Prime Decimals 13.2
by Ryan Werner
followed by Q&A
There are exactly four-dozen registered female magicians in the United States and I’m dating one of them. People ask me what it’s like to live with her, like she’s Bob Dylan and I’m just holding onto her arm on the album cover. In their heads, she regales me with her new tricks when I get home from my job, the unimportant one that doesn’t involve real fire or fake telepathy, and when I ask her how it’s done she denies me in such a coy way that it only makes me love her more.
The truth is that everything’s the same except the laundry, long ropes of scarves mixed in with my t-shirts and a lint trap full of rhinestones.
* * *
Her name is Rena. The night I met her I missed her performance, which was apparently so bad and poorly attended that she walked right off stage and straight to the bar. I thought she was a stripper when I first saw her.
“Really?” she said. “Can you imagine a sexy way to get out of this?” She was wearing something more akin to the outfit of a figure skater, a tight-fitting, low-cut dress made almost entirely of blue and silver sequins and flesh-colored nylon on the chest and arms.
“No, but now I can’t unimagine an unsexy way to get out of it.”
Two years go by until a couple at a bowling alley asks us how we met. We tell them the story and the husband says, “Oh boy. And then what happened?”
Rena looks at him. “What do you mean?”
* * *
The puns and jokes got old quickly, even when I was the one making them. So, outside of using the following words and phrases in their actual context, I’ve stricken them from my vocabulary: disappearing act, do as I do, you may notice ladies and gentlemen, watch now as.
If I need to say magic to Rena about her act, I say work. If I need to say magic to someone about the way I feel, I don’t.
* * *
Rena calls it a “female magician convention” but the reality of it is that it’s twenty women hanging out in a hotel suite and showing each other card tricks. I went with her once, not for the cross-country brunch I can’t bring myself to call a convention, but for the chance to go somewhere and do something.
We dropped our bags off at our personal room and then walked up to the suite. All of the other women were already there and they were all beautiful, like models or—and this hit me later—magicians’ assistants. Rena briefly introduced me to everyone, and as I was leaving I could hear one of them asking her to tell the story, tell the story.
“So, what’s the story?” I asked her that night.
“It’s my mentor’s story.” She didn’t sit up, but I leaned onto an elbow and looked at her. “She told me that when she was learning the trade she kept hearing her mentor say disillusion whenever she was actually saying this illusion. It made her go on medication for depression.”
I go, “Jesus, Rena. Why would they want you to tell that?”
“I tell it to them the funny way. Besides,” she finally leaned up on an elbow to face me. “It’s not even a true story. I just needed something interesting to tell the girls years ago when we all met, and that came out of my mouth.”
She smiled, but the puns were back in my head: this illusion meant everything to me, disillusionment: everything to me.
* * *
The phone rings at work and when it turns out to be for me, nobody is annoyed. I get so few personal calls that I turn into a celebrity of sorts for a few seconds, office carpet as my runway. Cornflower blue is the new black.
It’s Rena. Her assistant cancelled for tonight and she wants to know if I can fill in.
“Honey, that’s like me asking you to come in here and file the P&L statements because my secretary is sick.”
“Do you want me to come file the P&L statements?” She’s not a bully, but she has the ears, knows from the timbre of a person’s voice how much they will or won’t do. “Because I will if it means you’ll hand me stuff and shuffle a few decks of cards.”
When she cuts me in half that night, I swear I can feel it.
Ryan Werner is a former gas station attendant in Wisconsin. He runs the music/literature project Our Band Could Be Your Lit. “This Illusion” is based on the song “Feel” by Big Star.
Q: What was the inspiration for this story?
A: It seems like every Big Star song—except “I’m In Love With a Girl”—is about being really unsatisfied with some guy’s inability to close the gap between what he wants and what he has. That idea works well alongside the female magician schtick, I think: part nice little hook to make the story quirky and part deep-rooted allegory for the couple’s relationship. I’m pretty sure G.O.B. from Arrested Development was lurking around somewhere in the back of my head when writing this, too.
by Karin Davidson
followed by Q&A
Mr. H has a hard time getting up in the morning. His wife has gone on permanent vacation. The press is always outside his door. They wait with coffee and sticky buns, the kind he likes. Dark roast, a venti, and the blackest of bourbon vanillas.
Mr. H finally makes it to his shower. He scrubs and scrubs with ten different blue soaps, but nothing removes the sheen from his arms, legs, his nearly hairless chest. The hollow of his throat holds a shining pool of oil and, as he shaves, it rolls down his breastbone. When he dries himself, the towel turns several shades of black.
Mr. H stands in front of the open fridge. It is the best of refrigerators—spacious, stainless, restaurant-ready. Inside there are lemons and limes and stacks of dead pelicans, dolphins, a pair of Kemp Ridleys, and glass bowls filled to their brims with oiled seabird eggs. Mr. H takes a lemon, cuts it in half, and sucks out the juice.
Outside reporters lean against each other. They wait and they lean. They have nothing new to say. If they say anything new, it is of no surprise. What they say is strange and addled and makes those who hear their words cry.
Mr. H leans against the inside of his front doors—two doors that open outward, so that each time he leaves, he is really making an entrance. He remembers when his wife left, she did so by the servants’ entry, a single metal door with a small window at eye level. After the car took her away, the door was still open. Mr. H looked down at the gray stone drive in the gray morning light and thought, “Mrs. H has left the door open. Mrs. H has simply left. I do not know where she has gone.”
Mr. H doesn’t like to think of himself as unknowing. He likes to think of himself as all-knowing. In Mr. H’s mansion there are many mirrors. He looks into them all. Once the face looking back pleased him. Now it stares into strange corners as if looking for an answer.
Mr. H is working on lost time, ill-conceived time, time that waits for no one. He hasn’t ever had this problem before and is unsure of how to handle it. It is a definite conundrum. Mr. H loathes conundrums and says so to himself. Out loud. “I loathe conundrums.” Still, all the clocks in the house keep ticking.
Weeks ago the last servant left—the gardener, unsure of how to address the barrels that bordered his Swiss chard and lettuces. It was the cook who went first. When the Gulf deliveries started arriving, she didn’t know where to put them all. Crates of terns and seagulls went into the deep-freeze. The nest eggs, still warm from the Louisiana sun, fit nicely into the mixing bowls, the salad bowls, the serving bowls. She thought about omelettes and soufflés. But the pod of bottlenose dolphins was the last straw. She had no idea of how to prepare them.
Mr. H is a quiet man. He dislikes disruptions. He has been up to here—yes, eye-level—in the muck since April 20th. He didn’t observe Earth Day and was far too busy to take a break for Memorial Day. And Fourth of July? Well, that’s just not his holiday. He would like his life back. He gazes through the open foyer all the way to the kitchen. He remembers his wife there the night before she left, pouring herself a glass of wine and smiling at him. How her eyes had shown. On the granite island, next to the empty wine glass, a dead sea turtle now returns the gaze.
Mr. H barely remembers his childhood. He didn’t always live in a large house and have large ideas. Once he swam in the Gulf of Mexico. He was twelve, snorkeling with his father off the Yucatan peninsula. Coral, brilliant fish, swarms of sea anemones. Fish like silver dollars swam past and he reached out for one. He is still reaching out.
Mr. H holds the door handles and tries to breathe. His suit is tight and wrinkles against the oil that coats his skin. He brushes his hair back from his forehead and his hand is covered in crude.
In the garden a damselfly alights on a telescoped camera lens. Her wings are tinged with brown and she has trouble parting them. Another camera catches her struggle. Her photo will run for weeks on the New York Times slide show.
Mr. H rests against his front doors. A puddle is forming around him. In the center strange swirls of blue, violet, and dark red form. Mr. H looks into the puddle. There is a reflection, and he wonders if it is his own.
Mr. H is getting used to being alone. He knows it is hard to shake his hand, and he carries extra handkerchiefs for those who feel inclined to reach out and acknowledge him. He understands when new acquaintances gesture to chairs but keep their hands to themselves.
Mr. H says it will all be fine. Everything will be handled according to company standards; everyone affected will be compensated. On his desk a plaque reads, “If you knew you could not fail, what would you try?” Every day the warm ocean fills with thick black mistakes.
At the site where the oil bleeds into the Gulf of Mexico there are roving robots that tip their hats and explain in junk-shot lingo, “Everything will be fine.” It is odd how much their digital voices sound like Mr. H’s. One of them has a great idea and nods to his partner. The other points and nods as well. Then, with the highest caliber undersea robot tools, he removes the cap. Both robots are satisfied and celebrate with a fist-pump. New and better oil gushes around them. The cap floats off into the distance and disappears.
Karin C. Davidson is originally from the Gulf Coast and now lives in the Ohio River Valley. Her stories have appeared in Iron Horse Literary Review, New Delta Review, and Precipitate Journal, among others, and have been shortlisted in several writing competitions, including the Faulkner-Wisdom Writing Competition and the Bridport Prize. She has an MFA from Lesley University, and her writing can be found at http://thunderonathursday.blogspot.com.
Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?
A: Barry Hannah once said of a rich and reckless woman he’d like to have punished for running down his dog in her SUV, “I set out to destroy that woman. But instead I’ve immortalized her.” I do believe I’ve done the same with a rich and reckless man.
by Scott Carpenter
followed by Q&A
After all those nights of your place or mine, the first ours came on the overnight ferry, the one we boarded, you and I, as the storm whipped up, pooling our dollars for a wedge of cabin in steerage, tucked deep below the waterline. Cramped in our oyster room as the vessel pitched and rocked, we joked to calm our nerves: should the vessel go down, we’d be the last to know, learning only when moisture began to weep around the edges of the sealed door. And sink we did, you recall, but only into silence, too frightened to turn off the light as the metal ceiling tipped over our heads.
Since then, like hermit crabs, we’ve moved from shell to borrowed shell: the upstairs duplex with squirrels in the walls and bats on the porch, followed by a ruin of an apartment in a stone building, the walls lined not with paper but actual fabric, which the kitten would claw and climb when taking a break from stalking mice; then, a leftover from the postwar, where we tiled and painted and discovered the value of cheap labor (our own), where the train whistle, too close, sent the cat charging for the back door, where we quarreled and sulked and nearly parted; next was the southern tour with the mustachioed landlord, pomegranates and spiders in the garden, no heat but plenty of chilled air, and where once a roach the size of a child’s hand fluttered from the vent above the bed and landed on your pregnant belly; finally, the too-square home, with space for children and a swing set, every board and pipe and fleck crying for attention, the same old cat crawling along yet a while, trees falling and growing, the tinkle of music sounding through open windows—all this while we trained to become the willing servants of teenagers.
Over time the lawn grew more vast. The years contracted. The new cats never quite belonged. Fresh paint weathered, and there were problems with the foundation. Even the children, it turned out, were only on long-term loan, and the departure of each cardboard box felt like another melon ball scooped ever closer to the rind.
And now, as this house finally exhales, too large and too empty, I find myself yearning for the close oyster room of the ferry. At night, we lie on the appointed sides of our broad bed just as we occupied berths during that churned crossing: silently, not giving voice to our own terror for fear of spooking each other—even now, when the engine of children’s voices has stalled and all has gone quiet, the vessel has tipped, and under the door we sense the first trickle of water.
Scott Carpenter teaches literature and literary theory at Carleton College (MN). A writer of both fiction and non-fiction, he has published a score of essays (not to mention a volume on literary hoaxes), and his short stories have appeared in such venues as Ducts, Every Writer Resource, Eunoia Review, Subtle Fiction, Lit-Cast and The Carleton Voice. His website is located at: http://apps.carleton.edu/people/scarpent/.
Q: What was your inspiration for this story?
A: We often think of our passage through time as it is measured by events or dates. I wanted instead to think about the various spaces people inhabit.
About the crisis
It is in all the newspapers, in the numbers of the Dow Jones,
in all the thermometers, and into the victims of the loneliness.
(though tabular descriptives of such have not been invented).
“You got those last months only for yourself.
The men of wisdom declared the last days,
but if they look for us they will find only dust.”
Love, because there is no other way out, feel
the words coming out of your mouth –
when we fall down,
just to restore the eternal cycle,
and we, accept –
all of us –
(what else could we do?):
It is such hard work to be honest and true,
when the rest of the world is decomposing.
We are not like them.
We do not talk quietly at Sunday dinner tables,
we do not communicate with passwords over the phone,
that’s the others, who peer through the peepholes,
growl at the fences, topple down the Stop signs,
scream at our walls, our last sanctuary –
we are not like them, and they can’t go without
dragging us out of what was left of the ship,
which is sinking.
Peycho Kanev is the editor-in-chief of Kanev Books. His poems have appeared in more than 500 literary magazines, such as: Poetry Quarterly, The Monongahela Review, Steam Ticket, Midwest Literary Review, Third Wednesday, The Cleveland Review, Loch Raven Review, In Posse Review, The Penwood Review, Mascara Literary Review and many others. He is nominated for the Pushcart Award and Best of the Net. His poetry collection, Bone Silence, was released in September 2010 by Desperanto, New York. A new collection of his poetry, titled Requiem for One Night, will be published by Desperanto in 2012. He lives in Chicago.
followed by Q&A
The nectarine comes down in the snowstorm.
It is Ceilidh’s last day.
She is living on snow and air.
The first blossom, always, each spring,
though the tree bore no tangible fruit,
the nectarine down in the snowstorm.
Ceilidh. My first dog beginning to end.
Castanets on the tiles. Majesty of barking.
Beyond food now, just snow and air.
And the sudden petals
among the gray branches?
No, the nectarine is down in snow.
Forget the direct gaze of dinnertime.
Unmoored, she is unmooring.
Ceilidh in the snowy air.
She will lie in the brow of the hill.
Stone Cairn. Stump. Silence.
The nectarine down in the snowstorm,
she was living on snow and air.
Kathryn Kirkpatrick lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains and teaches at Appalachian State University. She is the author of five collections of poetry, The Body’s Horizon (1996), Beyond Reason (2004), Out of the Garden (2007), Unaccountable Weather (2011), and Our Held Animal Breath (forthcoming, 2012).
Q: What was your inspiration for this poem?
A: I wrote this poem to commemorate one of the great guiding spirits of my life, a Shetland sheepdog named Ceilidh. The intense and recurring grief I felt at her passing needed a strong container; the villanelle form made the poem possible.
followed by Q&A
Need. 4/2 You.
le planting of the thing. Le chose.
Le gift. The choice.
Two stitches my love
has, to stitch and 2 com-
pleat me. Angel. Ardent one.
Castle of my wanting.
Red in leaf, red in heart,
thou who art
meant of me
This space lets sleep in,
lets room to breathe beyond
where thou soakest in thy bones a-
Hast thou breathed fragrant moon arméd bellied flowers?
Flouted the shade of the astilbe, Glimpsed-thou-yet?
Done such as would husband courage?
Done such pleasings as would
make the dark part with its heavy labor?
yellow finch, nuthatch,
in the tap and bark of thy squibbed song,
hast thou comforted yet
in thy body
It was in the time of springing forth,
wearing the sprung-rain down raiments of thine love,
that thou freed thyself from the tines
that hadst trenched and gibbeted
the muscles of thine heart’s own flesh,
to give such a gift as this:
Faith (Where thou hast thine
allegiance to it, thou woulds’t stalk it
and die for its golden eggs.).
For to be faithful.
their shapes (big-nosed number facing away
from the sailing swan).
don’t you hear the numbers cry?
4 you/2 you
So, how do we
longing in our
language, in our
time, in a
How? Nine, for ex-
ample. In is in there. Seven has even one, but eight?
No. Six, its sigh x’ed out before
a Spanish yes marked out fully in breath.
Five? I’ve no i-
dea where the our has gone, except that
four is our special one.
Three might be regarded, except for our above.
Below it, two cries so full of woe
(Isn’t it obvious?).
One, and we are back.
It’s in loneliness.
What are its
Out of its minused and nonplused patterns,
come the graphed mosaics of the in-
tersections of us unearthed,
of an aligned one of us to
another, like an ordinate
to its beloved abscissa,
I will tell you no more re-
garding the comb-
nation of love.
I stroke your hair with it.
To find its ci-
ties. I wrap my arms
around you. For 2b – its shape is of the swan
and of one giving birth) –
one (it ‘s in loneliness, remember?),
rayered light, how its error
or, or a roar,
or even an-
nulled set of sun-
dry yearnings; for it is
the gate of love you’ve entered,
and have come out
S.D. Lishan is an associate professor of English at The Ohio State University, where he teaches classes in creative writing and poetry. His book of poems, Body Tapestries, was published in 2006. He also writes novels and creative nonfiction, and his work has appeared in such venues as the Kenyon Review, Connecticut Review, OVS, The American Poetry Journal, The National Poetry Review, Bellingham Review, Creative Nonfiction, and Brevity.
Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?
A: I was reading Shakespeare, Anne Carson’s translation of Sappho, as well as some of the language poets and their forerunners when I wrote “Number Theory,” a love poem written for both the ear and, in its latter sections, the eye. It all mixes together when one writes, as most of you know, enriching one’s own particular voice and way of singing – transmuting, transfiguring, and most of all, hopefully, transforming.