shop on Route 59? 

The kid nodded. My dad goes there sometimes.

Frank thought: Of course he does.

The guy’s a fence, Frank said. You sell the hot merchandise to him, jewelry, VCRs, whatever, for ten cents on the dollar. In addition to all the other assholes you have to pay off.

I don’t understand.

Okay, here’s how it works. I knew this girl who was a housekeeper for a rich family. (He didn’t add she was the one who Marie caught him banging.) She tells me the family’s going to Florida, the wife keeps her jewelry in the powder room, top drawer. I break into the house, I get a diamond watch, necklaces and shit, the whole haul is worth maybe five grand. I sell it to the fence for five hundred. I gotta give fifty to the housekeeper for the tip and a hundred to my driver. How much I got left?


Smart kid. It’s a nice chunk of change, right? But not enough to keep me in cheeseburgers. My fucking rent is three-fifty. So in between scores, what am I gonna do? Mug people? Fuck that. I worked for my uncle. It’s an easy job, you do your thing, you go home. Lucky for me he took me back after I got popped.

Leo was riveted. How’d you get popped? 

Cause I was fucking stupid. My usual driver was getting married, so I used another guy, a total asshole. He talked tough but once we’re on the job he’s shitting bricks. Every car goes by he’s like, Is that a cop? No, numbnuts, it’s a Buick. So he’s waiting on the corner and the cops actually do drive by, probably on the way to Dunkin’ Donuts, and he panics. He peels out, doing sixty in a thirty right past the fucking cop car. They picked me up an hour later.

That sucks, the kid said.

You got that right, Frank said.

Frank remembered his uncle’s tears streaming down when he arrived with the bail money, yelling, Is this how I raised you? But he paid for the lawyer and let Frank come back to work after he got out. Another reason he was keeping his nose clean: to earn back his uncle’s respect.

Frank checked the clock. Oh shit: four forty-three.

I’ll be right back, he said to the kid. And he saw the fear in Leo’s eyes, probably thinking he was getting abandoned again, and Frank said, I’m going to the payphone right there, you can watch me. Okay?

Frank called Marie. While it was ringing, he watched the door for the father or the Gooch, either would be fine.

How’s my birthday boy, she said.

Somebody left me their kid, he said.

What? Where are you?

Bowl-o-rama. I came to shoot a few frames with the Gooch.

You said you were done with him.

That’s not the point. 

What is the point, Frank?

He explained about Leo. From her silence it seemed like she wasn’t interested. Like she thought he was lying. When he was finished, she said, Okay, Frank.

Okay Frank what?

Okay, nothing.

Marie, Frank said, but he was talking to the dial tone.

Leo was standing next to him.

Maybe you should call the hospitals, he said.

Christ, Leo. Why the fuck didn’t you say that two hours ago?

The kid winced. I’m sorry, he said.

Frank saw Leo holding back his tears and he felt like a piece of shit.

No, I’m sorry, he said. I’m just mad because I should have thought of it.

It’s okay.

You sure?

Leo nodded. We’re good.

Okay. Frank took a breath. What’s your stepmother’s name?

Janet Aiello.

He got the phone book and called the Nyack Hospital, no luck. He called Good Samaritan in Suffern, bingo. He waited while they transferred him and the father picked up.


This is the guy with you left Leo with. When are you coming for him?

Leo said, Is Janet okay?

Frank said, He wants to know if Janet’s okay.

She’ll be fine.

She’ll be fine, Frank repeated. Are you coming for Leo?

You at Bowl-o-rama?

No, we’re in fucking Paris, France. Yeah, we’re at Bowl-o-rama. Get over here.

Frank hung up.

Your dad’s on his way.

Okay, Leo said. It might take him a while. Maybe we can bowl again?

Frank dug through his pockets and came up with four bucks, including change, which wasn’t enough for a lane and two meals—he was pretty sure he’d have to buy the kid dinner too. No, he knew it. Just like he’d known the Gooch would keep his money. Shit, he was probably halfway through an eight-ball by now. Frank wasn’t mad though. He had expected it, like he had expected the driver would fuck up the job. Both times he could see himself making a dumbass decision, but he was unable to keep from going through with it. As if he wanted shitty things to happen. As if he’d wanted to get popped, to lose a hundred bucks. To lose Marie.

They bowled a game, and then Frank bought the kid a Coke and a grilled cheese.

You didn’t get yourself anything, Leo said.

I’m not hungry, Frank said.

Leo ate and Frank smoked while they watched some game show on TV.

It’s too bad the A-Team isn’t on tonight, Leo said. We could have watched it together.

Yeah. That would have been cool.

Leo slurped his Coke. Can I ask you something?

Over the boy’s shoulder, Frank saw Leo’s sorry excuse for a father come in through the automatic doors, swinging his fat head around, looking for his kid.

Sure, Frank said. You can ask me whatever.

Maybe we could, like, have our birthdays together next year.

Frank tried to smile. Sure, Leo, he said. That’s a great idea.

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Gordon Haber writes about religion and culture. His recent fiction has appeared in Scud and Cagibi. He does not live in Brooklyn. Twitter: @gordonhaber

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by Jennifer Blackman

Lady Dorothy Townshend Is Descending the Stairs

Lady Dorothy Townshend, born Dorothy Walpole, died of smallpox in the spring of 1726, at the age of thirty-nine, a century before the invention of the doorbell. Imagine a world without doorbells.

Lady Dorothy Townshend began her living captivity in the spring of 1726—a persistently wet spring, as cold as you would expect for Norfolk, though she would feel only cold, not wet. Lady Dorothy Townshend began her living captivity, at the age of thirty-nine, in the interior rooms of her husband’s family home, a bright and rambling country manor built in the Italian style, his preferred residence. Lady Dorothy Townshend’s husband had chosen her, his second wife, for her patience.

Lady Dorothy Townshend’s husband had chosen her from behind a mask. It was the style in England then—masquerades in stark candlelight. Do you like what you see? she had asked him. Perhaps it was after midnight, mask lifted. He liked the question, and he made a point of seeing what he liked. She accepted her good fortune, to have been noticed by a Townshend, a Viscount, an important family with an important house. After all, she was twenty-five. It was time.

He called her Doe for the shape of her eyes, how easily he could make Doe jump. He called himself Turnip.

Turnip Townshend possessed a deep and abiding passion for the cultivation of turnips. He is remembered for his temper and for his affinity for turnips. Turnips for breakfast, turnips for dinner. What do we owe Turnip? Turnip did not invent turnips, but he did refine them.

 Lady Dorothy Townshend is descending the foyer staircase. She does not look well. Her skin is rusted. Her skin is pulled gauze. No one has called her Doe in years. Turnips for breakfast, turnips for dinner—she stopped eating, when? She can recall the taste of blackberries, a mouth stuffed with blackberries and turnips. Where does the time go?

Lady Dorothy Townshend’s husband threw extravagant, weeks-long hunting parties, featuring twenty-course breakfasts with eggs eight ways, payn perdu, kidneys, neck of venison swimming in turnip sauce. She’ll always be with you, the hunters assured Turnip, and of course she was with him. He knew where to find her. He knew where he kept her. When was the last time Turnip danced with his wife? 1738, perhaps, the year he died, twelve years into Lady Dorothy Townshend’s captivity. She’ll always be with you, the hunters had assured him, but they were wrong—Turnip Townshend died in 1738 but Lady Dorothy Townshend is descending the stairs.

Lady Dorothy Townshend is descending the stairs; her skin is gauze, her skin is used light. She cannot see. Where did Turnip hide her watchful brown eyes, how did he store her patient beauty? And what has he done to her hands?

Lady Dorothy Townshend’s husband built his manor to be a family home. She bore him seven children. Children remember their mother, her scent of rose water, brandy, vinegar, but how quickly the children stopped asking for her, stopped using the word “mother.” A mother always knows.

Lady Dorothy Townshend never heard the chime of a doorbell while she lived, but she has known its resounding call in the centuries since. Turnip’s manor continues to be a family home, an important home, a home available for weddings and parties. Has she grown accustomed to the ringing, like a timer going off? Someone is here. Someone is here to see me. Is she resigned to her white-hot fury?

Lady Dorothy Townshend is descending the stairs, stairs available for weddings and parties, her shape imprinted on the door. When did she give up on escape? She was a lady—a wife, a daughter, a sister—a lady never need open a door. Patience is power, her mother had taught her. To be a lady is to be patient.

Christmas, 1835, a man chewing cloves at the top of the stairs. She meets him there, a body of cloves, and she holds his candle to her blackberry mouth. She has been patient. Do you like what you see? She smells the raw earth of him. This is new.

He tells the others over tea in the breakfast room: empty eye sockets, like looking upon the desert. He does not mention the smell of sour brandy, the festering rose that inhabits his nostrils. 

How exhausting, a young lady in the party sighs, but she does not elaborate.

There’s a photograph of the grand staircase, for Country Life magazine, that you will recognize. The photo was intended to be a showcase for the house, a family home, a home available for weddings and parties. There goes the doorbell, like a timer out of time. Technology offers such pleasures! The men at the door ask for her, they must be asking for her, but they do not use her name. Someone is here. Lady Dorothy Townshend is descending the stairs, poised in her satin dressing gown, gossamer veil, poised as a rose without arms, browning in her white-hot fury, looking at a boy behind a camera look right through her. The flash bulb bursts and the film picks her up, The Lady of the House. Such pleasures. She likes what she sees, what they cannot help but see—the round of their eyes, her rictus mouth.

The doorbell rings and Lady Dorothy Townshend is descending the stairs. She can feel how much you want a wife, how much you want your mother, and the Brown Lady is descending to give you what you want. Do you like what you see? 

Beyond the front door, a short avenue of limes runs away from the estate to a pond glazed in green. The marble hall enjoys pleasant sunlight in the afternoon and is perfect for weddings. If you like what you see, e-mail for inquiries.

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Jennifer Blackman lives in Austin with her husband and bloodthirsty cat. Her fiction has appeared with American Short Fiction, McSweeney’s, Tin House, and Nimrod, among others. She spends her days obsessing over grammar as a copy editor at The New Yorker.

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by Alissia J.R. Lingaur

Nine Months

Denise is at least eight months pregnant, but you and David have only been divorced for two. She waddles across the cinema lobby toward your ex-husband. “My bladder is as small as a pea,” she says with a martyred sigh, a Cleopatra in denim. David met Denise at a Tutankhamen exhibit hosted by the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Shuffle your fifteen-year-old son, Max, back through the movie theater’s glass doors, despite your pre-ordered online tickets and his disappointment. Return to your Southfield bungalow where the August heat irons your grief flat and sinewy.

When David moved out, you focused on the diminished piles of laundry you’d enjoy as if fewer chores are an adequate exchange for husband and father.


In September, study your ambitious younger face, grinning from a framed black and white in the center of your living room wall. David, so carefree and optimistic. You were happy then in duplicate: you beside David holding an infant Max; your dog, Emma, in David’s lap as a chocolate puppy. And so many versions of Max, from infancy to present. Only you see the ultrasound printouts preceding him, the scraps of skull and toe, trashed with each miscarriage.

When Max spends a weekend with his father, you yank the gallery down and drop the frames to the carpet with a satisfying ‘poof.’ Nails too, leaving pockmarks in the gray paint, vulnerable and exposed acne like the bumps spackling Max’s teenage jaw. Study one photo of David leading seven sweaty college students, geared in the khaki they thought fitting of archeologists, down a sandstone path in the Valley of the Gods. Your ex-husband stands with foot atop a thousands-year-old brick, expression aloof and focused on something beyond where you waited, shooting the scene.

Turn facedown an image of early morning David, blinking at you through the camera lens. The day you took that, he made love to you in the shower and you both called in sick.

Pile these mementos into a black garbage bag, its plastic hybridized to stretch and accommodate the sharp squares and rectangles.

Keep on the wall those photos of Max, baby cheeks soft, princely eyes, wise. At two, Max in overalls, lounges across Emma; at five, he waits for the bus, pack bulky and cumbersome on his small frame.


Start dating a man named Bo, a fitness guru and senior account executive at the ad agency where you’re a photographer. Meet him at a bar in nearby Royal Oak, all cob-webbed and orange-tinted for Halloween. Order a vodka tonic as soon as the waitress arrives, before you even off your jacket. Bo’s eyes lack the spark burning so brightly in David’s gaze, especially when lecturing on ancient Egypt. Yet after the third date, Bo teaches you stretches, ways to interact with your body and relieve the anxiety that sweats through you at night. When especially tense, he coaches, extend those arms above your head and arch your back, inhaling and exhaling, expanding your rib cage to accept more air. Let Bo massage your shoulders with large hands calloused from weekend golf and a side business of remodeling bungalows like yours throughout metro-Detroit, all those houses built with GI Bill money and hope after WWII. Listen as he grows animated discussing luxury vinyl tile and the price of lumber. Shape your lips into what could pass as a smile, but don’t let Bo fully seduce you. End each date with a sidewalk kiss, nothing overnight, nothing requiring your sutured heart.


Receive a call from your ex-mother-in-law, Naomi, on a chilly November night when Max sleeps at a friend’s and you’d planned to pour a glass of merlot and binge Grace and Frankie.

Naomi growls, “When’s the last time Max has seen that son of a bitch?”

Frown and pretend shock. “You mean your son?”

“And I’m the bitch who didn’t raise him right,” she adds.

Imagine the telephone lines connecting her cordless in Arizona to your Michigan kitchen. You’ve always appreciated Naomi.

Two years before David divorced you, when Naomi still lived in Ferndale year-round, she slipped on driveway ice and smashed her hip. David moved his mother into the spare room, added her care to the schedule, though really to your workload, saying, “You wanted a big family. My mom’s just another kid.”

On the phone, Naomi clears her throat. “What can I do?”

Picture her as she was then at seventy-five, with the vocabulary of a retired lieutenant, her favorite Detriot Tigers baseball cap pulled to her ears. 

Breathe. David’s absence is a tangible void.


Pay for gas after work. Christmas break pauses on the horizon, and then you and Max will have two weeks at home.

“That it?” the cashier asks. She’s a year or two older than Max with a scarab stud in her nose, rings gemmy on each fleshy finger.

“And some Reese’s.” You grab the candy from the display. David plies Max’s favor with chocolate on his weekends, though you try to limit your son’s sugar and salt intake. Pay with exact change.

In your living room, give Max the peanut butter candy as he sits on the couch playing Call of Duty. He considers the orange sleeve. “I like these,” he says. “But I prefer caramel M&Ms.”

Max shifts the package, tucks it under his left leg.

Don’t nudge him to safeguard the candy elsewhere. Don’t remind him it will melt, eroded by the warmth of his body as he continues to play.

“I can get those next time.”

A wink of collarbone escapes the neck of his shirt, his frame grown even skinnier since David left, as fragile as ancient pottery.

“Or I can get you something else.”

You stock cashews, oatmeal, tortellini, but he still picks at meals, circling the food around the plate with his fork.

Over dinner, you’ll ask, “What time will Dad be here tomorrow?” And wait. When Max doesn’t respond, you’ll know David has again canceled the plans he’d made with his firstborn. Max will abandon his bowl of pesto pasta only three spoonfuls in and seal himself in his room, German techno-metal vibrating the door.


Gather your courage and leave the suburbs, merging onto southbound I-75 the week before Christmas when the city is dressed in lights. Throughout your marriage, David worked at Wayne State and within minutes of the Fox Theater, the Motown Museum, and The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, yet he rarely took you and Max downtown. ‘The freeway’s a mess at five’ was his most used excuse. ‘I drive two hours every day so you can live near the zoo,’ his second.

Take Max to the top of the Renaissance Center and enjoy your thirty-dollar steak and his grin as he palms the window wall and gazes over the Detroit River into Canada. Somehow, you’ll unearth the money for this meal. Lean your forehead on the cool glass and squint until Windsor sparkles.


You have feared since the minute the doctor placed Max in your arms, all spongy and red, alive and smelling of your shit. You stared at his wrinkled fingers and their translucent nails, this preemie, lucky to have been born at all.


You order a copy of your keys from the Toyota dealership and wrap them in snowflake paper, excavating bravery from the time before you and David began trying for children, those mid-twenties years when the world made sense and your experience with death was limited to your grandparents’ funerals. Before you were both aged by disappointment.

Breathe. Watch the glowing LED strands on the Christmas tree until your focus blurs and the blues and reds and yellows soften and expand into galaxies.


In January, ice-skate with Bo at Campus Martius park, pretending you’ve escaped to New York City. There is Max with David, Denise, and their three-month-old daughter. Don’t ask her name, the color of her eyes, how much she weighed at birth. Just hope she isn’t sleeping through the night. Will her to cry and scream and become so frustrated she quakes and turns red as blood. Feel guilty. Place your hand in Bo’s and glide round the rink. Enjoy the city that so intimidates you yet appeals to your photographer’s eye.

When Bo asks you to stay the night at his Clawson condo, smile and nod. Follow into his kitchen, accept the glass of pinot, and tilt your head just enough so he can see your neck, still slim and wrinkle-free though you will soon be forty-five. As Bo kisses the skin beneath your chin and ear, lean into the warmth of his lips, the gentle tug of his hands at your jeans. Don’t think of David when you lower your hips and take Bo inside to the source of so many of your problems.


The morning of your birthday, the February sky looms gray and ominous. Acknowledge that perhaps this is your mood instead of nature’s actual disposition. Stand naked in the bathroom after your shower. An entire continent maps the creases of your eyes. Trace the marks on your stomach, like veins in limestone, those scars from every baby you carried but didn’t deliver. Peek over your shoulder at your ass and thighs in the mirror. Pinch the cellulite below your tush and remember David ogling the gaunt images of Egyptian women, their angles. Sigh and squirt toothpaste onto your toothbrush. As you clean your teeth, your breasts jiggle like dates ripe for plucking. Shift to your molars and watch the nipples tighten, their tips aimed at the ceiling, still curious. Bo’s tongue outlined your most sensitive parts, stimulating your areolas, your clit. His large hands gripped your ass and squeezed, full with your flesh, satisfied. He may not be your next true love, but he has reignited your body. Smile, and this time, mean it.


On the late March day that would’ve been your wedding anniversary, instead of recalling the afternoon David moved his things from your house, the turtlenecks he folded carefully and positioned in his suitcase, drive Max to Belle Isle. Visit the aquarium and conservatory. Capture Max beside the cacti and tropical blooms, something new for your living room wall. Play with perspective among the memorial sculptures, the Detroit skyline beyond Max’s shoulder, his face an unreadable canvas. Finally, coax a laugh from your son with food truck hot dogs as you perch on picnic tables. 


Lift your face to the spring sun, so warm after another Michigan winter, and don’t you dare comment on Max’s closed eyes, his chin matching yours, the sky blue and vast.


Instead of returning home, drive Max to the old Kmart headquarters on your way through Troy and park. Exit your Toyota and round the back, meeting Max near the trunk. He grins as he buckles behind the steering wheel. Secure your own seatbelt and feel the pleather against the skin of your upper arms as you wait for Max to shift into drive. He aims for the parking lot’s edge, just before Cunningham and guides the Corolla in a large arc while you comment on his speed, the placement of his hands on the wheel. Watch Max adjust.

While Max practices, stare at the auburn building, copper windows reflecting clouds, elevator shafts like abandoned smokestacks. Max holds his breath and exhales when he positions the car right where it needs to be, just as he learned with his driver’s training instructor. Neither of you mention David or Denise or their daughter though Max has surely held his little sister, her head soft and small in his palms.

Reach across the car and tuck a slip of brown behind Max’s right ear. You like his longish hair, and by this point, you’ve moved past the panic you experienced when he was a child, anxiety over scissors slipping and slicing an artery. Irrational, of course, but these dark fantasies bloomed at Max’s birth and bloated beyond David’s reminders they were more about you than reality.

Outside the Toyota, grass cracks the cement, nature slowly reclaiming now that corporate Kmart has left metro-Detroit. This makes you happy, this determination to grow, this new life.


On a Wednesday evening in April, accompany Max to the theater for a movie titled, Brains from Egypt. Look forward to his graduated license when he will drive himself and his friends to flicks about mummies instead of coercing you in the middle of the workweek. Buy Max caramel M&Ms, and a tub of popcorn with extra butter for yourself.

“So what’s this movie about, anyway?”

Blinking, Max turns from the screen’s soda ad and says, “I guess there’s a mummy? That wasn’t really dead when they mummified him? You know—ramming a hot poker up his nose, scrambling his brains, yanking them back out—and other stuff.”

“Disgusting.” Chomp your popcorn.

Max smiles, showing uneven teeth. Just like yours.

“Because he was still half alive, he’s pissed. Thousands of years later, he’s taking revenge on some Egyptologists.”

“But who’s the girl on the poster?” 

“One of the Egyptologist’s daughter?” Max pauses. He reaches into the tub on your lap and palms a handful of popcorn, cramming it all into his mouth.

You’re glad to see him eating.

Still chewing, Max says, “I’m sure it won’t be scary. Dad showed me Bubba Ho-tep last weekend. I bet it’ll be a lot like that. Totally campy.”

Survive the movie and sit through the end credits, your son’s favorite. When you finally make it to the lobby, discover David by a row of arcade-style games, reading glasses atop his head.

“Should we say hello?” Max asks, shifting the unopened M&Ms between his hands.

Your heartbeat pulses. Expect the wound to open and bleed, steal your breath and your words. But it stays stitched. Swallow. “Okay, sure,” you say.

“Max,” David exclaims as you near him. “What’d you think of the movie? Those special effects weren’t too bad, eh?” David’s smile extends across his face, lighting his eyes and erasing any wrinkles. “Denise is in the bathroom,” he says as he hugs Max. “We’re having a date night.” He leans forward to embrace you. Step out of reach.

“Just wanted to say, ‘hey’ but we should go now.” Max’s eyes dart from you to David.

Nod and lift your hand as if to wave, but David holds up a finger. “Just a minute.” He pulls a phone from his breast pocket. “Let me show you some pictures of little Cleo.” He lowers his glasses from forehead to nose and frowns at the screen, swiping left.

The air grows thick with popcorn and people and warmth. Inhale and retreat from David and Max.

“We gotta go,” Max says. “Wait, what?” David looks up. By now, stand with your shoulder against the door, the metal handle digging into your hip. Wait for Max as he jogs to you and presses the door wide. Slide past him, into the fresh spring air, chilled and tangy in your nostrils.

On the sidewalk, Max watches you exercise another calming technique: four seconds in, hold for four, out for four. Repeat. Nothing to do with Bo or David or even, Max, just something you learned long ago to steady your hands before clicking the shutter closed.

Max shifts and reenters the theater.

Stare after him as his shoulders broaden before David. Your son is growing into his body, lanky yet strong, almost a man who will also leave you. With each exhale, you accept this and nourish it, bittersweetly.

You can’t hear their conversation but Max hands his father something, and you follow his strides once more across the carpet to where you stand beyond the glass doors.

David frowns. The lobby lights flicker, black then vivid, illuminating streaks of gray in his hair, deep bags beneath his eyes, time’s heavy weight at his waist. He drops his phone. Denise appears, fanning him with a paper napkin. 

“What was that about?”

“I gave him the M&Ms. Cleo can’t eat them yet, but,” Max shrugs.

Look at your son again. Place your arm around his waist. Taller than you now, he drapes an arm over your shoulder.

Cross the parking lot together. At the car, stop. “Why don’t you drive?”

Max beams and removes his set of keys from his front jeans pocket.

Trade sides with your son, for once your breath cool and steady.

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Alissia J.R. Lingaur’s stories and poems have appeared in Adanna, Unearthed, Crab Orchard Review, The Villa, The Offbeat, and the NMC Magazine, of which she is the literary adviser. Find her first novel, The Trainstop, on Amazon, and look for her second, The Fugue Sisters, soon. Alissia writes, teaches, and mothers in northern Michigan where she’s often hiking and untangling her basset hound’s leash from a tree while her boxer-mix looks on, ever patient. Learn more about her at

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by Thomas Kearnes

Blanche Devereaux Won’t Leave the Backyard

My bedroom window faces the expanse of yellowing, unloved grass behind the duplex I used to share with Simon. I can see everything. There’s nothing to see. But it’s the spritzing I hear, late at night. Phizzt, phizzt, phizzt. Like a balloon sputtering air by degrees. I’m so used to the quiet, the quiet that always seemed to follow Simon and has followed him this last time. Phizzt, phizzt, phizzt. She’s out there in an oversized lime sweater, floral-print Capri pants, and wedge heels. Tending her plants. No doubt Blanche Devereaux calls my porch a lanai.

“What we need is a jailbreak party!” She looks somewhere close yet far away, picturing it. “All the men will be wearing jumpsuits. I’ll be the warden. They haven’t seen a woman in too damn long.”

I’ve wandered out onto the lanai—I mean, my porch. The July overnight is humid and a hazard. Mosquitoes ravage me. The only light comes from a streetlamp, too dim to offer security, at the property’s back end.

“Ten years hard labor!” She pantomimes banging a gavel. Now she must be the judge. “Don’t sass me, sir!”

It’s too much late-night Hallmark Channel. It’s too much Merlot. It’s too many nights stifling my tears because no one can see them. I go back to bed. It’s the sensible thing.

The next night, she’s reclining in a deck chair. She scribbles furiously into a notebook. Page after page. First, I watch her from my bedroom window. Then I slip onto my porch, absurdly hoping I don’t frighten her away.

“They will teach my book in universities.” She pauses. She gazes into the sky. “Or wherever great literature is taught.”

What would Blanche Devereaux write about? There’s an episode where a sleep-starved Blanche churns out pages of drivel, too exhausted to recognize it as crap. But doesn’t she also write in the episode where her sister cribs from her life for her own roman a clef. Maybe not. Simon would know. He’d hassle me over my uncertainty.

I want to ask about her novel. I speak to no one upon returning home, not since my brother shot himself. It would be nice to have a conversation. With anyone. About anything. But it’s not until her fourth night on the lanai—she’s munching double-stuff Oreos—that I find the courage.

She grins. “I was wondering how long you’d let that cat hold your tongue.”

“Where did you come from?”

“I am from the great city of Atlanta, G-A.”

“No, no—I know that.” I don’t know that. “But just now. Where did you come from just now?”

“The living room, I suppose.”

Blanche looks baffled. I feel shitty.

Like her, I’m a Southern woman. It’s a privilege. It’s an obligation. It’s a tradition that sparks snickers when followed and incites derision when not. In short, Blanche Devereaux is a guest in my home, no matter that she thinks it’s hers.

I tell her my name. I assure her no request is too bothersome, no task too tedious.

She pops an Oreo into her mouth, crunches like its crumbling surprises her. “Next weekend, the full moon will hang high in the sky. Harvest moon. Oh, dear child, you will help me celebrate, won’t you?”

I’ve seen enough episodes. There’s only one reason Blanche Devereaux throws parties. She implores me to ink out the invitations, the cream-colored envelopes ready for rustic calligraphy, for Mel Bushman and the rest. We use my stamps for the invites, ignoring the fact Florida lies another time zone east. I suppose wherever Blanche calls home is too ephemeral for such mundane matters as postage or supermarkets or death.

Helping her might help me, despite the fact she doesn’t exist. She never existed. We laughed and cheered for her, Simon and I, but that never made her real and that’s what kept us safe. I wonder if all these invitations to make-believe men will boomerang back to my mailbox. Does the postman watch the show? He seems straight to me.

I’m not sure how I know, but after Moonlight Madness, Blanche will disappear. No one will be left to call it a lanai. I will never learn what her godawful novel is about. I shouldn’t be upset, it’s natural. How easy to welcome houseguests, knowing they will one day depart.

At first, I didn’t understand my brother’s fascination, not with Blanche, not with the whole Golden Girls dreamscape: four old women shack up because aging in America is nothing but slow-drip indignity. They trade insults and crack sex jokes. They confront a litany of hot-button social issues—or, at least, what passed for controversial in the Eighties. I don’t feel the gravitas. Those bickering biddies represent no one but themselves.

Simon, the smoke trailing from his Pall Mall as he gestured wildly, explained why this Miami address housed multitudes. From his lair, wigs on Styrofoam heads and evening dresses too fabulous to hide in any closet, Simon explained how Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia were forced by an indifferent, sometimes hostile, society to form a makeshift family of their own. This unit soon eclipsed their blood relations in trust and familiarity. Gay men had enacted this social ritual for generations, he noted. It always irritated me how Simon could hitch any component of the pop culture to his queer identity. But how to explain his shameless simpatico with Blanche Devereaux? It was simple, Simon said. Despite her vanity, greed, selfishness, and her devotion to dick, Blanche was also fiercely loyal, resourceful, confident in her sexuality, and beholden to no one. Blanche Devereaux, my brother insisted, was the ideal homosexual.

“Stars and sweet music.” Blanche gazes into the night sky, her hands held aloft. The dim streetlamp adds meager drama. “Nights like this you can’t help but fall in love.” She grins and glances at me. “Maybe two or three times.”

What would Blanche say if she learned I were still a virgin? I’m not the kind of woman who receives offers, at least not from men who desire me. They desire warmth, they desire a welcoming hole, they desire a good sport. Tame your sexual hunger, however, and you’ll find a peace no less seductive. I turn thirty this fall.

We’re decorating for the party. At some point, I don’t know when, we’ll be done sprucing up the lanai. The men will arrive and Blanche Devereaux will live for a day. I’ve no proof this will happen. But Blanche seems convinced, and if she possesses the wherewithal to appear from nowhere, her hangdog suitors can’t trail far behind. I’m excited because excitement comes easily to those who rarely experience it.

“Tell me, honey, what’s a sturdy girl with excellent teeth doing in this house all by herself?”

“I’m really not alone.” I pause. It’s the sort of deceit people expect. The welcome some lies receive outmatches that offered those telling them. “My brother used to live here.”

“Found himself a sweet young filly, I reckon?”

“He needed his own place. I get a postcard now and again.”

We’re lighting Lumineers, their bottoms weighted by pebbles. I’m not afraid the duplex might catch fire before the party. Such calamities never befall Blanche Devereaux. This is yet more proof she isn’t real, and that keeps me safe.

“Don’t let it trouble you, girl.” She traces the lanai’s perimeter, scoots lighted bags an inch this way, an inch that. “There’s nothing less sexy than a man who can’t afford his own place.”

I refuse to cry in front of a woman never far afield from canned laughter.

“Simon doesn’t have that problem now.”

“Simon! There’s a Simon at the Rusty Anchor. Plays the piano. Maybe some night, someone might actually sing along.”

I remember now. That episode at the Rusty Anchor. “The Journey to the Center of Attention.” Simon would be so proud—or, at least, make sure to convince me he was. Blanche invites semi-recluse Dorothy to her favorite pub, a place meant to evoke sleaze but instead a sanitized sitcom set. Dorothy belts out a torch song that makes those fickle fucks forget Blanche’s single-entendres and tongue tricks. The sudden demand for her dowdy friend enrages Blanche. Her ill-fated sultry follow-up, “I Wanna Be Loved by You,” was Simon’s favorite to perform at the club in Dallas. The day before his brains spattered the walls, his dresses, his wigs, he confided sadly how too many drag queens relied on infantile irony to win laughs. My brother preferred slapstick, choreographed and precise as a petty officer’s pivots. At least, that’s how he described his antics whenever he mistook my polite chatter for actual interest.

I’m weeping. I don’t make a sound. It’s how I imagine sex might be.

Blanche gently lays her hand on my shoulder. “There, there. No reason for tears. I’ve invited enough men to chase away any trouble a girl might have.”

I fear asking might break the spell, but I ask anyway. The party? When is it?

“Next week, my child. Can’t you feel the moon migrating us toward our destiny? Moonlight Madness will soon start its magic.”

The afternoon before Blanche’s party, the doorbell surprises me. I discover Stanfield at the door. The orchid looped through his lapel matches his dented top hat matches his drooping cummerbund matches his worn Converses. I recognize him from photos Simon kept framed on his wall, Stanfield forever besieged by grinning, grasping queens. Simon often mentioned his name.

My brother’s manager invites himself inside. What does he want? My brother is dead. Surely, there must be a transsexual somewhere in Dallas desperate for applause. Stanfield heads directly for Simon’s room. He turns the knob. The door does not relent.

“I haven’t yet figured out what to do with his room.”

“Those wigs and gowns belong to the club,” he says.

“I need to have them cleaned.”

Stanfield tries the knob again. I don’t like this man. Simon treated his wigs and disguises better than his real clothes. I assumed they belonged to him. It shouldn’t matter. It does matter. When did Simon give this man a key? Perhaps his knock at the front door was mere courtesy. The door swings open before I can think to warn him.

“Good God, woman! Miss Blanche died two weeks ago!”

I hustle through the doorway. “His name was Simon.”

Stanfield—did he fuck my brother? it always comes down to sex for those boys bunkered in their soul-rot cities—gapes at the gore still spattered everywhere. The stench any mannered houseguest would ignore, this guest does not. It’s curdled to a business-like brown, my brother’s blood. This fussy, fickle stooge is horrified. I understand. His repulsion grants him an identity, like Blanche did for my brother.

“If you couldn’t bear to clean, you could’ve called…”

“I do not live in this room,” I remind him. “What happens here does not happen to me.”

Stanfield’s cummerbund pops undone. He does not retrieve it. I have offered this impertinent pimp enough hospitality. Moonlight Madness might begin as soon as sundown.

Outside my front door, I demand Simon’s key. His manager will leave without his wigs, without his gowns. He stares at me as if finally grasping a punchline to a joke no one wanted told. He hands me a DVD encased in clear plastic.

“Simon always wished you might catch his act.”

“Dallas is a bit of a drive.”

“This was our July Fourth showcase. Two of the other girls dressed as Dorothy and Rose. Simon insisted the deejay dust off an old Pointer Sisters medley.”

“I can’t imagine a more fitting tribute for my baby brother.” I don’t sound sincere because I am not.

Underneath the streetlamp, its impotent sheen triggered by the deepening twilight, a Dumpster resides: shut and tidy. I march toward the latched gate to exit the backyard.

After tossing back the lid, I hurl the DVD into the Dumpster. Perversely, it lands cozily between two stuffed garbage bags. In this sort of neighborhood, even trash disposal impacts your reputation. Someone might spot it. Someone might mistake it as wanted. I heft myself up to the bin’s lip then climb inside. I haven’t much time. Blanche would be so baffled to discover me among the garbage.

I try to break the disc, still encased, into halves. It bends and creaks, but one half slips from my grip before it can break. I rip off the case. Still, the disc will not break in two. My nails leave crisscrossed scratches along the underside. I can’t summon the necessary force. I’m as powerless as a prayer.

I smash the disc against the bin’s metal side. A cluster of cracks followed by pain, moments later by blood. Those first fractures make the next few possible. Now no one can unearth the footage of my baby brother prancing across a scuffed dancefloor, dressed as a menopausal sitcom slut, a crowd of sissies flashing dollar bills and hooting at the spectacle. All those men who refuse to admit they’re men, preening and laughing. I never laughed at my brother. I loved that lost, lonely boy. I knew no man, no real man, would ever seize from me those reins. I’m sobbing. I’m sobbing and Moonlight Madness will begin any moment.

Blanche Devereaux can’t believe no man has claimed me.

All that remains of the sun are streaks of marigold and violet nestled atop the tree line. I cross the backyard. The lanai features such detailed, overdone decoration, I start dreaming of holidays no one celebrates but should. Blanche pops out through the sliding glass door, smiling, smiling, smiling.

How did she emerge onto the lanai without first entering the duplex? I thought she existed only in my backyard.

“My goodness, girl, you’re bleeding like a basset hound stuck in a bear trap.”

I hold out my hands, dumbly. I’ve ruined Blanche’s party and it hasn’t even started.

Blanche, her voice now curt and solemn, instructs me to follow her inside. There are bandages and peroxide in the bathroom, she says. I know this. It’s my bathroom.

The peroxide stings, rivulets running down my forearms. Blanche wraps my wounds briskly. Who knew Blanche Devereaux was so handy in an emergency?

“You might need stitches,” she advises.

“And miss the party?”

She grins. “Now that’s an attitude I can admire.”

The spell will break if I pay logic any heed, but Blanche will depart anyway, well before dawn.

“How did you get inside the house?”

She chuckles, tweaks my nose. “Every door has a key. Yours is no different.”

Outside on the lanai, Mel Bushman and all of Blanche’s other middle-aged, thick-waisted suitors congregate. None seem to notice me. I’m not hurt. I’m not offended. I’m still surprised I could bleed.

Blanche Devereaux lingers in the doorway, arms stretched overhead, resting against the frame. Her left hip juts to the side. She’s smiling with the confidence of a woman accustomed to men smiling back. Simon was wrong. She isn’t the ideal homosexual. She’s something so much more essential.

“Nothing says Moonlight Madness like a conga line beneath the stars.” She switches on a portable stereo and the Pointer Sisters do not disappoint. Now get in line, she calls. Blanche’s men live for Blanche’s attention. Already, their behinds twitch, the men shifting from foot to foot.

“Not so fast, boys!” She dashes into the yard, to the head of the line. “This train needs an engineer.”

The conga line jolts to life. Mel Bushman brings up the rear. It stuns me when he glances over his shoulder and winks at me.

“This train needs a caboose, too, pretty girl.”

For so long, I’ve feared loneliness. For so long, I’ve feared anyone who might relieve it.

My bandaged hands lightly resting on Mel Bushman’s hips, the conga line shimmies into the yard. That damn dim streetlamp offers our only illumination. Blanche is wrong about the harvest moon. A Moonlight Madness party on a moonless night? Don’t tell the poor woman!

I peer ahead to catch a glimpse of her, but what I find makes me stumble. Can’t have a loose caboose, Mel Bushman wisecracks. It must be the light. There’s never enough light to see clearly what you must see clearly.

It’s my baby brother, Simon. A light brown bouffant wig perched on his head, he swivels and struts deeper into the darkness, the conga line happily keeping pace. He wears an oversized lime sweater, floral-print Capri pants and wedge heels. He’s so radiant, and I forgive him every heartbreak. The streetlamp blinks out, but the conga line sashays onward.

I glance back at the lanai. How gracious of Blanche Devereaux to concede her menfolk to my baby brother. She waves at us—Simon, her suitors, and me. She keeps waving, but we’ve journeyed too deep into the darkness. Of course, I tell myself. She wants to wish us farewell. After all, she’ll never see us again.

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Thomas Kearnes is the author of two story collections: the Stonewall-nominated Death by Misadventure (Dark Ink Books) and the Lambda-nominated Texas Crude.

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by Amali Gordon-Buxbaum

Everybody Knows a Good Jazz Club in the Village

We stand in front of his apartment building. He gives me one last hug, and a forehead kiss. “Hey, you’ll send me those pics?” I ask, trying to conceal my quivering lip with a smile. 

I inhale with my face pressed against his chest, trying to memorize how his back feels with my fingers. I don’t know when I’ll be able to wrap my arms around him again. Then the hug ends, he kisses me on the forehead, and disappears back inside the building. 

I walk back to the subway. My body feels heavy. There’s a dull ache throbbing in my inner thighs and a deep emptiness gnawing away at my insides. I shake my head, trying to clear away the distracting thoughts. I have less than two days before I leave the country. I don’t have time.

As I descend into the subway station, I go through my to-do list. 

Pick up prescriptions. Finish laundry. Fix suitcase zipper. 

Prescriptions. Laundry. Zipper.

His hands on my waist. My lips against his neck.

Prescriptions. Laundry. Zipper.

I push through the turnstile and slump onto the nearest bench. There’s a man to my left crouched towards the edge of the platform, trying to coax a large rat out of the tracks, going tsk tsk tsk, like you might to a cat.

The day before, in Central Park, he had asked me what the nastiest type of subway rider was. 

“The nail clippers,” he said. “They are, without a doubt, the worst.”

“I once saw a man go from plucking out nose hairs to shaving his toes,” I replied. “I think I win.” 

He made a face in response.

I wonder what kind of face he would make if I told him about the rat man.

Getting prescriptions. Doing laundry. Fixing zipper. 

We spent the afternoon walking aimlessly through the city, neither of us leading or following the other. We walked Central Park from top to bottom, and then kept going. Our conversation tumbled out of our mouths: nightmare roommates, childhood dreams, troubles at our current jobs.

He told me he was a musician, trying to finish a composition.

“The writer’s block is eating away at me,” he said. I raised an eyebrow, and he playfully hit my shoulder.

“I’m serious,” he insisted. “The other day I was just sitting at the piano until I literally fell asleep.” 

I laughed.

“I guess I’m just waiting for some burst of inspiration. I just don’t know where to look for it.” 

I watched him as he spoke. I felt a desire to be the inspiration he was looking for. My cheeks flushed, and I looked back at my feet. 

“So, what about you?” he asked. 

I considered telling him that I had only two days left in the country. 

“Well,” I began, but faltered, and instead quickly launched into my first-grade students’ latest shenanigans. His eyes remained fixed on me while I spoke. They made me feel large and significant but also timid and small. It scared me. As we walked, his hand would occasionally graze against mine. We came across a floral mural filled with oranges and pinks and greens that were blinding in the sunlight.

“Let me take your picture,” he said.

When I tried to protest, he insisted, “Come on, it’ll look so nice with your dress.” 

I reached for my phone, but he had already taken his out. I struck a pose against the wall as he snapped away, smirking behind the camera.

“Send those to me later?” I asked.

Prescriptions. Zipper. Laundry. 

Was it the other way around?

My train finally arrives.


At a small restaurant on a quiet side street, we inhaled large bowls of spicy tonkotsu ramen. “Feel my food baby,” I said, and he reached out and softly held my noodle-filled belly.

We followed our feet until we ended up in Greenwich Village. He said he knew a good jazz club. I said that everyone knows a good jazz club in the Village. He led us to Mezzrow, but the show was already sold out. Don’t worry, he assured me, there’s another good one down the block. 

At Smalls, the quintet of middle-aged white guys playing Miles Davis tunes was good, but not fantastic. We sat there drinking our beers and tapping our feet, our knees touching. Between songs, he put his arm around me to lean in and ask if I wanted anything else to drink. I said I was fine, and his arm stayed there for the rest of the show. 

As the group went into the first measures of “It Never Entered My Mind,” I laid my head on his shoulder. 

When we left, it was almost midnight.

We sat on a bench in a small park across the street. We talked about the show, and then we just sat in silence. Not an awkward silence, a needed silence, just to take in each other’s presence. I gazed at the few stars I could see through the trees. 

“Hey,” I said. “You see that really bright star up there? That’s Mars.” His eyes followed my finger.

“Sometimes I think about impulsively buying a telescope,” he replied. 

I nodded.

“It’s getting late,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said.

Picking up zipper. Finishing prescriptions. Fixing laundry.

That’s not right. I rest my head in my hands.

He lives all the way up in Inwood. This is such a long train ride.

His lips were so soft.

I woke up to the early morning sun streaming through the window. He was still asleep, breathing deeply. It felt like time might have stopped, but the sounds of city bustle coming from the sidewalks below told me otherwise. One minute more, my heart pleaded, pulling his t-shirt over my face. 

I felt him stir, and when I turned, I found his hazel eyes staring into mine.



We stayed frozen like that, just looking at each other. 

I shifted my gaze first, and staring at the ceiling, I asked, “Do you believe in soulmates?” 

He kind of chuckled.

“Like, love-at-first-sight soulmates?” 

“No,” I said, piecing together my thoughts. “More like, cosmically destined to be together. Maybe not forever, but at least for, like, a solid period of time. Like, someone who you truly connect with.” 

Like someone who you can spend an entire day wandering through the city with, I thought. Like someone who you’ve never met before, but after less than 24 hours, feel like you’ve known for a lifetime.

“I’ve never really thought about it,” he said after a moment. His arm rested gently in the curve of my waist. “But, yeah, I think that kind of connection exists.”

Pick up connections. No. Prescriptions.

My apartment is still three stops away. He believes that kind of connection exists. 

Pick up prescriptions.

“Oh shit,” he said, looking at his phone. “It’s later than I thought.”

“Got a busy day?” I asked. It was time for me to leave. 

“I’m just meeting a friend for an early lunch,” he replied.

“Gotcha,” I said, sitting up, trying to keep my voice steady and cool. “I’ll get out of your hair.”    

“Well, not quite yet,” he said, grabbing me around the waist and pulling me back into the soft comfort of his pillows. He nuzzled his head into the crook of my neck. We lay there for a few minutes. I ran my fingers through his thick curls, wanting to never let go. 


At my stop, I slowly climb the stairs out of the station. I have the urge to lie down in the middle of the sidewalk and have the passers-by step over me. Instead, I go home. I fall onto my bed and when I pull off my sweater, I realize I’m still wearing his t-shirt.

Prescriptions. Laundry. Zipper.


I’m still thinking about the rat man in the subway. I’ll never forget the look of defeat on his face.

A minute before the train arrived, he was nearly on his stomach, holding a piece of food over the platform edge, making clicking sounds with his tongue. I couldn’t find the rat until the train’s headlights appeared at the end of the tunnel, and I realized that it seemed to be watching the man with similar intensity. The rat shuffled an inch closer, blinked its eyes, and shuffled again. The train grew closer, and I almost yelled at the man to move out of the way, but he was so engrossed in his progress. The train horn blared, and the man leaped to his feet as it pulled into the station. The rat vanished. Was all that work for nothing? Would he ever get a second chance? As the train left the station, pulling me back downtown, I watched him in his melancholy, staring helplessly at the empty tracks, until he, too, disappeared into the darkness. 

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Amali Gordon-Buxbaum is a writer from Albuquerque, New Mexico. A recent graduate from Sarah Lawrence College, she now lives in Brooklyn and works as the Events Director for the independent bookstore Books Are Magic.

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