Prime Number Decimals 2.3
by Paul Griner
Shauna texts me from work: 2 gt bk @ H trmd bsh w/ brd trmr. A hard-on at the morgue is weird, but I can’t stop thinking about her message as I clean up the examining table. Rags first, so nothing splatters, then bleach, then the hose. Done, I stand a crate next to the chute window and tilt my head up, breathe deeply, forcing the rank chemical scent from my nostrils. Ankles, one bedraggled dandelion, a dog lifting its leg.
H is Shauna’s boss, Mr. Heinsohn. He writes weekly Supervisor Efficiency Charts (SECs) and dings the intercom twice at the end of Friday’s shift. In his office, he looks up from the combined SECs to give Shauna’s breasts his analysis.
Before she blushed; now she gets angry and has taken to small acts of vandalism. Last month she pin-holed a plastic-wrapped tampon carton, submerged the box in water, then returned it to the shelf. Evidently this time she’s used a beard trimmer and restored it to its bubble wrap. How? Her hope is that unhappy pharmacy customers will harass him about defective products and he’ll start to feel helpless too.
I asked her once why she didn’t quit; she said she needed the discount on her mother’s blood-pressure meds.
From the open chute window an ambulance beeps as it slips into reverse, meaning another body is on its way, and I make sure nothing is obstructing the slide. Sometimes the maintenance engineers lean giant rolls of paper against it, or pile up saw-horses, thinking it funny to make a mess for us. Like most old morgues, we’re in a subbasement, so bodies wouldn’t putrefy before the advent of air conditioning. With the elevator out, ambulance drivers use the coal chute to save their backs. If people only knew.
While I’m waiting Shauna sends her second text, Chair, and I’m stiff all over again. It’s her favorite position. At Blades, a former saw factory turned bar, she said, One sexual position for life. Choose now. I’d gone up to order a beer. Truth is, I wasn’t any better than Heinsohn. She has amazing breasts, shaped to fit inside ice cream float glasses, displayed that hot night under an electric-blue Danskin. She says she doesn’t mind that I was staring; at work it’s different. She wears baggy blouses and an oversized white smock, and he’s old and married and creepy. I wish I felt different.
The body slithers down in its black bag and as I’m wrestling it to the dolly Frank comes down the long hallway from Maintenance, bouncing his tennis ball way too fast. That means he’s angry, making me clumsy, and I nearly drop the bag. Just before the door swings open I wedge my shoulder under it and flip it back onto the chute.
Wait, Frank says.
It’s all right, I say, sweating, my rubber gloves slippery. I got it.
I want to show I’m trying. I’m lucky to have this job since the only course I got an A in during my one year of college was Anatomy and Physiology.
A real cluster fuck, Frank had said, looking at my transcript. Then he covered up the other grades and said, But I guess if we only mark down this one, you’ll pass muster.
No, he says now, bouncing the ball faster. We’ve got something else.
He slaps a file down on his desk and I realize he’s not angry with me, breathe out.
Ovaltine, he says.
What about her? I ask.
Oh really? His eyebrow rises. Why?
Because she. I stammer, stop, blush. You know.
He just bounces the ball.
She was a Jane Doe, pitched in a drainage ditch off Route 71, the back of her head crushed. No sexual assault but all her clothes gone, and we had no way to identify her other than a tattoo, Ovaltine, entirely covering her left breast. Twenty, he said. Dental records drew a blank. She had a perfectly manicured landing strip, immaculate fingernails, no bruises or needle tracks, was tanned and ridiculously fit; no one took that kind of care of her vessel only to commit suicide.
He stops bouncing the ball and I realize what he’s thinking: No way he can use that as scientific evidence.
But why? I ask.
Harold’s term is up. If she’s a homicide, the murder rate rose on his watch.
He’s gone in a week. Why do you care? Let the new mayor deal with it.
Harold writes letters to his successor, with recommendations whether or not we should be retained.
I ignore my buzzing phone, Shauna’s third text. Damn, I say.
Exactly. And Ovaltine’s is the only case that can be reclassified.
What about this one? I rest my hand on the cool plastic zipper.
Car accident. Only question is whether he had a heart attack first.
I’m thinking, If Ovaltine turns suicide, cops won’t search out her family. A murder, even a distant one, they want to solve. It’s like killing her twice.
All day, I go about my chores quietly. Frank works on the new guy without whistling, a bad sign, and leaving off Vivaldi, a worse one. Late in the afternoon he turns on music—rap, which makes him angry, so I know he’s mad at having caved.
On the two-hour drive to Shauna’s I punish myself by leaving the Ipod off, but really, it doesn’t matter. Each passing mile I’m thinking less of Ovaltine, how we combed the report to make it fit. A chunk of old paving nearby, she tripped and fell backward; the lack of clothes we simply glossed over. Not mentioned, the detail doesn’t exist. Type the new report into the computer and murder disappears.
Instead, I’m wondering about Shauna’s sudden smoothness, how she got the beard trimmer back in its package, what some guy will think when he opens his new product in a week or two, fresh from the factory, only to find it’s already spoiled.
Paul Griner has published three books, Follow Me (stories) and Collectors (novel) with Random House, and most recently The German Woman (novel) with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. His stories have appeared in print and online in Story, Tin House, Bomb, Narrative, Playboy, Ploughshares, and Prairie Schooner, among other places. He is the Director of Creative Writing at the University of Louisville.
by Rebecca K. O’Connor
followed by Q&A
“There was a hierarchy of the sport [of falconry] at the head of which was the sovereign; it was as distinctly aristocratic as heraldry.” — Arnold Fleming, Falconry and Falcons (1934)
From the Boke of St. Albans, the falconry hierarchy:
King… Gerfalcon and its tercel
Prince … Falcon gentel and its tercel
Duke… Rock falcon
Knight… Sacre or sacret
Squire… Lanare or Lanret
Lady… Mezlyon (Merlin)
Young Man… Hobby
When I asked if I could come with him inside the house to meet his parents, Prince Charming smiled. He touched my hair, fingering the crimped waves of a bleached-blonde strand. Then he admired me from the neckline of my little black dress to the spikes of my heels.
“I don’t think so,” he said, an obvious answer. “I’ll be right back.”
The other vehicles parked in the driveway were sleek carriages. The hedge that marked the border of his family’s domain looked as if it had been mined from a quarry and carved into curves. Everything was classy except for me. I tucked myself tighter, made myself small in the leather seat. I had thought being twenty, beautiful and a good time gave me status, but I was still a peasant.
I looked out the windshield and up, taking my solace from the sky. A red-tailed hawk rose unsteadily, riding the warm elevator of a thermal toward the clouds. I focused on her, imagined her folding her wings, plummeting from the sky to light on my gloved fist. Falconers were aristocrats.
The first bird I lured into a trap and lifted on my glove was a red-tailed hawk. I released her because she tore open my scalp, punctured my hand and left me aching. She was the first, the beginning of the pursuit.
“The Goshawk was for a yeoman.”
The Greek Landowner said he hated my goshawk, but what he really hated was that I was free to escape him.
“You will be back from hunting with that bird in two hours,” he said, not asking.
My goshawk with her tense takeoffs and fierce wing-beat led me deep into the bush, taking me to places I needed to go, to places that I might never want to leave. She was a fickle guide. She distrusted The Greek with his fast hands and simmering temper. Sometimes I saw him through the goshawk’s acetylene eyes and distrusted him too.
The Greek loved that I whispered obscenities in his ear, adored me untamed. Then he raged for me to stop mucking about in the woods, to be a lady and do as I was told. Sometimes I wanted to do as he asked, but when the barbarian bird was erect on my glove, I knew I couldn’t.
The goshawk was a siren, always on the verge of abandoning me and ghosting into the eucalypts, a flash of wings and wild. When she tried to lose me, I scrambled after her, felt the earth beneath my boots and owned it.
The goshawk was too temperamental to trust and when I cut her loose from leather anklets and leash, she never looked back and neither did The Greek.
“The perky Merlin was for Milady.”
Hunting with a merlin is civilized. No bigger than a blue jay, my tiny falcon sat atop my fist like a fashion accessory with lethal intent. We hunted in clean and open alfalfa fields, stalking sparrows and finches, inoffensive prey. I imagined I was no longer feral, that my hands were clean. The Millionaire’s Son examined my cuticles and called my ruse.
“Dear, God,” he said. “Is that blood? Don’t you bathe?”
He made me use a scrub brush on my nails, but took me to expensive restaurants and to meet his parents. I would rush back to him after runs with the merlin. The pulse of the hunt still in my blood, I would press The Millionaire’s Son to the mattress. I loved to hear him growl my name. In return, he bought me gold bracelets and glass pens.
Then scrubbed nails weren’t enough. The Millionaire’s Son insisted on manicures with matching pedicures and wanted my hunting garb abandoned for clothes that artfully covered matching bra and panty sets. He felt a woman of my status should wear Bulgari sunglasses, things too expensive to lose in the field. The merlin, never lost, was perfect in her autumn couture. When I released the falcon back to her sky, I let the The Millionaire’s Son go too.
I left the merlin perched in an oak, azure feathers dribbling from the summer-colored bluebird in her talons, both of us lusting for more, neither of us ladies.
“The Peregrine was for an Earl.”
I was in love with The Photographer, but the peregrine falcon was impossible. With his long wings and searching stare, the peregrine owned the horizon and therefore had little use for me. I was desperate to change his mind. I bought him a truck to ride in, a flock of pigeons to chase, a dog to help with the hunt and then a house. I gave the peregrine a kingdom. I went wherever he needed me to go, swam in murky ponds and crashed through skin searing brambles. I forgot The Photographer.
“It’s important to you,” he said. “I understand.” But I didn’t think he did.
The Photographer was beautiful, his family well positioned. He was easy with his laughter and patient, but when I pained him, he never looked into the sky. He was beholden to no wilderness and managed no menagerie. He paced without the poise of someone balancing a raptor. I tried to talk him into picking up a goshawk and finding his way, but he stumbled. He left without me telling him to go.
I missed The Photographer, but was soon day-dreaming about the heft of an eagle. American class crumbles under the hierarchy of falconry. I chose.
Rebecca K. O’Connor (“American Falconry”) is the author of the award winning memoir Lift published by Red Hen Press in 2009. She has published essays in South Dakota Review, Iron Horse Literary Review, Los Angeles Times Magazine, West and divide. Her novel, Falcon’s Return was a Holt Medallion Finalist for best first novel and she has published numerous reference books on the natural world.
Q: What was your inspiration for “American Falconry?”
A: I was watching the peregrine bathe, daydreaming about the coming season instead of writing and it occurred to me that perhaps you should be careful what you wish for…
Dionysious Shows How He Makes Moonshine
by Anne Babson
followed by comments
Shine steeps easier when you fill your grandma’s tea
Kettles with all the spilled milk your family’s
Done cried over. Add the sugar that wastes from the
Torn sacks, then the flour the bugs have half-eaten.
Then, and this is the real kicker, boy, you take some
Of that sweet deferred dream juice that old African
Outlaw man Langston Hughes sells up the river, and
You let it sit in the heat of the back porch for
A week. Cover it with a cheese cloth you’ve soaked in
Virgin tears – That’s harder to get nowadays – and
Smoke the still with peat moss from your granddaddy’s heath.
On festival days, I add a pinch of regret.
After slow steaming, it’s ready for the jugs I
Cork, and I invite those good ol’ girls gone wild, the
Manead clan, to come on over and kick us
A dance with the Satyr boys from over the hill.
What they don’t drink while they tear up the whole landscape,
I sell to the local population at large.
I’m the richest man in these hills except for the
Undertaker, and we work together on most
Saturdays, especially in the summer time.
The mosquitoes leap when they see me come out the
Shack, and the flies, they know, like Scarlett O’Hara,
That they’ll never go hungry again. Don’t you dare
Leave my property, boy, without a free sample.
Sip this. You’ll see the banks tearing up mortgages,
The oil company cleaning up without a fight,
The June sun diminishing to a bearable
Glare, your momma loving you just for who you are,
Your daddy clearing his throat, slapping your back, and
Coughing out, “I’m proud of you, son,” your woman
Watching only you in the room packed full of my
Brother gods. You’ll see the face of babies you made
As they gurgle a full-on college fund out their
mouths, drooling dollars; you’ll never have to
Worry how to pay the teacher or the doctor,
And you’ll see the face of God – not my face, not the
Face of the other guests who come to my moonshine
Parties – this other one, the one they built the altar for
And dedicated it to the unknown One,
the One whose face hovers between constellations
Hidden in the folds of the night. Just sip and see.
Anne Babson, a Coney Island poet recently transplanted to Mississippi, has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. She has won awards from Columbia, Atlanta Review, Grasslands Review, and other reviews. Her work has been published in eight countries, included in a British anthology of American poets entitled Seeds of Fire (Smokestack Books, 2008) and will be featured in another British Anthology forthcoming from Caparison E-Books entitled Emergency Verse. Her opera Lotus Lives debuted this year. She has four chapbooks and over a hundred journal publications. Catch her blog about North-South culture shock at www.carpetbaggersjournal.wordpress.com.
My poem here is part of a collection entitled The White Trash Pantheon, where I set the ancient Greek myths in the American heartland. The Greek Gods always behaved like Jerry Springer guests, and these works are at once neo-classical and pop-cultural.
Jennifer Hollie Bowles
followed by comments
waiting for you to
pull the hair back from my eyes, I
don't understand why you pet me and bite the tears off
my face, peel your wounds just to give them to me. I know the dank horror of living in-
out, but don't put your
lid on me because I'll lick your fingers until the
skin comes off. Your mother was cold, so what, I'll crawl back to my house and wait for you with
glass of milk.
Jennifer Hollie Bowles lives in Knoxville, TN, with two powerful muses: Trauma and Bliss. She is the editor of The Medulla Review (www.themedullareview.com) and Medulla Publishing. Her writing has been accepted for publication in over forty literary journals, including The New York Quarterly, Word Riot, Thieves Jargon, Echo Ink Review, and The Ampersand Review, and her first poetry chapbook, Fire and Honey, was published by Flutter Press in July, 2010. Jennifer doesn't own a cell-phone or TV.
“Freud's Sill” emerged when I injected the vibrations of male-dominated psychology into the rawness of my female voice, added the synergism of a contorted relationship, and experimented with Fibonacci.