Prime Number Decimals 3.3
by Nicole Louise Reid
followed by Q&A
Some ass-hat kid, a track team leg-shaver, reads his essay first. He doesn’t stand—this isn’t grade school—but he may as well. “What wouldn’t you give up even if you could have it back tomorrow?” That’s just the opening line and I can’t take it, want to smack his smirky pimple-pie face when he tells the class, “My legs, because they carry me across the finish line, they make me strong. They make me who I am.”
Fuck your legs, I’m thinking—but we all are, I’m no one special—fuck your legs and your shorty short shorts and the shadow of stubble that creeps inside your nightmares.
The instructor, Ms. Holt, wants us to express our deep withins in a way that “slides across the ears like,” I kid you not, “ice cream on the tongue.” Huh.
I’ve got a wife so I keep my deep withins to myself, but that picture of ice cream and Ass-hat’s legs sends me gagging out of the room. Not like a dog with a chicken bone breached at the back of the throat—I’m forty-two for god’s sake—I just get up nice and quiet and go. I’m taking the class pass/fail, so what’s it matter, I’ve got some leeway, right?
There’s no moon tonight, which suits my mood, but the parking lot’s got new halogen lights because someone died and this open enrollment college got lucky.
I don’t expect I’ll go back in, but I don’t leave either. What I do is get a yellow pack of M&Ms from the machine and take a seat on the curb, crunching candy and not going home.
I’ve finished the pack and made friends with a crispy worm in the gutter by the time kids start finding their cars. Doesn’t even occur to me til he’s standing here that this means my class is done, too.
“Did you get a call?”
“What?” I ask him, though playing stupid won’t make him go away.
“Is everything all right at home?” He still hasn’t sat, which is a good thing.
“Sure. Yeah,” I say. I suck in my gut and hide the wrapper in my jacket pocket, hoping not to crinkle it in the process. “Just needed some air, you know?”
“Oh yeah, I get like that all the time. I sit still for, like, ten minutes and I can feel, literally feel, my metabolism slow down.” His knees are in front of me and they’re sort of up and down bouncing like, what, I don’t know—like this dipshit right here pretending he knows anything.
“Right,” I say. “Just like that.”
But that was the wrong thing and now he sits down next to me on the curb, and without him blocking the lamps and slow crawl of taillights what I see is the miniscule bristling of golden hairs sprouting up on his thigh.
“Let me ask you something,” I say, pointing.
“Do girls like that? I mean girls your age, they go for that?”
“Well sure,” he says. “They can’t get enough. Why do you think I wear the shorts, man? I’m not even training right now.”
“Right,” I say.
My hand finds the wrapper in my pocket again, lets it make noise—who cares? I wad it up then toss it to the trashcan back by the machine.
He stands up to go. “Well, see ya.”
“I just couldn’t take the bullshit in that room anymore,” I say. “Guess I’ve had it for now. For a while.”
“It’s just an elective.”
“Sure,” I say.
“Then, man, fuck it. Fuck the bullshit!”
“You’re not married, kid.”
He kind of jiggles his knees again, bounces up and down with his feet together that way runners do, like he’s bound and gagged and hopping away from the crime scene.
“Were you gonna kiss me back there?”
“What?” He stops bouncing and I’m glad to have said it if just for that reason.
“I’m not that old, you know. I mean I’m aware that things are a bit more open now and I’ve been out of school so long I didn’t know if you were sending me signals or I was sending them to you and I don’t want—”
“Chill, man. Jesus.”
“So is that your scene?” he asks.
“I don’t have a scene.”
“Is that why you never volunteer to read your stuff?”
“I wouldn’t be afraid of that,” I tell him. “I’ve been with a man, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Right,” I say. “Guess it’s some of that deep within stuff. You’d be surprised,” I tell him, “what you can live without, what you can live with.”
“So when Ms. Holt had us bring in our talismans and secretly leave them in a box for someone else, yours was the postcard one, the Pride float. That’s cool, man, whatever.”
“I was the number. The long number.”
He doesn’t get it, which is fine. I don’t need this stubble-kneed kid’s permission to have taken it up the ass and liked it enough that now I can’t talk to my wife, her mother, or the dog she got while I was locked up.
Now I stand, look down at this ass-hat and picture his dick and balls shaved. “I bet regrowth’s a bitch, huh,” I say, then walk away.
I won’t go back for the deep withins Shelly wants me to read aloud to her in bed. I won’t talk, I won’t feed that dog, I won’t walk it. But when she’s asleep, I’ll climb on top of her, wake her with my hand around one boob, my lips sucking her twat and maybe that long number will just slide across my tongue into her deep withins. Maybe then she’ll hear me.
Nicole Louise Reid is the author of the novel In the Breeze of Passing Things (MacAdam/Cage, 2003) and fiction chapbook Girls (RockSaw Press, 2009). Her stories have appeared in journals including Sweet, The Southern Review, Quarterly West, Meridian, Black Warrior Review, Confrontation, turnrow, Crab Orchard Review, and Grain Magazine. Recipient of the Willamette Award in Fiction, she teaches creative writing at the University of Southern Indiana, where she is fiction editor of Southern Indiana Review and editor of RopeWalk Press, and directs the RopeWalk Visiting Writers Reading Series.
Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?
A: One day when a fairly annoying student in my creative writing class was absent, the rest of the students turned on him with such fury I didn’t understand it. I tried to find the point to his counterpoint in this piece’s narrator and contextualize them both with the sort of teacher that’s all fluff and hand-holding.
The Guile Project
by T.M. De Vos
followed by Q&A
In those days, when I wore tights under torn shorts and had a hard drive named “My Stormy Soul,” I expended a great deal of energy in demonstrating what a rare and revolutionary person I was. It was terrifically important to maintain the general impression that I was quite mad and original so, when I had an idea, like taping soy-sauce packets to my door or shrink-wrapping someone’s furniture, I acted on it immediately, even frantically, as if I was racing another inventor to the patent office. The difficulty, with time, was of course finding something ever more outrageous or ironic to do. I broke bottles and bullied my friends into scoring their arms, after my example; I masturbated a boy with a powdered doughnut; I lit on fire anything left in my reach and left it smoldering for someone else to stub out.
My roommates and I hosted porn parties where we smoked idly while hare-ribbed women were palpated from behind, held up by the scruffs like pelts on hooks. We would comment on their hair, or some oddity of their bodies, comfortably superior to anyone who actually got off on the stuff. Every now and then, two members of our group would begin sneaking off together, but that sort of thing began as a response to each other’s dominance or wit, a tribute, even, to the most ironic. The fact that we had certain parts we could use on each other was almost secondary.
They were pleasant in a way, these liaisons with friends: more like artistic contracts than romances. The couples who were quiet, who seemed not to spur each other—whether by resentment or libido—to heights of Dada, were said to be wasting their time. The wastes were always people from outside, mostly girls who bought their clothes new and liked to be phoned regularly. We would show real hostility toward the conventional one, convinced that she would poison the entire group with housewiferies and banality. Sooner or later, our program would succeed, and we were once again left to each other.
Of course, we were rather good at ending our own romances, all being gifted with some unique complex, like a troupe of superheroes. Mine was that I couldn’t lose myself in anything, could never shake loose the narrator in my head who said, and she paused, biting her lip, making it impossible for me not to pause, not to bite my lip. I would try to do something else entirely, like clasp my hands behind me, but that gesture, too, would feel like something the shy girl in the movie would do—the one who hasn’t been revealed yet as pretty and stands with her hair over her face and her sleeves over her hands. Then my mind would tic on that phrase—her sleeves over her hands—and I would find the cuffs of my shirt between my knuckles.
I enjoyed it at times, being the kind of girl who bandaged herself in her clothes and had a kind of awkward charm: She had a kind of awkward charm, I heard, evenly but insistently. And I would hear myself speaking in a halting, unsure way, playing with my hair or rubbing the edge of a counter the way some quirky girl character had done in a movie. As if I weren’t the kind of person who would argue someone down in class, firing off page numbers to prove that the author had intended this and not that, that a character was Oedipal and not oral. But even the ways I had of talking myself out of the scene became part of the voice-overs: As if she wouldn’t argue someone down in class...
We were always hearing that young people were on the brink of being carried away by their urges; that, at any moment, they could overwhelm us like a noxious gas. But with someone’s mouth on my neck or hand under my hem, I would think suddenly of how funny we must look in this slow-fought battle into my dress, as I rationed the centimeters of my flesh to him like wartime bacon. Did he think it made me sentimental, that I saw the point? I could already see him taking my picture out of a shoebox, years from now, saying, And my first love was… in tender, rueful narration. Our acts together were already archived, mostly in sepia, like the coffee-table books on the World Wars.
So I would laugh, and interrupt, and he would look up from my body, annoyed.
T. M. De Vos completed her MFA at New York University in 2004. She received a fellowship for the Summer Literary Seminars Lithuania 2011 session and a Hopwood Award from the University of Michigan. Her work has appeared most recently, or is forthcoming, in Hawaii Pacific Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Tidal Basin Review, Caper Journal, Gloom Cupboard, HOBART, Dossier Journal, Sakura Review, The Whistling Fire, Shady Side Review, Umbrella Factory Magazine, and the Los Angeles Review. She is a staff member of Many Mountains Moving, a performer with The Poetry Brothel, and a contributor to Fiction Writers Review.
Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?
A: This is a kind of ode in prose to the energy we expend in our attempts to be memorable. Our highly ironic friends and the snide remarks we share with them are invariably less interesting than the uncool, compulsive internal monologues we try to snuff.
by Mary Elizabeth Parker
followed by Q&A
A man is building a house in a cool climate gradually
warming, with walls as straight as his spine, as level
as his gaze across the tangled meadow
to where marsh runs black beneath small flowers
subsiding to mulch. The scent is strong,
of things that bloom low but riotous,
adequate to keep the white spark jumping
through the roots. The light wood beneath his hands
makes a shape the height of him
and the width of him, and now wider, to fit
a woman pausing with him, standing before the wide windows
to watch what birds might fly in.
When cold comes down neat like the lid of a box,
when ice shapes itself lacy as wedding cake frosting
and their faces look out of the rimed windows,
caught like smiles in a dark fairy tale,
it helps to keep singing, to keep the face mobile,
to dream wisteria and lilac and marble columns rising
through a muddle of vines in full summer—
to dream the motion of blood, that faith
in alchemical change.
Mary Elizabeth Parker’s poetry collections include The Sex Girl, Urthona Press, and two chapbooks, Breathing in a Foreign Country, Paradise Press, and That Stumbling Ritual, Coraddi Publications (University of North Carolina, Greensboro). Her poems have appeared in journals including Notre Dame Review, Gettysburg Review, New Letters, Arts & Letters, Confrontation, Madison Review, Phoebe, Comstock Review, Birmingham Review, Kalliope, Passages North, New Millenium Writings, and the Greensboro Review (nominated for a Pushcart Prize); and in Earth and Soul, an anthology published in English and Russian in the Kostroma region of Russia.
Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?
A: “Marriage Song” was written for my brother and his bride years ago. Because it’s an occasional poem specific to them, I sent it out seldom, and then stopped when their love story became too sad: She died in early 2008 after a long fight with lung cancer (diagnosed too late in a young woman), leaving my brother to raise their small daughters. So, the poem is bittersweet.
followed by Q&A
I grew up with diesel in my mouth,
aroma of hobo coffee boiling on the stove,
poured into my father’s Stanley thermos—
I was addicted by age six, stealing
slurpy sips, testing the temp after pleating the surface
with forced breath, passing the chrome cup
across the doghouse, riding shotgun
in the Freightliner cab-over—my father’s eyes
always tending to the road, left
hand on the wheel, the right flicking
twin stick-shifts, as he ran
the 250 Cummins through the gears,
before taking a swallow of steaming brew,
then passing it back and resting his palm on the knob
ticking to the rhythm of the toothed transmission—all one song
that lifted like a carnival ride, then decelerated
with mechanical whine entering town
after façade town, fiction after fiction.
And he shall separate them one from another,
As a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.
—Matthew 25: 32b
By age seven, I was already smitten
with God, seducing sinners, turning them
into His sheep. It only took a few requests
at Wednesday night prayer meetings—
for Brother Valley’s missing arm to stop
aching, or the doctors giving Sister Katherine
shock treatments in the asylum to be filled
with Holy Ghost healing power—
and the entire congregation would come around
after the benediction, hugging and kissing me
on the mouth, wanting a taste of the red coal
that Brother Swinford said God had touched
to my lips as He had to Isaiah’s. It was true,
the spell was good enough for me to preach
my first sermon at eleven, earn an advanced degree
in religion, spend half a lifetime in fumbling
foreplay with God, trying so hard in the dark
to feel some bulge under all those layers, straining
for release from bituminous desire, tongue
glowing just below the flash point
of faith’s flame. And later I understood
the white ash in the corners of my mouth, the cooling,
the slake of thirst. But now I really don’t know
what to make of that spell, how it entered me
like an abusive shepherd who all along must have known
that there would come a day of judgment, and a night before,
when the first tufts of wolf fur showed through the wool.
Terry Lucas grew up in New Mexico, and has resided in the San Francisco bay area for more than a decade. He has recent or forthcoming work in Green Mountains Review, Alehouse, Ocho, OVS and Tygerburning Literary Journal. Three times nominated for a Pushcart Prize, he received his MFA in poetry from New England College in 2008, and is currently an assistant editor for Fifth Wednesday Journal. Terry is the founder of the online community for poetry MFA graduates at http://postpoetrymfa.ning.com/
Q: What was the inspiration for these poems?
A: The narratives in “Addicted” and “The Spell” have roots in my actual childhood. The window into “Addicted” was a reworked first line from Gerald Stern’s “Winter Thirst.” “The Spell” owes a debt to my church ministry background and growing up to be a recovering Southern Baptist.
New Years, Hopkins
Jeremy B. Jones
followed by Q&A
An old woman sweeps in from nowhere at all. Suddenly, she’s here, right in the middle of everything, the center of this misshaped circle of drumming Garifuna boys. Behind us, the sand pulls the ocean up like a bedtime blanket, and older bony boys in the dirt street sling fireworks on long strings around their bodies like blurred comets in reckless orbit. I’m drifting off.
But this eighty-year-old woman immediately is dancing, and so I’m sitting up straight. The boys that had been thumping along shyly now drum with booms and sing from the gut as an old skinny woman in a round white hat thrusts her hips in ways that would’ve made Elvis blush.
The boys’ hands move fast enough to disappear. The youngest sings with head back and eyes closed. The words are impenetrable, but they’re clearly right. The old woman slides her feet and shakes her waist left to right, right to left, quickly with the beat. Something’s happening. I’m the foreigner, the outsider, and I can feel this but can’t quite hold it.
The rhythm works itself to a stop every few moments. It throbs and thumps and pounds until everything hangs in the night air like a bead of sweat before splashing on the floor. The woman shakes and shakes until this pause. Then she pushes her pelvis forward and up, throws her arms in the air. Her waist sticks out, her torso leans back, and her hands hang like the lingering sounds in the perpetually dark night. And the drums restart as if they never stopped: her arms again by her side, her hips moving, left to right, right to left.
She is drunk. But that’s irrelevant because the moment is hers. She claimed it when she broke through this circle on the coast of Belize. When she entered as the elder in a land of displaced histories—a people bred somewhere out in that crashing Caribbean and then pushed from corner to corner before finally landing on this coast. She swarms through the room holding a past no one understands but still feels in every pulsing beat and breathing break. Everyone but me.
But then I know I’ve got it all wrong. This moment isn’t the old woman’s at all.
Down around her knees shuffles a girl, barely three, who has been moving in a way and to a rhythm that can’t be taught since the woman entered this tightly wound hut. The girl will be circling, barefoot, dipping low, swinging her arms long after the old woman leaves the floor four songs later, perspired with her hips still shaking and fiery orange circles blearing the dark. The young dancer will be moving long after the sea has again begun its retreat and we’re all gone.
Jeremy B. Jones’s essays appear in Crab Orchard Review, Quarterly West, and Defunct, among others. His work has been named Notable in Best American Essays 2009 and awarded the Emma Bell Miles Essay Prize. Originally from western North Carolina, Jeremy lives and teaches in Charleston, SC, where he is at work on a book about the confused identity of his native Blue Ridge Mountains.
Q: What is the inspiration for this piece?
A: The history of the Garifuna people has always astounded me, and during a trip through Belize, I witnessed their enchanting and often doleful present. This drum circle, and the town of Hopkins, shone with promising inklings of their future.